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Clause 5

Part of Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:45 pm on 19th October 2010.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury) 4:45 pm, 19th October 2010

I want to follow up on a point made by the Minister, and I echo many of the reasonable questions asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South. The Minister answered my point about whether the reference to the community guidelines on state aid had expired, and he said that there was an extension for a further three years. I am always concerned that legislation should be as permanent and everlasting as we can frame it to be, but if there is a continual need for the updating of references, I presume that the Minister will have the power to bring forward reference changes in the consequential supplemental clause at the end of the Bill, if necessary. Alternatively, is there a risk that the clause will be in force for only three years, and that we shall then have to return to the matter in a future Finance Bill? That is, again, a minor drafting issue.

The Minister mentioned that the financial health check applies only to the parent company, which issues the shares. I am still not quite clear in my mind about how often a parent company can be essentially a shell vehicle for a number of other activities within it. Clearly, the test is—or I presume it is—more of a voluntary requirement on all the participants, either in the company or in the purchase of the shares, and not just a requirement on the investigators and regulators in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to impose the test. Therefore the disclosure burden must surely rest on those involved in the company; that might be the way of getting round the problem of disclosure, where there is a difficulty. If I am wrong, perhaps the Minister will tell me.

It is good to hear that guidance is to be issued about the overseas holding company arrangements and, I think the Minister was implying, on the operation of the scheme and the financial assets generally. If he gave the Committee a sense of when the guidance is likely to be forthcoming from HMRC, that would be useful. If it is to be in the near future, it would be a useful insight if he could circulate it, or a draft of it, to the Committee.

I wonder whether the Minister’s officials know—again, this is more for context—the cost to the Exchequer of providing the tax relief arrangements for venture capital trusts more generally. We would like to get a sense of what amounts of money—what flows—we are talking about, even if it is a broad estimate figure. A sense of the revenue implications would give us a flavour of whether the change is massively significant or quite technical. It would be useful to know the scale.

I gather that in tomorrow’s spending review, issues about the green investment bank may crop up. I know  that the Minister has various individuals scaling the walls of the Treasury as we speak; I do not know whether they have been peeled off. There are questions about the trend of availability of venture capital generally to small and medium-sized enterprises, and particularly those firms that are forging away on innovations in low-carbon technologies and so forth. If the Minister shares any insight he has into whether the green investment bank will provide some of the capital that perhaps would otherwise have come from venture capital schemes, that may give us a sense of what we are talking about.

Finally, perhaps the Minister can also provide some illumination for the Committee as to a commitment that I understand the Lord Chancellor and Secretary of State for Justice gave when he was shadow Business Secretary, before the general election. He indicated that the Conservatives wanted to reform venture capital trusts to encourage investment in technology-based manufacturing, specifically. Yet I have not seen any of those commitments in the schedule or the Bill. If not now, when will the Government bring forward the changes that would fulfil the commitment made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman?