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Income Tax (Charge)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:47 pm on 12th March 2020.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 4:47 pm, 12th March 2020

Madam Deputy Speaker, or may I say Chairman of Ways and Means? What a delight it is to see you in the Chair. It is an epochal moment—the beginning of a new decade, a new Government and a new Chairman of Ways and Means. How delightful is that.

I very much support what Rebecca Long Bailey said about the quality of the maiden speeches in this debate. We have greatly enjoyed them. I was struck by the crazy golf. I was struck by the Amber seaside express, but what came through all the speeches—not just that from my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart but also those from my hon. Friends the Members for Warrington South (Andy Carter) and for Leigh (James Grundy)—was the tremendous sense of pride that they exhibited. They had pride in their community, pride in their history and pride in their own achievements in coming to this House. They also, I thought, showed a wonderful fair-mindedness about predecessors of both political parties and I very much associate myself with that spirit. I congratulate them on that.

I salute the men and women of the Treasury and HMRC who made this Budget possible. In fact, they did not just make one Budget possible; they made two Budgets possible, including the one that never got delivered. Their expertise, dedication, good humour and sheer hard work is something that I think everyone in this House should be aware of and thank them for.

I also pay tribute to my fellow Ministers for their contributions to the Budget and pay tribute especially to the Chancellor. A new Budget from nothing in weeks; a vast array of measures, including measures not taken up. A fully integrated cross-Government response to a national crisis of coronavirus, but which also lays the foundations for decades of higher investment in infrastructure. That, to me, speaks of a parliamentarian of enormous ability, mastery of detail, warmth and humanity, for which I salute him. A new Budget, leadership on coronavirus and new energy and direction on infrastructure—I hope my colleagues will agree that he got them done.

This Budget has been well received and well supported by many groups across the business sector. Today’s debate has been on business and innovation, and it is good to see the CBI acclaim it as

“a bold Budget at scale…which will help people and business through tough times.”

The Federation of Small Businesses calls it an

“excellent pro-small business budget”.

And the British Chambers of Commerce says:

“Much to welcome for UK business communities”.

How important is that?

I am particularly pleased that Make UK, or the Engineering Employers Federation as it used to be known, says:

“Today’s measures to boost R&D will be applauded by industry and will help the UK lead in the technologies”— including, of course, the green technologies—

“of the future.”

The shadow Chancellor began his remarks by saying this is not a time for partisan politics and, of course, I agree. I was therefore slightly surprised when his first move was to descend into partisan politics, and I am sad that the shadow Business Secretary has done the same.

I am struck that one particular measure in the Budget has not received the attention that it perhaps should have done. Paragraph 2.77 on page 76 addresses the support we are giving to assist in opening up and reviewing private finance initiative projects across the public sector. We know that PFI has been a disaster for this country, and it was overwhelmingly initiated and carried out by the Labour party in the hospital sector. The idea that the NHS, in which virtually every PFI project was conceived and executed under a Labour Government, should be a topic of the Labour party’s criticism is astonishing. [Interruption.] I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker.

PFI costs this country £10 billion a year, and any steps we can take to remove that burden on current expenditure—[Interruption.] I am sorry but, as I understand it, the shadow Business Secretary was intimately involved in PFI. I wonder whether, in her seven years in that area, she looked at the PFI project in Hereford, on which I had to run a process that saved £5 million for the taxpayer and greatly improved the delivery of hospital care to my constituents.

The fact of the matter is that this Government and their predecessors have had to deal with the terrible crisis of 2008, even now, and I remind the House that the tragedy—[Interruption.] Those are desperate attempts by the Opposition Front Bench to put me off.

The fact of the matter is that the banking sector in this country was at 20 times its capital leverage in 1960, at 20 times its capital leverage in 1970, at 20 times its capital leverage in 1980, at 20 times its capital leverage in 1990 and at 20 times its capital leverage in 2000. Between 2000 and 2007, that 20 times went up to 50 times—pin seven years. No further explanation need be given for why, when the crisis struck, it had a catastrophic effect, an effect that we are still seeking to remedy.

The United Kingdom has entered a new decade and a new era in which our prosperity as a nation will be shaped by the dynamism of our economy, the ingenuity of our entrepreneurs and the success of British businesses of all kinds. Yesterday’s Budget is emblematic of the sense of purpose and energy that defines this Government as we seek to chart a bold new path for this country in the global economy to ensure that we remain a competitive place to do business; that we deliver the infrastructure and investment necessary to spread jobs, growth and opportunity across this country; and that we build on our historical strengths, referenced on many occasions in this debate, in science, technology and innovation to position ourselves at the forefront of the industries of the future. Thanks to the decisions we have made, we are building on firm foundations. We have kept corporation tax at 19%, the lowest in the G20, so that businesses have more freedom to invest in their own priorities. We have cut business rates—referenced in speeches on several occasions and rightly so—for more than half a million of the smallest firms, which pay nothing at all a result.

We are delivering £20 billion of patient capital action—