With this it will be convenient to consider the following:
Clause 17 stand part.
That schedule 2 be the Second schedule to the Bill.
Amendment 3, in schedule 3, page 74, line 4, leave out “8%” and insert “the relevant percentage”.
This amendment would replace the 8% rate of surcharge in the Bill with a new rate to be set in regulations.
Amendment 4, page 74, line 7, at end insert—
‘(1A) For the purposes of subsection (1), the “relevant percentage” is a percentage of the company’s surcharge profits for the period, not exceeding 8%, which the Treasury shall specify in regulations; and such regulations may specify different percentages in respect of different levels of surcharge profits.
(1B) Regulations under subsection (1A)—
(a) shall be made by statutory instrument, and
(b) may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of the House of Commons.”.
This amendment would require the Treasury to set the level of the surcharge in regulations, and would allow for different tiers of surcharge. The regulations would be subject to approval by the House of Commons.
That schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.
New clause 1—Impact of changes to the bank levy rate and of the banking companies surcharge—
“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall, within three months of the passing of this Act, undertake a review of the overall impact of the changes made by sections 16 and 17 of, and schedules 2 and 3 to, this Act, on:
(a) the structure of bank balance sheets;
(b) the long-term tax revenue from the banking sector; and
(c) competition and diversity within the banking sector.
What a pleasure it is to serve under your Chairmanship this evening, Ms Engel.
Clauses 16 and 17 and schedules 2 and 3 make changes to the banking tax regime. They will ensure that banks continue to make a fair contribution to the economic recovery in a way that does not harm the UK as a global financial centre or affect banks’ ability to support the economic recovery.
It might be helpful if I set out the background to the Government’s approach to taxing the banking sector. In his first Budget in 2010, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced the introduction of the bank levy, an entirely new tax on banks’ balance sheets, equity and liabilities. The levy had two objectives. First, at a time when banking profits were low, it was designed to ensure that banks made a fair contribution to the taxman to reflect the risks that they pose to the UK economy —risks that were made very clear in the extraordinary events of 2008. Secondly, the levy was designed to complement the developing regulatory regime by providing incentives for banks to reduce the size of their balance sheets and support their activities with more stable forms of funding.
Measured against those objectives, the bank levy has undoubtedly been successful. It raised more than £8 billion across the last Parliament and is forecast to raise a further £17 billion by 2021. It has played a key role in increasing the stability of the UK banking sector, with banks now holding more capital against their assets and being less reliant on short-term risky funding. It has helped to satisfy the UK’s resolution financing obligations under the EU bank recovery and resolution directive, thus supporting the more orderly resolution of banks in crisis. Despite those successes, the Chancellor has been consistent about the need for balance in ensuring that banks pay a fair contribution, while ensuring that this supports the UK as a global financial centre and banks’ ability to support the wider economy.
The Government believe that, as the sector returns to profit, a change is required to maintain that balance. The reforms in the clauses achieve that over the coming Parliament and beyond. The first change is a gradual reduction of the bank levy. Clause 16 reduces the bank levy rate to 0.18% from
Clause 17 introduces a surcharge on banking sector profit from January 2016. That is a new 8% tax on the corporation tax profits of regulated banking entities within banking groups. It will apply to profits that exceed £25 million across a group, disregarding the losses that banks have carried forward from periods before the surcharge’s introduction. The first £25 million will benefit from the reductions in the main rate of corporation tax—from 20% today to 19% and then to 18%—included elsewhere in the Bill, giving the UK the lowest rate of corporation tax in the G20. It means that the overall rate of corporation tax will be slightly lower for banks than it was in 2010.
The OBR forecasts that the surcharge will raise £6.5 billion from the sector by 2021. That revenue more than offsets the cost of reductions to the bank levy rate. It means that banks will pay an additional £2 billion in tax over the period, increasing banks’ total additional contributions beyond £23 billion.
Like many hon. Members, I am sure the Minister has had many letters from small banks and the building societies about the fact that the surcharge will be imposed on them. The Building Societies Association says that it expects it will cost them £630 million over the lifetime of the Parliament, which would be sufficient to fund at least £4 billion in new mortgage lending. That means 15,000 or 20,000 new homes. The effect of including building societies is therefore to make it more difficult for 15,000 or 20,000 families to have a new home. Will the Minister consider whether that is a good idea?
I hope the hon. Lady recognises that the rate paid by building societies and smaller banks will be lower than it was at any time when she and the Labour party were in government. In fact, the measure brings the corporation tax rate to a level lower than when the Conservatives took power in 2010. In addition, 90% of building societies will be exempt from the charge because the first £25 million is exempt from the surcharge.
At the same time, we believe that the changes in clauses 16 and 17 will create a fairer, more competitive and more sustainable basis for taxing the UK banking sector. By rebalancing banks’ contributions towards a tax on profits, future charges will be more aligned with profit and capital accumulation. That reduces the risk of tax affecting banks’ decisions on where to invest and helps to ensure that tax does not impact banks’ ability to lend to businesses and individuals.
