HC Deb 24 June 1999 vol 333 cc1279-80
7. Mr. John Bercow (Buckingham)

If he will make a statement on the level of business taxation. [87063]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mrs. Barbara Roche)

The Government keep the level of business taxation under constant review.

Mr. Bercow

I acknowledge the hon. Lady's woefully inadequate reply. Can she tell the House whether it was through amnesia caused by stress that she failed to mention the proposed climate tax, the company car tax, the fuel tax, the vehicle excise tax, the windfall tax, the abolition of the tax credit on dividends and the huge hike in national insurance contributions under this Government? What about the crucial fact, emphasised by Sir Clive Thompson, the president of the Confederation of British Industry, that the cumulative effect of this Government's imposts will be to raise business taxes by £20 billion in the lifetime of this Parliament? Does she recognise that, if the Government continue at their present rate of confiscation, they will soon make Dick Turpin look like a charitable donor?

Mrs. Roche

I make some allowances for the hon. Gentleman because his mind is obviously distracted now that he has been elevated to yet another Front-Bench team. He does seem to be suffering; he has forgotten that the Labour Government have cut the main rate of corporation tax. We now have the best possible regime for businesses in this country—the small firms rate of corporation tax and the Small Business Service. I also remind him that, under the previous Tory Government, a business went bust every three minutes. That is why we have been able to get employment figures up; that is why we have been able to work with businesses in the way that we have. It struck me as somewhat odd that the hon. Gentleman did not mention that, in his very own constituency, there has been a drop in unemployment of 32 per cent. That came about because of our management of the economy.

Ms Joan Ryan (Enfield, North)

Those in businesses in my constituency and across north London generally tell me and their representative groups, such as the North London chamber of commerce and the North London manufacturing action group—of which my hon. Friend will be aware through her own constituency work—that they are very happy with the positive approach that the Government have taken on business taxation and on other policies to support business, in order to help business to grow and hence to create jobs. Will my hon. Friend comment on what I have been told recently by business people? The main problem—as they see it—is the way the Opposition continually talk down our economy and undermine the efforts made by our businesses and their success.

Mrs. Roche

My hon. Friend is right. I know from my own experience—because my hon. Friend and I have the great privilege of representing constituencies in north London—the extensive contact that she maintains with the businesses in her constituency. The greatest threat to business in our country is the way in which the Opposition woefully ignore the business organisations in our constituencies and talk them down. The Opposition talk down our economy; they are clearly not acting in the national interest.

Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham)

Following consultations that took place week between the Inland Revenue and representatives of hundreds of thousands of service workers in information technology, offshore oil and other knowledge-intensive industries, is the Financial Secretary aware of the considerable dissatisfaction in those industries, and of the fact that the Revenue simply does not understand how those flexible, freelance industries operate? Will she agree to issue a consultative paper, setting out in detail how the regulations will apply, so that the Government's legitimate concern to stop tax avoidance does not drive those crucial industries off shore or destroy them?

Mrs. Roche

I notice that the hon. Gentleman mentioned the legitimate concerns of Government. That is why my hon. Friend the Paymaster General is consulting so widely; that is why we shall listen to the representations that businesses make. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will agree that it is most important that there be a level playing field, and that the people who are legitimately required to pay tax pay it. Of course, there is no question on our part of trying to get at legitimate businesses. We are trying to achieve a balance in this matter and that is what we shall do.