Finance Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Claudia Webbe Portrait Claudia Webbe (Leicester East) (Ind) [V]
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When we look at our world today—a world in which half of global wealth belongs to the richest 1%, a world in which large corporations possess more financial power than many post-colonial countries, and a world in which British Amazon warehouse workers earn in eight weeks what the company’s chief executive makes in one second—it is clear that we need to radically reassess how we tax large corporations.

It is therefore shameful, as my hon. Friend the Member for Ealing North (James Murray) made clear, that the British Government are the only G7 Government not to support US President Biden’s plans to halt the race to the bottom on corporation tax. However, I do not believe that even these plans for a global minimum rate of corporation tax for large multinationals go nearly far enough. We should be much, much bolder than the 15% or 20% threshold that is being discussed. After all, we are talking about corporations that have made super profits out of this pandemic and are paying low wages to our workers. The fact that our Government are not even willing to engage with this most basic of proposals reveals how unserious they are about reining in the rampantly unequal power of large corporations.

We know that tech giants currently pay a negligible amount of tax. A report by Fair Tax Mark found that for the Silicon six of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix, Google and Microsoft, the gap between the expected headline rates of tax and the actual tax paid between 2010 and 2019 was $123 billion. This is as unsustainable as it is unjust.

It is important to bear in mind that billionaires exist when and where workers are exploited, as has been cruelly demonstrated by the testimony of Amazon workers who have bravely and painfully disclosed the conditions under which they are forced to work. Rather than blocking international efforts to address this crisis, the Government must properly tax large corporations and invest to build a radically fairer country. That means not only rejoining the international plan led by President Biden but making the case that the minimum threshold be increased. It is important to remember that in the period post world war two, the top rate of corporation tax was actually as high as 52% for large companies—this, after all, was introduced by a Conservative Chancellor—but in the 1980s it was reduced to 30%. Since 2010, the Conservatives have cut corporation tax from 28% to 19%—by more than most among relatively rich countries. This shows that they would rather raise funds by squeezing the British people than reduce the corporate profits of wealthy shareholders.

The super deduction is wasteful and open to abuse. Are we going to see, as has been reported by The Times and others, tax breaks handed out for investing in swimming pools and jacuzzis as opposed to targeting support at British businesses that have been struggling during the pandemic, or even as opposed to targeting investment to end child poverty? Currently one in two children in my constituency are living in poverty—that is 42% of children who could be saved. Child poverty is a political choice, and this Bill is the proof of that. Are we going to see this measure as opposed to targeting investment to end the starvation wage that workers in Leicester’s garment industry receive while making clothes to fund the super-bonuses of retail brands such as Boohoo and others? Quite simply, the super deduction will allow multinationals such as Amazon to write off their tax liabilities.

As we recover from the coronavirus, we must learn the lessons from the 2008 financial crash. The 99%—the many—must never again be forced to bail out the super-rich. The Government must recognise that in our country of deep and unequal wealth, the ultra-rich and large corporations should be asked to contribute their fair share. Corporation tax is a tax on profits, not people. Cutting it means more profits in the pockets of wealthy shareholders and less in those of nurses and other essential frontline workers. To enable much-needed investment, an increased tax on company profits is necessary and long overdue, and it should be raised above the Government’s 25% limit, which is still the lowest of the G7 countries. Above all, it is vital that we enter the debate around taxing the super, ultra-rich and large corporations with much more ambition, as it is one of the most powerful weapons in the Government’s arsenal to combat the rampant inequality that defines our era.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP) [V]
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I am grateful for the opportunity to highlight a number of issues during the Report stage of the Finance Bill. I am always pleased to see the Minister in his place and I hope that I can put forward some points to which he will be able to reply.

I want to refer to clause 6, in part 1. I have spoken on this issue on numerous occasions, and I am thankful for the clarification the Government have sought to provide. However, I am still left disappointed at the rationale as regards corporation tax. The hon. Member for Leicester East (Claudia Webbe) referred to this as well. The measure sets the charge for the main rate of corporation tax at 19% for the financial years beginning 1 April 2022 and 1 April 2023. These changes mean that from 1 April 2023 the main rate of corporation tax for non-ring-fenced profits will be increased to 25%, applying to profits over £250,000. A small profits rate will also be introduced for companies with profits of £50,000 or less, so they will continue to pay corporation tax at 19%. Companies with profits between £50,000 and £350,000 will pay tax at the main rate, reduced by a marginal relief providing a gradual increase in the effective corporation tax rate.

