Basic rate limit and personal allowance

Part of Finance (No. 3) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 19th November 2018.

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Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General 7:15 pm, 19th November 2018

May I say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Eleanor?

Let me first pick up on some of the comments made by Kirsty Blackman, speaking from the Scottish National party Front Bench. She raised the issue of the higher rate threshold in clause 5 and asked whether the Bill might be organised in a slightly different manner. The most important thing is that we have put forward the information in a simple and straightforward way. As I am sure she is aware, the rise to the basic rate limit is dealt with in clause 5(1), with the amendment to £37,500 in the Income Tax Act 2007. That of course gets added to the personal allowance. The higher rate threshold is UK-wide for both dividends and savings income, which is what the amendment to the Income Tax Act deals with and focuses on.

Clause 5(2), Dame Eleanor—as I know you and other Members of the House will be aware, having read this Bill in significant detail—deals with the rise in the personal allowance to £12,500, which once again is a UK-wide scope. Therefore, it is appropriate that it is in a clause that is not subject to the provisions of English votes for English laws.

Clause 5(4)—I notice the hon. Member for Aberdeen North looking at this quite closely—also breaks the link between the personal allowance and the national minimum wage, which is once again a UK-wide measure. On the hon. Lady’s very specific point, it is appropriate that all these measures are contained within one clause.

The hon. Lady also mentioned the national minimum wage and the level at which it is set for those aged 16 to 24. She will know that a review is currently being conducted by the Low Pay Commission, which will report in spring 2019, although the commission has said in the past that increases up towards the level of the national living wage—which is what I think the hon. Lady is seeking—may have a detrimental impact on the level of employment. Of course, this Government have overseen a halving of the level of youth unemployment since 2010, something of which we are justly proud.

The hon. Lady brought up the issue of raising the personal allowance to £12,750, in line with her party’s new clause 19. The important point is that we have been able to raise the personal allowance from around £6,500 in 2010 right the way up to £12,500, taking about 4 million of the lowest paid out of tax altogether. That comes at huge cost, and the estimated cost of going still further, to the level that hon. Lady suggests, would be of the order of £1.5 billion. For that reason, we believe that the very significant rise that we have put in place is proportionate and should be welcomed by many of the lowest income earners, who the hon. Lady quite rightly seeks to protect.

The hon. Lady raised the issue of poverty, as did a number of other hon. and right hon. Members. I remind the Committee that there are 1 million fewer people living in absolute poverty than in 2010, including 300,000 children. It is also the case that there are two thirds of a million fewer children living in workless households. We have heard a great deal about the importance of employment and our record on employment, with virtually the highest level of employment in our history and the lowest level of unemployment since the mid-1970s. Work is a very important route out of poverty and we have a strong record in that respect.

A number of Members mentioned entrepreneurs’ relief. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North suggested that the shift from the one-year to the two-year qualifying condition might actually impose a hurdle to entrepreneurship—I think that was the expression she used—but we see it as important that we at least have entrepreneurs who are not in and out within a period of 12 months, but who are actually there for the longer term. Of course, the Labour party seems to be entirely hostile to the whole notion of an entrepreneurs’ relief, which is not surprising given the general approach it seems to take towards business.