David Davis – 2020 Speech on Finance

Below is the text of the speech made by David Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, in the House of Commons on 19 May 2020.

In the light of the impact that coronavirus is having across all sectors of the economy, the Government have ​rightly committed, in the motion, to postponing the planned reforms to IR35, but only until next April. The effects of the pandemic are going to be felt for considerably longer than one year. On this basis, in April next year self-employed contractors will be hit with unnecessary costs, confusion and uncertainty, just as many of them are getting back on their feet after the coronavirus has wreaked havoc across the economy. It is the self-employed and small businesses that make up the beating heart of our economy, and they will power the recovery of our economy out of this crisis.

The IR35 rules, as the Minister said, have long applied to the public sector. This is about applying them across the private sector. In that light, they were studied by the House of Lords Economic Affairs Committee in a report referred to by the shadow Financial Secretary to the Treasury. The report stated that the rules

“have never worked satisfactorily, throughout the whole of their 20-year history. We therefore conclude that this framework is flawed.”

The report found a system riddled with unfairness and unintended consequences and called for a wide-scale independent review—not just a few research reports, Financial Secretary—focused on how the reforms would affect the wider labour market and the costs that would be forced on businesses. The Lords Committee said that IR35 had the effect of reducing contractors to

“an undesirable ‘halfway house’: they do not enjoy the rights that come with employment, yet they are considerably employees for tax purposes. In short, they are ‘zero-rights employees’”.

That is, zero-rights employees effectively created by the state.

The Lords recommended that the Government adopt the Taylor review proposals, which we as a Government promised to do years ago, as they offer the best long-term alternative solution to the off-payroll rules and provide an opportunity to consider tax, rights and risk together, as they should be. Despite what the Financial Secretary said, however, the Treasury has neither the time nor the capacity for a wholesale review right now. Therefore, the only sensible course of action is to pause these reforms and take the time to properly review the impact they will have on the self-employed. So, I will vote for this motion today, if we have the opportunity, but only in the expectation that will be back here in nine months’ time to do all this again.