– in the House of Commons at 7:00 pm on 12th September 2017.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. We are seeing an historic event tonight: a Government actually filibustering their own Finance Bill! I think that should have a plaque somewhere in this Chamber. I am told through the usual channels that the Conservative Whips told their Members to book hotel accommodation tonight because the Labour party was apparently going to talk the Bill long, even though Labour Members were assured by our own Whips that we would not. They have got to keep it going until 10 o’clock, so their Members can be reimbursed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority. With 25 more speakers to go, and the Whips doing their best to cut down contributions, I wonder, Mr Deputy Speaker, whether you could institute a time limit to save Government Members from the incompetence of their own Whips Office. [Interruption.]
Hang on a minute. I thank the Government Whips, who have turned out in force, for their advice. I do not know what fear you have put among them, Mr Jones. However, if they were really interested in filibustering, they would have asked you speak. The fact that they did not has probably saved the House. As you well know, that is not a point of order but you have put your point on the record.
On the points made by Ruth George in her intervention, we are simplifying the tax system to ensure that work pays for people who are in work. Under Labour, people were better off on benefits and that is not right. People should be better off when they are in work. Some of Labour’s claims are not true. We on the Conservative Benches believe that the only way for people to get out of poverty and deprivation is through work.
We must monitor closely the increases in consumer debt and insolvency in constituencies such as mine. It is much lower than the 150% it was under Labour during the financial crisis, but with low interest rates making borrowing cheaper we have seen rises from 130% to 135% of income in recent years. As Conservatives in government, we must continue to ensure that lenders are not allowed to take the high levels of risk seen under Labour. Lenders need to continue to be more careful, and to ensure that mortgages and other consumer borrowing remains affordable.
It is vital that we do all we can to ensure a decent level of security for our constituents and their families in later life. Measures introduced under the Conservative leadership, such as pension auto-enrolment, have made sure that millions more are now saving enough to support themselves in retirement. It is now even more important that savers of working age access the advice they need to manage their pension investments to maximise their income once they draw their pension. Clause 3 will therefore be welcomed by my constituents. In 2017-18, the state pension is more than £1,200 higher than in 2010. For those reaching state pension age after April 2016, the new state pension introduces a single flat rate of £159.55 per week. That means many people will receive much more than under the old system, and it is much fairer.
We have some incredible employers in my constituency. I was very privileged to visit Goodwin International and Wedgwood over the summer. Such businesses are at the cutting edge in their field. Whether it be in high-tech manufacturing, precision engineering or the creative ceramics industry, businesses are enjoying blossoming success with the fruits of better skilled jobs.
I am particularly pleased with the provisions on business investment relief, which will help businesses to continue to bring more investment to the UK and encourage more foreign investment in British companies, with investors no longer being dissuaded by excessive taxes. It is especially important that more of this investment enters areas such as Stoke-on-Trent, where we have an appetite for development, huge potential to grow and prosper and an ability to improve jobs. The provisions will expand the types of investment that can be made in UK businesses under the business investment relief scheme and so encourage greater foreign investment. It builds on the more than £1.5 billion invested under the scheme since its introduction in April 2012 and makes it easier and more attractive to bring in foreign investment that would otherwise go elsewhere.
Although I can identify examples in my constituency of the progress made nationally, we still need to go further in Stoke-on-Trent, which has suffered from years of lacklustre representation by Labour MPs who failed to deliver for the area even when their own party was in government. I have made it clear that the battle now is over skills and creating higher skilled and better paid jobs for my constituents, and critical to this is helping local businesses to grow these opportunities. We have colossal potential in Stoke-on-Trent to do this and to expand further the successes of Conservatives in government and Conservative MPs locally.
Stoke-on-Trent has been named the second-best place in the country to start a business and one of the best places nationally for business survival. Nationally, there are 1 million more businesses now than in 2010. The Government have helped business create jobs through cuts to corporation tax, which has fallen from 28% to 19% since 2010 and is set to fall further to 17%, and through the re-evaluation of business rates, which has taken 600,000 small firms out tax altogether. This is in direct contrast to Labour’s often stated policy of taxing businesses and jobs to pay for its £58 billion spending black hole. These uncosted promises could be paid for only through higher taxes and debt for our constituents, and that is why I will be supporting the Bill tonight.
It is an honour to follow the passionate and detailed speech made by my hon. Friend Jack Brereton.
