Finance Bill: Taxable Benefits

27th June 2016

It is a great pleasure to speak on the Government measures in this group. I will say at the beginning of my remarks that, as I mentioned to Mr Speaker earlier, and as you will have no doubt noted, Mrs Laing, I am somewhat incapacitated by a back strain. I will of course take interventions, but with your permission, I will remain standing during those interventions—bobbing up and down will be a little discomforting. May I have your permission?
 
Please—[Interruption.] No, do not sit down. I was about to say that if the Minister had not made that point I was going to offer my permission. Having once been in the dreadful position of standing at that Dispatch Box on crutches with a broken leg, I know that although it is possible to stand still, going up and down is exceedingly difficult. I am sure the whole House has every sympathy for the Minister and will concur in giving him permission to remain on his feet.
 
Thank you, Mrs Laing. I am grateful for those remarks.

The measures I will outline ensure the simple, clear and fair tax treatment of employment income and benefits, strengthen incentives to choose the cleanest cars and vans, and ensure that those who have used artificial arrangements to avoid paying tax pay their fair share. Given the number of measures selected for debate, I will briefly set out how I will speak on them today. I will first discuss clauses 8 to 11, concerning company car taxation and the van benefit charge. I will then outline clause 7 and clauses 12 to 17, which address tax treatment of income and certain benefits. Finally, I will outline clause 18, which addresses disguised remuneration schemes.

I turn first to clauses 8 to 11. Clause 8 will increase the appropriate percentage for conventionally fuelled cars by three percentage points in 2019-20; it will also widen the tax advantage of ultra-low emission cars over conventionally fuelled cars in 2019-20 compared with previously announced plans. As a result of the changes, in 2019-20 a basic rate taxpayer driving a popular ultra-low emission company car will be £113 better off. Clause 9 makes a minor technical update to ensure the legislation works as is intended in 2017-18 and 2018-19. The update applies to a small number of rare company cars. It is estimated that exposure to nitrogen dioxide is linked with 23,500 deaths annually in the UK, costing approximately £13.3 billion.

As was announced in the autumn statement in 2015, clause 10 retains the three percentage point supplement for diesel company cars until 2021. That will support the UK’s transition from diesel cars to cleaner, zero and ultra-low emission cars. As a result, a basic rate taxpayer with an average ultra-low emission company car will save an additional £150 in 2016-17, compared with an employee who has an average diesel company car.

Clause 11 retains the van benefit charge for zero-emission vans at 20% of the rate paid by conventionally fuelled vans for 2016-17 and 2017-18, rather than increasing it to 40% and 60% as currently planned. That means that a basic rate taxpayer who drives a zero-emission van will save £126 in 2016-17 and £258 in 2017-18. Together, clauses 8 to 11 will incentivise business and employees to take up the cleanest cars and vans. That will help to ensure that the market for those new technologies becomes established in the UK, and to support the UK’s carbon emission and air-quality targets.

In anticipation of what we will hear from the Opposition, let me turn to amendments 2 and 3 to clause 10. The amendments would require the exemption of diesel cars from paying the supplement if they achieve the same level of nitrogen dioxide emissions as petrol cars. I appreciate that hon. Members want to incentivise people to purchase the cleanest cars, but the amendments would only introduce confusion and uncertainty. They are not linked to the wider regulatory programme to achieve the latest air quality standards, even when cars are driven on our roads. Clause 10 retains the supplement until 2021 when those new standards will be mandatory for all new cars. That approach is transparent and easy to understand, and it will give consumers confidence that all new diesel cars are comparable to petrol cars. Our approach incentivises people to purchase the cleanest cars, and in anticipation of what will be said later, I hope that Labour Members will not press the amendments to a vote.

Let me consider those clauses that clarify and simplify the tax treatment of income and certain benefits, and ensure fairness in the tax system. Clause 7 will clarify how the cash equivalents of certain taxable benefits are calculated, and ensure that fair bargain does not apply to those taxable benefits in kind where the level of computing the value of the benefit is set out in statute. The Government have made minor technical changes in amendments 22 to 26, which ensure that the legislation works as intended.

Clause 12 and schedule 2 will provide clarity that all income from sporting testimonials for an employed or previously employed sportsperson will be taxable. However, we are aware that careers in sport can be short, so we have also introduced an exemption for the first £100,000 of income received from a sporting testimonial that is not contractual or customary. The Government believe that that is a fair compromise, and the vast majority of employed sportspersons who have testimonials will not be impacted. Clause 13 introduces a statutory exemption for certain benefits costing up to £50 that employers provide to their employees. That will simplify the tax treatment of those benefits and reduce the administrative burden for employers. To ensure that the exemption is not misused, a £300 annual cap will apply in certain circumstances. That sensible and simplifying measure will reduce burdens on employers and HMRC alike.

