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Clause 1 — Main rate of corporation tax for financial year 2011

Part of Finance Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:15 pm on 12th July 2010.

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Photo of John Redwood John Redwood Conservative, Wokingham 5:15 pm, 12th July 2010

Has the hon. Gentleman been in the Chamber while I have been talking? The first part of my speech was about bad cases of evasion in which a company has deliberately misrepresented its financial condition. Like him, I think that those cases should be taken seriously, and prosecution should result. I am going on to the second set of cases, in which evasion is thought to have taken place according to the Revenue, but when we look at what is going on there is a genuine disagreement between one group of tax experts, lawyers and company advisers and another lot advising the Revenue, which sometimes needs to consult counsel on these complicated matters to try to reach a conclusion. Such cases are often sorted out slightly more amicably, and rightly so, because the companies concerned were obviously not trying to do down the Revenue but to pay the minimum amount of tax to comply with the law, as most sensible people try to do, and there was a disagreement that had to be sorted out sensibly. That might result in financial penalties or in an agreement not to have financial penalties, but usually the Revenue has a certain amount of strength in having its way.

That is evasion, and then there is avoidance, which is much more problematic. I am sure that billions-worth of avoidance is going on all the time, because it is a perfectly legal approach; one man's avoidance is another man's sensible tax planning. That is why I asked the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington for an example relating to personal income tax, which is easier for people listening in to this debate to understand. Many small savers switch from tax-paying savings to tax-free savings, which is avoidance of tax, is it not? They realise that they can do better by having a tax-exempt savings product; surely we should not condemn that, because it is about someone trying to get the most for their money. Indeed, that is something that the Government positively encourage. They encourage tax avoidance because they say, "We have the unique power to provide tax-exempt products for savings, and we want you to buy ours rather than the taxed private sector product."

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