By Tim Montgomerie
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Fifteen Conservative MPs have written to The Telegraph this morning, urging the Tory leadership to introduce a tax allowance for married couples. They write:
"The Coalition Agreement commits the Government to bring forward “budget resolutions to introduce transferable tax allowances for married couples,” while allowing the Liberal Democrats to abstain on them. We are now past the half way point of this Parliament and, as Conservative MPs, we are calling on the Prime Minister to ensure that these budget resolutions are put before Parliament as part of the Finance Bill 2013.
Recent research in America has shown that college graduates who become single parents are likely to be less well off financially than those who only complete secondary education, but go on to marry.
We believe that these proposals are a vital weapon in combating child poverty.
The Prime Minister has always kept the promises made in the Coalition Agreement, whether on pensioners’ benefits, such as free bus travel, or on aid spending. We call on him to commit himself to putting these budget resolutions on transferable tax allowances for married couples before Parliament next year."
Analysis by the charity Care and the Centre for Social Justice has shown that a transferable tax allowance is more pro-poor than the Coalition's flagship tax policy of raising the starting threshold for paying income tax. The policy has three additional benefits - it rewards the marriage commitment; it honours a manifesto promise; it brings us into line with nearly every other developed country in the world, where family breakdown rates are less serious.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Ben Gummer MP introduced his idea of a tax statement for every Briton in the Commons yesterday. You can read his full remarks here but it was largely a recap of what ConservativeHome has already reported.
But Ben did add one further and very interesting new thought:
"I further suggest that the Office for Budget Responsibility be required to assess the major parties’ manifestos at election time, at the request of those parties, in order that it may produce dummy tax statements so that voters can see the difference that their vote might make. A similar role is performed by the Congressional Budget Office in the United States, and there is no reason why it cannot be so here. In so doing, we may throw a little light on what is, for most people, the most confusing and murky period in the electoral cycle."
That sounds like a very good idea to me. Voters at the next election would benefit if all of the parties' tax and spending plans had been independently verified. If Labour chooses not to submit their plans to the OBR the floating voter will make the obvious conclusion: They are hiding something.
By Tim Montgomerie
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It's a simple idea - inspired by something proposed in the USA - but it's one that has apparently caught the imagination of George Osborne. Ben Gummer, Conservative MP for Ipswich, is proposing that every taxpayer in the country should received a statement explaining (a) what taxes they pay and (b) how those taxes are spent. These tax statements could be a powerful way of increasing awareness of the tax burden and therefore they could create further downward pressure on the tax burden. Mr Gummer thinks the statements would have three main benefits:
Pasted below is an example of the kind of statement a taxpayer earning £26,000 might receive:
It might be easier to read within this PDF.
By Tim Montgomerie
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Earlier this week John Baron MP called a debate in Westminster Hall to question UK participation in IMF bailouts of the Eurozone. Pasted below are extracts from what he, Mark Hoban MP and Mark Field MP said.
Endless bailouts and EU summits are not addressing the Eurozone's underlying uncompetitiveness: "Will additional IMF funding work? That will simply reinforce existing eurozone policy, which is itself fundamentally flawed. The existing policy simply does not address the core causes of the crisis, which are a lack of competitiveness and Governments spending too much. Debt is the problem, as I have said, not demand. We have had 14 or perhaps even 15 gatherings, conferences and summits to save the euro, but each has failed to address the core reason for the problem, which is a fundamental lack of competitiveness."
IMF packages usually rely on devaluation nut that option is not available inside the Eurozone: "Another reason why this policy will fail is that it fundamentally ignores the importance of devaluation to recovering economies. Usually, there are three elements in an IMF package: reduced spending, increased revenue and the ability to allow the currency to devalue. That last bit is important because a currency that devalues helps to take the strain off the economy. If an economy is deemed to be, say, 25% uncompetitive compared with its neighbours, allowing its currency to depreciate to about the same extent will go a long way towards taking the strain. If we cut off that option, that 25% gain in competitiveness can only really be brought about by cuts to public services, salaries and pension funds. That is simply not an option, and for that reason that makes those austerity packages so much worse."
