New Clause 4 — Report on increasing the additional rate of income tax to 50%

Oral Answers to Questions — Foreign and Commonwealth Office – in the House of Commons at 3:43 pm on 8th April 2014.

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Votes in this debate

  • Division number 246
    A majority of MPs voted against requiring a report on the impact of raising the rate of tax applied to income over £150,000 from 45% to 50%.

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall make arrangements for conducting a review of the impact of increasing the additional rate to 50%.

(2) The Secretary of State shall lay a copy of the report of the review mentioned in subsection (1) before each House of Parliament within three months of the passing of this Act.’.—(Jonathan Edwards.)

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

With this it will be convenient to discuss:

Amendment 4, in clause 1, page 2, line 11, at end insert—

‘( ) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, publish a report on the impact of setting the additional rate of income tax at 50 per cent.

( ) The report must estimate the impact of setting the additional rate for 2014-15 at 45 per cent and at 50 per cent on the amount of income tax currently paid by someone with a taxable income of—

(a) £150,000 per year; and

(b) £1,000,000 per year.’.

Clause 1 stand part.

I should inform the House that due to an administrative error some names in support of new clause 4 were omitted from the amendment paper. A revised version is available from the Vote Office with all names correctly reproduced.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

I am grateful to you for that clarification, Ms Clark.

New clause 4, tabled in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends in Plaid Cymru and the Scottish National party, would have the effect of requesting the Treasury to commission a report into reinstating the 50p tax rate for earnings above £150,000 a year, or £3,000 a week, as I prefer to explain the policy to my constituents. I look forward to pressing the new clause to a vote at the appropriate time.

This is an example of bad timing, as I understand that the President of the Republic of Ireland is about to address Members of the Commons and the Lords in the other place. I am disappointed to be missing that. However, there is little doubt that the decision in the 2012 Budget to scrap the 50p top rate and reduce it to 45p is the signature fiscal policy of the current Administration. However, I recognise that the 50p rate existed only for the dying weeks of the previous Labour UK Government, even though they were in power for more than 13 years with a top rate of only 40p. That of course leaves the impression that it was merely an election gimmick for the 2010 general election rather than a matter of deep principle.

Labour’s 13 years of the 40p rate reflected what Lord Mandelson said on behalf of the Blair Government about being

“intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”.

None the less, it was expected that the 50p rate, which existed for the first half of this coalition Government, would be set in stone while the UK Government maintained their plan A fiscal strategy of cutting the deficit. Despite disagreeing with the UK Government’s fiscal strategy since entering the House, I accept that the “We’re all in it together” slogan coined by the Chancellor was politically very successful. It was based on the notion that all parts of society were equal partners in a moral crusade to reduce the annual fiscal deficit of the state; that rich and poor, young and old would have to feel the pain as the only remedy for the excesses of the past—or so the story went.

The decision to cut the 50p rate was therefore a political miscalculation in my mind because, whatever way it is dressed up, the Chancellor offered a tax cut for those earning more than £3,000 a week. The notion of “We’re all in it together” was blown apart with one act. How can the Chancellor and the Treasury expect the most disadvantaged in society to stomach reductions in their social security support while the richest get a tax cut? It was an act that confirmed that we are not all in it together.

Let us not forget that in the 2012 Budget a further cut of £10 billion in the social protection budget was announced from 2013 onwards, on top of those announced in the 2010 emergency Budget. Those are the cuts that we are living with today, leaving the clear impression that the tax cut from 2013-14 onwards for the highest earners in society was being paid for by cuts in welfare provision for the poorest.

Photo of Jenny Chapman Jenny Chapman Shadow Minister (Justice)

Does the hon. Gentleman agree that it is the scale of the tax cut that is most galling for our constituents, when on average it will be a £100,000 a year tax cut, which is something beyond the imaginations of most of our constituents?

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development)

It is not only the fact that income tax has been cut but that further cuts to social provision are envisaged. So into the future, people at the bottom of the pile and who face disability and sickness will be seeing cuts to their benefits while the very rich will be seeing cuts to their tax.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

I am sure that my hon. Friend’s surgeries, like mine, are filled weekly with individuals who face problems with reductions in the support that they receive. With all that in mind, it is difficult to look them in the eye and support a tax cut for those on the highest incomes. It undermines the case for the moral crusade I alluded to earlier and public support for the fiscal policy of the current UK Government.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman is making some good points. Does he agree that, while there are technical issues in determining the exact point at which the Government will gain more or less from a tax, there is a significant signal from the 50p tax rate, which is that we are, at least to some extent, all in it together? His constituents are not far from mine, and the average median wage in the Ogmore valley is less than £21,000.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

The hon. Gentleman always makes very intelligent points. I believe that he is talking about the Laffer curve. I will discuss the optimal rate of taxation later, but I agree wholeheartedly with his comments.

A report for the Office for National Statistics entitled “The Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income, 2011/12”, which was released in July 2013, showed clearly that, while income tax is progressive, as it should be, the effect of indirect taxes such as VAT means that the bottom fifth of the income groups pay the most out as a percentage of their gross income at 36.6% in taxes, while the top fifth pay 35.5%. The overall tax system is therefore still heavily weighted in favour of the highest earners. Plaid Cymru believes in progressive taxation irrespective of the timing and state of the wider economy. We believe that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the burden of taxation. A Scandinavian model of progressive taxation is part of our DNA.

The House has voted on this measure only once, during the resolution votes following the 2012 Budget debate. I am delighted that it was Plaid Cymru and Scottish National party Members who called that vote. The shadow Chancellor must have been having an off-day, because the entire parliamentary Labour party abstained, apart from two honourable exceptions, the hon. Members for Bolsover (Mr Skinner) and for Newport West (Paul Flynn), if my memory serves me correctly. Although Labour Members voted against the Government’s 2012 Budget, which reduced the 50% rate to 45%, they missed the only vote that we have been able to have directly on the reduction of the top rate.

Photo of Pete Wishart Pete Wishart Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Culture and Sport), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Constitution)

I am sure my hon. Friend will agree that what happened to the Labour party that evening was cataclysmic. Does he have any explanation as to why the Labour party missed that vote that evening? Something from the Whips Office suggested headless chickens, but that would be showing disrespect to headless chickens. Does he have any idea why Labour abstained on what was one of the key policies at that point?

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

Unfortunately, I cannot enlighten my hon. Friend, other than to say that the Western Mail informed me that senior Labour staff described it as a “balls-up”.

To be slightly more serious, I was happy that, in response to an intervention from me last week on Second Reading, the shadow Chief Secretary, who is in his place, said that should Labour form the next UK Government, it would restore the 50p top rate for the duration of the next Parliament. I would certainly support that, and I look forward to doing so if there is a Labour Government. My understanding before his answer was that Labour was proposing a temporary increase in the top rate, so I welcome that development. I hope that during today’s debate, the Labour Front-Bench spokesman will confirm that that will be its policy at the next election and beyond.

Owing to the manner in which Finance Bills are processed, it is impossible to press to a vote amendments to alter tax band rates, which is why both new clause 4 and Labour’s amendment 4 call for a review from the Treasury of the impact of re-introducing the 50p rate. The 2011 Budget included the provision of a review to reduce the 50p rate. As I said, nobody foresaw the Treasury introducing such a policy within a year. In other words, the 2011 Budget provisions were a sop to Tory donors that their party was minded to reduce the top rate at some point in the future. The following Budget then introduced the policy.

