Finance (No. 2) Bill (Third sitting)
Published date : 05 January, 2022
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Angela. I rise to speak to new clause 3, in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central. As the Minister outlined, this new clause would require a Government assessment of the impact of the residential property developer tax being introduced by the Bill and of its effect on opportunities for tax evasion and avoidance.
We are all familiar with what this tax sets out to achieve and those on whom it should fall. There is a £25 million annual allowance for construction firms, and the tax will be levied above that at 4%. That does not take a great deal of time to say, but unfortunately, giving it effect requires 16 pages and a further eight pages across two schedules in the Bill and a great many more pages in the explanatory notes to say exactly how it will work in practice. Therefore, the opportunity for genuine confusion, for interpretation and, sadly, for evasion and avoidance is certainly a real and present danger in the legislation.
The anticipated impacts are set out in table 5.1 of the “Autumn Budget and Spending Review 2021”. We are not talking huge sums from this tax, but given its stated purpose and the means to which the revenues are going to be put, I think that reviewing its impact—not just in a financial sense, but in the sense of the unintended consequences that it could have and the havoc that it could wreak in terms of confusion, differences of interpretation, and avoidance and evasion—seems to be an eminently reasonable thing to do. I urge the Minister to reconsider how the Government intend to tackle that once the tax is implemented.
Thank you, Dame Angela; it is a relief to find out that my hearing is not as dodgy as I momentarily thought it was.
I rise to speak in support of new clause 5, which is in the name of my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central. The Minister has run through why we are looking to have an assessment. I say to her as gently as I can that it is all fine and well to be proud of commitments that the Government have made, but it would be much better to rack up more quickly achievements that she could point to and be proud of on climate change, rather than just making statements of aspiration. This is one area where it is quite important to get some more chalk on the board.
As we have heard, the Bill sets a series of incremental changes to vehicle excise duty, and precisely because they are incremental, we might expect, at best, an equally incremental impact, or even an imperceptible one, on changing behaviour and on the resulting climate change
impacts. We are all aware of the mandate to end the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles in a bid to encourage the take-up of alternatively fuelled vehicles, but I am of the same view as the hon. Member for Erith and Thamesmead: we will need some significant further incentivisation if we are to drive the change through that policy on the scale and at the pace that is required.
My party is very fond of drawing comparisons with Norway—another small country, like Scotland, of 5 million people—on the other side of the North sea. Sometimes those comparisons are about what might have been, but we also point to what could and perhaps what should be. Norway has been so successful in incentivising the take-up of electric vehicles that the Government are running out of hydrocarbon-fuelled vehicles to tax, which has resulted in a 19.2 billion kroner gap in their latest budget.
That is not a problem that the UK Government are likely to encounter any time soon, in view of the current take-up of electric vehicles, and that is why new clause 5 is so important. It would provide for an assessment of how effective or—as we suspect—ineffective these particular changes will be over the year, so that the UK Government had the necessary information base to set future policy as quickly as possible. I think the Minister knows that we need to do that at some point, and surely it is better to start sooner rather than later.
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