Clause 14 will ensure that no individual or business can obtain an unfair tax advantage through claiming tax relief on home-to-work travel and subsistence expenses. It is an established principle in the UK that people are not able to claim tax relief on the cost of ordinary commuting, and the vast majority of workers are not able to do so. Individuals who are engaged through intermediaries—such as umbrella companies and their employers—currently benefit from that relief and the cost of commuting from home to work, simply because of the way they are engaged to work.

Has the Minister considered whether this measure will have a disproportionate impact on rural communities where travel is much more expensive and sometimes an overnight stay is necessary when undertaking those roles?
 
I will say a little more about clause 14, but I believe that this is a matter of fairness. For the vast majority of people, home-to-work costs do not have tax relief, and it is right to apply the same rules across the board. If there is a difference in treatment just because an arrangement is made through an umbrella company or other form of intermediary, clause 14 will put those workers on the same terms as everybody else. That underpins the Government’s commitment to ensure that the tax system is fair and treats all individuals who are doing the same thing in the same way.
 

I understand the Minister’s argument, but this measure will offer a disincentive to many people who have chosen to go down the contracting or self-employed route. Does he share our concern that that may act as a disincentive to entrepreneurship, given that being a contractor or self-employed could be the first step to forming another business and employing other people?

I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from but I do not share his concerns. It does not seem justifiable that simply by arranging affairs in a particular way through an intermediary, somebody should benefit from tax relief for travel-to-work costs in a way that someone else does not. All Members recognise how important it is that we have an entrepreneurial economy, and that the importance of the self-employed in our economy is considerable. It does not seem, however, that there is a strong case for saying that a difference in tax relief should apply, which is why we have come forward with these measures. In recent years there has been a substantial increase in the number of workers engaged through an employment intermediary, and while many play a legitimate role in the labour market, increasingly some market themselves—at least in part—on the basis that they allow individuals and businesses to maximise their income through claiming tax relief on home-to-work travel expenses. The increase in the use of intermediaries means that large numbers of individuals are claiming tax relief that the majority of workers cannot claim, even when they hold very similar jobs.

We estimate that this change will save the general taxpayer more than £150 million this year, and more than £600 million by 2019-20. That will ensure fairness for all individuals and businesses, regardless of the structure through which workers are employed. In that context, amendment 27 is a technical amendment to correct a point in the original draft and ensure that the legislation fully reflects the Government’s original announcement.

New clauses 1 and 3—perhaps I may anticipate the arguments that we will hear from the Scottish National party in a moment—would require the Chancellor to publish a report on the impact on workers who provide services through intermediaries, and their treatment for tax purposes, within six months of Bill being enacted. Those reviews would be completely unnecessary because those who provide services through intermediaries are taxed as either employed or self-employed. Some others operate as owner-directors of their own limited companies, and the tax treatment of the income and expenses of those individuals will depend on their employment status for tax purposes.

The Office of Tax Simplification carried out a review that considered the employment status and taxation of individuals working through intermediaries, and it published its report in March 2015. The Government accepted 17 of the 27 recommendations, and committed to consider a further six more. More recently, the Government have received the OTS’s review of small companies and accepted, or will consider further, nearly all its recommendations, including the recommendation that the OTS continues to develop the design of a look-through system of taxation for small businesses to simplify their tax affairs, and a new simple business model that would protect the assets of the self-employed. Following these recommendations, the Government have now formed a cross-government working group on employment status. The group will examine the advantages and challenges of an agreed set of employment status principles and a statutory employment status test. Given the volume and range of work done in this area recently, I would argue that an additional review is unnecessary. I therefore urge Members to reject new clauses 1 and 3.

We understand the argument the Government are making against a review, but given that the Minister suggests that this will save the taxpayer—or, to put it another way, cost individuals £600 million over the lifetime of this Government—will he be prepared at least to concede that should the tax yield go up dramatically, taking yet more from the self-employed and contracting community, he might want to revisit the decision he is taking today?
 
No, I do not think the Government will be persuaded by that. Were that to be the case, it would suggest that the use of tax relief in these circumstances was even more widespread than we had anticipated. The problem we face is one of fundamental unfairness. I make no criticism of those making use of intermediaries in these circumstances—they are making use of the law as it stands—but it is an unfair outcome. Essentially, where two people are performing identical roles, one is able to gain the benefit of tax relief and the other is not simply because of the way in which they have structured their arrangements. I believe the approach we have taken in this clause is the right one.

