I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I wish to start by quoting a statement from the UK Government with which I agree 100%—[Interruption]—strange as that may seem. The UK Government’s aid strategy states:
“International development is about much more than just aid.
I am bringing this Bill forward, because international development is about much more than just aid.
I became interested in these types of issues many years ago when I first started doing international work. My first such job was for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Over the years, I have worked on 26 international assignments that have involved countries in the developing world. I have worked in places that I did not even know existed before I was asked to accept a contract—being a Scotsman I accepted the contract and then looked up the place on the map. I have been in places such as the Marshall Islands, in the middle of the Pacific ocean, and in the middle east, in places such as Oman and Yemen—where at one stage I thought I was being kidnapped—but most of my time and 16 of my assignments have been in Africa. On my last assignment before joining this House, I was funded by the Norwegian Government to evaluate the Benguela Current Commission’s research unit, which was researching the Benguela current as it ran up South Africa, Namibia and Angola.
I have had a long interest in development matters. I have never been funded by a charitable body, always by bilateral Government arrangements or sometimes at the request of the United Nations or the World Bank, as well as on a couple of occasions by the Asian Development Bank. One thing that struck me in my early days doing such work was that although I believe passionately in aid and funding and that the Government have done absolutely the right thing by being at the forefront of paying an agreed percentage of GDP to the developing world, that will never be enough to address the needs of some of the poorest countries in this world. Indeed, there is great danger in seeing international development solely as a function of aid.
Let me tell the House one thing. There have been estimates that if somehow the world was able to stop all the tax evasion and tax avoidance in the continent of Africa, and to clean up the system, including in the small areas I am considering, the tax that could be earned in Africa would be far greater than the entire international aid that is fed into Africa. My challenge today is to people who say that they do not like international aid in the sense of our sending money for good purposes to the developing world.
I wonder whether my hon. Friend has anyone in mind when he says that.
Funnily enough, I have more than one person in mind. If we were to scour this House I might well find one or two who take that position, but I do not think that today is a day to be mean-spirited about anyone.
The hon. Gentleman should not invite a voice-activated intervention.
I can tell this is going incredibly well already.
One thing I wanted to say at the beginning of my speech was that, being who I am, I could have been very disappointed in the raffle, but here I am with 45 minutes or thereabouts to discuss my private Member’s Bill. Most Members would be keen to get a full hearing and a vote, but I know that that is not going to happen with this Bill. However, I could not be prouder than to have my Bill considered following the one that this House has just chosen to accept. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”] I am sure that there are many people who feel the same.
I come back to my experiences in different parts of the developing world. In the agencies I worked with over the years, I came across many people who, although they were devoted to helping alleviate poverty and engage in capacity building and believed in the need for aid—many had worked in this field for many years, including a great friend of mine from Lossiemouth called David Thomson, who has worked in more than 60 countries—they also passionately believed that we would never cure the problem until we liberated those countries so that they could better take care of their own resources.
What do we know about international taxation treaties or double taxation treaties? They are set up for firms, such as UK firms, that operate in a developing country but are headquartered in the UK. They are often called double taxation treaties because nobody wants a company to be taxed twice on the money it earns. So these treaties were set up—in many cases, many years ago—to try to prevent double taxation.
However, over the past 10 to 15 years, what we have seen developing are not treaties that allow companies to be charged in just one place, but treaties that are part of an arrangement that allows too many international and multinational corporations to avoid paying tax in any country. We want to find ways in which we can assist countries in the developing world to take responsibility—to take care of their own taxation system and to invest taxes in their own society as they see fit, thereby building a capability that means they are no longer dependent on traditional aid.
I warmly congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing forward the Bill. Does he agree that one country that could really benefit from being able to mobilise its own domestic resources through taxation is Malawi? He spoke about treaties being agreed some time ago. The treaty currently in place between the United Kingdom and Malawi is in fact between the United Kingdom and the colony of Nyasaland, because it was signed before the country achieved independence—something, of course, that we in Scotland hope to do eventually as well.
If memory serves me correctly—I go back much further than 1955—the treaty with Malawi does not include goods such as televisions, because they did not even exist in Malawi in those times. The treaty is so out of date that it does not capture the nature of modern commerce. The UK Government have been making moves in recent times to renegotiate the treaty, and that is very welcome, but it remains the fact that there is still a place for that 1955 treaty today, and it is by no means the only such treaty.
