Deemed domicile: review of protection of overseas trusts

Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 1:15 pm on 31st October 2017.

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‘(1) Within fifteen months of the passing of this Act, the Commissioners for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs shall complete a review about the operation of the provisions for the protection of overseas trusts in relation to deemed domicile.

(2) The review shall in particular consider—

(a) the effects of those provisions on the Exchequer,

(b) the behavioural effects of those provisions, and

(c) the effects on the matters specified in paragraphs (a) and (b) if those provisions were repealed.

(3) For the purposes of this section, “the provisions for the protection of overseas trusts” means the provisions inserted 18 to 38 and 40 of Schedule 8 to this Act.

(4) The Chancellor of the Exchequer shall lay a report of the review under this section before the House of Commons within three months of its completion.’—(Peter Dowd.)

This new clause requires a review to be undertaken of the effects of the provisions for protecting overseas trusts from the new provisions in relation to deemed domicile.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Proceedings on this Bill started in March, but we are now drawing to a close. The Bill’s progress was interrupted by the general election. Not much happened to it in the post-election period, but it was brought back in September, and now we are moving, to use the Minister’s phrase, towards the denouement of the debate.

To solve a problem, it is first important to recognise that there is a problem. I think that that sums up the debate surrounding the Government’s deemed domicile measures—the Government cannot see that there is a problem. Non-dom status is a hangover from the days of the British Empire. Non-dom tax status was introduced in 1799 to allow British colonialists with foreign property to shelter it from wartime taxes. These days, non-doms are individuals who live in the UK but claim to have a permanent home in another country. There is no statutory definition of a non-dom; the status depends on circumstantial evidence.

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs says that 121,000 individuals claimed non-domiciled taxpayer status via their self-assessment returns in 2014-15. Non-domiciled UK-resident taxpayers accounted for about 85,000 of those individuals, and the remaining 35,000 or so were non-UK residents. Famous examples of non-doms include the directors of Lloyds, HSBC and RBS, the billionaire Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, the steel magnate Lakshmi Mittal, the media baron Viscount Rothermere, and numerous footballers.

Non-doms are allowed to avoid tax on overseas investment income if that does not exceed £2,000 a year. All non-doms are required to pay income tax on their UK earnings, but they can avoid income tax and capital gains tax on assets held elsewhere as long as the amounts are not remitted to the UK. The Treasury’s proposals to reform non-dom status would mean that an individual who had been resident in the UK for 15 of the last 20 years would be considered UK-domiciled for the purposes of income tax, capital gains tax and inheritance tax.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

I am listening to the hon. Gentleman’s case with interest. I am curious why, in their first 12 years in power, the last Labour Government did nothing whatsoever about non-domiciled individuals, and then reacted reluctantly only when they were humiliated and forced to take action by the then Conservative Opposition. Why is he not praising the Conservative Government for taking further action on this matter?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

If it takes a Labour Government to sort out a problem after more than 200 years, we will sort out the problem.

On paper, this idea seems to be reasonable and sensible —in fact, even progressive—until, metaphorically speaking, someone starts to scratch away at the very thin veneer. In reality, the Government have purposefully and deliberately exempted offshore trusts, thereby undermining their own reforms, even though offshore trusts have been identified by the OECD, the European Parliament and the International Monetary Fund as among the main vehicles for tax avoidance across the globe.

The Panama papers and now the Bermuda leak have brought offshore trusts to the forefront of debate on international tax avoidance. The Panama papers provided us with an abundance of evidence showing that offshore trusts have been used for tax avoidance over the years. Many well-known people have set up offshore trusts to ensure that paying inheritance tax, for example, is a mug’s game. It is not unknown that high-level politicians and business leaders are embroiled in the Panama papers scandal. The Government of one European country were brought down when it emerged that their then Prime Minister’s family had hidden millions offshore.

The use of offshore trusts is not restricted only to inheritance tax; it is also relevant to income tax, as was shown by a recent case involving one of the Scottish football teams. We have also seen in Spain the rising problem of tax avoidance relating to football image rights, with a number of high-profile players convicted for shifting profits from image rights offshore, as has been raised by Opposition Front Benchers and Charlie Elphicke.

There are also reports of the banks in the City of London using offshore trusts. In 2011, for example, following advice from Deloitte, Deutsche Bank set up trusts to enable bankers to dodge income tax on their bonuses. HMRC successfully managed to defeat that scheme, but others are still in use today. The truth is that HMRC, the staffing levels of which have reduced by 17% since 2010, is woefully understaffed and under-resourced to tackle such schemes. HMRC insiders believe that as much as £1 billion a year is lost to wealthy individuals hiding money in offshore trusts.

The House should be clear that offshore trusts continue to operate outside the law and with impunity. They remain one of the last bastions for international tax dodgers. The value of the assets hidden in these trusts remains unknown, and they continue to operate under a veil of secrecy. None the less, a conservative estimate made by the economist Gabriel Zucman suggests that at least 8% of the world’s wealth is illegally unreported, although other estimates actually put the figure higher. In short, it is impossible to know how much money the UK Treasury is forgoing in tax, as this Government continue to stonewall any attempt by the Opposition to introduce a public register for offshore trusts.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 1:30 pm, 31st October 2017

Does not the hon. Gentleman think that his well-intentioned proposal might actually backfire, as it would mean that fewer rich people would come here and pay us any tax at all?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The problem is that that has been a persistent argument for years, but there does not actually appear to be any evidence to back up such an assertion.

I understand that HMRC is responding to EU directives on money laundering and has started the process of registering new trusts, and that those already operating must provide additional information by 31 January 2018. However, HMRC has also confirmed that it will not penalise anyone as long as they register before 5 December 2017. The rules state that all trusts with UK tax liabilities must be registered, but the process is conveniently silent about trusts registered in Crown dependencies and overseas territories. The information provided to HMRC will not be made publicly available.

The Minister and Government Members have made much of the claim that the Conservative party has been clamping down on tax avoidance. In fact, that was considered such a priority in the general election that the Prime Minister—at her most imperious, at that stage—gave the subject a grand total of eight lines in the Conservative party manifesto. However, after seven years in power, the Government’s record is still there to see. The measures in the Bill are another example of how the Government wish to be seen to be doing something, but in fact their proposals are artificial and will amount to little while the exemption for offshore trusts remains intact.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

On bearing down on tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance, does the hon. Gentleman recognise that we have brought in £160 billion since 2010 by clamping down on avoidance? It was announced just last week that the tax gap—the difference between what we should be bringing in and what we are bringing in—is now at just 6%, which is much lower than it was in any year under the previous Labour Government.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I am pleased that the Minister raises that point because we will no doubt have another debate about it in the future. I have an interesting assertion that I shall make when we debate the tax gap, but that is for another day. I am happy to debate that subject with the Minister in due course.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

Does not the hon. Gentleman agree that a tax gap that is one of the lowest in the world is something that we should celebrate while we are debating a Bill about taxation? We should be thanking the Government for making sure that the taxes we approve are collected.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

