Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Mark Lancaster.)
A happy new year to everyone who is here for what I hope will be an interesting debate on a whole new tax. It is not often we get whole new taxes in this country, and I thought we should mark this one with a bit of parliamentary scrutiny, because I fear it will sneak through in the pre-election wrap-up Finance Bill and will not get much debate in Committee. It would therefore be helpful for Parliament to have a bit of a chance to work out the Government’s intentions and exactly where they intend this tax to go.
If we judge Government measures by how balanced the reaction to them is, this tax has probably gone down about right with people. Some advisers regard it as the worst-drafted legislation in some time, while some have said it is relatively narrow and focused—there has even been a cautious welcome from Richard Murphy, although he is perhaps thinking again about that. Another tax campaigner, David Quentin QC, regards the tax as “widely and aggressively drafted” with “a penally high rate”. If we take the average of all those reactions, it is probably about where the Government would want it to be. It appears that the tax will deter some people from doing some things, but it will not do so ridiculously little that it destroys the UK tax regime, so we are perhaps starting in the right place.
It would be useful to understand what the Government see as the way forward. We have had Treasury tweets suggesting, “This tax isn’t ever really meant to apply to anyone. We hope everyone will change their behaviour. We’ll accept they all have establishments in the UK after all. They’ll stop using artificial transactions, and everything will be fine. We’ll rarely have to apply this tax. It’ll be a big stick that never actually gets wielded.”
In some ways, the Treasury forecast of how much the tax will raise suggests it is not intended to apply to the many thousands of multinational companies it could apply to. Some advisers say that, in theory, the tax could apply to a large number of people and raise a large amount, but the Treasury seem to think it will raise a small amount. I assume, therefore, that behavioural change is the main motivation, but it would be interesting to see whether the Minister confirms that. It would also be useful for everyone to know that the Government actually intend to put this tax through before Parliament is dissolved so that it is on the statute book exactly on 1 April—the date on which it is intended to come into force.
That leads me to one of the main concerns about the new tax—its impact on, and the Government’s strategy for, the base erosion and profit shifting process, which is intended to produce an international agreement on stopping multilateral companies flouting tax rules around the world and avoiding paying tax on profits they earn in various countries. Everyone accepts that that is the right place to get to. It is ludicrous that a large global company can earn profits in the UK and not pay tax here. We all want that to stop, and we all welcome the fact that the Government have introduced a proactive measure to achieve that. However, what I suspect no one wants to happen is that, rather than moving forward with a global agreement so that we have globally consistent rules that can be applied everywhere, we end up with a load of countries taking a piecemeal approach, putting in place slightly different rules that overlap or conflict with each other. In other words, rather than a sensible level global playing field, where everyone knows what the rules are and applies them, we end up with some horrible complexity that results in a similar mess to the one we started with or, equally as bad, a load of double taxation risks. We are a main global trading nation, and I suspect we have a lot to lose from a load of conflicting double taxation rules.
I congratulate the hon. Gentleman, who is a colleague on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee, on securing the debate. The message I get from many in the business community in my constituency is that if Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs had been doing its job in the first place, there would be no call for this new tax. HMRC does not seem to go after the large companies that avoid paying tax, but it does go after the medium-sized to small companies, and that is unfair. What we really need is a level playing field.
The hon. Gentleman comes from an area that would like to be a tax haven—under these rules, a tax haven is defined as somewhere where the tax rate is less than 80% of the UK rate, and I suspect he hopes that the rate in Northern Ireland will be less than that in the relatively near future, although I would be intrigued to see whether the rules would actually apply to profits diverted into Belfast. However, I agree with him in part, and we have had all the stories about sweetheart deals. It is much harder for the Revenue to go after very large companies with very sophisticated advisers who can resist the rules, and it may be tempted towards softer targets that are perhaps not as well advised. However, it is not fair to say that we have this new tax because the Revenue has failed to use the rules that exist. There is a gap in the law, and certain companies have managed artificially to avoid having a permanent establishment in the UK and have, therefore, avoided paying tax on UK profits. I think a general agreement has been reached through the OECD BEPS—Base erosion and profit shifting—process that the rules need changing to bring those profits into tax in the right places. The point the hon. Gentleman made at the start of his criticism was therefore perhaps not entirely fair, given the context we are talking about.
To return to the concern regarding BEPS, no one would want the UK, by acting unilaterally, to unravel that process so that we do not get the co-ordinated international outcome we all expect later this year. It would be helpful if the Minister could explain the Government’s strategy on BEPS. Is the tax meant to be complementary to it? If the outcome of the BEPS process is inconsistent with the tax, do we change the tax, or do we end up keeping both?
My hon. Friend said that this unilateral action should not affect a global agreement that may be reached in the future. What concerns me, however, is that some countries—Luxembourg, the Republic of Ireland and, possibly, Holland—are acting as de facto tax havens. They regard helping big companies avoid tax in our country as a method of increasing their GDP. Given that, it is unlikely there will ever be a global agreement of the type my hon. Friend is talking about.
I have always been cynical about the OECD process, for exactly the reason my hon. Friend gives: the risk is that some countries will block it or undermine it out of self-interest. If the main countries are serious about tackling multinational tax avoidance, one country that really needs to change its rules is the US. The US could stop a lot of this by changing some of its rather strange entity classification rules and other things. That would stop US corporates getting the real tax saving they are after. I sense that until the US is willing to do that, we will never see these things stop completely.
I should have added that our hands are not clean. We appear quite sanguine about the status of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. I am always a bit surprised that neither Front Bench has ever regarded that as an issue on which more action is needed. People in Luxembourg would raise that issue with us, just as I am accusing them of acting as de facto assisters of tax evasion.
My hon. Friend makes a fair point about the UK doing some sponsoring of the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man, but I will leave the Minister to answer for the Government’s policies on tackling that. My hon. Friend says our hands are not entirely clean; it is interesting that we have introduced the Patent Box to try to have a lower tax rate for intellectual property in the UK—presumably on royalties charged in countries around the world. We have also been trying to get our tax rate down to a low level to encourage international investment. Someone sitting somewhere with a tax rate much higher than 20% might think that we are trying to encourage profits to be taxed here that perhaps should not be, but I am sure that is not the Government’s intention.
To wrap up on the BEPS process, the Association of Revenue and Customs—the trade union for professionals at HMRC—raised the concern that the Government’s proposals were unilateral and stood outside the BEPS proposals. The ARC suggested an alternative approach, whereby the Government remain in the BEPS process and timetable, but use their current initiative to show they will have legislation in place in case the process falters or is impeded. I presume the Government will confirm that they do not intend to slow down on the rules and wait for the BEPS process and that we will see them on the statute book later in the year.
