Those people at HMRC really are very polite. I received a letter from them recently telling me my tax return was "outstanding". That was nice, particularly as I hadn't sent it back yet.
Ok, so that's a joke – and not a wildly hilarious one I admit. But then the announcement this week of Google's tax settlement was no laughing matter either. I was in the Commons to hear that Google have agreed to pay £130m to HMRC to settle back taxes from 2005 to 2015.
Entirely predictably, it descended into a party political confrontation. "Paltry!" claimed one Labour MP. "A sweetheart deal!" claimed another. Conservatives hit back, making the point that the settlement covered a period at least half of which was when Labour were in office, when not a penny piece was collected from the internet giant.
But in truth, the whole squabble was a sterile affair. That's because the details of the deal are confidential. So we have no idea what percentage the £130m actually equates to. Some suggest it reflects a rate as low as 3%. But no one really knows.
Now, I would prefer Google to waive its right to confidentiality and let the country see the basis upon which the figure was arrived at. But that's not going to happen. Google will do what's right for Google.
So instead, the onus has to be on national governments to simplify their tax codes. We need a system which makes the business of collecting dues from multinationals as transparent as possible. If the tax system is to command public support, big business has to pay its fair share and be seen to do so. And whilst this £130m is a welcome start, it shouldn't need five years of negotiations to winkle it out. There needs to be a culture change.
In other news, I met the Cycling Minister to explore funding sources for cycle schemes. On the Justice Select Committee I quizzed senior judges as part of our inquiry into court charges and access to justice.
And here in Cheltenham, I joined a representative of the Gloucestershire Suicide Prevention Group to back their efforts in the fight against suicide in our county. I also visited GlosCol for an excellent seminar with local community stakeholders, and I attended the Phoenix Centre in Winchcombe Street to discuss what more can be done to improve loo provision for people with disabilities.
Now, time to get on and file that tax return…