I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
This Bill implements the tax changes announced in the Budget Statement and includes a range of other measures. Many of these are targeted at closing off tax loopholes and updating and modernising the tax system. Deputies will be aware that the annual Finance Bill is considerable.
This year the Bill runs to 155 sections and six schedules. I propose to outline the main provisions in the time available to me. Committee Stage will provide an opportunity to debate the Bill in greater detail. I look forward to hearing the views of Deputies.
Part 1 of the Bill, which runs from sections 1 to 68, deals with income tax, corporation tax and capital gains tax. In my period in office, I reduced the income tax burden significantly. The average tax paid, including PRSI and levies, by a single person on the average industrial wage has fallen from 28% in 1997 to 17% now. This lowering of the income tax burden has rewarded both employees and employers alike and contributed to our strong employment growth. The period we now face limits the scope for further major reductions in the direct tax burden – instead we face a period of consolidation. The resources available this year in respect of an income tax package are being targeted on those in the lower income brackets and the elderly.
When the statutory minimum wage came into effect in April 2000, less than 64% of the minimum wage was exempt from tax. On foot of the tax measures I took in budget 2002, 90% of the minimum wage became exempt from tax. I am pleased to confirm that section 3 provides for an increase in the employee tax credit which maintains this 90% even with an increase in the minimum wage in October 2002 to €6.35 per hour. It also increases the entry point of the tax system for all employees from €209 per week to €223 per week.
My other priority this year in the budget income tax package was to assist the elderly. Section 2 increases the exemption limits from income tax for persons aged 65 and over to €15,000 for a single person and €30,000 for a married couple – this represents an increase of over 15%. When combined with changes last year, the limits have increased in value by almost 40% over the past two years. When I came to this job, I set a goal of removing large numbers of elderly taxpayers from the tax net. I am glad to say that I have seen this policy through and I will continue to pursue this target for the future.
Section 6 provides for the direct application of PAYE to many of the currently taxable benefits-in-kind. This will facilitate the application of PRSI, including the training and health contribution levies, to these benefits. From next year. employers will deduct and pay over to Revenue the appropriate PAYE income tax, PRSI and levies from wages paid to employees at the same time as the benefit is being provided. While tax has always applied to these benefits, hitherto they have not been subject to PRSI and levies. Application of PRSI and levies to benefits-in-kind is the norm in most EU countries. Share options are not being included in this treatment because of practical issues that apply specifically in their case, but revised procedures for their taxation are being introduced in section 8.
Section 6 also provides for a major simplification of the calculation of the benefit-in-kind taxable charge in respect of cars and vans. Deputies will be aware of my record of introducing simplification into the tax code wherever it is possible. From next January, a simple five rate structure will apply to cars, replacing the current system where up to 17 different percentages and categories can apply. Many thousands of those paying BIK on cars and vans will see their BIK income tax charge reduce as a result.
Sections 7 and 8 deal with the tax treatment of share options under unapproved share option schemes. I am making a number of changes to ensure that in future the income tax liability is settled at the time the share options are exercised, while providing some relieving measures for those currently in difficulty where the tax charge on their share options exceeds the value of the shares.
The seven year deferral facility introduced in 2000 is being abolished and from 30 June this year, a person exercising share options must pay the tax due within 21 days. The tax payment will, of course, be taken into account in calculating the person's final liability to income tax for the tax year concerned. By way of concession to taxpayers whose income tax liability may be higher than the value of the shares, such taxpayers will have the choice of making a payment on account capped at the value of the shares. The balance of income tax will become due for payment where the taxpayer makes a gain on the disposal of these or other shares. If a taxpayer wishes to avail of this provision, he or she must notify the Revenue Commissioners by 1 June this year.
Section 9 gives effect to the increase in mortgage tax relief available to first-time buyers. The current annual ceiling on the amount of interest that can be allowed will be raised by over one quarter from €3,175 for a single person and €6,350 for a married couple to €4,000 and €8,000, respectively. In addition, the period for which the relief is available will be extended from the current five years to seven years in all. Some 45,000 first-time buyers will benefit from these changes.
