Clause 27 - Application of section 124 of TIOPA 2010 in relation to diverted profits tax

Finance (No. 2) Bill – in the House of Commons at 3:45 pm on 1st December 2021.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 2 and 3.

Clause 28 stand part.

Clauses 53 to 66 stand part.

Clauses 84 to 90 stand part.

That schedule 12 be the Twelfth schedule to the Bill.

Clause 91 stand part.

That schedule 13 be the Thirteenth schedule to the Bill.

Clause 92 stand part.

New clause 5—Reviews of Economic Crime (Anti-Money Laundering) Levy—

‘(1) The Government must publish a review of the operation of the Economic Crime (Anti-Money Laundering) Levy by 31 December 2027.

(2) The Government must publish on 31 December each year until the establishment of a register of beneficial owners of overseas entities that own UK property—

(a) an assessment of the contribution to the effectiveness of the Levy that such a register would make; and

(b) an update on progress toward implementing such a register.’

This new clause will put into law the Government’s commitment to undertake a review of the Levy by the end of 2027, and require them to publish an assessment every year until a register of beneficial owners of overseas entities that own UK property is in place an assessment of what impact such a register would have on the effectiveness of the Levy, and progress toward the register being established.

New clause 7—Reporting on provisions relating to publication of information about tax avoidance schemes—

‘(1) The Chancellor of the Exchequer must, within three months of the passing of this Act, lay before the House of Commons and publish a review of the impact of measures contained within this Act that relate to the publication by HMRC of information about tax avoidance schemes.

(2) The review undertaken by the Chancellor under subsection (1) must include commissioning an independent assessment of the information published by HMRC about disguised remuneration loan schemes.

(3) The independent assessment under subsection (2) must include consideration of the following with respect to the purposes set out in section 85(1)(a) and (b) of this Act—

(a) HMRC’s approach to the loan charge scheme; and

(b) recommendations for altering that approach.

(4) The Government must before the review commences make a statement to the House of Commons stating what efforts have been taken to guarantee the independence of the assessment under subsection (2).

(5) The Government must within three months of the publication of the review under subsection (1) make a statement to the House of Commons stating which of any recommendations under subsection (3)(b) it will be accepting, and give reasons for any decision not to accept one or more of those recommendations.

(6) The Government must every six months after the publication of the review in subsection (1) make a statement to the House of Commons stating what progress has been made towards implementing any of the recommendations that arise from subsection (3)(b) which the Government has accepted.’

This new clause would require the Government to review the impact of measures contained in clause 85 of the Bill, and as part of that to commission an independent review of the information published by HMRC about disguised remuneration loan schemes. This independent assessment must consider HMRC’s approach to the loan charge scheme and consider recommendations for altering that approach, and the Government would be required to state to the House its response to the recommendations.

New clause 12—Assessment of Economic crime (anti-money laundering) levy—

‘The Government must publish within 12 months of the Act coming into effect an assessment of the impact of Part 3 of this Act (Economic crime (anti-money laundering) levy) on the tax gap and how it has affected opportunities for tax evasion, tax avoidance, and other economic crimes.’

This new clause would require an assessment of the impact of the Economic crime (anti-money laundering) levy on the tax gap and on opportunities for tax avoidance, evasion and other economic crimes.

New clause 13—Review of avoidance provisions of sections 84 to 92 on the tax gap—

‘The Government must publish within 12 months of the Act coming into effect an assessment of the provisions in sections 84 to 92 of this Act on the tax gap in the UK.’

This new clause would require an assessment of the impact of the provisions on tax avoidance in clauses 84 to 92 on the tax gap.

New clause 14—Review of provisions of section 85 and publication of information on overseas property ownership—

‘(1) The Government must publish within 12 months of this Act coming into effect an assessment of the impact of the provisions of section 85 about the publication by HMRC of information about tax avoidance schemes.

(2) This assessment must include consideration of the impact of the publication of a register of overseas property ownership upon the promotion of tax avoidance in the UK.’

This new clause would require an assessment of the impact of the provisions of clause 85, and consideration of the impact of publishing a register of overseas property ownership.

New clause 15—Review of Economic crime (anti-money laundering) levy rates—

‘(1) The Government must within six months of the Economic crime (anti-money laundering) levy coming into effect lay before the House of Commons an assessment of the effectiveness of rates of the levy in section 54(2) in achieving the levy’s objectives.

(2) The assessment under (1) must also make an assessment of how the effectiveness of the levy would be changed if each of the rates of the levy in section 54(2) were (a) doubled and (b) tripled.’

This new clause would require the Government to assess the effectiveness of the proposed levy rates and of levy rates twice and three times as high.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

This Government are committed to making the UK a hostile place for economic crime and illicit finance. In recent years, the Government have taken major steps to achieve this goal. For instance, our landmark 2019 economic crime plan set out 52 actions to be taken by both the public and private sectors to ensure that the UK is not exploited by such criminals. However, as we set out in our report on progress on the economic crime plan earlier this year, both the public sector and the private sector must contribute if we are to deliver these reforms. The Bill therefore introduces a new economic crime levy, which aims to raise around £100 million a year to help to fund additional action on money laundering. The revenue raised through the levy will supplement the Government’s investment, announced at this year’s spending review, of £18 million in 2022-23 and £12 million a year in 2023-24 and 2024-25 to tackle fraud and money laundering.

The Bill also introduces new powers and penalties to clamp down further on tax avoidance, tax evasion and other forms of non-compliance, building on the Government’s strong record in this area.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking 4:15 pm, 1st December 2021

I find the Minister’s introduction quite extraordinary, given that money laundering, fraud and economic crime are on the rise even on the National Crime Agency’s own figures. Has she had regard to the revelations in, most recently, the Pandora papers or the FinCEN papers, where it is seen that Britain, more than any other jurisdiction, is at the heart of economic crime, fraud, corruption and money laundering?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The right hon. Lady is very committed and has done a lot of work in this area, but I would point out that the Government have introduced a number of measures to tackle fraud. Since 2010, the Government have introduced more than 150 new measures and invested more than £2 billion extra in HMRC to tackle fraud, and that action has so far secured and protected more than £288 billion-worth of revenue. This is money that would otherwise have gone unpaid.

