Finance (No. 2) Bill

Published date : 01 December, 2021
It is a pleasure to speak in this section of our consideration of the Finance Bill. At the outset, may I just say that notwithstanding the valiant efforts of the Minister to try to persuade me otherwise, I will still be pressing amendments 5, 6 and 7 and new clauses 10 and 11 in my name and those of my colleagues?

Before I get to the nub of amendment 5, it is always important to place on record, when dealing with matters such as finance, that we are also dealing with a climate emergency. It is very important that we are using every single resource and every single incentive that we have at our disposal to encourage a move to net zero across the public sector and the private sector, and as quickly as possible.

Amendment 5 would restrict access to the extended temporary increase in the annual investment allowance to businesses that support a transition to net zero. To go back to a previous life, I was once the joint leader of Aberdeenshire Council. I think I am right in saying—I have no objection to being corrected by anyone in the Chamber, or anyone outside the Chamber who happens to be watching this—that we were the first local authority in the UK to introduce a carbon budget and to put it on an equal footing in governance with the capital budget, the revenue budget and the housing revenue allowance budget. It was therefore considered on exactly the same basis, and every single measure we were taking, whether in policy or budgetary terms, was worked through so that the carbon impact was understood and the emissions that resulted from activities were always on a downward trajectory.

That is exactly the sort of net zero philosophy that needs to be baked into the private sector. One way we could do that is by making qualifying for the allowance contingent on companies having taken steps to reduce carbon dioxide in their business model and how they go about their business, but we could also challenge companies on how they will build further on the progress they have made in reducing carbon dioxide. That seems to me a sensible measure and a proportionate approach, and I commend it to colleagues.

I will move on to amendment 6. I do not doubt the good intentions and best endeavours of the Government in trying to address tax evasion at any level, but it was nevertheless extraordinary to hear the Minister suggest that requiring companies to demonstrate their tax compliance would represent an onerous burden on them. This is pretty basic, baseline, default stuff. We should expect businesses to comply with the tax code and to pay their taxes in full and on time to the best of their abilities and not to try to avoid that. People want to see businesses and others succeed, but they also want to know that others are playing by the rules, and that is particularly the case for businesses. We want businesses to do well by competing and being the best that they can be, but we want to see them succeed on the basis of the quality and effectiveness of what they do, rather than by being incentivised perversely not to contribute to the common good and to undercut their more scrupulous competitors.

We often hear from the Government Dispatch Box that there is no such thing as tax revenues without businesses, but we miss the other side of the balance sheet and the other side of the equation: it is much, much harder for businesses to succeed without the high quality of the public goods that they consume, whether that is an educated population, a health service, investment in our infrastructure, the provision of a stable market, law and order and the emergency services—everything else that is fundamental to underpinning the activities of the society we live in. Fundamentally, tax cuts of this kind should be going to businesses that play by the rules and do not undercut their competitors by not playing by the rules. It is important to incentivise and reward that good behaviour, and that is precisely what amendment 6 would do.

We tabled amendment 7 to ensure that smaller businesses with lower levels of qualifying capital expenditure were not disadvantaged in any way by having their annual investment allowance limits restricted. Again, the amendment would ensure that we are playing fair for those who play by the rules.

Moving on to new clauses 10 and 11, it is very important that the measures we have in the Finance Bill or any legislation have the intended effects, that we can see whether they are having those intended effects and that we can quantify that and ensure, so far as is possible, that we are avoiding any adverse, unforeseen consequences. New clause 11 would insist that the Government publish within 12 months an assessment of the size, number and location of companies claiming the increased annual investment allowance; the impact of the reliefs on levels of capital investment, to see that we are getting the desired outcome from that reduction; and the scope of total business investments that are being covered by the relief, to see whether it is helping to drive investment and growth in the economy. That should be a fundamental set of baseline assessments that the Government should wish to undertake. New clause 11 would ensure that happens.

Moving on to new clause 10, and from unforeseen adverse circumstances to entirely foreseeable adverse circumstances, Brexit continues to be a millstone around the neck of businesses and families, and it is important that we understand the continued consequences and ramifications of choices that have either been made freely or, in the case of the area I represent and the people of Scotland, been forced upon us.

A programme I used to like watching on television on a Sunday afternoon was “Bullseye” with Jim Bowen. I do not know if anyone remembers that. His catchphrase at the end when the contestants did not do nearly as well as they had hoped—they had gone for that 101 with six darts and had sadly fallen short—was, “Let’s have a look at what you could have won.” New clause 10 is about having a look at what we could have won. It would ensure that the Government carry out an assessment of how the changes in the annual investment allowance would have affected our GDP had we remained in the European Union and had we left with that future trade and investment partnership in place.

Finally, I turn to clause 6 and the banking surcharge. My party was happy to support the increase in corporation tax generally, but people still bear the scars of the 2010 banking crisis. They believe that, in the spirit of fairness, the banks should make a fair contribution, not just to help businesses to grow and develop to make sure that the economy is growing and that they are making the best contribution they can, but to ensure that they are repaying some of the harm caused by the reckless approach to banking in the lead-up to the financial crash. Many people will look askance at the reduction in the surcharge, notwithstanding the increase in the corporation tax rate generally, and will feel that banks are not fulfilling their proper roles as prudent lenders or their social responsibilities but seem to be getting off the hook.

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