I beg to move amendment 1, page 2, line 1, at end insert—
“(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, publish a report on the impact of setting the additional rate of income tax at 50 per cent.
(4) The report must estimate the impact of setting the additional rate for 2015-16 at 45 per cent and at 50 per cent on the amount of income tax currently paid by someone with a taxable income of—
(a) £150,000 per year; and
(b) £1,000,000 per year.”
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. Amendment 1 stands in my name and those of my right hon. Friend Ed Balls, my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Cathy Jamieson), and Caroline Lucas. It calls on the Chancellor to produce within three months of the enactment of this Bill a report on the impact of setting the additional rate of income tax at 50%. The report must estimate the impact of setting the additional rate for 2015-16 at 45%—the current higher rate—and at 50% on the amount of income tax currently paid by people with a taxable income of £150,000 and £1 million a year.
As we all know, the 50p rate of tax for those earning more than £150,000 was reduced to 45p by this Government in 2012. That was hotly debated at the time and it has been hotly debated ever since. The Minister refers to a debate on the additional rate of tax as an annual event whenever we discuss a Finance Bill. Government Members may groan that the debate is rearing its head again, but I am, if nothing else, an optimistic person and I continue to hope that Government Members will be swayed by my arguments and be persuaded to accept our eminently sensible and reasonable amendment.
It is a little unfair of the hon. Gentleman to shake his head at such an early stage of my speech. He should at least give me a chance to develop my arguments.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one of the worst aspects is the massive loss to the Revenue? Am I right in recollecting that the projected annual revenue loss to the public purse in 2011 was some £3 billion?
“We have a choice about a tax rate that would raise £3 billion”.—[Hansard, 5 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 849.]
Does she believe that putting the 45p rate back to 50p would raise £3 billion for the Exchequer?
The Minister is tempting me to go further than I want to at this stage, because I am going to develop exactly those arguments about the costing, what the measure is likely to raise, and the inherent uncertainty in the Government’s work and the report that they produced. The Minister will be welcome to intervene once I have reached that point in my speech.
As always when it comes to talking about the 50p tax rate, my hon. Friend is incredibly persuasive. Does she not find it strange that the Government are projecting a £7 billion tax cut but refusing to raise tax in this way, so the only conclusion the public can come to is that they must be looking to break their promise and raise VAT?
My hon. Friend is both generous and correct. Members who were here for the last debate will know that Government Members utterly failed to meet the charge levelled at them, which was that the combination of their history on VAT and what they wish to achieve in the next Parliament means that a VAT rise is inevitable if the Conservative party is elected to government in a few weeks’ time.
We know that the Government’s decision to reduce the top rate of tax for those earning more than £150,000 is as much at the heart of the current political debate today and in the next few weeks as it was in 2012. The debate is about where we raise revenue from and who we ask to shoulder the burden to help bring down the deficit further.
I know that the shadow Minister was not a key part of the previous Government, but does she believe that the right shoulders to bear the burden were those of people on minimum wage, who were paying £1,000 in tax? The highest rate of income tax was 40% for every single day but one that Labour sat on the Government Benches.
I was not a Member at that time, so I was not a part of that Government at all, but I am proud of the previous Government’s record over 13 years. The hon. Gentleman will know that we raised the top rate of tax to 50p in response to the global financial crisis, and that was the right thing to do—[Interruption.] He asked about the minimum wage and mentions it yet again from a sedentary position, but we were the Government who introduced the minimum wage in legislation. That was one of our proudest achievements, and my hon. Friend Ms Stuart told me last week that the last all-night sitting of the House of Commons was when the Labour Government introduced the national minimum wage. Labour Members were in the House at eight in the morning to vote it through and they were absolutely right to do so.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to recognise the importance of the national minimum wage to many people in this country. Of course, tax changes are one side of the equation, and the other has been the changes to tax credits, which benefited many people under the previous Government. Is it not the case that we have seen a £3 billion cut for the very richest with the cut in the 50p rate, at a time when average families are £1,100 worse off as a result of the tax and tax credit changes?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I was coming on to exactly that point. This is a question about living standards: what is happening to the poorest in our society and where the burden should ultimately rest for sorting out the nation’s finances after the global financial crisis.
