I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
On Sunday, MPs across the House remembered all those who died in conflict. It is now 76 years on from the time we started to rebuild our country from the devastation of world war two. The bombs that rained down during that war caused enormous loss of life. They tore our cities apart. In London, air raids wrecked or razed to the ground some 116,000 buildings, and in Liverpool and Bristol tens of thousands of buildings were damaged or destroyed.
While the war left a mark on the nation that lasts to this day, those dark years were followed by a period of reconstruction and renewal. In 1951, the iconic Royal Festival Hall opened in London as the centrepiece and legacy of the Festival of Britain. In the 1960s, Liverpool built its extraordinary Metropolitan Cathedral, while the iconic Severn bridge was constructed near Bristol.
Today, we are living in very different times, and we have thankfully not experienced such devastation here again, but we share some parallels with our wartime predecessors. As we emerge from the pandemic, our cities’ buildings may remain intact, but jobs, families and livelihoods have been at risk, and some have been damaged by the worst economic shock in 300 years. It is right, therefore, that we too now rebuild and turn our attention to creating a better future for this country and its people. Last month, the Chancellor started that work. His Budget set out our plans for the stronger economy that will allow Britain to succeed: an economy of stronger growth, stronger employment and stronger public finances, with higher wages, high skills and rising productivity. This Finance Bill will achieve that.
Before I turn to the Bill’s main measures, I will talk about its context. Our economic situation has improved since the last Finance Bill. We have moved away from emergency support to focusing on our recovery, which is now well under way. In fact, the economy is expected to bounce back to its pre-covid levels by the turn of the year—earlier than was expected in March—while our economic plan to safeguard jobs, livelihoods and businesses has worked. As a result, we can now invest in better public services, in jobs and skills, and in levelling up the country so that we open opportunity to everyone everywhere.
However, we should not forget that debt is still at its highest level as a percentage of GDP since the early 1960s and is set to pass £1.3 trillion. While this level of borrowing is still affordable, it leaves us vulnerable if another crisis hits, so we must continue to create a stronger economy that can withstand financial shocks. That is why the Chancellor announced a new charter for budget responsibility, with two fiscal rules that will keep us on the right track.
I want to focus on three aspects of the Budget in this Finance Bill: support for people, support for businesses and growth, and some underlying aspects of fairness. This is a Government who put people first, and this Bill’s measures complement the wider action we took in the Budget to support individuals and working families right around the country. We have reduced the universal credit taper rate and increased the national living wage so that work really does pay. We have continued our fuel duty freeze, helping to lower the cost of everyday life. We have announced that public sector workers will receive fair and affordable pay rises across the whole spending review period.
This Bill will improve people’s lives by backing the businesses that generate jobs and growth. In March, we extended the temporary £1 million level of annual investment allowance on plant and machinery assets. The allowance was due to revert to its previous level of £200,000, but as the Chancellor said:
“Now is not the time to remove tax breaks on investment”.—[Official Report,
This Bill extends the £1 million level until the end of March 2023, encouraging firms to invest more and invest earlier.
While the changes to business rates that we announced in the Budget will encourage more firms to grow and invest, the Bill will also help the UK’s financial services industry became even more successful. In the March Budget, we said we would increase the corporation tax rate to 25% from 2023, for which we have now legislated. However, to make sure that our banks stay internationally competitive while still paying their fair share of tax, this Bill sets the bank surcharge rate at 3%. In addition, we are increasing the bank surcharge annual allowance from £25 million to £100 million, a move that will help smaller, challenger banks.
The Bill also supports another important industry—shipping. It does this by making our tonnage tax regime simpler and more competitive, and by rewarding companies that adopt the UK red ensign.
Finally, we should not forget that our cultural industries also contribute to our economic success. This Bill therefore extends the tax relief on museum and gallery exhibitions for another two years until the end of March 2024, and it doubles the tax relief for theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries until April 2023, to revert to the normal rate only in April 2024. This tax relief for culture is worth a quarter of a billion pounds.
Tax is of course central to our economic health and to funding the public services that make people’s lives better, but the way we collect tax must be fair and simple too, and the measures in this Bill will help us to achieve that. As Members will be aware, we are tackling the social care crisis with a new UK-wide 1.25% levy on national insurance contributions. This Bill will increase the tax rate on dividends by the same amount, so that those receiving this income will also contribute in line with employees and the self-employed.
The hon. Member will know that this has been set out. First, the money will go to the NHS, and then afterwards it will be going to social care. It is absolutely essential that we do that. £12 billion will be collected and will be going through to our social care services, as well as to the NHS.
I will just carry on to my next point, which is that there will be an increase in the social care budget in the spending review period.
A fairer tax system also means tackling those who avoid paying their share. A new economic crime levy will help to fund measures that will prevent criminals from laundering money in the UK. It will apply to about 4,000 businesses and bring in £100 million. The Bill also contains tougher measures to prevent promoters from marketing tax avoidance schemes. In addition, it includes sanctions to tackle tobacco duty evasion, which costs the Exchequer an estimated £2.3 billion a year. The Bill also clamps down on electronic sales suppression, a form of tax evasion in which a business deliberately manipulates its electronic sales records to reduce its recorded turnover and corresponding tax liabilities.
I am pleased to hear about the Government’s commitment to taking on those who make money by promoting tax avoidance schemes. One such scheme that has been on the go for a long time is the loan charge. Can the Minister give us an update on progress towards bringing to account not the thousands of small-time self-employed people who have been caught, but the big players in that scandal? How many people have actually been surcharged or prosecuted for promoting loan charge schemes?
I am grateful to the hon. Member for that question because I appreciate, since being in this role, that the loan charge is an issue that has affected many people across the country and that many MPs feel very strongly about. I have spent quite a considerable amount of time already talking about this issue not to only the chief executive officer of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, but to officials. I have also had the opportunity to meet HMRC officials who are dealing with the vulnerable people who may be subject to the loan charge and to ask questions about how they are treating them.
The hon. Member makes a really good point, because the real perpetrators in relation to the loan charge are those who offer these schemes and getting people on low pay into them. An issue I have raised directly with HMRC is how we can further prosecute and bring these people to justice. Unfortunately, I understand that many of them are located offshore, but we will be doing everything we can to ensure that those who are responsible for promoting this are brought to justice.
This Bill deals with those who try to get out of paying tax, but it also creates a simpler and easier system. Its measures make capital gains tax easier to navigate, doubling the window for reporting and for paying CGT on residential property from 30 days to 60 days. This will give people longer to work out what they owe and make it less likely that they will make a mistake. For businesses, we are creating a simpler tax system through reforms to basis periods, leading to a simpler, fairer and more transparent set of rules for the allocation of trading income to tax years.
There is no doubt that the pandemic has cast a long shadow over this country and our finances, but just as our wartime predecessors rebuilt from the blitz, now is the time to open a new chapter in our national story—one of economic growth and renewal, and with it, transformed lives.
The Minister mentioned fairness a few times, and also the challenges facing the country. Why have her Government decided to give banks a reduction in the surcharge taxes they pay, which will cost the taxpayer £1 billion a year, when increasing numbers of our constituents are going hungry because of the failure to support them in the challenges they have faced over the last 18 months?
I am grateful for the opportunity to answer that question, because the hon. Lady talked about a reduction in the amount banks are paying but that is not accurate: the banks will actually be paying a higher rate than previously. The hon. Lady might have noted that I referenced in my speech the fact that corporation tax was going up to 25%, and banks will be paying a higher rate than everybody else, who will be paying 25%; the banks will now be paying 28%, not the 27% they are currently paying. We are also ensuring that we have a competitive operating environment for these banks, because the banking sector not only contributes to the economy but employs 1 million people.[This section has been corrected on
The hon. Lady also said people were going hungry, but it is important to recognise what this Finance Bill and Budget do for those on the lowest pay. I have talked about the universal credit taper rate, bringing in an additional £1,000 for those in work who will benefit from it. We have also increased the national living wage, which will benefit people by an average of £1,000. There are a number of other measures, too, that benefit people who are not in work.
But the reality is that there has been a UC cut, and the taper rate reduction, which is welcome, will help only a third of the 6 million affected. What about the 4 million others? This is not a fair Budget and it is wrong for this Government to treat the British people in this way given what they have faced in the pandemic over the last 18 months.
The UC taper sends out a message that it is important to get into work and that work pays. We on the Government side of the House believe that the way to help people is to get them into work and into good jobs so they can support themselves, and we have a number of schemes to help those on UC to get into work. It is also important that when they are in work, they are paid well for it.
The hon. Lady also asked about those who are not in work, and I remind her of all the measures we have put in place for them, because not everybody can work. Before the Budget the Chancellor announced half a billion pounds for the most vulnerable—millions of vulnerable people will benefit from that. There are also more than 2 million people benefiting from the warm home discount and all the people who benefit from the council tax rebates we help them with. So it is right that we support the most vulnerable, but the UC credit taper is about making work pay.
We will invest in people, in businesses and in public services, just as we are doing with the 40 new hospitals, the 20,000 new police officers and the extra money we are providing to schools.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way again; she is being very generous. It is important that we nail down the issue of where the national insurance increase is going. The Minister said earlier that it was going to the NHS and then it was going into social care, but it cannot be spent twice, so when will that money be switched, and what level of cuts will the NHS face then in order to shift that money into social care?
I find it disappointing when people talk about cuts when actually there is significant investment—record amounts—going into the NHS. This Budget highlighted not just £5 billion for the diagnostic centres the Department of Health and Social Care will be operating around the country, but £9 billion for covid support, and the hon. Gentleman will know that £36 billion was put into the NHS before that—a significant sum. So it is dangerous when people talk inappropriately about cuts. There are not any cuts; this is investment going into the NHS.
One concern many have about the national insurance increase is that there is an understanding about how much that will raise but no understanding whatsoever about how much will eventually make it through the NHS to social care in England. I am sorry to say that leads many of us to think the Government might not have much of a plan for how they are going to use it first in the NHS and then to benefit service users in the social care sector. Will the Minister have another go at helping those of us with that mindset to understand?
The Government have been very clear that the money will first go to the NHS; there is a significant number of backlogs that we need to tackle and it is important that people can get to see their GP so therefore it is essential that that £13 billion is right now going to the NHS. But we have been clear about this: we are the first Government to tackle the issue of social care—the first Government to put it on the table and put in a plan to raise the money to tackle the social care issue.
As I said at the outset, a number of cities were devasted by the second world war, and I return to my analogy. In London, £65 million is going from the first round of the levelling-up fund to local infrastructure projects to improve everyday life; in Liverpool and the wider north-west, that figure stands at £232 million; separately, in Bristol and the west of England, we are providing £540 million over five years to transform local transport networks.
At the same time, we will never forget our responsibility to strengthen the public finances. The tax changes in this Bill will allow us to achieve all these things, and for those reasons I commend it to the House.
That this House
declines to give a Second Reading to the Finance (No. 2) Bill because it does nothing to help people who are struggling with the rising costs of living, who are being hit by the cut to universal credit, or who are facing a rise in National Insurance Contributions and a freeze in the Income Tax Personal Allowance from next April, because it nonetheless cuts taxes for banking companies and derives from a Budget that will see the tax burden rise to its highest level in 70 years and announced cuts in air passenger duty for UK domestic flights, and because it fails to set out a plan to grow the UK’s economy, fundamentally reform business rates, and create better jobs for the future.
I am grateful to have the opportunity to set out the view of the Opposition on the Second Reading of the Bill, which comes at a time when people across the UK are seeing the cost of living, from electricity to food prices, going up and up; when businesses are trying to get back on their feet after 18 months of struggle; and when our country needs leadership to build a new net zero economy with jobs for the future. Yet let us look at what the Government are doing: putting up taxes on working people while cutting them for banks; giving up on fundamental reforms to business rates that would give our high streets the backing they need; and failing to invest in the new jobs of the future that would turn the challenge of net zero into an opportunity for our country’s economy to grow.
