Amendments made: 44, page 559, line 35, leave out “(see sections 236J to 236L)” and insert
“at the time of the disposal and continues to meet that requirement for the remainder of the tax year in which that time falls (see sections 236J to 236L and subsection (4A) of this section)”.
Amendment 45, page 560, line 1, leave out “but does meet it at the end of that year” and insert
(i) it meets that requirement at the end of that tax year, and
(ii) if it met the requirement at an earlier time in that tax year (whether before or after the time of the disposal) it continued to meet it throughout the remainder of that tax year,”
Amendment 46, page 560, line 7, at end insert—
‘(4A) For the purposes of subsection (4)(b)—
(a) unless the settlement met the all-employee benefit requirement by virtue of section 236L (cases in which all-employee benefit requirement treated as met) at the time of the disposal, that section does not apply
for the purposes of determining whether the settlement continues to meet that requirement after the disposal, and
(b) if, at the time of the disposal, the settlement met that requirement by virtue of section 236L and later continues to meet it otherwise than by virtue of that section, it may not again meet the requirement by virtue of that section.”
Amendment 47, page 560, line 19, at end insert—
‘(7) Section 236NA makes provision about events which prevent a claim being made under this section and circumstances in which a claim is revoked.”
Amendment 48, page 563, line 46, leave out
“is treated as meeting that requirement”
“at any time is treated as meeting that requirement at that time”.
Amendment 49, page 564, line 9, leave out
“day of the disposal mentioned in section 236H(1)”
and insert “time in question”.
Amendment 50, page 566, line 10, at end insert—
‘(A1) The limited participation requirement is met if Conditions A and B are met.”
Amendment 51, page 566, line 11, leave out
“The limited participation requirement is met if”
and insert “Condition A is that”.
Amendment 52, page 566, line 15, at end insert—
‘(1A) Condition B is that the participator fraction does not exceed 2/5 at any time in the period beginning with that disposal and ending at the end of the tax year in which it occurs.”
Amendment 53, page 566, line 18, after “(1)(b)” insert “and (1A)”
Amendment 54, page 567, line 7, at end insert—
“236NA No section 236H relief if disqualifying event in next tax year
(1) This section applies where—
(a) a disposal is made in circumstances where paragraphs (a) and (b) of section 236H(1) are satisfied, and
(b) one or more disqualifying events occur in relation to the disposal in the tax year following the tax year in which the disposal occurs.
(2) A “disqualifying event” occurs in relation to the disposal if and when—
(a) C ceases to meet the trading requirement,
(b) the settlement ceases to meet the all-employee benefit requirement,
(c) the settlement ceases to meet the controlling interest requirement,
(d) the participator fraction exceeds 2/5, or
(e) the trustees act in a way which the trusts, as required by the all-employee benefit requirement, do not permit.
(3) No claim for relief under section 236H may be made in respect of the disposal on or after the day on which the disqualifying event (or, if more than one, the first of them) occurs.
(4) Any claim for relief under section 236H made in respect of the disposal before that day is revoked, and the chargeable gains and allowable losses of any person for any chargeable period are to be calculated as if that claim had never been made.
(5) Such adjustments must be made in relation to any person, whether by the making of assessments or otherwise, as are required to give effect to subsection (4) (regardless of any limitation on the time within which any adjustment may be made).
(6) Section 236H(4A) (restrictions on application of section 236L) applies for the purposes of subsection (2)(b).
(7) Section 236N(2) applies for the purposes of subsection (2)(d) as it applies in relation to section 236N(1)(b) and (1A).”
Amendment 55, page 567, line 11, after “occasion” insert
“, after the end of the tax year following the tax year in which the acquisition occurs, when”.
Amendment 56, page 567, leave out lines 13 to 25 and insert—
‘(2) A “disqualifying event” occurs in relation to the acquisition if and when—
(a) C ceases to meet the trading requirement,
(b) the settlement ceases to meet the all-employee benefit requirement,
(c) the settlement ceases to meet the controlling interest requirement,
(d) the participator fraction exceeds 2/5, or
(e) the trustees act in a way which the trusts, as required by the all-employee benefit requirement, do not permit.”
Amendment 57, page 567, line 26, leave out “after” and insert “before”.
Amendment 58, page 567, line 34, leave out “(2)(b)(i)” and insert “(2)(b)”.
Amendment 59, page 567, leave out lines 44 to 48.
Amendment 60, page 568, line 1, leave out
“(2)(b)(ii) as it applies in relation to section 236N(1)(b)”
“(2)(b) as it applies in relation to section 236N(1)(b) and (1A)”.
Amendment 61, page 568, line 36, at end insert—
‘(7) Section 236PA makes provision about events which prevent a claim being made under this section and circumstances in which a claim is revoked.”
Amendment 62, page 568, line 36, at end insert—
“236PA No section 236P relief if disqualifying event in next tax year
(1) This section applies where—
(a) a deemed disposal arises in circumstances where paragraphs (a) to (c) of section 236P(1) are satisfied, and
(b) one or more disqualifying events occur in relation to the disposal in the tax year following the tax year in which the deemed disposal arises.
(2) No claim for relief under section 236P may be made in respect of the deemed disposal on or after the day on which the disqualifying event (or, if more than one, the first of them) occurs.
(3) Any claim for relief under section 236P made in respect of the deemed disposal before that day is revoked, and the chargeable gains and allowable losses of any person for any chargeable period are to be calculated as if that claim had never been made.
