Corporate capital losses

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 9th June 2020.

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

Photo of Andrew Rosindell Andrew Rosindell Conservative, Romford

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

That schedule 3 be the Third schedule to the Bill.

Clause 25 stand part.

New clause 9—Review of changes to capital allowances—

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effect of the changes to chargeable gains with respect to corporate capital losses in section 24 and Schedule 3 of this Act 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 two 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) A review under this section must consider the effects in the current and each of the subsequent four financial years.

(4) The review must also estimate the effects on the changes in the event of each of the following—

(a) the UK leaves the EU withdrawal transition period without a negotiated comprehensive free trade agreement,

(b) the UK leaves the EU withdrawal transition period with a negotiated agreement, and remains in the single market and customs union, or

(c) the UK leaves the EU withdrawal transition period with a negotiated comprehensive free trade agreement, and does not remain in the single market and customs union.

(5) The review must also estimate the effects on the changes if the UK signs a free trade agreement with the United States.

(6) 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 requires a review of the impact on investment, employment and productivity of the changes to capital allowance over time; in the event of a free trade agreement with the USA; and in the event of leaving the EU without a trade agreement, with an agreement to retain single market and customs union membership, or with a trade agreement that does not include single market and customs union membership.

Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 10:15 am, 9th June 2020

We are 50 minutes in and making very good progress, so thank you for your leadership from the Chair, Mr Rosindell.

Clauses 24 and 25 and schedule 3 make changes to UK corporation tax loss relief rules to introduce the corporate capital loss restriction that was announced at Budget 2018. At that Budget, the Government announced changes to the treatment of capital losses for corporation tax purposes. Currently, if an asset is sold at a loss, that capital loss can be carried forward and offset against up to 100% of the capital gains in future periods. In order to ensure that large companies pay corporation tax when they make significant capital gains, the Government will restrict the use of companies’ historical capital losses to 50% of the amount of annual capital gains from 1 April 2020. This policy builds on previous reforms to corporation tax loss relief, and brings the treatment of capital losses into line with the treatment of income losses.

The changes made by clause 24 will apply a 50% reduction to the amount of carried-forward capital losses that a company can set against chargeable gains that arise in a later accounting period. Various other changes that are required to deliver or support that loss restriction are also included. They include provisions to ensure that the restriction is proportionate for companies entering into liquidation, and that it operates effectively for companies in sectors that are subject to unique tax regimes, such as oil and gas, life insurance and real estate investment trusts.

This loss restriction will raise approximately £765 million in additional revenue over the next five years. An annual allowance of £5 million will apply across both income and capital losses to ensure that small and medium-sized companies are not affected. We estimate that less than 1% of companies will have to pay additional tax as a result of these changes. The change made by clause 25 is to amend the quarterly instalment payment treatment for certain companies with no source of chargeable income, which have a short accounting period resulting from a chargeable gain accruing.

New clause 9, tabled by the SNP, requires a review of the effect of the change to chargeable gains introduced by clause 24 and schedule 3 within two months of the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent. The review would focus on the effects of changes on business investment, employment and productivity across different regions of the UK, as well as the effects of various scenarios following the end of the EU transition period, and under circumstances in which the UK signs a free trade agreement with the United States.

The Government’s view is that such a review is not necessary. We set out detailed information on the Exchequer macroeconomic and business impacts in 2018, when this policy was first announced, and provided a further update at Budget 2020. Those estimates, which have been certified by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility, confirm that the changes made by the clause are not expected to have any significant macroeconomic impacts. The changes will affect very few companies—about 200 every year, which are likely to be dispersed across the UK. That estimate is not expected to change in any of the EU transitional free trade agreement scenarios set out in the amendment. A further review of the clause would not provide any additional useful information.

This restriction is a proportionate way of ensuring that large companies pay some tax when making substantial capital gains. The review that the new clause would legislate is unnecessary. I therefore urge the Committee to reject new clause 9, and I commend the clauses and the schedule to the Committee.

