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Joan Ruddock accordingly presented a Bill to grant additional powers to local authorities in England and Wales for the enforcement of controls and for the prosecution of offences relating to the unauthorised or harmful deposit, treatment or disposal of waste and the transporting of controlled waste without registering; to amend the Control of Pollution (Amendment) Act 1989 and Part II of the Environmental Protection Act 1990; and for connected purposes: And the same was read the First time; and ordered to be read a Second time on Friday 19 July, and to be printed [Bill 128].

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Orders of the Day

Finance Bill

[Relevant document: The Second Report from the Treasury Committee, Session 2001–02, on Budget 2002, HC 780.]

Order for Second Reading read.

Mr. Speaker: I should inform the House that I have selected the amendment in the name of the Leader of the Opposition.

3.49 pm

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Andrew Smith): I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.

I am pleased to do so at a time of economic stability, with improving prospects for economic growth, with the right foundations on which to carry forward our work on enterprise and fairness and with investment and reform in our public services, securing the national health service for the future.

The Chancellor was able to report in his Budget statement that Britain has enjoyed

That record of economic stability has not happened by chance, but is a result of the tough choices that we have made and the new monetary and fiscal frameworks that we have put in place, which are serving the economy well in the global uncertainties that we have seen.

The challenge—indeed, the opportunity—for British industry and investors is to build on that hard-won stability, accelerate productivity improvements and increase output, jobs and prosperity. Although the economy has been stable, it can and must grow stronger. The Bill reflects the Government's clear role in ensuring the conditions necessary for successful businesses through important measures to modernise taxes, promote enterprise and cut red tape.

Sir Robert Smith (West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine): Will the Chief Secretary reconsider the Bill as it affects the North sea oil and gas industry and explain how those measures will bring stability? The Government have used that sector as an exemplar of how industry and the Government can work together, yet people in the industry are now in a state of shock and despair given that all the Government's understanding of them seems to have been swept away. The costs of operating in the North sea are so much higher than in other fields and the fields are so much smaller and therefore the returns are much more risky, so it seems a strange time to put up tax when other regimes have been lowering their taxes on the North sea.

Mr. Smith: On the North sea oil regime, our aim is, of course, to promote long-term investment in the North sea, while giving a fair return to the British people. So the Bill contains two important measures in relation to the North sea tax regime. First, to raise revenues, clauses 90 to 92

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will introduce a supplementary charge at a rate of 10 per cent. on North sea profits; but, secondly, to support new investment, clause 62 will provide 100 per cent. first-year allowances for capital expenditure and investment in the North sea. I am advised that, under the allowance change and even with the supplementary charge, companies that invest in new fields will have higher post-tax rates of return than they would under the current regime. So we are striking the right balance between stimulating investment and getting a fair return to the British people.

Mr. Michael Jack (Fylde): Given the words that the right hon. Gentleman has just uttered, will he place in the Library what is effectively the business case, stating in detail how he has come to his conclusions, so that we may also make a balanced and informed judgment of those words?

Mr. Smith: I shall be very happy to write to the right hon. Member for Fylde (Mr. Jack) and to the hon. Member for West Aberdeenshire and Kincardine (Sir Robert Smith) and deposit a copy of the letter in the Library to illustrate my point about the interaction of the 100 per cent. capital allowance and the 10 per cent. charge.

On the platform of stability that we have put in place, the aim of the Budget, enshrined in the Bill, is to build a stronger enterprise culture, with higher productivity and investment. In recent years, British business investment levels have risen significantly from just over 10 per cent. of national income to almost 14 per cent.

Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds): In the context of investment, will the Chief Secretary tell us what the savings ratio is this year, compared with the savings ratio that the Government inherited in 1996–97?

Mr. Smith: As I recall, the ratio is about 5 per cent. and is projected to go up gradually. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, the savings ratio reflects consumer confidence in their domestic financial position. One of the reasons why it went down was that consumers had more confidence and their household balance sheets were stronger than they had been in the years of boom and bust under the Conservatives, when they never knew what would happen to their financial circumstances.

We want to sustain and improve business investment and that is why in past Budgets we cut corporation tax from 33p to 30p, the lowest rate in our history. To encourage investment in the technologies of the future, clause 52 and schedule 12 extend an enhanced research and development tax credit to all companies. That means a £400 million boost for innovation and research in Britain.

To help companies restructure without key decisions being constrained by the tax system, clause 43 and schedule 8 set out an exemption for companies disposing of substantial shareholdings. That new relief forms part of the Government's commitment to reform and modernise the corporate tax regime, ensuring that the United Kingdom remains a good place in which to do business.

The Bill also sets out the new regime to provide relief for the cost of intangible assets, including intellectual property and goodwill. The new relief, details of which are set out in clause 83 and schedules 29 and 30, will

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encourage business to take advantage of opportunities in the knowledge-based economy. This is another important step in our programme of corporate tax reform.

Mr. Michael Weir (Angus): The Minister has made many points about corporate tax reform, particularly with regard to corporation tax, but does he accept that in Scotland 75 per cent. of all small and medium-sized enterprises are either sole traders or partnerships and do not pay corporation tax? What is there in the Bill to help those businesses and truly help enterprise in Scotland?

Mr. Smith: I was coming later in my remarks to the steps that we are taking to raise the VAT threshold and greatly to simplify the administration of VAT, which I hope will come as a great help to the companies to which the hon. Gentleman refers. He is right to stress the importance of small businesses. They account for 55 per cent. of all private sector jobs—more than 10 million jobs in all—and nearly half the economy's output. Recognising their important role as employers and wealth creators is an important theme running through the Bill.

In 1997 we cut the small companies tax rate from 23p to 21p and in 1998 we cut it again to 20p with a starting rate of 10p. This year, clause 31 takes it down again to 19p with immediate effect. To send a strong signal to the small business community, clause 32 reduces the starting rate of corporation tax, also with immediate effect, from 10p to zero. That means that companies with profits of up to £10,000 will pay no corporation tax. The Budget set out the most favourable tax regime for small companies in any of the advanced industrial countries and the Finance Bill puts that into statute.

To fund the growth of innovative young companies, we need to increase the level of business investment. Private equity investment has doubled since 1997 and 38 per cent. of all EU private equity investment is in the UK. To maintain that momentum, the Bill will cut capital gains tax to 20 per cent. for business assets held for one year or more from this month. For business assets held for more than two years, it will cut capital gains tax to 10 per cent. That means that overall, Britain will have a capital gains tax regime more favourable to enterprise than even that of the United States.

We recognise too that the cost of compliance is an important issue and the Budget sets out proposals to reform the administration of VAT, to help smaller firms comply with PAYE and to remove unnecessary regulations. Clauses 23 to 25 set out the steps that we are taking in the Bill to simplify and streamline the VAT regime.

In disadvantaged areas, businesses can be a catalyst for community regeneration, so in 2,000 designated enterprise neighbourhoods, our small business tax cuts will be supported by further measures to encourage social entrepreneurs. First, there are measures on stamp duty on property transactions. In the pre-Budget report, we abolished stamp duty on home and business property transactions worth up to £150,000. For commercial transactions, we are now seeking state aid approval to abolish the limit altogether. Secondly, the community investment tax credit will take effect from this month, providing £25 million to support every £100 million of private sector investment. Clause 56 and schedules 16 and 17 set out the details.

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We also believe that there is no necessary trade-off between economic growth and environmental protection. The challenge for us all is to achieve higher growth while enhancing the environment. It is increasingly recognised that sustainable development is an opportunity for British companies. Investing now in productive energy- saving technologies and techniques is important for competitiveness in this expanding global market.

We are taking further steps in the Bill to exempt from the climate change levy all electricity produced by combined heat and power. We will also exempt from the levy electricity generated by coal mine methane, which combines the social benefit of employment in mining communities and the environmental benefit of efficient energy production. More generally, investment in energy-saving technologies will qualify for capital allowances at an enhanced rate of 100 per cent., strengthening our economy as we move towards our Kyoto targets.

On cleaner fuels, the Bill introduces a fuel duty incentive on sulphur-free fuel. We have already announced fuel duty cuts for the development of hydrogen, biogas and methanol in pilot projects. Last week, my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary invited further proposals for pilots that would help the development of cleaner fuels and which we would be prepared to support with fuel duty cuts and exemptions.

Incentives will also be introduced to encourage people to drive cleaner vehicles, with a licence fee reduction of £30 for the most efficient cars, £55 for the least polluting vans and £35 for the least polluting motor cycles. We have also announced our introduction of the distance- based road user charge for lorries, with offsetting cuts for the UK haulage industry to ensure that foreign lorry operators pay their fair share for using our roads. The details are set out in clause 134.

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