David Gauke moves Finance Bill to deliver long-term, sustainable economic growth

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
 
Finance Bill 2015 takes another step forward in this Government’s long-term economic plan. As my right hon. Friend the Chancellor set out in last Wednesday’s Budget statement, we have grown faster than any other major advanced economy in the world; more people have jobs in Britain than ever before; and the standard of living is rising and set to rise further. We are cleaning up the economic mess we inherited in 2010 and delivering a fairer economy for all.
 
This Bill will build on that success. It will help British businesses to invest and create jobs, help British households to work and save, and help ensure everyone in Britain pays their fair share of tax.
 
Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): That will also have the effect of increasing complexity in the taxation system. Whatever happened to the tax simplification project?
 
Mr Gauke: We have established the Office of Tax Simplification and put in place a large number of its recommendations. I could spend some time talking Members through some of them. It is also worth pointing out that just last week the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced plans to take very large numbers of people out of having to pay income tax on their savings, reducing the need for them to be in the self-assessment system. Indeed, we have set out longer-term plans to simplify the operation of the tax system through a more digitised system with online tax accounts, which will make a substantial difference to many people. I should also point out that from April of this year we will have one rate of corporation tax, which means that we no longer need a marginal rate with some 50,000 businesses having to calculate what to pay in a more complicated way. The Government have taken a number of steps on tax simplification.
 
We are committed to all the tax measures that the Chancellor set out last Wednesday, but appreciating the constraints on the timetable we have deliberately held a number of measures back and published a shorter Bill than would otherwise have been the case. Unlike under previous Governments, legislation for Finance Bills since 2011 has been published in draft three months ahead of the final publication of the Bill. Under this new approach, we published more than 250 pages of draft legislation in December for technical consultation, again meeting our commitment to expose legislation in draft.
 
We are proceeding today on the basis of consent. The Opposition required us to remove five clauses from the Bill following discussions last week. The clauses concern a new tax exemption for the travel expenses of members of local authorities; a new statutory exemption from income tax for trivial benefits in kind, implementing a recommendation of the Office of Tax Simplification’s review of employee benefits and expenses; simplifying link company requirements for consortium claims under corporation tax; a separate rate of excise duty for aqua methanol; and changes to scheme rules for the enterprise investment scheme and venture capital trusts. The Government would look to legislate on all five of those clauses at the earliest opportunity at the start of the new Parliament.
 
I will happily take further interventions this afternoon, but let me first set out the order in which I intend to discuss the measures in the Bill. I will begin by talking about those that will boost growth and enterprise. Next, I will cover those that tackle avoidance and aggressive tax planning and then I will cover those that help families and savers do more with the money they earn. Finally, I will talk about how the Bill, like previous Finance Acts in this Parliament, will help to deliver a simpler tax system.
 
Let me begin with the measures designed to boost growth and encourage enterprise. Hon. Members will be aware that our long-term economic plan is working and confidence is returning to businesses and our markets, but that growth would not have been possible without the hard work of businesses up and down the country. During our five years in office, we have created the right environment to help businesses start, grow and succeed. When we came to office, Britain had one of the least competitive business tax regimes in Europe. Now it is the most competitive. Next week, corporation tax will be cut to 20%, one of the lowest rates of any major economy in the world. By 2016, that will mean £9.5 billion savings for businesses across the UK every year. That is why more and more businesses are moving operations here, starting up here or growing here.
 
The Bill will also bolster support for research and development and the creative sector. We are increasing the research and development tax credit for small and medium-sized enterprises from 225% to 230%, increasing the rate of film tax relief to 25% for all expenditure and introducing a new children’s television tax relief. I am sure those are industries that Members on both sides of the House will support.
 
The Government will not sit back and let hundreds of thousands of jobs be put at risk thanks to falling oil prices. The Bill recognises the importance of the future of the North sea oil and gas industry, our largest industrial sector. With effect from the start of next month, the Bill introduces a single, simple and generous tax allowance to stimulate investment at all stages of the industry, giving investors early certainty for their long-term investment decisions. We are also cutting petroleum revenue tax from 50% to 35% to encourage continued production in older fields. Backdated to the beginning of January this year, as announced by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor last week, the Bill also cuts the supplementary charge from 32% to 20%.
 
Alok Sharma (Reading West) (Con): My hon. Friend talks about the policies that are being put in place by the Government to help businesses. Does he share my view that the freezing of fuel duty has helped not just businesses but individuals, and can he tell us how much of a saving businesses and individuals make every time they fill up their vehicle?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Very often, the debate in this House is about the impact on individuals of the freeze on fuel duty, which has considerably reduced how much fuel costs. As a consequence of our measures, £10 is saved per tank full of petrol. He is also right to mention the impact on businesses, because many of them, particularly smaller ones, pay this tax. We can sometimes forget that in that debate. Fuel duty is now 16p per litre lower than it would have been under the previous Government’s plans.
 
