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Loan Charge 2019: Sir Amyas Morse Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:29 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden 1:29 pm, 19th March 2020

The right hon. Gentleman makes an extraordinarily powerful point in his own skilful way. I say this back to him: his group took that evidence before the added economic stress of the coronavirus. Many of the individuals affected will be contractors. They will be people who perhaps have no rights at the moment and certainly no way of finding the money to meet the demands on them. Even small sums of money will bring enormous pressure to bear on the individual. So he is right: this is not some vague and abstract tax issue. This is about people’s lives. That is why I was pleased when the Government launched the Amyas Morse review into the policy, and in December, he published a detailed report. I commend him for his heroic attempt to find a compromise, because that is really what he did. The facts and the conclusions are a little different, and that is because he was trying to find a compromise. However, when it comes to matters of natural justice, I am afraid that a compromise is nowhere near enough. Such a detailed review deserves detailed scrutiny, and I am going to spend a small amount of time looking at his central findings.

Sir Amyas recommended a December 2010 cut-off date for the loan charge. All loans before that date will be out of the loan charge scope. In a piece for The House magazine some time ago I referred to that as arbitrary, and Sir Amyas responded. He said:

“It is not an ‘arbitrary’
date. It is the date from which the Finance Act 2011 ensured that tax was charged on income paid through loan schemes.”

But that simply did not make sense, even in its own terms. The Finance Act was not law in December 2010; it was simply draft legislation. It was not passed for another eight months—until July 2011. HMRC does not, or certainly should not, take its instruction from draft legislation. It certainly should not take it from press releases, which was what actually went out on that day. It takes its instruction from settled law—and the words “settled law” matter.

Sir Amyas went on to argue in his piece that, once the 2011 Act was passed,

“tax should have been understood as being due from that point.”

But even in 2011 the law was far from clear after the Government suffered a series of defeats in the courts.