Oral Answers to Questions (Department for Work and Pensions): Work Programme – 1st July 2013
Nigel Mills MP: Will the Minister join me in welcoming the improvements in performance of the Work programme providers that cover my constituency of Amber Valley? Notwithstanding that, there are clearly some areas of concern. Will the Department now use the market shift mechanism to make sure that those who are not succeeding will have more encouragement to improve in the future?
Mark Hoban MP (Fareham, Conservative): My hon. Friend is right. Although performance has improved significantly, more progress is needed. We aim to reward the best providers by shifting more referrals to them, and that will start happening on 1 August. At that time, at least 14 market share shifts will take place to encourage good performers and to send a message to those who are performing badly.
There is an interesting question on the interaction of legislation with the general anti-abuse rule—if each time we see some aggressive abuse that we think the general anti-abuse rule should stop, we end up producing a specific anti-abuse rule, what does that say about how strong we believe the general anti-abuse rule is? I would personally prefer specific, clear legislation that all taxpayers can read, understand and abide by, rather than relying on some general statement of principle, but there has to come a point when we say, “We think that is abusive and falls foul of the general anti-abuse rule, and that is
enough for us to tackle it. We do not need to introduce some more complexity to our tax code: instead, we will rely on the rule.” It will be interesting to see, as the years pass, how confident the Government are in that position. For us to be able to evaluate how successful the general anti-abuse rule is, we will probably need to see if the Treasury—or, at least, HMRC—can win some court cases relying on that rule. It may be a few years before we have some returns filed and challenged on that basis.
Catherine McKinnell MP (Newcastle upon Tyne North, Labour): Does the hon. Gentleman share the concerns of some people that we will never see those court cases, because the panel, depending on how it is selected, may deem most tax behaviour to be so eminently reasonable that it prevents such cases from ever getting to court?
Nigel Mills MP: I doubt that. The general anti-abuse rule came out of some proposals by Graham Aaronson, a leading tax counsel, so it is not fair to suggest that the whole industry is so wedded to egregious tax abuse that they will find any arrangement acceptable. That would make a complete mockery of the whole thing. I do not share that concern, but we have to be careful in how we draft the general anti-abuse rule. Effectively, it comes back to saying, “Although Parliament may have passed legislation in these terms, what we really meant was something slightly different.” Perhaps we did not envisage a complex scheme that works its way into what we actually said, rather than what we really meant.
If we tried to define a general anti-abuse rule too closely, we would be straight back on the horns of the dilemma of what Parliament meant when it passed a certain piece of legislation. I suspect that most people would say that we actually mean what we write in the many hundreds of pages of taxes that we pass each year. We have to allow the courts room to interpret where arrangements are clearly not what we intended when we passed them. The clue is in the word “general” in “general anti-abuse rule”. If we make it too focused, it will not work. We will see in a few years what happens.
Another measure we could use is whether the tax gap comes down. Do we see fewer of these abusive arrangements being entered into? Is that because of the threat of a general anti-abuse rule? Perhaps we could also measure it by the weight of the Finance Bill next year. If we do not need all these anti-avoidance clauses, the Bill will be an inch thinner and the Government will be happy that the general anti-abuse rule is working. I expect I will serve on the Committee next year and I am not optimistic about it being much shorter.
I cannot support new clause 12. I can see why it was drafted, and I might have drafted some amendments in Committee that were equally creative as a way to force an issue into a debate where it does not really fit. I generally agree with the idea that we should require more transparency from our largest corporate taxpayers about how much tax they are paying, but also crucially why they are paying that amount of tax.
We have seen large companies being dragged over the coals about their tax arrangements, but in some cases, there are valid reasons why they do not pay much corporation tax. For example, they might not be making
a profit, or might not be making a profit for tax purposes due to losses brought forward or other reliefs that they are perfectly entitled to claim. That is why I favour requiring large companies to publish their corporation tax returns.
We have heard Companies House much maligned, but a simple change to the financial statements that have to be filed to add to corporation tax returns, and perhaps some supporting computations, would not be too hard to achieve in law. We would then all be able to see how much tax the large companies have declared that they owe, and see how they got from their reported profit down to their taxable profits. Those who are not paying any corporation tax perfectly innocently because of the return of losses or other valid reliefs would not get the sort of bad publicity that Google, Starbucks and Amazon have had. There are some rather strange entries relating to how the commercial profit is put down on the tax form, so it would be valuable if we could scrutinise these matters and see what is going on.
