Mr Redwood’s contribution to the Finance Bill debate, 15 July

Mr Redwood: My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch (Mr Chope) has highlighted the two very important and different issues of health insurance and motor insurance. Let me start with motor insurance, which is a legal obligation that is imposed on everyone who wishes to own and drive a car.

Like my hon. Friend, and, I suspect, everyone else in the House, I think it quite right that there should be that obligation. It reminds people that driving a car is a serious business and that they could do considerable damage to others or themselves if they do it badly. It also means that, were someone to drive badly or to be involved in an accident that was not their fault, there would be redress and injured third parties who might need substantial compensation would not be left without it. For all those reasons, we think that car insurance is a very good idea and we accept that it should be a legal obligation.

The coalition Government think that one way of raising more revenue is to increase the tax on that compulsory purchase, but quite a lot of people in the House think it would be better to raise more revenue from the existing level of insurance tax on motor insurance by getting more people to be insured. We are rightly very concerned that, because of the way in which the insurance market works, a significant number of people, particularly younger people, may not be taking out any insurance or may not be taking out proper insurance for their circumstances, and that that places other people at risk and could mean losses that those young people could not afford to pay if they had an accident. That clearly means a loss of revenue for the Exchequer, because those people are not making their contribution by paying their share of insurance tax. We would like the Minister to consider whether better enforcement of the insurance rules could help with his task of filling the coffers and narrowing the deficit. That might be a better route than increasing the tax. I am sure that the Minister will remind us that we are talking about a 1% increase and that it is quite a modest sum of money. We have been reminded a few times that young people with certain kinds of vehicles, or some young people with any kind of vehicle, can be required to pay a four-figure sum each year for their motor insurance, so we could be talking about £10 or more. The additional increase would not be welcome, because most young people find such sums of money quite large in the first place, and a further 1% would not be helpful.

The increase might only be a straw, but the camel’s back is already well and truly loaded. The poor old motorist is always at the top of any Government’s list when they are rattling the collecting tin and trying to raise more money for a variety of state purposes. I just hope that the Government will reflect on this matter. They will have other opportunities to look at the total burden on the motorist, and they might not wish to consider this particular burden today and therefore immediately grant my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch’s request. I see no sign of the Minister leaping to his feet to welcome the proposal, just and fair though it might be. We know, for example, that the coalition Government are going to look at a fair fuel levy-an escalator that comes down when the price goes up and goes up when the price comes down, to keep fuel prices at a more realistic level.

Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): In trying to square the circle of how we can raise taxes when there is no money, it is interesting to note that we have not committed to Labour’s rise in fuel tax, which was going to add a further £425 million- [ Interruption. ] If you read the small print in Labour’s last Budget, you will see that there was a plan to raise an additional £425 million-

The First Deputy Chairman: Order. We are not referring to taxes that are not proposed in the Bill. We are talking specifically about the amendments to the Bill.

Mr Redwood: How wise you are, Mr Evans.

I was making the point that the Minister, in responding to this debate on the insurance premium tax, might assuage some of our grief if he were to say that the Government had looked at the total package of taxes on the motorist and that they were aware that this was yet another example of the piling high of taxes on the motorist. Although this individual tax increase will not be large for many motorists-it will be more penal for young drivers and high-risk drivers-it is none the less an additional burden. Even if the Minister cannot accept the amendment, I hope that he will look at other ways of dealing with the problem of fair motoring taxes.

Every time something like this happens to motorists-this time, it is the insurance tax levy-they say, “We are being sandbagged again. Where are those better roads? Where is that safer junction? Where is the wish to spend money on improving the flows on the roads so that we can travel in a more fuel-efficient, green manner of which the Environment Secretary would approve?” There never seems to be the money to do that. We know that this bit of taxation on the motorist, like most others, primarily goes not to making better roads but to a wide range of other purposes; it gets lost in the general coffers.

Lorely Burt: A number of speakers today have singled out specific kinds of insurance, but as I understand it, the Bill proposes to increase insurance premium tax on a whole range of insurance products, which we would encourage people to take in a responsible manner. I have every sympathy for young drivers and for other motorists, but why does the right hon. Gentleman feel that we should specifically single out motorists or people who take out private health insurance? Why should those people be specifically excluded?

Mr Redwood: That is what I am trying to explain, while remaining in order on this narrow amendment. The bottom line of my case is that motorists comprise a large category and, when polled, they say that they feel badly done by because they pay a disproportionate amount of tax and do not get much back. It is argued that motorists ought to pay more because they get the use of the roads, which are provided free at the point of use in most cases. It is not like that, however, because the bulk of the taxes levied on the motorist, including this insurance premium tax, are used for purposes other than roads and motoring. That is why motorists feel hard done by.

