National Insurance Contributions Bill (First sitting)
Published date : 22 June, 2021
I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 2, page 2, line 26, at end insert—
“(e) the employer pays, as a minimum, a living wage, to all staff it employs, and
(f) the businesses operating in the freeport in which the employer has business premises have collectively—
(i) put in place a strategy setting out how the freeport will contribute to the target for net UK emissions of greenhouse gases in 2050 as set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 as amended by the Climate Change Act (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019,
(ii) put in place a strategy setting out how the businesses will ensure that no goods passing through the freeport are the products of slave labour, and
(iii) carried out an environmental impact assessment of the operation of the freeport.”
This amendment provides conditions to businesses in freeports. These include a strategy on how the freeport will contribute to the target for net UK greenhouse gases emissions, a strategy ensuring no goods passing through the freeport are products of slave labour, and an environmental impact assessment of the freeport.
There is a pretty basic principle that lies behind this: that you shouldn’t get owt for nowt. In exchange for the substantial package of reliefs that are on offer through this Bill, we believe that businesses must offer something in return, beyond their presence and their baseline economic activity within the bounds of a freeport.
In this case that would include, through amendments 1 and 2, meeting local environmental obligations. Many freeports are built on sites that have environmental sensitivities. We believe there need to be some enhanced obligations around that. Activities in a freeport should contribute to wider environmental objectives, such as the commitments to net zero and climate targets. It is very important to protect workers’ rights, not only within the perimeter of a freeport but anywhere else that has any kind of economic relationship with the freeport. That means taking steps to actively ensure that we are preventing the exploitation of slave labour at any stage in the value chain and ensuring that a living wage, as defined, is paid to the workers in the freeport.
Those are all important objectives in policy terms and are a fair exchange for the public goods being consumed through the creation of the freeport. They are modest asks in the context of the relief being offered and are worthy of support.
I thank the Minister for his response. One of the things that we hear most often is that any amendment that may be desirable may add complexity, which seems to be a standard phrase that gets thrown in whenever the Government do not wish to proceed with something and cannot think of a better argument.
On the basis of what I have heard, I am unpersuaded that the suite of benefits and reliefs that are offered should make it easier to help achieve those objectives. I take what the Minister said about the obligations that already exist under the Modern Slavery Act 2015, but I still think that more can be done to embed the expectations that we have, and not just in Scotland. I take the Minister’s point that the Scottish Government have a certain latitude in this area, but the point is to ensure that the provision applies all over and that there is some kind of equality. On that basis, I will press the amendment to a vote.
That the amendment be made.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With your permission, Ms Nokes, I would like to speak to new clauses 6, 7 and 8, if that is possible. I will just wrap everything into one debate. I would like to add my own thanks to the Clerk and you, Ms Nokes.
Okay. In that case, on new clauses 6 and 7, I simply seek to make the point that there is a strong appetite to find new ways to support the economy, especially in those sectors that can contribute to green recovery, beyond the covid recovery and into the future.
A key element in progressing that, along with the cost curve for new technologies, is driving competition and, through that, improvement. Providing exemptions on NICs and ensuring that they are targeted on businesses engaged solely in green manufacturing could do much to drive that innovation and improvement. That requires that incentives are targeted at enterprises that are engaged in green manufacturing and in driving that new green industrial revolution.
New clause 7 provides examples of two categories of products that clearly fall within that bracket, although there is certainly scope to expand beyond that, but I think that the principle stands. If that strategy is not to be achieved in that manner, it certainly should be achieved in other ways. I would welcome the Minister’s remarks on that. It is not my intention to push the new clause to a vote.
On the basis of the Minister’s remarks, the principle stands, but on this occasion, I will not seek to progress by moving to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
New Clause 8
Scottish Government Covid payments: exemption from primary Class 1 contributions
(1) A primary Class 1 contribution is not to be payable in respect of any Scottish Government Covid payment.
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), a ‘Scottish Government Covid payment’ means a payment of £500 pro rata to any NHS Scotland or social care worker in accordance with the announcement made by the Scottish Government on 30 November 2020.”—(Richard Thomson.)
This new clause provides exemptions for Scottish Government Covid payments to social care workers.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
As this will be my penultimate contribution, I would like to offer my thanks to the Clerks and everyone who has helped the proceedings to move so smoothly, through your chairmanship, Ms Nokes, which has helped considerably with that objective.
On Second Reading, I remarked on the unfairness that was caused by the Treasury’s refusing to exempt income tax on the thank-you payment that the Scottish Government made to health and social care workers. It was in the form of a £500 thank-you bonus to reflect how health and social care workers were valued for their contribution during the incredibly challenging period that we have been through. The full benefits of that payment have been put at risk by the UK Government’s ability to tax us. Contrary to a number of assertions, the Scottish Government do not have the ability to get round that, other than by paying far more than the £500. It would therefore be far better to have the exemption in place.
Although an exemption for the bonus would be welcome, we recognise that the majority of welfare employment powers reside with the UK Government. We therefore want to press the new clause to ensure that clarity is provided and that any future payments for health and social care workers can be exempt from national insurance contributions.
I think everything that needs to be said has been said. On that basis, I would like to move to a vote.
That the clause be read a Second time.
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