All 2 contributions to the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2023-24 (Ministerial Extracts Only)

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Wed 17th Apr 2024
Wed 8th May 2024
Finance (No. 2) Bill
Commons Chamber

Committee of the whole House

Finance (No. 2) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

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2nd reading
Wednesday 17th April 2024

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Commons Chamber
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This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Nigel Huddleston)
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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.

Desmond Swayne Portrait Sir Desmond Swayne (New Forest West) (Con)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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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.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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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.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP)
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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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.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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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?

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Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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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.

Nigel Mills Portrait Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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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.

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

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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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.

Luke Evans Portrait Dr Luke Evans (Bosworth) (Con)
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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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.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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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?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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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.

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James Murray Portrait James Murray
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

James Murray Portrait James Murray
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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.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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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.

James Murray Portrait James Murray
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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 the right hon. Member for South West Norfolk (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.

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Gareth Davies Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Gareth Davies)
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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 the Member for Amber Valley (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 the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (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 the Member for Waveney (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 the Member for North East Bedfordshire (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.

18:21

Division 128

Ayes: 42

Noes: 296

Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 62(2)), That the Bill be now read a
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18:35

Division 129

Ayes: 296

Noes: 49

Bill read a Second time.

Finance (No. 2) Bill

(Limited Text - Ministerial Extracts only)

Read Full debate
Committee of the whole House
Wednesday 8th May 2024

(1 week, 6 days ago)

Commons Chamber
Finance (No. 2) Bill 2023-24 Read Hansard Text Watch Debate Amendment Paper: Committee of the whole House Amendments as at 8 May 2024 - (8 May 2024)

This text is a record of ministerial contributions to a debate held as part of the Finance (No. 2) Bill 2023-24 passage through Parliament.

In 1993, the House of Lords Pepper vs. Hart decision provided that statements made by Government Ministers may be taken as illustrative of legislative intent as to the interpretation of law.

This extract highlights statements made by Government Ministers along with contextual remarks by other members. The full debate can be read here

This information is provided by Parallel Parliament and does not comprise part of the offical record

Nigel Huddleston Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Nigel Huddleston)
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It is an honour to open the debate. I will start by setting out how, because of the progress the Government have made, we have been able to cut taxes as part of our plan to reward work and grow the economy.

The Government cut national insurance at both the autumn statement and the spring Budget and have made above-inflation increases to thresholds since 2010, with the basic rate threshold rising from £6,475 to £12,570 today. Taken together, those measures mean that an average worker on £35,400 in 2024-25 will save £1,500 more in personal taxes than they otherwise would have done. Due to the significant real-terms increases to the personal allowance, it is estimated that 1.8 million people will be taken out of income tax altogether by 2024-25, compared with the threshold rising in line with inflation from 2010-11. All workers can now earn £1,000 a month before paying any tax, due to the significant increases to the national insurance starting threshold, which we changed in July 2022.

Let me turn to the first four clauses of the Bill. Income tax is the largest source of Government revenue and helps to fund the UK’s schools, hospitals and defence, and other essential services we all rely on. In 2024-25, it is expected to raise more than £302 billion. Each year, the Government must legislate to charge and set rates of income tax, which is why we are all here today. Clauses 1 to 3 impose an income tax charge and set the rates of it for 2024-25. The rates are not changed by the Bill; rather, we are confirming that they will remain the same.

Clause 1 imposes a charge on individuals to pay income tax for the year 2024-25. Clause 2 sets the main income tax rates—namely the basic rate of 20%, the higher rate of 40% and the additional rate of 45%—for non-savings and non-dividend income of taxpayers in England and Northern Ireland. Those rates are set separately from those in clause 3, as the income tax rates for non-savings and non-dividend income, such as earnings from employment, are devolved to the Scottish and Welsh Governments, and are set by their respective Parliaments. The decision to separate savings and dividends from other forms of income was made as part of the devolution settlement. It ensures that the UK system works effectively and coherently, recognising that dividend and savings income is generally more mobile and generated across the UK, and has some interactions with corporation tax, which is not devolved.

