‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of the measures introduced by this Act on households at different levels of income, and lay before each House of Parliament the report of that review within six months of this Act coming into force.
(2) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of government fiscal measures on households at different levels of income at least once in each calendar year, and lay before each House of Parliament a report on each review.”
Government amendments 132 to 134, 146 to 148 and 135.
Amendment 179, clause 99, page 185, line 20, at end insert—
“(c) “earning” do not include any amounts that constitute qualifying bonus payments within the meaning of section 312B of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003.”
Government amendment 138.
Amendment 141, schedule 3, page 337, line 1, at end insert—
“Provision for small amounts of partnership share money repayable to employees to be exempt from tax if instead applied charitably
10 In section 503 of ITEPA 2003 (charge on partnership share money paid over to employee), after “paragraph 55(3) (partnership share money paid over on withdrawal from partnership share agreement),” insert—
“paragraph 55(3A)(a) or (b)(i) (partnership share money paid over on withdrawal from partnership share agreement),”
11 (1) In Schedule 2 to ITEPA 2003 (share incentive plans), Part 6 (partnership shares) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 55 (withdrawal from partnership share agreement)—
(a) in sub-paragraph (3) after “as soon as practicable” insert—
“, unless the plan includes provision authorised by sub-paragraph (3A)”
(b) after sub-paragraph (3) insert—
“(3A) The plan may provide that, where an employee withdraws from a partnership share agreement—
(a) if the employee does not agree to an arrangement in accordance with sub-paragraph (b), any partnership share money held on behalf of the employee is to be paid over to the employee as soon as practicable, and
(b) with the employee’s agreement—
(i) if the partnership share money held on behalf of the employee exceeds a threshold amount of not more than £ 10 specified in the plan, the full amount must be paid over to the employee as soon as practicable, and
(ii) if the partnership share money held on behalf of the employee is equal to or less than the threshold amount referred to in sub-paragraph (b)(i), as soon as reasonably practicable, the full amount must either—
(3B) Partnership share money paid over to a charity or accumulated for that purpose under sub-paragraph (3A)(b) shall not count as employment income by reason of section 503.
(3C) While the plan includes any provision authorised by sub-paragraph (3A), the company and trustees shall make available to participants and qualifying employees at least annually an account of the total amount of partnership share money that would have been returned to employees were it not for that provision and of the related charitable donations made.
(3D) The Treasury may by order amend sub-paragraph (3A)(b)(i) by substituting for any amount for the time being specified there an amount specified in the order.””
Government amendment 139.
Amendment 180, schedule 25, page 642, line 2, at end insert—
‘(4A) The Chancellor of the Exchequer may not appoint the Chair of the OTS without the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.
(4B) The Chancellor of the Exchequer may not appoint the Tax Director of the OTS without the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.”
Amendment 181, page 642, line 40, at end insert—
‘(2A) The Chancellor of the Exchequer may not terminate the appointment of the Chair of the OTS without the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.
(2B) The Chancellor of the Exchequer may not terminate the appointment of the Tax Director of the OTS without the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.”
Amendment 182, page 643, line 3, at end insert—
“References to Treasury Committee
5A (1) Any reference in this Schedule to the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons—
(a) if the name of that Committee is changed, is to be treated as a reference to that Committee by its new name, and
(b) if the functions of that Committee (or substantially corresponding functions) become functions of a different Committee of the House of Commons, is to be treated as a reference to the Committee by which those functions are exercisable.
(2) Any question arising under sub-paragraph (1) is to be determined by the Speaker of the House of Commons.”
In this final debate, there is an array of amendments and new clauses to consider across a wide range of subjects. I am sure that we will cover a great deal of ground.
Let me first outline briefly the Government amendments, starting with Government new clause 9. To ensure fairness in the tax system, new clause 9 allows for the exemption from income tax of supplementary benefit payments funded by the Northern Ireland Executive. Government amendments 132 to 134 deal with disguised remuneration and Government amendment 139 deals with aqua methanol. Amendments 132 to 134 change the date for withdrawing a relief on returns arising from disguised remuneration for those who have not settled tax due to
Government amendments 135, 146 to 148 and 138 concern venture capital trusts, the lifetime allowance and dividends respectively. They make changes to ensure that these policies work as intended.
Let me deal with the new clauses and amendments tabled by the Opposition. New clause 15, tabled by Rebecca Long Bailey and her colleagues is designed to prevent the use of secondary legislation to alter the rate of VAT applied to the installation of energy-saving materials. Since 2001, the UK has applied the 5% reduced rate of VAT to the installation of 11 different types of energy-saving materials. That reduced rate remains in place and is unchanged. The European Court of Justice ruled last year that the UK had interpreted VAT law too broadly. Following that judgment, the Government published a consultation on this particularly complex issue, and we are considering the responses. While this new clause is designed to prevent the use of secondary legislation to alter the rate of VAT applied to the installation of energy-saving materials, the tax lock legislated for by this Government already achieves the same effect. Indeed, it goes further.
As the Secretary of State for Exiting the EU said yesterday in his responses to the lengthy statement, those are all matters that will be looked at. He confirmed that he is indeed looking at it, as is the Treasury.
We feel that the tax lock goes further by preventing the use of secondary legislation to vary the scope of any reduced or zero rate. In effect, the new clause would serve no purpose except to duplicate existing legislation.
New clause 3 on the marriage allowance would place a legal requirement on the Government to carry out a review. Although I am sympathetic and have discussed the concerns of my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes and others who support the new clause, I hope to be able to show that such a report is unnecessary and to address some of these concerns.
Let me reiterate that the Government remain committed to recognising marriage in the tax system and to ensuring that the marriage allowance is delivered successfully. As hon. Members will be aware, take-up of this policy was initially lower than expected, but the Government have taken decisive action to change that. In spring this year, HMRC ran a successful marketing campaign to help raise awareness among eligible families, and the results were quite dramatic. Daily applications increased by a factor of seven between November 2015 and March 2016. Next month, HMRC will receive its 1 millionth successful marriage allowance application.
We are going even further. HMRC will launch a more ambitious campaign to raise awareness next month to help to continue the momentum. The Government have also assessed the distributional impact of the policy, which I know is a matter of interest to my hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate. We found that a quarter of those who will benefit are households with children, and most of the benefit from the marriage allowance will go to those in the bottom half of the income distribution scale. I understand that my hon. Friend will want to make more points about this issue in his contribution. I will seek to respond, briefly if I can, at the end.
My hon. Friend has also tabled new clause 2, which proposes a review of the impact of the rate of duty charged on sparkling cider of an alcohol strength exceeding 5.5%. The concerns that he raises—he has raised them before—are important, and the Government will continue to tackle alcohol problems as a driver of crime and support people to stay healthy, building on the alcohol strategy of 2012. The Government are aware that some ciders can be associated with alcohol harm and we have already taken action. Since 2010, for example, we have required drinks to contain a minimum of 35% apple or pear juice to be defined as cider, which is designed to increase the cost of the cheap white ciders.
From my previous role as a public health Minister, I am obviously aware of the concerns about alcohol harm. Further changes to alcohol policy would need sufficiently to target cheap drinks associated with these harms, without of course penalising responsible drinkers. The Treasury is always willing to consider any evidence about how these products should be taxed. Although I do not think a legislative requirement for a review is necessary, I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend’s contribution to the debate.
Amendments 180 to 182 deal with the Office of Tax Simplification. The amendments, tabled by Wes Streeting, would require appointments to or dismissals from the position of the OTS chair to be subject to the consent of the Treasury Select Committee. The OTS provides the Chancellor with independent advice on simplifying the tax system. As I alluded to in the last part of the previous debate, to ensure that the OTS continues its important work, the Government are putting it on a permanent statutory footing and increasing its powers. I am grateful to my right hon. Friend Mr Tyrie, the hon. Member for Ilford North, whom I see in his place, and other members of the Treasury Select Committee for their commitment to safeguarding the independence of bodies within government and to increasing their transparency. The Government’s view is that there is a balance between ensuring that there is robust scrutiny and doing so in a way that is proportionate to the function of the OTS.
Having considered the representations of my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester and the hon. Member for Ilford North, the Government will ensure that the Treasury Committee is able to hold hearings with future OTS chair candidates before their appointments are formalised, and to put appointments to a vote in the House. We believe that those arrangements should be a permanent method of appointment of future OTS chairs. I do not think there is any justification for going further and legislating for a power of veto, which is what the amendments would do. I hope that members of the Treasury Committee will welcome the arrangements that I have outlined, and I invite them not to press their amendments.
I am grateful to the Minister for what she has said about the proposals. I am pleased that it has been possible to work out a compromise which I think is very reasonable all round, and which builds on the arrangements made by the former Chancellor for the appointments of the chairman and chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority earlier in the year. I see no reason why this should not form the basis for a permanent arrangement to ensure that we get the best possible candidate into the OTS, supported by Parliament, in future years.
I thank the Chairman of the Treasury Committee for his indication of support for these arrangements. As he says, we have set out a procedure for the future. I have written to him, and the Chancellor will write to him as well, to confirm that for the record.
New clause 8, tabled by members of the Scottish National party, would require the Government to review the way in which the changes in dividend tax will affect directors of microbusinesses. First, we feel that it would be impossible to deliver such a review, because information from the self-assessment process will not be available until 2018. Secondly and more fundamentally, the dividend tax changes cannot be viewed in isolation, as I pointed out in the previous debate. Small company directors will have benefited from various recent tax changes made by the Government, including cuts in corporation tax and business rates—with more to come into effect in the spring of 2017—and the introduction of the employment allowance, which has made a considerable difference to business people in my constituency to whom I have spoken and, I know, to those in other constituencies. We think that these matters must be looked at in the round, and we therefore do not feel that we can accept the new clause.
New clause 18 proposes another review, on the impact of section 24 of the summer Finance Act 2015 on affordable housing. Again, we feel that that is unnecessary. The changes made by section 24 are being implemented in a gradual and proportionate way. Only one in five landlords is expected to pay more tax, and we do not expect the changes to have a large impact on either house prices or rent levels owing to the small overall proportion of the housing market that is affected. It is worth noting that the Office for Budget Responsibility has endorsed that assessment.
I gather from my predecessors that the subject of new clause 6, which asks the Treasury to conduct
“a review of the VAT treatment of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service”, has arisen a number of times in the past, and I am afraid that I cannot add very much to the responses that SNP Members have heard before in the context of this and previous Finance Bills. The Treasury made it clear to the Scottish Government that the proposed changes would result in a loss of eligibility for VAT refunds. They chose to go ahead, which was their legitimate right, but there can be no expectation that we will review the issue, given that the consequences were clear beforehand.
If the United Kingdom opts for non-membership of the single market following Brexit, the UK Government—the Treasury—will be able to initiate all sorts of proposals relating to VAT, one of which may well be to devolve it to the devolved Administrations. The Scotland Act 2016 currently assigns responsibility for 50% of VAT receipts, but if the UK Government decided on the non-membership option, it would be possible to go further. Is that something that the Treasury is considering?
As a number of Ministers have made clear in the House, we need to consider a huge range of issues as we proceed, but, as I have said, we are clear about the matter for the present. No doubt the hon. Gentleman will raise his point again during debates about our future outside the European Union.
