Application of penalty provisions

Finance (No. 3) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 6th December 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 consider clause 67 stand part.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

The clause makes changes to ensure that penalties may be raised against businesses registered for the soft drinks industry levy that do not submit a quarterly return or fail to submit a quarterly return on time. The changes ensure that a penalty can still be raised for non-payment of the soft drinks industry levy in the event that certain provisions in the Bill are enacted.

The soft drinks industry levy was announced at Budget 2016. The levy commenced on 6 April 2018 and has been successful in its stated objective of driving reformulation, to such an extent that over half of all drinks by volume that would have been in scope of the levy have now been reformulated, and in fact were reformulated even before the tax came into effect. This measure will support that success by allowing penalties to be issued for late returns and non-submission of returns for accounting periods ending after 1 April 2019, should they be required.

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

I appreciate what the Minister says about the effects of the soft drinks industry levy, but it still does not apply to milk-based drinks. Will the Government consider extending the levy to milk-based drinks, given that it has been so successful?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

The hon. Lady makes a valid point. When we announced the policy, we said that we would consider milk-based sugary drinks in 2020, which is when more information, including Public Health England data, will be available to inform that decision. We have reiterated that commitment, so there will be a review in just over a year, which could lead to such a decision, although we have no plans to extend the levy at this moment.

The changes made by the clause will help to provide a proportionate and fair penalty regime and to drive compliance. The changes will affect only soft drinks industry levy-registered businesses that do not submit a quarterly return and payment by the due date. Furthermore, although the clause gives us the powers to act, at present there is no evidence of fraud or non-compliance with the soft drinks industry levy on any material scale.

Clause 67 makes changes to amend section 1 of the Isle of Man Act 1979, to add the soft drinks industry levy to the list of common duties. It will ensure that the movement of liable soft drinks between the UK and the Isle of Man will not be seen as either an import or an export under the levy, as long as the levy rates of the UK and the Isle of Man remain aligned. This change will have effect from 1 April next year.

The changes made by clause 67 will implement a change to the soft drinks industry levy legislation, meaning that the movement of liable soft drinks will not be seen as an import or export. Businesses liable to pay the levy on liable soft drinks packaged in the UK will no longer be able to claim an export credit when those drinks are moved to the Isle of Man. The changes will also help to reduce the administrative burden on businesses that wish to move their liable drinks from the Isle of Man to the UK mainland, by removing the requirement to register for the levy as importers. The clause is necessary as it ensures that movements of liable soft drinks between the UK and the Isle of Man under the levy are treated in the same way as movements of goods in other taxes and duties. I commend clauses 66 and 67 to the Committee.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury) 3:45 pm, 6th December 2018

It is a pleasure to address the Committee on behalf of the Opposition for the final time today—I am sure to the great disappointment of all. The two clauses both address the soft drinks industry levy, often known colloquially as the sugar tax, which came into force in the current tax year. Given the scope of the two clauses, you will be relieved to hear, Mr Howarth, that I will not attempt to have a general debate on the basic principle of the tax—as tempted as I was. Nor do the Opposition disagree in principle with the Government’s broad intention in the clauses.

As the Minister said, clause 66 allows penalties to be imposed on businesses eligible to pay the soft drinks industry levy where they fail to submit the required quarterly return by the due date. It also ensures that similar penalties can be imposed for non-payment of the levy, contingent on certain provisions in the Finance (No. 3) Act 2010 being enacted. For context, will the Minister clarify the Government’s plans in relation to the enactment of these provisions? Will he explain why they have come to be made now, rather than during the passage of previous legislation?

On the substantive point, let me start by asking the Minister for some clarity about the number and types of business that might be affected. How many companies are now registered for the soft drinks industry levy, and what analysis can he give us of their size and scale? How does that compare with the number and composition originally anticipated? Will he outline for the Committee what kind of penalties a business might face, first, for failing to submit a quarterly return and, secondly, for non-payment? Is he convinced that the penalties are sufficient to deter tax evasion, while not being so high that genuine errors are disproportionately punished?

To put this in context, will the Minister tell us what level of evasion, late or non-payment, and failure to submit quarterly returns has been recorded to date? What estimate has the Treasury undertaken of any revenues lost to tax evasion? Has HMRC been able to give him any idea of the scale of the failure to submit returns? Is that related to evading payment, or is it simply down to administrative failures? How many returns are submitted late, and how many are not submitted at all?

On a related question, will the Minister tell us how much he expects to be raised through the imposition of these penalties and—perhaps more significantly—through any deterrent effect on tax evaders? Will the penalties, particularly for non-payment, form part of the revenue take for the tax, or will they be considered separately for purposes such as the intended link to funding for child health?

