Jesse Norman leads the Finance (No.2) Bill through the Committee stages in the House of Commons.
The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)
The Government have delivered an unparalleled package of support during the covid-19 pandemic, providing over £352 billion for public services, workers and businesses. This response has been fair and balanced, with the poorest households benefiting the most from the Government’s interventions. It is now necessary to take steps to ensure the sustainability of the public finances and continue to fund our excellent public services. Our approach to fixing the public finances will therefore also be fair and balanced. The fairest way to put the public finances on a more sustainable footing is to ask all taxpayers to play their part, as well as asking those people able to contribute more to do so. That is why, in these parts of the Bill, the Government are legislating for freezes to the personal allowance, higher rate thresholds, the inheritance tax thresholds, the pensions lifetime allowance and the annual exempt amount in capital gains tax. The Government are also making sensible changes to the tax treatment of coronavirus support payments and exemption-related adjustments to account for the impact of the pandemic.
Given the number of speakers and amendments, I will try to keep my remarks relatively brief. Before I turn to the changes announced at Budget, let me touch on clauses 1 to 4. These are legislated for every year and are essential for the Government to be able to collect the right amount of income tax for the tax year 2021-22.
I come now to the clauses that legislate to maintain thresholds. These clauses are an essential part of a fair and responsible fiscal approach to fixing the public finances. Clause 5 maintains the income tax personal allowance and the basic rate limit at their 2021-22 levels from April 2022 until April 2026. This is a universal, progressive and fair measure being taken to fund public services and rebuild the public finances, and it ensures that the highest-earning households will contribute more. Indeed, the top 20% of highest-income households will contribute 15 times that of the bottom 20% of lowest-income households.
I shall now respond to amendments 2 to 4 and new clause 7, which relates to clause 5. Amendments 2, 3 and 4 seek to delay the decision to maintain the income tax personal allowance and higher rate threshold until April 2023. The Office for Budget Responsibility forecast that UK GDP will reach its pre-virus peak by the second quarter of 2022. The Bank of England forecast that it will happen at the beginning of 2022. In the light of those estimates, it is reasonable and fair for the Government to uphold the start of this policy from April 2022. Nobody’s take-home pay will be less as a result of this decision. For most taxpayers, any real-terms loss will be very small in 2022-23. I therefore urge the right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) not to press the amendments to a vote.
New clauses 12 and 23 would require the Government to publish equalities impact assessments for all the measures in this debate, and new clause 8 would require the Government to publish an equalities assessment of existing income tax thresholds. New clause 8 would also require the Government to publish distributional analysis on two changes that do not constitute Government policy—namely, reducing the additional rate threshold to £80,000 and introducing a supplementary 50% rate of income tax for income above £125,000.
The Treasury carefully considers the equality impacts of the individual measures announced at fiscal events on those who share protected characteristics, in line with both its legal obligations under the public sector equality duty and its strong commitment to issues of equality. The Treasury already publishes comprehensive assessments of income tax threshold changes. Alongside the Budget, the Government have published detailed distributional analysis of the decision to maintain income tax thresholds, both at a household and on an individual basis. The new clauses therefore do little to provide meaningful additional analysis further to the Government’s existing comprehensive publications, and I therefore urge Members not to press them to a vote.
Clause 28 makes changes to maintain the pensions lifetime allowance at £1,073,100 until April 2026. This will limit the pensions tax relief available to those with the largest pension pots and supports the Government’s objective of a system of pensions tax relief that is fair, affordable and sustainable. Clause 40 maintains the capital gains tax annual exempt amount at its 2020-21 level of £12,300 for individuals and personal representatives and £6,150 for most trustees of settlements for the tax years 2021-22 up to and including 2025-26. Maintaining the annual exempt amount at a 2020-21 level is a responsible decision, consistent with the decisions that the Government have taken to maintain the value of the other main allowances over the same period.
Clause 86 maintains inheritance tax thresholds at their 2020-21 levels until April 2026. This means that the nil rate band will remain at £325,000 and that the residence nil rate band will remain at £175,000. The tapering of the residence nil rate band will continue to start when the net value of an estate is more than £2 million. Maintaining these thresholds is forecast to contribute almost £1 billion over the next five years to help to rebuild the public finances, but this approach still ensures that more than 94% of estates will not be liable for inheritance tax in each of the next five years. Taken together, this Government’s approach to thresholds across the tax system is clear evidence of a fair and consistent fiscal strategy to repair the public finances while continuing to invest in public services.
