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and his ilk have spent the last 10 years slowly twisting the public view of my chosen way of keeping myself in work to something akin to benefit fraud. Contractors are not tax dodgers, and they have better things to do with their time than spend it getting their heads around Gordons corkscrew-like reinterpretations of tax and company law.
The UK economy relies heavily on people freelancing, and the Government has promoted this flexible way of working for some time now to attract more people into the work force. However, the new rules seem to work against the Government's own agenda. Not only are they adding more confusion to this already complex market, but...are also requiring contractors to take on additional layers of legal and accounting responsibilitiessomething theyve clearly not asked for.
A major plank of the Governments proposals is not even in the Bill for scrutiny this afternoon. Their highly controversial draft rules on making third parties liable for other peoples tax debts are still to come, so we only have part of the picturethe rest is to be inserted via regulations. Yet clause 25 would bring the rules into effect from 6 April. People are being asked to deal with that upheaval even before the rules have been finalised and agreed by the House.
The Chancellors attack on enterprise and small business start-ups continues in schedule 4 with the restrictions imposed on sideways loss relief. Under the Bill, it seems that people are damned if they do incorporate and damned if they do not, with schedule 4 hitting business partnerships. Restricting the ability to set off partnership losses against other income could have an impact on several important high-risk investment areas.
Several concerned entrepreneurs have contacted me about sideways loss relief, including Mr. Antony Blakey, who told me that many investors and scientists were worried about the impact on private collective investment. He told me that
we now have a serious problem for environmental research and small business start-ups.
Film production is an example of something that could be negatively affected. I acknowledge that not everyone in the film industry is worried, especially since the Government carried out their spectacularly rapid U-turn on applying the rules to section 42 and section 48 reliefs. However, some in the film industry are worried, and concern about schedule 4 stretches to several other sectors, including the multi-billion-pound computer games industry, in which the UK has such an important opportunity to compete alongside the best in the globalised world economy.
I have also received representations about the damage that schedule 4 could do those trying to make use of the special capital allowances that the Chancellor introduced to encourage environmental projects. Biotech investment could also be hit. Rupert Lywood of Matrix Securities contacted me about a project to develop cancer vaccines. He told me that it would have been much harder to get that off the ground without sideways loss relief, because it would have been difficult to find a single investor who could fund the entire project. To get the necessary critical mass of investment for such high-risk projects, one generally needs several investors and, consequently, a partnership.
If investors can no longer relieve losses against other income, the risk increases and ventures find it more difficult to get financial backing. In many cases, spending 10 hours a week on the project, as required by the new rules, simply would not be practical. Mr. Lywood tells me of a business venture concerning Downs syndrome and genetic diseases, which is now in jeopardy as a result of schedule 4.
Again, it is true that avoidance has occurred, and we support attempts to crack down on abusive schemes, but the Government already have extensive tools with which to deal with partnership-based avoidance. Schedule 4 fails to distinguish between abusive and non-abusive schemes. We need to find a way to save sideways loss relief for projects undertaken for genuine commercial and entrepreneurial motives rather than for tax reasons, and we will table amendments in Committee to bring that about.
Coupled with the new restrictions on venture capital trusts in clause 50, schedule 4 comes as a body blow to enterprise in Britain, and we desperately need to encourage enterprise if more jobs are not to be sent offshore to India and China.
Let us consider the Bills proposals on green issues. Tony Juniper of Friends of the Earth said that the measures announced were disappointingly weak and described the Chancellors record as woeful. During his 10 years at No. 11, green taxes have been falling as a proportion of total tax receipts. The much-hyped climate change levy is flawed because it targets the use of energy rather than focusing on carbon emissions. The Renewable Energy Association branded the low carbon buildings programme a fiasco. Clause 19s stamp duty exemption for zero carbon homes will make a minimal difference, especially as the Chief Secretary cannot tell us with certainty whether any houses in the entire country qualify for that relief.
The Chancellors tax break for microgenerated energy sold back to the national grid is not exactly a big giveaway, since HMRC admits that it has never collected income tax on such payments to date. The Renewable Energy Association called the £22 a year that that might save home owners
a drop in the ocean.
Part 6 deals with powers. Of course we acknowledge the importance of ensuring that the authorities have
the right tools to fight tax fraud and organised crime such as missing trader intra-CommunityMTICfraud. However, we also agree with the Chartered Institute of Taxation about the importance of
ensuring those powers are used only by those who need them and are subject to proper control.
We welcome the extensive consultation carried out on that issue. There has certainly been an improvement since the initial draft, which took an Inspector Gene Hunt-type approach: Kick the door down first and ask questions afterwards. Real progress has been made since the PACE is for wimps stance with which some of the proposals started. However, there are still a number of instances where the criminal powers granted by clause 81 to HMRC exceed those given to the police under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, so we will scrutinise those proposals with care.
