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Finance Bill

Volume 743: debated on Wednesday 10 January 2024

(Clauses 1 and 2, schedule 1, clause 21, schedule 12, clauses 25, 27 and 31 to 34, schedule 13 and new clauses relating to those clauses and schedules)

Considered in Committee

[Dame Eleanor Laing in the Chair]

Clause 1

Permanent full expensing etc for expenditure on plant or machinery

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

With this it will be convenient to consider the following:

Clause 2 stand part.

Schedule 1.

New clause 1—Review of reliefs for research and development

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act being passed, publish a review of the implementation costs of the measures in section 2 incurred by—

(a) HMRC, and

(b) businesses.

(2) The review under subsection (1) must include details of the implementation costs of all measures related to credit or relief for research and development that have been introduced since December 2019.”

This new clause would require the Chancellor to publish a review setting out the total implementation costs of all changes to research and development reliefs in the current Parliament.

New clause 3—Assessment of impact of Act on business investment and economic growth

“Within six months of the passage of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must carry out an assessment of the impact of section 2 and Schedule 1 of this Act on business investment and economic growth, and lay a report of that assessment before both Houses of Parliament.”

This new clause would require the government to produce an assessment of the impact of the Bill’s new regime for research and development carried out by companies. This assessment would need to examine the impact on business investment and economic growth.

This Government’s aim is to grow the economy for the good of everyone by removing barriers to private sector investment and delivering a tax system that is supportive of business. At the spring Budget 2023, the Chancellor set out his approach for a highly competitive tax regime. By announcing a package of generous tax incentives, combined with a rate of corporation tax that remains the lowest in the G7, this Government have ensured that the UK continues to be one of the best places in the world for businesses to grow and invest.

The Bill marks our next step in making the UK one of the most competitive tax systems among major economies by enhancing the support that the corporation tax system provides to businesses that drive growth by making long-term investments. It meets the Government’s commitment to introduce permanent full expensing, as announced at the autumn statement, solidifying our international competitiveness and creating the certainty that businesses have told us they need in order to confidently invest. The Bill will also drive UK business innovation by merging the existing research and development expenditure credit scheme with the small and medium enterprise scheme. Merging those schemes will simplify and improve the system for supporting cutting-edge research and development.

Turning first to clause 1, at spring Budget 2023, the Government introduced two new temporary first-year capital allowances for qualifying expenditure on plant or machinery. The first was a 100% first-year allowance for so-called main rate expenditure, known as full expensing, which allows companies to write off the full cost of plant and machinery in the year that the cost is incurred. The second was a 50% first-year allowance for expenditure on special-rate assets such as lighting systems, thermal insulation and long-life assets, allowing companies to write off half the cost of an asset in the year that it is incurred, with the remaining balance written down at 6% in every year afterwards.

The Chancellor was clear that his long-term ambition was to make those new reliefs permanent once the fiscal and economic conditions allowed, and at the autumn statement he confirmed that he was able to do just that. Clause 1 delivers that ambition, making both full expensing and the 50% first-year allowance permanent by removing the end date of 31 March 2026. That means that companies will be able to permanently benefit from full expensing. It solidifies our position as joint top of the rankings of OECD countries with regard to plant and machinery capital allowances, and means we are the only major economy with permanent full expensing.

The change will give companies the certainty they need to make long-term investments, and responds to calls from the CBI, Make UK, Energy UK and 200 other business groups and leaders, and from companies including BT Openreach, Siemens and Bosch, which have said that making the policy permanent would be the single most transformational thing the Government could do for business investment and growth. According to the Office for Budget Responsibility, it will generate almost £3 billion of additional business investment each year and £14 billion over the course of the next five years. The forecast is that GDP will be 0.1% higher by the end of the forecast period and slightly below 0.2% higher in the long term as a result.

I applaud the Government’s initiative to make full expensing permanent, but of course we know there will be a general election within the next 12 months. Has my hon. Friend heard from the Opposition whether, if they were to be in Government, they would maintain it?

My hon. Friend is incredibly knowledgeable about this area through some of his previous business and ministerial experience, and that is a question I am intrigued to hear answered by the Opposition shortly. I believe it is vitally important, because the whole point is to give businesses the confidence to invest in the long term, and certainty is key to the investment decisions being made.

Further to that point, does my hon. Friend not think, as I do, that it is an aspect of a responsible Opposition to be clear, right now as we are debating this in this House, what they would do were they to be in Government?

I think my hon. Friend is kicking off what is likely to be a long debate over the course of the next year, but an important one for our constituents and businesses. The economy will play a pivotal part in discussions this year. It is very clear what we are doing: we are implementing vital changes, asked for by business and in response to business, to provide that business certainty and an environment in which they and therefore our constituents can thrive. I do not think any of us want to put that at risk. However, without the clarification and confidence from the Opposition about what they might do, these issues will be raised and the uncertainty can persist. We on the Government side of the House are committed to this, and my hon. Friend is right to make that clear.

I think the Minister just read out that the assessment is that this measure will create £3 billion additional investment per year. Is that right? If I remember the Green Book correctly from the autumn statement, the annual cost of this measure was £11 billion, which I think equates to £55 billion of extra capital expenditure. Is he saying that £52 billion of that £55 billion is just bringing forward investment that would have happened later, and £3 billion is new, or have I somehow got my numbers wrong and this will generate a load of investment that would not otherwise have happened?

My hon. Friend is right to point out the timing element with both full expensing and R&D; I will come on to R&D in a moment, because I think that is the £55 billion figure he mentions, but these measures, particularly the full expensing, will of course have a long-term impact over a long period of time. The cost is up-fronted, but the benefit is over a long period, and anyone who has worked in business understands that. He is right to point out the anomaly, and it is a very important point because a lot of people probably would not understand it, but the fact that the OBR has highlighted the incremental impact on the economy overall shows that there is a clear and transparent net benefit. The timing of the impact changes, but we are talking about additional investment right away, because we will be giving businesses the confidence to be able to make those decisions and invest immediately.

I appreciate the Minister’s comments so far. Can he confirm how many times policy has changed in this important area since 2019? While he is making some further points today, it seems that Government policy has changed quite erratically, and that in itself is difficult for businesses to respond to when they are looking for certainty in planning for the long-term.

I agree that certainty for business is pivotal, but with both full expensing and R&D the Government, the Chancellor and others have been indicating the direction of travel for some time and therefore giving increased certainty. As I have said, it was mentioned a while ago that we intended to pursue the policy of full expensing when the economic circumstances allowed, and now they do. R&D, which I will come to in a minute, has been discussed for quite a long time and is the result of extensive co-operation with industry.

It is also the reality, though, that Government policy needs to change in response to the nature of a changing economy and to things such as digital, the cloud and so on. When it comes to other investments, we need to make sure that new and emerging policy areas are covered as well. We have seen today, as we saw in the autumn statement, a very clear direction of travel from the Conservative side of the Chamber, which is about incentivising businesses and cutting taxes. Permanent full expensing also simplifies the capital allowances regime overall, as companies can claim the full cost in year one, reducing the need to claim writing-down allowances year on year.

Turning to clause 2 and schedule 1, the Government have also announced the closure of the R&D tax relief review launched in 2021—the point I was just making to the hon. Member for Reading East (Matt Rodda)—alongside a set of changes to simplify and improve the system. Clause 2 makes changes to merge the current R&D expenditure credit and SME schemes for expenditure in accounting periods beginning on or after 1 April 2024, simplifying the system and providing greater support for UK companies to drive innovation.

The merged scheme will have an above-the-line mechanism similar to the R&D expenditure credit, with a rate of 20%. That will make the benefit more visible and easier for companies to factor into their investment decisions. Additionally, small and medium enterprise lossmakers will now be able to carry forward their losses rather than having to surrender them, which will give a total benefit of up to £45 per £100 of R&D expenditure.

There will also be a reduction in the rate at which the merged scheme credit is taxed for lossmakers, from 25% to 19%. That is worth around £120 million per annum to non-intensive lossmakers and will increase the up-front cash benefit for lossmakers. Subcontracting rules in the merged scheme will allow the company taking the decision to do R&D to claim relief on contracted-out R&D. That approach is based on the current SME scheme, which was identified as the best option in the consultation we delivered, and has been refined further following engagement with industry last summer.

Subsidy rules will also be removed, allowing SMEs to claim relief for work for which they receive a grant of a subsidy. This represents an increase in generosity for SMEs as well as being a major tax simplification.

The Government are also legislating for enhanced support for loss-making R&D-intensive SMEs. That was announced at spring Budget 2023 and will benefit 23,000 SMEs a year by providing further support to the most R&D-intensive SMEs while merging the current schemes. The Government are promoting the conditions for enterprise to succeed. Companies claiming the existing SME tax relief will be eligible for a higher payable credit rate of 14.5% if they meet the definition for R&D intensity.

At the summer statement, the Government announced several improvements being made to that enhanced support. The R&D intensity threshold is being lowered to 30% from 40% from April 2024, meaning that around 5,000 more companies will benefit from the support. A one-year grace period is being introduced, providing greater certainty by ensuring that companies that dip under the 30% threshold will continue receiving relief for one year. The same subcontracting rules as the merged scheme will apply to this enhanced support, further helping to simplify the system with one set of rules that both SMEs and larger companies will follow.

Overall, R&D reliefs will support an estimated £55 billion of business R&D expenditure in 2028-29—a 25% increase from £44 billion in 2021-22. Expenditure on R&D reliefs is forecast to increase in every year of the scorecard period. We will also restrict nominations and assignments for R&D relief payment. That measure ensures that genuine businesses get the payment for their R&D claim directly, rather than receiving it through an agent, and is designed to benefit genuine claimants and reduce non-compliance.

Subject to limited exceptions, no R&D tax credit payments will be made to nominee bank accounts, and any R&D tax credit payments must be paid directly to the company that claims for the R&D, so claimants will now receive their payments directly, giving them more control. That will ensure that the person claiming the relief has better oversight of the claim and receives the money into their account quicker. Claimants will also be clearer on exactly how much money is being charged by their agents, rather than just receiving a net amount after fees have been deducted. That builds on previously announced measures and policy changes to help to ensure greater company control over R&D claims.

The Government are committed to making the UK the best place in the world to do business. Full expensing and R&D tax relief support businesses to grow and invest, which will boost productivity and economic growth. That remains the key way to raise everybody’s living standards and to fund high-quality public services throughout the UK. I commend clauses 1 and 2 and schedule 1 to the Committee.

Let me start by briefly considering the context in which we are debating clauses 1 and 2. As we know, the Bill follows the Chancellor’s statement on 22 November last year, in which he claimed that he was delivering an “autumn statement for growth”. As the Committee may remember, the Office for Budget Responsibility confirmed on the same day that growth forecasts had been cut by more than half for the coming year, cut again for the year after that, and cut yet again for the year after that. Independent analysts confirmed that, even after all the changes the Government had announced, personal taxes would still rise. In fact, personal taxes are now set to rise by £1,200 per household by 2028-29, with the tax burden on track to be the highest since the second world war. Despite people across the country paying so much in tax, public services are collapsing, the NHS is on its knees, and more and more families are struggling to make ends meet.

That was the context in which we considered the Bill on Second Reading just before Christmas: 13 years of Conservative economic failure had left people across Britain worse off. The only thing to have changed since then is that we now face 14 years of Conservative economic failure. It may be a new year, but those in the governing party face the same cold truth: nothing they can say or do now can repair the damage that they have done to our economy.

