Amendment 69A

Elections Bill - Report (2nd Day) – in the House of Lords at 7:45 pm on 25 April 2022.

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Baroness Hayman of Ullock:

Moved by Baroness Hayman of Ullock

69A: After Clause 60, insert the following new Clause—“Non-resident donors Within the period of 3 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must make an order under section 43 of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009 so as to bring section 10 of that Act (non-resident donors etc) into force.”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment requires the Secretary of State to bring the provisions of section 10 of the Political Parties and Elections Act 2009, relating to non-resident donors, into force within 3 months of this Act being passed.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

My Lords, this amendment was not tabled in Committee. This is the first time we have looked at it. It addresses recent concerns that have been raised around non-dom status and donations from non-doms. I thought it was important that this was acknowledged during our discussions on the Bill.

The Labour Party believes that non-dom status should be abolished. We have recently made that very clear. We believe that there should instead be a modern scheme for people who are genuinely living in the UK for short periods. We want to address the fact that we can have small group of high-income people who live in the UK and are able to access non-dom status. We do not believe that they should be able to continue to avoid paying UK tax on their overseas income for up to 15 years, as is currently possible with the system we have at the moment.

We believe we should look at the systems in other countries and put in place something similar that is suitable for our country. For example, Japan, France and Canada have much better systems in place, where genuinely temporary residents who are here for short periods would not pay tax on overseas income gains, but that would not be possible for those who are here much longer.

This would bring about a clear, simple system. If we look at what we are doing at the moment, the rules are around 200 years old. It also means that the domicile is passed down through people’s fathers. It seems extraordinary that we still work by those laws. Surely it needs to be properly looked at and considered. I understand that HMRC has to use four complicated flow charts just to determine someone’s domicile. We have been talking about simplifying electoral law; this is something else that clearly needs looking at and simplifying.

We think that a temporary tax regime for residents would work. It would provide some tax advantages, but only for short periods of time, unlike the way the system is at the moment. Fundamentally, we believe that if you make your home in Britain long-term, you should pay tax here on all your income.

We are also concerned that the current system prevents non-doms investing their foreign income in the UK, as bringing it here means that it then becomes liable for UK tax, so there is no advantage for them to do so. That means that non-doms who earn income in tax havens and other low-tax jurisdictions would face a large financial penalty if they attempted to bring that income here to the UK. We do not believe that this is good for business; we should be encouraging more investment in the UK through these wealthy people.

We are aware that the Government have a business investment relief scheme which is intended to fix this, but we do not believe that it is working properly. The latest figures show that less than 1% of non-doms invest their overseas income in the UK in any given year, and that cannot be good for UK business. In addition, if we made these changes, it would bring us into line with other major economies. The UK is one of the only large economies which has these arrangements. As I have said before, France and Canada, for example, have different regimes, as does Germany.

This issue needs serious consideration. The Government need to address it and the Elections Bill provides an opportunity to do so. I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say in response. However, because this is such an important matter and it needs to be dealt with, if I do not hear from the Minister serious ways in which it can be addressed, I will consider testing the opinion of the House.

Photo of Lord Rennard Lord Rennard Liberal Democrat

My Lords, elections and donations are about choice. People who have non-dom status choose not to pay their tax here and, while they have this status, they live abroad for more than nine months of the year. The fundamental question raised by this amendment is: should they be able to donate the perhaps millions of pounds which they save in taxes by being non-doms to a political party, for example, which might want to preserve that beneficial tax status for them? In other words, we might connect the two principles of being able to give millions to a party and benefit by not paying millions which other people might consider are owed in taxes.

There are a number of occasions in our debates when we say that what we are doing is asking the other place to think again. However, we are not, on this principle, asking the other place or even this House to think again. The legislation which said that non-doms should not be able to donate to political parties was passed by both Houses in 2009. So we are not asking anyone to think again; we are simply asking for the legislation, passed with the approval of both Houses, to be implemented. Since 2010, various excuses have been put forward as to why this has been supposedly difficult or impractical, even though it was approved by Parliament. Essentially, the excuse provided is that the HMRC says, “Well, all tax issues are confidential, so you can’t implement this”. However, a form of declaration accompanying any donation, saying, “I am not a non-dom, so I am entitled to donate”, might well suffice and fit the bill. If you were making a false declaration, that could be an offence.