Clause 3 sets the default income tax rates at the same levels as the main rates—namely 20%, 40% and 45%—across the entire UK. These rates apply to the non-savings and non-dividend income of taxpayers who are not subject to the main rates of income tax or to Welsh or Scottish rates of income tax, such as non-UK resident individuals. The clause also sets the savings rates of income tax for all UK taxpayers, again at 20%, 40% and 45%.

As I mentioned, income tax is a vital revenue stream for our public services, without which we could not fund our schools, hospitals, defence and more. It is important that we keep it at its current level.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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I receive emails from constituents asking me why the Government are not unfreezing the personal tax thresholds.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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We all know that, because of the level of intervention that we had to take, out of necessity, during the pandemic and in response to the cost of living challenges, Government intervention was far greater than any of us anticipated—to the tune of £400 billion in the pandemic and £100 billion for the cost of living challenges. That money has to be paid back, and I think most of our constituents know that. We have seen the same pattern right around the world, where tax levels have had to be higher out of necessity. That means that thresholds have not been able to move in the way that we would normally like. However, now that economic circumstances are changing, we have turned a corner and we are able to reduce taxes, such as for the 27 million people who will receive on average an extra £900 through the national insurance cuts.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful to the Minister for giving way a second time. He started by talking about some of the fiscal measures that the Government have taken to reduce tax, but by not unfreezing the personal allowances, are the Government not taking money from one pocket and putting it back in the other?

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

No. I advise the hon. Member and others to look at their wage slip from a few months ago—say, in December last year. They will see a direct impact because of the national insurance changes that we made in January and again in April. People will see that they are paying less national insurance than in the past. That is transparently and clearly a tax cut. We are able to reduce taxation because the direction of travel is changing.

Taxes have increased across the whole of the western world. Our tax level is projected to increase to about 37%, compared with around 39% in Germany, around 42% in Italy and around 46% in France. This is a phenomenon whereby Governments have had to intervene and spend more money and, as an obvious consequence, they have had to increase taxation to a greater level than anticipated or desired.

However, now that we are back to growth and on a firmer footing, the economy has turned a corner, and we are able to reward the hard work of the British public by reducing taxation. We are doing that in the form of income tax cuts. As the Chancellor and the Prime Minister have said on multiple occasions, we wish to continue in that direction of travel. As I said, people should look at their pay packets. I recognise that it is one thing to talk in the Chamber about implementing laws, but people will now see that in their pay packets in a meaningful way. An average worker on £35,400 will be £900 better off as a result of the national insurance cuts. That is a meaningful amount for constituents right across the country, including those in the hon. Gentleman’s constituency.

Another principle of taxation is fairness. Income tax is fair: those with the most contribute the most. The income tax system is highly progressive, with different rates of tax sitting above an internationally high personal allowance. The top 5% of income tax payers are projected to pay nearly half of all income tax in 2023-24. The top 1% are projected to pay more than 28% of income tax. Thanks to the personal allowance, almost a quarter of individuals will not pay income tax at all in 2024-25. It is important to note that the percentage paid by the top earners is greater than it was under the last Labour Government. In other words, the tax system is more progressive under the Conservatives.

Income tax is also internationally competitive. According to the OECD, the UK has some of the most generous starting allowances for income tax and social security contributions in the OECD, and the most generous in the G7—more generous than in France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Japan and the US. According to the OECD, in the United Kingdom the average single worker faced a net average tax rate of 23.7% in 2023, compared with the OECD average of 24.9%. In other words, in the United Kingdom, the take-home pay of an average single worker after tax and benefits was 76.3% of their gross wage, compared with the OECD average of 75.1%.

I have talked a lot of statistics, but what they mean is more money in people’s pockets to spend as they wish—a fundamental Conservative philosophy. We have also been able to return some money to taxpayers now that inflation is falling and the economy is improving, by reducing national insurance contributions. We have put money back into people’s pockets. We have prioritised tax cuts for those in work, and we believe that that is the best way to stimulate growth in the economy overall.

