Amendment of the Law

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:54 pm on 8th March 2017.

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Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Liaison Committee (Commons), Chair, National Policy Statements Sub-Committee 1:54 pm, 8th March 2017

I do not think that there is a great deal of concord in the House about that speech, but I think that there is some agreement across the House about a number of things that the Chancellor said. In fact, I think that there has been a quiet consensus in this place for steady deficit reduction ever since Alistair Darling’s Budget of 2010, and I am delighted that the Chancellor is persisting with that reduction.

Before picking up on a few of the measures, particularly those that affect small businesses, I want to make one point about overall fiscal policy. The Chancellor does not have much room for manoeuvre. He is pretty heavily boxed in, and I see him nodding in agreement. On the spending side, three quarters of public spending is covered by manifesto pledges, so every round of savings has to fall on a progressively smaller area, which makes it painful for it to absorb. On the tax side, he is just as constrained. In fact, he is even more constrained, because he has inherited the tax lock—the statutory prohibition on any reduction or increase in a number of taxes—and a commitment to reduce corporation tax to 15%. That puts over 80% of revenue beyond his reach should he need to raise more money later. Of course, there is also the fuel duty freeze—I think it is a freeze—that was announced in the autumn statement. All those tax and spending pledges are the fallout of an electoral bidding war, but dealing with that is a matter for another day.

I want to pick up on a few detailed measures that we just heard about, particularly on those, as I said, that affect small businesses, because I am particularly concerned about them. I was delighted to hear some good news, but first it is worth going through the list of things that small businesses are having to deal with at the moment: the doubling of insurance premium tax that was announced last year; automatic enrolment for pensions; the extra cost of the living wage; the infrastructure levy; the revaluation of rates—I will come on to the proposals that have just been announced in a moment—and the “Making tax digital” plan. In addition, there are the proposals for class 4 national insurance contributions.