People in businesses across Britain deserve so much better. As a foundation of better management of the economy, our country needs and deserves stability, certainty and a long-term plan. It is for that reason that, although we welcome the fact that clause 1 makes full expensing permanent, which we have long called for, it simply cannot make up for the years of uncertainty that businesses have faced. Businesses need stability and predictability to help them plan for growth, and their long-term planning has been held back because the Government have been chopping and changing business taxes and reliefs year after year, with no evidence of anything resembling a long-term strategy.

I was very pleased to hear the shadow Minister say that the Opposition welcome the full expensing. That helps, but maybe he can go further to clarify. In new clause 6, tabled in his name, the Opposition are calling for a review of all business taxes and reliefs, which would include full expensing. He will know, as will the hon. Member for Mid Bedfordshire (Alistair Strathern) who is sitting behind him, that there is a particular potential investment decision in our county. Will the shadow Minister make it explicit that the Labour party’s intention is to include in its manifesto for the next election a commitment to maintaining full expensing?

As I have said, we have long been calling for full expensing, and we welcome the fact that it is being made permanent. I do not mean to sound jokey in my response—I am deadly serious when I say this—but if the hon. Gentleman wants to know what a Labour Government would do if we got into office, there is one way to see that eventuality come about: we could have a general election sooner rather than later, instead of dragging things on throughout the course of 2024.

Frankly, the country needs to move on from the current Government. Just look at their record on capital allowances since the last general election. The hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) spoke about certainty and the need for stability, but let us look at the changes that have happened to capital allowances over the past four or five years. As I mentioned on Second Reading, back at the beginning of this Parliament, the annual investment had been raised to £1 million on a temporary basis. That temporary basis was extended by the Finance Act 2021, extended again by the Finance Act 2022, and then made permanent by the Finance (No. 2) Act 2023. Meanwhile, over the course of this Parliament, the super-deduction came and went entirely. Last year, full expensing for expenditure on plant or machinery was introduced but only on a temporary basis for three years.

Now, of course, Treasury Ministers are amending what their predecessors announced last year by making full expensing permanent. Although we welcome that policy, I wonder how long it will last. Frankly, I wonder how long any policy can be expected to last under this Government, when they are led—in the loosest possible sense of that word—by such a weak Prime Minister. If we accept clause 1 at face value, we welcome its principle of making full expensing permanent, as that is something that we have long called for. I will focus the rest of my questions on some of the specifics of the Government’s approach.

As ever, I am grateful to the excellent team at the Chartered Institute of Taxation for all their thoughts on the detail of what the Government have proposed in this clause and others. I know that one matter of interest to the chartered institute was the fact that, at the autumn statement, the Government said that they would publish a technical consultation on leased assets. I would be grateful if the Minister told us when that will be published.

Furthermore, both the Chartered Institute of Taxation and the Association of Taxation Technicians—to which I am also grateful for its thoughts on the detail of the Bill—have queried which companies and assets are eligible for full expensing. I would be grateful if the Minister clarified which assets are outside the scope of full expensing, and whether the Treasury will publish a detailed list of what does and does not count as plant and machinery. I would also be grateful if he told us how many firms will not be eligible for full expensing because they are partnerships. I know that many who take an interest in this matter would welcome clarity on that.

In clause 2, the Government propose changes to the system of tax credits for research and development. As with their approach to business taxation and capital allowances, the Government have failed to deliver any sense of stability when it comes to R&D tax credits, despite certainty and predictability being so crucial to businesses that are making investment decisions. That much is clear when looking at the list of changes that we have debated in Finance Bills over the course of the current Parliament alone: the Finance Act 2020 changed the rate of R&D expenditure credit; the Finance Act 2021 changed how much R&D tax relief small and medium-sized enterprises could claim; the Finance Act 2023 again changed the rates of R&D tax relief; the Finance (No. 2) Act 2023 changed further how the relief operates; and now, the Finance Bill before us changes the system of reliefs yet again. We accept, of course, that some change is necessary and important to enable legislation to function well, but that does not seem to be what we have seen. What we have seen is a Government incapable of providing stability, predictability, and the long-term plan that businesses need to invest and grow. It is clear that after 14 years in office, the Conservatives are incapable of providing that crucial foundation for our economic success.

My hon. Friend is making an excellent point, which comes to the nub of the argument: the Government are not capable of providing business with the certainty it needs. That is such a tragedy, because so many wonderful emerging industries in the UK which have incredible potential need that certainty, as indeed do other businesses.

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. So many businesses in the UK that are keen to invest, grow, and make people across Britain better off are being held back by the lack of stability and certainty from this Government. I cannot help but notice that the Government recognise the symptoms of the problem—that a lack of stability and certainty is indeed a problem for economic growth—but they are simply unable to provide a response to that problem, and provide the long-term plan that Britain so desperately needs.

We know that so much chopping and changing without any clear long-term plan has had a cost for our economy, by undermining prospects for investment, innovation and growth. Indeed, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has shared with us the view of its members that there is a lack of confidence when claiming R&D tax relief within the UK, and their belief that

“this has arisen due to the various changes made to the rules in quick succession over the past few years.”

We also know, of course, that having so many changes one after the other has a direct impact on taxpayers as well as businesses, as the public finances bear the costs for all the impacts on His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs in terms of IT systems and staffing. Our analysis of HMRC policy papers suggests that the changes made and proposed within the current Parliament have had a cumulative impact on operational costs for HMRC of more than £60 million. That sum is likely to include a substantial waste of taxpayer money as a result of so many piecemeal changes rather than coherent and lasting reform.

In order to be clear and transparent on the costs of all the Government changes to R&D tax credits, we have tabled new clause 1. The new clause would require the Chancellor to publish a review setting out the total implementation costs of all changes to research and development reliefs in the current Parliament. I hope Ministers will accept that straightforward new clause, but if not, I look forward to Government Members who would be interested in such transparency joining us in supporting it. Furthermore, if Ministers are not prepared to vote for the new clause or accept it, I would be grateful if they could at least commit to writing to me with the figures that our new clause requests.

Turning to the substantive impacts of clause 2, we should be clear about what the clause does. In the autumn statement, the Chancellor said that the Government were

“creating a new, simplified R&D tax relief that combines the existing R&D expenditure credit and small and medium-sized enterprise schemes.”—[Official Report, 22 November 2023; Vol. 741, c. 325.]

We have heard similar words from the Minister in this debate. In reality, though, the Government’s plans still effectively maintain two separate schemes: although they seek to merge the two existing schemes, they continue to provide additional support for R&D-intensive SMEs through the existing SME scheme, rather than its forming part of the new merged scheme. Although we recognise that R&D-intensive SMEs may need extra support, the Chartered Institute of Taxation has pointed out that the Government’s plans are

“less a merger than the shifting of most SMEs into a revised scheme based on an ‘RDEC’ approach, with the SME scheme remaining for a smaller group of R&D intensive SMEs.”

The Association of Taxation Technicians has pointed out the impact this may have, saying that

“the introduction of new rules to define R&D intensive SMEs and the possibility of companies moving in and out of the two regimes as their expenditure profile changes will arguably result in an overall increase in the complexity of the R&D relief regime, rather than simplification.”

As I said, we recognise that R&D-intensive SMEs may need additional support, but I would be grateful if the Minister could explain why the Government have chosen to continue operating a separate scheme to provide that support, rather than delivering it as part of the new merged scheme.

Alongside understanding the Government’s intention regarding the design of the new regime, I would also like to question the Minister about the timescales for implementing the measures in clause 2. In the policy documents associated with the autumn statement, it was clear that the new regime would apply from April 2024 onward. In the Bill, however, schedule 1, which clause 2 introduces, makes clear that the changes will apply from an “appointed day”—a day to be appointed by the Treasury in regulations. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm in his reply what that appointed day will be. Is it 1 April 2024, or will it be a later date?

As April is less than three months away, if the appointed day does indeed fall within that month, is the Minister confident that that leaves enough time for proper consultation, and for any new systems and processes to be put in place by businesses, agents, software providers and HMRC? If, instead, the appointed day is later than April 2024, those affected need to know what is happening. I hope the Minister will be able to provide clarity on that question today; otherwise, sadly, this seems to be yet another example of continued uncertainty for businesses from this Government.

Finally, we know that the Government are concerned about the level of non-compliance with the R&D tax credit schemes. In their policy paper published in November about the merging of the current schemes, they wrote:

“Further action may be needed to reduce the unacceptably high levels of non-compliance in the R&D reliefs, and HMRC will be publishing a compliance action plan in due course.”

Tackling non-compliance is of course very important, so I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm in his reply when HMRC will be publishing the promised compliance action plan.

I am also very aware from meetings I have had with smaller businesses that they often face a great deal of confusion over the guidelines associated with R&D tax credits. Whereas larger businesses will typically have the resources and institutional capacity to navigate those rules, I am concerned that smaller businesses often do not, and may find themselves having to pay for expensive consultants to help them understand them.

HMRC could have a role to play in supporting small firms with clarity about the guidelines on R&D tax credits, as well as, of course, in its role in tackling genuine fraud. Indeed, the Startup Coalition—an organisation that advocates for policies to support innovative firms in the UK—has highlighted the need for HMRC to improve, and has called for improved

“transparency around adjudicating whether activity is R&D to provide certainty for firms.”

The ICAEW has made similar points, stressing the need for guidance and education and making clear that

“the new rules will significantly affect all sizes of companies including those smaller entities with limited professional tax resource.”

I therefore urge the Minister to make sure that any plan for improving compliance with the rules also focuses on making the rules easier to comply with wherever possible, and on working with small, innovative firms to help give them the certainty they need to thrive.

To conclude, Labour will not be opposing either of the clauses, but I urge Treasury Ministers to accept our new clause 1 and, when they reply, to respond to the specific points that I have raised. More widely, it is clear from their approach to capital allowances and R&D tax reliefs that the Conservatives are incapable of providing stability and a long-term approach. Their failure is letting down businesses across our country who stand ready to play their part in growing the economy and making people across Britain better off.

I am delighted to be able to speak in Committee on the Finance Bill, which I believe emphasises the Conservative principles of encouraging entrepreneurs, free enterprise and innovation. Many in this Chamber will know that I do not have a traditional finance background, but I did run my own business for 19 years, which I think qualifies me to identify when fiscal measures are really going to help business. That is what I see in the Bill, especially clauses 1 and 2, which I will speak to today.

First, I will take the opportunity to speak in favour of clause 1, which will support UK business by making full expensing permanent. In the spring Budget 2023, the Chancellor introduced major reforms to the system of capital allowance by replacing the super-deduction system with three years of full expensing. The new measure, which was initially put in place until 1 April 2026, allows companies to claim the full cost of their expenditure on plant or machinery against tax when the business investment is made. That measure was well received by businesses across the UK, as my hon. Friend the Minister has already stated; he quoted a number of large plcs, but the measure has also allowed a number of Erewash-based businesses to benefit and prosper.

Dales Fabrications Ltd previously claimed a super-deduction, the predecessor of full expensing, on a very significant piece of machinery. It sounds quite complicated to me, but it is a 4-metre press break with lots of bespoke options. The benefits of the super-deduction were of such significance that the business purchased additional and highly beneficial tooling concurrently with the machine. The now chairman of the business said to me:

“In reality, we would have inevitably deferred that additional tooling purchase without the super deduction, thus meaning we wouldn’t have had 100 per cent of the benefits of our new machinery from day one and would have been effectively denied access to some types of work that went beyond typical industry-standard sizes.”