Vesting responsibility for both civil and criminal investigation in the hands of a single body does give rise to certain risks; I am sure the Chief Secretary will acknowledge that. HMRCs criminal investigation officers should be separate and distinct from the rest of the organisation. There needs to be a limit to the range of people who can exercise the very considerable powers that the Government are asking the House to sanction in the Bill. We do not want to see every tax inspector given a power of arrest, so we seek assurance from the Government that the draconian powers to tackle smugglers that have built up at Customs and Excise over the years will not be allowed to leak into HMRCs civil jurisdiction.
Without even getting into the issue of the ferocious powers already vested in the Revenue and Customs Prosecution Office, we would welcome the clearest guarantees from the Financial Secretary in his summing up that that the powers of arrest and investigation contained in the Bill will not be used in the context of HMRCs day-to-day tax collection duties. We hope and trust that he will also be able to assure us that submitting a late tax return will not mean a dawn raid and frozen bank accounts.
Mr. David Gauke (South-West Hertfordshire) (Con): Before my hon. Friend leaves the subject of fraudspecifically MTIC, or missing trader intra-Community fraudshe will recall that we debated the provisions of the reverse charge in last years Finance Bill. The Government appear to have gained agreement from our allies in the European Union on this subject, but reports suggest that in doing so, they made concessions on our rebate. Does my hon. Friend share my concerns that the Government may have made concessions on the rebate in order to deal with MTIC fraud?
Mrs. Villiers: Getting the derogation is certainly welcome, but it is deeply regrettable that it has come at the expense of our rebate. The Prime Ministers original decision to give £7.2 billion more of our money to the EU is regrettable, and the Chancellor is only confirming that in the negotiations on MTIC. That is indeed of great concern to Conservative Members.
Lastly I turn to pensions, and clauses 67 and 68. Clause 67 is not a particularly high-profile part of the Bill. It removes tax relief from something called pensions term assurance. On 6 April 2006, as
probably every hon. Member knows, the Government introduced new rules on certain types of life cover as part of their A-day reforms, which included new rules on certain types of life cover. Their aim, they said, was to increase fairness, but their premise seemed to be to give people who did not have access to employer-based death-in-service schemes access to similar benefits if they set up their own personal cover. The result was that the tax treatment for such schemes was the same both for employees and for the self-employed.
create a transparent, consistent and flexible system that is readily understood. That will make it easier for people to concentrate on the things that matter, such as when and how much to save for their retirement, rather than on trying to understand anomalies between the different tax regimes.[ Official Report, Standing Committee A, 8 June 2004; c. 427.]
When the A-day reforms were being negotiated, the insurance industry made very plain to the Government what the impact of those changes would bethat certain types of life cover would be given the same tax treatment as a pension. The Government were clearly told by the industry about the sort of products that would be developed in response to the legislation. From A-day onwards, a competitive market developed in what became known as pension term assurance, or PTA.
Then suddenly, in December last year, after only 9 months, the axe fell and the Chancellor announced that tax relief for PTA policies was to be scrapped. As the Association of British Insurers put it, the Government had managed
in one blowto put an end to a developing market that they had only just helped create.
We can see that the Government also found their reverse gear on clause 68, which introduces significant restrictions on the use of alternatively secured pensionsagain, only nine months after their introduction on A-day. The Government have carried out U-turn after U-turn on pensions. These two latest examples come hard on the heels of their reverse on self-invested personal pensionsSIPPslast year.
Mrs. Villiers: What we want is for the Government to work out what they want to happen to pensions and to stick to that. We want them to get their pensions legislation right the first time, not to create legislation that generates whole industries, and then shut them down. Time and again, we see the Government producing legislation with a wholly predictable outcome about which they are warned in advanceyet when that outcome duly materialises, they decide that they do not like the consequence about which they were warned, and seek to amend the legislation and crack down on products that they themselves were effectively responsible for creating.
This instability serves only to heighten the pensions crisis in this country. No wonder the savings ratio has halved in Britain since in 1997, when there is always a
threat that the rug could be pulled from under peoples feet at any moment if the Government decide that they have got their legislation wrong yet again. These repeated blows to Britains savings come on top of the Chancellors £100 billion raid on our pension funds. The right hon. Member for Birkenhead (Mr. Field) has pointed out that
when Labour came to office we had one of the strongest pension provisions in Europe and now probably we have some of the weakest.
In conclusion, the Opposition decline to give a Second Reading to the Finance Bill because it fails to equip the UK to compete in the globalised world economy in the face of ever-increasing competition from China and India; it penalises enterprise and business start-ups and imposes higher tax rates and a more complicated tax system on small companies; it hits freelance workers with more bureaucracy and uncertainty; it does nothing to tackle the UKs worsening pensions crisis; it is ineffective in the fight against climate change; it fails to reverse the massive increase in complexity and instability that the Chancellor has inflicted on Britains tax system; and it implements a Budget that was a tax con, not a tax cut.