Clauses 24 to 26 make minor adjustments to exemptions to account for the impact the coronavirus pandemic has had on businesses and workers. Let me also address one proposal relating to clauses 25 and 26. New clause 11 would commission a review of the changes relating to the employer-provided cycles exemption. I am happy to reassure the Committee that the terms of that exemption have not changed and only a minor time-limited easement is introduced by this Bill. It is not therefore necessary to review the changes. Clauses 31 to 33 relate to the Government’s package of support payments for individuals and businesses during the pandemic. Clause 31 makes changes to ensure that the one-off £500 payment to eligible working tax credit claimants announced at Budget 2021 is not subject to income tax. This will ensure that the recipients of the tax credit benefit in full and that the payment meets its objective of providing additional support to low-income working households.
Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
Has the Minister had any discussion with the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group, which has indicated to me some of its concerns about how Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs required claims from individuals? It is a delicate matter, but there is problem there. Has he had an opportunity to discuss it with the LITRG?
The hon. Gentleman will be pleased to know that I maintain a strong dialogue, through officials, and from time to time in person, with the LITRG and I have no doubt that the input it has given has been carefully considered in this regard. If he would care to write to me with his specific concern, I would be happy to pick that up as well.
It is right that HMRC has powers to tackle fraud and abuse of the self-employment income support scheme and that the Government provide legal clarity that SEISS grants are liable for income tax in the year of receipt. Clauses 31 and 32 will allow payments made in support of individuals and businesses by the Government to meet their objectives as far as is possible. Opposition amendments 15 and 92 are already comprehensively addressed by existing policy, and I ask that Members do not press them to a vote. Clause 33 makes changes to ensure that the repayments of business rates relief are deductible for corporation tax and income tax purposes. This ensures that any repayments of support are dealt with appropriately.
Taken together, these measures will help the Government to continue to support individuals and businesses through the coronavirus pandemic, and they will also begin to put the public finances on a sustainable footing as we continue to move out of the pandemic. I therefore ask that clauses 1 to 5, 24 to 26, 28, 31 to 33, 40 and 86 stand part of the Bill.
It has been a good debate and I thank all Members who have taken part. Let me pick up some of the key themes that were described, one of which is the impact on taxpayers of the measures the Government have taken to address and fix concerns about the public finances.
The hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray) raised this issue. As he will be aware from wider conversation and scrutiny, the Bill places a burden of £40 a year on the average basic rate taxpayer and no increment in take home pay. We think that a balanced and fair approach is one that is widely based and progressive. As I indicated, the top 20% of tax-paying households pay 15 times the rate of the bottom 20%. He was asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs (Andrew Griffith) whether he supported new clause 7, which would raise tax to 55%, and his was an eloquent silence in response. I would be interested to hear in the next debate whether he does support new clause 7’s bid to raise the top rate of income tax to 55%, but I will come to that later.
The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) raised the question of antibody tests. As she will be aware, antigen tests, which are subject to the relief in the Bill, are connected to employment, whereas antibody tests are not, which is why the relief does not extend to them. It is, however, fully open to the Scottish Government, who have capacity to raise tax revenue themselves, to fund antibody tests if they so choose. She has raised the issue and we can assess whether the Scottish Government wish to follow her lead in funding those tests.
The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) described the tax measures in the Bill as a stealth tax rise. It is an interesting version of a stealth tax rise that is announced in a Budget statement at the Dispatch Box in the House of Commons. He was right when he said earlier that there was an honest disagreement here, and that is what there is. The Government’s view is that there should be a progressive, broad-based approach to fixing the public finances that begins at an appropriate time once the recovery is under way, and that remains the case.
The hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) declaimed the delay in the corporate tax rise. I remind her, since everyone is widely quoting the Resolution Foundation, that it said that the Government
“rightly sought to boost the recovery before turning to fixing the public finances”—
and it was right. She was opposed to the measures relating to the freeze on pensions in the Bill and appealed to the experience of ordinary people. Since the amount in question is over £1 million and the average financial savings in this country are something under £7,000, and since the lifetime allowance is itself seven times the median pension pot, I think that she is not using a definition of ordinary people that will be shared by Members of this House.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood) talked about the uncertainty involved, and he is right. We are coming out of a pandemic. There is a degree of uncertainty in the economic situation. That is why the Government have delayed, in the way that the Resolution Foundation has applauded, raising tax on corporations in order to start to restore the public finances. That is why it is right that we have taken a fair and balanced approach to this topic.
The hon. Member for Leeds East (Richard Burgon) spoke in support of his 55% tax rate—not a view shared by the Labour Front Bench. I remind him that HMRC ran a study of the 50% tax rate a few years ago and discovered that it was inefficient, raised far less than had been expected and was distorting tax behaviour. That is not a good recipe.
The hon. Member for Streatham (Bell Ribeiro-Addy) was concerned about the progressivity of these measures, but, as she will see if she looks closely, both the UK tax system at the moment and the changes themselves are highly progressive.
The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) raised the question about the risk of fraud in schemes. Of course, he is right to note that. He had some concerns about reclaims in the self-employment income support scheme. All I would say is that the scheme is well understood. It is very widely publicised. Guidance has been available on the internet and in many independent bodies for many months. If people have claimed income support through that scheme for which they are in fact not eligible, it is appropriate to reclaim the sum overpaid. That is the principle that we seek to apply elsewhere in the tax system because it, too, is a fair and equitable one.
Clauses 6 to 14 and schedule 1 establish the charge and set the rate of corporation tax at 19% for the financial year beginning in April 2022, and establish the charge and increase the rate of corporation tax to 25% for the financial year beginning in April 2023. They also introduce a small profits rate at 19% for companies with profits of £50,000 or less, with marginal relief for companies with profits between £50,000 and £250,000; and they increase the diverted profits tax rate by 6 percentage points, in line with the increase in the main rate of corporation tax. Finally, they introduce a capital allowance super-deduction for investments in plant and machinery.
At 19%, the current rate of corporation tax is the lowest headline rate in the G20 and significantly lower than in the rest of the G7. However, given that the Government have used the full weight of the public finances to support businesses during the pandemic, protecting thousands of businesses with more than £100 billion-worth of support, it is right that, as the economy rebounds and businesses return to profit, they share in the burden of restoring the public finances to a sustainable footing. That is why the Chancellor announced at Budget that the rate of corporation tax will increase to 25% from April 2023, after the economy is forecast to recover to its pre-pandemic level.
While many businesses are struggling now and the Government are continuing to provide support for them, others are sitting on large cash reserves. To unlock those funds and support an investment-led economic recovery, from April 2021 until the end of March 2023 companies will be able to claim a 130% capital allowance super deduction on qualifying plant and machinery investments. This super-deduction makes the UK’s capital allowance regime truly world-leading, lifting the net present value of our plant and machinery allowances from 30th in the OECD to first.
Given the number of amendment and the number of speakers, I will try to keep my remarks relatively brief. Clause 6 sets the main rate of corporation tax at 25% from April 2023. The OBR forecasts that this will raise over £45 billion in the next five years. It should be noted that 25% is still the lowest headline rate in the G7—lower than in the United States, Canada, Italy, Japan, Germany and France. The clause also sets the main rate of corporation tax at 19% for the financial year beginning on 1 April 2022. That means the higher rate will not come into force until well after the point when the OBR expects the economy to have recovered to its pre-pandemic level.
To protect businesses with small profits from a rate increase, clause 7 and schedule 1 introduce a small profits rate for non-ring fence profits for the financial year beginning 1 April 2023. As a consequence, only around 10% of actively trading companies will pay the full main rate.
Clause 8 makes changes to increase the rate of diverted profits tax to 31% from 1 April 2023, along with apportionment provisions for accounting periods straddling the commencement date. This will maintain the current differential between the main rate and ensure the diverted profits tax remains an effective deterrent against profits being diverted out of the UK.