(4) Such adjustments must be made in relation to any person, whether by the making of assessments or otherwise, as are required to give effect to subsection (3) (regardless of any limitation on the time within which any adjustment may be made).
(5) “Disqualifying event” is to be construed in accordance with subsections (2), (6) and (7) of section 236NA except that—
(a) references in those subsections to the disposal are to be read as references to the deemed disposal, and
(b) in applying sections 236I to 236O and 236R for this purpose—
(i) references in those provisions to the settlement are to be read as references to the acquiring settlement (within the meaning of section 236P(1)), and
(ii) references in those provisions to C are to be read as references to the company mentioned in section 236P(1)(b).”
Amendment 63, page 570, line 17, leave out “The” and insert
“Subject to paragraph 2A, the”.
Amendment 64, page 570, line 18, at end insert—
2A In relation to disposals made on or after
(a) in section 236H— in section 236N—
(i) in subsection (4)(b), for the words from “at the time of the disposal” to the end there were substituted “(see sections 236J to 236L)”,
(ii) subsection (4)(c)(ii) (and the “and” before it) were omitted, and
(iii) subsections (4A) and (7) were omitted,
(iv) in subsection (A1), for “Conditions A and B are” there were substituted “Condition A is”, and
(v) subsection (1A) were omitted,
(b) section 236NA were omitted,
(c) in section 236O—
(i) in subsection (1) the words “, after the end of the tax year following the tax year in which the acquisition occurs, when” were omitted,
(ii) for subsection (2) there were substituted—
“(2) A “disqualifying event” occurs in relation to the acquisition if and when—
(a) at any time after that tax year—
(i) C ceases to meet the trading requirement, or(ii) the settlement ceases to meet the controlling interest requirement, or
(b) at any time after the acquisition—
(i) the settlement ceases to meet the all-employee benefit requirement,(ii) the participator fraction exceeds 2/5, or(iii) the trustees act in a way which the trusts, as required by the all-employee benefit requirement, do not permit.”,
(iii) in subsection (3) for “before” there were substituted “after”,
(d) section 236P(7) were omitted, and
(e) section 236PA were omitted.”
Amendment 65, page 575, line 36, leave out
“day of the disposal mentioned in section 236H(1)”
and insert “time in question”.
Amendment 66, page 582, line 9, leave out
“date of the disposal mentioned in section 236H(1)”
and insert “time in question”—(Mr Gauke.)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Third time.
I will keep my remarks brief, but I would like to remind the House once more of the important provisions before us. Finance Bill 2014 delivers measures that will help British businesses invest and create jobs, help British households work and save, and help to ensure that everyone in Britain pays their fair share of tax. The Bill builds on the strong foundations that we have secured in the past four years, safeguarding our economic stability, creating a fairer more efficient and simpler tax system, and driving through reforms to unleash the private sector enterprise and ambition that is critical to our recovery.
Let me focus first on growth and competitiveness. When this Government took office, we inherited an economy in crisis. We have had to make some tough choices, but we have delivered our economic plan. As a result, the UK economy is finally getting back on track. The deficit is shrinking, employment is at record levels and the our economy grew faster than that of any other advanced economy over the past year. To support the recovery, it is vital that the UK tax system attracts investment to this country and does everything possible to ensure that UK businesses can compete in the global race. That is why, in the corporate tax road map in 2010, we set out our ambition to give the UK the most competitive tax regime in the G20.
In my conversations with financial directors and tax advisers I am told again and again of the importance of a low headline rate and the signal it sends. I am proud to say that, as a result of this Government’s actions, the main rate of corporation tax will fall to 20% by 2015-16—not only significantly lower than the uncompetitive rate of 28% we inherited from Labour, but the lowest of any major economy in the world. It is vital for our national interest that we continue to have that low competitive rate. Altogether, by 2016, our corporation tax cuts for small and large businesses will be saving businesses £9.5 billion every year. These reforms have been a central plank of the Government’s economic strategy, and that strategy is working.
Competitiveness is not just about the rate of corporation tax. That is why this Bill will raise the annual investment allowance to £500,000 with effect from April 2014 to December 2015. This doubles the amount of investment on which firms can get up-front tax relief. More than 4.9 million firms will benefit, the vast majority of which will be small and medium-sized enterprises.
The Bill will also reduce business and household energy costs by freezing the carbon price support rate to £18 in 2016-17. The Government have also committed to maintain the freeze until the end of the decade, which will save businesses £4 billion by 2018-19. The Bill includes measures to give targeted support to the innovative sectors that will drive growth in the 21st century. We will legislate further to increase the generosity of the research and development tax relief for small businesses, with an increased rate of support for loss makers of 14.5%. This demonstrates the Government’s commitment to supporting research-intensive SMEs and start-ups and could support up to £1 billion of investment over the next five years. We will support social enterprise with a 30% tax relief, unlocking up to £500 million in additional investment over the next five years, and we are making permanent our successful seed enterprise investment scheme to support investment in start-ups and early-stage firms. Let me mention again the new theatre tax relief, which we have just debated, that recognises the unique cultural value that the theatre sector brings to the whole of the UK.
With low corporation tax rates, support for innovation and help for small business, Finance Bill 2014 sends the clearest possible message that Britain is open to multinational companies, open to entrepreneurs, open to investors: Britain is open for business.
Let me deal with fairness. While the Bill supports businesses, it also provides for individuals and helps families with the cost of living. We are delivering our coalition commitment to raise the income tax personal allowance to £10,000 and we are going further to increase it to £10,500 in 2015-16. By April 2015, a typical basic rate taxpayer will be more than £500 better off than under the previous Government’s plans. Taken with previous increases, the Government will have lifted over 3.2 million people out of income tax altogether. That is real help for hard-working people.
