“(e) the employer pays, as a minimum, a living wage, to all staff it employs, and
(f) the businesses operating in the freeport in which the employer has business premises have collectively—
(i) put in place a strategy setting out how the freeport will contribute to the target for net UK emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 as amended by the Climate Change Act (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019,
(ii) put in place a strategy setting out how the businesses will ensure that no goods passing through the freeport are the products of slave labour, and
(iii) carried out an environmental impact assessment of the operation of the freeport.”
This amendment provides conditions to businesses in freeports. These include a strategy on how the freeport will contribute to the target for net UK greenhouse gases emissions, a strategy ensuring no goods passing through the freeport are products of slave labour, and an environmental impact assessment of the freeport.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
“(4A) For the purposes of subsection (1)(e), the living wage per hour—
(a) for the financial year 2020-21 is—
(i) £9.30 outside of London, and
(ii) £10.85 inside London; and
(b) for each year after the financial year 2020-21 is to be determined by the Living Wage Foundation.”
This amendment defines the living wage, payment of which is one of the conditions business would have to meet under Amendment 1.
Clause stand part.
Clause 3 stand part.
New clause 1—NIC relief for employers at freeports: review of commencement date—
(1) The Government must conduct a review of job creation in the 2021-22 financial year at each of the eight freeport tax sites.
(2) The review must assess the impact on decisions around job creation of the relief becoming available from April 2022 rather than April 2021.
(3) The review must be commenced by 30 April 2022.
(4) The review must be published and laid before Parliament by 31 July 2022.
This new clause will require the Government to assess the impact on job creation in freeports in 2021-22 as a result of NIC relief being available from April 2022 rather than April 2021.
New clause 2—NIC relief for employers at freeports: review of the conditions of eligibility—
(1) The Government must conduct a review of the conditions of eligibility for the National Insurance contributions relief introduced by section 1 of this Act.
(2) The review must take into account the number of freeport employees in 2022-23 who work at more than one freeport site and who earn less than the relevant upper secondary threshold set under the powers created by section 8.
(3) The review must consider the impact of the matter in subsection (4) on decisions by employers about job creation.
(4) The matter is the relief introduced by section 1 of this Act being available for employees who spend 60% or more of their working time in one freeport, and not for employees who spend 60% or more of their working time across more than one freeport but less than 60% in any one freeport.
(5) The review must be commenced by 30 September 2023.
(6) The review must be published and laid before Parliament by 31 December 2023.
This new clause will require the Government to evaluate the impact on job creation of the employers’ NIC relief not being available for employees who spend 60% or more of their time across more than one freeport, but less than 60% in any one freeport.
There is a pretty basic principle that lies behind this: that you shouldn’t get owt for nowt. In exchange for the substantial package of reliefs that are on offer through this Bill, we believe that businesses must offer something in return, beyond their presence and their baseline economic activity within the bounds of a freeport.
In this case that would include, through amendments 1 and 2, meeting local environmental obligations. Many freeports are built on sites that have environmental sensitivities. We believe there need to be some enhanced obligations around that. Activities in a freeport should contribute to wider environmental objectives, such as the commitments to net zero and climate targets. It is very important to protect workers’ rights, not only within the perimeter of a freeport but anywhere else that has any kind of economic relationship with the freeport. That means taking steps to actively ensure that we are preventing the exploitation of slave labour at any stage in the value chain and ensuring that a living wage, as defined, is paid to the workers in the freeport.
Those are all important objectives in policy terms and are a fair exchange for the public goods being consumed through the creation of the freeport. They are modest asks in the context of the relief being offered and are worthy of support.
Clause 2 sets out the conditions that employers must meet to qualify for the relief created by clause 1. Those conditions require that the freeport employment must begin between
We have a number of points to raise with the Minister on the details of the clause. First, as I mentioned on Second Reading, it is hard to understand why the relief is conditional on employment not commencing until
“The Government have been clear that this relief is only available on new hires from April 2022, and set this out in the ‘Freeports Bidding Prospectus’ published in autumn 2020. The reason why is that having a clear start date is a simple approach that will support the freeport businesses.”—[Official Report,
I found it hard to understand that the Minister’s point. Having a clear start date may well be a simple approach, but my question was not about whether the relief should have a clear start date, but why the Government had chosen a start date in 2022, rather than in 2021 when freeports are expected to start operating. To press Ministers on that, we suggest a simple review, as set out in new clause 1, which would require the Government to conduct a review of job creation in 2021-22 at each of the eight freeport tax sites. The review must assess the impact on job creation decisions of the relief becoming available from April 2022 rather than April 2021. I would be grateful if the Minister committed to carrying out such a review. If he is not willing to, perhaps he could explain why the Chartered Institute of Taxation is wrong to say that this choice of date could hamper freeport employers this year and perhaps create perverse incentives to delay the start of an employee’s work.
Alongside the start date for the relief, we want to raise questions about clause 2(1)(d), which states that at the time the qualifying period begins, a freeport employer must reasonably expect that the earner will spend 60% or more of their employed time in a single freeport tax site in which the freeport employer must also have business premises. That means that the relief introduced by clause 1 is available for employees who spend 60% or more of their working time in one freeport, but not for employees who spend 60% or more of their working time across more than one freeport, but less than 60% in any one freeport. If an employee splits their working time between two freeport sites, the employee may not qualify as a freeport employee, which might not be what is intended.
