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Tax Avoidance

Volume 505: debated on Tuesday 2 February 2010

7. What steps his Department is taking to reduce levels of tax avoidance by individuals and businesses. (314434)

We detect avoidance early and we tackle it quickly. The disclosure regime has already helped to prevent more than £12 billion in avoidance opportunities, and in the pre-Budget report, we announced further steps to strengthen it. Building on progress at the G20 London summit, we have signed 21 agreements on tax information exchange with other countries since last January.

If the Government are serious about tackling tax avoidance, why have 25,000 jobs in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs been cut in the past five years, including recently 20 in my constituency? Surely that hampers the ability of the Minister’s Department to investigate, gather evidence and prosecute dodgers.

No, we have to manage the affairs of HMRC and other Departments in the most efficient and effective way possible. As the hon. Gentleman said, there has been a substantial reduction in the number of people working in HMRC, partly because of the merger between the old Customs and Revenue Departments, which has enabled a more efficient operation. It is doing a better job, and we are reducing the tax gap, bringing in the tax that the Exchequer needs.

May I applaud the Government’s plans to curb bogus self-employment in the construction industry, which costs this country £1.7 billion a year in lost revenue? May I ask the Minister for an assurance that he will resist any opposition to our plans from construction industry bosses who only want to maintain that culture of hire and fire in the industry?

My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and we are certainly sticking to our intentions on that front. In other areas where loopholes emerge, we will act very quickly—on occasions we have acted within days—to close them.