I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, as those are exactly the kind of detailed points that I hope the Minister will respond to when he gives his views on the provisions. These are exactly the sort of questions to ask: is that the type of tax avoidance that we have described and the AAT has suggested would be an issue? Is it possible? Is it an intended consequence of the Bill? During the Public Bill Committee he explicitly told us that allowing individuals to avoid income tax and national insurance contributions is “not the intention” of the reforms, and I had no doubt that he was genuine on that. However, people are still coming to us and repeatedly outlining concerns about the scale of tax avoidance that could be facilitated by the Bill. Therefore, it is important that we continue to pursue the matter, even at this late stage, and be given assurances on it.
Towers Watson has said that Ministers seem “sanguine” on this matter. I am sure that the Minister is not sanguine in any shape or form about the potential for tax avoidance, that he would want to close any loopholes and that he would want to send a clear message that it was not his intention that the Bill be used for any attempt at tax avoidance. That is particularly the case because, as has been repeated again today, tax revenues and the take into the Exchequer are falling, because of some of the Government’s other economic policies, particularly on wages and the impact on income tax and national insurance. It is not as though the Exchequer is going to be able to afford to lose hundreds of millions of pounds of tax income.
Interestingly, the written evidence from Towers Watson cited the Minister’s assurance that
“the government will be closely monitoring behaviour under the new system”,
and will take action “if loss accelerates” Towers Watson’s evidence suggests that it is very likely that action will be required. Complementing the AAT estimates of how much tax could be lost if individuals use salary sacrifice before they have accessed their pensions flexibly, Towers Watson provides an estimate of how much tax could be lost after a pension has been accessed flexibly and the money purchase annual allowance imposed. Towers Watson’s projection returns us to the point made by Ian Swales and shows why we have pursued this matter vigorously. Towers Watson states that
“if £10,000 of salary is given up in exchange for an employer pension contribution, the employer could pay £1,380 less National Insurance while the employee would pay between £200 and £1,200 less”.
Although the annual allowance does not altogether remove the scope for tax avoidance, it does have a limiting effect, which of course we welcome. The crucial point made by Towers Watson, however, is that this is not a potential tax avoidance opportunity that has been “dreamt up by accountants”, but one that could be “created by legislation” before us today.
Taxpayers and employers need to know whether the Government will regard the diversion of salary through pensions as legitimate. Some people have suggested that the Government drafted the legislation oblivious to the loophole they were creating and that when they realised the consequences, they came up with the money purchase annual allowance rules as a partial stop-gap. I am inclined to be slightly more generous, because I am sure that the Government were very conscientious in drafting the Bill and gave consideration to all its component parts. I am sure that the Minister will reassure us on that point in his response. I know that he is concerned about the potential for tax avoidance, because he has repeatedly told us that he will “closely monitor behaviour” under the new system and that he will work with the industry to ensure that the system remains “fair and proportionate”.