Clauses 9 to 14 make changes to encourage firms to invest in productivity-enhancing plant and machinery assets that will help them grow, and to make those investments now. Clause 9 introduces new capital allowances available for expenditure incurred by companies between 1 April 2021 and 31 March 2023. These include a 130% super deduction for new main rate plant and machinery and a 50% special rate first-year allowance for new special rate plant and machinery
Business investment fell by a record £12 billion between the first and second quarters of last year. Making capital allowances rates for plant and machinery investments more generous has the effect of stimulating business investment and enhancing productivity. As firms invest, they create new, or substitute better, assets for use in production. That increases labour productivity, as workers produce more output per hours worked through the use of new equipment that enables faster, higher-quality outputs.
The measure will greatly benefit British companies of all sizes, including those investing more than the £1 million annual investment allowance threshold, which are responsible for around 80% of total plant and machinery capital expenditure. The changes made by clauses 9 to 14 will allow all companies to reduce their taxable profits by 130%, or 50% up front, all in the first year—a cash-flow benefit powerful enough to encourage businesses to invest now. We expect the measure to cost around £25 billion over the scorecard period.
Opposition Members have tabled a number of amendments to clauses 6 to 14. Amendments 55 to 62 propose the removal of the associated companies rules that apply to the small profits rate. The rules will affect a small proportion of companies, but they are an essential feature of the regime to prevent profitable businesses from fragmenting in order to take advantage of a lower rate or creating unfair outcomes, and they were a feature of the previous regime on which these rules are based. In the absence of the rules, a consultant, for example, could provide his or her services through five companies with profits of £40,000 each and benefit from the small profits rate. I cannot believe that Opposition Members, or indeed any Member, would support that form of avoidance: restructuring in order not to pay the tax.
Several of the new clauses call on the Government to publish a review of the impact of these clauses and potential alternative policy approaches. The Office for Budget Responsibility considers the impact of policy changes in its fiscal forecasts and sets them out in its “Economic and fiscal outlook”, which is published alongside the Budget. Therefore, I can reassure Opposition Members that new clauses 17 and 20, which request reviews into the revenue impacts of a potential global minimum tax rate and the impact of the small profits rate, are not necessary.
New clauses 13, 19 and 21 request reviews into the investment and various economic impacts of clauses 6 to 14 across the UK. The economic impacts of the clauses have been reflected in the OBR’s forecasts published in its “Economic and fiscal outlook”, as were the impacts of reductions in the rate of corporation tax. The fiscal impact of any future agreement on international tax reform will be reflected in subsequent “Economic and fiscal outlook” documents.
Opposition Members have also tabled several amendments relating specifically to clauses 9 to 14. Amendment 11 would reduce the level of the super deduction to the current writing down allowance of 18% for main rate assets. That would have the effect of removing all the benefit conveyed by this groundbreaking new policy for shorter-life assets, while the benefit of a 50% first-year allowance for longer-life assets would remain. That would distort investment behaviour in favour of longer-life assets and reduce the positive benefits of the policy.
Various other amendments seek to restrict the relief only to certain companies, or require companies that claim the super deduction to meet more burdensome conditions than would be required for other first-year allowances. The super deduction is an intentionally broad-based tax relief, designed to ensure that as many companies as possible are able to benefit from this very generous policy, in order that they can invest in their own future to drive the economic recovery.
Regarding a new requirement for country-by-country reporting, I am pleased to say that this Government have championed tax transparency both at home at abroad. That is demonstrated by the requirement introduced in 2016 for large businesses to publish their annual tax strategy, containing detail on the business’s approach to tax and how it works with HMRC. However, the Government continue to believe that only a multilateral approach to public country-by-country reporting with wide international support would be effective in achieving transparency objectives and avoiding disproportionate impacts on the UK’s competitiveness, or distortions regarding group structures. The Government firmly believe that that should remain voluntary and that no further legislation is needed unless and until public country-by-country reporting is agreed on a multilateral basis.
New clauses 2 and 6 would have the effect of delaying the super deduction, but to delay the policy now would be highly irresponsible and would risk holding up the economic recovery that the policy will help to stimulate. The likely real-world effect of delaying the implementation of the super deduction would be that businesses would delay investment until they had certainty on whether the super deduction would be available. At a time when investment is most needed, delaying the implementation of the super deduction would thus have negative impacts on employment, growth and wages. Various other amendments would delay the measure, narrow its scope or replicate existing analysis and safeguards, and I urge the Committee to reject them.
