The National Insurance Contributions Bill was introduced on 12 May 2021. The Second Reading was held on 14 June 2021. The Bill, with its explanatory notes, is published on the Bill’s page on Parliament.uk, which also provides details of its parliamentary progress to date.
The House of Commons library who provide impartial research support to MPs and provide briefings on legislation and casework. Beneath is a short summary of the Bill.
The Bill would introduce four measures:
- a new zero-rate of secondary Class 1 National Insurance contributions (NICs) for employers taking on employees in a freeport. Employers would be able to claim relief on the earnings of eligible employees up to £25,000 per year, for three years. The zero rate would apply from April 2022.
- a new zero-rate of secondary Class 1 NICs for employers who hire an armed forces veteran during their first year of civilian employment after leaving the armed forces. Employers would be able to claim relief on the earnings of an eligible employee up to the NICs Upper Secondary Threshold. Employers would be able to claim the relief from April 2022 and transitional arrangements will allow retrospective claims for the 2021/22 tax year.
- an exemption for Covid-19 Test and Trace Support Payments for Class 4 and Class 2 NICs, which are paid by the self-employed. An exemption already applies for Class 1 and Class 1A NICs – paid by employees and employers – and this measure would be formally retrospective for the 2020/21 tax year.
- a provision to allow changes to the Disclosure of Tax Avoidance Schemes (DOTAS) regime as it applies to NICs avoidance schemes. These changes would mirror amendments to the DOTAS regime as it applies to other tax avoidance schemes, made by provisions included in the Finance Bill 2021.
Robin spoke in the House to support the Bill and the extract from Hansard is below:
It is a pleasure to speak today and to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), and I take this opportunity to reiterate his unequivocal statement that Northern Ireland is indeed part of the United Kingdom.
I welcome this opportunity to make a few brief remarks in support of the Bill’s provisions on freeports and the benefits that it will represent for one in north Wales, in particular. But before I do, I note that the Bill demonstrates once again the Government’s commitment to levelling up. It is also set to reduce the tax avoidance that disadvantages our small and medium businesses, which cannot afford access to the specialist experience available on avoidance, as has been referred to. In addition, it seeks to offer the dignity of decent employment to our veterans, which, again, I welcome.
Freeports are a common feature of the world’s most ambitious free-trading nations and are used by many of our closest allies. They have propelled many previously impoverished nations to prosperity and have proved a valuable means of ensuring structured investment in export-led industry. The right hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) asked for evidence, and he might consider the words of the directors of the
World Customs Organisation and the former director of the Swedish customs body, who noted that freeports create local supply chains beyond the facility, so long as firms have ease of access. In that way, freeports have the potential to boost investment and trade in the surrounding region. For an island nation such as Britain, with a rich history of trade across the globe trade—trade that, despite criticisms of it, has driven developments, innovations and improvements—investment in freeports is a signal to the world of the Government’s commitment to secure the UK’s place at the heart of global trade.
There has been speculation in the media in recent months as to what levelling up means. I speak as a representative of the region—north Wales—in which I grew up, and I have seen it change over the five decades I have known it. Indeed, I have spoken in this place before about how residents of north Wales have grown used under devolution to being overlooked and underfunded for much of the past two decades. However, I am also a Conservative, and it is a hallmark of conservatism to see constituencies such as mine not only in terms of handouts but in terms of their potential—to treat them according to their distinctiveness and not to mistake equal treatment as sameness. That is why I describe Aberconwy not solely in terms of needs or deprivation, for there are both, but also in terms of its potential, and that potential will be different for every other constituency across the UK—a point the hon. Member for Richmond Park (Sarah Olney) might consider.
The practical provisions set out in the Bill will help to realise that potential. Despite north Wales being one of the UK’s most under-invested regions, the British Private Equity & Venture Capital Association notes that it is also one of the fastest growing parts of Wales. North Wales is part of an expanding advanced manufacturing cluster worth more than £30 billion a year to the UK economy. We have world-beating green energy research in Ynys Môn and an industry-leading centre for 5G telecoms innovation at the University College of North Wales. Our Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board has a vision for a best-in-class medical school and primary care underpinned by technology.
We also occupy a significant strategic location. The Romans may have built the first version of the A55 on ancient paths across our hills, Thomas Telford may have developed it, and Irish MPs may have driven the development of our road and rail links to ensure their smooth transport to this place, but today north Wales finds itself astride a trade route stretching from Dublin to Moscow. In its day, the tunnel carrying the A55 underneath the Conwy estuary was the largest construction project in Europe. Today, fully four fifths of our UK trade to Ireland passes through Wales, with most of it going through our Holyhead port in Ynys Môn.
That is potential, and it needs unlocking. A freeport offers a remarkable opportunity to build on those natural advantages and offer a site of structured relief for international investors. The practical provisions in this modest Bill will help to secure that; they are practical incentives for investors and employees, and I suggest that that that is at the heart of levelling up.
This Bill demonstrates how, beyond the provision of a simple designation as a freeport, supporting legislation and incentives such as those before us, can create an exciting opportunity for investors and an opportunity for co-operation with other parts of Government—even the Welsh Government in Cardiff. Indeed, I urge all parties to do what can be done to bring this opportunity to north Wales. Given the strategic importance of Holyhead to trade with Northern Ireland, such co-operation would also be an investment in our Union.
To conclude, it has been said that ports are the power cables to the UK economy. A Bill such as this, creating incentives by removing national insurance on workers, will help flick the switch, so I will be supporting the Bill.