“(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must review the effectiveness of the provisions of this Act in accordance with this section and lay a report of that review before the House of Commons within six months of the passing of this Act.
(2) A review under this section must consider—
(a) the effects of the provisions in reducing levels of artificial tax avoidance,
(b) the effects of the provisions in combating tax evasion, and
(c) estimates of the role of the provisions of this Act in reducing the tax gap in each tax year from 2018 to 2022.”.—(Anneliese Dodds.)
This new clause requires the Chancellor of the Exchequer to carry out and publish a review of the effectiveness of the provisions of the Bill in tackling artificial tax avoidance and tax evasion, and in reducing the tax gap.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
It will not have escaped Members’ attention that Christmas is coming. In fact, some of us may even have thought that Christmas was already here given that we enjoyed the previous debate so much. However, I must say that discussing this Finance Bill again feels like an alternative celebration on this side of the Chamber: Groundhog Day. For the third time since entering this House, I rise to speak about yet another woefully thin and inconsequential Finance Bill that fails to take the action that our economy so clearly requires.
The consequences of a Government focused on the management of internal party disputes, not sustainable economic growth, have become clear for all to see over the past few weeks: growth levels the third lowest in the OECD during the first half of this year; productivity growth lower than in the eurozone and well below the average of the EU as a whole; falling living standards, with wages under their longest squeeze since Napoleonic times; and a Government who have had to revise their targets for eliminating the current deficit no fewer than five times, and who are now resolved to eliminate the deficit only by 2030—15 years after the end date promised during the 2010 general election campaign. It’s behind you, to use a pantomime phrase—my hon. Friend Dawn Butler was keen on them in the previous debate. In that context, it is depressing to see the Government yet again pass up the opportunity to deal with aggressive tax avoidance and evasion in a steadfast manner.
Labour’s new clause 8 would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to carry out and publish a review of the effectiveness of the provisions of the Bill in tackling artificial tax avoidance and tax evasion, and in reducing the tax gap, within six months of it entering into effect.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on the first part of her speech. Some three or four years ago, the distinguished tax expert Richard Murphy estimated the total tax gap at £119 billion a year. To my knowledge, that figure has never been seriously challenged or debunked, and it may now even be higher. Does my hon. Friend accept that if the Government were serious about dealing with this matter, they could pay off the deficit and have plenty more to spend on public services?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. The calculations made by economists and accountants, such as Mr Murphy, reflect the cost to our Exchequer of international profit shifting, which the Government’s estimate of the tax gap does not.
Does my hon. Friend agree that low wages mask inefficiency? One of the big problems with the economy is that we have 4 million or 5 million people in that category, which encourages less efficiency, not improvements.
I agree with my hon. Friend. In fact, a problem that underlines our productivity gap is the worryingly low levels of private investment in our economy, which is reducing efficiency and places Britain outside the sphere of many comparable nations on investment. Sadly, the Government did not grasp that problem in the Budget.
The Opposition are calling for a review in the absence of the ability to call for more wide-ranging changes to the Bill given the Government’s unwillingness to table a general amendment to the law as part of this Finance Bill. That is unfortunate given the lack of new measures in the Bill, the limitations of the measures that are included, and the fact that much of the Bill represents a cleaning-up of previously announced but ill-thought-through measures. I will deal with each of those matters in turn.
It is, to say the least, regrettable that Members from across this House are unable to introduce new measures to the Bill. Labour’s tax transparency and enforcement programme sets out several areas where the Government should be taking action to tighten up our leaky ship, but we see no such ambition from the current Administration. Again, there is an unwillingness to engage with those who do have the energy and expertise to promote new measures.