This does not actually include the multinationals, but I was trying to make the point that I am happy to return to that point in another debate, if the Government so wish.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

The hon. Gentleman is being extremely generous in giving way. On this very important question, does he not recognise that the tax gap is currently 6%? In 2005, under the previous Labour Government, it was about 8%. If the tax gap was 8% today, we would be bringing in £11.8 billion less in tax, which is the equivalent of the funding for every single police officer in England and Wales. The tax gap really does matter, so I think that the hon. Gentleman should address the questions that are being put to him.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

The tax gap fell in every year between 2005 and 2010. The Minister brings my attention to his record, but I am bringing his attention to Labour’s record. As I have said, if we want to have a debate about the tax gap, we can do that. I am more than happy to do so, as are my colleagues, but as I have said many times, this is also about trying to look forward. We can all talk about our record—how good or bad it might have been—but let us move on and try to deal with the issues we are facing, not those we used to face.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden

I accept that you do not want to talk about the tax gap and want to move forward, but if you want to move forward, will you at the very least welcome the fact that we have collected more than £1 billion—

Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Speaker of the House of Commons, Chair, Speaker's Committee on the Electoral Commission, Chair, Speaker's Committee for the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, Chair, Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion Committee

Order. I am not doing anything. It is not that I do not want to talk about this or I do not want to do that. That is simply not germane. The debate goes through the Chair, as the hon. Lady knows on her best days.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden

I am sorry, Mr Speaker.

The hon. Gentleman might not want to talk about the tax gap, but will he at the very least acknowledge that an extra £1 billion has been collected under this Government compared with under Labour? Surely he wants to take this opportunity to welcome that.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

As much as I would like to debate the tax gap with the hon. Lady, I think that shows an ignorance of the issues involved in the nature of the tax gap. As far as I am concerned, I am quite happy—more than happy—to debate this issue in due course, but I am simply making the point that we must move on.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I want to make a little progress, but I will come back to the hon. and learned Lady in a few moments.

In the past month alone, the Government have faced a barrage of criticism from the European Union for their poor record on tackling tax avoidance. The European Parliament’s report on money laundering, tax avoidance and tax evasion has accused the Government of directly obstructing the fight against tax avoidance, while the European Commission has opened an investigation into the Government’s changes to controlled foreign company rules, which made it easier for multinational companies to shift their taxable income offshore and reduced last year’s tax take by £805 million. That goes to the heart of the point I am making about the tax gap and some of its intricacies.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer Conservative, South East Cambridgeshire

The hon. Gentleman is being very generous with his time. He has made it clear that he wants to talk about the issue before us rather than others. Labour Members say in new clause 1 that they want a review after 15 months. Despite speaking for more than 10 minutes, he has not addressed that. Has Labour assessed how much a review would cost and whether it would divert resources from the Treasury?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. and learned Lady for that intervention. Government Members have taken up about seven minutes of the time I have been on my feet—[Interruption.] Six and a half minutes, the Minister says.

I am quite happy to debate these issues, but that is the point of a review. Why not have a review? It is a perfectly reasonable and legitimate proposal, given the nature of what we are considering. If there is nothing to hide, and if the Government are quite happy to be open and transparent, and to tell everybody how wonderfully they are doing, let us have a review. No doubt the hon. and learned Lady will support the new clause in due course.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer Conservative, South East Cambridgeshire

Forgive me for intervening again, but I do not think the hon. Gentleman heard my question: how much would the review cost?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

If we had a review and identified areas of non-compliance, I suspect we would bring in far more money than that review would cost. That is why we have reviews. Again, I am sure that the hon. and learned Lady will support the new clause.

The Government’s opposition to any action to crack down on offshore trusts is not new. In 2013, while G8 leaders attempted to push forward new measures to deal with tax evasion, the previous Prime Minister was busy undermining them by writing personal letters to the President of the European Council, Herman Van Rompuy, begging him to stop the inclusion of offshore trusts. In contrast, the last Labour Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, to his credit, spent his last year in office attempting to get world leaders to agree to strict measures on offshore tax havens. That is all the more reason for a review, so let us have that review. I am speaking directly to our proposal. As I have said, if there is nothing to be fearful of, let us have the review.

Our opposition to the exemption of offshore trusts from these measures is well noted. We have been calling for the exemption’s removal since March. I called for its removal in the debate on the Ways and Means resolutions for this Bill, on Second Reading and in the Public Bill Committee, as the Minister knows, and I now call for its removal once again. I am happy to give the Minister an opportunity to reconsider, because the British public are no fools. They are more educated than ever about what an offshore trust is and what it is used for.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

The hon. Gentleman is being exceptionally generous in letting us intervene so many times. To bottom out one point that came up in Committee, even though he may feel that our proposals are imperfect, does he accept that we have made more progress than any previous Government, and that we are going further than before in raising fair taxes from non-doms?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I recognise any progress that anybody makes. If the Government have brought about progress, that is fine—I think it is wonderful—but I think there should be more progress. Under the stewardship of the Minister, I am convinced that we will have even more progress on this matter.

While the Minister might be able to use arcane rules of the House to prevent the Opposition from removing the offshore trusts exemption and introducing a public register, he cannot hide from the fact that his Government have a pretty poor record in this area. The heart of our disagreement with the Government is simple: it is about whether all UK citizens are to be treated equally in the eyes of the law and for the purposes of taxation. Throughout the passage of the Bill, it has been clear that the Government are actively content to ensure that we have a tax system that favours a wealthy few at the expense of the many.

The Government could act to close this tax avoidance measure. They could act to send a message to those who want to dodge taxes that the UK will not tolerate it. They could send a message to those who do not avoid their taxes that the Government are on their side. They could even send a message of support to hard-pressed public services by taking up the suggestion of Sir Oliver Letwin and hypothecating any taxes raised by clamping down on the dodgers.

Photo of Nusrat Ghani Nusrat Ghani Conservative, Wealden 1:45 pm, 31st October 2017

The hon. Gentleman has been very generous in giving way. I am a little concerned about the messages he wants to send out, but one message that we most definitely should send out is that the Government proposals will bring in an additional £1.6 billion over five years. That is money that will support all our public services for everyone.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

That is a starter and I am sure that much more could be brought in. Again, I am sure that in an effort to get that figure up, the hon. Lady will support the new clause. I am really pleased that she agrees with us on that matter.

The only message this Government want to send is one of supine support for tax dodgers. The dodgers may want to hear that message, but public sector workers who have not had a pay rise for years do not want to hear it, the people waiting months for an operation do not want to hear it, and the police and firefighters do not want to hear it. I assure Government Members that at the next general election, the public certainly will hear that message loud and clear, because Labour will be there to remind them of a Government in chaos and disarray that is beginning to have a putrefying decay about it.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I think that we all agree in this House that we need to collect substantial revenues to have decent public services and that we all condemn people who break tax law, evade taxes and commit crimes against the tax code. However, tax avoidance—the legal avoidance of taxation—is a more difficult issue.