We recognise there is more to do. Although most promoters of tax avoidance schemes have been driven out of the market, we know a determined group remains. The Bill addresses that group by disrupting their business models, by providing taxpayers with more information on schemes and by targeting offshore promoters. The Bill also takes steps to combat electronic sales suppression and tobacco duty evasion, ensuring everybody pays their fair share.

This Government have a strong record of tackling both economic crime and non-compliance in the tax system, and the Bill builds on the steps we have already taken to protect UK security and prosperity.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

There is a difference between the action taken on tax avoidance and the growth of economic crime, money laundering and all that goes with it, such as the funding of terrorism and drug smuggling. I have become far more concerned about that in recent years, because Britain has become the jurisdiction of choice. Although I accept that action has been taken and that HMRC officials are working hard to tackle tax avoidance, can the Minister really justify that the work is sufficient when big tech companies such as Amazon and Google get away with paying such minuscule amounts of tax on the profits they make in this jurisdiction?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The right hon. Lady conflates a number of points. She knows that HMRC and the Serious Fraud Office play an important role in cracking down on crime. Work is ongoing, and the Bill does two things: it introduces the economic crime levy, which will bring in £100 million; and it tackles promoters who sell schemes. We have an economic crime plan that has a large number of measures that address this area in broader terms.

Clauses 53 to 66 introduce the new economic crime—anti-money laundering—levy. As I mentioned, the levy will aim to raise about £100 million per year. Funds raised will help to support action to combat illicit finance in the UK while providing the Government with greater scope to tackle emerging risks and improve enforcement across the economy.

The levy will take effect from April 2022, with the first payments collected in the financial year 2023-24. The levy will be paid as a fixed fee, based on a business’s UK revenue. It will be collected by one of three statutory anti-money laundering supervisors: HMRC, the Financial Conduct Authority or the Gambling Commission. We have ensured that it is those with big pockets that will pay the levy. Larger firms will be making this contribution. Small firms with an annual UK revenue of below £10.2 million will be exempt. Out of approximately 90,000 anti-money laundering regulated businesses, about 4,000 organisations will be in scope. It is expected that the levy fees will not be more than 0.1% of a business’s UK revenue.

On new clauses 5, 12 and 15, which would require the Government to review clauses 53 to 66, that includes evaluating whether the levy is operating effectively, its impact on the tax gap and its effectiveness in achieving its objectives under different levy rates. The Government have already agreed to conduct a wide-ranging review of the levy by the end of 2027 and to publish an annual report on the levy, which is expected to provide a breakdown of how the levy will operate in the forthcoming year, including the levy rates. The Government also already publish information year on year on the tax gap, including the parts of it that relate to avoidance and evasion, and these figures bear witness to the Government’s successes over time in driving down the amount of tax lost to avoidance and evasion. An additional review would not add value and I urge Members to reject these clauses.

Let me now turn to clauses that clamp down on promoters of tax avoidance, the first of which is clause 84. It allows HMRC to petition the courts to wind up a company or partnership that promotes tax avoidance schemes when it believes it would be in the public interest to do so. By removing those businesses, we will hamper promoters’ ability to sell dubious avoidance schemes, and we will provide vital protection to taxpayers and the tax system. This power uses Insolvency Act 1986 procedures and maintains all current safeguards, including the right to make representations during the court hearing and the right to apply to the court to rescind the winding-up order or to stay the winding-up process. This is a firm but proportionate approach.

Clause 85 allows HMRC to share information about promoters and the tax avoidance schemes they recommend, as well as those connected to them. The measure will allow HMRC to tackle promoters who tout these dubious schemes. Under this measure, HMRC will be able to publish promoters’ details on gov.uk and in other appropriate places. It will also be able to contact taxpayers and other interested parties directly. These steps will allow taxpayers to better understand the risks of tax avoidance schemes and to steer clear of them. I recognise that this is a significant change, but legitimate businesses and individuals have nothing to fear, and the legislation has been carefully designed with safeguards in mind. For instance, HMRC will be required to offer all those it intends to name a 30-day opportunity to make representations as to why they should not be mentioned.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

I welcome these attempts to secure responsible behaviour on the part of promoters. Does the Minister agree on the issue of personal services companies, which are being used now in a way that Parliament never intended? We always wanted plumbers to set up new businesses, but we did not want MPs to use personal services companies to avoid tax. Does she agree that it would be appropriate for HMRC to bear down on the abuse of personal services companies? Will she be bringing forward further legislation to ensure certainly that MPs do not take advantage of what has become a tax avoidance scheme?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Of course, HMRC has a duty to look into all tax matters. I wonder whether the right hon. Lady was present for the previous debate, in which we talked about why we are introducing the increased social care levy in respect of the payment of dividends. One of the reasons that I pointed out was to ensure that people did not take advantage of being paid by a company through dividends rather than paying income tax.

New clauses 7 and 14 seek to require the Chancellor to publish a review on the impact of clause 85. New clause 7 would require the commissioning of an independent assessment of the information published by HMRC about disguised remuneration loan schemes. Such a review would consider HMRC’s approach to what is referred to as the loan charge scheme and consider recommendations for altering that approach. Under the new clause, the Government would be required to state to the House their response to the recommendations.

The Government already regularly review and report on their progress in tackling disguised remuneration, including on action taken against those who promote tax avoidance schemes. For example, only yesterday, HMRC published its annual report on the use of marketed tax avoidance schemes and earlier this month it published its annual report and accounts. The information is therefore already in the public domain and will be updated in future. The Government introduced the loan charge to tackle the use of disguised remuneration schemes and it has already been the subject of an independent review that concluded less than two years ago. The Government accepted all but one of that review’s 20 recommendations. A further review is therefore unnecessary and I urge Members to reject the new clause.

