I beg to move,
(b) (notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the practice of the House relating to the matters that may be included in Finance Bills) provision may be made taking effect in a future year amending Chapter 6 of that Part (taxable benefits: cars etc).
The motions on the Order Paper provide the basis for the second Finance Bill of 2017. They will define the scope of the Bill and allow the Government to introduce it for further debate and consideration in the normal way. The motions ultimately represent a number of measures that will refine our tax system to make it fairer and more sustainable.
As the House will be aware, Finance Bill resolutions are typically the formal subject of the Budget debate and are considered at that point. That was the case earlier this year, when the Government introduced the first Finance Bill of 2017 after the spring Budget. The general election, however, meant that time to consider that Bill was curtailed. We proceeded on the basis of consensus, taking a number of important provisions, including the soft drinks industry levy, through to Royal Assent before Parliament was dissolved, but a large volume of legislation on other announcements at the spring Budget and earlier fiscal events was withdrawn. At that point, my predecessor clarified to the House that there was no change of policy and that the Government intended to legislate for the withdrawn measures at the first opportunity. The written statement I provided on
These motions now pick up where we left off and legislate for the provisions that were introduced and withdrawn due to time constraints. The areas of tax legislation that they provide for will not be a surprise to right hon. and hon. Members, who passed resolutions corresponding to these tax changes after the spring Budget and debated them on Second Reading of the earlier Act.
In fact, Members who are aficionados of tax legislation—I note that a few usual suspects are here today—will find a lot of the Bill to be even older news. Before they were introduced after the spring Budget, many of the clauses had been published in draft and the policy design had been consulted on with tax professionals, businesses and the public. Such an open and consultative approach is an important part of the tax policy making process; it helps to ensure that legislation achieves its intended effect and means that those who will be affected know in advance what to expect.
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me to make an early intervention. So that the House can understand the voting patterns later tonight, will he clarify whether the motions before us are covered by the deal done between the Democratic Unionist party and the Conservative party? That answer will be very informative to the House and, indeed, to our constituents.
I assure the hon. Lady that the process at the conclusion of this debate will be exactly the same as the one we go through on any consideration of Ways and Means measures in respect of such fiscal matters.
An open and consultative approach is important to our tax policy making process, and our commitment to a single major fiscal event each year is a further valuable step to improving the process for making fiscal policy. Just as with most other major economies, people will no longer face a host of tax changes twice a year.
The transition to the new Budget timetable will, of course, mean that a further Finance Bill will be introduced following this autumn’s Budget. In line with our past practice, the Government will next week publish drafts of some clauses that we plan to introduce in the next Finance Bill. The transition means there are fewer clauses than in recent years, but pre-legislative scrutiny will again help consideration of the Bill.
On that subject, Members may notice that there has been a slight change to the motions on today’s Order Paper. The Government have withdrawn a motion covering changes to the definition of a taxable disposal within landfill tax. That motion and the corresponding clause will no longer be taken forward in the current Bill.
The hon. Gentleman has brilliantly pre-empted my next comments. If only he were a little more patient, all would be revealed. Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has been consulting on related changes to the taxation of illegal waste disposals over the summer, and we will set out our proposals in this area on
The hon. Gentleman is right about the importance of those measures, and they will go forward. The policy has not changed; it will just come forward at a different time with other measures in this area.
Our record on addressing tax avoidance speaks for itself. HMRC has raised £160 billion from clamping down on avoidance, evasion and non-compliance since 2010, which is a vast improvement. Given that our current deficit is running at about a third of the 2010 level, this Government have brought in a huge amount of money. In terms of having the resources, we have invested £1.8 billion in HMRC since 2010 to focus exactly on tax avoidance.
All the measures relating to the motions we are debating will be out there and will be clear. They will be brought forward along with other measures later in this Session.
Moving back to the Bill at hand, the motions on the Order Paper give little mystery as to the provisions that we will be introducing. I look forward to debating them in more detail as the Bill progresses, and I will say more about the overall aims of the Bill on Second Reading. For the moment, I will provide a brief outline of some of the main measures.
The Bill that the motions provide the basis for will make significant changes to the corporation tax regime for large companies. Building on work that this Government have championed internationally and the recommendations of the OECD, the Bill will limit the extent to which big multinational corporations can reduce the tax they pay in the UK through excessive deductions for interest expense. That measure will address a significant area of corporate tax avoidance, and is forecast to raise £5.3 billion over the next five years by ensuring those corporations pay a fair contribution.
The Bill will also change the treatment of losses within corporation tax; it restricts the extent to which past losses can be set against taxable profits, ensuring that companies with profits over £5 million in a year must pay some corporation tax. At the same time, the Bill will provide for allowances recognising donations to grassroots sport and to museum and gallery exhibitions, and for new £1,000 allowances so that those earning small amounts from trading or property will not have to pay tax on this income. The changes to tackle avoidance of corporation tax by multinationals are part of a number of changes that take further steps in tackling tax avoidance and tax evasion.
My hon. Friend is relatively new to this House but she makes an important and insightful point, which is that, as we know, we should be under no illusions that under Labour’s plans corporation tax will rise. We have seen it fall from 28% to 19%, and it will continue down to 17%—
Order. I thank the hon. Gentleman for his point of order. It is right that we must keep a careful eye on these matters, which of course I am doing. I am sure the Minister is, in the remarks he is making, using as an illustration other policies that may not be his policies. Of course, if he is replying to points raised in the debate, I will always encourage that, because it is important that every Member in this House has a say in the debate. [Interruption.]
The hon. Gentleman must not add more from a sedentary position to his point of order, so I will not take up that point, which in any case I cannot answer. The Minister has barely begun, and I am sure that in his wide-ranging speech he will cover everything he ought to cover and everything the House requires him to cover.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I could not have put that better myself. [Interruption.] And I will get on with it, too. I am not surprised that Labour Members are slightly shy about our discussing their tax plans, because they are not good for our country. Having a plan to raise corporation tax to 26%, with an increase for small companies as well, and to change the tax threshold to bring many, many more people into the higher rate of tax is not a way of incentivising jobs, wealth and economic growth, as the hon. Gentleman well knows.
Our changes to tackle avoidance of corporation tax by multinationals are part of a number of changes that take further steps in tackling tax avoidance and tax evasion. Others covered by these resolutions will introduce a penalty for those who enable tax avoidance, a penalty for transactions connected with VAT fraud and measures to tackle disguised remuneration tax-avoidance schemes.
The Government’s aim to make the tax system fairer is further supported by the Bill’s provisions on the taxation of those with non-domiciled status. A number of changes will be made, and these are forecast to raise £1.6 billion over the next five years. Most importantly, permanent non-dom status for people resident in the UK will be ended, so that they pay tax in the same way as everybody else. That major reform makes the tax system—
I wish to make a point about tax avoidance and fraud. When it comes to landfill tax, will that extend to companies or public organisations which know that the price they are paying for the collection of their waste cannot possibly include the disposal rates of landfill tax? Or will it cover those accountants and others who are involved in a landfill tax company and know what is actually going on? Will that be covered by the definition of fraud and avoidance?
I will ask the relevant Minister in the relevant Department to get back to the hon. Gentleman on that very specific point.
I was discussing a major reform that makes the tax system fairer and supports the public finances, increasing, but not jeopardising, the contribution that non-doms make to tax revenues. Other clauses will legislate for the changes—
The answer to the hon. Gentleman’s question is that that is precisely what this Bill will be achieving. We will be putting an end to permanent non-dom status, so that those who are “deemed domicile” are treated on the same basis for taxation purposes as other residents in our country. Let me gently remind him that his party was in government for 13 years and very little happened then on the issues to which he now professes objection. So we should not be taking too many lessons from Labour on the issue of non-doms.
Does my right hon. Friend recall, as I do, that for the best part of a decade the Labour party kept saying every year that it would do something about non-doms and then did nothing whatsoever because it was so into the prawn cocktail circuit and pandering to big business, and that Labour only ever took any action when it was humiliated by our previous Chancellor, George Osborne, when he was in opposition? Does my right hon. Friend also agree that this Government have been leading the way consistently on making sure that a fair share of tax is paid by non-doms and others?
My hon. Friend is entirely right about that. We currently raise £7 billion a year from non-domiciled individuals, which is £1 billion more than was the case a decade ago. The provisions in this Bill will ensure that we raise a further £1.6 billion over the next five years, so this Government are serious about this issue and are acting on it.
Other clauses will legislate for the changes we have announced to the dividend allowance, reducing the differential between taxation of different individuals, and to the money purchase annual allowance for those who have accessed their pensions under the flexibilities that this Government have provided.
I was provoked to my feet by the word “finally”. I am very concerned that a number of the resolutions before us include the words
“including provision having retrospective effect”.
I have waited patiently for the Minister, guided by Madam Deputy Speaker in his extensive contribution on this crucial piece of legislation—we are discussing the Budget and the Finance Bill, for goodness’ sake—to tell us why on earth so many provisions are having retrospective effect.
The answer to the hon. Lady’s question is that many of these things relate to the fact that this Bill has been, in effect, interrupted; we now have a second Finance Bill because we had a general election some time ago, as a consequence of which not all of the measures that were going through Parliament at that time were proceeded with. The second point I would make to her is that the fact that some measures are retrospective does not mean that they have not been fully consulted on or that draft legislation has not been out there to inform the public and stakeholders.
I raise this point because where there is late payment of tax, for whatever reason, be it carelessness or inattention to a particular detail, penalties and fines will be imposed. When we are considering things having retrospective effect, we may well find that such provisions will not comply with our commitments under the European convention on human rights about the retrospective creation of fines and penalties. The Government will not want to hear that, but I just bring it to the Minister’s attention when we talk about the retrospective effect of any provisions in a Bill such as this, which involves fines and penalties.
I thank the hon. Lady for her further thoughtful point, but I just return to my comments, which are that those who will be affected by the retrospective measures in this Bill will have had an opportunity to be fully apprised of them prior to their coming into force under an Act of Parliament.
In conclusion, the resolutions provide for the Finance Bill to legislate for Making Tax Digital. The Government are committed to creating a tax system fit for the digital age. Businesses increasingly interact with customers, manage their purchasing, organise their payroll and undertake a host of other functions online. It is the future for keeping their accounts and reporting their tax affairs. Moving to a digital system will help us to address the £9 billion annual cost of taxpayer errors. It is right that we act.
As one of the Conservative Members who was gently trying to persuade the Government to take a more staged approach to Making Tax Digital, may I take this opportunity to thank the Minister for his announcement in July of the changes to the scheme? Those changes have been greeted in particular by the small business community with some relief and gratitude, and I speak as a small business owner myself. The prolonged nature of introducing the full-throated Making Tax Digital programme means that business has time to adapt. Will he confirm that that means the Government have plenty of time to tweak the system for some of the perhaps unforeseen burdens that may still arise?
I thank my hon. Friend for his kind remarks. By way of mutual appreciation, I thank him for his input around the discussions I held immediately prior to taking the decisions to which he alludes. He is right that we now have the time to ensure that the measures are sufficiently piloted, are robust and are not overly onerous on the businesses and individuals to whom they will apply, and that they work to make businesses more efficient and effective in themselves while reducing the tax gap further and raising much needed revenues.
I have heard the representations from businesses and from members of the House about the speed of the transition to Making Tax Digital. To ensure that businesses are ready, I announced a new timetable for the programme before the summer recess. In the first instance, from April 2019 participation will be required only for businesses that have to register for VAT and they will be required to provide only updates on their VAT liabilities, which they already report quarterly. We will extend mandatory participation further only once the programme has been shown to work well, and at the very earliest in April 2020. As my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse suggested, I know that will be welcomed by Members from all parts of the House who have raised such concerns with me.
As I have outlined, the purpose of the resolutions we have tabled is to enable the introduction of a Finance Bill that will legislate for a number of tax changes announced before the general election. The changes the Bill will make are important. They will make a major contribution to the public finances, tackle tax avoidance and evasion and address areas of unfairness in the tax system. We will doubtless debate the principles of the changes fully on Second Reading and consider them in detail in Committee. Today is an opportunity to begin that process and take forward again the tax legislation curtailed at the end of the last Parliament. I commend the resolutions to the House.
I noted the Minister’s comment that there is no change in policy. From that statement it is clear that the Government have learned absolutely nothing from the result of the general election, which is a terrible shame. The Opposition welcome the Government finally laying before the House the Ways and Means resolutions, which will comprise the so-called “summer” Finance Bill, but the clue is supposed to be in the name. I find it rather odd, as I am sure many of my parliamentary colleagues do, that we stand here in early September debating a summer Finance Bill that was expected to be introduced and passed before the summer recess. Alas, it was not.
I recall the Minister’s predecessor standing at the Dispatch Box only four and a half months ago assuring the House that if the Government were returned, they would immediately bring forward measures dropped from the previous Finance Bill due to lack of parliamentary time. However, they have an excuse for the procrastination: it is called chaos. We have a chaotic Government, chaotically stumbling from crisis to crisis, not knowing one part of their anatomy from another. After the election, we returned to a zombie Parliament where little in the way of business was put forward to be debated in the House. Mr Speaker referred today to the whole question of the scrutiny that we are supposed to be doing, but the Government are not putting anything forward for us to scrutinise.
Not only is the Prime Minister one of the walking dead, but she wants Parliament to join her. On a number of occasions, my colleagues and I wrote to the Treasury to ascertain the date for the Finance Bill. In addition, the issue was raised twice in business questions and the Chancellor was asked about it in Treasury questions, all to no avail and no answer. It was the fifth amendment approach to answering questions. It was only in the waning hours, as Members packed up before the House rose for summer recess, that the Government were forced to publish the date for the Bill’s return.
I know the Treasury lost two Ministers in the election—to rework Oscar Wilde’s observation, losing one Minister is a misfortune, but to lose both looks like carelessness—but surely the country cannot simply hang around because the Government are in meltdown. The Government are making an art form out of uncertainty. We have uncertainty about Brexit, uncertainty about the country’s finances, as the resolutions indicate, and now uncertainty about the Prime Minister’s job prospects. The only certainty we have is the inability of this vacuous, hapless Government to govern with any scintilla of competence or compassion.
The Government had five weeks after the general election to introduce measures dropped from the previous Finance Bill and bring certainty to taxpayers and businesses. Many of those businesses have already undertaken the administrative and financial burden of ensuring that they meet the stipulations of the measures included in the Ways and Means resolutions being debated today. The Minister could have brought forward the resolutions and published the Bill before the House rose for summer recess. That would have allowed Members and the businesses and taxpayers affected time to read through the proposals and examine them thoroughly. Instead, the Government have cynically restricted the debate by scheduling the Second Reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill for tomorrow.
Next week, the Minister intends to push ahead with the Second Reading of the Finance Bill only four days after its publication, with the explanatory notes being published on the day of Second Reading. Once again, the Chancellor and the Treasury are deliberately shying away from the parliamentary scrutiny that we should be having on these resolutions. This is a time of great political and economic uncertainty, and the measures included in the resolutions do little to address the problems at hand. The global economy is on the move, while Britain under the Tories is being left behind. The resolutions are defined more by what is not in them than what is. There is nothing about investment, nothing about productivity and nothing about public services—much ado about nothing.
I would not proffer advice to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham, because he is an expert on that issue, but I will listen clearly to what he says. Unlike the Government, I listen to my colleagues on the Back Benches.
We need only look across the channel to see that every European economy outgrew Britain in the GDP figures for the first quarter. Our productivity rate remains one of the worst in the G7 and is lower than it was 10 years ago. Real wages continue to fall behind inflation. More than ever, we need bold and radical solutions to stimulate growth, raise productivity and encourage investment in our economy. None of the resolutions before us will do that. Even the Archbishop of Canterbury has made that point. Rather than focusing on balancing the budget or tackling our growing debt to GDP ratio, we have a Chancellor who spent the summer in the witness protection programme, rearing his head only to brief against his boss when the coast was clear and the Prime Minister was abroad.
The measures before the House represent the Government’s failure to take the opportunity to begin seriously to tackle the challenges that our economy and country face. For example, it is clear that the Tories have no answers on how to raise productivity and no answers on how to tackle the growing inequality in pay. We are now experiencing the longest period of wage stagnation for 150 years, with nurses having to demonstrate in Parliament Square to make their point. The Tories have no answers when it comes to creating an economy that works for the many and not just for a privileged few.
The hon. Gentleman’s former noble friend Lord Sugar, who knows a little about productivity and running a business, poured a huge amount of cold water on the prospectus that the Labour party put before the electorate a few months ago, which was clearly rejected by the largest number of businesses and business owners. Rather than the vaudeville that the hon. Gentleman seems to be going on about—it is like the Labour party conference speech that he might give, if he is given a platform—why does he not address the issues before the House?
I can name them.
None of the measures before the House address the growing black hole in the public finances, which is the direct result of the Government’s mismanagement and economic incompetence. As things stand, there is a £3 billion black hole in the public finances, made up of the Chancellor’s U-turn on the proposed increases to class 4 national insurance contributions for the self-employed on low and middle incomes; the unlawful employment tribunal fees the Government have been forced to repay; and, yes, the £1 billion bung to the Democratic Unionist party to buy its silence and compliance. Nor do the Government acknowledge the added cost to the taxpayer of delaying the implementation date for “Making Tax Digital”, which they were warned was problematic by all and sundry.
