My Lords, as noble Lords are aware, this Government have taken difficult decisions in our two Budgets to tackle an unenviable inheritance-the largest peacetime deficit on record and an economy struggling to recover from the financial crisis. We have taken the necessary decisions to eliminate our structural current deficit over the coming four years and stimulate a private sector recovery. One is the vital precondition of the other, and our approach has been endorsed by the IMF, the OECD, the European Commission, credit-rating agencies and businesses across the UK. This Government have set the agenda on using the tax system to encourage growth.
ThePlan for Growth, published in March, set out a range of supply-side reforms to improve the UK business environment. At the heart of that plan is an ambition to create the most competitive tax system in the G20 through our corporate tax reductions, reform of controlled foreign company rules and simplification of the tax system. We want to make the UK the best place in Europe to start, finance and grow a business by reducing the regulatory burden on business and ensuring that credit flows to businesses. We want to encourage investment and export as a route to a more balanced economy by investing £200 billion over the next five years in UK infrastructure, setting up 21 new enterprise zones and entrenching a green recovery. We also want to create a more educated workforce that is the most flexible in Europe by providing 50,000 additional apprenticeships, an additional 80,000 work experience placements and expanding the university technical colleges from 12 to at least 24 new colleges by 2014.
The Bill boosts our international competitiveness by reducing corporation tax by a further 1 per cent this year and to 25 per cent next year, towards a rate of 23 per cent by 2013-the lowest rate in the G7 and the 5th lowest in the G20. It encourages growth by doubling entrepreneurs' relief to £10 million, increasing R&D tax credits for SMEs to 200 per cent and cutting the small profits rate to 20 per cent. The Bill also ensures fairness for all by increasing personal allowances by £1,000. Together with the increase to £8,105 announced at the Budget, this will remove 1.1 million people from income tax altogether. The Bill also introduces a supplementary charge on profits from oil and gas exploration in the North Sea, which allowed us to cut fuel duty by a penny on Budget day, and introduces a bank levy to discourage risky behaviour by banks, the proceeds of which will fund the £250 million investment in the Firstbuy scheme for new homes.
I turn now to the Economic Affairs Committee's report into the 2011 Finance Bill. First, I thank the committee for its comments in recognising the substantive changes that we have made to the way that tax policy is developed, communicated and legislated. The committee considered the Government's new approach to tax policy-making, which sets out the principles that the tax system will be more predictable, more stable and simpler to understand.
Last autumn, we published the majority of the Finance Bill legislation to provide the opportunity to develop and refine our proposals. We received over 200 responses to the consultation and many of the clauses were changed as a result. This is just the first year of this new approach, as the Committee noted. Many interested parties have expressed their pleasure with an approach that puts emphasis on consultation and this process has worked extremely well, as in the cases of corporate tax reform and pensions tax relief changes. Indeed, these specific examples were noted by members of the committee. Of course, we will continue to learn lessons and make improvements for the future and, in doing so, HMRC and the Treasury will take into account the recommendations of the committee.
We have also taken steps to address the web of tax reliefs and exemptions that complicate our tax system. The Office of Tax Simplification, set up last summer, has already provided its first series of recommendations and this Bill takes the first steps towards simplification by removing seven tax reliefs from the system. We will be bringing forward further abolitions next year after a period of consultation. The Government are committed to greater consultation on tax policy changes. However, it will not always be appropriate or proportionate to consult at all five stages for each tax policy change, as set out in the tax consultation framework. The Government will always need to retain some flexibility on tax policy. Generally speaking, the Government cannot and will not consult on rate changes or where consultation would otherwise present a risk to the Exchequer.
Your Lordships' committee, as well as witnesses and other interested parties, has taken particular interest in the disguised remuneration legislation. I remind noble Lords that this legislation tackles the practice whereby well-paid individuals disguise their remuneration as loans which are never repaid, resulting in a loss to the Exchequer. This is a significant measure, raising over £700 million a year, and was the first substantial piece of anti-avoidance legislation introduced under the new approach to tax policy- making. There are valuable lessons to learn from the experience.
The committee has asked HMRC to look at alternatives to the disguised remuneration legislation. HMRC has already carried out a review of alternative approaches as part of the policy-making process, which concluded that the approach taken is the most effective in the long run. HMRC will, however, continue to review the effectiveness of this legislation as is normal procedure in maintaining tax policy. It should also be noted that HMRC's new anti-avoidance strategy, which was published alongside the Budget, sets out how the department will prioritise and allocate resource to make the right decisions about how to respond to avoidance risk.
In its report, the committee has also highlighted tax evasion. HMRC recognises the significant risk to the Exchequer of tax lost through evasion and already has in place a business strategy allowing it to develop a thorough understanding of its customers. This approach helps HMRC ensure that compliance efforts and interventions are focused where they will have the greatest effect. The Government have underlined their commitment to tackling tax avoidance and evasion with a £900 million reinvestment in HMRC over the spending review period. This will transform HMRC compliance activities and bring in additional revenues of £7 billion a year by 2014-15, on top of the £13 billion additional revenues to which HMRC was already committed.
The third area that the committee considered was the approach to corporate tax reform. As I have already said, a competitive tax system is at the very core of our plan for growth. Last year we published our corporate tax road map, setting out our plans for reform over the next five years and the principles underlying them. This gives businesses the certainty they need and the confidence to invest. This Bill takes the first steps on this road by introducing changes to foreign branches and controlled foreign companies rules. Corporate tax reforms will reduce the cost of new investment and incentivise activity across the economy. I welcome the committee's comments on the corporate tax road map, which noted:
"It should promote the stability, consistency and certainty which many of our witnesses saw as so important".
The committee also expressed some concern around the timing of reviews of tax reforms. I assure the House that we recognise the value of monitoring and evaluating tax policy. HMRC and the Treasury are currently looking at ways in which evaluation can be better embedded in the policy-making cycle.
Regarding policy development within the Treasury and HMRC, we have noted the committee's comments about the policy partnership. I can tell the House that the Treasury and HMRC continue to look at all aspects of their work. It is vital that both departments consider how they engage with taxpayers and how their partnership can be strengthened to achieve better engagement. There is a senior governance group in place between the departments to oversee and monitor allocation of resources to policy work in the partnership. This new governance group is also looking at how best to raise the level and effective use of skills and experience across the partnership, another area that was of particular interest to the committee. We fully recognise the importance of incentivising and retaining the best talents in the tax policy field. The establishment of a new tax academy in HMRC will improve the focus on raising skills standards. That academy will engage with stakeholders to identify shortcomings and put in place measures to address them. It will use and build on the existing range of tax training available to improve skills across the board.
This Bill sets out changes to improve our competitiveness, encourage investment and support our businesses through the recovery. Of course, we have always said that recovery would be choppy, but the last year has given us cause for cautious optimism. Output is growing and half a million new private sector jobs have been created, the second-highest rate of net job creation in the entire G7. However, there is no room for complacency, and our plans necessarily incorporate a degree of flexibility. On this point, I would like to confirm that this flexibility refers to the automatic stabilisers that allow government spending to move up and down with the economic cycle. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, for the confusion that arose on this point in response to his Question on
To conclude, this Bill builds on the progress that the Government have made to date to help families, help business and support economic growth. I look forward to hearing this evening's speeches, particularly the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Magan of Castletown, and I commend this Bill to the House.
My Lords, the Minister has treated us to a rich helping of palilalian piffle when it comes to the performance of the economy. His speech would be a comedy if the underlying story were not a tragedy. At least we know that the Minister is not guilty of being involved in disguised remuneration because, as we well know, he is not being remunerated at all.
Let us remind ourselves of the economic facts. In the period 1997 to 2007-for 10 years-the UK recorded the highest GDP per capita growth in the G7 countries. This was achieved against a background of low inflation and the period described by the governor of the Bank of England as the NICE decade-non-inflationary consistent expansion. Public sector net debt had fallen from 42.5 per cent of GDP in 1997 to 36.5 per cent in 2007-the second lowest level in the G7. The Conservative Opposition had committed to match Labour's expenditure plans.
In 2007 the world was hit by a global financial crisis. The Labour party has expressed its regret that financial sector regulation was not as effective as it should have been and that that was a contributory factor to the crisis. Alistair Darling took the right decisions as a consequence of the crisis and he implemented them successfully. The financial system was stabilised under the Chancellor's direction. Appropriate stimulus action was taken. Unemployment was lower than would otherwise have been the case, as were business failures and repossessions. The Chancellor introduced a strong framework for fiscal stabilisation going forward. I pay great tribute to Alistair Darling whom I think history will judge to be one of the great chancellors, given the extraordinarily difficult global circumstances with which he had to deal. Last spring, after a very tough time for the economy we were turning the corner. The economy was growing. Over the second and third quarters of 2010, growth was 1.8 per cent-ahead of the USA and ahead of the EU average. Inflation remained low and unemployment was steadily coming down.
What has happened since the election? The economy has stopped growing. The Minister refers to growth but the facts are that since the Government came to power the UK's growth record is 21st out of the 24 countries in the EU. The OBR has had to revise down its growth forecast on four separate occasions since it was established. We are the only major economy in the world that is not growing. On
This is the context in which this House looks at the Finance Bill, described by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in his Budget speech as the "march of the makers". The march of the myth makers, I would suggest. It is the myth around expansionary fiscal contraction, taking demand out of the economy when the economy is already suffering from underused capacity, particularly in the labour market. In the first quarter of 2011, UK GDP was much the same as it had been in the third quarter of 2010, but worse, it was still 4 per cent below the level before the global financial crisis and 11 per cent below the level that it would have been, had we extrapolated economic performance in 2007 through and beyond the financial crisis.
The Government's response to that horrendous decline in achieved economic output is to announce a succession of policy initiatives that will have the effect of taking demand out of the economy. The Budget had nothing to offer. Growth has been hit and we are now teetering on the verge of recession. We already are in recession in terms of domestic demand. Household income is falling. Indeed, it is falling to the lowest levels in relative terms for 20 years. Real incomes fell last year for the first time since 1981. This is the background of economic achievement for which the Minister invites us to express our appreciation. Consumer confidence has slumped-I will revert to the critical issue of confidence in a moment. Business investment and confidence have also collapsed. Insolvencies are increasing. Banks are not lending. The Merlin agreement, which the Minister trumpeted, is a worthless piece of paper, as the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, described it. Merlin has no teeth. It does not even require the individual banks that have signed it to commit to individual lending figures. It is an aggregate figure-not an individual bank-by-bank figure. The ICB, so worthily established by this Government, has nothing to say about promoting greater competition in an oligopolistic domestic banking market.
Why is confidence so important? Notwithstanding the Government's remonstrations about a debt-fuelled economy, the OBR assumes that household debt will increase further. At the moment, household debt is 165 per cent of GDP. The OBR assumes that it will rise to 175 per cent by 2015. That compares with 114 per cent 10 years ago. But that will not happen, and Ministers must know that that is the case. Households will not borrow more unless they are compelled by dire financial circumstances to do so involuntarily. We must remember that interest rates have yet to normalise. It is not surprising that the Bank of England warns of the consequences of rising interest rates and points to a very delicate situation for some banks if their customers are obliged to pay the sort of interest rates that would be more consistent with a rate of inflation of 4.2 per cent. Nor will the corporate sector financial surplus reduce, which is another key assumption of the Government and the OBR because why would companies run down their corporate financial surplus when the economy is experiencing such an abundance of unused capacity and declining demand?
Expansionary fiscal contraction assumes that a tight fiscal policy can lead to looser monetary policy and stimulate private investment and consumption. It is a form of the Ricardian equivalence in which almost no one believes. There can be no crowding out of private sector demand by the Government if demand is too low. The Government's Budget strategy is simply not working. The economy is clearly not springing to life on a wave of confidence on the back of the picture painted by the Government. Monetary policy is already too loose and will have to be tightened fairly soon. The economy is stagnating but the Government propose a reduction in real government consumption, at constant market prices, of 10 per cent between now and 2015. This is a dangerous nonsense.
It was for many a forgettable Budget, an exercise in sleight of hand, but it was not forgettable if you are on a low income because you are going to be hit proportionately more than those on higher incomes. It was not a forgettable Budget if you are young and unemployed-a cohort of the economy and society that is increasing dramatically. It was not a forgettable Budget if you are female, experiencing the highest rates of female unemployment for 15 years. It was not a forgettable Budget if you are trying to buy a house or even keep your existing one. It was not a forgettable Budget if you are eking out an income from your savings when they are being reduced in real value by loose monetary policy. It was not a forgettable Budget if you are a small company seeking support from the banks. It was not a forgettable Budget if you care about the environment, because everything that was said about a green government policy was reversed in this Budget. It was not a forgettable Budget if you are a charity because of the reduced incentives to which you are now entitled as a result of tax adjustments.
The consequence of this is that we are facing the weakest economic recovery from a recession since the 1920s-the weakest economic recovery from a recession for 90 years. We are the only major economy in the world not experiencing economic growth. Regrettably, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has talked himself into a corner with irresponsible speeches about national bankruptcy and misleading references to "maxing out"-a horrible phrase which I am sure an Old Pauline should not use-the nation's credit card. The Chancellor has talked us into this recession. As John Maynard Keynes wrote in the Times in May 1933, in words that are as apposite now as they were then:
"Unfortunately the more pessimistic the chancellor's policy, the more likely it is that pessimistic anticipations will be realised".
What should be done? First, Labour should acknowledge that its management of the economy during the middle part of the first decade of this millennium was not as good as it should have been. In particular, we ran a deficit while the economy was already running at full capacity and we failed to acknowledge the narrowing of the fiscal base. I have said this before and I will continue to say it because I believe it is important that we admit, with the benefit of hindsight, that mistakes were made. The economy is now in need of acute help. There should be a temporary cut in VAT. We should bring forward capital investment. Now is the right time, when there is excess capacity, to spend on government capital projects, including, in particular, social housing. We should take action to get credit flowing. I notice that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has joined the board of Royal Bank of Scotland. When I sat where the Minister is sitting, I was regularly chastised by the noble Lord, Lord Noakes, who I see in his place, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I am sorry, I meant the noble Lord, Lord Newby. I made this mistake when I was a Minister and I have now done it again. I apologise to both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. The noble Lord, Lord Newby, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, both used to chide me about my inability to get the banks to lend. I ask the Minister the same question: what are you doing, Minister, because bank lending to SMEs is declining? Bank lending for housing and domestic mortgages is at a 10-year low. The Minister shakes his head, but I encourage him to become the master of his brief, be on top of the facts and realise that lending to UK SME companies is continuing to decline.