New clause 14 states that any assessment

“must include consideration of the impact of the publication of a register of overseas property ownership upon the promotion of tax avoidance”.

The Government continue to make progress on work to set up a public register of beneficial owners of overseas entities that own UK property. That will enable us to combat money laundering and achieve greater transparency in the UK property market. The Government remain committed to those reforms, so the new clause is unnecessary and I urge Members to reject it.

Clause 86 allows HMRC to seek a court freezing order to freeze a tax avoidance scheme promoter’s assets. This would happen when HMRC has applied or is about to apply to a tribunal in England and Wales to charge a penalty. The measure will make sure that promoters face the financial consequences of their actions.

Clause 87 mirrors for Scotland the provisions in clause 86, clause 88 does the same for Northern Ireland, and clause 89 provides for some definitions and interpretations. The clauses I have outlined target the most persistent promoters, who repeatedly go to extreme lengths to sidestep the rules and frustrate HMRC’s efforts to tackle their behaviour.

Clause 90 introduces a new penalty that is chargeable on UK-based entities that facilitate tax avoidance schemes that involve offshore promoters. It aims to deter the enabling of such schemes by UK entities by imposing a penalty of up to 100% of the total fees earned by all those involved. This significant penalty reflects the seriousness of such behaviour.

Clauses 27 and 28 relate to the diverted profits tax, which was introduced in 2015 to target large multinationals that try to avoid tax by redirecting their profits away from the UK. The tax has been hugely successful in its main aim of changing corporate behaviour; in fact, it has helped to secure £6 billion in extra taxes to fund our public services.

Clause 27 will ensure that the UK can meet its tax-treaty obligations by allowing HMRC to implement a mutual agreement procedure decision to alter a diverted profits tax charge, should that situation arise.

Clause 28 introduces technical amendments to ensure that the diverted profits tax legislation operates as intended. First, it will ensure that HMRC cannot issue a corporation tax closure notice until after the diverted profits tax review period has ended. This means that the taxpayer must resolve their profit diversion before a diverted profits tax charge can be displaced. Government amendments 2 and 3 ensure that the clause applies as intended to those diverted profit tax cases where a foreign company has structured its UK activities to avoid them meeting the definition of a permanent establishment. This is in line with the Budget announcement. Secondly, this clause will extend the period in which a taxpayer can amend their own company tax return to obtain relief from diverted profit tax.

I shall now turn to clauses 91 and 92, which relate to tax evasion. Clause 91 and schedule 13 introduce changes to tackle the form of tax evasion known as electronic sales suppression. This is where a business deliberately manipulates its electronic sales records to hide or reduce the value of individual transactions. This measure will mean that those found to be making, supplying, promoting or possessing ESS hardware or software will face a penalty. It will also give HMRC additional ESS-related information powers. By tackling ESS in this way, we expect to raise £85 million in additional revenue over the next five years while helping to level the playing field for compliant businesses.

Clause 92 allows for the introduction of new, tougher sanctions to tackle tobacco duty evasion. These sanctions will be linked to the tobacco track and trace system, which controls the legitimate production, distribution and supply of cigarettes and hand-rolling tobacco. The clause also introduces a new information gateway. This will allow HMRC to share relevant data with anyone connected to the administration or enforcement of the traceability system, such as Trading Standards. This will help address tobacco duty evasion, with a focus on the small-scale regular offenders who play a key role in street-level distribution.

New clause 13 seeks to require the Government to publish an impact assessment of clauses 84 to 92 on the tax gap. The Government already publish information each year on the tax gap, including the parts of it that relate to tax avoidance and evasion. These figures bear witness to our success in driving down the amount of tax lost to avoidance from 1.1% of total theoretical liabilities in 2005-06 to 0.2% in 2019-20, and to evasion from 1% to 0.8%.

The Government are also committed to evaluating the impact of the policies and transformation programmes they implement. On 25 November, we published the first HMRC evaluation framework, which supports our work to maintain a trusted, modern tax system that is fit for the future. It sets out HMRC’s approach to evaluation in line with wider Government practice. On this basis, a separate review would be unnecessary, and I urge Members to reject the new clause.

These measures will ensure that the Government can continue to crack down on economic crime. I therefore urge Members to support clauses 27 and 28, 53 to 66, 84 to 90, 91 and 92, as well as schedules 12 and 13 standing part of the Bill. I also support Government amendments 2 and 3 to clause 28.

Photo of James Murray James Murray Shadow Financial Secretary (Treasury) 4:30 pm, 1st December 2021

I rise to speak in support of the new clauses in my name and those of the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor.

Key principles of our tax system are that everyone should pay their fair share and that, in turn, the Government should treat everyone fairly. On the first of those two principles, the fact that large multinationals avoid paying their fair share of tax in the UK is one that rightly angers people across the country. This behaviour means that the UK misses out on vital revenue that could support our public services and it leaves British businesses that play fair at a disadvantage.

As the Minister will know, we were very disappointed that the Government recently allowed the global minimum corporate tax rate, which seeks to limit profit shifting and tax avoidance, to fall from the initial 21% proposed by President Biden to just 15%, but this is still progress. Before I turn directly to clauses 27 and 28, which relate to profit shifting, I ask the Minister to briefly confirm when she next speaks exactly what the timetable is for the Government putting the global minimum rate into UK law.

Clauses 27 and 28 amend the operation of the diverted profits tax, which was introduced in 2015 to try to limit multinationals from entering into profit-shifting arrangements through which they could avoid paying tax. As we have heard, clause 27 amends UK law on double tax treaties to allow mutual agreements between the UK and the other relevant tax state to take effect in relation to the diverted profits tax. Clause 28 is also technical, although it raises an important question about this Government’s willingness to hold companies to account for tax fraud. I would like to press the Minister on that point. TaxWatch has highlighted that HMRC’s annual accounts, published in November, show that HMRC is currently carrying out 100 investigations into multinational companies that may be diverting profits away from the UK, and HMRC’s statements clearly imply that a number of these investigations relate to fraudulent conduct.

