“(1) The Commissioners of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall undertake a review of the impact of the relief for first-time buyers introduced in Schedule 6ZA to FA 2003.
(2) The review shall consider, in particular, the effects of the relief on—
(a) the public revenue,
(b) house prices, and
(c) the supply of housing.
(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay a copy of a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons no later than one calendar week prior to the date which he has set for his Autumn 2018 Budget Statement.”—(Anneliese Dodds.)
This new clause requires a review to be published prior to the Autumn 2018 Budget on the impact of the relief for first-time buyers, including its effects on house prices and on the supply of housing.
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 8—Annual report on relief for first-time buyers—
“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must prepare and lay before the House of Commons a report for each relevant period on the operation of the relief for first-time buyers introduced in Schedule 6ZA to FA 2003 not less than three months after the end of the relevant period.
(2) The report shall include, in particular, information in respect of the relevant period on—
(a) the number of first-time buyers benefiting from the relief,
(b) the number of purchases benefiting from the relief,
(c) the average age of first-time buyers benefiting from the relief,
(d) the effects on the operation of the private rented sector,
(e) the effects on council housing and other social housing,
(f) the effects on the supply of affordable housing, and
(g) the effects on the operation of collective investment schemes under Part 17 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000.
(3) For the purposes of this section, ‘relevant period’ means—
(a) the period from
(b) each period of 12 months beginning on
(c) the period beginning on
This new clause requires an annual report on the operation of the relief for first-time buyers, including information on the beneficiaries and effects on different aspects of housing supply.
New clause 2—Review of income tax revenue—
“(1) The Office for Budget Responsibility must review the revenue raised by the rates of income tax within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider revenue raised by the rates of income tax specified in sections 3 and 4.
(3) A review under this section must also consider the effect on revenue of raising each of the rates of income tax specified in sections 3 and 4 by one percentage point.
(4) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons the report of the review under this section as soon as practicable after its completion.”
This new clause provides for a review of the revenue raised at the rates of income tax specified by Clauses 3 and 4 of the Bill and the effect on revenue of raising each of those rates by one percentage point.
“(1) Within one month of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Chancellor of the Exchequer shall commission a review of the potential consequences of allowing the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Police Authority to claim VAT refunds under section 33 of VATA 1994 retrospective to the date of their establishment.
(2) The review shall consider—
(a) the administrative consequences of allowing retrospective claims, and
(b) the impact on revenue of allowing retrospective claims.
(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay the report of this review before the House of Commons within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent.”
This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to commission a review into what the potential consequences of allowing the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Police Authority to make retrospective claims for VAT refunds would be.
New clause 11—Analysis of effect of income tax rates on incentives into employment—
“(1) The Office for Budget Responsibility must review the impact of the rates of income tax specified in sections 3 and 4 in accordance with this section within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider the impact of the rates of income tax specified in sections 3 and 4 on the incentives for individuals to seek employment, including—
(a) whether those rates create, or detract from, an incentive for those not employed to enter into employment,
(b) whether those rates create, or detract from, an incentive for those currently in employment entering into new employment at a different level of income, and
(c) to what degree those rates create, or detract from, any such incentive.
(3) A review under this section must also consider those rates in the context of—
(a) National Insurance contributions,
(b) tax credits, and
(c) social security benefits.
(4) A review under this section must give separate analyses in relation to the impact of the rates of income tax specified in sections 3 and 4 in different parts of the United Kingdom.
(5) In this section—
‘parts of the United Kingdom’ means—
(c) Wales, and
(d) Northern Ireland.
(6) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons the report of the review under this section as soon as practicable after its completion.”
Government amendments 6 to 8.
Amendment 10, in clause 44, page 38, line 30, at end insert—
“(4A) In paragraph 1GE (higher rates of duty) after paragraph (3)(c) insert—
‘(d) the vehicle is not a taxi.
(3A) For the purposes of this paragraph, ‘taxi’ has the same meaning as in section 64 of the Transport Act 1980.’”
Amendment 11, page 39, line 1, after “section”, insert
“(other than those made by subsection (4A)”.
Amendment 12, page 39, line 2, at end insert—
“(8) The amendments made by subsection (4A) have effect in relation to licences taken out on or after the day on which this Act is passed.”
Amendment 13, in schedule 3, page 65, line 32, leave out from “and” to “or” in line 36 and insert
“each of the conditions in subsection (1A) is met”.
This amendment, together with Amendment 14, provides that a pension scheme cannot be de-registered on grounds of the dormancy of a single company within the scheme, but only if conditions are met in relation to the date of first registration and the trading status of participating companies.
Amendment 14, page 65, line 37, at end insert—
“(4A) In section 158 (grounds for de-registration), after subsection (1), insert—
(1A) The conditions in this subsection are that—
(a) the scheme was registered in the current tax year or in the six preceding tax years,
(b) no sponsoring employer in relation to the scheme is a body corporate that is actively trading at the time that withdrawal is being considered, and
(c) no sponsoring employer in relation to the scheme is a body corporate that was actively trading for a period of at least twenty four months.”
See explanatory statement for Amendment 13.
Government amendment 9.
With permission, Madam Deputy Speaker, I will speak briefly to the SNP’s new clause 10 and to amendment 12, which was tabled by my hon. Friend Wes Streeting, both of which the Opposition support. I will then speak in more detail about our new clauses 7 and 8.
