Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Full Story: Budget 2010

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Budget debate in full: From BBC Democracy Live

By Victoria King

1541 Well, that's about it for our live text coverage, but you can continue to get reaction and analysis to the Budget on the BBC News Channel and BBC Radio 5 Live. Alternatively, you can nip out and buy your first house - slightly cheaper than before - and then celebrate with a pint of cider before the price of that goes up. For those with more time on your hands, you can see the Budget documents in full here. Thank you for all your contributions by text, e-mail and Twitter. We hope you can join us again next Wednesday for prime minister's questions.

1537 Shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Philip Hammond says it's all very well announcing these savings, but they mean nothing without knowing what the overall budget for each department is. "£300m from what?" he asks. He is then pressed on whether the Tories will give more information on their cuts plans. His reply? They will say more "in due course… but certainly before the election".

1536 The Department of Communities and Local Government is set to save £200m in the next three years, while the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is going for £300m. Both seem to be doing a lot of this by cutting back office functions and use of consultants.

Beer
1533 More reaction on the increase in cider duty, this time from the industry itself. David Sheppy, of Sheppy's Cider, a family-owned Somerset firm, says: "We are not pleased, a 10% increase is quite devastating news. A lot of money has been put into investment in the cider industry, and we don't now want to see that investment wasted." Mr Sheppy adds: "We are more concerned about any potential further changes in the duty bands of cider according to their strength. That is a big concern for us, that we could be hit again, but at the moment we don't know exactly what Mr Darling's plans are in this area."

1528 Some info from the Department of Work and Pensions on savings plans. It is looking to claw back £500m by 2012-13. How? Well, among other measures, £100m will come from helping people manage their pensions and benefits online, and the same again will come from cracking down on benefit fraud and error. A further £40m will come from reducing office space.

BBC chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg
1527 The BBC News Channel's chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg has some more details of Ministry of Justice savings plans. The aim is to relocated 1,000 jobs out of the capital by 2015, and save £25m in consultancy fees. It is also going to merge the Courts Service and the Tribunals Service, sell off the bulk of their London estates and slash the number of MoJ quangos.

City of London
1524 A word from the boss of bosses. No, it's not a Mafia kingpin but Miles Templeman, director-general of the Institute of Directors. He says: "The chancellor's GDP forecasts are too optimistic and there is still no sign of a credible deficit reduction plan, so while we certainly welcome the specific measures to support small and medium-sized businesses, we need to hear a lot more from the government on debt reduction."

1521 Schools Secretary Ed Balls seems to be being very friendly with Lib Dem Vince Cable on the BBC News Channel. Does he have a possible hung Parliament in mind perhaps? He says they agree on most things and distances himself, Mr Brown, Mr Darling and Mr Cable from "untested politicians" like David Cameron and George Osborne, whom he thinks shouldn't be trusted with the economy.

Vince Cable
1518 Lib Dem Treasury spokesman Vince Cable says there was no honesty in the Budget about the detail of the cuts that need to be made. As he speaks, the BBC gets word that the Ministry of Justice says it is going to make £343m of savings by 2013. "But how?" Mr Cable asks.

e-mail sent in by reader
Everyone seems to have missed the fact retirement age is increased from 60 starting next month. This will stop Pension Credit, fuel payments and bus passes for people progressively until they reach the new retirement age of 68?

1516 The National Union of Students calls the pledge to fund 20,000 extra university places in technical subjects "a lifeline". But it says the extra places must be fully funded and that those who are offered them must receive full loan and grant entitlements.

e-mail sent in by reader
Stamp duty is not an issue. The most important issue is the exchange rate and interest rates. Low interest rates mean a higher cost of living, inflation and more British companies subject to takeovers. I personally cannot make investments abroad because it now costs me a third more than it did a year or so ago.

Bored man
1513 Fraser Nelson, editor of the Tory-leaning Spectator magazine, says it was one of the most boring Budgets he's ever heard. He says he thinks Mr Darling is "an honest man caught in an impossible situation" - the chancellor didn't try to spin how bad things are - in fact he couldn't - because everybody already knows. "Public spending is the last bubble that has to be burst in this country" - and indeed it will be whoever wins the election, he adds.

