Growth and Infrastructure Bill — Commons Amendments

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 7:00 pm on 24th April 2013.

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Photo of Viscount Younger of Leckie Viscount Younger of Leckie The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills 7:00 pm, 24th April 2013

Once again, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I can only reiterate that the Government would like to give individuals and companies more choice in how they structure their workforce. That is the aim of the employee shareholder employment status-to provide this additional choice. It remains correct that the employee shareholder status will be likely to be taken up largely by new small companies, which my noble friends Lord Flight and Lord King acknowledged. A large number of points were raised during the debate and I would like to address as many as possible.

The first was a very important point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lord Forsyth and concerns the question of the cost of legal advice to the employee shareholder. I just make it clear that the issue is whether they are charged in terms of having a benefit in kind. I can confirm that the Government will introduce an exemption within the benefits-in-kind legislation to ensure that the requirement to provide legal advice will not lead to a tax cost on individuals looking to take up the employee shareholder status, regardless of whether they choose to take up the status. This should be addressed in the Finance Bill.

The second point is a point of clarification and concerns the definition or description of drag-along and tag-along rights. Perhaps at this stage I should defer to the superior knowledge of my noble friend Lord Forsyth. The answer, for the education of the House, is that these rights are sometimes found in a company's articles of association or shareholder agreements. Drag-along rights refer to the rights of a majority shareholder to require minority shareholders to sell their shares if the majority shareholder sells theirs on the same terms, and tag-along rights, which are more active, are the rights of minority shareholders to procure an offer for their shares on the same terms as the majority shareholders are selling theirs.

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, in a passionate speech, raised the issue of consultation. I should like to clarify that we consulted on how to implement the option, not on whether we should proceed in principle. Therefore, it is not true to say that no one supported the measure, although he did not say exactly that. The consultation responses included some positive responses. As organisations said, businesses of all sizes might be able to benefit because the changes suit the dynamic way that their business operates. Therefore, the Government believe that it is a good additional option for companies and individuals. It adds to the existing status of employee and worker, which has been much covered in previous debates, and it provides those taking it up with the flexibility as well as the opportunity to share the reward and the risk that comes with having an interest in a growing company. As I have said in the past, we recognise that not all companies will wish to take up this new status, and that is fine. What is important is giving those companies that wish to take on people in this different way the opportunity to award share equity.

The noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden, raised the issue of withdrawal of employment rights, which I believe she raised in previous debates and which I understand. The argument is that we believe it is wrong to focus on just one aspect. Forgive me if I am repeating myself, but the employee shareholder status must be seen as a package. It is a package of employment rights, mandatory shares and tax incentives. It is the interaction of all three aspects that will motivate staff.

This new status confers a number of benefits for both the employer and the employee shareholder. From an employer's perspective, the employee shareholder is more likely to generate ideas, as I remember mentioning in the past, for bettering the company, and to have a greater incentive to contribute to the organisation. Indeed, the hope is that they will stay longer than they otherwise might in their particular organisation.

Changing tack, the noble Lord, Lord Myners, raised the issue of multiple use of connected companies. Employee shareholder status is intended to be part of a flexible and efficient labour market in which people can move from job to job if opportunities arise-a point which may not surprise the noble Lord. However, where a person takes up an employee shareholder status in a number of companies which are associated with one another, such as banks and subsidiaries, income tax will be payable on any shares received from whatever company beyond the first £2,000 in value. Likewise, any shares beyond the first £50,000 in value will not enjoy the exemption from capital gains tax. This will prevent multiple use of the scheme for tax advantages, because the relevant limits for the tax exemption will apply to all employee shareholder contracts with connected companies.

I finish on this note. I outlined extensively in my opening remarks the points that have been raised in past debates about the share status. I reiterate that the Finance Bill will be used to sweep up any issues. We will be looking at this extremely carefully.

My noble friend Lady Brinton asked a relevant question as to whether I will be sending around revised guidance to the House. Of course, we will be sending guidance around once we have incorporated all the changes which have come from the various concessions which we have outlined today, made by Parliament and stakeholders. However, consultation continues, and I would not at this stage wish to commit myself to any particular date for passing that on.

The noble Lord, Lord Myners, raised a point about a general anti-avoidance rule. Forgive me if I am repeating myself, but the Finance Bill also introduces a general anti-avoidance rule which will tackle abusive avoidance scheme or contrived arrangements designed to avoid tax. This rather neatly rounds up a quite interesting debate that we have had this afternoon, including from my noble friend Lord Flight and the noble Lord, Lord Myners on this issue.

The key point about tax abuse which has not been made is that the Finance Bill is annual process. This issue can therefore be tackled at least on annual basis if necessary. I confirm, too, that HM Treasury and HMRC will be keeping the scope for tax abuse under constant review.

The noble Lord, Lord Christopher asked what happens if the legal advice given to putative employee shareholders is erroneous or negligent. Legal advisers are likely, of course, to have professional indemnity insurance which covers negligent advice and its consequences, so there will be safeguards there.