Finance (No. 2) Bill

– in the House of Commons am 3:43 pm ar 17 Ebrill 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Pleidleisiau yn y ddadl hon

Second Reading

Photo of Nigel Huddleston Nigel Huddleston The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 4:24, 17 Ebrill 2024

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

Last month, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer set out a Budget to deliver on the priorities of the Prime Minister and his Government, in the context of an improving economic picture. Inflation has more than halved, down from its peak of 11.1% to 3.2%. Real wages have increased for the ninth month in a row and are now growing at an average annual real rate of 1.9%. The Finance (No. 2) Bill builds on these improvements by seeking to reward work, boosting the housing market, improving the tax system and strengthening the economy. This follows on from our national insurance cuts that, when combined with the autumn reductions, mean 27 million employees will get an average tax cut of £900 a year and 2 million self-employed people will get a tax cut averaging £700 a year, all made possible because we have a plan for growth and for better and more efficient public services. The Bill covers 24 different measures in total and I will outline its most substantive powers.

Photo of Desmond Swayne Desmond Swayne Ceidwadwyr, New Forest West

Will the Minister consider a further measure to right a historic injustice? In Committee, will he entertain an amendment to allow those caught up in the loan charge access to a tribunal?

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

I thank my right hon. Friend for his comments. We have had a discussion about the loan charge previously. I do not believe an amendment would be in order on this Bill, but I say to my right hon. Friend and others that I am always open to hearing concerns about the loan charge. I have done previously and will happily continue to hear information, evidence and concerns from colleagues.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for coming to the House to present the Bill. Over the last six months, particularly the last few weeks, farmers have been under exceptional weather pressure, with the implication that they will be unable to cultivate or plough their land or sow their crops. The Minister referred to inflation coming down. By the way, I am glad that it is dropping; we all should be, and if we are not there is something wrong with us. At the same time, inflation cannot come down if the cost of foodstuffs starts to rise. Has the Minister had the opportunity to consider that issue? How can we help farmers to keep food prices down at this difficult time, and thereby ensure inflation continues to drop?

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his positive welcome of today’s news about inflation. He is right that it is welcome but we always need to keep an eye on it. I join him in thanking our farmers, who have played a pivotal role in helping food prices to come down. The supermarkets have a role in that area as well. He raises some points that are slightly outside the remit of the Bill, but I assure him I will continue to have conversations with ministerial colleagues and others, and I am sure he will as well. We always listen to the important farming community in this country, who do so much to create employment and provide us with food.

The Bill covers 24 different measures. I will not go through every single one of them, but want to focus on a few key areas. First, I turn to how the Bill rewards work. We all recognise the simple truth that work should pay. We understand how hard many people up and down the country work. This Government want to ensure they are recognised for that because that approach not only benefits individuals and families, but overall growth and the economy. As I mentioned, that is why we have already taken two Bills to cut national insurance through Parliament, but this Bill goes further.

A key measure in the Bill is to increase the high-income child benefit charge threshold from £50,000 to £60,000. In addition, the rate of the charge will be halved, so that individuals continue to receive child benefit until one household member earns £80,000, taking 170,000 families out of paying this tax charge. These changes are a well-earned reward for working families up and down the country and put pounds back into parents’ pockets.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

While the changes in the child benefit allowances are important, especially helping parents who want to get into work and have their children looked after, does the Minister accept that one of the biggest impacts of the Budget on people who are working is the way in which they are being dragged into higher tax rates because thresholds have not been raised? That is having a huge disincentive effect on working families.

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

The right hon. Gentleman will be aware that, back in 2010, the tax-free allowance was, I think, £6,475. Actions taken by this Government since then have increased the tax-free allowance to more than £12,500, a significant real-terms increase, which means that take-home pay is higher than it otherwise would have been. When taken in combination with other measures, it is a really important move.

Furthermore, I am sure the right hon. Gentleman would not want to detract from the significant changes in national insurance, which have put money back into people’s pockets. We have eliminated by a third a whole category of taxation—national insurance—and that will help working people in this country as well.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

Just to reinforce this point about the increase in thresholds, the Minister says that it has been a significant real-terms increase, but it is actually a 21% increase, which is very significant indeed. My question is on the part of the HICBCs that were announced in the Budget but that he did not quite mention, which was the plan from 2025-26 to base the benefit on the household budget rather than the individual budget. Can he just reassure the House that His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs will be up to speed to be able to implement that part of what the Chancellor has outlined?

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

I thank my hon. Friend for his question, but he has jumped ahead to a later part of my speech. I will get on to that point in a moment, because the movement to a household budget is an important part of the announcements.

I should just reiterate the first points on the changes that we have made. Overall, we estimate that 485,000 families will gain an average of £1,260 in child benefit in 2024-25 from these changes to HICBC. And, of course, what is good for families is also good for the economy at large, as my hon. Friend pointed out. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates that, through these child benefit changes, the economy will gain additional hours work equivalent to around 10,000 full-time equivalents by 2028-29. Going forward, we want to ensure that the child benefit system fairly rewards families in all their diversity, including those who, for example, have only one working parent. The Government will end the unfairness, for example, of single earner families in the child benefit system by administering the HICBC on a household rather than an individual basis by April 2026. We shall be consulting on this in due course, as my hon. Friend quite rightly highlighted. This is something, we know, that many people have been calling for.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Ceidwadwyr, Amber Valley

Can the Minister give us an indication of what level of household income the Treasury has in mind for that consultation? I presume that it will be much higher than £80,000; otherwise, it would be a more punitive situation. Will it be £100,00 or £120,000? What will it be?

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

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s inquisitiveness, but this is the point of the consultation. We will be having a consultation and I am sure that his views and opinions and those of others will be taken into account.

I shall now turn to how the Bill will drive investment in our economy. We all recognise that investment in the economy is crucial for economic growth. It supports everyone across the country and ensures our competitiveness in international markets. That is why, through this Bill, the Government are taking decisions for the long term to support that investment. For example, our creative industries contributed £126 billion in gross value added in 2022 and supported more than 2 million jobs.

By announcing more than £1billion of new reliefs for the UK’s world-leading creative industries at the spring Budget, we have signalled our commitment to ensuring the sector’s continued growth. For example, we will make current tax reliefs for theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries permanent, at a rate of 45% for touring theatres and touring productions by museums and galleries; 40% for non-touring productions; and 45% for orchestras. That will ensure that our creative industries have the support they need after the unprecedented economic shock of the pandemic.

We will also further support the UK’s independent film sector through a new UK independent film tax credit at a rate of 53% for films with a budget of up to £15 million, which is worth about £80 million a year. This will support the production of UK independent films and, of course, the incubation of UK talent, which is admired around the world. This Government are committed to supporting UK businesses and these measures deliver on that.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

The amendment in my name sought to address the failure of the Bill to bring in tax measures to ensure the continuation of oil and gas activity in Scotland, including at Grangemouth oil refinery. Almost 90% of levy revenue comes from Scotland, but there is precious little by way of investment in that part of the economy. A good example of that is the UK Government’s denial of £80 million to save Grangemouth, while at the same time signing a loan guarantee of £600 million for INEOS, for activity in Antwerp and Belgium. According to the response to a written question from my hon. Friend Kenny MacAskill, the UK Government have not even assessed the potential supply of that activity.

Photo of Neale Hanvey Neale Hanvey Alba, Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath

Can the Minister not see the perversity of spending Scottish revenue abroad while jobs in Scotland are wilfully put at risk by this Government?

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

I could not disagree more with the hon. Member’s premise. If anybody has shown support for the sector, this Government have. We have shown huge support for the sector, in an appropriate and proportionate way, while also encouraging the industry to decarbonise. As I said, we are taking fiscally responsible decisions to extend the energy profits levy for one year. We are also providing confidence and certainty to businesses in the sector by legislating for an energy profits levy price floor. That is what is in the Bill. That will effectively abolish the energy profits levy if the six-month average for both oil and gas is at or below a set threshold. Doing so was the sector’s main ask in the 2024 spring Budget, and it could help to unlock around £9 billion in uncommitted investment spend, according to Offshore Energies UK, which welcomed the decision. I am sorry that he feels unable to welcome it as well.

Those measures will ensure that investment in our economy continues to grow. I will now outline some measures in the Bill’s property package. The Bill will cut the higher rate of capital gains tax on residential property from 28% to 24%, encouraging landlords and second home owners to sell their properties, which could increase revenues because there would be more transactions.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Ceidwadwyr, Bosworth

The capital gains tax cut is very welcome, but will the Minister outline whether it will come into play retrospectively? Hypothetically, if a Labour Front Bencher happened to owe some capital gains tax, would they benefit from a Conservative tax cut?

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

I think I know where my hon. Friend is heading. Of course I cannot comment on individual tax situations. His point, though, is an important one: everybody should always pay the taxes that they owe. I think that principle is shared across the House. The measure will be implemented from 6 April 2024, so some people may be disappointed that there is no retrospectivity, but as I say, it will make more homes available to purchase for a variety of buyers, including first-time buyers.

We also need to ensure that the property system is fair and working as intended. The Government are clear that where policies are not meeting their policy objectives, we will take action. That is why we are abolishing multiple dwellings relief, a bulk purchase relief in the stamp duty and land tax regime, from 1 June 2024. That follows an external evaluation that found no strong evidence that the relief is meeting its original objective of supporting investment in the private rented sector, and because HMRC has recorded high and clear instances of its abuse. We are also amending rules to ensure that victims of domestic abuse are not unfairly penalised if they wish to buy their first homes anonymously, and that those in difficult circumstances do not face additional barriers to purchasing homes. We will ensure that registered providers of social housing in England and Northern Ireland are not liable for stamp duty land tax when purchasing property with a public subsidy, and exempt public bodies from the 15% anti-avoidance rate.

