National Insurance Contributions Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:51 pm on 4th November 2013.

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Photo of Nicky Morgan Nicky Morgan The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 6:51 pm, 4th November 2013

This has been a wide-ranging debate and I am grateful to have heard all the thoughtful contributions that have been made. It is noticeable that we heard seven contributions from this side, but only one from Opposition Back Benchers—[Interruption.] I welcome the Opposition’s support for the Bill, but as the shadow Minister said, the Bill is wide ranging, and Opposition Members could have talked about businesses, employment and the living wage. They have not taken the opportunity to do so and clearly had nothing to say about the Bill.

Before I respond to the points raised by hon. Members, it is worth reiterating the four key points of the Bill. First, from next April, all businesses, charities and community amateur sports clubs will benefit. They will receive a £2,000 employment allowance every year to set against their employer national insurance contributions liability. This is a measure specifically set out to support jobs. If I run a small firm employing four members of staff on the average private sector wage, I would see my national insurance contributions bill cut by more than a fifth. If I start a brand-new business and want to give up to 10 18 to 20-year-olds their first chance of full-time employment, paying the minimum wage, I would pay no national insurance contributions at all.

We have previously had time-limited allowances targeted at some businesses, but this is a universal allowance that will help all businesses. It is easy to understand and administer and, most importantly, it will make it easier for businesses in all our constituencies to create jobs. I am sure that that is something that all hon. Members want to see.

Secondly, as well as making it easier for employers to take on staff, the Bill will make it harder for companies to avoid taxes. It will give effect to the general anti-abuse rule, or GAAR, for NICs. As such, it is indicative of the Government’s intention to take a robust line in tackling all forms of tax avoidance. Thirdly, it will allow the Treasury to make regulations to bring in a certification scheme for the oil and gas industry when someone other than the deemed employer for national insurance is undertaking those duties on their behalf. This is part of the Government’s wider measure to address schemes involving employers setting up outside the UK and providing workers to the UK in order to avoid paying employment taxes.

Finally, the Bill will make changes to tackle disguised employment and to address the tax issue arising from the UK implementation of the alternative investment fund managers directive, which the Exchequer Secretary described in some detail earlier. The importance of those last three measures should not be underestimated. With the associated tax changes they will contribute towards raising £265 million for the Exchequer in the 2014-15 tax year.

As I have said, we heard some excellent contributions to the debate. I am sorry to say that the Labour contributions did not extend to any great insight into the Labour party policy on support for businesses. First, Opposition Members tried to take credit for this Bill, if hon. Members can imagine such a thing. The shadow Chief Secretary said that we should say sorry. If sorry is the hardest word, we have never heard it from the Labour party, which left us—as my hon. Friend David Rutley said—with the legacy of a huge deficit and enormous debt that we are having to pay off. This Government are having to make the tough choices.

Shabana Mahmood was wrong about the Labour party’s national insurance contributions scheme, because it would have applied only to small businesses. Our scheme will apply to all businesses. She also said that administration of the previous scheme cost £12 million. In fact, the estimated administration costs from the start of the national insurance contributions scheme that finished in September were £770,000—nowhere near millions of pounds. There was tight control on its administration.

We will not take a history lesson from the Opposition about the regional national insurance contributions holiday. My hon. Friend the Exchequer Secretary made it clear at the start of the debate that this was a temporary, targeted measure that helped 26,000 businesses and created 90,000 jobs. That is 90,000 people who have employment as a result of that scheme. That is something that we should be proud of, while recognising that there is scope for a new scheme, and that is what the Bill will introduce.

On the GAAR, the Opposition had 13 years to introduce it, but they failed to do so. They can pick holes in the scheme as much as they want, but the point is that this Government have taken the tough decisions. The rule will act as a deterrent to those tempted to engage in abusive avoidance schemes. It will take time to bed in, and we will keep it under review.

In answer to the specific questions asked by Catherine McKinnell, the GAAR is expected to raise some £235 million over the next five years and it will also protect revenue that would otherwise be lost. We are confident that the GAAR will change the avoidance landscape as its impact starts to be recognised. The hon. Lady also asked about the Bill not being published in draft, but she then said that we had taken a long time to get round to making the Bill happen. She cannot have it both ways, although that is a position the Labour party always likes to be in.

The employment allowance will be introduced from 6 April next year. If we had had time for formal consultation, it would have delayed the implementation date, which is something that none of us wants to see. However, I can tell the hon. Lady that HMRC has held discussions with various stakeholders over the summer on the detailed implementation of the employment allowance, and those discussions have helped to inform the design of the new system.