Yes, I will send HMRC a copy of Microsoft’s thesaurus. Not only that, but in paragraph 3.8 of his report, Sir Amyas states:
“The Review’s legal advisers found that there was no precedent for that element of the design.”
That is the retroactive, retrospective or backward-looking element. There was no legal precedent for that design. I hope, frankly, that the Government will now stop playing with words and finally concede that this is indeed a retrospective measure—an unprecedented retrospective measure.
The only just, fair and rational resolution is to remove the retrospective nature of the loan charge and set the cut-off date when the law became clear—when the Supreme Court finally settled the matter in 2017 and when the Government felt it necessary to legislate to make clear what they meant in the first place. That is why, as I made clear, if the Government do not act to address this issue, Parliament—all of us who take this very seriously—will have to act for them and make clear that, in the future, HMRC can under no circumstances act retrospectively. If we cannot solve this, here comes a Finance Bill. I suggest that the Minister should make one simple adjustment to his plans before they are published: change December 2010 to July 2017. That would resolve the issue. It would lift enormous pressure off 50,000 of our constituents, and it would put the Government in a morally defensible, justifiable and decent position.
Tax law is the only part of English law where “innocent until proven guilty” does not apply. If HMRC tells us we owe it money, then, until we prove otherwise, we owe it money. It is therefore very important that the law is clear—that it is not subject to reinterpretation by subsequent Governments and it does not move with social mores or whatever; it is simply clear. That is what we have to do. In the interests of natural justice and the financial and mental wellbeing of thousands of our constituents, it is time for the Government to change their mind and remove this harrowing burden from the 50,000 people who have been caught by it.