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Part of Brunei – in the House of Commons at 1:17 pm on 4th April 2019.

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Photo of Edward Davey Edward Davey Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Home Affairs) 1:17 pm, 4th April 2019

The hon. Lady is precisely right. That is what I think has offended people. Technically for people with open tax years it is not retrospection, but in practice—and, frankly, morally—it is. One thing that I will pursue after this experience is the use of open tax inquiries by HMRC. It goes against the whole spirit of the 1970 Act and of the way the rule of law should operate. I believe that in all parts of the House we stand to defend the rule of law. When we see an abuse of it we should get angry, we should get passionate and we should pledge to do something about it. I hope we will.

How should the Government respond? I think they should call a halt and delay. That would send a clear message to people who are suffering mentally and socially with their families and their homes. Announcing that today from the Dispatch Box would give them some relief. We have been telling them that their tax bills are not due until 31 January 2020. Nevertheless, according to the guidelines, if they do not talk to HMRC by this Friday they could suffer severe penalties. A delay would therefore help.

A judge-led inquiry is the only way we will bring people back together. Such an inquiry could look at all aspects. However—to speak to the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden—I do not want to leave it there. The policy should change now for people with closed tax years. There should be no debate about that. That is retrospection and an abuse of the rule of law. For those with open tax years, as the all-party group’s report says, a number of measures should be taken to reduce the pain and to ensure that they can get their tax affairs in order. This House is against abuse of the tax system. That is wrong and it should be stopped. But this House is also in favour of parliamentary sovereignty—the Government listening, upholding the rule of law and upholding long-standing taxpayer protections.