As I said, the Chancellor has left himself with no options. There would be no place to which he could turn in terms of a policy adjustment without damage to his reputation and the need to admit that Alistair Darling was correct in his fiscal judgment. The price the nation pays for the Chancellor's and the Minister's pride is that we are pushed back towards recession.
We are time limited in this debate. In closing, I say how much I look forward to hearing the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Magan of Castletown, who will no doubt enrich the House with his knowledge of banking both in the United Kingdom and in Ireland, where the noble Lord had a number of important banking roles. I also look forward to the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market. I congratulate his committee on its extremely good work. Finally, I express my appreciation to the Minister for his apology to my noble friend Lord Barnett.
My Lords, it is always a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Myners, particularly when he has just misled the House with regard to my surname. I am afraid that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will not speak to me for a month. It is also a great pleasure to hear him speak again so eloquently from the Dispatch Box.
These are clearly extremely nervous times for the economy. Growth is very low at best, business confidence is poor and inflation is relatively high and squeezing real incomes, so it is not surprising that we hear many voices, including that of the noble Lord, Lord Myners, calling on the Government in effect to throw caution to the winds, abandon their deficit reduction plan and stimulate the economy by some combination of tax cuts and greater public expenditure. It is very tempting, but with a couple of relatively minor exceptions to which I shall come later, I think that such a policy would be misguided. There are a number of reasons why growth is disappointing, but the Government's fiscal policy changes are at most only one of many reasons. Imported inflation via commodity and food prices clearly is one, so is a nervousness by the banks and businesses to lend and invest, brought about in considerable measure by international events, particularly in Europe. How can the noble Lord, Lord Myners, even in a time-limited speech of a mere 15 minutes, not mention Europe once? It is as if the Labour Party is unable to see across the channel at what is happening there; namely, the largest financial and fiscal crisis that Europe has seen since the Second World War. Banks here are concerned about what is happening in Europe, members of the eurozone or no, because their direct liabilities are some £20 billion to bonds issued by the weaker, and potentially defaulting, eurozone countries, and their broader liabilities, via interlinked banks, are much greater. Therefore, they are extraordinarily worried about what is happening there and that is affecting what they are doing.
Businesses for which Europe is the single biggest export market are also not surprisingly nervous about what they see across the channel. At the same time, consumers who are faced with higher than expected inflation and very tightly constrained income rises are seeing their real income falling, so it is not surprising that there is a tendency on all sides for people to sit on their hands and not make that investment, take on that additional staff member or buy that new car or television.
In this situation, what should the Government do? In an era when credit-rating agencies appear to hold the fate of economies and Governments in their hands, it would surely be foolish to throw away the credibility that the Government currently enjoy by tearing up the deficit reduction plan. It would also be foolish in the light of the recent Office for Budget Responsibility report, which shows that the longer-term prospects for our fiscal position, given an aging population, are extremely challenging. The idea that if we can only deal with the current crisis, we will somehow reach a sunlit upland where funds would flow into the Treasury and all would be well, is belied by last week's report. The truth is that we face a long-term challenge in raising the taxes we require to fund the public services that people want. Spending more now, as the Government plan to do, would make the task of dealing with that longer-term situation even worse. Indeed, although the noble Lord, Lord Myners, does not seem to acknowledge this, in the other place the Opposition seem to recognise, at least in part, that they had better be careful what they do. They had three opportunities to vote against the VAT increase, and three times they sat on their hands. Could it be that despite the rhetoric and all appearances to the contrary, Mr Balls knows the true cost of fiscal recklessness?
If growth comes in lower than the Government have predicted, as seems likely, I do hope that, as the Chancellor has indicated, there will not be further tightening of fiscal policy. A hair-shirt approach, beyond what we already have, would be unnecessary. However, if I am not advocating a plan B, then what do I think might be done to promote confidence and growth? I would like to make three specific suggestions to the Minister.
First, we currently have a national insurance holiday for staff taken on in new businesses. This should be extended to all micro-businesses. The number of new businesses being established is much less than the projections in the Government's plans, and so it would be possible to extend that scheme, and give confidence to small businesses, within the existing planned expenditure envelope. Secondly, the Government should investigate the costs and benefits of reducing VAT on refurbishments, from the current level to 5 per cent. This is a long-standing policy on these benches, but now, when we have simultaneously a housing crisis and a crisis in the construction industry, it requires further investigation. Finally-a King Charles' head of mine-the Government should bring forward the point at which the green investment bank can borrow. In an emergency situation, accounting rules should not stand in the way to prevent that happening.
In the short time available I would like to make two comments on the very impressive report from the Select Committee. First, I am extremely concerned about the ongoing problem between HMRC and HMT on tax policy. The report says:
"There appears to be a severe, and worrying, disconnect between the perceptions of HMT and HMRC and those of their customers about how well the policy partnership between the two departments is working".
We have real cause for concern. I find the arguments made by the Treasury officials completely unconvincing.
Finally, the report talks about enhancing the role of the committee in the scrutiny of tax legislation. With the new approach to tax legislation, under which you have a draft Finance Bill, there is plenty of scope for this committee of your Lordships' House to undertake a serious piece of work, at that point, so that the committee does not have to do all its valuable work in such a short period, as it currently does. It could get started a lot earlier on, and I think its role would be enhanced, which would benefit the administration of our tax system.
I am very tempted to range more widely, as the noble Lord, Lord Myners, and my noble friend Lord Newby, have done. However, I think it is my role to introduce and invite the House to take note of the report of the Finance Bill Sub-Committee of the Economic Affairs Committee, of which I am chairman. I think, for once, this is not a Back-Bench contribution. I am grateful to the Minister for already giving some comments on our report; I would like to put on record in Hansard some of our main points, and hope that I may tempt some other answers from him later.
The report of the Economic Affairs Committee on the Finance Bill 2011 is the eighth report in a series which has now become well established and confirms the role of this House in the parliamentary scrutiny of Finance Bills. The report contains 32 conclusions and 15 specific recommendations, so I must be selective. I believe that our sub-committee provides a forum for taxpayers, and many leading experts outside, to express their concerns to Parliament. This includes all the institutes of chartered accountants, the Hundred Group of finance directors, the Chartered Institute of Taxation, the Association of Taxation Technicians, the CBI, the Institute of Directors, the Engineering Employers Federation, and various small business organisations. We also had the valuable session with senior officials from the Treasury and HMRC, which enables them to respond before we draw up our report. I believe this is becoming an increasingly useful forum-more of that in a moment. It means we have to work at speed, as my noble friend Lord Newby recognised, because we cannot begin until the Finance Bill is published, and have to report before the Report stage in the other place.
I would like to thank my fellow members of the sub-committee for their knowledge and wisdom, and their speedy and intensive work. Some who have not been able to be here tonight send their apologies. I am also most grateful to our witnesses, professional and official, our specialist advisers, the clerk, and our secretary administrator.
Not least for reasons for reasons of speed, the sub-committee has to focus, and this year it examined three topics: the Government's new approach to tax policy-making; anti-avoidance, with special reference to one of the measures in the Finance Bill-disguised remuneration-on which my noble friend has already commented; and the corporation tax reform package.
The first topic we chose to look at this year was the Government's new approach to tax policy-making. The new approach commits the Government to full and open consultation at each stage in the tax policy development process, except in exceptional circumstances. It alters the policy-making cycle to allow for such consultation, by publishing most of the Finance Bill in draft form some three months before it is published formally. This reflects the recommendations in our earlier reports, for full and effective consultation in developing tax policy, so the sub-committee considered it particularly important to have an early look at this new approach, and how it had worked in its first cycle of operation leading to the present Finance Bill.
We concluded, as did nearly all of our witnesses, that the new approach was a very welcome development. Great credit is due to the Government. Inevitably it was not a perfect operation, and in one point I will refer to more specifically, it was far from perfect. However, a report concentrates on where there are still issues or where improvements can be made, and in so doing I take it as read that the Government have made significant and positive steps forward.
We thought that most of the measures in this Finance Bill had followed the new procedures. They had been consulted on from the outset, and draft legislation had been published in December. As a result, there was little controversy surrounding most measures. But there were exceptions. By far the most important was the consultation on the clauses to tackle disguised remuneration, which began far too late. There was no consultation of any kind before the increase in the supplementary charge on oil and gas profits was announced in the Budget.
As a former Treasury Minister and as Chief Secretary taking Finance Bills through the other place-and there is another former Chief Secretary about to speak in the debate-I recognise that there are exceptional circumstances where the Government cannot follow their new approach to the letter, as did our committee. We do not think either of these cases fit that Bill. Even where open consultation before the Budget was not possible, informal, confidential discussions would have helped reduce the risk of unintended consequences.
Before I come to specific measures, there was a general refrain from many of our witnesses, whom I would describe as old hands in the tax system. They were concerned about the quality of some of the teams working on tax policy in HM Treasury and HMRC, and my noble friend Lord Newby referred to this. They complained of frequent changes of personnel, a general lack of tax and business knowledge, especially in the Treasury, and the difficulties both departments had in attracting the best talents to tax policy work. We share these concerns. There appears to be a severe and worrying disconnect between the perceptions of HM Treasury and HMRC, and those of their customers, as to how well the policy partnership between the two departments is working.
Now, HMT and HMRC officials put up a spirited defence and I recognise the difficulties that they have. The culture in the Treasury of moving highflyers on from one department to another to give them much wider experience is very well understood and I am afraid that very often some of HMRC's best tax experts are poached by the private sector. I noticed, when I raised this point with members of the Institute of Chartered Accountants who had raised the matter, that there was a wry smile on their faces. Nevertheless, for the new approach to work, it is vital to have tax policy teams that are knowledgeable, experienced and stable and that they operate effectively across departmental boundaries. That is why our report also recommends a comprehensive skills audit and the publication of the findings of a recent internal review.
There are two other points that are worth stressing. First, although we support the new approach to tax policy, we think it can be improved and strengthened. The track record of consultation with big business is commendable, but there is still a long way to go in building effective arrangements for consulting smaller businesses. As a former Minister for small businesses-or small business Minister, as I was sometimes described-I recognise the difficulties of communicating with small businesses. Many of them do not want to belong to big organisations. Their organisations are not as well manned, financed and established as, say, the CBI, but they are a very important part of the economy and much affected by tax legislation. I believe that more can be done to consult them. I welcome the fact that HMT and HMRC now recognise that.
We also think-here I have in mind a recent debate on the working practices report in this House when there was much emphasis on post-legislation scrutiny-that there should be more emphasis on reviewing and evaluating tax changes after they have been implemented to see how well they have achieved their objectives.
I now turn to a point which my noble friend Lord Newby raised, not for the Minister and not even for our sub-committee. Time and again we were struck by the fact that while all our witnesses welcomed the extra opportunities, time and information for scrutinising tax policy, most also thought that there was scope for more effective parliamentary scrutiny of tax legislation, in particular drawing on the experience and skills of Members of this House and the time that we can give to this onerous work. Indeed, I have noticed that others, like Kitty Ussher, a former Treasury Minister, recommended, in a recent pamphlet, exactly the same points and suggested that it was a role that the House of Lords could perform. One particular suggestion made to us was that the remit of our sub-committee should be adapted to allow it to examine tax proposals that were being consulted on during the autumn, as well as inquiring into the draft Finance Bill when published in December. A more modest suggestion would amend the remit to allow the sub-committee to examine the draft Bill only from December onwards. Of course, these are not matters for the Economic Affairs Committee, but for the whole House to consider. We refer to them in our report because the need for greater parliamentary scrutiny of tax legislation, particularly in advance, formed a consistent theme in the evidence that we received.
For our second topic, we looked at tackling avoidance of tax, both generally and in a specific Finance Bill provision which seeks to address avoidance by so-called disguised remuneration. We fully agree with the Government's strategic commitment to tackle avoidance early, which is particularly important when avoidance has the potential to mushroom and lead to a large tax loss. I was somewhat astonished when I saw the proposals in the Budget to discover that the loss of revenue from disguised remuneration was calculated at £750 million a year. Many of our witnesses thought that it was probably a good deal higher than that because disguised remuneration had become a very well marketed process which many were taking up. Clearly, that had been allowed to grow. We believe, in the light of that, that HMRC should review why action was not taken earlier and learn lessons for the future.
Even with subsequent amendments, including many during the Commons stages of the Bill, there remained a deep and widespread unhappiness with this legislation. I should have mentioned that when the disguised remuneration draft proposals were produced in December, I think there were something like 25 clauses but by the time it went through the process of consultation, the number grew to nearly 60 and then there were many subsequent amendments in the other place. Our firm view was that had there been consultation at an earlier stage, this complexity could have been addressed and the legislation would have been better targeted. The criticisms that we received of disguised remuneration were very striking indeed, including, for example, some who argued that this was the worst legislation that they had ever seen. So clearly, the new approach to tax policy-making fell down in this case. All our witnesses agreed that this avoidance had to be tackled, but their concerns were about the way in which the legislation to tackle it had been framed. It was not a good advertisement for improvement through consultation.
Our report recommends that HMRC should carry out an in-depth examination of the alternative approaches that the legislation could have taken which should enable lessons to be learnt and similar pitfalls to be avoided in future. I recognise that the new Government and the Treasury Ministers had been in place only for a short time, with many other crucial issues absorbing their attention. Therefore, I understand why this may have happened on this occasion. I am clear that in future it is going to be very important that a different approach is taken to some of this consultation.
One other point is that the disclosure rules have made a major difference. I am sure that the new disclosure rules led to much of the legislation in dealing with disguised remuneration and they should enable HMRC now to frame more precise legislation on other avoidance disclosures in the future.
The Minister mentioned evasion and the tax loss through evasion far exceeds that from avoidance. We recommend that the Government should publish an anti-evasion strategy to complement their anti-avoidance strategy. According to the HMRC figures, I understand that the tax loss from all forms of evasion is £22 billion compared with £7.5 billion for avoidance.
Finally, on CT reform, the last two Budgets and the CT road map, published last November, contained proposals for reform of the corporation tax regime. We welcome the CT road map which should help to promote the stability, consistency and certainty which many of our witnesses saw as so important. It is an excellent example of a strategy outline which we think would strengthen the new approach if adopted more widely. Indeed, the reforms should make the UK's corporate tax regime more competitive, as we concluded. However, some of our witnesses were concerned at the overall balance of the package and that it might disadvantage some sectors, particularly smaller businesses and manufacturing. We consider that post-implementation reviews of outcomes are particularly important so that early action could be taken if the reform package proves to disadvantage some businesses.