The second area I would like to look at briefly is how likely the rules are to be effective. We all want the tax to be collected in the UK. We do not want to see these corporates able to artificially avoid paying the tax that is due here, but there is a question on whether the rules will survive a challenge under the UK’s many double tax treaties or under EU law. People suspect that the Government have chosen to do a whole new tax, rather than just tweak the existing corporation tax rules, to try to ensure that the rules are not struck down by our international treaties or by EU law. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have looked into that and are satisfied that the treaty analysis is correct? Paragraph 4 of article 2 of the OECD’s model tax convention states:
“The Convention shall apply also to any identical or substantially similar taxes that are imposed after the date of signature of the Convention in addition to, or in place of, the existing taxes.”
At first glance, it looks as though the direct profits tax will be a tax on corporate income, which sounds similar to a corporate income tax and our corporation tax. The definition in the convention suggests that the tax might be caught by the treaties. Article 7 of the convention, which is on business profits, states:
“Profits of an enterprise of a Contracting State shall be taxable only in that State unless the enterprise carries on business in the other Contracting State through a permanent establishment situated therein.”
The problem we are trying to fix with the avoided permanent establishment part of the rules is that if a company does not have a PE, we cannot tax them. We think they are diverting profits out of the UK and we want to tax those profits, but if we are dropped back into the treaty, we might end up in the same position as we started. It would be useful to understand how the Government have satisfied themselves that the tax will not be caught. Is it because they are trying to tax the UK establishment that already exists, or do they believe that it is a new tax that falls outside the treaty?
On the EU law point, I am no big fan of the EU interfering in our tax system. Tax is meant to be for nation states and not the EU. I have never been keen on the view that the European Court of Justice should interfere in sensible tax avoidance rules, so I will not advocate that here, but there must be a risk for the many companies that choose to site themselves in Luxembourg, as my hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) said. We have all seen the tax rulings that have been published, and we know how many companies are doing that. A company based in Luxembourg might say, “Wait a minute: if I am established in the UK and pay tax there, I pay it at 20%. Why, because I am in Luxembourg, do I pay a slightly different tax at 25%? Is that not fundamentally contrary to some kind of freedom of establishment principle?” There is a risk of a legal challenge to the rules on that basis. It would be useful to understand how the Government have satisfied themselves that the European courts would not strike down what many of us see as a sensible anti-avoidance measure that we would not want to lose.
The flipside to that is whether the provisions have been drawn up in the right way, so that they catch those we are aiming at, but do not create onerous burdens for loads of “innocent” corporations or place a ridiculous burden on HMRC. We want targeted rules that attack the corporations engaging in what they must know to be pretty aggressive artificial structuring. The guidance is clear on some of the structures that HMRC and the Treasury are targeting. We would all probably agree that it looks artificial if a sales force gets 95% of the way through a sale and cannot sign the final contract, but has to refer it to Luxembourg, Switzerland or somewhere else. If the rules are drafted too broadly, there is a risk of thousands of companies that the Government had not intended to be caught fearing that they will be caught. That creates a burden on them, and they will have to go through the whole compliance process to satisfy themselves that they are not caught.
The flipside to that is the risk that HMRC gets thousands of notices that it cannot possibly deal with, and then misses the notices that have all the tax at stake. By drawing the rules too widely, people could sneak through the middle who should not. The adviser community is expressing sensible concerns and asking, “Have the rules been drawn too broadly? Is there any way that they can be focused, perhaps through filters, such as those in the controlled foreign company rules?” Through that, we could be clear to taxpayers on who is intended to be caught, and what the hallmarks are that let them know that they are caught. That can give those who are not trying to avoid UK tax artificially some kind of comfort that they are not in the rules and do not need to do the self-assessment.
I should probably let the Minister explain the tax that the Government are trying to introduce, but there are two parts to the rules. One is about avoided PE and the other is aimed exactly at brass plating. It looks at where companies are paying fees, royalties or other things to companies that do not have the substance to justify the income they are earning. If the hon. Gentleman reads the examples that HMRC has put in the guidance, he will see that the rules target the routing of large fees into entities with very little substance in tax havens. I think we would all accept that that is an appropriate, sensible and fair target. I am sure the Minister will correct me later if I have misunderstood and am too optimistic about what the rules are trying to achieve.
Those concerns about how broadly the rules have been drafted are echoed by the ARC, which is concerned that HMRC will end up swamped by a load of notifications from people. It recognises the burden that that will place on companies and HMRC. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government are prepared to look in the consultation at whether any filters could be introduced to try to make the compliance burden easier for companies that are not trying to avoid tax, or does she think that that is too risky and might narrow the rules and allow some companies that should be caught to squeeze out?
Clarity on the direction of the Government’s thinking, and on how we can get the rules to apply only to those to whom it should would be welcomed by a lot of people. One way of achieving that would be a clearance mechanism. Will the Government consider that? Is there a way that taxpayers could seek an advance ruling from the Revenue, or confirmation that what they have done does not bring them under the rules?
That brings us to how the Government propose to handle large corporates that have been through inquiries on their transfer pricing or their permanent establishments and think they have an agreement with the Revenue that says that their tax affairs are okay. Are those agreements still in force or, because the tax did not exist when those agreements were made, are they outside the rules? If the company has been engaging in activities that HMRC thinks are avoidance, are those activities safely in scope? Do we expect customer relationship managers to give their customers any assurances on that? Exactly when can people get assurances? When will HMRC staff be trained on the new rules? The rules will apply from 1 April. If a company has an April year-end, it will in theory have to submit its notice by the end of July. The rules will apply in six months’ time, and people will have to start complying with them. When will the support be available for people to work out what they need to do?
The final area I will touch on is the assessment and collection process. This is a new tax with a different assessment method from the one we are used to in this country. We normally accept that people self-assess how much tax they owe and then pay it. HMRC chooses whether to inquire and challenge how much that tax is. With this tax, we have almost the reverse of that. A taxpayer has to write and say, “I think I might be caught”—that is perhaps not quite the technical language—and HMRC has two years from year-end to issue an initial charging notice stating, “Here is how much we think you owe.” The taxpayer has 30 days to make representations and HMRC has 30 days to issue a final charging notice. The taxpayer has to pay that then. Then there is a year in which that charge can be inquired into, challenged and discussed before it is finally agreed. Effectively, that is saying, “Pay now, argue later”, rather than agreeing the liability before it is charged. There are questions about how reasonable that approach is. I accept that it will enable the Revenue to get the money early and leave the arguing until later. Perhaps part of the intention behind the tax is to prevent people from engaging in that behaviour in the first place.
There is a practical question. If the Revenue gets a notice from a multinational corporation that it has not inquired into regularly in the past, how can it issue an initial notice saying, “Here’s how much we think you owe”? If it has absolutely no idea other than a territorial disclosure of its UK turnover, how can it have any idea of how much tax to assess in the first place? Will it put a finger in the air and say, “Don’t worry, we’ll sort it out in the fullness of time”, or will there be some process to enable the initial assessment to be at least relatively in the right ballpark? No one wants a system in which someone gets an assessment that is far too low and chooses not to challenge it, or one in which they get an assessment that is ridiculously high and that creates unintended business survival issues, although those are clearly extreme situations.
