Finance (No. 3) Bill DebateFull Debate: Read Full Debate
Baroness Morgan of CotesMain Page: Baroness Morgan of Cotes (Conservative) - Loughborough)
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I am extremely glad that that issue has come up, because the opportunities created by growth outside the EU have no relationship to our membership of the EU, and could possibly be undermined by our leaving the EU. If we want to compete in competitive emerging markets around the world, what better way is there to do so than from within the single market? I would wager with the hon. Gentleman that a country like Germany will do far better from that growth around the world through its continued membership of the European Union than we will. I am afraid that it is because of such statistics, which have no bearing on serious Government policy or reality, that this debate has got to where it is, but I will move away from a wider debate on Brexit and return to the Finance Bill before you tell me to do so, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I will now come to clause 89 and the relationship between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Under the draft withdrawal agreement it is widely accepted that, under the backstop arrangements, Northern Ireland will remain in regulatory alignment with the European Union, which would be particularly the case for EU customs law but it would also apply to compliance with elements of EU single market regulation in the technical regulation of goods, state aid and other areas of north-south co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Of course, Northern Ireland would be included in parts of the EU VAT and excise regimes and in the single electricity market.
With that in mind, it is clear that the powers handed to the Treasury by this Bill may not be applicable in Northern Ireland in the legal and regulatory areas under which EU authority would remain. We are therefore seeking a review that clearly sets out any difference in application of these powers in respect of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and I urge Members on both sides of the House to support new clause 3.
New clause 7 relates to clause 90 on establishing an emissions reduction trading regime. It would require the Government to review the expected effect of the carbon emissions tax on the UK’s capacity to meet internationally agreed climate targets. There has never been a more critical time to take urgent action on climate change to avoid environmental catastrophe. The report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published in October 2018, shows that we have just 12 years left to make unprecedented changes to prevent global warming increases above 1.5° C. Our exit from the European Union must not be used as an excuse to step back from action on climate change. Worryingly, clause 90 contains one of the Bill’s very few passing references to environmental issues, and our review, proposed in new clause 7, would ensure that the Government are held accountable for making progress on reducing emissions without using Brexit as an excuse for stalling.
This is evidently a Government in chaos, seemingly without any plan or strategy at all. The new clauses and amendments in this group would improve both the Finance Bill and the process by which we leave the European Union. They are sensible, proportionate and timely, and I commend them to the House.
It is clear that Brexit can happen without this country, or this Government, having to undermine our economy, our constitution and our values as a country. Those who have signed amendment 7 represent different parties. We have different views on Brexit and the way forward. We have different views on the 2016 referendum and how we voted in it, but it is right that parliamentarians from all parts of the House should rule out the most damaging option that could happen on 29 March.
My right hon. Friend is very gracious in giving way. Does she accept that the UK trades profitably with the majority of the world’s GDP on World Trade Organisation terms? Therefore, this is not the cliff edge or crashing out that many people paint.
My right hon. Friend is being very gracious and I very much appreciate that.
Many of us in this place—I would like to think the majority of us—would prefer a good trade deal to WTO. That is not inconsistent, but I think what my right hon. Friend misses is that on a bad deal versus WTO we have got to get the balance right, because the EU has had such a bad track record on negotiating trade deals. We trade with the rest of the world on WTO terms very profitably and very successfully, even though many of us would prefer a good trade deal.
My right hon. Friend is making an extremely powerful argument. Does she recall that the trade deal between America and Canada, which was a “willing buyer, willing seller” trade deal, took many, many years? The idea that this is some wonderfully easy, smooth, simple process is, frankly, rubbish.
It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Loughborough (Nicky Morgan), because although we represent different parties and disagree on many issues, and although we will take different positions on the Prime Minister’s deal when it comes to a vote, on this issue we agree. I rise to speak to amendment 7 and to support amendment 8.
We agree on the dangers of no deal to the country. I tabled amendment 7 because I am really worried that delays, drift or brinkmanship mean that there is now a serious risk that we will end up crashing out of the EU with no deal in just 80 days’ time. I am worried that we could come to the crunch and Parliament would not have the powers to stop it happening. We have a responsibility not just to stand by. I believe that the Government should rule out no deal but, if they will not, Parliament must make sure that it has the powers to do so if it comes to the crunch.
Amendment 7 has support from across the House. It has been signed by Chairs of cross-party Committees—it has the support of the Chairs of the Treasury Committee, the Exiting the European Union Committee, the Liaison Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee and others, too—and it is supported by those with a wide range of views on the best way forward. It is supported by those who support the Prime Minister’s deal and those, like me, who do not, and it shows that those who take a wide range of views on the best way forward have come together to say that we should rule out the worst way forward.
