New Clause 2 - Fiscal and economic impact of 2% non-resident surcharge

Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 8:15 pm on 24th May 2021.

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‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of section 88 and schedule 16 and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act and once a year thereafter.

(2) A review under this section must estimate the expected impact of section 88 and schedule 16 on—

(a) Stamp Duty Land Tax revenue at the increased rates of 2%, and what the revenue impact would have been if the rates had been 3%,

(b) residential property prices, and

(c) affordability of residential property.’—(Abena Oppong-Asare.)

This new clause would require the Government to report on the effect of the 2% stamp duty land tax non-resident surcharge on tax revenues and on the price and affordability of property.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

New clause 1—Equality impact analysis—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the equality impact of sections 87 to 89 and schedule 16 and 17 of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the impact of those sections on—

(a) households at different levels of income,

(b) people with protected characteristics (within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010),

(c) the Treasury’s compliance with the public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, and

(d) equality in England, Northern Ireland and in different regions of England.

(3) A review under this section must provide a separate analysis in relation to each of the following matters—

(a) the temporary period for reduced rates on residential property,

(b) increased rates for non-resident transactions, and

(c) relief from higher rate charge for certain housing co-operatives etc.

(4) In this section “regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.’

This new clause requires the Chancellor of the Exchequer to carry out and publish a review of the effects of sections 87 to 89 and schedules 16 and 17 of the Bill on equality in relation to households with different levels of income, people with protected characteristics, the Treasury’s public sector equality duty and on a geographical basis.

New clause 24—Review of impact of 2% non-resident surcharge—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of section 88 and schedule 16 of this Act on tax revenues, residential property prices, affordability of residential property, and the volume of property purchases by non-residents, and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act and once a year thereafter.

(2) The review under this section must include an assessment of what those impacts would have been if the provisions in the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill had been in force.’

This new clause would require the Government to report on the effect of the 2% stamp duty land tax non-resident surcharge on tax revenues, property prices and affordability, and the volume of property purchases by non-residents, and also to assess what the impacts would have been if the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill were in force.

Government amendments 4 to 6.

Government new clauses 17 to 20.

New clause 3—Review into the effects of replacement of LIBOR

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must undertake a review within six months of the passing of this Act of the effects of sections 128 and 129.

(2) This review must consider—

(a) the implications for tax revenue,

(b) effects on financial stability, and

(c) effects on businesses that use LIBOR as a benchmark, including businesses offering supply chain finance.’

This new clause would require a review into the effects of the provisions of the Bill about replacing LIBOR.

New clause 4—Assessment of environmental impact of Act—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effectiveness of the provisions of this Act in accordance with this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must assess the effects of the provisions on—

(a) the achievement of the Government’s targets to reduce carbon emissions, and

(b) the United Kingdom’s progress towards net-zero emissions.’

New clause 5—Equality impact analyses of provisions of this Act—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the equality impact of the provisions of this Act in accordance with this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the impact of those provisions on—

(a) households at different levels of income,

(b) people with protected characteristics (within the meaning of the Equality Act 2010),

(c) the Government’s compliance with the public sector equality duty under section 149 of the Equality Act 2010, and

(d) equality in different parts of the United Kingdom and different regions of England.

(3) A review under this section must include a separate analysis of each section of the Act, and must also consider the cumulative impact of the Act as a whole.’

New clause 7—Analysis of effectiveness of provisions of this Act on tax avoidance and evasion—

(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effectiveness of the provisions of this Act in accordance with this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must—

(a) assess the effects of the provisions in reducing levels of artificial tax avoidance,

(b) assess the effects of the provisions in combating tax evasion and money laundering, and

(c) estimate the role of the provisions of this Act in reducing the tax gap in each tax year from 2021 to 2024.’

New clause 8—Review of public health and poverty effects—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the public health and poverty effects of the provisions of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider—

(a) the effects of the provisions of this Act on the levels of relative and absolute poverty in the UK,

(b) the effects of the provisions of this Act on socioeconomic inequalities and on population groups with protected characteristics as defined by the 2010 Equality Act,

(c) the effects of the provisions of this Act on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy in the UK, and

(d) the implications for the public finances of the public health effects of the provisions of this Act.’

New clause 9—Review of changes to coronavirus support payments etc—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact on investment in parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England of the changes made to coronavirus support payments etc by this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the effects of the provisions on—

(a) business investment,

(b) employment,

(c) productivity,

(d) GDP growth, and

(e) poverty.

(3) A review under this section must consider the following scenarios—

(a) the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme are continued until 30th September 2021, and

(b) the coronavirus job retention scheme and self- employment income support scheme are continued until 31st December 2021.

(4) In this section—

“parts of the United Kingdom” means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland; and “regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.’

This new clause would require a report comparing the effect of (a) the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme being continued until 30 September 2021 and (b) the coronavirus job retention scheme and self-employment income support scheme being continued until 31 December 2021 on various economic indicators.

New clause 10—Review of changes to VAT

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact on investment in parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England of the changes made to VAT by this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the effects of the provisions on—

(a) business investment,

(b) employment,

(c) productivity,

(d) GDP growth, and

(e) poverty.

(3) A review under this section must consider the following scenarios—

(a) the extension of temporary 5% reduced rate for hospitality and tourism sectors is continued until 30th September 2021, and

(b) the extension of temporary 5% reduced rate for hospitality and tourism sectors is continued until 31st December 2021.

(4) In this section—

“parts of the United Kingdom” means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland; and “regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.’

This new clause would require a review comparing (a) the extension of temporary 5% reduced rate for hospitality and tourism sectors being continued until 30 September 2021 and (b) the extension of temporary 5% reduced rate for hospitality and tourism sectors being continued until 31 December on various economic indicators.

New clause 11—Review of effect on tax revenues—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effects on tax revenues of the provisions of this Act, and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must—

(a) consider the expected change in corporation and income tax paid attributable to the provisions, and

(b) make an estimate of any change attributable to the provisions in the difference between the amount of tax required to be paid to the Commissioners and the amount paid.

(3) The reference to tax required to be paid in subsection 2(b) includes taxes payable by the owners and employees of Scottish limited partnerships.’

This new clause would require a report on the impact of the provisions of the Bill on narrowing the tax gap, assessing the impact of: (a) the expected change in corporation and income tax paid attributable to the provisions and (b) any change, attributable to the provisions, in the difference between the amount of tax required to be paid to the Commissioners and the amount paid. In particular, this includes taxes payable by the owners and employees of Scottish limited partnerships.

New clause 13—Review of impact on GDP—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact in parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England of the changes made by this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must compare estimated GDP in each of the next five years under the following scenarios—

(a) these provisions are enacted,

(b) these provisions are not enacted, and

(c) the UK fiscal stimulus package, as a percentage of GDP, mirrors that of the United States.

(3) In this section—

“parts of the United Kingdom” means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland; and “regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.’

This new clause would require a report on the impact on GDP of the provisions in the Bill, comparing them with the impact of copying the level of fiscal intervention in the US.

New clause 14—Report on Part 2

‘(1) The Secretary of State shall, before 1 April 2023, publish a report on the impact of the provisions in Part 2 of this Act.

(2) The report in subsection (1) shall include consideration of the impact on—

(a) the rate of plastic recycling in the UK generally,

(b) the rate of PET plastic recycling in the UK,

(c) the rate of Polypropylene plastic recycling in the UK, and

(d) the rate of HDPE plastic recycling in the UK.

(3) The report in subsection (1) shall include consideration of the impact on—

(a) the volume of plastic used in the UK,

(b) the volume of PET plastic used in the UK,

(c) the volume of Polypropylene plastic used in the UK, and

(d) the volume of HDPE plastic used in the UK.

(4) The report in subsection (1) shall include consideration of the impact on—

(a) the volume of plastic stockpiling in the UK,

(b) the volume of PET plastic stockpiling in the UK,

(c) the volume of Polypropylene plastic stockpiling in the UK, and

(d) the volume of HDPE plastic stockpiling in the UK.

(5) The report in subsection (1) shall consider whether—

(a) £200/tonne provides an economic incentive to change the content of packaging for those types of plastic specified in subsection (2),

(b) the economic incentive in subsection (5)(a) remains in the event of lower than average oil prices, and

(c) a tax escalator might be more efficacious.’

This new clause would require a review of the efficacy of the proposed plastic packaging tax, with respect to whether the proposals will (a) increase use of certain plastics and (b) provide an incentive to recycle in the event of lower than average oil prices.

New clause 15—Review of impact on climate emissions—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact on climate emissions in parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England of the changes made by this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the effects of the provisions of the Act on progress towards the Government’s climate emissions targets.

(3) In this section—

“parts of the United Kingdom” means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland; and “regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.’

This new clause would require a report on the effects of the Bill on progress towards the UK Government’s climate emissions targets.

New clause 16—Review of impact of section 104—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact on investment in parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England of the changes made by section 104 and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the effects of the provisions on the volume of gambling, including—

(a) the number of people who take part in gambling,

(b) the amount of money spent on gambling, and

(c) the gross gaming yield.

(3) In this section—

“parts of the United Kingdom” means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland; and “regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.’

This new clause would require a report on the effects of section 104 on the volume of gambling.

New clause 21—Impact of Act on human and ecological health and wellbeing—

‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of the provisions of this Act on human and ecological health and wellbeing, including the wellbeing of future generations, and lay a report of that review before both Houses of Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act.’

This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Finance Bill on human and ecological health and wellbeing, including the wellbeing of future generations.

New clause 26—Review of coronavirus job support schemes—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before Parliament within three months of the passing of this Act a report on the impact of sections 31 to 33 of this Act.

