Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:28 pm on 27th April 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Shabana Mahmood Shabana Mahmood Labour, Birmingham, Ladywood 6:28 pm, 27th April 2020

When the Minister introduced the Bill’s Second Reading, he spoke for everyone in the country when he said that every day feels like a decade. There is an air of slight unreality about the debate. As other Members have remarked, the Budget was out of date almost immediately from the moment the Chancellor sat down after delivering it, because of the scale of the crisis, the fast-changing situation that we are living in and the difficulties that businesses and people are facing all over the country. It is vital that we do everything we can in a national effort to keep people in work and to get cash to struggling businesses.

In that context, I welcome the Chancellor’s announcement today that the bounce-back loans are now 100% Government backed, but I must say we are far behind other countries—in particular the US, China, Germany and Switzerland—on measures to get money through to small and medium-sized enterprises. So often we describe SMEs as the lifeblood or the engine of our economy, yet we are failing to get the right level of support to them quickly enough in this crisis.

That is why we have seen multiple announcements made to correct defects in previous announcements. That approach is simply not good enough. In my view, the Government need to go much further than the current schemes, because they are not equal to the task that we face. In particular, they must as a matter of urgency streamline the application process and remove the high barriers that are in place at the moment for businesses to prove their viability.

I understand the argument about placing too high a burden on future generations, but if we fail to take adequate action now, that burden will be high in any event. We must try to limit the long-term damage to our economy, and that means supporting small and medium-sized enterprises much more than we are doing at the moment.

This crisis highlights more than ever the need to deal with fundamental weaknesses in our economy. I think in particular of my constituency, the challenge that we have with long-term unemployment and the plight of the working poor. We cannot allow such structural weaknesses in our economy to continue after the crisis, which has exposed the dangers that we see as a result of those fundamental weaknesses.

The shadow Chancellor said, and I agree with her, that after the crisis we will need a new economic settlement. We will need a new economic settlement not only in our domestic politics and economy, but in the international sphere as well, so I will speak a little about the digital services tax. I welcome the new 2% tax on revenues of search engines, social media platforms and online marketplaces that derive their value from UK users. As we all know, this measure will not deal with the differential tax treatment between brick businesses and click business, and it will certainly not deal with Amazon, which continues to grow exponentially, but it is a step in the right direction. I appreciate that there is a debate to be had about whether to take multilateral or unilateral action in this space, but as far as I am concerned the status quo needs breaking apart, and that can happen only through Governments taking unilateral action. In this case, I urge the Government to go further. We cannot keep standing by, watching this ridiculous situation where hugely wealthy companies pay little or no tax in countries such as ours where they have a huge presence.

The current crisis means that, once we emerge from covid and all its related difficulties for our economy, it will not simply be a case of playing populist politics; I simply do not think the public will accept a situation in which such huge multinational enterprises do not pay a fair share of tax in countries such as ours where they create a huge amount of their value. Something needs to break open the logjam on this in the international sphere. We know that the US will react, but we must be bold and we must be brave—we must grasp the nettle on this, because we need well resourced Governments if we are going to deal with the challenges that we face as a result of the covid crisis.