Make no mistake: this is no ordinary Finance Bill we are talking about. If passed, a number of its measures will create a charter championing tax avoidance and leaving billions of pounds of tax uncollected. Using smokescreens and false titles, the Treasury has hidden to the unsuspecting eye giant loopholes for offshore trusts in complicated tax measures. While claiming to end non-domicile status, the Chancellor is at the same time encouraging people to bend the rules and siphon off money overseas into tax haven trusts. He has excluded from one of the Bill’s key deeming measures non-doms who have inherited their status. The Government are on the side of tax dodgers, not taxpayers.
There is nothing in the measures before the House that will address the resource crisis that HMRC is facing as the Government plan to cut £83 million from its budget, along with the debacle that is its 10-year modernisation programme.
Contrary to what the hon. Gentleman just said, the Government have raised more than £9 billion from non-doms. Those funds contribute to the Exchequer, enable us to fund public services and raise the country’s productivity rate.
The reality is that the Tories support tax dodgers. Full stop.
Several of the measures before the House will create even more work for the falling number of people employed by HMRC and put further strain on them. The Government’s actions will ensure that many of the so-called anti-avoidance measures trumpeted by the Minister will fail before they even begin.
My hon. Friend has just touched on how the Minister is going to implement these measures, which is what I asked him about earlier. He will probably know that the Government are closing tax offices throughout the country, with a reduction in staff as a result. How can they honestly say they are going to implement legislation to go after tax dodgers?
I urge caution on the hon. Gentleman before he throws around wild accusations about the Government supporting tax dodgers. For what it is worth, in my previous life I used to prosecute massive tax fraudsters. I am very happy with the fact that I have helped fraud prosecutors to put a lot of nasty people into prison, so I take great offence at the hon. Gentleman’s attempt to cast all Conservative MPs in that way. The best way to deal with tax evasion and tax dodging is not to throw empty words across the Chamber but to work with the Government to reduce and stop something that we all want to see the end of: tax dodgers not paying their dues.
I hope the hon. Lady will be busier in her job.
I find it baffling that, at a time when the Government are introducing some of the most complex plans to make tax digital, and while there is so much uncertainty about how taxation and customs will work post-Brexit, they are choosing to fire HMRC staff rather than hire them. To put it simply, were the Government truly serious about wanting to close the tax gap, which costs the UK taxpayer a minimum of £36 billion every year, they would give it the resources it so desperately needs. Given the thousands of accountants and lawyers across the world whose sole occupation is to advise and enable tax avoidance, it will never be a fair fight.
The sieve-like measures on non-doms that I have mentioned are perforated even further by the plan to loosen the rules on business investment relief. That measure will allow non-doms to remit funds into the UK without paying the usual taxes. There is little evidence that such relief has been effective in encouraging greater investment in business, so expanding it is only a giveaway to non-doms. If any of us wish to invest, we have to pay the appropriate taxes. There should not be different rules for a privileged few, which maintains the Government’s view that the UK can only ever be attractive as a tax haven. The Government’s race to the bottom begins in earnest and enthusiastically.
On business investment relief, it was suggested a moment ago that we should work with the Government. Does my hon. Friend agree that they should publish details of which companies and businesses benefit from such investment, and what part of the country they are located in? That way, we will be able to see whether there is anything to work with.
My hon. Friend makes a good point; I hope the Government will listen carefully to what he says and, more importantly, act on it.
The devolution of corporation tax rates to Northern Ireland has been debated in the Chamber many times, and we do not seek to reopen the debate. Nevertheless, we have not debated and will not welcome the clear attempts by the Government to loosen the definition of a Northern Irish employer and water down the requirements for claiming the lower corporation tax rate in Northern Ireland. Under the measure before us, corporations would effectively use Northern Ireland as an onshore tax haven. They would set up small offices with a brass plate on the door, but bring in little of the real investment and jobs that Northern Ireland needs.
We see special treatment for corporations and non-doms, but the news is less good for workers at risk of losing their jobs. The proposed measures on termination payments, if they reflect what was before the House before the election, will target sacked workers as a source of revenue. If there is genuine evidence of the abuse of payments in lieu of notice, that needs to be acted on, but the Government have tacked on a power for the Treasury to reduce the tax exemption on termination payments without primary legislation. That would be a U-turn on their previous statements about dropping such plans. If there is no intention to use the power to reduce the exemption, then the measures should be amended so that it can only be uprated, not reduced. The Government also heartlessly want to enshrine the taxable status of “injury to feelings” compensation. Even when that reflects HMRC’s practice, why is it seen as a priority for legislation?
So there we have it: these motions will introduce a summer Finance Bill that stretches the meaning of summer and will leave taxpayers and businesses with months of uncertainty. It is a Bill that will do nothing seriously to tackle tax avoidance, with the Government claiming to take on non-doms while in the same breath legislating to protect the offshore trusts; a Bill that fails to address the growing black hole and the Conservatives’ mismanagement of our public finances; and a Bill that will protect the privileged few while doing nothing for the many.
This is a dark, miserable, barren winter Finance Bill with a wrathful nipping cold. We have waited a whole season for these resolutions, and they only reaffirm what we already knew: that the country can wait no longer for this disastrous and divided Conservative Government to step aside and make way for a Labour Government who will invest to grow our economy, balance our public finances and take on the tax dodgers—which the Conservatives won’t do.
This is the first time that I have spoken in a debate in which you have been in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker, so may I welcome you to your role? It is a real pleasure to see you in the Chair, and I thank you for calling me in this important debate.
First, let me welcome my right hon. Friend Mel Stride to his new role as Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I know that he has already spoken at Question Time, but I think that this is his first formal debate. It is just about right to say that he has already been in that post for longer than I was before I was moved on to the Department for Education. As I shall explain shortly, and as we have already heard this afternoon, my right hon. Friend has already made a positive impact through his decision on the Making Tax Digital work. I look forward to working constructively with him and other Treasury Ministers over the next few months and years.
This is my first speech in the Chamber as the incoming Chair of the Treasury Committee, so it is right that I should pay tribute to my predecessor, the former Member for Chichester, the indefatigable Andrew Tyrie. During his seven years as Chairman, he took Select Committee scrutiny into new territory, successfully pressing for new powers over appointment hearings, securing fundamental reform of the Bank of England’s governance and accountability to Parliament, and conducting forensic cross-examination of Ministers, officials and senior figures in the financial services industry. His work on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards led directly to vital reforms to restore public trust and personal accountability in our banking industry. I know that he will be a hard act to follow, but I will try my best to maintain his rigorous standards of scrutiny and to increase further the reputation and influence of the Treasury Committee.
It is unfortunate that we are having the debate before the Treasury Committee has been formally constituted. After a four-month hiatus, many of the incoming Select Committee Chairs are impatient for the normal business of Select Committee scrutiny to resume. I should note that until the other members of the Treasury Committee have formally been appointed, my remarks are made in a personal capacity.
The economic context for the resolutions is complex and uncertain, and some of it has already been highlighted. Employment is at record levels, but productivity is in the doldrums. Consumer spending and confidence seem resilient, but unsecured borrowing is rising rapidly. The deficit continues to fall, thanks to the efforts of the Chancellor and his predecessor, but the fiscal rules have had to be relaxed to insure against rising economic uncertainty. I am sure that over the coming months the Treasury Committee will consider this complex picture in detail, and we will want to hear from the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor as part of that process. However, with the terms on which the UK will leave the EU as uncertain as they are, nobody can predict with confidence the path for our economy and public finances.
There is one thing that we can be certain about: the country’s economic success and fiscal credibility depend on the Government sustaining their commitment to economic openness—openness to trade, openness to investment and openness to migration. Leaving the European Union must not become a retreat into economic nationalism and isolationism. Global Britain must not just be a slogan.
Let me turn to the resolutions. In 2011, the Treasury Committee set out some principles of tax policy, and I expect that the new Committee will want to hold the Treasury to account for its adherence to them. In fact, I hope that we will be very interested in how future tax policy is made and the Treasury’s work on the overall tax base, given the changing nature of our economy and employment patterns.
Two of the principles identified in 2011 were that tax should provide certainty and stability, as was highlighted in an intervention by Lady Hermon, who is not in the Chamber at the moment. It is alarming to see that 27 of the 48 Ways and Means resolutions are marked as
“including provision having retrospective effect” because the principle of retrospective taxation undermines the certainty and stability of our tax system, so it should be deployed sparingly and only with good reason.
I acknowledge that in this case—the Minister has highlighted this—the Government have been quick to confirm their intentions. The previous Finance Bill was originally published in March, before the start of the tax year but, because many of its provisions were not passed before the June general election, they are coming back before the House in September. The shadow Minister complained that what is promised to be published in the summer comes forward in September. Well, it has always seemed rather strange to me that an autumn statement happens in December. There are always rather odd vagaries regarding when Government announcements are made, but perhaps that will be solved by our having just one major fiscal event in any one year.
The Financial Secretary stated in July that a number of the provisions from the original Bill would apply retrospectively to the start of this tax year when they were reintroduced in
“a Finance Bill as soon as possible after the summer recess”—[Official Report,
Vol. 627, c. 11WS.]
It is therefore true to say that the retrospection in this case is not as bad as it might appear. The provisions were outlined before the start of the tax year and have been reiterated as soon as possible after the election.
As we heard from one of the former members of the Treasury Committee, my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse—I am delighted to say that he has been re-elected—the Committee also had a strong interest in Making Tax Digital, to which resolutions 38 and 39 apply. It produced a valuable report on the subject in January, shortly before the Government announced their plans following a consultation. No one I have spoken to objects in principle to the idea of digital interaction with HMRC over tax, but widespread concerns were raised about the speed with which Making Tax Digital was being implemented and the fact that it would be mandatory for even the smallest businesses.
Like the right hon. Lady, I think that the digital movement is an improvement, but has she come across examples—I have one in my constituency—of when there is a problem and small businesses particularly need to speak to somebody? Following the closure of tax offices, it takes a long time before one is actually able to speak to someone on the phone. Although the digital movement is welcome for many businesses, does she think we also need an element of personal interaction?
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. We have agreed that people want more digital interactions. They are now much more used to them, and that is how people do their banking and lots of ordering. However, when there is a problem—we have seen this with the introduction of free childcare, which was the subject of the urgent question earlier today—people do need to speak to someone. That is particularly true for the smallest businesses, for which dealing with HMRC can be stressful and something they want resolved as quickly as possible. HMRC will want to consider whether that is done through face-to-face contact at offices, or by ensuring that there is a really good phone helpline system or another way of speaking online to people who are able to respond rapidly. I do not want to pre-empt what the Committee will look at, but as constituency Members of Parliament, we have all heard about cases when people have found getting hold of HMRC frustrating. HMRC is aware of that, and it has done a lot of work to improve customer service, but that is something that Members of Parliament could certainly look at further.
I welcome the deferral that the Financial Secretary announced on
I congratulate my right hon. Friend on her election as the Chair of the Treasury Committee. Does she think it would be sensible for the Government—notwithstanding the fact that they are not planning at the moment to include income tax for sole traders in Making Tax Digital—to make provision for voluntary participation, so that they would see the popularity of the scheme if people did volunteer in numbers, as they did with the introduction of online self-assessment? The Government might find that 60% or 70% of businesses participate anyway within the timeframe they are proposing, so making participation mandatory would become relatively painless.
I thank my hon. Friend very much for that suggestion. What he says has much merit, and it may well be something we want to explore in Committee. It would be fair to say that a common view among Conservative Members, and the reason why we are on this side of the House, is that we believe in encouraging, not compelling, people to do something that the Government and the state want them to do. If there are ways of encouraging and incentivising people to get online and to use this system, and if it becomes clear at some stage in the future that that is the way forward, many businesses and sole traders will already be online and used to using the system.
Deferring the change for some taxes for a couple of years or more will give everybody welcome time to prepare, but it will not solve all the problems. I therefore suspect that the new Committee will want to explore the costs and benefits fully, as its predecessor had started to do. There is definitely scope to scrutinise the Government’s published estimates for the administrative costs to business and for the supposed reduction in the tax gap as a consequence of businesses making fewer mistakes because they are reporting digitally and quarterly. But that, you will be pleased to hear, Madam Deputy Speaker, is for another day.
Meanwhile, the forthcoming Finance Bill, which the House will consider shortly, will pave the way for the implementation of Making Tax Digital. The Bill that was introduced before the election was called did little more than pave the way; nearly every paragraph in the relevant schedule contained a regulation-making power. This meant that the Bill would have delegated nearly all the key details to secondary legislation under the negative procedure. Compounded by the fact that the draft statutory instruments were not published for consultation, that does not make for good parliamentary scrutiny, and the House will return to the overall principle of the scrutiny of secondary legislation when we consider the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill tomorrow, before we even get to the Finance Bill.
At a more general level, I suspect that the new Committee will also want to scrutinise Budgets, Finance Bills and possibly even spring statements in a similar way to its predecessor. It is important that tax policy gets adequate parliamentary scrutiny, and I hope that the new Treasury Committee and Public Bill Committees will get more chance to scrutinise the Treasury’s proposals at autumn Budgets than the Select Committee did with the last spring Budget, given the circumstances of the general election.
Organisations have suggested that Finance Public Bill Committees should be able to hear evidence, which has not happened in the past. What is the right hon. Lady’s view on that? Will she consider looking at it?
I might be guided by you on this, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I suspect that that is actually a matter for the House authorities, the usual channels and the Front Benches, although the House and Ministers will have heard the hon. Lady. Obviously, the more constructive evidence that can be given on legislation, the better legislation we have.
I will finish by saying that I look forward to seeing the Minister before the Treasury Committee. He might not be looking forward to it so much, but I promise that we will be firm but fair in our questioning of him. I wish him all the very best as he embarks on his first Finance Bill.
I appreciate the chance to take part in this Ways and Mean debate, which is one of the few not to follow a Budget—somebody told me it is the first since 1987, when I was 1.
From the shadow Front Bench, Peter Dowd talked about some of the process issues and timelines involved in how we got to where we are now, and I want to briefly mention them. The spring Budget was presented to the House on
In my intervention on the Chair of the Treasury Committee, I mentioned the Public Bill Committee taking evidence. I have raised the issue before and I will not stop raising it. The Finance Bill Committee should take evidence from external organisations so that it is in the best possible position to make the best decisions. I have been on a Finance Bill Committee and found it a useful experience whereby Members on both sides of the House had an in-depth debate about the matters raised. Enabling the Committee to take evidence would only add value to the scrutiny provided both by the Opposition and by Back Benchers, particularly those from the Conservative party.
The Minister will probably be surprised to hear that I welcome some of the Government’s proposed Ways and Means resolutions, including the changes to the treatment of corporation tax with regard to museum and gallery exhibitions. However, I wish to raise the issue of the Value Added Tax (Refund of Tax to Museums and Galleries) (Amendment) Order 2017. The intention was that it be laid before the House in advance of the summer recess, but then the general election happened. The order has not been mentioned and I am concerned that some museums and galleries may lose out on the VAT that they had expected to get back. They expected it to be paid to them, but the amendment has not yet been laid before the House. I know that that is slightly different matter from that in the Ways and Means resolutions, but it is related to it. I would appreciate it if the Minister or his team could look into the order.
I also welcome the changes to grassroots sports and to pensions and legal advice. It is particularly important that people have better access to legal advice, especially when they are not the accused and are entering legal situations. That is a scary prospect for a number of people, so it is incredibly positive that they will get easier access to appropriate legal advice.
The Scottish Government’s programme for government was announced yesterday and they are incredibly positive about changes to enable electric vehicles to become more prevalent on our roads and petrol and diesel vehicles to be phased out. I am therefore pleased that there are likely to be changes to electric vehicle charging points. I hope that this Government will continue to make changes to allow electric vehicles and their associated infrastructure to become more affordable.
I support the Government on a couple of other things. If the proposed changes in the Ways and Means resolutions on petroleum revenue tax are the same as those proposed in the previous Finance Bill, they are positive because the oil industry has asked for them. I am pleased that the Government have acted on that. I am also pleased that the Government will take action against people who have been found to be enabling tax avoidance schemes, not just those who participate in such schemes. That is really positive and I hope that it will achieve the Government’s intention and discourage people from being clever and coming up with tax avoidance schemes. My fingers are crossed and we will wait to see what happens.
Members would not expect me to be positive about all of the Government’s proposals. I am concerned that there is a lack of evidence for the Government’s desired outcome regarding some of the proposals. Resolution 13, on business investment relief, sends a mixed message. Whereas the Government’s changes under resolutions 24 and 26 intend to make it more difficult for non-doms to benefit from their tax status, resolution 13 will make it easier for them to do so in a way that their next-door neighbour may not. Now, I would be less concerned about that if the Government had provided appropriate evidence to show why the scheme is a good thing. They have made it clear that they want to increase the use of the scheme, but I have not seen any evidence to explain why. They have not shown me that the scheme is working as it was intended to work, nor that it is having a particularly positive impact on the businesses that are receiving funding from it. I understand that 200 to 400 people take part in the scheme every year, which means that a pretty significant amount of legislative effort and time is being put into making a change that enables a very small number of people to make this investment. I would be interested to see more of the Government’s figures.