By aligning banks’ contributions with their activities in the UK, the changes recognise and reduce the impact of tax on UK banks’ ability to compete in overseas markets. They help to reflect the impact of regulatory reforms, which have reduced the risk of those overseas operations to the UK economy.
I shall draw my brief remarks to a close. The Government firmly believe that banks should make a fair contribution to the economic recovery. However, that contribution must be balanced with the need to maintain the competitiveness of the UK and to support lending to the wider economy. The changes in the clauses provide a better balance between those two objectives, and do so while providing long-term certainty and stability to the sector, and short-term revenue to the taxman. I therefore hope that clauses 16 and 17 and schedules 2 and 3 stand part of the Bill.
I, too, will make some brief remarks. I rise to speak to the Opposition’s new clause 1, which relates to clauses 16 and 17, concerning the Government’s changes to the bank levy rate for 2016 to 2021 and the introduction of a new surcharge of 8% on bank profits.
Before I begin my remarks and before I forget to ask the Minister, Members will be aware that the changes the Government are introducing are quite controversial in some quarters. Building societies have been expressing deep concern. However, I think I just heard the Minister say that 90% of building societies will not be affected by the changes because of the threshold. Will the Minister tell me, either in her remarks later or in an intervention now, whether she means 90% by number of institutions or 90% by size of building societies in total? The statistic does not reflect the concern that building societies have expressed in recent weeks. I will await her answer whenever she sees fit to give it to me.
Taken together, the clauses will completely reshape the structure of bank taxation in the UK, as the Government move from a tax on bank balance sheets towards a tax on bank profits. Alongside the impact on the banking sector itself, the clauses also have significant implications on tax receipts for the Exchequer. It is our belief that the changes have the potential to damage the competitiveness and diversity of our banking sector. New clause 1 calls for an urgent review to establish the impact of the new measures. Before coming on to the detail of new clause 1, I will briefly examine the case for a reduction in the bank levy in more detail.
When the bank levy was introduced at the start of the previous Parliament, the Chancellor made it very clear there were two separate objectives behind the policy. First, it was designed as a revenue raiser, with the Chancellor targeting an income of £2.5 billion each year from receipts of the levy. The second objective was to cause banks to change the structure of their balance sheets. This was explained by the then Exchequer Secretary, Mr Gauke, who said the levy was
“intended to encourage banks to move to less risky funding profiles, and…reflective of economic risk”.—[Hansard, 12 July 2010; Vol. 513, c. 733.]
He went on to dismiss the idea of a tax on bank profits, as it would not create the same kind of behavioural effects as the levy.
In and of themselves, either of those goals was perfectly reasonable and was supported across the House. However, it quickly became obvious that the two goals were incoherent in practice, because as banks changed their balance sheets the revenue from the levy went down. This caused the Government to raise the levy again and again, with a total of nine rises in just five years. Now, having marched the banks to the top of the hill, the Chancellor plans to march them back all the way down again with cuts to the levy every year, finishing with a rate of 0.1% by the end of the Parliament. After 10 years of this Chancellor, we will have had a total of 13 different bank levy rates—what a mess.
The Chancellor claimed in his Budget statement that the bank levy needs to be reduced because the levy has worked. That is an interesting theory given that the revenue target, one of his policy objectives, has been missed consistently. The main question for the Minister is this: if the Government believed that increasing the bank levy had a positive behavioural effect on the banks, does the Minister believe that reducing the level will have a similar effect in the opposite direction? I thought I understood the Minister to say that she did believe there would be some behavioural effects of the change. Perhaps she might say a bit more about that.
The OBR’s economic and fiscal outlook shows that the future revenue projections are based on the assumption that banks will continue to reduce their balance sheets. Will the Minister explain, for the purposes of clarity, on what basis that assumption has been made? If anything, the new policy framework seems to be incentivising banks to grow their balance sheets, especially outside the UK—that seemed to be what the Minister indicated just now in terms of competitiveness outside the UK—and to reduce their profits. Why is this the incentive structure the Government want to adopt? It is completely at odds with the stated policy objectives of the past five years and bears little relation to wider economic objects. Are the Government not breaking their principle that banks should be taxed according to the economic risk they pose to the economy, as the Minister mentioned?
The reduction in the levy of course has serious revenue implications for the Exchequer. Under the old system, there was always a revenue target of £2.5 billion. As I mentioned, this target was frequently missed, but at least we had an idea of how much the Government were planning to raise. Will the Minister confirm that for this Parliament the idea that there should be a revenue target has been completely abandoned? It is now the rate that is fixed, rather than the expected income. Will she explain the rationale behind this decision?
