Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:17 pm on 27th April 2020.

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Photo of Graham Brady Graham Brady Chair, Conservative Party 1922 Committee 6:17 pm, 27th April 2020

We meet for this debate about 10 days before the end of the extended period of lockdown, and we want this process to continue to succeed. The number of new cases has started to fall, the number of hospital admissions is coming down and, while the tragic death toll remains too high, it looks as though that is falling, too. We want that to carry on, but if we want the public to continue to engage in this battle, as they have done magnificently, we need to offer them hope and a light at the end of the tunnel.

We need to look ahead to the point where more people return to work and more businesses operate. An extraordinarily difficult political judgment faces the Government: the need to balance the recovery of the economy and the protection of jobs with the need for common-sense measures for hygiene and distancing, which might continue as people get back to work and business gets moving again.

The only thing from the 11 March Budget that I want to mention is the one-year extension to the IR35 changes. The Minister said that that time would be used well, and that research would be conducted into the impact on the public sector before the change was extended to the private sector. I hope that Ministers will also take the opportunity to look at whether more could be done to achieve proper clarity of definition between contractors and employees, and at the ill-defined status of worker, which causes considerable confusion.

Moving to more recent financial measures, I warmly congratulate the Chancellor on the bounce-back loan. It is a sensible compromise between protecting against potential high levels of fraud—by introducing the limit of £50,000, or 25% of turnover—and meeting the need to get money out quickly. I commend the Government for listening to calls for changes to achieve that. All measures should be focused on getting the economy moving again once it is judged that the acute phase of the crisis has passed.

I have a couple of specific points to mention. A number of Members have made the point that although the job retention scheme has been hugely successful, it is inflexible. As we look towards the phase during which people will gradually return to work, it would be immensely helpful if it was possible to furlough an employee for part of the week, rather than the whole of it, to assist a gradual return to work.

The small business and hospitality grants are extremely beneficial to small businesses, but some have found themselves excluded. I refer particularly to those that operate in shared premises, paying rent and not paying their business rates directly. It is manifestly and especially unfair for small cafés and restaurants that have been required to cease trading yet find themselves specifically excluded by the technical terms of the grant regime.

Finally, I turn to the aviation sector. My constituency is adjacent to Manchester airport, which is directly or indirectly the source of the greater number of jobs in my constituency. We all know that the aviation sector is facing perhaps the greatest problems of any in the current crisis, and they look like going on for longer, so will the Minister ensure that he and his colleagues do everything possible to look ahead at how the aviation sector can be supported through recovery? In my remaining half minute, I leave with him the suggestion that it might be a good time to consider a holiday, as it were, for air passenger duty, by cancelling it for a 12-month period.