Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss [V]
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I rise to speak to new clauses 9, 10, 11, 13, 14, 15 and 16, which are in my name and those of my colleagues. It is certainly a very large grouping of amendments, and I will not speak to all of them, you will be glad to hear, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I will highlight a couple of them.

First, I want to speak about the very large amendments and new schedules concerning Northern Ireland and VAT. It concerns me greatly that we are looking at this huge new swathe within the Finance Bill that has not been considered at any other point in the Bill’s passage and that we have been given very limited time to delve into it at very short notice. That speaks to some of the complexity that Brexit has imposed on Northern Ireland. There needed to be a great deal more scrutiny of the measures prior to now, and the Government should not be bringing forward huge swathes of new schedules at this very late stage of the Bill.

I am very keen on new clauses 4, 5, 8 and 21, because Finance Bill scrutiny is limited after we have passed the Bill. We do not really think very much about the environmental impact, the equalities impact, the public health impact or the impact on poverty, and we do not think very much about the significant impact on the environment of the measures in the Bill. We do not do enough within Finance Bills to understand the full impact of the measures we have, and I would support a full range of other mechanisms to do so, which I will come back to on Third Reading.

I want to touch on the worthy amendments that those on the Labour Front Bench have tabled. The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) talked knowledgably about the issues around financial crime. Some of the evidence we heard in the Treasury Committee during our inquiry highlighted the fact that that is a hugely under-investigated and under-prosecuted crime. There is still very little progress by the Government in closing loopholes in Scottish limited partnerships or in other areas. As she pointed out, we had pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill in the Joint Committee with the Lords. Now the Bill has disappeared, but the problem has not. There are still huge numbers of people using the UK, within the property sector in particular, to launder dirty money. The Government are not acting on it. The longer it goes on without action, the more we have to ask who is benefiting if the Government are choosing not to act.

On our new clause 9, I was in a meeting earlier with representatives of Lloyds Banking Group where Philip Grant, one of its representatives, made an excellent point about the asymmetric economy that we are currently in. There are some who can restart their businesses and some who cannot yet get restarted. Some of those will not be restarted for quite some time yet to the point where they do not know if they will be able to break even. The economy has not restarted and opened up for everybody. Many sectors of the economy will not be back to normal for quite some time.

Our new clause 9 calls for a report on the extension of the self-employment income support scheme and the coronavirus job retention scheme until September and until the end of the year respectively. For those who are watching and are unfamiliar with Finance Bills, if they are wondering why we keep talking about reports and reviews, the rules of Finance Bills are such that we cannot just ask for the extension in a simple way. We are not allowed to do that—it is part of the restrictions that these Bills have—so we ask for reports. However, we do very much see merit in asking for action rather than just reports.

Some sectors have been able to modify and their staff are working as they were before the coronavirus pandemic, while some are working partly or entirely from home. Yet, as we all know, there are other sectors that are still waiting—culture, hospitality, conferences, events, weddings, tourism and travel. Employers who may already be carrying a significant burden of debt and arrears without having their cashflow back to normal still have to pay more of their employees’ wages, eventually tapering off to nothing at all coming from a Government contribution. Many businesses may decide that it is just too much of a cost and that they cannot continue to employ those people or cannot continue with their business. We know that the scheduled end of the schemes last year caused job losses. The Treasury must not make the same mistakes again, and at least carrying out such a report would help us to understand the consequences of the UK Government’s actions in this area.

We are not out of the woods yet with this pandemic, and it is vital that the UK Government take all the steps they can to strengthen support rather than pulling it. We in the SNP cannot forget, although the UK Government clearly have, about the millions of people excluded from support schemes altogether. It is unjustifiable that the year has come and gone with so many people left without a single penny piece in Government support, many in sectors that have not yet come back and may not for some time.

Further to this, we call again in our new clause 10 for a review of the extension of the 5% reduced rate for hospitality and tourism. This was a call that we made before the Chancellor announced it last year. The VAT rate for tourism has been too high for too long, and this year, when we are being strongly encouraged to holiday at home, it makes absolute sense to extend this provision, which many people have not had sufficient opportunity to benefit from. The provision would also cover events, including funfairs, which have had a very tough year, with many traditional fairs up and down the country being cancelled. Maintaining the VAT reduction could help to provide a much-needed stimulus to an events, tourism and hospitality sector that is crying out for such a boost. I am sure that if we had this power in the Scottish Parliament we would be using it, so I encourage the Minister to act or to devolve the power and let us get on with the job.

