Offshore Receipts in Respect of Intangible Property

Part of Finance (No. 3) Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:45 pm on 20th November 2018.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 5:45 pm, 20th November 2018

I congratulate my hon. Friend Anneliese Dodds on a tour de force. I know she really is on top of this subject, having worked with her on the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. I thought her speech this afternoon was very impressive.

I will speak to new clauses 5 and 6, which stand in the name of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition and deal with tax avoidance and evasion. I am sure Members on both sides of the Committee recall what happened on 1 May 2018, when there was a cross-party move, spearheaded by Back Benchers, to introduce public registers in the overseas territories. The Government, in the form of the Minister for Europe and the Americas, conceded that this was a change that should be made. We had tabled an amendment that would have required similar public registers in the Crown dependencies, but the right hon. Gentleman said he would prefer to take a voluntary approach and asked me not to press the amendment. In the spirit of co-operation I agreed not to do so. Today I ask the Government what progress they have made with the Crown dependencies on that voluntary approach. In public, the Crown dependencies are going around saying how delighted they are that the pressure is completely off and how nobody in this House is interested in having similar public registers for the Crown dependencies as for the overseas territories.

That is relevant to this tax debate because the OECD has estimated that, across the OECD countries, the tax lost to the secret jurisdictions is between $100 billion and $240 billion. An independent researcher, Tax Research LLP, has estimated that this country’s tax loss is £18.5 billion a year, which is a significant sum. I know the Treasury thinks everything is going well, but it is not so flush that it can just wave away £18.5 billion.

I thought I had better follow up with Ministers and ask what they were doing, so about three months later I asked the Foreign Office what discussions it was having with the Crown dependencies. This is the answer I received:

“The Foreign and Commonwealth Office is not responsible for UK engagement with the Crown Dependencies regarding existing beneficial ownership arrangements, and has therefore not had any discussions with the Crown Dependencies on this issue.

The Ministry of Justice is the UK Government Department responsible for the UK’s wider constitutional relationship with those jurisdictions.”

So obviously I asked the Ministry of Justice what it is doing to pursue public registers of beneficial ownership with the Crown dependencies. It said:

“The Crown Dependencies are not part of the UK.”

Okay, even I have latched on to that one. It continued by saying that they are self- governing and that:

The Ministry of Justice manages the constitutional relationship between the UK and the Crown Dependencies. Ministers and officials routinely discuss a range of matters…but it is not my Department’s role to make specific recommendations” on company registers of beneficial ownership. It went on to say:

“The Ministry of Justice also liaises with the Home Office as the lead UK Department for arrangements on sharing beneficial ownership information”

Blah-de-blah. Finally, it said::

“The Government intends to use its best endeavours, diplomatically”

—by which is meant, “Let’s hit the ball back over to the Foreign Office”—

“and with international partners, to promote public registers of company beneficial ownership as the global standard.”

That will not do. We were made a promise by Ministers on 1 May. This move would help us significantly to reduce tax avoidance.

I also asked Ministers at Treasury oral questions what their estimate was of the amount of money that would flow in from the changes we had made on the overseas territories—this was the part where we had a consensus. I asked that because I could not see anything in the Red Book on it. The Minister said, “Oh well, this was all pie in the sky. We have not done any work on it.” This is why new clauses 5 and 6 are really sensible. The fact is that if Ministers stand up and offer legislation or make promises but do not follow through, there is no point in this House doing anything. That is why requiring impact assessments in the legislation will enable us to keep track of what Ministers are doing and where they have got to. That is why I urge them to do this. It is in their interests, as they will be able to use the impact assessments to keep track and to manage their officials, who are doubtless beavering away to the best of their ability, given the political direction that they are getting.

Earlier, we debated distribution and the impact of the Budget. It is disappointing not to get information about the distributional impact of the Chancellor’s measures. For many years, the Treasury Committee was instrumental in ensuring that distributional analyses were undertaken. I am not clear where we are on this, but I urge Ministers to publish the proper distributional analyses. That will facilitate informed public debate, rather than the exchange of prejudices. I am sure that that is ultimately what Ministers want.