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Labour fails to block tax rate cut

Labour leader Ed Miliband has branded George Osborne's Budget an "omnishambles" but failed in a bid to block the Chancellor's keynote cut in the top rate of income tax from 50p to 45p.

MPs voted by a margin of 323 to 256 to preserve the 45p rate, shortly after Mr Miliband clashed with David Cameron over the Budget at Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons.

Four weeks after the March 21 statement, Mr Miliband said it was clear that Mr Osborne had "conned" pensioners and taken money from charities, churches and pasty eaters while handing £40,000 each to Britain's millionaires.

But appearing before MPs for the first time since the Budget, Mr Cameron offered a staunch defence of the measures set out by his Chancellor, telling the Commons: "This Budget cut taxes for 24 million people, this Budget cut corporation tax, this Budget made Britain competitive."

The clash comes on the day the influential Commons Treasury Committee released a report questioning the figures used by Mr Osborne to justify axing the 50p rate and suggesting that ministers had failed to make the case for capping tax relief on charitable donations.

"Over the last month we have seen the charity tax shambles, the churches tax shambles, the caravan tax shambles and the pasty tax shambles," said Mr Miliband. "We are all keen to hear the Prime Minister's view as to why, four weeks on from the Budget, even people within Downing Street are calling it an omnishambles Budget."

Mr Cameron accepted he had had "a tough month", but he insisted: "What this Budget is about is actually cutting taxes for 24 million working people, taking two million people out of tax, freezing the council tax, cutting corporation tax so we are competitive with the rest of the world. And for pensioners, we've increased the basic state pension this month by £5.30 a week. Far more than Labour ever would have done so."

There was a furious row between Labour and Tories over Mr Miliband's attempt to block the cut in income tax on earnings over £150,000. Defending the 45p rate, Treasury minister David Gauke told MPs: "Labour claim to want to raise taxes from the wealthy but the reality is the 50p rate was not succeeding in getting that money in. This change is good for our long-term tax revenues, it is good for our economy and it is good for the UK as a whole."

Labour shadow Treasury minister Owen Smith described Mr Osborne's claim that reducing the 50p rate would cost the Exchequer just £100 million as "voodoo economics". "We don't think for a moment the Government has justified it, nor do we think you have justified claims the 50p rate has raised practically nothing at all," said Mr Smith. "I don't think the Government has persuaded anyone here it is anything other than voodoo economics to suggest the cost is only £100 million."

An attempt to block the imposition of VAT on hot takeaway snacks - the so-called "pasty tax" - was later defeated in the Commons by 295 votes to 260. A further bid to overturn the levying of VAT on alterations and improvements to listed buildings was also defeated by 293 votes to 258.

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