The owner of another business, Millitec, said:

“Super deductions are really good and a real incentive for us to invest.”

The successor of the super-deduction, which means being able to expense fully the cost of plant and machinery on a permanent basis, as proposed in clause 1, will undoubtedly continue to be a huge incentive for businesses across the UK to invest in their futures and in UK plc. I know from speaking to my local businesses that they really welcome this, and see it as one way to be able to expand and grow their business. However, I have a question for my hon. Friend the Minister. The terminology of plant and machinery is very broad, so when he responds could he provide some clarity for my Erewash businesses about what is defined as plant and machinery, to help them understand what is in scope? For example, does it extend to IT equipment? I think that having a better understanding of the terminology will really help businesses of all sizes to take full advantage of what is on offer.

The contents of clause 1 shows that the Government are on the side of business. Ahead of the autumn statement last year, 200 businesses—including AstraZeneca, which was so instrumental in the covid vaccine roll- out, and Toyota, a major employer of many of my constituents—wrote a joint letter to my right hon. Friend the Chancellor asking for the 1 April 2026 expiry date to be removed, so making full expensing permanent. Today, by supporting clause 1 and making full expensing permanent, we are backing businesses and helping them to succeed. It also shows that the Government are listening to businesses and making sure they are putting in place measures that will really help them grow their business.

Clause 1 will provide businesses with the biggest tax cut in modern history, worth over £10 billion a year, making the UK capital allowances regime one of the most generous in the world. Since the introduction of temporary full expensing in April 2023, the UK has become an appealing place to invest. The UK has had the second highest investment growth in the G7 and three times that of the US. Making full expensing permanent can only perpetuate that growth. Will my hon. Friend say when he winds up whether plans are in place to extend full expensing to plant and machinery that is either leased or hired? Those two options are often the only affordable ones for businesses with big ambition, but limited capital.

Let me turn to clause 2 and schedule 1. The Bill will simplify research and development rules by merging the small and medium-sized enterprises and the R&D expenditure credit schemes. Whether it is trialling and distributing the successful covid vaccines, which helped us defeat covid-19, or testing and developing new innovations that will enable us to meet our net zero targets, R&D businesses play a vital role in growing our economy. At the spring Budget 2023, my right hon. Friend the Chancellor announced enhanced support for R&D-intensive SMEs worth around £500 million per year, a consultation on the potential merged R&D tax relief scheme and support for those loss-making R&D businesses. As a result, the measures in this Bill show the Government’s unwavering support for R&D businesses.

Specifically, clause 2 and schedule 1 will help reduce bureaucracy and ensure that taxpayers’ money is spent as effectively as possible by simplifying the R&D tax system. That will stop many businesses having to navigate the complex transition between the two existing schemes. It is anticipated that the reduction of the intensity threshold in the R&D-intensive businesses scheme from 40% to 30% from April this year will allow around 5,000 extra SMEs to qualify for an enhanced rate of relief. A one-year grace period will also be introduced, providing certainty for companies dipping under the 30% threshold that they will continue to receive relief for one year. This is a vital measure for so many R&D-focused businesses, which inherently have peaks and troughs of activity. Taken together, these changes will provide £280 million-worth of additional relief per year by 2028-29 to help drive innovation in the UK.

As a former biomedical scientist and someone who continues to take a keen interest in the area, I know that the measures in clause 2 and schedule 1 will undoubtedly benefit the bioscience sector. The Government are adopting an interesting position on subcontracting. The Bill will allow the decision maker to claim for subcontracted R&D work. Will the Minister confirm that proposed new section 1133(3) will mean that if a company is contracted to do work that is not research and development but then decides to carry out some related R&D work, it will be entitled to claim relief for it? Will he also confirm that the new measures will allow a business that contracts out to a research organisation qualifying activities, such as a clinical trial, to claim for the costs of the contract? If this is the case, I am sure that R&D subcontracting will increase collaboration and knowledge sharing, which are crucial for economic growth.

I have no doubt that the measures announced in the Bill will be the ignition that accelerates the UK’s economy and leads us to a brighter future. I will support the Bill throughout today.

I am only going to make some brief remarks on the two clauses. The UK Government are clearly scrambling to fix an economic mess of their own making, and the Bill is full of such measures.

On clause 1, during the autumn statement I welcomed this move, but it does little to deal with the damage to business that has been caused by the big grey elephant in the room that none of the parties wishes to mention, which is Brexit. Far from the ideal of removing red tape and decreasing bureaucracy, as we have heard thrown about in this Chamber, it has actually led to more red tape and more difficulties for business. This is just one of the measures the Government should be taking, among many others they must consider in future. I hope to come to those later in the debate.

The “years of uncertainty” that the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray) mentioned have indeed been years of uncertainty caused by this Government, but they have definitely been impacted by the Brexit that Labour now supports, along with the Liberal Democrats. People are struggling with a cost of living crisis, and it is affecting domestic sales too, so they need other fixes. Again, I will have some questions about that later.

Clause 2 and schedule 1—I hope this will be helpful for the Minister—are like trying to make a jigsaw puzzle with no box, no picture and just some random bits and pieces to try to plug together to make something out of. Productivity does not work without the skills required in research and development. We do not get the advance or the boost we need without that and, once again, the spectre of Brexit means that we have a skills shortage across the nations of the UK. That is particularly affecting Scotland, which needs its own immigration rules. It is something we would ask to have powers over, short of our call—it would of course be the absolute best result—for Scotland to have independence so it can make these decisions itself.

It is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I want to direct my remarks to clause 1, on permanent full expensing for the purchase of plant and machinery, which I discussed during the autumn statement and on Second Reading.

This is actually quite a radical and expensive policy. We have, probably for longer than all our lifetimes, given companies relief for capital expenditure using capital allowances. That was originally quite a generous 25% in the first year—I suspect that most plant and machinery had a longer life than that when the rules were produced. We have chosen to do that for all these years, rather than just letting a business deduct its own accounting calculation of depreciation, because we did not want the manipulation of tax deductions by businesses doing their tax returns. We chose to do it this way.

The tool that Governments of all colours for decades have had when the economy hits trouble is to give first-year allowances and various enhancements. I remember a 40% first-year allowance and a 50% first-year allowance. We have had full expensing up to £1 million, as the shadow Minister referred to. That has been the way of incentivising investment in a period of economic recovery for probably as long back as there has been a toolkit.

Now we have landed on permanent full expensing, so businesses get full relief on plant and machinery spend in the first year. What are the Government expecting to happen differently here? Are we expecting capital investment by businesses of more than £1 million a year that otherwise would not be economically viable and would never have happened? Are we expecting investment to be brought forward and to take place earlier than it otherwise would have? That would be entirely welcome and would probably modernise businesses, protect jobs and give them a chance to grow in a way that they perhaps would not have had, which is not a bad policy aim at all. Or are we just giving business an earlier tax relief than they otherwise would have had, whereby they bank that and are happy but it does not change behaviour?

It is hard to get behind the numbers on this measure in the Green Book. As I said earlier, the estimate at the end of the five-year period, and probably the first full year that making this permanent will make a difference, is a tax cost of £10.9 billion just for this measure. If we run the numbers, bearing in mind that businesses will already have had 25% tax relief on that same expenditure in that year, that means we expect a £55 billion higher claim to get tax relief in that financial year than otherwise would have happened. However, the Minister said that only £3 billion of that is estimated by the OBR to be additional investment that would not otherwise have taken place at some point. It suggests that we have a lot of investment being brought forward with a lot of more generous tax relief that would have happened anyway. Will the Minister explain what the Government are aiming to achieve and what is being forecast? Is the OBR being unduly cautious? That would enable us to understand how we judge whether the measure has been successful.

Are we expecting to see whole loads of investment in plant and machinery that never would have been viable before, or are we expecting to see it brought forward? If what we are getting is brought forward, at some time the cost should start to taper down, because this is not a new tax relief that businesses would not have already had; it is just an acceleration of tax relief and businesses will pay more tax in all subsequent years, because they are not getting the relief they used to get. The measure could cost £11 billion in the first year and gradually that would level down and in the fullness of time there would be no more annual cost, in effect. Can the Minister clarify that?

It is not immediately clear how the Government plan to assess whether the measure has worked or is working. I assume that from electronic corporate tax returns we can track down to the pound the amount of investment claimed for full expense relief every year. We could have a report within six months of the end of a calendar year on how much of these 100% allowances has been claimed and compare that with the total amount claimed for capital allowances in whichever preceding years we like. We could see whether full expensing was driving behaviour change. Will the Minister talk us through what he expects to happen and how he will assess whether this has been an effective way of boosting productivity and increasing investment for £11 billion a year? It is probably one of the most sizeable line entries we have seen in a Finance Bill in my 14 years here. Normally we expect the big number to be a tax cut for individuals, and this measure is significant.

As we are making this measure a permanent feature of our tax system, it shines a light on what we are trying to get from our corporation tax system. There will not be any kind of compliance saving. The Minister made a brave attempt at saying there might, but effectively all that will change is that the number that a business currently puts in its additions to its writing down allowance pool will now be put in the 100% first-year claim box. It is the same number in a different box; that is the only compliance change we have here. It throws into question some previous policy decisions we have made, because for a business to get full benefit from this, it needs to be paying enough tax to use the full relief in that first year.

If a business cannot use the full relief, the incentives are not as powerful as they would otherwise be, because then the option is effectively to carry that excess deduction forward, but we introduced rules a few years ago that are strict on how many losses a business can use in a year. If we really think that giving people the earliest possible cash tax benefit for capital investment drives investment, we should probably take away that restriction on using losses, so that businesses can get the benefit as early as possible and not have it spread over a number of years going forward. Will the Minister explain whether the Government will look at that and make sure we are not accidentally undoing some of the benefit we are seeking to get?

My second question is: what do we do with the legacy writing down allowance pool that relates to plant and machinery expenditure for God knows how many past years? On a reducing balance basis of 25%, it takes many, many years to get full tax relief for expenditure, so every business will have a large pot of money that it has not yet had tax benefit for. Are we expecting them to run that down at 25% reducing balance a year and still be doing so in 23 years’ time, by which point no one will have any idea what on earth that balance ever was? Or should we say, “That is a bit of a nonsense. Why do we not just let you take the whole balance at 20% a year over the next five years and finish that problem off, because we do not need to be focusing on that?”? We could find any number we like there, but it would draw a line under that past expenditure in a way that genuinely simplifies things.

We then have the question of, “What do we do with capital expenditure on items that are not plant and machinery?” The tax relief we give on structures and buildings is not generous, but if we are trying to drive an increase in productivity and large businesses to invest in new gigafactories to build batteries for electric cars or for electricity storage or whatever, do we not want to incentivise them to build the factory building as well, rather than either giving them no relief or giving it over a long time? If we are spending £11 billion a year to encourage investment in plant and machinery, should we not spend a little money on trying to encourage other things that are key for industrial investment to take place, by being a bit more generous on buildings and structures? Has the Minister any thoughts on that?