At the Budget last week, the Chancellor would have had us believe that people are on average £900 better off as well as more secure as the result of his policies. I have to hand it to him—he has been highly innovative in using a new measure of living standards to try to back up his claim, but it includes income to universities and charities. I do not blame him for trying, but he knows the truth, as do Members and the public, which is that people say time and again that they are worse off. A poll of 5,000 consumers’ responses to the Budget showed that three quarters of people have seen no improvement in their living standards. A Populus poll before Christmas found that only one in seven adults said they were feeling the benefit of recent economic growth.
As my hon. Friend Andrew Gwynne has said, wages after inflation are down by £1,600, and the combined impact of tax and benefit changes has left families on average £1,127 a year worse off. That was the context in which it was decided to reduce the additional rate of tax to 45p, giving millionaires a tax cut worth an average of £100,000, which is a huge sum of money by any standards. As I have just said, wages are down by £1,600 a year, tax and benefit changes have left people £1,127 worse off, and, as we heard in the previous debate, higher VAT has left people £1,800 worse off over four years. For people at the bottom end of the income spectrum, such sums are the difference between being able to put food on the table and to put clothes on their children’s back or not, while the choices for those at the other end of the income spectrum, who are benefiting from a tax cut to the tune of £100,000, are probably about the poshness of the car on the forecourt of their home, not the basic necessities of life and of survival. That is the important point for struggling families across our country.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Ian Swales always takes part in Finance Bill debates, and he always makes one point in exactly the same way. I sometimes wish that he would listen to the answer he gets when he does so. The answer is that the top rate was increased as a specific response to get down the deficit after the global financial crisis. It was the fair and right thing to do then. It was unfair and wrong to decrease the rate from 50p to 45p, which he, as a member of one of the parties of government, supported. It will be right for the next Labour Government to raise it to 50p again.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that that rate of tax should have gone up to 50p during the downturn and that it should not have been cut. She is equally right to compare the tax cut for millionaires with the poverty of ordinary people, so why did Labour Members sit on their hands when we had the one opportunity not to have a tax cut for millionaires?
One of the things about the annual debate on the 50p rate is that the usual suspects make the same points in exactly the same way. We have heard that point from several members of the hon. Gentleman’s party. I say to him what I have always said—that we have had a consistent approach to the top rate of tax. There has been no change to that, and we will put it up to 50p if we are elected in a few short weeks’ time.
We can look at the difference between people at the top and bottom end of the income spectrum—the millionaires who have had a huge tax cut and are £100,000 a year better off, and the people who are struggling and £1,100 a year worse off. How must it feel to the ordinary taxpayer, and to hundreds of thousands of people working on zero-hours contracts, to be told that while they struggle on, a tiny number of people in our country will be given a tax cut that could buy a house in many parts of the country, including my own city? That is the stark reality of the choices that the Government have made.
The Government’s last Budget has told people what is coming. The spending cuts that the Chancellor has proposed for the next three years will be deeper than those in the past five years, and things will continue to be tight for many families. They want to know that the load is being shared fairly, but that one decision tells us that it is not.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case. Is not one example of how the burden is not being shared fairly the fact that, as we were reminded earlier today, there was one food bank in Scotland when Labour left office, but there are now 50? I am sure that example could be repeated throughout the entire country, and it emphasises the inequitable nature of the Government’s policies.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. In fact, when I was talking about VAT in my constituency yesterday, I was struck by the number of people I met who were in work but using food banks. They are trying to do the right thing and working as hard as they possibly can, yet they still cannot put food on the table. How must it feel for them to find themselves in that situation and to know that under the current Government, a millionaire is better off to the tune of a hundred grand a year? I would say that it feels pretty rubbish, and that is what my constituents are telling me every day.