On our new clause 13 on stimulus, we agree with the principle of boosting it like Biden. One of the mistakes of the crash is that it was used to set us on a course of austerity. This has had a huge and devastating impact on all our constituents. We need to know from the UK Government what will be the impact of future austerity plans they might have compared with investment. While this Government have the levers in their hands, they should be clear about the impact that their action or inaction will have.

Our new clause 14 returns to some of the issues that we have with the technicalities of the plastic packaging tax. We are trying to be helpful to the UK Government in this regard. I genuinely hope, against previous experience, that they will at least listen to these concerns and make provisions that will maximise both the recyclate and the tax take. Not all plastics are equal, and the Government should recognise that in the provisions they put forward. Some lend themselves more to being recycled and can be brought to 100% reusable content, and some are very far away from that. We should not treat them all the same.

On our new clause 16, we have been concerned for some time about problem gambling, and my hon. Friend the Member for Inverclyde (Ronnie Cowan) has campaigned doggedly on the issue, along with the all-party parliamentary group for gambling related harm. It would therefore be useful to understand the impact of clause 104 on the volume of gambling and whether further fiscal measures are required to tackle the harm that is done to people.

I would like to touch on some of the amendments tabled by the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) on the loan charge and related issues. The loan charge continues to be a running sore for many, and I ask the UK Government to consider the merits of the amendments and what more can be done to support people. Stopping the malpractice of umbrella companies would be another step forward in closing loopholes and protecting those who may be tempted to sign up to, or coerced into signing up to, such schemes in the future. Those promoting such schemes always seem to be a step ahead, and the Government should not let them get further steps ahead and become a dot on the horizon.

There are many amendments in the group that I would like to speak to, and many have significant merit and should be considered by the Government. The flaws in this process mean that many of them will not even be considered or voted on tonight, but I urge the Government to take up those that they can.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith (Chingford and Woodford Green) (Con)
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I rise to support the amendments standing in the names of my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis), myself and my colleagues.

Let me start by making it very clear, as my right hon. Friend—wherever he is—did so well earlier, that we have a problem here, and I am surprised that the Government do not really want to recognise it and are avoiding it. The unacceptable practices of umbrella companies have now become very clear. Contractors are being forced into schemes and are being forced by recruitment agencies to use umbrella companies, which they may not wish to do and may be concerned about. Opting out of the conduct of employment regulations is often mandatory, which removes the rights contractors had as agency workers. We are seeing kickbacks, problems over holiday pay and the skimming of the assignment rate. We are also seeing mini umbrella companies, which some contractors sign up to, believing them to be compliant, only to then discover that they are employed by a company with a different name and owned by a director in, say, the Philippines—my right hon. Friend mentioned “File on 4”, which has raised this issue.

The problem is that the worse the level of malpractice, the greater the rewards and kickbacks for the agencies, reducing the revenue for the Treasury. I have huge respect for my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary, who is on the Treasury Bench and who will respond to all of this, and I am sure he and his colleagues in the Treasury are alert to this issue and understand that it is a major problem, but I cannot quite understand why we are not using this Finance Bill to start putting some of this right.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Has it not been a systemic problem with the Inland Revenue that these schemes have been cropping up for decades, and that it takes years to deal with them? They are spreading like wildfire, and they are spreading even faster now with social media—it used to be through the pubs and clubs. Ministers need to be on the Inland Revenue’s back saying, “Why are you not dealing with these problems?” There is a timing issue in this.

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Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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I agree with the right hon. Gentleman. The point I am trying to make to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and others on the Treasury Bench is a fairly gentle one: this is something that we can rectify, and we have the capacity to rectify it. We should think of what will happen if it goes much further. We should think of the loan charge and the huge human problems that were caused by that and the attempt by the Treasury to use retrospective legislation to grab money back. Who got hammered in all that? Not the organisations that were doing these things, but the individuals who were led to believe they were in the right set-up. It is always going to be them who get hammered. I thought the purpose of Government was to protect the vulnerable and deal with those who are abusing them.