Clause 4 continues the theme of maintaining the income tax arrangements by keeping the starting rate limit for savings at its current level of £5,000 for the 2024-25 tax year. Many colleagues may be familiar with this but some may not, so briefly by way of explanation, the starting rate for savings is an extra £5,000 tax-free allowance for interest from savings, specifically for individuals who have earned incomes of less than £17,570. That supports in particular people with low earned income, such as pensioners who are reliant on savings interest.

The Government made significant changes to the starting rate for savings in 2015, when they raised the threshold to get the starting rate for savings from £2,880 to £5,000, and lowered the starting rate for savings from 10% to 0%. As many Members will be aware, the starting rate limit for savings must be legislated for each year to confirm the band of savings income to which it applies. Again, that is what we are doing today. This clause will ensure that the limit is held at this level. It ensures simplicity and fairness in the tax system, while maintaining a generous tax relief and supporting the public finances by taking fiscally responsible decisions. As well as benefiting from the starting rate for savings—whereby, as I have said, individuals with earned income of less than £17,507 can earn up to £5,000 in savings income free of tax—savers are supported by the personal savings allowance, which provides up to £1,000 of tax-free savings income for basic rate taxpayers. They can also continue to benefit from the annual ISA allowance of £20,000. Moreover, in the spring Budget 2024 the Government introduced the British ISA, which will provide a new allowance of £5,000 in addition to the existing ISA allowance, along with a new tax-free savings opportunity for people to invest in the UK. Taken together, those generous allowances mean that about 85% of savers pay no tax on their savings income. The Government are committed to continuing to help people on all incomes and at all stages of life to save. The significant increase in the starting limit in 2015 means that the taxation arrangements for savings income remain generous, and the Government therefore believe that it is appropriate to retain the starting rate for savings at its existing value at this time.

The Government are managing the public finances in a balanced and responsible way. Our approach to delivering fiscal sustainability is underpinned by fairness, with those on the highest incomes paying a larger share. By maintaining the current rates of income tax and the starting rate limit for savings thresholds, we will ensure that the highest earners contribute more to the revenue, helping the Government to take a balanced approach to revenue raising while still supporting vital public services.

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Ben Lake Portrait Ben Lake
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I am not one to make up policy on the hoof, but the review could look at that, and if the evidence shows that tax decisions could be made to promote growth and to level up, which I think the right hon. Gentleman is in favour of, we should follow that evidence and do so.

Our continued reliance on the Barnett formula to allocate funds between the UK’s nations is problematic not only due to its flaws, but because of its inconsistent application in recent years, which has meant that Wales has lost out on billions of pounds of much-needed public investment. Members will be familiar with the concerns raised by communities across Wales regarding the way in which HS2 spending has been classified. Although not a single inch of track or rail was to be laid in Wales itself, it was categorised as an England and Wales project under the statement of funding policy, thus depriving Wales of significant consequential funding that the Barnett formula would otherwise have provided. The latest estimates suggest that Wales has lost £4 billion in consequential funding—money that could have transformed the country’s public transport infrastructure.

I understand that there will be reluctance within Government to move away from the Barnett formula, not least because devising a needs-based formula is far from simple. However, if we are to retain the Barnett formula, the funding floor should at the very least be updated to use census data from 2021 rather than the 2001 data it currently uses. I am sure the Minister will agree that much has changed since 2001—when I was actually still in primary school. The needs and population of Wales have changed considerably, so it is only reasonable that the funding floor element of the Barnett formula is at least brought up to date.

Such a consideration could be included in the review that I propose, as well as a review of the implications of UK tax policy in Wales. Again, all of this analysis and information could help inform debate for future tax policy decisions and ultimately ensure that we have a tax system that is fit for purpose and meets the needs of people in Wales.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I thank the Members who have spoken for their contributions to the debate. As we have discussed, the Government have shown their commitment to keeping taxes low in order to support people to keep more of what they earn. That is why we have nearly doubled the income tax personal allowance since 2010, ensuring that some of the lowest earners do not pay income tax, while also benefiting higher-rate taxpayers.

