Losses on disposal of shares: abolition of requirement to be UK business

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 9th June 2020.

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

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

Again, this is a small and technical clause. It widens the scope of share loss relief for income tax and corporation tax so that it applies to shares in companies carrying on a business anywhere in the world and not just in the UK.

Share loss relief is available where an investor or investment company makes an investment in qualifying shares that are later disposed of at a loss. The relief enables the loss to be set against taxable income, rather than against capital gains under the normal rules. Qualifying shares are shares to which the enterprise investment scheme, EIS, or the seed enterprise investment scheme, SEIS, are attributable, or in a qualifying training company, as defined in statute, which can be summarised as a small or medium unlisted trading company that carries on its business wholly or mainly in the UK.

The measure will change the existing statute so that investors can claim relief no matter where the business is based, providing added protection for those investing in high-risk enterprises. It will be backdated to proposals made after 21 January 2019. A change will be made to the reporting requirements so that HMRC can identify the tax residency of the company that issued the shares.

The UK has now left the EU and has agreed to follow its rules for the duration of the transition period. On 24 January 2019—hence the date—the European Commission issued a reasoned opinion arguing that applying SLR to shares only in UK companies contravened the free movement of capital principle. The Government accepted that the legislation as drafted was too narrow and agreed to introduce legislation to expand the rules and, thereby, comply with the principle.

The change made by clause 37 widens the relief so that it applies to shares in qualifying businesses worldwide, not just in the UK. The proposed changes are expected to increase the cost of the relief to the Exchequer by £5 million in 2020-21, increasing to £15 million per year thereafter.

The Government consider that this legislation strikes the right balance between supporting overseas investment opportunities for UK-based investors and meeting our residual obligations to the European Union for the free movement of capital. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Bridget Phillipson Bridget Phillipson Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The Opposition welcome the intention behind this clause, and the statement of the Minister seems straightforward in terms of what the Government are seeking to achieve in this area. For future trading to be as streamlined as possible, it is important that the Government introduce this measure to ensure compliance with article 63 of the treaty on the functioning of the European Union after the end of the transition period.

However, on the transition period—we touched on this this morning, and my hon. Friend the Member for Ilford North raised this issue—we have, sadly, not had the kind of regular updates we would like in the House around ongoing negotiations. We all want the Government to succeed, and we want to secure a great deal for our country, but we want to be confident that the Government are making progress and are on the right track.

Some of the reporting we have seen lately suggests that—for a number of reasons, some of which are entirely fair, given the unprecedented crisis in which we find ourselves—Ministers and officials have found things hard. I understand how difficult it must be to operate during this time, but the pandemic has highlighted how important it is that we ensure everything is properly aligned at the end of the transition period and that we secure an excellent deal, because so much depends on it—workers’ rights, businesses and our ability to export.

We want to avoid any further disruption to our economy. We have been through a very difficult time—we are still going through a very difficult time—for businesses large and small, and not least for our manufacturing sector and our world-class exporters. We want to avoid any further disruption to the economy, at the border or in people’s lives.

The Government have variously described the deal they will secure as

“a great new deal that is ready to go”,

“ambitious”, “broad”, “deep”, “flexible”, “a balanced economic partnership” and “oven ready”—that is one I recall particularly well from the recent general election campaign. Given all of that, I am sure that we will have no difficulty at all, notwithstanding the big challenges we face around the pandemic, and that we can ensure we do not have tariffs, fees or charges, so that our world-leading industries can continue to do well.

On clause 37, especially, businesses will, according to HMRC, need to familiarise themselves with tax changes, make the decision on whether to claim for the loss, determine the tax residency of the company that issued that shares and inform HMRC of this information. I would be grateful if the Minister could assure us that there is no prospect of exploitation in this area and that the Government will do all they can to ensure fairness across the system, so that we do not end up with companies potentially claiming this relief in a way that was perhaps not intended in the scope of the legislation and in the measures that Ministers are quite sensibly seeking to set out here.

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

I feel almost sad to be winding up on the final clause of this very good day. I thank the hon. Lady very much for her questions. Regarding the transition period, she has said she is sure the deal will be smooth and tariff-free. In that, she shares the Government’s high hopes and expectations for a deal with the EU. There is not much more I can add to that.

On the prospect of exploitation, I cannot give her, I am afraid, the guarantee she seeks, because if there is anything that my five years on the Treasury Committee and one year as Financial Secretary have taught me it is that there are no limits to human ingenuity in exploiting aspects of the tax code contrary to expectation, so there is some possibility of exploitation. The comfort I can give her is that, as this change is mandated as a result of compliance with an EU procedure, once we are free from the transition period, we will have the ability to make a sovereign change to our own legislation that remedies any concerns that are raised and any risks to the Exchequer that thereby arise.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 37 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(David Rutley.)

Adjourned till Thursday 11 June at half-past Eleven o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

FB14 An individual who wishes to remain anonymous

FB15 Nick Pennington

FB16 Anonymous

FB17 Tim Brain

FB18 John Clarke

FB19 Anthony Johnson

FB20 Chartered Institute of Taxation Clause 72 IHT excluded property

FB21 Chartered Institute of Taxation Clauses 95-96 Priority on insolvency

FB22 Chartered Institute of Taxation Clause 97 Liability of company directors etc

FB23 Chartered Institute of Taxation Clauses 100-101 HMRC Administration and Compliance