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On Thursday 18 September the Farrer & Co Tax team held their Tax Debate at the Royal College of Surgeons, London. This year's motion was 'This house believes that paying tax is a moral obligation, not just a legal one' with Sam Grodzinski QC of Blackstone Chambers and Philip Ridgeway of Temple Tax Chambers opposing the motion and Melanie Hall QC of Monckton Chambers and Edward Waldegrave of Pump Court Tax Chambers proposing.
Counsel engaged in a light-hearted discussion as to whether tax, and tax planning, are subject to moral scruples. Across the world tax rules have been designed to influence business decisions and citizens’ life choices as well as raise revenue, while businesses protecting their bottom line and individuals trying to keep hold of their money have sought ways of paying less tax. But are those decisions morally wrong? Countries complain about avoidance and then design their tax laws to attract inward investment – is such ‘tax competition’ on the world stage morally wrong?
Should Starbucks volunteer to pay tax that is not strictly due because of the way the company has chosen to structure its affairs? Was this the right thing to do or a PR disaster?
Or, if Pfizer’s recent attempted acquisition of AstraZeneca, switching the combined group’s headquarters from the US to the UK, was motivated by tax sheltering is that morally questionable?
Do individuals really deserve to be named and shamed, or branded as tax dodgers, even in situations where they have relied on professional advice?
The event was chaired by Judge Roger Berner of the Upper Tribunal (Tax and Chancery).
The result, announced during the drinks following the debate, saw the motion defeated 119 to 107.
Many thanks to all the speakers who took part and made the debate such a thought provoking event, as well as an entertaining one.
To view the debate please click on the Play icon above.
The Barristers have asked to issue a disclaimer that no connection should be made between the force of their arguments and their own personal or professional views ... they are, after all, simply hired guns!
For information about the 2014 Tax Debate please contact Robert Field, Head of Tax on 020 3375 7000 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.