Skip to main content

Government Efficiency

Volume 721: debated on Thursday 7 October 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether Sir Philip Green’s review of government efficiency will include HM Revenue and Customs.

My Lords, Sir Philip Green has been appointed by the Prime Minister to lead an external efficiency review into government spending across all central government departments. Sir Philip will report before the end of the spending review to the Minister for the Cabinet Office, Francis Maude, and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Danny Alexander.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister. Conservative Ministers have been very loud in their condemnation of benefit cheats but rather quieter about tax avoidance and tax evasion. Does the Minister really think that Sir Philip Green is the right man to study the efficiency of HMRC? Will he assure me that if there are to be cuts in HMRC’s expenditure, they will not impact on that department’s tax evasion and tax avoidance machinery?

My Lords, Philip Green was appointed by the Prime Minister on 13 August to review spending inefficiencies across all departments, not specifically HMRC, but of course HMRC is included in the sort of areas of government that he might be looking at. There is no question of Sir Philip Green having access to personal tax information or data. The view of the Government is that he is the right man for the job.

My Lords, I have had some past dealings with Sir Philip Green. When I was chairman of Marks & Spencer, Sir Philip, or possibly his wife, Lady Tina, in conjunction with Goldman Sachs’ offshore fund’s bid for M&S, told the Guardian that he would like to give my head “a good (expletive) kicking”—clearly the right man to conduct such a review. I was intrigued as to how he would carry out this review, so I sent a freedom of information request to the Treasury. It replied on 28 February that it had no records of Sir Philip Green’s involvement in an expenditure review, and said, “Why don’t you try the Cabinet Office?”. On 4 October the Cabinet Office said that it had no records of this review. Will the Minister confirm that when the review is published on Monday it will be subject to full NAO review and 12-monthly reviews thereafter, as we did with previous spending reviews when we were in government?

I cannot assure the noble Lord that it will be published on Monday. The subject and the content of the review to be published are matters for Sir Philip Green himself. The review will of course be subject to proper scrutiny by both the Government and Parliament. The report will go to the Cabinet Office, where the Minister for that office deals with efficiencies across government. It will also go to the Treasury, where Danny Alexander is responsible for the framework of the spending review. I think all noble Lords appreciate the need for efficiency in government and I hope this review has their support.

My Lords, given the controversial nature of Sir Philip Green’s appointment and the potential for conflicts of interest, would the Government agree to place a comprehensive list of Sir Philip and Lady Green’s business interests in the Library of the House?

The Government do not comment on the tax position of any individual and have no intention of breaking that precedent.

My Lords, should we not have high expectations for improved efficiency in HMRC’s tackling of tax evasion and avoidance, given that Sir Philip obviously understands the subtlety with which one can so organise one’s affairs as to minimise a contribution to the nation?

My Lords, just as good buyers create efficient suppliers, so good government commissioning should create efficient government and value for money. That, I am sure, is what all noble Lords seek. I am sure the House will endorse the setting up of this review and applaud the outcome.

My Lords, am I not right in thinking that the party opposite is in favour of the separate taxation of men and their wives? Is it not Lady Green who is the tax exile, and not Sir Philip?

I am not aware of the tax position of either of the people referred to by my noble friend. I am certainly not in a position to comment on them.

Will the Minister assure the House that the inquiry by Sir Philip Green and the papers involved in it will be subject to a freedom of information request?