To make up for the lost revenue from the levy, the Government are introducing a new surcharge on banks’ profits, which is forecast to raise about £1.2 billion every year across the Parliament. When combined with the gradual decline in revenue from the bank levy, the result is a projected increase in revenue of about £2 billion across the Parliament. Clearly, this increase is welcome in the short term, but I have some questions about its sustainability over the long term. The Government’s revenue costings for the banking sector do not take into account the planned cuts in the corporation tax rate, so will the Minister inform the House precisely how much this cut will be worth to the banking sector over the Parliament?
The bigger issue, though, is what happens after 2020. The Government have signalled their intention to reduce the scope of the bank levy from 2021 so that it applies only to UK balance sheets, as the Minister said. This would greatly reduce the revenue that the levy brings in, especially from big global banks. Will she please set out the rationale behind this decision and explain what effect this change would have on revenue from the banking sector further into the future? Are the Government not simply storing up problems in order to appease big global banks?
There are further worries that the introduction of the surcharge will encourage some banks to adopt more complicated organisational structures in order to avoid paying the surcharge on their non-banking profits. Alongside any revenue implications of such behaviour, surely it would make regulation of the sector more difficult and make it harder to quantify potential risks to our economy posed by the activities of some banks. I really think this is a serious matter, and I would like to know if the Government have considered it.
The Minister will be aware of new research from Ernst and Young casting doubt on the OBR forecast of revenue from the surcharge. The research finds that revenue will be nearly double the £6 billion projected over the Parliament. I would not wish to second guess Ernst and Young, but would the Minister comment on the research and say whether the Government plan to review their position? All this uncertainty strengthens the case for our review.
More important than almost any other consideration is competition. Our main objection to the Government’s new policy is the effect on competition in the banking sector. I am sure there is agreement across the whole House that a competitive banking sector is vital to the long-term health of our economy—the City Minister has been touring the country praising new challenger banks in recent weeks, and well they deserve that praise—but the truth is that the changes in clauses 16 and 17 will directly harm small challenger banks and building societies, which need to grow to provide competition to the bigger players.
The big banks are compensated for the new surcharge by the fall in the levy, whereas the small banks that did not pay the levy are simply smacked with a new tax. The Government are effectively spreading the taxation over the whole banking sector, reversing the previous position that only the biggest and riskiest banks should pay more. The reality is that the people worst affected by these measures are exactly the people the Government claim they are trying to help. The situation is particularly damaging when it comes to mutuals, because their main way of raising capital to expand or for new lending is through retained profits. They cannot simply sell shares, as other banks can—that is what it means to be a mutual.
A tax on profits is clearly particularly damaging for mutuals—it is obvious. The simple point is that building societies are legally different from banks, thanks to the Building Societies Act 1986, which limits how they can raise money and who they can lend to. The Government must surely know that, yet the new surcharge will add an estimated £630 million to the tax bill of mutuals over the course of this Parliament, according to the Building Societies Association.
As has been said by my hon. Friend Dr Blackman-Woods—who is not in her place—that money would not otherwise have gone to shareholders, but would have been used for expansion or new mortgage lending. For example, Nationwide has said that the extra £300 million that it will pay through the surcharge could have financed £10 billion of domestic mortgage lending. As Paul Johnson of the Institute for Fiscal Studies said before the Treasury Committee in
July, this tax would reduce the capacity of some banks and building societies to lend. Analysts from Morgan Stanley have warned that it may lead to the re-pricing of domestic loans, which would push up the cost of consumer borrowing.
We are left with the frankly perverse situation where small building societies would be paying the surcharge but large loss-making banks would not. As Stuart Adam of the IFS has said:
“It doesn’t look like it’s well targeted either at those that got the biggest bail-outs in the crisis, or those that pose the highest risk in the future.”
The point is that the charges are not only obviously unfair, but bad for the economy as a whole, because of the effect on competition in the sector. That is particularly bad news for consumers, who benefit from a competitive banking market to give them choice and who need smaller banks to provide a viable alternative to the established names. Yet it seems that the Government have constructed an entire policy in order to appease large global banks, with little thought for the ramifications on the rest of the sector. Can the Minister explain why the Government have not done more to reduce the impact of their surcharge on challenger banks and mutuals? Does she accept that building societies are legally and structurally different from banks and should therefore be treated differently? Has she considered the case for excluding building societies from the surcharge? If she has not, I would ask her to do so.
Even a number of the Government’s own MPs are making that argument, including the Chair of the Treasury Committee, Mr Tyrie, who is not in his place, who has warned the Chancellor of unintended consequences, and Mark Garnier, who is in his place, who has said that building societies should be excluded. Does the Minister accept these very well made arguments and will she commit to holding a review into the impact of the changes on competitiveness in the banking sector? I do not think anyone in the House, of whatever party, thinks that we need less competition in the banking sector. At the very least, having a review is an obvious course of action.