The Government continue to provide unprecedented support for small businesses in response to covid-19, as evidenced by many new measures announced at this Budget. That includes over 350,000 business properties paying no business rates for a further three months, with the vast majority of eligible businesses receiving a 75% relief across the year. Many small businesses will also benefit from the freeze in fuel duty. The new small profits rate of 19% for businesses with profits of £50,000 or under means that around 70% of active trading companies will benefit from no increase in their corporation tax rate. These smaller companies will benefit from all the policies I have set out, as well as the super deduction, in line with the rules that operate regardless of the size of the business.
Clauses 6 to 14 and schedule 1 raise revenue by increasing the main rate of corporation tax while keeping that rate competitive relative to our international peers and supporting an investment-led recovery through the introduction of a super deduction that is unprecedented in its generosity, and they should therefore stand part of the Bill.
I am grateful for the contributions that have been made to this debate. It saddened me, however, that Labour Members seemed to be reading off a single piece of paper in so many of their speeches. I encourage them not to follow the script slavishly but to actually think about what they say.
The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) put the matter at its most plain when she argued that because 99% of businesses benefit from the annual investment allowance, it meant the super deduction benefited only the remaining 1%. Of course, that is completely wrong. The super deduction benefits all businesses that are in a position to take advantage of the eligible deduction it provides, and that is better than the annual investment allowance. The whole premise of the arguments advanced by the Opposition is wrong. The fact is that tax reliefs are an understood and established part of tax policy; they are not to be thought of merely as giveaways. A raft of international authorities have testified to the benefits of greater investment allowances, including full expensing, and our proposal goes some way beyond that. We need to see it in that context.
The UK already has a rather competitive intangibles regime, and the productivity challenge that we face as a country is focused on the tangible assets and therefore it is on those that this super deduction is aimed.
The hon. Member for Ealing North repeated the line about small businesses, but also asked whether the super deduction was somehow extremely vulnerable to exploitation by malfeasant tax actors. I can tell him that the deduction has been very carefully assessed and includes important exclusions, including as to related party transactions and second-hand assets. It also includes a new anti-avoidance provision, which is designed to give it additional protections.
It is true that this is a country that takes the question of tax avoidance and tax manipulation extremely seriously. The right hon. Member for Barking (Dame Margaret Hodge), who has been a great campaigner in this area, focused on that. Of course I cannot discuss individual taxpayers. No one knows what an individual company’s taxpaying arrangements are. She purported to know—that is her privilege—but I am not in a position to discuss that. None the less, I can tell her that it would be very bad policy indeed for any Government to base tax policy on a single employer or taxpayer. If she thinks that this country has been soft in any respect on tax, let me remind her that we have led the international charge on base erosion and profit shifting, on diverted profits taxes, and on the corporate interest tax restriction. We have put into law a digital services tax and are consulting on an online service tax. That is not the action of a Government who take these things in any way other than very seriously.
I join my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) in emphasising, as he rightly did, that we need businesses to be as productive, effective and successful as possible, because they are the anchors of successful and effective employment and of the profit generation on which our tax base, and therefore the funding we need to support public services, rely. It does not follow from the fact that the Labour party is confused on corporate taxation that we should not have a policy that supports business in developing, investing and building our collective economic future.
I rise to speak in support of clauses 109 to 111, schedules 21 and 22 and amendments 43 to 52.
The clauses will act in support of the Government’s freeports programme, which is designed to unlock investment in eight regions of England so far, with more to follow in the devolved Administrations. At Budget, following an open and transparent bidding process, the Chancellor announced the locations successful in securing freeport status: East Midlands airport, Felixstowe and Harwich, Humber, Liverpool city region, Plymouth and South Devon, Solent, Teesside, and Thames.
Freeports will be national hubs for international trade, innovation and commerce, regenerating communities across the UK by attracting new businesses and spreading jobs, investment and opportunity. They will bring together ports, local authorities, businesses and other key local stakeholders to achieve a common goal of shared prosperity and opportunity for their regions. In doing so, they will help in the Government’s ambition—indeed, all of our ambition—to level up areas that have been left behind.
