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Global Minimum Corporate Tax Rate

Volume 811: debated on Wednesday 14 April 2021

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to support the proposal by the government of the United States of America for a global minimum corporate tax rate (1) as part of the United Kingdom’s Presidency of the G7, and (2) in other fora.

My Lords, the UK has an established record of being at the forefront of initiating global action on international tax. It is no different here: during our G7 presidency, we are leading the way to ensure the delivery of G20 commitments that we secured in January 2019 for a comprehensive global solution based on two pillars. Pillar 1 would deliver on ensuring that businesses are taxed where they make their profits, and pillar 2 would deliver a global minimum tax.

I expect that the Minister will acknowledge that, with their plan to raise the UK corporate tax rate, the Government have, at least implicitly, acknowledged that the 30-year-long global race to the bottom on corporate tax rates has led to major multinational companies not paying their way, while reeling in profits, building inequality and starving public services of essential funds. I also expect that the Minister will know that the recommended and UK-planned 25% minimum rate, as recommended by the Independent Commission for the Reform of International Corporate Taxation, would raise more than £22 billion for the UK Exchequer. Given that, and given that Germany, France and the Netherlands rapidly supported the US intervention, why is the UK not at the forefront, as the Minister said, but trailing well behind? Why have we not stepped in and backed this plan?

My Lords, we have always been a Government who want to reduce taxation wherever possible. However, the Government have been very active in dealing with the abuse of corporate taxation over the last few years—for example, with the corporate interest restriction rules, which prevent multinationals from avoiding tax using financing arrangements, raising £1 billion a year since 2017. Other examples are the diverted profits tax, which has led to an additional £5 billion by countering aggressive tax planning, and the tax charge on offshore receipts in respect of intangible property, which is forecast to raise £1 billion a year.

Since we left the European Union, the Government say that we must retain control over our money and laws. Is there a danger that we could end up replacing one group of people who are able to tell us what we can and cannot do with our money and laws with another group, other than the European Union? In such circumstances, is there a risk that the United Kingdom actually restricts its freedom and ability to control its own economy?

I am not sure whether the noble Lord is referring to the move by the American Government to put forward their own propositions on international tax reform, but it is important to clarify that the US Government are following the G7 work that has been done on pillars 1 and 2. It is rather good news that they are engaging in a much more front-footed way than happened under the previous Administration.

My Lords, I hope that my noble friend will agree that the suggestion from the US that the minimum tax rate might be as high as 21% has no chance of global agreement. However, do the Government think that there is any level at which a global deal might be done?

I can only speculate on what that might be, but the important thing is to try to get as much harmonisation on rules for large multinational companies. That is why we were always keen on pillar 1, which ensures that the profits of large digital businesses are taxed in the countries where they make their sales. It is important because, as one of the largest economies in the world, we believe that these international companies should not be able to just come here and take all the advantages of the infrastructure that British taxpayers are contributing to the creation of.

My Lords, the CBI, of which I am president, welcomes the United States’ renewed commitment to engage with the OECD multilateral process, which, after a decade, has two pillars. One is a new regime for the largest companies; the other is on setting a minimum tax rate, which the US aims to see at 21%. Do the Government agree with this rate of 21%? Do they agree that we want to avoid a patchwork of unilateral action—for example, digital services taxes?

My Lords, the Treasury is assessing the statements recently made by the US Government on that tax rate, so we are not in a position to opine on those yet. We agree on the patchwork point: we introduced the digital services tax as an interim to plug at least some of the gaps and problems that exist, but we will certainly review that if we can reach an international consensus.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the Members’ register. A strong, global, minimum tax on multinationals would recover much-needed billions for this country and others. Does the Minister agree it is essential for such a tax to provide a fair balance of taxing rights to all countries, based on allocation factors reflecting the real activities in each country, with a high minimum such as the 21% proposed by the US Administration?

As I answered to an earlier question, we are not yet in a position to announce whether we support that specific rate. Our policy has always been to put the emphasis on pillar one, which is the allocation of profits in the countries in which they are generated. To go back to my earlier point, if a company is going to use the infrastructure of a country in terms of its affluent, well-educated population, and take profits from it, it must contribute to it, too.

My Lords, do the Government understand, having listened to the international response to the Biden Administration and Janet Yellen’s proposals, that pillars one and two hang together and that there is no serious prospect of getting a solution to the right of countries to tax multinationals appropriately for the activities in their country unless there is also a common agreement on a minimum global corporate tax? Do the British Government accept that underlying principle, even if they dispute the rate?

The overriding position is that we welcome the American Government’s re-engagement in this process. As realists, we accept it will not happen without full American support. We agree with the noble Baroness that these things hang together, and it will be a cohesive result that will work.

My Lords, international tax competition is an important constraint on big government. You can raise the rate only to a certain point before the revenue and jobs begin to flee to friendlier jurisdictions. For that reason, it has always chafed with people who want a very large state. Will the Minister accept that the logic of the Laffer curve is not an academic theory but an empirically observable reality—that every cut in corporation tax, down to our current rate in this country, led to an increase in revenue? Will he further accept that having a competitive rate of corporation tax is an important growth strategy for a developing country? The formula that worked for Singapore, Hong Kong and eastern European countries would be cut off if we created a global high-tax cartel.

My Lords, we did not plan to increase corporation tax in the way we have had to do in the last few months. It is only as a result of the appalling crisis we have suffered through Covid and having to address the financial impact of that. I agree with my noble friend that lower corporation tax rates are broadly a good thing. Personally, I do not like to see tax on productive activity, employment or any of the things that make a country prosperous. Therefore, I support his comments that we should always aspire to lower tax rates, particularly on corporation tax. We will try to set it still at a competitive rate, so the US, Canada, Korea, Japan and Germany will all have higher rates than the one to which we are moving.

My Lords, the UN high-level panel published its final report on the impact of financial integrity on sustainable development. The panel called for a UN tax convention and a UN body for international tax rules. The report also includes proposals for the automatic exchange of information, beneficial ownership transparency and country-by-country reporting. Do the Government support the high-level panel’s conclusions, and will we address this issue at the G7?

My Lords, the Government do support increased transparency, and we have done a great deal over the last five years to improve on that, but I accept there is more to do.