Qualifying expenditure: buildings, structures and land

Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 4th December 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Jonathan Reynolds Jonathan Reynolds Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 10:00 am, 4th December 2018

I beg to move amendment 79, in clause 34, page 19, line 38, at end insert—

“(4) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must lay before the House of Commons a report on any consultation undertaken on the provisions in this section within two months of the passing of this Act.”

This amendment would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to report on any consultation undertaken on the provisions in this clause.

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

New clause 2—Review of changes to capital allowances—

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effect of the changes to capital allowances in sections 29 to 34 and Schedule 12 in each part of the United Kingdom and each region of England and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) A review under this section must consider the effects of the changes on—

(a) business investment,

(b) employment, and

(c) productivity.

(3) The review must also estimate the effects on the changes if—

(a) the UK leaves the European Union without a negotiated withdrawal agreement

(b) the UK leaves the European Union following a negotiated withdrawal agreement, and remains in the single market and customs union, or

(c) the UK leaves the European Union following a negotiated withdrawal agreement, and does not remain in the single market and customs union.

(4) In this section—

‘parts of the United Kingdom’ means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland;

‘regions of England’ has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.”

New clause 5—Aggregate effect of changes to corporation tax and capital allowances—

“The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within one year of the passing of this Act, lay before the House of Commons an analysis of the effect of the changes to corporation tax and capital allowances made under sections 25 to 28 and 29 to 34 of this Act.”

This new clause would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the aggregate effect of the changes to corporation tax and capital allowances made under this Act.

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

I regret to inform the Committee that we are reaching the end of the section of the Bill relating to capital allowances.

The capital allowances regime clearly requires a holistic review by the Government. We all agree that we want to make the UK a competitive and attractive place for businesses. As we contemplate our departure from the EU, that requirement has never been more pressing. Yet, these measures all come at a cost. The annual investment allowance increase will cost £1.24 billion in its first three years. By 2023-24, the buildings and construction expenditure allowance will cost over half a billion pounds. They need an assessment in the round so we can aggregate these reliefs against the corporation tax reductions and see what the package really looks like, what the economic justification is for these changes, and whether that money should be reprioritised elsewhere.

With the UK becoming such an outlier among other developed countries in relation to corporation tax, with an eventual rate of corporation tax well below the average of OECD countries, we need to ensure that our overall package of measures is properly targeted. That is why Labour is moving new clause 5, which would oblige the Government to present an analysis in a year’s time of the full effect of these changes and the corporation tax alterations. We need to understand what this package looks like in the round, whether it is providing value for money, and what the real cost is to the taxpayer in aggregate. Only then can we make a judgment on whether this is the right and appropriate way to spend the money, when the UK has so many other priorities after eight difficult years of austerity.

That is why I urge Members to vote for new clause 5, which would obligate the Government to publish a review in a year’s time. By then, we will be in a position to see how these allowances have been taken up, as well as to make some initial judgments on Britain’s business investment landscape post our exit from the European Union.

Clause 34 will amend the Capital Allowances Act 2001 to clarify that land alterations qualify for capital allowances where plant or machinery is installed that qualifies for the same allowances. It helps to clarify the qualifications in place for businesses that seek to carry out such work. The Opposition have no particular objection to ending the mismatch, but this is another tidying-up measure. Will the Minister provide some insight on whether any further such measures are to come? How was the inconsistency brought to the Government’s attention? Is there any estimate of the cost associated with this measure? There should be greater transparency and understanding of exactly where such a measure has come from. If there has been pressure from a particular sector, that needs to be clear. Opposition amendment 79 calls for the Government to present to the House a report on any consultation undertaken on these provisions. I call on Members to vote for this amendment to provide proper transparency on process to the House, so that the cost and benefit can be properly scrutinised and we can assess the motivations for bringing about this change.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

It is a pleasure to speak in this Committee and to serve under your chairpersonship, Ms Dorries. I want to focus my comments on new clause 2, but if the Labour party presses amendment 79 or new clause 5 to a vote, we will support it. What we are trying to do in new clause 2 is not dissimilar from what Labour is trying to do in new clause 5—we are just going about it in slightly different ways. Putting the two new clauses together would make a lot of sense, to encompass what we are both trying to achieve.

New clause 2 looks at clauses 29 to 34 and schedule 12 to the Bill and provides for a review of the changes to capital allowances. It asks for a number of reviews and for us to measure against a number of outcomes that we hope the Government will seek through any changes they make to capital allowances or through having a capital allowances system in the first place.

