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Tax Avoidance and Evasion

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:20 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Matt Western Matt Western Opposition Whip (Commons) 3:20 pm, 25th February 2020

Yes, there has. As I have said, the former Chancellor showed the wrong sort of leadership when he basically said about taxes, “It is almost entirely down to you whether you choose to pay it or not.” Tax really is the responsibility of us all: it is a corporate responsibility and it is a personal responsibility.

Decades ago, when I was working in the corporate world, I remember the introduction of a thing called corporate social responsibility. It was a real buzz term, and we started making donations to charities, volunteering and so on. Of course, that is important and it is wonderful that big business does that, but we are seeing this almost replace tax responsibility. Rather than paying their way and supporting education, infrastructure and healthcare for society, we are seeing organisations perhaps decorate a community centre or go out on litter picks and the like.

Turning to personal tax avoidance, I have mentioned the former Chancellor, and there are schemes such as the film production scheme. Businesses have increasingly paid out dividends, substituting them for actual salary, because of course there is lower tax to be paid on dividends and it is advantageous to employees or directors to get a much larger proportion of their income through dividends. All we need to do is go to some of the ports around Europe, and see that the yachts in the berths there are all flying flags of convenience—and they are all UK flags or those of UK overseas territories and Crown dependencies. There are no German flags, dare I say it, or Dutch flags or French flags. Either we are renowned for our sailing, or a lot of Germans or those of other nationalities like flying the British flag because— I do not know—they sail better or something like that. The same could be said about personal jets and where they are domiciled.

Let me just say that tax is good: it is a contribution to a better society, and we must think about what that society looks like. We should look at the words of Elizabeth Warren. Let me just paraphrase her; I will not do her justice. She basically said, “Why is it that people should simply want to avoid paying tax and then be able to afford to buy a Ferrari? There is no point in owning a Ferrari, if they have not got a good road to drive it on.” People should pay their tax and get a Jaguar Land Rover or Aston Martin—obviously, because they are much better products anyway—and drive on a beautiful smooth road that has been paid for out of their taxes. That is the sort of society we should be looking for, not people avoiding tax, living behind gated communities, owning Lamborghinis, Ferraris or it whatever may be, and having roads full of potholes.

The Government need to turn up on this issue: they need to go Davos and places like that, and make the case for why international intervention and regulation need to be introduced. I agree with what Nigel Mills said earlier about full disclosure. We need to see that across the entire business sector, whether for small businesses or large businesses. When we talk about consumers being given an informed choice, I think the consumer should know whether Caffè Nero is not paying any tax at all, or whether Costa or one of the others is paying tax, and they can then make an informed decision. They can choose, saying, “Well, maybe I want to buy my coffee from that place”, or whatever the product or service may be.

I want to close on the issue of the tech titans. I say this to them: Amazon, you have your warehouses, and your warehouses need security. They need protection from fire; who is going to show up? Warwickshire fire and rescue service has had significant cuts, and it needs the money out of taxation to pay and provide for the fire and rescue services.