Finally, I turn to measures that will simplify and modernise our tax system, making it easier to engage with the tax system and closing loopholes that could be used for avoidance. The negative impacts of inefficient, complex taxes on both businesses and the wider economy cannot be overstated. That is why the Government are taking action to ensure that the system works for everyone. As a starting point, we are amending two primary VAT interest provisions in legislation to ensure that they apply to all cases intended by the policy. That will mean that the interest payments that HMRC recovers are correct, and it will save time and resources for HMRC and businesses.

The Government recognise that it is everyone’s responsibility to pay their fair share of tax to support our vital public services, so we are closing another anti-avoidance loophole—one that enables individuals to avoid tax by moving assets abroad via a company. That is one of 200 measures that we have undertaken since 2010 to close loopholes and reduce the tax gap, which now sits at just 4.8%—down from 7.5% under Labour. Yes, that is an inconvenient truth for the Opposition, who recently claimed to be so enthusiastic about tackling tax avoidance yet did not take the actions that we have taken when they were in power. Importantly, Labour failed to support the last Finance Bill, which included further measures to tackle tax avoidance. However, Labour was in good—or, rather, bad—company, because the Lib Dems and the SNP did not support it either.

It is not the first time that we have seen such—how should I put it?—distance between what the Opposition say and what they do. Recently, the Labour party even said that it would support our national insurance tax cuts, but when it came to the vote, I did not see a single Labour MP in the Aye Lobby with the Conservatives. Nor were there any Lib Dems, while SNP Members were in the No Lobby actively voting against tax cuts for their constituents.

The Government are getting on with delivering on our plan to cut taxes, grow the economy and boost investment, but the Labour party would put all that at risk and send us back to square one. Instead of taking the responsible decisions to back businesses, the Labour party wants to saddle them with new regulations. Labour’s so-called new deal for workers is in fact a bad deal for jobs, workers and businesses. The 70 new regulations from the deputy leader of the Labour party and the unions would ban flexible working, disincentivise small businesses from making new hires and unleash waves of low-threshold, zero-warning strikes.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

The Minister is quite right to point out the dangers of Labour being in charge of finances and the impact that that is likely to have on tax, but does he have the humility to accept that tax is higher under this Government than it has been for decades?

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

I certainly have the humility to accept and recognise that. Taxes are higher out of the obvious and widely accepted necessity of paying for massive amounts of intervention because of the pandemic and in response to supporting families and businesses through the cost of living challenges. We make no apology for intervening to support lives and livelihoods to the extent that it was necessary. It was absolutely vital that we intervened because not doing so would have been a disaster for the UK economy. However, the general level of taxation, as the right hon. Gentleman is probably aware, is much lower in the UK than in many other countries that also had to significantly increase taxes and Government intervention out of necessity in response to the pandemic. We have much lower levels of taxation than Germany, France, Italy and many other countries. As I said, we had high levels of taxation out of necessity, but we are now in a position to start reducing those levels of taxation out of policy intent and choice, and that is exactly what we are doing.

To conclude, this Finance Bill absolutely rewards hard work, supports our vital industries, boosts the housing market and continues to create a fairer, simpler and more modern tax system. It delivers on the Government’s commitment to prioritise economic growth and will ensure a brighter future for our country. For those reasons, I commend it to the House.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury) 4:43, 17 Ebrill 2024

I am grateful for the chance to respond on behalf of the Opposition in this Second Reading debate.

The Finance Bill follows last month’s Budget, in which the record of the Conservatives’ time in office was laid bare. After 14 years, the Conservatives have shown what they can deliver for the British people: higher taxes, falling living standards and lower economic growth. The truth is that after 14 years, they are out of time, out of ideas and out of touch with reality. They are out of time because whatever they say or try to do now, it is too late to repair the damage that they have done to the economy and to people’s standard of living. The Conservatives may now have implemented a reduction in national insurance—a cut that we support—but that comes amid a tax burden that is set to rise to its highest level in 70 years, and to rise in each and every year of the forecast period. The Government simply cannot escape the reality that under their plans, for every £5 they are giving back to families, they will be taking £10 in higher taxes. Giving with one hand and taking twice as much with the other—that is the reality of life under the Conservatives.

The Government are not just out of time, but out of ideas. In the Budget from which this Finance Bill came, the Conservatives performed what may be the biggest U-turn of this Parliament yet, and there is some tough competition on that. After years and years of the Conservatives opposing tooth and nail our plan to scrap non-dom status, the Chancellor stood in this Chamber last month and adopted our approach as his own. I recall the Financial Secretary’s immediate predecessor, Victoria Atkins, being a particularly passionate defender of non-dom status. I remember her declaring less than a year ago, during the Committee stage of a previous Finance Bill, that

“We have come to the conclusion that non-domiciled status is right”.––[Official Report, Finance (No. 2) Public Bill Committee, 16 May 2023;
c. 44.]

How times change!

Despite the Government’s apparent U-turn, we have learned since the Budget through our careful analysis of the Government’s plans that loopholes remain in their approach to abolishing non-dom tax status. Alongside an unnecessary discount in year 1, there is a loophole that appears to have been intentionally designed to allow non-doms to stash money away in offshore trusts, so that they can avoid being subject to inheritance tax, as any other member of the public is. Those loopholes must be closed, because if a person makes their home and does their business in Britain, they should pay their taxes here, too. People will look at those loopholes and rightly conclude that despite the Budget’s U-turn, this Prime Minister just cannot bring himself to sort out the non-dom problem once and for all.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman is clutching at straws. There may be a few hundred million pounds here or there in what the Government propose doing to tighten up supposed loopholes, but as he is aware, the Labour party wants £28 billion spent on its green investment. Which taxes will he raise to pay for that?

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

I fear that the hon. Gentleman is slightly out of date. Going into the general election, we have set out very clearly our plan to invest in the transition that we need in our energy supply and our economy, and how we would pay for that—through a strengthened windfall tax, alongside prudent investment. He may scoff at what we say about the non-dom tax loopholes, but we are talking about £1 billion in the first year and £2.6 billion over the course of the next Parliament. That money should go to our public services, rather than intentional loopholes allowing some people to get away with paying hundreds of millions of pounds less in tax.

The Conservatives are not just out of ideas, but out of touch with reality. They made that very clear in last month’s Budget, from which this Finance Bill arose. At the end of his Budget speech, the Chancellor made an astonishing £46 billion unfunded commitment—leaving a gaping hole in the public finances—when he pledged to abolish national insurance altogether. Since then, Government Ministers have had countless opportunities to row back from or U-turn on that commitment, but they have been determined not to. Earlier today, the Prime Minister had three chances to rule out cuts to the NHS, cuts to the state pension or tax rises to pay for his £46 billion unfunded tax cut. Each time, he refused to do so.

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

I will in a second. It is quite astonishing that the Conservatives are content to go into the general election with a £46 billion black hole in their plans, and that they refuse to say whether that £46 billion commitment will be funded by tax rises elsewhere or cuts to spending. I give way to the hon. Gentleman, so that he can confirm exactly how the Government will pay for that £46 billion black hole.

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

I very rarely intervene from the Dispatch Box, but I cannot help myself this time. The hon. Gentleman and I have had multiple conversations about this. He cannot differentiate between an aspiration and a policy commitment. His £28 billion was a policy commitment; what we have laid out is an aspiration. They are two different things.

As for the hon. Gentleman’s scaremongering about the possible hit to pensions or the NHS, he knows full well that those suggestions are absolutely not true, because national insurance does not wholly pay for health, benefits, or indeed pensions. He is either scaremongering or exhibiting complete and utter financial illiteracy. Total spending on the NHS is over £160 billion, and welfare spending is over £260 billion, massively dwarfing the total amount raised by national insurance. He either does not understand that, or is irresponsibly scaremongering, because he has known for a long time that national insurance and other payments are topped up by general taxation. He should know better.

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

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his mini-speech. I feel I may have touched a nerve. He talks about people being scared; yes, I think people are scared when they hear the Government making a £46 billion unfunded spending commitment and not saying how they will pay for it. When the previous Prime Minister made an unfunded tax cut commitment of a similar order of magnitude, we know what havoc that caused in the economy, and people are still paying the price in higher mortgage payments and rent payments. I will just say to the hon. Gentleman that I gave him a chance to rule out cuts to the NHS or the state pension, or tax rises elsewhere, to pay for this black hole. I am not quite sure if he did that—maybe he has not got the line from his boss in No. 10 Downing Street—but the truth is that until the Government rule those things out, people will rightly worry about the impact his unfunded commitment will have on the economy.

The pledge the hon. Gentleman was speaking about sounds like exactly the sort of pledge that Elizabeth Truss would approve of, because it comes to almost exactly the same amount as her Government’s unfunded tax cuts. Of course, the previous Prime Minster has been touring the TV studios and talking to newspaper journalists in recent days, saying, among other things, that people who claim that she crashed the economy are

“either very stupid or very malevolent”.

I wonder if the Minister would like to intervene to say whether he shares that view. No? He is not leaping to his feet now. I would have thought he would; I would have thought that Treasury Ministers would want to put as much distance as possible between themselves and the previous Prime Minister. Instead, with their £46 billion unfunded commitment, they seem determined to be a tribute act. Frankly, whatever the previous Prime Minister says, people across Britain know what impact her time in office is having on all of us, as we face higher mortgages and higher rents as a direct consequence of her economic recklessness.