Kerry McCarthy MP (Bristol East, Labour): What the hon. Gentleman says about the requirements he proposes for Companies House would go some way towards addressing the issue of transparency, but a recent report by ActionAid noted that one in 10 of this country’s top companies were not complying with existing Companies House rules on declaring how many subsidiaries and associate companies they had overseas. As I understand it, his suggestions relate only to accounts that would be filed in respect of their UK operations. We would not be able to tell from that whether such companies were channelling their profits through other companies and making use of tax havens, which is what people are really concerned about.
Nigel Mills MP: I agree with the hon. Lady’s sentiment, but I was confining my remarks to the content of new clause 12, which refers to
“a single easily comparable statement of the amount of corporation tax they pay in the UK.”
My thought was that the most single easily comparable statement would be the corporation tax return, which obviously has a consistent format, as everyone has to file it. She is right about the use of tax havens. Where tax havens are used underneath a UK corporate, HMRC has the power to get a group structure and to use the controlled foreign company rules to look at what is happening in the tax havens. It is clearly much harder for HMRC when those havens are sat above the UK, making it much harder to get the information because there is no shareholder ownership that obliges disclosure. That is why we need global work to get a clear and full corporate structure published. It will be interesting to see how much progress is made on that. It needs to be global, not just for the G20, because if one nation somewhere in the world will not agree to publish its share, that might be the one that blocks the attempt to disclose the havens.
Kerry McCarthy MP (Bristol East, Labour): I thank the hon. Gentleman for his generosity in giving way. Is it not the case that about one in five of the tax havens used by companies are UK-owned tax havens in UK overseas territories? To ensure some compliance, we should be able at least to start working with them to get them to share information.
Nigel Mills MP: I am not sure that we should use the term “UK-owned” as I am not sure that our friends in Jersey or Guernsey would appreciate that kind of description, although perhaps it is true in respect of the Crown. The hon. Lady is right that we should set an example of leadership, however, and try to ensure that the territories over which we have some influence have rules that comply with global standards. We heard some encouraging noises from the UK’s overseas territories when they agreed some issues with the Prime Minister before the G8 summit. Quite a few have taken pretty good steps in the direction of transparency by signing information exchange agreements, so we should not impugn them all with the same accusations, as some are clearly more a matter of concern than others.
Let me return to the proposal to require the publication of corporation tax returns. The requirements applying to UK company accounts include a requirement to publish a tax note that reconciles accounting profit with the tax charge and lists the key factors involved. It was intended to provide a summary of the tax return in some respects. If the tax charge is materially different from, say, 24% of the accounting profit, the reasons should be set out so that the user of the accounts can understand what is happening.
I have probably read more sets of accounts than most Members of Parliament. I am not sure that the tax note takes the user any further, because it is so brief, because there are so many ways of merging entries, and because of the impact of deferred tax. The note was designed to deal with the absence of complete transparency in regard to corporate tax affairs, but I think we could achieve that much more effectively by requiring the publication of actual tax returns. That would not reveal too many commercially sensitive data; indeed, I think that far more information is required in a set of statutory accounts than would ever be required in a corporation tax return.
We would probably not be acting unilaterally, given the disclosures that are required by many other stock exchanges around the world. The disclosures required by, for example, the Securities and Exchange Commission for its listed corporations are well in excess of those required in the UK. I do not think that this simple step would put us out of line with the rest of the world. Given requirements to disclose the tax amounts, taxable profits, how they were arrived at, and the details of overseas transactions with related parties, including amounts and charges, I do not consider it particularly onerous for a company to be required to declare “We have paid royalties of £5 million to our US parent.” In fact, many sets of accounts include such declarations. There are measures that we could take as a UK regime that would not harm our standing in the world.
I think that if there is one action that will damage prospects for UK investment, it is allowing a series of large multinational investors to be dragged through the newspapers, hauled over the coals and accused of engaging in abusive tax practices, especially when they are innocent. We do not want a regime that allows information relating to selected people to be leaked. Let us enable that information to be clearly, generally and widely published so that everyone can see who is responsible for bad behaviour, rather than trying to attack those who are innocently taking advantage of reliefs that we have sensibly introduced.
