Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Lib Dem recordings 'voice unease'

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said cutting Child Benefit for higher-rate taxpayers was 'not fair'
Business Secretary Vince Cable was stripped of some of his ministerial responsibilities after his comments about Rupert Murdoch

A string of Liberal Democrat ministers have privately voiced unease about coalition Government policies on welfare reform and university tuition fees in recordings made by undercover reporters posing as constituents, it has been disclosed.

Scottish Secretary Michael Moore said that cutting Child Benefit for higher-rate taxpayers was "blatantly not a consistent and fair thing to do", while Business Minister Ed Davey said he was "gobsmacked" by the decision, and Pensions Minister Steve Webb said he had written to Chancellor George Osborne seeking changes to the policy because "the details aren't right", reported the Daily Telegraph.

The ministers' comments were published a day after the Telegraph reported that Business Secretary Vince Cable had said he could bring the Government down by using the "nuclear option" of resigning if Conservative colleagues pushed him too hard.

Mr Cable was later stripped of some of his ministerial responsibilities after it was disclosed that he had told the same undercover reporter that he had "declared war" on Rupert Murdoch over the media tycoon's bid to secure full ownership of BSkyB.

The Telegraph reported that other Lib Dem ministers had privately expressed reservations about coalition policies which they had defended in public.

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

Mr Webb, the MP for Northavon, expressed "worries" about the Child Benefit cut which 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 have written to the Treasury about this and, to be honest, the answer I got back wasn't good enough," he said.

Mr Davey, the MP for Kingston and Surbiton, said that plans to limit Housing Benefit would hit some of the poorest in society. "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.

A Liberal Democrat spokesman said: "In coalition it is obviously no surprise that the parties have different views and opinions. We campaigned on two very different platforms in the election, but came together in the national interest to put Britain on a stable footing following the mistakes of the previous government. It is clear there are always going to be differences and disagreements and policy arguments are inevitable."

Labour shadow cabinet minister Douglas Alexander said: "Once again the Lib Dems are taking the heat today but it is David Cameron who should be under pressure, when two of his Cabinet colleagues are now admitting that his government's child benefit plans are unfair. It's increasingly obvious just how little influence the Lib Dems have on this Tory-led government."

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