STEP members may be interested in a reasoned debate that took place last Wednesday, 6 September in the UK House of Commons, which gave some insight into the view of both the opposition and the government as to how offshore trusts are perceived.
Parliament came back from its summer holidays last week, albeit not for long (it goes back into recess on Thursday when MPs go off for conference season), but already lively discussions have been had over tax issues as part of a debate on the elements of the Finance Bill that were held up before the summer due to the general election.
Overall, 48 Finance Bill resolutions were left outstanding from the previous session. With the Brexit bill seemingly taking up most of the short amount of parliamentary time available this month, this bit of legislative housekeeping didn’t attract the biggest crowd but raised some interesting points none the less.
The 48 resolutions were debated together, though some areas were clearly more interesting to MPs than others, not least the issue of non-domiciled tax status. Speaking on the subject, Mel Stride, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, said that the measures in the Finance Bill would help to make the tax system fairer while also forecast to raise GBP1.6 billion over the next five years. He added that: ‘Most importantly, permanent non-dom status for people resident in the UK will be ended, so that they pay tax in the same way as everybody else.’
Peter Dowd, Labour’s Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, naturally disagreed, calling the measures on domicile ‘sieve-like’ and arguing that the rules on business investment relief ‘will allow non-doms to remit funds into the UK without paying usual taxes’. Wes Streeting, a Labour MP sitting on the Treasury Committee, said that ‘the Government are saying clearly “if you have a trust overseas before the rules kick in, don’t worry; we’re not going to touch that money”.’ He went on to say that he recognised that many are family trusts – and, later still, that he understands the ‘parental instinct’ to want to pass on assets – but argued that there was an unfairness in not applying retrospective changes to non-doms in the same way as different measures affect many others.
Concluding the debate for the government, Stride addressed what he saw as Labour criticisms of offshore trusts, stating: ‘Let me be clear again: if funds are taken out of trusts, they will be taxed in the normal way. In recent years, we have reached important international agreements on the automatic exchange of information to ensure that we can effectively monitor those movements.’ Addressing Streeting’s points, Stride reiterated that funds remitted out of non-dom trusts will be taxable. But addressing the idea of greater parliamentary scrutiny of HMRC – Streeting has suggested the Treasury Committee could look at its work more closely – Stride argued that ‘the idea of politicians getting directly involved in the tax affairs of individuals…would be a dangerous road to go down. I do not want politicians interfering in people’s tax affairs; I want to protect tax confidentiality’.
Under Jeremy Corbyn, Labour will likely return to some of these issues again, possibly at its party conference later this month. For the Conservative government, for now they will move on and publish the draft clauses for the Finance Bill to follow the Autumn Budget this Wednesday, 13 September 2017. The consultation on these draft clauses will be open until Wednesday 25 October 2017.