Although I agree with the intention behind most of new clause 12, I do not think that it will work. I have proposed a way of ensuring that the information we need is in the public domain year after year without imposing an unacceptable burden on UK corporate taxpayers. Perhaps the Opposition will back that proposal, which I shall continue to advance whenever we debate an issue that we have probably already debated half a dozen times this year.
Disabled Access (Train Stations) – 3rd July 2013
Nigel Mills MP: Does my hon. Friend agree that using footfall as a measure is pretty unfair on a station such as Langley Mill, which has a steep and slippery staircase? It is hard for many passengers to use the train. Perhaps if we had stations that were fit for the modern world, we might get the footfall. It is especially hard to understand when several million pounds can be found to invest in a station a few miles down the line, but a few hundred thousand cannot be found to put disabled access into an existing station.
Rory Stewart MP (Penrith and The Border, Conservative): That is a vital point. It returns us to the general theme, which is that when we have made the big investment, the big bet, a relatively small amount of money would make all the difference in use. The fact that people in Penrith and the Border can get up to Cumbria in three hours and 15 minutes is the most extraordinary transformation—for tourism, for our
economy, for small businesses, for people’s quality of life, for connections to other parts of the country, and for people’s ability to go abroad. All of that is being held back by what would probably be an investment of a few hundred thousand pounds to finish the job.
Remploy – 4th July 2013
Nigel Mills MP: Does my hon. Friend agree that at a time when there are 6.9 million disabled people of working age in the United Kingdom, we need to find a better way of using the budget that is available, rather than supporting loss-making factories which employ only a tiny fraction of those people?
Esther McVey MP (Wirral West, Conservative): I entirely agree. We must proceed with care and consideration, and we must also listen to the views of disability groups, advisers and experts, all of whom say that they would like to see more disabled people in mainstream work. That is what we must do: provide proper, sustainable, full-time jobs.
Oral Answers to Questions – Appeal Cases – 9th July 2013
Nigel Mills MP: What recent assessment he has made of how effectively appeal cases have been handled by the Crown Prosecution Service.
Oliver Heald MP (Solicitor General; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative): The CPS is providing a first-class service to the senior appellate courts.
Nigel Mills MP: I am grateful for that answer. Will the Solicitor-General please explain to the House how he can satisfy himself that the CPS is indeed conducting those cases effectively? Does it compile and analyse any data on how it is performing?
Oliver Heald MP (Solicitor General; North East Hertfordshire, Conservative): Yes, the detailed schedule of cases comes to the Attorney-General each month, and we have discovered that more cases are being dismissed
without leave to appeal being granted, which suggests good CPS presentation; up to 57% of cases are now dismissed without leave.
Northern Ireland Bill (Committee Stage) – 9th July 2013
Nigel Mills MP: Yes. I made that point at the outset. The need for absolute security must be balanced against the need for transparency, and I decided that the level at which the balance tilted towards transparency was £7,500. The hon. Lady might choose a different figure, but there must be a point at which donations are seen to buy influence, and the details should therefore be published.
The leader of the hon. Lady’s party gave some of the most compelling evidence to the Select Committee. He said that his big fear was that if a small business man gave £1,000 to his, and her, party, another party might knock on the door and demand £2,000, because that business man was clearly willing to donate. I think that there is a risk at that level. That is why I did not table an
amendment proposing that all donations should be made public, and I think that that is why the Select Committee recommended the £7,500 threshold as well.
Fifteen years after the Good Friday agreement, with all the progress that has been made, can we really justify maintaining the secrecy of all the large political donations to Northern Ireland parties when in the rest of the UK we have the publication of much smaller donations with no trouble? We accept that there is a unique situation in Northern Ireland. The security situation there is clearly different from what those of us representing seats in the mainland face, but for how many more years can we tolerate there not being this transparency in politics in the UK?
Naomi Long MP (Belfast East, Alliance): Even if we judge that the risk now is high, the point is that there will never be a point at which we can say there is no risk. This provision is about transitioning and saying that the donor must now take some responsibility for judging whether to take that risk, and that that risk should not always outweigh the public interest.
Nigel Mills MP: Absolutely, and if this amendment were passed, a donor would still have 14 months in which to make any donations they wanted to make and have them not made public. I suspect that would get the political parties through the 2015 general election, and that if they planned things carefully, they could get enough funds to get through the 2016 Assembly elections, so there would be no detriment to party funding until perhaps the 2020 elections in terms of the need for very large donations. That would give everyone a large amount of time to adjust to these new transparency rules.