Clause 15 makes changes to allow for the extension of voluntary payrolling to include non-cash vouchers and credit tokens. The change will enable businesses to benefit from reduced reporting obligations to HMRC and provide a simplified system for employers. Clauses 16 and 17 and schedule 3 make a number of changes to simplify and clarify the rules for employment-related securities and options. Employment-related securities and securities options are commonly used by companies to reward, retain or provide incentives to their employees. Remuneration in the form of shares would generally be liable to income tax and national insurance contributions. However, if they are rewarded under one of the four types of tax advantage share schemes, the shares acquired are exempt from income tax and national insurance contributions.

Share-based reward programmes are greatly valued by both companies and employees. The Government want to make sure the relevant legislation is as simple and clear as possible. To that end, clause 16 introduces schedule 3, which builds on the Government’s response to the OTS report on employee share schemes by simplifying and clarifying this area of tax legislation. In addition, clause 17 puts beyond doubt the tax treatment of non-tax advantaged securities options, given some uncertainty in the current legislation.

The Government are introducing amendment 28 to schedule 3 to ensure that the trading activities requirements to receive the tax advantages of an enterprise management incentive scheme will continue to apply where a company is controlled by an employee-ownership trust.

If I may anticipate what we are likely to hear, and before I move on to clause 18, I will briefly address amendment 180 and new clause 10, which relate to clause 16. Amendment 180 proposes a review of the impact of the withdrawal by HMRC of its valuation check service for small and medium-sized enterprises, including associated impacts on employee share ownership schemes. This is unnecessary. HMRC continues to operate a service for employee shareholder status and the tax advantage schemes most relevant to SMEs. HMRC has only withdrawn valuation checks for income tax and PAYE that are not part of these recognised employee ownership schemes. HMRC was considering valuations for less than 0.05% of the relevant SME population. As these taxpayers were using professional firms, the vast majority of cases submitted were acceptable. As such, the service added little value and was seen as providing poor value for money for the taxpayer. I therefore hope the House will reject amendment 180.

New clause 10 proposes that within six months of the passing of the Act the Chancellor should publish a report giving an assessment of the value for money provided by each type of employee share scheme. An HMRC-commissioned report conducted by Oxera considered the effect of tax advantage employee share schemes on productivity. This is publicly available. Owing to the difficulty of drawing conclusive outcomes from such studies, in 2012 the Office of Tax Simplification recommended that it would not be a good use of taxpayer money to produce further reports on the links between share ownership and productivity. As with all reliefs, however, the Government will continue to keep these schemes under review and will continue to publish regular statistics on the estimated take-up and costs of each scheme. For these reasons, I urge Members to reject new clause 10.

Let me conclude my opening remarks by addressing clause 18. The Government want to ensure that companies and individuals who have used, or continue to use, artificial arrangements to disguise their income, pay their fair share. These avoidance schemes involve income being funnelled through a third party, with the money often then given to the individual in the form of a loan that is never repaid. In 2011, the coalition Government successfully introduced new legislation to tackle the schemes in use at that time. Many of those who used the schemes before 2011 have still not settled. In addition, the tax avoidance industry has been selling new schemes that are even more artificial and contrived. At Budget 2016, the Government announced changes to address these issues. Clause 18 is the first part of that package.

Clause 18 addresses one type of these schemes by disallowing a relief in the current rules that the schemes exploit where there is a tax avoidance motive. It also withdraws a transitional relief and makes three minor technical clarifications to the current rules to ensure they work as Parliament intended. The reforms make it clear that everyone must pay their fair share. I will not take up any more time for the moment.

| Hansard

...

 7.15 pm

 

I am grateful for the various points made in this debate. I will not repeat everything I said in my opening remarks, but I will try to address the questions raised, and we have had plenty of those. Perhaps I should begin by saying how pleased I was to see the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) join us, as one never knows these days who will be on the Labour Front Bench. Given the considerable work that he clearly put into his speech—not forgetting the considerable work put in by Imogen Watson—it would have been a great pity were he not to have been on the Front Bench to ask those questions, so I am delighted to see him.
 
I would not have missed it for the world.
 
The lengths people will go to in order to avoid attending a parliamentary Labour party meeting are clearly considerable.