I am not sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, if, like me, you were reminded on reading the Bill of the reason you sought elected office: the desire to provide security and opportunity for our constituents. The Government have a proud record of 3 million extra jobs, Labour’s deficit cut by two thirds, and some of the strongest growth figures in the G7. The economy is in good shape thanks to the sound and responsible policies implemented over the past seven years, and we are delivering a strong economy with strong public services.
The Bill delivers an alternative to Labour’s black hole. It is about a fair taxation system that delivers for ordinary working families, that does not place a stranglehold on individual entrepreneurialism or burden people with tax bills they cannot afford, that is fair and robust, and that tackles tax avoidance and evasion. We have a good record on taxes, too. We have reduced corporation tax from 28% to 19%, meaning that SMEs, which are so important to our economy, including Wealden’s economy, can keep more of their own money. This has generated more income for the Treasury: corporation tax receipts have increased from £37 billion to £50 billion.
One nation Conservatism is perfectly explained by the raising of the personal allowance, which has given 30 million people a tax cut of £1,000 and lifted 1.3 million out of income tax entirely. In combination with the national living wage and the freezing of fuel duty for the seventh consecutive year, this means that ordinary families are better off thanks to a Conservative Government.
In contrast, over 13 years in government, Labour failed to deliver on tax avoidance. The tax gap—the difference between the taxes owed and the taxes received—stood at 10%, and it allowed the Mayfair loophole to go unchallenged, which let hedge fund billionaires off the hook to the tune of millions of pounds. Labour was weak on tax avoidance in the Finance Bill that the House debated before the general election, demanding that the measures we are discussing today be stripped from the wash-up Bill. Labour cannot be trusted on tax avoidance. Its Members occasionally talk the talk, but they will never walk the walk.
Where Labour failed, we are delivering. The Bill contains important measures to crack down on individuals and corporations when they do not pay what they owe. Tax avoidance by larger companies and wealthy individuals not only short-changes the Treasury, but short-changes the SMEs that drive the economy, and that is a message we are sending very clearly today.
Like every other Member in the Chamber, I have many small businesses in my constituency. It is our job to stand up for those businesses in this place. They are not able to use complex tax schemes and clever accounting to shuffle their money around the world, reducing their tax bills to near zero; instead, they pay their fair share. By 2020, the contribution that SMEs make to the economy will be more than £200 billion and, importantly, they will be employing more than 15 million people.
The Bill will deliver on our promises and commitments, helping to level the playing field. It will ensure that our public finances are in order, allowing us to invest more in our public services and better preparing our economy. Above all, supporting it is the responsible thing to do, and that is why I shall support the Bill tonight.
I thought I would take a leaf out of the shadow Chancellor’s book by bringing a red book into the Chamber to wave around in his style. It is a copy of “The Middle Way”, by Harold Macmillan, written in 1938. I brought it here because I think that what is significant about the Bill is not any of the individual measures, which we all accept are very technical—they are not particularly headline-grabbing or, dare I say, sexy—but the context. This is a serious point. I think many people feel that they are still living in a time when capitalism itself—in which I believe very strongly—is being questioned. It worries them that it is not seen to be fair, and they fear that our economic system is not rewarding everyone evenly.
Here we are, eight years after the credit crunch and its major impact. Macmillan wrote his book in 1938, nine years after the Wall Street crash, but, then as now, the impact of the crash was still being felt by society, and there was a drive towards populism. I believe that such a move to populism can be resisted only through sensible measures from centre parties that address the injustices of capitalism while still ultimately supporting its success and its growth.
We are very fortunate, in that when Macmillan wrote that book there was high unemployment and a deep depression. The situation was very different, but it was comparable in the sense that people on both the left and the right were turning to much more extreme alternatives. Interestingly, Macmillan’s answer was a national living wage. His answer was nationalisation. His answer was making all kinds of what we might typify as socialist interventions in the economy. Since 2008, we have nationalised the banks. A Conservative Government have introduced a range of measures that could be seen as potentially hitting—dare I say—our voters.
I think that the most classic example, for which I had argued myself, is the introduction of measures relating to buy-to-let landlords. We have seen a huge surge in that area of home ownership, with people owning multiple portfolios. I know that those measures have not been popular with the few. If we were the party of the few and not the many, we would never have introduced them, but we had the guts to do so because we felt that that was right at a time when first-time buyers were struggling ever harder to get on to the property ladder.
I think that this is the key point. The sense of injustice that is out there now, and which leads people to question our economy, is about asset wealth. Yes, wages have been under pressure since the crash, but when we came out of the crash, what did we do? In order to escape the worst effects of the depression, we pumped huge amounts into the economy. Inflating assets again, the help-to-buy scheme and quantitative easing—all those measures were right at the time, and in many ways continue to be.