(2) The report must consider the effects of the following two scenarios—

(a) the coronavirus job retention scheme and the self-employment income support scheme are continued until 30th September 2021, and

(b) the coronavirus job retention scheme and self- employment income support scheme are continued until 31st December 2021, and the following categories of workers are made eligible for the schemes—

(i) limited company directors,

(ii) self-employed workers earning more than 50% of their income from employment, and

(iii) self-employed workers with profits over £50,000.

(3) A review under this section must consider the effects of the provisions on—

(a) employment,

(b) GDP growth,

(c) personal debt, and

(d) poverty.’

New clause 27—Review of effect on small businesses—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act a review considering the effects of this Act on small businesses that have been subject to restrictions on trading as a result of the pandemic.

(2) The review must consider the following issues—

(a) debt,

(b) rent arrears,

(c) solvency, and

(d) the ability of small businesses to employ individuals.’

New clause 28—Review of effect on carbon emissions—

‘The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act a review on the effect of the provisions of the Act on—

(a) a transition towards zero-carbon domestic flights by 2030,

(b) any reduction in the share of the UK’s carbon emissions coming from international flight travel, and

(c) the number of individuals booking more than three international flights a year.’

New clause 29—Review of effect on supply chain and other workers—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before Parliament within six months of the passing of this Act a review considering the effects of the provisions of this Act on the following categories of—

(a) workers, employees and self-employed individuals in the supply chain sector,

(b) employees on zero-hours contracts and agency workers, and

(c) office workers in different income deciles that have worked remotely since March 2020.

(2) The review must include an assessment with regard to—

(a) employment income, and

(b) socioeconomic inequalities.’

New clause 31—Review of section 21—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact of section 21 of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider—

(a) the impact of section 21 on levels of tax avoidance,

(b) the impact of section 21 on levels of tax avoidance if section 61O of ITEPA 2003 were amended to prohibit the operation of umbrella companies, and

(c) the impact of section 21 on levels of tax avoidance if section 61O of ITEPA 2003 were amended to mean that an umbrella company would not be an intermediary but would still be able to operate, provided that the following conditions were met—

(i) the worker had no material interest in the umbrella company;

(ii) the umbrella company received the monies from the agency and used the entire amount to process as earnings, including the total cost of employment, less a transparent intermediary margin;

(iii) at the end of the engagement, any outstanding holiday pay was paid;

(iv) all employment rights, including agency workers’ rights, were maintained; and

(v) no payment was given to any other party.’

Amendment 23, page 2, line 15, leave out clause 5.

This amendment would ensure that the thresholds for the personal allowance and for the higher rate of income tax rise in line with inflation as per the Income Tax Act 2007.

Amendment 27, in clause 15, page 9, line 16, at end insert—

“(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, no later than 5 April 2022, lay before the House of Commons a report—

(a) analysing the fiscal and economic effects of Government relief under the annual investment allowance scheme and the changes in those effects which it estimates will occur as a result of the provisions of this section, in respect of—

(i) each NUTS 1 statistical region of England and England as a whole,

(ii) Scotland,

(iii) Wales, and

(iv) Northern Ireland, and

(b) assessing how the annual investment allowance scheme is furthering efforts to mitigate climate change, and any differences in the benefit of this funding in respect of—

(i) each NUTS 1 statistical region of England and England as a whole,

(ii) Scotland,

(iii) Wales, and

(iv) Northern Ireland.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to analyse the impact of changes proposed in Clause 15 in terms of impact on the economy and geographical reach and to assess the impact of the investment allowance scheme on efforts to mitigate climate change.

Amendment 28, in clause 19, page 13, line 12, at end insert—

“(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, no later than 5 April 2022, lay before the House of Commons a report—

(a) analysing the fiscal and economic effects of Government relief in relation to R&D tax credits for SMEs and the changes in those effects which it estimates will occur as a result of the provisions of this section and schedules 3 and 4, in respect of—

(i) each NUTS 1 statistical region of England and England as a whole,

(ii) Scotland,

(iii) Wales, and

(iv) Northern Ireland, and

(b) assessing how R&D tax credits for SMEs are furthering efforts to mitigate climate change, and any differences in the benefit of this funding in respect of—

(i) each NUTS 1 statistical region of England and England as a whole,

(ii) Scotland,

(iii) Wales, and

(iv) Northern Ireland.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to analyse the impact of changes proposed in Clause 19 in terms of impact on the economy and geographical reach and to assess the impact of R&D tax credits on efforts to mitigate climate change.

Amendment 32, in clause 21, page 13, line 33, after “(1B)” insert “or (1C)”.

Amendment 33, page 14, line 9, at end insert—

“(1C) This subsection is satisfied where—

(a) the worker has no material interest in the intermediary,

(b) the worker—

(i) has received,

(ii) has rights which entitle, or which in any circumstances would entitle, the worker to receive, or

(iii) expects to receive, a chain payment from the intermediary.

(c) If any of the conditions A, B or C in this subsection apply, then this exempts the person within the chain from being an intermediary.

(d) Condition A is that the services are supplied by or through a third person (“the agency”) where all income received and receivable for those services wholly constitutes employment income subject to Chapter 7 of Part 2 of ITEPA 2003.

(e) Condition B is that the worker is employed under a contract of employment within the meaning of section 230(2) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and is ordinarily or habitually employed by the intermediary prior to being engaged by the Client, either directly or via an agency, and has been engaged by the Client on a secondment basis.

(f) Condition C is that all of the following apply—

(i) the worker is employed by the intermediary under a contract of employment within the meaning of section 230(2) of the Employment Rights Act 1996,

(ii) the worker, if engaged via an agency, has not given notice of an agreement with the intermediary that paragraphs (1) to (8) of regulation 32(9) of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses Regulations 2003 shall not apply,

(iii) all income received and receivable by the worker wholly constitutes employment income from the intermediary,

(iv) the total of the payment elements paid to the worker during the entire engagement are equal to or greater than the sums of chain payments made to the intermediary during the engagement,

(v) the intermediary is not in breach of Section 54 of the Pensions Act 2008, and

(vi) the intermediary is not in breach of Paragraph 3A of Schedule 1 of the Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992.

(g) A “payment element” means any of the following—

(i) secondary Class 1 National Insurance Contributions, as defined by section 6 of the Contributions and Benefits Act,

(ii) apprenticeship Levy as defined by Part 6, section 98, of the Finance Act 2016,

(iii) pension contributions, which shall mean contributions paid into registered pension schemes by their employers that are subject to the exemption provided by Section 308 of ITEPA 2003,

(iv) intermediary margin, which shall mean a fixed fee deducted from the chain payment, the amount of which has been declared to the contractor prior to becoming an employee,

(v) holiday pay, which means any amounts paid to the worker under the Working Time Regulations 1998 either during or upon termination of the engagement,

(vi) net employment income, which shall mean employment income paid to the worker after deduction of Income Tax under PAYE, Class 1 primary National Insurance Contributions, and Student Loans deductions,

(vii) allowable expenses, which shall mean any reimbursement of expenses to the worker by the intermediary permitted as per Chapter 2 of Part 5 of ITEPA 2003.

(h) In (1C)(g) “secondment” shall mean the provision of any worker by means of a resource augmentation service or temporary transfer of an official or worker to another position or employment away from their primary job with the Intermediary.

(i) Where the fee-payer, defined in 61N(2), has been provided with information from the intermediary that gives them reasonable belief that any of the Conditions A to C are met, then section 61N(5) does not apply, and the client cannot become the fee-payer under 61NA subsections (3) and (4).

(j) The amendments made by this subsection (1C) have effect in relation to deemed direct payments treated as made on or after 6 April 2022.”

Amendment 34, page 14, line 9, at end insert—

“(1C) This subsection is satisfied where—

(a) the worker has no material interest in the intermediary,

(b) the worker—

(i) has received,

(ii) has rights which entitle, or which in any circumstances would entitle, the worker to receive, or

(iii) expects to receive, a chain payment from the intermediary.

(c) If any of the conditions A, B or C in this subsection apply, then this exempts the person within the chain from being an intermediary.

(d) Condition A is that the services are supplied by or through a third person (“the agency”) where all income received and receivable for those services wholly constitutes employment income subject to Chapter 7 of Part 2 of ITEPA 2003.

(e) Condition B is that the worker is employed under a contract of employment within the meaning of section 230(2) of the Employment Rights Act 1996 and is ordinarily or habitually employed by the intermediary prior to being engaged by the Client, either directly or via an agency, and has been engaged by the Client on a secondment basis.

(f) In (1C)(e) “secondment” shall mean the provision of any worker by means of a resource augmentation service or temporary transfer of an official or worker to another position or employment away from their primary job with the Intermediary.

(g) Where the fee-payer, defined in 61N(2), has been provided with information from the intermediary that gives them reasonable belief that either of the Conditions A to B are met, then section 61N(5) does not apply, and the client cannot become the fee-payer under 61NA subsections (3) and (4).

(h) The amendments made by this subsection (1C) have effect in relation to deemed direct payments treated as made on or after 6 April 2022.”

Government new schedule 1.

Government amendment 3.

Government amendments 7 to 22.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I rise to speak to new clauses 2 and 24, tabled by the Leader of the Opposition, other hon. and right hon. Friends and myself.

