Mr John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): First, may I remind the Committee that, as listed in the register of Members’ interests, I provide advice to an industrial company and an investment company?
The Minister has produced what is on the whole an excellent scheme. I support most of it and was one of those, along with my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main), who was lobbying hard to get this major reform through. I congratulate the Minister and the Chancellor on dealing with the problems that the slab system created. The peaks and the dead areas were damaging to the property market and made it difficult for some people to buy or sell properties in certain price ranges. The system probably distorted pricing as well, to the benefit of some people and the detriment of others. It is therefore good that we have smoothed it out and introduced a more sensible progression up to £937,000, where most of the transactions lie. The new arrangements will represent a fairer, lower-cost system for practically all transactions, which is wholly admirable.
I want to tease out a little more information about the rather pessimistic forecasts of how much revenue will be lost up to the end of this decade. It is clear from the figures that cutting the higher rate of income tax has produced considerable extra revenue, as it was bound to do, given that the previous rate deterred people or meant that they did not come here at all. It is also clear from the figures that the much higher rate of capital gains tax has been very damaging to revenues, which are still miles below where they were prior to the crash. This is a difficult one to call, and I am not saying to the Minister that the proposals would either damage or increase revenues. I am merely suggesting that the Treasury’s forecasts for that lengthy time period could prove to be inaccurate, and that it would be nice to unpack those forecasts in order to understand what the Treasury thinks is going on.
The problem with trying to forecast the revenues at this juncture is that, on the one hand, we have seen a slowing of the mortgage market in recent months through regulatory intervention, and we would therefore expect fewer transactions because the regulators and the banks are now being much tougher about mortgages. On the other hand, however, we have Government intervention trying to mitigate that effect through the very successful and helpful Help to Buy scheme, which I believe to be necessary. It is certainly helping people in my area to buy their own home. However, the net result of these arrangements seems to be a dampening of transactions, and we must bear that in mind when trying to judge the impact of those policies and to assess the impact of the stamp duty change. All things being equal, we should expect to see an increase in the volume of transactions under the £937,000 level because buying such homes will be a bit cheaper, and in certain price bands we will see activity occurring that would not have occurred at all because of the slab effect.
Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend share the optimism that I feel, having talked to small businesses in my community, that there could be a knock-on effect from people having a bit more money to carry out home improvements? Those businesses have suffered in recent years because people have not been investing in their own homes.
Mr Redwood: Yes, indeed there could.
This is difficult to predict, because all these things need to be modelled. The level of the reduction in some cases is quite large, and it will be difficult to make up for all that lost revenue through increased transactions. That is why it would be interesting to probe the Treasury a little more on its forecasts. I expect it thinks that there will be quite a big revenue gain where the rate has gone up, but that effect might not prove to be as strong as it hopes, because there will definitely be a disincentive effect at the top end following the introduction of the very top rate for the privileged few who can afford those types of properties. Those people are often in the fortunate position of owning more than one property, and of being able to decide whether they wish to buy property in this country or elsewhere. There will be some kind of disincentive effect, and we need to look at relative taxes and relative prices in relation to London and other centres.
It would therefore help if we knew a little more about the Treasury’s numbers at this stage of the debate, so that when we review this policy in a year or two, we can see what was right and what was wrong. For example, does the Treasury think that there will be extra revenue from the higher rate? That has clearly not been the case in relation to the two big taxes that I have mentioned. Does it envisage a loss of revenue despite the effect on transactions at the lower level? It would be good to have more detail, so that we can have some benchmarks as we try to assess the financial impact of the policy.