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to be here again on such a fine day in the Committee Room, going through some of the more technical elements of the Finance Bill.

We have heard from the Financial Secretary why clause 24 and schedule 3 appear in the Bill. As Members can see for themselves, part 1 of schedule 3—paragraphs 1 to 38—deals with changes required to introduce the corporate capital loss restriction; part 2—paragraphs 39 to 41—introduces changes in the treatment of allowable losses for companies without a source of chargeable income and makes other required minor amendments; and part 3—paragraphs 42 to 46—contains commencement and anti-forestalling provisions for the CCLR.

All in all, schedule 3 comes to 18 pages. I am sure that the Treasury deems them essential, or they would not be in the Bill, but it does seem to run somewhat contrary to the Government’s stated aim of simplifying the tax system. In case anyone wanted to reach for the explanatory notes for some salvation and solace, even they extend to 10 pages. I do wonder whether it was really necessary, with such a lengthy schedule and explanatory notes, to go into such detail; I guess my question to the Financial Secretary is whether anything can be done to simplify it. As I said, the Government’s stated aim is to simplify taxes—they even created the Office of Tax Simplification —but the OTS’s job is made much more difficult if, while it is trying to simplify the existing tax code, we are adding reams and reams of clauses to it.

The measure set out in clause 24 and schedule 3 is expected to raise significant revenues in corporation tax from large corporations. That is not something that I will complain about too much—in fact, I am not complaining at all—but a common concern among respondents to the Government consultation was about the timing in relation to our exit from the European Union and in the context of concerns about the impact on UK competitiveness. Although we do not oppose what the Government seek to do, it is important that they address those concerns up front—not least so that when people reply to Government consultations, they know that someone is reading and listening, and that the Government will at least address their concerns even if they do not share them.

Turning to clause 25, I am sure the Financial Secretary will recall that the London Society of Chartered Accountants wrote to the Chancellor on 19 April, copying him in, to raise issues about several clauses of the Bill. Paragraph 13 of that letter states:

“We note that this proposes that a company that would otherwise be ‘very large’ would be ‘large’ in the context of the regulations requiring payment of corporation tax in instalments if it is chargeable only because of a chargeable gain on disposal of an asset, but only for APs beginning on or after 11 March 2020. It is obviously aimed at non-resident companies that only come within corporation tax as a result of their new exposure to corporation tax on disposals of UK land and interests in entities that are ‘UK land-rich’. A single such disposal would result in the due date being on that one day that the company disposed of the property, so this is a welcome change for any but the largest organisations. However, it is unfortunate that this is not to apply to events before 11 March 2020, where companies have had to rely on a concession by HMRC. In such circumstances, HMRC propose that tax should be paid within 3 months and 14 days after contracts are exchanged unconditionally.”

It would be good if the Financial Secretary addressed those concerns in his reply.

We have already heard the Financial Secretary’s account of why he thinks the review required by new clause 9—tabled by our colleagues in the SNP, led here by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central—is not necessary. The proposed review of changes to capital allowances

“must consider the effects of the changes on…business investment…employment, and…productivity…The review must also estimate the effects on the changes in the event of each of the following…the UK leaves the EU withdrawal transition period without a negotiated comprehensive free trade agreement…the UK leaves the EU withdrawal transition period with a negotiated agreement and remains in the single market or customs union”—

I will not hold my breath on that one—

“or…the UK leaves the EU withdrawal transition period with a negotiated comprehensive free trade agreement, and does not remain in the single market and customs union.”

I understand why the Financial Secretary may not consider such a review necessary in the context of changes to capital allowances, but I would say two things in response. First, clear, widely available and readily understood analysis of the wider context and the wider pressures on the economy, covering issues such as business investment, employment and productivity is absolutely essential. Secondly, the headlines are obviously dominated by the coronavirus and, more recently, by events in the United States, with the murder of George Floyd, and the Black Lives Matter movement protests we have seen on the streets of the UK. However, in the background, as we know, there is the ongoing issue of Brexit, which has almost been forgotten in the national conversation, but which remains one of the single biggest challenges facing our country. The Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union is hearing from Michel Barnier this week.

