Office of Tax Simplification

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 3:45 pm ar 7 Gorffennaf 2016.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 3:45, 7 Gorffennaf 2016

Clause 172 and schedule 25 place the Office of Tax Simplification and its governance arrangements on a permanent statutory footing. I will also cover the other clauses in this group. The Government are making these changes to reinforce the OTS’s independence, ensure that it can play a greater role in public debate, and expand its role and capacity to advise the Government on tackling complexity in the tax system.

I would like to provide hon. Members with some background to the changes. The Government established the OTS as a temporary, non-statutory office of the Treasury in July 2010 to provide the Chancellor with independent advice on options for addressing existing complexity in the tax system. Since then, the OTS has made more than 400 recommendations to simplify the tax system, almost half of which have been implemented by the Government. To ensure that the OTS continues that important work, the Chancellor announced at summer Budget 2015 that the Government intended to put the OTS on a permanent statutory footing in this Bill.

The changes made by clause 172 and schedule 25 put the OTS on a statutory footing and strengthen its governance and operations. The OTS board must include the OTS chair and tax director and representatives from the Treasury and HMRC. In addition, the chair may nominate up to four further non-executive members to be approved by the Chancellor to provide the board with additional challenge and guidance.

Clauses 173 to 175 specify the enhanced functions and operations of the OTS. As part of the OTS’s expanded role, it will be able to provide advice on the simplification of the tax system as it considers appropriate, which is something that it has never been able to do before, as well as undertake reviews on areas of the tax system at the request of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Where the OTS has conducted a review at the Chancellor’s request, he must publish a response.

The new OTS will also be more accountable and transparent. Clause 175 requires the OTS to publish an annual report on the performance of its functions. To ensure the OTS’s long-term effectiveness, clause 176 requires the Treasury to review its work every five years and stipulates that such reviews must be published. Clause 177 gives the Treasury power to appoint the day when the legislation establishing the OTS will take effect. That will be done by the end of 2016.

If I may, I would like to respond briefly to amendments 137 to 142, which would amend clauses 174 and 175 and schedule 25. Amendment 137 would allow the OTS to conduct reviews on aspects of the tax system as it considers appropriate. Clause 173 makes a provision for the OTS to provide advice to the Chancellor on aspects of the tax system as it considers appropriate, which is a power that the OTS has never had before. That is appropriate to its advisory role.

Amendments 138 and 139 would provide for the OTS to lay reports before Parliament. The OTS’s role is to advise the Chancellor on aspects of the tax system. It does not have a scrutiny function. It is therefore right that the Chancellor, who is accountable for the Treasury and its independent offices, should publish and lay the OTS reports in Parliament. The Chancellor also has the ability to make statements regarding OTS reports when laying them in Parliament. The OTS does not have that ability.

Amendment 140 would require the Chancellor to seek the approval of the Treasury Committee before appointing a new OTS chair. The role of the OTS is to advise on the simplification of the tax system; it does not have an Executive function. It is for the Chancellor to make the final decisions on tax policy while balancing the competing objectives of simplification, fairness and growth. The Government are nevertheless clear that the independence of the OTS is critical to its success and that is why we have strengthened the OTS’s board and introduced legislation that will put it on a statutory footing. The Bill will allow the OTS to advise the Chancellor on the simplification of the tax system as it considers appropriate, which it has not been able to do before. The Government believe that these measures, as well as the Treasury Committee’s right to hold a post-appointment hearing for the OTS’s chairman and tax director, are sufficient to achieve the independence proportionate to the function of the OTS.

Amendment 141 seeks to ensure that the OTS has the funding it needs to carry out its functions. The amendment is not necessary. The Treasury has increased the OTS’s budget by nearly 50%, expanding its capacity with up to 10 full-time employees—an increase from six in the previous Parliament. Finally, amendment 142 looks to include tax reliefs in the OTS’s remit. That is not needed as tax reliefs are already in the scope of the OTS’s remit. Clause 173 provides for the OTS to give advice on the simplification of the tax system, which encompasses tax reliefs. I therefore urge Members to reject the amendments.

May I take this opportunity to thank John Whiting for his services to the OTS as tax director and congratulate him on his recent appointment as a CBE? He has served the OTS with much distinction and he will be greatly missed when he moves on. He has put a huge amount of effort into getting the OTS not only up and running but functioning well over a number of years.

The Government are committed to a tax system that is simple to understand and easy to comply with. The OTS has a key role to play in that. By tackling the big complexities in the system, the OTS can make a genuine difference to taxpayers. Establishing the OTS on a permanent, statutory footing will reinforce its independence and ensure that it can continue to provide robust and independent recommendations to the Government on simplifying the tax system. I hope that the clauses and schedule will stand part of the Bill.