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House of Commons Hansard

Public Bill Committees

01 February 2018

    Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [ Lords ] (First sitting)

    The Committee consisted of the following Members:

    Chairs: Andrew Rosindell, † Graham Stringer

    † Amesbury, Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

    † Black, Mhairi (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

    † Burghart, Alex (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)

    Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

    † Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)

    † Dromey, Jack (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)

    † Fovargue, Yvonne (Makerfield) (Lab)

    † Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

    † Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

    † Latham, Mrs Pauline (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)

    † Mackinlay, Craig (South Thanet) (Con)

    † Merriman, Huw (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

    † Milling, Amanda (Cannock Chase) (Con)

    † Opperman, Guy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)

    † Reeves, Ellie (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)

    Thomas, Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)

    † Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

    Jyoti Chandola, Gail Bartlett, Committee Clerks

    † attended the Committee

    Public Bill Committee

    Thursday 1 February 2018

    (Morning)

    [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

    Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords]

  • Good morning. Before we begin line-by-line consideration, I have a few preliminary housekeeping announcements. Will Members please switch all electronic devices to silent? I notice some tea and coffee on the tables. I would be grateful if Members could please remove them and not bring them into the room. I will first call the Minister to move the programme motion agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee.

    Ordered,

    That—

    (1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 11.30 am on Thursday 1 February) meet—

    (a) at 2.00 pm on Thursday 1 February;

    (b) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 6 February;

    (2) the proceedings shall be taken in the following order: Clause 1; Schedules 1 and 2; Clauses 2 to 20; Schedule 3; Clauses 21 to 24; Schedules 4 and 5; Clauses 25 to 31; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

    (3) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 6 February.—(Guy Opperman.)

    Resolved,

    That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Guy Opperman.)

  • Mr Speaker has asked that we explain the procedure in more detail than used to be the case before we start our main proceedings.

    We now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today is available in the room and on the Bill website. It shows how the selected amendments have been grouped together for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same or a similar issue. The Member who has put their name to the lead amendment in a group is called first. Other Members are then free to catch my eye to speak on all or any of the amendments in the group. A Member may speak more than once in a single debate.

    At the end of the debate on a group of amendments, I shall call the Member who moved the lead amendment again. Before they sit down, they will need to indicate whether they wish to withdraw the amendment or seek a decision. If any Member wishes to press any amendment or new clause in a group to a vote, they need to let me know. I shall work on the assumption that the Minister wishes to reach a decision on all Government amendments when we reach them.

    Please note that decisions on amendments take place not in the order they are debated, but in the order they appear on the amendment paper. In other words, debate occurs according to the selection and grouping list; decisions are taken when we come to the clause that the amendment affects. Decisions on adding new clauses or schedules are taken towards the end of proceedings, but may be discussed earlier if grouped with other amendments.

    I shall use my discretion to decide whether to allow separate stand part debates on individual clauses and schedules following the debates on relevant amendments. I hope that explanation is helpful to members of the Committee.

    Clause 1

    The single financial guidance body

  • I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 2, line 6, at end insert ‘and the devolved authorities.’

    This amendment, together with amendment 18, will enable transfer schemes under Schedule 2 to transfer staff, property, rights and liabilities from the consumer financial education body to the devolved authorities. This may be necessary in view of the fact that the devolved authorities will be responsible for the provision of debt advice in their areas (see clause 15).

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Clause stand part.

    Government amendment 18.

  • It is a pleasure to work under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and I welcome all colleagues to the Committee. I am grateful to those Members of the House of Lords who contributed to the Bill—it started in the other place—expanding and improving it in a significant and important way.

    The Bill builds on a Government commitment to ensure that members of the public can access good-quality, free-to-clients and impartial financial guidance and debt advice. Those services are currently provided by a number of different organisations, including financial services firms, utilities and those in the charity sector. Government-sponsored pensions guidance, money guidance and debt advice is provided by the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and the Department for Work and Pensions under the Pension Wise banner.

    There have been a multitude of reviews, Select Committee assessments, consultations and calls for evidence since 2015, by which we reached the state in 2017 when the Bill was introduced in this Parliament. Consequently, clause 1 establishes a new non-departmental public body, to be referred to in legislation as the single financial guidance body. The clause introduces schedule 1, which provides details of the proposed governance and accountability of the new body. The provisions within the schedule deal with, for example, the appointment of the chair, non-executive members, executive members and staff, the delegation of duties within the body, the constitution of the committees, and the statutory reporting and accounting procedures.

    Clause 1 allows the Secretary of State to make regulations to replace the phrase “single financial guidance body” in legislation with the actual name of the body—the body will be named nearer to the time it becomes operational. The regulations that name the body will be created through a statutory instrument under the negative procedure, which is subject to annulment by either House of Parliament.

    Clause 1 dissolves the consumer financial education body now known as the Money Advice Service. Schedule 2 allows the transfer of staff, property, rights and liabilities from the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise—in effect from the Secretary of State to the new body. The schedule allows similar transfers from the Money Advice Service to the new body. I have met all three organisations and discussed the proposed merger with them. I can assure the House that all three are keen to merge, which is rare in Government mergers and should be applauded.

    Amendments 1 and 18 are technical in nature and extend the power to make transfer schemes under schedule 2 to the devolved authority. Schedule 2 already allows the Secretary of State to transfer staff, property, rights and liabilities from the Money Advice Service to the new single financial guidance body. This is required to ensure continuity of provision, including on contracts held, and avoid disruption to services in the creation of the body. The devolved authorities will have responsibility for the provision of debt advice in their areas once the new body is established. Devolved authorities have been consulted on this and are very much in agreement. Amendment 1 therefore helps to avoid similar disruption to debt advice provision in the devolved authorities when the new body is established.

  • It is an honour to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. Let me start by paying tribute to the three organisations that are being merged into one—the Money Advice Service, the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise—for the work they have done over many years. The Minister is right that all three agree about the good sense of bringing them together into one body. Why? Because all three know from experience, and have advocated, that high-quality advice—independent, trustworthy and there when it is needed—is of the highest importance, particularly in circumstances of redundancy, death or divorce, when the financial consequences for the citizen can be very serious.

    I will give some examples. In Port Talbot, the staff supervisor told Michelle Cracknell, the chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service, that he was distraught that he had been badly advised on pensions and that the 20 others on his shift had followed his lead. He burst into tears when he said, “It’s not just the mistake that I’ve made; it’s the mistake that others have made following my example.” I remember a victim of domestic violence in my constituency saying, “I borrow to pay the debt, because I borrow to pay the debt, because I borrow to pay the debt.” That is the downward spiral into which citizens all too often fall at a time of crisis in their lives. A Kingstanding dustman said to me, “I’m an agency worker on a zero-hours contract and I would love to buy a house, because my wife is pregnant and we’re paying a fortune in rent.” He went on to say, “It’s not just that: because I’m on a zero-hours contract, I can’t plan. I keep getting into debt. I’ve had bad advice.”—he used stronger words than those—“Where do I turn?”

    That is why we made it clear on Second Reading that this is a welcome Bill and a strong step in the right direction, and it has been strengthened by constructive debate in the other place. Our intention is to make a good Bill better still and to inject a sense of urgency into some of its proposals, because the dignity and financial wellbeing of our citizens, in opportunity or adversity, is of the highest importance.

    We agree to the concept of the new organisation and support the direction of travel. We will seek to amend the Bill in certain key areas in order to strengthen it further, so that it delivers, particularly for those in desperate need and in circumstances in which there are still too many rogues taking advantage of the vulnerable. There is a joint determination across the House to ensure that nothing but the best is provided in the future for the British people. I am talking about high-quality advice that they can count on in all circumstances.

  • I echo much of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington has just said. I am very grateful, on a Thursday morning, that the Bill is not contentious—I do not know about anyone else here, but I am not in the mood for arguing. We have proper concerns about only three areas of the Bill. The first relates to how young people are involved and educated through it. The second question is whether we can clear up some of the difficulties between guidance and advice. The third and most important issue is dealing with clause 5, because what we have from the Government now is wholly inadequate. With that said, I look forward to having genuine discussions in Committee.

  • I am grateful to colleagues for their comments, which I endorse. I look forward to responding to the specific points. I accept and anticipate that there will be a legitimate discussion as to the appropriate way forward in respect of default pensions guidance, on which I know both Opposition Front Benchers wish to address the Committee. I thank them for their comments.

    Amendment 1 agreed to.

    Clause 1, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

  • We now come to amendment 23 to schedule 1, with which we will consider the question that schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

  • Are we not moving to clause 2?

  • No, it is your amendment 23, to schedule 1, in relation to the independence of the single financial guidance body.

    Schedule 1

    The single financial guidance body

  • I beg to move amendment 23, in schedule 1, page 27, line 9, at end insert—

    “(3) The Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of ensuring that the single financial guidance body is as independent from Government as reasonably possible in determining its activities.”

    This amendment will ensure that the single financial guidance body has the autonomy to fulfil its functions.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    That schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill.

  • My apologies, Mr Stringer, for getting things in the wrong order—having been dealing this week with the issue of Carillion, the problems at Jaguar Land Rover, and GKN, I have to say that it has been a rather hectic few days.

    The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the single financial guidance body has the autonomy to fulfil its functions. The new body will be a publicly funded, non-departmental public body, answerable to the Secretary of State. As such, it is imperative that it have the correct amount of autonomy from Government to ensure that it can fulfil all its functions effectively. The new body will be tasked with carrying out a number of very important and critical functions, including starting a new era of enhanced financial guidance and education. Those will best be fulfilled by an independent, autonomous body, free from Government interference. It should be free to make decisions that let it do the job for which Parliament has voted. It should not be subject to the whims of whichever Government are in power, and the political winds those whims can bring. It should be free, as is often said, to speak truth unto power, and all too often the uncomfortable needs to be said and done. The new body should not feel constrained in so doing.

    The new body’s important functions include providing guidance to those who are making important financial decisions. The take-up of the services offered by Pension Wise, for instance, is extremely low. Of the 772,000 people who transferred some or all of their pension in 2017, only 66,000 had an appointment with Pension Wise, and an FCA survey found that only one in eight 55 to 64-year-olds who planned to retire in the next two years and who have a defined-contribution pension had used the Pension Wise service in a 12-month period.

    The intention of all parties in the House is to have a new and effective organisation that ensures that in future we do not have that kind of problem of take-up by the citizen. We want to ensure that it is widely known that Pension Wise exists; that Pension Wise is vigorously advertising its purpose and function; and that, because we insist on independent advice being given, it is truly independent from Government.

    I will just make one final point, which arises out of constructive discussions with the Minister. I am the first to recognise that there needs to be oversight and accountability. There must be oversight by, and accountability to, Parliament. Crucially, however, it would be inappropriate for the Government to interfere in the day-to-day conduct of the new organisation. It should be free to do its job and to do its job well, and therefore I hope that the Government will give the necessary assurances about it.

  • Has my hon. Friend read Peter Wyman’s recent independent report on the debt advice landscape? He advocates that there should be somebody in charge of the whole debt landscape—almost a debt Tsar. That seems to be a really good idea, to maintain the independence of the debt landscape. Does my hon. Friend agree?

  • My hon. Friend, who is part of an honourable tradition of giving high-quality advice to people in times of need, particularly through citizens advice bureaux, is absolutely right. The evidence is damning; the need is apparent. It is now a question of how best that need is met. The new body is a step in the right direction, but it should not be the last word; it is the first “next step,” but it is an important step in the right direction.

  • I am grateful to colleagues for their comments. The Bill sets out absolutely clearly that the single financial guidance body will be at arm’s length from Government. That distance from Government means that the day-to-day decisions the new body makes will be independent, as they will be removed from Ministers and civil servants. Nevertheless, there is a sponsoring Minister, who remains answerable to Parliament for the activities of the new body, its effectiveness and its efficiency, including any failures, especially in the case of a body that receives public funds. It is important that there is a balance—I think all of us recognise that—between enabling the Department to fulfil its responsibilities to Parliament and to be accountable, and giving the new body the desired degree of independence.

    Conferring functions on the new body involves a recognition that operational independence from Ministers in carrying out its functions is appropriate, and the new body will support delivery of the objectives of both the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions, to create a more effective system of publicly funded financial guidance and to give savers the confidence to save and access money in the future. The new body’s activities will be funded by a levy on the financial services industry and on pension schemes.

    On Second Reading the hon. Member for Makerfield addressed one of the criticisms levelled at the Money Advice Service. All of us support what MAS is trying to do, its broad objective and the efforts it is making. However, one of the strong criticisms of it in its early years, which came from both the independent Farnish review and the Treasury Committee, which obviously operates on a cross-party basis, was that MAS lacked accountability and that the activities it delivered, and the money it was spending, could not be held to account by Parliament and the respective Minister.

    The Farnish review, which is one of the reasons we are creating this body in the way we are, suggested that the Money Advice Service accountability regime was weak, and recommended that it be strengthened. The Treasury Committee expressed concerns that the Money Advice Service had moved its service away from its intended focus. I am certain that the hon. Member for Makerfield will be directing it to have a “laser-like focus”—the expression she used on Second Reading—on commissioning services, towards direct delivery and building up its brand name.

    Lord knows, all Governments like to be held to account by Oppositions, and quite rightly too, but let us imagine that the single financial guidance body chose to do something that any Member of the Opposition or of the Government felt was inappropriate. The inability to hold that body to account and to hold a Minister to account would not be something the House would want. In the circumstances, it is appropriate that the responsible Minister is able to make representations, but it is very much a partnership system that needs to work well between the body and the Government, and there must be clarity about expectations and the approaches to accountability.

    The correct way forward is to have a framework document setting out that particular method of working. That framework document approach, setting out the partnership so that there is due accountability to Parliament, while at the same time allowing the body to get on with the job that we all agree it should be doing, is well established and has been under successive Governments. In the circumstances, I believe that placing the requirement in legislation, as set out in amendment 23, is both unnecessary and undesirable, and I urge the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

  • The Minister has said some helpful things, and he is absolutely right that it is about getting the right balance between accountability and operational independence. The proposal for a framework document is welcome. I simply ask that there is consultation on the nature of that framework document, including with stakeholders, at the appropriate stage.

    On the establishment of the new body, the governance of it and precisely how that will be structured, we have heard what has been said thus far, but it will be important that we have high-quality and independent individuals engaged in the governance, including on a day-to-day basis.

    On the basis of what I and the Minister have said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Schedule 2

    Transfer schemes under section 1

    Amendment made: 18, in schedule 2, page 32, line 3, at end insert “and the devolved authorities.”—(Guy Opperman.)

    See explanatory statement for amendment 1.

    Schedule 2, as amended, agreed to.

    Clause 2

    Objectives

  • I beg to move amendment 37, in clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out from “accordingly” to end of line 20 and insert—

    “(da) to ensure the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances, including but not exclusively—

    (i) those who suffer long-term sickness or disability,

    (ii) carers,

    (iii) those on low incomes, and

    (iv) recipients of benefits,

    are met and that resources are allocated in such a way as to allow specially trained advisers

    and guidance to be made available to them.”

    This amendment would require that specially trained advisers and guidance are made available to people in vulnerable circumstances and would provide an indicative list of what vulnerable circumstances might include.

    The amendment came about because we were chuffed, when reading the Bill, to see that there was a mention of vulnerable people, especially given the nature of pensions and how much is at stake with them, but to be honest we felt that the wording was a little weak. I would like the wording tightened up to ensure that it is clear and means what I think it does. That is why we have suggested what we consider “vulnerable people” to mean, and it will be good to see whether the Government are happy to accept that.

    We want to make sure that the new body is as accessible as possible for all people, regardless of their circumstances. Specially trained advisers and resources should make up part of that new body, so that people can have confidence and the ability to make the right decisions. I do not think that the amendment is that contentious; it just tidies up the Government’s wording.

  • I rise to support the proposition. We will deal with the issues of vulnerability and disability later in the Bill, but although it is true that not everyone who needs urgent and independent advice is necessarily in circumstances of vulnerability, the nature of the world of work and of the economy means that a lot of people’s backs are against the wall, especially after the high-profile collapses of late. We should make explicit what is implicit: the new body should proceed in the right way. I hope the Minister will give the assurance that everyone who turns to it will receive high-quality independent advice. A specific focus on support for the vulnerable is a legitimate objective.

  • I am keen to give assurance on that specific point. If the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South will allow me, I will walk her through how we got to the situation where the Government chose to amend the Bill to add in the vulnerable circumstances clause that is the basis for her amendment. The Government take the view that the amendment is not necessary in the circumstances, and I will explain why.

    The body’s activity towards the people who are most in need and in vulnerable circumstances has been the priority of all parties since the creation of the Bill. Vulnerable circumstances were not originally spelt out, but they were certainly spelt out on Second Reading in the House of Lords. There was extensive debate in the House of Lords on a cross-party basis with representations by Baroness Finlay, Baroness Coussins, Baroness Hollins and the Labour Lord, Lord McKenzie, about the need for clarity on access to financial guidance and awareness of financial services for people who find themselves in vulnerable circumstances.

    The Government decided in the other place to state explicitly in clause 2(1)(d) that the body’s objectives include the need to support people in “vulnerable circumstances” when exercising its functions. An amendment was introduced to strengthen the objectives to ensure that the body’s

    “information, guidance and advice is available to those most in need…bearing in mind in particular the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances”.

    The Government’s amendment has created a statutory framework that will give clear direction to the new body to support people in those circumstances. That means that the body will be required to focus its efforts and resources on that area, and will look at the best ways to provide guidance to vulnerable people in different places.

    A general principle of the Bill, which I will expand on in relation to this and other points, is that there is a danger of being overly prescriptive to a body that one is setting up with the specific purpose that it has the latitude to exercise the appropriate commissioning and employment of charities and organisations in particular places. Asking the body to have a generality of specially trained advisers and guidance risks being too prescriptive in the Bill. We want to ensure that the body has the latitude to take advantage of its expertise to find the best interventions and the best channels to address the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances now and in the future. That is not to say that the body itself may not choose to do exactly what the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South has fairly set out, but that is for the body to do under the circumstances that it sees fit.

    The risk outlined on Second Reading—I can see that I will have to refer to the hon. Member for Makerfield on several occasions—was the danger of duplication. Whether or not one feels that the Government or individual local authorities are providing appropriate services, other services are being provided, whether that is universal support or the visiting service, that support claimants with a face-to-face service and by offering to manage their claims. There is a duplication risk, which was the specific problem of the Money Advice Service in the past.

    The general point is that we believe that it is wrong to be too prescriptive and to predefine a whole series of obligations, functions and capabilities of this organisation. That does not mean that we will not have a discussion going forward, nor that the body will not address these specific points, but I do not want to predefine and subdivide every single part. It should be left to the body to make those decisions as it goes forward. That does not in any way diminish the need for these things to be addressed, but I would not want that in the Bill. It is for the body, when it is fully formed, to address those points. In the circumstances, I invite the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South to withdraw the amendment, having taken due note of the assurances that I have given.

  • I appreciate what the Minister says, but it is strange to say that the amendment is too prescriptive after talking about how important it is that the Bill has cross-party support and saying that it is about trying to bring about genuine change. I do not see what is contentious about fleshing out what vulnerable people means. The only downside that I can see to having the amendment in the Bill is the possibility of helping too many people. I appreciate that the Minister says that it is up to the body to decide, but that is where we will have to disagree, because I think that the purpose of the Bill is to ensure that people do not fall through the cracks anymore, so I would not be comfortable withdrawing the amendment.

    Question put, That the amendment be made.

  • Division 1

    1 February 2018

    The Committee divided:

    Ayes: 1
    Noes: 9

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

  • I beg to move amendment 24, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

    “(4) In the case of members of the public who are self-employed “information, guidance and advice” also includes information and advice on business-related debt, in addition to personal debt.”

    This amendment would extend the single financial guidance body’s remit to advise the self-employed on business finances and debts.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 25, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

    “(4) In the case of members of the public who are self-employed—

    (a) “financial matters” also includes information and advice on business-related debt, in addition to personal debt”, and

    (b) “financial affairs” includes business-related financial affairs, in addition to personal financial affairs.”

    This amendment would extend the single financial guidance body’s remit to advise the self-employed on business finances and debts.

  • Although self-employed people will be able to access the help of the new body for their personal finances, they will not be able to use it for their business finances. We have listened very carefully to the voice of the self-employed—on one hand organisations such as the Federation of Small Businesses, and on the other hand people I have spoken to in my own constituency, including taxi drivers and construction workers who are self-employed and, indeed, an individual who ran a fruit and veg shop in Erdington High Street and got into financial difficulties.

    I have seen how self-employed people badly need advice and guidance, and there is all too often an overlap between their personal advice and guidance and that for the business in which they are engaged. That is why we say that evidence shows that, for the self-employed, the line between personal and business finances is usually blurred and can be very difficult to manage, particularly for those just setting out as self-employed people. The number of self-employed people is higher than ever before in our economy, so they need to be able to rely on the new body for advice and guidance when they need it.

    Figures released last year suggest that the number of self-employed workers in the United Kingdom rose by 23%—from 3.8 million to 4.7 million—between 2007 and 2017. That represents a shift in the nature of the world of work and the way the British economy is working. Self-employed people now represent about 15% of the workforce, and 91% of businesses say they hire contractors. The majority of self-employed people are sole traders, and there is no legal distinction between them as individuals and as businesses. There were 3.4 million sole traders in 2017. The biggest increase in self-employed people was among women.

    Although self-employment is a positive choice for most, there is a real problem with the conscription of some into reluctant self-employment. Either way, the average earnings of the self-employed are significantly lower than those of the employed. The figures vary—I would be the first to acknowledge that—but there has been growth in self-employment in higher-skilled, higher-paying areas, such as advertising, public administration and banking. Although some workers enjoy greater flexibility and control over their working patterns, self-employment can nevertheless have a negative impact on their access to finance.

    As self-employment has increased, so has demand for advice about business-related debts. Last year, 36,421 people were helped by the business debt line run by the national charity the Money Advice Trust, which does outstanding work and gave us very good advice and guidance about the Bill. Demand for the debt line has increased from 24,000 in 2016 to 36,421. The Money Advice Trust says, and I think it is right, that it expects the rise in demand to continue.

    The amendments would ensure that the SFGB provided self-employed people with information, advice and guidance about their business-related, not just their personal, debt and finances, with a focus on those who are most in need, in line with the body’s wider objectives. The amendments would apply to its debt advice and money guidance functions. As Lord Haskel said in the other place,

    “the work of the SFGB should include the self-employed and micro-businesses, particularly at a time when the line between company employment and self-employment is becoming very blurred.”—[Official Report, House of Lords, 5 July 2017; Vol. 783, c. 933.]

    Personal and business finances are closely intertwined for many self-employed people. Some 48% of self-employed people use a only personal current account for their business, and a further 17% use both a personal and a business account, according to the Financial Conduct Authority’s “Financial Lives” survey in 2017. The Money Advice Trust report, “The cost of doing business”, which is based on extended interviews with business debt line clients, found that almost seven in 10 of those who had taken out a personal loan were using it to prop up their business. Research by the University of Bristol’s personal finance research centre identified two key areas of overlap between business and personal finances: first, general living expenses, especially for those who live on their business premises; and, secondly, the use of personal credit to manage cash flow where necessary. Given the intertwining of business and personal finances for many self-employed people, if the SFGB does not offer information, advice and guidance on both, it will not be able to provide that growing section of the population with the support it needs.

    I very much hope that the Minister will respond constructively to what we are saying and look at what might happen if the Government choose not to amend the Bill. I reserve my right to come back on that after hearing the Minister’s response.

  • I want to make a short contribution about how the finances of the self-employed are muddied with their personal finances. I had a meeting recently with Amigo Loans, a guarantor loan provider. It said that an increasing part of its business is loaning to people in a personal capacity, although they know it is for business purposes. Is that a business debt or a personal one? The fact that it does not look at the business plan might make it a personal debt, although I do think it ought to be looking at the business plan. Is it a personal debt or a business debt for the guarantor who guarantees the debt? In a lot of cases, it is fairly unclear where the line lies. To have a firm demarcation line where no business debts are dealt with is probably detrimental.

  • I am grateful to colleagues for making this point, and I recognise that it is not a simple issue. To pretend that the dividing line is absolutely precise and clear would be naive and wrong. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and I discussed this issue yesterday. I will go away and consider the matter prior to Report and Third Reading. However, today I will oppose the amendment and I shall try to explain why. I will also explain why the Money Advice Service does not seek the change and answer some of the questions asked by the hon. Member for Makerfield.

    The Money Advice Service provides a range of information and guidance, via webchat, telephone and online, specifically for the self-employed. That includes information and guidance on matters such as tax, national insurance, personal and business insurance, and guidance on the steps to consider when starting a new business. It also signposts to other free, impartial and expert services for self-employed people in respect of their business, including the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy’s business support helpline, the Money Advice Trust, which is funded and supported by the Government, and the comprehensive information on gov.uk.

    Recognising the complex nature of a self-employed person’s finances, MAS also supports the provision of debt advice to self-employed people. This is a service that provides debt advice specifically for people who are self-employed. In relation to the Pensions Advisory Service and Pension Wise, pensions guidance is offered to everyone; those services are available to all, regardless of whether someone is self-employed.

    When the single financial guidance body takes over the services, I see no reason why those services would not continue. There should be ongoing provision of that degree of support. We want the new body to continue the research and work that is already done by existing organisations, identify where there are gaps in financial guidance and debt advice provision, and look for ways to fill those gaps.

    Through its strategic function, the body must develop a national strategy to improve the financial capability of members of the public and their ability to manage debt. To do that, it will work with a range of industry, charity, public sector and voluntary sector organisations to develop a strategy where they work together to address this problem and others in respect of people’s financial guidance and debt advice needs.

    The single financial guidance body will not operate in a vacuum. As I alluded to earlier, there is online business advice, whether provided by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs or BEIS, and I would go further than that and give an example. The Start Up Loans Company helps people to get started in business. Self-evidently, it is funded by BEIS, and it works in partnership with the British Business Bank. It is a requirement of Start Up Loans Company finance partners to ensure that, as part of their service to the self-employed, they consider how someone could service any debts they have in respect of their business. They also do further signposting.

  • There is a risk, particularly in these circumstances and at this stage, that we may duplicate a pre-existing Government service, which the Money Advice Service and others have warned against in the past. I have asked what the Money Advice Service’s view is. I stress that I do not have a direct quote, but I have been told that its broad interpretation of the amendment is that it is unnecessary at this stage, as MAS already signposts and funds initiatives, and its commissioning strategy already identifies the self-employed as a priority. It does not favour the amendment, especially if it would mean straying into supporting businesses rather than lone traders.

    Let me finish with two points. A self-employed person is personally liable for their business debts. However, where a self-employed person trades as a limited company, we get into the question of how microbusinesses are run. That goes back to the point I made to the hon. Member for Makerfield: it would be a danger if the single financial guidance body were seen as a panacea for all problems, and in these particular circumstances I am certain that it is not appropriate for it to become the adviser to microbusinesses. It simply does not have the capability, that is not its core specialism, and there are other organisations to which it can refer and signpost people.

    I take entirely the legitimate point about the grey area that Citizens Advice and others see on a regular basis—we all see it, too, when a gentleman comes into a surgery with a sheaf of papers, plonks them on our desk and says, “Please solve that”—but I do not believe it is appropriate for the Government to shape the body in that way at this moment. I will discuss the issue further with the Money Advice Service, but for present purposes, I oppose the amendment.

  • On the question of what is a personal debt and what is a self-employment or business-type debt, if a self-employed person who is a sole trader—that is, unincorporated—takes on a loan for a van or something else, that by its very nature becomes a personal debt. That is the nature of being a sole trader. Complications may arise where that person, who to all other intents is self-employed, trades as a micro limited company. If, because of difficulties accessing credit through the limited company, that person decided to take a personal loan and then provide it as a director’s loan account to his or her own limited company, what status would that loan have? I imagine in law—

  • Order. I remind the hon. Gentleman that interventions should be brief and to the point. I am happy to call him if he wants to make a speech, but he must keep his interventions a good deal shorter than that.

  • Thank you for that advice, Mr Stringer. This is of course a complicated area, which requires a little extra explanation. In that instance, the bank or credit provider would recognise that as a personal loan. I wonder whether that would be covered by the advice that may be available.

  • I recognise my hon. Friend’s expertise in such matters, and I thank him for his intervention. Support for self-employed people is covered by the Bill, because the self-employed are members of the public, in the way he outlined. Any personal business debt of a self-employed person is covered in respect of them being an individual member of the public.

    I take my hon. Friend’s point about loans. I am delighted to say that I am not able to answer it right now, but I will definitely get back to him. In seriousness, we need to consider that point and work out whether there is any way of changing it and taking on board the views of the organisations that have practised in this area for some considerable time. I will certainly write to him with a specific answer and circulate that answer to all Committee members.

  • The hon. Member for South Thanet is absolutely right, and his examples about the complexity we face are fascinating. The Minister’s response has been helpful. The new service is welcome; there is a degree of confusion about exactly what it can do for the self-employed, but that has already been substantially clarified. We recognise the complexity the hon. Gentleman summed up so well, so if the issue of business advice—if I can use that as a shorthand term—is not addressed effectively at this stage of the Bill, it will have to be addressed at another stage. Even if we cannot make progress in Committee, the Minister’s undertaking to engage in discussions will be warmly welcomed by organisations such as the Money Advice Trust and the Federation of Small Businesses.

  • May I briefly clarify a point that I should have addressed in my response? I applaud the Money Advice Trust’s work, but in the briefing that it submitted to our Committee, it seeks broader business support, arguing that the single financial guidance body should address a host of other things and be available to small businesses more broadly—a mission creep that I would oppose. The MAT is a laudable charity and I respect entirely its good work, but that is a classic example of the mission creep that we want to avoid. Both the hon. Gentleman and I support the charity and its good works, but I believe that there is a limit to the assistance that the FSGB should give to that charity and its objectives.

  • It is legitimate mission creep. What is good about our exchange is that we recognise that making progress with the issues identified by the MAT and the hon. Member for South Thanet may be difficult in Committee, but we can move forward at a later stage. The Minister’s point is absolutely right, but no one is suggesting that we should duplicate the functions of other bodies. If we can move forward at a later stage, jointly engaging with the organisations that represent the self-employed and those who advise them, it will be welcomed both by the organisations concerned and by the self-employed who need that advice and guidance. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  • I beg to move amendment 38, in clause 2, page 2, line 32, at end insert—

    “(4) The single financial guidance body must, within three months of being established, define the following terms within the context of its objectives and functions—

    (a) “information”,

    (b) “guidance” and

    (c) “advice”.”

    This amendment would require the new body to define “information”, “guidance” and “advice” so that consumers are better able to understand which of the three would be most helpful to them.

  • With this it will be convenient to consider clause stand part.

  • The amendment is pretty straightforward and sensible. It would clarify the important differences between information, guidance and advice, which we know have a major impact on people’s decisions and how reliable they are if things go wrong. It is not often that parliamentarians admit ignorance, but before I became pensions spokesperson, I did not realise that there was any official difference between the three terms. I am a Member of Parliament and I have only recently found that out, so the Committee can imagine what it must be like for the general public. As long as the Government clarify the definitions of the three terms, I will be happy to withdraw the amendment.

  • I support the hon. Lady’s request for definition of the terms, although I recognise that it is difficult not to stray into other areas. A further concern is that the information, guidance and advice need to be free and impartial. There are too many pensions providers that spend a lot of money—I heard of one spending £15 million—on ensuring their advice is compliant with all the FCA impartiality rules. As somebody said, if pension providers are spending £15 million on making their advice impartial, they must be expecting some return on their investment. That worries me—that people are gently steered towards a particular product if they go to a particular service.

    I believe that some of the comparison websites that people use are not always impartial. If they take money for the top rankings, they are not providing a properly impartial service. People do not understand the differences between those comparison website that have paid-for rankings at the top and those that are completely impartial, based on objective criteria. Guidance on the types of investment can be different when it leads to a product sale, unlike when it is just helping a consumer through their options, completely free of any sales pitch.

  • I declare an interest as chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on insurance and financial services. I welcome the Bill in general, and from my conversations with the insurance industry I know that it is very supportive of the Bill and of the establishment of the single financial guidance body as great step forward to having access to guidance at relevant points in life. Because of the welcome pension freedoms, that guidance has become more essential than ever before.

    There is good practice in the industry already—for example, Aviva insurance is running its MOT at 50 scheme, on which the preliminary feedback has been very positive. The results show that getting advice made people far more engaged with their finances and more likely to plan for their retirement, and many went on to seek regulated advice. The crucial point that Aviva made was that by delivering the MOT at 50, people had time to change their plans, think realistically about the future to meet their retirement objectives.

    I want the Minister to give clarification on three points. First, what will the Bill provide for consumers? From the APPG’s and my perspective, it should look at providing financial resilience, promoting early intervention to prepare for life events, and raising awareness of the benefits of protection products, which are particularly helpful for the self-employed—things such as income protection, critical illness and life insurance. In my experience as a broker, people generally only took those when it was too late and when they had had a bad experience. If we can help to advise people ahead of incidents, that would be really useful.

    Secondly, could we have clarification on the timeline for implementing the SFGB and assurances that transitional agreements will provide certainty of access to guidance for consumers, and certainty for providers in relation to signposting arrangements? Thirdly, will the Minister set out how the new body will set standards to be approved by the FCA? The Bill says that that should happen, but it does not specify how it should be approached or how it intends to set out the strategy. Could the Minister provide some guidance on that? I appreciate that the answer to the third point might be quite detailed and I will be happy if we wants to write to me with the information. I look forward to his response.

