Mrs Anne Main (St Albans) (Con): The Commission might agree that we meet the requirements to have a break, but that is its decision. It might not agree in a few years’ time. Every step of these negotiations relies,

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unfortunately, on somebody else giving us permission to make decisions for this country, as with the thousands of harmonised directives that we struggle with—day in, day out—in respect of which businesses have to ask the permission of other countries. This is not what the British public want, Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister: Let me deal first with the harmonised directives. We now have this test for subsidiarity—we had only fine words in previous treaties because there was never a mechanism to go with them—so the European Council and the European Commission are going to have to look at all these competences and return to member states those that are no longer necessary. That seems to represent important progress in the area my hon. Friend mentions. On migration, the European Commission has said that Britain qualifies now. Where my hon. Friend is right is that although we know that what is proposed is the ability to stop someone getting full access to benefits for four years, we need to fill in the detail on how long such a mechanism will last and how many times it can be renewed.

Hywel Williams (Arfon) (PC): In the Welsh general election, how will the Prime Minister’s Conservative colleagues argue for the economic stability that Wales so sorely needs when it might be overthrown by his referendum just six weeks later?

The Prime Minister: British people, including people in Wales, voted for a Government who would deliver economic stability while putting this great question about Britain’s future in front of the British people. As I have said before, public opinion in Wales, England, Scotland and Northern Ireland is all, to a greater or lesser extent, in favour of holding a referendum. I think this is the right policy for the whole of the United Kingdom.

Mr Christopher Chope (Christchurch) (Con): My right hon. Friend has talked about what is going to happen with the European Court of Justice. Does he recall that under the Lisbon treaty there is a requirement for the European Union to join the European convention on human rights. That has not been implemented because the European Court of Justice has said that it is incompatible with the EU treaties. Does this not show that, ultimately, although something might need to be taken into account, there is no need for compliance?

The Prime Minister: Let me say two things to my hon. Friend. First, I do not believe that the EU should join the European convention on human rights. I do not think that is the right step forward, and that has been the British Government’s position. Secondly, we are committed in our manifesto to change Britain’s position with respect to the European Court of Human Rights by having our own British Bill of Rights. We shall be coming up with proposals for that shortly.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): British workers benefit from employment rights guaranteed at the EU level. Will the Prime Minister assure us that his renegotiation does not affect important employment rights, including rights to paid leave, equal rights for part-time workers and fair pay for agency workers?

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The Prime Minister: All these rules are no longer in a social chapter, but are part of single market legislation. We now have the opportunity to make sure that single market legislation is proportionate and that it is on something that needs to be done at the European level rather than the national level. That is an ongoing conversation, as it should be under the rules set out here.

Damian Green (Ashford) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that of all the documents issued yesterday, the most significant words are in Donald Tusk’s letter to members of the Council, particularly where he says that

“in light of the United Kingdom’s special situation under the Treaties, it is not committed to further political integration.”

Is that not precisely what the majority of the British people have always wanted—to be in Europe, but not run by Europe, to revive an old phrase. Is that not precisely what my right hon. Friend has achieved?

The Prime Minister: I thought the letter was interesting in that regard. The truth is that Britain’s membership of this organisation is different from that of other countries. As the document sets out, we are not in the euro, we are not participating in Schengen, we keep our own border controls, we choose whether to participate in measures of freedom, security and justice. We opted out of the justice and home affairs area, and now we are opted out, as it were, of ever closer union. Our membership is different, and we need to make that case strongly as we go forward.

Ms Margaret Ritchie (South Down) (SDLP): Given that the south of Ireland is by far Northern Ireland’s biggest export market, will the Prime Minister tell us what assessment he has made of the impact that leaving the European Union would have on the land border in Ireland? Can he tell us whether continued free movement in Ireland can be guaranteed, and has he assessed the damage that a customs border could cause to Northern Ireland’s economic security?

The Prime Minister: Those are important questions. I think I am right in saying that the amendments to the European Referendum Bill—now the 2015 Act—that were agreed in the House of Lords and were then, I think, accepted here require the Government to produce a series of documents concerning the reform proposals, the alternatives to membership, and the obligations and rights that attach to membership of the European Union. I think that, through a process involving those documents, we should address a very important question that clearly affects one part of the United Kingdom quite intensely.

Mr Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) (Con): In 2014-15, 183,000 economic migrants came from the European Union, none of whom would have been deterred by anything we have heard so far. Ever closer union may be taken out of the preamble, but it remains in the essential text of all the treaties. On protecting the “euro-outs”, all that will happen is that there will be a discussion—and there are plenty of discussions in the European Union—and, on competitiveness, that has been part of the European Union’s own ambition since the Lisbon agenda of 1999.

The thin gruel has been further watered down. My right hon. Friend has a fortnight, I think, in which to salvage his reputation as a negotiator.

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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is extremely articulate and always speaks very powerfully, but let me take two of the points that he has made and explain why I think that, actually, he has got this wrong.

First, the principles that will be legally binding in terms of how currencies other than the euro are treated constitute a real advance. They mean, for instance, that never again can the European Union suggest that the clearance of euros is possible only in eurozone countries, which would have been disastrous for our financial services industry. I have secured that. The European Union cannot even promote that again, which is extremely important, because if we were not in the European Union, we would not have that protection at all. The EU could change the rule just like that. I do not think my hon. Friend understands the power of the principles of no discrimination, no disadvantage, and no cost, which mean that we cannot be forced to bail out eurozone countries as we nearly were last summer. Those are powerful principles.

On ever closer union, I encourage my hon. Friend to look at page 9 of section C of one of the documents, which states that

“the references to an ever closer union…do not offer a basis for extending the scope of any provision of the Treaties”.

As I have said, as far as I can remember—I was advising a Minister at the time of the Maastricht debates, and I sat through Lisbon and Nice and Amsterdam and the rest—the principle has never been set out in that way. This means that ever closer union cannot be used to drive a process of integration. If we in the House have the protection that we must have a referendum if any Minister ever suggests that we sign up to another treaty that passes power—protection one—and we have this too, we are well on our way to saying that our different sort of membership of the EU is not only safeguarded but is being extended, because not only are we out of the euro and out of Schengen, but we are out of ever closer union too.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): Once the workshop of the world, Birmingham in the west midlands is now the industrial heartland of Britain. Key to that success is inward investment, including investment by Jaguar Land Rover in the 3,000-strong Jaguar factory in my constituency, and key to inward investment is continuing membership of the European Union. Does the Prime Minister agree that it is strongly in the best interests of midlands workers that we remain part of Europe?

The Prime Minister: Provided that we secure the agreement that we need, yes, of course I do. We are seeing an industrial renaissance in the west midlands, much of it involving the automotive industry. I have had a number of meetings with car manufacturers in recent days: I saw representatives of Toyota and Ford yesterday, I have had conversations with Jaguar Land Rover and others, and I was with BMW representatives in Germany recently. They have all made the point that Britain is a great centre for the manufacture of cars, and of engines in particular. That is relevant to the issue of the standards set in Europe and our being a rule maker and not a rule taker, which is very important for our auto industry.

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Mr John Baron (Basildon and Billericay) (Con): Following the Prime Minister’s response to my recent parliamentary question, I have taken his advice and cleared the diary for a debate in the Chamber tomorrow on parliamentary sovereignty. Given the importance of sovereignty to the EU negotiations, will he join us for that debate, and, perhaps, respond to it on behalf of the Government?

The Prime Minister: I am very sorry, but I have not been able to clear my own diary. Tomorrow is the Syria conference. In fact, many people will arrive tonight—more than 30 Presidents and Prime Ministers, I believe. The aim is to raise twice as much for the Syria refugee appeal this year as we did last year. However, I know that my hon. Friend is keen to have a word, and I will make sure that we fix that up.

Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): As 14,000 jobs in Oldham are dependent on Europe, I am very much in favour of staying in. However, although the Prime Minister said in his statement that the emergency brake would apply immediately after the EU referendum, it was reported yesterday that the process would take at least 18 months. Will the Prime Minister make clear which is the case, and tell us whether he will report on any other transitional arrangements relating to other measures?

The Prime Minister: What I said was that because this measure does not rely on changes in the treaty but will be in European legislation, it can enter into force relatively shortly after the referendum. It will require some legislation, but, as I said earlier, the leader of one of the biggest parties in the European Parliament said that it could be a matter of months, because the process can be accelerated. It just goes to show how much we need to bind everyone into the agreement that we hope to achieve in the coming weeks, so that the Parliament can pass the legislation as swiftly as possible.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): Does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the biggest concerns about the direction of travel in the European Union is that countries within it, the eurozone members, wish to integrate more deeply in order to protect their currency? We have our own currency, but an incredibly important part of my right hon. Friend’s negotiation ambition was that we should be protected from any discriminatory measure that might result from those countries’ ability to integrate more closely. Is that not why this proposed package is indeed significant? Is it not the case that it does protect us, and that not only are there now two different speeds, but we have a different destination from our European partners, which puts us in a relatively advantageous position?

The Prime Minister: Let me make two points. First, I think that the reference to a different destination is significant. People have often talked about Europe moving at different speeds, but for the first time it is being said that we may not all be trying to achieve the same ends, and I think that that is very important.

The “euro ins-outs” section is probably the most technical and, in some ways the most impenetrable, but it contains some simple principles, such as the non-discrimination and no-cost principles that I mentioned

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to my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Mr Rees-Mogg). There is also the very important concept that, should we need to take action in the form of financial supervision to secure our own financial stability, nothing should get in the way of such action. That, I think, is a very important clarification for the good of our country.

Phil Wilson (Sedgefield) (Lab): More than 80% of businesses in my constituency want to stay in the EU. More than 50% of the jobs are linked to trade with the EU. Our membership is vital to jobs, prosperity and security, and that is why Labour Members are united in campaigning to stay in Europe. Do we not need to end the uncertainty, have the referendum as soon as possible, and campaign to stay in the EU?

The Prime Minister: Obviously I am keen to end the uncertainty, but I am not in any hurry if we cannot get the right deal. I think we have set out very clearly what needs to be done, and I think it is possible for that to be agreed in February, but if it takes longer we shall have to be patient, because getting this right really matters.

Mr Peter Bone (Wellingborough) (Con): A week or so ago, 2,500 people turned up in Kettering for the first GO conference. GO—Grassroots Out—is an organisation whose aim is to get us out of the EU. We had cross-party speakers at the Kettering conference, and we shall be holding another in Manchester.

What has not been mentioned by commentators—I received an e-mail from the Prime Minister about this yesterday—is the fact that he rules nothing out. This is a process, and he may not get what he wants. I understand that he will not be able to come to Manchester because he is still involved in the negotiations, but if he does not get what he wants, could he come to our GO conference on 19 February, and would it be possible for me to drop off a tie for him at Downing Street?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is always very generous with his time, with his advice, and now with his clothing as well. The tie has arrived, and I feel that the blazer is soon to follow.

I do not think that I shall be able to come on 19 February—I hope that I shall still be in the thick of negotiations—but I will of course report the results to the House.

Mr Speaker: It is a very garish item, I am bound to say, but who am I to object to that? [Hon. Members: “Would you like one?”]I have suddenly been afflicted by a loss of hearing.

Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I hope my tie is not too garish for you, Mr Speaker.

When the Prime Minister visits Northern Ireland, which I would welcome, will he visit the devastated fishing villages, the families angered by EU Court rulings on terrorists, the manufacturers smothered in red tape and the haulage companies whose employees run the gauntlet at Calais every week because of the EU’s chaotic immigration policy? Will he explain to them how his red card will prevent further destructive EU

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legislation, given that it requires him in 12 weeks to get 50% of Parliaments across the EU to oppose proposals backed by their own Governments?

The Prime Minister: I will want to address all those issues when I go to Northern Ireland. Already the reform of the common fisheries policy has led to some improvement, but there is more to be done. On the rules that manufacturers face, I have set out how we will cut bureaucracy. The documents also address directly the problem between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland of sham marriages and people trying to get round our immigration controls, but we now need to carry them into force.

Tom Pursglove (Corby) (Con): The Prime Minister is trying his best to renegotiate our position, but would he not agree that the reforms, as they stand, do nothing to make the immigration system in this country fairer to people, regardless of where in the world they come from?

The Prime Minister: I think they do make it fairer. As I explained in the statement, it has for years been frustrating that we cannot apply some of the rules for British citizens marrying foreign nationals to EU citizens marrying foreign nationals. The agreement opens the way to ensuring that we can. All sorts of sham marriages, fraudsters, criminals and others who have been getting round our immigration controls will no longer be able to do so.

Joanna Cherry (Edinburgh South West) (SNP): The Sunday Times has reported that, as part of the negotiations and his plan to restore the sovereignty of Parliament, the Prime Minister is seeking to deny UK citizens access to the fundamental rights guaranteed by the EU charter. Does he appreciate that, as stated in the well-known case of MacCormick v. Lord Advocate, the doctrine of the sovereignty of Parliament is a distinctively English principle? In Scotland, the people are sovereign, and they do not want their human rights protections reduced.

The Prime Minister: People in our country had fundamental rights long before the EU charter of fundamental rights was even thought of, so we do not need these documents in force in Britain. We have our own Parliament and our own rights, and soon we will have our own British Bill of Rights.

Nadhim Zahawi (Stratford-on-Avon) (Con): Constituents and families will be thinking about what the future holds. All four tranches of the agreement are important to all our constituents, but the most significant is the protection for non-euro countries. Will the Prime Minister assure the House that he will look at the detail—the devil is in the detail—to make sure that there are no loopholes and that, as the eurozone countries integrate, we are protected and not discriminated against?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly do that. It will be a complex negotiation. The eurozone counties want the ability to integrate further and to know that we are not trying to block the action they need to take, but clearly we want to make sure that we, as members of the single market, are not disadvantaged.

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Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): I am sure the Prime Minister will welcome today’s news that the largest offshore wind farm in the world is to be built off the east Yorkshire coast by DONG Energy and Siemens. This will create up to 2,000 jobs in the Humber estuary and result in £6 billion of investment. Does this not show that, whatever the debate and frustrations around the right terms, it is in our country’s economic interest to be part of, and engaged in, the EU as a leading player?

The Prime Minister: I am delighted with that news, because the Government have given great support to Siemens and DONG Energy. We have—I think—the biggest offshore wind market in the world, because we have provided the regulatory certainty the industry needed. In the east of England, that has achieved not just one big factory, but the industrial regeneration of all the related industries. Irrespective of the outcome of the referendum, we have to make Britain the best place in the world to invest and grow a business. When the arguments come, I am sure many of those who want us to stay in a reformed EU will argue it will make us even more attractive, but we should wait until the starting gun is fired.

Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): The scope and scale of the reform package reflect the key interests of a wide range of people in the Chamber. Does the Prime Minister agree that the important thing now is to make sure the details are legally binding and absolutely right and, above all, to sketch out the economic case for staying in the EU—not least the fact that more than half of our foreign direct investment comes from the EU?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. The next few weeks will be about trying to secure this deal and nail down the details. If that is successful, there will then be the bigger arguments he refers to.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): I suspect there will always be issues that divide the Prime Minister and me, but, on this, is not what matters the national interest and what he described as the greater prize? Is not one of the benefits of a document that is legally binding and ratified by the British people in a referendum that it will be the British people who decide? Had he gone for treaty change, could it not have been scuppered by referendums in France, Netherlands, Ireland and other EU member states whose publics might come to a different view from that of the British public?

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his comments. Clearly, if agreed, this will be a legally binding arrangement, for the reasons I have given, but we are aiming in it for treaty change—on those things that need to change—the next time the treaties are altered. He makes a good point though: the more we can bring this together in one place and explain what it is about, the better the British people will see the force of the arguments.

Mr David Nuttall (Bury North) (Con): Does the Prime Minister accept that if the UK left the EU, we could regain our seat at the World Trade Organisation, thereby regaining our voice and influence on this crucial body for global trade, which we lost when we became a member of the EU?

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The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right that, outside the EU, one option would be to take our seat at the WTO. The only problem is that the WTO has not signed many trade agreements in recent years. Those have tended to be bilateral agreements, such as the EU agreement with Canada, which we hope is about to come in, and that with Korea. Of course, Britain could, independently, sign trade agreements, but we have to weigh up how much influence Britain has as a member of the EU—a market of 500 million people—when negotiating the biggest and best trade deals with the fastest-growing countries in the world.

Mr Speaker: I call Brendan O’Hara. No. He was here.

Stewart Malcolm McDonald (Glasgow South) (SNP): The German Government and the European car lobby see the renegotiation as an opportunity to water down new proposals on emissions standards and type approval. Does the Prime Minister accept that that would be unacceptable to British drivers, and will he ensure that it will not be a bargaining chip in the renegotiation?

The Prime Minister: There is no connection between this renegotiation and those directives. The only one I can see is the one I made earlier: for the good of our car industry and our consumers, Britain needs to be in the room when these decisions are made.

Dr Sarah Wollaston (Totnes) (Con): The Prime Minister has set out the many things that remain to be reformed, but if this grudging and threadbare deal is the best the EU is prepared to concede, what serious hope is there of meaningful renegotiation if or when we are tied in long term under a referendum?

The Prime Minister: I would make two points to my hon. Friend. First, this is not coming at the time of a more general treaty change; it is a one-off. We are the first Government, and I am the first Prime Minister, I can think of who from a standing start have achieved a unilateral agreement for the good of their country inside the EU. I do not think it is threadbare; as others have said, it is very solid. I am sure that treaty changes will be coming down the track—the process of reform is never fully completed—but there is no danger, once the agreement is signed and, I hope, confirmed in a referendum, of Europe running away with a whole lot of other plans for Britain, because we have the referendum lock. Nothing can happen to Britain without a referendum in this country. That was such an important piece of legislation back in 2010, but I think sometimes we forget about it.

Greg Mulholland (Leeds North West) (LD): The Liberal Democrats believe in the UK being in Europe, but we also believe in the EU being reformed, so I congratulate the Prime Minister and his team and wish them well in the remaining negotiations. When he is leading the campaign to stay in, will he remind the British public of the mutual defence clause and that, frankly, in this unstable world now would be an absurd time to turn our backs on our nearest neighbours and allies?

The Prime Minister: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his good wishes for the final stages of this renegotiation. This will be a big argument in the campaign. Like many on this side of the House, I have always seen NATO as

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the cornerstone of our defence, but as I said earlier, in the modern networked world the work we do, for instance in the Mediterranean to try and stop people leaving Libya and making the perilous journey to Italy, could be a NATO operation but right now it is a European operation in which Britain is playing a leading part. Being a member of networks where we can work together for our security is important.

Caroline Nokes (Romsey and Southampton North) (Con): Small and medium-sized enterprises are the absolute lifeblood of our economy and small business owners in Romsey and Southampton North are looking at the targets for regulation reduction with optimism, but what they are really seeking is a reassurance from my right hon. Friend that these are stretch targets and our real goal has to be to go beyond them and make sure there is a real-terms reduction in the amount of bureaucracy small businesses face.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. What has been achieved so far is something like an 80% reduction in the number of proposals coming forward, but of course what we want to achieve is a reduction in the existing base of regulation and registration where it is unnecessary, and that, again for the first time, is what we have secured targets towards.

Cat Smith (Lancaster and Fleetwood) (Lab): Can the Prime Minister confirm that British women’s rights at work specifically around paid maternity leave, equal pay and anti-discrimination laws will remain firmly in place and will not be affected by any deal? For the same British women, may I ask for an update on how far his negotiations have got on the tampon tax?

The Prime Minister: First, I can give the hon. Lady that reassurance in terms of those guarantees and also the action we have taken domestically on things like shared parental leave, which I am very proud of and makes Britain a more family-friendly country. The tampon tax issue is difficult because of the VAT rules in Europe so I have nothing to add to what I have said before about that, but I totally agree about the desirability of trying to get it fixed.

Ben Howlett (Bath) (Con): May I join other colleagues in thanking the Prime Minister for all his work in negotiating a better deal for Britain in the EU? I agree with him that these reforms are a substantial and fundamental change to our relationship with the EU, but what assessment has he made of the impact of these reforms on the car manufacturing worker or the student who is looking at their Erasmus placement next year, as well as those who share similar concerns to those of a pensioner constituent of mine who contacted me yesterday and said, “What is the impact on my grandchild if we leave the EU?”

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Inevitably these negotiations focus on important ideas and concepts of sovereignty and non-discrimination and deregulation and the rest, but we have to make sure this is a debate that is about consumers and how we are affected in terms of freedom to travel, freedom to study,

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the price of flights, the availability of roaming charges, and how we are affected, as my hon. Friend said, as pensioners and car workers and young people looking for university places. Hopefully, all the debate will engage with, and bring out, those issues.

Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP): The Prime Minister has outlined the action he has taken in UK-EU negotiations, but what is missing from his statement is any reference whatever to the fishing sectors, choked with bureaucracy and unable to fish fully the seas around the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Farmers have to wade through red tape just to farm. The fishing sectors and the farmers have a simple solution: have the referendum as soon as possible and let us rid ourselves of the outrageous and top-heavy EU and just say no to Europe. Can the Prime Minister tell us, and the fishermen and the farmers, today when the referendum will take place?

The Prime Minister: I cannot give a date for the referendum because we do not yet have an agreement in place. I would say that in recent years there have been quite significant improvements in the common fisheries policy, not least in dealing with the appalling situation of discards. As for farmers, let the debate begin; let’s hear from farmers and farmers’ representatives about what they think about the support they get, the actions we have taken to try to simplify the bureaucracy with fewer inspections and the rest. I look forward to hearing from all farmers and their representatives.

Mrs Flick Drummond (Portsmouth South) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for a very good negotiation. This report is fantastic, but may I draw my right hon. Friend’s attention to section B? Does my right hon. Friend welcome Mr Tusk’s comments on competitiveness, which commit to

“lowering administrative burdens and compliance costs on economic operators, especially small and medium enterprises, and repealing unnecessary legislation”?

That is what so many companies complain about. This is very welcome to all businesses, particularly those in Portsmouth who want to invest in Europe, and it is exactly the reason why we should be staying in this market which has over 500 million people.