The Finance Bill rewards those who want to save for the future. We recognise that people who rely on their savings income have seen low returns in recent years. From April 2015, the 10% starting rate of tax on savings will be abolished, and a 0% rate will be extended to the first £5,000 of savings income above the personal allowance. This will benefit 1.5 million people, over 1 million of whose total incomes will be below £15,500 a year. They will pay no tax on their savings income at all.
We are delivering our promise to recognise marriage in the tax system by introducing a new transferable tax allowance for married couples and civil partners, allowing spouses in households where neither partner is a higher or additional rate taxpayer and where one partner has not used up the full allowance, to pay tax on up to £1,050 less of their income from 2015-16.
Let me deal with some of the measures we are taking to tackle avoidance. The vast majority of individuals and businesses pay the tax that they owe, but there are some who continue to pursue unacceptable ways of reducing and delaying their tax bill. This Government are determined radically to reduce both the incentives and the opportunities for individuals and businesses to engage in abusive behaviour. This Government have taken unprecedented steps to tackle avoidance and abuse. Since 2010 we have legislated to close more than 40 tax avoidance loopholes, and we have made major strategic reforms such as introducing the United Kingdom’s first anti-abuse rule. As a result, the market for tax avoidance schemes is shrinking. The number of disclosures of tax avoidance schemes fell by nearly 50% between 2011-12 and 2012-13.
However, we are not complacent. That is why the Bill introduces a new requirement for users of avoidance schemes which have already been struck down by the courts, which fall within the scope of the DOTAS rules, or which are being counteracted by the general anti-abuse rule to pay the disputed tax up front. That will generate nearly £5 billion of revenue over the next five years, and ensures that those who knowingly enter avoidance schemes will not be able to hold on to the disputed tax. They will have to pay up front like most other taxpayers. We are also cracking down on high-risk promoters of tax avoidance schemes by imposing minimum standards of behaviour, supported by onerous information powers and stiff penalties for those who do not comply. Those measures demonstrate the Government’s continued commitment to swift, effective and targeted action to tackle avoidance and aggressive tax planning.
The Bill may be substantial, but it contains a number of provisions to clarify or simplify the tax system. It contains proposals to simplify the tax rules and administrative procedures for employee share schemes, and to merge the main and small-profits rates of corporation tax. Those changes will make it easier for small businesses to meet their tax obligations, and will give them greater certainty that their tax affairs are in order. The Bill also follows a longer, more thorough process of policy development. In December 2013 we published more than 300 pages in draft legislation for comment, and we received more than 300 responses, which have improved the final legislation.
The Bill once again delivers on the Government’s commitment to unprecedented levels of consultation and scrutiny in the development of new tax proposals. It has also undergone 31 hours of scrutiny in the Public Bill Committee. Let me take this opportunity to thank and pay tribute to the Members on both sides of the House who served tirelessly on the Committee, as I did not have a chance to put all my thanks on record at the end of the Committee stage.
I particularly thank the Whips: my hon. Friend Amber Rudd provided invaluable help, and I also thank Nic Dakin. I thank my hon. Friend Caroline Dinenage for her assistance in ensuring that inspiration flowed readily. I thank the members of the Opposition Front-Bench team, who probed diligently. We did not necessarily agree, and Ministers certainly did not accede to any of their endless requests for reports and reviews, but they put their case in, for the most part, reasonable terms.
I thank the hon. Members for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson) and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell)—not forgetting, of course, Chris Leslie, who at least was there at the beginning and is here at the end. That is half the skill of dealing with a Finance Bill, as far as I can see.
I thank the Financial Secretary to the Treasury and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury for their help in setting out the Government’s case. I also thank my hon. Friends on the Back Benches, whose contributions were generally both valuable and brief: I am grateful for that.
I fear that my time is almost up, Mr Deputy Speaker, so I shall draw my remarks to a close. The 2014 Finance Bill rewards hard work, and restores our private sector’s competitiveness. It encourages investment, tackles avoidance, and helps those on low incomes. This is a Bill that takes difficult steps but delivers real change, and I commend it to the House.
Now that we have reached the final stages of consideration of the Finance Bill, may I join the Minister in commending all hon. Members in all parts of the House who took part in the scrutiny, and in considering all the details? As he said, there were 31 hours of consideration of the Bill. I particularly pay tribute to my hon. Friends the Members for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell), and for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood). Let us be honest: they did the heavy lifting in Committee and on Report, as did—in an equal but perhaps less audible way—my hon. Friend Nic Dakin, the Opposition Whip, who made sure we kept to time and that everything was pursued diligently. Many hon. Members, certainly from the Opposition side of the Chamber, pushed Ministers and probed on specific matters of policy, and I grant that Ministers tried to address many of those points, though they were ably assisted, I suspect, by the officials from the Treasury, who also put a lot of work into these Finance Bills.
The Bill is long on clauses but short on ambition, I am afraid. I said on Second Reading that our goal was to try to improve the specifics. We have tried our best in a number of areas, but I fear we have not always succeeded in persuading Ministers to see the error of their ways. Let us consider some of these specifics, such as the crass and ill-timed tax cut for investment fund managers through the abolition of stamp duty reserve tax. At a time when so many people in this country are struggling with cuts to tax credits, such as the bedroom tax, and finding it difficult to make ends meet, the Government’s priority was to give that support and help first and foremost to those poor, hard-up investment fund managers. It is a badge of shame that that was their priority.