I am concerned about resolution 41, which deals with errors in taxpayers’ documents. It specifically includes changes that may result in people who seek tax advice getting into trouble for having errors in their documents. The onus is now on an individual to ensure that the person from whom they seek tax advice is suitably qualified, which is rather difficult for people to understand. I have had people come into my surgeries and tell me that they have sought immigration advice from somebody they thought was a solicitor, but who turned out not to be a solicitor. I am concerned that some people who have tried their very best to stay on the right side of the law, to pay the amount of tax that they should pay and to fill in the forms appropriately with the help of an adviser will be caught by the measure accidentally. I would appreciate it if the Government could look at that.
I am interested to see how the Government will play another couple of issues, if they look exactly as they did in the Finance Bill. One is the changes to gaming duty. I understand that the Government are trying not to penalise casinos with the changes to the duty that casinos pay, and that they are trying to change the rules around remote gaming to make it clear how much tax the companies should pay. That is welcome. But when the Government are doing things such as increasing alcohol duty to discourage negative behaviour, it seems strange to me to allow casinos to pay less tax—or not to increase the amount of tax that they pay—because it will achieve the opposite of what the Government are trying to do in encouraging positive behaviour. I will be interested to see how that looks, and we will continue to scrutinise it.
We will also continue to look at the dividend nil rate. The Ways and Means resolution allows the Government to change things in either direction. If the dividend nil rate allowed people to have more dividends before they paid tax, I would be particularly concerned about it; but if it allowed people to have less in dividends before they paid tax, as was the situation in the previous Finance Bill, I would be much more positive about it.
Those are the main proposals that I have concerns about, but I would like to see the detail that the Government will produce. I am pleased that the Minister has made changes to digital reporting, which was in our manifesto. We have particular concerns about the smallest companies, especially those in particularly rural areas, who struggle to get access to the right digital infrastructure. Both Governments have made commitments about digitisation and access to superfast broadband, so having this slightly further down the line makes more sense. I am pleased that the Government listened and made changes, but we will be scrutinising the proposal and making sure that the business community is as happy with it as it can be.
Moving to digital reporting will make the process easier for people, but I reiterate that, as Mr Cunningham has said, the closure of tax offices is a concern, even when it comes to Making Tax Digital. Computer systems can be quite black and white, and they often give yes/no answers when the answer should actually be “maybe”. Especially in the initial period, people who are trying to fill in the forms may need to phone the tax office to ask for assistance about what to put in each box. I am not convinced that businesses can access enough support to find out about that.
The Government will expect me to raise the issue of VAT on police and fire services, because such a debate would not be complete without my raising it. We would very much like the Government to bring forward VAT changes for police and fire services in Scotland. They have done so for organisations such as the London Legacy Development Corporation—the legacy body from the Olympic Games—and for Highways England, both of which are national organisations in the same boat as the Scottish police and fire services.
Such a policy was in the Conservative party manifesto for the Scottish Parliament election that year, so the centralisation of Scottish police and fire services was also supported by the Scottish Conservatives. Yes, we knew that that would be the case, but we do not think it is fair, and we have made the case that it is not fair on numerous occasions. Organisations such as Highways England and London Legacy do not have the same VAT treatment as the Scottish police and fire services, and that is why we are asking for such a change.
I know that this legislation has been cobbled together—it is just the bits that did not get through last time—but none of the changes the Government are making will combat the current increases in inflation, and the Government are not increasing wages so that ordinary people can afford such increases in the cost of living. In Scotland, we are lifting the 1% public sector pay cap, and I very much hope that the UK Government will take the same decision to lift the public sector pay cap in England and that when they do so—if they do so—they will ensure that that is fully funded.
I have one last thing to mention, particularly in relation to tax raising and tax avoidance, which is about customs officers and customs checks. I am slightly concerned that the UK Government are losing out on some of the revenue they could receive because they no longer use customs officers in the way they used to, but instead make them dedicate most of their time at borders to making sure that people are travelling legally rather than to ensuring that goods are being transported legally. I know that some stuff is in place—but not enough. I want the Government to be scrutinised more effectively on this, and for the Government to monitor what happens at ports more effectively to ensure that the appropriate tax is paid on things coming into and going out of the country. Making a change to ensure that they are checked appropriately and are therefore taxed appropriately can only bring in more revenue.
In summary, there are number of good things in the Ways and Means resolutions, but I have concerns about several of them. I have significant concerns about some resolutions, such as resolution 13 on business investment relief, and I am also pretty concerned about resolution 4 on termination payments, because I have not seen any evidence to show that the issue is as significant as the Government are suggesting. The likelihood is that the SNP will vote against those resolutions if there is a vote. I appreciate that I have used up my time, and I am grateful to hon. Members for listening.
I want to build on what my right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan said about resolutions 39 and 40 on Making Tax Digital. As the co-founder of a small accounting firm and as MP for Ochil and South Perthshire, it is clear to me that many small businesses had concerns about the initial proposals made before the recess. Although I certainly welcome some of the concessions that have been made, I hope that the Financial Secretary recognises some of the additional cost burdens that the reporting requirements will place on small businesses. The Federation of Small Businesses estimates that they amount to about £2,770.
As I have said, I welcome the Government’s concessions —especially excluding companies with revenues below £85,000, and pushing out the timeline for companies to have to enrol in a digital reporting scheme in future—but may I ask the Government to continue to consult widely with Members of the House and business bodies across the United Kingdom, including in Scotland? In addition, will they look to work with some of the new technology providers and cloud accountancy services providers, which could provide the Government with more efficient and effective ways of getting the information they seek without necessarily requiring a manual reporting submission quarterly?
My second point is about VAT and Police Scotland. In my intervention, I pointed out that it was a result of the actions of the SNP Administration in Edinburgh, but we may have some cross-party agreement on the fact that the outcome for Scotland is less beneficial, so colleagues and I will ask the Government to review the matter as part of the forthcoming Budget process.
I begin by welcoming you to the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I know that you were in the Chair before the recess, but it is the first time that I have had the honour of speaking when you are in the Chair and I wish you all the best in the coming years.
I would like to speak rubbish—[Interruption.] Somebody asks, “What’s new?” I could not possibly comment on my contributions in the Chamber. I actually want to talk about landfill tax and why it has not been included in the resolutions. It is a serious matter, and the Financial Secretary alluded to the reason for its omission. I want to put some of my concerns on record.
In the 2016 Budget and after consultation last summer, provisions were earmarked to be included in the 2017 Finance Bill through secondary legislation to amend taxable disposal for landfill tax purposes. The Financial Secretary explained that many things had been disrupted because of the general election. We cannot change that and I accept that certain matters were taken out of the Budget in the wash-up, which is standard practice. However, the measure on landfill tax was not. It was included until last week. The Financial Secretary said that the consultation on landfill tax will be included, but will now be published in September.
I will explain why landfill tax is so important in the context of the tax avoidance and fraud agenda that the Government say they wish to progress. I am not making party political points: the position is not all the fault of the current Conservative Government; it is as a result of the way in which successive Governments have implemented landfill tax. However, there are things that we can and must do, because the problem is not just that people do not pay the tax that they should to the Exchequer; it is that, in some areas, avoidance funds organised crime and leads to huge costs for local authorities and the taxpayer in cleaning up some of the issues.
The Government estimate in a 2014-15 report that some £150 million a year is not being paid in landfill tax. The Environmental Services Association reckons that the figure is nearly £1 billion a year. From my work in looking at the sector, £150 million seems a conservative figure. If we take HMRC’s figure, that represents 12% of lost revenue, which is on a par with tobacco and alcohol tax avoidance. One would think that it was easier to track landfill tax avoidance than alcohol and tobacco tax avoidance—so it should be. I accept that issues affect tobacco and alcohol sales that sometimes make it difficult to claim tax. However, with landfill tax, we are talking about large consignments of domestic and commercial waste, and its destination should not be hard to track.
The system was introduced as an environmental measure. The policy that Labour and Conservative Governments have pursued to try to reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfill and increase recycling is right. I will come on to the policy in Scotland, which creates a problem in England. The Scots are now dumping their rubbish in England to avoid the SNP Government’s so-called PR stunt in introducing 100% recycling, which we all know is impossible.
At present there are two rates of landfill tax: the standard rate of £84.40, which is due to rise to £88.95 in the 2018 Budget, and the lower rate of £2.65, which is due to rise to £2.80 in 2018. Successive Governments have, I think rightly, increased landfill tax over time—to generate revenue, obviously, but also to try to encourage people to recycle more. There is nothing wrong with that, and I do not criticise it at all; the problem lies in how the tax is avoided. It is paid by those who collect and dispose of waste. Some operators own not just the collection system, but the hole in the ground where the waste will go. That leads to clear cases of fraud, in which what actually goes into the ground is not declared to HMRC or to anyone.
Another issue is the type of tax that landfill operators pay. Some claim that tax on inert waste should be paid at the lower rate and pay that rate, although the tax should, in fact, be paid at the higher rate. What has made the situation worse is the mistake that was made in 2015, when the Government basically gave the industry a licence to print money by making it responsible for determining what type of waste was involved by means of something called the loss on ignition test. If a pile of rubbish, or a sample of rubbish, has a loss on ignition of 10% or less, it is classified as being subject to the £2.65 rate; otherwise, it will be subject to the full standard rate. There is thus a clear incentive for operators to declare waste to be subject to the lower rate, which means that the tax avoidance amounts to a little over £80 per tonne.
I am told that, in most areas where that is going on, if inspectors are looking around, operators will have a sample box of rubbish. In the majority of cases, what actually goes into the landfill site could be anything, and the higher rate of tax that the operator should be paying is being completely avoided because HMRC has extracted itself from the process and left the decision to the industry. It may be said that the aim is to attack red tape, which would be fine if the people concerned were responsible and law-abiding.
Let me put on record that I am not accusing everyone in the industry of this practice. Some are clearly behaving correctly. However, there are a great many rogues, and, in some cases, not rogues but criminals, who have become involved in the practice because they see it as a good way of doing two things: making easy cash, and laundering money through what is a very high-volume business, given the amount of cash that goes through it. I shall say more about that shortly, but giving the responsibility to landfill operators, with no checks, is basically saying, “You decide what tax you pay.”
Another aspect that concerns me, and should concern everyone, is the issue of what is going into landfill sites. What is being classed as inert waste, or as waste that will not catch fire or is not dangerous, is paid for at a certain tax rate. That is declared as going into landfill sites, but what is in fact going in could be very different. I have a simple question: what records do people check? Again, it is very much a matter of self-regulation: the operators fill them in, and a toothless tiger of an organisation called the Environment Agency does spot checks on them. I have been told that one operator deliberately sent in the previous year’s returns and they were just accepted. That is what this comes down to: a lack of co-ordination in the way the HMRC and other Government agencies are tackling the problem.
The other way of avoiding tax entirely is for someone to buy a hole in the ground, to set themselves up as a landfill tax operator and to go around advertising their wares by asking for tenders from organisations, and when the process gets to the weighbridge to determine the amount, to bypass it and just put the waste straight in—paying no tax at all, not even the lower rate. There are quite a few examples of that happening, but again there are no HMRC checks. I will come on to some proposals that I hope the Minister will consider.
The hon. Gentleman is making a valuable contribution. I want to emphasise a point he made at the beginning of his remarks: the rise of serious organised crime from this tax. In Nottinghamshire—which I know he knows very well, as a son of Worksop—there have been large-scale frauds where huge rubbish dumps have been put on private property, often with the agreement of the owner, who of course denies it to the police, and the Environment Agency provides absolutely no prosecutions. A number have fallen down; multimillion pound prosecutions have collapsed. It is becoming one of the easiest ways to conduct serious organised crime in this country.
The problem is not only that the hon. Gentleman’s constituents have to live next door to those illegal dumps, but that there is the expense of clearing them up, which falls back on the taxpayer.
There is another widespread scam. This morning I tried to find the figure for the number of fires at waste transfer stations, but I could not. For the uninitiated, I will explain. Having been a chair of public health in Newcastle, I could bore on about waste: when waste is being transferred, it usually does not go straight to the actual site, but goes first to a waste transfer station where it is either sorted or graded into different things. The number of fires that occur at waste transfer stations is out of all proportion to the probability of that happening. The reason for that is that once there is just a pile of ash, there is nothing to dispose of. That is the problem, and, again, organised crime is involved in that.
We have had some instances in County Durham of the point raised by Robert Jenrick. There are frauds such as those he describes—to be fair to Durham police, they have cracked down on some of the individuals concerned—but there are some people who have bought into this business. If we look back at what they did or how they got their money, we find serious questions about whether they should be allowed anywhere near the waste industry.
We all know why, for example, in the 1970s the mafia got control of waste in New York: because there is money to be made in it. It is the same in this country, but unfortunately we are not taking the robust approach needed to address that.
One of the issues is about who is responsible for that. The hon. Gentleman mentioned the Environment Agency. It is a good organisation in one respect; it is full of some very good and committed people, but they do not have the killer instinct to be enforcers. The agency needs to have a certain mindset and to take robust action, rather than just looking at the odd illegal site. It needs to closely monitor some of the existing organisations. Without that mindset and enforcement, this will never succeed.
This is also a matter that falls between the Environment Agency and HMRC. I give credit to Durham police for taking a lead in trying to get people together and for saying, “Look, wait a minute. We know that the people behind this are involved in x, y and z, which has mostly nothing to do with rubbish. It is to do with other serious organised crime.” The police have worked with HMRC and others and tried to concentrate on these issues.
I have a concern about HMRC’s approach to this problem, and the Minister might want to reflect on it. I shall not go into details because the case is ongoing, but when I raised one particular matter with HMRC, I was told that no enforcement action would be taken because the fraud was not worth more than £20 million a year. That seems like a lot of money to me. Another case that is ongoing at the moment involves fraud totalling £78 million a year. I wonder whether these decisions are the result of a lack of resources. I have spoken to a lot of the investigators in HMRC and I pay credit to them for the work they do. Some of the people they are dealing with are very dangerous, and it is a complex matter to put these cases together. What we need in this country is a joined-up approach by HMRC, the Environment Agency and the police. I had a meeting earlier this year with the Minister for Security, Mr Wallace to discuss where all this money goes to. The amounts being generated are huge, and I have seen evidence that it is going into the drugs trade or other illicit organisations. That has an impact on society.
There are some things that could be done. As I have said, we need to adopt a joined-up approach—dare I say the Eliot Ness approach—and take a robust line on this. As the hon. Member for Newark has just said, the people who have to pay for the clear-up are the taxpayers. In many cases, that involves local authorities that are already under a lot of pressure. We need to adopt a hard-headed approach, and the Minister needs to look at the figure of £150 million. I think that the figure is way more than that.
Self-certification and the loss on ignition test just need to be binned. I know that there are pressures, and people have talked about cuts in HMRC—[Interruption.] Oh, there is more yet, don’t worry! Vicky Ford is looking exasperated. What is needed is one single rate for landfill, whatever it is. That test is not enforceable; every shipment going into a landfill site would have to be tested. People have talked about leaving this up to the industry, and I am not besmirching the reputation or integrity of any particular party, but it is open to anyone who wants to do so to abuse the system. I therefore think that those tests need binning, and that we need one single rate.
People ask whether landfill sites could be monitored. Yes, we have the technology. I have raised the matter with the Minister’s policy people and asked whether we could have a system similar to those at weighbridges and slaughterhouses in which cameras can record how many vehicles are going into a site. In one case that I have examined, the owner was clearly not paying the landfill tax despite the fact that a ridiculous number of vehicles were going into the site. If we had people in Revenue and Customs checking these things, I think it would pay back very quickly.
The other thing is the checking of sites. The Environment Agency has responsibility for most of the checks, but I do not get the sense from HMRC that there is robust enforcement even when questions are asked. Nicky Morgan raised the issue of retrospection. Can I suggest to the Minister, if he wants to get some back tax in, how he might do it? Once a landfill operator has finished with a site, it puts a cap on it, and that is the end of it. I have been told of an operator in the north-east that has done that, and I know from evidence I have seen that it did not pay the right tax. The question was raised with the Environment Agency and HMRC of how to make sure the right tax is paid. The easiest thing is to put a borehole through and check what is actually in there. If we did that on a few sites, I think we would find that what incurs the lower rates is not what is there. That is an important point.
In policy terms, as I have said to the Minister’s policy officer, we need to make the producers of the waste responsible for where it goes. At the rates that some waste collection organisations advertise, they could not possibly make a profit if they were paying landfill tax. The problem is that because local government and others are being squeezed, many local government organisations have got into bed with these operators because they charge the lowest rates, but they can do that only because they are either not paying landfill tax or paying it at the incorrect rate. The onus should be on large organisations to take responsibility for what happens to their waste; their responsibility should not end once the waste operator has taken it away. The rates being paid by quite a few public bodies in the north-east of England make one wonder how these organisations can be making any money, if they are paying landfill tax.
