Corporate interest restriction

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 11:30 am ar 19 Hydref 2017.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 5, in schedule 5, page 364, line 10, at end insert—

(1) Within three months of the coming into force of this Chapter, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review of the effects of the provisions of this Chapter in relation to PFI companies.

(2) The review shall consider in particular the effects if the provisions of—

(a) the Chapter, and

(b) the exemption in section 439

were not to apply to PFI companies.

(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons within three months of its completion.”

This amendment requires a review to be undertaken of the impact of the provisions of Chapter 8 of new Part 10 of TIOPA 2010 in relation to PFI companies and if the provisions did not apply to PFI companies.

Amendment 28, in schedule 5, page 367, line 46, at end insert—

(1) Within fifteen months of the coming into force of this Chapter, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review about the operation of its provisions in relation to different sectors.

(2) The sectors covered by this review shall be—

(a) water and sewerage,

(b) gas and electricity,

(c) telecommunications,

(d) railway facilities,

(e) roads and other transport facilities,

(f) health facilities,

(g) educational facilities,

(h) facilities or housing accommodation provided for use by any of the armed forces,

(i) facilities or housing accommodation provided for use by any police force,

(j) court or prison facilities,

(k) waste processing facilities,

(l) buildings (or parts of buildings) occupied by any relevant public body other than for purposes principally concerned with matters specified in paragraphs (a) to (k).

(3) A review under this section shall separately identify, in respect of each sector, information on operation in respect of qualifying infrastructure companies undertaking activities that were previously undertaken by a nationalised industry.

(4) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons within three months of its completion.”

This amendment would require HMRC to report on the operation of the special provisions in Schedule 5 relating to public infrastructure in relation to sectors and, within sectors, in relation to privatised companies as a group.

Amendment 6, in schedule 5, page 368, line 13, at end insert—

“‘a PFI company’ means a company which has entered into a contract with a public sector body under the Private Finance Initiative or the PF2 initiative.”

This amendment defines a PFI company.

That schedule 5 be the Fifth schedule to the Bill.

New clause 1—Review of relief from corporation tax relief for PFI companies—

“(1) Within three months of the passing of this Act, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review about how corporation tax relief is given for losses, deficits, expenses and other amounts of PFI companies.

(2) For the purposes of this section, ‘a PFI company’ means a company which has entered into a contract with a public sector body under the Private Finance Initiative or the PF2 initiative.

(3) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons within three months of its completion.”

This new clause requires a review to be undertaken of the corporation tax reliefs available to PFI companies.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship this morning, Mr Howarth. I am looking forward to this debate because it is something all of us across the House feel concerned about. I recognise that we are debating the Finance Bill. I reassure you that the amendments and the majority of what I will talk about today are about taxation and, in particular, the requirements of the legislation. I just want briefly to set out how that fits into the context of the concerns that are shared across the House about private finance and the cost to the public sector of borrowing to be able to build the infrastructure that we all know we need.

To be clear, Governments of all colours have used private finance and continue to do so. The private finance initiative and private finance 2 schemes are little different from each other. It is recognised that questions about the companies involved and the role of taxation in the decision to use PFI or PF2 to fund public infrastructure are questions for all of us, because we see in our constituencies the problems that are caused.

I note that the constituency of the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar now has repayments of £169 million as a result of private finance. The constituency of my hon. Friend the Member for Bootle, the shadow Minister, has £423 million-worth of repayments required under private finance contracts. I would describe private finance as the hire purchase of the public sector—indeed the legal loan sharks of the public sector— because the companies offer credit to the public sector, but at a high cost. In particular, the cost of the credit—the taxation that will come from the companies involved—is part of the decision to go with them. That is specifically part of the Green Book calculations. I am looking forward to the Minister telling us what has happened to those Green Book calculations, which were supposedly withdrawn in 2013 but I understand are still being used by Departments for private finance deals, to understand how tax plays a part in the decision to use private finance companies. The idea is that this form of credit may be more expensive but that the companies will repay us in taxation in the UK. That forms part of the decision to use them. The widespread evidence now is that those companies are not paying UK taxes, and that they are benefiting from changes in our tax regime over the past 20 or 30 years. That should trouble all of us because we are not getting the value for money that the deals were supposed to be.

One of my concerns that I hope the Minister will address is that PF2 also pays little regard to the question of where the companies are situated and how much tax they pay. I have therefore tabled two amendments—in fact, three; one is about defining private finance companies—to understand what kind of deal we are getting from those companies and how we as taxpayers and those who represent taxpayers can get a better deal for the British public.

