As a Conservative, I believe that taxes, whether direct or indirect, need to be kept as low as possible, consistent with the need to raise finances for our vital public services and for our national security. Unnecessarily high taxation not only strangles growth and development but means Government taking from those who have earned money, whether through labour, innovation, or capital.
However, the flipside of keeping tax levels low is that everybody must pay their fair share. Aggressive tax avoidance, bending the rules of the tax system to gain an advantage that Parliament never intended, means that a heavier burden falls on others, who are able to keep less of the money that they have earned. This Government are rightly committed to supporting businesses through low taxes—that is why corporation tax is being cut again to 17%—but those taxes do have to be paid.
This Bill therefore addresses many of the ways that companies use to avoid paying their fair level of tax. That includes the amendments that we are debating, tabled by the Government, to reform hybrid mismatches. The amendments will reduce aggressive tax planning, typically involving a multinational group. The introduction of these rules will, in essence, remove the tax advantage arising from the use of hybrid entities and instruments, and ought to encourage more businesses to adopt less complicated, more transparent cross-border investment structures. I look forward to similar rules being introduced by other jurisdictions. However, in line with OECD regulations, the Bill contains provisions for counteraction in the UK where the other country does not counteract the mismatch within its own hybrid mismatch rules. The Bill introduces the new penalty of 60% of tax due that was announced in the Budget, to be charged in all cases successfully tackled by the general anti-avoidance rule.
Government amendments 136 and 137 help to ensure that the changes announced in the Budget work as intended, cracking down further on unscrupulous and aggressive tax avoidance. I agree with the comments made by my hon. Friend Charlie Elphicke on country-by-country reporting, as well as those raised so regularly by Caroline Flint. There is widespread and growing agreement that there is a need to move to country-by-country reporting so that the information is out there and available both to national tax authorities and to the wider public. That brings us back to the question of whether the best way to achieve that is for individual countries to act unilaterally or for the UK to move in partnership with our international allies and through a range of international organisations both within and beyond Europe.