We thought that there was much to commend in the Finance Bill and the processes that led to it. Our report has concentrated on recommendations that are intended to be helpful in taking forward this new advance and we see the desire for greater parliamentary scrutiny as an important issue for this House. I commend our report to the House.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, for his personal apology to me for saying that I was wrong when I quoted the Chancellor as saying that flexibility was built into his plan. I am bound to tell the noble Lord, for whom I have a lot of respect, that it was wrong not to make a personal statement at an early time, apologising to the House for misleading the House, quite clearly, in his reply to me. I know what happened. He took personal advice from a leading source-I think I know the source-who must have told him that this was a major political difference of opinion so he did not need to give a personal apology. I can only advise the noble Lord that in future he should not take any advice from that particular noble friend.
I readily admit that there was a political difference between us because clearly a major political difference was at the heart of my question and there needed to be some flexibility of a kind that was not enumerated by the noble Lord. Indeed, when I asked him whether the flexibility related to the Treasury's special reserve, he said, "Definitely not". On the other hand, could he tell us, as he did not tell me at the time, how much of the Treasury special reserve has already been used for the MoD, for unexpected expenditure in Libya, and for other departmental budgets that have been overstepped? Could he tell us what is left in that reserve to allow any flexibility to decide what should happen to the Chancellor's plan? There cannot be any doubt that it was misleading. To say to the House, "What I was telling them was wrong", is misleading the House. It was a major matter, and he refused to make a personal statement, and he was wrong in that. But I leave that alone.
My question had at its centre this political disagreement, a crucial disagreement between us. I do not for a moment regret having gone into that political difference, because political difference does not mean you cannot mislead the House. What it does mean is that the Government are ignoring this central problem of whether there should be some flexibility that could amount to a Plan B. I have always said that no chancellor could ever announce that he is introducing a Plan B, because it immediately kills Plan A. However, there may be other means of slowing down the cuts, which would help to introduce a sort of secret Plan B. But the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, denied all of that, and said that he was not misleading the House. Indeed, he nearly went as far as maligning that distinguished Business Editor of the BBC, Robert Peston, the son of my even more distinguished noble friend Lord Peston, by suggesting that it might have been in his mind or in that of the interviewer that there were some special flexibility built into the plan.
While I have had to read some difficult briefs in my time, listening to the noble Lord this evening and his degree of optimism about everything in the Finance Bill and the economic situation, I cannot believe that he could have believed what was in his brief. He should have deleted it. How can there be any degree of optimism about the economy and economic prospects at the moment? I would not propose to quote many of the numerous comments from truly independent forecasters about what is likely to happen to the economy in the next few months, let alone years. However, I would not mind just quoting one, before the noble Lord encounters what my dear old friend Denis Healey always said: the advice that, "If you're in a hole, stop digging". The noble Lord is digging deeper and deeper. If he is not careful, he will have to apologise not only to me-which I do not mind-but also to Robert Peston and many others for pretending that one can have any degree of optimism at the present time.
The flexibility that should exist is not. I will refer that one particular statement from an authority that may not be as independent as some, but it is certainly independent of the Labour Party. I refer to Deloitte, the well-known, major accountancy firm, which audit many large companies. It stated that finance directors in Britain's largest companies say that business optimism has fallen at a faster rate since the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008, and that one in three thinks there is a chance of a double-dip recession. I do not believe there is a chance of a double-dip recession; it seems unlikely, but certainly there are no grounds for optimism about what is happening in the economy. It is pretty clear that we can look forward, as my noble friend Lord Myners said, to many periods yet to come of low levels of economic growth, if not an actual downturn.
I do not doubt that there would have been some flexibility, but to compare it with the automatic stabilisers I find incredible. Surely the noble Lord, who is a very clever fellow, must have checked the Oxford English Dictionary and found that "stabilise" is somewhat different from "flexibility", to put it mildly. I will not read the summary of the long points made about the two words in that dictionary that I received from the Library, but to say that there is no difference and that he was therefore answering my question is ludicrous.
Answering my question is not important. What is important is that the economy should truly move forward, and that we should be a little more optimistic about the likely outcome for the economy in the coming year, let alone in the coming years. If this means that the Chancellor has in mind in his plan to slow down the cuts, I am very glad to hear it. If he does not want to call it a Plan B, I do not mind that either. He can call it anything he likes, as long as he has it in mind to do it, because that is the one way that he can truly make us all a little more optimistic.
My Lords, the philosopher Kierkegaard said:
"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards".
Right now the Opposition blame our current economic difficulties on the global economic crisis which started with the subprime crisis five years ago, and the current Government blame the previous Government's mismanagement of the economy, resulting in the huge deficit and the high levels of borrowing which have, in turn, led the Government to embark on a programme of cuts across the board, and a tax policy to try and address the deficit as well. Unfortunately, the current Government are also going to have to blame the woes on the European sovereign debt crisis and the eurozone crisis, neither of which are of this country's making.
There is no question that public expenditure under the previous Government reached levels that were far too high-50 per cent of our GDP when it should have been 40 per cent. Reducing this to 40 per cent would sort out our budget deficit in one swoop: but it cannot be done overnight. The imbalance between the public and private sectors has finally come to a head. The Government are finally starting to address this, but again it will take time.
As to monetary levers, the Bank of England is forced to keep interest rates at 0.5 per cent in spite of ballooning inflation because of the fragile state of the economy. Of course, the final lever that the Government have is the Finance Bill and taxation. Before I go into detail, I will highlight the 10 tenets of a better tax system, as laid out by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, of which I am proud to be a fellow. They are: statutory, certain, simple, easy to collect and to calculate, properly targeted, constant, subject to proper consultation, regularly reviewed, fair and reasonable, and competitive. Does the Finance Bill tick all these boxes?
I was proud to serve on the Finance Bill Sub-Committee of the Select Committee on Economic Affairs, and I thank our chairman, the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, his staff and advisers and the rest of the committee for the excellent work that they performed. There was a clear consensus among our witnesses that, if implemented consistently, the Government's new approach to tax policy-making would represent a major step forward on the road to better tax legislation for this country. I do not wish to blow our own trumpet, but most witnesses proposed that better use should be made of the expertise and experience of the House of Lords in matters of tax policy and legislation.
We have far too few Joint Committees of our two Houses. We all know about the new Joint Committee that has been set up to deal with reform of the House of Lords. However, given that as things stand the House of Lords does not have the power to vote on Finance Bills, would it not be wonderful if we had a Finance Bill Joint Committee of the two Houses, on which, sitting around the table, the expertise of this House could be brought to bear side by side with those who are going to legislate on the matter? There should be more Joint Committees of our two Houses. This would lead to both Houses working more closely together and to better mutual understanding-an understanding that at the moment is greatly lacking in the other place. This has been openly admitted by many Members who came from the other side of the building and who concede how little they knew and understood of the workings of this House. Will the Government consider this suggestion?
A serious matter that was spoken about in our sub-committee was the worrying disconnect between the workings of Her Majesty's Treasury and Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs, and the lack of specialisation in either. The sub-committee also looked at tax evasion and tax avoidance. More and more, the lines between evasion and avoidance are being blurred. As the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, said, on the basis of HMRC's figure, the Exchequer loses £22 billion from evasion compared with £7.5 billion from avoidance. We have therefore recommended that the Government should publish an anti-evasion strategy as well as an anti-avoidance strategy.
Lowering the corporation tax rate was seen as a very good move, as headline rates matter, especially in attracting global inward investment: but, sadly, the impact of these reductions is lessened because capital allowances are being changed, meaning that the effective rate of corporation tax for many businesses will not be reduced. That is particularly the case for small businesses and manufacturers.
We still have the 50p rate of tax that the Finance Bill did not address. This desperately needs to be removed, especially if we want to attract inward investment and the best talent from around the world. Many of our taxes are far too high. For example, and declaring my interest as the founder of Cobra Beer and chairman of the Cobra Beer Partnership, a joint venture with the global brewer Molson Coors, we in Britain have one of the highest rates of beer duty in Europe. Points have been made about how the Treasury says it is tackling problem drinking by increasing the tax on higher-strength beers and trying to stimulate the market for lower-strength beers. However, this is toying at the edges as it represents a very small portion of the beer market.
Meanwhile, the Government's ban on low-cost selling, covering VAT and duty only, means that, given tax anomalies, £20 could allow retailers to sell up to 40 cans of beer at 4 per cent ABV-70 units-10 bottles of wine at 14 per cent ABV-98 units-seven bottles of fortified wine and up to 103 cans of cider, making a total of up to 340 units. What will the Government do to assess alcohol taxation in the light of maximizing revenue and minimizing harm?
In conclusion, we know that high taxes stifle not only consumer spending but businesses and growth. What the economy desperately needs is confidence and growth, and the Finance Bill should do its best to encourage growth. In the other place, we were told that between 2008 and 2009, nominal GDP fell by 1.8 per cent, which cost £20.6 billion, and tax receipts dropped by 3.7 per cent, costing £19.9 billion. That shows that growth more than anything else-more than the cuts-will bring down our deficit and our borrowings. However, with high taxes across the board, we are stifling growth. As long as we do that, with the best will in the world, consumption will continue to falter, inward investment will continue to be deterred and the economy will continue to bump along the bottom.
I welcome much of the work that the Government have done in reforming taxation policy: but going back to Kierkegaard's words, the future has to be lived, and the future should be about a simple, competitive tax policy that generates growth for our economy.
My Lords, we are really having two separate but related debates: on the one hand, on the report of the Finance Bill sub-committee on the Budget of 2011-I congratulate my noble friend Lord MacGregor and his committee on what they have produced; and, on the other hand, we are having more generalised debate about the state of the economy.
I begin by commenting on what is said in the report of my noble friend Lord MacGregor. It refers to a new approach to tax policy-making involving the tax consultation framework. The idea that this is new is rather surprising. It is a very long time since I was involved in producing a draft set of clauses on VAT legislation. The more we can have consultation in advance of the tax proposals, the better. The other aspect of this side of things is the question of how the proposals, when they arrive, are considered. I was tempted to go back into the archives and look at the first report from the Select Committee on Procedure (Finance) for the Session of 1982 to 1983, which it so happened I chaired. It had a distinguished membership, including Mr Enoch Powell. The proposals that it brought forward are still relevant and particularly in the context of my noble friend's Bill. Perhaps his committee might like to look at this report, which I think is very valuable and still relevant to our situation.
We said that there should be a division in the Finance Bill and that there should be a taxes management Bill, which would be introduced at the beginning of the Session. This would involve the mass of technical-I am inclined to say-junk, which appears in this massive document that we have in front of us this evening. The actual Finance Bill would be as far as possible only concerned with tax rates and the management side of them. There is a strong case for this division and, as we went to suggest, for a separate Bill if a new tax were being introduced. But as far as scrutiny is concerned, the present arrangement that we have with Finance Bills so far as scrutiny is concerned is not satisfactory. Perhaps my noble friend could tell us how many of the clauses in the Finance Bill were debated in detail in the Commons; it would be interesting to know. With this legislation, the Commons does not have the long stop that your Lordships have of being able to look at it, which they have for other legislation.
I turn now to the other aspect of the matter. I am becoming increasingly heretical over the idea that the case for absolute minimum rates of interest has been made. We ought to consider the considerable disadvantages of a hyper-low interest situation. My former constituents in Worthing living on fixed incomes, having been prudent all their lives and having saved, are being devastated by the low interest rates which they can now get. It is a major disincentive to saving, which is very important in the present context, not least in relation to the extent to which there are bank deposits which might enable the banks to lend more.
On the other side of the argument, this does mean that we have a lower exchange rate than we would otherwise have. This may be important as far economic growth is concerned but people are also being misled into believing that this hyper-low interest rate policy will go on indefinitely. A large number of people are taking out mortgages and borrowing on the expectation that interest rates will not go up further. This policy is being sustained only because the Bank of England has effectively given up any prospect of using interest rates to control inflation. That cannot go on indefinitely. There is bound to be a significant increase in interest rates, which could have devastating consequences. I am very concerned about that.
More particularly-this will not be news to the usual suspects in this debate-I am concerned about the way in which the Bank of England is preoccupied with the price of money, that is to say interest rates, and not the quantity of money. Fascinatingly, having thought at the weekend of what I might say today, I suddenly found on my desk this morning a report by the Institute of Directors on the big picture and on whether we are we making a big mistake. It stresses the importance of the money supply. It also-and this is interesting politically-says:
"There is a real risk of economic weakness as a result of the money supply"- it means the lack of money supply-
"is mistakenly attributed to the Spending Review and tight fiscal policy".
I recommend this report to your Lordships. It even goes on to refer to the monetary equation MV=PT which the noble Lord and I had exchanges about when he was a Minister. That shows its credentials are good.
In any event, it points out about the level of increase in the money supply that:
"Broad money growth is now the lowest it has been on a sustained basis since modern statistics were first compiled in their present form in 1963".
Since 1963, we have not had such a low level of monetary growth. Whether you are a Keynesian, a Friedmanite or whatever, it cannot be the case that if money supply is falling over a sustained period, we find ourselves getting economic growth. We must consider very strongly indeed the case for further increases in the money supply-for quantitative easing, which was rightly introduced at that time by the noble Lord opposite-against the background of such low interest rates that are failing to stimulate the economy. I fear that there is a lack of overall comprehension of policy because of the way that things have been divided between the OBR, the Bank of England and the Treasury and because of the Chancellor not taking an overall view of the picture.
My Lords, I was privileged to be a member of the Finance Bill sub-committee under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market. It is good to have the opportunity this evening to debate a number of those issues and put them in to a wider context.
I want to look first of all at corporation tax. One aspect examined by the committee was the roadmap for corporation tax. There has been a focus on whether this would make the UK economy more or less competitive. The context for this is that the Chancellor in his Budget in March announced that he would cut corporation tax by an additional 1 per cent over and above the cuts previously announced. This was a flagship measure, but to fund it, this year's Finance Bill will bring in a reduction in allowances available to firms which make significant investments.
The Government's The Plan for Growth states:
"Growth was concentrated in a few sectors of the economy and in a few regions of the country".
I welcome that sentiment. A specific aim of the plan is,
"to encourage investment and exports as a route to a more balanced economy".
This change to corporation tax would appear to run contrary to that aim. As the Institute for Fiscal Studies said earlier this year:
"The largest beneficiaries from the package of measures will be high-profit, low-investment firms", which would include, for example, financial services. Meanwhile the IFS says that cuts to capital allowance will,
"have the largest impact on those firms with capital-intensive operations", which include manufacturers. Major investors who are considering the UK as a site for investment are not so easily swayed by a cut in the headline rate when allowances are also being cut. This change could drive investment away from the UK and help the economy to become more focused on the financial sector by raising the effective tax rate for manufacturers.