That is the context in which we are debating this Finance Bill. The context is one of a Government who are out of time, out of ideas and out of touch with reality, and of a country that is feeling the impact of 14 years of Conservative economic failure. Even a simple clause such as clause 2, which sets the main rates of income tax, highlights the impact on ordinary people of decisions taken by this Government. Although the basic and higher rates of income tax are unchanged by this Bill at 20% and 40%, the tax burden on working people is rising as a result of the income tax personal allowance and the higher rate threshold being frozen from 2021-22 to 2027-28. Those tax thresholds would ordinarily have risen this April, but instead they are in the middle of a six-year freeze. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, which I assume the Minister has respect for, these freezes will create 3.7 million extra taxpayers by 2028-29 and mean that 2.7 million more people will be paying the higher rate.

The truth is that, even taking into account any reductions to national insurance rates, the freezes in thresholds and the rises in council tax mean that by the end of the forecast period, the average family will still be £870 worse off. As the Resolution Foundation noted at the time of Budget, despite the reductions in national insurance, there will still be a net rise of £20 billion a year by 2028-29 in personal taxes. It pointed out that those over the state pension age, who do not benefit from national insurance cuts, will be particularly badly hit, and will face an average tax rise of £960 a year. The reality has been summed up by Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, who said following the Budget:

“This remains a parliament of record tax rises.”

That is the record of the Conservatives in government.

Photo of Luke Evans Luke Evans Ceidwadwyr, Bosworth

There is a certain Leader of the Opposition who, when standing for their post, said that as part of their No. 1 pledge, which was for economic justice, they would increase income tax for the top 5% of earners and reverse corporation tax cuts. If the hon. Gentleman’s party was voted into government, would it stand by that pledge? That too would increase the tax burden significantly.

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

I am sorry, but I did not quite follow the hon. Gentleman’s question. I can, however, respond to the general point that I think he was making. We have been very clear that this is a Parliament of record tax rises. The tax burden is set to be the highest in 70 years, and we think that the tax burden on working people should be lower. However, we would only ever support tax rises if they were responsible, and done on a basis of economic security and stability.

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

I will make some progress, because I have made that point quite clearly.

The tax burden has been pushed to a record high, and we have also seen a record number of changes and U-turns on tax rates and reliefs under this Government. That applies not just to personal taxation, but to tax rates and reliefs relating to businesses. Let us consider the Chancellor’s approach to the rate of corporation tax, which the Bill sets at 25% in clause 12. In July 2022, during his leadership bid, the current Chancellor pledged to cut the headline rate of corporation tax from 19% to 15%, yet when he became Chancellor just three months later, one of his first acts was to U-turn on what he inherited and to commit to raising that tax from 19% to 25%. He has been typical of the Conservatives in lacking any certainty, predictability or consistency, and we know how damaging that is to businesses that are trying to make investment decisions.

As the shadow Chancellor set out, if we win the next general election, we will bring back certainty by capping the headline rate of corporation tax at its current rate of 25% for the whole of the next Parliament. We would take action if tax changes in other advanced economies threatened to undermine UK competitiveness. We believe that the current rate of 25%—the lowest in the G7—strikes the right balance between what our public finances need and keeping our corporation tax competitive in the global economy. We also recognise the importance of stability and predictability in the reliefs available to businesses. We have seen a great deal of chopping and changing in capital allowances in recent years—indeed, this is a rare example of a Finance Bill from this Government that does not change the annual investment allowance or expensing regime.

We have made it clear that if we win the next general election, we will publish a road map for business taxation in our first six months in office, to give businesses the stability, predictability, and long-term plan that is so important to those making investment decisions. We have been pushing for a proper windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies operating in the North sea. The Government, despite initial opposition, U-turned on that and adopted some of our proposals with the introduction of the energy profits levy. Ahead of the general election, we have set out our plans to make the windfall tax stronger, and to raise more revenue to support our country’s energy transition, but it is also right that we give as much certainty as possible to those companies affected.

Photo of Mary Glindon Mary Glindon Opposition Whip (Commons)

Does my hon. Friend agree that we need a domestic oil and gas sector and offshore energy sector to deliver for the economy, to deliver energy security, and to bring in the investment needed for transition? After all, the North sea has powered our economy and our country for decades, and it can do so for decades to come.

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

My hon. Friend is right to say that it is important that we offer as much certainty as possible to those companies affected. We recognise that by its very nature, the windfall tax is expected to be a one-off levy in response to extraordinary profits, and will ultimately come to an end. We have set out that if we win the next general election, the energy profits levy will end no later than the end of the next Parliament. We also fully support the energy security investment mechanism in clause 19, and the signal that it gives, which helps with investor confidence in the UK’s offshore energy sector.

We will not oppose the Bill on Second Reading, and we look forward to detailed consideration of its clauses in Committee. However, the wider context in which the Bill has been published lays bare the record of the Conservatives in government. That record is one of falling living standards for people across Britian, and the highest tax burden in 70 years. It is one of economic stagnation, from a party that is out of ideas and has been unable to provide the stability that businesses need. It is also one of recklessness with the public finances, both when the previous Prime Minister crashed the economy, and now that the current Prime Minister has made a £46 billion unfunded pledge to scrap national insurance. It is time to turn the page and turn a corner—time to give British people the chance to change our country’s Government by calling a general election.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire 4:58, 17 Ebrill 2024

I wholeheartedly support the Bill. I have a couple of points to make to the Minister, and a couple of responses that the shadow Minister might be interested to hear. In response to the point made by my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne on the loan charge, the Minister said that he was not minded to accept an amendment, but would always listen. I like the Minister. He will be aware that the loan charge has created significant concerns and problems for people. He will be aware that the loan charge policy has been in place for a long time and has not made the progress anticipated initially. May I say to him that it is time to draw a deadline on that policy and for HMRC to find a different way to provide resolution and, may I say, relief to those affected?

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Would the hon. Gentleman accept that the policy has not only failed to bring in the revenue that the Government intended, but led to a number of people committing suicide because of the pressure put on them by HMRC?

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

My right hon. Friend has voiced the concern that I know will rest on the conscience of my hon. Friend the Minister, and he is right to add that. May I put a second conscientious point to the Minister—this point was also made by the shadow Minister, James Murray—which relates to the scoring for contaminated blood? That was not included in the Budget, which will have disappointed a considerable number of Members of Parliament from all parts of the House. It would be helpful if the Chancellor came forward with some view on that. Will my hon. Friend look at that?

Thirdly, will the Minister be encouraged by the words of my right hon. Friend John Redwood and his analysis of the charges imposed on the Treasury by the Bank of England as a result of the quantitative tightening policies? The UK’s policies on quantitative tightening are exceptional. Few other central banks—many of which indulged in the bizarre quantitative easing policy 15 years ago, after the financial crash under the last Labour Government—do it, and it is now a real charge that has real effects on the real economy in the country. The exceptional way in which we are treating quantitative tightening charges—essentially, we take them on the books, the Treasury gets charged for it, and it has to go into the scoring that the OBR and others do—does not go on in other European countries. There is discretion on how it can be put across, and in the US the charges are absorbed but the Government are not charged. That is an important policy point, and I would be interested to hear whether the Minister would accept an amendment on that in Committee, although I think not.

Prosaically, or simply, HMRC has been in the headlines for not answering phone calls and for saying it would go on holiday. I am pleased that the Minister reversed that straightaway, and I know many taxpayers will be pleased about that. Many who will be looking to fill in their self-assessment forms will be surprised that they cannot download form SA100—they have to call HMRC to download a copy, whether or not they want to file it by paper. That seems a little odd, if HMRC’s phonelines are under pressure. Will the Minister, who has been responsive on points to date, look into that?

I will turn to the shadow Minister’s speech—I like him too. As he in his own mind “prepares for government”, he and his colleagues may wish to get a better grasp on reality. When he rightly talks about the importance of setting clarity for investment, it is important that those looking at investment think that those in charge of the public finances know what is going on. He talked about record tax rises under this Government. Let me ask him these questions. Did he disagree with funding of the furlough programmes? Did he disagree with the energy price support? Did he disagree with the increase in funding for the NHS? Did he disagree with record numbers of police officers? If he did not disagree with any of those, he would recognise, if he had a grasp on reality, that he would have to fund those through increased taxation or increased—[Interruption.] He has an answer, so would he like to come in? [Interruption.] Mr Deputy Speaker, I thought he had an answer.

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

The hon. Gentleman is asking me what I disagree with. I disagree with the low growth that has been true of this Government. I disagree with billions of pounds being wasted in covid fraud and in other ways by the Government. I disagree with how the Government are now overseeing the highest tax burden in 70 years and have no plan to get the economy growing. That is what I disagree with.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

The hon. Member mentioned growth rates, fraud and the record tax burden. I was making a point about the record tax burden, and he cannot respond to that challenge by repeating that he is concerned about it. He talked about low growth—he should go to Germany or France, which have lower growth than the UK. He should go to the majority of G7 countries, where he will find lower growth than in the UK. He is mistaking—[Interruption.] Would he like to intervene again? No.

I am trying to be helpful, obviously. The hon. Member and the shadow Treasury team wish to be taken seriously, but he will know that the points about growth are difficult to work through, with western economies not growing as fast as they have done. The UK is growing faster on average than other countries, and he needs to give some credit for that rather than just say that low growth is the case.

More importantly, if the hon. Member and the Labour party believe in furlough, the energy price schemes, the record increase in NHS funding and more police—they supported most of those programmes—they must recognise that those must be paid for in government, and that means hard choices. What the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have done is make those hard choices. Making people feel bad about historical hard choices is not a policy for a future Government.

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

We seem to be engaging in an unexpected back-and-forth. The hon. Gentleman did not mention covid fraud. As he might know, we have set out our plans for a covid corruption commissioner. Would he support that—yes or no?

