25 John Spellar debates involving HM Treasury

Mon 24th May 2021
Finance Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading & Report stage
Mon 27th Apr 2020
Finance Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & Ways and Means resolution & 2nd reading & Ways and Means resolution & Programme motion

Oral Answers to Questions

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 5th September 2023

(8 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I am sorry, but I do not agree with my hon. Friend. I certainly recognise that infrastructure investments of this scale and with this level of ambition are never easy to deliver. I have set out the changes to the profile of the investment, but all the key elements are still on track, and we will continue to work with the Department for Transport to ensure that that remains the case.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Is the Minister not also concerned about cost-benefit analysis? Have not assumptions behind the pattern of business travel demand been changed dramatically by the pandemic, working from home and video conferencing? Is the Minister satisfied that the Department for Transport has properly re-evaluated HS2 to take account of such changes?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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Yes, I am content with that. I recognise those changes in patterns of behaviour when it comes to the use of public transport, but we also face cost of living challenges. That is why we are working so closely with the Department for Transport to, for example, continue investment in buses over the next two years, and continue to spend £200 million on capping fares to £2 outside London. We must bear in mind, however, that continued investment in transport infrastructure is key to greater connectivity across the United Kingdom and dealing with the economic growth imperative.

Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (High-Risk Countries) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 10th July 2023

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

General Committees
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Andrew Griffith Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrew Griffith)
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I beg to move,

That the Committee has considered the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (High-Risk Countries) (Amendment) Regulations 2023 (S.I. 2023, No. 704).

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Graham. The Government recognise the threat that economic crime poses to the UK and our international partners, and we are committed to combating money laundering and terrorist financing. Illicit finance causes significant social and economic costs through its links to serious and organised crime. It also undermines the integrity and stability of our financial sector, and can reduce opportunities for economic growth and legitimate business in the UK.

That is why we have taken significant action to combat economic crime, including legislating for the economic crime and anti-money laundering levy and passing the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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The Minister will be aware that there is support from both sides of the House for regulations against money laundering. However, can he assure us that the Government will move rapidly to deal with the issue of the politically exposed persons regime? It is affecting Members of the British Parliament for whom it was never designed, but the Bank of England and the Treasury seem singularly incapable of getting a grip on it.

Andrew Griffith Portrait Andrew Griffith
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Members on both sides of the House feel strongly about that issue. During the passage of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023, the Government brought forward amendments in the other place that will place duties on the Financial Conduct Authority to look into the issue rapidly, make specific proposals and implement a lower-risk regime for domestic persons.

The right hon. Gentleman should be assured of my personal diligence, and desire as a Member of this House, to ensure that Members are not obstructed in their democratic duties by the inability to obtain a bank account, or the sheer bureaucracy involved in doing so. That extends to our fellow citizens. The Government, the Chancellor and I have made it clear if we come across any evidence of Members having their bank facilities removed due to freedom of expression, no matter where on the political spectrum they sit, that is simply unacceptable.

Alcohol Taxation

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 7th July 2022

(1 year, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns
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My hon. Friend makes an important point that underlines the issues that we have highlighted.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns
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I have limited time, but I will give way briefly.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. As a member of the Campaign for Real Ale, I welcome his comments about the brewing industry. If we get the reduction to 22%, it will be welcome. On wine, he rightly references British vineyards, which are a great success story. Is he concerned about our trading relationships with many of our strongest allies, particularly when the Government are undertaking a trade deal with Australia? Australian winemakers are seeking to diversify from their market in China and are concerned about the new complexities being introduced. Does he think that the Government ought to engage with the Governments of Australia and other similar countries where our trade and security relationships are important?

Alun Cairns Portrait Alun Cairns
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The right hon. Gentleman makes an extremely important point. That is important for businesses, as he recognises, and because of the international influence that such policies have. His wider experience, geographically and on security issues, is recognised on both sides of the House.

I warmly welcome the proposed abolition of the additional tax on sparkling wine, which is particularly helpful to producers in England and Wales. Some 70% of wines from the UK are sparkling and the current EU system works against them, particularly as smaller operators, so that is another Brexit dividend.

The wider proposals for duty changes on wine also have positive intentions, but in practical terms, as they stand, they will leave more complexity in the system. The three current rates per bottle will be replaced by a total of 27 separate amounts per bottle, assuming that it applies to the labelled ABV. We must recognise that winemakers cannot dictate the specific level of ABV. It depends on seasonal factors, and the structure of taxation should take that into account.

