It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Maggie Throup. She has highlighted how the VAT rules do somewhat take the biscuit when it comes to gingerbread men. My hon. Friend Sir Christopher Chope has shown that, on Europe, we really cannot have our cake and tax it.
I wanted to clarify one point that my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch made earlier in reference to me. He very kindly referred to me as a former senior Treasury adviser. In fact, I did serve a brief apprenticeship after leaving university at the Policy Research Unit when it was founded, but I then started my own business. I was never at the Treasury—although it can feel like that when running a business.
Interestingly, when I was a mortgage broker, I found that mortgages were exempt—mortgage commissions are exempt from VAT. We were very much of the belief that mortgages would one day be done online—this was back in 2004—and, of course, many of them now are. When we invested for the first time in a new souped-up piece of IT kit, we received a very expensive bill with VAT on it, which we could not offset, and that created many problems for us. Since then, we have diversified. Most of our income is VATable: we run a big home show at the QE2 and a property portal for shared ownership properties. It is a good business. The great frustration that I have with VAT is that it is very unpredictable in those quarterly comings and goings, particularly as we have a home show every six months. As my hon. Friend said, we should run our businesses as if we are reviewing them quarterly to make sure that we can fund them.
The key point that I wanted to touch on with this Bill is the issue of unfunded tax commitments—a central point on which, in effect, my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch and I debated through interventions. We were joined by my hon. Friend Neil O'Brien who was here earlier. That is not to say that any of the measures in this Bill would not be desirable. As I said earlier, I represent a rural constituency. Most of my constituents are on heating oil, so why would I object to cutting the VAT on heating oil? Of course I would not do so on principle. The same is true for sanitary products. My hon. Friend Anne-Marie Trevelyan made a very good case for reducing the VAT on those to zero, which I am sure the Treasury will do once it has the power. The question is not necessarily about desirability, but, of course, about affordability.