It is vital that we have serious consultation on those measures. We support flexibility in principle, but the changes cannot be made without taking into account the wider implications, so it is important that we have that level of information and analysis in the Treasury projections. I do not know whether the Government were motivated by the desire to benefit the population more broadly or by the short-term opportunity, following the annuities changes, to bring in a vast amount of tax revenue from pensioners much earlier than would otherwise have been the case. All I know is that the Chancellor used the annuities issue to provide a veneer of long-termism over what was otherwise an exceptionally short-term Budget and what is an exceptionally short-term Finance Bill.
Clauses 112 and 113 deal with the old question of the bank levy. My hon. Friends will be familiar with the Government’s track record on the bank levy. We will scrutinise those clauses very closely indeed, because The Daily Telegraph, among others, has reported that they could mean a secret tax cut for the banks. Last year Barclays paid £504 million in levy charges and HSBC paid £544 million—the most of any bank. But under the draft proposals the Chief Secretary is bringing forward in the Bill, Barclays’s bill would have been £129 million lower and HSBC’s would have been £169 million lower. What is going on? Given that the levy was supposed to catch up with the lack of collection in previous years—it was supposed to increase by 20% this year—it seems very strange that these clauses might give the banks a very significant saving indeed.
The purpose of the bank levy, of course, was to allow the Government to take £2.5 billion every tax year. It was an unusual tax because they set the amount of revenue to be raised and the methodology revolved around that. In its first year, the levy brought in £1.8 billion, which was a significant shortfall. Things got worse the next year, because in 2012-13 it raised just £1.6 billion. My hon. Friends know the attitude Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs takes to our constituents if an amount of tax they are asked to pay is not forthcoming, but that is not the case when it comes to the banks. It has gone soft in collecting the amounts of money the levy was supposed to raise.
We read in the small print of the Office for Budget Responsibility’s report that accompanied the Budget that in 2013-14, for the third year running, the bank levy is projected to raise only £2.3 billion, which falls short yet again. The combined shortfall from the past three years is now a very significant £1.8 billion. We could pay the salaries of 60,000 nurses with that sum.