Lib Dems 'concern' over policies secretly recorded

Image caption,
Michael Moore, Steve Webb and Ed Davey were all recorded secretly

Liberal Democrat ministers have been recorded expressing private concern over coalition government policies on welfare reform and tuition fees.

The Daily Telegraph secretly recorded Michael Moore, Ed Davey and Steve Webb saying they were unhappy over some government policies.

The paper had previously taped Business Secretary Vince Cable saying he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch.

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called Mr Cable's comments "very unfortunate".

The comments, captured by Telegraph reporters posing as constituents, caused a furore because of Mr Cable's role in the BSkyB decision.

Mr Cable has now been stripped of his powers to rule on Mr Murdoch's bid to take control of BSkyB but has kept his cabinet post.

'Different planet'

In these latest recordings to be made public, Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said cutting child benefit for higher-rate taxpayers was not "a fair thing to do".

Business Minister Ed Davey said he was "gobsmacked" by the child benefit decision, while Pensions Minister Steve Webb said he had complained about the policy.

Mr Moore, MP for Berwickshire, described the increase in tuition fees to a maximum £9,000 to undercover reporters as "the biggest, ugliest, most horrific thing in all of this... a car crash, a train wreck".

He added: "I signed a pledge that promised not to do this. I've just done the worst crime a politician can commit, the reason most folk distrust us as a breed. I've had to break a pledge and very, very publicly."

Mr Moore also said the coalition had "marginalised" the Conservative right wing, who, he said, "hate us with a passion - and I can't say it's unreciprocated".

The Scottish Secretary said some Conservative ministers were "on a different planet", and he and Defence Secretary Liam Fox "probably couldn't stay in the same situation for very long" if they were discussing a wide range of policies.

During his conversation with the reporters posing as constituents, Mr Webb, MP for Thornbury & Yate, expressed worries about the child benefit cut.

This will hit couples where one partner earns just over the £42,000 higher-rate threshold but not those with two partners earning just below that level.

"I don't have a problem with the general principle but I don't think the way we're doing it is terribly clever," he said.

Mr Webb said Lib Dems had worked behind the scenes to stop many Tory proposals, but admitted the party risked looking "too cosy" with their coalition partners by masking their differences in public.

"There's a lot of stuff that goes on behind you know. A lot of things that will never see the light of day because we stop them," he said.

Mr Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said plans to limit housing benefit would affect some of society's poorest.

"Their housing benefit cuts are going to mean in my view, if they go through, that some people who are on the breadline will be put below the breadline. And that's just deeply unacceptable," he said.

'Totally unacceptable'

Speaking about Mr Cable, Mr Clegg said the business secretary had recognised himself that he should not have made the remarks about "declaring war" on Rupert Murdoch to the undercover journalists.

But Mr Clegg said moving responsibility for deciding on News Corp's bid for BSkyB to the Culture, Media and Sport Department meant Mr Cable and the government could move on.

The deputy PM added: "I don't think anyone should be surprised by the reports of what other ministers have said. There are differences of opinion in a coalition as indeed there are in all governments."

Downing Street has said David Cameron believed Mr Cable's comments about Mr Murdoch were "totally unacceptable and inappropriate".

Mr Cable's comments on Mr Murdoch, recorded by the Telegraph but not immediately published in the newspaper, were passed by a whistleblower to the BBC's business editor Robert Peston, who then made them public on Tuesday.

The Telegraph said on Wednesday that this part of the recording had been leaked to the BBC "before publication" in the newspaper.

Meanwhile, the Telegraph also reported on Wednesday that a second Liberal Democrat minister spoke privately to undercover reporters about the party's role in creating obstacles to the takeover of BSkyB.

Transport minister Norman Baker is reported as saying: "We've referred it and that's another thing the Tories are furious about, you know. We've stopped Murdoch taking over BSkyB, or referred it to the competition authorities.

"That would have never happened under the Tories. They would have just said, 'Here you are Mr Murdoch, how much do you want?'"

Douglas Alexander, Labour's shadow work and pensions secretary, said government ministers were "only saying in private what we have been saying in public - their changes to child benefit are ill thought out and unfair.

"It's increasingly obvious just how little influence the Lib Dems have on this Tory-led government."

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