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Mr. Andrew Tyrie (Chichester): The Government's intention to abolish boom and bust has already been surfacing. Do the Government think that the economy is in an upswing or a downswing--or has Labour abolished the business cycle?

Mr. Darling: As we have often made clear, we are putting in place measures to ensure long-term, sustainable stability--that is what the Conservative party never managed. The Tories talk about unemployment. They are remembered for the mass unemployment of the 1980s. They left us with a country in which one household in five containing people of working age had no one in work. They talk about tax rises. This is the party which doubled VAT in 1979, having said that it would not. The Tories put VAT on fuel in 1993, having promised not to.

The golden legacy was a national debt that doubled in six years to more than £400 billion, costing us £25 billion a year to service. The Conservatives left us with a borrowing requirement of some £23 billion, a figure which we have had to get down.

Today, the Conservatives are at it again. I note that the Conservative attack was unveiled, it seems exclusively, to a national newspaper--but the bogus claims are the same

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as they always were. The Tories claim that a middle-income family will be worse off. It is a spurious calculation; the structure of the family chosen is far from typical, and it has changed since its last outing. A few weeks ago, the family did not smoke; now it does.

The Conservatives complain about the increases in road fuel duty, but they introduced the fuel duty escalator at 5 per cent. When the right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) introduced it, he said:


The tax rise faced by the family in the article includes rises in tobacco duty, which we have continued to impose because we, like the previous Government, believe that we should discourage smoking as a matter of public policy. It was the Conservative party which introduced that tax increase: are Conservatives now saying that they will reduce or do away with the duty, that they want to encourage smoking, and that they want to continue to damage the environment? How are they going to pay for that removal? What is their position? If they are going to criticise those measures, let them tell us what is the alternative.

As ever, the Conservatives have been highly selective. They might have told the family about some of the other measures in our Budget: the increase in child benefit for the eldest child worth £130 a year for 5.5 million families with children; the reduction in employee national insurance contributions, worth £66 a year; and the working families tax credit and the child care tax credit. All those measures will benefit families and help to make work pay. The measures in the last Budget will mean an average increase in disposable income for many families of about £100. As usual, the Tories have not given the full picture.

Mr. Edward Davey (Kingston and Surbiton): Will the Chief Secretary give way?

Mr. David Winnick (Walsall, North): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Darling: In the spirit of cross-party co-operation, for the moment at least, I shall give way to the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (Mr. Davey) first.

Mr. Davey: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for exposing Tory hypocrisy, but why have the Labour Government abolished the series that was released for 18 years under the Tories, showing the direct and indirect personal tax burden? When will a new series be ready?

Mr. Darling: The hon. Gentleman and his colleagues have been asking a series of parliamentary questions about those figures, and we answer those questions as quickly as possible. We have no difficulty in making available to the House the position on tax and spending.

Mr. Winnick: My right hon. Friend is dismissing the Tory claims in a characteristically robust manner, but, while he is on the subject of income and rightly showing

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that families have by no means been disadvantaged over the past year, will he take this opportunity to condemn the increase in income of directors of Yorkshire Water, which might act as a signal to other companies? Is it not disgraceful that people who already receive a very substantial income have increased it by at least 30 per cent? Should not that be condemned? Why not show those greedy pigs the real way by introducing another windfall tax?

Mr. Darling: My hon. Friend makes the point that people sitting in boardrooms are in no position to lecture those on lower incomes about the need for restraint when they do not show restraint themselves. The right hon. Member for Horsham, who was kind enough to declare his interests, which he said were in the national interest, defended some of the people who have awarded themselves exceptionally high increases. My position and that of the Government is that people sitting in boardrooms must show exactly the same restraint as they expect others to show.

In the newspaper article, the Conservatives complained about two items relating to taxation that I find interesting. First, they criticised our decision to reduce the rate at which married couple's allowance is given. That is odd because, in 1993, Norman Lamont, who was then the Chancellor of the Exchequer, said that that allowance was something of anomaly and that, because of the need to raise extra revenue, the rate was to be reduced. Given the Conservatives' action throughout the 1980s to reduce the married couple's allowance, it is curious that they should now criticise such action.

The same applies to the cuts in MIRAS, about which the right hon. Member for Horsham complains. I read what he said in 1994, when he was out of Parliament, having lost his seat in 1992. He said:


presumably, not a squeak from himself. He added:


    "The sooner it happens, the better."

What is his position? Would he abolish mortgage interest relief, or was that idea suitable only when he was outside the House? He should tell us his view.

Mr. Maude: I believe in Governments doing what they say they will do. The Government said in opposition that they would not raise taxes at all--there was no if, no but, no maybe and no caveat--and they broke their word.

Mr. Darling: I shall take the right hon. Gentleman at his word. He has given a solemn pledge in saying that the sooner MIRAS is abolished, the better. Now we know that that will be the Conservative party's policy at the next election.

Mr. Derek Twigg (Halton): Will my right hon. Friend give way?

Mr. Darling: In a moment.

I wonder whether the right hon. Member for Horsham stands by something he said last week which completely

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undermines his complaint today. He told a Conservative party gathering that


    "measured in any way you like, taxes are lower in Britain."

How on earth can he complain as he has done today? He cannot have it both ways--either taxes are lower, or they are not. The right hon. Gentleman might have thought long and hard before making his remarks last week or his remarks today, because he has used two different arguments in two weeks.

Mr. Maude: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for drawing attention to the good legacy, which the Government inherited from us, of taxes that are much lower than those elsewhere in Europe, and I am delighted that the Government have not yet managed to narrow that gap as much as they no doubt plan to do. The gap is narrowing not because others are reducing their taxes, but because the Government are increasing our taxes.

Mr. Darling: We have honoured our promises on taxation. In particular, we have made sure that where we have increased taxes, we are directing help where it is needed; for example, through the working families tax credit to families on low incomes for whom we want to help to make work pay.

Dr. Palmer: Does my right hon. Friend agree that, far from narrowing, the gap between the UK rate of corporation tax, which businesses pay, and the European rate has widened since the election?

Mr. Darling: It has, and I would be less than fair to the right hon. Member for Horsham if I did not commend him for having pointed that out to his audience last week. He said that corporation tax was low, which we achieved through our reform of the corporation tax system.

We have taken other steps to help to put the economy on a stable footing. We have set out two clear fiscal rules that will provide prudent public finance and strong public services in the years ahead. We have taken action to reduce Government borrowing, and we have put in place a more credible framework for monetary policy, which has been praised by the OECD. We have the lowest long-term interest rates for more than 33 years, as the right hon. Member for Horsham knows well. He said last week that the UK's


We remember that, 10 years ago, we were being lectured by the Conservative Government and told that they wanted to surpass Germany's achievement. Yet it is under a Labour Government that the UK has the lowest long-term interest rates since before England last won the world cup.


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