The hon. Gentleman has been talking for three minutes, but I do not think that he has mentioned the Finance Bill yet. Are we going to have a discussion about it at some point?
That was a charming intervention by the hon. Lady—is that the best she can do? I am talking about our current economic context, which is why we have introduced this Finance Bill, and I was coming on to say that its measures could be seen by some as an attack on large corporations. The measure on dividends—I have to say that I still receive dividends—will be unpopular with some of our voters, who are some of the richest people in society, but we feel at this time that we have to strike a balance, and I support the balance we are striking. We are bringing in permanent non-dom status, but at the same time we will be encouraging non-doms to invest in this country, incentivising them to use money held legally abroad so that it comes here.
To me, that is the most important aspect of this Finance Bill: it acknowledges that there is still for the wider public what Ted Heath called the unacceptable face of capitalism—those people who are seen to be abusing the system with avoidance, evasion and all the other tactics. It is right that we are tough on those, and we have been incredibly successful in that, but the difference between us and the Labour party is that we act from a standpoint of fundamentally believing in capitalism. We believe in free enterprise, and in the idea of people standing on their own two feet, being brave, taking risks and creating businesses. We understand that in order to protect that system, just like Macmillan said, sometimes we have to take measures that can be seen to be even potentially anti-business, but the alternative is throwing the baby out with the bathwater wholesale by a party which now is fundamentally against our economic system.
There may be people who are unhappy with some of these measures, such as on dividends or the buy-to-let taxes I mentioned, but the alternative is a case of out of the frying pan and into the fire—into the arms of a Labour party whose leadership, at least, is fundamentally against the capitalist system. When those people attack with vigour the measures such as those we have taken on tax avoidance, saying we could go so much further, they do so because fundamentally they do not believe in the entire system. I do, and I think these measures are sensible. They help us to strike a difficult balance at this difficult economic time, and that is why we should support the Bill.
A number of measures in the Bill will be very broadly supported by my constituents as they uphold some of the values that Members have raised, such as the importance of fairness in our economy. My constituents believe in hard work and fair play, and many measures in the Bill support those values. In particular, we intend to get more money out of non-doms and will raise money for the Exchequer so that we can put it into our prized public services.
That issue matters very much to me. For many years I worked at the Centre for Social Justice, an independent think-tank that was established to alleviate poverty and to look at its root causes. One thing we saw time and again was that where there are workless households, there is despair. That despair rubs off on children, diminishes parents’ mental health, and gradually eliminates people’s ability to get back into work—it gets them trapped in a vicious cycle.
That is why it is so important that this Government over the past seven years have built a recovery around work. We now have record employment in this country. That has become a phrase that we just knock off, but we fail to realise the human value of the fact that we now have more people in work than ever before. I know we are political opponents, but I would appreciate it if just once I could hear an Opposition Member welcome the fact that we have the lowest unemployment in our history. I will happily take an intervention if someone wants to welcome it now.
We say that all the time. We always welcome it, but we just wish it was possible for the debate to include a consideration of the situation in a huge number of households where people are in work, as child poverty rates are rising and households are in poverty. Why does the Conservative party say nothing about that phenomenon, which is a huge part of life in Britain today?
I listened to the opening remarks in today’s debate and I did not hear anyone from the Opposition welcoming record employment, so I am glad to hear the hon. Gentleman do so now. If I gave him the opportunity, I am sure that he would also want to welcome the fact that inequality is reducing and that a whole generation will benefit from growing up in households with work. It is a gift that keeps on giving. The number of children in workless households has decreased by a third since 2010, and the number of households in which no one has ever worked has fallen by 40% since the previous Labour Government were in office. In fact, we are nearly back at the all-time low that was reached under the Major Government. The gift of work enables families to get on with their lives and enables children to grow up in a home where they have the example of people in work. Those opportunities cannot be taken lightly.
I am pleased that the Government on whose Benches I sit continue to feed the economy, but we are not doing that by spending money that we do not have or by borrowing money from future generations. Instead, we are spending and living within our means. I am extremely pleased to see that essential value embodied in the Bill, which is why I shall be supporting it tonight.
It is a pleasure to be called to speak in this critical debate. I, too, support this Finance Bill, because it is important and relates to taxation, which underpins the foundations of democracy and good government. Due to the time constraints, I will discuss only two key points that the electorate expect the Government to deliver on for the people of this country, and the first is fairness.
