Election '97: Major says it again on tax rises: I can give you no guara ntees

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The Independent Online
John Major was unable to give any guarantee yesterday that he would not again increase taxes, after Labour attacked him for breaking promises made during the 1992 election campaign.

Tony Blair told his daily election press conference that the Tories were running for office, but running away from their record.

"We saw it yesterday on tax," he said. "Mr Major simply cannot be allowed to get away with it when he claims the tax burden has not risen.

"Will he confirm that taxes have risen since the election. Will he confirm that the average family is at least pounds 7 a week worse off? Will he confirm that a two-earner family with children is pounds 13.70 a week worse off?"

Independent Commons library data shows that the percentage of income taken in tax from a couple with two children and one earner on average earnings of pounds 411.30 a week in the current financial year is 35.1 per cent, compared with 32.7 per cent in 1992-93, the year of the last election, and 32.2 per cent in 1978-79, when Labour was last in office. It rose to 35.7 per cent in 1995-96.

Mr Major said at his press conference yesterday: "We have never hidden the fact that during the recession we put up taxes and we are now bringing them back down again."

But he said that Wednesday's independent report from the Institute for Fiscal Studies had also confirmed "that the average family was pounds 15 a week better off after earnings growth, tax changes and inflation."

But when pressed on the question of Conservative plans for value-added tax - whether the Tories were going to make any further switch from direct to indirect taxes, as they had done in the past - Mr Major said again that he had no plans to do so. "I have made that point on the basis that we are going to keep public expenditure down."

However, he added that he had to retain the qualification that no government could give an absolute guarantee. "I have learned from experience that no-one can absolutely foresee what will happen in the future.

"I did not know before the last election how long and how deep the recession would be. I said at the last election I did not intend to put up taxes, I had no plans to put up taxes - nor did I.

"But events forced us to make changes. I see no reason to suppose we would have to do it. It is not in our minds to do so. We have no plans to do it but no-one, no Treasury minister, can absolutely foresee what will happen in the future."

Meanwhile, Paddy Ashdown yesterday wrote to Mr Major and Mr Blair, challenging them to prove their spending plans would not result in the "devastation" of public services.

Grabbing an issue which he hopes will at last give him a high profile in the election campaign, the Liberal Democrat leader argued that the planned financial stringency of the two main parties would result in a crisis in health, education and other services.

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