The Minister will be aware that the projected tax take from the levy has declined precipitously since the former Chancellor’s original estimates when he announced the levy. The original forecast was for £520 million in the current fiscal year. The latest “Economic and fiscal outlook” from the Office for Budget Responsibility, produced for last month’s Budget, anticipated that just £240 million will be raised. I assume the Minister stands by that figure, unless it has declined even further in the past few weeks. How much of that difference is down to the kind of deliberate evasion that clause 66 addresses, and how much is simply down to error in Treasury forecasts or—being generous—to changing economic circumstances and the impact of behavioural change? I should say for the record that, in the case of this tax, behavioural change is welcome, because it effectively means less sugar in soft drinks, with consequent benefits for public health. As I will touch on later, the dramatic shortfall in tax receipts has had some less desirable consequences.

I note that this measure comes into force at Royal Assent, rather than in the next tax year. We do not object to that, as measures to tackle tax evasion and avoidance should not be delayed. However, what steps have the Treasury and HMRC taken to ensure that businesses are alerted and that tax collectors can take full advantage? When does the Minister expect the first quarterly returns to be due under this measure?

Perhaps the Minister can explain what will happen should Royal Assent occur around the due date for a quarterly returns. If, for example, a quarterly return is due on 1 February—let us say, for argument’s sake, for the final quarter of the current financial year—and Royal Assent was achieved on 2 February, would the penalties be enforceable on a company that failed to submit, or would they not be retrospectively enforceable? Indeed, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us what the due dates are for quarterly returns over the next year, what returns are required at the end of the financial year, and whether this measure applies to those or simply to returns at the end of each quarter.

Of course, the Minister is not responsible for the allocation of parliamentary time, so he may not be able to predict when Royal Assent is likely. When it comes to this Government, things are, to put it mildly, a bit unpredictable. Given the apparent trouble with their supply and confidence agreement, in which confidence seems to be somewhat lacking, the passage even of the Finance Bill may be a bit choppy when we go back downstairs to the main Chamber. [Interruption.] I apologise if I am keeping the Government Whip awake. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what the impact of different dates might be, and what consideration the Treasury has given to that in its assumptions and planning?

Clause 67 is designed to facilitate the movement between the UK and Isle of Man of soft drinks on which the industry levy has been paid, without that being designated as an import or export respectively for the purposes of the levy. It also adds the levy, and the Manx equivalent proposed by the Isle of Man Government, to the list of common duties in the Isle of Man Act 1979. After the introduction of the levy in April, eligible soft drinks that were brought into the UK from the Isle of Man were chargeable under section 33 of the Finance Act 2017, and those removed from the UK can attract an export credit. The Isle of Man, however, is introducing Manx SDIL from the next tax year, which is equivalent.

As the UK and Manx Governments have now agreed, in principle, to treat soft drinks that have been levy-paid in the one as being levy-paid in the other, and to share revenue, administration and enforcement of the respective levies, I understand from the Minister that the Government’s view is that those arrangements are, in effect, being superseded. The levy will therefore be treated as a common duty under the 1979 Act, with a commencement date to coincide with the introduction of the levy in the Isle of Man—in other words, at the start of the next tax year in April 2019. The Opposition have no objection to those arrangements, but I would ask the Minister to clarify a few points—before we lose the light completely.

First, the Manx SDIL is described in the Government’s accompanying notes as “modelled” on the UK version. Can the Minister clarify what that means? Is it identical or are there significant differences? The rates are presumably the same, but are there any variations in design? Have the Manx Government made any improvements in the structure or implementation, from which we could learn? Are we confident that they will be able to enforce the levy in a consistent way that does not create any incentives for producers to relocate from one jurisdiction to the other?

In the meantime, can the Minister assure us that we are not missing out on revenue that should be owed, due to failures of collection and enforcement at the point of import? Does he have any figures on the total revenue raised from charges on imported soft drinks from the Isle of Man?

I must confess that my knowledge of the Manx soft drinks industry is sadly limited, so perhaps the Minister can give us a sense of its scale and tell us whether there is a revenue impact. I would hazard a guess that it is unlikely that our import and export of soft drinks to and from the Isle of Man are not of identical value, but perhaps he can confirm that to the Committee either way.

Before I conclude, I want to return to the point about the overall revenue impacts of the two clauses in the context of the soft drinks industry levy. This is important, because when the levy was created, it was linked directly to investment in projects that would improve the health of our children. A ring-fenced sum was put aside for the healthy pupils capital fund, which would fund schools to create facilities for better physical and mental health, or for disability access. At the time that was announced by the then Secretary of State for Education, the right hon. Member for Putney (Justine Greening), the Government

“pledged to ensure that the amount schools receive will not fall below £415 million regardless of the funds generated by the levy.”

That solemn pledge, still available on the Department for Education website, did not last the year. Instead, the fund was cut by more than three quarters, to just £100 million for the year, when the Government desperately tried to plug their own gap in the main schools’ budget for one year only, by raiding the money that was meant to be ring-fenced for children’s health.

