James Sunderland – 2022 Speech on the Finance Bill

The speech made by James Sunderland, the Conservative MP for Bracknell, in the House of Commons on 28 November 2022.

As a dutiful Back Bencher, I answered the call of the Whips and wrote about an hour’s worth of speech, but with your blessing, Mr Deputy Speaker, I will restrict my remarks to about five minutes. I suspect that this is the Bill that none of us wanted, but as a pragmatic Conservative, I concede the fiscal imperative. Importantly, this is the right thing to do for the Conservative party, as the party of fiscal pragmatism, and for the country. I see the Bill as a short-term necessity and not for the long term. We need to put our country back on track and, essentially, steady the economic ship. Fiscal and economic security must be the foundation of all policy and I believe that the Bill provides that.

I do not want to hark back to the ill-fated mini-Budget, but it recognised the basic premise that Governments do not create wealth—businesses and working people do. Therefore, we have to incentivise them to work harder and create more wealth, which, ultimately, represents economic growth. As a low-tax, low-state Conservative, I want to see a low-tax, low-state economy that attracts investment, incentivises growth, rewards workers so that they can keep most of what they earn and ensures that we all enjoy a meaningful standard of living through rising wages. I accept, however, that inflation, borrowing and debt are the elephants in the room.

I wish to make a few points about the clauses. Clauses 1 to 3 relate to the Energy (Oil and Gas) Profits Levy Act 2022 and include an increase in the levy from 25% to 35%, which is the right thing to do. I would much rather, however, that oil companies pass on their profits to the consumer at the pump and not to their shareholders. That is an absolute no-brainer and I ask the Government to keep the pressure on the oil producers to ensure that the money goes where it needs to.

Clause 5 and 6 are on income tax. I do not like the fact that the thresholds are being kept where they are. It is really important that, with rising wages, working people should keep more of what they earn, but I can live with the proposal for the reasons that have been outlined. The same principles also apply to the dividend rate and capital gains tax. We have to incentivise people to work harder, to save and to try to derive extra income from what they do. Again, I urge the Ministers to review those measures in due course, along with the income tax thresholds.

I am a bit concerned about the vehicle excise duty. I completely understand why we may need to bring that in line with diesel and high-emission cars, but we need to incentivise the drive to net zero at the same time. Again, that measure is worthy of review in due course.

Let me turn briefly to Bracknell, which I am very proud to serve. Bracknell is the silicon valley of the Thames Valley. We have 150 international companies with offices in Bracknell and a lot of small and medium-sized enterprises. Bracknell is the archetypal borough where people benefit from low taxes. In deference to my constituents—those who are working really hard to put food on the table—I urge the Government to make sure that the Bill is seen as a short-term, not a long-term measure.

Lastly, I recognise the predicament in which we find ourselves. After all, the Government borrowed an additional £450 billion to look after people in the UK during the pandemic. That was to put food on the table and to support people, and it stands to reason that that money has to come back into the Treasury. However, with the Ministers in their place, I want to make an important macro point. As the Government of this country, we need a discussion about what the future holds for the UK. We are currently living beyond our means and writing cheques that we cannot cash, so we as a nation need a serious discussion about what we want in this country, for this country and for our people. What will we do in the future? I commend to the Treasury that we need a grand strategic intent that allows us to work out where we will go, because that will drive policy. I also want to see tax reduced at the earliest opportunity, not least to encourage growth and to ensure that the UK remains firmly competitive internationally. That, I am afraid, is a political imperative to ensure that the “Great” in Great Britain stays great.