Tax returns 'should be made public'

Micheal MeacherThe tax returns of the UK's wealthiest individuals and companies should be made public to help the Government raise tens of billions of pounds, a veteran Labour MP has said.

Michael Meacher said Britain's deficit could be significantly reduced and interest payments on the national debt cut by introducing measures which target the top 250 people and corporations.

The Oldham West and Royton MP said making public the details of the wealthy would allow tax abuse, estimated to cost the country £35 billion a year, to be tackled with enforcement action.

Mr Meacher said his Private Members' Bill would require any multinational corporations to publicly release accounts of all its subsidiaries.
Companies would also have to identify beneficial owners and those firms seeking to avoid UK corporation tax release would have to disclose the full range of their tax dispositions, Mr Meacher said.

The Labour MP said his Bill was the next best option to public sector-driven measures to kick-start growth, which Chancellor George Osborne was not interested in pursuing.

Mr Meacher opened the debate by complaining about apparent delaying tactics by coalition MPs.

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt had previously spoken for more than an hour as he summed up the Government's response to Sheryll Murray's (South East Cornwall) Deep Sea Mining Bill.

Mr Meacher said it was the first time he could remember witnessing the Government frontbench engage in filibustering on that scale, calling it a "real abuse" of the Commons.

Mr Meacher, moving the second reading of his United Kingdom Corporate and Individual Tax and Financial Transparency Bill, told MPs: " This Bill proposes that the tax details and implied tax liability both of the wealthiest individuals and the biggest corporations are made public and that the beneficial owners of companies who hide behind nominee shareholdings are also made known.

"This has been repeatedly discussed but it has never been done. My Bill proposes it should now be done.

"The ensuing tax enforcement as a result of what is revealed will raise tens of billions of pounds for the exchequer and would significantly deplete the deficit and the interest payments on the debt.

"The Bill therefore tackles the extreme opacity in the tax affairs of both the largest companies and the wealthiest individuals in the UK by requiring the tax returns of the top 250 in each group should be put on public record.

"Four criteria are used to define the 250 largest companies starting of course with the FTSE 100 but also ensuring other companies with substantial sales, profits and numbers of employees are also required to disclose.

"The companies seeking to avoid UK corporation tax but which still have a significant undertaking in this country will, as a result of my Bill, for the first time be required to disclose the full range of their tax dispositions.

"In the case of the individuals of highest net worth, to use the phrase commonly used, it would reveal how income is commonly shifted into capital gains and then in turn reduced by allowances and relief.

"And this data both in respect of companies and individuals will enable the tax abuse which is currently costing, according to HMRC and Treasury data, this country at least £35 billion a year, to be effectively addressed for the first time."

Introducing his Bill, Mr Meacher earlier said: " The country is in the middle of a deep economic recession caused by the bankers yet the Government has imposed a liability for meeting the ensuing very high national debt and budget deficit on the victims - by and large the poor or the poorest households who frankly bear no responsibility whatsoever for the crash five years ago.

"According to the Sunday Times Rich List the wealthiest 1,000 persons in the UK, just 0.003% of the adult population, have increased their gains since the crash five years ago by a staggering £190 billion - most of which has now been stored away in tax havens, hidden behind nominee shareholdings or secreted in opaque trusts.

"This frankly is utterly intolerable. It's high time the very richest people in this country made a fair contribution to resolving this financial crisis and this bill will help them to do so."

Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg (North East Somerset) said he disagreed with Mr Meacher's Bill.

Speaking on the proposals to publish the details of wealthy individuals, he said: "This is just an astonishing, fundamental attack on some of the basic principles that we ought to enjoy.

"As a taxpayer I'm sad to say I'm not in the top 250 (wealthiest), I wouldn't mind being, but I have a right to privacy. The Government does not have the right to publish my financial information - that is my private and confidential affair.

"Now this is not an advocacy of tax evasion. Tax evasion is criminal and it is quite right that it should be criminal and that the Government should enforce those laws. But to avoid a crime does not require the Government to deny people a fundamental right of privacy."

Mr Rees-Mogg questioned when the publication of personal information would stop once the details of the top 250 people had been released, suggesting it could be extended to the top 1,000 and beyond.

But he said he opposed less strongly a requirement for public companies to disclose information.

The debate on Mr Meacher's bill will resume on Friday November 1.

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