Clause 279 - Delivery of accounts etc

Finance Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 22nd June 2004.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

Order. I have looked closely at this clause and the next one and they seem to be

inextricably linked. If the hon. Gentleman wants to take both together, I give him total liberty to do so.

Photo of Mr Howard Flight Mr Howard Flight Shadow Chief Secretary To the Treasury, Economic Affairs, Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury

I thank you for your common-sense guidance, Mr. McWilliam, but I do not have much to say on the clauses.

Personal representatives of estates where no inheritance tax is payable, or where simplified inheritance tax accounts are late, negligent or fraudulent are the taxpayers who will be affected. From Royal Assent, with the exception of larger estates and certain other particular situations, an inheritance tax account will be required only where there is tax to pay. The other clauses deal with penalty rules.

One of the few bits of positive progress in taxation has been the probate office system for dealing with estates below the inheritance tax threshold. The much reduced arrangements have worked extremely well and have saved families the legal expense entailed by a full probate. As I understand it, these measures go further, based on the success of the simplification that has already taken place. The only problems that could arise for personal representatives are where delays occur. I am out of order, Mr. McWilliam, but I hoped that these clauses would give me the chance to present new clause 6. However, that will have to wait until Thursday.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's succinct summary of clauses 279 to 281, which create a one-stop shop and remove a further 30,000 or more estates from the accepted procedure. I look forward to debating new clause 6 and commend the clause to the Committee.

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

The problem with new clause 6 is that it does not hang on any of those three clauses, so we could not hang it on anything.

Photo of Andrew Tyrie Andrew Tyrie Shadow Paymaster General

I only want to ask one slightly mischievous question. The Paymaster General has explained with admirable clarity what the clause is all about, as has my hon. Friend the Member for Arundel and South Downs. It is important that we keep an eye on the explanatory notes. I had to read the first line of the first paragraph of the summary notes on clause 279 several times before I could work out whether it meant anything at all. I know that the Paymaster General does not have time to clear all such notes before they go through, but she should take a look at this one. I will give it a go, so that the Committee can get a feel. It says:

''This clause, together with clause 280''—

as you, Mr. McWilliam just said, they go together—

''reconstructs the enabling powers to allow the current regulations to be amended to provide for the extension of the existing simplified procedures.''

After a while, it began to dawn on me that I knew what that meant. However, it took me three or four goes. Perhaps the Paymaster General got there in one go, but she did much better—brilliantly, in fact—in the opening line of her speech. Can we have a look at the explanatory notes and keep an eye on them for mumbo-jumbo?

Photo of Mr John McWilliam Mr John McWilliam Labour, Blaydon

I advise the Committee that the only thing before it is the clause, the schedule or the amendments. The explanatory notes belong to whoever wrote them, however accurate they may be. They are not a matter for the Committee.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

None the less, I take the hon. Gentleman's point. ''Provided for the extension of existing simplified procedure'' might have been a more succinct and clearer way of putting it. I am always happy for his assistance him in making sure that any explanation of the legislation is as clear as possible. I am grateful to him for spotting that.

Photo of Mr John Burnett Mr John Burnett Shadow Minister, Home Affairs, Shadow Solicitor General, Law Officers (Constitutional Affairs)

Valuation is a subjective matter. It is an art, not a science. Particularly where there are assets such as real estate and one is on the border, there will be occasions when a genuine valuation is obtained that takes the estate below the threshold. If that valuation is, in due course, challenged and if the valuer concerned has made a genuine stab at the valuation, presumably, there will not be penalties if an estate is judged to be worth more than the value in the exemption.

Photo of Dawn Primarolo Dawn Primarolo Paymaster General (HM Treasury)

As I understand the legislation—we are ranging across all the clauses—where genuine error is demonstrated, or something unforeseen occurred in the process, the reasonable excuse provision—it is not called that but something else that escapes me for the moment—would be applied, as it is elsewhere in the Inland Revenue with regard to penalties.

The purpose of the amendments is to ensure that both unrepresented and represented taxpayers have the opportunity to use the one-stop shop and have confirmation that the return is correct. If any inquiries arose from that, they would be pinpointed and the taxpayer would be told immediately.

As the hon. Gentleman often pushes me on a number of clauses across any Finance Bill, because he has served on many, I assure him that the appeals procedure used against any penalties would, in this process, be the same as in any other. Therefore, reasonableness would be used as a measure.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 279 ordered to stand part of the Bill.