Let me address the lengths the hon. Gentleman went to. I will also try to address the other points raised in the debate, and I will run through this in clause order—at least I will attempt to do so. Let me start by discussing clause 7, as he asked about the extent to which there have been problems and uncertainty with the tax law it addresses. There has been some uncertainty about the application of the current tax law in respect of fair bargain from a number of employers and advisers. This clause has been introduced to put the matter beyond doubt. It will give employers certainty about when fair bargain should not be applied to benefits in kind, and these issues have been recently rehearsed by the Court of Appeal. He raised a particular issue as to why there was special provision for cars and vans. Company cars and vans are a particularly valuable benefit, so the codes specify how to calculate the value to apply so that a fair and equitable tax treatment results. We have these provisions because this benefit is particularly valuable.

 
There may be a bit of to-ing and fro-ing on this for clarification, and this may well be due to my ignorance, but is this to do with the sale, possibly at an undervalue, of a van or a car, in contradistinction to one that is supplied as a benefit in kind—the classic sales rep’s company car? Is clause 7 talking about a different scenario, such as a potential sale with it undervalued—or how does it overlap?
 
No, it is not talking about that. I hope that provides some clarity.

On clause 8, we were asked why the Government were imposing tax increases on drivers of low-emission cars. The company car tax system encourages people to choose the most fuel-efficient cars while ensuring that the benefit is fairly taxed. It is fair that all company car users, including those in zero-carbon and low-carbon cars, make a fair contribution to the public finances. The tax differential between ultra-low emission and conventionally fuelled cars will be widened in 2019-20 compared with previous plans announced at Budget 2013. If Members so wish, I could provide examples of that.

The question put is, “Why are the Government increasing rates on conventionally fuelled cars by three percentage points after years of two-percentage-point increases?” People also ask about the impact on the type of cars purchased. These increases ensure that the taxation of company cars continues to reflect changes in emissions technology. The rate increase, together with the extra incentive of ultra-low-emission vehicles, promotes the continued move to the cleanest cars. In 2013, there were 1,900 company ultra-low-emission vehicles, which was about 0.1% of the company car fleet, whereas in 2015 there were more than 8,000. That supports the Government’s approach. Over the course of this Parliament, increases in company car tax rates have broadly maintained revenues in real terms, in the face of continued improvements in new car fuel efficiencies, and this will support the move to cleaner, zero-emission and ultra-low-emission cars.

 
I think I have asked this before, and the Minister may not have the figure to hand, but can he give us an estimate of how much he thinks the changes introduced by clause 8 will raise, given that for each of the four bands the percentages are going up by 3%?
 
If I may, I will write to the hon. Gentleman and provide him with those details.

On clause 11, the Government will review the van benefit charge support for zero-emission vans, again in the light of market developments, at Budget 2018. This clause is keeping the level at 20%—it is not increasing it as planned—and the review occurs before any further increase beyond 20%. I hope that reply is helpful to the hon. Gentleman. As for what the impact will be on the sales of zero-emission vans, extending the van benefit charge support for zero-emission vans will continue to reduce barriers to the uptake of new vehicle technologies. The Government’s enhanced capital allowances scheme for zero-emission vans and the plug-in van grant that helps with the up-front cost of buying a new ultra-low-emission van will also help to reduce barriers to the uptake of these new technologies. Together these incentives will help sales of zero-emission vans. This in turn will help the development and manufacture of clean vehicle technologies in the UK, consistent with the Government’s wider plans to promote economic growth. However, it is not possible to estimate precisely the impact on sales at this stage.

The hon. Gentleman made a point about EU air quality requirements and whether we should be doing more. The Government are committed to improving air quality, reducing health impacts and complying with legal obligations. Last December, DEFRA published the Government’s plan to achieve these aims. Under this plan, by 2020 the most polluting diesel vehicles will be discouraged from entering the centres of Birmingham, Leeds, Southampton, Nottingham and Derby. The Mayor of London has responsibility for London and his own plans for reductions. I accept that the hon. Gentleman’s amendment is well intentioned, but no vehicles would currently be caught by it and we are instead pursuing these aims more effectively elsewhere.

 
Maybe I missed it, and I apologise in advance if I did, but when the Minister referred to stuff going through DEFRA and so on, I understood the milepost to be 2020, but 2020 seems an awfully long way away given that we should have been complying with this air quality stuff in about 2011 or 2012. It seems to be a case of kicking the can down the road while literally tens of thousands of people are dying prematurely. That is worrying.
 
I understand why the hon. Gentleman raises that point, but no vehicles would currently be caught by the amendment. It is a question of finding the most effective means by which to do this. As I have said, last December DEFRA published the Government’s plans to achieve these aims and I accept that further work needs to be done, but we have set out a realistic and achievable target, and by 2020 the most polluting diesel vehicles will be discouraged from entering a number of cities.
 
rose—
 
I will give way, although I am keen to make progress as a number of points have been made.
 
