Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 9:19 pm on 27th April 2020.

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Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 9:19 pm, 27th April 2020

It is a privilege to close this debate on behalf of the Government. This is my first opportunity to congratulate the newly appointed shadow Treasury team and to welcome Bridget Phillipson to the Dispatch Box. I also welcome Anneliese Dodds—I spent a lot of time with her in Committee debating Brexit matters before Christmas—to her role and welcome the constructive tone that she took in opening this debate.

In last month’s Budget, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor initiated a coherent, co-ordinated and comprehensive economic response to the challenges of covid-19. As the shocking impact of the virus around the globe has become more apparent, the Chancellor has announced further unprecedented packages of support, doing so most recently this afternoon, with the new bounce-back loan scheme and refinements to make the CBIL scheme more accessible—points that I am sure my hon. Friend Mr Bone and Meg Hillier will welcome, given what they said in their speeches. Such measures may not be to the taste of true free marketeers such as my hon. Friend Mr Baker, or even my right hon. Friend Dr Fox, but when they and my hon. Friends the Members for Yeovil (Mr Fysh) and for North East Derbyshire (Lee Rowley) welcome them, we know that such measures must be necessary.

Rushanara Ali was among those who argued that we should invest in public services to protect frontline services—and we are. The Government have allocated more than £14 billion from the covid response fund to go towards public services, including the NHS and local authorities.

I recognise that some sectors of our economy are experiencing enormous disruption. My hon. Friend Sir Graham Brady highlighted the challenges faced by the aviation sector, which is of course eligible for the coronavirus jobs retention scheme, under which the Government will pay up to 80% of staff wages up to £2,500 a month. We have offered support to households, too, by increasing the universal credit allowance by £1,000; providing meals or vouchers for eligible home-schooled children in place of free school meals; and making nearly £1 billion extra available for local housing allowance.

I acknowledge that the task is by no means complete. As my hon. Friend Sir Charles Walker eloquently argued, our wellbeing and our economy are not in competition. The Government will do whatever it takes to safeguard people’s health and livelihoods as the situation develops. We will continue to back NHS workers and those who support them on the frontline—for example, by exempting from vehicle excise duty medical courier vehicles that transport medical products and by reforming the tapered allowance so that doctors can spend more time treating patients without facing a higher tax burden.

As my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire reminded us with his reference to the 93-year wait for a bypass in his constituency, the Bill also delivers on commitments made to the British people at the general election in December. It is vital that these measures are not delayed. The Bill furthers the Government’s ambition to unleash the potential of our economy by increasing the credit rate for research and development expenditure credit and for the structures and buildings allowance—measures welcomed by my hon. Friends the Members for Meriden (Saqib Bhatti), for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb) and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates).

The digital services tax will improve the fairness and sustainability of our tax system by ensuring that digital businesses that access the UK market make a fair contribution to the Exchequer. It is anticipated to collect £2 billion in revenue. I welcome the support expressed from all parts of the House for the concept of a digital services tax, and thank the Chair of the Treasury Committee, my right hon. Friend Mel Stride, for his remarks on the subject. I acknowledge the work that he did on the matter while in government. I also note his reference to the need for better data on the loans scheme; the Government will address that and his letter will be responded to shortly.

The Bill reduces the tax burden on some of the most vulnerable and deserving members of our society, including the Windrush generation and victims of the troubles, for whom compensation will no longer be subject to income, inheritance or capital gains taxes. Kindertransport payments made by the German Government will no longer be subject to inheritance tax either.

This Bill helps in the Government’s efforts to move towards a greener and more sustainable economy, as mentioned by Sir Edward Davey, and confirms that the CO2 emissions figures for vehicle excise duty will be based on the worldwide harmonised light vehicle test procedure for all new registered cars from 1 April 2020. In addition, zero-emission cars will no longer be subjected to the VED expensive car supplement. These measures will help to ensure that, as our economy develops and grows, it does not jeopardise our environment. I know that many of these measures will attract widespread support across the House. I thank Opposition Members for the constructive and collegiate approach that they have taken over the past few weeks. In that spirit, let me address some of the valuable points raised further in today’s debate.

The shadow Chancellor raised a number of important issues, including tax avoidance, which was also raised by John Spellar. This is a priority for the Government, and in last month’s Budget the Chancellor announced further measures, including legislation to strengthen HMRC’s existing anti-avoidance powers. The Government also plan to issue a call for evidence on the next steps to reduce or end the use of disguised remuneration schemes.

The shadow Chancellor also touched on the subject of entrepreneurs’ relief, a point echoed by my hon. Friend John Penrose. Most of the cost of this relief previously came from those making gains over £1 million. With such extreme gains now ineligible for this relief, we can ensure that the support is targeted where it was intended: at small businesses.

My hon. Friend Andrew Griffith raised the prospect of a unified income tax and national insurance regime. The Government are indeed committed to a tax system that is simple and easy to use, which is why we created the Office of Tax Simplification in 2010 and put it on a permanent statutory basis in 2016. We have implemented more than half of the 400 recommendations that the OTS has made to date.

Tonight, this House once again has the opportunity to come together in the national interest. This Bill gives us the tools we need to mitigate the worst effects of the virus today, but it also lays the foundations that will allow our economy to return to strength in the months and years ahead. This is a Bill that will ensure that we truly have a 21st-century tax system: one that is not only competitive but fair and sustainable—a Bill that will help to deliver our commitment to zero carbon emissions by 2050, positioning the United Kingdom at the forefront of clean and sustainable future growth; a Bill that will help Britain to bounce back, levelling up investment and opportunity and putting in place the pro-enterprise policies that will ensure that this country remains one of the best places in the world to start and grow a business, a point made very eloquently in an informed speech by my hon. Friend Anthony Browne.

Through the action that the Government have taken, and with the support of the whole House, we will defeat this virus. We have heard speeches from the Shetlands to Central Devon, and from many constituencies in between. Everyone is committed to ensuring that the Government do everything they can to relieve the distress that our nation is now enduring. We will shepherd our country safely through this period of uncertainty and disruption. The United Kingdom will emerge from this crisis stronger, more resilient and more united than before. For all these reasons, I commend the Bill to the House.