Telecommunications Infrastructure (Relief from Non-Domestic Rates) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:57 pm on 10th July 2017.

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Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse Conservative, North West Hampshire 6:57 pm, 10th July 2017

I think that is rather churlish of my hon. Friend, given how complimentary I have been about him. I hope that one day I will reach the level of popularity and name recognition in my constituency that Commander Peake has reached in the world.

Small business is becoming increasingly important in rural areas. Some 25% of small businesses—nearly half a million—are located in rural areas, where they provide lots of employment and create wealth. The Bill points to a wider issue with which the House will have to grapple over the next few years—Andrew Gwynne mentioned it—and that is the appropriateness of the business rate system. We are applying a tax first devised in 1572 to a 21st-century economy, much of which exists somewhere in the cloud. The Bill acknowledges at its core the disproportionate impact of business rates on competition in this sector. Those of us who have rural constituencies—indeed, anybody whose constituency contains a high street—understand the disproportionality of business rates for retail businesses, particularly now that more and more people buy things online, as my hon. Friend the Member for North Dorset said. If we are to keep our high streets vibrant, keep our businesses working and maintain the competitiveness of the rural economy against the huge businesses that these days operate from nowhere, I question whether taxing property—frankly, taxing investment and expansion—remains an appropriate way to gather the revenue that we need.

There will come a point, over the next couple of decades, when we have to consider shifting taxation on corporations away from property and profit, and towards turnover. If we taxed the turnover of the large multinationals —the Googles and the Amazons—we would collect more from them than we currently do, but in a fair way. Small shops on the high streets in North West Hampshire compete with corporations that transact in this country, dispatch goods from a second country and book the profits in a third country. We have to think about the asymmetric nature of the taxation of those organisations if we want to create a level playing field for competition.

I welcome the Bill. I welcome the move towards the designation of broadband as a utility and the recognition of the distortive effect of business rates on commerce. I hope that over the next five years or so, many companies will take advantage of the rate relief window. I suspect that at the end of that period it will be somehow extended, and I hope that any such extension will become permanent. I hope that businesses will take advantage of the window and come to North West Hampshire to plaster my entire constituency with broadband fibre, to the cabinet and to the premises, with my pleasure and approval.