For the avoidance of doubt, the debate is not about not using private finance. One day, I hope that we will have another debate—I am sure the Minister will look forward to it as much as he is looking forward to this one—about the alternatives to private finance. There is a role for private finance, but the question is, if we are getting a bad deal and if the companies are not honouring the obligations that we as taxpayers assigned to them, what can we do about it?

Clearly, the PFI companies are making huge profit. Research from the Centre for Health and the Public Interest shows that over the next five years almost £1 billion in taxpayer funds will go to PFI companies in the form of pre-tax profits. That is 22% of the extra £4.5 billion given to the Department of Health alone.

In my constituency I see at first hand the impact of this. Whipps Cross University Hospital is technically in the constituency next door, but serves my local community—it is part of Barts, which has the biggest PFI contract in the country: £1 billion-worth of build, £7 billion to be repaid. The hospital is paying back £150 million a year in PFI charges, more than 50% of which is interest alone on the loan. The hospital downgraded the nurses’ post to try to save money, and so found that many nurses left. It therefore faced a higher agency bill.

It is clear that PFI and the cost of those loans drives problems. It is also clear that those companies make what I would term excessive profits. That is where new clause 1 begins to try to offer us some answers. If the companies make excessive profits, that is not part of the contract that we signed with them. The National Audit Office has been incredibly critical of how taxation played a role in decisions about private finance companies, but that has not been realised.

Also, not that many companies are involved, yet the tax returns are huge. Just eight companies own or appear to have equity stakes in 92% of all the PFI contracts in the NHS. Innisfree manages Barts, which is my local hospital, and it has just 25 staff but stands to make £18 billion over the coming years. It might be thought, therefore, that companies of that size and stature would pay a substantial amount of tax—I see that the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar can predict where I am going with this; sadly, it does not appear to be the case.

Indeed, many of the companies seem to report little or no tax in the UK. One of the simple reasons for that is that many of them are not registered in the UK. That is crucial because the provisions in the Bill to give those companies a relief on paying tax on the interest that they get from shareholder debt are predicated on the idea that they are UK companies. That is the starting point for amendments 5 and 6. The Bill will bring in a cap on the amount of relief that companies can claim against interest. However, there is a public sector exemption, for public sector infrastructure companies, and it will substantially benefit the companies in question.

Having been a Member of this House for seven years, I have always assumed that when such a provision is introduced we will be able to debate its merits. I note that the restrictions in relation to the measure mean that we cannot stop it, or ask whether we are being wise and whether, given that we know the companies do not necessarily pay the tax it was assumed they would in the UK, we are getting their tax situation right. We cannot stop the measure, but we can certainly ask just how much the companies are going to benefit from it.

Amendments 5 and 6 are intended to enable taxpayers to understand how much the companies will benefit from the exemption, and how much extra money they will be able to write off against their tax bill, thus paying little tax in the future. It matters very much to the companies, because most are heavily indebted to their shareholders. They use a model involving 80% to 90% senior debt; the rest is equity loans in terms of the products that they offer. PF2 will change that very little. The amount of debt that they carry, and therefore the amount of interest that they can trade off, which the measure will allow them to do, will be relevant to their ability to give returns to their shareholders.

It is clear that those companies give their shareholders substantial returns, and will be able to fund that through such tax relief. Indeed, the shareholders’ returns are 28% on their sales—more than double the 12% to 15% that was predicted in the business cases. Between 2000 and 2016 the total value of sales of shares in PFI companies was £17 billion. It is notable that in 2016 100% of equity transactions involving those companies were to offshore infrastructure funds in Jersey, Guernsey and Luxembourg. That is based on a sample of 334 projects.

Those companies are going to get a substantial tax relief from the exemption. Yet they do not pay tax in the UK—or, certainly, there is a lot of evidence that they do not. It is an exemption that will enable them to continue to justify paying little or no tax; they will be able to write off the interest on their loans and projects against it. Yet taxpayers are not benefiting from the tax that they said they would pay.

New clause 1 goes to the heart of that question. Those companies signed up for public sector contracts, with particular rates of tax at the time they were finalised. Yet, as we know, corporation tax has varied substantially over the past decade. The debate is not about what the right level of corporation tax is; it is about a simple principle. If a company has signed up to pay a certain rate of tax, and the tax rate changes, it clearly benefits from that. We signed up to the deals for taxpayers, however, on the basis that they would pay a certain rate of tax. That tax rate will now change. New clause 1, again, asks just how much the companies are benefiting from the changes.

