Finance (No. 2) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 10:13 pm on 11th April 2016.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw 10:13 pm, 11th April 2016

So the losses are not as big as they were but they are still losses. Imagine if I had put that argument in 2009 or 2010—I do not have the references with me so I will not waste time by quoting from them, but they are in Hansard because the then shadow Chancellor and the Leader of the Opposition, and many Back Benchers, were happy to make precisely that point. That is a fundamental economic weakness, and it is putting this country at a huge, long-term economic disadvantage compared with our competitors.

My proposal about city regions and broadband was not a shopping list issue; it is fundamental to making this country economically competitive again. How can we have new growth industries in those areas when villages like mine cannot even get simple broadband most of the time and people struggle to get a mobile phone signal? This is not where the world is at any more, and this represents a fundamental economic failure for this country.

There is one more failure. I will end—this is a slightly long ending, Mr Speaker—on what I am sure all Members will agree is an incredibly important point, namely the failure of this Government to tackle tax avoidance and offshoring. We have heard a lot of the theory, but let me tell the House what the people who do the advising on tax avoidance say. They are the best source on this, rather than politicians of any party or persuasion. They are the ones who are competing for the business of the very people who want to minimise their taxes by offshoring because they are wealthy enough to do so.

Those tax advisers are eulogising the fact that the agreements reached with the Cayman Islands, the British Virgin Islands, Bermuda, Anguilla, the Turks and Caicos Islands and Montserrat are non-reciprocal. According to HSBC, that means that UK financial institutions will not have any reporting obligations under the terms of the agreements. That is a fundamental weakness in comparison with what the Americans have done. We are not the leaders in this; we are well behind what the United States has done on enforcing transparency.

The British overseas territories that I have just mentioned rely on us for their defence. We pay for their defence, so we have proper leverage. Those territories might be anachronistic quirks of history, but if they wish to remain part of the United Kingdom, they will need to play by our rules and, if you like, speak our language. I am a strong supporter of defending those territories, be it the Falkland Islands, Bermuda or the Cayman Islands, but it is unacceptable to have non-reciprocal agreements for residents of those Caribbean tax havens. There is nothing to address that in the so-called advanced and world-leading proposals in this Government’s previous Budgets that have already been implemented, and there is nothing in this Budget or in today’s announcements that will deal with the matter.

I also want to talk about the Liechtenstein disclosure facility. What does that have to do with those territories and tax havens? I thought that it probably did not have a lot to do with them because someone would have to set up an interest in Liechtenstein in order to qualify for the disclosure facility, but then I read about where we are with financial compliance obligations. Those who advise people who want to avoid paying taxes are absolutely clear about this. Let me quote from an article on a website called

“It may be better to come forward under the LDF now, and clients who could benefit need to be identified.”

Another article says:

“Although there are several ways to make voluntary disclosures to HMRC, the LDF continues to offer extremely beneficial terms, despite the new restrictions on eligibility, and remains one of the most direct routes of disclosing to HMRC”,

and that

“participants…will…achieve immunity from prosecution…There is no need to have held an offshore asset at all in order to access the LDF.”

The only people who cannot do so are those who have already been criminally investigated by HMRC.

There are many examples of this, and that article explained in huge detail how, for example, a self-employed person could theoretically go for a Liechtenstein disclosure facility and—this has been widely advertised across the Caribbean and in other tax havens—why people should shift to it, because for the last three years, until 5 April this year, people could minimise their tax cheaply and beneficially through early disclosure. That is what the tax experts say, what they have advised people to do and what has been going on for the last three years. When the figures finally come out, which they will, we will see the vast numbers who have used that loophole, which was deliberately set up and advertised as such.

When it comes to dealing with tax avoidance, the Government talk tough but play soft. They give the nod, officially, allowing people to circumvent the system. As long as people pay for the right lawyers in countries such as Panama, they get that advice, and because they are competing, it is one of the few things that is publicly available. My advice to the House is this: let us remove these potential and actual loopholes forever. That is why this Bill is wholly insufficient and why the Government are failing on debt and the deficit. The tax is there; people are avoiding it legally. We have a duty to turn that around—a duty to the British economy and the future innovators and entrepreneurs who are being squeezed by the recession. They are the biggest losers of all in this, because they are the ones with brilliant ideas who cannot compete with those using tax loopholes and squeezing them out.

I will end on this, Mr Speaker—[Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I know that Tory Members don’t like it up ’em, but they are failing the British economy, failing innovators and failing entrepreneurs, crowding them out and allowing tax avoidance on a massive scale. They have been caught and had their fingers burnt. There is a minimising—[Interruption.] I hear advice from a sedentary position. The Government have not delivered on tax avoidance, and that is why this Bill must be opposed.