Mr Redwood’s contribution to the Finance (No.2) Bill, 8 April

Mr Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I remind the House that I offer advice for an industrial company and an investment company, although not on these subjects.

I thought that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) started her speech very promisingly. I admire her background, and I can think of a former great Member of Parliament who came from a very similar background and who deduced some very sound principles about how economies and shops work. I thought that the hon. Lady was going to develop in that style. I was delighted when she said that she is now a convert to tax reduction. She said that she and the Labour party now think that taking corporation tax down from 28% to 21% was right. It is wonderful news that we seem to have cross-party accord on the fact that lower tax rates can bring businesses to Britain, keep more profit in Britain and, if we let such policies fructify for long enough, even lead to more revenues and help to promote the economic growth that we all want.

The hon. Lady went even further and thought up another tax reduction that she wants. I am not normally one to let a tax reduction opportunity go by, and she said that a reduction in business rates would be a very good idea. She said that it would be good to find a way to make a further reduction in business rates, because that would be very welcome after years of increases.

I was then disappointed, however, because the hon. Lady said, “Oh, you can’t have too much of a good thing. It might start to work. You’ve got to have a tax rise, as well as a tax reduction.” She did set one part of the business community against another, although she claims that she did not do so. I find that rather curious, because we are meant to be debating the Opposition’s amendment 2, which does not propose a reduction in business rates or an increase in the corporation tax rate, although she says that that is their policy. The amendment allows us to talk about that because it is very wide ranging. We can talk about any kind of tax because it invites us to look at alternatives to corporation tax in ways that she spoke about.

We have a contradiction: the Opposition say that they have a settled policy to put up the corporation tax rate for larger companies and to cut and then freeze business rates. However, we are asked to vote on a much weaker amendment, which just says that the Chancellor of the Exchequer should conduct a review of the impact of cutting the corporation tax rate from 21% to 20%, as well as of other options, presumably including the one that the hon. Lady has already adopted.

I wonder whether Labour Members are in a bit of a muddle. Why do they need a review if they have already made up their minds about its answer, and if they have not made up their minds, why have we been given a clear policy for once, given that they usually use the advantages of being in opposition to be rather shy about coming up with clear policies?

Let me address the policy that Labour recommends the House to adopt, rather than the one that it might put to the electors—that we need a review to be carried out in the six months after the passage of the Bill. In other words, the review of the tax reduction would be conducted before we knew the results of the tax reduction. That is curious: if we were going to conduct a review into the consequences of an action, we might have thought that we would want to see the action first, but no, Labour thinks that we can conduct a thought experiment on the action. I am not against thought experiments; an awful lot of policy has to be based on them or on history.

There is a contradiction in that the review would have to be done in advance of the action, while there is also the contradiction that Labour has apparently settled its policy without needing a review. I therefore wonder whether the review is just a waste of time and a bit of a waste of money; whether it is some kind of smokescreen or whether there is some muddle between Front Benchers about whether or not they have a settled policy. Having started by feeling very warm and sympathetic towards the hon. Lady, I am now reluctant to vote for the amendment. I am not sure that it is a very serious proposal, because it seems already to have been prejudged by what Labour is offering in this debate.

In thinking about other options, as amendment 2 invites us to do, we should bear it in mind that if we are clever with our taxation policies, we can actually cut a rate and increase the revenue. That is the kind of tax cut that I like at the moment, because I want to get the deficit down. It makes intelligent sense not to pursue a policy of jealousy, but to decide how we can get money out of rich companies or individuals who have money—one obvious point about taxation is that we have to tax people who have money; we cannot tax those who have not got any—by setting rates that they are prepared to pay, that they are prepared to stay and pay or that they are prepared to come here to pay because the rates are more attractive than those elsewhere.

There is already some evidence for such a review in that the Government have now got round to cutting the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45%, and the latest revenue figures for the nearly completed financial year show that there has been an extraordinary surge of £9 billion of extra revenue this year compared with the previous year from payers of the top rate of income tax. That is an astonishing achievement.

Mr Andrew Love (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op): Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the primary cause of that increase in revenue is income shifting from one year to the next? Many individuals held back income in the year when the rate was 50%, and brought it forward when the rate was reduced to 45%.

Mr Redwood: I do not accept that at all, because the revenue in the previous year was very similar to the figure for the year before that, which was before people knew that there might be a cut in the tax rate. I suspect that next year will also see good levels of revenue. I do not expect a sudden reduction of £9 billion in revenue in the financial year we are just starting. As always, the hon. Gentleman is peddling misery for no good reason. Labour Members should rejoice and accept the fact that if we cut a rate, we sometimes get more money. They always want to spend other people’s money, so surely they should listen to how we can maximise the amount we get out of people.

Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman explain where, following the rate change, this money has suddenly come from if it is not re-phased income? Is he suggesting that people have somehow avoided tax or that people have suddenly come into this country to pay it? He must have some reason for the increase, if he does not accept the one given by my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love).

Mr Redwood: We are talking about people who are a serious amount richer than any of us on MPs’ salaries, and if the hon. Lady meets such people occasionally she will discover that they have many more freedoms than other people on when and where they earn income, what they invest in and where they organise their affairs. Some of them were not in this country before and came here when the rate was lowered. Some have some money in one country and some in another, and they can quite legally shift their money around and decide where they are going to earn more income. That is what companies do, as she has discovered and sometimes complained about. Rich people have a lot of flexibility, which means that a country that sets sensible tax rates attracts and keeps more of them and gets them to do more things.