The Prime Minister: I thank my hon. Friend for her remarks. Of course section B is important, but it is also worth looking at the draft European Council declaration on competitiveness which adds to section B and brings out some more details.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): Obviously any referendum debate will centre on the bigger picture, the longer-term challenge and deeper interests, but as well as the issues raised by my hon. Friend the Member for South Down (Ms Ritchie), will the right hon. Gentleman address whether the package he has come up with to do with the changes in relation to child benefit will automatically extend to cross-border workers in a constituency like mine, where EU precepts apply?

The Prime Minister: I will look very carefully at that issue, but I seem to recall from conversations I had with the Taoiseach that there are particular arrangements for the common travel area. But I will come back to the hon. Gentleman on this.

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Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con): The legal certainty that the Prime Minister referred to and the protections in the economic governance section of the document are very important to maintain the status of London as an international business and financial centre, but does my right hon. Friend agree that one of the risks to that position that would remain if this agreement were not successful would be the uncertainty of leaving a market which we can grow, improve and strengthen, and having then to try to get back into the market from the outside with uncertain cost, time and terms?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend, with his constituency, is right to talk about the importance of financial services and the City of London. We have 40% of Europe’s financial services here in the UK. The current arrangements work quite well because people can passport their way through to establish themselves in any European country, so those arguing for alternatives will have to answer some quite difficult questions about how exactly we put those sorts of protections in place.

Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP): Can the Prime Minister confirm he is now in receipt of a letter from my right hon. Friend the Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond) that makes it clear he does not believe six weeks is a long enough gap between national elections and the EU referendum? Clearly the misrepresentation that has happened is not intentional—we all accept that—but in order to set the matter straight, may I suggest that the Prime Minister and his colleagues are equally enthusiastic about circulating the actual views of the former First Minister, in particular his suggestion that the real reason the Prime Minister wants a June referendum is that a short campaign is designed to minimise the extent of the obvious divisions within the Conservative party?

The Prime Minister: First, I do not think four months is a short period of time. I think by the end of four months people might be heartily sick of the whole subject. But I notice that the thumbscrews and the other instruments of torture available to the current First Minister have clearly been applied to the former First Minister as we have seen a miraculous conversion—once six weeks was enough; now six weeks is not enough. I wonder what she did to him.

Richard Drax (South Dorset) (Con): May I, too, thank the Prime Minister for giving the country the chance of a referendum? Does he agree that he, I and this Government are nothing more than tenants whose duty while we serve is to protect our island inheritance—our democracy, sovereignty and freedom—and that we have no right whatsoever to sell it all, let alone cheaply, to a bureaucratic and unaccountable institution like the EU?

The Prime Minister: We are tenants; my hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why I think after 40 years of the British people not having a say when Europe has changed so much, it is right to give the British people a say again, and what I wanted to do was give them the very best possible chance to have a say—not between the status quo today and leaving altogether, but with an improved settlement and plan for Britain by which they can choose to stay in or get out.

Several hon. Members rose

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Mr Speaker: Order. [Interruption.] I call Mr Tom Elliott—and he should not be diverted by the hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson), who is sitting next to him.

Tom Elliott (Fermanagh and South Tyrone) (UUP): Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I will not be diverted, and I have no ties to offer either. One of the major drawbacks of the European Union for businesses is red tape and bureaucracy. I note that yesterday’s document stated that unnecessary legislation would be repealed. When will the public and our businesses be able to see which legislation is likely to be repealed?

The Prime Minister: As the document sets out, this will be an annual process. What is different about this is that, instead of just words about deregulation, two mechanisms are being put in place: one to enforce subsidiarity so that whole competences can be returned to member states, and one for burden-reduction targets. Those two things are new.

Mims Davies (Eastleigh) (Con): We on this side of the House want what is best for Britain when it comes to jobs and security. I have one vote, and I believe that there are aspects of the EU that need serious scrutiny and reform. My constituents share those thoughts. This party has provided this opportunity for a much-needed referendum and the reality of reform, and we can look at this and examine what is before us. Does the Prime Minister agree that voters want an open argument on this matter, rather than open warfare?

The Prime Minister: People want an open argument; they also want unbiased statistics and clear independent advice. So as well as there being an in campaign and an out campaign, once the deal is agreed—

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Two outs.

The Prime Minister: Well, several out campaigns, as the hon. Gentleman says. Once the deal is agreed, we also need to ensure that independent organisations, businesses, non-governmental organisations and any others who think that they would be affected are encouraged to come forward and give their views.

Stephen Gethins (North East Fife) (SNP): The Prime Minister talks about strengthening all the national Parliaments. Will he tell us, in the spirit of seeing subsidiarity in action, what exactly that will mean for the Scottish Parliament?

The Prime Minister: We are currently giving the Scottish Parliament the immense responsibility of being able to raise its own taxes. We are still negotiating that, but it is probably the biggest act of British subsidiarity that we have had for many years, and I would urge the SNP to pick up the baton and run with it.

Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con): On the topic of in-work benefits, the Prime Minister has already said that the emergency brake is in the hands of the Commission. Does he agree that it would greatly help the “in” case if, over the next two or three weeks, he could get a slightly stronger commitment to apply that handbrake for a period into the future and not just initially? Secondly,

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on that topic, what would happen if we were to vote to stay in but the European Parliament did not subsequently ratify these measures?

The Prime Minister: On my hon. Friend’s latter point, the European Parliament is a party to these negotiations and I have had a number of meetings with it. If he looks at the draft declaration of the European Commission on the safeguard mechanism, it is very clear that we are justified in triggering the mechanism straight away. On his other point, he is absolutely right to say that we need to secure in the negotiations the best possible agreement on all the other aspects of the operation of this mechanism: how long it lasts for, how many times it can be renewed, and all the rest of it.

Patrick Grady (Glasgow North) (SNP): There were approximately 500 days between the announcement and the date of the Scottish independence referendum, which is roughly the same length of time between today and 23 June 2017. There are 30,000 British citizens living in European countries and claiming benefits, so how will this draft, permanent, still-to-be-negotiated, legally binding package affect them?

The Prime Minister: I can let the House into a little secret. The reason why there were 500 days between the announcement of the Scottish referendum and the referendum itself is that I was so determined that there was going to be one question and one question only that I granted the former First Minister, the right hon. Member for Gordon (Alex Salmond), the right to name the date. He wanted to make sure that the referendum took place after as long as possible, after the anniversary of Bannockburn, after everything—everything he could throw in. I have to say that, from my point of view, the result was still very clear.

Paul Scully (Sutton and Cheam) (Con): Benefits as a pull factor for migration might have been blunted somewhat by these proposals but they have not been eliminated. Arguably the bigger pull factor for migration is our successful economy and job creation in the UK. Will the Prime Minister tell us what the draft proposals will do to enable the UK to control immigration from within the European Union in the long term, beyond the four years of the emergency brake?

The Prime Minister: On the long-term approach, we are dealing with the abuses of free movement with a more comprehensive package than ever before to deal with the fraudsters, the criminals and the sham marriages. We have the emergency brake which will deliver a four-year welfare brake, which I think is significant. Frankly, I am sure that the eurozone economies will start to recover over time; that has been one of the issues. In the long term, we need to do better at controlling immigration from outside the EU but we also need a welfare policy and a training policy inside our own country, which we increasingly have, to train up the people in this country to do the jobs that our strong economy is providing.

Mr Robin Walker (Worcester) (Con): As one of the top five economies in the world, Britain has to have a

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world view, and we need friends and allies not just in one continent but in six. I agree with the Prime Minister that this should be a question not just about whether we could manage outside the European Union but about where we would be better off. With that in mind, what feedback has he had on his negotiations from our allies in the Commonwealth and from Britain’s wider networks around the world?

The Prime Minister: The advice has been pretty comprehensive from all of them: they value their individual relationship with Britain, but they think we are better off inside a reformed European Union. The Prime Ministers of New Zealand, Australia and Canada, the American President and others are all pretty clear about this—not simply because they think we are better off, but because they think the influence we bring to bear on the European Union is positive from their point of view.

Alberto Costa (South Leicestershire) (Con): The SNP, in rummaging for an argument, referred to a 1953 case, the case of MacCormick, and to obiter comments—that is, comments made in passing. May I remind the Prime Minister that he among EU leaders has unique up-to-date experience of tough negotiations that led to a referendum agreement, which in turn led to 55% of the Scottish electorate voting to keep the sovereign United Kingdom together? He should take comfort from that success, because those 55% will be voting, just like the English, the Welsh and the Northern Irish, to listen to the British Premier about what is in Britain’s best interests.

The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend. What these two referendums have in common is that, as a country, we should be confronting and dealing with these big issues. Does Scotland want to stay within the United Kingdom? Does the United Kingdom want to stay within a reformed Europe?

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): Just as important as the result will be the legitimacy of that result, and a high turnout will be essential. What can the Prime Minister do to engage with trade, industry and businesses to encourage them to discuss with their employees the implications of the outcome, whichever way the debate goes?

The Prime Minister: I will certainly do everything I can, in the event of a successful negotiation, to encourage engagement at all levels. I would also encourage businesses, charities and other organisations to ensure that they feel they can come forward. There are some in the business community who feel that that they will have to go through all sorts of corporate governance concerns, but I would advise them to get on with that process so that if they think they have important arguments to put forward to their workforce, their customers or their shareholders, they are able to do so.

Richard Graham (Gloucester) (Con): A key question for many is whether the UK will be able to say no to European migrants when we need to. This draft Council statement spells out clearly that we will be able to do so on the grounds of public policy, public health and public security, which include legitimate goals such as reducing unemployment or the suspicion of marriages

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of convenience. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that this is a considerable step forward for our own immigration and security interests?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend makes an important point. If we read section D of the main document, we see that it is quite refreshing about the number of instances in which the control of migration and the limitation of free movement will be possible. That document bears careful reading.

Kevin Foster (Torbay) (Con): I welcome the Prime Minister’s statements so far. I particularly welcome the fact that, for the first time in my lifetime, a Prime Minister is doing a deal in Europe and coming back to this country to give all the British people a chance to have a say on it, rather than just Members of Parliament. Can he reassure me that, even if people do vote to remain in the European Union on the basis of this deal, we will still have a vision that Europe should be doing less and doing it better?

The Prime Minister: I absolutely agree with that; the idea of Europe only where necessary but nation states wherever possible is absolutely right. There will be people who say, “Maybe we have addressed some issues of concern to the British people but there is more to be done.” Let me say again that that is a perfectly acceptable view, but I would argue that the “more to be done” should be done from inside the EU, rather than by us slamming the door and trying to do it from outside.

Mark Pawsey (Rugby) (Con): It is now clear from the renegotiations that Britain can improve its position within Europe by continuing to benefit from influence over a market of 500 million people, while maintaining our borders and preventing abuse of free movement. Is the Prime Minister as encouraged as I am by the very positive support that has come from business across the piece?

The Prime Minister: It is important that business raises its voice, particularly as regards jobs and investment. We need to demonstrate that this negotiation and this outcome can actually lead to a strong and more secure economy, for the sake not just of business, but of people who want security.

James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): I congratulate my right hon. Friend on his statement. Is he aware that 90% of FTSE 100 chairmen would vote to remain in the European Union? Does he think that that is because they are part of some so-called “project fear”? Alternatively, is it because they run our very largest companies in the real world and know that a vote to leave is a vote for huge economic uncertainty and that a vote to remain, with the protections we will have on the single market and our currency, is a vote for our economy to go from strength to strength?

The Prime Minister: It is important that we hear the voice of business, both large and small, and I encourage all businesses to speak out because they have an important contribution to make to the debate. The more that people can give concrete examples of how access to this market and to the rules of this market matter, the better.

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Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): I thank the Prime Minister for his efforts to secure the best deal available. Today’s newspaper reports suggest that the changes needed to introduce an emergency brake would require approval from the European Parliament. Has he had an opportunity to assess levels of support among MEPs for these changes?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right in what he says. Obviously, it is a great advance that the European Commission has said that Britain qualifies for this brake, and if it existed now it would be brought in straightaway. As for the advice I have about the position of the European Parliament, I mentioned earlier that the head of the largest group in the European Parliament thinks this could be sorted out in a matter of months and is supportive of the approach.

Andrew Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) (Con): The German captain of the ship that is the European Union has deliberately steered it into a migration iceberg with all the watertight doors open. Rather than just rearranging the deckchairs, would it not be better to direct the British people to the available lifeboat while the band is still playing and before the inevitable happens?

The Prime Minister: The analogy was getting quite complicated, but I do not agree with that. If we were not outside Schengen, my hon. Friend would have a very fair point, but we are in a situation where we are able to have the best of both worlds. Let us keep our borders and let us not let in foreign nationals who do not have a right to be here—that is strengthened by this agreement—but let us keep the free movement, so that British people can live and work in other European countries. That is the best of both worlds.

Craig Mackinlay (South Thanet) (Con): I wish to press my right hon. Friend a little further about the emergency brake, which sounded so hopeful some weeks ago. My hon. Friend the Member for Gainsborough (Sir Edward Leigh) talked about backseat drivers, but the concept of 28 feet reaching for the pedal, all wanting an influence, really means that when a hazard is seen, indecision will mean that an accident will surely happen. Does my right hon. Friend agree that it is far better to have independent control of the brake, the clutch, the accelerator and, indeed, the steering wheel?

The Prime Minister: First, the European Commission’s statement is very clear, saying that it

“considers that the kind of information provided to it by the United Kingdom shows the…exceptional situation…exists in the United Kingdom today.”

That would enable us to pull this brake to make sure that people could not get instant access to our welfare benefits. But there is another consideration that those thinking that we would be better off outside the European Union have to think about: when most of those countries outside the EU that want a close relationship with it ask for free access to the single market, the first demand is that there should also be the free movement of people. That is the case with Norway, for example. This is a deal from within and in many ways, even on this issue, it would be better than a deal from without.

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Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con): In his statement, the Prime Minister outlines the work we have done to tackle migration from outside the EU. What conversations has he had with other European leaders about what they are doing to tackle the migrant crisis? Many of my constituents are very worried about the future implications of migration, particularly given that we are seeing such unsustainable levels of people coming into the UK at the moment.

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend asks a crucial question that needs to have a full and proper answer. The arrival of these people on to the European continent does concern people. What I say is that, first, we do not have to allow into our country foreign nationals resident in other states. That is why we keep our border controls.

Let us consider, for example, the situation in Germany. Getting German citizenship can take as long as 10 years and it is the product of a lot of work, tests and everything else. We must therefore, first, keep our Schengen no-borders agreement and, secondly, continue to exclude people if they are not European Union citizens and they do not have a visa. Thirdly, I should say that the changes here that mean that we can crack down on the fraudsters, criminals and sham marriages, and on those who are trying to get round our immigration controls, put us in a much better place to deal with the pressures of the future.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): It has been a long wait, Mr Speaker, but the voice of the Humber will not be silenced, as the Prime Minister said last week. He rightly said in his opening remarks that the British people are proud of their democratic institutions. Let me suggest to him that when they see British Ministers having to go cap in hand to Brussels to determine who receive benefits or who is allowed into the country, that pride is somewhat diminished. May I urge him further, in his final negotiations, to remain robust and achieve even more? Although he will not persuade me, he may persuade a few doubting people in Cleethorpes to vote to stay.

The Prime Minister: I am sure the voice of the Humber could help me with that, if he really wanted to. Britain is a member of a number of international organisations, some of which involve our having obligations towards them. We have ceded some of our sovereignty and our obligations to NATO, yet we do not see that as a cap in hand issue; we see it as a cornerstone of our security. What I am trying to secure here with Europe is that we are in the things we want to be in and we are out of the things we do not want to be in. If that is the case, we are not weaker, less powerful or less sovereign as a result; we are more able to get things done for the people who put us here.

Mr Adam Holloway (Gravesham) (Con) rose—

Mr Speaker: Order. No, no, I am always very keen to hear from the hon. Member for Gravesham (Mr Holloway), but he only toddled into the Chamber some considerable way into the statement, as his puckish grin testifies. We will hear from him on a subsequent occasion. Perhaps we can just thank the Prime Minister for his patience and his courtesy. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!”] I would like to thank all colleagues for taking part. There will be many opportunities further to debate these important matters, but let us give thanks where they are due.

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Automatic Electoral Registration

Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

2.38 pm

Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab): I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to impose certain duties upon Her Majesty’s Government to ensure the accuracy, completeness and utility of electoral registers; to make provision for the sharing of data for the purposes of electoral registration; and for connected purposes.

As I am sure all hon. Members will agree, it is our job in this House to make sure that the citizens we represent can truly exercise their democratic rights, but, as we speak, British citizens in this country are being marginalised and excluded from the democratic process.

The problem is less about getting people to sign up and more about maintaining people’s registration. The people who are being excluded from the process are exactly the people we need to be prioritising. According to recent trends, we are witnessing further marginalisation of already marginalised groups, including those from poorer backgrounds, those who are disabled and those from ethnic minorities. Research published just yesterday showed that pensioners in the shires who own their own home have a 90% chance of being on the electoral register, whereas a young man from an ethnic minority background in private rented accommodation in a city has less than a 10% chance of being registered. Meanwhile, the Prime Minister has launched an important drive against “overt, unconscious or institutional” racial discrimination, in university admissions, the justice system and the police. However, the fact that people from ethnic minorities are far less likely to be registered to exercise their democratic rights undermines the Government’s commitment.

When it comes to electoral registration, the picture across the country is bleak. I celebrate the work of my hon. Friend the Member for Ashfield (Gloria De Piero), who has raised the issue of voters dropping off the register. Since the introduction of individual electoral registration, a staggering 800,000 people—1.8% nationwide—have dropped off the register. To put those figures into context, Liverpool has seen a drop in its eligible register of 14,000, Birmingham 17,000 and Lewisham 6,000, and those are all areas that have seen an increase in population.

The situation is even worse in areas where the population is transient, such as in university towns. Canterbury has seen a huge drop of 13% in those registered to vote. Cambridge has seen a drop of 11%, which means that its electorate is now smaller than it was in 2011. Those drops are the result of the absurdities of the current system. I ask Members to imagine what it would feel like if, every time they started a new job, they needed to apply for a new national insurance number and to prove to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs again and again that they were eligible to pay tax and NI. They would find the process cumbersome, costly and repetitive—just as the process of IER is.

In sum, these developments mean that British citizens, particularly those who are on the sidelines, are being disfranchised and denied their democratic rights. It also means that, as the pool of potential voters decreases,

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our political status quo becomes more limited. If the Government are serious about combating social exclusion, they urgently need to review that dire situation. Disfranchisement is marginalising the already marginalised.

Being on the electoral register is the closest thing that we have to a civic contract. Those who are not on the register will not have access to mainstream loans, and they might not be able to get a mortgage either. They also cannot serve on a jury and be part of our justice process. Most fundamentally of all, if a person is not on the electoral register, they cannot participate in the democratic process.

Our present system of electoral registration is fundamentally flawed, and it is not cheap, with IER roll-out costing at least £108 million, but it does not have to be that way. Automatic electoral registration provides the opportunity to reduce costs, improve administration, cut bureaucracy and enable everyone to access their right to enfranchisement.

The Bill is a statement of common sense, proposing a cheaper, simpler and more effective model. It places a responsibility on the state to do everything in its power to ensure that the electoral database is full and complete; imposes a duty on the Government and public bodies to work better together; and proposes to make the system truly convenient for the citizen by integrating national and local datasets, which will mean that an individual’s address details would be automatically updated according to trusted datasets. The trusted datasets would collate information at each point that a citizen interacts with the state—whether it is when they pay a tax, receive a benefit, use the NHS or claim a pension.

The walls between datasets used to be sacrosanct, but they are falling away more and more as the Government prioritise security and anti-fraud measures. For instance, the housing benefit Department already uses the electoral register to find households that are claiming the 25% single-persons council tax discount, but that have more than one voter registered there. That demonstrates the huge potential when Government Departments and public bodies communicate with one another.

These reforms would vastly improve registration, and have been tested elsewhere. A very similar model operates in Australia, with huge success. For instance, the state of Victoria has a population of 3.5 million people and a 95% accuracy in its registration process. It does that at extremely low cost, employing just five members of staff to maintain the rolling register. Rolling out this reform in the UK is timely for so many reasons.

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Greater Manchester will submit to the Cabinet Office next week its plans to pioneer that system of automatic electoral registration, and its proposals for a pilot scheme. I sincerely hope that the Government will support those plans and introduce the primary legislation on data sharing that is needed to ensure that the pilot can go ahead.

I am sure that Members are aware that this is the week of Bite the Ballot’s national voter registration drive. Last year’s drive saw almost half a million people register to vote, making it the most successful voter registration campaign ever. I hope that the results this week will match that achievement. In the long run, though, voter registration should be the responsibility not of charities or non-governmental organisations, but of the state, which should do all it can to ensure that everyone, especially those who are most marginalised, can access their democratic rights.

I hope that Members will consider this a non-partisan issue and agree that it is in all our interests to get more people signed up. Then we can all get on with our job, as representatives of political parties, to try to persuade and enthuse voters that we are worthy of their vote. At a time when social exclusion is getting worse, voter turnout is declining and IER has caused registration to deplete, automatic voter registration has never been more important. Voting is the backbone of this House, and it is one of the most important interactions between the citizen and the democratic state. It is a fundamental symbol of engagement, as it signifies that you are not on the margins of society, but part of the majority. No longer can we accept a system that excludes and marginalises potential voters, not least because they are exactly the groups with which we need to engage to end social exclusion.

I do not think that it is controversial to argue that voting is not just for the elite; it is something that we should all be able to access. That is why, for the sake of our democracy and of social cohesion, I hope that the Government will support my suggestions, and make registering to vote more, not less, a way of life.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Siobhain McDonagh, Ian Austin, Dawn Butler, Rosie Cooper, Jim Dowd, Jim Fitzpatrick, Mr George Howarth, Chris Leslie, Marie Rimmer, Joan Ryan, Mr Virendra Sharma and Ruth Smeeth present the Bill.

Siobhain McDonagh accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on Friday 5 February, and to be printed (Bill 127 ).

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Opposition Day

[18th Allotted Day]

Tax Avoidance and Multinational Companies

2.48 pm

John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I beg to move,

That this House notes the agreement reached between HM Revenue and Customs and Google to pay £130 million in respect of taxes due over the period 2005 to 2015; and calls on the Government to publish the full details so that the British public can judge whether this is, as stated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, a major success; and further calls for a swift international agreement to implement country-by-country reporting of company accounts.

I welcome the Minister who is responding to the debate. I truly sympathise with him as he has been placed in this situation by the Chancellor. I understand that the Chancellor is in Rome today. If it is true that he is associated with the current EU negotiations on the future of our relationship in Europe, may I say that it is unfortunate to say the least that securing a firm agreement on tax avoidance and evasion has not been a core issue in those negotiations so far. It could be a significant missed opportunity for this Government.

We have called this debate today because, over the past 12 days, we have witnessed the most supine capitulation to corporate interest by any British Government in the recent history of this country. Understandably, it has caused immense anger within our community among individual taxpayers, businesses small and large, independent commentators and people across the political spectrum. At a time when many of our constituents were filling in their tax returns and paying their taxes, they saw what the Government were allowing Google to get away with.

Several hon. Members rose

John McDonnell: I will give way in due course, but may I remind Members that this is a time-limited debate and I wish to press on as quickly as I can? Of course Members will have the opportunity to engage.

On the Friday before last, Google announced late in the day by press release the company’s tax deal with HMRC. Google celebrated a deal comprising a payment of £130 million to HMRC in respect of taxes from 2005 to 2015. Astoundingly, in the early hours of the morning, the Chancellor was in an equally celebratory mood and tweeted that this was a “victory”—a major success.

Several hon. Members rose

John McDonnell: I will give way in due course. Calm down.

The Google deal and the Chancellor’s exultation about it were immediately received with incredulity by independent tax analysts—understandably. The Chancellor and HMRC were all too keen to publicly parade the deal, but when challenged to release the detail of it, hid behind confidentiality conditions.

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): What assessment does the shadow Chancellor make of the Labour Government, who were in charge of taxation during part of that period?

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John McDonnell: I am grateful for the intervention. The hon. Gentleman probably knows that I was not the most enamoured of the Labour Government’s track record during that period, but it was a Labour Government who started this inquiry and the hon. Gentleman’s Government took six years to complete it. According to a recent estimate by the Financial Times, the measures introduced by the Labour Government will reap 10 times the amount of tax that this Government have secured.

Andrew Gwynne (Denton and Reddish) (Lab): Will not many of our constituents find it difficult to understand the fact that this information is largely in the public domain? We know the profits, assets and liabilities of Google in the United Kingdom because those finances are public. We also know how much tax is being paid. Does that not lead us to the conclusion that the tax rate is 2.77%, not 20%?

John McDonnell: Let me come on to that point.

It did not take long for independent analysis to show what a derisory sum the Google tax payment was. The word “derisory” is not just my description, but the word used by the hon. Member for Uxbridge and South Ruislip (Boris Johnson), the Mayor of London, as well as many others. Google had a UK turnover of approximately £4 billion in 2014-15. If profits here were similar to those across the whole group, about a 25% return, that implies £1 billion-worth of profits. If the standard 20% corporation tax is levied, that implies a £200 million tax bill for the one year, not the £200 million paid by Google for the decade. As my hon. Friend the Member for Denton and Reddish (Andrew Gwynne) said, independent assessors have estimated that the Google tax rate for the past decade was 3%.

Mike Wood (Dudley South) (Con): Companies such as Simworx in my constituency are extremely successful at selling products around the world that are based on their intellectual property developed in the UK. Does the shadow Chancellor think the profits from that intellectual property should be taxed in the country where those products are sold, or here in Britain?

John McDonnell: The economic activity definition has to be examined when profits are assessed. I will come on to that point because it is valid and reasonable.

Several hon. Members rose

John McDonnell: Let me press on as we are time-limited.

It is no wonder that local small businesses and taxpayers in all our constituencies feel so strongly that the arrangement with Google is grotesquely unfair. They have not been allowed to ignore their tax demands for a decade, then negotiate a sweetheart deal at mates rates. It show who counts with this Government that, in the month when they let Google pay a paltry sum in back tax, they lose in court in their pursuit of disabled people over the issue of the bedroom tax, and then they decide to appeal the court decision so that they can persecute some of the most vulnerable and the poorest people in the land over a relatively insignificant sum. That demonstrates to us a bizarre, upside down and callous sense of justice and fairness.

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Neil Gray (Airdrie and Shotts) (SNP): Does the shadow Chancellor agree that what compounds the sense of unfairness that our constituents feel is that the tax gap has been estimated by many to be well over £100 billion, and at the same time this Government are cutting HMRC offices and at the weekend announced compulsory redundancies for tax collectors? How on earth can we narrow the tax gap when that is happening?

John McDonnell: I will come to that in my recommendations for the future.

Alex Chalk (Cheltenham) (Con): Under Labour, hedge fund managers were routinely paying a lower rate of tax than their cleaners because Labour was a soft touch on tax. Is not the hon. Gentleman’s argument just political opportunism on stilts?

John McDonnell: I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman was listening. I just answered that point by reference to my critique of the Labour Government. I convened the Tax Justice Network campaign meetings in this building, and I have campaigned for 18 years. The FT assessment is that the measures introduced by the Labour Government will reap 10 times as much as anything introduced by this Government.

Let me press on. Last Monday, to get some answers about the Google deal, I tabled an urgent question to the Chancellor, and I am grateful that Mr Speaker granted the question. Typically, the Chancellor failed to turn up and the Minister was left to defend this “victorious” deal. By that time, No. 10 was furiously distancing itself from the Chancellor. Within 72 hours the Google deal had gone from “a major success” to merely “a step forward”, according to No. 10. I see that this weekend the Business Secretary was describing the deal, with masterly understatement, as “not a glorious moment”.

Yesterday Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said:

“It doesn’t feel fair. And in our hearts, I think we all know it isn’t fair.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

During the urgent question discussion last Monday the Minister was specifically asked by my hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) whether he knew the rate of tax that Google was paying. He said bluntly, “No.” We heard the assertion that the HMRC calculation of back tax was on the basis of tax levied on profits as a result of an assessment of economic activity. That implies very little economic activity in Google UK. That argument wore a bit thin when it was pointed out that Google employs 2,300 staff in the UK on average earnings of £160,000, and is building a new headquarters in addition to the two it already has.

Joan Ryan (Enfield North) (Lab): May I join the shadow Chancellor in demanding more transparency? I have been contacted by people in my constituency who are concerned that the Government are creating a loophole especially for Google and nobody else. We in the House and in this country deserve full transparency on this deal.

John McDonnell: I will come on to the recommendations for future action, which cover my right hon. Friend’s point.

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James Cartlidge (South Suffolk) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John McDonnell: In due course; let me press on a little further.

As last week wore on, there was a growing sense of outrage at the Google sweetheart deal. Many felt betrayed by the Chancellor. We supported the Chancellor on the introduction of the diverted profits tax legislation to tackle firms using complex profit-shifting schemes to avoid tax. It was referred to as “the Google tax”. We learned last week that Google will not be paying a penny under that legislation.

We also supported the Chancellor in seeking international agreements on tackling tax avoidance, but we discovered at the weekend that Conservative MEPs had been directed by the Chancellor on at least six occasions to vote against the very tax avoidance measures being introduced by the EU that the Chancellor told us he was supposedly promoting.

Steve Brine (Winchester) (Con): I know the shadow Chancellor seeks consensus when he can and I am listening to what he says. I have been doing some totting up and I reckon that there have been about 40 changes to tax law since this Government have been in office, which has led to about £12 billion being raised since 2010. For the record, does he welcome that?

John McDonnell: Of course; I have welcomed that. I have just been saying that I have supported the Chancellor on each piece of legislation that he has introduced to tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion. This deal flies in the face of everything the hon. Gentleman and I have been supporting in the Chamber.

Rachel Reeves (Leeds West) (Lab): Last year Google funnelled £8 billion-worth of royalty payments to Bermuda. Does my hon. Friend believe that the British Government should be doing much more to crack down on tax havens, particularly those that are British overseas territories?

John McDonnell: I will address the Bermuda question, so if my hon. Friend waits a few minutes she will hear just how shocking the situation really is.

The Chancellor appears to be missing an opportunity in the EU negotiations to secure a robust international agreement to tackle tax avoidance and tax evasion, which Members across the House have been calling for.

Several hon. Members rose

John McDonnell: I am going to press on.

We all supported the changes to public procurement rules that enabled the Government to prevent public contracts from being awarded to companies found to be engaged in tax avoidance schemes. Staggeringly, it is understood that no company has been denied a public contract on those grounds and that, even though its tax affairs were under such lengthy investigation by HMRC, Google was awarded public contracts to supply services—who to?—to HMRC.

Chris Philp (Croydon South) (Con): On the point about international agreements, the United Kingdom Government have been at the forefront of the base erosion and profit shifting initiative. Richard Murphy,

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who describes himself as the author of Corbynomics, told the Treasury Committee yesterday that he was “pleased and very surprised” by the progress the Government have made since 2010.

John McDonnell: I support the Government in that action, but this deal flies in the face of that action and undermines the agreements that we are trying to make.

Over the weekend we also heard from Mr Jones, the Google whistleblower. In his view, HMRC ignored his exposure of Google’s tax avoidance methods. That evidence was received by the Treasury Committee on a cross-party basis.

We all accept that the existence of tax havens and the complexity of national tax systems present an ongoing challenge to national Governments. As a result, we have all supported the negotiation of international agreements on tax collection. The UK is a signatory to some of these. As the hon. Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp) said, the Government have agreed in successive steps to abide by the base erosion and profit shifting programme under the auspices of the OECD. We supported that.

Several hon. Members rose

John McDonnell: Let me press on, because time is short.

At the end of last week, the UK joined 30 OECD partner countries in signing up to the multilateral competence co-operation agreement. We supported that. That is the kind of international co-operation, albeit limited, that will help close the loopholes and ultimately close down the tax havens. It is the kind of agreement that we have backed for years and that we support the Chancellor in undertaking, but last week, by allowing the special treatment of one company, the Government drove a coach and horses through the entire international approach. As the EU’s Competition Commissioner suggested, that could amount to unlawful state aid. The UK is now being depicted across Europe as a tax haven. It risks establishing a race to the bottom in which all countries seeks to outbid each other to offer the lowest possible taxation. We have written to the Competition Commissioner to request a formal investigation of the deal.

Mrs Sheryll Murray (South East Cornwall) (Con): Does the hon. Gentleman not accept that this Government have done more than the previous Labour Government to close those loopholes? He says that he did not agree with the previous Labour Government, so will he tell us what he did to oppose those measures and raise the matter when he was in Parliament?

John McDonnell: I know that the hon. Lady was not here at the time, so perhaps she should check my voting record throughout my 18 years in this House. I do not want to keep on repeating this. I wanted both Governments to go further, but an independent assessment has shown that the legislation introduced by the previous Labour Government will drag in 10 times more in tax than the current Government’s legislation, and even then I wanted to go further. We should at least accept the independent assessment that has been made.

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Robert Jenrick (Newark) (Con) rose

John McDonnell: I am going to press on, because time is short.

I have written to the Competition Commissioner to request a formal investigation of this deal. There was a visible flicker of life from the Chancellor a few days ago. In the pages of Monday’s Financial Times he let it be known that he might, after all, favour country-by-country reporting for multinational corporations. Tax experts and campaigners and I have long argued that this is a vital step towards transparency, and therefore towards fair collection. By revealing in their accounts in which tax jurisdiction their revenues were earned, a proper rate of tax can be applied to multinational companies. If the Chancellor now supports country-by-country reporting, I welcome that. However, the impression was given that even without international agreement the Government would act. Is this the case, or was it just a publicity stunt that has now been dropped?

My hon. Friend the Member for Leeds West (Rachel Reeves) referred to Bermuda. On the “Andrew Marr Show” on Sunday a senior Google representative revealed that the company has £30 billion of profits resting in Bermuda, a British overseas territory. This is in order to avoid US tax rates. We now know that the Chancellor has been lobbying the EU and instructing his MPs to vote against anti-avoidance measures against Bermuda. It is a disgrace.

It was also revealed last week that Government Ministers have met Google 25 times over the past 18 months. I note that the Prime Minister himself has spoken at Google’s conference not once, but twice. If Ministers are to meet anyone, my advice is that they go and meet the trade union representatives of HMRC staff. With almost half the workforce having been laid off, and with offices having been closed across the country, it is widely known that morale is at rock-bottom, especially with the loss of highly experienced and expert staff. [Interruption.] Madam Deputy Speaker, a reference has just been made to declaring an interest. I have no interest to declare. I think that was a reference to the Public and Commercial Services Union and part of its trade union group. It does not fund the Labour party or my constituency. There is no interest to be declared.

We cannot allow the Government to go on like this. Trust and confidence in our tax system is being undermined. Every pound in tax avoided by these large corporations is a pound taken from the pockets of honest taxpayers. It is also a pound not spent on our schools, our NHS and our police. We need a real tax reform agenda, based on the principle of complete openness and transparency. First, that means, as a start, the publication of the details of this deal in full, so that we and our constituents can judge whether it is fair enough. Secondly, we need real country-by-country reporting of a company’s activities, and not just a secret exchange of information between tax authorities, but full publication so that we can all judge.

Graham Stuart (Beverley and Holderness) (Con): The shadow Chancellor said that he would set out his ideas, and I had hoped that he would talk about a more revolutionary change to the methods of taxation. With the massed ranks of corporate lawyers put up against national tax jurisdictions, it is an uneven battle, so perhaps we need some more radical thinking altogether.

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John McDonnell: The hon. Gentleman has taken an interest in this matter over many years and has regularly been in debates with me in this Chamber. I fully agree that we need a more radical approach.

Let me complete the recommendations briefly, because I think that they will open up a much wider debate. Thirdly, we need an end to mates’ rates and sweetheart deals with major corporations. Tax law should be applied fairly whatever the size of the company. Fourthly, we need full transparency in the relationship between Ministers and companies, so I want to see publication of all the minutes of all such meetings. Fifthly, we need firmer action to curb the tax avoidance industry, so action should be taken against the advisers when the tax avoidance schemes they designed are found to be unlawful by tax tribunals and courts. The same advisers advise Her Majesty’s Treasury and help write our tax laws. That is unhealthy and unacceptable.

Chris Heaton-Harris (Daventry) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

John McDonnell: I cannot give way, because I am concluding my speech.

Sixthly, we clearly need independent scrutiny of HMRC and the implementation of taxation policy overall. Let us now explore the establishment of a cross-party committee, along the lines of our Intelligence and Security Committee, to perform that role. Finally, we need an end to the counterproductive staffing cuts and office closures at HMRC.

For most of my time in Parliament, I have been campaigning for a fair tax system that secures tax justice. Of course companies such as Google make a significant contribution to research and development and through the employment they provide, and I welcome that, but we expect all companies to play fair when it comes to their tax responsibilities. I am unable to accept the Government’s amendment because it fails to support our key demand for openness and transparency. The amendment would remove Labour’s central demands for publication of the Google deal and the adoption of full public country-by-country reporting. If anything good is to come out of the sordid deal that the Government cut with Google, I urge Members of this House to use this opportunity to secure a just, fair, open and transparent system of taxation for our country and to start that process by backing our motion today.


Madam Deputy Speaker (Mrs Eleanor Laing): I have to inform the House that Mr Speaker has selected the amendment in the name of the Prime Minister.

Before I call the Minister to move the amendment, I should tell the House that a great many people have indicated that they wish to catch my eye this afternoon. More than 20 hon. Members wish to speak, and this debate will last for considerably less than two hours. There will be a time limit of three minutes initially on Back-Bench speeches. [Interruption.] There is no point in people complaining about it—that is the amount of time there is. There will be three minutes and, even then, not everyone who wishes to be called to speak will be called to speak.

I say, very importantly, to the House that people who have intervened and taken part in the debate must remain in this Chamber for the whole of the debate—leaving for the odd five minutes is fine—because they are taking

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up time that other people, who have sat through the whole of the debate, will then not have. This is nothing to do with old-fashioned rules or conventions—it is simple courtesy by one Member of Parliament to another. I call Mr David Gauke to move the Government amendment.

3.11 pm

The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr David Gauke): I beg to move an amendment, to leave out from “House” in Line 1 to end and add:

“notes that the Government has taken action to promote international cooperation in relation to clamping down on tax avoidance by multinational companies, challenging the international tax rules which have not been updated since they were first developed in the 1920s, that multilateral cooperation at an international level has included the UK playing a leading role in the G20-OECD Base Erosion and Profit Shifting Project to review all international tax rules and increase tax transparency, and as part of that, the UK was the first country to commit to implementing the OECD country-by-country reporting model within domestic legislation, that the Government recognises the case for publishing country-by-country reports on a multilateral basis, that the Government has introduced more than 40 changes to tax law, that the various measures taken by the Government have included the introduction of a diverted profits tax aimed at targeting companies who use contrived arrangements to divert profits from the UK, stopping the use of offshore employment intermediaries to avoid employer National Insurance contributions, stopping companies from obtaining a tax advantage by entering into contrived arrangements to turn old tax losses or restricted use into more versatile in-year deductions, and requiring taxpayers who are using avoidance schemes that have been defeated through the courts to pay the tax in dispute with HM Revenue and Customs upfront, and that the Government is committed to going further, enabling HM Revenue and Customs to recover an additional £7.2 billion over the Parliament.”

It is a great pleasure to move the Government’s amendment. There is much that we have heard from the Labour party today on this subject that is wrong, confused and, to put it kindly, oblivious to the record of the last Labour Government. However, before addressing those points, I hope to strike a note of consensus. Both sides of the House believe that all taxpayers should pay the taxes due under the law. Both sides believe that taxpayers should refrain from contrived behaviour to reduce their tax liabilities, and all taxpayers should be treated impartially. That is why the Government’s record is one of taking domestic and international action to tackle tax avoidance.

I will set out details of that action, but first I want to address another issue. The shadow Chancellor’s approach has generated more heat than light, and often reveals a complete misunderstanding of how the corporation tax system works. Let me take this opportunity to explain to the House how it does, in fact, work.

The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies, in a paper it published last week, puts it well:

“The current tax rules are not designed to tax the profits from UK sales. They’re certainly not designed to tax either revenue or sales generated in the UK. They are instead designed to tax that part of a firm’s profit that arises from value created in the UK. That is the principle underlying all corporate tax regimes across the OECD.”

I make that point because it is fundamental to understanding the tax we are entitled to receive from multinational companies. It is not a point that the shadow Chancellor appears to have grasped.

Let me give an example of why this matters, and it is similar to the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South (Mike Wood). The UK is home to

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one of the most successful video games sectors in the world. Would it be fair for a firm to design a game here, develop it here and take the risks here, but to go on to sell it overseas and then have to pay corporation tax on all that activity in the country in which it makes the final sale, and not in the UK? The current international tax arrangements are clear that such profits are taxed in the UK—the place of economic activity—rather than in the place where the sales are made. That is the internationally agreed and internationally applied concept of corporation tax. That is the law that HMRC applies. Quoting numbers to do with revenues or profits from sales, as opposed to activities, demonstrates a lack of understanding of how the tax system works, or—and this is worse—an understanding of the way the tax system works, but the hope that those following these debates do not.

John McDonnell: Is the Minister saying that Google employs 2,300 staff in this country on an average salary of £160,000, and they cannot be defined as involved in economic activity or as adding any value? What are they doing? Playing cards all the time? Are they not actually involved in economic activity—this sizable proportion of the Google workforce?

Mr Gauke: The point I am making is that the shadow Chancellor goes around quoting numbers based on profits from sales. To be fair, he went through the methodology carefully in the House today, but that methodology appears to be based on a complete misunderstanding of how the tax system works.

Rachel Reeves: I do not misunderstand how the corporation tax system is applied, but without information from HMRC, and without publication of the deal, it is difficult to know exactly how much tax Google should be paying. That is why we are seeking answers. Also, there have been $8 billion of royalty payments to Bermuda. Does the hon. Gentleman really think that that is where the economic activity is and where the value is being added?

Mr Gauke: I will deal directly with the issue of transparency in a moment.

On the issue of how our international tax system works, I have explained that it is based on economic activity. However, I would be the first to say that that international tax system needs to be brought into the modern world. That is the very reason why the UK has led the way on the base erosion and profit-shifting process. We should also be aware that there are particular issues with the US tax system, which is failing to tax intellectual property developed in the US in the way that it should.

I gave the example of video games companies. However, I recognise that there are many cases that are much more complex, and where it is not so easy to identify where the economic activity takes place. There is an issue about where multinational companies allocate their profits and where they identify economic activity as taking place. There is a need to address that, which is why we need tax rules that genuinely reflect where economic activity takes place, to ensure that profits are aligned with it. However, that is a very different matter

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from making big claims about profits from sales and saying that those sales profits have to be taxed where the sales take place. That is the misunderstanding I wish to address.

Mr Richard Bacon (South Norfolk) (Con): The Minister is right, of course, that these issues are sometimes very complicated. However, sometimes there are loopholes that are exploited. Will he identify some of the loopholes closed by this Government that were opened by the previous Labour Government?

Mr Gauke: There is a whole host I could draw attention to, but in the interests of time, I will not run through that lengthy list. I have it here, and there are quite a number of cases—there are 40 I can identify straightaway—where there were loopholes, and we have tried to address that.

The diverted profits tax—I will come back to this again in detail in a moment—is designed to ensure that, where companies divert their profits away from the UK, and where the economic activity is happening in the UK, we get some of the tax yield.

David Mowat (Warrington South) (Con): The difficulty with the economic activity test the Minister talks about is that it is intrinsically judgmental, and that gives us many of the issues that we try to grapple with. The test came in in the 1920s, way before the internet. Might it not be a way forward to move more towards taxing sales and, if necessary, dividends, with less on corporation tax, which would take these judgments away?

