April, 2013

Should MPs have to publish their tax returns?


After the MP’s expenses scandal, many people called for politicians to publish their tax return in order that the public can see that they are paying a fair amount of tax. However, while the Prime Minister, David Cameron, has indicated he would be happy for MPs to be forced to publish their tax affairs, nothing has been done.

The French President has recently moved to require ministers in France to publish details of their financial affairs. So, is it time that British politicians released their tax details?

French President insists that ministers release tax affairs into public domain

Francois Hollande, the French President, has moved to require ministers to publicise their tax details after a recent scandal. The President acted after tax fraud charges were laid against the former budget minister Jérôme Cahuzac, the man charged with fighting tax evasion.

Cahuzac admitted having a secret Swiss bank account and so ministers will now be required to publish their financial details. The Guardian reports that ‘some cabinet ministers have already made public their extraordinary personal wealth.’

With French ministers about to publish their tax affairs, should British MPs follow suit?

Backlash from Cabinet ministers means it is unlikely we’ll see their tax details

Asked about the French President’s move, the prime minister’s spokesman said: “The prime minister’s view on whether he would be content to publish his arrangements and those of other ministers is that he would be relaxed about that.

“His view is unchanged. He would be relaxed about doing so.”

Last spring, Cameron’s aides said he would look at publishing his returns and those of three of the most senior MPs – the foreign secretary, William Hague, the chancellor, George Osborne, and the deputy prime minister, Nick Clegg.

In April 2012, George Osborne told the Daily Telegraph: “My own personal principle has been, make the rules in general more transparent. And, of course, comply with those rules.

“We are very happy to consider publishing tax returns for people seeking the highest offices in the land. Of course, they do it in America.”

The main argument against publishing MPs tax returns is that it would breach taxpayer confidentiality. The Guardian reports that ‘it had originally been suggested that all cabinet ministers would be required to publish, but a backlash from middle-ranking cabinet ministers ensued.’

Mr Osborne admitted to the Telegraph: “You have to think through the advantages and disadvantages. We have got to think through the issue of taxpayer confidentiality, which is a very important principle in Britain.”

The Chancellor has also recently denied that he is an additional rate taxpayer and so would have personally benefited from the recent cut in the top rate of tax from 50p to 45p.

He said: “On the last tax return that I filled in [covering the 2010-11 tax year], I was not a 50p taxpayer … And, no doubt, next time I fill in a tax return, I will be asked the question, and will give you a straightforward answer then.”

What do you think? Should MPs be obliged to publish their tax returns? Or, should they benefit from the same confidentiality and privacy as any other taxpayer? Please share your comments below.