View from the House – Nick Gibb

The government’s latest Finance Bill has begun its proceedings in committee. This is a clause-by-clause scrutiny of the 129-clause Bill in committee room 10 at the House of Commons by 38 members of parliament.

The composition of the committee reflects the make-up of the House of Commons as a whole, so 24 members are Labour MPs, ten are Conservative and four are Liberal Democrats.

The committee meetings on Tuesdays and Thursdays will continue until late June and are open to the public. I would recommend anyone interested in tax policy to spend an hour or two in the public gallery.

The Bill, though modest in size, is packed with a plethora of ‘stealth tax’ increases – the tax hikes the government hoped no one would notice.

Clause 2 introduces a huge 11.6% increase in diesel duty and a 7.33% increase in petrol duty. Clause 28 abolishes the married couples’ allowance which will cost married couples an extra £197 in income tax. Clause 33 abolishes the relief for maintenance payments which will cost 15,000 fathers divorced before March 1998 thousands of pounds in extra income tax.

Clause 35 abolishes MIRAS costing home owners an extra £200 in income tax. Higher taxes on company cars can be found in clause 44 and higher stamp duty in clause 99. Landfill tax and insurance premium tax are increased by clauses 114 and 115.

The first three Finance Bills of this government have brought in £40.7bn of higher taxes – and this from a government elected on a clear pledge that, in the words of Tony Blair, it had ‘no plans to raise taxes at all’.

The proceedings of the Finance Bill Committee provide a good example of parliament at its best. Most of the debate takes place between three Labour Treasury ministers and the ten Conservative MPs with detailed questioning and probing over even the most technically complex provision. There are some who believe that technical legislation should be left to experts to debate and pass into law. But if the laws we are all expected to obey are beyond the understanding of elected politicians on a specialised committee, then I believe they have no place on the statute book.

Nick Gibb is Conservative MP for Bognor Regis.

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