I am also slightly intrigued about what will happen if we think a whole load of tax is owed by a non-UK resident party. How do we collect it? I assume that we can go through the mutual collection procedures, but I have never been entirely convinced that it is easy to make them effective. There is a provision in the rules that enables us to collect tax from any UK member of the group, but if there are relatively small UK group companies that do not make any money due to artificial tax avoidance, how will we get the money from them? Are we assuming that all the multinationals that have apparently been engaging in artificial tax structuring will decide that standing behind their subsidiaries and ensuring that they can pay their tax bills is the right and noble thing to do, or is that one level of optimism too much?
In my 20-minute canter round the new rules, I have been trying to extract from the Government further information about their policy direction, the intent of the rules and who they are trying to catch. Are the Government happy that the rules are catching the right people, and not just spreading the net so wide that it will create compliance burdens? We do not want to make the UK a less attractive place for corporates to establish themselves. We clearly do not want to attract artificial tax abusers, who come here to take advantage of our tax regime. However, our strategy has been to make ourselves a territory in which companies want to base their head office, and in which they want to invest by creating a stable, predictable tax regime.
UK Trade & Investment published a helpful document, “A guide to UK taxation”, which notes that we have a stable tax regime, that we avoid unnecessary changes to the rules and that our tax policy is aligned with business practice. It states that we have
“legislation which minimises complexity…a level playing field for taxpayers”
“A transparent and consistent approach to policy-making”.
Our objective is to create a level playing field in the UK territorial system, so we want everybody who operates here to pay taxes on their profits here. I see this tax as a way of ensuring that everybody pays their tax, and as a way of creating a level playing field so that UK companies are not out-competed by multinationals that do not pay tax.
However, is the Minister concerned that the speed at which the rules are being introduced will worry some corporates? Will their breadth put some people off investing here or make some corporations think, “Well, the easy way out of these rules is to have no UK establishment at all. We’ll just ship everything in from Rotterdam”? Is there a risk that we will lose jobs and the tax that we do get by chasing such things too onerously? I suspect that most of us will say that we are a great place to do business, so if companies want to make money here, they must pay their tax here. If they do not want to pay their tax here, perhaps they are not the kind of people we want. However, I am not sure it is easy in the real world to make that stick.
Are the Government happy that the rules are proportionate and in the right place? Do they target the right people? Will they be effective in tackling those people? Are the Government sure that they will not be struck out by some other international law? Will the Government respond to the various responses by tweaking the rules to ensure they focus on the right places, so we get the tax off people who owe it without unduly burdening those who do not?
I thank the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) for giving us the opportunity to contribute to the debate. It is always a pleasure to speak on such issues. It is nice to see the shadow Minister in her place. More importantly, it is nice to see the Minister in her place, because we have conversed and supported each other in many debates in Westminster Hall. It is nice to see her back in a ministerial position. I look forward to her response, which will be worth listening to.
The public anger has been immense over this issue. If there is one thing that nyarks people, to use an Ulster Scotsism, in my part of this country, it is the issue of tax avoidance—big companies making money and not making the contribution they should.
We welcome the Chancellor’s introduction of the new tax; we are pleased to see it. Many of the companies that hit the headlines back in 2012—they are not all UK-owned—have been in and out of the news ever since, which infuriates people. The Chancellor said that this new legislation will bring in £1 billion over five years, although others have said that they are not sure whether it is workable. When the Minister replies, will she give us an idea of how it will work and how we can make those companies accountable?
Does my hon. Friend agree that although the proposed legislation is welcome, we need to take account of what was said earlier? The director of the Oxford University Centre for Business Taxation said:
“The fundamental problem is the structure of the international tax system”.
In addition to this legislation, we need international co-ordination to prevent people from brass plating.
My hon. Friend and colleague is on the button. Although it is good that we have the legislative change, we need co-operation among countries across the world so we can work together to address this issue.
This new legislation aims to ensure that people pay tax. There are various safeguards that, as my hon. Friend and colleague said, we need to see in place. We need to work better with other countries across the world. We also need to ensure that businesses that are pursued wrongly are not affected.
The legislation is for larger companies. It concerns what is referred to as artificially diverted profits, and that is exactly what it is. Foreign companies must have UK sales of at least £10 million, and if the UK activity would be considered a small or medium-sized company for UK accounting purposes, this new law does not apply, so there are some important concessions.
Finally, the tax provision examines whether UK costs have been inflated or UK sales have been reduced, which is another way of artificially diverting the figures. We must look at whether there is a tax mismatch between what seems likely should have been reported in the UK and what is reported in a foreign company. We need clarification on those issues from the Minister. The hon. Member for Amber Valley set the scene well in his introduction.
Although £10 million might seem like a lot of money, I will put it in perspective. In 2011, Starbucks, a global company that has come into disrepute again for not paying any tax—its coffee is lovely but there is an issue to address elsewhere—made £398 million in UK sales alone. I used the word “nyark” earlier. It nyarks us greatly that companies can make that much turnover and not pay a considerable amount of tax.
Does my hon. Friend accept that doing nothing is not acceptable? However, as questions have been asked about the new scheme that the Chancellor spoke about, is it not best that we look at those questions and ensure that the legislation that is being introduced will tackle the problem we face?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. We need to have legislation in place that enables us to oversee the loopholes that have been outlined. We are all hoping that the Minister will tell us how it will work in her response. I hope she will address the questions that have been asked.
Starbucks employs 8,500 people in the UK, so it makes a contribution in employment, wages and associated taxes, but it pays no corporation tax. Amazon, another global company, employs 15,000 staff in the UK and reported sales of £3.35 billion in 2011, as well as profits of £74 million, but it paid only £1.8 million in corporation tax. That annoys me greatly. Google, one of our favourite search engines, made £396 million in 2011 and paid only £6 million in corporation tax. Some of the companies have of course been stung into making tax contributions, although those have been minimal.
An article by Joseph Brothers that I read last month in the magazine Tax Notes International sums up the subject of the earlier intervention by my hon. Friend the Member for Upper Bann (David Simpson) on brass plating. Brothers suggested that Apple, reacting to a threat by the Irish Government to shut down one of their lucrative, corporate-friendly, tax-avoiding laws, would switch strategies to escape taxes in Ireland. He wrote that the so-called “Double Irish” might soon be replaced by a new “Bermuda Triangle”: instead of ships and planes mysteriously disappearing in it, it would be a triangle of tax treaties between Ireland, the Netherlands and Bermuda, exploiting rules that do not quite align and creating the space for profits to vanish, at least to the eyes of the Internal Revenue Service auditors.
If that strategy works, Google and others are likely to follow suit. The outcome could well be that the big corporate tax dodgers achieve what a noted tax lawyer calls “stateless income”: siphoning profit out of high-tax countries in Europe, Japan and North America and moving it around under tax treaties until it is not subject to any tax, because any profits are being reported in a non-existent country called “nowhere”. That is the bottom line of what could happen if our legislation is not correct and if the loopholes, disparities and open questions are not dealt with.
