Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 4:30 pm on 31st October 2017.
Amendments made: 12, page 121, line 40, leave out
“on the last day of the tax year”
and insert “at the end time”.
Amendment 13, page 121, line 41, leave out “on that day” and insert “at the end time”.
Amendment 14, page 122, leave out line 13 and insert “at the end time,”.
Amendment 15, page 122, line 21, leave out from “if” to end of line 22 and insert “—
(a) it is involved in the property business at the end time, or
(b) although it is not involved in the business at the end time—
(i) it was last involved in the business at an earlier time in the tax year, and
(ii) the person carrying on the business holds the property throughout the period beginning with that earlier time and ending with the end time.”
Amendment 16, page 122, line 32, at end insert—
( ) The “end time” is—
(a) the time immediately before the end of the tax year, or
(b) if in the tax year the person carrying on the business permanently ceases to carry it on, the time immediately before the person permanently ceases to carry on the business.”—(Mel Stride.)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The work of HMRC, though typically not seen as the most glamorous aspect of government, is arguably the most important. If we do not collect tax, we cannot pay for our public services. Every time a new loophole opens up in the tax code, that is another school we cannot afford or another nurse we cannot employ. That is why since 2010 we have significantly improved HMRC’s ability to fight tax avoidance and evasion, and we have raised £160 billion in so doing. That is a far stronger record than in the 13 years during which Labour was in government, but the work is never over.
In this Finance Bill, we are going further than ever to make sure that people pay their fair share. First, we are tackling disguised remuneration schemes by introducing new charges on those artificial loans. Secondly, we are updating the rules on how large companies account for the cost of interest, bringing to an end excessive interest expenses claims. Finally, we are giving HMRC the greater powers it needs to punish avoidance enablers effectively. Taken together, the changes will advance our fight against aggressive tax avoidance.
Alongside our avoidance and evasion work, the Government are committed to making the tax system fairer as a whole. In the Bill, we are bringing to an end permanent non-dom status. There can and should be no denying that non-doms have made a great contribution to our prosperity, but permanent non-dom status can be unfair to UK-domiciled citizens. From now on, with the abolition of non-dom status, those who have lived in the UK for years will pay UK tax in the same way as everybody else does.
The Government recognise that we need to move with the times, and part of that is our work on making tax digital. Every year, the Exchequer loses more than £8 billion in avoidable errors. By making tax digital and easing communications between HMRC, businesses and the self-employed, that loss will be significantly reduced. To help businesses to adjust, we will go forward with a gradual process, as I set out in my written statement. We are confident that the timetable is the right one.
I would like to take a moment to thank Members on both sides of the House for their scrutiny of the Bill on Second Reading and in Committee. The debate has been broad and thorough, and I am particularly grateful to the Labour and Scottish National party Front Benchers for the courtesy and consideration that they have shown me and for their contributions to the debate.
I would like to make one or two final observations. It is, of course, the duty of the Opposition to oppose, to scrutinise and to hold the Government to account, and there has been much good, positive scrutiny from the Opposition—some of it of the highest quality—during proceedings on the Bill. But it is, surely, also the duty of the Opposition to do so responsibly and without taking us too far from the facts or too deep into the politics. Where that occurs—for example, with the branding of all non-doms as tax dodgers, when many are far from wealthy and always pay their tax in the UK—it corrodes this country’s competitiveness and our reputation for fair play. If our clamping down on tax abuse around termination payments—typically for those who receive the largest payments of all—is presented as punishing those who have lost their jobs, it just frightens people. That approach is wrong. The Government stand squarely behind positively supporting our economy and all who work in it, and we always will. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Finance Bill that is before the House is nothing short of a wasted opportunity. It is indicative of a Government who wish to serve the interests of a wealthy few at the expense of the many. That is a fact. Rather than introducing measures to bolster people in their daily lives, such as sensible proposals on investment, fair taxation, raising the UK’s woeful productivity and improving the terrible productivity in many of the regions, the Finance Bill will, if it is enacted, water down workers’ rights, bring added financial burdens to small and medium-sized businesses and exempt offshore trusts from any reform of non-dom status. It is telling that Conservative Members spent more time on the latter than they did on redundancy payments or digital taxation, which affects many of our small businesses.
This Government are enveloped in atrophy. They have done nothing to tackle falling wages, deal with rising levels of personal debt, or tackle poor productivity. They have overseen an economy in which women are paid, on average, 14% less than men, and in which there are large race and disability income gaps. They refuse to invest in the nation’s infrastructure or in the British people. Under Tory rule, Britain has become one of the most unequal countries in Europe. UK Government investment is lower than that of every other major economy. That is a fact.
Inflation is outstripping wage rises, while housing and energy bills are rising once more and our productivity is lower than in the rest of the G7. What a record after seven years. The public sector pay cap has driven down wages, and cuts to in-work benefits are leading to more people than ever using food banks, with 1 million food parcels having been given out. Meanwhile, the Chancellor boasts of high levels of employment, but is in absolute denial about the rising numbers of people in insecure, low-paid work that does not meet their needs and those of their families.
