Jeremy Corbyn: On behalf of the Opposition, I welcome the remarks the Prime Minister made about Holocaust Memorial Day. It is the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau. We have to remember the deepest, darkest days of inhumanity that happened then and the genocides that have sadly happened since. We must educate another generation to avoid those for all time.
Independent experts have suggested that Google is paying an effective tax rate on its UK profits of around 3%. Does the Prime Minister dispute that figure?
The Prime Minister: Let us be clear what we are talking about here. We are talking about tax that should have been collected under a Labour Government being raised by a Conservative Government. I do dispute the figures the right hon. Gentleman gives. It is right that this is done independently by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, but I am absolutely clear that no Government have done more than this one to crack down on tax evasion and aggressive tax avoidance—no Government, and certainly not the last Labour Government.
Jeremy Corbyn: My question was whether the Prime Minister thinks an effective tax rate of 3% is right or wrong. He did not answer it. The Chancellor of the Exchequer described this arrangement as a “major success”, while the Prime Minister’s official spokesperson only called it a “step forward”. The Mayor of London described the payment as “quite derisory”. What exactly is the Government’s position on this 3% rate of taxation?
The Prime Minister: But we have put in place the diverted profits tax, which means that this company and other companies will pay more tax in future. They will pay more tax than they ever paid under Labour, when the tax rate for Google was 0%. That is what we faced.
Let me tell the right hon. Gentleman what we have done. We have changed the tax laws so many times that we raised an extra £100 billion from business in the last Parliament. When I came to power, banks did not pay tax on all their profits—allowed under Labour, stopped under the Tories; investment companies could cut their tax bill by flipping the currency their accounts were in—allowed under Labour, stopped under the Tories; and companies could fiddle accounting rules to make losses appear out of thin air—allowed under Labour, stopped under the Tories. We have done more on tax evasion and tax avoidance than Labour ever did. The truth is that they are running to catch up, but they haven’t got a leg to stand on.
Jeremy Corbyn: It was under a Labour Government that the inquiries into Google were begun. In addition, as a percentage of GDP, corporation tax receipts are lower under this Government than under previous Governments.
I have a question here from a gentleman called Jeff. [Interruption.] You might well laugh, but Jeff speaks for millions of people when he says to me:
“Can you ask the Prime Minister…if as a working man of over 30 years whether there is a scheme which I can join that pays the same rate of tax as Google and other large…corporations?”
What does the Prime Minister say to Jeff?
The Prime Minister: What I say to Jeff is that his taxes are coming down under this Government, and Google’s taxes are going up under this Government. Something the right hon. Gentleman said in his last question was factually inaccurate. He said that corporation tax receipts have gone down. They have actually gone up by 20% under this Government because we have a strong economy, with businesses making money, employing people, investing in our country and paying taxes into the Exchequer.
If, like me, the right hon. Gentleman is genuinely angry about what happened to Google under Labour, there are a few people he could call. Maybe he should start by calling Tony Blair. You can get him at J. P. Morgan. Call Gordon Brown. Apparently, you can get him at a Californian bond dealer called Pimco. He could call Alistair Darling. I think he’s at Morgan Stanley, but it’s hard to keep up. Those are the people to blame for Google not paying its taxes. We are the ones who got it to pay.
Jeremy Corbyn: The problem is that the Prime Minister is the Prime Minister, and is responsible for the Government and therefore responsible for tax collection. Google made profits of £6 billion in the UK between 2005 and 2015 and is paying £130 million in tax for the whole of that decade. Millions of people this week are filling in their tax returns to get them in by the 31st. They have to send the form back. They do not get the option of 25 meetings with 17 Ministers to decide what their rate of tax is. Many people going to their HMRC offices or returning their forms online this week will say this: why is there one rule for big multinational companies and another for ordinary small businesses and self-employed workers?
The Prime Minister: All those people filling in their tax returns are going to be paying lower taxes under this Government. That is what is happening. I have to say to the right hon. Gentleman, he can, if he wants, criticise HMRC, but HMRC’s work is investigated by the National Audit Office, and when it did that, it found that the settlements that it has reached with companies are fair. That is how it works. [Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor is pointing. The idea that those two right hon. Gentlemen would stand up to anyone in this regard is laughable. Look at their record over the last week. They met the unions and they gave them flying pickets. They met the Argentinians; they gave them the Falkland Islands. They met a bunch of migrants in Calais; they said they could all come to Britain. The only people they never stand up for are the British people and hard-working taxpayers.
Jeremy Corbyn: We have had no answers on Google; we have had no answers for Jeff.
Can I raise with the Prime Minister another unfair tax policy that affects many people in this country? This morning the Court of Appeal ruled that the bedroom tax is discriminatory, because of its impact—
I don’t know why Members opposite find this funny, because it isn’t for those who have to pay it. The ruling was made because of the bedroom tax’s impact on vulnerable individuals, including victims of domestic violence and disabled children. Will the Prime Minister now read the judgment and finally abandon this cruel and unjust policy, which has now been ruled to be illegal?
The Prime Minister: We always look very carefully at the judgments on these occasions, but of course our fundamental position is that it is unfair to subsidise spare rooms in the social sector if we do not subsidise them in the private sector where people are paying housing benefit. That is a basic issue of fairness, but isn’t it interesting that the first pledge the right hon. Gentleman makes is something that could cost as much as £2.5 billion in the next Parliament. Who is going to pay for that? Jeff will pay for it. The people filling in their tax returns will pay for it. Why is it that the right hon. Gentleman always wants to see more welfare, higher taxes and more borrowing—all the things that got us into the mess in the first place?
Jeremy Corbyn: We have not had any answers on Google or the bedroom tax, but I ask the Prime Minister this. Shortly before coming into the Chamber, I became aware of the final report of the United Nations panel of experts on Yemen, which has been sent to the Government. It makes very disturbing reading. The report says that the panel has documented that coalition forces have “conducted airstrikes targeting civilians and civilian objects, in violation of international humanitarian law, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees…civilian residential areas; medical facilities; schools; mosques”.
These are very disturbing reports. In the light of this, will the Prime Minister agree to launch immediately an inquiry and a full review into the arms export licences to Saudi Arabia and suspend those arms sales until that review has been concluded?
The Prime Minister: As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have the strictest rules for arms exports of almost any country anywhere in the world. Let me remind him that we are not a member of the Saudi-led coalition; we are not directly involved in the Saudi-led coalition’s operations; and British personnel are not involved in carrying out strikes. I will look at that report as I look at all other reports, but our arms exports are carefully controlled and we are backing the legitimate Government of the Yemen, not least because terrorist attacks planned in the Yemen would have a direct effect on people in our country. I refuse to run a foreign policy by press release, which is what he wants. I want a foreign policy that is in the interests of the British people.