I am using those three companies as examples, but there are many others. Unfortunately, a common trend is filtering down through to a large number of companies. At the end of the day, we must remember that UK-based companies pay corporation tax on their taxable profits wherever those are made. It is only right, therefore, that foreign companies pay tax in the UK on profits made in this country. We must make it clear that the UK is not a country to come to for freeloading. Those are the issues.
Many British-based global companies do pay their taxes. They are concerned that the new legislation might give HMRC too much discretion. Furthermore, as the head of the tax policy unit of KPMG here in the UK noted in the company’s latest annual tax competitiveness survey, companies value “stability” and “simplicity”, but unfortunately, one criticism of the proposed legislation is that it does not offer simplicity. Many questions therefore need to be answered and much transparency applied to ensure that the legislation, while welcome—we have to take a step in the right direction—can work in practice.
The aims of the legislation are admirable as well as necessary. In a recent poll of more than 500 accounting and small business professionals, taken immediately after the Chancellor’s autumn statement, 56% of respondents said that the most significant tax announcement in the speech was the one about the diverted profits tax. Many, perhaps all of us—if not the companies trying to avoid the measure—welcome it, but we need to be sure that everything is in place.
Will the Minister tell us about another issue raised by the hon. Member for Amber Valley: the IT equipment necessary to ensure that expertise is in place? There is also the question of the resourcing of moneys. I understand that the initial set-up will cost £2.3 million in staffing for the first year and £1 million per year thereafter. At a time of HMRC cuts, of which we are all aware in every area, perhaps the Minister will indicate whether provision has been made for the IT equipment and the necessary staffing resources to ensure implementation.
It is of course important to remember that big businesses are always welcome in the UK and, as other Members have said, we do not intend to turn any away. We want companies to be based in the United Kingdom, but we, like everyone else, want them to make their contribution to the tax system. It is always extremely pleasing to hear that another company has made the decision to expand in the UK, and we are seeing a lot of that at the moment in Belfast. It is good to have those companies providing employment opportunities and taxes, and spending money so that our economy in Northern Ireland grows. That is super news for local people, local business and the local economy. It is also vital, however, that those big companies pay their way, otherwise it is not so lucrative after all for local businesses, people and economies. Instead, the money will simply stay in the hands of the global giants.
Will the Minister say what steps the Government will take to deal with the tax havens in the Isle of Man and the Channel Islands? Will we have some influence there, or access to information? Gone are the days when money was hidden under the mattress, the bed or the floorboards; people now put it overseas in tax havens. Will the Minister give some indication of the direction of policy?
I am keen to check the view of the hon. Gentleman’s party. In the event that Northern Ireland chooses to reduce its corporation tax rate, does he agree that Northern Ireland should not use that lower rate to attract artificial income into Belfast, as the Irish did in the Republic? The lower rate should be for the purposes of getting real jobs and real substance into Belfast, instead of dragging profit out of the UK mainland, perhaps through the financing of intellectual property companies or other ways of artificially moving tax.
The hon. Gentleman will find that my party, through the Northern Ireland Assembly and the First Minister, will hold an upstanding position in working the policy. We will not be developing into a tax haven. We want to see real jobs for real people on the ground. That is the way forward, and it is what we support.
We are pleased to have the Minister in her place today. Responsibility for answering our questions and for how this will work lies very much with her Department. We are committed to having the new legislation in place, I hope by 1 April. We want the big companies to be brought into line and made accountable for tax avoidance. We want the issue of the tax havens over which we have control to be dealt with, and for our neighbours in the Republic of Ireland to have the same opportunity. In addition, we have to look at the global picture, because although legislative change may take place in this country, what will really make it work is how we interact with other countries.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) on securing the debate. His initiative is excellent, given the enormity of what is proposed.
There is something of a crisis in corporation tax: globalisation, the European Union and the internet have all given many more opportunities to move tax or profits around. In the days since I was a global finance director in 1996, we have seen a lot more predatory activity by advisers and companies. They seem to be far more shameless about carrying out transactions without a commercial basis. With my training, I would have said that that was already a problem, even without any new legislation, but companies seem quite happy to do such transactions, to the extent that a year or so ago the chief executive of WPP could describe the amount of tax paid as “a question of judgment”, which tells us a lot about the amount of flexibility that he could see in the system.
Moreover, the chief executive of Google famously boasted about avoiding £2 billion in tax in a single year. He seemed to have no concept that that meant £2 billion in cuts to public services in the all countries in which his company operates, or the same amount more in tax that other companies and individuals in those countries would have to pay. The climate seems to be changing, although the Prime Minister’s business advisory group still includes that chief executive. I wonder whether he had any input into the new policy and what he thinks of it.
After the measure was announced, Newsweek commented on 26 December:
“The British government, after a search, says it knows how to tax profits Google earns in the United Kingdom. Its solution is simple and elegant, and it probably won’t change a damn thing.”
That view is perhaps overly cynical, but it backs up a point made by several Members: the expectation is that companies will take other measures rather than lie down and pay the tax. That is a huge issue.
The hon. Member for Amber Valley was right to mention the question of how on earth the tax will be calculated. City experts are already saying that the calculations will lead to a “legal quagmire”—that is one expression I have seen used. In other words, when HMRC comes up with an assessment the lawyers will probably start work. I wonder whether HMRC has budgeted sufficiently for the resources that it will need to make the tax stick. It could be involved in lengthy legal cases with expensive lawyers paid by large companies.
That leads us to the main question concerning this tax. When I was trained as an accountant, we were told that the one principle a tax system needs is certainty. In other words, it should be clear what a company is doing and what the tax on that will be; the company can then pay that tax. Certainty is one of the functions of a good tax system, but with the diverted profits tax we are straying into an area of high uncertainty about how the tax will be assessed and paid. The hon. Gentleman made an excellent point about our ability to collect the money: by definition, it could be all over the place and not in the UK. That leads us to the question of the confidence the Minister has in our ability to collect the money—I am interested to hear her comments on that.
The hon. Gentleman has made an interesting point about certainty and also about the difficulties that globalisation and the internet have caused for gathering corporation tax. Is there a case for the international community to give up on corporation tax and instead have higher taxes on sales and, if necessary, dividends, so that the tax is still raised in the end but we do not have a continual process of chasing money across international boundaries, which, for the reasons he has given, is time consuming and perhaps counter-productive?
I take the hon. Gentleman’s point on board. I know that some commentators believe the right way to go is to scrap the incredibly complex system that we have. Although that might be where we end up, I would like to see country-by-country reporting introduced first, so that we know what activity companies are carrying out in each country, and where they are trading and are declaring their profits will be transparent to the world at large. That would help tax authorities; also, the problems companies would then have with reputation management would cause quite a shift. I would like to see that country-by-country reporting first, but perhaps we will end up in the position that he has suggested.
