26 February 2014

(S4O-02929) Scotland Act 2012 (Tax Avoidance)

Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): 3. To ask the Scottish Government how it will tackle avoidance of the taxes devolved under the Scotland Act 2012. (S4O-02929)

The Cabinet Secretary for Finance, Employment and Sustainable Growth (John Swinney): I have made clear this Government’s determination to act decisively on avoidance of devolved taxes. The Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill, which is currently before Parliament, contains powers that will enable revenue Scotland to take robust action to counteract tax avoidance, and we have included anti-avoidance measures in both the devolved taxes acts that this Parliament has already passed.

Stewart Stevenson: Is the cabinet secretary aware that the latest HM Revenue and Customs figures report that the United Kingdom Government is failing to collect £35 billion in taxes through avoidance schemes, illegal tax dodging and mistaken underpayments? Given that Scotland’s share of the amount that is being lost to the UK Treasury is approximately £3.47 billion, can the minister tell us how Scotland would benefit between now and 2016 if the UK Government were to implement a general anti-avoidance rule?

John Swinney: As I made clear to Parliament in the introduction of the Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill, the bill will include a general anti-avoidance rule that is simple and more comprehensive than the corresponding provisions that the UK Government is considering. Our general anti-avoidance rule is designed to catch artificial tax-avoidance arrangements, whereas the UK approach is based on a narrow test of abuse.

Our general anti-avoidance rule will, of course, apply only to devolved taxes. If we had the ability to apply it across the full range of taxes, we could apply the ethos and approach that I have set out to consideration of wider taxation issues.

In introducing the Revenue Scotland and Tax Powers Bill, I have made it clear that I want Parliament to consider and to test the provisions that the Government is putting in place. If there are measures that Parliament believes would strengthen the general anti-avoidance rule that we have advanced, I would be very open to considering them and to ensuring that Scotland embarks on its approach to tax collection with as robust an approach to tackling tax avoidance as possible.

5 February 2014

(S4O-02882) British Embassies (Scotland’s Interests)

6. Stewart Stevenson (Banffshire and Buchan Coast) (SNP): To ask the Scottish Government what it considers the role of British embassies should be in promoting Scotland’s interests. (S4O-02882)

The Minister for External Affairs and International Development (Humza Yousaf): As is set out in the concordat on international relations that forms part of the memorandum of understanding on devolution, the Scottish Government considers that United Kingdom embassies, high commissions and other missions overseas should serve the United Kingdom and all its constituent parts, which of course includes the promotion of Scotland and Scottish interests, whether they be trade and investment interests, diaspora engagement or geopolitical interests.

Stewart Stevenson: Can the minister confirm that, although any European Union embassy is available to our citizens when they are in distress, the promotion of Scottish interests is the responsibility of United Kingdom embassies alone?

Is the minister aware of any significant UK embassy activity that is aimed at promoting Scottish interests that took place on recent important Scottish days such as St Andrew’s day and Burns night?

Humza Yousaf: To be fair to British high commissions, I say that when I have travelled abroad in my ministerial role in the past year and a half, I have found they tend to hold Scotland-themed days—but those are on one day out of 365. I saw with concern the Business for Scotland article that reported that the organisation had contacted 20 UK embassies around the world, including in Paris, Berlin, Brasilia and other key Scottish markets, but not a single one had planned any function or wider form of activity to promote Scotland’s national day. It is only with independence and our own network of embassies that we will promote Scotland and the interests of our people 365 days a year.

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