  • On the pensions dashboard—

  • We are still on clause 2. Is the hon. Gentleman clear about that?

  • To echo what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said, it has been a long week and I think we will all have situations where we start addressing particular clauses at the wrong time.

  • I hope not, too, but I have done so well thus far and it cannot last. I will try to address in their entirety the three specific points raised by the hon. Members for Paisley and Renfrewshire South and for Makerfield and by my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire.

    The first point is about whether the body itself will provide free and impartial advice and services. The shake of the head betrays the hon. Member for Makerfield. I draw her attention to clause 3, which I suggest she clearly has not read as much as she should have, because the House of Lords made sure that the provision was in the Bill. I accept that I am slightly straying off the subject of clause 2, but she will see that subsections (4), (5) and (6) of clause 3 set out that the function is to provide to members of the public free—

  • I understand the reference that the Minister makes to the functions described in clause 3, but the functions are meaningless so long as people do not understand what the difference is between information, guidance and advice.

  • I will come to the comprehension point in a second, if the hon. Lady will permit. I will deal with all three points.

    After the legislation was suitably amended, debated, discussed and agreed with their lordships, it was specifically written into the Bill that the information, guidance and advice should be free and impartial. I take the point that the hon. Member for Makerfield raises, but I hope that she is reassured that that has been specifically written into the Bill, and is addressed there.

    On the definition of terms, may I address the points made by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South that go to the fundamentals of her amendment? One of the key recommendations of the financial advice market review—sometimes known as FAMR—was to clarify the regulatory definition of financial advice. The Government consulted on revising the definition of regulated advice in the existing Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001, so that regulated advice was based on a personal recommendation. That definition is in line with the EU definition set out in the markets in financial instruments directive 2004, catchily known as MFID. The Government agreed that revision, which came into force in early January 2018. We therefore suggest that introducing a new definition of advice in the Bill is unnecessary and potentially duplicative. It would cut across existing regulatory architecture, not just in respect of what the Bill is trying to do and the clients it covers, but across other aspects of the Treasury and dealings with the Financial Conduct Authority and industry and consumer groups. In addition, using legislation to establish definitions for those terms would not provide the flexibility in the future to adapt the definitions appropriately, if and when that needed to take place.

    I also take issue with a number of points regarding the amendment. First, the three organisations that we are merging to form the single body do not seek the definitions that the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South is seeking to persuade us of. Those organisations are a pretty good guide to what the Government are doing, because we have consulted at length, asked them what they want us to do, and they most definitely have not said, “Go away and define those individual points.” They want the degree of latitude to continue.

    Secondly, the hon. Lady asked the body to do this within three months. To answer my hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire on timings, we hope that the body will be created—subject to the good will of the House and Her Majesty signing on the dotted line—between the end of October and the beginning of December. Asking the body to make, within three months of its creation, having merged three organisations, a definition that would probably apply across all financial sectors is, with respect, putting quite a big burden on the body. Also, it is not the appropriate organisation to do that. That should be done by the independent Financial Conduct Authority, suitably engaged in consultation with wider parties. We have done that in relation to advice; that is why we had the FAMR review. To be fair to the FCA, it took two years of long, hard struggle to come up with the specific definition that all parties were content with. I go back to the point that while those particular points are not sought by the individuals, I believe that it is not appropriate to give the definitions.

    My hon. Friend the Member for North Warwickshire asked about timings. We will be up and running, with a fair wind, in winter 2018—but beware of Ministers who say when things will happen, and of course winter in parliamentary terms can stretch a long time. The standards by which the single financial guidance body will be judged are set out in clause 10, on which I am delighted to be addressing the Committee this afternoon, so I will not go into detail about the standards now but will ensure I set out a bit of detail in answer to that question when we debate clause 10, so bear with me. He also made a point about resilience and life events, which I will address briefly.

    A simple point is made about resilience, as set out in clause 2 through the various objectives described, whether the consumer protection or the strategic function. It is also fundamentally set out in clause 3(9), which mentions

    “financial capability of members of the public”.

    One may use “resilience” or “capability”, but the words—without getting too much into definitions—are all but interchangeable and, in the circumstances, we believe that those provisions address capability and the points made by my hon. Friend.

    Regarding preparation for life events, my hon. Friend is a passionate supporter, as am I, of the concept of the mid-life MOT, which has been pioneered by certain companies, including Aviva. As a Government, in particular the Department for Work and Pensions, we are looking at the idea of people, at different critical points of their life, the middle point in particular, assessing where they are in terms of finances, pensions, guidance and everything. That seems eminently sensible to us, and we encourage all private sector organisations to do it. We are formulating plans.

  • But does the Minister agree that it is not only major life events that can cause a problem? In connection with financial resilience, we all know that it might be the broken washing machine that can cause a bump for people who do not have that amount of savings. On financial capability, does the Bill look at addressing the need for people to build up a small pot of savings?

  • The answer is yes. Capability is about the ability to deal with life events, whether the traditional ones such as marriage, birth of a child, retirement or the middle of one’s life generally, or—the hon. Lady is dead right—the washing machine or the car breaking down. There is formulated, as I am sure she is aware, things such as the sidecar proposal that is attached to auto-enrolment specifically to provide a savings pot to deal with life events, so that people are not affected by the sudden events involving £100 or £200 and so on. The Department is definitely working on such things, as we will seek to work with the single financial guidance body to ensure that it formulates those strategies. As the BBC puts it, there are other providers, such as Moneybox, Plum or—the name of the third one that I am particularly impressed by—Chip, which allow people to make small savings through day-to-day earnings and usage, giving them a pocket of savings to deal with things. We very much support all such organisations, and I utterly endorse the points made.

  • The logic behind the amendment is that right now we have hit a fork in the pensions road, because we are recognising that we might not be able to sustain a lot of the things in place now into the future. People are making decisions about their pensions when, to be frank, they do not have a clue about what they are doing, and they are ending up in horrendous situations because of a lack of understanding and of clarity. To me it seems perfectly reasonable to point out that those three terms, which may be used interchangeably in general conversation, in reality can have a massive impact on an individual.

    The Government are promoting an ethos of educating and informing people, to ensure they make the right decision, and I do not see how the amendment waters that down in any sense. I know the Minister is saying that the body needs freedom, and so we cannot define terms as precisely as we would like, but that sounds like the Government are saying that we just have to trust the body’s good will. This is a Government Bill, so why not strengthen it where we can? In that spirit, I am happy to withdraw the amendment on the basis that my later amendments are given due consideration, and that the Minister takes on board what I said. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 3

    Functions

  • I beg to move amendment 26, in clause 3, page 3, line 5, at end insert

    “including by means of provision to the public of a pensions dashboard within the meaning of subsection (11).”

    This amendment would require the single financial guidance body to provide for the public a pensions dashboard as part of its pension guidance function.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 31, in clause 3, page 3, line 34, at end insert—

    ‘(11) In this section and section 5, “pensions dashboard” means a publicly available service where members of the public can securely view details of their state and other pensions savings.”

    This amendment defines “pensions dashboard” for the purposes of Amendment 26 and 32.

    Amendment 32, in clause 5, page 4, line 12, at end insert

    “including by means of provision to the public of a pensions dashboard within the meaning of section 3(11).”

    This amendment would require the single financial guidance body to provide for the public a pensions dashboard as part of its pension guidance function.

  • The lead amendment defines a pensions dashboard. It would require the single financial guidance body to provide for the public a pensions dashboard as part of its pension guidance function.

    The idea of a pensions dashboard as a one-stop shop, enabling people to look at their pension scheme assets in one place, has been considered for a long time. We should have introduced one years ago. Many people across the country have very little idea of the value of their pension schemes—they may be in multiple schemes, and as a result they may have no idea what the returns might be. Pensions are a grey area for millions of people who believe they do not need to worry about it in the here and now, and that they will be able to deal with it when the time comes, but that is simply not the best or the most productive approach.

    If someone has a solid awareness of the state their pension schemes, they have a much better insight into their future earnings after they retire, and they know whether they should put more—or perhaps, on occasion, less—money into their pension pot now. Crucially, this is about getting people to look forward and save for the future. A person moving jobs may have up to 11 small pension pots—that was the case for somebody I encountered recently—but perhaps only one provider has up-to-date details about them.

    Government policy needs to be clear about whether and how the use of the dashboard can measurably reduce the small pots problem, and improve the position of savers whose funds are sitting in legacy products that offer poor value. We should introduce a pensions dashboard as a single public service dashboard overseen and hosted by the new single financial guidance body. It should be a safe viewing place, where an individual can see all the necessary information on their state and other pensions savings.

    Although we did not press the amendment to a vote on Second Reading—indeed, depending on the Minister’s response, we may not do so today—we raised this issue because we urge the Government to look at making it a statutory duty, including for pension providers, to engage with the publicly owned dashboard, and thus to ensure that everyone has a complete picture of their pension situation when using it. The data should only be visible one way. Pension providers should not be able to see an individual’s pension dashboard. They must, however, be obliged to provide data towards it. If the direction of travel is in favour of a pensions dashboard—if that is common ground—the issue of what I describe as a duty to co-operate with the new mechanism is of the highest importance. If the dashboard is to be successful, all providers must release their data into it, although there still are some big, significant questions to be answered about governance, implementation and consumer protection —I would be the first to accept that—before the Government can move to compel all providers to provide the data that the industry is calling for.

    Within the dashboard, there should be a pension finder service—an engine that sends out messages to search the records of all providers and schemes to see whether there is a match for the customer’s details. The engine would then collect that data to populate the consumer’s front-end viewing space.

    The data of millions would be accessible through the dashboard, so I stress again: high standards, tough regulation and sound governance will be required to ensure that there is no abuse of a mechanism that is absolutely crucial to help people plan for the future. There are problems to be overcome, but a dashboard can make pensions guidance more effective. Individuals would have greater knowledge, which would improve the guidance conversation, with less time spent on working out what people have and more on giving the quality guidance that they need.

    The direction of travel is common ground. We ask the Minister to brief the Committee on where the Government’s plans have reached, and I will respond accordingly.

  • I am delighted to have the opportunity to update the Committee on the pensions dashboard, which is a project I have very much taken to heart in the seven months I have had this job. I am massively committed to it. I endorse utterly the broad thrust of what the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington says. It is a groundbreaking project that will provide the holy grail of access to the variety of pension pots we have, in various shapes and forms, as we get older in life—state pension, private pensions or other types of pensions—on one accessible portal.

    However, the proposal to launch the dashboard was taken only in autumn last year. The Department for Work and Pensions is undertaking a feasibility study, which will be finished in March. I propose to report to the House of Commons by written or oral statement before the end of this term. The objective, which is very ambitious, is to launch the dashboard in some shape or form by May 2019.

    I resist the amendment on the simple basis that, although it is very possible that the single financial guidance body will ultimately run the dashboard, that simply cannot be said at the present stage. There are a considerable number of complexities with the dashboard: the retention of a huge amount of different types of data, whether from state pension data or private pensions; who has access to that data; who controls it; and whether that is something that should be done by the Government, as ultimately the most trusted provider—regardless of whether one trusts or does not trust any particular Government—or by a relatively independent quango such as the single financial guidance body. There is an issue about what body would take it forward and hold the data, and the extent to which the data is accessible, to whom and in what way. There is a lot of devil in the detail, but the objective is utterly clear.

    The amendment seeks to put in the Bill that the single financial guidance body will be in charge of the pensions dashboard and will take it forward. This slightly goes to the earlier point from the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South about three months. I would be nervous of saying to the single financial guidance body, which has a big job ahead of it, that it is being set up to merge these organisations, provide all these services, do all of the things we want it to do, and then say, “By the way, on top of that, you have to do the single most complex piece of administration of all aspects of all pensions straightaway within six months of your creation.” In my view, that would be a significant burden on that body at a very early stage. If it was a business, we would be asking, “Why deviate from the core purpose right now?”

    It is possible that once the dashboard is up and running, the logical organisation to take it forward and run it would be the single financial guidance body, but I would be reluctant to commit to that in the Bill. I certainly do not want it to take that on right at the very start. I am happy to work with the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington and colleagues across the House as we go forward. I do not think there is a single naysayer to the project, but one should not underestimate its size or complexity.

    For present purposes, I will resist the three amendments. I am happy to sit down with the hon. Gentleman and other Committee members and explain the issue in more detail, as I did when I appeared before my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar and his colleagues on the Work and Pensions Committee. The Chair of that Committee was very dubious about the likelihood of a dashboard coming into existence. He said that it would not happen during his lifetime, but I robustly assured him that it would. I hope that it will be up and running by May 2019, and that the body will advise it. I therefore respectfully resist the amendments.

  • I agree that this is a groundbreaking proposal. We have believed for some years that a pensions dashboard is essential, and there is common ground across the House that one should be introduced. We will not press the amendment to a vote, but we argue that such a dashboard should be part of the core purpose of the new SFGB.

    What the Minister said is helpful. It is right that there is a feasibility study that includes investigation of the complexities, not least because, as I mentioned, on the one hand we want individuals to have access to high-quality advice and guidance, but on the other we have to protect data and ensure that individuals are not put at risk as a consequence of data leaks of one kind or another. I would be the first to recognise the complexity of that, and I welcome the fact that there will be a report in March.

    Let me make two concluding points. We strongly believe that the SFGB is the best mechanism, but let us have that discussion at the next stage. I welcome what the Minister said about being prepared to sit down and talk that through at the next stage, including with the industry and stakeholders. All that is already happening, but it needs to be done in respect of the construction and final shape of the dashboard and precisely where it is located. I look forward to those discussions at the next stage and, on that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

  • Does the Committee agree that the amendment be withdrawn?

  • With respect, Mr Stringer, I think you mean “amendments”. We are dealing with amendments 26, 31 and 32.

  • I apologise for not using the plural. The Minister is absolutely right.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  • I beg to move amendment 27, in clause 3, page 3, line 27, after “develop” insert “deliver”.

    This amendment would strengthen the SFGBs strategic function to support and co-ordinate a national strategy to a “develop and deliver” function.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 29, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

    “(d) financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.”

    This amendment creates a duty for the single financial guidance body to develop and co-ordinate a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.

    Amendment 39, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

    “(d) the uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body by members of the public, and

    (e) the understanding of pensions amongst those between the ages of 18 and 55.”

    This amendment would add improving uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body, and improve understanding of pensions amongst people aged 18 to 55 to the requirements under the body’s strategic function.

  • These amendments deal with developing and delivering the function of the SFGB and with the notion of a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.

    Amendment 27 would strengthen the SFGB’s strategic function to support and co-ordinate a national strategy to what we call a “develop and deliver” function. We propose that the new body should not only play a part in developing and devising the national strategy for increased financial education and inclusion, but be tasked with delivering that function. As the primary body for advice and guidance on financial services, it will be best placed to deliver a scheme that seems to target a specific area of need—financial illiteracy—for many people in the United Kingdom.

    As we have stated from the start, this is a two-topic Bill. The first concerns the establishment of a new arm’s length entity to replace the three existing publicly funded consumer bodies. The SFGB will have a strategic function to support and co-ordinate the development of a national strategy. The Bill’s stated aim, which we support, is to increase financial capability, reduce problem debt and improve public understanding of occupational and personal pensions. Especially given the appointment of a Minister for Financial Inclusion, the SFGB’s strategic function could be strengthened to a “develop and deliver” function, despite the fact that the body may have limited leverage in certain areas.

    As stated in the Lords Committee on Financial Exclusion, a real strength of the Money Advice Service is its focus on what works and on gathering together an evidence hub. We do not want to see momentum lost—[Interruption.] I am confident, given Government Members’ reaction, that no one wants to see that work slip through our fingers; that would be a missed opportunity. The Committee concluded that

    “it is important for the Government and service providers to continue to develop a greater knowledge of ‘what works’ when seeking to deliver increased financial capability.”

    Sadly, there are many recent examples of vulnerable individuals who have been preyed upon by so-called introducers at a time when the state of their pension scheme has been in question—in particular, British Steel workers in Port Talbot and, more recently, Carillion workers. Earlier, I told hon. Members about a shift supervisor breaking down in tears because he made a wrong decision after receiving bad advice, and because 20 others on his shift had followed his bad advice. He said that he would never forgive himself. Introducers—vultures—pounce upon workers at a time when they are unsure about their future financial situation, and persuade them to transfer their pension savings to a different scheme that will lose them money and often attracts high fees. Such examples illustrate the need for a national strategy to improve the financial education available to the British public.

    The admirable Michelle Cracknell, chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service, makes the point that we have the green cross code—I am sure all hon. Members have seen it—to encourage the safe crossing of streets. It is inculcated in people’s minds and has been very effectively promoted. I went through it with my own kids. She says that, likewise—although not perhaps in the same way—we should encourage people to pause, think and get it right, particularly in circumstances of adversity. We should also help people plan for the future. Either way, that “Where do I turn?” is absolutely crucial. The new body will be a welcome step in the right direction, but we need to deliver a dynamic new body that works hard to create awareness.

    The amendment would create a duty for the single financial guidance body to develop and co-ordinate a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market. Due to the increasingly fragmented and insecure nature of the contemporary labour market, many people are sadly perpetually in a precarious financial situation. I have seen that at first hand time and again in my constituency and in my former role at Unite the union. That group, now commonly known as the precariat, includes self-employed people, workers on zero-hours contracts, part-time workers, workers in the gig economy and those who are conscripted into bogus self-employment. I stress once again that I always draw a distinction between the admirable people—there are many—who want to work on a self-employed basis, and those who are given no alternative, including by employers such as Uber.

    Due to the nature of their work and their hours, those people often find it difficult to access basic financial services. It can be hard for them to rent a home, to get a mortgage, to find home or contents insurance, and to access credit. That has contributed to record low levels of disposable income, alongside the longest wage stagnation in 150 years. Figures released last year suggest that the number of self-employed workers in the UK rose by 23% between 2007 and 2017, from 3.8 million to 4.7 million. Many of them are desperately in need of high-quality advice and guidance. What we are seeing is a shift in the nature of the world of work and the way that the British economy is working. The self-employed now represent 15% of the workforce and 91% of businesses. Although that can mean many enjoying greater flexibility and control over their working lives, it can have a negative impact on their access to finance.

    A 2017 FCA report showed that consumers with no permanent address or who move regularly, which is often a characteristic of insecure employment, can regularly have problems opening bank accounts and accessing insurance and credit. That is a common situation for many people in the current labour market, particularly young people in metropolitan areas. Due to short-term tenancies and insecure working patterns, many people move on a regular basis. That can leave them open to problems accessing basic financial services and they may need guidance on the best way to go about that. The amendment proposes that the new body would need to devise its strategy and financial guidance taking into account the contemporary labour market and the challenges it delivers.

    There is no question but that we have a rapidly changing labour market, with many badly in need of advice and support, as a consequence of patterns of employment. The Government have recognised the need for a focus on the issues about the modern labour market through the Matthew Taylor report. The amendment sits comfortably in the context of the overall scrutiny by the Government and Parliament on how we respond on what is permissible in the future in terms of patterns of employment, and how to, in the here and now, give support to people in insecure employment that time and again they so badly need.

  • Just before I call the Government Whip, let me clarify my previous remarks about amendments being withdrawn. I was a little too eager to agree with the Minister. The question before us then was whether the amendment should be made. We were discussing two other amendments with that, but they were not for decision, so it was singular and not plural—I am just trying to be helpful, Minister.

    Ordered, That the debate be now adjourned.—(Amanda Milling.)

  • Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

    Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [ Lords ] (Second sitting)

    The Committee consisted of the following Members:

    Chairs: † Andrew Rosindell, Graham Stringer

    † Amesbury, Mike (Weaver Vale) (Lab)

    † Black, Mhairi (Paisley and Renfrewshire South) (SNP)

    † Burghart, Alex (Brentwood and Ongar) (Con)

    Coyle, Neil (Bermondsey and Old Southwark) (Lab)

    † Donelan, Michelle (Chippenham) (Con)

    † Dromey, Jack (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)

    † Fovargue, Yvonne (Makerfield) (Lab)

    † Foxcroft, Vicky (Lewisham, Deptford) (Lab)

    † Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

    † Latham, Mrs Pauline (Mid Derbyshire) (Con)

    † Mackinlay, Craig (South Thanet) (Con)

    † Merriman, Huw (Bexhill and Battle) (Con)

    † Milling, Amanda (Cannock Chase) (Con)

    † Opperman, Guy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)

    † Reeves, Ellie (Lewisham West and Penge) (Lab)

    Thomas, Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)

    † Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

    Jyoti Chandola, Gail Bartlett, Committee Clerks

    † attended the Committee

    Public Bill Committee

    Thursday 1 February 2018

    (Afternoon)

    [Andrew Rosindell in the Chair]

    Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [Lords]

  • Welcome to the afternoon sitting. I must first inform the Committee that the question that schedule 1 be the First schedule to the Bill was not put at the appropriate point this morning. To rectify this error, I must now put the question.

    Schedule 1 agreed to.

    Clause 3

    Functions

    Amendment proposed (this day): 27, in clause 3, page 3, line 27, after “develop” insert “deliver”.—(Jack Dromey.)

    This amendment would strengthen the SFGB’s strategic function to support and co-ordinate a national strategy to a “develop and deliver” function.

    Question again proposed, That the amendment be made.

  • I remind the Committee that with this we are discussing the following:

    Amendment 29, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

    “(d) financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.”

    This amendment creates a duty for the single financial guidance body to develop and co-ordinate a national strategy to improve financial guidance relevant to the modern labour market.

    Amendment 39, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

    “(d) the uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body by members of the public, and

    (e) the understanding of pensions amongst those between the ages of 18 and 55.”

    This amendment would add improving uptake of financial advice from the single financial guidance body, and improve understanding of pensions amongst people aged 18 to 55 to the requirements under the body’s strategic function.

  • I had anticipated that we would deal with amendments 27, 29 and 39 together. I thought that they would have been grouped, but I will address amendment 27 to start, and take your guidance from there, Mr Rosindell.

    The hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington proposes in amendment 27 to amend the Bill by a single word. The strategic function of the Bill as drafted and its three elements have been carefully designed, and I believe that the amendment should not be made. Through its strategic function, the guidance body will bring together interested partners in the sector, various services, the public and voluntary sectors and the devolved administrations with the aim of improving the ability of members of the public to manage their finances effectively. To that end, the body will develop and co-ordinate a national strategy.

    The Money Advice Service has been undertaking that vital role to date, and key stakeholders agree that that important work should continue and be expanded. The national strategy will succeed only if the new body works effectively with its many partner organisations in the financial services and other sectors in a collective effort with shared ownership and accountability. Indeed, the premise of the national strategy is that one organisation working independently has little chance of making a great impact, but many working together have more. The role of the new body will be to drive the process forward and oversee its implementation, but not to be solely responsible for the delivery of the strategy in its entirety. For those good reasons, I urge the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington to withdraw the amendment.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. Briefly, in the words of the Minister, a national strategy will be pursued at the next stages, including a range of stakeholders and, I suspect, other enforcement bodies. Flowing from what the Minister said, the question is who will drive that at the next stages. The single financial guidance body will clearly and undoubtedly have a pivotal and central function.

  • I see the Minister nodding his head in agreement. In those circumstances, we look for a dynamic body to do precisely that: drive the national strategy. On that basis, I am content not to press the amendment.

  • Amendment 29 is part of the same group. Does the Minister wish to speak?

  • Amendment 29 seeks to add another strand to the three existing areas of the strategy set out in the Bill. The Government agree with the hon. Gentleman on the overall principle that the strategy of the new body needs to be future-proof and flexible, to meet the challenges that an evolving modern economy might bring. Clearly the Taylor review is relevant to all those factors, but we do not believe that the amendment is necessary. It lacks a specific focus and would risk diverting focus and resources from the areas that we believe the body should prioritise through its strategic function. As I understand it, the amendment is not sought by existing providers. In the circumstances, I ask the hon. Gentleman not to press the amendment.

  • It is not for one moment our intention to divert focus from the body’s core and strategic function. All I would say is that the changes taking place in the modern labour market are immense, complex and often profoundly disturbing. To give one example from my personal history, in 2003-04, alongside Gillian Shephard, I chaired the coalition of support that resulted in the Gangmasters (Licensing) Act 2004. From plough to plate— from the National Farmers Union to the supermarkets—it sought to tackle some of the worst abuses of workers and the undercutting of reputable providers by rogues. My experience—like that of all Committee members, I suspect—is that there is much in the modern workplace and the world of work that is profoundly disturbing and needs to be tackled. Having said that, the Minister said himself that the body would take account of the demands in the modern labour market.

    As far as the Taylor process is concerned, I know Matthew very well and his report contains some valuable proposals, although I do not agree with them all. It is helpful that on the Government’s part there has been a focus on the modern labour market, including the gig economy. In those circumstances, particularly in the light of what the Minister said about the context of the Taylor review and the demands of the modern labour market, I shall not press the amendment.

  • To clarify, amendments 27, 29 and 39 are part of a single group, so any Member who wishes to speak to any of the three amendments must do so now.

  • I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  • I beg to move amendment 28, in clause 3, page 3, line 31, at end insert—

    “(9A) In seeking to improve the provision of financial education to children and young people, the single financial guidance body may advise the Secretary of State that—

    (a) Ofsted should take into account the financial education provided by schools when carrying out inspections, and

    (b) financial education should be added to the primary school education curriculum.”

    This amendment allows the single financial guidance body to, as part of its function to improve the provision of financial education to children and young people, advise the Secretary of State that Ofsted should take account of financial education when carrying out inspections, and that financial education should be added to the primary school curriculum.

    Some hon. Members may be surprised by the amendment, but I will explain why it is important. We believe that the provision of financial education to young adults in further and higher education—let alone to primary school children—needs to be improved. Young adults are an important age group not particularly well served under current arrangements. We believe that, where appropriate, education providers should incorporate financial education modules into programmes of study.

    Thousands of young people throughout the country leave school without the necessary financial knowledge to approach critical situations such as applying for credit and mortgages. Research shows that 37% of 18 to 24-year-olds hold one or more credit cards, an overdraft or another form of borrowing, with average combined debts of £2,989, not including student loans or mortgages. The House of Lords Select Committee on Financial Exclusion heard that 51% of 18 to 24-year-olds regularly worry about money. Generally, half of all UK adults modestly rate themselves as having some understanding of financial products and services, while 15% say that they have a very good understanding and a minority of just 5% admit to having no understanding. Just 54% of the C2, D and E social classes say that they have some understanding or a very good understanding of financial products and services.

    In September 2014, in a welcome move by the then coalition Government, financial education was added to the statutory national curriculum for secondary schools in England. Since then, schools have been required to include financial education as part of mathematics and citizenship teaching at key stages 3 and 4. However, there is still no requirement for English primary schools to include financial education as part of their teaching. In addition, as only 35% of state-funded secondary schools are now maintained schools, the obligation to teach financial education does not apply to nearly two thirds of all state secondary schools.

    As the hon. Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) said on Second Reading:

    “We live in a very complex society, with direct debits, standing orders and complicated marketing messages coming forward. Making sure that we equip all people of all ages to make informed decisions is an absolute priority.”––[Official Report, Financial Guidance and Claims Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2018; c. 62.]

    The hon. Member for Solihull (Julian Knight) said:

    “The development of key skills and knowledge about money matters helps pupils and, indeed, their parents to make wise choices in later life, when innovations in financial technology and online consumer tools—not to mention the march towards a cashless society—will make previous experience and the advice of their elders an unreliable guide.” ––[Official Report, Financial Guidance and Claims Public Bill Committee, 22 January 2018; c. 95.]

    In a world in which credit and financial services are more readily available than ever, it is vital that Britain’s young people are given the financial education they need to approach those challenges when they leave education. In the view of the Opposition, it is only through mandatory financial education in both primary and secondary schools that we can be confident that young people will be equipped both to achieve the best possible start in life, and to avoid being exploited by the ruthless.

    Returning to my first point, some may ask whether financial education should be taught in primary schools. My experience is that it is crucial that children at young age—primary school age—are involved in crucial discussions that help them to understand the future and the challenges they will face. I will give two examples.

    First, Jaguar Land Rover—an excellent company; the Jaguar plant is in my constituency—has a highly developed programme of operating in primary schools. That is because it is the kind of company that looks ahead two to five years, five to 10 years and 10 to 20 years. It always has a particular problem in the recruitment of skilled labour, and it wants, through its work in primary schools, to open up the horizons of primary school children more generally. That is very important in a constituency such as mine, which is rich in talent but is one of the poorest in the country and has high unemployment. In particular, JLR wants to encourage young girls to see themselves as having a future in engineering and car manufacturing. Its strong view is that, without starting that work at that age, by the time people get to secondary school and beyond, preconceptions are formed about what is appropriate for a young girl, and ultimately a woman, to do.

    My second example is controversial, although it has cross-party support. I have worked very closely with the admirable Dot Com Children’s Foundation, which collaborates with the police and local authorities. I have seen it at first hand its programme in primary schools that uses a comic book format to teach children to spot risk and harm, to reject any obscene approaches and to know with whom they should talk if they feel themselves threatened. When we embarked down this path in Birmingham, where more than 100 primary schools have now used the programme, I remember some parents saying, “What? At primary school age?” Actually, in a non-threatening way, we absolutely want to make a start in helping children to understand the difference between family and friends on the one hand and those who would seek to exploit them on the other.

    I am giving examples of important areas in which primary school children are equipped to deal with the modern world. And coming back to the issue of financial guidance, I suspect that not many primary school children have credit cards. Having said that, however, as they grow up they will need to know how to manage their finances, how to avoid exploitation by those who would seek to exploit their vulnerability and how to get the best possible start in life.

  • I rise to recount some of my own experience. I was fortunate enough to employ a financial capability adviser from 2000 to 2010, when I left, although I have to say that every time we applied for funding he changed his job title. That adviser went into primary schools as well.

    I am wary about adding things to the curriculum, because I understand that teachers are hard-pressed, but it does not have to be teachers who do this work. We sent in the adviser; he did a recognised course with a teacher, which gave the teacher confidence to carry on his work later. The primary school children were really engaged in the lesson, because somebody from outside had come in, and we also went in with the credit unions, to encourage the children to start an early habit of saving, as well.

    That is when children are really keen. It is competitive—who can save the most in their little account out of their pocket money and so on? It was really successful. The schools liked it. I would love to get the funding to go back now, to see how those “adults” are coping after having had that education at primary school level, but unfortunately that was not possible. However, I believe that that work helped.

  • The hon. Lady will be very pleased to know that Her Majesty’s Treasury, present in the form of the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, provides the LifeSavers programme, which I am lucky to have bid for on behalf of my constituency, and which does exactly what she has just described. Her speech might be seen as a bid to continue the LifeSavers programme—it obviously has a life span—and then she would be able to bid for her community to be part of the programme in partnership with the Church of England and whichever credit union she wishes to support.

  • I shall make sure that Unify, my local credit union, gets a copy of that information.

    One of the side effects of sending the adviser into schools, badged as the citizens advice bureau adviser, was that we encountered an upsurge in parents coming to us who were prepared to discuss their debts. It was as if having someone there who was talking to the children made them examine their finances; the children were going home and saying, “Look! We’ve been looking at this!” prompting their parents to examine their own finances, and then they already knew where to go to talk about their debt. So the work had that unintended consequence, which I must admit we found hard to deal with, given the resources we had. Nevertheless, it was really beneficial, so I would encourage the Minister to consider that as a proposal.

  • I should have said before that it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship for the first time, Mr Rosindell, and I welcome you to the Committee.

    The hon. Member for Makerfield is right that a significant number of organisations provide, in a primary school setting, particular aspects of financial education in various shapes and forms, whether it is the Association for Citizenship Teaching, MyBnk, the Personal Finance Education Group or a variety of other organisations, and I would happily talk for some considerable period of time and overindulge the Committee on LifeSavers. As she knows, I set up a community bank in my constituency with Archbishop John Sentamu on 5 November 2015, and that community bank has bid for the LifeSavers project in Northumberland, and provides six schools with that financial education. We run six different banks in six different schools in my community. That work is extraordinarily successful. The original pioneer is in Lewisham, which I know the Opposition Whip, the hon. Member for Lewisham, Deptford, will be interested to hear, and the success rate has been wonderful.

    The proposal is that the single financial guidance body should have a look at, and then come up with a strategic assessment of, what the provision of financial education of children and young people should be. I take issue with the Opposition on whether Ofsted should judge schools on the basis of financial education. I say, with respect, that it most definitely should not. Ofsted itself does not seek that, so I definitely disagree with paragraph (a) of the amendment. Ofsted, which has been consulted in broad terms, thinks that it would be inappropriate to inspect financial education specifically, since it usually inspects not individual subjects but the curriculum as a whole.

    On the broader points raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, the curriculum is ultimately a matter for the Department for Education. He is right that financial education was brought into the secondary context under the coalition Government. Successive Governments have drilled down on the importance of maths, which is an absolute prerequisite and is fundamental to the education of our young people. The maths curriculum has been strengthened to give pupils from five to 16 the necessary maths skills, and I am sure he has seen in his own constituency the success of mental maths and advanced maths in primary schools. We responded to the House of Lords Committee’s report on financial exclusion in a similar way—I make the same case here.

    It will be for the single financial guidance body to target specific areas of need, and to match individual funders and providers of education projects and initiatives aimed at children. The amendment is very broad brush. I would prefer the guidance body to be able to zero in on particular areas. That is the purpose of making overall assessment one of its strategic functions. That means that it will be better able to deliver what we all want: enhanced financial education for our children.

    We agree about objectives, but I am not sure that we agree about the way forward for delivery. With respect, I invite the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

  • My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield made a powerful point about the importance of primary schools as places of contact—sometimes the only place of contact—with people who are struggling in their lives. My experience from a number of projects is that what is done in primary school reads across to a child’s parents, so her point is very valuable indeed.

