Robinson accused of tax hypocrisy

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The Independent Online
Tory MPs yesterday accused the Government of "hypocrisy" over Geoffrey Robinson, the Paymaster General, for "dodging taxes" on his pounds 10m offshore tax shelter while preparing to close tax loopholes in the Budget. Colin Brown, Chief Political Correspondent reports.

Geoffrey Robinson sat impassively on the front bench as Peter Lilley, the Shadow Chancellor, led a squad of Tory MPs in an attack on Government "hypocrisy" over his use of an offshore trust as a tax shelter while the Chancellor was promising a crackdown on tax loopholes.

Mr Robinson was protected by Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who made it clear he would not be resigning and would not be moved from his post in charge of customs and excise duties and taxes.

They warned that they would go ahead with measures in the Budget which is to be held on 17 March to close tax loopholes. Mr Brown also said he was considering strengthening tax rules for multi-national companies. But the attack showed that the Tories will not let the issue drop.

The only sign of irritation from Mr Robinson was the occasional flapping of a hand as Conservative MPs queued up to heap abuse on the Paymaster General during nearly an hour of Treasury questions in the first session since the controversy blew up before Christmas.

Charging the Government with hypocrisy, Mr Lilley accused Mr Robinson of a conflict of interests and being "economical with the truth".

Springing to Mr Robinson's defence, the Chancellor told Mr Lilley: `The hypocrisy is from those who refused to take any action at all when they were in Government ... On the particular case of the Paymaster General which you insist on raising, he has met all the rules on ministerial conduct; and he has paid taxes in the UK to the tune of pounds 1.5m."

Shadow Treasury Chief Secretary, David Heathcoat-Amory, asked how Mr Robinson could plausibly promote a welfare to work programme that involved cutting welfare to the poorest and raising taxes for savers.

"How can you do all that while at the same time you are yourself dodging taxes?" he demanded to Labour jeers.

Mr Robinson replied: "You seek to hide that the Tory party opposed the money and voted against the (welfare to work) programme."