House
1510 Kevin Maguire, associate editor of the Labour-supporting Daily Mirror, thinks the decision to raise stamp duty on more expensive homes was "a clever move" - a Robin Hood-style take from the rich to give to the poor.

Lorry
1506 The Road Haulage Association thinks the decision to stagger the fuel duty increase is a step in the right direction, but nowhere near enough. The future still looks grim, says chief executive Geoff Dunning - he wanted to see a crackdown on foreign lorries who are pricing out British hauliers.

House
1501 Back to the raising of stamp duty threshold for first-time buyers to £250,000. Liz Peace, chief executive of the British Property Federation, says: "It will boost confidence in the housing market, but will be of limited value to first-time buyers who typically have to find a deposit of £33,000 at present. Raising the threshold will effectively knock 18 months off the 18 years it would take the typical 25 year-old to save a £33,000 deposit."

Beer
1454 Lib Dem Treasury spokesman, and MP for Taunton, Jeremy Browne is sceptical about the hike in duty on cider, calling it "gratuitous". "I would be absolutely amazed if it made any significant difference to binge drinking," he tells the BBC.

1450 Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liam Byrne tells the BBC that, at 1500 GMT, all government departments will issue statements about how £11bn of savings will be spread out. Asked why Mr Darling didn't just explain this in his speech, Mr Byrne says he doesn't think timing really matters.

1448 Some reaction from the world of business. David Frost, director-general of the British Chambers of Commerce, says: "After two years of economic downturn, the chancellor has clearly recognised the need to place business at the heart of this Budget. Doubling the annual investment allowance, help with business rates, and allowing entrepreneurs to keep more of their gains will prove especially popular. The chancellor could have done more to set out a clear plan for the reduction of the budget deficit, which continues to threaten business confidence and investment."

1444 Elfyn Llwyd, of Plaid Cymru, welcomed the stamp duty cut, but said the 3p fuel duty hike - albeit now staged - would still hit people in Wales hard. The SNP's Angus Robertson agreed, and said it was also very bad news that no further overarching economic stimulus package was announced - this, he thinks, will effectively have the same impact as the Tories' more explicit plan for cuts.

1442 There has been much talk about Labour's "close relationship" with the Unite union in recent days, and Derek Simpson, joint general secretary, seems pretty happy with what he heard in the Budget. He says Mr Darling has "focused on support for the young, growth, investment and jobs when Tory doom-mongers would rather slash and burn our public services and leave working families to sink or swim".

1440 Richard Lambert, director-general of the CBI, says: "With the election just weeks away, this was a clever, political Budget. However, anxiety remains on how the deficit is going to be paid down, and the growth forecasts for 2011 and beyond are still on the optimistic side. There was more support for business than might have been expected, with a series of modest but helpful changes. The doubling of entrepreneurs' CGT [capital gains tax] relief will help investment in small businesses and the extra money for science places at university will be welcomed by industry. However, it is the fiscal decisions over the next 12 months that will really determine the UK's economic future."

Stephanie Flanders
1438 BBC economics editor Stephanie Flanders says the single most expensive measure announced today - costing an extra £600m - is to keep pensioners' winter fuel allowance at its elevated rate for another year. Earlier this week, David Cameron was all but forced to say that he wouldn't cut it either if he became prime minister.

1435 Robert Chote, from the Institute for Fiscal Studies, says there's huge uncertainty still about economic growth and borrowing figures. He says analysts have a lot of work to do to figure out the details - but what he can be sure about is that the much discussed "big squeeze" on public sector spending is going to come.

Beer
1434 Some are deeply unhappy with Mr Darling. He wont be having a pint with the British Beer and Pub Association, which says the increase in alcohol duty "piles on the misery for Britain's hard-pressed pubs and beer lovers".

Wind turbine
1432 Environmental campaign group Friends of the Earth welcomes the creation of a green investment bank to boost the development of renewable energy. It calls it "a massive stride in the right direction" towards a greener, cleaner economy.

comment from blogger
Alistair Darling kept his voice to a civil and almost soporific monotone as he delivered his budget. Cameron, on the other hand, jumped up and down, practically puce with jubilant rage, jabbing his finger at the "taxis for hire" on the opposite benches.