The Minister says that no vehicles would be caught. My understanding of what he means by that is that no vehicles that are currently manufactured would be able to take advantage of the measure set out in amendments 2 and 3. The Minister is, I think, nodding, which is helpful. That is precisely the point of the amendments; it is to drive the market.
 
I appreciate that that is the intention of the amendments, and of course the hon. Gentleman would be the first to accept that it would require some time for that to take effect, but there are other measures elsewhere that the Government are taking that I believe achieve those objectives more effectively.
 
There is a proposal to build a railway line that would take 5 million lorry journeys off our roads every year, transforming current levels of emissions, particularly in towns. This has widespread support apart from in the Department for Transport and the Government. Will the Government look seriously at the scheme and see it as a positive way forward?
 
This Government are committed to a very substantial investment in our railways—the biggest rail building programme since Victorian times. As a Government, we have great ambitions; we intend to spend £60 billion on transport infrastructure over the course of this Parliament.

Turning to supporting testimonials, a point was raised about the definition of “customary”. To reassure the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West, I point out that HMRC is committed to working with external bodies in the production of guidance on this, which will cover issues such as the definition of “customary”. He also asked about the numbers of testimonials that fall within the contractual or customary categories, or fall outside that. No figures are available, as employers have not had to report this to HMRC. It is worth pointing out that contractual and customary payments are treated as earnings and it is therefore not possible to disaggregate them from the PAYE system.

A number of points were raised on clause 14. It was asked whether this change would disadvantage rural communities. Workers in rural communities who are contracted directly cannot claim travel and subsistence on their ordinary home to work commute. This change equalises the tax treatment of workers employed through employment intermediaries with that of other workers. It addresses an imbalance in our tax system, ensuring that it is fair. It is a long-standing principle of the tax system that tax relief is not allowable for the expense of ordinary commuting—travelling from home to a permanent workplace. I made that point earlier.

In terms of whether it would reduce contractors’ ability to travel, creating a skills shortage or reducing flexibility and preventing growth, where businesses wish or need to recruit workers living some distance away, the Government expect businesses to pay a wage sufficient to attract workers without any special tax subsidy being necessary. This forms part of the Government’s plan to move to a high-wage economy with businesses meeting the costs of paying their workers a wage which does not require a top-up from the state. I should also make the point in this context that this change puts supply teachers —an example that I think was used in the course of the debate—who are engaged through an intermediary on the same terms as other supply teachers who are contracted directly or through an agency. Like other workers, supply teachers not engaged in this way would not receive tax relief on their travel and subsistence expenses on regular home to work travel.

Prior to the last general election, the Labour party said that it would stop umbrella companies exploiting tax relief. It stated this both in its published plan to tackle tax avoidance and subsequently in Parliament, and that is exactly what this change does, so I hope our measures in this area will have cross-party support.

The hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman) made a point about the impact on the Scottish oil industry. Employees with a permanent workplace at an offshore oil or gas installation are already exempt from income tax where they are provided with transfer transport, related accommodation, subsistence or local transport. These changes will not affect that exemption.

 
The only time in my life I had to operate through an umbrella company and would have been caught by these changes was when it was at the requirement of the Government because of the way in which they had constructed a contract. Do they intend going through every Department of the UK Government to ensure they no longer contract in this way?
 
The Government have done considerable work in recent years to ensure that Departments do not engage in arrangements that drive down the tax bill in a way that is not the intention of Parliament.

On clauses 16 and 17 and the issue of the withdrawal of the valuation check service, the Government believe that the impact will be negligible on employee share ownership. The Government do not expect the withdrawal of these services to have an impact on the take-up of employee ownership schemes. The valuation service has not been withdrawn for the most relevant two employee ownership schemes, including enterprise management incentives, company share option plans, savers who earn share option schemes, share incentive plans and the employee shareholder status.

This rather raises the question raised by the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West as to why we have so many different schemes. Well, each of the tax advantage share schemes has a specific policy objective, reflected in the specific qualifying conditions. Share reward schemes are greatly valued by both companies and employees, and the Government believe that these schemes can have a positive impact on productivity.

Finally, on clause 18 and the concerns that this is retrospective legislation and that it is too complex, let me be clear that the changes introduced here are relatively straightforward. More complex proposals that were announced at the Budget will instead be legislated for in Finance Bill 2017, after the Government have consulted on the technical detail over the summer. One of the main purposes of the consultation will be to ensure that genuinely innocent arrangements are not affected. On the suggestion that the legislation is retrospective, the Government expect those who have avoided tax to pay their fair share. The Government intend to legislate for the new charge in Finance Bill 2017, following the consultation that I have just mentioned. The public and tax practitioners will be able to comment on that consultation.

