With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Clauses 2 to 6, 16 to 47, and 52 to 56 stand part.
Government amendments 13 to 29.
That schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.
Government amendments 30 to 56.
That schedules 4 to 15 be schedules to the Bill.
I will speak briefly, as we have a fair amount to get through this afternoon. Obviously, I shall attempt to address any points that are made during the debate.
The Bill is progressing on the basis of consensus and therefore, at the request of the Opposition, we are not proceeding with a number of clauses. However, there has been no policy change. These provisions will make a significant contribution to the public finances, and the Government will legislate for the remaining provisions at the earliest opportunity, at the start of the new Parliament. The Government remain committed to the digital future of the tax system, a principle widely accepted on both sides of the House. We recognise the need for the House to consider such measures properly, as called for by my right hon. Friend Mr Tyrie and his Treasury Committee. That is why we have decided to pursue those measures in a Finance Bill in the next Parliament, in the light of the pressures on time that currently apply.
Clauses 1 and 3 provide for the annual charging of income tax in the current financial year and maintain the basic, higher and additional rates at the current level. The annual charge legislated for in the Finance Bill is essential for its continued collection, and it will enable the funding of vital public services during the coming year. Maintaining these rates, while increasing the tax-free personal allowance and the point at which people pay the higher rate of tax, means that we are delivering on important manifesto commitments. On top of that, as of April this year, increases in the personal allowance since 2010 will have cut a typical basic-rate taxpayer’s income tax bill by more than £1,000, taking 1.3 million people out of income tax in this Parliament alone.
Clause 4 will maintain the starting-rate limit for savings income—applied to the savings of those with low earnings—at its current level of £5,000 for the 2017-18 tax year; clause 6 will charge corporation tax for the forthcoming financial year; and clauses 17 and 18 will make changes in the taxation of pensions. Clause 18 legislates for a significant anti-avoidance measure announced at the spring Budget. It will make changes to ensure that pension transfers to qualifying recognised overseas pension schemes requested on or after
Before the changes were announced in the spring Budget, an individual retiring abroad could transfer up to £1 million in pension savings, without facing a charge, to a pension scheme anywhere in the world provided that it met certain requirements. Overseas pension transfers had become increasingly marketed and used as a way to gain an unfair tax advantage on pension savings that had had UK tax relief. That was obviously contrary to the policy rationale for allowing transfers of UK tax-relieved pension savings to be made free of UK tax for overseas schemes. This charge will deter those who seek to gain an unfair tax advantage by transferring their pensions abroad. Exemptions allow those with a genuine need to transfer their pensions abroad to do so tax-free.
Clause 17 will make various changes in the tax treatment of specialist foreign pension schemes to make it more consistent with the taxation of domestic pensions.
Clause 21 will simplify the payment of distributions by some types of investment fund. Following the Government’s introduction of the personal savings allowance, 98% of adults have no tax to pay on savings income. In line with that, the clause will remove the requirement to deduct at source tax that must subsequently be reclaimed by the saver.
Clauses 45 to 47 provide for the removal of the tax advantages of employee shareholder status for arrangements entered into on or after
Evidence suggests that companies, particularly those owned by private equity funds, were using employee shareholder status as a tax-efficient way to reward senior staff. In many cases, contract provisions were used to replace the statutory rights that had been given up, which was undermining the purpose of the status. That continued to be the case despite the introduction of the £100,000 lifetime limit on capital gains tax-exempt gains in the 2016 Budget. The Government therefore announced in the 2016 autumn statement that they would remove the tax reliefs associated with the status and close the status itself to new arrangements at the next legislative opportunity. The action that we are taking tackles abuse and increases the fairness of the tax system.
I thank the Minister for her opening remarks about consensus, with which I fully concur. We are here today to debate what is effectively a condensed version of the Bill for which my colleagues and, indeed, everyone else had been preparing, with a view to taking part in a number of Public Bill Committee sittings over a number of weeks to scrutinise properly the longest Finance Bill that has ever been produced. That is the context in which I shall make my comments.