I hope that the Minister and his colleagues will consider carefully the general category of the motorist. I would love it if he could make a concession to my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch, but if he cannot, it would help us and the people we represent if he could say that the Government were at least aware of the bad deal that the motorist has been getting in recent years, and that, where possible, they will do something about that. As we have heard, people in rural areas have no choice; they have to use their cars. People in urban and suburban areas also have no choice at certain times of the day or at weekends. People who work antisocial hours clearly need a car. Most MPs need a car, for example, because we still work antisocial hours.

Mr Liam Byrne (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab): I am following the right hon. Gentleman’s argument with some care. He said that motorists get only a limited amount back from the taxes that they put in. Does he therefore support arguments in favour of the greater hypothecation of taxes such as the insurance premium tax, to help to resolve that problem?

Mr Redwood: No, I do not. I am sufficiently in tune with Treasury thinking to know that all Treasuries under any Government hate hypothecation, and I understand the complication. Critics of motoring and cars often argue that motorists are walking off with all these free goods, but people have come up with lots of figures that show conclusively that, in a hypothecated way, motorists get a particularly poor deal. People now look at these issues in such a way partly because the green movement has made them do so. It has now been demonstrated that, calculated in a hypothecated way, motorists put in a lot more than they get back. I do not think that the Treasury should operate all its taxation on that basis, but it does need to take account of the mood and the politics surrounding this question, which we are here to represent.

The feeling of unfairness is now quite extreme among the motoring community, and motorists want to communicate through us the fact that they are often motorists because they have to be. There is no train to take them to the shops, for example. The train might be 2 miles away from their home so, unless they have plenty of time to walk to the station, they need to start their journey in the car and sometimes they might as well finish it in the car as well. There is often no alternative, which is why some 86% of our journey miles are carried out by car, and only some 6% by train. There is a basic necessity, which is why we need to be fair when making any tax proposals affecting motorists.

The case of private health insurance is somewhat different, as I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch would agree. I make my declaration: I have no private health insurance, so I am not arguing my own case. I rely on the NHS, should ill health befall me, as I am sure do many other Members. However, I am not saying that some of my constituents are wrong to take out private health insurance. It is still a legal thing to do. Indeed, in a way, I feel that I am cheap-skating at their expense, because they are paying twice and I am paying only once. I pay my taxes, and if something happens to me, I hope to receive NHS care, whereas they contribute to everyone else’s NHS care through their taxes-they have no choice, of course, but some of them do it graciously-and then make the additional choice to pay for their own insurance. There is a double advantage: more money comes into the health sector, but when those people become ill they make no claim on the health service, even though they contribute to it.

My hon. Friend the Member for Christchurch is making a reasonable point. Given that it is not illegal to have private insurance, and that those who have it help to eke out NHS funds, should we be taxing it more? That is a very good question to raise. I shall make no stronger statement than that, but it will be interesting to see how the Treasury responds. After all, on this side of the House, we are all now big society fans and advocates- [ Interruption. ] Well, practically all of us, perhaps. There might be one or two of my right hon. and hon. Friends who are not so enthusiastic about it, but I am; I think it is a great idea. The essence of the big society idea is to harness private money, voluntary effort and charitable activity, and to understand that the state cannot solve all the problems. In a complex, difficult and expensive area such as health care and related social care, we need voluntary and private contributions as top-ups, or in addition to public sector care.

This issue poses a particularly interesting question for Ministers. If they are really serious about the big society idea, do they want to increase the taxes on people who make voluntary contributions and take some of the demand away from public services? Ought they not to be encouraging people to do such things? I look forward to hearing my hon. Friend the Minister’s reply to these nice philosophical questions in this wonderful caring, sharing age of coalition government, in which the big society will require some erosion of the old boundaries between public and private.

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2 Comments

  1. Chris W
    Posted July 16, 2010 at 9:26 pm | Permalink

    I agree with your views and would suggest another moral dimension for you to ponder.
    Third party car insurance, and some other liability insurance, is taken out as a 'service' towards other members of the community, to reimburse them if they suffer from an error on our part, there is no personal gain. Why should something done for the benefit of others be taxed at all?
    Also In a perfectly run society there would be no thieves or fraudsters as all would be caught. Is it not somewhat immoral for the state to levy a tax on an expense that is required to make up for the state's own shortcomings and even increases with the state's inefficiency?

  2. Javelin
    Posted July 17, 2010 at 1:04 am | Permalink

    First point. The baby boomers have borrowed too much to spend on themselves in the form of the public sector. Rather than talk about tax we should be talking about balanced budgets.

    Second point I understand that the fines fir not having insurance are often less than the insurance. But by driving a car without insurance the driver risks crashing the car and losing it's entire value, plus possibly worse. Therefore it is of little consequence that when caught without insurance the drivers car should be given to the state.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

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