The Eurozone, not the IMF should address its problems: "I question why the IMF is getting involved in these bail-outs. The eurozone is a currency union. If a state within the United States got into trouble, the IMF would not be expected to ride to the rescue. The same should be true of the eurozone. I contend that Greece is not economically sovereign; it has no central bank; it cannot set interest rates; it has no currency; and it cannot devalue. I would go so far as to question whether Greece is even politically sovereign. At least in the United States, the people can elect the governor of individual states. That is not happening in Greece and Italy."
The Bundesbank should use its reserves to save the Eurozone: "What makes the situation even worse is that the eurozone has resources that could do much more to help the situation. For example, the Bundesbank has reserves of £180 billion, £130 billion of which is in gold, and gold is going up in price. That is in stark contrast to our country and the action of the previous Government, who sold gold at near the bottom of the market."
The UK government is showing no leadership: "The Government seem to have fallen in behind the French and Germans in this cry that somehow we must save the euro. I suggest to the Minister that that is economic clap-trap. Binding divergent economies into a single currency without full fiscal union was, and remains, a massive mistake. Similar thinking warned us of the perils of exiting the exchange rate mechanism, yet look what happened then: almost to the day that we exited the ERM, our recovery started and it was a very strong recovery."
By Joseph Willits
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In a statement to the Commons yesterday, immediately after PMQs, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander talked of a "generous offer" being made by the Government to reform public service pensions. Alexander said he had "decided to revise the government's offer after negotiations with the TUC, since early October, and with recommendations from the Secretaries of State for Education and Health.
Alexander described the offer as "conditional upon reaching agreement" but believed it "should be more than sufficient to allow agreement to be reached with the unions". It was Alexander's hope, he said that "on the basis of this offer, the Trade Unions will devote their energy to reaching agreement not on unnecessary and damaging strike action".
Alexander announced an increase to the cost ceiling of pensions:
"Future schemes will now be based on a pension to the value of 1/60th of average salary, accruing for each year worked. That is an 8% increase on the previous offer ... A teacher with a lifetime in public service with a salary at retirement of £37,800 would receive £25,200 each year under these proposals, rather than the £19,100 they would currently earn in the final salary Teachers' Pension Scheme. A nurse with a lifetime in public service and a salary at retirement of £34,200 would receive £22,800 of pension each year if these reforms were introduced, whereas under the current 1995 NHS Pension Scheme arrangements they would only get £17,300."
By Matthew Barrett
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Unfortunately Tuesday's main business, the reading (and passing) of the Finance (No. 3) Bill, was more like a left-wing meeting than a proper debate. Labour MPs proposed various ways of taxing banks, including a "Robin Hood Tax" (a tax on financial transactions), and attacked the Coalition's bank levy as too weak.
Highlights, not verbatim.
Ed Balls and George Osborne clashed for the first time as Chancellor and Shadow Chancellor.
Mr Balls began by saying it was a privilege to be holding his portfolio at a time of such economic importance. He joked that he was glad he didn't have a breakfast meeting this morning or he would have missed the Chancellor's mini-budget, delivered at 7.32am to the Today programme. He then said snow was not a good excuse for poor growth figures given that other nations did grow despite experiencing extreme weather.
Mr Osborne welcomed Mr Balls to the despatch box and noted he was the second choice Shadow Chancellor of a man who was Labour MPs' second choice as Labour leader. He described Ed Balls as the architect of the deepest recession, the biggest budget deficit and the largest housing crash.
In his second question Ed Balls asked the Chancellor why he didn't have a Plan B given that his Plan A was producing faltering growth and consumer confidence.
Osborne said he wouldn't be taking advice from the man who, when City Minister, knighted Fred Goodwin and, as a Labour leadership candidate, became a deficit denier. Ed Balls, he said, didn't even have a Plan A for the deficit.
