It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, and I congratulate my hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope on getting one of his many private Members’ Bills to Second Reading. I thank him for giving such a comprehensive history of VAT in the early part of his speech and for his forensic analysis of each part of the Bill.
At first, I thought that the subject of the Bill seemed rather dry, but the more I looked into it, the more interesting it became. Prior to my entering this place, I ran my own marketing business, which was registered for VAT. I did not see being registered for VAT as a hindrance; I saw it as a sign of success, as it meant that my turnover was growing and quite substantial. Some business owners I spoke to were concerned that splitting VAT on a quarterly basis was quite onerous. I always found that the quarterly returns helped me to focus on the financial side of my business and provided an opportunity for a regular review. They helped me to review my business costs and the charging structure for my marketing services. In effect, I was carrying out a quarterly audit that helped me to keep my business on the straight and narrow over the 19 years for which I ran it. Some businesses may have criticised me for carrying out such a check only every three months, but it worked for me.
We are debating whether the £85,000 VAT threshold is the right one and if we should make provisions to exempt certain goods and services from VAT liability. In November 2017, the Office of Tax Simplification produced an excellent report. I must declare that I could be slightly biased, because the chair of the office is Angela Knight CBE. For those Members who are not fully aware of the political history of the Erewash constituency, Angela Knight was its Member of Parliament from 1992 to 1997. One of her claims to fame—among many, of course—was that she was the Treasury Minister responsible for the introduction of the £2 coin. She has had a varied and at times much-publicised career since leaving this place, and she was the perfect person to be appointed chair of the Office of Tax Simplification.
The views of my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch on the EU are well known, and he has expressed them today. His Bill is timely, because Conservative Members want to take back control on
Some anomalies have already been mentioned. The Bill proposes exemptions, including for domestic fuel and power and for repairs to historic buildings. We have also already discussed fitness equipment and the difference between cakes and biscuits. The prime example of the latter is Jaffa Cakes: if it is a cake, it is zero rateable, but if it is a biscuit, it is taxable. It has been deemed to be a cake, so it is zero rated. Closer to my heart are the gingerbread men made by Stacey’s bakery in my Erewash constituency. In my opinion, they are the best gingerbread men a person could buy in the whole country. If the gingerbread men have chocolate trousers, they are subject to VAT. If they just have chocolate eyes but no chocolate trousers, there is no VAT. In the interests of equality, why do we not have gingerbread ladies? If we did and they had chocolate dresses, would they be subject to VAT? I am sure that we could all highlight many more anomalies, but the ones I have mentioned help to illustrate just how important it is to ensure that any changes to VAT legislation are well thought through and appropriate.
I could spend a lot more time talking about whether higher or lower threshold levels encourage more or less entrepreneurship, or about the optimal threshold to maximise the tax take without stifling business, but I am sure all that will be thrashed out in Committee. VAT is the third largest source of tax revenue collected by HMRC, after income tax and national insurance contributions, so I am sure it is above my pay grade to recommend a new threshold to the Treasury. It is clear to me that we should not jeopardise the £120 billion collected in 2016-17—I am not sure of the figures for the following year—which represented 22.5% of all taxes. I fear that the removal of one tax would only result in the increase of another tax to balance the nation’s books.