I’ve just watched Sky news reporting on the Treasury’s "evidence" about when it first started planning to raise the inheritance tax threshold for married couples. The reform was announced by Darling in his Pre-Budget report days after Osborne announced plans in Blackpool to raise the threshold to £1million.
In the Queen’s Speech debate on Tuesday,
Cameron asked Brown to look him in the eye and tell him that he was
planning to reform inheritance tax before the Conservative Party
conference. After chatting to Darling during the question, Brown said:
"unequivocally yes… all the records will show it, under whatever rules they are released".
The Treasury response to the FOI request for said records has been released this evening. It says that the proposal was considered as early as January 9th. Kay Burley asked Jon Craig if this meant Brown had won, he said it was too early to say. Sky’s online story (last update 17.07) is also very unquestioning of the Treasury’s line, starting with:
"The Government did plan to reform inheritance tax before the Tories said they would raise the threshold to £1m at their party conference in October."
It’s not too early to say. The FOI response provides no solid evidence at all that Darling was considering the same reform as the one he announced.
The Treasury refers to advice on the issue in a January 9th briefing entitled "Workstream H: Measure 1220 – Inheritance tax transferable nil-rate bands”, says that Darling first confirmed that the measure was under
discussion on August 20th (a few days after Osborne indicated some support for the idea of cutting IHT in responding to the Redwood-Wolfson report), and states that on September 5th he asked for "final proposals" to be drawn up (a few weeks before Blackpool).
It refuses to release the actual briefings on the grounds that
the "iterative process that requires officials to propose, test and
refine through the life cycle of the policy’s development" would be
weakened in future if their candid considerations could be made public.
That’s fair enough, but you can’t say that as well as declaring this to be evidence that they weren’t shamelessly mimicking the Conservatives for political reasons. The discussions could have concluded that IHT bands shouldn’t be transferable between couples, for all we know from this. Brown’s spokesman said today:
"This makes clear there was a series of interactions between Treasury officials and Treasury ministers over a period of time."
Well, yes! And also:
"I think it’s pretty clear from this document that the
Treasury had been planning to reform Inheritance Tax along the lines of
the announcement in the pre-Budget report as long ago as January this
Well, no. You’ve told us that they had been looking at the IHT reform
but haven’t proved it. I’m sure you have internal briefings on all sorts of reforms, such as flattening income tax and raising income tax. Perhaps I’m being too cynical but if I am then Brown should take some blame for the way he has spun Treasury
announcements in the last ten years.
At least Labour has set themselves a nice precedent now… FOI requests on whether various tax rises have been under consideration, anyone?
8.20pm update: Thanks to Oscar Miller and Oberon Houston for highlighting claims reported by Channel 4 from "a senior Whitehall official" that the Conservatives have a mole in the Treasury who tipped them off about planned reforms to IHT and Corporation Tax!