Ministers accused over tax answers

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MINISTERS were accused yesterday of being afraid to answer parliamentary questions tabled by Labour about tax increases.

The Treasury questions about the extra tax people will pay from April 1995, from Harriet Harman, shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, were tabled nearly three weeks ago for reply on 31 January and 1 February.

They followed an earlier reply delivered in nine days, about 1994 tax increases. That revealed that a typical family will pay more in tax from April than they were paying in 1979 under Labour, and proved highly embarrassing to the Government, which made allegations of 'Labour's tax bombshell' the centrepiece of the 1992 election campaign.

The follow-up questions received a holding answer a fortnight ago - that a reply would be given as soon as possible. Ms Harman said: 'The Government have been sitting on this question for well over two weeks. I understand that the information is ready but that the answer has not yet been given to me because it is being held up in No 10 Downing Street and by Stephen Dorrell.

'The Government are breaking the convention of the House of Commons that when they have obtained the information requested in a parliamentary question they give it to the member concerned. The Government obviously fear yet more exposure of their broken tax promises and are doing all they can to delay the publication of it and slip it out at a time when they hope that no one will notice it.'

A Treasury spokesman said Mr Dorrell would answer the questions shortly. 'It is up to him how questions are handled. Given current concerns we look at them very carefully and consult others as necessary,' he said.