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I beg to move,
That this House
believes it is a mistake to reduce the top rate of income tax at a time when working people, who are on average £1,600 a year worse off since 2010, are not feeling the recovery and while the deficit also remains high;
notes that figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that, by next year, households will be on average £974 a year worse off because of tax and benefit changes since 2010;
believes that a fair plan to balance the books would reverse the cut in the top rate of income tax, which is worth £3 billion a year for the top one per cent of earners, for the next Parliament, and introduce a lower 10p starting rate of tax;
and calls on the Government to rule out a further reduction in the top rate of income tax on earnings over £150,000 a year.
Four and a half years into this Government, the squeeze on lower and middle earners is as bad as ever. Wages are still failing to keep pace with prices, and the typical working person is £1,600 worse off. This is the longest suppression of living standards since the 1870s, and my Labour colleagues know that this gap is getting wider and wider. This Government are presiding over one of the worst records on income growth of any European country—only Portugal, Cyprus and Greece have seen wages erode more severely than we have. For most people, there is no economic recovery at all.
When the Chancellor was asked, however, in a recent ITV news interview why there was no feel-good factor, his answer was, “Well, I simply don’t accept that.” Of course, in the world the Chancellor and the Prime Minister inhabit life is sweet. Someone lucky enough to be in the richest 1% of society has seen their share of the nation’s income grow considerably. Over the past year, the share of the national post-tax income of the top 1% of taxpayers—just 300,000 people—has risen from 8.2% to 9.8%, whereas the bottom 90%, a total of 27 million taxpayers, have seen their share fall from 71.3% to 70.4%. Those are Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs’ own statistics. That most privileged 1% elite have not just seen their fortunes grow by chance while others have fallen behind; they have been actively helped along by a cut in income tax for those earning more than £150,000. The shrinking share of national wealth held by the vast majority when compared with the growing share held by the richest does not represent a recovery for the many rather than the few.
Will the hon. Gentleman concede that the coalition Government, thanks to the input of the Liberal Democrats, have raised millions of people out of paying any income tax? Will he give an assurance that should there be a Labour Government they will match the pledge to raise to £12,500 the level before which income tax is levied?
There are a number of facets to the hon. Gentleman’s question. Let us just remember that it was the Liberal Democrats who voted to cut that top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p.
The hon. Gentleman nods and says, “Quite right” from a sedentary position, but of course he is not seeking re-election and so he is brave enough to say that. I wonder whether his Liberal Democrat colleagues would also say that about the cut from 50p to 45p. I will give way if Liberal Members want to defend the way they voted on that.
Sir Bob Russell raised the issue of the personal allowance, and I expect the Minister will do the same. But the public out there are not going to be fooled by Government Members saying, “Just look over here at this particular change”, because they know very well by now that Tories and Liberals give a little with one hand but take away far more with the other. On the tax burden, there is a sense of people being worse off year after year, and they know the truth.
If Labour went down the route of a 10p tax band in place of the £12,500 personal allowance that Government Members want to see, surely that would leave people on £11,000 worse off.
No, we believe that instead of having the married couples break, which does not actually help many married couples, it would be far fairer to introduce that 10p starting rate of tax, because it would help many, many more people. The hon. Gentleman has hit upon yet another example—perhaps this is one for an Opposition day debate on a different occasion—where the Government constantly choose the route of unfairness, limiting the help to those who need support and assistance. Labour believes that everybody should have a share in growth and prosperity, which is precisely the opposite of the trickle-down economics that we have had so far from the parties in the Government.
Getting back to the 50p tax rate, does the hon. Gentleman have any explanation for the fact that when we voted on it in March 2012 only two Labour Members voted in that Division and the rest abstained? What is the explanation for that?
We have consistently opposed this outrageous change to dish out a tax cut for the very privileged 1% in society. The hon. Gentleman should join us, and I hope he will, in voting for today’s motion, as it is about a key divide in British politics and in Scottish politics. It is very important that we expose the fact that by cutting the top rate of tax on earnings above £150,000 from 50p to 45p Ministers have wilfully accelerated the divide between the majority and the richest 1%.
The hon. Gentleman has done more for the very wealthy earning over £150,000. At this time of pressure on our public spending and on his constituents and mine, what did he decide to do? A typical millionaire, he gave away a benefit worth £100,000. He voted for that cut in the 50p rate of tax, which the vast majority of people feel is an obscene example of the unfairness of this Government. It is particularly a stain on the reputation of the Conservatives, but I want to hear how the Liberal Democrats justify their votes for the cut in that 50p rate.
Apart from the fact that the top rate of tax was 40% for all but 39 days of the Labour Government’s time in office, will the hon. Gentleman tell us which Chancellor of the Exchequer cut capital gains tax to 18%, which this Government have now increased to 28%, and which Government capped the amount of tax relief for high earners on pensions? It was not his Government, but the present Government.
It sounds as though the right hon. Gentleman is trying to wriggle out of voting for that cut in the 50p rate. He tries to change the subject—“Look over here, we’ve done this” or “We’ve done that,” but he voted for a cut in the 50p rate for the very wealthiest in society. He asks—I am sure we will hear this from the Minister as well—why we did not do that for 13 years. We had a global financial crisis that hit tax receipts significantly, and in 2009, looking at the state of the public finances, we felt that the fairest thing to do was to raise the rate to 50p, which is obviously shocking to Government Members.
The financial crisis actually started in America with JP Morgan. The Government are trying to rewrite history. Is it not true that under this Government people are worse off to the tune of £1,600 a year, and that the purchasing power of their wages has dropped 6%?
People faced a double whammy—the tax and the changes to their tax credits by the Conservatives, together with that squeeze on living standards as a result of wages failing to keep pace with prices.
We are doing the Government a favour today. We are trying our best to persuade them of the error of their ways. We have tabled a motion that allows them to put right the wrong they have done, get their priorities right and admit it was a mistake to reduce the top rate of income tax at a time when working people are not feeling any recovery.
For nearly half a century the Indians and the Chinese pursued a punitive ideological politics. Since they turned away from that, they have pulled hundreds of millions of people out of poverty. With the exception of the Labour Front-Bench team and President Hollande, I think the hon. Gentleman will find himself very much in the minority. As Abraham Lincoln famously said, you never pull anybody up by pulling somebody down. Is this debate not about the Opposition’s political opportunism, rather than about long-term economic reality?
There we have it—the voice of the ideological right wing of the Conservative party, which says we should not have progressive taxation in this country. The hon. Gentleman almost espouses the flat tax mentality, on which we know the Conservatives all agree. Perhaps he wants to elaborate.
Unlike those on the Opposition Benches, I have been poor—dirt poor. [Interruption.] I do not want any sympathy. The reason I sit on the Conservative Benches is that I want to empower the people in my constituency and give them a ladder of opportunity to escape from poverty, not keep them in poverty, which is the position of those on the Opposition Benches.
That ladder of opportunity is being pulled up by the hon. Gentleman. At a time when people’s pay is failing to keep pace with prices and the burden of taxation is greater, he not only votes to give tax benefits to the wealthiest in society but says, “If you’re lower or middle income, you have to pay higher VAT. You’re not going to leave the country. We have to reduce those tax credits and all the support that has been available before, but if you’re a wealthy individual in society, if you’re earning over £150,000, we have to cut your taxes because you might just leave the country.” That is not what has happened.
Again, Conservative Members do not want to talk about the 50p rate of tax. They will find any example of other things. They will talk about the personal allowance or venture capital arrangements, and maybe we will get them on to VAT. We want to know the ideological basis for cutting the 50p rate to 45p. They may have thought that that would suddenly enliven enterprise across the country, but it has not done so.
There have been references to the ladder of opportunity. Education and training are a major part of that. It is this Government who have taken away the education maintenance allowance, which allowed large numbers of working class children to stay on at school, at college and in training. Taking that away has shifted several steps out of the ladder of opportunity.
It is important that we look in aggregate at the fate that has befallen so many of our constituents since 2010. We have had 24 different tax rises, as well as the effect of wages not keeping pace with prices. Let us look at some of the changes that have taken place since 2010—freezing child benefit, cutting maternity grants, cutting tax credits, abolishing the education maintenance allowance, higher insurance premium taxes, a frozen higher rate threshold, the granny tax, freezing allowances for pensioners and, of course, raising VAT to 20%.
In what must count as one of the most brazen transfers from the least well-off to the richest in recent years, the Chancellor announced in his conference speech a £3 billion strivers tax hit on tax credits until 2018—the same £3 billion sum given away in the tax cut to millionaires. There we have the comparative priorities—£3 billion in a tax cut to the very wealthiest in society, and the same amount taken away from some of the poorest and middle income families.
“Well, I’ve set out the principles we will adopt when it comes to the 50p rate. I’m not a fan. I regard it as a temporary feature but I cannot even consider lifting it while I’m asking others in the economy to bear a burden.”
My hon. Friend hits the nail on the head—as if our constituents are not still bearing a burden. The Chancellor of the Exchequer said that he could not countenance reducing that 50p rate until people were no longer bearing that economic burden. Are we in that position? Absolutely not. What does he do? He chooses to give that tax cut to the very wealthiest in society. Has there ever been a fallacy greater than the Chancellor’s hollow claim that “we’re all in this together”?
How strange that before the last election, as my hon. Friend says, the Chancellor said, “No, no, no, we certainly wouldn’t tackle that 50p rate,” but after the election, amazingly, he decides to do what Conservatives always do. That was at a time when Oxfam reports that 20 million meals were given out in food banks last year, up by more than 50% on the previous year. Its chief executive is right to say that the fact that they are needed in 21st century Britain is a stain on our national conscience. We cannot and we must not allow these warped and perverse priorities to go unchallenged.
There is an alternative and a different set of choices. When Government borrowing is 10% higher in the past six months compared with the same period last year and the deficit is rising, the Treasury cannot afford to dole out tax breaks to those at the top of the pile. Borrowing so far this year has been £58 billion, compared with just over £52 billion for the first six months of last year. The revenue from the 50p rate of tax remains essential when that deficit is pressing so heavily on vital public services and bearing down on the shoulders of lower and middle income households in our constituencies.
As my hon. Friend will know, income tax receipts were projected to rise by 7% this year but have, in fact, gone up by only 0.1%, so there is a pressing need for extra income. He will also know—perhaps he will comment on this—that the marginal rate of tax for national insurance and income tax is 62% for people on incomes between £100,000 and £120,000, so how can the Government argue that behavioural changes resulting from a 50p rate will suddenly drive everyone away? It is obviously a load of bunkum designed to protect their rich friends.
It is amazing what contortions Ministers have forced their officials into in trying to justify why the 50p rate could no longer continue—the sort of ideological nonsense we heard from the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West—such as the suggestion that somehow it would not raise important revenues at a time when our deficit is actually rising.
The shadow Chief Secretary might be aware that earlier today the Daily Mail reported on its website that a former Labour Cabinet Minister, Alan Milburn, said at a Labour party conference fringe event that, as far as the state of the public finances was concerned, increasing the 45p rate to 50p would be “absolutely incidental”. Does he agree?
I do not agree that it would be incidental, but I have never suggested that it is the full solution to dealing with the deficit. However, it is an important part of it—[Interruption.] The Financial Secretary says that it is not an important part of it. He says that we should not worry about the revenues we would get from a 50p rate. I am sorry, but the country cannot afford that sort of attitude and those priorities from Government Members. The deficit affects our constituents because of its effects on public services and the accumulating interest that has to be paid to service the mounting debt under the Conservatives. We have a choice about a tax rate that would raise £3 billion, and it is important that we take that opportunity to tackle our deficit, rather than giving that money away to those people who are already in an extremely privileged position.
I want to be clear about what the hon. Gentleman has just said. He is normally very careful in his wording, but I think that he has just been a little careless. Is he saying that he believes that returning to the 50p rate would raise £3 billion for the Exchequer?
