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Budget 2012 – good for Britain and Bristol

March 21, 2012

Today’s Budget confirms a tax cut for millions of people in two weeks time and looks forward to the biggest income tax cut in a generation in April 2013.   As a Liberal Democrat in the Coalition I am delighted that our policy of £10,000 tax free pay  is now within touching distance.

The government raised the personal allowance in April 2011 and over three years we will have taken over two million people out of the income tax net.  This helps all part time workers, most of whom are women.  And by April 2013 young people on the minimum wage will have all of their pay tax free.  About 24 million people who are still in the tax net will see their bills cut by over £500.  This allows people to keep more of their own money, leading to greater spending and a boost to local economies.

We’ve also increased and made more effective taxes on the very wealthy.  Anyone buying property worth more than £2 million will face 7% stamp duty – not a mansion tax but certainly a mansion duty.  People who have avoided stamp duty in the past by buying large houses via a company will now face a 15% charge to discourage avoidance.  And I’m really pleased that the Govt is setting in train a General Anti Abuse Rule – see my blog on 5th December, which called for such a GAAR.

The Budget also had some good news for Bristol.  You wouldn’t expect Wallace and Gromit to feature in a budget.  But the Chancellor mentioned them in his speech as he is proposing an extension of film tax credits to made for tv films.  I met with Aardman Animations a few months ago to discuss the competitive pressures they were facing from other countries tax regimes.  As chair of the Lib Dems’ Treasury committee I made their case to ministerial colleagues.  The lobbying has paid off.  The govt will also be giving tax favoured status to Britain’s video games industry.  Bristol’s digital economy will also benefit from £12million funding to become a broadband “super connected city.”  This will give Bristol ultra-fast broadband (80-100 megabits per second) and also high speed wireless connectivity in key areas.

I made the Liberal Democrats’ official budget response speech in the Commons.  I’ve pasted the Hansard record, complete with interventions, below:


2.38 pm

Stephen Williams (Bristol West) (LD):All Budgets are packages, and all of them are balancing acts, and that is particularly true of a Budget presented by a Chancellor in a coalition Government. It is fairly clear for all to see, in bold primary colours, which are the yellow and which are the blue packages in this particular Budget. What is also clear is the string that binds together this Budget and this coalition Government: reducing our deficit from the position that we inherited, where £1 in every four was being borrowed; restoring our economy to balanced and sustainable growth; restoring and maintaining confidence in the international markets; and bringing about a fair tax system that rewards work and enterprise, and taxes wealth. Labour borrowed us all into the mess that we inherited in 2010, but under the coalition Government, Britain will earn its way back to prosperity.

As Liberal Democrats in the coalition, we wanted three tax changes in this Budget. First, we wanted a fair income tax system that would lift the low-paid out of tax and bring about a tax break for middle earners. Secondly, we wanted a system that would tax accumulated and unearned wealth fairly and effectively. Thirdly, we wanted action to tackle the abuse of the tax system that was taking place through aggressive tax avoidance schemes. All three of those objectives have been met by the Chancellor’s Budget.

Two years ago, we were all about to go out on to the streets to start the general election campaign. The Liberal Democrats’ No. 1 priority at the time was to achieve in this Parliament tax-free pay for all our fellow citizens earning less than £10,000. That objective is in the coalition agreement, and significant progress has already been made towards achieving it.

Dame Joan Ruddock:The hon. Gentleman is part of a Government who have voted to reduce the income of the average family with children by £530 from the beginning of next month. There is no measure in the Budget that will make up for that, and frankly, people in my constituency will see it as an insult to their intelligence.

Stephen Williams:The right hon. Lady will hear as I make progress through my speech that working families up and down the country, with or without children, will benefit significantly from the tax changes that the Government are making.

In the current tax year, we have raised the allowance from £6,475 to £7,475, lifting 800,000 people out of the income tax net altogether and providing a £200 tax cut for every basic rate taxpayer.

Stewart Hosie (Dundee East) (SNP):Before the hon. Gentleman continues with his party political broadcast, may I ask him to look at his own Government’s Budget? Every single quintile will still be worse off after the Budget. It is in the Red Book. He is wrong.

Stephen Williams:These are extraordinarily difficult times, and none of us has ever shied away from the fact that we are in a tight fiscal squeeze or that there is a tight squeeze on family budgets. That is why it is important that we put more of people’s own money back into their pockets through the tax changes that we are introducing.

When the next tax year starts in two weeks’ time, the personal allowance will rise again, to £8,105, lifting 1.1 million people out of taxation altogether and providing a tax cut of £330. Also in two weeks’ time, as well as those tax changes, the largest pension increase for a century will have been delivered by this coalition Government.