I know that the Minister will tell me that there are various anti-discriminatory clauses in the PFI and indeed the PF2 contracts. I agree with him. Therefore, how we might start to reclaim some of that excessive profit is a tricky question, but there is a strong case that, if a company has signed up in good faith to a particular rate of tax, surely that is the rate of tax that it should pay. That is written into the contract, it is part of the business case in the Green Book that is made on these sorts of deals. We as taxpayers have an expectation. Indeed, I would expect the Minister to have a series of sums reflecting the amount of money that would be paid back that he would write off against the large sums that I talked about. However, given that the corporation tax situation has moved from some of these companies nominally paying 28% to their paying 19% or less, that is clearly a substantial discount on what they were expected to pay. New clause 1 asks us to do what, frankly, at the moment we do not do as a country—understand what the difference is between what we expected to get in from tax from these companies and what we will get in.

It is always troubling to me that the Treasury does not seem to have a central database either of how much we were paying to take on these loans—particularly the rates of return, which we know are substantially higher than the rate of borrowing on the public sector—or of the taxation these companies are paying back versus what they were expected to pay back. New clause 1 would get to the heart of that matter and it sits alongside amendments 5 and 6 in trying to understand where these companies are making excessive profits from the public sector.

I am sure that the Minister will tell me that this is a dreadful attack on the private sector and that we should not be saying that these companies are ripping the British public off and that they are legal loan sharks. However, I ask him: if he will not accept the amendments, will he commit to gathering the data about how much these companies have paid in tax, how much difference these have made to the value-for-money case for these businesses, and therefore how our communities will be able to pay back the sums involved?

I am sure that the hon. Member for Brentwood and Ongar would love to have £169 million to invest in his local community; there are many worthy causes that I am sure he would support. I am sure that the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden would be interested in the £170 million that I believe Stevenage, near his constituency, will have to pay out to PFI companies. That money could be invested in the public infrastructure that we so desperately need.

I am sure that all of us would agree that we expect these companies to pay their tax, as they signed up to in these contracts, yet it is clear that they do not. So if the Minister is not prepared to accept these incredibly reasonable amendments in this environment, I hope that he will set out precisely what he is going to do to get our tax money back. All of us and all of our constituents need and deserve nothing less.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

It is again a pleasure to serve under your stewardship, Mr Howarth.

I thank my hon. Friend for tabling the amendment, which seeks a review of the effect that the measures we are discussing will have on PFI companies. The Government blithely assert, including in their notes on the Bill, that companies involved in public benefit infrastructure spending are an inherently low risk for tax avoidance. That is an odd claim, especially in the light of what my hon. Friend has said. We know that some PFI companies have engaged in profit shifting to non-UK jurisdictions. It does not make sense to say that just because the profits of a company are extracted from public investment it cannot seek to be paid in a way that is fiscally undesirable.

No one should bemoan the huge public infrastructure investment that the last Labour Government enabled. It was fixing many of the problems left from years of neglect in the public sector. All Governments have taken part in PFI. When PFI was in effect the only game in town, so to speak, many public authorities took up the chance to make the investment they needed; my hon. Friend identified some in my constituency that benefited from such investment. However, we know that some contracts have produced excessive costs for the public sector, where direct borrowing could have produced much lower ongoing costs and provided for more direct influence over the quality of some ancillary services. Therefore, it is right that a review be used to work out whether we should be privileging PFI companies with exemptions from these measures at the same time as knowing that they often benefit from guaranteed profits at the public expense.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy) 11:45, 19 Hydref 2017

I appreciate where the hon. Member for Walthamstow is coming from with the amendments. We support Labour on new clause 1, which calls for a review of how much we are spending and where the money is going. Good points have been well made about how companies are making more of a profit as a result of the changes in corporation tax rates.

On the other amendments, we are concerned about the possible impact that any changes to PFI would have on Scotland. We are still paying off a number of PFI projects in Scotland. I know that people say that all Governments have implemented such projects, but the Scottish Government have moved away from the PFI funding model because the SNP does not support it. We have the Scottish Futures Trust and not-for-profit delivery mechanisms, which mean that profits do not go to private companies.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

To be clear, the evidence of the problems with the PFI model extends to the not-for-profit model. I encourage the hon. Lady to read the work of Mark Hellowell of the University of Edinburgh. No political party can claim the moral high ground when it comes to private finance in this country.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader, Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy)

I appreciate the hon. Lady’s comments. The not-for-profit model that was set up when I was a local councillor, which built schools in Aberdeen, was significantly better than some of the previous rental models. Perhaps that was just because Aberdeen was particularly diligent with the not-for-profit model that it chose specifically for its schools funding project.