I do, and let me explain why. We have to debunk this myth, because it is essentially the argument that the Minister will set out in his speech today. The static cost of the 50p tax rate before behavioural effects are taken into account is £3 billion—those are the official HMRC figures and the Minister agrees with them. Ministers, however, including this one, have strained every sinew to try to prove that those behavioural effects would almost entirely erase any revenue generation whatsoever, claiming that it would raise only a net £100 million. That is the figure we have. However, we must not forget—perhaps he can confirm this—that it was a ministerial decision to pick the tax income elasticity rate of 0.45, which miraculously massaged the official figure down to that £100 million. Was that a Government decision, because that is what the HMRC figures say?
It was HMRC that determined that, but I just want to be absolutely clear about what the shadow Chief Secretary is saying. He is right that the £3 billion is the static cost, but he is saying that that is the actual cost that the Labour party believes it would raise. He is saying that there would be no behavioural change as a consequence of a 50p rate of income tax. That is the most extraordinary and incredible position, and it is inconsistent with the position that the Labour Government took when they introduced this some years ago. If that is what he really believes, he is stretching credibility even further.
We are making a little progress, because the Minister has at least acknowledged that the static cost of this change is £3 billion, and we have also pinned down the fact that it was HMRC and the Treasury, not the Office for Budget Responsibility, that picked the TIE rate, which is the device he used to massage the figure down to £100 million. [Interruption.] He says that that was not Ministers, so we will have to see whether a freedom of information request can elicit more information.
Even if we accepted the behavioural changes that the Minister has suggested, rather than tackling the tricks and manoeuvre used to avoid paying the tax, what is the attitude of the Treasury and the Minister? Their attitude is to wave the white flag and basically say, “Let’s allow them to get away with those behavioural effects.”
Order. The shadow Chief Secretary is being most generous and accommodating in giving way. I simply point out to the House that the second debate has a comparable number of would-be contributors as does this one. If we are working on the assumption that this debate will finish at about 4 o’clock, it is important to ensure that there is maximum time available for Back Benchers who wish to make speeches. After that, I am in the hands of the House.
To bring my hon. Friend back to the whole subject of fairness in taxation, especially in these economic times, it was this Government who told us that those with the broadest shoulders should bear the majority of the burden, yet the first thing they did was reduce the tax rate to take that burden off their shoulders. [Interruption.]
There is a lot of protest coming from Government Members. Only those who are not standing for Parliament again will dare to stand up and defend cutting the 50p rate. Mr Speaker, I have heard your entreaties about being a little more strategic in the way we progress through the arguments, but I thought that it was important—[Interruption.]
Order. I say to Mr Browne—[Interruption.] Order. I have always regarded the hon. Gentleman as a very cerebral denizen of his House. I do not know whether he has become a bit demob happy because he is standing down, but I look to the hon. Gentleman, whom I have always regarded as a gentleman, to comport himself with a dignity comparable to that of his right hon. Friend Sir Malcolm Bruce, who is beaming on the Liberal Democrat Front Bench.
Mr Browne might be demob happy, but his constituents are demob happier.
I want to look at some of the other arguments we will hear from the Minister. When he came up with his calculation of £100 million, which was supposedly the only revenue from cutting the 50p rate, HMRC did not take into account the forestalling effect it would have—[Interruption.] No, it did not. If the Minister reads the small print of the Treasury costing, he will see that it did not take account of forestalling. I will send it to him, because it is there in black and white.
Everybody knows that wealthy individuals, usually paying themselves through personal services companies, merely changed the date when they paid themselves, from the financial year when the tax rate was 50p, and waited until the Chancellor did the business and cut it to 45p. The OBR has observed that substantial amounts of PAYE tax liabilities were deferred from the end of 2012-13 to the early part of 2013-14 in order to be taxed at 45p, rather than 50p. It estimates that around £1.7 billion in tax was deferred in that way. If that charge was at the lower rate, clearly there would be far more income lost to the Exchequer. The Chancellor has colluded in the wholesale avoidance of the 50p rate, and they telegraphed it so far in advance that they almost created the circumstances in which they were able to give the impression that it did not really matter that it would not have an effect.
The Conservatives will also make a number of other allegations about the 50p rate. They will say that it stifles enterprise and repels entrepreneurs abroad. However, recent studies have shown that a 50p rate did not deter or discourage wealthy people from locating in the United Kingdom. A new report from the New World Wealth organisation looked at millionaire migration and found that more millionaires migrated to the UK between 2003 and 2013 than to any other country.
The real question in the minds of so many Conservative ideologues, as Conservative Members are, is whether they will get their way and see this 45p rate cut even further to 40p, because that is essentially what they want.
“The Government should open up some more blue water, and cut the top rate back to 40p.”
Mr Brady says that 40p would be his priority. The politics of the 45p cut
“was very straightforward and it really wouldn’t have made any difference to the popularity…of the measure if you went from 50p to 40p rather than 45p.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that the important point is that, yes, a marginal income is raised through the top rate of tax, but it is also about the principle? We know that the UK has one of the highest levels of income inequality, with the impact that that has on matters such as life expectancy and health. If the Government do not recognise the divisions and hardship that this is creating, it is a sad day.
I sometimes get the impression from Ministers that they would not understand fairness if it hit them in the face. They certainly do not get it when it comes to the moral imperative as well as the economics of ensuring that we have a fair tax system that ensures that those with the broadest shoulders contribute a fairer share.
A Labour Government would reduce the deficit in a fairer way than the approach that we have seen from the Government. Of course, we have not seen much deficit reduction in recent years. We want to balance the books as soon as possible in the next Parliament, but to do so in that fairer and balanced way. We will reverse this Tory and Liberal Democrat tax cut for millionaires. We have to make some tough choices.
No, we have heard enough from the hon. Gentleman.
We will stop paying winter fuel allowances to the richest pensioners. We will have to raise child benefit by just 1% for two years, and Ministers’ pay also should be restrained. But we also have to cut out the waste and incompetence of this Government —£3 billion wasted on an NHS reorganisation; the universal credit debacle; the pointless exercise of a worse than useless Work programme. A fair plan to balance the books in the next Parliament would reverse this obscene tax cut for the top 1% of earners. We will have to finish the job that this Chancellor has so patently failed to deliver, and we will do so with a plan that will create sustained and balanced growth, 200,000 homes by 2020 and a British investment bank; cutting business rates for small firms; providing a jobs guarantee and child care to help people back to work; reconnecting the wealth of our country with the finances of individuals and families; and, above all, ending dogmatic trickle-down Tory economics, which hits lower and middle income households while the Government lavish tax cuts on the rich.
It is a rare privilege for a Treasury Minister to respond to an Opposition day debate on an economic matter this year. In the course of 2014, we had a debate on banking in January and a debate on the Office for Budget Responsibility in June, and now this. Why the reticence on the part of the shadow Treasury team? Imagine the scene in the shadow Cabinet room. With the general election fast approaching and Labour’s economic credibility at record lows, the pressure is on for the shadow Treasury team to make their big economic argument. So they all sit there, straining to come up with a topic for an Opposition day debate. They could set out their case on economic growth, but having spent years saying that our policies inevitably meant that the economy would flatline—remember the hand gestures—we are now projected to be the fastest-growing economy in the G7. They could talk about unemployment. Remember the predictions of another 1 million unemployed. But employment is at record levels, and unemployment, youth unemployment and long-term unemployment numbers are dropping like a stone. They could talk about the exciting plans a Labour Government might have to make our economy more competitive and dynamic, except that they have not got such plans, only plans to increase business taxes. What about the cost of living? The problem here is that hardly anyone believes that a Labour Government would make a positive difference to the cost of living, because we need policies for growth and jobs to deliver improvements in standards of living. They could talk about how Labour would deal with the deficit, except, presumably, everyone forgot to mention it in the meeting. “We must have something we can say,” someone says in desperation, and after a long and painful silence someone eventually says, “We could always trot out the 50p tax cut again. Yes, that will have to do.” So for the first tax and spend Opposition day debate of 2014, we return to a lazy and populist measure, which, as a former Labour Cabinet Minister has been reported to say today, is incidental to the state of the public finances.
A moment ago, the Minister commented on employment rates among young people, and across other groups too. Does it not trouble him and his colleagues that while employment rates are rising, in-work poverty is also rising, and the Government have no strategy to deal with this? What will he do about that?
The way to address that is by improving our productivity, by attracting additional business investment, and by ensuring that we are a good climate for businesses to invest in. That is how we get growth. It is through enterprise, not through punitive taxation that fails to deliver public finances to the Exchequer.
Will the Minister confirm that the amount of business loans from banks, including RBS, to businesses, is 30% down compared with 2008, and down 40% for small business, yet the loans for mortgages, for houses that already exist, are at 2008 levels? All the money is going into existing houses instead of into productivity and business. Why does he not do something about it?
The hon. Gentleman should also be aware that business investment is increasing. The last few quarters have been very positive on that front, and we are moving in the right direction, despite having to deal with the mess that we inherited. The truth is that in the place where a credible Opposition economic policy should be, we have an empty gesture that will do nothing for economic growth, nothing for job creation, nothing for the public finances, and nothing to help reduce taxes for working people.
I will turn to the analysis done by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which is at the heart of the debate, but there is no reason to believe that that has proven to be inaccurate, or that suddenly there is this huge stream of revenue that is available to the Exchequer that we have forgone. The truth is that there are much better ways of raising money from the wealthiest than a 50p rate that proved to be ineffective.
“The uncertainty around HMRC’s estimates mean it is possible that the 50p rate would be somewhat more effective at raising revenue than their initial estimate suggests”— because we have had several subsequent financial years?
“Given this, there is certainly a case for HMRC looking again”.
Will the Treasury now conduct an impartial analysis of the true revenues of that 50p rate?
Let me quote what the IFS said in January of this year:
“there is little additional evidence to suggest that a 50p rate would raise more than was estimated by HMRC back in 2012…the best evidence we have still suggests that raising the top rate of tax would raise little revenue and make, at best, a marginal contribution to reducing the budget deficit”.
If the hon. Gentleman wants to pray in aid the Institute for Fiscal Studies, I can tell him that one thing that it would dismiss is the idea of a £3 billion pot here. The idea that there is no behavioural impact at all, which is the argument that we heard from him, is entirely fanciful.
But it was the OBR that signed off the numbers in the March 2012 Budget. The hon. Gentleman seeks to pray in aid both the OBR and the IFS, but their position has been supportive of the Government. The fact that he suggests there is no behavioural impact here—that appears to be his position—is absolutely absurd.
Let us set out a few facts. As my right hon. Friend Sir Malcolm Bruce mentioned, the previous Government had a top rate of 40p for all but 36 of their 4,758 days in office. It is also the case that the richest in our society now pay more than at any point under the previous Government, with HMRC statistics showing that the top 1% is expected to pay 27.4% of all income tax this year. At the same time, 25 million working people are paying less income tax than they did in 2010. It is of course right that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden, and I will set out our actions in a few moments.
Consideration must also be given to ensuring that the United Kingdom is competitive in attracting wealth-creating individuals to locate and stay in this country, which is a point that even the previous Labour Government recognised for most of their time in office. Making our country an attractive place in which to invest is something that this Government are committed to doing. Indeed last week, the World Bank published its 2015 Ease of Doing Business report, placing the UK eighth overall and sixth among the OECD countries.
As I have already noted, Mr Darling announced in his 2009 Budget that the additional rate of income tax would come into effect in April 2010. It was accepted by that Government that there would be behavioural changes as a result of this policy. To be specific, not including forestalling, they accepted that it would result in revenues from the additional rate being around £4 billion lower than the static cost of the change. That is an important point. The 2009 analysis that Labour produced suggested that it would raise £2.5 billion, with £4 billion having been lost because of behavioural changes. Those behavioural changes are now being ignored by Labour, which is extraordinary.
