Your average MP – or at least those of a leftish tendency – labour under the belief that accountants revel in a complex tax system since it brings increasing numbers of perplexed clients into their fold.
These selfsame MPs visualise accountants rubbing their hands with glee as each new Budget produces elaborate new taxes or ‘refinements’ of existing taxes which, frankly, are double Dutch to the layman.
There were brief exchanges on this issue in the House of Lords earlier this month, during which Baroness Noakes complained nowhere in government publications could she find any mention of achieving simplicity, understandability or clarity in the tax system.
The situation was not made any easier, she observed, by the fact that the last Finance Act was more than 600 pages.
But in reply to this and other questions, the Treasury minister, Lord McIntosh of Haringey, was unable to offer much more than sympathy.
And the intervention of Lord Barnett – who as Joel Barnett was a Treasury minister in previous Labour governments – offered less hope. He said any tax system was bound to be complex.
So the plea by the English ICA for simplifications of a system which they describe as ‘unclear and irrational’ seems likely to fall on deaf ears.
One former Treasury minister told me that a proper simplification of the tax system would involve virtually a complete overhaul and a return to the drawing board – an operation which, by comparison, would make Hercules” tasks seem like child’s play.
The outlook, therefore, is bleak. It is not that chancellors want to make taxation complex. It is that they are prisoners in a system which is virtually impossible to unravel, however much MPs and industry want it simplified.
But those jealous MPs who believe that accountants revel in the present system would be even more dismayed if the day dawns, which William Hague dreads so much, that Brussels takes over our taxation.
Because the Eurocrats are notorious for requiring 1,000 words where, for most people, a single word would suffice.
Fears for us all.
– Chris Moncrieff is a senior political analyst at PA News.
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