As I have said, I am concerned about the effect the amendments might have on the projects in Scotland that were put in place under the previous Scottish Executive. The SNP Scottish Government have been very clear that the old PFI models are not the way to go and that they are incredibly burdensome for the public purse. Although there is a shiny new building, quite often they saddle the public purse with repayments for a very long time, which can amount to much more than the original cost of the building. There is also less flexibility, because the rules of the private sector organisation have to be abided by.

I agree with the concerns raised about PFI models and that we should not use them. The SNP Scottish Government have recognised that and are using initiatives such as the Scottish Futures Trust, which has delivered a significant amount of funding, savings and benefits to the people of Scotland. As I have said, we support new clause 1 because we do not agree with PFI models and think that it is completely reasonable to reconsider them, but we do not support the Labour party’s other amendments.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Llafur, Luton North

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. Rather than speak specifically to the amendment, I want to make a comment. My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow has raised some very important issues about PFI, but from the beginning it has been an outrageous rip-off of the public purse and the citizens of this country. It should be abandoned. Indeed, in his speech at our party conference, the shadow Chancellor suggested that we should take PFI contracts into public ownership, saving billions for the public purse over time. That is what I want. I have spoken against, voted against and written a chapter of a book against PFI, because it is utterly ridiculous and total nonsense. It is driven by ideology to try to drive as much of the public sector as possible into the private sector. That is what PFI is really about: it puts vast sums of public money into rich private pockets. I will pursue that view vigorously over the next few years.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

It is once again a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. Before I respond specifically to the amendments tabled by Opposition Members, I will set out the aims of the Bill and some details of how it will work.

Clause 20 and schedule 5 introduce new rules to limit the amount of interest expense and similar financing costs that a corporate group can deduct against its taxable profits. Interest is a deductible expense in the calculation of profit subject to corporation tax. Therefore, there is a risk of groups borrowing excessively in the United Kingdom, with the resulting deductions for interest expense eroding the UK tax base.

The new rules are part of the Government’s wider changes to align the location of taxable profits with the location of economic activity. The rules follow the internationally agreed recommendations from the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting, or BEPS, project to tackle tax avoidance by multinational companies. The rules aim to prevent businesses from reducing their taxable profits by using a disproportionate amount of interest expense in the UK.

The schedule introduces a new part into the Taxation (International and Other Provisions) Act 2010 and will raise about £1 billion a year from multinational enterprises and other large companies. The rules take effect from 1 April 2017, as announced in the business tax road map published in 2016 and reconfirmed at the spring Budget this year. Maintaining that commencement date ensures that groups that have already made changes in light of the new rules are not unfairly disadvantaged and that there is no delay in protecting the UK tax base. Given the sophisticated nature of corporate finance, the rules are detailed and technical. However, the core effect of the rules, which aim to match deductions with taxable profits, is relatively simple.

All groups will be able to deduct £2 million in net interest expense a year, so only larger businesses—those with financing costs above that level—can suffer a restriction. Above that threshold, the core rules will restrict interest deductions to a proportion of the group’s UK earnings or the net external expense of the group, whichever is lower. I will discuss the rules in further detail.

First, the fixed ratio rule will limit interest deductions to 30% of the company’s taxable EBITDA—earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation. Secondly, the modified debt cap will limit interest deductions to the net external interest expense of the worldwide group; this rule is consistent with the recommendation in the OECD BEPS report. There are provisions to ensure that the rules will not adversely affect groups that are highly leveraged with third-party debt for genuine commercial reasons. Thirdly, the group ratio rule will allow groups to increase their deductions if their UK borrowing does not exceed a fair proportion of the external borrowing of the worldwide group. In addition, there are public infrastructure rules that provide an alternative but equally effective approach for companies that are highly leveraged because they own and manage public infrastructure assets.

The Bill provides rules to help address fluctuations in levels of net interest expense and EBITDA. Amounts of restricted interest are carried forward indefinitely and may be deducted in a later period if there is a sufficient allowance. Unused interest allowance can also be carried forward, for up to five years.

The Bill introduces additional provisions to ensure that the rules work for certain types of business, such as banks and insurers, joint ventures, securitisation vehicles and real estate investment trusts. There are also rules to deal with particular issues including related parties; leases; payments to charities; the oil and gas tax regime; incentives such as the patent box and research and development tax credits; and double taxation relief. Given the technical nature of the Bill, we need to deal with a wide range of corporate arrangements. We will, as always, continue to keep their detailed implementation under review.