Mr Osborne was then helped by a series of Tory backbenchers who asked him to comment on Ed Balls' past performance. What was worst, David Tredinick asked, Mr Balls' gold mis-selling, the budget deficit or his bank regulatory system? Mr Osborne said it was hard to choose but the tripartite system of financial regulation was pretty catastrophic.
4pm: Video update:
Justine Greening, Economic Secretary to the Treasury, used an SNP debate on fuel duty to spell out the Coalition's related thinking yesterday:
The level of deficit and debt that we have been left as a country costs the British taxpayer £120 million every single day: "To put that in the context of a 1p a litre rise in fuel duty, which is worth £500 million, the British taxpayer will pay as much in debt interest over the course of four or five days as they will pay in fuel duty, if fuel duty is subject to a 1p a litre rise. That demonstrates two things, the first of which is the importance of tackling the deficit. Clearly, this country cannot continue to pay this expense of £120 million a day and it has to be tackled, because we are spending more on servicing our debt than on transport. The challenge for this country is that if we do not get this £500 million of real money from fuel duty, it has to come from somewhere else. The Government have made it clear that they want to try to protect key spending, for example, on the NHS-the Labour party did not want to do that-and schools."
Fuel duty's disproportionate impact on rural voters: "The Government understand the challenges faced by people in rural areas in relation to fuel costs, which those of us in city and urban areas perhaps do not face. I know that those people cannot easily shop around nearby petrol stations to get the best deal in the way that other people can. I understand the arguments about the lack of public transport as an alternative and that the car is often the most realistic mode of transport. That is precisely way we are working towards getting a derogation so that we can get on with putting in place pilots to look at how a rural fuel rebate would work."
The Fair Fuel Stabiliser: "In opposition and in government, we have always recognised the impact on motorists of the unstable oil price, which feeds through to pump prices. In setting up a stabiliser, we need to ensure that it works as intended, so the first step was to ask the Office for Budget Responsibility to look at how oil prices feed into the economy and affect public finances. We have commissioned that work, as the hon. Lady will know, and now need to take on board its outcomes before looking at how it feeds into policy making. It would not be right to pre-empt the Budget."
In terms of bringing relief to motorists, George Osborne's announcement, this morning, of an £800m extra tax on banks gives him some more wiggle room for next month's budget.
In a speech last week Sajid Javid, Conservative MP for Bromsgrove, took on the popular notion that banks were entirely responsible for the financial crash. In his speech, delivered without notes, and republished in full below, he also sets out what should happen next to banking structure and regulation.
"I thank the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher) for securing this debate, which is a valuable one to be having in the House. I draw the attention of hon. Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interest, which is a legacy of my spending 18 years in the banking industry. Before Labour Members get a bit too excited by that revelation, as many have unfortunately done in the past, I should say that for the past three or four years I felt that the profession of banker was possibly the worst to have in the eyes of the public, but that was before I became a Member of this illustrious House.
The motion states that we want to
“prevent a recurrence of the financial crash”.
Obviously we are all united on that, but it is important that we examine the causes of the crash, which we could debate for a long time and go round in circles. I am sure that many rational people will disagree on the responsibilities of banks and bankers. I may have misunderstood the motion, but it seems to suggest that banks are entirely responsible for the financial crash. That is wrong and it does not do justice to Members of this House or to our constituents in preventing something like this from happening again.
In his statement to the Commons on the Irish bailout George Osborne made it clear that Britain had been at the heart of the negotiations with Ireland about the conditionality for the facility agreed for it. He said there should be no requirement for Dublin to change its corporation tax regime.
Responding to the Shadow Chancellor, Alan Johnson, who implied that Eire's deficit reduction plan was an explanation for its difficulties, the Chancellor said that no international actor who had been part of the negotiations over the bailout had argued that Dublin needed to moderate its fiscal adjustment.
Responding to Andrew Tyrie, Mr Osborne said he planned to use the December EU summit to leave the general bailout facility.
Mr Osborne dodged a question from Mr Redwood when he sought reassurance that Britain would not be part of a bailout of other €urozone nations. The Chancellor instead explained why he had specifically agreed to support Ireland.