I was on the phones canvassing the other week, and a man from a neighbouring constituency said that he felt the Government should be more Thatcherite in their attitude towards taxes. I did not really know where to go with that, but I listened on. He said that it was because Margaret Thatcher had had a 60% tax rate for some years, only getting rid of it in 1988. He said that the current Government, who seem to idolise Margaret Thatcher, might take a leaf out of her book. He had been a Tory voter, but stopped being one simply because of the unfairness of the rate going down from 50p to 45p. I never thought that I would stand here urging Conservative Members to be more Thatcherite, but to represent such views fairly I think it is my duty.
My hon. Friend has acquitted herself of that duty in her usual brilliant way. We may not be able to persuade the Conservatives to be fully Thatcherite, but getting them part of the way there would be welcome. If they cannot bring themselves to support bringing back the 50p rate, which of course they will not, they should at least support our amendment. As I said, it comes down to a simple question: is the burden of deficit reduction and dealing with the fall-out from the global financial crisis being shared fairly across all parts of our society? The amendment is genuinely intended to shed some light on that.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way again. She is always incredibly generous, especially in Committee debates on Finance Bills.
If the Government are correct in their assertions about tax take and behavioural change—that a 45p rate generates more than a 50p rate and is fairer—does my hon. Friend share my surprise that they object to bringing forward a report that would tell us exactly that?
That is exactly the point. If the Government have nothing to hide and nothing to fear from all the data being out there for us to interrogate, they should accept our amendment and get on with the review that we have called for. They should have got on with it when we first called for it, immediately after they made the change to the rate. Our amendment genuinely seeks to shine light on what has been happening to people’s incomes and the impact of changes to the top rate of tax. When the Government commissioned their report, the data were not extensive, and the report has been contentious from the minute it came off the printer. The reasons for that go to the thrust of what the Financial Secretary was asking me earlier, and I will come on to those points shortly.
As we have heard, the Labour Government introduced the 50p rate. It came into effect in 2010-11 and was a decision made after the financial crisis as we sought to get the deficit down. There was nothing in the coalition agreement about abolishing the 50p rate, but in 2011 HMRC was asked to look into it and the yields it produced. It did not take a genius to work out that the Chancellor was thinking about cutting the top rate of tax, and in 2012 with HMRC’s report, the Exchequer effected a 50% additional rate of income tax to back up the Chancellor cutting the rate to 45p.
My hon. Friend talks about the work done by HMRC. Is that almost the same piece of work that the Labour amendment would require the Government to do, in that it would show an analysis of how much money the 45p rate is bringing in and how much the 50p rate would bring in? It would also allow hon. Members to have a proper debate about the proportion of taxes that should go towards deficit reduction as opposed to spending cuts.
As ever, my hon. Friend is absolutely right, and it is precisely to get that additional data that we have tabled this and similar amendments ever since the change was made. Why would the Government go through the process of looking at yield and getting HMRC to produce a report in 2011? That is important, because everyone knew—both at the time and ever since—that there were not enough data to come to an accurate view about yield as the rate had not been in place long enough. To put it bluntly, the Chancellor probably felt that some people might not agree with his decision to give people earning more than £150,000 a massive tax cut, given the state of the rest of the economy and the crushing of people’s living standards on his watch. What he needed to back his decision was a report that said that the 50p rate hardly raised anything at all, which is precisely what the HMRC report said. After analysing a host of facts and figures, the report concluded that a cut that would, by the Government’s initial estimates, cost £3 billion— the so-called static cost—excluding all behavioural changes would cost only £100 million.
The trouble with the report is that, as everyone acknowledges, there are too many uncertain variables to be anywhere near sure that the figure of £100 million is even close to reality. The report was based on only one year’s worth of data relating to 2010-11. That is a significant weakness, since we know that some incomes were taken earlier to avoid the extra tax. Further detail is now available, including for the tax years of 2011-12 and 2012-13 when the 50p rate was still in place. The writers of the 2011 report did not have those data available, so their report is therefore lacking. That could be remedied were the Government to accept our amendment.
The report attempts to quantify behavioural change. The scale of behavioural change is primarily based on an assessment of taxable income elasticity—basically the extent to which taxable income changes when the tax rate changes. The IFS says that there is a margin of error within calculations for the 2011 report, and that staying within that margin of error one could easily say, depending on taxable income elasticity, that cutting the rate of tax could cost the Exchequer £700 million or could raise £600 million. That gives an idea of the range of figures we are talking about and of how uncertain such projections are.
