James Murray Portrait James Murray
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The vaccine has given us all hope, but we know that the health crisis from covid is far from over, and the impact on jobs, businesses and the economy resulting from the pandemic will be with us for a long time to come. People across our country and British businesses that have been struggling want to be able to get back on their feet. This Bill should have offered them the support they need to do so, but instead the Government chose to make half of all people in the UK pay more income tax, and its headline measure for businesses, quickly and with good reason, earned the nickname, “the Amazon tax cut”. This Amazon tax cut was proudly announced by the Chancellor as the new super deduction—a £25 billion tax cut that he has said represents the biggest two-year business tax cut in modern British history. What he was less keen to make clear is that this tax cut is not targeted at British businesses that have been struggling in the outbreak, but stands to benefit some of the biggest multinational tech firms that have done very well indeed over the past year or so.

As we have heard during previous debates on the Bill, small and medium-sized businesses can already benefit from the annual investment allowance. That allowance, extended by clause 15, offers a 100% tax break on investment up to £1 million, and we know that it will benefit almost all businesses already. The Financial Secretary to the Treasury has said exactly that. He stated very clearly in a written ministerial statement on 12 November last year that the annual investment allowance:

“Simplifies taxes for the 99% of businesses investing up to £1 million on plant and machinery assets each year.”

We pushed the Government on this matter in Committee of the Whole House, when the Financial Secretary claimed:

“The super deduction benefits all businesses that are in a position to take advantage of the eligible deduction it provides”.—[Official Report, 19 April 2021; Vol. 692, c. 764.]

He will know, however, that the 99% of businesses already benefiting from the annual investment allowance will benefit only marginally from the new super deduction.

The real winners of the super deduction were identified in Committee of the Whole House by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), who made the powerful argument that it will most benefit

“the companies with oven-ready capital investment plans, benefiting from the increased demand that they have enjoyed over the last torrid year—companies such as…the notorious tax avoider Amazon.”—[Official Report, 19 April 2021; Vol. 692, c. 751.]

As that phrase reminds us, Amazon already avoids paying much corporation tax in the UK at all by shifting profits to low-tax countries overseas—I will return to that point shortly—but it is depressing that, through his super deduction, the Chancellor is finishing the job Amazon started and wiping out the last little bit of tax it pays in this country.

As the House may remember, we asked the Government to look again at this matter in Committee of the whole House. Our amendment at that stage would have explicitly prevented the biggest tech firms from taking advantage of the Chancellor’s tax break, as well as other big firms that do not support workers’ rights and the living wage. At the time, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury objected to our amendment on the basis that it sought to

“restrict the relief only to certain companies”—[Official Report, 19 April 2021; Vol. 692, c. 742]

and that it imposed “burdensome conditions” on companies that want to benefit from it. That latter phrase told us plenty about the Government’s views on people’s rights at work. The conditions the Minister saw as “burdensome” are the rights to organise and to be paid a living wage. When even basic rights at work and a living wage are seen as burdensome, it is perhaps no wonder that this Government broke their promise to include an employment Bill in the Queen’s Speech earlier this month.

It is clear that we will need to push Ministers over workers’ rights on future days—from banning the shameful practice of fire and rehire to ending exploitation by rogue umbrella companies—as cross-party amendments tabled to this Bill by right hon. and right hon. Members seek to achieve. Today, we have made it very straightforward for the Government, through amendment 29, to focus specifically on preventing the very biggest tech firms—those companies liable to pay the digital services tax—from benefiting from the super deduction. This should be easy. Only a very small number of very large multinational firms that have done very well over the past year are liable for the digital services tax. The detail of that tax means that businesses are liable only when a group’s worldwide revenues from digital activities—such as providing social media platforms, search engines or online marketplaces—are more than £500 million, and when more than £25 million of these revenues are derived from UK users.

The vote on this amendment will come down to the very simple question of how Members of this House believe public money should be spent. As the Bill stands, the Government’s biggest business tax cut in modern British history will finish the job Amazon started, wiping out the last bit of tax it had to pay on the few parts of its business the profits of which it has been unable to shift overseas. A vote in favour of our amendment 29 would stop Amazon and a small number of similar firms benefiting from a giveaway of public money—public money that could be better spent for so many purposes, including to support British businesses that have been struggling throughout the past year. I urge Conservative Members to consider how they vote on amendment 29.