Let me return to the provisions on oil and gas. The new cluster area allowance will support the development of one of the biggest fields in the UK continental shelf, which is expected to generate about 3,500 jobs and more than £3 billion in capital investment. As hon. Members can see, the Bill tackles some of the challenges facing our business community and our economy.
 
Now that I have set out such competitive tax rates, designed specifically to support our businesses, let me say that we expect those taxes to be paid. The Bill continues the Government’s firm action against the small minority who seek out unacceptable ways to reduce or delay paying the taxes they owe. Under the Bill, we will legislate to create a fairer tax system by clamping down on tax avoidance and ensuring that banks contribute their fair share. Taking effect from the start of next month, the Bill will introduce a new diverted profits tax of 25%, aimed at large multinationals that artificially shift their profits offshore to avoid paying UK tax. As part of the project, I can confirm that we are working with five other tax authorities to investigate and challenge how digital multinationals shift their profits to tax havens. For the first time, we are gathering a full global picture of the tax risks those companies pose that is invaluable in helping us take decisive action.
 
The Bill will also increase the bank levy to 0.21% and introduce new rules for banks on carried forward losses, to ensure that banking companies can use them only to relieve up to 50% of company profits. Combined, those measures will raise nearly £8 billion over the next five years. We have always been clear that banks should make an additional contribution that reflects the risks they pose to the UK economy, and now that banks are strengthening their balance sheets and returning to profitability, they should make a greater contribution to the economic recovery.
 
Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): I welcome the increase in the bank levy. Does the Minister agree that it is extremely difficult for a bank to avoid the levy, whereas the tax on bonuses, for example, would be very easy to avoid?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. Indeed, that is why the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), made it clear that the bank bonus levy could only really be effective for one year. It is important that we have something sustainable that can exist for much longer.
 
Mr Love: The Chancellor indicated to the Treasury Committee yesterday that he was minded to make the bank levy permanent. Will the Financial Secretary reassure the House that that is his intention?
 
Mr Gauke: We believe that the bank levy and the additional contribution from the banking sector are not just for the short term, but need to be sustainable, so I entirely endorse the Chancellor’s remarks yesterday.
 
Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. I welcome the diverted profits tax and I think that my constituents will very much welcome that measure. Will he confirm that it comes on top of all the work the Government are leading at the OECD and that, in September or later this year, we will therefore see further rules coming in to clamp down on base erosion?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend again makes a very good point. This Government have led the way in the establishment of the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting project. We are already implementing some of its conclusions, including in this Bill, but there is more work to be done. The diverted profits tax is consistent with the direction that we want the BEPS project to go in, which is to align economic activity more closely with taxing rights. That is the direction in which the international tax system needs to move, and the diverted profits tax is consistent with that approach.
 
The Bill legislates for corporation tax loss refresh prevention, which will stop companies obtaining a tax advantage by entering highly contrived arrangements to turn old tax losses into new, more versatile losses. We will close loopholes to make sure that entrepreneurs relief is available only to those selling genuine stakes in businesses. We are strengthening civil sanctions targeting individuals with hidden income, gains or assets overseas to ensure that taxpayers who do not pay their fair share are penalised. We are tackling avoidance by large businesses and wealthy individuals, and we are tackling tax evaders.
 
Alok Sharma: My hon. Friend is talking about fairness in the tax system, which we all want. Will he confirm that under this Government the top 1% of taxpayers will pay more in tax than they ever did under the previous Government?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend makes another excellent point. This year, the proportion of income tax paid by the highest earning 1% will be above 27%, higher than for any year under the previous Government. I dare say that we will debate that in a little more detail later this afternoon. On this Government’s record in ensuring that those with the broadest shoulders make the biggest contribution, the facts are very clear: they are doing so under us. A whole host of measures that we have taken, not least in areas of tax avoidance, have ensured that we are getting in that money.
 
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): My hon. Friend is making a powerful case on the work that the Government have done to tackle tax avoidance. What is being done to throw the book at the promoters of tax avoidance schemes and people who continually try their luck by entering such schemes?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend—given his background, he is an expert in tax matters—has been a consistently strong advocate of taking tough action in this area. I can certainly reassure him that one of our very important strands of work has been to take on the promoters of tax avoidance schemes. Indeed, we are bringing in measures to place greater burdens on them to disclose the position they are in, as well as greater surveillance and supervision of them. During this Parliament, we have seen a dramatic fall in the number of tax avoidance schemes being promoted, which is very good news. There has been a real change in the climate, driven not least by the action that the Government have taken. I believe that we have a very proud record in dealing with tax avoidance and the causes of tax avoidance.
 
Mr Love rose—
 
Mr Gauke: I will give way again, because I know that the hon. Gentleman does not have long left in this House. I am more than happy to give him another opportunity to intervene, but I must then make a little progress.
 
