HC Deb 12 June 1997 vol 295 cc1268-71
7. Mr. Keith Simpson

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer if he will list the companies that will be liable for the windfall tax. [1591]

10. Mr. Nicholls

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer what time span he will use to assess the excess profits on which he plans to levy a windfall tax. [1595]

17. Mr. Swayne

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer over what time scale he will calculate the excess profits for the windfall tax. [1602]

20. Mr. Lansley

To ask the Chancellor of the Exchequer on what measure of profits he will base his windfall tax. [1605]

Mr. Gordon Brown

I will announce details of the windfall levy in the forthcoming Budget.

Mr. Simpson

I am obliged to the Chancellor for that highly detailed answer.

Opposition Members would like some detailed information. May I return the Chancellor to the question of the windfall tax? Will he please confirm—yes or no—that it will be a one-off payment made in one year, and made only once?

Mr. Brown


Mr. Nicholls

Despite what the Chancellor has said about the details being released in the Budget, he is surely aware that the Prime Minister admitted in the House yesterday that he knew which companies would be liable for the windfall tax. Bearing that in mind, will the Chancellor now say whether British Telecom is included? If it is included, will the right hon. Gentleman say in what years—if any—he regards British Telecom as having made an unfair and excessive profit as a return on capital?

Mr. Brown

The hon. Gentleman ought to be patient and wait until the Budget statement. I should remind him that, when the Conservatives introduced their windfall levy on the banks, they did not even announce the names of the companies in the Budget statement. Of course, the information will become available at the time of the Budget.

The hon. Gentleman asks about excess profits. The report of the Public Accounts Committee, which appeared in March just before the general election and was signed by many Conservative Members, states: We note that in the five years after privatisation the water companies made profits totalling £7.4 billion, and the regional electricity companies profits of £8.7 billion, and that in both cases the profits were in excess of the level that the respective Directors General had judged it reasonable to allow for in the future. That report to the House was signed by hon. Members in all parts of the House.

Mr. Swayne

Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House how he intends to raise a windfall tax from owners of capital who have passed their ownership to subsequent shareholders since the industries were privatised?

Mr. Brown

Unlike the Conservatives' windfall tax on the banks, we have made our determination to have the windfall levy known, not just for one or two years but over the past five years. People have been aware over that time of our intention to legislate in this way. Given what happened at the general election, I should have thought that Conservative Members would be better spending their time advancing the cause of the young and the long-term unemployed who will benefit from the measure than defending the excesses of the privatised utilities.

Mr. Lansley

As the Chancellor is proposing a one-off levy, how can he fund a continuing public expenditure requirement on welfare-to-work? His sums simply do not add up.

Mr. Brown

The one-off levy is to raise money for the Parliament; I made that clear before and during the general election campaign and I make it clear again. I know that the Conservative party is obsessively interested in the needs of the privatised utilities, but it is about time that Conservatives got interested in the needs of the young unemployed.

Mr. Sheldon

Is my right hon. Friend aware that, when he quoted from the report of the Public Accounts Committee, he could have gone much further? In a series of reports since 1983, the Committee has shown that each of the utilities was sold at a price which was less than could or should have been obtained. Is he further aware that these matters can be looked at clearly in the reports of the PAC and that they show that the windfall tax is entirely due to the previous Government's actions?

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend, who has been Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee for a long time. The report of March 1997, which deserves wide publicity, stated: the replacement values of the assets of the water and sewerage companies are now estimated to be £138 billion, … sale proceeds were … £3.6 billion … we and our predecessors expressed concern that the shares in the companies have been underpriced. If Conservative Members are not interested in the reports of the Public Accounts Committee, which are signed by Conservative Members, perhaps we should also look at the report of the Select Committee on Trade and Industry, which was published only a few days before the PAC report and refers to the dramatic profit increases of privatised utilities. It is about time the Conservative party came to terms with the fact that excess profits were made which were not justifiable, and that action in the public interest should now be taken.

Ms Hewitt

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, as there are now 1 million fewer jobs than when the Leader of the Opposition first became Prime Minister, it is essential to introduce a windfall profits tax and use the revenue to help move 250,000 young people off welfare and into work?

Mr. Brown

As a result of Labour's windfall levy proposals, there are fewer jobs in the House for Conservative Members as well. I direct the House's attention to this morning's report which states that half a million of our young and long-term unemployed are without the basic training skills necessary for them to get jobs. It is a scandal that, over the past 18 years, when the Conservative party could have taken action, it failed to do so. This Government will take action to help both the young and the long-term unemployed.

Mrs. Fyfe

Does my right hon. Friend agree that, instead of the Opposition display of heart bleeding for the privatisation fat cats, it would be better to ask my right hon. Friend to list the constituencies in which young people who have long been out of work will benefit? Mine is one such constituency in which people are looking forward to the results of this action.

Mr. Brown

I agree entirely. In some constituencies, 30 per cent. of working-age households or families have no one earning a wage. They include young people, the long-term unemployed and single-parent families. It is again a scandal that, on average in Britain, 20 per cent. of working-age families have no one in work. That situation should not be sustained on social or moral grounds, and it is bad for the economy. We are determined to take the action that the Conservatives have failed to take over the past 18 years.

Mr. MacShane

I invite my right hon. Friend to ignore the bleatings of those on the Conservative Benches, the friends of the fat cats, and pay attention to Yorkshire. Is he aware of the anger there at the profits made by those privatised monopolies? People want that tax to be used to create jobs, and there will be considerable anger if there is any diminution of the well-flagged intention of the Labour party, now in government, to use the tax fairly and justly.

Mr. Brown

I am grateful to my hon. Friend. When the country finds out that some of these water companies, despite six or seven years of privatisation and record profits, have paid not a penny in mainstream corporation tax, it will be annoyed. Ordinary men and women are paying 23p or 40p in the pound when many water companies have paid absolutely nothing. That is another reason why the action that we have had to take to help to tackle the problem of unemployment, because of the failure of the Conservative party, is both necessary and urgent.

Mr. William Ross

Given that the programme on which the Chancellor is going to expend this money is unlikely to be completed in the time scale that the windfall taxation is available, how does he intend to fund that expenditure in future years?

Mr. Brown

The one-off levy will be raised in the Budget and for a Parliament. The action that we take over the next few years will bring down unemployment, save on social security costs, and enable us to reduce social security bills so that we can meet our long-term objective, which is to transfer resources from social security and welfare to education and training. I want every young person to have the chance of proper training and education after the age of 16, so that we can have a nation at work, instead of many thousands of people on the dole.