The truth is the Tories will never put working people first. I stood here two months ago arguing that the Government were wrong to hike up taxes on working people with their national insurance rise when those with the broadest shoulders should be paying more, and yet what we have before us today is a tax cut for banks. That tells us everything we need to know about the Tories when in power. They do not seem to care whether something is fair for people in this country, except of course when they think something is unfair to one of their own, and then they simply change the rules to suit themselves. The British people are seeing through the Government’s approach: people are seeing that this Government are more concerned with protecting themselves than with protecting the economy and people’s quality of life.
The foundation of any Government’s approach to the economy must be a plan for growth. With a growing economy, we have the chance to create new jobs with better wages and conditions in every part of the country, but without growth it gets ever harder to meet the challenges we face. Let us look at the record of this Government. As the shadow Chancellor my hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West told the Chancellor right after the Budget, it is clear what direction we are going in under the Conservatives. In the first decade of this century, despite the financial crisis, Labour grew the economy by 2.3% a year. In the last decade to 2019, however, even before the pandemic, the Tories grew the economy at just 1.8% a year. In the future, things look even worse. The Office for Budget Responsibility has said that by the end of this Parliament the UK economy will be growing by just 1.3% a year. This low growth is hitting people in their pockets: data from the Office for National Statistics show that average yearly wage growth has fallen from 1.6% in the decade to 2010 to 0.5% in the decade since 2010. We do not have much to look forward to, either, with the Institute for Fiscal Studies saying that over the next five years, real household disposable income is expected to grow by just 0.8% a year, well below the historical average.
Low growth is becoming a hallmark of the Tories in power. What they fail to realise is that with the right investment, the challenges we face can become opportunities for growth. In no part of our lives is that more evident than our response to climate change. Labour has said that we would invest an additional £28 billion every year for the rest of this decade in transforming our economy—from new jobs building batteries for electric vehicles, to manufacturing and maintaining wind turbines, and finally insulating our homes to get energy bills down. With investment on the scale we need, and with Labour’s pledge to buy, make and sell more in Britain, we would turn an urgent, critical response to the climate emergency into an opportunity for new jobs with decent pay and conditions in every part of our country.
In every part of our country, too, we see shops and high streets struggling to get back on their feet after the last 18 months. We should turn their urgent need for support into a chance to fundamentally overhaul the system of business rates, which has had its day. Business on high streets across the country know that the business rates system is broken and that fundamental change is long overdue. We know that, too, which is why we have pledged to scrap business rates and replace them with a new system of business taxation fit for the 21st century, which would incentivise investment, reward businesses moving into empty premises and encourage environmental improvements. Crucially, under our new system, no public services or local authorities would lose out, and online businesses would pay a fairer share.
We thought the Conservatives also knew that change on that scale was needed. We thought they might understand the need for an overhaul of the system, as their 2019 manifesto promised to reduce business rates through
“a fundamental review of the system.”
We thought they might even have meant it: in 2020, the Treasury began a consultation on what it said would be the fundamental review that its Ministers had promised. Yet in last month’s Budget, the Chancellor decided to ditch any prospect of fundamental reform under this Government.
Measures in the Budget for next year may be welcome, but no matter how the Chancellor tries to spin it, the promise of fundamental reform from this Government is over. As the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium put it, what the Government have offered
“falls far short of the truly fundamental reform that is needed and was promised”.
That manifesto promise of a fundamental reform of business rates has been broken, just as the promise not to raise national insurance was broken a month before.
We have a Government who are breaking their promises and failing to set out a plan to grow the UK’s economy and create better jobs for the future. Growing our economy would mean more jobs and higher tax revenues to invest in public services, but if the UK economy had grown at the same rate as other advanced economies over the last decade, we could have had £30 billion more to invest in public services without needing to raise taxes. Yet under the Tories, lower growth means that taxes need to go up. Last month’s Budget saw taxation rise to its highest level for 70 years.
Crucially, the decisions about who should shoulder the burden of tax rises tell us everything we need to know about the Tories when they are in power. The Tories are making life harder for half the population through their personal allowance freeze, for all working people through their national insurance tax rise, and for struggling families through their cut to universal credit, yet they are making life easier for bankers by cutting taxes on banking companies, and for frequent flyers by cutting air passenger duty on domestic flights. A banker flying between London and Leeds is getting a double tax cut, but someone working in the airport where that flight lands is getting a double tax rise.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is scandalous that the Government have only just agreed to restore schools expenditure to its 2010 level, despite a shortfall of £10 billion for catch-up notwithstanding requests from the former catch-up tsar? If we are serious about improving productivity in this country, we need to invest in our kids and in skills. Government expenditure falls far too short, and that will damage the future of our economy.
As my hon. Friend rightly points out, investing in education is critical to the future of our country and the next generation. We heard the Minister say how uncomfortable she feels talking about cuts, but that is the reality of 11 years of Conservative government. No matter how they try to massage the announcements they are making now, the truth is that if we compare 2021 with 2010, we can see the impact that 11 years of the Tories has had on our public services.
At a time when working people are facing rising prices and flatlining wages, it shows the Tories’ true colours that they are prioritising a tax cut for bankers. To rub salt in the wound, as the IFS has pointed out, the cut in air passenger duty will flow through the UK emissions trading scheme and push up electricity prices at home. It was shocking to hear the Chancellor announce a cut in air passenger duty just days before COP26, and it is shocking that his tax cut for banks will cost the public finances £1 billion a year by the end of this Parliament.
That cut will see the corporation tax surcharge for banking companies slashed from 8% to 3%, with the allowance for the charge raised from £25 million to £100 million. It is worth reminding ourselves why that sector-specific tax was first introduced. As the policy paper published alongside the Budget—I am sure the Minister has read it—sets out clearly, the charge has been levied on banks to reflect
“the risks that they pose to the UK financial system and wider economy” and to recognise
“the costs arising from the financial crisis.”
When the surcharge was introduced 10 years ago, in the wake of the financial crisis, the Government at the time seemed to recognise that banks had an implicit state guarantee due to their central position in the UK economy, and that that guarantee should be underpinned by greater tax contributions. Yet, as Tax Justice has pointed out, the Office for Budget Responsibility found in 2019 that £27 billion of Government expenditure on bailing out the banks was still outstanding. It seems that the Government are determined to push ahead with a cut to the surcharge, despite the fact that it will not even have fully repaid the public money spent on banks during the financial crisis, let alone provided any insurance against a future crash. We will question Ministers on that further in Committee.
We will also use that chance to press Ministers on other parts of the Bill, including those that introduce the residential property developer tax and measures relating to money laundering and tax avoidance. We support the principle behind the residential property developer tax, which will be levied on the largest developers in the residential property sector. It is right that those responsible for putting dangerous materials on buildings should pay towards the very significant costs of removing unsafe cladding, but it would be a mistake to assume that levying that tax alone will mean that the cladding scandal will in any way come to an end.
The tax is expected to raise £2 billion over 10 years, yet the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee has estimated that addressing all fire safety defects in every high-rise or high-risk residential building could cost up to £15 billion. What is more, extreme pressures on labour and materials mean that the cost of fire safety works could rise significantly, all but wiping out the money raised from the new tax proposed in the Bill.
The bottom line is that leaseholders living in buildings with potential fire risks and facing huge remediation costs need to know how those costs will be met in full and that the necessary work will be done without delay. There are plenty of people involved in this scandal who should be paying to fix it, but leaseholders are absolutely not among them.
We also support the principle behind the economic crime levy to raise money from the anti-money laundering regulated sector to pay for measures in the economic crime plan to help tackle money laundering. As the director of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies has said, a
“key challenge for the UK Government’s response to financial crime is a lack of investment in capabilities to respond to its policy ambition.”
We hope that the funding from the levy will go some way towards increasing the capacity in government to tackle economic crime, although we will press Ministers on whether it is enough.
Does the shadow Minister agree that, as part of the drive to deal with money laundering, there is also a need for significantly greater transparency so that the people who buy up huge swathes of property in London, for example, are openly identified and any illegal money that has been laundered in that way is much harder to hide?
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. Alongside funding, of course, there are also changes to the law that would strengthen the UK’s ability to fight economic crime. Top of the list must be putting in place a public register of the beneficial owners of overseas entities that own UK property. Such a register would bring much needed transparency to the overseas ownership of UK property and help to stop the use of UK property for money laundering.
So, where is the register? In 2016, Prime Minister David Cameron first announced plans to make it a reality. In 2017, the “National Risk Assessment of Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing” confirmed that property continued to be an attractive vehicle for criminal investment, particularly high-end money laundering. In 2018, a draft Bill to set up a register of overseas entities was published. In 2019, a Joint Committee of MPs and Lords published their pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill and the Government published their response. In that response, published in July 2019, the Minister responsible, Kelly Tolhurst, said:
“Knowing who ultimately owns and controls a company is an important part of the global fight against corruption, money laundering and terrorist financing.”
We agree. The Minister committed to
“turn this Bill into an Act, and to deliver an operational register in 2021.”
However, since that Government response was published in July 2019—and since, as it happens, Boris Johnson became Prime Minister, at the end of that very month—the desire to see the register put into place seems to have lost its energy.
Ministers are legally required by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 to report to Parliament annually on the progress that has been made toward putting such a register in place. In 2020, a ministerial statement was indeed published, but any commitment to the register being operational by 2021 had by then been dropped. This year’s ministerial statement, published on
“The overseas entities register is one of a number of proposed corporate transparency reforms”.
The statement focused mainly on other changes and, in fact, barely mentioned the register, ending with that dreaded phrase:
“The Government intends to introduce legislation to Parliament as soon as parliamentary time allows.”
It is astonishing that the Government feel that the need for the register is becoming less urgent. The Pandora papers confirmed how overseas shell companies secretly buy up luxury property in the UK, and how much transparency is needed to help to tackle money laundering.
What are we meant to conclude from the fact that the appointment of Boris Johnson as Prime Minister in July 2019 coincided perfectly with a change in direction by the Conservatives away from a commitment to make transparent the ownership of overseas companies buying up UK property? What could possibly be the connection between overseas individuals investing in UK property through anonymous companies and the current occupant of 10 Downing Street? Why on earth would anyone in Government not want to introduce the transparency that their own colleagues have said in the past is crucial to tackling high-end money laundering?
I am sure that later in the consideration of the Bill, we will return to the matter of anti-money laundering. At later stages, we will also consider the effectiveness of measures in the Bill to tackle tax avoidance, as that is an important matter for us and the public. In the Opposition, we have long been pushing for the Government to do more to tackle tax avoidance, and while any action on that is welcome, including the measures in the Bill, we do not believe they go far enough. Crucially, as well as the regulations that are needed, the Government must invest in the resources that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs needs to tackle the problem effectively.
“£0.9 billion cash increase over the Parliament”.
However, as TaxWatch has pointed out,
“the vast majority of this will not go towards tackling tax fraud, but rather to deal with the additional complexities surrounding the UK’s departure from the European Union.”
We know that effective investment in tackling tax avoidance can bring in much more than is spent, so it is crucial to make sure that that is not ignored by the Government. We will return to this important matter in later stages of the Bill. We will return to that point because the principle at the heart of our tax system must be that everyone plays by the rules and pays their fair share. That principle needs to be stated and supported, as under this Government, with this Budget and this Finance Bill, our country is moving further and further away from that ideal.
Labour’s vision of the economy is this: invest in good modern jobs with decent pay and conditions in every part of the country; support small businesses and high streets from being undercut by large multinationals who do not pay their fair share of tax; and buy, make and sell more in the UK to use every lever we have to support British industries to succeed. That is how we begin to rebuild and strengthen our economy after a decade of low growth, with no end in sight. That is how we make sure people have more money in their pockets for them and their families, and how we increase tax revenues to invest in public services.
