“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, undertake a review of the impact on business investment of changes to section 51A of the Capital Allowances Act 2001 made by Finance Act 2011.
(2) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must publish the report of the review and lay the report before the House.”—(Catherine McKinnell.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
New clause 10 takes us back to 2010 and the heady first few months of this Government. It takes us back to a time when the coalition, having inherited a growing economy from the Labour Government, choked that recovery off by adopting an anti-growth, short-termist, short-sighted approach to supporting business and jobs. As hon. Members will be aware, one of the Chancellor’s first moves in government was to announce in the June 2010 Budget that he was cutting Labour’s annual investment allowance. The new clause asks the Government to undertake a proper review of the impact on business investment of that terrible decision. We need to learn the lessons from that dreadful mistake.
Before we consider the new clause in more detail I want to remind hon. Members of the background to this important issue. The annual investment allowance was announced as part of the 2007 Budget by the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend Mr Brown. It was introduced as part of a package of reforms to enhance Britain’s international competitiveness, encourage investment and promote innovation and growth. The new allowance replaced first-year capital allowances and meant that from April 2008, under the Labour Government, businesses were able to offset up to 100% of expenditure on general plant and machinery in any given year against taxable profits, up to a limit of £50,000.
We recognised the value of this important allowance to companies up and down the country in supporting them to invest for the long term, and in helping them to create and safeguard jobs. That is why Labour took the decision to double it as part of a series of measures announced in the March 2010 Budget—in order to
“support start-ups and small and medium sized enterprises…to position the UK as a leading centre for research and innovation, and to ensure that the UK is equipped with skills for growth and the infrastructure it needs to be successful in a low-carbon economy.”The March 2010 Red Book stated:
“In order to provide further cash flow support and an incentive to increase business investment, the Government will increase the threshold of the AIA to £100,000 for expenditure incurred from April 2010.”
That announcement was hugely welcome to businesses up and down the country.
We are still at 2010; we will get to the present day in due course, but the hon. Gentleman seems to miss the point somewhat. Obviously, the Conservative party would like to airbrush out the unpleasant blip in 2010, when it almost abolished the investment allowance, and all the impacts that flowed from that, which were evident from the fall in business investment. That is the point that our new clause reinforces. The decision taken at that time was terrible. I do not know what the thinking was behind it—whether it had been planned for a long time by the Conservatives while they were in opposition, or whether it was simply a case of spitefully thinking, “It’s a Labour policy, so we will reverse it”—but it had catastrophic implications. As the hon. Gentleman’s question indicates, they had to think again.
I am sure that my hon. Friend, like me, welcomes the Government’s conversion and the way in which they have changed their policy. However, it is reasonable for us to question why the original decision was taken.
We can only speculate on what on earth was going through the Chancellor’s mind when he slashed an incentive that was clearly supporting those businesses in the very manufacturing industries that he claims to champion in making long-term investments, and creating and safeguard the jobs that we need so desperately.
This policy was part of a package that included a significant reduction in corporation tax rates, which more than offset any impact on investment from the changes to the annual investment allowance. The Labour party has made it clear that it would increase corporation tax. This week, it has set out its test, which is to have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7. That would enable a future Labour Government to increase corporation tax to 26%. Will she rule out a Labour Government increasing corporation tax to 26%?
Once again, Conservative Members, and indeed the Minister, want to brush over this inconvenient part of their so-called plan. They clearly made a bad decision in 2010. The purpose of the new clause is to show that. If the reduction in the annual investment allowance was offset by the reduction in corporation tax, as the Minister argues, why did they revisit the decision and increase the allowance again? That would not have been necessary if their only plan for supporting business up and down the country, which was to reduce corporation tax, had been successful. We supported that plan, but it was not enough on its own to offset the damaging uncertainty created by slashing the annual investment allowance from £100,000 to £25,000 in one fell swoop.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point: that is not what we are discussing. However, I am interested to know whether the hon. Gentleman will rule out slashing the annual investment allowance with no notice if the Conservatives are re-elected in 2015. Will he confirm that—yes or no?
I hate to disappoint the hon. Lady, but I am not part of the Government. It is not for me, a Back Bencher, to rule anything in or out. I am proud that the Government have set the annual investment allowance at £250,000 and have massively reduced corporation tax. That is really great for business.
The hon. Gentleman is obviously not able to rule in or rule out any slashing of the annual investment allowance, but we have had so much chopping and changing that there is major uncertainty over whether the Chancellor and other Conservative Ministers have a sensible approach to investment. It is as though they do not understand that chopping and changing—slashing the annual investment allowance from £100,000 to £25,000 and then increasing it again—is the worst approach if we are trying to encourage business investment in this country. That is the kind of uncertainty that we have seen under this Government. Although the hon. Gentleman cannot rule anything in or out, I am interested to hear whether the Minister will rule out any further chopping or changing on this policy.
I am in favour of capital allowances. I had an engineering company, and we believed that the Government should support successful engineering and manufacturing companies. Does the hon. Lady accept that a capital allowance of £50,000 on its own is not enough to encourage growth in the economy? Under the Labour Government, from 2007 onwards, GDP went down by 7% in the manufacturing sector, and probably by even more in some manufacturing sectors. I accept that we should have capital allowances, but they should be linked to other things. Does she agree with that?
That is very much the point that I was making and that we have made all along. We had a financial crisis in 2008, and the Labour Government did everything that could be done in those difficult times to support businesses in order to maintain investment levels, safeguard jobs and lay the foundations for the jobs of the future. That is why Labour decided to bring in the investment allowance, and then to double it in the Budget in March 2010. We knew that businesses needed certainty at that difficult time in the economic cycle to make investment decisions. That proved successful.
The U-turn by this Government was not quick enough. We called for it in every Finance Bill. Their eventual U-turn proved that the annual investment allowance was a successful policy, because they recognised that it needed to be reinstated. We have had these debates many times. We have supported the reductions in the corporation tax rate as part of a package of measures to support investment, jobs and growth. Unfortunately, the Government thought that corporation tax rates would do the job on their own. That is why they decided to slash the investment allowance, and to put all their eggs in one basket—the corporation tax basket. We have made it clear that we support a competitive rate within the G7 and the current rate, in order to provide the competitiveness that will create jobs and growth. Gordon Birtwistle is right that that has to be part of a package of measures.
One key issue that businesses always raise is certainty. In chopping and changing this policy, the Government have undermined the certainty that is needed to give businesses the confidence to invest for the future.
