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Tax Avoidance

Volume 560: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2013

The Government are fully committed to tackling tax avoidance, taking all necessary steps to protect the Exchequer. Since 2010, the Government have introduced 26 changes to the law to close loopholes and tighten our legislation against tax avoidance. We are introducing a general anti-abuse rule in this year’s Finance Bill to tackle abusive avoidance schemes, and we will be consulting on measures to address high-risk promoters of avoidance schemes.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that answer. One of the drivers of these aggressive tax avoidance schemes has been the cottage industry that has grown up among those who seek, for their own financial gain, to persuade those who want to pay their taxes to enter such schemes. What steps are the Government taking to deal with the promoters of these aggressive tax avoidance schemes?

My hon. and learned Friend is absolutely right to raise this issue, which the Government have focused on extensively in recent months. We have consulted on what we can do in this area, and I hope that we will be able to report back on that shortly. We have also strengthened the disclosure of tax avoidance schemes regime, making it increasingly difficult for people to peddle these artificial, contrived schemes that involve people not paying their fair share. We do not think that that is right and we are doing something about it.

Two years ago Christine Lagarde gave the Treasury 6,000 names of UK nationals using Swiss bank HSBC to avoid paying tax. Two years later, one of them has been convicted. Is the case closed on the other 5,999, and if so, why?

I am not going to get drawn into individual cases, but I will say that under this Government the number of prosecutions will increase fivefold. We are giving additional resources to HMRC to help to deal with prosecutions, and we have strengthened its offshore team. Our record on dealing with tax evasion—dealing with those who have cheated the system—is one of which we are proud, and it compares very favourably with the record that we inherited.

Private equity is an important source of investment for expanding businesses, but when they over-leverage it can lead to disasters such as that with Castlebeck. It can also lead to protracted negotiations with the Revenue over the deductability of interest and an erosion of the tax base. Will my hon. Friend consider the German approach of limiting the level of interest that can be deductible in any tax year as a proportion of a company’s profit—the so-called bright line?

We did look at interest deductibility when we first came into office. However, in the corporate tax road map that we set out in 2010, we took the view that we were not going to change the rules fundamentally with regard to interest deductibility. What we have done, of course, is favour equity more by cutting corporation tax. My hon. Friend also raises wider issues about private equity and leverage that the Banking Commission is considering.