Opposition Members make much of our record and talk about tax avoidance, but they rarely did anything in their 13 years in government. I am proud to be a member of a party that considers such values paramount. We are tackling the abuses that the public rightly find disgusting. Small businesses cannot afford to wriggle through the loopholes that Opposition Members built into the legislation when they were in government. It has been left to a Conservative Government to end permanent non-dom status for the first time. We have seen the extraordinary spectacle of Opposition Members being on the side of the richest non-doms, and let it not be forgotten that Labour allowed the Mayfair loophole to persist, with hedge- fund billionaires paying just 10% tax on their earnings. They were happy to sit back and let tax avoiders shirk their responsibilities to pay for our NHS and other public services. Instead, a Conservative Government have tackled the issue of raising the revenue that we need, and which Opposition Members regularly call for, to fund our schools, hospitals and other public services.
I welcome the Bill because it also deals with the redistributive nature of taxation. We are building, and will continue to build, a redistributive tax system that is fairest to those on low incomes, and I am proud to say that the richest 1% are set to pay 27% of all income tax and that the richest 5% will pay 38%. It is right that we ask the richest to pay more tax. All Members ought to be familiar with the Laffer curve. It is not a dry economic theory; it is a fact that results in more money going into the Exchequer’s coffers to pay for schools and hospitals. It is ironic that we hear so much from Opposition Members about inequality when this Government have delivered the lowest levels of income inequality for 30 years.
Competence is the other element that people look for in a Government, and I want to draw Members’ attention to a city that is close to Redditch. Birmingham is our nation’s great second city and close to the hearts of Redditch residents, many of whom work there, play there or used to live there, and we can see there the record of the Labour party in government. It is a city in which a bin strike has been ongoing for months, with no sign of resolution. Huge, stinking piles of rotting rubbish are an eyesore on the streets, rats roam unhindered through the stench, and cockroaches and other pests scuttle all over the pavement. What a fate to inflict on the poor residents of Birmingham, who are trying to go about their daily lives and run their businesses. I never see a Labour Member for Birmingham, our great second city, speaking about this issue. If the Labour party cannot run a bin service, the public rightly question how it can possibly run a country.
The electorate deserve an approach to running the economy that delivers opportunity by growing businesses and backing jobs. We understand that by lowering taxation on small businesses we can encourage more entrepreneurs to take the giant risks to their livelihood that starting a business involves—I know all about those risks having lived through that cycle myself.
We are supporting the small businesses that make up 99.3% of all private sector businesses, many of which are in Redditch and doing extremely well. My constituents in Redditch will welcome these measures, which are fair to businesses and fair to the lowest paid, and will raise more taxation to fund public services in Redditch and the rest of the country. I look forward to voting in favour of the Bill tonight.
It is a pleasure to follow so many important, thoughtful and eloquent speeches from both sides of the House. I will refer to some of them, but start by considering where the British economy is today and by recognising, as my hon. Friend Alex Burghart has just made clear, that a lot of our discussions in this debate on productivity, on trying to increase median earnings, on trying to raise wages and on getting more money into people’s pockets are predicated on the lowest unemployment rate since 1975. They are predicated on the Conservative Government since 2010 finally taking action to address the deficit and the debt. We should not forget that fact, and we should realise that we stand on the shoulders of successful Conservative economic policy as we enter this debate.
This Finance Bill, as many of my hon. Friends and other hon. Members have already made clear, addresses many important issues and should be welcomed on both sides of the House. In particular, it addresses fairness. In what ways does it address fairness? It clamps down on aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion. In particular, it makes sure that large multinationals pay their fair share of tax, which enables us to keep taxes on SMEs and ordinary individuals lower.
What is the Conservative Government’s record in this area? The tax gap is now only about 6.5%. For those Members who are unaware, the tax gap, to which many Conservative Members have already referred, contrasts the amount that a fiscal measure should yield to the Exchequer with what it actually yields. Our tax gap is one of the lowest in the OECD and is this country’s lowest for many, many years.
This Finance Bill ends permanent non-dom status for the first time—that definitely never happened under a Labour Government. There are a couple of other more technical measures on interest deductibility for certain companies and on offsetting losses for large multinationals. The Bill makes it harder for certain large businesses—by all means, not all—not to pay their fair share.
It is important that we consider what the Conservative approach to the economy has been. My right hon. Friend John Redwood made a powerful speech at the beginning of the debate in which he eloquently set out how, as Conservatives, we believe in a higher tax take, not higher tax rates for individuals. The higher tax take is what is significant. Following up on what my hon. Friend Kit Malthouse said, high tax rates on certain people or companies just to make ourselves feel better can often yield lower tax revenues for the Exchequer, which presumably is not a wise economic policy, although it seems to be the one pursued by Labour.
