Mr Redwood’s contribution to the Finance Bill, 8 September 2015

John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): I remind the House that I advise an industrial and an investment company and the details are set out in the register.

I found it interesting to listen to the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) speak from the Opposition Front Bench on this important matter. As someone who thinks that taxes are best kept low and that we need to do all we can to maximise the spending power of those we represent, I had a lot of sympathy with much of what she was saying. Of course, there will be people who do not want to pay an increased insurance tax—who does? In particular, some people will find it difficult because it is quite a high tax. I would have found the hon. Lady more convincing had she been able to answer the question in my intervention: if not this, what?

We have just had a passionate debate in this House in which the Opposition, understandably, wanted us to do more for Syrian refugees. That takes money. We are already being very generous with our overseas aid budget, and although we understand their motivation they are not proposing lots of reductions in spending.

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab): Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman has forgotten that in July we voted against the cut in inheritance tax in the Budget, which would bring in another ÂŁ1 billion in the final year.

John Redwood: That is interesting, because one of the difficulties with capital taxes is that they are sensitive to the rate and details of the scheme. The first rule of any tax must be that if it is raised, more revenue must be got from it. One thing that is certainly true of this insurance tax is that although we would rather it was at a lower rate, it is still at a low enough rate that if we raised it we would collect more revenue. I am not sure that that is true of the inheritance tax system, and the hon. Lady must understand that quite a lot of her constituents are not very happy about the current regime and are looking for changes.

Helen Goodman: The right hon. Gentleman is talking through his hat. In my constituency last year, not one property sold for ÂŁ650,000 and the Government is raising the threshold to ÂŁ1 million. It certainly will not affect any of my constituents.

John Redwood: The hon. Lady might well find that some of her constituents have aspirations and could be successful; I am surprised that she is so negative about them. Many people in all parts of the country welcome the idea. In 10 or 20 years’ time, if there is a death in the family and assets pass, they would be grateful not to have that limit. It was a good effort and I accept that the hon. Lady came up with the least bad of the Labour attitudes. Everything else that Labour wants to do involves either spending more money or increasing tax rates, which will reduce the revenue.

Barbara Keeley: The right hon. Gentleman should be directing his question to the Chancellor, because, as I said, it was the Chancellor who said that

“tax increases are not required to achieve further consolidation, as “this can be achieved with spending reductions”
The right hon. Gentleman ought to be asking the Government and his right hon. Friend the Chancellor his question rather than the Opposition, because the promise to the electorate—this is the important thing—was that there would be no tax increases, yet here we are soon after the Budget with a tax increase that will hit many millions of households and bring in £8 billion.

John Redwood: But I support the Government on that. I think that they are right to want to make more progress in bringing down the deficit—I am not sure whether the hon. Lady agrees. I also think that they are absolutely right to honour the very important promise they and I made to our electors not to increase income tax or VAT. Better still, we must honour our pledge to get income tax down, particularly for people on lower incomes, by raising the threshold. I also wish to see reductions in income tax at the 40% level, which affects many of my constituents and those who aspire to better jobs and pay, which we hope our economic recovery will deliver to many more people. We are honouring our pledge not to increase income tax rates, but to make the cuts we specified over the five-year period, and we are honouring our pledge on VAT.

Barbara Keeley: There seems to be a very selective honouring of pledges going on. The pledge not to increase taxes is not being met, because £8 billion is being taken. The other thing that I am very concerned about is the Government’s decision to ditch the pledge to cap social care costs. It is one thing to allow people with properties worth £1 million not to pay inheritance tax, but it is quite another when people up and down the country will be hit by the dropping of the pledge to cap care costs. Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman would like to comment on that, because I am sure that it affects his constituents just as it affects mine.

John Redwood: I think that we are now going rather wide of the amendment and the clause that we are meant to be debating. I wish to see a generous care system that is properly controlled and disciplined. If the hon. Lady has individual cases where people will be adversely affected unreasonably, I am sure that Ministers will be willing to look at them. The last thing I wish to see is unreasonable cuts affecting people who really need the money, but I also wish to see more work done—this is what the Government are doing—to promote the abilities of many people, including those she suggests are disabled, because many people have many abilities. This Government are about encouraging those abilities, helping people to do more for themselves and, where possible, to get into work so that they can lead more rewarding lives, and so that they can receive pay in addition to the benefit assistance for which they currently qualify. There is a complete policy there to promote better lives for everyone in society, and cutting income taxes is an important part of that, and promoting abilities and opportunities is another.