New clause 16, tabled by Liberal Democrat Members, would require the Government to publish a review. I do not think that any Liberal Democrat Members are present, so I shall speak briefly before moving on swiftly to deal with new clauses and amendments tabled by members of other parties who are present.
The Government already undertake equality assessments of all new measures, which includes considering age as a protected characteristic. I am sure the whole House welcomes the fact that the Prime Minister has now launched an unprecedented audit of public services to reveal—among other things—racial disparities, and to look at the way in which public services serve people throughout the country. The Treasury will, of course, play its part in the audit, and no doubt some of these issues can be considered as part of that important exercise.
New clause 19 would require the Government to review the impact of measures in the Bill on different levels of income. In every Budget and autumn statement since 2010, the Treasury has published distributional analyses showing the impact of Government policy on the share of tax paid and spending received across household income distribution. Since 2010, the Government have published far more distributional analyses than their predecessors. As the Prime Minister has made clear on many occasions since taking office, we are determined to make Britain a country that works for everyone, and our policy choices and actions stand as proof of our commitment. The Government have received representations on this matter, not just from Opposition Members but from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester, on behalf of his Committee. We will consider the appropriate format of documents to be published at future fiscal events at a time closer to the date of the autumn statement.
As the Minister knows, the issue of distributional analysis is of great importance to the Committee. The previous Chancellor accepted it in 2010, but resiled from it in 2015, to the Committee’s considerable concern. On the understanding that the Chancellor really is considering reinstating the arrangements that had been in operation for the preceding five years, I would not be minded to vote for new clause 19. Am I to understand from what the Minister has said that a serious reconsideration is taking place, and that she or the Chancellor will return to the House in due course to inform us of their conclusions?
Treasury Ministers and the Chancellor take points made by my right hon. Friend and his Committee members very seriously. As I said earlier and as has been confirmed in an exchange of letters between my right hon. Friend and the Chancellor, we will consider the issue at future fiscal events closer to the date of the autumn statement. I may be able to write to my right hon. Friend with further information, but that is what I am able to say at the moment.
I thank the Minister for giving way. She is being most generous.
Yesterday, in an intervention on the speech of one of the Minister’s colleagues, I asked when we were likely to expect the very important autumn statement. The response was “some time in November, maybe December.” Can the Minister confirm that that is indeed the case?
As I have said, the date will be confirmed in due course, but I think it reasonable to assume that the window of opportunity to which the hon. Gentleman has referred is broadly correct.
I shall speak briefly—as, again, there is no Liberal Democrat presence in the Chamber—about amendment 179, which deals with the apprenticeship levy. This would exclude qualifying bonus payments to employees of employee-owned businesses from being considered as part of the employer’s pay bill when calculating the levy. To ensure the levy is as simple and fair as possible, the Government have decided to use the existing definition of earnings—those used for employers national insurance contributions. This avoids unnecessary complication. This point about avoiding complication was made repeatedly to us during the consultation. We feel the amendment would add complication and therefore we urge the House to reject it.
Lastly, Labour amendment 141 on employee share schemes proposes a tax exemption for residual cash amounts remaining in share incentive plans when they are donated to charity. While we appreciate the proposal is made with the best of intentions, we are concerned the change would, again, add complexity and the amendment lacks details. We would need further development and evidence of this idea before giving it further consideration.
I will end there, but I may look to respond briefly at the end if there are any further points I can add that would assist the House. I look forward to the debate.
I am disappointed by the Minister’s concluding remarks on amendment 141, which is in my name and those of my hon. Friends. She says the amendment lacks detail. We are talking about simplification today and I will go on to address the House on that issue, but this amendment covers more than an A4 page, so there is quite a lot of it. It might be the wrong detail—I freely accept that I am not an accountant—but I cannot get my head around the concept that it lacks detail. So I am disappointed and urge her to reconsider.
I am pleased at the movement from the Government on amendment 180. It will not surprise SNP Members to know that I want to touch briefly, as the Minister did, on new clause 6. Frankly, they have made their bed and they should lie in it. They were warned that this would be the financial effect, and having an inquiry into the financial effect of something they knew was going to happen and has happened—it may be an adverse financial effect—is what you get with devolution; you make your decisions and you live with them. They should not be looking indirectly through this mechanism for yet another bung from the English taxpayer when they are already getting shed loads of money under the Barnett formula. I support the Barnett formula and the Union, but sometimes, people can push their luck a bit and I think that is what is happening here since they knew in advance what would happen.
I want to make some brief remarks on the question of evidence-based decision making and the difficulties we have in that regard as policymakers and legislators in this House. That applies particularly to financial matters. Although the House of Lords scrutinises Finance Bills, it does not vote upon them for good historical reasons. It cannot, therefore, amend the Finance Bill and we have to get it right here.
Oppositions cannot table amendments to put up taxes and it has become commonplace in recent years to table amendments to express concern and call for a review. That has been the mechanism used by those who take issue with a particular course of action, or lack of a course of action rather than moving amendments to abolish something, as the Liberal Democrats extraordinarily did yesterday with their amendment to abolish corporation tax, which as the Minister said, would cost £43 billion a year. In this group, new clauses 3, 6, 8, 16, 17, 18 and 19 all call for a review, as did new clause 14 and amendment 176 which were debated previously. It is the flavour of the day.
This highlights a problem that the Minister addressed in her concluding remarks in the previous debate. We have at the moment an economy with extraordinarily good unemployment figures, and I praise the Government for that. That figure has come down, and we have had 2.5 million more jobs in the past six years. That is great, but it has been bought on a sea of debt, with the deficit going up 60% under a Government who said that they were imposing austerity in order to bring public finances under control. They are still not under control.
We have a mounting deficit. We have crumbling infrastructure and services, where we are storing up problems for the future. Prosaically, if we drive around lots of towns in England—I do not know about Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, but I suspect the situation may be the same—we see crumbling roads because local authorities are cutting back on filling in potholes. That is a short-term saving but it leads to longer term costs. It is an example of what is happening throughout the economy. We have also had six years of stagnating and falling wages. However, the interactions between the Government’s economic measures that have led to the negatives—I have delineated only some of them—and the positive of employment being up by 2.5 million are unclear to many of us, and I think are unclear to economists.
The Minister referred in the earlier debate to a package of measures, and she quite properly referred to the interaction of different measures. These things make it difficult when one is considering economic policy. On the disaggregation of various measures, it is difficult to know whether one measure or package of measures or what cocktail of measures is effective or ineffective. The Minister said that the Government review tax breaks and tax reliefs all the time and that all policies are under review. That is good. What we are saying in some of these amendments and new clauses, and have been saying repeatedly in opposition, is: “Make that public”.
I also repeat to the Minister something I said yesterday. There is a question mark as to how much some of these measures and policies are kept under review. The question mark comes from the National Audit Office in a report of about two years ago which, in round terms, said that there are five different types of measures which could broadly be called tax relief, and it delineated them. It then said that it could count about 1,200 such tax reliefs and that it could only find evidence that about 300 of them were being monitored by the Government for efficacy.
The Minister may well believe and be told that these reviews are going on all the time—there are some reviews and she has referred to several of them today. However, I have to tell her from a somewhat, but not very, different angle that that is not what the NAO found two years ago. I urge her to go back to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the Treasury and find out what is going on with this.
Sadly, in the Labour leadership campaign we have seen from various commentators the emergence of the post-factual world. I am in favour of evidence-based policy making. That does not mean we reach a cosy consensus, which is sometimes what those who are post-factual think is what we inevitably end up with. I will give the House a simple example. If a suburban road has a 30 mph speed limit and a survey finds that 60% of cars are going above 40 mph, the policy that one could make as a result of that could vary between putting in speed humps, putting in chicanes, using radar guns or even raising the speed limit to 40 mph. Those are the policy implications that we as politicians from our differing perspectives might draw from such a common set of facts. Trying as much as one can—it is not always possible—to have a common set of facts is important for evidence-based policy making, and I do not think that the Government, as legislators, have enough information. Therefore, we cannot be sure that the measures we pass in this House have any likelihood of doing what they are intended to do.
Earlier today I gave the example of tax relief on pension contributions; perhaps the worst example is £30 billion a year spent trying to do something when there is no evidence that it does what we want it to do. It might be that from that fact—I take it as a fact because the House of Commons Library cannot find any real evidence that behaviour is changed by that massive tax relief—one could draw different conclusions. One could say one must try harder to advertise it, and we should be doing it anyway because it is a good thing. At the other end of the spectrum, one could say it should be abolished entirely, and in the middle one could say, “Well, we should tinker round the edges and get tax relief at the higher rate—the 40% rate—down.” But we should try to start with a common basis, even though we will not always be able to do so, and many of the new clauses and amendments are seeking to flush out that information. That is a step towards the situation I wish to see—it is adverted to in amendment 180, which refers to the Office of Tax Simplification—in which we as a society and as a legislature look seriously at tax simplification.
Mark Field referred to this earlier today. He also referred to it yesterday in the context of corporation tax, and asked whether we ought to consider substituting that tax with a turnover tax, given all the avoidance that goes on. Depending on how it were done, that could be simpler. I agree with him that we ought to have that debate. My hon. Friend Seema Malhotra also made an excellent speech earlier today on evidence-based policy and getting the relevant information.
This ties in to the question of simplification because we need the evidence in order to achieve that. For example, many of the small business tax reliefs generally sound very good, and they might indeed be good; I do not know, because we do not have the evidence. I have been in small and medium-sized businesses, and in my experience, those who make the decisions are often unaware of that part of the tax regime until they come to speak to their accountant at the end of the year. So the tax relief has not in fact altered the behaviour of that business during that first year, although it might do so in years two and three. My experience of being in and interacting with small businesses, although not huge, tells me that they are often too busy trying to run their business to say, “There is a tax relief for this and a way of doing that, and we were going to do this in sales but now we are going to do that instead.” They are too busy pursuing the goals that they have set themselves to be bothered about that, so let us have some simplification.
Many Members, although not all, talk about tax simplification. When the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Osborne, was in opposition and my party was in government, I remember hearing him speak in Finance Bill Committees—six of which I served on—and repeatedly referring to the tax code. He was the first to use that Americanisation, as I remember. This was seven or eight years ago, and he said that according to Tolley’s tax guide, as it then was, the tax code ran to about 1,000 pages. At the latest count, it is about 1,500 pages. We have had no simplification; we have gone the other way.
One of the reasons for that is that Governments have understandably not had the guts to say, “If you have simplification, it will lead on occasion to things being rough and ready and you will lose the nuances.” As a lawyer, I can say that on occasions that is right. We see this most graphically in the area in which I practice, that of employment tribunals. When they were introduced as industrial tribunals decades ago, they were supposed to be the people’s access to justice. They were supposed to be simple, rough and ready, but what did we get? We got layers of complexity and precedents.
Additionally, we now see the awful situation of people being unable to afford to go to a tribunal since the Government brought in fees. The court fees introduced by the last Government for a full employment tribunal hearing can amount to £2,000. Also, the complexity now means that people need legal representation, but they cannot get legal aid and, generally—certainly in England and Wales; I do not know about Scotland—they cannot get a so-called no win, no fee agreement. So access to justice is reduced because of the complexity. It is very difficult for a lay person in England and Wales to access an employment tribunal without access to specialist legal advice, which generally costs money because of the legal aid regime.