Our plans on the annual investment allowance are clear: this is a temporary increase until December 2015. If the hon. Lady disagrees with that and has a different policy, I would be grateful to hear what it is. She talks about certainty. She has repeated the position that her party has taken this week, which is that this country should have the lowest corporation tax rate in the G7. The second lowest corporation tax rate in the G7 is 26.5% in Canada. That would allow a future Labour Government to increase corporation tax not just from 20% to 21%, but up to 26%. Is that the policy of the Labour party?
Order. As interesting as some Members might find the debate on corporation tax and the future policy, that is not the subject of the new clause that we are discussing. Although the subject is linked to the question of allowances, it is not the substantive point. I would be grateful if Members addressed their remarks mainly to the new clause. They may use supporting arguments, but they must not allow those supporting arguments to become the only things that are debated.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your sage guidance. I agree that the Minister appears to be diverting the discussion away from the issue of concern: the Government’s approach to the annual investment allowance, which is the subject of the new clause. It calls for a review of the impact of the Government’s decisions on the allowance. He seems very reluctant to address that issue.
Strictly on the annual investment allowance, is my hon. Friend not absolutely on the button when she says that the question under discussion is not corporation tax or anything of the kind, but rather the AIA and the strictly temporary nature of the Government’s increase and extension of it? Will the Government commit to extending the AIA beyond the election, or is this just another election ploy?
My hon. Friend raises an important point, and that is the first time we have heard a Government Minister confirm that this is a temporary measure. I think that reinforces the argument in the new clause, which is that we should analyse the impact of the various changes to the AIA, year on year—it has gone up, down and all around—on businesses and their investment decisions. Hopefully, that will inform any decisions on the allowance, whether by a future Conservative Government or, as is more likely, a future Labour Government.
Well, it simply reinforces the impression—in fact, the reality—that the Government are perfectly well disposed to chopping and changing their policy and approach to the annual investment allowance. That is the point we are trying to make, and the point behind the new clause. The Government should stop and take a look. I have heard from businesses that they would rather have no investment allowance than have chopping and changing of the AIA, because that can be destabilising for investment decisions. They would rather have a more stable approach to policy making than that being displayed by the Government.
Returning to the history of the investment allowance, the previous Labour Government doubled it, recognising its importance to giving businesses confidence to invest for the future, and to be supported within the tax system to make such decisions. What happened after it was doubled? We know that, in his infinite wisdom, the Chancellor decided as part of his emergency Budget—or so he called it—in June 2010, to announce to great fanfare that the annual investment allowance would be cut. However, it would not just be cut. At a time when the economy was growing after the financial crisis, the Chancellor decided that the best way to secure the recovery and back British businesses and jobs was to slash the annual investment allowance to just £25,000 from April 2012, as in the Finance Act 2011. He sought to reassure us that the impact of that reduction from £100,000 to £25,000 would be limited because:
“Over 95% of businesses will continue to have all their qualifying plant and machinery expenditure fully covered by this relief.”—[Hansard, 22 June 2010; Vol. 512, c. 175.]
In other words, the Chancellor believed in June 2010 that only 5% of firms were receiving any benefit from the annual investment allowance. HMRC’s tax information note at the time stated:
“Over 95 per cent of businesses are expected to be unaffected as any qualifying capital expenditure will be fully covered by the new level of AIA (£25,000).”
It went on to clarify that
“between 100,000 and 200,000 businesses will have annual capital expenditure of over £25,000”.
Therefore, in the Chancellor’s terms, only 5% of businesses would have been affected by his decision to slash the allowance. In anyone else’s terms, however, that is somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 firms. That is a significant number of businesses that are employing—or potentially employing—a significant number of people, while also indirectly supporting employment through their supply chains. That seems to ring true of the Government’s approach because when they speak about being pro-business, they seem to forget the many businesses out there that do not fit the Tory vision of what businesses are, and it seems that those 100,000 or 200,000 firms did not feature on the Chancellor’s radar.
Let us remind ourselves briefly of some of the views expressed at the time about the decision the Chancellor took. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies commented that losers from the cut
“would be those firms with capital intensive operations—with long lasting equipment and machinery—that currently benefit most from the capital allowances. While this is likely to apply to more firms in the manufacturing and transport sectors, it may also be true for some capital intensive service sector firms.”
A senior economist at the manufacturers association, the Engineering Employers Federation, said that financing cuts to corporation tax by
“cuts to investment allowances will be a heavy price to pay, especially for smaller companies. It might be a positive signal for large companies, but not for their suppliers.”
In evidence to the Treasury Committee on the June 2010 Budget, John Whiting, then tax policy director at the Chartered Institute of Taxation and now director of the Office of Tax Simplification, expressed his concern that the measure would particularly hit medium-sized firms.
The June 2010 Budget cut the annual investment allowance to £25,000 from April 2012 on the grounds that, in the Chancellor’s view, only 5% of firms would be affected. We then had two autumn statements and two Budgets, at which we put these arguments to the Government, before the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement 2012, again to great fanfare, that he would “temporarily” increase the AIA—the one he had just cut to £25,000—to £250,000 from January 2013.
What happened to business investment between the June 2010 Budget and the 2012 autumn statement that drove the Chancellor to move from feeling perfectly comfortable in slashing the annual investment allowance, because more than 95% of businesses would be unaffected, to announcing in 2012 a significant increase in the AIA to £250,000? Let us cast our minds back to what the Chancellor said when he announced that decision in autumn 2012. He said he was increasing the annual investment allowance because:
“It is a huge boost to all those who run a business and who aspire to grow, expand and create jobs.”—[Hansard, 5 December 2012; Vol. 554, c. 881.]
What exactly does that say about the Chancellor’s cavalier approach back in 2010? Surely the complete opposite—[Interruption.] I see Government Members rolling their eyes, but unfortunately they need to face the truth.
The hon. Lady is right—I should not roll my eyes; I should get up and engage in debate. We know about the note left by Mr Byrne: “There is no money left”. Since then, the Office for National Statistics has confirmed that the recession was even deeper than expected. The Government made choices at the time, and there was a clear intention to start to reduce the rate of corporation tax in the grand fiscal regime. Nevertheless, there has certainly been a successful demonstration of industrial strategy, and many more millions of jobs are now being created. It is right that we put our backing behind reinvestment in capital allowances.
