I have followed the Treasury’s Budgets professionally for a quarter of a century and contributed to many of them, but this is the first time I have helped to legislate for a Budget. As well as speaking in various stages of the Finance Bill, I served on the Bill Committee. I have been impressed by the thought, the hard work and the dedication that Treasury Ministers and officials have put into the Bill, taking on board many of the concerns that have been raised throughout the process. I particularly pay tribute to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and my hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary, who have steered the Bill through its various stages with patience and humour.
When I first sat on the Finance Bill Committee, I never expected that in our discussions I would learn about Burkean philosophy or why there are different rates of take-up of driving licences among different ethnic groups. I pay tribute to the work of the Clerks on the Bill, who made it work so smoothly, and to my own staff, who have supported me throughout the process.
This Budget is one of the most unusual in history. Announced just weeks before lockdown, it was legislated for during the deepest recession and the biggest economic support package in modern times. It is notable that, almost without exception, the measures have withstood these exceptional circumstances and they are as justified now as they were before.
I sat through the amendments that the Opposition tabled in the Bill Committee, and I observed that none of them had anything to do with promoting economic growth. I was reminded of a conversation that I had with a peer of the realm when I first came to this House. I had always thought that he was a Labour peer, but he told me that he was a Conservative. I asked him why he was Conservative rather than Labour, and he said, “The trouble is that they know only about spending it, not about making it, but you can’t spend it unless you have made it first.” That could not be more true.
There are some much-debated measures in the Bill, but I think that in the end it gets the balance right between tackling tax avoidance and encouraging entrepreneurialism. It is right that everyone pays their fair share. I am at heart an economic liberal who believes that if a Government are going to take a person’s hard-earned money, the burden of proof lies on the Government to justify doing so. In general, I get more joy from cutting or scrapping a tax than introducing a new one, but it is notable that the Bill introduces new taxes. The possible carbon tax is needed to tackle climate change by ensuring that companies pay what economists call the externality of emitting greenhouse gases. The plastics tax is a great nudge tax, pushing industry into recycling more plastic by imposing costs on not recycling. As economists say, we should tax bads, not goods.
Then there is the new digital tax, discussed broadly in this House, which ensures that global technology companies pay their fair share. These technology companies bring us all so many benefits, which is why many of them have grown rapidly into some of the most valuable firms in the world, but their global business model and the joys of internal transfer pricing, basically mean that they can decide how much corporation tax they pay in each different country where they operate. The ultimate solution to this is a global agreement on the taxation of technology companies, but these agreements can take forever to reach, not least if those countries that benefit from the lack of an international agreement drag their heels. So it is absolutely right that countries such as the UK take the lead in introducing interim national measures. With declared national profits at the discretion of finance directors, the only option for the digital tax is to be that unprecedented thing—a tax on turnover. So the carbon tax, the plastic tax and the digital services tax are three taxes that can all clearly be justified. I welcome them.
Finally, I want to look ahead at the biggest economic challenge of our time. Yesterday in the Treasury Select Committee, on which I sit, the chief economist of the IMF and the OECD both paid tribute to the Government’s economic support package. Economists rarely agree about anything, but they do agree that things would have been a lot worse without this unprecedented Government support. I welcome the news yesterday from the Bank of England that we are bouncing back quicker than many had feared, but we are still set to have one of the sharpest recessions in modern history. Thousands of jobs are already being lost across the private sector, and the risk is that we undo the hard work that we have done since the 1980s to become a country of high employment and low unemployment. We must do everything we can to prevent that. We must not go back to the 1980s.
We now need to have a laser-like focus on getting the economy going again. We need to stop jobs being lost in the first place and then ensure that the short-term unemployed do not become the long-term unemployed. That means getting them back to work as quickly as possible. We have rightly all been paying tribute to the NHS staff who have done so much to look after us during the pandemic, but we should also pay tribute to the dedication of private sector workers—from supermarket staff who have kept us fed to drug companies that have developed treatments and companies that have built ventilators. It is private enterprise that has taken the brunt of this recession, and it is private enterprise that will pull us out of it. Private enterprise is not the problem that some on the Opposition Benches see it as; it is the solution. Across the House, we need to focus in the coming months and years on helping businesses get going again, so that they can create the jobs and pay the taxes that pay for our public services and our welfare system. We need to build, build, build, and that leads to jobs, jobs, jobs. I commend the Bill to the House.