New clause 2 draws attention to the announcement made by the Chancellor in 2019, when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, on implementing a non-resident stamp duty surcharge at 3%. As hon. Members will have noted, the Finance Bill introduces a non-resident surcharge at 2% rather than 3%. In Committee, I asked the Minister why the Government had watered down that commitment; I do not believe I have received an answer. We believe that this means that the Government will lose out on about £52 million a year in revenue, which they said they would have spent on tackling homelessness and rough sleeping. Perhaps the Minister could use his closing speech to clear up any confusion. Why have the Government moved from a 3% to 2% non-resident surcharge, and what assessment has been made of the impact on tax revenues and the housing market?

I turn to new clause 24. In Committee of the whole House, my hon. Friend James Murray asked the Financial Secretary to the Treasury to explain whether the Government will meet their own deadline of introducing legislation to set up a register of overseas entities by 2021. The Minister’s response was that

“the Government plan to introduce the Bill in due course.”—[Official Report, 20 April 2021; Vol. 692, c. 914.]

Since that debate in Committee of the whole House, we have had the Queen’s Speech—the Government’s opportunity to lay out their legislative plans for the year ahead. I listened carefully to that speech and read the accompanying notes, but I heard no mention of the registration of overseas entities Bill.

It is now more than five years since David Cameron first announced proposals to introduce a beneficial ownership register for UK property owned by overseas companies and legal entities. Since then, we have had more announcements, consultations and draft Bills, but still no indication from the Government of when they intend to introduce this vital piece of legislation. The failure to include it in this year’s Queen’s Speech means that it is now beyond doubt that the Government will miss their 2021 deadline.

It is worth considering what that means more broadly. First, let us look at the scale of the problem. In 2014, the National Crime Agency received around 14,000 reports of transactions that were believed to involve illicit activity. By 2020, that had risen to over 62,000 reports. Of course, the true scale of the problem is extremely hard to quantify, given the lengths that individuals and organisations go to hide their illegal activities.

In 2019, Transparency International UK said:

The London property market is highly vulnerable to corrupt wealth flowing into it.”

Its analysis found that since 2008, £100 billion of properties have been bought in London alone by overseas companies in secrecy jurisdictions and high-risk corruption countries—both indicators for illicit wealth. In 2017, it identified that 160 properties worth over £4 billion were purchased by high-corruption risk individuals. The tidal wave of dirty money is poisoning the housing market for ordinary people. There is growing evidence that the purchase of UK property to launder illicit finance from abroad has a direct impact on housing prices. As Transparency International UK—among others—has shown, attempts to clamp down on corruption around the world have led to a rise in property prices here as illicit finance flows into the UK market to avoid detection in its home country.

This is not just about luxury properties. There is a ripple effect, where activity at the top causes a rise in prices throughout the market. As demand outstrips supply in high-value areas, buyers look out to more affordable places. This leads to a cycle of rising housing prices—my hon. Friends know this story very well. Illicit finance also distorts the supply of housing as developers increasingly focus on luxury property targeted at international investors, who have no intention of living in the properties. So dirty money, from crime and corruption abroad, is pricing people out of their local communities in cities across the country.

This has a direct effect on the housing crisis. The Government know this, of course. They have committed to act and set up a register of beneficial ownership for UK property owned by overseas entities. This would let the disinfectant of sunlight into the murky world of high-end property bought by shell companies and overseas bodies. As the Government stated:

“It is intended to act as a deterrent to those who would seek to hide and launder the proceeds of bribery, corruption and organised crime in land in the UK.”

The fact the Government are aware of the problem but are still failing to act is inexplicable.

Our new clause 24 requires the Government to review how the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill could work alongside the non-resident surcharge to mitigate the housing crisis. But what we really need is for the Government to introduce this Bill as soon as possible and begin the process of implementing this important legislation. I will end by paying tribute to the Members from across the House who have campaigned on this issue relentlessly. I know they will share our disappointment that the Government are still not taking the action that we all agree is needed. I urge the Government to correct this wrong and get on with doing what they have committed to do.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

I rise to speak to amendments 32 to 34 and new clause 31 tabled in my name and those of other right hon. and hon. Members. The Government’s historic IR35 policy has dated from long before this Minister was in his office. Far from rationalising the collection of tax from contractors, it has created and has now unwittingly extended a wild west of umbrella companies that operate without regulation and where malpractice is rife. This malpractice has seen contractors forced to operate through non-compliant umbrella companies that maximise their profits by using sleight-of-hand tactics. This includes: misrepresenting tax thresholds; skimming off pension contributions and other payments such as the apprenticeship levy; forcing contractors to opt out of their rights as agency workers; and withholding billions in holiday pay that is legally due.

The Government policy to date has triggered the increased proliferation of mini umbrella companies. BBC Radio 4’s “File on 4” found that 48,000 of these companies had been created in the past five years. The fact that policies in this area are flawed is proven beyond doubt by the fact that HMRC is having to de-register 22,000 of these umbrella companies. The frauds involved here cost the taxpayer hundreds of millions of pounds every year in lost tax, but as well as that, the boom of these non-compliant companies means that legitimate umbrella firms are being run out of business by them. The illegitimate umbrella companies making most of their profits through appropriating funds through tax scams, withholding holiday pay, skimming from the apprenticeship levy and the like are driving those honest firms out of business. There exist comparison websites for contractors to see which umbrella company they can do best with, and of course the ones that look best to them are the ones that make them money through illegitimate mechanisms.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that some well overdue changes to Companies House’s approach would be very welcome, and that the Government are taking an awful long time to get round to it?

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

I have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Lady says. There are many ways to attack the issue; I will mention one or two, including my proposals to build in some changes to that effect. There are many ways to make sure that these scams cannot happen, but we need to undertake some of them. To pick an example that I was not going to cite, we understand that something like 40,000 Filipino employees have been taken on as cheap frontmen for these companies as directors. Those sorts of things do not serve our economy or the contractors well.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

Is there not also a responsibility on the Government as a client to insert in the contracts with their main contractors a clause stating that if such practices are found within their supply chain, they will not be considered for future contracts? The Government could do that quite rapidly, quite apart from HMRC catching up with what is going on.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

The right hon. Gentleman is right. The first phase of IR35 was about contractors for Government, so the whole wild west that I have described was actually created for public services.

To come back to my point about illegitimate contractors forcing the legitimate ones out of business, it is quite understandable that ordinary contractors will be attracted to a scheme that seems to offer them the best terms, yet they will be unaware that in doing so they risk unwittingly entering unintentional tax avoidance schemes. That is one of the problems that troubles me most.

These contractors, remember, are not fat cats, big bankers or city slickers. They are hard-working, decent people such as locum nurses and supply teachers—contractors whose work is vital. To take up the right hon. Gentleman’s point, the FT reported that NHS locum workers returning during the height of the pandemic were targeted by firms mis-selling these schemes. Ordinary and comparatively low-paid workers do not have the advantage of expensive tax advisers. They cannot be expected to navigate the minefield of extremely complex tax law if we allow these predators to play unfettered within it.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Does not the situation get even worse once these tax avoidance schemes have been identified and shown to be illegal? It is very often the people who were conned into operating with umbrella companies who are penalised, while the umbrella companies walk away with no investigation and there is no means of holding them to account.

Photo of David Davis David Davis Conservative, Haltemprice and Howden

That is entirely right. Indeed, one of the flaws that HMRC exhibits is that although it very often has real-time information on the issues, it acts only much later. That doubles or quadruples the problem for the ordinary person who is effectively a victim of these schemes, who suddenly finds years later that they have vast sums to meet—and, indeed, the shame of being held up as a tax avoider, if not evader.

The Government should take action to clean up this wild west, for example by providing guidance and templates for the preferred model of working. This is not so difficult. Why cannot we lay out a template for ordinary contractors and legitimate umbrella companies that says, “This is how you should do it, and this is what we expect”? Failing that, my amendments give the Government and Parliament three clear and simple options.

Ideally, the Government will take note and enact new clause 31. It would review—it does not require law to do this—the whole operation of umbrella companies and off-payroll working. For me, that is the de minimis position. My preferred option is that the Government should introduce regulation into this problematic sector to clear up some of the most egregious aspects, including mis-selling and malpractice. They should require—this deals with the Companies Act point to some extent, but it is the simplest way of doing it—umbrella companies to meet five strict requirements: they should pay all holiday pay due; maintain all employment rights; ban kickbacks to third parties; end the skimming off of excess profits through sleight-of-hand tactics; and, finally, ensure that the worker himself has no material interest in the umbrella company. That would not deal with the propriety issues of the Companies Act, but it would deal with the main, most socially damaging aspects of the wild west we have now.

If properly enacted, any company operating in contravention of those strict conditions would be liable for the unpaid tax, so it would not be left solely to the contractor who had become the victim of these schemes. Finally, and this is not my favoured option, if that cannot be made to work, amendment 34 would ban—simply outlaw—the umbrella companies. It is an imperfect solution, because some umbrella companies do a decent and proper job, but if we cannot clean up the wild west, we should eradicate the wild west. It is as simple as that.

What is clear above all is that while that option is not a great outcome, it is much better than the existing outcome. We cannot keep this failed status quo. The Treasury and HMRC’s confused approach to the whole sector enabled the shameful loan charge scandal with thousands of people in financial ruin, families torn apart and seven people so trapped that they tragically ended their own lives. Failure to act on the mis-selling and illegitimate operation of umbrella schemes risks another scandal on a similar scale. That cannot be allowed to happen. We have a duty to act. Just as our key workers have protected us over the past year, it is time we started protecting them.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 8:45 pm, 24th May 2021

I rise to speak to new clauses 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 16, which are in my name and those of my colleagues. It is certainly a very large grouping of amendments, and I will not speak to all of them, you will be glad to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I will highlight a couple of them.