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Ceidwadwyr, North East Bedfordshire

Of course, everyone supports cracking down on fraud, and I would be very happy—[Interruption.] If I may, I would be happy to look at the Labour party’s specific proposals. But the hon. Member will also know that when the Labour party talks about fraud, particularly when it comes to personal protective equipment and the furlough programmes, it conflates two things. For example, with the coronavirus loan programmes, Labour is conflating moneys that have not repaid because businesses have gone bust, or because companies have not paid them back yet, with moneys that have been lost fraudulently. When I look at his proposals, I want to ensure that when Labour talks about the amounts that have been lost, they relate to actual examples of fraud and not to the ways in which, in a difficult situation where people’s businesses could have been closed, money was given out by the Treasury to others. If that is the case, I am happy to look at that.

My second point to the Opposition—before I get on to what I want to say—is that I hold no torch for the former Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Elizabeth Truss, but when the hon. Member and his colleagues talk about crashing the economy and about people’s mortgage rates, as I think the Leader of the Opposition did at Prime Minister’s questions, may I gently urge them to look at the Bernanke review that has just been completed on Bank of England forecasting? That has a number of important points about how the Bank of England could improve its forecasting. It also compares interest rates for the seven central banks that Ben Bernanke, the former head of the US Federal Reserve, has used as his comparators—in figure 12 in the report. If the hon. Member looks at that, he will see that UK interest rates in 2019 were in the middle of the pack, UK interest rates in 2020 were in the middle of the pack, UK interest rates in 2021 were in the middle of the pack, UK interest rates in 2022 were in the middle of the pack and UK interest rates in 2023 were in the middle of the pack. UK interest rates as we enter 2024 are in the middle of the pack. It is simply not true to say that something exceptional happened to UK interest rates in any part of this Parliament. Again, if the hon. Member wishes to be taken seriously in government, he needs to get a grip on reality, not on fantasy.

I will now turn, if I may, to the things that I would like to say. [Laughter.] I did promise the Whips that I would take only 10 minutes, so I promise to take only 10 minutes, from now. Clause 12 sets the corporation tax rate. I see my friend Alistair Strathern in his place on the Opposition Benches. I think that both he and I are pleased that Government and Opposition Front-Bench Members have made clear their commitments for full expensing. That is particularly important to the people of Bedfordshire because there is a potential investment pending in his constituency. I would like to put on record our thanks to the two Front-Bench teams for setting out the clear future framework for how that will work.

Let me turn to income tax rates in clause 2, because it is important to look at the history. As my hon. Friend the Minister mentioned, the record of successive Conservative Governments from 2010 for working people in this country is strong. He mentioned the increase in the personal allowance from £6,475 in 2010 to £12,570 this financial year. That is a 21% real increase. However, my hon. Friend did not mention the change in the minimum wage, which has gone up from £5.80 in 2010 to the living wage now of £11.44. That is a 23% real increase in wages. Higher wages for working people and lower taxes for those on lowest incomes is a very strong record.

However, my hon. Friend needs to look at the higher rate threshold, because in 2010 it was £37,400, and now it is £37,700. In today’s money, the 2010 amount would be set at £59,800. In essence, there has been a 37% decrease in earnings when people hit the higher threshold. It may not be popular politically, but economically such a substantial differentiation in the way we tax people on middle and high incomes from those on low incomes has long-term implications. After the Budget, people who have retired, have been thrifty and saved money and have a private pension now find themselves complaining that, although they are getting their increase in the basic pension—or maybe not—they are being dragged into the higher rate of taxation. Successive Conservative Governments have rewarded work—they have wanted people to work hard, be entrepreneurial, and grow their businesses and the economy—so please, can we look at the ways in which that particular threshold should change?

Quite rightly, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have indicated that they wish to simplify taxation on working people. That is completely consistent with the long-run approach of the Conservatives to taxation on work. The aspiration to reduce national insurance is an excellent way of looking at that. Unlike the Opposition, I would say that there is a difficulty in politics of finding times to make quite significant changes. This may be such a time—I know that Ministers will be looking at this—partially because we have quite significant issues of overall taxation that we need to reduce, but there is the opportunity for other reasons as well. Reallocation of existing taxes is easier when the tax burden is exceptionally high. I am a low-tax Conservative. I recognise, unlike some, that when we buy things, we have to pay taxes on them. But we know that this tax rate is unusually high, and we know that we will reduce that tax burden. It is a propitious time to look at ways of reducing national insurance contributions over the next five years.

The Budget forecasts fiscal drag to be £28 billion to £33 billion per annum for the next three or four years. There is an ethical and moral case for wanting to give back more money to people by reducing national insurance contributions. However, my proposal is for the Government to consider not that national insurance reductions should go directly into pay packets, but that national insurance contributions should be added to people’s long-term savings through compulsory savings schemes. Many countries have recognised that the idea of state pensions being based upon the “never, never” is not a secure way to provide for long-term pensions. We have never really grasped the nettle in this country—Singapore did it right at the start and Australia did it in the 1990s. There is an opportunity for us to build on the work that Sir Stephen Webb did in the coalition Government through changes to national insurance contributions. That would ensure that working people are the first generation to have a truly secure pension that is their money, where they do not have to rely on the vagaries of what a particular Chancellor of the day might do to pensions, and they would have only one tax on their wages during their career. Finagling people in other parties like to increase taxes, and having two taxes to increase gives them more flexibility. An opportunity would be provided to extend the savings stake—the way that people save for things—beyond providing for their retirement, so that they could, as they do in Singapore, put money into their first home. By looking in a new way at how we treat citizens in this country, we could move towards a savings state and away from a socialist never-never state. I leave my hon. Friend the Minister to consider those comments.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy) 5:15, 17 Ebrill 2024

I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “That” to the end of the Question and add:

“this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Finance (No. 2) Bill because it fails to make a much-needed reduction in VAT for the hospitality and tourism sectors;
fails to reintroduce tax-free shopping for international visitors;
does not establish a more progressive tax system by introducing a starter rate, in line with the Scottish Government’s approach;
fails to introduce measures through the tax system that would help alleviate the cost of living crisis and reduce inequality;
and fails to introduce tax relief measures to enable vital high-growth sectors, like the renewable sector, to grow the economy;
and because it derives from a Budget which proposed to extend the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy, threatening the security of jobs in north east Scotland and the UK’s ability to achieve net zero.”

The Bill falls woefully short of the mark. The Scottish National party has tabled a reasoned amendment on Second Reading because, frankly, its provisions do not rise to the immense challenges faced by our constituents. The UK Government seem to operate under the illusion that the Tory Brexit cost of living crisis has come to an end, yet the reality on the ground, in homes across Scotland and the other UK nations, tells a different story. Indeed, a UK poll out today shows that 61% of people think the UK Government are not taking the measures required for the cost of living. The bad news for Labour is that they do not believe it is proposing the right things either.

The Bill, as it stands, is a stark testament to a Government who are—as we have heard, and I agree—out of touch, out of ideas and soon to be out of office. But let us be clear that the proposals in the Bill are insufficient to support households in Scotland, who continue to bear the brunt of disastrous decisions made in Westminster. The spring Budget brought devastating cuts to Scottish capital funding, yet there remains a pervasive silence among the Westminster parties about the true scale of cuts planned over the next Parliament to meet the arbitrary fiscal rules that they are both slavishly following. I note that the Labour Front Bench said “hee-haw” about public services funding over the coming years, despite the £20 billion hole that we know will lead to further misery in public services. There are elements in the Bill, such as the marginal increase in child benefit and the limited support for the film sector, which we can view as steps in the right direction, but they are but drops in the ocean compared with the vast needs of our communities.

For a UK Government who claim economic competence, it is astounding how little they understand about nurturing true economic growth, or enhancing productivity. Austerity has failed. It cannot be made to work, yet those in the Labour party continue to pretend that somehow it can. We agree with the Labour party that for every £5 coming out of the Budget for people, they are paying £10 back in, so the question that Labour Members must answer is: why are they not voting against Second Reading tonight? Why are they going to, once again, sit on their hands and allow the Bill to go through? As I have said, not a word on public services. The reality is a continuing decline in disposable incomes, a shameful record on inequality—the highest in any major European country—and a GDP per capita on its longest downward trajectory since records began. Moreover, the Chancellor’s measures are predicted to have a minimal impact on economic turnaround this year and it is highly probable that the Government will have overseen the worst Parliament for income growth in recent history.

Scotland has the highest wages in the UK, according to medium gross weekly incomes, thanks to the work of the SNP Government on promoting fairer wages and leading by example. However, the powers to avoid the scale of falling real incomes resides here in Westminster. That fall is unprecedented over the past six decades. Hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland and across the nations of the UK are locked in a vicious cycle of debt, with over 300,000 having missed a debt payment in the past year alone.

According to a report published recently by the Financial Conduct Authority, 7.4 million people across the UK are

“heavily burdened by their domestic bills and credit commitments.”

In January this year, nearly 6 million UK adults reported having no disposable income at all. The ongoing cost of living crisis continues to degrade living standards, with families struggling under the weight of high food prices, exorbitant mortgage rates and escalating energy costs that are pushing more and more households into debt. Food prices are about to spike yet again, and we can put that squarely down to Brexit—the love child of the Tory right, now adopted by the Labour party and the Liberal Democrats. A report from Allianz Trade suggests that controls to be introduced in May will increase import costs by 10% in the first year, imposing £2 billion of extra costs on UK businesses and exacerbating the cost of living crisis.

Food prices have already risen by more than a quarter since a couple of years ago owing to existing Brexit changes. This is a turbo-boost on top of what people have been facing. Where is the help for people as food bank queues grow longer and the ability to donate to those food banks dwindles? It is non-existent. Whatever the cost to households, whoever starves, “make Brexit work” seems to be the consensus of the Westminster parties, and especially this Tory Government. Even if we put aside our squandered EU membership, the fact is that they will not implement the basic food protections that other Governments have used and we have called for. This is Westminster negligence, and a failure to observe the basic values of fairness.