But that is not what we are getting from this Government. The low growth they are responsible for means that taxes have had to go up. Faced with a choice of which taxes to raise, the Tories have shown the British people their true colours. Millions of families across the country are already being hit by the Tories’ decision to cut universal credit. From next April, working people across the country will pay more, as their income tax personal allowance is frozen and their national insurance contributions are hiked up. Yet from the April that follows, banks will see the tax they have paid since the financial crisis cut by £1 billion a year by the end of this Parliament. That is the choice the Tories have made: taxes on working people will go up, while taxes on banks will be cut. For people who are working hard but finding things tough, the Tories have nothing to offer except a tax rise.
Fairness is the one of most British values there is, yet it is one this Government just do not get. The Tories are spending all their time protecting themselves, when they should be looking out for the British people. Labour would grow the economy. We would invest in the future. We would make sure working people were never again the first to feel the brunt of tax rises that this Tory Government are forcing on their shoulders.
In this place we often focus on things that can be measured. We talk about money and how it can change the quality of life of our constituents. All too often, however, we underestimate the value of the web of community ties that link us all together. After family, certainly in the communities I represent, it is the community bonds, the web of community ties linking us all together, that are so important in improving the quality of life of each and every one of us.
In Broadland, for example, the largely rural area I have the honour to represent—I know everyone here represents a different type of community—there are community ties such as the active village hall committee, the active church and other faith groups, and organisations such as gardening clubs and amateur dramatics societies. Very important among that list is also the local pub. Those organisations, taken together, are absolutely vital in bringing people together. It is how we create our support networks outside the house or flat in which we live. Covid presented really serious mental health challenges to societies and communities. In my communities, people supported each other, stepped up and got more involved. They got to know their neighbours and they came out of lockdown in a stronger place, not a weaker place.
I want to focus on those really meaningful ties that are not simply economic. I saw a very good example of that last Thursday night, when I was in the village of Rackheath. I had been to the community council meeting, which had finished—Members will be all too familiar with this—sometime after 9 o’clock. I had not had anything to eat, so I went into the Sole and Heel pub to see if I could be served a late supper. Unfortunately, the kitchen had closed at 9 o’clock—so, not a great example on that occasion—but what I noticed when I opened the door was that the pub was full. The pub was full of the local community, with neighbours talking to neighbours at the heart of their community, bringing people together. In Broadland, those kinds of pubs support 1,600 jobs and contribute £46 million to the local community.
It is in that context that I absolutely welcome the announcement in the Budget on draught relief. The proposal will reduce duty on draught beer by 5%. In cider terms, that would be the biggest reduction in duty since 1923. In terms of beer, I understand it is the biggest single reduction in duty for the past 50 years. What impact will that have? It will be a £100 million a year support per annum for our local pubs. For “local pubs”, I think we should read “our local communities”. That will go a long way towards helping to stop the really serious decline that we have seen over the past 20 years in the trade. Since 2000, there has been a 22% reduction in the number of pubs in this country. That is more than 14,000 establishments, and for that, I think of all the community interactions that no longer take place; of all the neighbours who are no longer being brought together in the convivial atmosphere of the village or town pub. That has resulted in real damage to the strength of our communities, and we are here to support our communities.
So without hesitation I welcome this Government’s support for communities in relation to pubs and to the other sectors that bring communities together, including museums and artistic establishments, which have already received some £850 million of support. That goes a long way towards supporting our communities and making them stronger for the future.
It is a pleasure to speak on Second Reading of the second Finance Bill of the year. I welcome the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to her place, although I feel obliged to express my sadness that I will not spend the next few weeks in the company of Jesse Norman, who has just left the Chamber. I am sure that he will not miss my constant references to Scottish limited partnerships, but I put the new Minister on notice that I expect her to be the one to fix that issue once and for all.
We on the Scottish National party Benches will of course propose worthy amendments—that will get voted down and ignored—in trying to make the very best of this flawed Finance Bill process, as the UK’s horribly complex tax system obtains yet another layer. I call again for the Finance Bill Committee to be allowed to take evidence. It remains baffling to me that although all the other legislative Committees in this place take expert evidence, the one that will directly affect the lives of everyone and every business in the country does not. That must change.
If the Finance Bill Committee took evidence, perhaps the UK Government would make fewer mistakes. Parts of the Bill correct oversights and errors, such as clause 83 and schedule 11 concerning the plastic packaging tax, about which I raised concerns in the passage of the previous Finance Bill. That measure is due to come into force in April next year, but the explanatory notes state that the changes in this Bill are
“to ensure that the tax…meets” previously “announced policy objectives” and “works as intended”—well, I hae ma doots. I note that there are also measures to deal finally with the issue of second-hand cars in Northern Ireland—another bit of Brexit red tape that was not written on the side of the bus.
There is no doubt that we are facing a cost-of-living crisis and this Finance Bill provided the biggest possible opportunity for the Government to improve the lives of people across the UK. Instead, however, we see in schedule 6 that the Chancellor has seized the opportunity not to redistribute wealth, but to cut taxes for his banker pals, paid for by slashing universal credit, increasing national insurance and scrapping the pensions triple lock.
Ministers are keen to try to claim that the minimum wage is, in some way, a living wage, but it is not. This week is Living Wage Week and the real living wage rate has risen from £9.50 to £9.90 and to £11.05 in the city of London from today, so the UK Government proposals do not even keep pace with the real living wage, based on the cost of living.
I am proud that I have lots of real living wage employers in my constituency, because they see the benefit to their employees of paying a fair wage—they retain staff better and those staff are happier in their work—and they are right across a full range of sectors. There are 2,400 living wage employers in Scotland, including, in my constituency, Bike for Good, Pure Spa, Thenue housing association and a club that has obtained legendary status in the past couple of weeks: Firewater, on Sauchiehall Street. All of them pay their staff a fair wage and do their bit. I encourage the Government to become a living wage employer with the real living wage, because it would help so many people if they took a lead on that, as the Scottish Government and local authorities in Scotland have done.
I pay tribute to my hon. Friend’s work on campaigning for a fair wage for all, regardless of age. Will she join me on calling on the Government to extend that pay equality to apprentices? We have seen that with such things as the business pledge in Scotland, but unfortunately, this Government continue to think that apprentices can be paid less than £4 an hour, which is absolutely shocking.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right to point that out. I do not know how the Government think that apprentices are supposed to live and pay their bills on the meagre wages set as their minimum wage. In fact, through the years of this Tory Government and since Labour brought in the minimum wage, the rate between the lowest-paid—those youngest workers entitled to the minimum wage—and those at the highest end of that age distribution has increased. That gap is growing wider and wider every single year, and it is a scandal, frankly, that people are being discriminated against solely on the basis of age. The Government should put that right.
It is a grim time for many people in this country and things are not optimistic for many businesses either. As the Minister mentioned, the March Budget gave notice on increasing corporation tax and extended the annual investment allowance until the end of March 2023. These measures, however, come in the context of a national insurance hike—a tax on jobs—that the Federation of Small Businesses estimates might have a 7% marginal rate for some. This should have been scrapped and the employment allowance increased, if the Chancellor was serious about helping business owners and employees.
Hospitality and tourism firms, having been hit the hardest during the pandemic, will not retain their 12.5% VAT rate beyond March. Many did not benefit at all from the reduced rate during the pandemic, because they were not able to trade, and to hike VAT back up to 20% just as the tourist season begins next year seems absolutely daft. The UK Government seem to be playing catch-up with Scotland. The Chancellor’s plan to cut hospitality and business rates next year is less than what they are offering now and far below the 100% relief that the Scottish Government are already offering to those businesses this financial year. That is in addition to the hugely successful small business bonus scheme, which takes many businesses out of business rates altogether.
The tax reliefs in clauses 16 to 22 for businesses in the culture and arts sector that have struggled so much in the past year are welcome, but keeping the VAT reduction could provide an incentive to get people back through the doors of our galleries, theatres, music venues and funfairs.
My SNP colleagues and I have long argued in this House that more should be done to tackle economic crime and I was interested to see some measures in the Finance Bill that deal with this area of policy. Part 3 provides a framework for the Government to issue a new tax to tackle economic crime. This UK Tory Government have failed time and again to tackle tax avoidance and economic crimes—that is not a matter entirely of inadequate legislation or resources, but of woefully poor enforcement.
Under the plans set out in the Bill, all undertakings that fall under money-laundering regulations and have a revenue of over £10.2 million will be subject to the new economic crime levy. Although I support the broad principles, I have some concerns about how this will work in practice, because placing more of a burden on businesses might not exactly have the desired effect. The Law Society of England and Wales has stated its opposition to the levy, stating that it is “an additional tax” on anti-money laundering regulators and against the “polluter pays” principle. The Association of British Insurers has concerns that insurance firms, a very low risk area for money laundering, may be disproportionately hit by the measure, which could result in reducing access to insurance for vulnerable consumers. This is another area where more evidence needs to be taken to be sure that the intended effect of the Government’s measures is actually what transpires.
The Treasury Committee, which I am proud to sit on, has taken a lot of evidence in our inquiry on financial crime and it would be wise of the Government to take heed of that before progressing further with this measure. It would also be useful to know the Government’s full timetable and resourcing plan for Companies House reform. By tightening up company registration, giving Companies House AML responsibilities—as they should have—increasing the comically low fee for company registration and actually enforcing their own laws, the Government could bring in much more money and lose less of it through the complex schemes that Companies House currently facilitates.
When I asked the small business Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, Paul Scully—in a written parliamentary question recently how much money has been raised by fines on Scottish limited partnerships that have not registered a person of significant control in the past three years, I received a response that stated that one fine had been levied in 2020-21. One fine—is that it? The last time I asked, in March last year, 948 SLPs had not filed PSC information by
“Anyone who does not respond to…notices within one calendar month, or gives false information, commits a criminal offence. They could receive a 2 year prison sentence, a fine or both.”
As far as I can establish, none of the firms that fell foul of the law was fined, apart from one, and no one got the jail. I ask again: how much money are the UK Government forgoing by not enforcing their own rules? What is the damage to our reputation, and to Scotland’s reputation, from being associated with money laundering and criminality that this UK Tory Government are failing to prevent?
The SNP is calling for a root-and-branch review of the tax system, which is much too complex and has too many places to hide and move things around. The UK Government have not confirmed whether any of the money raised by their proposed tax will be used to tackle tax avoidance. I would welcome some clarity on that point today.
Part 5 contains provisions to tackle tax avoidance, which is an issue that I have raised again and again, so I am pleased to see that some limited steps are being taken. The Bill will give HMRC powers to publish information on individuals who promote tax avoidance schemes. We support that approach in principle, but I note the concerns that the Chartered Institute of Taxation has raised about the drafting. HMRC says that it is targeting “the most egregious promoters” who flout the rules, but CIOT is concerned that the definitions of “promoter”, “relevant proposal”, “relevant arrangements” and “connected person” set a low bar.
The Bill’s wording also extends considerable latitude to HMRC officers: an authorised officer need only “suspect” that a scheme falls within the definition for people to be publicly named and shamed. I have constituents who have been named and shamed under minimum wage regulations and who have found it very difficult to challenge that and recover their reputation.
CIOT is also concerned that in future HMRC could use the measure more widely than is being proposed. I appreciate that the Bill makes provision for HMRC to retract and amend published information that has been shown to be incorrect, but it would be much better if we could have some assurances that it will get it right the first time, and some assurances about how the scheme will be resourced.
Lastly, I want to speak about an issue that has been literally close to home in the past few weeks. The eyes of the world have been on my constituency in Glasgow Central as it hosted the COP26 summit on climate change. The summit was an opportunity for the Government to show global leadership and grasp the opportunities that a green economy can provide, but the reality is that the only thing green about the Bill is the paper it is printed on. The Government’s ambivalence towards a just transition is writ right through it.