On new clause 10, Labour Members welcome the Government’s decision to allow the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Police Authority to claim retrospective VAT refunds. The measures in the new clause follow the Scottish Government’s decision in 2012 to establish a nationwide fire and rescue service for Scotland. The then Treasury Minister, who is now the Justice Secretary, wrote:
“Based on the information currently available it seems that, following the Scottish government’s planned reforms, neither the new police authority nor the fire and rescue service will be eligible for VAT refunds under Section 33 of the VAT Act 1994.”
As colleagues will know, that Government decision meant that the Scottish police and fire services lost out on VAT refunds worth more than £30 million, with the Scottish police losing out on about £26 million. To some extent, I would argue it was a sign of recklessness that, at a time of austerity, the Government effectively left Scottish firefighters and police officers to fend for themselves. While Labour Members welcome the Government’s change of heart, we recognise the need for a proper process covering retrospective claims for VAT refunds.
The review proposed by Kirsty Blackman would ensure that the process for VAT refunds was transparent, and that the VAT claims of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service and the Scottish Police Authority were properly refunded by the Government. The review would also ensure that such an ill-informed decision, backed up by insubstantial reasoning, would not be allowed to happen again. That is why we support the new clause.
Amendment 12 focuses on an issue that I raised in Committee: the fact that taxi drivers with a zero-emission capable vehicle will not be exempt from vehicle excise duty until next year. As we discussed in Committee—I am sure that the Minister remembers this—taxi drivers need to purchase their car over a long period due to its relatively high cost. In many areas of the country, taxi drivers are shifting to lower or zero-emission capable taxis. I asked the Minister whether further changes were needed to the Bill so that the take-up of zero-emission capable taxis would not be choked off. I was grateful to the Minister for stating that there would be a consultation on the new measures in the spring, but I do not know whether that consultation has yet begun, so perhaps the Minister will enlighten us on that point. In the meantime, it seems sensible, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North proposes, to prevent taxi drivers from taking a hit when they have taken an environmentally friendly choice, which has considerable financial consequences for them because the vehicles are more expensive than standard taxis.
I now come on to Labour’s new clauses 7 and 8, which would require a review of the proposed relief on stamp duty for first-time buyers, followed by an annual report on the policy’s effectiveness. The review and the report would consider the impact of the new measure on house prices and housing supply, and cover who benefits from the policy. The need for such reviews is very clear. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s assessment of the measure is set out in black and white: it is likely to increase prices by 0.3% and benefit a very small number of people. In its words, the main gainers from the new stamp duty policy are people who already own property, not first-time buyers. It added that some potential first-time buyers with smaller deposits might now be able to borrow a little more, therefore allowing them to buy properties that they otherwise could not afford, but that the process would be more expensive. That is in the context in which the average price of a home in England for first-time buyers has gone up by almost £40,000 since 2010. In fact, only about 3,500 additional homes are predicted to be sold as a result of the new incentive.
I do not believe that that is uniform across the country. Of course there would be implications if there were very rapid changes. That would concern many people, but we feel that in this area, when it comes to the cost for first-time buyers, there has not been a significant change. If the right hon. Gentleman has evidence that there has been a change for first-time buyers, I would certainly like to see it. There might have been a change across the whole piece, but it certainly has not had an impact on first-time buyers who are trying to buy the lowest cost houses, as many are struggling more than ever before.
Labour Members say that the situation might be different if the measure was accompanied by others that promoted the production of genuinely affordable homes. As it stands, however, any additional homes—at least those promoted by any Government policy—will not be in place before the stamp duty cut takes place. The funding allocated in this regard is woefully inadequate. Our most recent debate about this matter in this Chamber revealed that the Government’s new housing infrastructure fund moneys, such as they are, will not start to come forward until 2019-20, which means that the £585 million cost of stamp duty cuts in 2018-19 will not be accompanied by housing infrastructure measures, and the same will be the case the following year. It is only two years later that extra money for the infrastructure fund will be forthcoming. In any case, that will amount to less than half of what the public purse will have renounced that year because of the cut in stamp duty. It is extremely disturbing that the Government have chosen to plough ahead with this approach in the absence of measures to significantly boost supply.
I repeat the calls we made in previous debates on the Bill for the Government to come clean on the advice they received about this measure. What do the economists in the Treasury say about this approach in the absence of measures to substantially increase supply? Ministers can claim—we have heard this from the Chancellor—that the OBR has not taken the small clutch of housing measures in the Budget into account in its analysis, but most experts who have taken those very small changes into account concur with the OBR’s original assessment. Was that also the case with Treasury officials? We in this House deserve to know, as do our constituents, particularly if they are faced with any rise in house prices for first-time buyers, as anticipated by the OBR. I point out that the Government’s own assessment of a previous stamp duty cut, again in the absence of measures to boost substantially the supply of affordable housing, indicated that
“the tax relief has not had a significant impact on improving affordability for first-time buyers.”
We also need to know the regional impact of the measure. As colleagues mentioned in our previous debate on this matter, the upper limit of £500,000 in high-cost areas and £300,000 elsewhere means that the change will not have a positive impact in huge swathes of the country, aside from reducing the revenue pot overall, with the result that other taxes on individuals and companies have to take up the slack, unless public services are to be cut further. For many people, home ownership is a distant dream when there is no way they can afford the necessary deposit. Today’s figures showing that real wages have fallen for the seventh month in a row should give us all pause for thought about whether the proposed measure is appropriate.
