Clause 98 - Power to make temporary modifications of taxation of employment income

Part of Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:00 am on 11 January 2022.

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Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury) 10:00, 11 January 2022

As we have heard, clause 98 relates to the power to make temporary modifications of taxation of employment income. The clause will grant the Treasury the power to make regulations to modify temporarily parts 3, 4 and 5 of the Income Tax (Earnings and Pensions) Act 2003 under ministerial direction, in the event of a disaster or emergency of national significance. The regulations must set out which disaster or emergency they are made in respect of, and the powers can be exercised only in a way that is wholly relieving to the taxpayer and cannot be used to create a tax charge.

This measure has been introduced in the context of the covid-19 pandemic, and indeed covid has highlighted the limited scope to make changes to the current benefits in kind and expenses rules to respond quickly to the pandemic. We understand that the aim of clause 98 is to enable changes to primary legislation to be made rapidly in response to significant national events. In that respect, we do not oppose this clause, provided that it is applied in strictly exceptional circumstances of national importance.

The clause uses the terms “emergency” and “disaster”, but a specific description of these criteria is missing. I would be grateful if the Minister set out what the Treasury would consider to be an emergency or disaster. Without a doubt, the onset of the covid-19 pandemic was a good example, but without a robust and transparent framework to guide the Treasury—given that the use of the power seems to be at its sole discretion—it is important that we are clear about the circumstances in which income tax liability can effectively be waived. Moreover, clause 98 notes that such measures would be temporary and would not apply longer than necessary. Again, guidance and a framework are conspicuously lacking, as the Government has provided no definition of “temporary”.

Early in the covid pandemic, emergency measures were needed, but as the pandemic has gone on the need for emergency measures has lessened. I would be grateful if the Minister assured us that a clear and transparent framework for establishing what constitutes “emergency”, “disaster” and “temporary” will be published, and when. If not, why not?

I am sure that we agree that this is a matter of effective policy rather than politics. As I have said, the context in which the clause has been introduced is uncontroversial, but I would be grateful if the Minister addressed this ambiguity and assessed whether the measure could be applied in a manner that deviates from its stated intention.