We need a comprehensive plan that understands the impact of our taxation choices on our emissions—a green OBR, perhaps, to hold this Government to account. The Government have given the Financial Conduct Authority and the Bank of England responsibilities in that area, but are taking none themselves in the Bill. Nowhere is that clearer than in the cut to domestic air passenger duty, which the Red Book says will lose the Government £30 million to £35 million a year in revenue. People do not have many options when they fly long-haul—despite what the Proclaimers say, few people would walk 500 miles and walk 500 more—but within these islands they do have the choice between getting on a plane and getting on a train. It is already much, much cheaper to fly in many circumstances. Cutting APD while allowing train fares to rise again and again is absolutely no way to incentivise people to take more climate-friendly options.
The Bill makes provision for global shipping companies to receive tax breaks for flying the red ensign. Tonnage tax is a complicated scheme that allows companies to disregard profits for tax purposes, creating a very low-tax environment. Would it not have been better to link tax breaks to emissions rather than to waving the British flag, to incentivise the green technologies required to transform shipping, and to take a lead on the issue?
Scotland is delivering action to secure a net zero and climate-resilient future in a way that is fair and just for everyone. We are committed to a just transition to net zero by 2045, with an ambitious interim target of a 75% reduction by 2030. The Bill’s purpose allegedly covers delivery on the commitments made in the 2020 White Paper on energy and the Prime Minister’s 10-point plan, contributing to the Government meeting their legally binding obligations to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but in reality there is very little in it to help Scotland to achieve our climate change goals. Indeed, in many ways it holds us back.
There is no reversal of the decision to scrap investment in a carbon capture and storage facility in the north-east of Scotland; it looks as if that investment will instead go to Tory marginals in the red wall. That is the worst type of pork barrel politics. The Acorn project at St Fergus would have been a world-leading example of a just transition project, but once again the people of Scotland have been let down by the Tories at Westminster. Neither is there any commitment to help to develop emerging wave technologies, which might well move abroad without the correct support, and there are no measures in the Bill to reform the transmission charging scheme, which costs wind farms in Scotland to plug into the grid while it pays companies in the south-east of England to connect. When I asked the Chancellor about that recently, I got blank looks and blah blah blah in return.
The Bill makes clear once again the UK Government’s lack of interest in Scotland’s commitment to tackling climate change. Schedule 14 makes provision to change VAT rates for freeports; it is disappointing to see no commitment to the fair work conditions and net zero ambitions put forward by the Scottish Government for a green port scheme. Scottish Ministers have engaged in good faith to try to improve a UK Government policy while further progressing our climate change goals: the Scottish Government wanted to take the freeport policy and augment it to work in the best interests of workers and the environment. Who could argue with that, other than Government Members? The Scottish Government have been ignored and sidelined by this UK Government. It is just not good enough.
This UK Tory Government cannot be trusted to act in the interests of Scotland. I look forward to the day when there is a Government who can and will act in those interests, using the levers of taxation powers to benefit our people, make our businesses grow and protect our environment for the future. Only independence can give Scotland that Government.
The Bill and the Budget that it follows do little to respond to the scale of the challenges facing our country, many of which have been brought into sharp focus by how the coronavirus pandemic has hit our society, not to mention the long-term hit on our gross domestic product because of Brexit—a 4% hit to the economy, on top of a 2% hit from the pandemic, as forecast by the Government’s own Office for Budget Responsibility.
Nor does the Bill respond to the climate emergency, as hon. Members have pointed out. Despite the fact that the UK has just hosted the COP26 summit in Glasgow, the Government have no plan for growth. Growth would put more money in people’s pockets and increase tax revenues, but what we are seeing is a low-growth, high-taxes approach, meaning a greater burden on working people because of the Budget.
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Does she agree that the lack of stimulus from the Government contrasts with what is happening in the US? The Government seem to be making the same mistakes as after the financial crash in 2008-09.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The US has already returned to pre-pandemic levels of growth, as have a number of European countries, whereas the UK is still playing catch-up. We need to learn lessons from what happened after the global financial crisis so that we can get growth back up to the level that we need.
The UK faces the additional challenge of making up for the long-term hit on our economy as a result of the trade that we are losing because of our exit from the European Union. Given that we have exited the European Union, we need to know how the Government will make up for the 4% hit on our GDP in the long term, alongside the 2% hit that I mentioned.
Under this Government, taxes will reach their highest level since the Clement Attlee Government in the post-war era. Clement Attlee had a lot to show for the increase: the national health service, our education system and the welfare state, much of which we have benefited from for generations and continue to benefit from. This Government have poor living standards, a poor economic outlook and weak economic growth to show for their tax rises. While the pockets of working people are being hit, this Bill, shockingly, allows a tax cut for banks. It cuts the surcharge on their profits from 2023, which, as I mentioned earlier, will cost taxpayers £1 billion a year. Nowhere is it clearer where this Government’s priorities lie, and where they think the tax burden should lie: the Bill gives a tax rise to workers and tax cuts to the banks.
The Government have wasted billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money by brazenly giving out PPE contracts to a number of people who are linked to the Conservative party. As the National Audit Office has pointed out, a significant amount of money has been wasted and a “high-priority” channel was provided for Government contracts linked to people in Government and they were 10 times more likely to be successful. Some estimates suggest that nearly £2 billion of contracts went to people with links to the Conservative party.
According to the Public Accounts Committee, the test and trace scheme, which cost billions of pounds, has not shown a benefit commensurate with the amount of money spent. If the Government had spent that money wisely, many billions would not have been wasted on crony contracts, and some of the money could have been spent on dealing with the loss of income that many have experienced and the poverty and inequality that people are facing in our country.
This Bill does nothing to improve our country’s bleak economic outlook. As the Office for Budget Responsibility has confirmed, the UK is suffering the slowest recovery in any major advanced economy. GDP in the UK at the end of this year is further below the 2019 level than it is in any other G7 country, and any future economic growth in the medium term is likely to be anaemic: the OBR forecasts an average growth rate of just 1.5% a year between 2024 and 2026. Meanwhile, our long-term growth rate fares little better. Brexit is forecast to reduce the UK’s GDP by a staggering 4%, and the OBR has drawn attention to a 2% hit as a result of the pandemic. If the Conservative Government had grown our economy at the same rate as other countries with advanced economies since 2010, the economy would have been £100 billion larger by 2019, leaving over £30 billion more to spend on public services without the need to raise taxes.
Given poor growth and high taxes, it is no wonder that the outlook for living standards is so dire. The director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies has described the outlook for living standards as “actually awful”, with the country facing
“five more years of stagnant living standards at best”— and that is in the context of a decade of stagnant wages. How are people meant to cope with all that has happened over the last decade as well as the impact of the pandemic and the increase in fuel prices and the cost of food caused by disruptions in supply chains?
In-work poverty has reached record levels under the Conservative Government. There are now 2 million more people from working households living in poverty than there were in 2010. Of the 6 million families who were hit by the £20-a-week cut in universal credit, fewer than a third will benefit from the changes in the universal credit taper rate. While those changes are welcome, 4 million other people will not be given the help that they need. As the Minister herself admitted, many of those people have caring responsibilities or serious disabilities, and are not in a position to return to work. Their incomes will fall dramatically: they will lose £1,000 a year, and that will force more of them into severe poverty.
In my constituency the child poverty rate has increased over the years, and now stands at 60%. Nearly 20,000 households, which include 11,000 children, have been hit further by the universal credit cut. According to the Independent Food Aid Network, there has already been a 66% increase in demand at food banks across the country since the cut, after only a few weeks. As we approach Christmas, the food bank queues are growing longer and longer in constituencies such as mine, and food banks are struggling desperately to cope with the spike in demand. That is only set to become worse. It seems that the Government have learnt nothing from the lessons taught by campaigners such as Marcus Rashford; in fact, they have made matters worse for people who desperately need support.
The Government have also failed to deliver on their net zero promises. There has been plenty of rhetoric and little substance, and, indeed, a cut in domestic air passenger duty was announced in the run-up to COP26. We have a Government who are treating the climate emergency as an afterthought rather than something that is central to what we do in the future. We need a green jobs and a green investment revolution, and, as has already been said, we need a focus on a just transition. The Government do not seem to have the commitment or the ambition to deal with a climate emergency.
The Bill lands tax rises on working people while giving tax cuts to banks, and this feels like groundhog day because a decade ago, when the Government first came to power, their instincts were very similar. There were tax breaks for bankers and austerity for the rest of the country, and that has continued: the Government have reverted to their worst instincts. There is evidently no plan for economic growth, and we are facing a terrible future with low growth and high taxes. What we need is a Government who will stimulate growth, invest in improving people’s living standards, and ensure that there is more fairness in the distribution of income and opportunity across our country.
If the Government were serious about growth and improving our productivity, which has been poor for a very long time on their watch, they would invest significant sums in school catch-up, so that our economy can benefit from the investment in skills in creating an economic future that addresses the challenges we face now. We have a long way to go to catch up with other countries because of the twin hit on our economy from the pandemic and the long-term impact of leaving the EU. That is why we needed this Government to be creative and innovative in their policy announcements, and bold in terms of investment in our businesses, small, medium and large. They need to do that on a greater scale than we have seen if we are to recover from what has happened in recent years in our country.
It is my great pleasure to contribute to this debate. Today,
I wish to look at some aspects of the Finance Bill, and at who it benefits and who it damages. I go back to the question I raised with the Minister earlier about prosecutions and penalties against promoters of the loan charge. I was disappointed that the Minister did not answer the question as to how many such penalties had been applied. I would have thought that, if it was that important to the Government, they would have made sure that their officials put that information into the briefing for today. I have no issue with people who deliberately went into loan charge agreements knowing that they were wrong and that they were doing that only to dodge their rightful tax liabilities going through the full legal process. However, a lot of people who signed up to the loan charge did so because they did not understand it or because they were assured by paid tax advisers that it was all okay, and a lot of them did it because they would have lost their jobs if they had not. They get hounded to the ends of the earth—some of them literally get hounded to death—yet very few of the people who made millions out of these schemes have ever been brought to justice. The victims in my constituency have serious doubts as to whether any of the real villains of the piece will ever be brought to justice or indeed whether this Government have any intention of doing that.
When we look at the impact of this Finance Bill, and of the Budget statement it is based on, we must not let ourselves be hoodwinked by the massive impact of other announcements that have been flipped through by the Government in other ways over the past six months or so to try to make it look as though their Budget was not quite as savage as it was. We must recall the £1,000 a year cut in universal credit; the ending of the pensions triple lock, leaving our pensioners more at the mercy of rampant inflation than they were before; and the national insurance hike, which has been trumpeted as the saviour of the health and social care sector, whereas the reality is that, for several years at least, very little of it indeed will go into improving the availability of social care in England. It might be there in three or four years, but this is not a crisis that is going to be there in three or four years—it is a crisis that has been there and has been ignored for far too long.
Of course, sometimes when the Government want to increase taxes, they like to find sneaky ways to increase taxes on low-paid workers in a way that does not make it obvious what they are doing. All they have to do to achieve that is to do nothing. There is nothing in this year’s Finance Bill about the thresholds for the different rates of income tax. There is nothing in it about the level of income at which someone first becomes liable to pay income tax, because they have left it exactly as it was last year in cash terms. With people likely to face inflation of 4%, people on low incomes will either take a real-terms cut in wage of 4%, or if they get enough of an increase to match inflation the Chancellor will say, “Thank you very much. I’ll have a bigger cut of it for myself than I had before.” People on low earnings who are already struggling need an increase of 4% to stand still and to continue to struggle.
The 1.25% increase in the national insurance charge might not seem to be that much; 10p or 50p an hour below the proper living wage might not seem to be that much, but it soon adds up. Take, for example, someone working 40 hours a week on the Government’s new minimum wage of £9.50 an hour, and paying income tax and national insurance according to the rates and thresholds set out in the Bill. Those are exactly the people the Government say the Budget is designed to help. They are exactly the people for whom work is supposed to pay. Now, take the same person but this time getting the real living wage of £9.90 an hour, let their personal allowances and national insurance thresholds keep pace with inflation, and scrap the national insurance increase, leaving it at 12%, instead of 13.25%. The difference in their take-home pay is £800 a year. That does not seem much to those of us lucky enough to be on an MP’s salary, but for those who are just about managing to get through to the end of the week, another £800 a year in their pocket—or £800 taken out of their pocket by the Budget—makes a significant difference. The impact of this year’s Tory cuts alone—they are cuts, no matter what the Minister might say—is that those people are suffering a pay cut of almost 5% in real terms.