Normal hard-working people do pay their taxes. They are paid a salary; they are not paid in loans. It is not right that those who use these schemes receive remuneration without paying tax on it. All affected scheme users will have the opportunity to repay their loans or to pay tax on them before the changes come into effect. This is in addition to the previous settled opportunities which closed in 2015.

I hope those points of clarification are helpful to the House. I hope, therefore, that the Government clauses and amendments can be supported, and I urge hon. Members proposing their own new clauses or amendments not to press them. If not, I urge my hon. Friends to oppose them.

Amendment 22 agreed to.

Amendments made: 23, page 14, line 10, at end insert—

“( ) In section 109 (priority of Chapter 5 over Chapter 1), after subsection (3) insert—

“(4) In a case where the cash equivalent of the benefit of the living accommodation is nil—

(a) subsections (2) and (3) do not apply, and

(b) the full amount mentioned in subsection (1)(b) constitutes earnings from the employment for the year under Chapter 1.””

Amendment 24, page 14, leave out lines 13 to 16 and insert —

““(1A) Where this Chapter applies to a car or van, the car or van is a benefit for the purposes of this Chapter (and accordingly it is immaterial whether the terms on which it is made available to the employee or member constitute a fair bargain).””

Amendment 25, page 14, line 35, at end insert—

“( ) In section 120 (benefit of car treated as earnings)—

(a) in subsection (2) after “case” insert “(including a case where the cash equivalent of the benefit of the car is nil)”, and

(b) after subsection (2) insert—

“(3) Any reference in this Act to a case where the cash equivalent of the benefit of a car is treated as the employee’s earnings for a year by virtue of this section includes a case where the cash equivalent is nil.”

( ) In section 154 (benefit of van treated as earnings)—

(a) the existing text becomes subsection (1) of that section, and

(b) after that subsection insert—

“(2) In such a case (including a case where the cash equivalent of the benefit of the van is nil) the employee is referred to in this Chapter as being chargeable to tax in respect of the van for that year.

(3) Any reference in this Act to a case where the cash equivalent of the benefit of a van is treated as the employee’s earnings for a year by virtue of this section includes a case where the cash equivalent is nil.””

Amendment 26, page 14, leave out lines 37 to 39 and insert—

““(1A) Where this Chapter applies to a loan—

(a) the loan is a benefit for the purposes of this Chapter (and accordingly it is immaterial whether the terms of the loan constitute a fair bargain), and

(b) sections 175 to 183 provide for the cash equivalent of the benefit of the loan (where it is a taxable cheap loan) to be treated as earnings in certain circumstances.”” —(Mr Gauke.)

Clause 7, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 8 and 9 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 10

Diesel cars: appropriate percentage

Amendment proposed: 2, page 15, line 29, after “omit”, insert

“, except in the case of a low emissions vehicle,”.—(Rob Marris.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

 

 

 


 
I thank all right hon. and hon. Members for their contributions in this very good debate. Most of them focused on amendment 1 and new clause 9, as I will, but the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West (Rob Marris) raised a number of points that I will quickly run through before turning to the main issues.

On new clause 4, which relates to the review of the GAAR, this is not a deadline issue. I was not making that point, as the hon. Gentleman rightly observed. I would argue that a review of the GAAR is unnecessary. The principle purpose of the GAAR is to deter taxpayers from entering into abusive tax avoidance in the first place. As I have made clear throughout this process, measuring the number of times that the GAAR has been invoked is not a reliable indicator of its success. I made that point when I brought in the legislation relating to the GAAR, and that remains the case.

On clause 153 and schedule 22 and asset-based penalties, the hon. Gentleman asked how we value the asset. The Valuation Office Agency, which is obviously experienced in that area, will value the asset for HMRC. The date of valuation will be the date of sale. For assets not disposed of, the value will be the market value on the last day of the tax year. That is the standard approach.

On the number of people affected by clause 147, the measures are aimed at a small but persistent minority of taxpayers who remain undeterred by the Government’s continued strategy to bear down on tax evasion and tax avoidance. We expect that the total number of taxpayers affected by the measures will be a small proportion of the total avoidance population; I do not wish to indicate anything other than that. This is a principled approach and it is right that that shrinking minority is properly dealt with.