It is a little desperate to try to justify what is proven to have been a flawed decision-making process back in 2010. By the Chancellor’s own accounts, the measure was a huge blow to all those businesses that aspire to grow, invest for the long term and create jobs.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it seems odd to suggest that the chopping and changing was due to a sudden discovery that the economy was improving? The decision, in effect, to reintroduce the allowance was taken in 2012, when growth was extremely low. It would appear from these plans that, having declared an intention to increase the allowance briefly to £500,000 for one year only, it could drop down to £25,000 in January 2016. What kind of investment planning are companies able to do on that basis?
As ever, my hon. Friend makes an insightful intervention and raises the key question. The Government need to take a step back and look at the impact their decision-making is having on businesses and their ability to make the long-term decisions necessary to secure the jobs, economic growth and the rebalancing of the economy that we all wish to see.
The Chancellor and his Treasury Ministers cannot have it both ways: either the annual investment allowance supports growth and the creation of jobs or it does not. Labour welcomed the decision to increase the allowance from January 2013 to £250,000, because we know it is important to support business growth and to foster long-term investment. However, we are concerned—this is why we have tabled new clause 10—about the Chancellor’s erratic and, frankly, bizarre approach to this important issue. Slashing the allowance from £100,000 to £25,000 and then announcing that they would temporarily increase it to £250,000, all in the space of just two and a half years, does not, and did not, inspire confidence in the Government’s long-term approach and strategy for supporting growth and investment.
As I said, I fully support any funding that goes into capital allowances, but we have to remember that in 2010 companies were not making much profit. They were mainly on their knees from the recession that had been created previously. Companies can only set their allowance against profit, so if they are not making a profit there is no allowance to claim. The Inland Revenue was probably right to say that only 5% of companies were taking it up, because we were coming out of recession. A lot more companies are now busy working hard and making a profit, so the capital allowance is more beneficial to them as they are getting it back against the tax that they are paying now that they were not paying in 2010.
I know the hon. Gentleman’s interest in this issue is sincere. The Treasury may or may not have been right in its assessment that only 5% of businesses would be affected, but that is still 100,000 to 200,000 businesses—not to mention the supply chain. The new clause seeks an assessment of the impact of the decision taken at the time. How much of an impact did it have?
The hon. Gentleman says that, as we come out of recession, some businesses will be making more profit and will therefore be able to make more use of the annual investment allowance. That was exactly the point of bringing in the allowance in 2010. We had been through a global financial crisis and we knew that many businesses would be very uneasy about making the sort of long-term financial investments, on which they would not see a return immediately, that are necessary to create jobs. The intention of introducing and doubling the allowance in 2010 was to give businesses the confidence to invest. We know that it was welcomed by business at the time and we know that this Government’s decision to slash it to £25,000 was abhorrent to many businesses, particularly in the manufacturing sector. They needed the support and confidence to make the investments that we need to start seeing the benefits of now.
The hon. Lady is being very generous. Does she accept that if a company is not making a profit, it will not have the capital resources to purchase the assets against which they can get the capital allowance? What is the point of the Chancellor making it available if companies, which are coming out of recession and really struggling with cash flow, will not be able to find the cash to buy the assets to claim the allowance against? Surely it is better saving it until companies are beginning to make cash profits. They can then buy the assets to improve the profitability of the company and claim the asset back.
I think the hon. Gentleman is rather confused. The purpose of the allowance is to enable companies to invest and to take advantage of tax support. If they are not able to take advantage of the annual investment allowance, there is no cost to the taxpayer, so why chop and change the regime and create uncertainty? Businesses need, from one year to the next, to be able to project and say, “This year we cannot afford to make an investment, but next year we can afford to invest so much in plant and machinery and we will be able to offset so much of that against tax.” The Government, however, have been chopping and changing the allowance. Companies cannot make long-term investment decisions from one year to the next without knowing exactly what their tax position will be.
The hon. Gentleman is actually making a very good argument for new clause 10 and I will be very surprised if he does not support us in the Lobby this afternoon. He speculates on companies that may or may not be able to invest and take advantage of the annual investment allowance. Our new clause asks the Government to undertake a proper review of the impact of slashing the annual investment allowance and then increasing it on a temporary basis. Many businesses have said to me—I am sure they have said it to the hon. Gentleman—that it is that uncertainty that creates the difficult environment for businesses to invest. They do not know, from one year to the next, what any tax allowance might be. We want to get to the bottom of that, so the mistakes the Chancellor made in 2010 will not be repeated.
Andrew Gotch of the Chartered Institute of Taxation commented on the increase announced at the 2012 autumn statement:
“This is a very generous increase that will be warmly welcomed by many small businesses...However, we note that it is only a temporary increase. Business would really welcome some stability in this area. In recent years, the allowance has fallen from £100,000 to £25,000. Now it will rise to £250,000 before, apparently, coming back to £25,000. Businesses like certainty above everything and the chopping and changing of the AIA has been a problem”.
Hon. Members do not need to take it from me, but from a whole range of sources who have raised this as a concern. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales welcomed the increase to the allowance, but said:
“We are less enthusiastic about the frequency of the change to this amount.”
Let me be clear, the Opposition welcomed the 2013 increase in the annual investment allowance to £250,000, but we share the very serious concerns about the extremely complex manner in which that was implemented. As hon. Members may be aware, many organisations and individual businesses raised concerns that the increase to £250,000 would run from January 2013 to January 2015, rather than over companies’ usual accounting periods, making it problematic for firms, particularly small ones, to administer. Indeed, as the Association of Taxation Technicians neatly put it at the time,
“the chopping and changing of capital allowances will lead to error, confusion and higher professional costs for small businesses.”
The Opposition also welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement in Budget 2014 to extend the period of the temporary increase to
“We recognise that the change follows quite soon after the decrease in the annual investment allowance to £25,000 that was announced in the June 2010 Budget and implemented in the Finance Act 2011, which took effect from April 2012. The Government’s central position has not changed and remains that, in general, a lower corporation tax rate with fewer reliefs and fewer allowances will provide the best incentives for business investment, with the fewest possible distortions. That is why we have announced a further reduction in the main rate of corporation tax, as we discussed earlier, from April 2015 and is also why the current 10-fold increase in the maximum annual investment allowance is time limited rather than permanent.”––[Official Report, Finance Public Bill Committee,
A matter of months later, at Budget 2014, the Chancellor decided to about-turn once again, and extended and temporarily increased the annual investment allowance further—before, presumably, he intended it to return to £25,000 from
What we need to hear from the Minister today is confirmation that the Treasury and his Government have taken seriously the impact of their decisions on business confidence, investment and jobs. We need to know that they have learned from the Chancellor’s mistake back in 2010, and that they will properly review its impact to ensure that the same mistake is not made again.
