Letters: Our tax system is open to manipulation

These letters are published in the print edition of The Independent, 27th April 2013

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The Public Accounts Committee’s report on tax avoidance focuses substantially on the “unhealthy relationship” between large accounting firms and HMRC (report, 26 April). 

As so often with select committees, the members have managed to miss the point entirely. The underlying problem is that the UK’s tax system is massively complex, unbalanced and – thereby – open to manipulation by experts on avoidance. HMRC accepts secondees from accounting firms willingly because the workload it has is beyond its capacity to manage.

The solution lies elsewhere; simplify the tax system, remove most or all allowances other than low-income thresholds and ensure that all those liable to UK tax pay a fair share without exception. That could mean 15-20 per cent if all the panoply of distorting allowances were removed. Avoidance would become an unprofitable activity, and the overall tax take would increase.

Barry Toogood, Epsom

The Liberal Democrats are supporting the reduction of the 50 per cent tax rate because these rich citizens avoid paying their tax if the rate is set this high. There is an outcry about companies not paying corporation tax. Why is there not an outcry about wealthy individuals not paying their income tax?

David Bell, Ware, Hertfordshire

The findings of the PAC will add fuel to the fire at a time when many already question the transparency and fairness of the UK tax system.

While there are measures being put in place to tackle tax avoidance, it is clear that improvements in tax legislation are essential. Questions over the integrity of the tax system will only further exasperate smaller businesses who already feel at a disadvantage to larger organisations that can access greater consultancy resources.

We cannot shut out the multinationals altogether, the UK must remain “open for business”, but more needs to be done to ensure there is a code of conduct so that all businesses play fair.

David Cameron has indicated that tax avoidance and evasion should and will be at the heart of the G8 Summit. Surely the Government has to take this opportunity to create a global system of cooperation and transparency and restore public trust in the UK?

Adam Harper, Director of Professional Development, Association of Accounting Technicians, London EC1

The greatest danger to our world is the growing use of tax havens which hold trillions of dollars thanks to blatant tax evasion, organised crime and avoidance schemes. Tax avoidance and evasion has allowed the rich and multinationals to exploit loopholes and transfer wealth offshore with impunity, so the privileged elite grow richer while the majority face austerity.

At the same time deregulation has led to the financial sector becoming an out-of-control Frankenstein’s monster. As millions have lost their jobs and homes, bankers and corporate bosses have been helping themselves to obscene earnings which have no economic or moral justification. It is a recipe for economic and social collapse. It will engulf us all unless there is a major redistribution of wealth to create a level tax playing field and a fairer society.

Peter Fieldman, Madrid 

The PAC is right to challenge the rapidly revolving door between HMRC and the lavishly resourced big four accountancy firms. These firms are helped mightily by British tax havens in the Channel Islands and Caribbean – the ones Angela Merkel quite rightly complained about last month. It’s not just a question of shutting the revolving door between HMRC and KPMG etc. Shut Britain’s tax havens as well.

Vaughan Grylls, London WC1

Necessity for food banks shames the UK

The latest figures released by the Trussell Trust, showing yet another dramatic rise in the number of people forced to rely on food banks in Britain, are both shameful and deeply concerning (report, 24 April).

What is most shocking is that the number of people fed by food banks has tripled even before the added pressure put on those already struggling to make ends meet by recent welfare cuts and changes. All emergency food aid charities contributing to a recent investigation I led for the London Assembly anticipate the welfare changes, which will affect 2.6 million families in the UK, will further increase demand on their services. The report outlining the findings of the investigation called for London to become a Zero Hunger City.

Given that Britain ranks as the seventh richest country in the world, it should be our aim to make the UK a Zero Hunger Country. The Government must change course and take urgent action for this to happen. To stand by and watch or deny there is a problem is not acceptable.

Fiona Twycross AM, (London Assembly, Labour), London SE1

With the news that the use of food-banks by those in dire straits has increased by a whopping 100 per cent in the past year, it seems that the gap between rich and poor in this country is widening every year. Meanwhile politicians seem to have no desire or inclination to tackle this disgraceful state in our so-called modern society.