Our new clause 1 calls for a review of a number of separate areas. The first area concerns the implications for bank balance sheets, because the bank levy was targeted in order to de-risk balance sheets and thereby reduce the potential threat to the UK economy. The Government must now explain why reducing the levy will not encourage more risky behaviour from banks. The review must also make clear what effect the change will have on long-term revenue from the banking sector. The Government must also make clear how big the tax cut is that they are offering the big global banks after 2021 and what impact that will have on the sustainability of the tax base in future. Finally, there must be a proper examination of the effect of the new surcharge on competitiveness, for the reasons I have set out.
Speaking at an event organised by TheCityUK recently, the City Minister said that these changes represented a
“sustainable, fair and competitive long-term plan”.
However, the Government have undermined sustainability by creating perverse incentives and reducing the long-term tax base. They have undermined fairness by giving a big tax cut to a small number of global banks while increasing taxes for new challengers. Most importantly, they have undermined competition by choking off the growth of building societies and smaller banks. This is not a long-term plan to build a better banking sector; it looks like a quick fix to appease the likes of HSBC and Standard Chartered. It is a plan that has been criticised by the British Bankers Association, the Building Societies Association, the IFS, the Chair of the Treasury Committee and the Government’s own Back Benchers. The Minister does not have to take it from me, the Opposition spokesperson; she should take it from her own Back Benchers. The Government must take this opportunity to think again. I urge all parts of the Committee to support our new clause.
It is a pleasure to follow Alison McGovern, who mentioned me several times in her speech. In the broadest sense, I agree entirely with what the Government are doing, but I have one or two reservations, to which she alluded.
It is worth looking back to why the bank levy was brought in and to what it was a response. It was, of course, a response to the bank bonus tax introduced by the previous Government, which was brought in, in turn, to try to get some money back for taxpayers from when the banks were bailed out. I think that it is the right thing to do. Banks should help to pay back the taxpayer, but the bonus tax was never going to work. The banks were always going to get around it one way or another. Many suggestions were put out by newspapers and banks, but the one that summed up the banks’ approach best for me was a Matt cartoon in The Daily Telegraph. A trader was pictured sitting in front of his boss in a bank; the boss turned around and said, “I’m afraid you are not going to get a bonus this year, but we are going to buy your tie off you for three million quid.” That was the sort of approach that the banks were going to take.
It was therefore right for the Government to bring in a levy that could not be got around. Of course that was the right thing to do, and the intention was to raise enough money from the levy to make up the shortfall that would follow from getting rid of the bonus tax, which was around £2.1 billion to £2.2 billion. The levy was an unavoidable tax. It started out at nine basis points, rising on nine occasions to 25 basis points. That resulted from the reduction of balance sheets and from the slight change in the shape of the deposits profile—moving away from the deposits profile that would attract the levy.
It is worth bearing in mind what Douglas Flint said when he came before the Treasury Select Committee in January 2011. I asked him for his view about the future of HSBC in the UK and whether it would keep its domicile. The hon. Member for Wirral South mentioned Standard Chartered and HSBC in her speech. Douglas Flint said that the domicile was reviewed once every three years and that 2011 would be the year in which that happened. When he came before us again in January 2012 and I asked him what he was going to do, he said he was going to defer it.
It became apparent that the shareholders at HSBC, one of the best and biggest banks in the world—and, indeed, one of the most stable—were very upset about paying quite a hefty levy, which only got bigger, on their international earnings. The same applied to Standard Chartered, which had very little earnings within the UK. None the less, in responding to shareholder pressure—the shareholders were asking, of course, for an opportunity to get more return for their money—those chief executives were saying, “Don’t worry; we will ride this out and the bank levy will eventually disappear at some point.”
After five years of that, the pressure from shareholders was becoming very intense. If Standard Chartered and HSBC had left the country, the bank levy would have had to rise from 24 basis points to more like 35 basis points in order to maintain the £2 billion or so in revenue. Paying 50 basis points would be a very significant taxation on deposit levels within banks. Inevitably, then, if Standard Chartered and HSBC had left, the whole bank levy would have spun out of control and eventually wound itself into a knot that would have been completely unsustainable. That is why the Government had to do something about it.
Before I move on, it is worth looking at what the banks were getting as a result of paying the levy. The first thing—in justifying the levy to shareholders this is an important point—is that the banks were paying back the taxpayer who had bailed them out with a lot of money. The taxpayer required some sort of levy to get some of the revenue back. The second important point is that the bank levy could almost be seen as a type of insurance premium charged against the banks for having what is known as “the implicit guarantee”—the guarantee that, should the banks fall over as two of them did in 2007-08, the Government would stand behind them and pick them up.
However, the provisions of the Financial Sector (Banking Reform) Act 2013 were introduced in order to try to get to the stage where the banks would no longer need to be supported in the event of a collapse—that there would be an elegant collapse; there would be bail-in bonds and ring-fences around the important parts of the banks, so that never again would the Government step behind the banks. The banks would be allowed to collapse without causing contagion through the banking system. That is an incredibly important change.