Research has been undertaken by, for example, ActionAid, and I compliment it on the campaigns it has been running and thank it for the assistance it has given me in constructing this small Bill. That research looked at more than 500 double taxation treaties throughout the world and suggests that despite all the good work the UK Government have done over the last 10 years or so, the United Kingdom and Italy still have more restrictive treaties than any other country—around 13 are still in place.
What are taxation treaties about? They are about how much tax should be paid. Some restrictive treaties actually prevent Governments from imposing taxes—say, some types of corporation tax—that they may wish to impose, so they remove democratic responsibility in terms of countries putting together their tax.
The second thing taxation treaties typically deal with is where the tax is actually paid. In a bilateral relationship, the treaty often favours the country where the company is headquartered. Why are companies in advanced western societies—not just the UK, but the US, Germany, Italy and the like—engaged with developing countries?
I do not know of any international corporation that wants to move its headquarters from London, Edinburgh, New York or Berlin to site them in some poor country in central Africa, but they do want to operate there. Why is that? The typical type of operation is to exploit the country’s natural resources—minerals and the like. In another country I am very familiar with—Namibia—there is diamond mining, which is exploited by some large Australian corporations, among others, and uranium mining. Other types of natural resources are found in the Benguela current, which has some of richest fishery grounds in the world.
I have had an association with Zambia through fundraising, and on a trip there I became aware of almost a new form of colonialism. There are many Chinese companies where not only the leaders but the entire workforce are Chinese, so copper is being mined, the profit is being taken away and there are no jobs at all going into the local economy.
I was unaware of that case, but there is a parallel. When I was first asked to go to Namibia shortly after its independence to meet members of the Government in the large fishing port of Walvis Bay, they asked me and the others who were there to do a study on how they could Namibianise, as they called it, the fisheries sector. We asked why that was a priority, and they said, “We have one of the richest fishing grounds in Africa, but we’ve been under the apartheid regime of South Africa and that form of colonialism for years. There isn’t a single company in Walvis Bay owned by Namibians, and more than 90% of the people employed in the whole sector are non-Namibians.” The Namibian Government eventually took control and Namibianised the entire fisheries sector within 10 years, and it was more productive afterwards. It was a great success. Perhaps we tend not to hear about the successes where Governments in Africa and elsewhere take control and make a real difference for themselves.
I passionately believe that if we could liberate these countries to have more control of their own economies and taxation systems, that would move them away from any culture of dependency that some people say they have. It would be more liberating for them and better for everyone all round. I could be wrong, but I believe that it would be a better way, in the longer run, to achieve everyone’s objective of removing the scourge of the type of poverty that exists in these countries, with which we are entirely unfamiliar in the United Kingdom.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way again; he is being very generous with his time, as he is in so many aspects of his conduct. One country in central Africa, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, should be one of the richest countries in the world. We all carry a little bit of the DRC around with us in our pockets because that is where the coltan that makes our mobile phones comes from. Yet because of the factors he is describing, it is one of the world’s worst conflict zones. Does he agree that effective tax treaties would not only mobilise resources for Governments in such countries to invest in the development of those countries but help to strengthen their governance, bureaucratic and civil service structures, which would in itself provide stability and development?
I agree entirely. I will respond to that with a slight oversimplification. Let us look at it in this way. If a country has become solely dependent on aid funding for its development and does not have full control of its own taxation and its own mineral resources, what kind of governance structure is set up to accommodate that? It will be about people chasing aid funding, not developing and liberating themselves economically. In some countries, quite a large of part of their administration and democracy is based on managing aid-related matters much less than on managing its own taxation and related matters. Therefore, the infrastructure will benefit through such moves.
I think that the Bill will provide a further advantage for the United Kingdom Government. In another field, I have been trying to persuade the Government to respond to my representations about international criminal activity in Scottish limited partnerships. I am delighted to see that the Financial Secretary is present to respond to the debate, because last week we had what I thought was an extremely constructive meeting about the issue. We recognised that to address the issue of Scottish limited partnerships we had to involve not merely the Treasury but the Home Office and its Criminal Finances Bill, as well as the businesses that would be conducting a consultation. Three different partners would need to be brought together, so that we could begin to create a joined-up approach.