In 2019, HMRC introduced a new profit diversion compliance facility, which allows multinationals to come forward and pay the taxes that they should have paid, plus any penalties, without having to pay the diverted profits tax. The changes in clause 28 appear to facilitate the settlement of disputes without diverted profits tax being charged, by extending the time period for which a company can amend previous tax returns in order to get out of having to pay it. Will the Minister confirm whether any company that is currently under investigation for fraudulent conduct involving diverting profits away from the UK may have the investigation of their fraudulent conduct dropped if they make use of the profit diversion compliance facility? It is an important question about how robust the Government’s approach to tax avoidance really is. As TaxWatch has put it,

“the Profit Diversion Compliance Facility should not become an amnesty for tax fraud.”

More widely, it is critical that the Government take more action on economic crime. We therefore support the principle behind the levy introduced by clauses 53 to 66, and hope that the funding from the levy will go some way towards increasing much needed capacity for the Government to tackle economic crime. We question, however, whether it will be enough, so our new clause 5 would require the effectiveness of the levy to be reviewed. This concern is evidently shared across the House, as new clause 15 in the name of my right hon. Friend Dame Margaret Hodge and some Government Members would require the Government to assess the effectiveness of the proposed levy rates, and of levy rates twice and three times as high.

We also question why the Government are failing to make critical changes to the law that everyone agrees would strengthen the UK’s ability to fight economic crime. At the top of the list must be finally putting in place a public register of the beneficial owners of overseas entities that own UK property, to which our new clause 5 refers. A new public register would bring much needed and much delayed transparency to the overseas ownership of UK property, and help to stop the use of UK property for money laundering.

Plans to introduce a register were first announced by the Conservatives in 2016. Legislation was first published in 2018. We were promised that it would be operational by 2021, yet with just one month of this year left to go, this has become another broken promise from the Conservatives. It is very hard to conclude anything other than that the Government are, under the leadership of the current Prime Minister, deliberately abandoning their commitment to the register. We need only look at the language in the annual written statements on progress toward its introduction to see a clear pattern emerge.

In May 2019—two months before Boris Johnson became Prime Minister—a ministerial update on the register reported:

“Over the past year, significant progress has been made towards the introduction of the register... the Government intends that the register will be operational in 2021”.

Yet a year after the current Prime Minister took office, the next ministerial update, in July 2020, took a different tone, saying rather more cautiously:

“This register will be novel, and careful consideration is needed before any measures are adopted”.

By November 2021, the latest ministerial update simply said:

“The overseas entities register is one of a number of proposed corporate transparency reforms... The Government intend to introduce legislation to Parliament as soon as parliamentary time allows.”

Those statements do not sound like a toughening of resolve.

What is more, the ministerial statements themselves have only been published because the Government have been required, by section 50 of the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, to publish three reports on progress toward the register—one in each of the years 2019, 2020 and 2021. That is why our new clause 5 would require the Government to continue publishing annual updates on 31 December each year on progress towards implementing the register. We are determined not to allow the Prime Minister to let this commitment slip out of sight.

As I said on Second Reading, it is astonishing that the Government feel that the need for this register is becoming less urgent. The Pandora papers confirmed how overseas shell companies secretly buy up luxury property in the UK and how much transparency is needed to help to tackle money laundering. Ministers did not respond to my questions on Second Reading, but I did receive a letter from the Exchequer Secretary yesterday, where she wrote:

“While these measures have full Treasury support, they are not Treasury led.”

It is quite astonishing that Treasury Ministers are now trying to blame their colleagues in the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy for the delay in bringing in the register, when every indication is that the lack of determination comes directly from the Prime Minister. The truth is that concerns over Russian donations to the Conservative party and the use of high-end property in the UK for Russian money laundering mean that putting in place the register of overseas owners without delay is a key part of restoring the trust in politics that Conservative MPs and the Prime Minister have done so much to erode.

Clauses 84 to 92 and schedules 12 and 13 relate to tax avoidance. Our new clause 7 requires an independent assessment of HMRC’s approach to the loan charge scheme and recommendations for altering that approach. In my opening remarks on the previous group of amendments, I said that a key principle of our tax system was that the Government should treat everyone fairly. We fear that with their approach to the loan charge the Government are sorely failing in that duty. The Government’s approach to the loan charge means that ordinary people who are victims of mis-selling are facing huge bills that are causing untold distress and personal harm. It was truly shocking to read reports only last week of eight cases of suicide among those facing demands for payments. A new approach to the loan charge is urgently needed.

That is why our new clause would require the Chancellor to commission an independent review to consider HMRC’s approach to the loan charge scheme and make recommendations on how it should be altered. This new review must finally offer a truly independent assessment, which is why we would require the Government to make a statement to the House of Commons on what efforts have been taken to guarantee its independence. Once recommendations have been made, we would then require the Government to explain which of them they will accept, and why, and to report on progress towards implementing them every six months.

It is clear that something is very wrong with the Government’s approach on the loan charge scheme and that efforts until now to find a solution have fallen far short. Our proposal would finally offer a way forward. I urge Members on both sides of the Committee to support our new clause on this matter when it comes to a vote. I also urge them to support our new clause to make sure that the register of the beneficial owners of overseas entities that own UK property does not get forgotten. We have already seen that the promise to have this register operational by this year has been broken. We must now ensure that the Government do not allow it to disappear altogether.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

On 10 November, the Prime Minister said that the UK is

“not remotely a corrupt country”.

One can believe or disbelieve things that the Prime Minister says, but it is clear from the Bill that the UK is certainly not a transparent country when it comes to taxes. Efforts in the Bill to tackle economic crime are of course welcome, but, as ever, this Government are not going far enough to do so. The Minister mentioned the economic crime plan. On Monday, we had the Minister for Security and Borders at the Treasury Committee, where he set out that 34 of the 52 actions have been completed, while the rest are in progress and a few of them appear to be some way from being completed. It worries me that priority is not being given to these actions.