The Government did a capital allowances review only a year or two ago, which did not look at permanent full expensing as one of the options, but it would be interesting to see whether they have had any further thoughts on that. We are now asking every business to go through and track every item of capital that they spend and treat it differently in their tax return from how they treat it in their accounting records. Then we have all manner of different laws depending on whether it is a long-life asset, a short-life asset, a car or an environmentally friendly car—I could go on. For the amount now at stake, and given that we have given full relief for plant and machinery, which is the biggest amount, do we really need all that cost and complexity? Or should we just say for all those other items, “You can just have your accounting calculation”? Okay, businesses might take it a bit quicker than we would like, but in actual fact the cost of that is not all that material in the grand scheme of things.

We could move to a system where the only adjustment someone has to make to their tax return is to claim a very generous tax relief on plant and machinery, and they would not have to touch anything else. That would be a more coherent corporation tax regime, now that we have spent all this money incentivising plant and machinery. It would then genuinely be a compliance saving for a business in that situation.

I support the measure and truly hope that it works, but, as a significant amount is being spent, it would be helpful to understand what we are trying to achieve and how we will know whether we have been successful. I hope that the Government will move on to think about how we can slightly recast our tax system so that it makes sense, having made this radical and generous change.

I thank hon. Members for their contributions. I will take a few moments to respond to quite a few questions raised during the debate. First, I reassure hon. Members that further guidance will be provided on these schemes. Of course, we do not want all the schemes just to exist; we want them to be used so that they have a real-world impact. More information will therefore be coming out about a variety of areas over a period of time.

I gently remind the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray), who yet again took the opportunity to talk the UK economy down—the Opposition always do—that every single Labour Government have ended with unemployment higher than what they inherited from the Conservatives. I think the public are well aware of that pattern.

I turn to the many questions raised. I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) and for Erewash (Maggie Throup), and indeed Opposition Members for their contributions. On timing, the Government have been clear since the merged scheme consultation was published in January last year that the intended implementation date for the scheme is April 2024. Importantly, in response to that consultation and in recognition of comments, the merged scheme will apply to accounting periods starting on or after 1 April 2024 rather than to expenditure incurred from that date. Again, we will provide further guidance on that.

On leasing and hiring, which was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Erewash and the hon. Member for Ealing North, the Government committed at the spring Budget to engaging with stakeholders with a view to extending the scope of expensing to include assets for leasing and hiring. As the autumn statement confirmed, that will continue to be considered. We will launch a technical consultation on draft legislation shortly—in early 2024.

Several hon. Members asked about the perfectly valid and important point of what specifically will be included. I have a whole list of what is defined as plant and machinery—as I said, I reassure hon. Members that further guidance will be provided: it includes things such as computers, printers, office equipment, vehicles, vans, lorries, tractors, forklift trucks, tools, ladders and drills, and equipment such as excavators, compactors, bulldozers and so on. That is quite a comprehensive list, but more information will be provided.

My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley raised an important point about buildings. Of course, while they are not included in full expensing, businesses can instead receive relief through the separate structures and buildings allowance that the Government introduced in 2018.

On fraud, which was raised by the hon. Member for Ealing North, over the last three years HMRC has significantly increased the number of people working on R&D compliance to over 500. We have also announced policy measures to counter non-compliance in R&D schemes and will follow-up with a more detailed compliance action plan outlining of how HMRC will reduce error and fraud. That will be released in due course.

Following on from the comments of the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) about the impact of the schemes and given the Federation of Small Businesses’ request for some publication about the impact of these tax reliefs on R&D levels, will the Minister also publish a report on their impact on different regions and subregions?

All taxes are kept under review, as are their impacts, so some of the calls for further analysis are not necessary because we do that as a matter of course. It is important to stress that many external studies have found that when full expensing has been introduced in other countries, it has been very effective in supporting investment. Of course, the OBR forecasts predict a boost of £3 billion each year. The analysis of the impact of the super-deduction is already taking place, but companies have 12 months from the end of their accounting period to amend their tax returns, so HMRC will not have complete data on the impact of the super-deduction until 2024. However, we will provide further analysis in due course.

My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash mentioned a whole range of real-world impacts from these measures and the previous measures, including the super-deduction, as well as, importantly, the annual investment allowance of £1 million, which affects the 99% of smaller businesses that can effectively benefit from full expensing. In the autumn statement, we announced full expensing for larger businesses: the top 1%, who conduct about 80% of full investment.

I am aware of time, but will cover a couple of other key points that were raised. My hon. Friend the Member for Erewash raised subcontracting. Again, we engaged extensively with stakeholders on this issue over the summer, and the Government have developed an approach that will allow the person taking the decision to do R&D to claim that relief. That was the preferred result of the consultation. However, an exception will apply in the important area that she mentioned of companies doing R&D—such as in a clinical trial—in the UK for another company that is ineligible for relief because, for example, it is an overseas customer. That is to make sure that the impact is there for everyone to benefit from. The hon. Member for Ealing North also mentioned partnerships; a corporate partner is eligible for full expensing, but an unincorporated partner is not. Again, the annual investment allowance of £1 million covers the investment needs of almost all unincorporated partnerships.

The hon. Member keeps harping on about taxes rising. I strongly advise him to look at his December payslip and compare it to the one he will get shortly. Maybe he will have the decency to come to me and tell me whether his tax is lower or higher. Each fiscal event needs to be taken separately. At the last one, the autumn statement, we cut taxes—national insurance is down 2p. [Interruption.] If the hon. Member does not believe me, I pose this challenge to him: if his payslip shows that his taxes are lower, perhaps he will do me the courtesy of coming to me and apologising, or give the difference to a charity, to put his money where his mouth is.

We do not believe that new clause 1 is necessary because the information has already been published in the tax impact and information notes alongside each change, which give a clear explanation of the policy objectives, along with details of the implementation costs for both HMRC and businesses. Therefore, the new clause is not necessary. I urge the House to reject it, and I commend clauses 1 and 2 and schedule 1 to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 1 agreed to.

New Clause 1

Review of reliefs for research and development

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act being passed, publish a review of the implementation costs of the measures in section 2 incurred by—

(a) HMRC, and

(b) businesses.

(2) The review under subsection (1) must include details of the implementation costs of all measures related to credit or relief for research and development that have been introduced since December 2019.”—(James Murray)

Brought up and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Clause 21

Ensuring consistency of Parts 3 and 4 of F(No.2)A 2023 with OECD rules etc

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Schedule 12.

Clauses 31 and 32 stand part.

Schedule 13.

Clauses 33 and 34 stand part.

New clause 2—Review of measures to tackle evasion and avoidance

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act being passed, publish a review of the measures in sections 31 to 33 to tackle evasion and avoidance.

(2) The review under subsection (1) must include details of—

(a) the average sentence handed down in each of the last five years for the offences listed in section 31;

(b) the range of sentences handed down in each of the last five years for the offences listed in section 31;

(c) the number of stop notices issued in each of the last five years to which the measures in section 33 would apply; and

(d) the estimated impact on revenue collected in each of the next five financial years resulting from the introduction of the measures in sections 31 to 33.”

This new clause would require the Chancellor to publish details of the sentences given and stop notices issued in each of the last five years to tackle evasion and avoidance, as well as the revenue expected to be generated from the measures to tackle evasion and avoidance in this Act in each of the next five years.

New clause 4—Assessment of impact of Act on multinational profit shifting and tax competition between jurisdictions

“(1) Within six months of the passage of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must carry out an assessment of the impact of section 21 and Schedule 12 of this Act on multinational profit shifting and tax competition between jurisdictions, and lay a report of that assessment before both Houses of Parliament.

(2) The report must consider the efficacy of the measures contained in section 21 and Schedule 12 in achieving the policy objective of combatting base erosion and profit shifting.”

This new clause would require the government to produce an assessment of the impact of the Bill’s “Pillar Two” measures, in order to ascertain whether these measures have been successful in achieving their policy aims.

New clause 5—Tax compliance reporting

“(1) Within six months of the passage of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must carry out an assessment of the impact of sections 31 to 34 and Schedule 13 of this Act.

(2) The report must consider the capacity and ability of HMRC to enforce compliance with the measures contained in sections 31 to 34 and Schedule 13 of this Act, including setting out staffing arrangements within HMRC's Customer Compliance Group for undertaking enforcement work relating to sections 31 to 34 and Schedule 13 of this Act.”

This new clause would require the government to produce an assessment of the impact of the Bill’s tax evasion and avoidance measures. The assessment would need to examine whether the capacity and ability of HMRC was sufficient to properly enforce those measures.

New clause 7—Review of effectiveness of section 31 measures in preventing fraud involving taxpayers’ money

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act being passed, conduct a review of the effectiveness of the provisions of section 31 in preventing fraud involving taxpayers’ money.

(2) The review must evaluate the effectiveness of the provisions of section 31 in preventing fraud involving taxpayers’ money through comparison with the effectiveness of—

(a) other measures that seek to prevent fraud involving taxpayers’ money, and

(b) the approach taken in other countries.”

This new clause would require the Chancellor to review the effectiveness of measures in this Act to prevent fraud involving taxpayers’ money, and to compare them with other measures that seek to prevent fraud involving taxpayers’ money and the approach taken in other countries.

Clauses 21 and 31 to 34 and schedules 12 and 13 cover technical changes to pillar 2 of the international tax agreement—doubling the maximum sentence for the most egregious forms of tax fraud—the introduction of new powers to tackle the promotion of tax avoidance, and action against fraud in the construction industry scheme.

The UK’s tax gap is currently at an all-time low, at 4.8% of total tax liabilities. That is due to strong Government action to tackle all forms of non-compliance in the tax system, but we are never complacent. That is why we have introduced more than 200 measures since 2010, including 40 since 2021, to reduce the tax gap even further. The Government are taking action to ensure that individuals and companies pay the taxes that are due in the UK. We want to deter individuals from committing fraud in the first place. That is why we are doubling the maximum sentence for tax fraud.

The Government are also taking action against tax avoidance by introducing a new criminal offence of the promotion of tax avoidance and by expediting the disqualification of directors of companies that promote tax avoidance. The measures are designed to protect tax revenues, which are important for funding our vital public services.

It is also important to protect tax revenues from companies shifting profits offshore. That is why the UK implemented pillar 2 on 31 December 2023. We are updating existing legislation with technical amendments today to ensure that UK legislation is consistent with newly agreed guidance, to address further stakeholder comments to clarify terms, and to avoid unintended consequences.

Clause 31 strengthens our enforcement powers when it comes to tax offences. It doubles the maximum prison term, from seven years to 14 years, for individuals convicted of the most egregious cases of tax fraud. This applies to all taxes and duties administered by HMRC. It also increases the maximum penalty for counterfeiting from 10 years to 14 years. These measures demonstrate, I hope, the Government’s intent to crack down on tax fraud and to deter criminal actions that damage the public purse.

Clauses 32 and 33 and schedule 13 seek to target the promotion of tax avoidance, in order to protect taxpayers and reduce the damage inflicted on the public finances. Recent powers such as HMRC’s power to name promoters and their schemes, and its power to issue stop notices, are effectively disrupting promoters’ activities. None the less, a small number of promoters persist in attempting to sidestep the rules, so clause 32 and schedule 13 enable HMRC to act swiftly to seek the disqualification of directors and other individuals who control or exercise influence over companies involved in the promotion of tax avoidance. They enable the removal of those individuals from the avoidance market and will deter others from becoming directors of companies that promote avoidance.