One solution would be to make legal aid available for employment tribunals. Another would be to make the tribunals less complex, but that would lead to rough and ready justice. The same would apply to the tax measures in this country. I urge the Government to consider monitoring and getting evidence on the 1,200 or so tax reliefs and on the distributional analysis to which some of the new clauses refer. I also urge them to take the bull by the horns and have the guts—I salute them for having had the guts to take measures on tax avoidance—to go for a simplification that would help business, even if it occasionally resulted in a somewhat rough and ready system.
In the absence of the Government showing any willingness to take the bull by the horns on tax simplification, how can we get them to part with the information that they say they have on the continual review on tax reliefs? I have not been an MP for very long, but it strikes me that there is a failure in the system if we are not seeing the transparency that we need. If the Government are actually doing these reviews but not providing their working to the Committees or to Opposition MPs, that strikes me as a failure in the system. How can we get them to part with that information?
I quite agree with the hon. Lady. Sadly, I am unlikely ever to be a Minister, but I am hoping that the Minister will stand up this afternoon and say, “The hon. Member for Aberdeen North has made a jolly good point.” She has said that the Government keep all policies under review all the time, so let us have the transparency. I salute what the Government did for transparency yesterday in accepting amendment 145, tabled by my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint. I urge them to go that bit further today by publishing the evidence that they have and by marshalling more evidence and disclosing it. They must have the courage to seriously go for simplification, which would be better for business and employment in this country, even though there would be a cost to be borne by society in the form of less nuanced decision making and systems becoming more monochromatic and rough and ready. Some of that would of course rebound on Members of the House, because we would get constituents writing to us saying, “I have a particularly nuanced situation here, and you guys have made all these laws that are a bit monochromatic and do not help me.” We have to have the guts to say that that is a price worth paying, and as legislators we should be prepared to do so.
I had hoped to clear up my point in an earlier intervention on the Minister, but I fear that I was not happy with her answer so I shall try again and extend my case a little on the important matter of VAT on energy-saving materials. That is the principal issue at stake in new clause 15. As I was trying to explain to the Minister, many of us feel that it would be quite wrong to increase VAT on energy-saving materials, given that the House decided to choose the lowest rate that we are allowed to impose under European Union law. A case was then lost in the European Court, and the Government have wisely been undertaking a very long consultation into how they might implement this ill-conceived and unwanted judgment. The longer they consider it, the better, and the sooner we get out of the European Union, the sooner we can bring the whole charade to a happy end.
To many of us, this illustrates exactly what was wrong with our membership of the European Union, and this is something that we can offer to our constituents as we come out. They voted to leave and to take back control of their laws. That includes their laws over taxes. During the campaign, we on the leave side made a great deal of how we wanted to scrap VAT on energy-saving materials. Like many people in this House, we believe that we could do much more to save and conserve energy and to raise fuel efficiency, and if we did not tax those materials, perhaps they would be a bit cheaper for people. That would send a clear message that this was something that we believed in.
I urge the Minister to go as far as she can in saying that this Government have absolutely no wish to put up VAT on energy-saving materials, and that they would not do so if they were completely free to make their own tax decisions. I would love her to go a bit further—this might be asking quite a lot—and say that once we are free of the European Union requirements, we will be scrapping VAT on energy-saving materials altogether. It is not a huge money-spinner for the Government, and its abolition would send a very good message. It would particularly help people struggling in fuel poverty, who find energy-saving materials expensive. The extra VAT on them is far from helpful.
The Minister suggested to me that the Brexit Secretary was dealing with this matter, but I can assure her that he is not. He made a clear statement on these matters in the House yesterday and wisely told us—I repeat this for the benefit of those who did not hear him—that it is his role to advise and work with the Prime Minister to get our powers back. His job is to ensure that this House and all of us can once again settle the United Kingdom’s taxes without having to accept the European Union’s judgments and overrides. However, it will be for Treasury Ministers and the wider Cabinet to recommend how we use those wider and new powers and to bring to the House their proposals once they are free to do so.
I hope that we trigger article 50 as soon as possible. This is another reason why we should not rush to impose higher, crippling taxes on energy saving, because it is something we want to encourage. It is another incentive for us to get on with actually leaving the Union. A bigger cash incentive that is relevant to Budget matters in this Finance Bill is that we would soon be able to get back the £10 billion a year. Remember that every month we delay getting out of the European Union we have to raise another £850 million through a Finance Bill such as this to send away and not get back. I urge the Minister to take the matter seriously and to say that this Government have absolutely no intention of increasing VAT on energy-saving materials unless they are legally forced to do so. Will she confirm my view that the sooner we are out, the sooner we can have a rational policy on this most important matter?
I rise to address amendments 180 to 182 and new clause 19, tabled in my name and those of my hon. and right hon. Friends. As a relatively new Member, I want to place on the record my enormous thanks to the staff of the Public Bill Office, who over the course of the summer assisted in the production of not only these amendments, but more than 30 amendments to the Higher Education and Research Bill. I have been busy, but I have been keeping them busy. As a new Member, I have perhaps been slightly more demanding, so I am grateful for their time and support.
As the Minister acknowledged in her opening remarks, amendments 180 to 182 arose from concerns reflected right across the Treasury Committee about the nature of appointments to the most senior offices and the dismissal of post holders. The Office of Tax Simplification has an important public duty. Many of us want the tax code to be simplified, but we know that constraints are inevitable because the tax system is as complicated as life and will therefore always have a degree of complexity. However, we also know—particularly those of us with a large number of small and medium-sized businesses in our constituencies—that the more complicated the tax code, the more complicated it is for businesses to understand what it is they should and should not be paying. Companies with the means to get a great deal of expensive advice on how to make enormous savings are at a great advantage.
During the course of yesterday’s Finance Bill debate, my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint spoke about the widespread practice of aggressive tax avoidance by multinational corporations. If the tax code were simpler and clearer, that sort of aggressive avoidance would be harder. That is why there is such parliamentary interest in the work of the OTS and a determination to ensure that Government appointments to the most senior posts have an appropriate degree of parliamentary oversight—primarily, but not exclusively, through the Treasury Committee.
I welcome the Minister’s constructive approach and the agreement she made with the Chair of the Treasury Committee, Mr Tyrie, who does a sterling job of batting for all members of the Committee and on behalf of both sides of the House. This is a good example of how the Government and the Select Committee system can work together effectively to reach the right outcome. I do not intend to press amendments 180 to 182 to a vote this afternoon, because we have received sufficient assurances from the Minister and I look forward to that process continuing under successive Governments.
Turning to new clause 19, even newer Members of the House are familiar with the regular display and theatre of the Budget. In this modern age, there is an inevitable degree of briefing, counter-briefing and misleading in the run-up to the event in order to misdirect the Opposition and to enable the Government to be fleet of foot on the day and to save the best headlines for the Budget. On the day itself, we have the routine announcements about the business that needs to be conducted in any Budget and then, of course, we get the inevitable rabbit out of the hat. Once the smoke has cleared and the mirrors have been packed away, the real analysis begins of the consequences of each Budget item for the people whom we are sent here to represent. Even members of Select Committees or Bill Committees, who follow the scrutiny of Bills closely, know that trying to penetrate the real impact of a Finance Bill or any fiscal event is a significant challenge.
I must say that that challenge has been made more difficult by the decision of the previous Chancellor, Mr Osborne, to move away from his commendable practice of publishing alongside the Budget the distributional analysis of the impact of tax, welfare and public spending changes. The first question that all hon. Members face when presented with a Budget is about the impact on our constituents. Those of us who are committed to social justice are more interested in the impact on the poorer household than the wealthier household. In fact, the right hon. Member for Tatton described the analysis as the
“most comprehensive and robust assessment available”.
That is why it was so disappointing that he decided to abandon that practice following the general election. The move was condemned at the time by a wide range of anti-poverty charities as a serious mistake. We could spend a lot of time debating why the previous Chancellor chose to abandon that practice at that particular moment, and we could have our usual exchanges about the priorities of Conservative Governments and Labour Governments, but with the appointment of a new Prime Minister and a new Chancellor I hope that we can instead debate the merits of the principle which we believe any Government, whatever their priorities and political shade, should follow.
The Chair of the Treasury Committee wrote to the Chancellor to express concern that at last year’s summer Budget the Treasury
“replaced its previously excellent budget distributional analysis series with a manifestly deficient substitute.”
“not for a privileged few, but for every one of us.”
I would dearly love to have a debate with the Government about the means by which we achieve social justice and about whether it is a good thing in and of itself, but I certainly agree with the Chairman of the Treasury Committee that a
“high level of transparency about the effects of tax and welfare policy on households across the income distribution would seem to be a logical, perhaps essential starting point.”
That is what motivated the tabling of new clause 19.
It is important that all Governments are clear and transparent about a Budget’s effects to enable proper parliamentary and public scrutiny of decisions—as happens in the Chamber, in Select Committees and in conversations around kitchen tables up and down the country. Knowing that the analysis is being produced and seeing it form as the Budget is prepared helps to concentrate the minds of Ministers and civil servants. It asks the question and gives the Chancellor, before he or she stands at the Dispatch Box to announce their Budget, an opportunity to reflect on the Budget in its entirety.
Successive Governments and Chancellors have once or twice fallen foul of public opinion by realising that the Budget as a whole is not necessarily as great as they thought it was when each part was being considered. Having the analysis in place as the Budget is prepared will not only aid public and parliamentary scrutiny, but enable Ministers to make the right judgment about how Budgets should be balanced. The Opposition believe, particularly when difficult judgments are to be made about tax and welfare changes and public spending, that the books should never be balanced on the backs of the poorest. I hope that we can find agreement in that area with the new Chancellor and Prime Minister, particularly given her stated aims, but whoever occupies the highest offices of this land, we can surely agree that parliamentary scrutiny is vital.
We should also agree that, as the Treasury has the evidence to hand and we are not asking it to do additional work—the analysis already exists—simply requesting that it be put in the public domain is not too much to ask. I welcome the fact that this afternoon the Minister has left the door open and says that this area will be considered by Ministers. On that basis, I accept that Ministers, the Chancellor and the Treasury will consider it. I assure the Minister and the Chancellor that we will return to this issue, through the Select Committee and at future fiscal events, if a change is not made. On the basis that the Government have an open mind and open ears on this issue, I am prepared not to press new clause 19 to a vote.
It is a pleasure to take part in this stage of our consideration of the Finance Bill. I was interested to hear the carefully constructed arguments of Wes Streeting. Let me pick up on the point he made about wanting to see social justice from this and future Budgets, and to see it at the heart of the Government’s agenda, as was made clear on the steps of No. 10 by the new Prime Minister. He also talked about the impact on the poorest households, which is the focus of new clauses 2 and 3 and the reviews that they propose. As ever, it was also interesting to hear from Rob Marris, and to listen to his thesis on post-factual analysis, be it on the Labour leadership contest or on this Bill. He mentioned roads, so perhaps he should come down to Enfield and give us a post-factual analysis of the cycle lanes that are planned in my borough to see whether we should continue with that expensive proposal, given the need for best value.
