So, we’re told that because Dave Hartnett discussed some matters with the press therefore HMRC can indeed discuss the affairs of individual taxpayers. Thus all should be open for the PAC:
But let’s be clear what that means, which is that HMRC are now clearly at liberty to discuss a taxpayer’s affairs if it is in the public interest to do so, tax compliance is promoted as a result, understanding of other taxpayers is enhanced as a consequence and the Revenue’s approach is better understood as a result of the discussion.
I agree with that. But it also means that all those HMRC officials who have sat in front of the PAC and said they cannot comment on an individual taxpayer’s affairs are wrong to have done so. If HMRC is at liberty to be open with the press on such matters then they have a duty to be so with the PAC. That has not been the case.
I’d have Ed Troup back in front of the committee if I was chair of the committee to explain past excuses. The idea that HMRC can be open with the press abut not with parliament is wholly unacceptable, and has to be squashed once and for all.
Sadly, and inevitably, he’s managed to get this wrong.
Hartnett did not discuss the affairs of individual taxpayers at all. As Ritchie himself quotes:
This is an application for judicial review of a decision of the Defendants (“HMRC”), acting by one of their most senior officials, the Permanent Secretary for Tax at the relevant time (David Hartnett – “Mr Hartnett”), to disclose information relating to the First Claimant (” Ingenious Media “) and the Second Claimant (“Mr McKenna”) in an “off the record” briefing with two journalists from The Times newspaper on 14 June 2012. The journalists, Alexi Mostrous and Fay Schlesinger, published articles in The Times on 21 June 2012 regarding tax avoidance schemes, including film investment schemes, in which they named Ingenious Media and Mr McKenna, among others, as the promoters of such schemes.
He discussed their affairs as promoters of certain tax schemes. And HMRC has every right to talk about people wandering around flogging possibly dodgy tax schemes. What they’re not allowed to talk about is the affairs of any individual taxpayer, whether natural person or legal. Which they didn’t.
I’d actually rather like Margaret, Lady Hodge, to call Ed Troup back. she’d end up with a certain amount of egg on her face as this was gently explained to her. And thus might the Murphmeister’s influence be diminished.
Oh, as as to how we all found out who had been using these schemes being promoted, they used LLPs so were a matter of public record. nothing from inside HMRC at all.