The estimate is that the tax will raise £1 billion over five years. That is a very small amount given the scale of the issue. One commentator has suggested that Google alone could be assessed as owing around half that figure. The Financial Times has found that in 2012 seven US technology companies paid only £54 million in tax on UK sales of $15 billion. I am aware that corporation tax is levied not on sales but on profits, but the companies we are talking about typically make 20% profit or more on sales, so we could quickly come up with a large number there. Will the Minister tell us how the assessment of the amount the tax will collect was made? What assumptions sit behind it? The figure seems small given all the relevant issues, which we are well aware of.
The hon. Member for Amber Valley rightly mentioned EU law. I will not repeat what he said but there is clearly the potential to challenge the tax through the EU. When one talks to global finance directors, there is no doubt that financing structures and interest payments are the tax avoidance measure of choice—they are how the largest diversion of profits occurs. Will the Minister explain why offshore finance centres and excessive foreign interest payments have been specifically excluded from the diverted profits tax? I welcome the moves that have been made, but a large area has not been addressed by the tax.
I will mention a few other aspects of profit diversion. The Minister may tell us that they are included, but my guess is that most are not. There are well documented loopholes used by banks for tax arbitrage between countries, particularly between the UK and the US, because different instruments are taxed differently in the two countries and by shuffling money backwards and forwards it is possible to create beneficial tax arrangements. Will the legislation address those loopholes? Does the legislation deal with hybrid entities, for which there are similar opportunities because of the different taxation of legal structures between different countries? They are another method that the financial services sector in particular uses to shift profits.
Some of the issues connected to Luxembourg have been mentioned already, but will the Minister address the issue of the wholesale tax avoidance and profit diversion that, for example, sees Vodafone holding five times as much capital in Luxembourg as the GDP of Luxembourg, although it does no trading there? That kind of thing enrages the public, and it is high time it was addressed. When will she get the EU to deal with the preposterous activity going on in Luxembourg behind its so-called headline corporation tax rate of 29%?
The Channel Islands have already been mentioned. The particular point I want to raise is that the majority of contracts for UK private finance initiatives are now financed from those islands. That makes a mockery of the Green Book assumptions about PFI tax recovery; it is assumed that a very high figure—I think it is 6%—will come back to the Treasury in tax receipts, but that assumption completely ignores the fact that PFI deals are routinely moved to the Channel Islands, including those for 50% of the schools in my constituency, which are apparently owned in Jersey.
Those are just a few of the arrangements that may or not be covered by the diverted profit tax legislation. I suspect most are not, but they illustrate the fact that there is a lot more yet to do.
Diverted profit arrangements do not simply cost tax or allow profit diversion; they incentivise offshore acquisition and ownership of UK businesses. These days, highly profitable UK businesses have to create some offshore financing or else somebody else will do it for them, as predatory takeover activity in the UK is often predicated on offshore finance structures designed to move taxable profits out of the country. A good example would be Betfair. Last year, a company was looking to take it over in an aggressive takeover. I wondered what the company was going to add in terms of betting technology or new IT, but the clue was the name: “So-and-so Partners, London and Luxembourg”. The factor the takeover was going to add was the shifting of Betfair’s profits away from the hands of the Treasury. In the end, that takeover did not go through, but the diversion of profits affects business ownership and competition in the UK.
I mentioned the amount that the tax is expected to raise. I think the figure is low because of what are traditionally called behavioural effects—in other words, what companies may do as a result of the tax—and so I am interested to hear more from the Minister on what the Treasury thinks will happen, as opposed to the idea that companies will simply sit there and pay the tax. What kind of measures does the Treasury consider companies might take?
How will the success of the tax ultimately be measured? As the hon. Member for Amber Valley rightly said, it could well be that the real success of the legislation will appear not in diverted profit tax receipts but as higher corporation tax receipts. Does the Treasury have any way of judging how the measures have played out?
I welcome what is happening and hope that the Government will do more. I have mentioned country by country reporting, and that has begun to happen in the financial services sector. It is driven partly by other countries’ legislation. I hope it will expand through the work of the OECD and pressure from our Government, and in the operation of companies around the world will become more transparent. We should push for that.
John Cridland, the head of the CBI, said about a year ago that he was confused and did not know what the Government wanted on tax. I do not think that it is confusing at all. We want companies to account for their UK activities in the UK and pay tax on the profits that they earn in the UK. It could not be any simpler. I addressed the CBI tax forum two or three months ago and made that point. I said bluntly that if its companies were doing otherwise, we would steadily be coming after them.
The Government have a record of at least moving in the right direction. I was a member of the Public Accounts Committee for more than four years and took part in scrutiny of large companies and tax advisors; judging by the culture and attitudes out there, we still have a long way to go. I vividly remember asking a tax advisor how many of the schemes that he had advised individuals and companies to adopt in the previous few years had been made illegal; he cheerfully said it was all of them. It is good news that HMRC keeps pinning those things down, but the fact is that there is an industry out there constantly looking for new ways to avoid the taxes that we try to levy. I hope that the Treasury will make its proposals work, and will continue to recognise that there is still much more to do.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner. I congratulate the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) on securing the debate, and on his speech. He raised many points on which I, too, want to press the Minister. He was right to say that the issue has not received a huge amount of attention, and that there will not be a great deal of parliamentary time for detailed scrutiny of the Government’s proposals, given where we are in the parliamentary cycle.
The announcement of the proposals was of course rather trumped by the changes in stamp duty, which led the media coverage and debate. However, there has been a lot of coverage in the specialist taxation media, and that has helped to bring out some of the issues raised by the proposed diverted profits tax. I am grateful for this opportunity to press the Government further on their proposals. I will seek answers about technical detail— bearing in mind that there is currently a technical consultation, which will report on 4 February—as well as about practical elements and the Government’s emerging thinking about the impact on the OECD BEPS process. All three hon. Members who spoke mentioned that.
Our general approach is not dissimilar to the Government’s, and we recognise that there is a significant issue. All those who have spoken have referred to the public examples of large companies, with significant businesses that are doing very well, effectively gaming international tax rules to minimise their tax liabilities in this country. That significantly undermines public trust and confidence in the taxation system, particularly at a time of economic difficulty and stress. It is a real issue, and it is legitimate for all political parties to look for practical answers to alleviate such concerns.
As a general principle, economic activity should be taxed where it takes place. The question for all politicians to grapple with is finding an effective way to get to that point. For the Opposition—and for the Government, going by what they have said throughout this Parliament—the starting point is to try to work with international partners, notwithstanding the concerns raised by the hon. Member for Amber Valley about whether the US and other jurisdictions would be willing to play ball on co-ordinated international action to deal with gaming of the international tax rules. It is the right place to start, and that is why we have supported the OECD’s BEPS process. It is the right forum for seeking an international agreement on tax rules.
