New Clause 1 - Review of capital allowances and business reliefs

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 pm on 27th April 2021.

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“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the impact on investment in parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England of the changes made by sections 15 to 20 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 compare estimated GDP in each of the next five years under the follow scenarios—

(a) these provisons are enacted,

(b) these provisions are not enacted, and

(c) the UK fiscal stimulus package, as a percentage of GDP, mirrors that of the united States.

(3) In this section— “parts of the United Kingdom” means—

(a) England,

(b) Scotland,

(c) Wales, and

(d) Northern Ireland; and “regions of England” has the same meaning as that used by the Office for National Statistics.”.—

This new clause would require a report on the impact of the capital allowance provisions on GDP, comparing them with the impact of copying the level of fiscal intervention in the US.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.

I am pleased to finally move the new clause after four or five days of heavy debate in Committee and two days of debate on Second reading, which is an indication of the way things happen here. The wording of the new clause is quite deliberately designed to tightly fit within the scope of the Bill, although it will be no surprise to Members that I will highlight a number of wider issues.

The UK Parliament’s and UK Government’s existing way of putting forward and approving tax and public spending plans does not really allow them to be gone into in a great deal of detail, so we ask for some way to compare what would have happened if none of the changes enacted by clauses 15 to 20 had been made, how the economy looks when they have happened and how the economy would have looked if the Government had done something a bit more ambitious and radical.

The phrase “be bold like Biden” has become very popular since the American presidential election. We do not need a comparison with the exact measures taken there, but we are seeing an economy that is in some ways quite similar to the United Kingdom’s beginning to take tax break and tax incentive decisions very different from those the current UK Government have taken. It would be good if there was some way in which we could look at what impact those UK Government decisions have had.

There have been some indications from usually quite reliable commentators that—[Interruption.]

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

On resuming—

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

We were considering new clause 1, and I call Peter Grant.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

Thank you, Dame Angela. Members will be pleased to hear that I will not repeat everything I said before the Division. It has been quite authoritatively suggested that if the stimulus package put forward by the UK Government had been as bold and radical as that put forward by President Biden, the impact in Scotland alone would have been 134,000 additional jobs, and the impact on UK debt would have been unnoticeable—the figures were that the debt-to-GDP ratio at the end of quarter 2 next year would have been 118% rather than 119%, which is easily within the margin of forecasting errors. That is just one example of where a different approach—had there been a way of arriving at one in time—may have made a significant difference, and I do not imagine that that would have applied only in Scotland. If we took equivalent figures England, we would be looking at maybe 1 million or 1.5 million more jobs by this time next year.

With all of these proposals, we are saying that there is a better way for this Parliament and Government to arrive at the final decisions on their tax and spending plans. If we look at what happens in some of the devolved Parliaments, their Budgets are significantly smaller. Arguably, they are not nearly as complex, because those Parliaments have few or no direct powers on most taxes or welfare payments. The Scottish Parliament’s Budget is on the go for most of the year, and almost every Budget eventually gets passed. Bits have been put in at the request of most, and sometimes all, of the Opposition groups in the Scottish Parliament. Even during the short period when there was an overall majority SNP Government, almost every Budget that was passed had bits put in, after the draft Budget had been published, at the request of Opposition parties. Incidentally, some of the most effective ones were submitted by the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party and accepted by an SNP Government, because both parties were prepared to look at what was in the best interests of Scotland, rather than caring about the party political advantage to be gained.

The difficulty in the way that we do Budgets here is that, by the time anything in the Budget is public, battle lines are already drawn. It is confrontational, rather than co-operative. It is about putting forward suggested changes that one almost hopes the other side will not accept, so as to have a go at them at election time. That is great fun and electioneering, and the tabloid press loves it because it raises the temperature quickly. I sometimes wonder whether, by doing things that way, we might be missing a chance to finish with a better set of proposals, whether on the tax-raising or public-spending side. We could end up with a set of proposals that would come much closer to what we all thought we wanted to achieve when we first arrived here. That is clearly not something that I can put forward as a proposal for this Bill. The difficulty with the way we do things here is that there is never a chance to do that.

It is not possible to set tax policies and then wonder where to make the cuts or invest the money. It is not possible to set spending decisions and then wonder how to raise the money. It has to be an iterative process and has to be gone round three or four times a year. It is much better if that is done by discussion and then, if necessary, to have the set-piece debates, the disagreements and Divisions at the end of the process.

I will simply leave those thoughts with the Committee. I hope the Minister will feed them back to his colleagues in the Treasury. Colleagues in the SNP who have been part of the Treasury team much longer than I have been pushing such ideas for a number of years. There have been some changes to practice as a result. I am even more convinced, having had my first shot at a Finance Bill as part of the SNP Treasury team, that there are better ways to do things. Believe it or not, I actually want to make things better for this place, during the relatively short time that I hope to be here. Finally, if it helps the Committee, I will not say anything on new clause 7, because any arguments on that have already been had.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Member for Glenrothes. I must say that the Scottish National party does not have an international reputation for the bipartisan way in which it treats partisan party politics. I am delighted to hear that the hon. Gentleman is offering the cross-party approach he advocated in his remarks.