1427 On BBC 5 live, political correspondent Jon Pienaar says the chance for Mr Cameron to say "yah boo, you stole that from us" about the stamp duty cut will have been something he enjoyed. And because the Tories support the cut, it's at least one policy the public can be sure will be implemented if the next government is either red or blue.

comment from blogger
Labour may well get the headline they want from today - the Robin Hood Budget.

comment from blogger
Was the "help" more important than the "how"? Find out which words Alistair Darling used in his speech today.

House
1418 A bit more info on that stamp duty cut. Poring over the figures in the Budget Red Book, we understand the measure will cost the Treasury £230m in 2010-11 and £290m in 2011-12. And raising the rate on homes worth more than £1m will not raise enough to plug that hole - raising an estimated £90m in 2010-11 and £70m in 2011-12.

1415 What do experts think? Linda Yueh, economics fellow at Oxford University, says there was still very little detail on how to tackle the deficit - something which may have left many in the financial world disappointed. Independent banking analyst Ralph Silva says Mr Darling really attacked the banks, but he has some concerns about the efforts being made to force banks to lend. He says there's no divine right to credit and banks want to give money to companies they know will pay it back.

Nick Robinson
1412 BBC political editor Nick Robinson says there was chatter in the chancellor's office earlier this week that there was "no need for a Budget" and he thinks that is borne out by what we saw in the Commons.

1408 The BBC's Jon Sopel tries to catch Lord Mandelson out, saying we'll see how people react to all this on 6 May - the mooted, but as yet unconfirmed election day. But the business secretary is too quick. "What's happening on 6 May?" he asks innocently.

1406 Now for a bit of political reaction. Business Secretary Lord Mandelson tells the BBC News Channel he will be issuing a press release later giving more details about the savings his own department is going to make. But former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith says the whole thing is "a silly game" and says there's no substance behind what Lord Mandelson is saying.

comment from blogger
Alistair Darling appeals to young savers. But do they exist?

Stamp duty reduction for first-time buyers will mean investors will buy in the name of their adult children - perhaps acting as guarantor for the mortgage.

1400 Finally, Mr Clegg says the government has failed to do anything to make the tax system fairer. The Lib Dems would make the most radical changes to that system in a generation, including removing the first £10,000 of earnings from income tax altogether, he tells MPs.

1358 There was nothing on affordable homes, building more or helping people access them, Mr Clegg says. He also wishes the chancellor had done more to help young people by cutting the length of time they need to be out of work before qualifying for government help. But one of the most shocking omissions, the Lib Dem leader thinks, was to fail to do anything about the systemic problems in the banking sector - the banks are going "to be let off the hook once again" and will be allowed to carry on hoarding money not putting it into the economy.

1353 Mr Clegg feels this was a Budget "in denial", based on "false comfort" gleaned from a small drop in borrowing and slightly better than expected unemployment figures. He doesn't leave out the Tories either - he says they are "talking tough to cover the truth", that they will just give us the same future as Labour. Mr Clegg says it is only the Lib Dems who have credible, well-defined savings plans, and goes on to list them.

Nick Clegg
1350 Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg is on his feet, but many MPs are leaving the House. Nevertheless, Mr Clegg presses on - he says this Budget wasn't a manifesto; it was an obituary. So much for fairness under Labour, we need real change, but we didn't get it, he adds.

1349 "They want to tax your phone, your car, your business, your jobs," Mr Cameron argues. A Conservative government, on the other hand, would ease the tax burden not increase it, he adds. Mr Cameron argues that Mr Brown's message is "Stick with me" - and that this is "like Richard Nixon offering to clean up politics".

tweet
I'm a cider drinker - so worse off! If I happen to buy a house under £250k in the next couple of years, better off overall.

1345 Mr Cameron claims the prime minister will "never get a medal for courage" because he has failed to do anything credible to tackle the UK deficit now. "They have given us the biggest bust and now they are forecasting an almost permanent boom - why should we believe them?" Mr Cameron asks.

comment from blogger
The trick here today was to convey that you the voters still need the great helmsman in charge but he is calm, the situation is not in crisis mode any more and he knows a way through it all.

comment from blogger
The closest the chancellor got to telling the truth about the measures he really needed was to add another 10% tax on cider, this upsetting the whole of the West Country and half of the nation's teenagers at the same time.

1340 The Tory leader also claims to have seen some devil in the detail of the Budget. He says, for example, that the government will spend more on paying debt interest next year "than on educating our children". Throughout all of this, the chancellor keeps a smile on his face - he even breaks into a comradely chuckle with Mr Brown from time to time.

