Clause 32 - Introduction

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 5th January 2022.

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

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 33 stand part.

Clause 52 stand part.

New clause 3—Review of impact of Residential property developer tax on the tax gap—

“The Government must publish within 12 months of this Act coming into effect an assessment of the impact of Part 2 of this Act (Residential property developer tax) on the tax gap, and of whether it has increased opportunities for tax evasion and avoidance.”

This new clause would require a Government assessment of the impact of the Residential Property Developer Tax introduced in this Bill, and of its effect on opportunities for tax evasion and avoidance.

New clause 18—Review of the residential property developer tax—

“(1) The Government must publish a review of the residential property developer tax within three months of the end of the first year of it applying.

(2) The review under subsection (1) must be updated annually, within three months of the end of each subsequent year that the residential property developer tax applies.

(3) The review under subsection (1), updated as set out in subsection (2), must assess—

(a) how much the RPDT has raised in each year of its operation so far;

(b) how much it is estimated that RPDT would have raised at a level of—

(i) 6%,

(ii) 8%, and

(iii) 10%; and

(c) any wider effects of setting the RPDT at the levels set out in subsection (3)(b).”

This new clause would require the Government to review the RPDT each year in order to assess the revenue it has raised and also what revenue it would raise, and the other wider effects it would have, at certain higher levels.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. Like you, I wish all members of the Committee a happy new year. As the Committee will know, the Government are determined to bring an end to unsafe cladding, to reassure homeowners and to support confidence in the housing market. As part of the building safety package announced in February 2021, we are introducing a new residential property developer tax, which will raise at least £2 billion over the next decade to help to pay for building safety remediation.

As announced on 10 February 2021 by the previous Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, my right hon. Friend Robert Jenrick, the RPDT is one of two new revenue-raising measures that will ensure that developers make a fair contribution to the costs of remediation. Clauses 32 and 33 introduce a new residential property developer tax to be charged at a rate of 4% on the profits of businesses carrying out residential property development activity that exceed its allowance for an accounting period. The clauses confirm that the RPDT is charged as if it were an amount of UK corporation tax.

Clause 52 is an anti-avoidance provision, which prevents taxpayers from adjusting their profits arising in an accounting period in order to obtain a tax advantage. The clause will apply where trading profits derived from residential property development activities arise in the accounting period ending before the commencement of RPDT, and arose only because of arrangements made on or after 29 April 2021.

New clause 3, tabled by the hon. Member for Glasgow Central, seeks to require the Government to publish an assessment of the impact of RPDT on the tax gap, and of whether it has increased opportunities for tax evasion and avoidance. As the RPDT has been designed to be aligned with UK corporation tax, the existing corporation tax compliance mechanisms, such as inquiries, information powers and penalties, will apply to RPDT, as well as anti-avoidance rules including transfer pricing and the general anti-abuse rule.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs regularly reports on the taxes that it is responsible for collecting, and the RPDT will be no exception. HMRC will assess the impact of RPDT on the tax gap in its annual “Measuring tax gaps” reports, and will monitor RPDT revenue in its annual tax receipts statistical publications. The Government also carefully assessed the impacts of RPDT throughout the consultation period and published a detailed impact assessment of RPDT at the autumn Budget. For those reasons, I believe that a further impact assessment is not appropriate, and I therefore ask the Committee to reject the new clause.

New clause 18, tabled by the hon. Members for Ealing North, for Erith and Thamesmead and for Blaydon, seeks to require the publication of an annual review of the tax, including the revenue raised, the estimated yield that would have been raised had the tax been set at various differential rates—6%, 8% and 10%—and the wider effects of the higher rates. HMRC regularly reports on the taxes that it is responsible for collecting, and the RPDT will be no exception. The revenue raised from RPDT will be published in HMRC’s annual tax receipts statistics publications.

The RPDT rate was carefully considered in the context of the upcoming increase in the main rate of corporation tax in 2023, other taxes and forthcoming regulatory changes, as well as the wider macroeconomic environment. The 4% rate of RPDT balances the need to raise £2 billion over a decade—at the same time as seeking a fair contribution from the residential property development sector—against the need to ensure that the tax does not have a significant impact on housing supply. The Government monitor the tax system continuously and will keep the tax under review. For those reasons, I believe that a further annual review of RPDT is not appropriate, and I therefore ask the Committee to reject new clause 18.