The hon. Gentleman is repeating something we have discussed over and over again. Does he not understand that the money from the change in stamp duty goes to the investment funds, not the manager, and that, in fact, millions of ordinary people up and down the country benefit from this change?
I am sure those investment fund managers have absolutely no interest in the abolition of SDRT in any way! I thought the hon. Gentleman was once a Liberal Democrat. Before the general election, the Liberal Democrats used to pretend they were in favour of standing up for the vast majority of people, against the vested interests in society who tend to look after their best interests, yet here he is again, voting for tax cuts for investment fund managers. This is a specific element of the Bill that we opposed. We tried to persuade the Government to drop that measure, but we were unsuccessful.
I feel I must stand up for investment fund managers, not least because their business brings significant amounts of money to the UK. I reiterate the sensible words of Ian Swales: ultimately it is all of us who are investors in such funds who will reap the benefits of ensuring that this business comes to these shores, rather than to many other globally competitive financial centres.
The hon. Gentleman represents very many of those investment fund managers. He is doing the job he was sent to do, but this is a matter of priorities, and I have to say that the Opposition just disagree. The Treasury has finite resources at its disposal, and at a time of pressures, cuts, and rises in tax—through VAT and in other ways—that hit the least well-off in society, I just disagree with Ministers and Members on the Government Benches that this should have been the priority.
There were other specific areas where we tried to persuade the Government to improve the Bill, such as the proposal to give shares to employees in exchange for employment rights. We believe that undermines what should be a healthy approach to employee share ownership, because it gives the sense that something is being taken away, and that there is a disadvantage. That point was voiced not just by Opposition Members, but by some Government Members. Again, however, we could not persuade the Government on that.
So many tax loopholes need to be addressed, and the Finance Bill should have been the opportunity to tackle some of them, not least the notorious quoted eurobond exemption, which is costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of pounds. Ministers ought to have had the courage to take on that issue. Some of the Bill’s proposals for pensions flexibility are sensible, but big questions remain about the advice we will be able to give retirees to make sure that they get the guidance they need, at that most crucial point in their financial lives, to make the right choice, if they are not purchasing an annuity. Ministers have not lived up to the challenge of ensuring that that guidance and advice is possible. In the debate, I heard that that guidance may currently equate to 15 minutes of face-to-face advice—perhaps I should say face-to-faces advice, because the Minister with responsibility for pensions is now saying, “We will give you some guidance, but it might be as part of a group of people.” The Government have to improve the legislation in this area.
The Bill contains a proposal for a married couples allowance. The Chief Secretary to the Treasury and, I suspect, the Chancellor personally disagree with it, but in a coalition they have to throw a bit of meat to the Back Benchers. The allowance discriminates between forms of partnership and does not help many married couples at all, as we see when we look at the total number who will benefit. If we have tax cuts to give, they should be given to as many people as possible.
Of course, we also tried to improve the specifics and dissuade the Government from continuing their tax cut for millionaires—the reduction from 50p to 45p in tax on earnings of more than £150,000. Again, that is a sign of their priorities: they stand up for those who already have significant wealth in society, but do not respond to the needs and requirements of the least well-off.
We tried our best to improve the Bill, but it missed a number of opportunities. Significant reforms should have been in it, but are conspicuous by their absence. Why did the Treasury not put the cost of living concerns front and centre in this legislation? I am not just talking about making sure that energy companies stop ripping off households up and down the country, or about passing on wholesale price reductions to ordinary households; the Bill should have contained, for example, steps towards a 10p starting rate of tax. There are a number of ways in which cost of living issues should have been far higher up in this legislation.
The Conservative Government of the early 1970s recognised that there was a cost of living problem in this country, and they gave a cost of living payment, through the wage packet, to the low-paid in industries.
One would have thought that by now Ministers would have twigged that for all the talk of growth and the recovery, their constituents, never mind ours, are not seeing the benefits in their daily lives. That should have been a focus in the Finance Bill. It should have focused more on housing, as we have a crisis in this country, whereby demand exceeds supply and we have the lowest level of house building since the 1920s. Yet Ministers seem intent on structuring a lopsided recovery in our housing market, failing to deliver the 200,000 properties a year we should be aiming towards by 2020. In addition, many tenants are being ripped off by lettings agencies in our private rented sector. We need reforms to deal with those sorts of things and the Budget ducked those issues, as did the Finance Bill.
The Bill could have dealt with some of the exploitative zero-hours contracts. It should have contained measures to help small and medium-sized enterprises with business rates, because many firms in our constituencies are finding it difficult to get by. We should make sure that we help them, not just with business rates but by making sure that the banks do their job and provide credit. Those are the sorts of reforms that would make a big difference, but again, they were not in this Finance Bill.
The hon. Gentleman should at least acknowledge that we dropped the small business rate by at least 1p, which has helped businesses. Will he guarantee before the House that he would not increase corporation tax should the country be unfortunate enough to see a Labour Government in power after 2015?
That is already on the record. Our view is that the proposed change in corporation tax from next April—from 21p to 20p—should not proceed. That help, instead of going to 2% of companies, should go to 98% of businesses, including the small and medium-sized companies that are the backbone of our economy and that form the bedrock of enterprise in this country. Funnelling that resource through business rates is our preferred choice, but we will set out all our plans in a manifesto, as I suspect the Minister will do as well. We had a debate on this matter earlier, in which we focused on annual investment allowances—the capital allowances for businesses. As we all know, the Minister cut that allowance to a very small level straight after the general election, causing great chaos for very many businesses. Amazingly, it is going up again, in time, coincidently, for the next general election. He revealed in the small print today that it is a temporary change, so the allowance will presumably go back down again.