The impact assessment that the Government have produced highlights the issue that I want to speak about. It states that there is no impact on families, but goes on to say:

“However, if businesses struggle or are unable to pay increased Corporation Tax, this could impact on their family formation, stability or breakdown. To support, HMRC can provide a Time To Pay arrangement.”

The issue is clear, at least in my mind and, I suspect, in the mind of many others: businesses have already struggled. While rates and wages may have been paid, and we are grateful for those schemes, the fact is that many small businesses have still had to pay out rent for equipment that they were precluded from using to make a profit, so their income was massively affected and many people’s personal savings were totally wiped out. They then took out a coronavirus business interruption loan to help them to make it through. We are beginning to come to the other side—thank the Lord for that—where they are seeking to rebuild, but instead of a meaningful reduction, there is merely a stay of execution with corporation tax.

That will affect many businesses and, by extension, many homes and families. It seems that it could well mean the end of many of our small businesses; while that is sad on a personal level, it is devastating on an economic level. We must remember that small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of our economy. The Financial Secretary and his Conservative Government have been committed to helping small businesses. All those small and medium-sized businesses are the backbone of the whole United Kingdom—they certainly are in my constituency of Strangford.

I repeat what I have said before in this Chamber: there is no point in carrying businesses thus far, only to allow them to flounder now before any repayment is made. The Government have admitted that there will be a reduced incentive to incorporate businesses that would usually seek to take this step. All this has an effect on the long-term income to our economy. I know that the Government want a stronger economy; we all do, and I believe that we need some help.

Northern Ireland is well placed to be a central hub for business. We have much to offer, yet people can go south of the border to lower corporation tax and greater incentives. Along with my colleagues in the Democratic Unionist party, I have often argued for a reduction in corporation tax to attract businesses to Northern Ireland. I believe that the corporation tax rate repels investors, so I urge the Financial Secretary to look at the issue again. I understand that historically he has wanted a UK-wide rate of corporation tax. However, I want a UK-wide customs market, and that is not the case—ask the local small grocer who cannot even get in dog treats to sell because of the Northern Ireland protocol. There are differences made by this insidious protocol that affect our corporations and small businesses alike. It is clear that if the Financial Secretary insists on one size fits all, it must be applied in every aspect of manufacture, delivery and retail.

The Northern Ireland Assembly is establishing a working group on the consequences of creating our own corporation tax band and its effect on our block grant; maybe the Financial Secretary could highlight where those discussions have taken us so far. I believe that there is an opportunity for him to step in and do the right thing for the UK with a view to the long term. That is what I am requesting, even at this very late stage.

The UK is stronger together. I believe that the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland will always be stronger together. That has become the mantra of our Government, and I agree with it, but it needs to be more than words: action must follow the words and show our strengths. I believe that a reasonable rate of corporation tax across the board is a step to strengthen the Union, not cause more division.

Jesse Norman Portrait Jesse Norman
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I am grateful to all Members who have taken part in this debate. Let me pick up on several issues that have been raised, starting with the super deduction. You will be aware, Madam Deputy Speaker, as I think some Opposition Members are not, that it has been described by the CBI as

“a real catalyst for firms”,

while the British Chambers of Commerce said:

“We particularly welcome the massive ‘super deduction’ investment incentive.”

They are absolutely right. It is a terrible shame that the Labour party has decided to try to tarnish the super deduction, a measure from which many capital-intensive businesses around this country will benefit, especially in the north, the north-west, the north-east and the midlands. As my hon. Friend the Member for Devizes (Danny Kruger) rightly picked up, it is a measure that benefits local businesses up and down the UK. He picked Wadworth, a well-known brewer, and rightly so, but there are many, many other businesses for which that is also true. He was absolutely right to highlight that.

Let me come on to questions of wider taxation, if I may. There seems to be an astonishing level of ignorance among Members on the Opposition Benches. They seemed to be unaware that the tax gap—the difference between the amount of tax actually collected and the amount of tax that could potentially be collected—is at its lowest rate in our recorded history, at 4.7%. It may be of some interest if I point out to them—they can reflect on this—that in 2005-06 under the Labour Government it was 7.5%, so it has fallen dramatically, I am pleased to say. Tax that was not being collected by the Labour Government at that time is now being collected by the Conservative Government of the present day, and a very good thing that is too. That is a record on which they should spend some time pondering. The fact of the matter is that this Government have always made it plain that they will be very tough—as tough as they can be—in order to collect the tax that is due and to make sure that corporations and individuals pay it wherever they are due to.