I welcome the opportunity to debate amendments 5 and 6 and new clause 1, tabled by the hon. Member for Walthamstow. Amendments 5 and 6 propose a review within three months of Royal Assent on the effect of the provisions contained in the new chapter 8 proposed by the schedule on companies with PFI contracts. Legislating for a review of the rules within three months is unnecessary. The Government have already undertaken extensive work and consultation on the issue over the past 18 months. We will continue to monitor the impact of the legislation, and Government officials continue to meet key stakeholders impacted by the rules in the chapter.

Proposed new chapter 8 includes the public infrastructure rules designed to ensure that companies holding public infrastructure assets are not disproportionately affected by the corporate interest restriction. In particular, proposed new section 439 of chapter 8 contains a grandfathering provision for loans entered into by certain companies on or before 12 May 2016. Such companies are highly leveraged as part of their standard business model, given their fixed assets and fixed income flows. The grandfathering ensures that investors who entered into contracts to provide Government services in good faith are not unfairly impacted. That could be the case where the additional tax expense was not factored into original funding models and there is no scope to pass on any of the cost. Given that PFI projects are long-term in nature and provide many of our vital public services, the rules grandfather the treatment of interest payable to related parties to the extent that the loan was agreed prior to the publication, on 12 May 2016, of detailed proposals for the interest restriction rules.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The Minister says that he has met the stakeholders affected and is setting out how those companies might be impacted. Will he clarify which companies his officials have met to discuss these rules?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

With respect to the hon. Lady, I do not think I said that I had met all the stakeholders, but as part of their ongoing work in this area officials naturally meet a large range of officials. If she is keen to know exactly who they are and what types of companies, I would be happy to ask my officials to write to her with that information.

The hon. Lady also proposes a new clause, which would require a review within three months of Royal Assent of how tax relief is given for losses, deficits, expenses and other amounts in relation to PFI companies. PFI companies do not obtain any special treatment under the tax rules in the way that losses, deficits, expenses and other amounts are treated. Legislating for a review of these rules in three months is unnecessary. As we debated on Tuesday, the Government have already undertaken extensive work on the treatment of losses and deficits over the past 18 months and through extensive consultation. The Government will continue to monitor the legislation’s impact, and officials continue to meet key stakeholders impacted by the rules in this chapter.

I turn now to some of the more general and specific points that the hon. Lady has raised. In doing so, I should acknowledge the important contribution she has made over a long period in Parliament on the important issues surrounding PFI. She is right to point out that PFI contracts are the creatures of many different Governments. It would be widely accepted that many of the issues that have arisen, and to which she and other Members have alluded, certainly occurred under the watch of the previous Labour Government. She rightly points out that not all of those contracts are perfect. That is evidenced by the fact that this Government have secured a rebate of about £2.5 billion by working with the private sector and raising funds through that approach.

We have had a general discussion about PFI, and proposed chapter 8 gives rise to the question whether PFI infrastructure projects should be treated differently from other projects that would otherwise be subject to the interest restriction. I have two important points to make. First, these are infrastructure projects, so they are, by their very nature, highly leveraged. They are projects where large amounts of interest are often part of the natural, right and proper, way in which they are constructed.

The second point, which in a sense follows from that, is that of proportionality. To what degree does one apply this kind of approach to a business of that particular nature, given that the downstream revenues from PFI arrangements cannot be easily adjusted to accommodate the provisions that would otherwise apply in the Bill?

The hon. Lady raised two specific points. One was related to the Green Book calculations. In 2012 we set up the operational efficiency programme to deliver savings from existing programmes. That brought in £2.5 billion. We also introduced the new PF2 model, to offer better value for money and greater transparency in the operation of these arrangements.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Llafur, Luton North

Rather than having another elaborate PFI system, would it not be simpler, in the health service and in the education sector, to build by traditional public borrowing, which is extremely cheap and would save billions for the taxpayer?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

With great respect to the hon. Gentleman, I think that is probably a little out of scope of the issues being dealt with in the Bill. I make the point that his party is committed to bringing a lot of these back in, as it has described. That is a fine idea in principle, but it will cost a huge amount of money and there has been no suggestion from his party as to how it would be raised, what taxes will have to be raised as a consequence, or what additional borrowing will have to occur in order to do that.