The Prime Minister’s announcement outside No. 10 and the subsequent vote mean we do not have sufficient time in this Parliament to give the full Bill the proper parliamentary oversight it requires and deserves, as I am sure Members will understand. It is clear that the Treasury was unaware of the Prime Minister’s plans for a snap election—otherwise, it would not have introduced the longest ever Finance Bill—but the Opposition recognise the unique scenario we are in and the Government’s responsibility to levy taxes, and I am sure the Minister recognises our responsibility to scrutinise the Bill in as open and transparent a manner as we possibly can. That is why we have acted in good faith to ensure that a version of the Bill can pass before Parliament is dissolved.
Our approach to the pre-election process and the presentation of the condensed version of the Bill has been underlined by two concerns: fiscal responsibility balanced against parliamentary scrutiny. The Opposition have a responsibility to taxpayers to ensure as little economic disruption as possible; we will therefore not attempt to block any measure in the Bill that has to be levied to ensure business as usual for our public services, such as income tax, and nor will we obstruct tax that is already in the process of collection. But of course we cannot give the Government carte blanche, as we have made clear.
There are many clauses in the Bill that we can and should wait to deal with until after the general election, as that would provide the opportunity for them to be properly scrutinised. The one exception is the soft drinks levy, which I will speak about later.
In relation to alcohol duty, the Bill includes measures that have already been implemented but that we opposed in the Budget resolutions. They include the Government’s decision to raise alcohol duty in line with inflation, raising the price of a pint of beer by 2p, a pint of cider by 1p and a bottle of Scotch whisky by 36p. As I said on Second Reading, rising business rates and rising inflation are creating a perfect storm for many small businesses. Therefore, the decision to raise this duty is a risk.
Another measure that we would have liked to avoid but that is included as a result of the necessity of the compressed process that this Bill is going through is the rise in insurance premium tax. It has already been doubled and this raises it further. Had there been a longer process, we would have sought to challenge that, as we did at the Budget resolution stage, so there is no surprise in this, but the reality is that the measure is already in effect due to the resolutions.
On tax avoidance, it is time for a wholesale shift in how we approach taxation and the treatment of self-employment given the rise of the gig economy in recent years. The Bill originally contained a number of initiatives, and no doubt we will come back to them in due course.
I welcome the Minister’s statement on the digitalisation of tax. It will be a great relief to many small businesses given the onerous requirements for quarterly reporting. No one is against a move to a digital tax system, but we do not agree with the rush to implement it.
A large portion of the Bill relates to the introduction of the soft drinks industry levy, which the Government have consulted on heavily and on which they have cross-party support in this House. The levy has popular public support, too, as a poll has indicated. I want to take this opportunity to pay particular tribute to Jamie Oliver and the Obesity Health Alliance, who have campaigned tirelessly on this issue and on the need for a joined-up Government obesity strategy, and I must compliment the Minister, who in her current and previous roles has been a strong advocate for the levy. We would like to see a review of the sugar tax levy in due course, if possible. The Minister might well wish to comment on that. I am sure that a range of issues, such as in relation to multi-buy discounts, that could form part of this.
In conclusion, as a responsible Opposition, we will not stand in the way of passing a Finance Bill before the election, as that is a necessity. There are some measures that a Labour Government would bring back, and we will have an opportunity to scrutinise them in due course, but we need to get this through and we need to be responsible, and we will support the Government where required.
First, I would like to pay tribute to my predecessor, Jamie Reed, who was the Member for Copeland from 2005 until he stood down in January this year. It is, in fact, Jamie whom I have to thank for inspiring my introduction to politics. The very first parliamentary debate I ever watched was a Westminster Hall debate called by Jamie and also attended by other Cumbrian Members—my hon. Friend Rory Stewart and Tim Farron—to discuss the future of my children’s school, Captain Shaw’s in Bootle. I saw the positive impact that MPs in Westminster could have on their local communities and the powerful influence of their support, even in remote areas, which I had previously felt would never be anyone’s political priority.
