The Chancellor set out his reasons quite carefully. He thinks that there is a strong argument for matching what people get out of NICs on the receipt side to the contribution side. I will look carefully at the hon. Gentleman’s point about the specific manifesto pledge, about which the Chancellor and I will no doubt have a further discussion when he comes before the Treasury Committee.
The Chancellor announced some quite important changes to “Making tax digital”, and we need to be clear about the problem that he seeks to address. Until today’s statement, several million people, mostly small traders, would have been required by law from 2018 to fill in their tax returns electronically for the first time. Some of those traders will not even have a smartphone, let alone a computer. The plan’s effect would have been to impose a massive, unfair burden on small businesses and some of the smallest traders, so it is good news that the Chancellor made a concession today, one which appears to be aligned with at least one of the suggestions made in a Treasury Committee report on this subject. The most important thing that the Chancellor is doing is keeping the starting threshold for another year at the VAT threshold of £83,000. That is the good news, but the not so good news is that the relief is only for a year.
May I ask the Chancellor to consider phasing in the lower threshold over a run of three or four years? He has suggested a lower threshold of £10,000, which seems extremely low—he looks puzzled, but he will find that that is what HMRC has been talking about. Dropping the VAT threshold dramatically from £83,000, or whatever it becomes, in one year strikes me as unreasonable. Of course I understand why the Chancellor is doing that—he needs the money—and I am sure that HMRC has told him that there is a huge amount of money waiting to be collected. He is nodding in agreement with that, too.
I think that I am right to say that HMRC previously suggested that £2 billion of uncollected tax is available, but I doubt that figure, and so does the Treasury Committee. If the Chancellor is brutal about introducing the measure, he might not got very much money. Some businesses will go into the grey economy, and some will cease trading altogether, so the pot of gold might not be there at all.