Committee (4th Day)

Part of Scotland Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:15 pm on 15th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 3:15 pm, 15th March 2012

My Lords, depending on the nature of the scheme, it may or may not be caught by the anti-avoidance rules that already exist. Clearly HMRC, in its compliance role, will have to ensure that the issue of avoidance is fully addressed. These are complex areas and perhaps my noble friend will permit me to consider whether there is anything I can do to help where we see new areas of avoidance, if any, potentially being opened up, and what the technical thinking is about how these might be closed down. Some of the areas referred to by my noble friend sound as though they are getting precious close to artificial schemes that would be covered at present. However, let me take the matter away.

Let me address a couple of more points. On the broader question of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes of Cumnock, of what had changed since the workshop, yes, I appreciate that the workshop raised a number of issues and I wrote to all noble Lords who were there answering the questions that arose. There have not been any changes proposed as a result of the issues that came up but it was a useful session. As noble Lords who were there will know, HMRC was there and listening hard. All the issues raised were already being thought about and, of course, this will be reflected in the guidance. It was a useful session because it will inform the drafting of the guidance. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Davidson of Glen Clova, said, there will need to be clear guidance around this issue and therefore the more questions that are raised generally-but, please, not immediately-will help HMRC with the drafting of the guidance that will be needed.

Finally, I want to come back to this question of benefits and the universal credit, which is a very important area. The clause does not address it directly but it would be wrong to dismiss it at this point. The universal credit forms the background against which we must look at this. As noble Lords know, the universal credit is going to deliver a dramatically improved, simpler benefits system that smoothes the transition into work and improves work incentives. By 2016, when the Scottish rate of income tax is proposed to come into effect, the transition to universal credit will almost be complete, as that will be finished by April 2017. Universal credit is expected to be awarded on the basis of income net of tax, as existing income-related benefits are now. If the Scottish rate and the UK rates differ, then net incomes may of course differ depending on the amount of income tax paid, so that it is possible that there would be a difference to an individual's universal credit entitlement as a result of the Scottish rate.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that many factors determine an individual's net income and that a range of local factors could determine their universal credit award, such as housing or childcare costs. The Scottish rate would be another factor to be taken into the calculation. The extent of any divergence of entitlement would depend on a number of factors, including the prevailing rates in the United Kingdom, the rate set by the Scottish Government and whether an individual's income is subject to income tax at all. I hope that gives the noble Lord some reassurance that the linkage with universal credit has been carefully considered.