Examination of Witnesses (Questions 300
TUESDAY 11 DECEMBER 2001
MP, MR ED
300. Have you said you will not extend VAT on
(Mr Brown) Maybe I should just sum up what was said
in the manifesto!
301. Have you ruled out extending VAT on children's
(Mr Brown) You can read the manifesto like me. We
have said we will not raise the basic rate of tax, and not extend
VAT to children's clothes, to food and to other items like transport
costs, and that is a matter of record and certainly said that
in 1997 as well.
302. And books and newspapers?
(Mr Brown) Books and newspapers. For gentlemen and
ladies of the press here I can repeat that. What I also said in
the manifesto is that we would make no other promises about taxation
because these are matters for Budgets. I made that clear during
the General Election campaign at successive press conferences;
and I made it clear under questioning in a large number of debates.
We are not going to make promises on every item of taxation, whether
it tax allowances or tax reliefthese are matters for the
303. You have ruled out in the manifesto two
types of incomes tax increasesyou have ruled those out.
You have ruled out four types of VAT increase by extending them
to those four groups you have just confirmed to us. Very helpful.
(Mr Brown) I do not think it is a surprise, Mr Ruffley.
I have been saying this for the last year.
304. What is interesting is that you have decided
to rule out certain potential tax increases. Why those things?
(Mr Brown) We said all these things in 1997 as well.
(Mr Brown) We thought that was the right thing to
(Mr Brown) In relation to income tax we said in our
manifesto that it was right to do this because we wanted to reward
work in the ways that we are doing; and we sent a signal through
the tax rate both at the top rate and the basic rate.
307. Why did you choose to specifically rule
out extending VAT to those four items? Why those particular tax
increases? Why did you rule those out specifically?
(Mr Brown) I think the history of VAT in this country
is a very interesting one, and those who try to extend VAT to
fuel, which we opposed at the time, I think recognised that where
particular low income households had high costs in the Budget
associated with food, transport, with newspapers and fuel, that
it was a very difficult way of raising tax, when you were going
to penalise middle and lower income households. That is why I
think most people around the country thought that the proposal
of the last Government to extend VAT to fuel was a mistaken one.
308. Abolishing the upper earnings limit on
employee national insurance contributions how much would that
(Mr Brown) I do not have the figures here.
309. It is £5 billion. It is a lot of money,
is it not?
(Mr Brown) I do not have the figures here, but we
will send you a note.
310. I have the figures.
(Mr Brown) I make it absolutely clear that we have
ruled out the tax issues that I have raised; but we leave it open
to ourselves in the Budgetand any sensible Chancellor would
leave himself in that position.
311. You have ruled out six potential tax increases?
(Mr Brown) For very good reasons which I have given
312. I want you to explain why you will not
rule out raising the upper earnings limit, which will be an increase
in tax. Abolishing the upper earnings limitwhy will you
not rule that out? You have ruled out these other items six times.
(Mr Brown) No, it was not responsible for the
313. Why is it not responsible to rule this
particular tax increase outraising the upper earnings limit,
the national insurance contributions for employees, which matters
to a lot of middle income earners who will be listening to this
and reading about this. Why will you not rule it out? You have
ruled out that. You have ruled out income tax.
(Mr Brown) Because in 1992 the then Conservative Government
made a promise that they would not raise any taxes and they would
not change any rates, and that was a mistake, because Chancellors
and people responsible for the nation's finances must have the
discretion to make decisions that are right for the interests
of the country at a particular point in time. We sent a signal
about the importance we attach to work; about what we said about
the basic rate of income tax and the higher rate of income tax;
we were concerned about the effect of VAT on lower and middle
income families for basic consumer goods and we sent a signal
in relation to VAT; but it is not responsible to go through 250
314. You have done six, why not do a few more?
(Mr Brown) The reason is the reason I have given you.
As far as work is concerned and the reward of work, which is an
essential part of the Government's strategy in encouraging and
reinvigorating the work ethic, we sent a signal about the basic
and top rate of tax in terms of VAT on food and other items. We
were concerned, as you ought to be yourself after the effect that
people saw by raising VAT on fuel on lower and middle income families,
and in some cases on pensioners on fixed incomes; therefore, we
sent a signal in that area but it is not responsible, and no Chancellor
sitting here should ever get himself into the position that the
last Conservative Government in 1992 got themselves into when
they made promises on 250 different separate items related to
income tax or other taxes. That is not a responsible thing to
do if you have got to manage the nation's finances from year to
315. I am not going to go through a list of
200; I am just picking out the most salient ones. What would it
cost to raise the upper earnings limit to align it with the top
rate income threshold. How much would that cost?
(Mr Brown) I do not know, because that is a point
you have raised with me and I said I would write to you about
316. It is about a billion. That is another
large item. If you are saying to us that you do not want to raise
taxes because it might be a disincentive to work, why is it not
the case that you will rule out these disincentives to workthe
potential increase on national insurance on middle earnings?
(Mr Brown) Because, as I have said before, we have
sent a signal about the importance we attach to work.
317. You are giving a signal now, are you not?
It is mixed.
(Mr Brown) I am not going to make the mistakes. I
think the last Chancellor but one to me, Lord Lamont, in his memoirs
said it was totally irresponsible of the Conservative Government,
facing the 1992 Election, to rule out tax increases in every area.
He said he told John Major, the Prime Minister at the time, it
was a terrible mistake for him to make. I think you were around
for some of these discussions during the period after that and
you know the Conservative Government then had to break a series
of promises it made in 1992. It is not responsible for a Chancellor
any finance minister to go through 250 tax items and make promises
on each and every one of them, as happened in 1992. I am not going
to get into that position, nor would you want, on a bipartisan
basis, Chancellors to be tied in that way. It was a mistake.
318. I think people will be puzzled that you
have admitted you are ruling out six tax increases, as you did
in the manifesto, but you will not rule out some of the most damaging
potential tax increases for middle England. That is what you have
told us today.
(Mr Brown) Mr Ruffley, I do not think people will
be puzzled at all, because we said it in our manifesto; we actually
said it in our 1997 manifesto. If people have been puzzled then
they must have been puzzled for almost five years. We have made
these promises consistently in 1997 and 2001. We have made them
to send out a signal about the importance we attach in the areas
I have mentioned; but no Chancellor is going to get himself in
the position of going through 250 or more tax allowances. I think
if you reflected on it, it would be a mistake for your Party to
return to the mistake and error that was made in 1992 ever again.
319. Chancellor, if you wish to challenge Mr
Ruffley's figures then you are free to do so. We look forward
to getting that information.
(Mr Brown) Mr Ruffley asked me two questions and then
read out what he appears to have had from the Treasury's Ready
Reckoner, and I will write and give him a copy again.
2 Ev 63 para 2. Back
Ev 63 para 2. Back