National Insurance Contributions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 10:30 am on 22nd June 2021.
Clause 12 specifies how regulations are to be made under the Act and the parliamentary procedure that will apply to them. I ask the Committee to agree that it stand part of the Bill.
As we turn to clause 12, which provides for regulations under the Bill to be made by statutory instrument, I would like to discuss which regulations can be decided by the negative and the affirmative procedures. It might be helpful to focus on clause 3(3), which is mentioned in clause 12.
Clause 3 gives the Treasury regulation-making powers to
“provide for circumstances in which a freeport condition is to be treated as being met.”
That has the effect of making the relief available in circumstances in which it would not otherwise be. We note that clause 3 also gives the Government extensive powers to
“amend, repeal or otherwise modify” the relief. Although it will always be easier for the Government to amend legislation by way of regulations, we recognise the concerns that the Chartered Institute of Taxation has articulated that the powers to make those changes are extensive. There may well need to be flexibility to allow the finer detail of legislation to be amended, but there is a strong argument that any fundamental changes should be subject to full consultation and scrutiny.
I would be grateful if the Financial Secretary explained why he considers that the powers granted in clause 12, with effect on clause 3, to make decisions by way of regulations are proportionate. Does he agree that the clause gives the Government more powers than are desirable to change key elements of the policy by regulations? In particular, given that regulations under clause 3(3), which relate to freeport conditions, are subject to the affirmative procedure, will he explain why regulations under clause 3(2), which also relate to freeport conditions, are subject to the negative procedure instead?
I thank the hon. Gentleman. Clause 12(2) specifies that regulations made under the Act are subject to the negative procedure, except for clause 3(3), which relates to the power conferred on the Treasury to add, remove or alter the qualifying conditions for the freeport relief; clause 5, which relates to the power conferred on the Treasury to apply for a freeport secondary class NICs relief in Northern Ireland; and clause 8, which relates to the power conferred on the Treasury to specify the amounts of veterans’ and freeports’ upper secondary threshold. All three are subject to the affirmative procedure.
As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, the Treasury takes extremely seriously the question of what are its appropriate powers, and there has been considerable discussion and indeed parliamentary engagement on what the appropriate powers for HMRC should be in each case. In this case, the normal procedure has been followed, which is to try to recognise the public policy intent and overall public benefit of a more flexible arrangement, but also to respect the parliamentary procedure that where a measure includes new burdens or new taxes, or makes material changes of those kinds, they should be subject to an enhanced level of scrutiny by Parliament, provided by the affirmative procedure. That is the approach that we have taken.