It is difficult for first-time buyers in my area to afford a deposit and they welcome the help the Government are giving to increase their opportunities when they are competing against people who are selling properties and are therefore more able to afford a deposit. This sort of policy is therefore very welcome, and it goes hand in hand with measures to increase housing supply. We are seeing significant—and not necessarily popular—increases in the housing targets for areas such as my constituency, coupled with work to make sure that houses are built when planning permission has been granted. I therefore contest the hon. Lady’s remarks on that point.
In practice, most of the commentary that I have seen from experts and those working in the housing sector suggests that in areas where there is extreme competition between different types of buyer—for example, first-time buyers, those buying additional properties, investors, and those moving to a second or third property—such a measure may help initially, but the overall cost increase will also affect first-time buyers. They will therefore be buying at a higher price, so most of the impact of the measure—as with previous stamp duty changes without a boost in supply—will help sellers, not buyers. That was the Conservative Government’s own assessment of the impact of their previous cut to stamp duty in the absence of additional measures to boost supply.
The hon. Lady gave us a tour de force in the Public Bill Committee, but on the narrow point about the proposed changes’ impact on prices, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Paul Johnson, said that although there may be an increase in the price faced by first-time buyers,
“this does not mean first-time buyers are worse off as a result. They are in general better off. Instead of paying, say, £100,000 for £98,000 worth of house plus £2,000 of tax they might be paying £102,000 for £102,000 worth of house.”
What is her response to that point?
I am aware of what Mr Johnson said, but I think he has fallen into the trap of looking only at the impact of the change on an individual buyer and forgetting that it will have an impact on the housing market, particularly in areas where there is strong supply and strong demand, and where such a change is likely to push up prices. I agree with Mr Johnson on many things, but in this case, unfortunately, the context has been missed, and it is important that we bear it in mind.
I am sure the hon. Lady is well versed in the subject, but when it comes to the cost for first-time buyers, there has been an increase. That assertion is supported by the evidence, and that is exactly what we are concerned about. We need to take action. The Government often say they want to help first-time buyers, and I think it is important that we take them at their word. We should also look at what the OBR said in its assessment of the policy. Again, I go back to whether the Government received any advice about the likely impact of their policy. It is disappointing that we have not had any clarity on that matter.
I am struggling with the concept that a price that is available to a first-time buyer differs from the prices paid by anyone else. I can accept that there are segmented markets in which there might be a difference, but if prices are falling marginally, that will be to the benefit of all buyers, whether it is the first or the seventh time that they have bought a property.
I am always delighted to hear from the right hon. Gentleman. It might be instructive for us to look at the shape of the market, and at which elements may be reducing in price and which may not. I have seen media coverage suggesting that any reduction seems to have been reversed recently. In any case, it appears that there might have been a price reduction in the highest-cost areas with the most expensive properties, but are those the properties that first-time buyers are likely to be considering unless they are incredibly well off? Some may well be, but most first-time buyers in this country are not looking to move into properties worth multiples of a million pounds. They are looking to move into properties that are much more affordable, so the lack of Government action to help them is enormously disturbing. That is why we do not support this measure; others would have been more effective. In particular, we do not support the measure in the absence of action to boost the supply of affordable housing.
I should mention that the Government’s definition of affordable housing enables a home worth £400,000 to be classified as affordable. I am sure that Members on both sides of the House would not appreciate that definition of affordability.
My hon. Friend Helen Whately talked about constraints on supply, and she specifically mentioned dealing with land banking by property developers. They are often given planning permission but, because of their financial models, choose not to build for long periods of time. As Anneliese Dodds will know, we have proposals to punish developers that continue to work in such a way. What is Labour’s view about them?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for mentioning that. For some time, Labour has proposed changes in this area, but they were dismissed as “Venezuelan-style socialism,” which I think was the phrase that we heard from Government Members. We are concerned about this issue, but we are also concerned about matters in the planning system that the Government have not touched, such as the fact that the rules on viability put all the cards in the developers’ pockets. That means that, if someone wants to develop any social supply, there are pressures on the affordability of the rest of that development. We are very aware of that and have worked on it consistently. Sadly, we have not always been supported in that, but I am happy that the right hon. Gentleman has come on board with Labour policy, and that the Government have as well.
There is a general lack of measures and lack of action on other elements of the housing crisis, which is so problematic—the stamp duty change seems to be the only real, significant change in relation to housing policy. Sadly, all of us as Members are seeing the impact of the housing crisis in our postbag, in our surgeries and, very sadly, on many of our streets. Rough sleeping has more than doubled under the Conservatives. It is the No. 1 issue that is mentioned to me on the doorstep in my constituency. I am sure that is the case for many other urban MPs. Even those who do not see it in their constituency probably see it, sadly, when they come to work here. Of course, we had a terrible tragedy in that regard recently.
Housing stress is a major driver of homelessness, the causes of which are very complex. Does the hon. Lady accept that the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017 is major step in unlocking the resource that is required and in getting people to focus, crucially, on getting into a home, as the first step towards making a more lasting move forward in their lives?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. I will come later to some of the other contributors to this problem, which are not dealt with in the Bill or the rest of the Budget. I would just say that, although we supported many of the principles in the Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, again the problem is that, while we can place new requirements and duties on local authorities, if we do not fund them or provide the supply of accommodation to discharge them, local authorities will end up having to make invidious choices between individuals, as my own local authority has discovered. There is support for the principle of the Act, but without the means to deliver it there is considerable concern.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, however, for focusing on that issue. His focus is not reflected, sadly, in the Budget or the Bill. We have only had mention of three small-scale pilots to help to deal with rough sleeping, which is woefully inadequate and no match for Labour’s commitment to a proper rough-sleeping strategy. Under Labour Governments, we had one of those and we got rough sleeping down and virtually eliminated it in many areas. We have also said that we would reserve 8,000 units for people with a history of rough sleeping.