Teresa Pearce (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab):Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Stephen Williams:I cannot give way any more.

In this Budget, our Liberal Democrat priority was to move further and faster towards our goal of £10,000 tax-free pay. Liberal Democrats in the coalition Government are therefore delighted by the confirmation that the rise in the personal allowance of £1,100 will proceed in April 2013. It is the largest rise in the personal allowance for 30 years—that is, in all our working lifetimes. In April 2013, people will be able to earn £9,205 without paying tax, which will lift a further 840,000 people out of tax. Over three years, 2 million British people will have been raised out of income tax. That will help everyone who works part time, the majority of whom are women. The measures will lift young people on the minimum wage out of income tax altogether, and 24 million basic rate taxpayers will be better off to the tune of £546. These changes will allow people to keep more of their own money. They will inject spending power into local economies and they will make work pay.

As the front page of the Liberal Democrat manifesto promised, we have delivered more than £500 into the pockets and purses of Britain as a result of this Budget. It will have been obvious from the fact that my colleagues were waving their Order Papers earlier that we are extremely pleased to have achieved that. Let us contrast it with the last Budget under the leadership of the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), when Labour MPs waved their Order Papers following the abolition of the 10p tax rate. There could not be a greater contrast between the priorities of this coalition Government and those of the last Labour Government.

Charlie Elphicke:Does my hon. Friend agree that this Budget shows how effective partnership working can be in the coalition? Has he seen chart B.1 in the Red Book, which shows that those in the top decile—that is, the most well off—will experience the greatest reduction in income? They are being made to pay, despite Labour’s 1970s class war rhetoric.

Stephen Williams:I shall come to how the Budget will affect the most well off in society shortly.

Our second objective in the Budget was to rebalance the tax system, so that taxes would fall lightly on work and enterprise and more heavily and effectively on wealth. Already, this coalition Government have raised capital gains tax from the historically low rates that we inherited from the last Labour Government, and there have been no changes to inheritance tax. Some people might have wanted to drop the 50p tax rate altogether. However, we all know that 2012 is going be a difficult year for families up and down the country, and Liberal Democrats have been clear that now would not have been the right time to reduce the top rate of tax. I am pleased that the Chancellor has agreed with our position.

By April 2013, our top rate of tax will be in line with that of our competitor states in the European Union and the United States of America, but we will also have effective taxes on wealth in place by then. Stamp duty will be 7% on house sales of more than £2 million. We might not have got a mansion tax in this Budget, but we have certainly got a mansion duty. That mansion duty alone—just that one measure—will raise three times the amount lost through the lowering of the 50p tax rate by 5p.

The third objective that we set in this Budget was to take action on tax avoidance, and I am therefore pleased by the introduction of a 15% charge on personal property that is under corporate ownership. I am pleased that tycoons will have the reliefs that they claim restricted to 25% of their income, and I am particularly pleased that the general anti-avoidance rule for which I have argued for so long is to be introduced by this Government. I see that rule as a kind of electric fence across the tax system: a clear warning to every taxpayer that this is a line that they must not cross.

The Budget makes further changes to rebalance the economy, to restore green growth to the economy and to build on Britain’s strengths in engineering and the creative industries. In 2012, we shall see the launch of the green deal, which was spearheaded by my right hon. Friend the Member for Eastleigh (Chris Huhne), when he was Secretary of State, and which is now being taken forward by the Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr Davey). Last weekend, I witnessed the demonstration projects that are already taking place in my constituency under the Bristol Green Doors initiative, which are showing what every householder can do to take advantage of the green deal. Also in 2012, the green investment bank will be making its first investments.

The creative industries are incredibly important to our national economy, and I was pleased that video games were given recognition in the Budget. As a Bristol and west country MP, I was particularly pleased to see the extension of film tax credits to the television industry. The Chancellor mentioned Wallace and Gromit. Despite Wallace’s Lancashire accent, their home is of course Bristol. The films are made in my constituency by Aardman Animations, Europe’s largest animation company. It is incredibly important to the economy of Bristol and is a great British brand that sells millions of pounds of exports all over the world.

Mr John Denham (Southampton, Itchen) (Lab):Will the hon. Gentleman tell me what the difference is between the tax breaks introduced by the Chancellor in today’s Budget and the tax breaks introduced by Labour that the same Chancellor scrapped in 2010?