When it has been possible for Members to amend Finance Bills, they have often done so to good effect. So it was that my right hon. Friend Caroline Flint amended what became the Finance Act 2016, giving the Government the power to introduce public country-by-country reporting and requiring multinational firms to indicate their profits, staff and tax paid in the different jurisdictions in which they operate. The measure is already in practice in the banking and extractive industries, where it has effectively promoted tax transparency and has offered a lot of evidence and information that has been very helpful to investors in those fields, but Members on both sides of the House who are keen to see the Government use the powers already available under the 2016 Act to make country-by-country reporting public, and who believe the Government should be playing a leadership role in this area, are sadly emasculated by the Government’s unwillingness to allow colleagues to table proper amendments to this Bill.
In this case, the Government are flying in the face of public opinion, with more than three quarters of the public reportedly stating that multinational firms with a significant presence in the UK should report publicly, per country, on the size of their profits and on the tax they pay.
The same frustrations about the inability to amend the Bill apply to the Government’s limited willingness to promote transparency on beneficial ownership. By excluding Companies House from the coverage of anti-money laundering regulations, there is little to no oversight of the more than 600,000 companies formed every year in the UK, many of which then seem to sink without trace. There is little point in creating a register of beneficial ownership if no due diligence is exercised to ensure that the information is accurate.
Additionally, I can reveal today that the Government are yet again behind the curve of other European nations in continuing to fail to subject trusts to coverage in registers of beneficial ownership. Of course, as we know, David Cameron himself intervened personally to prevent the European Council from agreeing to the measure back in April 2016, but the Council’s negotiators recently appeared to have overcome those objections. I can reveal that, as of Friday afternoon, there is now agreement at European level to include business-like trusts on registers of beneficial ownership, so I hope the Minister will inform us today of whether and when he will act to include business-like trusts on the British register of beneficial ownership, or whether our Government will continue to act as a drag on international co-operation in this area.
If colleagues had the power to amend this Bill, I imagine they would also want to promote measures to stem the haemorrhage of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs staff, as ably argued in this House by my hon. Friends the Members for Coventry South (Mr Cunningham), for Stockton South (Dr Williams) and for Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill (Hugh Gaffney), and by Members for many other constituencies affected by the cuts to HMRC. They are concerned that their constituencies face the prospect of losing thousands of skilled jobs to HMRC restructuring, which is reducing HMRC’s resources at the very time the demands being placed on it are heavier than ever before, not least due to the additional burden of post-Brexit arrangements for customs and for taxing highly mobile profits.
I find it astonishing that we still have no indication from the Government of how they will deal with the competition challenge that small and medium-sized companies will face once the UK leaves the EU and its competition-regulating powers. Just this week, the European Commission announced that it is to investigate the tax affairs of Ikea under state aid regulations, which are intended to prevent multinational companies from making use of tax arrangements that are not available to small and medium-sized companies, yet it is unclear whether our Government intend merely to increase the number of their sweetheart tax rulings on multinationals after Brexit, or whether they intend to adopt a more muscular, effective approach to tackling profit shifting and, if the latter, how they will co-ordinate that with other countries.
The initial signs are worrying. Only last week, Conservative Members of the European Parliament abstained on a crucial vote on the European Parliament’s investigative report on the Panama papers. Appallingly, we have still not heard whether our Government will back those whistleblowers and investigative journalists who allowed the world to see what was hidden in the Paradise papers.
Will the Minister inform us today of whose side this Government are on—those who promoted the public interest in revealing how some are profiting from mismatches and secrecy in the international tax system, or those who profit from such obfuscatory arrangements?
Does my hon. Friend agree it is disgraceful that some of those named in the Paradise papers are now threatening court action against those whistleblowers and are trying to scare people into not releasing such information in future?
I absolutely agree with my hon. Friend on that. There is a particular onus on the Government to be steadfast and clear in their rejection of those legal challenges and the problems they potentially pose to our democracy. Of course it is just the BBC and The Guardian that have been threatened with legal action, not any of the other 90 or so media outlets based in other countries. It is UK-based firms and media organisations that have been threatened with that action, so I hope the Minister will make clear to us today whether or not he agrees with Appleby’s threat of legal action against those who revealed the details of the Paradise papers in the public interest.