What assessment has the Minister made of the number of businesses that were not able to grow after the annual investment allowance was slashed? How many jobs could have been created during the last three years of flatlining growth while we have undergone the slowest recovery for 100 years? How many households could have been better off as a consequence, but will find themselves worse off in 2015 than they were back in 2010? Let us not forget that in 2010, back when the Chancellor was slashing the annual investment allowance, he said that the economy would have grown by 9.25% by now. Instead, it has grown by just 4.6%—far slower than in the United States or Germany. Indeed, GDP growth this year is still expected to be lower than the Office for Budget Responsibility forecast in 2010.
On Monday, my right hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor made an important speech about Labour’s approach to developing a business tax system that promotes long-term investment, supports enterprise and innovation and, most importantly, provides a stable and predictable policy framework for business, which is founded on fairness. Yesterday, my right hon. Friend, the Leader of the Opposition set out how a future Labour Government will mend Britain’s fractured economy and develop a genuinely long-term approach to backing growth in every part of this country to ensure rising prosperity for all.
It is this long-term approach to growth and backing Britain’s business and jobs that has been so lacking from this Government, and nothing illustrates it better than their shambolic and chaotic approach to the annual investment allowance since 2010. For that reason, I urge hon. and right hon. Members to back new clause 10 this afternoon, to ensure that the Government understand the impact of the Chancellor’s dreadful decision making back in 2010, and that they do not make the same mistakes ever again.
This new clause highlights two problems relating to its proposers and their party. The first is that they are stuck in the past. They have talked about the past and completely failed to set out their case for the future and the kind of Britain they would like to create. They just want to talk about something that happened previously. This is another one of the instrumentalised nuggets of attack, policy and press strategies referred to by Labour’s head of policy.
Let me correct the hon. Gentleman. He seems not to have been paying attention to my final comments, which were very much about Labour’s strategy for boosting economic growth and sustaining long-term economic stability for the future. The purpose of new clause 10 is to reflect back on past mistakes, of which we believe the Government need to take account.
Let us be clear what we are talking about. Labour and the hon. Lady want to spend two hours of the time available to debate this Bill talking about a period of nine months that happened nearly two years ago. In 2008, Labour introduced the annual investment allowance—an interesting point to which I shall return. It was set first at £50,000; then raised to £100,000; in April 2012, it was reduced to £25,000, which lasted nine months until January 2013, when it went up to £250,000—a far greater amount than under the legacy left by Labour.
Let me develop my point, and I shall give way again in a few moments.
It is important and instructive that this Government have incentivised investment. What Catherine McKinnell did not develop during the debate is what underpins the whole issue of investment allowances and capital allowances.
Why we need capital allowances takes us to the whole issue of business investment. The challenge we all face, and have done for a very long time, is the rising corporate cash balances—about £750 billion—and the desire of us all to see that money spent.
Let us look at the Government’s policy in this area. They initially announced a reduction to £25,000 from April 2012. The hon. Lady’s first argument was that that created some form of uncertainty. The traditional argument goes, “We need to give businesses time to plan ahead; otherwise, we create uncertainty.” Well, the reduction was part of the June 2010 Budget, and it was about two years after the policy was announced before it came into effect, so I do not think that the certainty argument succeeds. The Government increased the amount substantially after only a short period of time, highlighting their concern to ensure investment.
The second problem I have with the hon. Lady’s case is that it is high risk to consider a policy on setting an investment allowance or a capital allowance on its own, as the Minister argued in an intervention. It is instructive that when Labour introduced the investment allowance, they funded the initial £50,000 by reducing general capital allowances from 25% to 20%. All policies need to be seen in a package taken together; they cannot properly be considered and debated unless the other pieces in the jigsaw are taken into account.
That argument is fine as far as it goes, but in the space of seven years, we went from the abolition of the industrial buildings allowance to having an annual investment allowance of £100,000, which was then reduced to £25,000 followed by the very welcome increase to £250,000 for two years—and then there was another change. Of course making that many changes in such a short period of time is going to have an impact on planning for investment. Surely the hon. Gentleman can understand that.
The hon. Gentleman reinforces my point, which is that under Labour there were substantial reductions and changes to capital allowances that were part of the 2008 package. As I said, the main rate of capital allowances was reduced from 25% to 20%, followed by the creation of what was effectively the old first-year allowance—initially at £50,000. A number of other changes went on in parallel, including the phased withdrawal of the industrial and agricultural buildings allowances—IBA and ABA. We need to look at all policies in context and think about what else was going on, and that includes the changes that the Government announced in the Budget of June 2010. No policy can be viewed in a vacuum.
The decision to cut the annual investment allowance from £100,000 to £25,000 from 2012 was made as part of a general, much wider reform of corporation tax, which was set out capably at the time by Stuart Adam of the Institute for Fiscal Studies in his slides presentation “Business and capital taxes”. Writing about corporation tax reform, he said that the headline rate should be cut from 28% to 24% over four years, and that the small companies rate, the allowance for plant and machinery, and the annual investment allowance should all be reduced. It was clear that a reduction in corporation tax was being funded by a reduction in capital allowances. Less tax, less reliefs: that was a very classic, sensible, free-market, pro-growth, pro-business approach. Lowering the headline rate reduced the complexity of the tax system.
I do not think that Catherine McKinnell is right to look back into the past; I think that she would do better to look into the future. Rather than viewing one small nugget of Government policy in isolation, whether instrumentalised or not, we should look across the piece to establish what was really going on. I hope that, as recovery builds, we shall see more business investment, and that the £750 billion on which companies are currently sitting will go into the economy to drive our growth agenda.
I am very pleased to be able to contribute to a debate whose purpose we seem to lose sight of from time to time. The purpose of the new clause is to review the reforms of the annual investment allowance that have taken place since the Government came to power, and to see what lessons—in very simple terms—can be learnt from them. I do not see why Ian Swales should not see fit to join us in the Lobby when we vote on the new clause, as I understand we shall do in due course.
No doubt the Exchequer Secretary will recall our Committee discussions in 2010, which were mentioned by Charlie Elphicke. In 2010 we were discussing measures to be introduced in 2012, and while we considered that to be an appropriate period in which the Government could introduce the changes that they wanted to make, we strongly opposed those changes. I think that we were sensible to do so, and I think that we have been proved right.