In conclusion, the clauses in this group form the first part of the legislation needed to introduce RPDT in April 2022 and the necessary anti-avoidance provisions. I therefore recommend that the clauses stand part of the Bill.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to serve on a second Finance Bill Committee under your chairship, Dame Angela.

I will address the clauses that the Minister set out in her remarks, starting with clause 32, which notes that the new residential property developer tax will be applicable from 1 April 2022, as announced at the spring Budget of 2021. As we have heard, this is a new, time-limited tax on the profits of residential property development companies’ property development activity, with a rate of 4% over a £25 million allowance. The Government estimate that it will generate £2 billion over the course of a decade, and they said that the funds are earmarked to help with cladding remediation costs, according to the former Secretary of State for Housing, Robert Jenrick, who spoke to the Building Safety Bill in February 2021. The explanatory note for the clause states that the tax is to

“ensure that the largest developers make a fair contribution to help fund the Government’s cladding remediation costs.”

We support the principle behind the new tax, but I intend to use this Committee sitting to question the Ministers on the detail of its design and to probe their views on its place in the Government’s wider response to the cladding scandal. We know that the Bill has been consulted on, but we also note stakeholders’ disappointment that the consultation process was truncated, as stage 1 —setting out objectives and identifying options—was cancelled. Although we recognise the importance of moving quickly to raise revenue in order to help meet the costs of remediating unsafe cladding on buildings, it is disappointing that the Government were not able to conduct a thorough consultation.

Clause 33 sets the rate of the RPDT charge at 4% on profits that exceed the allowance of £25 million. The tax is charged as if it were an amount of corporation tax chargeable on the developer. As I mentioned earlier, the Government expect that £2 billion of revenue will be generated while the tax is in effect, so I will ask the Minister several questions in order to try to clarify the reasoning behind some of the Government’s decisions on the detail of the tax. First, we note that the tax does not come with a sunset clause, and therefore active legislation will be required to repeal it when it comes to an end. Will the Minister explain the reasoning behind that decision? If the tax is intended to be time-limited, why have the Government have chosen to leave it in need of active repeal, rather than simply adding a sunset clause?

Secondly, I mentioned that the expected revenue from the tax is £2 billion. We know, however, that that is just a fraction of the total cost of remediating unsafe cladding, which was estimated by the then Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee in April 2021 to be about £15 billion. What is more, labour and material shortages have significantly driven up the cost of construction. That is thought to add £1.2 billion to the overall cost of remediation, wiping out most of any gain from this tax. With the cost of cladding remediation already thought to be so much greater than the amount that the tax is expected to raise, and with that gap likely only to increase, will the Minister try to explain further why the rate was set at 4%? Will she confirm whether, if the amount raised should fall short of £2 billion or if costs should increase substantially, the Government would be open to considering raising the level of the tax?

It was in pursuit of an answer to that question that we tabled new clause 18, which would require the Government to publish a review of the residential property developer tax within three months of the end of the first year of it applying, and thereafter annually, within three months of the end of each subsequent year that the tax applies. The review, as updated, must assess how much the RPDT has raised in each year of its operation so far and how much it is estimated that it would have raised at levels of 6%, 8% and 10%.

As I mentioned, the cost of remediating unsafe cladding was estimated last year to be about £15 billion, and the cost of labour and materials has increased due to supply chain crises. Industry experts have estimated an 8% increase in the cost of cladding jobs, compared with last year. As I mentioned, that could increase the total cost by £1.2 billion. As I said, this tax aims to raise £2 billion, which is just a fraction of the total cost and much of which, it seems, will be wiped out by rising costs.

We have therefore tabled this new clause to ask the Government to assess how much they could raise through the tax and how much they could raise with different rates. Given the significant discrepancy between the estimated revenue raised by the RPDT and the estimated cost of remediation, will the Minister set out in further detail, when she responds, exactly how the rate of 4% was reached and what specific consideration was given to alternatives? It was with that in mind that we tabled the new clause. We will not seek to put it to a vote, but we hope that it will help us to debate and probe the important and central issue of the rate at which the RPDT has been set.

In summary, I will be grateful if, in her reply, the Minister could set out exactly how the figure of 4% was arrived at and, furthermore, how she expects the rest of the cost of cladding remediation to be met. I would be grateful if she could set out, either in her reply now or in writing, what other sources of funding she anticipates being used to meet the total cost of cladding remediation.

