MPs continued their committee stage scrutiny of the Finance Bill this afternoon. Debate was initially concluded on clauses 36 and 37, relating to oil activities and petroleum revenue tax, moving on to stamp duty land tax (higher rates for additional dwellings etc), and other stamp duty and SDRT measures. The committee then move on to debate clauses 50-52, on VAT, and changes to alcohol and tobacco duties, concluding at clause 56.
The committee covered considerable ground during this sitting, approving clauses 36 to 56 (minus a few already agreed in Committee of Whole House) and schedules 14, 16 and 17. There were lengthy debates on the VAT clauses, during which the CIOT's representation to the committee was quoted extensively, and on alcohol duty. No amendments were made to the Bill. The committee was interrupted for nearly 40 minutes for votes in the main Commons chamber.
Clause 36 and Schedule 14 - Oil activities: transferable tax history
Clause 37 - Petroleum revenue tax: post-transfer decommissioning expenditure
For notes on these clauses and amendments see the previous sitting.
Debate resumed on these clauses with Exchequer Secretary Robert Jenrick speaking. He asked MPs to reject the amendments.
MPs voted on clause 36. It was approved without opposition.
Amendment 84 (Labour): The provision as drafted allows companies to transfer TTH worth double the value of anticipated decommissioning costs. This reduces the incentive for companies towards efficiencies in decommissioning costs and paves the way for decommissioning-related tax repayments far bigger than the companies are currently acknowledging. This amendment removes that provision. Amendment 84 was voted on and rejected 10-7.
Amendment 81 (Labour) would require a decommissioning security agreement to include an assessment of the impact on employment, skills and the Exchequer from the asset’s production life and planned decommissioning phase. Amendment 81 was voted on and rejected 10-7.
Amendment 89 (Labour) would require a decommissioning security agreement to include an assessment of the impact on the Exchequer from the amount spent on staff, in order for that agreement to be qualifying for the purposes of this Schedule. Amendment 89 was voted on and rejected 10-7.
Schedule 14 and clause 37 were both agreed without opposition.
Clause 43 - Higher rates of tax for additional dwellings etc
This clause would extend the time allowed to claim back the higher rates of tax for additional dwellings of Stamp Duty Land Tax (HRAD) where an individual sells their old home within 3 years of buying a new home. This clause also clarifies the meaning of `major interest` in land for the general purpose of HRAD.
Three new clauses were debated alongside this clause. (NB. New clauses are not voted on until the end of committee stage debate even when they are debated earlier, as these were.)
New clause 10 (Labour) requires a review of the revenue effects of the provisions in clause 43, and for that review to report within 1 year of that clause becoming effective.
New clause 11 (Labour) requires an annual statement on how the provisions in section 43 have impacted the number of back claims of HRAD.
New clause 12 (Labour) requires a review on how the provisions in clause 43 have affected house prices, and for that review to report within 1 year of that clause becoming effective.
Financial Secretary to the Treasury (FST) Mel Stride opened the debate on this clause, the first in Part 2 of the Bill. He said new clauses 10 and 11 were not necessary. The TIIN (Tax Information and Impact Note) states that the measures will have a negligible impact on the Exchequer. Clause 43 will not be expected to have an impact on house prices so new clause 12 is not required.
Sir Robert Syms asked whether having a home abroad made your UK home a second home, citing a constituent's experience. The minister said the key was if you are tax resident in the UK. Sir Robert's assumption that if you have a property overseas it is counted effectively as if you have a domestic property was correct, he said, but then the easements in this clause apply.
Anneliese Dodds, for Labour, said she understood the government had suggested the extended time period was necessary to enable the vulnerable to take advantage of the easement. But she thought it was necessary to subject the proposal to review - as set out in Labour's new clauses - to ensure it did not water down the initial measure. She said it was important to understand the effectiveness of the existing additional dwelling charge and whether these measures would reduce that. She said it was peculiar that the tax relief for multiple purchases of residential properties continues along with an additional charge for having just one additional home.
The FST responded to Ms Dodds. He gave an assurance that the government are not watering down the measure. He said that since the higher rates had been introduced 650,000 people had bought their first home and first time buyers made up a larger proportion of the housing market. On multi-dwellings relief he said that one of the properties would attract the additional stamp duty charge in the event there is more than one property owned by the same purchaser.