Whether Brexit is viewed by Members of the House as an opportunity or a threat, or perhaps a combination of the two, I do not think anyone would dispute that unravelling ourselves from the most sophisticated political and economic alliance in the history of the world is simple or straightforward, or without consequences. We have reached a settled position—to be clear, the official Opposition recognise that settled position—with a referendum and two general elections that have given the Government a mandate to implement the referendum. The question of whether Brexit takes place has been settled by those three democratic events; the question now is how it happens. At the same time, we are in the middle of a global pandemic that, as well as being a public health crisis, threatens to be an economic crisis. We are already in a recession, and the choices the Government make in the coming days, weeks and months, along with the choices they have already made, will shape and determine whether the recession is as short and shallow as we would hope.

I do have a concern when I listen to statements made by Ministers—not so much Treasury Ministers, but certainly Ministers in other parts of the Government, including the Prime Minister and the people around him—that the economic issues and priorities of the country are playing second order to political considerations. That is a terrible mistake. I hope that the Government will take a more stable and orderly approach—if I may borrow a phrase from our former Prime Minister—to some of these choices and issues, and that the Treasury flexes its muscles at all points in conversations with other Departments about the considerations that must be made about our future relationship with the European Union and, indeed, about free trade agreements with other countries, including the United States.

The Financial Secretary may not have a great deal of sympathy for the case made for a review in the context of changes to capital allowances, but I am glad we are having this conversation, because debate in this place is moving too often away from some of the really serious economic challenges that are presenting themselves. We cannot wish those challenges away; we need to make active, sensible and wise choices to ensure that our country emerges from this period of our history with a stronger economy and with greater and more widely shared prosperity than we have today. I hope that that cause is shared by Members right across the House.

Finally on new clause 9, the reason why we table such amendments and new clauses calling for reviews is that that is one of the few ways in which Opposition parties can debate issues on the Finance Bill. In recent years, it seems Ministers—to their shame, actually—have been too frightened and cowardly to allow Finance Bills to be subject to amendments in the way they were traditionally. We no longer have the same freedom and flexibility to propose practical, concrete changes that we might like to see, which strengthen democratic and political debate in Parliament, with Oppositions not just criticising Government, but laying down alternatives so that we can debate their merits versus the Government’s approach. So, instead, we call for reviews.

I am not very excited by the prospect of this review or, in fact, any other review that has been proposed by my party or the SNP in amendments to the Finance Bill, but calling for a review is one of the few ways we get to air issues. That is a great shame. It diminishes political debate; it grinds our conversations into the sort of boring, dull and technocratic—worthy, but ultimately dull and technocratic—conversations that we are going to be having today. It also restricts the ability of hon. Members across the House to raise the issues that are regularly raised with us by our constituents.

I know that that has been a source of frustration, to myself, to the shadow Chief Secretary, no doubt to our colleagues in the SNP, and indeed to other hon. Members across the House who are looking to prepare amendments on Report. When we go to the Public Bill Office with ideas, suggestions, proposals or alternatives to the Government’s approach, one of the immediate conversations we now have to have is whether amendments are in scope.

Given that we are likely to have another Finance Bill sooner rather than later—probably sooner than we would all wish, and certainly sooner than we will all wish after debating some of these clauses today—I hope the Government will revisit this issue. This point was made by the previous shadow Treasury team, and it is one that we share. I hope the Minister will respond to some of the points I have raised.

Photo of Stephen Flynn Stephen Flynn Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary) 10:30 am, 9th June 2020

Dare I say that I think I am potentially being constructive again in the new clause that the SNP have tabled? We are seeking to allow the Government to open their eyes to what is coming down the track and to look at the impact on business, investment, employment and productivity of a number of different scenarios, be they a comprehensive free trade agreement, remaining in the single market and customs union, not remaining in the single market and customs union, and/or a free trade agreement with the United States.