The Government’s freeports model enables the UK to take advantage of the benefits of leaving the European Union. The Government have drawn on examples of successful freeport programmes all over the world to develop freeports that will attract significant new investment and encourage development across the UK. The model will enable businesses in freeports to draw on benefits relating to customs, planning, regeneration and innovation, as well as the offer of targeted tax reliefs supported by the clauses in the Bill.
The Government have engaged extensively with ports, local authorities and industry, including through a consultation on the wider programme running between 10 February and 13 July 2020. We have also listened to feedback from a wide range of stakeholders to inform the development of an effective model that will benefit port areas across the UK.
For the reasons already outlined in the earlier debates, I will confine my remarks to the key points at issue. Clauses 109 to 111 give the Government the power to designate tax sites and, once sites have been designated, to provide relief within those sites for the acquisition of commercial purpose property and new plant and machinery assets, as well as relief on the construction or renovation of buildings.
So far, no freeport has been designated in Northern Ireland, but one of the great fears is that because Northern Ireland remains within the single market rules of the EU, any such measures to set up a freeport could be contested by the EU and the Irish Government because they might give Belfast an advantage over Dublin, for example. How will that issue be resolved, given the terms of the Northern Ireland protocol?
The right hon. Gentlemen raised a very similar question with me on Second Reading and, as he knows, the Government are engaging very closely with the Northern Ireland Executive. I am not in a position to second-guess what the EU may or may not do in that regard, but we have been very clear that we want to put a freeport in Northern Ireland and we want it to be a strong offer comparable to the freeports available elsewhere in the United Kingdom. That is what we will be seeking to achieve.
Sir Bernard Jenkin (Harwich and North Essex) (Con)
In passing, I thank the Government for designating Freeport East, which includes Harwich in my constituency, as one of the freeports. I am struggling to find how the tax concessions in this Bill avail us of the new freedoms outside the European Union. Will my right hon. Friend identify how the freedoms in this Bill are in contention with the EU state aid rules on tax subsidies? Of course, that would not apply in Northern Ireland, where the EU state aid rules still apply. The Government might as well be completely honest about this: if there are advantages for England of being outside the EU that we do not have because Northern Ireland is still effectively inside the EU, let us hear about them, because we want to know that we have those advantages in England.
I think my hon. Friend has erred in his logic. It is perfectly possible for us to benefit from the flexibility of setting taxes, as we are, while being able to have a strong agreed offer that satisfies whatever rules may apply in Northern Ireland with the Northern Ireland Executive. They will be of different characters, but there is no reason to think that neither is possible.
Clauses 109 to 111 give the Government the power to designate tax sites and, once sites have been designated, to provide relief within them for the acquisition of commercial purpose property and new plant and machinery assets, as well as relief on the construction or renovation of buildings. These powers will enable the Government to move quickly to enable businesses to begin accessing the benefits of freeports as soon as is feasible.
The Government are committed to tackling non-compliance in the tax system, and freeports are not an exception to that. Anti-avoidance and evasion provisions are included in the Bill, and will be taken across further legislation for the individual tax reliefs. In addition, the Government will take further powers to create a robust system of monitoring in freeports and enable HMRC to request relevant information from businesses. This will ensure that public money is being used effectively in pursuit of the regeneration and development of freeport locations.
Clause 109 will enable the Government to designate the location of tax sites connected to any freeport in Great Britain. The tax reliefs made available as part of the Government’s freeports programme will apply only in these sites, and the Government intend to bring forward legislation to apply these reliefs in Northern Ireland at a later date.
Bidders submitted initial proposals for their tax sites during the bidding process. The Government allowed up to 600 hectares of tax site space to be proposed, across a maximum of three separate sites per freeport. Tax site proposals were also judged against a set of criteria relating to existing deprivation and unemployment, to ensure tax measures will have maximum impact in regenerating those areas. The Government will now work with the successful locations to approve their tax site proposals. Once the successful bids have completed the full tax site assessment process, the Government will designate the agreed areas as tax sites. From that point forwards, businesses will be able to claim and benefit from the tax reliefs.