It has proved to be a long road to Damascus for the Government. Many arguments can be made for a broadly neutral approach to taxation matters, and I believe that that is a long-standing aim of the Treasury. Indeed, we were very much on that tack ourselves when we came to office. However, the realities of government, and the realities of the Government’s own Budget of 2010, should have informed them that they could not be so purist in their theory as to ignore the fact that, during the five or so years to which the Budget looked ahead, they would require a massive increase in investment in order to sustain the increased levels of growth that they wanted and the whole country needed, and that to secure that increased investment it would be necessary, in turn, to generate a massive, unprecedented level of exports. We made that case ourselves, but it did not carry the day.
I believe that it was the then Exchequer Secretary who said, “We do not really see what is wrong with companies just investing their depreciation levels.” I pointed out to him that that would barely replace the assets in real terms, and that it was not the way in which to generate an increase in growth, far less the increase in productivity on which the exports could be based. Heaven knows, we need the productivity now more than ever, given that sterling is relatively high. In certain markets we are up against considerable competitive pressures, which we can only fight with real productivity, which is dependent on investment.
We made the case for some element of discrimination in relation to investment, and that remains the Labour party’s preference. While, as the hon. Member for Dover said, there may have been—and may still be, for all we know—massive cash hoards among the bigger companies in the economy, much of the investment that we need must come from the small and medium-sized enterprises, which I do not think are so rich in cash, especially the small-company element. Although the relatively small sum of £100,000 was not to be sneezed at, we welcome the Government’s conversion to £500,000. Why that is to last only until the election I cannot imagine, unless it is due to some very short-term electoral consideration on the Government’s part, which I do not think is realistic even in my wildest dreams. I am slightly reminded—although I must not digress—of our recent debate on the Office for Budget Responsibility, when, for purely party-political reasons, the Government refused to extend the OBR’s remit to an audit.
Be that as it may, we are discussing something else now, namely the fact that the Government will not tell us whether they will maintain the same level of AIA beyond the election—which ought to be possible—and for how long it could be maintained beyond the election. After all, the Government have plans. They have a forward look, and in that forward look must feature the proposed level of AIA. They might have to disentangle it from the accounts in due course, but a simple statement from the Exchequer Secretary would set a lot of minds at rest, and provide the element of forward certainty that is so important to small and medium-sized companies, whose investment programmes often run over several years. Smaller companies in particular may not be able to afford a massive investment all at once. As I am sure we shall hear later from Stewart Hosie, one advantage of the annual investment allowance relates to the setting off of past losses against future profits, and there are other instances in which they can be most helpful. I will not go into them, however, because I know that the hon. Gentleman wants to do so.
Let me return to the question of why the Government’s approach is still so short-term. I must tell my hon. Friend Catherine McKinnell that my only reservation about the review is that the Government have chopped and changed so much, so quickly and, in fact, so excessively over the past four years that I wonder whether anyone would get any meaningful information out of it. I fear not. However, we should be happy about the Government’s apparent damascene conversion. At least they have come round to the idea of annual investment allowances in principle, particularly for smaller companies.
I will in a moment.
We may well see some element of discrimination in favour of smaller companies in the pattern. We do not want too much discrimination, because it could lead to complication, but I nevertheless feel that the Government should be thinking along those lines, which they probably are. No doubt the Exchequer Secretary will tell us when he winds up the debate. However, at present we have a short-term view of what is essentially a long-term problem. It is not that the level of investment has fallen under this Government or the last Government, or that manufacturing has declined under this Government as a proportion of GDP—which it probably has not, because GDP has still not reached the level at which it stood back in 2007. Generally speaking, however, manufacturing has been on a long-term slide, arguably since 1870 and certainly from the 1960s onwards, irrespective of which party has been in power.
I will come to the hon. Gentleman, if he will just be patient.
Inherent in the problem is the disinclination of the British economy as a whole to invest. Germany can be taken as a paragon of virtue in this respect. The Germans save more than us, and they generally invest more. They have better plant and equipment and higher productivity. They invest more in plant and equipment, but also in industrial relations. Their industrial work force is better equipped technically, from the top to the bottom, and better physically equipped with modern plant and machinery and computers.
Why is that? No one knows. There is a deep-lying cultural factor. However, it seems to me that if we are to offset it, the more we can afford to encourage investment the better, as long as that is intelligently done. I think that the dangers of misapplication can be much exaggerated, and that the loss of potential output through increased productivity can be underestimated.
If the hon. Member for Redcar still wants me to give way to him, I will do so.
I have enormous respect for the hon. Gentleman’s experience in this regard. He has spoken of the importance of long-term certainty. I struggled in vain to find in the major speech made by his leader yesterday any mention of this issue, or indeed any mention of manufacturing. I wonder what he is saying to businesses that may be concerned about the potential for a future Labour Government.
I wish I had not given way, because when I do we always get into this tiresome point. The Government seek to find refuge by going back nearly five years. The Minister has been at the Treasury for four and a half years now, and his party has been in government for that long. They own the situation now, although I know they do not want to, as all they want to do is airbrush the last four and a half years out of existence—they did that again today—and concentrate on where they are now as if they took power just six months ago. When we are having a narrow debate on the question of our having a review of a particular failed policy of the Government that is relevant to this issue, the hon. Gentleman wants to bring in the whole of Labour party policy. That is tiresome and irrelevant and a waste of this House’s time. I am sure that when the Minister replies to the debate, he will not get into that.
We are discussing a very important point. If there is genuine change introducing some element of discrimination in favour of investment for the reasons I have given, we will welcome that. Indeed, we welcome the commitment on £250,000 and £500,000. We will welcome it doubly if the Minister will extend that commitment beyond the election, to put it bluntly to him. I do not know what our policy on that will be—or whether we will go into such detail in the manifesto—but I will certainly support such a proposal, both in principle now and as party policy if it finds such favour. The Government, however, can do something about this now. Will the Minister tell us whether there is a change of policy and a change of principle on their part? If so, why will they not maintain the amount of the allowance and achieve the levels of investment, productivity and exports on which our future depend?
As a businessman, I had an engineering company that required a lot of investment. We had to invest heavily to ensure that we were competitive in the markets of the late 1990s and early 2000s. To me, the most important things for investment are confidence and cash. If companies have the confidence to invest, and the cash to invest from the profits they are making, they will invest. The capital allowances that the Government allow them to have against their profits is very helpful and it does persuade—it persuaded me on a number of occasions to buy some very expensive computer-controlled engineering machines. But when there is no confidence and when there is very little cash around, not many companies think about how much capital allowance they will get if they invest.