The first review is of business investment. What changes do the Government expect for business investment as a result of all the changes made to capital allowances? Any tax system tries to do three things: disincentivise undesirable behaviour, incentivise desirable behaviour and get money for the Exchequer. It is important to consider whether the legislation does any of those things in the way we would hope. Business investment is key; surely, the point of capital allowances is to incentivise good business investment. Therefore, it is reasonable that the Government come back and explain to us the potential changes they expect to business investment resulting from their legislative changes.

The second review is of employment. That is important; the Government are never off their high horse about the level of employment they say we have. If they hope the changes will make a difference to employment levels, they should tell us how much change they expect so that we can measure their performance against whether that has been achieved. We just heard that the previous tax allowances put in place for first-year allowances did not have the desired effect, and the Government have to change them. Therefore, it would be useful know what the Government expect to happen to the number of employed people as a result of their changes. We can measure the Government against that and say whether the measure has failed or has achieved what they intended to achieve.

The third review relates to productivity. The Government have struggled to increase productivity rates, which are not increasing nearly as fast as we hoped they would. Part of that is because companies are not making the appropriate investment—who can blame them, given that Brexit is on the horizon and they face economic uncertainty? If we want to increase productivity, we need to incentivise work; in manufacturing industries, for example, we need to incentivise the high-value products that are being created. It would be helpful if the Government came back to us and explained what they hope to achieve through the changes to capital allowances. I hope that they seek an increase in productivity, because our productivity is pretty poor compared with similar economies.

New clause 2 asks the Government to estimate the effects on the changes as a result of Brexit. Next week may bring us a little more clarity about where things might go with Brexit—or at least rule out some of the options, leaving slightly fewer scenarios on the table. However, we are very close to Brexit, and companies do not know under which rules they will be expected to operate. We therefore ask the Government to consider their changes to capital allowances in the light of Brexit in a no-deal scenario,

“if…the UK leaves the European Union without a negotiated withdrawal agreement”,

but also

“if…the UK leaves the European Union following a negotiated withdrawal agreement, and remains in the single market and customs union, or…the UK leaves the European Union following a negotiated withdrawal agreement, and does not remain in the single market and customs union.”

The Scottish National party’s position is that we should remain in the EU. That is what the people of Scotland voted for and what would be best for the economy of the whole UK and its jobs, productivity, business and investment. It is really important that the Government provide us with an economic analysis of what will happen with Brexit, but they also need to consider their policy changes in the light of the Brexit options.

For the avoidance of doubt, the SNP’s second preference is to remain in the single market and the customs union. Our last preference is no deal—a very bad scenario that the Government should do everything possible to avoid. However, the deal that has been presented to us is wholly inadequate. We need to remain in the single market and the customs union to ensure that we continue to have a successful economy.

To look at the issue in the round, we ask for analysis to be done for each country of the UK—England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland—and for each region of England, so that we know the differential impact on each. The published cross-Whitehall analysis that explained the consequences of Brexit on each region was very illuminating, particularly with respect to north of England issues. The north of England is one of the places that could see the biggest productivity gains, because of its excellent levels of manufacturing, but if that part of the economy is the most drastically hit by Brexit, it will create real problems for the UK Government. Without increases in productivity feeding through into the economy, we will all be poorer.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford 10:15 am, 4th December 2018

I would like to drill down a little on the point about the customs union. As I read the withdrawal agreement and the future framework, the Government have negotiated single market access that is tariff-free and quota-free and that carries no rules of origin checks. Effectively, the benefits of the customs union are in that package. What more does the hon. Lady want?

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

The other day, I was talking about the benefits of being in the customs union to a trade expert, who explained to me in quite simple—but incredibly useful—terms the difference between being in a customs union and not being in one. Within a customs union, the starting point is the assumption that the appropriate tariff has already been paid on every good, whereas outside the customs union the assumption is that that has to be proved. Even without rules of origin checks, we would be starting from a different point of view. However, I am not clear that the withdrawal agreement has agreed that there will not be rules of origin checks. I do not understand how the UK Government can say in their financial analysis paper that they will have a free trade agreement with China but no rules of origin checks for goods travelling between the UK and the EU.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

The Government negotiating team have offered briefings on this deal to every Member of the House from every party. Establishing the answer to those rules of origin—

Photo of Nadine Dorries Nadine Dorries Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire

Order. That has nothing to do with what we are discussing today.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

I was just looking to wind up—[Laughter.] That is not entirely what I meant.

We are seeking more information from the Government about what they intend to achieve. It is incredibly important to do this in the context of Brexit, and it is incredibly important that companies know what the Government are trying to achieve, so that they are aware of what they are being incentivised or disincentivised to do and what the Government’s changes to capital allowances are trying to encourage them to do. If more information could be provided to us and the general public, that would be hugely appreciated. I hope that we can vote on this new clause when we come to the votes at the end.