The hon. Gentleman also raised a concern about a double penalty. I hope I can reassure him that the offset provision will apply to ensure that there will be no double penalty apart from the new GAAR penalty, whereby the combined total is capped, in most cases, at 100%.

We could have a longer debate, as we have done in the past, on the wider, familiar issue of HMRC resources. At the summer Budget, the Government provided HMRC with an extra £800 million to fund additional work to tackle evasion and non-compliance by 2020-21. That will enable HMRC to recover a cumulative £7.2 billion in tax over the next five years by tackling evasion and non-compliance. I also point out, as I tend to do in these circumstances, that HMRC’s yield is at record levels and that the tax gap is at record low levels. Although I do not think that the best measure is the number of staff working in a particular area, it is the case that the number in enforcement and compliance has consistently gone up. I accept that that is not the case across HMRC as a whole, although, as the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the number is increasing at the moment, including in enforcement and compliance.

To return to the issue of penalties and whether they are sufficient, the GAAR penalty has been set at a rate high enough to act as a clear deterrent while being proportionate to the behaviour concerned. As I have said, under the existing penalty rules a penalty of 70% to 100% will usually be charged in cases of fraud, and it is appropriate for the GAAR penalty to be below that range.

Let me respond to the intervention by the right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge) about whistleblowing. In October 2015 the Financial Conduct Authority published a package of rules designed to encourage a culture in banks whereby individuals feel able to raise concerns. Those rules require a senior manager to be appointed a whistleblowing champion, internal arrangements to handle all types of disclosure, and a requirement to inform the FCA if an employment tribunal with a whistleblower is lost.

Given that I have responded to one point raised by the right hon. Lady, I will now address some of her other points about new clause 9, which seeks to provide more information about the tax gap numbers. My argument is the practical point of whether it is likely that HMRC could estimate or measure the impact of such a specific measure on the tax gap, particularly given that the basis is hypothetical, since the register of persons with significant control is not yet operational. That is, therefore, a challenge, but I accept that the new clause also enables us to have a wider debate about the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. That is an important issue and I want to focus more on it.

We have made extraordinary progress in the past six years with regard to Crown dependencies and overseas territories and, indeed, more widely. When I first took over this role some six years ago, the big campaigning issue for many outside organisations was automatic exchange of information. My predecessor, the right hon. Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), is held in very high regard by Members on both sides of the House. He was a dedicated Financial Secretary and tax Minister who energetically pursued that agenda, but I can remember him saying in 2010, “That’s very much what we want to do, but we think it’s a long way away.”

The progress that has been made over the past six years, for various reasons, is considerable. The automatic exchange of information, which was once seen as a laudable objective but not something we were going to reach any time soon, has now been reached. It applies to Crown dependencies and overseas territories, which were all early signatories to the common reporting standard, and that is now coming into force. It is fair to say that the UK Government encouraged them to do that, and that is an example of how working in partnership with the Crown dependencies and overseas territories can result in quicker and more effective implementation, whereas imposing legislation reduces that co-operation and can ultimately harm our ability to tackle and deter corruption, tax avoidance and tax evasion. The approach we have taken over the past six years has been successful in making substantial progress, which people of good will on all sides did not think would be possible. The common reporting standard is a good example of that.

Although I accept that Crown dependencies and overseas territories have not signed up to public registers of beneficial ownership, we have to put the issue in context. The UK is pretty much the only jurisdiction that has done that. Of course we should expect Crown dependencies and overseas territories to meet international standards. As a Government, we continue to press the case for ever higher international standards, but failing to have a public register of beneficial ownership is not a breach of international standards. We would like the international standards to be such, but they are not at present. We have to consider the issue in that context.

I do not want to rerun everything I said earlier about amendment 1. I believe that we all share the same objectives and that the question is about how we get to where we want to be. I want to make it absolutely clear that, although there are some technical concerns and flaws in the legislation, the fundamental point is that there is a limit to the extent that we can require a foreign multinational entity to disclose information on its global activities under UK law. That is why we believe that the best way forward is through international efforts on public country-by-country reporting. Even if those flaws can be addressed, we still face that problem.

 
In his earlier contribution, the Financial Secretary suggested that UK-headquartered companies would be disadvantaged, but my amendment is completely based on the information already required by HMRC, as laid down by this House with cross-party support. That includes multinational enterprises that are not necessarily UK headquartered but have a turnover of more than £600 million a year. Of course, the amendment does not catch everybody, but it is within the existing remit and range in the statute book. That is why I find it difficult to understand why there is a technical problem with my amendment. All we are saying is, “Make it public.”
 
