Digital services tax: introduction

Part of Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:15 pm on 11th June 2020.

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It is also important to say that when we have done that, we have tried—as one might expect with a new tax—to target an area where there is a very clear rationale or justification for the tax that is being levied. UK user-generated content is a strong basis on which to levy a tax. There is a contrast with, for example, media streaming. The hon. Lady talks about how much she has enjoyed various media streaming services, and I welcome that, but we can all be relatively certain that she has not contributed a lot of UK user content to them—[Interruption.] Unless delight and shock are forms of UK-generated content.

I want to reassure the hon. Lady a bit about the apportionment of revenue. She is absolutely right that, as the history of base erosion and profit shifting around the world shows, many companies have found it only too easy to move the effective location where tax is generated. In part, this tax, by taxing revenue overall, is designed to sidestep a lot of the temptations that might exist to work round the edges. A very wide definition of revenue has been adopted, and we can go into that in more detail. As I said earlier, we require companies to do it. It is a self-assessment scheme, and we ask companies to designate, evidence and disclose the UK user-generated revenue of the different kinds that we have touched on.

On GDPR, which is the relative question, the legislation has been written so that businesses are expected to use information that they already have to make the determination. We believe that it is compatible with GDPR, and that it draws on data that is already collected. We are not inviting the groups to collect new information that might be in some sense at odds with people’s rights or in contravention of the law, and of course they will have their own GDPR processes to follow. As I have said, many of them collect a great deal of information, including IP addresses, delivery addresses, billing addresses and so on. To come to a point that the hon. Lady made earlier, that is another reason why the use of virtual private networks is more of an in-principle worry than an actual worry, because famously, so much other information is collected about the users of those services from multiple sources. That should help them to make those disclosures.

The hon. Lady asked about double taxation. It is true that some businesses will pay both UK corporation tax and the digital services tax. For reasons of international law, we are not capable in law of discriminating in favour of UK businesses, and we are not going to. The point, though, is to design a proportionate tax with a low rate, and another reason why we have chosen that rate is that we do not wish to be any more distortive or invoke any more double taxation than is absolutely necessary. As I said, our preference is to move to a global solution.

The hon. Lady talked about international leadership. We look forward to a day when the OECD will be able to pass an agreed set of rules with multinational support that give a proper basis for the levying of tax. As she is aware, a number of proposals are under discussion. They and the processes that generated them are well described in the House of Commons Library note, and I encourage any Members who want more detail to look at that. The Government are clear that we will maintain this tax until the OECD passage of agreement—there may be other supervening factors—causes us to remove it. I commend the clause to the Committee.