Ultimately, however, this is not just about helping the Government to see the error of their ways, should they follow the path they are on, but also about reinforcing to hon. Members the huge detrimental impact that leaving the European Union will have on Scotland. Lest we forget, the people of Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union. We are being forced to put forward amendments such as this because the democratic views of the people of Scotland have been disregarded once again by this Parliament.

I will touch briefly on the reality of the situation facing Scotland, because it is incredibly important to the debate we are now having. A new study from the Scottish Government says that, if an extension is not agreed, Scottish GDP could be up to 1.1% lower after two years. That is just in relation to an extension. The cumulative loss of economic activity from leaving the EU would be up to £3 billion over those two years. That is on top of the devastating impact of the current pandemic on the Scottish economy. We will potentially have billions wiped from our economy at a time when we are reeling from the impact of this public health tragedy. That is simply not good enough.

The very notion that a US trade deal will save the day is complete and utter rubbish. Analysis from the Scottish Government highlights that the loss of friction-free trade with the EU would lower GDP by 6.1% by 2030. Analysis by the UK Government shows that a free trade agreement with the US would increase UK GDP only by up to 0.16%. Those are remarkable figures, which we all need to consider in full. The reality is that the reckless approach of the UK Government in potentially losing full access to the European single market will have a devastating impact on Scotland’s economic growth and prosperity. It also puts in jeopardy many of our key priorities: the NHS, upholding food standards and tackling the climate emergency.

Lowering standards is perhaps a topical subject to touch on, because we have all read with interest comments in the press over recent weeks about the impact of lowering food standards on imports of food into the United Kingdom. We are proud of Scotland’s agricultural sector and the produce we create, which is world renowned for its class. We cannot under any circumstances have a situation where the quality of that produce is impacted by the decisions of the UK Government, particularly when those decisions will be made on the back of something we did not vote for. I cannot emphasise that enough to Members. Whether it is chlorinated chicken, selling off the NHS to Donald Trump or simply trying to bring down the tariffs on Scotch whisky, the UK Government have shown they are incapable of meeting the needs of the people of Scotland, and I have grave concerns about what is coming down the line.

As I say, the new clause we have tabled today is constructive, because it would allow the UK Government’s eyes to be opened to the reality of the situation facing Scotland. If they are true in their comments about believing that Scotland is a key part of the United Kingdom, and Scotland should lead and not be led, they will hopefully bear the new clause in mind.

I will finish by touching on the comments of the hon. Member for Ilford North, who rightly said that, for many, Brexit has been forgotten about. Well, for people in Scotland it has not been forgotten about, because we overwhelmingly do not support it. Rightly, the pandemic—overcoming it and ensuring that lives are saved—is the focus of all our priorities at this moment, but we know what is coming down the line and we are fearful. Up until now, none of the mood music coming from the UK Government has offered any reassurance whatever. Hopefully, the figures I have highlighted in relation to a United States trade deal will re-emphasise the reality of the situation to the Government.

I said I would finish, but that was perhaps a fib, because there is one further comment I wish to touch on. I apologise if I get a word or two wrong, but the Minister said that the new clause would not provide “any useful information”, and I am astounded at that. I thought that a UK Government Minister would want to know about the impact on productivity of the decisions that the UK Government may take. I thought a UK Government Minister would want to know about the impact on employment of the decisions taken on business productivity, but it appears not. It appears that wilful ignorance is the story of the day, which is not a good thing. The people of Scotland will pay close attention to the actions of the UK Government moving forward, as they have up until now.

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

I would not have dreamt of not responding to the concerns raised by Members of the Opposition, and I am grateful to you, Mr Rosindell, for allowing me to do so.