We have therefore proposed, in new clause 2, a review of the impact of that feature of the policy design on employers’ decisions about job creation. Again, I would again be grateful if the Minister committed to carrying out such a review. If he is not willing to, perhaps he could explain why he does not think that issue is likely to arise.
Finally, I would like to ask the Minister about clause 2(1)(a), which provides that the employed earner’s employment is a new employment commencing between
Although clause 2(2) would prevent an employee from qualifying if the two businesses were connected, that would not always be the case—for instance, when a freeport business buys the trade of an unconnected business and commences that newly acquired trade at a freeport site. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain whether, in such a case, we can assume that the freeport business would be a “new” employer for the purposes of this relief, while recognising, of course, that its “new” employees would have continuity of employment for employment rights purposes.
I am grateful to the hon. Members for Gordon and for Ealing North for their contributions. We have discussed already how clause 1 introduces a new rate of secondary class 1 national insurance contributions. If I may, I would like now to explain the freeport conditions that enable a freeport employer to qualify for the relief. That is set out in clause 2, and I will then discuss clause 3 and the amendments and new clauses that have been tabled.
Clause 2 has the following effect. It sets the conditions that an employment must meet to qualify for the freeport employer’s NICs relief. A freeport employer is an employer that has a business premises in the freeport tax site—business premises being defined as building or structure out of which the business is carried out. A freeport employee is an employee of a freeport employer who spends 60% of their working time in a freeport tax site and has not been employed by that employer in the previous 24 months. A freeport employer can apply the zero rate for 36 months on new hires from April 2022. The earnings of freeport employees hired before April 2026 will qualify for the zero rate for the full 36 months.
Clause 3 provides the Treasury with the power to legislate for the finer detail of the measure in secondary legislation. It provides a power to add, to amend and to remove certain conditions. The practical effect of that is to allow the Government to react to the economic realities of today, and also to give a degree of future-proofing to the measure against unintended policy outcomes.
The hon. Member for Ealing North raised the question of the starting date in 2022, and I understand that he is repeating the concern that he raised on Second Reading. It is adequately and properly met by the response that the Exchequer Secretary gave. It is a hypothetical matter as to when these freeports will begin to operate. We expect that to be soon, and we are pressing forward, but there are number of further steps to be undertaken before a freeport tax site can be designated and a freeport can go into operation. It is useful therefore to have a date certain for the operation of the policy.
The hon. Gentleman asked whether the 60% rule discriminates against people who work flexibly. It is important to understand that this is a place-based policy—that is to say, it is a policy designed to focus and operate from a very specific location. To meet the objective of encouraging new investment and economic activity, and to maintain the focus and the targeting of the policy overall, it is important to restrict reliefs to those whose jobs are based in a freeport tax site. The Government will do that by making it a requirement that eligible employees spend at least 60% of their working time in a tax site.
Opening up that relief to employees who did not meet that requirement would undermine the policy aim of supporting employment in the freeport area, because it would mean that employers could effectively claim relief on employees carrying out work outside a freeport area—indeed, in an area that may not be related to the freeport at all.
The hon. Gentleman raised the question about TUPE-ed employments. These are not regarded as new employments, and the employment is transferred but is not regarded as new, and therefore the employee would not be eligible for the reliefs offered in the Bill.
I turn now to the questions raised by the Scottish National party in the speech made by the hon. Member for Gordon. It is important to note that the SNP’s amendment would place additional eligibility criteria—with respect to employment rights, equalities and the environment —in the Bill. Of course, those would add complexity to what is a well-established and rapidly moving process, and they would create potential delay. For that reason, it is not an attractive amendment.
The Government are committed to reducing carbon emissions, which is why this country was the first major economy to implement a legally binding net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050. Of course, it remains open to the Scottish Government to impose higher standards if they wish, either on freeports or on other ports that exist in Scotland, since environmental policy is a devolved area. The hon. Gentleman may want to take up his concern with the Scottish Government if he wishes to see higher standards in ports in Scotland. From the Government’s standpoint, we are also committed to supporting those in employment, which is why we introduced the national living wage in 2016. This month, workers have seen a pay increase to £8.91 an hour, which is a 2.2% pay rise.
The hon. Gentleman raises an important point about ensuring that goods passing through freeports should in no way be the products of slave labour. This is a global problem, and employers and freeports will need to meet the same high regulatory standards on slave labour that other businesses in the UK meet. That is to say that they must abide by the landmark transparency and supply chain provision in the Modern Slavery Act 2015, by which the UK became the first country in the world to require businesses to report on the steps they have taken to tackle modern slavery in their operations and global supply chains. With that said, I hope hon. Members will withdraw their new clauses and amendments.
I thank the Minister for his response. One of the things that we hear most often is that any amendment that may be desirable may add complexity, which seems to be a standard phrase that gets thrown in whenever the Government do not wish to proceed with something and cannot think of a better argument.
On the basis of what I have heard, I am unpersuaded that the suite of benefits and reliefs that are offered should make it easier to help achieve those objectives. I take what the Minister said about the obligations that already exist under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, but I still think that more can be done to embed the expectations that we have, and not just in Scotland. I take the Minister’s point that the Scottish Government have a certain latitude in this area, but the point is to ensure that the provision applies all over and that there is some kind of equality. On that basis, I will press the amendment to a vote.