What I am saying, and what my simple Bill is saying, is this. Would it not it be a good idea if those who are responsible for negotiating tax treaties with countries in the developing world had to take reasonable account of our own Government’s international aid policy, because otherwise the Government’s international aid policies, and what they want to achieve in that regard, could be countered in a negative way through the negotiation of tax treaties by others who do not support those aims? It must surely be helpful to governance here, as well as in other countries, to create a system that is much more joined-up. That is surely in everyone’s interests. Who is going to argue against it? Well, my hon. Friends and I can probably predict who, but it seems to me that no rational person could object to a Government’s pursuing their aims in a joined-up and rational manner.
I congratulate my hon. Friend on bringing this extremely important issue to our attention. Does he agree that his proposals would also go some way towards creating sustainable jobs and livelihoods in developing countries, an ambition that sits firmly at the heart of the sustainable development goals that the UK Government are signed up to achieve?
I strongly agree with my hon. Friend. The joined-up approach that I mentioned is not just within Departments; it comes about through international commitments that the Government have made to others. It is therefore good that we sign wider international treaties relating to development.
“Trade over aid” was mentioned earlier. Many companies and organisations in the United Kingdom, and particularly in Scotland, will benefit from the Bill. The Glasgow film-maker Carol Cooke, who runs Scrumptious Productions, works with Barefoot in Business in Uganda to support grassroots women’s organisations and encourage women to run their own local businesses. The Bill will help more businesses of that kind, in the UK and specifically in Scotland, to go out to countries that are trying to develop their local economies.
That is a wonderful example. Double taxation treaties will benefit people in a wider sense—a cultural sense—although that is not stated in the Bill. If we can achieve fairer tax and fairer trade, along with mutual respect and more cross-pollination between countries than we have today, that, in its own modest way, will contribute to a more peaceful world. Generally, the more people engage with each other, the less likely they are to deal with each other in less than rational ways.
I commend the work that the hon. Gentleman has done on the Bill, and, of course, the work done by ActionAid. He has referred to fair tax and fair trade. I hope that the Bill will proceed, so that it can be improved in one significant respect. If there are indeed to be the new trade deals with developing countries that we are told there will have to be in the post-Brexit world, they should not take place without new tax treaties. The Bill deals with when such tax treaties are introduced, but it does not insist on their creation. That would be insisted on if new trade deals had to be accompanied by new tax treaties.
My main response to the hon. Gentleman is to apologise for being higher up the ballot than he is, because obviously he could have made a much better job of this than I have, but I hope that he appreciates my modest efforts. I agree with what he said. This is a modest Bill; it does not ask for anything particularly dramatic. I am only too well aware that it is likely to have technical flaws that the Government would like to address. If the Bill progresses to Committee, I would fully expect amendments to be tabled and debated, because that is what this process is about. A Second Reading debate is about the principles of a Bill, not about whether every i has been dotted and every t crossed. I would be keen to see the hon. Gentleman’s point brought in to strengthen the Bill, if it progresses.
I appreciate my hon. Friend promoting the Bill. Following on from the point made by the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan), does my hon. Friend agree that, if the UK is going to be much more responsible for negotiating trade deals than it has been in recent years, it would be good to start the process with a big gesture of good will to put us on a much better footing with regard to negotiating both trade and tax deals in future?
My hon. Friend makes a very good point.
Order. I appreciate that the hon. Gentleman is answering the point made by the hon. Member for Aberdeen North (Kirsty Blackman), but—I am not particularly criticising the hon. Gentleman, who addresses this House with expert rhetoric and I can always hear what he says—I am taking this opportunity to make a point about other Members who are sitting in that corner of the Chamber. It is not just an old-fashioned rule that when you stand up to speak, you must address the Chair; if you do not, your voice goes into the corner and the Minister, other Front Benchers and I cannot hear what is being said. I appeal to Members that, even though they are currently exchanging interventions with one another in that corner of the Chamber, they please address the Chair, because everybody else wants to hear what is being said. I am not criticising the hon. Gentleman; I am just asking for his co-operation.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for your wise words and for giving me the compliment that others in the Chamber wish to listen to me.
On the post-Brexit situation, I am sure that many hon. Members will acknowledge that there has been great concern about the imbalance between the negotiating ability of the UK Government, who have not employed negotiators for many years, and the capacity of the 27 remaining EU countries, which will have access to all the negotiators. It is thought that the Government will be at a disadvantage by having to face large numbers of really skilled negotiators and using people who may be less skilled.
