Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 27th November 2018.
I have the usual preliminary announcements. You may remove your jackets. I remind you that only water may be consumed during Committee sittings. Will you please ensure that you switch your mobile phones to silent mode as I have just done? Document boxes with your names on are provided at the back of the Committee Room. This will be our room for the duration of this Committee, and it will be locked between sittings, so if you wish to leave your papers here rather than carrying them around, please do.
The Committee will consider the programme motion on the amendment paper, for which debate is limited to half an hour, and then proceed to a motion to report any written evidence. We will then begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. I will first call the Minister to move the programme motion in the terms agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee and then call Kirsty Blackman to speak to amendment (a). There will be a single debate on the motion and selected amendments.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 27 November) meet—
(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday
(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday
(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday
(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday
(e) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday
(2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 4; Clause 7; Clauses 11 to 13; Schedule 1; Clause 14; Schedule 2; Clause 17; Schedule 5; Clause 18; Schedule 6; Clause 21; Clauses 24 to 26; Schedule 9; Clause 27; Schedule 10; Clause 28; Schedule 11; Clauses 29 to 31; Schedule 12; Clauses 32 to 35; Schedule 13; Clause 36; Schedule 14; Clause 37; Clauses 43 to 45; Clauses 48 to 51; Schedule 16; Clause 52; Schedule 17; Clauses 53 to 60; Clauses 63 to 67; Clauses 79 to 82; Clauses 84 to 88; Schedule 19; Clauses 91 and 92; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 11 December.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment (b), after “Tuesday
“(1A) The Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table—
Until no later than 12.15 pm
Until no later than 1.00 pm
Until no later than 3.30 pm
Until no later than 5.00 pm
Amendment (c), at end insert—
“(4) The Committee recommends that the programme order of the House [12 November] should be amended in paragraph 7 by substituting ‘18 December’ for ‘11 December
It is a pleasure to make the first substantial speech in this Finance Bill Committee—the first of many, I am sure.
Once again, the Scottish National party has tabled an amendment to the programme motion. It has concerned me for a long time that Finance Bill Committees do not take evidence and I think it would be better for the quality of debate if they did. This year, there are specific issues relating to the lack of consultation on the draft clauses and to the tight timescale for considering the Bill. I raised in Committee of the whole House my concerns about the fact that paper copies of the Bill were published on a Wednesday and we had to debate them on the Monday, which did not give us enough time given that the House was in recess. External organisations have also raised concerns about the lack of time for scrutiny, particularly for the unusually high number of clauses that were not consulted on in draft form. Glyn Fullelove of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, whom I quoted in Committee of the whole House, has been a particular critic of the process.
The SNP asks that, on Thursday, instead of having two normal sittings as planned, we take evidence from the Treasury, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, the Office for Budget Responsibility, the Institute for Fiscal Studies and the Chartered Institute of Taxation. They all know more about the legislation than we do, so it would be incredibly useful to hear from them.
I must also point out that the Government have included several clauses to make changes to previous legislation that was deficient. If Government legislation is deficient, I contend that more consultation must be a good thing.
The Finance Bill Committee should take evidence. I know that it is a long-standing convention that it does not, but having served on the Public Bill Committee on the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Act 2018 and heard the evidence taken, I know how useful it was for Committee members and how many of them referred to it in subsequent debate. It was an incredibly useful exercise and the legislation that came forward was better as a result.
As I flagged up in last year’s Finance Bill debates, it is very good that external organisations have submitted written evidence, but I guarantee that the majority of hon. Members in this Committee have not read it all because of how little time we have had. Allowing us to question witnesses on the evidence that they provide on the Finance Bill Committee would be incredibly useful. The Government might not accept that this year, but can we consider taking evidence in future years? I am not the only one calling for this. The “Better Budgets” report produced by the Chartered Institute of Taxation and various other organisations called for the Finance Bill Committee to take evidence two and a half years ago, so external organisations have requested it, not just the SNP.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I hear what the hon. Lady says. Some of us have not been in the House for a great deal of time. I sat on the Housing and Planning Bill Committee, which lasted for 20 sittings, with a marathon sitting just before Christmas three years ago. We heard a great deal of evidence that significantly informed the debates. Some members of this Committee might have been on that one. Interestingly, some of the evidence we took proved to be absolutely spot on, because the Government subsequently ended up changing some of their housing policies. The Government made the same argument at the time: “No, we have thought this through. We have consulted”, but the ability to hear from experts who live and breathe these issues was beneficial.