Operators are also making claims that are completely unachievable, such as 100% or 98% recycling of commercial waste, which is not possible. If that is the case and they are collecting at a certain price, what is happening to the 10% or 15% they cannot recycle? Its collection would be completely uneconomic if they were paying landfill tax. If HMRC had its eyes open and looked at some adverts, it would be thinking, “Wait a minute. There’s something wrong here.”
Yes, I do, but the problem is that local authority budgets are under tremendous pressure, so they are going for the cheapest price. If somebody goes to them and says, “I can get rid of your waste for less”, what are they going to do? One council in Wales was trucking its waste up to the north-east. Can someone tell me, if the operator was paying the proper amount of landfill tax, how that could be economically viable? It cannot be. The onus is on local authorities to start asking questions about who they are contracting with.
There is also an issue with the individuals who can now operate licences. It does not take a genius to look at some operators who get involved in the industry and ask, “What is their experience? Where is the money suddenly coming from to set up a business?” This is fraud, but it is also an environmental concern.
Scotland has huge great policies about zero landfill waste and things like that, but the reason for that is very simple: the waste is coming over the border. Operators in Scotland are avoiding the cost of having to dispose of waste and of separating it at source, which the Scottish Government pride themselves on, by taking it to the north-east of England or anywhere else where things are cheaper. Parts of the UK are becoming Scotland’s rubbish tip because the Scottish Government have no control over where Scotland’s waste is going. There is some evidence that we may be making money through the landfill tax that is paid when it comes over the border, but I suggest that quite a lot of landfill tax is not being paid. That is the problem, and there are things that need to be done.
What the Minister would find if he spoke to the industry is that, behind closed doors, everyone knows that this is going on. It is no great secret. If he is going to come back with regulations later in September, I want them to be robust, because I have a niggling feeling that the policy people at HMRC see the problem as one that will go away of its own accord. In 15 or 20 years’ time, when we are no longer using landfill, we may not have large-scale problems, but we will have lost millions if not billions of pounds in the meantime and, as Robert Jenrick said earlier, many communities will have been blighted by unscrupulous operators. I ask the Minister to talk to the Minister for Security, because this is not just about waste, it is about the cost to society as a whole.
When I asked the Minister whether the regulations would be published, I was not being provocative; I just want to see what they are and know what the process will be. The industry and others who have been involved should be able to react to them before they come into force. One simple thing that could stop a lot of fraud would be the ignition test, for example, so if the Minister lets me know when the regulations are coming up, I would be happy to meet him or even make some suggestions about the proposals.
I want to change the subject entirely and talk about air travel. The resolutions include a commitment to look at air passenger duty. We have been promised reform for a long time—I looked it up this morning, and this matter has been raised at least since 2011. I do not want to be accused of raising problems relating Scotland this afternoon, but air passenger duty is of great concern to the north-east due to the Scottish Government’s new air departure tax. That decision is entirely up to them as part of the devolution settlement, but the new tax will reduce air passenger duty in 2018, which will have an impact on regional airports such as Newcastle. As I say, that is no criticism of the Scottish Government, because they have the devolved responsibilities and can do that, but if they abolish air passenger duty altogether, that could have a devastating impact on those airports. Members from Northern Ireland have also made representations because the same situation applies there to Belfast International, Dublin City and City of Derry airports due to differential rates in the Republic of Ireland.
Why does that matter? The north-east of England is the poorest region in the UK with, sadly, the highest unemployment. Newcastle airport has been a success, for which I pay credit to the local authorities that own it and their private sector partners. It sustains some 7,800 jobs, 3,200 of which are directly at the airport, but the knock-on effect throughout the region is also important. The airport brings some £57 million of tourism a year to the north-east, sustaining some 1,750 jobs.
London has four airports, so the economic impact of each is possibly not as great as the impact of an airport in a region such as mine. Regional airports provide connectivity not only for people who want to travel for leisure but for businesses—some £173 million of exports go through Newcastle airport each year, nearly £150 million of which go through just one airline. The Emirates flight from Newcastle to Dubai moves goods not just into the middle east but into the far east and Asia. The airport is important not only in carrying people but in supporting the region’s businesses.
At the 2015 general election the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, said that he would not allow regional airports such as Newcastle to be at a disadvantage if Scotland were to reduce the rate of APD. We all know what happened to a lot of David Cameron’s promises, so I will not hold the present Minister to that one, but it is important that the issue is addressed.
The Government could use APD more imaginatively. Obviously it was introduced for environmental reasons, but we all know that it is now a big cash cow for the Exchequer. If we had differential rates to try to encourage airlines to relocate to regional airports, it might help to reduce the overcapacity at airports in London and the south-east. It would also be a cheap way of regenerating regions such as the north-east.
The present rate of APD puts Newcastle airport at a disadvantage because, unlike London Heathrow, we have a relatively small number of business travellers. If we wanted to think creatively, we could introduce an incentive. I understand from the media that the new metro Mayor of Tees Valley made an election pledge to nationalise, reopen or somehow expand Teesside airport, which is a little ambitious. He may find that election promises are difficult to translate into action. Again, if the APD rate goes down in Scotland and Newcastle airport is affected, trying to get any new flights to a place like Teesside will be virtually impossible. The issue is important to the north-east, and it is not just about passenger travel and tourism flights; it is about the broader economy. Our regional universities need access to international students, and the region’s jobs boom would be severely affected if the airport’s passengers leaked to Scotland.
Let me turn to small business and some of the issues raised earlier. I am not opposed to the use of new technology or to recognising that we have to change the way we do things. My party made mistakes when it was in Government by closing a lot of DWP offices and going directly to doing things by phone, which made it difficult for people to have interaction, and we are in danger of making the same mistake on tax offices.
A constituent who came to see me last year runs a one-person business. If she had a problem with her tax, she would drive to Durham tax office and meet somebody she knew, and they would explain the situation to her. I am not saying we should keep tax offices open just for that one person, but if we are going to go into the digital age—I have no problem with that, as it might be easier for some businesses—we need to ensure that we have either telephone access or dedicated processes whereby people can at least get assistance. I believe it was Nicky Morgan who mentioned webchats, which are a way of doing this and are used by a lot of service providers. That needs to happen before any roll-out of the changes, because there is nothing more frustrating than not being able to get through. My constituent told me that when she eventually did get through, she got through to three different people. I do not know whether this could be done, but perhaps we could use a case-management approach, with individuals taking control of certain areas. People might think personal relationships between small businesses and their tax inspectors would be hostile, but in my experience they are not. If the relationship works well, it helps the business in terms of how it operates and it helps how HMRC can collect.
I now wish to discuss HMRC’s priorities. HMRC comes in for a lot of criticism, but it has a huge task to do. Even so, I sometimes wonder whether it gets its priorities wrong and I wish to give an example from my constituency. I have just spoken about the lack of enthusiasm for cracking down on landfill tax fraud, but an overzealous approach is taken to some small businesses. I have written to the Chancellor about a constituent of mine, Mr Marshall, who runs a bathroom business in Chester-le-Street. I have not yet received a reply, even though I have written twice—obviously, the Chancellor has been very busy. This is an example of where HMRC uses a sledgehammer to crack a nut. Mr Marshall and his family—it is a family business—have a showroom, where people can order and pay for a bathroom, and then they will organise everything that needs to be done. They do not employ anyone—they fit bathrooms, but they do not employ the plumbers, electricians and so on. Mr Marshall subcontracts the work to plumbers and electricians, and the client then pays them, as is common in the industry.
Last year, Mr Marshall had a visit from HMRC, which said that he is now responsible for the VAT payable by those individuals, even though he does not directly employ them, because they are small businesspeople. He freely admits to me that he does not use the same person every time; it depends on who is available. He is now being hit with a tax bill for some £24,000, which to a small, well-respected business is a little harsh. As I say, I have written to the Chancellor twice without receiving a reply. HMRC will not discuss this because it is under its veil of secrecy, as it always is, but I want to know why one person has taken it upon himself to deem that the VAT liability of these individuals—if there is one—should fall on someone who is procuring a service. If that is the case, and if I was regularly employing someone to do some work on my behalf and they went above the VAT threshold, would HMRC suggest that I, as the person employing them, should pay their VAT?
I would like the Minister to look at that case. As I said, I have tried writing to the Chancellor, without success. I am happy to email him the details and copies of the letters I have. I was going to say that such cases give HMRC a bad name, but that is not hard to do. No one likes to pay taxes, but the point is the disproportionality between a family business—this is not a multinational corporation—and the Googles of this world and the landfill operators that completely ignore the actual tax situation without any grievance falling upon them from HMRC. It is about proportionality in some of the enforcement. The new Chair of the Treasury Committee might want to look at how HMRC deals with small businesses. It is not only about the forms, but about what is facing my constituent. The process is time-consuming, but it can cause anxiety if someone suddenly has to find such an amount of money.
There is another issue I want to raise—I have moved on from rubbish; I am going to speak about cosmetic surgery. I tabled a parliamentary question a couple of weeks ago about the Government’s proposals for collecting VAT for cosmetic surgery. I have looked at the issue and got into the subject. I will not hasten to go through the whole issue of the regulation of cosmetic surgery, but it is another area I am pursuing.
I think even the best plastic surgeon would struggle with me.
The question is whether VAT is payable on cosmetic procedures. The problem is that such procedures vary from facelifts and tummy tucks to boob jobs, fillers and that side of the industry. I came to the issue through a constituent. I will not talk about the regulation, because that does not apply to the taxation of cosmetic surgery, but I want some clarity from the Government on the rules about whether cosmetic surgery should be VAT-registered.
There is an organisation called the Hospital Group. In a previous life, it went into administration owing the taxman nearly £9 million in VAT because there was an argument about whether VAT should be levied on the surgical procedures. The bill started at £17 million and went down to £9 million before, lo and behold, the director folded the company. HMRC is sat with £9 million that it has not recovered. That company owes money and tax to quite a few other organisations, including councils.
This is an interesting issue, because while people would not pay VAT on a medical procedure, these are not medical procedures. I am not for one minute suggesting that women who have had mastectomies should pay VAT if they need reconstructive surgery, but if a procedure is purely for cosmetic reasons, it should be VAT-chargeable, as I read the regulations, but HMRC does not seem to be enforcing that. There is an argument, which I have heard from the new owners of the Hospital Group, that these are medical procedures, as people are having them because of mental health issues. If that is the case, evidence needs to be provided.
Given the amount of money that the industry generates, I wonder whether the Government are losing revenue. In the one case that I know of, the Revenue is owed £9 million, although it is never going to get that because the company has gone into liquidation. How many similar cases are there? We should consider whether VAT is chargeable on not just surgery but other aspects of the cosmetic surgery industry—things such as fillers and other products that enhance one’s aesthetic beauty, on which I am sure my hon. Friend Wes Streeting will be able to enlighten me. If VAT is not being charged, we must consider that, because this is a huge industry in this country. As I said, there are regulation issues for some organisations that need to be addressed, but my parliamentary question asked whether there were any proposals to look at the tax aspects of this issue, and the answer was that there were not. Will the Minister let me know what the regulations are and how they are being enforced? It could be that the Revenue is losing out on quite a large amount of money.
My hon. Friend Peter Dowd talked about the general treatment of tax avoidance, and he obviously hit a raw nerve with some Conservative Members with his accusation that they were the party of tax avoiders. It is in all our interests to ensure that people pay their tax. We all moan about the level of tax that we pay, but ordinary people have no way of influencing what tax they pay—the money comes off their salaries or wages through pay-as-you-earn. What grates with and hurts them is that they see hard-working people paying their tax—there are no clever schemes for them to lower their tax bill—while large corporations and others use mechanisms to generate huge profits but not pay tax. They see sporting individuals and others using mechanisms such as the film schemes that were deliberately set up so that people could avoid their tax liabilities. To be fair to the Government, they have cracked down on some schemes, but that is what irks a lot of people. They have also had austerity and the wage freeze for the past seven years, and they see the injustice of that. We need fairness and to ensure that people pay the tax that others are entitled to expect. Look at the earnings of some of the BBC’s stars, which were published a few weeks ago. The idea that some people want to reduce their tax bill when their initial wages are paid for by taxation is just amazing.
Finally, I just want to—[Interruption.] If the Minister wants more, I can give him more. I am trying to be helpful. I have been very helpful to him and tried to work with his Department, because there are occasions on which we can co-operate to get things done. Making sure that everyone pays their tax and that the system is fair is in the public interest. The Minister was right when he said that we cannot have public services or anything else if people do not pay the right levels of taxation. The system has to be fair.
There is another issue that I think HMRC is already on to, but on which it might want to take a more proactive stance because it relates to organised crime. You might think I am strange, Madam Deputy Speaker, going from rubbish to airports to cosmetic surgery, but I am now going to talk about puppy farming. I met the Dogs Trust yesterday, which has produced a very good report—I do not know whether the Minister’s Department has seen it, but it should read it, as this is another area in which organised crime is getting involved in cruel practices—and it concerns not only breeding dogs in this country but importing them. Now the importations are from Poland and Lithuania, and the Dogs Trust study is of both cases.
There are some horrendous cases, and not just as concerns the cruelty of the trade. If honourable colleagues or the Minister would like to look at it, the report is called “Puppy Smuggling: A Tragedy Ignored”, and it is an investigation into the pet travel scheme. It is quite clear from talking to the trust and the local police that this is another new way of making lots of money without paying any tax. It is a cash business, Madam Deputy Speaker. A lot of these pups are advertised on the internet and the process involves cash transactions. It has been described by one HMRC official as the new cocaine or drugs angle for some types of organised crime, as large amounts of money can be made.
Again, this is a question of co-operation between HMRC and other agencies, for example when local authorities are in charge of enforcement. I pay credit to the Government for making changes to the puppy farming regulations, but we are now seeing the importation of these animals from abroad, and we need action at the port and to ensure that when sales take place, the correct amount of tax is paid. If we want to stop the trade, one way of doing so would be to use the tax system, because large amounts are being produced in cash, and if HMRC can use the system to ask where the cash is coming from, the focus is suddenly on that question.
This example demonstrates the innovative way in which organised crime works. It will look for the easiest way of making untraceable cash—landfill tax was one, and now, tragically, as some of the stories in this report are terrible, so is the trade in pups, which should not be bred in such a way or kept in such conditions. As the Bill goes through the House, the Government might want to consider this matter.
Again, this comes back to enforcement and attitudes. I am not criticising individuals at HMRC, as I say, because they have a difficult job, but we need an attitude in favour of enforcement and, on occasion, we must consider how that happens through HMRC and how it is linked with the police and other enforcement agencies. One thing that is quite clear in the examples that the Dogs Trust has highlighted concerning the scandal of puppy farming and importation, as well as what has happened with landfill tax, is that these things are not just HMRC’s responsibility. There are other agencies. Durham police have very effectively come together with others to limit and crack down on these individuals, so I ask the Minister to consider taking a cross-government approach to some of these issues, if we can. On that point, I shall conclude my remarks.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr Jones, who gave a very comprehensive speech. I personally felt that there were some areas of the Ways and Means resolutions to which he did not do justice, but I am sure we will get a chance to return to those on another occasion.
“A revolutionary moment in the world’s history is a time for revolutions, not for patching”— those were the words of William Beveridge 75 years ago in his landmark report that paved the way for the modern welfare state. There is no doubt that we live in a similarly revolutionary moment. We are still in the long tail of the biggest economic crash since the great depression and the consequences that follow. We are on the brink of leaving the most sophisticated political and economic alliance in the history of the world, with consequences for our economy, a wide breadth of public policy and our citizens. We are also at the beginnings of an industrial revolution of a pace and scale that the world has never seen. Against that backdrop, the resolutions we are debating and the summer Finance Bill firmly fall into the category of patching.
In the time I have today, I will: specifically address the patching provisions in the Ways and Means resolutions; talk about the issues that are not addressed by the summer Budget and the Ways and Means resolutions; and touch on areas of Government policy that run completely contrary to our national economic interest. Ultimately, the patching measures in the Ways and Means resolutions are pretty small and fairly inconsequential given the wider economic impact of Government policy if that policy continues on the course that the Government have set out.
I turn first to the issue of patching. We heard from the new Chair of the Treasury Committee, who I am absolutely delighted has been elected. I have no doubt that she will fill the enormous shoes of her predecessor. As I have been re-elected to the Committee from this side of the House, I very much look forward to working with her and other cross-party colleagues. As both she and the Minister set out today, the Treasury Committee raised a number of concerns following our evidence gathering. We listened to a wide range of evidence from tax specialists, representatives of small and medium-sized businesses and, indeed, those businesses themselves on the consequences for them of pursuing the Making Tax Digital policy as it was originally conceived.
As other hon. and right hon. Members have said, there is no doubt that there are many benefits for the Revenue and potentially for businesses against the wider backdrop and the move to digitalisation. But there was a serious concern for small and medium-sized businesses in particular about the impact, which—granted—could be unintended. None the less, it would be red tape and bureaucracy for small and medium-sized enterprises that cannot really afford the extra burden. It should be the intention of the Government in any case when pursuing policy to try to implement it in a way that is not burdensome for SMEs or large corporations. We should seek to legislate and regulate effectively, which does not necessarily always mean heavily.