Sir Bernard Jenkin
I am most grateful to my right hon. Friend; he is being very generous, though whenever I am tackled on a point of logic by a professor of philosophy, I wonder what is going on. But my question is quite an innocent one in this case. In Harwich, there are some businesses very near the tax sites which have been affected by Brexit and would benefit greatly from being included in the tax site. To what extent are the boundaries still adjustable, and is there an issue of principle regarding included businesses that could expand much more effectively? I am thinking of the particular example of a petrochemicals processing business, which exports substantially and would benefit very greatly by being in the tax site. It would generate many more jobs and much more wealth for the United Kingdom.
Of course, the circumstances for each individual freeport site will be, and I am sure are, very different. I cannot comment on the site my hon. Friend describes, but in general the emphasis of the legislation is very much on new investment and new development, rather than on existing or dead-weight investment. It may well be the case that there are businesses that would propose to make substantial new investments and, depending on the freeport in question, it may be possible for them to qualify for some of the benefits associated with that, but, again, it is not possible for me to comment on individual cases.
Clause 110 and schedule 21 will allow businesses in freeport tax sites in Great Britain to benefit from two new capital allowances: enhanced capital allowances and an enhanced structures and buildings allowance.
On clause 111 and schedule 22, the clause makes changes to provide for a new relief from stamp duty land tax for acquisitions of land and buildings situated in freeport tax sites in England that are used for qualifying commercial purposes. Relief will be available for purchases made from the date a freeport tax site is formally designated until 30 September 2026.
Amendments 43 to 52 amend the provisions introduced by clause 111 and schedule 22 to provide certainty that property investors using sharia-compliant alternative finance are able to benefit from stamp duty land tax relief in the same way as investors using conventional finance. That will be done by taxing the alternative finance intermediary’s acquisition as though it were an acquisition by the investor. The amendments ensure that the tax payable by someone using alternative finance is the same as that which would be payable were the property purchased using a conventional financial product.
Opposition Members have tabled two new clauses relating to clauses 109 to 111. Among other things, they would place additional eligibility criteria in respect of employment rights, equalities and the environment on the claiming of capital allowances and stamp duty land tax relief in freeports. It is important to say that freeports will deliver tangible benefits that will help to level up areas. By imposing those additional criteria, the new clauses would potentially delay the implementation of these measures by making freeports more complicated for businesses to navigate, and therefore reducing their impact and effectiveness. In any case, the Government have a very strong commitment to reducing carbon emissions, which is why this country was the first major economy to implement a legally binding net zero greenhouse gas emissions target by 2050. The Government will continue to ensure that the role of tax is considered alongside other policy measures needed to meet environmental goals.
As I have already indicated, freeports will also have an important role in reducing regional disparities. The rigorous assessment of bids that has been undertaken has ensured that tax benefits are available only in areas that require regeneration and would benefit from being a tax site, helping the Government to level up those that have been left behind.
New clauses 5 and 25 as tabled would have the following effect. New clause 5 would make the commencements of clauses 109 to 111 dependent on the Secretary of State publishing a report that would allow Members to assess the economic case for freeports, and on both Houses agreeing that report. New clause 25 contains a similar request for a review of the impact of clauses 109 to 111 and schedules 21 and 22, and for a report of that review to be laid before the House within six months of the passing of this Bill and once a year thereafter. A robust and transparent bid assessment process, using the criteria set out in the bidding prospectus, ensured that the eight English freeports so far granted all demonstrated a good or better economic case, including a strong economic rationale for their proposed tax site locations.
In the interest of transparency and accountability, the Government have also published a decision-making note that clearly sets out how sustainable economic growth and regeneration were prioritised in this process of assessment. The Government will publish costings of the freeports programme at the next fiscal event, in line with conventional practice. Imposing an additional economic incentive on top of what has been outlined would only risk delaying the delivery of the programme and therefore the associated benefits of the increased investment and employment.