As we have heard many times, including just now from my hon. Friend Rachel Maclean, the top 1% pay between 27% and 28% of all income tax, which is one of the highest levels this country has ever seen. The corporation tax rate has been reduced significantly since the Conservatives came into government in 2010. In the financial year 2009-10, this tax yielded £37 billion, whereas in the financial year 2016-17, it raised £50 billion. That is the impact of Conservative economic policy, and we should not forget that our approach is about raising the tax take, rather than raising tax rates.
We should also consider where fiscal policy is now and how we should think about it in the future. It is important that the Government seek to be a little more flexible in some of their actions on fiscal policy. It is important for business confidence that they present the positive, forward-thinking growth agenda for the 21st century that we all want to see. We need to expand opportunities and incentives for people to invest in this country and for people who run businesses, or who want to set them up in Britain, to expand them and grow. My hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire spoke eloquently and at length about the importance of this country’s difficulty in growing medium-sized companies into large ones. Let us be more ambitious in fiscal policy so that we can encourage more of that activity.
We all want to see Britain lead the world in every sector, be it tech, manufacturing or finance. I welcome the announcement at the March Budget about the Treasury looking at how to tax tech multinationals, which are currently not taxed as much as they might be, and working internationally to do so. By doing that, we can reduce some of the taxes that hurt SMEs, such as business rates and comparatively high payroll taxes. If we can think and work internationally with our global partners on how we tax big multinational internet businesses, we might be able to bring down the level of tax for individuals and SMEs in this country.
Conservative Members have made it clear that we want to make Britain an even more exciting, attractive place in which to invest, and my hon. Friend Robert Jenrick made an incredibly powerful speech about the importance of simplifying the tax code. I urge the Minister and the Government to look again and more seriously at that. Many Members have referred to the fact that the Finance Bill is heavy and thick. I am sure the Minister has drafted it with absolute care and dedication, but is it not a shame that it is so thick and that we cannot have a simpler tax code? I urge the Government to look again at more proactive ways in which we can simplify our tax system to make it easier for everybody, both individuals and businesses, from across the world and within this country.
Let me finish by making a few remarks on a subject that has been raised many times in this debate, productivity, which is the missing piece in our economic miracle over the past few years in this country. So many incredibly intelligent people, economists from across the country and across government, have examined the issue, yet our productivity has stubbornly been stuck below that of some of our leading European partners. We all know some of the ingredients—they include skills, infrastructure and, in certain respects, the tax system—but one thing that is not considered enough is business confidence in our fiscal policy and economic future. I urge the Government to present a more positive vision: show us how we are going to become a 21st-century economy in a more productive way. Let us show the world that we are the place to be for leaders in tech, finance, manufacturing and all the other areas of our economy. If we can do that more effectively, we will improve the capital investment from all over the world that inevitably aids productivity.
I fear that I may be wearing away Members’ patience, so I shall finish. The Government have made significant strides in sorting out the country’s economy; the Finance Bill builds on that work, I am proud to support it, and I commend it to the House.
The British economic model is “broken” and in need of “fundamental reform”. Those are not my words, but the findings of the interim report of the Institute for Public Policy Research’s economic justice commission, which comprises, among others, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the global managing partner of McKinsey and the policy chairman of the City of London corporation. The report spells out in painful detail the situation that most Members see in our constituencies every week: the link between economic growth and higher living standards is broken; young people with no prospect of attaining the quality of life enjoyed by their parents; a UK with a fundamental imbalance between the south-east and everywhere else; a labour market characterised by insecurity and low pay; and inequality growing, with a third of children living in poverty, and that proportion going up.
I feel I have heard quite a lot from the Conservative party, so if the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I shall proceed.
Today’s proceedings, along with the ways and means discussion last week, have been characterised by deeply held concerns about the state of our economy. There have been many fine and noteworthy contributions in what has been a wide-ranging debate, taking us from Venezuela to the application of the Laffer curve as applied to corporation tax. I feel that Conservative Members will find it quite difficult to cope when I point out that the average rate of corporation tax in OECD countries is 25%, or that in Germany, the strongest economy in Europe, it is between 30% and 33%—and it is even higher in America. Craig Mackinlay, who is no longer present, even questioned the very basis of taxing companies at all, but it is a reasonably held position that companies benefit from good infrastructure, a skilled workforce and a proven legal system, and it is reasonable to balance the impact of taxation between individuals and corporate entities. I feel duty-bound to point out that the tax gap fell every year between 2005 and 2010—from 8.5% to 7%.