The country was in a mess in 2007. There was a reduction of over 7% in GDP in 2007-08, so nobody was confident enough to take the step to invest. The confidence had to be put back into the industries to persuade managing directors to invest. We know that billions of pounds were stored in banks waiting to be invested, but the confidence was not there to invest.
If Members look at Hansard, they will see that the Chancellor complimented me for putting pressure on him to bring back capital allowances, and my hon. Friend the Minister will remember the meetings I had when I was the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Chief Secretary to the Treasury. At every meeting we had I was constantly on to him about the need to try to give confidence to companies, to persuade them to invest in the future of manufacturing in the UK. The answer came back, “There is no confidence at the moment, but we hope there will be soon, but we have all this money stashed away in banks, which is moderately safe.” It was not totally safe, because the banks were not out of the mess they were in, but companies felt it was safer there, rather than invested in capital plant in manufacturing industry.
As I said to the shadow Minister, capital allowances are very close to my heart. I believe they are the way to go, but they have to be linked to other financial policies, which the Government have to put in place to work with them. Capital allowances on their own are no good. We must have other structures within the Government’s scheme of things to ensure companies have confidence. It is no good saying, “You can have a capital allowance against a new machine that you want to buy, but we are not prepared to give you the confidence to do that because we are going to increase our taxes so you aren’t going to make any money—so why would you really want to invest in the UK?” We need to create an environment whereby companies will say, “We’ll invest in the UK because the tax regime in the UK is good. We’ll invest in the UK because we feel that the training programmes in the UK will train our young people to do the jobs. We’ll invest in the UK because of the apprenticeship programme that is going ahead, and because we know we will have the future work force to deliver products that we will be able to sell around the world.”
The hon. Gentleman is right to say people will make investment decisions on a range of issues, but does he agree that stability is a very important component of that?
Absolutely: stability, confidence, cash, training programmes, and an economic strategy for the future are vital for companies to decide to invest.
I agree with, and certainly do not have any real objections to, the Opposition proposal, but it is not linked to anything. If the Labour party wants to put forward a new economic or industrial strategy that links to this, I would be the first to support it, but this is just one element of a major programme that needs to be put in place.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s experience on this issue, and his campaigning, which lay at the heart of the increase to £250,000. Does he agree that tax allowances alone do not prevent investment, and in fact capital allowances are a time-shift—in other words, one still gets the tax allowance, but one just gets it later?
My hon. Friend is right. We must remember that claiming a capital allowance on a profit is time-lagged, because companies will have worked for a full year and will have produced products at, it is to be hoped, a profit, and it then takes a full year for the accountants to go through the profits, so that is two years from the start, and at the end of the second year the company knows from its audited accounts how much profit it has made and how much it can invest. This does not all happen on day one or even at the end of the trading year, because they do not know just how much can be offset against tax in respect of purchases using capital allowances.
My constituency has a high proportion of manufacturing, and unemployment has gone down from more than 10% to 4.7%. That is because we are manufacturers. We make things. We create the wealth for the country. One company in my constituency, Lupton and Place, was contemplating buying a new injection moulding machine—it makes aluminium castings for the automotive industry—and it thought about that for quite a long time. I had meetings with it to discuss various schemes that might assist it to do that, but no such scheme was available. However, as soon as we announced the new capital allowances, it immediately ordered the machine. It cost €400,000. It did not get the capital allowance against the whole lot, but it did get the capital allowance against £250,000, as the sum was at the time. Although there was some money that it did not get a capital allowance against, under our strategy it was able to write the rest of it off against depreciation of the machine over the next few years.
I accept the need for capital allowances, therefore, and I hope the Minister takes that back to the Chancellor, as I have done on many occasions, to ensure that companies keep investing in this country. However, the main factor before people invest in anything is confidence—confidence that the country is going forward, and that there is growth and companies can see profits coming. People are not going to invest anything in anything unless they get a return. Returns are important for shareholders, business owners and partners in business, and if there is not going to be a return on the investment, they are not going to invest. If the confidence to invest is there and the cash is there to support the purchase, either from their own resources or from banks to ensure that the investment is made, capital allowances will be a major player in the investments that take place. On their own, they are not enough; they need to go with an overall industrial strategy. I am pleased to say that I believe that is happening.
It is a pleasure to respond to this debate, and in particular to follow my hon. Friend Gordon Birtwistle, who has been a great advocate for manufacturing industry over the years he has been in Parliament. He has provided a strong voice on the issue of capital allowances.
Labour’s new clause asks that the Chancellor review the impact on business investment of changes to the Capital Allowances Act 2001 made by the Finance Act 2011. The new clause is identical to the new clause 5 we opposed in Committee and we will be opposing this new clause for the same reasons. As set out in our corporate tax reform road map, the Government’s central objective is to secure a low corporation tax rate, with fewer reliefs and allowances. We remain of the view that that strategy provides the best incentives for business investment. As part of that approach we reduced the annual investment allowance to £25,000 a year in the Finance Act 2011, at the same time as we were setting out our plans to reduce corporation tax—we have extended those plans and as of next April our corporation tax rate will be 20%, the lowest in the G20.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to debate that, I am happy to do so. We faced a crisis in the eurozone and we had to deal with the impact of the financial crisis that occurred on the last Government’s watch. Clearly that had a considerable impact on the growth of the UK economy and the economies of other developed countries, but the reality is that our economy is now growing strongly, and we need to ensure that that continues to be the case. There are risks to a recovery, but if we are to compete and succeed, we need to ensure that we have a competitive tax system, the conditions for growth and credible fiscal plans, all of which this Government are delivering as part of our long-term economic plan.
The Minister has just asserted that the economy is growing strongly, but I am surprised by that. Will he help the House by comparing that “strong growth” with the growth that took place in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and even in the 1980s, at a time, before the regrettable election of Margaret Thatcher, when regulation was significantly greater than it is today and when trade unions were more numerous than they are now? How does this “strong growth” compare with what happened in the period I have just outlined?
It is a little difficult to compare a period in the 1980s before the election of Margaret Thatcher, given that she was elected in 1979. What I say to the hon. Gentleman is that we are forecast to have the fastest growth in the G7 this year. Clearly, Members on both sides of the House should welcome that, but we must not be complacent because we have further to go and we need to ensure that we stick to the plan to deliver that growth on a sustainable basis.