First, I want to speak about the very large amendments and new schedules concerning Northern Ireland and VAT. It concerns me greatly that we are looking at this huge new swathe within the Finance Bill that has not been considered at any other point in the Bill’s passage and that we have been given very limited time to delve into it at very short notice. That speaks to some of the complexity that Brexit has imposed on Northern Ireland. There needed to be a great deal more scrutiny of the measures prior to now, and the Government should not be bringing forward huge swathes of new schedules at this very late stage of the Bill.

I am very keen on new clauses 4, 5, 8 and 21, because Finance Bill scrutiny is limited after we have passed the Bill. We do not really think very much about the environmental impact, the equalities impact, the public health impact or the impact on poverty, and we do not think very much about the significant impact on the environment of the measures in the Bill. We do not do enough within Finance Bills to understand the full impact of the measures we have, and I would support a full range of other mechanisms to do so, which I will come back to on Third Reading.

I want to touch on the worthy amendments that those on the Labour Front Bench have tabled. Abena Oppong-Asare talked knowledgably about the issues around financial crime. Some of the evidence we heard in the Treasury Committee during our inquiry highlighted the fact that that is a hugely under-investigated and under-prosecuted crime. There is still very little progress by the Government in closing loopholes in Scottish limited partnerships or in other areas. As she pointed out, we had pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill in the Joint Committee with the Lords. Now the Bill has disappeared, but the problem has not. There are still huge numbers of people using the UK, within the property sector in particular, to launder dirty money. The Government are not acting on it. The longer it goes on without action, the more we have to ask who is benefiting if the Government are choosing not to act.

On our new clause 9, I was in a meeting earlier with representatives of Lloyds Banking Group where Philip Grant, one of its representatives, made an excellent point about the asymmetric economy that we are currently in. There are some who can restart their businesses and some who cannot yet get restarted. Some of those will not be restarted for quite some time yet to the point where they do not know if they will be able to break even. The economy has not restarted and opened up for everybody. Many sectors of the economy will not be back to normal for quite some time.

Our new clause 9 calls for a report on the extension of the self-employment income support scheme and the coronavirus job retention scheme until September and until the end of the year respectively. For those who are watching and are unfamiliar with Finance Bills, if they are wondering why we keep talking about reports and reviews, the rules of Finance Bills are such that we cannot just ask for the extension in a simple way. We are not allowed to do that—it is part of the restrictions that these Bills have—so we ask for reports. However, we do very much see merit in asking for action rather than just reports.

Some sectors have been able to modify and their staff are working as they were before the coronavirus pandemic, while some are working partly or entirely from home. Yet, as we all know, there are other sectors that are still waiting—culture, hospitality, conferences, events, weddings, tourism and travel. Employers who may already be carrying a significant burden of debt and arrears without having their cashflow back to normal still have to pay more of their employees’ wages, eventually tapering off to nothing at all coming from a Government contribution. Many businesses may decide that it is just too much of a cost and that they cannot continue to employ those people or cannot continue with their business. We know that the scheduled end of the schemes last year caused job losses. The Treasury must not make the same mistakes again, and at least carrying out such a report would help us to understand the consequences of the UK Government’s actions in this area.

We are not out of the woods yet with this pandemic, and it is vital that the UK Government take all the steps they can to strengthen support rather than pulling it. We in the SNP cannot forget, although the UK Government clearly have, about the millions of people excluded from support schemes altogether. It is unjustifiable that the year has come and gone with so many people left without a single penny piece in Government support, many in sectors that have not yet come back and may not for some time.

Further to this, we call again in our new clause 10 for a review of the extension of the 5% reduced rate for hospitality and tourism. This was a call that we made before the Chancellor announced it last year. The VAT rate for tourism has been too high for too long, and this year, when we are being strongly encouraged to holiday at home, it makes absolute sense to extend this provision, which many people have not had sufficient opportunity to benefit from. The provision would also cover events, including funfairs, which have had a very tough year, with many traditional fairs up and down the country being cancelled. Maintaining the VAT reduction could help to provide a much-needed stimulus to an events, tourism and hospitality sector that is crying out for such a boost. I am sure that if we had this power in the Scottish Parliament we would be using it, so I encourage the Minister to act or to devolve the power and let us get on with the job.

On our new clause 13 on stimulus, we agree with the principle of boosting it like Biden. One of the mistakes of the crash is that it was used to set us on a course of austerity. This has had a huge and devastating impact on all our constituents. We need to know from the UK Government what will be the impact of future austerity plans they might have compared with investment. While this Government have the levers in their hands, they should be clear about the impact that their action or inaction will have.

Our new clause 14 returns to some of the issues that we have with the technicalities of the plastic packaging tax. We are trying to be helpful to the UK Government in this regard. I genuinely hope, against previous experience, that they will at least listen to these concerns and make provisions that will maximise both the recyclate and the tax take. Not all plastics are equal, and the Government should recognise that in the provisions they put forward. Some lend themselves more to being recycled and can be brought to 100% reusable content, and some are very far away from that. We should not treat them all the same.

On our new clause 16, we have been concerned for some time about problem gambling, and my hon. Friend Ronnie Cowan has campaigned doggedly on the issue, along with the all-party parliamentary group for gambling related harm. It would therefore be useful to understand the impact of clause 104 on the volume of gambling and whether further fiscal measures are required to tackle the harm that is done to people.

I would like to touch on some of the amendments tabled by Mr Davis on the loan charge and related issues. The loan charge continues to be a running sore for many, and I ask the UK Government to consider the merits of the amendments and what more can be done to support people. Stopping the malpractice of umbrella companies would be another step forward in closing loopholes and protecting those who may be tempted to sign up to, or coerced into signing up to, such schemes in the future. Those promoting such schemes always seem to be a step ahead, and the Government should not let them get further steps ahead and become a dot on the horizon.

There are many amendments in the group that I would like to speak to, and many have significant merit and should be considered by the Government. The flaws in this process mean that many of them will not even be considered or voted on tonight, but I urge the Government to take up those that they can.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I rise to support the amendments standing in the names of my right hon. Friend Mr Davis, myself and my colleagues.

Let me start by making it very clear, as my right hon. Friend—wherever he is—did so well earlier, that we have a problem here, and I am surprised that the Government do not really want to recognise it and are avoiding it. The unacceptable practices of umbrella companies have now become very clear. Contractors are being forced into schemes and are being forced by recruitment agencies to use umbrella companies, which they may not wish to do and may be concerned about. Opting out of the conduct of employment regulations is often mandatory, which removes the rights contractors had as agency workers. We are seeing kickbacks, problems over holiday pay and the skimming of the assignment rate. We are also seeing mini umbrella companies, which some contractors sign up to, believing them to be compliant, only to then discover that they are employed by a company with a different name and owned by a director in, say, the Philippines—my right hon. Friend mentioned “File on 4”, which has raised this issue.

The problem is that the worse the level of malpractice, the greater the rewards and kickbacks for the agencies, reducing the revenue for the Treasury. I have huge respect for my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who is on the Treasury Bench and who will respond to all of this, and I am sure he and his colleagues in the Treasury are alert to this issue and understand that it is a major problem, but I cannot quite understand why we are not using this Finance Bill to start putting some of this right.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

Has it not been a systemic problem with the Inland Revenue that these schemes have been cropping up for decades, and that it takes years to deal with them? They are spreading like wildfire, and they are spreading even faster now with social media—it used to be through the pubs and clubs. Ministers need to be on the Inland Revenue’s back saying, “Why are you not dealing with these problems?” There is a timing issue in this.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The point I am trying to make to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and others on the Treasury Bench is a fairly gentle one: this is something that we can rectify, and we have the capacity to rectify it. We should think of what will happen if it goes much further. We should think of the loan charge and the huge human problems that were caused by that and the attempt by the Treasury to use retrospective legislation to grab money back. Who got hammered in all that? Not the organisations that were doing these things, but the individuals who were led to believe they were in the right set-up. It is always going to be them who get hammered. I thought the purpose of Government was to protect the vulnerable and deal with those who are abusing them.

Photo of Julian Lewis Julian Lewis Chair, Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament

It really is enormously frustrating for those of us who, time and again, have made representations to Treasury Ministers on behalf of victims of the loan charge, only to be knocked back by ripostes relating to tax avoidance schemes, that now, when people who have suffered from the loan charge are urging colleagues on this side of the House and no doubt on the other side as well to take steps to ensure that people are not trapped in these schemes in the future, the Government do not want to give them that added layer of protection, so they seem to be wanting to hit them in both directions.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green 9:00 pm, 24th May 2021

I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I will not risk repeating what he has said, but it is the reality. I was one of those who gave evidence to the review of the loan charge set-up because it was quite clear that it was causing huge problems for many decent people in my constituency. I am sure it was the same for Members on all sides of the House; I do not for one moment pretend that it was a problem for my constituents alone.

I recommend to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary some of the amendments and new clauses that we have been speaking about. I will not go through all of them, but I do want to make this point. Amendment 33, which allows an umbrella not to be an intermediary and still operate, provides strict conditions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden laid out those five conditions, which are critical. I recommend those to the Financial Secretary; I am not going to repeat them, because we would just go on doing that all night.

I want to deal with amendment 34 in a bit more detail. The important thing about amendment 34 is that, in reality, all inside-IR35 workers could easily be paid via a recruitment agency payroll—that is the key bit here—and umbrella companies are of benefit to recruiters, not to workers. Under the original drafting of the off-payroll rules, an umbrella company could classify as a payment intermediary, so payment would have to be made to the umbrella net of tax, reducing an incentive to exist. The behavioural effect will mean agencies will put workers on payroll if they are not outside IR35. The key thing is that this would give the sector a year to re-gear and provide its service as agencies in a payroll payment bureau-type manner, instead of the Government taking other decisive action, including banning certain practices and statutory regulation.