Mr Love: I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so generous with his time. The Chancellor has indicated that, if he is returned to government, he will look for £5 billion of savings from evasion and avoidance; yet in its Budget report, the Office for Budget Responsibility could find only just over £3 billion of savings among the Chancellor’s provisions, which leaves a gap. Will the Financial Secretary explain to the House how he intends to fill that gap during the next Parliament?
 
Mr Gauke: Given this Government’s record on the measures introduced in Finance Act after Finance Act, the support provided to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in additional powers and resources for this area and the fact that yield has increased very substantially during this Parliament—from £17 billion in 2010 to £26 billion now—we are confident that further savings can be found. Through a combination of measures dealing with tax evasion, tax avoidance and aggressive tax planning, we believe that £5 billion can be found.
 
I now turn to how the Bill will help hard-working families. This Government have a proud record of reducing tax for the lowest-paid. Not only will the Bill deliver our commitment to raise the income tax personal allowance to £10,600 from the start of the new tax year, but it will legislate to raise it to £10,800 in 2016-17 and to £11,000 in 2017-18. By 2017, a standard rate taxpayer will be £900 better off than under the previous Government’s plans and that an individual on the national minimum wage working up to 30 hours a week will not pay any income tax whatsoever. That is a tax cut for 27 million people, and it means that this Government have taken almost 4 million of the lowest-paid out of income tax altogether.
 
We are passing on the full gains of that policy, so for the first time in seven years, the threshold at which people pay the higher tax rate will rise not just in line with inflation, but above inflation. It will rise from £42,385 this year to £43,300 by 2017-18. Under the Bill, the rate of the new transferable tax allowance for married couples will rise to £1,100, providing help for more than 4 million couples. We are legislating to exempt children from air passenger duty so that, together with measures introduced in the Finance Act 2014, a family of four flying to Australia will now save £194. The Government have made clear their commitment to support households in the UK and to put more of their hard-earned money back in their pockets, where it belongs.
 
Finally and briefly, I turn to tax simplification, which was touched on earlier. Under this Government’s new approach to tax policy making, we published more than 250 pages of draft legislation in December for technical consultation. As such, the majority of measures contained in the Bill have been drawn up following lengthy consultation with interest groups and businesses. The Bill continues to build on the excellent work of Michael Jack and John Whiting at the Office of Tax Simplification, and it includes a package of measures that will help to simplify tax administration for businesses in several ways.
 
Mr Love rose—
 
Mr Gauke: I will give way one last time.
 
Mr Love: According to the Financial Times this morning, the Bill will add significantly to the complexity to the tax code. The number of pages in Tolley’s is going up and up. We are told that we now have the longest tax code in the world, having overtaken India some years ago, but the Financial Secretary is presenting this as if it were a simplification. This is contrary to the entire thrust of public debate on these issues. When will we get some tax simplification?
 
Mr Gauke: The hon. Gentleman may be interested to hear, or he may already be aware, that the Office of Tax Simplification has looked at what constitutes complexity within the tax system. One conclusion that it reached was that the number of pages in the tax code is not a particularly good barometer of complexity. For example, the rewriting of the tax code that occurred over many years lengthened it, but the intention was to make it simpler to understand.
 
I would make this challenge to the hon. Gentleman: which elements of the Bill would he not want? For example, there are 40 or so pages on oil and gas tax reform, which I believe all parties recognise is a necessary response to the current circumstances, but that will lengthen the tax code. A number of pages are being added to the tax code because of the diverted profits tax, but all parties recognise the need for such a tax to deal with artificially contrived arrangements. I appreciate his point and the spirit in which he makes it and I share the desire for greater tax simplification, but there are some challenges in that for a Government who also want to deal with avoidance and ensure that we have a competitive tax system for the oil and gas sector.
 
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I do not wish to revisit old debates about simplification, but does my hon. Friend have a view about the future strategy on anti-abuse rules? I believe that when Graham Aaronson examined the general anti-abuse rule, he thought that after about five years we would be able to start to do away with individual anti-avoidance rules and rely on the GAAR. We could therefore remove some of the more complicated provisions and the loopholes that go with them. Does my hon. Friend think that could work, or does he think it should be ruled out and that we must have both the general and specific rules?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend does not want to revisit old debates, but I tempted to give a response that I suspect I have given him before. The general anti-abuse rule is a big step forward, and it was absolutely right that this Government introduced it. Other Governments had considered it but felt that it was not the right thing to do. However, it is there to complement the existing measures, and we will want to see how the GAAR works over time rather than rush to judgment. I do not believe that a future Conservative Government would want to risk opening up new loopholes because of uncertainty about exactly how the GAAR applies. It is of course an anti-abuse rule and sets a reasonably high bar for behaviour covered by it, and I suspect my hon. Friend agrees that that is right because of its broad nature. We will have to wait and see before I make any commitment to repealing various targeted anti-avoidance rules.
 
