Loan Charge

Part of Brunei – in the House of Commons at 12:34 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Ross Thomson Ross Thomson Conservative, Aberdeen South 12:34 pm, 4th April 2019

Apologies, but I will make progress so that others can speak in this debate.

My constituent is facing financial ruin at the end of his long career in the oil and gas industry, which has seen him work hard during boom and bust. HMRC is turning a lifetime of work to nothing, delivering my constituent a bigger blow than the oil market ever could. It cannot be ignored that over half of those who responded to the APPG inquiry believe these changes will place their chosen career in danger. The loan charge is driving people away from industries in which they have long played an important part. This is intolerable.

I fear there has been a complete breakdown in trust between the people and the authorities that are responsible for upholding the rule of law. It is a sad reality that this breakdown in trust will not end with those who have been directly affected by the loan charge scandal. There will instead be lasting damage to the trust that the people of this country have long had in the very institutions they expect to serve them fairly. The stories I have shared today are but a drop in the ocean compared with the number affected. Each person acted in good faith, and each of them has been let down by HMRC. The fact that the Government continue to pursue the loan charge, without hesitation or thought for those who will be affected for the rest of their lives, greatly saddens me.

Many of the people who now find themselves facing retrospective charges were simply acting on the professional advice of employers and advisers. The tax arrangements that these individuals entered into were presented as entirely legal, legitimate and HMRC-compliant financial planning. None of us objects to people paying a fair share of tax. Indeed, we should be doing more to crack down on those complicit in tax evasion. However, that is not the case here.

HMRC is seeking to claw back tax and is breaking legal safeguards that ensure fairness. Those safeguards include time limits, and the Treasury Committee heard evidence from the president of the Chartered Institute of Taxation, Ray McCann:

“In reality, the retrospective effect actually displaces all the protections that taxpayers are given by Parliament in terms of getting certainty for their affairs”.

The behaviour of HMRC to date has greatly concerned me, and I know other colleagues will elaborate further.

Simply put, HMRC has demonstrated it is willing to pursue individuals for settlement, driving them into bankruptcy, breaking families apart and destroying hope for financial security in old age. HMRC has blatantly gone after the softest target—individuals who have the least to defend themselves—while largely ignoring those who are most culpable in proliferating these schemes.

Members will be aware that a number of people have now taken their life as a direct consequence of being unfairly pursued by HMRC. As part of the APPG inquiry, we heard the most harrowing, powerful and emotive evidence I have ever heard. The Government have been made aware of the risk that we will only see more cases of this nature, yet they have continued to refuse to halt settlements. The Government have the power to do something about this, and they have the ability to ease the suffering, pain and distress felt by so many. However, they have yet to do so. I hope the Minister will say that the Government are willing to change course. Our request is not onerous. A six-month delay and a review is not the end of the world for the Treasury, but a failure to do this is the end of the world for thousands of people across the country.

I am sure that Members on both sides of the House will join me in urging the Government, once again, to halt settlements and urgently to bring forward an independent review of the loan charge. Failure to do so would continue to put lives at risk, would break families apart and would fuel distrust in our institutions. Trust in the rule of law and our democratic system is at stake.