The previous Government told us that the increase from 40p to 50p for incomes above £150,000 would raise approximately £2.5 billion a year. But the evidence suggests that it fell short of even that, raising at best £1 billion and at worst less than nothing. That is the conclusion not of my party, but of the HMRC report, which was laid before the House by the Chancellor alongside the Budget in 2012. The report lays out thorough and compelling evidence on the impact of the 50p rate. It showed that the additional rate was distorted, inefficient and damaging to our international competitiveness and that the previous Government greatly understated the impact of the additional rate on the behaviour of those affected. It has been criticised by business and has damaged the UK economy. The Government have decided not to stifle the economy further, but to show that we are open for business, which is why we reduced the rate to 45p.
Lower taxes allow more businesses to be set up and create employment, and we are beginning, slowly but surely, to see that in the north-east. I am sure that the Minister will wish to celebrate with me the fact that the north-east has seen the highest rise in the value of exports, the fastest rate of private sector growth in the past quarter and the most tech start-ups of any part of this country outside London.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. He also made a good point when he intervened on the Prime Minister earlier today. I am delighted that he has again had the opportunity to talk about what the Government are doing and the benefits that are being spread across this country.
The move to 45p, based on the central estimate of the taxable income elasticity, only cost £100 million a year, which is a small price to pay to regain some of the international competitiveness that we lost as a result of the previous Government’s decisions. The additional rate not only harmed our economy and contributed little to the Exchequer, but had significant impacts on our international competitiveness. It placed us in the unenviable position of having the highest statutory rate of income tax in the G20, which is precisely what we do not want when we need investment, jobs and long-term economic growth. By creating a competitive tax environment, this Government’s actions to reduce the additional rate have unambiguously been in the UK’s best interest. A return to the 50p rate would be to ignore the long-term interest of this country.
As a Government, our tax policy has focused on three broad areas: it has ensured that people play by the rules and pay the taxes they owe; that the highest earners make a fair contribution without damaging this country’s competitiveness; and that we lower taxes for hard-working people. I am proud that we have taken concrete action on all three fronts in every single Budget while delivering the fastest economic growth in the G7.
This Government’s policies have repeatedly increased the tax contribution of the wealthy, creating a fairer tax system in which those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden. We increased the rates of capital gains tax to 18% and 28%, ending the situation in which a director could pay a lower rate of tax than their secretary. We have introduced a stamp duty rise that will raise around £200 million a year from those who buy properties worth more than £2 million, and we have been particularly harsh on evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. For example, at Budget 2011, we introduced the disguised remuneration legislation, which raises £3 billion and protects almost £3 billion over the next five years, mainly from higher and additional rate taxpayers—a policy, by the way, that Labour voted against.
The loopholes that were closed at various Budgets mean that we have around three quarters of a billion pounds more coming into the Exchequer. Our policies do not stop there. We have also imposed a 15% rate of stamp duty land tax on residential properties bought through companies; introduced a cap on certain unlimited reliefs to limit their excessive use to reduce taxable incomes; and introduced the general anti-abuse rule. We are also requiring that tax is paid up front, preventing the richest from gaining unfair cash flow advantage by delaying tax payments. As we recognise that tax systems no longer operate on just a national level, we have signed information-sharing agreements with many countries to tackle overseas tax evasion, ensuring that no one can get away with evading payment of the tax they owe.
I thank the Minister for his generosity in giving way. After mentioning all these improvements he has made to tax efficiency and collection, he said that the Labour party calculated that there would be a behavioural shift of £4 billion but a tax take of £2.5 billion. If we apply that ratio to the £3 billion static figure, we would be getting £1.15 billion, and not £100 million. How does he explain that discrepancy?
I can go through it slowly if it is helpful. There are two points there. That was the analysis of the previous Government in 2009, and, as I said earlier, that understated the behavioural impact. It is also the case that the impact of the behavioural changes is greater between 45p and 50p than it is between 40p and 45p, so there is no discrepancy there. I am interested in the fact that the hon. Gentleman has reduced by a little the claims of his Front-Bench team that the measure would raise £3 billion. At least he acknowledges that the static cost cannot be entirely relied on, which is a degree of progress for which we should be grateful.
I have given way to the hon. Gentleman on a number of occasions, and I know that many Members wish to speak in this debate.
I have set out the measures we have taken on avoidance and evasion. At the same time, though, we have used the tax system to help hard-working people on lower middle incomes to keep more of the income they earn through personal allowances. The tax-free allowance has increased from £6,475 in 2010 to £10,500 in April 2015—a tax saving of £805 for a typical basic-rate taxpayer. These changes will have given tax breaks to over 25 million individuals and will have taken 3.2 million low-income individuals out of income tax altogether by the end of this Parliament. A future Conservative Government will go further, increasing the personal allowance to £12,500 and the higher-rate tax threshold to £50,000.
I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s question and the Chancellor answered it yesterday—we will reduce public spending to pay for it.
Members in all parts of the House agree that those who can most afford it should contribute their fair share to the Exchequer, but Labour Members insist that we should achieve that through a 50p rate that damaged our economy, sacrificed our international competitiveness, and did not raise the revenues intended. Those advocating a return to a 50p rate have to answer this question: given that it will not raise any significant amount of revenue, is “absolutely incidental” to the public finances, to use Alan Milburn’s phrase, and may even cost money, why do it? It is not about deficit reduction, it is not about economics, and it is not even about getting more from the wealthy, because there are better ways of doing that. It is all about the politics—but at what cost? At a time when the UK must compete to prosper in a global world and when we have a choice as to whether we sink or swim, those who advocate a 50p rate are taking the easy choice—short-term populism triumphing over increased competitiveness, with a stone age message of “bash the rich” prevailing over the need to attract wealth creators and keep them in this country.
This country’s route to success will not be through the lazy populism we have heard from Labour. Instead, we have taken steps to ensure that those with the most contribute the most, while maintaining a tax system that enables us to compete on a global stage. We are creating a tax system that is not only fairer but shows that the UK is open for business, encourages work, and gets people doing the right thing.
Order. I inform hon. Members that if each Back-Bench contribution takes nine minutes—fewer than 10, including interventions—it will not be necessary to have a formal time limit, but if the early speakers speak for longer than 10 minutes, then subsequent speakers will find themselves on a time limit. I hope that everybody can co-operate to ensure a fair allocation of time.
I hope to be very brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am grateful to you for calling me early in the debate. I apologise for the fact that I will have to leave for some of it, but I will be back for the winding-up speeches.
I want to make a few points on behalf of my constituents. I do not know the exact numbers, but I would guess that only a handful of my constituents are going to benefit from a tax cut on the basis that they earn £150,000 a year or more. In fact, it is quite possible that nobody in Stretford and Urmston stands to benefit. Therefore, my first question to the Minister is about the geographically distributional impact of this proposal. In this House, we talk repeatedly, and rightly, about our concern to rebalance our economy, our wealth and our resources around the country, but nowhere have I seen an analysis of where, physically, the beneficiaries of the cut in the 50p tax rate are. I would very much welcome seeing that information by constituency.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way, because she might save me the trouble of making my speech. Only 8% of taxpayers in the north-east of England pay the higher or additional rate of tax—I imagine that the situation is very similar in her part of the world—in comparison with the south, where about twice as many people pay the additional or higher rate.
The hon. Lady claims that her constituents are not benefiting from the cut in the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p. However, they are benefiting from the highest economic growth of any country in the G7 and from the 1.8 million new jobs created in this country—more than in the whole of the rest of Europe added together.
That brings me to my second point, which is about how this growth, and jobs growth, is affecting—allegedly benefiting—my constituents.
Ministers are very fond of asserting that work is the best route out of poverty and that the increase in jobs is therefore of benefit to working families. Of course, work ought to be the best route out of poverty, but the wage squeeze that we have seen in recent years means that that is simply not proving to be the case. When two thirds of children in poverty are living in households where someone is in paid employment, Ministers cannot be satisfied with a growth strategy that so misses the point in terms of rewarding those who aim to work and do the right thing. One of the reasons why those families are not benefiting from this jobs growth, apart from wage restraint, is that many of the in-work financial support measures that we put in place to support low wages—as indeed did earlier Conservative Governments, through family credit—have been eroded, frozen or cut under this Government. My second request to the Minister is for a more comprehensive answer than the one he gave a few moments ago to my question about what exactly is Ministers’ strategy for addressing in-work poverty, which is felt very acutely by many families in my constituency.
My third question for the Minister is one that I asked of Ministers at Treasury questions yesterday about the gender impact of a cut in the top rate of tax. As we know, men are disproportionately likely to benefit from cuts to income tax, particularly cuts to higher-rate taxes, and women are disproportionately affected by rises in consumption taxes because of their responsibility for managing the household budget. This has a direct feed-through to levels of child poverty. If women—[Interruption.] Mr Browne has clearly not looked at the many decades of social policy analysis in relation to this. If he has time later, I will take him through it. There is plenty of evidence that poor children have poor mothers. [Interruption.] If he thinks that this is sex discrimination, I am afraid that his analysis of the gender dimension of fiscal policy is even slighter than I understood it to be.
Yesterday I asked Ministers whether they could explain the gender analysis of their fiscal policy, which is exacerbated by things like their marriage tax breaks, the vast majority of which will benefit men, putting money in wallets, not purses. That will mean, again, that children lose out and child poverty is impacted.
Free school meals have yet to be delivered, I should point out to the right hon. Gentleman. We see from this Government very generous promises, totally unfunded.
My final question for the Minister relates to inequality. Ministers are very fond of telling us that inequality is reducing—
More women in work on poor pay.
Ministers are very fond of telling us that inequality is reducing under this Government. It is true that there is a coalescing effect, with lower wages and middle wages meeting as middle-level earnings become stuck, but what is absolutely not in doubt is that the very richest continue to get richer and richer, with not only the top 1% but the top 0.1% seeing super soaraway growth. What measures are Ministers really taking to address the widening inequality between a very, very privileged sector at the top and those on middle and average incomes who are absolutely not feeling the benefit of their economic policies? The Government can look at measures on inequality that suit their arguments, but it is important that we have a wide range of measures and a wide range of strategies to address this rising incomes discrepancy.
Our proposal is one measure—a small one, I admit—to address and reverse some of the income inequality. It will not do all the heavy lifting, as my hon. Friend Chris Leslie said, but it will certainly be a step in the right direction.
Finally, increasing the tax threshold, as has happened under the present Government, is certainly one strategy for improving the incomes of relatively low-paid working families, but the benefits do not reach those on the very lowest pay who fall below the tax threshold. Of course, as the threshold rises the law of diminishing returns sets in. Meanwhile many of us—in fact, probably all of us—benefit from the continuing rise in the income tax threshold as more of our income is sheltered below the threshold.
I ask Ministers to come clean on the genuine progressivity of their fiscal policies. Those policies are not genuinely progressive, and they know it. Those policies fail to address in-work poverty or to tackle rising inequality in relation to wealth and income at the very top, and the Treasury seems to think that it is perfectly okay to overlook their distributional impact.
I welcome today’s Opposition motion, which is an opportunity to show the clear ideological divide between Opposition and Government Members. The Opposition’s motion reiterates their intent to reintroduce the discredited 50p tax rate, which, taken with other policy announcements, such as the so-called mansion tax, clearly demonstrates their willingness to sacrifice the current economic growth and prosperity and, indeed, our nation’s economic future, on the altar of their socialist beliefs. It is probably an attempt to shore up a sort of core-vote strategy—a failing strategy—that will do nothing to increase the nation’s belief in the credibility of either the Leader of the Opposition or the shadow Chancellor.
If we go back to the politics of the 1970s, as the Labour party is proposing, we might want to remember the words attributed to the then Labour Chancellor, Denis Healey who, talking of tax, said that he would squeeze the rich “until the pips squeak”. Social mobility and the ability to move between countries was not as high in the 1970s, but that policy led to what was called the brain drain. I seem to remember from my childhood that, given our economy then, we were regarded as the sick man of Europe, which we are far away from being under this Government’s long-term economic plan.