Maintaining a broad tax base with low tax rates has contributed successfully to our economic development and strong employment growth. While one can admire the ingenuity of tax advisers in exploiting particular aspects of tax legislation in a way that was never intended, it is essential that tax avoidance schemes and loopholes are tackled vigorously when they come to attention. I have a proven record in this respect. A range of provisions throughout this Bill are designed to put a stop to such schemes or to tighten up legislation to ensure that reliefs are focused on the intended objective.
Section 12 is designed to counter schemes whereby tax reliefs available to a trading company are transferred to individuals who, although nominally trading, are in practice passive investors. The effect of the section is to ring-fence the tax reliefs arising from certain specified trades carried on by an individual in a passive way to the actual income arising to the individual from that trade. The trades covered are the generation of electricity, oil and gas exploration and the film and music industries. These new provisions complement changes made in the case of limited partnerships in 1998 and 2000.
Section 13 closes a loophole in regard to the transfer of capital allowances on buildings from companies to individual investors. Where a building in respect of which a company has claimed capital allowances is sold to individual investors, those investors will only be entitled to set the capital allowances related to the building against their rental income from the building concerned instead of against a wider range of income.
Section 14 makes a number of changes to the tax regime governing various pension products. In summary, the main items provided for include: first, the alignment of contribution limits for personal retirement savings accounts or PRSAs with those applicable to other personal pensions and occupational schemes; second, the abolition of the facility to obtain excessive tax relief by making last-minute additional contributions just prior to retirement; and, third, new rules that will prevent approved retirement funds being used for investment in assets or property for private or family business use, for example, the purchase of a holiday home by the fund for personal use.
Section 15 provides for a number of changes to ensure that the BES and seed capital schemes continue to apply as intended. These schemes are due to expire at the end of this year and I will be reviewing them before next year's budget. Section 16, another anti-avoidance measure, counters contrived arrangements between spouses in relation to mortgage interest relief for investors.
The question of repayments of overpaid tax and the application of interest to such repayments has been the subject of considerable discussion in recent times arising from the Ombudsman's report on this issue last November. The provisions in existing legislation have grown up over time for different purposes and vary both within and across tax heads. There is no general right of repayment of tax or general entitlement to interest. In reviewing this issue I considered it essential that a new general provision be introduced which was coherent across different taxes and different situations. Of course it is also essential, as I indicated in my response to the Ombudsman's report when it issued, that whatever scheme is put in place takes account of the potential Exchequer costs of any new general scheme. I consider the proposals in this Bill represent a balanced approach to these objectives.
Section 17, together with various other sections in the Bill, provides for a general right of repayment of tax in relation to valid claims made within a four year period. These replace existing provisions on repayments where they exist. This will apply across all tax heads except customs duties which are a direct EU tax. The right of Revenue to make assessments to tax and to pursue inquires will also be limited to four years unless Revenue has grounds to suspect fraud or negligence for earlier years.
These sections also provide for a new general entitlement to interest on overpaid taxes. This provision will apply from six months after the date on which the claim is made by the taxpayer. However, where Revenue misconstrues the law, interest will be paid, in general, from the date the excess tax was paid, subject to the overall time limit on repayments of four years. This new scheme will replace all other existing arrangements, including those provisions dealing with interest paid on refunds of overpayments of preliminary tax. The rate of simple interest on repaid tax is being reduced from 0.0161% per day to 0.011% per day or from approximately 6% to 4% per annum. Such interest is tax-free. These measures provide a fair and transparent scheme for the refund of overpaid taxes and interest on such refunds in the future. They also address the issue raised by the Ombudsman in relation to the need for a general scheme. All of these provisions are subject to a ministerial order and will come into effect after the orders are signed.