Clauses 53 to 66 provide for the Economic Crime (Anti-Money Laundering) Levy, which the Government estimate will raise approximately £100 million per year to help to fund anti-money laundering and economic crime reforms. SNP Members are concerned that this part of the Bill is not well targeted and could potentially act as an additional tax on businesses that are not breaking the rules. For example, the Association of British Insurers is concerned that insurers will be disproportionately hit, because they present very little risk to the Treasury of tax avoidance and money laundering. The Chartered Institute of Taxation has expressed concern that smaller tax adviser firms may be driven from the market because of the increasing costs and reducing choices for consumers. It has also said that the measure could increase the tax gap by incentivising de-professionalisation. If it becomes too costly for firms to meet compliance, they may just choose to de-register from professional bodies altogether. De-professionalisation can result in less ethical behaviour and increased costs of supervision by HMRC, neither of which is particularly in keeping with the aims of this legislation. I understand that more than 32,000 firms are already supervised directly by HMRC, and the staffing to cover that does not nearly match the size of the job.

On top of that, we have not received any guarantee that the funds raised by the levy will go into future schemes to tackle economic crime. That is why the SNP has tabled new clause 12, which would require an assessment of the impact of the economic crime levy on the tax gap and on opportunities for tax avoidance, evasion and other economic crimes, similar to Labour’s new clause 5 and new clause 15 from Dame Margaret Hodge.

New clause 12 would force the UK Government into being transparent about how effective the policy is, and effectiveness is important, because the disparity between the scale of the task at hand and the money being put to it was set out clearly in evidence at the Treasury Committee on Monday. I fear that the economic crime levy will not make the difference that the Chancellor and others are claiming it will, so I say to them that this is their opportunity to prove us wrong. The difficulty with a lot of this is enforcement. The Government regularly introduce rules and legislation that do not have the enforcement powers. The reason that the tax gap is so big in the first place is that our tax system has, with all this legislation, become so complex and unwieldy that it provides loopholes and places for crime to flourish.

Economic crime has a devastating impact on our economy, with the National Crime Agency estimating that money laundering costs the UK over £100 billion every year. The amount that the Government seek to put to it seems small by comparison. It is a big business, and it requires a more concerted approach. Reports from the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Foreign Affairs Committee have shown that the consequences of this problem are not solely financial. The flow of dirty money into the UK impacts our national security and the integrity of our democracy. Trust in public institutions is incredibly low, and the UK Government are helping to facilitate that by providing places for criminal elements to hide without any real sanction.

A good place to start would be reform of Companies House. I sat on the Joint Committee on the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill, where we looked at the legislation that the Government were proposing. One of the recommendations in that cross-party, cross-House report was better veracity of the information that Companies House collects. All it is is a register. It is not required to check what information comes in, or to ensure that the information is correct or accurate. It is not an anti-money laundering supervisor either, so that information does not have any consequence.

I have raised this matter time and time again. Companies House does not have the resources it requires to monitor the integrity of the data submitted to it. That allows criminals to incorporate companies using false or fraudulent information without any meaningful enforcement of the rules. Thousands of companies are either not complying with the rules or are filing entries that look highly suspicious, even to a layperson like me. For example, I understand that 4,000 beneficial owners in the persons with significant control register are listed as being under the age of two. That is fairly unlikely, I should think. Only five beneficial owners control more than 6,000 companies. Again, that is very suspicious. If Companies House was an anti-money laundering supervisor, and was required to verify that information, that number would almost certainly reduce.

If the Treasury was serious about economic crime, it would be taking action, rather than batting the issue back between itself and the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. While at some point the Minister may point out that the number of SLPs that have not registered a person with significant control has fallen since the Government changed the rules, that does not mean the problem is fixed. There are a number of zombie SLPs on the Companies House register and there is a wider international aspect to this, too. Colm Keena of The Irish Times has written recently about the surprising and sudden increase in registrations of Irish limited partnerships, which are similar to those in Scotland. Some of whom are then listed as having SLPs as their owners. It becomes very difficult to find out who actually controls the company. Tightening up in one area without recognising that the problem will shift to the next place does not tackle the problem and, worse, the UK Government are giving those who would use such vehicles plenty of time to move their funds somewhere else. In the Registration of Overseas Entities Committee, we had information that the next place to look was trusts. If we close down something here, it will move somewhere else, but the Government are not looking ahead enough to tackle and anticipate that.

Clauses 84 to 92 give HMRC powers on publishing information on individuals who promote tax avoidance schemes, such as the freezing of assets, the closing down of companies and information sharing, and a new penalty on UK entities that support offshore promotors of tax avoidance. On Second Reading, I was clear that the SNP supports that in principle and has no problem with it, but I urge a note of caution. Industry experts have been in touch with concerns that the measures would go further than stated by the Government, and that the criteria for an individual to be named and shamed are perhaps too weak. An officer needs only to suspect that a scheme falls within the provisions to potentially ruin a company’s reputation in the long term. The measure needs to have checks and balances.

I also asked for some assurances on how the scheme would be resourced. TaxWatch has expressed its concern that HMRC simply does not have the capacity to take on the job of more enforcement. As I understand from reports in the press, it already faces a considerable backlog of cases built up during the last 18 months, together with an eye-watering caseload of potential furlough fraud to investigate. To adequately enforce the rules on tax crime, it will need significant extra resources. I am sure that many hon. Members would want me to mention that the closing down of local tax offices across the UK means that some of that local knowledge, where somebody could detect tax fraud because they knew the area and who they were dealing with, has gone, which makes it more difficult for enforcement to be carried out locally. CIOT has said that the general feeling among tax professionals is that,

“HMRC frequently ask for new powers while not making full use of those they already have.”

The Bill threatens to increase the burden without any real guarantee of how the tax gap will be narrowed in return.

It would be an understatement to say that I am not convinced of the merits of this part of the policy. We need more detail from the Minister on how it will operate. The SNP has tabled another clause that places a reporting obligation on the UK Government. For those who do not understand how finance Bills work, we are very limited in the scope of amendments that we can table to such Bills so they often ask for a report or further information and detail. Those are the limitations of the Bill, but we do what we can within those limitations and we always hope that the Government will at least take that on board.

