Tories 'unlikely' to cut taxes

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THE TORIES face the prospect of going into the next general election without having cut taxes, Stephen Dorrell, Financial Secretary to the Treasury, conceded yesterday.

Speaking in advance of next month's pounds 16bn package of tax rises, the biggest in peacetime, Mr Dorrell said cuts could only come when it was responsible to do so. That time 'might or might not' come before the election.

Pressed on the Conservatives' claim to be the tax-cutting party, Mr Dorrell said on LWT's Walden programme that a Labour government would have increased taxation by even more. 'I certainly intend to go on saying that if you vote Conservative you will get lower tax rates than if you vote for any other party,' he said. 'The choice at the last election was quite correctly represented as between the present Government, which would hold taxes lower, and our opponents who would raise taxes.'

The admission, however, that economic growth and the ongoing review of public spending might not be enough to safely reduce taxation, will be seized on by Labour in the forthcoming elections as a further manifestation of broken 'Tory tax promises'.

Mr Dorrell accepted there would still be a predicted public sector borrowing requirement of pounds 21bn in 1997, by which time an election would have to be called, and said: 'It would be quite irresponsible of any Treasury minister to commit to a tax cut at some point in the future without knowing if that would be responsible.'

Mr Dorrell insisted that tax under Labour would be higher because the Tories were better at controlling public spending. 'Whatever the circumstances in which that election is called it will be true in that election, as it was in the last one, that the election of a Conservative government will deliver a lower tax burden,' he said.