The Chief Secretary to the Treasury last night pre-empted a Commons answer to shadow spokesman Alastair Darling with a Conservative Party press release, headed: "William Waldegrave hails official confirmation of real rise in living standards."
In fact, the long-delayed Commons answer provides the definitive, post- Budget calculations on the tax burden for a range of families - allowing comparisons to be made right back to 1978-79, when Labour was last in office.
The Treasury tables showed for example, that the tax burden for a married couple with two children and one earner on average male earnings this year is 35.3 per cent of average weekly pounds 395.50 gross income.
That represents a fall on last year's overall tax burden for the same average family, when it was 35.7 per cent, and it is due to fall to an estimated 35.1 per cent next year.
But that compares unfavourably with the year before the last election, 1991-92, when the burden was 33.2 per cent for the same average family. In a 1991 radio interview, Norman Lamont, then Chancellor of the Exchequer, said: "We still believe that the burden of taxation is this country is too high, taking nearly a third of the average person's income."
Mr Waldegrave said: "It is arrant nonsense for Labour to claim that because people are paying more tax than they were five years ago, they are worse off. Earnings have risen and people are paying more tax as a result." According to Treasury figures for the same average family, the tax burden when Labour was last in office, in 1978-79, was 32.2 per cent.The Exchequer is now taking an extra three percentage points of average gross income. If the current tax burden was 32.2 per cent, the average family would be more than pounds 11 a week better off - on top of its increased earnings.