On the loan charge, which my hon. Friend Peter Grant raised on Second Reading, we want to see more about the promoters of the loan charge being brought to book. Sometimes, the victims did not have the full information that they should have had; sometimes, they were forced to be involved by the person who wished to hire them. We need to make sure that those promoters are brought to book.

New clause 13 would require an assessment of the impact of the provisions in clauses 84 to 92 on the tax gap. Again, we are making a reasonable request for the Government to assess the impact of their policies. It is not a radical or outrageous proposition and I would be disappointed if Labour Members did not support it.

Tackling economic crime is an area where the Labour party and the SNP can find a lot of common ground. I pay tribute to the right hon. Member for Barking, her all-party parliamentary group and all her work on the issue. James Murray made a useful point on Second Reading that the Government’s priority must be

“putting in place a public register of the beneficial owners of overseas entities that own UK property.”—[Official Report, 16 November 2021; Vol. 703, c. 501.]

It is nothing short of a disgrace that the Tories still refuse to create a publicly accessible register of overseas entities that own UK property. As he set out, that proposal has been ongoing for more than five years. There is no excuse for the Government not to have done more.

Research from Transparency International recently identified over £5 billion-worth of UK property bought with suspicious wealth. The UK property market is rife with corrupt and criminal transactions. It is the destination of choice for global money launderers, and the Government have turned a blind eye again and again. We made suggestions in good faith on the registration of overseas entities Bill in pre-legislative scrutiny. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury said at the Treasury Committee on Monday that this was an “urgent” issue. It does not feel very urgent to us—not in the slightest—when this issue is left to drift for so long.

That is why our new clause 14 would require the Government to consider the impact of publishing a register of overseas property ownership. Such a register could prevent corrupt actors from being able to purchase UK property in secrecy under the cover of a company. That could be an SLP, a trust or some other vehicle for that purpose. The Government committed to that in the economic crime plan and said, as recently as 2 November, that they still intend to go ahead with this, but we have not seen it. The Bill is there. It is ready to go. They say that they will bring it forward whenever parliamentary time allows, but we all know what that means. We know that that is a way of kicking the can down the road and that there is no urgency to that. We will believe this Bill when we see it.

If the Government are serious about this, they will bring the Bill forward now. They control the time; they are the Government; they alone can do this. The delay can only lead one to wonder who benefits from it: could it be the same oligarchs who fill the coffers of the Conservative party?

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking 4:45 pm, 1st December 2021

I will speak to new clause 15, which stands in my name and those of right hon. and hon. Members from across the House, and I rise in support of new clause 5, which was moved so eloquently by my hon. Friend James Murray. New clause 15 is complementary to the first part of new clause 5.

I shall start by making a general observation. It seemed to me, when the Minister spoke, that either she does not completely understand what is going on in the world of economic crime, particularly in relation to the UK’s position on that; or there is a deliberate attempt by the Government to downplay it so that they do not take the very necessary action that is available and, as SNP Members and the Labour Front Benchers said, is probably as oven-ready as any legislation that we have. The Government are simply choosing not to implement it.

I will give an example of how the impact of economic crime is filtering and seeping into our politics. There are two Russian kleptocrats, Viktor Fedotov and Alexander Temerko—both of whom have questionable backgrounds and whose money has questionable origins—who are involved in a company called Aquind, which is trying to build an energy cable from Portsmouth to France. It is a controversial proposal. As for the origins of the money that they are using to fund this project, for me, it is money that has probably been stolen from the Russian people. That is really where that money comes from.

What is particularly disturbing is that when we look at the accounts of Aquind, the company, and the donations being given by one of the individuals, Alexander Temerko —the other one hides himself—to Conservative parties and to Conservative Members of this House, we see that it is enormous. There is a bit of time this afternoon so I am going to take the liberty of reading through the list. Jeremy Hunt has received money on a number of occasions from Aquind. Mr Clarke has received money from Aquind of Russian origin. The hon. Member—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I will just check that the right hon. Lady has informed other Members that she was going to mention them.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

Thank you, Dame Rosie; I have not, because I did not realise that there would be so few people in the House this afternoon that I would have the opportunity to do so.

What I can say is that 24 Members of Parliament—all of them Conservative Members, many of them Front-Bench Members, some of them with ministerial positions—have received money from Aquind or from Alexander Temerko. I can also tell the House that further parties have received such money and that some former MPs and local parties have received money. I hope that is in order, and thank you for correcting me, Dame Rosie. The impact of economic crime and economic activity on our politics is a worrying trend that has been growing exponentially over recent years.

Photo of Barry Sheerman Barry Sheerman Labour/Co-operative, Huddersfield

I am listening with rapt attention to my right hon. Friend’s remarks. Does she not think it strange that there is a Member of the House of Lords with very close connections to Russia—indeed, he is a Lord of Hampton and of Siberia—but we never hear from him and he is never seen? Whatever the story is of great interest in Russia, he is never on the media in this country.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking 5:00 pm, 1st December 2021

My hon. Friend makes a really important point.

I think, having taken guidance from you, Dame Rosie, that I am at liberty to mention the political parties. Am I correct?

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

The right hon. Lady can mention former Members and the location of political parties. What she cannot do without having informed them previously—it would be very discourteous—is to refer to existing Members of the House.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

I am very grateful for the advice you have given me, Dame Rosie. I apologise, and I will write to the Members I had mentioned before you drew that to my attention.

If I can mention the political parties, they are those in Reading West, The Wrekin, Staffordshire Moorlands, Morecambe and Lunesdale, North Somerset, Great Yarmouth, Selby and Ainsty, Northampton North, Colchester, Daventry, Corby, Vale of Clwyd, Berwick-upon-Tweed, Richmond (Yorks) and North Swindon. If I can mention the former MPs, and these are quite important, there is one in particular—the former MP for Stockton South, James Wharton, who was of course very involved in the campaign—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I have a little further clarification. If any of those Members are in the House of Lords, it is not in order to refer to them. I know it is quite complicated, but it is best to get it right.

Photo of Margaret Hodge Margaret Hodge Labour, Barking

Well, I will also write to that individual, having transgressed. I apologise for that, Dame Rosie. I think I am okay on the other two: one is Guto Bebb, the former MP for Aberconwy, and the other is Mark Field, the former Member for Cities of London and Westminster.

I read out that list partly because we have the time to do so, but also to demonstrate how absolutely critical it is, I say to the Minister, that we start tackling economic crime seriously in this country. If we do not, we are in danger of allowing this to seep into our politics and seep into the public domain, and far from being a trusted jurisdiction, we will become a jurisdiction that is not very different from others to which we all too often preach that they should tackle the corruption endemic in their Administrations—we will become one of them.

Just to put that further into context, we are now the jurisdiction of choice for far too many kleptocrats, far too many criminals, far too many people who avoid tax and far too many people who launder money. Money laundering in itself is an activity that leads to the funding of terrorism, drug smuggling and all sorts of other crimes that we and the Government ought to want to bear down on in a very firm way, but we are just not doing so. The National Crime Agency has a figure of £100 billion that it thinks is laundered into the UK each year, but I think that is a very conservative estimate. It is probably plucked out of thin air a little bit, and I think the real or true figure is probably much greater. We only have to look at Moody’s credit rating, on which we have gone down a notch. One of the reasons for that happening is that it has argued there has been a

“weakening in the UK’s institutions and governance”.

To come back to my new clause 15, it is partly about our enforcement agencies, but it is also about the way in which all Government agencies tackle economic crime here.

The evidence of the toothlessness and the timidity of our enforcement agencies is overwhelming. In part, that is because of the regulatory framework in which they have to operate. As I have said time and again from these Benches, that deregulation started under the Conservatives and was continued by the Labour Government. Both parties take responsibility for that deregulation, and it is now time to revisit the issue and toughen up the regulations, so that we have an appropriate regulatory framework that can tackle not just tax avoidance and evasion, but the growth of the economic crime that is so insidious.

There is also pathetic enforcement by all our agencies. In part that is due to a lack of money, but I also believe that a lack of political will lies at the heart of it. We have only to look at the United States, ironically, which has a strong and clear resolve that it will pursue those guilty of financial crime and fine them heavily. Let me provide two examples of that. In 2019, the USA pursued and secured 25 penalties, which gave a total of $2.29 billion in revenue secured back to the public purse. In the UK, in the same year, we pursued and secured only 12 penalties, totalling £338 million.

Let me take one example of a British bank, Standard Chartered. In 2019, it was fined in both the USA and the UK, not only for its poor anti-money laundering controls, but for breaking sanctions in relation to Iran. Here in the UK, the Financial Conduct Authority fined it a total of £102 million. In the USA—this is a British-based bank, not an American bank—it was fined £842 million. There is just a different approach between the USA and the UK in pursuing those who are guilty of economic crime and should be paying back to the public purse. Our role in money laundering and economic crime is growing. It is not just economic crime here in the UK; it is economic crime facilitated by the UK because of our regulatory framework.

Alison Thewliss spoke about Companies House, which is a vital ingredient in the leaks of all the documents we get. Someone can pay £12 to form a company in the UK. Endless people from all over the world use UK formation to form shell companies, which they then use to create complex financial structures that will facilitate money laundering and economic crime. We have seen that in a regular flow of leaked documents, and I will talk about two. The Financial Crimes Enforcement Network files came out in 2020, showing that $2 trillion was moved by global banks in just under 20 years between 1999 and 2017. That movement gave rise to suspicious activity reports, which banks have to provide to the American authorities when they have a red flag about a transaction. More UK companies were cited in that tranche of leaks than companies from any other country, showing the concentration of economic crime in the UK. Indeed, 3,267 of the companies cited were UK shell companies.

Formation agencies are one of the things that we do not regulate properly. We do not enforce the legislation strongly enough, and four formation agencies had created more than half of those UK shell companies. The sort of thing that happens is that a limited liability partnership is established and registered at the Belgian address of a dentist. A young worker in north London was paid £800 a month for his flat’s address to be used for the registration of companies, and when he gave up doing that, the same address was used by a cleaner who worked in Leicester. Underlying that is one example when J. P. Morgan allowed a company to move more than £1 billion through a London account. It later emerged that that company was probably owned by a mobster on the FBI’s “Ten Most Wanted” list. That is the sort of facilitation of economic crime that we allow to happen.

I do not want to take too much of the House’s time, but I turn to the Pandora papers, the largest cache of documents we have ever received. Again, the UK lies at the heart of everything that was revealed in those papers. Others have talked about the secret property transactions that have taken place, with £4 billion identified in the Pandora papers. There are more UK citizens than citizens of any other country cited in that tranche of leaks. The relationship between the UK and our tax havens is central to the facilitation of economic crime, and again we see the weak and toothless enforcement agencies.

That brings me to our new clause 15. The evidence for the need for well-resourced and determined enforcement is overwhelming, but the money to be raised by the levy is woefully inadequate. As the Minister said, it will be £100 million. I had a meeting recently with personnel from major banks who are responsible for implementing anti-money laundering provisions. They said that they—the regulated financial sector—spend £49.5 billion on financial crime compliance. That gives us an idea of how little our £100 million raised from the levy is.

We must act within the constraints of the Bill in tabling new clauses, but we think £100 million is a pittance. Far more should be raised—it should be doubled or tripled—and I think that case would be made if a review were undertaken. If the Minister is confident that she is right—if she is confident about everything she said in her opening remarks—she will not shy away from a review that could then be considered in the House. I often think that Ministers should think about propositions that are tabled; they should not just reject them because they are not their ideas, but should really consider whether they are worthwhile on their own grounds. In this case, I urge the Minister, if she is really committed to tackling economic crime, money laundering and the rest, to do something.