Before we come to that vote, I will turn to our new clause 23, through which we seek to push the Government finally to back President Biden’s plans for a global minimum corporation tax rate. I have explained how the Government’s super deduction will wipe out Amazon’s remaining tax bill in the UK, and how the amount it was due to pay in the first place was paltry compared with what it should be paying. Despite its business success in the UK, profit shifting to Luxembourg meant Amazon’s corporation tax contribution in the UK in 2019 was less than 0.1% of its turnover. People are fed up with large multinational companies avoiding their tax. It goes against the fairness that must be at the heart of our tax system, and in this year of all years, when so many British businesses are struggling to get back on their feet while Amazon’s business booms, it is clearer than ever that change is long overdue.

We have heard brazen claims from the Government about their work to combat international tax avoidance. In the debate in Committee of the whole House on this Bill, the Minister went so far as to claim that the Government have “led the international charge” in a number of ways, yet since the Biden Administration announced their proposals for a global minimum corporate tax rate, we have seen that, not for the first time, actions from the Government fail to match their words, with the UK now the only G7 country not to back the US plan. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to grasp the international agreement on the global taxation of large multinationals that has evaded our country and others for so long, yet rather than stepping up, our Government are stepping away.

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
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The hon. Gentleman advances the extraordinary claim that the UK is the only country among the G7 not to have backed the Biden plan. Will he put in the Library the evidence for that claim?

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Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) [V]
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I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight a number of issues during the Report stage of the Finance Bill. I am always pleased to see the Minister in his place and I hope that I can put forward some points to which he will be able to reply.

I want to refer to clause 6, in part 1. I have spoken on this issue on numerous occasions, and I am thankful for the clarification the Government have sought to provide. However, I am still left disappointed at the rationale as regards corporation tax. The hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) referred to this as well. The measure sets the charge for the main rate of corporation tax at 19% for the financial years beginning 1 April 2022 and 1 April 2023. These changes mean that from 1 April 2023 the main rate of corporation tax for non-ring-fenced profits will be increased to 25%, applying to profits over £250,000. A small profits rate will also be introduced for companies with profits of £50,000 or less, so they will continue to pay corporation tax at 19%. Companies with profits between £50,000 and £350,000 will pay tax at the main rate, reduced by a marginal relief providing a gradual increase in the effective corporation tax rate.

The impact assessment that the Government have produced highlights the issue that I want to speak about. It states that there is no impact on families, but goes on to say:

“However, if businesses struggle or are unable to pay increased Corporation Tax, this could impact on their family formation, stability or breakdown. To support, HMRC can provide a Time To Pay arrangement.”

The issue is clear, at least in my mind and, I suspect, in the mind of many others: businesses have already struggled. While rates and wages may have been paid, and we are grateful for those schemes, the fact is that many small businesses have still had to pay out rent for equipment that they were precluded from using to make a profit, so their income was massively affected and many people’s personal savings were totally wiped out. They then took out a coronavirus business interruption loan to help them to make it through. We are beginning to come to the other side—thank the Lord for that—where they are seeking to rebuild, but instead of a meaningful reduction, there is merely a stay of execution with corporation tax.

That will affect many businesses and, by extension, many homes and families. It seems that it could well mean the end of many of our small businesses; while that is sad on a personal level, it is devastating on an economic level. We must remember that small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of our economy. The Financial Secretary and his Conservative Government have been committed to helping small businesses. All those small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the whole United Kingdom—they certainly are in my constituency of Strangford.

I repeat what I have said before in this Chamber: there is no point in carrying businesses thus far, only to allow them to flounder now before any repayment is made. The Government have admitted that there will be a reduced incentive to incorporate businesses that would usually seek to take this step. All this has an effect on the long-term income to our economy. I know that the Government want a stronger economy; we all do, and I believe that we need some help.

Northern Ireland is well placed to be a central hub for business. We have much to offer, yet people can go south of the border to lower corporation tax and greater incentives. Along with my colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party, I have often argued for a reduction in corporation tax to attract businesses to Northern Ireland. I believe that the corporation tax rate repels investors, so I urge the Financial Secretary to look at the issue again. I understand that historically he has wanted a UK-wide rate of corporation tax. However, I want a UK-wide customs market, and that is not the case—ask the local small grocer who cannot even get in dog treats to sell because of the Northern Ireland protocol. There are differences made by this insidious protocol that affect our corporations and small businesses alike. It is clear that if the Financial Secretary insists on one size fits all, it must be applied in every aspect of manufacture, delivery and retail.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is establishing a working group on the consequences of creating our own corporation tax band and its effect on our block grant; maybe the Financial Secretary could highlight where those discussions have taken us so far. I believe that there is an opportunity for him to step in and do the right thing for the UK with a view to the long term. That is what I am requesting, even at this very late stage.

