Finance Bill

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Mr. Flight rose—

Dawn Primarolo: I knew that that would be the crucial point. The measures will be backdated to come into effect in 2004, even though we will require legislation in 2005. The reason for that is that although these changes are widely welcomed, there are still more details that we want to ensure are correct. That is the right way to proceed.

Mr. Flight: The Minister has uttered the magic words.

When I was making inquiries in relation to the constituency case that I mentioned, I was surprised to find that, historically, there seemed to be ludicrous complexity about whether there could be a straight look through. The case is straightforward. There is an orphaned daughter. Money was the father's only savings. The mother is still alive. A trust has been set up in favour of the daughter, and it has been organised by the grandfather to protect her against the possibility of the mother walking off with the money. However, the child has to pay tax on the income on £10,000. It is extraordinary that the rules result in that. I hope that I am right in understanding that once the new streaming arrangements have been sorted out they will give a complete look through.

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Dawn Primarolo: With your leave, Mr. McWilliam, I will briefly touch on the proposed modernisation. The hon. Members for Arundel and South Downs and for Torridge and West Devon know full well that this is a very complicated area of taxation. All manner of arrangements—to put this delicately—can be found in it, ranging from vulnerable trusts, for which all Committee members want the Government to make the necessary arrangements to simplify the provisions, to extremely creative high taxpayers who seek to reduce their tax unreasonably.

That is unfortunate, and it provides a challenge for the Government. I will explain it by addressing the points that were made about the changes in section 677 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988. The changes in the arrangements that we are seeking to make are designed to ensure that we meet that challenge. With regard to the operation of section 677 and anti-avoidance, we are still dealing with higher rate taxpayers, and we are also reviewing, updating and modernising trust arrangements and the tax system for trusts so that we pick up the points that the hon. Gentlemen are rightly making.

The new system will involve an irrevocable election made jointly by trustees and the vulnerable beneficiary for the tax paid by the trustees to be based on the circumstances of the vulnerable beneficiary. It is difficult to comment on the constituency case of the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, but then I always marvel at the complexity of his casework. No one has visited me in Bristol, South inquiring about an offshore trust and the unreasonableness of the 40 per cent. tax rate.

Mr. Burnett: On the point to which the Paymaster General has alluded, I think that she said that, on the inception of a trust for a vulnerable person, the election would have to be made by the settler trustees and the vulnerable person. I hope that in due course she will reconsider that, if it is so, because sometimes the vulnerable person is not capable of making an election and might refrain from doing so because they would not want the property put in trust.

Mr. Flight rose—

Dawn Primarolo: I will just answer that question before I give way to the hon. Gentleman.

I beg your indulgence, Mr. McWilliam, as we are going quite wide of the subject. The points that the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon raised are precisely those on which we need further consultation, to ensure that we get that balance right. He is right: it is not straightforward. It is simple for a Minister to say that we wish a measure to apply as a principle, but we have to ensure that it is delivered in the circumstances that we seek to achieve.

The hon. Gentlemen will have to be disappointed this year that the provisions are not available in the Bill. I hope that they will look forward with expectation and encouragement to the legislation next year making an appropriate response to these matters.

Mr. Flight rose—

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Dawn Primarolo: I want to get this matter out of the way so that I do not stray too far from the amendments, so before I give way I point out that the other issues that we are considering are the basic rate band, the £500, and harmonising definitions and tests. There is broad consensus that we should have a common definition of trust income tax and capital gains tax. As the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs said, there is also the question of streaming income and ensuring that it is right to deliver the things that he correctly identified in circumstances where it would be appropriate.

I do not plan to say anything about next year's Finance Bill. I was trying to be helpful with regard to current consultation in the context of clause 29. I will give way to the hon. Gentleman and then return to the amendments.

The Chairman: Order. We are so wide that sometimes I feel as though I have been transported to the steppes.

Mr. Flight: Just to put the record straight, the case in question concerned a trust that was entirely domestic, and these measures are essentially about domestic trusts. It was also modest, with only £10,000, and illustrated the correct use of trusts. A grandfather was simply trying to protect what little his deceased son had received for the benefit of an orphaned child.