I suppose the only thing I would say about the new levy, while I welcome it, is that for the first time ever we see the Treasury agreeing that there should be a hypothecation of tax to spend on a particular issue. I always thought it was Treasury orthodoxy that there should be no hypothecation. In this case, we have broken that orthodoxy; the money is going to be spent on fighting money laundering. I welcome that change. I hope to see it in other areas where a hypothecated tax could do a lot to create a fairer society.

I also think that the bands are unfair. Why should a company with a revenue of £10 million pay £10,000, while a company with a revenue of £1 billion pays only £250,000? We need a more progressive system that reflects the revenue that these companies get.

Simply increasing the levy is not enough; there have to be other measures. We need to put a cap on the potential costs of litigation that the enforcement agencies will engage in. All too often, the potential cost to an agency stops it taking action that would bear down on economic crime. We have seen that with unexplained wealth orders, where the agencies started off with a great burst of energy, and then when they lost one case and got a huge bill, they stopped doing anything. We could do away with the entitlement to secure costs, except in cases where there is no reasonable justification to prosecute. I think we could provide a financial incentive to the enforcement agencies to litigate by saying that any money that they raised through action could come back to them to be used.

All that could be reviewed, and the level of the levy could be increased. I would be really heartened if, just for a change, Ministers listened to the strength of the argument and accepted new clause 15, with its cross-party support. Then, hopefully, we could come back and see who is right and who is wrong.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I will take a few moments to respond to some of the points raised in the debate on this group, starting with those made by James Murray. I am very grateful for his welcome of the economic crime levy. He asked for a review, but, as I mentioned, we have already committed to a review. A review will take place by the end of 2027.

The hon. Gentleman suggested that we have abandoned the commitment to bring in a register of beneficial ownership. I wholly refute that. We have not abandoned it. As he rightly said, the Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury, my hon. Friend Helen Whately wrote to him yesterday setting out the position, which is that a draft Bill underwent pre-legislative scrutiny in 2019. Since last updating Parliament in July 2020, the Government have published their response to the consultation on reforming Companies House. Three further consultations were published in December 2020, seeking further views on the finer details of the reform package. Not only that, in the letter my hon. Friend, the Exchequer Secretary pointed out that under the UK’s leadership all G7 countries have now committed to strengthening and implementing their beneficial ownership registers.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I am not going to give way because I want to make a number of points and the hon. Member has had an opportunity to put forward his points.

The hon. Gentleman also mentioned the loan charge and asked for a review. He will have heard in my speech and will know that we had a review less than two years ago. I know that this is an issue that concerns many Members. We did legislate as a result of that. We legislated on 3 December 2020. As a result of the review, 30,000 individuals benefited. In fact, 11,000 were removed from the loan charge.[This section has been corrected on 6 December 2021, column 2MC — read correction]

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I am going to move on to another point raised by James Murray, in relation to the timetable for the OECD reforms. He asked when the Government would implement those reforms. The Government are following the OECD’s implementation. The implementation date for the two-pillar solution is 2023.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Member for Ealing North also asked me about the changes in relation to clause 28 and whether they would facilitate firms getting out of their fraudulent activities and investigation. I would like to give him an assurance that no company fraudulently diverting profits from the UK would have an inquiry dropped as a part of this measure. The only way in which a valid diverted profits tax charge can be displaced is if the company accepts a corresponding corporation tax charge within the diverted profits tax review, and that is the measure in the Bill.

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I would like to turn to the points made by Alison Thewliss on transparency and the tax gap. I pointed out, and I hope she is aware, that each year we publish measures in relation to the tax gap. She talked about reforming Companies House. I know she will be aware that the Treasury has provided £63 million in funding for reforms to Companies House. She is interested in Scottish limited partnerships and we had a brief discussion about that. I hope she is aware that since October 2020, Companies House has brought forward 28 prosecutions in relation to Scottish limited partnerships and persons of significant control offences.

I want to turn to some of the comments made by Dame Margaret Hodge. I would like to start by commending her for the work she has done. This is an area in which she is significantly interested and she has done a great deal of work through the all-party parliamentary group on anti-corruption and responsible tax. However, I strongly object to her suggestion that the Government are not committed to tackling economic crime. They absolutely are. It is for that reason that they set out 52 measures in the economic crime plan in 2019. I also take issue with her implicit suggestion, which was highly inappropriate, that there was a link between the Government’s actions on economic crime and donations made to a number of Members. I did not think that that was a wholly appropriate link to make in this House. In my six years in Parliament, I have found that colleagues across the House are committed to their work in public service.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

Will the Minister give way on that point so that I can provide a public service to my constituent?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Member has been very persistent. I give way.

Photo of David Linden David Linden Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Work and Pensions)

I am very grateful indeed; the Minister is incredibly kind and generous. May I take her back to a point that she made to James Murray about the loan charge? My Gartloch constituent, Michael Milne, has been in touch with me regularly about the issue. Will she commit at the Dispatch Box to personally taking a look at his case? He has expressed enormous concern to me about the impact that the loan charge is having on him. Will she give me that commitment from the Dispatch Box, please?

Photo of Lucy Frazer Lucy Frazer The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I understand why the hon. Gentleman presses the matter, because there is obviously an issue that relates to his constituent. If the hon. Gentleman writes to me about those points, I will be very happy to take a look and pass over anything appropriate for HMRC to look at.

Let me go back to the points that the right hon. Member for Barking made. She was suggesting that our law enforcement is not sufficient. Of course there is always more we can do, of course people who want to do wrong work very hard at it, and of course we need to keep up with them—the Government are committed to doing so—but I point her to two figures. First, the Financial Conduct Authority has issued fines totalling £336 million since 2018, which does not suggest inactivity. Secondly, before I took on my Treasury role I was very proud to be a Law Officer overseeing and superintending the Serious Fraud Office, so I know how hard the SFO works to tackle fraud and crime. Since 2014, through deferred prosecution agreements, it has delivered £1.6 billion to the public purse.

The Bill will put on the statute book a number of measures to protect our economy from disruption and tackle economic crime. I hope that those hon. Members who have spoken so vociferously in favour of such action will support those measures in our Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 27 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.