Dennis Grattan, Aberdeen

All marriages should be civil

In your report of the French parliament’s vote to extend marriage to gay couples (24 April), you miss the key differentiation compared to the UK: French law only recognises civil marriage and religious ceremonies are optional with no legal status. Thus, the entire debate in the UK about gays being ineligible for marriage because it is ordained by God and can only be between a man and a woman is irrelevant. 

The sooner the UK moves to a similar position – that civil partnership/marriage is the only legally recognised form of marriage, the sooner we can get away from the current entirely artificial distinction and dispense with the concept of “civil partnership”. Religion should have no part to play in this civil legal contract between two humans – though religious institutions should of course be free to bless marriages, straight and gay, conduct ceremonies for their own groups or whatever their members want. 

Christening (or the equivalent ceremony in other religions) is not legal registration of birth and a funeral is not legal registration of death, so why should religious institutions of any sort continue to be allowed to conduct legally binding marriages?

Paul Ratcliffe, London W6

Until I read John Lichfield’s report, “Anti-gay marriage riot has awoken some of France’s old demons,” (25 April), I hadn’t seen the CRS riot police described as “angelic” before.

On arriving as a tourist in Paris on the morning after a riot, with burnt-out cars still stacked by the side of the road from the airport, however, I did feel reassured by the heavy police presence at tourist attractions.

Perhaps the time has come to resurrect that old poster from  May ’68 which shows a riot policeman with shield: only this time as a pin-up.

Richard Aelwyn Eames, Altrincham, Cheshire

Women beware golf-club bores

In criticising attempts by the R&A’s Peter Dawson to defuse the gender issues clouding the Open, Dr Michael Reynolds notes that many golf club are losing members (Letters, 26 April).

Well, this is certainly not true of the main single-sex clubs such as Muirfield, Troon, St George’s – or the R&A itself – so perhaps there is a message here. These venerable institutions are in reality gentleman’s clubs with a golf section attached and surely there are more pressing issues than geriatric male golfers meeting for lunch.

My wife and daughter belong to the two St Andrews all-women golf clubs and have no desire to join the R & A, eat nursery food and moan about the state of the nation.

Dr John Cameron, St Andrews

Invasion of Iraq was a war crime

John Strawson (22 April) claims, when referring to the Iraq war, it “might have been wrong but was not a crime”. At Nuremberg in 1945 the bill of indictment included in part 3: “War Crimes (g) Wanton destruction of cities, towns, villages and devastation not justified by military necessity.”

I fail to understand how our invasion of a sovereign state, which posed no threat to  Britain, does not fall within  the ruling at Nuremberg, or how our invasion can be justified by military necessity?

J Samuel, Reading, Berkshire

Fritillaries off  the beaten track

We live just north of Gretna in Scotland. We are neither in a hayfield nor a floodplain. About 12 years ago some snakeshead fritillaries appeared in our walled kitchen garden, either borne by  the wind or with bird assistance. They have continued to bloom each year slightly increasing in number. This year I have counted 19 blooms in spite of the late spring. A little later we also get  a few white ones as well.

Just thought Michael McCarthy (report, 24 April) might like to know there’s a 31st site of these lovely plants.

David Gould, Canonbie, Dumfries and Galloway

Did Wallis save the monarchy?

The more we learn about the uncrowned Edward VIII (“The King’s murderous mistress”, TV documentary about Maggie Meller this week) the more I feel that it is time we acknowledged the huge debt we owe to Wallis Simpson for bringing about his abdication.

It may have caused a huge constitutional crisis at the time, but as a result we ended up with George VI and the present Queen – far better monarchs than the morally weak, Nazi sympathiser Edward would have been. Wallis Simpson may well have actually saved the monarchy.

Robert Readman, Bournemouth

Lib-Dem woes

Tuition fees, a possible tax on pensioners’ benefits (report, 25 April). Has there ever been a political party so good at shooting itself in the foot as the Lib Dems?

Mike Conder, Southampton