The right hon. Gentleman, whom I much respect, has the advantage of me in years and service in this House. His figures may well be correct—I cannot challenge them with the information I have—but he must look at the economic backdrop of the relative growth of other economies in the world at the moment, and at the challenges that we face, such as the drag of the eurozone. There is no doubt that this Government are set to deliver the highest economic growth of any developed economy in the world this year.
I hope that my hon. Friend can shed light on an aspect of the Opposition’s outlook. Given that the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury thinks that the introduction of a 50p rate would have no behavioural impact, and that it is inherently virtuous to have higher taxes on people who create businesses and wealth and who employ people, why would he be willing to stop at 50p when he could go up to the levels of personal taxation that Labour presided over last time they were elected without Tony Blair as their leader?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. [Interruption.] It is in the nature of the Labour party that there is always another tax. Labour Members say, “One more tax will do it”, but it never ends, does it? He is quite right that the ability to earn—I stress that the word is “earn”, not “be given” or “inherit”—£150,000 a year or more does not—[Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, this is ridiculous.
Order. This is getting absolutely ridiculous. The hon. Gentleman has the Floor. We do not need the rest of the Members in the Chamber to engage in separate conversations. If they wish to do so, they can go outside and have a conversation. Otherwise, they should listen respectfully to the hon. Gentleman who has the Floor.
The hon. Gentleman said that the 50p rate was clearly ridiculous, but my hon. Friend Chris Ruane quoted the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, my right hon. Friend Mr Darling, who said before the last election that he could not countenance reducing the 50p rate while so many people were bearing such a burden in our society. Does the hon. Gentleman really think that that burden has lifted?
The deficit of £150 billion that we inherited from the previous Labour Government has been reduced by a third, but there is much more work to be done. If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me and listen to my speech, during which he will have the chance to intervene, I think that I will answer many of his questions.
The ability to earn more than £150,000 does not give or guarantee happiness, health or friends, but it does give choices. People who earn more money have more choices. My definition of poverty is having no choices: people with no choices are in poverty. One of the choices people have is about where they are domiciled for tax. With taxes rising in France, there has been a flight of people to the UK, to such an extent that, as was pointed out at a meeting with the Mayor of London a few months ago, so many French people live in London that it is the fourth largest French city.
I have always been a great believer in this quote:
“Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
When the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West brought in the 50p tax rate before the last election, I naturally assumed that he did not take on board George Santayana’s sentiments, as history has told us time and again that
“for a nation to try to tax itself into prosperity, is like a man standing in a bucket and trying to lift himself up by the handle.”
Yet the Labour party persist in this notion that having one of the highest top rates of tax in the world will increase revenues and make the country more competitive. My hon. Friend Paul Uppal was quite right to quote Abraham Lincoln, who said:
“You can’t make the poor richer by making the rich poorer.”
He described economic inequality as benign, rather than malevolent. Understanding the difference leads to understanding why allowing the greatest number of opportunities works better for increasing everyone’s wealth than trying to equalise outcomes. That was true then, and it remains true now.
The Labour party’s economic blindness seems to extend to failing to take note of what is happening over the channel in France. It is in its third year of being led by the Leader of the Opposition’s comrade Francois Hollande. After the Socialist Government increased a range of taxes, including the top rate of tax, revenues have proven to be half of what was expected. France has virtually no economic growth, and it has a black hole of billions of euros in its public accounts, to the point that it now wants the UK to pay €2 billion to help to bail it out. An uncompetitive top rate of tax decreases the incentive to work, reduces the amount of money for investment and, as has been seen in France, ultimately reduces the size of the economy.
What the Opposition do not seem to grasp as they play 1970s politics is that we live in a different world from that of the 1970s, when the UK had draconian top rates of tax. The principal difference is that high earners now have the option to live elsewhere, without any inconvenience, because of the internet and much improved air travel. We do not want to go back to the brain drain, and to being the sick man of Europe.
Plenty of people have offered advice on this issue to the Labour party. Let us take the comments of Mark Giddens, a partner at UHY Hacker Young, who stated:
“We would lose some of the edge that we currently have over other Western European countries in attracting successful entrepreneurs and investors. We will also find it harder to compete against other major English speaking economies such as the USA”.
The evidence seems clear. Under the French model we see high tax rates, anaemic growth, high unemployment and lower Government revenues; under our current model the long-term economic plan is working, we have the fastest economic growth in the developed world, and an economy that has created more jobs than the rest of the EU combined, leading to more tax revenue.
We can see in the HMRC analysis that was mentioned by the Minister and published in 2012, that the 50p rate was raising nothing like the £3 billion that Labour estimated at the time and continues to hold dear. Indeed, the direct cost of the reduction in the rate of income tax at that time was estimated at only £100 million. When other lost tax revenues are taken into account, it is evident that there was no direct cost to the Treasury in cutting the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p, not to mention the wider economic impact of that higher rate of tax, as we have seen in the French economy.
When Nigel Lawson cut the top rate of tax from 60p to 40p in 1988, the tax take rose and top earners paid a larger share of it. When the Treasury decided to set the rate of capital gains tax at 28%—up from 18% under the previous Labour Government—it stated that its studies had concluded that that rate maximised the tax take. If the optimum rate of unearned income is 28%, I suggest it is unlikely that the optimum rate of income tax should be nearly double that level. Figures show that less than 1% of the population earn more than £150,000 a year, yet those people contribute approximately 30% of the total income tax take. That is a total of £49 billion from the 45p rate, compared with only £40 billion raised the year before when the rate was 50p— evidence that when we cut the rate of tax, revenues rise.
What is Labour’s case for tax rates that will lead to decreased revenues? When the measure was first suggested it was nothing more than a pre-election attempt to convince its core vote that it was still the party of squeezing the rich, and remains so today. At the same time, Labour was obviously laying a bear trap for the incoming coalition Government. It was a Trojan horse of a policy; a Trojan horse of a tax. Members will have noticed that I have referred to France rather a lot in my speech. That is because for the future of the UK should Labour win the next election, we have only to look across the channel and see what has happened. As the Leader of the Opposition said previously, “What Hollande is doing in France I want to do in Britain.”
Order. I said at the beginning of the debate that if we co-operated with each other and each speaker spoke for no more than nine or a maximum of 10 minutes, everybody would be able to speak without a time limit. The hon. Gentleman has now spoken for 13 minutes, so I would be grateful if he would think about drawing his remarks to a conclusion.
I am sorry, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I was enjoying myself. In conclusion, by continuing to advocate a return to the 50p rate of tax, the Labour party is demonstrating that it is not a credible party of opposition, and certainly not of government. It is in fact a left-wing pressure group, ignoring economic evidence from around the world and determined to represent the interests of its union bosses.
It is a great joy to follow Andrew Bridgen. He told me that he is capable of generating energy out of potato peelings, and he certainly illustrated that today. I am also pleased to follow my hon. Friend Kate Green, who made a point about the inequality imposed by the Government’s economic policies. Given the inequality between men and women’s earnings, if women earned the same as men—they do not—I understand that they would basically be working for free from today onwards. That is the level of inequality we face.
It is all very well talking about raising tax thresholds. Everybody likes that, I guess, but as has been pointed out, it is not a panacea, certainly not for people who are moving in and out of work on zero-hours contracts—the 1.1 million people moving in and out of benefits—and having to go to food banks and so on, or those who cannot get jobs regularly. While many people welcome raising tax thresholds, it is costing us £11 billion a year. I mention that because it has been suggested that the measure under discussion today, the 50p tax rate—the static value of which is supposed to be £3 billion—is somehow insignificant and incidental, but it is still a significant figure, given the money the Government are giving away in raising tax thresholds.
Today the Prime Minister said again that he will be giving away £7 billion—there will basically be cuts in public services to pay for more tax giveaways. We are moving now to a situation where the Tories are saying, “Public services bad; tax cutting good” and many communities are feeling the pinch as a result, which is unfortunate.
During Prime Minister’s questions, the Prime Minister said that it would be “immoral” to rack up debt and leave it to our children as an inheritance, yet I put it to the Minister that the Government are doing precisely that. Their economic strategy is generating a low-income, low-wage economy, at the same time as pushing up the tax thresholds, which people have welcomed. The net outcome is that income tax receipts are going down. Instead of going up by 7%, they have risen by 0.1%, and the tax and national insurance increase that was supposed to continue to rise is £13 billion short this year.
The deficit reduction that the Chancellor planned for the autumn statement will be £11 billion down. Why? Because he predicted that wages would rise by 2.5% and they have risen by 0.5%. And why is that? As I mentioned, it is about insufficient investment from banks in productivity, and cuts to benefits for students or fees for sixth formers. In addition, the infrastructure that generates productivity and higher wages is being undermined, so the tax take is getting worse. Under Labour, 55% of the economy was debt; it is now about 75%. Borrowing under this Government over the past four years has been more than in 13 years of a Labour Government. It is a complete catastrophe.
I will give way to the hon. Gentleman in a moment. He was banging on about the 1970s, but let us remember more recent history and the fact that in the 10 years to 2008, the economy grew under Labour by 40% before we met the banking disaster. Two years on, thanks to the fiscal intervention of Brown and Obama, it was growing again by 2010. We have been flatlining since then because of the economic incompetence of the hon. Gentleman and his colleagues.
Perhaps I can drag the hon. Gentleman back to today’s motion and Labour’s wish to bring back the 50p tax rate. What does he say about the comments of Lord Myners, a Labour peer, who said of the shadow Chancellor:
“The economic logic behind his thinking would not get him a pass at GCSE economics…he takes us back to old Labour and the politics of envy”?
That was in The Daily Telegraph on
As the hon. Gentleman knows, being from south Wales I normally support miners, but I would say that he is very much an intellectual minor. [Interruption.] Yes he is. Yes—we all know where Lord Myners came from, God help us.
Focusing on the 50p tax rate, I have already made the case that income tax receipts are not going up owing to Government mismanagement—a low-wage economy with low skills and low productivity, and raising tax thresholds, which does not add up. It may be desirable to raise tax thresholds, but it does not add up and it is incompetent. Labour is talking about people making a marginal contribution at the 50p level.
I will not just now. We have heard the hon. Gentleman muttering for a while, but I shall take an intervention in a moment.
Let us consider behavioural changes. The rate of tax went from 40p to 50p to 45p. The hon. Member for North West Leicestershire, being a businessman, knows that if someone running a business who wants to minimise their tax liability faces that quick succession, they will move their finances. Instead of bearing down on the 50p rate, they will pay much more tax in the 40p year, and then the following year they will move their expenses from the previous year into that year at the 50p rate, so they do not pay that as tax, and then to the 45p rate. It is therefore no surprise that companies, like his own probably, made behavioural changes in a rational way to limit the amount of higher rate tax. But it does not follow that if the rate is kept forever at 50p rather than going up and down, they can play games and not pay that tax. Of course, there would be behavioural changes, and the Labour party’s assumption is not that instead of raising £3 billion, £100 million would be raised—that is one thirtieth, which is frankly ridiculous and preposterous; it is more likely to be well over a third. We appreciate that there may be some behavioural changes, but we are talking about taking billions of pounds from the richest people at a time when the Minister, who is sitting there pointing, is basically arguing that we should save £400 million—against, say, a £1 billion take from the richest—by taking money out of the mouths of some of the poorest children through the bedroom tax.
“It is not a burning ambition for me to make sure that David Beckham earns less money.”
This is the only Labour leader who has won a working majority in the past 48 years. Why has Labour decided to abandon his wise approach and adopt an avaricious socialist approach instead, which has proved to be both a political and economic failure?
I do not want to say anything rude about David Beckham. Tony Blair was obviously a very successful Prime Minister, and as I have already pointed out, he increased the size of the British economy by 40%. If we were not sitting here after four years of the Tories borrowing more than Labour did in 13 years and with the debt going up and up, we would not have to think of measures to raise more money. It is because of the economic incompetence and failure of this Government that we need to raise more tax at this point.
