Structures and buildings allowances: rate of relief

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 2:15 pm ar 9 Mehefin 2020.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Wes Streeting Wes Streeting Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury) 2:15, 9 Mehefin 2020

In the case of clauses 28 and 29, I think we have to ask some questions about what the Government are trying to achieve, and some questions about the frequency with which they change the rules.

As the Chartered Institute of Taxation has said, taxpayers generally welcome any increase in a rate of relief, but as the institute has noted on many previous occasions, regular tinkering with rules and rates of capital allowances brings additional complexity and uncertainty; it also undermines investor understanding of and confidence in what is on offer at any one time. Most businesses cite certainty as one of the most important factors in their business planning, and as the institute has also said, it is perhaps more important than the precise amount of relief available.

When the SBA was introduced in 2018, it took an approach of introducing another type of asset classification required only for tax purposes—something that was previously identified by the Office of Tax Simplification in its review of capital allowances as a source of compliance costs. For most property investors, as there is a clawback on disposal of a structural building, the main benefit of the SBA is one of cash flow. As financial accounts will have to provide for a deferred tax liability, it is questionable how much this tax measure will act as a significant incentive to invest or will result in a significant impact on the UK’s competitive advantage. The Financial Secretary ought to address that criticism.

One of the other issues I wanted to raise is something that the Chartered Institute of Taxation has mentioned. Broadly, the changes—particularly in clause 29 and schedule 4—can be described as making the SBA work as it was intended to. It is a relatively new relief, having been introduced in October 2018, and the need for these corrections may reflect the fact that the relief was introduced as a done deal for immediate implementation, with no prior consultation. I am sure the Financial Secretary will say in defence—he can correct me if I am wrong—that the Treasury considers this important to deter businesses that were planning expenditure immediately after the 2018 Budget from deferring it until a later date of introduction, to avoid people taking full advantage too soon. It prompts the questions of why we have a system that apparently requires constant fine tuning, and of whether this is really working to the extent that Ministers intend and to the advantage of the businesses that are supposed to benefit from the relief, if they face additional compliance costs as a result.

I move on to new clause 10. I am in danger of repetition, which I appreciate is not a novelty in this place, but it is repetition that could easily have been avoided, were it not for the same issues that I raised this morning in relation to the “amendments to the law resolution” that successful Governments of different political stripes would have tabled to enable a more wide-ranging political debate in the interests of Parliament and, most importantly, of the wider public.

Ms McDonagh, as you were not chairing this morning’s proceedings, I think it is fair to say that the debate surrounding this Finance Bill, and the clauses that we are considering this afternoon and will consider into next week, is a little more dry and technical than perhaps any of us would have liked. There is a reason for that: it comes down to the fact that the Government are trying to restrict the ability of the Opposition, minor parties and dissenting Back Benchers to cause trouble. That would have been a little more understandable, if not noble, in previous Parliaments, when Governments operated under much tighter majorities or with no working majority at all. That is not to say that it was justified—the Opposition strongly argued against it in the past and would argue against Governments behaving in such a way in the future—but this Government have a significant majority. They do not need to worry about Back-Bench rebellions to the same extent as they once did, and none of us is well served by the Government failing to table the “amendments to the law resolution” alongside the Finance Bill, in order to allow the more wide-ranging political debate that our constituents would expect us to have.

Here we are with new clause 10, just as we were this morning, with an SNP amendment using the structures and buildings allowances review—I hope the hon. Member for Aberdeen South will not resent my characterising the new clause in this way—to shoehorn in some important wider considerations around what is happening to the UK economy on business investment, employment, productivity and energy efficiency, as outlined in the new clause, in a way that would not be necessary if Opposition parties or any hon. Members of the House were able to table amendments in the way we would have liked and our constituents would have expected. The Government would be richer for the scrutiny and would be forced to raise their game, and the Opposition parties would be encouraged to think more carefully about the changes that we propose to Government policy and would be under greater scrutiny to ensure that, where we oppose Government, we also suggest alternatives. Previously, we would have been able to demonstrate those alternatives more plainly by tabling amendments, but we are curtailed by the way the Government have gone about the process and procedure for amending this Bill. As a result, here we are, locked in Committee Room 14 on a moderately sunny afternoon, debating rather dry and technical details of the Bill, when our constituents, the Government and the process of government would have been better served by a more wide-ranging debate.