I return to my central point: more data are now available and could help to calculate a truer picture of the yield of a 50p tax rate as opposed to a rate of 45p. If Conservative Members are so certain that their position on the abolition of the 50p rate is true, why will they not agree to the scrutiny that the amendment suggests?
“a tax rate that would raise £3 billion”.—[Hansard, 5 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 849.]
Does she stand behind the statement that the 50p rate would raise £3 billion?
I was here for that debate and my hon. Friend the shadow Chief Secretary was recognising that the first thing we start with is the static costing. That is the only certain figure we have and that starts us off at £3 billion. We have, of course, to make an allowance for behavioural change and that will impact on the yield, but the calculation for how we get to understanding the behavioural change is the bone of contention between the Financial Secretary and me.
The hon. Lady is making a perfectly sensible point now, but it is a very different point to that made by the shadow Chief Secretary. He did not say, “The static cost is this, but then there is the behavioural cost” and so on. He said that it was
“a tax rate that would raise £3 billion”—[Hansard, 5 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 849.]
It sounds to me that the hon. Lady does not agree with that. She is not claiming that it would raise £3 billion. Is my interpretation of what she is saying correct?
My interpretation of what the Minister is saying is that he is making a valiant attempt at trying to create something out of nothing. As I said, I was here for that debate and I remember that exchange very well. The Financial Secretary and my hon. Friend the shadow Chief Secretary had a bit of to-ing and fro-ing over the static costing, but the rest of the debate and everything my hon. Friend said was absolutely clear. It has always been our position that we start with the static costing and that is not in doubt: it is £3 billion. The question then is: what happens when we allow for the impact of behavioural change? My contention—it has always been our contention; it is exactly what the shadow Chief Secretary said in his remarks in that debate on that day—is that the extent of behavioural change, as envisaged in the 2011 report, was based on an uncertain set of figures and that we have much more data now to be able to get to a certain point.
It is not sufficient for Government Members simply to point at the increased yield following the rate cut to 45p and deem that their point has been proved. Just as people brought forward their incomes before the rate was introduced, so people held off taking income until the rate was lowered. We know the increase in yield at 45p was due primarily to record bonuses, which were up 80% in the year after the rate was reduced. If the truth is what is sought, then rigorous analysis is what is required. The blunt truth, however, is that the truth is not what is being sought here by the Government. The decision was taken for ideological reasons. There is no other justification. The abolition of the 50p rate was nothing other than a huge tax cut for the very richest, while ordinary families continued to struggle, and struggle for longer.
There is growth in the economy and that is welcome, but it has been a long time coming. It is ordinary families who have ended up paying the price. That is why we have continued to press home the point about the top rate of tax. While ordinary families are paying the price, we have let the very wealthiest in our country have a huge tax cut. That cannot be right. A top rate of tax at 50p will play an important role towards fair deficit reduction under the next Labour Government. If the Government have absolutely nothing to hide or fear in the facts and figures behind the cut from 50p to 45p, they should accept our amendment to clause 1.
It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
First, I shall say a word about the clauses in this group. Clause 1 provides the charge and sets the rates for income tax for 2015-16; clause 2 relates to limits and allowances; clause 3 sets the personal allowance for 2015-16 at £10,600; clause 4 relates to the basic rate limits; and clause 5 sets the personal allowance for 2016-17 at £10,800 and for 2017-18 at £11,000. That is a dramatic increase on the rate we inherited in 2010, when it was below £6,500, and makes good progress towards the target that my party and the Liberal Democrats have set of £12,500 by the end of the next Parliament.
Income tax is the Government’s biggest revenue source, and the annual charge, legislated for in the Finance Bill, is essential for its continued collection. In 2015-16, there will be about 30 million income tax payers, and clause 1 states that they will pay income tax this year at the same rates as in 2014-15. The basic and higher rates remain at 20% and 40%, and the additional rate is 45%. On Monday, Labour voted against the Budget resolution renewing income tax, but thankfully it was defeated. It would have put a £150 billion hole in the public finances—reckless even for Labour. I can only hope it was a symbolic vote that they had no desire to win. It was perhaps more a protest vote than anything else.
