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HMRC Closures — [Philip Davies in the Chair]

Part of Backbench Business – in Westminster Hall at 2:40 pm on 2nd November 2017.

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Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 2:40 pm, 2nd November 2017

My hon. Friend makes an excellent and valid point. The Government should think those sorts of thing through.

As I was saying, there is, at the very least, an issue of perception about whether this is all above board. Even if it is above board, it has to be seen to be above board. The issue is that people do not feel that that is the case. We all feel that something is not quite right. In a democracy, we have to be seen to be above board. That feeds into the concern that some of us have that Parliament is being ridden over roughshod on a whole range of issues. For example, we did not have Opposition day debates for months on end. When we did get them, the Government virtually did not turn up to respond, and they continue to take that approach. It feeds into the perception that they are developing contempt for the views of Members in this Chamber and, specifically, the main Chamber.

There is a perception—and in this case, it is a reality—that the Government treat people with contempt. A briefing on the civil service compensation scheme feeds into that narrative:

“On 18 July 2017 the High Court held that the Government had failed to comply with the duty to consult prior to amending the CSCS, in that it had imposed conditions on union participation in the consultation process.”

That seems to be saying, “You either agree with us in advance what we want you to discuss, or you’re going to be brushed aside and not considered.” The briefing continues:

“As such, the 2016 amendments were unlawful.”

There is getting to be a pattern of unlawfulness with the Government—for example, the issues on tribunal fees and in relation to social security. It goes on:

The Court’s decision is at the time of writing subject to appeal to the Court of Appeal.”

I have no doubt that the Government will do that. That is dated 26 October—just a few days ago.

We are not the only ones making this argument. The Public Accounts Committee said:

“We do not believe that it will save as much money as HMRC has predicted”— that is the understatement of the decade—

“and we are concerned that it has not thought through all the negative costs to the wider economy of its approach and the impact on local employment”.

That is another understatement, if ever there was one. Many people and communities will be dreadfully affected by this.

Let us talk about service issues. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales said:

“Service standards are deteriorating with taxpayers having to spend longer and longer on the phone trying to get through or waiting for their letters to be answered.”

My hon. Friend Dr Williams alluded to that. To boot, the National Audit Office says that this has cost £600 million more than first thought. That is the situation we are in. Why the Government are persisting with this dog’s dinner is absolutely beyond me.

Members today have made fantastic contributions that were forensic, surgical, factual, objective and mixed with a bit of humanity, which seems to be completely missing from the Government’s approach. I ask the Government to take these proposals back, give them further consideration and think about the communities and people affected.