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Tax Avoidance

Volume 541: debated on Tuesday 6 March 2012

The Government are determined to tackle tax avoidance and evasion and ensure that the tax system operates fairly for all. By closing down two aggressive avoidance schemes on 27 February, we have demonstrated that we are prepared to take bold action to counter avoidance. The Government’s commitment has been underlined by their reinvestment of £917 million in Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, which will bring in additional revenues of £7 billion a year by 2014-15.

The United Kingdom has the longest tax code in the world. It has 11,500 pages, and is 10 times longer than “War and Peace”. Does my hon. Friend agree that any simplifying measures would be welcome, as they would reduce tax avoidance and evasion and would prevent further ridiculous trials such as that of Harry Redknapp? I always thought that he was innocent, because he is such a good football manager,

I may be wrong, but I suspect that the hon. Gentleman should have declared himself to be a Tottenham supporter.

So he is an ex-Harry Redknapp fan.

Complexity in the tax code can provide opportunities for avoidance, but, equally, much of the complexity that exists is a consequence of attempts to crack down on avoidance. The Government have set up the Office of Tax Simplification, and we are determined to do what we can to simplify the code and address avoidance and evasion.

Stamp duty land tax avoidance schemes cost the Exchequer hundreds of millions of pounds a year, but my questions on the subject have been met with complete complacency by Ministers. I was told:

“HM Revenue and Customs… is aware of a number of marketed… schemes. HMRC considers that none of the schemes… is effective in reducing… liability”.—[Official Report, 17 January 2012; Vol. 538, c. 708W.]

Now we hear that the Chancellor is going to crack down on such schemes. Which is it?

There are many marketed schemes that HMRC is convinced do not work, and that will be established in the courts. I suggest that those who are sometimes persuaded by claims that a particular scheme will work should treat them with caution. However, the Government are determined to crack down on stamp duty land tax avoidance. We took steps in the last Budget, we took steps in the autumn statement strengthening the disclosure regime, and there may well be more to come.

When the banks begin to make profits again, they will offset the losses that they made when they got us into a total mess, and will avoid paying tax. Whenever companies are paying tax on their profits, the banks will be avoiding tax on theirs. Will the Government look at that?

There are times when taxpayers engage in aggressive avoidance and we put a stop to it, as we did last week. However, the offsetting of losses is not novel—it is a long-standing element of the tax system—and, although of course we keep all such matters under review, the legitimate use of losses does not necessarily count as aggressive avoidance.

Given the Government’s attempts to cut the deficit, it would make sense to clamp down on tax evasion, so why are they cutting 10,000 staff at HMRC?

We are cutting down on tax evasion. Whereas under the previous Government tax evasion coverage was reduced—the number of staff dealing with tax evasion was reduced—it can be seen that the number of people working on tax evasion in HMRC is now increasing.