Mr Redwood’s speech during the debate on the Finance Bill, 1 July 2014

Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): Let me deal first with an old canard from the Labour Benches that is simply untrue and unfair: the idea that Conservatives welcome tax cuts for the rich, but do not think that tax cuts are appropriate for anybody else. Government Members believe strongly that tax cuts work for everybody, and that is why the Government have given back a lot of tax revenue to people on low pay by taking them out of tax altogether. We have supported and welcomed that, and that is where the missing revenue that Labour worries about is concentrated.

Chi Onwurah (Newcastle upon Tyne Central) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman says that the Government are taking many low-income people out of tax. But he must recognise that by raising value added tax, the least progressive of taxes, which everyone purchasing goods has to pay, regardless of their income, they are increasing the burden on the lowest paid.

Mr Redwood: VAT is not as regressive as the hon. Lady suggests, because I am pleased to say that important items, such as food and children’s clothes, are VAT exempt, which makes it a little less unpalatable. But I agree with her that all tax rises are bad news, but they are a necessity given the large deficit that we inherited, and when some important public services need financing. I also entirely agree with Labour that, given that we have a large deficit and need to spend money on important benefits and public services, we need to get that money from the rich and the better off. They are the people with money, and we have to find the best way to get the money off them.

David Wright (Telford) (Lab): Why is the right hon. Gentleman so scared of the new clause? All it does is request a report. Surely he supports the idea of having a report on these issues so that we can get to the bottom of the matter.

Mr Redwood: If I am given a chance to develop my argument, I hope I will satisfy any independent-minded people on the Labour Benches that we already have the evidence. We have had a long-term experiment on this very subject, which satisfies some Conservative Members that the way to get more money off the rich is to set a rate that they are prepared to pay and will stay and pay. If the rate is set too high, they leave. If the rate is set too high, their clever lawyers and accountants find entirely legal ways to pay rather less tax than we would like.

The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) did not answer my intervention when I asked her to confirm that the Red Book has made it clear that after the cut in the rate, the amount that the better off and the rich paid went up—of course it did. That is the experience we would expect. The hon. Lady is left trying to say that there are special reasons. I will give her this point: it is probably best to judge these things over a longer period than a year or two. One can get odd variations, which is why I want to give the evidence to the House that it has clearly forgotten, which relates to the big reductions in top rate tax that were put through in the 1980s. The Conservative Government reduced the top rate of tax in two stages, from 83% to 60% and then from 60% to 40%, and the Labour Government kept that rate right up until they knew that they would lose office. They were wise to do so, because over those years the amount of cash paid by the rich went up, the real-terms amount of tax paid by the rich went up and the proportion of total income tax revenue paid by the rich went up. What is not to like about that treble win?

Graeme Morrice (Livingston) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman said earlier that if the top rate of tax was too high people would leave—I presume he meant that they would leave the country. How many rich people have returned to the country as a result of the top rate being reduced from 50p to 45p?

Mr Redwood: We will be able to answer that question in due course, because these are still early days, but there are encouraging signs that more revenue is coming in from the rich. We will know the results of the latest experiment later, but we know fully the results of the 1980s tax cuts. They were clear enough to convince not only all sensible Conservative MPs at the time, who were happy to vote for the tax cuts and kept them throughout their period in office, but, more importantly, the long-running Chancellor of the Exchequer who took office in 1997 and held it for a decade before becoming Prime Minister. He is not an easy man to convince to be nice to the rich. I think that he decided to run with that tax rate because he was entirely convinced that he would get more money out of the rich at 40% than he would at 83% or 60%.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Does not the evidence show that any increase in the tax paid by the rich is the result of their share of income rising at the same time as everyone else’s living standards are falling?

Mr Redwood: The main reason they pay more tax, of course, is that they generate and declare more income here, which is surely what we want them to do. If the Labour party is with me so far in wanting decent public services, and if it is with me in accepting that the money for those services has to come from the better-off, because by definition we do not want to tax the poor, then surely it is with me in wanting to have more rich people here to venture, save, put their money at risk and to make more money with their money so that there is more of it to tax. This country is now very dependent on income tax from the top group of earners, who produce 30% of income tax, and on the capital gains tax, stamp duty and other taxes that apply mainly to rich people with big assets. That is sustaining public services. It is very important that Members of this House, who might not like those people—clearly the Labour party dislikes them intensely—recognise that they are very useful members of society and that their revenue is crucial to being able to redistribute money across the country. If Labour Members wish to have more equality, they must think about the optimising rate. Surely it is best to try to find the rate that maximises revenue, rather than a penal rate that satisfies people’s sense of jealousy—or whatever it is—about those who have or make a lot of money.