Many Labour MPs trotted through the Lobbies under a Labour Government to make sure that individual savings accounts had tax advantages, and to support tax breaks for Members of Parliament who choose to save for their retirement through the pension scheme. That is a kind of tax avoidance. Is the hon. Gentleman saying that the Labour party no longer agrees with that kind of avoidance, which was recommended by previous Labour Governments in the interests of spreading saving? Is he of the view that there are certain kinds of avoidance that are perfectly reasonable, such as those undertaken by Labour MPs and others, and other types of tax avoidance that are also perfectly legal but of which he does not approve?

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that there is a difference between an ISA and institutional, systematic avoidance and abuse of the tax system?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

There is a huge difference between breaking the law and living within the law. However, where Governments of both persuasions and the coalition have put provisions into the tax code that encourage people to save or invest in a certain way in order to pay less tax, that surely is the will of Parliament and the will of those parties, and we cannot object if people and institutions take advantage of it. The right thing to do—as I think the Labour party is now trying to do in some ways—in respect of rich people who come to our country to undertake part of their affairs but not all of their affairs, is to ensure that we have settled on a law that we think is fair and then to enforce it. Obviously we should take a tough line were any of them to break our law, but we cannot object if they take advantage of measures that have been put into the tax code to encourage certain kinds of investing or saving behaviour, in exactly the same way that most MPs take advantage of the avoidance provisions to save through a pension scheme or an ISA.

The subject of this debate is whether the assets of very rich people—often productive assets that they have saved for, earned and accumulated before they came to the UK—are a suitable object of taxation if they choose to do some things in the UK in respect of which they are clearly subject to our law codes and have to pay our taxes. In the past, Labour Governments as well as Conservative Governments have taken the pragmatic view that there is an advantage in very rich entrepreneurial successful people coming to our country setting up businesses, making investments here and committing part of their capital to our country; that we will tax that fairly in exactly the same way that you or I would be taxed, Mr Speaker, if we were making such investments on a much smaller scale; and that that is fair to us as taxpayers and investors, but that it is not our business to try to tax their assets and income accumulated or earned elsewhere that they have established by other means before, which are presumably being taxed in those other countries and would normally be governed as well by some kind of double taxation arrangement or agreement.

I would therefore just say to Labour Members who think there is a huge crock of gold here, which for some unknown reason successive Labour, coalition and Conservative Governments have been reluctant to pluck, that maybe they did not do it in the past because there is not, and that maybe we are quite close to that point. If we go further and further encroach on the legitimate income and assets of foreigners coming here, which are asset and income not actually in this country, we might get to the point where more of them say, “I’d rather go somewhere else. Plenty of other countries around the world would actually welcome the money, investment and income I wish to spend, which is going to be taxable in that country. If they are prepared to not tax my other income and assets elsewhere, then they will have the benefit of me rather than not.”

The art of taxation is finding the right balance, so the host country gets enough out of it and where there is obviously a fair imposition of tax on anything they do in that country alongside fellow residents of that country, while not deterring so many that we are no longer a great centre for people with money, investment and talent who would otherwise come here.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

Does my right hon. Friend agree that we do not make these decisions in isolation? We are competing with other countries, which might also like to host very rich individuals and investors. While we in the UK are making the climate more hostile and difficult in order to raise more money for our public services, the opposite is true in many other countries. In the EU, Malta, Portugal and, most prominently, Italy are moving in the other direction and creating their own non-dom regimes to draw away such individuals from the United Kingdom.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

My hon. Friend anticipates my next point. We live in a global world. The richer people are, the more footloose they can be, and the better the tax and legal advice they can get. Most of them want to obey the law in the country they choose to live in and the countries they choose to operate in—they usually operate in several countries not just one, which creates genuine definitional problems about where they are truly resident and where is their main centre—and they will compare all the time, on good advice, the different regimes available. It is quite obvious that in the EU there is a lot of jealousy of London and the wider UK’s success in attracting talent and investment from around the world. As my hon. Friend says, regimes are being created in to tempt people away by giving them a better deal in other European countries.

I was about to draw the attention of the House to hugely important debates about to be undertaken in both the Senate and the House of Representatives in the United States of America. New York and other great centres are already very attractive magnets for rich people and large-scale investors. They are suggesting that they might take their top rate of tax down from 39.6% to 35%, simplify their income tax brackets from seven to just three, and take their corporation tax rate down from a very high headline 35% to an effective rather lower rate of 20% or even lower, because they are very serious about becoming tax competitive again. They will be a lure, just as surely as some European countries on the continent are trying to be more of a lure.

The Opposition would be well advised to understand how global the world is, how dynamic it is, and how, to maximise tax revenue, there is a need to set ways of taxing and rates of taxation that enable people to stay and pay.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Does my right hon. Friend agree that the greatest threat to tax havens is not the blustering of the Labour party, but countries such as the United States of America reducing their tax rates so much that it does not become in any way effective to be using these kinds of places for any function and business?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

That is correct. Tax havens have helped to drive down tax rates in other centres. We only have to look across to Ireland to see how attractive it can be if a mainstream country decides to take its corporation tax rate down to very low levels. Ireland attracts a lot of company-based investment. Each country has to decide where it wishes to be on that spectrum. A high enough rate is required to collect serious money, but a low enough rate is needed to not deter some of the best prospects for coming, staying and paying taxes. In the light of what America is about to do and what some of the smaller European countries are doing, this country is in danger of becoming uncompetitive on taxation.

Photo of Robert Courts Robert Courts Conservative, Witney

My right hon. Friend makes a very important point: how important it is that this country does not deter people who bring in money, which in turn funds our public services. Does he agree that if we were to take the course of action urged upon us by the Labour party, we would put at risk the £9 billion of investment into our coffers brought in each year by those who are not domiciled in this country?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

That is exactly the kind of sum of money I am talking about. That is a serious sum of money for our economy and it is a nice balance. All of us want to collect serious revenues. We are here because we want good-quality public services, but we also want a productive, growing and exciting economy. We need to have realistic tax rates and tax rules. All the evidence is that every time the coalition and Conservative Governments have had the courage to cut rates, they have raised more revenue. That shows that our rates have been on the high side for optimising the revenue.

Photo of Sammy Wilson Sammy Wilson Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Treasury), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Brexit)

Does the right hon. Gentleman accept that the Opposition probably fully understand and acknowledge the arguments he is making? The fact is that when they were in power they did not take the steps they are recommending now because they recognised the reality. It is very easy to argue that in opposition; it is a bit different in government.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

I entirely agree. I pointed out at the beginning that Labour in office was probably more gentle on this group of people than the Conservative party in office has been. I think Labour came to that judgment for good reasons. Labour Members disagree with their previous Governments, but they will discover that that is the luxury of opposition and that Governments are responsible for sustaining as well as growing the revenues. It is very easy to get rid of revenue by annoying people and companies. It is far more difficult to systematically build up a good tax base by promoting economic growth.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Does my right hon. Friend agree that when the Opposition refer to non-doms as tax dodgers, they are referring not just to the super wealthy, but to many tens of thousands of individuals who come over here who do not have overseas assets on which to draw, who make a contribution to our economy and who pay all their taxes in the normal manner in this country?

