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Mr. Dunne: We have just heard for the second time from Ministers a list of the previous mischievous attempts to get around the tax and national insurance regime. However, that fails to deal with the issue of retrospection, about which my hon. Friends and I were arguing. We are talking about retrospective action from the point when the Bill becomes an Act, compared with the point when an announcement is made in the House. That is the period where there is difficulty.
Mr. Lewis: My right hon. Friend the Paymaster General made a clear statement in December 2004. It seems to me that these measures should take effect from the moment when that statement was made on the basis that anybody who behaves in a particular way is aware of the consequences. The statement was absolutely clear. I believe that it is right, therefore, that the measures should take effect from the making of the statement.
The Minister is slightly missing the point. Of course he can make his point in defence of the
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remarks made by the Paymaster General. He has cited a string of efforts to clamp down on illegitimate tax activity, but he has not dealt with the question of retrospection. He is seeking to align the two. We are in new territory in the way in which things are being done. That is why care and sensitivity have to be extremely carefully defined.
It is a question of judgment. We are in new territory, and we have made the decision that that is where we should be in terms of the taxpayers and what the Government are entitled to expect in respect of our own certainty. We have heard a great deal today about certainty for others. It seems to me that the taxpayer, the Revenue and the Government are entitled to stability. We should never get ourselves into a situation in the House where we say that we all agree that avoidance is unacceptable and then spend most of a debate trying to legitimise avoidance by saying that in some circumstances it may be acceptable. That cannot be appropriate.
My hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool (Mr. Wright) made an excellent contribution, as ever. He made the point that this is not a party political issue at all. Previous Governments have moved repeatedly to close down loopholes. The right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr. Lilley)a former Secretary of State in the previous Governmentmade several such decisions. My hon. Friend also underlined that this is about fairness. We must assure all our constituentswhatever their income or background, or wherever they livethat this country's tax system will treat them equally under the law. He was right to make that point.
The hon. Member for Croydon, Central (Mr. Pelling) accused my hon. Friend the Member for Hartlepool of begrudging the City of London its success. My hon. Friend did not say that, but let us be clear that avoiding tax has nothing to do with the City of London's excellent reputation, of which every hon. Member should be proud. In fact, linking tax avoidance to the people who function in the City damages its reputation and is unfair to the vast majority of people who work to create wealth successfully there.
The hon. Gentleman and many other hon. Members referred to the complex nature of the tax system. Much of the complexity in our tax system is a consequence of avoidance. We should be telling those who avoid tax as a matter of course that they need to change their behaviour and that they cause much of the complexity, although I am shocked that he could think that PAYE is complicated.
The hon. Member for Ludlow (Mr. Dunne)in a usual, very cheap shotsaid that the Prime Minister had woken up to globalisation recently. That is an astonishing claim because, as I have said, the Government's whole economic framework is designed to put this country in the best possible position to respond to the perpetual challenges that globalisation throws at it. Our Prime Minister and our Chancellor have been leading the debate in the European Union and the international community about the need to be
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outward looking and to consider what is happening in India, China and the rest of the world, but the Conservative party has the cheek to suggest that, somehow, we have only recently woken up to those challenges.
Mr. Mark Field: The Prime Minister says all the right, warm words. Indeed, I very much agree with what he and the Chancellor have said in the past two years. I wish that the Conservative party had made more of China, India and the importance of global competitiveness in our election campaign only in May. However, all this is, as ever, about implementation. Any of those in business in China's large cities will say that Germany is the main European player in that market. The Germans have made significant headway in investing in joint ventures there. We need to put the money where our mouth is. In particular, I make a plea to the Foreign Office. A number of Foreign Office trade missions have been closed not just in Asia, but in Africa. I hope that there will be some reversal of that to ensure that such ideals are put in place.
Mr. Lewis: We politicians have just watched from a distance the political crisis in Germany, much of which is connected to the fundamental weaknesses and difficulties in the German economy. The German people and political classes would be delighted to have the economic framework that the Government have created in this country since 1997. Arguably, Germany has experienced some of those difficulties, yes, because of unificationwe must be fair about that, and a lot of people are unfair when they forget to mention the unification of Germanybut also because it has been slow in some ways to face up to the realities of global economic change, and our economic policies have been based entirely on facing up to them.
The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) expressed sadness that my hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton, South-West had not spoken in the debate. That sadness is shared by those of us on the Front Bench, and we look forward to his taking a similar role in Committee. The hon. Gentleman wants an assurance that our approach to the tackling of avoidance will be proportionateI can give him that assurancebut he talked about the cost implications for business. The message is simple: if business does not avoid tax, these anti-avoidance schemes have no cost implications.
The hon. Member for West Suffolk (Mr. Spring) asked in his contribution whose judgment would be in play in these issues. It will be the House's judgment. Direct taxation is dealt with in the Finance Bill. National insurance issues are dealt with by affirmative resolution in both Houses. So the Government are certainly happy to take responsibility for those questions of judgment. He also asked meI am a bit puzzled by thisto write to him about a specific scheme that he referred to so that I can tell him what he is talking about. I should be delighted to tell him what he was talking about, and I will write to him about that specific scheme, although I do not recall its name.
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This has been a good quality debate on the whole and a good natured debate. There is consensus on both sides of the House about our responsibility and duty to have a fair taxation system and to tackle tax avoidance effectively. Clearly, we must debate a number of points in Committee, and I look forward to those debates. I commend the Bill to the House.
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