UK Politics

Budget 2015: Danny Alexander unveils Lib Dem alternative

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Media captionDanny Alexander is heckled by opposition MPs while unveiling a Lib Dem alternative to George Osborne's Budget.

Danny Alexander has unveiled a "better" Lib Dem alternative to his Treasury boss George Osborne's Budget.

The Treasury secretary said Wednesday's Budget had been agreed between the Lib Dem and Tory halves of the coalition.

But he told MPs the Lib Dems would not cut as much from public spending as the Tories - or borrow as much as Labour - if they had a free hand.

It is the first time a government minister has set out an alternative Budget in this way.

Conservative MP Adam Afriye told MPs he was "stunned" by Mr Alexander's statement, accusing the Lib Dems of "an absolute betrayal of the role they have played in government".

Before he began his speech, Commons Speaker John Bercow warned Mr Alexander that statements in the Commons have to be ministerial - not party political.

'Better plan'

Mr Alexander said his alternative Budget had been produced by Treasury officials, using information from the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Danny Alexander shows off his alternative Budget on the steps of the Treasury

"People want a strong economy, based on a credible plan but people also want a fairer society based on modern public services.

"For all those people left cold by yesterday's exchanges, all those asking is there another way to do this? Yes there is.

"Today I set our a better economic plan for Britain - a plan that is based on the values of fairness as well as strength.

"A plan that would deliver on our commitment to balance the books in a fair way. A plan that borrows less than Labour and cuts less than the Conservatives."

The Lib Dems would aim to eliminate the deficit by 2017/18 through £30bn of spending cuts and tax rises - the same date as the Conservatives.

But they would net an extra £6bn from tax evaders - and an extra £6bn in tax rises on the better-off, including a "mansion tax" on high value properties, enabling them to cut less from departmental budgets.

Labour says it would eliminate the deficit "as soon as possible into the next Parliament" - a formula that would allow more borrowing than under the Tories or Lib Dems to ease pressure on the NHS and other public services.

Mr Alexander said the Office for Budget Responsibility forecasts, based on George Osborne's policies, would take public spending in Britain "back to the level last seen in 1964".

"The era of Cathy Come Home is not my vision for the future of Britain," said the Lib Dem minister.

'Farce'

Cathy Come Home was a groundbreaking documentary drama about a young homeless couple, which caused an outcry when it was aired by the BBC in 1966 and led to the foundation of the charity Shelter.

Image caption Cathy Come Home shocked the nation when it was shown in 1966

For Labour, shadow Treasury minister Chris Leslie said Mr Alexander's statement was a "farce", and accused him of misusing his position as a minister to make party political points.

"Can we all have a shot of using Parliament's time and civil servants time for such purposes?" he added.

The Lib Dem minister had to battle against constant heckling from Labour MPs in a nearly deserted chamber, accusing one member of the opposition of "raving like a lunatic".

Mr Alexander also unveiled a new package of measures, agreed by the coalition partners, aimed at cracking down on tax avoidance and evasion.

He said the law around tax evasion will be tightened to "strict liability", which means that pleading ignorance of the law - or your accountant's actions - will no longer be a defence to offshore tax evasion.

A new offence of aiding and abetting tax evasion will be created by legislation and there will be more scope for tax evaders to be named and shamed.

Commenting on the Lib Dem alternative budget, CBI director general John Cridland said: "We will await the Liberal Democrats' manifesto for more detail on their fiscal plans and the £6bn they look to raise through tax rises."

He added: "Tax evasion is illegal, and the CBI strongly condemns this, along with abusive arrangements which are highly artificial and have no other purpose than to avoid tax. HMRC should have the powers and more importantly the resources it needs to tackle evasion and abusive tax avoidance effectively."

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