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Tax Avoidance and Tax Evasion Schemes

Volume 594: debated on Tuesday 10 March 2015

8. What plans he has to introduce penalties for financial advisers who promote aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion schemes. (907964)

This Government have been relentless in cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion. We have introduced a tougher monitoring regime and penalties for high-risk promoters of tax avoidance schemes, and the unprecedented common reporting standard will mean that by 2018 more than 90 countries will be exchanging information on offshore accounts automatically, helping Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs to find and pursue offshore evaders successfully.

I thank the Chief Secretary for that answer. Does he agree that more has been done on tax avoidance in the past five years than was done in the previous 13, so craven were the previous Government before big business and big tax avoidance? Will he welcome the Financial Secretary’s announcement yesterday of further action on tax avoidance-promoting schemes?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right in both things that he says. The Financial Secretary’s announcement represented very important further progress, but if we look back over the past five years, we see that the relentlessness of our pursuit of measures to crack down on avoidance, be it the general anti-abuse rule in the tax system, the disclosure of tax avoidance schemes regime, the monitoring regime that we are putting in place or the measures to increase prosecutions for tax evasion, has made it clear that there is absolutely no tolerance for aggressive tax avoidance and tax evasion in this country.

The Chief Secretary will know that 10% of UK wealth is held in offshore bank accounts, which is a much higher proportion than in the United States, so why is he not focusing on that tax avoidance and evasion, at a time when 65% of people on jobseeker’s allowance in Swansea have been sanctioned and are living on a pittance? It is a disgrace.

The hon. Gentleman clearly was not listening to my first answer, because we have put in place something unprecedented: working with our colleagues in other countries, the common reporting standard will mean that more than 90 countries will be automatically exchanging information on offshore accounts, so that HMRC has the information it needs to find and pursue offshore tax evaders successfully. We need to make further progress on how we deal with organisations that encourage, promote or facilitate tax evasion. I have said I want to see further work done on that, and I am sure we will be hearing more about it soon.

In 2006-07, a hedge fund manager avoided millions in tax through a film scheme later judged unlawful. HSBC received £438,000 for acting as an intermediary, so does the Chief Secretary agree that there should have been a penalty on HSBC for its role in this scam?

I do not know the details of the specific instance to which my hon. Friend refers, but I do think that in cases where an organisation is facilitating or promoting tax evasion and a penalty is then paid and tax is paid, as it should have been in the first place, the organisation facilitating the tax evasion should be liable for exactly the same amount of money, to be paid to the Exchequer. In that way, there would be a strong financial as well as legal incentive for people not to get involved in this practice in the first place.