Clause 225 - Data-gathering from merchant acquirers etc

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:15 pm ar 20 Mehefin 2013.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am conscious of time, so I will be brief. Members will be familiar with the concept of merchant acquirers. They are organisations that process credit and debit card payments for merchants and retailers. The Treasury has deemed that there is a problem with ensuring modernised data-gathering powers for HMRC to obtain third-party data from a specified range of data holders subject to appeal, with penalties for non-compliance.

There are some sensible proposals in the clause, and I have no particular difficulty with tightening up HMRC’s powers, but I want the Minister to dwell for a moment on an issue that we tried to raise through an amendment—amendment 52—that you, Mr Amess, deemed in your wisdom not to be in order.

The amendment relates to some of the difficulties faced with merchant acquirers, and it relates in particular to the data issue, because it is to do with the regulation of merchant acquirers generally. Some individuals are finding that the merchant acquirers—the companies that provide businesses with debit and credit card payments, two of which are RBS and Lloyds—are now assessing those businesses they perceive to be more risky and taking the extreme action of removing their payment facilities. Many small firms have voiced anxieties. The action is causing them concern, especially those that do not have the ability to accept card payments and are therefore at risk of going under.

The removal of the merchant acquirer facilities has been of concern for some time now, to travel agency businesses in particular. Is the Minister able to find time to say that he is aware of some of the issues that have arisen from the merchant acquirers’ heavy-handed approach to withdrawing facilities—often from sole traders that have been deemed, en bloc, not to be trustworthy or capable? That action can really affect small firms, particularly as so many transactions are now electronic and relate to debit and credit card payments. I know that the Minister will want to spend a moment hearing the small enterprise sector’s complaints about that matter.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Regulatory Reform Committee

For my sins, I run an acquiring business and an issuing business. Has not the marketplace moved on somewhat, with most of those things now done online? When the hon. Gentleman refers to acquiring, is that acquiring without a terminal as well as with one?

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I would not want to have technical exchanges with the hon. Gentleman about the nature of a debit or credit card payment to a sole trader or a retailer. The point is that I have heard that many such businesses have been told by the merchant acquirers, “That’s it. You can no longer have the Visa—or Mastercard —facility.” They now rely, therefore, very much on cash transactions, which can be inappropriate for travel agents.

We were looking to see whether there was a way of having a review of the impact of some of those withdrawals of merchant acquirer facilities. We do not have the opportunity to raise that matter in the context of the Bill, but I just wanted to flag it up to the Minister.

Photo of Sir David Amess Sir David Amess Ceidwadwyr, Southend West

Order. That was a most ingenious way of discussing an amendment that was not selected.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

Clause 225 enables Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to gather data from a new source. Merchant acquirers process credit and debit card payments on behalf of retailers. Aggregated data about those payments will allow HMRC to get independent verification of the sales figures that businesses declare on their tax returns.

A data holder can appeal against a notice to a business that processes card payments if the notice is unduly onerous. Regulations will specify the data to be collected. The information is limited to identifying businesses and their card sales; the regulations will not permit HMRC to get information about individual card holders. HMRC has been discussing the provision of these data with the major merchant acquirers. The cost of this change for merchant acquirers is expected to be minimal, and it will not affect retailers whose tax affairs are in order.

As you say, Mr Amess, the hon. Gentleman’s comments were an ingenious attempt to debate an amendment that has not been selected. I suspect there is a reason why it was not selected: it takes us outside the scope of the Bill.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

I have been in the hon. Gentleman’s position. One takes one’s chance when one can.

Merchant acquirers are free to choose who they provide their facilities to, as with any commercial transaction. With regard to the clause, we are debating the data that HMRC will obtain from businesses that receive such facilities. It is part of the wide range of tools that HMRC has. The hon. Gentleman has put his concerns on the record. There is not much more I can say on that matter.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

The hon. Gentleman is going to press me in an intervention.

Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It might be more politic to conduct this exchange on another occasion, so perhaps the Minister will draw this matter to the attention of the most relevant of his ministerial colleagues, either in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills or elsewhere, to see if he can generate an answer to this point. He can supply it in writing; that is quite satisfactory, as far as I am concerned.

Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary

I will make sure the hon. Gentleman’s comments are seen by the appropriate Minister. I am willing to do that, albeit that it is somewhat outside the scope of our Finance Bill deliberations. With those comments, I hope the clause will stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 225 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.