To return to the hon. Lady’s point, the Green Book methodology as it applies to the PFI is not directly concerned with the tax treatment under discussion, but I am very happy to write to her about that. Her other point was, in effect, whether chapter 8 applies to an overseas company. She made constant reference to the idea that a lot of these organisations were foreign-based in one form or another. I can give her some reassurance on that, because chapter 8—it applies the particular treatment to which she objects in respect of PFIs—applies to UK companies, which still typically include the company that holds the PFI contract. It does not apply to overseas companies or investors.

I welcome the opportunity to debate amendment 28, tabled by Opposition Members. It proposes a review within 15 months of Royal Assent of the effect of the provisions contained in chapter 8 of the schedule in relation to the sectors listed in the amendment. As I have mentioned, chapter 8 introduces the public infrastructure rules. With those rules, providers of public infrastructure may find that they are disproportionately impacted by the rules as the nature of the businesses require substantial investment, and their commercial characteristics often lead to such finance being provided in the form of debt.

Legislating for a review of the rules in 15 months is unnecessary. As I have described, the Government have already undertaken extensive work and consultation on this area over the past 18 months. We will continue to monitor the impact of the legislation and officials will continue to meet key stakeholders impacted by the rules in the chapter.

As I said at the outset, I welcome this debate. The Government have already looked closely at the impact that the rules will have on companies with PFI contracts, and indeed on all companies within the scope of the rules. The provisions made in the legislation strike the correct balance between being robust, while not disproportionately impacting on PFI investors, and not damaging the reputation of the UK as a place to do business. I therefore invite Opposition Members not to press amendments 5, 6 and 28 and new clause 1 to a Division.

Schedule 5 introduces new rules that will restrict the ability of businesses to reduce their taxable profits through excessive UK interest expense. The rules are consistent with the UK’s wider policy to align the location of taxable profits with the location of economic activity and better reflect the global reality of modern business. Introducing the rules ensures that the UK upholds its commitment to timely and effective implementation of the OECD’s recommendations to make sure multinational corporations pay tax reflective of the business they carry out in this country. I therefore commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 12:00, 19 Hydref 2017

I do not think that the Minister has recognised the paradigm shift in the public’s view of PFI. In fact, Mr Howarth, as you know, in the area where we live there is a big debate at the moment about a significant infrastructure project, which is creating all sorts of tensions because of the implications of the way it is constructed. I am not criticising anybody, because all political parties—certainly the two main parties—have dipped their fingers, possibly even up to their shoulders, into PFI, so it is not a question of pointing a finger at anyone.

My hon. Friend the Member for Walthamstow eloquently and forensically identified some of the issues, and I thank her for that. However, things are moving on and we have to keep up with the tone outside in the country. People are becoming increasingly suspicious of PFI contracts. I know that we are not discussing the whole question of PFI. I completely accept that, but there is a question about the generality of the measure, to contextualise it. What we have here in the Bill is one of the most complex measures ever legislated for in Britain. Schedule 5 alone stretches to 157 pages of dense text, which is far longer than the entire length of the majority of Bills that we debate in Parliament, and I daresay is longer than the entire tax code of some jurisdictions. We have to take that into account; that is the context we are working in.

The length, of course, relates to the complexity of what the measure tries to achieve, but sometimes the complexity and length do not improve the operation of law. The excessive length of the existing tax code is well known. In reality we have in PFI, as identified in amendment 28, a range of services in the public sector: water, sewerage, gas and electricity, telecoms, railway facilities, roads, health facilities—referred to earlier—educational facilities, court and prison facilities, and waste processing facilities. We have moved beyond dealing with this as just a technical issue—it is a wider issue—but for today’s purposes we must identify how much those projects cost the taxpayer and how much of our tax take they denude us of.

The UK’s engagement in the OECD’s base erosion and profit shifting project, which the Minister referred to, will be welcome if it really does lead to the end of practices that have denuded Exchequers here and abroad of much needed receipts, but many people are not convinced about that. They genuinely are not convinced that PFI projects, which have been in operation for the best part of a quarter of a century, have given us the best value for money. There are deep concerns about the Exchequer being denuded of tax, especially when many of these projects, if not all of them, have the copper-bottomed guarantee of the British state. They are hardly the riskiest ventures in the world. In fact, they are probably some of the safest. We have to take that into account. There has been a shift in people’s attitude to PFI. We must recognise that things have moved on.

