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Mrs. Beckett: My hon. Friend makes an interesting and powerful point. I hope that it has been heard and taken on board by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Mrs. Browning). My hon. Friend's underlying point is extremely important and we make it repeatedly in the House. The question is not just how much time is available for discussion, but whether that time is used constructively. It has often been a delusion of Oppositions, and we in the Labour party can plead guilty to this in the past, that people admire skill in wasting time. My understanding is that members of the public think that they send us to this place to use our time constructively, and rather despise us if they think that we do not.

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Orders of the Day


Order read for resuming adjourned debate on Question [7 March].


Motion made, and Question proposed,

(2) Subject to paragraphs (3) to (6) below, this Resolution does not extend to the making of any amendment with respect to value added tax so as to provide--
(a) for zero-rating or exempting a supply, acquisition or importation;
(b) for refunding an amount of tax;
(c) for varying any rate at which that tax is at any time chargeable;
(d) for any relief, other than a relief which--
(i) so far as it is applicable to goods, applies to goods of every description, and
(ii) so far as it is applicable to services, applies to services of every description.
(3) Paragraph (2) above does not exclude the making of amendments with respect to value added tax--
(a) providing for refunds of the kind specified in paragraph (4) below;
(b) providing for that tax to be charged at a reduced rate of 5 per cent. on supplies of the descriptions specified in paragraph (5) below (and on equivalent acquisitions and importations); or
(c) making provision of the kind authorised by paragraph (6) below.
(4) The refunds mentioned in paragraph (3)(a) above are refunds of value added tax where--
(a) that tax is chargeable on a supply to, or an acquisition or importation by, a museum or gallery, and
(b) the supply, acquisition or importation is attributable to supplies of free rights of admission to the museum or gallery.
(5) The supplies mentioned in paragraph (3)(b) above are--
(a) supplies, in the course of a conversion of a building (or part of a building), of services related to the conversion if after the conversion the building (or part) contains living accommodation;
(b) supplies, in the course of the renovation or alteration (including the extension) of a dwelling that has been unoccupied for at least three years, of services related to the renovation or alteration;
(c) supplies of goods by a person making a supply of services within sub-paragraph (a) or (b) above if--
(i) those services include the incorporation of the goods into the building concerned (or its site), and
(ii) the goods are building materials within the meaning of Group 5 of Schedule 8 to the Value Added Tax Act 1994;
(d) supplies of children's car seats.
(6) The provision authorised by this paragraph is provision re-enacting, without altering any person's liability to value added tax or the amount of any such liability, provisions providing for that tax to be charged at a reduced rate of 5 per cent. on certain supplies, acquisitions and importations.--[Mr. Gordon Brown.]

Question again proposed.

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Budget Resolutions and Economic Situation

2.13 pm

Mr. David Heathcoat-Amory (Wells): What a difference an approaching election makes to a Budget statement! In some ways, the Budget yesterday was not the worst of the Budgets presented by the Chancellor over the past four years. For instance, it was his shortest statement. The problem for the Government and for the country is that the promises that the Government may make in their last Budget cannot repair what happened as a result of the previous Budgets over their period of office.

Because the Chancellor has squeezed five Budgets into less than four years, we have already had the tax increases of four years, even before the Chancellor made another statement yesterday. Nothing can alter the fact that the Government will go down in history as the largest tax-raising Government of all time. According to their own figures, total tax receipts, which include social security contributions as well as taxes, will have risen over the past four years by a staggering £100 billion, almost exactly.

There were some welcome U-turns in the Budget yesterday--for example, on road fuel taxation--but why did it take a tax revolt, with all the shortages and disruption that accompanied it last autumn, to make the Government listen? If the Prime Minister and the Chancellor spent more time in the House, they would have heard hon. Members making the same points in debate after debate on previous Budgets. They would have been told that the relentless increase in road fuel taxation was not just socially and politically damaging to those in rural areas and others--people who must have cars to get to work--but that it was undermining the competitiveness of the haulage industry, which still faces competitors from the continent delivering goods in this country using fuel that is much cheaper than any available in Britain.

The Government have damaged the haulage industry and manufacturing industry. Although they have repented and although there is a modest cut, we still have the highest petrol prices in Europe. According to some estimates, we have the highest petrol and diesel prices in the world.

Like all Chancellors' statements, this one was better eaten cold. Once the more gullible Labour Members have had a chance to read the small print and the Budget document, as I hope they will, they will see, as we have, a parallel Budget emerging from the mist. For instance, the Chancellor persistently underestimates the tax effect of his measures in successive Budgets. The Government, and the Prime Minister in particular, used to deny that the burden of tax was rising at all.

Even though it was clearly set out in the Government's own documents that the percentage of tax as a proportion of gross domestic product was rising, the Prime Minister used to resort to any circumlocution to deny that fact. It was eventually the Prime Minister's press secretary who came clean and admitted that there was a continuing increase. All he had to do was to read some of the Budget document. In other cases, there have been problems because the Government have difficulty with their own figures. In some cases, by accident or design, they disguise the real truth.

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Let us consider the tax burden in the current year--2000-01. In the 1999 Budget, that was predicted at 36.7 per cent. of GDP. In last year's Budget, the figure was revised upwards. In last year's pre-Budget statement in the autumn, it was revised upwards again. Yesterday in the Budget, it was increased yet again to 37.7 per cent. of GDP. That is more than a 3p in the pound increase in income tax. That is what the Government do--they will not admit at the time that they are increasing taxes; that must be discovered retrospectively by examining the documents, which show a continuing increase. The same has already happened to their estimates for the tax burden next year. That, too, has been revised up from previous years to the present level.

Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham): My right hon. Friend eloquently describes the Government's sneaky and deceptive approach to communicating their taxation measures. Does he recall that, for 15 successive years, the previous Conservative Government published an assessment of the impact of direct and indirect taxes on the disposable income of a family on average earnings and on families in other income deciles? Does he further recall that the Chancellor's consistent and calculated failure to continue that practice was most recently denounced in a report of the Select Committee on the Treasury of March 2000 at, if my memory serves me correctly, paragraph 35?

Mr. Heathcoat-Amory: My hon. Friend rightly points to a further example of fiddled figures. I can give him yet another one. He may know that the working families tax credit is presented in the Red Book as a tax reduction, even though, in the small print at the end of the document, the Government have to admit that it should be treated as an addition to expenditure. I refer the House to page 216 where it clearly says:

but that is not how they are treated in the document. They are not treated as expenditure; they are treated as negative taxation to flatter the Government's taxation figures. Therefore, the figures that I have just given to the House showing the constant revision upwards underestimate the true position. If, as required under national accounting conventions, we also add in the working families tax credit, the rise becomes even steeper and the tax burden becomes even heavier.

It is no wonder that people are cynical about politics and politicians. The Prime Minister complains about public cynicism about his record, but is it any wonder when the Government fiddle the figures in their own Budget document? Therefore, my first request to the Government is that they come clean and tell the truth about what is happening to people's money and the burden of taxation.

That applies not only to taxation--the same sleight of hand is now apparent on public expenditure. Again, the more impressionable Labour Members cheered the announced increases in public expenditure yesterday. I refer those same hon. Members to page 200 of the Red Book, which shows that there is no increase. There is actually an underspend in public expenditure, and only in

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the financial year 2003-04 do the Government get back to their originally announced public expenditure profile. The Government are spending less than they have announced in previous years. They tax more than they have announced previously, but they spend less.

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