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Finance (No. 2) Bill
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 20th October 2010|
Publications on the internet
Finance (No. 2) Bill
Finance (No. 2) Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Simon Patrick, Christopher Stanton, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
The Chair: Before I call the Minister to move the sittings motion, I have a few announcements to make. If hon. Members wish to remove their jackets, they may do so. Will they please ensure that mobile phones and pagers are turned off or switched to silent during the sittings?
As Mr Leslie has discovered already, red document boxes are being provided for hon. Members, which is one of the privileges of serving on this important Committee. They are available in the cupboard to my right and, as a general rule, it will be appreciated if they are returned to the cupboard at the end of the sitting. Adequate notice needs to be given of amendments. Mr Caton, my fellow Chairman, and I do not intend to call starred amendments, which means that members of the Committee will need to be mindful of the short time scale if they wish to table new amendments.
I wish to make a few brief introductory remarks. I welcome you, Mr Chope, to the Chair. It will be a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship and, indeed, that of Mr Caton. I note that you have already highlighted the document boxes, which you described as one of the privileges for members of the Committee; I am sure that they look forward to discovering what other privileges there are, if any. I know that you will provide your usual sage guidance and, while we tackle a somewhat technical Bill, I am sure that you will ensure that our deliberations are kept to the point. I also wish to extend my welcome to Mr Patrick, Clerk to the Committee, who will be assisting you.
This has been a political year, given the general election and the many contentious issues that face the country, and I am pleased to welcome to the Committee the hon. Members on the Opposition Benches. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Delyn and the hon. Members for Nottingham East and for Bristol East on their appointments as shadow Treasury spokespeople. They will no doubt delight at the opportunity to be members of many more Public Bill Committees in respect of Finance Bills, although I hope that they enjoy doing so from the Opposition side of the room, as I did for many years. Furthermore, I am sure that they and the Committee as a whole will be served admirably
I have certainly not forgotten the hon. Member for Strangford, who I know will forcefully represent the views of Democrat Unionists. I shall be joined in later proceedings by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend the Member for Putney, and I know that she will want to extend her welcome to our hon. Friends, all of whom will be considering the Finance Bill for the first time, and also to our coalition partners, the hon. Members for Bristol West and for Solihull. I look forward to hearing enthralling and valuable contributions from them all.
This Finance Bill, more than most, has been a product of consultation and deliberation. Given that 97% of it was proposed by the previous Government, I hope that those on the Opposition Benches are already familiar with the details. We also consulted on the Bill during the summer and received more than 40 responses. I thank all those who worked with the Treasury and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs on the preparation of the Bill, especially those who prepared the draft legislation; the Bill is the better for that. I look forward to our deliberations over the next week and a half, and I am sure that the Committee will approach the Bill with fortitude and dedication.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Chope. I wish you a very good morning, and I look forward to serving under both you and your co-Chair, Mr Caton. Before we begin, I want to thank the team, led by Mr Patrick, that will be assisting you.
I welcome the Minister’s initial comments on the proceedings today. He is right to say that the Bill is, in large part, a Labour Government Bill that he has inherited. Although we will scrutinise it over the next few sittings, we agree with much of it. As the Minister will recognise, it is still the duty of the Opposition to table amendments, to test the Government’s thinking and to ensure that, even with the perfection that the Labour Government put in place, the Bill will be practicable and deliverable on the ground.
I welcome my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham East and for Bristol East, who join me on the Opposition Front Benches as the new shadow Treasury team. I also welcome the Labour Whip, my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, and my hon. Friends the Members for Islwyn, for Edinburgh East and for Wirral South, who are serving on a Public Bill Committee for the first time. I know that Members on the Government Benches will also enjoy the Committee, and I look forward to their possible contributions. However, having served in Government myself, I know that there is often a remit for Government Back Benchers, and they do not necessarily contribute as much as they might like. We will see whether any contributions are forthcoming.
I thank my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby for their discussions on the sittings motion. However, it is
We are sitting today, this morning and this afternoon. According to the sittings motion, we will not be sitting this Thursday—presumably because of the pressures over the comprehensive spending review on Wednesday and the overflow from it. Potentially, we will be sitting on Tuesday morning and afternoon and Thursday morning and afternoon next week. Since my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham discussed this matter with the Government Whip, the business of the House has been announced for Tuesday and Thursday next week. That will be Treasury-led business, on which my hon. Friends from both the Front and Back Benches may wish to make contributions on the Floor of the House, as they follow such matters with interest.
I want to test the Minister on whether he feels that that situation is appropriate for him, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury and the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby; for my hon. Friends the Members for West Ham, for Bristol East and for Nottingham East and me; and, not least, for the Back-Bench Members on both sides, including the hon. Member for Strangford, whom I welcome to the Committee. Would we not potentially wish to look at the challenges that we face on two Bills that are coming up next week?
While the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill is being taken on the Floor of the House on Tuesday, we will be at the Committee’s afternoon sitting, which will presumably commence at 4.30 and go through to 7 pm. If there is no statement in the House, the debate on that Bill will commence at about 3.30 and go through to 10 pm, as is usual for a Second Reading debate. I have studied that Bill with some interest; there are interesting matters in it about which my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol East and for Nottingham East, and my other hon. Friends and I, would wish to say a few words on the Floor of the House. Yet we might find ourselves sitting in this Committee that day.
I do not know about you, Mr Chope—I would not wish to draw you into this political debate in any way, shape or form—but the abolition of the maternity grant of £190 to mothers at their 25th week of pregnancy is a matter of concern to Labour Members. That will be a major issue, on which we will contest the Government during the next few weeks and months. Mothers receive the health in pregnancy grant—
Mr Hanson: I raise those important matters because we find ourselves in two places at once. There are matters before the Committee, but equally there are important matters on the Floor of the House about which we wish to comment. We wish to discuss the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill.
Abolition of the health in pregnancy grant is a key issue, as is the abolition of the child trust fund in the same Bill. We debated that matter previously in Committee, but the abolition of that fund will be enshrined in the Bill. I dealt with the initial discussions on the child trust
Without testing your patience too much, Mr Chope, dare I mention the abolition of the saving gateway scheme in that same Bill? It should have been available from July 2010 but has now been frozen and will potentially be abolished by the Government. In that Bill on Tuesday, saving gateways, child trust funds and maternity grants are big key issues, of which Labour Members were proud. We wished to see those issues developed, but the current Government are now pledged to abolish them. In my view, that will hit some of the poorest people who most need those provisions.
Before I move on to Thursday, I want to remind the Minister that next Tuesday there is a major Bill that hits poor people hardest. Labour Members wish to oppose it, but we will find ourselves in here as members of this Committee dealing with important Finance Bill matters. We will find ourselves as Treasury spokespeople dealing with issues in two places at once.
The comprehensive spending review announcements come tomorrow, and on Thursday next week we will have a full day’s debate on the Floor of the House, probably commencing around 12.30 or 1 o’clock. Again, we will find ourselves—three Treasury shadow spokespeople, the Labour Treasury Whip and interested parties on Labour’s Back Benches—with two Ministers and the Treasury Whip in this Committee from 1 o’clock until 4 o’clock next Thursday afternoon, while there is a major debate on the comprehensive spending review on the Floor of the House. Again, without wishing to widen the debate too much, I simply say that a potential 50% cut has been announced in public sector housing allocations for the relevant Government Department.
Chris Leslie (Nottingham East) (Lab/Co-op): While we are discussing the programme of sittings, it occurs to me that there is one issue that I would like to address. For instance, I ought to have been in Downing street today presenting a petition from my constituents in Nottingham on the cuts to the decent homes grant. Obviously, I cannot do that today, but I would certainly like to be able to raise that on the subsequent Thursday.
Mr Hanson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who will know that a 50% cut in housing grant in England will be devastating in relation to the problems that all Members who represent English seats face in future housing allocations. That is just one issue that we will want to discuss on the Floor of the House while we are in this Committee.
