Review of tax treatment of Scottish Limited Partnerships

Part of Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 9:30 pm on 5th September 2016.

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Photo of Rebecca Long-Bailey Rebecca Long-Bailey Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Member, Labour Party National Executive Committee 9:30 pm, 5th September 2016

I will speak to a number of amendments in my name and those of my hon. Friends. New clause 12 would require the Government to report within one year on the impact of the criminal offences relating to offshore income assets and activities created by clause 165. Amendments 167 and 168 would make it compulsory, rather than just possible, for HMRC to publish the names of those who hide behind entities such as companies and trusts when committing offshore tax evasion. Amendments 171 to 173 would expand the definition of “reasonable” referred to in clause 165 to include

“an honest belief that all of the information included was true and accurate”,

because the Opposition are concerned that the category of reasonableness is, on its own, far too subjective. Amendments 163 and 164 would strengthen the penalty for enablers of offshore tax evasion to include 100% of the fees received by the enabler of the service—for the lawyers in the Chamber, the principle of just enrichment, as it were. The aim of that is to neutralise somewhat the commercial aspect of the tax avoidance industry.

Amendments 165 and 166 would increase the minimum penalties for inaccuracy, failure to notify a charge to tax or failure to deliver a return, in relation to offshore matters and transfers, by 15% rather than the Government’s suggested 10%. In their consultation “Strengthening civil deterrents for offshore evaders” the Government considered increasing the minimum penalties by 15% rather than 10%. These are probing amendments to find out why the Government opted for a smaller increase than the one that they initially considered.

Up next we have amendment 170, which would increase from 10% to 15% the asset-based penalty introduced by schedule 22. The Government’s consultation on this penalty cited different rates for such asset-based penalties across the world, including in Italy where the penalty is up to 15%. As I will expand on in a moment, the Opposition think that we must be world leaders on stamping out tax avoidance, so I think our penalty should be, at the very least, on a par with precedents across the world. Those penalties are a start, but I would add that in the light of the latest Government consultation on tackling offshore tax evasion, which would introduce a separate offence not covered by the Bill, there appears to be a clear move by stakeholders to suggest that even higher penalties are required. I urge the Government to consider those suggestions carefully.

I confirm Labour’s support of cross-party amendment 145 on public country-by-country reporting, which was tabled by my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint. I place on record my thanks to her for the hard work that she has put into pursuing this important issue. It is testimony to that hard work that many Members across the House—including members of the Public Accounts Committee and more than 60 MPs from eight political parties, as my right hon. Friend illustrated—and organisations outside this House have supported this amendment. I will not go over the ground that she has covered, because she has put her case articulately. The enabling power contained in the amendment would give the UK scope to strengthen its influence on international tax transparency negotiations, and it would build greater consensus.

Finally, new clause 13 would require a comprehensive report into the UK tax gap, which is defined as the difference in any financial year between the amount of tax HMRC should be entitled to collect and the tax that it collects. Such difference derives from tax avoidance and evasion. The contents of the report would be as set out in the new clause, and it would have to be carried out in consultation with stakeholders. It would examine a number of areas relating to tax avoidance in the hope that the Government might review their policy and tailor it to deal adequately with such issues.