I am trying to be reasonable about this to the Government. I do think that this is really important. I am going to conclude on this. Overall, if we look at the purpose of the amendments and new clauses in this area, I think they set out what the problem is. The people who will get hurt by all of this in the end, when the Treasury finally decides to do something about it, will be the people who were the victims of this, not those who set these schemes up.

There are five points here that are critical: the whole purpose is to stop overnight aggressive tax avoidance schemes introduced and encouraged by some unscrupulous agencies; stop overnight the exploitation of contractors, forced into schemes that adopt malpractice to skim moneys from contractors; stop overnight the kickbacks being used that encourage malpractice; provide sunset clauses to ensure that the sector has until 6 April 2022 to prepare for the changes; and make agencies and clients liable for any malpractice, thereby removing the incentives to encourage it.

These are very simple, basic points. We are not asking for a revolution; we are asking for sense. I know exactly where this is going because in 29 years I have seen this time and again—do not move; later on, blame somebody else; and back comes the Treasury to say, “We’ll now get that money back”. I think the loan charge—I come back to this—is the biggest example of where, when things goes wrong, it is those who have suffered who end up paying the penalty, not those who skimmed off the top and are now living somewhere outside the reach of Her Majesty’s Treasury. I simply say to the Financial Secretary, with all due deference: please, please give consideration to this and at least have a proper review so that we may engage with this in due course and settle it.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

First, I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I rise to support my colleagues on the Front Bench and new clause 24 about the surcharge on overseas buyers: the extra stamp duty that is charged. Although we are seeing a 2% uplift, it is not what was originally promised, and even that, I would say, is still not enough to prevent people from speculating, particularly in my constituency and elsewhere in London, on the expensive London housing market and overheating that housing market.

I came across this level of investment in my early days in this place—I have now been here for 16 years—when I discovered that whole blocks of new developments were being bought up overnight. I could not work out who was doing it. I then managed to inveigle my way on to the distribution lists of some of the estate agents, which were advertising the properties in Hong Kong and Dubai, and they sold over a weekend.

These were not homes for local people. They were often bought up by finance companies overseas and sold on. The original reason for the extra stamp duty surcharge was to try to curtail that to some extent, but I do not think it is enough. Foreign investors are buying homes, which are becoming commodities; they are advertised with yield—it is simply about increasing the rent. As the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Abena Oppong-Asare, highlighted, at least £53 million and counting in revenue has been lost from the Exchequer at a time when we need it more than ever. The excuse is often that developers need the money because they cannot operate without that cash-flow model. I think they would adapt pretty quickly. In my constituency, there are blocks that local people have kept their eye on, wanting to try to buy, only to find they have already been sold en masse overseas. A stamp duty increase would help a little bit.

The stamp duty holiday has been helpful to many people, but all that contributes to fuelling demand for housing while the Government are not increasing supply. Those rising house prices put homeownership out of reach of so many of my constituents and people up and down the country. It is having a major dampening impact on people’s lives and livelihoods and on the economy in the long term. It does nothing for private renters and nothing for those in desperate need of affordable housing.

We are now able to go out and do our normal roving surgeries on doorsteps, and I will give some examples of people I have met in the last week alone. Faisal works in the NHS. He has three children in a two-bedroom council flat, and he has been bidding to move to a bigger property for 10 years, but such is the demand in my constituency that someone in housing need does not get to move. If they are homeless, they now get stuck in a hostel room for years, whereas only five or so years ago it was for about six months. Jane—not her real name—and her husband live with two large teenage boys in a two-bedroom flat. I have known her for some years, having seen her at surgeries. I happened to be on her doorstep the other day, and she made sure that I saw how big her boys have become. She has been coming to see me since they were toddlers, yet she still cannot get rehoused. This is no criticism of Hackney Council, which is doing a fantastic job of trying to build, and is building, affordable social housing, but it cannot keep pace with the demand. In the last week alone, two women I knocked on the doors of were sharing beds with their 12 and 13-year-old sons respectively.

One of the saddest cases is an NHS porter I met less than 10 days ago who shares a room in a private rented home with his 16-year-old daughter. He works. He could not qualify for affordable housing even if he wanted to, because he has no recourse to public funds, despite propping up our NHS in one of the most challenging years in its history. He is doing all the right things—working, trying to be a good father—but he cannot afford private rents. That is not surprising: it is at least £1,500 a month to rent a two-bedroom flat in my constituency; £750,000 to buy a two-bedroom flat; and rent for a three-bedroom house is not much shy of £3,500 a month.

We need to increase stamp duty immediately, while monitoring its effect, and we should increase it further for overseas purchasers. We should not have a housing market that has led to homes being owned by finance vehicles or absentee landlords who have no interest in it being a home but simply see it as an investment. Homes should be homes. Investment is all very well, but this is really damaging the future prospects of children in my constituency, some of whom will never have not only their own bedroom but maybe even their own bed between now and when they hopefully earn enough money to leave home, although frankly we are a long way off their earning enough money to buy a £750,000 flat. The Government really need to step up. They talk about levelling up, but that is certainly not happening for many people in my constituency.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

I am grateful, Mr Deputy Speaker, for the opportunity to speak in this debate. There are many amendments in this group to commend, and they have been powerfully set out by colleagues who have spoken before me, most recently Meg Hillier, but I want focus on new clause 21, which would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the Finance Bill on human and ecological health and wellbeing, including the wellbeing of future generations. I am very grateful to colleagues for their support.

New clause 21 reflects the urgency of shifting to an economic system fit for the 21st century—a modern economic system, designed to serve people and planet for the long term, rather than one that prioritises economic growth at all costs and short-term profit. We have seen where that has got us. In the words of a report by leading economists for the OECD,

“the dominant patterns of economic growth…have generated ‘significant harms’ over recent decades—including rising inequality and catastrophic environmental degradation.”

This new clause is about how we tell whether the provisions in the Finance Bill are genuinely building back better. It is about what the most important measures of economic success are for making such judgments. It makes the case that the health and wellbeing of people and nature should be our top priority. At the very least, the Treasury should be assessing all its policies against those benchmarks.

New clause 21 also highlights the need for the Treasury to fully consider the impacts of fiscal measures on future generations. It thereby complements the aims of the Wellbeing of Future Generations Bill, which the noble Lord Bird introduced last week as a private Member’s Bill in the other place. At the moment, the Treasury continues to put short-term economic and political gain ahead of the long-term health of our biosphere. That is an utter betrayal of future generations and is unforgivably wasteful from a public spending point of view.

If we are serious about levelling up, building back better or indeed about climate leadership, we have to switch to long-term preventive spending, and we need to do it fast. I want briefly to offer some further evidence of why we should be assessing each and every provision of the Finance Bill for their impact on human and ecological health and wellbeing. The case for new clause 21 is made splendidly by the Treasury’s own Dasgupta review of the economics of biodiversity, which calls for

“an urgent and transformative change in how we think, act and measure economic success to protect and enhance our prosperity and the natural world.”

Then there is Public Health England’s recent programme of work, called “Inclusive and sustainable economies: leaving no one behind”, which states:

“Never has the interdependence between health and the economy been closer, or the need for a fairer and more inclusive economic system been clearer.”

It explains how poor areas and populations are at risk of becoming still poorer, and how that will hold them back. Therefore, as we aim to build back better, we also need to build back fairer and more sustainably. Crucially,

“This means addressing the most fundamental of determinants—the economy which creates jobs and wealth—and protecting the environmental sustainability of future generations by doing this within the means of our planet.”

A new report, “Rebuilding prosperity” from the University College London Institute for Global Prosperity sets out proposals for a new way of thinking about what the economy does for people, and a new way of collaborative decision making to secure livelihoods and shared prosperity for people everywhere. Zara Mohammed, head of the Muslim Council of Britain, has recently written about the lessons from the pandemic and the importance of not going back to so-called normal. She says:

“We must build a society based on the principles of social justice;
reduce inequalities of income and wealth;
and build a wellbeing economy that puts achievement of health and wellbeing at the centre of its strategy.”

The OECD report that I mentioned echoes that approach and makes an unequivocal call for Governments to change the way the economy works in the wake of the covid-19 pandemic. It says that we need a paradigm shift in the way developed countries approach economic policy, so that instead of focusing on gross domestic product, we prioritise environmental sustainability, improving wellbeing, reducing inequality and strengthening economic resilience.

Finally, the UN climate science report from earlier this year, “Ten new insights in climate science 2020”, very clearly sets out the stakes:

“A COVID-19 recovery strategy based on growth first and sustainability second is likely to fail the Paris Agreement.”

We cannot judge whether this Finance Bill puts us on course for a fair and green recovery if our main measures of success are things such as GDP growth and labour productivity. There are plenty of alternatives that recognise the priority that should be given to human and ecological health and wellbeing as the goal of economic policy. The Dasgupta report, for example, proposes inclusive wealth instead of GDP. The New Zealand Treasury, famous for the world’s first wellbeing budget, uses a living standards framework, operationalised for budgetary and spending decisions across Government. Other countries in the Wellbeing Economy Governments alliance are embracing similar alternatives, and the Carnegie UK Trust proposes what its call GWE: gross domestic wellbeing.

Robust alternatives do exist. None of them is perfect, but none is anywhere near as flawed as using GDP growth as our main measure of economic success. The time for the Treasury to change is now. The UK, through the G7 and COP26, should be leading the world towards a wellbeing economy. One modest step should be adopting new clause 21, which recognises, as the Treasury’s Dasgupta review states:

“The solution starts with understanding and accepting a simple truth: our economies are embedded within Nature, not external to it.”