The committee agreed clause 43 without opposition.
Clause 44 - Exemption for financial institutions in resolution
Clause 48 - Stamp duty: exemption for financial institutions in resolution
Clause 44 ensures that SDLT is not charged on transfers of land following the exercise of certain resolution powers under the special resolution regime in the Banking Act 2009 for managing failing financial institutions. A related change is made in respect of Stamp Duty by clause 48.
Clause 48, debated with clause 44, ensures that Stamp Duty is not charged following the exercise of certain resolution powers under the special resolution regime in the Banking Act 2009 for managing failing financial institutions.
Amendment 90 (Labour) to clause 48 would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the viability of a public register of financial institutions in resolution benefitting from the exemption from stamp duty for certain financial transactions.
The FST introduced the clauses. He said the changes would simplify and strengthen the process of resolving a failed financial institution. The changes would protect taxpayers by reducing the risk of the government having to compensate creditors to prevent the 'no creditor worse off' principle being violated. In relation to amendment 90 he said these clauses do not create any tax exemption for failing institutions themselves. The exemption would apply to creditors of failing institutions, and to the Bank of England which might need to take temporary ownership of a failing institution's assets.
Anneliese Dodds, for Labour, said she was seeking a review to see which firms might be relived of SDLT and stamp duty in these matters. Labout supported these clauses, she said. She withdrew Labour's amendment from the vote but asked about a statement in the explanatory notes that implied to her it would have been possible to make these changes via the Banking Act. Why are changes to the Banking Act too onerous and changes to the Finance Act 2003 simpler to enact? Was the OTS happy with this measure, she wondered.
The FST replied that this was approached through primary legislation rather than regulations under the Banking Act to enable it to come into effect quickly. On why changes had made to tax rather than banking legislation he said this highly technical, he did not hav an answer, but would write to Ms Dodds.
Clause 44 was agreed without opposition.
Clause 45 - Changes to periods for delivering returns and paying tax
This clause reduces the time limit that purchasers have to file a SDLT return and pay the tax due, from 30 days after the effective date of the transaction to 14 days. It applies to transactions to purchase land in England and Northern Ireland, with an effective date on or after 1 March 2019.
Amendment 95 (Labour) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to report on any consultation undertaken on the provisions in Clause 45.
New clause 13 (Labour) requires the Chancellor of the Exchequer to carry out and publish a review of the effects of Clause 45 on equality in relation to households with different levels of income, people with protected characteristics, the Treasury’s public sector equality duty and on a regional basis.
Anneliese Dodds said this clause had some similarities to clause 14 in requiring a faster turnaround for payments of tax. Many of the concerns expressed there apply here too. This was why Labour wanted the report set out in amendment 95. She noted many respondents to the consultation felt the reduced window would be fine for straightforward transactions but there would be difficulties for more complex transactions, such as those with a lease element. She wondered whether a facility for filing and paying SDLT simultaneously would be coming. This would surely make the system more efficient, she suggested. She was also surprised by the very high error rate on SDLT returns.
She noted that the government had said that the shorter timescale would be accompanied by a number of other measures to improve the effectiveness of SDLT filing. She noted one of these was requiring all agents to file online which, she said, seemed sensible. But she was intrigued to see the claim that online filing might not be practicable not just on the basis of remote location but also on grounds such as religious reliefs. She said it would be helpful if there was more joined-up governemnt on this with similar respect shown to the difficulties experienced by some universal credit recipients - surely more numerous - in filing online.
The FST replied the government has no current plans to combine filing and paying as the online service cannot currently be combined with BACS and CHAPS services. He put the measure in the context of bringing payment of tax closer to the date it became due, which is a general direction of government policy. He said HMRC would issue guidance around the changes. Amendment 95 was not necessary - he outlined the consultation the government had carried out, including with the property and conveyancing sector. In relation to new clause 13 he said the legislation would not have an impact on groups with protected chacteristics; it does not change anyone's SDLT liability.
Anneliese Dodds, for Labour, said the high rate of error was a waste of taxpayer and HMRC time. She said she hoped the government would look into the problems with BACS and CHAPS that currently prevent filing and paying being combined. In light of the minister's remarks she said she was willing to withdraw the amendment.