It was the same on the Criminal Finances Bill, which covered a pretty niche area. The job of Parliament is to scrutinise legislation, so we need the tools to do that. Whichever party is in control, it has the full back-up of the civil service, who are themselves experts and, to their credit, know their work, but it is important that the Opposition are able to get independent assessment and adjudication of what the Government tell us. That does not mean I do not believe a word that Ministers say—I believe everything they say. It is just that we do not necessarily get the full facts. I have found it very useful in the past to have evidence sessions, and the Government should give serious consideration to that.
I think this is the fourth Finance Bill I have sat on in the past two years, although my recollection is not what it used to be. We have also had the customs Bill, which is also a finance Bill, so we have had effectively five finance Bills in a short period of time and in a time of incredible turbulence and change. There might not be a convention or a tradition to take evidence in Finance Bills, but there comes a time when we think, “This is as good a time as any to take evidence because the circumstances have changed substantially.”
We have also had what amounts to movement on the convention in relation to the amendment of the law. As everybody knows, it has been used only about half a dozen times since 1929 when Winston Churchill introduced it. It has been used six or seven times, including three times by the Government in less than that period in years. That is a substantive and significant change. The Minister kindly responded to my letter about that and indicated that it was not necessarily a significant change, but it is. If we as a Committee—as a House—have done something only six or seven times in the best part of 90 years, changing that convention is significant. For that reason as well, we need to take a step back and decide that perhaps we need evidence sessions to tease out some of those important things.
It would also give assurance to the House, to Back-Bench Members and to the public in general that we take those matters seriously and that it is not business as usual—that just because we have done something for years or decades, we do not carry on doing it regardless. It would send a message that, in these turbulent times, the House takes the country’s finances seriously.
Therefore, we should seriously consider taking evidence. After all, we are all open to public scrutiny in one fashion or another—in fact, there is no doubt that we welcome it, and I do not suggest that the Government do not welcome it too. If we do not object to that scrutiny, why do we not institutionalise it, do what other Committees have done in the past and take evidence? Let experts in their field challenge us, and let us challenge them.
One of the Government’s arguments against taking evidence is the fact that the Bill is split between the Committee of the whole House and the Bill Committee, but does the hon. Gentleman agree that we in the Bill Committee tend to consider the more technical amendments on which we most need evidence to make good legislation?
That is a perfectly fair point. Inevitably, when we get into Committee, the clauses that we discuss are very technical and it is those technical clauses for which we need some evidence.
At the end of the day, we have had written evidence from the Chartered Institute of Taxation on clauses 7, 11, 81 and several others, which I read with great interest. Some of the comments were very pertinent. It would have been a good opportunity to tease out some of the issues in those clauses in more detail. As I said, none of us are concerned about challenge—that is why we came into Parliament. We are here to be challenged, and that is the nature of our democracy.
My hon. Friend has hit the centrality of the issue. The failure to move the amendment of the law resolution means that this Bill Committee becomes much less of a political conversation and more of a technical one. We can see on the programme motion the amendments that have been ruled out of order—reasonably, by applying the rules that the Government have put on the Committee. It has not been permitted for us to have a political conversation about different approaches to income tax, and if the Committee cannot have the political analysis, we should surely have the technical one, which has to involve experts.
My hon. Friend has a laser-like focus. In that regard, the Government cannot have it both ways. They cannot tell us that, on the one hand, we are dealing with all these technical issues and we should not be dealing with those wider issues, hence the amendment of the law, but in the same breath tell us that we cannot have any face-to-face consultation or oral evidence.
I give credit to the Government in so far as they have consulted pretty widely on these matters, but I have been involved in lots of consultations that have been paper exercises. I do not mean that lightly—they have been genuine attempts at consultation where people have written in to express this or that view—but during the process, I have certainly been in situations where we have decided, in the light of the evidence that we have and of the information provided to us through that consultation process, that we were going to say, in an open and transparent fashion, “Okay, let’s stop. We have all this consultation. We’ve read it. We’ve listened to it. Why don’t we just tease it out a bit more with some of the people who have taken the time to write back to us?” Organisations have indicated to us that they would welcome evidence sessions. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North has indicated some people we could see, but there are lots more. Frankly, we could have three days of evidence sessions, which would not be a bad thing per se. The idea that we focus it down to one day, with the organisations that hon. Lady has identified, is not, in the grand scheme of things, a difficult process, issue or onus. I exhort the Government to listen carefully to what we have said in the genuine spirit of trying to make this a better Bill. There may be agreement and we may have a better Bill where there is no agreement. I exhort the Government to listen carefully and accede or acquiesce—not capitulate—to our request.
