The financial secretary to the Treasury David Gauke has defended HMRC amid claims it “overlooked” tax evasion in the wake of allegations about HSBC – but said there are “clearly questions that need to answered” about the bank's actions.
Gauke was today challenged by Labour MP for Birmingham Ladywood Shabana Mahmood, who wanted to know why the government “failed to act” when it received documents showing that HSBC had helped 7,000 UK-based clients “evade” paying tax.
Mahmood said: “This government has failed to back Labour in our calls to stamp out tax avoidance. Now it seems wrongdoing may have been overlooked on their watch.”
However Gauke dismissed this, noting that the documents cover the period from 2005 to 2007 – when Labour was in charge.
Within the data, Gauke said there were so many duplications the number of real cases – relating to both individuals and companies – totalled 3,600, of which HMRC had pursued 1,000.
Those cases had been settled and “that means that £135m was raised for the Exchequer that would not have been raised otherwise”, Gauke added. The “remainder had no case to answer”.
Gauke claimed this as a win for the Conservatives, saying it “demonstrates a government willing to address the matter”.
He also pointed the finger of blame at Labour, noting that the documents relate to tax evasian and tax avoidance between 2005 and 2007.
“The fact is that HMRC is more successful at raising money from the wealthy and anybody else who tries to avoid their taxes,” Gauke said.
But he was more equivocal about HSBC's actions.
“There are clearly questions that need to be answered about what happened at HSBC between 2005 and 2007,” he said
“HMRC are taking evidence from around 1000 people where there’s evidence that they’ve broken UK law and HMRC will continue to take evidence where further evidence arises.”
There was no suggestion former chairman Lord Green was at fault for what happened in the Swiss subsidiary of the bank, he added.
The claims surfaced last night. Thousands of pages of data were obtained from an engineer working for HSBC in Geneva, by a collaboration of news outlets including Le Monde, The Guardian, the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and the BBC's Panorama.