Like me, Jamie was born, raised and educated in Copeland, in the fine Georgian harbour town of Whitehaven. He has served the people of Copeland with great talent and dedication. As the elected Member, he worked hard for the rural communities he represented and placed a strong emphasis on improving health and education. In announcing his decision to stand down last December, he said he could achieve more for our community by returning to work in the nuclear industry at Sellafield than by remaining a Labour Member of Parliament.
Jamie was a relentless, proud supporter of our local industry; he championed the world-class specialist skills that make up our towns and villages. He worked hard to make the case for Copeland to host the new nuclear power station, Moorside, adjacent to Sellafield, based on the strong belief that our workforce are best placed to power the northern powerhouse; after all, Copeland welcomed the world’s first nuclear reactor at Sellafield back in 1950. Our local knowledge, experience and skills in the nuclear and other highly regulated industries are internationally recognised and respected.
Sellafield’s safety record is exceptional, and it is seen as an example of outstanding performance across the globe. Jamie said that Copeland’s “best days are ahead”, a statement I agree with and will quote many times. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Jamie for his commitment to Copeland and wish him all the very best in his new role in community development at Sellafield.
Copeland has for centuries pioneered a modern industrial strategy. Our largest town, Whitehaven, was once Britain’s third largest trading port, with an extraordinary shipbuilding reputation thanks to the locally grown, hard-as-nails oak trees used to build the boats. Our ancestors sailed the world, securing deals, and returning with goods which created a crucial global trading centre. Perhaps that is why the Copeland constituency voted to leave the EU with such a high majority: because history provides confidence in our ability to export our knowledge and products across the globe.
Like true pioneers we do not stand still; innovation is in our veins. As shipbuilding and rum sales declined, we dug deep for prosperity. Mining transformed the towns of Egremont, Cleator Moor and Millom; indeed, Millom was widely regarded as an exporter of the world’s highest quality iron ore.
But we are perhaps best known in Cumbria for a delightful little rabbit, Peter Rabbit, and his friends Mrs Tiggywinkle and Squirrel Nutkin, to name just three of Beatrix Potter’s adorable characters. Writers, artists and poets have found inspiration in the beautiful Cumbrian countryside. Wordsworth was sent, under doctors’ orders, to my home village of Bootle, to aid his recovery from a chest infection. With 32 miles of coastline in the Copeland constituency, our air and our landscape are good for the soul.
Three quarters of the Copeland constituency is situated within the Lake District national park boundary, which I hope will become the second world heritage site for the Copeland constituency, complementing that of Hadrian’s Wall in Ravenglass. We eagerly await a decision in July to confirm another world first—the first UNESCO world heritage site to include an entire national park—thanks to a 20-year project by the Lake District National Park Authority and local communities to put Cumbria on the same international must-visit platform as the Taj Mahal and the great barrier reef.
I was brought up in Seascale, then I moved to Wasdale, where I would open my curtains every morning to reveal Britain’s best view: England’s highest mountain, Scafell. Well before wild swimming was trendy, my childhood weekends would be spent paddling in Wastwater, England’s deepest lake. It is easy to see why Wasdale was the birthplace of mountaineering, and why the beautiful market town of Keswick enjoys such popularity with its annual mountain festival. That is one of the many festivals enjoyed in the Keswick community calendar.
Although the Lakeland topography is the result of glacial formations, our landscape and cultural heritage, for which we are internationally celebrated, are of course man-made. It is vital to support and protect our farming industry, both upland and lowland, to ensure that we can all benefit from quality food production, the highest standards of animal welfare, conservation and our enormously successful tourism industry, on which Copeland is so dependent.