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

Yes, it is very offensive language to call people tax dodgers. If they willingly come to our country, make a big investment in our country, spend a lot of their money in our country and pay all legal dues that this Parliament requires of them, I do not think calling them tax dodgers is wise, friendly or helpful. That is why I began my remarks by asking Peter Dowd if he could draw a distinction between a non-dom who came here, paid all legal taxes but was, in his terms, dodging taxes on wealth legally held elsewhere, and a Labour MP who deliberately puts their savings money into an ISA or the pension fund to avoid paying tax. It seems to me that they are very comparable and I do not regard either as tax dodgers.

I do not think my Labour colleagues are tax dodgers because they take advantage of the savings breaks that both Conservative and Labour Governments offer UK taxpayers. Similarly, I do not regard a rich person from abroad who pays all legal dues here with no questions over their tax affairs as a tax dodger. I think they are a welcome contributor to greater growth and prosperity in our country, and we could think of a nicer way to sum them up.

I urge the House to resist the blandishments of the Labour party in opposition, to remember the stance of the Labour party in government, which was rather wiser, and to unite behind what I hope my colleague on the Front Bench will be saying, which is that we welcome talent, industry, enterprise and money into this country and that we want to have a fair basis for taxation that does not deter them from coming.

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader 2:00 pm, 31st October 2017

I start by telling the House of the sad death of my predecessor, Frank Doran, who was the MP for Aberdeen North and other Aberdeen seats during a career of about 30 years in Parliament. Mr Doran was incredibly well respected across the House. People who worked with him will remember him and will have respected his work. He was a principled man. He helped a lot of people who are now my constituents, and they often talk fondly about him. In particular, he worked incredibly hard in the aftermath of the Piper Alpha tragedy; he did a huge amount of work on that. Our thoughts are with his wife Joan, his family, and his friends and colleagues from across the House. I pass on the Scottish National party’s condolences to his family.

I do not want to talk at length about offshore trusts. The SNP has consistently been critical of the situation around non-domiciled individuals and offshore trusts, and of the complicated nature of the UK tax code. It is regularly said that the tax code used to be a book but now you would need a van to cart it around. The problem with that is the potential for loopholes. In addition, the more complicated it is, the more difficult it is for people to comply and for Government agencies to ensure compliance. We have raised those issues.

John Redwood talked about not conflating tax dodging with non-doms. I am not attempting to do that, but the more complicated the tax code is, the greater the likelihood of loopholes that people can exploit. We have concerns about that; we raised them last year in the context of the Criminal Finances Act 2017 and we will continue to raise our concerns around non-domicileds and offshore trusts more generally.

There are occasional suggestions from Conservative Back Benchers that we move the UK towards being some sort of tax haven, post Brexit. We completely reject that, as do some in the Conservative party.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Is the hon. Lady saying that she would not like people in Britain to enjoy lower taxes, if they were possible?

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader

I was talking about tax havens; I think people have a good understanding of the difference between a tax haven and a country with lower taxes. It is completely reasonable to say, as individuals across the House do, that if we want excellent public services that best serve our population, we need a tax system in which people pay for those excellent public services. I am not in any way trying to dodge that; I think that we should have a tax system that ensures that we have excellent public services.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Does the hon. Lady not see the opportunity with Brexit to stop large businesses using European laws to game our tax system, and instead to get them to pay a fair share of taxes and give the hard- working people of modern Britain a tax cut?

Photo of Kirsty Blackman Kirsty Blackman Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Economy), SNP Deputy Leader

As for the opportunity with Brexit, Scotland will be £30 billion worse off as a result of it. My city will be the worst off place in the UK outside the City of London—that is according to work done by London School of Economics and Political Science on the cost of Brexit; it is not a biased point of view. I do not see positive outcomes for the UK from Brexit. On the tax code, I want to make it clear that we reject moving towards a tax haven Britain and anything that could increase the number of loopholes. We are pleased about the Government’s anti-avoidance changes; we would like them to go further, but that will always be the case, and we will always say that to the Government. We are pleased that they are making positive moves, and pleased with some of their anti-avoidance measures. I agreed with almost everything that the shadow Minister, Peter Dowd, said about non-domiciled people and offshore trusts. We will support the Labour party if it pushes new clause 1 to a vote.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Conservative, Braintree

As I am sure you agree, Mr Speaker, we all love a familiar tune that we can hum or whistle along to, the bars and notes of which come effortlessly to mind, so I imagine that a warm feeling of familiarity washed over all Members when they heard the tune being played by the Labour Front Bencher, Peter Dowd. It was the familiar one about the Conservatives not taking tax seriously, being on the side of tax dodgers and so on. We have heard it so many times.

It is nice to see the hon. Gentleman using this gargantuan Finance Bill as a stage from which to play that tune. It brought to mind that wonderful 1970s Morecambe and Wise sketch with André Previn; I do not know whether you are familiar with it, Mr Speaker. Eric Morecambe is at the piano; discordant notes are flooding from it, and André Previn says, “Stop, stop! You’re playing all the wrong notes.” Eric Morecambe replies, “No, sweetheart; I’m playing all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order.” That was an awful accent; I apologise. The hon. Gentleman was not playing the right notes, and definitely not in the right order. Some of the claims made by Labour Front Benchers are built on sand. Far from being on the side of tax dodgers and tax avoiders, this party in government has put measures in place that have generated an additional £160 billion of tax revenue since 2010, and the Bill will, if enacted, bring in additional billions of pounds to the Treasury, so the hon. Gentleman was singing the wrong notes.

Yes, moves to close the tax gap were initiated by a Labour Government—it would be churlish not to concede that—but far from preventing or rowing back on the closing of the tax gap, this Government have continued the pressure to make sure that the gap between the taxes that should be collected and the taxes that are collected continues to decrease. As a Conservative, I am proud of this Conservative Government’s role in ensuring that the people who should pay taxes do, and pay at the appropriate level.

My right hon. Friend John Redwood was absolutely spot on when he said that it is corrosive when we start blurring the definitions of tax avoidance and tax evasion. When we talk about people who act in a financially pragmatic way, completely within the law, in the same way that we talk about conmen and criminals, it sends a massively corrosive message, at a time when the world is getting smaller, in terms of where people can base themselves and their business.

While it is perhaps fun for Opposition Members to vilify people who transact their business internationally and can choose where in the world to rest their head at night, and to make them sound like—to be topical—a Halloween villain, that is counterproductive. Although each individual utterance will make little difference, they combine and build to create the background music of intolerance of international business and successful people that will ultimately mean their locating somewhere else. Rather than getting the tax income from them that this country deserves, a different country will generate those tax revenues. A pound—or a euro or dollar—that is taxed somewhere else in the world is a pound that cannot be used by this Government to pay for the public services that we value and the public servants who deserve our thanks and reward.

