Orders of the Day — Finance Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:49 pm on 30th April 2002.

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Photo of John Bercow John Bercow Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury 3:49 pm, 30th April 2002

That was an unfortunate intervention, because the reality is that the Government believed that that was the plan, but suddenly discovered that they had erred. They then grovelled to the Opposition in recognition of the fact that an extra parliamentary day would be required for this purpose. I would simply say, in all kindness to the hon. Gentleman, who is an agreeable companion outside the Palace of Westminster, that grovelling sycophancy should not be taken too far. I know that the hon. Gentleman is keen to impress those on the Treasury Bench, but if he is going to make interventions he should be clear that they are in line with the nous and information available to Ministers.

In the context of complexity, from which I know Labour Members are keen to distract attention, I refer to the verdict of John Whiting of PricewaterhouseCoopers, a distinguished and senior accountant on 25 April in the Financial Times:

"The only thing that keeps it bearable is the fact that we have seen a lot of it before. But for that, we'd be utterly floored."

The trend of ever more complex Finance Bills, and lengthier ones at that, is serious. It is compounded by the trend of ever more complex and lengthy tax law, as illustrated by the growing size of tax manuals. Tolley's standard tax manual, the bible of tax accountants, has grown by more than 30 per cent. in the past three years. As the Financial Times put it on 24 November last year:

"Tolley's manuals on VAT, income tax and corporation tax . . . have had to add a total of 855 pages to explain the gospel according to Gordon Brown. The three guides, which together have 3,414 pages, are longer than London's residential and business telephone directories. Tolley's has even had to reduce the print size to cram in more."

That is in no way a tribute to the Government. Rather, it is a searing indictment of their addiction to meddling, stealth and over-regulation. These are now the principal bugbears of individual taxpayers and British commerce alike. Clive Lewis, secretary to the Institute of Chartered Accountants enterprise group, was surely right when he said:

"Not only does the volume and complexity of regulation eat into the resources of a business, but it also absorbs time that could be spent more valuably on survival and expansion."