Charlie Elphicke rose—
 
Mr Gauke: I give way to another Member who, like my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), is a former member of the tax profession.
 
Charlie Elphicke: My hon. Friend is being extremely generous in giving way. May I turn to the provisions on oil taxation and the revenues from oil, given what has happened to the oil price? Does he have any idea of how big a black hole would be driven into the finances of an independent Scotland were there to be another referendum campaign fought by the losers from last time?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. I believe that oil revenues are something like a 10th of what the Scottish National party predicted, but I will happily stand corrected if I am wrong. The fact is that a united kingdom is better able to absorb volatility in the oil price than an independent Scotland would ever be. Given what has happened to the oil price, it is clearly to the benefit of Scotland that those calling for independence were roundly defeated last year.
 
Ian Swales: Will the Financial Secretary give way?
 
Mr Gauke: I will give way one last time, but I am conscious that many Members will want to speak.
 
Ian Swales: I thank the Financial Secretary. I am sure that he would accept, having looked at the business case for the changes in oil taxation, that the economic effects of the oil industry are much wider than simply the winning of oil. In particular, the engineering and manufacturing industries in the north-east of England are pleased by the moves that have been made.
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend makes a good point. Particularly in the north-east of England, a number of businesses are ancillary to the oil industry, so I am grateful for his remarks.
 
The Bill takes further steps to deliver long-term, sustainable economic growth. It puts in place a more competitive environment for business, takes more people out of income tax, continues our reforms of the tax system and supports the continued success of our industries. I commend it to the House.
 
1.16 pm
 
 
...
 
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): Before speaking to clauses 66 and 67 and new clause 1, may I first say what a great pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Dawn? This is the last of a great number of Finance Bills in which you have played one role or another, and I have had the privilege of serving with you on a number of those occasions. This is the last afternoon on which you will be dealing with tax matters, having done so for an unconscionably long period, so I thank you for all that you have done over many years and for your service as Deputy Speaker and wish you a very happy retirement.
 
Clauses 66 and 67 set out the Bill’s provisions on VAT. Clause 66 refunds VAT to charities involved in co-ordinated search and rescue operations, air ambulance charities, hospice charities and blood bike medical courier charities. Clause 67 refunds the same levels of VAT to the strategic highways company—from 1 April it will take over the functions of the Highways Agency—as are paid to the Highways Agency itself. It is largely a tidying-up matter.
 
It is worth pointing out that refunding VAT will benefit around 400 charities that work alongside the emergency services, provide palliative care to terminally ill patients or support the national health service. The Hospice of St Francis in Berkhamsted in my constituency is very appreciative of the measure and thinks that it will make a significant difference to the service it can provide to my constituents in South West Hertfordshire. I suspect that clauses 66 and 67 will not cause great controversy in Committee, but I will of course be happy to take any questions on them.
 
Ian Lucas (Wrexham) (Lab): I am sure that we all welcome the clauses relating to VAT relief for hospices, which do such a tremendous job. Can the Financial Secretary help me by explaining how charities are selected and how VAT exemptions are secured? I have previously raised the case of a charity dealing with disabled people in Wrexham that provides transport services, which are subject to VAT under the current arrangements. The process of securing exemptions seems easier for ski lifts, for example, than for disabled people in my constituency, so I would be interested to find out how on earth one secures exemptions for worthy charities.
 
Mr Gauke: I have heard the hon. Gentleman make both points in the past, and if I remember correctly, I responded to an Adjournment debate on those matters. There are significant benefits in our tax system for charities, but the Government look at cases partly depending on the demands on the public finances and what is affordable. We have looked in particular at hospices. There is a particularly strong case there, and to some extent they are put at a disadvantage compared with parts of the NHS because of the irrecoverable VAT that they pay. This is a matter that any Government would keep under review. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman, as a persistent Member, will raise the matter again if he has the opportunity to do so in future.
 
In new clause 1, the Opposition ask us to publish a report on the impact of the increase in the standard rate of VAT in 2010. No doubt, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) will set out her thinking on that, but let me make a pre-emptive strike, if the Prime Minister has not already done so. Before I turn to the details and the imposition of VAT in 2010, I shall briefly set out the context for that decision.
 
Let us be clear that we increased the standard rate of VAT in 2010 as a consequence of the mess that the Opposition left the public finances in and the fact that, although the previous Government had left a mess, they had not left behind a plan to clear it up. Of course, a tax impact information note was published by HM Revenue and Customs at the time of the June 2010 Budget, but let us look at the situation that we inherited. At that time, the independent Office for Budget Responsibility’s pre-Budget 2010 forecast revealed that the structural deficit—the part of the deficit that will not go away with the recovery—was higher than previously thought: around £9 billion or 0.6% of GDP higher in 2010-11. Debt repayments were forecast to reach more than £67 billion by 2014-15, more than was spent on defence or on schools in England. The UK had one of the highest deficits of any advanced economy, so this Government had to take urgent action to eliminate the bulk of the structural deficit, which is a necessary precondition for sustained economic growth.
 