The Government have a commitment to halving rough sleeping by 2022, but to do this they have to change their policies. There is huge uncertainty about the funding of supported housing, which has led to a reduction in investment in that area—unnecessarily—particularly following the negative lessons of the Supporting People funding: there was initially a ring fence, but then it was taken away. We hope that that will not happen with supported housing. We have also seen swingeing cuts to council budgets in this area, which has meant that the county council in my area and many others will not be supporting any homelessness places, at least initially. Coupled with reductions in social security and mental health support, this has led to burgeoning numbers of people sleeping on our streets.
This is not just about rough sleeping, of course; it is also about homelessness generally. On housing provision, recent research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies has shown that the Government are still failing to tackle the fundamental problems in our broken housing market, and it does not conclude that the stamp duty change will deal with those fundamental problems. For example, the Government promised to build 200,000 new cut-price starter homes in 2015. Three years on, not a single one has been built. Before Christmas Ministers said they would be working out the definition of “starter home”, so they do not even know what their policy is going to deliver. They have not even decided on their definitions, let alone delivered those starter homes. In contrast, Labour would commit to building 100,000 social and affordable homes a year, focus Help to Buy funding on first-time buyers on ordinary incomes and build 100,000 discounted first-buy homes.
I would accept that there have been changes from year to year in the overall level of home ownership, but the cumulative reduction in home ownership under Conservative Governments has been far more substantial. Across the piece, we saw that increase of 1 million—
No, I will not give way, because I think I have answered the point. As I say, it is very clear; the figures speak for themselves, very obviously, on this point. The point is particularly and disturbingly clear in relation to home ownership among under-45 households—so for younger people—where the number of homeowners has fallen by 1 million since 2010.
We had a debate earlier about home ownership, and Helen Whately stated, “It’s not just about home ownership. We need to think about other areas as well”. That is absolutely right. We have 1.3 million additional private renters in this country. Many on the Opposition Benches would not necessarily see that as a terrific thing; we would see it as lots of people stuck in private rented accommodation who do not want to be there, and we do not see measures in the Budget or Bill to deal with that problem.
Ah, I was about to draw to the hon. Lady’s attention the fact that we only have an hour for this debate, but she has already counted that.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do beg your pardon.
Let me end by quoting, very briefly, what I think was a devastating assessment of this policy by my hon. Friend Alison McGovern, because not every Member who is present now was present then. She said:
“what is really unpopular in our country is having to step over rough sleepers while walking home. What is really unpopular in our country is having to watch other parents taking paper into schools because our schools cannot even afford the basic necessities. And what is deeply unpopular in our country is watching the number of food banks grow because jobs do not pay enough.
People will remember that while all that was going on, the Tories were busy cutting stamp duty for people who could afford to buy houses. I do not think they will ever forget that.”—[Official Report,
Vol. 633, c. 867.]
The autumn Budget was a triumph for Scotland, and a vindication of the constructive approach of the Scottish Conservatives. I hope that members of the Scottish National party, and other Scottish MPs, will feel able to welcome and embrace it. Unfortunately, however, SNP Members appear to have learnt little. They created the mess over VAT for the police and fire services, and this Conservative Government have had to clear it up. New clause 10 seeks to point the finger, but the mess in the first place was of the SNP’s own creation. That is disappointing.
The SNP Scottish Government messed up. They knew that they were messing up even as they did so, not least because they had been warned. Indeed, when they were estimating the budgetary effects of these centralisation plans, they specifically factored in the great multi-million-pound VAT giveaway. They pressed on regardless. It is extraordinary that Labour Front Benchers are supporting new clause 10.
Whatever argument the hon. Gentleman may present about what happened in the past, is he saying that he does not believe that more money should be given to the Scottish police and fire services?
If this was all the work of the Scottish Tory MPs, why is it that, when I have asked parliamentary questions to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Treasury has been unable to confirm that any meetings have taken place with any of the hon. Gentleman’s colleagues to formally discuss the VAT measure?
No. The hon. Gentleman has had his go.
The nationalists made a conscious decision. They were not short-changed, they were not unaware, and the money was not “stolen”. They must accept that culpability for the lost millions lies squarely with them. If they want to raise the money, they should take the responsibility and raise it themselves. I only hope that they do not do so by inflicting further punishment on Scottish taxpayers.
The poorly judged centralisation of Police Scotland is never far from the headlines, but the resignation of the chief constable and the delay in the pointless merger with the British Transport Police have brought it under a fresh spotlight in recent weeks. Surely now is the time for SNP Members, both here and in Holyrood, to stop manufacturing grievances from their own mistakes and join us in working constructively to make Scotland a better place. And they should start that process with a review of the structure of Police Scotland.