Sections 18 and 19 provide for an extension until 31 December 2004 of the existing schemes of stock relief for farmers in general and for certain young trained farmers. A commencement order will apply to the young trained farmer scheme, given potential EU State aid implications. Section 20 provides for a tightening-up of the type of capital expenditure covered by capital allowances for the purchase of transmission capacity rights. Section 21 relates to tax relief on donations. The section provides for a maximum limit on the amount of donations that can attract tax relief where the donation is made by an individual who is directly associated with the organisation, for example an employee or certain members of the body. In these cases, where the aggregate of donations in a year of assessment is greater than 10% of the individual's total income, the excess will not attract tax relief. Tax relief for donations in all other situations will continue, as currently, without any ceiling.
Section 22 gives effect to the increase from five years to eight years in the write-off period for allowances for capital expenditure incurred since budget day on plant and machinery. As I indicated in my budget speech, I consider it appropriate in present circumstances to seek an equitable balance in raising revenue from all sectors of the community. This is one of the measures which will raise revenue from the business sector. Section 23 provides for the reduction of the annual rate of write-off for capital expenditure incurred on hotel buildings to 4% per annum, while the annual capital allowances for holiday cottages are being abolished. Subject to transitional arrangements, both these amendments apply to construction or refurbishment expenditure incurred on or after budget day. The transitional arrangements provide that these changes will not apply to such capital expenditure incurred by 31 December 2004 if a full and valid planning application is received by the relevant planning authority by the end of May. These dates should cater for the vast majority of cases that have been brought to my attention since the budget.
Section 24 sets out the expiry dates for a number of tax incentive schemes. Those affected are the urban renewal scheme, the town renewal scheme, the park and ride scheme and the student accommodation scheme. Sections 25 to 28 make various minor changes to these schemes. I have always held the view that targeted, well designed tax incentive schemes can be a useful instrument in achieving desirable public policy objectives. However, the value of such schemes must be balanced against the important objective of ensuring a wide tax base if we are to maintain low rates. It must be borne in mind that such schemes usually also mean that higher earners can reduce their tax bill substantially. Given the current and prospective budget situation and the objective of broadening the tax base, I consider it necessary to finish these schemes and others by the end of next year. I will be keeping all tax expenditures and incentive schemes under review. This is not to say that I will not consider introducing tax incentives where I see the potential benefits as outweighing the other factors I mentioned. For example, we wish to encourage research and development expenditure by companies to safeguard our location as a base for new manufacturing and other activities and a tax incentive is one of the possible options being examined by relevant Departments.
Section 30 closes off a loophole relating to tax avoidance schemes involving contrived financial arrangements in relation to a relief available to lessors in respect of capital expenditure incurred on the provision of student accommodation. I announced last July that I would introduce legislation to close this loophole. This section requires, among other restrictions, that any loan involved for the lessor must be taken directly from a financial institution instead of from the third level college. Relevant contracts tax is the tax that principal contractors are obliged to deduct at a rate of 35% from payments made to certain subcontractors in the construction, meat processing and forestry industries. Section 31 contains provisions to tackle certain administrative problems that have arisen regarding underpayments and late payments of this tax as well as tightening up the procedure for the issue of payment cards to principal contractors. These cards effectively authorise principal contractors to make payments without deducting tax.
As I have just said, all tax incentives and reliefs are subject to ongoing review. In the case of some of these incentives, there are no legislative provisions regarding a return of the exempt income or gains. The relevant legislation is now being changed in section 33 to provide for the return to Revenue of the details of the exempt income or gains arising in connection with three of these tax incentives, namely, the exemptions for stallion fees, profits from forestry and greyhound stud fees. This will enable a further assessment to be carried out of the actual costs and benefits involved in these three reliefs. The legislative change will come into effect at the commencement of the next tax year, 1 January 2004. I will be putting forward an amendment on Committee Stage to ensure that losses as well as profits are captured in the returns to be made so that the full effect of any potential future change in taxable status can be assessed.
