Meaning of “the responsible member”

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 11th June 2020.

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Photo of Robin Millar Robin Millar Conservative, Aberconwy 2:00 pm, 11th June 2020

As much as we have heard excellent contributions on matters of delivery and on technical matters, which are far beyond my knowledge of accounting and such, it strikes me that, as we are talking about the introduction of a new tax, this is the moment at which we should reflect on its meaning and on the purposes behind it.

The phrase that caught my eye is in clauses 53 and 54 —“Duty to”. My sense is that tax should not be, or should not only be, a catch-up exercise—chasing after developments in industry and the disruption brought to different sectors. Nor should it be about how much money we gather, although that is clearly of keen and close interest to us. It is also about the privilege of membership of a community and of participation in the UK economy. I find it interesting that it falls to a Conservative Government to introduce a tax such as this, which I consider to be progressive in its nature and intent.

In support of that, I pray in aid consideration of the principle of permanent residence, for example. Permanent residence was traditionally attached to the ability to trade in a nation, and tax therefore followed. If not trading in—that is, without that permanent residence—someone would be trading with, so coming under a different regime. Now, we have disruption in the digital economy, which means that we are trading in even though there is no permanent residence.

I also point to the development in the understanding of value over the years. At one point, value was measured in amounts of gold, so the question was one of setting a price, or offering gold in return for something; that was in essence a measurement of weight. The free trade argument slugged that one out with the mercantilist over many years, but the free trade argument won because it made the case effectively that the value of gold could be expressed in terms of the labour required to extract it. Discussions of value therefore moved from a physical object to the notion of labour.

As the Financial Secretary to the Treasury mentioned earlier, we are now talking about user-generated value. The notion of value itself has changed, and there are many debates about what value is and how it is best measured and captured. I suggest that they are extremely relevant to a discussion of tax, especially the introduction of a new one.

To look at tax solely in terms of being punitive, a “fair share” or a certain quantum, is to miss the point. Returning to the issue of leadership that was mentioned this morning, tax properly administered is surely more than a statement of how much money we can collect. It is more a statement of what we are trying to become—tax used as an instrument of government. What kind of society do we wish to become? It is not even, as might be suggested, a statement of how well we can co-ordinate with other nations. For this Government—I am interested in whether the Minister agrees with me—it is a statement of leadership, of what we are trying to become as a nation and, in particular, how we are trying to capture value through the proper encouragement of those industries as they participate in our economy.