Stephen Williams:The difference, as I understand it, is that these tax breaks are going to be focused on high-end television production, so that we no longer find ourselves in a situation in which “Coronation Street” can claim tax credits, as it did under the last Government. I do not think that there will ever be a risk of “Coronation Street” moving to China, but there was a serious risk that Britain would lose its animation industry to the rest of the world. These measures are right if we are to maintain British talent and innovation in this country, but it is also culturally right that children should watch programmes that have been made with the right regional accents and made around Great Britain.

For Liberal Democrats in this coalition, the headline of this Budget is that we have delivered a tax cut for millions of Britons and effective taxes on the wealth of millionaires. It is a Budget that maintains the confidence that Britain is back on track. It is a Budget that delivers the biggest tax break in a generation for millions of hard-working families. As a Liberal Democrat in this coalition, I am proud of the role my party has played in making Britain a fairer country.

2.50 pm

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    March 21, 2012 8:18 pm

    Although not a Lib/Dem, I have also advocated the increase in the personal allowance for years. Athough it has not been fashionable to say so, those who choose to work must be better off than those who choose not too. As with scrapping the additional allowance for pensioners, it may well simplify the tax system, but looks like another disincentive to save for ones old age. Has anything been done to encourage saving and personal responsibility for retirement, and any change to Pension Credit?

    • rosemary permalink
      March 22, 2012 8:44 am

      This puts you in the good company of Lord Tebbit, Paul, and of many others who have long advocated taking poor working people out of income tax altogether.

      The great Liberal Chancellor Mr Gladstone, from whom Stephen is descended politically, and the great Conservative PM Disraeli, from whom the PM is descended politically, did this every year as a matter of course. Disraeli went the furthest to protect the working class: under him the working man paid no tax at all – unless he kept a carriage or drank strong drink. Oh, and just for the first half of his ministry, dogs were still taxed.

      Neither of these two enlightened Victorians could possibly have conceived of a post industrial age when British working people would actually be punished for saving, and foreigners rewarded for arriving.

      • rosemary permalink
        March 22, 2012 10:56 am

        Winston Churchill, another coalition politician and famous liberal conservative statesman, laid down that people’s hard-earned, self-denying savings, from income that had already been taxed at the time it was earned, would not be taxed all over again in old age.

  2. robertjessetelford permalink
    March 21, 2012 8:58 pm

    Close to being a minister yet, Stephen?

  3. Parmenion permalink
    March 21, 2012 9:21 pm

    What you fail to realise Stephen, is that the vast majority of people in this country can’t afford a luxury villa and can’t afford to go away on holiday. The small pleasures they get from life are smoking and the odd night down their local. Alas, another budget to increase their misery even more. Shame on you all.

  4. March 22, 2012 2:00 pm

    Paul – I think the freezing of the age related tax threshold at £10,500 is fair. All pensioners will benefit from a rise in the state pension in April by £5.30 a week – the biggest cash rise in history. The retirement benefits of free bus travel, winter fuel, cold weather and free tv licences have all been retained. People of working age are all having to make some contribution to deficit reduction. The tax allowance will only be frozen until the personal allowance catches up with it. The poorest pensioners – those with only the state pension and perhaps a small occupational one, will be completely unaffected as their incomes are below £10,500.

    By 2015 we will have a reformed and simpler tax allowance system, a reformed welfare system with universal credit and also, as confirmed yesterday, my colleague Steve Webb has the green light to proceed with plans for a standard “citizen’s pension”.

  5. Paul Bemmy Down permalink
    March 23, 2012 4:54 pm

    Hi Stephen. How could the Chancellor make such a —– up of this. Politically inept, and a gift to the opposition. I can understand some of the arguments, and i’m in the group you describe, although I don’t think of myself as poor, but it’s the message it sends out about being responsible for your own retirement. The difference between the guaranteed pension (pension credit) and the amount before you pay tax is about three and a half thousand, so surely one has to consider whether saving for anything other than a “decent” pension is worthwhile. With so many people, especially the young, finding it difficult to make ends meet, my guess is that many won’t bother!

    • rosemary permalink
      March 23, 2012 7:51 pm

      “The tax allowance will only be frozen until the personal allowance catches up with it.”

      In other words everyone else is now to be included in the more generous income tax arrangements hitherto extended to pensioners.

      This is the salient point which was lost in the presentation.

      If Liberal Democrats had concentrated on uniting with Conservatives to explain the whole of the budget to the public, instead of trying to dissociate themselves from some bits of it and take sole credit for other bits, the public might not have been so easily misled by the media.

  6. David permalink
    March 23, 2012 5:52 pm

    Hello Stephen

    Have you made any representations to the Government about the changes to Working Tax Credit?

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