It is hardly in the small print. It was in the announcement that was made when we extended and increased the annual investment allowance until December 2015. After that, it is a rate of £25,000. That rate is in the public domain, and, presumably, it is the rate that the Opposition have as well.
As the hon. Gentleman did not quite respond to the question from my hon. Friend Mr Newmark, let me ask it again. The Labour party has given a heavy hint this week that it could increase corporation tax up to 26%, as that would still be the lowest rate in the G7—that is the test that it has set itself. Will he provide some reassurance today that a Labour Government would not increase corporation tax to 26%?
We know the Minister’s game. He is again trying to scare firms and businesses with various suggestions on tax. We have made it very clear that we need to ensure that corporation tax levels remain at their most competitive among the G7. We will set out our tax plans in a manifesto, as the Minister will be required to do as well. If my hon. Friends think that VAT is due to stay at 20% under a Conservative Government, they should think again. I have heard that the Conservatives may wish to increase VAT to 21% or 22%. I will give way to the Minister if he can rule it out for us right now, here in the Chamber, that he does not have any plans to increase VAT in the next Parliament. Will he rule that out?
I will tell the hon. Gentleman what we can do: we can continue to reduce the deficit without increasing taxes. That is more than he can offer. Unlike his party, we have not given a heavy hint that the test based on the most competitive rate in the G7. Canada has a rate of 26.5%. If the Labour party imposed a rate of 26%, it raises the question of whether it would be complying with that commitment.
Let the record show that the Conservative Minister did not rule out increasing VAT to above 20%. It is telling that he gave a heavy hint that that remains open as an option. We can have these discussions and examine these particular issues, but I am looking at the missed opportunities—the things that should have been in the Finance Bill. We are now on its Third Reading, and it is time that Ministers realised that people from across the country are crying out for significant changes and improvements that will affect their lives.
I am thinking, for example, of the 5 million people in low pay and the incentives to deliver a living wage. That could have been part of the Finance Bill, but it is not. I am thinking of those families who are struggling with the high cost of child care, which is increasing at a rate higher than inflation. If only the Minister had designed his bank levy properly in the first place and collected the £2.5 billion that he promised the country, we could afford to move from 15 hours of free child care for working parents of three and four-year-olds to 25 hours. That is the sort of reform that could make a big and appreciable difference to the lives of working people up and down the country.
Once again, it comes back to helping families with the cost of living. The Government cut Sure Start, nursery places and so on. Although they boast that they expanded that provision, they did not—they cut it, although we do not have the exact figures. The situation is exacerbated for a lot of families by the bedroom tax, which is forcing people into more expensive accommodation and thereby driving rents up. There is also a lack of social house building in this country.
That is my point. The Press Gallery is not bursting at the seams because the Government do not want people to think about what could have been in the Finance Bill. That is not something they want to talk about. They want it to be a “steady as she goes” Finance Bill. They do not want to address the problems of the bedroom tax or to supply real help to the long-term unemployed through starter jobs to give them the opportunity to repair their CVs and get a foot on the ladder. Repeating the bankers bonus tax would have supplied the revenue for that. There are funded ways of doing those things; despite how Ministers seem to want to portray it, this is not about unfunded commitments or borrowing. There are clear, practical and well-costed ways of delivering real improvements to people’s lives, but Ministers refused to do them.
Why are Ministers missing the opportunity offered by this Bill? As far as they are concerned, everything is fine with the economy. It is all going perfectly well. That is their view, but I am afraid that we disagree on that point. As far as Ministers are concerned everything is fine with living standards, but the OBR has said that people will be worse off in real wage terms in 2015 than they were in 2010. Ministers think that everything is fine in the welfare system, but they do not realise that the welfare bill is rising because they are not tackling the root causes of welfare inflation, such as rising rents, long-term unemployment and the subsidies required for low wages. Those are the sorts of challenges that should have been covered in the Finance Bill but are not.
On the deficit and the national debt, Ministers think that everything is fine even though the past couple of months have seen the deficit rise. It is going in the wrong direction. They have added a third to the national debt, which is now at £1.2 trillion. If interest rates go up even by 25 basis points—0.25%—an extra £2 billion of public expenditure will be required to service the debt that they will be accumulating.
Ministers think that everything is fine with productivity, yet infrastructure output is down by 10% compared with in 2010. They think that everything is fine in the housing market, yet we can see by the lopsided nature of what is happening in the economy that there are real risks that mortgage rates might well rise prematurely because of how they have failed to recognise the need to match demand and supply more effectively. They might be satisfied with the state of the economy, but we are not.
It is interesting that my hon. Friend has mentioned interest rates, because, one way or another, they are bound to go up over the next 12 to 18 months. That will have a major effect on negative equity for people who have bought their houses, but, more importantly, it can affect small businesses that want to borrow money and are not getting much help from the banks at the moment. The Government spend half their time blaming a Labour Government for the mess that the banks created. They have never attacked the bankers, who made the economic situation worse, not better. They are apologising for the bankers and blaming us.
Government Members and Ministers do not understand how important it is that we ensure that the recovery is sustained and sustainable. A premature rise in interest rates has considerable risks. Three quarters of credit and debt is floating, so if interest rates do rise prematurely, significant harm will come to many householders. Even a quarter point rise in interest rates will cost the typical householder £240 per year.