I wish to pay tribute to two particular contributions—
I will not give way; I have listened to the Conservative party for more than eight hours.
The first contribution to which I pay tribute is the maiden speech of my hon. Friend Dan Carden. It was at times funny and moving, and it captured the character of his constituency extremely well, but it also had a serious and thoughtful message about the changing nature of work, automation, and the fundamental lack of opportunity faced by young people today. He described Liverpool as one of the great cities of the world, which it undoubtedly is—perhaps not quite as much as Manchester, but we can take that outside—and he proved he will be a fine representative for it. With 85.7% of the vote at the election, I imagine we will have the chance to hear from him for some time to come.
It was also a pleasure to hear the maiden speech of Douglas Ross. He was extremely articulate and gracious about his predecessors, and that came across very well. I have visited his constituency: I have been to Elgin and to Cullen, and I have tried Cullen skink, a dish every bit as tasty as his maiden speech. I congratulate him on such an assured debut.
Despite the party political nature of much of the debate, we have heard serious concerns about ailing productivity. We have heard worries about the lack of certainty in the Brexit negotiations and what that means for the public finances. We have heard Members reference the challenging demographic and technological changes that face our nation, and yet we have a Bill before us that has nothing to say about any of that.
When I was talking to residents in my constituency during the EU referendum, leave voters raised specific concerns about immigration and sovereignty, but more than anything else it was a sense of recurrent anger and of post-industrial decline that they had witnessed and lived through that animated so many of them. My constituents told me that they were voting leave because of zero-hours contracts, because they could not get on the housing ladder, or because they had lost their job due to austerity and now had to work for less pay and poorer conditions. For me, those people were voting not to leave the EU, but to try to leave the UK. All of us, whichever side of that referendum or this House we are on, must be concerned about that. We should want to tackle that disconnection and alienation—not just paint a rosy picture of statistics and how we want to see them for our own political benefit.
I will let the House into a secret: I am jealous—I really am—of the Ministers on the Front Bench. I am jealous of the power that they have to put this right. I am jealous of the opportunity that they have to do good. However, instead of using that opportunity and that power, this Government do not even appear to see the problems. The Finance Bill before us today seems to be legislating for a completely different set of economic circumstances. It is not difficult to see why there may be frustration among those who look at these measures and feel that they are being left behind and among those who look at this Government and ask: why is there always one rule for the people at the top, and another for everyone else?
We have had an absurd set of interventions about student debt, pretending that the Leader of the Opposition had said something, which evidently he had not. It says to me that the Conservative party is still in denial about what happened in the general election—how it lost a majority despite being so far ahead in the polls. If Members think that it was down to something that they are wilfully misinterpreting, I am afraid that they will face further difficulties ahead.
The backdrop to last week’s ways and means debate was a rally of nurses outside Parliament, rightly asking for redress for the 14% real terms pay cut they have endured since 2010. Yet while that was happening, this Government were proposing a resolution, which expanded business investment relief for non-doms. It was a stark reminder of where this Government’s priorities lie: look after the people at the top, and the rest of us will supposedly benefit from the trickle down. It is just that on the Labour Benches, we see it the other way round.
Only this Government could pretend to flirt with the public and say that they were ending the public sector pay gap, and then, on the day that the consumer prices index comes out at 2.9%, announce rises well below that. If we end up, as is looking likely, with people like those nurses taking industrial action in protest at their treatment, public sympathy will not be on the Government’s side.
As a country, we are on the cusp of huge change driven by deeper globalisation, environmental change, technology, and, most pressingly, our exit from the European Union. Brexit is now the defining issue of our generation and it brings with it significant challenges and uncertainty. Our worry is that we are approaching Brexit not from a position of economic strength, but as a rudderless ship, already taking on water and listing badly off course. The Government are failing to plan ahead for our future outside of the EU and this Bill is another demonstration of that.
I want to refer specifically to the Government’s provisions around HMRC. The Conservative party certainly talks a good game on tax avoidance, but the Government have yet to explain how HMRC will better battle tax avoidance while accommodating another £83 million of cuts. Surely this is the time that we should be investing in HMRC, not taking resources away.