The hon. Gentleman says that there is a better way. He should know that the Government are very much committed to improving the tax process wherever we can. We operate within a set of existing arrangements and political procedures that have proven their worth over many decades, but we are constantly seeking to improve. The classic example was our tax policies and consultation day, which we had in March this year. That was an attempt to create more transparency and to give more prominence to measures that might otherwise have been lost in the Budget process, in order to allow the widest possible public scrutiny and debate.

To pick up the point the hon. Gentleman made about international comparisons, I can understand why it appears interesting to him, but a few seconds of reflection would yield the thought that it really is not for the Government to be publishing analyses of other countries’ tax policies or fiscal arrangements. It really is not for us to be choosing one country, even if we were committed on that route, rather than another, because where would that end? Of course, there are many other institutions around the world that will provide precisely that kind of global comparison service. I am afraid that I do not share the hon. Gentleman’s view about the efficacy of that approach.

I am grateful that the hon. Gentleman is not pressing new clause 7, on the correct grounds that we have discussed much of it already, but, in general, the Government do publish an awful lot of detailed information on the Exchequer, macroeconomic business and equalities impacts of not only these clauses but all clauses that are debated in Finance Bills. Those assessments are comprehensive and wide-ranging, and therefore we do not think that a detailed review would be useful. With that, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his contribution.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

I think it was obvious that I did not expect the Government to accept the new clause with joyful acclamation. I deliberately tried to pitch my remarks in a co-operative vein, and it is disappointing that the Minister could not resist a bit of completely unnecessary playground politics. If he wants to look at the respective international standings of the two Governments and the international standing of the two Heads of Government as things stand right now, and if he wants to look at the current standing, credibility and trustworthiness of the two Heads of Government among the ordinary people of England, never mind the ordinary people of Scotland, that is a debate I would be delighted to have with him on another day, but I would have to caution him that it is not a debate that his party wants to get into just now. For the people of Scotland, the outcome of that debate will be seen on Thursday next week. I look forward to that, but I suspect that the Minister’s party is not looking forward to it as enthusiastically as I am. I am sorry that I have had to adopt that tone at the very end of our deliberations.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Mr Grant, do you wish to push the new clause to a vote?

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

On a point of order, Dame Angela. I would like to thank you and Sir Gary, Hansard, the Whips, parliamentary private secretaries and officials. I am sure that I speak for those on both sides of the Committee when I thank those who have supported us through the Committee stage. I would particularly like to call out the names of Edwin Ferguson and Sarah Hunt and of our Bill team at the Treasury, Bill manager, Mikael Shirazi, Helena Forrest, Barney Gibb and Sam Shirley. I thank colleagues across this Committee for their commitment to scrutinising and debating the legislation. I am keenly aware, as they will be, that we do so under the picture of William Gladstone and his Cabinet at the time—a very forbidding chancellorial figure. With that in mind, I thank everyone for their contributions, and thank you, Dame Angela, for presiding so ably.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

Further to that point of order, Dame Angela. I would like to put on record my thanks to you for being a very patient Chair on my first time in a Public Bill Committee, following Sir Gary Streeter last week. I also thank the Clerks for helping us to draft amendments, and the wider House authorities for making it possible to hold a Public Bill Committee in these strange circumstances. I would also like to thank all members of the Committee. On behalf of my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead, I particularly thank our Whip—my hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Withington—and my hon. Friends the Members for Vauxhall and for Luton North for giving up their time to sit on this Committee.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

Further to that point of order, Dame Angela. Although, there are obviously parts of the Bill that I do not agree with, I endorse the Minister’s comments on the work that has been done by his colleagues on the Treasury team and by Hansard and other parliamentary staff, without whom democracy in this place simply would not happen—we should never forget that.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central, who was unfortunately not able to be with us today, for her work as the senior SNP Treasury spokesperson. I also thank—this is a name that most Members will not recognise—Scott Taylor from the Scottish National party research team. When people ask me what Westminster researchers do, I say, “Their job is to make it look as if their MPs know what they are talking about.” We may all have different opinions on how effectively they do that, but Scott and his colleagues have certainly done a huge amount of work over the last months.

Finally, I thank the large number of external stakeholders who have engaged fully with us as a third party, and no doubt with other parties as well, in a constructive way. They understood when they put forward things that we simply did not feel we could support, but at the same time they gave us a lot of background information so that our understanding of the likely impact of the Bill was much greater than it would otherwise have been, whether we were able to take their requests on board or not. As I said, although I disagree with parts of the Bill, we should recognise that, overall, it is a better piece of legislation thanks to the contribution that those external bodies have made.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, accordingly to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

FB01 Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT)

FB02 Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT)

FB03 Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT)

FB04 Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT)

FB05 Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT)

FB06 Association of Taxation Technicians (ATT)

FB07 Low Incomes Tax Reform Group

FB08 Low Incomes Tax Reform Group

FB09 British Plastics Federation

FB10 Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

FB11 Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

FB12 Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

FB13 Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales (ICAEW)

FB14 Chartered Institute of Taxation (CIOT)