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Finance Bill

As amended in the Committee and the Standing Committee, considered.

New Clause 6

Intangible Fixed Assets: Tax Avoidance Arrangements and Related Parties

'(1) Schedule 29 to the Finance Act 2002 (c. 23) (gains and losses of a company from intangible fixed assets) is amended as follows.
(2) In paragraph 111 (tax avoidance arrangements to be disregarded)—
(a) in subparagraph (1) for the words following "in determining" substitute "whether a debit or credit is to be brought into account under this Schedule or the amount of any such debit or credit", and
(b) in subparagraph (2)—
(i) for "under paragraph 9" in paragraph (a), and
(ii) for "under Part 4" in paragraph (b),
substitute "under this Schedule".
(3) In paragraph 95(1) (cases in which persons are "related parties") at the end add—
"Case Four
P is a company and C is another company in the same group."
(4) The amendments in this section—
(a) have effect in relation to the debits or credits to be brought into account for accounting periods beginning on or after 20th June 2003, and
(b) in relation to the debits or credits to be brought into account for any such period shall be deemed always to have had effect.
(5) For this purpose an accounting period beginning before, and ending on or after, that date is treated as if so much of that period as falls before that date, and so much of that period as falls on or after that date, were separate accounting periods.'.—[Dawn Primarolo.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

1.24 pm

The Paymaster General (Dawn Primarolo) : I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

Last year, after extensive consultation, the Government introduced new tax rules for companies' good will and intangible assets, such as patents, brand names and copyrights, which are vital for a modern, knowledge-based economy. The new rules, which are in schedule 29 of the Finance Act 2002, broadly allow companies to claim tax relief for those assets as they write them down in their accounts. Companies may alternatively elect to treat them as though they were written down at 4 per cent. per annum. The rules are meant to apply only to assets created by or acquired from an unrelated party after 31 March 2002.

There is clear evidence of marketing tax avoidance schemes that are intended to bring assets that already existed on 31 March 2002 into the new regime to claim relief under the alternative 4 per cent. option. We estimate that there are approximately £400 billion to £600 billion of potentially eligible assets. If only a small fraction were brought into the new tax regime, the cost

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would be enormous, apart from the fact that that was not the intention. The cost would continue for the next 25 years.

The avoidance schemes rely first on the fact that the anti-avoidance rule does not currently apply to the 4 per cent. relief. They then try to exploit a mismatch in the definitions of "related persons" in the intangibles rules and of a group for capital gains purposes. To put it simply, they try to transfer assets in a group for capital gains purposes so that no capital gains tax arises, while arranging matters so that the transfer is between unrelated persons for intangible assets purposes. Thus, the asset is treated as acquired from an unrelated person and can be brought within the new regime.

The new clause would block such schemes by widening the scope of the anti-avoidance rules in schedule 29 of the 2002 Act and by tightening the definition of "related persons". It is a modest and proportionate response to an attempt to exploit a new relief. I underline our determination to act against tax avoidance speedily and firmly.

I commend the new clause to hon. Members and I am happy to respond to any questions.

Mr. Stephen O'Brien (Eddisbury): The Paymaster General told us in a written statement on 20 June after the Committee had concluded its proceedings on 17 June that such a new clause would be tabled. It prompts us to ask why the Treasury and the Inland Revenue were unable to formulate it before the Finance Bill was considered or during the Committee's proceedings. That would have been more appropriate than taking up time now.

It is clear that the changes will have an immediate effect and the new clause therefore smacks of panic by the Treasury and the Government. It is part of a transparent and notable theme that will become apparent in our proceedings today, in that it reflects a panic in the Treasury, which has splurged and wasted so much money that it now has to gather much, make every part of the tax system sweat and, above all, change the balance between the rights of the citizen taxpayer and those of the Government. I do not wish to explore that more general theme now because there will opportunities to do that later.

The background note to the new clause is useful and I daresay that it would not have attracted controversy if it had been tabled when we considered the Bill in Committee. Paragraph 22 of the background notes states:

to which the Paymaster General referred,

The new clause therefore tries to remove the mismatch. It has been decided that the provision will not be retrospective—a major issue with which we had frequently to contend in Committee. We may dispute the Government's ability to deploy money or doubt whether they deserve to receive so much taxpayers' money, given the way in which it is deployed—let alone wasted—on behalf of taxpayers.

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None the less, because the proposal is not retrospective and because the changes seem to be in line with the consultation—had it been considered in a timely manner in Committee, it might have attracted our broad non-objection—we may on this occasion have to accept that the Government are entitled to introduce it, notwithstanding those reservations.

1.30 pm

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham): I have declared my interest in the register. I am rather perplexed by this proposal. I can quite understand why the Government need more and more money—as my hon. Friend the Member for Eddisbury (Mr. O'Brien) rightly said, they are wasting so much of it—but I am not sure that this is the final answer. The Government are legislating at the last minute in a panic, and my hon. Friend is right to ask why a whole year has elapsed since the previous legislation, why nothing was forthcoming if the matter was this urgent, and why nothing was forthcoming when the original Bill was considered in Committee. Why is this proposal being introduced from 20 June, as if huge gaps appeared in the revenue from that date onwards but no such problem had existed previously?

If the Paymaster General is right in saying that she is going to lose revenue unless she makes this particular change, is she not running the risk—if the change is adopted—of losing revenue in other ways following the bolting of this particular stable door? For example, might not many more exchanges of brand assets and other intangibles take place between groups of companies? I believe that it is becoming quite fashionable for certain large companies owning lots of brands to concentrate on their top six or 12 and to sell their other brands. Those other brands may be very advantageous or interesting to competitors or other companies in related fields, which, by dint of acquisition from an external group, could then trigger the advantages of the Finance Act 2002.

Is the Paymaster General worried that this change might simply shift the method of making sensible tax-planning arrangements from transfers of brands and intangibles between companies in the same group, to transactions between different groups of companies? Has she considered that if the closure of this loophole leads to the tax-planning advantages becoming much greater for one system than for the other, the legislation itself might trigger changes in corporate structure? Might it not be better for shareholder value for the boards of companies owning a substantial number of brands to de-merge different companies within the group, and then to transfer brands and assets of an intangible nature afterwards, so that they can get round this particular closing of the loophole?

I fear that the Paymaster General has not come up with the final answer, and that what she is really seeking to do is to repeal schedule 29, but has yet to realise that the insatiable demand for revenue requires that the Government take such action. As a result, she has brought a half-baked half-measure to the House today, and I doubt whether it will be found sufficient. I ask her to address my worry that closing one door simply opens

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up others that industry and commerce will take advantage of, because of the obvious tax-planning advantages in so doing.

Dawn Primarolo: I should point out to the right hon. Member for Wokingham (Mr. Redwood) that this regime was introduced last year with the support of his party, following extensive consultation with business. The facility that it provides within the tax system—a facility that did not exist under his Government or in the first years of this Government—has been widely welcomed.

The right hon. Gentleman asked me the $64,000 question: will tax planners continue to try to tax plan? Well, I expect that they will. As a Minister, the issue for me is this. I have seen marketed specific suggestions and arrangements that would lead to a loss of revenue to the taxpayer, collected on the Government's behalf, in respect of what was introduced last year as essentially a relieving measure. I should point out to the right hon. Gentleman that the proposals are specific and targeted and will deal with those avoidance measures.

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