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): The Minister referred to the Prime Minister’s pre-emptive strike, but he will be well aware that similar statements were made before the last election. Does not the whole VAT issue illustrate the difference between the parties? The Labour Government’s response to an economic recession was to stimulate the economy by reducing VAT. The response of the incoming Government was to deflate the economy by increasing VAT.
 
Mr Gauke: The previous Government brought VAT back up. We know from his memoirs that the then Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), believed that a Labour Government after 2010 should increase VAT. A Budget document was even published showing VAT going up to, I believe, 18.5%. I know that that was published by mistake, but it clearly shows that serious consideration was given to that. The previous Labour Government recognised that taxes would have to increase. They had proposals to increase employers national insurance contributions, or the jobs tax. Given that there is such uncertainty about the Opposition’s plans for what they would do in government, the question is whether they would rule out increasing employers national insurance contributions.
 
Shabana Mahmood (Birmingham, Ladywood) (Lab) rose—
 
Mr Gauke: I give the hon. Lady an ideal opportunity to do that.
 
Shabana Mahmood: I am grateful to the Financial Secretary. As we have been in the Chamber, he may not be aware that we have ruled out any rise in national insurance.
 
Mr Gauke: Well, there we go. I am struck by the fact that the Leader of the Opposition was very reluctant to say that earlier, but I am pleased that he has been bounced into providing that clarification. [Interruption.] I noticed that he did not answer questions earlier today. [Interruption.] Indeed, he will never have the chance to answer questions at Prime Minister’s Question Time.
 
Julie Hilling (Bolton West) (Lab): It has taken me five years to learn that Prime Minister’s questions is about the Leader of the Opposition and us asking questions and the Prime Minister not answering them. It is not Leader of the Opposition’s questions; it is Prime Minister’s questions. We do not answer questions; the Government are supposed to.
 
Mr Gauke: I notice that the hon. Lady does not answer questions. I am glad we finally got some clarification on that point, but as I say, I do not think the right hon. Member for Doncaster North (Edward Miliband) will ever have the opportunity to answer Prime Minister’s questions.
 
David Wright (Telford) (Lab): Does the hon. Gentleman agree that VAT is a regressive tax in principle? Can he tell us why the Government chose to use an increase in VAT as a tool for bringing down the deficit?
 
Mr Gauke: I will turn to that question in a moment, but before I do so, I shall say a little about this Government’s record.
 
High public debt can lead to a loss of market confidence and higher market interest rates, raising the cost of borrowing for families and businesses and discouraging investment and consumer spending. So what has our long-term economic plan delivered? Today public sector net borrowing as a percentage of GDP is forecast to have halved between 2009-10 and 2014-15. Latest data from the IMF show that this Government also reduced the structural deficit by more than half between 2010 and 2013. In fact, the UK’s structural deficit fell by 4.6% of GDP over 2010 to 2013—a larger reduction than any other country in the G7.
 
Since the autumn statement last year, the UK’s fiscal position has improved right across the forecast period, with higher receipts and lower debt interest. This Government have restored stability, put the public finances on a sustainable path and are about to put public sector net debt on to a declining path as a share of GDP.
 
Ian Lucas: Will the Minister give way?
 
Mr Gauke: Let me make a little more progress.
 
The previous Government failed to take decisive action to get our country moving again. Our record speaks for itself. Employment is now at its highest ever level. Economic growth is now firmly in place and at the Budget the OBR revised up its forecasts. The UK economy is forecast to grow by 2.5% in 2015, 2.3% in 2016, 2.3% in 2017, rising to 2.4% in 2019.
 
Ian Lucas: Is it not correct that in June 2010, when the Chancellor increased VAT, he said that he would eliminate the deficit by the end of this Parliament but has not done so? Despite the increase in VAT that he imposed, he failed in that aim. Why is that?
 
3 pm
 
Mr Gauke: I suggest that the hon. Gentleman look at the analysis by the Office for Budget Responsibility of why its forecasts on deficit reduction were not met. It has been very clear that the three reasons it did not happen were the eurozone crisis; the after-effects of the financial crisis being greater than it or, indeed, other independent observers had expected; and higher commodity prices than had been expected. That made deficit reduction harder than it would otherwise have been.
 
The critique of Labour Members is sometimes to say that we have rigidly stuck to our plans to reduce spending, and on other occasions to say that we have failed to reduce the deficit as fast as we said we would. As regards our spending plans, the departmental and welfare spending reductions that we set out have been delivered. The automatic stabilisers came into effect; we have shown the flexibility to allow that to happen. As a consequence, we have delivered what we set out in terms of reducing spending, although we have faced more difficult circumstances. Labour Members are all over the place in this debate. Sometimes they say that we have stuck rigidly to plans that we should not have stuck to, and at other times they say that we have let the deficit rise.
 