I have pointed out that there are people who already pay marginal tax rates of 62p—national insurance plus income tax. They are doing that and they are not suddenly leaving the country. This is a sustainable tax that can be borne at this point in the economic calendar, and we need to do it to protect the very poorest. As I have already pointed out, we are ripping £400 million—incidentally, the area most affected by the bedroom tax is Wales, where 42% of council households face it—away from people who have virtually no money. It is simply unfair that those judgments are made.
The hon. Gentleman has said on a couple of occasions that under Labour the economy grew by 40%. He is absolutely right: it did grow by 40% under Labour in the years leading up to the 2008 crisis. However, that came from a massive asset bubble that was fuelled by a colossal rise in household debt. One of the greatest crimes of the Labour Government in the lead-up to the financial catastrophe was that it allowed household debt to increase by £1 trillion. It went from £450 billion to £1.45 trillion, an increase of household leverage from 100% to 175%. That debt is still with millions and millions of people.
I am very grateful indeed for that intervention. The reality is that less than a third of the deficit inherited in 2010 was due to the Government. The Government were spending more than they were earning to gear us out of recession, which was the right thing to do to stop a world depression. We had growth at that time, but thanks to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Osborne, suddenly announcing in May 2010 that he was going to sack 500,000 people, everyone stopped spending money in the public sector and demand flatlined. We have had no growth so we do not have the tax receipts.
On debt, what is happening now, as I mentioned earlier, is that banks are lending 30% less to businesses to invest in productivity, entrepreneurship and growth, and they are giving the same amount as they did in 2008 to household debt to buy houses. That is not to build new houses, but to inflate houses in the south-east. There are no new houses, and it is ratcheting up the debt the hon. Gentleman rightly refers to. That is being inspired by the Government’s right-to-buy schemes and so on. That is completely irresponsible, so I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making the point about how irresponsible and poor the Government’s financial strategy is.
On infrastructure, a disproportionate sum is being spent in London and the south-east, when it should be spread across the country. Finally, if we want to get away from a low wage, low tax receipt economy, we need to invest in productivity. We need to think again about our strategy for tuition fees versus Germany and elsewhere. Ultimately—I am coming to a conclusion, Madam Deputy Speaker—we find ourselves in a situation where the poor are getting so poor that eventually they turn to parties like UKIP and worse. They start to blame immigration and all the rest of it, and we have social fracturing that will only continue unless we bring about a more equal, robust, fairer and stronger economy. This measure is a step towards that.
The motion seems to me a distraction for a party that has no credible economic policy and wants to draw attention away from that fact. We, as Liberal Democrats, voted for the reduction from 50p to 45p, but on the conditions which we negotiated within the Government, that rich people would pay substantially more in taxes as a direct result. That is precisely what has happened. It ill behoves the Labour party to latch on to a headline figure when its analysis does not stand up. There has been talk about the low wage, low tax economy, but I happen to remember the first two years of the Blair Government, when sticking to Conservative party spending plans meant tens of thousands of experienced doctors, teachers, nurses and public sector workers were thrown out of work by the Labour Government and then had to be re-employed subsequently at much higher cost.
No, I will not at this time, and I want to let other hon. Members in. That is what happened and I had the debate then.
The point I want to make is that the Labour party has never yet had the will to say sorry to the British people for what it bequeathed to us. The fact is that the economy collapsed by 7% in a single year. It has been a huge heavy lifting task for this Government to rebuild the economy to the point where we now have a strong and balanced recovery. My party’s objective is precisely to have a stronger economy and a fairer society. We believe we have made a very significant contribution to achieving that. In particular, I am slightly surprised at the disdainful way Labour Members treat the raising of the tax threshold, which has been hugely beneficial to many people on low earnings by taking them out of tax.
I have to say that I am astonished that the motion refers to the 10p tax, which has been nothing but a source of political embarrassment and division for the Labour party ever since it was thought up, invented and abolished by the Labour party. It is not clear to me whether Labour Members want to replace the 0p rate by a 10p rate, which of course means that what we are talking about is a tax increase, or whether they will follow the advice of the IFS, which says that raising the tax threshold is a much more efficient way of delivering benefits to poor people than a 10p rate. That is why we have supported raising the threshold and delivered it.
My right hon. Friend’s memory has momentarily failed him. The previous Labour Government did not abolish the 10p rate; they doubled the 10p rate. Everybody who was paying a marginal rate of tax at 10p started paying 20p. Some of the poorest people in my constituency and his were clobbered with a doubling of their tax rate under the previous Labour leader.
I am grateful for that. My hon. Friend is right. This is the point: to hear the pious tone of debate from a party whose incompetence in government and inconsistency was astronomical frankly takes my breath away. We have had to struggle to get the economy to where it is now, taking really difficult decisions for which we have certainly taken a political hit. I am not ashamed of the fact that we were prepared to do that to get a result that puts us in a better place than any other developed country in the current economic situation. I should also repeat the point that Labour cut capital gains tax to 18%. We have managed to raise it back to 28%.
The truth is that what we are seeing here is the end of new Labour and the re-emergence of old Labour. New Labour knew these policies would not work and would not make it electable. Old Labour has decided to try the old failed policies again. I suspect it will get the old failed result, which is that we do not need them. It is not the answer to the country’s problems.
The fact is that the highest earners are now paying more as a percentage of the total tax bill than they were. The figure increased from 22.7% of the total take to 24.2% between 2011 and 2013. We have not only introduced measures to increase the taxes on higher earners, but we have, for example, restricted their tax relief on pensions. Under the previous Government it was £250,000; it is now £40,000. In reality, a millionaire will pay £381,000 more tax on their income under this Government than they did under the Labour Government, so we are in fact building a fairer, more balanced tax system, best fitted to our needs.
I completely accept that we have not got the recovery to the place where we want it to be. Earnings are not growing as we would like them to, and it is absolutely true—I am not going to deny it—that many working poor people are still not getting the full benefits of economic recovery. However, they would be far worse off if we had not raised the tax threshold. As we move through the recovery, I hope we will start to get the productivity improvements that will ensure that real wages start to increase, and then those people will get even more benefit from the raised tax threshold than they do currently.
We have laid the foundations for what can become a sustained, fair and balanced recovery. The motion that Labour wants us to vote for today would take us backwards, not forwards. It would take us in a direction that historically has not worked and that would not work in the future. It is worth remembering that when Mr Darling introduced the 50p rate, he was quite clear that it was a temporary measure. I appreciate that people have said that he has qualified what he meant by that—although he is not here today, I notice—but in the circumstances it is worth pointing out that he said:
“I want to say a word about the 50p rate of tax, since I introduced it. At the time, I said it was a temporary measure. I did not particularly want to introduce it”.—[Hansard, 26 March 2012; Vol. 542, c. 1199.]
It was only introduced on the day that that Parliament was dissolved.
The history of the Labour party was one of giving huge tax concessions to the wealthy, whereas this Government, surprisingly enough, have reduced the 50p rate to 45p—which is still 5p higher than it ever was under most of the Labour Government—as well as imposing other tax restrictions and closing tax loopholes, many of which were opened by Mr Brown when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have also been much more rigorous in pursuing unpaid tax, with the Treasury estimating that £100 billion of unpaid tax will be recovered over the course of this Parliament as a result of measures taken by the present Government.
Labour Members should go back to their constituencies and prepare to explain why they got us into this mess and when they will find an economic policy that will legitimately get us out in a fair and balanced way, because that is what the Liberal Democrats have been doing. We get nothing but criticism from Labour, but absolutely no policies.
I do not envy the historian who will eventually write the book on the record of this Government. When such a history is written, the decision to cut the 50p top rate of tax will surely be seen as a turning point—the moment when this Government revealed their true colours; when they talked of hard choices for those on lower incomes, while awarding the richest 1% a tax cut worth £3 billion; and when the phrase “We’re all in this together” turned into material for satire.
People in my constituency and across the UK are facing a cost of living crisis, the scale of which the Government are unable to understand or empathise with, never mind tackle. The one part of the previous speech that I agreed with was the bit at the end, about how so many people continue to struggle. We all need to come up with a way forward that serves their interests. That is what I want to focus on. On average, households will be £1,600 a year worse off by 2015 due to tax and benefit changes made by this Government. Changes made to taxes and benefits since 2010 have meant that families where one parent is working to support children are nearly £4,000 worse off.
Let us consider youth unemployment, which is still close to 800,000. Why is it that Government Members—[Interruption]—I hope Mr Browne will stop heckling—cannot consider how this tax break could have instead been used to get those 800,000 young people back to work? Surely they deserve a chance to make a contribution to our economy. Time and again—
If I get through my speech without the hon. Gentleman interrupting and heckling, I might consider giving way to him.
Time and again, it is those most in need who are suffering on this Government’s watch. Shockingly, 2.6 million children across the UK face poverty, which is 600,000 more than in 2010. The recent report by the
End Child Poverty coalition found that half the children in my constituency are growing up in poverty, a figure that has risen since 2010. Of those, two in three are in working households. One in five people across the country face low pay. Against that backdrop, it says everything about this Government that they chose to focus their efforts on reducing tax rates for the highest earners. Surely we should think about putting in place a more just and fairer tax system, but also one that gives opportunity to young people who are out of work.
Those working people across the country who are struggling at the moment will no doubt wonder why this is happening. In this House, the Chancellor said in 2011 that he was
“not going to balance the budget on the backs of the poor”.
At the same Budget, he went on to say that it would not be right to remove the 50p tax rate, asking those on much lower incomes to make sacrifices. The Government should be clear: the working people in constituencies such as mine and beyond do not feel as if they have stopped making sacrifices. We must keep remembering that. They have not stopped making sacrifices. Those people face low wages and they continue, day in, day out, to experience hypocrisy from this Government, who refuse to tackle poverty—both in-work poverty and child poverty—and when child poverty continues to rise, year in, year out. It is a disgrace and it needs to be taken seriously.
The hypocrisy continues. Only last month, the Chancellor remarked at the Conservative party conference:
“there remains a large budget deficit and our national debt is dangerously high.”
What was his answer? It was a two-year freeze of tax credits and benefits, yet two thirds of those who will be affected are in work. Such a measure, hitting the least well-off, is deemed necessary, but the pressure on the top earners is off. How is that acceptable? How is that fair? How is that justified?
According to calculations by the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Treasury lost around £200 million from top earners due to them deferring income, as my hon. Friend Chris Leslie said in his opening speech. The Chancellor will also struggle to resist calls to cut the top tax rate even further, as he and the Prime Minister have refused to rule that out. Perhaps the Minister will clarify whether the rate will be reduced further, or perhaps she will be able to rule that out.
Our approach on the Labour Benches is about a broad-based recovery, where everybody makes a contribution and where those who are most able to can make a bigger contribution. If we are serious about getting people back into work and giving young people an opportunity, this tax cut should be reversed. We need fairness embedded in the tax system, starting with top earners. That is why I support today’s motion.
I am happy to take an intervention from the hon. Member for Taunton Deane now, but I hope he will show some manners.
I am always respectful of good arguments in this House; I just do not understand the hon. Lady’s argument that the way to help with youth unemployment is to have a much higher top rate of personal tax than existed under Tony Blair. We have had a fall in youth unemployment under this Government. We have had a fall since the top rate of tax was cut from 50p to 45p, and we have a much lower rate of youth unemployment than France, which has higher rates of personal tax on high earners. With all due respect, I just do not understand the central premise of the hon. Lady’s speech, but at the end of it maybe she can clarify it for me.
The hon. Gentleman seems to have forgotten that we got a 1 million young people into work, while over the last four years youth unemployment has remained close to 1 million. It has only recently gone down, but it remains at some 800,000. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman could explain to those young people who do not have an opportunity, who have been unable to get work and who do not have much to look forward to when it comes to making a contribution by getting jobs what he and his party, working with the Government, propose to do about it. Frankly, he is living on another planet if he cannot understand the plight of some 800,000 young people who remain unemployed today.
