On Thursday 14th April I questioned Attorney General Jeremy Wright over the Government's poor performance to date on tackling and suing tax evaders in the UK. The Panama Papers came to the surface earlier this month and shone a light on the murky world of offshore tax avoidance and evasion. In the space of just over a week, Labour has forced the Prime Minister to come clean on his tax affairs and have HMRC admit that there have been just 11 prosecutions in the past 5 years for tax avoidance.
According to reports, the Panama Papers have 1,924 British companies implicated. The Government has announced a cross-Government taskforce on the Panama Papers with initial new funding of £10 million across 4 separate Government agencies. My question to the Attorney General was how can the public be confident in the Government's ability to crack down on tax evaders with Panama, given such a poor number of convictions so far.
The full exchange was:
Jo Stevens MP:
Tax evasion is not a victimless crime. Tax avoidance has consequences too.
Both take money out of our hard-pressed public services and the people who work in them. Money that could be used to fund more police, schools, hospitals and other local services, all of which have had to deal with severe cuts under this government.
Only 11 people have been prosecuted for overseas tax evasion in the five years up to November 2015. How can the public be confident in the Government when it says it is doing everything it can to crack down on overseas tax evaders, given its frankly lamentable performance to date?
I don't accept that the performance to date has been ineffective, as I have explained there have been successful prosecutions of those who evade tax, and she will know it isn't simply criminal prosecutions that exist in order to punish those who avoid or evade tax there is also civil penalties available to HMRC and they bring in a substantial amount of money as a result of the action that agency takes. But she is right there is always more to do, and that is why I have highlighted two particular measures in the field of enforcement and criminal prosecution which this government is taking and I look forward to the Labour Party’s support for them.
You can watch the exchange below: