Both orders insert important provisions recommended by the OECD’s and G20’s base erosion and profit shifting project—BEPS—into existing double taxation agreements. For those Members who may, surprisingly, be unfamiliar with the BEPS project, it was an international effort to equip countries with the right domestic and international regulations to tackle tax avoidance. The BEPS provisions ensure that double taxation agreements fulfil their main purpose of facilitating global trade and investment. In addition, the provisions simultaneously limit the opportunity for the agreements to be used for tax evasion or avoidance.
Usually improvements to our bilateral double taxation agreements recommended by the BEPS project are made under a treaty commonly referred to as the multilateral instrument, which makes it possible to modify double taxation agreements in line with BEPS project provisions without the need for bilateral renegotiation. However, the domestic legal systems of both Germany and Sweden mean that it is much simpler for these countries to modify their double taxation agreements through amending protocols rather than through a multilateral treaty. As a result, the UK Government have agreed with both Germany and Sweden to implement these modifications through the protocols attached to these orders. These changes included introducing minimum standards to prevent avoidance through the abuse of tax treaties and improving the resolution of disputes.
The protocols with both Germany and Sweden give effect to the minimum standard on preventing treaty abuse. This is achieved by inserting a general anti-treaty abuse rule known as the principal purpose test into the double taxation agreement. Both protocols also changed the preamble of each double taxation agreement, which sets out its overriding purpose in order to clarify that the parties do not intend for the agreement to be used to avoid tax. The orders also make changes to the articles in both double taxation agreements that govern how disputes are avoided and resolved. These amendments ensure that the articles are in line with the minimum standard on improving dispute resolution. However, the Germany protocol implements a rule to prevent the artificial fragmentation of activities that might result in an overseas business avoiding a taxable presence. Sweden is not in favour of this provision, which is why it is absent from that protocol.
These orders make good on the Government’s international commitments to tackle tax avoidance and evasion and to improve dispute resolution. They strengthen the integrity of the UK’s network of double taxation agreements, which plays such an important part in facilitating the cross-border trade and investment that benefits all our nations. I commend the orders to the House.