Review of tax treatment of Scottish Limited Partnerships

Part of Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:00 pm on 5th September 2016.

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Photo of Caroline Flint Caroline Flint Labour, Don Valley 9:00 pm, 5th September 2016

That is correct.

I was hopeful for my June amendment, because since the 2015 general election, the Government had, on a number of occasions indicated their support for public country-by-country reporting, and I welcome that. I am grateful to the former Financial Secretary, now Chief Secretary to the Treasury, as his approach was always constructive as we sought the best way to proceed.

At the debate in June, four days after the EU referendum, the Minister and others were concerned that introducing my amendment at that time might put UK multinationals at a competitive disadvantage for reputational reasons. I have no doubt that a number of the businesses to which my amendment would apply have already suffered reputational damage and more transparency could actually enhance their standing. To the Government’s credit, the UK was the first to introduce public registers of beneficial ownership, and others followed. Backing public country-by country reporting is an opportunity to show leadership again. Indeed, it is a pro-business measure. This kind of reporting already exists within the extractive sector and in financial services. Some companies are ahead of the curve and have started to publish this information. I am talking about companies such as SSE, the energy supplier, and the cosmetics retailer Lush, which operates in 49 different countries. The Government also said that, although they supported the principle, they would prefer to move ahead with others rather than alone.

As the Government make plans to leave the European Union, which may not be all smooth sailing, I do appreciate Ministers’ caution. I am grateful to the new Financial Secretary, Jane Ellison, for the constructive dialogue that we have had over the past two months. I am grateful, too, to my colleagues from the Public Accounts Committee—my hon. Friend Meg Hillier, and the hon. Members for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mrs Trevelyan), and for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills)— for their advice and support during the recess, and I thank all those who have signed Amendment 145.

I hope that the Government will regard this amendment as a friendly proposal. If it is passed today, the Commons will enshrine in law support for the principle of public country-by-country reporting with the power for the Government to introduce when the time is most appropriate. That sends a very powerful message, confirming the UK’s leading role in addressing tax evasion and avoidance and providing the Government with the tools to move quickly, when the time is right, without the need for primary legislation.

Last week, the European Commission served a €13 billion tax bill on tech giant Apple. Although the rate of corporation tax in Ireland is low at 12.5%, the Commission concluded that Apple had, in effect, paid 1% corporation tax from 2003 and a tiny 0.005% in corporation tax since 2014. I am afraid that that implies that even low corporation tax rates are no guarantee that a country will collect its rightful share. In this case, €13 billion is equivalent to paying £50 of tax on every £1 million of profits. Apple is entitled to defend its position, but the case highlights the need for more transparency in multinational business affairs.

Finally, having listened to the Government’s concerns and shared with them my arguments for today’s amendment, I hope that the House can come together and make UK public country-by-country reporting a matter not of if, but when.