To conclude, we must, in Professor Dasgupta’s words:

“Change our measures of economic success to guide us on a more sustainable path”.

Photo of Andrew Jones Andrew Jones Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee, Chair, European Statutory Instruments Committee 9:15 pm, 24th May 2021

It is always a pleasure to follow Caroline Lucas, who brings a different perspective—or, as she might word it, a paradigm shift—to some of our debates, which is a positive thing. However, it is quite clear from all that the Government have said that improving our environment for future generations is at the heart of Government policy.

However, I am not going to comment on that. I am going to comment on the Finance Bill measures on which I have, I think, received more correspondence than on any other—namely, the stamp duty measures. In advance of the Budget, the correspondence was to ask for an extension to the stamp duty cut, and after the Budget it was to welcome it. If we pass the stamp duty measures—which obviously we are going to—we will have had a stamp duty cut in place for over a year, and we have definitely seen a boost in housing transactions. In March, there were over 173,000 transactions. I have taken that number from the non-adjusted monthly data published by HMRC, and it is the highest monthly total in its report, which details monthly levels right back to 2005. The £500,000 nil rate band until the end of June has therefore proved effective. My concern is that it has perhaps proved so effective that the market is in danger of overheating. We are seeing quite a bit of inflation, which obviously would need monitoring.

The introduction of a 2% non-resident surcharge will potentially have a positive impact on house price inflation. It would obviously not apply to those who come here to live and work, but would have a slight revenue-raising implication. The Opposition’s new clause 2 calls for the policy to be evaluated at different levels of surcharge. As I said earlier, all Treasury policies are evaluated regularly—I know that from my time there—and we also have the general commitment to transparency. I therefore do not believe that the new clause is necessary.

To focus on housing, it is simply too hard for people in many parts of our country to get on to the property ladder. I welcome the 95% mortgage guarantee scheme, which came into effect last month. However, we need to remember that it is not just one side of the argument that will move things forward, and we are obviously also seeing significant house building. It is the combination of boosting supply and facilitating demand that makes it easier for people to start on home ownership. Judging by my inbox, that remains what people want, although I recognise the point made by Meg Hillier about the need for a greater supply of social housing as well. She made her points very powerfully.

I would like to make a couple of comments about the speeches from my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith) on umbrella companies and IR35. It has been right to address off-payroll employment, which is not good for either the employee, when that is what they truly are, or the employer. It is also worth remembering that we should separate disguised employment from when contractors are truly adding value. They provide flexibility in our workforce for many companies and they bring expertise when it is needed and experience from solving problems in other businesses. That flexibility has been an ingredient in our economic growth.

Nevertheless, the points that my right hon. Friends made about umbrella companies were important. There are problems to solve, particularly in respect of the difference between the originators of the schemes and those who sign up to them in good faith. Although I have no doubt that we have problems to solve, I am not sure that the issue of umbrella companies should be dealt with in a Finance Bill—it is perhaps more of an unemployment issue than a finance one—but I look forward to hearing more on that from the Government in due course and, as my right hon. Friends said, that “in due course” should be sooner rather than later.

There are, of course, lots of other matters in the Bill, as we should expect, but I wish to comment on the issue of housing. I support the measures to promote home ownership, which has been falling for the past few years yet is an aspiration for so many. I am pleased to see that efforts are being made to turn that trend around.

Photo of Debbie Abrahams Debbie Abrahams Labour, Oldham East and Saddleworth

I wish to speak to new clause 8, which was tabled in my name and the names of my colleagues. The new clause seeks to compel the Chancellor to assess the impact of this legislation on poverty, inequalities and, subsequently, our health.

Under the new clause, the Chancellor would be required to

“review the public health and poverty effects of the provisions of this Act and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.”

The review would have to consider:

“(a) the effects of the provisions of this Act on the levels of relative and absolute poverty in the UK;

(b) the effects of the provisions of this Act on socioeconomic inequalities and on population groups with protected characteristics as defined by the 2010 Equality Act;

(c) the effects of the provisions of this Act on life expectancy and healthy life expectancy in the UK;

(d) the implications for the public finances of the public health effects of the provisions of this Act.”

You will recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, that in February last year Professor Sir Michael Marmot published his review of health equity in England 10 years on from his initial study. His review revealed that instead of narrowing, health inequalities—including how long we are going to live and how long we are going to live in good health—have got worse. Most significantly, his analysis showed that unlike the majority of other high-income countries, our life expectancy was flatlining. For the poorest 10% of the country it was actually declining, and women were particularly badly affected. He showed that place matters: health-wise, living in a deprived area in the north-east was worse than living in an equivalently deprived area in London.

Sir Michael also emphasised that it is predominantly the socioeconomic conditions to which people are exposed that determine their health status and how long they will live. By analysing the abundant evidence available, he attributed the shorter lives of people who live in poorer areas such as my Oldham constituency here in the north-west to the disproportionate Government cuts to their local public services, support and income since 2010.

Shortly after Sir Michael published the report, covid hit. As the recent National Audit Office report outlined, it was always a question of when, not if, there was going to be a pandemic. Like many of us, Sir Michael has tried to point out the Government’s hubris not only in their pandemic management but in understanding why we have such a high and unequal covid death toll—the highest death toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world.

In his covid review last December, Sir Michael summarised the four key pre-pandemic factors that have driven the high and unequal covid death toll. First, there were pre-existing and widening inequalities in social and economic conditions, particularly in power, money and resources. These inequalities in life have led to inequalities in health. Secondly, our governance and political culture was divisive, not just before but during the pandemic. Thirdly, there has been Government austerity over the past 10 plus years, including cuts in social security and local authority budgets. Finally, we had pre-existing and declining poor health.

Sir Michael has made a number of recommendations to build back fairer, including the need to recognise that our economy and health are linked. The improvement of our health and wellbeing must be a priority for the Government and an outcome of our economic policy, as others have said. New clause 8 is a practical means to ensure that that happens.

Photo of Ben Lake Ben Lake Shadow PC Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Education), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Digital, Culture, Media & Sport), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Health and Social Care), Shadow PC Spokesperson (Housing, Communities & Local Government), Shadow PC Spokesperson (The Constitution and Welsh Affairs)

It is a pleasure to follow Debbie Abrahams, with whom I agree on the importance of the Government ascertaining how measures in this Bill may have a differential impact on different areas of the country, depending on different socioeconomic and health conditions.

I rise to speak to probing amendments 27 and 28, which stand in my name. They would encourage the Government to bring much-needed transparency and strategic thinking to the reliefs proposed by clauses 15 and 19. The amendments reflect Plaid Cymru’s constructive approach to this Bill and our priorities of building Wales’s economy and delivering on our net zero commitments.

Mr Deputy Speaker, you will be pleased to hear that I have no intention of detaining the House for very long this evening and so simply wish to reiterate some of the points I made in Committee. Before doing so, I wish to commend the amendments tabled by Mr Davis and the speech by Sir Iain Duncan Smith on IR35 and umbrella companies. I very much hope that the Government will take them into consideration with some urgency.

Amendments 27 and 28 would require the Government to analyse the impact of changes to the annual investment allowance and research and development tax credits on the UK economy, their geographical reach and their impact on efforts to mitigate climate change. The amendments reflect a concern not only that existing tax reliefs are being used wastefully, but that we need to better support the levelling-up agenda and the decarbonisation of our economy so that we can achieve our legally binding net zero targets. I say that in the full knowledge that many other hon. Members have made these points far more eloquently than I could this evening. I particularly wish to commend the amendments standing in the name of Caroline Lucas, which would go some way to ensuring that any measures in this Bill would have decarbonisation and our net zero commitments very much at the heart of their endeavours.

More generally, the UK Government have a lacklustre record on the use of reliefs. Both the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee have raised serious concerns in that regard, with the latter concluding that the Government do not fully know their cost and have failed to conduct due diligence to establish value for money, with some 204 reliefs currently uncosted. When we consider that estimates for the 158 reliefs that have been costed suggest that they could cost the taxpayer as much as £159 billion a year, we as parliamentarians are not only justified but duty bound to establish precisely how those reliefs will contribute to levelling up and decarbonisation efforts. I commend Meg Hillier and the work of her Committee, which greatly enhances the quality of our scrutiny in this place.

With those words, I hope that the Government will urgently take on board our amendments, and those tabled by the Members to whom I have referred, to improve the transparency and effectiveness of tax reliefs to furthering what I think are common goals of levelling up and tackling the net zero agenda.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport)

I wish to speak to new clause 29, which stands in my name. The pandemic has introduced new ways of working right across our economy and we may need some time before we understand the full impact of these changes and the extent to which they represent permanent changes to how we work. Many of us, MPs included, have been fortunate enough to be able to utilise technology to continue our usual work and receive our full salary for it. Estimates put about 25% of the workforce in this category. I am one of many who hope that some of the changes we have been forced to adopt will be embedded in our normal ways of working as we move out of lockdown. On a national basis, it is possible that the use of digital meeting software may reduce the need for travel, both commuting and longer distance. It will also help workplaces become more accessible for those who have experienced obstacles, such as those with disabilities or those with caring responsibilities. But embedding emergency responses into everyday practice represents threats as well as opportunities, especially to workers. This new clause would require the Government to review the effects of this Finance Bill on certain categories of workers and to report to Parliament.