We have not even started to look at the more fundamental issues referred to by my hon. Friend Alison Thewliss and why we need a complete rehash of the entire tax system. Why should somebody who, by an agreed definition, is earning only enough to live on pay income-based taxes at all? Why do we not set tax and national insurance thresholds to match the proper living wage so that the tax authorities have no claim whatsoever on the wages of those earning only just enough to keep them and their family alive?
The Government may well say that times are difficult, that tough choices must be made and that we cannot afford to inflation-proof tax allowances this year, but the tax allowances of some have been inflation-proofed and more—not individuals but businesses that are, for example, lucky enough to be able to afford to buy a casino. In clause 80, on page 63, we see changes to the thresholds for the various rates of gaming duty: the tax that casino operators pay in what is termed the gross gaming yield, which is the difference between the stakes that people pay in and the winnings they take out. It is in effect an income tax on casinos and similar places. Lo and behold, the tax thresholds for casinos are going up by 5.4%, which is higher than the rate of inflation that the Chancellor expects to see. That is on top of their inflation-busting increase last year. They have had an increase of 8.7% over just two years.
To put that into context, a casino with a gross gaming yield of £10 million a year will pay £100,000 less in tax next year than it would have last year, while the poor souls working their tails off in the casino kitchen keeping the clients fed and watered will be paying higher taxes. How can it be right that a casino owner pays £100,000 less in tax while the people whom they employ on low pay in their kitchens and catering departments have to pay increased tax? That is not a necessity; it is a deliberate political choice, and it is the wrong choice.
If only other businesses had as much to celebrate as the casino industry clearly does. Hospitality businesses are—quite rightly—being told to adapt their business models so that all their workers get paid a fair living wage. I have had some quite difficult conversations with hospitality businesses in my constituency that are not happy at that. But why on earth do the Government think it is also the right time to tell them that they must pay more tax on every single job that they create? Why on earth is it right to tell them that the rate of VAT that they will pay next year will be 60% higher than this year? It is ridiculous.
I am not saying that we should not take difficult decisions. The UK’s finances, like those of many western democracies, are in a seriously difficult place. The Minister said that levels of debt and borrowing are affordable. They are—just about—but they certainly are not sustainable. We must turn that around quickly. Difficult decisions need to be taken, but the problem is that, far too often, the Government are happy to take decisions that are difficult for other people but not at all difficult for their friends, chums and millionaire donors. The economic impact of the covid pandemic has almost certainly been made much worse because of their total lack of planning on the economic impact of the action needed. That means nearly all the Government’s support schemes had to be thrown together at almost no notice, which inevitably means they did not achieve what they were supposed to achieve. Very few of them achieved optimal results from day one. Too many people, several million of them, were excluded from support altogether, and almost all the schemes that were implemented turned out to carry levels of fraud risk that were far higher than they needed to be. Billions of pounds of public money has been lost to fraud that would have been avoided if the Government had prepared better in advance.
The economic damage of the pandemic could have been lessened, although we accept it almost certainly could not have been avoided completely, but the economic damage of Brexit could have been avoided completely if, in 2016, people had been told the truth of what it would involve. Let us not forget that the Government’s analysis is that the self-inflicted damage of Brexit is likely to be twice as bad as the economic damage of the covid pandemic.
To a much larger degree than the Government will admit, the tax rises on the poor contained in this Finance Bill are the price of a Brexit that, let us not forget, was rejected by almost two in three voters and every single local authority area in Scotland. If that is the price for Scotland to remain part of the United Kingdom, it is a price I do not believe the people of Scotland are willing to pay any longer.
Interestingly, a standard form of wording that I do not see in this Bill is, “Extent. This Bill shall apply to Scotland.” I do not expect it to be too much longer before those words are no longer part of any legislation passed by this House.
You surprise me, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I am usually last.
I came to this debate solely to make a proposal on local government, but because the House is not packed I will respond to some of the previous comments. I congratulate my hon. Friend James Murray on his comprehensive analysis of the Government’s Budget, which revealed its lack of substance as much as anything. The purpose of having a Finance Bill after a Budget, and especially after a spending review, is that it is meant to embody the Government’s strategy and political analysis in line with their appraisal of the economy and the political situation.
It is difficult to discern from this Bill any form of overall Government strategy, and it is difficult to understand how the Bill relates to the many real-world issues we currently face—that is what is so surprising. Alison Thewliss made the critical point that, having come back from COP, we might have expected the Government to be fired up to mobilise the whole economy with the purpose of ensuring we tackle the existential threat of climate change, but there is very little in the Bill that relates to any of that major threat.
My hon. Friend Rushanara Ali explained the situation of many of our constituents who face deprivation, challenges, insecurity of income and issues with the delivery of public services. Not only is there nothing in this Finance Bill that will tackle those problems, but the reverse is true: benefits are being cut and austerity continues. That is quite remarkable.
On a side point, my hon. Friend Peter Dowd always says when we have a Finance Bill before us that the Government, yet again, have not tabled an “amendment of the law” resolution. That is an arcane parliamentary point, but it is important because it limits our scrutiny of the Finance Bill.
If I were trying to identify the Government’s strategy on the basis of the Prime Minister’s words, the high-skilled, high-wage economy is meant to be based on high levels of investment. The Chancellor has referred to the ending of austerity on numerous occasion, and the Prime Minister has made reference to the importance of tackling climate change. I see none of that in the Bill.
I caution the Government. Let me put it in this context: we have had two weeks of report after report of corruption, in effect, on top of month after month of public amazement and now, increasingly, shock about what happened with the distribution of covid contracts. Confidence in not just the Prime Minister but the Government is now at an all-time low. At the weekend, I saw in one article that unless things change, the Prime Minister will be out by the summer—and that was Tory MPs speaking, not us. Lots of evidence now abounds that the Foreign Secretary’s and the Chancellor’s leadership election campaigns are up and running and that the structure is being put in place for that challenge, when it comes, but it is more serious than just the future of Boris Johnson. There is currently a loss of confidence not just in the Government but in governance overall, and more so this week: from what I heard on the news this morning, there are going to be announcements about transport investment this week that renege on the commitments to the funding of rail in the north, particularly in respect of the extension of High Speed 2. In that political context, the Bill takes on a greater significance than usual.
I wonder whether I can encourage my right hon. Friend to discuss the fact that the levelling-up agenda is nothing—it is absolutely meaningless. It does not tackle the issues that have led to the high and unequal covid death toll in areas in the north-east and north-west in particular, and it certainly does not cover the disparities in infrastructure investment, such as in transport, which my right hon. Friend mentioned. Would he like to say more about that?
I raised in my Budget speech the lack of confidence in the Government’s commitment to levelling up overall and even to defining what it means, and I mentioned the importance of the need for a bit of levelling back because of the scale of the cuts that have been endured over the past 11 years.
I make the general point that there is currently a level of insecurity and uncertainty, and a questioning of politics overall and of whether the people can trust any politician. I thought that with a Budget and a comprehensive spending review the Government would at least be able to set out their plans and bring forward the measures in the Finance Bill so that we would at least know where they are going, which might give us some security or confidence that the Government at least have some sense of direction. I do not think it is there—it is certainly not in the Bill. We can take some humour from this situation. The Chancellor certainly led with his chin in respect of the proposals to cut the bankers’ levy and the tax on flights and champagne. No one could blame the shadow Front-Bench team coming forward and taking the rise out of what was quite obviously a bankers’ Budget.
Let me comment on a number of the key issues that have been raised in the debate so far. If the Budget was about the end of austerity, high skills, high wages and so on, the Bill flies in the face of all that. Peter Grant talked about how people have been treated in respect of other announcements; how can the Government argue that the Bill is about high wages when they are freezing tax bands, introducing national insurance increases and cutting universal credit? All those things hit earners.
Something fundamental at the heart of this Bill—it was at the heart of the Budget, too—is the Government’s refusal to take on the imbalance between the taxation of wealth and the taxation of earnings. We have seen it in the Government’s setting out of proposals some time ago on reforming capital gains tax but their failure, yet again, to do it in this legislation. Given that the argument over the need to ensure that we tax on capital and wealth as well as on levels of earnings has been won, the proposal that I thought would be in this Bill was to ensure that taxation on earnings and on capital gains were brought into line. The amount that that would bring in to the Government was initially recalculated at £14 billion, but I see that the TUC’s figure is £17 billion. That could have resolved the issues in social care. That would have ended austerity for large numbers of our population.
The Government argue that, in the Bill, they are doing something about the taxation of earnings from dividends, but it is negligible in comparison with what is needed and it sends out a similar message that they are willing to penalise earners, but, at the same time, allow others who earn their money from wealth to walk away.
The reason that the bank levy offends is not just that it is going back to the days of the crash and the scurrilous role that the banks played in enabling that to happen—the profiteering at all our expenses; it is because what the banks have is the best insurance policy in the world. It is an insurance policy, backed up by the UK Government, that no matter what they do, no matter how much they fail, they will never be allowed to fail because the Government will always step in and bail them out. An additional levy was placed on the banks to make sure that they paid something back from the crash, and also that they paid something in return for the guarantee that they were given. What we find now is that the amount that they have paid so far does not even pay off some of the damaging costs that fell to taxpayers as a result of their wild speculation that brought about the crash.
One matter that has been raised in the debate—the Exchequer Secretary has also mentioned it—is that of tax reliefs and the extension of the annual investment allowance. I can understand why the Government have done that, but what I cannot understand is why they have done that as well as introduce the super deductions. The Government’s argument is that 99% of the business investment that is undertaken will be covered by the annual investment allowance, but to then go on and give a super tax deduction of 130% flies in the face of that argument. If we look at the record of tax reliefs, most of which, historically, have never been reviewed by the Treasury, we see that they mount up year after year, decade after decade. Some of them go back nearly a century, but they are never reviewed, and that is often with scandalous effect. On the entrepreneurs’ allowance, even the Government had to accept that that was an abuse of an allowance. People were walking away with large amounts of benefits without in any way demonstrating their entrepreneurial skills. It is the same with the patent box.
Let me now come to the tonnage tax. I have been lobbying on that now for nearly 15 years. The tonnage tax was introduced by John Prescott—by the way, I hope that all of us will send our best wishes to him in the hope that his recovery from the severe stroke that he had is going on apace—as part of a strategy to revive British shipping. The purpose of it was to give a tax allowance to shipping companies so that they would then employ more UK seafarers, and employ them on a decent wage as well. Year after year, we argued about it with the Government—the Labour Government got into this one as well. Large amounts of money were going to these shipping companies, but the jobs were not appearing. In fact, we were losing UK seafarer jobs. Seafarers were largely being recruited from abroad, and in some instances were not even being paid the minimum wage. The tonnage tax was linked to the training of officer cadets, not ratings, and a limited number of officer cadets were recruited by the shipping companies. As a result of lobbying—I was there in a meeting with the Minister—we did get a bit of flexibility, whereby if a company was not recruiting officers, it was able voluntarily to recruit ratings and still qualify for the tax.
Let me just explain to the House the tonnage tax figures. The tonnage tax was introduced in 2000-01. Its cost—£2.165 billion. How many jobs do hon. Members think have been created, that we know of, for £2.165 billion? Does anyone want to intervene with a figure? All we know about, on the record, is 75; that is £28 million a job.
Don’t tempt me.
Those are the only figures that we have, but I thought that we should be generous and say that there were, on average, 25 jobs a year at least. We do not know, as all we have is the figure of 75. In the case that there were 25 jobs a year, we are still talking about, at best, £4 million to £5 million a job in subsidies for the British shipping companies. I do not know what other Members think, but there is an issue of productivity here, is there not? That is the sort of problem that we have when we get into relying on tax reliefs to stimulate the economy and jobs growth.
