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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 have in my hand a detailed document designed to address this very issue. It goes through a whole range of different approaches and integrates them into a strategy. I would be delighted to have any input that she would like to make about other ways in which that can be improved and developed. We work on the basis of the law as it presently stands, and which we have inherited. It is itself the result of previous Parliaments, including of course the parliamentary consideration of the loan charge. We have to work with the hand we have got, and improve it as fast and as comprehensively as we can.

I will now address the motion directly and then, in the limited time I have, turn to the comments that have been made. Is the loan charge retrospective? Again, I think it is clear that it is not. It was introduced as a new measure in 2017. It taxes a loan outstanding at a future date. It does not change any law previously on the statute book.

It has been asked why the loan charge was introduced. In the words of Sir Amyas Morse, it

“offers an expedited means of collecting tax that is due”.

Is the loan charge unjust? Again, I would suggest not. If one asks the average man or woman in this country, I think they would say, “Everyone should pay their fair share of taxes. People are responsible for their own tax affairs. Real loans get repaid; if someone offered you a loan for which no repayment, no tax and no interest was due, it would probably be too good to be true.” And so it is.

The numbers seem to bear that out. More than 99.8% of the tax-paying population have never used a scheme. Even among the freelance population, the take-up has been only 2.5%. It is notable that Sir Amyas Morse was clear that he supported the essential purpose of the loan charge and that it should remain in force.

We have heard a lot about how the law was not settled in 2017. Again, as I said, I can do no better than refer colleagues to section A of the Morse review, which carefully reconstructs the history of the past 20 years of disguised remuneration.

Let me quickly turn to the many excellent contributions that have been made. I will start with the excellent contribution made as a point of order by my right hon. Friend Sir Desmond Swayne, who pointed out the excellence of my book on Adam Smith—I thank him for that, although I defer to Neale Hanvey, as Kirkcaldy was, of course, Smith’s home town. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West will recall—he taught economics so he must know about these things—that Smith not only set out the ideals of a well-functioning tax system, which we all aspire to achieve, but was, for the last 12 years of his life, a practising commissioner of customs, attempting to wrestle with an ever-evolving customs market and seeking to extract duty and tax due, and rightly so.

I would like to touch on the statesmanlike comments of the hon. Member for Bootle, the shadow Chief Secretary, which perhaps reflected his imminent expectation of taking my seat on this side of the aisle. He recognised that what people do not pay in tax due, someone else must. He is right about that. He noticed that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. He is right to focus, as others have, on the enablers and promoters.