I could not give my maiden speech without acknowledging that I would not be standing in this House today if it were not for the fantastic and unwavering support of my family, friends, community and local association. My husband Keith, my parents, my brother and my daughters—Gabrielle, Savannah, Francesca and Rosemary—have been incredible towers of strength. From the moment I decided to stand, they were with me, campaigning, delivering leaflets and knocking on doors. My girls have become quite the persuasive activists, and it has been wonderful to see their interest in politics grow.
Having four teenage daughters aged 14, 15, 17 and 18, I was delighted to tip the balance between all history’s women Members and the current number of male Members, equalling it at 456. There was a change of reference in my Mother’s day cards this year, however. Gone were the thanks for the practical tasks of washing, cooking, cleaning and generally being there. Instead, each one referred to a theoretical role, referencing inspiration and pride. That is what a by-election does to family life, and you can only imagine their comments about another round of doorstep challenges! It is, after all, our children and young people who motivate us to secure a bright future for Britain and inspire the next generation of leaders.
I watched my right hon. Friend the Prime Minister’s speech at the Conservative party conference last year and I was so impressed by her strength and commitment to deliver for Great Britain. Her ambitions for our country resonated with my own. As she spoke, I said to myself, “That’s me, that’s who I am, that’s what I want for my community and for my country.” I stood for Parliament because I want to get on and make things happen. I want to be part of a proactive, positive team that makes a tremendous difference to my community: the land of Copeland glory.
My husband and I moved from Whitehaven in the north of the constituency to Bootle, a small village in the south of Copeland, to raise our young family. Our move was motivated by a desire for our girls to attend a village primary school, and in Captain Shaw’s we found our perfect, quintessential Lakeland school. In 2006, I discovered that the school was really struggling to make ends meet. It desperately needed extra funding so I joined the parent teacher association. I soon realised that the problem was a decline in pupil numbers, so I joined the governors. Then I learned that the whole village was declining: we had lost 20 businesses in 20 years. I then applied for the position of regeneration officer at my local borough council, where I realised that the challenge was far more extensive.
Copeland desperately requires investment in infrastructure to be able to thrive. Both professionally, working for the council, and personally, working with the can-do people in my community, I worked to shape policy giving our planning authority the option to be either the nail in our coffin or the key to our future. We trailed the streets and lanes, collecting and providing the necessary evidence to shape the strategic vision for Bootle, which would become a beacon of hope to other rural communities. We worked hard to secure the Lake District national park’s biggest ever mixed-use planning application for Wellbank, a former 12.5 acre Ministry of Defence base. Wellbank will bring 50 homes, a hotel and enterprise areas, and will attract public and private investment. For Bootle, that will mean an extra 64 homes, new businesses and, when complete, £20 million of inward investment.
I stood in the Copeland by-election to really make a success of the modern industrial strategy, to be an asset to the northern powerhouse and to realise our full potential as a centre of nuclear excellence and global exporter of knowledge and products. Copeland needs investment. I know that as a pioneering, hard-working and innovative community, we can succeed with the Government’s support. We have the people with the skills, the potential, the essential natural resources and a landscape where people love to live, work, learn and invest. We have every reason to be optimistic and to become an asset to the country’s economic performance and world-leading reputation. Copeland is on the brink of the most exciting, game-changing transition, but we need investment to kick-start that transition.
Throughout the election, I campaigned on six vital points. First, I campaigned to make a success of Brexit, as 62% of my constituents voted to leave. Secondly, I campaigned to secure nuclear new build at Moorside benefitting both Copeland and the country. Our Government must commit seriously to new nuclear, now more than ever, if we are to attract the international investment. Thirdly, I campaigned to bring our road and rail networks up to modern standards, as they are simply not fit for the modern industrial strategy. Our infrastructure is holding back our ability to diversify and thrive. Fourthly, building resilience against flooding, which wrecks lives and livelihoods, is also essential.