The Government have shown that we are also committed to ensuring that older people can live with the dignity and respect they deserve, and the state pension is the foundation of state support for them. Thanks to the Government honouring our commitment to the triple lock, the basic and new state pensions increased by 8.5% this April—one of the largest ever cash increases in the state pension. Those on the new full state pension will therefore be £900 per year better off. That £900 figure is significant, because of course that is the average amount by which 27 million employees will benefit from the national insurance cut: £900 additional for many pensioners and £900 additional for 27 million workers. I think most people will agree that is fair.

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Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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Just to be clear, I was saying that the Tories have been hollowed out by the extremists on the right wing within their Government, not that we have an extremist right-wing Government—that is, of course, for people out there to make their mind up about.

Nigel Huddleston Portrait Nigel Huddleston
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I think the hon. Gentleman just dug even deeper there. As I say, I like him but I do not always like what he says. On income tax, I do not think that everybody in Scotland would share his enthusiasm for the Scottish tax system, given that the thresholds and rates are higher, to the tune of up to 5%.

Turning to my opposite number, the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray), I will try to avoid the déjà vu all over again—we seem to have the same debate again and again. Yet again we have heard a Labour party spokesman constantly talking Britain down, as if we are in some declinist environment of failure upon failure. That is not a characterisation of the UK, its economy or our constituents that I recognise. I wish he had greater optimism and enthusiasm, and could support the UK economy and the workers to a greater degree. After all, the UK is doing incredibly well.

The hon. Member for Ealing North was right to recognise that all of our constituents are facing extraordinarily difficult times, but he is wrong to believe that is something unique to the UK economy; it is as a result of the pandemic and the cost of living challenges, which have had an impact right the way around the world. Given the extraordinary circumstances that the whole developed world has found itself in, what is extraordinary is how the UK has performed so well. I wish he would recognise the great optimism and the potential future of the UK economy.

For example, the International Monetary Fund has forecast that this country will grow faster than Germany, France, Italy and Japan over the next few years to 2028-29. The hon. Gentleman should also recognise that since the Conservatives came to power in 2010, the UK economy has generated an average of 800 jobs per day. Since Brexit, the UK has gone up the global export league tables, from seventh to fourth. We are the second largest exporter of services in the world and have reached record levels of service exports recently. We have overtaken France to become the eighth largest manufacturer in the world. We have the third largest tech economy, after the United States and China. We have the largest film, TV and creative industries sector in Europe, and one of the world’s leading biotech and life sciences industries—again, it is the largest in Europe.

We are leading the world in renewables, with the first, second, third and fourth biggest offshore wind farms in the world. I could go on, but I will not detain the Committee too much longer, Dame Eleanor. If the hon. Gentleman could recognise just one or a few of those success stories, he might have greater confidence in the UK economy and be able to talk it up. Anybody aspiring to be in government must champion the UK around the world, instead of talking us down. Otherwise, the impact they would have on investment in the UK economy is appalling.

Let me deal with the scaremongering in what the hon. Member for Ealing North and others have been declaring in the past few days about national insurance and the impact on pensions—I found that behaviour deplorable. It could be complete scaremongering because, as we have said, he is not aware of how NI impacts health and pensions. The amount of money spent on pensions is about £130 billion. Welfare spending is £260 billion. NHS spending is £160 billion. That is far higher than the total amount paid for by NI. So to try to suggest some direct correlation and say that reducing NI puts pensions at risk all of a sudden is either economically utterly incompetent or it is sheer scaremongering—neither are particularly attractive attributes in somebody aspiring to be in government. I therefore hope that he will have the decency to take that back. As I said, this scaremongering of pensioners, from the whole Opposition Front Bench, is despicable, although we can perhaps expect it from the Opposition.