However, I do not really accept the HMRC’s argument—or rather, the Government’s argument put forward on behalf of the HMRC. For example, when Parliament said that if you are a higher-rate taxpayer, you should not benefit from child benefit—which I think was a fair measure—you needed to sign a declaration to the HMRC saying, “Someone in this household pays a higher rate of tax, so I can’t receive child benefit”. Why, therefore, can you not sign a declaration saying, “Someone in this household is a non-dom and therefore cannot donate to a political party”?

This debate is really about some of the fundamental parts of the Bill. The extension of the right to vote beyond 15 years is not really going to extend voting rights for very many people. For the reasons I outlined at Second Reading and will not go through again, the postal vote system, needed by most people who vote overseas, is so slow that very few votes would count in a general election. However, through this Bill the ability to donate unlimited amounts of money is being extended to a lot of people, including non-doms. A little earlier today, when discussing a technical aspect of the Bill, the Minister kindly confirmed that the Government’s position is very much to maintain a level playing field at local constituency level and nationally. However, I do not believe that this is happening. This extension of the right to vote is more about the right to donate, and should not be applied to non-doms.

In December 2020, the Government said that they wanted to increase the national expenditure limits for political parties in a general election “in line with inflation”. In 2000, Parliament agreed that there should be a level playing field between the main parties in elections. The principle was very much that it had to be a level playing field, not that each of the parties should be able to spend up to £20 million. If we increase that £20 million limit, or thereabouts, by the rate of inflation since 2000, that is a 79% increase. Therefore, the national expenditure limit, if increased in line with inflation since 2000, would go up for the Conservative Party, for example, from almost £20 million to almost £36 million. Where is that extra £16 million going to come from? Much of it will come from overseas donors, many of whom are non-doms. I do not think that this appeals to the British sense of fair play, and it should not happen.

Photo of Lord True Lord True Minister of State (Cabinet Office)

My Lords, I fear that I am not going to be able to allow the noble Baroness to remain in her seat for the rest of the evening. The Government cannot agree to these provisions, which seek to bring into practice a provision from the 2009 Act regarding donations from non-resident donors. Noble Lords will recall that in Committee, my noble friend Lord Howe replied to the approach of the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, on this same uncommenced provision.

The Government’s position on the matter remains unchanged, but it is important briefly to place on record the reasons why. The Government have no current plans to bring into force the uncommenced provision, Section 10, regarding donations from non-resident donors. It would be extremely difficult to make the provision work, as the Electoral Commission warned in 2009 when the Bill was going through Parliament. The coalition Government, in which the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, was influential, did not implement it between 2010 and 2015. The fundamental issue is that it is not workable, given that an individual’s tax status is subject legally to confidentiality. It would therefore be difficult or even impossible for the Electoral Commission, political parties, which would face fines for this, and other campaigners accurately to determine whether a donor met the test set out in Section 10.

I acknowledge that the Labour Party has come forward. I do not wish to get into a debate about the Labour Party’s fiscal proposals—that is slightly outside the scope of the Bill—but I know that Sir Keir will send a thank you letter to the noble Baroness for having raised this issue. Our principle, basically, is that taxation is not the basis of enfranchisement in the UK. As a British citizen is able to vote in an election for a political party, they should be able to donate, subject to requirements for transparency in donations, which we have discussed. There is also a precedent whereby those who do not pay income tax rightly remain entitled to vote. A lot of low-paid people do not pay income tax, but they have a legitimate right to vote. I know that perceptions differ on this issue. I remind the House that on two occasions, in 2009 and 2013, the Electoral Commission warned about the practical implications of the policy. For these reasons, and because of the duty of confidentiality in taxation, which would have to be overridden by other legislation, the Government cannot support the noble Baroness’s amendment.

Photo of Baroness Hayman of Ullock Baroness Hayman of Ullock Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Shadow Spokesperson (Levelling Up, Housing, Communities and Local Government)

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for his support and for his excellent speech. I thank the Minister for his response, although I am sure he will not be surprised to hear that it is not a response that I am particularly happy with or happy to accept. This issue has concerned a lot of people in recent weeks and months, and the Government need to take the position of non-dom status very seriously and look at it again. On that basis, I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Ayes 169, Noes 209.

Division number 3 Elections Bill - Report (2nd Day) — Amendment 69A

Aye: 169 Members of the House of Lords

No: 209 Members of the House of Lords

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

Amendment 69A disagreed.

Amendment 69B not moved.