The administrative burden will fall particularly hard on UK retailers, particularly specialist merchants that tend to carry small supplies of a wider range of products. For example, a small retailer could have a range of 2,000 to 3,000 different products. The variation between different vintages means that they would become swamped in red tape—a policy that runs against the positive intentions of the Minister and the Treasury. There would also be a need to take into account permitted tolerances.

The good news is that minor adjustments could achieve the Government’s objectives and simplify the structure for the industry. All wines fall within a spread of 8.5% to 15% ABV. Establishing such a spread and applying a common rate would simplify the process and give the Treasury the clarity it needs. For example, the industry believes that a rate of 12%—a 4% increase on current rate—would be a win for the Treasury and for it because of the reduced red tape. That demonstrates the earlier point about the cost of red tape.

It might sound logical to compromise—for example, to have just two splits instead of the high number of splits in the range of 8.5% to 15% ABV—but that would not work either. The complexity would remain and it would leave similar tolerance challenges. Taxing at one rate would help the Treasury to achieve its objective of providing clarity, as well as significantly supporting the industry.

Finance Bill

John Spellar Excerpts
David Davis Portrait Mr Davis
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I have a lot of sympathy with what the hon. Lady says. There are many ways to attack the issue; I will mention one or two, including my proposals to build in some changes to that effect. There are many ways to make sure that these scams cannot happen, but we need to undertake some of them. To pick an example that I was not going to cite, we understand that something like 40,000 Filipino employees have been taken on as cheap frontmen for these companies as directors. Those sorts of things do not serve our economy or the contractors well.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Is there not also a responsibility on the Government as a client to insert in the contracts with their main contractors a clause stating that if such practices are found within their supply chain, they will not be considered for future contracts? The Government could do that quite rapidly, quite apart from HMRC catching up with what is going on.

David Davis Portrait Mr Davis
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The right hon. Gentleman is right. The first phase of IR35 was about contractors for Government, so the whole wild west that I have described was actually created for public services.

To come back to my point about illegitimate contractors forcing the legitimate ones out of business, it is quite understandable that ordinary contractors will be attracted to a scheme that seems to offer them the best terms, yet they will be unaware that in doing so they risk unwittingly entering unintentional tax avoidance schemes. That is one of the problems that troubles me most.

These contractors, remember, are not fat cats, big bankers or city slickers. They are hard-working, decent people such as locum nurses and supply teachers—contractors whose work is vital. To take up the right hon. Gentleman’s point, the FT reported that NHS locum workers returning during the height of the pandemic were targeted by firms mis-selling these schemes. Ordinary and comparatively low-paid workers do not have the advantage of expensive tax advisers. They cannot be expected to navigate the minefield of extremely complex tax law if we allow these predators to play unfettered within it.

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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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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.

Vaccine Passports

John Spellar Excerpts
Monday 15th March 2021

(3 years, 2 months ago)

Westminster Hall
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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mike Hill) for the even and balanced way in which he introduced the debate. We should start with principles. The first is obviously the ethical principle that no one should be subject to any medical procedure without informed consent being given. That is not just the current law; it dates back thousands of years in medical ethics, and we should stand by it.

Secondly, we in this House should speak up loudly and clearly for progress and science. Vaccines and medicines have transformed societies and the lives of millions around the world. Look at the diseases that have been controlled, or in some cases nearly eliminated: diphtheria, whooping cough, polio—owing to our age, Sir David, we knew people who had polio, but it is incredibly rare now—measles, rubella, human papillomavirus and hepatitis. Of course, there has also been the elimination of smallpox. That is a triumph of science, and we should proclaim it loudly against the sceptics. We should also applaud it. Harold Wilson talked about the white heat of the technological revolution, and that is where we should be.

That brings us to practicalities. I agree with the hon. Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) that our industry would be perfectly capable of producing secure validated certificates. I would hope, therefore, that the Government are engaging with industry on how it would produce such certificates were they to be introduced. Indeed, the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency produces millions of driving licences for us every year. It is perfectly sensible, and actually imperative, for the Government to run those things in parallel. We do not have to wait, quite bluntly, for the Council of Europe, or indeed for Departments here, to decide on the ethics before pursuing the practicalities.

