HC Deb 11 April 2002 vol 383 cc142-4
7. Mr. David Amess (Southend, West)

If he will make a statement on changes in the burden of taxation since 1997. [44503]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Andrew Smith)

The figures for net taxes and social security contributions as a percentage of gross domestic product are set out in table B22 of the pre-Budget report.

Mr. Amess

After that hogwash, will the Minister confirm that the amount of tax raised each year is now £100 billion greater than it was when this rotten Government first came to power? Will he explain why the Government have broken their promise not to increase tax without reforming services, particularly the national health service? Finally, will he now admit the truth—that taxes are going up while, because of Government incompetence, public services are being driven down?

Mr. Smith

It is nice to see the hon. Gentleman approaching the issue with his characteristic objectivity and good humour.

I, of course, stand by the figures in the table to which I referred. The hon. Gentleman should recognise that we made the tough decisions. We sorted out the public finances; we invested more in public services; and we kept every promise that we had made on tax. The hon. Gentleman's party wrecked the public finances, cut public investment and broke all its promises.

Derek Twigg (Halton)

The burden of taxation is a key issue. Constituencies such as mine, which is one of the most deprived in the country, want that burden to be shifted from the poorest people. I hope the Minister and the Chancellor will do more next week to ensure that it is. My constituents also want the money raised in tax to be spent specifically on education, health and transport in deprived areas such as mine. I urge the Minister to ensure that that happens as quickly as possible.

Mr. Smith

I share my hon. Friend's concern—indeed, determination—to ensure that while everyone in the country benefits from our policies, those who need help most of all benefit the most. That is what is happening as a consequence of the record investment that we are already making in the NHS, and the increased investment in fighting crime and in transport. As a result of the Government's decisions on personal taxation and benefits, the poorest fifth of the population—the poorest fifth of families with children—are £1,700 a year better off. Of course we hope to build on that in the future.

Mrs. Angela Browning (Tiverton and Honiton)

One of the most damaging burdens of taxation that the Government have introduced applies to pension funds. That, compounded by the problems of the market and of annuity rates in particular, means that many people approaching retirement face it with grave misgivings.

Tomorrow the Government will have an opportunity to put matters right, when the Pensions Annuities (Amendment) Bill is before us. Will the Minister guarantee that neither his Front Benchers nor his Back Benchers will talk the Bill out, or dissemble in any way? That would deprive people who are very concerned about their income in retirement, for which they have saved. Will the Minister ensure that Labour Members support a Bill that is backed by the Opposition and by other Members on both sides of the House, so that pensioners can heave a sigh of relief in the knowledge that the Government will not penalise them any further?

Mr. Smith

Of course we are all concerned about the future of pensioner incomes, and it would be good if there could be a cross-party consensus. I look forward to hearing the hon. Lady and her hon. Friends support the Government's proposals for the pension credit, which will do an enormous amount to reward those with savings who were penalised under the Conservative party.

My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary has published a full consultation document on annuities. I shall read with interest what the hon. Lady says on the subject.

Mr. Tony McWalter (Hemel Hempstead)

My right hon. Friend will have read in this morning's newspapers that a multi-billionaire receives more from the Treasury than ever he pays. Will he ensure that after the Budget such people pay the appropriate amount of tax?

Mr. Smith

As a matter of long-established practice, we do not comment on the individual circumstances of taxpayers. I shall take the general thrust of my hon. Friend's question as a Budget representation and refer it to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor.

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe)

Has the Chief Secretary also seen the figures reported today, calculated by the United Kingdom's largest financial adviser, which show that British families now face a higher tax bill than those in France, Italy or Spain? Is the Chief Secretary proud of that?

Mr. Smith

The overall tax burden, which is what the question was about, is lower in this country than in France and Germany. Moreover, as a consequence of all the changes made by the Government, a typical family with children is £1,000 a year better off. Furthermore, the tax burden, which fell last year, is falling this year as well.