Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill

(3rd reading: House of Commons)
Matt Western Excerpts
Tuesday 15th December 2020

(10 months, 2 weeks ago)

Commons Chamber

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HM Treasury
Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn
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No, the hon. Gentleman has had plenty of opportunities to intervene and, indeed, speak today, and I think I will be doing everyone a favour if I just continue. I see that the Minister is laughing as well.

On the purpose of the Bill, I would like to reflect on the comments of the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), because what he said was incredibly important. I apologise if I am misquoting him but I think he talked about the Bill hovering as a threat. That is an important point to reflect on, particularly as we look at what was being undertaken last week and the entire process that we have gone through.

I want to conclude, because I am aware that I am close to havering, and in Scotland, when someone starts doing that, they should probably sit down. As we look forward to what the Bill will do for online sales and the level playing field that it will create on VAT sales, which is important—I see the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) nodding his head, and it is worth repeating that we agree on this point—we know that that level playing field should go further, because Northern Ireland will, in effect, have a beneficial agreement compared with anywhere else in the United Kingdom, be that Wales, England or Scotland. The level playing field that the Government are putting in place for online sales should also apply to Scotland to help our ability to access EU markets, and I would encourage the Minister to reflect on that point.

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western (Warwick and Leamington) (Lab)
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I rise to speak to new clause 3 and amendments 1 and 2. Three years ago, we were given the advice that this deal was going to be the “easiest in human history”. As we have just heard in the past hour or so, it is not quite as easy as some expected, and here we are with just 16 days to go. I appreciate that the Government are trying to manage expectations by talking about no deal, but in the last 30 minutes or so there has been lots of speculation online about whether a deal may have actually been struck.

Yesterday, I was listening to someone from an independent freight haulage company based in Nuneaton in north Warwickshire, and they were saying how frustrated they were by the lack of clarity coming from the Government. They were talking about the 300% to 400% increase in paperwork that they were expecting, the mixed messages from the Government, the fact that they had had to invest in new software and the fact that the lorry parks were not ready. I guess this is why the amendments and new clause 3 that my honourable colleagues have tabled, which I support, are so important. Being so close to the end of the transition period, we urgently need clarity for our businesses.

We on the Labour Benches just want to get a deal done, contrary to what is being said by some in the Chamber, because at the end of the day this is all about ensuring that our businesses have a prosperous future—have a future, indeed—and that we protect people’s jobs and livelihoods. That is why no deal would be absolutely desperate for so much of our economy, particularly in the wake of the pandemic. Like my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), I really do not understand why it has taken so long for this Bill to be published. It seems that the Government were holding it back as one of their cards—maybe again threatening to break international law and damaging our reputation—but businesses cannot plan on that basis. They cannot work on a last-minute approach. That might work in negotiations in the political sphere, but it has been damaging for business. Rather than having messages such as a “check, change, go”, they have been demanding the substantive advice from the Government which, sadly, businesses across my constituency have not been receiving.

I spoke earlier to one of those businesses—a retailer and importer—and it said, “This is utter chaos. We desperately need clarity and urgency, so that we can start planning, but at the moment we cannot get hold of the goods that we’re going to be able to sell in the first quarter of next year.” I understand what the right hon. Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) said about UK sovereignty, but the quid pro quo is about access to markets and obligations. I liken it to how businesses have to work. If they want to be in the app market and use the Apple platform, they have to pay to be part of that. If they want to be on the Sony PlayStation platform, they have to pay to access that. It is the same with the European market.

John Redwood Portrait John Redwood
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Does the hon. Gentleman not understand that, from 1 January, the EU and the UK are both full members of the World Trade Organisation, which does not allow its members to charge to trade, controls what tariffs can be levied and says to each of its members that they have to offer most favoured nation status to any other member of the WTO? That is how we do our trade with the whole of the rest of the world, which is bigger than our trade with the EU. Why can we not do that for everything?

Matt Western Portrait Matt Western
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Our biggest and nearest customer is the EU. It is a critical customer and supplier to so many businesses in the UK, particularly in our manufacturing sector.

Let me briefly turn to the Northern Ireland protocol. We were told that there would be no checks, but as of last week, we have seen the need to implement new checks and controls for goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland and, to a lesser extent, from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. The Government have said rather vaguely that a significant majority of internal UK trade will be tariff-free. I would be interested to know what assessment the Government have made of the precise percentage of GB-Northern Ireland trade that will be and the volume and value that will be subject to tariffs.

That is why these amendments are important. They are aimed at injecting urgency, with just 16 days until the transition period ends. Businesses want clarity and certainty, and they need it urgently. The intention of new clause 3 and amendments 1 and 2 is simply to demand that the Government make clear when they will propose the secondary legislation flowing from the Bill, to help those businesses. The Food and Drink Federation has said that the guidance is being published too late, and 43% of its members that supply Northern Ireland have said that they will not be able to do so in the first three months of next year. Our amendments are very similar to those proposed and, sadly, voted down in Committee. They are vital to assist our businesses and are business-friendly, as the Opposition are.

I cite the disruption that we are in danger of allowing. We have seen what happened with Honda—one of the most efficient companies on the planet. That should be the canary in the mine. If Honda is not able to get parts from its supply chain here to the UK, what hope is there for small and medium-sized businesses across the UK? Whether they are a clothes retailer or a car manufacturer, they just want clarity and certainty. They want an uninterrupted supply of goods into the first quarter of next year. Given the damage already done by the pandemic, we cannot afford further economic disruption. The Government need to move swiftly. That is why new clause 3 and amendments 1 and 2 are so important, and that is why I am supporting them.

Jesse Norman Portrait The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
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I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to the debate. I will address the proposed amendments and then come to the specific points that have been raised.

New clauses 1 and 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), would, if adopted, mean that the provisions in the Bill would apply notwithstanding any domestic or international law. The House will be aware that on 17 September, the Government set out that Parliament would be asked to support the use of so-called “notwithstanding” provisions in clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and any similar subsequent provisions in a Finance Bill, but only in circumstances where the fundamental purposes of the Northern Ireland protocol would be undermined. Only in those circumstances would Parliament be asked to support the use of so-called “notwithstanding” provisions, as described.