Dr Coffey may be relaxed, as the Chancellor is relaxed, about interest rates. The Chancellor says that he is not bothered—that he is relaxed about rising interest rates. Is the hon. Lady relaxed about rising interest rates? I will give way to her if she is.
All I will say is thank God we have not had a Labour Government for the past four years, because I expect that interest rates would now be at 10% and people would be handing back their keys and hoping that the hon. Gentleman does not get into power next year.
I do not know what evidence the hon. Lady has for that spurious assertion.
We will see what happens in the coming months. We will make sure that mortgage customers in the hon. Lady’s constituency know that the increases in interest rates are partly related to the condition of the housing market, which is causing significant risk. The Governor of the Bank of England is trying to deal with this very lopsided situation. Of course, it is a matter for him to decide on. Government Members need to speak to the Chancellor to get him to pull his finger out on the housing market and make sure that this is pursued correctly. They do not understand why it is important for the recovery to be fair for all—to be something that everybody in every part of the country benefits from. The richest 1% having been doing especially well in the past year.
The hon. Gentleman says that it is important that the whole country benefits from the recovery, and I entirely agree. Does he accept that three out of four new jobs created in the past year have been outside London?
Just to be helpful, there are three more speakers to come. The debate that is ping-ponging across the Chamber is very interesting, but I would like to hear from Back Benchers as well.
You are completely right, Mr Deputy Speaker. We have had this debate going on throughout the day.
The Minister is a Member of Parliament for Hertfordshire. If his constituents find work in London, under one set of statistics the jobs are classified as located in London, but under the set of statistics he prefers, they are located in Hertfordshire and not London. We can talk about the methodology used in relation to these things.
Ultimately, this Finance Bill is not focused on the long-term best interests of this country. It is not a long-term Finance Bill for stability and for the vast majority of this country; it is a short-term Finance Bill from a part-time Chancellor who is more concerned about getting from here to election day than building a sustained recovery that is fair for all. The defining challenge of our times is to reconnect the wealth of our country with the ordinary finances of households up and down the country. I urge my hon. Friends to vote against the Finance Bill and to send this Bill and these Ministers back to the Treasury drawing board.
I am glad that I am looking more youthful and Conservative this afternoon, Mr Deputy Speaker.
This is a very good Bill containing much that I agree with. The Minister has rightly pointed out that it does some important things, particularly on something close to my heart—the theatre industry in my own constituency—but also on technology, which is one of the big growth areas for the future prosperity of this country.
I want to talk about an ongoing concern of mine. The Minister will be aware of what I am about to say. Barely a fortnight ago, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs began writing to some 5.5 million taxpayers to confess that it had got things wrong. Errors in the pay-as-you-earn calculation had led the taxman to charge some 2 million fellow citizens too much tax and a further 3.5 million Britons had been assessed too leniently. That latter group now faces the prospect of several years of repayments. All this is in spite of expensive IT and personnel reforms that were meant to improve the system’s accuracy.
That news came at a time when the House was scrutinising this Finance Bill, which proposes bestowing ever more powers upon that organisation—in my view, an unjust reward for yet another year of error-strewn performance. Meanwhile, a consultation is now under way as to whether HMRC should be given direct access to UK citizens’ bank accounts so that it can claim from source any tax that it believes it is owed. I share the view of many people on the Government Benches who are concerned that this coalition Government are overseeing the transfer of very considerable powers to the state. I fear that a precedent will be set for a future Labour Government, which we all hope will not come any time soon. However, such a Government might well be minded to expand further the taxman’s remit.
Will the Minister reconsider the new accelerated payments regime that is proposed in the Bill—other Members have spoken on that in the past couple of days—about which I raised my own concerns at Second Reading? It is vital that the Treasury considers carefully the impact of granting such powers to an organisation that, I am afraid, has proven itself time and again to have incorrectly calculated tax on a grand scale.
Since 1944, there has been an end-of-year reconciliation under the PAYE system, because not all the information necessary to calculate the PAYE amount is available to HMRC during the year. To some extent, the PAYE amount is a provisional one, which is corrected at the end of the year. Notifying people at the end of the year quickly is not the system failing; that is how the PAYE system operates. It is not errors; that is the system.
I do appreciate that, but the Minister will also appreciate that trust in many institutions, whether Government, banks or this House, has been at an all-time low in recent decades. If we are going to pass on more powers to such institutions we—
If the hon. Lady will excuse me, I will make some progress, as there are other Members who want to speak.
We are now looking at drawing tax avoidance measures so widely. It has been common practice for investors to err on the side of caution and sign up, as the Minister knows, to the HMRC’s own disclosure of tax avoidance schemes—DOTAS—register. Currently, if the UK tax authorities wish to challenge the legitimacy of a DOTAS-registered scheme in court, the taxpayer is permitted to hold on to the disputed tax while the case is being resolved. The Government believe that that incentivises scheme promoters to sit back and delay resolution, so they propose extending the accelerated payments measure to existing DOTAS-registered schemes. That will mean that disputed tax is paid up front to the HMRC, and will be returned if a scheme is subsequently found to be legitimate.
I quite understand why the Minister has felt tempted to explore that route. There is, I understand, a desperate need for money to shore up the public finances, which are still far less rosy than any of us would wish, with a recovery that remains somewhat fragile. There is also, understandably and justifiably, a consciousness of the need to deal more quickly with the tens of thousands of outstanding mass-marketed avoidance cases that are currently clogging up the courts.
