Finance Bill — Second Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:00 pm on 16th July 2014.

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Photo of Lord Deighton Lord Deighton The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 10:00 pm, 16th July 2014

My Lords, the phrase wide-ranging debate is often used in this House, but we can justifiably describe this debate as one of the widest-ranging. It ranged from the broadest macroeconomic issues and challenges to society to the very specific and detailed implications of the taxation of limited liability partnerships. I learnt a lot and I hope that noble Lords did too. Like many of the speakers, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord MacGregor. I could not do it more eloquently than they have done, or with the same historical experience. It is clear that his contribution is enormously valued. I also thank the other members of the Economic Affairs Sub-Committee.

I shall try to address some of the questions, and given their breadth and technical depth, I am sure that noble Lords will grant me some poetic licence. I shall start with the noble Lord, Lord Davies, who summarised very well many of the contributions, so I shall not re-summarise them in exactly the same way as he did. As to our competing visions for an economic strategy, I tried very hard to determine the alternative economic strategy that was being offered. As I understood it, the objection to our economic strategy was that the economy has not grown quite fast enough. I do not think that that is an adequate basis for winning the hearts and minds of the British electorate in attempting to get back the keys to drive this particular car. I think that we also heard that one of the explanations for the strength of the recovery was the very low base from which we started. We all know why we had such a low base; I do not really need to revisit that. The work that this Government have done to stabilise the public finances and get the situation under control, so that we can focus on the key drivers of economic growth, is our major accomplishment. My noble friend Lord Lawson reminded me that I should have congratulated my boss the Chancellor of the Exchequer on sticking to his guns. I am not sure how many people would have done the same, given the extreme pressure of those early years of government when the depth of the recession really hit home.

I also have a very different view of the fairness behind this Budget and Finance Bill. The basis of the Bill is very clear. We are doing everything that we can to make this an extraordinarily attractive environment for businesses to grow, to create jobs and to improve their productivity—the very things that create value and drive the economy forward. The concept which I think the noble Lord opposite is not addressing is how you get this economy going. The Government are creating an environment in which businesses are growing and new businesses are starting up. Businesses from around the world want to come here. I have a long queue of investors outside my office every day from all over the world who want to come to this country because they think that it is the best place in the world to invest their capital. That is a result of the environment that this Government are creating.

The noble Lord focused hugely on fairness. This Finance Bill is all about fairness. There is a huge focus on making sure that people pay their taxes, and that focus is inevitably on people right at the top of the income levels. The core income tax measure is the progressive increase of the personal allowance, and there is no fairer way to benefit people at the bottom of the income chain. So what is driving this Budget could not be more focused on those combined goals of making sure that things are done fairly, but also of making sure that we have some growth, so that we have some real proceeds from that growth to distribute across the population.

I take on board some of the suggestions about things that need to be looked at and done better. I certainly agree that responsibility around executive pay is a big issue, and my personal view is that boards need to do their job as effectively as possible. It is certainly right to say that improving productivity will be at the heart of driving forward improvements in real disposable household income, which is what we are all looking for. The OBR tells us that, given what we have done with inflation and growth, we will see those lines cross this year. It has been a long hard path, but we are getting there. I also agree that a compelling strategy for improving the supply of homes is vital for this country. So although I disagree on many of the core approaches, there are two or three things in there that any new Government should redouble their efforts to attend to.

My noble friend Lord MacGregor asked absolutely the right question about the work of this House on the Finance Bill: does it add value? All I can say is that, having spent the weekend reading the report, and having listened to this debate, I am thinking a lot harder about the real issues and how we can do our job more effectively—whether that is about how the Treasury and HMRC work together, how we train our people, how we consult, or, in particular, how focused we are on improving tax simplification and administration. The quality of the work that my noble friend has overseen makes it easy to answer yes to his question.

I am in a rather strange hypothetical position, because normally when we are discussing such issues we are having a debate after which we could amend things, but I am now defending decisions that have already been taken, so no change will result from this debate. The fundamental difference between us is whether the consultation produced such different results that we needed more time to implement the system. When I looked into this with my officials, we were not in any way persuaded that spending another 12 months working through it would have resulted in a different outcome, and we were extremely keen to ensure that we could put this legislation into practice so that we could collect the money that needed to be paid. Indeed, as I have said before, many of the partnerships that had to change as a result of the measure had already made those changes. It may have been a pragmatic decision, but on balance we feel that we were justified in getting on with this.