The Government have of course been much closer than the Opposition to that process, and we rely on publicly available information about its progress, and expert commentary from, and conversations with, some of the participants. From what the Government were saying up to the time of the autumn statement, we anticipated that their preferred way of proceeding on all the issues that form BEPS action points would be to await the final reporting in September before thinking how to go further. They have of course moved a little more quickly with the diverted profits tax, and I, like other hon. Members, would like to hear more about how that affects our role in the BEPS process.
We agree that a solution is needed and are keen for the issue to be dealt with, so we broadly welcome the Government’s proposed action. We will approach the diverted profits tax proposal in the Finance Bill in a supportive and constructive spirit, because we want a workable solution to reach the statute book; but I want to press the Minister further, particularly about the BEPS process. It would be helpful if she could tell us how those in the process have reacted to the DPT proposals, and why the Government felt it necessary to take unilateral action at this point, notwithstanding what many commentators have said about the looming general election. Was there a feeling that BEPS would not produce much of a result in relation to the relevant element of the international tax rules? Does the decision mean that BEPS will effectively be a failure? Is that the kind of world that we are looking at?
Some commentators have, as I am sure the Minister is aware, expressed cynicism about the motive for a unilateral move by the UK, and some have even suggested that it will torpedo the whole BEPS process, so that we get nowhere. I am interested to understand the conversations that the Government have had with people in the OECD and in the tax specialist community about where BEPS now stands.
I have been listening carefully to the hon. Lady’s points about international co-ordination. In the event of a Labour victory in the May election, what would its position be on UK tax havens such as Jersey, Guernsey and the Isle of Man? I thought that the hon. Member for Redcar (Ian Swales) made a powerful point about the 50% of schools in his constituency that are financed from Jersey. I would expect the Opposition to have developed some policy on that.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving me the opportunity to highlight Labour policy in this debate. A few months ago, we published a paper on corporate taxation that included a section on the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. We have made the commitment that, if we win the general election, we will require the Crown dependencies and overseas territories to publish a public register of beneficial ownership. That is the key demand of all in the wider tax justice and fairness community, and it would shine a light on the true owners of businesses based in the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. The Government have spoken a great deal about doing something similar, but I think it is fair to say, without being party political, that progress has stalled. We have gone further by saying that we will ensure that that process happens. I have already taken the conversation forward with Ministers and other officials from the Crown dependencies and overseas territories.
The hon. Lady makes an interesting point. Recently, I met officials from Jersey and Guernsey, and although transparency might be part of the issue, a lot of the arrangements that shift profit out of the UK are totally transparent. The issue is not transparency, but the arrangements themselves and, for example, the allowance of huge interest payments. I know that the debate is not about Labour party policy, but since we have strayed into that area, would her party do anything about such arrangements? A lot of them occurred under the Labour Government’s watch.
Of course we will look at particular arrangements, but transparency is the starting point. The Prime Minister famously said that
“sunlight is the best disinfectant”.
There has already been some opposition to our proposals, which suggests that there is real gain to be made from a much more transparent system for the Crown dependencies and overseas territories. That will be our start point, but we will continue to look at the other issues mentioned by the hon. Gentleman.
While we are on the subject, I would be interested to hear from the Minister about the Government’s approach to tax transparency policy with regard to the diverted profits tax. She will know that, in its paper on corporate taxation published a few months ago, the Labour party committed to going a little further on the broader issue of tax transparency and country-by-country reporting of business profits than the Government have done so far. We will support multilateral action, because we think that that is the right start point, but if multilateral agreement is not reached, we are prepared to take unilateral action on public tax transparency.
The Government have fully rejected that approach, saying that it will create too large a burden on business and that, were the UK to take unilateral action on tax transparency and country-by-country reporting, it would negatively affect the UK’s tax competitiveness. The Minister is well aware that both those arguments apply equally to unilateral action on the diverted profits tax. Will she explain why the Government have used those arguments to block potential unilateral action on country-by-country reporting in the form of a public register, but are dismissive of the same concerns when they are raised by others regarding unilateral action on the diverted profits tax?
It is important to understand why the Government think that those arguments do not apply, because although we may disagree with the criticisms made by business, in particular in relation to the diverted profits tax, it is important to understand the values and philosophical thinking behind the Government’s approach, because that will give us an indication of where policy is likely to go. I would appreciate the Minister’s detailed comments on that.
Other hon. Members expressed concerns about the potential for legal challenge. The Minister is aware that there is substantial scope for discretion in the application of the new rules. Although I was not a tax specialist, as a former lawyer, whenever I see the word “discretion” I know that for lawyers it basically means that there is lots of money to be made—a point also made by other hon. Members. What assessment have the Government made of the possibility of challenges within both EU law and the terms of the UK’s various double taxation treaties? My working assumption was that conversations have already been had, particularly in relation to the double taxation treaties. Nevertheless, it would be helpful if the Minister could update us and perhaps also give further details on HMRC resourcing, particularly for known areas of risk of legal challenge.
The Exchequer impact was also mentioned. Given that the draft legislation casts a broader net than was anticipated in the lead-up to the autumn statement, it is unclear why the revenue associated with the measure is quite so low, comparatively speaking. For example, we know that Google and Amazon alone generate somewhere in the region of £7.5 billion of UK revenue between them. A £360 million tax boost at a corporation tax rate of 20% would imply taxable profits of £1.8 billion, which an aggressive interpretation of the rules could attribute to those two companies alone. The projected yield therefore implies some combination of caution and, potentially, significant ongoing royalty deductions from UK corporation tax, behavioural change, and the anticipation of legal challenges. Again, it would be helpful if the Minister could explain exactly what the Government had in mind when modelling the Exchequer impact of the changes.
Avoidance is a continuing issue. Whenever new rules are introduced, one of the first things we must all look for is the potential for avoidance opportunities. One method for avoiding the rules might be the relocation of businesses where the business model does not require a physical footprint in the UK. Have the Government done any work in consideration of such issues? The new rules read much more like a TAAR—targeted anti-avoidance rule. In the past year, I have had a number of discussions in Committee with the Minister’s colleague, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, the hon. Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Gauke), about the use of targeted anti-avoidance rules to support the tax avoidance measures that the Government have introduced, and I have wondered whether we might also end up discussing a TAAR for this particular TAAR. Again, it would be helpful if the Minister could explain where the Government are coming from on that.
Has the Treasury done any modelling to take account of copycat or so-called retaliatory legislation from other countries? Could the UK ultimately be a net loser? We have some intellectual property-heavy sectors in our country, particularly pharmaceuticals and media. If other countries introduce similar rules, that would affect the UK, potentially making us a net loser. I am sure that the Treasury has done some work on such issues; we should know more about them in order to illuminate the debate.
Finally, where does the Minister think the new measures leave the general anti-abuse rule—GAAR—for which the Government legislated earlier in this Parliament? Tax lawyers in particular have commented that we are seeing much more complicated new legislation, rather than better use of existing legislation, including the GAAR and, potentially, transfer pricing rules and other elements of the tax system that people feel are currently not necessarily enforced. The combination of those two measures could have dealt with many of the issues that have been raised. Instead, the Government have decided to introduce an entirely new tax. Where do they think that that leaves the wider legislative framework?