In the Finance Act 2021, the Government introduced rules that allow HMRC to issue stop notices that require promoters to stop promoting specified tax avoidance schemes. Stop notices are an important deterrent tool, as failing to comply with a stop notice can lead to a substantial civil penalty. Clause 33 increases the consequences of failing to comply by introducing a new criminal offence, which will apply to promoters who continue to promote an avoidance scheme after receiving a stop notice. Creating a criminal offence signals the severity of this issue and reinforces the importance of complying with a stop notice.

Finally, clause 34 tackles serious non-compliance in the construction industry. The construction industry scheme requires contractors to withhold tax unless a subcontractor holds gross payment status. Most gross payment status holders are legitimate and compliant construction businesses but, in recent years, gross payment status has been used by organised crime organisations to facilitate fraud. This allows unscrupulous actors to compete unfairly against legitimate businesses. Clause 34 therefore strengthens the tests for gross payment status by adding VAT to the taxes with which subcontractors must demonstrate compliance. This measure is predicted to raise around £300 million over the next five years.

Each of these clauses helps to protect vital tax revenue used to fund our public services. They seek to deter taxpayers from knowingly defrauding the Government and encourage them to act against the promotion of tax avoidance. I therefore ask that clause 21, clauses 31 to 34 and schedules 12 and 13 stand part of the Bill.

I rise to speak to the new clauses in my name and that my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq).

Clause 21 and schedule 12 relate to the implementation of pillar 2 of the OECD/G20 inclusive framework on base erosion and profit shifting. Labour supports this clause and schedule as they are intended to modify the existing multinational and domestic top-up taxes introduced in the Finance (No. 2) Act 2023, to make sure these new taxes work as intended. We have long supported the global deal on the taxation of large multinationals, as we want to see it working as effectively as possible.

We know that the OECD guidance on implementing the deal is coming out in tranches, so it is important that UK legislation is updated to reflect that. We recognise that, as with any global deal of this scale, its details are complicated and its implementation will take time, yet we have been clear throughout its development that we support the principle of a global agreement as a crucial step in making the tax system fairer, thereby helping to make sure that British businesses that pay their fair share of taxes are not undermined.

Indeed, nearly three years ago, in April 2021, I first set out in the Commons our support for a global deal to make that tax system fairer, to make sure that a level playing field is there for British businesses and to stop the international race to the bottom on tax for large multinationals. The Treasury Ministers at the time appeared at first lukewarm in backing plans emerging from the United States for a global deal. Eventually, however, the then Chancellor, now the Prime Minister, began to support the deal in public. We were glad that the current Prime Minister seemed to have come round, but I am not sure all his Back Benchers have. For instance, I wonder whether the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) would agree with the Prime Minister when he said:

“We now have a clear path to a fairer tax system, where large global players pay their fair share wherever they do business.”

We agree with the Prime Minister on that point, but I just wonder whether everyone on the Conservative Benches does. I am reading some of their faces and I think the answer is clear. Could it be that the Prime Minister lacks support from prominent Back Benchers within his own party on a policy he is now championing? Surely not. But Treasury Ministers should rest assured that if their Back Benchers pull any tricks on clause 21, they will have our support for it to pass.

Of course, clause 21 relates to pillar 2 of the OECD deal, which seeks to make sure that large multinationals pay a minimum rate of 15% corporate tax in every country in which they operate. There is, of course, also pillar 1, which involves partially reallocating taxing rights over the profits of large multinationals to the jurisdictions where consumers are located. We know that the implementation of pillar 2 is going ahead, as this Bill makes clear, but pillar 1 appears to have slowed. So I would be grateful if the Minister provided an update to the House of progress toward the implementation of pillar 1. We know, for instance, that there is still work to be done to reach the necessary agreement between all major economies, so perhaps he would confirm whether the Government are still committed to pillar 1 being implemented. If so, what steps has he taken since taking up his role to help make that happen?

Clause 21 relates to making sure that large multinationals pay their fair share of taxes, but clauses 31 to 34 deal with wider questions of tax avoidance and evasion. We believe the Government should make sure that there are always tough prison terms and powerful deterrents for those who commit fraudulent tax evasion and other serious tax offences, and that those punishments should be well publicised and effectively enforced. Likewise, Labour believes there is a strong case for tougher punishments for those who commit fraud against public services, Government and the public purse. Other countries have stronger laws and sanctions than the UK has for such offences, which mean that judges can hand down tougher punishments to criminals who have ripped off the taxpayer, such as by wilfully defrauding the country through public contracts or business support. Our new clause 7 would require the Government to be open and honest about what they are doing to prevent fraud involving taxpayers’ money, in terms of the measures in this Bill, other measures more widely and in comparison with the practices overseas. Those who defraud the taxpayer are stealing from the country and it weakens our public services. We want to see fraudsters and organised crime gangs met with the full force of the law. As a country, we should have the most effective possible measures in place to prevent fraud involving taxpayers’ money. Our amendment today will be the first step in making sure that that is the case, and I urge all MPs to join us in voting for it.

In the legislation before us, we see the Conservatives trying to act tough by raising the maximum prison term for tax offences from seven to 14 years, but the Government’s own figures reveal that average sentences for tax fraud are just two years—once again, they cannot hide from their record. They have failed to take tax fraud seriously, and any changes they make after 14 years in office are far too little, far too late. It is clear from an HMRC report looking at the approach taken by its fraud investigation service towards tax compliance and serious fraud in 2022-23 that the average length of custodial sentencing was 24 months. We believe that the public deserve more information on how sentencing is working under the current Government, so our new clause 2 requires data to be published setting out the average sentence, and the range of sentences, handed down in each of the last five years for the offences that clause 31 applies to. I urge Ministers to accept our new clause 2, but if they are not willing to do so, will they write to me with details of all the information that it requests? Whatever that data may show, it seems clear from the data that is already available that under the Conservatives sentences appear to be nowhere near the existing seven-year maximum, and so 14 years seems even more distant a prospect. Whatever the Government may say about sentencing, our courts system is already hamstrung by being neglected and facing the highest backlog on record—65,000 cases in the Crown courts and over 350,000 in the magistrates courts. We will not oppose clause 31, but this debate has made clear the depth of the Conservatives’ failure on law and order, and just what a mess they have created.

Clause 32 and schedule 13 would enable HMRC to bring disqualification action against directors of companies involved in promoting tax avoidance. We support the principle behind the clause and will not oppose it. However, as the Chartered Institute of Taxation and, in particular, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group have helpfully pointed out, there are questions about making sure these powers are targeted and used correctly. These questions arise because of cases where the true promoters of tax avoidance schemes recruit others, often vulnerable or naive individuals, to be directors of the company involved, thereby shielding themselves from any action. To be effective, the legislation needs to respond to that situation. On the one hand, the law needs to be able to pursue those ultimately responsible, whether they are formal directors or not. On the other hand, there needs to be a degree of discretion about the punishment of those recruited to be sham directors when they may be vulnerable people.

On the first of those points, I understand that the Government are aware that those ultimately behind an avoidance scheme may not be directors themselves and the legislation seems to recognise that. As the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group pointed out, the original draft legislation referred to directors, shadow directors and managers, which they felt covered the full range of people who may be behind tax avoidance schemes. However, while the legislation includes references to shadow directors, the category of managers is no longer mentioned. In his response, will the Minister explain the rationale behind removing the reference to managers and consider whether that needs to be reconsidered?

On those recruited to be sham directors, the Low Incomes Tax Reform Group has given powerful examples of where young or vulnerable people can be recruited without understanding what they are getting into. While ignorance is not an excuse, it is reasonable for HMRC to ensure that the consequences for vulnerable individuals who have unwittingly got involved are not unreasonably harsh.

Furthermore, this is about not only protecting vulnerable people but ensuring the sham directors do not end up taking the fall for those behind the scheme, thereby letting the latter off being punished and leaving them free to exploit a new round of vulnerable recruits. In his response, will the Minister explain what processes and checks HMRC will be putting in place to identify vulnerable people, thereby making sure that any action against sham directors is appropriate for the individuals concerned?

We know that there is a wider issue of bad faith actors setting up shell companies with fake directors, and then using those shell companies for a range of purposes, including the practice of sitting behind dodgy American-themed candy stores to avoid paying business rates. We have been calling for tougher identity-verification requirements for new companies. In the case of business rates, this would strengthen councils’ ability to take enforcement action against those who do not pay their bills. I realise it is beyond the scope of this debate, but will the Minister write to me with details of what conversations he has had with the Secretary of State for Business and Trade about using powers in the Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act 2022 to specify identity verification requirements for new companies with Companies House?

Clause 33 introduces a new strict liability criminal offence for failing to comply with a stop notice issued by HMRC in relation to a tax avoidance scheme. In practice, this clause will escalate the punishment for failing to comply with a stop notice from its current position, which is penalties of up to £100,000 or £1 million in certain circumstances, to instead meaning that the promoter has committed a criminal offence if they fail to comply with a stop notice without a reasonable excuse.

We welcome firm action being taken against those promoting tax avoidance schemes. However, the Chartered Institute of Taxation has made it clear to HMRC that it is concerned that the decision to issue a stop notice, and thereby determine that a criminal act may have been committed, will rest entirely with HMRC with no external oversight. To make sure that appropriate safeguards are in place, I understand the Chartered Institute has proposed that failure to comply with a stop notice should be a criminal offence only if judicial approval for the issue of the notice has been obtained first. Alternatively, at the very least, the Chartered Institute of Taxation has made it clear that HMRC’s internal governance overseeing the issuing of stop notices must work effectively. Similarly, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has proposed a number of safeguards, which I understand the Government have said that they will not consider. The ICAEW has also suggested that such stop notices should be issued only through a decision taken at a higher level of seniority within HMRC than at present.

I understand that HMRC has said that it does not support any of the range of safeguards proposed by these representative bodies, but has said that it will be sharing a clear picture of its governance process in due course. I would be grateful if the Minister confirmed when that will happen, and what checks and balances he expects this governance process to enshrine.

Finally, I will address clause 34, which relates to the construction industry scheme and gross payment status. Under the construction industry scheme, we know that contractors make deductions from payments to subcontractors and pass that money on to HMRC as an advance payment against the subcontractors’ tax liabilities. We know that a subcontractor can avoid this money being withheld by applying for gross payment status. Clause 34 limits those subcontractors who can hold this status by excluding any who fail to meet VAT obligations and who are involved in various categories of tax fraud. We welcome the principle of this measure in setting out to penalise subcontractors who do not follow the rules on tax. However, we recognise the concern, which was again raised by the Chartered Institute of Taxation, that it could have a disproportionate effect on the cashflow and reputation of subcontractors if they were to lose gross payment status as a result of minor VAT compliance failures.

We therefore welcome the fact that, as we understand it, draft regulations have been published to attempt to address this point. I would welcome the Minister’s further reassurances today that the Treasury will engage with the industry, including the Chartered Institute of Taxation, to make sure that the regulations are effective.

As I have made clear, we will not be opposing the clauses being considered in this debate, but I look forward to the Minister’s response to the detailed questions that I have raised in relation to them.

I wish to raise just a couple of points. Let me turn to the issues of pillar 2 and the moving forward of the Government’s policy on that in clause 21 and schedule 12. Obviously, that relates to changing the decision maker on the taxation rates for multinationals operating in this country from the British Government, elected by the British people, to the determinations of an international organisation through treaty.

