Finance Bill

Part of Bill Presented — Constitutional Convention (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:08 pm on 21st July 2015.

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Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 4:08 pm, 21st July 2015

I thank the hon. Gentleman—my hon. Friend—for that well-made point.

As campaigners have pointed out, the policy on the climate change levy exemption for renewables is like making people pay an alcohol tax on apple juice. The Government claim that it is intended to prevent taxpayers’ money from benefiting renewable electricity generated overseas. In fact, it is a completely disproportionate measure that turns a policy that was designed to encourage low-carbon electricity into just an electricity tax for businesses. It is interesting that Ministers remain suspiciously silent on the shocking revelation earlier this year that the Government spend 300 times more on backing fossil fuel projects abroad than on clean energy via the export credit agency. If they are that worried about the issue, one would have expected a little more consistency from them. The scandalous public spending on fossil fuel subsidies should be cut, not support for clean, green, home-grown renewable energy.

I agree with the shadow Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Caroline Flint, that removing the renewables exemption from the climate change levy will undermine investor confidence in renewable energy, and that we should instead be seizing the massive opportunities for jobs and investment that moving to a low-carbon economy would provide for this country. I hope that we can work together across all parties to remove this stupendously senseless provision from the Bill altogether.

The Minister spent a long time talking about how important this Bill is for productivity. I am a great supporter of productivity, but I fail to see how, for example, plans to scrap the long-established zero-carbon homes policy will support it. Indeed, in an open letter to the Chancellor, over 200 businesses warned:

“This sudden u-turn has undermined industry confidence in government and will now curtail investment in British innovation and manufacturing”.

So much for putting our economy on a stable footing; so much for this Government’s phoney concern about energy costs. Scrapping this policy means that future homes, offices, schools and factories will be more costly to run, locking residents and building users into higher energy bills. Businesses are increasingly speaking out not against the so-called green crap, but against the tsunami of Government blue crap that is putting up energy bills, harming business and undermining climate action.

I have a few last words on the welfare aspects of the Bill. The Chancellor can crow about raising the tax threshold so that fewer people on low incomes pay tax, but although that is the right thing to do, it does nothing to change the overall impact of his Budget and of the Finance Bill. As the IFS has shown, it leaves us with a tax and benefits system that is more regressive. The biggest losers are those in the second and third poorest tenths of the population—the working poor. Under the cover of austerity, the welfare cap will make housing, in particular, unaffordable for many families. Young and disabled people have been unfairly singled out to lose benefits. Child poverty already costs Britain upwards of £29 billion, and is set to rise under plans to limit tax credits, which could leave 3 million families on average £1,000 worse off, even allowing for increases elsewhere.

According to Treasury’s own analysis, the plan to raise the inheritance tax threshold will benefit high-income and wealthy households. Given that it is one of the easiest taxes to both avoid and evade, and that the very rich often find ways to pay very little, it is clear that this whole area needs a complete rethink.

On tax dodging, I welcome the Government’s recognition that the so-called Mayfair loophole needs to be closed. Many of Brighton’s residents have written to me about this, and it is thanks to the determination and persistence of individuals and campaigners that we have got this far. Yet again, however, the Government spin machine is in overdrive and the reality does not match the rhetoric. I urge the Chancellor to address that by agreeing that carried interest counts as income and should be taxed as income.

Finally, if the Chancellor is serious about tackling tax dodging, as I hope he is, I urge him to reconsider his opposition to the Robin Hood tax and to adopt the comprehensive policies set out in the tax dodging Bill proposals, which are supported by 25 UK and international non-governmental organisations and would generate about £3.6 billion in the UK.