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Loan Charge 2019: Sir Amyas Morse Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:56 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury), Acting Leader, Liberal Democrats, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Social Justice) 1:56 pm, 19th March 2020

It is a pleasure to follow Dr Lewis. I am delighted to say that on this occasion I agree with every word he said. It is the nature of this debate that it has brought those on all sides together. For people who normally are not necessarily in total agreement on economic and tax affairs, this has brought us together. That is for the reason Mr Davis gave: it is about natural justice.

I set up the loan charge APPG last year, and I think it has become a group that illustrates the way in which the House has come together. We now have 227 members. My co-chairs are Ruth Cadbury and Sir Mike Penning. I should say that he wanted to be here today, but he has a family issue that has kept him away.

Not only do we represent colleagues from across the House, but I believe we have gone about our business in a pretty professional way, with the support of the Loan Charge Action Group as our secretariat. We have produced reports in the past, and as a group we have reviewed the Morse review itself and published our response. That follows two witness sessions, where we had tax experts and loan charge victims. We have received more written evidence, and we have built on our previous work. This 63-page report, published today, has 17 key findings on the Morse review and it makes 19 recommendations.

I have been on a number of all-party groups during my time in the House, as I am sure you have, Mr Deputy Speaker, and it is relatively unusual for an APPG to do such a thorough and detailed report in such a short time. If I have one disagreement with the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden it is that I wish he had given us a little bit more time to do our work before this debate, although I am really pleased that we have got this debate. I hope the Minister, whatever he says from the Dispatch Box in response to this debate, will undertake to read the APPG’s report and to respond to it.

When the Morse review was set up, we welcomed it; it is what we had been seeking. We had meetings with Sir Amyas, and we gave him a huge amount of material. It is fair to say—I put this on record on behalf of the APPG—that we welcome many aspects of his report. He talks about how unusual the loan charge is and how unique it is in respect of how it overrides statutory time limits, which are meant to protect the individual taxpayer, and how it looks back over 20 years. What an astonishing piece of legislation to put forward.

The report has a number of good recommendations. For example, it says that if the loan charge continues, after 10 years of repayment any remaining liability should be written off if the taxpayer has earnings of less than £30,000. One would have thought that that was a reasonable recommendation, even if the Government want to stand by the loan charge, but they have rejected it. The Government rejected even that relatively modest recommendation.

I would have thought that Her Majesty’s Treasury and HMRC would have agreed with all the recommendations, in the spirit of the Morse review, but they have not. They have rejected some in full and some in part, and they interpret some in a way that is clearly not intended by the Morse review. For example, one group of taxpayers about whom I have been most worried is those who have had closed tax years—in other words, their tax affairs, properly given to HMRC with all the relevant material and back-up, had been accepted and the tax year had been closed. There can be no doubt that going back to such a year is complete and utter retrospection, yet the Government are still seeking to apply the loan charge to those years. They have narrowed in a most outrageous way the way we consider the concept of a closed tax year.

I am really unhappy with the way that the Government have responded to the Morse review itself, but the review does have a big flaw at its heart. Because the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden set out that flaw in detail, I do not need to speak for so long. In essence, Morse says that the law that was passed in 2011 in respect of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003, and particularly part 7A, made it clear. Now, the right hon. Gentleman showed that it did not make it clear, even for those people directly linked to it, because of the timings that he set out.

In specific detail, the expert witnesses whom we saw in the APPG made it clear that that legislation covered only some of the schemes to which the loan charge applies—those schemes that involved employees who were being paid via a third party—but completely omitted entire existing schemes that involve the self-employed, companies and loans paid directly to employees. There can be no doubt that the legislation on which Morse was relying does not apply to many people, because they are just not covered by that legislation. It is not a question of debate; it is just a fact.

At the time, experts looked at the legislation and responded in the way that one would expect: they looked at what the legislation said and changed their advice accordingly. Indeed, HMRC’s advice was based on what was actually in the Act, surprisingly enough. There is a 2016 technical note to which our report refers and in which HMRC specifically says that that is what the legislation said.

I find it quite extraordinary that successive Ministers have tried to defend this double-talk from HMRC. As the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden said, no court rulings in any way interpreted legislation in the way that the Morse review does. I have a huge amount of respect for Sir Amyas Morse, but on this point he is entirely wrong. I do not read all the tax literature, but the tax experts who have contacted us are really clear that Morse is getting the legislation, as it was understood the time, completely wrong.