It may feel superficially pleasant to see an international business, an international business person or a non-domicile flee from these shores. People may say, “If they do not want to be here, let them go”. It is a nice soundbite but ultimately it is massively counter-productive to the job that we should be doing as parliamentarians and that the Government should be doing in office.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe

I am enjoying the very good speech that my hon. Friend is making. Obviously, I do not want to get into a Brexit debate. Heaven forbid that he and I fall out in some way, or even worse do our impersonations of bygone sketches, which he clearly could not remember because he was not born then but, on a serious point, does he share my concern that we are already seeing great businesses looking at relocating as the time comes for us to leave the EU, along with individuals who do not feel welcome in our great country?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Conservative, Braintree

I thank my right hon. Friend for her intervention. We may not necessarily agree on the Brexit decision or on its impact on international businesses and British businesses that might be international, but it is fair for her to highlight the fact that we should do nothing that gives businesses cause for concern. It would be unfair to suggest that the decision to leave the EU has no impact on business decisions. As someone who campaigned for Brexit, I have an additional duty to prove her wrong. I know that she is of such a generous nature that, if in our dotage we are sharing a glass of wine, looking back at the events in the immediate aftermath of Brexit and I were to be proved right, she would be more than willing to concede that point. However, we have a duty to give businesses as much confidence as possible about being based in the UK. Having a tax regime that supports business and enterprise is an important part of doing that.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Bank of England and the Treasury have a duty to talk this country up, not talk it down, and to ensure that, when they talk about investment versus disinvestment, they do not make up terrible numbers, as a continuity of project fear, when the Bank said that Brexit would mean a loss of jobs, growth and tax revenue, particularly non-domicile tax revenue? We have seen that that is not the case, with the lowest unemployment for 40 years and continued strong growth. It is wrong for the Bank to carry on saying such things, as it has today.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Conservative, Braintree

I will be more than happy to invite Treasury officials and Mark Carney to the end of days party that it seems I will be throwing for my hon. Friend and my right hon. Friend Anna Soubry. We can sit down to discuss such things, sharing my beautifully aged claret—[Interruption.]. Or indeed some wine from the constituency of my hon. Friend Ms Ghani, which produces some fantastic wine. We will discuss the implications for the British economy of fear-mongering.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

We are debating a new clause that suggests that, within 15 months of passing the Bill, there should be another review. Fifteen months would be February 2019, a month before Brexit. Financial services companies are already having to rethink their operations to cope with Brexit. Does my hon. Friend agree that the new clause is a distraction that the sector does not need and that the sector contributes more than £70 billion in tax to the UK economy, which we want to keep?

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Conservative, Braintree 2:15 pm, 31st October 2017

My hon. Friend is spot on. I cannot help but think that new clause 1 is more to do with Labour Members feeling that they need to table revised clauses because they do not know what to say. A call for a review of this kind invariably occurs when people are not sure what to say.

Mr Speaker, you will be disheartened to hear that I am about to conclude my comments. I strongly urge Members on both sides of the House to reject the new clause. We should do everything we can to send a positive message to businesses currently in the UK, to businesses that may think about coming to the UK and to business people who are deciding where they will domicile and to pay tax. We need to let them know that the UK is open, ready to do business and welcomes business people, as long as they pay their fair share in tax and help to support the public services that we value.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I felt that, as I was going to speak this afternoon, I should listen to speeches by colleagues in the House.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I know that is a controversial view that many have. In particular, I listened very carefully to the speech by Peter Dowd from the Opposition Front Bench.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I am. The hon. Gentleman made some interesting remarks, but I am going to pick him up on one phrase, which we should think about and bear in mind as we look not only at the implications of new clause 1 but at the Bill as a whole. He said that the British public are no fools. As I listened to him expound on that, I thought to myself, “The British public in the public gallery and the many millions undoubtedly watching the debate at this moment are no fools and will realise that this Conservative Government, since 2010, have brought in more than £160 billion-worth of anti-avoidance and tax evasion measures.” The British public are no fools. They will realise that the Conservative Government, since 2010. have reduced the tax gap—the gap between what should be collected in tax and what actually is collected—to 6.5%, the lowest that has been recorded. The British public are no fools and will see that this Government, a Conservative Government, will abolish permanent non-dom status for the first time. Those are the practical achievements that the Bill helps to build on.

On the precise nature of new clause 1, I can do no better than agree with my dear and honourable Friend Vicky Ford, who suggested entirely accurately that the timing of such a review may cause disruption. It may be a significant disincentive and difficult from a business perspective because of the Brexit negotiations and the situation at that time. It is also important for us, whatever party we represent, to recognise that this Government are making the case for a sustainable fiscal policy that makes sense in the modern world.

We have heard from many Members on both sides of the House about the international context in which we operate. We are in a smaller world; we all know the impact that technology and ease of travel are having on every aspect of life. Bearing that international context in mind, things are more competitive. We cannot rest on our laurels.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

On that point, would my hon. Friend care to reflect on the issue of footballers? The Labour Front-Bench team was saying that footballers often got away with things under this heading, whereas I thought many people in Britain like the idea that very talented footballers could come to our country for a limited period of time under sensible arrangements for their tax affairs. Does my hon. Friend think that is reasonable?

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Not only do I agree with my right hon. Friend about footballers, but I think that most people—among the millions watching this debate, as I have said—will recognise, because they see and enjoy the top quality premier league football in this country, the impact that top foreign players make. It is not just footballers but music stars, artists, creatives, writers, financiers, businesspeople, entrepreneurs—all of them can be such an asset to this country. Footballers are a very visible example, but we should not forget the more hidden, less public face of that. Britain is good at attracting such people, and we should continue to be good at it, and be proud of that fact in this House.

On the Bill, the Government are making the case for a sustainable fiscal policy, and we must bear in mind the case for the simplification of taxes. Kirsty Blackman always makes good speeches, and made the point that simplifying taxes is a good aim that we should always think about. The Minister, the Government and everybody in this House should always be thinking of ways in which we can make things simpler. We should also always be thinking about ways in which we can make things fairer, and ensure there is a genuinely level playing field for all businesses that seek to work in this country. That is not only fair from an ethical perspective, but having a level playing field is an integral part of what makes Britain a good place to do business. We should focus on both simplifying our tax code and on making it fairer.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

My hon. Friend is being generous in taking interventions. He served on the Finance Bill Committee so will have seen the size of the Bill; it resembles a doorstop. Does he think that we should shrink our Finance Bills and have simpler tax laws?

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

Yes, I did have the huge pleasure of serving on the Finance Bill Committee and it was fascinating. The Finance Bill is undoubtedly a whopper; it is huge. There is a good case—I am sure the Minister will come to this in his remarks—for saying that we need to think more actively about ways to make measures shorter and more easily digestible for hon. Members. I say that without detracting from the substance of what the Government are doing, which I completely support.

