Scotland politics

SNP backs MP Phil Boswell over tax avoidance scheme

Phil Boswell Image copyright Allan Milligan
Image caption Mr Boswell was one of 56 SNP candidates who won seats in May's general election

The SNP has backed one of its MPs who has admitted benefiting from a tax avoidance loophole in a previous job.

Phil Boswell said he had received an £18,000 interest-free loan while working as contracts manager for US energy company Phillips 66.

Mr Boswell has been a vocal critic of similar schemes, which SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has previously described as "obscene and immoral".

There is no suggestion that Mr Boswell has acted illegally.

An SNP spokeswoman said the Coatbridge, Chryston and Bellshill MP had always declared his interests in line with the guidelines.

'Common practice'

She said: "Phil Boswell has always made declarations on his register of interests in line with Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority guidelines and is committed to ending tax avoidance schemes."

In the House of Commons register of members' interests, Mr Boswell disclosed: "I benefit from an interest-free loan of £18,308.82, made by Hyrax Resourcing and now repayable on demand."

He said the loan related to his work as contracts manager for energy company Phillips 66, through support services firm PDI Ltd.

Mr Boswell told the Mail on Sunday newspaper that such loan arrangements, which are made in place of salary payments, were "common practice" in the industry he was working in at the time.

He said: "I am aware of mechanisms within my previous employment contract which utilised the existing tax legislation. This payment agreement is common practice in my previous industry.

"After finding myself previously employed in such a contract, I decided to utilise my knowledge and experience in my new role as an MP to highlight Treasury management issues."

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Media captionThe BBC explores the difference between tax avoidance and tax evasion

But opposition politicians have accused Mr Boswell of "hypocrisy" after pointing out that he tabled a written question at Westminster earlier this year urging the Chancellor to "close the tax avoidance scheme known as the Mayfair tax loophole".

He also told the Motherwell Times newspaper in August: "Tax avoidance costs the economy nearly four times as much as benefit fraud, yet this government blames the most vulnerable in society for the economic problems caused by a lack of regulation and enforcement in the financial industry."

Labour MSP James Kelly said: "People will be astonished by the apparent hypocrisy of Phil Boswell, with him preaching about the evils of tax avoidance while appearing to have taken advantage of a tax avoidance scheme himself."

And Lib Dem peer Lord Purvis of Tweed said it was "shocking that wealthy people who have broad shoulders should think it's acceptable to use such dodgy tax avoiding tactics".

'Tackled effectively'

In February, Ms Sturgeon called for a "zero tolerance" approach to tax avoidance in all of its forms.

She said: "The first step is to have a zero tolerance approach to it and then to have a much more vigorous and effective tax authority that's going to clamp down on it and prosecute people, and get money back and make examples of people, so we send the right message to anyone thinking of doing it.

"It is awful, it is despicable, I can't actually think of words strong enough for it, and the sooner we start calling it for what it is, the sooner we might start to see it tackled and tackled effectively."

Two SNP MPs - Michelle Thomson and Natalie McGarry - are currently suspended from the party after withdrawing from the whip.

Ms Thomson has been linked to property deals that led to a solicitor being struck off, while Ms McGarry is at the centre of a police investigation into claims that donations made to the Women for Independence group have gone missing.

Both deny any wrongdoing.