Let me return to the matters at hand. First, I wish to speak to new clause 2, which stands in my name and those of my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton (Fiona Bruce) and for Totnes (Dr Wollaston). Sadly, the latter cannot be here as she is leading her Health Committee on a visit, although she would want to be here to support this new clause. I hope and expect that across the House there is support for the principles of wanting to carry out a proper review of the impact of the duty regime, particularly in relation to high-strength cider, although I very much welcome the Minister’s comments. She will know all too clearly from her previous role in public health of the impact of alcohol and high-strength alcohol in particular, including cider, on the poorest and those most in need of our attention. I welcome the hint that a wider, more coherent view of the relationship between alcohol duties and harm could be taken, which was mooted by the previous Prime Minister but seemed to get kicked into the long grass—it has never returned. The Minister will be well aware of the permutations and the different interests across Government in relation to that review and its final outcome. The previous Prime Minister was talking about minimum alcohol pricing in terms of when not if, but this has now gone back to an if. I look forward in future Budgets and future consideration to a wider review and factual analysis of the relationships to harm and the impact on behaviour, particularly among the poorest.
New clause 2 hones in on an area that is about not just health harms, although that is the core of the argument, but an anomaly in our treatment of cider and of beer.
I was a “remainer”, so at the risk of sounding like John Redwood, may I ask the hon. Gentleman whether he agrees that this is one area where, as a small silver lining, leaving the European Union may assist, because the rates of excise duties, the definitions and so on are related to our membership of the EU? For example, I am thinking of the way in which wine is treated, because of the Italian, Spanish and French wine industries. If and when we leave the EU, we will have more flexibility in this regard.
I welcome reluctant converts to the cause of Brexit, whenever they come. That is a silver lining among many. I see this very much as sunshine, rather than silver linings. At the heart of it all, this is about our taking back control over a duty that has an impact on the most vulnerable, and we have already had arguments about VAT. I look forward to hearing the Scottish Members’ support for the same silver lining, because they have been battling to ensure that their proposal for minimum unit pricing in not subject to court and European Court interference. They, too, would perhaps welcome that silver lining; I look forward to their joining the hon. Gentleman in what he has just said.
As much as anything else, new clause 2 is about dealing with an anomaly to do with high-strength ciders. In the recess, hon. Members may have enjoyed ciders of all varieties. They may have popped their corks and had some sparkling cider, which is a substitute, perhaps a poor one, for champagne. They need have no fear about this, because the essence of my proposed review is very much about the nasty stuff. I doubt many hon. Members will have partaken in it, although they may have done. I am talking about people going down to their local office licence to get a large bottle or can of white cider, which is not particularly sparkling or pleasant. However, it attracts under-age drinkers and, in particular, dependent drinkers—
It has never seen an apple. The Minister intimated that the same is true of pears. We need to look at the fact that white cider attracts the lowest duty per unit of alcohol of any product while representing the cheapest way to consume alcohol and get drunk, and to enable addicts to continue their dependency. Three-litre bottles of high-strength ciders are available for just £3.50; people can get completely wasted on £3.50, but they would struggle to buy a bottle of some mainstream ciders for that. As a result, these products are causing disproportionate levels of harm, which is closely associated with dependent, street and under-age drinking. The Government are rightly emphasising and prioritising tackling street homelessness and putting funds into preventing homelessness. My hon. Friend Bob Blackman has introduced the very helpful Homelessness Reduction Bill. We hope that, with cross-party support, he will be navigating its safe passage through this House on
Let me make a wider point about future Budgets, as connected to that is the need to examine the impact of duty and the evidence that price has a particular impact on behaviour.
My hon. Friend pre-empts the point I wished to make, and is making a typically eloquent speech. For too long, under all Governments and under generally liberal regimes, whether we are talking about salt, sugar, alcohol or fixed-odds betting terminals, there has not been a holistic approach from the Treasury that looks at the indicative costs to society. I am talking in terms of health services, social services and so on. I do not think any Government have got that right over the years: there is a cost if we do not get the fiscal policy right in trying to change behaviour across all these areas.
That is a welcome intervention. I welcome the Minister to her place, as she has wide experience in this area. I understand that she was the longest-serving Conservative public health Minister. She can bring that experience to bear, not least because she has added responsibilities, given the make-up of the limited number of Ministers on the Treasury Bench, to cover those aspects of what some might call sin taxes and to create a better overall review. That can be linked up with what we look forward to receiving from the Government: the long-awaited life chances strategy. Be it on the social justice strategy, social reform strategy or life chances strategy, we must ensure that we focus on the poorest and most disadvantaged, who are particularly badly affected by high-strength ciders and other issues that have been mentioned.
High-strength ciders are usually about 7.5% alcohol by volume, they are sold in three-litre bottles and they contain 22.5 units of alcohol. That is over 50% more than the Government’s weekly limit guideline, just in a single container. The leading brands are Diamond White and White Ace. The price means that heavy drinkers of white cider can spend only a third as much on alcohol as low-risk drinkers would spend. These low-strength ciders and high-strength ciders range between 1.2% and 7.5% ABV, but we need to focus on the white ciders, because at the moment the tax is based on volume rather than strength. That has an impact on behaviours. Obviously, it has an impact on the behaviour of manufacturers. When they look at incentives and what they produce, they may say, “Let’s just go for volume. We won’t then be hit on strength.” There is not a similarity with the beer regime, which has that grading, and that has an impact, not least on what products come out. Unsurprisingly, on the high street there is much more of a market for lower-strength beer and different qualities of lower-strength beer. Meanwhile, there is a wide range of mainstream ciders, but no impact in duty terms on high-strength ciders.
In considering the impact of high-strength ciders, we should perhaps discuss Glasgow and Edinburgh where, I understand, 25% of alcohol treatment services patients drink white cider. Of those, 45% drink white cider exclusively, so this is a huge issue whether in Glasgow or Edinburgh, where there is a significant problem with high-dependency drinkers, or in London or elsewhere.
I am sure hon. Members will know of constituents who are particularly dependent on this harmful drink, which is the drink of choice for many a harmful drinker. Indeed, the chief executive of Thames Reach, Jeremy Swain, has said that 78% of deaths among his clients can be traced back to high-strength drinks such as white cider. That is a shocking statistic that needs to be out there. I implore the Minister, perhaps when she considers future Budgets, to look at what is happening, and why. Efforts have been made in relation to manufacturers and others—she will be aware of this from her previous role—to sort things out and become responsible, and it has to be said that retailers have done that: Heineken and Bulmers have withdrawn their white cider brands as they believe them to be socially irresponsible. That is to be welcomed and we should praise those companies.
Furthermore, retailers such as Costcutter, Morrisons, Nisa and Spar have acknowledged the problems associated with those products and reduced their stocking and promotion of white cider, but if hon. Members come to Green Lanes in my constituency, although they will not get near any of those established off-licences, they will see that high-strength ciders are readily available. They are, sadly, targeted at the heavy drinkers, who are more likely to have those white ciders. Also—this is based on evidence that needs wider debate and review—they are more responsive to the cheapest price for alcohol.
Those supporting such a review and such a measure are indeed those responsible retailers and manufacturers, as well as the health sector—those who see the impacts of liver disease and the changes brought about by lack of accessibility to and an increased price for such products. In addition, alcohol treatment charities, various parts of the drinks industry and dependent drinkers themselves have also made the point that they recognise the impact of having an increased price.
It is indeed time for the Government to provide additional reassurance that there will be a honed focus on the issue in future Budgets, as well as a wider review of the impact of high-strength alcohol, particularly with respect to cider duty and targeting on white cider sales. As the Minister said, we must always be proportionate in the way we handle duties and ensure that people are not unduly impacted when they either buy or go out for a cider, but these measures would not impact on most mainstream ciders of between 4% and 5% ABV.
On the issue of simplification, which was alluded to earlier, these measures would bring such products into line with the treatment of beer. Since 2011, there have been three tiers of beer duty, with low rates on low-strength beers and high rates on high-strength beers, so why do not the Government, to achieve simplicity, clarity and coherence, make similar provision in relation to ciders, particularly because of the impact of high-strength ciders on the poorest?
The Government have rightly put social justice at the heart of all they do, and that must include this area, where the spotlight of social justice must also shine in preventing harmful drinking. I look forward to the Minister perhaps adding a few words of support for a targeted increase in the price of high-strength cider, or at least agreeing to look at the issue again seriously in time for the next Budget so as to help the vulnerable and end the anomaly to which I have referred. That would recognise these proposals as part of a wider review of the important issue of alcohol duties and their relationship to harm.
Moving on, another issue has been of interest during previous debates on Finance Bills, and I wish to bring a strong focus to bear on it by speaking to new clause 3, which stands in my name and the names of 15 of my right hon. and hon. Friends. Indeed, others have indicated to me their support for a review of the marriage and civil partnerships transferable tax allowance. I want to comment particularly on low-income households, especially couples with young children. It would be very progressive if the Government were to focus on achieving more take-up—I welcome the Minister’s comments on that—and arriving at a more significant amount, which would disproportionately impact on lower-income households.
I welcome the introduction of the transferable allowance for married people and civil partners last April, so, unlike in previous debates, I will not, along with my hon. Friends, be imploring the Government to establish such an allowance in the tax system. We have that. That battle has been won and that promise has been kept. There is that recognition of marriage in the tax system, and it is evidence-based: the institution of marriage is valuable as it helps individuals to build social resilience, improves mental wellbeing and aids healthy relationships, particularly with children. I shall not dwell on that past battle because, as the Minister said at the Dispatch Box, she also, on behalf of the Government, is wholly committed to that transferable allowance. It is here to stay under this Government, which is wholly welcome and I very much appreciate it. If any other hands got on the tiller, I am sure that it could be under threat.
However, we must not sit back and be content. The bauble is there and we have recognised marriage, but we need to look, as we do across Government, at how that measure will impact on poorer households. Indeed, we need to consider incentives, including financial incentives, and disincentives around different couple relationships and penalties that still exist. I believe that we must prevent marriage, with its particular social benefits, which have been evidenced, from becoming the preserve of the more wealthy.
I am sure that Members from across the House will join me in not being content with the fractured society that is based around relationships breaking down. We must do all we can to support couples to stay together, particularly those with children, and consider the impact on children when couples do not stay together. Evidence states very clearly that the children of married couples, who have grown up with them, are better served by the fact that the couple stay together.
I recognise that there are different incentives and this is not all about the tax allowance. A range of support can be given to keep couples together, although that is perhaps the subject of another debate for another time. However, we can play our part through fiscal incentives. I recall a recent speech from the former Chief Rabbi Lord Sacks, who spoke about an issue that we often discuss. We pray in aid the fact that we are a party of one nation and that we want to build a country of one nation. Interestingly, Lord Sacks referred to the fact that there is a growing phenomenon of two nations, which he saw in terms of a failure to support marriage creating two nations with two very different sets of life chances. As the Government build on their strategy, we should not ignore this issue, and immediately the life chances strategy is published, I shall be doing research on the word “marriage” and how much we are supporting marriage.
It is important to heed the words of Lord Sacks. He said:
“In Britain today more than a million children will grow up with no contact whatsoever with their fathers. This is creating a divide within societies the like of which has not been seen since Disraeli spoke of ‘two nations’ a century and a half ago. Those who are privileged to grow up in stable loving association with the two people who brought them into being will, on average, be healthier physically and emotionally. They will do better at school and at work. They will have more successful relationships, be happier and live longer.”
We should not allow that to be the preserve of one part of the nation. We can play our part fiscally to ensure that we are not divided and that many gain the opportunities derived from couples being together.