Photo of Craig Mackinlay Craig Mackinlay Conservative, South Thanet

The UK tax code is now 22,000 pages long and involves 10 million words. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to lessen that level of complexity if we are to be globally competitive in the future?

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I agree with my hon. Friend. Being in government is a complicated matter, and Rome was not built in a day. This Bill can continue the work that Treasury Ministers have already begun on how we address the difficulty involved in making things fairer and simpler while also making sure that we have the right incentives for businesses to come to our country, and grappling with that in the context of trying to make sure that the tax code is simpler.

Photo of Charlie Elphicke Charlie Elphicke Conservative, Dover

Does my hon. Friend agree that leaving the EU presents a great opportunity for us to take back control of our tax system and make it a lot simpler—and that, perhaps, all the EU rules are part of the reason why it has got so long and complex?

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I hugely respect my hon. Friend. It is worth mentioning for the benefit of those who do not know it that he was a top tax lawyer, so he knows the value that complexity brings to tax lawyers in the City of London. On his point about the EU, I am no expert on these matters and defer to the Minister and other Members, but my view is that we must be more realistic and accept that a lot of things are of our own making; and with the advent of our leaving the EU we have the opportunity to make ourselves even better as a place to do business. I am sure that my hon. Friend and the Minister would support that.

Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham

The problem with the comments of Kirsty Blackman is that she wanted both a simpler tax code and to close loopholes. As I understand it, a great deal of its complexity and length has come from adding detailed ways of trying to close the loopholes, so there is a conflict there. Genuinely simpler tax codes have fewer taxes, which would be a great start, as would having lower rates with a common tax base. At present, however, we have too much complication, partly because of trying to close loopholes.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

I accept that point. Members present appear to be reaching consensus that the Government should always be thinking of how to balance the need for fairness and simplicity with closing loopholes so that people do not take advantage of the fair laws in this country.

Many Members have discussed in the speeches made so far—I told you, Mr Speaker, that I was listening—the importance of businesses bringing in money to fund our public services. We all recognise that that is important; indeed, it is the reason why many, if not all, of us became Members of Parliament. However, it is also worth making the point that having a thriving economy in which individuals, on their own merit and through their own effort and time, can make the most of themselves is in and of itself a good thing. We should not always revert to thinking about business as something simply to be milked for the Exchequer; the Exchequer, the Government and Parliament should set, and are setting, a clear, simple, as-low-as-possible framework in which individuals and corporations can thrive. That is the sort of fiscal and economic policy that I support.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

I thank my hon. Friend for the work he has done on the detail of this Bill. Does he agree that clauses 29 to 32 remove the loophole of permanent non-dom status, but clause 8 means that the UK can continue to benefit from the approximately £9 billion a year from overseas investments, yet if we accept the Labour amendment we put that £9 billion at risk?

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

My hon. Friend is expert in these matters and knows about them in immense detail, having served in the European Parliament. When both serving on the Finance Bill Committee and during this debate, I have been struck by the keenness of this Government to be fair at the same time as promoting competitiveness. Fairness and competitiveness together are what make Britain the best place in the world to do business.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

It is an honour and a privilege to be speaking during the Report stage of the Finance Bill. You will know, Mr Speaker, although some Opposition Members might have forgotten, that I am the MP for Brentwood and Ongar. Today is a great day in the history of Brentwood, because “Woman’s Hour” has announced that it is the best place in the UK for women to live and work. That is something for us all to celebrate. Underpinning that achievement is the fact that Brentwood is a fantastic place to work and do business, and our sense of business acumen is itself underpinned by hard-headed pragmatism. When I bring my constituents complex pieces of legislation, including Finance Bills, they always ask me two things. They ask me whether the legislation is fair, and if they are going to get a good deal out of it. The measures that we are discussing are indeed fair, and I believe that taxpayers in my constituency will get a good deal from them.

As a number of my hon. Friends have mentioned, people who have offshore trusts are not breaking the law. Indeed, it is wholly unfair to suggest that they are. We should recognise the fact that they are reputable business people who are bringing wealth to our country in a totally legitimate way. In Committee, the Minister pointed out that many people had put their affairs in order by setting up overseas trusts before they moved to the UK and it would be wrong for us to go after money that had been secured in that fashion.

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe 2:30 pm, 31st October 2017

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, although I would be intrigued to find out, perhaps after the debate, why Brentwood—I nearly said “of all places”, but I am sure that it is a wonderful place—was judged to be so favourable for women. But we are getting away from the Finance Bill and the important points that he is making about the economy. Does he agree that it is critical in any tax system that the balance is right? Yes, taxpayers need to pay the right and proper amount, but we know that if we start to be too onerous, people will exploit loopholes, meaning that tax revenues will begin to drop. Does he agree that it is under this Conservative Government that we have begun to get that balance absolutely right? People do not resent paying their taxes and revenues are rising because we have a good and fair system.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

I could not agree more with my right hon. Friend. She can rest assured that she is always welcome in Brentwood. There will always be a place next to me in the teashop where we can sit down to discuss exactly why Brentwood is such a wonderful place for women to work, raise their families and be part of the community.

My right hon. Friend is absolutely correct that we have to get the balance right if we are to maximise the tax take for the Treasury, and it is only through that tax take that we will be able to fund our world-class public services. An attempt to do anything more would undoubtedly mean that less would be available for our police services, health service and education system. Our constituents—our citizens—would then all suffer, so it is absolutely essential that we get the balance right. I do not believe that we do that if we actively discourage successful, wealthy business people from bringing their money here so that they can invest in our country. As my right hon. Friend points out, it is by getting the balance right that the Treasury, under the great guidance of my right hon. Friend the Financial Secretary and his predecessors, has managed to bring in an extra £160 billion since 2010 and to narrow the tax gap to an historically low level. That is a great achievement.

Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick Conservative, Newark

I would like to put this into perspective so that our constituents can appreciate our achievements on the tax gap. Our tax gap is 6%, but the gap is 34% in Italy. If the European Union wants to tackle any tax gaps, it should look at other European countries. The tax gap in the United States is 19%, so a 6% tax gap here represents a huge achievement by this Government.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for bringing those figures to the House. Our extraordinarily impressive figure illustrates the achievements of successive Conservative Chancellors in their work to improve the situation that they inherited in 2010.

My hon. Friend Vicky Ford raised an extremely important point about timing. Do we really want a review to kick in just as the Brexit process is reaching its climax? With all due respect to Opposition Members, I do not think that they have really thought about that.

This has been my first Finance Bill and I have enjoyed everything about it immensely. I have even enjoyed the speeches made by the shadow Minister, Peter Dowd. I have enjoyed his panache, his dapper dress sense and his ties, which make me feel slightly underdressed. In Committee, he enlightened us with his knowledge of Plutarch and made reference to the Beatles. I believe that he referred to Plutarch’s discussion of Pyrrhus’s victory over the Romans, which led to Pyrrhus saying, “One more such victory and we are lost.” Were new clause 1 to be agreed to, it would be a pyrrhic victory of great consequence. It would put billions of pounds of Treasury revenue at risk, which would in turn put our public services at risk. That would make my constituents very angry.