David Blunkett asked why the government could not have added £100m to the £7bn facility so that the last government's loan to Sheffield Forgemasters could have been restored? Mr Osborne said that this help for Ireland will prevent damage to the UK economy, including Sheffield's economy.
Alan Beith said that constituents were angry about bailing out British banks. They will be angrier still at bailing out foreign banks.
Douglas Carswell asked the Chancellor to confirm that while Britain was outside of the €urozone it was part of an effective Debt Zone. The Chancellor replied that he had always opposed the €uro but he needed to deal with the world as it is. Not how he'd like it to be.
Responding to Labour's Gisela Stuart Mr Osborne agreed that adjustment would be harder for Ireland because the country would not have currency flexibility.
The Chancellor told Peter Bone that leaving the €uro had not been part of the bailout negotiations.
The Treasury Questions exchange, as recorded in Hansard.
Alan Johnson, the new Shadow Chancellor: "Will the timing of the spending cuts that are to be announced next week be exactly as laid out in June’s emergency Budget, and will the Chancellor confirm that the aim continues to be that the deficit will be eliminated by 2015?"
George Osborne: "First, I should welcome the right hon. Gentleman to his new role on behalf of all Government Members. I did the job for five years, and I hope that he does it for even longer than I did. The answer to his question is yes."
Alan Johnson: "Well, the reason I ask is that there was some speculation at the weekend, when the Energy Secretary suggested, in a rather unfortunate yachting analogy, that he would not be “lashed to the mast” with a particular set of spending numbers. That is important, because from my vast experience in this job I am absolutely clear about this: the Chancellor says that the deficit was wrong and that his emergency Budget measures were unavoidable, but I believe that it is the other way round. The deficit was unavoidable if we were to avoid financial meltdown, and his Budget proposals were entirely wrong—wrong because they would, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies, have two and a half times the adverse effect on the poorest as on the richest in our society, and wrong because he is seeking to cut public spending before there is any momentum for private sector spending in our economy."
Mr Osborne: "Quite frankly, being in opposition involves choices, just as being in government does. The right hon. Gentleman talks about the Budget; there is a simple choice before the House today, which is whether we proceed with a graduate tax. Lord Browne’s report says that such a tax would add £3 billion to the deficit and would not produce savings until 2041. That is a real choice on the deficit before us today. The right hon. Gentleman is the shadow Chancellor and opposes a graduate tax; is he going to assert his authority over Opposition tax policy?"
By Paul Goodman
Peter Hoskins has posted a brief account on the Spectator's Coffee House site about this morning's Treasury Select Committee appearance by George Osborne. The Chancellor promised to allow the committee to approve his proposed new appointments to the Office of Budget Responsibility - thereby giving them the power to veto his suggestions if they wish.
I left the Commons largely because I believed it was changing for the worse. So it's right to acknowledge that in some ways the place is getting better. The cross-party election of Select Committee Chairman has been a democratic revolution. MPs from previous Parliaments especially told me that they've found canvassing support from political opponents a liberating experience - as they line up with them as legislators to hold the Executive to account.
I wondered earlier this week here whether Labour MPs would use the Select Committee elections to make life difficult for David Cameron.
They didn't. Instead, they lined up behind the Conservative establishment candidates. Andrew Tyrie took the Treasury Select Committee; Richard Ottaway, Foreign Affairs (a big, big consolation prize, after his defeat in the 1922 Committee Chairmanship election); James Arbuthnot, Defence; Stephen Dorrell, Health; Tim Yeo, Climate Change. Anne McIntosh, who won the Environment Committee, leans towards the left of the Party.
I didn't, of course, see anyone cast a ballot paper. But unless Conservative MPs turned out en masse to vote against the Party's right - an unlikely course of action, given the '22 Executive results - Liberal and Labour support for less spiky candidates provides the only comprehensible explanation of the results.
It would be unfair to view the victors as patsies. Tyrie, in particular, has a track record of independent-mindedness. But ask yourself whether Cameron Towers would prefer the winners to, say, Patrick Mercer at Defence or Peter Bone at Health (let alone Nadine) or Philip Hollobone at Climate Change, and there's only one answer.
