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Malawi: Development Support

Volume 607: debated on Wednesday 16 March 2016

1. What development support her Department plans to provide to Malawi over the current spending review period. (904125)

The UK continues to provide essential support to Malawi in areas including health, education and economic development as well as life-saving humanitarian assistance for food-insecure households. We support increasing access to justice for women and vulnerable groups, increasing accountability and governance reforms.

Does the Secretary of State agree that domestic resource mobilisation is one of the best ways to ensure that poorer countries can fix their own problems? What conversations has she had with the Chancellor of the Exchequer to ensure that the new tax treaty between Malawi and the UK helps the people of Malawi in that respect?

The hon. Gentleman raises an important point, and the UK helped to establish the Addis tax initiative, which will see our country and many others, including in Africa, stepping up their support to develop tax systems. We do that in conjunction with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. One of the first things I did in this role was establish a joint working group between the Department for International Development and HMRC to send HMRC officials out to countries such as Malawi to help with their tax systems. I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we work very closely with the Treasury.

On the tax treaty, may I ask the Secretary of State more broadly what role DFID will play as the tax treaty with Malawi is being renegotiated, particularly as regards supporting Malawi in its efforts to reduce poverty and develop more generally?

As the hon. Gentleman will be aware, HMRC leads on these negotiations, but they are progressing well and the House may be interested to know that the Government of Malawi issued a press statement on how they feel the negotiation is going. They talked about

“fruitful discussions to review and modernize the existing agreement”

and said that in their view:

“These discussions are progressing very well”.

I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we will continue to work alongside the Treasury to ensure that tax systems in the countries in which DFID works are developed so that in time they can self-fund their own development, releasing the UK from doing that.

But the UK’s current tax treaty with Malawi severely restricts the ability of the Government of Malawi to tax British firms operating there. Is this not a case of DFID giving with one hand while UK tax policies take away with the other?

I do not agree at all and, perhaps most importantly, neither do the Government of Malawi, who said:

“Whilst the current agreement is admittedly aged, there is no evidence that the agreement has motivated some British investors to deprive the Malawi Government of its revenues. On the contrary, both the Malawi Government and the British Government, as well as the nationals of the two countries, have evidently acted in good faith to ensure that neither party is exploited on the basis of the current agreement.”

But does the Secretary of State agree that the era of outdated and unscrutinised tax treaties that create opportunities for multinational tax avoidance must come to an end?

It is time that the international tax system worked more effectively so that countries such as Malawi can mobilise their own domestic resources, including tax. The hon. Lady will know that this particular treaty was last updated in 1978. The Government have taken the initiative to work with the Malawi Government to update this relatively old treaty and, as I have set out, those negotiations are going well. Of course, it sits alongside the rest of the work the Government have done on beneficial ownership and improving transparency in tax so that developing countries can get their fair share.