Clause 45 was agreed without opposition.
Clause 48, already debated, was agreed without opposition.
Clause 49 - Stamp duty and SDRT: exemptions for share incentive plans
This clause makes a minor change to ensure that the existing stamp duty relief continues to apply to share incentive plans (SIPs). This measure will have effect from 6 April 2014.
Amendment 91 (Labour) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the revenue effects if the tax exemption under section 95 of the Finance Act 2001 had not applied to self-certified share incentive plans.
Anneliese Dodds (Labour) opened the discussion. She noted that the changes were required because of past errors of omission. She asked the minister about the interaction of salary sacrifice in relation to SIPs and national insurance contributions. She observed that some had suggested that there was something resembling double taxation for people claiming social security - those affected would be better off buying their firm's shares at market prices. That was the treatment for recipients of tax credits. There did not appear to be any information about the situation with regard to universal credit. Could the minister clarify whether contributions to SIPs are counted as income for the purposes of calculation either working tax credit or universal credit? If so will his department be looking at this issue and trying to devise a different approach to this matter given that individuals will be affected by those shares being counted as income again as and when they leave a SIPS scheme early.
The FST responded that on the interaction of SIP contributions with working tax credit and universal credit he did not know the answer but would write to Ms Dodds. He said clause 49 made a minor correcting amendment. Give this there would be no revenue impact so Labour's proposed review was not necessary.
Anneliese Dodds withdrew her amendment and thanked the minister for offering to write to her on her query.
Clause 49 was agreed without opposition.
Clause 50 - VAT - Duty of customers to account for tax on supplies
Subsection (3) of section 55A of the VAT Act provides that the supply of specified goods and services in an order made under subsection (9) that exceeds £1000 in a given month must be included in the recipient’s turnover for VAT registration purposes. In certain well-established business sectors populated by a large number of small businesses, the overall effect of the aggregation rule in subsection (3) on the sector would be to increase regulatory burdens on small traders. This change will permit the Treasury to identify and make provision for such cases so that small businesses who are affected will have certainty that they will not exceed the VAT registration threshold as a result of receiving supplies that would otherwise be subject to the reverse charge and the aggregation rule.
Amendment 92 (Labour) would require an order made under the new provision of Clause 50 to be accompanied by an impact statement.
Turning to the section of the Bill on VAT, Jonathan Reynolds, for Labour, made comments on fraud and complications caused for businesses in dealing with VAT. On the first of these he noted the scale and cost of VAT fraud. In relation to the measures relating to fulfilment houses, introduced in last year's Finance Bill, he noted that many MPs - including himself - had received casework from small businesses severely disadvantaged when filling out VAT returns because of being unable to obtain VAT receipts from either their overseas supplier or the fulfilment house in question. In one case the reason for the problem was simple - the seller had not charged VAT, unknown to that particular British business. The fulfilment house 'washed its hands of the matter' and blamed the third party seller. This flags just one of the many issues small businesses face over VAT, said Mr Reynolds.He said they needed more help from government. This situation has been worsened by the government's 'disaster struck' attempts to transition to Making Tax Digital, he said.
HMRC itself believes that there is a £3.5 billion tax gap, said Mr Reynolds. "Tax professionals, via the Chartered Institute of Taxation, said in written evidence to the Treasury Select Committee's VAT inquiry earlier this year, that HMRC must improve its VAT guidance and show greater willingness to provide rulings where businesses want certainty over VAT treatment. It also echoed the opposition's repeated warnings over the diminishing resources and capacity of HMRC which has been subject to a series of cuts resulting in staff reductions and office closures."
He continued: "The Chartered Institute of Taxation has six recommendations to help address the VAT gap, which is estimates at a shocking £12.6 billion. I want to focus on just one of these today, which is when they request that the government resists the temptation to introduce widespread changes that are disruptive to the majority of compliant businesses, and this ties in to a concern around the clause we are addressing today, despite what appear to be quite laudable intentions."