I ask the Government to think about what we are saying about how treaties are negotiated between a country as powerful as the UK and countries such as Malawi and Namibia. I have been in countries that do not have any of their own negotiators. Even worse, they sometimes have to bring in people from a country in the developed world to assist them in negotiating with that very country. When I was in a country in Africa, I worked alongside a German who was funded by the aid organisation GTZ, and part of his task was to negotiate on behalf of that country with the German Government. We can see that there is scope for difficulty—compromise and the like—in all that. We need to make sure that we build capacity in such countries to enable them to ensure fairness. There is an ethical responsibility on us to ensure that we deal with those countries fairly, which is in the interests of everyone.
The Minister is keen to have sufficient time to respond, so I will leave my remarks there, other than to say that I am very grateful to hon. Members for staying and showing an interest in what, for me, is an important matter. I wish everyone a happy Christmas.
I will be extremely brief because, as the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) has said, we want to hear the Minister’s response, which I hope will be constructive.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath and ActionAid on the campaign they have waged to bring the Bill to fruition. The thrust of the objectives he has set out is to ensure a fairer balance between wealthy countries and source countries in such negotiations, and we wholeheartedly support that. I regret the way in which the Bill is timetabled—unfortunately, it may fall—but I hope there will be an opportunity for it to be brought back. The Labour Opposition will support it if it is brought back.
I will sit down shortly, but we need to address a couple of issues. Concerns have been expressed about the drafting and development of such treaties. There is criticism of the lack of openness and transparency, and that almost follows from our parliamentary procedures. In the American system for scrutinising trade deals and agreements of this sort, there is an open committee process through which evidence is provided in advance of the legislation being agreed. In this House, the deal is brought before us following its agreement. I realise that there may well be issues about confidentiality in the negotiations, but when the Bill comes back or there is another Bill on the same subject we should reform the parliamentary procedure to make the process more open and transparent and to allow more engagement with interested parties.
The other issue on which we need to work on a cross-party basis is how to align our taxation policies with our development objectives. As we have heard in the discussions so far, there is a need for greater work with the Department for International Development and the Treasury to consider the development of tax policy in this country so that it is more in line with our development policies for tackling poverty across the world.
Having made those few remarks, I thank the hon. Gentleman for introducing the Bill. He certainly has our support. If there is another parliamentary opportunity to enable the Bill to proceed, we will support it. If not, I hope another Member of the House will bring forward a Bill at some future date to achieve the objectives that he set out so eloquently.
I am grateful to colleagues on both sides of the House for giving me an opportunity to respond to this debate, because both this Bill and this subject are important. I want to respond in the constructive way in which the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) advanced his argument.
Let me make it clear from the start that I very much share the aims of the hon. Gentleman’s Bill. I share his belief in the importance of the UK’s efforts to tackle poverty in developing countries—we have achieved a great deal of cross-party consensus on that in recent years—and I think we would all very much agree with the thrust of his argument that it is absolutely vital to help countries to build capacity and to move beyond the need for aid.
Will the Minister give way?
I have only just started, so if the hon. Gentleman does not mind I will get a little further into my speech before I give way.
I reassure the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath that tax treaties enable countries to achieve that objective by helping to encourage the stable environment that can pave the way for sustainable economic growth and facilitate revenue collection, which is another important point that he drew out in his remarks. Although we are in full agreement about the important principles of the Bill, the lack of feasibility in its practical requirements means that the Government are unable to support it. I will come on to outline those requirements, but I first want to say a few words about our commitment to aid in general.
That was the question that I wanted to ask. It would be very helpful for the House if the hon. Lady put it on the record that the Government remain committed to the 0.7% aid target, because there has been speculation in the press, including reported comments from the Chancellor, that their commitment might be wavering.
It was only this week that the Prime Minister responded directly on that subject, so the hon. Gentleman does not need my assurance because he has had it from much higher up the governmental food chain.
As the hon. Gentleman intervened earlier on the subject of Malawi, I want to get this point on the record. I have done a lot digging into this issue. It is true that we are negotiating an updated treaty with Malawi, which we hope to conclude soon, but the Malawian Government have stated that there is no evidence of any UK companies using the UK-Malawi treaty to deprive them of their revenues. An official statement from the Malawian Government said that
“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.”