I want to focus on how we can get more out of the money that the Government have earmarked for the allowance. There was a low take-up, as the Minister mentioned in her opening remarks, but following a good marketing campaign, take-up has increased and the millionth application for the allowance will shortly be made. I am sure that basic rate taxpayers watching this debate will want to apply for it if they have not already done so. I am pleased about that, but there has been a huge underspend in the Government’s original budget for the transferable allowance, which essentially allocated £495 million to support marriage in the tax system. This is a partial allowance from earlier iterations and there is less transferability, but it is still a significant sum.
There is, however, a gap. The funding that was initially allocated was not taken up. Even if, as the Minister announced today, the millionth couple are about to take up that allowance, that would account for about £210 million, if those couples all keep taking that payment. That is considerably less than half the amount originally allocated for the policy. Given that we are in challenging financial times, how can we get more out of this principled £500 million commitment from the Government? How can we ensure take-up by those who most need it? Can the Government increase the current level of just over £4 a week, and what should the level be?
“When it comes to taxes, we’ll prioritise not the wealthy, but you.”
We should focus on ordinary working-class families, not only on those who are not taking up the allowance, and on greater incentives for those who are. We need to reduce the financial inaccessibility of marriage for many. I encourage hon. Members to look at new clause 3. It is mindful of current financial constraints and aims to make better use of the money allocated, targeting it at married couples and civil partners who need that additional support.
A campaign that has been run for many years by CARE and the Centre for Social Justice focuses on married families with children under five. It is those families in particular that the allowance would help. Reports such as “The 1001 Critical Days” have focused on the crucial early days and years. The allowance would promote stability and support child development when it is most needed.
The allowance is a progressive form of tax. Immediately after the Budget, people often ask what the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinks of it. What does the IFS think of the transferable allowance and my new clause? Back in 2010, the IFS made the point that 75% of the benefit from increasing the personal allowance went to the top half of the income distribution band. Raising the personal allowance to £12,500 will place upward pressure on the 75% figure, resulting in an even greater proportion going to the top half of the income distribution band.
I welcome the personal allowance and the commitment to it. That is a wholly good measure, but other forms of allowance such as the transferable allowance should not be seen as a mere bauble. It should be seen in its proper context as progressive and as helping low-income households. The IFS has said that in contrast to the personal allowance, 70% of the benefit of the transferable allowance goes to those in the lower half of the income distribution bands. That is a socially just approach to dealing with allowances. The Government are encouraged to look at that carefully.
I asked the IFS whether it still agreed with the 2010 interpretation of the figures in its analysis. The analysis shows that the beauty of the transferable allowance is that whatever its transferability—whether the small transferability at present, the greater transferability that I encourage the Government to pursue, or indeed 100% transferability—it would help stay-at-home families who are impacted by the present tax burden, particularly the high marginal tax rate. The IFS says that it will continue to result in approximately 70% of the money secured for the transferable allowance going to those in the lower half of the income distribution band. That has to be borne in mind.
I encourage the Government not to look at the marriage tax allowance in isolation as simply a commitment that we have delivered. It needs to be seen in a wider context as part of an international tax comparison. CARE showed that the UK tax burden placed on a one-earner married couple with two children on an average wage is 25% greater than the average across the OECD. By looking at that broader context we can see that we need to support the transferable allowance. The previous Prime Minister thought it was a staging post and that we should increase it. I think we should increase it in terms of money and the percentage of transferability. If we cannot go that far immediately, let us focus on those who would particularly benefit and feel the impact—couples with young children.
On that point, and particularly on the point about whether parents choose to stay at home or to work, despite the measure that has been put in, I support anything that allows parents to have a choice, or more of a choice, over whether they stay at home to look after their children or put them in childcare. However, we still have a massive problem with families not being able to make those choices, because childcare is not affordable for them, particularly for those caring for under-fives. Parents are still forced into being stay-at-home parents or taking low-wage jobs at strange hours because of the lack of affordable childcare. Does the hon. Gentleman support measures to change the childcare regime as well as the tax regime relating to this issue?
The hon. Lady tempts me into a wider debate. If the Minister were to respond on this, she would certainly point to the measures on childcare. When one looks at supporting couples with young children, there are other things the Government have been very much involved in to improve the offer. There is work to do on access and affordability, not least, in my constituency, in relation to poor households accessing childcare.
I appreciate the fact that the hon. Lady talked about choice. There is also an issue about choice in that the Government are rightly encouraging as many people as possible to work and to exercise that choice, but it is sometimes an invidious choice for those who would want to stay at home, and the fiscal incentive to do that is not currently there.
There is a huge impact generally across the tax system on single-earner couples, which is not getting sufficient attention, and this proposal for the transferable allowance addresses that. There are lots of other measures across the tax and benefits system that seek to focus support on children, but we must particularly support the benefits of this allowance, which is around couples, marriage and the commitment to marriage and civil partnership.
In conclusion, following the cause of new clause 3 can be a win-win situation for the Government. It not only, obviously, recognises what we do already on marriage in the tax system, but it allows us to get the maximum effect from the Government’s original commitment, which I believe was welcome, but which was somewhat partial in terms of its original intentions. Recognising the financial challenges, I think new clause 3 would ensure that we can seek to remove some of the disincentives to marriage for those who wish to marry; it would help us to support social resilience and help with transferability; and it is also fiscally conservative. In short, new clause 3 is about getting more bang for our buck in supporting marriage and social justice.
There are several new clauses on which I intend to speak—most of them briefly—and the first is new clause 18.
New clause 18 calls for a review of the impact of section 24 of the Finance Act 2015. I and my SNP colleagues have concerns that the changes made in section 24 may have adverse consequences on the availability of affordable housing in Scotland and beyond. That piece of legislation seems to be yet another London-centric policy that fails to take account of the diversity of the housing market throughout the UK.
Unlike other parts of the UK, where large rental agencies dominate, Scotland has a disproportionate number of landlords who own a small number of properties. That is hugely beneficial to tenants—particularly those on low incomes—as those small-scale landlords are often more willing to rent properties at an affordable price and to those relying on social security as a safety net. Owing to the changes introduced in section 24, we are concerned that those small-scale landlords may be forced to drastically increase rental costs, causing houses to be less affordable, or to sell their properties, potentially resulting in their being purchased by less sympathetic landlords or agencies. Given the UK-wide housing crisis that we are suffering and the rising cost of rented accommodation, it is incredibly important to ensure that landlords who rent at affordable prices and to those who depend on social security as a safety net are not pushed out of the market. New clause 18 therefore calls for a review of the impact of these changes on the availability of affordable housing so that those on lower incomes are not adversely affected.
New clause 6 calls for a review of the VAT treatment of the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish fire and rescue service. I thank the Minister for her comments and consideration in her introductory remarks. Many in this Chamber may be familiar with the matter of VAT in relation to the Scottish police and fire rescue services, which my colleagues have raised in this House on a number of occasions. This remains an incredibly important matter that this Government have failed properly to address. Since the incorporation of police and fire authorities in 2013, the Scottish Police Authority and the Scottish fire and rescue services have been charged VAT by the UK Treasury. This UK Government have refused to grant an exemption to these vital services in Scotland, despite the fact that since the time of incorporation, HMRC has handed out exemptions to new transport agency Highways England, and Olympic legacy organisation the London Legacy Development Corporation.
This Tory-backed charge on essential Scottish public services is costing emergency services tens of millions every year that could and should be spent on frontline services. Only in June, it was reported that Scotland’s police force has paid £76.5 million in VAT since it was formed three years ago and remains unable to claim this money. It is worth noting that only the Scottish police and fire services have been expected to pay VAT to Her Majesty’s Review and Customs and not English, Welsh or Northern Irish services. This is a disgrace. It seems absurd and unfair for this Tory UK Government to continually expect the Scottish Government to rectify the matter and cover the difference, especially given the consistent cuts to the pocket money they grant Scotland to run devolved matters. New clause 6 therefore seeks a review of the impacts of the VAT treatment on the Scottish police and Scottish fire and rescue services, including analysis of the impact of the financial position of these services arising from their VAT treatment.
I turn briefly to new clause 15, which seeks to prevent VAT from being increased on the installation of energy-saving materials. I agree with the intent of John Redwood to prevent these VAT increases, if not his methods. This Tory Government have consistently instituted regressive policies in relation to clean energy and energy-efficiency measures, from cuts to the solar subsidies—
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that this would be a relatively cheap way of incentivising householders and energy-saving products in addressing some of the damage that the Government and the previous coalition Government did by, in effect, dismantling the green energy policy they claimed to support at the outset?
I thank the hon. Gentleman and agree wholeheartedly with his comments.
From cuts to solar subsidies, to the scrapping of onshore wind, to the scrapping of the green deal for energy for energy-efficient homes that the hon. Gentleman mentioned, to the selling of the UK Green Investment Bank—there are numerous other examples—this austerity-obsessed Government are taking the UK backwards with regard to renewable energy. I fear that with Brexit looming on the horizon, this trajectory is set to continue. Given this environment of cuts, it seems logical for the installation of energy-saving materials to be exempt from a hike in VAT, as a bare minimum.
I will now speak to new clause 8 on dividend income. In Committee, my hon. Friend Roger Mullin tabled an amendment regarding the proposed changes to the treatment of dividend income by HMRC. My colleagues and I feel that this issue has not yet been sufficiently addressed by the Government. We did not press the new clause to a vote at that time so that we could address the matter at a later date, and we do so now. I do not wish to rehash previous points made, but this is a matter of great importance and, as such, we have tabled the new clause. Numerous stakeholder groups raised concerns with the Committee regarding the regressive impact of the changes to dividend income proposed in this Bill, particularly the effect on small and microbusinesses, which employ between one and nine people. Those raising concerns have highlighted that the changes will have a disproportionate effect on microbusinesses run by owner-operators on modest incomes, given that there are already numerous disincentives to running microbusinesses—as opposed to traditional salaried employment—including, but not limited to, a lower level of job security and a lack of employer pension contributions.
I must admit that I have sympathy with all who have reservations about any position taken in this Bill, given that, as my hon. Friend has said, it seeks to implement measures devised prior to the EU vote and therefore fails to provide for an economy that faces the harsh reality of Brexit. I am sure that we all look forward to the autumn or winter statement—whenever it will be—and the redress it will contain, imaginary or otherwise. We will then see, I presume, whether the new Chancellor is as good with imaginary numbers as the previous one was not.
The Federation of Small Businesses has raised serious concerns. It has highlighted that the changes are particularly acute for members of organisations who are on modest incomes. It has further submitted extensive evidence regarding member feedback on the proposed changes. A number of responses have highlighted concerns from the owners of small and microbusinesses that the changes may mean that they will not be able to continue to employ their small workforces.
In addition, evidence was submitted to the Committee by Jason Kitcat of Crunch Accounting, who has produced excellent work on the matter. I acknowledge that Mr Kitcat has been referenced several times in discussions about the proposed changes, but his analysis is significant and, as such, ought to be raised again. Crunch Accounting has highlighted how the changes as proposed hit lower-earning microbusinesses the hardest. The Government have stated that the changes in dividend income will be offset by planned future changes both to the way in which Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs treats corporations and to personal allowances. However, Crunch has highlighted how those anticipated changes will not fully offset the impact of changes to HMRC’s treatment of dividend income for microbusinesses, as proposed by the Bill. In addition, Crunch has highlighted how measures cited by Ministers, such as changes to employment allowances and the annual investment allowance, are rarely available to microbusinesses, as they have little capital investment requirements.