Section 34 closes a loophole under which the sale by an individual to a company of a rent roll from a building can facilitate tax avoidance. This loophole has been used to ensure that the rental income that should be charged at the 42% rate of income tax is charged instead to corporation tax at the 12.5% rate through the sale of the rent roll to a financial institution. Section 36 permits the Government to enter into tax information exchange agreements with the governments of other jurisdictions. Double taxation treaties already provide for exchange of information but this section facilitates agreements with any jurisdiction specifically on exchange of information. Deputies may be aware that a range of states that might be regarded as tax havens have undertaken to the OECD that they will be prepared to enter into such agreements. Section 39 provides for the introduction of a pay and file system for corporation tax. This will require a company to submit the balance of tax within nine months after the end of the accounting period in question. This will align the corporation tax return filing and final payment deadlines.
I recently established the National Development Finance Agency to assist in providing cost-effective finance for public investment projects by advising State authorities on the optimal means of financing and in some circumstances providing finance or forming companies to secure finance. Sections 40, 68 and 134 confer exemptions from tax on the NDFA in the performance of its statutory functions. Sections 41, 43 and 44 are further anti-avoidance provisions. Section 44 is designed to counter tax avoidance schemes involving a balancing charge, that is, a claw-back of capital allowances following the disposal of machinery or plant. These schemes seek to avoid the charge or to pass the balancing charge arising from an individual to a company, which would be taxable at a lower rate.
Our capital city has become a significant player in international securitisation transactions and it is important that we continue to compete successfully for this business. In order to achieve this, Irish tax law must keep pace with international developments. Securitisation involves the creation of tradable securities, traditionally from existing assets or future income streams. It is used to raise finance in a manner more efficient than traditional borrowing. By its nature, the securitisation business is constantly evolving and producing more sophisticated transactions. Section 45 updates our tax regime in order to bring more of this high-value business to Ireland. Accordingly, the overall effect of these changes is to greatly increase the types of financial assets which can be securitised. Ireland has also become a successful international centre for fund management. A feature of this sector in Ireland is that a high proportion of the business is fund administration. Our strategy is to build on this by encouraging more fund promoters to locate their investment management function here in addition to their fund administration operations. In this regard, section 47 removes a technical obstacle to achieving this goal by providing that a tax liability on a foreign fund will not arise solely because of the activity of the Irish agent acting on its behalf.
Section 49 amends the taxation regime that applies to "gross roll-up" collective funds and their investors. Such gross roll-up applies tax only when the moneys are paid out of the fund. The changes allow payments to be made without the deduction of an exit tax where the payments are being made to an Irish resident company – in the case of a money market fund, to a credit union, or to the Courts Service, which administers the investment of funds lodged in court. The Courts Service will be required to operate the exit tax on payments made to it by the collective fund when they allocate those payments to the beneficial owners.
Section 58 amends the scheme of tonnage tax for shipping companies introduced in the Finance Act 2002 to conform more fully to EU requirements. Tonnage tax is a scheme whereby, as an alternative to charging corporation tax on certain profits of a qualifying shipping company, a tax charge is levied each year instead on the tonnage of the ships operated by the company. The European Commission has given state aid clearance to the scheme of tonnage tax, subject to amendments being made to certain provisions of the legislation as enacted so as to make the scheme conform more closely to the Commission's tonnage tax policy. The amendments to the scheme include confining the tonnage tax regime to profits derived from shipping activities and a requirement for separate accounting where a company engages in tonnage tax activities and other activities.
Section 59 amends the definition of a close company. A close company is one with five or less participators. Companies owned by the State are excluded from the definition of a close company. This exclusion is now extended to companies owned by EU member states and any countries with which Ireland has a tax treaty.
