Q&A on Finance Bill Committee debate - Section 58
Q: The discussion only lasted for ten minutes. Why was it so short?
The amendments were considered by the committee in the order that they were accepted for debate. Unfortunately, the Finance Bill was being scrutinised on a timetable motion, while placed a limit on the time available for consideration of amendments and new clauses. Our amendment was the fourth one to be considered, but as discussion on previous new clauses over-ran, this meant the committee didn’t get to it until 8:50pm, despite a start time of 4:30pm. As the committee had to finish at 9pm, this left only ten minutes for discussion. It is worth noting that Jacob Rees-Mogg MP did attempt to extend the time available for discussion, but was unsuccessful in doing so.
Q: Why did the amendment only say there should be a review of the impact of Section 58, and not that the retrospection should be repealed?
The wording of the amendment was chosen by Nigel Mills – and since he is the tabling MP he has the final decision on anything which is tabled in his name. As you cannot table the same amendment to a Bill twice in the same hearing, this wording did not preclude the option of us trying to secure another amendment later in proceedings.
It was felt that asking the Government for a review was a compromise which Mr Gauke might be more willing to accept at this stage than straight removal of the retrospection, but which would still help us reach our eventual goal. In our view, the Exchequer Secretary’s reluctance to even consider a review was churlish and did not reflect well on him amongst those MPs who are genuinely concerned about the issue.
Q: It seems like Nigel Mills was getting a lot of support for his amendment. The only person who spoke against it was David Gauke. Why did he (Mills) withdraw it rather than ask for it to be voted upon?
It is a common Parliamentary practice to table an amendment for discussion, but then to withdraw it before a vote is held. This is done to secure debate where there is some uncertainty about whether the Government might be willing to compromise on a certain issue. It is usually done for strategic purposes and to flush out other MPs who are supportive of an issue. It is also used to force a Minister to respond to MPs’ concerns in more detail beyond that which he has given in his replies to MPs’ letters.
The danger is that, had Nigel forced his amendment to a vote before the Government was willing to accept our arguments, Mr Gauke would have whipped the Conservative and Liberal Democrat MPs on the committee to vote against it, meaning we would have surely lost. We would also have alienated some MPs who are supportive but do not yet wish to be seen as being in direct confrontation with the Government. Losing the amendment on a vote would have put us in a tricky situation in future, as Mr Gauke could then brush off further attempts by saying that Parliament had already considered the matter and decided to vote against it.
Q: What happens next in terms of the Finance Bill? Will MPs get another chance to debate the Section 58?
We think it is unlikely the issue will be considered again at this Finance Bill due to the short timetable and other factors. However, we are certain that not only will Section 58 be debated again in Parliament, but that momentum for repeal of the retrospection is increasing. As outlined above, we intend to utilise the growing supporter base we are developing in Parliament and continue to hold Mr Gauke to account. This will include tabling questions, putting in for debates, moving amendments to other pieces of legislation, and helping facilitate a meeting between the No To Retro Tax team and Mr Gauke at the Treasury where we can talk him through our case against HMRC in greater detail. The Finance Bill Committee was a first step towards our goal, and not the culmination of our campaign.