I stress that the importance of small and medium-sized enterprises to the Scottish and UK economy cannot be overstated. There are few things on which I agree with the Prime Minister, but I do agree with her statement last month that
“small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of our country.”
I further welcome her indication in the same speech that she intends to listen to smaller firms. However, I am concerned that, despite that profession from the Prime Minister, the regressive changes to dividend income will not only disincentivise new SMEs from forming, but have the potential to cause existing microbusinesses to fail.
It is essential to note the number of SMEs that are categorised as microbusinesses. The UK is home to 5.2 million microbusinesses, which employ 8.4 million people. In Scotland, microbusinesses play an essential role in the economy. According to recent Scottish Government statistics, 99% of businesses in Scotland are categorised as SMEs, the vast majority of which are microbusinesses. Overall, microbusinesses comprise 81.5% of the businesses in Scotland. The figures are similar for the UK as a whole. According to House of Commons Library research in late 2015, 99% of businesses UK-wide are categorised as SMEs, 95% of which are microbusinesses.
Microbusinesses are essential and central to the functioning of both local and national economies. Given that microbusinesses make up the vast majority of businesses in Scotland and UK-wide, I find it absolutely staggering that HMRC does not make an assessment of microbusinesses as a separate group. Given the prevalence of microbusinesses throughout the economy, it does not seem on this matter as though the Government have listened to the concerns of smaller firms, despite last month’s proclamations from the Prime Minister.
When my hon. Friend Roger Mullin introduced the original SNP amendment regarding the proposed changes to the way in which HMRC treats dividend income, the response he received to his concerns about microbusinesses was that
“the Government have considered the general economic impact of the changes…the measure is not expected to have any significant macroeconomic impacts.”––[Official Report, Finance Bill Public Bill Committee,
This statement taken alone is staggering, given that, as I have stated, 94% of businesses in the UK are categorised as microbusinesses. I fail to see how introducing a change that principally impacts microbusinesses would not be expected to have any significant macroeconomic impact.
The Minister stated in her introductory remarks that we do not yet know the impact of such legislation. I would like to highlight oral evidence given to a Committee of the other place on
“I can assure the Committee that we recognise that the dividend tax changes will mean that a lot of people in owner-managed businesses are now paying a higher level of tax than previously, despite the benefit that they will see in the reduction of the corporate tax rate.”
Those two statements seem to me to be at variance with each other. Do the Government believe, as indicated by the Chief Secretary to the Treasury that the proposed changes to dividend income will not significantly impact on microbusinesses? Or do they believe, as indicated by Ms MacDonald of HMRC, that the changes will impact on owner-managed businesses, despite the planned future change to the corporate rate?
Given the uncertainty surrounding the inconsistent responses from Government, coupled with substantial evidence from the Federation of Small Businesses, Crunch Accounting and others, it seems as though the Government have not fully and comprehensively considered the impact of the proposed changes on small and microbusinesses—the backbone of our economy, as I am sure we all agree.
New clause 8 would require the Government to conduct a review of the impact of the changes on microbusinesses, including the impact on the failure rate of microbusinesses and the options for minimising the impact of the changes on directors who are on low incomes. I therefore advise hon. Members that we will press new clause 8 to a Division.
I rise to support new clauses 2 and 3, the social justice arguments for which, in support of some of the most vulnerable individuals and families in our society, have been so eloquently and comprehensively set out by my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes that, although I had prepared speeches on both new clauses, there is no need for me to take up the House’s time to echo what he has already said. I therefore simply put on record my full support for what he said, and I ask to be identified with his remarks.
I rise to support amendment 141, which is in my name and those of my hon. and right hon. Friends. I am extremely grateful to Mr Speaker for selecting my amendment, and I would also like to place on the record my thanks to the Public Bill Office, whose advice and help on the matter have been greatly appreciated by me and my office.
I hope that the amendment will find agreement on both sides of the House, and I hope that the Government will not oppose it. The amendment would establish a very small tax exemption for residual cash balances that remain in an employee share incentive plan when an employee leaves such a plan. A residual cash balance is a sum of money, insufficient on its own to buy a single share that month, which would usually be carried over to the next month but which has to be refunded if an employee leaves the scheme. I propose that that balance, capped at a maximum of £10, would instead be donated to charity. That would have the added advantage of reducing costly and burdensome processing by company payroll departments.
Share incentive plans are a good and tax-efficient way to save for the future, and many employees take them up. Employee share ownership is something that I believe we should encourage. When an employee leaves a share investment plan, there is commonly a cash residual amount remaining in the account; often, it is just a few pence or a few pounds. When the employee chooses to leave the plan—that is mandatory if the participant leaves the company’s employment—the cash residual can no longer be carried forward. Under the current system, any remaining cash held in the plan when the employee leaves the plan is required to be processed, via the employer’s payroll, to apply national insurance contributions and income tax via PAYE and to pay the net balance to the employee. This process typically costs between £2 and £9, but provides little benefit to the individual receiving such a small amount.
Furthermore, the benefit to the Exchequer is far less than the total cost to companies of administering these payments, with companies paying almost twice as much to process the payments as the Treasury actually receives. To put that into numbers for the ease of Members in the Chamber, it is estimated that the administration costs for companies are between £400,000 and £500,000, while the benefit to the Treasury is just £200,000. If amendment 141 was accepted, charities and good causes would benefit by about £360,000, on top of the savings that companies would make.
There is a precedent for such a change. There are already examples of situations in which HMRC has agreed to individual exemptions to share incentive plan providers, which are currently based on specific requests assessed case by case. There is an appetite for this change among both with share investment plan providers and HMRC. Amendment 141 would be only a very small change to this Bill compared with what it covers, but it is one that could bring benefits both to companies and to charities and good causes, while at the same time supporting share investment plans by removing a costly and bureaucratic part of the system. The amendment would also help to simplify the tax system and encourage more charitable giving, both of which are stated priorities for this Government and would be priorities for any Government.
I was very pleased and heartened yesterday when the Government accepted amendment 145 in the name of my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint. I sincerely hope that the Minister will accept this amendment and that we can achieve the same result today. If she does not say she will accept it, I will seek to divide the House, but I can genuinely see no reason why the Government would not want the amendment to be agreed to.
It is a great pleasure to follow Jonathan Reynolds. I rise to support new clause 3, to which I have added my name. I, too, agree with everything said by my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes. I cannot promise to be quite as brief as my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce, because I wish to add one or two remarks of my own.
The fundamental problem is that family breakdown costs a staggering £47 billion per annum, according to the latest figures. Quite apart from the consequential social dislocation and pain that it causes, it is also undermining the British economy. Of huge importance is the fact that most breakdowns do not arise from divorce, but from the ending of relationships in which the couples concerned have not made to each other the public, exclusive and legal commitment that is marriage. Where they do make such a commitment, their relationships —not surprisingly—are far more likely to be stable.
In this context, there remains a massive public policy imperative to ask whether we are doing anything to make marriage less accessible than in other similarly developed countries. We are unusual in this country in having failed until recently to recognise marriage in our income tax system. The solution initially proposed was for a full transferable allowance, but in the event a transferable allowance of only 10% was enacted. A statistic that has already been mentioned but bears repeating is that the tax burden on one-earner married couples with two children on the average wage is 25% greater than the OECD average. The allowance is not making marriage more accessible in a meaningful way. In this context, it is no surprise that the take-up of the allowance has been so low, although the Minister welcomed the fact that the figure is moving in the right direction.
In going forward, two things could be done. First, if it is not possible in the short term to have a full transferable allowance, we should at least ensure that some married families on the basic rate receive a meaningful transferable allowance. Given that the research is so clear that child development is greatly enhanced by the presence of both mother and father in the family home and given the fact that the public policy benefits of marriage are so well developed, a full transferable allowance for married couples with children under five might be a good place to start.
Secondly, perhaps in the slightly longer term we could work towards the full transferable allowance for married couples generally. Of course that would not be cheap, but it would be considerably cheaper than the current cost of £47 billion. It would promote choice by removing obstacles to marriage. As has been pointed out, it is very much about promoting the life chances agenda. I look forward to the Minister saying one or two more words about this matter in her closing remarks.
I have a couple of questions about Government new clause 9, which relates specifically to Northern Ireland and the tax treatment of supplementary welfare payments that might be made there, but before I come on to that I want to acknowledge some of the other amendments before us.
The hon. Members for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) and for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) spoke persuasively about amendment 141. The question that arises is: why would the Government and Parliament not do what is proposed in that amendment?
Similarly, on new clause 19, which was tabled by Wes Streeting, it is hugely important that this Parliament is in the business of making sure that there is transparency in our debates. Yesterday, the emphasis was on making sure that there was transparency in the tax affairs of companies. We as a Parliament should insist that we show full transparency in our intent on tax policy and taxation measures.
New clause 19 would take us back to having transparency on the anticipated impact of taxation on families and households of different incomes. There would also be an analysis later in the year of what the impact of particular tax policies and the cumulative impact of various tax policies had been. Surely that is what we should all be in the business of doing when we go through the complicated and confusing exercise of having the various stages of Budget debates here. One thing we all value is knowing what the impact of what we are talking about will be.
I was in this House when a Labour Government adopted a misguided Budget measure in respect of the 10p tax band. A number of Labour Members raised the alarm and said that there would be an adverse impact on people of low income. The Government briefed heavily that that was nonsense and people were marched through the Lobbies. Similarly, we had the recent experience of the proposed changes to working tax credit. People were celebrating the changes and thought they were wonderful, having believed the Chancellor’s spin. Thankfully, not only Opposition Members but Conservative Members raised real and practical concerns about what the impact would be.
Why would it be wrong to follow new clause 19 and ensure that in all our Budget deliberations in future there is an effort to have a properly appraised impact assessment for taxation measures? That would allow us to answer not the question that is usually asked immediately after a Budget, which is what credit particular MPs or Ministers should get for what measures—that is not really what a Budget is about—but that of who gets the benefit in terms of fairness, social equity and the efficiency of economic impact that that induces. For those reasons, I fully support new clause 19.
Similarly, many hon. Members have made the case for new clause 15. Many of them have made the straightforward point that it would be almost perverse for the Government to refuse a new clause that would preclude an increase in VAT on the installation of energy-saving materials. I know the Government will say that it is otiose because they have no intention of increasing it, but over the past few years, we have experienced the Government adopting a series of perverse measures that have confounded the underlying policy commitments in respect of the green economy, renewables and energy efficiency. Given that the Government have introduced so many measures that have had a perverse effect on that sector and an adverse impact on households, it makes sense to have the belt and braces of new clause 15. I cannot see what is wrong with that.
I also note in passing—and at the risk of another voice-activated intervention—that when John Redwood sought to contradict the Financial Secretary’s earlier comments, he cited what he thought was a point of clarity in the Brexit Secretary’s performance yesterday. He is the first Member to have offered me any point of clarity from that performance, which I thought demonstrated the new Secretary of State’s wish to be the first Minister to fulfil the new Government policy on environmental sensitivity, given that he treated us to more than two hours of cosmetics without a single microbead of substance.