Potential cuts of 30% at the Ministry of Justice were being touted in The Observer on Sunday. On the Floor of the House next Thursday, I will want to know how we are going to fund prison places and community-based sentences if we are facing a 30% cut at the Ministry of Justice. As the former Minister with responsibility for policing and counter-terrorism, I want to know what the expenditure on policing will be given that we face a potential 20% to 25% cut in policing and the loss of 16,000 police officers.
Those important issues will be debated on the Floor of the House next Thursday as part of the comprehensive spending review, while we, rightly, will be scrutinising the Government here in Committee with two Ministers from the Treasury team, three shadow Ministers, the Whips of both parties and Members who often contribute to such debates.
For instance, the hon. Members for Dover, for Solihull and for Elmet and Rothwell, who often intervene on matters relating to public spending issues, will find themselves tied to the Committee at a time when they should be downstairs arguing and discussing important matters of state relating to police funding, justice funding, housing cuts and the defence review—where today we find ourselves with aircraft carriers and no planes to fly on them, strange though that may seem. We find ourselves with unfair choices made in a comprehensive spending review that will hit the poorest hardest and which we want to challenge on the Floor of the House.
Kerry McCarthy (Bristol East) (Lab): My right hon. Friend has listed in detail some of the issues that we will need to debate when we analyse the comprehensive spending review. Is it not shocking that, at the very most—if there is no statement next Thursday—the debate will be timetabled for only five hours on the Floor of the House? Would not the solution be for the Government Whip to try to get a proper debate for the following week that could span a couple of days? We could then serve in this Committee a week on Thursday and also contribute to the comprehensive spending review debate, as we should.
The Chair: Order. That is going too far. We are discussing this Bill and its timetable. The issue of how much time is allocated for the comprehensive spending review debate cannot be our business today.
Mr Hanson: I will try to stick to that guidance, Mr Chope, because it is important that we consider the sittings motion before us. I have tried to tailor my remarks around that motion. The Committee will be discussing the Bill’s 33 clauses and the 14 schedules to it. Those measures relate to important issues. Although there is large-scale agreement, we have tabled amendments so that we can discuss particular points of principle.
We are in a position in which there are two big debates relating to important matters for our constituents to which we wish to contribute. Without wishing to politicise this too much, the proposals in both the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grants Bill and the comprehensive spending review will hit our constituents and the poorest in society hard. They contain unfair choices and cuts in public spending. Those cuts tackle a deficit that we need to tackle, but they are too quick, too deep, unfair and inappropriate. Those are issues that we will want to debate on the Floor of the House.
With the leave of the Committee, I might make a further contribution to this debate, but I would welcome the Minister’s initial view of whether, on reflection, he shares our belief that there might be problems with the
Does my right hon. Friend agree that many of the clauses in the Bill are important to my constituents in Wirral? I am keen to serve diligently and to examine them all, but I am concerned about some of the issues that he has mentioned, most specifically about the comprehensive spending review. Since I became a Member of Parliament, that is what people have contacted me about most, in addition to some of the Bill’s clauses that relate to tax. There does seem to be a conflict, so will he briefly comment on how we can resolve this for the good of all our constituents?
Mr Hanson: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that there is a great deal of trepidation and concern about the impact of the comprehensive spending review. Indeed, I have also received representations on the child trust fund, health in pregnancy grants, the savings gateway and other matters—those issues are important. Although the comprehensive spending review will be announced tomorrow and we do not yet know what it will contain, I read the papers, so I have seen the Government machine gently indicating some of the directions of travel. Even today, Treasury spokespeople wish to debate housing grant cuts, policing and justice cuts, today’s defence review, the potential child benefit changes and the winter fuel allowance, which might be hit. My Back-Bench colleagues in Committee may also wish to contribute, but there seems to be a clash.
I would welcome the Minister’s initial view on whether he regards that as a problem, because we do. I would like some discussion about this, and I would also welcome hearing the views of my hon. Friends about whether they, too, see it as a problem. I hope that the matter can be resolved, either outside the room today or through some other discussion and arrangement. I do not feel that we can proceed with the Committee while such important Treasury matters are being dealt with on the Floor of the House.
There are always clashes between Committee business and business on the Floor of the House, and hon. Members make a choice between them when they sit on Committees. These clashes have arisen, however, since the Bill’s Second Reading last week. Because the debates next Tuesday and Thursday are explicitly Treasury matters for Treasury Ministers and the shadow team, there should be scope for us to consider the arrangements a little more. I would welcome the Minister’s view on those points.
It is also worth pointing out that there is currently a considerable amount of Treasury business. I have no desire to open up the whole debate about our public finances but, such is the state of them, there is a lot for Treasury and shadow Treasury Ministers to do. At a time when we must look at everything that we do to try to work as efficiently as possible and achieve more for less, it is not unreasonable for the Treasury and shadow Treasury teams also to improve productivity and efficiency and to be capable of dealing with two matters at the same time. We believe that we are capable of doing so and I see no reason why Opposition Members should not also be able to cope with such challenges.
Chris Evans (Islwyn) (Lab/Co-op): The scheduling is unfortunate because we are at an important time economically—we have not only the CSR but the defence review. I have a major contractor in my constituency, so I would like to be involved in that debate. Does the Minister have any views on that?
Mr Gauke: As I say, there is always a difficulty for Members because there will always be plenty of things occurring at the same time. For example, I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will wish to be in the Chamber this afternoon to hear the statement on the strategic defence review. However, we must address such challenges to our individual time management on a day-to-day basis.
I am conscious, as the right hon. Member for Delyn rightly said, that the Bill is largely non-contentious. He is right to say that Opposition Members should test the Bill by tabling amendments, making speeches and asking searching questions about it. However, I see no reason why Opposition Members, who include highly capable shadow Ministers, should not be able to deal with the Bill as well as organising themselves so there is sufficient cover in the Chamber to address the matters that the right hon. Gentleman raises. Consequently, I am not persuaded by his argument, however eloquently and passionately he put it, that we need to change the sittings motion.
Mr Hanson: I have listened to the Minister, but I still think that there is an argument for us to look at the matter positively. This is no reflection on the discussions and negotiations that have taken place between my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham and the hon. Member for Scarborough and Whitby, but I think that a significant change has occurred since the initial discussions were held. I suggest to the Minister that we look at amending the motion so that we can meet his objective of completing our proceedings on the Bill in reasonable time and also allow Members on both sides of the Committee to contribute to the two important debates on the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grant Bill and the
If you will allow me, Mr Chope, I would like to table the following amendment: at the end of the Government’s motion, insert, “except that there shall be no afternoon sittings on Tuesday 26 and Thursday 28 October.” That would give us the option of two sittings on 2 November, which is the Tuesday following. Our proceedings might conclude on the morning of 2 November. They might even be completed as early as the morning of Thursday 28 October—we do not know; we go at the pace we go. I do not want to cause the Minister trepidation, so I should say that we could finish the Bill on Thursday morning next week without needing to sit on 2 November. However, if we are faced with sittings on the afternoons of Tuesday and Thursday next week, when the House considers the CSR and the health in pregnancy grants Bill, it might be that my hon. Friends and I will find details in the Finance (No. 2) Bill that we will wish to test even more than we might have done.
I do not think that anything would be lost by accepting an amendment that would allow us to clear Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. We could then attend the health in pregnancy debate and stand up for our constituents who are being unfairly hit by the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Government on pregnancy grants, on the savings gateway and on child trust funds. We could also stand up for them on issues to do with cuts in housing, defence, police and justice, and on tackling the deficit. The Government could get their Bill as early as next Thursday afternoon, and certainly no later than Tuesday 2 November. I commend such an amendment to the Committee and ask whether my hon. Friends or other Members wish to speak to it.
Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab): Like my hon. Friend the Member for Wirral South, I welcome the opportunity to sit for the first time on a Committee of this type. I certainly hope that I will learn a great deal from it that will be useful in the future.