Many of the measures in the Bill intended to prevent aggressive tax avoidance and evasion do not go far enough. I have already referred in this House to clause 21, which seems to adopt a confusing new approach to measuring profit shifting, rather than aiming to reduce it per se. Yet again, there sadly appears to be deafening silence here concerning the need for tax simplification, with only minor measures that do not meet the required standard of a thoroughgoing, holistic assessment of the overall impacts of tax reliefs, which we desperately need in this country if we are to have proper Government accounting.
Finally, we see in the Bill a number of additional measures that seem intended mainly just to clean up previous mistakes by this Government, many of them following criticism from Labour Members. In clause 35 and schedule 10, for example, we find anti-avoidance provisions in relation to payments and benefits made from offshore trusts, no doubt reflecting the concerns we raised about the potential misuse of offshore trusts by non-doms. Let us be clear, before this issue crops up yet again in this debate: this Government have not abolished long-term, non-dom status. The new measures do not apply to those whose parents are non-doms, as is often the case, and a 15-year window is provided for individuals to get their affairs in order. In another example, clause 28 closes the loophole introduced by the coalition Government in 2011 that allowed foreign companies to hold on to an asset-stripped subsidiary for six years until they were then able to claim loss relief in excess of any genuine economic loss to the group. Again, the measure tidies up a problem that was created previously by those involved with this Administration.
To conclude, this Finance Bill was a chance for strong action against aggressive tax avoidance and evasion, but, sadly, we have here a paltry Bill, which some Conservative Members have praised in some of these debates for being thin. It is not thin because it is concise; it is thing because, sadly, just like this Government, it is lacking in ideas and ambition. We need a change now, more than ever.
I welcome this Finance Bill, because it does three things so far as taxation is concerned: first, it prioritises increasing the total pot for public services while recognising the common-sense proposition that we must live within our means; secondly, it entrenches and enhances the fundamentally progressive nature of the tax system; and, thirdly, it redoubles our country’s efforts to tackle tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance. The theme that unites those three strands is a relentless focus on discharging our obligation to the next generation: on ensuring that we are laying the foundations for a better, fairer country; one whose best days are yet to come. In doing so, we are observing our solemn duty to those who will come after us. We must not fail them, not just because history will condemn us if we do not, but because we ought to be able in this House to recognise that moral obligation for ourselves.
On tax avoidance and evasion, there has rightly been a sense that multinational corporations have been seeking to game the taxation system, using their market power to their financial advantage. That sticks in my craw, the craw of my constituents and the craw of Members across this House, because when we talk about the rule of law, that is about ensuring that we are all equal before not only the criminal law, but taxation law. Few things are more corrosive to public confidence in the enterprise economy than the sense that large corporations are wriggling out of their responsibilities to society—these responsibilities provide free healthcare and education, as well as a safe and secure environment to operate in. So I welcome the fact that the tax gap in our country has been driven down significantly, from 8% to 6%. That translates into an additional £12.5 billion per annum, which is more than the entire Ministry of Justice budget and far more than the entire annual spend on the prison system. We have the lowest tax gap in the world.
Does the hon. Gentleman recognise that that 6% does not take into account profit shifting? It comes from HMRC effectively marking its own homework and patting itself on the back.
Absolutely not. It is an internationally recognised statistic that shows that this country bears comparison with any other developed nation in the world, and it marks a significant improvement on the situation that prevailed under the previous Labour Government. The fact is that more than £160 billion extra has been received since 2010. To put it into context, that is more than the entire annual NHS budget.
We have addressed egregious loopholes that allowed some foreign nationals not to pay capital gains tax when they sold houses in the UK. That allowed people to live in the UK permanently but claim non-dom status; and it allowed people to avoid paying tax by calling their salary from their own company a loan. Those were abuses and we have closed them down. It is important to note that the UK has spearheaded a groundbreaking initiative to share information on beneficial ownership with more than 50 jurisdictions, including every British overseas territory and Crown dependency with a financial centre.
No, because I am going to conclude.
All that I have described shows the UK’s commitment to transparency and that we are at the cutting edge of financial propriety.