1338 Mr Cameron says that, like every other Labour government throughout history, Mr Brown et al have run out of money and are leaving it up to the next Tory government to pick up the pieces. He says the most damaging thing for the country would be five more years of Gordon Brown.

David Cameron
1336 David Cameron says Labour's "big idea" - the stamp duty break for first-time buyers - was a Tory policy - and indeed George Osborne did unveil it in 2007. He says the only good ideas in politics are now coming from the Conservatives. He also says the chancellor has stolen his ideas on raising the duty on cider and creating more university places in technical subjects. "Once again, they've been caught taking the public for fools."

Nick Robinson
1334 Quick bit of analysis before we get reaction from David Cameron. The BBC's political editor Nick Robinson declares it a Budget short on economic announcements, but long on party political statements.

Alistair Darling
1333 And that's it. He's done. As he sits down, Mr Darling gets a pat on the shoulder from the prime minister.

1332 For families, those with one and two-year-olds will get an extra £4 a week in child tax credits, regardless of whether the recipients are single parents, cohabiting or married. The pensioners' higher winter fuel payment, brought in during the worst weather this winter, will also continue into next year.

1331 Tax evasion and avoidance - we thought this would come up. How is he going to crack down? Well, Mr Darling says agreements are going to be made with three additional countries. These are Dominica, Grenada and Belize - the third of those, Belize, causes much hilarity and cheering in the Commons, although presumably not from the Tories. Their controversial non-dom donor and deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft makes much of his money in Belize.

1327 There is to be a £35m university enterprise capital fund to support innovation and help start-up companies set up by new graduates to get going. Mr Darling says that "universities must make efficiency savings", but despite this they're going to get a one-off £270m to help them create 20,000 more places for students to study subjects like maths, science or engineering. The cost of this "will be repaid many times over" in the coming years through a better skilled workforce.

Training
1325 Mr Darling says he wants to help industry, but "will not go back to the interventionism of the past". Nevertheless, he takes a moment to take some credit for Nissan's announcement last week that it will build a new generation of electric cars in the UK. He also says he's going to offer some new help to the computer games industry.

Steve Schifferes
1324 From Prof Steve Schifferes, City University: Darling has forecast a modest improvement in the budget deficit in the long term but it will still be £74bn in 2013/14. It may not be enough to reassure international bondholders -he is using tough language but not giving details about future cuts, except in relation to civil service pay


1322 We'd heard there might be a "green bank" and here it is. The chancellor says he want to set up an investment bank controlling £2bn of equity which will focus on investing in greener, cleaner energy and transport - focusing first on wind turbines.

Car
1320 Acknowledging the toll the recent bad weather has taken on roads - and the explosion in the number of potholes - there will £100m for local road repairs and £285m for motorway improvements and expansion projects, such as allowing hard-shoulder running in busy times.

1320 Business rates are to be cut for a year from October, meaning a tax reduction for 500,000 small firms in England. The annual investment allowance will also be doubled to help new companies get off the ground. The chancellor says he is also increasing the relief on capital gains tax for entrepreneurs - and leaving the main rate of capital gains tax unchanged for the rest of us.

tweet
Thing with Budget 2010 is George Osborne's reply is more important and interesting than AD's bit - it could make/break Tories.

1316 Mr Darling says he is creating a new investment corporation - called UK Finance For Growth - to oversee the government's £4bn range of support for businesses and help them negotiate the bureaucracy involved. He also says he will increase by 15% the number of government contracts that go to small and medium-sized firms.

1314 Mr Darling says the UK "can't take growth for granted" and that government must play its part in helping businesses to grow. Access to finance, in particular, is key, so the chancellor says that over the next year he has agreed with the Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds - both state-subsidised - that they will lend some £94bn - at least half to small and medium-sized firms.

e-mail sent in by reader
I am very pleased with the stamp duty exemption limit. However, being more sceptical, it's only for first-time buyers, very few of which are in a position to buy given the disgraceful behaviour by the banks. Furthermore, this £250k level will be reduced in a year or so (a la VAT rate) so the window of opportunity is pretty slim & will only help people already in a position to buy? Why can't they make the banks reduce the required deposit rates? That will help first-time buyers more as long as appropriate valuations are carried out on the properties.