Break in Debate
I do not believe I can, as I have been told that I have to proceed quickly.
For many years, the Government failed to take action, before clamping down purely on taxpayers and doing little to nothing to the enablers of this form of tax avoidance. I hope the Minister will be clear about this. He has talked about the promotion of defective schemes. When taxpayers are described as having done something illegal, which is what HMRC has said about the behaviour of those subject to the loan charge, why will the Government not say that those who promoted those schemes also promoted something illegal? They use this language about defective systems. I am sorry, but that is pusillanimous. Those who were unwittingly led into schemes that are now described as illegal must themselves be able to take action against those who wrongly advised them.
I hope that the Minister will look at that very carefully and accept the new clause. If he does not, I hope that he will accept my backstop, to coin a phrase, and have a meeting with me. I am glad he has intimated that he may be willing to do so to talk about how we can better help people who have ended up in a very difficult situation—some of them with their eyes wide open, but many of them not realising the impact of these schemes.
I support the way in which my right hon. Friend is addressing new clause 26, on which I find myself in a similar position to her. Although we want people to pay the correct taxes, I have constituents who may face losing their homes over this, after entering into what they thought were perfectly legal and allowable arrangements. Does she agree that the Treasury must address that?
Is my right hon. Friend aware that not only did quite a few people take advice, but they notified the Revenue of what they were doing and no objections were made at the time?
I am aware that we are fairly short of time, so I will not rerun many of the things I said in Committee—I am sure the Minister and those on the Opposition Front Bench will be delighted to hear that.
I want to highlight a few of the SNP amendments and new clauses in this group. We have a couple of new clauses asking once again whether the Government’s provisions will do what they intend. For example, we want them to review the changes to entrepreneurs’ relief. We also want them to look at the changes in relation to emergency vehicles, because we are particularly concerned about the potential rural impact. Those who have emergency vehicles in rural areas may have more cause to use them outside work time than people who use them in cities. We felt that that issue was not drawn out enough in Committee or in the information the Government provided previously.
New clause 17 is about Brexit analysis. It is important to note that, since the Brexit vote in June 2016, over $1 trillion has been pulled from UK equity funds, which is obviously a really large number. In any changes or preparations the Government carry out in relation to Brexit, therefore, they should note the impact on the economy, which, according to the Bank of England, has cost individual families £900 each so far, and there is also the impact on financial services, for example, which have historically been very strong in the UK.
New clauses 15, 11 and 14 again ask the Government to provide information through consultation reports. It is important that the Government tell us the consultation they did on the draft clauses they brought forward. On the ones they did not bring forward, why did they not do so?
On that point, I should mention that the Government have included a new schedule in this group. That is a relatively unusual thing for the Government to do at this stage, given that they could have included the schedule in the original Bill or brought it forward in Committee. Because the new schedule was not brought forward in the initial stages, the explanatory memorandum provided by the Government does not include details about it. It would have been helpful if it had been considered at an earlier stage or if the Members who sat through the Bill Committee had been notified that it was likely to come forward. Presumably, the Government knew about it before the Christmas recess, and it did not just appear out of the ether. That process could be improved.
The main thrust of my contribution in the short time I have remaining is about the removal of the link between the personal allowance and the minimum wage. I understand that the Government have removed it on the basis that the personal allowance has now reached £12,500 and that they therefore believe they do not need to keep the link. I understand why they are making that case, but if that link had been kept, with the Government required to do a review if the personal allowance threshold was set at less than £12,500, future Governments would have continued to be bound by it. That would have meant that the protection the Government felt was necessary for people on the lowest incomes would still be there in the future. I understand that the Government do not intend to reduce the personal allowance, but that protection could have been left in place without the law causing any problems. That is something I am concerned about.
It is particularly concerning when the living wage the Government have put in place is not a real living wage, but a pretend living wage. It also does not apply to anyone under 25, which is an issue the SNP has raised over and over again. Just because someone is 24 does not mean that their living costs are less than they would be if they were 26—they could have the same number of children and live in exactly the same accommodation. However, the Government believe that it is okay to pay them less just because they are under that age threshold. That is exacerbated by the fact that the minimum wage increases the Government have introduced this year increase by a higher percentage—not just a higher monetary value—the minimum wage received by those who are over 25. The gap is widening: those who are over 25 are getting a bigger increase in the minimum wage, while there is a smaller increase for the younger age groups. The Government need to take seriously the fact that they are saying apprentices are worth pennies, frankly, and that 16 and 17-year-olds are worth far less than people under the age of 25. We raised our concerns in Committee in relation to the removal of the number. I do not think it would have cost the Government anything to leave in the link to protect future generations.