I know that the hon. Member for Bootle is fond of the Beatles, as am I. We have already had a comic turn from one Essex MP today. The House might recall that, once upon a time, John Lennon was asked why the Beatles were the greatest band in the world. He said it was because Paul McCartney was the greatest singer-songwriter in the world and because George Harrison was the greatest guitarist in the world. The interviewer said, “What about Ringo? Isn’t he the greatest drummer in the world?” Mr Lennon replied, “He’s not even the greatest drummer in the Beatles.”

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

I rise because it is dreadful to hear this wrong story being perpetuated in the House of Commons. It is a myth that that conversation ever took place, in my opinion—people can check it now on Google. We have in Birmingham a fine comedian called Jasper Carrott who once told that story as a joke. Such is the way that Google works these days that when someone tells a joke like that, it finds its way on to a website somewhere and a myth is perpetuated. We are hearing that story told again in the House of Commons today. I am concerned that it will be recorded inappropriately, so I hope that my hon. Friend will consider that.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means

Order. I am sure that when Alex Burghart responds, he will ensure that his words are directly relevant to new clause 1. This is an important issue and I am sure that Members would not want people to think that we were treating it light-heartedly. We should be taking it very seriously.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

You are quite right, Madam Deputy Speaker. I assure you that my comment was directly relevant to the Bill, but my peroration was cruelly interrupted by my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes. He has now set the record straight but, in the process, destroyed one of the great anecdotes about the Beatles. I was going on to say that new clause 1 is not even the best amendment that the Opposition have put up.

The Minister made it clear in Committee that with

“regard to a review of the legislation, as stated in the tax information and impact note published in December 2016, HMRC will monitor the effects of the provisions through information collected in tax returns. I therefore urge the Opposition not to press new clause 3.” ––[Official Report, Finance Public Bill Committee, 19 October 2017;
c. 97.]

A form of review is therefore already under way. This Bill is fair and will get a good deal for all our constituents.

Photo of Eddie Hughes Eddie Hughes Conservative, Walsall North

My hon. Friend is making a great speech. Another vital factor that we must consider is the element of trust, which will come up repeatedly as we discuss further amendments. It is important that taxpayers can trust this Government to ensure that we collect the maximum amount of tax and then deploy that tax appropriately to provide excellent public services. My hon. Friend suggests that it is important that the Bill is fair, but it is also important that it is trustworthy and that the people watching this debate on telly at home—millions of them—have faith that the Government are firm, fair and trustworthy.

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

I thank my hon. Friend for that wonderful speech. He is of course entirely right that these measures are fair. They get a good deal for the British taxpayer and will help to underpin future investment in our fine public services.

Photo of Colin Clark Colin Clark Conservative, Gordon

Clarifying non-dom status is absolutely the right thing to do, but it is also crucial to ensure that our tax regime is fair. We have heard from other Members that non-dom status contributes £9 billion. My constituency—this is also relevant to the constituency of Kirsty Blackman—has seen a lot of mergers and acquisitions activity, and it is important that this country’s tax regime is clear, simple and straightforward, with people encouraged. The Wood Group and Amec merger will create a FTSE 100 company that will be headquartered in Aberdeen, and Baker Hughes and GE, another huge oil company, has a lot of influence on the UK’s continental shelf. Does my hon. Friend agree that unless we keep this country’s tax regime attractive to inward investment and non-doms, we could lose some of that investment, which would damage my constituency and that of the hon. Member for Aberdeen North?

Photo of Alex Burghart Alex Burghart Conservative, Brentwood and Ongar

I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. It is crucial, perhaps now more than ever, that this country is entirely open to money, to investment and to good business practice from around the world. It is incumbent on the Government to ensure that they create an environment that will bring jobs and investment into his constituency and mine, and indeed into all parts of our country. I also want to voice my wholehearted support for Government amendment 17—a fine amendment if ever there was one—which sets the Treasury record straight, as ever it should be.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

I begin by thanking Peter Dowd for his interesting and informative contribution. Alas, I am going to have to disappoint him and say that I will urge the House to reject new clause 1, but I thank him most sincerely for the generosity with which he gave way to the wave upon wave of Government Members who wanted to challenge him—it was a veritable intervention-fest. My hon. Friend James Cleverly mentioned the “The Morecambe & Wise Show” but in the hon. Gentleman’s case, I was reminded more of the 1980s show “Game for a Laugh”—[Interruption.] Perhaps that was unkind, but we had some fun along the way.

Before replying to the hon. Gentleman’s opening remarks, I will speak briefly about some of the fine contributions made by Members on both side of the House, who took the matter in hand with due seriousness, as you exhorted us to do, Madam Deputy Speaker. The arguments were put extremely powerfully by my right hon. Friend John Redwood, who talked about the importance of recognising that many of the tax activities of individuals in this company are not driven by evasion or a desire to cheat the system or bend the rules, but by sensible tax planning and using the rules precisely as they were designed to be used. He also rightly pointed out the importance of not driving away the individuals who bring great wealth and business investment to our country—we heard about the record £9 billion a year from non-domiciled individuals. The hon. Member for Bootle will recall our lengthy debates about business investment relief.

We must not drive away the additional moneys that will come to our country to fund our doctors, nurses, paramedics, the Army, police and all the other wonderful public services that we expect to be supported. An extra £1.6 billion will come as a consequence of the changes proposed in the Bill. My right hon. Friend also spoke well about the importance of our tax system being competitive, and we briefly touched on an important point that was raised by many other Members: how do we term these individuals?

Photo of Anna Soubry Anna Soubry Conservative, Broxtowe 2:45 pm, 31st October 2017

Does my right hon. Friend agree that an important point to make about non-doms is that the idea that they are all multimillionaires, if not billionaires, is an absolute fallacy? Many non-doms quite properly have that status, but the idea that they are fat cats or rich people with oodles of money who are up to dodgy dealings is an absolute myth. Many of them are actually of modest means, but invariably those of more substantial means are great entrepreneurs and we need them in our country arguably more than ever before.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

My right hon. Friend is entirely right and pre-empts the point that I was about to make, which is that it is quite wrong of the Opposition to castigate all non-domiciled individuals in this country and to characterise them as tax dodgers. In fact, the hon. Member for Bootle made the point that there are over 100,000 non-doms in the United Kingdom. The vast majority of them do not have lots of overseas assets or may have no overseas assets; they are not opening up trusts and putting assets in them. They simply come over here, sometimes for a couple of years or so, to work and contribute to our economy.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

What the Minister says is true so far as it goes, but I recently met representatives of Man, with which the Minister will be familiar. At £100 billion, Man runs the biggest hedge fund across Europe. They want robust, predictable and understandable regulation to provide certainty for investors, rather than slackness that allows people to creep through holes and exploit loopholes. They want to know where they are. They do not necessarily want a race to the bottom; they just want a reliable system for investing over the long term.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

Certainty for the future is precisely what the proposals deliver, and they were extensively consulted on for a couple of years before coming into effect. We are providing exactly the certainty that the hon. Gentleman wants.