Moreover, it is utterly hypocritical, because when we had the NI debate not so long ago, the Opposition spokespeople, the Opposition Front Benchers and the Leader of the Opposition said that they supported our NI cuts, but when it came to a vote they did not. That should make the British people ask: why would the Opposition say one thing and do another. First, I should say that is not a surprise to me, but could it also be that at some future point they might hope to be in a situation where they could reverse that decision and say, “We did not actually vote for it, after all”? Again, they should be straight with the British public.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions—some more than others. The debates will continue, but I hope that I have explained why we do not accept the new clauses. I ask that the clauses we have put forward should stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 2 to 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 1

Review of impact of section 2

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act being passed, publish a review of the expected impact of section 2 of this Act.

(2) The review must include analysis setting out the number of individual taxpayers facing a marginal tax rate in the tax year 2024-25 of—

(a) the basic rate of 20%, and

(b) the higher rate of 40%.

(3) For comparative purposes, the review must take account of—

(a) equivalent actual figures to those in subsection (2)(a) and (b) for the tax years 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24, and

(b) equivalent projected figures to those in subsection (2)(a) and (b) for the tax years 2025-26, 2026-27 and 2027-28.”—(James Murray.)

This new clause requires a review of how many people will be liable to pay income tax at 20% and 40%, and would compare figures for the current tax year with those for the three preceding and three subsequent tax years.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

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15:26

Division 146

Ayes: 211


Labour: 156
Scottish National Party: 34
Liberal Democrat: 11
Independent: 5
Plaid Cymru: 2
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Workers Party of Britain: 1
Alba Party: 1

Noes: 276


Conservative: 272
Independent: 3
Democratic Unionist Party: 1

New Clause 4
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15:42

Division 147

Ayes: 212


Labour: 156
Scottish National Party: 34
Liberal Democrat: 11
Independent: 5
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Workers Party of Britain: 1
Alba Party: 1

Noes: 274


Conservative: 266
Independent: 3
Democratic Unionist Party: 1

Clause 12
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Nigel Evans Portrait The Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means (Mr Nigel Evans)
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With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clauses 13 and 19 stand part.

New clause 2—Review of impact of section 12

“(1) The Chancellor must, within three months of this Act being passed, conduct a review of the impact of section 12 of this Act.

(2) The review must consider how the rate of corporation tax provided for by section 12 affects—

(a) investment decisions taken by businesses,

(b) the certainty of businesses about future fiscal and market conditions.

(3) For comparative purposes, the review must include an assessment of how the factors in subsection (2)(a) and (b) would be affected by maintaining corporation tax at a rate no higher than that set out in section 12 until the end of the next parliament.”

This new clause requires the Chancellor to conduct a review of how the rate of corporation tax set by the Bill set out in clause 12 affects business investment and certainty, including what the effect would be of capping it at its current level for the next Parliament.

New clause 3—Analysis of the impact of the energy security investment mechanism—

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act being passed, publish an analysis of the possible impacts of the energy security investment mechanism on—

(a) revenue from the energy profits levy, and

(b) investment decisions involving businesses liable to pay the energy profits levy.

(2) The analysis under subsection (1) must consider how the impacts in (1)(a) and (1)(b) would be affected by amending the definition of a qualifying accounting period, as set out in section 1 of the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Act 2022, to be one that ends before the end of the next Parliament.

(3) In this section, the “energy security investment mechanism” means the mechanism introduced by section 17A of the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Act 2022, as inserted by section 19 of this Act.”

This new clause seeks to establish the impact on revenue and investment decisions of the energy security investment mechanism being introduced, and how this impact would be affected in a scenario where end date for the energy profits levy was amended to be before the end of the next Parliament.

New clause 7—Review of impact of section 13 on small and medium enterprises

“(1) Within 3 months of this Act being passed, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons a report assessing the impact of section 13 on small and medium enterprises.

(2) The report under subsection (1) must consider the extent to which paying corporation tax at the small profits rate, rather than a higher rate, enables small businesses to manage cost pressures including those arising from—

(a) energy costs;

(b) staffing and recruitment costs;

(c) borrowing costs;

(d) raw material costs.”