We certainly do not oppose the overall aim of reducing companies’ ability to shift profits through artificial interest charge arrangements—no one is suggesting that—but as I and others have said, there is a concern that those deeply complex measures and the many loopholes have already found their way into the minds of tax advisers and into the accounting practices of many corporations. I said to the Minister only the other day that we are here to guard the guards, and I know that he recognises that we are perfectly entitled to ask many questions.

The debate about PFI—the concept, the philosophy, the notion—will take place elsewhere. The shadow Chancellor mentioned it in his party conference speech. We will take the issue out to the public, but given the context we want to delve down, and one of the only ways that the Opposition have to delve down is to ask HMRC to report on the implications. Amendment 28 would do that.

I am going to call the hon. Member for Walthamstow, who tabled two of the amendments. The hon. Member for Bootle cleverly managed to balance the context and the amendments, but we need speeches that, although they might refer to the context, actually speak to the amendments at hand.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Be under no illusions, Mr Howarth; I intend very much to speak to the amendments at hand.

The Minister argued, slightly bizarrely, that we already have information about whether the changes would affect PFI companies, because the Government have been able to assess that, yet they are rejecting our call to put that information in the public domain. The Minister said clearly that his officials have met PFI companies, and I asked him to clarify which companies. I hope that when he meets stakeholders he will meet my local hospital, which is dealing with the difficult consequences of PFI deals for its financial position. I would argue that officials who are essentially having to sack nurses to pay back PFI loans are equally stakeholders, so I would be interested to know whether he has met any of them.

Photo of Kelvin Hopkins Kelvin Hopkins Llafur, Luton North

Does my hon. Friend have a figure for the total cost of PFI repayments every year to the national health service? That would illustrate the enormous burden of PFI schemes on our health service.

Order. We do not want too much context.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

Well, this is why how much tax these companies pay matters. I hate to tell the Minister how to do his job, but I have looked at the PFI and public sector comparator documents used to assess the value for money of the deals, and they explicitly talk about the levels of tax that the companies pay and, indeed, look at how those would be traded off against the cost of borrowing to the public sector.

My hon. Friend the Member for Luton North asks about the £300 billion for which we are now indebted in repayments on the loans, as against the £55 billion of outlay. One reason why we took on the £300 billion was that we expected to get back in tax from the companies money to trade off against it. That was an explicit part of the value-for-money calculations done by the Departments. That is why the Green Book matters. That is why I am slightly troubled when the Minister says that tax treatment is part of the deal, but does not then want to give us those data. He says that his Department has looked at the matter and therefore the amendment is unnecessary. Will he therefore commit simply to publishing the information used to assess whether the exemption was in the public interest? It can be in the public interest only if it does not affect the amount of tax that we get back from the companies to go towards the £300 billion that we will have to pay out as a consequence of signing the contracts.

I encourage the Minister to read the work from the National Audit Office on this issue, and specifically about the tax adjustments made in the contracts and whether that really did get value for money for us, and indeed its assessment of PF2. Far be it from me to suggest that pride comes before a fall, but I think that he will find it as troubling as I do that we have not cracked how best to borrow, given that, as my hon. Friend the shadow Minister says, we are always a good bet. Frankly, we never let hospitals or schools go bust, so we always repay our debts. I also encourage my colleagues from north of the border in Scotland to do that, given that the problems also apply to the Scottish Futures Trust. This is about the use of private finance companies. Their tax take is absolutely part of the calculation.

I note, too, that the Minister did not address at all new clause 1 and the levels of tax that the companies signed up to pay. Again, that is very troubling. Either the Minister is telling us that he knows and does not want to tell us, or he does not know and does not care. Either way, we as taxpayers should know and should care, because that money should go towards the £300 billion.

The new clause matters because we know that tax relief on interest paid to shareholders and other affiliates where the debt is held at arm’s length, which is what many of these companies do, has been widely abused, with shareholders injecting debt for the sole purpose of reducing their pre-tax profits and hence the company’s corporation tax. When the Minister gives the tax relief to these particular companies, which he admits are highly leveraged, he is giving them a bonanza. All the amendments do is ask the Government to admit just how much that is, because all of us will have to recognise that that money, which the companies will be able to pay off against their loans, is money that we will have to find to bridge the gap in relation to the £300 billion that we have now committed to paying them. It is entirely in order and within the scope of this legislation, Mr Howarth, that we should ask for that information.