Section 60 adds a number of organisations to the Schedule of non-commercial State sponsored bodies granted exemption from tax, other than DIRT, in respect of non-trading income which would otherwise be chargeable to income tax or corporation tax. The organisations are Tourism Ireland Limited, the Occupational Safety and Health Institute of Ireland, the National Consultative Committee on Racism and Interculturalism, the National Qualification Authority of Ireland and the Irish Sports Council.
Sections 61 to 63, inclusive, make significant changes to the capital gains tax regime to remove some relieving provisions which are less necessary now that the tax rate is set at 20%. These changes will also spread the burden of the revenue raising measures needed in the current budgetary situation. Section 61 gives effect to my budget announcement that indexation relief will not apply for years after 2002. Section 62 removes the facility to defer capital gains tax by the issue of debentures, loan stock or other similar securities. Section 63 abolishes roll-over relief. This relief allowed for the indefinite deferral of a capital gains tax charge on gains accruing on the disposal of certain assets where the proceeds were reinvested in certain other assets. This change is effective for all disposals from 4 December 2002 onwards.
Section 64 contains a number of amendments to legislation providing relief from capital gains tax where an individual, having attained the age of 55, disposes of certain business assets or shares in his or her family company. The amendments provide for the situation of widowed spouses in farming, for updating the relief by reference to the latest EU early retirement scheme for farmers and to provide for company restructuring situations. The opportunity is also being taken to round up the limit for the relief to €500,000.
Certain tax rules which, at present, allow individuals to avoid a capital gains tax charge by selling assets during a period of temporary residence abroad are being changed. Section 65 accordingly imposes a capital gains tax charge in such circumstances. Section 66 is another anti-avoidance measure that ensures that someone who is paid for agreeing not to compete in business is taxed on the payment. Section 68 adds certain persons to the list of those who are entitled to exemption from capital gains tax. These additions are sports bodies and registered trade unions, subject to certain conditions being fulfilled. This is consistent with the income tax exemptions already available to such bodies.
Part 2 of the Bill deals with excise duties. Sections 69 to 82, inclusive, relate to alcohol products tax and include provisions to consolidate and modernise excise legislation covering the various alcohol products in order to make it more accessible to users. Much of the existing law in this area dates back to the 19th century and is obsolete in the modern excise context. It has been supplemented and amended over time to the extent that it has become fragmented and disjointed. These provisions are being replaced by a structure of law which is based more closely on the EU law relating to alcohol products. The opportunity is also being taken to streamline existing provisions and to make some minor changes in the area of offences. Sections 83 to 86, inclusive, are restatements of existing provisions on foot of the consolidation and modernisation of existing legislation.
Section 87 confirms the budget night increase in the rates of excise duty on auto diesel which, when VAT is included, amounted to 3 cent per litre. Section 88 confirms the budget increase in the main rate of excise duty on spirits which, when VAT is included, amounts to 20 cent on a standard measure. The lower rate of duty which had applied to low strength spirit alcopop drinks is also abolished.
The House will be aware from media coverage of Revenue's efforts, successful in many instances, to tackle significant cases of evasion of excise duty. The legislation is being strengthened to assist these efforts. Section 89 provides for an updated offence of selling, delivering or keeping for sale any spirits on which excise duty has not been paid. Hitherto Revenue has had to rely on 1830s legislation in this area. It also provides for a presumption, in any proceedings for an offence involving counterfeit spirits, that excise duty has not been paid on those spirits.
Section 90 introduces an offence of keeping for sale as auto fuel any mineral oil on which excise duty has not been paid at the appropriate rate. Section 91 introduces a presumption, in proceedings for certain mineral oil tax offences, that diesel used as a propellant which exceeds the maximum sulphur content allowed for auto diesel has not been taxed at the appropriate rate. Section 92 confirms the budget increase in the rate of duty on cigarettes which, when VAT is included, amounted to 50 cent on a typical packet of 20, with pro rata increases in respect of other tobacco products. Section 93 provides for the charging of interest on the late payment of excise duty in line with the rules for other taxes.