    We can question how this should be done, but it is now public policy that children should be involved in financial education. A valuable start has been made with secondary schools, and we will seek at subsequent stages of the Bill to engage with the Government about how that might be extended further. There are questions about the context for that, including the overall maths context, but that can be teased out at the next stage.

    Finally, if there is a coalition of support in the Committee for lobbying the Treasury on LifeSavers, I say: “Yes please, but don’t stop at LifeSavers.” On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  • I beg to move amendment 30, in clause 3, page 3, line 32, at end insert—

    “(d) the understanding members of the public have on how the duties placed on financial service providers under the Equality Act 2010, including the requirements on service providers to make reasonable adjustments, can enhance their ability to manage their financial affairs.”

    This amendment would ensure members of the public are informed about what financial services companies need to do to comply with the Equality Act, in particular the duty to put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled customers.

    The purpose of the amendment is to ensure that members of the public are informed about what financial services companies need to do to comply with the Equality Act 2010—in particular, but not exclusively, the duty to put in place reasonable adjustments for disabled customers. We are rightly proud of that landmark Act in this country, and I am particularly proud that it was introduced by a Labour Government. There have been subsequent problems with its implementation and, dare I say, without wishing to divert into areas where we would disagree, the implementation of clause 1 of the Equality Act is yet to take place. Having said that, on disability matters, there would certainly be consensus around ensuring that people who have problems with their health and who have disabilities of different kinds get the support that they need and are not taken advantage of.

    Under the Act, a person is disabled if they have a “physical or mental impairment” that has

    “a substantial and long-term adverse effect”

    on their ability

    “to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

    In that case, a duty to provide goods, facilities or services falls on providers, employers and a range of other parties. People automatically meet the disability definition under the Act from the day that they are diagnosed with a condition such as cancer, multiple sclerosis or HIV infection.

    If an organisation that provides goods, facilities or services to the public finds that there are barriers to disabled people in the way it operates, it has an obligation to act, including to consider making reasonable adjustments. If those adjustments are reasonable for that organisation to make, it must make them. That duty is sometimes described as anticipatory, which means that an organisation cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use its goods, facilities or services, but must think in advance and on an ongoing basis about what disabled people with a range of impairments might reasonably need.

    An organisation is not required to do more than is reasonable for it to do—I stress that again—but that depends, among other factors, on its size and nature, and on the nature of the goods, facilities and services it provides. Making disabled customers and their advocates aware of that duty means that they will be able to ask their financial service provider to potentially adjust the GFS it offers and to remove any barriers.

    Although I would be the first to accept that there is good practice in the sector when it comes to making adjustments for visual and hearing impairments, that is rarely done in the context of the legal framework. In certain circumstances, where that is not done and where conditions such as a cancer diagnosis or neuro-diverse disabilities such as autism, brain injuries and dementia are not considered, that means that people are let down and there is a failure to comply with the terms of the law. For example, the Alzheimer’s Society reports that 66% of people with dementia need some assistance when using a bank and 80% of carers said that banks need a greater understanding of lasting powers of attorney. On the one hand, there is the legal obligation, and on the other, there is an undoubted need for it to be complied with.

    There is no reference to the duty to make reasonable adjustments in the Financial Conduct Authority’s handbook. Frankly, I am surprised at that. The handbook contains provisions set out in legislation that are relevant to the FCA and other provisions made by way of instruments by the FCA. It contains a mixture of rules, which are binding obligations that can result in enforcement action if not adhered to, as well as guidance. The amendment will ensure that disabled people or their advocates are informed about the duty to make reasonable adjustments and that they can use that information to ask financial service providers to make adjustments to the goods, facilities and services they provide, which could include removing physical barriers or making services dementia-friendly.

  • It is a pleasure to respond to the hon. Gentleman’s speech. I will make three key points: I will discuss whether the Equality Act applies to this body in future; I want to give some assurances to the House on an ongoing basis, because that really matters; and I will briefly deal with the point about the duty of care.

  • It may have escaped the notice of some Committee members, who will have read every single paragraph and every line of every bit of this Bill, but fortunately I have been advised that paragraph 25 of schedule 3, on page 36, helpfully states that the Equality Act, rightly lauded by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington, will apply to the single financial guidance body, which will be specifically treated like all public bodies. All Bills have or should have such a provision, to be fair. I believe that the 2010 Act is applicable; if there was any doubt, I hope that that will allay that particular concern. Obviously, it has to integrate the same duties of equality as all other public bodies.

    I want to put on the record—this applies to all financial services, including the actions of the single financial guidance body—that if there is any doubt that an organisation is not complying with the Equality Act, there is a process that an individual can go through. They can make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service, which is able to consider an individual firm’s compliance with the Equality Act and decide whether the individual consumer has been dealt with fairly and reasonably. More widely, a consumer can contact the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and there are plenty of examples of abuses being brought to its attention.

    The FCA produced its consumer approach document on 6 November 2017, which sets out a vision of a well-functioning market for consumers and its strategy for achieving that, particularly relating to vulnerable and excluded consumers. Do I pretend that every single organisation is perfect in every way? No, of course I do not. However, I note that in her speech on Second Reading, my hon. Friend the Member for Mid Derbyshire mentioned the difficulty suffered by her constituent, whose name I think was Jacci. To its credit, Santander—I believe that was the bank—treated Jacci extremely well. My hon. Friend the Member for North Swindon (Justin Tomlinson) gave a similar example of Nationwide treating his constituent very well.

    I pay credit to Macmillan for its campaign on duty of care, and numerous other organisations could be named. The long and the short of it is that clearly, as a general obligation, there is a duty of care to all customers, both in contract law, because it is a service provided for a fee, and in the law of negligence if there is any breach. I am delighted that the Economic Secretary has indicated on behalf of the Treasury that he met Macmillan’s chief executive officer to discuss the duty of care.

    Last Monday and today’s debates have shown that all financial services, and all public organisations, have a specific and important duty to all their customers and the consumers that we all serve. I hope that that message has got across to them. There are valuable examples of where they have done it right, and without any shadow of a doubt we should be lauding them. However, in terms of the statutory process in which we are engaged regarding amendment 30 and the application of the Equality Act, I invite the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington to withdraw his amendment.

  • I actually met Jacci and did a conference with her, and I thought what the hon. Member for Mid Derbyshire said on Second Reading was very powerful and moving, telling the story of a wonderful person and using it as proof positive of why we need to ensure—

  • Is it not true that other financial institutions could do what Santander did and voluntarily sign up to her “Dying to Work” campaign, which would help everybody that they deal with?

  • I strongly agree with the hon. Lady, and that is something we might pursue, including on a joint basis, at the next stages. The “Dying to Work” campaign’s objectives are right. To make the obvious point, she will have seen at first hand what a battle it is for people like Jacci, and I am sure that all of us have come across some very powerful cases in our constituencies. The banks and the financial institutions should absolutely, without hesitation, follow Santander’s lead. Santander is to be congratulated for what it did. Do we have a marketplace where everyone conducts themselves in the same way? No, we do not, so the hon. Lady raises a very valuable point.

    In terms of the Minister’s response, it is welcome that, following Second Reading, the situation with regard to the Bill is unambiguous. I want to make two additional points. First, we will return to duty of care later. Secondly, the issue of enforcement is very important. The Equality and Human Rights Commission will have a watchdog role to play, but it is important that, from the start, the single financial guidance body is obliged in law to build into the culture of its operation, as we have argued, oversight of how financial institutions conduct themselves in terms of services, goods and facilities for the disabled.

  • I assure the hon. Gentleman that the whole reason we introduced the vulnerable circumstances provision in the Bill was to address that exact point. I cannot stress enough, and I have made the point repeatedly today, that the objective specifically enshrined in the Bill is that the particular needs of people in vulnerable circumstances need to be borne in mind.

  • That is welcome. All I will say is that, in our experience, there can be a law or a set of legal obligations, but are they necessarily carried out in practice? In fact, to take the Santander example once again, it took a view that it should do the right thing and that it was obliged by law to do so, but not every provider necessarily takes the same view. The issue of enforcement is key. I stress again that the Equality and Human Rights Commission has a role to play, but at the heart of the SFGB’s operation should be action to ensure that the disabled are not disadvantaged. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clauses 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 5

    Specific requirements as to the pensions guidance function

  • I beg to move amendment 33, in clause 5, page 4, line 13, leave out subsection (2) and insert—

    “(2) In section 137FB of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FCA general rules: disclosure of information about the availability of pensions guidance) after subsection (3) insert—

    ‘(3A) In determining what provision to include in the rules, the FCA must include a requirement for members of a scheme, or survivors of members of a scheme, to indicate before gaining access to or arranging individual transfer of their pension assets either—

    (a) that they have received information and guidance made available under section 5 of the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2017 (specific requirements as to the pensions guidance function), or

    (b) that they understand the nature and purpose of that information and guidance and have chosen not to receive it.

    (3B) The rules—

    (a) must impose an obligation on the trustees or managers of a relevant pension scheme to satisfy themselves that the requirement under subsection (3A) has been complied with,

    (b) may make provision about what is to be, or not to be, treated as a sufficient indication under subsection (3A) (which may, in particular, require indication on more than one occasion in specified cases or circumstances),

    (c) must specify that accessing a website or receiving published information does not alone amount to receiving information and guidance for the purposes of the requirement under subsection (3A), and

    (d) may include exceptions for specified cases (which may include cases of assets below a specified value, cases where information, guidance or advice has already been received, cases of transfers by way of consolidation and any other cases specified in the rules).’”

    This amendment would strengthen the provision in the Bill for requiring members of pension schemes to be given access to guidance in specified circumstances, so as to ensure that guidance was actually received or expressly refused.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Government amendment 2.

    Amendment 40, in clause 5, page 4, line 24, leave out “may” and insert “must”.

    This amendment paves the way for Amendment 41.

    Amendment 41, in clause 5, page 4, line 25, leave out from “manager” to end of line 26 and insert “to ensure that, either—

    (a) the members of the scheme or survivors of members of the scheme receive information and guidance made available under section 5 of the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2017 (specific requirements as to the pensions guidance function), or

    (b) they understand the nature and purpose of that information and have chosen not to receive it,

    before proceeding.”

    This amendment would require guidance to be provided to members of a relevant pension scheme or their survivors unless they chose to opt out.

    Clause stand part.

    Government amendment 19.

    Government new clause 1—Personal pension schemes: requirements to recommend guidance etc.

    Government new clause 2—Occupational pension schemes: requirements to recommend guidance etc.

  • Amendment 33 would strengthen the Bill’s provision for requiring members of pension schemes to be given access to guidance in specified circumstances, so as to ensure that the guidance was actually received or expressly refused. As I will come to argue later, that is an absolutely key point. I underline once again that the term “expressly” is crucial and should lie at the heart of the Bill and what happens during the next stages.

    Our proposed default guidance would strengthen the Bill and ensure that more people were protected when transferring their pension assets. Currently, the system of checks and balances for those looking to move their pension assets from a defined benefit scheme are very strong. Members are offered guidance at the time and those moving more than £30,000 must undertake mandatory guidance. However, at a time when more and more defined-benefit schemes are closing than ever before, there is no such safety net for those on defined-contribution schemes. In our very strong view, default guidance would provide such checks and balances for those transferring assets with more value than they may have ever seen before in their lives.

    Although the guidance offered by Pension Wise to those seeking to transfer their pension is of great value to many people, the take-up is relatively low and many enter into transactions without proper prior knowledge of their options and the consequences. Once again I refer to the story I told earlier today about the Port Talbot steelworker weeping because of the consequences of his actions and the 20 people he was responsible for who followed his lead.

    The lack of a provision for default guidance has resulted in many members of schemes suffering detriment through scams or through making the wrong choice. The current system of signposting advice by pension providers to members of schemes who want to transfer or withdraw their pension pot is not working as it should. The providers, particularly the rogues, have no business interest in making sure that their members receive the appropriate advice and, as such, it is not made as clear as it should be. The right kind of default guidance—strong default guidance—would promote shopping around, better informed decision making and protection against scams.

    The amendment would mean that members of a scheme, or survivors of members of a scheme, must either indicate that they have received the appropriate guidance before accessing the pension assets, or explicitly state that they do not wish to receive it. They must state explicitly and beyond any doubt that that is their choice

    The service given by Pension Wise is highly respected and is appreciated when it is given. Between February 2016 and January 2017, 94% of people who completed an appointment were satisfied and 93% felt informed about their pension options, compared with 56% of a control group who had not used the service. However, as Pension Wise would be the first to acknowledge, the take-up of the service is extremely low. The number of appointments made with Pension Wise is rising—there were 66,000 in 2016-17—but that is still extremely low compared with the number of pension scheme members exercising pension freedoms.

    Latest figures from HM Revenue and Customs show that some 772,000 people withdrew more than £6.5 billion from their pension pots in 2017. An FCA survey found that only one in eight 55 to 64-year-olds who plan to retire in the next two years and who have a defined-contribution pension had used the Pension Wise service in a 12-month period. Although traffic to Pension Wise’s website is quite high, it is not a sufficient substitute for access to tailored and personalised advice. As Baroness Altmann said in the Work and Pensions Committee,

    “When you introduce pension freedom into a marketplace that has never really been encouraged to engage with pensions and mostly does not understand much about them, obviously you need an expert to help you.”

    The National Employment Savings Trust has said that it was concerned

    “that people appear to be making decisions based solely on a read of the Pension Wise website”,

    and from what we have been told about the experience of others, that is absolutely right. The main means of promoting Pension Wise advice is through signposting by pension providers and through advertising.

  • The Government have said that

    “demand for Pension Wise has been very responsive to paid advertising”,

    but the DWP cut the advertising budget by 10% to just £4.5 million in 2017-18. Currently, pension providers are required to inform members of the availability of pensions guidance—this is known as signposting—at various stages of the pension freedoms decision-making process.

    Under current arrangements, between four and six months before the intended retirement date, the scheme member must be sent a “wake-up pack” including, among other documents, a “clear and prominent statement” signposting to free, impartial pensions guidance alongside a recommendation to seek appropriate guidance or advice. Next, there is a reminder, six weeks before the client’s retirement date. After that there are further signposts to Pension Wise when there is communication with clients about their decumulation options or about facilitating access to pension funds; then, if appropriate, there is a further signpost to guidance as part of risk warnings when the client has made a decision to access pension savings.

    When the Work and Pensions Committee looked at the prospect of mandatory guidance, it was told that it would cause “anger and dissatisfaction” with the pensions system and would be likely to lead to a watering down of the guidance given as it would become just a box-ticking exercise. Default guidance means that everyone will be made either to take the guidance or explicitly state that they do not want it—a system that should lead to an increase in the take-up of guidance. A Conservative Member, the hon. Member for East Renfrewshire (Paul Masterton), said on Second Reading:

    “I remain hugely attracted to the principle of default guidance, mirroring the approach taken to auto-enrolment”—

    a good parallel—

    “with statutory opt-out provisions…if we are looking for something as close as possible to a silver bullet, default guidance is probably it.”—[Official Report, 22 January 2018; Vol. 635, c. 78.]

    I could not agree more strongly.

    A system of default guidance would be of particular benefit now to those Carillion workers—who knows who will be next?—who may be looking to transfer their pension pot in the coming months, not least to avoid such tragic stories as the one I have told today about Port Talbot steelworkers. Many have been approached by “introducers” looking to make money out of their precarious position. Default guidance would at least give them the chance to receive expert and impartial advice before taking such an important decision.

    The Minister has made welcome statements and the Government made positive noises on Second Reading about the need for what is sometimes termed a “further nudge” towards the guidance given by Pension Wise, rather than the current system of signposting. It is unclear why the Government refuse to accept the amendment suggested by the Work and Pensions Committee, which we support. The Government’s watering down—that is what it is—of the Lords amendment on default guidance is wrong. In the words of Baroness Altmann,

    “the Government seems to have bowed to industry pressure and proposes to weaken consumer protection for pension customers. By removing a clause introduced in the House of Lords, designed to protect consumers’ pensions better, more people are at risk of losing their hard-earned savings in scams, frauds and unwise pension withdrawals.”

    She is absolutely right.

    We wait to hear what the Minister will say. We are not satisfied with what the Government have said thus far. It comes down to the simple reality that there is access to high-quality independent guidance that people can count on, and that if people choose not to take it that must be explicit beyond any doubt. It must be unambiguous so that there can be complete confidence that we will not have people, at a time of crisis in their lives, being seduced into making bad decisions for their future.

    Has there been some movement? Yes. Have the Government yet gone far enough? No. I wait to hear from the Minister.

  • May I be clear, Mr Rosindell, that I should speak to amendment 33 and the Government new clauses in the round?

  • I am grateful. I will therefore attempt to answer the points made by the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South as well. I will take her points first, because there is a sequential approach.

    Effectively, we are all dealing with three drafts. The House of Lords, in its wisdom, produced clause 5(2). Subsequently, the Work and Pensions Committee, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar is a member, assessed that and produced what is in reality Labour’s amendment 33—the amendment is a straightforward lift from that Select Committee. The Government then went away and produced new clauses 1 and 2 to see if we could improve on it.

    I take on board everything that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington said. It is manifestly the case that we all want to see the full guidance. We are about to have a precise discussion as to which is the best way to get to the objective we all seek. The Work and Pensions Committee was sure, as are the Government, that clause 5(2) is not good enough and we can improve it massively. Therefore, with no disrespect to the hon. Lady, we will reject her amendments because they are to clause 5(2).

    The principle is the same: how can we best improve the drafting from the House of Lords? There are a variety of points, and I hope the Committee will bear with me as I set out a little detail. The Government amendments are specifically in keeping with the intent of the Work and Pensions Committee, and go further. They make provision for all schemes providing flexible benefits, including all defined-contribution schemes regardless of whether they are personal, stakeholder or occupational pension schemes, including in Northern Ireland.

    I will make two points at the outset. First, the Work and Pensions Committee’s recommendation does not include occupational pensions, so in any event it is fundamentally deficient, because one would definitely want that. Secondly, Northern Ireland is not included. While there is no representative from Northern Ireland on the Committee—the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) has not intervened like he normally does—we are in a situation where I have due respect to our good brethren from Northern Ireland, and we are including Northern Ireland in the provisions, which neither of the other provisions had done.

    The Government amendments will ensure that there is what we consider proper consideration and co-operation between the Financial Conduct Authority, the Secretary of State and the single financial guidance body so that the FCA rules and regulations are effective, workable and consistent. This is a discrete, important point. The Work and Pensions Committee amendment would require the FCA to impose rules on pension scheme members, but the FCA’s general rules do not entitle that, so the amendment is defective in that way. It also sets out delivery channel exclusions, which would not be appropriate for primary legislation.

    The proposal is that there regulations should be informed by consultation. I think all parties agree on that but suggest different mechanisms to get there. Before the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington jumps to his feet, I get that such a consultation needs to be speedy—this is not something for the long grass. The regulations will then reflect informed consultation, with all bodies working together to create the right integrated form, allowing for updates and changes in technology, current user needs, best practice and research on existing rules and regulations as well as taking into account potential exceptions.

    It is a brave Minister who starts to give exceptions to the rule, but I will give an example that may assist the Committee. If an individual has very, very small pots, as many people do—perhaps of £10 or £12—and wishes to transfer them or consolidate them, the nature of the advice, guidance and default in relation to that person will possibly be very different to the British steel worker we are dealing with in south Wales or Scunthorpe.

    On the specific amendments, we with the broad consensus that we can do more. I have set out new clause 1, which is the effective replacement of clause 5(2). The specifics are that we believe that there are greater criteria and tests in the Government amendments than there are in the Work and Pensions Committee amendment.

  • I speak as a member of the Work and Pensions Committee. As we set out, clause 5(2) is an improvement on the original legislation. I believe that the amendment made by the Opposition—it is very flattering to see the wording from the Work and Pensions Committee report—was an improvement on that, but new clause 1 and 2 are an improvement on that amendment for the reasons the Minister has set out. All schemes are involved, and the Opposition amendment places the onus on the individual, whereas the Government’s amendments place the onus on trustees or management, which is a preferable way of proceeding. Does the Minister agree?

  • My hon. Friend is right to make that point. The provider will be required to ask members and other beneficiaries looking to access or transfer their pension benefits if they have received either pensions guidance or independent financial advice. If the member indicates that they have not received guidance or advice, the provider will have to recommend that they seek it. The provider will also have to ask the member whether they want to wait while they access guidance or advice, or, crucially, to confirm that they want to proceed without receiving it.

    That will do two things from a behavioural nudge perspective—I suspect we will talk about behavioural nudges at great length. First, asking the scheme member if they would like to wait before accessing their pensions benefits so that they can receive guidance will give a clear steer that receiving guidance is the default option. Secondly, asking people to confirm that they want to access their pension without first receiving guidance ensures that the scheme member has to take an active decision to opt out. We believe that that strikes the right balance. It ensures that people are encouraged to take guidance without removing the element of personal choice. It also does not inconvenience those who have already accessed appropriate guidance or independent financial advice.

    I could give a number of different quotes, but I will cite Tom Selby, the senior analyst at AJ Bell, who described the original auto guidance idea as weak and said that our proposal represents an improvement. He said:

    “Automatically enrolling members into guidance for each transfer or every time they took money from their own pension pot—when they have already decided what they want to do—would have caused massive delayed and huge complaints.”

    It was by no means clear, previously, that

    “it would have a material impact on the take-up of guidance. It therefore risked being…ineffective.”

    He added:

    “The new amendment is a vast improvement and, in the short term, should help increase awareness of the importance and value of advice and guidance. It also gives the Financial Conduct Authority breathing room to consult on alternative nudges towards guidance that have been shown by research to be effective.”

    The amendments also ensure that the occupational pension schemes that provide flexible benefit are covered—they are not covered by the Work and Pensions Committee’s suggestion—including those in Northern Ireland. Our proposals seek to ensure consistency of approach between personal and stakeholder pension schemes, which are regulated by the FCA, and occupational pension schemes.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I have a point of clarity. Surely a move from recommended guidance to default guidance would result in a higher up-take of independent advice and guidance.

  • We are into behavioural economics and nudge theory. In broad terms, imposing greater barriers to force people to do things should in principle get a greater take-up. However, there is a fine line. If we place too many hurdles in the way of the individual, they will not move anything even if it is in their interest, and they simply will not engage with the process. While one may agree or disagree with the concept of pension freedoms and having the ability to choose whether to consolidate pots or access them to do with them whatever one wishes, that freedom is available. One therefore has to be careful because, if there are too many barriers in the way, people simply will not engage with that policy.

  • No doubt I will soon be passed some very technical note giving a much better answer than I have given, in which case I will be happy to try to expand on it. The principle is that we all want more people to take guidance when they need it. That is the whole concept of the behavioural nudges that we are trying to wrestle with to find the right way forward. I will move on, but if I need to come back to the hon. Member for Weaver Vale in more detail, I will.

    We believe that the amendments provide a skeleton on which a nudge can be grafted, and that they provide latitude for the rules and regulations, which should be consulted on as a matter of speed, to set out exactly how the interaction between the scheme and the member will take place, including how the questions and recommendations in individual cases are phrases, so as to make the nudge as effective as possible. Within that framework, the FCA and the Department will, for example, require schemes to provide members with a separate letter expressly recommending that they either take pensions guidance or indicate in writing that they do not want that guidance.

    The amendments will also provide scope for the FCA and the Department to update rules on technology and customer needs as they change over time. Again, I could list various organisations that support the Government’s approach, but the Association of British Insurers highlights that

    “it is important that any amendment gives the FCA and DWP scope to make rules that will have the desired impact on consumer behaviour and should allow government and the industry to find the right practical solution, having worked through the challenges.”

    I cannot overstate that we are all in the same ballpark in desiring pensions guidance to be effective on an ongoing basis, and it is right that the details should be set out speedily and that the rules and regulations should come forward as a matter of urgency.

    To summarise, the Government amendments will mean that anyone not taking guidance or advice before accessing their pension benefits will be doing so after being asked explicitly to opt out of receiving it. I accept that the detail is still to be set out. I will make it utterly clear on the Floor of the House.

    I have addressed the point on clause 5(2) and set out the numerous ways in which we consider that the Work and Pensions Committee—I revere and respect its great leader and all its members—is wrong in its approach. I should have made the point at the outset that, although I will seek to amend the Bill and will resist any Opposition amendments, I am very happy to go away and assess the nature of the debate and to try to provide more detail on Report and Third Reading. However, for the present purposes, I commend the Government amendments to the Committee and will resist the others.

  • With respect, I think the Minister probably underestimates the public’s disengagement with pensions. I sat through many pensions discussions when I worked with Citizens Advice, and also discussions on my own pension, and I stared out the window and wondered when I could stick nails under my fingernails—and I was vaguely interested in the subject.

    I praise the work of the Behavioural Insights Team, of which I am a big fan. It is about time we made policy based on what people actually do, rather than what we think they should logically do. It has some interesting analysis. The extent of consumer distrust and disengagement was evident from the trials of the Behavioural Insights Team’s pre-retirement “wake-up” packs last year. Those trials were run in collaboration with Pension Wise, the free pension guidance provider. The packs had a limited impact on the number of customers who subsequently used guidance. The strongest performing wake-up pack increased customers’ likelihood of calling Pension Wise by only 3.5%. Nothing indicates better the impact of disengagement and distrust and the low capability. It is unrealistic to expect customers to absorb the level of information required from provider communications or online contact. The FCA’s retirement outcomes review found that only 10% of customers had even read the pre-retirement wake-up guides, which also indicates why provider signposting is likely to have a limited impact.

    Pension providers have exploited that inertia. Three previous investigations into the old annuity market identified low levels of shopping around and poor awareness of the available product options. That is still evident today on a timeline that has been produced, showing attempts since 2001 to make an impact on people’s awareness of pensions.

    The FCA retirement outcomes review interim report said:

    “We are concerned that consumers motivated by mistrust in pensions”—

    I do not think that trust has been increased by such matters as Carillion, the state pension scheme or women of state pension age. It brings distrust of the whole pensions system, whether state pensions, occupational pensions or cash purchase pensions, which make it extremely difficult to understand what will be paid at retirement age.

    The report goes on to say that such people

    “may be making uninformed decisions that result in paying more tax than they would have paid otherwise…or missing out on the benefits of staying invested”

    and that they

    “do not always take advantage of the help and guidance”.

    People need to take advantage of that before making a decision. It is not like switching bank accounts. People cannot switch pensions for a year and then think, “Actually, I’m not very happy and I want to go back.” It is a long-term decision, and an important one.

    Let us stop pretending that the wake-up packs are a legitimate source of information, and not build on them. I am pleased that we will consider measures further, but they need to be strengthened now. New clause 1 does not strengthen anything; it weakens it. Relying on looking at it later is not good enough for something as important as a pension.

  • I apologise for my lateness, Chair; there were travel disruptions outwith my control. No discourteousness was intended. I appreciate the Minister saying that he would get in touch with me about my amendment.

  • On the hon. Lady’s previous amendment, which we did not get to, I will write to her before Report or Third Reading with a detailed answer.

  • I also appreciate the Minister’s honesty in getting straight to the point and saying that he will reject amendments 40 to 41. To return to my point, I think that if we do not strengthen clause 5, it will be a real missed opportunity. The Lords amendment was a welcome move in the right direction—that is why I was quite looking forward to building on it—so it is a disappointment to hear him say that the Government will carry on with this watered-down version.

    It seems totally counter-productive if we are now at a stage where we acknowledge as we write policy that people do not understand pensions and they do not have a clue about them, on the whole. That is the gist. People want someone to hold their hand through the process, not ask them, “Have you had advice?” “No, I haven’t.” “Right. Okay, we’ll move on.” The Minister said that the onus would be put on the individual. To me, what the Government are suggesting does put the onus on the individual rather than on an independent body to hold people’s hands and guide them through the process. It seems like a missed opportunity. Forgive me if this is the wrong time, but I will press amendments 40 and 41 to a vote at the appropriate time.

  • It is always a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. I declare a couple of interests: I am a member of the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales and of the Chartered Institute of Taxation. Part of the Chartered Institute of Taxation has a low-income tax reform group, which includes a couple of charities that play a leading role in helping those who are on low pay: TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People. Before my time in Parliament, I was the north Kent volunteer, as a member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, for Tax Help for Older People. Often there would be a widow or widower facing consequences that they did not quite know how to deal with, and that would be where the charity came in to help. Obviously, a lot of that work now happens through our surgeries on a weekly basis.

    We live in a different world now, with auto-enrolment accumulating very nicely among millions of people across the country. If we are having difficulty today, we will have some very serious money in the future that needs to be dealt with, and people will need appropriate advice. I mentioned on Second Reading that the amounts involved across the country over the next 10, 15 or 20 years could amount to literally hundreds of billions of pounds.

    Even without auto-enrolment, there are a number of choices that people need to take on board. Someone may be lucky enough to have a defined-benefits scheme. They are in the descendancy, for many reasons, but I have heard of instances of people who work for banks, in particular, having a defined-benefits scheme. They could be cashing that in, and thinking about a change to a different scheme of up to 50 times the annuity rate. Again, we are talking about very big figures.

    People need to make a number of choices at various stages when approaching retirement: whether they should have a defined-contribution pot; whether an annuity is right for them—probably not a decision that many people are making, given the current low interest rates—and whether to change provider. I can see there being hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people in a few years’ time who have been using NEST, for instance—the easy provider that many small employers are using—reaching the age of 55 or above and asking themselves, “Well, what now? Would changing to a different provider be better for me? Would a draw-down facility on my pension by best? Should I consider the inheritance tax benefits?” We are now in a new world where pensions are a very generous potential inheritance tax-saving product. They might also ask, “What are the factors of my health?” Health might play a very big part in whether someone wants to take all their income now as a full draw-down, or eek it out into the future. There will be a multitude of choices that people should make. People’s personal tax position should also never be forgotten, so that they take their pension in the most efficient way possible.

    I would call this group of amendments, very simply, “the scam blockage and advice enlightenment measures.” They are very welcome and, from what I have seen of the Government’s proposals, I am fully supportive of them. I think they take on board the suggestions of the Work and Pensions Committee. However, I have spoken many times, and remain concerned, about what constitutes advice. I note in new clause 1(1)(d) that the FCA will be entitled to put together rules about what constitutes advice.

    I remain concerned that somebody with a smaller pot—perhaps a pot of £30,000, which will be a very common position for many people to be in under auto-enrolment in the future—may get involved with SFGB and take the full advice. They will be told, “These options are available to you.” However, I do not think that the legislation provides for advising people what the best provider and tax situation is for them. It is still hoped in new clause 1, as good as it is, that people go and get advice. That advice is simply not available in the market because independent financial advisers will look at a small pot and say, “Well, for the fees involved, I don’t really want to take you on.”

    I have spent considerable time pushing for flexibility under FCA rules to allow people to see an IFA on almost a no-liability basis. Instead of the IFA having to do a full “know your client” assessment, which takes a long time and costs a lot of money, I propose an appointment with no liability on the IFA’s part. That would at least give people some help and guidance, which is infinitely better than none.

  • That point leads me to the role of organisations that work closely with people, such as citizens advice bureaux, Age UK, TaxAid and Tax Help for Older People. Those organisations are trusted by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs as semi-agents, as it were. As advisers working for free, they should be able to get involved with people’s affairs without going through the whole rigmarole of engagement letters and liability. There is a case to be made that some of those institutions accepted by HMRC, such as Tax Help for Older People and specialists within Age UK and citizens advice bureaux, should be able to tick the box to say, “Yes, guidance has been given, we have had an assessment, and it is now safe to proceed under Government new clause 1.”

    That is a very broad interpretation of where we are. I am not sure how we can put it into the Bill on Report, but it relates to an issue that I will continue to raise throughout my time in Parliament: people need advice. Allowing advice on the basis of no liability for the advisers would at least mean advice being given where none is given at the moment.

  • This has been a good debate, with some powerful contributions. I absolutely agree with the hon. Member for South Thanet on the scale of some of the problems. Those include some welcome problems with auto-enrolment, but also situations in which people with their backs against the wall are being taken advantage of. The sheer scale is immense, so it is hugely important to get this right. As the hon. Gentleman said so compellingly, it is crucial that we should be confident that the mechanism for default guidance is robust and will work.

    My hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield made a typically powerful and well informed contribution. A provider recently spoke to me about “pension ignorance”—I am not sure that I would quite use those words, because they sound a wee bit insulting, but I know what he meant. There is a lack of knowledge about pension entitlements, because pensions are very often seen as being in the distance. My hon. Friend was absolutely right to raise that point. As I argued earlier, neither the take-up of currently available advice nor the trials to improve take-up inspire us to believe that the Government have got it right yet.

    The Minister described our amendment as the Labour amendment, which of course it is—we tabled it. However, I dare to say that it was the product of the Work and Pensions Committee, working on a cross-party basis—a collective wisdom with which we agree. The Minister’s point about the importance of looking at pensions in the round is correct, because we are looking at the totality of pension arrangements for the future. He said, with good intent, that there would be a speedy process to consider regulations at a future stage. The problem is that we have to get it right when we specify in the Bill what the expectations of Parliament are.

    Let us compare the Government’s proposals with the status quo. Interesting work has been done to compare the FCA’s conduct of business sourcebook—COBS—with Government new clause 1. It would seem that the Government have not moved as far as they should have, so it is important that we get this crucial issue right in the Bill. Of course the Minister is right when he says that circumstances vary enormously, but we strongly believe that there is an absolute principle that must be enshrined in law. Crucially, it is not about erecting barriers. On the contrary, we want to help people to make their decision and ensure that they have access to the advice and guidance necessary when they come to make that decision.