I have just a few points about where we are going. There are a number of events in Parliament that get quite a lot of public interest; the Queen’s Speech is normally one and the Budget is another. People make representations to the Treasury in advance of the Budget, but afterwards the Financial Times and almost every insurance company, bank and accountancy firm produce reams of information on what changes have occurred. The one sure thing about the Budget is that a number of trees will be cut down, to supply information to the great British public on what changes have already occurred. Actually, I do not think that this is one of those Committees that needs to take lots of information, because most of us will have lots of information already.
One could substitute vested interests for the point about experts, because there are an awful lot of vested interests in this country. As a large Committee of the House of Commons, we sometimes have to navigate our way through that, so we could sit for months listening to vested interests on a whole range of subjects and not actually make any decisions. The purpose of this Committee is to look at what the Government have done, maybe make some decisions and then report back to the House.
On that point, is the hon. Gentleman seriously suggesting that both the Treasury and HMRC have vested interests other than trying to make good law?
Out in the big wide world, there are an awful lot of people who would come to this Committee, given the chance. The biggest difficulty we would have would be deciding who to invite, and we could be sitting in this Committee for months. I think it is quite clear that most people understand the key points of the Budget, because lots of information has been produced. When I was in opposition and the Labour party was in government, I probably made a similar speech to the one made by the Opposition spokesman. The Minister will probably make the same speech that Labour Ministers made when we raised the same point. The only point of having additional information is that it helps the Opposition in tabling amendments. That is the only reason normally stated.
The process of the Bill is not just to review what the Government have done, but to have a contested conversation about the impact of those changes and what the benefits might be. For example, all of the evidence produced for this Budget and many others would say that the Government’s substantial cuts to corporation tax will cost this country a lot of money. That is not a widely accepted point on the Conservative Benches. They would say that, by reducing the tax rate, the revenue has gone up. No experts would sign off on that, but that is surely the conversation we should have in this Committee, as politicians, based on the evidence submitted. That is the right balance between the two.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says, but the reality is that we have had a Budget, which is a big event. We then had three or four days of debate on the Floor of the House. We then debated the Finance Bill on the Floor of the House. This Committee will run for a number of sittings. It will then go back to the Floor of the House. This will have more debate than most other Government motions. I suspect that by the end of the process we will be even better informed than we were before, as the serried ranks of the Treasury come in and feed paper to the Minister.
I served on one of the coalition Government’s Finance Bill Committees, and on two or three under the previous Labour Government, dealing with substantive issues such as when we took away all the tax relief on banks when they lost billions of pounds—had we not done so, they would never pay tax again. There were substantial changes made in the Finance Bill after the financial crash. We did not take evidence then, because it was a time for action, not debate. I look forward to hearing Ministers get on with the job of dealing with this Committee and with matters that are important to business and individuals in this country.
I have served on one other Public Bill Committee, which was on the energy price cap. We heard lots of evidence from many companies about the benefits or disbenefits of having an energy price cap. I see no difference between that Bill Committee and this one. I do not see why we should not hear evidence from experts who can advise us on what happens, as we do in other Bill Committees. It does not make sense to have one rule for one situation and a different rule for another.
We could have a general rule that every single Committee of the House should take evidence on every single mater, but the problem is that Committee sittings would then last considerably longer. They would need to be staffed up and we would have difficulty getting Members to serve on the Committees and listen to all that evidence. Ultimately, governing is about taking decisions. There has to be a balance in understanding what points of view people take. We can sit here endlessly listening to advice, but we have to make choices.
We cannot sit hear endlessly listening to advice, because the Committee has to end by
Members of the Committee have a mandate to scrutinise the Government. If we take one day out of that scrutiny, we are reducing our ability to question the Minister on some very important matters. Personally, I would like to take all the time to question the Minister on why decisions have been taken, and I am sure I will get very good answers.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries, and a pleasure to serve on my third Finance Bill Committee—I think that it is the fourth such Committee for the hon. Member for Bootle, but it is reassuring to see broadly the same team arrayed. We were a fairly jovial and decent lot in the last Committee, so I am pleased to be serving alongside them again. The hon. Member for Bootle said that he always believes everything that the Minister says, which is a fine start to our deliberations over the coming weeks. My hon. Friend the Member for Poole said that I was probably dusting off the previous Labour Government’s speech from when they were faced with the same questions. Indeed I have, so I hope that will be acceptable to Opposition Members.
Amendments (a), (b) and (c), tabled by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, seek to revise the programme motion by introducing a day of oral evidence and extending the time spent in Committee. It is of course important that the provisions of the Bill receive sufficient parliamentary scrutiny. The Government’s tax policy making framework ensures that that occurs, and I do not think that evidence to a Public Bill Committee would effectively further that aim.
