Finance (No. 2) Bill

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 2:12 pm on 1st April 2014.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:12 pm, 1st April 2014

I know that Government Members like to expunge history from their memory banks, but there was a global banking crisis—I know this is a shock to some of them—which, from 2008 onwards, caused significant fiscal impact, which reduced revenues into the Exchequer and meant that tax rates had to be reappraised. It was at that point that the 50p rate was felt necessary, as one of the measures of fairness that we needed to put in place. I am proud that that Government took that step. It was not universally popular, as I know from Government Members, but necessary in order to help to reduce the deficit, whereas the Government chose to raise VAT and pull the rug from underneath growth that was beginning to come through in 2010.

I want to continue to scrutinise some of the details in the Finance Bill, because it contains a number of troubling changes. On capital allowances, my hon. Friends intervened on the Chief Secretary, and I also asked whether he thought it was a mistake that when taking office the Government reduced capital allowances—investment allowances—for businesses from £100,000 to £25,000. Yes, they are going back up again, but yet again we see more chopping and changing, more inconsistency; temporary measures, not giving the stability to business that it needs to plan for the long term. The Chief Secretary says that it was not a mistake that they should go down and now they are going up, but that, I am afraid, is typical of Liberal Democrats who like to face both ways on these matters.

In chapter 2 we have the married couple’s tax allowance. The Chief Secretary is deep in conversation, but I want to give way to him in a moment specifically on the issue of the married couple’s tax allowance. [Interruption.] From a sedentary position, he says that he will not intervene, but this is a critical point because I am not quite clear on his view of the married couple’s tax allowance. The Chancellor was apparently in a little bit of doubt about it, but the pressures from Conservative Back Benchers were such that they needed this transferrable allowance, which will help only about a third of married couples because it is available only to couples where one person is in work but the other does not use all their tax-free allowance. There are a number of other ways in which that amount of money could have been allocated. He could have decided to do it through the personal allowance—I know he is keen on that policy—perhaps a 10p starting rate of tax. Does the Chief Secretary agree with the implementation of the married couple’s tax allowance? This is his opportunity to set out the Liberal Democrat attitude to these things. I will give way to him. The record will have to show that, for whatever reason, the Chief Secretary does not want to stand up and sing the praises of the married couple’s tax allowance in this particular agenda. Yet again, he is stifled by his capture by the Conservative party, unwilling to speak his true mind on these issues.

On the employment measures in the Bill, such as they are, yesterday the Chancellor was full of rhetoric about full employment, yet the Government have come forward with no new policies to deliver this. The number of young people out of work for 12 months or more has nearly doubled since the Chancellor and Chief Secretary came to office, and we have a record number of people who want to work full time but are being forced to work part-time, a Work programme that is so spectacularly unsuccessful that people are more likely to go back to the jobcentre than find work, and only 5% of disabled people on the Work programme have found work through that programme. We clearly need compulsory starter jobs for the long-term unemployed to help them to repair their CVs and to get back into work and on to the ladder to a long, sustainable career.