The hon. Member for Ilford North mentioned the simplification of the tax system and asked whether the measures before us could be regarded as a simplification. He is absolutely right that simplification of the tax system is a highly desirable thing. In this case, without getting too far removed from political business, it seems there is a parallel to some of the work done by Thomas Kuhn on how science proceeds, where he distinguishes between times in which normal science proceeds, as it were, in a normal fashion and times when there is a paradigm shift and everything changes. Often, the effect of a paradigm shift is to create a moment of radical simplification to a system that was becoming overly complex in its theoretical analysis before. That was the effect of Copernicus on the Ptolemaic system, and of Newton on pre-Newtonian physics. There may well come a case, as in the past, where this Government or their successor decide on a radical tax simplification, but while we are in the world of existing tax, that is not the world we are talking about.

The hon. Gentleman should be pleased to know that these measures have been regarded within the profession as the model of how to achieve effective tax legislation— that is not always the case with Government legislation. There is a nice quote in the Tax Journal for 5 December 2018:

“The corporate capital loss restriction is a good example of how to produce effective legislation. The consultation will enable draft legislation to be produced for publication in December 2019. This will be subject to technical consultation ahead of its inclusion in the Finance Bill 2020. This allows time for the profession to work with HMRC to iron out the inevitable teething troubles.”

That is right. As I have identified, there were essentially two periods of consultation: one on policy design and, in due course, more technical consultation on draft legislation. That work is what is reflected in this piece of legislation. I hope I have reassured the hon. Gentleman on that front.

The hon. Gentleman raised a question about competitiveness. He will know that the components of competitiveness are many and various. It is not immediately obvious why the treatment of capital for capital losses should have any huge or certainly immediate competitive effect. We are talking, lest it be forgotten, about a measure that is likely to have an effect on some 200 companies. Some of them may be large, but this is a very small proportion of the overall corporate world in which we live. It is also worth saying that, even after this change, the system that remains is significantly more generous in some crucial respects than the system in many other countries that are our notional international competitors.

The hon. Gentleman raised the question of whether the Government are disallowing adequate challenge to the Bill. I would say that one man’s meat is another man’s poison, one woman’s meat is another woman’s poison and so on. The effect of having this structure to the Bill is that, as we grind through these clauses—I apologise to colleagues if it is a grind—and give them the detailed consideration that this Parliament would expect with its history of scrutinising tax, that is now being done under a system in which non-charging measures are covered by individual resolutions. That is an increase in clarity and, I think, very much to be welcomed.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen South talked vigorously about what he sees as the democratic views of the people of Scotland. May I remind him of a few facts? Scotland had a referendum in 2014 in which, I am pleased to say, a substantial majority was in favour of remaining part of the Union. In so doing, Scots reflected the wisdom of arguably one of Scotland’s greatest thinkers, Adam Smith, when he said that the Union with England was a measure from which infinite good had derived to Scotland. How right Smith was. Of course, it would overturn the settled convention that referendums take place once in a generation, and, to that extent, it would be a denial of the democratic basis of referendums, to have another in a shorter time period.

May I also remind the hon. Gentleman that it was extraordinarily lucky in many ways that the Scots were, as I trust they will always be, wise enough to see their future within the Union, because when crisis struck, and the oil and gas industry were completely clobbered and the oil price fell, that would have cut an enormous hole in the GDP of an independent Scotland, which disastrous economic outcome was avoided by Scotland’s ability to work with and benefit from its position within the Union? The same will be true under coronavirus, given the different exposures that the Scottish economy has to sectors affected by the economic downturn.

It is also worth saying that the Government have provided a very substantial amount of money to support Scotland during the coronavirus; at least £3.7 billion has been given to the Scottish Government from measures introduced in the Budget and subsequently. That is in addition to a very large amount of money provided through UK-wide measures such as the coronavirus job retention scheme, the self-employment scheme and the bounce back loan scheme. It is that sense of collective strength that our Union has always reflected and I trust will continue to reflect.

Having expressed that sentiment, let me encourage the Committee to support the clause and reject the new clause, not because the Government in any sense wish not to receive scrutiny but because such scrutiny is already very well exercised through other channels.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 24 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 3 agreed to.

Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.