Q: How many people were prosecuted for TV licence evasion in 2005-6?
A: 157,452. (The Television Licensing Authority claims a 99.9% conviction rate.)
Q: How many people were prosecuted for tax evasion last year?
MP: Our friends in the Department for Work and Pensions are prosecuting 60 cases per thousand benefit fraud cases. You are only prosecuting two cases per thousand hidden economy cases. I am not suggesting that you should rise to the level of 60 per thousand but two per thousand is very low, is it not? This is a tiny chance of being prosecuted if you are in the hidden economy. These are people deliberately evading paying tax.
Taxman: It is a low number and we do have plans to increase it when we can apply the skilled resource to it.
MP: What... schemes are you going to use in the future to try and tackle the hidden economy, particularly at the upper end of the scale?
Taxman: We have got several things going on. We have got more than 20 projects. We are trying to do the same with builders and decorators and the like by matching publicly available information, maybe advertisements in the Yellow Pages or elsewhere, with our databases. That tends to be at the lower end. At the upper end of the scheme we have a project looking at barristers, for example 57 barristers who were in the hidden economy at some time in recent years.
MP: What, barristers doing legal work in this country perfectly normally are not paying any tax at all?
Taxman: Not paying any tax.
I admit the latter is shocking. I can see no reason at all for not prosecuting a barrister who is not declaring tax. I believe it the government's duty to have them removed from the Bar. The evidence is clear: there is one rule for the rich and another for the poor here.
I accept this is likely to be as true now as when Plato wrote it. But it is the government's job to tackle that abuse, and it is not clear it is.
Which makes it even harder to understand why they are so aggressively closing tax offices that contain the local knowledge needed for this work and sacking staff who have the experience to do it.