    The wording proposed is not yet good enough. Ultimately, we seek an outcome in the Bill that puts it beyond any doubt that the individual can be shown to have made a conscious decision and to have decided not to access that guidance. The Minister has referred to a nudge, which has its place but, frankly, a nudge alone, in the traditional sense of the word, is not enough at this stage. We need a strong statutory obligation and entitlement. I stress again that the consequences of what happens if things go badly wrong are heartbreaking. We have all seen it. That is why there is a determination across the House to ensure that some of the abuses of the past are not carried forward. For that to be the case, we need strong and unambiguous law.

    The Minister has said that the Bill is a skeleton that we can put flesh on the bones of. The hon. Member for South Thanet made the point, which I understand, that this will be a significant issue on Report. To be frank, there is no flesh on these bones to show what needs to be done at the next stage. I hope that the Minister will listen not only to us and to the Work and Pensions Committee, but to the widespread expressions of people who are reputable in a vast industry—of course, there are people to the contrary, but they are not particularly fazed by what we propose—who recognise the importance of what we are arguing. I hope that the Minister will hear their voices as well as ours.

    Question put, That the amendment be made.

  • Division 2

    1 February 2018

    The Committee divided:

    Ayes: 6
    Noes: 8

    Question accordingly negatived.

    View Details

    Amendment made: 2, in clause 5, page 4, line 13, leave out subsection (2).—(Guy Opperman.)

    This amendment removes subsection (2) of clause 5 (inserted by the Lords), which required the FCA to make rules requiring trustees or managers of personal and stakeholder pension schemes to ask whether members have received guidance before accessing or transferring their pension. This duty is developed in the new clauses inserted by NC1 and NC2.

    Clause 5, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 6

    Delegation of functions to delivery partner organisations

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

  • In the circumstances, I am delighted to say that I do not believe this clause is controversial.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 6 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 7

    Debt respite scheme: advice to the Secretary of State

  • I beg to move amendment 34, in clause 7, page 5, line 24, leave out subsection (1) and insert—

    “(1) The Secretary of State must, within the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act comes into force, introduce a debt respite scheme.”

    This amendment will require the Secretary of State to set up a debt respite scheme within 6 months of this Act coming into force.

  • With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

    Amendment 35, in clause 7, page 5, line 35, leave out subsections (3) to (5).

    This amendment is consequential to Amendment 34.

    Clauses 7 and 8 stand part.

  • The amendment would require the Secretary of State to set up a debt respite scheme within six months of the Bill coming into force.

    A “breathing space” is a scheme that stops debts from increasing by freezing interest and charges, and halting enforcement action, allowing families the time and space they need to get back on their feet. This morning I told the story of a victim of domestic violence who fled and then got herself into a downward spiral of debt. She said: “I borrowed to pay my debts. I then had to borrow to pay my debts. I then had to borrow to pay my debts.” What she would have greatly enjoyed, if it had been in operation at the time, is a breathing space to halt the downward spiral and allow her to sort out her finances, and indeed her life and the lives of her children.

    While we welcome the fact that the Government have committed to a debt respite scheme with the introduction of the new body, those vulnerable people who are stuck in a cycle of problem debt cannot afford to wait. A debt respite scheme gives people who are suffering from debt problems the breathing space to stabilise their financial situation and get on a more stable footing.

    One survey showed that 60% of people said that their financial situation had stabilised once all of their creditors agreed to freeze further interest charges and enforcement action. In a world where credit is easier to access than ever before, it is all the more likely that some will fall into problems with debt. Therefore, it is incumbent on the Government to ensure that these people are not left to suffer alone, and that they receive the support and guidance they need to climb back out of the downward spiral of debt.

    StepChange, a debt charity, has estimated the wider social costs of current debt problems to be £8.3 billion. Currently, 2.9 million households are at crisis point with severe, unmanageable debt problems. Some 21 million people are struggling with their bills; 18 million people are worried about making their income last until payday; and research by the Money Advice Service found that, for nearly 9 million people, financial difficulty had progressed to more serious and persistent arrears, with bills and debts described as an ever more heavy burden.

    Debt has wider social effects. StepChange polled its clients. Seventy-four per cent. said that debt had affected their sleep patterns; 43% said that debt worries left them unable to concentrate at work; 6% said it caused changes to work attendance, such as arriving late or taking more time off; and 2% said that it led to them losing their job. If that evidence was scaled up, it would point to 2.9 million people with severe debt problems, which potentially means nearly 60,000 people out of work as a result of problem debt.

    In addition, 57% of indebted parents said debt put their current or most recent relationship under strain. Some 7% said their relationship actually broke up because of debt, and children in households experiencing debt problems were more than twice as likely to say they had been bullied at school.

  • I am sure that every member of the Committee has personal experience of heartbreaking cases in their constituencies where people are immersed in debt, and of the price they pay and how they suffer. Crucially, debt respite gives them the time and opportunity to sort their lives out. I know that the Minister agrees in principle and that there is common ground across the House that a debt respite scheme should be established, but it is a question of how quickly that can be made to happen. It is our strong view that it ought to be achievable within six months of the Bill becoming law.

  • Does the hon. Gentleman agree that rushing a scheme could impact the effectiveness of debt respite? Although I completely agree with everything he said about the problems that can be incurred via debt, it is important to get this crucial element of the Bill correct and to liaise with organisations such as StepChange and the others he mentioned.

  • The hon. Lady is absolutely right. It is important that we get this right at the next stages of the Bill. I do not disagree for one moment. Having said that, let me distinguish between two things. Making substantial changes to the machinery of government to deliver a new function willed by Parliament can take a long time, so the SFGB probably will not be operational until May 2019. I understand that. However, it is not beyond the wit of man or woman to send an unambiguous message now, on the face of the Bill, to those who are responsible for unreasonable pressure being put on people in debt that they are not allowed to do so. Introducing that within six months of the Bill becoming law is eminently achievable.

    I stress again that I am the first to recognise that great change sometimes takes time to implement, but to be frank, given the times we are living through, I do not want people who could get respite to spend another six months not getting it. There is no good reason not to give them respite. As I said when we started this morning, we want to strengthen a good Bill, and inject into it a greater sense of urgency as appropriate.

  • I thank the Minister for his letter about breathing space and the other issues, but it gave me another question for him. He mentioned a six-week breathing space period. I have said this many times: please, please talk to debt advisers. Six weeks is really not enough time.

  • I appreciate the point the hon. Lady is about to make, because I heard her make it in the Chamber the other day, but does she acknowledge that the six-week breathing space in Scotland has been effective? That is an interesting example of effective legislation coming out of the Scottish Parliament. Although a longer breathing space may be preferable, six weeks has been shown to be effective up there.

  • It may have been shown to be effective, but it has not been shown to be the right amount of time. The average debt in Scotland takes four months to handle, so six weeks is not the right amount of time. People have regularly asked for extensions to the six weeks.

  • To re-emphasise the point—I promise not to come back on it again—that the six-week breathing space in Scotland has led to a reduction in bankruptcies. It has been successful in that respect. It is wrong to suggest that six weeks is wholly inadequate.

  • The number of bankruptcies is not the issue; they are actually quite rare. A very small proportion of the people who go to debt organisations are made bankrupt. It takes most people with the average amount of consumer debt four to six months to deal with it. Those are not people who would ever have looked at bankruptcy. Bankruptcy is not appropriate for them and would not even be considered.

    The average number of consumer debts is rising, and creditors are slow at responding. People often forget to bring in a debt, and so they have to write to all the creditors and redo the statements. Six weeks is just about better than nothing, but I would say, from my long experience of dealing with debts, that four months is probably the minimum. We want to prevent creditors from delaying it until the six weeks is over and people have to go for extensions, which may or may not be granted. Some creditors—I have to be honest—delay it simply so they are not part of the solution.

    Although I still think the length of time is inadequate, I welcome the proposal for a breathing space. Another issue with the length of time is that it is very difficult for people who suffer from depression or low-level mental health problems to make regular appointments, and they are often asked to come in all the time to deal with their debt. That needs to be taken into account. I welcome the move, but please do not be wedded to six weeks.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell, and to participate in this stage of the process. I feel a bit like poacher turned gamekeeper, given that I was a member of the Work and Pensions Committee a few years ago when many of these matters were discussed. I remember having long discussions with my hon. Friend the Member for South Thanet and the hon. Member for Paisley and Renfrewshire South. It is still a matter of great sadness that I have not been to Paisley.

    Amendments 34 and 35 would require the Government to implement a breathing space scheme within six months of the Bill’s receiving Royal Assent. It is legitimate to press that point, because everybody on this Committee—this was striking on Second Reading—is concerned and feels a sense of urgency. Before I became a Minister, I spent time working with Members of other parties on the all-party group on hunger and food poverty. I visited South Shields and saw at first hand, in a community that is very different from mine in Salisbury, the distress that debt can cause. Now that I am a Minister and in a position to do something, I am extremely focused on ensuring that this happens.

    Members of all parties agree that creating a breathing space scheme will have significant benefits for thousands of the most vulnerable families. However, it will need to be designed properly and implemented in partnership with the debt advice sector and creditors. Creating a scheme will ensure that vulnerable consumers have time to assess their financial situation and begin to deal with their debts. The Government are committed to establishing a scheme as quickly and effectively as possible, including through the passage of the Bill. I am pleased that clauses 7 and 8 provide for the scheme’s introduction, but it is worth acknowledging how complex some of these situations are and how complex the scheme may need to be. It includes both a breathing space and a statutory debt management plan. It involves significant co-operation among creditors, debt advisers and those accessing a breathing space, who in many cases could be leading chaotic lives.

    I listened carefully to the hon. Member for Makerfield on Second Reading. I always have great respect for her when she speaks in the House. Today she talked about needing four months, and on Second Reading she talked about needing six months. She cited an example of somebody who may think they have all their debts lined up, and then another materialises later on. Those are the sort of complex situations that we need to come to terms with in the design of the scheme. There are significant questions about how debtors can access the scheme, which debts are included, how flexible the scheme can be, and how it ties in with existing statutory debt solutions.

  • What does the Minister mean by “as quickly and as effectively as possible”? Would he give us a timeframe?

  • I will come to that point and will be as explicit as I can, giving an indicative timeframe.

    The scheme needs to be properly designed with consultation with experts in the debt advice and creditor sectors. That is key to ensuring that it works in practice and properly benefits the lives of the vulnerable people that we all want it to support.

    The Government are clear that it will not be possible to conclude that process within six months of Royal Assent, which is what the amendment would require. However, I agree with the hon. Member for Makerfield that we must work quickly to establish the scheme, given the benefits it could bring to indebted individuals. To that extent, the Government have set out a clear timeline for the implementation of breathing space.

    My officials are currently working hard to analyse responses to the Government’s call for evidence on the scheme, which closed on 16 January. Following that process, we will consult on a single policy design proposal this summer. In tandem, we will ask the new body for advice on specific aspects of the scheme that it is well placed to advise on, to ensure the scheme is rolled out smoothly and embedded in the practices of the debt advice and creditor sectors. We will seek that advice immediately after the body is established, and it will be very tightly framed to ensure that the process does not delay the scheme’s introduction.

    Throughout the period, my officials will be drafting regulations to introduce the scheme and I can confirm that they will be laid as soon as possible in 2019. I feel the frustration of Members on, I suspect, both sides of the Committee. All I can say is that I will be doing everything I can and will be working very closely with the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, to make sure that we do this as quickly as possible.

  • As one of those people who are feeling the frustration with the 2019 date, why do we have to wait for the establishment of this body when all the debt charities and most of the creditors have been pressing for a breathing space under the old system? Why do we have to wait for the new body to do that?

  • I acknowledge the problem, but having taken the trouble to move three entities into one single body and to make it an authoritative place for people to go to for reliable advice across different elements, it would be appropriate, given how central the debt problem is, for it to have a meaningful contribution to establishing the parameters of the scheme. That seems consistent with the objectives that we have set out and discussed, although I acknowledge the wide—although not complete —consensus.

    I will reflect on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Brentwood and Ongar about the Scottish experience. It is interesting and instructive that that has iterated quite significantly over time over many years, albeit with a significantly smaller cohort of just 2,000 people. That tells us that lessons have to be learned through experience of work on the ground. I am extremely anxious that we get the best possible scheme designed by the time the process is concluded. This process balances speed with getting the policy right.

  • I would also mention the independent review of the debt advice provision. It concluded very speedily. It was a very short process, and concluded over the Christmas period, in January. Will the recommendations in that have to wait to 2019 to be implemented? Some of them seem extremely sensible.

  • I am grateful to the hon. Lady for making that point. I am aware of that report, which came through on 25 January. I have seen a summary of its recommendations. Officials are looking at it and I will be dealing with it as quickly as I can. I was assisted with typical helpfulness from colleagues on the House of Lords stipulation. The House of Lords was very keen that the new body should have input into the formulation of the scheme and the respite period—that is worthy of consideration.

  • I have explained why we cannot accept the amendment. I cannot emphasise enough that requiring the scheme to be set up before the end of the year would risk the scheme not working for consumers or not being utilised by the sector in the optimal way. The scheme was a key manifesto commitment that we are working on apace, but it is too important a policy to be rushed through, as the amendment proposes. I am extremely focused on the policy. Given my experience, I have set out that it is one of the most important things that I will do in my time in office. I am committed to seeing it through. I hope that Members are reassured by that and that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington will withdraw the amendment.

  • The Minister speaks with obvious sincerity, which is welcome. As has repeatedly come up in our proceedings today, whether our experience is from our constituency or otherwise, we have all seen the price that people pay as they sink ever more deeply into debt. I do not mind admitting that there was one particular case—it is not appropriate to go into the details—where, when my constituent walked out the room, I was in tears because of what had happened to her. Her life was in a downward spiral. There is common ground and obvious sincerity, so the Government should act.

    We will not push the amendment to a vote, but I suggest that the Government reflect further and come back on Report with the best possible timescale for implementation. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Makerfield: we should not necessarily have to await the formation of the new body. The scheme is a related matter to the function of the body—of that there is no doubt—but we have seen experiences such as the arrangements in Scotland. We also have the collective wisdom of the discussions in the sector and in the House of Lords. Everyone is determined to get it right. We just do not think that the scheme should be introduced a year beyond the Bill coming into effect in three or four months’ time. We would be talking about it being a year and a half before we ultimately see this welcome mechanism introduced.

    In not pushing the amendment to a vote at this stage, I ask the Government to reflect further and come back on Report on two things. First, we want clarity on what the Government think is necessary. The Minister has gone a long way towards that. We want clarity about how one goes about arriving at the default scheme. That relates to the mechanisms and who should be engaged. The Minister has referred to that already. Secondly, we want the quickest possible timescale to get the scheme introduced. If the Minister will respond accordingly on Report, I am prepared to withdraw the amendment.

  • I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman indicating that he will withdraw the amendment. I observed closely what he said on clarity on the default scheme and having the quickest mechanism possible to bring it forward. I will reflect with my colleague the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham and provide an update on Report.

  • I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 7 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 9

    Guidance and directions from the Secretary of State

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

  • The clause gives the power to give guidance to the single financial guidance body and directions specifically on the way it exercises its functions. I do not believe that it is contentions.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 10

    Setting standards

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss clause 11 stand part.

  • I will briefly address the matter of the standards, which the clause will require the single financial guidance body to set out, and their enforcement and monitoring. The clause will require the FCA to review those standards and how the body is monitoring and enforcing those standards. We believe that is appropriate in the circumstances, and that we are creating this body with a degree of scrutiny in the right and proper way.

  • We rehearsed this morning the importance of the independence of the body, in terms of its operational role, on the one hand. On the other hand, there is common ground that there should be proper accountability and oversight. We are content with the proposed arrangements.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 10 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 11 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 12

    Financial assistance from the Secretary of State

  • I beg to move amendment 36, in clause 12, page 8, line 10, leave out from “State” to “financial” and insert “must provide”.

    This amendment proposes to adjust Clause 12(2) to strengthen the provisions on financial assistance from the Secretary of State related to the operation of the SFGB

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part.

  • The amendment proposes to adjust clause 12 to strengthen the provisions on financial assistance from the Secretary of State related to the operation of the single financial guidance body. The intention of the new body is to increase the number of people who receive financial guidance and advice—indeed, the ambition is to greatly increase it. This function is key to increasing financial awareness, education and inclusion across the country.

    While the current services provided by the three bodies to be merged are greatly valued and appreciated by those who use them, I think there is common ground that they are not used enough. A primary function of the new body needs to be to increase take-up of the services it offers. For example, take-up of the services offered by Pension Wise is extremely low. The latest figures from HM Revenue and Customs show that some 772,000 people withdrew more than £6.5 billion from their pension pots in 2017. However, only 66,000 appointments were made with Pension Wise in 2016-17—approximately 8.5% of people.

    An FCA survey found that one in eight 55 to 64-year-olds who planned to retire in the next two years and who have a defined contribution pension had used the Pension Wise service in a 12-month period. The FCA also found that 25% of pension transfers are withdrawing all, or virtually all, of the pension, with 19% withdrawing virtually all and 6% withdrawing all. What plan do the Government have for those who have withdrawn all their pension and may end up with nothing later in life? They may end up falling into the arms of the taxpayer, and the Government need to prepare for that.

    While traffic to Pension Wise’s website is quite high, it is not a sufficient substitute for access to tailored and personal advice. Also, many of those looking for advice may not be completely digitally aware. As Baroness Altmann said in the other place,

    “When you introduce pension freedom into a marketplace that has never really been encouraged to engage with pensions and mostly does not understand much about them, obviously you need an expert to help you.”

    NEST has said that it is concerned

    “that people appear to be making decisions based solely on a read of the Pension Wise website”.

    If those looking to transfer their pension are only accessing the Pension Wise website, it means that they will not get the tailored specialist advice that they need at such a time. We must therefore ensure that as many as possible of the 772,000 people who take advantage of their pension freedoms every year receive the guidance that they need to make informed and reasoned decisions about what are usually large sums of money.

    For this reason, having set out why this body matters and the scale of likely demand at the next stages, we are surprised that the Government, from some of the things that they have said, appear to expect to make a financial saving from the formation of the new body. The Government’s impact assessment states:

    “One structure replacing three will reduce cost of guidance provision, releasing funds through these efficiencies…savings could be used to reduce the levies that industry pay to finance the government’s guidance provision.”

    With the greatest respect, that is the last thing that should happen. We do not believe that the Government should use the formation of the new body to make savings and pass them on as reductions in the amount paid by the industry to finance the body. The industry has a responsibility to finance the body adequately through the levy system. The industry and the Government should use the efficiencies created by the new structure, as well as additional money in grants and levies, as appropriate, to drastically increase the services provided. In our view, that is essential to the success of the SFGB if it is to deliver the complete guidance service that people need.

    I had a fascinating discussion earlier this week with the chief executive of the Pensions Advisory Service, and she referred to the extraordinary statistics on TPAS’s work and the take-up of it. She made the point, absolutely rightly, that more could be done with existing resources and economies of scale from bringing together the three organisations, but she went on to make the compelling point that so great is the likely demand at the next stages that much more will need to be done to finance the new body. Inescapably, unless it is properly resourced, the new body will not be able to discharge the functions that will fall upon it.

    The chief executive gave some examples. She made the point again about not duplicating work done by other areas of Government such as research, and said that, in TPAS’s experience, some things that are key to the services that it provides include, of course, the dashboard and the website, but also face-to-face guidance, which is crucial time and again. She talked about the specialisms necessary to help and inform decisions about options, saying that we should not dumb things down by having people give guidance by just reading off a list. She said that an advertising programme ought to be part of what the Government do, and that it could be done in a number of different ways. She also spoke about what I call the Carillion capacity—the capacity to respond at a time of crisis—as well the promotion of financial public awareness, which we debated earlier.

    In conclusion, we hope for a statement from the Government that makes the point that the purpose of the new body is not to save money but to provide the kind of service that all people in all circumstances ought to be able to count on. The industry must play its part, but Government must be unambiguous that the body will be properly and fully resourced.

  • Can I answer the point raised directly? It is absolutely the case that merging three bodies and having one building rather than three will create some degree of potential cost efficiencies, but we are absolutely of the view that those efficiencies should then be directed into frontline services. I can unequivocally give that assurance to the Committee.

    The hon. Gentleman referred to the original response to the consultation. It is true that there is an expectation that rationalising the provision will create some operational efficiencies. One would expect that. However, that same response made it very clear that the intention was for any savings to be channelled to frontline delivery of debt advice, and money and pensions guidance. I could not be any clearer on that in any way whatsoever.

    I manifestly want to make that point, but I also disagree that there will be an insufficiency of funding, and the reason for that, it seems to me, is threefold. First, this is effectively not taxpayer-funded; it is done by a levy. The levy is a moveable feast, depending upon the need identified by the individual organisation, and it is something that can be assessed and increased on an ongoing basis, to provide the service that, it seems to me, we all wish to ensure is there. Secondly, there is capacity to top up the levy, should the Secretary of State wish to do so, and the financial guidance body on an ongoing basis, and that additional funding can be provided.

    The proposed amendment has the bizarre, counter- intuitive effect of removing the discretionary nature of the financial assistance that the Secretary of State can provide. I simply make the point that while we are keen to ensure that this body is run more efficiently, in terms of amalgamating most probably into the High Holborn offices of the Money Advice Service, we certainly believe that this is something the levy will be able to fund, and if it is the case that this expands the provision—the House of Lords seems to have done so and this House may do so as well—then the levy may go up to accommodate the need as has been described. With those assurances, I respectfully ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendment.

  • The assurance that this is not a cost-saving measure is very welcome, but I stress again: is there an economy of scale? Are there possibilities, for example, of freeing up, by locating in one location, which is very likely to be the case? All of that is absolutely true, but right at the start, as we go down this path, to see a welcome mechanism created, we need to be confident, and to send a message to the people out there that they can be confident, that the new organisation will be effective, dynamic and properly resourced. Therefore, on the basis of the assurances given, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clauses 13 to 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Schedule 3

    Minor and consequential amendments relating to Part 1

    Amendment made: 19, in schedule 3, page 34, line 22, leave out paragraph 13—(Guy Opperman.)

    This amendment removes the amendment to s.137FB of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 in the Schedule 3 which was needed in consequence of the Bill, because this is now dealt with in the new clause inserted by NC1.

    Schedule 3, as amended, agreed to.

    Clauses 21 to 23 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Amanda Milling.)

  • Adjourned till Tuesday 6 February at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

    Written evidence reported to the House

    FGCB 01 The Claims Guys

    FGCB 02 John Lamidey MBE

    FGCB 03 Equity Release Council

    FGCB 04 Gary Nixon

    FGCB 05 Jon Platt, Managing Director, JMP Partnership (IW) Ltd

    FGCB 06 Frankly Hughes Limited

    FGCB 07 Low Incomes Tax Reform Group

    FGCB 08 Just Group

    FGCB 09 ABTA - The Travel Association

    FGCB 10 Consumer Finance Association (CFA)

    FGCB 11 Fair Telecoms Campaign

    FGCB 12 Lloyds Banking Group

    FGCB 13 Association of Personal Injury Lawyers (APIL)

    FGCB 14 Age UK

    FGCB 15 BlackLion Law LLP

    FGCB 16 Alliance of Claims Companies

    FGCB 17 Macmillan Cancer Support

    FGCB 18 Association of British Insurers (ABI)

    Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill (Seventh sitting)

    The Committee consisted of the following Members:

    Chairs: †Ms Karen Buck, Mrs Anne Main

    † Blackman, Kirsty (Aberdeen North) (SNP)

    † Chapman, Douglas (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP)

    † Dakin, Nic (Scunthorpe) (Lab)

    † Davies, Chris (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

    † Dodds, Anneliese (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op)

    † Dowd, Peter (Bootle) (Lab)

    † Hair, Kirstene (Angus) (Con)

    Hardy, Emma (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)

    † Hill, Mike (Hartlepool) (Lab)

    † Kwarteng, Kwasi (Spelthorne) (Con)

    † Menzies, Mark (Fylde) (Con)

    † Morris, Grahame (Easington) (Lab)

    † Reynolds, Jonathan (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)

    † Rowley, Lee (North East Derbyshire) (Con)

    † Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

    † Stride, Mel (Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

    † Stuart, Graham (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade)

    † Sturdy, Julian (York Outer) (Con)

    † Wragg, Mr William (Hazel Grove) (Con)

    Colin Lee, Gail Bartlett, Committee Clerks

    † attended the Committee

    Public Bill Committee

    Thursday 1 February 2018

    (Morning)

    [Ms Karen Buck in the Chair]

    Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill

    Clause 23

    Approvals and authorisations granted under regulations

    Clauses 23 and 24 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 25

    Disclosure of information

  • I beg to move amendment 117, in clause 25, page 17, line 2, leave out “1998” and insert “2018”.

    This amendment seeks to provide that the powers of disclosure cannot be exercised in breach of the updated data protection framework to be enshrined in the Data Protection Bill as enacted.

    It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. Amendment 117 is a tidying-up amendment. The Scottish Law Commission raised the point that the relevant data protection legislation for the purposes of the Bill will be the Data Protection Act 2018, not the Data Protection Act 1998. The amendment would simply make a technical change to ensure that the correct legislation is used.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Buck. Clause 25 permits disclosures for customs duty purposes, but makes it clear that disclosures that would contravene the Data Protection Act 1998 are not permitted. Amendment 117 would provide instead that disclosures that would contravene the Data Protection Act 2018—currently the Data Protection Bill—were not permitted.

    The Government intend that data protection safeguards will need to be complied with when powers under the Bill are exercised. Given that the Data Protection Bill is not yet in law, it would be inappropriate to refer to it in this Bill, but I am happy to assure the Committee that the Government are committed to ensuring appropriate data protection safeguards and will therefore seek to make the appropriate amendments at the appropriate time. In the meantime, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw her amendment.

  • If the Government amended the Bill to specify “appropriate data protection legislation”, rather than “the Data Protection Act 1998”, that would fix the problem and ensure that the correct legislation is used. I am sure that the Minister has listened, so I will not press the amendment to the vote, but I hope the Government will make reasonable changes on Report or at another stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 25 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clauses 26 to 29 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Schedule 7 agreed to.

    Clause 30

    General provision for the purposes of import duty

  • I beg to move amendment 81, in clause 30, page 18, line 9, at end insert—

    “(2) No regulations may be made under this section after the end of the period of two years beginning with exit day.

    (3) In this section, “exit day” has the meaning given by section 14(1) (interpretation) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and subsections (2) to (5) of that section apply to the term under this section as they apply to the term in that Act.”.

    This amendment limits the duration of the delegated power under Clause 30 to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 131, in clause 30, page 18, line 9, at end insert—

    “(2) No regulations may be made under this section unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the House of Commons.”.

    This amendment requires regulations under Clause 30 to be subject to the affirmative procedure.

    Clause stand part.

    Amendment 132, in clause 32, page 19, line 32, after “regulations” insert “under section 30 and”.

    This amendment is consequential on Amendment 131.

  • It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Ms Buck, and a pleasure to see the rest of the Committee.

    Our amendments would qualify the powers in clause 30 that enable the Treasury to make, by regulation, a wide range of provisions relating to the imposition of import duty. In particular, amendment 81 advocates the inclusion of a sunset clause, whereby no regulations can be made under clause 30 after the end of the two-year period, beginning with exit day, when the UK is set to leave the EU.

    The Government suggested on Tuesday that the Opposition’s contributions had been on the theme of greater parliamentary accountability, for which I suspect many of our constituents would thank rather than criticise us. Today, one of our themes will be the use of sunset clauses where appropriate. I hope the Minister will listen to our arguments with an open mind.

    It is not just the Opposition who have argued for the use of sunset clauses in the Bill and more generally. The House of Lords Committee that examined the subject also recommended their greater use. My hon. Friends will elaborate on that point later. I will point out the Government’s inconsistent approach to this Bill compared with the use of sunset clauses in other areas.

    The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill commits to ensure that delegated powers in many of the areas it covers will not be available in perpetuity but only for the period necessitated by leaving the EU, and yet even that approach is not adopted here. The Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013—not necessarily an Act that I would otherwise support, because of its negative impact on health and safety regulation—appropriately suggested that sunset clauses could be a helpful mechanism to ensure that provisions are kept up to date. That commitment was placed into guidance on the conduct of impact assessments, which advocates that

    “opportunities to use sunset clauses should be explored where appropriate.”

    The use of sunset clauses was a core element of the better regulation agenda. In theory, the Government are still committed to that, although I was pleased to hear from the Prime Minister that she will remove some elements of it, such as the one in, two out rule.

    There are many other historical parallels. Sunset clauses applied to legislation used during the first and second world wars, and to legislation dealing with a heightened terrorist threat. The lack of a time limit on some temporary legislation passed in the second world war exposed Governments to legal action in the late 1970s, when they tried to implement new control orders on the export of goods using the temporary legislation that had never been repealed.

    I am not saying that sunset clauses are never abused. Arguably, in the US, President Bush sprayed them around routinely and inserted them into tax-cutting measures to try to hide the magnitude of revenue that the US Government would lose over time. However, they can play an important role when they are used appropriately, especially in trade and customs policy. The OECD’s policy framework for investment explicitly mentions the need to consider including sunset clauses in trade facilitation measures.

    Antonios Kouroutakis published an interesting book a couple of years ago on sunset clauses. He shows that they have been used for centuries as a means of balancing the powers of the Executive with those of the legislature, especially when there is a need to develop parliamentary consensus and accelerate decision making when time is tight.

    I am not sure about other Committee members, but I cannot imagine an epoch that fits those characteristics more fully than this one. The Government should aim to build trust across Parliament, not diminish it, and to achieve parliamentary consensus. I hope they will heed our call for a sunset clause in clause 30 and take it as the constructive suggestion that we intend it to be.

  • Clause 30 allows the Treasury to make regulations for the purposes of import duty, which will prove necessary to ensure that the UK’s import duty regime operates effectively. As the Committee will be aware by now, the Bill contains several new powers to make regulations. As I have explained, although the Bill sets out the requirements for import duty, the need for more detailed rules will likely arise once the new regime is implemented. That is what the power in the clause allows for.

    The clause permits regulations to be made to deal with administrative matters, the needs of which cannot be identified at this time because, for example, of unforeseeable changes in business practice. It is worth noting that the Union customs code, which establishes the current customs regime, provided powers to the Commission to make implementing and delegated Acts to supplement the rules set out in that code.

    Amendment 81 seeks to limit the period in which the power to make regulations under clause 30 can be exercised to two years after exit day, as the hon. Lady outlined. The power will ensure that the UK can make the regulations necessary to deliver an effective import regime into the future. It allows the Treasury to respond as necessary to any future developments that might have a bearing on import duty.

    The power will play an important part in ensuring we have the ability to address any circumstances that arise in the future that might require modification in the UK’s import duty regime, conceivably beyond the term of the period that the hon. Lady has suggested. It is for that reason that the power in the clause is not subject to a time limit. Amendment 81 seeks to impose just such a time limit of two years following exit day. If it were accepted, there would be a risk of limiting the Treasury’s capacity to make or require changes to the UK’s import duty regime in the future.

    To pick up on a specific point raised by the hon. Lady about the Lords Committee and its assessments around sunsetting, it should be noted that the aims of this Bill are somewhat different from some of the other Brexit Bills that were referred to in that report. For example, while the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill makes provision for day one, with the understanding that further primary legislation will be made to supplement it, this Bill will be required in order to maintain a functioning customs regime and effective VAT and excise regimes on an ongoing basis. That is a key point. For those reasons, I urge the hon. Lady to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendments 131 and 132 seek to apply the draft affirmative procedure to regulations under clause 30. As I set out to the Committee previously, the Bill ensures that the scrutiny procedures that apply to the exercise of each power are appropriate and proportionate, taking into account what could be covered by the regulations and the frequency and speed at which changes may need to be made. The Government believe that the negative procedure for regulations made under clause 30 provides an appropriate level of parliamentary scrutiny. The Government need to be able to administer the tax system effectively, for example to collect the right amount of tax from the right person at the right time. That clearly applies to the collection of real-time taxes such as import duties. Changes in circumstances, for example the emergence of a new category of goods or the proliferation of one means of importing goods, may need to be addressed in real time. Therefore, application of the draft affirmative procedure to regulations made under clause 30 is inappropriate. Unlike the negative procedure, the draft affirmative procedure will not be capable of implementing those essential policy changes immediately. Before the UK joined the EU, none of the provisions that could be made in secondary legislation in relation to import duty were subject to the draft affirmative procedure. For those reasons, the Government do not support the amendments.

  • I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. However, I wonder if I could probe a little further. First, will it be possible for the Government to legislate in order to extend some of the provisions if necessary? Is that a theoretical or actual possibility? It is my understanding that it would be both. Therefore, it is not clear to me why he does not accept the sunset clause.

    Secondly, the Minister referred to the need to insure that the Government can respond to calls for frequency and speed in processing new measures. He appeared to imply that that need might go beyond two years after the Government’s planned exit day. I wonder how many years exactly he envisages that we might need the last-minute decision-making proposed in the Bill. Will it continue indefinitely? If that is the plan, it might concern many constituents.

  • The hon. Lady knows the answer to her theoretical question—whether in theory Parliament could, in the absence or with the existence of a sunset clause, none the less extend the provisions in the Bill—as well as I do. It is, of course, yes: Parliament can decide to do broadly that which it wishes to do in the legislative sphere.