There are also issues regarding the carbon-floor price system for energy-intensive industries. It has been suggested that this has been implemented in such a way that, according to a report by Thomson Reuters earlier this year, it will place additional costs on businesses amounting to £9.3 billion. Given that these businesses are major employers and, in many cases, major exporters, it goes against the Government's proposals in The Plan for Growth. There has to be further scrutiny of the impact of these changes. It is important that the whole context of taxation on businesses is taken into account, not just the headline rate of corporate tax.
Oil taxation has been mentioned. This was nothing other than a hasty, politically motivated initiative with no consultation, and we have seen this before: we have seen it with Labour Governments. What happens is that when these proposals are implemented they do have long-term adverse consequences for these industries. As the Chartered Institute of Taxation has said,
"the last minute and precipitate change in Oil tax rates for an industry that is particularly dependent on long-term planning seems wrong", and it goes against the Government's proposals for stable tax planning. The Government should take that issue into consideration. The sub-committee did note that the Government need to retain the flexibility to deal with immediate issues, but informal consultation should still have been possible and witnesses to the sub-committee said that this would have enabled better policy-making, so I hope the Government take that issue on board.
An issue has been mentioned regarding HMRC, which the sub-committee discussed, particularly the skills and resources available and whether it was able to carry out the Government's new approach to tax legislation. Perhaps more importantly, the committee also heard concerns over whether HMRC was fully able to implement the legislation once it was made, given its staffing problems. By some estimates, tax evasion costs up to £1 out of every £8 that should be collected in taxation, and therefore we need a good staff. This is particularly important given the sheer complexity of legislation being proposed in this Bill-and particularly the proposals on anti-avoidance, which the sub-committee scrutinised at some length.
I welcomed the £900 million the Government have pledged to invest in HMRC to tackle tax evasion. The principle behind this is right: investing more in HMRC staff will save the taxpayer money by helping to close the tax gap. But I am concerned it is insufficient, particularly at a time when cuts have been made to HMRC's budget; when HMRC is still attempting to absorb the loss of over 20,000 staff since 2004; and when tax legislation is becoming more complex. In the evidence sessions of the Finance Bill sub-committee one tax specialist said of HMRC that:
"a lot of very skilled people have left, that morale is very low, that people are given work that they are not being trained properly to do".
There is both a short-term and a long-term problem here for the Government. I have raised this issue before in another place when I was Chairman of the Treasury Committee. We said then, even six years after the merger of the Inland Revenue and HM Customs and Excise took place, that the merger,
"had a knock-on effect on performance", and we were,
"deeply concerned about employee engagement at HMRC".
There still exists today the danger that the Government may focus too much on creating complex anti-avoidance legislation, rather than addressing the more fundamental issue of ensuring HMRC is fully resourced to implement that.
Lastly, I turn to something that the committee did not look at: the impact on ordinary people. The flagship policy for ordinary people in this Finance Bill is the significant increase in the tax-free personal allowance for income tax and national insurance-a welcome move, as it will benefit lower income households. However, this is also an area where we need to see the changes made in a wider context, rather than focusing on a single change. For example, the rise in VAT at the beginning of this year is reported to cost the average family with two children £450 a year. That is more than 10 times the benefit that is gained by low-income families from the rise in the personal allowance. That rise in VAT also added nearly 3p to the cost of a litre of fuel-or nearly three times the amount of the reduction in fuel duty that the Government bring in with this Bill. There is a need here to ensure that we take the full context of tax changes into account, and I hope the Government will realise that.
Looking to the future, there are inauspicious signals. Next winter the Chancellor cannot blame the snow. The cuts are coming, and the pressure on wages will not abate until 2015-and that is the Governor of the Bank of England talking when he appeared before the Treasury Committee in another place. I suggest to the Government that they need to be cautious, and I leave them with this important message, given these cuts. Economic prosperity is built on a platform of social stability. If the Government forget that rule they are going to get themselves into more problems. Let us hope they heed it.
My Lords, it is an honour to rise to speak in your Lordships' House for the first time. My journey here has, I suspect, been a slightly less conventional one than most. I left school, aged 17, with only one rather poor A-level, and then, at the age of 18, I started work as a clerk in the City of London. Since that time I have had a career of nearly 50 years in the financial services industry. Therefore, I believe that I have a contribution to make in this evening's debate on the Finance Bill. At the outset, I should like to express my gratitude to my two noble friends, the noble Lords, Lord Northbrook and Lord Howard of Rising, who acted as my supporters when I was introduced into this House. I should like in addition to thank all those who work here in your Lordships' House for their highly professional and courteous assistance.
I was born in New Delhi in November 1945 when the sun was beginning to set on the British Raj. My father, Brigadier WMT Magan, was born in 1908 in County Westmeath in the south of Ireland, and sprang from an ancient Irish landed family. He was an officer in Hodson's Horse, a famous cavalry regiment in the Indian Army. Rather unusually for a cavalry officer, he ended up as a director of MI5 and was regarded as one of the leading figures in post-war intelligence. My father died last year at the distinguished old age of 101 and a half. My mother, who is now aged nearly 95, was born in Rawalpindi. Her father, Sir Kenneth Grant Mitchell, was a distinguished servant of the Indian Government. Her uncle was a distinguished Governor of Kenya and her great-uncle was a famous admiral who founded the Royal Australian Navy.
While the empire is thus very much in my blood, Ireland, where we have a family home, continues to be of absorbing interest. The noble Lord, Lord Myners, has already referred to this. The Ireland of today is completely transformed from the Ireland I knew as a boy. The large subvention payments Ireland received from the original EEC, extremely well strategically invested under the aegis of the Irish Development Agency, coupled with significant taxation advantages, have resulted in the complete modernisation of the economy. The European headquarters for so many cutting-edge multinationals now located there have established Ireland's very strong export base. This radical modernisation, coupled with the transformed relationships between the Governments in Dublin and Westminster, is wonderful progress. The recent courageous and hugely successful visit to Ireland by Her Majesty the Queen indeed marks a watershed moment in the relationships between our countries.
However, following what was clearly an uncontrolled nationwide overindulgence in real estate activity, and its consequent devastation of large parts of the Irish banking sector, we can now see what the current constraints are for Ireland in its membership of the euro. Look at this straitjacket: Ireland cannot manage her own currency; she cannot set her own interest rates; she cannot through fiscal stimulus give a much needed boost to her domestic economy; she cannot through credit stimulus, particularly necessary after the deflationary effects of the credit crunch, increase money in circulation; and she is largely beholden to a single creditor, the European Central Bank. Ireland is very significantly driven back into the most uninviting prospect of all-that of slashing, and then slashing again, the national budget in an environment where growth has very significantly deteriorated.
Our decision in this country not to join the euro was a most judicious one. We may have been overdosing on Keynesianism but we have at least remained unfettered in the management of our own financial affairs-and while we are riding through a great storm, which could get worse, we are still at the helm of our own ship. However, we cannot hope to re-achieve real national greatness until we put the nation's house in order. That means, in particular, putting the nation's long-term finances in order.
Let me now make certain comments on the Finance Bill which I hope-as I know is customary on these occasions-to lift above tendentious hyperbole and rhetoric. It is clearly necessary to fully recognise also that the current Administration have been in office for just over one year. When we look at this year's Budget, we see that the combined spend on welfare, health and education is just under £450 billion-getting on for two-thirds of the total budget of £710 billion. One might also note that the payment of debt interest will be £50 billion, which will comfortably exceed the defence budget of £40 billion. Incidentally, this year's defence budget for the United States is set at the equivalent of some £500 billion, which is more than 12 times our commitment, and yet its population is only five times the size of ours.
Further, we can also see that UK government receipts for this year are budgeted at only £589 billion, compared to a total spend of £710 billion. Therefore, the deficit for this current year will still be a whopping £121 billion, even though it is substantially reduced from £146 billion and £156 billion in the two previous years.
The spend on welfare of £232 billion is the largest single element of the Budget, and of this, getting on for £100 billion will be disbursed on dependency payments. There are some 40 million people of working age in this country. Some 2.5 million people who are looking for employment are categorised as unemployed, and there are a further 3.4 million people who are receiving out-of-work benefit payments; these people are primarily long-term unemployed and have no intention-or, through incapacity, are unable-to seek work. A total, therefore, of some 5.9 million people will claim some sort of support from the state; in other words, 15 per cent of the working age population. Yet, as we are constantly being made aware, several million new jobs in this country have been created in recent years, the vast majority of which, however, have been taken by immigrant workers.
Looking further, you have to search the Budget Red Book in considerable detail before you eventually find, in the small print on page 95, the figures for the public sector debt. Only then can one see its remorseless and alarming historic and continuing increase. We have to be brutally frank: the nation's long-term financial condition needs radical overhaul.
Twenty years ago, our national debt was £150 billion; today, it is closer to £900 billion. Even if the Budget is brought into near-balance by 2015-16 in line with the objectives of the current Administration, the national debt will by then have risen to more than £1,350 billion, getting on for a tenfold increase in our national debt over a 20-year period. Even allowing for inflation and for the considerable growth in the economy, this remains a staggering increase in the nation's indebtedness. Twenty years ago our indebtedness was around 25 per cent of national income; this now looks set to increase to some 70 per cent of national income. Even by this more conservative measure, the level of our nation's indebtedness will have nearly tripled.
We also have to recognise that the state has additional massive contingent financial obligations, particularly in connection with unfunded public sector pensions and PFI obligations. It is estimated that these additional contingent liabilities will amount to a further £1,100 billion. As Shakespeare, the immortal bard, reminds us,
"borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry".
I will tell your Lordships something else that dulls the edge of husbandry: the liberal spending of other people's money.
Let us be absolutely clear: our total national debt, including contingent liabilities, is heading towards £2,500 billion, a number so large that the figures are almost impossible to comprehend. What is more comprehensible is that this total level of national debt will be roughly the equivalent of some £100,000 of additional indebtedness for every household in this country.
The Office for Budget Responsibility must be only too well aware of this developing financial horror story. There is a suggestion that the unacceptable widening of what in economics-speak is referred to as the "fiscal gap" could be brought back into line by, say, an increase of 13p in the basic rate of income tax, from 20p to 33p, or by an increase of 13 percentage points on VAT;-that is, a VAT rate of 33 per cent. This is the scale of the financial challenge that we as a nation are facing, but surely such grotesque rises in either direct or indirect taxation would be completely unacceptable to the British people. I suggest that there is an alternative, and much more palatable, remedy to get the country back into financial good health. But it is time to wake up, and wake up fast.
What is clearly beyond any doubt is that the world has moved on with tremendous panache in what is now the post-communist age. We have witnessed on a global basis the collapse of faith in communism-the dismantling of the Berlin Wall just 20 years ago was one clear manifestation of this. Yes, the Long March is well and truly over. We have as a consequence seen extraordinary vigour and growth from so many emerging countries. There has truly been a Great Leap Forward.
Let us look specifically at China. Sixty years ago, China was in a chaotic condition. It was only some 30 years ago that it started to reform and modernise its economy, embracing the markets and encouraging private enterprise, albeit within a totalitarian framework. It is really only within the past 20 years that we have witnessed the truly dynamic surge in growth from China, as well as, of course, more recently, from India and Brazil. China's economy is now 90 times larger than it was 30 years ago. Growth has lifted 300 million people out of poverty. Only five years ago, China's economy was half the size of Japan's; but because of its continuing phenomenal growth since then, China has recently passed Japan and has been propelled to the world's second largest economy, with $5.5 trillion GDP, second only to the USA's $14 trillion GDP. If present trends continue, China will pass the USA as the world's largest economy by 2030.
There are some real lessons here for us. The keys to our recovery are very clear to see. We must as a nation unequivocally take every conceivable initiative to unleash the forces of enterprise. We must remember that wealth is not finite; there is infinite opportunity to create additional wealth. We must continue with real vigour the fundamental overhaul of our bureaucratic and regulatory constraints on enterprise. We must undertake a fundamental overhaul of our taxation regime, which clearly in so many ways at present stifles enterprise and growth. We must be clearly aware, particularly at HM Treasury, that lower rates of tax do not inevitably translate into lower revenue flows for the Exchequer-in fact, the empirical evidence is frequently quite to the contrary. We must understand that government of itself does not create wealth. The Government cannot do it all. The Government's job is to distribute fairly the wealth they receive and to manage the nation's finances prudently.
We must appreciate that while we are physically a small island, this of itself should not be a bar to achieving and sustaining high rates of growth and prosperity. Singapore is even smaller, and look what has been achieved there. Look at our regions that are crying out for development and growth. We must not forget that we as a nation have a long and hugely successful history as traders in global markets. Over and above that, many of the world's major financial and other markets are made here in London. There is tremendous opportunity from our own existing strengths and skills sets to give a huge boost to the country's trade in goods and services, as well as to commerce and industry.
We are one of the most talented and creative peoples of the world. Over the centuries we have absorbed millions of additional diverse, highly-talented, enterprising people, many of whom have sought refuge here. We have to face up to reality. We, too, in this country could, if we really had the collective mindset to do so, completely transform our economy and the prosperity of our people in a relatively short timescale. China has achieved a stunning economic revolution in 20 years. We in this country have to ask whether we can move from being a major debtor nation with relatively low rates of growth and whose relative competitiveness continues to deteriorate-in reality, this has been our condition for far too much of the post-war period-or whether we can transform our economy, sustain very high rates of growth, create opportunity and prosperity for all and become, once again, a major creditor nation.
This is the big issue. This is where we should be having the big debate, and we in this House should be at the forefront of stimulating and leading this big debate.
My Lords, I shall not add to the justified praise of the report prepared by the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and his committee, nor shall I contribute to the macroeconomic other debate which is taking place. First, it is with sincerity that I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Magan, on his felicitous maiden speech. He clearly comes from a good stable, as he has said, from Ireland and from India. He has had over 50 years' experience in the financial services industry and it clearly shows. I hope that that experience will be seen again in this House. It was a well-delivered, felicitous speech and I am sure that he will make a number of excellent contributions in that vein.
I shall not speak on the macroeconomic level but I shall deal with one corner of the canvas and ask the Government a number of questions on a matter which was raised in the course of the Bill's progress through the other place. The Government responded with some positive noises but gave no firm conclusions on the timetable. I recall that in the other place much of the Finance Bill was consigned to Committee, where often it appeared to be accountants talking to accountants. However, beneath those dry as dust phrases, often there were real values. One such is the recognition of marriage in the tax system. Many commitments have been made by the Government-by the Prime Minister himself over a number of years in opposition and indeed in government-but there has been no actual result as yet. I hope that when the Minister replies-he is already sharpening his pencil-he will give a firm and clear commitment on how the Government will implement the many promises that have been made. I need not take him down the road in great detail, but I can quote seriatim a number of commitments made by the Prime Minister over the years. He said, for example,
"we will give a tax break for marriage and end the couple penalty".
