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Budget: Osborne to scrap tax on savings to woo pensioners

Westminster: Tax on income from savings will be abolished for millions of people in the Budget today as George Osborne woos pensioners and "hardworking taxpayers" ahead of the May general election, it has been learned.

The Chancellor also plans to reduce the scale of his planned spending cuts in the final year of the 2015-20 parliament. The move follows a rare dispute between him and David Cameron, who is said to have warned Mr Osborne that the deeper cuts he favoured could lose the Tories the election. So did Lynton Crosby, the hard-nosed Australian strategist who is the Tories' campaign director.

Abolishing the tax on savings income for everyone apart from the rich was expected to be the biggest surprise in the Chancellor's Budget, the coalition Government's final big policy statement before the election. For savers who pay the basic 20p rate of tax, income from savings is currently taxed at 20% and is normally deducted at source by banks and building societies. People paying the higher 40p tax rate are taxed at 40% on their savings income.

In last year's Budget, Mr Osborne announced that the 10% tax on savings for people on low incomes will be abolished from next month. This change will help an estimated 1.5million savers, many of them pensioners.

Today he will go much further by scrapping the 20% savings tax for all but the rich. The populist move follows complaints that workers and retired people get little return on their hard-earned savings when interest rates are at a record low.

Mr Osborne has insisted there will be no "giveaways or gimmicks" in what will be a fiscally neutral package. But his "Budget for savers" will be seen as another pitch for the votes of the 11million pensioners, who are more likely to vote than younger age groups.

The Chancellor is expected to tell the Commons: "The critical choice facing the country now is this: do we return to the chaos of the past? Or do we say to the British people, let's work through the plan that is delivering for you?

"Today we make that critical choice: we choose the future. We have a plan that is working - and this is a Budget that works for you."

Judges sacked over workplace porn

England: Three judges who allegedly viewed pornography on official IT equipment at work were sacked for “wholly unacceptable” behaviour and a fourth has resigned, the Judicial Conduct Investigations Office (JCIO) has said.

It announced that District Judge Timothy Bowles from Romford County Court, London Immigration Judge Warren Grant and deputy district judge and Recorder Peter Bullock, who worked on the North Eastern Circuit, have been removed from office.

Recorder Andrew Maw, who worked in the Midlands Region, resigned in September, aged 65, before the disciplinary process ended.

A JCIO spokesman said: “The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice were satisfied that the material did not include images of children or any other illegal content, but concluded that this was an inexcusable misuse of their judicial IT accounts and wholly unacceptable conduct for a judicial office-holder.”

Recorder Maw was found to have watched similar material. The JCIO spokesman added: “The Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief Justice would likewise have removed Recorder Maw had he not resigned.”

Plea to Cameron over sex ring claims

London: The Prime Minister is facing calls to guarantee that police and intelligence officers who give evidence over an alleged VIP paedophile ring in Westminster will not be prosecuted.

Scotland Yard is being investigated over claims that it covered up child sex abuse because of the involvement of MPs and police officers.

New claims were also made that officers who arrested Liberal MP Sir Cyril Smith on suspicion of hosting sex parties with boys were warned to keep quiet or face prosecution under the Official Secrets Act.

Labour MP Tom Watson called on David Cameron to shield whistleblowers. Mr Watson said: “It is now clear that the Prime Minister must guarantee that former police and intelligence officers who wish to help the IPCC with their inquiries will have the threat of the Official Secrets Act lifted.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “The Home Secretary has given clear assurances that the Official Secrets Act is not a bar to giving evidence to either the independent panel inquiry into child sexual abuse.”

Tory MP backs down from row by repaying £1k in mileage costs

Westminster: Tory backbencher Bob Blackman has backed down from a confrontation with the Commons expenses watchdog by repaying more than £1,000 in mileage costs.

An investigation found the Harrow East MP had filed 700 claims that were either not allowed under the rules or inaccurate — some for up to five times the real distance.

But he refused to accept the conclusions, insisting he would hand back only £237 for journeys to party engagements and from his home to his office.

A statement issued by Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority yesterday said the politician had now paid, but was continuing to maintain he did nothing wrong. No further action is being taken.

Aid workers finally reach islands ravaged by cyclone

Vanuatu: Relief workers have made it to the outer islands of the South Pacific nation after struggling for days to reach the areas hardest hit by a fierce cyclone.

They saw a flattened landscape and widespread destruction and communications were still patchy yesterday, three days after Cyclone Pam hit. Eleven people are confirmed dead.

Australian military planes reported significant damage, particularly on Tanna Island, where it appears that more than 80% of homes and other buildings were partially or completely destroyed.

Don Quixote author bones found in crypt, say experts

Spain: Experts believe remains found in a Madrid convent include the 400-year-old bones of Spanish author Miguel de Cervantes.

Releasing the latest details of the near year-long search, forensic anthropologist Francisco Etxeberria said investigators’ work led them to believe that Cervantes’ bones are among the remains of 15 bodies found in the crypt of the Barefoot Trinitarians. But they were unable to isolate them or prove definitively which belonged to the author of the Spanish language’s most revered work, Don Quixote.

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