There was a concern that the timing of Making Tax Digital, as it was originally conceived, would have created an unnecessary and unwarranted burden on SMEs. There are more than 5,000 SMEs in my constituency alone. Since being elected to the House two years ago, I have made it my mission to speak up in their interests. I was therefore pleased, during the summer Budget and when listening to the Minister this afternoon, to see that the concerns expressed by the Treasury Committee have been taken on board, that the deadline has been moved back and that there is still some degree of flexibility about when mandatory provisions will kick in. None the less, Ministers ought to take into account some further cautionary notes, particularly following the points made by my hon. Friend Peter Dowd, the shadow Chief Secretary.
As the implementation timeline stands, we will be looking to implement Making Tax Digital for SMEs in spring 2019—an auspicious year because it happens to coincide with our departure from the European Union. If that departure is smooth, perhaps the Making Tax Digital process can be equally smooth, but I have yet to see any evidence that it will be, be that in Government position papers, the reaction in the Cabinet to different Government position papers, the reaction of colleagues on both sides of the House to the Government’s position, the reaction of all 27 EU member states to what the Government have put forward or the reaction of the European Commission. As far as I can see, there is currently no hope of a smooth exit from the European Union; in fact, we are in danger of crashing out of the European Union. If that is the case, and we are not able to provide stability and certainty to businesses at least over a transitional period while we exit the European Union, we will be adding Making Tax Digital on top of the new customs and border checks and the new compliance and regulatory regimes that businesses will be wresting with—if those are, indeed, in place by that time. Ministers need to keep an eye on wider events and to think about Making Tax Digital in that context. I hope that is something the Minister will reflect on.
There was an interesting exchange between my hon. Friend on the Labour Front Bench and Government Back Benchers over tax avoidance and non-doms. No one pretends the issue is easy. There is a booming business in tax avoidance; indeed, individuals and corporations pay huge sums to very clever accountants to minimise their tax liability. Of course, much of that is perfectly legal, but that does not make it right or ethical. What is often missed in the debate about tax avoidance, particularly when we listen to the protests of people who face a larger tax liability, is that, in the aftermath of the financial crash, with everything we have seen in terms of the impact of austerity on public service provision, the burden of taxation and wage stagnation—I will come to those wider, structural economic problems shortly—there is sometimes a real sense of detachment among those who have benefited enormously from the current economic order and those who have been at the sharp end.
Does my hon. Friend also think that there is a mindset in some parts of the Government—perhaps not on the Treasury Bench today—that the trickle-down effect of encouraging wealthy individuals from abroad to come to settle in London will boost the economy? In fact, it sometimes fosters corruption in those people’s countries, and it also takes away flats and other valuable assets in the capital, which local people can then never hope to gain access to.
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. This idea of trickle-down economics must surely be discredited now: it does not work. People are rather ill aware of the extent to which the benefits of economic growth have been unevenly distributed and disproportionately enjoyed by those at the very top. I do not have a great deal of time for special pleading by wealthy individuals and corporations about being asked to pay their fair share of tax, because not everyone is feeling the pinch, and it is entirely reasonable to look at what we can do to tighten loopholes in terms of tax avoidance.
That brings me to the specifics of Government policy. We have had some remarkable rhetoric from those on the Treasury Bench, even over the two years I have been a Member of Parliament. The former Prime Minister, David Cameron, lauded his global leadership on tax avoidance, but the rhetoric is rather divorced from the reality. Even with the measures set out today, there are still means available to non-doms that enable them to enjoy tax exemptions and concessions for many years that are not available to the average UK citizen. Let me give one example: non-doms are able to keep their assets out of the scope of tax if they are held in an overseas trust that was created before they were deemed as domicile. That strikes me as rather unfair and as fairly easy to solve. That is just one example, but there are lots on which Government could clamp down further. The political rhetoric is there, but I do not think the political will is being delivered by policy.
Will my hon. Friend contrast that clamp-down on non-doms and the tax reduction policies with the clamp-down on people with disabilities? Work capability assessments of their employment and support allowance and personal independence payments are reducing their benefits from day one.
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. She will already have seen in her casework as a new Member the impact of changes to Government welfare policy on some of the most disadvantaged people in our society.
If politics in this country and across the western world tells us anything at the moment, it is that large numbers of people feel completely left behind by the economic order and are expressing their frustration through the ballot box in a variety of ways, whether that be by voting to leave the European Union because they see it as central to a global economic order that has left them behind, or by electing Donald Trump because of his promises to the central rust belt of America, which I think he will struggle to deliver. I will talk in my concluding remarks about what the current economic order means for politics and why Government really do need to listen to the voice of the people.
It is interesting to note the enormous complacency among Government Members. Sure, they occupy the Treasury Bench and Downing Street, and Government Departments are staffed by Conservative Ministers enacting, by and large, Government policies, with the very expensive assistance of the Democratic Unionist party. However, the Conservatives lost their majority at the election, and the tragedy for Conservative colleagues who lost their seats is that the Government have not actually listened to the message of the people.
Of course, our side has some humility about the fact that we did not win the election either. Lots of new hon. Members who have been elected to this House rightly celebrate their achievements and those of their party activists, but we know that we have further to go to earn the trust of the British people. Looking at the Government’s policies, we know that we have a responsibility to earn that trust to deal with the economic malaise and entrenched economic inequality that is affecting our citizens and those in many other economies. I welcome the Government’s rhetoric on tax avoidance and taking on non-doms, but I just do not see it reflected substantially enough in Government policy. I strongly support the criticism set out by the shadow Chief Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle.
There is a sad irony in the point that a number of right hon. and hon. Members have made about the provisions for retrospective changes to tax arrangements. It seems that the provisions for non-dom arrangements in particular rule out retrospective changes. The Government are saying clearly, “If you have a trust overseas before the rules kick in, don’t worry: we’re not going to touch that money.” Of course, the nature of so many of those trusts is that they are family trusts that are passed down and inherited. In effect, the Government are acknowledging that those trusts exist and that there is an unfairness, and they are setting out to do something about it hereafter, but they are not applying retrospective changes to non-doms in the same way that other measures will affect many others retrospectively.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that wealthy individuals are found wanting when, as usually happens, a secret deal is done with HMRC to pay a certain amount to cover the liability? That is not open to many of my constituents, who are not able to argue when they have a pay-as-you-earn problem. Does he think it is fair that such deals are agreed by HMRC? They should be published if we are going to get fairness into the system.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. We should be putting an end to sweetheart deals. We certainly should not, as he says, allow them to take place behind closed doors without the appropriate levels of transparency; such transparency means that we at least know what is being done. What makes me angry, and what makes the individual taxpayers and the businesses that I represent angry, is the fact that we know—particularly if we have been self-employed or run a business—that if we are late with our tax return or our payment of tax due, we will be subject to fines and penalties, which will continue to accrue as long as we delay payment. However, not only can wealthy individuals and corporations pay long after they are supposed to, but they get to determine their own rate of tax. That is outrageous.
The Government have, even during the short time for which I have been a Member of this place, introduced measures to try to deal with tax avoidance by individuals and corporations, but those measures always fall short. Let us take the diverted profits tax—the so-called Google tax. Google barely paid a penny. That illustrates the gulf between the rhetoric we hear from those on the Treasury Bench and the reality of the impact of policy on the tax liability of wealthy individuals and corporations, who can effectively determine their own tax rate. People see that hypocrisy at the heart of the system, and I do not think that the measures proposed by the Government today or previously do enough to allay the concerns that people are expressing.
I agree with my hon. Friend. Does he think that part of the problem is the operation of HMRC and its arm’s-length relationship with the Treasury? He speaks eloquently about people’s disillusionment with politicians and their ability to affect things. Does he agree that it is perhaps now time for Treasury Ministers to have more direct control over the operational decisions of HMRC?
I certainly feel that HMRC is insufficiently accountable to taxpayers and citizens, and I think there are two routes to redressing the problem. One is, as my hon. Friend suggests, for Ministers to take a far tighter grip on what is going on at HMRC, to rein the Department in and make sure that its conduct is in line with the expectations of the people we are sent here to represent. The other, as my hon. Friend the shadow Chief Secretary suggested, is to make sure that HMRC is resourced effectively so that it can implement public policy as intended.
Hon. and right hon. Members who have tax offices in their constituencies complain all the time about the loss of jobs in their constituency. They are fighting for their constituents, as they should do and as we all do. However, the closure of HMRC tax offices and the loss of HMRC jobs should be a concern not just for them, but for all of us. If we do not have the tax inspectors out there in the field clamping down on tax evasion, which is illegal, identifying areas of tax avoidance and, ideally, making recommendations to Government about improvements to the system, we will continue to have repeated debates in this place about how we clamp down on illegal tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance.
Another way in which we can improve the scrutiny of HMRC is through the Treasury Committee. There is provision for a sub-committee of the Treasury Committee to look in detail at HMRC’s work, and when the Committee meets we ought to consider that. The question is always about time and resources. We are lucky to have on the Committee a hard-working and dedicated team of Clerks, who produce reports and briefing packs at a rate of knots on some of the most complicated areas of public policy. Of course, we have a heavy agenda because of the issues facing our financial system, in particular, which have preoccupied the Committee in its work. I think it is fair to say that our new Chair and Members have ambitions to look across the breadth of economic policy and Government spending policy. From our constituents’ experiences on the phone to HMRC—if they are able to get through—right through to our issues about the resourcing of HMRC, there is a serious and significant piece of work to be done on HMRC’s performance, the adequacy of its resourcing, the scope of its powers and its focus as a public body acting in the interest of all taxpayers.
My hon. Friend raises a good point about staff. The problem we have had in all Departments during the years of austerity is that the easy target is to get rid of so-called civil servant pen pushers. The actual effect of that is starkly focused in the case of HMRC, because when we start to get rid of staff whose job is to collect tax, not only do we lose those individuals’ expertise and their years of experience, but it costs the taxpayer, in that staff are no longer available to enforce the tax regulations. I have highlighted the issue of landfill tax fraud, for example. Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government should look at this as a case of “invest to save”? In other words, if they invested in civil servants to do something, the Government would be able to prove that they were getting more in revenue than it was costing to employ those civil servants.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. The irony of some of the swingeing cuts of the past seven years is that although on a scorecard the cuts to civil service jobs represent significant savings, when we look at the roles and responsibilities of some of those civil servants, it does not take a rocket scientist to work out that cutting the number of tax inspectors may well mean that the Government will lose on tax yields and will lose revenue. There is a cost saving on the one hand, but on the other hand there is a direct cost to the Government in lost income.
I had the same experience in local government. Before I was elected to the House, I was the deputy leader of the London Borough of Redbridge. There is a continuing debate in local authorities about, for example, enforcement officers. There are huge pressures on local government budgets, and staff job losses can represent some of the biggest savings because staff are the biggest cost. If a council cuts its pool of parking enforcement officers, that will certainly help it to balance the budget when it comes to the budget council meeting, but it can end up losing revenue if enforcement officers are not out slapping penalties on cars. In addition to the loss of revenue, there are also worse outcomes for citizens, because such a policy encourages the bad practices that make our communities in the case of parking, or our society in terms of effective tax revenues, a lot worse off.
I hope that Ministers will turn to some of these issues when the Budget is next before us, because as well as being pretty thin on substance, the summer Budget did not deliver against the challenges of the time. At the opening of my speech, I quoted William Beveridge’s words about this being “a time for revolutions”. I have been struck by the interim report of the IPPR commission on economic justice, which has been launched today. In a succinct and effective way, the IPPR has summed up a number of the issues involving the great central planks of Government economic policy that have caused me great frustration, but it has also captured the sense of injustice felt by many of our constituents.
We could go on about this ad nauseam: I have sat in the Chamber many times listening to Conservative Members talking about their economic record, but I could spend much of the time available to me this afternoon cataloguing the broken promises of Conservative Chancellors. In fact, we could spend quite a lot of time talking about the broken promises of just one Conservative Chancellor. Our SNP colleague, David Linden, is new to the House and was not here to listen to George Osborne’s commitments, so I had better tell him about them. We were told in 2010 that the Conservatives would eliminate the structural deficit in one term, and they attacked the Labour party for lacking ambition and for not having a serious economic policy when we promised merely to halve the deficit over the course of a Parliament.
Does my hon. Friend also remember that not only did George Osborne’s first Budget in 2010 help crash the economy, but the economically incompetent and hamfisted way in which the cuts were made—for example, cutting budgets in-year meant that it cost councils and others more to lay people off than it saved through redundancies—sucked demand out of the economy just at the time it was turning round?
That was one of my greatest frustrations as a Labour party member, looking in on debates in the House during the 2010-15 Parliament. We could be proud of Labour’s record in government from 1997 to the financial crash. There was unprecedented growth; we ran a budget surplus for four years—that has happened in only seven of the past 58 years; we lifted half a million children and more than 900,000 pensioners out of poverty, and we rebuilt public services. Yet we were told after the 2010 general election that Labour presided over reckless spending, but George Osborne was the shadow Chancellor who, up to the crash, committed to match Labour spending pound for pound.
How on earth in 2010 to 2015 we allowed revisionist history to take hold of Labour’s economic record will continue to confound me, but we must take that on. As my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham said, when we left office, the economy was growing and the initial impact of the early Osborne Budgets was to choke growth, scare away investment and suck money out of the economy through the cuts that were imposed. That did not make economic sense or even enable the then Chancellor to deliver his promises.
Does my hon. Friend also agree that not only did what he describe happen, but if we had followed the Conservative party’s policy of deregulation of the banking and financial sector—the Conservatives never called for more regulation; they wanted less—and if we had accepted the suggestion of David Cameron and George Osborne at the time of the Northern Rock crisis to let it crash, we would have been in a much worse situation than we were?
Of course, we cannot forget Glasgow. We have several powerful financial centres in the UK. They can contribute enormously to our revenues as well as creating jobs and making the UK an attractive place to do business. However, we should never forget that the crash was a banking crisis, and the thought of politicians—not just the UK Government of the day, but Governments throughout the world—was not that they had spent too much or invested too much in schools, hospitals, teachers, dinner ladies, nurses and doctors, but that the regulatory regime that oversaw financial services was inadequate for the practices of the time. A corrosive greed took hold on Wall Street and in the City and the vast majority of people paid the price.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous with his time. He mentioned powerful financial centres, including Glasgow and Edinburgh. Does he agree with my colleagues and me that the Government’s reckless approach to Brexit is deeply damaging and will cause grave effects in cities such as Glasgow and Edinburgh?
I certainly agree with the hon. Gentleman. I shall come to his point, in the context of the motions and the extent to which they are insufficient to deal with the structural economic problems and the economic outlook faced by the country.
Order. Before the hon. Gentleman gives way again, I must tell him that I have been paying careful attention to what he is saying, and while I accept his explanation that he is about to discuss the motions, there are 48 of them on the Order Paper, so a fairly wide field of matters is under discussion. The hon. Gentleman has been dealing with subjects that are not relevant to the motions. He has been on his feet for 31 minutes, and I have given him quite a lot of leeway, but I am sure he will appreciate that, while it is interesting to consider the economic history of the last decade or so—and we are all fascinated —he really ought to speak to some of the motions, of which there are many before us this afternoon.
Of course, Madam Deputy Speaker, my entire speech relates directly to the ways and means motions, but what I will do with the time that I have left is be careful to ensure that my critique is centrally about the extent to which the motions fail to address the structural challenges facing our economy. I will now give way to my hon. Friend Ruth George.
The Finance Bill proposes to extend the reliefs available to people with non-domiciled tax status, who are some of the wealthiest people in the country. [Interruption.] Clause 13 does that. It contrasts with the actions taken in 2012, when the then Chancellor set up the business investment relief scheme, which itself contrasted with a VAT increase that not only dampened down the economy but caused the tax burden to fall disproportionately on the shoulders of those with lower incomes while reliefs were given to the very wealthy.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend. Let me make two points about what she has said. In the Budget and the Ways and Means motions, and in previous Budgets and resolutions, the Government have chosen to pursue particular regressive forms of taxation. There is no doubt that VAT is a regressive form of taxation, in that it is paid by everyone, both individuals and businesses, regardless of income. If I went into a shop and bought an item that was subject to VAT, I would pay the same rate as someone with a much lower income buying the same item.
If a Government’s objective is to increase their tax revenues—and, of course, we understand why that would be an objective, given the context of the Budget and the revenue generation measures in the Ways and Means motions—they should pursue revenue generators that are based on progressive taxation, and ensure that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden. We have heard those words, or a variation of those words, many times from the Treasury Bench, from successive Chancellors and in successive Budgets, but, as I have said previously, the rhetoric fails to match the reality.
