Finance Bill

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Justine Greening: We have a lot of sympathy for new clause 23 and share the hon. Gentleman’s concerns about the impact of this double taxation issue on bingo halls up and down the country. A well-known report has pointed out that around 180 bingo halls might be at risk as a result of a variety of economic pressures. If my memory serves me correctly, about 108 of them have unfortunately already gone out of business, so that is a real issue that needs to be understood properly, and that is precisely what the new clause is trying to achieve.
The bingo industry has faced a number of changes in recent years, not least the smoking ban, the implications of the Gambling Act 2005 and the rise of internet gambling, all of which have had a dramatic impact on the clientele and the business and competitive environment in which bingo halls now operate. Despite that, we should not underestimate the fact that the industry still provides thousands of jobs across the country and millions of pounds in tax revenue. The new clause is needed to understand the impact of those changing circumstances, taxation and the economic environment in the industry on the future prosperity of bingo clubs.
Although we are talking about businesses, those of us who have bingo clubs in our constituencies know that they are more than just businesses. In many cases they are community centres. The hon. Gentleman did not mention the second aspect of his new clause, which referred to the level of social access to individuals aged over 65. The bingo halls that I have come across in my part of London provide amazing social access for all the community and I think there is nothing sadder than seeing a bingo hall shut down. In the interests of time, I will end my comments there. Suffice it to say, Sir. Nicholas, it has been a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.
Stephen Pound (Ealing, North) (Lab): House!
Angela Eagle: My hon. Friend the Member for Ealing, North shouted “House.” I was thinking that there is an empty House, but a full Committee.
As hon. Members have noticed, we have made no change to the taxation of bingo in the Budget. We looked carefully at the evidence that the Bingo Association provided on the state of the industry, including the data relating to revenues and club closures as the industry adapts to current challenges. Our assessment remains that tax is not at the root of the bingo industry’s problems, and we do not believe that there is a tax solution. Bingo benefited from a generous reduction in its effective tax rate in 2003. The average effect of the tax rate on bingo, which is measured using the combined impact of VAT and duty on a comparable basis, is in line with that on casinos, gaming machines and the lottery. We agree that the bingo industry needs to adjust to the smoke-free legislation, which to its great credit it supports, but we do not think that a tax cut is the way to do it.
The bingo industry’s problems are the product of a combination of factors, including greater competition in the leisure sector and changing tastes in leisure activities. The Gambling Act introduced measures that have benefited the industry. The membership requirement and the 24-hour rule for the period between joining and playing have been removed, clubs are no longer required to return all stakes as prizes in the same game and roll-overs are now allowed, creating the potential for much higher prizes. Removing VAT from bingo participation fees would not be revenue neutral, as the industry suggests, and would in fact cost tens of millions of pounds. Our estimate is made in line with the general approach to all costings outlined in the Budget book and looks at not only the amount of tax paid by the industry, but the overall impact on Exchequer revenues.
The new clause would require the Government to produce a report of our tax policy on the bingo industry. As with all tax policy decisions, we will monitor the full impact of the tax regime and continue to engage with the industry as it adapts to the changes it faces. To that extent, the new clause is superfluous. Our evidence was released on 28 May to the Bingo Association at its request, so it is out there for the hon. Member for South-East Cornwall to look at.
Mr. Breed: I thank the Exchequer Secretary for that response. I have not seen the report, so I may not agree with the assessment, but if she confirms that the report that has been released to the Bingo Association is the one on which her assessment and that of her Department has been made, we can get that report and will not need to resort to freedom of information measures and suchlike. On that basis there would be no need for the new clause, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Motion and clause, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 159 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause 160 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Question proposed, That the Chairman do report the Bill (except clauses 3, 5, 6, 15, 21, 49, 90 and 117 and new clauses amending section 74 of the Finance Act 2003), as amended, to the House.
Jane Kennedy: On a point of order, Sir Nicholas. Before we come to the end of our consideration of the Bill, I put on record my thanks to you, and your co-Chairmen, Mr. Cook and Mr. Hood, for your assistance during these seven weeks. You have guided us through some complicated debates, and your leadership has shed more light than some light fittings have on certain occasions. I also thank the Clerks, the Hansard Reporters, the Doorkeepers and the police officers for their assistance in ensuring that the business of the Committee ran smoothly, not least when there was a sudden illness. I also thank Revenue and Customs and the Treasury, and the representative bodies that have worked with us during the Bill’s passage. Their assistance has been helpful. I offer my thanks to the officials in the Treasury, Revenue and Customs and other Departments who have helped us so much. I also thank parliamentary counsel, who constantly work hard behind the scenes and without their essential work we would not make such progress.
