Yesterday in the debate on the Ways and Means resolutions, I said that I would be supporting the Bill because our country needs it. It needs it for the core purposes of the Bill, which are the smooth continuity of business after the transition period, being ready, and creating a more level playing field for UK businesses.
I recognise that leaving the EU is a field full of tough issues, but the most problematic element is the nature of our land border with it. Seeking to deliver Brexit while protecting the Good Friday agreement was the major stumbling block in our endless debates and struggles last year, so I am pleased to see progress made on that issue. We had a statement on it earlier; I will not go over trodden ground.
There are businesses in Harrogate and Knaresborough that do significant trade selling to and buying from Northern Ireland. The Bill will be welcome news for them. More people in Harrogate and Knaresborough are affected by internet shopping, either buying from or selling via online platforms. Even if people do not buy online, they are affected by the struggles on the high street. It is a tough time for retailers and, of course, high streets provide countless thousands of jobs. They are economic hubs. Our high streets and town centres also have a social function beyond an economic one. They provide a community focal point.
Before coming here, I worked in retail and for brands that sell through retail. When I talk to retailers, they say that they just want a level playing field. They are talking widely when they use that phrase, but they are talking about taxation, particularly business rates and VAT. The Bill helps to create more of a level playing field with a new model for the treatment of VAT on goods arriving in the UK from overseas. The collection moves to the overseas seller or the online marketplace where that transaction occurs. As a result, it will be easier to collect VAT and harder to avoid it. The last thing that a business having a tough time needs is for competitors to have a 20% price advantage. High street businesses and online players based here pay VAT, so if overseas businesses are allowed to make VAT-free sales, they are unfairly undercut.
I do not think the measure is controversial; it is entirely reasonable. Indeed, as I mentioned yesterday, there are moves across the world in this policy direction. I commented on the other measures in the Bill yesterday, so I will not detain the House with repetition.
The past year has obviously been one of the toughest on record in peacetime. The economic impact will be felt for many years. We also have the consequences of Brexit. The need for the continuity of business operation is profound. Our whole United Kingdom must focus on growth as we seek to protect livelihoods as we have sought to protect lives. The Bill is part of the measures being taken to secure our business future, and that is why I will support it.