As my hon. Friend has referred again to the issue of non-doms, let me again highlight the extent to which the motions fall short of what is required. Of course we welcome the Government’s measures on non-doms, but I have already criticised them for not addressing, in the Ways and Means motions, the ability of non-doms to keep their assets out of scope if they are held in an overseas trust that was created before they were deemed to be domiciled. We may also want to consider the issue of definition, because the definition of who can be deemed to be in that category seems misleading. It does give the impression that a UK-born non-dom will be deemed if they are now UK-resident, but, inexplicably, it only covers those whose parents were not non-doms, letting non-doms off the hook if their parents were also non-doms. That is very common.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is something archaic in people being able to pass down their tax advantages to their children in that way? The average taxpayer on pay-as-you-earn has no chance of having access to such measures, and they certainly cannot pass on their status to their children or get any advantage for their children in the tax system.
I wholeheartedly agree with my hon. Friend, and I am proud to be a member of the Labour party, because it is inherent in the founding principles of our party that we are here to represent the interests of labour. It should be a principle in the approach to taxation and funding our public services that a hard day’s work should result in a fair day’s pay and that the wealth people earn through hard work should be rewarded. There are many people covered under the Ways and Means resolutions we are discussing—particularly those on inheritance and people who enjoy non-dom status—who through chance or luck or birth have found themselves wealthy. It was not through hard work; they have just been lucky.
I understand the parental instinct that means parents or grandparents want to hand on assets of value, both financial and sentimental, to their successors. I understand that even more as someone who might benefit in the future—although, given my family background and the rising cost of social care, probably not in the way that many high-profile politicians have experienced in recent years. However, there is a problem in that people feel that the link between hard work and the rewards of hard work, and prosperity, have been loosened and weakened. Meanwhile, there are plenty of people out there who through luck, chance or circumstance have accumulated vast amounts of wealth and are seemingly untouchable by the tax collectors.
That situation is deeply regrettable, because it has a corrosive impact on the public finances and our ability to fund public services that benefit everyone, and it is also having a corrosive impact on politics itself. People feel that we gather in this place and work in the interests of a privileged few who have sharp elbows and access to Ministers and the corridors of power, while the vast majority of people, many of whom might have never even thought to email their MP, do not feel that they have a voice, and instead always feel that they are at the sharp end of things. We hear Ministers talking about the tough choices facing the Government, and of course they do face tough choices—if we had won the election we would have faced tough choices; we make no bones about that. However, tough times require fair choices: we should be operating fairly in the best of times, but when times are particularly tough we have to have social and economic justice at the heart of our programme.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the privileged individuals are also the ones who will have choices come Brexit? If the Government get Brexit wrong for the economy of this country, the average person will not be able to move their wealth or savings offshore, so they will be the ones who suffer. The people my hon. Friend is referring to, however, will be able to move their capital anywhere in the world.
My hon. Friend’s critique is absolutely right once again. I hope the Minister will respond in detail to the points we are raising about the technical aspects of the Ways and Means resolutions, because I think we have given them a forensic examination and a serious and substantial critique, and the Government ought to respond to that.
I want to pick up on the issue of tax avoidance in Northern Ireland and the provisions in the Finance Bill in this area. The Government seem to be using the Bill to introduce measures that will loosen the definition of a Northern Ireland employer for SMEs, which will basically enable people to establish a business in Northern Ireland and claim the lower rate. Opposition Front Benchers have argued that this will lead to brass-plating, with companies setting up a nominal office in the Northern Ireland jurisdiction to take advantage of lower taxes. My hon. Friend Peter Dowd, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, described that situation as an onshore tax haven. We should not be in the business of allowing such a practice.
Forgive my cynicism, but it seems that since the Government lost their majority, they have lost a hell of a lot of revenue in potential tax receipts and in Government expenditure going to Northern Ireland. I am sure that is merely coincidental and has nothing to do with the Democratic Unionist party deal, but in cash terms—that is, the outlay on infrastructure and public services—most UK taxpayers saw the deal between the Conservatives and the DUP as being expensive enough. By the way, I do not begrudge the people of Northern Ireland the investment in infrastructure, education and health that they need. In fact, I do not begrudge them one penny. I do, however, begrudge the unfairness of Northern Ireland being given preferential treatment over England, Wales and Scotland for no other reason than that the Prime Minister took a gamble. She has paid a heavy personal political price for that, but I am less bothered about that. I am really bothered about the fact that the taxpayers we represent in England, Wales and Scotland are paying a heavy financial price for the Government bribing the DUP into a deal.
This measure in particular really does trouble me. We have already had constituents writing to us about the cash outlay to Northern Ireland, and it seems that a lot of hidden benefits are now being given to it, including adjustments to the tax regime. That will not be good for maintaining a strong and cohesive United Kingdom—it does not play well with our constituents in England, Wales and Scotland when they see one part of the United Kingdom being given preferential treatment over the others. I am sorry to disappoint Scottish National party Members present today, but I am a strong Unionist. I strongly support the United Kingdom, but it has to be a partnership of equals. The way in which the Government are now treating Northern Ireland is particularly uneven, as we can see in the Ways and Means resolutions before us this afternoon. I am very disappointed by that.
Resolution 13 allows provisions to be made to expand the scope of business investment relief, which allows non-doms to remit funds to the UK tax-free if they are investing in certain categories of UK business. We have a serious structural problem in our economy when it comes to investment. As I have said, we have one of the world’s largest financial sectors, yet we have a lower rate of investment than most of our major competitors. Public and private investment accounts for about 5% of our GDP, which is below the average for developed economies, and that figure has been falling not only under this Government but for the past 30 years. That is a structural economic problem that we need to deal with. Corporate investment has fallen below the rate of depreciation, which means that our capital stock is falling, and investment in research and development is now lower than that of our major competitors.
There are a lot of causes of that, including the way in which the banking system is insufficiently focused on business lending. That has been picked up by the Treasury Committee and by Members throughout the House in recent years. Also, private equity markets are increasingly focusing on short-term returns, which is not leading to the kind of investment that we wish to see. If the Ways and Means resolutions had set out provisions to stimulate, support or benefit business investment in general terms, I would certainly have supported them. It seems, however, that resolution 13 is not about business investment in the broadest sense but about a special category of business investment that benefits non-doms. I do not understand how this measure sits with the rhetoric from the Minister about other Ways and Means resolutions that are meant to target non-doms.
The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and other colleagues on the Opposition Front Bench will well remember that during the general election, which caught everyone unawares, including Ministers, a raft of Government measures in a wide range of Bills were dropped in the wash-up process. I was closely involved in the Higher Education and Research Bill and saw the consequences for that Bill. It was interesting that the changes to the business investment scheme in the March Budget resolutions were withdrawn in the wash-up process. The Government knew that there was no way we would have allowed the measure through and that we would have been prepared to talk it out—something we never hope to do, because we want to engage constructively with the Government, but only so long as they enable time for appropriate and thorough scrutiny of policy. That measures seemed particularly unfair. If the Government are serious about stimulating business investment and attracting foreign investment, I think there are better ways to do it than with a measure that benefits a particular category of individual. I am not sure it will generate the increased business investment that Ministers want, and it seems particularly unfair.
I understand the pressures around business taxation—it is sometimes all too tempting to turn to corporation tax as the answer to every public policy spending commitment one wishes to make—but whenever we suggest modest increases in corporation taxation, the Government’s reaction is to attack Labour as anti-business. It is important to remember that under Labour we had some of the most competitive corporation tax rates in the OECD and that we have maintained that commitment in every election manifesto since in order to keep the UK competitive, but I come back to the basic issue of fairness and making sure that people pay their fair share.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the Government’s fixation with corporation tax being as low as possible, and the belief that somehow that will give us a competitive advantage, is blown out of the water by the very successful economies, such as Germany and others, that have corporation tax rates a lot higher than those in the UK?
I wholeheartedly agree—again—with my hon. Friend. It is almost as if he wrote my speech. I only wish I could have written his. I have learned a great deal this afternoon about landfill taxation policy and its importance, and I look forward to studying his speech later as we prepare to grill Ministers on the Treasury Committee.
I turn to resolution 4, relating to clause 14 of the pre-election Finance Bill, which introduced amendments to tighten the income tax treatment of termination payments. I made a point early in my remarks about the sense of unfairness and injustice that people feel about the way the rules are rigged. Many people fear, particularly in the current political and economic climate, and in the context of the Brexit process, that attempts will be made to erode workers’ rights. I was particularly concerned to learn, therefore, when I studied resolution 4, that the measure narrowed the scope of tax relief on redundancy and termination payments, removed any exemption for payments in lieu of notice, enshrined in statute that injury to feelings—a main aspect of compensation in discrimination cases—was excluded from the tax-free scope of payments for injuries, and gave the Treasury the power to vary the tax-free amount.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is perhaps a return to the nasty party, in the sense that this measure will mean that people who may have suffered discrimination as a result of being LGBT or a woman may now be taxed on the compensation they received after being dismissed? That is a real indictment of what is meant to be a modern Conservative party.
Absolutely. I welcome my hon. Friend to the Chamber. I am unsure whether it is a return to the nasty party or more of a doubling down on being the nasty party. Indeed, I am unsure for how many more debates we can see the nastiness of the Conservative party reflected in public policy. On this or any other measure, if the Government’s intention is to clamp down on the abuse of a particular tax measure, provision, break or exemption, we will welcome that where the problem is genuine, but the Opposition believe that this measure targets termination payments more widely. It therefore follows that there is an obvious concern that workers who are losing their jobs are seen by the Government as a source of increased revenue.
What an outrage it is if the Government are seeking a power to reduce the £30,000 tax-free amount for termination payments without the requirement for primary legislation. That runs contrary to assurances that the Government had abandoned their plans to reduce that exemption, which was consulted on in 2015. Those of us who were in the 2015 Parliament will remember that one of the first measures with which we were confronted was the Bill that became the Trade Union Act 2016, which was an appalling attack on the rights of people at work. The Government consulted on this proposal then, but dropped their plans because they were strongly resisted both by the people and by the organisations that champion the rights of and protections for ordinary working people. Now, early on in the 2017 Parliament, the plans are back, but buried in these motions, with the Government presumably hoping that we would not notice. I bet the Government did not count on such scrutiny of their Ways and Means measures.
Many workers are obviously losing their jobs as a result of the continued austerity programme. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is ironic that those who are losing their jobs at HMRC due to the rationalisation may well be hit by this increase in taxation on their compensation when they could be helping us to increase our tax revenue from those who should be taxed?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who brings to the House enormous expertise and experience from her work championing the rights of working people at the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers, as part of the trade union movement. We should listen carefully to what she has to say.
On behalf of their members—ordinary working people—trade unions made it clear when the Government consulted that the measure should not be pursued. I think everyone in the Opposition thought that the Government had listened and dropped the provision, but we now see motion 4 on the Order Paper, and it is not fair to workers. We might have thought that the Government would have learned from the embarrassing debacle over the summer about what happens when they try to clamp down on people’s access to justice and fair treatment. The Government have form here, and I am disappointed and only too sorry that they do not seem to have learned their lesson or listened to people.
I want to begin to draw my remarks to a close by—
Order. We cannot have such expressions from around the Chamber. The hon. Gentleman has only spoken for one hour and five minutes. There are 48 motions, and I dare say that he still has more to say. As long as he sticks rigorously to speaking about the 48 motions, it is perfectly in order for him to go on speaking. However, now that he has surpassed the time taken by the previous speaker, I am sure that the incentive for him to speak for much longer is not great.
Madam Deputy Speaker, I can assure you and hon. Members on both sides of the House that my intention is certainly not to surpass the speaking time of my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham. My intention is merely to make sure that Government economic policy and the Ways and Means motions are given a thorough and forensic examination.
As I said at the beginning of my speech, revolutionary times call for a revolutionary response. What we see in today’s provisions is tinkering around the edges. Although the Whips’ briefings often give Conservative Members the ammunition—
There is no one here—even Conservative Members have given up defending the Government’s Ways and Means motions. We have the poor Minister, his Whip and his poor Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Chamber, but there we are. I thank everyone else for paying attention this afternoon. The serious point is that the Ways and Means motions do not actually address the fundamental structural weaknesses in our economy.
I will now draw heavily from today’s report by the Institute for Public Policy Research, which I commend to the House and which I hope people will read. The fact is that the UK has the most geographically unbalanced economy in Europe. Although I am proud to be a London and Essex MP, I understand why colleagues from other regions and nations of the UK want a more balanced approach to regional economic and infrastructure investment, which is in the interests not only of their constituents but of my constituents. If we are to build a stronger, more resilient, more prosperous and fairer economy, it has to be one that is fairly balanced across the UK.
As Conservative Members tell us, we have a high employment rate and unemployment has been kept low, which I acknowledge and welcome, but Ministers and Conservative Members must have some humility about the fact that the high employment rate has been accompanied by an increasingly insecure and casualised labour market. Fifteen per cent. of the workforce are now self-employed, and many of those self-employed people will be hit by the Ways and Means motions, particularly those relating to Making Tax Digital.
We welcome self-employment. I have been self-employed, and I admire people who pluck up the courage to take the plunge and the risk of starting their own business, but there are many people who are not self-employed in the conventional sense—the sense that is to be encouraged and welcomed—but are in enforced self-employment, driven either by businesses seeking to duck their employer responsibilities or, worse still, by a punitive welfare regime in which people seek to declare themselves as self-employed so that they do not lose their tax credits while they scramble to find a real job. That is not properly understood.
Of course, there is also an unequal distribution of economic wealth. Between 1979 and 2012, only 10% of overall income growth went to the bottom half of the income distribution; almost 40% went to the richest tenth of households. Small wonder that we see this outcry from significant parts of our population, concentrated in certain parts of the country in particular, who are not just angry about the injustice they feel but are completely aware that it is a genuine injustice. It is not just a feeling of resentment—an irrational emotional response—as they are being left behind.
Let us be honest about the fact that we have, as the IPPR says,
“both world-leading businesses and world-lagging productivity.”
We have a lower rate of investment than most of our major competitors, as I have already said. Yes, we have a trade surplus in services, but our overall current account deficit as a percentage of GDP is the largest of all the G7 countries. The extent of manufacturing in our economy should make Ministers blush.
In the past seven years, the Government have been far too reliant on monetary policy levers. They have been over-reliant on quantitative easing, over-reliant on extremely low interest rates and over-reliant on growth that is fuelled by record consumer spending and consumer debt. We are building a new debt crisis in this country—it is a consumer debt crisis, and it is here. All it will take is a marginal interest rate increase for people to be unable to service their debt, and they are barely able to service that as it is. There are real questions to be answered about irresponsible lending, and the Treasury Committee needs to examine that.
These structural weaknesses in our economy ought to be at the forefront of the motions, but they are not. That would be irresponsible in the best of times, but let us look at what we face down the track. We are going to see deeper globalisation, and a shift of economic power to the south and to the east, with a requirement on us to become far more competitive, particularly in seizing opportunities in the service economy. We face enormous and fundamental technological change. The rate of such change is now vastly outstripping the rate at which regulators, government and businesses are able to respond to it. I am not someone who sees the rise of the robots as the beginning of human serfdom in the age of the machine; as with globalisation, there are huge opportunities here to deal with enormous inequality and with big issues facing the planet, such as climate change. Automation presents huge possibilities, but let us learn the lesson from globalisation. This is not something that we can slow or stop; it is happening, and it is a process. We must make sure that this new industrial revolution, the fourth one, works in the interests of everyone, rather than a select few. Otherwise, we will end up back where we are with Brexit, which is the biggest risk facing our country.
When we think about what could happen in the next couple of years as the UK leaves the EU or comes crashing out, we see that the idea that these Ways and Means motions would make any bit of difference is fanciful—it is not serious. When we look at policy coming from the Treasury and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, we see that it is insufficient to meet the challenges of the time. Worse, it seems that far from pursuing policies that will address these big challenges, the Government are pursuing an approach that would make things even worse, relegating the economy to a second-order issue. As George Osborne said from the Government Back Benches after he left office as Chancellor, in a debate about our relationship with the EU,
“the Government have chosen…not to make the economy the priority”.—[Official Report,
Vol. 620, c. 1034.]
Can you imagine that? Can you imagine a Government not making the economy the priority? As I have said throughout this debate, that would be inexcusable in the best of times, but it is absolutely outrageous in the worst of times.
In conclusion, I hope that the Government not only take on board the detailed critique that has been made of their Ways and Means motions, but reflect on the structural weaknesses in our economy, the challenges that lie ahead and how they can meet them. Let us think about the biggest political event this country has seen in post-war history: the decision to leave the EU. We know that the referendum was lost because of a coalition of voters. I accept that there were a lot of committed Eurosceptics who always wanted out come what may, but the referendum was won thanks to the votes of millions of people who simply felt left behind, who felt unheard and who wanted to send a clear message. They are the people who have been at the sharp end of globalisation; they are the victims of economic inequality and social injustice. When we campaigned in areas where people turned out in droves to vote leave and we told people they may be voting to make themselves poorer, time and again we heard the same reply: “Things cannot get worse than this.” The thing I fear more than anything else about the economic outlook in this Parliament is that things can, and indeed may well, get worse. It would be a tragedy if the very people whose voices cried out to demand change, and who expect that change, were once again the ones who bore the brunt of short-term economic thinking, and of a politics and economics that works in the interests of the privileged few.