I am particularly concerned about the position of all Back-Bench Members in respect of such debates, because our ability to put forward the views of our constituents and the issues that we have been taking up depends on our presence in the Chamber to indicate that we want to be part of the debate. In some ways, I think the position of Back Benchers is more difficult than that of Front Benchers, who can divide up responsibility for who is going to be where. These are extremely important issues. For example, I made a point in a Westminster Hall debate last week about the number of affordable homes being built and said that the best way to reduce the housing benefit bill would be to build more affordable homes. I was told by coalition Members that if the Government of my party had built more homes, there would not be a problem. To hear this morning that the amount being spent on affordable homes might be halved suggests that if our record in building homes was not as good as I would like, the coalition Members who made that comment last week will have to explain why they are supporting their Government’s proposal.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): I thank the right hon. Member for Delyn for moving the amendment, which represents a satisfactory method to enable us all to participate in the debates in the Chamber next week. As one of the new boys at Westminster, as well as in the Committee, I assure everyone that my job is to try to enable us all to move forward on a satisfactory basis whereby we will have an opportunity to express ourselves on behalf of our constituents. I certainly want the opportunity to participate fully in next week’s debate in the Chamber, and the amendment would give me the opportunity to do so. It is not too much for any of us to ask that the amendment be considered fully and that we all have the opportunity to participate in such debates.
This perhaps tells us a lot about people, but my constituents tell me that they watch the parliamentary channel to see whether MPs are participating in business, after which they give their comments. I want to make sure that everyone has the ability to participate. The issues involved are critical. As someone who represents a constituency in which many will be disadvantaged because of the proposed changes, I want the opportunity to express my feelings. The amendment would give me that opportunity, so I ask members of the Committee to consider it appropriately.
Mr Hanson: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s support. I had the great pleasure of serving for two years as a Minister of State for Northern Ireland and found his constituency to be one of the most beautiful in the Province.
I do not wish to start our proceedings in Committee with a major falling out. The amendment is there to be tested and I will welcome the Minister’s view of it. I would even be happy, if you would agree, Mr Chope, for us to have a five-minute suspension so that the usual channels may discuss the matter—that might be helpful. I served on 24 Bill Committees as a Minister, and I was involved in probably 10 or 11 others as an Opposition Member when John Major was Prime Minister, so I think that I am in order in asking for such an suspension. If that proposal is not accepted, however, I will press the amendment to a Division it because it would give us scope to meet our responsibilities on the CSR, the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grants Bill and the Finance (No. 2) Bill.
I hope that the Minister accepts that I am trying to be helpful. We do not oppose much of this Bill. We want it to reach the statute book. We will ensure that it does so, but we might take a little longer over our scrutiny if we cannot participate in the debates on the CSR and the Savings Accounts and Health in Pregnancy Grants Bill accordingly.
Mr Gauke: I refer the Committee to the argument I made some moments ago that I have utter confidence in the ability of both Government and Opposition Members to perform their parliamentary duties satisfactorily, notwithstanding the fact that there is Treasury business in both this room and the Chamber next week. I also note what the right hon. Member for Delyn said about
Chris Evans: Will the hon. Gentleman take up the suggestion made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Delyn that we have a five-minute suspension so that the matter can be considered by the usual channels?
Mr Gauke: No, that is not necessary. The sittings motion as it stands is perfectly adequate. I hope that we can proceed to the proper scrutiny of the important measures in the Bill. If we are able to do that thoroughly but expeditiously, I am sure that there will be plenty of opportunity for all Committee members to in participate other debates.
Mr Hanson: Before we proceed to a Division, I would be interested to hear whether the Minister’s hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West and for Solihull—given their independence as Members representing a separate party in this great coalition, as well as their position as supporters of the coalition—share his views. I would welcome their interventions so that we can hear their views on the matter and whether the Government are as one on all these issues.
Mr Gauke: Whether my hon. Friends the Members for Bristol West and for Solihull wish to intervene is entirely a matter for them. This matter is not specifically addressed in the coalition agreement. However, for those of us who want to proceed with the Bill, it is entirely reasonable that we do so on the basis of the sittings motion.
That the order in which proceedings are taken shall be Clause 1, Schedule 1, Clauses 2 to 5, Schedule 2, Clauses 6 to 9, Schedule 3, Clause 10, Schedule 4, Clause 11, Schedule 5, Clause 12, Schedule 6, Clauses 13 to 18, Schedule 7, Clause 19, Schedule 8, Clauses 20 to 25, Schedule 9, Clause 26, Schedule 10, Clause 27, Schedule 11, Clause 28, Schedule 12, Clause 29, Schedule 13, Clauses 30 and 31, Schedule 14, new Clauses, new Schedules, Clauses 32 and 33. —(Mr Gauke.)
Chris Leslie: I am sorry that we had such a brief debate on the sittings motion. I was surprised that many Government Members did not express their views. Hopefully, we will hear more from them during the meat—the substance—of the Bill, as we proceed through it. I was hoping that the Minister would take the opportunity to set out to the Committee the substance of clause 1, but I will make my few brief points first in the hope that he will respond to those and that the Committee will then be able to ask the Minister questions if further issues arise.
As I understand it, clause 1 amends the Income Tax (Trading and Other Income) Act 2005 to modernise and update the arrangements for adult placement care and to ensure that the various expenses and tax exemptions are relevant to contemporary circumstances, including the short-term nature of foster care and adult placement care.
As all hon. Members will know from their postbags and constituency work, being a carer is an enormous commitment requiring a great deal of patience, understanding and hard work. It offers young people and adults who need support because of their health or disability a valuable opportunity to live with people who can give them the help that they need. They can share their hobbies and interests with them, enjoy family life and fulfil their potential to the full.
Of course, given the rather circular nature of the time frame in which we are considering the Bill, the measures have their origin in a Labour Administration. I am proud of the fact that there are measures to clarify and simplify the tax treatment of both foster care and shared lives care, to ensure that the costs, expenses and capital allowances are recognised more fairly by the tax system.
The care, support and accommodation for people who need help owing to a learning, physical and/or sensory disability, or perhaps mental health problems, can be costly. Carers are specially recruited, particularly in respect of shared lives care, to provide services in their own homes. That is a positive initiative because not only does it result in less institutionalisation of those in care but it provides respite breaks for families of carers—or, perhaps, cover that would otherwise cause great strain on families and carers during emergencies.
The arrangement also helps to prepare individuals for independent living and independent lifestyles, so it is proper for the Government and Parliament to support and encourage such arrangements. I want to place on the record my own tribute to those among my constituents and across the country who give their time and efforts to be a carer, either for an adult in the shared lives placement or in foster care. They make an incredibly important contribution.
The definitions are set out and we will discuss the first schedule to the Bill later; that sets out some of the arrangements. My points to the Minister are as follows. Can he tell the Committee how many shared lives care arrangements the reliefs will apply to? It was not clear to me, either from the explanatory notes or from associated discussions on the Bill, how many people and families might be falling underneath those particular taxation arrangements. A bit of context would be useful, if the Minister can gather some inspiration.
In a similar way, I wonder whether any work is being done in the Treasury, the Department for Work and Pensions or other Government Departments to project trends in future volumes that might also exist. It is all very well having a snapshot of how many people we are talking about at one particular time, but given the complexity of the tax relief arrangements, I hope that there will be some methodology or way of predicting what the trends in such arrangements might be. We know from the 1980s care in the community arrangements that over the decades care arrangements can change and evolve. I would expect that this more pioneering form of care—the shared lives placement arrangements—might burgeon and grow in future, so I wonder whether there is facility for that in the Government.
On a technical point, can the Minister say whether the provisions relate to the UK as a whole or only to England? Again, it was not clear to me how the provisions relate. Obviously, certain matters are devolved, but that was a specific point that I thought the Minister might know. I wonder whether the Minister has had any other representations from organisations about associated issues related to the costs of foster care, adoptive care, shared lives placements and so forth. In that respect, there is a series of clauses to the Bill, which are probably some of the most substantive of the legislation.
