Tax experts criticise lengthy finance bill: Retrospective changes break law taboo

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THE Finance Bill published yesterday is the longest ever, and leading tax experts say that the excess of detail makes measures designed to encourage business self-defeating.

The Bill runs to 417 pages, nearly half as long again as the last one, itself twice as long as the previous year's. 'There is far too much legislation, and not enough time to consider it properly,' said Maurice Parry- Wingfield, tax partner at accountancy firm Touche Ross.

The Government faces extra hurdles during the passage of the Bill after Labour pledged to continue its campaign of non-co-operation with business managers.

Harriet Harman, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said agreements over time-tabling would not be negotiated through the normal channels because of the Government's 'scandalous' insistence on pushing through last month's National Insurance increase in one day.

In addition to the widely criticised complexity of many of the measures, which include 12 separate tax increases, the Bill introduces two retrospective changes, thus breaking one of the taboos of tax law.

One is the restriction of indexation allowances for losses that can offset capital gains tax, effective from Budget day, 30 November 1993. Some companies will have accounted for capital losses which are now unavailable.

The second is the introduction of a two-year limit, also applying from Budget day, on the notification of claims for capital allowances.

The Bill proposes additional restrictions on capital allowances, by supplying precise definitions of which buildings and structures qualify. Companies such as retailers and restaurants had extended the definition to include, for example, electrical fittings in stores or attractive decor, through successful legal challenges to the Inland Revenue.

'Certain groups were known to be putting together wider definitions, and the Inland Revenue has acted pre- emptively,' according to Chris Adams of Arthur Andersen. The new list of qualifying structures has been shaped by those bold enough to have already challenged the taxman.

The one area where the Bill makes life simpler for businesses is the tax treatment of financial instruments such as swaps and options. New rules remove uncertainty about what is and is not taxable, and will open up the possibility of using derivatives to a much wider range of companies.