Sections 97 and 102 make an amendment to the definition of "crew cabs" for VRT purposes. Such cabs have the capacity to act as both domestic and commercial work vehicles. This will ensure that smaller domestic type crew cabs, currently classified as category C vehicles which are liable for a flat VRT of €50, will be reclassified as category B vehicles which are liable for VRT of 13.3%. The Bill also includes an amendment to the definition of "pick-ups" to ensure that certain genuine small pick-up trucks will continue to be classified correctly as category C and not category B. These changes will be effected by ministerial order.
Section 98 provides for the issue of a single vehicle registration certificate, to be issued by the Department of the Environment and Local Government, incorporating both the vehicle registration certificate issued by the Revenue Commissioners and the licensing certificate issued by the Department of the Environment and Local Government. Section 99 confirms the budget change that the 30% VRT rate will apply for vehicles over 1.9 litres instead of two litres as heretofore. Section 101 extends to 31 December 2001 the schemes under which hybrid electric vehicles are rebated 50% of the relevant vehicle registration tax.
Sections 103 to 106, inclusive, deal with definitions of gaming and amusement machines and the rules relating to licences for amusement and gaming machines and gaming premises. Definitional changes are needed to deal with certain new machines to ensure that they are classified as amusement rather than gaming machines. There are many different licences in this area and, to simplify administration, the number is being reduced. Section 107 provides for time limits for Revenue to raise assessments of betting tax consistent with the approach to other taxes.
Part 3 of the Bill deals with VAT. Two important EU directives are being transposed into EU law. The electronic commerce directive provides for changes in the rules concerning business to business supplies, new rules regarding supplies of services to private customers in the EU from outside the EU and a special scheme for such non-EU suppliers where supplies are made to private consumers. There is a series of sections in this part of the Bill which transpose this directive. The VAT invoicing directive aims to simplify, modernise and harmonise the conditions laid down for VAT invoicing and to remove barriers to electronic storage and transmission of invoices across the EU. The Revenue Commissioners have issued regulations which partially give effect to the directive. However, it is necessary to transpose the remainder of the directive in the Bill in section 118 and follow-on regulations.
Three changes are proposed to the VAT treatment of property in the Bill. Last year's Finance Act introduced the concept of economic value into VAT law. Economic value means the cost of acquisition and development of a property and identifies the full amount on which the developer claims input VAT in respect of the development of a property. This concept was introduced to prevent avoidance schemes. Section 110 ensures that the meaning of development in the definition of economic value includes expenditure such as architects' and other professional fees.
Short-term letting of property is usually exempt from VAT. However, it is possible to waive the exemption on short-term letting and charge VAT at the standard rate. In some cases prior to short-term letting, individuals will have claimed input VAT on the development of the property with the intention of entering into long-term leases which did not materialise. The change in section 113 allows the Revenue Commissioners to take this into account when calculating what the taxpayer needs to pay if he then cancels the waiver. Section 117 creates a requirement to maintain records as long as the property is in the VAT net and for six years thereafter.
Section 114 makes the local business responsible for paying VAT on the supply and installation of equipment where the supplier is not established in the State. Section 115 confirms the budget night increase in the 12.5% VAT rate to 13.5%. This was part of the budget's revenue-raising measures.
Where car dealers pre-register certain cars for their own use prior to sale, for example, replacement vehicles for breakdowns and courtesy cars, it gives rise to an anomaly whereby more VAT is chargeable than if the vehicles in question were sold to customers without pre-registration. Section 116 provides for the introduction of a new VAT-based mechanism to correct this anomaly which will apply to all pre-registered cars. An existing VRT refund scheme for pre-registered demonstration cars will therefore become redundant and will be discontinued. Section 123 extends tax-geared penalties for VAT to cases where a return is not submitted and brings VAT into line with income tax and corporation tax in this regard.