The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, made the point about following case law rather than statutory provisions. Again, we felt that in order to administer the rules effectively, we needed the certainty that clear tests apply. The noble Lord, Lord Joffe, made some interesting observations about how much we should invest in HMRC in order to increase the yield. Since 2010 we have invested about another £1 billion in numbers of people and systems to help us collect revenue, so the management approach of evaluating the investment we need to make to enhance the yield is indeed a way in which we think about that challenge.

It is always fascinating to learn about the current perspective of my noble friend Lord Lawson on the economy. I am interested in those things that we can control, and therefore can do something about, but I shall not comment on monetary policy. It is dangerous for a Treasury Minister to do that, given the independence of the Bank of England. It is always good to revisit our discussion on banking reform. I agree that following through those things that the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards recommended is absolutely right. In particular, getting SME lending going is a key focus of this Government. On energy policy, to bring my own experience to bear, it is hard to think of another area where I personally spend more time in trying to think things through and make things work which have real economy implications than energy policy. I will certainly take on board with respect to shale and getting that whole industry moving whether the way the Government are looking at that is sufficiently focused and driven. At the moment, it is managed through the growth implementation committee, which the Chancellor chairs, but it is of course one of a wide number of topics. I have discussed with industry participants how we should follow through on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Razzall, talked about the challenges of keeping our focus on managing the deficit down. I acknowledge the simple point that our work is by no means done. We are still confronted by the same issues around priorities, and the same questions around having the right debate to ensure that we understand the implications of the choices that we will continue to be forced to make.

I agree with a specific point made by my noble friend Lord Wakeham and a number of noble Lords. The best role for advisers is to help us to understand and identify the unintended consequences of the changes and proposals we put in place. That is an extraordinarily valuable role. On rationalising, modernising and simplifying our existing portfolio of taxes, obviously to get the balance right between continuing to meet our tax yield objectives and making them operate more effectively is always something that has to be worked through. Personally, I am a big advocate of the simplest possible portfolio of taxation so that we do not have all the kinds of issues we talked about today—I will move on to address the comments of my noble friend Lord Flight later—which are in the main created by complexity and the perverse incentives you end up with when you fiddle around with a tax regime over many years.

My noble friend Lord Wakeham also referred to the formal review between HMT and HMRC that the committee recommended. I made those comments in my opening remarks, but it is kept continually under review. The independent Tax Professionals Forum also scrutinised the process. The Office of Tax Simplification looked at that and commented positively on how the two worked together. Therefore I do not by any means want to suggest complacency, but that is an ongoing process. I accept absolutely that everything we do could be done better. There is no situation in life where consultation cannot ever be improved. It is like communication—you can never have enough of it. However, we are well seized of the importance of that.

My noble friend Lord Flight, as ever, took on the difficult task of making the case for those who have participated in schemes to manage their tax payments. I admire him for that. He is certainly right that we need to be careful about the language and that there are tiers of how we should regard just how heinous the abuse or avoidance is. I could not agree more that we do not want to be in a position where we are creating retrospective acts, where we are left with anomalies which make it very hard for people to work out what to do. As regards taking money out of people’s bank accounts, if you look at the process that will be gone through by HMRC before that is done—I will not read out the details—we should take some comfort from that.

My final point on tax avoidance is my own personal view. I have always been a strong advocate in the Chancellor’s ear to pursue these changes quite aggressively. It is important that everyone who could potentially avail themselves of these schemes knows that they are being treated fairly. If you were in a position personally to be able to take advantage of them, you would not want to see other people in an equivalent position, who are prepared to be more aggressive, just paying less tax. There is a real fairness issue here. I think we have got the slant of what we are doing right—a whole regime of competitive taxes where we are rigorous in expecting people to adhere to them and there is no wriggle room for people with a more aggressive frame of mind to play the system. I like the way we are heading, though I know it creates some challenges.

In conclusion, I think we have taken some difficult decisions and resolute action to tackle the enormous debts we inherited. We are all agreed that the job is not done. The whole point of this Bill is to put us back on the right path. We are supporting enterprise, helping families and ensuring everybody pays their fair share of tax. I commend the Bill to the House. I beg to move.

Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 46 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time, and passed.

Annotations

George Morley
Posted on 17 Jul 2014 5:12 pm (Report this annotation)

And you can see that the denial of the uprating of the state pension to all pensioners would be in compliance with the general wish for fairness and honesty from the politicians of all colours but we find that there are a minority of these pensioners who are discriminated against purely due to their location. This , gentlemen,is effectively a tax which takes away their entitlement without justification leaving them poorer by the year and poverty bound and you are all responsible !
But you would not be so if you really were responsible.