HM Revenue and Customs and an influential select committee have clashed over whether MPs were due to question a senior tax official about the authority’s inquiry into the HSBC tax scandal.
Parliamentary officials told the Guardian on Wednesday morning that Edward Troup, the second permanent secretary, was expected to appear before the parliamentary accounts committee on Wednesday afternoon but he pulled out at short notice.
However, Lin Homer, HMRC’s chief executive, has issued a statement saying he was never due to appear before the committee and that she had made this clear to the committee last Friday.
The exchange is evidence of the tensions growing between MPs and HMRC. Margaret Hodge, the committee’s chair, has made it clear that HMRC needs to explain why more action was not taken against a list of 6,000 former clients of HSBC’s Swiss arm, whose details were leaked to HMRC in 2010.
Sources said that Troup was expected to appear with Homer and Jim Harra, the director general of business tax.
Troup told the public accounts committee in 2013 that he knew of “the HSBC Swiss disc”, which has since been leaked to the Guardian and an international consortium of journalists.
He told the same committee of MPs in 2012 that while only one criminal case had so far been brought relating to the disclosures, another dozen were “in train”.
A Whitehall source saidTroup’s evidence was crucial to the committee. “Troup was there at the time and obviously had some knowledge of the documents. He knew that a list of British people who had used HSBC’s Swiss arm existed and he knew there were thousands of names on the list.
“What is not known is exactly what HMRC did with it, when and why they did not pursue it with the same vigour as tax authorities in other countries.”
But in a rare press statement, Homer said there have been several discussions with the committee about who should attend on Wednesday and that she had made it clear on Friday that Troup had a longstanding meeting in Manchester.
“Edward Troup was never due to appear at today’s public accounts committee hearing.
“I had considered asking several of my director generals, to ensure the senior officials responsible for the issues being discussed were present. I did not ask Edward Troup, since the topics for discussion were my responsibility as accounting officer,” she said.
Homer added that she had attempted to speak to Hodge on Tuesday night and had spoken to her on Wednesday morning instead.
“I again made it clear in that phone call that Mr Troup was not the relevant official to attend and was not available to attend,” she said.
Committee officials are still in negotiations with HMRC about when Troup may appear.
Senior figures from HSBC and HMRC could be required to attend a further committee meeting on 4 March specifically to discuss the allegations surrounding the Swiss disc, the Guardian understands.
Others who could face being called before the committee include Dave Hartnett, who was a senior figure in HMRC in February 2010.
Stephen Green, the former chairman of HSBC who subsequently became a City minister, could also be asked to attend that meeting.
It is understood the committee is prepared to issue orders for individuals to attend if necessary. It is also within the committee’s powers to force witnesses to give evidence under oath.
This article was written by Rajeev Syal, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 11th February 2015 15.34 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010