I hope so, because transparency is an important ingredient in ensuring that the rules we apply have some bite. It sometimes seems as though we are trying to catch jelly.
The whole debate has brought into question the legal and moral difference between tax evasion and tax avoidance. Companies often rightly defend themselves on grounds of working within the rules, but politicians and civil servants are often caught out by clever manipulation of those rules. That is not illegal but cannot be said to be in the spirit of what was expected.
I have no illusions about having a perfect tax system. Keeping one step ahead is a never-ending task for modern tax authorities. I welcome the Government’s introduction at HMRC of country-by-country tax reporting, which is now up and running, and I agree with the Minister’s summer announcement that those who advise individuals and companies on their tax affairs will be subject to greater accountability for their actions when wrongdoing is exposed.
However, public transparency can make a real difference in ensuring fair taxation and fair play. That is why, with the support of PAC colleagues and cross-party support from across the House, I introduced my ten-minute rule Bill in March to legislate for public country-by-country reporting. The backing I received spurred me on to try to amend the Finance Bill in June, gaining the support of eight parliamentary parties: Labour—I thank Front-Bench spokespeople past and present, including my hon. Friend Rob Marris, for their support—the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, Plaid Cymru, the Social Democratic and Labour party, the Ulster Unionist party, the United Kingdom Independence party, the Green party, Lady Hermon, and a number of Conservative MPs, too. Oxfam, Christian Aid, Save the Children, ActionAid, the ONE campaign and the Catholic Agency for Overseas Development joined our efforts, adding an important and necessary dimension to the argument for public country-by-country reporting.