Amendments 10, 11 and 12 stand in my name and those of a number of Members on both sides of the House. They deal with the vehicle excise duty supplement, and, in particular, with how it applies to the new electric zero-emission taxis. I should probably declare an interest, as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on taxis. I am delighted that the amendment carries not only cross-party support but support throughout the country: in inner and outer London, Brighton, Sheffield, Bradford, Exeter, Huddersfield, Cambridge, Stoke-on-Trent, Bedford, Cardiff, Chesterfield, Sunderland, Leeds and Rotherham. Sterling work has also been done by my hon. Friend Anneliese Dodds, not just in Committee but in presenting the same powerful case this afternoon. I hope that this is an issue on which we can find common cause with those on the Treasury Bench.
During the debate on the Budget and subsequently the Finance Bill, I welcomed the Chancellor’s announcement in the Budget to exempt zero emission-capable taxis from the vehicle excise duty supplement, but I also cautioned that that exemption would not kick in until mid-2019. Zero emission-capable taxis are already available for sale and have already hit the streets of this city and others. This new generation of the iconic black taxi not only provides passengers with a new degree of comfort and great surroundings, including the ability to see the sights of London through the roof while driving around but, most significantly and pertinently for the purposes of this debate, it is environmentally friendly. Members on both sides of the House are increasingly aware of how difficult taxi drivers in this city and across the country are finding their trade in the face of aggressive, and in many cases unfair, competitive practices. The Government need to do all they can to stop that great iconic taxi being driven off the streets of this city and others.
The Government announced significant changes to the VED banding structure in the emergency Budget of 2015, which came into force on
Grants from both the Government through the Office for Low Emission Vehicles and from Transport for London recognise the high costs of the zero emission-capable taxi and the risk that that stops drivers taking up this environmentally friendly vehicle. They have done so by offering grants of up to £7,500 off the taxi for the first 9,000 taxi drivers to buy it. The Government will claim back one fifth of these grants through the VED supplement change.
That reform was counterintuitive and clearly at odds with the Government’s intention to make VED fairer for motorists and to reflect improvements in new car CO2 emissions. I welcome the fact that the Treasury has acknowledged that this was an “unintended consequence” of the VED reforms. In recognition of that, the Chancellor announced the change in the autumn Budget that I have mentioned, but it will not kick in until 2019. That is where these amendments come in.
Amendments 10, 11 and 12 are designed to bring forward the exemption for the new electric taxi to the day that this Bill is passed as an Act. That would show taxi drivers in this city and across the country a clear determination on the part of the Government to help them to drive more environmentally friendly vehicles, but also recognise the significant pressures that the taxi trade is under.
My amendments perhaps go further than the Chancellor’s statement in the Budget intended, in that they would apply to all taxis over the value of £40,000. I am happy to debate the merits of that position with the Minister, but I gently say to him, in the hope that we get movement from Ministers, that I have raised this point on the Floor of the House, it was raised in the Bill Committee, and I have raised it formally and informally with Ministers, and I hope the Minister will stand at the Dispatch Box today and give taxi drivers in my constituency and across the country the good news that the Government recognise the issues and are determined to make sure that that exemption kicks in earlier than April 2019. Otherwise, the Government will have created a perverse incentive for drivers to delay taking up a new environmentally friendly taxi because they know they will get better value from 2019. None of us wants that, which is why so many Members from across the House and the country have signed this amendment.
I will conclude by making a political point. I hope that the Minister and other Conservative Members will take it in the spirit in which it is intended. There are many taxi drivers in my constituency, across London and the country who are not natural Labour voters. In fact, they have in many cases been dyed-in-the-wool Conservative voters. They cannot understand why the Conservative party has seemingly turned its back on a group of people who are arguably the best example of the small business, entrepreneurial spirit that this country embodies. Many of them have looked to the Conservative party as their champion, but they are now feeling badly left behind, not only because of issues relating to tax but because of the way in which the Conservative party has actively lobbied for a company that is destroying the taxi trade not through fair competition but through artificially low fares created by aggressive tax avoidance, low wages and a reckless and irresponsible approach to the management of data. The Conservative party has actively lobbied for Uber. Ministers have an opportunity today to show that they are listening to taxi drivers in London and across the country by making a simple change that would bring forward the Chancellor’s intended policy to a point in time that would make a difference to taxi drivers. In so doing, they might be able to rebuild a bit of trust in the Conservative party among taxi drivers.
It is clearly in my interests if the Government do not listen to a word I have said and continue to give taxi drivers in my constituency and across the country the impression that the Conservative party simply does not care. However, I know from talking to taxi drivers in my constituency and their families, and many others across the country, that unless we get this exemption through, they will not be able to afford to take up the zero emission-capable taxis. In fact, it is arguable that many of them will not be able to afford to do that anyway. I am less interested in the party politics of this debate, and far more interested in ensuring that the taxi drivers in my constituency, across my city and across the country get a fair hearing and a fair deal from this Government.
I am pleased to speak in favour of the reforms to stamp duty for first-time buyers and to speak against the Opposition’s new clause. The changes to stamp duty mean that 95% of first-time buyers will pay less tax; in fact, 80% will pay no tax at all. First-time buyers will be getting a tax reduction of up to £5,000, which will be hugely welcomed by younger people in my constituency.
I support this reform for three reasons. The first is that it is part of a wider rebalancing of the tax system towards younger people and people who do not own a home of their own. In that context, it is worth thinking about these measures alongside the measures that we took in 2015 to reform the tax treatment of buy-to-let and second homes. Those reforms increased stamp duty on the purchase of additional properties. So we have this reform, which supports first-time buyers, and we also have a set of reforms that improve fairness and reduce the demand for housing as an investment asset. Together, these reforms tilt the balance of the system towards younger people and first-time buyers. Dare I say that they are redistributive measures, and I am surprised that the Opposition are opposing them? Given that younger people are the most affected by our failure over a generation to build enough houses in this country, it is right that we should tilt the tax system towards them.