Let me make a final point on tax reliefs. As the hon. Member for Glasgow Central and my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North have said, the failure to link these tax reliefs to the achievement of net zero means that we are undermining the ability of the Government to intervene effectively in the economy in order to ensure that we are all signed up to tackling climate change.
I also thought that the Government were going to come forward with amendments in legislation to prevent companies with any record of tax avoidance from being able to qualify for tax reliefs at all, but that is not in this legislation. We are therefore in a situation where we are giving tax reliefs to companies that we know have in the past engaged in tax avoidance. Of course we all welcome the tax avoidance measures that the Government have introduced, but this legislation is an incredibly slow, incremental development. We need to go so much further, with full transparency and enforcement.
When we are trying to enforce against tax avoidance, the one thing that we must not do is open up opportunities for new forms of tax avoidance, but the Office for Budget Responsibility, the UK Trade Policy Observatory and the TUC have said that the introduction of freeports is the new opportunity for tax avoidance schemes, for the displacement of jobs from one area to another with no overall benefit, and—this is exactly what the TUC is saying—for the undermining of trade union rights; and we know what that will do for workers.
I have welcomed the Government’s investment in HMRC. I was sitting here years ago when the first major cuts to HMRC were introduced, and we saw the results. It was an undermining of the work to address tax avoidance and evasion. However, as other hon. Members have said, unfortunately the new jobs have gone into chasing compliance issues as a result of covid, and not into increasing the operation to address tax avoidance.
Those are the issues that I just wanted to comment on. I actually came here to make one specific point and put forward one proposal with regard to local government, but as there are not people rampaging to speak in the debate, I thought that I could at least comment on some wider points.
The point I wanted to make is about what is happening with regard to local authority finance. I thought that as part of the Budget, the comprehensive spending review and then this Bill, the Government would bring forward what has been promised for some time now—a fairly radical reappraisal of local government finance with the potential for reform that would provide local authorities with the resources, as well as a relatively independent source of income, that would then embody their ability to engage in genuine levelling up across our society, as raised by my hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams. But the figures show that local government funding from central Government grant is about £16 billion a year lower today than it was in 2010. Cumulatively, that is a reduction over that 11-year period of £100 billion in central Government support for local government.
That means that before we can even talk about levelling up, we need levelling back. We need to give councils the power to invest in local services in their communities again. Jerome Mayhew, who is not in his place, raised the importance of the Budget for local communities, and I agree. This Bill should be doing that, but apart from the occasional grant to individual communities—on, unfortunately, a sort of pork barrel basis—there does not seem to be an overall strategy to enable it to happen. As I said during the Budget debate, we have seen the impact, with the cutting of funding for nearly 900 children’s centres, 940 youth centres, 738 libraries, and 1,200 bus routes. Local government was mentioned only once by the Chancellor in the Budget speech. There was no acknowledgement of what councils have endured over the past 10 years—that includes Tory, Labour, Lib Dem and SNP councils—or the debt crisis that is now engulfing many town halls in our country.
I was hoping that we would at least get the opportunity of some resolution of the debt problem of local councils within the Finance Bill, or would have the opportunity to prepare amendments to enable that to happen. Creatively, we will see whether we can bring amendments forward in that way, but that is made more difficult by the amendment to the law motion not being brought forward by the Government. Many councils across the country are in debt. In recent years, three section 114 notices have been issued, in the case of Tory as well as Labour councils, and dozens more have applied for and received emergency Government loans.
Some time ago, as part of their pushing local authorities to try to seek alternative local funding sources, but also as part of their commercialisation agenda, the Government forced councils into a position where many of them sought to compensate for the lack of Government funding by borrowing from the Public Works Loan Board to buy investments with revenue-producing potential. Some of those investments have proved to be risky misjudgments. Admittedly, this has happened across the board, with all political parties in control in different council areas, but the Government have to take some responsibility for the mess, because they have forced those local authorities into that sort of speculative behaviour, which is also beyond their levels of experience and expertise.
In addition, there has been a complete lack of oversight from both the Department for local government, under its various names over recent years, and the Public Works Loan Board, which has lent the money to those councils. The accounts of the Public Works Loan Board reveal that over £2.8 billion was lent last year and over £3 billion was generated in interest income. That is extraordinary: it is robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Councils are under huge financial pressures, and they now owe £71 billion in debt to the Public Works Loan Board. I want to see whether we can amend this legislation to reduce the interest rates to councils. The Bank of England base rate is still 0.1%, so every pound spent on interest by councils—it is the same for central Government—is £1 less spent on social care, children’s services, street cleaning, bin collections or whatever. The average interest rate charged by the Public Works Loan Board is 3.57%. That is 36 times higher than the Bank of England base rate. What we need in the longer term is stronger oversight of loan applications and for the Public Works Loan Board to charge interest at the Bank of England base rate.
In the meantime—this is why I was hoping that the Government would move somewhat in this legislation—to deal with the high interest rates and the high levels of debt, we need some form of debt jubilee for local councils. That could be a zero rating on all existing loans before we move to the Bank of England base rate on all new loans. More expansively, it could recognise the failure in recent years from central Government to oversee and the impact of Government austerity cuts, which have led to the debt crisis in local government. The Treasury arguably should fund a partial debt write-off for councils. With more than £70 billion in principal debts, plus interest rates, even a 20% write-off could free up nearly £15 billion for local councils to spend in the coming years.
That is the proposal I wanted to argue for in this debate. It would be welcomed cross-party in local government and would relieve many local councillors from the appalling decisions they will have to make in the coming months between increasing local council taxes and, more importantly for many of them, another round of cuts in public services, because of the high interest rates they are having to pay and the interest charges that are falling upon them.
The final point I will make in this Budget debate is to return to the points that a number of Members have made. This Finance Bill does not seem to relate to the Government’s strategy overall, and it certainly does not relate to the needs of our communities. I worry that after the experience of covid, people are looking increasingly to the Government to provide leadership. This Budget, the comprehensive spending review and certainly this legislation do not provide that. The Bill will increase the levels of concern and insecurity that unfortunately are impacting on our communities. I find it a disappointing piece of legislation, and I hope that by way of amendment we might be able to improve it. In that way, we might at least meet some of the challenges our communities face, tackle some of the poverty and deprivations, end austerity and maybe give a bit more hope to the communities we represent.
It is a pleasure to follow John McDonnell. I rise to my feet on behalf of the Liberal Democrats to say that we cannot support this Finance Bill, which derives from a Budget that missed a vital opportunity to help struggling families in this country. Instead, it hammers them with tax hikes, empty words and broken promises. It is completely out of touch and offers nothing to help them with the energy bills that they will face this winter. Worse than that for me, the Bill sends a clear message to children and their parents that they are worth less to this economy than investment bankers and banks. Far from providing the support that families needed when we are facing a cost of living crisis, this Finance Bill will provide less in extra catch-up funding for schools than it does in tax cuts for big banks. There will be just £1 of extra catch-up funding for each child, compared with £6 a day in tax cuts for each banker. That brings the £1.8 billion new catch-up money offered to just £5 billion, one third of what the Government’s own advisers said was necessary to allow our children to catch up on the many millions of hours that they have in total lost in their classrooms over the past 18 months, which threaten, according to official figures, to leave them losing anything up to £46,000 in income over the course of their lifetime. Putting bankers before children tells us everything we need to know about the priorities in this Bill.
People who have worked hard, paid their taxes and played by the rules are seeing their incomes squeezed through no fault of their own. They are being crippled by tax hikes and their benefits have been slashed—all in the face of skyrocketing bills. We should be demanding a fair deal for families and an investment in future generations: support for vulnerable families, more investment in our children’s education and more funding for tackling the climate emergency. Instead, we see an end to the £20 uplift to universal credit, nearly half the minimum wage rise clawed back through the increase in national insurance, no help with energy bills, the Chancellor’s announcement on universal credit taper giving back just one third of what he snatched away, and millions of families with no help at all.
When it comes to the climate, while COP26 was getting under way in Glasgow and we were all looking for something that would send a clear message that saving the planet was a major priority, what did we get? We got a reduction in air passenger duty, which will do nothing at all to help to reduce carbon emissions.
This Bill offers nothing of what we would like to see for the people of this country. It offers nothing, either, for the businesses, because it fails to deliver on the Government’s promise to reduce business rates through a fundamental review of the system, leaving companies with no long-term support as they cope with the impact of the pandemic and new international trade barriers. The business rates announcement will not abolish the skewed and complicated system, which only benefits property landlords and not the hard-working business owners who rent from them. Even the tax cuts for businesses investing in green energy for properties are only set to benefit commercial landlords, not our high street shops, whose owners will really pay the bill.
Businesses have been hit hard by endless Government disasters, the handling of the pandemic and a new mountain of red tape introduced post Brexit. However, I cannot agree with the hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) that the answer to all that is an independent Scotland.
Not this time. On that point, I cannot agree, because there have been Governments in this place that have done wonderful things for Scotland, not least of which was to deliver devolution, and we have learned in Scotland over the past 14 years that moving the Government to Holyrood does not guarantee it will be any better. On behalf of my colleagues in the Liberal Democrats, we will not support the Finance Bill and we will support the Labour amendment.
I have a lot of sympathy for the last comments by Christine Jardine, and I thank my right hon. Friend and neighbour John McDonnell for bringing into the debate local government, its finance and the challenges it has faced over the past 10 years. Having come from local government to this place, I know that he speaks wise words on this issue.
I too rise to oppose the Government’s Finance Bill and to support the Labour amendments, and I will cover three aspects. The first is the cost of living. Over the recent weeks and months, I have heard from so many constituents about the hardship they face in seeing their energy bills spike and the cost of the weekly shop rise, and from families seeing their rent climb and climb. This Bill does nothing to support the millions struggling with the cost of living.
We should not forget that, even before the Budget, the Chancellor hit my constituents and those across the country with a double whammy. To plug gaps in the NHS and social care, he hiked up national insurance, a regressive tax payable by everyone in work. Other ways could have been found to find the funding needed than this regressive tax hike.
Then the Chancellor decided to cut £1,000 from universal credit for all those claimants. This is essential income that supports over 30,000 families in the Borough of Hounslow alone. About 40% of those claiming universal credit are in work, something that the cloth-eared Conservatives tried to deny for years whenever we raised the issue of universal credit in this House. At last, they have got it, but the changes they have made to taper relief still trap so many in poorly paid and irregular work—work, sadly, that is far too common in my constituency and across the country. The new taper rate only actually benefits about a third of working people on universal credit. The cut in universal credit is absolutely devastating. It is the choice between heating and eating, or between a winter coat and a pair of shoes for a child.
I recently visited the Hounslow Community FoodBox, which supports about 13,000 people in our local area. Demand for its services has skyrocketed locally over the last 18 months, and this is mirrored across the country. The Trussell Trust, the national food bank trust, distributed over 2.5 million food parcels last year, but it saw an increase of 33% over the previous year. How do the Government respond to this food poverty crisis? They ramp up taxes on families, while cutting the very support that is allowing them to barely stay afloat.
I have also recently visited Look Ahead, which is a national charity on contract to Hounslow council. It supports young people in supported accommodation—young people who, by definition, do not have family support. Look Ahead offers vital support services to these young people, and it and the young people warned me that the universal credit cut would be devastating for them. It is worth remembering that universal credit claimants already face a number of hurdles, such as the benefit cap, the two-child limit—the bedroom tax—and the cruel five-week wait, which makes people wait for five weeks to receive crucial support.
Secondly, I will be voting against the Finance Bill because it does nothing to support those already impacted by the loan charge and still being forced to sign illegal disguised remuneration schemes if they want to do the work in which they are skilled. The all-party parliamentary group on the loan charge and taxpayer fairness published a damning report earlier this year on the wild west supply chain of unregulated umbrella companies and rogue recruitment agencies that conspire to lure workers into tax avoidance schemes, often entirely unwittingly, yet the Government have so far done nothing but publish some guidance.
