Sunday, March 26, 2023

Thurrock MP continues to push for “efficient and effective” tax system

THURROCK MP, Jackie Doyle Price rose on the floor of the House to continue her probing and questioning of corporate tx avoidance.

Ms Doyle-Price said: “I am very pleased to follow my hon. Friend Stephen McPartland. I think that his excellent initiative will do much to provide transparency, and to enable consumers to make informed decisions. If there is one thing that the debate has shown us, it is that consumer power is perhaps the most effective weapon that we have when it comes to ensuring that companies pay their fair share of tax.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend Ian Swales for securing this important debate. Let me say for the benefit of some of my colleagues that I am happy to refer to him as my hon. Friend, and that I am gratified to see that so many of his own colleagues are present. That contrasts markedly with the attendance on the Opposition Benches.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Redcar will know, the debate was prompted partly by the work of the Public Accounts Committee—of which I am proud to be a member—and its work on tax avoidance by global companies. Our report at the back-end of last year found that HMRC’s performance in that regard was perhaps not as good as we would have liked.

I shall concentrate on some of the wider lessons learnt from the inquiry about how to make the UK tax system efficient and effective, while remaining competitive. I would like to associate myself with the comments made by my hon. Friend Mark Field and others about the debate becoming unduly political and playing to the gallery. It is good politics to attack global names as tax dodgers in the media, but we have to be careful about the messages we send out to potential investors in our country. I am pleased that, in the main, this debate has been a lot more mature than the debate that has played out in the media.

Members will know that the Committee heard evidence from Google, Starbucks and Amazon. We looked at the extent to which they exported their profits to more favourable jurisdictions and whether those arrangements could be described as fair. In that respect, the evidence supplied by Amazon was the least convincing—that has very much been the flavour of this debate. Those of us who have used Amazon—I am sure that many of us have—think we were dealing with a company in Slough, and those of us who visited our local post offices over Christmas would have seen just how much business Amazon was doing, yet, despite booking billions of pounds of sales through the UK, it pays less than £2 million in corporation tax, as has been said, with the profits being exported to the parent company in Luxembourg on more favourable terms.

Before we get too excited, we need to recognise that this is one of the things the European single market contributes to achieving—a company, wherever it is based in Europe, can sell across member states. The question is why, when Amazon has so much business here, it has chosen not to locate here. Ultimately, there is nothing wrong with trying to limit tax liability. After all, that money is earned and owned by the individuals and business; it does not belong to the Government. We need to look at what more we can do to encourage those firms to be more honest in their reporting of how much money is made here. In that sense, I associate myself with the comments of my hon. Friend Mr Bacon: this is about simplicity of the tax system.

Paul Farrelly (Newcastle-under-Lyme, Labour)

Does the hon. Lady agree that it is not just a case of headline corporation tax rates—for instance, ours compared with Luxembourg’s—but about the special deals that those companies can do with the authorities in Luxembourg, the Republic of Ireland or the Netherlands, through which they pay very little tax and export their profits to tax havens? Does she agree that we need to do more at European level to ensure that those sorts of special deals do not happen in one jurisdiction in a way that disfavours another jurisdiction?

Jackie Doyle-Price (Thurrock, Conservative)

I suspect this will be a rare occasion, but I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. The important point to which he alludes is that we cannot afford to take unilateral action in this area. We live in a global marketplace, and in reality some countries—even members of the EU—are perhaps less honourable in their dealings under tax treaties than we are. We all need to be a lot more savvy and a bit more mature about what will make our tax system more efficient and competitive, and that comes down to simplifying rates.

Paul Farrelly mentioned the sweetheart deals made by other countries. In that respect, I would like to highlight the issue of Google. Google is an internet firm, but the language of the internet is English, so why would a company such as Google choose Ireland over Britain? It can only have been because of the offers made to it. Again, we need to use the institutions of the EU to ensure a level playing field and a genuine single market. We need to recognise that companies will locate where they like and make sure that everybody is doing their bit to ensure a genuinely competitive market between states.

In response to the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Stevenage, I mentioned the issue of consumer power. Perhaps the most telling thing about what has happened since the PAC’s inquiry is how Starbucks has reacted. Amazon and Google are in near-monopoly positions, so competition cannot make them change their behaviour. There is no doubt that the negative publicity Starbucks faced following our inquiry forced it to make its gesture of offering to pay more corporation tax. We are in the bizarre position where that company seems to behave as if the amount of tax it pays is very much a voluntary contribution. It is incumbent on the Treasury and HMRC to make it clear that such a practice will not be tolerated.

I wish to highlight another issue that the Committee found when it examined Starbucks and the more sinister impact it had on the marketplace here in the UK. This comes back to the degree to which the ability to export taxes on profits enables these companies to engage in anti-competitive behaviour. Despite the phenomenal growth in the presence of Starbucks throughout the UK, we were told throughout our inquiries that Starbucks had made no profits here. We were also told that Starbucks was committed to expanding its operation, as its presence in the UK was important to it. Those two statements simply do not add up. If we look a little more deeply, we find that it seems the most significant losses were run up during a bidding war with Coffee Republic for certain sites on our high streets, with the result being that Starbucks entered into more expensive contracts for property and Coffee Republic was reduced to having a mere fraction of the stores it had had hitherto. So we are talking about a global provider engaging in very aggressive anti-competitive behaviour against a home-grown provider, and the tax system, in effect, subsidising it to do so. I would like the Minister and the Treasury to reflect on the extent to which that sort of behaviour gives unfair competitive advantages to foreign providers.

I am running out of time, so I shall just come back to one point: we cannot afford to act unilaterally. I call on the Government to make full use of relationships in the G20, the OECD and the EU to lead a global effort to tackle these unfair and uncompetitive practices.


  1. I really do wish that JDP would concentrate on local issues rather than speaking about matters, no doubt instructed to by her whips.


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