Clause 1 — Expenditure on financial assistance for the provision of infrastructure

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 8:32 pm on 15th October 2012.

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Photo of Simon Hughes Simon Hughes Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrats 8:32 pm, 15th October 2012

I wish to speak briefly to amendment 12 and new clause 3, which are both in my name. Both relate to the reports that the Government propose in clause 3 should be annually produced, and to the transparency of the companies involved in this support for infrastructure, which I welcome.

Both the amendment and the new clause follow discussions that I have had with my right hon. Friend the Chief Secretary, who is now in his place on the Front Bench with his new ministerial colleague, whom I also welcome. The amendment and new clause are prompted by the fact that we often do not know the identities of the beneficial owners of the companies with which the Government do business. Companies often have shares owned by trusts or other companies based in countries that do not require disclosure of ownership, and I shall give a few examples.

The M6 toll road is owned by Midland Expressway Ltd, which is owned in turn by the Macquarie Motorways Group Ltd, which is in turn owned by Macquarie Atlas Roads International Ltd of Bermuda. It is controlled by Macquarie Infrastructure Group, but the identity of its investors and therefore of the owners of MEL remains unknown and undisclosed. In 2006, however, they paid themselves a £392 million exceptional dividend, and over six years made a return on their investment of more than 150% a year. This sort of profit at the public’s expense by we know not whom is not an acceptable arrangement, and I want the Government to be warned against it and to ensure that all owners are in the public domain.

Arqiva, as a private sector monopoly, is regulated by Ofcom. It runs all the transmission services for all UK terrestrial television broadcasters and for BBC Radio and most commercial radio services, owns two of the four digital multiplexes, supplies the Government with mobile and wireless communications and supplies three quarters of all police forces. It receives annual revenues of about £1 billion and makes annual losses of about £250 million. The ultimate owners of the company appear to be based in Bermuda, although we do not know who they are, and Arqiva has paid no corporation tax for four years.

Thames Water, the UK’s largest water supplier and a monopoly private sector company providing a public service with which the public therefore has no option but to deal was bought by Macquarie European Infrastructure Fund in 2006. The long-term debt held by the company was £3.4 billion and is now £7.7 billion. When the company was bought, Thames Water took on all the debt taken out by its owners to buy the company, which was more than £3 billion. To do that, it set up a company in the Cayman islands, Thames Water Utilities Cayman Finance Ltd, which is registered at an address at which are registered 18,000 other companies.

Over the past four years, Thames Water has made profits after tax of £314 million, £331 million, £225 million and £247 million, and has paid dividends of £398 million, £291 million, £271 million and £480 million, but in the last tax year paid no tax. In the previous year, it paid £500,000 in tax, and the year before that £16 million, yet it has a stable operating profit of about £600 million a year. I could go on. There are health care companies, and the company currently negotiating with the London fire brigade over the water to buy the old fire brigade headquarters looks as if it is based in the British Virgin Islands and the Isle of Man.

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