It is absolutely right that the Government take further action to raise £4.8 billion by 2022-23. First, we are tackling online VAT evasion by making online marketplaces jointly liable for their sellers’ unpaid VAT; secondly, we are investing an additional £150 million to fund HMRC staff and the latest technology; and thirdly, we are tackling further disguised remuneration schemes, because if people are gaming the system, we should call it out.
In short, the Bill bears down on aggressive tax avoidance and evasion. It sends out the clear message that we in this country believe in innovation, modernisation, investment and employment. We will back businesses that unlock human potential and generate jobs and wages, but we expect businesses to play by the rules, honour their dues to society and respect the next generation. The Bill meets those priorities and lays the foundations for a country that is fit for the future.
Does my hon. Friend agree that above all else, this is about persistent, detailed work over time to close the loopholes and deal with the tax gap? It is not about making a speech and pretending we can spend all the money that is being lost; it is a question of grinding away over time and getting the tax gap down from 8% to 6% and so on.
As always, my right hon. and learned Friend hits the nail on the head. There is no substitute for hard, detailed work. Ultimately, it is a game of cat and mouse, because those who seek to avoid tax will be ever more inventive. It requires detailed work to ensure that the loopholes are closed, and the Government are absolutely committed to that task. The Bill shows that and I am happy to support it.
I shall speak briefly. I congratulate my hon. Friend Anneliese Dodds on her excellent Front-Bench speech.
Early in his speech, Alex Chalk talked about morality. There is morality in paying tax: we cannot have a civilised society without people paying tax to pay for public services and income being redistributed from those who have more than they need to those who have less than they need.
The crisis in 2008 and the problem of tax avoidance and evasion, overseas tax havens and so on, all arose as a result of Geoffrey Howe’s disastrous decision in 1979 to abolish exchange controls immediately. That led to the crisis and the massive flows of money across national boundaries around the world, causing all sorts of problems. Even the then Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King, suggested to the Treasury Committee at the time of the 2008 crisis that if things got really bad, we might have had to reintroduce exchange controls. I am not suggesting that I will be able to persuade the Government to do that at this stage, but in time we are going to have to look at how we manage the vast flows of money across national boundaries around the world. It is the bankers who are the crooks—not the good bankers who look after our ordinary accounts, but those who gamble with money and often worthless bits of paper on the foreign exchanges.
The hon. Member for Cheltenham talked about morality. Millions of ordinary people in this country do have a very moral sense. Many of them, including me—I am very well paid compared with ordinary people—say that they would pay a bit more tax if they could guarantee that the money went to the health service and to people who are less well off than themselves. At the same time, the mega rich, the corporates and the bankers are resisting any kind of constraint on their activities. I see where the morality lies: it lies with decent ordinary people, not with bankers. We must constrain those bankers somehow and have serious measures that will actually have the effect of stopping the tax avoidance and tax evasion that has bedevilled our society for so long.
I support my hon. Friend the Member for Oxford East. This Bill is weak; it needs to be much stronger. I look to a Labour Government in the very near future introducing serious measures to deal with tax avoidance and tax evasion.
The discussion that we had earlier on today and that we are having now in relation to tax avoidance really goes to the heart of the question: what kind of country do the Government want to be in charge of. It was clear from the earlier debate that the Government do not want to be in charge of a country that is open and upfront about tax changes and the impacts that they will have. They also have issues with tax avoidance and evasion and with the choices that they make. Their choices are very much not the ones that Scottish National party Members would make, nor indeed, I think, ones that the Opposition would make.
On the issue of the tax gap in particular, the UK Government took the decision that it was more important to have immigration officers who were concerned with ensuring that the “wrong sort of people” did not get into the country than it was to have customs officers. We have ended up in a situation where there are very few customs inspections, which is a major contributor to our tax gap. We are talking about tax avoidance and tax evasion and about going forward into a situation in which we will need to make many more customs checks, when the UK Government have got rid of most of the people who know what they are talking about in relation to customs. We have a major problem that needs to be solved if we are to fix those issues.