Fifthly, access and connectivity will be key enablers, particularly in our rural area, if we are really going to trade and compete in a global marketplace. Improving mobile and internet connectivity will make a huge difference to our quality of life and our ability to do business in a global market. It will ensure a bright future for our children and young people, and the announcement in the spring Budget supporting an enormous increase in technical apprenticeships is wonderful news for a practical, skilled community such as mine.
Sixthly, I campaigned to secure services. Ensuring that we keep our 24-hour, seven-day-a-week, consultant-led maternity department at West Cumberland hospital in Whitehaven has been one of my key aims throughout my election campaign and as a Member of Parliament. I was born at that hospital and all four of my daughters were born there too. My community has clearly demonstrated the importance of retaining such an essential service. In my first weeks as an MP, I have been able to meet my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Health and I have visited the hospital to see the new wards for myself and to meet the staff. I have talked to clinicians and management in order to understand the barriers to having fully operational departments in the future. We now have a fully staffed maternity department, the trust has been removed from special measures and, in addition to the £90 million already invested by this Government, we have secured the funding for the final phase of the hospital’s construction.
Supporting a further recruitment drive with Choose Cumbria is also my priority. Positive action, listening to concerns, tackling problems head on and working with the can-do people in our community who really care—all these have been my mantra for many years. I will continue to strive enthusiastically, because I believe passionately in Copeland, its people and its potential.
Turning to today’s debate on the Finance Bill, I have seen that this Government are the only Government who can deliver a stronger, more secure economy. The economy is getting stronger and growing, the employment rate is at a record high and the deficit has been reduced enormously since its pre-financial crisis peak. We are in a much stronger position than in 2010, but I recognise that we must not be complacent. We must continue to reduce the country’s debt and the deficit even further. We cannot, as previous Labour Governments did, borrow endlessly to plug holes. We need to get the public finances in good order to safeguard for the future—for the future I want for my daughters and their generation.
Finally, Copeland has been my home since I was born. It is an area I know and love. The opportunity to represent the communities I grew up in as their Member of Parliament is truly a great honour, and I will ensure that the voice of our towns and rural communities is heard loud and clear. I am utterly committed to Copeland, and I will fight hard to deliver on promises made to my constituents during the election.
I am extremely grateful for the time I have been allowed and for the opportunity to deliver my maiden speech in this debate.
I invite the hon. Lady to join the all-party parliamentary group on rugby league, as Whitehaven have a great reputation.
I warmly welcome Trudy Harrison to what is left of this short Parliament. I am particularly pleased that we have finally broken the barrier of the number of women who have been elected— I am really delighted that that has happened. As a child I holidayed in her constituency, and I fondly remember visiting where Beatrix Potter created her animals and visiting the Beatrix Potter museum. I can see the passion with which the hon. Lady speaks about her constituency and the amount she obviously cares about the area in which she was born and bred. She is a truly local MP, so I offer her a huge welcome to the House. Who knows whether she, or any of us, will be coming back in June? But welcome, anyway.
This first group of amendments addresses income tax, but I will also comment on the way that the Bill is progressing through Parliament. With the surprise announcement of a general election, the Bill looks rather different from when it was first introduced. I am sure the Minister is in a similar position, but we received provisional notification of the amount of withdrawals and changes only last night, so there will not be the normal level of scrutiny of some things in the Bill. There will possibly also be slight confusion in today’s proceedings, given that so many things are being withdrawn.
I welcome the Government’s withdrawal of the dividend tax threshold changes, which we argued against on Second Reading. I am pleased that they have chosen to do that because it was a particularly contentious part of the Bill. More generally on the income tax changes, I have said previously and am happy to state again that I appreciate the Government’s increases to the personal allowance and the minimum wage. But I have said previously and say again that the Government have not gone far enough. We have a national living wage, but there has been no calculation of whether people can live on it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the national living wage is not actually a real living wage but a pretend living wage and that it does not go far enough in that it is available only to people over the age of 25?
