Structures and buildings allowances: rate of relief

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 9 June 2020.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 2:30, 9 June 2020

I thank the two hon. Gentlemen for their questions and comments on the clause. The hon. Member for Ilford North raises the question of what he calls tinkering, and I of course recognise the concern. I think it is fair to say that Governments of all kinds were given a masterclass in the dangers of tinkering by the Labour Government that was in power between 1997 and 2010. I will not bore the Chamber by rehearsing the highlights, but some would give anyone cause for concern. It is an inveterate potential risk, and the difficulty, in this case as in others, is in trying to balance the desire not to make change with the positive good that can be made by a particular change.

In the case of the SBA, on which there has been considerable discussion with stakeholders in different ways, the effect of increasing the generosity of the relief is that a business investing in a £10 million building will be able to deduct an extra £100,000 a year. That is not a trivial amount of money; any such business would surely welcome that amount. That illustrates the difficulty with a general worry about that tinkering. It is noticeable that, again, this has received a lot of support.

I mentioned the CBI. The National Farmers Union says that the increase will

“deliver more effective tax relief for farm buildings.”

Interestingly, it also goes to the point raised by the hon. Member for Aberdeen South, by saying that this change

“will go some way to supporting farms investing in modern, efficient infrastructure which could help to improve productivity and deliver our net zero ambition.”

That is a worthwhile and a good thing.

There are a variety of amendments in the clause. The difficulty is that these are minor but necessary technical changes to ensure that the SBA legislation is fair and equitable. As the hon. Member for Ilford North said, there is a general problem with forestalling on much new tax legislation. In the case of this measure, it is inevitable that, when there is change in a complex environment, different consequential changes will occasionally have to be made in order to improve the functioning of the legislation, to ensure that it works as anticipated. That is what these changes do.

We have already discussed the amendment of the law and I pointed out that, in some respects, proceeding directly with an income tax resolution has the effect of increasing overall transparency. It does not constrain debate in any degree. If the Labour party or any other party wishes to come forward and say that it wishes, on balance, to have SBA at 2%, 4% or 10%, it is fully entitled to say that in Committee now. That can then be evaluated and used to interrogate the position of the Government, and when we come to vote on it, the Government and colleagues can consider what an alternative might look like when they consider how to vote. That debate is not constrained—formal processes of amendment are not the same thing as the possibility of debating.

The hon. Member for Ilford North mentions his desire to avoid the dry and technical subject matter found in a Finance Bill Committee. He has chosen the wrong Bill about which to have that worry, because this is a dry and technical subject, and it is of its nature that it is like that and will always be like that. The idea that, before these procedures were in place, Finance Bills had wildly exciting and disco-like sessions in which Members of Parliament were able to propose exotic new ideas and debate was thereby enlivened is, I think, quite far from the mark.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen South raised a question about energy efficiency. He is aware that a vast array of measures have been put in place that are designed to bolster and improve the way in which we use energy. In due course, the Government will come forward with our own plans for net zero, which will do more in that regard. I think he called—or if he did not, he came close to it—for VAT to be, as it were, nationalised within Scotland. However, as I pointed out to the hon. Member for Glasgow North, I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman really wishes to overturn the fiscal framework that has been so carefully agreed over such a significant period and so much consultation between the then Government and the Scottish Government. If he really wishes to overturn the fiscal framework by demanding new powers, let him do so, but of course that upsets a much larger potential apple cart. On that basis, I commend clause 28 and urge the Committee to reject new clause 10.