Proponents argue that the reduction in the additional rate to 45p has led to a windfall for the Treasury because of reduced avoidance and evasion. I noticed in the lead-up to the Budget last month that some Tory Back Benchers were making the case for a reduction to 40p for this Budget based on higher than expected tax receipts—some £9 billion—following the top rate changes. In the newspapers this morning Mr Browne was making a similar call for his party to adopt the 40p top rate come the general election. He is not in his seat, so perhaps he has been told to go somewhere else. I find that argument difficult to swallow as individuals seeking to avoid tax at a

50p rate would surely be minded to do so with a 45p rate. The higher than forecasted tax receipts used to justify a further cut in the top rate was surely as a result of higher than projected economic performance, and therefore a 50p rate would have brought in even more receipts for the Treasury.

Photo of Hywel Williams Hywel Williams Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health), Shadow PC Spokesperson (International Development)

What credence does my hon. Friend give to the analysis that some high earners deferred declaring their income with a view to declaring it once the 45p rate was introduced, and that that led to higher receipts?

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

That is an important point about forestalling, which I will talk about in more detail later.

I note that the Office for Budget Responsibility’s March 2012 “Economic and fiscal outlook” states on page 110 that

“the revenue-maximising additional tax rate is around 48%.”

Again, that blows a hole in the Government’s argument that their reduction of the additional rate was based on sound economic and revenue-raising evidence. That is why they should now commit to carrying out a full report, as the new clause would compel them to do. I would argue that 48 is slightly closer to 50 than to 45.

The Chancellor told the House in 2012:

“The increase from 40p to 50p raised just a third of the £3 billion that we were told it would raise.”—[Hansard, 21 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 805.]

I know my A-level maths is a little shaky, but that still makes £1 billion, a significant sum to the good people of Carmarthenshire and the good people of Wales and the rest of the UK. The Chancellor’s justification for the tax cut for the super-wealthy was that they would avoid the tax, they might leave the UK, it raised only £1 billion, and the reduction would lose the Government only £100 million. Having brought forward their income to avoid the 50p rate in the first year, the rich delayed it in the final year to benefit from the reduction to 45p. That forestalling and deferment will have cost the Treasury billions that could have been used to avoid some of the worst cuts to those on low incomes, such as those resulting from the bedroom tax.

Recent claims by some on the Government Benches that the tax cut for the richest has yielded more revenue conveniently gloss over the increased likelihood of those with an accountant being able to move their income into the following year, given the Government’s indication a year ahead of time that they were enacting the tax cut. My advice to the Government would be to enact the proper closing of loopholes to ensure that the super-wealthy pay their fair share, instead of the fig leaves of action that the Government have offered previously. They have still not introduced proper measures to make up the HMRC estimate of £35 billion lost each year through avoidance and evasion. Other estimates put the figure much higher. Claims that the rich were fleeing because of the 50% rate are also not very well grounded. Research by the TUC, using HMRC figures, indicated that 59% of those paying the 50% additional rate were employees, most working in banking and therefore unable to leave.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Does the hon. Gentleman understand the disconnect between those who are super-wealthy and the argument that he is making, when I, my constituents and my family, who rely on public services, the national health service and so on, see the sense in paying progressively higher rates of tax, myself included, to make sure that those services are available? Why is it that the super-wealthy do not see the sense in providing for public services? Is it, perhaps, because they do not rely on them?

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

That is certainly one argument, and I shall talk about how, with such an attitude, the super-wealthy are cutting off their own noses, and how a progressive taxation system would benefit them as well as people like the hon. Gentleman and me, who earn far less than those who get hit by the top rate.

As the 2012 HMRC paper that examined the effect of the 50% additional rate of income tax noted,

“there was a considerable behavioural response to the rate change, including a substantial amount of forestalling: around £16 billion to £18 billion of income is estimated to have been brought forward to 2009-10 to avoid the introduction of the additional rate of tax.”

This is a massive sum which would arguably have been included in taxation had the measure been announced with immediate effect.

The most recent figures from HMRC revised liabilities up by £2.8 billion in 2010-11, £3.3 billion in 2011-12 and £3.5 billion in 2012-13. This means that HMRC says it earned a total of £9.6 billion more than previously thought from the 50p tax rate. These are of course projections of taxable income, but that makes the case for the new clause which I am pushing.

Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar

The hon. Gentleman makes the point about the £9.6 billion. Is he aware that HMRC says that the main part of that is due to higher income levels, not to changes in tax levels?

Photo of James Paice James Paice Conservative, South East Cambridgeshire

Does the hon. Gentleman want a review or does he want a higher tax rate? What would he do if that review demonstrated that 45p, 47p or 48p—anything less than 50p—was the point at which the Laffer curve tipped over? Is he interested in maximum receipts to the Treasury or in some sort of moral argument about equalising the distribution of income?

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

That is a very valid intervention. My political position would be to support a 50p rate, but let us have the evidence to make the decision. As I am outlining, the evidence suggests to me that 50p would be a better top rate than 45p, and certainly better than 40p.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I agree with everything that the hon. Gentleman has said. If it were shown that an increased tax rate at that level brought in lower revenues, would not that simply be evidence of more tax evasion and insufficient enforcement?

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales) 4:00 pm, 8th April 2014

That is the key point. If we have effective anti-evasion and avoidance measures, an increased rate of tax will inevitably lead to a higher yield.

We are living in very worrying times where wealth inequalities at geographical and individual levels are unprecedented. Parts of London have gross value added 12 times higher than parts of Wales. While London has the highest GVA per head of any area in the European Union, west Wales and the valleys has one of the lowest. The contemporary history of geographical and individual disparities has been truly depressing in this regard. Successive Governments do not have a good story to tell, with rebalancing promised but never delivered.

At the heart of the argument for a reduced top rate of tax is the trickle-down theory that underpins much of the now-discredited neo-liberal economics that the Thatcher and Reagan era ushered in. It was always sold to us that the newly re-empowered financial elites would spend their money and it would trickle down, and the people at the bottom would become wealthier as a result of this benevolent spending. But what has happened over the past 30 years? Inequality has, in fact, grown massively. Instead of the wealth of the super-rich flowing down, the rich, especially the super-rich, have got steadily even richer and hoarded their money. That money is not simply made out of the sweat and toil of their own good fortune, skill and brilliance, but often on the backs of those who work hard on the bottom rung but gain little financial reward for the true value of their efforts.

We often hear the super-rich whine that they have made their money, so why should they pay a lot of awful tax on it? Well, that tax goes towards paying for important services such as schools, to educate the work force of the next generation, and hospitals, to maintain the work force in good health. It also pays for a police force that keeps our communities safe, and a legal system that ensures that the law operates smoothly and in a trusted way to allow for a broadly prosperous economy and a society free from corruption. We erode these provisions at our peril. Taxes do not exist in a vacuum; they provide the services that create the whole that enables individuals to go on to enjoy the freedom of being able to make money and enjoy relative prosperity. That is what the proponents of the trickle-down effect have forgotten and wilfully ignored over the past 30 years, as Huw Irranca-Davies said.

My new clause would pave the way for the additional rate to be raised to 50%—a small rise of 5%—primarily because that would be symbolic of a move towards a more equal and just society. Only last month, the International Monetary Fund released a report that concluded that the more equal societies stand a better chance of long-term sustainable economic growth. Of course, the IMF is the high priest of austerity which, throughout the 1980s and ’90s, forced developing-world Governments to privatise their publicly owned industries wholesale and enact wildly free-market policies in exchange for international loans. The result was the plundering of those countries’ natural resources by global multinationals, with little benefit being felt by the poor local populations and the elites doing handsomely. It is therefore quite a turnaround for the IMF to conclude that income inequality impedes growth and that efforts to redistribute are positive.

This is the real political challenge that will face us over the next generation. That is why we should be ensuring that those with the broadest shoulders bear the burden in what will continue to be very hard times for those at the bottom of the income scale, given the massive cuts that this Government are still intent on inflicting. Let us remember that a vast tract of the austerity programme has yet to feed into the system. An additional rate of 50% would help to ensure that the super-wealthy bear the burden and pay their fair share. I urge the House to support the new clause.

Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar

It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Clark.

I represent areas that, I am sure, are not dissimilar to those of Members who have already spoken and intervened and where there is a great deal of deprivation. Anybody who wants to learn about my constituency can look at the long article about it in the business section of last weekend’s edition of The Sunday Times.

The amendments tabled by Opposition Members forget some important things. The Labour party kept the top rate at 40% throughout its time in office, until its very last day in power. The only day the rate was 50% was 6 April 2010—the day Parliament was dissolved for the general election.

Mr Redwood and Jonathan Edwards have both questioned how principled the former Prime Minister and the former Chancellor, the right hon. Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown) and for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), were in their commitment to raising the rate to 50%. One thing is for sure: a general election was approaching and they probably knew that the increase would be the gift that kept on giving in terms of headlines. They had levied taxes in any way they could and they knew that going up from 40% was a dubious move in terms of raising revenue; otherwise, they would have done it earlier. What it did do was lead to more headlines.

Millionaires are paying £381,000 more in income tax in this Parliament than they did in the previous Parliament. Having said that, cutting the rate was not the top priority for me or my party. Our priority was to cut taxes for ordinary working people and we are very proud of the large moves we have made in that direction.

We should also remember that taxing the rich is not only about the headline rate of income tax. Let us consider some of the other measures this Government have already taken. Withdrawal of the personal allowance on incomes of more than £100,000 means that there is already a 60% tax rate on incomes between £100,000 and £120,000. On capital gains tax, anybody lucky enough to make a capital gain of £1 million will pay £100,000 more tax under this Government than they did under the previous Government. The 18% rate of capital gains tax under Labour meant that City operators who made capital gains paid less tax on them than their office cleaners paid on their income, which was truly outrageous. People with a pension contribution of £250,000 are now paying £94,000 more tax on it. If anyone is lucky enough to have £1 million to spend after all those taxes, they will pay £25,000 more in VAT, if they spend it on standard rate items. Tax avoidance has also gone down; Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, with its extra resources, is clamping down on it. The idea that this Government are sitting around allowing the rich to do whatever they want is absolute nonsense.

Labour’s proposal to put the rate back up to 50% has already been thrown into doubt by the Institute for Fiscal Studies. I am the first to admit that £100 million is a lot of money, but that is all that would come out of it and the IFS has said that it is not a good way to narrow the deficit. HMRC has already said that what the rise to 50% would actually achieve is doubtful. If hon. Members want to review it, we already have real experience of rates of 40%, 50% and now 45%. The Treasury and HMRC conduct regular reviews and a similar review could be conducted on real, existing data. There was a 50% rate for a period, so a real review could be conducted. It is also worth remembering that national insurance is currently 2%, so the marginal rates that people are paying to the Government are not 45%, but 47%.

We have to be careful. The experience in France is fascinating. There has been a wholesale exodus, with the actor Gérard Depardieu taking the extreme step of moving to Russia to avoid what he regards as extreme tax rates. There is no doubt that people with such incomes and that kind of money can, largely, live wherever they like these days. We need to bear it in mind that the population is more fluid than it used to be.

The Red Book makes it very clear that the top decile pays far more tax than it did. That is right because, as the hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr said, people with the broadest shoulders should bear the biggest burden; and they are doing so, because of all the changes that have been made. Despite the fact that the amendment suggests otherwise,

“income inequality is at its lowest level since 1986”,

as the Red Book states. I find the idea that income inequality widened under a Labour Government abhorrent, because such Governments should have narrowing it in their DNA. My four grandparents, who all helped to launch the Labour party, must have been spinning in their graves during the 13 years of the previous Government. I am deeply cynical about Labour’s commitment: they cut taxes for millionaires every year that they were in government.

I look forward to discussing this further in Committee. I do not have a particular argument with reviews, but they do not need to be specified in Bills.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

We touched on this issue in the earlier debate. Mr Redwood, who is no longer in his place, told me that I probably did not mix with many very rich people, which I suspect is probably true. My whole life and the constituency I represent have not been chock-full of people living in millionaires’ row and having lots of money in their pockets. However, his points, which other hon. Members have mentioned, about whether the recent rate changes—from 40% to 50% and back to 45%—are a good test do not bear much weight. |It is quite clear, in such a short space of time that people, could rearrange their affairs in various ways first to forestall the income and then to ensure that the tax due in previous years was paid last year.

The Office for Budget Responsibility has said the same—that there has been an increase in payments, but that it was largely due to the fact that people could arrange their income in such a way as also to arrange their tax. When my hon. Friend Mr Love intervened on the right hon. Member for Wokingham to suggest that people had rearranged their finances to suit the current tax regime, he was told that that was not the case. However, the right hon. Gentleman then talked about how those with high incomes—the rich, in his words—have plenty of ability to rearrange their affairs, so he in fact made precisely our case.

The argument that because something was not done during a certain period, it is not a good idea does not bear scrutiny either. Such a line does not relate to the financial situation in which we found ourselves. We hear a lot about the need for deficit reduction, as we have throughout this Parliament, and we know that the rate of deficit reduction has been far lower than was originally promised and planned for. Many of the changes—to tax credits, to benefits, to local government funding—were justified as absolutely essential for reducing the deficit. Under the previous Government, the reason for introducing the 50p rate was largely about that as well. It was and it remains our belief that we need a better balance when we are trying to reduce the deficit.

We all accept that there is no great virtue in running a long-term deficit. The debate has been about not whether to do something about it but the pace and efficacy with which we do something about it. Within that, there are choices to be made. There is a balance to be struck between taxes and spending cuts, and the Government have chosen to place a lot of emphasis on spending cuts and far less on tax. The 50p tax rate could have been sustained throughout this Parliament as part of the process.

However much coalition Members, particularly Liberal Democrats, wish to say that raising the tax threshold was all about helping the low paid, let us not forget that it had a substantial cost—already more than £10 billion in tax forgone to date—and that three quarters of the benefit has gone not to the lowest paid but to those on above-average earnings. The main beneficiaries are the not the low-paid people about whom everybody professes to care so much. At the same time as the Government reduced tax, many lower-paid people lost housing benefit payments and tax credits, so they were worse off than they had been.

Now, 17% of those in employment are below the tax bracket, and the Government are offering them nothing. If they got any benefit from the first rise in the tax threshold, they are getting no benefit from the further increases, which are costing the Government money. Every time the tax threshold is raised, it has a substantial cost, and the benefits go substantially to those who are better off. There is an unequal division, and if we wanted to spread the load, the 50p tax rate could have been part of that. We have to measure things over a longer period, rather than looking purely at a period of three or four years when people have been able to rearrange their tax affairs in a way that suits them.

The 50p tax rate was not the be-all and end-all of reducing the deficit or of tax policy, but many of my constituents cannot understand why reducing the rate was made such a priority. They are finding the cost of living difficult, and they are suffering losses, including to local services. Many people end up having to pay more, because councils are making up for a loss of funding by charging for many services. That affects people, and they are puzzled about why a Government who said “We are all in this together” have made such a tax cut their top priority. It is not at all unreasonable to examine the impact of that and to be willing to listen to what people are saying about their cost of living.

Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar 4:15 pm, 8th April 2014

I am following the hon. Lady’s argument about the tax changes, and I have two questions. First, does she object to the raising of the threshold to £10,000? Secondly, will she oppose her party’s policy of adding a 10p rate? She seems to feel that such things do not help the people she wants to help.

