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The Bills announced in each session’s Queen’s Speech are the fulcrum of the Parliamentary year. But they are easily lost sight of, separately and wholly, as the political cycle moves – and a mass of other news and events crowd them out.
So during the coming months, ConservativeHome will run a brief guide, on most Sunday mornings, to each Bill from this year’s Speech: what it is, whether it’s new, its main strengths and weaknesses – and whether it’s expected sooner or later.
13. National Insurance Contributions
This four part bill proposes changes to three different classes of National insurance contributions (NICS). The first part bundles together two changes to secondary Class One contributions, which deal in turn with those relating to freeports and to veterans.
The third part sets out an exemption for Covid-19 Test and Trace Support Payments for Class 4 and Class 2 NICs, which are paid by the self-employed. The fourth mirrors minor changes to Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes in this year’s Finance Bill: those affect tax avoidance in relation to other taxes; these, to it in relation to NICs.
The Treasury: this Bill is an example of its rare legislative presence outside the bounds of the Finance Act. So Rishi Sunak has charge of it in the Commons. Viscount Younger is the sponsoring Minister in the Lords.
In the lower house, the Bill was taken through its stages by Jesse Norman when he was Financial Secretary to the Treasury.
Carried over or a new Bill?
Currently under consideration.
This is a tidying-up Bill, released not to the usual proclamation of its virtues from the Government (like, say, the Environment Bill, the last I wrote about in this series), but by an unadorned list of documents – thereby indicating that it is relatively uncontroversial.
Ministers want to boost freeports, support veterans (the Conservative Manifesto proposed a reduction in employer NICs for a full year for every new employee who has left the armed forces), bring the tax treatment of the self-employed further into line with that of others in relation to Covid, and keep the tax avoidance book up to date.
Labour didn’t divide the Commons against the Bill at Second Reading. “We support the intention behind many of its measures,” James Murray, a Labour Treasury spokesman, told the Commons – before going on to question some of the detail.
For example, he asked why the freeport relief won’t be available until next year; why the veterans’ relief is proposed for only a year rather than three years, as the freeport relief is; why the self-employment relief wasn’t issued earlier, and how effective the Government estimates the tax avoidance measures contained in the Bill will be.
The politics in this Bill touches mainly on an innovation, freeports, and two groups of people: veterans and the self-employed. The first is claimed as a benefit of Brexit with the potential to boost economic growth and levelling up. The counter-argument is freeports will bring no substantial economic benefits.
The veterans and self-employed are a contrast, at least in terms of this Bill. The relief for veterans is a manifesto commitment, forseeable as requiring legislative change at the time of the last election. The self-employed relief is a piece of Covid-driven improvisation, alongside other reliefs of a similar kind.
Controversy rating 1/10
I opened this series with a piece on the Online Harms Bill, giving it a rating of nine out of ten. This Bill is a reminder that much in any Queen’s Speech is far less controversial. Oppositions and backbenchers tend not to oppose measures that raise spending, tidy up avoidance (or claim to be doing so) and cut taxes, in effect.
Veterans and the self-employed are traditionally Conservative-voting interests. Some of both who either voted Tory in 2019 or might consider doing so in future are currently waverers. Measures like these ones aim to keep them within or drawn them into the Conservative fold. There is no laboratory test of their effectiveness in so doing.