Committee (4th Day)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 2:45 pm on 15th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Davidson of Glen Clova Lord Davidson of Glen Clova Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow Advocate-General for Scotland, Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 2:45 pm, 15th March 2012

My Lords, it might clearly be seen that this group raises significant issues. The Scottish rate of income tax is plainly a major innovation in the structure of UK tax. Where one has a major innovation in taxation issues, usually simplicity is regarded as a virtue. I suggest that simplicity and clarity would be very clear virtues here. The questions that have arisen include definitions. I should like to raise certain of these points. The definition currently being suggested-unlike the bygone definition under the variable rate-is by reference to,

"an individual who is resident in the UK for income tax purposes".

There is no statutory definition of UK residency for tax purposes but, helpfully, there are 86 pages of guidance which are subject to frequent revision by HMRC. In seeking clarity, will there be a way in which the Government will give some guidance as to how specifically the taxpayer for Scotland will be defined and how residence will be defined?

The Chartered Institute of Taxation has suggested that there should be a statutory residence test for the UK. It would be very interesting to hear from the Minister whether steps are being taken to put in place such a test. The chartered institute is not alone. As the noble Lord, Lord Lyell, indicates, the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Scotland has raised this question, as has the Federation of Small Businesses and CBI Scotland. They all seek to see a concrete definition of residence for this tax. What are Her Majesty's Government doing to address these concerns from the professional experts in the area?

The noble Duke, the Duke of Montrose, raised the question of close connection and the test being employed. The example of oil workers living in England but commuting to a Scottish oil rig will not have a close connection but the Scottish resident who works in England, returning to Scotland at weekends and holidays, will, apparently, be defined as a Scottish taxpayer. It will be interesting to hear the Minister's answer to the question of how the Government will deal with mobile workers. They may find it impossible to know where they might be until a day count is carried out at the end of the year.

Concerns have also been raised that there may be unfairnesses that, through a loose definition of Scottish residence, may permit wealthy individuals to arrange their affairs to avoid a higher rate of tax. Plainly, if this is lawful, it is lawful, but it may raise questions as to the extent of avoidance that might take place. It will be interesting to hear whether that has been considered.

It is inevitable that there will be disputes in relation to the definition of residence. Are mechanisms to be put in place to deal with disputes in relation to the application of the rules? Will there be a tribunal system with a right of appeal or will it simply be left to the courts? Where will we stand on this?

I turn to questions of non-UK residents, which tend to excite from time to time. Do the Government agree that a non-UK resident working in Scotland is liable to pay tax in Scotland? Should this be at the Scottish rate? The Bill currently provides that, for example, company directors, sportsmen and entertainers undertaking duties wholly in Scotland would pay UK income tax on income earned entirely in Scotland. Does that seem to be the correct way forward with a Scottish income tax? Employees inevitably will go to their employers in order to seek information on their tax status. They are more likely to do that than to go to the call lines of HMRC. What are the Government doing to support employers, particularly small and medium-sized enterprises, so that they in turn can support their employees in their inquiries?

More broadly, concerns have been expressed by many, including the Chartered Institute of Taxation, that there will be a need to staff up properly to meet an expected flow of difficulties and questions in respect of Scottish income tax. The approach that HMRC adopts towards staffing is one of considerable importance because taxation is perhaps one of the most complicated areas of legislation. While the Scottish Parliament may be able to create new taxes, the questions that will arise are likely to be highly complicated and require a considerable amount of professional input in order to permit clarity to be seen by the Scottish taxpayer.

Another question has been raised which I think might be the subject of a separate amendment but, like the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, I am not entirely clear on what the running order is at the moment. It concerns the split year. Currently no account is taken of split years where someone may be a Scottish taxpayer for one part of the year and a taxpayer somewhere else in the rest of the United Kingdom for the other parts. The problem is that if one is defined as a Scottish taxpayer at the beginning of the year, it appears that one remains a Scottish taxpayer for the entire year. That may not seem entirely fair or satisfactory. It is perhaps a little unfair to the individual who moves to another part of the United Kingdom, and it creates difficulties for Scottish employers or indeed UK employers who may find themselves having to deal with Scottish rates of income tax in respect of employees who are far away from Scotland. It is a curiosity and seems to be slightly cumbersome. One would be given some kind of confidence that this is going to work well if the Government could indicate how these types of issues will be dealt with. Other changes might be required in relation to pension deduction rules. Should such rule changes be effected through primary legislation by the Scottish Parliament or should they simply be done by subsidiary legislation? It is plain that the former would avoid the lack of clarity that secondary legislation can sometimes create.

One further area of avoidance on which some assistance might be helpful is how Her Majesty's Government propose to deal with avoidance of Scottish income tax rates by the use of the personal service company. Such a company registered in England would presumably permit the taxpayer to draw dividends from an English company. Those do not appear to fall within the Scottish rate of income tax. Again, this might seem slightly curious.

In relation to the self-employed, it would be useful to know if the Government have particular proposals that they wish to put in place on how self-assessment tax returns will proceed. Are they to be altered or will they remain the same? In relation to benefits, inevitably there will be an impact on how they operate in the context of the Scottish rate of income tax. Benefits are assessed on after-tax income. If the Scottish rate is higher, and there is a view that it will always be higher, that will have an impact on benefits because presumably the benefit recipient will be entitled to a higher rate of benefit. How are Her Majesty's Government going to deal with this rather complex problem? If taxation is one of the most complicated areas of our legislation, benefits can certainly give it a pretty good run as the second most complicated area. If, of course, the Scottish tax rate were lower-I accept that this is a possibility-mechanisms may be required to deal with the benefit by reducing it. How is that going to be dealt with?

I accept that I have bombarded the Minister with a range of questions for which I do not seek immediate clear answers. It would be wholly unfair to do so.