New Clause 1 - Review of the effects of reducing employee and self-employed NIC contributions to zero

National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:01 pm on 13 March 2024.

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“(1) The Treasury must publish before the end of the parliamentary session in which this Act is passed an analysis of the effect of —

(a) replacing “8%” with “0%” in section 1(1) of this Act,

(b) replacing “1.85%” with “0%” in section 1(2) of this Act, and

(c) replacing “6%” with “0%” in section 1(3) of this Act.

(2) The analysis in subsection (1) must set out the expected impact of the changes in subsection (1)(a) to (c) on total receipts to the National Insurance Fund in each of the financial years from 2024/25 to 2028/29.

(3) The Treasury must request the Government Actuary to make an assessment of the consequences for the Consolidated Fund in each of the financial years from 2024/25 to 2028/29 of shortfalls in the National Insurance Fund that would result from a zero rate for employee and self-employed national insurance contributions.”—(James Murray.)

This new clause would require the Government, before the end of the current parliamentary session, to set out what the impact would be on total receipts from national insurance and overall public finances of reducing national insurance contributions for employees and self-employed people to zero.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means), Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee, Chair, Restoration and Renewal Programme Board Committee

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 2—Review of effects of frozen thresholds—

“The Treasury must lay before the House of Commons within three months of the passing of this Act a report which sets out its forecasts of the change to the number of people paying national insurance contributions as a result of the thresholds for payment of national insurance remaining frozen over the period 2023/24 to 2027/28, rather than rising in line with CPI.”

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

As I made clear in the previous debate, we support the national insurance reductions that the Bill seeks to deliver. However, the Chancellor followed the announcement of these reductions in last week’s Budget speech by pulling a rabbit out of his hat that, frankly, left us shocked and deeply concerned.

The Chancellor closed his Budget statement by committing the Conservative party to an unfunded £46 billion tax plan. It is quite incredible, and it tells us everything we need to know about the state of the Conservative party that he would use his last Budget before the general election to promise a plan that leaves a £46 billion hole in the public finances, that puts family finances at risk, and that raises the prospect of higher tax bills for pensioners across the country.

People across Britain are still paying the price for the reckless and unfunded tax plans in the disastrous mini-Budget, so it beggars belief that the very top of the Conservative party—the Prime Minister and the Chancellor —now want to go into the general election with an unfunded tax plan even greater than we saw in the autumn of 2022. We know just how damaging and irresponsible the Conservatives’ unfunded tax plans are for the British economy and for families across the country. Yet for a week now, and in Parliament today, Ministers from the Prime Minister down have been unable to say how this £46 billion tax plan will be funded.

People deserve answers. Are the Conservatives planning to increase taxes, including on Britain’s 8 million taxpaying pensioners? Are they planning to increase borrowing? Are they planning to cut our vital public services to pay for their £46 billion black hole? Ministers are refusing to answer, so our new clause 1 will force them to do so.

New clause 1 would therefore require the Treasury to come clean and set out the impact of the Conservatives’ plan to reduce national insurance contributions for employees and self-employed people to zero. It would force the Treasury to be honest about the impact of their plan on total receipts from national insurance, and the impact that would have on overall public finances. It would compel the Government to set out how they would fund the black hole that their plan creates. I urge Members in all parts of the House to support our new clause, including Conservative Members—if they want to prove that they can put country before party; and fiscal responsibility ahead of loyalty to their weak Prime Minister. This vote matters because the public deserve answers on the Conservatives’ £46 billion unfunded tax plan.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

No, I am going to make some progress.

The public deserve to know whether the Prime Minister’s commitment to abolish national insurance means tax hikes for pensioners, even higher borrowing, cuts to important public services, or all of the above.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I hate reading and I probably will not be able to read this out either, because my eyes are not good. The shadow Minister talked about what the Chancellor said at the end of the Budget, so let me tell him that he said the following about any further cut:

“When it is responsible, when it can be achieved without increasing borrowing and when it can be delivered without compromising high-quality public services”. —[Official Report, 6 March 2024;
Vol. 746, c. 851-52.]

