Commons committee splits over Budget

Four government backbenchers did not make it to the Treasury select committeemeeting which finalised the wording, and another had to leave part way through.

Only chairman John McFall, who could not vote, and Labour’s Jim Cousins lasted the whole session.

Three Tories, led by ex-minister Michael Fallon, David Ruffley and Liberal Democrat David Laws, used the opportunity to drive through a raft of strongly worded criticisms of the ‘Black Hole’ in Brown’s revenue and spending predictions for 2007/8, his ‘sophistry’ over whether the across the board rise of a penny on the pound on national insurance contributions represented a breach of the NIC income ceiling and his attempts to disguise the effect of this on businesses.

But after the document was published, the committee officials – apparentlyunder pressure from the Labour majority – stopped its distribution claimingit was innacurate. After an hour’s haggling the report was re-releasedwith a minor correction with the word ‘not’ included in a statement that theTreasury ‘did anticipate these changes affecting the status of the City as amajor centre for international financial transactions’.

One Tory source said: ‘This is typical Gordon Brown and New Labour. If theyare criticised they try to suppress it.’

Newcastle Central Labour MP Jim Cousins said: ‘This report did not representthe views of the committee. It was political opportunism and it was unwise.’

David Ruffley, a former corporate lawyer, said: ‘There are major holes inGordon Brown’s figure. He should receive the Robert Maxwell prize forcorporate accounting.’

David Laws said: ‘This cross party report makes hard hitting criticisms of manyaspects of Gordon Brown’s Budget.

‘It casts doubt on the Chancellor’s increased growth forecast, andcriticises the increasing complexity of the tax system.’

The Tory shadow chancellor Michael Howard said: ‘The chancellor’s Budget hasbeen criticised by business, by independent experts, and now by the all-PartyTreasury Select Committee. Their report, based on expert evidence, is adamning indictment of Labour’s Budget failures’This report shows just how big a mistake the Budget was. Not only did itrepresent a missed opportunity to improve and modernise the NHS, but it willdo great damage to enterprise, to business and to jobs.’

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