Particularly pressing is the escalating crisis of fuel poverty that grips many of our communities. How can it be right, in the 21st century, that there exists an energy poll tax of standing charges? In the highlands and islands, the electricity standing charge for households— the charge that has to be paid every single day, cold or warm—is 50% higher than it is in London. How can that be fair? Why have the UK Government sanctioned this blatant inequality? Should the Bill not be doing something to fix it?

This Bill could have provided for the scrapping of standing charges. The Government should be acting with urgency to start providing meaningful rebates for the people who live in the areas with the greatest degree of fuel poverty, including extreme fuel poverty—again, by the way, the highlands and islands. The irony is not lost on people living in an area that exports more than six times the amount of the electricity that it uses, and seeing massive tax returns going to the Chancellor’s Treasury while they suffer this injustice. At a bare minimum, the Bill could have ushered in legislation for a long overdue energy social tariff. Citizens Advice has reported a 14-fold increase in the number of clients seeking advice related to fuel poverty since 2019. The average fuel debt that clients present to Citizens Advice Scotland is now more than £2,300. That is not merely a statistic; it is a damning indictment of the current Government’s policies.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My hon. Friend is making some excellent points about fuel poverty. When I conducted a survey of Dalmarnock residents about its impact, I found that it had a hugely detrimental effect on their health and wellbeing. They could not even invite family members round because their houses were cold and they could not afford to switch the kettle on to give them a cup of tea. Pensioners were going to bed together early because they could not afford to keep the heating on. Does my hon. Friend think the Government understand the dire consequences of fuel poverty for people who are living in it?

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

That is a very good point. I do not think that the Government understand what happens to people. I do not think they are paying attention to medical advice, such as an article in The Lancet drawing attention to the health deprivations that result from living in fuel poverty or extreme fuel poverty. They do not understand the effect on children’s learning and wellbeing over this period, or, ironically, the higher costs to public services as a consequence of fuel poverty: for instance, people have to rely on the NHS more because of associated health conditions. The Bill is doing nothing substantial to alleviate such dire circumstances.

Before I move on to other issues, I have to ask why the Bill has no updated actions to stop companies taking advantage of the cost of living crisis. For example, the Government are aware, as is the Financial Conduct Authority, that car insurance in the UK is now 34% higher, and that younger and older drivers have seen bigger premium increases than others. The claims rate is under 18%, premiums have increased by 34%, and average premiums for some age groups have jumped by over 50%.

Surprise, surprise: drivers in Scotland are among those who have seen their premiums rise the most. This time, however, it is something they share with Londoners. The Government cannot put that down to the fact that there are different market forces and so on, because insurance premiums have risen by only 2% in France, 5% in Spain and 6% in Italy, so what is going on? The Bill contains no action on end-of-contract scams by mobile and broadband operators either. The Government are allowing a punishing cost of living free-for-all to continue while they are distracted with feeding their culture wars and giving peerages to their pals and donors.

While the UK Government remain idle, pretending that the cost of living crisis has ended, the Scottish Government have taken proactive steps to tackle inequality and reduce child poverty. They have implemented game-changing policies such as the Scottish child payment, which has lifted 100,000 children out of fuel poverty, yet it is an uphill swim to protect families while Westminster makes the big and wrong decisions. Austerity continues to hinder necessary investments that are essential for Scotland’s burgeoning industries. Brexit has disastrously impacted on our economic activity, international standing and business confidence. Investment in the UK remains the lowest among the G7 countries.

It is common for the Tories, and indeed the Labour party, to say that there is no magic money tree when it comes to public finances, which is why they must always cut, cut, cut to follow their so-called fiscal rules. But here is the rub: the closest thing we had to a magic money tree was our EU membership, which could still be adding to our reserves. According to research by Bloomberg, Goldman Sachs, Cambridge Econometrics and others, around 5% of our annual GDP has been lost because of Brexit. If we had that back, it would generate well over £100 billion per year, generating a potential tax take for the Treasury of over £40 billion per annum. We could plug the holes—we do not have to be going through this—but that is not the path that has been decided for us. The Government have hacked the tree down to mulch, and all that they and Labour can do now is promise more cuts.

The Bill fails business and industry, too. The SNP has long advocated a £28 billion annual investment and a robust green industrial strategy to harness the full potential of the green transition. Labour used to agree—indeed, its advisers are annoyed that the party is not going forward with it—but it has reversed on that policy, as was confirmed earlier. Such an approach is essential if we want to meet our climate change targets. Indeed, as we stand at the moment—with Scotland as part of the UK—it is one of the few industries that the UK could take forward with gusto.

Despite the obvious needs, what have the UK Government done? They have only recently decided to boost funding in allocation round 6 for offshore wind projects—an effort still inefficient to meet the necessary targets. Following the failure of the fifth round of contract for difference allocations to secure any new products, it is unacceptable that the Government have failed to rectify the shortfall in deployed capacity, leaving us well behind our 21 GW target for the upcoming rounds.

This Bill is a testament to the UK Government’s ongoing failure to adequately invest in the renewables sector, thereby endangering our net zero targets, jeopardising energy security and stunting the long-term growth of Scottish communities. It is time for a drastic change, and we need a Government who will be aligned with the needs of the Scottish people in the future—an independent Scottish Government.

Where in the Bill is the action to help our tourism and hospitality industries? Selective cuts to VAT would have been a mechanism that could have been deployed to help those sectors, and it could and should have been used to help struggling high streets and town centres. Where is the VAT-free shopping that business organisations were crying out for?

Photo of Gavin Newlands Gavin Newlands Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Transport)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way on the point about VAT-free shopping. We led the charge a number of years ago on the extra-statutory concession on the removal of VAT-free shopping at airports, which is crucial to Glasgow airport in my constituency. We even managed to get Douglas Ross to vote with us on that occasion, but we have still seen no action from this Government to conclude that. That is one of the excellent points in our reasoned amendment. Does my hon. Friend agree that it is the SNP that will be working for the people of Scotland, not this Government?

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

That is exactly right. This is one of the many things that the UK Government have been called on to do, but they have been deaf to industry asking for them and often begging for help on some of these issues.

This spring Budget has introduced disastrous cuts to Scottish capital funding, with the aforementioned conspiracy of silence that the Institute for Fiscal Studies identified permeating the halls of Westminster concerning the severity of cuts planned over the next Parliament. This Government’s legacy will undoubtedly be marked by the failures of their austerity measures, the calamitous aftermath of Brexit and the misguided policies—“misguided” is a very gentle word—of Trussonomics.

Austerity under the Tories has stripped our public services to the bone, exacerbated inequality and decimated living standards. This addiction to austerity, paired with the Government’s fiscal rules, has proved utterly ineffective at reducing debt, which as a percentage of GDP has tripled in the past 15 years. The House of Commons Library has revealed that the Scottish block grant is set to fall to its lowest-ever level as a percentage of UK Government spending in the history of devolution. Between 2023 and 2025, Scottish capital funding from the UK Parliament is projected to fall by 16.1% in real terms. These Tory cuts continue to wreak havoc across all areas of the UK, with councils across England on the brink of bankruptcy and many already in special measures.

Regrettably, austerity will not end with the demise of the Tory party, as the Labour party is also committed to these same spending plans and fiscal rules. Both the Tories and Labour are engaged in that conspiracy of silence. They have had the opportunity to talk about the level of austerity necessary, in their view, over the next Parliament, but their silence threatens to cripple the already underfunded public services across the UK. With an estimated further £20 billion of cuts needed, by their calculations, over the next Parliament, it is imperative that both Westminster parties come clean ahead of the general election about the level of austerity they intend to impose on Scotland and the rest of the UK. The public have a right to know the extent to which these parties plan to decimate our public services, should they come to office, and to be told explicitly which Departments will suffer the most severe funding cuts. We know that they are both in favour of increasing the privatisation of the NHS to facilitate their plans. Let’s hear the rest.

All we have here today is a zombie Bill from a zombie Government at the fag end of a zombie Parliament, with activity in this Chamber at record lows. The Chancellor’s recent spending plans not only cut funding in Scotland but extended taxes on Scotland’s natural resources, which, as we heard earlier from across the Chamber, have been funding the UK’s economy for so many years. The Government are offering little to stimulate growth in the Scottish economy, and it is abundantly clear that neither of the Westminster parties possesses the ambition required to invest adequately in our economy and reduce inequality.

In Scotland, the SNP is supporting people through the cost of living crisis by freezing council tax, which is already lower by hundreds of pounds a year than in the rest of the UK; by using progressive taxation to ensure that the majority still pay less income tax and the minority who can afford it pay a little more; by supporting working people; by ensuring a strike-free NHS with better-paid nurses and doctors, and committing to keep it in public hands, just like ScotRail, Scottish Water and more; and by helping families with 1,140 hours of free childcare, no tuition fees for students, and much more.

In Westminster, we have been given Brexit, a loss of more than £100 billion to the economy, a reduction in the available and skilled workforce, more than £100 billion of fraud and waste, ballooning and unfair electricity charges, higher fuel debt, higher food prices, higher mortgages, higher rent, higher insurance costs, and a betrayal over the £28 billion a year needed for the just transition to renewables while our natural resources are exploited to the hilt. Our ability to build new things such as hospitals and more has been sabotaged by enormous cuts to the budget for Scotland and more pressure on services to come.

Barnett consequentials are just that—consequentials of decisions in this place. They have consequences, and Scotland sees that. Scotland needs the powers to introduce our own comprehensive industrial strategy, invest robustly in high-growth industry, and effectively reduce poverty. The only path forward for Scotland is to have a Government who truly plan to fix the economy and tackle inequality, and that is through an independent Government in Scotland. I am delighted to have moved our reasoned amendment.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Ceidwadwyr, Amber Valley 5:35, 17 Ebrill 2024

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. When I got my copy of the Bill from the Vote Office, I was a bit worried that the middle 500 pages or so had been missed out. We are used to these Bills being somewhat thicker than this.

