Commissioners for Revenue and Customs Bill
Lord Barnett (Labour)
My Lords, perhaps I should declare a past interest. Somebody suggested to me that I was moving the amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Sheldon only to reward my old friends. This is, of course, totally untrue. I would not dream of such a thing—not through the public purse, anyway.
The amendment relates to the current rewards apparently paid by both the Inland Revenue and Customs and Excise. The figures previously given to us indicated that Customs and Excise rewards were in excess of £900,000, whereas the Inland Revenue gave rewards of only about £100. There is therefore some discrepancy. I am not seeking to help noble friends in the accountancy profession, or even in the legal profession where I still have friends—perhaps even including my noble and learned friend the Attorney-General. My friends in the legal profession whom I have used have never been quite as distinguished as my noble and learned friend, but I would not dream of suggesting that they should get rewards for their own sake.
I seek to ensure that those with direct knowledge of legitimate tax avoidance and, in particular, illegitimate tax evasion should be more helpful in ensuring that the public purse is less burdened. In my experience, most accountants and lawyers have nothing to do with tax evasion, as I am sure is still the case, but they will have knowledge on the border. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will have no knowledge of tax evasion, at least not in her direct experience, I hope and believe.
Legitimate avoidance is often not disclosed. I have in mind the recruitment of retired professional people with direct knowledge of major tax avoidance schemes, about which it takes the Inland Revenue a long time to learn. It might get to know about them earlier with the help of rewards in the appropriate direction. Nobody could have rewarded me in those circumstances to provide that information, but I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, would be only too happy to oblige, now that she has retired from the senior professional position that she held.
It often takes the Inland Revenue a long time to learn about major schemes in general of tax avoidance. So somebody with direct experience in those fields could be very helpful. They may find a few pounds even more helpful once they have retired. I am not referring to the noble Baroness because I know that she will have had both a huge salary and a huge pension in her retirement—or semi-retirement now—but others might find it useful.
I do not seek to use public money to help the professions. In net terms it would be a great help to the public purse if disclosure were made at an early stage to the Inland Revenue in particular. Given that I have been so helpful to my noble and learned friend during these debates and in the past, I hope that he will agree to the amendment. I beg to move.