National Insurance Contributions Bill

The Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury (Priti Patel): This has been an efficient debate—the Bill was discussed at great length in debates on the Finance Bill. On that basis, I will not recap the purpose of the Bill or the clauses, which have been effectively discussed. However, it is fair, right and proper that I address the points made by Labour Members. Clearly, there is consensus in a number of areas—work has taken place in debates on the Finance Bill and discussions have been had—but there are a number of areas that I should like to address.
 
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) asked a number of questions. I will begin the debate on them now, and I have no doubt that they will be explored further in Committee. On the reform of maternity allowance for self-employed women, I challenge the assertion that the process is burdensome. As we have heard, the Bill is about simplification and introducing a degree of efficiency to NICs. Primary legislation and supporting regulations, and a revised claim process, will ensure that expectant mums are no worse off than they were under the previous class 2 arrangements. Right hon. and hon. Members will be pleased that HMRC and DWP are working together to ensure that the process is straightforward and simple for them. As I have said, that will no doubt come up again in Committee.
 
The hon. Members for Birmingham, Ladywood and for Newcastle upon Tyne North (Catherine McKinnell) made a point on reform for the low paid and the impact of universal credit. It is fair to say that most self-employed people have the option to pay their class 2 NICs regularly using the budget payment option that is already available in self-assessment. Importantly, they are enabled to spread the cost of those payments. That is not legislated for in the Bill because the option to make the budget payments already exists within the current system of self-assessment. Once the Bill becomes law, the issue is how we raise awareness to ensure that people know about that. NICs are accounted for on an accruals basis, so the important fact is the time period within which the money is due rather than the date for payments. Of course, they will continue to be counted in the tax year, but as I have said, it is a question of spreading the costs.
 
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood rightly asked how HMRC will ensure that it applies the rules fairly for all taxpayers. It is fair to say that that argument was rehearsed in Finance Bill debates. The Government recognise that there are significant new powers. Obviously, the system must be administered fairly and consistently for all taxpayers. To that end, HMRC will establish clear governance for the key decisions on which cases can be designated as followers, which disclosure of tax avoidance schemes will be within scope and on the appointment of designated officers for the calculation notices. One important point is that clear separations will be established so that reviews of follower notices are carried out independently of the original issuing team. In addition, clear internal guidance and training will be provided for staff within HMRC on how they are to apply the rules. That goes with the clear external guidance, which has been published by HMRC so that taxpayers and advisers know how the rules impact on them. This is about not only fairness, but transparency, so that there is no confusion. On follower notices, those who know that they are deliberately avoiding tax will also know that they are being looked at, which is important. It is fair to say that our determination to lift every stone, and ensure that those who deliberately avoid tax are actively watched and pursued, is unequivocal.
 
The hon. Member for Newcastle upon Tyne North touched on wage growth for self-employed individuals. The self-employed community is growing, which is a good thing. This is about how we support them through the tax system, but there must be agreement that the only way to raise living standards is to tackle wider challenges and economic problems. We appreciate that times are tough, but this is about how we support hard-working people and the self-employed. We have increased the tax-free personal allowance to £10,500 from April next year, which will save the typical taxpayer £805 per year. We have also taken more than 3.2 million people out of tax altogether and cut income tax for someone on the minimum wage by nearly two thirds. 
 
There have been other effective measures such as the freeze in fuel duty and the freeze in council tax in every year of this Parliament.
 
There is no doubt that more discussion will follow in Committee, but given that there is a great deal of agreement on the Bill’s provisions, at this stage I commend the Bill to the House.
 

A12/A120 Consultations

Strategic Road Network Consultations

There are two important consultations running at the moment on key strategic road infrastructure improvements - the A12 widening scheme and the upgrading of the A120. Priti has been campaigning to secure new investment in these roads and has welcomed the consultations taking place. Members of the public can review the proposals for the A12 and A120 at the weblinks below, attend consultation events, and respond to the consultation. Feel free to also contact Priti by email to: [email protected] with your views too.

Widening the A12

Upgrading the A120

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