The Minister has said he has plans for low corporation tax, and fewer reliefs and allowances—I understand the strategy. He will be aware that the argument is that it helps to establish profitable businesses but is less helpful to growing, investing businesses. Even if he was right, that would rather argue against the Government increasing the annual investment allowance to £250,000. Therefore, is the report envisaged in the new clause not precisely what is required to identify whether that allowance is at the correct level?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for returning me to the subject matter before us, and no doubt you are, too, Madam Deputy Speaker.
“cost of capital for new investment is lower for all non-financial companies, and the rate of return from the existing capital stock is higher”.
That very important point could easily be missed from this debate. However, we also recognise that in the current economic climate, businesses face particular challenges. Having got the corporation tax rate down significantly, making a temporary boost to support and encourage increased investment was both appropriate and desirable. That is why we introduced a temporary generous increase in the annual investment allowance at the 2013 Budget, and we have gone on to double its generosity a year later.
My hon. Friend raises an interesting point, which I could spend some time discussing. Some challenges are involved in reducing corporation tax below 20% in terms of ensuring that such a tax cut is well focused in encouraging increased investment. He will be aware of some of the difficulties that occurred when the previous Government temporarily introduced a 0% corporation tax rate for smaller businesses; that resulted in quite a lot of tax-motivated incorporation. I will not detain the House for long on this point, so I will just say that some issues would need to be addressed in respect of that.
What would certainly be damaging would be to reverse the considerable progress we have made on reducing corporation tax. Catherine McKinnell placed great emphasis on providing certainty for businesses, and I would agree on that, but what we have done in reducing the corporation tax rate from 28% to 21%, and then to 20% as of next April, has undoubtedly helped the UK’s competitiveness position. One could quote survey after survey demonstrating that the UK is now viewed much more favourably as a place in which to do business because of our corporate tax regime, and it would be damaging were we to reverse this. Labour is on the record as wanting to put corporation tax back up to 21%. That would be the first increase, as a revenue raiser, in corporation tax since the 1960s, and we have heard a significant hint this week that Labour may even increase it to 26%.
Once again, the Minister is trying to change the subject from the annual investment allowance to corporation tax. Given that he acknowledges the importance of certainty in this area and that a reduction of the AIA back down to £25,000 is already on the horizon, does he accept that it would be beneficial for the Government, for Members of this House and for members of the public to have an assessment of the impact of that slashing to £25,000 in 2010, in order to inform the Government’s decision making in the future?
That is the fourth opportunity the hon. Lady has had to provide some reassurance to businesses and investors looking to the UK as a place in which to do business that a future Labour Government, should that misfortune occur, would not increase corporation tax to 26%. That is the fourth time she has ducked that opportunity. Corporation tax is linked very heavily with the annual investment allowance; they are not separate issues. If our debate is about ensuring that we have certainty for investment in the UK, it is a very salient point.
I am interested in the Minister’s comments. Will he comment on the fact that corporation tax in the United States is up to 35%? Furthermore, does he believe that businesses have a responsibility to contribute to public services and infrastructure investment in our country? If we enter into this arms race and continue to reduce corporation tax, we end up in a situation where we either put the burden of funding our public services and infrastructure investment on ordinary taxpayers, or are forced to make even deeper cuts than we have seen under this Government over the past four years.
As always, the hon. Gentleman’s questions are interesting and could take me in a number of directions. Let me just say this: it is important that the United Kingdom has a competitive tax system. It is the case that corporation tax will continue to play an important part in our tax system, and it is important that it is properly enforced. Indeed, the UK is leading the way on international reform to ensure that we have an international tax system that takes a contribution from companies. In the end, however, it is always individuals who pay tax—whether it is the shareholder, consumer or employee. All tax is paid by people even if the cheque is written by the company.
Let me return to the measures that we have set out. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that the measure to extend the AIA is expected to bring forward another £1 billion of business investment in the short and medium term. Although the Government rightly keep all tax policy under review, there is limited merit in conducting an evaluation in the way that the amendment suggests, and there are also a number of obstacles that make it impossible. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will not have the relevant data to conduct such an evaluation for another year, and as Mr Robinson said, it would be extremely difficult to isolate the impact of this change from the other factors influencing business investment, and from subsequent changes, in the ex-post data.
An important point was made by my hon. Friend Gordon Birtwistle, who said that a number of factors are involved in business investment, not least confidence. As my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke pointed out, the AIA has been set at various levels over this period; identifying a direct link between the level of AIA and business investment is extremely difficult.
The Minister is quite right to point out that there have been dramatic fluctuations in these types of allowances over a long period, but surely that emphasises the point about trying to get better at assessing their impact. If these allowances are a good thing at the moment, the Government might be well advised to consider bringing some stability to the system and committing to them over a slightly longer period.
The point I was making is that it was this Government who introduced a corporate tax road map in 2010. That road map has provided a great deal of certainty to businesses and set out our plans for corporation tax. Given that we have been able to make progress with corporation tax rates in the current circumstances, although businesses feel uncertain about the challenges that lie ahead, including the referendum in Scotland and the possibility that an anti-business Government might be elected at the next general election, it would be helpful to have an annual investment allowance in place.
The Minister seems to be completely obsessed with corporation tax. Whatever question is put to him about annual investment allowances, he responds with an answer on corporation tax. I wonder whether that reinforces our call for the Government to be forced to look at the issue of annual investment allowances—the chopping and changing of them, and the lack of certainty—so that they address AIA as a serious issue that concerns businesses up and down the country.
The hon. Lady does not seem to recognise that there is a link between the annual investment allowance and corporation tax; it is an allowance set off against corporation tax. The two are not separate subjects. Of course, if we are discussing certainty within our tax system, one has to look at the bigger picture, and this Government, through the corporate tax road map, have provided much greater certainty for businesses in this country. The biggest threat to the certainty of our tax system at the moment appears to be a Labour party that is at least considering increasing corporation tax to 26%, which would be a huge increase and deeply damaging for the UK’s competitiveness.
Let me return the Minister to the historical context. He keeps implying that a Labour Government would be anti-business, but I challenge him to compare the economic growth record of previous Labour Governments with that of this Conservative Government. I think he will find that the Labour record compares extremely favourably. The truth is that Labour Governments have invested in our economy; what we should be concerned with in this place is improving the living standards for the British people, and they have always achieved that.
The Minister seems to imply that the worldwide downturn—the economic recession that was a consequence of the banking crash—was the responsibility of the previous Labour Government. It is a ludicrous assertion. Surely he will accept that there was an international banking crash that led to the economic difficulties with which the Labour Government were faced in 2007.
