Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:31 pm on 12th September 2017.

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Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet 6:31 pm, 12th September 2017

There is an uprating coming into place to allow the floor to increase from £1 million in due course. There used not to be a lifetime allowance, but it started at £1.8 million some years ago and has come down to £1 million.

The flexibility of SIPPs and the success of auto-enrolment are essential if we are to rebalance our savings rates, which have been fairly poor in comparison with those of other G20 countries. I am looking forward to seeing how lifetime ISAs will plug any holes in the pension market. We have had a lot of change, and even though much of it has been to the good, we are in danger of losing stability. People become rather unsure about what will happen in the pension market and whether the changes will affect them. The last thing we want to do is to deter people from saving for their pensions.

On IR35, much has changed in the last year, particularly in terms of personal service companies that provide services to public sector bodies. It has long been known that personal service companies and the IR35 rules have been abused—that was recognised in the House of Lords’ report—and so I welcomed the change that came in from April this year. It is not right that personal service companies, which are, by any other measure, a disguised form of employment, are not being taxed in the right way. I fully support what is happening, but I do think that we need greater clarity over employment status.

The rather complex process of recognition of whether a person is properly self-employed or properly employed is quite confusing for a small employer. That is still somewhat vague, and there is some gold-plating in the public sector because of worry about people’s status. I regularly see people who work through a proper personal service company and who are clearly self-employed, not in an employment situation. Out of fear, the public sector is tending to move everybody who works in such a way to an IR35 status, which adds to costs in the sector. It is a very difficult balance.

Termination payments have been discussed this afternoon. My worry about them is that the £30,000 level has been in place since the early 1990s. If it were more realistically upgraded in accordance with inflation to today’s values, it would be in the region of £70,000. Other changes are likely to bring more termination payments—most likely correctly—into tax.

I turn to the dividend tax changes. Dividend tax has been subject to huge change over the last few years. Just two years ago, it was announced that the first £5,000 would be completely free of tax, after which an individual enters the regime of 7.5% while they are within the basic rate band. I am concerned that we have moved so quickly to cut the allowance from £5,000 to £2,000. In doing so, we have not provided a stable playing field for people to get used to. I can certainly understand, from the Treasury’s point of view, that this has been an area of tax loss. It has long been known that owner-managers probably give themselves the lowest level of salary, but then pay themselves through a dividend route. People recognise that the situation has perhaps been too good for too long and that things now have to change, but I am concerned that it did not take very long for the allowance to be reduced from £5,000 to £2,000.

I realise that much of the Finance Bill—the provisions amount to some 300 pages— concerns the corporation tax loss regime and the restriction of interest. I will canter through this as fast as I possibly can. Brought-forward losses may now be used very flexibly, which is very good for the smaller company. The one complexity that the Bill will bring in is that there will be two lots of losses: old losses, which have to be used in the old way; and new losses, arising after 1 April 2017, which will be used in the new way. For the smaller company, that will add a level of complexity that we perhaps do not need. I therefore seek from the Treasury Bench some change, if possible, to allow smaller companies some degree of exemption.

All in all, we are in a very good place with our tax system. There could be more simplification, and I have previously raised with Treasury Ministers my concerns about various aspects of the system. I hope that we can look again at one concern that turns up regularly in my inbox, which is the restriction on landlord’s interest. That has been ill thought out and could be looked at again.

My hon. Friend Kit Malthouse and I often discuss enterprise investment schemes and seed EISs. The sad fact is that the number of seed EISs, which should be a very flexible way of getting small amounts of capital into small start-ups, have not really been used as widely as they should have been. From my perspective of having tried to put them in place professionally, it is very unlikely that a smaller business can afford even the modest professional fees necessary for raising such a small amount of capital. Some flexibility is needed if we are to encourage seed EISs.

We need to continue to debate tax policy. Much was said by my hon. Friend about how we have a tax system that was designed with the 19th and 20th centuries in mind—trying to tax things or recognisable services—but the new digital economy means that the playing field is rather different. We need to think rather carefully, perhaps on a cross-party basis, about how we can tax the digital economy properly. We also need to discuss what our tax policy is trying to achieve. For too long, whenever we have tried to make a small change, it has either been howled down or the media have got involved, and I am afraid that we have become somewhat fearful of change. It is now time for cross-party working on what we are trying to achieve in raising the appropriate amounts of tax in the modern age.

Much has been said about productivity, but it very difficult to measure—I am sorry to be so technical—especially in services, which are rather more prevalent in our economy than in those of other OECD countries. I know, however, that I would rather have lower levels of productivity and higher levels of employment than the massively high youth unemployment seen in other countries in EU, which—by whatever measure—have managed to have higher productivity among those actually in work. I put that down to the more laissez-faire system under which we operate in the UK, where the employment rules are slightly more liberal. In France and Germany, employers dare not get it wrong, because they have very little flexibility in getting it right when they need to shed staff.

I will leave my thoughts on the tax system there, and I look forward to supporting the Second Reading this evening.