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

We have to be honest about the tax threshold. The primary driver behind the change is constantly presented as being concern for the low paid, but the major part of the benefit has accrued to those who are better off. The change also has a substantial cost, at a time when we are told that money is tight. It is worth considering what would help the less well-off in a more concrete way. When the threshold was raised, tax credit rules were changed, tax credit rates were lowered and child care help for people on tax credits was slashed. At some undefined point in the future, the threshold will again be increased, but that is not a lot of help for those who, for the past four years and for however long it takes to establish universal credit, have had their help with child care cut.

The threshold is not what it seems, and we have to be clear about that. If we genuinely want to help the low-paid, we have to consider the model that we use. Many commentators have suggested that, for example, we should consider child care costs and work allowances within universal credit. One change that the Government have made to universal credit since it was first proposed—not that many people are on universal credit yet—is to reduce the work allowances, which means that people lose universal credit faster as their earnings rise, so the low-paid will again suffer. It now turns out that the introduction of assistance covering 85% of child care costs for those on universal credit will have to be paid for from another part of universal credit, so people who, by definition, are not very well off will be paying for that child care assistance. That is rather strange because I do not believe that the tax relief for child care will necessarily be funded in quite the same way. If we really want to help the low-paid, it is worth considering other proposals and no longer simply arguing that raising the tax threshold is helping the lowest paid and will always be the best way to do so.

On the 50p tax rate, I contend that there has been a series of decisions that have heavily affected those who earn the least and are struggling the most, and no number of graphs showing that people at the high end are now paying more tax, or that the proportion of tax changes that affect their income is at least as high as the proportion affecting the low-paid, can show otherwise. The reality is that five percentage points off the tax rate for those on very high incomes is very different from five percentage points off the tax rate for those on very low incomes; it is the difference between parents being able to pay for their children to go on a school trip or being able to think about taking the bus into town because those things cost. A five percentage point difference for someone on a very high income might be the same numerically, but it does not have the same consequences for people’s lives.

Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar

I am following the hon. Lady’s argument carefully, and she is straying from tax into welfare, which I understand is a real concern for her. She makes a good point on the effect of proportionate tax rates. The cut in tax through raising the threshold has actually reduced the tax and national insurance bills of people on the minimum wage by some 70%. If we are talking percentages, does she welcome that figure? Does she also accept that anyone working 30 hours a week or more on the minimum wage is earning £10,000? Finally, will she answer the question about the 10p tax rate? Will she oppose that policy?

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

The hon. Gentleman suggests that it is irrelevant to link welfare and tax, but I do not agree. Welfare and tax are intimately linked in a very practical way for someone who may have seen their tax bill go down but who has also seen their benefits go down substantially and so are either no better off or are actually worse off. That is a very real link, because raising the tax threshold has a substantial cost; it is not a pain-free, non-costed policy. At £10 billion, the policy costs a considerable amount of money that could have been spent in some other way. I am not convinced that the net effect for the lowest paid is such that they benefit. Given that so much of the benefit goes to people who are better off, I would have thought he would want to question that policy.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Labour, North Tyneside

My hon. Friend makes a good argument. How much more does the increase in VAT affect people on low pay than the very rich? An average family loses £1,350 a year because of the increase in VAT. How can they be helped by the Government’s measures given all the other cuts they have imposed?

Photo of Sheila Gilmore Sheila Gilmore Labour, Edinburgh East

VAT, like a lot of indirect taxation, is extremely regressive. Before 2010, Ian Swales campaigned vigorously against an increase in VAT, calling it a tax bombshell. He thought that at one point and might continue to think it.

Those policies have an impact, one on the other. Tax is not isolated from spend. As I said at the beginning of my speech, in decisions on dealing with the deficit, we must look at both. The balance we strike is extremely important. Increasingly, the burden is falling on spending cuts, which include cuts on various benefits and tax credits. The cuts to local authorities have been extremely important for many people who rely on the services that councils provide. They have found either that services are withdrawn or that the charges levied for them—for example, charges for social care, whether for people at home or in residential care are rising—are a big burden, as they are for a lot of families. We cannot look at those things in isolation. The Opposition have made proposals, as the hon. Gentleman knows, but at this stage, new clause 4 proposes having a proper look at the 50p tax rate. Labour has made its position clear: we would reinstate the 50p rate.

Several hon. Members:


Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran

Order. I remind hon. Members that we are debating a possible 50p income tax rate. Could they try to focus their arguments and interventions on that?

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

I will do my best to abide by your ruling, Ms Clark—you probably want me to do more than my best.

Reference has been made to the fact that an historic event is taking place elsewhere in Parliament. I am sure that my colleagues will represent the Democratic Unionist party very well, but I have to attend this important debate. As a Unionist, I would have loved to see the President of the Irish Republic giving a speech to both Houses of Parliament with King Billy looking over his shoulder—I understand that King Billy is somewhere behind him while he gives his speech. Even better, tomorrow a republican will sit down to dinner with the Queen.

Things have changed in Northern Ireland, but the debate on the 50p rate has not changed. It is again a political football between Labour and the Conservatives. I want to make something clear at the outset. I do not wish to engage in a debate with some kind of class motive, or from the point of view of bashing the rich by imposing taxation on them. My party and I believe in lower taxation. Our record in Northern Ireland, where we have very limited power over taxes, has been one of keeping tax low. My basic philosophy, which may differ from that of some on the Opposition Benches, is that we should allow people to keep as much of their income as possible and to spend it as they see fit. That is the first point I want to make.

My second point is that we can become distracted from the crux of the argument by the accusation that this is a bit of a cynical exercise—after all, for all the time the Labour party was in power it kept the tax rate at 40% and only put it up on the last day. The essence of the argument then becomes not whether we should have a higher rate of taxation for those who are better off, but whether this is some kind of political stunt which, as Ian Swales said, can be milked week after week and headline after headline, but has no real substance. If we allow the debate to rest at that level, we miss a number of important points.

Any taxation policy must be predicated on two things. The economic impact on the policy is very important, but equally important is the political context in which the policy is introduced. If the Government cannot see beyond the fog of the amount of money the policy brings in and how, or whether, it helps to deal with the deficit—two points I will come on to later—to the political context, they are sadly out of tune with the people across the United Kingdom.

There is something to be learned from the experience in the Irish Republic. The austerity measures there have been much harsher than those in the United Kingdom, yet there has not been the same groundswell of opposition. One reason for that is that it was in much more desperate straits, but there was also an understanding that, to use the phrase that gets bandied around time and again, the policies ensured that they were all in it together: they were applied across the broad spectrum of society.

The hon. Member for Redcar talked about some of the tax policies introduced that have hit the rich more than the poor—capital gains tax and a number of other changes—but the truth is that people look at the headline issue. The headline issue in this context is what has been happening to income tax. Those on middle incomes have found their income being squeezed. Tax bands have not increased with inflation, so more people have been pulled into the 40% rate. At the lower end of the scale—I do not want to wander into welfare reform—welfare reforms have had an effect on the poorer groups in society, and the wage freeze has had much more of an impact on people on lower incomes. There is a belief that we are not all in this together.

A cynicism has developed as a result of ignoring the political context in which this policy change has been introduced. In the Budget the Chancellor told us that the years of austerity will last until 2020 and maybe beyond. Given that, it is important for the country that if people are to be told that difficult fiscal times still lie ahead, they understand that the burden of those difficult times is going to be shared. Jonathan Edwards explained why he had not gone for an immediate change in the new clause: it cannot be done at this stage of the Bill. He has called for a review, as have the official Opposition, so that there could be some indication that Parliament is not ignoring the appearance of a gap when it comes to the burden sharing of the ongoing austerity measures. I have no doubt, given the level of debt and of ongoing annual borrowing, that there are difficult decisions to be made. However, if the Government really believe that, it is surely in their interests to show to the broad spectrum of the population that no one will be excluded and that there will be no privileged groups when it comes to dealing with this issue.