The Government have managed to stitch up Public Bill Committees, despite not having a majority, and they are using arcane rules to deny this House the ability to amend and scrutinise legislation. The younger generation feel betrayed after seven years of Tory austerity. The Government have trebled tuition fees to over £9,000 and abolished maintenance grants, ensuring that the average working-class student leaves university heavily in debt and with little prospect of relieving it. The bottom line is that the Tory Government are in complete and utter decay. The housing market is entrenching and extending inequality between regions, classes and generations. Quite frankly, we cannot support a Bill that does not put any of that right, so we will not support it.
I am delighted to be in the Chamber to talk about the second of the three Finance Bills we will have this year. When the Chancellor stood up and said we would move to having fewer fiscal events a year, I am not sure that this is what he had in mind. I am particularly excited about the third one, which will be coming along soon, and I really hope that it takes account of Brexit because the Government’s Finance Bills have so far failed to do so. I hope we will have a Budget that takes account of the economic shock that will happen as a result of Brexit, puts in place the infrastructure spend that we particularly need, and makes it clear that we should stay in the single market.
On our specific concerns about this Finance Bill— I saw you getting a bit edgy, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I will get on to it—I agree with Labour Front Benchers that there have been a number of missed opportunities, and we still have concerns. We have previously mentioned these concerns, but they bear repeating because this place is good like that.
The first issue is VAT on police and fire services. This Finance Bill should have taken the opportunity to remove the VAT paid by Scottish police and fire services. We have made this case time and again and we will continue to do so. I hope that the Chancellor will listen and make changes in the Budget. We would like the VAT that police and fire services have paid to be paid back, and we would like the VAT bill to be got rid of in the future. There is a precedent for doing so—other organisations do not have a VAT bill—and we will carry on making this case very strongly.
My hon. Friend makes the interesting point that this is not simply about making a change for the future, but about repaying the money that has been overpaid for some years. Will she re-emphasise to the UK Government the message that we are not simply looking for such a change, but want paid back that which should never have been paid in the first place?
That is absolutely the case, and I thank my hon. Friend for highlighting this point. It is very important that the Government recognise that Scottish police and fire services never needed to pay this money, and that they give us back the overpayments that have been made. Frontline police and fire services are losing out as a result of those organisations having to pay VAT.
I have a couple of other points specifically about the Bill. We have already raised the issues involving termination payments, which Labour Front Benchers did a very good job of highlighting. I am very concerned about the impact on vulnerable people and those who have lost their jobs, and about the fact that this £430 million tax take for the Treasury means there is £430 million less for people who are made redundant.
I say again that I am pleased by the moves the Minister has made in relation to changing the implementation and phasing in of digital reporting. I appreciate his making it clear that tax measures put in place by the Treasury and implemented by HMRC are constantly under review. My concern is that even though it is said that these things are constantly under review—that is always said during the passage of Finance Bills—there is very little evidence of any reviews actually happening. Certainly, the majority of the reviews that do take place are not made public, so we cannot see the impact of those tax measures. I have done some digging and asked the Library about these matters, but as I say, very few of the reviews have been made public. It would therefore be good if the things the Minister has said will be under constant review were actually under constant review, and if that could be shared with Members across the House and not just, for example, people working within HMRC.
I gather that the changes to elections for removing fields from petroleum revenue tax have widely been welcomed by the industry. In two successive Finance Bills, successive Chancellors have committed to changing the tax regime for decommissioning assets, so that it will be easier to transfer late-life assets to a new clearing in the market, which is very important in maximising the economic recovery of the North sea fields. I say again that Chancellors have promised that twice, yet action has not been forthcoming.
The Chancellor has said that the results of the review will be in the Budget. I do not want him to back away from the commitment that he has made. It is very important for the oil industry, not just in Aberdeen and the north-east of Scotland, but for the hundreds of thousands of people who are employed in the industry across the United Kingdom. It is very important that it does happen in order to maintain confidence in the industry. We have had a period in which things have not been great in the industry. Confidence is beginning to build again and this change would make a huge difference.
Something that we voted against in Committee and that we disagree with is the change to the dividend nil rate. It is being reduced from £5,000 to £2,000. The SNP has argued against that not only because it is the wrong way to go, but because it is being brought in too quickly. People who have set up a small business or become self-employed in the recent past may not know that this change will be coming in and hitting them very shortly, so they will not have built it into their business plan. I am concerned not that it will reduce entrepreneurship, but that it will affect people who have made finely balanced financial decisions about the future fairly soon. We raised those concerns in Committee. For me, this is the worst proposal in the Finance Bill—the one that I disagree with the most and that I would argue against the most strongly.
I have made the key point that the Bill ignores Brexit. I agree with those on the Labour Front Bench that the Bill ignores productivity. Every day, more statistics come out and more issues are raised about the lack of productivity growth in the UK and the ripples that that causes. The Conservatives keep saying how great it is that we have so many people in employment. The problem is that those people are not getting wage rises that even keep pace with inflation. People are getting poorer, even though they are working hard, sometimes in low-paid jobs, simply because wages are not keeping pace with inflation. That is a big concern for us.
When she came into office, the Prime Minister was very clear that she would try to do things for people who are just about managing. Over the past year or so, it has become clear that life for those people has been getting significantly worse. I would like this year’s Budget to take account of that, to take account of the fact that austerity has failed, to take account of the fact that people are poorer as a result of this Government’s policies, and make moves to change that.
Question put, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
The House divided:
Ayes 302, Noes 276.