Finally in relation to this group, I will briefly mention clause 52, which is an anti-avoidance provision preventing taxpayers from adjusting their profits arising in an accounting period in order to obtain a tax advantage for the purposes of this tax. We welcome the intent behind that clause and will not oppose it.

Photo of Richard Thomson Richard Thomson Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Financial Secretary), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Wales), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Northern Ireland)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. I rise to speak to new clause 3, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central. As the Minister outlined, this new clause would require a Government assessment of the impact of the residential property developer tax being introduced by the Bill and of its effect on opportunities for tax evasion and avoidance.

We are all familiar with what this tax sets out to achieve and those on whom it should fall. There is a £25 million annual allowance for construction firms, and the tax will be levied above that at 4%. That does not take a great deal of time to say, but unfortunately, giving it effect requires 16 pages and a further eight pages across two schedules in the Bill and a great many more pages in the explanatory notes to say exactly how it will work in practice. Therefore, the opportunity for genuine confusion, for interpretation and, sadly, for evasion and avoidance is certainly a real and present danger in the legislation.

The anticipated impacts are set out in table 5.1 of the “Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021”. We are not talking huge sums from this tax, but given its stated purpose and the means to which the revenues are going to be put, I think that reviewing its impact—not just in a financial sense, but in the sense of the unintended consequences that it could have and the havoc that it could wreak in terms of confusion, differences of interpretation, and avoidance and evasion—seems to be an eminently reasonable thing to do. I urge the Minister to reconsider how the Government intend to tackle that once the tax is implemented.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 3:45 pm, 5th January 2022

I very much welcome the initial comments of the hon. Member for Ealing North, and that he welcomes the points in principle. That is important, given that we are trying to help those people who have suffered a terrible tragedy and ensure that we have the necessary funds to remedy the situation. He asked several questions, the first of which related to consultation. I reassure him that the Government undertook extensive stakeholder engagement as part of the 12-week consultation —holding 40 consultative meetings—to help ensure that the issues raised in the consultation about the design and impact were considered fully.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned a sunset clause. We have been clear that this is a measure to raise £2 billion-worth of revenue by way of tax, and that it will be time limited and will be repealed once sufficient revenue has been raised. As with all other taxes, the Government will keep this tax under review.

The hon. Gentleman asked whether the 4% rate was sufficient. However, at the same time, he also mentioned the supply chain issues that might mean that the cost of construction has gone up. It is, of course, important to ensure that what we ask from developers is fair, in order to ensure that their businesses remain viable and sustainable at the same time as contributing to this issue. The rate was carefully considered in the context of the upcoming increase in corporation tax, other taxes, the regulatory changes and the wider macroeconomic environment. We feel that 4% represents the right balance, raising the £2 billion over a decade while being fair and not having an impact on housing supply. The hon. Gentleman asked how we came to this rate; we considered it very carefully and decided on 4%.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury)

For the sake of clarity, I would be grateful if the Minister could help my understanding. She said that the tax was intended to raise £2 billion over 10 years, but she may have implied that if it has not raised £2 billion over 10 years, it would keep applying until £2 billion was raised. Is it for 10 years, or is it for £2 billion? The Government will not necessarily raise £2 billion over exactly 10 years; one has to come before the other. Is it going to be for 10 years and then finish—no matter what it has raised—or will it keep going until it has raised £2 billion?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The Government have made clear that they propose to raise £2 billion from this tax. They have done extensive analysis as to what the appropriate rate is to recover that amount. At a rate of 4%, we anticipate that we will raise that £2 billion—in fact, slightly more than that—in 10 years, and that is when the tax will come to an end.

I will address the points made by the hon. Member for Gordon, because he rightly raised an important point about tax avoidance. It is HMRC’s duty to ensure that we do not have tax avoidance and evasion. However, I reassure him that the existing corporation tax compliance mechanisms that currently exist—which include inquiries, information powers and penalties—will apply to this tax, as well as anti-avoidance rules, including transfer pricing and the general anti-abuse rule. He did not specifically raise any particular measures that he thought would be anti-avoidance or abuse—if there are any, I would be very interested to hear them in due course and discuss that with him.

For those reasons, we ask the Committee to reject the two new clauses and to agree that clauses 32 and 33 stand part.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 32 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 33 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

The decision on clause 52 stand part and any decisions on new clauses 3 and 18 will be dealt with later in our proceedings, though I note that the Labour Front-Bench spokesman indicated that Labour will not push new clause 18 to a Division.