Whose rules?

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Alex Hawkes at Accountancy Age has interviewed Helen Weir, FD of Lloyds TSB. Unlike HSBC who recently threatened to quit the UK she denied Lloyds would do that, saying:

'We are one of the largest UK taxpayers and operate within the rules set down by HM Revenue & Customs .We take our tax paying responsibility seriously, but are not in the game of disadvantaging shareholders by paying more tax than we are required to pay.'

Alex calls this:

An admirably robust point of view

Well, maybe: but I doubt it. The reality is that Mind the Tax Gap shows Lloyds do not pay tax at the rate you'd expect in the UK. And of course part of the reason is that it's quite unrealistic to say Lloyds only pays HMRC in the UK. Its true it says it operates principally in the UK but also through branches in Belgium, Dubai, Ecuador, Gibraltar, Hong Kong, Japan, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Monaco, Netherlands, Paraguay, Singapore, Spain, Switzerland, Uruguay and the USA as the 2005 accounts show. A principal subsidiary is also (surprise, surprise) in Jersey. Others in the list look like they might have been chosen for their tax 'advantages'.

That gives plenty of options for looking for the gaps between the rules that one has to apply. I think one has to be a little more circumspect when looking at FD's comments on tax paid than Alex was. I don't want them to pay more than is due: why should they? On the other hand I do think companies should pay all tax due in the place where the benefit arises, and at the right time. Lloyds has, for example, hefty unremitted overseas reserves on which no tax provision is made which suggests to me that games are being played against this definition of tax compliance. I wonder if that's really playing wholly within the rules set by HMRC, or is it taking a somewhat wider perspective?