The argument from Conservative Members is that this is a necessary measure to deal with the deficit. “After all,” they say, “if we bring the rate of taxation down at the top level, fewer people will flee the country, fewer people will try to avoid tax through fancy schemes, and people will be given an incentive to work harder. As a result, we will bring in more money.” The first thing to ask is how accurate that assessment is. There are two ways of looking at it. The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr talked about the Laffer curve and the point at which tax take can be optimised. If it were as simple as getting a formula and saying, “That is exactly the rate at which we will maximise tax revenue,” I suppose the Chancellor could sit down and coldly calculate the rate of taxation that should be set.

The truth is—this is why economists get these things wrong so often—that there is no exact science. If we are making predictions and we have to feed into an economic model assumptions that may or may not be right, the outcome can be radically different from what was originally expected. If we look at the elasticity of tax income, we see that the variations are large. Some estimates put it as inelastic whereas some put it at quite elastic. The Treasury have settled for somewhere in between, but let us bear it in mind that it is an estimate. It is not exact. The variations are large, so one cannot say with any degree of certainty that in theory the tax take should go up and that this is therefore a good policy which helps to reduce the deficit.

The additional thing contained in the figures is the behavioural aspect. Whether we are talking about the way in which people will try to avoid tax or the number of people who will not flee the country, as opposed to the number who did flee the country in the past, we are introducing a huge element of uncertainty, because we cannot accurately predict the way in which people will respond in certain circumstances. There are so many factors that will influence their behaviour.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) 4:30 pm, 8th April 2014

I apologise for having left the Chamber. I had to address some young constituents.

The hon. Gentleman has made a number of good points. May I now ask him a question that I asked earlier? Why is there such a disconnect in the moral compass of the super-wealthy that they feel they would rather flee the country than pay a couple of extra pennies in income tax? Why do they imagine that they live in a different world, and that they do not need to sustain the public services on which everyone else relies?

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

That is a very good question, but the fact is that we do not even know whether that is the way in which people behave. As has already been pointed out, many of those who pay the top rates of tax are employees, and many have their roots here. Their children are at schools here, they are involved in their communities here, and they have their families—their grannies, their mummies, their uncles and so forth. The assumption that people will suddenly cut all those ties when the marginal rate of tax is raised is extremely tenuous. I have not so far seen any figures that suggest that that happens. I can understand that if the marginal rate were raised from 45% to 90%, there might well be some incentive for people to leave, but when it is raised by only a few percentage points, is there really an incentive for people to avoid taxation by becoming exiles, given all the disruption that that may cause?

Ministers frequently refer to tax take predictions based on economic models, but it should be borne in mind that such predictions cannot specify the exact impact of tax changes with rapier-like incision. Their other argument is that, if the theory and the models cannot provide an exact picture, we should look at what has happened to tax revenue in practice over the past few years, because the proof of the pudding is in the eating. No doubt the Minister will give figures showing an increase in tax revenue from this particular income group, in which case we must ask whether it is possible to separate the various elements that have led to that increase.

I believe that the Government made a rather cynical attempt to ensure that they would achieve the result that they wanted by announcing the tax reduction a year in advance, knowing that that would give people an opportunity to defer the tax that they pay, thus enabling the Government to point to an increase in tax revenue in the first year of the new rate. Of course, if people are given advance notification and a chance to delay their payments, we will see the predicted outcome. I suppose it would be best to see whether the trend continues over a longer period, because we do not have any figures yet.

We know that while the incomes of certain groups have been frozen, incomes have been much more fluid at the top end of the income scale than at the bottom end, where there has been a blanket 1% increase. Indeed, there have been wage decreases in some parts of the private sector, especially at the lower end of the scale. How much of the increase is attributable to the fact not that there is more tax take from the same level of income, but that there is more tax take from increased incomes because there has been greater fluidity at that end of the income scale? Even after consideration, it cannot be said with absolute certainty that the reduction in the level of income tax has led to the increase in revenue.

There are a lot of uncertainties, and it is for that reason that I make the following argument. The Minister could be correct when he says the public purse has benefited, but given the uncertainties as to whether that has been due to rising incomes, deferred tax payments or a range of other factors, against the political impact this has had and will continue to have as austerity measures have to be applied in the economy, serious consideration needs to be given to the proposal that the situation be reviewed.

In an intervention it was asked whether we would persist in going back to the 50% rate if the review showed that 48% is where we maximise. Given that there may well be a marginal difference, I think some of these decisions have to be made on what people believe, and the politics of the decision will dictate that as well. That is why I believe this is an important amendment.

One thing I have found in the context of Northern Ireland is that headline rates of taxation can have a very important psychological impact. In a previous occupation, I had many discussions with the Minister about a reduction in corporation tax in Northern Ireland. The problem we faced was that there was a 12.5% rate in the Irish Republic and we had a much higher rate in Northern Ireland. In fact, however, with all the concessions, firms in Northern Ireland probably paid less corporation tax than those in the Irish Republic. That was not the important thing, however. The important thing was that when businesses looked at corporation tax—

Photo of Katy Clark Katy Clark Labour, North Ayrshire and Arran 4:45 pm, 8th April 2014

Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that we are debating the 50p tax rate. A number of Members still wish to speak so perhaps he would address himself to the amendment before us.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury)

The point I was trying to make, perhaps at too great a length, was that the important thing was the headline rate when people were looking at places to locate their businesses. It is the same with income tax. While there may have been other tax changes that have affected the rich, when people make a judgment on the Government’s sincerity about austerity, they will look at the headline rate, and what they see when they look at the headline rate for those on middle incomes, for those on lower incomes—not in terms of the headline rate of income tax, but in terms of what has happened to their income—and for the most well-off in society is that there is a disparity, and that breeds cynicism. I believe an amendment such as this one will at least help to restore some confidence that when this House looks at what lies ahead, it is genuinely trying to make sure the burden is shared equally.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I apologise to the Committee for being absent earlier; I was with a group of young people from my constituency who are interested in politics and in what is being debated in the Chamber today. I am glad to have a few minutes now to say a few words.

The new clause and the amendment are innocuous and harmless proposals. They simply ask the Government to be transparent and to produce a review within a few months to show the effect of a 50p tax rate on those whose taxable income is between £150,000 and £1 million a year. I have struggled to find many such people in my constituency. I have tweeted about this on social media, asking people whether they think our amendment would be a bad idea, but, unsurprisingly, no one has come forward to say that they earn that much.

It is in the Government’s interest, as well as ours, to have this transparency. It is also in all our interests to tell people that we get the message about proportionality and contributing to public services. There is an emerging trend among the Conservatives to describe themselves as being the party of the working class and of working families. If that is they case, they should support our proposals, because they would create full transparency and allow a debate to take place on whether we should set a tax rate of 50%, 49% or whatever. The proposals would also allow them to explain to working people—not the ones who earn between £150,000 and £1 million a year, but those who earn about £20,998, the median wage in Ogmore Vale—and to Conservative supporters why they think it is not a good idea to say to people, “Pay your share. We are genuinely all in this together.”

The hon. Members for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) and for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) have made good contributions to the debate, and I made a couple of mischievous interventions on them earlier. I have faith in the wealthy and the super-wealthy in this country. We will not have many Gérard Depardieus fleeing the country and heading off to Russia, or wherever the British, Welsh or Scottish equivalent might be. They will say, “We have respect for the communities that we work and employ people in, and it will not bankrupt us to stay here. We are not going to flee overnight to another country like some carpetbagger. We are not going to up sticks and relocate our premises.” That is not going to happen; it did not happen before, even when taxes were at much higher levels. It is a discredit to those people to suggest that it would happen.

