Tax avoiders tackled

A massive crackdown on tax avoidance planned by Chancellor Gordon Brown will include 200 detailed clauses in the Finance Bill.

The proposed action was detailed in the Commons during a debate on offshore trusts sparked by the Tories in an assault on Paymaster General Geoffrey Robinson.

Dudley North MP Ross Cranston said a Labour government would put tax avoidance at the top of its priorities in plans to reform the tax system.

He added: ‘A large number of specific anti-avoidance measures will be introduced. I understand that up to 200 specific changes may be made to deal with tax avoidance.’

Cranston added to expectations that Brown will go for the proposals of the Tax Law Review Committee which concluded there is a need for a general anti-avoidance provision.

He said: ‘The advantage, of course, is that it sends a message to taxpayers that they must not design their arrangements to avoid tax, which is intended to be caught by the legislation.

‘There is a head of steam behind this general anti-avoidance provision, which I support. It will ensure a more strategic approach to dealing with tax avoidance.’

And Financial Secretary Dawn Primarolo has warned in the Commons that the Budget would contain a crackdown based on a wide-ranging Inland Revenue review of tax loopholes.

But she signalled the general anti-avoidance approach may be delayed a further year.

She confirmed: ‘We are looking at the question of general anti-avoidance regulations, and draft regulations on this important issue will be published this year for consultation.’

Speculation about the scale of the crackdown has followed a series of briefings for Labour MPs interested in Treasury matters – without the release of any specific market-sensitive information.

John Whiting, Price Waterhouse’s direct tax head, said a general anti-avoidance provision was almost a certainty, but stressed the government must consult on its implementation.

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