The UK is stronger together. I believe that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will always be stronger together. That has become the mantra of our Government, and I agree with it, but it needs to be more than words: action must follow the words and show our strengths. I believe that a reasonable rate of corporation tax across the board is a step to strengthen the Union, not cause more division.

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I am grateful to all Members who have taken part in this debate. Let me pick up on several issues that have been raised, starting with the super deduction. You will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I think some Opposition Members are not, that it has been described by the CBI as

“a real catalyst for firms”,

while the British Chambers of Commerce said:

“We particularly welcome the massive ‘super deduction’ investment incentive.”

They are absolutely right. It is a terrible shame that the Labour party has decided to try to tarnish the super deduction, a measure from which many capital-intensive businesses around this country will benefit, especially in the north, the north-west, the north-east and the midlands. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) rightly picked up, it is a measure that benefits local businesses up and down the UK. He picked Wadworth, a well-known brewer, and rightly so, but there are many, many other businesses for which that is also true. He was absolutely right to highlight that.

Let me come on to questions of wider taxation, if I may. There seems to be an astonishing level of ignorance among Members on the Opposition Benches. They seemed to be unaware that the tax gap—the difference between the amount of tax actually collected and the amount of tax that could potentially be collected—is at its lowest rate in our recorded history, at 4.7%. It may be of some interest if I point out to them—they can reflect on this—that in 2005-06 under the Labour Government it was 7.5%, so it has fallen dramatically, I am pleased to say. Tax that was not being collected by the Labour Government at that time is now being collected by the Conservative Government of the present day, and a very good thing that is too. That is a record on which they should spend some time pondering. The fact of the matter is that this Government have always made it plain that they will be very tough—as tough as they can be—in order to collect the tax that is due and to make sure that corporations and individuals pay it wherever they are due to.

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Robin Millar Portrait Robin Millar (Aberconwy) (Con)
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It is a privilege to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar (Jacob Young). Like him, I shall take this opportunity to make a few brief remarks in support of freeports, although, as hon. Members would expect, they will be in support of a freeport in Wales, and north Wales in particular. In doing so, I shall speak against new clause 25.

Freeports and free economic zones are a common feature of international trade, with dozens utilised by our closest allies. Not only have they propelled many of the world’s previously impoverished nations to prosperity, but there are well-established international frameworks for their operation. Indeed, the OECD code of conduct for clean free trade zones is an example, to which this Government have already pledged compliance.

The measures set out in new clause 25 are simply unnecessary, and the additional costs, such as the paperwork proposed, will only reduce the attractiveness of Britain’s ports. Let us make no mistake: the ultimate bearer of extra costs will be not multinational business, but the workers of this country who will miss out on prosperity from export-driven work.

Wales occupies a vital position in UK trade. If we consider just the Republic of Ireland, we will see that in 2019, two thirds of goods carried from the Republic of Ireland came via Wales, and four fifths of goods carried to the Republic of Ireland went via Wales. I also note that Holyhead is on the international trade routes that link Dublin to Moscow, such is the strategic importance of the location and role of Wales—particularly of north Wales. It is essential, therefore, that we create an environment there that is attractive to investment and private finance. According to the British Venture Capital Association, Wales has one of the lowest average investments from venture capital in the UK, accounting for just 3.3% of all funding over the period 2016 to 2018.

A freeport offers a structured environment for investment. Whether linked with the advanced manufacturing cluster of north-east Wales—Wales’s hottest economic growth spot—or the green energy projects and innovation found on Ynys Môn, or the leading telecoms research at the University College of North Wales, the structured reliefs and incentives of a freeport offer businesses and investors a clear and attractive proposition and are a clear demonstration of the Government’s commitment to the area.

This Finance Bill makes clear the Government’s aim of growth, development and levelling up for Wales. It also presents an exciting opportunity for co-operation and collaboration with the Welsh Government. With their assistance on, for example, the additional reliefs possible for the planning laws within their control, there is an opportunity not only to deliver a freeport in Wales, but to create one of the most attractive freeport models for investment in the UK.

