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Tax Avoidance and Evasion

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:10 pm on 25th February 2020.

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Photo of Steve Barclay Steve Barclay The Chief Secretary to the Treasury 1:10 pm, 25th February 2020

First, I pay tribute to the work the right hon. Lady did, particularly through her chairmanship of the Public Accounts Committee, on a cross-party basis to bring transparency to these issues. A key driver behind measures the Government have taken in recent years has been a desire for more international transparency, which is at the forefront of many of the concerns the House has had in the past.

Thanks to UK leadership, more than 100 jurisdictions, including—[Interruption.] I will come on to that. Within the right hon. Lady’s point, and within many of her questions, which I have sat and listened to many times, was a desire for transparency, so it is germane to her point to draw the House’s attention to the UK’s leadership in securing the commitment of more than 100 jurisdictions, including Switzerland and all the Crown dependencies and overseas territories with financial centres, to automatically exchanging financial account information under the common reporting standard. HMRC now automatically receives the details of offshore financial accounts held by UK taxpayers. As I understand it, when the PAC looked at many of these issues, that information was not available to HMRC.

We have also increased the penalties and consequences for those who devise, enable or use tax avoidance schemes. I draw the House’s attention, for example, to the disclosure of tax avoidance schemes regime, the general anti-abuse rule and the system of follower notices and accelerated payments, the last of which alone has brought in over £8.7 billion[This section has been corrected on 3 March 2020, column 6MC — read correction]. Since 2016, HMRC has had a dedicated fraud investigation service to ensure that no taxpayer can get away with tax fraud. I am sure that service will be keen to pick up on points raised by right hon. and hon. Members in this debate.

We are also seeking to ensure that more firms get their tax right first time, because the £35 billion tax gap is not simply one of evasion; as I say, it also includes a significant amount of error. Since last April, businesses have been using the making tax digital service for VAT, which has many benefits: it helps firms to get their tax right first time; it saves businesses time and inconvenience; it cuts the cost of government; and it makes it easier to tackle fraud, error, evasion and avoidance. The impact of Making Tax Digital is forecast to deliver an additional £1.2 billion to 2023-24. Clearly, this plays an important role in reducing that £10 billion element of the £35 billion overall tax gap.

We have also strengthened HMRC with the extra £2 billion invested since 2010 to tackle tax avoidance, evasion and other forms of non-compliance.