House
1308 Cuts will be made to housing benefit paid to those in very expensive properties, the chancellor says.

1309On efficiency savings and cuts, the next public sector spending review will be "very tough", Mr Darling says. The pay bill will reduced for senior civil servants and reforms will be made to cut the pensions bill. Staff will also be relocated from "expensive London offices" to elsewhere in the country - some 15,000 posts within the next five years.

e-mail sent in by reader
I quite like Darling as a chancellor. He speaks a bit more like an accountant, as opposed to Gordon Brown, who was always more of a politician. In these financially austere times this is just what the doctor ordered.

Beer
1307 Those of you who like a drink are going to pay more. Alcohol duty will rise and that on cider specifically will go up by 10% from midnight tonight. Smokers will also pay more as tobacco duty will increase by 1% immediately, then 2% in subsequent years.

1305 Inheritance tax will be frozen for four years.

BBC chief political correspondent Laura Kuenssberg
1304 The BBC's Laura Kuenssberg tweets: Darling confirms borrowing this year lower than forecast - still huge though at nearly £170bn.

1303 Mr Darling goes through the tax rises for richer members of society that he had already outlined. But he says he has no further announcements on VAT, income tax or National Insurance.

1301 Overall, the chancellor says, debt will be £100bn lower by 2013/14 than he predicted at last year's Budget.

Iain Watson
1300 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: The stamp duty "tax cut" for first-time buyers was well trailed, but the government's unexpected announcement that this will be paid for by an increase on more expensive homes really does symbolise how the next election will be fought. When times are tough, Labour say they will make "fair choices" while the Conservatives would help the richest. Labour are keen to get as many dividing lines as possible with the opposition but also want to challenge the Conservatives to reverse Labour's measures in a way that would be seen to help the better off. But critics will say this is far too political, rather than an economic move, and even some New Labour supporters will worry that this policy is aimed too much at the core vote, hitting middle-class families in south east England who have seen property prices rise though no fault of their own.

1258 On to the country's borrowing. Mr Darling says it will be £167bn this year - £11bn lower than the earlier forecast of £178bn.

Car
1257 Another policy confirmation - next month's planned 3p increase in fuel duty will be staged to soften the blow. It will go up by 1p in April, another 1p in October and a final 1p in January 2011.

1255 Mr Darling says he has revised downwards slightly the growth forecast for 2011 to between 3% and 3.5% to bring it more in line with predictions from the City. Growth is predicted at 1 to 1.5% for 2010.

Money
1254 Some news for savers. The ISA limit will be raised from £7,200 to £10,200 and will increase each year after that in line with inflation.

1252 That cut for first-time buyers will be paid for by a hike in stamp duty to 5% for properties worth more than a million pounds. This is met with cheers from Labour MPs and stony faces from the Conservatives.

House
1251 Another big thing we thought was coming but is now confirmed. First-time home buyers will pay no stamp duty on properties worth up to £250,000. That will apply this year and next.

1250 Now some news for workers. For those over 60, the chancellor says he will cut the number of hours they need to work to qualify for working tax credits. He also says the government is looking into scrapping the compulsory retirement age. He announces that that the guaranteed offer of work or training for those under 24 who are unemployed for more than six months will be extended until March 2012.

1248 The chancellor says many people - meaning "the Tories" - opposed the government's efforts to respond to the recession. But, he says, without them, "families would have been left to their fate". When he tries to champion the news that unemployment is lower than expected, however, there are considerable jeers from the backbenches.

e-mail sent in by reader
Medium-sized businesses are defined as under 500 employees. This covers approx 98% of UK businesses. Does Mr Darling need to be more clear what is at the heart of this Budget?

Iain Watson
1247 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: The chancellor is embarking on an extended narrative to "prove" ahead of the election that Labour got the big decisions right on the economy. But by pointing out that a tax on bankers' bonuses has raised more than twice as much as expected, he can use this as cover, later in his speech, to offer up some goodies even though the deficit will remain extremely high (if a little lower than previously predicted).

1245 Confirmation of something we had expected: everyone in the UK is to be guaranteed access to a bank account. This will extend the facility to more than a million currently denied it, the chancellor says.