In conclusion, our United Kingdom is an island nation and a trading nation, and our prosperity has always come from across the seas. Freeports are an essential step towards stronger trade and exports in a global Britain, and this Finance Bill will deliver that. In Wales, we know that, although we are outward-looking, our strength comes from within. For centuries, we have exported our goods and resources around the globe. North Wales slate has roofed the world, and copper from the Great Orme in Aberconwy was used to forge bronze-age implements used in areas ranging from Brittany to the Baltic.

A freeport in Wales—in north Wales—is an opportunity to ensure our connection to a global economy, to bring investment and growth that will bring jobs, and to secure our tradition of global export for another generation. I shall be voting against new clause 25.

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I thank all Members who have commented or spoken in this debate on freeports. As the House will know, freeports are a very important part of the Government’s policy to level up the British economy and to bring investment, trade and jobs to parts of the country that in many cases have not had the economic vibrancy that we as a nation would have wished. They symbolise and reinforce the opportunities provided by this country’s status as an outward-looking trading nation, open to the world.

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What infuriates me, particularly given the experience of the past year, is that half of all care workers earn less than the real living wage and that the majority of children in poverty are living in working households. The last thing any Government should be doing now is raising taxes on low-paid workers, especially when the Government have broken their promises on raising wages. With many low-paid workers not getting a pay rise and facing household debts they have amassed during lockdown, we should not be taking more out of their income. With high street retail needing an urgent stimulus, there cannot be a worse policy at a worse time than removing demand from the economy. So at this late stage, I, like others, am appealing to the Government to change clause 5. I doubt that they will change their mind, but let me at least place on record my disgust at the Government and at the way this Bill is forcing more very low-paid people already living in poverty into further poverty and suffering.
Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I am grateful to all of those who have spoken in this debate. As the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) has just said, this has been something of a wash-up debate. It is fair to say that it is a bit of an omnibus group of measures pulled together, with many different clauses and issues on which colleagues have wanted to speak. That has made it wide-ranging, but if I may, I am going to focus on some of the key themes from across the various discussions we have had.

Let me start with the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) and the question of the non-resident surcharge, which was also highlighted by the hon. Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier). They may or may not be aware that in 2019 the Government carried out a public consultation on whether there should be a 1% non-resident surcharge, and decided on the basis of that consultation that the surcharge should be levied at 2%. That is twice as high as was originally contemplated in the consultation. That also should be seen in the context of the additional tax that people pay on second and third properties, many of which will fall into the scope of this measure. That is an important factor to bear in mind.

The hon. Member for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) revisited some of her key themes as regards the climate and environmental policy. I think that there is a misunderstanding at some very deep level of what the Government are doing, which includes: the Environment Bill; the 10-point plan that the Prime Minister has laid out; the net zero work that the hon. Lady highlighted, which was commissioned within and by the Treasury from a very eminent independent economist; and our work through the new UK Infrastructure Bank, which focuses on green policies and levelling up and for which I was pleased to visit new potential office sites in Leeds only on Thursday. It all amounts to a tremendous emphasis, particularly in the net zero review, on the long-term future of creating a sustainable and productive green economy in this country. It is very important to focus on that.

The hon. Member for Oldham East and Saddleworth (Debbie Abrahams) talked about health inequalities. I remind her that the Government have made an enormous investment in the NHS, over and above the extraordinary interventions supporting the fabric of our society over the past 12 months. We will also have in place a new office for health promotion, designed to support better health and wellbeing across the country.

The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) called for greater transparency in relation to reliefs. I have a great deal of personal sympathy with his position; he is absolutely right about the importance of focusing on reliefs. To take a particular example that I know is of great interest to him, he will be aware that we have under way a review of R&D tax reliefs, an important part of policy.

The hon. Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) highlighted the situation in Belarus, which is not directly a matter for the Treasury or the Bill, but is obviously a topic of great importance and interest for all Members of this House, as today’s urgent question highlighted.

All those points are important to put on the record. I also want to pick up on the important speeches made by my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) and for Chingford and Woodford Green (Sir Iain Duncan Smith).