Rushanara Ali (Bethnal Green and Bow) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is wrong about the Labour party disliking rich people intensely and should retract that statement. If he is not prepared to do so, perhaps he will explain why many people feel that his party dislikes ordinary families and poor families intensely, as highlighted by their policies.

Mr Redwood: That is simply not true. I am delighted to hear that the hon. Lady likes rich people—there are quite a few in her party, so let us hope she gets on well with them—but it is absolutely false to suggest that Conservatives have no interest in people who are out of tax altogether or who are on low incomes; we are desperately concerned that they should get better educational standards and have more opportunities so that they can get a job and then go on to get a better job. We wish them well, and we are very keen to work with all those in our constituencies so that they can take advantage of opportunities. We would like them to be on higher incomes. In the meantime, unlike the Government she supported, we have taken many more of those people out of tax altogether, because we think that those on an income of less than £10,000 a year should not have to pay tax. They will probably be receiving some benefit assistance.

Another point that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood did not respond to was the fact that the latest figures show that inequality rose under the Labour Government but has actually fallen a bit under the coalition, mainly because we have taken an awful lot of people at the lower end of the income scale out of tax. We have a very progressive system: the income tax system now exempts anybody on less than £10,000 and has a 47% rate, if we take national insurance as well on the highest incomes; and the benefit system rightly gives a lot of money to people at the low end of the scale and should not give any money to people at the top end.

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman has made a number of assertions in his last few sentences. I wonder whether he has seen the report published this week by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, which states that the cuts in child benefit and tax credits

“have typically created losses double the amount of tax allowance gain for working couples, and nearly four times the amount for working lone parents.”

I wonder whether he has seen the latest HMRC report, which states that the Gini coefficient started to rise significantly in 2012-13.

Mr Redwood: The figures I have been using refer to the whole coalition period and show a reduction in inequality, which I hope the hon. Gentleman will welcome. I do not recognise his figures on the child tax changes. The overall effect of taking a lot of people out of tax has been a very positive impact on their net incomes, as we would hope.

Ian Murray (Edinburgh South) (Lab): If the right hon. Gentleman disputes whether an increase in the additional rate of tax would bring in more money, does he agree with the new clause’s call for a report? If it shows that the 50p tax rate brings in more money, will he and his Conservative colleagues advocate increasing it again?

Mr Redwood: I thought that I had dealt with that point. As far as I am concerned, it was proven conclusively in the ’80s that taking the rate down from 83% to 40% increased the revenue very substantially and on a sustainable basis. That was sufficient to persuade the official Labour party—perhaps not some Labour colleagues here today—not to increase the tax rate from 40% throughout its long years in government until the very end.

Bill Esterson (Sefton Central) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that the economic circumstances are now rather different from those he is talking about. Surely we need a study, as the new clause proposes, to enable us to look at what is happening now.

Mr Redwood: I do not think that the economic circumstances were as different as the hon. Gentleman thinks. In the early ’80s the Conservative Government inherited an economic crisis from Labour, just as this Government did. There was a lot of unemployment and a big task in getting people back to work and getting the economy growing again, rather like today. The Government at the time managed to do that, just as this Government are, so I do not accept his point.

However, I find the fact that Labour is going backwards on these issues rather perturbing. Why can the modern Labour party not understand the basic points that the Labour party that was victorious between 1997 and 2010 understood fully? Why can it not understand that it is possible to take the tax rate too high and get less revenue? The Treasury has now accepted the doctrine of the Laffer curve and understands that putting the tax rate above the optimising rate would surely be a very foolish thing to do. It knows that that applies to capital gains tax, as it clearly does to income tax. I submit that 50% was well above the optimum rate, because we collected rather less revenue than many people would have liked. I welcome the fact that the Government have started to put that right.

I do not think that we need the study that the Labour party is recommending today, and I advise it to think again about what it learnt in the ’80s and ’90s but appears now to have forgotten. It shows that the former Labour Chancellor was clearly not crowd-pleasing when he refused to increase the rate from 40%—he was clearly antagonising many of his Back-Bench colleagues by not doing so—so there must have been a good reason for it. I think that reason was a sensible one: it would have raised less revenue, rather than more. I urge the Government to reject new clause 14.

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One Comment

  1. Narrow Shoulders
    Posted July 4, 2014 at 12:10 pm | Permalink

    Interesting, knock about debate, you held your ground well sir.

    I tend to agree with you, Mr Redwood, about the lower rate of tax collecting more revenue but why are you so against a study? Is it because as with all things governmental the outcome is pre ordained to the commissioner’s wishes?

  • 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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