A Transparency International report mentioned 766 UK companies that had avoided tax. A quarter of those companies are still active in the United Kingdom. The UK Government do not seem to have taken any action to ensure that they cannot dodge tax in the way that they have. Among the actions that we have been talking about is protection for whistleblowers. We continue to call for whistleblowers to be better protected. It is really important for people to feel that they can come forward safely and that they can uncover major problems that exist at the heart of some organisations that operate within this country, and at the heart of some schemes that operate within these islands. If the UK Government produced stronger guidance and stronger protection for whistleblowers, it would allow and encourage more people to come forward.
On the issues around the general anti-avoidance rule and the complexity of the tax code, we have been consistent in our criticism of how complex the tax code is. Someone posted a picture recently of the new version of the UK tax code that had just appeared: the thing was almost as tall as me. An absolutely huge number of bits of paper are required to make up the tax code. Is it any wonder that there are unintended loopholes that people can exploit? If the tax code was much simpler, if there were fewer tax reliefs and if the UK Government chose instead to give money to people rather than a tax relief, it would make things slightly better.
It is not actually a raft of new tax bands. As far as I know, it is one more band in the tax system with slightly different numbers for the pennies. But that is only in relation to income tax. Some 70% of people will pay less tax and 55% will pay less tax than they would in England. Does the hon. Gentleman believe, therefore, that the English system is taxing people unfairly compared to the Scottish system?
I thank the hon. Lady for indulging me. She says that 70% of Scottish taxpayers will pay less tax, but will she accept the fact that that is largely due to the changes made by the UK Government in raising the personal allowance?
If Conservative Members wish to debate the progressive taxation system introduced by the Scottish Government, maybe they should stand for the Scottish Parliament.
I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. I do, however, want to say one more thing on the Scottish tax system, so I hope he will indulge me.
The Scottish tax system is progressive. It is making a difference by ensuring that people who earn under £24,000 pay less tax. That is a positive measure and a good way forward. If members of the UK Government have concerns about the Scottish Parliament’s choices on tax, perhaps it would be better for them to support an increase in the block grant. They could also tell us whether they would cut the money that is going to be made up from the Scottish Government’s tax changes from education, local authorities or the health service.
I will bring the Committee back to tax avoidance. I am sorry, Sir Roger, for testing your patience slightly. The Scottish National party has been consistent in its criticism of Scottish limited partnerships. My former colleague, Roger Mullin, was like a dog with a bone; he would not let go of this matter. That was to his credit because the UK Government decided to make changes to the SLP regime as they recognised that it is massively used for tax avoidance and dodging. There was a review of SLPs, but we are yet to see changes as a result. Will the Minister let us know at least the timeline for making those changes in order to ensure that SLPs are no longer used as a tax-dodging mechanism? This is an important change that really needs to be made, preferably sooner rather than later.
Talking about the UK Government not working as they should regarding tax avoidance and evasion, the Panama papers and the Paradise papers have both been published in my time as an MP. It is very clear that the tax system—not just the global tax system, but even the system in the UK—is failing. It is allowing people and organisations to dodge tax. It is all well and good to talk about overseas trusts. In fact, this frustrates me a huge amount because the Government try to give the impression that overseas trusts are used by organisations such as rural churches in order to fix their roofs. It is not the case that they are used by organisations like that; they are used by people who are trying to dodge tax. We need the hardest possible line on that.
We cannot see the United Kingdom turn into a low-tax, deregulated tax haven. If the UK Government are deciding what kind of country they want the United Kingdom to be, they should not choose one that involves deregulation. With Brexit, they have the opportunity to put their stamp on the future, but I am incredibly concerned about the way that it will go. In bringing back control, some of the reins that have perhaps been put on the UK Government will be taken off and they will be free, for example, to take away the working time directive, and to make changes to our world-class social security system, fair society and good business practices. That is incredibly concerning.