Mr Gauke: The first point to make is that this is a debate on the operation of the tax law as it stands, not on how people might want it to be, and to be fair to HMRC, it can only collect the tax that is due under the law as it stands, not as how people might want it to be. On reform of this area, there is no reason why we should not debate these matters. However, with regard to a move towards taxing profits on the basis of sales—there is a perfectly respectable case for reform in that direction—I would be worried about the impact on, for example, the UK’s creative and scientific sectors. I have mentioned the video games sector, and one could also look at pharmaceuticals. There are a number of areas where the UK—businesses in our constituencies—would lose out in those circumstances, so I would be a little wary about it.

Joan Ryan: May I bring the Minister back to the fundamental point about transparency? It would make this debate much easier and more useful if he published the details of this deal in full so that we can be sure that we are not talking about mate’s rates and a special tax loophole for Google.

Mr Gauke: I will come on to transparency, but let me first return to this Government’s record on changing domestic law and leading the way in updating the international system.

This Government have led internationally on the G20 and OECD base erosion and profit-shifting project, making the international tax rules fit for the 21st century. My right hon. Friends the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in particular, took on

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highly prominent roles in initiating those discussions and taking them forward through the G20 and the OECD. The outcome will be to level the playing field among businesses, give tax authorities more effective tools to tackle aggressive planning, and help us better align the location of taxable profits with the location of economic activities and value creation. This is a major step forward in addressing the underlying causes of aggressive tax avoidance.

We have been at the forefront of implementing this agenda, acting swiftly to change the rules on hybrid mismatches and country-by-country reporting. Because we consider it important not to rely solely on international rules, we have also legislated domestically to introduce a world-leading measure to address the contrived shifting of profit from this country—the diverted profits tax. The diverted profits tax targets companies that divert profits from the UK, principally those with substantial activities in the UK who are trying to avoid creating a UK permanent establishment. Under our rules, those companies either declare the correct amount of profits in the UK and pay the full amount of corporation tax on them, or risk being charged a higher amount of diverted profits tax at a rate of 25%. By the end of this Parliament, the diverted profits tax will raise an extra £1.3 billion, both directly and as a result of associated behavioural changes. The tax is already having that effect, and multinationals will pay more corporation tax as a result.

Stephen Timms (East Ham) (Lab): Of course, the diverted profits tax was referred to as the Google tax. My hon. Friend the shadow Chancellor has alleged that under the terms of the deal Google will not pay a penny. Is he right about that?

Mr Gauke: The purpose of the diverted profits tax, which came into effect in April, is to ensure that companies stop diverting their profits and pay corporation tax like everybody else. I repeat that I cannot talk about the Google case beyond information that is in the public domain, but if this tax is effective in driving companies to stop diverting their profits, it is a success.

Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): The Minister refers to the Government’s record over the past Parliament and this one, but he has not mentioned the changes to the controlled foreign companies rules, which favoured a number of companies at the expense of the Exchequer and, in net terms, at the much greater expense of exchequers in developing countries.

Mr Gauke: The controlled foreign companies regime was driving business out of the UK, whereas now businesses are looking to locate their headquarters in the UK, and I am pleased about that.

Robert Jenrick: The Minister is making a very important point about the diverted profits tax. It is important that Members on both sides of the House recognise that this extremely important development was brought in by this Government, and that it is not correct to say that Labour Members supported it, because at the time, a year ago, their position was that it was not wise to bring it in until the outcome of the BEPS process was completed, which it still is not. Had we taken the advice of the then shadow Chancellor and shadow Chief Secretary, there would be no diverted profits tax, and the points made by Labour Members would be irrelevant.

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Mr Gauke: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who reminds the House of an important point. When we brought in the diverted profits tax, the intention was clearly to make sure that we got more money being paid in corporation tax. We want to stop companies diverting their profits out of the UK, and we are leading the way in bringing forward legislation on this.

Let me address the shadow Chancellor’s point about resources for HMRC. We have invested heavily in HMRC’s ability to strengthen its anti-evasion and compliance activity, including through extra funding and hiring professionals whose area of expertise is multinational companies. For example, contrary to the impression that he gave, the number of people working in HMRC’s large business directorate has gone up, since it was formed in 2014, from 2,000 to 2,600 people. We believe in competitive taxes—that is why we have cut our rate of corporation tax so that it is the lowest in the G7—but we also believe in making sure that those taxes are paid.

I turn to the issue of transparency raised by several hon. Members. Taxpayer confidentiality is a fundamentally important principle of our tax system, as in the tax systems of every other major economy. We hear complaints that HMRC is not disclosing full details of the settlement. HMRC is prevented by law from disclosing taxpayer information. The resolution of tax disputes, however, is subject to full external scrutiny by the independent National Audit Office, which has reviewed how tax inquiries are concluded by HMRC. In 2012, it appointed a retired High Court judge, Sir Andrew Park, to investigate HMRC’s large business settlement process. Sir Andrew concluded that all the settlements he scrutinised

“were reasonable and the overall outcome for the Exchequer was good.”

I do wish that those who are so keen to accuse HMRC and its staff of sweetheart deals were as keen to look at what happens where independent scrutiny occurs in order to see that in fact there are no sweetheart deals. HMRC introduced—

Helen Goodman (Bishop Auckland) (Lab) rose

Mr Gauke: Let me just make this point. [Interruption.] I will give way to the hon. Lady.

Helen Goodman: I am grateful to the Minister, who is doing his best in a difficult situation. However, Ministers are not barred by law from publishing the minutes of meetings that they have, so could he now publish the minutes of all 25 meetings that Ministers have had with Google?

Mr Gauke: We have a very open and transparent arrangement for disclosure of meetings. I am very clear that when it comes to determining the tax liability of a company such as Google—or, indeed, any other taxpayer in this country—there is no ministerial involvement. HMRC is entirely operationally independent. There is no ministerial interference in such areas, and no suggestion that there would be. When it comes to determining the tax bill of any taxpayer, it is a matter of HMRC enforcing the law; it is not for ministerial involvement. HMRC introduced new governance arrangements for significant tax disputes in 2012 to provide even greater transparency, scrutiny and accountability. They included the appointment of a tax assurance commissioner to ensure that there is clear separation between those who

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negotiate and those who approve settlements. The tax assurance commissioner oversees the process and publishes an annual report on his work.

Let me absolutely clear. There are no sweetheart deals, and there is no special treatment for large businesses. HMRC resolves disputes by agreement only if the business agrees to pay the full amount of tax, penalties and interest. Otherwise, it is a matter for the courts—an arena in which HMRC has a strong track record of fighting and winning.

Wes Streeting (Ilford North) (Lab): I am grateful to the Minister for his assurance that there are no sweetheart deals, but if the process is so independent and Ministers are so far removed from it, how can he give us that assurance? Similarly, how was the Chancellor able to hail the deal as a major success?

Mr Gauke: We have in place strong governance. The NAO has looked in the past at settlements when accusations have been made of sweetheart deals, and those accusations have been dismissed. It is very clear that HMRC’s remit is to get the tax that is due under the law, and no one has ever produced a shred of evidence to suggest otherwise; they have merely displayed a prejudice against HMRC staff and a tendency to insult them.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr Gauke: I want to make a little progress, but let me give way to my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South (Chris Philp).

Chris Philp: Does the Minister agree that the reason why this announcement is welcome is that we collected £130 million of tax from Google, while Labour collected nothing?

Mr Gauke: It certainly appears that next to nothing was collected in that case.

Chris Stephens (Glasgow South West) (SNP): Will the Minister give way?

Mr Gauke: I must press on. Tax avoidance is a global issue, which requires global solutions. Fruitful partnerships with other countries on the matter are part of the reason why the Government have been at the forefront of efforts to increase tax transparency. That appeared last year in the Conservative party manifesto, in which we pledged to

“review the implementation of the new international country-by-country tax reporting rules and consider the case for making this information publicly available on a multilateral basis.”

The Government are dedicated to increasing tax transparency, and we have already taken action. Just last week, the UK signed an agreement with 30 other tax administrations to share country-by-country reports from next year. We want such agreements so that information can be made public, as we spelled out in our manifesto. We will continue to lead any multilateral debates on tax transparency, as we have done in so many areas of international tax avoidance.

Reforming the international and domestic rules, investing in HMRC’s capacity and leading the way on global tax transparency—those actions were taken by this Government, but were sadly lacking during 13 years of

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Labour. The result of those actions has been £130 million to the Exchequer from Google, on top of the tax already paid. Under Labour, that sum was next to nothing. That is testament to the importance we have given to tackling the tax risks posed by multinational enterprises. Last month’s announcement represents an important result of our actions on the matter, and I assure hon. Members that we will continue to work hard on that agenda over the coming years, to give the Exchequer more money to fund the public services that we rely on. I urge the House to support the Government amendment.

3.32 pm

Roger Mullin (Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath) (SNP): This is, undoubtedly, an important debate for all the people outside the House who have commented on the subject, which is of great concern. We are talking about a complex matter, which may require, in the longer run, fundamental reform and international co-operation. There are no easy fixes. The deal with Google needs to be scrutinised, for the sake of all who are concerned that it might be described as a sweetheart deal. That is why I fully supported my hon. Friend the Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) in taking the initiative and being the first person to write to the European Commission to seek an independent examination of the settlement. There is a lack of transparency in the deal, but these are difficult matters, and we may have to look at changing some of the rules in the longer run.

To many people, the recent agreement between Google and HMRC is very obscure and opaque, and gives the appearance of being very generous to a large multinational corporation. It contrasts sharply with the experience of many local SMEs. I would be astonished if I were the only Member of the House who has received comments from innumerable small businesses about what they perceive as the unfairness of the deal. I want to quote the views of two SMEs in my constituency. First:

“It is galling that my business pays its taxes on time and in full, but huge corporations like Google do not and seem to be able to avoid doing so for years”,

says Jim Cruickshank of Cruickshank Glaziers. Secondly:

“It seems there are stringent rules for small domestic businesses but another much easier world for major companies. This often gives unfair competitive advantage to the large companies”,

says Stewart Murray of the Farm Shop, Kirkcaldy. That is a concern of many of our domestic businesses. Because of the complexity of their tax affairs and of how they can operate, many of the largest corporations find that they have—in many cases, legitimately, in this system—a major competitive advantage over domestic businesses.

Andrew Gwynne: Does that not show how SMEs across the United Kingdom feel they have been treated? Their impression is that there is one tax law for them and another for large multinational companies. Does it not also provide a contrast between the British approach and the approach of some of our European colleagues to the very same issues? They are holding out for a much better deal for their taxpayers.

Roger Mullin: Many people throughout Britain will think that the hon. Gentleman has made a very fair point. That is why I have been arguing that we must have a proper investigation and why, perhaps in the

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longer run, we need to do something about greater transparency. It will be very difficult for us to bring a proper critique to bear if we do not get such clarification.

It must, of course, be admitted that this is not a new phenomenon. I first became aware of concerns about multinationals paying their fair share of UK taxes back in the early 1970s, when I briefly worked for the multinational IBM, and I am aware of concerns predating that. This has not been going on for just one or two years; Governments have not been able to resolve this issue satisfactorily for decades, which emphasises its complexity. The issue has been around for a long time, regardless of whether this country had a Labour or Tory Government and regardless of which parties formed Governments in many other countries.