    How long we expect to rely on the provisions in the Bill and whether that will be beyond two years depends on a wide variety of circumstances, some of which will almost certainly necessarily be completely unknown at the current time. We do not actually know for certain whether there will be an implementation or transition period with the European Union and what the length of that would be, for example. That situation and the fact that, on an ongoing basis, we will need to make adjustments to regulations, potentially into the future, justify the measure.

    The final point is that the clause and its powers do not amend primary legislation. They introduce new secondary legislation and the scope is restricted solely to those matters in relation to import duty. I hope that, on that basis, the hon. Lady might consider withdrawing her amendment.

  • We are willing not to have a vote on the amendment, but we hope that the Government have listened to our concerns, particularly on the need to ensure that there is appropriate review. The intention behind much of the push for greater use of sunset measures is the concern that these provisions could be extended to cover other areas potentially not directly connected to the UK leaving the EU, as the Government have said they wish to do. I hope the Government continue to be mindful that there are concerns that the measure is part of a wider attempt to allocate more power to the Executive, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 30 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

  • Clause 31

    Territories forming part of a customs union with UK

  • I beg to move amendment 6, in clause 31, page 18, line 31, at end insert—

    “(3A) Before laying a draft of an Order in Council before the House of Commons in accordance with section 32(10)(a), a Minister of the Crown must lay before the House of Commons a statement about—

    (a) the arrangements entered into; and

    (b) the Minister’s assessment of the effect of the arrangements on trade relations with other countries and territories.”

    This amendment requires a statement to precede a draft of an Order in Council giving effect for the purposes of import duty to a Customs Union with another country or territory.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 82, in clause 31, page 19, line 10, at end insert—

    “(8) No regulations may be made under this section after the end of the period of five years beginning with exit day.

    (9) Any Order in Council made under subsection (4) and any regulations made by HMRC Commissioners under subsection (5) shall cease to have effect after the end of the period of six years beginning with exit day.

    (10) In this section, ‘exit day’ has the meaning given by section 14(1) (interpretation) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and subsections (2) to (5) of that section apply to the term under this section as they apply to the term in that Act.”

    This amendment limits the duration of the delegated power under Clause 31 to the period ending five years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union and limits the duration of any delegated instruments under the Clause to six years, so that a permanent customs union would require primary legislation.

    Clause stand part.

  • It is a pleasure as always to see you in the chair, Ms Buck. I want to speak to Opposition amendments 6 and 82, which seek to amend clause 31. Clause 31 in its current form gives Ministers the powers to create a customs union between the UK and another country, overseas territory or multilateral body, including, for example, the European Union.

    There has been much debate in this Committee of the possibility of the UK forming a customs union with the European Union after we leave. It is stating a fact that when the UK leaves the European Union it will also leave the European customs union. However, we have been consistent in our belief that it would be wrong to take the option of the UK forming a customs union with the EU off the table at this early stage of UK negotiations. Therefore, we welcome the Government making specific provision for the option of a customs union in the Bill.

    There are a variety of customs unions, and an internal customs union between the UK and its overseas territories and Crown dependencies is far different from a customs union with a single country or a multinational organisation such as the EU. It is a welcome sign that the Government have considered that and ensured that clause 31 is drafted in a way to fit the scenario.

    Although the Opposition accept the principle of what the Government are attempting to do, we once again take issue with the concealed manner in which they plan to do it. Under the measures in clause 31, the formation of a customs union would be made through the declaration of an Order in Council, completely cutting out Parliament, in effect, as I understand it—the Minister may wish to clarify that.

    We have heard from Ministers on a number of occasions that their action is related to delegated legislation, for example, and that it is always commensurate and proportionate. Setting up a customs union, of whatever construction, without commensurate and proportionate parliamentary involvement is not consistent with the approach that the Government have taken thus far in relation to that commensurate and proportionate principle. It is simply a matter of the Government changing the goalposts capriciously. I completely acknowledge that the Minister may put me right on that.

    This appears a rather strange way for the Government to uphold the central theme espoused by those advocating leaving the European Union—of “taking back control.” It confirms one of the central objections that we have made time and time again, and stated throughout this Bill and others, concerning Executive overreach and the centralisation of power. That issue will not go away any time soon. Conservative Members also have concerns about that.

    Opposition amendment 6 would instead require a Minister to make a statement to the House of Commons on the establishment of a customs union, outlining the specific details of the customs union and how they were reached, as well as the effects of the new customs arrangements on trade with other countries and territories. I consider that—I think that most people will—to be the minimum level of parliamentary oversight that we should expect, and one that would ensure the Government are accountable to this House.

    Several customs unions exist in the world, including the EU customs union, Mercosur and the Caribbean Community. There are more in the pipeline, with negotiations on potential customs unions taking place in the middle east, parts of Africa and between New Zealand and Australia. Under amendment 6 the House will be able to give proper scrutiny to what kind of customs union the Government have in mind. Is that a detail that Parliament need not bother about? Our view is that it is an important fact.

    If the Government intend to keep the option of forming a future customs union with the European Union on the table, as clause 31 makes possible, they must consider the variety of needs of UK businesses, manufacturers and stakeholders. Customs unions are ordinarily designed to address trade in goods. However, the new UK-EU relationship will also need to deliver trade in services, cross-border Government procurement and, possibly, regulatory equivalence, as well as a host of other issues that others may want to comment on. I have made that point previously.

    The debate on the UK’s future trading relationship remains controversial. The Secretary of State continues to shroud the progress of future deals in a veil of secrecy, under issues to do with commercial sensitivity, except when, as today, we are told there will be £9 billion of trade with China. The Government pick and choose what to tell us. We have consistently opposed such a level of secrecy, and we believe that Parliament should have the right to give proper scrutiny to future trade agreements and customs arrangements.

    Amendment 6 would therefore ensure an open process, and a level of transparency around the negotiation and establishment of a customs union; it would ensure that the negotiation and implementation would be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. The amendment would also allow Members of the House, who bring diverse experience— a vast range of experience in many situations—and who represent a variety of key sectors and stakeholders, to debate an issue that is very important.

    The Government would also be required under the amendment to consider the impact of the establishment of a customs union on trade with other territories and countries. That is an important factor, particularly given that, currently, the UK’s membership of the EU customs union means it is unable to enter into trade agreements outside the EU. Part of the issue is that we have seen what happens when Governments do not consider the impact of entering a customs union on trade with other countries.

    We need only go back to the time when we first entered what was then the European Economic Community. We failed to take account of the impact on trade with Commonwealth countries, which then accounted for 20% of all imports and exports. The result was unhappy and damaging, with Commonwealth countries losing out. The Labour Prime Minister had to renegotiate better terms that ensured that trade with Commonwealth countries could continue. There is a history, and we need to make sure we get things right, as best we can. Parliament’s role is to tease those issues out, especially given the seriousness of this.

    Amendment 6 is intended to prevent a scenario such as I have outlined by requiring Ministers to make clear to the House and other trading nations the possible impact of forming a customs union—internally or with another country or a multinational organisation—on trade.

    Amendment 82 would limit the period for which a customs union agreed by the Government through delegated legislation could be in force. It would set the period at six years, after which the Government would have to introduce primary legislation if they wanted to extend the customs union. The amendment would be an important part of guaranteeing that Parliament, not the Executive, would have the final say in any customs union that was established. It would constrain and limit Ministers’ power and ensure that the long-term establishment of a customs union would receive the proper parliamentary scrutiny that such a move deserves.

    Under clause 31, delegated powers could be used to bring the UK into a permanent customs union without a vote in the House of Commons. In that scenario, Members would not be able to assess the benefits of that customs union before the Government entered into it. There would also be no recourse to a reversal of the decision if it proved costly to the UK—other than through primary legislation, presumably, so let us do that first. Just as the Opposition have forced and required the Government to concede a vote to the House on the final deal reached in the negotiations between the UK and the European Union, amendment 82 would require the Government to put the formation of a future customs union to a vote.

    There is of course a difference between a temporary customs union and a permanent one, and amendment 82 makes that distinction. While we accept that the Government may need the powers in clause 31 to put in place temporary measures as part of a transitional process, more permanent changes should receive proper parliamentary oversight and sanctions. We believe six years to be time enough for the House to consider the net benefits or costs of a customs union, be that an internal customs union with overseas territories and Crown dependencies, or a customs union with another country or a large, multinational organisation such as the EU. Six years would prove enough time for Members to assess whether that customs union protects UK manufacturers, supports UK businesses and works in the interest of the country.

    As the Minister has stated many times, the Bill is a framework Bill. Clause 31 sets out framework powers that will give Ministers the ability to introduce regulations for the creation of a customs union. Our opposition to this matter is clear: while we welcome the Government including these powers in the Bill, as I said earlier, amendments 6 and 82 would guarantee that Parliament has the final say.

  • Clause 31 caters for a situation in the future in which the UK has made an agreement with an overseas country or territory to enter into an arrangement to establish a customs union. The clause allows such a customs union to have effect for the purposes of import duty. It also allows HMRC to make regulations that might prove necessary to ensure that a customs union functions effectively.

    As I previously set out, the Bill caters for a range of possible outcomes after the UK has left the EU. There are various circumstances in which the Government might wish to establish a customs union with a country or territory overseas, and to have that union apply for import duty purposes. One instance might be to establish a customs union with a Crown dependency—namely Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man.

    The clause caters for any international arrangements such as this that establishes a new customs union. The clause does not provide the power to enter into an international agreement; such an agreement does not require a specific statutory basis. Instead, it simply allows the UK’s customs regime to reflect such an agreement by providing the means necessary to implement it. Once an agreement has been reached, an Order in Council will be required before it can take effect for import duty. That order can itself be made—this is a critical response to the remarks of the hon. Member for Bootle—only if it has first been approved, in draft, by the House of Commons under the draft affirmative resolution procedure. I am sure the Committee agrees that that will afford a high level of parliamentary scrutiny for each stage of the process.

    It is likely that further provisions will be needed to make an international agreement effective for import duty purposes. The most obvious instance would be to ensure that import duty is not charged on the movement of goods between the UK and the overseas country or territory. For that reason, the clause allows HMRC to make any necessary changes in regulations.

    Amendment 82 seeks to add a restriction to that process in two ways. First, it would limit the ability of HMRC to make regulations to five years from exit day. Secondly, it would make any Order in Council cease to have effect six years after exit day. Both of those positions are misguided. I am sure that I do not need to remind the Committee that establishing a new customs union with an overseas territory or country is likely to be a long-term process, not least because of the need to ensure that it reflects the UK’s new international trading relationship once we have left the European Union. It would therefore be wrong to limit the ability to adapt the UK’s legislation to a period of five years following exit.

    More importantly, it would be rather perverse to make any customs union simply cease to have an effect on domestic law after a six-year period. As I explained, the level of parliamentary scrutiny that would apply to such a union is very high, requiring both an Order in Council and the draft affirmative procedure in Parliament, as well as all the potential debates and votes that may occur around the negotiations that led to that customs union arrangement in the first place.

    There is therefore no case for time-limiting an agreement in the way proposed by the amendment. Indeed, it could make it far more difficult, if not impossible, to reach any agreement if our overseas partners were aware that such an agreement would no longer function effectively at a future point because of limitations on powers in our domestic legislation. I therefore urge the Committee to reject amendment 82.

  • Amendment 6 would require the Government to lay a statement before the House before laying the draft Order in Council giving effect to a customs union between the UK and an overseas country or territory. That is simply unnecessary. As I have explained, appropriate procedures are in place to ensure that Parliament has proper scrutiny before a customs union can take effect for import duty purposes. The House will have full opportunity to debate any draft order, and to scrutinise its contents as necessary. That could include the potential effects of the draft order on the UK’s trade relations with other countries or territories. There is therefore no need to put such information on the face of the Bill. I therefore urge the Committee to reject amendment 6 and vote that clause 31 stand part of the Bill.

  • We will not press amendment 6 to a vote, but we will no doubt tease the issue out a little more in due course. Again, I am not completely reassured by the Minister’s statement in relation to affirmative resolutions. I do not accept that the process is as rigorous as he has implied throughout.

    The other aspect is that, if Parliament will have to do huge amounts of work, we had better make sure that we get everything right and get the ducks set up in a row. The idea that the Government’s proposal and mechanism for authorising are commensurate and proportionate is, in my opinion, far off the mark. It is a very important area, and Parliament should have significantly more of a say in it.

    This issue will clearly not be resolved today, any more than many other things will be, but it is really important. We will not push the amendment to a vote today, but there is no doubt that we will, in due course, come back to this issue and the whole question of parliamentary scrutiny, particularly in relation to this sort of matter. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 31 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 32

    Regulations etc

  • I beg to move amendment 89, in clause 32, page 19, line 18, at end insert—

    “(c) regulations under paragraph 4(2), 9(3) or 14(4) of Schedule 4.”

    This amendment provides for regulations made under certain provisions of Schedule 4 (regarding dumping of goods or foreign subsidies causing injury to UK industry) to be subject to the made affirmative procedure rather than the negative procedure.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 90, in clause 32, page 19, line 18, at end insert—

    “(c) regulations under paragraph 1(2), 3(2), 4(2) or 5 of Schedule 5.”

    This amendment provides for regulations made under certain provisions of Schedule 5 (regarding an increase in imports causing serious injury to UK producers) to be subject to the made affirmative procedure rather than the negative procedure.

    Amendment 91, in clause 32, page 19, line 21, at end insert—

    “(2A) Section (super-affirmative resolution procedure) applies to regulations under paragraph 1(3), 3(5), 5(2), or 6(2) of Schedule 4.”

    This amendment provides for regulations made under certain provisions of Schedule 4 (regarding dumping of goods or foreign subsidies causing injury to UK industry) to be subject to the super-affirmative resolution procedure, as defined in NC12.

    Amendment 92, in clause 32, page 19, line 21, at end insert—

    “(2A) Section (super-affirmative resolution procedure) applies to regulations under paragraph 2(2) or 2(3) of Schedule 5.”

    This amendment provides for regulations made under certain provisions of Schedule 5 (regarding an increase in imports causing serious injury to UK producers) to be subject to the super-affirmative resolution procedure, as defined in NC12.

    Amendment 93, in clause 32, page 19, line 32, after “(2)” insert “or (2A)”.

    This amendment is consequential to Amendment 92.

    Amendment 94, in clause 42, page 29, line 23, leave out subsection (1).

    The effect of this amendment would be to remove from the Bill the proviso that retained EU law on VAT should not have effect, despite forming part of UK law as a result of Clause 3 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. This would mean that EU legislation affecting VAT and the operation of the common VAT area would continue to have effect as retained EU law for the transitional period.

    Amendment 95, in clause 42, page 29, line 44, leave out from “regulation” to end of line 45.

    The effect of this amendment would be to ensure that the UK Government does not exclude aspects of the EU’s principal VAT Directive that remain relevant by delegated legislation.

    Amendment 96, in clause 42, page 30, line 1, leave out subsection (6) and insert—

    “(6) Section (super-affirmative resolution procedure) applies to regulations made under this section.”

    This amendment applies the super-affirmative resolution procedure, described in NC12. to regulations made under this section.

    New clause 12—Super-affirmative resolution procedure—

    “(1) For the purposes of this Act, the ‘super-affirmative resolution procedure’ in relation to the making of regulations to which this section applies is as follows.

    (2) If a Minister considers it necessary to proceed with the making of regulations to which this section applies, the Minister shall lay before the House of Commons—

    (a) draft regulations,

    (b) an explanatory document under subsection (3), and

    (c) a declaration under subsection (4).

    (3) The explanatory document must—

    (a) introduce and explain any amendments made to retained EU law by each proposed regulation, and

    (b) set out the reason why each such amendment is necessary (or, in the case where the Minister is unable to make a statement of necessity under subsection (4)(a), the reason why each such amendment is nevertheless considered appropriate).

    (4) The declaration under subsection (2)(c) must either—

    (a) state that, in the Minister’s view, the provisions of the draft regulations do not exceed what is necessary to prevent, remedy or mitigate any deficiency in retained EU law arising from the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the EU (a ‘statement of necessity’), or

    (b) include a statement to the effect that although the Minister is unable to make a statement of necessity the Government nevertheless proposes to exercise the power to make the regulations in the form of the draft.

    (5) Subject as follows, if after the expiry of the 21-day period a committee of the House of Commons appointed to consider draft regulations under this section has not reported to the House of Commons a resolution in respect of the draft regulations laid under section 32(2A) or 42(6), the Minister may proceed to make a statutory instrument in the form of the draft regulations.

    (6) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (5) shall be subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of the House of Commons.

    (7) The procedure in subsection (8) to (15) shall apply to the proposal for the draft regulations instead of the procedure in subsection (5) if—

    (a) the House of Commons so resolves within the 21-day period,

    (b) the committee appointed to consider draft regulations under this section so recommends within the 21-day period and the House of Commons does not by resolution reject the recommendation within that period, or

    (c) the draft regulations contain provision to—

    (i) establish a public authority in the United Kingdom,

    (ii) provide for any function of an EU entity or public authority in a member State to be exercisable instead by a public authority in the United Kingdom established by regulations under sections 42, 43 or schedule 8,

    (iii) provides for any function of an EU entity or public authority in a member State of making an instrument of a legislative character to be exercisable instead by a public authority in the United Kingdom,

    (iv) imposes, or otherwise relates to, a fee in respect of a function exercisable by a public authority in the United Kingdom,

    (v) creates, or widens the scope of, a criminal offence, or

    (vi) creates or amends a power to legislate.

    (8) The Minister must have regard to—

    (a) any representations,

    (b) any resolution of the House of Commons, and

    (c) any recommendations of a committee of the House of Commons charged with reporting on the draft regulations,

    made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft regulations.

    (9) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister wishes to make regulations in the terms of the draft, the Minister must lay before the House of Commons a statement—

    (a) stating whether any representations were made under subsection (8)(a), and

    (b) if any representations were so made, giving details of them.

    (10) The Minister may after the laying of such a statement make regulations in the terms of the draft if it is approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.

    (11) However, a committee of the House of Commons charged with reporting on the draft regulations may, at any time after the laying of a statement under subsection (9) and before the draft regulations are approved by that House under subsection (10), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the draft regulations.

    (12) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of the House of Commons under subsection (11) in relation to draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the draft regulations in the House of Commons under subsection (10) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of the House of Commons.

    (13) If, after the expiry of the 60-day period, the Minister wishes to make regulations consisting of a version of the draft regulations with material changes, the Minister must lay before Parliament—

    (a) revised draft regulations, and

    (b) a statement giving details of—

    (i) any representations made under subsection (8)(a); and

    (ii) the revisions proposed.

    (14) The Minister may after laying revised draft regulations and a statement under subsection (9) make regulations in the terms of the revised draft if it is approved by a resolution of the House of Commons.

    (15) However, a committee of the House of Commons charged with reporting on the revised draft regulations may, at any time after the revised draft regulations are laid under subsection (12) and before it is approved by the House of Commons under subsection (13), recommend under this subsection that no further proceedings be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations.

    (16) Where a recommendation is made by a committee of the House of Commons under subsection (14) in relation to revised draft regulations, no proceedings may be taken in relation to the revised draft regulations in the House of Commons under subsection (13) unless the recommendation is, in the same Session, rejected by resolution of the House of Commons.

    (17) In this section, references to the ‘21-day’ and ‘60-day’periods in relation to any draft regulations are to the periods of 21 and 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft regulations were laid before Parliament.”

    This new clause applies an amended version of the super-affirmative resolution procedure to certain powers to make regulations under Schedule 4 and 5, and Clause 42.

  • Amendments 89 to 96 would have a number of different effects. If the Committee will allow me, I will talk through all of them, and all the surrounding details.

    Amendment 89 would subject regulations made under certain provisions of schedule 4 to the made affirmative procedure, rather than the negative procedure, and would ensure a higher level of parliamentary scrutiny. Particularly in schedules 4 and 5, which amendment 90 relates to, the Government have left an awful lot to regulation. I understand that the Bill is a framework Bill, but we could really do with a bit more information around it. If there had been more information, we would not need to make these calls to move things up the agenda, in terms of requesting more scrutiny.

    We have concerns about how the Trade Remedies Authority will operate, and how it will decide things such as the amount of injury that has been sustained. The Government have not yet provided enough information on that. It is not reasonable for the Government to do such things by the negative procedure, rather than either the made affirmative procedure or the super-affirmative procedure. Amendments 91 and 92 would subject certain regulations to the super-affirmative procedure, instead of leaving them subject to the negative procedure.

    We heard concerns during the evidence sessions about how trade remedies would work. As I have said previously, the Government are asking us to trust them an awful lot on this, but because they have not been responsible for this area in recent years, as the UK has been part of what the EU has done, they do not have a track record. We cannot just take it on trust that they will do the right thing; in fact, we have already criticised their choice to have the lesser duty rule, for example. Clearly, the UK Government are already making decisions that we would not like them to make.

    The Government are asking us to trust them, and to accept negative procedure, which makes it very difficult for parliamentarians to be involved in the scrutiny of legislation. That is a real concern. Amendments 89 to 92 would therefore subject regulations under schedules 4 and 5 to a higher level of scrutiny. I do not consider that an unreasonable ask in the light of the importance of this issue, particularly to industries such as steel and chemicals that rely on trade remedies to continue producing, selling and competing in the domestic market. Amendment 93 is consequential on amendment 92.

    Amendment 94 would delete clause 42(1) and thus remove from the Bill the proviso that direct EU legislation on VAT would no longer have effect in the UK. It would ensure that EU legislation affecting VAT and the operation of the common VAT area would continue to have effect in the UK for the transitional period. The amendment is important because it would address concerns raised by the British Retail Consortium about replacing acquisition VAT with import VAT.

    Losing membership of the EU VAT area in just over a year’s time would cause major problems for businesses, including with cash flow, because they would end up having to pay VAT on goods before they were released. Businesses planning for the future are having to make projections now without having all the information about what the VAT position will be. If the Minister makes it clear that the Government will continue with their apparent intention to replace acquisition VAT with import VAT, significant changes will be required, either in how businesses operate or in how HMRC ensures businesses pay VAT.

    We do not suggest in any way that businesses should not be liable for VAT. Our concern relates to cash flow. We suggest that businesses should not have to pay VAT on goods the second they hit UK shores. Perhaps they should be able to roll it up and pay it quarterly or in some other way that makes cash flow easier.

    The UK Government have not been as clear as they could be on this. If the Minister is unequivocal in his desire for us to move to import VAT, and if he states unequivocally that there will be no scheme for VAT deferral, businesses will be incredibly unhappy, but at least we will have more clarity. It would be pretty devastating for businesses in a number of ways, but at least they will able to factor it into their projections. It would be useful to have more clarity on whether we are leaving the EU VAT area and whether, if we move from acquisition VAT to import VAT, there will be more opportunities for deferral.

    It would be better for the Government to keep open the possibility of remaining in the EU VAT area, which clause 32 seems to rule out. If we leave the EU VAT area, we will lose the triangulation simplification exemption—I am glad to have my teeth in this morning so that I can say that. The exemption currently provides a simplification mechanism that means that UK-based businesses do not have to register for VAT in various EU countries. If we leave the EU VAT area, not only will they have to contend with cash flow issues and moving from acquisition VAT to import VAT; they will also have to register for VAT in those other European countries, as well as in the UK. It seems to me that that issue has not been adequately discussed.

    We do not have enough clarity about the Government’s intentions. I have made this case before, but it would be useful to know the Government’s desired direction of travel, even if the eventual outcome of negotiations is different. Do the Government intend to leave the EU VAT area but retain some elements of triangulation simplification?

  • It might be useful to mention the enormous problems faced by microbusinesses when they had to comply with the reduction in the threshold for VAT applied to digital services within the EU. Even without having to register in those different countries, but simply paying the VAT, that was a huge adjustment that many firms had to make. Would it not be much more of a problem if we had the approach that the hon. Lady describes?

  • Absolutely. For a number of businesses, particularly those that are quite small and do a lot of exporting and importing, VAT is a major part of their costs and they have to deal with that on a regular basis. There would be a disproportionate impact particularly on smaller businesses were there to be changes without sufficient notice.

    The effect of amendment 95 would be to ensure that the UK Government do not exclude aspects of the UK’s participating in the EU VAT area or in the EU’s principal VAT directive by delegated legislation. The amendment would ensure that there is more parliamentary scrutiny around any changes. We have been clear that we want more parliamentary scrutiny. The evidence sessions that we had were useful because we had people here talking about actual impacts on actual businesses and not just the impacts that the policy makers might think will take place. It was useful to learn about some of the technicalities.

    We might have legislation and changes made in future by delegated legislation with no ability for us to have written and oral evidence and all of those people coming together to ensure that those of us in Parliament who make the laws are as well briefed as possible and able to make the best possible decisions. That is one of the most important things specifically in the area of VAT. I do not think many people in the House of Commons are expert in VAT. I am sure there are some, but not a huge number. We would have to be incredibly lucky to have all of them on a delegated legislation Committee and to have enough knowledge in the room to make reasonable decisions.

  • That sounds like a fun Committee.

  • VAT is incredibly interesting and such a Committee would be an absolute hoot. The point is that there are not enough people in the House with enough knowledge on this subject, and there would be a massive benefit from not legislating in delegated legislation but in a situation in which we could properly take evidence and make the right decisions so that businesses were not disproportionately affected.

    Amendment 96 and new clause 12 would apply a super-affirmative procedure in relation to the VAT issues that I have discussed. As I have said, we would benefit from having more parliamentary scrutiny of these issues. Any changes of any sort, as mentioned by the hon. Member for Oxford East, have a significant impact on businesses. They are a significant proportion of costs and other matters that businesses have to think about. A super-affirmative procedure would mean more scrutiny and that better law is made.

    This is not about the Opposition wanting to have a go at the Government. It is about making sure we have the most workable possible laws in place and making sure that with all the stuff that is happening around Brexit, with the possibilities of leaving the customs union and the single market, and with all the possible changes that are coming through, having better scrutiny over what is happening in relation to VAT would be incredibly helpful. Businesses would have more comfort that better rules would be made and that they would not be hit with massive negative changes in how they have to deal with VAT, as well as having to contend with leaving the single market and the customs union and all of the other things that they currently have to contend with.

    The two different areas that I have talked about relate to the Trade Remedies Authority, subsidies and countervailing measures, dumping, all the trade remedies and VAT. I think we should have more parliamentary scrutiny of those things. The amendments all attempt to make sure we have better law that means businesses can cope better with whatever the future throws at them.

  • It is lovely to see you in the chair, Ms Buck. I would like to say a brief few words in support of amendments 89, 90 to 96 and new clause 12 tabled by colleagues from the Scottish National party.

    There is no doubt that the most consistent area of discussion in this Committee has been the constitutional implications of the Bill and the concentration of too much power in the hands of the Executive as a result. We have discussed ways to try to make the Trade Remedies Authority more available to scrutiny, how to improve the scrutiny of secondary legislation and how to adjust the public notice procedure—all of which were intended to provide some basic safeguards against the abuse of power and, as the hon. Member for Aberdeen North said, are an attempt to make better laws. We therefore support this package of amendments, which seek to achieve the same, and point out to the Government that it is not only opposition political parties that are concerned about the precedent being set here.

    As the hon. Member for Aberdeen North said, the amendment would simply add an important layer of parliamentary scrutiny, by enforcing the super-affirmative resolution procedure where regulations have been created with regard to trade remedies. That would help to address some of the shortfalls of the secondary legislative process.

    As the Committee well knows, statutory instruments when carried out under the negative procedure only permit Parliament to raise objections. We support the extensive stipulations in the amendments on presenting draft regulations to the House, which the Minister would be mandated to carry out. We believe that will prompt greater accountability and a better legislative process.

  • New clause 12 and its consequential amendments propose a process by which Parliament scrutinises and approves secondary legislation. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North referred to the process as the super-affirmative resolution procedure. I commend her on her creativity, but I must urge the Committee to reject what has been proposed.

    As I understand the super-affirmative resolution procedure, it would initially require the laying in draft of any regulations, alongside an explanatory document and a declaration to which the new procedure would apply. It would also entail the appointment of a House of Commons Committee, which would initially have the power to recommend that more onerous procedures should apply to the draft regulations than those currently provided by the Bill. At the same time, those more onerous procedures would apply automatically to certain regulations, as set out in the amendments. The Committee would have the power to recommend that any draft regulations were rejected before they could be approved by the Commons under the affirmative procedure.

    The powers of that Committee would be fairly wide, but at the same time, its remit would be relatively modest, only relating to the trade remedies provisions and regulations under clause 42 which deals with amendments regarding how EU law applies to VAT. I have already explained why it is entirely right that regulations for the trade remedies framework should be subject to the negative procedure. Clause 42, along with other provisions in the Bill, is necessary to ensure that the UK has a fully functioning VAT system once we leave the European Union. As there is limited direct EU legislation relating to VAT, the power in clause 42 is therefore equally limited. Given that limited scope, it is only right that its exercise should be subject to the negative procedure.

    No case has been made that the existing and well-understood parliamentary procedures for making regulations are inadequate. To establish an entirely new procedure would mark a major precedent in Parliament and I cannot see any reason for doing so. That is particularly true in the case of limited regulation-making powers, which are the subject of the amendments.

  • Does the Minister not accept that this might be unprecedented, but so is leaving the European Union and all the institutions associated with it and all the mechanisms that go with it? That is unprecedented, so we need to have unprecedented parliamentary scrutiny of that unprecedented move.

  • The word “unprecedented” could be applied to almost everything that happens in the future; it is always different to that which occurred in the past. I think it might be stretching Parliament’s patience if on every occasion we came across something unprecedented, we conjured up some unprecedented way of dealing with it. I really do not want to re-rehearse all my arguments on the relative merits, proportionality, appropriateness and so on of the various approaches that we take on those matters. To conclude, we believe that the various new parliamentary processes proposed would hamper the UK’s ability to respond swiftly to future developments and to provide an important but proportionate safety net to UK industry in a timely fashion.

    Amendments 94 and 95 seek to retain the effect of direct EU legislation. Amendment 94 would do that by retaining EU regulations on VAT that will be brought into UK law as a result of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. According to the explanatory statement accompanying the amendment, that is so the EU legislation in the area will continue to have effect during the implementation period. Amendment 95 seeks to limit the power to exclude certain provisions of the VAT-implementing regulations.

    The Bill enables the Government to respond to a range of outcomes. By way of background, the Value Added Tax Act 1994 and subordinate legislation already implements the majority of EU law on VAT, including the VAT directive. The 1994 Act as amended by the Bill will continue to apply post-EU exit. Few EU regulations apply to VAT and in the main those relate to single market reciprocal arrangements such as exchange of information. In the absence of an agreement, those will simply have no application—we would not want them to be incorporated into UK law for obvious reasons—which is why they are disapplied by clause 42(1). Removal of EU legislation that is no longer required or otherwise deficient is anticipated in the withdrawal Bill.

    At this stage I will deal with the specific point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North about VAT, and how it operates now and might operate once we have left the European Union. She has raised issues that will certainly be very important—it is not the first time that she has raised such issues—to how businesses interact with what will then be the remaining EU27. I made it clear on Second Reading that we will look sympathetically and appropriately at the particular issue of the change from acquisition VAT to import VAT, including the change in timing of VAT payments with its effect on a large number of businesses as they trade with the European Union in future.

    The note to amendment 94 refers to ensuring that EU legislation continues to have effect during an implementation period, but it may not be necessary to switch our provision on until after a transitional period or at all. Alternatively, EU regulations disapplied under clause 42(1) could be reinstated by the power in clause 51, which we will come to. What is ultimately required will depend on the outcome of the negotiations. However, we anticipate that the rules in an implementation period will be broadly reflective of the existing ones.

    Amendments 89 and 90 seek to change the parliamentary process for some of the regulation-making powers provided in parts 1 and 3 of the Bill and their related schedules. For indirect taxation measures, it is common to have a framework in primary legislation supplemented by secondary legislation. The Bill establishes a comprehensive framework for a new standalone customs regime that will be underpinned by detailed and technical secondary legislation.

    The trade remedies framework contains a great deal of such technical detail and the secondary legislation made under the Bill will comply with WTO rules, which is why we propose that the regulations are subject to the negative procedure. With that I ask Opposition Members to consider withdrawing their amendment, or at least the Committee to resist them.

  • I will begin by arguing slightly with the Minister and then I will go on to be a bit nicer to him—so it may start off badly, but it will get better.

    The Minister said that the case had not been made for the operation of delegated legislation being inadequate. I believe that the case has been made that how delegated legislation in this House operates is inadequate, in particular by the gentleman from the Hansard Society who gave evidence in Committee. He was pretty scathing about the negative procedure in particular, but also about the other delegated legislation methods. Most of us around the House see the shortcomings in how delegated legislation operates, especially given the lack of scrutiny and amendability, whether by the Opposition or Back-Bench Government Members. There are major shortcomings in how delegated legislation works. I think that few people outwith Government would say that it is all working fine, because the Government have an interest in ensuring that measures have little scrutiny.

    On the movement from acquisition VAT to import VAT, I appreciate that the Minister will consider it sympathetically. I am not sure whether HMRC would make any sympathetic changes as part of a public notice process or in some other way, or whether legislation would be needed to include VAT deferral methods or something similar. Whatever it is, it would be useful for it to happen sooner rather than later, and for the Government also to set out their intentions for how any scheme would work sooner rather than later, so business can have a level of certainty.

    I was pleased by what the Minister said about increasing head count in HMRC to ensure that customs will work more smoothly. That is welcome, but the information that we have had thus far about the resourcing of HMRC has not been particularly in-depth; it has just been that head count will increase. There is no clarity about how those people will be deployed or what level of support businesses will receive from HMRC, for example, when they make both the change in relation to VAT and any customs changes that they need to make.

