Reduction of relief in cases where losses relieved sideways etc

Part of Finance (No. 2) Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 16 Ionawr 2018.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury) 9:25, 16 Ionawr 2018

It is good to be here under your chairmanship, Sir Roger. I appreciate the Minister’s explanation of clauses 30 and 31, but the Opposition request a review of their effectiveness in deterring the inappropriate use of double taxation relief, particularly as they relate both to funds received by the Exchequer and to the companies potentially affected by them.

Colleagues will be aware that, as the Minister said, double taxation arrangements have been under discussion for an extremely long time—effectively since the beginning of globalisation, if we take that term as referring to the proliferation of multinational companies. The international finance conference in Brussels in 1920 raised the need to consider the impact of double taxation on firms, and from 1923 to 1927 some of the first agreements to avoid double taxation came into force. Such agreements have been under continual discussion in more recent years within the OECD, as have been provisions to prevent the contrary: double non-taxation, which we are discussing today.

The extent of double non-taxation is believed by many commentators to be extremely significant, which is part of the reason why the Opposition are not convinced by claims that the tax gap has recently reduced; that tax gap does not include international profit shifting, such as that obtained by manipulating double taxation rules. That is why Labour’s tax transparency and enforcement programme offers a series of measures to deal with profit shifting.

The measures under discussion follow on from attempts made in the 2009 Finance Bill to clarify measures in the Finance Act 2005 that examine double taxation relief specifically for banks. That Act limited credit for foreign tax paid on trade receipts of a bank to no more than the corporation tax arising on the relevant part of the trade profits. Changes were made after the Act to prevent income being artificially diverted to non-banking companies in bank groups. That loophole, which was being exploited, was shut down by ensuring that the restriction applied to all relevant receipts going across a group. Such profit shifting was therefore prevented. The clauses under discussion will offer a similar tightening for non-bank companies, as well as other alterations and restrictions on the use of double taxation relief.

The Opposition are asking for a review for a variety of reasons. First, it would be helpful to understand from the banking sector’s experience whether the new rules are likely to have a positive effect, and what the magnitude of that effect is anticipated to be. Secondly, alternative approaches are available, and it would be helpful to assess the Government’s approach against those. In particular, I understand that the US has adopted a different approach to limiting the benefits of relief from double taxation. The UK’s approach, which I accept is in common with the OECD’s, is to focus the dissuasion from using an appropriate double taxation relief on the transaction and its nature. By contrast, the US approach relates to those entities that can benefit from favourable tax treatment; it focuses on the entity, rather than the transaction. As I discovered when looking at the debates on the 2003 agreement between the UK and the US on double taxation and non-taxation, the two approaches have to come together when we have a treaty with the US on tax matters. It would be helpful to know whether the Government have considered the apparently more restrictive approach adopted by the US.

It would also be helpful to know more about the removal of the counteraction notice specified in the clauses. Colleagues may remember—though they probably have more important things to think about—that in the discussion on hybrid mismatches, I asked whether a counteraction notice was still required. I do not recall receiving a totally clear answer, although the Minister offered many other helpful clarifications. Clause 31 removes the requirement to give a notice to trigger the double taxation relief targeted anti-avoidance rule, as the Minister mentioned. That seems to follow an approach of amending provisions to remove such notices when the measures concerned are otherwise under review, as part of a wholesale approach to reviewing the measures. The explanatory notes state that the approach follows that adopted under new TAARs, but it is not clear that there has been a more holistic investigation by the Government of this issue. It would be interesting for us to know whether the Government plan to review the existing use of any remaining requirements for counteraction notices in the area of international profit shifting.

The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but the principle seems to have been accepted that such counteraction notices are no longer necessary before HMRC is able to act, at least in relation to this kind of international artificial profit shifting. He gave us quite a strong rationale for that when he indicated the problems with having to issue a notice when time limits can be relatively tight: it could impact on HMRC’s ability to take appropriate action against those engaging in international profit shifting.

It would be useful to know whether there is a broader review of the use of counteraction notices in this regard, but as I said, we are also calling for a review of the effectiveness or otherwise of the measures in deterring the manipulation of double taxation relief, and of whether the measures will deal with the international profit shifting that existing practices seem to be promoting.