Earlier in this debate, my hon. Friend Chris Philp offered the Minister a suggestion for a revenue raiser, and I wonder whether I could do the same thing. Perhaps we should go even further in rebalancing the tax system towards young people and consider further reform of the private residence relief. The Minister will recall that, in 2013, we changed the way in which the exemption worked to make the system fairer and to end some of the abuses that happened under Labour, and I encourage him to look again at this issue, particularly given that a number of other countries have tighter restrictions on that important exemption. Such a move would complement the 75 anti-tax avoidance measures that we have already taken, which have raised £160 billion for public services.
The second reason that I support these measures is that, as the Mirrlees review and many other economists have pointed out, stamp duty is fundamentally a bad tax that reduces mobility. Obviously, the Chancellor is unable to abolish it at this stage, given that we are still in the process of cleaning up the biggest deficit in this country’s entire peacetime history and the situation in which, disgracefully, the Government were borrowing a quarter of all the money being spent. None the less, we are making important progress on ending this bad tax. These changes follow the ending of the absurd slab system that Gordon Brown had built up and the £300 million tax cut that accompanied that. This further reduction in stamp duty land tax, this time for younger people, is hugely welcome, and I hope that the Treasury will continue to chop away at this bad tax.
The third reason why I support the measures is that, even as we bring about longer-term reforms to increase supply, they can provide immediate support for younger people and those who do not own their own property. I agree with Anneliese Dodds that we must have higher supply. France has been building roughly twice as many houses as this country since 1970, so its house prices have gone up half as fast.
I am pleased to hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but why are so many of the housing measures, including support for local authorities, being delayed for a year before being properly implemented?
I am afraid that I am not entirely sure what the hon. Gentleman is driving at, and I am conscious of the time.
I support the measures before us because they will provide immediate benefit, and they form part of a wider strategy to support first-time buyers, including Help to Buy, which has helped 230,000 people to get a home of their own, the lifetime ISA, which gives people a 25% bonus as they save for a deposit, the huge support for shared ownership and new supply measures, such as the housing infrastructure fund and the huge increase in funding for affordable housing in the 2015 spending review. My younger constituents will warmly welcome the end of stamp duty for first-time buyers, as will many older constituents—parents and grandparents.
The hon. Member for Oxford East rather made the case against her own measures by drawing on the huge amount of published detail about and analysis of our proposals. I have in my hand the OBR’s estimate of residential SDLT elasticities, and it notes the significant degrees of uncertainty. The creation of the OBR was a welcome reform, because it makes things more transparent, and it is right that the OBR is cautious in its forecasts. We created the OBR because Gordon Brown fiddled the figures and changed the economic cycle and led us to disaster by doing so. It is also right to stress the uncertainty around such measures, because it is fundamentally difficult to model things in the housing market.
When we introduced the annual tax on unoccupied dwellings, which I am sure the hon. Lady supports, we raised four times more money than predicted, so things are difficult to predict. However, my hon. Friend Mr Clarke has already made the important point that even if we believe that the £5,000 would be entirely capitalised into the price of a house, my young constituents would be £5,000 better off as a result. In Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, that is still a significant sum of money, so I am hugely glad to be able to support these important reforms today and to oppose the Opposition’s amendments.
I rise to discuss new clause 10, tabled in my name and those of my SNP colleagues. Given that we are tight for time, I was tempted to make an incredibly short speech and just say, “Can you give us our money back, please? Thanks,” and then sit down, but I will expand on that a little.
Like other parties, the Liberal Democrats supported the SNP’s call for an exemption from VAT for emergency services. However, the SNP Scottish Government was warned that this would happen and chose to go ahead anyway, and we now have a police force that the public, many politicians and many members of the police are unhappy with. Would it not be better for the hon. Lady to plead with her colleagues in Holyrood to fix the problem, rather than try to divert attention on to something—
Order. Time is short, and Members should not be taking advantage. I want to get the leader of the hon. Lady’s party in, but I will not be able to if we have interventions that are speeches.
I am actually going to talk about why we should be given the rebate and why what happened makes sense.
Scotland’s police and fire departments have been paying an annual charge of about £35 million a year in VAT, and we have repeatedly asked for those services to be excluded. The SNP has asked for it 140 times, and several other people have asked for it, too, and we have been given so many excuses why it could not be done. Murdo Fraser said that there was
“no justification for a VAT refund.”—[Scottish Parliament Official Report,
The Chancellor himself said that they would not be able to recover the VAT under EU law. However, the fair thing for the Government to do has always been to give police and fire services access to the VAT rebate. Highways England and the London Legacy Development Corporation have access to the rebate, and both are national organisations. Now, suddenly, the welcome decision has been taken to give us the rebate, but nothing has changed to cause that to happen. The situation is no different from what it was three years ago. The police and fire services are structured exactly the same as they were three years ago, yet somehow the Government have decided that we are now eligible for the rebate when previously we were not.
The only fair thing to do—I encourage Colin Clark actually to read the amendment, because it would not do what he suggests—is to have a review. The amendment asks the Government to look at the implications of giving us back the money that our police and fire services have claimed. This is absolutely a matter of fairness. The rebate should always have been available to the Scottish police and fire services. The money should always have been available, so that we could ensure that we had the best possible services and so that we could do things such as tackling the public sector pay cap within those services.
