Substantial shareholding exemption

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:45 pm ar 19 Hydref 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

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

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 1 and 2.

Clause 28 stand part.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Clauses 27 and 28 deal with the exemption from corporation tax on gains and losses arising on certain disposals of shares, known as the substantial shareholding exemption, or SSE. Clause 27 simplifies the substantial shareholding exemption by removing some conditions that impose unnecessary administrative burdens. Amendments 1 and 2 to clause 28 together ensure that the definition of a substantial shareholding in companies owned by institutional investors applies for the whole of the SSE rules, as intended. Clause 28 introduces a new and simpler SSE for companies owned by some tax-exempt institutional investors; it will help to promote the UK as a place where global investors can establish and manage their investments in trading businesses, infrastructure projects and real estate.

The exemption was originally introduced in 2002, with the aim of eliminating the potential double taxation of trading profits when a corporate shareholder disposes of a large shareholding in a trading company or sub-group. That allows a group of companies to restructure its trading operations without facing a further tax charge. The value of the shares being sold generally reflects profits that have already been taxed, so a tax on disposal of the shareholding would amount to another layer of taxation. The Government announced a consultation on the existing rules at Budget 2016, with the aim of simplifying the rules and making the UK more competitive globally.

The changes made by clause 27 will simplify the regime in a number of ways, affording greater certainty to the business community at negligible cost. Those changes include removing the onerous condition that the company making the share disposal must show that it, and any group of which it is a part, does not have substantial non-trading activity. Previously, the company making the disposal would have had to establish the level of trading activity across a group, which could be worldwide. The change ensures that all companies holding large shareholdings in trading companies can benefit from the exemption, with a reduced administrative burden. They also extend the ownership period in which a substantial shareholding must be held in order to qualify. That ensures that companies can continue to benefit from the exemption in instances where shareholdings are disposed of in tranches over many years, or where an initially large stake in a growing company is diluted to below 10% by new share issues.

The changes made by clause 28 provide a simpler exemption for companies owned by a specific class of investor, defined as qualifying institutional investors. Those include pension funds, widely marketed UK investment funds, life assurance funds and other large international investors that would be exempted from UK tax on their chargeable gains if they held shares directly. The clause allows them to organise their investments through UK holding companies by removing tax barriers. At present, most choose to locate their holding companies in a variety of other European jurisdictions that have effective share exemption regimes. Clause 28 provides an exemption without regard to the nature of the business activities of either the company making the disposal or the company in which it has a substantial shareholding.

Government amendments 1 and 2 are essential to ensure that institutional investments in shares costing at least £20 million always qualify for SSE. That is an extension of the general SSE threshold that requires holdings to be at least 10% of the shares. Unless an amendment is made, the £20 million rule would apply to investments in real estate or other non-trade activities but not to other activities that are equally important to the UK, such as investments in major infrastructure projects or other trading companies.

The changes introduced by the clauses will make the UK tax regime more competitive globally and will incentivise these institutional investors to hold and manage their investments from the UK, with negligible cost to the Exchequer. Following the calling of the general election, these clauses were removed from the Finance Act 2017. The changes are almost wholly relieving and so the Bill provides for them to take effect retrospectively, so that taxpayers can still benefit from the changes being made from the original commencement date. The clauses simplify the corporation tax regime and make the UK a more attractive location for investment. I urge the Committee to accept amendments 1 and 2 and commend clauses 27 and 28.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I have a couple of brief questions. Clause 27 provides the Treasury with new powers to regulate the list of approved investors that qualify for the substantial shareholding exemption. It would therefore be helpful to know what checks will be placed on the Treasury’s use of those new powers. In its assessment of the measure, the Treasury said that the financial impact would be negligible, which sounds slightly peculiar. Any further information about that would be gratefully received.

I understand the rationale for the measure in clause 28, which will shift the qualifying conditions for exemption from the activities of the disposing company or the company being disposed of to instead focus on, as described by the Minister, the shareholding for which the disposal is made and to the other shareholders of the company disposed of. I would be interested to learn whether the Minister believes that the new measures will extend beyond trading companies to encompass, for example, commercial real estate. What assessment has he made of the likely impact that might have?

More broadly, I am keen to learn how the Government are trying to balance the need to ensure that tax treatments do not artificially impact on commercial decision making with the need to prevent any potential for abuse.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

The hon. Lady asks a large number of technical questions, which are gratefully received, but I hope she will forgive me if I drop her a note on the more specific points. The measures have been scored by the Office for Budget Responsibility as having a negligible cost. They are independently assessed and scored by that authority. I hope on that basis we can move forward.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 27 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 28