Hon. Members have made a number of points. I was talking to my hon. Friend the Member for West Ham, for instance. She highlighted casework that she had dealt with about anomalies for parents who are involved in foster and adoptive care. For example, statutory adoption pay is available only to people in full-time employment and not to those in casual or self-employment. There is a whole set of anomalies that needs to be addressed in respect of the treatment of reliefs and the grants available to carers. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s comments on such matters.
Mr Gauke: I am sorry if I caught the hon. Member for Nottingham East by surprise, but I am sure that the Committee was anxious to hear from him in full early on. It is a pleasure to respond to the points and questions that he has raised.
Clause 1 introduces schedule 1, which extends the existing relief for foster carers by replacing it with broader qualifying care relief. The changes simplify the
The changes will greatly assist those who operate on a small scale. Using qualifying care relief will encompass many carers who have benefited from the approach on a concessionary basis. The hon. Gentleman asked how many people will benefit as a consequence of the changes, or how many will fall within the category. The answer is about 8,000 carers. We are ensuring that their tax affairs are on a firm statutory basis.
The measure may be familiar to some Opposition Members. As with many of the other provisions in this “housekeeping” Bill, it was announced by the previous Government at last year’s pre-Budget report. Draft legislation was then published for comment. I believe that the change is worth while and welcome, so I have proceeded with it.
As part of this Government’s work to improve tax policy making, however, the clause—like all the others—was published in July to allow for additional consultation, which has been helpful. The measure has been received favourably by carers and their representatives, including The Fostering Network, and National Association of Adult Placement Schemes.
One change has been made to the schedule, to clarify its meaning, that also relates directly to the subject of consultation. In its draft form, the relief might have been construed as applying to other sources of income, so two commas were added to ensure that it can be applied only to income received from caring. I am sure that the hon. Member for Nottingham East will have spotted that, so I have saved his having to highlight it in the debate on the schedule. The change demonstrates some of the benefits of consultation.
The clause has been welcomed by both sides and will offer greater certainty to many carers. At the Budget, we announced that the rule change will take effect this tax year. The relieving clause has retrospective effect to 6 April 2010, which I am sure will not be too much of a problem.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will understand that the trend in the number of carers is not a matter for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Local authorities hold data on the number of carers; HMRC, which administers the relief, deals only with the tax effects and the payments. In answer to another of the hon. Gentleman’s questions, I should say that the measure covers the whole of the UK. I hope that that clarification is useful.
Chris Leslie: I am relieved to know that the measure applies to the whole of the UK. However, it begs the question, especially given the Minister’s answer that it is not for HRMC to project future volumes or look at such issues, whether he and his officials have been in consultation with local authorities across England and with the Scottish Executive, for instance. With whom in those particular organisations has the consultation taken place to make these arrangements?
This all implies that there is a potential burden being moved in the direction of local authorities to make planning arrangements, even though, as I understand it, the revenue implications will certainly fall on the Treasury. If he was not undertaking projections in-house, at least there would be some ongoing dialogue with the people who he says are responsible for the day-to-day running and projections of these issues.
Will the Minister return to the issue about the statutory adoption arrangements and the anomaly through which it applies to those in paid employment, but not to those in casual employment or self-employment? The point is quite important, and I wonder whether he will write to the Committee further about it. The matter has been of concern to hon. Members who, when looking at these particular clauses, thought that it was relevant, given the substance of what we are discussing.
Mr Gauke: I do not think that that last point is directly relevant to the clause, although I always welcome the hon. Gentleman’s raising such matters. I will happily write to him, even though it is not directly related to the clause.
The hon. Gentleman was right to ask about consultation with local authorities. Of course HMRC consults local authorities as appropriate, and as I mentioned in my remarks, the legislation has been out for consultation. It was first published at the time of last year’s pre-Budget report and it was republished in July, when we published the draft Bill. It was out for consultation for eight weeks. So there have been plenty of opportunities for local authorities to make their views clear.
It is also worth highlighting that the matter is one that simplifies the process and makes it easier to run for both carers and, I dare say, local authorities. I think the hon. Gentleman should feel reassured that the clause will not impose an undue burden on local authorities.
The amendment would delete subsection (6) of proposed new section 804A of the Income Tax (Trading and Other Income) Act 2005, which addresses the way in which the shared lives care tax relief arrangements propose to treat a group of siblings—brothers and sisters—placed in the same household as though it was a single placement, no matter how many brothers or sisters are actually placed in the household. Clearly, while there might be ease-of-administration reasons why HMRC wishes to restrict the relief in that particular way, there are surely additional burdens and costs that grow according to the number of related shared lives placements, especially if the people involved are adults. It might be preferable to reflect that in some way in the tax relief system. I can imagine, for instance, that when there are two individuals physically together, while it is important to keep the family unit happy and cohesive, there is obviously an additional burden on the carers
At this stage, this is a probing amendment that is designed simply to seek an explanation from the Minister on how, in circumstances where there are multiple siblings in one household and shared lives placements—that could be an extremely laudable and welcome scenario—there could be a risk of a penalty or disincentive for the carers concerned.
Mr Gauke: I appreciate that this is a probing amendment, and I am sure that I can provide the reassurance for which the hon. Gentleman is looking. Amendment 1 would remove subsection (6) of proposed new section 804A of the Income Tax (Trading and Other Income) Act 2005, as introduced by schedule 1 to the Bill.
The new section deals with the placement cap, which focuses the relief on small-scale arrangements by limiting the availability of the relief to arrangements where no more than three people are cared for at a time. Subsection (6), which covers siblings, qualifies the terms of this limit so that if a carer provides shared lives care for a family group, that will not automatically mean that the placement cap is exceeded. It achieves that by treating siblings as if they were one person for the purposes of establishing whether the placement cap has been exceeded. Without subsection (6), a carer looking after four siblings would exceed the placement cap. This subsection therefore preserves the entitlement to relief in those circumstances.
The hon. Member for Nottingham East rightly said that it would be regrettable if there was a disincentive to keep families together. The provision ensures that families can be kept together. It is worth noting—this might be the hon. Gentleman’s concern—that siblings are not treated as one person when determining the amount of relief available to the carer. For these purposes, the carer would treat each sibling as a separate person for whom qualifying care was provided so that the appropriate amount of relief could be calculated.
I understand that the Opposition want to ensure that there is fair treatment for carers, as we do, but I think that they might have misunderstood the purpose of subsection (6). It does not penalise carers; quite the contrary, it ensures that the placement cap, which affects the relief that they receive, is not exceeded should carers look after siblings. I hope that that explanation is satisfactory to the hon. Gentleman and that he will withdraw his amendment.
Chris Leslie: I am certainly interested to hear the Minister’s points, and I am reassured if it is the case that carers who look after brothers and sisters will not be financially worse off for doing so compared with if they looked after non-siblings or another set of individuals. I think that he is nodding his assent, which is extremely welcome. I do not know whether other organisations will have observations to make on those points but, given the Minister’s reassurance, I am more than happy to beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Chris Leslie: Amendment 2 would change paragraph 12 of schedule 1 to the Bill by adding—for belt and braces purposes, as much as anything else—an additional requirement on the Treasury It raises issues that were first highlighted by the Chartered Institute of Taxation, which hosts a low incomes tax reform group. It made its representations in June, pointing out that one group of carers might lose out under the proposed changes. Mr Robin Williamson, the technical director of the LITRG, asserted:
Specifically, paragraph 12(2) of the schedule sets a new weekly amount for an adult of £250, which I think stands in contrast to the £400 a week received for the first child in a foster care scenario. I would welcome the Minister walking the Committee through exactly how those arrangements will apply, especially in the different circumstances of shared lives placements versus foster care.