The amendments would introduce a day of oral evidence from, among others, the Institute for Fiscal Studies, the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Office for Budget Responsibility. Let me be clear that I agree that effective parliamentary scrutiny of this and any other Finance Bill is crucial, and I am always open to considering how that can be improved. However, for the following reasons, I am not persuaded by the merits of delaying the Committee in order to allow oral evidence to be taken. We accept that any additional evidence sessions would certainly increase the amount of scrutiny of the Bill, but that is not the same as saying that, in the absence of such sessions, the scrutiny of the Bill would be insufficient—as my hon. Friend the Member for Poole has set out, there has been very considerable scrutiny already—or indeed that additional days of evidence would provide a proportionate response to the need for scrutiny.
First, in line with the new approach to tax policy making set out in the Government’s 2010 framework, the Government already undertake extensive consultation with stakeholders before legislating in the Finance Bill.
On that point, does the Minister not accept that this year that “extensive consultation” has not been as extensive as it has been in previous years, and nor as extensive as it should be?
I do not accept that. As I will argue, there is a process that we go through, which starts with the Budget announcement. We then go into formal consultation, which is applied to a number of measures within the Bill. We also of course publish draft clauses—I think that was on
My second point, which was raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North, relates to the fact that the Bill was considered in Committee of the whole House. Were the amendments to prevail, any evidence session in this Committee would not capture the important issues debated in Committee of the whole House. The Committee should be aware that Committee of the whole House is, I would argue, where the more important measures are considered, and they are put to the whole House rather than simply the members of this Committee.
The Minister referred to the historical state of affairs for scrutinising Finance Bills. My hon. Friend the Member for Bootle said that the change this time has been the failure to move the amendment of the law resolution. This is only the sixth or seventh time that has happened since 1929. By convention of the British constitution, that has happened only very close to or on either side of an election to tidy up the statute book and get measures through before Parliament prorogues. Is this the Government’s established state of affairs? Will we conduct Finance Bills in this way under a limited technical scope by failing to move that amendment of the law resolution?
I am not going to be drawn into what may or may not happen in future—the usual channels and the Government of the day take those decisions—other than to say that this is not a unique occurrence. As the hon. Gentleman recognises, this has happened in the past. Indeed, the very argument that just because it has not happened in the past does not mean it should not happen now, which is being applied to the seeking of an additional day, could also apply to the amendment of the law resolution. It has happened in the past and this is not the first time with a Finance Bill. In fact, the two I have taken through the House to date have been subject to those provisions.
The IFS, the OBR and others produce analysis of Budget measures before or after the event. They also typically give oral evidence to the Treasury Committee on the Budget as a whole before the Committees on the Finance Bill. Oral evidence at a Public Bill Committee will replicate that analysis while limiting its scope to those parts of the Bill not selected for the Committee of the whole House.
Finally, the programming of business is a matter for business managers and the usual channels. Those channels establish the programme motion that was agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee, which is made up of Government and Opposition Members. They were not persuaded that oral evidence sessions would be beneficial and, I am afraid, neither am I. As such, I urge the Committee to reject the amendments.
The Minister’s argument does not make sense in relation to the things that are most important being discussed in the Committee of the whole House. I would contend that clause 1 is probably the most important in the Bill given that it allows Government to charge income tax for future years. I suggest that the ones discussed in the Committee of the whole House are the most political, as they are agreed between the usual channels, and ones where the Opposition tend to think they might be able to get a win out of the Government, as was adeptly proven last week with the number of amendments accepted by the Government. I take the opportunity to say that I am pleased about that, because our amendments are not often accepted—I am quite chuffed about that one.
The Public Bill Committee debates are on the more technical aspects. This is less political and less likely to be chewed over by the Financial Times on its front page because it is immensely technical. The tax code has changed significantly and increased massively in the past few years. There is a huge volume of tax legislation and lots of it is incredibly technical. The stuff we are discussing in the Public Bill Committee is immensely technical and I disagree with the Minister on how external organisations have raised concerns about how few of the draft clauses were consulted on.
The hon. Lady is absolutely right that this Committee will debate a number of technical clauses. Surely if they are technical, does that not lend itself to an examination based on written evidence based on, for example, approaching me with written questions or discussions or indeed a meeting, or perhaps a meeting that I can facilitate with officials present to get into the detail, rather than a broad brush quick day with various advisers and organisations that we quiz?
The Minister makes a slightly circular argument. He suggests that questioning him would help us to improve the legislation and that questioning external experts who have to apply tax changes would be less useful.
Does the hon. Lady agree that there is an issue? The Labour party tabled a number of amendments, 10 or 11 of which were ruled out of scope. I do not criticise that at all. There is no criticism—