When will the Treasury take some ownership of the bullying and aggressive activities of HMRC in chasing down those who have signed these disguised remuneration schemes? These schemes are still being openly sold and have been targeted at many lower-paid workers, including, shamefully, NHS staff being recruited to help with the nation’s response to the pandemic. Too many ordinary workers advised to use these schemes have been hammered to the point of suicide, while promoters with known links to the Conservative party have not yet been asked to pay a penny. This is an all-too-common theme with this Government, who continue to ignore the reality and the evidence.
The reality is that if HMRC enforces the loan charge on the thousands of people who now face it, there will be many more bankruptcies, more mental anguish and potentially more suicides, as well as more people losing their homes and more unable to continue to work. The fact is that there is considerable new evidence—evidence not known at the time of the last review—showing that the conclusion of the Morse review was flawed. It seems clear that this important evidence was not shared with Sir Amyas, now Lord Morse. Indeed he was not given an accurate or complete picture by HMRC and the Treasury, and having in the past spoken to Treasury Ministers I sometimes wonder how much control the Treasury has over HMRC or whether it has become a rogue agency.
The clause in the Finance Bill mentioned by the Treasury Minister does nothing to stop the ongoing mis-selling. To stamp that out legislation on umbrella companies is needed. Fining the promoters and freezing their assets is all well and good, but it is much easier to legislate to make agencies responsible, as the APPG proposed, and that would stop the schemes overnight. Without legislation to clean up the supply chain there will be ongoing skimming of contractors’ pay, misappropriation of holiday pay, and backhanders between agencies and umbrella companies. Action is needed to actually stop the schemes rather than pursue the scam after it has happened.
We know that HMRC has not been able to find legal precedent for the loan charge and that it itself used contractors on loan schemes while claiming at the same time that it was clear that that was wrong. We now know that all along it knew that many people would not be able to pay while claiming they could and would do so. Common sense, if not compassion, dictates that effective legislation and a fresh and genuinely independent review is needed to come up with a resolution to the loan charge issue, avoiding devastating consequences for thousands of families and going after the right people for a change. We have new Treasury Ministers now and I hope they will approach the issues of the loan charge and disguised renumeration with an open mind and agree to carry out this much-needed review, as my hon. Friend James Murray has urged.
Finally, I want to address the air passenger duty changes. This Government repeatedly say one thing and do another on climate change. If I wanted to buy tickets to go to Glasgow in three weeks I would pay £65 to fly with easyJet from London, yet a train ticket to Glasgow on the same day would cost me £69, and that is before the cut in APD on domestic flights is introduced. The fact that it is still cheaper to fly than to travel by train is a key reason why we are not seeing the reduction in carbon emissions we so desperately need. One way to reduce the number of short-haul flights is to improve train travel, but whether in the choice of routes, the length of journey, the cost of tickets or the experience on board other European countries are miles ahead of the UK and have been for many years. It is no surprise that short-haul domestic flights contribute so heavily to our carbon emissions when this Government have absolutely failed to fix rail travel. And this week we hear they are going to cut the proposed rail services to Leeds and Manchester. This Government are not only failing communities across the country but are failing our climate. The Government should impose the polluter pays principle to their transport policies and the fiscal policies that support them.
In conclusion, I will oppose the Bill because it punishes low-income households but does nothing to relieve the nightmare for current and future loan charge victims and it treats the climate emergency as an afterthought.
It is a pleasure to follow Ruth Cadbury, whose speech was punctuated throughout by the sound of many nails being hit on the head.
The Budget and this Bill needed to address three key issues: the cost of living crisis; the supply crisis with the resulting inflationary crunch from that; and of course the environmental crisis. With regret, I have to say there is little cheer in the Budget or the Bill for anyone other than a bank shareholder or those who profit from the lack of urgency from this Government to tackle financial criminality and the lack of financial transparency as London rapidly gains the unenviable reputation of the washing machine for the dirty money of the world.
Let me deal first with the cost of living. Many Members have spoken at length, in the Budget debate and today, about the Conservatives having broken their manifesto pledge on increasing national insurance. We all know by now—I hope it is incontestable—that that increase hits the lowest earners the hardest. It bakes in generational and geographical inequalities, which will be a feature of our social and economic outlook for many years to come.
I intervened on the Financial Secretary to the Treasury—she was gracious enough to accept that intervention—to try to get some clarity on how the money raised by that increase will make its way through to the social care sector. We all understand that it will go into the health service, and we all appreciate that it can do much good in dealing with the crisis there, but I am sorry to say that until some answers start to be forthcoming about what impact it will have in the social care sector—and, importantly, how—the UK Government will be left looking very much as if they lack a plan.
The UK Government have barely even started to get to grips with the nature of the whole-system problems that we are facing in health and social care, and the need to integrate them. That was the case even before the covid crisis. We require a whole-system approach to many of the problems that we are seeing in health services, and I get absolutely no sense that the UK Government have thought that through. They are doing what they have routinely criticised many other Governments for doing and focusing on the inputs without having any reasonable or intelligent focus on the outputs.
It is not just direct taxes that affect the cost of living crisis; indirect taxes have a massive impact too. My colleagues and I have called for a continuation of the VAT reduction for hospitality. It seems unconscionable and unexplainable that that should be withdrawn in the early part of next year. It is often said that a banker is somebody who will offer you an umbrella when it is not raining and then take it back the instant that some dark clouds appear on the horizon, and many hospitality businesses will feel that that analogy applies to them with the VAT reduction. With lower footfall and cash flow, they did not get the chance to benefit throughout this year, and just as they come into what will be a crucial summer season for many of them, that financial boost is to be taken away. I strongly urge the Government to reconsider that and to allow those businesses to trade their way back to health.
Of course, VAT is intended to be a tax on non-essential goods, yet it is still levied on a wide range of goods that we simply cannot do without, such as domestic energy. It is a tax that can influence behaviour, but it can also be used to stimulate growth and the kind of recovery we need.
I would like to pick up one anomaly in the way that VAT is applied currently, and that relates to school uniforms. I have to say that I was not a particularly enthusiastic wearer of the school uniform when I was at school, unless I had to wear it when I was representing the school, in which case I did not have any quarrel with it. Nevertheless, I accept the arguments on the importance of school uniforms. They are an enormous leveller. The uniform instils a sense of pride and belonging, and it means that everybody is the same. It can also be a boost to household incomes not to have to compete when it comes to the clothes that children wear to school.
School uniforms are often compulsory, yet we still charge VAT on them, at the full 20% rate, for children over the age of 14, and even for children who are under that age yet have grown beyond the size that HMRC stipulates for certain school uniform items. That is hitting hard-working families really hard in the pocket at a time when a whole range of other factors are conspiring to squeeze their incomes. I do not believe that that can be right.
The British Educational Suppliers Association estimates that the cost of waiving VAT on school uniform items in Scotland would be about £1 million. To do it right across the whole UK would not cost a great deal more than £10 million. That is not a sum that is going to trouble the Treasury unduly. Some Conservative Members might not even get out of bed for a consultancy if they were earning less than that. Nevertheless, removing 20% VAT on what are essential purchases in anyone’s estimation could really make a big difference to individual families. We will look to return to that in Committee. I hope the Government will listen very carefully on that because it could benefit family incomes the length and breadth of the UK.
There have been many other hits to household finances in recent times. There is the removal of the £20 universal credit uplift. There is a Government commitment to a real living wage which seems to be at a rate running one year in arrears. No sooner do the Government expect plaudits and hurrahs for hitting the target, than a month later the rate is revised and the Government wait another 11 months to play catch-up. We are also seeing the removal of the pensions triple lock. All those matters will conspire to squeeze family incomes at a time when families can least afford it.
In the remainder of my contribution, I would like to concentrate on the impact of the failure to get to grips with the supply and environmental crises, particularly in the north-east of Scotland. An enormous series of problems is being caused by shortages of labour. That applies in the haulage sector and, in particular, in the food and drink, hospitality and agriculture sectors. We have seen crops rotting in the field because there are not enough people to harvest them. We are seeing a crisis in the pig industry. There simply are not enough skilled abattoir workers and butchers to deal with the throughput from that industry, which is leading to a looming animal welfare and human crisis.
I have heard many Conservatives say, “Why can’t you just hire local workers?” Well, frankly, you cannot just hire that sort of skilled, dedicated and experienced labour. We cannot just wave a magic wand and magic it up out of nowhere. However unskilled and unspecialised the Government might consider many of those positions, they really do need to act and act swiftly. This is not even a financial measure; it is simply about making sure all parts of the UK have an immigration policy that is appropriate for their economic and social needs. If the UK Government are not prepared to do that themselves, they should devolve it to the devolved Administrations to decide for themselves. I have absolutely no doubt that the devolved Administrations could make much better and much more enlightened and productive choices than the UK Government have shown themselves capable of making so far.
Finally, there is the environmental crisis. Let me be very clear about this: there can be no transition to net zero in the UK without the skills, human capital, knowledge and the expertise of the north-east of Scotland, particularly the contribution of the constituents I represent. COP26 made many important steps forward. Despite that, we are still seeing an almost complete mis-match and failure to engage the clutch plate when it comes to aligning Government rhetoric with actual tangible Government action in this Bill.
The Government have already failed to match the £0.5 billion commitment from the Scottish Government to net zero transition work in the north-east of Scotland for Aberdeen city, Aberdeenshire and Moray. They have also, completely and inexplicably, failed to proceed with the Acorn carbon capture and underground storage project just north of my constituency in Peterhead. An enormous percentage of the potential carbon capture storage is just offshore from Peterhead. It was the most advanced project. It is the only one that can repurpose existing infrastructure. It is the one that can come online most quickly. It is the one that can accept imports of carbon dioxide from other parts of the UK that are as yet not up and running and do not have the ability to sequestrate their own carbon. I am thinking particularly of the clusters in south Wales and around the Solent. It is an absolutely inexplicable decision, which seems to have been taken purely for partisan political reasons and the benefit of playing the politics of the pork barrel in parts of the north of England.
In conclusion, the Bill fails to get to grips with the key challenges that we knew we were facing heading into the Budget. We can only hope that it improves as it goes through Committee and on Report.
It is a pleasure to respond to this debate for the official Opposition. It is noticeable that the Government could convince only one of their Back Benchers to turn up to defend their Finance Bill. This has been a short but good debate, with many thoughtful speeches, and I thank all the hon. Members who have taken part—in particular, my hon. Friends the Members for Bethnal Green and Bow (Rushanara Ali) and for Brentford and Isleworth (Ruth Cadbury), and my right hon. Friend John McDonnell, as well as the hon. Members for Glenrothes (Peter Grant), for Gordon (Richard Thomson), for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) and for Broadland (Jerome Mayhew).
The hon. Member for Broadland highlighted the importance of local communities. I look forward to scrutinising the details of the alcohol duty changes in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Bethnal Green and Bow spoke powerfully about the Bill’s failure to boost growth, increase living standards and tackle the climate crisis. I will return to those points shortly. She also made a very important point about wasteful Government spending and the dodgy contracts that have been given out during the pandemic.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington made a number of important points, including about fairness in the tax base, the Government’s reforms to the tonnage tax and local authority finances. I hope that the Minister can answer the specific questions that he asked about reforms to local government funding.
My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth spoke passionately about the cost-of-living crisis and how she has spoken to many constituents about the hardship that they face. She talked about the reality of what the Government are doing on universal credit and the shameful food and poverty crisis in this country. She also made important points about the loan charge, and I hope that the Minister will respond properly to the points that several Members made on that issue.
