Ed Miliband told his party’s Welsh conference how a future government led by him would tackle the “scourge of tax avoidance”. Mr Miliband, speaking at the conference in Swansea, said there is one rule for the rich and another for everyone else, claiming that this threatens the fabric of society. His comments follow the row over HSBC, which is accused of helping wealthy clients avoid or evade tax. There was plenty of blood and thunder from Labour, as with any pre-election conference and there was the big opportunity to rally to a 600 strong crowd.
There will be a review of HM Revenue and Customs’ approach to tax evasion and avoidance if Labour comes to power. Mr Miliband said the UK tax authority needed to “do a much better job”. He also accused the coalition of “shrugging its shoulders” on tax avoidance, which he claimed has left a £34bn hole in the UK’s finances. He said the current government had “turned a blind eye to tax avoidance because it thinks that so long as a few at the top do well the country succeeds”. The Labour leader felt the proposed review would report back by July with recommendations for reforming the tax authority.
HMRC’s culture and practices when it came to dealing with “aggressive tax avoidance” would be scrutinised, he said. There were pledges to bring in fresh penalties for those who avoid tax, and to close loopholes in the law. Mr Miliband said these were used by hedge funds to avoid stamp duty, and by large companies that move profits out of the UK to avoid corporation tax. The Conservatives said HMRC’s culture and practices went wrong under Labour, to which the Labour leader responded, “In Britain today we risk having one rule for the rich and powerful and another for everybody else.”
A Conservative Party spokesman said the question being faced by Mr Miliband was “whether this inquiry would include Labour’s record during the age of irresponsibility that he was at the heart of”. Welsh Labour leader and First Minister Carwyn Jones also addressed the conference, talking about successful Welsh Government interventions like Jobs Growth Wales, increased housebuilding and the tuition fee grant. On immigration, crucially, he argued that “there is a massive gulf between the policies and spending plans of Labour and the Tories in Westminster”.
Furthermore, the party has announced powers over fracking would be devolved to Wales if Labour wins the General Election. This follows the vote earlier in February by the Welsh Government to back a Plaid Cymru motion in the Senedd calling for an effective block on fracking. A number of exploratory drilling applications have been approved in the Vale of Glamorgan and surrounding area. However the Welsh Government is changing its advice to local councils on fracking, effectively putting existing plans to continue this controversial practice on hold.
Labour, so far, has 26 of the 40 seats in Wales. It lost four at the last election and has set itself the target of gaining eight this time round. Ambitious it may be, but also achievable, that’s the message from the party. They are aiming to win Aberconwy, Arfon, the Vale of Glamorgan, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, Preseli Pembrokeshire, and crucially here, Cardiff North and Cardiff Central. One question is whether Labour will suffer as a result of the devolved issues of health and the impending election, or can be successful in persuading people that the Conservative criticism has gone too far.