Time is running out, so I shall conclude by saying that we need to think carefully about how best to support those who cannot manage to make ends meet. We need to be aware that the £3 billion-worth of tax cuts could have been used to stimulate the economy by supporting those who are not in work at the moment. Frankly, that £3 billion could be used to create more apprenticeship and training opportunities for those not currently in work. I hope that Government Members will consider what it means to create a fairer society. It does not mean giving tax breaks to those who are most well off—the top 1%—when everyone else in our country is struggling.
Let me start by confessing—it is no secret to hon. Members—that before I came to this House I was an investment banker and a hedge fund manager. Now that I am a politician, I have had the three most unpopular jobs known to humanity! As a result of my previous life, I happen to know a great many people who were paying the 50p tax rate when it applied and the 45p tax rate now. At risk of having myself excluded once and for all from the dinner party circuit of all my friends, I have to say that when I hear their bleating and complaining about the higher rate of tax I have absolutely no sympathy for them whatever. I feel that everybody with the broadest shoulders should absolutely pay their fair share of taxation—and I do not think that any Member of any party would disagree with that fundamental premise.
There is no doubt that a very low earner, earning barely above a subsistence level, has no freedom or choices to make, as my hon. Friend the Member for
North West Leicestershire (Andrew Bridgen) said. It is right that the Government raised the tax-free threshold to £10,000, and they have every intention of raising it to £12,500 in the next Parliament. It is absolutely right, too, that this Government have recognised that the 40p tax rate at £41,000 to £42,000 is cutting in at an earlier point than was ever intended when it was first introduced. It is right for the better-paid nurses and the better-paid police officers to have their higher tax threshold raised to £50,000 by the end of the next Parliament.
What I think is crucial to this debate—I do not want to take up a huge amount of time talking about it—is to recognise that the way to address youth unemployment, mentioned by Rushanara Ali, and to get those 800,000 people back into work is to create jobs. Crucial to creating jobs and repairing our economy is seeking inward investment in this country. It is vital that we become internationally competitive. That is why we have seen a relentless cutting of the corporation tax rate, resulting in a great amount of inward investment. That is why the personal taxation rates are so important, because entrepreneurs from overseas will look to see what is going to happen here.
I represent a constituency in which the average household income is about £23,000 a year—about a 10th of the earnings of the people I used to work with as an investment banker, which is why I have no sympathy for them. In common with every Member, I care passionately about the constituents I serve and want to ensure that better opportunities are available to them.
I am incredibly lucky because in the last three weeks it was announced that the international automotive supply chain manufacturer Amtek—an Indian company—will be making a significant investment in Wyre Forest, creating 500 skilled jobs in the automotive supply chain. There are reasons why the company came here: we are part of the European Union; we have a substantial and strong automotive and aerospace industry; we have good skills, good rule of law and competitive taxes; and we have competitive personal taxation rates.
An important point behind this has, I think, been missed. It is one thing for us to be able to go out and make an international case that we have the most competitive internal taxation regime in the G20 and that we have the best economy in the G7, but it is vital that we also send a clear and coherent message to the international world when it is considering whether to invest in this country. That message must be, at the very least, some type of tax certainty and must provide some assurance. Companies need to know that if they invest in this country there will not be any political tomfoolery, mucking around with taxation rates at the last minute of a Parliament.
I can remember having conversations—I think that my hon. Friend Robert Halfon might have been in them, too—with the then shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer prior to the financial crisis. We asked him whether he thought Mr Brown would do anything stupid—laying Trojan horses or elephant traps—in the run-up to the election. He said, “No, no, no; even he would not be that stupid”, yet to our utter dismay the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath brought in the 50p tax rate at the last minute.
The hon. Lady will have to ask my hon. Friend about that. I was referring to the shadow Chancellor and saying that if my hon. Friend was at the conversation he would know what was said. In any case, my hon. Friend has a career in front of him.
We need inward investment. We have talked about the 1970s when we had exchange controls in a very different type of economy. Now we need to set a direction of travel to provide absolute certainty to any company looking to invest in this country. It can never, ever be the case that the message coming out from this place is one where politics overrides the interest of investors coming into the country. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow talks about vested interests, but if we are referring to the vested interests of someone who is going to invest in this country, I would do everything I could to support those vested interests, because it means bringing jobs for my constituents. The more jobs they bring, the higher the salaries, the better the standard of living. It will work.
My hon. Friend is bringing his knowledge of taxation to the Chamber. Does he agree with me and with Lord Digby Jones, who was the Trade and Industry Minister under the last Labour Government, when he said recently on the BBC of the 50p tax rate:
“It’s great politics but it’s lousy economics…Are we talking politics or are we talking what’s right to create wealth and jobs in the nation?”?
My hon. Friend makes a fine point. Digby Jones is a wise and sensible—[Interruption.] He was a Minister in the former Labour Government, although he was the only Minister ever not to be aligned with a political party—I concede that point.
The key point about the direction of travel is that we must make every effort to give certainty to those investors coming into the country. Mucking around with the tax rates and providing a confused message about the top level of tax is bad economics. I hope that the Minister—although now may not be the right time—will give us some indication that, should the economic recovery and the recovery of the public finances continue, there will ultimately be a 40p tax rate as a target. I suspect she may not want to commit herself at this point. As I say, mucking around with tax rates is detrimental to our economic recovery.
I will follow your direction, Madam Deputy Speaker, on the length of Members’ contributions because I know that some Members still wish to speak in the debate.
I think that we will have no argument about the fact that austerity has been painful. What divides us in the Chamber is where we see that pain being inflicted most. Labour Members believe that it is targeted on the whole at people at the lower end of the income scale—they have been feeling most of the pain in these difficult economic times. Incredibly, billions in tax cuts have been given to people at the upper end of the income scale. The top 1% of earners have been given a tax cut worth £3 billion, in stark contrast to those at the other end of the income scale, who have been struggling in these difficult times.
Let us look at what little has been given to lower earners and how that was paid for. It did not come from the top earners; it came from the Government dragging down the tax bracket to take in middle-income families, who have paid through going into the higher tax bracket for anything that has been conceded to people at the lower end by moving the threshold up. I suspect that the Government wished that to go unnoticed but we have well and truly figured that one out and the public have noticed it, too.
On top of that, households will on average be nearly £1,000 a year worse off by 2015 as a result of Government tax cuts and benefit changes. That means that hard-working, middle-income families are being squeezed into a cost of living crisis. We see that day in, day out. I certainly do in Inverclyde. I see that in everyday events. More and more families are having to shop around during their weekly shop, looking for bargains. Those families are in work, yet they are finding it difficult.
As has been highlighted, whatever happened to putting into practice the Government’s well-used phrase, “Those with the broadest shoulders should bear more of the burden”? That was pushed to one side when those people were relieved of that burden through tax cuts.
If people can pay more, they should pay more in these difficult times. That is only fair. That is what this debate is about—fairness in these times of tax pain. It is not only me saying that. Some members on the Government Benches have been saying it, too. The coalition partners, the Liberal Democrats, have been saying it. Most notably, the Deputy Prime Minister said that this was the wrong time to send the wrong message by cutting the higher-tax level. Even Lord Heseltine, who once looked as if he would lead the Conservative party and become the next Prime Minister, has said that it is the wrong message to send out.
Tax avoidance is increasing under this Government. As we heard only the other day, £35 billion of tax has been avoided, yet the Government are reluctant to go after the tax-avoidance loopholes and to take the burden off lower-income earners. In addition, the Government have again cut staff levels at HMRC.
Austerity is being applied at the wrong end of the social spectrum by this Government. That is as clear as day. By their actions, those who can least afford it will be asked time and again to step up and make that contribution. It is not just the lowest paid—middle to low-income earners are also taking the brunt of the austerity.
Let me talk a little about hard-working families in Inverclyde. Government Members claim that they are producing more employment—that more people are in jobs. In Inverclyde, 26% of children live in poverty. Three quarters of them come from working homes. It is an absolute disgrace that, in this day and age, that level of child poverty is allowed to exist.
People say that good things come to those who wait and they talk about the Government’s long-term economic strategy. I will tell Members what good things came to those who waited: it came to those bankers who paid themselves a bonus after waiting to cash in on the lower tax rate. However, it did not come for one of my constituents, who waited almost a year to be assessed for her disability benefit and had to rely on the good will of others.
We support lifting many of the low paid out of tax altogether. They are not being lifted out of poverty. They are still captured in the circle of poverty. Their outlay does not match their income and that is evident when we look at where they are buying the basics of life: they have to look for bargains time and again.
The hon. Gentleman is talking with great passion and emotion about the hard-pressed people in his constituency. I am completely with him on that, but can he explain how deterring the top 1% of earners, who are already paying 30% of all income tax, from economic activity, or even driving them out of the country, will help his hard-pressed, hard-working constituents, or mine?
The hon. Gentleman argues that, if we put the 50p rate back in place, we would see a mass exodus of billionaires. It is not me who is saying that that would not happen; it is his coalition partners. The Lib Dems say that that would not happen; they do not see it transpiring. If he is talking about the employment that has been created, he will see that in my area of the country, part-time work and temporary work, especially at this time of year, are on the increase. Labour Front Benchers have talked about helping those on lower pay and lowering the starting rate of tax to 10p. The public were hit by one of the first increases in tax that the Government put in place: the VAT rise, which has hit them hard, too.
Remember that this Government promised to balance the books in this Parliament. They have reneged on that promise and are actually borrowing more. Therefore, the time scale to balance the books under this Government has been pushed out even further. That can mean only one thing for those already feeling the pinch of austerity: they are going to feel the punch of austerity if this Government get back into power. It is about balancing the books in a fairer way.
We say that a 50p higher rate would help to do that. It is time for the economic circumstances to require those who can pay more to pay more. A 5p increase will not chase them out of the country, despite what Andrew Bridgen thinks. Labour will reverse the £3 billion tax cut for the top 1% of earners as part of our plan to balance the books in a fairer way. In contrast this Government have increased tax for millions while millionaires are given huge tax cuts. It is time for top earners to pay the 50p rate. If this Government will not put that in place, the next Labour Government will.
I will be brief. Like my hon. Friend Kate Green, I doubt that many of my constituents would find themselves in the position of having to pay a 50p tax rate. It is right that we should be discussing reversing this Government’s tax cut for millionaires.
The Government’s decision to cut the 50p tax rate handed a £3 billion tax cut to the richest 1% in this country, yet at the same time ordinary people are worse off, with families paying hundreds of pounds a year more in VAT, thanks to the Government’s decision to raise VAT to 20%. In addition, Tory cuts to tax credits have hit millions of working families. Figures from the Institute for Fiscal Studies show that households will be nearly £1,000 a year worse off by the time of the next general election because of tax and benefit changes that have been made since 2010. We are most definitely not “all in this together”.
Like the constituents of my hon. Friend Rushanara Ali, people in my constituency are struggling with the cost of living, with wages flatlining and the prices of food, fuel and energy increasing all the time. They are told that the economy is in recovery, but they are not feeling it. As winter approaches, many families in my constituency will face a stark choice between heating and eating, for they cannot afford to do both.
It is absolutely right and proper for the 50p tax rate to be brought back for high earners. It is simply not right for them to be given tax cuts while the poor and the vulnerable bear the brunt of this Government’s austerity programme. This Government give tax cuts to millionaires while penalising the disabled for having an extra bedroom in which to store their medical equipment. This Government give tax cuts to millionaires, yet deny NHS workers a below-inflation 1% pay rise. It is clear whose side this Government are on, and it is not the side of ordinary people. They have no sympathy for those who are struggling on low incomes, yet defend to the hilt the right of high earners not to pay their share. That is why we will reverse the £3 billion tax cut for the top 1% of earners, as part of our plan to balance the books in a fairer and more equal way.