Julian Lewis Portrait Dr Julian Lewis (New Forest East) (Con)
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It really is enormously frustrating for those of us who, time and again, have made representations to Treasury Ministers on behalf of victims of the loan charge, only to be knocked back by ripostes relating to tax avoidance schemes, that now, when people who have suffered from the loan charge are urging colleagues on this side of the House and no doubt on the other side as well to take steps to ensure that people are not trapped in these schemes in the future, the Government do not want to give them that added layer of protection, so they seem to be wanting to hit them in both directions.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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I am grateful to my right hon. Friend. I will not risk repeating what he has said, but it is the reality. I was one of those who gave evidence to the review of the loan charge set-up because it was quite clear that it was causing huge problems for many decent people in my constituency. I am sure it was the same for Members on all sides of the House; I do not for one moment pretend that it was a problem for my constituents alone.

I recommend to my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary some of the amendments and new clauses that we have been speaking about. I will not go through all of them, but I do want to make this point. Amendment 33, which allows an umbrella not to be an intermediary and still operate, provides strict conditions. My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden laid out those five conditions, which are critical. I recommend those to the Financial Secretary; I am not going to repeat them, because we would just go on doing that all night.

I want to deal with amendment 34 in a bit more detail. The important thing about amendment 34 is that, in reality, all inside-IR35 workers could easily be paid via a recruitment agency payroll—that is the key bit here—and umbrella companies are of benefit to recruiters, not to workers. Under the original drafting of the off-payroll rules, an umbrella company could classify as a payment intermediary, so payment would have to be made to the umbrella net of tax, reducing an incentive to exist. The behavioural effect will mean agencies will put workers on payroll if they are not outside IR35. The key thing is that this would give the sector a year to re-gear and provide its service as agencies in a payroll payment bureau-type manner, instead of the Government taking other decisive action, including banning certain practices and statutory regulation.

I am trying to be reasonable about this to the Government. I do think that this is really important. I am going to conclude on this. Overall, if we look at the purpose of the amendments and new clauses in this area, I think they set out what the problem is. The people who will get hurt by all of this in the end, when the Treasury finally decides to do something about it, will be the people who were the victims of this, not those who set these schemes up.

There are five points here that are critical: the whole purpose is to stop overnight aggressive tax avoidance schemes introduced and encouraged by some unscrupulous agencies; stop overnight the exploitation of contractors, forced into schemes that adopt malpractice to skim moneys from contractors; stop overnight the kickbacks being used that encourage malpractice; provide sunset clauses to ensure that the sector has until 6 April 2022 to prepare for the changes; and make agencies and clients liable for any malpractice, thereby removing the incentives to encourage it.

These are very simple, basic points. We are not asking for a revolution; we are asking for sense. I know exactly where this is going because in 29 years I have seen this time and again—do not move; later on, blame somebody else; and back comes the Treasury to say, “We’ll now get that money back”. I think the loan charge—I come back to this—is the biggest example of where, when things goes wrong, it is those who have suffered who end up paying the penalty, not those who skimmed off the top and are now living somewhere outside the reach of Her Majesty’s Treasury. I simply say to the Financial Secretary, with all due deference: please, please give consideration to this and at least have a proper review so that we may engage with this in due course and settle it.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier (Hackney South and Shoreditch) (Lab/Co-op)
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First, I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I rise to support my colleagues on the Front Bench and new clause 24 about the surcharge on overseas buyers: the extra stamp duty that is charged. Although we are seeing a 2% uplift, it is not what was originally promised, and even that, I would say, is still not enough to prevent people from speculating, particularly in my constituency and elsewhere in London, on the expensive London housing market and overheating that housing market.

I came across this level of investment in my early days in this place—I have now been here for 16 years—when I discovered that whole blocks of new developments were being bought up overnight. I could not work out who was doing it. I then managed to inveigle my way on to the distribution lists of some of the estate agents, which were advertising the properties in Hong Kong and Dubai, and they sold over a weekend.

These were not homes for local people. They were often bought up by finance companies overseas and sold on. The original reason for the extra stamp duty surcharge was to try to curtail that to some extent, but I do not think it is enough. Foreign investors are buying homes, which are becoming commodities; they are advertised with yield—it is simply about increasing the rent. As the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare), highlighted, at least £53 million and counting in revenue has been lost from the Exchequer at a time when we need it more than ever. The excuse is often that developers need the money because they cannot operate without that cash-flow model. I think they would adapt pretty quickly. In my constituency, there are blocks that local people have kept their eye on, wanting to try to buy, only to find they have already been sold en masse overseas. A stamp duty increase would help a little bit.