Today's measure relates to so called missing trader fraud, Mr Reynolds explained. He quoted from a CIOT briefing explaining how the measure would work, noting that the issue was quite complicated. He noted the aim of the measure was to prevent the anti-VAT fraud measure from unintentionally pushing the small business over the VAT threshold. He said Labour saw the logic in the clause, however they would caution against adding any further complexity for businesses given the warnings he had mentioned earlier. This therefore needed to be backed up with guidance and advice through an adequately resourced and staffed HMRC.
He observed than even as someone who used to work in corporate law he found sifting through these changes to articulate them to the committee 'quite a challenge', and for someone trying to do this while running a business it would be 'quite a big ask'. It was particularly important to make sure those in the chain know where they are at in it, so it clear who is responsible for VAT accounting. Labour's amendment would enable quick identification of whether there is an undue administrative burden having an impact on supply chains. Finally he noted that enforcement of VAT rules such as this is heavily dependent on cooperation from the EU. How will that evolve with our departure from the EU, he asked. What consultation has the government entered into? The opposition highlighted that the introduction of this measure would clash with MTD for VAT coming in for some. Has sufficient thought been given to this, he wondered.
Kirsty Blackman (SNP) spoke next. She said she was comfortable supporting Labour's amendment. She also stressed the importance of good VAT guidance being provided, saying that HMRC was currently falling short on this. She noted that a move from acquisition VAT to import VAT - in the context of Brexit - would have a significant impact. She welcomed that the government had said a deferment scheme would be put in place in the event of 'no deal'. If there is a deal involving some change can the government provide reassurance that support will be provided to businesses, so they can make that change without seeing cash flow impacted.
The FST replied, agreeing that good guidance was important. He said one of the primary focuses of the change here was to make sure we don't have construction companies falling due to VAT, which is something that brings unwanted complexity. On the VAT gap he noted it had fallen significantly. He then set out the objectives of the measure, to tackle missing trader fraud through a reverse charge while protecting construction businesses just below the VAT threshold from being brought into VAT. He said it would not have an impact on the anti-fraud measure.
On Labour's amendment requiring impact statements he said the government deemed it unnecessary. HMRC would publish a TIIN as a matter of course in this situation and this would be more than sufficient for the purpose.
Labour pressed amendment 92 to the vote, but it was defeated 10-9.
Clause 50 was agreed without opposition
Amendment 51 and schedule 16 - VAT - Treatment of vouchers
The government’s objective is to ensure that the amounts customers pay when using vouchers to obtain goods or services is better reflected in the tax base. It also wants to make improvements for business by modernising and harmonising the VAT treatment of vouchers. It aims to do this by providing new, clear rules which separate vouchers with a single purpose (e.g. a traditional book token) from the more complex gift vouchers and set out how and when VAT should be accounted for in each case. The new legislation is not concerned with the scope of VAT and whether VAT is due, but with the question of when VAT is due and - in the case of multi-purpose vouchers - the consideration upon which any VAT is payable.
New clause 8 (Labour) requires a review of how the provisions in Schedule 16 affect voucher circulation and distribution.
The provisions of Schedule 16 transpose Council Directive (EU) 2016/1065. New clause 9 (Labour) requires a review of the revenue effects of diverging from EU law on the VAT treatment of vouchers.
The FST opened this debate, explaining the government's aim with the clause and schedule (see above). He said the UK vouchers market was now estimated to be worth some £6 billion a year. Vouchers play a large part in promotion and staff incentive systems. From a VAT point of view, vouchers are unexpectedly complex, he said, because a buyer gets, for one payment, two things - the voicher and the promise of content. Vouchers can often be used for things with different VAT treatment. Vouchers are sometimes sold at a discount to the face value. And then there are cross border issues... This legislation would standardise the rules.
In relation to Labour's new clause 9 he said it was too early to consider the impact of diverging from EU law as we do not yet know the future agreement with the EU and what it will look like. He stressed a key advantage of this measure was to ensure a level playing field acorss the EU so British businesses were not disadvantaged by rules in different EU states that might lead to double taxation.