We must remember that Labour Members opposed every single measure that we took to reduce the deficit. Had they been in power and had they been consistent in what they said—at least in their rhetoric—in opposition, we would have seen borrowing at a substantially higher level over the past few years, leaving our public finances in an unsustainable position, putting our recovery at risk, and damaging the economic credibility of the United Kingdom. Thankfully, they did not have the opportunity to crash the car, having done so once already.
 
Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that the deficit targets were not satisfied because the growth projections went down, and that is because consumption went down, and that is because VAT went up? I appreciate what the Prime Minister said earlier, but does the hon. Gentleman accept that if VAT went up now, when we have 0% inflation, that would spiral the economy down, and that it would be better to reduce VAT than to reduce tax thresholds in order to stimulate growth to balance the books?
 
Mr Gauke: Is the hon. Gentleman saying that we should reduce VAT?
 
Geraint Davies: I am saying that given a choice between lower VAT or lower tax thresholds, does the hon. Gentleman accept that lower VAT would give higher growth and help to reduce the deficit—or is he a just a politician without any economic sense?
 
Mr Gauke: Well, there we go: another pledge from a Labour Member that would increase borrowing levels. I should remind the House that when VAT was increased, Labour Members did not vote against it.
 
Ian Swales (Redcar) (LD): Does the Minister share my surprise that a policy is being proposed whereby the biggest winners would be pop stars, premiership footballers and bankers, who spend the most?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend makes a good point. I will come back to that later.
 
Our long-term economic plan has delivered economic growth and record levels of employment, and it has put this country on a sustainable economic footing. Specifically on VAT, we have maintained the VAT registration threshold, which is now £82,000—the highest in the EU. That is of significant benefit to small businesses right across the country. While the bulk of the deficit reduction has come from spending, we chose to increase VAT from 2011. If it is necessary to raise large sums of money, as it clearly was in 2010 when we saw the structural deficit deteriorate—at least, the assessment made by the previous Government, and then by the independent OBR, showed a significant deterioration—then it is necessary to raise one of the bigger taxes.
 
Happily, we are no longer in that situation under the plans put forward by the Conservative party. I am afraid that Labour Members’ plans—not engaging in reducing the welfare budget and not committing themselves to controlling departmental spending in the way we would—mean that they will need to find a substantial tax increase. A Labour Government in 2010 would have put up the jobs tax—a different choice from ours. In those circumstances, it is hard to believe that we would have 1.9 million more people in work today than we had in 2010.
 
Fiona O’Donnell (East Lothian) (Lab): If the Conservatives’ plan was so brilliant, will the Minister explain why, even at the height of the global crash in the UK, under the Labour Government we did not lose our triple A credit rating, but on his watch we did?
 
Mr Gauke: We have retained the confidence of the markets, and we have retained very low long-term interest rates. When we came to power, we were on a par with the likes of Spain and Italy; now, we are seen very much as a safe haven. The UK’s fiscal credibility has been maintained, and it would not have been had we stuck to Labour’s plans, even with a significant increase in the jobs tax.
 
Julie Hilling: Does the Minister not see that raising VAT and cutting benefits hits the most vulnerable in society? Does he think it is right that children in this country should lose weight over school summer holidays because their parents do not have enough money to feed them, that people are dependent on food banks, and that we have had people starve to death because of benefit cuts? Is that the way this country should be in this day and age?
 
Mr Gauke: Under this Government, child poverty has fallen, and pensioner poverty is at a lower level than it has ever been. Only today, we have seen numbers showing that there are 600,000 fewer workless households than there were in 2010. If we wish to deal with poverty, and we certainly do, the best way is to have a job-creating, growing economy, and that is precisely what the long-term economic plan is delivering.
 
To be fair to the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), he says that he would cut VAT, but I am not hearing that from Labour Front Benchers. I must remind Labour Members that, with a handful of exceptions, none of them voted against the increase in VAT in 2010. I note that one of the handful of exceptions is sitting on the Opposition Benches, but Labour Members did not vote against it.
 
Charlie Elphicke (Dover) (Con): On the subject of deficit reduction, does my hon. Friend recall a report from the IFS a little while ago that said that Labour’s plans would have resulted in about £200 billion more borrowing if the Labour Government had continued, given the change in circumstances? Does that not show that there is a massive black hole at the heart of Labour Members’ current plans that would be made worse by the out-of-the-blue, panicky pledges on tax that they are suddenly making on the hoof on the news after pressure at today’s Prime Minister’s questions?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend makes a good point that is very relevant to the debate we are having about VAT.
 