I understand that the new fixed amount per residence is worth while, but there are circumstances in which some carers who look after both foster children and an adult placement might lose out. That could be the intent of the Treasury, but I doubt it, or it could be a drafting anomaly. Carers in such circumstances might well risk losing the enhanced weekly amount of £400 under the new rules, when they would have been entitled to it previously. The proposal creates a problem for the particular set of carers who have looked after a number of young people, perhaps some of whom have passed the age of 18. The guillotine age of majority issue does not necessarily change the circumstances of the care that young people require when they move from the ages of 16, 17 and 18 to 19. Even though young people have passed the age of 18, they might still require home support although they are technically adults.
Such circumstances can occur relatively frequently, and such carers might find themselves in the predicament whereby they lose tax relief on income of up to £7,800 per year, which is £400 weekly minus the new amount of £250, multiplied by 52 weeks. That, in turn, could create a tax burden at the basic rate of £1,560—money that would then not be available for use by carers on the children and adults in their care. The Chartered Institute of Taxation has, in particular, urged Ministers to reconsider that aspect of the rules. It would be useful in a wider context to look not only at the point raised by the institute, but at the importance of the fact that the new
Given our debate on clause 1 and the changing nature of care arrangements, we need to have an ongoing review to ensure that carers do not fall into hardship and that they can sustain the costs involved in that care. For young people, that can include school uniforms, sports clothing, school equipment, travelling expenses, babysitting and childminding costs, gifts for birthdays and Christmas, holidays, other educational costs, glasses, playgroup fees, hobbies, sports, activities, passports, adaptations to housing and the general well-being of the child—they are just a few of the miscellaneous costs that will be incurred whether a foster carer is looking after children or in adult placement arrangements. It will be important if the Bill underlines such principles, especially in respect of adult placement care arrangements, which are relatively new to legislation. If we could draw attention to such matters and hold a review, it would be important.
I accept that Labour Members must take responsibility for initiating such technical changes—I am proud that we did so. However, we believe that it would be a fair concession to allow for a review of such arrangements, especially to test for hardship that might result from the new blanket adult weekly amount of £250. Such an amendment would be worth while.
Mr Gauke: As the hon. Gentleman said, such proposals were announced in the previous Government’s last pre-Budget report of 9 December 2009. The PBR stated that the changes would take effect from 6 April this year. Despite that, the measure did not feature in the pre-election Finance Bill so, although the process was initiated at that stage, it is necessary to take it forward under the Bill that we are discussing.
Amendment 2 would commit the Treasury to publishing a review into the impact of the shared lives legislation. It is fair to say that Government and Opposition members of the Committee agree that bringing together reliefs for foster care and shared lives care will benefit carers on the whole. However, the low incomes tax reform group has raised concerns about individuals who may claim both reliefs separately. We believe that that is a theoretical possibility, but the reliefs are in place to make a standard allowance for household expenses incurred, so it would be inappropriate to make two allowances available for the same household expenses. It was certainly never the policy intention that individuals in a position to claim both the existing statutory relief and the extra-statutory concession for adult placement should have an unfair advantage.
As with any policy, HMRC will be monitoring the legislation’s effect in conjunction with interested parties to ensure that it operates fairly. Although Opposition Members make an understandable point through amendment 2, I do not think that it is appropriate for the Committee to accept it. Ensuring that legislation is implemented fairly and properly is important, of course, but it would be burdensome to put such a commitment into the Bill. However, I confirm that we will ensure that we review the measure’s implementation and discuss any cases of hardship with representative bodies. HMRC takes such issues seriously and has told me that it will happily receive representations on the matter.
Amendment 3 would allow carers a further year to apply the new rules. The schedule permits carers to continue to use existing practice until 5 April 2011, although they can choose to use the new rules from 6 April 2010. The proposals were announced almost a year ago, in December 2009, and have been widely publicised and discussed with interested parties. In most instances, the schedule merely has the effect of providing a firm statutory basis for existing practice. For most carers, the transition will be straightforward and have no appreciable effect. Furthermore, after consultation with interested parties, HMRC will prepare guidance, which will be published as soon as possible to support carers in making the change.
Given that the initial announcement was made in 2009 and there is the possibility of a year’s transitional period, carers will have ample opportunity to adapt to the new regime. Also, it would not be appropriate for HMRC to continue extra-statutory treatment for a full year while the parallel legislation is already in place, because that would confuse rather than reassure.
We are have not received any representations—nor are we aware of any—asking for full implementation to be delayed. It is necessary at some point to proceed to implement a process that was initiated nearly a year ago. The Government are committed to being clear in our decisions and to providing time for proper consultation and consideration to ensure that we have made the right choices. It is right that we proceed.
The hon. Gentleman asked about children turning 18 and the guillotine or cut-off point. Children in foster care who turn 18 and are staying with a family often come within staying-put care, which may qualify for shared lives care, depending on the circumstances.
Although I believe that amendments 2 and 3 were tabled with the best intentions and our debate has been helpful, it is clear that neither is needed. I stress, however, that we will review the implementation of the measure and discuss any hardship cases with representative bodies. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.
Chris Leslie: With the leave of the Committee, I shall return to the Minister’s point about amendment 2. I do not quite follow the logic that enshrining in legislation the Treasury’s requirement to conduct a review would be burdensome in any way, although I accept that he is on record as giving a commitment to conduct an ongoing review to ensure that arrangements are up to date and minimise any possible difficulties. Will he give us some indication of what sort of review process that will be? Will officials put contact details on the website for people to use if issues arise? Often, people in those circumstances do not know who to make representations to, and the large, monolithic face of the Treasury is not necessarily the easiest to make representations to, particularly in its current guise.
Amendment 3, which I did not dwell on sufficiently in my original comments, is designed to build on the transitional arrangements that the Treasury had conceived originally. The reason why we want to delete “2011-12” and insert “2012-13” in proposed subsection (2) is to give a two-year transition period so that those affected can opt for the current rules instead of moving straight away to the new arrangements.
We felt it important at least to seek a concession from the Minister because it is reasonable to allow that slightly longer transition to give busy individuals and families the proper opportunity to adjust and come to terms with the extremely complex arrangements. A two-year transitional phase would recognise the time that it takes for families and households to adjust their circumstances and shared life care arrangements to the new financial regime—circumstances that might well take many months to alter, given the human scale and the nature of the issues at hand.
Why two years rather than one? I believe that we need to give help to families in those particular circumstances because, although to many of us 12 months might be ample to move house or change particular arrangements, the financial circumstances in such arrangements require a little bit more care and attention and, possibly, time. If the financial arrangements are changing, the carer’s circumstances may well have to change, and to force that change within 12 months may prompt a premature series of changes in the carer arrangements. That might not be particularly welcome.
I ask the Minister to err on the side of generosity in that respect. I do not believe that it would have a major impact in a financial sense, but I think it could make a vast difference to the carers.
Mr Gauke: I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s further remarks. As far as a review is concerned, I do not think it is necessary to put something on the face of the Bill, nor necessarily have a full formal review with requests for consultation. The Treasury may have a large, monolithic face, but it and HMRC are in continuous discussion with organisations such as the low incomes tax reform group, and we will ensure that we discuss the implementation of this matter with it and other interested parties.
As far as the transitional period is concerned, we have to remember that the reforms are based on an existing relief. Guidance on how this works will be published by HMRC, but in the vast majority of cases, there will not be a substantial change to what is already in place. Consequently, we believe that it is right to proceed. If we tried to run a parallel system over a long time, it would cause more confusion than it would solve. I note the concerns that have been reasonably expressed by the hon. Gentleman, but we believe that it is right to proceed with the reform according to the timetable in the Bill.
