7 July 2020
Treasury Questions

Jesse Norman, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, responds to MPs’ questions.

Inheritance Tax

Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con)

Whether he plans to (a) reform and (b) simplify inheritance tax. [904350]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

Inheritance tax makes an important contribution to the Exchequer. The current threshold of up to £1 million for a qualifying married couple or civil partnership means that 96% of all estates in 2020-21 are forecast to be able to pass on their assets without any inheritance tax liability. Any reform or simplification of inheritance tax would be considered as part of the usual Budget process.

Sir Edward Leigh

When are we going to fulfil numerous promises made as long ago as before the 2010 election, by George Osborne, to help middle-class people pass on more of their property to the young? After all, that is a priority for the young. While we are about it, can we hear from the Chancellor and the Prime Minister less about high-spending lefties like President Roosevelt and more about good Conservatives like Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher—less about subsidies and more about tax cuts and tax simplification?

Jesse Norman

I hesitate to give my right hon. Friend a history lesson, but he will recall that Ronald Reagan was a deep admirer of FDR and quite a heavy spender in his own right. Inheritance tax is paid on only one in 25 estates, and therefore it is not quite as large an issue in terms of the number of people affected as my right hon. Friend suggests. We take these issues very seriously and return to them recurrently at fiscal events.


Covid-19: Landlords

Stephen Metcalfe (South Basildon and East Thurrock) (Con)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support landlords affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [R] [904356]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

The Government recognise the current challenges facing commercial landlords. That is why we have worked very closely with lenders to ensure that support and flexibility is being shown to commercial borrowers. This forms part of a much wider picture of unprecedented support to businesses affected, including via business rates holidays, ​grants and Government-backed loans—and of course those, in turn, give access to cash to pay for rents and salaries or suppliers.

Stephen Metcalfe [V]

May I draw Members’ attention to my entry in the register?

While many tenants welcome the steps the Government have taken to protect them from eviction, for many small private landlords the rental income on shops, offices and residential property is their only form of income, which in many cases is completely tied up. Will my right hon. Friend therefore work with the sector to explore how to provide financial support to individuals who find that they have no income and no access to any of the other very impressive schemes that the Government have introduced?

Jesse Norman

My hon. Friend will know, of course, that we published a code of practice to encourage all parties involved in a landlord-tenant situation to work together to ensure equity and swift recovery. More widely, we have made available over £330 billion of guarantees through the coronavirus business interruption loan scheme, the large business interruption loan scheme, and the corporate financing facility. But of course I would be happy to continue to discuss this issue with him.


Covid-19: High Street Businesses

Robbie Moore (Keighley) (Con)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [904361]

Karl MᶜCartney (Lincoln) (Con)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [904368]

David Johnston (Wantage) (Con)

What fiscal steps he is taking to support high street businesses affected by the covid-19 outbreak. [904372]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

As Members will know, the Chancellor has announced an unprecedented package of support for high-street businesses affected by the pandemic. In particular, the Government are giving retail, hospitality and leisure businesses a year’s business rates holiday; protecting commercial tenants from eviction and debt recovery; offering grants of up to £25,000 to eligible businesses; and making sure that businesses have access to the financing they need as quickly as possible. We stand ready to take further steps, as necessary.

Robbie Moore

I thank my right hon. Friend for that response. I recently visited a brilliant independent furniture store, Rooms, right in the centre of Keighley, which is run by Andrew Foster, his wife Janine and son Joe. They and many others welcome the 100% business rate relief this year but are concerned about next year and indeed about the fairness of the business rate structure when we consider pure online businesses and those based in premises. Will my right hon. Friend continue to review this area in the light of covid and look more closely to create a fairer business rate structure?

Jesse Norman

I am delighted to hear about Rooms, and many businesses in my constituency have reopened. Reopening the economy is the central step we need for our national recovery. As my hon. Friend will know, we have committed to a fundamental review of the business rates systems and published some comprehensive terms of reference for the review at the spring Budget. In the meantime, we are committed to supporting businesses and have taken actions to reduce the burden of rates, which will save businesses more than £13 billion in the next five years.

Karl MᶜCartney [V]

It is no secret that Chancellors have an overarching influence across all Departments. Within my Lincoln constituency’s county of Greater Lincolnshire we are faced with major local government reorganisation. Does the Treasury take the view that for the UK’s second largest county a single unitary authority would be in the best financial interests of my constituents when enforcing forthcoming local government reform and devolution?

