Digital services tax: introduction

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Jesse Norman Jesse Norman The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 12:00 pm, 11th June 2020

All I can say to my colleagues on the Government Benches who have made their speeches is,

“soft, what light through yonder window breaks? It is the east”— and my hon. Friends the Members for South Cambridgeshire, and for Harrogate and Knaresborough. What could be finer? I thank them very much for their interventions. If I may, I will start by responding to those interventions and then come on to the very detailed thrust of commentary from the shadow Chief Secretary.

My hon. Friend the Member for South Cambridgeshire rightly made the point that taxes are, of their nature, potentially distortive, and revenue taxes, of their nature, in particular. It is therefore appropriate to proceed with a degree of caution in considering how to introduce a tax, and to acknowledge that. He also made the point that many taxes start modestly. I could not possibly comment on the future direction of this tax, but I will say that I do not think that £2 billion is a trivial sum of money to raise from a new tax. I think the tax has been set at an appropriate level, and officials and the Government believe that, too.

My hon. Friend also asked whether businesses affected by the tax will have to collect a vast array of new information, and whether that may be burdensome to them. This is one area where, on reflection, he may be able to take a degree of comfort, because we are only talking about very large businesses, and about businesses for whom tracking users and extracting revenue from them is what they do for a living. So, it is not our expectation that there should be any enormous additional informational burden; there may be a selection process of pulling information out, but not an enormous informational burden.

I will also point out that the approach taken is one of self-assessment, which is to say that we expect businesses that have UK user-generated content revenue to come forward and self-assess. In a way, that relates to the question put by the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South about whether HMRC has enough resources. I am pleased to tell her that it already has a digital team in place, whose job is to monitor this process of self-assessment. And as with other taxes, I have no doubt that they will become increasingly expert in doing that and evaluating the submissions that are made; of course, submissions will vary in their quality and I am sure that evaluating them will be, in turn, an educative process for tax officials at HMRC.

My hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough, a beloved former Treasury Minister, made a couple of important points. Of course, he is absolutely right that we are talking about a dynamic market or sector. All markets are intrinsically dynamic and we are talking about an intrinsically highly dynamic sector of activity, perhaps never more so than at this particular moment in our history, when we are seeking—internationally and nationally—to find a whole range of new solutions to support people and maintain the economy. So, it is a very dynamic sector.

My hon. Friend is also right to highlight—in a way entirely unscripted and unprepared with me—the “pioneering” nature of this tax. It is a new form of tax, which seeks to tax UK user-generated content. Therefore, it is an important démarche in our history to consider whether this is an appropriate way in which to tax. I believe it is, and I believe that Parliament will think it is, but we will of course continue to review and take feedback on it. I point out that there have been two sets of consultations on this already—an original, principal set and then a more technical one.

Having said that, I return to the wide-ranging speech made by the shadow Chief Secretary. All I can say is that, if this is what she does to legislation she likes, goodness knows what she does to legislation she does not like.