Gareth Davies Portrait The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Gareth Davies)
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We now move on to debate clauses 12, 13 and 19. Before I delve into the detail of the clauses, however, let me first briefly set out how they fit into this Finance Bill.

The Government remain focused on taking long-term decisions to strengthen the economy by driving productivity, increasing the number of people in high-wage, high-skilled jobs, and boosting investment. The Government are also ensuring that the tax system is as competitive as we can make it under very difficult economic circumstances. We have some of the most generous investment incentives among major economies, including full permanent expensing, which the OBR has forecast will generate almost £3 billion of additional business investment each year, or £14 billion over the next five years. It has forecast that that additional investment will increase GDP by 0.1% by the end of the forecast. In addition to full expensing, we have an internationally competitive corporation tax rate—the lowest headline rate in the G7—which this Bill legislates to maintain.

I will now turn to clauses 12, 13 and 19 in more detail. Clauses 12 and 13 set the charge for corporation tax from April 2025. This includes both the main rate and the small profits rate, as well as the thresholds at which those rates apply. The charge for corporation tax must be set every year. It is important to legislate annually in advance, as this provides certainty to large and very large companies that pay tax in advance on the basis of their estimated tax liabilities. These clauses maintain the current main rate of 25% and the small profits rate of 19%, as introduced in April 2023. Tax certainty is of great importance to businesses—I think that is something we can all agree on—and clauses 12 and 13 ensure that they will continue to benefit from stable and predictable tax rules. By maintaining the current rates, the Government have struck the right balance between remaining competitive and raising vital revenue.

Clause 19 makes changes to ensure that the energy profits levy will no longer apply if oil and gas prices return to historically normal levels for a sustained period of time. It does so by introducing legislation to give effect to the energy security investment mechanism, or ESIM. The EPL was introduced in 2022, at a time of near-record high oil and gas prices, but it is right that should those prices return to historically normal levels, the additional tax would cease to apply. The detail of how the ESIM operates was set out in the technical note published alongside the 2023 autumn statement; this Bill simply puts that detail on a legislative footing and provides for secondary legislation to legislate for the administrative details of how that check is made.

Current oil and gas prices are higher than normal, and OBR projections indicate that high prices will persist over the next five years. The ESIM is a mechanism that switches off the EPL if, for a period of six months, the average prices of both oil and gas fall below set thresholds. Those thresholds are currently $74.21 per barrel for oil and 50p per therm for gas, and are based on a 20-year historical average to the end of 2022—before higher energy prices began—and are adjusted each April based on the annual change in the preceding December’s consumer prices index. By providing certainty on the conditions under which the levy will be disapplied, the Government are supporting investor confidence in the sector and helping to protect domestic energy supply, the economy, and of course jobs.

Clauses 12 and 13 provide certainty to businesses by maintaining the current rates of corporation tax, and clause 19 has been welcomed by the oil and gas operators and their investors, with the ESIM providing the sector with certainty to support future investment in the UK—in jobs and in our energy security—while also ensuring fairness to taxpayers. I therefore commend these clauses to the Committee.

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Drew Hendry Portrait Drew Hendry
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Thank you, Mr Evans. I will do my best to accommodate your request, as usual.

I am grateful for the opportunity to speak to clauses 12 and 13. The fact is that these clauses maintain the status quo on corporate taxation while failing to support sectors in dire need, such as our hospitality industry, which has seen more than 500 closures in the past year alone. The SNP has repeatedly called for measures such as VAT relief for that sector to alleviate the pressures, but the UK Government have consistently ignored our calls, thus demonstrating a clear disregard for the economic challenges facing Scotland.

Where is the support for our town centres and high streets? Enterprise initiatives such as “VAT-free streets” could help to breathe new life into our vital centres. The SNP has called for urgent help, but again Westminster just shrugs its shoulders and ignores its responsibilities for the damage caused through its calamitous but—as we have seen, and it is worth repeating—unanimous devotion to a disastrous Brexit, to waste and to mismanagement.