The workers I am particularly concerned about are those employed on precarious contracts, particularly in the distribution sector. One of the impacts of the stay-at-home order has been an enormous increase in online shopping and home delivery, with a corresponding increase in delivery vans on our roads. The impact that that is having on local congestion is a debate for another day, but tonight I want to draw attention to the contracts under which many of the drivers are working.

A recent survey of 700 drivers working for Amazon showed that many of these workers are forced to drive dangerously to meet their targets, often forgoing mandatory breaks and even toilet stops to meet delivery requirements. The survey showed that the targets that drivers have been given are considerably greater than they were before the pandemic. If we assume, as seems likely, that a greater proportion of our shopping will continue to be done online even after restrictions lift, it is essential that we put in place robust legislation to protect the rights of those who carry out delivery and supply chain work to ensure that we protect not only their rights to safe and healthy work, but the safety of the communities that they serve.

My new clause calls on the Government to report on the effects of the Bill on workers in this sector. We cannot continue to allow critical supply chains to depend on exhausted and overworked drivers. My concern extends to those on zero-hours and agency worker contracts, because the demands of the post-covid economy will fall most heavily on the most vulnerable. Many of these workers will be unprotected by standard terms and conditions and may find themselves pressured into working longer hours in unsafe conditions. We cannot build our recovery from this pandemic on such unsustainable foundations. Economic growth needs to include everyone, and the Government have a responsibility to ensure that every worker is protected.

I also call on the Government to review the wider implications of home working on different groups of home workers, so that we have the best possible understanding of the economic impact of this shift in working practices. Will home working become another mechanism for embedding inequality in our workplaces? Will enforced home working present a barrier to career progression? Will young people miss out on the mentoring and networking that is so crucial at the start of their working lives? It is really important that we measure the impact of this shift in working patterns so that we can consider the appropriate policy response.

I also speak in support of amendment 33, tabled by Mr Davis, on clarifying the identity of intermediaries for the purpose of IR35 and loan charge calculations. The loan charge continues to cause many of my constituents a great deal of distress and the proposals contained within the amendment go a long way to assisting with the legal clarification. It is a disgrace the extent to which HMRC takes up cases against individuals, at great expense and stress to those individuals, in order for the law to be clarified. Greater detail in legislation would reduce the need for case law to provide clarification, which would assist individuals who sincerely wish to submit a correct tax return.

I echo the right hon. Gentleman in calling for greater regulation of umbrella companies and the way that they offer their services. All the loan charge casework I have taken up in my constituency relates to people who, in good faith, took professional advice in the organisation of their tax affairs and the submission of their tax returns. It is entirely reasonable that people should instruct professionals and take their advice. It is up to the Government to regulate and legislate to ensure that professionals are clear about the legality of that advice and that innocent people are not held accountable for advice they took in good faith. It cannot be right that companies exist that offer services that have been proven in a court of law to be illegal.

Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 9:30 pm, 24th May 2021

I rise to speak briefly in support of Labour’s new clause 24. We are often told, are we not, that the boldest measures are the safest. Unfortunately, the Government seem to have done a bit of a U-turn, or failed to be bold, going from a promised 3% to 2% on their non-residence surcharge. That is a hugely missed opportunity. It could really have helped the London property market, holding to account the wealthy as opposed to so many of those who struggle to get on to the property ladder.

I also want to talk about the register of overseas entities. First, I echo the words of my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, who talked so movingly about those in housing need in her constituency. That is something that many of us in London see, day in, day out, in our surgeries. In my case, I think of particular companies that, after properties are built, purchase a number of different apartments, selling them, for example, to the far east. Even people who have saved and saved cannot afford to purchase an apartment in that block, as opposed to those who buy an apartment to hold as an investment, even keeping it empty at a time when we have such desperate housing need. The Treasury should consider clamping down on this practice.

On the wider point that this measure could address if it were not so shy, consideration should be made of the cost of assets and the fact that the huge inflation of assets does not help savers or the young. There are so many young people in desperately insecure employment who will never get on to the housing ladder unless we start to address this terrible situation. We also know that with low interest rates it is almost impossible to save the amount of deposit that is needed. The Help to Buy scheme, which in some parts of the country has worked quite well, has not worked particularly well in many of our neighbourhoods. It simply has not been able to touch the sides of what is needed.

The second point I want to make on the amendment on the register of overseas entities is, once again, how disappointing it has been that we have failed to hold to account those abroad who seek, for various reasons, to hide their financial interests in the UK. We look at this in the context of the Sunday Times rich list from last Sunday, where we see 24 new billionaires in the UK while 4.3 million children in the UK are living in poverty. That desperately needs to be addressed, yet it is five years since David Cameron first promised, when he appointed his anti-corruption tsar, to actually do something about corruption and overseas finance. Instead we have this go-slow, whether on having proper credentials for registering businesses at Companies House, on some of the measures in the Bill or on going from 3% to 2%. Who stands to benefit from that? It is not our constituents; it is people abroad who clearly have some kind ear of the Government. That desperately needs to be addressed.

Having read Catherine Belton’s book “Putin’s People”, I hope the Minister is able dispel my fear regarding its allegation that £1 million has gone to the Tory party from Mr Temerko, who is a very wealthy Ukrainian businessman. That money is tied to a corrupt regime where the courts will do the bidding of the Government in Russia. That money is tied up. We should not be beholden to these people; we should be standing up to them.

I also want, while I am talking about the register of overseas entities, to comment briefly on the terrible situation with Belarus in the last 24 hours. The Treasury needs to be much more campaigning. I know that working for the Treasury is all dry facts and figures, but look at how important its work has been in saving our economy and saving our workers. Well, let us now look at how revolutionary it could be in holding to account some of the corrupt regimes that have their money tied up in London’s economy. Will the Minister look at whether he can work with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office to bring forward sanctions against state-owned enterprises—some of which continue to have UK subsidiaries, such as BNK UK, which is the UK arm of the Belarusian state oil company—and outline how the Government can plan to stop the Belarusian Government from using the London stock exchange to raise money and sustain Mr Lukashenko’s grip on power? Furthermore, how can the Treasury, working together with the Foreign Office, examine the evidence for further sanctions against individuals who support and help to sustain the regime, such as Mr Mikhail Gutseriyev, who was mentioned today in the urgent question? I hope that the Treasury will work together with the FCDO to right this wrong.

Finally, a statistic to finish these few words. Despite the sanctions imposed last year by the Foreign Secretary, with which I agree, there are fewer Belarusian entities sanctioned now than in 2012. Only seven entities are currently designated, compared with 32 under EU sanctions in 2012. In the space of 12 months, this dangerous regime has stolen an election, employed brutal repression against its own people and hijacked a civilian airliner. I feel as though our economy is facilitating that, and we simply cannot let that pass. I beg that with the mention of the overseas register, the Treasury will work hand in glove with the FCDO to bring these people to book, and to establish a genuine and committed economy that, at its heart, cares about human rights.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

We are at a stage in the Bill’s progress that is almost like a wash-up. We are trying to make last-minute appeals to the Government for action on a number of key issues, and all the appeals to the Government so far by the right hon. Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith), my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, the hon. Members for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) and others are on worthy causes that should be addressed, as are the amendments from the Labour Front Benchers.

We must remember the context of the Government’s surcharge policy. It was to spike the approach that the Labour party was making about a levy on overseas ownership, on exactly the grounds laid out by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch about the desperate need for housing and to prevent housing from being used continuously as an investment asset for profit, rather than to put roofs over the heads of our families. I wholeheartedly support and welcome all those appeals, but even if with my Catholic upbringing I believe in the powers of conversion, I somehow doubt we have been able to convert the Minister to a sufficient level for him to accept the amendments. I hope to be surprised, but I doubt it.

I tabled amendment 23 not in the hope of converting the Conservative Government, but to enable me to express justifiable anger about the Government’s approach. The Government are attempting to legislate for a real-terms pay cut that will affect millions of low-paid workers through the freeze in the tax threshold. Those include many of my constituents who have had to make ends meet on 80% of their wages for much of last year. Yesterday—this has already been referred to—it was galling to see the other side of the coin. The Sunday Times rich list showed that during the pandemic more billionaires have been created in the UK than at any time in the past 33 years. The levelling-up policy that appeared last year was the levelling up of millionaires into billionaires.

The Chancellor should have used the occasion of the Budget and this Bill to level up capital gains tax to income tax rates, for example. It cannot be right that we tax work more than we tax income from wealth. Ahead of the Budget it was rumoured that the Chancellor was considering equalising capital gains tax and income tax. That would have been a much fairer way of raising revenue than increasing taxes for people on low and average wages, which the Government’s proposals on tax thresholds will do.

Child poverty has been mentioned, and in my constituency 42% of children are growing up in poverty—a figure that has sadly increased each year since 2015. Child poverty is often a consequence of low pay. The majority of children living in poverty in my constituency live in working households. We should be doing everything we can not just to protect but to boost the incomes of the low paid, not drag them into taxation or increase the taxes on them. The Bill will cut the income of someone working full time on the minimum wage. We know that 2 million workers rely on universal credit to top up their low pay, yet in a few months, the Government are going to cut universal credit by £20 a week.

Poverty has been rising in this country, and whether it is the £20 cut to universal credit, the stealth tax in the Bill, or this year’s paltry increase in the minimum wage, the Government’s actions will increase poverty still further, and increase suffering as a result. My amendment would ensure that the tax thresholds for the personal allowance and the higher rate were kept in line with inflation, as per the Income Tax Act 2007. I tabled it because I wanted to draw attention not to Labour party policy but to Conservative party policy, because in the last general election the Conservative manifesto pledged:

“We promise not to raise the rates of income tax”.