The argument about the bank levy being an insurance premium would eventually diminish to nothing with the finalisation of the fairly expensive Banking Reform Act in 2019. As for paying money back to the taxpayer, we are in the process of doing so by means of the sales of RBS, Lloyds, Northern Rock Asset Management, and the various other assets that were bought. At some point, we shall be able to draw up a final P&L to establish whether we—the UK taxpayers who bailed those banks out—have got our money back.
The bank levy was becoming obsolete in some respects, and even more difficult to justify to shareholders of the big international banks that do not have to pay it because they have moved their domiciles offshore. It is worth bearing in mind that HSBC moved from 1 Queen’s Road Central in Hong Kong to the United Kingdom only 15 or 20 years ago, so this is not a difficult thing for it to do. Spiritually, it does not have a long history in the UK, and it can easily move back.
It is right for the Government to get rid of the bank levy, and I am very pleased to note that it will be reduced by 2020, but it had to be replaced by something, and, again, we must ask what the banks are getting for their money. The levy can be justified on the basis that we provide, as a society and as a country, a very benign and stable economy, which the banks can use to their advantage to make money.
It is not entirely unreasonable for institutions that are trading in the purest form of capital, which is cash, to be able to take advantage of that economy and make money out of it. They have a social function to perform: they have to distribute money from where it is accumulated to where it is needed, which is a very democratic process. They also have to do complicated things such as modifying maturity on deposits to loans, which is a very difficult business. None the less, we provide one of the best regulatory environments in the world. It is expensive, admittedly, but it is very good. We have a sound economy, we are getting back on our feet, and, relative to the rest of world, we can be very proud of what we have achieved. It is justifiable for the banks to pay something as a contribution to that. However, I have reservations, and I therefore ask the Minister to carry out an ongoing review of what is happening with the new bank tax, starting with the banks themselves.
It is right that the banks that will be affected are predominantly the larger ones. People talk about challenger banks. The British Bankers’ Association has about 250 members. There are a lot of banks in the UK, and 47 of them can be considered to be challenger banks. Some are as small as Kingdom bank, which has a balance sheet of just £50 million; others, such as Metro bank, are doing very well.
Most of those banks will not be affected because their profit does not exceed £25 million, but in some instances, to which Alison McGovern alluded, non-bank profits could be brought into this tax regime. However, I do not think it is a bad thing if some non-bank profits are moved into separate divisions within a bank. If there is a wealth manager function within the bank, for example, is it such a bad thing for that element to be separated from the bank in what effectively amounts to a protective ring-fencing, so one side can be protected from the other? I do not think there is anything too bad about that, as long as the bank is not destabilised. Of course, the regulator will have a look at that.
The vast majority of banks will not be affected. Challenger banks will be able to try and build up their profits, and when at some point those profits exceed £25 million, they will start paying the surcharge. It will be worth seeing how many banks pay it in the future, but it should be borne in mind that their legal structure enables those banks to raise capital through equity transactions. They can sell extra shares, which is how they can build their capital so they can meet the challenge of building market share against the bigger banks.
The mutuals, however, are a different animal. There seems to be some confusion over quite how many of them are being affected, but it is certainly a small number. I thought it was only two, but it could be as many as five. Mutuals cannot go to an equity market to raise capital—I do not agree with the argument that this is taking money out of the lending market, although I suppose that is probably a fact—but they are still better off than they otherwise would have been in 2010 with corporation tax at that level.
The biggest problem for the mutual companies is that, in trying to build their assets, they have to build their equity base, which can be done only through retained profits. We therefore must be cautious about taxing them a little more and slowing the rate at which they can build retained profits. Having said that, the biggest building society, Nationwide, has created a new hybrid bond that can bring cash into its balance sheet, proving that there are alternatives.
I am genuinely happy to support clauses 16 and 17 for all the reasons I have discussed, but I say to the Minister that there may be unintended consequences. While I do not necessarily think we need an immediate review, given that this is going to be coming in over a number of years and changes will take a bit of time, the Treasury should have a look at the effect particularly on mutuals and the smaller challenger banks that possibly have non-banking earnings and are making profits of around the £25 million mark, to see whether this has a negative effect on them.
I wish to speak to SNP amendments 3 and 4, and let me say three things at the outset. First, I am seeking to curry favour by making my remarks fairly short, as we have had a long two days; I hope that is appreciated. Secondly, our amendment gives the Government the opportunity to change their approach to setting the 8% surcharge by introducing it in a tiered manner. This would have the benefit of removing a cliff-edge and replacing it with a more manageable approach. However, and thirdly, we do recognise that our amendment may not be the only way of achieving a more sensible introduction of the surcharge, and therefore we are keen to hear the Minister’s response.
What is the fundamental issue? A number of fine comments have already been made about building societies, the problems of retained profits and the like, so I shall mention some other matters. Our concern is primarily centred on the impact this Bill will have on challenger banks and the adverse consequences it will have on competition and diversity and in respect of entry barriers for prospective new challengers.
