As always, my hon. Friend has made an important point. We are seeing the loss of many experienced staff in these offices, which is not only a problem for HMRC, but an enormous problem for local economies.
Over the past couple of months, I have visited 10 of the locations where HMRC offices have either already closed or are set to close, and I must say that there is huge concern about the implications for those local areas. They are often ones where it takes a long time to travel to other destinations and where it is impossible to travel to work to the new regional centres. As a result, we are losing much expertise within our Revenue service.
That is reflected in the statistics from surveys of HMRC staff. We see that HMRC staff morale is incredibly low, but we have no recognition of that by the Government or any understanding of the implications of that for the services that HMRC provides. Indeed, as Members have mentioned, that would become even more of a problem if HMRC had to attempt to sort out the customs and VAT chaos that would be caused by a no-deal Brexit.
Our uncertain future relations with the EU are at the root of the penultimate Opposition amendment that I will speak to, amendment 23. The amendment requires a consideration of the implications for cross-border tax information sharing of no deal and of the Government’s withdrawal Bill arrangements. The European Scrutiny Committee asked for
“after the post-Brexit transition period ends, and how it will seek to secure the desired level of cooperation when it becomes a third country for the purposes of EU law.”
“the Government recognises the value of the exchange of information in tackling tax avoidance and evasion and will address procedures for ongoing administrative cooperation, including the exchange of information framework set up—” under the directive—
“within the scope of the wider EU exit negotiations.”
It is one thing recognising the value of information exchange, but it is quite another ensuring that it will continue. We really need clarity from the Government, not only about administrative co-operation but about other forms of information exchange.
For example, will the Government continue to participate in the code of conduct group, potentially with observer status? I have asked about that repeatedly, but as of yet I have received no answer. Will we participate in the pan-EU database including information about trusts, which I referred to and which is due to be created as a result of the new iteration of the anti-money laundering directive? Will we continue to share information about tax rulings, those sweetheart deals concluded between HMRC and large taxpayers, which are not available to smaller taxpayers and which in some cases have rightly caused uproar when details of their provisions have leaked out?
James Cartlidge referred to the need for a level playing field. Surely that applies in spades when it comes to transparency on tax rulings, so I am very disappointed that his Government have not yet provided that transparency. It is not clear how they will share that data with the EU27 in the future.
The Conservatives’ mood music on this issue so far has been worrying. Not only has the Chancellor damaged relations with the EU27 by threatening to turn our country into a tax haven, but his party’s MEPs—[Interruption.] He has. A number of Government Members are claiming, from a sedentary position, that that never happened, but many Opposition Members will recall precisely when he made those kinds of threats. I have talked to many colleagues from different political parties in EU27 countries who viewed those comments—