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Loan Charge 2019: Sir Amyas Morse Review

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:11 pm on 19th March 2020.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 3:11 pm, 19th March 2020

I take it that the hon Gentleman rightly refers to the enablers and promoters of such schemes. As he knows, I take that extremely seriously, and I have insisted on that point ever since I became Financial Secretary. I will say more about that shortly.

I return to the point that such schemes were contrived tax avoidance schemes that were typically run through an offshore vehicle. A person would receive a monthly amount of pay, often deliberately set at or around the level of the personal allowance to maximise the tax avoided, and above the national insurance lower earnings limit, so as to qualify the person concerned for the national insurance contributions required to receive a state pension. Of course, that did not reflect the person in question’s true earnings because, alongside that payment, they would receive a further top-up payment described as a loan. In many cases, the top-up payment far exceeded—often by a large multiple—the salary element declared for tax purposes.

Those facts are not genuinely in doubt, and all Members who have taken part in the debate have rightly condemned tax avoidance, but I put them on the record again because they highlight how contrived that form of tax avoidance typically was. They also go to the root of the problem.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden raised the issue of thesauruses and dictionary definitions. Let me remind him of the difference between a dictionary definition and a thesaurus. A thesaurus gives an alternate word of supposedly the same meaning. A dictionary definition tries to explain exactly what it is that is being talked about.

The dictionary definition of a real loan is,

“an amount of money that is borrowed…and has to be paid back”.

That accords with our natural experience, as hon. Members will discover if they try to take out a business loan from a bank and not pay it back. If they try to take out a mortgage and not pay it back, they will find the same to be true.

Those loans, however, were not designed to be paid back. They were rather different from loans that might be made to employees that then get written off, on which tax is typically chargeable. They were not designed to be paid back. They were employment income in disguise, so they were subject to tax.