Tax Avoidance (HSBC)

Part of Isil – in the House of Commons at 3:35 pm on 23rd February 2015.

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 3:35 pm, 23rd February 2015

We know when they shout that it is because they have something to hide, Mr Speaker. That is the truth.

First, let me ask the Chancellor about what he knew and when. Two weeks ago, Downing street announced that no Minister found out about the HSBC issues until two-and-a-half weeks ago. At the weekend, the Chancellor said that he should not be involved in the tax dealings of any individual bank. Today, he has told us he knew in 2009. If he knew about systemic abuse on this scale in 2009, why did he not act when he became Chancellor? That is the first question.

Secondly, given that the Chancellor says he knew about this in 2009, why, five years on, has there been only one prosecution after the provision of 1,100 names? We know that in November 2012 HMRC confirmed that the Government had adopted a selective prosecution policy. Let me ask the Chancellor: given he knew what was happening at HSBC, did he confirm he wanted a selective prosecution policy in these cases?

Thirdly, why in 2012 did the Chancellor sign a deal with the Swiss authorities that has prevented the UK from actively obtaining similar information in the future? The agreement states that the UK and Swiss Governments will

“not actively seek to acquire customer data stolen from Swiss banks”.

Why sign up to a declaration that clearly impedes HMRC’s and the Government’s ability to act in the future? Two weeks ago, they told us it was because they did not know, but we now know that the Chancellor has known for six years. Why did he sign that deal?

Fourthly, if the Chancellor and the Prime Minister knew what was happening at HSBC in 2009, why, one month after the Government received these files, did they appoint the chair of HSBC during the period in question as a Conservative peer and Minister? What due diligence did the Government carry out in advance, and did the Prime Minister and the Chancellor see the details? Fifthly, did Lord Green have any involvement in the Swiss tax deal when he was a trade Minister? Did he ever advise the Treasury on it? Did the Chancellor discuss what happened at HSBC with Lord Green in the almost three years he was a Conservative Minister? Two weeks ago, the Prime Minister was unable to answer that question. Did the Chancellor discuss the Swiss deal and those past events at HSBC with Lord Green, who was appointed as a Minister after this scandal came to light?

It is not good enough for the Chancellor to shout and bluster, and to try and sweep these questions under the carpet and claim he did not ask the questions. Since the Government were given the files, he has been the Chancellor for five years. Is it not clear either that he and the Prime Minister were negligent in failing to act on the evidence the Government received, including about HSBC and Lord Green, or, just as with the appointment of Mr Coulson, that they deliberately turned a blind eye?