I wanted to give the hon. Gentleman and the House that assurance on the Malawi treaty.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) has some laudable aims, but that he is pushing at an open door because the Government have already taken substantial action and agreed to implement two of the base erosion and profit sharing outputs? They are therefore travelling in the direction he is asking for.
My hon. Friend is right. The OECD’s BEPS project is really important in addressing some of the issues the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath talked about. The UK has played a leading role in that project and will continue to do so. A large number of countries have come on board with those principles and we will continue to move forward on them.
It is worth restating that the UK became the first G7 country to meet the UN target of spending 0.7% of gross national income on international development. The way in which we tackle the challenges in developing countries is very much in the spirit of what has been discussed in this debate. We understand the idea of helping people to develop capacity and independence so that they are not dependent on aid. At the heart of what DFID and the Government are doing is the idea of strengthening people so that countries can move forward and develop.
We help people to strengthen their economies and reduce their reliance on aid in a range of ways. Last year—I am particularly proud of this because it involves HMRC working closely with DFID—we committed to doubling the funding for tax projects in developing countries through the Addis tax initiative. HMRC has set up a specialist tax capacity-building unit, which deploys staff to developing countries to provide technical tax expertise. It is working closely with DFID on that.
Bilateral tax treaties can play a part. Treaties are important in encouraging private sector activity in a partner country. We know how powerful a force that can be in driving up employment, providing quality goods and services, and raising crucial tax revenues, which finance public services in those countries. We have about 130 treaties with countries across the globe, including several with developing countries, to support and sustain cross-border trade and investment by tackling double taxation and clamping down on cross-border avoidance and evasion.
The treaties are reached through negotiation by experienced officials from HMRC and are highly technical documents. Let me provide assurance on the specific points the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath made about who is involved and the process that goes into those documents. They follow consultation exercises that help to establish appropriate priorities. That process includes the consideration of representations made by UK businesses, NGOs, other Departments including DFID and the UK’s missions based in developing countries. The approach to these treaties is very collaborative and open so that we reach the right priorities that work for both parties. Decisions on the negotiation or renegotiation of a tax treaty are taken on the basis of a range of factors, including the results of HMRC’s periodic review of the tax treaty network and the role of treaties in promoting development. The Government already strive to take wider issues, including development, into account and align our tax treaties with our wider development policies.
I know there are some concerns about the treaties, and some have been alluded to today. Let me be very clear that the UK never ties our wider assistance or investment to such treaties. We cannot impose tax treaties on other states, including developing countries, and we never try to do so. Every tax treaty we negotiate is necessarily a reflection of the interests and priorities of both states as equal partners. That of course will mean some trade-offs. Sometimes developing countries face a trade-off between reducing their tax rates and rights to encourage investment and maintaining those rates and rights and so risking losing investment. That is their judgment to make. Before engaging in a treaty negotiation any country would think about what its priorities are.
I have noted all that the Minister has said, but she must recognise that there is a concern that some of these treaties work more as double evasion treaties than as double taxation treaties. Beyond the treaties, in the last Parliament, against the grain of what the Government say they are about in the BEPS process, the controlled foreign companies rules were changed unilaterally and at the expense of developing countries’ exchequers.
There are two things I would say. First, our work on double taxation treaties cannot be seen in isolation from the wider work we have led through the OECD on the BEPS project and a lot of the legislation we have passed. Since just 2015, there have been more than 30 different measures that will come into effect on avoidance and evasion.
My second point, to reiterate what I was saying before I took the hon. Gentleman’s intervention, is that these are mutually agreed treaties. If a country is not comfortable with anything being proposed—not that the UK would propose anything close to what he suggested—the treaty is mutually agreed and it is right that we respect the balance developing countries wish to strike in negotiations as much as we would respect any country’s position. Our network of treaties with developing countries demonstrates that. We have no power to force a developing country to sign a treaty that is against its interests, and would never try to do so. If the UK and a potential treaty partner cannot come to an agreement that satisfies us both, the treaty simply will not go ahead.
I turn to some of the specific issues that the Bill would entail for any Government negotiating such treaties, because while we respect and agree with the thrust of the Bill’s intent, we do not think we could, from a technical point of view, carry out some of the analysis that the Bill suggests.