So what problem does the shadow Minister have with cutting taxes on working people?

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

The problem we have with the Chancellor’s announcement is that he has said that in the next Parliament he wants to abolish NI contributions. [Interruption.] The Prime Minister said that on the Saturday following the Budget. The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have again and again, in emails to party members and in interviews with media outlets, made it clear that that is what they want to do. I appreciate that some Treasury Ministers have been flip-flopping a bit when they have been out on their media rounds and have not entirely been able to toe the party line. But going into the general election, I would listen to what the Prime Minister and the Chancellor are saying, and if they are saying that they want to abolish NI and create a £46 billion black hole in the public finances, they should stand up here and defend that to the people of Great Britain today.

The reckless way in which the Conservatives announced their unfunded tax plan and then refused to give any more details exposes the risk of five more years of them in power. It is clear the Conservatives will happily gamble with the public finances and yet again leave working people being forced to pay the price. As they have been unwilling to explain how their plan will be funded, we will today vote to force the Government to come clean on the impact of their £46 billion tax plan on the state of public finances.

Photo of Owen Thompson Owen Thompson SNP Chief Whip

I am very interested in this and am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but I am struggling to understand whether he is for or against the proposed cut in NI. It would be helpful if he would be clear on that. It sounds as though he is saying that the Opposition do not support it, but if that is the case, why would they not have come through the Lobby with us in opposing it?

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

I am happy to provide clarification for the hon. Gentleman. We have had an extended debate about this today, where we have made it clear on several occasions that we support the Government’s cut in NI, because we believe that the tax burden on working people is too high and we want to see it come down. What we do not support is an unfunded £46 billion tax plan that the Chancellor has committed the Conservative party to. That is the subject of our new clause that we are debating now, and I look forward to his joining us in voting for it in a few moments.

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Social Care)

My hon. Friend is making an important point, not least because, to all intents and purposes, the Chancellor’s ambition is to abolish NI altogether. That unfunded tax cut requires a 6% increase in income tax just for us to stand still, unless something is going to give. Do national insurance qualifying years not count towards how much state pension someone is entitled to get? So how do we recalculate one’s entitlement to state pension if the qualifying years do not exist because NI does not exist?

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

I thank my hon. Friend for that important intervention, setting out just some of the problems created by this reckless plan that the Conservatives have put out into the public domain and are refusing to explain or withdraw.

We know that if the Chancellor’s proposal to merge national insurance and income tax were to be followed, it would push up income tax by 6.5%, meaning pensioners would pay, on average, £800 more a year. My hon. Friend also makes important points about the impact of the plan on eligibility to the basic state pension. Again, Members on the Government Front Bench have not answered those questions. They had nothing to say on any of those points, which are concerning people across the country, when they responded earlier.

We have tabled new clause 1 because it will force the Government to come clean about these issues. Ministers are refusing to stand at the Dispatch Box to explain how they will fund their £46 billion black hole or to withdraw their policy entirely. New clause 1 will force them to set that out. Because they have been unwilling to explain how they will fund their plan, we will force them to come clean on its impact on public finances.

Photo of Keir Mather Keir Mather Labour, Selby and Ainsty

Not only is there concern about where the funding would come from, but in the Treasury Committee just now the Chancellor refused to rule out increasing income tax in order to fund the abolition of NI contributions. The House of Commons Library has said that merging NICs and income tax would require an 8% increase in the basic and higher rates of income tax. What will that do for the long-term future of the UK economy?

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

I thank my hon. Friend for bringing us that update from the Treasury Committee about what the Chancellor has been saying. Again, we can see the Chancellor being reckless by talking about merging national insurance with income tax without having a second thought for what impact that would have on hard-pressed taxpayers, particularly pensioners. Pensioners do not currently pay national insurance on their earnings and would be hit by a tax increase as a result of national insurance and income tax being merged. That is another example of how reckless these plans are, and how reckless it is for Treasury Ministers to refuse to stand up and explain how their plans would be funded.

