Something remarkable happened yesterday in the Commons. All the Ulster parties present joined with Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives to advocate lower taxes for Northern Ireland. They told us that a lower tax rate in the province would lead to new investment, more company formation, more private sector jobs and greater prosperity. The Commons duly approved unanimously a measure which will allow Northern Ireland to cut its Corporation Tax rate from 21%, the present UK rate, to 12.5%.
It was remarkable because many of the people who now think a lower tax on business profits is a good thing are usually dreaming up ever more higher and new taxes to hit anyone who does well or makes a profit. Normally we are told that higher and wider taxes are crucial to good public services, without a thought for any damage they might do to jobs, incomes, and investments. I asked them to reflect on what they had been saying and to draw some conclusions on other taxes, and on business taxes elsewhere in the UK.
Taking Corporation tax down below 20% will lead to a loss of revenue – I agree with the Treasury about that. This is not a straightforward tax cut of the kind I often advocate which will increase the revenues.
The new Parliament will need to do a lot of thinking about the new tax settlement which is emerging. Scotland will have its own Income Tax and Stamp Duty land tax. Northern Ireland will have its own Corporation Tax. Wales will have its own business rates. The new Parliament has as a result to settle two difficult matters. The first is the familiar one of who speaks for England? The second is how much grant will devolved governments receive, bearing in mind they will be responsible for raising more of their own revenue. The formula will matter and will not be easy to settle.