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Intriguing...

Nick Robinson | 16:05 UK time, Thursday, 8 November 2007

This is the key extract of the Treasury's answer to the Daily Telegraph's FOI request. You can read the full detail on the Treasury website:

"We have records of officials considering the proposal on 9th January 2007. Advice on this measure entitled "Workstream H: Measure 1220 - Inheritance tax transferable nil-rate bands" was sent to Treasury Ministers as pre-Budget advice on 6th March 2007...

Following his appointment, the (current) chancellor received the above paper on 27th July 2007. The chancellor confirmed that this measure was under discussion for the pre-Budget report on 20th August 2007. Advice on "Inheritance tax (IHT): transferable allowances" was received by the chancellor on 3rd September 2007. The chancellor responded to this advice on 5th September 2007 asking officials to work up final proposals. Subsequent detailed costings followed before the pre-Budget report set out all details on inheritance tax reforms on 9th October 2007."

This confirms that the government can prove that it worked up proposals on IHT long before the Tory conference but has produced no proof that the chancellor made the decision to go ahead with those proposals before George Osborne's speech.

Intriguingly, this answer shows that he only took an interest in IHT one day after the Mail on Sunday carried the headline "Tories to scrap death duties" ie on 20th August.

What's more, today's answer does NOT give us any detail of what happened in the crucial month before the PBR when all the key decisions would have been taken eg were the detailed costings ordered before or after the Tory conference?

Revealingly when I asked one of those keenest to spike the Tories' guns when Darling made his decision the answer was "we'll never know".

I stand by my original verdict.

Comments

  • 1.
  • At 06:06 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • jim brant wrote:

I can't for the life of me see what the fuss has been about. The government's proposal bears no relationship to what Osborne announced, except that they are both to do with Inheritance Tax. There have been frequent adjustments to this tax since 1997 (I seem to recall six changes being mentioned somewhere), and this (for the government) was just one more. For Osborne it was a chance to spend money he doesn't have on the already rich; for Darling it was about bringing the rules into line with what was already fairly common practice in relation to couples, and continuing the process of uprating the threshold to keep pace with house prices. At least the charge of plagiarism, nonsensical to start with, is now finally disposed of.

  • 2.
  • At 06:26 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Mark P wrote:

What a surprise? Selected Labour briefings but not the whole story. Gordon Brown would not ever have agreed to tax breaks for the middle/upper classes. He has been totally committed to re-distribution for the last 10 years - who cares what Darling thinks!

"Revealingly when I asked one of those keenest to spike the Tories' guns when Darling made his decision the answer was "we'll never know""

From that answer, I think that we do now.

Doesn't this sum up the worst of party politics in this and the worst of how the media reports it.

Other than those caught in the blinkered Westminster bubble - who cares!!!!

People want to know the detail and how it affects them rather than this bigged up playground scrap. If they want unconvincing, badly scripted, woodenly acted, self perpetuating, drab drama they can watch one of the lesser soaps. Why can't the politicians and media editors grasp this?
This nonsense just stops the decent MPs, caught up in the melle, from getting on with the job.

  • 5.
  • At 09:46 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Charles E Hardwidge wrote:

If standing by your original verdict is a sign of the new evidence led, campaigning, and relevant BBC journalism, I'm missing something. Alistair Darling's brush off and the Conservatives howling isn't unexpected, and the Liberal Democrat implosion continues. Business as usual?

To be fair, I think, there's some light and shadow in all of this. I'd like to see some sense brought to taxation but the Conservatives attempt to "cut through" was opportunistic. The Liberals remain on Fantasy Island and some of the public can be a little greedy.

Looking forward, what's the government's tax ethos?

  • 6.
  • At 09:48 PM on 08 Nov 2007,
  • Oscar Miller wrote:

The Conservative proposal for abolition of IHT was part of John Redwood's report published in the summer. According to a BBC report dated 17 August [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/6949753.stm ]
Darling denounced the proposal saying it would mark "a lurch to the right" if the Tories adopted it. My advice to the Treasury - when you're in a hole - stop digging.