Let us take, for example, the idea of assessing the impact. Given the long timescales, the complex and shifting interactions with domestic law and the lack of a reliable comparator, we believe it is simply not possible to produce meaningful estimates of the revenue effects of a tax treaty in the sort of timeframe that the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath is suggesting. These are long-term projects with partner countries. Successive Governments have never attempted to produce assessments of the effect on the UK, let alone for a partner country. To attempt to do the latter—to assess the impact for the partner country—would very likely not be welcomed by that country, as it would essentially represent the UK’s uninvited judgment of its tax policies. I entirely endorse his comments about mutual respect. However well intentioned, the idea of our passing judgment on another country’s tax policy runs counter to the key principle of mutual respect.
I am afraid that I do not accept the Minister’s point about evaluation for the following reasons. She says we have very good treaties, which are well respected and work well. How do we know that they work well if there is no evaluation of them? No one was suggesting that any evaluation would be one-sided. It is perfectly possible to have bilateral or multilateral evaluations.
I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point, but I still cannot agree with him. He asks how we can show benefits. I repeat that countries enter into these agreements willingly. We have over 130 of them, and there are more in the process of renegotiation, particularly those that are outdated. Countries would not be seeking to renegotiate or enter into that bilateral discussion if they did not feel there was mutual benefit in their doing so.
I have recently signed several such treaties—we have recently exchanged treaties with Colombia and Lesotho—and had the opportunity to talk to countries about why they do it, and it is clear they believe it is to our mutual advantage. Over time, these bilateral relationships must be to our mutual advantage. It is also worth noting that countries can rescind treaties. If countries did not think it to their advantage, they could rescind the treaties. We have not locked countries into these arrangements; they are entered into by mutual agreement, and countries can exit from them.
The Bill also asks us to assess the benefits of foreign direct investment, but again that would be very difficult, if not impossible, on the basis that FDI depends on such a wide range of factors. Investors will consider all sorts of things, including: existing and planned infrastructure; changes to the country’s legal system; political stability—often critical in the developing world; the education level of the workforce; and access to markets. The idea that we could assess in isolation the direct contribution of a tax treaty is impracticable. It would be part of a mix that moves a developing country from poverty to greater wealth; during that journey, all those things, and more, begin to fall into place to produce an environment in which wealth can be created to the benefit of the country because people want to invest there. To analyse one of those things in isolation, however, would be an extremely difficult proposition.
On the Minister’s point about mutuality and the nature of any treaty discussions, would she agree that when bilateral trade deals are negotiated post-Brexit they should be accompanied by new tax treaties, negotiated at the same time, in the spirit of mutuality she has talked about?
Brexit is a bit of a red herring in this regard. These agreements are bilateral, and the vast majority are outside the EU, although we have them with EU member countries too. I am happy to respond to the hon. Gentleman with further details, but his point is not directly relevant in the way he suggests.
No, I will not give way again. To be fair to the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath, the promoter of the Bill, I want to deal with a couple of his other points.
Parliamentary scrutiny was mentioned. We have a system whereby tax treaties are subject to parliamentary scrutiny and debate before they can enter into force. That means scrutiny through a Delegated Legislation Committee. There is a gap of several months between signature and debate, which gives hon. Members ample time to acquaint themselves with the contents of a treaty and to inform robust debate. There is also both the power and the precedent for referring treaties to the Floor of the House. That has not been done since 1984, but I would be delighted to discuss any of these on the Floor of the House if Members were moved to bring them forward.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for championing this issue and for the constructive approach he has taken. It has given us the chance to put on the record what I believe is an admirable track record in this country.
I will mention one more thing that might be of interest to the House. The Department for International Development is supporting the OECD’s new “tax inspectors without borders” initiative, which has raised more than $260 million of additional revenue in developing countries to be spent on public services. Again, this is a record we can be proud of across parties.
While we fully support the principles of the Bill, many of its provisions are already in place, and where they are not that is due either to the technical difficulties involved or to the unintended and undesirable consequences that such measures would involve.
The debate has served to highlight a number of things, particularly the role that tax treaties can play in providing certainty and stability for increased investment in developing countries; the importance of our tax treaties being tailored to meet the individual tax policies of our partner countries; and the considerable impact that the success of these treaties can have on sustainable economic development.
Although we do not support the Bill, I would like to thank the hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath for securing the space to consider these issues—
The debate stood adjourned (Standing Order No. 11(2)).
Ordered, That the debate be resumed on Friday 20 January 2017.