A number of my constituents have contacted me recently about the revelations in the Panama Papers and the serious problems of tax avoidance and tax evasion, particularly within UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies.
This is not just an issue that relates to the tax affairs of the Prime Minister and his friends but it is about a government who allow one rule for the super-rich and one rule for everyone else. The government have failed to clamp down on tax avoidance by large companies whilst at the same time have cut HMRC’s funding, making it harder for them to collect taxes, all whilst the Chancellor is telling the rest of us that there are insufficient funds to pay for the vital public services we all need. This is simply unacceptable.
At PMQs this week Jeremy Corbyn called on the Prime Minister to explain why the UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies are not being asked to make their registers of beneficial ownership public. The Prime Minister himself asked for this to be the case back in 2013 however today he insisted that the steps taken by UK Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies to make this information available to HMRC is as far as he is willing to push them.
This week Labour called on the government to implement our Tax Transparency Enforcement Programme and the motion was debated in parliament on 13 April. Our plans included a full public inquiry into the disclosures made in the Panama Papers, including the use of offshore tax havens by members of the UK government. We also called on the government to ensure that HMRC is sufficiently funded and resourced so that the number of staff scrutinising the tax affairs of High Net Worth individuals and companies could be doubled.
Disappointingly the government refused to support our motion and the proposal was voted down on 13 April. I was particularly disappointed to hear the Ministers accuse Labour MPs of creating a politics of envy. The issue here is not about being jealous of those with wealth, it is about ensuring that the rules about paying tax apply to everyone, irrespective of how much wealth they are able to amass. You can read the full debate here.
I wrote to the Prime Minister earlier this month to ask that he finally take steps to clamp down on tax avoidance and you can read the text of my letter here.