Let me summarise the hon. Gentleman’s position: when the economy grows under a Labour Government, the Labour Government get the credit, but when it shrinks under a Labour Government, that is to do with international factors. At least we know where he stands.
We have heard a lot of criticism of the reduction in the annual investment allowance, and I have attempted to try to put that in the context of what we have generally done within our tax system. The impression given by the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North at all times was that it was a disastrous decision that resulted in business investment being slashed. I do not accept that position at all, and I have made it clear, by putting this in the context of what we are doing with corporation tax, that we are encouraging investment.
Just this week, the Labour party set out its plans for business tax. As far as I am aware, nothing was said in those plans about the annual investment allowance, or about extending the increase to £500,000 beyond December
2015. We heard a lot about an allowance for corporate equity, but I do not think that I heard anything at all from the Opposition on this subject. If it is so important to them, why do they not have a policy in this area? Indeed, at one point, it seemed to come as a surprise to the hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North that this was a temporary measure, although subsequently in her speech it became clear that she was aware of that. What is Labour’s position? If Labour Members feel so strongly about this issue and it is a priority for them, why have they said nothing on the subject? On that point, I urge the House to reject new clause 10 if it is put to a vote.
It is absolutely clear that the Government have tied themselves in knots over the annual investment allowance. They have tried at every turn during this debate to change the subject, and not to deal with the catastrophic decision taken in Budget 2010 to slash the investment allowance from £100,000 to £25,000. That was followed by a welcome U-turn that moved it back up to £250,000, and now they have promised to double it to £500,000. I accept that it is a temporary measure, but the point that I was trying to make, which the Minister seems to have missed, is that the very fact that it is a temporary measure perpetuates the uncertainty, and we know, because businesses have told us, that that uncertainty undermines their confidence to invest.
Gordon Birtwistle made a speech that I know was sincere, as he is aware of the importance of the manufacturing industry and of certainty in the tax landscape, particularly regarding the annual investment allowance, in enabling businesses to make investment decisions, to invest in plant and machinery, and to expand to create jobs for the future. However, I might also say that he made a typical Liberal Democrat speech, in that he sat on the fence and would not acknowledge that the Government need to take stock of the impact on investment decisions of chopping and changing this policy.
I thank the hon. Lady for giving way, and she will be pleased to know that I will not sit on the fence on this issue. Investment decisions about plant and machinery are one-off decisions, and the annual investment allowance is only needed once for each investment decision. What we need is certainty around a specific decision, not long-term certainty.
That flies in the face of the advice given by the EEF, the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, which all feel that the Government’s chopping and changing on this policy has been damaging to investment. Someone might want to make a decision to invest this year, next year, or the year after, but obviously if they do not know what the Government’s policy will be in 12 or 24 months’ time, they might well not have that confidence and not take that decision. Ian Swales seems to be completely at odds with what industry has been saying.
The hon. Lady says that her concern is that business will not know where it stands on the annual investment allowance when making decisions, but, much more importantly, if a business does not know whether the corporation tax rate will be 20%, 21% or 26%, that will surely have a much bigger effect on investment in this country. Can she provide some clarity on that?
I agree that business needs certainty about taxation to make investment decisions, and that is why we have committed to maintaining one of the most competitive tax rates in the G7, but today’s theme seems to be that the Government wish to talk only about corporation tax, and to airbrush out their catastrophic mistakes with the annual investment allowance. Charlie Elphicke made a valiant speech, but I felt it was dreadfully misguided. He was in quite a bit of trouble trying to defend the Government’s record in this respect, but frankly the decision making has been erratic and completely indefensible.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Mr Robinson, who made a very thoughtful and considered speech in which he set in the historical pre-2010 context some of the rationale behind the Government’s decision making in this regard, but he also highlighted the irrational aspects.
We take very seriously the need to ensure that businesses have the right environment, the confidence and the certainty that they need to make investment decisions for the future. We are concerned about the Government’s erratic approach to the annual investment allowance. We think that a proper report needs to be produced to ascertain exactly what the impacts of chopping and changing this policy have been. That would ensure that this Government do not make these mistakes in future, that any future Government can learn from the mistakes of this Government, and that we have a proper annual investment allowance strategy for the future that supports the jobs and growth that this economy so desperately needs.
Does my hon. Friend want to reflect on the suggestion made earlier that it did not really matter to people whether the investment allowance was clear? Surely, when putting forward a formal business plan, people are not necessarily just working on a year-to-year basis; they want to know what, if things go on as they are, they could do in a year’s time, two years’ time, or three years’ time.
My hon. Friend makes an absolutely valid point. Businesses do not work in electoral cycles or annual tax return cycles; they plan for the future. Businesses have told us how unhappy they have been with the chopping and changing of this policy.
I am very surprised that the hon. Member for Redcar takes such a strong stance in supporting what has clearly been a disastrous Government policy. I would have thought he would have liked to distance himself from it, but he has obviously tied himself to this mast, and I am disappointed that he will not come through the Lobby with us. We will push our new clause to a vote, because we believe that the Government need to take stock and learn from their mistakes, and that this has been an absolute disaster of a policy, in terms of the Chancellor’s indecision.
Division number 30
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Given that the Office for National Statistics has confirmed this afternoon that four fifths of new jobs have been created outside London, and given that the Leader of the Opposition may inadvertently have misled the House by saying that the number of people waiting more than four hours in A and E has risen by over 300% when this is not accurate, may I take your advice on how the Leader of the Opposition may be brought before the House to retract these inaccuracies and apologise?
No, the hon. Gentleman may not take my advice. It is not the position of the Chair to advise hon. Members, far less the Leader of the Opposition, on the content of their speeches, but the hon. Gentleman has put his facts on the record, and I am sure that they have been noted on both Front Benches.
Further to that point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is there anything that you can do to stop these eager Front Benchers seeking Cabinet preferment in the forthcoming reshuffle from making spurious points of order, when what they should do with statistics is allow the Office for Budget Responsibility to audit these—
Order. The hon. Gentleman knows that that is not a point of order, nor could it be further to a point of order, as there was no point of order.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I made a point of order earlier today regarding a figure used yesterday by Shabana Mahmood. The 2010 figure that I gave was correct, but I am now aware that the hon. Lady was using a figure derived on a new basis, so the comparison that I drew was incorrect. I felt that that should be put on the record.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] Order. I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. That is a point of order. He has put the record straight, and the House is grateful to him.
Order. I have already reminded the House that the content of Ministers’ speeches is not a matter for the Chair, and that is not a point of order.