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Clause 1 — Main rate of corporation tax for financial year 2011

Part of Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 12th July 2010.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 5:15 pm, 12th July 2010

Fine-that is a very good linguistic point, and if the right hon. Gentleman wishes to define tax avoidance more narrowly as actions that we all disagree with, we can do that and it makes the debate much simpler. However, he has to understand that there are a series of grey areas, and it is not a black-and-white matter. There is not a set of actions that everybody agrees are tax avoidance and another set that everybody agrees are perfectly reasonable incentives or sensible ways of paying less tax.

Let us get on to the more difficult corporation tax cases, having dealt with the investment one-everybody in the House thinks that investment is a good thing and that corporations should therefore pay less tax one way or another, either through the rate of tax or through explicit relief.

Let us consider overseas offshoring, which has already been mentioned. Multinational companies have some flexibility about where they invest, borrow and carry out their activities, and they regard the taxation regime as one of the important considerations in determining all those matters. If it is benign, they are more inclined to borrow the money, put up the facilities and earn the full profits in the country concerned by carrying out the whole process and adding all the value. However, if the taxation regime is more hostile to enterprise, they might make different arrangements. Any country that takes part in the multinational free enterprise world has a choice. It must decide whether it wants to be tax friendly, in which case it has to allow people to pay rather less tax, or tax tough, in which case those who stay will end up paying more tax, but there will not be so many businesses here, and some will decide to offshore more of their activities.

Offshoring presents a difficult set of cases. I am sure that Opposition Members can find examples of offshoring that we would all regard as unacceptable avoidance, but much other offshoring represents simple, rational business decision making because the country being offshored against does not have a favourable tax regime, and that is why our decisions tonight and on other occasions when we try to settle the corporation tax regime are terribly important to whether our constituents get more jobs, whether our businesses make more money and whether more action will take place here. Companies have many footloose decisions that they can make about where to borrow, where to spend, where to invest, where to create jobs and how much value to add.

I see nothing wrong with more parliamentary accountability and scrutiny. If my hon. Friends have more capacity to produce a report on tax avoidance and evasion, it would be useful. I hope that my remarks have outlined some of the complexities of trying to determine the elements of avoidance that are to be condemned and about which we need to legislate more, and those that are simply common sense, or even tax promotion schemes, which the Government are producing.

I remind the House that I have recorded in the Register of Members' Financial Interests that I offer business advice to a global industrial company and to an investment company.

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