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General Anti-tax Avoidance Principle

Volume 608: debated on Tuesday 19 April 2016

A general anti-avoidance rule was considered by an independent study group led by Graham Aaronson QC in 2011. The group recommended an anti-abuse rule for the UK because it felt strongly that it would strengthen and complement existing tools available to HMRC. The Government accepted the recommendation and introduced a general anti-abuse rule in 2013, striking the right balance between protection against avoidance and certainty for taxpayers.

One way to put an end to aggressive tax avoidance is a general principle—a principle, not a rule. I am sure the Minister understands there is a difference: people can find a way around a rule, but it is not easy to do that with a principle. Will the Government therefore back their public statements about tackling aggressive tax avoidance and legislate for a general principle of tax avoidance?

I remind the hon. Gentleman that the last Labour Government looked at this issue and declined either a general anti-abuse rule or a general anti-abuse principle because of fears of uncertainty. We believe we have got the balance right. However, alongside the introduction of the anti-abuse rule, we have brought in measures to deal with accelerated payments and promoters, we closed 40 tax loopholes in the last Parliament and we have announced 25 closures in this Parliament already. It is worth pointing out that avoidance is coming down.