He said on another occasion:
"A Conservative Government will support marriage, through the tax and benefit system and remove the 'couple penalty' from the benefits system which will lift 300 000 children in two parent families out of poverty".
Similar sentiments were expressed by Mr David Willetts and a number of other Members. Before the 2010 general election, there was great support for the measure. It was even made official Conservative Party policy and was put into the 2010 Conservative general election manifesto. A number of statements have been made by the Prime Minister since the general election, but action there has been none.
I think that it is generally accepted that marriage is of fundamental importance to a stable society; but, equally, marriage rates are at an all-time low in this country. Family breakdown is a major social and financial problem. One knows from surgery experience in the other place that most single parents do a great job in very difficult circumstances, but stability-or lack of it-does matter. On average, children brought up in married families do better than those in single-parent families by every significant measure-of educational achievement, health and propensity to commit crime. Even after discounting certain socioeconomic factors such as age, income, education and race, the fact remains that the poorest 20 per cent of married couples are more stable than all but the richest 20 per cent of cohabiting couples. It is therefore surely in the interests of society that, by the tax system and other mechanisms, any Government should do their best to encourage the institution of marriage and should in no way discourage marriage. It is then hardly surprising that, apart from Britain, only 18 per cent of people living in OECD countries are subject to a tax jurisdiction that does not recognise marriage in the taxation system; and the great majority of those thus excluded live in Turkey and Mexico.
Furthermore, the latest international tax comparisons show that the tax burden on one-earner married couples with children in the UK is nearly 40 per cent greater than the OECD average. What is worse is that, if all the tax and benefit changes in the Finance (No. 3) Bill and those proposed for 2012-13 are introduced, the burden is projected to increase to over 50 per cent of the OECD average. Therefore the indices are moving against the pledges made by the Government and are hardly consistent with the Government's manifesto commitment. By contrast, the tax burden on single persons on the same wage is actually falling and is now below the OECD average. Clearly the UK is mightily out of step with the OECD majority.
I fully recognise that there are a number of mechanisms for encouraging marriage by tax incentives, including some relating to property. However, a transferable allowance is the main device debated, as in the UK the unused tax allowances cannot be currently transferred from a non-earning spouse to an earning spouse. Thus, depending on how it was introduced, it would be the whole allowance or part of it; whether it was limited to couples with children under a certain age or limited to tax at the basic rate, it is clearly important that this be considered seriously by the Government. Therefore, with one moving in the wrong direction from the OECD average, surely it means that the issue is both important and urgent. Unless action is taken, the easy slogans of the Government about making the UK the most family-friendly country in Europe will appear ridiculous.
I noted in the Centre for Social Justice report card published in May that the Government were given two out of 10 for their efforts to tackle family breakdown. Clearly, on the current projections, that will get even worse. So I am bound to ask, in conclusion, when in the circumstances the Government are planning to introduce the necessary budget resolution. Even if the Government, understandably perhaps, are reluctant to give a firm date for implementation, can the Minister in replying give your Lordships' House at the very least the assurance that preparatory work is already under way in the Treasury and HMRC? How long is this work likely to take? One hopes it is under way.
Surely, if there are no positive replies to these questions, in spite of the repeated assurances and grave commitments made by government spokesmen, both in opposition and in government, one is likely to conclude that they were empty words-and, as is often said by wags about US politics, electoral platforms are platforms to run on and not to stand on. Certainly the Government ran on this particular platform; it remains to be seen whether, over the next year or two, they will in fact stand on it.
My Lords, following on from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, I, too, would like to express my concern that the Government are taking so long to honour their very important commitment to recognise marriage in the tax system. It was not that long ago that the Conservative Party, when in opposition, talked regularly about the problem of broken Britain, and they were absolutely right to do so. Of course, we do not hear that phrase on their lips very much now that they are in office. The truth is that no Government could sort out broken Britain in just over a year, and the problems of social breakdown remain as real today as ever.
One of the principal sources of that social breakdown is family breakdown, which has such devastating implications for child development. As a Minister said in a speech in February:
"The Centre for Social Justice has found that those not growing up in a two-parent family are 75 per cent more likely to fail at school, 70 per cent more likely to become addicted to drugs and 50 per cent more likely to have an alcohol problem. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has found that children from separated families have a higher probability of living in poor housing and developing behavioural problems".-[Hansard, 10/2/11; col. 389.]
They also suffer from a host of other damaging outcomes whose effects spill over to the rest of society.
What promotes couple stability? In engaging with this question, we must look at many factors, one of the most important of which, unsurprisingly, is the nature of the relationship between partners. In this regard, the research findings are very striking. If children are born to cohabiting parents, they have a nearly one in two chance of finding themselves in a one-parent family by the time they reach their fifth birthday, whereas those born to married parents have only a one in 12 chance of finding themselves in this situation.
I know that some will respond to this by saying that those who marry also tend to be wealthier, and that this is the real reason for their greater stability. Given that material need generates added pressure on relationships, it would be very strange if wealth were not a relevant consideration. The notion that it is the only relevant consideration, however, is rather odd. Mindful of this, it is no surprise to me that research demonstrates that the poorest 20 per cent who make a public "till death do us part" commitment in front of their families and friends are more stable than all but the 20 per cent richest cohabiting couples.
The truth is that marriage sealed by a public "till death do us part" pledge, rather than a "let's move in together and see how it goes" commitment, is, unsurprisingly, an independent promoter of stability. In this context it is clear that, at the very least, the Government should do everything they can to develop public policy that does not make it more difficult for couples to marry in this country than in comparable countries. This is where our failure to recognise marriage in the tax system is so important.
In introducing the subject of marriage and tax, let me be clear from the outset that I do not believe that people fall in love, and then decide they want to be together for fiscal reasons. When they fall in love and decide that they want to be together, however, they face a choice: will they marry or will they cohabit? This is a very important decision, for the reasons we have considered, and it will inevitably be informed by all relevant considerations, including financial ones.
Britain used to recognise marriage in its tax system, but it has not done so since 1999-2000-unless those concerned were born before 1935, or one or both are blind. As CARE's latest international tax comparison-The Taxation of Families 2009/10-reveals, apart from Britain, just 18 per cent of citizens of OECD states live in countries that do not recognise marriage in their tax systems. The majority of these people live in just two states: Turkey and Mexico. We are completely out of line with the developed countries with which we are usually compared-for example, France, Germany, Japan, and the USA- in not recognising marriage. This inevitably makes it more difficult financially for couples in this country to choose to marry than in other developed countries. Indeed, if we look at the tax burden that they bear, it is a staggering 39 per cent greater than the OECD average. What really is concerning, however, is the fact that the latest projections suggest that the tax burden on such families will be more than 50 per cent greater than the OECD average by 2012-13-unless, of course, there is an offsetting measure such as recognition of marriage in the tax system.
One of the statistics that fascinates me is that, in the midst of all this, 90 per cent of young people say that they aspire to marry; and yet our marriage rates tell a very different story. Given that we make choosing to marry fiscally more difficult than in other OECD countries on average, the disconnection between the aspiration to marry and marriage is of no great surprise. Happily, the coalition agreement commitment provides us with the opportunity to change this and to ensure that it is no more difficult to marry in this country than in other developed countries such as France, Germany and America.
I am of course aware that recognising marriage in the tax system has cost implications, but these were considered at the time the commitment was made last year. Moreover, the very real costs associated with not recognising marriage are of great importance. The £550 million cost of the very modest partially transferable allowance proposed at the general election represents just 1.3 per cent of the direct costs of family breakdown, as calculated by the Relationships Foundation, and just 2.3 per cent of the costs of family breakdown, as calculated by the Centre for Social Justice. Moreover, it would cost just 4.4 per cent of what we are in the midst of paying to raise individual allowances to £10,000-the overall cost is estimated at approximately £12.5 billion. This is a policy that greatly benefits single people, and certainly does not benefit one-earner married families.
The Government were absolutely right to make provision for the commitment to recognise marriage in the tax system in the coalition agreement. We owe both the next generation, which would benefit from an increased chance of a two-parent home experience, and our young people who aspire to marry the opportunity to live in a country that does not make it more difficult than in comparable developed countries. In May, the Government were given a score of just two out of 10 in the Centre for Social Justice's report card for their efforts to combat family breakdown-an extraordinarily poor result given the great emphasis the Conservatives placed on fixing the broken society before the election. I very much hope that the Minister will be able to assure us that things will be very different in the coming year, and that recognising marriage in the tax system will be a high priority.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend's committee on its excellent report. I am also extremely glad to notice the development of a consultation system on detailed tax provisions. When I was at the Bar, I spent quite a lot of my time trying to understand the tax provisions that were then extant in order to try to advise people as to how they might conduct their affairs. It was not easy then but, looking at the tax legislation that has come along in the quite long time since, the problems are no easier now than when I was looking at them. I hope that this system will indeed make it easier for advisers reliably to tell people what their tax liabilities will be if they pursue a particular course of action.
My principal point is not on what is in the Finance Bill but, rather, on what I would have liked to see in it in relation to marriage being recognised. The noble Lords who preceded me have shown that this Government agreed in their coalition, as I understand it, to recognise marriage in the tax system. I am in the happy position of having been born before 1935, so I may have the benefit of the provision to which the noble Lord who immediately preceded me spoke. I am therefore not talking about anything affecting me personally. However, I believe that this is a very important and fundamental part of dealing with the situation in our society. Those of your Lordships who were in the House then will remember that, towards the end of the previous Conservative Government, I spent quite a lot of time trying to put through a Bill to ameliorate the situation when marriages broke up. I am glad to say that the Bill was passed and is still on the statute book but, so far, it has not been implemented. I hope that may some day be rectified.
What is apparent is that if nothing is done soon on this matter, the projections are that the tax burden on one-earner married couples with two children on average wages will rise so that it is more than 50 per cent above the OECD average by 2012-13. If your Lordships look at that as against the burden in the OECD on a single person, it will increase to an incredible 80 per cent while the comparable burden in the OECD is just 52 per cent. It is obvious that this is going to get considerably worse. The primary reason for that is that when tax goes up on the individual, unless the marriage is recognised it becomes worse from the point of view of comparing a married couple with two children and a single person with no dependents.
It would perhaps take some development of the Inland Revenue computer system to recognise marriage easily in the tax system. I believe that it is important to make the necessary preparations. Apparently they are able to do it for older people without too much difficulty, as far as I can judge. I hope that they may be able to do it for the younger people as well, but I believe that that may require some preparation.
The commitment given by the coalition could wait until towards the end of the coalition period which, as we know, in the first instance will be in May, in the five-year Parliament that has been provided for. That five-year period is the timetable within which this ought to be done if it is to be implemented. From my point of view, the system is so damaging to the institution of marriage that the sooner it is done, the better. Therefore, rather than leave it to the very end of their commitment, it would be extremely wise and beneficial for the Government to do it soon. I hope that my noble friend can give us some encouragement that the Government intend to do just that.
My Lords, I welcome the debate. I have nothing particular to add to what other noble Lords have said about the interesting report of the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, which I welcome. I especially welcome the transparency and the consultation that the Government have introduced in deciding their tax legislation.
I want to concentrate on why the recovery is so slow and faltering. That is an important question that we all ought to take up. The general proposition in many quarters is that somehow the Government have gone wrong and they need a plan B-or C or D, I do not know. I think that we face a very different kind of crisis from those we are normally used to. Recessions normally happen because of a lack of effective demand, and we know the standard games and policies that we have to follow. We got into this crisis not because of a lack of effective demand but because of overspending and overborrowing. When you have to carry an economy through a crisis in which the major consideration is deleveraging by both households and Governments, you need a very different kind of strategy from the one you normally encounter in a standard recession.
That said, we do not have a road map for such crises. Normally all economic theory is about the other kind of crisis. There is a paradoxical conclusion that we might follow. If the task is to deleverage, we ought to hurry that up. That leads to the idea that we should not have low interest rates at all; we should have proper high interest rates so that households that falsely think they can afford their mortgages should be told that they have negative equity and cannot afford them. That is a cruel thing to say, but right now we are postponing deleveraging rather than assisting it. That is a choice that the Government can make.
We have, of course, decided to deleverage public debt at a rate that is now known, and the task of eliminating the deficit within five years has been adopted. The problem of deleveraging is not just a problem of the recession. We are observing from the crises of both pensions and elderly care that we, not just in the UK but in western economies, are suffering from a serious undersaving problem. We have been undersaving for far too long and we will completely have to change our habits of thinking, living, taxes, and so on. The task of the tax system should be as far as possible to tax consumption and not income, to tax pollution but not work. I do not know at what stage we will get into those kinds of discussion. I welcome the proposal to merge income tax and national insurance contributions. I have never understood national insurance contributions because they are a tax on earned income, while unearned income gets taxed less, which is a very peculiar thing that successive Governments have tolerated.
If we are to face up to the challenge of saving seriously, we will have to adopt something like what Lord Kaldor talked about in his expenditure tax proposal. We may have to move to an expenditure tax proposal as that would reward savings much more than we have done so far. We have been led to think that expenditure leads to income. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, is not in his place as we have had long arguments about this. If you think that expenditure leads to income and income then leads to output that leads to inward gain, we have a certain trajectory. Our problem is that we cannot go through the politics of income growth if there is consumption expenditure.
The gap is in investment. The Government face the challenge that despite the quantitative easing that they have been practising for a couple of years, the money is there but no one is investing. That is very much the reason why the money supply is not expanding, as the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said. People are not borrowing the money that is available. Therefore, there is a lack of investment by the private sector despite the fact that interest rates are low and people should be encouraged to invest. This is a difficult thing to do. I do not believe that it is necessarily within the Government's control to encourage investment if they can no longer pick winners or horses that will start a race. However, the Government ought to concentrate on how they can give a certain boost to new investment proposals, perhaps in green technology. Unless they get an investment programme going, they will find that even if people decide to save they will be frustrated.
Whichever way the Government go-I welcome some of the taxation proposals-they should be aware that in the short term and in the long run the crisis arises from undersaving. We have to try to correct our overborrowing and then provide for a proper level of saving to finance the problems created by longer life expectancy and people needing elderly care. If these two challenges are properly thought through and met, we may yet have a prosperous future.