Part 4 of the Bill deals with stamp duties. The tax code exempts from stamp duty the transfer of shares and property between associated corporate bodies, subject to certain conditions. Section 131 amends these conditions to include certain situations where the companies are clearly associated but would not meet the existing conditions. Section 132 confirms the budget night extension of the stamp duty exemption for young trained farmers. Section 133 extends the existing stamp duty provisions which exempt foreign national Government loans and securities to loans and securities of foreign local governments and foreign local authorities. Section 135 confirms the budget night increase on stamp duty on cash cards and credit cards.
Section 136 gives effect to the announcement on budget day that a specific contribution to the Exchequer is to be obtained from the financial sector for the three year period 2003 to 2005. The targeted contribution is €100 million per annum for each of the three years. The required amount for 2003 is to be obtained from each relevant financial company or group by reference to the amount of the tax payable on deposit interest by it to the Revenue Commissioners in the calendar year 2001, excluding arrears relating to earlier years. The payment will be in the form of a special stamp duty which will be due for payment in October 2003. This duty will be levied at a rate of 50% on the amount of the tax on deposit interest referred to. However, there will be an upper limit on the amount payable by each relevant financial institution or group. This upper limit will be equal to 0.0015 of the institution's or group's average deposits from residents in 2001, excluding Government deposits and inter-financial institution deposits. The same amount will be payable for 2004 and 2005. Section 138 confirms the budget night increase in stamp duty on cheques and non-residential property.
Part 5 deals with residential property tax. The threshold for a residential property tax clearance certificate is being increased from €382,000 to €1 million. This increase will reduce administration costs and free up resources to carry out more audits in this area so that the yield in back tax can be maintained. Sections 142 to 148 deal with Revenue Commissioners' powers and administration. Section 142 enables an additional estimate to be raised where a previously estimated amount has been paid and a return showing the correct liability has not been made or where the Revenue Commissioners have subsequent information indicating that the original estimate was too low.
Section 144 allows the Revenue Commissioners to carry out an on-site audit of accountable persons in relation to professional services withholding tax. Section 145 increases the maximum fine for summary offences from €1,900 to €3,000. Section 146 contains a number of provisions to facilitate the investigation and successful prosecution of revenue offences. It is proposed to allow for the creation of certain evidential presumptions in relation to proof of books, records and so on in court proceedings for tax evasion cases. A provision is also included creating an offence of falsifying, concealing or destroying documents relating to a Revenue investigation. A judge hearing a trial on indictment will now be able to make information available to the jury to assist them in their deliberations such as charts, transcripts, summary information and so on. Section 147 allows unpaid penalties to be pursued in the District and Circuit Courts as well as the High Court. Section 149 is an enabling provision that will allow the Revenue Commissioners to oblige certain categories of taxpayer to file returns and pay tax electronically.
Section 150 provides for the revocation of minor annual payments from the central fund. These payments relate to Marsh's Library, King's Inns and the Lord Mayor and citizens of Dublin and are provided for under legislation which, in some cases, is over two centuries old. Section 152 provides that the Exchequer may be reimbursed from the small savings reserve fund for amounts transferred to the dormant accounts fund which represent accrued interest on the national savings schemes.
There are no capital acquisitions tax provisions in the Bill as published because of the new CAT Consolidation Bill. However, I will be putting down several amendments to CAT on Committee Stage after the CAT Consolidation Bill has been enacted within the next few days.
As Minister for Finance, I have managed in successive budgets and Finance Bills to create a low tax rate environment across all tax heads. It is a position from which our economy has thrived. The task is to build on what we have gained. This Finance Bill recognises that this is the case. It provides for targeted reductions in income tax where they are needed. It also targets additional revenues that can be put towards improved public services and it closes off various tax loopholes and limits or curtails a number of reliefs which will protect the tax base and secure our low tax rate environment for the future. I hope the House has benefited from my outline of the provisions in the Bill. I look forward to the debate on the Bill and I commend it to the House.