As Carlos Suarez Duarte, vice-president at rating agency Moody’s, said,
“profitable challenger banks will be the most affected by the new charge on profits,” while changes to the bank levy
“will be positive for UK banks with large overseas operations such as HSBC and Standard Chartered.”
About 30 banks are subject to the current levy, but the new 8% additional tax on profits will affect any challenger bank with profits of more than £25 million, expanding the scope of bank taxes to potentially around 200 institutions, The Daily Telegraph estimates.
I and my colleagues have little issue with the surcharge applying to institutions that have posed a systemic risk to the sector, but the smaller banks have not posed such a danger. Indeed, the coming of the era of the challenger banks is seen by many as part of the solution to the problems posed by having too few, too powerful institutions. Challengers are not part of the problem in this regard; they could be part of the solution.
Indeed, the surcharge as currently proposed will have perverse effects on the Government’s own banking strategy. The Chancellor vowed only a couple of months ago to boost retail banking competition by proposing at least 15 new licences over the next few years, but as Nigel Terrington, chief executive of Paragon Group, which recently launched its own bank, said:
“This surcharge took everyone by surprise and does seem to be contrary to the stated government policy of wanting to increase competition.”
Indeed, as he has also commented:
“It feels like they’ve replaced a punishment tax on the larger banks with a charge on all of us. What did we do wrong—I thought we were part of the solution, not the problem?”
In effect, this surcharge will prove a barrier to encouraging new entrants. Indeed, the tax will hit small profitable domestic banks particularly hard, which completely goes against previous Government efforts to lower the barriers to entry for new lenders, which we welcomed. Anne Boden, the founder of Starling, has previously praised the Government strongly on more than one occasion, but she has recently been quoted as saying in relation to the new surcharge:
“It is not just a constraint on the development of smaller banks, but, more importantly, not in the best interests of consumers.”
Many of the challenger banks’ consumers and customers will be small and medium-sized enterprises. As a former owner and director of a number of SMEs myself, I know from bitter experience how difficult it can be, particularly in the early years of trading, to access banking support. That is why, in my life before entering this place, I was supportive of the move to enable the establishment of more challenger banks willing to deal more effectively with the needs of the SME sector. That is particularly important in the Scottish economy, which is heavily reliant on SMEs.
Analysts, including Gary Greenwood of Shore capital, have been highly critical. He, like others, has argued that the surcharge as currently planned will be counterproductive, and that it will inhibit the ability of smaller banks to grow and compete as effective challengers. He states:
“Banks can lever up their equity by 10 to 20 times, so for every £1 of tax you take off them, you rip £10 to £20 of lending capacity out of the market. It is crazy.”
Crazy indeed. By harming lending and therefore investment, particularly by SMEs, this will also have the effect of creating a further problem for achieving higher levels of productivity in the economy. We need more investment, not less; more lending, not less.
The Government’s explanations of why this burden should be placed so heavily on small profitable domestic banks are unconvincing. It is hard to find any analyst who sees this as helpful for competition, diversity or entry. I hope the Minister will reflect on these arguments, and perhaps address the following questions. Have the Government undertaken a detailed analysis of the likely effect on SME lending in the four countries of the UK, and if so will they publish it? Have the Government changed their policy on the need for effective banking competition? I look forward to hearing their response, and hope that it is strong and purposeful enough to satisfy our concerns.
I very much support the Government’s proposals, and I particularly welcome the balance that they intend to strike between ensuring that banks make a fair contribution and giving greater recognition to the role that they play in providing jobs and powering growth.
I also welcome the fantastic critique given by my hon. Friend Mark Garnier, which has resulted in my putting half my speech into the bin. It would not have been half as eloquent as his.
Alison McGovern mentioned the behavioural implications of the proposed change. Scottish National party Members have also touched on that subject and asked whether challenger banks were being punished via their profits. I do not believe that tax itself, either on profits or on the balance sheet, will stop risky transactions. Indeed, the European Union transaction tax would mean that a bank would pay tax at the outset and would then be free to enter into a potentially catastrophic transaction at a flat fee. In comparison, the UK’s approach has been to require banks to set aside capital, with a requirement for more to be set aside against riskier transactions. That is not a tax; it is capital being set aside. By separating the balance sheet of retail banks from the riskier investment banks, the investment bank does not have the capital to enter into that potentially catastrophic transaction in the first place. Measures taken by this Government—and, to be fair, by the prior Government, too—have helped the UK buffer itself well following the crisis of 2008.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman misunderstood or whether I misunderstand him, but the particular concern in relation to profits is the impact on mutuals, which, by definition, have little access to capital and use their profits to grow capital for lending. That is the effect there is concern about. Does he think the proposed tax would be good for mutuals?
The point made earlier was that this measure helps the likes of HSBC and Standard Chartered, so I took the new clause to be about more than just mutuals, with it being about an unfair benefit being added to certain banks. I am trying to highlight that tax is not necessarily the means to control riskier transactions. Reference was made to those banks, which is why I was extending the point. With an allowance of £25 million set in place, the smaller institutions will be buffered to a certain extent. In addition, I do not believe it is essential that we start treating different institutions differently. Of course some pay less tax because they have fewer profits.
