15 December 2020
Jesse Norman responds to debate on Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill

Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, responds to a debate on remaining stages of the Taxation (Post-transition Period) Bill.

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to the debate. I will address the proposed amendments and then come to the specific points that have been raised.

New clauses 1 and 2, tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Sir William Cash), would, if adopted, mean that the provisions in the Bill would apply notwithstanding any domestic or international law. The House will be aware that on 17 September, the Government set out that Parliament would be asked to support the use of so-called “notwithstanding” provisions in clauses 44, 45 and 47 of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and any similar subsequent provisions in a Finance Bill, but only in circumstances where the fundamental purposes of the Northern Ireland protocol would be undermined. Only in those circumstances would Parliament be asked to support the use of so-called “notwithstanding” provisions, as described.

Sir William Cash 

We do not really know exactly how the Northern Ireland protocol is going to be interpreted, nor do we actually know its full content, and the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is declining to appear before my Committee to explain it.

Jesse Norman 

What we do know is that the agreement was reached by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster acting for the Government on a duly legitimately and democratically elected basis in the exercise of our national sovereignty, and that should, I think, be enough for my hon. Friend.

These clauses were previously introduced as reasonable steps to create a safety net so that the Government would always be able to discharge their commitments to the people of Northern Ireland in the event that a negotiated outcome could not be reached in the Joint Committee. Following intensive and constructive work over the past weeks by the UK and the EU, the Government have now reached an agreement in principle on all issues in relation to the protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland. This is an agreement that discharges the Government’s commitment to the people of Northern Ireland to ensure that there are no tariffs on goods remaining within the UK customs territory.

As part of the agreement, the Government committed to removing the notwithstanding provisions in the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill and not to introduce them or any similar provisions in this Bill. As was noted by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster in his statement to the House last week, in view of the agreement these provisions are no longer required. On that basis, I hope the House can agree that new clauses 1 and 2 are unnecessary.

New clause 3 and amendments 1 and 2 tabled by the Opposition would, if adopted, require the Treasury to publish guidance setting out its proposed approach to any reliefs, repayments and remissions for which the Bill allows provision to be made. The provisions contained within the Bill ensure that the Government have the flexibility they need to establish the framework for such reliefs, repayments and remissions. Details of any policies along these lines would be announced in due course, and HMRC will publish detailed guidance providing certainty to traders and businesses, as is its normal procedure. For this reason, putting such additional provisions in the Bill is unnecessary, and therefore I urge the House to resist these amendments.

New clause 3 would, if adopted, require the publication of various reports setting out the timeframes in which the customs duty charges contained in clauses 1 and 2 would be implemented as well as the factors taken into account when using these powers. The provisions contained in clauses 1 and 2 allow the Government to establish customs charging provisions to support the practical application of article 5.1 and 5.3 of the protocol and to deal with the movement of goods from Northern Ireland to Great Britain. This is important legislation, which will ensure that the Government are able to implement the Northern Ireland protocol as required in UK law ahead of the end of the transition period. The regulations that set out the detail of the charging regimes will be laid after the Bill receives Royal Assent.

This Bill thus provides the framework, and the detail will be provided alongside the relevant regulations. When bringing forward regulations the Government will also provide explanatory material in the usual way.

If I may, I will now turn to some of the questions raised by Members who spoke in the debate. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) encouraged the Government to get a move on; as he will know, the Government have been proceeding extremely rapidly and energetically in this area ever since the issues first arose. He also asked about guidance, and of course he is right that in the normal course of these things guidance will follow the publication of the Bill, but he also ought to be aware that the guidance that will be published follows the Northern Ireland protocol and the Command Paper and that in relation to other matters, which is what I was referring to, the House has seen customs guidance on 7 August, the trader support service launched on 20 September, guidance on VAT and excise on 26 October, and a whole host of other information designed to support traders and others involved in these changes.

The right hon. Gentleman asked what new systems are being put in place, as did my right hon. Friend the Member for Wokingham (John Redwood), so let me respond on that. My right hon. Friend will be aware that, in terms of the agreement for at-risk and not-at-risk goods, there is a requirement for there to be genuine and substantial use for the goods to be classified as at-risk. HMRC expects there to be up to 11 million declarations in relation to trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and the Customs Declaration Service, which has been put in place, has a minimum viable product up and running as we speak.

The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) referred to hokey-cokey clauses, but of course the clauses have never been included. They were themselves a response to a perfectly plain concern, which every Member of the House should feel, that, as matters stood, even a bag of salad would be considered an at-risk good, a consequence of the previous understanding that was patently absurd and which has been removed by this change.

The hon. Member for Warwick and Leamington (Matt Western) talked about a last-minute approach, but I would remind him that when this point, or this attempted point, was made by the shadow Chief Secretary, the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South (Bridget Phillipson), I asked her if she could recall a single occasion when the EU had ever failed to negotiate except at the very last minute of a negotiation, and she was unable to point to such a case. That is, I think, the principal reason why we are in the position that we are in.

With those remarks, I would urge the House to resist these amendments.