I therefore ask the Minister to set out why the Government are apparently reluctant to go down this route even for the largest donations. I note that in their response to the Select Committee they said they would carefully consider any restrictions on transparency after October 2014. It would be useful to understand what their criteria are for making that decision. I accept, however, that the Minister cannot, and should not, tell us the specific intelligence he has about security threats.
Northern Ireland Members obviously understand Northern Ireland politics better than I do, but it is my understanding that the details of anyone who nominates a candidate or who stands for a council are published. If we have not had any evidence that there is a real security threat to people participating in those aspects of Northern Ireland democracy, why do we have this threat in respect of donations? It is worth asking how credible it is to have those two opposing situations, whereby it is safe to nominate or stand but it is not safe to donate money. I am not sure whether there is a very convincing argument for that.
Lady Hermon (North Down, Independent): Like the hon. Gentleman, I have the privilege of sitting on the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee. When we took evidence on this issue, we took evidence privately and in public session, and we took it in written as well as oral form. Did we ever receive evidence from a donor to any political party or to any independent Member of the Parliament that they felt at risk of being targeted by terrorists or anyone else for donating?
Nigel Mills MP: No, of course we did not receive any such evidence. We do not know who the donors are, so we could not go and ask them. That question was raised with some of the parties; they were asked whether they had any evidence from their donors that could be put on an anonymous basis, and I do not recall any evidence along those lines being received.
Jim Shannon MP (Strangford, DUP): A few moments ago the hon. Gentleman drew comparisons between elected representatives and donors, but elected representatives chose to put their names forward—in the same way as some of us on this side of the House chose to wear the uniform of the Crown, and served in Northern Ireland. That is a choice we made. The donors do not necessarily make a choice to have their names and addresses and businesses all known. That is the difference. The difference is between those who make these choices and those who donate and do not want to make anybody else aware of that. Derbyshire is not like South Down. Amber Valley is not like Belfast. They are two different places—there are different situations and different circumstances—and, with the greatest respect, I am a wee bit unsure that the hon. Gentleman is aware of all the background in Northern Ireland.
Nigel Mills MP: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for that intervention. Clearly, people who make donations before October 2014 should not have their details published, as that would not be their understanding of what would happen. My argument is that if they choose to make a large donation after 1 October 2014, they would be doing so on the understanding that they will be named—they would be choosing to be in that situation. I have no desire to force someone into a position that is not what they understood it to be, as it would be entirely wrong to do so.
I do not doubt that my constituency is very different from that of the hon. Gentleman and I do not want to underestimate his understanding of those risks, as they are clearly far greater than those in my constituency will ever be. However, we are all asked, as Members of Parliament in the UK, to vote on this Bill and to make these choices. We need to be in a situation where there is sufficient normality in Northern Ireland to be able to publish details of these donations. I am not convinced that we have not reached that point now and that for large donations it would not be the right way in which to tip that delicate balance, especially when we are not getting credible evidence from anybody that there is a real threat or that any past incidents would give us real cause for concern. Perhaps that evidence exists and just cannot come into the public domain. I have no doubt that the Minister will have information that is far stronger than the Committee could get its hands on or perhaps should get its hands on.
On the current balance of the arguments, I think we should be publishing details of those larger donations. I accept that we are not in a position to do that in respect of smaller donations, but let us make that change. Let us say that we have progressed far enough, 15 or 16 years on from that historic agreement, to think that the situation in Northern Ireland is strong enough for us to be able to publish details of those large donations. Let us go for transparency for the whole political process, and let us show that it is clean and that people cannot
be bought. Let us not continue any longer with this fear or misunderstanding that the process is corrupt. That is where we are, and the events of last week and that television programme have raised again fears that something is happening which should not be happening. We all sincerely hope that it is not.
Nigel Dodds MP (Belfast North, DUP): I am pleased to be able to take part in this debate. First, I wish to discuss amendment 6, which stands in my name and that of my colleagues, and then I will comment on the other proposals in the group. Nigel Mills”>The hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) put a legitimate point of view, one that had support in the Select Committee but has not found favour with the Government, so I look forward to hearing the Minister speak on it. It is also worth making the general comment in relation to all these matters that the Bill did go through pre-legislative scrutiny. That is not to say that it cannot be improved or that we cannot debate it and tease out the various issues—that is what we are here to do. The hon. Gentleman referred to recent programmes and, of course, we also have to bear in mind the recent “Panorama” programme and The Sunday Times exposure of issues relating to Back-Benchers here and members of the other place. All these issues are very pertinent and need to be examined, too.
