Finance Bill Debate

James Cleverly backs the Finance Bill and particularly welcomes efforts to relieve pressure on small and medium businesses and ensure that large international businesses pay their fair share of tax.

4.25 pm

James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con)
It gives me huge pleasure to follow such an assured and impassioned maiden speech by the new hon. Member for Liverpool, ​Walton (Dan Carden). I was born and brought up in south-east London, with a lot of family in Essex in the constituency I now represent, but my mother came originally from Sierra Leone, and the first part of the country that she set foot on when she arrived here in the early 1960s to set up a new life, and ultimately meet my father and have me, was the port of Liverpool. So the hon. Gentleman speaks of the liver birds alive in his stomach during his maiden speech, and my mother before she passed away recounted seeing those iconic buildings of the Royal Liver building, the Port of Liverpool building and the other one—

Dan Carden
The Cunard building.

James Cleverly
Yes; the three graces. Let me give the hon. Gentleman a piece of advice: never put lists in speeches, because everyone who does always forgets one of the elements of them.
The hon. Gentleman maintains that great Liverpudlian tradition of being a firebrand in the making, and I have no doubt that his contribution to this House will be significant even if I and my Conservative colleagues do not agree in every respect with the points he raises. I look forward, I hope for many years to come, to our crossing swords, linguistically at least, across this Chamber. I congratulate him on his maiden speech.
Turning to our Second Reading debate, Finance Bills are always important, and I will, with your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, start by speaking in more general, almost philosophical, terms, before coming on to address a number of specific clauses. Having read through the briefing notes for the Bill—because, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper) highlighted, it is in its entirety a bit of a weighty tome, and although I am pretty good at reading well into the small hours of the night, even I would be pushed to cover every single dot and comma of this gargantuan document—I am pleased to speak in support of the general tone of the things contained within it. Its main measures include the shift to reduce the tax burden on the majority of people, particularly those at the lower end of the income spectrum, and to reduce the tax burden for businesses to enable them to grow, recruit and employ, and to build the economy from a broad tax base. That goes back to one of my right hon. Friend’s points about reducing tax rates to stimulate economic activity both in the commercial sector and in people’s private lives, generating the financial fluidity that can then be harvested by Governments in order to invest in the public services that we value the most.
As Conservatives we should not be afraid of the concept of taxing and spending. There, I have said it out loud, and it was not even that painful. We have committed and are continuing to commit to increasing expenditure on the key public services on which we all rely. I spoke about my mother earlier, and she spent her entire professional life in the national health service as a nurse and then a midwife. We agree across the House that the NHS both deserves and demands increased Government investment, but the question is not just about how we spend, but about how we raise the money to invest. The rebalancing, over time, of the route taken by this Government on taxing economic activity is philosophically the right direction of travel. As we have done in Budgets and Finance Bills over the years that ​we have been in government, we should look at every opportunity to reduce the tax burden on individual taxpayers and businesses.
The topic of small businesses has come up several times already this afternoon, and my view has always been that if we have in our minds the economic impact of our political and financial decisions on the small business sector, we will rarely go wrong when it comes to the economy in general. If we look to relieve the financial burden on small businesses, they will without a shadow of a doubt be able to grow, expand and recruit, and big businesses will continue to do well in a more buoyant economic environment. The Bill contains several measures to relieve pressure on small businesses, but if I were to have a criticism, it is just that I would like to see that go further and faster. Particularly after we end our membership of the European Union, we should consider every opportunity to unleash the potential of the British business sector. Let us use that as the starting gun in a race for good ideas to unlock our small and medium-sized business sector, particularly digitally enabled micro-businesses.
Clauses 48 to 59 specifically address a phenomenon that has been brought to my attention in constituency advice surgeries. Smart, innovative British-based businesses are being unfairly undercut by the fulfilment houses of overseas businesses, which make it impossible for British businesses to maintain a sensible living, driving a number of them out of business. Those international players are not paying their fair share of tax. They are putting the squeeze on the sparky, hard-working, innovative, entrepreneurial, often back-bedroom businesses, many of which have been started by people who, demographically, are not as well represented in the British workforce as they should be; they are often ethnic-owned businesses. Women starting entrepreneurial digital businesses are being put under incredible pressure by big overseas players that are undercutting them unfairly. I am pleased that the Government have taken notice of that concern. This is a big step in the right direction, and I will keep a close eye on how it rolls out.
We continue our drive to ensure that non-doms who—“take advantage” is the wrong term—make use of our services and the positive environment we create also pay their fair share, and in this Bill I am pleased to see the Government continuing on that route to ensure that the people who use our public services and who live under the umbrella of protection we provide also pay their fair share.
I will now bring my comments to a conclusion. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] That is the best thing I have said thus far. I will be supporting the Government on this Bill, and I would encourage everyone to do so because its philosophical underpinning is exactly right. We need to continue making tax simpler, fairer and more effective.