Jesse Norman

It would be wrong for me, as a Minister, to offer a view on this, but I can tell my hon. Friend that my personal experience has been that the more streamlined, the clearer the lines of authority and the more integrated and shared approach that is taken, the more effective the infrastructure delivery is likely to be.

David Johnston

I have been visiting high-street businesses in Wantage, Didcot, Faringdon and elsewhere, and they are hugely grateful for the furlough scheme, the grant scheme and the business rates holiday, but what they most want now is footfall. Does my right hon. Friend agree that that should be the priority? Will he confirm that he is considering all measures to increase footfall on the high street?

Jesse Norman

I absolutely confirm that. The reason we have backed high-street firms so strongly all the way through is precisely that we recognise the central importance of these sectors to getting Britain’s high streets back firing on all cylinders. My hon. Friend will know that ​we have also introduced the Business and Planning Bill to help businesses in England get back on their feet, and we have accelerated nearly £100 million of investment in town centres and high streets, through the towns fund this year, to the same end.



Topical Questions

Margaret Ferrier (Rutherglen and Hamilton West) (SNP) [V]

The Tea Bay in Cambuslang in my constituency responsibly took out business-interruption insurance, including cover for notifiable diseases. The one time it has had to claim is during the coronavirus pandemic, but that claim has been refused because covid-19 is not on the list of notifiable diseases.Many other businesses have found themselves in the same position and understandably feel frustrated that insurers have not helped them in their time of need. What discussions is the Treasury having with the Financial Conduct Authority to remedy this situation? [904410]

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Jesse Norman)

As the hon. Lady will know, the Treasury is in constant communication with the FCA on these and other issues. If she would like to bring the specific details to my attention, I will make sure that they are examined by Ministers.


Douglas Ross (Moray) (Con)

Our coach industry will be vital as the country opens up and we begin our recovery from covid-19. Local Moray firm Maynes of Buckie, and its owner Kevin Mayne, have been leading calls for a bespoke deal to support the coach industry. Will the Treasury look at that idea and consider it? [904413]

Jesse Norman

I am sure my hon. Friend understands that the desire for bespoke deals across every sector is extremely great. Our view has been that what is required is to lift all boats by a general support for the economy, and that is the approach we have taken, which is why the interventions we have made so far include almost £300 billion of guarantees—worth roughly 15% of UK gross domestic product.


Tim Farron (Westmorland and Lonsdale) (LD)

On Saturday, we proudly and safely reopened hospitality and tourism in Cumbria. Tourism is our largest employer, but 69% of hospitality industry businesses will not be able to reopen fully. Having lost most of the season, the industry will see hundreds of successful businesses fail and tens of thousands of jobs lost—unless the Chancellor agrees to a package of grant and wage support in the Budget statement tomorrow. Will he do that? [904411]

Jesse Norman

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, an enormous amount of support is already in the system. I am delighted that shops and other organisations are opening up in his constituency; we look to see more of that over time as the support feeds through into the system.


Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con) [V]

Does my right hon. Friend the Chancellor agree that beauty salons, tanning salons and nail bars—such as Salon 112 and Shwe Tan based in my constituency of Harlow—are important small businesses and often the lifeblood of our local economy? They should be supported, allowed to open and not denigrated. Will he ensure that when he cuts taxes, businesses such as these will be a top priority, given the struggles they have had to face? [904416]

Jesse Norman

No one who knows my beautiful right hon. Friend would be surprised that he knows these beauty salons as well as he does, and I salute him for it. On the serious point, he is absolutely right about the importance of these businesses to all our constituencies. He did not mention this, but we should also mention that many of these businesses are run and staffed by women, and it is important that we should pay attention to the equalities impact in that respect. The key thing is that we get these businesses, including beauty salons, open. That is what the Treasury has focused on.


Kate Osamor (Edmonton) (Lab/Co-op) [V]

Credit unions are known for offering those on low incomes alternative access to credit. However, due to covid-19, during April and May North London Credit Union in Enfield was hard hit and has seen an 87.5% fall in the number of loans issued. Will the Chancellor use his summer statement to announce financial support for credit unions, which are challenged with branch closures and possible bankruptcy? [904421]

Jesse Norman

I entirely agree with the hon. Lady about the importance of credit unions. I am a member of Money Box Credit Union in Hereford and can vouch for their importance, especially for people on low incomes. She makes a very valid point, and it is one that we will continue to consider as we move forward.