Amendment 54 would make the commencement of a freeport tax site in any UK nation subject to approval by the three devolved Administrations. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) has already introduced that. Let me say to him that tax is first and foremost a reserved matter unless it is specifically devolved. The UK Government have the power to set tax sites that offer reserved tax reliefs across the UK, and Ministers for the devolved Administrations have the power to set devolved tax reliefs. Devolved Ministers will be accountable to their Parliaments for the use of tax instruments under their control in a freeport tax site within their nation under the proposed plans.
The Government are determined to establish freeports across the UK, not just in England. That is why we are committed to continuing discussions with the Administrations in Scotland and Wales, when their new Governments have been established, and with the Northern Ireland Executive. The Government intend to have a freeport in each nation, and are determined to deliver that as soon as practicable. They will be national hubs for trade, innovation and commerce, regenerating communities across the country. They can attract new businesses and spread jobs, investment and opportunity to towns and cities up and down the UK, which will boost international trade and economic growth.
Sir Bernard Jenkin
Wil my right hon. Friend give way?
I am happy to take a third intervention from my hon. Friend.
Sir Bernard Jenkin
I am most grateful. Well, it is the Committee stage of a Bill. The hon. Member for Ceredigion (Ben Lake) raised an issue that I had not considered before, which is that the provision of a freeport in a devolved nation might actually reduce the revenue being collected by that devolved Government. Has my right hon. Friend given consideration to that? I cannot see how that would actually happen, but will he give an assurance that there is a means of addressing that if it were to occur?
As far as I am aware, this is a very remote contingency and I see no evidence to suggest that it might be the case in the context that has been described, but I can certainly tell my hon. Friend that, when the Government engage with the Welsh Government, we will be sensitive and open to discussion of the potential economic effects of a freeport in Wales, as one might expect.
Clauses 109 to 111, schedules 21 to 22, and amendments 43 to 52 will support the development of freeports by encouraging new private investment in each of the eight freeport locations in England. These constitute major aspects of the Government’s freeports programme, which will attract large-scale investment across every region of the UK and make significant contributions to the recovery from the pandemic and to levelling up across the regions. I therefore move that these clauses, schedules and amendments stand part of the Bill.
I thank colleagues, not least my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset (Mr Liddell-Grainger), for a very entertaining and rowdy end to the debate. Let me pick up some of the points that have been raised on this important subject.
The hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead (Abena Oppong-Asare) asked about expected revenue for freeports. As she will be aware, it is not really appropriate to comment on that at the moment. These tax sites have not yet been agreed. The revenues, or at least the associated tax costs, are very much site-specific. I am therefore not in a position to comment on that, but of course once the sites have been agreed, the appropriate estimates will be brought forward.
The hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Rebecca Long Bailey) argued—indeed, it was a recurrent theme—that freeports would have the effect of watering down employment protections. The Opposition have no evidence for that viewpoint at all. There is no deregulatory agenda whatever with freeports. Businesses and freeports will have to abide by UK worker and environmental regulations, national minimum wage standards, workers’ rights and the rest of it, just as any other company would anywhere else in the UK.
The hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) raised the topic of freeports in Scotland. He did not remind the Committee, but he will be aware, that the Scottish Government originally rejected the idea of a freeport, then rather changed their tune when they saw the local reaction. I encourage him and the Scottish Government, whatever their complexion after the election, to step forward and engage with the Government so that we can agree a freeport in Scotland.
My hon. Friend the Member for Harwich and North Essex (Sir Bernard Jenkin) talked about the different elements, and was worried that somehow the offer had been watered down. I reassure him that, although he did not notice that the structures and buildings allowance is legislated for in the Bill, the employer national insurance contributions relief will be legislated for in a forthcoming Bill and the business rates relief will follow in due course.
My hon. Friend the Member for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price) rightly talked about the magnificent port at Tilbury. I have visited it myself, and a thoroughly splendid and impressive thing it is too. Finally, my hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset put in what I think we can all agree was a typically low-key and restrained performance, for which we very much thank him. He put me ineffably in mind of a great moment in a work of literature and film with which I am sure the House will be familiar: “Animal House”. There is a marvellous moment where John Belushi’s future senator John Blutarsky says, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?” There is a pause, and someone says, “Leave him, he’s rolling.” That is what I felt we should do with our dear friend the Member for Bridgwater and West Somerset. With that, I will sit down.