We have called before, and we will not stop calling, for powers to deal with tax avoidance and evasion to be devolved to the Scottish Parliament. We believe that we would do a better job because we could not really do a worse one. We would put forward a fair and moral tax system and a general anti-avoidance rule in order to discourage people from dodging tax, and we would ensure that our tax gap was way smaller than the UK Government’s.
This Government are committed to bearing down on tax avoidance, evasion and non-compliance like no other Government in history. While I have enormous respect for Anneliese Dodds, the shadow Minister, and I respect the spirited nature of her attack on our record, I am afraid she is misguided.
We have a strong record. We have brought in and protected £160 billion of potentially avoided tax since 2010 as a result of over 100 measures that we have brought in. We have, as we have heard in the debate, one of the lowest tax gaps in the entire world, at just 6%. Contrary to some of the suggestions from those on the Labour Benches, that is a robust and firm figure; it is described by the IMF as one of the most robust in the world. It is, indeed, produced by HMRC, but it is produced to the strict guidelines set out by the Office for National Statistics.
The Minister mentioned HMRC. One of the things the Government have done over many years now is to squeeze HMRC, which has fewer offices and not enough staff. Does he not accept that every single additional tax officer collects many times their own salary? If the Government were serious about tax collection, they would expand HMRC substantially.
The hon. Gentleman may know that, in the last Budget, £155 million was set aside to be invested in HMRC, for exactly the activity that he has described. That is expected to bring in £4.8 billion through a further reduction in tax avoidance over the forecast period.
The other point I would make to the hon. Gentleman is that HMRC’s effectiveness is not all about having lots of regional offices staffed with tax inspectors. Tax is collected today using sophisticated intelligence-led and data-led techniques. We need to invest in that if we are to continue to achieve the outstanding results we are achieving at the moment.
We have borne down with penalties for developers and enablers of tax avoidance schemes. On the international side, our country has been in the vanguard of the base erosion and profit shifting project. We now have over 100 countries involved in common reporting standards, so HMRC can access information in real time to bear down on non-compliance in those jurisdictions. We have introduced new measures in this Budget in relation to clamping down on the abuse of overseas trusts. Since 2010, we have brought in £2.8 billion in additional revenues as a consequence of clamping down on the activities of UK residents hiding their wealth inappropriately in overseas trusts.
We have, of course, been the Government that abolished permanent non-dom status. I have to disagree, I am afraid, with the hon. Member for Oxford East, who suggested that if someone’s parents were non-domiciled, that in some way suggests that that person would not be subject to the rules we have brought in. That is simply not the case. If someone has been resident for 15 of the previous 20 years, they will be deemed domiciled, irrespective of who their parents happen to be.
New clause 8 suggests we should have yet another assessment. We have heard consistently in all the debates we have had on the Floor of the House on this Bill about having more and more assessments, but I would say to Opposition Members that we already have a robust figure for the tax gap. As I have said, it has been described by the IMF as one of the most robust in the world, and we certainly do not need even more information out there to prove just how successful this Government have been in bearing down on avoidance, evasion and non-compliance.
However, as a consequence of this Bill, we will go even further than we have to date. Clause 38 relates to online VAT fraud, and we will make online platforms jointly and severally liable where VAT avoidance occurs, extending that approach from overseas sellers to domestic sellers, and ensuring that they are responsible for supplying accurate and appropriate VAT information on their sites. That will raise £1 billion by 2023.
Clauses 11 and 12 will complete our work on disguised remuneration, and bearing down on that will have brought in £3.6 billion by 2019, when we will be closing down on those schemes.
Clause 42 ensures that where there is illegal landfill activity, we apply the tax that would have been in place had those activities been legal, bringing in a further £145 million. There are also the changes brought in by clauses 20 and 21 to address avoidance involving intellectual property within companies.