There is also a disincentive effect, because someone who is legally here and keeps all their money here might not do extra work—why should they, when they are going to be taxed at too high a rate? Or they might not take an extra risk with their investments—why should they? If it works they will get taxed, and if it does not work they will take 100% of the loss. We can therefore change the climate by setting a competitive rate to encourage more confidence and action.

Mr Love rose—

Mr Redwood: I will give way again, if the hon. Gentleman wants another go.

Mr Love: I do, because I want to explore the Arthur Laffer effect. The right hon. Gentleman seems to be saying that if we reduce income tax, we increase the amount of money we take. How far would he take that? Would he make income tax 40p in the pound, or 35p? Would he abolish income tax entirely and raise even more money?

Mr Redwood: The hon. Gentleman is now being completely stupid, is he not? There are two rates of tax that will raise no money—0% and 100%—and there is a curve between the two, which, as he rightly said, was first drawn by Mr Laffer, I believe on a napkin. Most people, including the Treasury, accept that there is a Laffer curve, and that it is a question of judgment where the rate is that maximises revenue. It is quite clear from the evidence in this year’s Revenue and Customs figures that 50% was too high a rate to maximise revenue, and that 45% gets us more revenue than 50%. I believe that 40% would get us more revenue than 45%. I am pleased to hear today that a Liberal Democrat, of all people, is writing a book on the subject. I welcome that and look forward to more progress in coalition talks about the maximising rate of income tax. If it were taken down to 20%, we would clearly lose a lot of money, so somewhere between there and where we are now is the maximising rate, and getting it right is partly science and partly trial and error. We can be sure that we are now moving in the right direction, having gone in the wrong one previously.

It is interesting that the previous Prime Minister, during all his time as Chancellor of the Exchequer, never took the top rate above 40%. I do not think that was because he liked rich people or wanted to be unkind to the left wing of the Labour party. I believe it was his judgment that anything over 40% would have cost him revenue. As a modest man, I therefore accept that there was something about which he was absolutely right—he was correct in not raising the top rate of tax above 40%.

Tom Blenkinsop (Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has made a case about corporation tax and about the top rate of income tax being reduced from 50p to 45p. Would he apply the same logic of Laffer to indirect taxation? It would be interesting to hear his comments about the raising of VAT to 20%.

Mr Redwood: It is clear from the figures that the raising of the rate to 20% increased revenue. Yes, there is a Laffer effect in VAT, and 20% is clearly below the optimising point if our only interest is in increasing revenue. Going from 17.5% to 20% has not got us to the point where it costs us revenue. If it had, I would have been the first to tell Ministers that it was a ridiculous idea. I understand their need for more revenue, because they inherited such a huge deficit.

Tom Blenkinsop: Of course, companies often pay VAT before they even make a profit.

Mr Redwood: Indeed, there are timing issues with VAT, as the hon. Gentleman says, but I do not really see how that affects the argument about whether putting the rate up brings in more money. That is in the figures.

I fear that we are drifting a bit far even from the wide subject of the amendment, but I suppose the alternative options to help business could include cutting VAT. However, it is clear that if we cut the rate of VAT again, there would be a substantial loss of revenue, whereas we have just cut the income tax rate and there has been a colossal revenue gain. We should learn from those points.

I think the shadow Minister suggested that there would be no loss of revenue to local government from cutting and then freezing business rates. I do not know whether she wants to intervene, but that was my understanding of what she said. I think the Labour party has been converted to the Laffer effect. It now asserts—I do not know on what evidence—that if we cut and then froze business rates, we would collect the same amount of revenue. I would need persuading about that, because I am not sure that business rates are at that point yet, but if they were, it would be a sensible proposal for the coalition Government to take up. It would make it an even bigger pity that Labour has not bothered to table a proposal along those lines for us to vote on today, which might even have drawn me into the Lobby against my own party’s Front Benchers if the case had been well made and I felt that the Laffer effect of lower business rates was well established. I have profoundly shocked my Front-Bench colleagues now, having earned myself a brownie point through my earlier remarks. As they are well aware, they are quite safe, because there is no proposal on the amendment paper to cut business rates. [Interruption.] The Whip has just found that out—she needs to do a little more homework before coming to these debates. [Interruption.] Now she is complaining that she did not say that. As she will be in the record as having said nothing, who am I to disagree?

Before I get into any more trouble, I will conclude my remarks by saying that I will not support the amendment. I do not believe that a review would help, and I do not understand how it would be judged. Nor does it seem that it would have any impact on Labour policy. I am perplexed by the fact that when Labour has a clear policy for once, it has not tabled a proposal so that we can debate it fully and vote on it. I strongly support lower corporation tax rates, which will be very helpful.

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  • About John Redwood

    John Redwood has been the Member of Parliament for Wokingham since 1987. First attending Kent College, Canterbury, he graduated from Magdalen College, and has a DPhil from All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has been a director of NM Rothschild merchant bank and chairman of a quoted industrial PLC.
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