I agree that it is a real problem that this increased minimum wage does not apply to people under 25. Just because a person is under 25 does not mean they are doing any less of a job than a person over 25, and the minimum wage should apply to them just as much as to those who are older.
The other issue is that the tax credit changes more than balance out the extra money people are getting from the increased minimum wage and personal allowance. People at the bottom of the pile are worse off as a result of the Government’s decisions. Despite the Government’s talk about how great the new personal allowance and the new minimum wage are, they have to be considered in context. People who work are worse off as a result of the tax credit changes.
More generally, the Government have made a few suggestions on the taxation of self-employment, some of which have been withdrawn and some of which have not. They intend to try to equalise the taxation of employment and self-employment. However, what is missing is that people in self-employment do not receive the same benefits as people in employment, such as maternity leave and holiday entitlement. I have argued before and will argue again that if the Government are making changes to self-employment, they need to do so in the round. The need to stop this piecemeal tinkering and consider the whole situation. They need to do a proper review and come back with the results, and then consult on any changes. Rather than pulling rabbits out of hats—changing national insurance contributions with very little consultation, for example—they need to consult properly on how taxation should look for individuals, whether they are employed or self-employed.
I appreciate that the Government are undertaking the Taylor review, but I am not sure it goes far enough. I would like to see the Taylor review, or a future Government review, take self-employment into account in the round by considering all the factors that face the self-employed. We need to remember the changes in the self-employment landscape in recent years. We have seen a massive increase in the number of women and older people in self-employment, and the Government’s changes do not take into account the changes in that landscape. I would like to see a holistic approach, rather than a tinkering approach.
That is all I have to say on this group but, again, I welcome the Government’s withdrawal of the dividend tax threshold changes.
I also congratulate Trudy Harrison on a fine maiden speech and thank her for her well-deserved compliment to her predecessor on his service. She spoke with passion, wit and understanding of her beautiful constituency, as well as of Peter Rabbit. None of us envies her speedy transition from by-election to general election, but I do congratulate her.
I made my maiden speech to this House on the remaining stages of the 1987 Finance Bill, so there is a certain symmetry in my making my last remarks on this one. On the substance of the Bill, it is too often overlooked—the hon. Lady talked about balancing public spending—that, although the Conservative party often talks about balancing the budget, the last Government to do so were Labour in 2001-02. Right now, it makes sense to invest more in productive infrastructure, training and public services, with action to combat poverty and to secure Brexit terms that enable our country to grow and flourish. I wish we had a Finance Bill for social justice that stands up for the many, not the few. That is what we need a Labour Government for.
It has been a privilege to be an MP, in and out of government, and I thank the staff of the House, the Library, those who keep us safe and you, Mr Hoyle, and your colleagues. I am grateful to all colleagues and wish them well for the future.
I would like to say a huge thank you to all those who have helped me serve the wonderful constituency of Oxford East for 30 years; my family and friends; my neighbours in Blackbird Leys; our party members and supporters; my trade union, the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers; my office staff and party organisers across the years; and, most of all, my constituents. Thank you.
May I, too, thank Trudy Harrison for such a passionate and entertaining speech? It is good to have a representative of the land of Beatrix Potter here in this Chamber. I listened to her last points about the deficit and her encomium that this Government are bringing it down. I will be slightly wicked in saying that I am sure she knows that the Office for Budget Responsibility is forecasting a rise in Government borrowing this financial year, and she might care to ask why that is the case.
I have one specific question for the Minister on this group, as her introduction notably failed to explain why clause 5 has been withdrawn. That clause deals with the proposed reduction in the dividend income that investors in small companies can take. Are the Government embarrassed by the clause and is that why it is being withdrawn?
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clauses 2 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 5 disagreed to.
Clause 6 ordered to stand part of the Bill.