Jonathan Reynolds, for Labour, though the clause was more interesting than it sounded in the explanatory note. He said it made sense that there was, fianlly, clarity on vouchers. But professional bodies had raised a number of issues which he would raise with the minister. One of these was the absence of guidance which is still to be published. The timing of the implementation of this, in January, coincides with a peak time for voucher redemption. This is also a challenging time for the high street. "As the Chartered Institute of Taxation has highlighted, shops will need to be able to identify the date of purchase for vouchers to assess whether they need to declare VAT, given that the rules will be changing, so it is surely important that they get as much support as possible from HMRC through this process and get as much guidance as they can."
He noted there was also a wider issue about the transposing of EU legislation into the UK and about our future compliance with EU VAT regulations. New clause 9 would enable proper assessment of the implications of leaving the EU in this area.
The FST replied to the debate. On guidance he said the measures were consulted on widely and draft guidance had been shared with stakeholders and was published yesterday. On future VAT arrangements we don't know what they will look like, apart from the government's statement that they were looking to remain broadly in line, with no dramatic changes.
Clause 51 and schedule 16 were agreed without opposition.
Clause 52 and schedule 17 - VAT - Groups: eligibility
Schedule 17 widens the eligibility criteria for VAT grouping and allows non-corporate entities, subject to certain conditions, to join a VAT group. Follows CJEU judgment in Larentia + Minerva and Marenave (C-108/14 and C-109/14)
Amendment 93 (Labour) would require a review of the impact of this measure on the number of individuals and businesses entering into VAT groupings for the purpose of tax planning, and for that review to report by the end of the tax year 2019-20.
Amendment 94 (Labour) would require a review on the potential revenue changes if domestic law were to diverge from European Union law in relation to VAT groups.
The FST spoke first on this clause. He said it would simplify VAT accounting arrangements for many UK businesses and ensure the UK VAT grouping rules operate effectively. While this is a decision for the UK government it must adhere to EU VAT principles. A CJEU judgment (see above) had prompted consultation which led to this measure. He said the government would update existing anti-avoidance rules in this area via statutory instrument. Changes made by this clause were expected to have a negligible impact on the exchequer. He rejected Labour's amendments saying HMRC had consulted and published its response to the consultation.
Jonathan Reynolds, for Labour, said we are awaiting further guidance from HMRC which is expected after Royal Assent, but there remain outstanding issues. "The Chartered Institute of Taxation, which has been very helpful on providing briefings on the VAT related issues in this Bill today, has outlined a number of these questions already.
"We need to know whether partnerships could have partners that were both UK and non-UK resident; and if a partnership that had UK business premises with entirely non-resident partners would be eligible? How would the ongoing challenge of how the physical presence test be monitored and policed? This is especially pertinent given HMRC's constrained resources.
"Equally it is important to understand how ongoing eligibility of a partnership is going to be assessed. Questions that need to be answered include whether there should be an annual declaration or tick box on the VAT return to encourage regular self-assessment. Will VAT groupings be cross referenced with the partnership or sole trader tax returns within that group to ensure accuracy? Another issue raised by the Chartered Institute of Taxation includes whether a partnership and sole trader tax registration details be used to tag and monitor which partnerships or sole traders were within a VAT group (both for HMRC administration and for taxpayers’ reference when dealing with such entities and checking VAT registrations).
Mr Reynolds observed that the government's December 2017 consultation document stated that the government recognises that any widening of grouping will come with a revenue cost unless it excludes businesses that make exempt supplies. The government had said this was not something they were planning to do but this appeared to be contradicted by the minister's comments. He also noted the consultation statement that the government had no plans to make any changes to joint and several liability rules. He asked the minister to confirm that both these statements still applied.
He encouraged MPs to support Labour's amendments.
Kirsty Blackman (SNP) offered support to Labour's two amendments.
The FST replied to the debate. He noted that the Labour spokesman had raised a number of technical issues and said he would need to write to him on some of these. On joint and several liability the government is not upating those though HMRC will continue to monitor them. On our future relationship with the EU and complying with future financial services arrangements, where a UK company has a subsidiary in the EU and whether that would prohibit that particular operation participating in a VAT group he said he had absolutely no idea, and would get back to him.
Clause 52 was agreed without opposition.
Amendment 93 was defeated 10-9.
Amendment 94 was defeated 10-9.
Schedule 17 was agreed without opposition.
