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Weekly Parliamentary Briefing

Week ending: Friday 13th March 2020

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Things that matter

As ever at the moment, Parliament is quiet. We had a bit of a thing this week, but now that’s died down, we are where we are.

A few weeks this was an intentional strategy from Mr Johnson and team. He won the election and was now, slowly, ‘getting on with the job’. He didn’t want any big raucous debates – and certainly no votes that could be close. No video footage of Mr Corbyn landing any blows.

So that’s what happened. I’m sure you remember. It was a few weeks ago.

Now, though, it’s quiet for different reasons. Right now there is (almost) only one game in town. That virus. This isn’t the time to be introducing complicated big legislation.

We’re getting almost daily updates in the Commons. It’s spreading. The government are trying to contain and then delay the spread. Wash your hands. We know this.

Which leaves us where? It leaves us with a sloooow week in Parliament. There is one week after next. Expect that to be just as stripped back.

Except there is something coming up that is very, very important to many people. Something that matters.

The loan charge.

There was this tax scheme. Many people who (mostly) worked freelance or were self employed ensured they were paid through an ’employee benefit trust’. The trust would then ‘loan’ them the money they were owed. These ‘loans’ were never designed to be paid back.

In 2019, the government spotted the loophole and closed it. They said that, because the intention was never to repay the ‘loan’, it should be taxed as normal income.

Bringing in that change is relatively uncontroversial. There was a tax reduction scheme. Governments don’t like them. Let’s get rid.

What has made people very upset, however, is that they have backdated the changes by 20 years. People are now facing bills for tax owed from 1999. That means these bills add up. Anecdotally, people are receiving demands for over £100,000. MPs have spoken of ‘bankruptcies, breakdowns and suicides’.

The argument is, of course, that this was money they should have paid. It’s not the government’s fault that didn’t pay their ‘fair share’ of tax. They owe money and they should pay it.

Not too long ago, the government commissioned a report into all this. The Amyas Report. It came out last year. It recommended that, while the government should continue to collect monies owed, some changes need to be made. Possibly the biggest was that anything over ten years ago should be written off. It also criticised how these collections were made, suggesting that HMRC hadn’t been exactly helpful.

The government said that it took the criticisms about collection onboard, it would fiddle about with the technicalities of dates, but, crucially, didn’t accept the ten-year thing.

This week a debate is in Parliament on Thursday. It’s been brought by David Davis (senior backbench Conservative MP), Ruth Cadbury (senior backbench Labour MP) and Dr Julian Lewis (another senior Conservative backbencher). These are pretty high profile people. The debate is about the government response.

In what will be a dramatic turn of events, we’ll see some of the most respected backbench MPs in the Commons stand together and criticise the government. It’s not something that those in charge want, so it’s possible some changes will be forced. Time will tell.

House of Commons:

Monday and Tuesday: Final two days of the Budget debate. By now things will be quite technical and go quite deep int last week’s statement.

Wednesday: PMQs, of course. That’ll be followed by a debate on whichever topic the Labour Party would like to debate. Exactly what they’ll choose is yet to be announced.

Thursday: It’s Backbench Business day today. That can be quite interesting, with no real impact, or dull, with no real impact. Today looks to be a little different. The first debate is on the Loan Charge (details above) and is brought by two highly regarded Conservative MPs. Worth keeping an eye out.

Friday: MPs will be in their constituencies.

House of Lords:

The highlight in the Lords this week is on Tuesday when the no-fault divorce law comes back in for it’s third (of four) stage before it goes to the Commons.

About The Right Ethos

The Right Ethos was set up after our founder, Jonathan Dearth, had worked in the campaigning sector for 13 years, for campaigning organisations including Amnesty International, Shelter, Liberty and the World Development Movement. It was set up as a response to multi-sector recruitment consultancies moving in on the charity sector, and in particular not recognising that people who work for campaigning organisations are motivated by justice and long term change.