Finance (No. 2) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Peter GrantMain Page: Peter Grant (Scottish National Party - Glenrothes)
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It is kind of you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to call me in this important debate. I will try to reward that by sticking to the topic we are discussing. This is an excellent Finance Bill for a much-needed recovery. The UK is already a great place to start, grow and run a business, but to increase the rate of economic growth in the UK we need to restate and foster the pro-enterprise philosophy and measures that have served us so well in the past.
To govern is to choose and the Chancellor was absolutely right to choose fiscal discipline. The Bill begins to fix the public finances with a fair and honest plan about how to do so. Nothing is more devastating to enterprise and investment than high and volatile costs of borrowing, which wipes out small businesses like a pyroclastic flow clearing forested slopes. Thousands of otherwise successful businesses were crushed in the recession of the early ’90s caused by the error of the UK's membership of the exchange rate mechanism.
A centrepiece of the Bill is the super deduction. I have spoken to lots of businesses in my constituency, and it is already mobilising significant investment. The Bill also contains two excellent initiatives under the Help to Grow banner. I believe that the Government are really on to something here and that we could see the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy start to deliver a string of practical interventions to give small businesses a hand up. When the opportunity allows, I encourage them to go further. Only 10% of small and medium-sized British businesses currently export, leaving 90% of enterprises as potential exporters. That is a vast untapped opportunity to grow the scale and productivity of UK plc. Global Britain brings huge scope to increase the number of firms involved in international trade, but for many firms, where time is the scarcest resource, it is a big and uncertain step to take. Alongside the other elements of Help to Grow in this Bill, I suggest we make available grants to support exporting. It would be a natural extension of the support that the Government provide today under the useful, but relatively modest tradeshow access programme.
Like most, I welcome the extension of the lower rate of stamp duty in this Bill. On a future occasion, I encourage the Government to bring forward an exemption to stamp duty for downsizers. In many parts of the country, the real housing crisis is one of under-occupancy. With an ageing population, too many homeowners rattle around in accommodation that would be more suitable for growing families. Stamp duty is a real brake on downsizing. The Treasury will understandably be cautious about leakage, but it should be perfectly possible to define a downsizing transaction based upon the ratio of values and the limited time interval between the two housing transactions.
This is not an academic issue. Right now my constituents are blighted by development proposals on unsustainable greenfield sites in Ashington, Adversane, Buck Barn, Kirdford and Mayfield, all based on the fallacy that, despite the UK already having more than 600,000 empty homes and the highest rate of housebuilding since 2007, the only answer is to pile up even more supply.
For a similar reason, although I fully understand the context in which the decision was made, I regret the freeze on the lifetime allowance on pensions. The UK used to have one of the best systems of providing for retirement in the western world. Freezing the lifetime allowance is another Jenga brick whipped away from that once strong pillar. NHS consultants, headteachers and airline pilots are hardly plutocrats, but they now face a tax on thrift. Money that would have gone into well-regulated, well-diversified pension funds and been allocated to grow UK businesses has instead fuelled a boom in buy-to-let property, putting home ownership for millions further out of reach.
In the year in which the UK hosts the UN climate summit, let me conclude by welcoming two measures in the Bill that help us move towards a low carbon future. The first is part 2, which introduces a plastic packaging tax from next April. We should tax things we wish to have less of, and on that basis this is an excellent piece of legislation that will provide a clear economic incentive to use recycled material in the manufacture of plastic packaging. It is estimated that as a result, the use of recycled plastic could increase by around 40%, equal to carbon savings of nearly 200,000 tonnes a year and saving a lot of plastic from ending up in landfill and incineration. We only have one planet, so as soon as this useful measure is on the statute book, I encourage my Treasury colleagues to look at increasing the rate and lowering the exemption threshold.
Similarly, I welcome the removal of red diesel from many sectors, although I am glad there is a continued exemption for agriculture, which makes a significant contribution to the landscape in my constituency of Arundel and South Downs. Red diesel accounts for about 15% of diesel used in the UK and is responsible for the release of 14 million tonnes of carbon dioxide a year. This change will help the adoption of cleaner and greener alternatives, such as hydrotreated vegetable oil, and is yet another meaningful step by this Government, who are absolutely leading the world on climate action.
I appreciate that this is a Finance Bill and technically it can go to any hour, so the House could be sitting until 11 o’clock or midnight, but I ought to say something to Members who are not in the Chamber but who I hope might be listening. It sometimes seems that Members who are at home and participating virtually do not pay attention to the rest of the debate. If they are listening, let me say to them that there is something a little bit distasteful about those who are sitting at home making very long speeches and keeping the entire operation of the House of Commons going till well into the evening. Everybody has the right to speak on the Finance Bill and it is very important that they do so, but it is generally recognised, and I particularly recognise it today, that that which can be said in 10 minutes can usually be said more effectively in five.