The Opposition’s general approach is supportive, and we will seek to be constructive as we debate these issues further ahead of the Finance Bill 2015.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Turner, and I wish you a happy new year. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) on securing this debate on such an important subject. As a number of colleagues have pointed out, the new measure is designed to ensure that Britain is a very competitive place—in fact, our ambition is to be the best place in the world to start up and run a business. If a company comes to this country, we will charge it low tax rates, but it will be expected to pay. That is what lies behind the measure: to ensure that companies pay that fair rate of tax.
The Government are working to create the most competitive tax system in the G20—a simple, competitive and fair tax system that will support economic growth and investment. However, we then expect companies operating in the UK to pay these fair and competitive taxes, so we are taking action both domestically and internationally. It is not one or the other—one does not rule out the other, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) suggested it may. We are trying to address concerns about some businesses paying little or no tax on profits made in the UK.
When this Government came to power, Britain had one of the least competitive business tax regimes in Europe. Since 2010, the Government have introduced a series of tax reforms to boost competiveness, such as the patent box, increasing the generosity of research and development reliefs, modernising the UK’s controlled foreign companies regime, and cutting corporation tax from 28% to 21%—next year, it will fall to 20%, the lowest rate in the G20.
The corporation tax reforms were a central plank of our economic strategy, and that strategy is working: growth, jobs and investment are all moving in the right direction. An increasing number of multinational businesses are locating activities in the UK, including companies such as Brit Insurance and Hitachi Rail Europe. The UK is one of the most competitive and attractive countries when it comes to deciding where to base a business.
It is clear that the tax reforms we have made since 2010 are supporting the economic recovery, and that our plan to cut corporation tax again to 20% will lead to more jobs and investment in the UK. Nine out of 10 UK businesses say the corporation tax rate cuts delivered since 2010 have been good for UK competitiveness.
However, as all colleagues have pointed out, there are real public concerns about unfairness in the system, whereby some companies, particularly large multinationals, are seen to be aggressively avoiding tax in the UK. It is vital that the public have confidence in the tax system, and that the tax rules treat both companies and individuals fairly and consistently, without leaving them scope to avoid their obligations. As we seek to return the public finances to balance and reduce the deficit, it is also important to make sure that we collect all the tax that is due. For those reasons, we are taking action, both domestically and internationally, to reform the tax rules and tackle corporation tax avoidance.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood asked whether we are therefore giving up on the international tax framework, and of course, as she will know, that is not the case. The current international tax rules were first developed in the 1920s and desperately need reforming, so that they continue to support free trade and ensure a level playing field for businesses, but also to make sure that they address weaknesses such as companies playing different regimes off against each other to avoid paying tax on their profits anywhere at all.
The UK has taken a lead on the international stage to reform these rules and is committed to multilateral action through the G20 and the OECD to tackle the issue of base erosion and profit shifting—known as BEPS. At their summit in St Petersburg last year, the G20 leaders fully endorsed the ambitious and comprehensive BEPS action plan set out over 2014 and 2015. The individual action points are being taken forward by various OECD working parties.
The OECD BEPS project is reviewing the international tax rules to find out where they are not fit for purpose in today’s modern globalised economy. Over 40 countries are collaborating to take forward the action plan: a comprehensive two-year strategy to tackle international tax avoidance.
We constantly hear about the G20 and the OECD, but the Netherlands, for example, is not even a member of the G20. Is the Minister concerned that all this work is going to be focused on certain countries, but that will, in itself, just lead to even more activity in countries that are not party to this process?
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point; nevertheless, the UK is at the forefront of driving the international effort to tackle these problems—these weaknesses—in international tax laws that are very out of date. The UK is certainly doing its bit.
In line with the BEPS action plan, in September 2014 the OECD’s first set of outputs from the BEPS project were fully endorsed by the G20 Finance Ministers at their Cairns summit. In a global economy in which goods and services flow freely between countries, international co-operation, as the hon. Gentleman points out, is the only way to tackle the challenge of tax avoidance. Measures taken in Britain will not deal with the problem on their own; we must have global tax rules, too. That is why, under our Prime Minister, we have been pushing, through the G8, the G20 and the OECD, for global solutions.
Of course, that has to be the right answer, but does the Minister really believe that countries such as Luxembourg and the Republic of Ireland, which derive a considerable amount of GDP from a tax evasion strategy, will contribute to any such global effort when it is so important to their standard of living?
I am grateful to all hon. Members for the points they are making about other tax jurisdictions. What the UK can do is lead the international effort and focus on what we can do to ensure that the UK’s tax base is not eroded. Therefore, although these other points are extremely important, hon. Members will realise that I cannot influence directly the tax laws that Luxembourg undertakes for itself, other than through the contribution the Government make to the international effort to put pressure on different jurisdictions.
The Chancellor announced, in the autumn statement 2014, UK action on two of the internationally agreed 2014 outputs of the BEPS project. I know that the hon. Member for Redcar supports the UK’s introducing legislation to implement the G20-OECD agreed model for country-by-country reporting, which will require multinational companies to provide tax authorities with high-level information on profit, corporation tax paid and certain indicators of economic activity for risk assessment. Draft legislation for the Finance Bill 2015 was published on 10 December 2014, with a tax information and impact note and an explanatory note.
Furthermore, a consultation document on the UK plans for implementing the G20-OECD agreed rules for neutralising hybrid mismatch arrangements—another point raised by the hon. Gentleman—was published at the autumn statement. The new rules will tackle a tax avoidance technique used by multinationals to exploit differences between countries’ tax rules to avoid paying tax in either country, or to obtain more tax relief against profits than they are entitled to.
However, the Government have gone further still. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood asked whether that was instead of BEPS or because we feel that BEPS will not work, but no, not at all—this is in addition. The Government have gone further to tackle tax avoidance by multinational companies operating here in the UK and to strengthen our defences against the erosion of the UK tax base. That is entirely complementary to the BEPS process. Where companies in the UK are going to extraordinary lengths to avoid paying their fair share of tax, we will act to prevent that. That is why the Government have introduced the new diverted profits tax—to counter the use of aggressive tax planning by large multinationals to avoid paying tax in the UK on profits that have been generated from economic activity here in the UK.
The diverted profits tax will be applied using a rate of 25% from 1 April 2015. The measure is targeted at contrived arrangements used to shift profits away from the UK in a manner that ensures they go untaxed or largely untaxed. The measure is designed to counter the erosion of the UK tax base as a result of complex structures that circumvent the international tax rules on permanent establishment and transfer pricing.
For example, some multinationals have gone for aggressive tax planning that involves quite complicated arrangements, such as the so-called “double Irish”—a point raised by the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley—using group companies in other countries as conduits to route expenditure to tax havens so that profits from UK activity goes untaxed.