I thank Opposition Members for their contribution to the debate and for their hard work in ensuring that the Bill received an excellent level of scrutiny, up until this afternoon. I express my thanks to my stoic friends on the Back Benches who have offered sterling support to my hon. Friends on the Front Bench. I particularly thank my friends, the Economic Secretary and the Exchequer Secretary, and my hon. Friend the Member for Waveney for his assistance working through the usual channels.
We look forward to further deliberations on another occasion. Of course, the Bill does not now go to the Lords, but it has already had scrutiny. [Interruption.] Indeed, Middlesex and Sussex will be at Lord’s this evening. They may have already pulled up stumps, and I hope that we will do the same.
Mr. Hammond: Further to that point of order, Sir Nicholas. I add my thanks on behalf of the Opposition to you and your fellow Chairmen for your excellent and diligent chairmanship. The right hon. lady talked about the stoicism of members of the Committee. Speaking as someone with the campaign medal from the Standing Committee on the National Minimum Wage Bill, sitting until 9 o’clock does not fit into the category of stoicism by the standards of that great marathon. I understand that Government Members feel frustration at the need occasionally to prolong consideration of Government measures, but I ask them to remember that Members of the Opposition, too, feel frustration on the many occasions when consideration of important matters is timetabled. The Finance Bill is one of the rare occasions when timetabling is not imposed. At one time or another, frustration is shared in equal measure on both sides of the Committee.
I also offer my thanks to the Clerks, in particular. Opposition Members, who do not benefit from the official support that Ministers receive, are particularly dependant on the advice from the Public Bill Office and the Table Office, and we are grateful for that advice. I also thank the Hansard writers, the police and the Doorkeepers. I join the Minister in thanking the representative bodies. We have tried to represent their concerns, and if Ministers have not picked them up, we have tried to do so during the Committee’s proceedings.
Finally, I thank the Financial Secretary, the Economic Secretary and the Exchequer Secretary for their hard work in Committee and for their generally good-natured responses to our many inquiries, some of which were designed to try to develop a better understanding of what the Government are about and where they are going. It would be fair to say—you and I had a conversation about it during the break, Sir Nicholas—that all of them have impressed us with their grasp of the detail of their brief and with their readiness to engage fully in the debate and to respond to the questions that were raised.
Mr. Breed: May I add my brief thanks to all of those who have assisted Liberal Democrat Members in many ways? With the paltry resources that we have at our disposal, we rely significantly on a lot of professional help. While, at times this evening, some points made about the new clauses were somewhat tedious and lengthy, I believe that they were in fact important and might have had greater force if they had been more succinct.
Information made available to us and to the general public is a key part of providing the right sort of opposition and legislation. The Government, having introduced freedom of information measures and everything else, still seem to be reluctant to provide basic information to allow Opposition parties, professionals and so on to assist Government, and us, to introduce taxation legislation, which is important to individuals, to the economy of the country and everything else. While several of the new clauses were withdrawn, I nevertheless agreed with their thrust in the sense of trying to get the right sort of information out.
I thank you personally, Sir Nicholas. Your delightful beginnings and endings to most of our sittings were extremely humorous. All I have to say now is that I have yet to work out how much I am going to charge my hon. Friend the Member for Taunton for my volunteering to be here tonight, and letting him go.
The Chairman: The Chairman has the final word. It has been a good Committee to chair—enjoyable and constructive. There have perhaps been the odd down and the odd incident, but on the whole it has been an excellent Committee. I pick up what the hon. Member for Runnymede and Weybridge said: I am hugely impressed by the way in which the Ministers, shadow Ministers and party spokesmen have dealt with an extremely complicated Bill. They had a good grasp of everything that we debated. From the Chair, I congratulate them on their contribution.
Back Benchers, who perhaps have not participated in any major way, have shown patience. In the main you have shown interest, and you have certainly shown forbearance. That has been appreciated by the Chair. Like the party spokesmen, I am particularly grateful to the Clerks, who are very helpful to Chairmen. Hansard, again, is essential, so that what we say here can be transmitted accurately, not only throughout the country, but throughout the world. The police and the Doorkeepers ensure that we have an orderly Committee and an orderly debate. I am grateful to them for their contribution.
I am grateful for what the Committee has said about my co-Chairmen, Frank Cook and Jimmy Hood. I will certainly pass on thanks and good wishes to them. Thank you for being a good Committee. Thank you for what you have done in scrutinising important legislation. Therefore, without further ado, I shall put the Question .
Question put and agreed to.
Bill (except clauses 3,5,6,15,21,49,90 and 117 and new Clauses amending section 74 of the Finance Act 2003), as amended, to be reported.
Committee rose at sixteen minutes past Nine o’clock.
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