This is inevitable. Other countries will be opening their airports to those who are able to enter with a certificate or passport—however we describe it—and airlines will be eager to carry passengers there. The public will be keen to travel. Therefore, we need to do this in an orderly and practical manner. Also, let us not forget those who work for airlines and at airports, and the hundreds of thousands of our citizens who fear for their job—many of them have lost their job already—as well as those in the travel industry.

If we are able to produce such certificates, we should perhaps also consider domestic settings, in order to be able to get many of our industries back to work sooner rather than later. Many businesses are teetering on the brink and employees in the hospitality industry, at sports venues and in the entertainment industry—which is something we do rather well in this country, and which is one of the attractions—are worried about their job and their future. We should be backing them.

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Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I cannot give my hon. Friend many answers today, as the review has just started, but what I would say to him is that, in all of this, we have to remember that the reason why we are charting our way out of this situation is, yes, in part due to fantastic science and the success of the vaccine programme, but also that members of the public have taken care of and taken responsibility for themselves and other people. We have not legislated for that to happen; it has happened because people feel motivated to take responsibility. We have to remember in all of this that, even though we are very used to passing laws talking about enforcement and all those other things, ultimately this has been about the British public taking responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities.

I thank the hon. Member for Hartlepool for setting out at the start of the debate why this is not a call from anti-vaxxers or covid sceptics. It is not. Legitimate questions are being raised about our freedoms and the practicalities and the implications of this for people who are disproportionately affected by covid. The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of the degree of control we have over decisions that may be taken in international forums. As I understand it, any international agreement would be years off; an initiative spearheaded, for example, by the World Health Organisation, would be many years down the line. We are in control of what we decide about our own borders and our own systems, but clearly my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Transport and others are talking to international counterparts to get something that makes sense and also to learn from good practice.

The hon. Gentleman also spoke about those who are not able to have the vaccine. People have spoken about physical health conditions, but there are also mental health conditions. I have been speaking to people who have a severe phobia of needles and could not in any way be injected. I know that vaccine companies are looking at alternatives, but at the moment we do not have those alternatives.

My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Mr Baker) spoke very powerfully, as he always does, about our freedoms. As an aside, I will say that I looked up the powerful Patrick McGoohan quote that he gave from “The Prisoner”. I have to say that my hon. Friend did not say the preceding two lines, which were:

“I will not make any deals with you”,

and,

“I’ve resigned”,

although he has used those in other debates. But he does make a very powerful case about the practicalities. Would this actually have a practical effect if we were to bring it in? He raised very important points about equality. I can confirm that those are in the terms of reference for the review. Also, I hope he will take some comfort from what Ministers have said in the past about papers for having a pint. I think that that is the approach that people want to take, but it is right that we look at these issues and look at them in a transparent way. Again, this debate will help to inform and steer the review.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar
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Is not one of the fundamental rights the ability to work? Huge numbers of our citizens are not able to work. Many have been made unemployed. Many are teetering on the edge because their businesses are on the edge. Surely the vaccine taskforce has shown us how we can move prudently and at pace, and perhaps we need to be getting a bit of urgency into this.

Penny Mordaunt Portrait Penny Mordaunt
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I thank the right hon. Gentleman for those comments and, indeed, for his contribution in the debate. He is right. I think that everyone in the House, no matter which side of the argument they are on, wants people to be able to get back to those freedoms that we had perhaps taken for granted—the freedoms not just to be with our loved ones and to have a social life, but to earn a living. The cost of the last 12 months to individuals in not being able to do that has been devastating. We all understand that. That is why we want to look at all the practical measures we can to give people as much certainty as possible in future. We need to ensure that the review looks at the practicalities: what would be the upside if this were to come to pass?

The hon. Member for Upper Bann (Carla Lockhart) spoke about the importance of evidence, particularly of the effect of the vaccine on transmission rates. Like other hon. Members, she also discussed pregnant women. In a week when we have been looking at how women are short-changed in a variety of ways and while many women going to job interviews still complain about questions about whether they are pregnant or planning a family, anything that put further weight on someone’s having to demonstrate why they did not have a certificate would be very disappointing indeed.

