TaxPersonal TaxSIMPLICITY AND STABILITY: THE POLITICS OF TAX POLICY

SIMPLICITY AND STABILITY: THE POLITICS OF TAX POLICY

There is no chance of a knock-out success against tax complexity. If the war of attrition is ever to be won, then the leaders of that conflict will have to mobilise enduring support for simplification, on a scale that will consistently outweigh the huge range of lobbies which stand in the way of effective action.

Hence the need to establish and institutionalise a process, whose continuing insistence on simplicity and stability is as irremovable, as constantly present, as the voice of the tax-raising departments – and as the politically restless, impatient, input of successive Chancellors.

Which leads me to one crucial conclusion. The Provisional Collection of Taxes Act, 1968, (PCTA) must no longer guarantee the Revenue Departments (and successive Chancellors) unlimited annual access to the statute book – effectively the right to as much new tax law as they want.

The second imperative is to ensure that the neglected constituency who yearn for stability and simplicity are effectively represented at every level, every stage, of the tax-making system.

This could be achieved through the establishment of a Tax Structure Review Programme, modelled on, and running alongside, the Tax Law Rewrite Project, with a remit to tackle direct and indirect taxation. Its ultimate objective must be to develop a strategy for tax simplification that becomes incorporated into the process of generating tax policy itself.

The membership of this body would comprise a dedicated working group from professional, business and academic bodies, steered possibly by a parliamentary Select Committee.

The Programme would put forward proposals for tax law reform and simplification. Instead of coming before Parliament as part of the routine, annual, block-buster Finance Bill, proposals for policy change would be brought forward separately.

The PCTA could still be used for the tax-raising provisions, which is after all the purpose for which it was originally designed.

I believe that such a structure and process could and would become the natural setting for the consultative processes that must be absolutely central to the making of tax policy as well as of tax law.

The Rt. Hon. The Lord Howe of Aberavon, CH, QC currently chairs the Steering Committee of the Tax Law Rewrite Committee. He gave the ICAEW Tax Faculty?s Annual Memorial Lecture on Thursday 9 November.

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