As we move forward, it is important to be aware of the changing context. Hon. Members, particularly those from the Conservative Benches, have raised in the past the issue of who else is coming along to this particular minimum tax global party. We already know that China, one of the major economic actors in the world, is not part of the OECD, will not be complying with us and will not be part of these regulations. First, I am interested in any updates the Minister may have on those views about China. Secondly, it is clear that there will be an election in the United States later this year and that there is a significant difference in opinion between the Republican party and the Democrats about whether they will enact the US’s part in the taxation policies of pillars 1 and 2—particularly in pillar 2. Given that there is a reasonable chance—some say it is better than a 50:50 chance—that there may be a change in Administration in November and the United States could then withdraw from participation in the OECD process, can the Minister, in his summing up, give some reassurance to those Conservative Members who, although always supportive of the Prime Minister, may just want to make sure that we have clarity on what we would do in the eventuality that neither of the two major economies in the world—the United States and China—are taking part in this particular global minimum tax from multinationals.

I would also be interested to hear from the Minister—perhaps not from the Dispatch Box today, but separately with the taxation Minister—where the definition of certain words is moving in the Treasury and HMRC when it comes to tax avoidance and tax evasion. I recall that, many years ago, the difference was that tax evasion was illegal and that tax avoidance, while perhaps not what the HMRC wanted to happen, was legal. We see in the Finance Bill references to tax avoidance that imply that it is illegal. I worry that there is insufficient clarity, from HMRC’s perspective, on the difference between tax evasion, which is illegal, and tax avoidance, which is legal but perhaps not desirable. Perhaps the Minister could give some clarity on that.

All those on the Treasury Bench will be aware of the persistence of the concerns about the loan charge and other aspects of tax avoidance schemes, which HMRC has gone to court over, winning in certain actions and then deciding to apply blanket solutions to cases where there has never been a finding of fact in a court regarding the particular schemes. My specific question—I hope that this is within scope, Dame Rosie; you will tell me if it is not—is why we have not brought HMRC’s approach on tackling the loan charge to a conclusion. People have been pursued for far too long in an area that is far too grey. It would be interesting if the Minister had an update on that.

Lastly, I commend the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray). I did not like his speech on the first group, but I thought that his speech on the present group was very good and very reasonable. He made a very important point, which I am sure the Government will want to look at, on failure to comply with stop notices, and the requirement—proposed, I think he said, by a third party—for some sort of judicial approval before a notice is issued. At the moment, the Bill basically says that HMRC, undefined, can issue such notices. That really is quite a significant further expansion of HMRC’s responsibilities. The shadow Minister referred to a good point: more protection is needed for those who might be caught by such notices. I am sure that those on the Government Front Bench always listen to points made on both sides of the House, but I thought that I would commend that point from the shadow Minister.

I will speak to new clauses 4 and 5, tabled in my name. I reiterate that the Liberal Democrats do not support the Bill, which is a deception from the Government after years of tax hikes on hard-working families. It arises from an autumn statement that contributed to a record fall in living standards by maintaining the Government’s stealth tax on working families through the freezing of income tax thresholds. Some of the measures under consideration today may have worthy aims, but that wider context must be noted.

New clause 5, tabled in my name, would require the Government to produce an assessment of the impact of the Bill’s tax evasion and avoidance measures. That assessment would specifically need to include a review of whether the staffing of the compliance functions of HMRC is sufficient to implement the new measures. That follows the revelation to me in answer to a parliamentary question last year that almost 2,300 HMRC tax compliance staff are still working on matters relating to our exit from the European Union and covid-19 schemes. That means that thousands of staff who would usually be working on recovering taxes or dealing with other issues are instead being redeployed to manage the Government’s mishandling of the pandemic and the Brexit deal.

It is alarming to see civil servants being moved from one crisis to another—an indication of a Government in non-stop firefighting mode. We have known for a long time that HMRC is an organisation beset by understaffing issues. Last year, the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales said that such chronic understaffing is not only causing unacceptable delays to businesses and families but hindering activity and actively hurting our economy. With that knowledge, can we have faith that HMRC will be properly equipped to put the measures in the Bill into action?

While the measures in clauses 31 to 34 and schedule 13 may have worthy aims of combating tax avoidance and fraud, the knowledge of those shortcomings makes it very difficult to have confidence in the capacity of HMRC, and in particular its compliance functions, to administer the measures effectively. I therefore urge the Government to accept new clause 5, and support the Liberal Democrats in ensuring that HMRC is fully equipped with sufficient staff to tackle tax avoidance properly.

New clause 4, also in my name, concerns the Bill’s pillar 2 measures, in clause 21 and schedule 12. It would require the Government to produce an assessment of the impact of those measures, examining whether they have been successful in achieving their policy aims. As Liberal Democrats, we strongly believe in the need for a fair international system that tackles corporate tax avoidance and evasion for the benefit of all countries. We welcome the pioneering work that has taken place under the auspices of the OECD for the formation of a fairer international tax system. The measures in clause 21 arise from that process and enable the UK’s adoption of the income inclusion rule and domestic minimum top-up tax rule. As such, they are to be welcomed; however, issues remain.

Most crucially, we believe that the global minimum corporation tax rate set at 15% under the deal remains too low. Liberal Democrats have called on the Government to help negotiate an increase to 21%, as originally proposed by the US under President Biden. Organisations such as Oxfam have highlighted that the 15% minimum rate still leaves many developing countries at a disadvantage, as they will continue to face unfair competition from tax havens. It is extremely disappointing to see the Government’s failure to back a rate of 21%, despite having raised UK corporation tax to 25%. The significant progress that has been made should not be obstructed or diluted, but if we are serious about pursuing the goal of a fairer global tax system, we must also take the time to ensure that the best path is being followed.

I understand the intent of what the hon. Member says. Could she explain how the review could be done within six months of the Act being passed, given that no business will have filed a tax return with any adjustments in until well after that period? Indeed, half the world probably will not have introduced the measure by that stage. Would that not be a bit of a premature assessment? Would we not risk that assessment showing no progress and then strengthening the arguments of those who would like to repeal it? It would probably be quite a bad assessment to do at that stage.

I welcome the hon. Member’s intervention, and—dare I say it—I completely agree with him. Of course, one is constrained by what one can amend in legislation, but I would like to see that as the start of an ongoing process of review. Let us be honest, it is an innovative proposal, not just because it requires an international co-operative effort, but because that very effort is innovative. It is therefore something that we as a sovereign Parliament should be keeping very much under review as the work continues.

I briefly note that the Finance Bill has implications for theatre tax relief, which plays a crucial role in enabling the development of new theatre productions in the UK. UK Theatre and the Society of London Theatre have raised concerns with the Treasury about those implications, which could damage how that essential relief operates. I therefore urge Ministers to liaise with those groups and particularly to provide assurance that international touring will not be hampered due to the Bill’s definition of UK expenditure. That is certainly an area that would benefit from scrutiny in Public Bill Committee.

Although the Liberal Democrats support certain measures in the Bill, such as the extension of full expensing, the Bill as a whole does not have our support, arising, as it does, from an unjust and deceptive autumn statement. I urge hon. Members to support the amendments tabled in my name, in particular new clause 5, which would hold the Government to account to ensure that HMRC is properly resourced to allow it to implement the measures in the Bill.

I thank hon. Members from across the House for their contributions. I will speak relatively briefly but will try to address some of the points raised. I will deal last with the new clauses, and in the meantime address some of the questions from the hon. Member for Ealing North (James Murray) from the official Opposition. He asked about pillar 1 and the progress being made. This Government fully support pillar 1 and are keen to maintain momentum on its progress as soon as possible. He should take comfort from the recent publication of the substantially agreed text of the multilateral convention. That demonstrates progress, but as I say, we are not complacent on that and are keen to see further progress as soon as possible.

The hon. Gentleman very reasonably asked for more information on sentencing and the action taken by HMRC. I will give him some data. Last year, there were 240 prosecutions. Within that, there were 218 convictions, and 130 of those were custodial sentences and 110 were suspended sentences. That equates to a 90% success rate for HMRC. The hon. Gentleman is right that the average length of a custodial sentence is 24 months. We want to extend a maximum sentence for two reasons: first, to make it clear that we consider fraud and all fraudulent activity some of the most serious crime possible because of its impact on public finances; and secondly, because if the maximum sentence increases, we expect all sentences to rise, as sentences are judged relative to the maximum sentence. However, I stress that it is the Sentencing Council that issues the guidance to judges and it is ultimately judges and the courts who rightly decide what sentences are given to those found guilty.

The hon. Gentleman asked about safeguards for stop notices, and he is right to highlight that that is an important measure for HMRC. I can tell him there have already been 20 stop notices issued since HMRC started issuing them just a year ago, but there are robust governance processes and safeguards in place, including review and appeal rights. However, any criminal sentences are decided by the courts and it is the Sentencing Council that will decide on that. I will look carefully at the other questions he has raised and ask for a written response. If we have that data, I commit to writing to him with that information.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) has rightly and consistently raised his questions and concerns on pillar 2. I can tell him that the UK is implementing pillar 2 in time and alongside EU member states, Japan and Canada, which I think he would agree are all peers. He asked about China. China has not announced implementation plans for pillar 2, but it is a member of the inclusive framework of countries that are in negotiations right now on pillar 2 and we are monitoring that very carefully, as he would expect. The US Administration have always supported both pillars 1 and 2 and have been one of the strongest advocates for them; as he will know, in 2017, the United States introduced its own domestic version of pillar 2, requiring those companies with foreign income to pay a minimum level of taxation.

The punchline, to answer my hon. Friend’s ultimate question, is that already the agreement has been put in place to ensure that, by 2025, 90% of multinationals will be in play, so we are confident in the robustness of that agreement. He asked about the loan charge; I do not believe that is in scope for this debate, but the Financial Secretary to the Treasury will follow up with him and engage with him and the loan charge and taxpayer fairness all-party parliamentary group in due course.

I will briefly address the new clauses that have been laid down. I will deal with new clauses 2, 5 and 7 together, as they all relate to tax avoidance and evasion, and then I will address new clause 4. New clause 2 would require the Chancellor to provide a report on the average sentence and range of sentences given to offences being amended in clause 31, the number of stop notices issued that clause 33 would apply to and the impact of those clauses on tax revenues. New clause 5 would require the Chancellor to carry out an assessment of the impact of clauses 31 to 34 and schedule 13 on HMRC’s compliance activities and new clause 7 would require the Chancellor to review the effectiveness of the provisions of clause 31 in combating fraud involving taxpayers money.

Let me say straight out of the gate that I agree it is important that we regularly review and evaluate policy. However, the new clauses are unnecessary, as HMRC already publishes detailed information about its compliance and performance on a regular basis. As I have said, the UK tax gap is already at an all-time low of 4.8% and will remain low and stable, given the measures that we are implementing. Every year, HMRC publishes information on the number of custodial sentences received for tax compliance offences and the average sentence length in HMRC’s annual report and accounts. The 2023-24 annual report and accounts will be published this summer, providing a full overview of HMRC’s performance. As most of that information is already publicly available in routine HMRC publications, the assessments legislated for by the new clauses are unnecessary, in our humble view.