My Lords, when introducing the Budget, the Chancellor told us that it was about reforming the nation's economy so that we have enduring growth and jobs for the future and about doing what the Government could to help families with the cost of living and the high price of oil. Four months later and after 14 months of the coalition Government, that is not how it feels for many people. As the cuts begin to bite, the popular perception is that it is hurting but it is not working. Inflation remains high, the recent small drop in unemployment is not expected to be repeated when the next figures appear, and the economy is clearly not "in recovery", as the Chancellor claimed.
That is also the view of the independent National Institute of Economic and Social Research, which has as its president the noble Lord, Lord Burns. That organisation dismissed the Chancellor's claim that cutting the deficit more slowly would cause a collapse in market confidence as "fundamentally flawed", adding,
"The real hit to credibility comes from sticking to unsustainable policies. If Mr Osborne really wants a budget for growth he should amend his plans".
It is basic economics that deficit reduction will slow growth. I echo the national institute's calls for a major house-building programme, and measures to boost youth employment, to restore the education maintenance allowance that keeps poor students in school, and to reverse the cutting of student visas, because universities are a dynamic export industry.
None the less, I concede that the Budget contained measures that are to be welcomed. Next year the personal tax allowance will be increased to more than £8,000. Temporary tax relief for small businesses is to be extended to October next year. The Chancellor deferred for a year the proposed rise in fuel duty, until April 2012, and cancelled the fuel duty escalator for the remainder of Parliament. He increased the supplementary charge levied at North Sea oil and gas companies to 32 per cent, generating a possible £2 billion, although he has since handed back around a quarter of that in exploration allowances.
Public spending measures that included an extra 40,000 apprenticeships for young people out of work, and 100,000 new work experience placements, are also to be welcomed, although I fear they will be less worth while than the genuine jobs of the future jobs fund that the coalition has axed, which paid the minimum wage. There are also doubts as to whether employers will offer the extra apprenticeships and work placements unless they are forced to do so. There is to be a consultation on long-term plans to merge income tax and national insurance, and I echo the comments of my noble friend Lord Desai that this is long overdue. This is planned with a view to simplifying the tax system, although I am disappointed that the review will not go as far as a full merger with income tax.
I will now focus on a narrow but crucial casualty of the Government's restructuring of the economy, and one that the Chancellor failed to address properly in his Budget speech in March. In fact, it relates to an issue highlighted by the Chancellor in last year's Budget of a commitment that the Government made then and have since failed to honour. I hope the Minister will be able to offer an explanation as to why the Government have let down low-paid workers in the public sector across the United Kingdom, to whom they made promises before the general election and in the Budget of June 2010. At that time the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced to Parliament that:
"the Government are asking the public sector to accept a two-year pay freeze, but we will protect the lowest paid ... They will each receive a flat pay rise worth £250".-[Hansard, Commons, 22/6/10; col. 171.]
He said that the earnings level at which people would qualify would be £21,000 a year, and he estimated that 1.7 million people would benefit from that pay increase. In the Budget Statement this year, the Chancellor had a different message for low-paid public sector workers, when he said:
"I can confirm today that in the coming year all workers in the armed forces, the prison service and the NHS, and teachers and civil servants, earning £21,000 a year or less will receive a pay uplift of £250".-[Hansard, Commons, 23/3/11; col. 963.]
That is considerably less than the promise delivered nine months earlier, and it means that only about one-third of those originally earmarked will be guaranteed to receive the £250 payment. What the Chancellor meant in effect was that only those working under ministerial control, and those whose pay and conditions are subject to pay review bodies, would be guaranteed to receive the payment. Between one Budget and the next, goalposts have been shifted with a vengeance. Research commissioned by Frank Field MP from the House of Commons Library shows that the Chancellor, in his 2010 Budget Statement, could not have been referring only to workers under ministerial control and those with pay review bodies. The Chancellor's figure of 1.7 million workers was precisely the total number of public sector workers earning less than £21,000 in 2009, which at the time of the Chancellor's Statement were the most recent available figures.
The Commons Library further calculated that the most reliable current estimate for the number of public sector workers under ministerial control or covered by pay review bodies is 715,000. That equates to just one-third of the 1.7 million figure, and when the most recent official statistic for 2010-that is, 2.2 million-is introduced, it leaves up to 1.5 million public sector workers denied the promised pay rise, and the victims of a deception.
Two weeks ago in another place, Frank Field introduced an amendment to the Finance (No. 3) Bill with the aim of securing justice for these low-paid public sector workers. Mr Field's amendment, which he did not press to a vote, sought to reduce the tax liability of all public sector workers whose earned income does not exceed £21,000 in this tax year, by £250. That would have had the effect of ensuring that around 1.5 million public sector workers who are currently being denied that promised pay rise of £250 would have received it, as the Government had led them to believe. The total cost to the Treasury has been costed at around £500 million. To government Ministers, or indeed to your Lordships, £250 does not mean a great deal-indeed, it is less than our daily allowance-but for many people, £250 means a great deal.
In that debate on the Bill in another place, the Government's reasoning for abandoning their commitment was based on the unconvincing grounds that this protection will now be extended only to those workforces directly under ministerial control or whose pay and conditions are decided by pay review bodies. Not only was this not made clear at the time of the Statement, the figures the Chancellor quoted in his 2010 Budget speech made it clear that this was not what he intended.
David Gauke, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, said in another place that civil servants, nurses, prison officers and the Armed Forces had already received the £250 increase and were to receive it again next year, but whether other public sector work forces, mainly in local government, received that payment was not a matter for the Minister. In most cases they will not receive that because, as Mr Gauke told the other place on
"Decisions on the pay of local government work forces are for local government employers, rather than central Government, to negotiate. Provision was made in the local government settlement for local authorities to pay the £250 increase".
So the Government have handed them that money. He continued:
"We gave them the opportunity to pursue the policy that we are pursuing at national level, but it is ultimately for them to decide how to pay their employees".-[Hansard, Commons, 4/7/11; col. 1335.]
However, it has emerged that many local authorities have allocated the money to other budgets and have not given it to their low-paid workers. Despite that, the Government have said that they have no plans either to compel local authorities to spend the money in the way that was intended or to recall the money. Is that not a shocking example of the Government promising with one hand but taking away with the other?
I urge the Minister to take this matter on board for further discussion within the relevant departments and to reconsider this approach. The Government need to act to ensure that those promised the additional £250, those expecting it and those desperately needing it receive the payment that the Chancellor, less than a year ago, told them they would receive.
My Lords, I applaud the general direction of the Chancellor's attack on public spending, yet I nurse concerns about the Government's economic coherence. The Government's growth strategy is deficient. Growth requires stronger supply-side measures, starting with deregulation. I tabled a Written Question when the Government had been in office for almost a year, inviting Ministers to set out the number of regulations revoked since the general election. The answer was none. It appears that despite languishing in Opposition for 13 years, the Conservatives were unprepared for Government, otherwise action would have been taken by now.
Is not the Chancellor at least willing to remove reams of onerous employment laws, bearing in mind that expensive regulations to meet environmental targets lurk in the pipeline? The ligature of red tape stays tight around our businesses and their growth is further hampered by high tax rates. The Institute of Directors has just gauged that taking all taxes into account, the overall tax burden for a medium-sized firm is no less than 43 per cent.
The Chancellor has asked HMRC to examine likely tax revenues from different rates of personal taxation. I had half hoped that Mr Osborne's apparent belief in the enterprise culture would have informed his opinions without this digression. The noble Lord, Lord Myners, quote John Maynard Keynes in 1933. I am sure that he knows even better than I do that this was the year in which Keynes advised the then Government to cut taxes. Now, even the IMF has urged our Government to slice tax rates. So there is no deregulation, no lower taxes, except corporation tax, and to compound these defects the Government also harm our economic recovery and competitiveness and fuels inflation at the same time with so-called green measures. Last year, the Government raised £40 billion from green taxes with householders paying an extra £200 in hidden charges on gas and electricity bills. The Global Warming Policy Foundation has shown that one-fifth of our soaring energy bills are accounted for by the hidden subsidies and other costs to decarbonise our electricity industry. This injures our recovery. The cost of the low-carbon economy will be £13 billion a year, soon rising to £18 billion. China, India, and to a lesser extent the USA, have rejected constraints on carbon-based energy. Investment and jobs will be forced overseas by the Government's actions. The director-general of the CBI has wryly observed that green taxes on cement, steel and lubricants will mean that even windmills will soon be too expensive to manufacture in this country.
We cannot afford such follies. Last year our trade deficit was £50 billion, despite the 25 per cent devaluation. The benefits of devaluation in terms of exports have been so marginal that I query whether they are worth the manifest inflationary costs condoned by the Monetary Policy Committee.
My noble friend is making a very important speech, and I am particularly struck by what he is saying about inflation. Will he accept that the problem with inflation is that it can get out of control, that it becomes cumulative? I wonder whether he had in mind any figure of inflation at which that might occur. My own view is that it is between 5 and 7 per cent, but I wonder what his view is.
My noble friend has consistently warned about the dangers of inflation over the past 30 to 40 years. As I recall, in his maiden speech last year he highlighted this threat. I agreed with him then, and I agree with him now, because inflation, as he knows, has been above target for more than four of the past five years. We can feel very thankful that the MPC members are not paid performance bonuses. The Business Secretary gently chided me for complaining about inflation in a debate a year ago, implying that it had little to do with the Treasury. Up to a point, Lord Copper, only up to a point. I confess to acting as a foot soldier, like my noble friend Lord Spicer, in the battles against inflation during the 1970s and 1980, sharing Milton Friedman's belief that,
"inflation is one form of taxation that can be imposed without legislation".
I wager that inflation is built into every economic calculation made by the Treasury. The suppression of inflation may not be the Treasury's responsibility but it is, I say to the Minister, its lasting burden.
A week after the general election, the Prime Minister, eager to encourage economic growth, implored the Foreign Office to play a livelier role in helping our export drive, though it later took him seven months to put a trade Minister in post. How can the Prime Minister's wishes be achieved when the Foreign Office budget has been slashed with severity? DfID's budget will soon exceed that of the Foreign Office by a factor of five. We donate in this country twice as much as Japan and nearly twice as much as Germany. Our Government raise the equivalent of £300 per household for overseas aid. Surely a segment of that figure would be better deployed in the Foreign Office to promote British exports?
The late Lord Bauer, who I know worked closely over many years with the noble Lord, Lord Desai, at the London School of Economics, argued about overseas aid transfers cash from poor people in rich countries to rich people in poor countries. Indeed, the DfID Permanent Secretary admitted earlier this month that the department had no idea how much British aid is being lost to fraud and corruption, thus underlining a recent World Bank investigation unearthing massive corruption in the aid field. Rumours still persist about the Karzai clan's links with new blocks of flats in Dubai, partly through the collapsed Kabul Bank. Yet we continue to pour aid into Afghanistan. Parents of dead soldiers must rue the extravagance of the aid budget when compared with the lack of military equipment given to their sons and daughters. I would prefer my donations to be voluntary. In other words, I opt, even if the Prime Minister does not, for the free-will offerings of the big society over the compulsion of big government.
I am pleased that the Prime Minister went to Africa to preach the gospel of free trade. I hope that on his journey he found time to read Dambisa Moyo's book, Dead Aid: Why Aid Is Not Working and How There Is a Better Way for Africa, in which the leading Zambian economist argues that aid fosters poor government, dependency, corruption and poverty. To paraphrase Bill Clinton, economic success is not a matter of chance but of choice. Let chance be the road not taken and choice of the economic road taken, with belief and without fear.
My Lords, in a debate on the Finance (No. 3) Bill in the House of Commons on
A major problem facing the Government was that one in five young people was not employed. The Budget produced by the Government forecast higher levels of unemployment. This was serious, and it was the consequence of the Government's decision. In the Finance (No. 3) Bill debate, Malcolm Wicks, the member for Croydon North, speaking on the Department for Work and Pensions, said that 11 million people alive today can expect to live to 100. Democracy is becoming much advanced.
When Members of Parliament retire, they leave the labour market and draw the state and occupational pension at a later stage. The problem here is class variations, and variations in life expectancy depending on geography, constituency, north or south residence or work undertaken. There is considerable inequality. One-fifth of men have routine occupations. There is a class of workers in these routine occupations such as cleaners, packers, van drivers and unskilled labourers, many of whom started work at the age of 15 or 16. Many of them are dead before the age of 65 and so do not draw the state pension. Women undertake similar work but there are not similar problems.
The problem with increasing the state pension age is that one category does not cover everyone. If the pension age is raised to 67 or 68, this will be considered by many to be a serious change. However, there will be a considerable difference for poorer men and women, who will receive a further pension penalty. Many of the poorest men and women have shorter lives. What we see now is what should be the basis of the increase in the state pension age, which may be raised to 70.
Those who are in major businesses and other highly paid undertakings can undertake working extensive practices by consulting, writing articles, considering other matters and other aspects of their work. However, others undertake basic works, as Malcolm Wicks set out. He stated:
"These people might be able to continue their work, but what about the van driver, the bus driver, the woman who cleans offices, the steel workers, the people with creaking backs and aching limbs who come their 60s need to retire in a very old-fashioned sense?".-[Hansard, Commons, 26/4/11; col. 103.]
That refers not to the higher social classes-they commence work in their mid-20s-but to those hard workers who frequently start at the age of 15 and 16 and who need to retire much earlier and have a reasonable rest.
Malcolm Wicks pointed out that those who start basic work at an earlier age should draw their state pension four years earlier than most; that is, those who undertake routine employment just might be considered by their employers as candidates for taking a state pension at an earlier stage. The major issue is that given the age of the state pension, many people start work at the age of 25 and have 40 years of work, and then have 30 more years in retirement with considerable pay.
As people live longer, longer retirement has to be paid for. There is the possibility that a state-pension age of 66 to 70 may not be an acceptable arrangement. Such an arrangement may need to be changed as factors in medical work and in people's backgrounds increase life expectancy; and life expectancy will increase over many years to come. Those who are in work must be aware of such a charge.
My Lords, this debate has ranged very widely but I shall confine my remarks to the sub-committee's report. As I am a member of the Select Committee but not of the sub-committee, I can say with a clear conscience how very good the report is.
We are debating the report against the background of a number of far-reaching constitutional changes, some actual and some prospective. Often, the most far-reaching changes are those which are least noticed when they are introduced and appear to be the least spectacular. That may very well prove to be the case on this occasion with the Government's new approach to tax policy. It represents an interesting new direction and will, I think, have a considerable impact on the formation of policy in the future. I congratulate the Government as did the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, on its implementation.