The manifesto continued:

“This is a tax guarantee that will protect the incomes of hard-working families across the next Parliament.”

I just hope that Conservative Members will have the good grace at least to acknowledge that clause 5 of the Bill breaches that pledge, and that incomes are not protected. More of people’s incomes will be hit by income tax, and that is especially harsh on the millions of public sector workers who now face from this Government a pay freeze, a 5% rise in council tax and now this stealth tax rise on their income tax.

We know that low earners are struggling to make ends meet as it is. They are heavily indebted, some have been furloughed, losing 20% of their income for a year, and now they are being hit by what by any fair reading is a stealth tax on their income that they thought had been ruled out by the Conservatives’ manifesto in the last election. My worry is that low pay is endemic in our society now. I just want to remind Conservative Members of another pledge that many of them stood on in 2015 when the then Chancellor, George Osborne, promised a £9 minimum wage by 2020. It is now 2021, and the minimum wage is still below that level.

What infuriates me, particularly given the experience of the past year, is that half of all care workers earn less than the real living wage and that the majority of children in poverty are living in working households. The last thing any Government should be doing now is raising taxes on low-paid workers, especially when the Government have broken their promises on raising wages. With many low-paid workers not getting a pay rise and facing household debts they have amassed during lockdown, we should not be taking more out of their income. With high street retail needing an urgent stimulus, there cannot be a worse policy at a worse time than removing demand from the economy. So at this late stage, I, like others, am appealing to the Government to change clause 5. I doubt that they will change their mind, but let me at least place on record my disgust at the Government and at the way this Bill is forcing more very low-paid people already living in poverty into further poverty and suffering.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 9:45 pm, 24th May 2021

I am grateful to all of those who have spoken in this debate. As John McDonnell has just said, this has been something of a wash-up debate. It is fair to say that it is a bit of an omnibus group of measures pulled together, with many different clauses and issues on which colleagues have wanted to speak. That has made it wide-ranging, but if I may, I am going to focus on some of the key themes from across the various discussions we have had.

Let me start with Abena Oppong-Asare and the question of the non-resident surcharge, which was also highlighted by Meg Hillier. They may or may not be aware that in 2019 the Government carried out a public consultation on whether there should be a 1% non-resident surcharge, and decided on the basis of that consultation that the surcharge should be levied at 2%. That is twice as high as was originally contemplated in the consultation. That also should be seen in the context of the additional tax that people pay on second and third properties, many of which will fall into the scope of this measure. That is an important factor to bear in mind.

Caroline Lucas revisited some of her key themes as regards the climate and environmental policy. I think that there is a misunderstanding at some very deep level of what the Government are doing, which includes: the Environment Bill; the 10-point plan that the Prime Minister has laid out; the net zero work that the hon. Lady highlighted, which was commissioned within and by the Treasury from a very eminent independent economist; and our work through the new UK Infrastructure Bank, which focuses on green policies and levelling up and for which I was pleased to visit new potential office sites in Leeds only on Thursday. It all amounts to a tremendous emphasis, particularly in the net zero review, on the long-term future of creating a sustainable and productive green economy in this country. It is very important to focus on that.

Debbie Abrahams talked about health inequalities. I remind her that the Government have made an enormous investment in the NHS, over and above the extraordinary interventions supporting the fabric of our society over the past 12 months. We will also have in place a new office for health promotion, designed to support better health and wellbeing across the country.

Ben Lake called for greater transparency in relation to reliefs. I have a great deal of personal sympathy with his position; he is absolutely right about the importance of focusing on reliefs. To take a particular example that I know is of great interest to him, he will be aware that we have under way a review of R&D tax reliefs, an important part of policy.

Catherine West highlighted the situation in Belarus, which is not directly a matter for the Treasury or the Bill, but is obviously a topic of great importance and interest for all Members of this House, as today’s urgent question highlighted.

All those points are important to put on the record. I also want to pick up on the important speeches made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden focused on the prevalence of umbrella companies. It is important to say that there are legitimate reasons why an agency or an individual might wish to use an umbrella company. To contemplate a series of measures that might include a ban on umbrella companies would be a tremendous burden on the legitimate umbrella companies; my right hon. Friend mentioned that that was not his preferred option. It is important to point out that such companies can perform useful payroll functions for agencies, provide choice for individuals and have multiple engagements. Notably, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group pointed out recently:

“For freelance contractors who cannot work for their clients on a sole trader or limited company basis…the option to be able to work through an umbrella can be very valuable.”

There is value to umbrella companies, but that is not to say that there is not also abuse. The Government are very focused on that: my right hon. Friend mentioned some of the measures that HMRC is taking to combat umbrella companies that are disobeying the rules or trading fraudulently, and we are committed to extending the remit of the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate to support best practice in the area.

Photo of John Spellar John Spellar Labour, Warley

I think the Financial Secretary ought to face up to the reality, which is that many of the people under these companies are not what we would describe in any normal parlance as contractors: they are people working on Test and Trace in their thousands, for example, who should be employed directly either by Serco or by the agency that they work for. There are also great numbers of people in the health service under these companies; they should be employed either by an agency or by the health service. That is where the scandal is, and that is what he really ought to be dealing with—and very promptly.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

It is a very dynamic marketplace, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware. There are many different aspects to it with which the Government are seeking to engage. One thing that is quite important that I do not think he or others have noticed is that the changes to IR35 that the Government have made have in some quarters been widely welcomed. Let me give an example—it may not be the widest possible welcome, but it is quite noticeable—from the off-payroll advisory firm Qdos, which said:

“In recent months the tide has turned, with thousands of businesses now aware of the fact that IR35 reform is manageable”,

as it was manageable in the public sector some years before. It is important to recognise that that is also the case.

Photo of Meg Hillier Meg Hillier Chair, Public Accounts Committee, Chair, Public Accounts Committee

I have to challenge the Minister on IR35. He is speaking as though it is somehow all fine. It has decimated sections of the tech and IT industry in my constituency, where groups of people came together to deliver short contracts and were actually paying as much tax as the Exchequer was getting from them. I can provide figures if he would like to take this up further, but let us not pretend that it is all fine.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

There is no suggestion on my part that it is all fine. One cannot make meaningful change to a market that is not performing as one would like and expect everything to be perfectly fine within weeks of the implementation of the measure. The point that I am making is that there are important players in the industry that recognise that—in the quote that I have given—“thousands of businesses” are

“now aware… that IR35 reform is manageable”,

and so it is.

As the hon. Lady will well know, under the previous arrangements there were people who were performing like employees—often working side by side with them—but not paying that tax, and it was important that they did so. If she doubts that, she might want to reflect on the question of what the tax revenue raised from those organisations is used for. The answer is that it is used to support the NHS, our public services and all the other things that the Government are trying to do to get this country through a difficult moment in our history.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith Conservative, Chingford and Woodford Green

The Minister accepts that there are now some significant abuses in the way that many—not all—umbrella companies operate. Do we need action by the Treasury to deal with this issue, or is he content that it will just resolve itself as things stand?

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

No, the Government have been clear that there needs to be an extension of the employment agency standards inspectorate in this area, and there may well be operational measures that HMRC needs to continue to undertake. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Bill contains very considerable additional measures designed elsewhere in the tax system to curb the promotion of tax avoidance schemes, to improve the disclosure of those schemes and to combat organisations that would attempt to derive an unfair advantage of the kind that he has described, so we are absolutely not unaware of the importance of ensuring that people across the board pay appropriate levels of tax.

It is also worth saying that none of this really falls within the context of a Finance Bill, let alone the one that we have laid out in front of us. It is also worth saying that HMRC has used real time information in ways that were contemplated and discussed earlier in the debate in order to try to be more forward-leaning in this area. We recognise the concern and HMRC is highly active in it, but in many cases these umbrella companies do have a legitimate function, and it is important to recognise that.

I think that is it—thank you very much.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

Once again, I thank all Members who have spoken. This has been a varied and wide-ranging debate, with Members focusing on different aspects of the Bill.

My hon. Friend Meg Hillier spoke about the impact of overseas buyers buying properties in her community in bulk. My hon. Friend Catherine West spoke about the impact that dirty money is having on her local area and how other countries, such as the USA, are using sanctions to target corrupt individuals. Both are excellent champions for their constituents, who are too often at the sharp end of the housing crisis.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

I am afraid that we have to make haste.

My hon. Friend Debbie Abrahams spoke passionately about the impact of the Bill on poverty and public health. She is absolutely right to draw attention to the Government’s failure in this area. My right hon. Friend John McDonnell spoke about the measures in the Bill that are hurting the lowest earners in our society. He has always been a champion for the lowest paid.

Other hon. Members, including Mr Davis, spoke about the exploitation of workers through umbrella companies. As my hon. Friend James Murray said earlier, we are extremely concerned about the Government’s approach to workers’ rights, including their broken promise to include an employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech. We also share Members’ concerns about people being forced into umbrella companies and losing rights as a result. I urge the Government to look carefully at this issue.

I thank the Minister for his answer to my question on the non-resident stamp duty surcharge. I am aware of the consultation in 2019 to seek views on the decision on 1%, which led to the 2% stamp duty surcharge. I also point out that the Chancellor made an announcement in that same year, when he was Chief Secretary to the Treasury, in relation to implementing a non-resident stamp duty surcharge at 3%, so this commitment has been watered down.

I am sure that we will return to this issue during future debates and I thank Members for the points they have raised today. I will end by returning to the issue of the register of overseas ownership. As I said earlier, the Government’s failure to introduce this legislation is extremely disappointing. We will push new clause 24 on this issue to a vote, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.