I am wondering whether my hon. Friend is as surprised as I am that Labour Members have discovered that tax on profit is harmful. Will he join me in welcoming their discovery that tax can actually do harm? Does he believe it represents a new direction of travel for Labour?
My hon. Friend puts the point much better than I could have. I commend the Committee for this section of this debate, because it is where it is at its most thoughtful and most articulate—perhaps because it is at the close of business.
The by-product of the regime to which I made reference is that foreign investment banks have moved their head offices from London to their home nations but not necessarily their jobs. That means that UK taxpayers are not liable for bank failure in the same way as they would have been previously. The point I wish to articulate is we should not just think of tax as the means to control the behaviour of banks; we should look at the regulation, and the separation of investment banks and retail banks. That has been a success.
As we move into the newer regime and as banks, to use their own rating, would be on “negative watch”, it is right that they pay an increased premium for the risk that still exists. We should absolutely be on our guard in that respect. It is also right that we treat them as another corporation—with corporation tax but with the tax in addition on profits. To address the point made in an intervention, I do believe that there are buffers within, but I also do not think it requires an amendment to state that the Treasury must undertake a periodical review, because the Treasury will of course do that on a daily and weekly basis. Given the support that this Government have given to allow challenger banks to be set up, the Treasury will of course ensure that the help is provided and that this is on watch throughout.
I welcome this change of approach, and believe the time has moved on from when we have a bank levy towards when we have an ordinary tax on profits. On that basis, I very much support the Government’s line.
I will be brief, Mr Howarth. I just wanted to respond to some of the points made by my colleague Mark Garnier. Nobody from my side of the House disputes that the bank levy was in need of reform. Indeed, he made it sound far too well organised and manufactured; it was ad hoc, arbitrary and unpredictable, and it definitely needed to be replaced by something more predictable. Therefore, we are in no way rejecting the notion of moving to a surcharge on profits, which could be an effective way of raising the funds from the banks and, in a sense, of surcharging them for the social service that we provide through the Treasury in protecting them.
I do not go as far as the hon. Gentleman in relation to what I would describe as the gentle blackmail from HSBC and Standard Chartered Bank. If anyone looks at the turmoil in the Asian markets and in China at the moment, they will not think that it was a good moment for a bank to shift their headquarters from London to Hong Kong.
Let us accept that there will be a change. Our view is that we need a mechanism that allows the Treasury to use statutory instruments to vary the rate and the application of the surcharge as it evolves and as we learn whether it is impacting adversely on some banks, building societies and mutuals. That is all we are saying. We are trying to find common ground with the Chancellor. We are moving in the same direction, but the Government are rushing the application. They are making it too uniform and are choosing arbitrarily a rate of surcharge that is simply designed to reproduce the current level of tax yield. That is a bad way of approaching how we manage the surcharge on the banks.
I suppose the essence of the argument—this is really where I want to go—is that there are differences between the challenger banks and the larger banks. Those differences are not just based on their level of profit. It is quite clear that it is proportionately more expensive for the smaller banks to provide the capital to support the credit risk in their loans once it is weighted against their risky assets. We know that from the work that has been done by the Competition and Markets Authority, and I would prefer to take its view rather than the special pleading from the banks—even the special pleading from the challenger banks.
The Competition and Markets Authority has looked at the expense to the different scale of banks in providing the capital to support their credit risk. It has come up with figures that say that on a typical £100,000 loan to a small business, a challenger bank, or a bank of that scale, has to put aside roughly £8,000 per £100,000 loan, compared with about £6,000 from one of the very large banks. The mathematical reason for that is quite simple; it is not rocket science. The smaller bank with the smaller balance sheet is carrying proportionately more systemic risk on each loan. When a small bank loses a customer or has a non-performing loan, it is quite costly to it given the scale of its balance sheet. Therefore, when we start doing the risk-weighted analysis, it will have to put more capital by; it will cost it more. It is economies of scale. Big banks have economies of scale. A specific non-performing loan to a small business is a relatively small risk to the larger bank, so the cost to it will be small. It follows on from the matters of big and small economies of scale. Nevertheless, they act as a barrier to the smaller banks being able to grow.
If we impose a uniform profits surcharge on all the banks, there is a higher real burden on the smaller banks. I would like the Treasury to take that into account as we move along, and have the powers to be able swiftly to shift the rates. I was trying not to be prescriptive in laying down how we would set different levels for different kinds of banks; I wanted a system to evolve. I want the Treasury to have the powers to do that so that if it does prove to be more costly for the challenger banks and to be taking more from their profits and their ability to raise capital, we might think about different kinds of banding, and that would be up to the Treasury to consider. We are simply saying that the smaller banks have different cost structures and therefore different risk elements, which means that imposing a single levy on profits across all the banks, big and small, is a bit too arbitrary and a bit too ad hoc. In other words, it brings us back to the sort of problems that we had with the original bank levy.