New clause 4 would require the Government to report an assessment of the technical changes to pillar 2 introduced in clause 21 and schedule 12. It would consider the efficacy of the technical changes and their impact on multinational profit shifting and tax competition between jurisdictions. The Government consider that such a report is not necessary because the amendments in the Bill are technical changes to enhance the pillar 2 legislation that received Royal Assent just last year. Those amendments simply help to ensure that the policy objectives of the legislation are met fairly and effectively, reflecting both new international guidance and stakeholder comments. Ultimately, it is about avoiding unintended consequences in legislation that has already been passed. Of course, the Government will monitor pillar 2’s overall impact as businesses begin to respond to its implementation around the world—130 countries are privy to it.

I hope to have reassured Members that the additions in new clauses 2, 4, 5 and 7 are not necessary. For the reasons that I have set out, I urge the Committee to reject them. I commend clauses 21 and 31 to 34, and schedules 12 and 13, to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 21 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 12 agreed to.

Clauses 31 and 32 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 13 agreed to.

Clauses 33 and 34 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

New Clause 2

Review of measures to tackle evasion and avoidance

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act being passed, publish a review of the measures in sections 31 to 33 to tackle evasion and avoidance.

(2) The review under subsection (1) must include details of—

(a) the average sentence handed down in each of the last five years for the offences listed in section 31;

(b) the range of sentences handed down in each of the last five years for the offences listed in section 31;

(c) the number of stop notices issued in each of the last five years to which the measures in section 33 would apply; and

(d) the estimated impact on revenue collected in each of the next five financial years resulting from the introduction of the measures in sections 31 to 33.”—(James Murray.)

This new clause would require the Chancellor to publish details of the sentences given and stop notices issued in each of the last five years to tackle evasion and avoidance, as well as the revenue expected to be generated from the measures to tackle evasion and avoidance in this Act in each of the next five years.

Brought up and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

New Clause 5

Tax Compliance Reporting

(1) Within six months of the passage of this Act, the Chancellor of the Exchequer must carry out an assessment of the impact of sections 31 to 34 and Schedule 13 of this Act.

(2) The report must consider the capacity and ability of HMRC to enforce compliance with the measures contained in sections 31 to 34 and Schedule 13 of this Act, including setting out staffing arrangements within HMRC's Customer Compliance Group for undertaking enforcement work relating to sections 31 to 34 and Schedule 13 of this Act.”—(Sarah Olney.)

This new clause would require the government to produce an assessment of the impact of the Bill’s tax evasion and avoidance measures. The assessment would need to examine whether the capacity and ability of HMRC was sufficient to properly enforce those measures.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

New Clause 7

Review of effectiveness of section 31 measures in preventing fraud involving taxpayers’ money

“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of this Act being passed, conduct a review of the effectiveness of the provisions of section 31 in preventing fraud involving taxpayers’ money.

(2) The review must evaluate the effectiveness of the provisions of section 31 in preventing fraud involving taxpayers’ money through comparison with the effectiveness of—

(a) other measures that seek to prevent fraud involving taxpayers’ money, and

(b) the approach taken in other countries.”–(James Murray.)

This new clause would require the Chancellor to review the effectiveness of measures in this Act to prevent fraud involving taxpayers’ money, and to compare them with other measures that seek to prevent fraud involving taxpayers’ money and the approach taken in other countries.

Brought up and read the First time.

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

Clause 25

Rebate on heavy oil and certain bioblends used for heating

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

I will take clause 27 first. The changes that it makes clarify how VAT and excise legislation should be interpreted in the light of changes made by the Retained EU (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023, which came into effect on 1 January. The Act ends the supremacy and special status afforded to retained EU law in the UK. As we made clear when it was introduced, the Government are taking a bespoke approach to UK VAT and excise law. In line with the 2023 Act, clause 27 confirms that, for VAT and excise, it will no longer be possible for any part of any UK Act of Parliament or domestic subordinate legislation to be quashed or disapplied on the basis that it is incompatible with EU law. In other words, it will no longer be possible for businesses to rely on EU law where it is in conflict with domestic law. The measure also provides that UK VAT and excise law continues to be interpreted as Parliament intended, drawing on rights and principles that currently apply in interpreting UK law.

This legislation, which was subject to a Provisional Collection of Taxes Act 1968 resolution from 1 January, ensures the stability of the VAT and excise regimes and provides legal certainty for businesses following the changes in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Act 2023 taking effect. It mitigates the risk of relitigating the settled interpretation of UK law, protecting billions of pounds of Exchequer revenue.

VAT and excise duty from alcohol, tobacco and hydrocarbon oil raise over £200 billion of revenue a year. VAT is a litigious area, with the existing framework and precedents protecting large amounts of revenue. For example, £5 billion of tax revenue was protected in just five VAT cases with the support of such precedents. VAT operates in real time, with VAT invoices and the associated money being passed between businesses and other businesses or consumers on the basis of the law in place at that time, which means legal certainty is key. Businesses rely on this to ensure that their tax affairs are correct, and HMRC relies on it to collect tax.

EU principles and rights will therefore continue to apply solely as aids to interpreting UK legislation. Any potential change in interpretation would create uncertainty for business. It could open up loopholes to be exploited by those looking to avoid paying their fair share, risking billions of pounds of Exchequer funds.

I move on to clause 25. At Budget 2020, to help meet our climate change and air quality targets, the Government announced that we would remove the entitlement to use rebated fuels from most sectors. Rebated fuels, such as red diesel and certain heavy oils, incur a lower rate of fuel duty, in contrast to the petrol and diesel used by cars and other road vehicles, which incur the full rate of fuel duty. As part of these reforms, the Government decided to continue to allow rebated heavy oils, other than red diesel and bio-blends made with red diesel, to be used for all heating uses, due to the concern that removing the entitlement to use these fuels for this purpose would significantly increase the heating bills of the households and businesses that use them, especially in areas off the gas grid.

However, as enacted, the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979 prevents machines and appliances from using certain rebated heavy oils for commercial heating. That includes fuel oil used in some commercial heating applications, including in furnaces. As the Government’s intention was to continue to allow the use of rebated fuel for heating, HMRC has exercised its discretion on collection and management powers to allow the use on this basis. The assumption was that the existing legislation would be changed at the earliest opportunity, which is what we are doing now. Clause 25 amends the 1979 Act, giving clarity to the dozen or so businesses affected by this anomaly, in line with the Government’s announced policy position. I make it clear that no consumers have been disadvantaged by this error.

These changes are necessary to provide legal certainty for business and to ensure that the relevant regimes operate as intended. I therefore commend clauses 25 and 27 to the Committee.

I rise to speak to the clauses relating to VAT and excise, beginning with clause 25, which restores the full tax rebate for machines and appliances that use non-gas heavy oils and bio-blends for commercial heating purposes. The Government have said that this is to correct an anomaly brought about by the April 2022 changes to the Hydrocarbon Oil Duties Act 1979, which mean that machines using kerosene have benefited from a full rebate while those using other types of heavy oil were made ineligible for lower duty rates when used for heating.

The Government have said that their April 2022 tax changes were intended to reduce the use of gas fuels and to make progress against the UK’s climate commitments. However, perversely, under the current system companies receive a tax penalty for using next-generation renewable fuels such as hydrotreated vegetable oil for heating, instead of kerosene, despite the fact that HVO produces nearly 90% less greenhouse gas emissions. I therefore support clause 25, which seeks to correct that unintended error and restore equivalent tax treatment for the use of non-gas heavy fuels for commercial heating. However, let us be clear: the correction will have a limited impact on businesses across the UK facing rocketing heating bills as the cold starts to bite this winter.

We also know that it is often the scandalous lack of grid connections that forces many businesses, particularly in rural areas of Scotland, to operate their machines off grid, using heavy oils and biofuels. Changing tax incentives, although significant, will not deliver the overhaul our energy system needs to become a clean energy superpower. After 13 years of mismanagement, our energy grid is on its knees, with new developments forced to wait up to 15 years for a new connection and more than £200 billion of privately funded energy projects stuck in limbo.

Labour will prioritise reforming the grid, overseeing the largest upgrade to our national transmission infrastructure in a generation and accelerating connections for those who are forced off grid. We cannot afford to keep dragging our feet any longer. The Government claim they are serious about delivering the transition and boosting the use of clean energy sources, but the neglect of our grid infrastructure has been shocking. We know that the significant increase in both clean power generation and clean industry that the UK will need to reach net zero will require four times as much grid infrastructure in the next seven years as has been built in the past 30. Although the Opposition do not oppose clause 25, which is a welcome correction, ensuring that tax incentives for non-gas heavy fuels remain consistent is the bare minimum we should be expecting from the Government on this vital issue.

I move on to clause 27, which seeks to clarify UK primacy on VAT and excise law following the passage of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. The Government’s draft legislation seeks to ensure that in relation to VAT and excise law it will no longer be possible for any UK Act of Parliament or domestic subordinate legislation to be quashed or disapplied on the basis that it was incompatible with retained EU law. The Government state that this measure will

“ensure the stability of the VAT and excise regime”,

providing legal certainty for businesses. Labour, unsurprisingly, supports the objective of this legislation; ensuring that firms have clarity over how the VAT and excise regimes should be interpreted following the UK’s departure from the EU is crucial to retaining business confidence. However, following the Government’s public consultation, which concluded in November, it remains entirely unclear whether the measure achieves its stated objective of reducing the complexity for businesses of interpreting the VAT regime.

In its consultation response, the Chartered Institute of Taxation highlighted a number of concerns about the proposals, pointing out that the significant complexity in interpreting this draft legislation risks undermining the certainty it seeks to deliver. Specifically, the CIOT points out that the distinction drawn in the legislation between disapplication and the quashing of UK law as a result of EU law, and interpretation,

“might in practice be insufficient to achieve the desired result”.

Consultation feedback also pointed out that the measures in clause 27 do not make it clear how far higher courts are intended to be bound by prior case law from the Court of Justice of the EU, thus creating uncertainty for businesses and advisers.

Although taking a “bespoke UK approach” to VAT and excise legislation is welcome in principle, the draft legislation also fails to address the fact that the removal of the reliance on EU provisions will create significant gaps in UK legislation where our domestic rule book did not fully transpose EU directives. It is not just tax experts that have sought to draw attention to this issue through the Government’s consultation; the industry body for the banking and finance sector, UK Finance, has warned over and over again that the draft legislation

“does not appear to adequately address”

the complexity of the VAT landscape

“thereby sustaining a high degree of uncertainty for industry and the prospect of settled interpretations of VAT law being disturbed.”

The trade body pointed out that although EU VAT law includes a clear VAT exemption for intermediary services in connection with bank accounts, the exemption has not been implemented in UK law. With business no longer able to rely on the direct effect of EU law, material changes to VAT exemptions in the financial services sector will come into effect. That is just one example from my own shadow brief, but it highlights the additional uncertainty that this “clarifying” draft legislation has already created for business. Despite the clear message from tax experts and industry in the consultation, it seems that the proposals are at best problematic. It is of particular concern that the Government seem to have ignored that feedback and ploughed on, with not a single amendment made to the draft legislation.

Detailed guidance is needed to address the significant issues that have already been raised regarding clause 27 and to ensure it meets its objectives. Labour will not oppose the measure as we remain supportive of it in principle, but urgent clarity is needed as it will come into effect from the beginning of this year. The shock that a Government measure designed to provide “legal certainty and stability” has raised more questions than answers has slightly worn off for those of us obliged to follow the circus on the Government Benches on a daily basis.

