[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Tuesday, 9 October 2007, 21:08 GMT 22:08 UK
Inheritance taxes cut for couples
Alistair Darling
Mr Darling delivers his first pre-Budget as Gordon Brown watches on

Chancellor Alistair Darling has doubled the inheritance tax threshold for married couples to 600,000.

He also targeted private equity bosses and "non-domiciles" in his pre-Budget report - and pledged to switch green air taxes to flights, not passengers.

But he was accused by the Tories - who unveiled policies in all these areas last week - of being in a "panic" after their recent opinion poll surge.

Mr Darling also downgraded the UK's growth forecast for 2008 by 0.5%.

At the moment, inheritance tax is charged at 40% on assets worth more than 300,000 that someone leaves behind when they die, unless it is left to a spouse.

READ THE REPORT

Most computers will open this document automatically, but you may need Adobe Reader

When the spouse dies the same 300,000 rate applies.

Mr Darling has simply made the individual inheritance tax threshold transferable - allowing couples to combine their allowances and so escape tax on the first 600,000 of an estate. The measure will be backdated "indefinitely" - and it will increase to 700,000 by 2010.

'Non doms'

Analysts say many couples already arrange their tax affairs so that their allowances are combined, meaning the changes may have little effect in practice.

The Conservatives promised at their annual conference last week to exempt estates under 1m from inheritance tax.

They had also outlined plans to raise 3.5bn to pay for the cut with a 25,000 flat rate charge on "non domiciled" wealthy foreigners.

Mr Darling dismissed that idea, saying it would raise 650m before, to Tory jeers, saying he would bring forward his own measures which could see "non doms" paying a charge after seven years.

Mr Darling said his inheritance tax proposals would mean that 97% of estates would be exempt while leaving the government with 2bn more to invest in schools and hospitals.

'Panic'

But the Conservatives accused Mr Darling of producing a "pre-election budget without an election" - after Gordon Brown's weekend decision not to go to the country this autumn.

KEY POINTS
Growth forecast cut by 0.5%
Tax receipts down by 1.8bn, public sector net borrowing up by 4.3bn
Inheritance tax threshold raised to 600,000 for married people or those in civil partnerships
Crackdown pledged on "non-domicile" tax payers
10% tax rate on private equity capital gains abolished so private equity bosses pay more
Green taxes on flights not passengers from 2009

Shadow chancellor George Osborne said Mr Brown had had 10 years to address issues like inheritance tax.

"Now a week after we put forward our plans the prime minister and the chancellor are scrabbling around in a panic trying to think of something to say," he told MPs.

And he accused the prime minister of having to wait for the Conservatives to tell him what his vision for the country was.

Credit crunch

In other pre-Budget measures, Mr Darling announced a crackdown on private equity bosses, saying from next April the government would withdraw the capital gains tax taper relief, which can be as low as 10%, and put in its place a single rate of 18%.

"I believe it's right that everyone who lives and works here should pay their fair share," said Mr Darling.

The chancellor also announced a 2.6bn increas in central government grants to English local authorities over the next three years, which he said would be enough to keep council tax rises "substantially" below 5%.

On the wider economy, Mr Darling said the background to his first pre-Budget report was one of "increased international economic uncertainty and a more fragile global environment".

HAVE YOUR SAY
Quite clearly the government are rattled. They have run out of ideas, and copying the Conservatives
Chubby, Edinburgh

He said the fall-out from the global credit crunch meant UK economic growth in 2008 would be 0.5% lower than previously predicted - but that it would bounce back to its expected rate of 2.5%-3% in 2009 and 2010.

He also had to increase public sector borrowing forecasts - expected to come in at 38bn this year, not 34bn.

The government's longer-term plans were set out in the Comprehensive Spending Review, which he said "will be tighter for many departments".

Among departmental budget announcements he said there would be an extra 400m for the armed forces, including cash for improved accommodation.

A new single budget would also bring together the work of the police, the security services and all parts of the government responsible for addressing the threat from terrorism.

Health spending

It will rise every year over the next three years to 3.5bn a year, representing a trebling in cash terms in a single decade, he said, including 700m over the next three years for Home Office anti-terrorism work.

On health, he announced a 4% a year rise for the NHS for three years - from 90bn this year to 110bn in 2010.

But Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vincent Cable said this fell well short of the increase recommended by Sir Derek Wanless in his 2002 review.

He asked Mr Darling: "Will he confirm that when the Wanless report appeared, Wanless argued that 4.4% growth was the absolute minimum required to sustain improvements in patient care?

"And that was on the assumption that the maximum degree of health service reform was achieved, which it clearly has not."

VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
Chancellor outlines tax plans



RELATED INTERNET LINKS
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites



FEATURES, VIEWS, ANALYSIS
Has China's housing bubble burst?
How the world's oldest clove tree defied an empire
Why Royal Ballet principal Sergei Polunin quit

PRODUCTS & SERVICES

Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific