A Labour plan to scrap jury trials for complex fraud cases has emerged as a key pledge in the party’s election manifesto.
The promise to ‘overhaul laws on fraud and the way that fraud trials are conducted to update them for the 21st century and make them quicker and more effective’ follows the collapse of the marathon Jubilee Line case.
It will mean confrontation with the Lords – unless the Upper Chamber’s reform, also promised by prime minister Tony Blair, gets priority.
Peers blocked earlier attempts at criminal law reform involving the abolition of the right to trial by jury in certain cases.
There will also be tougher action to recover the proceeds of crime, with local police forces allowed to keep half of the criminal assets they seize towards crimefighting costs.
The manifesto promised that ‘we will not raise the basic or top rates of income tax’ and continue the pledge not to extend VAT to food, children’s clothes, books, newspapers and public transport fares.
It also declared: ‘We want a tax regime that supports British business’. It pointed to the earlier reduction of corporation tax to ‘its lowest ever level’.
But Blair and chancellor Gordon Brown steadfastly refused to rule out other increases, particularly in National Insurance Contributions.
And there was business concern that Labour has not ruled out the return of control over the level of business rates to local authorities.
Meanwhile, there was chaos over the Lib Dems’ tax plans. Leader Charles Kennedy demonstrated ignorance at his manifesto launch of the interaction between their proposal to introduce a new top rate of 50% on earnings over £100,000, to raise nearly £5bn in revenue, and their concurrent proposal to replace the community charge with local income tax.
It emerged that those on the highest earnings would be excused the payment of local taxation, since the top rate on all income taxes would be pegged at 50%.
Kennedy did not seem to have a complete grasp on the policy or know the income level dividing gainers from losers, suggesting at one point that a double income couple on £20,000 a year each would pay more.
The party later issued a statement claiming such a couple in a band D house would pay £21 less. But Lib Dem chairman Matthew Taylor said it was not possible to specify the dividing line because it depended on circumstances, including the nature of the household and the local authority, but it would be between £38,000 and £40,000.
Deputy prime minister John Prescott later accused the Lib Dems of hiding the true cost of their plans and Conservative co-chairman Liam Fox said Lib Dem policies were ‘a shambles’.
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