It has been a great pleasure to have my Opposition shadow, Alison McGovern, in the Chamber today making the points that she has. I sincerely hope that next week she will continue to be my Opposition shadow, because it is clear that she takes her role very seriously. I know that she supported the hon. Member for Leicester South when it came to nominating the leader of her party, so I hope that her point of view prevails when it comes to the announcement on Saturday.
You are quite right, Mr Howarth. What I wanted to say was that one would not believe from the remarks that the hon. Member for Wirral South made at the beginning of the debate that the banking system had fallen into massive failure, meaning that this Chancellor had to take steps in 2010 to sort out the country’s banking system and the deficit. Listening to the hon. Lady this evening, one would have thought that banks were then paying less tax than they are today but in fact, after the changes in clauses 16 and 17, the banking sector will pay the lowest rate of bank tax in the G7.
One would also not believe from the remarks we heard at the beginning of the debate that over the 13 years for which the hon. Lady’s party was in power there was no increase in competition in banking. There were more than 20 inquiries into banking competitiveness, but they were obviously unsuccessful. The hon. Lady asked a number of questions, and although I do not want to detain the House for long with this entertaining discussion I want to respond to some of the points raised in the debate.
I was asked a couple of times about building societies, and I said that 90% of building societies would be unaffected by these changes. Obviously, the vast majority of building societies do not make a profit of more than £25 million a year, so the sector will benefit from the reduction in corporation tax over the life of this Parliament down to 18% by 2020.
Absolutely, and it is 90% of all building societies. Clearly, a handful of building societies are big enough to be able to pay the additional levy contained in these clauses and, even after the surcharge, they will still be paying a lower rate of corporation tax than they were paying under the previous Labour Government. With the hon. Lady’s conversion to lower taxes, she should be welcoming and celebrating the fact that the Budget announces these long-term changes.
The hon. Lady also asked whether the numbers in the Red Book take into account the corporation tax changes, and indeed they do. She asked about revenues after 2020-21 and I am delighted that she recognises that it will be the Conservative party that will be making those decisions after the next general election. She asked about the Ernst and Young forecast in today’s papers, and even she got the giggles when she raised the forecast, which is really quite laughable. It takes into account only one side of the equation in terms of the potential rise in the take from bank corporation tax.
The hon. Lady asked about competition, and I have mentioned the competition track record of her party when in power, but it is helpful to be able to talk about the range of things my party did in the last Parliament to improve bank competition. It is a strong focus of this Government. I am glad that the SNP spokesman, Roger Mullin, mentioned the ambition to have 15 new banks receive a banking licence. I understand that there are a large number in the pipeline. Indeed, one new bank has already got its licence this year.
The additional steps we have taken to increase bank competition include giving the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority a strong focus on competition; creating the new Payment Systems Regulator to ensure that the challenger banks gain access to the payment systems on fair terms; and introducing a seven-day current account switching service, which is about to have its second anniversary—over 2 million people have now used that simplified switching service. Of course, the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015 requires big banks to refer to other organisations any small and medium-sized enterprises that it might have turned down for finance. We are taking a range of steps to improve banking competition.
The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath asked whether the tax regime supports the challenger banks. Of course it does, because the rate of corporation tax will fall to 18% by the end of this Parliament, which means an extremely attractive rate on the first £25 million of profits, and the vast majority of challenger banks will fall into that category. By the end of this Parliament, and taking into account the surcharge, the combined rate for a bank that makes £200 million in profits, for example, will be 25%. That will be a very competitive rate, and it balances the need for revenues to the Exchequer with the need for capital formation in the banking system.
I know that the Minister is trying to rattle through this quickly, but I have a question. We can all trade previous Governments’ records—I could draw attention to the impact on mutuals and building societies generally in 1986—but let us talk about the future. Clearly these changes will have an impact on building societies, which offer consumers a unique proposition because of their structure. Will she commit this evening to ensuring that the changes she is making will not harm the mutual banking sector?
Again, I am surprised that the hon. Lady seems to want me to keep mentioning the rate of corporation tax, because it is now lower for building societies than it was when her party was in power—it seems an extraordinary line of attack. Yes, a handful of building societies are large enough to pay the surcharge, but 90% of them—by number—will not only be unaffected by the change, but will benefit. Capital formation and the ability to retain earnings within the mutuals will improve as a result of the corporation tax reductions that we are introducing, which she opposed in the manifesto she stood on at the general election.
In conclusion—I will be quick, because I know that the Committee wants to express an opinion—I commend clauses 16 and 17 and schedules 2 and 3 to the Committee, and I respectfully request that the hon. Members for Wirral South and for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath do not to press amendments 3 and 4 and new clause 1.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 16 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 2 agreed to.