Jesse Norman knocks back Loan Charge suspension calls

Jesse Norman has finally addressed why -- if the loan charge’s ‘appropriateness’ warrants a review which it is now under, the charge should not be paused until the review concludes.

According to the Treasury minister, who was confronted by a dozen MPs probing the loan charge, “it makes no sense at all to change the policy until we have heard from the review.”

Effectively pointing out that Mr Norman was misconstruing the question, John Cryer MP said the minister was being asked “not for a change of policy," but rather “just to suspend” the tax.

'Test the policy'

The minister gave a straighter reply: “The reason [for not suspending the charge] is that the inquiry is designed to test the policy, and the policy remains in place until the inquiry is over.

“If the policy were ended now or suspended, all that potentially would occur is more confusion if the inquiry took the view that, ultimately, the government were in the right.”

Sounding aware of hinting the review endorsing the government might imply the review’s outcome to be pre-determined, Mr Norman clarified (in answer to another probing MP):

“I have no idea what the loan charge review will conclude.” Similarly, the financial secretary to the Treasury insisted later on: “I have no powers to direct Sir Amyas Morse.”

'Superb choice'

But the power of flattery was on show at the Treasury Questions session. Rejecting Stephen Metcalfe MP’s call to seek a tax judge to run the Loan Charge Review, Mr Norman said:

“Sir Amyas is a superb choice…Meg Hillier [MP], called him ‘a fearless advocate for what is good in the public sector and for challenging governments of whatever party’.

“[And] the Liberal Democrat…Layla Moran, said that he was not only ‘unfailingly courteous’, but had ‘an intelligence of steel. He has a knack for calling out obfuscation, fudge and imprecision’”, the minister said.

'Completely fair'

Seemingly unsure if that was endorsement enough of Sir Amyas, Mr Norman then quoted the former National Audit Office head as having a “reputation for being completely fair.”

Then, for the avoidance of doubt from onlookers as to whether he backs the Loan Charge Reviewer, the minister said he thought Sir Amyas was “a very good choice to lead this review.”

Mr Norman making the same point over and over happened again at the Q&A session, as MPs returned to why a charge which the government cannot be sure is ‘appropriate’ remains in force.

'Right' and 'wrong'

“While it [the loan charge review] is under way, it is right for the loan charge to remain in force and for the government to implement legislation on which the House agreed,” the minister claimed.

He also said – in answer to the same question about continuing to impose a tax which may not be fit for purpose: “The review is designed to assess whether the government’s policy is appropriate, and it would be wrong to change it until the review has had chance to make a decision on it.

“The Treasury and the House have a great interest in supporting the provision of public services, which the recovery of tax avoided in this way, in many ways egregiously, is designed to fund.”

'Arrogant'

Lobbyist turned support group LCAG described Mr Norman’s conduct in the Commons to his fellow MPs as “arrogant and dismissive.”

“MP after MP called for a proper suspension of activity,” observed the group’s founder Steve Packham. “Yet despite knowing that there has just been another tragic suicide, Mr Norman is refusing to stop HMRC’s relentless pursuit of individuals, which is both callous and reckless.”

Indicating Mr Norman to be misinformed (at best), Mr Packham pointed out that the minister asserted that three people have killed themselves in relation to the loan charge. The problem is -- suicides of HMRC customers caught by the Loan Charge actually total seven.

'May have some connection'

Yet even the three deaths which Mr Norman spoke of, he did so in a way that framed the charge as incidental to those people taking their own lives.

“We have been notified of three suicides that may have some connection with the loan charge,” he qualified, in a statement that has upset both the families of the three victims, and the families of the four victims whom he omitted.

“It is now clear that Jesse Norman himself is part of the loan charge scandal,” said the Loan Charge Action Group (LCAG), which is calling for the minister to be sacked outright. “In misleading Parliament and trying to deny known suicides, he is guilty of misconduct and should be investigated alongside HMRC.”

Asked this morning whether LCAG would raise the disagreement about the number of suicides with Sir Amyas Morse, a group spokesman told ContractorUK: "The shameful attempt of Jesse Norman to deny suicides and wrongly contradict Peter Bone [MP, who specified that there are seven suicides] are going to be raised with the MPs who asked questions, the APPG and Sir Amyas today."

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Written by Simon Moore

Simon writes impartial news and engaging features for the contractor industry, covering, IR35, the loan charge and general tax and legislation.
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