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Prosecutions for Offshore Tax Evasion

Volume 608: debated on Thursday 14 April 2016

All tax evasion prosecutions are conducted under domestic tax law and no distinction is made in central records between offshore tax evasion cases and other tax prosecutions, but I can tell the right hon. Gentleman that the total number of convictions since 2010 for tax offences is 2,647.

I am grateful for that answer, but the Attorney General will now know, through the revelations in the Panama papers, that industrial-scale money is going offshore. What role will his Department be playing in advising the Prime Minister’s taskforce on that tax evasion? Does the Attorney General expect any illegality to come out in that review? If so, what resources does he have to ensure that prosecutions take place?

As the right hon. Gentleman may know, the Serious Fraud Office, an agency that I superintend, is contributing to that taskforce, and £10 million of new money is available to support the work of the taskforce. As he would expect me to say, the question of who, if anyone, gets prosecuted as a result of that work is not for politicians, but for independent prosecutors, to determine. I am confident that the Crown Prosecution Service and the SFO have the resources they need to pursue this. As he will also know, the Government are providing additional tools by which that can be done, including the creation of new offences, both for individuals and for corporate entities that fail to take the necessary action to prevent the facilitation of tax evasion.

Tax evasion is not a victimless crime, and tax avoidance also has consequences. Both take money out of our hard-pressed public services and away from the people who work in them. This money could be used to fund more police, hospitals, schools and other local services, all of which have had severe cuts under this Government. There is a growing tax gap, and there have been a very limited number of prosecutions. How can the public therefore be confident that the Government are doing everything they can to crack down on overseas tax evaders, given the performance to date?

I do not accept that the performance to date has been ineffective. As I have explained, there have been successful prosecutions of those who evade tax. As the hon. Lady will know, it is not simply criminal prosecution that exists in order to take action against those who avoid or evade tax; civil penalties are also available to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, and they bring in a substantial amount of money as a result of the actions that that agency takes. She is right about there always being more to do, which is why I highlighted two particular measures in the field of enforcement and criminal prosecutions that this Government are taking, and I look forward to the Labour party’s support for them.