Saturday, August 20, 2005

Flat tax fallout

The implications of the censorship acted upon the Treasury analysis of flat taxes continues to bounce around the UK blogosphere. Samizdata has a post here, and there is a very interesting post here by Martin Stabe.

Stabe's seems to have a deeper understanding of the nitty gritty of the FOI legislation than your average blogger. This was particularly interesting:
Treasury officials insisted last night that the Government has no plans to introduce flat taxes.

They said Treasury lawyers decided to black out sections of the report to ensure that officials were not prejudiced in the provision of ‘free and frank advice’ to ministers by the prospect of ‘unchecked disclosure’.

Stabe explains that the disclosure exemption on which the lawyers seek to rely is contained in section 36 of the Act. He points out however that ministerial authorisation is required for a S36 exemption certificate to be issued, so the government's denials of involvement in the censorship are demonstrably false.

What struck me about the claims made by the Treasury is that they will have to construct a fairly convoluted argument to explain why only those parts of the advice which weighed against flat taxes were deemed to be prejudicial to the provision of free and frank advice, while those which were in favour were not. Particularly as flat tax is not the stated policy of any of the main parties.

With a bit of luck this should run for a while longer.

This from the Telegraph Letters Page

Sir - You are wrong to suggest that information released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Treasury relating to flat tax proposals was edited by the Chancellor.

The decision to excise arguments both for and against a flat tax was taken by Treasury officials on the advice of government lawyers to comply fully with the statutory obligations of the Freedom of Information Act, as laid down by Parliament.

The Chancellor had never seen any version of the released documents and no minister had any involvement in the decisions regarding their release. To suggest otherwise is completely false.

Nicholas Macpherson, Permanent Secretary, HM Treasury, London SW1

This of course does nothing to negate Martin Stabe's point about Section 36 exemptions. The claim that arguments both for and against were excised needs a good fact checking too.