Clause 53 - Rates of duty on cider, wine and made-wine
Clause 54 - Excise duty on mid-strength cider
Clause 53 provides for an increase in line with inflation (based on RPI) in the rates of excise duty charged on all wine and made-wine of a strength at or below 22% alcohol by volume (abv) and sparkling cider and perry exceeding 5.5% abv but less than 8.5% abv. These changes will have effect on and after 1 February 2019.
Amendment 96 (Labour) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the revenue impact of the revised rates on cider and wine.
Amendment 103 (SNP) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the revised rates on cider and wine on public health.
Clause 54 introduces a new duty band and rate for still cider of a strength of at least 6.9% but not exceeding 7.5% abv. It also amends section 62B of the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979 (ALDA) to ensure that the up-labelling provisions reflect the creation of the new mid-strength cider band. These changes will come into force on 1 February 2019.
Amendment 97 (Labour) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of Clause 54 on the cider industry.
Amendment 98 (Labour) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of Clause 54 on public health.
Amendment 99 (Labour) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of Clause 54 on different parts of the United Kingdom and regions of England.
These clauses relating to alcohol duty and their respective amendments were debated together. This was the longest debate of the sitting so far.
Peter Dowd, Shadow Chief Secretary, spoke for Labour. Amid a volley of puns he called on the government to fully imbibe the implications of Labour's amendments and take a sober judgement. The review required by amendment 96 would improve transparency, he said. He referenced the call in Better Budgets, co-produced by CIOT, for more information, provided in good time. He offered support to the SNP's amendment 103. He said Labour was seeking to work out how far the government was working with the cider industry to develope and implement a more public health oriented approach.
Kirsty Blackman, for the SNP, spoke to amendment 103 and the clauses more widely. She asked the minister about the process for legislation on post duty point dilution. The government have said they will legislate to ban post duty point dilution from April 2020. Post duty point dilution is the practice of diluting wine after excise duty has been calculated.
Sir Robert Syms, a Conservative backbencher, said the government were pursuing sensible and balanced policies. He noted the size of the hospitality industry and the number of jobs dependent on it.
Robert Jenrick, Exchequer Secretary, replied to the debate. He said the jury was still out on whether Scottish and Welsh governments' action with respect to minimum unit pricing had been effective. On post duty point dilution he said the government intended to lay draft legislation on L-day next year, in early summer 2019, and it would come into effect from April 2020.
At 4.24pm the sitting was adjourned for votes in the main Commons chamber on the contempt of Parliament motion relating to legal advice on the EU withdrawal agreement. It resumed at 5.02pm.
Amendment 96 was not pressed to the vote. Amendment 103 was defeated without a roll call vote.
Clauses 53 and 54 were agreed without a vote.
Clause 55 - Tobacco duty rates
Clause 55 provides for changes to the rates of excise duty on tobacco products (cigarettes, cigars, hand-rolling tobacco, other smoking tobacco and chewing tobacco) and to the Minimum Excise Tax (MET) on cigarettes. These changes are to have effect from 6pm on 29 October 2018.
Amendment 100 (Labour) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the revenue impact of the changes to the rates of excise duty on tobacco products.
Peter Dowd, for Labour, introduced amendment 100. He asked the government to consider the implications of falling revenue from tobacco duty as tobacco use falls.
The Exchequer Secretary said the government did not want to raise rates so fast as to increase the illicit tobacco market. Amendment 100 was not needed because the Chancellor considers the impact of all changes before his Budget every year.
Amendment 100 was withdrawn.
Clause 55 was agreed without opposition.
Clause 56 - Tobacco for heating
This clause amends Section 1 of the Tobacco Products Duty Act (TPDA) 1979 (and Schedule 1 to that Act) to introduce excise duty on a new category of tobacco – tobacco for heating. The new duty category will take effect at a date to be appointed by regulations, at a rate set at Budget 2018
Amendment 101 (Labour) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the revenue impact of the changes made by Clause 56.
Amendment 102 (Labour) would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to review the impact of the provisions of Clause 56 on public health.
Peter Dowd moved his amendments formally, withdrawing amendment 101 and not pressing amendment 102 to the vote.
Clause 56 was agreed without opposition.
The committee was adjourned at 5.12pm. It will resume on Thursday morning at clause 57.