One of the most pressing areas is the future of our customs system. This Bill sees the introduction of a fulfilment house registration scheme to deter VAT abuse by overseas businesses. However, experts are already suggesting that abuse may escalate faster than HMRC can keep up, particularly given the ever growing popularity of online business. More urgently, the legislation makes no reference to how this will change once we have left the EU. The scope of these measures will be altered hugely should our customs arrangements with the EU change, which they almost certainly will. There are huge implications for policing our own customs border, and for getting an IT system ready to manage customs and excise once we leave the EU, but this Government cannot even tell us what the likely transition arrangements will be, let alone start preparing for them. Surely the worst possible place to start is from a situation in which we have already lost 5,000 staff from HMRC. Time and again, we find ourselves in a situation where it is hard not to conclude that this is a Government without any substantive agenda, other than hanging on to office at all costs. This Finance Bill, now finally coming to the end of its Second Reading after months of delay, was sadly not worth the wait.
It is a damning reflection of the Tories’ priorities—fiddling on the deck of the rudderless ship as it cruises straight towards the rocks. We need answers on investment, productivity, fairness and prosperity, but we have a Government who are not even willing to ask the right questions. Listening to some of the contributions today—we heard some presidential quotes in the maiden speeches—I was reminded of a line from President Obama’s first campaign, when he said
“it’s not the magnitude of our problems that concerns me the most. It’s the smallness of our politics.”
Our message to the Government is that we will vote against this Bill tonight because it is not worthy of the challenges this country faces. The British people have had enough of an austerity policy that has comprehensively failed, and they are desperate for something better. If this Government cannot bring themselves to face up to the challenge of building a post-Brexit country that is fairer, more competitive and more prosperous, they should get out of the way for the people who can.
The debate has been wide-ranging, covering virtually every aspect of the Bill. That is right and proper for a Bill of such importance. We have heard a number of impressive contributions, including two maiden speeches.
Dan Carden made a powerful and assured maiden speech in which he rightly talked about the cultural richness of Liverpool. His reference to his 85.7% share of the vote at the election is a good example of the improved performance and productivity to which all MPs can aspire. There are not too many Members who can say to Peter Dowd that his election result was on the low side at 84%.
My hon. Friend Douglas Ross gave an excellent maiden speech. He spoke of the successful business growth in his constituency and his ambition for the area, particularly for its local growth deal. I am sure that colleagues in Government will work closely with him on that. I am even surer that the Father of the House will very much look forward to sharing a dram of the whisky to which my hon. Friend referred.
I will respond to the detailed points raised by Members shortly, but I first want to be clear about the purpose of the Bill, which is underpinned by principles that I hope we all share: that tax should be competitive and fair, and that it should be paid where it is due. In the weeks ahead, we will have the opportunity to scrutinise the detailed provisions in Committee. The majority of the Bill has already been subject to significant scrutiny following announcements made last year or even earlier. Consultation has been widespread. Together with the pre-election Finance Bill, the measures have had almost nine hours of debate before today.
The Opposition suggest that our strategy to keep tax competitive in some way undermines our absolute commitment to world-class public services and that lower taxes somehow mean less investment in hospitals, schools and our emergency services. But the Government know that it is only through a strong, growing and dynamic economy that we can afford the vital public services our country needs. When we help business to do well, to invest and to create jobs, we are building our tax base to secure that funding for the long term. Competitive taxes protect revenues. Look at what happened when we reduced our level of corporation tax. The private sector created 3.4 million new jobs with an additional £18 billion in corporation tax. In contrast, raising taxes—as the Opposition threaten—to what the Institute for Fiscal Studies describes as their “highest ever peacetime level”, would put the brakes on our economy, drive investment elsewhere, reduce employment and, ultimately, diminish our ability to raise the funds our public services need.
Let me deal with some of the specific points raised during the debate. Kirsty Blackman once again raised the issue of termination payments. These reforms are about providing clarity in the legislation and ensuring that there are no loopholes that people can use to avoid tax. They will not affect statutory termination payments or payments arising as a result of employment tribunals. They will not reduce the £30,000 tax-free allowance that exists to protect the less well-off when they are made redundant. We have no plans to change the £30,000 allowance. In any case, that would require an affirmative statutory instrument under this Bill.
The hon. Lady raised with the Financial Secretary the issue of whether a statutory instrument on tax relief for museums and galleries had been tabled, and I am happy to reassure her that it has, as he thought, been tabled today, so it is before the House.
Ruth George raised the issue of non-doms. Let me be clear: this Bill abolishes permanent non-domiciled status. When people live in the UK permanently, it is right that they should pay UK tax. Non-doms already contribute over £9 billion a year to the Exchequer, and we expect the Bill to raise a further £1.6 billion over the next five years. So this Finance Bill will deliver fairness and protect revenue. This is a balanced approach, and one that has been subject to extensive consultation.