The public deserves to know. If Ministers vote against our new clause or they refuse to come clean, then the British people will have it confirmed, yet again, that the Conservatives cannot be trusted with the economy, public finances or the finances of households across our country.

Photo of Alistair Carmichael Alistair Carmichael Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice)

Thank you for calling me, Mr Evans—surely it is long overdue that it should be Sir Nigel, but we will go with Mr Evans for today.

I stand to move new clause 2 in the name of my hon. Friend Sarah Olney. Hon. Members will see that the effect of new clause 2 would be fairly short in its compass. It would compel the Treasury to report to this House its forecasts of the change to the number of people who are set to pay national insurance contributions as a result of the thresholds for payment remaining frozen until 2028, instead of increasing in line with the consumer prices index, which would be the case otherwise. The Chancellor and other Ministers have spoken today about the pride the Government take in what they are doing. In the interests of transparency, the Government should have no difficulty accepting new clause 2. I am sure it is merely an inadvertent omission that those measures are not part of the Bill already.

It is apparent that comments made by the Chancellor, the Prime Minister and others about the idea of abolishing national insurance altogether have started a debate, as we have seen this afternoon. It is a substantial commitment to make—£46 billion—and we do not yet know where that money would come from. That is maybe not the novelty that it used to be, certainly before the mini-Budget. However, it offers us an opportunity to think a little bit about the nature of national insurance as a tax, because it is quite distinct in its composition and operation.

In practical terms, functionally, national insurance is more or less like any other tax, in as much as money is paid into the Exchequer and fills the coffers, and then is spent as the Government or Governments see fit—in relation to health, policing, transport, Ministers’ legal fees or whatever else it is going to be.

As a matter of intent and purpose, however, national insurance is identifiably different from the other taxes we pay. More than any other levy, it is the symbol of our shared obligations—what we owe each other as a society and as communities in support throughout our lives. The point of national insurance is that we pool and share resources geographically and generationally. We pay our stamp on each payslip, trusting that, when the time comes for us to retire, someone else will continue to pay taxes that will fund our pensions.

Let us remember that the roots of this tax are in Lloyd George’s Budget, and that the introduction of national insurance came with the introduction of the pension. That is why we have the legacy of the link between national insurance and pensions, which was pointed out by Andrew Gwynne in an intervention. That is significant. These are matters that must be clarified before we undertake a change of this sort.

At the heart of any healthy liberal democratic society, there is the idea that we have lasting obligations to one another. We have obligations to those we know, to those we do not know, to generations that are older than us, and to those who are yet to be born. We can be bound by policies with which we disagree, and sometimes we must pay taxes for things that we dislike or that we feel we do not need. That is the system in which the national insurance contribution has a demonstrably significant and different impact than other taxes. It is part of the tapestry of government and public life in this country.

This is perhaps just pulling at a thread, but the Minister and, indeed, people in all parts of the House would be well advised to consider exactly what they may be unravelling by pulling at this thread. Full transparency from the Government on the effect of freezing national insurance contributions in the way that has been proposed should be an important part of this debate as it proceeds.

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

As I mentioned earlier, the impact of policy and any changes to policy will be subject to the usual public scrutiny, including from the OBR on costs. It is therefore not necessary to produce additional reports. I will not play into the hands of the Opposition today by commenting further on their scaremongering. I refer the shadow Minister to the answer that I gave earlier, which I thought was quite clear. I am sorry that he is incapable of understanding the difference between an ambition and a policy, but the rest of the House seems to understand it. Hopefully, he will catch up at some point.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Division number 92 National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill Committee: New Clause 1

Aye: 171 MPs

No: 288 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name


No: A-Z by last name


The Committee divided: Ayes 170, Noes 292.

Question accordingly negatived.