Bernard Jenkin and Chris Chope are both seen as men of the right. But Chope's used the Chamber to launch independent-minded assaults on establishment causes, and it's noticeable that he lost out in the tussle for the Public Administration Committee Chairmanship.
John Whittingdale at Culture and Greg Knight at Procedure, both No Turning Back Group stalwarts, are in unopposed. Graham Stuart won what should have been, even if it wasn't, a close-fought battle for the Education Committee.
It was Treasury questions yesterday.
Shadow Chancellor George Osborne poured scorn on the Budget growth forecasts:
"As the Chancellor knows, the growth forecasts that he gave us in the Budget last week, which predicted a return to boom levels of growth in just two years, and that the economy would stay at those boom levels, were greeted with near-universal derision, yet they were the fiction on which he constructed every other Budget forecast. When he gave those forecasts, did he know that the IMF was planning to contradict them flatly just an hour later?
Mr. Darling: Yes, of course I knew the IMF forecasts. The IMF takes a more pessimistic view, not just of our economy but of every economy across the world. However, we ensure that our forecasts are based on the information that we have. If hon. Members look at the IMF and its forecasting over the past three months, they will see that it has downrated its forecasting three times since last October, which demonstrates the uncertainty in the system. However, I believe that because of the action that we are taking, because of the fact that we have low interest rates, because inflation will be coming down this year, and because of the action that most other countries are taking to look after and support their economies, that will have an effect, which is why I remain confident that we will see growth return towards the end of this year.
Mr. Osborne: Frankly, I do not think the Chancellor is in any position to lecture anyone else about downgrading their forecasts after last week. Is not the truth this—that the dishonest Budget has completely unravelled in the space of just a week? We have seen the IMF produce those growth forecasts, which were wholly different from the ones given an hour earlier to the House of Commons. We have the CBI saying that there is no credible or rigorous plan to deal with the deficit. We have the Institute for Fiscal Studies pointing to the black hole, and yesterday a former member of the Cabinet, beside whom the Chancellor sat at the Cabinet table, said that his tax plans were a breach of a manifesto promise that is damaging not just to the Labour party, but to the economy. Today we had the Prime Minister getting a lecture in prudence while he was in Warsaw. We are used to Polish builders telling us to fix the roof when the sun is shining, but not the Polish Prime Minister as well.
Does not the collapse of the Budget in the past week and the damage to the Chancellor’s credibility make an almost unanswerable case for an independent office for Budget responsibility, so that we get independent forecasts on Budget day and the assumptions of the Budget are believed by the public?
On Friday the House of Commons had its second reading of the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Bill, brought in by Labour MP Malcolm Wicks (Croydon North).
Shadow Treasury Minister Mark Hoban spoke for the Conservatives. Here are some highlights from his speech:
"The hon. Gentleman asked whether we would support the Bill. He acknowledged that the Liberal Democrats were going to do so, and I see that the hon. Member for Twickenham (Dr. Cable) is a sponsor. I am pleased to say that we, too, will support it. It is very important, as it will modernise the legal framework of co-operatives and protect the interests of the members of co-operatives and industrial provident societies through the provisions that have been expanded on at great length.
We should not underestimate the vital contribution that co-operatives make to the economy. One in three of the population are members of at least one mutual, and among Members of Parliament that rises to the staggering proportion of seven in 10. That strikes me as a very high proportion and shows that it is not just on the Labour Benches that there is interest in, and membership of, the co-operative and mutual sector. I myself am a member of a credit union, the Portsmouth Savers credit union, and my wife is a member of the Co-operative Retail Society. The largest supermarket in the part of my constituency in which I live is run by the Co-op, as indeed are many of the convenience stores. Co-ops are sometimes characterised as being something of the north—I say that as someone who was born and brought up in Durham, and whose mother still remembers her dividend number—but the co-operative and mutual societies movement spreads across the whole country. Every community is touched in some way by its work.