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Tax Transparency

Volume 611: debated on Tuesday 7 June 2016

The Government have played a leading role in driving forward international action on tax transparency. The introduction of country-by-country reporting has increased the transparency between multinationals and tax authorities, and we are pushing for this to be made public on a multilateral basis. We led the way throughout the development of the common reporting standard, which will see more than 100 countries automatically exchange information on financial accounts, and on a similar initiative for the automatic exchange of beneficial ownership information. We have consistently advocated for public registers of beneficial ownership, with the UK’s going live as of this month.

The planned closure of 137 HMRC offices has clearly been affecting employees, their families and communities. What steps has the Minister taken to look into introducing a moratorium on these closures, to support the wider work of improving tax transparency?

I commend the hon. Gentleman’s ingenious ability to raise this issue. It is important that HMRC’s funds are spent efficiently, to ensure that they are spent on delivering the tax being collected that we want, rather than on buildings. The savings from buildings are being spent on collecting more tax.

The Minister will have seen the different approaches that the French and UK authorities have taken towards cases such as Google’s. What more can he do to ensure that Parliament and the public have faith that HMRC is getting good deals in such situations? For example, will the National Audit Office be allowed to review those most high-profile cases and give some assurance that a good deal was achieved?

Order. Let me gently mention that we have already heard from the hon. Member for Newark (Robert Jenrick)—I remember very well his question, and I rather hope he does. It is one per session—[Interruption.] He can try again at topicals, but not in substantives.

Thank you, Mr Speaker. What I say to my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) is that, some years ago, HMRC brought in an assurance procedure to ensure that all such settlements are properly scrutinised. HMRC is very confident that it has reached a fair and proper settlement with Google. It is worth pointing out that, in recent years, we have seen increases in revenue collected by HMRC and increases in yield from its compliance activities including from large businesses.

If we are to tackle tax evasion and avoidance effectively we need to remain within the EU. Will the Chancellor and the Minister join me in calling on all MEPs to support the new anti-tax avoidance directive being voted on in the European Parliament tomorrow? Conservative MEPs abstained at the Committee stage, and this morning there are worrying noises that they may be thinking of abstaining once again. Will the Minister make it clear now that Conservative MEPs will be voting for the directive?

The anti-tax avoidance directive was discussed a couple of weeks ago at the ECOFIN meeting, which I attended. The UK made the case for us taking strong action and working through an anti-avoidance tax directive. What we suggested and proposed was taken on board. The matter will also be addressed at the ECOFIN meeting next week. The UK is pushing for progress and it is working co-operatively with other member states to ensure that we do make progress.

I am mystified as to whether Conservative MEPs will be voting for the directive tomorrow. I just live in hope that they will. The European directive did show the value of European Union co-operation in tackling tax avoidance and evasion. As part of that co-operation, following the raids on Google’s Paris offices, will the Chancellor inform the House what arrangements are in place with the French authorities for sharing information from the raid? If new evidence comes to light, will the Chancellor stand ready to reopen his deal with Google?

The first point of which I must remind the shadow Chancellor is that all settlements are reached by HMRC. Operational matters are rightly for HMRC, and not for Treasury Ministers. Of course if there is new evidence, HMRC will take it into account. The position is that HMRC has made it very clear that, under the law that existed between 2005 and 2015, it believes that it has reached a settlement that ensures that the right amount of tax has been collected—and that is what its job is. Our job is to ensure that it has the tools and the rules, and that is what we are delivering.