Clause 71 - Review of DST

Part of Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 1st July 2020.

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Photo of Alison McGovern Alison McGovern Shadow Minister (Digital, Culture, Media and Sport) 3:45 pm, 1st July 2020

It is good to rise to speak in support of new clause 33. In doing so, I want to begin by thanking the right hon. Members for Sutton Coldfield (Mr Mitchell) and for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) for their leadership on this issue. They have been talking about this and pressing the Government on this for many years. Although this House is not always a model of cross-party decorum and high-mindedness, on this it certainly has been, and I pay tribute to their work. They have made compelling arguments, and I sincerely hope that the Minister will listen.

Other very good arguments have been made in this debate. Miriam Cates caused slight jocularity in the Chamber when she suggested this idea that Finance Bills are not fun. I do not know who she thinks thinks that, but, obviously, they are the best bit of Westminster.

Andrew Jones pointed out how difficult it is to introduce new taxes. He is right, and we are introducing a new tax here, so we should have a think about how the circumstances are different. Anybody who thinks that it is easy to introduce new taxes should offer George Osborne a trip to Greggs. He thought that the pasty tax would be a minor and uncontroversial measure—how wrong can you be?

Other Members have mentioned business rates. Speaking as a former member of the Treasury Committee, I can say that we investigated business rates extensively. I can see my hon. Friend Wes Streeting nodding. It is very complicated to reform them, and no surprise that it has been in the “too difficult” box, but we should not shy away from the things that are too difficult. In response to the Minister’s comments about fiduciary duties and shareholder responsibilities, he makes a good and interesting point, particularly coming from his Conservative perspective. He will understand, however, being of a philosophical persuasion, as I am, that there is a difference between justice de jure and justice de facto. It may be the case that businesses have a wider duty than is commonly interpreted; it is nevertheless commonly interpreted in that way. If we this House are not here to clarify what companies’ responsibilities are, what are we here for?

I support the arguments on new clause 33 that others have made. In doing so, I want to pay special tribute to my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge, who, as has been mentioned, cannot be here. I do not think she was ever a member of the Whips Office, but she should have been, because the fact that many of us are here, due to her influence and brilliance, is a tribute to her. I asked her if there was anything that she would particularly like said, and she gave me these words:

“This is the moment for the Government to show that it will act firmly on behalf of all hard-working taxpayers to ensure fair taxation. All we are asking for is public disclosure of where the tech giants make their profits and pay their taxes. We will then know once and for all if the Googles, Facebooks, and Amazons of this world are contributing properly to the common pot for the common good.”

It is as simple as that. Who would dare disagree?

In conclusion, I would like to make three points in support of this new clause that I think are unassailable and that the Government should pay attention to. We come to this House in the context of a global pandemic, which makes this issue all the more important. We are all wrestling not just with what Government resources can possibly be expended and what they should be expended on, but how we make sure that that money is also brought into the public coffers so that we can, as much as possible, get the Government on a decent footing for the near future.

Some 85% of us pay our tax without question through the PAYE system. HMRC is very, very tough on SMEs, and we just want to see exactly the same treatment for big corporations. That is only fair. As has been said, there are also tax avoiders who undermine British businesses by undercutting them on price. Other Members have made absolutely compelling points about the high street. That is interconnected with the online world—of course it is—but where businesses are not paying a fair whack, that will do unnecessary damage to our high street.

My next point about country-by-country reporting particularly relates to developing countries. Here I must return to the right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield. For context, as you know, Madam Deputy Speaker, when I was first elected to this House I served on the International Development Committee, and the right hon. Gentleman was the International Development Secretary. It was a great pleasure and honour to visit some of his officials in some of the poorest parts of the world, where people faced challenges that we in this House can barely imagine. I well remember talking to officials who were advising state and city governments on tax collection. Some of the things this country has done in pursuit of the interests of the poorest people in the world are not the things that we see advertised in the newspapers or that get talked about on “Comic Relief”; some of the things DFID has done over the years that have been truly important to developing countries are the really boring things like tax collection.

In this House, it is not just aid that we should set our mind to if we want to have a more equal world. It is the things that we can do that are not about giving money, but about changing the rules of the game to make sure people in the poorest parts of the world can run their own Governments in pursuit of good public services, meaning that the poorest kids in the world get an education. That is what these taxes should pay for.