Specifically, the diverted profits tax applies in two situations. The first is where a foreign company carries out activities in the UK in connection with the supply of goods or services to UK customers in such a way that it avoids creating a permanent establishment, and the main purpose of that arrangement is to avoid UK tax, or a tax mismatch is secured such that the total tax derived from UK activities is significantly reduced. The second situation is where a UK company, or a foreign company with a UK permanent establishment, creates a tax mismatch by using transactions or entities that lack economic substance.
If a multinational company is found to be using those contrived arrangements to avoid tax in the UK, HMRC will issue a notice that requires the diverted profits tax to be paid up front. The legislation provides for a review period of up to 12 months, within which the multinational company will have the opportunity, among other things, to demonstrate that it was not liable for the charge or to provide information to HMRC to show that the level of disallowance of intra-group expenditure in computing the charge is wrong on normal transfer pricing principles. The measure is designed to complement our transfer pricing arrangements.
On the second case the Minister mentions, she can be interpreted as talking about artificial financing structures—for example, moving money to Luxembourg and then loaning it back to the UK—but the briefing note says that the legislation specifically excludes such arrangements. Can she confirm that?
I think I have been quite clear about the purpose of the legislation. I am not aware of the briefing note to which the hon. Gentleman refers. I will address the point again in responses to questions, so perhaps we can deal with it then.
After the 12-month review period, if the charge has not been withdrawn, the multinational company will have the right to appeal the charge at a tax tribunal on any appropriate grounds.
There are some specific exemptions from the tax. A number of hon. Members asked who was exempted. Those will include small and medium-sized enterprises, companies with limited UK sales and the situation where arrangements give rise only to loan relationships. I will come on to that in more detail at the end of my responses to questions. The draft legislation was published on 10 December and will come into effect from 1 April. Comments from industry are of course welcome as we finalise the rules to ensure that they are clear and targeted.
As I said, the UK is fully engaged in the work to reform the international tax framework through the OECD-G20 BEPS project. The introduction of the diverted profits tax is entirely consistent with those principles and complements the ongoing international efforts in the BEPS project, which is looking to align taxing rights with economic activity.
A number of hon. Members questioned the yield that is expected or forecast from the diverted profits tax. The Office for Budget Responsibility has certified the central estimate of tax yield to be £1.35 billion over the next five years to 2019-20. That will contribute to the £31 billion that HMRC has already secured from tackling tax avoidance and evasion by large businesses since April 2010.
Let me answer some specific questions. My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley asked whether this measure was in some way overriding UK tax treaties. I can reassure him that that is not the case. The scope of the UK’s tax treaties is limited under UK law to income tax, capital gains tax and corporation tax. The diverted profits tax is therefore not covered by those treaties, so, as a formal matter, there is no treaty override; and in fact the OECD, in the commentary on its model tax treaty, provides that states can deny the benefits of a tax treaty where arrangements have a main purpose of securing more favourable tax treatment in circumstances contrary to the object and purpose of that treaty.
My hon. Friend also asked whether the measure was compatible with EU law—he did so rather reluctantly, and I would be reluctant, too, on the matter of tax sovereignty. The diverted profits tax has been designed to comply fully with our obligations under EU law. It is aimed at structures that are clearly designed to erode the UK tax base. As such, it is an appropriate response to those who abuse EU law to divert profits from the UK. The safeguards built into the legislation provide taxpayers with a number of opportunities to demonstrate that they should not be subject to the diverted profits tax. Accordingly, we believe that this is a balanced and proportionate measure that tackles arrangements that are clearly designed for tax avoidance.
The hon. Members for Strangford, for South Antrim (Dr McCrea) and for Upper Bann (David Simpson) asked about the specific cut-off for the diverted profits tax. I can tell them that the rules do not apply to SMEs as defined by the EU. That includes companies with fewer than 250 employees, turnover of less than or equal to €50 million and a balance sheet size of €43 million. That is consistent with our transfer pricing legislation. There are also measures that restrict the diverted profits tax if there is not much UK business going on.
My hon. Friends the Members for Amber Valley and for Warrington South (David Mowat) asked about the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. Of course, they will be aware that those territories are free to set their own rates. We in the UK will go through international forums in terms of influencing international tax jurisdictions, but the UK has a very clear and transparent tax policy-making process, as evidenced by this parliamentary debate. Tax is a national, sovereign matter, so individual tax jurisdictions are free to set their own tax policy. The diverted profits tax is designed to ensure that the UK’s tax base is not eroded by that.
My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley asked whether the assessment and collection processes will really work and whether they are fair. For example, if HMRC gets a notice from a big company saying that it might be within the scope, how can it issue an initial charge notice in 30 days? Where would the information come from and so on? I can tell him that the notification of potential liability to diverted profits tax must be made within three months of the end of the company’s accounting period. The Government are still consulting on the detail of the notification requirement and would welcome comments on the drafting. However, it is likely that not all notifications will result in the issue of a preliminary notice. The preliminary notice does not create a charge, but merely warns that a charging notice may be issued and sets out estimated figures that would be included. Following the issue of the preliminary notice, the company would have 30 days to correct any factual inaccuracies in it. That would include any errors in figures on which an assumption in the notice is based.
My hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley and the hon. Member for Strangford asked whether the provisions were drawn too broadly, such that they might catch not only the abusive structures targeted but a whole load of other, unintended taxpayers. The Government are of course open to suggestions on how the drafting of the legislation could be clarified without undermining its effectiveness. However, the calculation of the charge follows well established transfer pricing principles. Those principles are widely understood and routinely applied by businesses in pricing intra-group transactions. The only difference is that where the contrived features set out in the legislation are present, the diverted profits tax will have to be paid earlier than in a normal transfer pricing dispute.
I thank the Minister for giving way again; she is being very generous. She talked about the notification process and so on. Is she happy with our knowledge of legal entities and the fact that many of them will be outside the UK? Will HMRC be able to cope with that process?
The hon. Gentleman will be aware that this Government have significantly increased the resources available to HMRC for this purpose, so yes, we are confident we will be able to manage this process.
There were a number of other questions, which I fear I will not have time to deal with now, about interest payments being excluded. There is a limited exemption for certain arrangements that involve only loans, and separate work is going on to look at how to ensure fairness in the measures. That matter is not being excluded, but is being looked at separately.
Hon. Members raised the question of the wholesale diversion of profits to Luxembourg. The legislation targets profit diversion only where the profit has a clear link to the UK, as I think I made clear. It would not be appropriate for the legislation to go further than that and to bring into scope profits that originate from other territories. However, the Government are strongly supportive, as I said, of the BEPS process, which aims to prevent and address this international problem.
In conclusion, I reiterate that the whole purpose of the diverted profits tax is to create in the UK the most competitive environment in which to base and run a business, including low corporation taxes, but it is a requirement of this Government that companies wishing to do business in the UK should pay those taxes and should not seek to avoid paying them.