Letters: Learn from the American way with tax dodgers

These letters appear in the Febraury 11 edition of The Independent

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Despite the tough rhetoric there must be doubt as to how serious the UK tax authorities are about dealing with the large scale tax evasion facilitated by HSBC (and almost certainly by other banks where no information has yet leaked out). If they were serious there are some simple steps they could take.

America has a box on the standard income tax form where people tick whether or not they “have control” of a foreign bank account. If “yes” they send the location of the account and, within broad bands, how big it is to the US Treasury. 

This declaration is made under penalty of perjury so, rather than complex one-sided negotiations with the tax authorities about the purpose of an account, there is the simple offence of perjury. This is easily proved by the signature on the tax return when evidence emerges of a secret account. 

Comparatively few people are prepared to commit perjury and, if faced with evidence that they have, swiftly pay the tax and penalties rather than risk prison.

Minimising evasion is one of the ways that the America keeps tax rates down for everyone. There is no evidence that these policies have wrecked the US economy, even though they may not be to the liking of some of our “wealth creators” in the City.

We often import bad ideas from America. Why don’t we try importing some good ones?

John Kennett
Hook, Hampshire


The “rogue state” in the EU is not Greece, the least successful, but the richest of all, Luxembourg, which under the current EU president arranged its corporate tax laws to benefit hundreds of multinational corporations to the detriment of other EU member states.

Last week’s revelations about Pricewaterhouse recommending Luxembourg as a place with “flexible and welcoming authorities” appear to confirm the findings of the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists that 340 major multinationals have been channelling income through the Grand Duchy.

If this abusive mass tax avoidance by the government of the EU’s smallest, yet richest, state could be shut down, there would be sufficient funds to bail out the Greek economy several times over.

Michael Godwin


After reading that the HSBC bank’s Swiss subsidiary helped wealthy customers to avoid paying millions in tax, including 7,000 people in the UK, I wondered whether some of those 7,000 would be among those who refer to the vulnerable receiving benefits as “scroungers”?

Barbara MacArthur


Is Ukraine really one country?

The expectations of EU and US politicians that a peace process for the state of Ukraine, as it currently exists, will be successful are based on false hopes. The state of Ukraine is the result of accidents of history and of political pressure, rather than any natural grouping of peoples with ethnic, linguistic or cultural links. 

Over the centuries, this area has come under many influences, Polish, Russian, German, Ottoman, Tatar. The concept of a political entity called Ukraine only dates back 100 years or so. The Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic was incorporated in the Soviet Union in 1922 and, for internal Soviet reasons, the Crimea and other Russian-speaking areas were added in the 1950s. Within the USSR that was a political decision to increase Russian influence within a member republic.

At the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ukraine opted for independence from Russia, as did many other erstwhile Soviet republics. While 90 per cent of the votes were for independence, the population of Ukraine was 75 per cent Ukrainian-speaking, 21 per cent Russian-speaking and 4 per cent native minority language-speaking. Twenty or more years on, the fault lines are showing.

The prime object of the Russian, European and American heads of state now seeking a peaceful outcome to Ukraine’s problems should be to consider its viability as a country, test the aspirations of different regions and question whether Ukraine should develop into one or more states of different characteristics. United Nations involvement should then be utilised to ensure impartiality.

Ian Trickett


Where does Nebraska stop and Wyoming start? The answer is: where some 19th-century bureaucrat placed his set-square and drew the first side of a perfect rectangle. That’s the way borders are understood by Americans.

Where does Ukraine end and Russia start? Is it where someone drew a line on a map? No, it is where people stop speaking Ukrainian, and thinking of themselves as Ukrainians, and where they start speaking Russian, and thinking of themselves as Russians. That is the way borders are understood by the Russians of “Eastern Ukraine”. Please would someone explain the difference between Nebraska and Ukraine to President Obama?

Chris Sexton
Crowthorne, Berkshire


It is empty posturing over Ukraine by our government. All of our recent conflicts have been against rag-tag armies with limited armaments.I dread to think how we would fare against an army with modern weapons.

Stan Matthias
London SE1


Why we need an English parliament

If Peter Kampman’s view of the English (letter, 10 February) as xenophobic little Englanders is typical of the selfish Scots among whom he has lived for the past 40 years then it is indeed time for the Union to be dissolved and for Scotland to make its own way in the world.

But until Scotland’s exit can be facilitated it is imperative that English MPs put aside party differences and unite against any attempt by the SNP fifth column to hold England to ransom.

If the Union is to be preserved an English Parliament with powers at least as great as those devolved to Scotland is essential. The proposal for city states is merely a distraction.

Roger Chapman
Keighley, West Yorkshire


Against Mr Kampman’s overwrought claim for the people of Scotland of a liberty they are supposedly denied, I want to voice as strongly held a belief in our place in the multinational community of Britain.

Do we really want no part in a parliament for the whole of this commonwealth, of which we cannot be independent economically or socially?

I write as a descendant of English farm labourers, with a wife descended from Glasgow artisans and children born in Scotland. I have lived in Scotland for more than half a century and have no wish to live anywhere else. I also do not want to end my days in a Britain diminished by separatist nationalism, Scottish or English. 

Alan Harding


Not all grey voters will pick the Tories

I am gobsmacked that your editorial (10 February) assumes the Tories are right in that we grey-haired voters will vote for the party that offers us the biggest pension rise, heating allowance, and so on.

I want a fairer society, I want profits to be fairly shared among all those who contribute to the work, I want a society which supports its most vulnerable members, including people from Syria. I want us to at least try to stop climate change.

Even if they threaten to withdraw my bus pass, I’m not voting Tory.

Henrietta Cubitt


Remember the Levellers

The rediscovery of the old Bedlam graveyard, the burial place of Levellers John Lilburne and Robert Lockyer, (report, 9 February) is indeed dramatic. But the Leveller connections with the Liverpool Street area of London do not end there. The mutiny that Lockyer led took place in the Bull and Mouth inn at what is now 92 Bishopsgate, and John Lilburne’s illegal printer, William Larner, hid his press nearby.

This year is the 400th anniversary of Lilburne’s birth, which will be commemorated by a Lilburne 400 conference at the Bishopsgate Institute directly opposite the old Bedlam churchyard on 14 March. We hope to launch a campaign to get English Heritage to accept that a plaque to Lilburne should be erected on the site of his last resting place.

John Rees
The Levellers’ Association
London E5


Students love anthropology

AQA claims that low uptake is the reason A-level anthropology should be axed. However, they have not given it enough time to grow. Colleges and schools have been trialling the subject and developing resources and are just now, after four years, beginning to offer it more widely.

At Truro College, I have been teaching it as an evening class but this year it has been offered in the daytime and over 100 students are sitting the AS. They invariably love it.

Aimee Middlemiss
Hayle, Cornwall