I did my democratic duty in honouring the referendum by voting to trigger article 50. What I will not do during this Parliament is pretend that I think the right decision has been made or that the warnings we gave will not come to pass. It is my responsibility, and the responsibility of us all, to protect the interests of our nation and our constituents. If we want to deal with what we are seeing across western democracies—the consequences of people abandoning their faith in mainstream politics—and we want to see off that trend and process, the only way to change course is to change our country. There is no shortcut to achieving change. It has to be meaningful, serious and a lot better than the measures the Government have presented this afternoon.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Following the point of order made by Dr Lewis earlier today about the establishment of Select Committees, it has come to my attention that every party has a list of names of members of Select Committees. Will you and Mr Speaker use your good offices to encourage the Government to table a motion tonight with those names—if there are any gaps, they can be filled at a later time—so that the Committees of this House can scrutinise this Government as swiftly as possible, hopefully starting next Monday?
I appreciate the point that the hon. Lady is making. In her position as the Chair of one of the senior Committees of the House, she is right to draw the matter to the House’s attention. She refers to the point of order made earlier this afternoon by Dr Lewis, to which Mr Speaker gave a very thorough answer, making it very clear that he is of the opinion that it is in the best interests of the House that the Committees are established as soon as possible. My understanding from what he said is that the Leader of the House is in agreement with him. I take it from the general demeanour of the Chamber now, and earlier this afternoon during the point of order from the right hon. Member for New Forest, that the House agrees that it would be in the best interests of our democratic system that the Select Committees are established as soon as possible.
I have every confidence in the Leader of the House. Obviously she is not present in the Chamber at the moment, because nobody knew until a moment ago that the hon. Lady was going to raise this point of order. I am giving a rather lengthy reply in the hope that the Leader of the House will arrive in the Chamber, but I cannot enter into the long speech tradition that has been established this afternoon, as it is not my duty to speak for more than a few seconds on such a matter, and I think that this is all I can do. The point has been noted by those on the Treasury Bench, and I would expect the Leader of the House, who would have the best interests of the House at the front of her mind in all she does, to take note of what the hon. Lady said and the Chamber’s reaction to it.
I pay tribute to the remarks made by the two preceding speakers, my hon. Friends the Members for North Durham (Mr Jones) and for Ilford North (Wes Streeting). I promise that having been in this House for only a short time, I cannot yet seek to match them for speaking stamina. I am sure that the rest of the House will not be too disappointed by that.
“to build a stronger, fairer Britain that works for everyone, not just the privileged few. A Britain…that works for ordinary working people.”
If those words are not mere rhetoric, they need to be backed up by legislation, and where better to put that legislation than in a Finance Bill? It is an opportunity for the Government to make our tax system and our society fairer. I am concerned, though, that the Bill will not only not make Britain fairer, but make our society more unequal.
I wish to concentrate on the effect of motion 4, which is on termination payments, and of motion 13, which is on business investment relief. Business investment relief applies only to non-domiciled UK taxpayers—120,000 people who are some of the wealthiest in our society. They are already able to choose whether their income is only taxed when it is brought into the UK. That gives a huge advantage to those who spend most of their lives outside our country, and whose income can be held in offshore accounts, trusts and shares.
Although, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North said, I worked for the past 20 years or so for a trade union for working people, prior to that I worked as a tax accountant. On leaving school, I went to work in London for an international tax accountancy firm that specialised in advising non-domiciled individuals. These people were enormously wealthy, and included some well-known names. Even if their income was earned in the UK, if their earnings went directly into a non-UK account, they were not subject to UK taxation. In recent years, we have seen how that sort of manipulation of high incomes still goes on. It enables the very wealthiest people to pay a minimal contribution to the UK, even if they are deemed resident here. It is not the fault of this Government, but non-domiciled status was essentially created to avoid UK taxation.
For many people who travel globally, the system is not actually adaptable. For all their enormous wealth and jet-set lifestyles, I used to feel sorry for our non-domiciled clients when I was a teenager in a junior tax accountancy position. They were able to spend only a set number of days in the UK, and the enormous tax consequences of their overstaying that time limit meant that they felt they needed to adhere to it strictly, regardless of their own personal needs or wishes. Our accountancy firm used to keep a schedule in the front of each client’s file, setting out the number of days that they had set foot in the UK that tax year. The clients used to have to plan their personal and business engagements around the limits. When they got close to the limit, it was my job to write to inform them to be careful with their travel arrangements until
The Government say they are cracking down on non-domiciled status, but, as I said to my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North, it seems to be different from their crackdown on benefits for disabled people living on the breadline. Will the Minister confirm that non-domiciled individuals will see their status change only if they have not complied in 15 out of 20 years? Disabled people would love to have 15 years to show how their disability affects their lives and how it changes over time, but they are assessed on one day, at one particular time when they have managed to attend an assessment centre, and they are penalised immediately if they cannot do so. If there is a change in circumstance for non-domiciled residents, instead of their hugely beneficial tax status being changed immediately, the Government have given them two years in which to transfer their money to an offshore trust to again avoid paying any tax on it.
As if the tax benefits of non-domiciled status were not already generous enough, in 2012 the then Chancellor introduced business investment relief. I am sure that had nothing to do with the number of people of non-domiciled status with whom he spent his holidays on yachts, but it was certainly welcomed by their investment advisers. Firms such as Sapphire were pleased to advertise the benefits of business investment relief to their clients. The article on its website says:
“Unfortunately for the vast majority of us, when we earn money we have to pay tax…However, for those individuals who are resident in the UK but are considered non-domiciled this basic rule does not have to apply…From
“But wait—it gets better—you can also use the other reliefs when making an investment using offshore monies remitted to the UK”— such as the enterprise investment scheme or the seed enterprise investment scheme, which will also potentially save 40% on an income tax bill. The advice that is given sets out how great the tax advantages are. An investment of £500,000 by someone with non-domiciled status would attract tax relief of £400,000.
Sapphire advertises how wide the opportunities are under business investment relief, saying:
“the rules for what makes up a qualifying company…are very wide. Quoted companies are excluded, but virtually any other company…carrying out a business may qualify…investment into property development or property with a rent is allowable.”
Do we really need more overseas investors increasing our property prices? It does not even have to be an arm’s length or transparent investment, as money
“can be invested in a company in which the investor is or associates are involved in”.
If someone wants to dispose of that investment and is worried about capital gains tax, they are advised:
“When the investment is sold, if there is a gain it will be subject to UK Capital Gains Tax—but the original funds can be taken back offshore again (within a 45 day or 90 day time period) in order to avoid being taxed”.
It is no wonder that despite all the rhetoric about cracking down on non-doms, their number has increased since 2010. The Government now want to make business investment relief even more generous through this Bill. This time, I quote the reputable KPMG, which sets out the benefits of the Government’s proposals, which have
“the objective of making the BIR scheme more attractive to non-UK domiciled investors…BIR will be extended to include investments made in a new qualifying entity, a ‘hybrid company’…not exclusively a trading company or a stakeholder company…but…a hybrid of the two”— just in case someone could not fit their investment into one or other of them. It goes on:
“At the same time…the period during which an eligible trading company must start to trade,” or
“an eligible stakeholder company must start to hold investments…will be increased to five years…Where a company becomes non-operational and a BIR investment ceases to qualify, the grace period during which action must be taken…will be increased to two years” to manage the risk of a tax change more effectively. It also states:
“Another extension to BIR sees acquisitions of existing shares already in issue potentially qualifying for BIR…
there will be no requirement for shares to have been newly issued…Rules which withdraw BIR will be narrowed”.
An already exceedingly generous scheme will be widened and extended in scope to enable more companies to be invested in and to enable more people to make those investments, be it in a trading company or a property. May I ask the Minister how that squares with the Prime Minister’s promise that we will create a fairer society by breaking down the barriers of privilege and making Britain a great meritocracy?
The treatment of non-domiciled taxpayers in the Bill contrasts with the treatment of ordinary working people. The Government’s huge cuts to public services have largely been on the back of those ordinary working people, none more so than the hundreds of thousands in the public sector who have lost their jobs.
Under the Government’s continued austerity programme, thousands more hard-working public servants will lose their employment. In many cases, they have given the majority of their working life to their job and will find it extremely hard to get another. As the state pension age increases, people made redundant later in their working life have to try to get by on their payment for termination of their employment for as long as possible. It is an extremely worrying time for them.
Two hospitals in my constituency are earmarked for ward closures, with dozens of experienced NHS staff worried about whether they will still have a job. To those hard-working hospital staff, who continue to give excellent care to their patients for which they are renowned, the Bill brings added uncertainty. The Government want Parliament to give them the power to vary the £30,000 tax-free limit for payments on termination of employment, but people will see less of that payment if that tax limit is reduced. The long-standing limit, which gives ordinary hard-working people the ability to make the most of the final payment from their job at a time when they need it most, is under threat. I hope the Minister can assure me that the Government will at no point seek to reduce the £30,000 tax-free limit on termination payments.
In another example of hitting hard-working people when they are down, the Bill seeks to tax the compensation for injury to feelings caused by a proven case of discrimination at work. Does the Minister realise what an employee has to go through to receive a compensation award for discrimination? Not only do they originally suffer that serious and long-lasting discrimination at work, but they also have to have made a complaint unsuccessfully through their employer’s procedures, having their claims refuted and exacerbating the hurt and distress. They then have to go through the whole process and complaint yet again, this time through an employment tribunal procedure. The process takes years of emotional distress and it is not surprising that only a handful of cases get through this arduous process.
Only 144 individuals were awarded compensation for discrimination in the past year, including 72 cases of disability discrimination, 33 cases of sex discrimination and nine cases of sexual orientation discrimination. Bearing in mind the small number of cases, this is not an effective revenue-raising measure. Until now, claimants have had to pay an employment tribunal fee of £1,250 to take a case of discrimination to an employment tribunal. Now that those fees have been ruled unlawful, does the Minister agree that victims of sustained and damaging discrimination will feel that taxation of their compensation payment will simply add financial insult to their injury? It is a worrying principle for the Government to commence taxing compensation—a measure to give redress from unfairness—which inflicts further unfairness on those who have already suffered enough.
I am relatively new to the House, but the Bill shows me and our wider electorate that, in spite of changing Ministers, the Government have not changed their spots. They are seeking to rush through these important measures with very little parliamentary scrutiny. These measures give even more to the wealthiest and take even more from hard-working people at the times they need it most. The Prime Minister has been long on rhetoric for tackling privilege and helping ordinary working people, but the Government speak a very different story in their actions in this Bill. Before the final Bill comes to the House, I urge the Minister to address the imbalance between rhetoric and action. He can either ensure that the Bill addresses the issues that his leader claims to seek to address or the Government can be straight with voters and say that their actions actually encourage privilege and knock working people when they are down.
Although any attempts to clamp down on tax avoidance schemes are welcome, I do not feel that the proposed measures go far enough or that HMRC has the capacity to go after corporations that have in the past paid less tax than their cleaners.
By 2021, HMRC is projected to have lost 34% of its staff since 2010, including those in departments dealing with the very largest corporations. That is a huge number, and with the big accountancy firms willing to take on former HMRC employees for their knowledge and expertise, is it any wonder that the tax-avoiding corporations are one step ahead of the game?
The Bill makes no reference to dealing with offshore tax havens, which, as we all know, are a popular device for avoiding tax wherever the profits have been made. That scam has been estimated to be worth £13,000 billion worldwide in avoided tax. Some of those profits will have been made in the UK, and some in other countries, including many developing countries. Oxfam has estimated that the cost of tax avoidance to developing countries is £78 billion. That money could go a long way to providing schools, healthcare and clean water, and it could actually save lives.
What is required is greater transparency and a mandatory requirement for public, country-by-country reporting on where profits have been made, so that multinational companies pay their fair share of tax along with everybody else and make a contribution to society in the countries in which they operate. It is estimated that unpaid tax could be worth as much as 16% of Government revenue in some developing countries. It cannot be right that multinational companies should be able to choose where they pay tax or whether to pay it at all.
In the UK alone, tax avoidance was estimated to be approximately £11.4 billion for the last fiscal year. It is scandalous that some of the corporations using tax avoidance measures in the UK benefit from having been granted lucrative Government contracts. At a time when public sector workers have to go to food banks to survive, it is hard to imagine a more insulting parody of fairness than greedy corporations directly profiting from the public purse, using every trick in the book to avoid paying tax.
At a time when there is massive underfunding of the NHS and schools, as well as of local authorities for the services they provide, we cannot allow half-measures to prevail. More needs to be done to secure the money for our much-needed cash-strapped public services. Everyone knows that further investment in HMRC is needed to recover these large sums and that any additional staff who are brought in would, in effect, pay for themselves within weeks. More needs to be done, but action is needed right now, because these measures do not go far enough.
I am grateful for the opportunity to make a brief contribution to this debate.
I cannot help but feel that the Government seem a little embarrassed by this whole Budget, this whole set of measures and the state of the economy. Presumably, that is why there were so few people on the Government side to make a contribution today. We did have a fleeting, cameo appearance from the Chancellor earlier, but he is still taking his vow of silence. I understand that, because I used to work with unemployed people and people who feared losing their jobs, and I know about that sense of needing to keep your head down sometimes.
In the time available, I want to pick up a couple of the issues that have come up in the debate and to try to understand where the Government are at the moment. To be honest, the Minister gave very little detail in his opening remarks—it was not so much broad brush as “Don’t blink or you’ll miss it.”
I particularly want to ask about the proposal that has come up again to tax people’s redundancy pay and termination payments. My understanding was that there had been a discussion on this and that the Government had conceded, so I am not quite clear why we are back looking at what looks like virtually the same proposal. I want to ask a straightforward question: if this proposal is the right thing to do—I have grave doubts about the way we are proceeding—should Parliament not decide that? Is it really right that HMRC should be given the power to make the decision? I think that that is Parliament abdicating its responsibility, but more importantly it is another grab by Government to transfer power elsewhere so that they do not have to be accountable or scrutinised. We really should look again at whether that is appropriate.
I have a very simple request on business investment relief. It behoves the Government to place in the House of Commons Library details of where that business investment is going. We need to know which businesses and companies are benefiting; how evenly it is being spread around the country; and which regions and nations are seeing benefits. Otherwise it looks like another attempt to give someone a tax cut on the side. As long as people have that suspicion and do not have the evidence or an explanation, is it any wonder that they will adopt that view?
I intervened on the Minister earlier on the issue of non-domiciles. He was quick to tell me that I had nothing to say on the subject because Labour was in power before the present Government and the coalition. It is true that past Governments have struggled on the question of non-domiciles, but my memory is that the Conservative party could not have been clearer about its position in 2010. In fact, the former Chancellor was absolutely crystal clear about what it was going to do when it came to power. The question we have to ask is, having had all this time to work it out, how come there are so many exemptions, exclusions and difficulties in tackling a problem which, according to the Conservative party, has been at the centre of its own thinking for seven years? How is it so difficult? If the object of the exercise is not to try to avoid doing it—it was quick to say that that was not the case and that it was the party that would deliver—how come there are so many exclusions, exemptions and get-out routes for the people involved?
On the wider question of tax avoidance, the Conservative party seems to wonder why people do not believe, trust or have faith in it. Is it normal that those lobby groups and people who have spent time arguing against tax provisions to limit the amount of tax paid by individuals and organisations should then be given the power to scrutinise whether what individuals are doing is right and appropriate? That does not sound right to me, and when I try to explain it to my constituents it does not sound right to them either. They have a straightforward understanding of the rules: the Government set the rules, they are laid out in black and white, and we are expected to pay. However, when it comes to other people being expected to pay, the very same lobby groups and organisations that advise and assist them and lobby against paying are given the power to scrutinise what they are doing. That is why people do not have faith in what is going on.
I want to turn to the air passenger duty measure. The Minister was quick to use his crystal ball when tackled on corporation tax earlier. He quickly moved the issue away from what the Government are doing to what he foresaw a future Labour Government doing. I wonder whether he will go back to his crystal ball and reflect on two things. First, on the air passenger duty arrangements we are being asked to approve, what are the Government doing about the changes happening elsewhere in the country? When the Scottish Government set their rate for air departure tax, that could have a phenomenal impact on the airline industry and every regional airport and regional economy in this country. What is the point of the Government setting a rate in complete isolation from what is happening about 600 miles up the road? What is the value in that? Why do they not look at that and give us a coherent response?
Secondly, I am interested to know from the Minister’s crystal ball what is going to happen with corporation tax. Once Northern Ireland has to make a decision about corporation tax—presumably in relation to the Irish Republic—it cannot but have a knock-on effect on corporation tax rates in the rest of the country. How come there has not been a single comment about that from the Government? Will it be a case of them waking up after the event, as they have done at every stage in the economic management of the country so far, and telling us that they are going to think about it?
Sadly, today’s debate on the Ways and Means resolutions has confirmed in the field of taxation something that many of us feared about the Government’s general approach to public policy: no genuine attempt is being made to face up to the enormous challenges facing our country, from our yawning productivity and investment gaps to the haemorrhage of public funds caused by tax dodging and, as many have noted, the uncertainty caused by the Government’s shambolic approach to Brexit.