The three main parties in this House have agreed that we will deliver a cyclical current budget surplus by 2017-18; that is what the charter of fiscal responsibility states. The vast majority of Labour Members trooped through the Lobby to support that measure. Independent analysis, as well as the Treasury’s analysis, confirmed that that requires some £30 billion-worth of fiscal adjustments. From my party’s point of view, that would be made up of £13 billion from departmental spending, £12 billion from welfare spending, and £5 billion from anti-tax evasion and tax avoidance measures.
 
The Liberal Democrats have set out how they will get their £30 billion. Their plan has a different balance and make-up from the Conservative plan, but they have set it out. The Labour party has not set out how it will reach that £30 billion. If Labour is not going to cut welfare in the way the Conservatives are, and if it is not going to cut departmental spending as we are—as far as I can see, that, after all, is the heart of Labour’s election campaign—more money must come from tax. That is why the question of who will raise taxes and what taxes will be raised is much more acute for Labour Members. They have questions to answer. There is a gap in their public finance plans, whereas we have set out plans that do not require us to put up taxes on hard-working people.
 
Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): The Minister is being unfair to Labour Members. They will manage to reduce the deficit by not opening any more free schools, and by abolishing police and crime commissioners. That will undoubtedly solve the problem.
 
Mr Gauke: We must not forget that Labour will put up gun licences—that is also on the list.
 
I note that the shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the hon. Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves), announced yesterday that she will “abolish the bedroom tax” and use the savings for something else. I am not sure that I understand how there can be savings from that measure.
 
Ian Lucas: Will the Minister give way?
 
Mr Gauke: I will give way one more time; I ought to press on.
 
Ian Lucas: The Minister’s case is that, because of the savings that the Government plan to make, there is no need to increase VAT. Why did the Chancellor not say that in his Budget statement?
 
Mr Gauke: What I have said is consistent with what the Chancellor has said again and again. Our plans do not require us to increase taxes for hard-working people, which is why we can rule out putting up VAT—[Interruption.]—or extending it. The point the hon. Gentleman must answer is that his plans require taxes or borrowing to go up. He wants to ask hard questions about filling in fiscal black holes by raising taxes. They are questions for Labour Front Benchers, not for me, because our plans clearly do not need it.
 
Several hon. Members rose—
 
Mr Gauke: I am spoilt for choice. It is important to share these things around, so let me give way to the hon. Member for Swansea West (Geraint Davies), who has been very patient.
 
Geraint Davies: The Minister assumes that the choice is between tax and spend. Does he accept that if the tax and spend options are made in one way rather than another they will promote more growth and therefore more revenues? If more money goes to poorer people who spend all their money, as opposed to rich people who hide it in tax havens—10% of UK wealth is offshore—and if we had a Labour Government and a fairer distribution, we would surely have more growth and fewer cuts.
 
Mr Gauke: I am deeply unpersuaded of the idea that, somehow, magically, growth will shoot up if we have a Labour Government.
 
Geraint Davies: It did last time.
 
Mr Gauke: The hon. Gentleman says growth shot up last time, but we had the biggest contraction of our economy in living memory under the Labour Government—[Interruption.]
 
The Temporary Chair (Mr Jim Hood): Order. I shall ask Members once not to shout across the Chamber at one another, and to listen to whoever is on their feet, which at this time is the Minister.
 
Mr Gauke: Thank you, Mr Hood.
 
When President Hollande took office, with the enthusiasm and support of the Labour party in this country, I have no doubt that he wanted growth to increase in France. The fact that our economy is growing something like seven times faster than France’s is not because of a lack of desire on the part of the French Government, but because some policies work better than others. The Labour party’s policies would not result in higher growth—it is so anti-business that it would drive investment from this country, and its tax policies seek to punish wealth creators. I question Labour’s supply-side policies.
 
3.15 pm
 
Simon Kirby (Brighton, Kemptown) (Con): Does not the latest Labour U-turn on the jobs tax—perhaps it was forced into it—create an even bigger black hole in its finances? How will Labour balance the books?
 
Mr Gauke: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. I confess that I am a little young to remember the 1959 election, but some hon. Members will recall it.
 
Stephen Pound (Ealing North) (Lab): Thank you.
 
Mr Gauke: I am looking at the hon. Gentleman. He may recall, as a very young lad, the 1959 general election.
 
Stephen Pound indicated assent.
 
Mr Gauke: He does. I am sure he was a very young man at the time. Under a great deal of pressure, Hugh Gaitskell ruled out all sorts of tax increases and at the same time made all sorts of promises about public spending. The British people rumbled the Labour party in 1959 and did not believe that that was a credible position. As a consequence, they returned a Conservative Government with an even bigger majority. Labour Members might want to be a little bit careful about parallels with 1959.
 
Mr Love: As we are talking about rumbling the Government, the election will be an opportunity to scrutinise the Chancellor’s claim about the £30 billion of savings. He has said there will be £12 billion savings from welfare reform but has indicated how only £3 billion will be found. He has said he will get £5 billion from anti-evasion and avoidance measures, but has indicated where only £3 billion of that will come from. There is still a huge credibility gap. Will the Minister help us with it?
 