The proposed energy security investment mechanism, adjusting the parameters for windfall taxes on the basis of oil and gas prices, represents a missed opportunity to genuinely bolster our energy security and accelerate our transition to net zero. Rather than leveraging these revenues to mitigate energy costs for households who, as I said in our previous debate, are struggling under the current punishing cost of living crisis, or to invest in sustainable growth—and probably the only industrial strategy available to us is investment in renewable energy—this mechanism is poised to jeopardise up to 100,000 jobs and hinder our environmental goals.

Moreover—and there is no hiding place—the Labour party’s screeching U-turn on the £26 billion a year required to stimulate the industrial green transition, which its members know their own advisers have said is the minimum required, and on its proposal to intensify the windfall tax to fund nuclear projects in England is entirely unacceptable, meaning the utilisation of Scotland’s resources for projects that contravene our national interests.

We will support Labour’s new clause 3, because at the very least it will show the opportunity that has been wasted, and the squandering of Scotland’s natural resources, in a clearer light. However, the Bill underscores a critical disconnect between the needs of the Scottish people and the actions of this Government, and indeed this place of Westminster. It is a Bill that perpetuates inequality, neglects economic innovation and leaves our most vulnerable citizens to bear the brunt of its failures.

Having debated these clauses today, let us be mindful of the stark reality: only a Government attuned to the aspirations and challenges of Scotland can genuinely deliver the change we urgently need. That Government should have all the powers to make the changes needed to represent the values of the Scottish people. That needs to be the Government of an independent Scotland that seeks to regain our equal seat at the centre of the European Union.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was waiting for a four-hour speech and it never came—that was four minutes, but what a four minutes!

Let me thank hon. Members for their contributions to today’s debate. I will respond to some of the points that have been raised at the end of my remarks, but before doing so let me directly address some of the new clauses that have been tabled.

New clause 2 seeks the publication of a review into how the rate of corporation tax set by the Bill, as set out in clause 12, affects business investment and certainty, including what the effect would be of capping it at its current level over the next Parliament. I agree that it is important to regularly review and evaluate policy, and the Government keep all tax policy under review. The Office for Budget Responsibility produces regular forecasts, including of projected corporation tax receipts and business investment. These forecasts are based on the rates and thresholds that currently apply, and which clause 12 maintains from April 2025 to provide advance certainty to businesses. The latest of the forecasts already looks as far ahead as 2028-29 on the basis of the corporation tax rate, which currently stands at 25%, so no further action is required from the Government.

Sarah Olney Portrait Sarah Olney (Richmond Park) (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Bill maintains the small profits rate of corporation tax at 19%, but does the Minister not agree that this is a drop in the ocean compared with spiralling costs in energy, staffing, borrowing and a host of other areas? The Chancellor could have used the opportunity to give small businesses a boost by reforming business rates, or by helping them with their energy bills through a proper windfall tax. Does the Minister support new clause 7, tabled by the Liberal Democrats, which would ensure that the Government must lay before the House a review of the impact of the small profits rate to look at whether it really helps small businesses to manage their costs.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will give the hon. Lady the courtesy of addressing new clause 7 in due course. She is right to highlight that the new rate for small businesses will keep around 70% of businesses in the country at 19% when those that are most profitable move to 25%, but look at the entire package of support for small businesses. It shows that the Government are supportive of our high streets and small business entrepreneurs across the country, whether that is through the increase in VAT thresholds, the 75% rate relief for retail, hospitality and leisure businesses, or all the support that we provided during the covid pandemic and throughout the energy shock, including the energy bill relief scheme and the energy bills support scheme. I put it to her that we are behind our small businesses. We regard them as the engine of our growth, and we will continue to do everything we can to support them. I will come on to new clause 7 in a moment, if I may.

New clause 3 would require a review of the possible impacts of the energy security investment mechanism on energy profits levy revenues, and on investment decisions in the oil and gas sector. It would require this assessment to be made on the basis of the end date of the EPL falling before the end of the next Parliament.