In preparation for the debate, I looked into a few examples of people who had said that a return to the 50p tax rate would be a disaster. I was about to say that it would be wrong to name them, but one of them, the chief executive of Kingfisher, has been very outspoken in saying what a terrible detrimental effect such a measure would have. He has said that it would be a disaster for the country, and that entrepreneurs and businesses would flee. Well, okay, it might be just a coincidence that Ian Cheshire is an adviser to the Prime Minister as well as being the chief executive of Kingfisher. It might also be just a coincidence that he was knighted in the new year’s honours list. I am sure that that is pure coincidence. However, he clearly has a direct influence on the Government. When he says, “This is not good”, things happen. It is not only him, however.

It was fascinating to note the reaction of one other person, when this debate was raging about 18 months ago. I will not name this individual, but people can look him up in the Daily Mail. It is pretty obvious who I am talking about. He had said that he objected to a 50p tax rate on the basis that people like him would no longer be inspired to go out and earn money. He was reported in the

Daily Mail as being about to sell his £3 million mock-Tudor home. He was explaining that he was now in a great place but when he had previously had trouble expanding the property, he had solved the problem by snapping up the property of his next-door neighbour. This was in an area inhabited by rock stars, football players and other highly paid celebrities. He had snapped up the house next door so that he could put in a swimming pool, a games room and a garage block for his Bentleys. We do not have many garage blocks in Ogmore. The properties were in a patrolled, gated community with private security.

My constituents who are on less than £21,000 a year think that that is another world. They think, “Why doesn’t that guy think he should be paying a couple of pennies more to keep the national health service going, because I can’t afford to have private health care or to send my children off to private school? I need what the state provides.” I know that this is like an old comedy sketch—“I look up to him because he is better than me.” But, that is not the case. The person I am talking about was one of those hardworking Tory supporters who some Government Members would like to appeal to now as the working Tory voter. Let us have reality check. To those who say, “We feel really unhappy about this change, and it will drive us off”, I say, “Go.” They should subscribe to the values and ethos of this country—from each according to his ability to each according to his need. If they do not, they are not living in the country in which I was brought up. They should think twice about saying that they will go. Most people will sensibly recognise the skills and the quality of the work force, the good environment here for building up companies and our position in the European Union, and they will stay in the country and continue to work. All this amendment asks is that at a certain point in time, not too long in the future, we should be told what the impact is on those who are earning £150,000 or £1 million. Be transparent and tell us.

Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar

I represent a constituency with similar income levels to that of the hon. Gentleman. However, does he regret the fact that a senior member of the Government he was in described himself as being “intensely relaxed” about the situation that he has just described?

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I would never use that same phrase. I do not find myself intensely relaxed about this. Sorry, what I mean is that someone paying for the Ospreys rugby team might not earn as much as a premiership footballer, but good luck to them. Let them make a lot of money. Let them do well for their families. Let someone travel to France and play for Perpignan and earn four times the money. Good luck to them, but I want them paying their taxes. When they are back here, I want them to contribute the right amount. I want to encourage the people in my constituency, and say, “If you have the abilities and the skills, and if you are willing to put in the effort, don’t accept that job that you are doing now. Work your way up and do what you can do. The sky is your limit.” But I want them also to contribute. I do not want this ludicrous situation in which people can say, “I tell you what, at a certain point

I will leave the country.” I do not believe that they will leave the country. It will not happen. I have much more faith in them than that.

One of the major hedge fund operators, again a Conservative donor, told the Financial Times:

“There probably aren’t many votes in cutting the 50p top rate of tax, but among those that give significant amounts to the party, it’s a big issue, and that’s probably why it’s a big issue for the party too.”

Four months after he said that to the Financial Times, the Budget happened and we had the cut in the tax rate. It is probably just a coincidence again.

Let us look at the impact of this policy and the Government’s current policies on the wider population—beyond the wealthy and the super-wealthy. The Institute for Fiscal Studies’ figures on net income changes by 2014-15 show that overall, households are £974 worse off; a working lone parent is £1,335 worse off; a working couple with no children is £438 worse off; a working couple with children is £2,073 worse off. What about the millionaires? They get this enormous tax cut so that they can go out and buy a couple more Porsches. The Minister might say, “No, it is so that they can reinvest it in this, that and the other.” What about reinvesting in public services? Why does the Minister think that they want to escape from that obligation that we all have to each other to contribute? It may be 47p, 48p or 49p, but there is a message—there is clarity—about us all being in it together that comes with saying that it is 50p. If that 2p seriously makes a wealthy individual say, “We are leaving this country because it is a disgrace that any Government should come after me”, I would say that it is a disgrace that they are even thinking in that way. I have more faith in those people who have made wealth in this country. I believe that they will want to stay here and genuinely help us climb out of this economic morass. They will want to build jobs, grow the economy, skill the economy and lift up the wages of some of my constituents.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Minister (Treasury) 5:00 pm, 8th April 2014

I rise to support amendment 4, which stands in my name and those of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Our amendment seeks to require the Chancellor to publish a report on the impact of setting the additional rate—the top rate—of income tax at 50%, but unlike new clause 4, our amendment requires that the report must also estimate the impact of the top rate in 2014-15 if it is set at 45% and at 50% on the amount of income tax currently paid by someone with a taxable income of £150,000 a year and of £1 million a year. Our amendment therefore seeks to prescribe somewhat more than new clause 4 what the report that must be prepared by the Chancellor of the Exchequer should include. We intend to press our amendment to a vote at the end of the debate.

The Labour Government introduced the 50p rate, which came into effect in 2010-11. We have had a number of debates on the top rate of tax ever since, particularly since this Chancellor’s decision to reduce the top rate from 50p to 45p. That decision is an important indicator of both the Chancellor’s and his Government’s priorities. While ordinary people have been struggling with the cost of living crisis—based just on a measure of wages, they are £1,600 a year worse off, or, taking into account tax and benefits changes, they are £974 a year worse off—the Chancellor has seen fit to give a tax cut worth an average £100,000 to millionaires in our country.

When the Government came to power, they did not say anything in the coalition agreement about abolishing the 50p rate. In 2011, the Chancellor said that he was going to ask HMRC to look at the yields from the 50p rate. In 2012, with HMRC’s report, “The Exchequer effect of the 50% additional rate of income tax”, to back him up, he abolished the rate. The Chancellor knew that he needed cover for that deeply ideological decision and so was desperate, in my view, to claim that the 50p rate raised as little money as possible. Of course, if he could say that, he could justify with more of a straight face giving a tax cut to the richest in our country at the same time as knowing that on his watch ordinary people, those on middle and low incomes, have paid the price for his economic plan, which is failing on the terms he set himself when he came to power in 2010. This was a highly political decision driven by a desire to give a tax cut to the richest people in our country.

Reports at the time suggested that the Chancellor wanted to go further and cut the top rate back down to 40p, but was blocked from doing so by his coalition colleagues. As a compromise, 45p was settled on. Of course, we know that the Conservative party is chomping at the bit to see the rate lowered from 45p to 40p and it is a shame that Mr Redwood has not been in the Chamber for this part of the debate, although we did cover some of his views in this regard in the earlier debate on corporation tax and business rates. As a result of his comments and use of figures, we have in the past week seen efforts to try to bolster the case for reducing the rate back to 40p. I note that the Government have not explicitly ruled out such a change.

We know from the Government’s own assessment that the cost of cutting the rate from 50p to 45p was more than £3 billion, excluding all behavioural changes. Given that the sum is so large, how does one justify the tax cut? The Government say that most of that potential £3 billion revenue would effectively be lost as a result of tax avoidance. Once they have assessed revenue lost as a result of tax avoidance and other behavioural change, the Government go on to say that the cost to the Exchequer is only £100 million. That implies that this is a neat and exact science, but nothing could be further from the truth.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North

I think that my hon. Friend is suggesting that the Government have been soft on tax avoidance and tax evasion simply to make their figures work.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I will come on to the point about tax avoidance. One option open to the Government to protect revenue from the 50p rate was to do more on tax avoidance. This is a Government who like to trumpet their record on tax avoidance, but they certainly ducked the opportunity when it came to dealing with potential avoidance in relation to the 50p rate.