We are asking the Government to consider the consequence that would occur if the money were available to be claimed back retrospectively, and I contend that the consequences would be that we could spend more money on police and fire services in Scotland, we could counter this Government’s reduction in the block grant and things would be better for the police and fire services in Scotland. This is a matter of fairness. Nothing has changed except the Government’s position, and they should give us back the money that they have always owed us.
I rise to speak to new clause 7. There has been a failure of successive Governments to tackle the issues with our housing stock. Since the 1970s we have, on average, built 160,000 new homes a year in England, and the consensus is that we need to build between 225,000 and 275,000 homes a year to keep up with population growth, to keep up with an ageing population and to tackle years of under-supply. That is why I am pleased the Government are taking steps to address the situation through accelerated house building, resulting in an increase in supply of 217,000 houses in the past year.
Increased demand and an historic lack of supply have inevitably pushed prices up. On average, house prices have risen by 7% a year since 1980, but the rise is not uniform. Areas such as the south-east have suffered more than others, with a 369% increase in prices since 2005. I see that in my own family, with many of my young cousins in Knowsley buying a home in their 20s on average salaries, as their parents did before them, but that is not the case in the south-east and other parts of the country.
Large price hikes obviously affect young people more, as they are typically on lower incomes and struggle to raise the capital needed to save for a deposit. When I bought my first home in the mid-1990s, around 65% of my friends were doing the same, and we just earned average incomes. Now, less than 27% of 25 to 34-year-olds are home owners, and I would be willing to bet that not many of them are in Chichester, where the average house price is more than £365,000 and the average salary is just £25,000.
The point was highlighted to me by a young couple living in my constituency, whose high rental costs mean they are unable to make any substantial savings towards a deposit. They are grateful for the schemes introduced by the Government to help them save for a deposit. Changes to stamp duty will also help first-time buyers such as my constituents to reduce the savings needed to cover the cost of purchasing a home. They will no longer pay stamp duty on properties up to the threshold of £300,000, and only 5% of the cost over £300,000 on properties up to £500,000, so 80% of first-time buyers should pay no stamp duty at all. This policy removes one of the barriers to the housing market, and it will help to give people the opportunity to reach a dream that many of us achieved in our 20s and 30s.
I rise to speak to new clause 2 in my name and in the name of my right hon. Friend Norman Lamb, and I will say a few words about amendments 13 and 14 to schedule 3 that address a technical point of some importance raised by my right hon. Friend Mr Carmichael, who regrets that he cannot be here to speak to the amendments himself.
New clause 2 would ask the Office for Budget Responsibility to produce an independent, verifiable, non-political estimate of the yield that could be obtained by adding 1p in the £1—a 1% increase—to the standard, higher and additional rates of income tax. We are doing this not to give the Treasury computer some exercise—I am sure that it gets plenty—but to produce an estimate that we can all subscribe to of the revenue base that would exist for an earmarked tax to finance the NHS. This Report stage is clearly not the place to debate the NHS, but I want to raise the basic principle of how the Treasury might finance it.
In the middle of last year, the chief executive of NHS England produced an estimate that about £6 billion was required to keep the NHS on a sustainable footing and to avoid a serious winter crisis—this was about £4 billion for the NHS itself and £2 billion for social care through local councils. In the event, the Treasury, in its November Budget came up with about £2 billion—we can argue about how much of that was real, but let us say it was £2 billion—but we had the winter crisis in any case, and it has been discussed here on many occasions. We have heard about the long trolley waits, the elderly people waiting in hospital for placements and the stress on staff. We hope the winter is now over, although we cannot be absolutely certain of that. The issue I want to raise is how we prevent this situation from happening in the next financial year.
The proposal that we have an earmarked allocation of revenue from a small increase in income tax comes from a commission that my party set up, consisting of not just supporters but a lot of independent people with authority in the NHS. It includes the former chief executives of NHS England, of the Patients Association and of the Royal College of Nursing, and the former chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, among others of similar status. They argue that the only sensible, practical way now to prevent this endlessly recurring financial and then real crisis in the health service is to have a dedicated source of tax revenue.
There have traditionally been two objections to such a proposal, one of which was public opinion—the public do not like higher taxes—but the survey evidence from a big Sky poll some months ago suggested that if people were absolutely confident that the money would be allocated to the health service, about 70% of them would support such an income tax increase; other polls have suggested the same.
The second objection was a traditional Treasury one, which was that such an approach makes public spending and taxation more difficult to manage. I would cite as a counter to that the recent comments of the former head of the Treasury, Lord Macpherson, who presided over it in the five years when I was in the coalition Government. He is a massively impressive man. I confess that we did not always agree—he tended to regard public spending as some kind of disease—but none the less, he is a very authoritative source, and he appears to have been converted to the idea that such a measure is the only way in which the NHS can be put on a properly sustainable footing.
Looking ahead to the next financial year, which is what we are asking the Government to do, the question is: how are we going to avoid the kind of problems we have had this year? The first way is by the Government simply muddling through on their current spending assumptions, and probably in the next Budget, in the autumn, the Chancellor will come up with another rabbit out of the hat, which will be inadequate and too late.