For the avoidance of doubt, let me be very clear that I have absolutely no intention of giving these companies a penny more of taxpayers’ money. I do not wish to get into litigious battles with them about their tearing up their contracts and giving their lawyers an opportunity to claim even more money. Frankly, they have had more than enough from the British taxpayer. I am determined that we can table legislation and show these companies that we are serious about recognising where they have generated excessive profits, where we can learn from the windfall tax of the previous Labour Government, to be able to bring them to the table to renegotiate the costs and get the money back for the British taxpayer so that we can properly invest in infrastructure.

There is another debate to be had about the range of credit available to this country, but with this legislation and the tax breaks that this Government are giving to these companies, it is the taxpayer who will lose out, and we deserve to know by just how much.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Howarth. I have just two comments. The first is in response to what the Minister said about the extent to which the new measures implement OECD recommendations. The second is a comment about our amendment 28.

As I am sure the Minister is aware, the OECD BEPS recommendations, and specifically recommendation 4, which applies to this area, offer a range of possibilities when it comes to deciding what the write-off can be. The cap is allowed to be between 10% and 30%. Her Majesty’s Government have decided to go with 30%, but it is feasible for states to go down to 10%. When the EU looked at implementing this measure through the anti-tax avoidance directive, which of course applies to us for as long we are still a member of the EU, again a range between 10% and 30% was given. I have not yet heard why the Government have chosen 30% rather than 10%.

On amendment 28, our request for a review is specifically about the rationale for having special provisions for public infrastructure-providing companies. That is in the light of some quite worrying developments occurring around large swathes of British public infrastructure now being owned by firms and in effect provided through debt finance.

One example we touched on in some Finance Bill debates is Thames Water. As the Minister will know, back in 2006 Macquarie bank purchased Thames Water. It did sell it off—after a number of problems, if we are honest—but during that period our water infrastructure was owned by a firm that was in effect debt-financed, and through the Cayman Islands, which is a separate issue. There are genuine questions about whether that model is appropriate. Does it cause additional potential risks to service quality and continuity? What would happen if that debt financing model could not be serviced by one of these firms?

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow 12:15, 19 Hydref 2017

My hon. Friend is making a powerful point about the nature of these companies based overseas. Does she share my frustration that the Minister seems to think that does not matter because these clauses will only affect companies in the UK while not recognising that those companies have only nominal addresses in the United Kingdom, with their parent companies being based overseas? They are able to trade off the tax exemptions that the Bill will bring in. All of these PFI infrastructure companies may well claim to be UK-based for tax purposes to trade off these incomes, but actually they will be in Guernsey and Jersey, the Cayman Islands and the like. It is a con.

Photo of Anneliese Dodds Anneliese Dodds Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for making those points. Indeed, that issue came up in Committee of the Whole House. There needs to be much more muscular engagement in questions around profit shifting between jurisdictions and especially between those that have low or no-tax regimes, where there appears to be a lot of evidence of harmful tax practices.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

I thank hon. Members for their contributions to this important and interesting debate. To come back on a few of the points made by the hon. Member for Walthamstow, at the heart of this there is a distinction. She kept raising the issue of how PFI organisations should have taken into account that tax treatments could change. To some degree that is a fair argument, but there is a distinction for a company that is involved in highly leveraged infrastructure projects, which after all is delivering to public services. While she might be right that many PFI contracts have been very lucrative, not all of them have been; some are far more marginal. She has to conjure with the possibility that, if we go down the road she suggests, some may fail. That is an important point for her to consider.

On the hon. Lady’s second point, it may be the case that part of the rationale for entering into PFI agreements was an assumption about what future taxes may be paid under the pre-chapter 8 system. However, such a decision would have been taken at that time, on that basis, and that is nothing other than what she would expect them to do. An important point is that after the announcement of these arrangements all PFI arrangements will not be subject to chapter 8; they will be under the arrangements we discussed previously.

The hon. Lady talks about smoke and mirrors in relation to overseas businesses effectively brass-plating over here, with all the profits being diverted elsewhere. There is plenty of anti-avoidance legislation out there, including the diverted profits tax, to address those matters.

The hon. Member for Oxford East raised the BEPS project and recommendation 4. She is right that there is a corridor—a range of percentages that could be applied for the corporate interest restriction—and that is between 10% and 30%. The Government have a balance to strike because of the importance of the UK remaining competitive. Germany, Italy and Spain have all elected to go for 30%. It should not be overlooked that these measures are bringing in £1 billion extra every year in which they operate, which is a considerable increase in the tax take. The Bill will bring in about £16 billion across the scorecard period, about £5 billion of which will be from this one measure. On that basis, I ask the Committee to reject the amendments and to support the clause and the schedule.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 5