  • 7.
  • At 12:37 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • John Baxendale wrote:

If you step back a little, Nick, and see the whole picture instead of the minute by minute details, it's quite clear what happened: everybody was thinking of it, but the Tories got in first. If they hadn't got in first, Darling & Brown would have held it in reserve for an auspicious moment. Not a big deal really, just politics. Although maybe your preoccupation with the politics gets in the way of us asking whether or not the move against inheritance tax was a good thing -which maybe it wasn't, but who's asking that?

I was interested to see your This Week spot tonight about the Queen's Speech debate. And I noted that while all the Cameron soundbites you used were familiar from the news, this was the first time Brown's better, more aggressive responses had been shown. Do you think maybe the Beeb is a bit tied up with a 'Cameron hammers Brown' news agenda? I'm only asking, because all I remember the news broadcasts showing of Brown was him protesting weakly, or slumping back on the bench looking defeated, while tonight you managed to produce rather a different and more positive picture.

  • 8.
  • At 07:37 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Garton K wrote:

Nick, the orginal verdict may still be Yes and and No. However, the Yes makes the persistent charge, that a policy was stolen, very unfair, particularly on Brown's personality. First, the policies are not exactly the same. Second, though, intriguingly, Darling may have taken "an interest in IHT" a day after the Mail on Sunday article, this was before IHT caused a shift in opinion polls. Third, Cameron's show of anger and zeal, to embarrass Brown, has so far been very self-centred.

  • 9.
  • At 08:47 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Marcus Cotswell wrote:

The HMT account of events is entirely consistent with them preparing briefing to *attack* Tory proposals to reduce/raise the threshold for IHT.

Costings of alternative policies that might be proposed by the Opposition is something governing parties do all the time, and is one of the great advantages of having the Civil Service machine behind you (rather than a few very clever but underpaid and overworked researchers, which is what the Opposition parties mostly have to rely on).

  • 10.
  • At 08:54 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Romanus Renatus wrote:

This whole argument really sums up modern British politics. It's the equivalent of playgound name calling and 'my Dad's bigger than your Dad'. It's pathetic. It is truly pathetic.

  • 11.
  • At 09:23 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Martin Mackay wrote:

Who cares? Are the Media now just as out of touch as the politicians they report on?

It feels like it!

  • 12.
  • At 09:29 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • David wrote:

I seem to recall Alistair Darling slapping Stephen Byers down in May when he mentioned IHT. Not really the action of someone gearing up to introduce a change.

  • 13.
  • At 09:45 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • D T Heales wrote:

Nick, what do you mean by "fix" inheritance tax (in the link to your blog from the main page)? Was it not already fixed (in the sense of not being variable)? Are you implying that it was broken? If so, in what way?

It could be argued that the government's plans 'fixed' a loophole that allowed for married couples with better legal advice to make use of a £600,000 allowance but that seems to be an over laden value judgment. I cannot, though, see any way in which the Tory proposals amount to a "fix", save for in the sense of spinning a populist proposal that will, in effect, only benefit the very richest in our society.

  • 14.
  • At 11:07 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • david f wrote:

Theres enough here to satisfy any reasonable observer that the media were too quick to jump on the Tory bandwagon. Look us in the eyes Nick and show a bit of humility.

  • 15.
  • At 11:32 AM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

This is what happened when Byers spoke out before Darling became Chancellor. It does not seem that Brown or Darling were planning any change at all judging by the vitriol:

"Mr Byers's decision to break the convention in spectacular fashion triggered an angry response from the Treasury.

Mr Brown sent Trade Secretary Alistair Darling, touted as a future Chancellor in a Brown government, onto the airwaves to denounce the proposal.

Mr Darling said only six per cent of estates were affected by inheritance tax, adding: 'It may make for a headline, but I don't think it makes for a prudent tax and spend policy.'

He said the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats had considered scrapping inheritance tax, but backed away from the idea.

But Mr Byers, who resigned as Transport Secretary in 2002 following a series of controversies at his department, insisted: 'Inheritance tax should be abolished.'

The North Tyneside MP said a tax that had been introduced for only the 'landed gentry' now threatened hundreds of thousands of middle-class voters who could prove critical in deciding whether Labour wins a fourth term in power.