The lead measure in this group, new clause 9, refers specifically to Northern Ireland. It deals with the ability there will be for the Northern Ireland Assembly to make additional supplementary payments as mitigation measures to offset some of the impact of the welfare reform measures now being imposed by direct rule from this House, courtesy of the so-called fresh start agreement. My party expressed our misgivings about and opposition to that overall arrangement, with regard to direct rule powers and the imposition of the effects of welfare reform legislation on Northern Ireland. However, we have long canvassed for mitigation and supplementary payments, and established that case with the Department for Work and Pensions early in 2012.
The one concern people will have about new clause 9 is with the language used. Although in the new clause the Government clearly provide for the Treasury to ensure that
“no liability to income tax arises on supplementary welfare payments of a specified description” they also allow the Treasury to make regulations to
“impose a charge to income tax under Part 10 of ITEPA 2003 on payments of a specified description”.
The power is there to make sure that the Treasury does not activate a tax liability on supplementary payments that have been discussed and voted through by the Assembly but there also seems to be a power to subject some of those payments to tax.
I wonder why the Treasury feels the need to have that reserve power to impose a tax liability on such payments. We should remember that those payments will be made out of the Executive’s own resources in the devolved budget, because they come out of the departmental expenditure limit for the Assembly. The payments will not come under annually managed expenditure.
Why is that power there? Many people will be concerned that the Treasury will attempt to insinuate itself into any debate among Executive or Assembly parties about what measures they should adopt in mitigation of welfare reform by saying that it may subject some of those measures to a tax clawback. That is clear from subsection (3) of the new clause, and also from looking at subsection (4), which will permit the Treasury’s regulations to
“make…different provision for different cases…incidental or supplementary provision” or “consequential provision”. That differential raises the question of why we want to reserve the power to impose tax on measures that the Executive or Assembly seek to bring forward and why the Treasury should be able do so differently on a case-by-case basis, as that will give rise to arguments about inequity and capricious performance. The suspicion is that the Treasury sought to answer the stand-off on welfare reform in the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Assembly would not discharge the karaoke legislation it was being asked to pass in relation to welfare reform. The Treasury intervened by saying, “If you don’t pass it, we will effectively tax your devolved budget to the tune of what we estimate you would be overspending on welfare.” The Treasury insinuated itself into what should have been a debate for the devolved Assembly.
The danger is that now, even in the area of the mitigating powers—the supplementary payments the Assembly will be able to offer, as provided for in the Fresh Start agreement—the Treasury could, in the language of the new clause, insinuate itself in the choices and consideration undertaken by the Executive and Assembly. The Treasury’s past form shows that it has not resisted the temptation to insinuate itself. I therefore want assurance from the Financial Secretary that this language will not be there to give the Treasury the right to interfere in the choices that may be made by Ministers and Committees in the Assembly in respect of the supplementary payments they would be allowed to bring forward.
I commend all hon. Members who have made very valuable contributions, in particular Mr Burrowes. He is no longer in his place, but I would like to speak to his presentation on new clause 3. He set out clearly where we stand.
I want to put on record again the consistent support of the Democratic Unionist party for the provision of the transferable allowance for married couples. I remember Fiona Bruce and I taking some verbal attacks in this Chamber—mostly from the Opposition Benches, I have to say—for our stance on this issue, but we persevered and the Government persevered. I thank the Government for bringing in the provision in their previous term. I had hoped there would have been some indication that the Government could support new clause 3. I understand, after talking to the hon. Member for Enfield, Southgate, that he will not press it to a Division. If that is the case, we have to abide by that.
The sadness for me is that the Government have, until today, chosen to invest the lion’s share of their resources in their other income tax policy of raising the personal allowance. It is undoubtedly true that that policy helps poorer families, but it is very badly targeted. If I may say so in a respectful way, it seems to be targeted at those who can well afford it, as against those who cannot. I have to put on record that I have some concerns about that. The Institute for Fiscal Studies has demonstrated that 75% of the benefit—and now, as the allowance is being raised from £10,000 to £12,500, even more than 75% of the benefit—goes to those in the top half of the income distribution. That is what the available statistics and charts indicate and I have to say they are very stark. They indicate an imbalance in the system that, as the hon. Gentleman clearly stated, is a concern.
There is another imbalance in the system. I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman is aware that the married couple’s allowance, which provides support to married couples where at least one spouse was born before April 1935, is worth £8,355 a year. Should we not also be looking at providing for those families with young children who are in the lowest socioeconomic bracket and supporting them similarly?
I could not agree more and I would like to make a comment on that later. New clause 3 clearly outlines the importance of that, but unfortunately we do not have the opportunity to support it today. I am sure the Minister, who knows I respect her greatly, will be able to respond to some of our concerns.
The IFS has demonstrated that, in contrast to the personal allowance, the transferable allowance results in 70% of the benefit going to those in the bottom half of the income distribution. The problem is that so far this has received only symbolic recognition. That has had two effects. First, the fundamental marriage accessibility challenge has not really been addressed, which is a massive issue given the impact on life chances of being brought up in a married home as compared with a non-married home. Secondly, the very limited symbolic recognition has translated into low take-up. Given the distributional impact of the two tax policies and the impact of the transferable allowance on life chances, I have to say that if the Government are to have one symbolic policy and one substantive policy, they have got it the wrong way around. I say that with great respect. It would have been wiser to focus investment on the transferable allowance rather than redistribute billions to those in the top half of the income scale by raising personal allowances. I believe that we urgently need to change that. If the allowance cannot be made generally available to basic rate married couples, it should be focused, as the hon. Member for Congleton said, on families with children under five.
The review proposed in new clause 3 would deal first with the
“level of take-up of the allowance”.
I understand that the Minister has indicated some willingness to set targets for the level of take-up. I ask her to do that, if possible, because it would enable those who have not taken advantage of the married tax allowance to do so. The hon. Member for Congleton referred to the review addressing
“the impact of the allowance on individuals with children aged five years or under” .
We—and when I say “we”, I mean this Government and this House—should focus on families with children aged five or under, because it is in that group that child poverty is growing right across the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. I am greatly concerned about, because child poverty levels in my region of Northern Ireland are the highest—a fact that cannot be ignored. We must do something to address this issue.
Is the hon. Gentleman aware that the highest levels of marriage breakdown occur when children are aged between nought and three? We are looking to support marriage at just that moment of greatest strain.
As always, the hon. Lady is wise in her interventions. I thank her for what she said, which underlines other important issues. If we can help at that critical time when the pressure is on, I believe that this House should do so. I hope that the Minister will do so, too, in her response.
The impact of the allowance on low-income households also needs to be addressed, as new clause 3 proposes. I hope we can do that at the right time. The new clause refers finally to
“ways in which the allowance could be changed to target low-income families with young children.”
Those points clearly illustrate for me what is necessary in this Bill, although the provisions may not be as hard and fast as I would like them to be.
Let me conclude; I am conscious of the time. In the longer term, there is a pressing need to adopt a more balanced approach to the resourcing of raising the personal allowance and increasing the transferable allowance. I fully support the transferable allowance and I would have hoped that the Government could commit themselves to it. Speaking as someone committed to progressive tax policy which targets those in the lower half of the income distribution scales rather than those in the top half, if the proposal means less money going to the personal allowance, in my judgment and, I believe, in the judgment of many in this House, that would be no bad thing.
I wish to speak to new clauses 15 and 19, and amendments 141 and 180 to 182, which were tabled in my name and those of my hon. Friends. I shall also touch on a few of the other amendments and new clauses in the group, which has turned into a bit of a rag-bag of issues.
New clause 15 relates to VAT on energy-saving materials. The new clause would prohibit the making of any order that would have the effect of raising the rate of VAT on the installation of energy-saving materials or any individual category thereof. In short, it would prevent the Government from implementing their planned hike in VAT through secondary legislation.
For hon. Members who might have forgotten the background, let me briefly recap how our ability to debate this amendment today came about. Amid the fallout from the so-called “ultra-shambles” Budget, the Government were forced to become the first in history, so far as I am aware, to accept an Opposition amendment to their Budget. It was designed to block the Government’s planned 300% increase in VAT on solar panels and energy-saving materials—essentially a green energy tax hike. The solar tax alone would add £1,000 to the cost of a household solar energy installation, punishing those who are trying to do the right thing and do their bit to halt climate change. It would also put at risk thousands of jobs in an industry that is already expected to experience up to 18,700 job losses, as was conceded by the former Energy Secretary, and this tax raid would have caused even more damage. For those reasons, we tabled an amendment to the Budget to enable the Chancellor to use the Finance Bill to maintain the current rate of VAT on green energy and home insulation.
The Government initially claimed that a European Court ruling prevented them from stopping the tax hike, although it was apparent that they had failed to negotiate at European level to protect the renewables industry. None the less, the industry made very clear that there was room, even within the ruling, to avoid the drastic measures that they were planning to impose. When that led to a significant number of Conservative Members adding their weight to calls from Opposition Members, it appeared that the Government would be defeated on the issue. Ministers initially backed down, claiming that what we were proposing had been their position all along, only to avoid making such a commitment when pressed during Treasury questions and, just a few weeks later, during questions to the Secretary of State for the now abolished Department of Energy and Climate Change.
That is not surprising, given the Government’s abysmal failure to provide any kind of certainty for the renewable energy sector in the United Kingdom. Over the past six years, they have consistently undermined support by, for instance, cutting the feed-in tariff by 64%, scrapping tax relief for clean energy projects, and removing subsidies for new onshore wind farms. The £1 billion for investment in carbon capture and storage has also been scrapped. At the same time, safeguards to reduce the environmental risks posed by fracking have been stripped away, and fracking under national parks has been given the go-ahead. The executive director of Greenpeace UK put it succinctly recently, saying:
“A tax hike on solar panels was just the latest addition to a litany of poor decisions”.
He also said that the Government should accept that they had
“a reverse Midas touch on energy investment”.
This would be an opportune time for the new Chancellor and his team to signal a change of direction by accepting our new clause, but I fear that, given the abolition of the Department of Energy and Climate Change, the Conservative party’s husky-hugging days are long gone. I am pleased, however, that the Government have finally seen fit to publish the report by the Committee on Climate Change on the compatibility of UK onshore petroleum with meeting the UK’s carbon budgets. I can see now why they sat on it for four months.
The report states:
“Our assessment is…that onshore petroleum extraction on a significant scale is not compatible with UK climate targets”.
That, it says, will remain the case unless three key tests are met: first,
“Well development, production and decommissioning emissions must be strictly limited”; secondly,
“gas consumption must remain in line with carbon budgets requirements”;
and thirdly, the report specifies the importance of
“Accommodating shale gas production emissions within carbon budgets.”
Does the Minister agree, therefore, that tighter safeguards in fracking—for which Labour consistently called during the passage of the Bill that became the Energy Act 2016 —are now absolutely necessary?
I digress. Let me conclude my remarks about new clause 15. Opposition Members want to ensure that the original solar tax U-turn is guaranteed in statute in the Finance Bill, to prevent a second U-turn. That would give the renewable energy market the certainty that it needs and deserves, and would, we hope, send a signal that the new Administration are prepared to look again at the future of the industry in a green economy. If we are to take seriously the intention of the new Ministers to rethink these fundamental issues, now is the time for them to show it.
