Budget Special: Legislation to be put into plain English

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Kenneth Clarke yesterday vowed to translate 6,000 pages of Inland Revenue tax legislation into plain English, by formally launching a new steering committee, chaired by Lord Howe, to oversee the massive project.

The news will be welcomed by both business and individual taxpayers, who have long complained about the nearly impenetrable language in which the main provisions of UK tax law are drafted.

The promise to simplify the relevant parts of the tax code, first made in the Budget Speech of 1995, came in recognition of the complexity of the current legislation, and was consistent with Mr Major's vow to make government more accountable to citizens, Treasury sources said yesterday. It was part of a general effort to simplify the tax code, remove loopholes and reduce unnecessary bureaucratic red tape.

Mr Clarke conceded that the rewriting project was "as ambitious as translating the whole War and Peace into lucid Swahili".

He added: "In fact, it is more ambitious - War and Peace is only 1,500 pages long, Inland Revenue tax law is 6,000 pages. And it was not written by a Tolstoy."

The aim, the Chancellor said, was to prepare a series of "rewrite Bills", with the first of them ready for enactment in the 1997/98 session of Parliament. However, Treasury sources stressed that it would take considerable time to complete the project.

Mr Clarke said there had been wide consensus on both sides of the House about the need for clearer language in tax legislation, and that the Inland Revenue would publish its plans on meeting the objectives in coming weeks.

Lord Howe, who produced a report on how Parliament might complete the task, following extensive consultations, has agreed to chair the steering committee.

Mr Clarke said that the Government endorsed Lord Howe's key recommendations, and called on the Procedure Committee to "consider how the House is going to handle the bills in a sensible fashion".

Mr Clarke said the rewrite project would "bring the benefits of clarity and certainty to businesses and ordinary taxpayers".