Review of effects on public finances

Part of Finance (No. 3) Bill – in the House of Commons at 7:15 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Bambos Charalambous Bambos Charalambous Labour, Enfield, Southgate 7:15 pm, 8th January 2019

I rise to speak in support of new clause 2. I was staggered to learn that entrepreneurs’ relief costs the Treasury an estimated £2.7 billion, and this to allow people selling companies worth up to £10 million to keep half the money they would otherwise pay in capital gains tax.

I was even more surprised to learn that this tax relief was concentrated among a few very wealthy individuals, with 6,000 people making gains of over £1 million and averaging £450,000 in tax relief each. This relief is only benefiting the very wealthy and should be reviewed as to its effectiveness. If it is scrapped, the £2.7 billion could be used to fund schools buckling under the pressure of funding cuts and provide huge investment in special educational needs and children and adolescent mental health needs. It could also go some way to funding children’s services and social care in local authorities and policing.

This is not the only area where the Government are giving away money that could otherwise be put to better use. Under amendment 22, in the name of Kirsty Blackman, the Government are being asked to review the expected effects on public health of the changes made to the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979. The Alcohol Health Alliance has stated that the Government’s own figures show that alcohol duty cuts from 2013-14 have cost the Treasury £4 billion, which is the equivalent yearly cost of employing over 100,000 teachers. The figure is expected to rise to £9.1 billion by 2024. Considering the pressures on budgets as a result of austerity, that is not an insignificant amount.

The freeze on duty on beer, spirits and cider for 12 months from February 2019 is in effect a cut, as it is not keeping in line with inflation. Indeed, it has not done so for six of the last seven years. Cheap alcohol has a tremendous effect in causing damage to people’s health, the economy and wider society. Alcohol is the leading risk factor in respect of the deaths of people aged 15 to 49. In England alone, there are more than 1 million hospital admissions and 24,000 deaths related to alcohol every year. That is a clearly an impact that the Government need to consider when they set duties on beer, spirits and cider. Cuts in alcohol duty have a double effect. They reduce revenue for the Treasury, which in turn reduces the amount of funding for the NHS, while simultaneously increasing demand and costs in the NHS by encouraging the consumption of cheap alcohol. I therefore ask the Government to review the impact of the alcohol duty freeze on public health.

Let me now say something about new clause 26, tabled by Sir Edward Davey. When it comes to collecting taxes from individuals, the Treasury, via HMRC, has been brutal in its demands from contractors who have been paid through loans. I should make it clear that I have no time for tax dodgers and tax avoiders, and that I believe the disguised remuneration scheme was used by some people colluding with businesses to avoid paying tax. That is wrong and tax avoidance should be dealt with severely. However, I have met a number of people at my local surgeries and heard their stories of being mercilessly pursued for alleged unpaid taxes going back many years, and it is clear to me that HMRC has adopted a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach.