Our government of Toffs has a very different attitude to fiddles, depending on whether they're perpetrated by the poor or the powerful. It employs far more people tackling social security fraud and sends people to prison as a result. It imposed over a million sanctions last year on job seekers and claimants for quite trivial things like failing to make an appointment or losing a phone number, sentencing them to a week or a month without money and forcing them to depend on food kitchens.
But when it comes to tax fiddles and the tax avoidance industry it is slow to act and punishes lightly. Money laundering for drug barons by HMC has been met by massive fines on the bank in the USA. Using Swiss bank accounts through HSBC to avoid taxes has led to legal proceedings against that bank in France, Spain, Belgium and Argentina.
Here the man in charge of the bank at the time of the fiddles Stephen Green has been sent to the House of Lords and made a minister and not only has no action been taken against his, or any other bank but millions of tax payers money has been rushed in to RBS and HBOS when their irresposible risk taking brought the banks to the verge of collapse.
One law for the rich another for the poor. HMRC cracks down on small businesses and jobbing builders and has forced several in to bankruptcy. The former chief executive and chairman of HSBC on the other hand is allowed to preach ethics in business and tell reporters "I will not comment on the business of HSBC, past or present,as a matter of principle" Some principle. Some excuse. I hope the police never accept such a reply from anyone accused of crime.
Which poses a problem for us on the Public Accounts Committee. We're anxious to deal with the tax evasion revealed by the HSBC papers and after interrogating HMRC on why it has been so lax we'll be calling the bank back. But should we interrogate Lord Green to try and discover whether he was so Godly he never knew about the dirty deals his bank was doing in Switzerland, or should he be called to account for the dirty dealings done under his watch. Or should we just read his religious tract "Serving God? Serving Mammon?" to try and discover whether he was in fact serving either or just his own back pocket when he called for "a culture of ethical and purposeful business throughout the organisation" and, presumably among the customers it helped to dodge their contribution to hospitals education and public services in Britain by paying their taxes. I'm for calling him. We'll see who isn"t.