    We expect that 132,000 firms will be caught by VAT on imports for the first time. That is a significant number of firms currently wondering how it is going to work. The sooner they can have that information, the better. We do not want negative impacts on our economy, although it is just the case that Brexit will have negative impacts on our economy, because the single market is better for our economy than any possible trade deal, even if it includes services. Although our preferred position is to remain in the EU and second best would be remaining in the single market and the customs union, whatever we can do to mitigate the impacts on businesses and on people who live in our constituencies—in towns, cities and rural areas—we will push the Government to do. We are trying to mitigate the worst possible excesses of the most extreme Brexit. We are driving off a cliff with a huge amount of spikes at the bottom. We are just trying to have fewer spikes at the bottom of the cliff. That is what we are asking for, particularly in relation to VAT.

    I would like to return to these amendments and to new clause 12 on Report, so I do not intend to press them to a vote at this point, but I appreciate the Minister’s time and attention, as well as his comments.

  • That was a thoughtful contribution, and I would like to respond to one or two of the points raised by the hon. Lady.

    First, on delegated legislation, I am aware that there is a difference of opinion between the sides of this Committee generally about how rigorous oversight is relative to the measures to which the powers relate. The hon. Lady prayed in aid the Hansard Society’s evidence during the witness session, and I think that I am right in saying that the Hansard Society representatives stated that there was no circumstance in which the enhanced level of scrutiny proposed by Her Majesty’s Opposition throughout the various debates that we have had—that is not quite what the hon. Lady is putting forward—would appropriately apply to measures in the Bill, so I am not sure that this heavy version of scrutiny would necessarily be supported by the Hansard Society, although it would be interesting to know.

    Secondly, I would like to address the point about Government not having an interest in scrutiny. We most certainly do, because it makes for better law. Even from a narrow perspective, there is always a Government interest in ensuring that there are no problems further down the line and that we do not need to revisit legislation to deal with the dissatisfaction of Parliament or, indeed, of Members of Parliament from our own party.

  • The hon. Lady also raised, quite rightly, the move from acquisition VAT to import VAT and the repercussions of that. She that in the context of the 122,000—or thereabouts—companies that trade only intra-European Union. I can reassure her that in the Value Added Tax Act 1994 powers are already available that will allow us to make the kind of changes we are likely to be considering as we make sure we move forward in a positive way and do not penalise the businesses she rightly mentions.

  • I will respond briefly, if I may, to the Minister’s comments. I do not want to get into a semantic discussion about precisely what the speaker from the Hansard Society did or did not say. Ultimately, he was trying to preserve the independence of the Hansard Society. Therefore, when he was being pushed about the Bill more globally, he resisted. I can understand that, because he wished to protect the independence of the Hansard Society, but to my memory, he did not comment directly on the proposals that have been put forward by the Opposition. I do remember him commenting directly, for example, on the cumbersome and difficult nature of the negative procedure and the fact that it operates through early-day motions and all those kinds of things. I cannot remember him specifically saying that he felt that the suggestions being put forward by the Opposition were incorrect. He resisted being pulled towards a global assessment of the Bill, but I can understand why he did that, given his need to retain independence.

  • I can remind my hon. Friend of what Mr Blackwell said. In relation to the 150 delegated powers, he said:

    “Some of the justifications I am struggling with, particularly as regards the use of urgency and non-urgency. I think time is an issue here, particularly if you do not have the backstop of further scrutiny by a Chamber—the second House—that is usually very good at looking at delegated legislation”.[Official Report, Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 53, Q77.]

    He was absolutely clear and unambiguous that this really was not a way to do matters of this nature.

  • It has been an interesting debate, and I am glad to have had the opportunity to start it. I really do appreciate some of the clarification that has been given by the Minister, particularly around moving from acquisition to import VAT. As I said earlier, I do not want to press any of these amendments, because I would like to return to them at Report stage. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  • I beg to move amendment 121, in clause 32, page 19, line 33, at end insert—

    ‘(5A) Subsections (2) and (5) are subject to section (Affirmative procedure: further provisions).’

    This amendment, together with New Clause 14, provides that the made affirmative procedure under Clause 32 is only used in specified circumstances and that, in other circumstances, the draft affirmative procedure is used.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 122, in clause 40, page 28, line 8, at end insert—

    “(5A) Subsections (2) and (5) are subject to section (Affirmative procedure: further provisions).”

    This amendment, together with New Clause 14, provides that the made affirmative procedure under Clause 40 is only used in specified circumstances and that, in other circumstances, the draft affirmative procedure is used.

    Amendment 123, in clause 48, page 33, line 32, at end insert—

    “(6A) Subsections (2) and (6) are subject to section (Affirmative procedure: further provisions).”

    This amendment, together with New Clause 14, provides that the made affirmative procedure under Clause 48 is only used in specified circumstances and that, in other circumstances, the draft affirmative procedure is used.

    Amendment 124, in clause 51, page 35, line 26, at end insert—

    “(7A) Subsections (4) and (7) are subject to section (Affirmative procedure: further provisions).”

    This amendment, together with New Clause 14, provides that the made affirmative procedure under Clause 51 is only used in specified circumstances and that, in other circumstances, the draft affirmative procedure is used.

    Amendment 125, in clause 54, page 37, line 44, at end insert—

    “(11A) Subsections (8) and (11) are subject to section (Affirmative procedure: further provisions).”

    This amendment, together with NC14 , provides that the made affirmative procedure under Clause 54 is only used in specified circumstances and that, in other circumstances, the draft affirmative procedure is used.

    New clause 14—Affirmative procedure: further provisions

    “(1) The appropriate Minister may only make regulations under the powers specified in subsection (2) if the condition in subsection (3) or the condition in subsection (4) is met.

    (2) The powers specified in this subsection are those under—

    (a) section 32(2),

    (b) section 40(2),

    (c) section 48(2),

    (d) section 51(4), and

    (e) section 54(8).

    (3) The condition in this subsection is that the instrument contains a declaration that the appropriate Minister concerned is of the opinion that, by reason of urgency, it is necessary to make the regulations without a draft of the instrument being laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the House of Commons.

    (4) The condition in this subsection is that the instrument contains a declaration that the appropriate Minister concerned is of the opinion that it is necessary to make the regulations without a draft of the instrument being laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the House of Commons in order to secure—

    (a) the protection of the public revenue, or

    (b) continuity in the administration of the tax system.

    (5) In any case where neither the condition in subsection (3) nor the condition in subsection (4) is satisfied, no regulations may be made in exercise of the powers specified in subsection (2) unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the House of Commons.”

    This new clause provides that the made affirmative procedure is only used in specified circumstances and that, in other circumstances, the draft affirmative procedure is used.

  • These amendments and the new clause focus specifically on the made affirmative procedure. We have tabled them because we want to ensure that the made affirmative procedure provided under clause 32 is used only in specified circumstances and that, in other circumstances, the draft affirmative procedure is used.

    There have been consistent calls, even before the Government’s current enthusiasm for the made affirmative procedure, for it to be used judiciously. This is not a partisan point. In 2009 the Lords Constitution Committee maintained:

    “Whilst accepting that in a very limited number of circumstances there may be grounds for seeking to fast-track parliamentary procedure of draft affirmative instruments, we take this opportunity to remind the Government of the importance of executive self-restraint.”

    When made affirmative procedures have been used in the past, there appears to have been a strong commitment by the Government of the day to restrict their use as much as possible. That is certainly my impression having looked at some of the commitments made by the then Government in relation to the Banking Act 2009. Similarly, with the new approach to financial regulation that came in in 2011, the then Government stated that the made affirmative procedure would be used as a last resort. They said it would

    “rarely—if ever—need to be used”.

    Hon. Members will surely agree that the financial crisis required action just as rapid as is currently necessitated by the Government’s approach to leaving the EU. However, in the former case, there seems to have been a commitment to be sparing in the use of the made affirmative procedure that we do not have in this case. Because of that, this approach has received significant criticism in the House of Lords. We have already referred to the Lords’ general criticisms, and I hope that the Government will heed our concerns.

    I do not want to repeat the debate that we had previously on whether we are in an unprecedented period, but there have been situations in the past when Government have had to speedily enact different types of policy making. However, as I said, in those situations, Government appear to have been more restrained in their use of these kinds of procedure, particularly in their use of the made affirmative procedure. We cannot understand why the Government are so wedded to this procedure, without further qualifications, that enables the Executive to make law that is binding from the moment it is laid down, without any parliamentary engagement whatever.

  • New clause 14 and amendments 121 to 125 seek to add further parliamentary scrutiny of the way that certain powers in the Bill to make secondary legislation can be exercised. The Bill allows the powers in question to be exercised under the made affirmative procedure; the amendments would change that in certain circumstances to the draft affirmative procedure.

    The Committee is aware that the Bill contains a range of powers to make regulations on a number of different aspects of VAT, customs and the excise regime, which will come into effect after the UK leaves the EU. New clause 14 is concentrated on a small subset of these powers, namely those that apply with respect to setting or increasing tariff rates, charging export and excise duty, some of the general rules for excise duty, and provisions under clauses 51 and 54, to the extent that they amend or repeal primary legislation. All those powers are subject to the made affirmative procedure.

    In each case, the amendment would require a Minister who wished to exercise a power using the made affirmative procedure to make, on each occasion, a declaration that such a procedure is warranted, either for reasons of urgency, revenue protection or security continuity in the administration of the tax system. When a Minister does not make such a declaration, the regulation in question would default to the draft affirmative procedure.

    I fully understand concerns about the inappropriate use of parliamentary procedures, but there is a compelling case for using the made affirmative procedure for the powers referred to in the amendments. We must not lose sight of the fact that the Bill is primarily concerned with the charging of tax and duty. Usual procedure when giving effect to changes in tax policy is the made affirmative procedure—that is a very important point in the context of the other examples I appreciate the hon. Lady making in this regard. The reasons for that are that any changes need to come into effect quickly—in some cases immediately. The made affirmative procedure is the standard mechanism for achieving that aim.

    It is generally accepted that change in tax policy—such as when the Government change a rate of tax—should come into effect immediately. The use of the made affirmative procedure allows the Government to give effect to such changes immediately, in order to avoid a gap in UK legislation. The same principle will apply for matters covered by the Bill. At some point in the future, the Government might wish to amend the customs tariff quickly to reflect a change in international trade. That is vital for tax matters, and the reason why the made affirmative procedure is the norm for tax legislation. Because tax entails financial consequences for both taxpayers and the Exchequer, clarity and certainty are essential.

    Although the intention of the amendments may be to improve parliamentary scrutiny, if they were adopted, they would create uncertainty for businesses, and that uncertainty would be in nobody’s interest. On that basis, I hope that the hon. Lady will not press new clause 14 and amendments 121 to 125. If not, I urge the Committee to resist them.

  • I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I question, however, whether the circumstances he just described as appropriate for the use of the made affirmative procedure do not fall precisely within the circumstances we ask the Government to demonstrate are in place within the declaration we are asking for. We say that it is possible for the made affirmative procedure to be used, provided the Government make clear that these measures are necessary for the protection of the public revenue or continuity in the administration of the tax system. Those are exactly the kinds of circumstances that the Minister has referred to, so it is not clear to us why he would not accept our amendment. We are saying that we do accept the use of the procedure in such circumstances as he just described: it is when things go beyond them into other areas that we are not satisfied with the use of the procedure.

  • I understand the hon. Lady’s argument, but the matter comes down ultimately to the relevant level of scrutiny. The argument is strong that the circumstances that we are discussing, of a quick response and the ability immediately to set the tariff or change duties—things of that kind—lend themselves to the approach in question. If the central argument is about scrutiny, the question is whether the made affirmative procedure provides sufficient scrutiny. I maintain that it does. It requires in-depth scrutiny by the House, which would be subject to a Division if there were differences of opinion on the matter in hand.

    Perhaps I may briefly pray in aid Joel Blackwell, the witness from the Hansard Society, who is getting a lengthy outing in our discussions today. I take on board the Opposition points about its being important, from his perspective, to maintain impartiality in the deliberations of the Hansard Society; we all respect it, which is why we were pleased to have him in particular as a witness. However, he did state that

    “the Brexit Bills are going to have to be framework Bills—based on the fact that the legislation for Brexit is going to need some speed and flexibility”[Official Report, Taxation (Cross-Border Trade) Public Bill Committee, 23 January 2018; c. 47, Q63.]

    That is at the heart of our arguments that we are putting on these matters in general.

  • I shall not return to what the witness did or did not say. I think there may be a difference of opinion there. I am afraid I do not agree with the Minister’s description of the made affirmative procedure. In practice, of course, that procedure means that measures are in place from the moment they are laid, so they are immediately enacted. There need be no effective scrutiny by way of discussion by the House or other bodies, to allow them to stay in place over time. We are talking about a mechanism very different from what would usually be applied.

    I shall not push the point. I appreciate the Minister’s comments. I just hope that the Government will heed our call for them to restrict the use of the measure to exactly the kinds of areas that the Minister just described—only those where the procedure is necessary to protect public revenue, or for continuity in the administration of the tax system. If its use goes beyond that, we fear we shall be in tricky waters. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  • I beg to move amendment 140, in clause 32, page 20, line 8, leave out subsection (9).

    This amendment limits the powers with respect to public notices.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 141, in clause 37, page 24, line 36, leave out “that provision” and insert

    “ensuring that public notice is available in an accessible form to all people who are likely to be affected by or interested in the notice”.

    This amendment makes specific provision about the accessibility of public notices.

  • The amendments deal with public notices—one relates to powers and the other to accessibility. The Opposition have already raised concerns, by way of amendment 139, about the alarming concentration of power in the hands of the Executive that would come about if the conversion of public notices into regulations were to be allowed. It is a deeply troubling constitutional overstep, which must be challenged at every stage.

    The amendments focus on limiting the powers of the Executive with regard to public notices, which the Opposition believe would be a fundamental over-reach of the Executive’s powers. We are not the only ones to argue that case. The House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee published its report after Second Reading in the Commons. That flagged up the constitutional difficulties that would arise from making law by public notice. It was scathing in its assessment of the provision.

    Amendment 141 also addresses a pressing issue that arises from using the method in question as a tool for creating regulations. At no point does the Bill indicate what constitutes a public notice. As the House of Lords Committee highlighted, under clause 37(5), the only qualification at present is purely that the person issuing it has selected a channel that they consider appropriate. A definition of “appropriate” is absent from the Bill. We are told that that could even include a tweet or a message on Facebook. We can all agree that policy made by Twitter is not a good idea.

  • Amendment 141 therefore proposes adding to the Bill a provision to ensure that a public notice is made

    “available in an accessible form to all people who are likely to be affected by or interested in the notice”.

    That would mandate the Government to ensure that notices are properly communicated, rather than running the risk of them being snuck out through obscure channels such as the Prime Minister’s personal Twitter account. The public notice provisions are fraught with concerns, and these amendments seek to build in basic safeguards to prevent the worst abuses that may be made possible by the Bill.

  • I rise to support the amendments. I said in a previous sitting—one is encouraged to repeat oneself here—that one of the first things I said when I saw the clause was, “What constitutes a public notice? What does that even mean?” I am no more happy about it now that I have found out what the definition is. I am concerned that there are no rules about how such notices need to be shared. The Government probably need to look at putting into all laws that come forward what constitutes a public notice and what constitutes the public having enough notice of something.

    With regard to this clause, it would be sensible for HMRC, whatever changes it makes, to ensure that everyone knows what those changes are and that all affected people are aware of them. Otherwise, we will have a situation where HMRC chases people for doing the wrong thing when they did not know they were doing the wrong thing, because the change was tweeted on the Prime Minister’s Twitter feed rather than put out in an accessible format. I do not imagine that the Government would be daft enough to put a public notice in a place where no one would see it, but it would be useful to have clearer rules about public notices. I therefore support what my honourable colleagues on the Labour Front Bench seek to do with the amendments.

  • Amendment 140 seeks to limit the powers in the Bill to use public notices. However, a notable effect of the amendment would be to remove the ability to use regulations to cover matters that are dealt with in a public notice, which may limit the Government’s ability to package delegated legislation in the most effective way.

    The circumstances in which provision can be made by public notice are well defined in the Bill. There is no power in the Bill to allow for provision that may be made by regulations to be made alternatively by public notice. I reassure the Committee that it is not unusual for public notices to be used to make provision in relation to the administration of tax regimes. They are typically used, for example, to make provision that is purely technical or administrative in nature; that may be subject to regular updating, including to take account of external factors; that may need to be changed swiftly; that is based on external sources; or that is not otherwise required to be set out in secondary legislation, but is included to improve transparency. An example in the Bill is the provision enabling the form and content of a customs declaration to be set out in a public notice.

    Another effect of the amendment would be to disapply subsections (6) to (8) of clause 32 in respect of public notices, although they would continue to apply in respect of regulations. Let me reassure the Committee that those subsections do not widen the subject matter that public notices can be used to address. As I have stated, that subject matter is set out clearly by the relevant clauses and schedules. On that basis, I urge the Opposition to withdraw amendment 140.

    Amendment 141 aims to require public notices published under the Bill to be made in a form that is accessible to

    “all people who are likely to be affected by or interested in”

    them. I sympathise with the amendment’s general thrust. It is, of course, vital that any public notice published by HMRC is made available in an accessible format to everyone affected. However, I assure the Committee that including such an obligation in the Bill is unnecessary. HMRC has extensive experience of producing public notices to communicate changes in tax policy to affected parties, whether individuals or businesses, as part of its wider engagement with bodies that represent customers. That includes ensuring that any information set out in a public notice is clear and accessible. Indeed, the Government already make everything we publish on gov.uk accessible and available in a variety of formats. The public notices published under the Bill will be no different.

    HMRC also has good working relationships with a range of business representative groups and uses those channels to reach the wider business community. For example, it is normal practice to share advance drafts with business groups to seek their views. HMRC will continue to follow the same approach with its public notices on the changes introduced by the Bill. I therefore ask the hon. Gentleman to withdraw his amendments.

  • I have listened intently to the Minister’s reassurance, particularly about the modesty of public notices and the undesirability of making more specific recommendations about their accessibility. I also listened to his point that public notices cannot replace regulation. However, the Bill states that regulations can replace public notices, which suggests that the burden of what is being considered is wider than the Government have declared.

    Even in my relatively short time as a shadow Treasury Minister, I have seen relatively arcane bits of our regulatory constitutional apparatus used on several occasions, for instance to limit the scope of debate on amendments to a Finance Bill. Once powers are in place, they can be used for ends for which they were not intended when they were put on the statute book.

    I do not intend to press the amendment to a vote, but I think that we may have to return to the issue on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clauses 33 to 38 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(David Rutley.)

  • Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

    Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill (Eighth sitting)

    The Committee consisted of the following Members:

    Chairs: Ms Karen Buck, †Mrs Anne Main

    † Blackman, Kirsty (Aberdeen North) (SNP)

    † Chapman, Douglas (Dunfermline and West Fife) (SNP)

    † Dakin, Nic (Scunthorpe) (Lab)

    † Davies, Chris (Brecon and Radnorshire) (Con)

    † Dodds, Anneliese (Oxford East) (Lab/Co-op)

    † Dowd, Peter (Bootle) (Lab)

    † Hair, Kirstene (Angus) (Con)

    † Hardy, Emma (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)

    † Hill, Mike (Hartlepool) (Lab)

    † Kwarteng, Kwasi (Spelthorne) (Con)

    † Menzies, Mark (Fylde) (Con)

    † Morris, Grahame (Easington) (Lab)

    † Reynolds, Jonathan (Stalybridge and Hyde) (Lab/Co-op)

    † Rowley, Lee (North East Derbyshire) (Con)

    † Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

    † Stride, Mel (Financial Secretary to the Treasury)

    † Stuart, Graham (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Trade)

    † Sturdy, Julian (York Outer) (Con)

    † Wragg, Mr William (Hazel Grove) (Con)

    Colin Lee, Gail Bartlett, Committee Clerks

    † attended the Committee

    Public Bill Committee

    Thursday 1 February 2018

    (Afternoon)

    [Mrs Anne Main in the Chair]

    Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill

    Clause 39

    Charge to export duty

  • I beg to move amendment 13, in clause 39, page 27, line 12, at end insert—

    “(aa) the interests of manufacturers in the United Kingdom,”.

    This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the interests of manufacturers in considering the rate of export duty.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 79, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert

    “and

    (e) the impacts on sustainable development.”

    This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the impacts on sustainable development in considering the rate of export duty.

    Amendment 119, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert

    “and

    (e) the public interest.”

    This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the public interest in considering the rate of the export tariff.

    Amendment 142, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert—

    “(e) the interests of producers in the United Kingdom.”

    This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the interests of producers in the United Kingdom in considering the rate of export duty.

    Amendment 143, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert—

    “(e) the desirability of maintaining United Kingdom standards of food safety.”

    This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the desirability of maintaining United Kingdom standards of food safety in considering the rate of export duty.

    Amendment 144, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert—

    “(e) environmental protection.”

    This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to environmental protection in considering the rate of export duty.

    Amendment 145, in clause 39, page 27, line 17, at end insert—

    “(e) the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings.”

    This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to the welfare requirements of animals as sentient beings in considering the rate of export duty.

  • Welcome to the Chair for the final sitting of the Committee, Mrs Main.

    As is explained in the explanatory notes, the Bill does not establish the rate of export duty, but the power to do so is contained in it so that it can be introduced subsequently through regulations made by the Treasury. As we discussed when considering amendment 1 to clause 8 during my first speech in Committee, it is vital to pay careful attention to the needs of manufacturers for the future of our economy. The Committee will be pleased to hear that I will not repeat that speech in its entirety, although I am sure colleagues would like to hear parts of it.

    The representatives of the manufacturing industry to whom we spoke in our helpful evidence sessions on Tuesday 23 January amply illustrated why such a consultative approach is important, by raising many legitimate considerations to which answers are required. Given the amount of detail in the Bill that is left to secondary legislation, all manufacturers seek is minimal reassurance that their interests will be taken into account. They are not asking for special measures, but pointing out that we are on the cusp of a complex post-Brexit world and that clarity is needed as soon as possible. It has been the Government’s choice not to include that in the Bill, as we have discussed, but we need some middle ground to address the resulting lack of certainty, given how it has inhibited the ability of UK industry to prepare for that future landscape.

    As we draw towards the end of the Committee, I am only too aware that we are becoming increasingly committed to the process of adding detail by secondary legislation. That makes it even more important for the vital consultation with manufacturers to be enshrined in the Bill. We will not necessarily seek to press the amendment, but I hope that the Minister, through his comments, can provide reassurance for manufacturers at this stage.

  • It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship again, Mrs Main.

    The amendment would add the interests of manufacturers to the list of factors the Secretary of State and the Treasury respectively must have regard to when recommending or imposing a rate of export duty. The Government acknowledge the wide-ranging impact that any future imposition of export duty could have on the UK economy and that of our trading partners. We would consider imposing an export duty only in wholly exceptional circumstances. Of course, in practice the Secretary of State and the Treasury would have regard to many factors. The provision requiring the Secretary of State and the Treasury to have regard to productivity, trade, consumer interests and competition is sufficient and broad enough to encapsulate the economic and strategic interests of the whole of the United Kingdom.

    Taking into account the interests of manufacturers will often form part of the Secretary of State and Treasury’s duty to consider how export duty will maintain and promote productivity in the UK, but it would be inappropriate to specify an exhaustive list of factors in the Bill. The Government believe that the scrutiny and procedure set out in the Bill are proportionate and enable us to respond quickly to exceptional circumstances to implement an export duty.

    Amendment 79 would add the impacts on sustainable development to the list of factors the Secretary of State and Treasury must have regard to when respectively recommending a rate of export duty or considering whether to impose export duty, and the rate of duty applicable. Where relevant and possible, the Government will take into account the impact of export duty on sustainable development. However, it would be inappropriate to specify an exhaustive list in the Bill. Certain factors will be relevant in certain cases, and their importance may change over time.

    Amendment 119 would add the public interest to the list of factors the Secretary of State and the Treasury must have regard to when respectively recommending a rate of export duty or considering whether to impose export duty, and the rate that should apply. The provision requiring the Treasury and the Secretary of State to have regard to productivity, trade, consumer interests and competition is sufficient to encapsulate the public interest by considering the economic and strategic interests of the whole of the UK.

    Amendments 142 to 145 provide additional factors that the Treasury and Secretary of State must have regard to respectively when considering whether to impose export duty and the rate that should be applied. Clause 39(4) is broad enough to cover the economic and strategic interests of the UK. In particular, I question the necessity of considering food standards, environmental protection and the welfare of animals when setting a tax on goods leaving the United Kingdom. The amendments would not achieve the presumed aim of preserving standards in the UK. Lastly, the interests of producers are intrinsically linked with competition, productivity and the promotion of trade, which are already included in the Bill. I therefore urge hon. Members not to press the amendments.

  • Thank you for chairing the Committee this afternoon, Mrs Main. I appreciate having the opportunity to speak, and want to speak in favour of all seven amendments in this group.

    Amendment 13 is about the Government giving consideration to the interests of manufacturers, which we spoke about at length in relation to import duty. I have previously made the case about the disproportionate or differentiated geographical implications of some of the changes the Government are making and some of the rules that they will have. That is particularly important in relation to manufacturing interests, given that those are mainly in the north of England and in Scotland, rather than further south. I therefore feel that it is relevant to take this consideration into account.

    We have received written evidence from organisations about sustainable development. They say that it is important for the Government to consider sustainable development when making decisions about import or export duty—we are obviously talking about export duty in this case—and the Government should do that.

    Amendment 119, which appears in my name and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Dunfermline and West Fife, relates to the public interest. I am not sure that I agree with the Minister when he says that consumer interest and the interests of promoting external trade, productivity and competition adequately cover the entirety of public interest. I think that consumer interest is different from public interest in this regard, and a number of our constituents would agree if they came to discuss this issue with us.

    Amendment 142 relates to producers. Again, there is a geographical bias towards the north and the more rural parts of the four nations of the United Kingdom. Producers are generally in places that are a bit further away from London, and they have a significant positive benefit on the areas that they are in. People tend to be employed in agricultural produce, for example, in areas where there are few other types of employment, so having regard to the interests of producers is important.

    I take the Minister’s point that the clause is about export duty rather than import duty, where food safety regulation may be more relevant. However, it is still relevant that the Government ensure that food safety is high up the agenda, given our conversations about trade deals, chlorinated chicken and the possible erosion of food safety now that the United Kingdom is planning to leave the EU and the food standards that come with it.

    Amendment 144 is about environmental protection. Again, it would be a good statement of direction if the Government explicitly included environmental protection in anything that they do, given that America is not looking at implementing the Paris agreement. It is making negative changes that will impact on the future of the world for us, our children and our children’s children. I would not want to see the United Kingdom go down a similar route in the erosion of environmental protection standards, so it is really important that this proposal is included.

    Amendment 145 relates to the welfare of animals as sentient beings. Given that we have had discussions in the House about the sentience or otherwise of animals, and it seems that a number of Members across the House are less keen to stress that animals are sentient beings, it is important that we have this written into the Bill.

    Although the Minister’s comments were a bit helpful, they could have been more so. It would have been more helpful for the Minister to say, if he were so minded, that those factors will be considered when making the decision. In fact, we have a list of four factors that will be considered, and there is no opportunity for that to be wider. If the Bill said “any other relevant factor”, for example, that would encapsulate them all and the Minister could stand up and say, “We will of course consider the public interest and the interests of food safety and of environmental protections when we are making these decisions.” We would have a level of reassurance that those things will be taken into account.

    All the amendments are important. I accept that they are specific to export duty, which is relatively unusual and pretty niche, but to have those things explicitly stated by the Minister in Committee or in the Bill would be incredibly useful, rather than the short list of four factors that does not allow for a wider consideration of the issues.

  • I will respond because, as ever, the hon. Lady made some helpful comments.

    On taking into account sustainable development and the interests of producers, I refer the hon. Lady to the point that she made herself, which is that the clause does not prohibit any of those matters being taken into account. The point I made earlier was that the Government certainly do not see the need to specifically reference those matters—or, indeed, the many other matters that the Committee and individual parliamentarians may feel are important in this context—in order that we do not have an exhaustive list, but rely on the common sense and good public policy making of the people who make such decisions.

    Duties, whether they are import duties or export duties, which are potential though unlikely, are a slightly strange instrument to use in the food safety context. It would be much more appropriate for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs to look at those issues and use its powers to take action where clear breaches of food safety have occurred or are likely to occur.

  • It is a pleasure to see you in the chair, Mrs Main. I am grateful to the Minister for those remarks. I want to focus on amendment 79 and press him a bit on sustainable development.

    There is an important consideration here, which relates to our discussion earlier about what will happen if the UK leaves the EU without a deal and falls back on World Trade Organisation provisions—something I hope will not happen, but that the Government have not ruled out. The hon. Member for Aberdeen North asked the Under-Secretary of State for International Trade exactly where the powers are to create WTO schedules. I do not know if the Minister has the answer yet—perhaps we will find out later. There is a pertinent issue when it comes to laying those schedules if we have to accede to the WTO as a new member—that is, if we do not conclude a customs and trade arrangement that means we do not need to join separately. A number of the countries that have joined the WTO recently have found it difficult to apply the provisions of the general agreement on tariffs and trade that enable sustainable development, environmental considerations, human health and so on to outweigh having low or non-existent tariffs. When that has been offered to one country, it should therefore be offered to all.

    China’s recent dispute about raw materials is a pertinent example. As with all the most recent accessions to the WTO, when China acceded, it was required to submit commitments on export duty that bound it to keep export duty at its current rate or to reduce it in relation to different product lines. If that had been part of the general agreement on tariffs and trade, China would have been able to invoke the WTO’s GATT provisions that say that human health can trump those other considerations, but because there were separate agreements, it was not allowed to invoke environmental considerations.

  • That is relevant to this debate because if our Government ended up having to do the same kind of thing that China has had to do—to enter separately and to offer separate commitments around export duty—it is very important that they are able, within that, to adduce environmental considerations. Obviously, we are in a very different position to China, so we are not going to export raw materials to the same extent. I would also hope that our environmental protections would operate so that we would not have to rely on export duties to try to constrain the amount of raw materials that we export, which is effectively what China has been doing. It has been using export duties to try to bump up the costs of its exports, so that rare earths, for example, are not exported to the same extent.

    Hopefully, we would have environmental rules that would stop us having to use the export duties system in that way, but I again recall—I am sorry to bore colleagues —that the tax system was used recently to compensate for the deficiencies of some of our environmental legislation. Presumably, it was not possible for the Environment Agency to apply a stiff enough penalty to stop people dumping waste illegally, so tax measures were used.

    It could well be that at some point, we will want to use export duty to accomplish environmental goals. It is therefore important that the Government are aware of the significance of this issue. They might need to include a commitment to sustainable development as an explicit consideration in future trade policy, particularly if they have to make separate agreements with the WTO.

  • I want to follow up on the point about the WTO schedule. I appreciate that the Minister wrote to the Committee about it, but he did not answer the question that was asked, which was: where do the Government have the power to lodge schedules with the WTO? The question was not: where do the Government have the power to implement such schedules? That is the question that he answered; I appreciate that he answered it fully, but it was the wrong question.

    As far as I am aware, the UK Government have not legislated to give themselves the power to lodge schedules with the WTO in this Bill, the Trade Bill or the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It is not about the implementation of them; it is about the lodging of them. As my colleague on the Labour Front Bench, the hon. Member for Oxford East, mentioned, there are concerns about the impact on sustainable development and such matters. It would be useful if the Minister were to follow up his letter with a further one that answers that question.

  • I thank the hon. Members for Aberdeen North and for Oxford East for their contributions. On the issue of sustainable development, I can provide the Committee with reassurance that the Government take that area of policy extremely seriously. As the Committee will know, the UK Government have stated their commitments to the UN sustainable development goals that were agreed in September 2015. A publication released on 14 December 2017 outlined the Government’s response to the UN SDGs and their relevance to individual departmental plans. Trade policy is explicitly referenced in five of those 17 goals.

    The hon. Member for Oxford East asked me about the letter regarding WTO scheduling, upon which I believe she may still be waiting.

  • I am so sorry—I think it has been received.

  • Oh, it has been received. I was going to say that if it had not been, she would receive it imminently. I am pleased that my desire has already been put into effect. I would also be very happy to write to the hon. Member for Aberdeen North about the various issues she raised regarding WTO accession.

  • All the amendments relate, as ever, to the lack of detail in the Bill. The Minister has provided some words of reassurance, which are appreciated, but in the end it comes back to the point that very important details, which industry needs to plan, are missing from the Bill. However, I think that that point has been made, and for that reason I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

  • I beg to move amendment 14, in clause 39, page 27, line 20, at end insert—

    “() by a relevant select committee of the House of Commons, or

    () contained in a resolution of the House of Commons.”

    This amendment requires the Treasury to have regard to recommendations of any relevant select committee of the House of Commons or contained in a resolution of the House of Commons in considering whether to exercise the power to impose export duty.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Clause stand part.

    Amendment 15, in clause 40, page 27, line 35, leave out subsections (2) to (4).

    This amendment is consequential on NC8.

    Amendment 16, in clause 40, page 28, line 6, leave out

    “other than regulations to which subsection (2) applies”.

    This amendment is consequential on NC8.

    Clause 40 stand part.

    New clause 8—Setting export duty: enhanced parliamentary procedure

    “(1) This section applies to—

    (a) the first regulations to be made under section 39, and

    (b) any other regulations to be made under that section the effect of which is an increase in the amount of export duty payable.

    (2) No regulations to which this section applies may be made by the Treasury in exercise of the power in section 39(1) except in accordance with the steps set out in this section.

    (3) The first step is that a Minister of the Crown must lay before the House of Commons a draft of the regulations that it is proposed be made.

