HC Deb 10 December 1998 vol 322 cc469-70
5. Mr. Andrew Robathan (Blaby)

How much tax has been paid by Stenbell Ltd. in the last five years. [61749]

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Stephen Byers)

As has been the case under successive Governments, the law on taxpayer confidentiality prevents the Inland Revenue from disclosing any information relating to the tax affairs of any particular taxpayer.

Mr. Robathan

This is a matter of real public interest and, I suggest, of grave concern to hon. Members on both sides of the House. Is it not the case that the tax paid by Stenbell, together with the £500,000 of tax not paid by AGB, the connection with Hollis Industries, the implication of Robert Maxwell in both those companies and the claims of the Maxwell pensioners are part of a tangled web that must interest the Treasury—yet at the centre of the web is a Treasury Minister? Notwithstanding the Paymaster General's friends in high places and his holiday guests in Tuscany, does not the Minister consider that a Minister in the Paymaster General's position should have resigned long ago?

Mr. Byers

The hon. Gentleman makes allegations. The Paymaster General is a highly effective Minister, and I look forward to working with him for many months to come. The question that Conservative Members need to answer is why, in the Tory party's recently published accounts, there is a secret donation of £1 million which, we are told, was donated by a party connected to Michael Ashcroft, the Tory party treasurer. We know that Mr. Ashcroft has been a tax exile for a number of years, preferring to pay his tax in Belize rather than Britain. That is the question that the Conservatives must answer.

The Leader of the Opposition has said that he wants to lead a party with no secret donations. Why the secrecy in this case? Why has there been no disclosure? The time has come for the Conservative party to answer those questions.

Madam Speaker

Order. That does not relate to the question. I will take only questions which relate directly to the main question.

Mr. Francis Maude (Horsham)

The Paymaster General—who is, I understand, the owner of Stenbell Ltd.—has been stripped of responsibility for taxation because of his own affection for placing his tax affairs offshore; he cannot deal with corporate matters because he is being investigated by the DTI under the Companies Acts; and he almost never appears in the House of Commons—except today, for his swansong.

He has been shown to have systematically concealed his business links with Robert Maxwell. Why do not the Government abandon—

Madam Speaker

Order. The right hon. Gentleman is fully aware that he should have a substantive motion on the Order Paper before he criticises a Member of this House. If he will restrict his supplementary question to what is on the Order Paper, I will hear it. Otherwise, I must ask him to resume his seat until he has a proper motion on the Order Paper.

Mr. Maude

The Paymaster General is the subject of this question. Why do not the Government abandon the search for a face-saving exit for the Paymaster General, and simply sack him?

Mr. Byers

The shadow Chancellor can put two questions to the Treasury today, and it is interesting that he has chosen to use one of them for a deliberate personal attack on a Treasury Minister. I am sure that there are many other issues that members of the public would have thought he might raise. His misguided priorities all too often reveal the nature of the Conservative party. I think that he will come to regret the way in which he put his question. I am pleased to be working with my hon. Friend the Paymaster General, who is an effective Minister, and I am sure that I will continue to work with him for many months to come.

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