I support the motion, because I think it is about time that the rich paid a fairer share of income tax. They have been getting away with 40%, 40p in the pound, for far too long—[Interruption]—since 1988-89. Let me point out to Government Members, who usually rant on about the wonders of the Thatcher Government, that the top rate of income tax came down to 40p only after Mrs Thatcher had been Prime Minister for nine years. For nine of her 11 years in office, the top rate was 60%. The standard rate of income tax was 30%, also for eight or nine years. To describe the 50p rate as an easy choice, the product of socialist beliefs, and bashing the rich is ludicrous. When Government Members portray that rate—which is lower than Mrs Thatcher’s top rate—in such terms, it shows that they are actually harsher than Mrs Thatcher.
My colleagues have talked about the impact on people who are badly off, but I want to draw attention to the major beneficiaries, most of whom are in banking or associated finance businesses. They have benefited not just from this tax cut, but from the taxpayer bail-out of their useless, greedy, stupid, incompetent banks. They have benefited more than anyone else from quantitative easing. At the same time nurses, teachers and doctors have been faced with—
No, I will not, because others wish to speak.
Let me make it clear that the Labour Government did not bring down the top rate of income tax to benefit the richest and at the same time freeze the pay of nurses, freeze the pay of doctors and freeze the pay of teachers, while at the same time the bankers got their bonuses. At HSBC, which lost £27 billion in the credit crash, Barclays, which lost £8 billion, and Lloyds, which lost £5 billion, bankers’ bonuses have risen, in 2012 and since then. At HSBC, 239 people are currently receiving £1 million or more a year. The worst off received a £40,000 tax benefit, and most will have received £100,000. For example, Mr Stuart Gulliver, chief executive of HSBC, apparently receives £32,000 a week in what are described as “special allowances”. I do not even know whether he pays tax on those special allowances, but that means that he receives, each week, an amount that is close to the national average annual income that is over and above his pay, yet Members on the Government Benches object to the idea that he should pay 50p in the pound tax on that. All I can say is that, following his and his predecessor’s efforts, he obviously has to spend a lot of time trying to minimise the amount of money he has to set aside to pay off for swindling exchange rates and to pay off for the consequences of money laundering and what happened with LIBOR and, generally speaking, in organising an outfit that might be described as the tax avoiders’ alliance.
We have heard talk of behavioural change reducing the possible income from a 50p rate of tax, but these bankers are really good at behavioural change. They do nothing else. They organise all the way around the world, helping people to avoid tax. With the exception of Lloyds, more than 30% of the subsidiary companies of these banks—in some cases these companies exceed more than 1,000 in number—are located in tax havens, and they are not located in tax havens just because the weather is better; it is because they are involved in promoting tax avoidance.
Bankers also say that their pay is a compensation package. I have checked the Oxford dictionary and compensation means recompense for loss, injury or suffering. What have any of these bankers experienced in the way of loss, injury or suffering? It is the rest of us who have had to experience loss, injury or suffering as a result of their stupidity leading up to the financial crisis. Their incompetence and greed inflicted loss, injury or suffering on the rest of us. I thought at one point that it was a perversion of language to use the word compensation in such circumstances, but I actually believe it is a perversion of mindset. They have obviously concluded that they should be compensated for inflicting loss, injury and suffering on the rest of us.
I wanted to intervene because my right hon. Friend is talking about behavioural change among bankers, but Government Members were shaking their heads and tutting when we were referring to disabled people, and I—[Interruption.] Yes they were; they were doing so when we referred to disabled people being hit by this Government and their priorities. Does my right hon. Friend agree that one group of people who cannot change their behaviour are the 60,000 carers who are required by this Government to pay the bedroom tax? They cannot change their behaviour: they cannot work; they cannot change their hours. Some people can afford to pay 5p or 10p extra in the pound, but people who are being hit badly—disabled people and carers—cannot do so.
I entirely agree with my hon. Friend.
My final point is this: the bulk of people who will benefit are in the banks and the rest of the finance industry. This is a very privileged industry, because every other industry in the country has to pay a 20% transaction tax, which is known as VAT, yet the City businesses pay virtually no transaction tax. I think if we want to raise some more money we ought to be introducing a transaction tax in line with what Mrs Merkel has been suggesting.
I am grateful to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for letting me make a short contribution to this debate. I want to make only two main points—a practical one and a philosophical one—but first, let me make a brief political point.
I say this as impartially as it is possible for an aligned Member of the House of Commons to be: it is a great tragedy for the Labour party, but actually a sadness for our country, that new Labour has been so emphatically buried by the leader of that party and by the sort of speech we just heard from Frank Dobson, who, we must remember, is a former Cabinet member and was happy to pay a top rate of tax of only 40% on his inflated Cabinet salary, but seems happy now to have rates much higher than 50p—he was not willing to stop there.
It is no coincidence that the last time Labour won a working majority without Tony Blair as leader, England won the World cup. The reason why it has been such a long time since Labour—the principal Opposition party and one of the two largest parties in the country—won without Tony Blair as leader is that there is no majority in the country, as we can see now, for avaricious, punitive taxation levels and the punishment of successful, entrepreneurial people who create wealth. It was not a difficult realisation that Tony Blair came to, but it was an important one and it is sad to me that the Labour party has abandoned that.
The New Statesman, the only publication that supported the current Labour leader when he put himself forward in 2010, has published an edition today entitled, “Running out of time”, referring to Labour. The article on Labour states:
“Miliband is very much an old-style Hampstead socialist. He”—
Order. Mr Browne, you know full well that this debate is not a general debate on the Labour party or its leader, but a debate on income tax. You are now ranging far too wide, and I should be grateful if you came back to the point of today’s debate. I am sure you will find other ways to express your wider political views on the Labour party.
I will do, and thank you for your guidance. I will move on to my practical and philosophical points.
My practical point echoes much of what was said by my hon. Friend Mark Garnier. The basics of being a globally successful, wealth-creating economy are not that difficult to grasp. What we have to do is make sure that businesses can start up, expand and create jobs. I was struck by the fact that quite a few contributors to this debate said that they do not have many people in their constituency who earn over £150,000. However, that is not a source for celebration: we want to have more people who are starting companies successfully and are able to earn more than £150,000 because they are employing hundreds of people, exporting around the world and meeting demand in markets. The idea that these people should be reviled is utterly perverse. We want more of these people in every constituency.
Was my hon. Friend not struck, as I was, by the previous speech, which ended up being an endless rant against the bankers and did not take into account any of the wealth creators in this country such as the entrepreneurs my hon. Friend has just described, or the risk-takers who mortgage their houses to invest in creating jobs? These are the people, who have taken huge risks, who are being punished by this tax. The bankers are irrelevant in this argument.
In a moment—the hon. Gentleman has only just come into the Chamber. It seems to me that those people should be lauded and celebrated for their achievements, and they should pay a reasonable amount of tax—and they do under this Government—but they should not be reviled by politicians. The reason why unemployment is falling and the economy is growing is that we have more wealth creation, and that is what we need to do more to encourage.
The Labour party—not just Labour; there are others, I am sure, Madam Deputy Speaker—seems to me to have an extremely narrow, parochial focus. There are economies right around the world that are expanding and are wealthier than ever before. Hundreds of millions of people in Asia are being lifted out of material poverty because those countries are embracing the basics of free-market economics and wealth creation. Those countries are seeing the benefits of improved health care systems, improved life expectancy, reduced infant mortality and improved education outcomes. We must not allow ourselves to adopt an approach of insular socialism in just this one country. That approach involves a belief that we can continue to penalise a small number of wealth creators for being successful, which is completely counter-productive.
We need to step back and ask ourselves what a country would do if it wanted to be competitive in a globalised economy. What could we do to encourage businesses not to locate to France, Germany or the United States or, increasingly, to Mexico, Brazil or India? What could we do to encourage them to locate here? Could we ensure that we had competitive levels of corporation tax? I congratulate the Government on achieving that. Could we ensure that we had competitive levels of personal taxation? In my view, we are in a reasonable place on that. We would be in a worse place if the gist of this motion were accepted.
Perhaps we could ensure that the percentage the state took from overall GDP was sustainable. At the moment, the Government spend a much bigger proportion of GDP than they did in any of the 10 years that Tony Blair was Prime Minister, and in my view that is too much. It is unsustainable. Could we ensure that we were not borrowing too much and living beyond our means? At the moment, we are clearly living beyond our means. These are all straightforward propositions for a country that wants to be successful in a global marketplace.
I am almost sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s sermon in favour of inequality. Why, according to this Government, do the poor have to be punished and the rich have to be incentivised? The only thing that the bedroom tax, VAT and the millionaires’ tax have in common is that Labour abstained on all those issues, which were designed either to punish the poor or to incentivise the rich. The hon. Gentleman seems to believe that the poor must be punished and that the rich must be incentivised. Why?
I have not the faintest idea what the hon. Gentleman is talking about. It seems like complete nonsense. I am not in favour of punishing anybody. If people can keep a higher proportion of the product of their labour, they will be incentivised to keep working and be productive. That applies to people who are earning £20,000, and who have seen a big cut in their income tax under this Government, but it also applies to people who are earning £220,000 and who might have set up successful companies employing 150 people in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency or in mine. I am not seeking to punish people. I am not one of those politicians who believes that we can make some people happy only by making others unhappy. I want us to be a harmonious country in which everyone is incentivised to work and can see the product of their labour.
My hon. Friend has hit the nail on the head. Does he agree that Opposition Members are still failing to appreciate that we need a strong economy, driven by entrepreneurial people, in order to have the strong public services that we need? That is where all the money comes from.
I do agree with that, although I do not always agree with everything put forward by those on the Government Front Bench. For example, it is important—as the hon. Member for Wyre Forest said—that we should remain a member of the European Union. I know that some Conservative Members are uncomfortable with that, but we are part of the world’s biggest single market. It is an attraction to investors from outside the EU that they can invest in the United Kingdom not only because it is the sixth biggest economy in the world but because we can act as a stepping stone into the largest single market.
We also need to adopt a broadly liberal approach to migration. It is extremely important for our country that we can attract high-talent people from outside the European Union. We see quite a lot of that in London, with people coming to our capital city as well as to the other parts of the United Kingdom to invest and to grow businesses. That is important for our national prosperity.
I take an economically liberal approach across the board, but it is important that we have an enterprise economy for all the reasons that I have stated. An enterprise economy is important if we are to fund public services, for example. Many Members will have travelled widely. I would simply recommend that they try out the public services in countries that have had a heavy dose of socialism. After all, people were only escaping over the Berlin wall in one direction. They were not trying to escape from the west to the east in search of a better quality of life or better public services. A lot of the dysfunctional countries with real social problems are those that do not raise enough money to be able to fund decent public services. In no country in the world do politicians want to have bad hospitals and bad schools. Some countries do not have good hospitals and good schools because they cannot afford to fund them, and that is because they do not have an economy that raises enough revenue to do that. That is because they keep deterring wealth-creating entrepreneurial behaviour. It is all so straightforward that it feels frustrating having to explain it to people.
My philosophical and concluding point is this: all the money we are talking about is being earned by individuals working; it is not our money, the Government’s money or the Leader of the Opposition’s money. When he talks about giving money back, as if he were some sort of Santa Claus figure who is there to decide how much of your own money you are allowed to have and we should be extremely grateful to him, or to the shadow Chief Secretary, for benevolently allowing us to keep a bit of it—
Let me finish this point. The crucial philosophical problem I have with a 50p tax rate is the underlying presumption that the state co-owns your income with you, and that when you work you are in a 50:50 shareholding relationship and for every extra hour of work you do, half the money belongs to the former Member for Shipley and half belongs to you. It is as though it is good of him that he is letting me keep half my cash; I do not accept that as a basic philosophical argument.