My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden focused on the prevalence of umbrella companies. It is important to say that there are legitimate reasons why an agency or an individual might wish to use an umbrella company. To contemplate a series of measures that might include a ban on umbrella companies would be a tremendous burden on the legitimate umbrella companies; my right hon. Friend mentioned that that was not his preferred option. It is important to point out that such companies can perform useful payroll functions for agencies, provide choice for individuals and have multiple engagements. Notably, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group pointed out recently:

“For freelance contractors who cannot work for their clients on a sole trader or limited company basis…the option to be able to work through an umbrella can be very valuable.”

There is value to umbrella companies, but that is not to say that there is not also abuse. The Government are very focused on that: my right hon. Friend mentioned some of the measures that HMRC is taking to combat umbrella companies that are disobeying the rules or trading fraudulently, and we are committed to extending the remit of the Employment Agency Standards Inspectorate to support best practice in the area.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I think the Financial Secretary ought to face up to the reality, which is that many of the people under these companies are not what we would describe in any normal parlance as contractors: they are people working on Test and Trace in their thousands, for example, who should be employed directly either by Serco or by the agency that they work for. There are also great numbers of people in the health service under these companies; they should be employed either by an agency or by the health service. That is where the scandal is, and that is what he really ought to be dealing with—and very promptly.

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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It is a very dynamic marketplace, as the right hon. Gentleman will be aware. There are many different aspects to it with which the Government are seeking to engage. One thing that is quite important that I do not think he or others have noticed is that the changes to IR35 that the Government have made have in some quarters been widely welcomed. Let me give an example—it may not be the widest possible welcome, but it is quite noticeable—from the off-payroll advisory firm Qdos, which said:

“In recent months the tide has turned, with thousands of businesses now aware of the fact that IR35 reform is manageable”,

as it was manageable in the public sector some years before. It is important to recognise that that is also the case.

Meg Hillier Portrait Meg Hillier
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I have to challenge the Minister on IR35. He is speaking as though it is somehow all fine. It has decimated sections of the tech and IT industry in my constituency, where groups of people came together to deliver short contracts and were actually paying as much tax as the Exchequer was getting from them. I can provide figures if he would like to take this up further, but let us not pretend that it is all fine.

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.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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Once again, I thank all Members who have spoken. This has been a varied and wide-ranging debate, with Members focusing on different aspects of the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hackney South and Shoreditch (Meg Hillier) spoke about the impact of overseas buyers buying properties in her community in bulk. My hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Catherine West) spoke about the impact that dirty money is having on her local area and how other countries, such as the USA, are using sanctions to target corrupt individuals. Both are excellent champions for their constituents, who are too often at the sharp end of the housing crisis.

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Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.

I thank right hon. and hon. Members who have contributed to the robust but, I would say, good-natured debate throughout this Finance Bill’s passage over the past two months. It has been a speedy but thoroughly effective process. Before I get into the bulk of my speech, I know that the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson) wants to put a question to me, so let me recognise him.

Sammy Wilson Portrait Sammy Wilson
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I thank the Minister for giving way. I tried to catch his eye earlier on; I do not think that he is deliberately avoiding me, but I did not get the chance to talk to him. New schedule 1 refers to VAT on distance selling. It covers 55 pages and was introduced tonight without much chance of consideration. It will affect businesses with a threshold of sales of £8,818, which will require them to register and to do special accounting. What assessment has been made of the likely impact of that on small businesses in Northern Ireland that sell goods into the EU?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I rather regret it, having invited the intervention. No, of course, to engage with this, I would not have recognised the right hon. Gentleman if I had not wanted to take the intervention and I certainly was not avoiding him earlier in the debate. He is right to point out that these provisions have been put into the Bill for the first time. I am pleased to say that they have been given proper consideration in the detail that has been put up, which he alluded to. There is a new measure relating to the distance selling threshold, which will affect a small number of businesses in Northern Ireland. By and large, this put into law, in relation to Northern Ireland, a set of measures that has already been adopted elsewhere in the United Kingdom, in recognition of commitments that we made to the EU as part of the process of striking our new trade arrangements. That is that, but if he wishes to have further conversation on that, I would of course be delighted to do so.

This Finance Bill comes at a crucial juncture for our economy and our public finances as the UK recovers from what is—we must never forget this—the greatest economic and social crisis since world war two and the greatest economic recession in 300 years. It delivers on the measures announced in the Chancellor’s Budget to protect jobs and livelihoods and to provide additional support to help people and businesses through the pandemic; to begin the process of fixing the public finances; and to lay the foundations of a resilient future economy. This Bill delivers on all those commitments, and I commend it to the House.