George Kerevan (East Lothian) (SNP): Does the right hon. Gentleman not recognise that there is a moral hazard to a degree in taxing insurance? There is a moral hazard that we recognise through the fact that 80% of activity in the insurance business is not taxed. Therefore, if we are increasing the tax burden on that 20% simply to raise revenue, it might be worth coming back and looking at the consequences.

John Redwood: That is very good advice, and that is exactly what this Committee is trying to do by highlighting the issue in a short but thorough debate.

I will now make some progress on the specific matters relating to insurance tax. It passes my first test, which is that if we have to increase a tax rate we must ensure that we get more revenue from it. It passes that test because the starting rate is sufficiently low, and the forecasts indicate that we will see a substantial increase in revenue as a result of the change.

The second question is what is its distributional effect. The hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South (Barbara Keeley) understandably made much of the cases that are the hardest, but overall I would imagine—the Minister may have some figures—that people who are better off will pay more of this tax than people who are not so well off, because a lot of it is insuring property and asset and businesses, and it will be the people with the most substantial assets and businesses who will pay rather more of that tax. It therefore meets a general test of fairness in the sense that it is progressive.

My one nervousness about that—I look forward to the Minister’s response on this—is over the issue of the young driver, which the hon. Member for Worsley and Eccles South raised. I think that we need to ensure that we have a very supportive package for young people generally, because they are finding it difficult to price themselves into housing, and they do not always get the rates of pay at the beginning of their careers that we would like to see them enjoy. It is very important that we keep cutting the income taxes at the lower end of income, especially for them, because they really need to keep everything they earn if their starting pay is not very good.

The biggest problem for the young driver, particularly the young male driver, is that the starting prices for insurance can be exceptionally high. Indeed, it is sometimes difficult for the very young male driver to get insured at all. We have to ask ourselves why that is. The main reason, of course, is that the young driver is perceived to be a bad risk by the insurance company. There is some evidence that the younger driver may, on average, have a worse record than the older driver, and that is why the premiums can be particularly high on younger people.

Perhaps the Government can help rather more, through and with the industry, to tackle the main problem, which is not the tax on the premium but the initial height of the premium. Some good work has been done in the industry to provide methods of reassurance that the young person will drive well and safely by means of technology in the car that monitors them, at their own request and with their agreement. That may be the price of their getting the lower premium. We need to look at how technology and support for good driving can be reinforced so that a young person is more readily insurable at a realistic price. Of course, if the young person behaved recklessly, that would become obvious and the arrangements would have to be changed, but there are ways in which this can be done.

Barbara Keeley: It is not a question of technology changes. This £50 increase, at least, in the duty paid on the very high premiums that the right hon. Gentleman is talking about will prevent young people—presumably young men, more than young women—from getting to the point where they can start to gain experience. The age at which people will be able to be insured will advance and advance so that they will be unable to get started. That is the issue. It is not a question of technology but of making insurance affordable, and this makes it worse.

John Redwood: I am trying to deal with the underlying reason why it can be very difficult for young men, in particular, to afford insurance. The big problem is not the increment on top of the current insurance tax or the bigger increment resulting from this Bill; it is the starting level of the premium. People are working on ways in which we may be able to address that.

If the young person can accept a system that will reassure the insurer that they are going to drive sedately, prudently and safely, then the reason for charging them more disappears. By accepting the constraints of the technology, they can demonstrate that they are driving safely. That reinforces their cheaper premium and they can start to earn the bonuses that the rest of us enjoy if we have driven safely for a long period and then get discounts on the insurance costs. It is getting started that is so difficult for young males, in particular, when they are all judged by the average standards of high claims that the industry experiences. I hope that the Minister and her colleagues in Departments more directly related to the insurance industry will look at this problem. It is not caused primarily by the tax system but by assessment of risk and perceptions of driving behaviour. It can be very unfair on individuals, and the more that can be done to smooth that out, the better.

I do not like tax rises. Part of the reason I am in Parliament is that I want to be a voice to try to keep taxes down and have a more prosperous society as a result. I cannot say that I welcome this part of the Finance Bill, but as someone who believes that there are important public items that we cannot cut, and faced as we are with Opposition parties that very rarely come forward with any proposals to save public money, we have to raise a reasonable amount of money. We have been borrowing too much, and this is part of a series of measures to try to get our borrowing under some kind of control. With regret, I conclude with the Government that this is one of the least bad options for trying to do that. I hope that they will take on board the need to work away at some solutions to the underlying problem of individual categories such as young drivers who may find this to be another increment on top of a difficult situation.