As is characteristic of Kirsty Blackman, she made some fairly thoughtful comments about the importance of ensuring that the tax code is not overly complicated. She will be aware of the work that we are doing with the Office of Tax Simplification. I was grateful for her at least partial welcome for some of our anti-avoidance measures which, as many Members rightly pointed out this afternoon, have brought in £160 billion since 2010.

My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree referred to the Bill as “gargantuan.” Having spent what feels like most of my life reading every syllable of it, I think that is a rather polite description of this colossus of a Bill, which has 760-odd pages. He mentioned Morecambe and Wise, and it was a nice touch to characterise the way in which the Opposition play the same old tunes. For the Government, of course, the tune is “Bring Me Sunshine”. We believe in an economy that works for everybody, we believe in bright, sunny uplands, we believe in possibilities, we believe in the future and, above all, while I am a Treasury Minister, we believe in fair taxation.

My hon. Friend was also right to mention the £160 billion. He particularly stressed the importance of getting away from the corrosive message of always beating up those who are an apparently easy target. We need to talk our country up, not do our country down.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

Does the Minister understand the deep concern about the need for transparency, legitimacy and fair returns in the aftermath of the Panama papers? What specific actions have the Government taken, or are they just saying, “Oh, well. It doesn’t matter. We’ll just get on as normal”?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

We are right in the vanguard, as the hon. Gentleman knows. The OECD’s initiative to address base erosion and profit shifting has, among other things, brought in the transfer of information between countries on the very issues he raises. We are no slouch when it comes to addressing such issues.

My hon. Friend Bim Afolami also talked about tax avoidance. He confessed to the “novelty” of listening to the hon. Member for Bootle, which is perhaps a little harsh as I often learn a lot from listening to him. My hon. Friend also talked about the importance of attracting the best people to our country from all walks of life, and he is right.

My hon. Friend Alex Burghart made an important point about the setting up of trusts. The trusts of those who become deemed domiciled under the Bill will have to have been in place before that particular moment in time. It is worth stressing that taxation falls due, in the normal manner, only when income in taken out of a trust. My hon. Friend also got us tangled up in a debate about the Beatles and Ringo Starr, but then my hon. Friend Eddie Hughes told us that it was Jasper Carrott all along, and we are grateful to him for that.

I begin my response to the hon. Member for Bootle by reminding the House of the significant changes that the Bill introduces to the way in which non-domiciled people are treated in the United Kingdom for tax purposes. The new rules that the Government are introducing fundamentally change the way non-doms pay tax in the UK by ending permanent non-dom status. Under the Bill, non-doms who have been resident in the UK for 15 of the last 20 years will no longer be treated as non-domiciled by the tax authorities. Instead, they will pay tax in the same way as everyone else, bringing £1.6 billion in much-needed extra revenue for our public services.

To maintain fairness and to keep our tax system competitive, the Bill protects non-residents’ trusts from being wholly introduced to the UK tax system. New clause 1 would impose an obligation on HMRC to review the operation of those protections for non-resident trusts. The review would consider the cost of the protections and the effects they have on taxpayer behaviour, including the effect of removing the protections. Although I understand the intention behind the new clause, I do not think it is necessary to legislate for such a review to take place. HMRC and Her Majesty’s Treasury have hundreds of officials monitoring the tax system and assessing the risks, which is right and proper given the Government’s responsibility to ensure that the tax system delivers value for money for the UK taxpayer.

There is a more fundamental case against the new clause—a case about fairness and unintended consequences. The trusts that the Bill seeks to protect are those created before an individual is deemed to be UK domiciled. Many of these complex trust structures will have been set up long before the individual even thought about moving to the United Kingdom and will not have been set up to comply with the UK’s tax rules. In the circumstances, it is not unreasonable that the new domicile rules are introduced in a way that protects trusts from unintended consequences. It would be unfair to ask a non-dom to pay tax on money they never intended to bring into contact with the British tax system in that way.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

Is the Minister saying it is fair for someone to tax plan to leave the country, make a load of money and hide it in various places where tax is not charged before coming back to live in the British environment, where they always wanted to live, and avoid all that tax?

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

I am not saying that at all. What I am saying is that, where a non-dom has a family trust or some other perfectly legitimate arrangement—they might not have been to this country at all when the trust or arrangement was set up—and is subsequently deemed to be domiciled in this country, it is not unreasonable that the contents of that trust should be protected, with the important caveat that tax is due to the UK tax authorities as soon as income is taken out of the trust.

Photo of Geraint Davies Geraint Davies Labour/Co-operative, Swansea West

In terms of tax planning, a merchant banker or whatever in their twenties could plan to leave Britain for a number of years, make a lot of money and protect that money in a tax haven before coming back and receiving all the benefits—sending their kids to public school and all the rest of it—without paying tax in Britain.

Photo of Mel Stride Mel Stride Financial Secretary to the Treasury and Paymaster General

I think I have answered that question. It is probably time to move on.

Even with these protections in place, non-doms who become deemed UK domiciled will be protected from tax, as I have said, only on income and gains that remain in the trust. Any moneys withdrawn or benefits provided will lead to a tax charge on the individual. This is a fair system that has been carefully considered and consulted on since it was announced more than two years ago. It is simply unnecessary to introduce legislation to place additional bureaucracy and additional reporting burdens on HMRC, which already scrutinises non-doms’ compliance with the UK tax regime.

Government amendment 17 will remove and correct a minor inaccuracy in schedule 8 to ensure that the policy is delivered as intended. The change applies to part 4 of the schedule, on the cleansing of mixed funds. For the purpose of these rules, a qualifying individual is one who was not born in the United Kingdom and whose domicile of origin is not in the United Kingdom. The amendment simply corrects the Bill by replacing “or” with “and” when defining a qualifying individual. I therefore urge the House to accept the amendment.

These reforms have been carefully drawn up to ensure that we get the right balance between protecting the public finances, remaining internationally competitive and showing how much we value the contribution of non-doms in the UK. I therefore urge the House to reject new clause 1.

Photo of Peter Dowd Peter Dowd Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I thank Alex Burghart for referring to Plutarch, a Greek citizen who became a Roman citizen—but not a non-dom in that country. Our new clause would require a review to be undertaken on the effects of

“the provisions for the protection of overseas trusts in relation to deemed domicile.”

Like Queen Gertrude in “Hamlet”, Conservative Members protest too much. Why can we not have a review? That is all the new clause asks for: a review. What is wrong with a review?

Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.

The House divided:

Ayes 279, Noes 309.

Division number 27

See full list of votes (From The Public Whip)

Aye

No

Question accordingly negatived.

Schedule 8