Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Report from the Economic Affairs Committee New powers for HMRC: fair and proportionate? (4th Report, Session 2019–21, HL Paper 198).
My Lords, I have been told that, thanks to the intriguing procedure we have in this House, I am not entitled to give a full 10-minute speech, which no doubt noble Lords will greet with a great sense of relief at not having to sit through 10 minutes of me wittering on. I would just ask noble Lords to indulge me for a few moments.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for what he has just said, but ask him to write to me on the points I raised and the specific questions I asked, in particular as regards Clause 129, which I see as an enormous—I would use the words “power grab”. In my view, it is certainly an unwarranted clause, given that we have not even had the consultation which this policy clearly demands. We do not know the costs or the impact. I would therefore very much like to hear more from him on that.
I was relieved to hear that action will be taken on umbrella companies. That is clearly needed, although there is a crying need for action on the mini umbrella companies. We absolutely need to focus on that, and I am sure that our committee will do so.
I was also grateful that the Minister mentioned that the Government are still committed to their manifesto commitment at least to look at the measures in the Taylor review. This is long overdue, as my noble friend Lord Forsyth, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said. It is absolutely critical. We need to address the impact which the digital revolution is having on our tax and employment systems. Until we do that, I fear that all the other tinkering that we do will be nothing but sticking plasters. We absolutely need a radical review, and this cannot happen soon enough.
As I said on the gracious Speech, it is greatly disappointing that this Government have not so far used the opportunity presented by having a majority of over 80 to start thinking in these ways and looking at taking some decisions that may be unpopular and tough but are needed.
I thank the members of the committee for their speeches and their very kind words about me. As noble Lords will no doubt have recognised and acknowledged in their speeches, it is their contribution that makes our committee pack its punch. In my opening speech I failed to mention my thanks to the Financial Secretary, Jesse Norman, and HMRC for co-operating with our committee’s inquiry. Clearly, we did not agree—it says so in the report—but as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, rightly said, we got to a score draw. I think that shows that I and we could do more next time, but at least that is better than nothing. As the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, it is a pity that the Government seem to agree more with the principles and the theory that we came up with than the practical next steps that we would like them to take. Better luck next time.
This has been a short debate, but it has been a double espresso sort of a debate; I feel we have packed an enormous punch into it and covered a wide range of issues. We have had very good contributions on the digital revolution, the enormous debt crisis I fear we are facing, climate change—the pressing issue of our time alongside the digital revolution—and inequality. I found the contributions challenging, and they have all been very interesting.
I have two points. First, it is somewhat depressing that there have not been more Members of this House contributing on what I see as the defining issues of our time. We can all think why that may be; one reason is that we are sitting in this Chamber as it is. The sooner we can get this House and the other place back to operating as close to normal as possible, the better. That will make sure we can debate these issues and challenge properly and effectively, as we are here to do. Until that happens, I fear we are going to go on having these kinds of debates; where we feel like we are talking to ourselves and not actually able to hold the Government to account—which is what we are here to do. That absolutely needs to happen.
Secondly, on the point that the noble Lords, Lord Butler, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, made, and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, also made in winding up, I completely agree; it is very odd that we spend hours debating in committee, then coming up with committee reports outlining practical measures that can and should be taken by the Government on the Finance Bill. And what happens? In the space of an hour and a half, the entire Bill has gone through and it has gone through all those processes in the space of under a minute.
I recognise that how we do this means looking long and hard at our role with the other place on how we can make amendments to the Finance Bill that do not tread on their toes. I seriously think that, as the noble Lord, Lord Butler, said, we need to look at this because there are some powers in this Bill that have not had anything like the amount of scrutiny they demand. Clause 129 is a good case in point. That really should change. It has been a very good debate, but noble Lords can sense my frustration that we have not been able to go on further. I beg to move.