Dawn Primarolo: I think that I answered the hon. Gentleman's point when I said that all the arrangements for all those who benefit from such trusts will be backdated. I hope that that settles the point. We should not stray any further.

Amendment No. 57 would omit schedule 4 from the Bill. That moves to the other half of the challenge that the Inland Revenue faces in dealing with trusts, where avoidance by extremely wealthy individuals may inadvertently occur, to put it delicately. We are seeking, as an ever-helpful Inland Revenue and assisted Minister, to ensure that the clauses continue to work as intended.

New clause 1 and amendment No. 57 would repeal section 677 of the Income and Corporation Taxes Act 1988, which charges tax on capital payments made by trusts to the individuals who put funds into the trust. The amendment and the new clause would create new opportunities for tax avoidance. Section 677 contains anti-avoidance legislation to stop individuals who put funds into a trust avoiding tax when they withdraw funds from it. New clause 1 would sweep section 677 aside, but section 677 is a necessary defence against avoidance. If it did not exist, people could place funds in an offshore trust that paid little or no tax on its income and arrangements could later be made for funds to be returned to them in a non-taxable form, thereby avoiding tax altogether. That is just not acceptable. Such schemes are not caught by any other anti-avoidance measure, and I hope that the Committee will understand why section 677 is a necessary part of the tax system and new clause 1 should be rejected.

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10.45 am

Schedule 4 simply ensures that the proposed change in the rate applicable to trusts is taken into account when section 677 operates. In the simplest case, it ensures that a person receiving a capital payment from a resident trust does not get credit for tax paid at 40 per cent. if the trust had paid only 34 per cent. In the worst case, someone could receive a credit at 40 per cent. when no UK tax had been paid. The amendment, by omitting schedule 4, would make nonsense of the tax credit calculation and create a new tax avoidance opportunity for higher rate taxpayers.

I hope that the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, who said that sections 677 and 678 are highly complex and capricious provisions, sees that the Government's amendment in the schedule is a necessary consequence of the increase in the rate applicable to trusts. Schedule 4 aims to ensure that the tax credit given to a settlor when calculating their income tax liability on a capital payment from the trust more closely matches the tax paid by the trustees.

The change to section 677 is necessary to ensure that wealthy settlors pay the right amount of tax. I cannot see why that is unreasonable because everyone else pays the right amount—well, I hope that they do. I certainly do. Without the change, the notional tax credit that they receive would be calculated on the wrong basis. These are anti-avoidance provisions and are necessary to ensure that the right amount of tax is collected in all cases. In any case, the tax revenue at stake would depend enormously on behavioural effects when tax planners are ready and willing to exploit any loophole—this would be a large one—for the benefit of their clients. There is an ongoing risk, because trusts that are based offshore pay no UK tax and that could be used to achieve the avoidance.

I hope that the hon. Gentleman accepts my undertakings on trusts for the vulnerable and that he will also, perhaps reluctantly, accept that section 677 is absolutely necessary. If he does not withdraw his amendment, I shall ask my hon. Friends to vote against it.

Mr. Burnett: The Paymaster General has lived up to the billing that I gave her. Softly, gently and subtly, she has won over this Member.

Mr. Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): The hon. Gentleman has been seduced.

Mr. Burnett: The right hon. Lady frequently seduces me with her words.

I was delighted to hear what she said. She handles the Committee with great expertise, and did so especially in connection with amendment No. 31. I am delighted to hear that there will be no discrimination against some disadvantaged individuals in this tax year, 2004–05.

Mr. Flight: The Paymaster General has indeed responded to our main concern about the commitment to backdate. On the more technical aspects of schedule 4 and section 677, in a domestic context, I trust that the Minister understands the point that I was making.

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I was under the impression that taxation of income from non-UK offshore trusts was done on a look-through basis under other legislation, and that the issue was therefore thoroughly dealt with elsewhere. She is effectively saying that that is not the case, and that there is a reliance on something in section 677. If that is so, I accept her argument. My point was based on the understanding that the section was really about domestic trusts, and did not touch on offshore trusts. On the basis that the Minister knows her stuff—I am sure that she does—I accept the argument that we cannot get rid of section 677 if it is relevant to the offshore territory. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

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