As a result of house price inflation, one and half million homes were now valued in excess of the £285,000 threshold for inheritance tax liability.

'There is no doubt that without a change in policy this will increase further by the time of the next election,' he said. 'The landed gentry and superrich can organise their affairs so that quite legally they can avoid liability. This is not an option if your only asset of any real worth is the family home.

'Inheritance tax was never intended to hit these people, but nowadays it is. People who were never higher rate taxpayers in life are now become liable to pay 40 per cent inheritance tax on death.'

Mr Byers rammed the message home by publishing an analysis of how voters were becoming liable for inheritance tax in key marginal constituencies - potentially threatening Labour's Commons majority....."

As reported by the Daily Mail

  • 16.
  • At 01:11 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Megan wrote:

If politicians of any party had the best interests of the nation at heart, they would be delighted if something they proposed was adopted whether or not they were in power at the time or got credit for it. But they all seem more interested in themselves, so bicker over who said what rather than consider whether or not it is a good idea!

  • 17.
  • At 02:22 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Clive wrote:

Calm down dears, it's only a policy. Instead of this unseemly tiff over who first thought of scrapping Inheritance Tax, just take a deep breath and let us solve it for you.

It wasn't either of you. It was us.

Yes, we admit it. As long ago as October of last year when David Miliband was still in short trousers, we came up with the idea to take millions of people out of the inheritance tax trap.

We released it as part of our flat tax policy and we sent it to lots of nice journalists who could tell the nice people all about it.

It was such a good idea, that the big boys pinched it.

While we know that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and we are flattered, it's a little undignified to squabble over who stole it first.

If you need any more ideas, please don't hesitate to contact UKIP, available in any decent policy store.

  • 18.
  • At 02:29 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • jim brant wrote:

"It does not seem that Brown or Darling were planning any change at all judging by the vitriol:", said Richard.

But it indicates nothing of the sort. What was being resisted was the abolition of IT - but what the government has done is just keep the level at which it cuts in at about the same level relative to house prices. Even the Tory proposal doesn't abolish IT, though it might well be the first step towards it. Of course, since the money Osborne proposed to use for his change doesn't actually exist it is unclear what its status now is.

  • 19.
  • At 02:37 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Mark wrote:

Nick, this is trivial. I admire you blog and your reporting, but this is a footnote to a footnote of history and unworthy of you.

  • 20.
  • At 03:51 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Paul Johnson wrote:

I can't help but feel the Brown government is in the same hole as the Blair government was, namely, no matter what evidence they produce, I'm so used to them spinning things that I don't believe them.

In my opinion, if the Tories had not mentioned a change to IHT at their conference, Darling would have changed nothing.

Nick,

The question is were the changes in IHT in drafts of the PBR before the Tory Conference? Yes or no?

All this smells of distraction.

  • 22.
  • At 04:26 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Stephen Cook wrote:

Not strictly part of this debate. But what disappoints me is the completely populist approach to policy making adopted by both parties. The public don't like inheritance tax, so they offer to get rid of it. There's no attempt at all to justify retaining it. Nobody likes paying tax, but it is the only way to get the services we want, and inheritance tax is one of the more socially progressive taxes. It serves the useful purpose of preventing the country's wealth being concentrated in fewer and fewer hands. Added to that, you pay it when you're dead and what's so wrong with expecting every generation to make its own way in the world? Personally, I'd change it from a tax on the estate to straight capital gains tax on the inheritors. But, if the government or the Conservatives want to reform a tax, why don't they pick one that is genuinely flawed, like the council tax.

  • 23.
  • At 05:40 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Andy W wrote:

Trouble is Nulab didn't listen correctly.
I will still not be able to leave my estate to my son without his paying IHT on amounts above £300,000 or whatever it changes to.
The idea was that no-one receiving less than £1m should pay IHT
I've worked hard for my money and have paid tax on it once.

