The past month has been an exceptionally busy time in Westminster with tax – my Ministerial responsibility – never far from the headlines.
The release of the ‘Panama papers’ attracted much attention, highlighting the way in which ‘offshore structures’ are used.
Rightly, people are concerned if wealthy individuals are able to evade or avoid the taxes that they should be paying. But a couple of points in the public debate that followed the release got missed.
First, using an offshore structure does not necessarily mean someone has done something wrong in terms of tax. Plenty of ordinary, respectable pension schemes use offshore entities. Even certain newspapers use them!
Second, when it comes to tackling improper use of offshore centres, we have made huge progress in the last few years. It is something in which I have been heavily involved and I am delighted that it is now so much harder for people to conceal their assets from HMRC by putting their money offshore. The secrecy that existed for decades is already disappearing.
It is a point I have had plenty of opportunity to make in the House of Commons as we have spent plenty of time debating tax in the weeks since.
As it happens, I was out of the country when the story broke. I was visiting the US, promoting the UK as a place to do business. These are always fascinating trips, albeit exhausting in that they consist of back-to-back meetings plus plenty of travel (this visit included Boston, Charlotte and Atlanta in four days).
Generally, the meetings were extremely encouraging – the UK is well regarded as a place in which to invest – with a number of companies with a presence in Hertfordshire. But, returning to the subject of my last article, there was one caveat – concern as to what would happen if we left the EU. If anyone thinks this would not have a negative impact on foreign investment, they have not been speaking to foreign investors.