Chris Leslie: I think that I have made the point on behalf of Opposition Members, and I do not want to labour it more than is necessary. The officials will also have heard the points. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Chris Leslie: The clause provides income tax relief for particular payments to special guardians, which I understand not to mean those in respect of whom local authorities have legal powers in terms of looking after children, but guardians who do not have full adoptive rights and where there are ongoing and retained rights by birth parents. The clause also makes changes in respect of other carers looking after children placed under residence orders—certain kinship carers. For those unfamiliar with the technical term, kinship carers are grandparents, aunts, uncles and so forth who look after children. The exemption, which I gather will be similar to the current tax arrangement, for payments to those who have an adopted child will apply only to qualifying carers and will have an effect on payments received on or after 6 April. Qualifying payments are payments made in relation to a special guardianship or residence order either by the child’s parents, or on behalf of the local authority, to a qualifying carer.
Qualifying carers are those who care for a child or children placed under them with a special guardianship or residence order when the carer is not the child’s parent or step-parent. Kinship carers looking after a child who has not been placed under a residence order are not qualifying carers for the purpose of the exemption, but will be entitled to the new income tax relief for shared lives care, as we discussed earlier. Will the Minister explain a little more about that treatment of kinship carer arrangements without the residence order and why such carers would not be eligible in such circumstances? There are currently special income tax rules for foster carers, those who have adopted a child and shared lives carers.
I have been told that the decision to tax carers who take on legal parental responsibility for a child in a similar way to those who have adopted a child follows informal consultation about the new income tax relief for shared lives carers. That was set out in Budget press notice 37 when the announcement was made. Will the Minister tell the Committee what that informal consultation about the new income tax arrangements involved? Whom did the Treasury consult? I am slightly wary when I see the phrase “informal consultation” in a formal policy announcement because there is a risk that although officials have their own particular networks, they might not extend their tentacles to organisations that might have a worthwhile and legitimate say but are perhaps excluded. I would prefer more formal consultation arrangements, or at least advertising on websites that are likely to be visited by those with a particular interest.
I am also interested to know whether the Minister’s officials are in touch with the relevant bodies—the Local Government Association, the Association of Directors of Social Services and, when relevant, housing bodies and other organisations involved in shared lives care policy—to ensure that there is widespread notice of the changes being made and that those new arrangements are kept under review. What is the Minister’s view on that point and can he put clause 2 in context?
Mr Gauke: Again, I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments. He described what clause 2 is about: essentially extending the scope of the existing exemption from income tax on certain payments made to support adoptive
The exemption replaces an extra-statutory arrangement that allowed a carer to substitute a fixed rate of expenses for the actual costs of providing care. As with clause 1, the measure was announced by the previous Government in last year’s pre-Budget report on 9 December 2009. We published the clause in draft during the summer and it has been welcomed by carers and their representatives.
The hon. Gentleman asked about the treatment of kinship without a residence order. The kinship circumstances do not include the same parental responsibilities, but those with parental responsibilities will qualify.
Sheila Gilmore : In practical terms, the responsibility of kinship carers, especially grandparents, is equally expensive and has an impact on those carers’ overall family income. Not everyone wants to seek a residence order or believes that to be necessary, and going through the courts for such an order might be expensive. Many people carry out such tasks, so would it not be reasonable to include them? They may be receiving payments under an agreement, for example, although a residence order is not in place.
Mr Gauke: I am grateful for that intervention, but there are differences when particular parental responsibilities and costs are involved. Some people may qualify as having parental responsibilities, but the kinship approach is a slightly different test. The hon. Lady raises an interesting point, and I appreciate the reasons why some carers may not seek a full residence order arrangement with parental responsibilities. None the less, we believe that our approach is reasonable.
Chris Leslie: I just want to know the specific costs that would not fall on the kinship carer but would fall on others. The Minister said that the circumstances are different, but what expenditure would not be incurred?
Mr Gauke: I do not want to become over-sidetracked into a full debate on this point, but it is right to highlight the fact that a kinship carer without a residence order may qualify for shared lives care. That is a slightly different arrangement.
On the informal consultation, the hon. Member for Nottingham East asked whom we consulted. The organisations involved included the Fostering Network, the National Association of Adult Placement Schemes, the fostering and adoption team at the Scottish Executive, the low income tax reform group, the then Department for Children, Schools and Families and the Department of Health. I hope that that provides some reassurance that there was considerable consultation.
I noted that the hon. Gentleman said that he preferred a formal rather than an informal process, but it is helpful at times to have an informal process. Indeed, it is right that the Treasury and HMRC consult informally as much as possible to ensure, particularly in an area with a strong relationship with the then DCSF and the Department of Health, that we can work across Government in a co-ordinated way. It is fair to say that clause 2 has been welcomed. Despite the lengthy consultation, it has not been the subject of great criticisms or concerns.
Sheila Gilmore: I wish to pursue further the matter of kinship carers. At the very least, we have a complex set of provisions. In the interests of simplification, they could be looked at again. It might be the case that a kinship carer is eligible for relief under shared lives care, but that is not self-evident to the average person, which might cause difficulty. There is also a placement cap for the numbers who might be cared for regarding shared lives care. We now have the opportunity to look further at this huge provision of care in many communities. A number of people perform such functions, which are identical in practical and financial terms whether or not they are subject to a legal order. If the Minister does not want to address these matters as part of the passage of this Bill, perhaps he will give a commitment to look at them in the future.
Mr Gauke: The hon. Lady brings considerable expertise to the debate. The clause is helpful in the case of special guardians and those in receipt of residence orders. It is welcomed by all members of the Committee. She raises some wider points of policy that I do not intend to cover in this debate, but she has put some interesting and important points on record.
Chris Leslie: The debate has been useful because it has shed a little light on the different treatment of special guardianship arrangements and kinship carers, although I am not sure whether, in the process of clarifying the arrangements, we have revealed more complexity. I am still not quite convinced of the justification for treating a kinship carer in a different financial way from that for other care arrangements. If necessary, we will want to return to the issue on Report. After listening to the Minister’s illuminating words, however, I shall not object to clause 2 at this stage. We will reserve our right to return to the matter, but it will be useful to see whether his officials can think a little further about it in the weeks to come.
Chris Leslie: I am looking forward to hearing from the Minister about the statutory instrument that he brought to our attention in the previous debate. I hope that it will be subject to the affirmative procedure. I look forward to being a member of the Committee that will discuss it.
Clause 3 will correct technical anomalies in the special capital allowance rules for foster carers and shared lives carers to ensure that the rules operate as intended when individuals start or finish qualifying or being elected for foster care relief. I understand that carers can stay out of the tax regime if they earn below the individual limit for qualifying care relief. If their earnings from the provision of care exceed that limit, however, they can sometimes use the normal tax rules that apply to businesses. That might seem quite unusual, given that we are discussing carers, but such a resource can sometimes be discussed—as we see in the explanatory notes—as though it were a business arrangement. That can include claiming capital allowances for certain plant and machinery.
My obvious question to the Minister is: what sort of capital plant and machinery applies in care scenarios? Will he elaborate on that and describe the particular mechanistic and plant investments that carers might seek to make to gain such a capital allowance?
I am told that the rules seek to prevent excessive claiming of those capital allowances, or double-claiming in excess of the original costs of plant and machinery that were previously relieved. What evidence does the Minister have that there have been abuses of those capital allowance arrangements in the past? Is it to do with computer purchasing or transport or kitchen equipment? What exactly is it and what evidence is there of previous abuse?
If the Minister has gained some inspiration about the sums of money that relate to this, I should be grateful to know what figures are involved in making the changes. Are we moving from one estimate of capital allowance arrangement to a new lower one? What is the Treasury’s estimate of the financial implications of the arrangements?
Will the Minister say how many qualifying carers choose to calculate their taxable earnings as profits, as though they are in a care business? Again, I am not clear about that, because there seem to be two routes that carers can go down. How many carers, does he estimate, treat the situation in that sense and may fall under the capital allowance arrangement? If we are discussing care as “a business”, at what point would qualifying carers come under the inspection regime of—I presume—the Care Quality Commission? When does the number of placements, or people in care who are being looked after by a family, grow so large that it becomes a business that merits an inspection arrangement? I should be grateful if the Minister would answer those specific points about clause 3.
