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Income Tax (Charge)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:29 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire 3:29 pm, 12th March 2020

It is helpful to break this Budget down into three separate Budgets: the coronavirus emergency Budget, the current expenditure Budget and the strategic investment Budget.

On the first of those Budgets, for me the test is: did the Chancellor announce a sufficient range of measures and investment? He started, quite rightly, by saying that the NHS will get all the money it deserves and needs, and that was on top of confirming in the Budget the commitments that the Government have already made about providing finance to the NHS and his later statement in the Budget suggesting additional funding for the NHS. “NHS, NHS, NHS” was a core message of this Budget, and I am sure it will be a core message of all Conservative Budgets over the next four or five years.

In addition, the Chancellor announced much needed support for our small businesses. I am delighted, having last week gone with the Federation of Small Businesses to meet a couple of businesses—including the Number One King Street café in Potton, who said, “We need help with our rates”—that the Chancellor focused on getting money directly into the hands of small businesses. Yes, we need banks to assist—it is right to do that—but one of the lessons from 2007 and 2008 was that we cannot rely on the banks alone to support the economy. My first challenge and question to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is: will he make sure, over the next few weeks and months, that he looks at all the arteries in the financial system that can get money directly into the hands of our small businesses? In particular, will he look at one omission in the rates relief, which is that childminders and nurseries were not included in the list? Childminder nurseries, such as the one in my constituency run by Debbie Moliterno, need that relief because of the pressure of the coronavirus on our economy.

The second Budget is the current expenditure Budget, where one of the messages is: are we working in a way that is prudent? The Institute for Fiscal Studies says that there will be £12 billion of headroom in the current Budget. I am more conservative; I think there is too much uncertainty around. There were some taxation increases mentioned in the Budget, but we have to understand that there may well need to be additional taxes later this year. My point to my right hon. Friend is that we need in that effort to do all we can to support the wealth-creating part of our economy, which is the small businesses and entrepreneurs we have, who face certain issues.

As my right hon. Friend knows, next week we will have a debate on the loan charge. I met constituents affected by that last week. We also have issues with IR35, where the HMRC is acting according to the reverse of Jean-Baptiste Colbert’s principle of taxation, by getting as much hissing out of the goose for the lowest possible tax imaginable. Eighteen years of collective failure by HMRC—please, Financial Secretary, do not be the fall guy for HMRC’s blatantly poor execution of this policy on treating entrepreneurs.

The third part of the Budget is the strategic investment Budget. Hidden away in that is this Government’s ambition for raising the wages and incomes of the poorest paid workers. This Government should be proud of their record over the last few years in raising the living wage and raising wages for the poorest workers in our community. When the last Labour Government were in office, we were 17th in the OECD for the ratio of our minimum wage to median earnings. In 2018-19, we were ninth, and the Chancellor has indicated that we have further to go. This ambition is not matched by any other major economy in the OECD, and it is right for that to be part of the strategic ambitions of our Government.

However, we also need to recognise—I say this to my fiscally conservative colleagues—that this is a time for investment. Some other speakers have mentioned that it is unusual for us to have a debt-to-GDP ratio of 80%. That is true if the perspective is the last 20 or 30 years, but if we look back over these 20 years and the 100 years of the past century, from 1917 to 1966 this country managed and maintained a debt-to-GDP ratio of 80% or above. Therefore, although it is unusual in the near-term context, and in the lives of nearly all hon. Members here today, in the broader context it is something with the right principle and purposes, and something that even fiscally conservative Members of Parliament such as myself can sustain.

We need that because this is the first Budget since we left the European Union. We need to ensure that our scale of ambition meets the opportunities for our nation. We need to ensure that we get rid of all the obstacles in the way of the Government’s policies, to take hold of the opportunities that we have, so that this country can really generate momentum in the direction of change. That is important.

My final point to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, in terms of how the return on investment will be judged, is that he should not get hooked on a single objective such as the increase in productivity rate for this country. We have other significant challenges. We have not only the challenge of productivity; we have the challenge of meeting the carbon ambitions of our economy. We are facing radical changes in the fundamental basis of our economy and the fundamental basis of our trade, so to tie ourselves to a single point of accountability would be incorrect.