During the debate, Opposition Members criticised the provisions for offshore trusts. Let be clear again: if funds are taken out of trusts, they will become liable for tax. As the Financial Secretary set out in the debate last week, our international agreements on the exchange of information will provide a critical boost to enforcement.
A number of Members, including my hon. Friends the Members for Newark (Robert Jenrick) and for Harborough (Neil O'Brien), raised the issue of avoidance and evasion. The Bill implements a large number of measures to tackle tax avoidance and evasion. It prevents businesses from claiming excessive tax deductions, by updating the rules around how companies claim deductions for interest expenses. It continues our crackdown on artificial disguised remuneration schemes, and it introduces a new penalty for those who enable tax avoidance.
It is this Government who are tackling tax avoidance and evasion head-on. It is this Government who have announced more than 75 measures to tackle tax evasion and avoidance since 2010. We have seen HMRC more than double the annual number of prosecutions for avoidance and evasion in that time. That is how we have secured almost £160 billion in extra tax revenue. We secured over £8 billion in extra tax from the largest and most complex UK businesses in 2016 alone. In 2015-16, we secured £900 million in tax from the wealthiest, which would otherwise have gone unpaid—more than doubling the amount secured in 2011-12.
We now have over 100 countries around the world that are exchanging financial account information so that we can track down offshore money. We have published one of the first public registers of beneficial ownership in the world.
In 2016-17, HMRC brought in £574.9 billion in tax revenue—the seventh record year in a row. We have seen the tax gap drop to a level unprecedented under the Labour Government—a level that is among the lowest in the world. There is only one party in this House that can point to a record like that on tax avoidance and evasion, and it is not the Labour party.
Members raised a wide range of points in the debate. In a powerful speech, my right hon. Friend John Redwood highlighted the importance of the mobility of high net worth individuals. He also recognised the £9 billion tax contribution of non-doms and the fact that our tax take has gone up under the corporation tax changes—a hugely important point to note.
My right hon. Friend Mr Harper brought the attention of the House to the importance of productivity if we are to deliver the sustainability we want to see in higher wages. My hon. Friend James Cleverly, who is a doughty champion of small and medium-sized businesses, correctly highlighted the importance of the sector, including microbusiness.
Stewart Hosie welcomed the provisions in clauses 3 and 4, as well as the extension of a number of reliefs. He raised concerns about retrospection, but the Bill will simply ensure that measures come into effect from their originally intended commencement date.
Stella Creasy spoke about her concerns at the level of debt, which is really why she should support the Bill.
My hon. Friend John Lamont highlighted the significant fall in unemployment in his constituency and the importance of growth in driving those jobs. My hon. Friend Colin Clark spoke about the importance of investment and about the distinction between investment and spending.
My hon. Friend Craig Mackinlay welcomed the Bill and brought his professional insight to the debate as an accountant. He flagged a number of issues that colleagues in the Treasury will be keen to discuss with him.
My hon. Friend Ms Ghani spoke of the progress that the Government have made in tackling areas of abuse. My hon. Friend James Cartlidge, who is always a strong defender of capitalism, spoke about its importance. My hon. Friend Kit Malthouse welcomed the constructive way that the Government had listened to his campaign on making tax digital. In his role on the Treasury Committee, there will be scope for further discussions with him on other areas where he brings his expertise, and we very much welcome that. My hon. Friend Alex Burghart highlighted the record of job creation under this Government. My hon. Friend Rachel Maclean spoke of her pride in the Government tackling abuses. My hon. Friend Bim Afolami talked about the difference between the tax rate and the tax take.
This Bill will deliver through supporting families, supporting the less well-off, supporting our public services, and ensuring a stable and dynamic economy. It will deliver by raising new finances to finance new infrastructure and technical education, putting productivity first. It will deliver by raising new revenues from those who would otherwise avoid or evade tax altogether. This Bill lies at the heart of a plan to go on building a prosperous nation.
The Opposition profess to be tough on tax avoidance and evasion, to want to tighten up the rules for non-doms, and to want to clamp down on the tax gap. The Bill before the House does exactly that. So let the question tonight be not simply whether this Bill should proceed but whether Labour Members really do wish to deliver on these principles rather than succumb to the easy place of opposition for opposition’s sake—whether they wish to stand up to the avoiders and the evaders, or themselves to avoid and evade their responsibility. I commend this Bill to the House.
Question put, that the Bill be now read a Second time.
The House divided:
Ayes 320, Noes 299.