As a constituency MP, I know just how desperate schools in Norwich South are for funding. Schools have had to fire teaching assistants because of the budget constraints they find themselves in, and that money could have been very useful to them in helping our children and their educational attainment. I also know the impact that austerity has had on the health of our children.

When I represented the Opposition in February this year on the Delegated Legislation Committee implementing the levy, I pressed the Minister, and he assured us that

“regardless of how much is raised, the Government remain committed to funding the Department for Education with the £1 billion that we originally expected, and providing the devolved Administrations with the full amount that we promised at the time.”

He went on to say:

“Every penny of England’s share of the spending raised by the levy will go towards improving children’s health”.—[Official Report, Sixth Delegated Legislation Committee, 7 February 2018; c. 3.]

Perhaps he can confirm today whether that remains the case, and that the Government are not counting the £350 million that was cut from the healthy pupils fund towards the latter commitment. Secondly, I hope he can clarify that that applies to any additional revenue raised by the two clauses before us. If he can give us an expected amount, will he indicate how that will be allocated?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

I will respond to as many of those questions as I can; if I omit any answers, I will write to the hon. Gentleman.

With respect to the Isle of Man’s SDIL in clause 67, I am sorry to disappoint the hon. Gentleman, but no one currently produces soft drinks on the Isle of Man—so there is a business opportunity, should any of us need one in the near future. The Manx soft drinks industry levy is expected to be identical to the existing one in the rest of the United Kingdom. We do not expect that there will be any issues on enforcement, although we will of course continue to monitor that closely.

On the number of registered businesses, 450 have already registered. The top four of those by volume pay 90% of receipts, as one would perhaps expect.

In terms of publicising the changes to businesses, we have not specifically publicised those—we have taken a light touch in the first year of operation—but we do not anticipate any difficulties, given that there is only a small number of registered businesses.

The hon. Gentleman had a particular interest in the duty periods. The duty period runs from April to June, and that is due on 1 August. The July to September duty period is due on 1 November.

In terms of why we are taking this action now, we always intended to be as light touch as possible, but it is sensible to proceed with this housekeeping on behalf of HMRC to ensure the full range of compliance and penalty powers are available to combat non-compliance. We do not have evidence to date of any material degree of fraud or non-compliance, and certainly nothing that should make the hon. Gentleman or any other hon. Member concerned, but it is sensible and prudent for us to take this action, should circumstances change in the future.

The hon. Gentleman asked about some specific details, including how much the penalty will be for late returns. It will be £100 in the first instance, rising to £400 for four or more offences. The first late return will incur that fixed amount of £100. The penalty will then rise to £200 for a second late return within a 12-month period, to £300 thereafter, and eventually to £400. We think that is proportionate given that there has not been a significant problem to date, and that gives HMRC the powers it requires.

Where a return for a particular period is still not filed within 12 months, a further penalty will be issued, in the amount of 5%, 70% or 100% of the liability for the return period, depending on whether HMRC believes there has been a deliberate and concealed effort to withhold information, or £300—whichever is greater. Those are not excessive sums, but they give HMRC the powers it requires.

The hon. Gentleman asked about the important issue of schools funding. The objective of the policy was never to raise revenue for the Exchequer; it was always to ensure that manufacturers did the right thing and reformulated where appropriate and where they felt they were able to. As I said, the majority of them have done so. Some took significant risks. Manufacturers with loyal customer bases—Irn-Bru and Lucozade, for example—had to make major reformulations, which were not always popular with their customers but none the less significantly reduced the sugar in their products. We are grateful to them for taking the policy so seriously.

The amounts we promised to fund school sports are being honoured. The Department for Education will receive £575 million during the current spending review period. That funding has been allocated to a number of programmes to support pupil health and wellbeing, and includes doubling the funding for the primary physical education sport premium to £320 million a year from 2017. The Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care contribute £100 million and £60 million to that premium respectively, with the soft drinks industry levy contributing £415 million over the remainder of the current spending review period. We have provided £100 million in 2018-19 for the healthy pupils capital fund, and £26 million to kick-start or improve breakfast club provision in more than 1,700 schools. Although the Treasury forecasts in this case were not correct, there has been a happy ending.

Photo of Clive Lewis Clive Lewis Shadow Minister (Treasury) 4:00 pm, 6th December 2018

Does the Minister think a £400 fine is really a deterrent for a major international soft drinks manufacturer?

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary

That is a fair challenge, but given that we have no evidence of non-compliance or fraud, it is sensible to proceed on a relatively light-touch basis. If there were evidence of larger manufacturers being fraudulent or non-compliant, we might change things, but at the moment there is no such evidence. With those reassurances, I commend the clause to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 66 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 67 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend studying the terms of the withdrawal agreement.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Craig Whittaker.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 11 December at twenty-five past Nine o’clock.