This Finance Bill is a product of the Government’s economic failings over the past 11 years. At the Budget, the OBR forecast growth averaging just 1.3% in the final years of the forecast period, which follows a measly 1.8% in the decade leading up to the pandemic. As my hon. Friend James Murray said, we can compare that with Labour’s record of growth of 2.3% a year when we were in power. The Conservatives are a party of low growth and the Government have no plan for growth. Working people are paying the price for that failure. They are paying the price in increased national insurance contributions and the freeze in income tax personal allowances. They are paying the price through the cut to universal credit. They are paying the price through lower wages, with real wages on course to be more than £10 an hour lower in 2026 than if the pre-2008 trend had continued. And they are paying the price through inflation that is hurting family finances, with food, heating and petrol all more expensive.
Yesterday, a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee told the Treasury Committee that consumers are spending an increasing proportion of their incomes on food and energy. They made the point that businesses may struggle with the rising cost of materials and labour because consumers will not have additional disposable income to spend. Does the Finance Bill include measures to help people with the cost-of-living crisis? Does it reduce the burden of taxes on those who can least afford to pay? Does it encourage investment and boost growth? The answer is no. Like the Budget that it stems from, the Bill has no plans to tackle the cost-of-living crisis, no plan to grow our economy and no plan to help businesses to succeed.
Instead, the Government’s priorities in the Budget and the Bill are to cut taxes on the banks and make domestic flights cheaper. It is beyond belief that in a Budget just days before COP26 began in Glasgow, the Chancellor chose to cut domestic air passenger duty. I am afraid that that is yet further evidence that the Treasury is not serious about our net zero commitment. Clause 6 will slash the corporation tax surcharge for banking companies from up to 8% to 3% and will raise the surcharge allowance from £25 million to £100 million. Those are the wrong priorities for an increasingly out-of-touch Government.
Labour’s priorities are different. We would use the Finance Bill to bring down energy bills with a cut in VAT on domestic energy; to tackle the climate crisis, rather than making it worse; and to fundamentally reform business rates to help businesses in every part of the country.
With the transition to net zero, the Government seem intent on leaving individuals and businesses to meet the costs on their own, without recognising the opportunity for growth and jobs. Labour knows that investment can unlock good jobs across the country, while helping households to cut bills and keep their homes warm. On business rates, Labour has put forward proposals for fundamental reform, while the Government have broken their promise to do so.
This week, research by the Resolution Foundation found that business investment in the UK lags behind that in countries with higher productivity. Business capital investment in Britain was 10% of gross domestic product in 2019, compared with 13% on average in the United States, Germany and France. There are many reasons for that, including the Government’s patchwork Brexit deal, but the Bill does nothing to help to boost investment.
Labour’s plan for replacing business rates will introduce a system that will incentivise investment, reward businesses moving into empty premises and encourage environmental improvements. Our climate investment pledge will encourage billions in private finance, and unlike Government Ministers, we have a real plan for growth.
No doubt at further stages there will be considerably more to say about other clauses, but I would like to make a few points now. On the residential property developer tax in part 2, we support the principle of taxing the largest developers to pay for the cost of removing unsafe cladding, but we are concerned that the levy alone will not be enough. The Select Committee on Housing, Communities and Local Government estimates that there is a gap of £13 billion between the £2 billion that the levy is expected to raise and the £15 billion cost of works—and it has been reported that the rising cost of works as a result of the Tory supply chain crisis will wipe out much of the £2 billion.
Can the Exchequer Secretary confirm who will meet the gap? Labour is clear that it should not be the leaseholders. The Government must ensure that those who are responsible for putting dangerous material on buildings pay their fair share. Time and again, the Government’s handling of the cladding crisis has left leaseholders on the hook. The Government must finally get a grip on the problem and help the thousands of people who, shamefully, are still living in unsafe accommodation.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington raised the measures on tax avoidance. We support the principle behind the new economic crime levy, which will raise funds to pay for measures to tackle money laundering. Can the Exchequer Secretary tell us more about how the levy will be spent? Does she think that it will be enough to implement the measures in the economic crime plan?
My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North made several critical points about other measures to fight economic crime. Will the Exchequer Secretary confirm exactly when the Government will introduce the vital legislation on the register of overseas entities? “When parliamentary time allows” is simply not good enough, when the Government first announced the policy in 2016. As my hon. Friend for Ealing North said earlier, it is notable that the momentum to implement the measure seems to have disappeared since the current Prime Minister took office. We know that this Prime Minister is no fan of transparency or of playing by the rules, but we are facing a crisis of dirty money and corruption—and not all of it is in relation to the Cabinet. The Pandora Papers show how many shell companies are laundering money in this country and buying up luxury properties. We will use the further stages of the Bill to push the Government to do more about economic crime and tax avoidance.
This is a Finance Bill that fails to rise to the challenges we face. It contains nothing to make up for the years of low growth over which this Government have presided, nothing to tackle the climate crisis or to unlock opportunities that the transition to net zero brings, and nothing to ease the growing tax burden on working people. Indeed, the Government have used this Finance Bill to cut taxes on banks rather than cutting them for working people.
The truth is that the Government’s failure on growth means less money for public services while the Government increasingly take more from people’s pay packets. In contrast, Labour has a plan to grow the economy, to invest sustainably in the jobs of the future, and to make our tax system fair. It is for this reason that we will not support the Bill tonight, and I urge all hon. Members to vote against it.
It is a pleasure to close this debate on behalf of the Government. In a moment I will address many of the points raised in the debate, but I want to begin by reminding the House of the announcements made by the Chancellor in the Budget: more investment in infrastructure, innovation and skills; business rates cut by £7 billion, including the 50% business rates discount for the retail, hospital and leisure sectors; a cut in the universal credit taper; a £500 increase in work allowances; and an increase in the national living wage, rewarding people for their hard work. Those are announcements that the Finance Bill builds upon.
Let me remind the House what the Bill is designed to achieve. First, it will deliver a stronger economy for the British people by encouraging businesses to invest in the UK’s future growth and prosperity. Secondly, it will help to deliver stronger public finances. Thirdly, it will improve our ability to tackle economic crime, tax avoidance and tax evasion. Finally, it will contribute to a simpler and more sustainable tax system, in turn supporting businesses and consumers.
A stronger economy and a strong, dynamic business environment go hand in hand. As a Government, we will always do everything that we reasonably can to encourage business investment. The previous Finance Bill delivered the super deduction, the biggest business tax cut in modern British history, and extended the annual investment allowance, to the end of this year, at its higher level of £1 million. Now is not the time to remove tax breaks on investment. That is why the Bill extends the £1 million level again until the end of March 2023, encouraging businesses to bring forward investment—because this is a Government who back business. It is also why the Bill will make our creative tax reliefs more generous by extending the relief for museums and galleries for another two years and doubling the reliefs for theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries until April 2023.
A number of Opposition Members spoke about the taxation of banks. I should like to put everyone straight on that. As the Bill explains, the surcharge will be set at 3% from 2023, which means that the combined tax rate on banks’ profits will increase—I emphasise that: the tax rate will increase—from 27% to 28%. [Interruption.] There seems to be some problem with doing maths. Opposition Members are shouting at me, but it is a simple fact: the rate will go up from 27% to 28%. Banks will be paying more tax. It may be convenient for Opposition Members to suggest something different—they like the rhetoric—but it is simply not true.
As the Minister is so good at maths, can she tell us what the tax rate would be if the surcharge was not being reduced?
The answer to that question is 33%, but the fact is that the rate is going up, from 27% to 28%. That is an increase in tax; it really is quite simple maths.
While supporting investment and competitiveness in our key industries, we must also continue to fund our crucial public services and strengthen our public finances. To keep this Government on the path of discipline and responsibility, the new charter for budget responsibility sets out two key fiscal rules. First, underlying public sector net debt, excluding the impact of the Bank of England, must, as a percentage of GDP, be falling. Secondly, in normal times the state should only borrow to invest.
That is the context for the introduction of the health and social care levy, which we have already voted on, and the 1.25% increase to tax rates on dividend income, delivered through this Bill. This funding is to provide a new long-term funding stream for health and social care, raising more than £12 billion a year over the spending review period, of which £5 billion is earmarked for social care—that picks up on the question from Richard Thomson. I would be delighted to tell him more about the plans involved in that, but I would be digressing too much from the context of the Bill and that is probably one for another occasion. However, what I will say to Opposition Members who want to scrap that extra funding is that they have no other plan to finance getting down the NHS backlog or social care reform, other than through borrowing—they would pass the cost on to future generations. The Government are taking a responsible, fair and progressive way to raise revenue. Additional and higher-rate taxpayers are expected to contribute more than three quarters of the revenue from this increase in 2022-23. Those with the broadest shoulders will pay more.
A number of hon. Members asked about the funding of net zero. Taking a step back for a moment, let me say that the net zero strategy sets out our path to net zero by 2050. Overall, we have earmarked £30 billion-worth of investment in net zero, but that is a long-term investment. Net zero funding in this spending review and Budget specifically includes £1.3 billion of energy innovation funding, £1.4 billion of public sector decarbonisation funding, £1.8 billion to help low-income households to transition to net zero, £620 million extra for the transition to electric vehicles and up to £1.7 billion for large-scale nuclear energy. So, as hon. Members can see, there is funding for net zero in the spending review and Budget. In addition, the revised Green Book means that all policy objectives need to align with net zero.
Let me turn to measures in the Bill that tackle economic crime, and tax avoidance and evasion. The Government are committed to making the UK a hostile place for illicit finance and economic crime, helping to protect our security and prosperity. In recent years, we have taken a series of steps to combat economic crime, including the creation of a new National Economic Crime Centre to co-ordinate the law enforcement response, as well as passing the Criminal Finances Act 2017, which introduced new powers for enforcement authorities to investigate cash believed to be derived from criminal proceeds. The Bill builds on those steps by introducing the new economic crime levy, which will help fund further action on money laundering, including the ambitious reforms that the Government announced in the 2019 economic crime plan, and help safeguard the UK’s global reputation as a safe and transparent place to conduct business. It is a proportionate measure, which will be paid by entities that are regulated for anti-money laundering purposes.
We are also taking action through the Bill to clamp down on promoters of tax avoidance schemes. In response to the question from Ruth Cadbury, we are giving HMRC new powers: to freeze and secure a promoter’s assets; to introduce a new penalty on UK entities who support offshore promoters; to petition the courts to close down companies or partnerships that promote avoidance schemes; and to share more information on promoters to support taxpayers to steer clear of such schemes.
I am happy to write to the hon. Member on that question.
Finally, I turn to the administration of the tax system. Only last year, the Government published a 10-year tax strategy that seeks to improve the tax system and its support for taxpayers. The House will recall that the Chancellor was clear in his Budget speech that we must deliver a simpler, fairer tax system that supports consumers and is also competitive for business, and we have, for example, the most radical simplification of alcohol duties for more than 140 years. As part of that, community pubs can look forward to a new and simpler system of alcohol duties, including draught relief, which will cut duty on beer and cider served in pubs by 5%, as celebrated in the contribution of my hon. Friend Jerome Mayhew. Alcohol duties will also be reformed around the simple, common-sense principle that the stronger the drink, the higher the rate. That will be legislated for next year after a detailed consultation.
In the meantime, the Bill does more to build a simpler and more sustainable tax system. Basis period reform, for example, will remove the existing highly complex requirements around basis period rules, including double taxation of early years of trading. Anyone who, like me, has studied accountancy will appreciate that.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Financial Secretary said at the beginning of the debate, the Bill comes before us when we are seeing significant improvements in the economic situation. The Government are rightly focused on economic recovery, and let there be no doubt that our plan is working. A year ago, the country was experiencing the deepest recession on record, but thanks to our plan for jobs, which the Office for Budget Responsibility has called “remarkably successful”, we are recovering fast. The OBR expects the economy to return to pre-pandemic levels at the turn of the year, several months earlier than it thought in March. We do still have historically high levels of debt, but new fiscal rules together with measures in the Bill will ensure that the public finances remain on a sustainable path.
It is a Bill that encourages business investment, delivers stronger public finances, tackles tax avoidance and evasion, contributes to a simpler and more sustainable tax system and fundamentally delivers a stronger economy for the British people. For those reasons and more, I commend it to the House.
Question put, That the amendment be made.