Priti Patel winds up Second Reading of Stamp Duty Land Tax Bill

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Priti Patel): It is a pleasure to respond to this efficient debate, and I welcome the consensus on it across the House. The measure has been debated over the past week, so it is not surprising that we have reached a conclusion quickly today. We have had an effective debate today. This is a landmark reform, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has said. The Government announced it in the autumn statement. It is the most radical restructuring of stamp duty we have seen. It cuts stamp duty for 98% of people who pay it. It eliminates damaging distortions in the housing market, where someone buying a house for £250,001 pays three times as much tax as someone buying a house for just £1 less.
Mrs Main: Will my hon. Friend clarify whether that is 98% of all transactions or 98% of all domestic transactions?
Priti Patel: The reform cuts stamp duty for 98% of people who pay it. That is the point I was making.
The reform reduces the tax bill for first-time buyers. As my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary highlighted, this is about aspiration. Everything about the debate we have had is about supporting home owners, first-time buyers and the principle of aspiration.
In a moment I will move on to the points that have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for St Albans (Mrs Main). The Labour party made a number of points about how many people have benefited from some of the advice that Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs provided last week on the transitional support. The Government do not have the current figures on how many home buyers have benefited from the transitional reviews. As with most cases where stamp duty is paid, we get the information only after a transaction has been fully completed. However, we expect that as many as 35,000 transactions will benefit from the transitional rules, which is a substantial number.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans and the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) mentioned stamp duty on commercial properties. They will not be surprised to hear that the Government rightly keep all taxes under review. We have taken swift action on the residential front, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary has highlighted, and that was debated in the House last week. That swift action has obviously removed the distortions that acted as a break on aspiration and made it harder for first-time home owners.
The market for commercial property is different and, as I said, we will keep all taxes under review. My hon. Friend the Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) asked about mixed-use buildings. Those are subject to the commercial rules, not the residential rules, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary highlighted. The Government keep all taxes under review and will give consideration to mixed-use buildings ahead of future events as part of our normal review process.
My hon. Friend the Member for St Albans touched on Government forecasts. Forecasts of house prices and stamp duty land tax revenues have been verified by the Office for Budget Responsibility. My hon. Friend has been an assiduous campaigner on these issues and had a debate on the subject in the House not long ago. She referred to flipping between commercial and residential rates for avoidance purposes. We are clear that the reform is not an opportunity for avoidance.
Ian Swales: Can the Minister clarify the situation where buy-to-let residential property might be owned within a corporate envelope? Is that treated as a commercial business or does it still fall within the residential arrangements?
Priti Patel: Property in the buy-to-let framework would be treated as residential.
Jake Berry: I refer to the point about flipping between commercial and residential arrangements. My hon. Friend will be aware that one of the welcome reforms of this Government has given automatic planning permission for vacant commercial office buildings to become residential property. The substantive implementation of a change of use and planning permission between a commercial office building and a residential property would be minimal and could involve, for example, just bringing in desks and putting in more male and female lavatories. There is concern about avoidance, and where two systems exist, there is greater opportunity for avoidance by those who seek not to pay their tax. Will she commit from the Dispatch Box to keep this matter under review and ensure that as the Government take the Bill through the House, they will review it and seek opportunities to tighten up the law to ensure that everyone pays their fair share of tax?
Priti Patel: My hon. Friend makes a valid point about keeping the arrangements under review. We want to ensure that people pay not just their fair share, but the right amount. The Government keep all taxes under review.
Sir Greg Knight (East Yorkshire) (Con): Clause 2 refers to the purchaser being able to elect that the new calculations do not apply, and the explanatory notes that my hon. Friend has helpfully supplied state:
“An election must be made in a land transaction return . . . and must meet any requirements specified by the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.”
Will any terms so imposed be subject to ministerial scrutiny and approval?
Priti Patel: Absolutely. Ministers are involved in the process and will be consulted. That is right and proper. The point that my right hon. Friend makes is about the transitional rules, which we touched on earlier.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) mentioned Scotland and the changes to stamp duty land tax, which has been devolved to Scotland. The Government will monitor how stamp duty land tax receipts change in the light of that. That is part of the usual policy-making process.
Cathy Jamieson (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) (Lab/Co-op): Was discussion with the Scottish Government held in advance of the announcement? Will there be additional discussions during the coming weeks and months to ensure that there are no adverse consequences?
Priti Patel: This is a commercially sensitive area so specific discussions were not held. I reiterate that as part of the usual policy-making process there will be ongoing reviews of how the system works between Scotland and England. Now that the change has been made, discussions will take place when necessary.
Cathy Jamieson: The Minister refers to the normal policy-making process. However, given that the changes in Scotland are due to be introduced in April, there is a very short opportunity for discussion, particularly about any adverse impact that there might be on the market. Does the Minister have plans to meet her counterparts in Scotland for discussions?
Priti Patel: These are now devolved matters, as the hon. Lady knows. As part of not only the devolution process but future policy formation, I have no doubt that discussions will take place.
John Stevenson: I am grateful for the earlier clarification about the Government’s position on commercial property. Can the Minister clarify the position on agricultural property?
Priti Patel: Agricultural property would be treated in the same way as commercial property. I hope that answers my hon. Friend’s question.
On housing supply and affordable housing—a point made today and last week from the Opposition Front Bench—all the work that the Government have put in place in relation to the stamp duty land tax measure has been about supporting aspirational home ownership and making home ownership a reality for as many households as possible. This Government support more home ownership, and stamp duty reform is part of that. We are investing billions of pounds to provide affordable homes including, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary mentioned, £4.5 billion during the spending review period to provide more than 170,000 new units, and a further £3.3 billion to deliver more than 165,000 more homes over three years from 2015. We have also speeded up reforms to planning. Housing starts in England are at their highest level since 2007, which we all welcome. In the autumn statement last week we announced a package to do even more, by introducing measures to support more than 133,000 new homes. My hon. Friend the Financial Secretary touched on rent-to-buy and help-to-buy schemes.
In conclusion, our long-term economic plan has supported home ownership through stamp duty land tax reform and increased supply through the measures that I have just outlined. Importantly, the economy is growing, the deficit is falling, and employment is at a record high. These are all economic measures that should be welcomed across the country. We are building a stronger, sustainable and healthier economy. The autumn statement set out a modest fiscal tightening and does not shy away from the challenges that remain.
Against that backdrop, we believe that aspiration should be supported. For centuries it has spurred people on. The Bill backs those who aspire. I am proud to be part of a Government who stand by aspiration and advocate it. This Bill reforms a fundamentally flawed system and will help make the dream of owning a home a reality, while cutting the tax bill for the overwhelming majority of people affected by it. There is consensus on this, as we heard this afternoon, and I hope the House will give the Bill a Second Reading.

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