Mr Gauke: Clause 3 amends the capital allowances rule that applies to individuals who are entitled to qualifying care relief. As I explained in the context of clause 1, qualifying care relief provides a simple set of rules for calculating profits for tax purposes, which includes special capital allowances. I ought to say that the hon. Gentleman raises a fair point about what constitutes plant and machinery in such contexts. The glib answer is: anything that qualifies within the capital allowances rules—cars, vans, computers and furniture could qualify under such circumstances. Carers are permitted to claim capital allowances for their care businesses only in periods when they calculate their profits using normal trade rules, rather than the qualifying care relief rules. It follows that carers may be able to claim capital allowances in one year, but not in the next.
Broadly, the special capital allowances rules simplify the calculations required when a carer changes from one profit calculation method to another. The changes under the clause do not reflect a change of policy, but will ensure that the special rules for carers operate consistently and equitably.
It has come to the attention of HMRC that the special rules do not always work fairly or as intended. This legislation has been brought in, not so much as a consequence of observing and identifying abuse of it, but because the law as it stands is flawed and could result in a double relief that is not the intention of the policy. The legislation will prevent double claims and that is the right thing to do.
The hon. Gentleman has asked a fair question on whether this is costing a huge amount of money. The answer is that it is not; the cost is negligible. None the less, it would not be fair to allow the regime to operate in a way we did not intend. The hon. Gentleman has asked how many people will be affected. Some 5,000 carers complete a return and have taxable profits greater than nil. I hope that that is useful background to him.
It might be helpful if I give the Committee an example of how a double claim could operate, because it is a somewhat complicated matter. Currently, an individual may be able to claim allowances in excess of the original cost of an asset. For example, an individual may claim the full cost of a £12,000 minibus in year 1, under normal annual investment allowances rules. In year 2, the carer may use foster carers rules, which are outside the scope of capital allowances. In year 3, they may return to the normal rules, which allow for a capital allowances claim to be made for the market value of the minibus. The individual would have already claimed the
The broad operation of the special capital allowances rules is unaffected by these changes. In particular, it is a feature of the rules that a carer who has claimed capital allowances in one year is not subject to a balancing adjustment on receiving qualifying care relief in the following year. The changes will take effect for accounting periods that end on or after Royal Assent. I hope that the Committee will see fit to include clause 3 as part of the Bill.
Chris Leslie: I am interested to hear the Minister’s further explanation of clause 3. He said that there is not a vast cost involved in tightening up these arrangements—he used the word “negligible”. Furthermore, he said that there do not appear to be many abuses of these double-claiming arrangements. He gave a helpful illustration involving a minibus that might have had a further 25% double relief in year 3. It strikes me that there is an awful lot of HMRC and Treasury effort put into tightening up an arrangement on people who are on low incomes. I wish that the Treasury and HMRC spent as much time tightening up tax evasion and loopholes—those multi-million pound abuses that we know are still exploited by those with the best advice at the higher end of the income scale. I make that observation simply to say that there seems to be a lot of effort and attention going into a particular tax law change where there is neither a great cost nor a massive abuse.
Having said that, there is, I suppose, merit in the theoretical. If it is academically necessary to redraft the legislation, in order to have a full belt-and-braces, tightened-up arrangement for the capital allowances, I suppose that that is worth while. We would not want to leave anomalies there for the sake of doing so. I may have missed this point, but I did ask the Minister about the inspection regime for a family organisation with large numbers of adults or children in care that becomes more business-like and reaches the point where the inspectorate would make inquiries—not with the local authority, but with the family organisation directly. Will the inspectorate get involved at that level? If the organisation is more business-like, the expectation would be that there should be a second look at how that business is operating. I do not particularly object to clause 3, but I wonder whether the Minister would elaborate on my later point.
Mr Gauke: First, I will respond briefly to the point about whether there is substantial abuse. It is of course right that we should seek to tighten those matters before there is a significant cost to the taxpayer, and it is in order to ensure that the capital allowances regime works fairly and consistently that we are taking those steps now. The hon. Gentleman asked about the inspection
Chris Leslie: We move now to an entirely different matter; I will be surprised if any Member can find a link between clauses 1, 2, 3 and clause 4, so there will be a prize for the committed Member who manages it. Seafarers’ earnings are an important matter for those who work at sea. The clause will extend to seafarers who are resident in the European economic area the same 100% deduction from income tax on earnings from employment that is enjoyed by seafarers who are wholly or partly outside the UK during that eligible period; I understand that at present the tax relief is only available to those seafarers ordinarily resident within the UK, but clearly there are seafarers resident in other EEA states who are not ordinarily resident in the UK who might also warrant the seafarers’ earnings deduction.
Would the Minister answer a few specific questions on that change? Would he tell the Committee a little more about the eligible period? I assume that the navigation of waters beyond the UK continental shelf is our main geographical consideration in that regard, and the length of time a seafarer is away from the UK continental shelf presumably has something to do with the definition of the eligible period. Would he set out for the Committee what that is and how many seafarers are involved in that concession, as it is difficult to envisage the point on which we are legislating without a better feel for the number of people affected? I presume that we are talking about merchant seamen, fishermen and so forth, although I want to ask him about other seafarers and whether that will apply to those serving in the armed forces, whether they are in the Navy or not. It is not clear what is and is not included in the definition of seafarer.
In particular, I want the Minister to address a specific and contemporary issue that has been the subject of recent controversy: what discussions have the Government had with the Norwegian and Icelandic Governments in the drafting of that provision? As I understand it, it is a specific clause that is extending to their resident seafarers a set of tax relief arrangements that will be relevant for them. I ask that because, presumably, we will have to require some sort of reciprocity for UK seafarers who may be resident in those countries. To what extent have those Governments offered such reciprocity in tax arrangements?
Has the Minister had an opportunity to speak to his counterparts in the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and, perhaps, the Scottish Executive and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the impact the change might have on the current sensitive negotiations between the European Union and Norway and Iceland over the mackerel quota? Obviously, all hon. Members will be familiar with those. I gather that it has been the recent practice of the Icelandic fishing community to make unilateral changes to the fishing and mackerel quotas. That has caused considerable consternation in some quarters, potentially risking the sustainability of fish stocks and disrupting previously settled agreements. Some people have characterised it as the “mackerel wars”. Representatives of the trades within those countries are undertaking sensitive negotiations, with which the Minister will be familiar. It strikes me as something that needs further thought. When there is such great sensitivity, is this an appropriate moment for the Treasury to grant a tax concession to Icelandic fisherman?
Jim Shannon: The hon. Gentleman is absolutely correct in his interpretation; the fishing community are deeply annoyed and many feel that their quota has been taken away from them. “Steal” may be too strong a word, but they certainly feel strongly. I have asked for a meeting with the Minister with responsibility for fisheries, the hon. Member for Newbury (Richard Benyon), which is happening next Monday, so there will be an opportunity to raise the matter then. There is a lot of anger, dismay and concern, which the hon. Member for Nottingham East has put forward clearly.
Chris Leslie: The hon. Gentleman raises the point that this is about not simply the Scottish Executive, but Northern Ireland, and all those seafarers and fishermen and women who may come into contact with fishermen from Iceland in particular. I would like the Minister to update the Committee on those negotiations, as well as say whether a tax concession is the right thing at this juncture. It may upset the balance and, in the process, perplex fishermen in our country. Why are we giving a tax concession now to those whom they perceive as having taken unilateral actions that cut across international agreements?
Given changing technologies that broaden the classification of those involved in maritime navigation, does the Minister plan to change the definition of “seafarer”? Some of those who work in mobile drilling rigs, including semi-submersibles, jack-ups and similar vessels, perhaps in the oil and gas industry, and operate vehicles that could be used in navigation do not fall within the definition of “seafarer”. Why are those seafarers excluded?