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I will not, because of a lack of time.

The HMRC report says that all the analysis and estimation is highly uncertain, as does the Institute for Fiscal Studies. The scale of behavioural change is ultimately decided by Ministers, and it is primarily based on an assessment of taxable income elasticity—TIE. The IFS says that there is a huge margin for error. Staying within that margin, one could easily say that, depending on the TIE, cutting the rate could cost £700 million or could raise £600 million. That gives us an idea of the range of figures that we are talking about and how uncertain the projections are.

It might have fitted the Government narrative for them to imply that they knew for certain that the 50p rate would raise only £100 million, but even on their figures and HMRC’s report, there is a huge margin for error and this is all very uncertain. That is not the only thing that was wrong with the analysis. The HMRC report was based on only one year’s worth of data—the data related to 2010-11—which is a weakness in itself. It came too early. Given the history of the introduction of the rate and the Government’s decision to cut it, the reliance on year one is a further weakness in the Government’s argument, because we know that incomes were taken earlier to avoid the 50p rate and as a result incomes in 2010 and 2011 were artificially lower, suggesting a lower yield. Hence our request for a review.

The original HMRC analysis does not give a true picture, was done too soon after the rate had been introduced and was based on only one year’s worth of data. Income figures for that year were lower than otherwise might have been the case because people brought their income forward to 2009-10 before the rate came into effect. No one has redone the analysis so we are still going on the figures from the 2012 Budget. The Government should, at the very least, update the analysis based on the more recent data and prepare the report that our amendment and new clause 4 call for. A comparison of 45p and 50p rates for those on incomes over £150,000 and £1 million would be instructive to the public debate about the top rate, especially as some Members on the Government Back Benches want to reduce the rate to 40p.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

The hon. Lady is generous in giving way. When her party announced that it would reintroduce the 50p rate in the next Parliament, she wrote in the New Statesman:

“latest figures from the HMRC show that people earning more than £150,000 a year paid almost £10 billion more in tax” than was taken into account in the assessment that HMRC made. Is she happy to put on record the fact that the HMRC assessment took into account the numbers that she was talking about, and that the claims that she and her colleagues made at the time of the announcement of the 50p policy were in fact wrong about that?

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Shadow Minister (Treasury)

Our analysis was based on projections that were available to us at that time, and on those projections that analysis was correct. The truth is that everyone accepts that all analysis in relation to the 50p rate—HMRC’s analysis and everyone else’s—is uncertain because we did not have the rate in place for long enough to make a full and thorough assessment. Now HMRC has available to it records for the following two years when the 50p rate was in place and it could update the report that was used for Budget 2012. That would give a much clearer picture to all of us who are relying on other figures and forecasts.

Just as people shifted income into 2009 and 2010 to avoid the 50p rate when it was introduced, once the Chancellor had said in his 2012 Budget that he would abolish it the following year in 2013, unsurprisingly people effectively decided to delay their bonuses and income until the new tax year 2013-14 began so that they could avoid paying 50p and pay 45p instead. That is what accounts for the revenue from 45p being higher, which in our earlier debates Government Members sought to rely on in support of cutting the rate further to 40p. The Government clearly reward tax avoidance at 50p with a tax cut to 45p, and their Back Benchers are now calling for 40p on the basis of revenue that they know is inflated owing to income shifting, which may well have cost the Treasury millions in lost revenue—warped priorities if ever there was a case of them.

The Chancellor is on record as saying that he considers tax avoidance to be “morally repugnant”, but as I have just said, he has rewarded a particular form of tax avoidance with a tax cut. I wonder if that has ever happened for people on middle and lower incomes. I think not. This is a Government who always tell us how proud they are of their record on tax avoidance, but I wonder how much effort they put into thinking of ways in which they could protect revenue from the 50p rate. The Government have introduced the general anti-abuse rule, the GAAR, which may have helped. They could have thought about a targeted rule. They could have looked to HMRC to do more. I understand that no specific measures are taken within HMRC to protect revenue from the 50p rate. Before rushing to abolish the rate, the Government could and should have looked at protecting revenue first. The truth is that there was no justification for giving a huge tax cut to the richest in our country. Bonuses, we now know, are up by 83% for those in the financial sector, while ordinary people are worse off now and will be worse off in 2015 compared with 2012. That certainly makes a mockery of the now not very often repeated phrase, “We are all in it together.”

I think the Government have been hoping that if they keep going on about the increase in the personal allowance, people will forget that they have made a political decision, a political choice and a political priority to cut taxes for the richest in our country. The truth is that the Government have given with one hand and taken away much more with the other. As I said, if one looks at wages, ordinary people are £1,600 a year worse off, and the combined effect of tax and benefit changes means that households will, on average, be £970 a year worse off.

This cut to the 50p rate cannot be justified at a time when the deficit is high and will not be eliminated towards the end of the next Parliament. Labour in government will increase the rate back to 50p to help us to get the deficit down in a fairer way. Just as we have said that we want the OBR to have powers to audit manifestos ahead of the next general election, because we believe that scrutiny will add to public understanding about the choices that are being made, so too we think that a review as envisaged in our amendment would help the public to understand the impact of the top rate of tax so that they can make up their own minds about who is standing up for them and other working people like them. Therefore, we will press amendment 4 to a vote.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

It is a great pleasure, Mr Amess, to serve under your chairmanship. Before I deal with our annual debate at this stage in the Finance Bill on the 50p rate, I want to say a word or two about clause 1, which is included within the group, which ensures that income tax will be collected in 2014-15. Income tax is the Government’s biggest revenue source and the annual charge legislated in the Finance Bill is essential for its continued collection. There will be around 30 million income tax payers in the UK in 2014-15, and clause 1 states that these taxpayers will pay income tax this year at the same rates as in 2013-14. The basic and higher tax rates remain at 20% and 40% respectively, and the additional rate is 45%.

Clause 1 also means that the Government are meeting their commitment of raising the personal allowance to £10,000 one year ahead of schedule. The increase of the personal allowance to £10,000 reduces the income tax bills of another 255,000 low earners to zero and gives 25 million taxpayers an average gain of £50 in real terms. In other words, increasing the personal allowance by £560 will put an extra £112 of cash in the pockets of typical basic rate taxpayers in 2014-15.

Allow me to explain how these changes will help the Government to meet their objectives. When this Government came to office, the personal allowance was only £6,475. In 2010, everyone, including those working on the national minimum wage, had to pay income tax at the basic rate on incomes above this low threshold. Let me give an example of what this meant in practice. Someone working full-time on the October 2010 national minimum wage would have had to pay over £860 in income tax in 2010-11 alone. Thanks to this Government’s increases to the personal allowance, this year someone working full-time on the higher October 2014 national minimum wage will pay nearly £500 less than that.

We have enabled people to keep more of the money they earn to reward those who work hard for their families. The gains from our personal allowance increases are spread widely. Altogether, this Government will already have taken more than 3 million low earners out of income tax by the end of April. That number will further increase to more than 3.2 million by April 2015, when the personal allowance will be more than £2,800 higher than under the previous Government’s plans.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Labour, Luton North 5:15 pm, 8th April 2014

Ministers have talked a lot about low incomes, and that is all very well, but is not the reality that the better off people are and the higher the rate of tax they are on, the more they benefit, so in fact higher-rate taxpayers benefit more than lower-rate taxpayers?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

That is not correct, because of the way we have done this. I will not spend a lot of time on the matter, but I can tell the hon. Gentleman that in preparation for this speech I have seen various responses from those raising concerns about higher-rate taxpayers not benefiting from the increases in the personal allowance in the way that basic-rate taxpayers have. Indeed, those earning more than £100,000 a year do not benefit from increases in the personal allowance because it starts to be taken away.