I remember that the concerns back in the early 1970s were about what was called “transfer pricing”. For example, a company could buy a handle from a parent company in another country and charge an exorbitant fee for it, which allowed them easily to transfer profits from one area to another. I would be the first to admit that there have been moves to tighten up many such matters since the 1970s, but it remains a fundamental problem to this day. Corporation tax seems to be very susceptible to avoidance by multinational corporations because of the way in which they can, quite legally, operate.

Mr Bacon: The Public Accounts Committee found that HMRC as a whole had only 65 specialists in transfer pricing, which was about the same as each of the big four accounting firms. Does the hon. Gentleman welcome this Government’s introduction of more transfer pricing specialists in HMRC?

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. May I say to hon. Members who wish to speak but are now making interventions that I assume they will not mind if they go to the bottom of the list because they have almost used up their time?

Roger Mullin: I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, because I must admit I was not aware that only 65 staff were involved in transfer pricing. That seems to me to be remarkably few, given the challenges they face. I would welcome anything that can be done to strengthen their numbers.

Times have changed. Back in the 1970s, it was never envisaged that huge multinational corporations could quickly arise as a result of operating in the world of the internet. The tax system, which has been built up over many years—as the hon. Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) mentioned, part of it dates from the 1920s or thereabouts—is singularly unable to deal with some of the types of international corporations, such as Facebook and Google, that there are today.

The world has changed fast in other regards. I am old enough to remember being able to go into a café and just ask for a coffee.

Rob Marris (Wolverhampton South West) (Lab): Surely not!

Roger Mullin: I am. Nowadays, I am delighted to say that I know about cappuccinos and other things.

Rob Marris: In your constituency?

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Roger Mullin: Yes, throughout my constituency. There is wonderful cappuccino in Cowdenbeath, I have to say. The likes of Starbucks were not present years ago. The internationalisation of what seem to be simple products is a comparatively new phenomenon.

We must not lose sight of the fact that much more traditional players, not merely internet companies, are engaging in practices that may be legal, but create major challenges internationally. If I were to ask in a local pub quiz, which of course I rarely go to—

Rob Marris: Because you’re drinking coffee!

Roger Mullin: Quite. If I were to ask, “What is the biggest charity in the world?”, many people would say the Gates Foundation, which The Economist has estimated is worth about $37 billion. Few would say that the answer is, as The Economist pointed out a few years ago, the Stichting INGKA Foundation—a charitable body whose aims include

“the advancement of architecture and interior design”.

This charitable foundation owns INGKA Holding, which owns the IKEA group.

That set-up, which is admittedly much more complex than I have just described, operates and moves money across territories such as the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland and so on. The money is not even tracked within that foundation. The IKEA trademark is owned by another private company, Inter IKEA Systems. Just to operate IKEA’s stores, of which there are approximately 290 in the world, the charity has to make substantial yearly payments. Eventually, the trail is thought to lead back to the owning family. When there is such complexity—and it is even more complex than I have summarised—we can see the kind of international challenge there is. That is why I believe the current tax regimes to be ill-equipped to cope and why we need fundamental reform.

Let me give a glimpse of another tactic that is used—the offshoring of companies. There are approximately 19,000 businesses registered at a single address in the Cayman Islands. That must be a pretty big hoose, as we would say in Scotland.

Rob Marris: Full of IKEA furniture!

Roger Mullin: Yes, full of IKEA furniture.

It has been claimed by Oxfam, although I have not checked this out, that 98 of the FTSE 100 companies have subsidiaries in tax havens. There is a wider ethical question to address. This is not merely about how international corporations may evade UK tax. Some countries are much more vulnerable than the UK. There are considerable concerns, as the hon. Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan) said, in the developing world. Some 30% of Africa’s wealth is held offshore. Research by the International Monetary Fund has found that developing countries lose $200 billion a year to tax avoidance—more than they get in all forms of foreign aid.

The UK needs to take a lead. Hopefully we will see that when the Prime Minister hosts the anti-corruption summit in May 2016, because the UK remains at the centre of a global network.

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Debbie Abrahams (Oldham East and Saddleworth) (Lab): It is three years since the Prime Minister promised to clamp down on tax evasion and to publish the details of UK-based companies and people in the overseas territories. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the Prime Minister should fulfil his obligation? This is a manifesto commitment that he has failed to fulfil.

Roger Mullin: I agree with the hon. Lady, and hopefully the Prime Minister will fulfil that obligation in the conference that he will chair shortly. We shall wait and see.

I shall conclude with one other example that is close to the heart of the Scottish people: our historical links with Malawi. This week, ActionAid launched a new campaign, calling for the UK to negotiate a fairer tax treaty with Malawi. Every constituency in Scotland has strong historical links with Malawi. The UK tax treaty with Malawi was signed in 1955 when Malawi was under British colonial rule, and it limits the ability of the Malawi Government to collect tax revenue from UK firms that operate there, thereby preventing that poor country from raising money that it desperately needs.

It is right to hold a thorough investigation into the Google settlement, and we should press for greater transparency. We should also press the UK to take an international lead in addressing the corrupt tax avoidance practices of the many, and not just the few. Getting our own house in order would be a fine start.

3.46 pm

Mark Spencer (Sherwood) (Con): I shall do my best to make the most of the three minutes available to me. This is clearly a complicated area, and we seem to have two approaches on different sides of the House. The shadow Chancellor was passionate in his approach, and I recognise the strong feelings about this issue. The Minister’s approach was very measured and detailed. Unfortunately, the tax system must be approached in a methodical, detailed way—it cannot be emotional. I understand the strength of those emotions, and that people may feel that some large international companies do not pay their fair share. Unfortunately, however, we are blessed with a global taxation system agreement whereby companies pay tax not on the profit they make in the country but where they add the value and create the IP.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Roger Mullin) spoke about Stewart from the Kirkcaldy farm shop, who clearly sells excellent produce. If he were to export his pork pies to Paris, he would expect to pay for the profit on that pork pie in Scotland and not in Paris, and in that way this country has benefited a great deal. My constituency contains Rolls-Royce, which is a fantastic international company that creates world-leading jet engines. It uses manufacturers and subsidiaries all over the world, but those dividends and the profit of that company should be paid to the UK taxpayer, and not to other countries.

The Minister referred to the video games industry, and Nottinghamshire is blessed with Boots, which created Nurofen, a world-leading drug. The IP for that drug remains in this country, as do the profits from it. I was fortunate enough to go to the cinema to see “Spectre”, the latest James Bond movie, which was created in

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Pinewood Studios in the UK. Tax on the profits from those movies should be paid in this country, not all over the world.

I gently say to the Opposition that, under their regime, no tax was claimed from Google. Sadly, I am rapidly running out of time, but we must recognise that it is more important to get some of those profits, rather than all of nothing if they are exported to other countries.

3.49 pm

Dame Margaret Hodge (Barking) (Lab): The most bizarre feature of the row over the past 10 days is that both Google and the Chancellor thought they had landed a public relations coup. Frankly, the arrogance of Google and the hopelessness of our Government take some beating. Just look at Google’s results announced this week. It now claims to be the world’s most valuable company. It claims with pride that it has cut its tax rate from 18% to 5%. If we look at Eric Schmidt’s own earnings—the man at the top is very proud of Google’s tax structure, saying “it’s just capitalism”—he was paid £76 million in 2014 alone. That is the equivalent of well over half of what Google paid the British public for all the money it has made out of the British public over 10 years.

Joan Ryan: Is my right hon. Friend concerned that the Google agreement could present a threat to future tax revenues by setting a very dangerous precedent?

Dame Margaret Hodge: I agree entirely. The Minister talks about the work done by the Public Accounts Committee. The law is not a complete ass. I do not believe that. When the National Audit Office looked at, I think, 10 cases—I will be corrected if I am wrong—it found three where HMRC had not abided by its own rules. Every time something like this happens, it damages British jobs and British businesses—nobody else. We have definite proof that a sweetheart deal was entered into with Goldman Sachs.

Mr Gauke: It was five cases, and in every single case Sir Andrew Park concluded that the amount collected was reasonable and the overall result for the Exchequer was good. Those are the facts.

Dame Margaret Hodge: No. With the greatest respect, those are not the facts. The judge looked at five cases. The NAO looked at 10 cases and found in three of them that HMRC had not abided by its own rules.

The reason the Chancellor and his team do not get it is because of the people they talk to about tax. A small army of tax professionals and multinational companies are the only people with whom they converse. I have to say to the Minister that there is a difference between good working relationships, which I applaud, and undue influence and preferential treatment, which I do not. Talking to stakeholders is a good thing. Being captured by stakeholders is a bad thing.

We just have to look at the evidence—and not just the 25 meetings held with Google. If we look at the Tax Professionals Forum, its members are KPMG, Ernst and Young, Grant Thornton and so on. There is nobody from any of the tax campaigning organisations. There is nobody from any of the charities and no academic with

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a different view. Ernst and Young made £250 million in recent years by advising Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon.

Let us look at what the Minister has done. He appointed David Heaton from Baker Tilly to the Government’s advisory panel on the general anti-abuse rule, which was supposed to look at closing loopholes. That particular gentleman was captured on video describing

“ways to keep the money out of the Chancellor’s grubby hands”.

Let us look at what happened to Dave Hartnett—within six months he was going to work at HSBC and within a year he was going to work at Deloitte. Let us look at Edward Troup, who is now our commissioner on taxation. He wrote in the Financial Times that “Taxation is legalised extortion.” This is a small bunch of people who all have the same interests.

I want to make two other brief points. The Government say they want companies to pay proper tax, but the Government are obsessed with tax competition. That means far from tackling tax havens and so on, they are trying to make the UK an alternative best tax haven in the world. We only have to look at three changes the Government brought through on the control of foreign company rules, Eurobonds and the infamous patent box tax relief to see that that is right.

We do not know whether the Google settlement is fair, because under the existing law—the Minister is right—we cannot see it. I personally do not accept that HMRC properly challenged Google on the evidence the Public Accounts Committee collected, which demonstrated that it engages in economic activity here in the UK. I personally do not think the whistleblowers were listened to properly. Google does sell here. It does complete sales here. It does research and development here. Its economic activity is here. What on earth is that massive complex in King’s Cross for if not to undertake economic activity?

I have to say to the Minister that he has lost the argument on transparency. He ought to cave in gracefully and open up the books of these multinational companies so we can restore confidence.

3.54 pm

Nigel Huddleston (Mid Worcestershire) (Con): I draw hon. Members’ attention to the Register of Members’ Financial Interests and go beyond that by declaring that, prior to the 2015 general election, I worked for Google—often commented on as the most desirable company in the world to work for. However, I must make it very clear that I am not a spokesperson for Google. I did make it clear in my maiden speech that I wish to be an advocate for the internet and digital sectors in the UK. After all, at 12.4% of gross domestic product, that is the largest of any internet sector in the world—greater than that in Germany and France, and even double the size of that in the US.

However, the question of whether Google, or indeed any of these internet companies, pays its fair share of tax is a reasonable one. Google does many things. Deciding on tax law is not one of them. That is squarely the responsibility of this place; we make those decisions in here. If we want to change the laws, that is our responsibility.