The Government have already published the tax information and impact note, which sets out the anticipated impact of the energy security investment mechanism—the ESIM. This indicates clearly that the mechanism will give operators and lenders to the oil and gas industry confidence in the fiscal regime while the EPL remains over the next Parliament. Based on the OBR’s current price projections, the ESIM is not predicted to trigger before the end of the EPL in March 2029, and is therefore expected to have no impact on EPL revenues. In addition, should there be interest in calculating forgone revenue if the EPL were to end in a particular year, the OBR has published projected EPL revenues over the forecast period, and the impact of the EPL ending early can be calculated from this publicly available information that is there for all to see.

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Christopher Chope Portrait Sir Christopher Chope
- View Speech - Hansard - - - Excerpts

Looking ahead to the next Parliament, and hoping that there will be a Conservative Government, can my hon. Friend say to all those in the business community who are watching eagerly that a 25% headline rate of corporation tax is too high, and that we want to lower it?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We agree. We want taxes to come down, but we are not going to announce tax decisions from this Dispatch Box outside fiscal events. It is clear for all to see that this Conservative Government believe in lower taxes. We have reduced national insurance contributions for 29 million people by some 30% in just the last six months, and the record is very clear on that.

James Murray Portrait James Murray
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The hon. Gentleman says that the Government are not in the habit of making policy commitments outside the normal fiscal process. Does that mean the £46-billion unfunded black hole created by the promise to abolish national insurance is no longer a policy of this Government?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is neither unusual nor incorrect for a Government, or any party, to set out a long-term ambition to let the public know where we stand on taxation and what we want to see in the future. In 2010, for example, we said that we wanted to increase the personal allowance for income tax to £10,000, and we met that. Actually, we exceeded it. It is now over £12,500, so a person in this country can earn £1,000 every month without paying any tax at all. That is a long-term ambition that we have delivered.

James Murray Portrait James Murray
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The Minister is being generous in giving way. I notice that he is keen to talk about a long-term ambition to abolish national insurance. Yesterday, the Chancellor of the Exchequer said at Treasury questions that

“our policy is to abolish employees’ national insurance”.—[Official Report, 7 May 2024; Vol. 749, c. 437.]

Was the Chancellor wrong?

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies
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As I said, it is a long-term ambition. It is right for a party that is serious about governing to set a direction for the country. I know it is an unusual idea for the hon. Gentleman that having a plan for government is the right thing to do, but we have made it very clear to the British people that, if they vote for a Conservative Government at the next general election, their taxes will come down.

The amendments before the Committee propose that we publish information that is already publicly available. They are not needed, so I urge the Committee to reject them.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 13 and 19 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 2

Review of impact of section 12

“(1) The Chancellor must, within three months of this Act being passed, conduct a review of the impact of section 12 of this Act.

(2) The review must consider how the rate of corporation tax provided for by section 12 affects—

(a) investment decisions taken by businesses,

(b) the certainty of businesses about future fiscal and market conditions.

(3) For comparative purposes, the review must include an assessment of how the factors in subsection (2)(a) and (b) would be affected by maintaining corporation tax at a rate no higher than that set out in section 12 until the end of the next parliament.”—(James Murray.)

This new clause requires the Chancellor to conduct a review of how the rate of corporation tax set by the Bill set out in clause 12 affects business investment and certainty, including what the effect would be of capping it at its current level for the next Parliament.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

--- Later in debate ---
16:40

Division 148

Ayes: 195


Labour: 151
Scottish National Party: 34
Independent: 5
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Workers Party of Britain: 1

Noes: 266


Conservative: 260
Independent: 3
Democratic Unionist Party: 2

New Clause 3
--- Later in debate ---
16:54

Division 149

Ayes: 198


Labour: 151
Scottish National Party: 33
Independent: 5
Plaid Cymru: 3
Social Democratic & Labour Party: 1
Workers Party of Britain: 1
Alba Party: 1

Noes: 269


Conservative: 260
Independent: 3
Democratic Unionist Party: 2

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.