I should like to make a few I hope helpful suggestions. My first hope is that that the Treasury and future Chancellors will not be afraid of being boring. The temptation inherent in producing an annual draft Finance Bill will be to cut a dash and to make an impact. There will be some years when that will be the right thing to do, when it will be appropriate to serve up a delectable menu of substantial changes. That will not be the case every year and quite likely it will not be the case in most years. I hope that the new approach will lead not only to a more consultative approach to tax policy, but also to one that is more measured and selective, and that Chancellors will not be judged by how far-reaching or how dramatic the changes are from one year to another.
My second hope is that the Treasury and future Chancellors will not be afraid of disregarding occasionally the constraints imposed by the new approach. I noted what the Minister had to say on that point when he opened this debate. I agree with the sub-committee's strictures on the disguised remuneration measure and the supplementary charge on oil and gas profits. However, there will be occasions when it will be right for the Government of the day to act quickly in response to a difficult or crisis situation. The banking crisis of 2008 and its aftermath provide a case in point. There is a good general rule that should normally be observed, but there will be occasions when Chancellors will be right to take more immediate action.
My third hope is that the draft Finance Bill will spark off what might be termed an iterative process with a set of proposals for action in one area sparking suggestions for action in another. We see an example of this already in the way that taking evidence on tax avoidance has prompted the committee's request for the Government to follow up their anti-avoidance strategy with one for tackling evasion. Given that HMRC calculates that the loss from all forms of evasion and default is £22.6 billion versus £7.5 billion for avoidance, this seems highly desirable.
Finally, I turn to the role of the Economic Affairs Committee, or rather its sub-committee. I strongly agree that the new system provides an admirable opportunity to make better use of the experience and expertise of Members of the House of Lords. This is exactly the sort of role that the present House of Lords is well qualified to perform. The report puts forward two possible options in paragraph 122. I suggest that consideration should also be given-as the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, pointed out, this is a matter for the whole House-to establishing the sub-committee on a permanent or semi-permanent basis. I am not committed to that formula, but I want to ensure that a variety of possible options is explored in order to ensure that the experience and expertise in the House of Lords is harnessed in the most effective way, whatever that may be.
To conclude, I congratulate the Government above all on the introduction of the new approach to tax policy and on the way in which they have started the implementation of that policy. While one should, generally speaking, adhere to the rules, there will be occasions when it will be appropriate to go outside them.
My Lords, I did not serve on your Lordships' Economic Affairs Committee, but I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor, and his committee on the report. It was very sensible.
By tradition, the Second Reading debate on a Finance Bill in your Lordships' House is an occasion to consider the country's economic situation. As my noble friend Lord Myners explained, it is not going as well as we would like-that is an understatement. The accusation by the shadow Chancellor that the Government have recklessly been cutting too far and too fast is beginning to stick. The noble Lord, Lord Owen, put it rather well in last week's HouseMagazine. He said:
"There is a scratching air of general incompetence beginning to infiltrate this coalition Government".
Why? I think it is partly because this Government have fallen into the age-old trap which has pervaded economic life in this country over many years. It is the trap of separating the financial sector from the rest of the economy. Many business people complain of this. It is the kind of thing that JK Galbraith was referring to when he spoke of the belief that monetary policy is the highly professional preserve of the financial community and has to be protected from interference by the rest of us.
What has been the effect of the Government's handling of the debt crisis? What it seems to be doing is transferring the debt from the Government to the citizen. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation recently reported that if you have suffered the average cut in pay and require childcare, your standard of living will have gone down by 10 per cent. As the noble Lord, Lord Myners, said, we are told by the OBR that it expects families to go deeper into debt between now and 2015. The result of the Government's policy will be Government debt perhaps down, family debt certainly up-a typical financial solution which ignores the rest of society and incidentally discourages investment, as many other noble Lords have pointed out.
The Government speak of balance in the economy, but balance in their sense is a compromise. You achieve real balance by working on the whole economy. The noble Lord, Lords Higgins, spoke of this, and he is right, because the line between financial and other services and manufacturing has now become so blurred that it is frequently difficult to tell on which side of the balance an activity lies and what impact it has on jobs. The Government's growth paper ignores this, and the "march of the makers" also ignores this. Selling IT services and software that challenge established businesses is an example of this. Earlier this year, President Sarkozy commissioned from McKinsey a report about this for the G8 summit in Paris. That report calculated that for each of the 500,000 jobs lost in France due to internet innovation over the past 15 years, 2.4 new jobs had been created. These services create manufacturing growth.
Another area where the real world and the financial world seem to be out of kilter is in the matter of enterprise zones. The Government want to encourage them through tax incentives, rate relief and other financial tricks. In the real world, business believes in clusters. The old ways of the supply chain, consisting of standard services or standard components, is giving way to much more complex systems. Advance manufacturing needs particular products and services, and this is why they all need to be together. They need each other's skills and services to stimulate and find new products. This is where the incentives are needed, but the Government have dismantled the mechanism to do this.
Another area where the balance has got out of kilter is in the taxing of overseas profits. It may have satisfied the financial sector, but some see the low tax on overseas profits as an incentive to export jobs overseas and bring back the profits at a low rate of tax.
The Government talk about being green. The noble Lord, Lord Ryder, does not like green taxes because they encourage carbon leakage. However, the green taxes which the Treasury has imposed are not what the Office for National Statistics calls green. The recent House of Commons report quite rightly says that they should be justified by finding a way of showing that taxing pollution goes towards green expenditure, such as less polluting vehicles or better public transport. This is just another example of financial considerations ignoring the rest of us.
Another area where the Government know that there is potential for growth, and about which they should be making many more encouraging noises, is the single market, particularly in services and the digital single market-and this in spite of what the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said about the euro crisis. The single points of contact are well established. Indeed, they are all in English, and if the Minister and other noble Lords would care to look at them, they would be quite impressed. So why have the Government not been giving their wholehearted enthusiasm and support for British business to grow through greater participation in the single market? Because they are afraid of ridicule in the press and criticism in the City. I hope that the new relationship between politics and the press, which seems to be emerging during these past few days, will extend to something as important as our membership of the European Union and that we will see enthusiastic encouragement for the business opportunities in the single market.
It has always seemed to me that there is a distinctively British way of doing business; that is, providing services and goods based on honesty and integrity. Encouraging the proper kind of balance has an important role to play in this, which is an important part of our economic success. In today's commercial world, people have to know what you stand for. Winston Churchill famously said that America will always do the right thing but only after having tried everything else. I have a terrible feeling that that is what is happening here.
My Lords, it is interesting how the noble Lord, Lord Myners, praised Alistair Darling in his opening speech but not the previous Chancellor's budget deficit expansion. I should like to remind the House that in an interview in August last year, he reflected that the Labour Government had abandoned fiscal responsibility; that Gordon Brown "grew to forget" the golden rule; that Labour ran large deficits in the middle part of the previous decade when the economy was clearly running at full capacity; that the party needed to come clean on what cuts it would make; and that it needed to prove once again that it is a credible party of economic management. The noble Lord criticised the current shadow Chancellor. He said:
"I don't agree with Ed Balls. I do think the Labour party has to wrestle with the fact that it tends to leave office with large deficits. And I think its licence to govern is ... weakened in the future-if it could not produce credible arguments ... that it is capable of sound economic management through the cycle".
The country is still recovering from the debt binge.
Once again, we are assembled here to debate the Finance (No. 3) Bill, the majority of which I support. We are also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market, and his committee for their excellent report, which again generally speaks favourably of the Finance (No. 3) Bill. His report applauds the introduction of a new approach to tax policy-making by the coalition Government with the aim of bringing about a clearer, more stable and more predictable tax system. This approach seeks to produce better tax legislation and more effective scrutiny of tax changes. I agree with the report's conclusion that this has produced a Bill, the content of which has generally reflected early and fuller consideration than in the past. The report quotes two good examples of this with which I fully concur-first, corporation tax reform and, secondly, the area of changes to pensions tax relief.
However, the report rightly is critical of two other areas where this new approach has not been adopted. There is disguised remuneration. The new provisions against tax avoidance in this area take up no fewer than 60 pages of new legislation. Surely this would not have been necessary had there been more consultation beforehand. Likewise came the change to the oil and gas tax regime by way of the supplementary charge. No consultation had been made with either industry. It was not until there was a great deal of criticism that exploration in these areas would be seriously affected that at the last minute the announcement was made of an extension to the ring-fence expenditure supplement, which has persuaded companies like Statoil to resume its drilling projects.
Before moving to considering the Finance (No. 3) Bill as a whole, I wish to congratulate the Chancellor on his vigorous approach in tackling the appalling legacy of the Budget deficit left to us by the Labour Government. This had to be the first economic priority after the election. His deficit reduction policies have been approved by a whole range of organisations, including the IMF, the European Commission, the OECD, the Fitch rating agency and Timothy Geithner, the US Treasury Secretary.
Looking at the Finance (No. 3) Bill in more detail, first, I shall focus on help for businesses. I welcome the reduction in corporation tax for large companies from April this year, the reforms to the foreign profits legislation, the announcement of new enterprise zones and the proposed low rate of corporation tax for offshore finance companies. That will all be good news for larger companies. Moreover, the Chancellor has dealt a very generous hand to VCTs and EIS investors, increasing the tax relief and the amount of investment while rightly warning against abuse of the rules. The slight improvement in the capital allowance regime for short-term assets is good news. Those positive aspects of the Budget far outweigh the negative ones for a few sectors of the economy. Terry Scuoler chief executive of the EEF, the manufacturers' association, while praising the Budget in the main, said that,
"the significant rise in energy bills threatened by the Carbon Price Floor is unwelcome".
For smaller unincorporated businesses, the news on the tax front is more mixed. They should benefit from easier planning laws. They should also be helped by the decision to support innovation and manufacturing, with an additional £100 million this year for new science facilities and an increase in the SME rate of research and development tax credit over the next few years. However, two areas are definitely not to their advantage. The 50p income tax rate needs to be reduced as soon as possible, and the Equalities Act could well cause problems in taking on staff.
Regulation is also a major area of difficulty which I shall examine in more detail. For those not familiar with it, a new Cabinet sub-committee called the Reducing Regulation Committee was established after the coalition came to power. The committee has to review the quality and robustness of regulatory proposals. Astonishingly, its second report, which covers the period between September and December 2010, concludes that more than 40 per cent of the regulatory proposals that it considered were not fit for purpose. The main failing was a failure to produce cost-benefit analyses of proposals. This all might sound rather esoteric but is very important. If regulations are being spewed out that do not make sense, it is a big hindrance, especially to smaller businesses which do not have the back-office ability to cope with them all.
Let me give another example of difficulties for a smaller business. A friend of mine who is involved in a growing smaller company has been given the opportunity to pay his tax in instalments. However, something has recently gone wrong with the Revenue's computer system which means that he has been asked to pay all his tax at once. He rang up the local Revenue office, which is a nightmare process, and took more than an hour to get through to anyone sensible. He was then told that this was an administrative mistake and that he need not worry. I fear that this may have happened to a lot of small businesses. Has the Minister come across any other cases in this area?
Overall, I welcome the Finance (No. 3) Bill 2011. The Chancellor has a difficult hand to play and progress may appear to be uneven at times. But his message is clear: Britain is open for business and it has produced major incentives to companies and individuals to create wealth, which I believe is the right approach for the economy.
My Lords, the report of the Select Committee on Economic Affairs conveys one startling fact. We are told in paragraph 125 of the latest available estimate of the tax gap, which for the year 2008-09 was £42 billion. The gap is defined as the difference between tax collected and the tax that should have been collected.
This gap represents an enormous sum of money and one must look for ways of putting it in perspective. The comparison that comes to mind immediately is with the size of the budget deficit. Of course, this is a highly variable amount, but for the past two years it has been at roughly the same level. These deficits have been roughly four times as large as the tax gap and they were preceded by deficits that were virtually negligible.
The immediate cause of the rising deficit and the rising debt was the financial crisis. It was not, as some have suggested, the result of the profligacy of the then Government. The Government were constrained to buy a large proportion of the equity of the failing banks and to supply them with funds in other ways as well. To do so, they had to raise the money by selling bonds.
Following the crisis, there has been a savage fiscal retrenchment by the current Government, and one might have expected the debt and the deficit to have been reduced as a result. This has been a false expectation. In explaining the fallacy, one needs to make a firm distinction between the gross budgetary effect of a marginal reduction in the Government's expenditure and its net effect. The net effect of a reduction of £1 of expenditure is the value of £1 less the reductions in the tax receipts occasioned by the additional unemployment and the reduction in economic activity, and less the consequent expenditure on unemployment benefit. In the present circumstances, a reduction in the expenditure has barely any effect on the net level of the deficit.
Given that this is the case, one is bound to wonder why the coalition Government have placed such emphasis on their strategy for reducing the budgetary deficit by reducing the expenditure. The answer may be twofold. First, there may be a mistaken belief in the effectiveness of such fiscal stringency in reducing the deficit and the debt. Secondly, it fits well with the Government's political and economic philosophy to take steps to reduce the level of government economic activity.
The Government's economic strategy may have been influenced by the desire to obtain the approval of the risible credit rating agencies. These agencies have been passing judgments on the viability of various European economies and on the likelihood that they will default on their sovereign debts. Perhaps, therefore, we should compare our economy with the economies that have suffered from the adverse effects of the assessments of the credit rating agencies and wonder whether it might reasonably be subject to the same aspersions.
It should be remarked at the outset that whereas those economies that are currently subject to debt crises have a substantial proportion of their borrowings in short-term loans from the money markets, UK debt is, by contrast, preponderantly of the medium and long-term varieties that have a limited exposure to the whims of the markets. The UK's public debt as a proportion of GDP stands at 80 per cent. By comparison, Greece's debts are 142 per cent of GDP, Ireland's debts are 96 per cent, Portugal's 93 per cent and even Germany has greater public borrowings than the UK at 83 per cent of GDP.
One should also compare the size of the annual deficits of the various countries. Here, at present, Britain does not fare so well. As a proportion of GDP, its current deficit is the third largest in Europe. It must be conceded that the UK could and should do better in reducing the level of its budgetary deficit. Given that this cannot be achieved effectively by reducing government expenditures, one must ask by what other means it might be reduced. The means must be by securing the growth of the economy and by increasing the levels of personal taxation.
There is ample scope for obtaining significant revenues by increasing the top rate of taxation. The current British rates are below those of other northern European countries and they have been at low levels ever since their radical reduction in the early years of the Thatcher Administration. The basic UK rate is at 20 per cent; the higher rate, which becomes effective for incomes above £35,000, is 40 per cent; and an additional rate of 50 per cent-which is a recent provision-is operative only for incomes in excess of £150,000. At the level of income where the additional rate is chargeable, it becomes common for remunerations to take various forms that are aimed at the avoidance of tax. Disguised remunerations are widespread throughout the financial sector and at the higher reaches of corporate enterprise. These sidestep income tax through awards or incentive payments mediated by trusts, third parties or offshore pensions. Non-repayable tax-free loans are also common. If the additional rate were raised and tax avoidance tackled, we should go a long way towards eliminating the budget deficit.
