As someone who, when shaving, looks at an unreformed, aggressive tax avoider on a daily basis, may I ask whether your readers also think that the lunatics have finally taken over the asylum?

Politicians now tell taxpayers and practitioners what is ‘moral’ in relation to tax avoidance.

Consider R v Preddy [1996] AC 815. The house overturned a conviction under section 15(1) of the Theft Act 1968 in a case of ‘mortgage fraud’ on the highly technical basis that the defendants had not obtained property ‘belonging to another’. Quite rightly, no question of morality was applied by the house in what was clearly an immoral transaction. The house merely considered the words of the statute.

Lord Clyde in Ayrshire Pullman Motor Services and Ritchie v IRC [1929] 14 TC 754 stated the legal position in relation to tax: ‘No man in this country is under the smallest obligation, moral or other, so to arrange his legal relations to his business or to his property as to enable the Inland Revenue to put the largest possible shovel into his stores. The Inland Revenue is not slow – and quite rightly – to take every advantage which is open to it under the taxing statutes for the purpose of depleting the taxpayer’s pocket. And the taxpayer is, in like manner, entitled to be astute to prevent, so far as he honestly can, the depletion of his means by the Inland Revenue.’

Lord Reid in Greenberg v IRC [1971] 47 TC 240 expressed similar sentiments, quite properly using the word ‘evasion’ to describe legal (or, in modern parlance, ‘avoidance’) transactions: ‘We seem to have travelled a long way from the general and salutary rule that the subject is not to be taxed except by plain words. But I must recognise that plain words are seldom adequate to anticipate and forestall the multiplicity of ingenious schemes which are constantly being devised to evade taxation. Parliament is very properly determined to prevent this kind of tax evasion…’

Those on the left seek to equate benefits cheats with tax avoiders. There is an enormous difference. The taxpayer owns property and by legal means seeks to prevent the state taking it from him. Benefit cheats seek by dishonest means to acquire the property of the state, which never belonged to them in the first place.

Michael Stannard, Verbier, Switzerland