The other alternative is to hope that there is some kind of advance payment of the “Brexit dividend”. I think that we are all familiar with these arguments about the £300 million a week that was supposed to come back—I think we have been promised £18 billion a year. We now know that this is almost entirely phoney and cannot be relied upon. Of course it was a gross, not a net, estimate, and we now know that we are going to pay out at least £40 billion. There will be continued annual payments through the transition period and possibly additional ad hoc payments on top of that.
Even on a fairly charitable view, we would be talking about five to six years before there is any dividend, and even that depends on a continued constant rate of growth. If growth slows down, as it almost certainly will post Brexit, this dividend may never appear. So if we cannot rely on a Brexit dividend and we are going to get past ad hoc financing, some new mechanism needs to be found, and the purpose of our new clause is to open up that discussion. I do not propose to press the new clause to a Division, but I am interested to hear how the Treasury currently regards earmarked taxation and whether its thinking has advanced in any way.
Finally, I wish to say a few words in support of the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland, one of whose constituents has raised a substantial point about an HMRC proposal in the Bill that relates to dormant companies and their pension funds. The proposal is that such schemes should be de-registered when the companies have become dormant. The reasoning behind it is perfectly sensible: some such funds have been used for scams, to the cost of the public and HMRC, so HMRC proposes to de-register them when such things happen.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland’s constituent has pointed out some unintended consequences of this apparently sensible proposal, one of which is that there are quite a lot of cases in which the pension funds of dormant companies have been taken over by other companies. There are other cases in which a sponsoring company may be dormant but the trustees have kept it going on a pay-in basis, and it is perfectly sustainable.
The other aspect of the proposal that potentially causes a problem is that de-registration could happen after a closure of one month. A good recent example would be Monarch airlines. As we all know, it takes a lot more than a month to wind up a pension scheme, so it is a bit pre-emptory. I do recognise, as does my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland’s constituent, that the power for HMRC would be discretionary. The Minister may say that we should trust HMRC always to get these things right, but it may be more sensible, as amendments 13 and 14 suggest, to have a carve-out to deal with cases that clearly do not fall within its remit.
The purpose of the amendments is to suggest that the de-registration activities should be restricted to the most recent six years, because that is when the scams have occurred and we do not need to go back into history. There should be a specific carve-out for cases in which there may well have been a pension fund succession. The provision would be that there should be at least one dormant employer and that a two-year period should be allowed for pension funds that have been maintained for a substantial time and are therefore clearly viable. Neither I nor my right hon. Friend the Member for Orkney and Shetland would pretend that those are necessarily the perfect solutions to the problem, but I hope the Minister will acknowledge that there is an issue and get the Treasury to reflect on it and perhaps come up with a superior solution.
Given the limited time remaining, I intend to focus most of my remarks on the amendments and new clauses that have been spoken to in this debate.
I shall begin with new clauses 7 and 8, which seek reviews of the operation of the SDLT exemption for first-time buyers. As we know, housing is one of the great challenges of our age. We all recognise—we certainly have done in this debate—the importance of the supply side, which is why my right hon. Friend the Chancellor, whom I am delighted to see on the Treasury Bench, made such important announcements about funding for more housing. We can now look at hitting 300,000 new build homes in the next decade. The point was made that the OBR suggested that prices may increase by 0.3% as a result of our SDLT measure, but that observation is based on that measure alone and does not take into account the supply-side measures we are introducing.
Amendments 10, 11 and 12 relate to taxis and the vehicle excise duty supplement.
I wonder whether I might make a suggestion on the amendments to which my right hon. Friend just referred. Cabbies in my constituency have raised legitimate concerns about vehicle excise duty. If I have read them correctly, it seems that the amendments that have been tabled to clause 44 would make all taxis exempt from certain vehicle excise duty rates this year, rather than just the new, electric-capable vehicles. As my right hon. Friend knows from our discussions about taxis, I and other London Conservative MPs have serious concerns about air quality in the capital, so I would appreciate his view on whether it would instead be better if we brought forward by a year—
If we look at bringing forward this exemption, the important thing is that we should look solely at that element that relates to low-emission vehicles, rather than applying it to all taxis, as indeed amendments 10, 11 and 12 do, as tabled by Wes Streeting. However, having listened to the representations from my hon. Friends the Members for Hornchurch and Upminster (Julia Lopez) and for Rugby (Mark Pawsey) and indeed from the hon. Gentleman who has tabled the amendments, we are minded to look sympathetically at bringing forward the exemption by a year for those taxis that have low emissions, albeit that they cost £40,000 or more. I know that my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary will shortly be meeting representatives from the London Taxi Company and that he will be furthering those discussions with them.
In the one minute remaining, perhaps I could turn to new clause 10, which calls for a review of the consequences of not backdating the refund of VAT in respect of the Scottish Fire and Rescue Service. The Chancellor made it clear in the Budget that, after lobbying from our Conservative colleagues in particular, we would allow such refunds going forward. In 2012, when the Scottish Government entered into those arrangements, they did so knowing what the VAT consequences would be, but we are taking action going forward.
Finally, I understand the desire of Sir Vince Cable to have information on the effects of increases of income tax by 1%. However, there is no need for that now, as information is available on that. Time does not allow me to explain what that is, but I will speak to him after this debate, and on that basis, I hope that he will not press his amendment. I also take on board his comments about dormant companies and pension fund arrangements, but we do have to look to HMRC to make those judgments so that we ensure that these scams are prevented.
Division number 121
Question accordingly negatived.
More than five hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on the programme motion, the proceedings were interrupted (Programme Order, this day).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (
New Clause 10