§ The Financial Secretary to the Treasury (Mr. Michael Jack)
It is provisionally estimated that inheritance tax will be paid on around 18,000 transfers on death and in lifetime in the current financial year.
§ Mr. Pike
As a Lancashire Member, I congratulate the Minister—another Lancashire Member—on his elevation to the Privy Council.
Does not the Government's obsession with the abolition of inheritance tax underline, in many people's minds, their obsession with helping a minority of wealthy people rather than giving a fair deal to the majority? That has been the trend ever since the Government were elected in 1979.
§ Mr. Jack
In a spirit of camaraderie, I thank the hon. Gentleman for his kind good wishes on my appointment to the Privy Council. I listened to what he had to say, but it contrasts starkly with what the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. O'Brien) said last year in the Standing Committee considering the Finance Bill. At that time, he confirmed your party's wish for more millionaires to be created, and seemed to confirm some interest in the creation of wealth; but you show your usual nasty attitude to that wealth passing down—
§ Mr. Jack
I apologise, Madam Speaker—the heat of battle must have got to me.
The hon. Gentleman suggested that his party takes a rather unfortunate attitude to wealth being passed on. Inheritance tax statistics show that only 2 per cent. of estates now pay it. Through raising the threshold and our long-term desire to remove the tax, we want to end the worry caused to those with modest estates as they pass their wealth down the generations. We want more wealth to be passed on for productive use by future generations.
§ Mr. Nicholls
Does my hon. Friend agree that 2 per cent. of estates being subject to inheritance tax is 2 per cent. too many? The trouble with inheritance tax is not that it was designed to raise revenue for items that must be financed by the state, but that it was devised as a way of punishing people for having money in the first place. It is a thoroughly un-Conservative tax and it should go at the earliest opportunity.
§ Mr. Jack
My hon. Friend puts his finger on an important point. It is worth considering the history of estate taxes, or estate duty as it was once called. Such taxes were relevant when the tax base was not as it is today. Today, we have taxes on income, earning and consumption; the time has come for us to make progress on our long-term objective of removing inheritance tax, as and when we can afford it.