However, there is also a vital issue of principle at stake. The Government have been celebrating and espousing their reverence for the eight-centuries-old principles set out in Magna Carta. It was that charter that established the supremacy of the law by dictating that no Englishman could be punished without first going through the proper legal process. That set in train a constitutional revolution that has seen billions across the globe having their rights expanded and protected against an all-powerful state.
Yet at the same time, our Government are now overseeing the creation of a law that will permit HMRC to confiscate a citizen’s property before the courts have established who is legitimately entitled to it. The DOTAS register was a good idea. It was designed to promote openness and transparency in investors’ relations with the HMRC. It is now, in effect, introducing retrospective legislation, with DOTAS declaration being used as a stick with which to beat legitimate investors—those who had never planned on having the liquid assets to meet disputed liabilities.
No doubt the Government—any Government—feel they can railroad those proposals through on a wave of popular demand for new measures to tackle tax avoidance, but although I agree that we have to clamp down on illegitimate tax avoidance, I worry about the potentially very wide-ranging consequences, including the fundamental undermining of the Government’s overarching aim to make Britain a place that is open for business. I support many of the underlying measures in the Bill that are focused on that aim, but this measure expands a profoundly anti-Conservative notion of retrospective legislation. The Minister and I have both been shadow Ministers; we know the number of Finance Bills proposed by the erstwhile Labour Administration in the latter half of the last decade that we expressed concern about because they contained precisely this type of anti-avoidance legislation with retrospective elements. We have to recognise that considerable hardship is imposed on many of those who are affected by such provisions.
I addressed these issues in an article in The Daily Telegraph several months ago. I was and continue to be inundated with letters and e-mails from ordinary people across the country who are utterly dismayed that a Conservative-led Government would initiate such a change in law. Let me highlight some of their comments, so that the Minister is fully aware of the impact of the proposal. One correspondent advised me:
“If this goes through, HMRC will be able to demand immediate and upfront payment of the money it says I owe as a result of their changing the law retrospectively—but without me even being able to present any arguments to the tax courts in my defence. If this were to happen I would need to lose my home in order to pay the bill. It is a monstrous injustice.”
Another correspondent wrote:
“If one was to listen to the Government, it could easily be believed that users of the structures declared under the DOTAS are malicious, super rich individuals, out to escape payment of their ‘fair share’, in contrast to ‘honest taxpayers’. I have been an employee of a company that provided a remuneration structure duly registered under the DOTAS.
In the aftermath of the most severe economic crisis in generations, the IT industry, in which I work, got hit very hard. I have been subjected to rate cut after rate cut since 2009, and for me, nominal income is only going in one direction: down. Yet, if I listen to” the Government,
“it sounds like complying with an ‘accelerated payment’ will be but a well-deserved inconvenience, forcing me maybe to sell one of my numerous yachts or…homes. I am shocked and appalled at the cynical discourse that consists of creating this false image. I personally feel deeply insulted…. I am not a rich person by any stretch of the imagination; my partner and I rent a one bedroom apartment, and we live modestly.”
What is slightly depressing is that this sort of scrutiny has not really happened. I well understand why the Labour Opposition feel they do not want to stand up for those individuals affected by the accelerated payments regime. I ask the Minister once again in the implementation of the Bill to consider an exception in the case of existing DOTAS-registered schemes whose promoters have taken all reasonable measures to enable a dispute to be brought before the statutory appeals tribunal. I think there should also be a right to appeal against an accelerated payment on the ground that the money is not due, or that a follower notice or accelerated payment notice is not applicable.
Although the Government say the legislation is not retrospective, as it does not change an underlying tax liability, it will in fact apply with retrospective effect over the past 10 years to anyone who currently has an open appeal or inquiry. In my view, if the provision is to come into effect, it should be applied only in cases involving tax planning carried out after Royal Assent to this Finance Bill.
I am sorry if I sound a little churlish. The Minister is well aware, because we have discussed this privately as well as on the Floor of the House, that I think there is much that is good in the Bill, but it is right that these things are properly scrutinised and that scrutiny is ongoing. We are putting into place certain measures that I think set a potentially dangerous precedent and run counter to a principle that should be close to all our hearts: that the British tax system and the British economy should be open for business and open to the opportunities that we all want our constituents to benefit from as we move into a strong economic recovery in the years ahead.
It is a pleasure to follow Mark Field, who always speaks with great expertise in his field. I served on the Bill Committee—I have not missed a Finance Bill Committee since I entered the House. On the first Committee on which I served in 2010 I was full of enthusiasm and, having listened to the Minister, I am still filled with that enthusiasm as he has negotiated a thousand different ways to say no. I pay tribute to all the Members who served on that Committee.
As we approach the general election, the public are crying out for help to ease their burdens as the economy belatedly shows some green shoots of recovery. People around their kitchen tables wondering how they will pay their bills, those in the workplace who are worried about their job security, and those running a small business will judge the Bill on three tests—are taxes fair for my family and myself, do business taxes encourage growth and are they fair, and how will pensions reform—
The hon. Gentleman mentions business taxes. The shadow Minister was repeatedly pressed to say whether business taxes might rise under the next Government. We know from what the Opposition have said that business taxes could rise to 26.5%, the level that they are at in Canada. Does the hon. Gentleman share my concern that that could be a major brake on business development in the future?
Of course I share the hon. Gentleman’s concern. I shared the concern that the very first act in the very first Budget of this Government was to put VAT up to 20%, increasing the tax burden by 2.5% for businesses all over the country. That was not exactly pro-business, but I am not here to talk about what the Tory Government have done or not done.