None the less, under this Chancellor and this Government, we will stick to the long-term economic plan and avoid populist giveaways that could damage the public finances.
I could spend some time on these clauses—they are a significant achievement for the Government and I am delighted we are making further progress on increasing the personal allowance—but I shall deal with amendment 1, tabled by the Opposition. It is the annual debate we have on these matters; it is familiar to me and, I suspect, to you, Sir Roger. It proposes that the Government publish a report reviewing the impact of setting the additional rate at 50% within three months of passing the Bill. In addition, it asks for an assessment of
“the impact of setting the additional rate for 2015-16 at 45 per cent and 50 per cent on the amount of income tax currently paid by someone with a taxable income of…£150,000…and…£1,000,000 per year.”
To be credible, such an analysis would need to take behavioural impacts into account, like the HMRC report on the additional rate published at Budget 2012. Simply looking at theoretical income tax liabilities when increasing taxes is not enough. For perhaps the first time in a long time in these debates, we might have made a bit of progress in trying to understand Labour’s position. The HMRC report concluded that the underlying yield from the introduction of the 50p rate was much lower than originally forecast owing to large behavioural effects.
It would be fair to say that when the 50p rate was introduced by the previous Government, they made allowances for behavioural effects. The question is whether it was sufficient.
When HMRC looked at this again, it was clear that the behavioural effect was greater than anticipated by the previous Government. Indeed, it is quite possible that it cost the Exchequer money. So let me take this opportunity to assure hon. Members once more that the Government already consider the impacts of any policy decisions taken, and they take the behavioural effects into account. The simple point is that the 50p rate was failing to raise the money anticipated.
People find some of these behavioural effects hard to imagine. One of them, of course, was that under the previous Government somebody paying tax at that kind of rate could put £250,000 into a pension fund and save all the tax—£125,000. The maximum that can be saved now is £18,000.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. There are a number of behavioural effects. Sometimes when we have this debate, there is a tendency for Opposition Members to say, “Ah, behavioural effects. You are just talking about tax avoidance.” Tax avoidance can be an element, but it can also be behaviour that is clearly compliant both with the letter and the spirit of the tax system yet will reduce yield. Increasing contributions to pension schemes, for example, could result in a reduction in revenue. It could be that somebody decides to relocate out of the United Kingdom. It could be—an important point that gets to the heart of why we reduced the tax— that international businesses in deciding where to locate staff might conclude that the costs of doing so in the UK are greater than elsewhere, and that there are better climates and environments in which to locate highly paid staff.
Those are some of the behavioural impacts that are a consequence of having an uncompetitive rate of income tax. That is one of the challenges that Governments have to face. To be fair, the previous Labour Government, for the vast majority of their time in office—this point has already been made by my hon. Friend Ian Swales—did not increase the 40p income tax rate. Tony Blair was very clear that in his view increasing the rate above 40p would be a mistake. We have taken the view that it was right to reduce the rate down to 45p, but the important question remains of what is the purpose of having a high rate of income tax. Is it to raise revenue or is it simply about sending a signal? If it is to raise revenue, we have to ask ourselves how much it will raise.
“We have a choice about a tax rate”— he is clearly talking about the 50p 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.”—[Hansard, 5 November 2014; Vol. 587, c. 849.]
He is talking about raising £3 billion. I pressed Shabana Mahmood on two or three occasions because she was making a different argument. She was saying that the static cost is
£3 billion, and then it is a question of working out what the dynamic and behavioural effect will be so that we have a true and accurate position on how much this tax will raise. That is a perfectly reasonable point—it is not possible to disagree with the fact that there is a static number, but that is not terribly helpful in guiding us towards a sensible policy, because we have to know the behavioural effects. Let me be clear. The hon. Lady is clearly stepping away from the suggestion that this will raise £3 billion—
Given that the hon. Lady has said that, I will certainly give way to her. If she is not stepping away from how much this would raise, I would be interested to hear what she is saying and how much she thinks it would raise.