The issue is that foreign multinational entities would not be caught by the amendment. That is the advice I have received. It means that the public will get information only on the taxes paid and profits made by a multinational entity headquartered in the United Kingdom and not on those paid and made by foreign multinational entities such as Google. That is the clear advice I have received on the right hon. Lady’s amendment.
 
I feel I have to pursue this point. Amendment 1 would insert two new subparagraphs in schedule 19. The first would mean that a

“group tax strategy of a qualifying group which is a MNE group must also include a country-by-country report.”

The qualifying group referred to is based on what the Government have already legislated for. The second subparagraph is very clear:

“In paragraph (2A) “country-by-country report” has the meaning given by the Taxes (Base Erosion and Profit Shifting) (Country by Country Reporting) Regulations 2016.”

That qualifying group, then, includes UK-headquartered companies but also companies from elsewhere whose turnover is more than £600 million a year, as I have said. It would affect not just UK companies but those companies with activity here that are headquartered elsewhere. I urge the Minister to ask civil servants whether they have got that advice right.

 
I assure the right hon. Lady that I have asked civil servants about this particular issue—she will not be entirely surprised to learn that there have been fairly extensive conversations with civil servants about it. We believe that the amendment as drafted would not apply to foreign multinational entities. The challenge is that the information is, essentially, held in the UK and relating to UK-headquartered companies, so only UK-headquartered companies are well placed to provide it. She has highlighted one of the problems with a unilateral approach.

I have a huge amount of sympathy with the right hon. Lady’s argument, as she knows. We have discussed this before. I am pleased that the United Kingdom is leading the way in making progress on this at a number of international forums. I urge the House to consider that we do not need to go it alone at this point. We can work with other countries, given the progress that is being made, quite often at the UK’s instigation.

Another important point was touched on by my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) as well as the right hon. Lady, namely developing countries. I have a lot of sympathy with that point. It is worth noting that 39 countries, including the United Kingdom and developing countries such as Nigeria and Senegal, have signed the OECD mechanism for country-by-country reporting. That means that the information produced by companies and provided to tax authorities—not published, but already produced and provided to authorities—is shared with every one of the 39 signatories. I want to encourage other developing countries to sign that agreement, so that they have access to the information. The right hon. Lady made the point earlier that the EU proposals could go further on ensuring more information. I agree. That is the UK position and we have been arguing that case at EU level.

I never want to miss the opportunity to highlight what we do as a country to help developing countries’ tax authorities build up their tax capacity. That work does not get the coverage it deserves. The previous Labour Government also did such work, but we have built on that. The Department for International Development and HMRC do considerable work on helping developing countries ensure that they have the information they need and the capacity to do something with it.

 
May I make this offer on amendment 1? My right hon. Friend the Member for Don Valley (Caroline Flint) and I are quite happy to meet the Minister and Treasury officials to iron out any technical deficiencies there may be. I make that offer today so that we can do so before Report. Secondly, I urge the Minister to think a little more broadly, in terms of the world that we live in now after the Brexit vote. If the United Kingdom, having left the European Union, chose to make it a condition of trading in the UK for multinational enterprises not headquartered here that they disclose that information, we could do so.
 
I am not sure about the practicality of that. I will also make the point that we remain members of the European Union. There does not seem to be any likelihood of our leaving the EU within two years. Given the progress currently being made on public country-by-country reporting, I hope that the process will conclude while our membership continues.

As I have said, there are some technical issues that could be ironed out in amendment 1, but the fundamental issue of not being able to access information from foreign multinational entities that are not headquartered in the UK would remain a problem. Even with the best will in the world—and the best lawyers and parliamentary counsel—we will not be able to solve that problem.

 
Will the Minister meet us?
 
I am always happy to discuss this issue with the hon. Gentleman, but that underlying problem still exists.

In the light of all that, I will say that yes, we want to make progress on public country-by-country reporting, but that needs to be on a multilateral basis. Amendment 1, despite some considerable ingenuity to get it in order to be debated today, does not do what is needed. I therefore urge hon. Members not to support it, in the knowledge that this Government want to make progress on this matter and expect to make considerable progress over the next few months.

 

Croxley Rail Link Petition

Surgeries

David holds regular surgeries at various places in the constituency, including Rickmansworth, South Oxhey, Berkhamsted and Tring. 
 
Forthcoming dates:

2018
12th January - Berkhamsted
2nd February - Rickmansworth
9th February - Tring
23rd February - South Oxhey
9th March - Berkhamsted

Call 01923 771781 to make an appointment.

Record of surgeries

View South West Hertfordshire in a larger map