I am slightly nervous, Minister, that at this rate the Indians might catch up with us on the length of our tax codes. I hope that a large Finance Bill will be ready this autumn so that we can keep our lead. There are some potentially complicated rules coming, including the new nom-dom rules. We could also base the new inheritance tax on residency rather than domicile, and we also face the question of how on earth we will define “household” for the purposes of the high income child benefit charge? There probably is some meaty stuff to come, but it is fair to say that this Bill does not generate substantial excitement.

There is always a risk with reasoned amendments to a Finance Bill. If we voted for the SNP’s reasoned amendment, we would not get any income tax this year, which would probably do quite a bit of damage to public services—though imagine that might be popular with a few people.

I am slightly intrigued by the fact that, at a time when we are really struggling for tax revenues and to balance the books, anyone would prioritise reducing the price of a Rolex for very rich tourists. That is effectively what reintroducing tax-free shopping does: it saves a lot of money for very expensive tourist purchases. I have never been convinced of the attractions of reducing VAT for the tourism sector, because the problem is that it is a huge boon for hotel operators in London that has to be paid for by taxes elsewhere.

Photo of Drew Hendry Drew Hendry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

I am happy to educate the hon. Gentleman. If he would like to speak to any of the tourism organisations that have been calling for this change, he will find that it is a great way for them not only to cope with some of the increased costs they have just now, which are front-loading their business, but to encourage people to come and use their facilities. It is something that the tourism industry is very keen on, and I would be delighted to introduce the hon. Gentleman to some people who will educate him further.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Ceidwadwyr, Amber Valley

It is a pity that the hon. Gentleman did not make the case for that in his own speech, when he barely touched on this issue. The point I was trying to make was that introducing that tax reduction would be a huge benefit to London hotels, which have high occupancy rates at a very high nightly rate, but then that money would have to be raised elsewhere in the country.

One of the advantages of Brexit—the hon. Gentleman might not like this—is we are now able to do differential tax rates by region. Therefore, if we wanted a tax rate targeted at boosting tourism, we could do it on a regional basis, looking at which have the lowest occupancy rates and the lowest employment rates. It would cost far less, and the reduction could be much smaller. We could boost investment where it is needed rather than where it is not. I suggest to the hon. Gentleman that looking at that would be more sensible than his proposal.

The hon. Gentleman is also criticising the lack of a starter rate. When we had a starter rate of income tax, from 1998 to 2008, it was for very low incomes. It was a 10p rate and it was charged on top of national insurance, which was also over 10% at that point. What we actually have now is income tax and national insurance starting at a much higher point. It is a 0% starter rate, which is a far better idea than introducing a new one, so I certainly will not be voting for the reasoned amendment, as it would be completely against the country’s interests.

The Minister mentioned the high-income child benefit charge. Strangely, the Bill increases the thresholds and promises a radical change at the start of the tax year after the next one, but it does not tell us what the Government are trying to achieve by that. We have rightly upped the starting point, but if we really want to go to a household calculation, either we should be very generous and have it start at £120,000, tapering up to £160,000—the equivalent of two incomes—or we risk making the situation worse by having a very big disincentive for second earners. If the new threshold were £100,000, rather than £80,000, a household with a second earner earning only £20,000 would be brought into the charge despite not being affected by it in the current financial year. I would not want to go down that line.

There is a very real risk that what sounds like a generous idea could have a very negative impact by discouraging second earners, whom I think we want to be encouraging with our childcare and other reforms. Before the Government publish the consultation, I urge them to think carefully about where they are pitching this. Surely there must come a point at which household incomes are pitched so high that almost no one will be paying the charge. What would be the point of all the complexity, uncertainty and cost of collecting it if it does not raise any money? We might be better off putting the 45p rate of income tax up by 0.5p, which would raise the same amount of money while losing all this complexity.

I think it would be better if, in Committee, the Minister introduced an automatic increase by inflation each year. It was a terrible mistake to keep the thresholds where they were. By far the simplest change would be to inflate the thresholds each year, so that we do not drag more people into the charge. Everyone would understand their position, which would be easier than trying to work out what on earth a “household” is for the purpose of this charge.

If we asked the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, he would tell us that the formation and definition of households is one of the biggest areas of welfare fraud—people are pretending not to be a household to get extra benefits. It can be extremely hard to define a household and to enforce it. How much will it cost to work out who is or is not in a household? I suspect it will be so complicated to try to reintroduce a household definition within the tax regime that it never actually happens. If it does, it will probably cost more than it raises. I question whether it is sensible to retain this charge.

Turning to what is in the Bill, and given that we now have a large range of earnings, what is the Minister’s advice to people who are not sure whether they will earn more than £80,000 because they do not know what bonus they will receive in this financial year? Should they stick with the simple route, as many people have, of disclaiming child benefit so that they do not get caught by this tax at the end of the financial year, for which they need to save in case they have to pay it—it is a bit of shock when they get there—or should they go back to claiming child benefit on the off chance? Should they put the money in the bank and see whether they are entitled to it and, if it turns out that they have not earned more than £80,000, get to keep and spend some of it? We seem to have a position in which many households will not know until very late in the financial year whether they are caught by this. If they disclaim it, they will lose a benefit to which they are probably entitled; and if they do not disclaim it, they might receive a bill that they do not have the money to pay. We need some certainty on that position.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley Chair, Procedure Committee, Chair, Procedure Committee

My hon. Friend is making a very important point. I am also concerned about families who have stopped claiming child benefit and are no longer on the system, but who find, because of the new rules, that they are actually entitled. How can they make sure that they get the full amount of benefit to which they are entitled?

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Ceidwadwyr, Amber Valley

I agree with my right hon. Friend. We are in a complex position. My question to the Minister is whether we could have a more generous allowance in this financial year for retrospective claims. People have not understood this change and, if they have not already claimed, I suspect that they are already missing out on several weeks of benefits. Could we be more generous so that, if someone finds out towards the end of the tax year that their household is entitled, they can make a back claim? Child benefit is meant to help households with the extra costs of having children. There is a good reason why child benefit has been around for many decades. It would be wrong to deprive households of it because they are unsure how much they will get and do not want the uncertainty of big bill later in the year. There are ways that we could be a bit more generous in the transition; for example, we could allow people who are in that situation to make a catch-up claim later in the financial year.

With those few remarks, I happily support the Bill, and look forward to voting for it on Second Reading shortly.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury) 5:45, 17 Ebrill 2024

After years of economic chaos, unfair tax hikes and millions of families suffering from the cost of living crisis, the Liberal Democrats will not be supporting the Bill today.

The Bill is yet more evidence that this Conservative Government have finally run out of ideas. For millions of families and pensioners facing soaring mortgage and rent payments, sky-rocketing energy bills and eye-watering food prices, the measures in the Bill will barely touch the sides. No real help with the cost of living, no plan for economic growth, no real support for our NHS and public services, and no end to this Conservative barrage of stealth taxes—is this really the best the Government have to offer? Thanks to this Government, the British public have endured the biggest fall in living standards since the 1950s. More and more people across the country are rightly saying that enough is enough. Instead of more empty promises, what they want is a general election as soon as possible, to get this tired Government out of Downing Street and our country back on track.

Recent weeks have seen desperate attempts from the Chancellor to convince people that he is cutting taxes, in a veiled attempt to deceive the British public, but everyone can see this for what it really is: a cynical deception that will be wiped out by frozen thresholds, the soaring cost of living and years of unfair Conservative tax hikes. Over this year and next, someone on average earnings will still be £383 worse off because of the Government’s freeze on the tax-free personal allowance. Despite that, the Conservatives now expect people to be grateful for their giving back just a small amount of what they have taken way. That shows that they are totally out of touch.

Meanwhile, the Government are completely failing to use their collected tax revenue in a fair way. For example, they have shown no interest in investing in the NHS. The economy cannot be fixed without fixing healthcare. We need to cut waiting times. We need to allow more of the 2.6 million people who are economically inactive due to ill health to return to work. On doorsteps across the country, people tell us time and again how they cannot get a GP appointment, expect an ambulance to arrive on time or see an NHS dentist. But instead of properly addressing this crisis, the Chancellor merely plugged a hole that he had blown in the NHS budget in the first place.

That is why the Liberal Democrats call on the Government to deliver serious investment for our NHS, recruit more GPs, fix our cancer services, bring down waiting lists and help people get the quality care they so desperately need. Unlike this Conservative Government, the Liberal Democrats will always stand for protecting our health services. The Chancellor either does not understand the damage done by his cruel cuts to public services or just does not care.

The Bill fails to introduce a proper windfall tax on the super-profits of oil and gas producers. That revenue could be used to fund energy support for the most vulnerable—to double the warm home discount or launch a proper home insulation scheme. It could be used to invest in British farming and bring down food prices for the long term. The legislation also fails to reverse tax cuts for big banks, a measure that could fund support for vulnerable mortgage-holders and renters. Worst of all, the Bill and the preceding Budget take none of the vital steps we need to grow the UK economy, such as launching an industrial strategy, reforming business rates and the apprenticeship levy, or reducing trade barriers for small businesses.

The Government have not just wrecked the economy; they have abandoned any strategy or plan for growth. Their lack of joined-up thinking has dire consequences for industry. Recently, we have seen the long and proud history of train manufacturing in the north-east jeopardised, with the Hitachi rail factory in County Durham put at risk of closure due to the Government not signing off an order from FirstGroup. That jeopardises some 800 jobs. The abandonment of the industrial strategy has real consequences for people across the country.