The reality is that basic-rate taxpayers have benefited most from the measures that we have taken in increasing the personal allowance. More than 26 million taxpayers will be up to £570 better off in real terms in 2015-16 as a result of this Government’s changes. In 2014-15, basic-rate taxpayers already pay up to £700 less income tax than they would have done four years ago. By 2015-16, the Government will have cut their income tax bills by over £800 per year. Together, all the personal allowance increases since 2010 mean that this Government have cut the number of income tax payers more in five years than any Government in a similar period since records began.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

Will the Minister correct what may be a misunderstanding? Is it correct that 13,000 people who earned more than £1 million a year would have benefited to the tune of £100,000, on average, from the reduction in the top rate of tax?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

Amendment 4 and new clause 4, tabled by Opposition parties, deal with familiar matters that we debate every year. They propose, once again, that within three months of passing the Finance Act, the Chancellor should publish a report reviewing the impact of setting the additional rate at 50%. In addition, amendment 4 asks for an assessment of the impact of setting the additional rate for 2014-15 at 45% and at 50% on the amount of income tax currently paid by those with taxable incomes of over £150,000 and over £1 million per year. Needless to say, such an analysis, in order to be credible, would need to take behavioural impacts into account, as did the HMRC report on the additional rate published at Budget 2012. When increasing taxes, it is not enough merely to look at theoretical income tax liabilities. Let me assure hon. Members, once more, that this Government already consider the impact of any policy decisions taken. The HMRC report on the additional rate concluded that the underlying yield from the introduction of the 50p rate was much lower than originally forecast due to large behavioural effects. It even said that it is possible that the 50p rate could have reduced income tax revenue instead of increasing it. It would be illogical and unfair to reintroduce a tax rate that is ineffective at raising revenue from high earners and that would end up making ordinary taxpayers pay more and risk damaging growth.

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

I genuinely thank the Minister for trying to explain that to me, but he has just described the top-end tax cut as a theoretical tax cut when my understanding is that it is a very real tax cut whereby 13,000 people who are millionaires or richer have each saved more than £100,000 per year. At this very moment, my constituency is digging deep as a result of cuts to school transport. Will the Minister confirm that the tax cut is not theoretical, but real, and that 13,000 people who are millionaires or richer have each saved to the tune of £100,000 as a result of it, when the median wage in my constituency is sub-£21,000?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

Let me see if I can find a point of consensus with the hon. Gentleman. We want—and I suspect he wants—to ensure that the wealthiest make a fair contribution towards reducing the deficit, and the challenge for any Government is to work out the best way of doing that. Let us look at this Government’s record on raising money from the wealthiest. Budget 2010 increased the higher rate of capital gains tax and Budget 2011 tackled avoidance through disguised remuneration—a policy that was opposed by the Labour party, even though it addressed avoidance by high earners.

Budget 2012 raised stamp duty on high-value homes and autumn statement 2012 took action to reduce the cost of pensions tax relief, while Budget 2013 and autumn statement 2013 announced further measures to tackle offshore evasion by high earners. In 2013-14, the richest 1% of taxpayers contributed a larger share of income tax receipts than in any other year, including every year under the Labour Government.

The point is how we raise money from the wealthiest. The 50p rate is not the most effective way of doing that, because the behavioural effects are so strong that it fails to raise money. Now that growth is finally picking up, the Government will not consider any actions that might put the UK’s recovery at risk. Despite reducing the additional rate, the richest now pay more income tax than they did in any year under Labour.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The Minister was generously trying to find a point of consensus and I want to build on that, following the question asked by my hon. Friend Huw Irranca-Davies. The Minister talked about what might be raised by closing avoidance loopholes for the very richest, but what about the 13,000 honest millionaires who my hon. Friend says have benefited from a tax cut of £100,000 each? Will the Minister address that specific point and confirm that those honest millionaires—this is not about avoidance and loopholes—will each benefit from a tax cut of £100,000?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

I suppose we are talking about the people who for almost the entire time the Labour party was in power were paying a lower rate of income tax, a lower rate of capital gains tax and a lower rate of stamp duty. I hear the Labour party’s position. [Interruption.] If we are trying to build consensus, let us look at what some Labour politicians have said. The noble Lord Myners, a former Treasury Minister, has said:

“The economic logic behind Ed Balls’s thinking would not get him a pass at GCSE economics,” and that

“Ed Balls takes us back to old Labour and the politics of envy.”

Lord Jones, the former trade Minister in a Labour Government, described the policy as “lousy economics”.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

To be fair, Lord Jones was a Minister in a Labour Government. The Mail on Sunday has reported a key supporter of Tony Blair as saying of Labour Front Benchers:

“The trouble is they are economically illiterate and have no understanding of business or profits.”

Photo of Huw Irranca-Davies Huw Irranca-Davies Shadow Minister (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs)

The hon. Gentleman gives us examples of people arguing that the policy is economically illiterate, but we are politicians, not economists. I will try to reach consensus with him by saying, although perhaps I should not, that the policy is in his party’s interests. The biggest segment of those who donate to the Conservative party—providing more than half its donations—are from financial services. To say to them, “We are all in it together. You will have to accept a little bit more pain”, would be a good political signal, let alone an economic one.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

I am always grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his political advice. I cannot but notice that he talked about wanting to uphold the values of the British people and then quoted Karl Marx—but there we go. My point is that the wealthiest are making a bigger contribution in income tax, capital gains tax and stamp duty, and that this Government are taking further action to deal with avoidance and evasion more effectively than any previous Government have done.

Photo of Ian Swales Ian Swales Liberal Democrat, Redcar

It is not for me to disagree with the mathematics of Huw Irranca-Davies, but assuming that he is right, does his point not prove that 13,000 people were paying £100,000 less tax in the year up to April 2010?

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

I suspect that my hon. Friend may well be right, so I am grateful to him on that point.

Clause 1 will help the Government to achieve our aim of a tax system that is fair for everyone, while rewarding those who want to work hard and progress. We will achieve those goals by cutting income tax for the vast majority of income tax payers, including those in greatest need of support, while making sure that the tax system remains easy to understand. I again stress that the reports proposed in amendment 4 and new clause 4 are entirely unnecessary. The impact of reducing the additional rate of income tax has been examined in great detail. The 50p rate was ineffective and meant risking the recovery for which everyone in this is country is working hard. I therefore commend clause 1 and urge the House to reject the amendment and the new clause.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Business, Innovation and Skills), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Transport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Communities and Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Culture, Media and Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Wales)

We have had a very interesting debate. We heard excellent speeches from the hon. Members for Redcar (Ian Swales), for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) and for Ogmore (Huw Irranca-Davies), and my good friend Sammy Wilson, as well as from both Front Benchers.

My new clause 4 is rather harmless, if I may say so. It calls for a review that might make the case for the Government’s policy—they might want the evidence to back it up—or the case for my party’s policy of a 50p top rate. With all three Westminster parties signed up to continuing austerity, whoever wins the next Westminster election, we need transparency to ensure that the wider public are confident that everybody is paying their fair share. I regret that because the Government have not accepted my new clause, I will have to divide the House.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 231, Noes 295.

Division number 246 Finance Bill — New Clause 4 — Report on impact of raising tax rate applied to income over £150,000 from 45% to 50%.

A majority of MPs voted against requiring a report on the impact of raising the rate of tax applied to income over £150,000 from 45% to 50%.

Aye: 231 MPs

No: 295 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name


Nos: A-Z by last name


Absent: 120 MPs

Absents: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 1 April).

The Chair put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83D).