The hon. Gentleman’s conversion to Conservatism is now complete. Let me ask him a clear question. He is implying that the 50p rate is on the entirety of somebody’s income. Does he accept that it applies on earnings of more than £150,000 of income or has he totally abandoned any notion of progressivity in our tax system? Is he arguing for a flat rate of income tax?
I will finish in a moment, Madam Deputy Speaker. I have not abandoned that, which is why people earning up to £10,500 pay no income tax under this Government, whereas under Labour the relevant figure was £6,500. Of course there is then a standard rate and a higher rate. The hon. Gentleman made a mistake in his speech when he talked about tax cuts for millionaires. Let me give an example, which is party political. The Leader of the Opposition is a millionaire who does not pay this top rate of tax, but somebody who has just got a job earning £160,000 a year is not a millionaire but does pay his 50p rate of tax. It was deliberately misleading from the hon. Gentleman and it reflected badly on him.
Order. You are not to question the Chair. I am telling you, as the Chair, that you have accused the Opposition spokesperson of misleading this House, and that is unparliamentary and unworthy of you as an experienced parliamentarian. Therefore, I am asking you to rephrase it.
I am extremely apologetic for implying that somebody who earns £160,000 a year is not a millionaire if they have only just started earning that amount, and—
I withdraw the remark that I made a few moments ago and I apologise, of course, for behaving inappropriately in my speech. I conclude, as you would wish me to do, Madam Deputy Speaker, before we have the wind-ups, by urging the House to reject the motion, which would make the country as a whole poorer and make it harder for us to fund the public services on which everybody, including the least well-off, rely. It would also undermine the personal freedom of people who work, are entrepreneurial and create the necessary preconditions for us to be a successful country.
We have had a good debate today with some excellent contributions, including those from my hon. Friends the Members for Stretford and Urmston (Kate Green), for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali), for Inverclyde (Mr McKenzie), and for Heywood and Middleton (Liz McInnes) and my right hon. Friend Frank Dobson. We have seen the real divide that exists between Opposition Members and those on the Government Benches about the choices that have to be made at a time when the deficit is still high and rising. Tough times are set to last well into the next Parliament.
We are clear that the difficult choices that have to be made while we get the deficit down must be made fairly, but under this Government, while millions of people have seen their taxes go up, millionaires have been given a huge tax cut. That tax cut is worth an average of £100,000 for those earning over £1 million, and this at a time when households will be on average £974 a year worse off as a result of tax and benefit changes made since 2010. At the top end of the income scale people are a hundred grand a year better off, but at the other end people are nearly a grand a year worse off.
What does that £100,000 look like in the real world? In my constituency, the median income of the tax-paying self-employed person based on the 2011-12 census figures was £8,410, so a tax break of £100,000 for the wealthiest is troubling to me. That £100,000 tax break reflects more than 11 years’ worth of work by the self-employed worker of Birmingham, Ladywood. To put that another way, based on average rents in inner-city Birmingham, £100,000 equates to about 15 years’ worth of rent, so when we throw these figures around, we would do well to remind ourselves what that money means in the real world, and to ask ourselves which policy—the restoration of the 50p rate or the retention of the status quo—most people in my constituency and across the country would find fair.
This Government have totally failed on tax fairness. Sure, they said the words, and they said some very strong words, with clear and unambiguous meanings. The Chancellor told the Tory party conference in 2012 that his famous line “We’re all in this together” was more than a slogan. He said that it
“spoke of our values and of our intent”.
“We’re all in this together”—a sign of Tory values and intent. Who does he think he is kidding? That was just six months before the decision to cut the 50p top rate to 45p took effect. He can say the words as many times as he likes, but it is his actions that he will be judged on, and the Chancellor’s actions show clearly that we are definitely not all in this together.
How do the Government try to get away with making such an unfair choice? Well, their main argument—we heard this today—is that the 50p rate did not raise very much money. The static costing of the cut to 45p is £3 billion, but after behavioural effects are taken into account, they say that the cost of the measure falls to £100 million. But the 2012 HMRC report “The Exchequer effect of the 50 per cent additional rate of income tax”, which the Government relied on to cut the top rate, acknowledges that the scale and value of the behavioural change is highly uncertain.
The scale of the behavioural change is calculated by doing an assessment of taxable income elasticity, and the rate of taxable income elasticity to apply when calculating the scale of behavioural change is ultimately decided by Ministers themselves. Given how desperate they were to get to the pre-determined outcome that the measure raised no money, scepticism about the calculation that they relied on is justified. The IFS and the OBR both say, as I have said, that the figures are highly uncertain. In January this year the IFS said:
“The uncertainty around HMRC’s estimates mean it is also possible that the 50p rate would be somewhat more effective at raising revenue than their initial analysis suggests. HMRC made their calculations at great speed on the basis of one year’s data that had only just become available. Indeed only around 95% of the data was available at the time they made the calculation. By now they have data for 2011-12 too, and soon they will have data for 2012-13 as well. Given this there is certainly a case for HMRC looking again.”
That was the IFS in January this year.
Yet each time we have tabled amendments to Finance Bills since the 2012 Budget asking the Government to produce reviews that would effectively carry out that analysis again, but with more comprehensive datasets, they have refused to accept them. Why? Is it possible that they are afraid that further and deeper analysis might remove their central justification for cutting the tax rate in the first place?
It is not as if the Government do not know that the announcement that the 50p top rate of tax would be cut prompted large amounts of income shifting by higher earners. The OBR has confirmed that money was deferred from the end of 2012-13 to the early part of 2013-14 so that it could be taxed at 45p, rather than 50p. We know that bonuses in the financial services sector jumped by 76%—a staggering sum—in April 2013 as bankers waited until the top rate was cut before paying themselves their bonuses.
The Government’s claim that the cut would cost only £100 million did not take into account the impact of forestalling. They recognised that point themselves when they published the 2012 HMRC report—it was in the small print beneath one of the graphs—and the Minister kindly acknowledged it again today. In its 2013 forecast evaluation, the OBR estimated that £1.7 billion of tax was deferred from 2012-13 as a result of the cut, and the difference between all that money being taxed at 50p in 2012-13 and at 45p in 2013-14 is between £150 million and £200 million. The Government like to say that top earners are paying more as a result of the cut, conveniently ignoring the income shifting that they know, and everyone else has confirmed, took place.
What is more baffling is that tax revenue from the 50p rate has been ceded at a time when the Chancellor and his team are singularly failing to bring the deficit down at the speed they said they would. They said that they would balance the books by the end of this Parliament, but clearly they will not; the deficit is actually rising. They said that they would tackle the problem of uncollected tax, but the tax gap has grown by £3 billion on their watch. We know that people will be worse off in 2015 than they were in 2010—a fact that no Minister likes to confirm at the Dispatch Box.
Furthermore, the Government have just made £7 billion-worth of uncosted pre-election give-away promises, described by the Financial Times as “neither sober nor realistic”. The Minister today ducked the opportunity to give some specific details about where that £7 billion would be found. That is clear evidence that their priorities, which have been wrong to date, will continue to be wrong if they form the next Government.
It was clearly a mistake to reduce the top rate of income tax. It is neither fair, at a time when working people are on average £1,600 a year worse off since 2010, nor economically sensible, when the deficit remains high and is rising on this Government’s watch. I urge hon. Members to vote with us in the Lobby today.
We have had a lively debate this afternoon, and that is no great surprise, as it is only the third Treasury Opposition day debate this year. We have heard from the Opposition repeated claims that the decision to reduce the additional rate of income tax was the same as handing cheques to millionaires. Those claims show the Opposition’s true colours when it comes to tax, and how they would revert to their failed policies of spending more than this country can afford, with hard-working taxpayers continuing to pay back Labour’s debt.
The Opposition had 13 years to take action and ensure that those with the most to contribute in tax did so, yet it was their discredited and failed Government who introduced the 50p rate just 36 days before they were kicked out of office.
When it comes to fairness this Government will not take any lectures, because it was a Conservative Chancellor who took the decisive action to ensure that those with the most to contribute did so. It was measures announced by this Government throughout this Parliament that increased the contribution of the wealthiest by many times more than the cost of reducing the additional rate to 45p. It was this Government, led by a Conservative Chancellor of the Exchequer, who delivered lower taxes for more than 25 million hard-working people, taking low earners out of tax altogether.
It is worth reflecting on the number of low earners taken out of tax altogether. Rushanara Ali spoke about justice and fairness in the tax system. I remind the House that it is this Government who are supporting hard-working people. In her constituency alone, more than 52,000 people are now benefiting from the increases in personal allowances introduced by this Government. In Inverclyde 34,000 people, in Heywood and Middleton more than 41,000 people, and in Holborn and St Pancras more than 61,000 are benefiting from this Government’s policy and the increases in personal allowances. That is down to the fact that we trust the British people with their money, unlike the Labour party, which believes that it is right to take more of people’s money out of their pockets.
The report laid before the House alongside the Budget found that the 50p rate of income tax raised considerably less than the anticipated sum. A number of contributions have highlighted that simple fact today, and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Andrew Bridgen, my right hon. Friend Sir Malcolm Bruce, my hon. Friend Mark Garnier, and, in particular, my hon. Friend the Member for
Taunton Deane (Mr Browne) for his concise contribution on basic economics, showing that higher tax rates do not result in greater revenues, and, more important, damage the country’s long-term economic stability.
The 50p rate has been distortive and uncompetitive, and it pushes away the very wealth creators that this country needs to create jobs and economic growth. At a time when labour mobility is greater than it has ever been before, the Government recognise that the UK is competing for talented individuals and business investment. It is investment that creates jobs, economic security and a long-term economic future for Britain. A 50p rate of income tax does not help to do that. At a time when global economies are still struggling to compete, it is this Government who understand the value of ensuring that Britain is open for business.
The evidence speaks for itself. The 50p rate did not work. This Government reduced the rate to 45p because it was not rational to persist with a tax rate that was distortive and harmful to this country’s economy and did not raise any revenue. We have heard that the 50p rate left the UK with the highest statutory rate of income tax in the G20. In a world of increasing competition, it would be totally irresponsible for a Government of any colour to put this country at an economic disadvantage with a punitive rate of tax.
Hon. Members have heard throughout today’s debate that the top 1% of taxpayers pay more than 27% of income tax revenue, more than at any point under previous Governments. Maintaining an uncompetitive rate is counter-productive and will result in long-term economic failure. When it comes to long-term economic failure, we know that the Labour party has a specialism in that area. Clearly, tax competitiveness and a sustainable, prosperous economy do not matter to the Labour party, because if they did we would not be having this debate. As the HMRC report shows, we would not just be losing the additional tax revenues as a result of the higher rate, but would lose all the tax revenue of that group of taxpayers.
Britain is a country that is open for business. We want those with the most to offer and the most to contribute in tax working in the UK, creating wealth, jobs and growth, and, importantly, paying taxes. It is this Government who have shown that contrary to the myth generated by the Opposition, we have made the changes in every Budget to ensure that those with the broadest shoulders contribute more. We have increased capital gains and introduced the new rate of stamp duty on properties over £2 million, we are restricting the excessive use of certain tax reliefs, and, most significantly, we are clamping down on the minority of individuals who choose to avoid and evade tax.
The Labour party had 13 years to undertake such measures and it did not do so. We have made historic steps to support those on low and middle incomes. We have more people in employment and more young people and women in work. We have increased the personal allowance, frozen fuel duty, frozen council tax, and increased the national minimum wage.
Labour wishes to use an inefficient income tax rate to damage our economy, and to put our international competitiveness at risk by backing a failed tax. It is willing to drive wealth creators out of this country and to risk long-term damage to the economy. That is not what a responsible Government would do, and it is certainly not what we are doing. We have a long-term economic plan that is working. We are getting on with the job of putting the economy back on track, creating jobs and growth and securing Britain’s long-term economic future, which is why the motion should be thoroughly rejected.