To conclude, although the Liberal Democrats welcome some measures in this Bill, such as changes to the high-income child benefit charge and the provision of tax reliefs for the creative industries, we simply cannot support a piece of legislation that fails to propose the solutions that we need to get our economy moving. In his spring Budget, the Chancellor could have proposed a fair deal for the British people and begun stimulating economic growth. Instead, he gave us more of the same: another underwhelming set of announcements from this Conservative Government, which is out of touch, out of ideas and nearly out of time. Right across the country, voters are sick and tired of this Conservative Government and are ready to vote for change at the next general election.

Photo of Nickie Aiken Nickie Aiken Ceidwadwyr, Cities of London and Westminster 5:49, 17 Ebrill 2024

As I highlighted in my contribution to the spring Budget debate last month, I support the measures that the Government are taking to grow the economy, boost productivity and ensure long-term prosperity for families. Today, I will focus on two clauses in the Bill, which will have an extraordinarily positive impact on the art and culture sectors in the Cities of London and Westminster, as well as across the country.

First, clause 16 amends the Corporation Tax Act 2009 to permanently set the rate of credit to 45% for touring theatrical productions, and to 40% for non-touring theatrical productions. The rates were due to taper to 30% and 35% respectively in April next year, but will now be set permanently at 40% and 45% from that date. The Bill increases the tax relief available for theatre productions.

Secondly, clause 17 increases the tax credits available for orchestral companies and also amends the Corporation Tax Act 2009 to permanently set the tax credit rate at 45%, instead of there being the taper that was planned for the end of this financial year.

The performing arts sector plays a crucial role in the economy of the west end. According to the Office for National Statistics, 8% of the UK’s arts and cultural businesses in 2023 were based in the Cities of London and Westminster. That equates to around 2,500 businesses and thousands of jobs. World-renowned venues, including the Theatre Royal, Dury Lane, the London Palladium, the Royal Opera House and the Royal Albert Hall, attract audiences from not only around the country, but across the globe. The Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre recently produced a study that underscored the importance of the theatre sector to our economy. Their research showed that UK theatres generate £2.39 billion in gross value added, supporting more than 200,000 jobs and generating a total turnover of over £4.4 billion every year. I am in no doubt that this uplift in tax credits will have a positive impact on actors, musicians, costume designers, set creators, singers and those in a whole host of other jobs that rely on a strong and prosperous performing arts sector.

As we know, the past few years have been difficult for this industry; it first dealt with the shock of the covid pandemic, which closed all shows, and then slowly emerged out of the crisis and rebuilt its businesses and audiences. This Government have worked tirelessly to support the creative sector in the Cities of London and Westminster, and I was proud to work with the performing arts sector and others, such as UKHospitality, to secure the £1.57 billion cultural recovery fund to support large and small performing arts businesses throughout the dark times of the pandemic. I learned from that experience, and the whole pandemic in general, just how connected the west end economy is. It is a jigsaw of complementary pieces: theatres, restaurants, hotels, cafés and bars. During that time, we learned that for every £1 spent in the theatre, an incredible £5 was generated for hospitality and other businesses. The tax clauses in the Bill will not only support the performing arts, but have a positive effect on the wider hospitality and leisure sectors, which will benefit the UK economy as a whole.

While I fully support the Bill and the included changes to tax relief, there is one specific issue that I wish to raise. It concerns the new definition of theatre production that was introduced in the Finance Act 2024. The Society of London Theatre, UK Theatre and theatre companies based in the two cities have told me that immersive theatre companies will now not be eligible for the relief that the Bill offers, due to the new definition of theatre production. The new, narrow definition of an audience means that immersive theatre companies such as Little Lion Entertainment, based in the west end, will be ineligible for the tax relief provided in the Bill. Little Lion Entertainment has been a recipient of theatre tax relief for the past 10 years. It employs 350 people in London and Manchester, and during its time it has welcomed more than 2 million patrons to its performances. Yet because of the change in definition, it fears for its future and that of the entire immersive theatre industry. I would be grateful if the Minister would consider looking again at the definition of theatre production, so that companies such as Little Lion Entertainment are not excluded from the fantastic support that the Bill will provide.

I am proud of the Government’s continued support for the performing arts in the United Kingdom. The Bill will continue ensure that our world-renowned theatres and opera productions flourish, and will safeguard them for future generations.

Photo of Peter Aldous Peter Aldous Ceidwadwyr, Waveney 5:56, 17 Ebrill 2024

I am interested in clause 19, which sets out how the energy security investment mechanism will operate: the energy profits levy will cease if the six-month average prices for both oil and gas fall below certain thresholds. That provision follows on from the Chancellor’s announcement in his spring Budget that the energy profits levy would be extended to 2029, though it would be disapplied when energy prices return to normal. My interest in the issue stems from my role as a constituency MP—activity in the North sea energy sector is vital to the local economy—and from chairing the British offshore oil and gas industry all-party parliamentary group. I have no particular issue with the mechanisms in clause 19, though I am worried that the current short-term approach to fiscal policy for the oil and gas sector undermines other Government objectives—in particular, the objective of enhancing the UK’s energy security, which would bring new, well-paid jobs to coastal communities such as Lowestoft, and the objective of delivering our net-zero targets.

I acknowledge that the Chancellor has an unenviable role and faces a significant dilemma. He is, in many respects, between a rock and a hard place. He needs to balance the books, and to support those families who continue to struggle with the cost of living crisis. It is thus understandable that he looks to energy companies to pay more as oil and gas prices have risen. They have been at very high levels; however, it should be pointed out that they have now fallen back to long-term averages. There is a significant risk that in pursuing such a course, he could imperil the inward investment that is needed to create long-term, sustainable jobs in coastal communities for those very people who are struggling to make ends meet.

The North sea has been the UK’s economic saviour for nearly 60 years. Some might say that we are nearing the end of that particular story. That is not the case. The North sea is transitioning from being a source of fossil fuels to the long-term home of renewables. That transition needs to take place as quickly as possible, but in a smooth and seamless way. It requires a stable and long-term fiscal policy, which I am afraid we do not have at present. The decision to extend the levy for a further year was unexpected by industry and presents a significant further challenge to investor confidence.

Energy companies are making investment decisions on projects that quite often have timescales of the order of 40 to 50 years. The fact that in the UK there have been four fiscal changes in the past two years deters investment and deflects it elsewhere. Such businesses are globally footloose, and they will go to countries where the fiscal regime is favourable and has a large degree of certainty about it. In the past, the UK has ticked that particular box, but we are not doing so at present. It should also be emphasised that, as well as operating worldwide, those businesses have interests in a wide variety of energy technologies—not just oil and gas, but the low-carbon businesses of today and tomorrow: offshore wind, hydrogen, and carbon capture, usage and storage. If they find the fiscal regime unfavourable for oil and gas, they will invariably not invest in those renewables, which are so vital for our future.

The initial feedback following last month’s Budget is that those concerns are well founded: investment decisions are being delayed and funds could well be diverted elsewhere. Offshore Energies UK, which provides the secretariat for the British offshore oil and gas industry APPG, has identified that £200 billion of investment that was awaiting the green light may not now happen. Cornwall Insight concludes that prolonging the levy

“could weaken investor confidence, at a time when the UK is seeking record levels of investment to deliver the transition to net zero.”

We are at risk of imperilling the next chapter of the North sea—an ongoing story that can not only deliver economic regeneration, but provide over the remainder of this decade 50 GW of offshore wind, 10 GW of hydrogen, and four carbon capture, usage and storage clusters, as well as supporting the home-grown oil and gas industry and helping us to meet our decommissioning commitments. In short, it could unleash an enormous amount of economic activity that can cascade right around the UK. To be fair to the Government, clause 19 does seek to address those concerns, but I urge them to map out a long-term strategy for offshore energy, building on the success of the 2021 North sea transition deal. They are now adopting a similar course in the nuclear sector. We need to get back to doing the same in the North sea.

It is appropriate to comment on the Opposition’s alternative proposal to extend the windfall tax. There is a real worry in the energy industry that that could exacerbate the worries that I have underlined. Offshore Energies UK has highlighted that those proposals could lead to the loss of 42,000 jobs and the wiping out of £26 billion-worth of economic activity. A concern that I hope the Opposition will allay is that they are looking at removing the capital and investment allowances that are vital to securing inward investment.

We are where we are, and I fear that some damage has been done. However, there is work to do to rebuild the UK’s reputation as a prime destination for investment in the energy sector, and we need to get on with that task without delay. The industry has noted the Government’s commitment to honour the sunset clause, and I urge the two Ministers on the Front Bench—my hon. Friends the Members for Mid Worcestershire (Nigel Huddleston) and for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies)—to provide the further reassurances that are needed to reinforce that message, both this afternoon in their responses and as the Bill progresses through Parliament.

The importance of ongoing and meaningful dialogue between the Government and industry cannot be overemphasised. In the period from 2012, after the last windfall tax, up to 2021, when the North sea transition deal was agreed, that interaction was very much taking place. It has been lost over the past three very eventful years, but it needs to be restored as quickly as possible. If it is, we can still embark on a new golden era for the North sea: an era of home-grown energy transition, not an outsourced one; of reindustrialisation, not deindustrialisation; and of enhanced energy security and economic prosperity.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury) 6:05, 17 Ebrill 2024

As my hon. Friend James Murray set out in his opening speech, this Finance Bill and last month’s Budget are nothing but the last gasps of a dying, desperate Government. Neither does anything to address 14 years of Conservative economic failure, and as always with this Government, it is working people who pay the price, because taxes are still rising. The British people, already facing the highest tax burden in 70 years, will see tax rises in every single year of the forecast period. As much as the Government try, they simply cannot hide from that record: after a decade and a half of Conservative rule, people have less money in their pockets.