Our amendment 6 would repeal section 71B of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. Political parties in Northern Ireland currently follow different rules from parties in Great Britain. Many people in the UK—UK taxpayers and voters—might be slightly surprised that a different set of rules applies on donations to people who can be elected to the House of Commons to make laws for the whole of the United Kingdom if they are in political parties in one part of the UK. The 2000 Act was passed to prevent foreign influence through donations being made without transparency, openness and all the rest of it and to ensure that donations were made by legitimate donors—donors who reside in the United Kingdom or who have locus in the UK, because, after all, the political parties to which they are donating are making laws for the UK. By logic, therefore, the same rules should apply across the UK to all the political parties represented in this House. That is what the amendment seeks to achieve.
In Great Britain, donations are permissible only from individuals or bodies in the United Kingdom. Northern Ireland parties, exceptionally, are allowed also to receive donations and loans from the Irish Republic. The amendment would end that exemption and put Northern Ireland on the same footing as the rest of the United Kingdom. One argument that is made over and over by many people, quite validly and properly, is that Northern Ireland should be brought into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. Usually, that argument is applied to the question of transparency and the revelation of the identities of donors—I shall come to that in a short while—but it never seems to be raised in the context of this glaring loophole, which preserves a special position, effectively for the benefit of nationalist parties. Let us be frank: that is why it was brought in originally and why it was lobbied for.
I listened carefully to Naomi Long”>the hon. Member for Belfast East (Naomi Long) and I understand where she is coming from. I understand the argument she advanced
and the way in which she advanced it. Her concern was more to do with the loophole whereby donations come not so much from citizens or organisations in the Republic but from individuals or companies who are used as a conduit for political donations to parties in Northern Ireland from outside the Irish Republic—from the United States, or wherever. That is the real problem. It was identified by the Select Committee, which recommended that the loophole be closed.
The purpose of our amendment is to highlight that glaring loophole. We cannot have an exception that allows donations to come in from abroad and thereby allows them to come in from even further afield than intended—from America, Australia, Canada, other parts of the European Union or wherever else. That issue must be addressed. It is entirely unacceptable, when we talk about transparency, openness and all the rest of it, that in Northern Ireland parties that are represented or may be represented in this House could be funded by bodies, individuals and organisations in other parts of the world yet we would never be able to find out because of this exception.
I appeal to the Minister to consider the issue, to consider very carefully not just what we have said but what the Select Committee has said and to take the matter away and see how the loophole can be closed. If we are trying to move forward and bring the law on donations gradually and cautiously into line, we must do it across the board, not just on the issue addressed by clause 1 and the other amendments but on the issue we are raising through amendment 6.
Nigel Mills MP: I have sympathy with what the right hon. Gentleman is saying. One of the concerns of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee was that his amendment would effectively contravene the provisions of the Good Friday agreement—that freedoms allowed there effectively enable an all-Ireland party to operate, and what he is trying to do would stop that happening—and that is perhaps not the way Parliament ought to go.
Nigel Dodds MP (Belfast North, DUP): Nothing in the amendment, or in our proposal, would prevent a party from operating in both Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic. Likewise, there is nothing to stop a party from operating on a UK-wide basis, if it wished to. All the provision does is put Northern Ireland parties in exactly the same position as those in the rest of the United Kingdom, so that we are subject to the same rules and scrutiny. That is a perfectly legitimate point of view, which the Minister needs to consider.
Amendment 2 in the name of Nigel Mills the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills) means that after 1 October 2014 all protected information should be published in relation to all donations over £7,500. Protected information is anything that could identify the person or organisation that made a donation during the prescribed period of donor anonymity. The amendment would remove the protection after 1 October 2014 and would remove all
discretion from the Secretary of State so that, as the hon. Gentleman said, after that date all donors and their details would be published.
We discussed the issue generally on Second Reading and the Government set out their position, which was opposed to that of the hon. Gentleman. Generally speaking, we welcomed the Government’s approach, which was one of caution but of cautious progress. We made it clear in the House that we want to see Northern Ireland on all fronts—not just, as some people have it, selectively—moving forward and coming into line with the rest of the United Kingdom. Right across all fronts we wish to see that.