Chris Evans: Does not my hon. Friend think that “seafarer” is too general in this case? Perhaps we should be more specific about what a seafarer is. I think that he was developing that point, so I shall leave it there.
Mr Gauke: Clause 4 amends the provisions for deductions from seafarers’ earnings. The change will put seafarers who are resident for tax purposes in a European economic area state but who are not ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom on the same footing as UK residents.
It may be helpful if I provide some background. The seafarers’ earnings deduction allows a UK resident to claim 100% deduction from their earnings from employment as “a seafarer”. The definition of seafarer includes merchant seamen and fishermen, but Navy personnel do not qualify and never have. The deduction was claimed by 16,000 UK ordinarily resident seafarers in the tax year 2007-08. The duties of the employment must be performed wholly or partly outside the United Kingdom during an eligible period, which the hon. Member for Nottingham East has asked about. The eligible period can be 365 days outside the UK in one period, or a combined period in which 183 days are spent outside the UK.
The European Commission decided to challenge the compatibility of seafarers’ earnings deductions with the UK’s treaty obligations by way of a formal reasoned opinion, which was issued in June. The Commission takes the view that the relief is strictly limited to those who are ordinarily UK residents.
Jim Shannon: Will the Minister clarify a point in relation to fishermen and their earnings? There is a difference between ordinary fishermen and share fishermen and, particularly in Northern Ireland, share fishermen have a different role. Is there a different category for them? Do they fit into different criteria or are they all treated the same?
Mr Gauke: Assuming the qualification of those fishermen on eligibility and geographical fronts, there is not a further distinction, as I understand it. Potentially, depending on those conditions being met, the deduction may well apply in the circumstances that the hon. Gentleman has outlined. I add that there are questions as to the definition of ship and what constitutes a ship for such purposes. The hon. Member for Nottingham East rightly recalled some of the controversy that has existed in recent years relating to oil and gas platforms that are not seen as ships. That has been an ongoing debate that I know the previous Government were very much engaged in.
We have a difficulty that we are seeking to address. I should also add, as inspiration arrives, that share fishermen are generally counted as self-employed. The seafarers’ deduction only applies to employees, so it is possible that if they are self-employed, some of the individuals
The Commission takes the view that the relief is strictly limited to people who are ordinarily UK residents. To avoid any uncertainty for taxpayers, the Government have decided to amend the provisions to enable seafarers who are resident for tax purposes in an EEA state and who meet the eligibility criteria to claim the deduction. The criteria require duties to be performed on a ship wholly or partly outside UK waters for an eligible period of at least 365 days. I set out the circumstances of combined trips.
Chris Leslie: On the point about being ordinarily resident in the UK, would Irish passport holders who are resident in Northern Ireland and who may be defined as GB citizens also come under the definition of ordinarily resident in the UK?
Mr Gauke: That would depend on the particular circumstances of those passport holders, but if they are ordinarily resident in the UK they would be ordinarily resident in the UK for tax purposes. That is not a definition that is dependent upon nationality. There is obviously a difference between nationality and residence.
The hon. Gentleman also raised the issue of Norway and Iceland. This is not part of those discussions. It is necessary to bring in this clause to comply with our EU and EEA obligations. Iceland and Norway are members of the EEA; I am not sure that there is an issue with the third member of the EEA, Liechtenstein, in this context. We wait to see. It is worth pointing out that UK citizens will be free to make similar claims in other EEA countries where there are similar rules to support seafarers. This is about bringing consistency of treatment for all EU and EEA citizens. As has been pointed out, there is an Adjournment debate on the fishing rights issue, but this is very much a different debate. I do not intend to detain the Committee on that point.
This clause has not been driven by our negotiations with Norway and Iceland. This is a pragmatic response. It provides greater clarity and is helpful here. Again, we do not expect this to have a substantial impact on the Exchequer. We think that something in the region of 5,000 individuals would benefit from the extension of seafarers’ earnings deductions. We have had consultations with the relevant parties such as the British Chamber of Shipping and unions such as Nautilus International, Unite and NUMAST, on behalf of employees. No particular concerns have been raised with us, so I suggest that the clause should stand part of the Bill.
Chris Evans: My major concern, as I said in my intervention, is about the definition of a seafarer. The hon. Member for Strangford referred to share fishermen and there are all sorts of definitions that cover everything. Could the Minister define exactly what he means by seafarer as there needs to be a clear definition of the people who will be affected?
I am deeply concerned about mackerel wars. The Minister talked about consultation with the various unions. The British Ports Association has also been
Mr Gauke: As I said earlier, this clause does not relate to the mackerel wars. This is a separate issue. I do not intend to get into that matter. This is an issue that the hon. Gentleman would most effectively raise with DEFRA and DEFRA Ministers. This is on a narrow tax issue.
Chris Leslie: I understand that the Treasury wants to pull the blinkers over its face and say that it is not something that affects the Treasury, but it does affect the Treasury. The Government are supposed to be one Government, although I know that they are fragmented in any number of ways, depending on the time of day.
If sensitive negotiations are going on between people who feel deeply aggrieved because their carefully divided quota arrangements on long-standing fishing settlements have been violated by the unilateral actions of one country—in this case, the allegation is against Iceland—and if those fishermen feel that they must regain their position and settle the situation properly, how does the Minister think they would feel about the British Government’s giving a tax concession at the same time to those very Icelandic fishermen? It would feel difficult to understand, would it not?
Mr Gauke: It would, but that matter is not related to the clause. The clause has not been brought in as a consequence of lobbying by the Icelandic or Norwegian Governments. It is a consequence of the view taken by the European Commission about the operation of the seafarers’ earnings deduction and the belief that the rules, as they currently apply, do not comply with our treaty obligations.
We are providing clarity. There is no evidence to suggest that it will be Icelandic or Norwegian nationals who will benefit specifically from the extension, although of course if they are ordinarily resident in the United Kingdom they will be able to benefit from it, just as those seamen who are ordinarily resident in Norway or Iceland will be able to benefit from comparable arrangements.
Perhaps I may also respond to the point about the definition. It is a broad definition: someone who works on a ship. There has been some controversy before, to which I alluded, about the definition of “ship”, because that does not include offshore installations. The original policy purpose behind the seafarers’ earnings deduction was to assist the merchant navy and to ensure on strategic grounds that we have capability in the area in question. The seafarers’ earnings deduction continues to achieve that. I hope that that provides some useful clarification for the Committee.
Chris Evans: On another related point, about the mackerel wars, I do not think that the Bill should be presented in isolation from the world view. We have already seen that theoretically the Government want to close loopholes. Theoretically the measure could aid Norwegian and Icelandic seafarers. In view of the fact that it is a live issue, we should not act as if we are
Mr Gauke: It is not a related issue. I am finding it hard to resist making a pun and calling the Opposition’s argument a bit of a red herring. It is the Finance Bill, and such moments come all too rarely.
The issue of the mackerel wars is important, but it is not relevant to the clause. We need to make the change to comply with our EU duties and to prevent infraction proceedings. That should not be seen as some great concession to Iceland or Norway. It is necessary to enable us to comply with our European Economic Area obligations. It provides clarity. In practice, it will probably not benefit large numbers of individuals, but nevertheless it puts the clause on a good and sustainable footing.
It is worth pointing out that we think that most of the individuals who will benefit will be east European nationals. As I have said, the representative bodies and unions that have strong views on our relationship with Norway and Iceland in the relevant areas have no objections to the clause, because they recognise that it is not part of those negotiations. It is something that we need to do.
I am not quite content that I have had sufficient clarity from the Minister about the reciprocity of arrangements, or the point at which the Icelandic and Norwegian Governments will also be enacting mirroring tax provisions and ensuring that they also apply to UK seafarers in a contemporaneous scenario. Constantly reiterating that this is not relevant to the discussion does not actually make that the case—the controversy over mackerel quotas is of great concern to many people.
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