This Government have a record that is second to none when it comes to clamping down on avoidance, evasion and non-compliance. Labour had 13 years in which to address such measures, and did very little. In fact, the tax gap under the previous Labour Government was such that if we had it today, we would be over £12 billion short every single year—enough to fund every policeman and woman in England and Wales. We will continue to bear down, as appropriate and with vigour, on tax evasion and avoidance to ensure a fair and civilised society where those who are due to pay their fair share do so, to support our public services. I urge the Committee to reject new clause 8.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger.
First, let me respond to the Minister’s comments. I said before that it feels a little like groundhog day, although that is in February rather than at Christmas time. While I have a huge amount of respect for the Minister, and I am very grateful for his gracious comments, I suggest that in a moment he may be in the position of the Mayor of Wisconsin, who, he may remember, was nipped by the groundhog on groundhog day. I fear that the Minister is going to be nipped slightly after saying that Labour in government did very little on tax avoidance and tax evasion. He will be very much aware, because I have said this many times to him and to other Government Members, of the huge role that was played by Dawn Primarolo when she chaired the Code of Conduct Group. [Interruption.] Graham Stuart makes a comment about the tax gap. We have already discussed some of the conflicts around the calculation of the tax gap, such as the fact that, sadly, it does not include international profit shifting. If it did, we would have a much larger tax gap.
I have mentioned the role of Dawn Primarolo, for Labour, chairing the Code of Conduct Group, which identified, published and eliminated 68 harmful tax measures. I can now reveal that there is much, much more that Labour Governments did. Perhaps, regrettably, the Minister has not been given sight of the letter to the Chancellor by my hon. Friend Valerie Vaz, the shadow Leader of the House. When she asked the House of Commons Library exactly what Labour Governments had achieved in the field of tax avoidance and evasion, it provided very full information, which she has sent on to the Chancellor. The Library made it very clear that under Labour Administrations there were 14 Budget reports, each of which included measures on preventing tax dodging. As well as those instances of action, there was the introduction of the disclosure regime and the Primarolo statement, which, in practice, revolutionised HMRC’s ability to tackle tax dodging. Labour Members will not take lessons from Government Members when we have a strong record in this area.
The Minister did not make clear what the Government’s approach will be to the inclusion of business-like trusts in registers of beneficial ownership, as is now EU policy. Will that be the UK’s policy? That has been resisted by Conservatives so far; I hope that they will now change their tune. He also did not enlighten us on his opinion of the legal action that is being taken against a British newspaper and the British Broadcasting Corporation because of their revealing the reality of international tax planning by some actors who are giving others in that area a terrible name. I regret that he did not respond to my direct questions on those matters.
I would like to respond briefly to comments made by other Members. Alex Chalk, when asked about whether HMRC’s figure on the tax gap included international profit shifting, refused to respond, sadly. I want to respond to the point about whether the Finance Bill protects governmental revenue. I do not want to go over the debates that we had yesterday and the many comments made by Labour Members, but I regret that in their new approach to the bank levy—reducing its rate and scope, and imposing an inadequate surcharge—the Government have decided voluntarily to reduce by a third the funds that come from the banking sector. Conservative Members can broadcast as much as they like about the additional tax that has arisen because of the banks’ profitability, but that is a natural consequence of the British economy’s return to profitability after the financial crisis. In practice, the Finance Bill does not act up to those goals in any sense.
My hon. Friend Kelvin Hopkins has campaigned on tax transparency for many years, and he made several prescient points. Kirsty Blackman referred to the personnel challenges being experienced by HMRC. They are of enormous concern, as she said, in the context of Brexit, as a result of which we may have more customs challenges. There has been a substantial reduction in HMRC’s headcount of, I believe, around a fifth since 2010. I take on board the points that the Minister made about having the right capabilities and the right technical facility. However, when I look back at the Home Affairs Committee’s discussion of whether HMRC would be ready with the new CHIEF system and have the capability to deliver it, I am filled, I am sad to say, with concern rather than confidence.
At this point, I will finish my remarks by commending to the Committee our new clause, which asks for a review of the provisions and whether they genuinely tackle tax dodging.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided:
Ayes 271, Noes 311.
Division number 78