We welcome the fact that amendments 7 and 8, as well as amendment 2, safeguard the anonymity of those who have donated up till now. Some have argued that that should not be accepted, but it is accepted by everybody and rightly so. The question is whether the Government should still have regard to the circumstances in October 2014, or whether we should make a decision now that as of that date, regardless of the situation or circumstances, the discretion is taken away.
Nigel Mills MP: I want to take the right hon. Gentleman back to the quotes he gave about the commercial risk of a boycott if someone is exposed as a political donor. The leader of the UUP and the First Minister both said that it was the security risk that justified the lack of transparency and that the commercial downsides of a boycott alone would not be a sufficient threshold. Does he agree that it is only the security risk that justifies the lack of transparency?
Nigel Dodds MP (Belfast North, DUP): I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s point. I refer him to paragraph 23 of the research paper on this matter produced by the House of Commons Library, which says:
“Mr Robinson, Mr Nesbitt and Mr Elliott all argued that security and commercial risk to donors were intrinsically intertwined”.
The responsibility for setting the timetable for removing anonymity must, in our view, remain with the Secretary of State, as is the current position under the Bill. We would urge caution as to when the decision is considered, as we noted on Second Reading, when the Secretary of State gave us an undertaking that there would be consultation not just with the Electoral Commission but with the security forces and political parties. That is absolutely right and proper.
For those reasons, we support the consensus behind the Bill and urge colleagues to consider carefully the importance and significance of our amendment 6.
Dual Mandate – Cabinet Office – 15th July 2013
Nigel Mills MP: To ask the Minister for the Cabinet Office pursuant to the contribution of the Minister of State for Northern Ireland on 9 July 2013, Official Report, column 311, on the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill, what his policy is on whether a member of the European Parliament should be able to be a member of (a) the Northern Ireland Assembly, (b) the Scottish Parliament and (c) the Welsh Assembly.
Chloe Smith MP (Norwich North, Conservative): There is no restriction on members of the Northern Ireland Assembly, the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, standing for election to become a Member of the European Parliament. The Government has no plans to change this policy.
Oral Answers to Questions: Northern Ireland – Health – 16th July 2013
Nigel Mills MP (Amber Valley, Conservative): While not condoning the violence over the weekend, does the Secretary of State not agree that there is a fear that the Parades Commission ruling placed the police in an impossible situation, having to police an unpoliceable order, and that with hindsight it might have been better to use the mechanism in place for exceptional circumstances to try to find a solution for the march that was acceptable to all sides?
Theresa Villiers MP (Chipping Barnet, Conservative): As I said in my statement, the PSNI was confident at all times that it could police whatever determination the Parades Commission made, and in those circumstances it was not appropriate and my powers to intervene were not triggered.
Oral Answers to Questions: Hospital Mortality Rates – Health – 16th July 2013
Nigel Mills MP: Those of my constituents who use King’s Mill hospital will understandably be concerned about their future treatment. What reassurance can my right hon. Friend give me that this summer those patients will get the treatment that they rightly expect?
Jeremy Hunt MP (South West Surrey, Conservative): It is important to recognise that even at the hospitals that we are talking about this afternoon, there is good care happening every single day. The way that we will reassure my hon. Friend’s constituents is by having an independent inspection system which has not existed before, where regulators are not leaned on by Ministers to say the right thing in the run-up to elections. It is only when his constituents have confidence in that regulatory system that they will know the truth about their own hospital, and we want them to get there as soon as possible.
Oral Answers to Questions – Alcohol Strategy Consultation – 17th July 2013
Nigel Mills MP: The Minister is rightly tackling those who sell alcohol below the level of duty plus VAT. Will he update the House on what the
Government will do to tackle those who are not paying duty plus VAT and selling alcohol illegally? That puts a lot of money into the pockets of organised crime, as he well knows.
Jeremy Browne MP (Taunton Deane, Liberal Democrat): My hon. Friend makes an important point. This does impact on organised crime. Responsibility for Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs lies with the Treasury, rather than the Home Office, and it is clearly keen to take ongoing measures to prevent public harms and to increase the revenue to Government. Duty plus VAT is a perfectly reasonable competition measure that the Government are introducing. It is an uncompetitive practice for supermarkets or others to sell alcohol below the level of tax that they have to pay on that alcohol. Anybody who has a free market perspective and does not want smaller retailers to be unfairly disadvantaged will see that as another reason to support this measure.