The stamp duty holiday has been helpful to many people, but all that contributes to fuelling demand for housing while the Government are not increasing supply. Those rising house prices put homeownership out of reach of so many of my constituents and people up and down the country. It is having a major dampening impact on people’s lives and livelihoods and on the economy in the long term. It does nothing for private renters and nothing for those in desperate need of affordable housing.

We are now able to go out and do our normal roving surgeries on doorsteps, and I will give some examples of people I have met in the last week alone. Faisal works in the NHS. He has three children in a two-bedroom council flat, and he has been bidding to move to a bigger property for 10 years, but such is the demand in my constituency that someone in housing need does not get to move. If they are homeless, they now get stuck in a hostel room for years, whereas only five or so years ago it was for about six months. Jane—not her real name—and her husband live with two large teenage boys in a two-bedroom flat. I have known her for some years, having seen her at surgeries. I happened to be on her doorstep the other day, and she made sure that I saw how big her boys have become. She has been coming to see me since they were toddlers, yet she still cannot get rehoused. This is no criticism of Hackney Council, which is doing a fantastic job of trying to build, and is building, affordable social housing, but it cannot keep pace with the demand. In the last week alone, two women I knocked on the doors of were sharing beds with their 12 and 13-year-old sons respectively.

One of the saddest cases is an NHS porter I met less than 10 days ago who shares a room in a private rented home with his 16-year-old daughter. He works. He could not qualify for affordable housing even if he wanted to, because he has no recourse to public funds, despite propping up our NHS in one of the most challenging years in its history. He is doing all the right things—working, trying to be a good father—but he cannot afford private rents. That is not surprising: it is at least £1,500 a month to rent a two-bedroom flat in my constituency; £750,000 to buy a two-bedroom flat; and rent for a three-bedroom house is not much shy of £3,500 a month.

We need to increase stamp duty immediately, while monitoring its effect, and we should increase it further for overseas purchasers. We should not have a housing market that has led to homes being owned by finance vehicles or absentee landlords who have no interest in it being a home but simply see it as an investment. Homes should be homes. Investment is all very well, but this is really damaging the future prospects of children in my constituency, some of whom will never have not only their own bedroom but maybe even their own bed between now and when they hopefully earn enough money to leave home, although frankly we are a long way off their earning enough money to buy a £750,000 flat. The Government really need to step up. They talk about levelling up, but that is certainly not happening for many people in my constituency.

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Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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There is no suggestion on my part that it is all fine. One cannot make meaningful change to a market that is not performing as one would like and expect everything to be perfectly fine within weeks of the implementation of the measure. The point that I am making is that there are important players in the industry that recognise that—in the quote that I have given—“thousands of businesses” are

“now aware… that IR35 reform is manageable”,

and so it is.

As the hon. Lady will well know, under the previous arrangements there were people who were performing like employees—often working side by side with them—but not paying that tax, and it was important that they did so. If she doubts that, she might want to reflect on the question of what the tax revenue raised from those organisations is used for. The answer is that it is used to support the NHS, our public services and all the other things that the Government are trying to do to get this country through a difficult moment in our history.

Iain Duncan Smith Portrait Sir Iain Duncan Smith
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The Minister accepts that there are now some significant abuses in the way that many—not all—umbrella companies operate. Do we need action by the Treasury to deal with this issue, or is he content that it will just resolve itself as things stand?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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No, the Government have been clear that there needs to be an extension of the employment agency standards inspectorate in this area, and there may well be operational measures that HMRC needs to continue to undertake. My right hon. Friend will be aware that the Bill contains very considerable additional measures designed elsewhere in the tax system to curb the promotion of tax avoidance schemes, to improve the disclosure of those schemes and to combat organisations that would attempt to derive an unfair advantage of the kind that he has described, so we are absolutely not unaware of the importance of ensuring that people across the board pay appropriate levels of tax.

It is also worth saying that none of this really falls within the context of a Finance Bill, let alone the one that we have laid out in front of us. It is also worth saying that HMRC has used real time information in ways that were contemplated and discussed earlier in the debate in order to try to be more forward-leaning in this area. We recognise the concern and HMRC is highly active in it, but in many cases these umbrella companies do have a legitimate function, and it is important to recognise that.

I think that is it—thank you very much.