Parliament & Politics: Frank Field had to go, says Byers

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FRANK FIELD "is probably no longer a minister" because he opposed government measures such as the Working Family Tax Credit, Stephen Byers, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said yesterday.

Rebuking the former welfare reform minister, Mr Byers stressed during resumed debate on the Queen's Speech that Mr Field was "wrong" in his criticism of the scheme.

Mr Field, who was due to give a speech on welfare reform last night, resigned in the summer over the Government's refusal to introduce compulsory second pensions.

Opening the debate, Francis Maude, the shadow Chancellor, sabotaged attempts by Labour backbenchers to disrupt his speech when he produced a list of questions, headed "suggested interventions" allegedly issued to them. Mr Maude said the list, which was recovered from a Westminster photocopier, was another example of Tony Blair's administration being "control freaks".

The list included a series of challenges to Mr Maude over Tory policy. "I fear Labour backbenchers are trying to ingratiate themselves with the control-freak tendency by asking prepared questions," said Mr Maude.

During his speech, Mr Byers dismissed "scaremongering" on European Union tax harmonisation, saying: "This Government has made it clear that we will not support any action at European level that will threaten jobs or the competitive position of British business. So any tax proposals will need to pass that acid test." He added: "If necessary, at the end of the day, we will be prepared to use our veto in order to protect the national interest."

He made clear there were "no detailed proposals" to change existing rates of VAT and said that, if there were, the Government would stick by its manifesto commitment to safeguard zero-rated goods.

On business taxes, Mr Byers said the political reality was that harmonisation of rates across Europe was "a non-starter"."We would simply not allow corporation tax rates to be raised to the existing levels of some other countries."

But Mr Maude said that Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, had failed to protect personal taxes from being co-ordinated through the EU. "There is a clear commitment in Labour policy documents to taking further a process of tax co- ordination and harmonisation which can only have the effect of increasing Britain's taxes to continental levels," he said.

Malcolm Bruce, for the Liberal Democrats, said his party was disappointed that there were no measures in the Queen's Speech "to pave the way towards joining a successful single currency".

He continued: "I do not think an undertaking of this importance can be secured on a wing and a prayer. It requires a strategy and practical action to enable it to happen. . . We need leadership. We need a timetable. We need a strategy. We cannot simply drift."