    (4) The second step is that a Minister of the Crown must make a motion for a resolution in the House of Commons setting out, in respect of proposed regulations of which a draft has been laid in accordance with subsection (3)—

    (a) the rate of export duty applicable to goods specified in the resolution;

    (b) any proposed export tariff (within the meaning given in section 39(3)(a)); and

    (c) any measure of quantity or size by reference to which it is proposed that the duty be charged.

    (5) The third step is that the House of Commons passes a resolution arising from the motion made in the form specified in subsection (4) (whether in the form of that motion or as amended).

    (6) The fourth step is that the regulations that may then be made must, in respect of any matters specified in subsection (4)(a) to (c), give effect to the terms of the resolution referred to in subsection (5).”

    This new clause establishes a system of enhanced parliamentary procedure for regulations setting export duty, with a requirement for the House of Commons to pass an amendable resolution authorising the rate of export duty on particular goods and related matters.

  • I am sorry about the complexity of all the different amendments, but they reflect the Members’ concerns about the Bill as it stands in these particular clauses. I will not speak at length, because many of the issues have already been covered in our previous discussions.

    In relation to amendment 14, my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde has already detailed why we think it would be appropriate to use the expertise and the opportunities for consensus building provided by the Select Committee system in the Bill. I will not go over those arguments again; suffice to say, I hope the Government will consider the arguments that my hon. Friend made, take the opportunity afforded by the Select Committee system and apply it here when it comes to setting export duty and scrutinising the setting of it.

    We have covered many of the principles underlying amendments 15 and 16 and new clause 8. Again, we are asking for greater parliamentary scrutiny—this time in the area of export duties. I was thinking about how else I could try to persuade the Government of our arguments, and one issue I decided to focus on was that we have often heard the word “technical” applied to many of these measures. Of course, they are technical when they are about minimal changes to rates, or just alignments between different measures, but we need to appreciate that they can have a significant impact on our constituents, because there are winners and losers when we change the parameters of trade.

    Capital is largely mobile, but workers often are not. Academic evidence shows that there can be considerable dislocation when there are changes to trade rules. It may well be the case that, in the past, those matters were often seen as technical, but they have had real-world implications. That is particularly important in our country, where the kind of active labour market measures that might have enabled labour to be more mobile when there are changes to duties that affect working patterns do not exist to the same extent that they do in many countries. Recent research by the Resolution Foundation suggests that people have become less mobile in their jobs, potentially because they do not have that help to alter jobs. It is important to consider these issues carefully when there are not those compensatory measures there for people who might be negatively affected by trade measures that alter the pattern of economic activity in our country.

    It is absolutely right and proper that we seek appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of measures that could have a significant impact on the availability of manufacturing jobs, especially in our constituencies. I hope that the Government will bear that in mind. Yes, some of the measures could be described as technical, but they will certainly have impacts on our constituents, and we should all be aware of that while we discuss them.

  • Clause 39 enables the UK to establish an export duty if it is considered appropriate to do so. Clause 40 sets the parliamentary procedure for doing so. An export duty is, as the name suggests, a tax on goods leaving the country. I used the term “considered appropriate to do so” quite deliberately. The EU has no standing export duty. Indeed, I believe the last time the EU imposed an export duty was in the late 1990s, in respect of wheat.

    However, the revised Union customs code, which came into force only in 2016, maintained the EU’s ability to impose an export duty. The EU decided it still needed to maintain the option to impose one in the future. Therefore, in an implementation period, where the UK may be following the EU’s common external tariff for a limited period of time, we may need to retain the ability to impose an export duty in case the EU chooses to apply one. In the longer term, it is right to maintain at least the option to establish one if the circumstances demand, just as the EU retained that flexibility when it overhauled its customs code. In allowing for an export duty, but not introducing one, these clauses reflect the status quo, except with a stronger role for Parliament in approving any future export duty.

    Clause 39 allows for the imposition of a new export duty tax and for replication of any part of the customs regime in part 1 as may be necessary to administer it. In recognition of the exceptional nature of export duties, clause 40 specifies that the first regulations made under clause 39, imposing an export duty, are subject to the affirmative resolution procedure.

    Amendment 14 would require the Treasury to consider recommendations about the imposition and rate of export duty made by a relevant Select Committee or contained in a resolution of the House of Commons when considering whether to impose export duty. The Treasury will listen closely to recommendations from a range of interested parties, including relevant Select Committees and Members of the House. In addition, Select Committees already have the power to question Ministers on the policy within their departmental remit. The Treasury will answer any questions from the relevant Select Committees.

    The Bill will ensure that the Government can respond quickly to exceptional circumstances and impose an export duty, while still giving the House a vote through the made affirmative procedure. Therefore, the Government believe that it is not necessary to include this additional requirement in the Bill.

    New clause 8 and consequential amendments 15 and 16 seek to put in place additional parliamentary processes for the introduction of, and any increase to, the rate of export duty. For indirect tax matters, it is common to have a framework in primary legislation supplemented by secondary legislation. The Bill introduces a comprehensive framework for a new stand-alone customs regime, which will be underpinned by the detailed and technical secondary legislation.

    The Bill ensures that the scrutiny procedures applied to the exercise of each power are appropriate and proportionate, taking into account the technicality of the regulations and the frequency with which they are likely to be made. As currently drafted, the House of Commons would have a vote on regulations introducing export duty under the made affirmative procedure. The Government believe that to be appropriate and proportionate.

    To sum up, although an export duty should be applied only in exceptional circumstances, it is right that the UK has the ability to impose one if it becomes necessary, including if the EU decides to impose one for a limited period while we may be aligned with the common external tariff.

  • I am grateful to the Minister for his commitment to respond to any questions that are levelled by Select Committees in this area. That is a positive commitment. It is an area that we will keep an eye on, but after the discussion we have just had, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 39 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

  • On a point of order, Mrs Main. I indicated earlier that I wanted to speak on amendments 142 to 145 to clause 39, on animal welfare and sentience. I have tried to get in, but if the opportunity has passed, so be it. We may therefore have to pursue it on Report. I want the Committee to recognise that I did wish to speak and did indicate that.

  • I am sorry, but we have moved on.

    Clause 40 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 41

    Abolition of acquisition VAT and extension of import VAT

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 133, in clause 42, page 30, line 1, leave out subsection (6) and insert—

    “(6) No regulations may be made under this section unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the House of Commons.”

    This amendment requires regulations under Clause 42 to be subject to the affirmative procedure.

    Amendment 83, in clause 42, page 30, line 7, at end insert—

    “(7A) No regulations may be made under this section after the end of the period of two years beginning with exit day.”

    This amendment, together with amendment 84, limits the duration of the delegated power under Clause 42 to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

    Amendment 84, in clause 42, page 30, line 8, at end insert—

    “‘exit day’ has the meaning given by section 14(1) (interpretation) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and subsections (2) to (5) of that section apply to the term under this section as they apply to the term in that Act,”

    See explanatory statement for amendment 83.

    Clause 42 stand part.

    Clause 43 stand part.

    That schedule 8 be the Eighth schedule to the Bill.

  • Clause 41 will amend sections 1 and 15 of the Value Added Tax Act 1994 so that, on withdrawal from the EU single market, all goods entering the UK will be classified as imports. The clause will also maintain the existing link between the VAT and customs duty on imports.

    VAT raised approximately £120 billion last year via 2.2 million VAT-registered traders—about 20% of the Exchequer’s entire tax yield. It is therefore vital that our VAT system continues to operate effectively after EU exit, whatever the outcome. Part 3 of the Bill covers value added tax and consists of three clauses that will be key to maintaining a fully functioning VAT system. The changes ultimately required will, of course, be dependent on the outcome of negotiations. Our intention, as outlined in our White Paper, is to keep VAT processes after our EU exit as close as possible to what they are now.

    Under existing EU and UK rules for intra-EU trade in goods for VAT-registered businesses, the VAT on goods coming into the UK from the EU is known as acquisition VAT. Such goods are not subject to routine customs control or customs duty. Clause 41 will make changes key to ensuring that, in the absence of an agreement, goods entering the UK from the EU will continue to be subject to VAT. It will abolish the concept of acquisition for goods that enter the UK from the EU, classifying them as imports instead.

    Clause 41 will also replace section 15 of the Value Added Tax Act, which determines when goods are imported for VAT purposes and who is liable for that VAT, with a new section 15. This change merely reflects the fact that the customs rules will be contained in UK rather than EU law. Time of importation and liability for import VAT will still be connected to the equivalent rules for import duty. No other changes will be made as a result of the clause.

    Operating in conjunction with schedule 8, clause 41 will ensure that goods coming from the EU will be classified and treated as imports in the same way as goods entering the UK from the rest of the world. The application of import VAT will ensure a level playing field on which EU businesses do not have a competitive advantage over UK businesses.

    As the Government outlined in our autumn Budget, VAT-registered businesses currently benefit from postponed accounting for VAT when importing goods from the EU. The Government recognise the importance of such arrangements to business because of the cash flow advantage they provide. We will take that into account when considering potential changes after EU exit and will look at options to mitigate any impact on cash flow.

    Clause 42 will make changes that ensure that the status of EU law in relation to VAT is clear. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill lays out the Government’s general approach to EU legislation post-EU exit. On VAT, we need to take steps to ensure that the regime works effectively once we have left. The clause will result in EU legislation being retained in respect of VAT only where it is sensible to do so. The approach adopted is as we envisaged in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

    Clause 42 will disapply EU regulations that relate to VAT, except the VAT implementing regulation. In the main, those other regulations relate to single market reciprocal arrangements such as for exchange of information; depending on the outcome of negotiations, they will be superfluous after EU exit. Removal of EU legislation that is no longer required or is otherwise deficient is anticipated in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill.

    The clause will, however, retain the VAT implementing regulation as a tool to interpret EU-derived law. This is required for ongoing certainty and consistency of interpretation of the Value Added Tax Act, providing certainty to business and the Exchequer. Where appropriate, parts of the VAT implementing regulation can be removed by secondary legislation—for example, parts specific to EU transactions that, subject to negotiations, will not be required when the UK is no longer a member of the EU.

    In line with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, clause 42 confirms that certain rights and obligations recognised before exit day will continue to apply for VAT, while rights and obligations no longer considered appropriate or relevant for UK VAT, such as those that relate purely to membership of the EU, may be disapplied or modified by regulations. The clause also reinforces that other provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill will apply, particularly clause 6, on “Interpretation of retained EU law”. VAT law and policy has been developed to a significant extent through European case law, including through application of that case law in the UK courts, so UK legislation and policy are inextricably linked with the case law. The clause reinforces that EU principles and case law on VAT that were determined pre-EU exit will continue to apply when interpreting domestic VAT legislation. For example, it identifies the Halifax and Kittel principles of abuse, which have been instrumental in tackling avoidance and “missing trader” fraud and have protected billions of pounds of revenue.

    Amendment 133 seeks to change the parliamentary procedure for the exercise of powers under clause 42 from negative to draft affirmative. The Bill ensures that the scrutiny procedures that apply to the exercise of each power are appropriate and proportionate. The procedures take into account the technicality of the regulations and the frequency with which they are likely to be made.

    Clause 42 outlines how EU law relating to VAT will apply post-exit. The powers in clause 42 relate to residual rights, powers and obligations in relation to VAT incorporated by clause 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and to the VAT implementing regulation. They are therefore limited to those specific areas. The EU law affected by those provisions reflects the fact that we are currently in the EU. Once we exit, some of it will no longer be relevant or could not be applied in its current format. Given the limited width of the powers in the clause, it is appropriate and proportionate that their exercise should be subject to the negative procedure. The Government therefore urge the Committee to resist amendment 133.

    Amendments 83 and 84 seek to limit the duration of the delegated power under clause 42 to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. They are two of a number of amendments that would time-limit powers in the Bill. As the Committee is aware, the Bill is drafted to cater for a variety of long-term outcomes from negotiations on our future relationship with the EU. It is essential that we have a fully functioning VAT system on and after EU exit, including during any implementation period. The powers in clause 42 have a part in ensuring that we are able to achieve that. As we do not know the outcome of negotiations with the EU, or exactly when the final outcome will be confirmed, it would not be prudent to time-limit those powers at this stage. I therefore urge the Opposition not to press the amendments.

    Clause 43 introduces schedule 8, which makes changes to the Value Added Tax Act 1994 and other consequential changes relating to VAT to take account of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, should they be needed. The principal VAT directive sets out the framework for the EU’s VAT system. Unlike the EU’s customs regime, there is little directly applicable legislation in the VAT sphere.

    The VAT system in the UK is set out in the Value Added Tax Act 1994. The main body of the Act sets out the general rules, and the schedules set out the detail of areas such as the scope of tax reliefs and registration requirements. As is usual in tax law, the Act provides a range of powers for the detailed rules—in particular in relation to the administrative framework of the tax—to be set out in secondary legislation, of which the Value Added Tax Regulations 1995 are an example. That allows us to react quickly to changing circumstances or to threats to tax, or generally to ensure its effective administration and collection. Appropriate parliamentary scrutiny is provided for that secondary legislation. Statutory instruments that deal with the administration of tax are generally subject to the negative procedure, whereas those that make more fundamental changes are generally subject to the affirmative procedure. The changes made by schedule 8 are fully consistent with those principles.

    The changes made by schedule 8 remove the many references to EU law and EU-specific rules and processes. In particular, they remove references to “acquisitions” and “dispatches”, which would no longer apply to trade in goods with the EU. Instead, they would become “imports” and “exports”. That requires the removal of numerous sections and schedules of the VAT Act associated with EU trade, and consequential amendments to many others. The VAT Act contains many existing powers, which schedule 8 amends to reflect those changes. Most changes are therefore necessary housekeeping to reflect changes to cross-border trade arising from our exit from the EU and changes in the Bill. They do not affect domestic trade or the underlying principles of the system.

    However, there are some areas where, depending on the outcome of negotiations, more fundamental changes may be required. For example, there is a new power in relation to small parcels sent from abroad, to be used in the unlikely event of the contingency scenario. That enables the transfer of the liability to account for import VAT from the UK recipient to the overseas seller, and provides for the necessary administration and compliance framework. There is also a power to govern the VAT treatment of goods entering the UK from another territory in a UK customs union, which would allow for a modified treatment for trade with the EU if that is the result of negotiations.

    In addition, there is a new provision that enables HMRC to obtain information from businesses so that it can share that with others, subject to appropriate safeguards, if doing so is part of an international VAT agreement. That would ensure that the UK can give effect to agreements that help combat international avoidance and evasion. That power can be used only if the agreement facilitates the administration, collection or enforcement of UK VAT. That mirrors the power for excise.

    Clause 43 and the associated schedule 8 are necessary to maintain the UK’s VAT system, provide certainty for the UK’s cross-border trade and maintain revenue flows as we leave the EU. They also, along with other powers in the Bill, provide the ability to make changes to reflect the outcome of negotiations.

  • I hope the Minister does it with more feeling next time. That was a whip through the clauses, but I will read them. The fact that any of us have any sentience at all is wonderful. I also notice that the Minister’s cut and paste button in relation to appropriate and proportionate has been in overdrive again.

    This area of our future relationship with the European Union has been the subject of much public debate, because, like much of the Bill, part 3 is conditional upon the outcome of the Government’s Brexit negotiations, which appeared to take a further turn for the worse this week. This section of the Bill provides a framework for a new VAT arrangement between the UK and EU member states, to be enacted should we need to do so. Clause 41 makes no provision for the abolition of acquisitions, as far as I can gather, as a taxable event for goods entering the UK from member states and, in the absence of a negotiated agreement, goods would be subject to import VAT.

    Amendment 133 seeks to add the affirmative procedure to secondary regulations under clause 42. The clause sets out that the automatic conversion of EU law into UK law following exit from the European Union does not apply in matters relating to VAT. It also provides the Treasury with the power to exclude or modify any other EU rights, powers, liabilities, restrictions, remedies and procedures by statutory instrument, currently subject to the negative procedure. The amendment would ensure that the modification or exclusion of EU rights, powers, procedures and so on would be subject to affirmative resolution.

    It is a fact that when we leave the European Union, we will leave the EU VAT area, and therefore we cannot be subject to the rules governing it, at least until further negotiations have taken place. That is why we have not chosen to table amendments to clause 41, which as I have outlined, sets out the major legal changes necessary to exit from the European Union, but have instead sought to ensure that any further regulations necessary are subject to the proper scrutiny—appropriate and proportionate proper scrutiny.

    I would like the Committee to once again note that the amendment is in line with the recommendations made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which explicitly called for the powers to be made affirmative, as we are seeking to do. The report says:

    “Clause 42(2) contains a wide power for the Treasury to amend VAT law which is retained EU law under clause 4 of the current European Union (Withdrawal) Bill...Regulations under these powers are subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of the House of Commons. Given the importance and scope of the powers in clauses 42 and 47, we do not consider that the regulations should only ever be subject to the negative procedure.”

    I again appeal to members of the Committee to heed the advice of the Delegated Powers Committee and support our amendment to introduce proper parliamentary scrutiny to regulations made under clause 42.

    Amendments 83 and 84 relate to clause 42. They seek to add what are commonly known as sunset clauses to the provisions in clause 42 and would limit the duration of the delegated powers to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union, which we think is appropriate and proportionate in the circumstances.

    As was pointed out by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Government’s own White Paper, “Legislating for the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union”, acknowledged the importance of time-limiting delegated powers where powers are not needed in perpetuity, so there seems to be a little bit of flip-flopping on that one from the Government. Indeed, clauses 7 to 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill contain important time limits on the use of delegated powers. There are no corresponding sunset clauses on the use of delegated powers in this Bill—there seems to be a bit of a pick-and-mix approach to scrutiny. Despite the Treasury’s delegated powers memorandum acknowledging that the Bill has been drafted to cater for various contingencies that might never materialise—for example, if the UK left the EU without a negotiated agreement—we must have these scrutiny powers in place to keep checks on that one.

  • The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee proposed a time limit on the powers under clause 42. That is exactly what amendments 83 and 84 are intended to achieve. They would bring the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill in line with the procedures currently proposed in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. If the Minister is unwilling to restrict the use of powers in this instance, perhaps he might explain why the Government believe the procedures to be appropriate for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill but not for this one. There seems to be no possible justification for the powers being created under this Bill to last in perpetuity while those in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill do not. It would be helpful if he could enlighten us on that particular question; I look forward, if I may say so, to his gymnastics in that regard.

    Similarly, if it is true that these powers may be necessary at any point after the establishment of a functioning customs framework, perhaps the Minister can give us a specific example of how and under what circumstances they might be used—a masterclass, no doubt. Failing that, I should hope that the Government will see fit to include the sunset clauses we are proposing in amendments 83 and 84, which pose no threat to the proper establishment of a customs system, but merely ensure that the Bill does not confer unnecessary powers beyond a reasonable point.

    Amendments 83 and 84 are all the more important given the unprecedented steps taken by the Government, in a shift of constitutional power that has been recognised right across the piece, including by many of the witnesses who came before us. I have repeated that issue already, and no doubt it will be repeated time and again. I may borrow the Minister’s cut and paste button to repeat it—

  • Yes, two buttons: control and whatever it is. As I have mentioned, we are not alone in this view, which is shared by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The Government ought to respond to our genuine concerns in this matter, and we will persist in asking them until they do respond to our genuine concerns and those of other agencies, bodies, organisations and people.

  • I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his invitation to do some gymnastics, but I do not think they will be necessary, because his questions are easily answered. He referred to my cut and paste button in respect of “appropriate” and “proportionate” and he is right; there is a cut and paste button for those terms, because they are extremely important. At the heart of this is his cut and paste button, in which he regularly says something along the lines of, “All we are asking for is appropriate scrutiny on these important matters.” So the argument has gone back and forth over every area of the Bill as we have ranged across the various clauses.

    Moving on to the hon. Gentleman’s remarks about the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee and its comments on sunset clauses, and his specific question about why we would have sunset clauses in the context of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill but they would not be appropriate in the case of this Bill, the answers are clear and require no gymnastics at all. They are that the aims of this Bill are different from those of other Brexit Bills.

    For example, while the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill makes provision for day one, with the understanding that further primary legislation will be made to supplement it, this Bill will be required in order to maintain a functioning customs regime, an effective VAT regime—as we are currently discussing in the context of these clauses—and an excise regime on an ongoing basis. There is a fundamental distinction between bringing the EU acquis into UK law and handling that process, which is the principal rationale for the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and what is happening on a dynamic, ongoing basis in terms of a customs, VAT and excise regime.

  • Can I read from the Minister’s remarks that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill does not seek to create new institutions in, for example, environmental policy or other areas, which potentially need to be just as flexible in many ways as the taxation and customs system? I am struggling to grasp the essence of the Minister’s distinction here. Maybe he could provide more information.

  • I have made the point about the day one situation with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and the primary legislation, and so on, that will follow. I will resist the urge to start debating another Bill, other than to repeat the points I have made about this Bill. We are of necessity in the context of customs, customs duties, export duties, import duties, VAT, excise regimes and excise duty. We are dealing with a rapidly changing set of measures going forward. We are in the middle of a complex negotiation, the outcome of which is not clear at this particular moment. That is why in many instances in this Bill where we have had these ongoing repeated debates about whether a stiffer, tougher form of scrutiny is necessary, we feel that a balance has to be struck, which is appropriate and proportionate—to use my cut and paste button again—between the needs of parliamentary scrutiny where it is appropriate, and the ability to get on with the job and ensure that this country is match fit for life outside of the European Union in terms of its imports, exports and trade.

  • I am grateful to the Minister for his response. However, we have been informed that the reason why sunset clauses are appropriate in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill and not in this Bill is because this Bill needs a more dynamic system—if I understand the Minister’s comments correctly—whereas that is not necessary in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. I am still struggling, because if we look at an area such as environmental legislation, we have the institutions that are created, the overall framework and then the calibration within it that would respond to scientific information—levels of pollution, for example. There is also an international context with different treaties. Perhaps this is something we could correspond about another time, but I am struggling to discern the fundamental qualitative difference between this policy area, which apparently cannot be amenable to sunset clauses, and those contained in the EU (Withdrawal) Bill.

  • I will be brief, because we are beginning to go around in circles, but I am very happy to discuss any of these matters offline, or to receive a letter from the hon. Lady, on the points she has raised.

  • We will not press the clause to a vote, because we have persistently made this point all the time. I completely accept that it gets pretty tedious, but it gets pretty tedious from this side as well, when we keep on getting told that Parliament cannot have the scrutiny that it constitutionally and rightly deserves. We will come back to this point.

    I have to say that other nations and democracies, much younger than this one, are perfectly capable of dealing with such issues, very detailed issues, without this sort of carte blanche approach that the Government seem to take, where they want to block every opportunity for us to scrutinise. They are not even prepared, when things might have calmed down in relation to the processes of exit, to give us the opportunity to check them via a sunset clause and that is deeply regrettable.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 41 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clauses 42 and 43 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Schedule 8 agreed to.

    Clause 44

    Excise duties: postal packets sent from overseas

    Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

  • I am not trying to wrong-foot the Minister, but I just want to make a brief statement in relation to postal packets from overseas. I have mentioned the issue in previous debates. I genuinely think that it will affect individuals living our constituencies across the four nations of the UK. People will be shocked when they see the changes coming in relation to excise duty. It is incumbent on the Government, when HMRC make the relevant regulations, that they are as widely publicised as possible, and that if possible, some transitional arrangement should be put in place on costs. If people suddenly find that their postal packets are subject to an incredible charge to which they were previously not subject, they will be pretty upset, and rightly so.

    Whatever HMRC does on the issue, we ask the Minister to ensure that there is adequate publicity and that any charges put in place are proportionate and not excessive, because people will be incredibly upset and negatively affected.

  • I thank the hon. Lady for those well-made observations. We certainly want to ensure that whatever transition there is to the new regime for small parcels is handled correctly, for exactly the reasons that she has given. I am very close to that as a Minister; in fact, I will meet Royal Mail next week to discuss exactly those points. I will, of course, be happy to share that information and take any further questions that she might have.

    Question put and agreed to.

    Clause 44 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 45

    General regulation making power for excise duty purposes etc

  • I beg to move amendment 85, in clause 45, page 31, line 24, at end insert—

    ‘(3A) The power to make regulations under this section—

    (a) insofar as it is exercised to replicate or apply, with or without modifications, any EU regulations mentioned in section 47(1), ceases to have effect after the end of the period of two years beginning with exit day; and

    (b) insofar as it is exercised to make provision of the kind described in subsection (2)(k), ceases to have effect after the end of period of five years beginning with exit day.”

    This amendment, together with Amendment 86, limits the duration of certain delegated powers under Clause 45 to periods aligned with other proposed limitations relating to withdrawal from the EU and to customs unions.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 86, in clause 45, page 31, line 25, at end insert—

    ““exit day” has the meaning given by section 14(1) (interpretation) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and subsections (2) to (5) of that section apply to the term under this section as they apply to the term in that Act.”

    See explanatory statement for Amendment 85.

    Clause 45 stand part.

    Amendment 135, in clause 48, page 33, line 29, at end insert—

    “(5A) No regulations may be made under section 47 unless a draft has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, the House of Commons.”

    This amendment requires regulations under Clause 47 to be subject to the affirmative procedure.

    Amendment 136, in clause 48, page 33, line 30, leave out “47” and insert “46”.

    This amendment is consequential on Amendment 135.

    Clause 48 stand part.

  • The Member’s explanatory statement for amendment 85 states:

    “This amendment, together with Amendment 86, limits the duration of certain delegated powers under Clause 45 to periods aligned with other proposed limitations relating to withdrawal from the EU and to customs unions”

    in parallel legislation. In many ways, it continues the conversation we had during debate on the last group.

    Effectively, the amendment would introduce a sunset clause to clause 45: a measure to prevent the indefinite extension of delegated powers by HMRC commissioners where they relate to excise duty. We have discussed many times—in some ways, we have discussed it in every debate—the democratic implications of the Bill. The addition of sunset clauses has been proposed by many partners as a solution to the need to safeguard against potential abuses of the powers in the Bill. As has been said many times, the House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, in its report, said clearly that the Bill transfers substantial powers to the Executive—that is not in doubt on any side of this Committee. The question is whether they are proportionate and whether appropriate safeguards are in place.

    I listened carefully to the Minister during discussion of the last set of amendments about the differences between the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and this Bill, but I must say that I am not convinced that the differences are substantial enough to envisage a completely different set of amendments’ appropriateness in terms of the use of sunset clauses. As the Lords Committee said,

    “the Treasury’s delegated powers memorandum acknowledges that the Bill has been drafted to cater for various contingencies that might never materialise, for example, if the UK leaves the EU without a negotiated agreement.”

    I do not agree that the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill and this Bill represent such wildly different circumstances that one set of amendments is appropriate for the other Bill but not for this one. The Opposition are firmly in agreement with the Lords Committee that a sunset clause is an appropriate manoeuvre to redress the balance of power. We must bear in mind that the use of delegated powers carries a risk of abuse by the Executive, which is not something the Opposition could ever support. Rather, it is our duty at this stage to check the powers of the Executive and ensure that we are not giving them carte blanche to change the balance of power permanently in their favour.

    I also stress that the amendments offer generous provision in terms of timing. It varies for each item, with sunset clause terms of either two years or five years from EU exit day for the powers in question. That should give the Government ample opportunity to adapt, even if we face the nightmare “no deal” scenario. It makes little sense to the Opposition that such provisions are included in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but that there are no corresponding provisions in this Bill. Adding these provisions to the Bill would be an important step in providing a much-needed check to delegated powers.

  • Amendments 135 and 136 relate to the subsequent regulations relating to changing excise duty, and would make them subject to the affirmative procedure. The rationale is to add a necessary layer of democratic scrutiny to the extensive powers being granted to HMRC. I fear that Government and Opposition Members will never reach agreement on that point, and that we will perhaps have to return to it. However, we believe that that has been a consistent problem with the Bill, and we are duty bound to raise it.

    Together, this group of amendments would make small but highly significant changes to help promote greater democracy, transparency, certainty and accountability in the Bill. Our intention is not to hamstring the Executive, but to ensure that checks and balances are maintained for those in power. As we decide on our new post-Brexit customs framework, we must guarantee a system that is constitutionally robust enough to deliver the democratic control that those who voted to leave the European Union sought.

  • Clause 45 provides powers to make changes to ensure the UK has a fully functioning excise regime after EU exit. The powers mean that the UK will be able to implement a range of negotiated outcomes. They also ensure that, after EU exit, we retain the same ability to legislate for excise that we have now.

    EU legislation impacts on a number of areas of the excise regime. One example is the existing holding and movement regime for excise goods, which is based on a framework set up by the European Union. It allows the free movement of goods while ensuring excise duty is collected in the country of consumption. The UK needs the ability to make changes to the excise regime to reflect a range of negotiated or non-negotiated outcomes. The power will also ensure that, after EU exit and the repeal of the European Communities Act 1972, we maintain the same ability to legislate for excise as we have now.

    The clause gives the Government a power to make regulations generally for the purposes of excise duty on alcohol, tobacco and fuels. It includes, among other matters, when the excise duty becomes due, who will be liable for excise duty, reliefs and the rules around the holding and movement of excise goods. It also ensures that, after EU exit, the Government have the same ability to legislate for excise as they have now. It does not, however, enable HMRC to set excise duty rates.

    The excise regime is largely set out in secondary legislation made under various existing powers. However, we can anticipate that the primary legislation that underpins it may need to be amended. The clause allows any regulations made under this section to amend or repeal primary legislation using secondary legislation. It does not allow secondary legislation to amend or repeal provisions in the Bill.

    Any negotiated outcome could include key administrative features such as the collection, control, management and enforcement of excise duties. Changes could also be needed in those areas if there is no negotiated agreement. The goods it could be applied to are alcohol, tobacco and fuels.

    On repeal of the 1972 Act, we will retain the legislation made under it, but we will no longer have the power to amend that legislation. Clause 45 will ensure there are no gaps in HMRC’s powers to deliver the necessary changes to the excise regime as a consequence of EU exit. For example, the Government made consequential amendments to primary legislation in the last substantive overhaul of key excise secondary legislation in 2010. They relied on the powers provided for by the 1972 Act, which will not be available in future. The power could also be used to ensure that there are clear arrangements in place so that goods in transit between member states before EU exit are not subjected to additional controls or requirements after EU exit.

    The power has, however, been limited in a number of ways. It does not allow any changes to duty rates. Clause 49 ensures that the power is no wider than necessary. It is limited to making provisions in respect of the excise duties on alcohol, tobacco and fuels. Those are the duties most impacted by EU legislation and EU exit. It is important that the Government can act quickly in case of changing circumstances, but it is also vital that Parliament is able to scrutinise the use of these powers. Clause 48 sets out the proposed scrutiny arrangements.

    Amendments 85 and 86 seek to limit the duration of the power contained in clause 45 where it is exercised to replicate or apply EU regulations. They also intend to limit the duration of the power to make provision for excise duties in connection with the UK forming a customs union with other customs territories. The Government oppose the amendments. The Bill is drafted to cater for a range of long-term outcomes from negotiations on the future relationship with the EU. We do not yet know the outcome of negotiations with the EU or exactly when the final outcome will be confirmed. It would therefore not be prudent to include a sunsetting clause.

    The clause provides the Government with the power to legislate for the excise regime to implement the outcome of negotiations. Just as importantly, it ensures that we can legislate for excise in the future—after exit—with the same flexibility we have now. It is essential that we have a fully functioning excise system on EU exit and the powers contained in the clause are necessary to achieve that.

    If the amendments are accepted, after the relevant sunset period the Government’s ability to legislate quickly to respond to changing circumstances and future business processes will be limited. For example, the current excise duty suspension arrangements secure the movement of goods through a number of different countries, potentially over a large geographical area. On leaving the EU, the movement of excise duty suspended goods may be permitted only within the territory of the UK. The clause may allow further simplifications for compliant traders if the risks to revenue are considered to be lower in the United Kingdom.

    Amendment 85, relating to subsection (2)(k), refers to clause 31, which allows for arrangements that establish a customs union, as we debated, between the UK and territories outside the UK to be given effect by Order in Council. If the UK forms a customs union with any other customs territory, the Government may need to adapt the excise regime accordingly to ensure that the UK can enforce and maintain the operability of the excise duty regime. For example, if an arrangement is made with any territory where free movement of goods is allowed now or in the future, the UK may wish to ensure that excise duties can be controlled and collected without customs formalities at the border, as is now the case. The requirement to make such arrangements may not be limited to the period following EU negotiations or the implementation period.

    Clause 48 sets the procedure for making regulations under clauses 44 to 47. The powers in clauses 44 to 47 are necessary to ensure the alcohol, tobacco and oils excise duty regimes continue to function as required after EU exit. The clause ensures the use of those powers is subject to appropriate scrutiny. It also includes provision to streamline procedures where the new excise powers are combined with some existing powers. That gives the Government the flexibility to make the changes to the excise regime needed after EU withdrawal. A smaller number of statutory instruments will therefore be required and the legislation will remain accessible to users.

    Clause 48 sets the procedure for exercising the powers in clauses 44 to 47 and gives further detail to their scope. On procedure, the clause sets out four scenarios in which regulations made using the powers will be subject to the made-affirmative procedure: first, where the changes amend or repeal any Act of Parliament; secondly, where changes extend the descriptions of goods on which excise duty is chargeable; thirdly, where changes extend the cases in which stamping or marking of goods is required; and fourthly, where changes restrict any relief or rebate. In all other cases, the negative procedure applies. That is in line with the existing approach to excise regulation-making powers.