The Government are well aware of the problems of tax avoidance and they have widespread backing for their aim of stamping it out. There is much to be done before tax avoidance in the upper echelons is successfully quashed. To defeat the cunning of the tax avoidance industry requires an ongoing and sustained commitment to the task. The problems will not be overcome until the level of capital gains tax is further increased. It should be graded according to income so as to become commensurate with the levels of income tax. This is because much of the higher remuneration is gathered in the guise of capital gains.
The importance of the task and the reward for undertaking it are increasing as the distribution of income in this country becomes more unequal and as the ranks of the middle-income earners are decimated. It should be noted that the UK records the highest value in northern Europe of the Gini coefficient, which measures the inequality of income distribution. It remains to say how the economy should be stimulated. It should be stimulated not from the demand side but from the supply side by the provision of capital to businesses and enterprises, both large and small. The banks should be called upon to provide this capital, and they should be subject to severe penalties if they fail to do so.
The Government have recently declared bold plans for investing in renewable energy and in nuclear power generation, but these will come to nothing if the necessary capital is not available. At present, the encouragement to banks to lend more is akin to pushing on a string. The Government need to be far more commanding in their approach to this problem.
My Lords, I am conscious that the hour is moving on. Tempted though I am to summarise the contributions of all noble Lords to this debate, which has been absolutely fascinating, I will leave that particular joy to the Minister.
I will begin by emphasising those parts of the debate that I am sure will obtain the enthusiastic acceptance of the whole House. The debate was graced by the outstanding maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Magan of Castletown. We very much appreciated the forthrightness of his speech in the areas that he covered. It was a tour de force, and at times it was also somewhat of a tour d'horizon. The problem of a tour d'horizon in this House is that we do from time to time have to abide by certain time constraints. However, on his maiden speech he was able to deploy fully the arguments and we all very much appreciated what he had to say. We are also grateful to the Minister for introducing the Bill and for covering it in a very limited time, conscious of the fact that many dimensions of the Finance (No. 3) Bill would be covered in the debate, to which he would be expected to respond at the end.
There has been a great deal of approval on the speech and on the work of the noble Lord, Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market. We all appreciate the sterling work that he does for the committee. From the contributions to a debate of this kind we see the very constructive work that the committee does in discrete areas. I do not doubt that we all recognise the very serious recommendations about the degree of consultation that can go on with regard to taxation, encouraging the Government to go further than they have gone so far, although we recognise their good intentions. We also recognise the necessary work on anti-avoidance and in due course increased work on anti-evasion as far as taxation is concerned. In particular, I want to comment on his points about the Revenue staff. I understand fully why the committee reached its conclusions on anxieties regarding the competence of Revenue staff. We have only to compare the rates paid in the public sector against those paid to the adversaries in the private sector who seek to limit the taxation paid by companies to realise what an enormously difficult job the public sector has in those terms. That is to say nothing of the fact that it cannot help that part of the Government's deficit reduction plan is to reduce HMRC staff. Of course that produces strains in the department in the crucial areas where extra revenues can be obtained.
All sides in the debate appreciate that this Budget has been produced at a time of great economic difficulty. We all recognise that there has been a global financial crisis which has led every country that does not have the strongest of economies into very real difficulties. We all recognise that we need to get deficits down. That is why we do not doubt that the Government had to take tough decisions on spending cuts. Nevertheless, the best way of getting the deficit down is to employ the assets of the country as fully as possible. That means retaining people in constructive work as best we can. However, a great deal of the Government's strategy, particularly with regard to the public sector, is to reduce our productive units and the ability of people to work and to earn. People who do not earn do not, of course, pay taxes-nor do they consume or sustain demand. Therefore, it is of no great surprise, or it ought not to be, that this economy has staggered into a position of negative growth over recent quarters. It looks by all accounts, and all forecasts, as if it will be a very considerable time indeed before we see anything like significant positive growth, despite the fact that we can look at other countries-and Germany is the outstanding example-that have come through this crisis and have positive rates of growth as they tackle deficits. Of course, it is not the case, as it has been portrayed, that the United Kingdom alone ran into deficit. All these countries have had to wrestle with their budgetary plans. The problem is the extent to which they have savagely reduced demand, as this Government have-and the answer, on the whole, is that they have eschewed that.
I put it to this House that if the debate that is going on in the United States of America at present should be won by the kind of voices that we have heard from certain parts of the House on the government Benches today, by the rightwing Republicans and the Tea Party advocates, we will see a decline in the American economy that will render our capacity to recover extremely difficult indeed, if not impossible, by 2015. Therefore, we should recognise that when we are discussing this issue of global demand, we have our part to play in this, too. We have the greatest doubts about the particular strategy being followed by the Government. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, said, it was a pity that the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, was not here in this debate, as he above all on these occasions has identified the strategy that a coalition Government pursued 90 years ago in the face of public crisis over finances. It took us almost to war time and government expenditure in war time to recover. We worry, and are critical of the fact, that the rate of deficit reduction that the Government are pursuing is one that may lead to similarly bleak prospects for this country over this period of time.
Of course, in the debate, there have been so many comments about the Bill itself, and it scarcely behoves me to seek to reply to all of them. But I hope that the Minister will pay some attention to those who have argued about particular aspects of the social impact of the Budget. I hope that he will respond to the arguments that my noble friend Lord Anderson and the noble Lord, Lord Browne, produced on the question of the extent to which the Government intend to pursue family-friendly policies, of which we have seen little at the present time. I hope that also he will appreciate those contributions of my noble friends Lord McFall and Lord Watson of Invergowrie, and several other noble friends. They emphasised the fact that the great danger is that we look once again as if we were concentrating overwhelmingly on the finance of dimensions of the economy-a point that my noble friend Lord Haskell also brought late into the debate. The Government have said that it is their intention to rebalance the economy, but it is quite clear that the manufacturing industry is not getting the support, resources or opportunities from the banks to borrow in order to invest that would help to put our economy on a sounder footing.
This debate has been extremely valuable, and we recognise the very constructive comments on all sides. We hope, however, that the Minister will also appreciate that, as far as Her Majesty's Opposition are concerned, there is a real difference between our perspective on the strategy which ought to be pursued at this present time, and at the moment we are holding the Government to account where its case is remarkably thin.
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate this evening, and I thank all the noble Lords for their contributions. In particular, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Magan of Castletown on what was-to echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham-a masterly tour d'horizon of the economic scene. I have to say that it was about the one thing on which I agreed with the noble Lord, Lord Davies, but let me come back to that.
As I said in my opening remarks, the Government welcome the constructive comments of the Economic Affairs Committee, and we will take these into account as we entrench a more predictable, stable and simple tax system. This year's Finance Bill, the third of the current Session, has come through an unprecedented degree of consultation and engagement, and implements many of the changes announced at the Budget.
As we said at the Budget, and as we said last year, we are committed to growth through investment, through private sector recovery, and not through unsustainable deficits. This Bill moves us forward on that path to stability and recovery. It promotes our international competitiveness by cutting corporation tax by a further 1 per cent and by reforming our controlled foreign company rules. These are key steps to creating the most competitive tax system in the G20.
The Bill encourages growth by supporting our entrepreneurs and SMEs, by doubling entrepreneurs' relief, increasing R&D tax credits and cutting the small profits tax rate. It embodies fairness by lifting hundreds of thousands of people out of income tax, and by ensuring that other sectors of society make a fair contribution to cutting the deficit and restoring sustainable growth. It provides for a better environment by incentivising investment in cleaner sources of energy. I am pleased to say that these points were picked up in different ways by a number of noble Lords in this debate.
Let me first take what I might call the pessimist tendency. The debate did not get off to a cracking start given the tone set by the noble Lord, Lord Myners, and followed up by the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, so let me talk to the pessimists for a moment. This is an economy in which the private sector has generated over 500,000 new jobs in the last year. Manufacturers are talking to me about shortages of skills; about the need for more engineers; about welcoming the Government's apprenticeship schemes; and all the noble Lord, Lord Myners, does is talk down the prospects for the economy. To be fair to him, he recognises that the economy is in the difficulty it is in because his Government did not deal with the structural deficit when they could have done. I certainly applaud his frankness, but it is a frightening challenge; and a legacy which the previous Government left.
I am, however, encouraged. On Friday, I was Manchester, the old stamping ground of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, an area where the rebalancing from the public to the private sector is as challenging as anywhere. The latest quarterly survey from the Greater Manchester chamber of commerce points out encouraging signs. I think that some noble Lords need to get out and about around the country more.
On the specific point which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, raised about reserves, it is a little late at night to go into details about this. However, I know that it is a point that bothers the noble Lord considerably so I will write to him.
The noble Lord says "Don't bother" so I will not. I do not know whether other noble Lords heard; as he tells me not to write, I will not, but I have made the offer.
As to the extraordinary speech from the noble Lord, Lord Myners, which continually came back to praise the former Chancellor, Mr Darling, I can only think that he read in the Sunday newspapers, as I did, that Mr Darling is coming close to finalising his memoirs. I assume that this was a late play to make sure that Mr Darling looks favourably on the noble Lord, Lord Myners, and his part in the previous Government, but we shall see. We then got away from the pessimists but came back to one or two a bit towards the end. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, joined in by talking about the Government transferring debt to the citizens. The trouble is that the government debt is the debt of the citizens and that attitude, I fear, underlay so much of what the previous Government did. They completely failed to recognise that it is the citizens who, at the end of the day, have to pick up the debt.
In terms of unrealistic ways to go about getting us out of the challenge we are in, I have to say to the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, that one way in which we will absolutely kill growth is if we raise further the top rate of income tax from a level which is not one that this Government wish to see in the medium term. We desperately need to encourage entrepreneurship and growth and the one thing we should not think of doing is further raising the top rate of tax. I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Myners, nodding in approval.
I do not recognise the picture which the pessimists paint. However, I recognise that there are a lot of serious challenges out there, which noble Lords pointed to throughout the debate. I cannot deal with them in detail but my noble friend Lord Newby was the first-and virtually the last-speaker to refer to the European dimension, which is very difficult, while my noble friend Lord Higgins again pointed out the real challenges that there are in analysing the monetary situation and taking lessons from it.
The noble Lord, Lord Desai, raised the question of the savings rate and I completely agree with the challenge that that poses. I am delighted that the noble Lord appears to have lost none of his vigour even though it appears that Delilah may have got at Samson. It was a great reassurance that he is still on fine form. My noble friend Lord Ryder of Wensum was also on fine form. He raised a lot of points but, yes, regulation and employment are very challenging. I would point out to my noble friend that we are in the process of putting 21,000 regulations on the Red Tape Challenge website. We will indeed eliminate significant quantities of regulation while on employment law, another key area, we have already made moves on unfair dismissal to right the balance between employers and employees. My right honourable friend the Chancellor has identified five other areas where we are looking at employment regulation at the moment.
The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Invergowrie, talked about the protection that is important to lower-paid public sector workers. The Government have indeed made the £250 payment for all those within central government and are encouraging all other public sector bodies to abide by that.
On that point, the Minister mentions all other public bodies but I mentioned that local authorities have been allocated resources for this specific purpose, yet the Government appear to be allowing them to spend the money on whatever they see fit. Surely, that defeats the Government's purpose in regard to the £250 that the Minister mentioned.
My Lords, as I have said, and as the noble Lord recognises, the money is available and the Government are encouraging not just local authorities but all public sector bodies to stick to the rule that has been applied to central government employees.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, drew attention to another important area; that of an ageing population and its complexities that cut both ways, as he explained. My noble friend Lord Northbrook brought us back to one of the key points, for which I am grateful to him, on the Budget that has pro-business tax changes as central to it.
In the middle of the debate, we had an interesting sub-debate around the importance of marriage and the family. Points were raised by the noble Lords, Lord Anderson of Swansea and Lord Browne of Belmont, and my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay of Clashfern. We are keen to send a clear message that family and marriage matter and that strong and healthy families help to create a strong and healthy society. In a little over a year, this Government have proved their determination to tackle the wider issues that can affect family stability. We have made great strides in improving outcomes for families, particularly those on low and middle incomes, through our work on welfare reform. Furthermore, the universal credit will ensure that people will generally keep more of their earnings for themselves and their families than is currently the case. However, we need to be realistic. It is not fiscally practical to introduce a transferable personal allowance for married couples at this stage. Having said that, our commitment remains clear.
We then had some interesting discussion referring specifically to the Economic Affairs Committee report, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord, MacGregor of Pulham Market, not only for chairing the committee but for drawing out some of the critical points from the report. I am grateful to him and to my noble friend Lord Tugendhat for their general welcoming of the Government's new approach to policy-making. I shall respond to a couple of areas that were specifically raised, such as disguised remuneration. HMRC had indicated through its Spotlights publication, in particular, that these schemes were generally not effective. The Government decided to publish draft concert legislation for consultation at the same time as introducing proportionate anti-forestalling rules, with effect from
I am grateful to the various noble Lords who talked about the road map on corporation tax. The noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, drew attention to it, and I agree with him that corporation tax reform is not just about cutting the headline rate, which is why in the broader package we are looking at such critical things as the patent box, the treatment of intragroup dividends, and so on. Also in the report, the question of evasion came up a number of times from my noble friend Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market. The noble Lords, Lord Bilimoria and Lord McFall, welcomed the £900 million of additional resources. HMRC is taking this very seriously. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, is incorrect in his understanding. HMRC is increasing staff to tackle avoidance, evasion and fraud by around 2,500 full-time equivalent staff by 2014-15. It will consider the benefits of publishing a more detailed document, setting out its approach to evasion later in the year. It is getting late and I should and will conclude.
As noble Lords are aware, this Government came to power inheriting the largest peacetime deficit in the nation's history and an economy on its knees. We have taken difficult decisions in our two Budgets to date to tackle this dire inheritance, eliminate our structural current deficit over the coming four years and stimulate a private sector recovery. This strategy has been endorsed by the IMF, the OECD, the European Commission and UK business organisations. Of course, we have always said that recovery would be choppy. Our plans necessarily incorporate a degree of flexibility through the automatic stabilisers to allow government spending to move up and down with the economics cycle.
This Bill further delivers our commitment to improve our competitiveness, encourage investment and support our businesses. At the same time it removes hundreds of thousands of individuals from income tax and helps reduce the cost of living for families across the country, and it makes these changes in a way that is fairer and more consultative than any previous Finance Bill. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 46 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.