My hon. Friend the Member for Bolton West (Chris Green) focused on the importance of trust and the fact that, ultimately, trust is how we are going to get through this—we have to rely on that, rather than having so much focus on Government action. The hon. Member for North Antrim (Ian Paisley) spoke eloquently about the absolute issues of civil liberties and certain individuals who may be missing out—particularly those who will be vaccinated later in the programme. My hon. Friend the Member for Henley (John Howell) emphasised that we have to listen to others’ experiences and ideas. The right hon. Member for Warley (John Spellar) raised the issue of international travel, which I have addressed, and the fact that people are more likely to be open to data being shared if there is a benefit to them from doing so. That is what we need to come back to in this review: what is the benefit to our citizens of doing this?

My hon. Friend the Member for Hazel Grove (Mr Wragg), Chairman of the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, asked about employees. Again, the matter would be for individual employees. My understanding is that contracts would have to be rewritten if vaccination were to be made compulsory. On the back of his comments, I pay tribute to all healthcare professionals who are doing an incredible job in phoning up individuals who have concerns about taking the vaccine to reassure them. That is the way to do this, and a huge effort is being made to give people confidence that they can take it.

The hon. Member for Twickenham (Munira Wilson) raised the issues of evidence and transmission and of those who are highly marginalised. My hon. Friend the Member for Buckingham (Greg Smith) also spoke about those issues, and he and the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) both spoke about the dangers of creep: if such things happen, where will it all stop? Those points have been well made and will have been heard by my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

My hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield (Ben Bradley) spoke about the dangers of people being coerced into taking the vaccine; I point him to the very clear statements that the Prime Minister has made on that subject—that no one should be coerced or forced to take the vaccine; it is a personal choice. Enormous numbers of people are taking it, of course, including the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), whom I congratulate on getting his. I hope it was a positive experience. He will, I am sure, have been very moved by the work that not just healthcare professionals but volunteers are doing. Good luck with the second jab!

The hon. Member for Linlithgow and East Falkirk (Martyn Day), the spokesman for the SNP, rightly said that the main effort needs to be the vaccine roll-out. I agree and hope that we can take a four-nation approach on these other matters. We want simplicity and consistency for all our citizens.

The hon. Member for Putney (Fleur Anderson) raised a number of questions, some of which I think are answered by the terms of reference and the publication put out today. She is right that we want to have all efforts behind the vaccine programme. People are taking the vaccine because it is good for them and it is good for other people. We need to remember that that is why we are winning this battle against covid: it is personal action by our citizens, doing the right thing. I assure her that we will not let up on our public health campaigns either.

The vaccine programme continues to be successful, and I thank all who are contributing to it. We look forward to the economy’s unlocking and to getting back to what we remember as normal—whether that is being able to see loved ones, to attend a protest if we wish to, or simply to enjoy a pint in a beer garden with roses in bloom—but if we are to get back to that, we must also focus on the practical things that must happen. Hon. Members have touched on those practical and ethical issues, but I think they have also summed up the public mood: people want to get back to normal and they do not want to be told what to do. If we are going to do anything in this space, it must be of practical benefit and it must be something that the public would wish to be done.

I thank all hon. Members for contributing to the debate, which I am sure will help to shape the review. It will not be long before my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster will be back to report on the findings.

Public Health Restrictions: Government Economic Support

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 13th October 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Urgent Questions are proposed each morning by backbench MPs, and up to two may be selected each day by the Speaker. Chosen Urgent Questions are announced 30 minutes before Parliament sits each day.

Each Urgent Question requires a Government Minister to give a response on the debate topic.

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Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
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My right hon. Friend the Chancellor has sought to do that throughout this crisis. In the interests of brevity—as requested from the Chair—I would point to the example we had with the shielding programme. I think it was a very proud record, which indicates that intent.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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It is a shame the Chancellor is not here today because the Treasury needs to get a better answer to the question from the right hon. Member for Central Devon (Mel Stride) and others: what is the evidence, not anecdotes, to back up the case for the curfew and lockdown for the vast hospitality sector, which is facing closures, cashflow crises and job losses across pubs and clubs, restaurants and cafés, betting shops, bingo halls, casinos, theatres and cinemas, gyms and wedding venues? Treasury Ministers either have to secure a change in direction of Government lockdown policy or they have to up the level of support. Which is it going to be?

