Thursday 19 April 2018

I handled 'Panama' row badly, admits David Cameron

Demonstrators outside Downing Street over the weekend.
Demonstrators outside Downing Street over the weekend.
George Osborne

Arj Singh in London

BRITISH Prime Minister David Cameron has admitted he handled the row over his profits from an offshore fund badly but insisted he was angry about the way his father's memory was "traduced".

He said the way the fund was set up offshore by Ian Cameron amounted to "entirely standard practice" and was not to avoid tax.

He stressed that councils, trade unions and news organisations have similar arrangements.

The furore over Mr Cameron's personal finances sparked by the Panama Papers data leak has forced the UK prime minister, Chancellor George Osborne and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn into publishing their tax returns.

But Mr Cameron insisted it would be wrong for all MPs to follow suit, describing the suggestion as a "very big step".

In a Commons statement on the Panama Papers, Mr Cameron said: "I accept all of the criticisms for not responding more quickly to these issues last week but as I said I was angry about the way my father's memory was being traduced.

"I know he was a hard-working man and a wonderful dad and I'm proud of everything he did to build a business and provide for his family."

He went on: "This investment fund was set up overseas in the first place because it was going to be trading predominantly in dollar securities.

"So like very many other commercial investment funds it made sense to be set up inside one of the main centres of dollar trading.

"There are thousands of these investment funds, and many millions of people in Britain who own shares, many of whom hold them through investment funds or unit trusts.

"Such funds, including those listed outside the UK, are included in the pension funds of local government, most of Britain's largest companies, and indeed even some trade unions.

"Even a quick look shows that the BBC, the Mirror Group, Guardian Newspapers, and to pick one council entirely at random - Islington- all have these sorts of overseas investments."

He added: "This is an entirely standard practice and it is not to avoid tax."

As Mr Osborne and Mr Corbyn followed the prime minister in publishing their tax returns, Mr Cameron said such a move was "unprecedented" and insisted it should not apply to all MPs.

"I think there is a strong case for (Mr Cameron) and the leader of the opposition, and for the chancellor and shadow chancellor, because they are people who are or who wish to be responsible for the nation's finances," he said.

"As for MPs, we already have robust rules on members' interests and their declaration and I believe that is the model we should continue to follow.

"We should think carefully before abandoning completely all taxpayer confidentiality in this House, as some have suggested.

"If this were to come in for MPs, people would also ask for a similar approach for those who ask us questions, those who run large public services, or lead local government, or indeed those who edit the news programmes or newspapers.

"I think this would be a very big step for our country, it certainly shouldn't take place without a long and thoughtful debate and it is not the approach that I would recommend."

Mr Cameron also addressed questions over a £200,000 gift from his mother which followed the £300,000 inheritance he received after the 2010 death of his father Ian.

The payments by Mary Cameron to her son in May and July 2011 were given tax free, and will only become liable to inheritance tax of up to 40pc if the prime minister's mother dies within seven years of handing over the money. There is no suggestion that they have broken any rules.

Mr Cameron said parents should not be embarrassed about passing money on to their children and insisted it was something "fully recognised" in the tax system.

"There is an established system in this country," he said,.

"Far from people being embarrassed about passing things to their children, like wanting to keep a family home within the family, I believe it's a natural human instinct and something that should be encouraged.

"As for parents passing money to their children while they are still alive, it is something that tax rules fully recognise.

"Many parents want to help their children when they buy their first car, get a deposit for their first home or face the costs of starting a family."

Mr Cameron said he was happy to provide more information about his personal finances to the Parliamentary Standards Commissioner if required.

He said he sold his shares in the offshore trust Blairmore Holdings on becoming prime minister in 2010 because he wanted to avoid any conflict of interest.

"I did not want anyone to be able to suggest that as prime minister I had any other agendas or vested interests," Mr Cameron said.

"Selling all my shares was the simplest and clearest way that I could do that.

"There are strict rules in this House for the registration of shareholdings - I have followed them in full."

Meanwhile, Dennis Skinner, the Labour MP affectionately known as the 'Beast of Bolsover', was ordered to leave the House of Commons after he refused to withdraw his claim that Mr Cameron is "dodgy".

After being ordered by Speaker John Bercow to withdraw the comment, he shouted: "This man has done more to divide this nation than anyone else. I still refer to him as dodgy Dave. Do what you like."

It left Mr Bercow with no choice but to expel the veteran MP from the Chamber for the rest of the session.

Irish Independent

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