Tax Avoidance and Evasion

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:21 pm on 6th May 2009.

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Photo of George Mudie George Mudie Labour, Leeds East 3:21 pm, 6th May 2009

I have some agreement with that; but there is a larger question concerning Governments and financial authorities. Why have those not been willing to intervene? The picture, certainly in the UK, has been that the City has earned so much money and had such a large part in the economy that I do not think any Governments have been willing to stand up against some of the practices that were current.

Tony Baldry questioned international aid development, but I do not think that the situation is anything to do with international aid; and the debate is not set out in those terms. It is clear that the credit crunch and the global financial crisis are having an effect on the major developed countries; they are desperate to get their hands on billions that have been lost to them in the past few years, but which, in the eyes of the authorities, they could afford to lose. They cannot afford the loss now, and it is self-interest in Europe, America and the UK that is now the spur to action.

The basis on which I came to the Chamber to support my hon. Friend was my hope that the Minister will take a firmer line than has been taken in the past by Ministers, including the Chancellor. Only two months ago, when we were discussing the banking crisis with him in the Treasury Committee, I pressed the Chancellor on The Guardian's excellent articles and could not get him to say a word of praise about The Guardian. I do not think that it was The Guardian that upset him; but he certainly refused to be forthcoming. I wonder about the depth of the Government's commitment, and whether the current issue has been forced on to the agenda by the G20 as part of the political furniture that shows the people that we are taking every action. If that is so, it is outrageous.

My hon. Friend raised questions about the OECD standards; we shall all, apparently, be grateful if every country and all the offshore centres meet those. However, there is clear evidence, as my hon. Friend said, that those standards are too low and would not do the job alone. I should have thought that we now have the political opportunity, with a public who face public expenditure cuts and tax increases, and who do not see why big firms, multinationals and banks should not pay their proper whack in tax, to raise the bar and take steps that were not politically opportune in the past. To return to the comments of the hon. Member for Banbury, I wonder whether it is any coincidence, or accident, that the latest adventure of Barclays is to set up an offshore bank in Ghana. If the hon. Gentleman is not alarmed at that, I do not know what world he lives in. Certainly, all the development agencies rightly raise issues of money laundering, drug money and tax evasion. They all see the move as something that should not happen. I want to ask the Minister whether we have made any representations—such things have been done by Governments in the past—to suggest that Barclays should not go ahead with the adventure.

While I am dealing with Barclays, it would be good to mention its disgraceful record. My hon. Friend Mr. Mitchell and I grew up—as did the hon. Member for Twickenham—in a world where Barclays was rightly considered the villain, when it supported apartheid in South Africa. I thought in my innocence that it had reformed and was a different sort of organisation, until The Guardian drew the curtains aside and we saw what the structured capital markets division of Barclays Capital was up to. Barclays went to court to get a gag and stop the information coming out. Thanks are due to the hon. Member for Twickenham who got a copy and sent it out. We could see what was happening. We ought to mention Rog "the dodge" Jenkins whose annual salary is £40 million, and his colleague, Bob Diamond, who runs the capital division, who has a modest salary of £250,000 a year but an annual bonus of £20 million. It is quite right to ask what on earth they do to earn such money. Barclays engages through offshore banks in activities in which it is the leading international bank, involving firms, banks and individuals avoiding tax—but that shades into evading tax, and in the event that is what it is. That is what Barclays is up to.

When Barclays refused Government help and went to the middle east for more expensive help, we all thought that it did not want Government intervention because of those salaries. Clearly, that might have played a part, but the bigger part in the decision was stopping the Government getting into the firm and seeing what it was up to and putting a stop to those measures. If Barclays is taking Government money in any way, I hope they will go into it and do what they did by agreement with Royal Bank of Scotland, and stop its tax avoidance activities.