There was an interesting debate on tax avoidance on Radio 4 on Wednesday night.
It was the first of a new series of ‘Decision Time’, a show in which the BBC’s Political Editor Nick Robinson “goes behind the closed doors of Westminster and Whitehall to ask how controversial decisions are reached”.
For this first programme he was joined by Green MP Caroline Lucas (who has a private member's bill on tax avoidance), Lord Digby Jones (former Trade Minister and former head of the CBI), Sir Nicholas Montague (the last head of the Inland Revenue), Michael Jacobs (former special adviser in both the Treasury and Number 10), and Fraser Nelson (Editor of the Spectator).
Digby Jones talked about how the CBI goes about persuading ministers and civil servants of their case. Nicholas Montague discussed the role of civil servants in advising ministers, shedding light on the different sorts of report commissioned by ministers – some designed to come up with a particular solution, and some simply window-dressing.
However the debate ranged wider than simply the mechanics of government, with Digby Jones launching a spirited defence of the role of business in creating jobs, and examination of the distinction between evasion and avoidance.
The panel considered why a proposal for a general anti-avoidance rule (GAAR) fell when looked at in the first term of the Blair-Brown government. Commenting on tax complexity Nicholas Montague observed that, “every loophole blocked is another barnacle on the hulk of tax law”.
If you missed the programme you can catch it until the evening of Wednesday 15 June on BBC iplayer.
CIOT External Relations Manager
Friday 10 June 2011