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Jeremy Corbyn: I pay more tax than some companies

Published 13/04/2016

Jeremy Corbyn has claimed he pays more tax than companies owned by people that David Cameron "might know quite well".

The Labour leader defended his tax return, described by the Prime Minister as "late, chaotic, inaccurate and uncosted", after it emerged Mr Corbyn failed to include thousands of pounds of pension income and was fined for submitting it late.

The pair clashed after the Panama Papers data leak forced them to publish their tax returns alongside Chancellor George Osborne and following a row over the PM's investment in an offshore trust.

During Prime Minister's Questions, Mr Corbyn grilled Mr Cameron over the commitment of British overseas territories - often seen as tax havens - to transparency and cuts to HM Revenue and Customs staff.

As the pair traded blows, the Prime Minister drew attention to the Opposition leader's 2014-15 tax return which did not contain details of his pension income and which was the subject of a £100 fine for being submitted late.

Mr Cameron said: "I thought your tax return was a metaphor for Labour policy - it was late, it was chaotic, it was inaccurate, it was uncosted."

Mr Corbyn hit back: "I'm grateful to the Prime Minister for drawing attention to my own tax return, warts and all.

"The warts being my handwriting, all being my generous donation to HMRC - I actually paid more tax than some companies owned by people that you might know quite well."

Mr Cameron said Britain will publish a full beneficial ownership register of companies in June but admitted overseas territories' similar lists would not be made public.

The PM said he did not want to force the crown dependencies to make their registers public because "some of them might have walked away" from the drive for transparency.

But Mr Corbyn said the Cayman Islands premier was "celebrating victory" because the information would not be available publicly or directly to UK agencies and the chief minister of Jersey stressed information will only be provided in relation to terrorist activity.

The Labour leader said: "Only two days ago you said you had agreed that they would provide - these are the overseas territories - UK law enforcement and tax agencies with full access to information on the beneficial ownership of companies.

"There seems to be some confusion here because the chief minister of Jersey said, 'this is in response to a need for information without delay where terrorist activities were involved'.

"Obviously we welcome this commitment to fighting terrorism, but is Jersey and all the other dependencies actually going to provide beneficial ownership information or not?"

Mr Cameron replied: "The short answer to that is yes, they are, and that is what is such a big breakthrough.

"Look, I totally accept they are not going as far as us because we are publishing a register of beneficial ownership, that will happen in June, we will be one of the only countries in the world to do so - I think Norway and Spain are the others.

"What the overseas territories and crown dependencies are doing is making sure that we have full access to registers of beneficial ownership to make sure that people aren't evading or avoiding their taxes."

In a separate answer, Mr Cameron said: "We did not choose the option of forcing them to have a public register because we believed if that was the case we'd get into the situation that you spoke about ... some of them might have walked away from this co-operation altogether."

Mr Corbyn dismissed Mr Cameron's assertions as "tough talk" without real action.

"You talk very tough and I grant you that, the only problem is it's not a public register that you are offering us, you are only offering us a private register that some people can see," the Labour leader said.

"You are supposed to be chasing down tax evasion and tax avoidance, you are supposed to be bringing it all into the open, if you cannot even persuade the premier of the Cayman Islands or Jersey to open up their books, where is the tough talk bringing the information we need to collect the taxes that should pay for the services that people need?"

Mr Cameron insisted the public beneficial ownership register would be an "absolute first" for Britain and highlighted other moves to make foreign companies declare details of the properties they own, claiming Labour is "catching up" on the issue

The PM added: "I am not saying we have completed all this work but we have got more tax information exchange, more registers of beneficial ownership, more chasing down tax evasion and avoidance, more money recovered from businesses and individuals, and all of these things are things that have happened under this Government.

"The truth is you are running to catch up because Labour did nothing in 13 years."

In earlier exchanges, Mr Corbyn highlighted Tory MEPs' opposition to new European Commission proposals on country-by-country tax reporting to make firms declare where they make profits.

Mr Cameron said the plans had been drawn up by EC financial commissioner Jonathan Hill, who was appointed by the Government.

Mr Corbyn said: "If the proposals were put forward by the British Government why did Conservative MEPs then vote against them? There seems to be a sort of a disconnect here."

The two leaders also clashed over funding at HMRC, with Mr Corbyn claiming the PM was cutting staff levels by 20% and closing tax offices.

Mr Cameron insisted the Government had invested £1 billion in HMRC since 2010 to improve tax collection and was hiring more staff in its compliance department.

"It's not how much money you spend on an organisation, it's about how many people you can actually have out there collecting the taxes and making sure the forms are properly filled in," the PM said.

Mr Corbyn replied: "You are quite right, the number of people out there collecting taxes is important, therefore why have you laid off so many staff at HMRC who therefore cannot collect those taxes?"

Green MP Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) claimed the law firm at the centre of the Panama Papers data leak, Mossack Fonseca, is potentially shredding documents and deleting data in its UK office.

She told the PM: "Authorities in Peru, El Salvador and Panama have raided offices of Mossack Fonseca, seizing documents and computer equipment.

"But no-one has knocked on the door of the law firm's branch here in the UK.

"Now while recognising the operational independence of our enforcement agencies, do you share my deep concern that as we speak documents are no doubt being shredded and databases being wiped, undermining the opportunity to bring further potential wrongdoing to light?"

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