Protecting the UK from the worst impacts of the coronavirus pandemic
I spoke in the Report of the Finance Bill to make clear my thoughts around the importance of paying off our national debt, and to argue that it is right that corporation tax rates are increased for the largest and most profitable businesses when the financial health of the economy demands it.
Tax rates should change with the times and challenges we face.
Finance Bill - Monday 24 May 2021
"It is a pleasure to speak on Report of the Finance Bill. Over the past 14 months, the Government’s main concern has been to protect the UK from the worst impacts of the global pandemic. We have seen a comprehensive public health response to slow the spread of coronavirus, and more recently to deliver mass vaccinations on an unprecedented scale, but the Government have also delivered a comprehensive financial response to secure jobs and livelihoods, and to protect the economy. This response has been hugely successful and the most recent Office for Budget Responsibility forecast suggests that the UK economy will recover six months earlier than previously thought. However, essential though this financial response has been, it has cost the taxpayer £407 billion, the majority of which has been debt. This year, we have borrowed a staggering 17% of GDP.
As we emerge from the pandemic, it is imperative that we begin to plan how that debt will be repaid and the deficit reduced. One of the tools at our disposal is to raise levels of taxation, and it is right that any increases should fall on the broadest shoulders. While many small and medium-sized enterprises in my constituency have struggled this year, some of the UK’s biggest businesses have made significant profits. It is only large, often international, companies with profits of over a quarter of a million pounds a year that will be required to pay the highest rate of corporation tax, as stipulated by clause 6.
It is not only the UK that is reconsidering business taxation. Current global efforts to update corporation tax frameworks in response to modern challenges are ongoing, and we have seen reports today of those international negotiations and the positive steps that are being taken to address the current practice by some multinational companies of shifting profits to low-tax jurisdictions. I absolutely support the efforts to end that practice, but I oppose new clause 23, which would compel the Government to publish, within six months of enactment, a review of the impact on corporation taxation revenues of a global minimum rate. Since those matters are still subject to international negotiation, any assessments mandated by the new clause would be purely speculative and a complete waste of resources.
Taxation is not a penalty and should not be an ideology. It is a tool—a mechanism that we can use to ensure that the state can afford to pay for the infrastructure and services that citizens expect. Taxation levels must balance the requirements of those services with the rights of individuals and businesses to have as much agency as possible over their own financial resources. There is no absolute right or wrong level of taxation. Tax rates should change with the times and challenges we face.
The Opposition have spent the past year calling for more taxpayers’ money to be spent on supporting businesses, welfare and health, and they have often rightly framed that demand in moral terms, highlighting the impact of the pandemic on those who have been hardest hit. But all resources are limited, even the state’s. Just as public spending has a moral dimension, so does public debt. It is morally wrong to leave difficult decisions for future generations, rack up eye-watering interest payments for our children and grandchildren, and risk the security of our economy. That is why we must have a plan for reducing our debts. Increasing corporation tax for the largest businesses is an important part of that.
I said that taxation policy is a tool—a mechanism for raising money—but it can also be a catalyst for growth and investment. With the introduction of the super deduction and freeports, which will be discussed when we debate the next group of amendments, I am confident that, unamended, this Finance Bill will kick-start our recovery and help businesses across the country to build back better."