Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:51 pm on 27th April 2020.

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Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith Conservative, Arundel and South Downs 8:51 pm, 27th April 2020

I am pleased to be the first Member for Arundel and South Downs to speak in a virtual Parliament. This debate on the Finance Bill comes at a vital moment, and it is appropriate that we give the Government the resources to support our health and social care systems and protect the economy.

In respect of covid-19, we may have succeeded in flattening the infection peak, but today I support the Prime Minister and the Chancellor as they seek to flatten the economic trough and do the vital work of rebuilding our economic capacity. The first step was to stabilise the economy, and I congratulate the Government on the package of business support measures—some of the most generous and comprehensive anywhere in the world—to which they have added today with the very welcome bounce-back loan scheme. I know from my own career in business that is not easy to build an online delivery platform from scratch and still get money into bank accounts within a month. All involved deserve our recognition for what has been achieved.

I would like to single out the schemes aimed at small businesses and the self-employed, of which my constituency of Arundel and South Downs has one of the greatest concentrations. The retail, hospitality and leisure grant is a successful and well-executed initiative, which is pushing vital financial support to where it is needed. Perhaps because of this success, the current cliff edge of £51,000 is problematic, whereby a difference of a few pounds in rateable value can produce a large difference in outcomes. As Members from across the House well know, rateable values are an imperfect science, with almost 40% of appeals upheld. I raise the case of my constituents Gavin and Carole Austin at the 12th-century George and Dragon in Houghton—the only such premises in a five-mile radius not to find itself eligible—and that of landlord Paul Hills at the 15th-century Village House Inn in Findon. Those are just two of many. It was right to solve for simplicity and speed when the scheme was launched, but it would now be right to soften the sharp edge and introduce a taper, so that for every £1 by which the rateable value exceeds £51,000, the grant would reduce by £1 but would still be payable in part. Will the Minister consider that proposal?

This Bill will be the last from the pre-covid era. The Chancellor has the chance to be one of the great reformers, to rebuild our tax system to be fit for the 21st century, and in so doing, to unleash Britain’s potential. As those of us who have lived the reality in business know, the burden of tax is much more than the rate; it is about complexity, certainty and the approach to compliance. The World Bank ranks us eighth in the world for ease of doing business, but only 27th for ease of paying taxes. Our tax system is simply not simple enough. It is time to unify the income tax and national insurance regimes, to move much faster to a digital only tax system, and to simplify radically the tax code.

To focus on the future, we must release time and energy by not refighting the battles of the past. That means dealing with historical issues, such as properly compensating Equitable Life policy holders, many of whom were doctors and nurses, and giving an amnesty for all but the most egregious cases of abuse in respect of the loan charge. The only way to truly rebuild the economy is with an enterprise-led renaissance, as only business can create real jobs, opportunities and prosperity.