To conclude, we will not oppose the two clauses, but the detail of the proposals continues to raise questions about the competence of the Government. From being able to afford low-carbon fuel and avoid crippling heating bills to having certainty over the VAT regime, UK businesses deserve far better. After 13 years of leadership, we need a Government who can provide the confidence that businesses desperately need, using the clean energy sources of the future to drive growth and investment across the country.

It is a pleasure to have sat through the Committee stage of the Bill and to hear the Government talk about the advantages we have from Brexit. I am pleased to hear that the Government have looked, and continue to look, extensively at the taxation system—in particular at the interpretation of VAT, as mentioned in this clause.

One interpretation of VAT in this country massively affects people who are visually impaired and those who cannot read, perhaps because of dyslexia: there is no VAT on books, but the Treasury apply VAT to audiobooks. If that interpretation of VAT is to be taken as far as it possibly can, I am disappointed that disabled people are not being protected within the structure of the Bill, in the way that they have been for many years.

Years ago, when I was disabilities Minister, I was told that VAT changes could not happen because we were in the EU. We are no longer in the EU and we can set our VAT rates as we would like. It would be fundamentally good if the Government came forward with an interpretation of VAT that said that people who rely on audiobooks, through no fault of their own, do not have to be penalised by VAT. I am not talking only about the visually impaired—I declare an interest: I am dyslexic and rely on audiobooks, although not completely. People who do not read Braille are being punished as well.

The Government continue to look at new taxation rules and new ways of making sure that people do not get around the taxation system, and it is clear that they are looking at the implementation of VAT. What better spring present for those who rely on audiobooks than for the Minister to say that he will meet me, talk about the issue further and perhaps look at the early-day motion in my name?

The technical changes in clauses 25 and 27 open up a lot of questions. I agree with the Labour Front Bench spokespeople that there are many questions on operation that still have to be answered, but there are wider questions about both these clauses, inspired by their context. Before I get to them, I want to point out that this Finance Bill is a stark reminder that the Westminster Government never reflect the values of the people of Scotland. We need independence so that we can build a fair and dynamic economy that works for everyone. People are suffering through the bitterest cost of living crisis. The provisions set out in the Finance Bill are nowhere near enough to help households in Scotland, which have been left paying the price for disastrous decisions by Westminster Governments—not least the harm of Brexit. There is no help for families struggling with rocketing food prices, and no help for mortgage payers, many of whom are now seeing huge increases in their fixed-rate deals.

The cold is biting right now. A week ago, this Westminster Government oversaw not the hoped-for help of the £400 energy bill rebate that we in the SNP called for, but another 5% hike, courtesy of the price cap increase.

Although clause 25 is righting a small wrong, people living off the gas grid deserve a lot more help than is being offered with this measure. They should have had the comfort of being included in regulation under Ofgem, as imperfect as that organisation is. Indeed, I introduced a ten-minute rule Bill in this House to ask for that, yet people living off grid are still suffering from a wild west approach to pricing in how they heat their homes. That affects many people across my constituency and other large rural areas. They simply do not have a choice when prices surge. This is a tiny measure being taken today, and more should have been done.

I mentioned the £400 support that we called for, but a social tariff should also have been considered. There should have been reductions, not increases, in the price cap to help people at this juncture. Energy policy, as we know, is fully reserved to Westminster, and it is the Chancellor who decides whether people can afford to put the heat on. Well, a lot of folk cannot afford to do so.

In my constituency, and across the highlands and islands, we produce six times more clean, cheap, renewable energy than is needed by the people living there. The massive bulk of that production is exported to other parts of the nations of the UK, yet, in return, we get to pay higher standing charges and higher unit prices in a climate that demands that we use more to make life bearable. We suffer the highest fuel poverty. Electricity charges in the highlands are around 30% higher than they are here in London, according to Ofgem. How is that fair?

The Chancellor offered £1,000 a year off energy bills for those living near planned new power lines and generating equipment. The question we now ask is: what about those already living next to and among generating equipment? Why should they not be included and compensated in the same way? After the long years of this energy injustice, it must now be time to right that wrong. The Chancellor must establish a highland energy rebate, and, again, speed is of the essence. All of this and more should be done, but the fact is that this place does not act on Scotland’s needs. We have the energy, but we do not have the power. We should have that through independence.

On clause 27, as highlighted in the explanatory notes to the Bill and in the Minister's comments, we know that the Chancellor will raise more than £200 billion pounds a year in VAT and excise duty alone, a significant amount of that on the back of Scotland’s food, whisky and oil production. The Conservatives’—and now Labour’s and the Liberal Democrats’—Brexit was supposed to release the means to support business. Instead, all Brexit has brought is red tape and heartache. We see the results of that today in this debate. So let us see the Government step forward. I am not expecting them to fulfil the wild promises of Brexit—there is no possibility of that—but let us see whether they can live up to a tiny amount in the form of a VAT cut for the tourism and hospitality sector and some support for disabled people. I agree with the right hon. Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) that there should be more attention paid to that.

The UK Government’s attempt to sell the tax measures set out in the statement as a giveaway for working people is beyond belief. The Office for Budget Responsibility has been clear that the Chancellor’s decision to freeze income tax will create 3.2 million extra taxpayers by 2028, with 2.6 million people more in higher tax bands. This is a Tory-made cost of living crisis. The reality is that households in Scotland are paying the price for the UK Government’s mismanagement of the economy, with an especially devastating impact on vulnerable people.

The stark difference between the UK Government’s autumn statement, and consequently the Bill, and the Scottish Government’s Budget, which prioritises ensuring that everyone in Scotland can have a decent standard of living, is a timely reminder of why we need to get our own governance. In December, a report by UNICEF found that the UK’s child poverty rates were among the highest in the world’s richest countries. The report compared well-off countries’ efforts to reduce child poverty, and the UK ranked as one of the worst-performing, coming 37th out of the 39 nations of the EU and the OECD.

We also know that the cost of living crisis is disproportionately impacting disabled people. Again, the call for a VAT cut is valid, but there was nothing in the Chancellor’s autumn statement or the Bill that will do anything to make it easier for those with disabilities to get through this cost of living crisis. Indeed, the Government seem committed to making the lives of those with disabilities more difficult through a renewed focus on ramping up the use of cruel benefit sanctions. In October last year, research by Scope found that nearly one in three disabled people face debt. James Taylor, executive director of strategy at Scope, noted:

“When disabled people are being pushed into debt and can’t afford to eat, stay warm or shower, it’s clear the system is broken. These figures lay bare the fact disabled people are being hit hardest in this crisis.”

It is utterly shameful that the UK Government have failed to introduce measures in the autumn statement or the Bill that would improve the lives of millions of people who are facing poverty, and in some cases actual destitution. The fundamental problems with the autumn statement and the Bill are what was omitted from it.

Is this not the problem? If we do not invest in people’s health and wellbeing, in the long term it will cost the NHS, social services and the Department for Work and Pensions even more to support people as they continue to spiral down. Does that not contrast with the preventive approach that the Scottish Government take, with such innovations as the baby box and the child payment?

My hon. Friend is right: the on-costs of not doing so lead to further problems, and to higher costs not only to the public purse but to the mental and physical wellbeing of those who are impacted by the cost of living crisis.

These major fiscal events serve as a tangible example of the total mismatch between the values of the UK Government and the people of Scotland. The things that the UK Government choose to spend money on and the tax measures that they have chosen to leave out of the Bill, such as abolishing non-dom status, are a clear reminder of that. It is abhorrent that at the same time as announcing cruel measures to force ill and disabled people into work, the UK Government did not include any provisions on making the tax system fairer. There are countless examples of the UK Government wasting money and then attempting to claw back the funds by targeting groups who are the least well off. The return to draconian measures forced on ill and disabled people is just the latest example. The stark difference between the Bill and the Scottish Government’s Budget, which prioritises ensuring that everyone in Scotland can have a decent standard of living, is a timely reminder of why we need independence.

The SNP believes that building a strong economy starts with giving people a decent standard of living, and our most recent Budget reflected that, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow North (Patrick Grady) mentioned. The Scottish Government’s Budget reflects the people of Scotland’s shared values and speaks to the kind of Scotland that we want to be. It is important to remember that the Scottish Government have achieved that against the backdrop of their very limited ability to raise additional revenue through taxes, and having to work largely with a fixed budget. Despite those very difficult circumstances, the Scottish Government have once again shown their commitment to protecting the NHS from strikes, as well as investing in it and shielding the most vulnerable people, as far as possible, from the impact of regressive Westminster policies.

While the Tories have just delivered a 3% real-terms cut to England’s NHS in their autumn statement, the Scottish Government announced an increase to the frontline NHS budget in real terms. They also remain committed to helping those most impacted by the cost of living crisis. In their Budget last month, the Scottish Government increased the game-changing Scottish child payment in line with inflation to £26.70 a week, giving more support to the more than 323,000 under-16s who receive it. They maintained their commitment to invest £1 billion over the course of this Parliament to tackle the poverty-related attainment gap, with £200 million to be distributed in 2024-25. They are committed to funding the £12-per-hour real living wage for adult and child social care, and early learning and childcare workers in the private, voluntary and independent sectors that deliver funded provision. They have helped households through the cost of living crisis by making available an additional £144 million of funding to councils that agree to fully fund a council tax freeze in 2024-25—the funding equivalent of supporting a 5% increase. Those are just the latest measures the Scottish Government have taken to promote equality.

The Scottish Government have of course introduced landmark policies to ensure that everyone in Scotland has access to a decent standard of living. If Westminster was in charge, Scotland would lose things like free university tuition, free school meals, free period products, free bus travel for under-22s and free childcare for three and four-year-olds, as well as eligible two-year-olds. All that is possible because the Scottish Government take a different approach to a Budget than this place, and we need to ensure that we can do that in a much more effective way through the powers of independence.

I think some hon. Members may have tried to expand the debate strictly beyond the scope of the measures we are debating; for understandable reasons, I will stick strictly to the clauses.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Sir Mike Penning) made some important points about ensuring that we take full advantage of the benefits of leaving the European Union. Of course, we have already made progress in that area by removing, replacing and improving retained EU law, including revoking all direct EU regulations in relation to customs duty, introducing a UK tariff and domestic customs regime, introducing VAT relief for women’s period products and for the installation of energy-saving materials, and so on. On the points he made regarding potential future changes to VAT, we of course always keep tax under review. He will forgive me for not making tax policy at the Dispatch Box this evening, tempted as I am; that is the purpose of key fiscal events. I will absolutely commit to meeting my right hon. Friend, as I am always willing to listen and hear comments.

Comments were made about encouraging the use of greener fuels. The Government encourage the use of renewable fuels through the renewable transport fuel obligation, which incentivises the use of low-carbon fuels and reduces emissions from fuels supplied for use in transport and non-road mobile machinery. On the point about the Court of Justice, the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 provides that Court of Justice of the European Union judgments issued since the end of the implementation period are not binding on UK courts. On the point about codifying everything, trying to codify all interpretative effects into black and white UK law would of course be a huge endeavour and would require a complete review of all that legislation, taking many years and still leaving significant tax revenue at risk.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 25 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 27 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

The Deputy Speaker resumed the Chair.

Bill (Clauses 1 and 2, schedule 1, clause 21, schedule 12, clauses 25, 27 and 31 to 34, and schedule 13) reported, without amendment, and ordered to lie on the Table.