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Tax Avoidance and Evasion

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 2:45 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Zarah Sultana Zarah Sultana Labour, Coventry South 2:45 pm, 25th February 2020

I congratulate the hon. Members for West Bromwich East (Nicola Richards) and for Stourbridge (Suzanne Webb) on their maiden speeches. They both spoke warmly of two constituencies that I know very well, as a west midlands girl myself.

There are a lot of things that I found very surprising on becoming an MP. I do not think I will ever find it normal being called “ma’am” or having doors opened for me. But some of it is unnerving as well. Before I was elected, I did not know that big businesses sent gifts to MPs—gifts that always seemed to be accompanied by requests. The other week, Heathrow sent me a food hamper, along with an ask. It wanted me to support its third runway—as if some shortbread biscuits would drown out the warnings of the climate emergency. Google recently sent me a gift as well. It was not much, but it got me thinking about corporate lobbying. It reminded me that, according to the Tax Justice Network, in 2018 Google avoided £1.5 billion in tax, and in 2016 it reached a deal with the Government, after dozens of meetings with Ministers, to secure an effective tax rate of just 3% on profits estimated to be more than £7 billion.

Now, I might have missed it, but I do not think that doctors and nurses or factory workers and cleaners in Coventry South were offered private meetings with Ministers to create tailor-made sweetheart packages to reduce their taxes, yet this is a premium service that is given to big business. So it often seems to be a case of one rule for billionaires and big business and another rule for everyone else. I think the whole web of dinners, gifts, receptions and donations has something to do with that, because the super-rich do not spend their money on MPs out of generosity and out of the goodness of their hearts—they want something in return. Let us be honest: this wealth is used to buy influence in this House; to get this place to serve their interests and not the interests of our constituents. Under the Conservatives, it looks to me like their investment is paying off, because by the end of this Parliament the Government are on course to have handed out almost £100 billion in tax breaks and corporate giveaways. Corporate taxation has been slashed to one of the lowest rates in the world. An estimated £90 billion of tax is still being dodged every year.

Perhaps it is me—perhaps I am being cynical and a bit jaded beyond my years—but when the Minister gets up and says that his Government will tackle tax avoidance, I am sorry, but I am going to find that difficult to believe. I find it difficult because I know that time and time again we have heard Conservative Ministers talk the talk on being tough on tax for the cameras but backslide when those cameras are switched off. That is what happened when the Panama and Paradise papers revealed an industrial scale of tax dodging.

When the Minister talks tough, I find it difficult to believe him because I know that the super-rich donors who fund his party are also exploiting tax loopholes, and that they expect a return on their investment too. I find it difficult because I know that the billionaire press barons who often act as the propaganda wing of the Conservative party are in on it too. The owner of the Daily Mail has profited from being a non-dom—an exclusive status that lets the ultra-wealthy reside in the UK but pay no tax on offshore income and investments. The owners of The Daily Telegraph are reportedly based in Monaco and the Channel Islands. As for the owner of The Sun—well, his company was found by a 2008 US report to have 152 subsidiaries, including 62 in the British Virgin Islands, 33 in the Caymans, and 15 in Mauritius. I know that these billionaire press barons do not copy and paste Conservative press releases into their papers for nothing. I would be honest with the Chancellor if he was here but he is not, so all I will say is that after spending a career working with hedge funds and associates who avoid tax, I am sure he will understand that I have trust issues with him as well.

To conclude, the truth is that my constituents cannot trust this Government on tax dodgers. They cannot trust a party that has cut taxes for the super-rich, takes their donations and lets them hoard their wealth and hide it. The British public cannot trust a party that has slashed the services they rely on, only to blame the NHS waiting lists and overcrowded classrooms on migrants. It is not migrants who rob the public purse of billions of pounds. It is not migrants who buy influence and subvert democracy, and it is not migrants who let hospitals crumble and schools fall into ruin. It is the tax dodgers and the billionaire press barons, and it is the Tory Government, who serve the interests of the 1%, not the British people.