Steve Barclay Portrait Steve Barclay
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The fact that, in the course of this urgent question, we have been criticised both for not locking down enough and for locking down too much indicates that these are balanced decisions. The right hon. Member is right to point to the SAGE advice, which I know got a lot of media commentary this morning. In an earlier reply, I addressed the fact that there are concerns about outbreaks linked to bars and whether compliance is worse later at night, but that is part of the package of measures. That is why, in September, we brought in the additional measures we did. It is why, yesterday, the Prime Minister went further with a tiered approach, but it is a balanced approach.

Economic Update

John Spellar Excerpts
Wednesday 8th July 2020

(3 years, 10 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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My right hon. Friend knows this subject particularly well, so I am grateful to him for his comments. He makes two very interesting suggestions and I look forward to discussing them with him further.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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In his reply to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), the Chancellor said that leaving the EU gave us the opportunity to reform our procurement regulations, so will he say exactly when he will take that opportunity and send out revised guidelines to tell Whitehall and town halls to prioritise British-based companies and British jobs? [Interruption.]

Finance Bill

John Spellar Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & Ways and Means resolution
Monday 27th April 2020

(4 years ago)

Commons Chamber
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John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. You missed the historical perspective given by the Minister, but I will, if I may, focus on the economics and the politics—the politics being about decision making.

Before I came into Parliament, I was a national officer in the electricians’ and plumbers’ union. I used to have to explain to people that the reason a problem got on to the general secretary’s desk was because it was insoluble. Otherwise, someone else would have made the decision and claimed the credit. In government, it is the same. The reason decisions are at No. 10 is that there are no easy answers. It is dealing with ambiguity and it is dealing with possibilities and probabilities, but nevertheless decisions still have to be made. There will be some that go wrong. It is the Eisenhower doctrine—all plans break down on first contact with the enemy. He also added, as people forget, that it is nevertheless still necessary to plan. That is where the military mindset of making decisions rapidly and moving rapidly towards implementation comes in. Frankly, the Treasury, while it is talking to other Departments and giving them money, has to insist on a change in practices. The old dither, delay and process-driven mechanisms are no longer acceptable. They have to either change their ways or move out of the way.

The other message I would like to get across is that we have to get our country moving again by opening up our economy and, at the same time, ensuring the safety of workers and customers alike. I am sure the Minister will join me in welcoming the positive message from the Trades Union Congress and the negotiations that are taking place right across the country between unions and companies about how they can safely restart work. It must be the frontline that Government support goes to. Denmark and Poland have, very helpfully, led the way in seeming to be declining subsidies to companies based in tax havens or paying dividends or lavish bonuses or using share buy-back schemes. We should be following that and supporting real engineers, rather than financial engineers. The same goes for public procurement. If we look, for example, at the production and distribution of PPE equipment, I have to say that I am slightly concerned that the Government seem to have, as always, gone straight to the big consulting companies, rather than real industrial and commercial companies that actually have that experience and know how to join it up.

This crisis has also revealed a neglect of our manufacturing base by Whitehall. We must hope that the lessons have been fully learned, and our national recovery must be focused on rebuilding industry. That requires Government to act as not only legislator and administrator, but customer. We may well be facing a deficiency of demand that will mean that the restarting of the economy is in fits and starts, and Government needs to look at what role it can play. It can order buses, cars, vans and trucks to get the auto industry going; it can have a programme of council housing and of road repairs, in order to get construction and building materials moving; and it can give orders to British firms for health service equipment, protective clothing, chemicals and a reconstruction of our vaccine production capacity. There are many more things it can do, but time does not permit me to mention them all. Equally, time does not permit me to raise the issue of the difficult situation supply teachers have got themselves into with umbrella companies, which puts them in a grey zone. I have been warning about this for a number of years, since as far back as five years ago, but I will write to the Minister about it.

In conclusion, I wish to echo the words of the new Leader of the Opposition—colleagues will understand what great pleasure it gives me to be able to say that after five years. He told the Prime Minister:

“This is a national crisis and therefore needs a national response. Will you therefore commit to publishing an exit strategy as soon as possible?”

The country desperately needs that strategy, a way forward and, most importantly, hope. We do not want to be told that everyone is focusing on the coronavirus epidemic; during the second world war they were in an existential world war and we had a command economy, yet they were still able to produce the Beveridge report and a host of other measures planning for the future. That report identified five giants—want, squalor, idleness, ignorance and disease. We are focusing on disease, but those other giants are still killing people, here and around the world, which is why we need an urgent strategy from the Government and why we need Britain back to work safely.

