Clause 219 - International agreements to improve tax compliance

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 12:45 pm ar 20 Mehefin 2013.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Catherine McKinnell Catherine McKinnell Shadow Minister (Treasury) 12:45, 20 Mehefin 2013

As the Minister explained, the clause gives the Treasury the power to make regulations to give effect to the agreement between the UK and the US to improve international tax compliance, and to implement the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. The Government amendments helpfully seek to provide legal cover for any similar future agreements. It is in the context of the recent agreements reached with Britain’s Crown dependencies and overseas territories, and the announcements made just before this week’s G8 summit, that I want to speak to amendment 109.

Committee Members may recall that, as long ago as January 2012, the Leader of the Opposition pressed the Government to show international leadership on tax havens and to force our Crown dependencies and overseas territories to co-operate with HMRC’s requests to exchange tax information or face being placed on the OECD’s blacklist. Last month, ahead of the G8 summit, the Opposition called on the Government to push our Crown dependencies and overseas territories to sign a convention on mutual administrative assistance on tax matters, which supports the multilateral exchange of tax information. They now seem to have grasped the urgency of sharing that information and signing up to the convention is clearly a welcome step in the right direction. Will the Minister confirm by what date he expects all of the Crown dependencies and overseas territories to be participating fully in the convention and what steps, if any, will the Government take if they are not fully compliant by the end of the year?

Also announced on Saturday was the apparent intention of the Crown dependencies and overseas territories to publish national action plans on beneficial ownership detailing the true owners of so-called shell companies, but not trusts. The UK Government announced their intention to establish a register at Companies House of beneficial owners of companies in the UK, but for it to be made available only to HMRC and not to the public.

Again, those are all welcome steps in the right direction but many believe that they do not go far enough. We believe that proper transparency about who is really  holding wealth behind both shell companies and trusts in tax havens will not be achieved by secret lists held in the UK, vague promises of future action and, like the “Enough food for everyone IF” campaign, we believe that we need a proper global standard for public registration of ownership of companies and trusts. That could be achieved by the tax convention on transparency that many thought the UK should have launched at the G8 as the centrepiece of our presidency.

There is no point in signing up to automatic exchange agreements with the Crown dependencies and the overseas territories if we are asking them to share information that they do not have. The only way we can make this work is by establishing a globally agreed public register, and that needs to be done as a matter of urgency. Of course, for the reasons I outlined when we discussed clause 217, whatever agreements are reached on tax transparency during the G8 presidency, they have to benefit developing countries too. We need to end the era of tax secrecy. Therefore the information must include multinationals’ revenues, profits and taxes in every country in which they operate. We need to include the key pieces of information so that people, whether experts or not, can properly assess the amount of tax that was paid and which should be of benefit to British consumers in the choices that they make, and to developing countries.

Demonstrating our determination to take meaningful action here in the UK will give us a much better platform and much greater leverage when demanding that transparency elsewhere. While far greater transparency is an important part of achieving tax fairness, we also need to see some fundamental reform of our own corporate tax system, because the shifting of profits and the use of tax havens to avoid tax are symptoms of a system that is failing to keep up with global economic developments. As Committee members will no doubt know from the debate that has raged on this issue, the transfer pricing rules are intended to prevent two companies under common control from trading with each other on a basis that no two unconnected companies would trade. It is in order to stop them arranging that trade at a price that would shift profits to low tax jurisdictions and their costs to high tax locations.

However, it is becoming increasingly clear that the transfer pricing rules are not sufficiently reducing those opportunities for the shifting of profits. This particularly disadvantages not only revenue collection in the UK but in developing countries. In the 21st century economy—where value is now often in brands, intellectual property, customer loyalty and ideas, which can be traded globally and operated from different parts of a corporate group—we need to develop a clear, tight and properly enforced system of corporate taxation that keeps up with those developments and demands.