It is sometimes useful to remind ourselves of why we have Finance Bills. They have two principal purposes, and one is to assess the state of the economy and make the necessary fiscal changes to ensure that we strike the proper balance between expenditure programmes and reasonably fair revenue raising systems. If we look back at Finance Bill debates of the pastI see at least one face opposite who used to take part in them with mewe see that the major focus has been on the macro-economic impact of the legislation. It was about whether the Finance Bill that followed on from the Budget was appropriate to regulate the state of the economy.
The second purpose of a Finance Bill, today as always, is to look at the way in which fiscal rulesand sometimes expenditure rules relating to matters such as educationaffect the economy. Do they achieve what they set out to achieve? Do they raise the necessary revenues that the system was introduced to raise in the first place? Is it a fair and efficient system? Has it kept up with the times? Those are both legitimate purposes for a Finance Bill, and those are legitimate arguments that should take place across the Floor of the House.
I have read the Oppositions reasoned amendmentit is more of a rhetorical amendmentwhich comments on competing in the globalised economy. I hope that I am right in assuming that that relates to the first purpose of a Finance Bill, in that it deals with Britains place in
the world. The amendment goes on to mention a number of other issues, including whether small company taxation and the system that taxes freelance workers are appropriate. Is it better to be a freelance worker who sets up a company to manage the system or to have it managed by someone else? Should those people simply be self-employed? That is a legitimate argument, as is the question about the extent to which interventions or intrusions by the Revenue are proportionate. Those are all legitimate issues for debate on the Finance Bill, both in the House and in Committee, and our colleagues who will serve on the Public Bill Committee look forward to them. I may take part in the Committee of the whole House next week, but they may wish to look at the detail of those issues, and it is right that they should do so.
The problem with the Conservative amendment is that the first part does not relate to the second part. The way in which small companies are taxed, the tax regime for freelance workers and the degree to which the Revenue has powers of intrusion do not, in the real world, make a massive difference to the British economy. They make a difference to people who employ freelance workers and to people involved in a small company but, generally, but there is consensus among those who take an interest in those subjects that they do not make a big difference to Britain in the globalised economy, because they do not relate to the major issue of the level of expenditure and revenue in the economy. They do not relate largely to interest rate regimes in the economy or to Government expenditure programmes that equip the economy for future effectiveness and so on.
That is the problem with the amendment. It would have been better if the Opposition were more honest, like the right hon. and learned Member for North-East Fife (Sir Menzies Campbell), the Liberal Democrat leader, who said in the Budget debate that the Chancellor had governed a successful economy. At least the Liberal Democrats conceded that there was a successful economy in Britain, so it would be legitimate for them to argue about whether those micro-fiscal regulations are appropriate. The Conservatives, however, have not conceded the point about Britain competing in the globalised economy, and I want to focus on that in my contribution. I am happy to look at other issues, but I am not prepared to concede that what we do on the tax regime for freelance workers will make a colossal difference to the state of the British economy and our ability to compete in a globalised world, which is the principal point made by the Conservative amendment.
Mr. Redwood: The amendment is entitled to refer to all aspects of the Budget, but on its first pointcompetitivenesswhat does the hon. Gentleman think about a whole dockyard in Britain being stripped out, sold and taken half way round the world, and a whole car plant being folded up and sent half way round the world to China? Is that a sign of success?
I am tempted to tell the right hon. Gentleman that a few more dockyards, shipyards, car plants, steelworks, coal mines, engineering factories
and chemical factories were either closed or shipped off somewhere else when the Conservatives were in power than is the case now. I am not one to say that, because an industry is in a particular position, it should be there forever. Things change, and I will come on to discuss high-value investment and jobs.
My main point is that the evidence for the Conservatives argument that we are failing to compete in a global world does not hold up. I am happy to trade any evidence that the Opposition Front Bench wishes to use as a test. We would all agree, for example, that growth is a reasonable test, and the British economy has now had an all-time record 59 consecutive quarters of growth.
Mrs. Villiers: Is the hon. Gentleman concerned that this country came 22nd out of 27 European Union member states on economic growth? Is he also concerned that the UK has fallen from fourth to 10th in the World Economic Forum competitiveness league?
Mr. Henderson: I am also a bit of an anorak on football goal averages, so I am always happy to look at statistics. I want to take time to reflect on the hon. Ladys particular points, but in 1997 we came bottom among the G7 countries for growth, whereas in the last year for which figures are available we were second only to the United States. A longish to medium-term analysis of the past 10 years demonstrates significant, sustained growth in the British economy. That may have just fallen out of the skysome would allege that that is the casebut I think that there are more fundamental reasons why that has taken place.
Mr. Henderson: I am grateful to the hon. Lady for raising that point again. When I was a union official in the early 1980s, I used to negotiate 27 per cent. wage increases as my contribution to improving the state of the British economy. She will know that the Conservative years in the 1990s had average annual inflation of more than 10 per cent., and between 1981 and 1991, that figure was worse.
There is no scope for the hon. Lady to say that we might have won the growth argument, but that we can be challenged on the inflation argument. Inflation is a reasonable test of the direction of the economy, as it affects expectations, which are colossally important for investment. It is the right measure to consider, but I am not sure that the conclusions drawn are accurate.
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