If the Minister was listening to my speech, he would know that I am asking for a report to give us a better idea of what this measure will raise—including all the data to hand from the additional years in which the rate was in place but not included in the 2011 HMRC report. All I can say to him on the figures is that the only certain figure we have is the £3 billion static cost. I accept that behavioural change will bring that down and decrease the yield, but neither he nor I can say, with hands on our holy books, that we know the exact number. That explains what I have asked for in the amendment. I believe this could be a revenue-raising measure to get the deficit down in a fairer way. The extent to which we can do that is the thrust of my amendment.
We are making further progress. The hon. Lady has now explicitly said that the 50p rate will not raise £3 billion. [Interruption.] She has explicitly said that, because she has accepted that there will be a behavioural effect that will bring the amount down. I do not know why she is complaining and chuntering, because she has just made the unarguable point that the amount raised will be less than the static cost. That is not the point that the shadow Chief Secretary was trying to make.
Labour politicians are generally very good at saying, “It is a £3 billion giveaway”, in an attempt to give the impression that it will be a £3 billion increase in revenue. I accept that the shadow Chief Secretary probably misspoke, and that when he said that the 50p rate would raise £3 billion, he was getting a little carried away. Labour politicians usually avoid saying, “It will raise £3 billion”, for the very good reason that that is a completely unsupportable position. To be fair to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood, she is not making that case today. However, I wish to point out that even the Labour party does not believe that the 50p rate will raise £3 billion, which it clearly will not.
I appreciate that we are five and a half weeks from a general election, so we can exchange party-political knockabout. Having said that, I would politely say to the Minister that the point he is making—very eloquently, I must say, if I am being fair to him—is precisely the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood). There is a degree of uncertainty. Is that not exactly why he should support the amendment?
I accept that I can be carried away with party-political knockabout. I look to the hon. Gentleman as a statesman who rises above such lowly behaviour, and I shall always seek to emulate his balanced and considered approach to the House of Commons.
I thank the Minister for giving way again. He is being very generous with his time.
As assessment has been made by an independent group, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, which came up with a figure of about £100 million. Labour Members have used the word “exact”. Does the Minister reject the idea that the amount can ever be estimated exactly, partly because of the behavioural factors to which he referred a few minutes ago?
“The best available estimate of what reversing the cut would raise is therefore about £100 million too.”
He also said that
“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 an incoming government would face after the next election.”
We have a record of increasing the personal allowance. This is a very good time to make that point, as we are debating, among other things, clauses 1 to 5, under which the personal allowance will move up to £11,000 during the next few years. We have a record of being able to deliver big increases in the allowance, and that is what we will do.
Let me now press on. The economic recovery is well under way, and last year Britain grew faster than any other major advanced economy in the world. The Government will not consider any action that would put the United Kingdom’s recovery at risk. While the additional rate has been reduced to ensure that the UK remains internationally competitive, the Government’s policy is to repeatedly increase the tax contribution of the wealth. The share of income tax paid by the top 1% of taxpayers is projected to rise from 25.1% in 2010-11 to 27.3% in 2014-15, which means that they are expected to pay a greater share of income tax in 2014-15 than in any year under the last Government.
I should add that the 50p rate was one of the most uncompetitive income tax rates in the G20 and it is about time the Opposition simply accepted that it did not work. The Government need to spend their resources effectively and efficiently, and the Treasury and HMRC have no plans to introduce rolling annual reports on the impact of changes in tax rates. Nevertheless the Government always keep tax rates under review and monitor receipts, and on this basis I do not believe the amendment is necessary, and I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw it.
Clause 1 allows the Government to collect income tax, something I am sure both sides will agree is essential, notwithstanding the votes on the Budget resolutions. Let me stress again that the impact of reducing the additional rate of income tax has been examined in great detail. The 50p rate was both ineffective at raising revenue and meant risking the recovery everyone in this country is working hard for. As a result the report proposed by the Opposition in amendment 1 is entirely unnecessary, and I move that clause 1 stand part of the Bill without the amendment.
The Committee divided:
Division number 185