Finance Bill

[back to previous text]

Mr. Flight: I thank the Paymaster General for her clear exposition of the Government's stance. We have only £8 billion in spending reductions to play with, so if we find ourselves in power, I accept that £300 million is a mature sum of money.

Mr. Burnett: The hon. Gentleman will recall the lengthy discussions that we had on this point last year. Does he agree that the philosophy behind taper relief is that it rewards length of time of ownership? In other words, the longer one has the asset, the more relief one receives. His amendment would ensure that individuals were not disadvantaged for complying with that philosophy. They will have held the asset for a long time, so they should enjoy the same benefits as do people who acquired the asset after April 2000.

Mr. Flight: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I agree only to the extent that taper relief is allied with business relief. The broad concept relates to those people who work hard for a business, make it succeed, acquire a manager-owner mentality and so on. A mixture of business relief and taper relief is designed to achieve that.

The argument about longevity of holding by itself is much more questionable. Indeed, many economists would argue that it causes considerable economic distortion, and that the Government's attempt to change the capital gains tax regime purely in that context is economically misconceived. There is, however, a straight trade-off between money and fairness. There is a considerable and justifiable feeling of unfairness among longer-serving employees, who will end up paying more on their shares in the company, even though they almost certainly worked just as hard before April 2000 as they have done since. That has largely been the nature of employee share-ownership.

The argument about fairness and, overall, about creating employee ownership in companies is consistent with the amendments and with the case that we argued last year. However, the Government have made it clear that they will not give way, for the reason that has been given. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Burnett rose—

The Chairman: I wonder whether the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs (Mr. Flight) would care to withdraw his amendment after the hon. Member for Torridge and West Devon, whom I meant to call before, has spoken. If I may say so, the hon. Gentleman did not rise quite as promptly as I would have wished.

Mr. Burnett: I apologise, Dr. Clark. You are quite right that I should be quicker off the mark.

I hope that the hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs agrees that the Government's philosophy—I am not questioning its merits or otherwise—is to reward length of tenure of ownership. It seems to me this year, as it did last year, that discriminating against those who have held the assets for longer flies in the face of that philosophy.

Mr. Flight: I accept, as night follows day, that that is a logical argument. However, I reserve our position on the principal argument for longevity of ownership. I think, however, that everyone agrees that share ownership by employees is economically and personally successful and desirable.

I stand by the comments I made earlier, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 76 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 25

Capital gains tax: taper relief: business assets

Mr. Flight: I beg to move amendment No. 42, in page 217, leave out lines 11 to 14 and insert

    `the trustees of the settlement'.

This is a simple drafting amendment. As drafted, the words are redundant. Having both sub-paragraph (2)(i) and (ii) is unnecessary. The words:

    ``(ii) any one or more of the persons who at that time were the trustees of the settlement''

must surely automatically include all the trustees. Therefore, all that needs to be retained is sub-paragraph (2)(i) since for capital gains tax purposes trustees are a single body, and if one trustee is a member of a partnership, so are all trustees.

I should be grateful for an opportunity to comment on other aspects of schedule 25 in a brief stand part debate.

Dawn Primarolo: I recognise that the hon. Gentleman was simply trying to simplify the text of part of schedule 25. Unfortunately, amendment No. 42 would knock a hole in the relief we are trying to give. If right hon. and hon. Members can bear with me, I shall touch on trust law and the differences between the law in England and Wales and in Scotland, which is pertinent to this point. I realise that the hon. Gentleman was trying to achieve a straightforward simplification, but it creates problems.

There are a variety of circumstances in real life to which the tax law must adapt. I can illustrate one reason for the complexity of much tax law, which we all criticise at times. At present individuals may claim business asset taper relief if they use assets in their own trade or in a trade carried on by a partnership, of which they are a member. Trustees of a settlement may also claim business asset taper relief on assets that they use in a trade they carry on. However, they may not claim that relief on assets that are used in a trade carried out by a partnership of which they are a member. The hon. Gentleman has accepted that. We want to extend business asset taper relief to them in those circumstances. Throughout the United Kingdom individual trustees, acting in that capacity, may be members of partnerships. Even if all the trustees are members of a partnership, they will normally be partners as individuals. In Scotland, however, the trustees of a settlement as a body may be members of a partnership. The two sub-paragraphs are designed to cover both cases. The amendment would confine the extension of the business asset taper relief to those cases in Scotland in which trustees as a body were members of a partnership, because references to the ``trustees of a settlement'' in capital gains legislation are references to the body of trustees.

That is a complicated point, but I presented it as clearly as I could. The wording covers both eventualities. I do not believe that the hon. Gentleman intended to confine relief to specific cases, and I appreciate that he was trying to undertake a simplification. I hope that he will now see that the situation is more complicated than it first seemed, and the proposed new schedule should remain intact—and I hope that he will withdraw the amendment.

Mr. Burnett: I have one small point. If trustees act in their capacity as trustees and qualify for relief, may they be in partnership with either a limited company or a limited liability partnership, and still receive relief?

Dawn Primarolo: I am freely prepared to admit that, rather than respond now, I will need to write to the hon. Gentleman about that. I hope that hon. Members will forgive me for that; I try not to do that in Committee, and I will ensure that the letter is circulated to all Committee members. Of course, if the hon. Gentleman is unsatisfied with the answer, he may come back to me.

Mr. Burnett: I am exceptionally grateful to the Paymaster General for her kind offer.

Mr. Flight: I thank the Paymaster General for a most clear exposition of an obscure point involving English versus Scottish law, and she is right that I do not want to disqualify any party from business relief. However, that point and other issues readily demonstrate the need for a simplification of capital gains tax and a reduction in the rate; the Conservative party is pledged to that. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That this schedule be the Twenty-fifth schedule to the Bill.

Mr. Flight: Although the issue was debated last year and the relevant amendment has not been selected, I want to raise again the unfairness of the way in which the new business asset rule affects people who retire or leave their employment through no fault of their own. The Paymaster General will argue that, as with synchronising business and taper relief, the policy is driven by revenue considerations. It does not need to be so driven. When people leave or retire, they sell their shares in the business for which they have worked, to maximise their enjoyment of the combined business and taper relief. Therefore, revenue is not at stake. Would it not be much fairer at least to consider amending the rules so that there is a sort of freezing of the status of the shares by reference to when they were acquired and how long they have qualified for business and taper relief at the time employees leave or retire, and for them to benefit from whatever that is whenever they sell them? It is somewhat unfair to force people to sell when they retire or are thrown out—and that, effectively, is what the tax regime does at present.

Dawn Primarolo: That was discussed at length last year both in Committee and on the Floor of the House. I will not go through the entire debate again. I simply remind the hon. Gentleman that the purpose of the business asset taper relief on employee shareholdings is to promote productivity by aligning the interests of employees with those of the company for which they work. The benefit therefore cannot arise in the case of people who are no longer working for the company, whether that is because they have retired or because they have moved on to another job.

Business asset taper relief for non-employee investors is designed to encourage investments in productivity and to enhance trading companies by compensating for risk. If the companies cease to trade and become companies that exist only to hold the director's personal assets, or if the risk falls away, the special relief is no longer justified. That is the central case of the changes that the Government have made to date. I entirely accept that the hon. Gentleman will continue to make this point, because it feeds into a much wider point about the taper relief. However, despite the eloquent way that he advances his case, the Government are still not persuaded.

 
Previous Contents Continue

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index


©Parliamentary copyright 2001
Prepared 3 May 2001