We end this debate with new revelations, hot off the press, that the Government have been pleading with businesses to publicly back their Brexit negotiating strategy—pleas that have been met with “fury” and “incredulity” from business. Against that backdrop, rather than the wide-ranging changes that are required, we have a clutch of measures that I would describe as piecemeal, although I have to say that I liked the epithets used by my hon. Friend Wes Streeting, who described them as thin and patchy. Many of the measures are, sadly, ill thought through, and they could have a range of negative consequences.
The process is also flawed. Despite repeated calls from tax experts for more detailed scrutiny of tax measures, the House is being rushed into Second Reading of the Bill containing these measures just next week. I accept the Minister’s comments that all these measures were published previously. However, several of them have been pulled, some at very short notice. As my hon. Friend Mr Jones set out—at length, I must say—some of those measures were important ones.
Such is the lack of coherence in this package of measures that some might describe the current coalition of chaos as rudderless, but I would say that is unfair, because the resolutions show that the Government’s shaky ship tends to list in one direction: towards the protection of the most privileged. As so many of my hon. Friends have mentioned, we see that first of all in the Government’s approach to non-dom status. That anomalous and old-fashioned status was created by William Pitt the younger, and it provides for some of the very richest in society privileges of which British mere mortals cannot avail themselves. Rather than fundamental abolition or reform, here we have the introduction of more and more complex rules.
We heard repeatedly today from the Government that they are closing the front door to tax avoidance from non-doms, but, as others have mentioned, that front door will close at a glacially slow pace. It will be open for another 15 years. In any case, while the Government maintain that they will—albeit very slowly—close the front door to tax avoidance, some of the measures proposed here open up new, hidden back doors through which non-doms can shift their tax responsibilities.
Many Labour Members have talked about the mechanism of business investment relief, which will be extended substantially beyond its initial remit. We have asked repeatedly for evidence of its efficacy, but evidence came there paltry little, and only very late in the day. It was only last Friday that we received a statistical commentary providing some very basic figures on the use of business investment relief, and the figures that we were initially given were rounded up to the nearest hundred. That is surely rather unusual when we are talking about fewer than 450 new individuals taking up that relief in 2014-15. In fact, according to my calculations, less than 1% of non-doms currently appear to be taking it up.
Furthermore, as many others have mentioned, the Government have provided no indication of which sectors or businesses are benefiting from this relief. Without that information, it is unclear why the Government have chosen to extend its remit. As my hon. Friend Ruth George mentioned, we also need to know why the Government are now enabling non-doms to buy shares traded in secondary markets, not just new shares, under the remit of the relief. How exactly will that benefit the real economy and generate the investment that we desperately need?
The new measures have been proposed in a context where, according to a statistical release we have only just received, more than 54,600 non-doms have been in the UK for seven of the past nine years, but only 5,100 seem to have admitted remitting income to the UK. Having said that, the exact number of non-doms in Britain seems to go up or down by 200 depending on which table is looked at in the statistical release, so we should perhaps take some of the figures with a pinch of salt. I must say that I struggle to understand how exactly all the remaining non-doms are surviving and living here. It is all very well trumpeting the funds obtained through the non-dom charges—we heard the same again today—but for high net worth individuals claiming non-dom status, those charges might be dwarfed by the taxes they would have paid if they were treated like ordinary Brits. Furthermore, while the Financial Secretary claimed that the proposals would end permanent non-dom status, that, as many Labour Members have mentioned, is not the case for those whose parents are non-doms.
It is difficult to avoid the conclusion of firms aiding individuals to attain non-dom status, such as the Tax Advisory Partnership, that non-dom status is, in its words, “generally advantageous to taxpayers”, although not of course to British ones. The firm also notes that
“trust planning is a valuable option for many non-doms”,
yet the Government’s new measures protect income that is already locked into trusts. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North said, this is big business for the many firms engaged in enabling people to avoid tax.
I am very sorry that rather than promoting investment in our country, the non-dom system seems for many just to be a mechanism for tax avoidance. Now more than ever, we really need more business investment in Britain. Several Labour Members made the case for that today. I have looked at the figures provided by the OECD: last year, the increase in investment in Britain was half the G7 average, a third of the OECD average and a sixth of the EU average. Labour Members have heard nothing in this debate to convince us that the Government’s measures presented in the resolutions will provide the investment that our country desperately needs.
Generally, we find that while the Government may talk the talk on tax avoidance, the measures they produce are frequently watered down and insipid in practice. Just as with their measures on non-doms, we find that their commitment to crack down on those enabling aggressive tax avoidance fails to include the really strong deterrents called for by experts. Indeed, the Government initially proposed such measures, but they have now been watered down.
As several Labour Members have said, the treatment in these measures of non-doms and enablers of tax avoidance contrasts with the treatment of people who have been discriminated against in employment cases or made redundant. I must say that I share the concerns of my hon. Friend Steve McCabe about the fact that the Financial Secretary did not mention those issues in his opening speech, and I very much hope that he will cover them in his concluding remarks. They are incredibly important for many people in Britain, particularly as we see more employment cases being brought and more people being made redundant. Take the issue of injury to feelings payments becoming taxable. I have looked at the figures and seen that we are not necessarily talking about very large awards. In 2014, the median award for injury to feelings across all categories of discrimination was £6,600. Over the three years to 2014, median awards for discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation actually diminished to just £1,000, and awards on the basis of other characteristics have generally come in at about the £6,000 mark.
I must say that I find it churlish of the Government to focus on the people who, after all, as my hon. Friend the Member for High Peak detailed, have been forced to pursue their case at many different levels, often at considerable expense to themselves and causing considerable concern to themselves and their families. When they are found genuinely to have had a case—because their age, race, religion, sexual orientation, disability or pregnancy has been used against them—they then find out at that stage that any award is taxable. We find penny pinching that is focused on discriminated-against workers and those made redundant rather than an attempt to tackle large-scale tax avoidance head-on.
Colleagues have asked many other questions, to which we have not received adequate responses. One of the most important issues, which many colleagues mentioned, is the resourcing of HMRC, particularly with new cuts on the horizon through the removal of local offices. I am concerned that we find no commitment by the Government to grasp the nettle and properly resource HMRC so that it can feasibly assess whether high net worth individuals and multinational corporations will comply with the new rules.
I remind the Financial Secretary that there are still 10,000 fewer HMRC staff than in 2010—a 16% cut, despite the Government’s professed concern about tax avoidance. In that context it is no surprise that, as Kirsty Blackman said, proposed new powers for HMRC to enter premises and inspect goods, as well as to search vehicles or vessels, have not been repeated in the resolutions despite their discussion before the election. In this matter as in others, an ideological commitment to reducing the size of HMRC can lead to a focus on punishing smaller businesses that have transgressed against minor rules, while some of the biggest players escape their liabilities. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North said, the principle of proportionality is already under pressure. That could become an even bigger problem with additional cuts.
The matter is also deeply concerning in the context of Making Tax Digital. We welcome the fact that the Government have ceded to pressure and that they are climbing down on making tax digital to an accelerated timetable, but I am worried that the Financial Secretary said that electronic reporting would be extended only when it had been shown to work well. I remember similar discussions on the introduction of digital reporting for services that suddenly had to pay VAT when the system changed to operating on the basis of where the buyer rather than the seller was. The Government said then that all the arrangements would be in place; businesses would know how to pay their VAT, and there would not be concerns about testing the system—the so-called VAT MOSS system. Many Opposition colleagues will remember it as the VAT mess system, because that is what we got.
Cuts to HMRC resources are incredibly important. One Conservative Member shouted, “With digitalisation, we don’t need HMRC staff.” In some cases, we need those staff precisely to help people through the digital process. Those staff were not there for VAT mess, and I am worried that they will not be there for elements of Making Tax Digital if the Government go ahead with their plans.
Ways and Means resolutions may be technical, as the Chancellor said in his brief intervention in the discussion, but they offer an opportunity to deal with some of the fundamental problems with the British economy. Fiscal matters are incredibly important—Opposition Members accept that, and that is why so many of us have been present, intervened in the debate and posed questions. Sadly, instead of the genuine engagement that we should have had with many of our concerns, they have not been dealt with seriously. Overall, the measures imply that the very best-off people are likely to be rewarded, with little left for everyone else.
The debate has been engaging and I thank all Members for their contributions. I will touch briefly on the points that have been raised. As I said in my opening speech, there will of course be further opportunities to debate the principles behind the Finance Bill, not least on Second Reading next week.
The measures to be included in the Finance Bill have been consulted upon widely and scrutinised by the public, key stakeholders, tax professionals and, to some extent, the House. The shadow Chief Secretary, Peter Dowd, said that the Bill was being rushed through. I remind him that we have already debated the Second Reading of a Bill which, substantially, contained nearly all the measures that we will debate in the weeks and months ahead.
The Bill will raise some £16 billion over the next five years, but, far from what the hon. Members for Bootle and for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) would have us believe, much of that revenue will be raised from large multinational corporations—and, yes, from non-domiciled individuals. On the issue of the taxation of non-domiciled individuals, let me make it clear that we are abolishing permanent non-dom status. It is this Government who have presented proposals, consulted on them widely, and delivered a fair and balanced package. During the debate I heard Opposition Members criticise offshore trusts. Let me be clear again: if funds are taken out of trusts, they will be taxed in the normal way. In recent years, we have reached important international agreements on the automatic exchange of information to ensure that we can effectively monitor those movements.
Overall, we have developed a balanced policy that promotes fairness in the tax system and, importantly, protects vital revenues for our public services. Those non-doms bring in about £9 billion per year in tax revenues, which is up from £8 billion about a decade ago. We expect, in addition to those revenues, to raise a further £1.5 billion over the next five years as a direct result of this Finance Bill.
The Bill introduces important changes in corporation tax, implementing rules agreed internationally and recommended by the OECD. They will ensure that big companies pay corporation tax when they make large profits, no matter what their past losses might have been, and will prevent them from using artificial borrowing to avoid the tax that they owe. I remind the House that those matters have been the subject over some years of intense international work—international work that the Government have been instrumental in driving forward. These changes represent real results, which Labour Members never seemed to get around to when they were in office.
The hon. Member for Bootle also criticised measures relating to termination payments. The £30,000 tax-free allowance will still be available and statutory redundancy will be tax-free. However, we must face the fact that, while it may be a particularly easy argument to prosecute that we are somehow beating up those who are losing their jobs, the reality is that that situation is being used as a vehicle for tax avoidance, and when the Government find tax avoidance, we will clamp down on it.
Let me now deal with the points raised by the hon. Member for Bootle about the Government’s record on tax avoidance and evasion, and the work of HMRC. He suggested that somehow HMRC was not doing enough. I remind the House that in 2016-17, HMRC brought in £574.9 billion in tax revenue, and that was the seventh record year in a row. It generated £29.9 billion of compliance revenue in one year, and in 2016-17 it prosecuted 886 criminals for tax avoidance and evasion, more than double the number six years ago. The hon. Member for Oxford East criticised our commitments to HMRC. Since 2010 we have invested £1.8 billion in HMRC for the purpose of clamping down on tax avoidance and evasion, and we have brought in £160 billion by clamping down on avoidance since that date.
Members have rightly made much of the need to narrow the tax gap. The Government are committed to that as well, but many have failed to recognise that the gap now stands at 6.5%. That is one of the lowest figures in the world, and it is lower than the figure that applied every year in which Labour was in office. We can pride ourselves on having one of the most robust and transparent tax gap estimates in the world, with the methodology scrutinised by the International Monetary Fund and the National Audit Office.
The hon. Member for Bootle suggested that Labour would do more than any other party to tackle the tax gap, but let us judge Labour on its record. The latest tax gap is 6.5%. In 2004-05, after two terms of a Labour Government, it was around 9%. That is not a record to shout about. The tax gap for corporation tax in particular is 7.6%, but a decade earlier, under Labour, it was around double that figure. For large businesses, the tax gap for corporation tax we that inherited was 11.1%; now it has almost halved to 5.8%. And let us look at the receipts: onshore corporation tax revenues last year hit a record of around £50 billion. In 2004-05, after two terms of a Labour Government, they were almost £20 billion lower.
I want now to turn to some of the other contributions to the debate. My right hon. Friend Nicky Morgan made some very pertinent points, and I congratulate her on her election to her new position as Chairman of the Treasury Committee—I look forward in due course to appearing before her, with a mixture of excitement and some trepidation, I have to say. I also thank her for her comments about Making Tax Digital. The work of her Committee’s predecessor certainly informed my previous judgment on that matter. She made some important points about the UK being truly open for business. I also subscribe to those points, and the Government are determined to ensure that that remains the case. She made important points on certainty and stability in our tax regime, too, and she will have noted the answer I gave to Lady Hermon in respect of retrospective legislation.
When I was listening to the speech made by Kirsty Blackman, I thought for a moment that I was in a dream where she was not a member of the SNP, but a Conservative—a fellow traveller. She is always welcome on this side of the House. She welcomed the measures for tax deduction of employee legal costs and for electric vehicle charging point tax reductions. She also welcomed our measures on petroleum revenue tax and to clamp down on enablers of aggressive tax avoidance, as well as the changes we have made to the MTD regime. The hon. Lady raised some points about VAT refunds for museums, and I will be happy to look into them and come back to her in due course.
My hon. Friend Luke Graham made some important points on MTD. I can say to him that the Government will certainly consult very widely as we go forward with this approach.
As for Mr Jones, who has a flicker of a smirk about his face on the Back Bench there, what can I say? He started his speech by telling us he was going to speak rubbish, and I think it is fair to say that he amply met his objective, not in terms of the content of what he said—he was as eloquent and erudite as always—but in terms of his apparent inability to speak to the matters in question, because of course landfill tax, important though it is, will not form part of the current Bill. He then mentioned APD, for which I was grateful, because that is in the Bill, but I fail to see how I could get puppies in at any possible stretch of the imagination.
Wes Streeting gave a thoughtful speech, although I have to say that there were limited areas of agreement between us. I was pleased that he welcomed our changes to MTD. He stressed the importance of the wealthiest paying their share of tax. He is right, but he will know that the top 1% of earners in this country pay 27% of all tax, that the most wealthy 3,000 pay as much tax as the poorest 9 million, and that income inequality is at its lowest level for 30 years.
I will not on this occasion, as I have very little time—I apologise.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned non-dom trusts. I have made it clear that funds remitted out of non-dom trusts will be taxable. He also, however, flirted with the idea of politicians getting directly involved in the tax affairs of individuals, which would be a dangerous road to go down. I do not want politicians interfering in people’s tax affairs; I want to protect tax confidentiality. He also talked about the resourcing of HMRC which, as I have said, has received £1.8 billion since 2010, and is bringing in record levels by clamping down on tax avoidance.
Ruth George mentioned termination payments and said that she hoped we would not be reducing the £30,000 allowance. That is certainly not our intention at present, and if there were any move to change the figure, it would have to be the subject of an statutory instrument subject to the affirmative procedure, meaning that it would come back to the House for approval or otherwise.
Bambos Charalambous made the point that we need to raise money to pay for public services—he is absolutely right. That is why we are clamping down on tax avoidance and pursuing our policies. Steve McCabe also mentioned termination payments, and I refer him to my earlier remarks about that. He talked about business investment relief, which will be available and made more flexible for those who have non-domiciled status. That should not be criticised. This is money coming into our country to invest in businesses, in British jobs, in wealth creation and in creating the taxes that, in turn, will fund the public services on which we all depend.
While we consider the action being taken in this Finance Bill, let us not forget what we inherited from the Labour party and the important actions that we have taken. Foreigners did not pay capital gains tax when they sold houses in the UK, but we stopped that in April 2015. Private equity managers could pay minimal rates of tax on their performance fees, but we stopped that in the summer Budget of 2015. Thousands of the richest homeowners did not pay stamp duty, but we stopped that in 2013. On corporation tax, banks did not pay tax on all their profits, but we stopped that in December 2011. Investment companies could cut their tax bill by flipping the currency that their accounts were in; we stopped that in 2011. On income and inheritance tax, people avoided paying tax by calling the salary from their own company a loan; we stopped that in 2013. Non-doms could avoid paying UK tax by splitting their employment contracts; we stopped that in 2014. Hedge fund managers could use partnerships to avoid paying tax on their income; we stopped that in 2014. People could claim inheritance tax relief twice on some assets; we stopped that in 2013. On the economy more generally, and perhaps most importantly of all, the Labour party wanted us to go on bankrupting Britain, but we stopped that in 2010.
That record on tax avoidance and fairness shows that this Government have delivered, and we will continue to deliver with this Bill. Opposition Members have accused the Government of using smoke and mirrors, but the record shows that it is they who talk tough but take little action. The upcoming Finance Bill continues our work to deliver a fair and competitive tax system. It implements measures that will raise £16 billion for our public services. It clamps down on avoidance and evasion, and addresses the challenges that the Labour party chose to duck. I commend the motions to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
(b) (notwithstanding anything to the contrary in the practice of the House relating to the matters that may be included in Finance Bills) provision may be made taking effect in a future year amending Chapter 6 of that Part (taxable benefits: cars etc).