Cross-border Trade and Accounting

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:48 pm on 30th October 2019.

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Photo of Luke Graham Luke Graham Conservative, Ochil and South Perthshire 6:48 pm, 30th October 2019

My hon. Friend is almost making me skip over certain parts of my speech, so I appreciate his intervention. He is quite right. One of the key systems that is currently used is the VAT information exchange system. Under the current withdrawal agreement proposals, it will still be open to Northern Ireland. At the moment, I am not sure whether it will be open to other parts of the United Kingdom, but I recommend that it should be. Through that system, companies and member states are able to co-ordinate VAT returns. It also enables the simplification of those VAT returns between different member states. There have been concerns about the system, certainly in the area of fraud, especially when parts are moving between different areas of member states, but the system is still a good one and will be open to Northern Ireland. That is one of the very good things that is contained within the withdrawal agreement as it stands at the moment.

I did have one question on the issue of VAT. Although VIES will be available to Northern Ireland, as I have said, will it be available to the rest of the UK? Furthermore, one point that I would like someone to explain—it may not be the Financial Secretary to the Treasury today, but certainly I hope that it comes out in further debates—is related to the terms found in the withdrawal agreement when it talks about Northern Ireland being outside EU law in relation to VAT, but also about EU VAT law being applicable in Northern Ireland. Greater transparency in the details around this issue and also in the details around the application of the customs code would help a great deal for debates in this House, which inevitably will take place when, hopefully, we return here in December.

Therefore, as I have said, there are a number of systems available. What is even better is that private business and enterprise are catching up with some of these systems and complementing them. As I mentioned earlier, the evolution of accounting systems that are used by some of these smaller companies and larger companies can then obviously work with systems such as VIES, which means that Government, customers and suppliers can all work together to make sure that there is more efficient and effective record keeping, better tax collection and— hopefully—better revenues and profits for all those involved. As I said, I would love to get some more clarification either from the Treasury Minister himself or from a Brexit Minister in the near future.

This is not just an issue for the United Kingdom and the EU. I had the great fortune to work in China and the United States before I came to this place, and was able to see some of their tax collection and accounting systems in progress. China is an enormous country of over 1 billion people, but a significant amount of accounting records are still kept in paper format—this was back in 2008, so some of the new software was not available then—and everything is signed off by an original chop. For those who do not know, that is a traditional stamp. A record, fapiao or receipt needs a traditional ink chop to be recognised for accounting purposes; multiply that by over 1 billion people, and it becomes more of an issue.

Motion lapsed (Standing Order No. 9(3)).

Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House do now adjourn.—(Colin Clark.)