New clause 19 was tabled by my hon. Friend Wes Streeting. As my hon. Friend explained so articulately, it would require the Government to review the impact of the measures in the Bill on households at different levels of income. It would also require the Chancellor to review the impact of Government fiscal measures on households at different levels of income at least once in each financial year. It is an excellent new clause, and it has the full support of the Labour Front Bench.
As I pressed on the Government earlier today in the capital gains tax debate and yesterday on corporation tax, this Bill has unfairness at its very core. The reduction in CGT alone amounts to a tax giveaway to 200,000 people—just 0.3% of the population—of around £3,000 a year on average. Clearly this Government conduct no distributional analysis of the measures they introduce, or if they do the results are so bad that they do not publish them. This amendment would force the Government to publish such analysis, and therefore I am pleased to have heard the Minister’s earlier comments; it seems that the Government are seriously considering this matter and I hope she takes it forward.
Amendments 180 to 182 specify that the chair and tax director of the OTS would only be appointed and terminated with the consent of the Treasury Committee, in line with what happens with the Office for Budget Responsibility. A similar Labour amendment, which would have had the same effect, was debated in the Public Bill Committee, but we did not divide the Committee on it. During the course of that debate I made the point that while Labour supports establishing the OTS on a statutory footing, we feel its independence is of the utmost importance. As I am sure the Minister is aware, Labour has placed on record our concerns about the OTS potentially being used for political purposes, and ensuring that the chair and tax director is accountable to the Treasury Committee seems a sensible approach to safeguarding its impartiality. Again, I am pleased to hear today that the Minister seems to be taking our opinions and those expressed in the House today seriously.
Amendment 141 would introduce a de minimis tax exemption for residual cash balances remaining in a share incentive plan when they are donated to charity, with an upper cap of £10. This seems like an extremely sensible suggestion, and the Labour Front Bench is supportive of the amendment. I congratulate my hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds on tabling it and explaining it so articulately.
I shall say a few quick words on new clause 8 in the name of the hon. Members for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin), for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Philip Boswell). This new clause would require a review of how the changes to the tax on dividend income will affect directors of microbusinesses. There are some concerns, as we have heard today, that the changes to dividend taxation will have a detrimental effect on the owners of microbusinesses. Jason Kitcat, who has become quite famous today, has done some detailed analysis which shows that the dividend tax changes included in clause 5 and schedule 1 are somewhat regressive in nature. For instance, Crunch analysis shows that a limited company director paying themselves through dividends would be paying £1,528 more a year when their pre-tax profits are £48,000, whereas a director with £78,000 in pre-tax profits would only be paying £1,343 more in tax.
The Federation of Small Businesses has also stated that these measures have caused substantial disquiet among its members. This is especially acute for members on modest incomes who, unlike their employed counterparts, will now see a rise in their tax liabilities. This is very worrying and indeed makes the case for distributional analysis, referred to in relation to new clause 19, even more important. A review of the impact of these measures therefore seems quite sensible at this stage and we will support the SNP if it divides the House on this issue.
Finally, Government new clause 9 relates to the tax treatment of supplementary welfare payments in Northern Ireland. The Low Incomes Tax Reform Group has outlined some technical points for clarification on which I hope the Minister can shed some light: in essence, which payments will be taxable? The Budget said:
“Where the Northern Ireland Executive intends to top-up UK-wide benefits from within its block grant as it implements welfare reform, the Government will exempt from tax the top-up payments to non-taxable benefits.”
The implication, confirmed in the explanatory notes to the amendment, is that top-ups to taxable benefits will be taxable as well. However, if we take the payments to mitigate the impact of time-limiting contribution-based employment support allowance it seems that two situations are possible. One is that the person’s contribution-based ESA ends and they claim, or are already getting, income-related ESA. If the income-related ESA awarded is less than the person would have received through contribution-based ESA, they will receive a welfare supplementary payment to cover the difference. The second possibility is that their contribution-based ESA ends but they do not get income-related ESA, in which case the WSP will equal the full amount of the lost contribution-based ESA.
This is not really a top-up of an existing benefit in either case. In the first case, the difference between income-related ESA and what the person would have received under contribution-based ESA is given as a supplementary payment. In the second case, the supplementary payment replaces the lost contribution-based ESA in its entirety. Will the Minister tell the House whether, if the supplementary payment is replacing a taxable benefit, it will be taxable? This is a very technical area, so I would be grateful if she would write to me to clarify the position following the debate.
In conclusion, I return to the question of the VAT treatment of energy-saving materials. The 5% reduced rate must be kept. It is good for the renewables energy sector, which needs stability, and putting that commitment into statute today would be a good start. I shall therefore divide the House on new clause 15.
The hon. Lady referred to the issues that we have debated this afternoon as a “rag-bag”, but I think that is a bit unkind. I prefer to describe the debate as a smorgasbord of wide-ranging issues and thoughtful speeches. I shall not repeat my opening remarks, but I shall try to add something to each of the areas where it is relevant to do so, in no particular order.
I thank Wes Streeting, who is no longer in his place, for welcoming the fact that the Chancellor is looking at the issue of distribution analysis, as he said he would in his letter to the Select Committee Chairman. We will comment further on that in due course. As a result, the hon. Gentleman decided not to press new clause 19 to a vote. [Interruption.] Ah, Rob Marris has returned to his place just as I was about to be nice about him. He must instinctively have known that I was going to thank him for his wide-ranging contribution to the debate. He presented me with some fair challenges as a new Minister. He also made some interesting points about tax simplification. I am due to have a meeting with the Office of Tax Simplification shortly, and he has certainly given me food for thought for my agenda. I reiterate that the Bill will put the OTS on a statutory footing, which I believe indicates the seriousness with which we take its work.
This has been a probing debate. My hon. Friend Mr Burrowes is now on Select Committee duties and therefore unable to return to his place in the Chamber, but he made an interesting contribution on an issue that I know all too well—that of high-strength alcohol. This is something that needs to be looked at in the round, but I can assure him, given my three years in the job that I did before this one, that I take the matter very seriously. He was also generous enough to note, correctly, that the Department of Health has had a good deal of success, working with manufacturers, in reducing the number of very high-strength products on the market. I also note the discussion that took place about silver linings, in which varying views were expressed. I am sure that we will give further thought to these matters in due course. My hon. Friend Fiona Bruce and others also stressed the matter of the cost to society of some of those products.
My hon. Friend the Member for Enfield, Southgate also talked about the marriage allowance. I want it to be clear that the Government’s focus is on delivering the existing policy, but I did mention in my introductory remarks that a quarter of those who benefit are households with children. We do not want to create a two-track marriage system within the allowance, but the Government are none the less committed to helping low-income households and those with young children through a wide range of other policies including, for example, tax-free childcare and the new national living wage.
I want to add that the online application process for the marriage allowance takes only seven minutes. I call upon Jim Shannon and my hon. Friends the Members for Congleton and for Enfield, Southgate and others who have an interest in this matter to assist us and promote it. I found in some of my summer recess meetings with groups in my constituency that awareness of the marriage allowance is low. It is of real benefit to lower-income married couples and all Members can contribute to promoting awareness and take up of it. None the less, I reassure all colleagues—my hon. Friend Michael Tomlinson also spoke about this—that I will continue to look closely at take-up with HMRC. I also suggest that promoting the personal tax account is another good way of promoting the take-up of the allowance, because when appropriate people take up a personal tax account they can get a nudge to apply. I reiterate that HMRC will receive the millionth application next month, putting us on course to meet the OBR’s revised forecast for take-up this year.
I have already mentioned the seriousness with which we take the Office of Tax Simplification, but it is worth noting that the recommendations led to the introduction of cash-based accounting for tax. One million self-employed individuals took that up in the first year alone, so those recommendations were important.
I appreciate the intention behind amendment 141 tabled by Jonathan Reynolds, but I said that the Government feel that the change would add additional complexity; I do not think he agrees with that. We have received no indication that fewer companies are making use of share incentive plans due to the administrative cost mentioned by the Opposition, but we will keep that under review. To tease out why our views differ on how the scheme might work and why the Government feel that the idea needs further development, if the hon. Gentleman is willing not to press the amendment, I am happy to meet him to discuss the matter and to understand why he feels that way.
I thank the Minister for those comments. I have a small sense of frustration as I believe that nearly every Conservative Member—indeed, all Members—would back the change on its merits, but I understand that Ministers have limited room for manoeuvre at the Dispatch Box, so I will accept that offer in good faith and will not press the amendment.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that and look forward to our meeting.
Several Members spoke about new clause 15, including my right hon. Friend John Redwood and the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles, and I reiterate that nothing would be achieved that is not already achieved by the Government’s tax lock. The reduced rate of 5% has applied to installations of energy-saving materials since 2001 and that rate remains in place and unchanged. As for the wider issues about European Union VAT and excise systems, we are considering a range of issues as we look to exit the European Union.
On new clause 19, as I said, we feel that the tax lock, for which we have already legislated, actually goes further by preventing the use of secondary legislation, about which the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles was worried.
Turning to new clause 18, I will repeat to Philip Boswell what I said in my opening remarks: the Government do not expect the measure to have a large impact on rents due to the small proportion of the housing market affected—around one in five individual landlords.
On the SNP’s new clause 8 and the points made about the changes to dividend tax, I reiterate that how such changes affect small and microbusinesses cannot be looked at in isolation. The Government take the concerns of microbusinesses incredibly seriously—I met the Federation of Small Businesses only last week, for example. As for listening to the concerns of microbusinesses, I point hon. Members to the changes made to the Government’s “Making Tax Digital” consultation documents as evidence of our sensitivity to such concerns and we look to respond to them when we can. It is important to note that we believe the dividend tax is still progressive overall, and individuals with higher incomes will still pay a higher rate of tax on their dividends.
On the wider changes to small businesses and microbusinesses, I point the hon. Gentleman to Budget 2016 in particular, as it is introducing the biggest ever business rate reduction, worth £6.7 billion. It has yet to come into force, but it will make a very significant difference to a very large number of microbusinesses across all our constituencies.
Lastly, I hope to answer the highly technical point made by the hon. Member for Salford and Eccles, as well as the point made by Mark Durkan. Government new clause 9 will exempt from income tax supplementary payments that mitigate tax-exempt benefits paid by the Northern Ireland Executive. Any supplementary payments that mitigate tax benefits will themselves be taxable. As a result, all supplementary payments will be taxed in the same manner as the benefits they are mitigating, to ensure fairness and consistency with the tax system. I was asked whether the power being taken in this Finance Bill would be used more widely. No, the power being taken in this Bill will be restricted to only allowing for the tax status of the Northern Ireland supplementary payments to be established in regulations. Full welfare devolution has always been part of Northern Ireland’s devolution settlement. I hope that adds some clarity.
This has been a wide-ranging debate. We have touched on some good issues and found some common ground. The measures in this Finance Bill will benefit working people, boost UK businesses, and take on tax evasion and avoidance. In the days we have spent on Report, and during the Bill’s earlier stages, we have debated many aspects of it thoroughly, and on Third Reading the House will have a final opportunity to consider the Bill as a whole. At that point, I will set out the main reforms for which the Bill legislates, but I hope that this afternoon’s discussion has been helpful and that my responses to points have helped the various Members who raised them.
Question put and agreed to.
New clause 9 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.
New Clause 8