Unable to defend his own Government’s record, and unable to offer any plan to get the country out of the economic mess that his party has created, this Chancellor has resorted to undeliverable promises. The Chancellor ended his Budget last month with a £46 billion unfunded tax plan to abolish national insurance, which would put our economic stability at risk. That is even bigger than the unfunded tax cuts announced by Elizabeth Truss in her Budget, which added hundreds of pounds to people’s mortgages.

In contrast, the Labour party has consistently said that we would reduce the tax burden on families. That is why we opposed the current Prime Minister when he wanted to increase national insurance two years ago, and it is why we supported the measures announced last month to bring national insurance down by an additional 2p.

Although on the surface this Bill leaves the basic and higher rates of income tax unchanged, let us be clear: this is a Government who have raised the tax burden to record levels, and taxes are continuing to rise. Because of the tax choices that this Chancellor has made, households will be, on average, £870 worse off. His decision to freeze tax thresholds will create 3.2 million new taxpayers by 2028, and 2.6 million more people will be paying higher rates. For every £5 that the Government are giving back to families, they will be taking an average of £10 in higher taxes under their plans, and they expect the British public to thank them for it.

While we will always call out the Conservatives for pickpocketing the British taxpayer, we do welcome their recent pickpocketing of Labour policies. Labour has long argued that if people make Britain their home, they should pay their taxes here too. However, the Prime Minister himself has said that scrapping the non-dom tax status would somehow end up costing Britain money, and the Chancellor previously tried to argue that the non-dom status supports jobs and that reforming it would damage long-term growth. I am delighted to say that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor have finally come around to the Labour party’s way of thinking, but it is not quite what it seems. I am not denying that Conservative Members have come a long way after years of opposing our plan to scrap the non-dom status, but there are still some gaping loopholes in the Government’s plans.

The discount in year 1 is unnecessary and unjustified, and particularly concerning is the loophole that will allow non-doms to exploit offshore trusts so that they can avoid inheritance tax. As my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North made clear, these loopholes must be closed. I hope that the Minister, when he responds, will commit to closing these loopholes, so I wait with bated breath to hear what he has to say on this policy. If not, will he accept that the Conservatives are once again putting the interests of non-doms before those of ordinary British taxpayers and British businesses?

Let us take corporation tax, which clause 12 sets at 25%. All this Chancellor has had to offer British businesses is uncertainty. Despite promising to cut corporation tax from 19% to 15% in his 2022 leadership bid, he has increased it from 19% to 25%. In contrast, our shadow Chancellor has committed to capping the headline rate of corporation tax at its current rate for the whole of the next Parliament, and we would take action if tax changes in other advanced economies threatened to undermine UK competitiveness.

The Opposition will be supporting the energy security investment mechanism in clause 19 of the Bill before us, as it will help investors get the confidence they need. Likewise, we are committed both to strengthening the windfall tax to raise more revenue to support our country’s energy transition, and to giving as much certainty as possible to the companies affected. That is why our shadow Chancellor has made it clear that, under Labour, our one-off, time-limited energy profits levy will cease to apply by the end of the next Parliament.

We will not be opposing the Bill today, but we will be looking closely at the detail in the specific clauses in the coming weeks. However, let us be under no illusions: this is an exhausted and directionless Conservative Government who are out of ideas and out of time. All they have to offer are U-turns, unfunded promises and an ever-growing tax burden on working people and our constituents. In contrast, the Labour party’s offer to the country will be carefully costed and fully funded, and we will always put working people and British businesses first.

The Government have failed to reduce the tax burden, failed to boost business investment, and delivered only stagnation and chaos, whereas our economic plan is built on the pillars of stability, investment and reform: stability brought about by iron discipline, and guarded by strong fiscal rules, robust economic institutions and certainty on corporation tax; investment, working with the private sector, so that we can lead the industries of the future and make work pay; and reform, starting with our planning system, to tackle vested interests. The British people deserve better than this. The British people deserve change. I hope the Minister will agree with me that it is now time to call a general election as soon as possible.

Photo of Gareth Davies Gareth Davies The Exchequer Secretary 6:12, 17 Ebrill 2024

It is always a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. Let me begin by thanking Members from across the House for their contributions to the debate on this Finance Bill.

Before I address some of the specific points raised, let me briefly reflect on what this Bill is seeking to achieve. It is a Bill for a Budget that rewards work, and it sends a clear message to working people across the country that we support them. We want their work to pay and we want them to have more money in their pocket at the end of the working day. We want to continue to make this country a great place in which to live, work and invest; and to provide our key growth industries with the support and incentives they need to continue to thrive. Taken together, these policies will drive economic growth and productivity for years to come by focusing on workforce participation and stimulating business investment.

Despite going through an incredibly difficult time these past years, with a global pandemic and a war in mainland Europe, our economy has now turned the corner. Inflation is down from its peak of 11% to 3.2%; real wages are consistently rising; and, despite high interest rates, our economy is growing, because of the action that we have taken over the past few fiscal events and the plan that we have put in place—it is always important to have a plan, Madam Deputy Speaker—and this Bill continues our work to execute that plan.

The Bill will support hard-working parents by increasing the high-income child benefit charge threshold and taper, taking 170,000 families out of paying that tax charge, and with almost half a million families gaining an average of £1,260 towards the cost of raising their children. My hon. Friend Nigel Mills made thoughtful remarks about our intention to move to a household basis. We will absolutely take those remarks on board, as he mentioned, and we will be consulting on this issue shortly and his points will also be taken on board in that process.

My hon. Friend Nickie Aiken pointed out that the Bill will encourage investment in our world-leading creative industries—a key growth sector for the UK—with a new tax relief for UK-made independent films. It will permanently increase the rates of tax reliefs for theatres, orchestras, museums and galleries, backing British talent in film and on the stage, and we will always champion our creative industries, which remain the envy of the world. She raised points about specific challenges, particularly on immersive audiences. Production will qualify for theatre tax relief if the main purpose of the audience is to observe. Some level of audience participation will not necessarily disqualify a production, but it cannot be the main purpose. Further guidance will be issued by the Treasury, and I know that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury would be happy to meet her to discuss the specific issues her constituents are facing.

My hon. Friend Peter Aldous has been a consistent champion for the oil and gas industry, and quite right too. He acknowledged that the Bill will provide more certainty to investors in the oil and gas industry, and the finance industry that lends for investment, by putting the energy security investment mechanism into legislation. The ESIM operates on the basic principle that it is only right that when prices of oil and gas come down to normal levels, so too should the tax on exceptional profits. That gives certainty to industry and also brings more fairness.

My hon. Friend Richard Fuller made a typically constructive and, perhaps, creative speech, and made a number of points. In particular, his support for our national insurance contribution cuts was much appreciated. He is right to highlight an under-appreciated policy on auto-enrolment, which has seen 10.3 million people brought in to saving for a pension, with 86% of private pension savers now participating more than they were before. We will look closely and work with him on his specific suggestion relating to national insurance contributions to boost savings. We all want the savings culture in this country to grow and grow, and we are always open to suggestions.

The national insurance contributions had a separate Bill, but they continue to be a subject of debate in Treasury discussions. The Opposition’s suggestion that our ambition to remove the double tax on work is some kind of unfunded policy must be addressed. Let me be clear: this is an ambition; it is obviously not happening overnight. Let us look at what we have done over the past six months for hard-working people across the country: we have cut national insurance contributions by 30%, all while increasing pensions by 8.5%, and providing record funding for our NHS. Indeed, having an ambition in public policy is not new. In 2010 we set out a long-term ambition to raise the personal allowance to £10,000, which we did not just meet but exceeded, and it is now over £12,500, as acknowledged by my hon. Friends the Members for Amber Valley and for North East Bedfordshire.

It is important to set out a direction of travel for the British people, and to show ambition for what we want to do in government. Not only do Labour Members not have any long-term ambitions, but none of their ambitions seem to last very long. They talk about change, but the only change that the Labour party offers is a change in its own policies, week after week after week, and that’s just weak! Labour’s policies are so weak and vague that even its righteous moral compass cannot find a direction. However, there are a few glimmers of what a Labour Government might look like—what five years of hard labour might look like. For example, we know that under Labour’s embattled deputy leader and the trade unions, 70 new regulations will hamper the ability of businesses to hire, stifle their ability to grow, reduce job opportunities, and unleash waves of low-threshold, zero-warning strikes on hard-working British people. Labour calls it a new deal, but let us face it: it is a raw deal for business and workers across the country.

I have not even mentioned the things that the Labour party is doing today where it is in charge, so let us just quickly go through those: 20 mph zones, limited rates relief and longer NHS waiting lists, all in Labour-run Wales; a bankrupt council, adult social care budgets cut and council tax up by 21%, all in Labour-run Birmingham; and knife crime up, relentless National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers strikes and a cruel ultra low emission zone tax on motorists, all in Labour-run London. The House will forgive me if I will not take lectures from the Labour party.

To conclude, we are delivering a Finance Bill that will see us move forward with the Government’s plan to support long-term growth, encouraging people into work, boosting investment and ensuring that hard-working taxpayers keep as much of their money as possible. We on the Government Benches choose aspiration over envy and ambition over declinism. For those reasons and more, I commend this Bill to the House.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Rhif adran 128 Finance (No. 2) Bill: Reasoned Amendment to Second Reading

Ie: 42 MPs

Na: 293 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


The House divided: Ayes 42, Noes 296.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a

Second time.

Rhif adran 129 Finance (No. 2) Bill: Second Reading

Ie: 292 MPs

Na: 49 MPs

Ie: A-Z fesul cyfenw


Na: A-Z fesul cyfenw


The House divided: Ayes 296, Noes 49.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Bill read a Second time.