Brown's stamp duty boost for home buyers

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The Chancellor Gordon Brown threw a lifeline to hard-pressed home buyers today, doubling the point at which stamp duty is paid from £60,000 to £120,000.

The Chancellor Gordon Brown threw a lifeline to hard-pressed home buyers today, doubling the point at which stamp duty is paid from £60,000 to £120,000.

He also put a freeze on a range of taxes as he set out Labour's pre-election Budget.

The Chancellor promised no rise in fuel duty until September, a freeze on corporation tax, capital gains tax, air passenger duty, insurance premium tax and company car tax.

He put 1p on a pint of beer, 4p on a bottle of wine, 7p on a packet of cigarettes but froze duty on spirits, cider and sparkling wine.

But it was the stamp duty move which caught the eye - exceeding pre-budget speculation in its generosity. Commentators had been expecting an increase in the threshold to £100,000.

The increase will take effect from midnight .

More estates will be exempt from inheritance tax, the starting point for that tax rising over the next two years to £300,000.Mr Brown said that 94% of estates would now pay no inheritance tax.

To help first-time buyers, the Government is to enter a partnership with the Council for Mortgage Lenders which will finance a quarter of the house price helping 100,000 home buyers become eligible for low-cost home ownership schemes.

He said that "new private homes" would also be built on council estates in nine pilot areas.

The Chancellor also hailed the low inflation rate and strong growth as he unveiled a Budget he said was designed to promote stability while giving extra help to Britain's hard-working families and pensioners.

With the expected poll only weeks away, he insisted he would take no risks with the country's economy.

He opened his speech with a now-familiar boast.

"Britain is today experiencing the longest period of sustained economic growth since records began in the year 1701.

"And the foundation of this Budget is our determination to maintain British stability and growth."

Mr Brown said the UK's long-term prosperity could only be secured "if we make the right decisions to be world leaders in science, enterprise and education".

But he added that family prosperity could only be secured if a strong economy was matched with investments to "help parents balance work and family life, to give every child the best possible start in life, and to deliver a fair deal for pensioners".

He went on: "So my Budget choice is to lock in stability and never put it at risk; and to strike the right balance between tax cuts that are affordable, investments that are essential and stability that is paramount: at all times putting Britain's hard working families first."

He took a swipe at critics who doubted his forecasts.

"Before each Budget time we have heard predictions of a recession - predictions wrong in 1997, wrong in 1998, wrong in 1999, and wrong again in the years from 2000 to now.

"Most recently the Budget forecast for 2004 of growth at or above 3% was said to be a deliberate misrepresentation of Britain's economic position.

"Not to meet it - it was said - would destroy credibility.

"I can report that growth in 2004 is as forecast - 3.1%"

He said Britain had grown over the last eight years at twice the rate of most G7 competitors adding that our living standards were also rising twice as fast.

He contrasted inflation, unemployment and interest rates with those under the last Tory government and highlighted what he claimed was a 50% increase in personal wealth and a reduction in pensioner poverty.

He promised new measures to fill what he said was a total of 650,000 vacant jobs needing people with skills to take them.

These include an extension of the New Deal, which the Tories want to scrap, and new rules to encourage incapacity benefit claimants into work.

He also announced an extension to new areas the £2,000 first year return to work bonus for lone parents.