Let us deal with facts. Working people have seen their wages fall by £1,600 a year on average under this Government. Real wages will have fallen by 5.6% by the end of the Parliament. People feel worse off. On growth—the one test that the Tories said they would achieve—after three years of a flatlining economy, we see the economy growing by only 4.6%. The Chancellor does not talk about his forecast that the economy would grow by 9.2% in 2010. Our present rate of growth is far slower than that of America at 6.6% or Germany at 5.7%. GDP growth this year is still expected to be lower than the independent Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in 2010.
On borrowing, on which the Conservatives attacked the Labour Government, the present Government promised to balance the books by 2015, but borrowing will be £75usb billion that year. Over this Parliament borrowing is forecast to be £190 billion more than planned at the time of the first spending review. National debt as a percentage of GDP is not forecast to start falling until 2016-17, breaking one of the Government’s own fiscal rules.
All the headlines following the Budget were about pension reform. Yes, annuities need to be reformed, and I support increased flexibility for people in retirement and reform of the pension market so that people get a better deal. However, the Labour party has consistently called for reforms to the annuities market and a cap on pension fund charges over the past three years. The Government have failed to reform the private pensions market to stop people being ripped off and to create a system that savers can trust. The Government are failing to prevent savers from being ripped off by delaying bringing in a cap on charges. This is costing savers up to £230,000. The Government are failing to make tax relief on pensions fair, with 15% of all relief—£4 billion—going to the richest 1% of taxpayers.
When we talk about the reform of pension markets and the ending of annuities, I believe we should set three tests. The first is the advice test. Is there robust advice for people providing for their retirement, with measures to prevent mis-selling? Forget the patronising “buy a Lamborghini”. I do not believe the people of Britain are so naïve as to go out and buy a Lamborghini. As a former financial adviser, I am talking about good advice. With the reform of the annuities market there will be new products—products that we have not thought of before, such as bonds, investment trusts and all sorts of vehicles that people can invest in. Those will be complicated and people will need advice, but that will not be achieved by 15 minutes of guidance, where advisers cannot sell.
The second test is fairness. The new system must be fair, with those on middle and low incomes still being able to access products that give them the certainty they want in retirement. The billions we spend on pension tax relief must not benefit only those at the very top.
The third test is cost. The Government should ensure that this does not result in extra costs to the state, either through social care or through pensioners falling back on means-tested benefits, such as housing benefit. The Treasury must publish an analysis of the risks it considers when costing this policy. I was deeply concerned when the Minister said this afternoon that this change, which is the biggest ever to the pensions market, is still to be worked out and that a consultation on advice is still running. For those facing this change, advice is vital.
I talked for little short of half an hour yesterday on the other major change introduced in the Bill: exchanging employment rights for company shares. I will try to break it down into two fundamental arguments. First, if an employer has an employee they are suspicious of, why would they give them shares in the company? Equally, if a company wants to trade shares for rights, does that mean it trusts the employee? Will they be hard-working and industrious for that company? Secondly, if a company is going to dismiss an employee, why would it give them shares in the company anyway? Surely share save schemes should be used to reward employees for hard, industrious work, but that is not happening. We still need reform.
We have talked about a report and analysis. Even though the statistics now show that after a 33-week consultation only five of the 200 companies that responded said that they were interested in taking up the scheme, the Government still say that it is far too early to even think about a report.
As we bring to a conclusion our consideration of the Finance Bill, which I am sure all of us who served on the Bill Committee are excited about, the one question we have to ask ourselves is this: is it fair to the people of Britain? Based on the statistics, it is not. I will therefore be joining my colleagues in the Lobby tonight and voting against the Bill.
It is always a privilege to follow Chris Evans. I want to focus on one small aspect of the Bill, new clause 10, which I know Opposition Members hold dear to their hearts. A couple of years ago the Government extended the £25,000 rate tenfold to £250,000. I told the Chancellor that that was going down extremely well with small businesses and asked whether there was any chance that we could extend it a little longer. He said, “I can do better than that; I’ll double it again, to £500,000.” That takes in pretty much 99% of companies, which is a good thing.
For some reason, Labour wanted to enshrine in law the need to review the impact of the annual investment allowance, which I find peculiar. I do not think it is necessary at all. Governments review every year what is going on and whether tax cuts or increases work. I see no need to introduce that requirement into law.
However, I thought that it might be helpful for Opposition Members if I offered a quick review of what we have done for business. I have come up with 10 points. First, we have lowered corporation tax. Secondly, we have cut the business rate by extending the small business rate relief scheme. Thirdly, we have brought in electronic invoicing. Fourthly, we have raised the threshold for the enterprise investment scheme. Fifthly, we have introduced the seed enterprise investment scheme, helping small businesses get a kick start. Sixthly, we have brought in the employment allowance, saving businesses £2,000. Seventhly, we have cut national insurance contributions for under-21-year-olds, saving businesses £500 per young person they employ. Eighthly, we have introduced the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Bill. Ninthly, we have frozen fuel duty, making it cheaper for people to go back and forth to work. Finally, we have improved the research and development relief for businesses. We have done a lot for businesses.
What has the impact been on businesses? The confidence index is at an all-time high. We have rebalanced the economy, with growth of 3% in construction, services and manufacturing. We do not need to enshrine in law the need to review the impact of the investment allowance on business, because actions speak louder than words. The Government’s long-term economic plan is working and Britain is back in business.
Debate interrupted (Programme Order,
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