Making Tax Digital for VAT (Economic Affairs Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:43 pm on 29th April 2019.

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Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:43 pm, 29th April 2019

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Young. He has a somewhat challenging baptism in replying to this first debate in his new position. We all know his competence and that he always wins considerable support from the House for how he presents his arguments. However, I can scarcely recall another debate in which every contributor has identified issues that the Government have palpably failed to respond to. Nor are these minor pettifogging details; they are fundamental questions about how a government department should operate, and how a response to a committee report should be presented. The noble Lord has a great challenge before him.

I do not need to stress again the points made in this debate because we all have, strongly at the front of our minds, key issues on which we expect the Minister to make a response. The only figure I would like to bring to your Lordships’ attention—I do not know whether the Minister will bring this in as part of his defence—is that HMRC has 15,000 fewer civil servants than in 2010. Of course, we can all see ways in which government departments can work more efficiently and we all know the advantages of new technologies and so on, but a large part of that loss of people was a straight reflection of a determination to create a smaller state, with lower costs for the Government. These circumstances are part of the price that we are paying.

If there is one thing which stands out in this whole sorry saga, it is that HMRC persisted with conduct which was already causing enormous consternation not to people who were adept at tax evasion or those who employed professionals to look after their tax affairs, but to ordinary citizens applying for jobs. The report makes that clear. Their employers, or the agents working for those employers, took them on board and indicated a loan would be advantageous form of payment for their employment. That is why we have so many people who deserve the sympathy of every one of us in this House and all of us concerned with government. Ordinary people now find themselves facing charges which are not the kind of thing that might be easily disposed of by the better-off in society, but multiples of their actual earning power each year; these are now demanded as owed tax. This is a parlous position. What has been identified in this debate is just how dismissive the Government have been thus far on the issue.