Debtor relationships of company where money lent to connected companies

Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 29th November 2018.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 11 be the Eleventh schedule to the Bill.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Clause 28 is part of a package of changes that the Government are making to the tax rules for hybrid capital instruments, which are issued by some companies to raise funds. Further changes are made by clause 88. Together, those changes ensure that hybrid capital instruments are taxed in line with their economic substance and take into account forthcoming changes in financial sector regulation. The new rules cover issuances by companies in any sector and replace rules covering regulatory capital instruments issued by banks and insurers with effect from 1 January 2019.

Some companies raise funds by issuing instruments, referred to as hybrid capital, that sit close to the border between debt and equity. Hybrid capital instruments have features, such as provisions for write-down or conversion to shares in certain circumstances, that may affect their accounting and tax treatment. As a result, instruments that a company uses to raise funds externally may be taxed on a different basis from instruments used to distribute those funds internally to other group companies. Recent changes to financial regulation have highlighted that issue.

In June 2018, the Bank of England finalised its approach to setting a minimum requirement for own funds and eligible liabilities—MREL. The Bank set out how it would use its powers to require firms to hold a minimum amount of equity and debt with loss-absorbing capacity from 1 January 2019. That will allow the Bank to ensure that shareholders and creditors absorb losses in times of financial stress, allowing banks to keep operating without recourse to public funds.

For banking groups, funding that counts towards MREL is usually raised from the capital markets by a holding company. The holding company passes on most or all of the funds raised to operating companies within the group. The Bank of England requires those intra-group loans to include terms that allow them to be written off or converted into shares at times of severe financial stress. That can result in the external and internal loans being treated differently for tax, leading to unintended tax volatility unrelated to the economic substance of the loans.

In the changes made by clause 28 and schedule 11, our overall aim is to eliminate that unintended tax volatility by ensuring that external and intra-group loans are taxed on the same basis if they have a qualifying link. A qualifying link arises when funds raised externally by a group are wholly or mainly lent within the group. Clause 28 and schedule 11 will ensure that external financial instruments are taxed on the same basis as intra-group loans to which they have a qualifying link. That will eliminate the tax volatility that can arise if the terms of the intra-group instrument contain hybrid features. That is expected to affect a small number of companies, mostly in the banking sector, that raise funds externally and lend them intra-group in circumstances that would otherwise give rise to a tax mismatch between those instruments.

These changes will ensure that our tax rules eliminate unintended and unnecessary tax volatility from financial instruments issued by any company. I therefore commend this clause and schedule to the Committee.

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

This clause changes the treatment of linked loan relationships in company groups. Put simply, that means that where one company borrows funds externally and lends on to another company in the group, no tax liability will be triggered by fluctuations in the value of the internal component of the loan. It stands to reason that companies should be protected from what might end up being double taxation. In reality, there is no economic exposure on the internal loan, whereas that does apply to the external arrangement, which remains within the scope of taxation.

Although this appears to be a relatively straightforward measure, will the Minister elaborate on what has prompted its inclusion in the Bill? Is there an assessment of its impact on the Exchequer? An example has been provided in the explanatory notes of the issuance of debt instruments by banking or insurance companies to meet regulatory capital requirements. Are there companies outside the financial sector that could be affected by these regulations? I think he said most but not all.

What engagement has taken place with the business community on these measures? We have seen from the two preceding clauses that unintended consequences can sometimes arise. If we are not vigilant of those first time round, legislation will have to be revisited, with endless amendments in subsequent Finance Bills.

The Opposition strongly believe that one of the best ways to make the UK an attractive place to do business is to create a robust, consistent, transparent and well-enforced corporation tax regime. Business prizes certainty—something that no one has been able to offer of late. We want to ensure that measures have been taken with the proper consultation and with proper justification, so that we do not endlessly increase the compliance burden of companies doing business in the UK.

Finally, and perhaps most critically, I refer to my earlier comments on transfer pricing in our discussions on clause 25. We all want to believe that this is a simple measure that tidies up the statute book. However, we must all be mindful that the shifting of assets and loans between UK subsidiaries has historically been abused by companies seeking to avoid tax. Have the Government done all due diligence possible to ensure that this clause is not open to such exploitation? Given the consequences of getting it wrong, we all share a duty to ensure that no loophole is left anywhere on the statute book.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

The hon. Gentleman asks whether banks are solely affected by the changes; they go beyond banks but are most relevant to banks, driven as they have been by the changing requirements of the Bank of England and others on the operation of our financial service marketplaces. They are also driven by the importance of hybrid capital debt and how it is valued as it comes into the holding company, and the way debt might be valued as it is passed down in the companies beneath the holding company at the top.

The hon. Gentleman asked about consultation and the importance of getting the proposals right; there has been no public consultation on this clause due to time constraints—one has to bear it in mind that the Bank of England finalised the requirements for internal loss-absorbing instruments only in June. That has not given us much time to consult. We have informally consulted with a small number of trusted advisers ahead of the Budget announcement. HMRC and HMT have worked closely with the Bank of England and the Prudential Regulation Authority to ensure that alignment between the tax and regulatory rules is as close as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 28 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11 agreed to.

Clause 29