The importance of transparency in politics

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Michelle Donelan Column Transparency 14 Apr 16

THE vast data leak from Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca was, according to tax experts, “the biggest wake-up call for the public around the world”. This week, all political news has been dominated by the leaks.

They say politics is show business for ugly people and this week Westminster certainly felt like a bit of a pantomime with David Cameron cast as chief villain by baying Labour MPs all keen to jump on the media’s bandwagon.

The Prime Minister, in the face of a media onslaught, understandably wanted to defend the name of his father and did so in the Commons, slamming his critics for “deeply hurtful and profoundly untrue” comments.

The Prime Minister’s unprecedented step of publishing his tax return has shown that a more accurate newspaper headline would have been ‘man makes a modest investment and pays all his tax’ and since then there has been a clamour for more and more high-profile politicians to publish their tax returns.

MPs only have themselves to blame for any criticism. The expenses scandal of 2009 eroded, perhaps permanently, the confidence in Members of Parliament. Understandably, if you are managing the county’s affairs and voting on them then the electorate want to know that you are doing so properly, fairly and independently and I think that within a few years the public will probably demand that MPs do publish their tax returns annually.

As an MP I earn a good salary, but I would not class myself as ‘rich’. I have no investments in the UK or overseas, I have no shares and I have no savings to speak of. I do, however, benefit from tax relief by putting some money into an ISA.

No Government has done more to tackle tax avoidance that this Government. This week the Prime Minister gave a robust speech outlining what the Government has done to tackle tax evasion and in the next few weeks the UK is hosting a global summit on tackling tax avoidance where I expect more details to be announced. I have put a copy of the PM’s speech on my website michelledonelan.com/tax

We must, however, always make a clear distinction. Tax evasion is illegal; people who evade taxes could and should be prosecuted for it. Avoidance includes ISAs, pensions and duty free shopping. We must be very careful to distinguish between the two.

If you have any local or national issues please let me know on michelle.donelan.mp@parliament.uk