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

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Dorries. I thank the hon. Members for Stalybridge and Hyde and for Aberdeen North for their contributions, and I will endeavour to pick up the various points that have been made.

Since 1994, capital allowances have not been available for most buildings and structures, including aqueducts, bridges, canals, roads and tunnels. It has been long understood by HMRC—and by taxpayers—that nobody can claim plant and machinery allowances where the expenditure relates to an excluded structure or building. Specifically, nobody can claim capital allowances for expenditure on altering land for the purpose of installing an asset that is excluded from allowances. Expenditure on buildings and structures is excluded in this way by sections 21 and 22 of the Capital Allowances Act 2001.

To answer one of the specific points raised by the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde, doubt has been cast on that principle by a recent tribunal decision, which HMRC is appealing against. The purpose of the clause is to ensure that the law remains clear and that plant and machinery allowances can be claimed only in relation to alterations of land to install qualifying assets. The clause clarifies the legislation to provide certainty going forward and to protect the Exchequer from potential spurious and windfall claims for historical expenditure.

The clause should be read alongside the introduction of a new structures and buildings allowance, which in time will become a very substantial relief that fills a significant gap in our capital allowances system. Taxpayers who alter land for the purpose of installing a structure or building should claim this new allowance—we covered it when debating clause 29—and should not claim the plant and machinery allowance.

As I have said, the clause clarifies that expenditure on land alterations cannot qualify for capital allowances unless it relates to the installation of qualifying plant and machinery. No expenditure on structures or buildings, as defined in sections 21 and 22 of the Capital Allowances Act 2001, will be counted as plant. This will apply to all capital allowance claims made from 29 October 2018 onwards, but not to claims already in the system—to do otherwise would be unfair. However, as this does nothing more than restore the commonly held interpretation of the law, we do not consider it to disadvantage any company that has already incurred expenditure. If we did not make this amendment, there is a strong probability that some businesses might make spurious or windfall claims, as there is no time limit for making a capital allowances claim.

Amendment 79 seeks a legislative commitment by the Government to report on any consultations that are undertaken on this measure. However, the measure addresses a potential source of ambiguity in the capital allowances legislation and protects revenue that we need for our vital public services. That needs to be done quickly to maintain a level playing field and to provide certainty for businesses incurring expenditure in this area. The Government’s view is that this measure is not best supported by consultation, which would delay this change. In any case, it restores the interpretation of the law that HMRC and taxpayers commonly understood before the recent tribunal case.

New clause 2 aims to commit the Government to report on the impact of the capital allowances changes in the Bill, including under a number of different EU withdrawal scenarios, as well as on the impact on different parts of the United Kingdom. The Office for Budget Responsibility has provided its independent view of the impact of these policies, in particular on business investment, in its “Economic and fiscal outlook” report, in the box titled “The economic effects of policy measures”. When available, HMRC will publish updated statistics on capital allowances claimed, split by asset type and by industry. Data on capital allowances claimed are based on where companies are registered rather than where the activity itself takes place. Requiring businesses to provide the more detailed information that this report would require about the precise location of their expenditure would represent a significant new administrative burden.

On the impact of the policies in different EU exit scenarios, the capital allowances package in the Bill is intended to boost business investment in all scenarios. The Government have already laid before Parliament a written ministerial statement under the title “Exiting the European Union: publications”, representing cross-Whitehall economic analysis on the long-term impacts of an EU exit on the UK economy, its sectors, nations and regions and the public finances. The document is available on gov.uk and from the Printed Paper Office. Committee members will be aware that I also answered an urgent question at length on this very matter.

New clause 5 is intended to commit the Government to assess the aggregate effects of the changes to corporation tax and capital allowances made under the Bill. However, that information is already largely set out in the public domain. The independent Office for Budget Responsibility certifies the Exchequer impact of all the measures in the Bill, set out in table 2.1 and table 2.2 of Budget 2018. When they are announced, the OBR will also provide its independent view of the impact of these policies on business investment in its “Economic and fiscal outlook” report, in the box titled “The economic effects of policy measures”.

Finally, every year HMRC will publish updated statistics breaking down corporation tax paid and capital allowances claimed. For those reasons, I urge the Committee to reject the amendment and new clauses, and I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

The Committee divided:

Ayes 9, Noes 10.

Division number 20 Finance (No. 3) Bill — Qualifying expenditure: buildings, structures and land

Aye: 9 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

Question accordingly negatived.

Clause 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 35