‘(1) The Treasury must, every year, publish and lay before both Houses of Parliament a report on its progress in pursuit of international action on public country-by-country reporting by relevant bodies.
(2) The report must include an update on whether the Treasury intends to require the group tax strategies of relevant bodies to include a country-by-country report, pursuant to paragraph 17(6) of Schedule 19 to the Finance Act 2016.
(3) The first report must be laid before both Houses of Parliament within six months of this Act being passed.
(4) For the purposes of this section, a “relevant body” means a body authorised by or registered with the Financial Conduct Authority.’—
This new clause would require the Treasury to report on a regular basis to Parliament on its progress, for FCA-registered and authorised companies, towards international agreement on a model of public country-by-country reporting and whether it will use powers in the Finance Act 2016 to require public country-by-country reporting in the UK.
I beg to move, That the Clause be read a Second time.
If agreed to, new clause 9 would be good for the country and at the same time would tackle widespread concerns about multinational enterprises exploiting the way national systems interact in order to minimise the total amount of corporation tax they pay. It would help create greater transparency around the taxation of multinational companies, achieving those objectives by requiring the Treasury to report on a regular basis to Parliament on its progress in pursuit of international action on public country-by-country reporting by relevant bodies.
Let me say at the outset that those outcomes are what we want to see. Labour’s aim in tabling new clause 9 is to use the Bill as an opportunity to help make the UK a world leader in financial transparency. I appreciate, as the Minister mentioned earlier, that financial legislation is complex, but we hope that on this occasion we will be able to receive cross-party support, as I believe we are all united in our desire to have far greater transparency.
The Government currently have the power to require multinational enterprises to publicly report their tax payments on a country-by-country basis, but so far they have resisted using that power. As I mentioned earlier, there is widespread concern about how multinational enterprises successfully exploit the way national systems interact in order to minimise the total amount of corporation tax they pay. New clause 9 is one way of tackling that. It is quite simple: it just requires public country-by-country reporting of the amount of tax multinational enterprises pay in each country where they have operations.
Schedule 19 of the Finance Act 2016 introduced a requirement for UK-headed multinational enterprises, or UK sub-groups of multinational enterprises, to publish a tax strategy. Paragraph 17(6) gives the Treasury the power to require those tax strategies to include country-by-country reports of tax paid. However, while the Government do not appear to disagree with the principle of country-by-country reporting, we still have not seen the full use of powers to require that. They say they want international agreement on public reporting first.
I am sure the Minister agrees that there has been recent pressure on the Government to use the power in the Finance Act 2016 to introduce public country-by-country reporting. It was most recently discussed during the passage of the Finance Bill this year. On Report, on
“For years, the Opposition have urged the Government to commit to country-by-country reporting on a public basis…the way in which they have held up progress at an international level, has been a source of deep frustration to those of us who want to see far greater transparency around the taxation of multinational companies.”—[Official Report,
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield said:
“The new clause would allow Parliament, journalists, campaigners and civil society to see clearly whether these businesses are paying their fair share of taxation. If the Government accept the new clause, that would, as the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South suggested, make the UK a world leader in financial transparency.”—[Official Report,
There are companies already undertaking voluntary country-by-country reporting. For example, SSE—one of the largest electricity network companies in the UK—has been awarded the fair tax mark for the fourth year in the row. It provides a shining example of how this could be done. We are seeing companies doing this on a voluntary basis, and the new clause would ensure that all companies do it and that it is not a difficult process.
The Government have made quite a big deal about wanting to be a global leader next year—it is not just me saying that; those are the Government’s words—particularly post Brexit and with our presidency of the G7. If the Government genuinely want to show global leadership, should they not be at the forefront of pushing these kinds of measures, rather than passively waiting for an international agreement to be reached? This is a perfect time to implement this provision. It would be great if we could get just one amendment through on this occasion.
The new clause would require the Government to publish an annual report to Parliament on their progress towards the international agreement, including whether they intend to use the power in the Finance Act 2016 to require public country-by-country reporting and publish tax strategies. We would welcome the Minister taking this opportunity to give us the latest update on progress towards the international agreements on public country-by-country reporting, including what specific discussions the Government have had with international partners and whether the Government anticipate any progress on this matter in 2021.
New clause 9 would require the Treasury to publish and lay before both Houses of Parliament an annual report that outlines its progress towards international action on public country-by-country reporting, and provides an update as to whether it intends to expand the existing tax strategy reporting requirement to include country-by-country reports of financial services companies. As the hon. Lady has acknowledged, the Government have championed tax transparency through initiatives at the international level, including tax authority country-by-country reporting and global standards for exchange of information, and through domestic action such as the requirement for groups to publish tax strategies.
In relation to public country-by-country reporting, the Government continue to believe that only a multilateral approach would be effective in achieving transparency objectives, and avoiding disproportionate impacts on the UK’s competitors or distortions regarding group structures. Different global initiatives to increase tax transparency and to help protect against multinational avoidance continue to be discussed in the international forums, such as the OECD, in which the UK is an active and leading participant. However, although the Government will continue to be clear and transparent about our broad objectives in this area, it would not be appropriate for the Treasury to provide a detailed report each year assessing the status and evaluating the progress of fast-moving, complex discussions that typically take place between countries on a confidential basis, nor do we think it appropriate to approach that from the narrow focus of financial services as the new clause suggests.
Although the Bill makes specific amendments to the scope of country-by-country reporting required in order to reflect the changes to the prudential regimes, the question of whether corporates should be required to publish country-by-country reports as part of their tax disclosures is a wider question that is relevant to large multinationals operating in all industry sectors, not just those in regulated financial services sectors. For those reasons, I ask the hon. Lady to withdraw the new clause.