Mr Gauke: I will tell the hon. Gentleman where the credibility gap is. Labour Members effectively voted for a £30 billion target. They then denied it. They now will not indicate what adjustments they will undertake in 2016-17 and 2017-18. They have not said how they will reduce departmental spending, or how, or whether, they will reduce welfare spending. They have not said how much they will raise from tax. If they will not give us answers to those questions, we can only assume that it is because they intend to tax and borrow more. If they will not provide clarity on that, we will make that point time and again.
 
Charlie Elphicke: Speaking of Labour’s spending and tax commitments, how many times over have Labour Members spent the bank bonus tax? Is it 10 times, or more? I have lost count.
 
Mr Gauke: I thought it was 11 but I could be wrong. It may be 12 by now—who knows?—because that money may be being used to pay for Labour’s tuition fees policy.
 
Shabana Mahmood: For the avoidance of doubt, and for what feels like the 278th time in Treasury debates, I should tell the Minister that the bank bonus tax will pay for one policy and only one policy: the paid starter jobs—the compulsory jobs guarantee. Why do the Government not match us on that policy rather than harp on about their failed rhetoric on the bank bonus tax?
 
Mr Gauke: The Government have a very good record in delivering jobs—sustainable jobs—in this country.
 
Stephen Pound rose—
 
Mr Gauke: I will give way to the hon. Gentleman, who will no doubt enlighten the House about the 1959 general election.
 
Stephen Pound: I would be delighted to do so. I campaigned against Sir Oswald Mosley in Kensington North—admittedly, I was only 11 years old, but I did a fairly good job. He did not win.
 
I put it to the Minister that, in 1959, the Conservative party was very different—it was a much more consensual, nay Butskellite, Conservative party. One thing the Conservatives stood on was house building. They had a proud record. Does the Minister believe that the Bill will help house building in this country?
 
Mr Gauke: I share the view that we need to build more houses in this country, but I am pleased that last year housing starts were at a record high for seven years or so, that planning permissions are going up, and that we have reformed planning law to enable more houses to be built. In the Budget last week, there were details of 20 housing zones that could support something like 45,000 homes. That is consistent with a desire to ensure greater opportunity for people to acquire their own home.
 
It is also worth pointing out that in last week’s Budget we introduced Help to Buy individual savings accounts, which will enable people to acquire deposits so that they can enter the housing market. In terms of continuity, I would not necessarily be proud of everything connected with the Conservative Government of the 1950s. I absolutely think we need to do more to get more people into the housing market, and this Government are delivering on that and we are definitely moving in the right direction.
 
Mr Love: I thank the Minister for being so good with his time. All the measures in this year’s Budget stoke up demand for housing. It has little or nothing to say about supply. Will that not result in higher house prices?
 
Mr Gauke: It should be noted that the Office for Budget Responsibility does not believe that any of the measures announced last week will feed through to higher house prices. We also announced supply-side policies and 20 housing zones last week. It is right that we take steps to support supply.
 
The hon. Gentleman said that I was being generous with my time, but I am conscious that I am also being generous with the Committee’s time, so let me make a little progress. To return to the point made by the hon. Member for Telford (David Wright), the VAT increase in 2010 applied only to the standard rate. Everyday essentials such as food and children’s clothing, as well as newspapers and printed books, have remained zero-rated throughout this Parliament, which protects those on low and middle incomes. On fairness, we have reduced income tax for more than 27 million individuals, with basic rate taxpayers £905 better off in cash terms compared with 2010.
 
There is no need to publish a report on the impacts of the rise in VAT announced in 2010—a rise that, after all, the Labour party did not oppose. The Government’s economic record speaks for itself: record employment in the UK against virtually record unemployment in France. By 2017, basic rate taxpayers will be £905 better off in cash terms compared with 2010, and 3.7 million individuals with low incomes will have been taken out of income tax altogether. The European Union’s own analysis describes UK living standards as the fourth highest in the EU, above those of France, Italy, Spain, Ireland and the Netherlands.
 
We have delivered sustainable economic growth while across the EU economies stagnate, but we recognise that the job is not finished. This Government continue to take the difficult decisions needed to secure a responsible recovery and stay on course to prosperity. I therefore hope that the Labour party will not press new clause 1 and that clauses 66 and 67 will stand part of the Bill.
 

 

Croxley Rail Link Petition

Surgeries

David holds regular surgeries at various places in the constituency, including Rickmansworth, South Oxhey, Berkhamsted and Tring. 
 
 
Forthcoming dates:

2017
6th Oct - Rickmansworth
20th Oct - Berkhamsted
3rd Nov - South Oxhey
17th Nov - Tring

Call 01923 771781 to make an appointment.

Record of surgeries

 

View South West Hertfordshire in a larger map