  • 24.
  • At 09:02 PM on 09 Nov 2007,
  • Bill wrote:

I don't care whose idea it was as long as it was fixed. If it was New Labour's then why has it taken 10 years to do so. They have been happy to rake in money from 'hard-working' families all that time. A tax that was originally intended for the super-rich. But then, what else would you expect from this so-called Labour government?

  • 25.
  • At 07:50 AM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • BGarvie wrote:

Typical of this labour government to try and recover the situation when they have been found out as shallow poachers.The trouble is, as poachers, they have been caught out.

In government any number of subjects may be discussed; it is another matter to form policy and include in a manifesto. The Tories did just that on IHT.

Labour cannot claim the same.
They can't even honour a manifesto promise on a referendum. What a shower.

  • 26.
  • At 10:45 AM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • Sally C wrote:

This summer when Mr Osborne said a he was planning to ease the burden of IHT, the Chancellor, Mr Darlig accused him of "lurching to the right".

Presumably, if Mr Daling was telling the truth back then, changes reducing the impact of IHT were considered in July and dismissed.

I am unhappy with anything that is "open to interpretation"/ paraphrased/selective when released by this Govt.
After Iraq, only a fool would not.
Fool me once shame on you, fool me twice....three times etc...

  • 27.
  • At 09:47 PM on 10 Nov 2007,
  • Guy Fox wrote:

If the Inheritance Tax or any other $ocial issue needs to be fixed, what does it matter whose idea it was to fix it? Be you a Tory or you side with Labour, the primary goal should be to preserve and improve the health of the commonwealth.

  • 28.
  • At 12:16 PM on 11 Nov 2007,
  • Quietzapple wrote:

Richard (Post 15) fails to mention that of those whose homes are valued so highly, many have not paid their mortgages off, many more have used at least some of the equity in them as income, reducing the value of their estates, some will have made arrangements to give part of the equity to relatives and that prices can fall as well as rise.

Attributing his biased statement in part to the calculatedly mendacious "campaigning Daily Mail" is no excuse for his misleading statement.

Quite why Mr Byers' views are suddenly de rigeur is plain, but it doesn't make him right.

HMG seems to have met the reasonable element of this complaint by allowing aggregation of the individual allowances of couples to be aggregated without the expensive trip to a solicitor's office to set up such an arragement.

And to have gone further by allowing such a deal retrospectively in the case of widows and widowers.

Can anyone remember whether this was the tenth or eleventh change in the "inheritance Tax" arrangements brought in by HMG since 1997?

  • 29.
  • At 05:12 PM on 11 Nov 2007,
  • Jonathan wrote:

All the briefing papers have shown is that the Treasury was considering these proposals on the dates given. Someone now needs to ask under FOI whether there were papers considering 50% top rate tax too. Considering a proposal is not the same as supporting it or agreeing to it and you can consider something in order to reject it firmly. Too Machiavellian? Why has the Treasury refused to release the discussion documents themselves and not just the titles? This is not irrelevant as several posters have stated above. It goes to the heart of whether we can ever trust anything this government says or whether its default position is to lie and fake it.

The media are to blame for this.
They have created an environment of petty image politics and are forever reporting on what they think it means rather then what is going on.
Politics has become like a trashy light entertainment show and that is why we have David Cameron.
It is also why we lost the Liberal leader. In a few years we will have politicians like we have celebrities now.
Stick to the facts BBC and don't allow personality to dictate anymore what the public hears about. Politics is not a fashion show it is serious and effects our lives.

I'm not really bothered if Labour were contemplating the idea of lowering taxes, as the Conservatives stole the public's imagination with their proposals during conference season.

Labour have spent years raising taxes, and here they are getting upset that someone cut a tax before they did. Boo hoo.

http://lettersfromatory.wordpress.com

  • 32.
  • At 04:20 PM on 13 Nov 2007,
  • Richard wrote:

Sorry Jim you complain too much (message #18). I simply cut and pasted who said what as a result of Byers intervention.

Nobody said they were planning to abolish it. The £1m cap would take all but the very richest out of IHT

Would Labour have done anything at all without the Tory pressure? All Gordy & co ended up doing was to simplify what everybody (if you are married or in a civil partnership) could already legally do.

We could even describe it as spin but you won't like that either...

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