    A large number of changes need to be made to excise secondary legislation to maintain a functioning excise regime after exit. The Government plan to use existing powers as well as the new powers in the Bill. Clause 48(7) will streamline procedures to allow existing excise powers and the new powers to be combined in some cases. The streamlining applies only if regulations made under the existing powers would be subject to the negative resolution procedure—not where the affirmative procedure is to be used. Such streamlining gives Government the ability to maintain a functioning excise system after EU withdrawal. It reduces the number of statutory instruments to be laid on the same subject matter, making more efficient use of parliamentary time and limiting fragmented legislation, which is harder for business and its advisers to follow.

    In some cases, that will have the effect that some provisions that are currently subject to the negative resolution in the Lords and Commons will be subject to the negative procedure in the Commons only. However, Commons-only scrutiny is in line with the convention that tax legislation is not subject to Lords scrutiny. The majority of excise regulation-making powers created in recent times are similarly subject to Commons scrutiny only. For example: the alcohol wholesaler registration scheme, introduced in 2015; the raw tobacco approval scheme, introduced in 2016; and the remote gaming duty, introduced in 2014. Members can be assured that, if the Government combine powers, they will not do so to make a trivial provision only to remove Lords’ scrutiny and bring this special procedure into play.

    Amendments 135 and 136 seek to require that regulations made under clause 47 are subject to the draft affirmative procedure. Clause 47 gives the Government the power to exclude or modify EU rights, powers, liabilities and obligations relating to excise duty that continue to have effect in UK law after exit by operation of clause 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. Some of those rights and obligations will no longer be appropriate after exit. Some may need amendments to deal with the outcome of negotiations with the EU. Therefore, this power has a part to play in ensuring that we have a fully functioning excise regime.

    The power in clause 47 is targeted and proportionate. It is specific to the areas saved by clause 4 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, and in addition, it may only be exercised in relation to excise duties on alcohol, tobacco and fuel. It is appropriate and proportionate that the power should be subject to the negative procedure and not the affirmative procedure. That reflects the specific nature of the power in the clause and the speed with which regulations may be required.

    The Bill ensures that the scrutiny procedures that are applied to the exercise of each power are appropriate and proportionate. They take into account the technicality of the regulations and the frequency with which they are likely to be made.

    Clause 48 ensures that the scrutiny procedures that apply to the exercise of the powers in part 4 are appropriate and proportionate. As far as is practical, the procedure that applies to excise regulations made under these powers is in line with the approach to procedures on existing excise powers.

  • There is clearly a fundamental difference of opinion about these clauses. We absolutely support the right and ability of the Government to possess the requisite powers on exit to set the regime that is required. What is in dispute is whether those powers should remain on the statute book for a long time.

    It seems entirely reasonable that the Government could come back to legislate for the power that they need in future, rather than giving themselves such a fundamental transfer that changes the balance of power between Parliament and the Government, but we may have to return to that question. Further groups of amendments are on the selection list that cover sunset clauses, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 46 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clause 47

    EU law relating to excise duty

  • I beg to move amendment 134, in clause 47, page 33, line 7, at end insert—

    “(5) No regulations may be made under this section after the end of the period of two years beginning with exit day.

    (6) In this section, “exit day” has the meaning given by section 14(1) (interpretation) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and subsections (2) to (5) of that section apply to the term under this section as they apply to the term in that Act.”

    This amendment limits the duration of the delegated power under Clause 47 to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Clause 47 stand part.

    Clauses 49 and 50 stand part.

    That schedule 9 be the Ninth schedule to the Bill.

  • We have already discussed clause 47 to an extent, so I will just offer a couple of brief observations in relation to amendment 134. My reading of clause 47 is that it disapplies the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill provision that EU legislation should be copied into UK law, and empowers the Treasury to make alternative provisions on excise duty.

    Some of our witnesses suggested that that could result in an unnecessarily complicated approach, and I do not feel that the Minister explained why the Government will not just retain the EU customs code during the transition period. The Minister has referred to a cut-and-paste approach. Yes, there is a lot of cutting, but then there is some spraying about of some elements and not others. It is perhaps not as well thought through as we might have hoped.

    As with many Opposition amendments, amendment 134 asks the Government to include a sunset clause of two years for the application of these measures. We seek to ensure that the empowerment of the Treasury in these provisions is time limited. As my hon. Friend the Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said in relation to the sunset clause he discussed, the measures could be extended by Parliament if that was felt necessary, but having a sunset clause would prevent the inappropriate extension of the powers that the clause grants.

  • Clause 47 makes changes that ensure that the status of EU law in relation to excise is clear. The European Union (Withdrawal) Bill lays out the Government’s general approach to EU legislation after EU exit. We need to ensure the consistency and certainty of the existing excise and VAT regimes to ensure that they work effectively after exit.

    Excise is an important contributor to national revenue—receipts for 2016-17 were around £48 billion—so it is important that we have clarity on the rules, including the status of EU law in relation to excise. The approach adopted by this clause is consistent with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. It results in EU legislation being retained only where it is sensible to do so in respect of excise. There is a similar provision for VAT in clause 42.

  • Clause 47 disapplies EU regulations in relation to excise duty on goods along with directly applicable EU legislation linked to those regulations. In the main, the regulations relate to single market reciprocal arrangements, for example exchange of information for the excise movement and control system. In the absence of a negotiated agreement, they would be deficient after EU exit.

    Removal of EU legislation that is no longer required is anticipated in the withdrawal Bill. The powers in clauses 45 and 51 would enable us, among other things, to re-introduce EU regulations where necessary with or without modifications, for example in the light of a negotiated agreement with the European Union.

    In line with the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, the clause confirms that rights and obligations recognised and available before exit day in domestic law will continue to apply for excise, but those rights and obligations that are no longer considered appropriate or relevant for excise may be disapplied by regulations. For example, that would include rights and obligations that relate purely to membership of the EU.

    The clause also confirms that other provisions of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill apply, in particular clause 6 in relation to interpretation of retained EU law. Excise policy has been developed through European case law, including through application of that case law in the UK courts, so UK policy and case law are intrinsically linked. It puts beyond doubt that EU principles and case law determined before EU exit will continue to apply when interpreting domestic legislation on excise goods that have an EU source.

    Amendment 134 seeks to limit the duration of the delegated power under clause 47 to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union. It is one of a number of amendments to time-limit powers across the Bill. As members of the Committee are aware, the Bill is drafted to cater for a variety of long-term outcomes from negotiations on the future relationship with the EU. It is essential that we have a fully functioning excise system on exit. The powers in clause 47 have a part in ensuring that we have the ability to achieve that. As we do not know the outcome of the negotiations, nor exactly when the final outcome of the negotiations will be confirmed, it would not be prudent to time-limit these powers at this stage. For those reasons, I urge the Committee to resist the amendments.

    Clause 50 introduces schedule 9, which makes changes to excise primary legislation in connection with the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. Those mainly introduce housekeeping changes reflecting the departure of the UK from the EU, including changes to the Customs and Excise Management Act 1979, the Hydrocarbon Oils Duties Act 1979 and the Tobacco Products Duty Act 1979. These changes are needed to ensure that we have an operable excise regime on leaving the EU.

    Several excise directives govern the rules on excise duty on goods in EU member states. In the UK, they are largely implemented through secondary legislation, but some obligations under EU law have been transposed into excise primary legislation. Changes are needed to reflect the departure of the UK from the EU, for instance to remove references to member states’ laws and to adapt definitions. The changes made by clause 50 and schedule 9 are, to a large extent, conditional upon the outcome of exit negotiations. They are there to ensure that we have an operable regime upon withdrawal.

    Among other changes, schedule 9 also includes provisions for the Treasury to set out in regulations definitions for private pleasure flying or private pleasure craft. There is no intention to change the meaning of the definitions. Instead, the changes would merely write the definitions directly into UK legislation rather than their being dependent upon EU legislation.

    Clause 49 gives the definitions of excise duty and HMRC commissioners in relation to this part of the Bill. A number of taxes are known as excise duties and this clause defines the term “excise duty” and “HMRC Commissioners” for the purposes of clauses 44 to 48. It ensures that the substantial powers in part 4, which covers excise, go no further than necessary and relate only to excise duties on goods.

    The clause confines the application of clauses 44 to 48 to matters relating to excise duty on goods—alcohol, tobacco and fuels. Those are the excise duties most affected by EU exit. Part 4 therefore does not apply to air passenger duty and the duties on gambling, for example. Those are entirely domestic and so are less affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

    Additionally, the clause defines the term “HMRC Commissioners”. For the operation of part 4, it is necessary to define these terms. The limited definition of excise duty ensures that the provisions in this part go no further than is necessary and relate only to excise duties on goods that are most affected by EU exit. I therefore urge that the clause stands part of the Bill.

  • I am grateful to the Minister for those helpful clarifications. I note in particular his determination that the provisions should foster continuity with existing provisions in the short term. That seems very sensible. I hope that, even if the Government are not willing to accept Labour’s call for sunset clauses, they will at least take on board our concerns that there must be appropriate ongoing scrutiny of the measures. Above all, they must not go beyond the scope of ensuring that there is an operable regime following whatever negotiations they have.

    Many of those areas are very important for our constituents. I am sure that the Minister will remember the discussion that we had around tobacco excise recently in the Finance Bill. I had concerns about the stripping away of public health support for people to stop smoking, at the same time that duties are going up, and about the implications there might be for low-income people. We need to make sure when there is a fundamental change that we have the ability to properly debate and discuss it in the House. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

    Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

    Clause 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Clauses 48 to 50 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

    Schedule 9 agreed to.

    Clause 51

    Power to make provision in relation to VAT or duties of customs or excise

  • I beg to move amendment 120, in clause 51, page 34, line 39, leave out second “appropriate” and insert “necessary”.

    This amendment provides that the power to make regulations about VAT, customs duty and excise duty in consequence of UK withdrawal from the EU is only exercised when it is necessary to do so.

  • With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

    Amendment 97, in clause 51, page 35, line 4, at end insert—

    “(c) may not be made after 29 March 2021.

    ‘(2A) The Secretary of State may by regulations amend the date in paragraph (1)(c) to ensure that the day specified is at day that any transition period related to the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union comes to an end.

    (2B) A statutory instrument containing regulations under subsection (2A) may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”

    This amendment inserts a sunset provision that disallows any regulations to be made under Clause 51 after 29 March 2021, while also allowing the Secretary of State to alter that date, by regulations subject to the affirmative procedure, in the event that this is not the date on which any transition period following the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union comes to an end.

    Amendment 98, in clause 51, page 35, line 10, after “section” insert “, apart from regulations under subsection (2A),”.

    This amendment is consequential to Amendment 97.

    Amendment 99, in clause 51, page 35, line 25, after “apply” insert “, apart from regulations under subsection (2A),”.

    This amendment is consequential to Amendment 97.

    Amendment 87, in clause 51, page 35, line 38, at end insert—

    “(10) No regulations may be made under this section after the end of the period of two years beginning with exit day.

    (11) In this section, “exit day” has the meaning given by section 14(1) (interpretation) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and subsections (2) to (5) of that section apply to the term under this section as they apply to the term in that Act.”

    This amendment limits the duration of the delegated power under Clause 51 to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

    Clause stand part.

    Amendment 88, in clause 52, page 36, line 32, at end insert—

    “(7A) No regulations may be made under this section after the end of the period of two years beginning with exit day.

    (7B) In this section, “exit day” has the meaning given by section 14(1) (interpretation) of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and subsections (2) to (5) of that section apply to the term under this section as they apply to the term in that Act.”

    This amendment limits the duration of the delegated power under Clause 52 to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.

    Clause 52 stand part.

    Clause 53 stand part.

  • I will speak to amendments 120 and 97 and skim over consequential amendments 98 and 99. I will also mention Labour amendments 87 and 88.

    Amendment 120 is an old discussion that we had with the Minister earlier in the debate. We ask for the second “appropriate” to be left out and replaced with “necessary”. That would mean that the powers to make the provision in relation to VAT or customs or excise duties would be made as the appropriate Minister considered necessary in consequence of, or otherwise in connection with, the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

    We have had the discussion before about whether it is best to have “appropriate” or “necessary” in these sections, but it would be sensible for Ministers to make a regulation that they thought was necessary rather than appropriate. The former is a stronger word—the Law Society of Scotland believes that it is a stronger word and has a more appropriate legal definition in this regard. It would be good if the Minister would consider making the change we are asking for in amendment 120.

    On the first part of clause 51, I have heard concerns about some of the stuff that has not been written into UK law either through this Bill or possibly the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The shipwork end-use relief from customs duty is in EU law—it is a relief that people who bring things in for use offshore have from customs duty. It is written into EU law, but I have not been able to find in this Bill where it is written into UK law —perhaps it is in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill. The offshore industry rely on it heavily and it would make a big difference, specifically on charges.

    The shipwork end-use relief is relied on only for imports coming from third countries, but given that imports from the EU would now be potentially subject to customs duty, if the Government do not manage to get a deal to be in a customs union, it will become more applicable and will apply to many more products and goods coming through. It will be necessary to write that into UK law at some point, and I would very much appreciate a commitment from the Minister on that. A lot of companies that transport goods offshore, which particularly affects my constituency, would appreciate knowing the direction of travel in relation to this relief.

    Amendment 97—the Scottish National party amendment that would apply a sunset clause to clause 51—serves a dual purpose. It submits that there should be a sunset clause and makes the case that regulations may not be made under the clause after 29 March 2021, but it would also change the procedures for the making of regulations, asking that they are made using the draft affirmative procedure. As we have discussed at some length, the draft affirmative procedure would be better than either the negative procedure or the made affirmative procedure. It would mean that no changes are made before Parliament has the opportunity to scrutinise them because they would be laid in draft rather than created and then consulted on with Members. That is why we are asking for both of those changes.

    Although this is my first chance to talk about sunset clauses, we have had a fairly lengthy debate on them and they have been covered by various Members. Labour Front Benchers asked earlier why sunset clauses should be applicable to the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill but not this Bill. Even though they are separate pieces of legislation, I actually believe that, in this Bill, it is reasonable for Ministers to have one process relating to the setting up of a customs or an excise regime, and for that process to be different ever after. That is why a sunset clause would be a good change in that regard.

    If future Governments are to make such changes, they should be subject to more parliamentary scrutiny. I have said to the Minister previously but remind him that the Conservative party will not be in government forever—I hope not—and in that case they will be sitting in opposition, unable appropriately or extensively to scrutinise the measures. That is a major concern given that the delegated powers in the Bill allow for the Government to make radical changes without the need for much in the way of parliamentary scrutiny.

    I am sure the Government do not intend to give a future Labour Government a free rein drastically to alter the customs regime, but unfortunately the way the Bill is written would give them that right. I get the impression that I would be more likely to favour the Labour party’s customs regime than the Conservative party’s, but none the less no Executive should have the power to do all those things by using such things as the negative procedure. The made affirmative procedure is not even strong enough in some cases.

    Labour amendments 87 and 88 are grouped with other amendments on sunset clauses. If they put the amendments to the vote, I will support them, because I believe a sunset clause is appropriate for the provisions made in clause 51.

  • I wish to speak for what I will believe will be the final time in Committee. [Hon. Members: “Oh.”] There is always Report stage; we know the procedure here. I will speak to amendments 87 and 88, which relate to clauses 51 and 52. The explanatory statement for amendment 87 reads:

    “This amendment limits the duration of the delegated power under Clause 51 to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the European Union.”

    Amendment 88 would apply the same limits to the powers entitled under clause 52.

    These are obviously a fairly similar set of arguments to those we have just heard relating to clause 45, but I think we have clearly established that there are strong reservations about the use of delegated powers under the Bill and its democratic implications. The famous House of Lords Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee said specifically in its report that clause 51, which relates to VAT or duties of customs or excise, is such that a sunset clause would be possible and welcome. As the Lords report said, clause 51 contains a very wide power that, in the words of the Treasury itself

    “is necessary to ensure that the Treasury and Secretary of State have the ability to deal with the consequences of withdrawal from the EU and to maintain fully functioning and legally operable customs, VAT and excise regimes in a range of scenarios”.

    It is about withdrawal from the EU, yet the powers would give considerable scope to the Executive to shape the regime for many years, perhaps decades, into the future. That is surely why a recommendation for a sunset clause relating to clause 51 is appropriate.

  • I will briefly refer to the testimony of Mr Joel Blackwell of the Hansard Society to the Committee regarding clause 51. He stressed that a sunset clause amendment was suitable, that the clause’s powers are not required to be used in perpetuity, and that similar sunset clauses to those included in clauses 7 to 9 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill would bring consistency and thus make “perfect sense”. He supported the view of the Lords Committee.

  • Is it not important that the Government take account of the evidence we have had from the Hansard Society supporting protections from whoever happens to be in Government in the future?

  • I firmly agree. Members on both sides of the Committee have referred to the testimony the Hansard Society gave in the evidence sessions. It is not just the Opposition who have concerns. I would very much like to be a real, not shadow, Treasury Minister one day. Even then, we would require the proper checks and balances to be in place. It still seems counter-intuitive to include time limits in the overall European Union (Withdrawal) Bill but not in today’s Bill, when the principles we have established apply similarly to both. As with our other arguments on sunset clauses, we do not see how the Government can justify the use of the powers in the clause in perpetuity. We have established that that should not happen, and the Government have not yet been able to refute that case.

    I emphasise again that we all have a duty to check the powers of the Executive and to ensure that we do not allow them to change the balance of power permanently in their favour. The time period of two years should be generous enough to fill any gap in provisions that may come about from the end of delegated powers through other channels. Sunset clauses provide a vital check on delegated powers, and I urge members on both sides of the Committee to support the amendment to help to mitigate the constitutional risks introduced by the Bill.

  • It is important that we deal with the question raised by the amendment regarding sunset clauses. The Government originally did not want any of the sunset clauses in the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, but they were required or forced—people can call it what they will—by hon. Members from across the parties to put in sunset clauses. We were told at the time that the inclusion of a sunset clause in that Bill would result in the end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, someone threw a bucket of water over the Government, and they freshened up and realised that they were not going to get away with not having sunset clauses.

    The Government have persisted in Committee—they might be doing the same with the Trade Bill—to argue against sunset clauses. They would have us believe that sunset clauses are some foreign or alien concept in parliamentary democracies. Well, they are not. There were even sunset clauses in the nuclear deal with Iran. Sunset clauses exist in all sorts of legislation, including treaties—and we have some 3,000 treaties. They exist right across the piece in legislation. Indeed, the coalition Government, when introducing the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Act 2013, basically insisted on sunset clauses to reduce the legislative burden. When it suits the Government to have a sunset clause, they will have a sunset clause; in fact, they introduced an Act to have sunset clauses. They are now telling us that sunset clauses are outrageous, and will somehow mess up the whole VAT regime.

    Other countries have sunset clauses. For example, sunset clauses in Texas mean that, after 10 or 12 years, some agencies will cease to exist unless they can prove their appropriateness, consistency and status. They have to go through that process. Even organisations have sunset clauses applied to them and they have to show how relevant they are.

    The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 had a sunset clause. In the past, sunset clauses have been applied to the effectiveness of legislation, and yet we are now being told today that they are somehow outrageous and that the whole Government will grind to a halt if we have them.

    Some Canadian legislation—in fact, a whole range of Canadian legislation—has an automatic five-year sunset clause. The Canadians manage perfectly well with sunset clauses. The question is: are this Government so fearful of a sunset clause, so fearful of challenge and so fearful of scrutiny, particularly in relation to this amendment, that they do not want sunset clauses?

    There are even sunset clauses in Australia, and they seem to manage. Australia has general sunset clauses; they are not even specific. They have sunset clauses for whole swathes of legislation and they manage perfectly well. South Korea also has sunset clauses. Perhaps that is why it has such a booming economy—because the sunset clauses mean that, time after time, they test and challenge. The only sunset clause in North Korea, no doubt, is the sunset on democracy. We do not want that; we want sunset clauses for the powers this Government have taken for themselves.

  • My hon. Friend is making a fantastic speech about the applicability of sunset clauses around the world. Again, however, we have to get back to this point: if the Government still need these powers after the sunset clause is done and the powers no longer exist, they simply have to come back to Parliament. It is not the case that they do not have the power to deal with things; a strong, united Government, with a parliamentary majority, would quite easily be able to come back and put on the statute book anything they needed. That argument simply has not been addressed by the Government.

  • Order. Before I call Mr Peter Dowd, I will say that we are all immensely interested in South Korea, Texas, Australia and all the other places he has listed, but could he get back to this particular amendment?

  • I was trying to show that in this case there is a requirement for a sunset clause. It is absolutely crucial that we have sunset clauses and I am trying to show—I know that you will appreciate this, Mrs Main—that they are capable of being delivered.

  • Is not having a sunset clause in place definite evidence of Parliament taking back control, not just now but into the future?

  • That is spot on. We have raised that issue time after time. Having sunset clauses and taking control back is a sign of a confident Government who are strong and stable and know their direction of travel. That is why I am sure that every Government Member of the Committee will support the amendment’s specific proposal for a sunset clause.

  • I just want to pay tribute to the hon. Gentleman and to the Labour party, because Labour does not just talk about sunset clauses; it actually works on them. And it is noticeable, frankly, that with real momentum behind sunset clauses, moderate leaders, councillors and moderate MPs are being hounded out. That is a true sunset clause.

  • Again, Mr Dowd, we will stick to what we are talking about here.

  • We want transparency and openness, and that is why we are demanding sunset clauses, unlike the Under-Secretary of State, who would like this House to be as dark as Erebus. We want a sunset clause, and Parliament, the people and the Hansard Society all demand a sunset clause. We insist on sunset clauses and we will persist in insisting on them.

  • Clause 51 confers a power on the Treasury or the Secretary of State to make regulations for VAT, customs or excise in consequence of, or otherwise in connection with, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

    The Bill contains a comprehensive set of provisions to establish a stand-alone customs regime and to ensure that VAT and excise legislation will function as required on EU exit. The Bill does that through a mixture of primary legislation and powers to make subordinate legislation. Together the provisions will allow us to deal with a range of negotiated scenarios, as well as to prepare for a non-negotiated scenario. That will ensure that the UK’s customs, VAT and excise regimes function as required upon EU exit and thereafter.

    The UK’s future arrangements for customs, VAT and excise will become completely clear only when negotiations are concluded. We cannot of course be certain what the detailed arrangements to be agreed will be, which is why the power in the clause is drafted as it is and why it is not possible to give an exhaustive list of the situations in which the power may be used. For example, we will need to use it to implement agreements with the EU that might involve alternative provisions to those made in the Bill, such as different amendments to those made to the VAT Act 1994 by schedule 8. Equally, the power will need to be used to address deficiencies similar to those dealt with in clause 7 of the EU (Withdrawal) Bill, to amend existing legislation to ensure that it is consistent with replacement domestic legislation; to legislate for policy decisions made in preparation for, or as a result of, a non-negotiated scenario; to transition existing EU trade remedy measures; or to legislate to deal with unforeseen developments arising from EU exit.

    It must be noted that that the power is not an unlimited one: the scope of the power is, first, limited to VAT, customs and excise legislation; and, secondly, to changes that are made in consequence of, or otherwise in connection with, EU exit. As changes potentially required as a consequence of, or in connection with, EU exit may relate to primary legislation, the power extends to amending primary legislation, including the Bill. Given that we need to prepare for or implement a range of outcomes, including those that may differ from those set out in the Bill, it is appropriate that the power permits the Bill itself to be amended.

    The affirmative procedure will be required for any use of the power to amend primary legislation in consequence of, or otherwise in connection with, EU exit. Any regulation that makes changes to primary legislation will have to be approved by the House of Commons if it is to have effect beyond the 28-day period starting from the day it is laid. That is unless clause 52 applies, in which case the relevant period extends to 60 days. The clause itself will make no changes but confers a power on the Treasury, or the Secretary of State, to make changes in the future in consequence of, or otherwise in connection with, EU exit.

    Amendment 120 seeks to ensure that the power to make regulations under the clause is exercised only when it is necessary to do so. The Government oppose the amendment because it limits their ability to prepare effectively for EU withdrawal. The Bill is drafted to cater for a variety of long-term outcomes from negotiations on the future relationship with the EU.

    In that context, the power is necessary to ensure that the UK can deal with a range of possible consequences of, or matters arising in connection with, EU withdrawal, and maintain fully functioning customs, VAT and excise regimes in a range of scenarios. Changing the wording to “necessary” may narrow the power in such a way that the Government cannot prepare effectively for EU withdrawal. That is because some of the uses for the power may be appropriate, but it may be hard or cumbersome to prove that they are necessary. For example, policy decisions may be made in consequence of, or in connection with, EU withdrawal where one option is chosen over others. That is “appropriate”, but it may be said that they are not “necessary”, since one option is not necessary in the sense that other options are available.

  • Surely in that case it would be possible to specify that one of the two options will be chosen and that that is a necessary choice between the two. I am struggling to grasp the need to avoid the word “necessary”.

  • The point I would make to the hon. Lady is that if we had more than one option, one of them may be appropriate but not necessary, because if we chose that particular option there would necessarily be another option that could be chosen. The essential point is that the word “necessary” is not necessary, but in fact unhelpful—[Interruption.]

  • Order. The Minister is making a very valuable point.

  • It is difficult to sound exciting or entertaining when discussing a single word.

  • But you are succeeding.

  • There are moments. Amendment 97 inserts a sunset provision disallowing regulations to be made under the clause after 29 March 2021, while also allowing the Secretary of State to alter the date so that the date of sunset relates to the day of the end of a transition period. Amendments 98 and 99 are consequential to amendment 97. The Government oppose the amendments because they too would limit our ability to prepare effectively for EU withdrawal. We do not yet know the outcome of negotiations with the EU. Therefore, it would not be prudent to include a sunsetting clause at this stage.

  • Although the amendments provide for a way to extend the period during which regulations may be made under this power, the Government’s ability to deal quickly with developments in negotiations would be limited. Regulations may need to be made under the power to deal with unforeseen developments quickly. For example, an agreement with the EU relating to VAT, customs or excise may be reached very close to 29 March 2021, and there may not be enough time to make and lay the relevant draft regulations between the conclusion of that agreement and 29 March 2021. Regulations may therefore need to be made after 29 March 2021, but under the amendment, they could not be, which would limit the ability of the Government to prepare for and react quickly to last-minute developments. The risk is that the UK will not be able to maintain operable customs, VAT and excise regimes if there are last-minute developments in negotiations close to the end of the implementation period.

    Amendment 87 seeks to limit the duration of the delegated power under clause 51 to the period ending two years after the United Kingdom leaves the EU. The Government oppose the amendment as it too would limit the Government’s ability to prepare effectively for withdrawal. The points that I have made in relation to previous amendments also apply here. We do not yet know the outcome of negotiations with the EU, so it would not be prudent to include a sunsetting clause at this stage. Furthermore, the power is not unfettered. It has a built-in safeguard, which is that regulations can only be made in consequence of, or in connection with, the withdrawal of the UK from the EU.

    Clause 52 allows subordinate legislation to be made containing a provision that it is to have effect on a day appointed by the Treasury in regulations. It also amplifies existing powers to make subordinate legislation to permit supplementary, incidental or consequential provisions, and transitional or transitory provision or savings to be made. The Bill provides for the creation of a stand-alone customs regime and ensures that the VAT and excise regimes operate as required after leaving the EU.

    A number of pieces of subordinate legislation will be made by statutory instrument, in connection with, or as a consequence of, the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. For some instruments, it will not be known if they are required, as they make provision for alternative outcomes of negotiations. Alternatively, for some instruments, it may not be known when they will be required. The power in clause 52 will ensure that subordinate legislation can be made and laid before Parliament even when it reflects policy that is subject to change due to ongoing negotiations. That will permit the Government to carry out the necessary contingency planning. Instruments can be considered by the House some months prior to exit day. When the final shape of the policy or the date of commencement becomes clear, a day can be appointed for the right subordinate legislation to come into effect, and the subordinate legislation that reflects alternative options can be either revoked or not commenced.

    As the subordinate legislation requiring negative procedure will already have received parliamentary scrutiny when it is made and laid, this power to appoint a day of commencement will make demands on parliamentary time close to exit day easier to manage. Once the subordinate legislation has been made and laid, and scrutinised, it will just remain to appoint a day to commence the right subordinate legislation at the right time, once those outcomes are known.

    As is conventional for such instruments, the appointment of the day of commencement is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny, since the scrutiny of the instrument has already occurred. For an affirmative instrument, the Government will need to pass a resolution approving it within 60 days of any its provisions coming into force. Because it is expected that instruments are likely to come into force around exit day, when the House will be very busy, the Government consider it appropriate to extend the period for approval to be granted to 60 days.

    HMRC and the Treasury have a large number of powers under which they can make subordinate legislation relating to VAT, customs or excise. Some of those powers confer the power to make supplementary, incidental or consequential provision, and transitional or transitory provision or savings; others do not. In the context of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, such powers are important as they provide the ability to ensure a smooth and orderly exit. For example, they may be used to make provision for transactions or movements of goods that begin pre-exit and end post-exit. The clause introduces the procedures for commencing subordinate legislation concerning VAT, excise or customs, which may be used if the person making the legislation considers it appropriate in consequence of, or otherwise in connection with, EU withdrawal.

    Rather than the subordinate legislation itself containing a commencement date, as is usual, the day on which it comes into effect can be appointed by another regulation. Some subordinate legislation will be subject to the 28-days made affirmative procedure. That is, it will cease to have effect unless approved by the House within 28 days of being made. If, under this clause, such subordinate legislation comes into effect on a day appointed by another regulation, that period is extended from 28 to 60 days from the date of any of its provisions coming into force. This extended period is to take account of the pressure on parliamentary time that is expected around the day of exit, which is when the subordinate legislation is expected to take effect. The clause also amplifies existing powers, so that the Government can ensure a smooth and orderly transition from the current regime for customs, VAT and excise to the regime post-exit.

    Amendment 88 seeks to limit the period during which regulations may be made under clause 52 to two years after the UK leaves the European Union. As I have set out, the clause grants the powers necessary to ensure that the Government can plan for alternative scenarios by allowing for the commencement by regulation of subordinate legislation for VAT customs or excise, as and when necessary. The power will enable a smooth and orderly withdrawal from the EU for the purposes of VAT, customs and excise by extending existing powers to include the making of supplementary, incidental or consequential provision and transitional or transitory provision or savings. The clause will enable the UK to engage in appropriate contingency planning by allowing subordinate legislation to be made and laid well in advance of exit.

    Clause 53 defines excise duty for the purposes of part 5 of the Bill. As in part 4, it is defined as

    “any excise duty under…the Alcoholic Liquor Duties Act 1979…the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979, or…the Tobacco Products Duty Act 1979.”

    The definition excludes some domestic excise duties, such as air passenger duty and betting and gaming duties. The clause tailors the scope of the powers set out in part 5 to what is necessary and ensures that they can be exercised only in relation to those excise duties that are most regulated by EU law and most affected by the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union.

    The hon. Member for Aberdeen North asked about shipwork end-use duty relief. Clause 19, which we have already debated, deals with reliefs. I believe that secondary legislation under that clause could deal with the issues she raised, but I will certainly look into the matter and come back to her.

  • I am feeling slightly sorry for you, Mrs Main—having to chair a Committee that erupts into riotous laughter, which is most unusual for a customs Bill Committee. I appreciated the Minister’s speech, but I think he is losing his oomph somewhat—[Hon. Members: “Oh!”]—although I am sure he will find it again.

    We are reaching the end of our discussions. I am sure all members of the Committee are quite glad about that, because I am not sure how much more we can discuss sunset clauses. However, I have a few more points to raise about our amendments. Amendment 120 would replace the second “appropriate” in clause 51(1) with the word “necessary”, because otherwise Ministers will be given an incredible level of power to use their own discretion to decide what is appropriate. We have raised concerns before about the level of power that such clauses give Ministers. Changing “appropriate” to “necessary” would allay some of those concerns: it would be a stronger test and would require a stronger case from Ministers. I think that is a reasonable request.

    Before I move on to Executive privilege more generally, may I address something the Minister said? When he raised his concerns about having a sunset clause that specified a date of 29 March 2021, he said that the agreement might be made very close to that date. That is incredibly worrying, given that we do not yet have any agreement or any idea what things will look like on exit day. The Government and the EU look likely to push the matter as close to the wire as possible, because it seems that there is an awful lot of distance to travel—particularly since the Government do not actually know what they want. If businesses face the same situation approaching 29 March 2021, after a two-year transition process—if the Minister wants to call it an implementation process, that is absolutely fine—and two years after having gone through a crazy period when they had no idea what was coming round the corner, that will be a major problem for them. It will be a major problem for productivity, as has been mentioned throughout. It is incredibly worrying that, at the end of a two-year transition period, we might still not be clear about exactly how things will look a very short period afterwards.

    On what the hon. Member for Stalybridge and Hyde said about the duty to check the powers of the Executive and not to alter the balance, I argue that we actually do need to alter the balance. I find this job incredibly frustrating in a number of ways because of the extreme power of the Executive. In a lot of cases, they do not have to use their parliamentary majority—they do not currently have one—because they have Executive privilege to do a number of things that I do not believe they should have the power to do. In many cases, only Ministers are able to table amendments, programme motions and so on, because the Executive have that power. They also have the power to set the agenda. That means that, for parliamentarians outwith the Government—whether they are on the Government Back Benches or in opposition—things are more difficult.

    The current system of Executive privilege is completely unbalanced. It should be shifted towards the Government having to use their parliamentary majority to do things. That would make this a better place. I am shocked that more parliamentarians are not as enraged as I am by that, and that it is not brought up in the House more often. It is not a good way to run a Parliament, and it should be changed.