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 Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover 9:00 pm, 5th September 2016

I do not intend to detain the House for an unduly lengthy period of time, because I know that everyone wants to get to bed before midnight. I want to set out why country-by-country reporting is so very important, and why the whole culture of tax avoidance by big business and multinationals is something that we cannot condone or tolerate.

People ask what is wrong with an organisation such as Apple organising its tax affairs to its best possible advantage. After all, is that not the principle of taxation—that there is no equity in taxation and that only the literal taxation rules should apply? However, my concern is that the conduct of Apple is unacceptable for three key reasons. If a big business organises its tax affairs so that it basically pays no tax whatsoever, then it is inevitably warping the free market, because it is getting an unfair tax advantage, or a tax advantage that gives it a competitive advantage over other enterprises that are paying tax on their profit. For me, that is a really serious issue.

The other issue with Apple in Ireland is that to have a special deal for one business that does not apply to everyone else is counter to the fundamental principle of the rule of law, which is that everyone should be treated the same—be they a cleaner at Apple or Apple itself. What is offensive is if a cleaner in the office is paying more in tax than the massive, profitable enterprise whose offices they are cleaning.

Let me continue with the case of Apple. My right hon. Friend John Redwood made a powerful point. If it has created all this intellectual property, he asked what was wrong with its not being caught in the UK tax net. My answer is that that intellectual property was in fact created in Silicon Valley, but is the organisation paying tax in Silicon Valley? Is it paying tax in America? No, it is not. It has set up a clever structure. Early in its evolution as a business—some 10 or 20 years ago—it sold its outside American intellectual property rights for $1, or some other small sum, to a Bermuda company, which would then have a conduit through Ireland to invest across the rest of Europe.

The company then checks the box for US tax purposes in respect of everything below Bermuda so that, from the Internal Revenue Service’s point of view, it looks as though the Bermuda company is the trading company, and because it is a trading company and the only enterprise that there is for US tax purposes, it is not caught by subpart F of the controlled foreign companies regulations, meaning that no tax can be deemed to have to be repatriated to the United States. As a result, the Bermuda enterprise becomes a cash box for reinvestment across the European theatre. Therein lies the unfair competitive advantage.