Oral Answers to Questions

John Spellar Excerpts
Tuesday 24th March 2020

(4 years, 1 month ago)

Commons Chamber
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Rishi Sunak Portrait Rishi Sunak
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I thank my hon. Friend for her support, and join her in paying tribute to Sandwell Community Caring Trust, which we will be relying on through this difficult period. I can confirm that charities are eligible for the job retention support programme. Further to that, we have allocated extra funding to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to provide money to local charitable or caring organisations, especially to help those we are attempting to shield—the most vulnerable—in order to protect them against the effects of the coronavirus.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Yesterday in the Chamber, I and my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill (Liam Byrne) raised the question of escalating prices in local shops and concerns about profiteering. We understand that the Competition and Markets Authority may be looking into this issue, but may I ask the Minister to urge it very rapidly to look at where this is taking place? Is it local shops, wholesalers or cash and carry, or suppliers? Is it even to do with the international market in terms of perishable goods? This is a matter of real concern. Once the Government have found out where the problem is, will they bring forward measures to crack down on this profiteering?

Loan Charge 2019: Sir Amyas Morse Review

John Spellar Excerpts
Thursday 19th March 2020

(4 years, 2 months ago)

Commons Chamber
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Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I have in my hand a detailed document designed to address this very issue. It goes through a whole range of different approaches and integrates them into a strategy. I would be delighted to have any input that she would like to make about other ways in which that can be improved and developed. We work on the basis of the law as it presently stands, and which we have inherited. It is itself the result of previous Parliaments, including of course the parliamentary consideration of the loan charge. We have to work with the hand we have got, and improve it as fast and as comprehensively as we can.

I will now address the motion directly and then, in the limited time I have, turn to the comments that have been made. Is the loan charge retrospective? Again, I think it is clear that it is not. It was introduced as a new measure in 2017. It taxes a loan outstanding at a future date. It does not change any law previously on the statute book.

It has been asked why the loan charge was introduced. In the words of Sir Amyas Morse, it

“offers an expedited means of collecting tax that is due”.

Is the loan charge unjust? Again, I would suggest not. If one asks the average man or woman in this country, I think they would say, “Everyone should pay their fair share of taxes. People are responsible for their own tax affairs. Real loans get repaid; if someone offered you a loan for which no repayment, no tax and no interest was due, it would probably be too good to be true.” And so it is.

The numbers seem to bear that out. More than 99.8% of the tax-paying population have never used a scheme. Even among the freelance population, the take-up has been only 2.5%. It is notable that Sir Amyas Morse was clear that he supported the essential purpose of the loan charge and that it should remain in force.

We have heard a lot about how the law was not settled in 2017. Again, as I said, I can do no better than refer colleagues to section A of the Morse review, which carefully reconstructs the history of the past 20 years of disguised remuneration.

Let me quickly turn to the many excellent contributions that have been made. I will start with the excellent contribution made as a point of order by my right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West (Sir Desmond Swayne), who pointed out the excellence of my book on Adam Smith—I thank him for that, although I defer to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey), as Kirkcaldy was, of course, Smith’s home town. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest West will recall—he taught economics so he must know about these things—that Smith not only set out the ideals of a well-functioning tax system, which we all aspire to achieve, but was, for the last 12 years of his life, a practising commissioner of customs, attempting to wrestle with an ever-evolving customs market and seeking to extract duty and tax due, and rightly so.

I would like to touch on the statesmanlike comments of the hon. Member for Bootle, the shadow Chief Secretary, which perhaps reflected his imminent expectation of taking my seat on this side of the aisle. He recognised that what people do not pay in tax due, someone else must. He is right about that. He noticed that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is. He is right to focus, as others have, on the enablers and promoters.

John Spellar Portrait John Spellar (Warley) (Lab)
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Will the Minister give way?

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I have half a minute left. The right hon. Gentleman has only just arrived, so it is a little impertinent to raise a question at this point.

It is important that we focus on the centrality of the claim. Sir Amyas Morse has looked at it, and he has attempted to find a Jupiterian way through complicated tax issues and to deal, with equity, with the different interests and parties involved. I think he has succeeded, which is why the Government, comprehensively, with one exception, have accepted his conclusions.