1244 Mr Darling says he is going to press for an internationally co-ordinated tax on banks. The Tories want to go ahead with this unilaterally but the chancellor thinks this is a bad idea, he says.

e-mail sent in by reader
I'm furious about raising the level of stamp duty. Whilst it's a brilliant plan, I'm a first-time buyer who missed the stamp duty holiday and complete tomorrow. I'm paying stamp duty for the privilege of buying a flat in these three months. Not happy.

1242 Onto the banks. Mr Darling says the government was right to bail them out and those that are state-supported are starting to turn things around. He says the Treasury has already received more than £8bn from them in return for the support it gave. The 50% tax on bank bonuses - announced in the pre-Budget report last year - has also raised more than £2bn so far - more than predicted.

Steve Schifferes
1200 From Prof Steve Schifferes, City University: Chancellor reassures City by saying that any spending boosts for business will be paid for by a one-off tax on City bonuses and not add to the long-term deficit.

1237 "Our economy is at a crossroads" and this Budget will set out "a route to long-term recovery", Mr Darling says. At its heart is a package to invest in small and medium-sized businesses and jobs, he adds.

1236 Mr Darling starts by talking about the global financial crisis and the tough decisions it left the government facing. He says "the record shows the right calls were made". Recession has not become depression, unemployment is lower than feared, "but the recovery is still in its infancy" and the task now is to find a way to bring down borrowing without killing it off altogether.

Iain Watson
1236 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Following a lively and highly partisan PMQs, the chancellor now has to carry out a difficult balancing act. He has already signalled that this won't be a giveaway budget as, with a huge deficit, he really has nothing to give away. But he's also mindful that too much talk of austerity could send voters who are wary of cuts in public spending scurrying away from Labour's banner. So he will move enough money around to hand out some goodies - with stamp duty likely to be abolished for first-time buyers on homes worth less than a quarter of a million pounds. But markets can sometimes damage governments as much, if not more, than the official opposition, so expect some detail on departmental efficiency savings to be outlined as a sign the government is serious about getting the deficit down. The civil service pickets outside the Treasury, to whom David Cameron referred, might well be a sign of things to come - whoever forms the next government.

Alistair Darling
1233 Chancellor Alistair Darling has apparently characterised this Budget as "a Budget for recovery". Well, he's on his feet now so let's see what he has to say….

1232 The Rev Ian Paisley, soon to retire, says it's the last time he will "bother this House and the prime minister" with a question. He expresses his own sympathy for the British soldiers killed in Afghanistan and says there is a "sadness and a dark shadow that lies upon the whole of our world today". Mr Brown says he thinks the whole House will want to pay tribute to Mr Paisley for his long service and work to achieve devolution in Northern Ireland.

1228 A question now from Tory David Amess about a constituent of his who fled from an abusive relationship in Gran Canaria but has since had her children taken into care. Mr Brown says it's not for him to intervene, but he will ask his justice minister to look into it.

Iain Watson
1230 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: Nick Clegg's reference to the lobbying scandal - exposed in a TV documentary this week - allows him to attack both Labour and the Conservatives equally and to play to one of his party's "positives" before the election - that the Lib Dems have been less tainted by the expenses furore and can be trusted to clean up the system since they haven't been in power themselves since the war. But as most of the MPs who featured prominently in the TV expose were former Labour ministers, Gordon Brown knows that the incumbent party tends to be hit hardest by these scandals, so he denounced their behaviour as "unacceptable". This is unlikely to have caused him much personal pain as two of the former ministers seen touting for post-election employment tried to unseat him as Labour leader and another was a long-term critic who was close to the former Prime Minister Tony Blair.

1228 Labour MP George Howarth asks what the prime minister thinks the effect would be if cuts were made now in an effort to slash the UK's deficit. Mr Brown says countries all round the world have chosen to press ahead with support for the economy and that the Conservatives stand alone as the only party who seem to disagree with it.

1225 Labour's Stuart Bell asks about news of industrial investment and new jobs on Teesside. Mr Brown says such good news is only possible because the government is prepared to support such investment.

1224 A question now from Labour's Sandra Osborne on the so-called "legal high" mephedrone, which has recently been linked to a number of deaths - will he see it is made illegal? Mr Brown says he is "very concerned" about the harm it could do and the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has made it an "absolute priority". When it gives advice on what to do, the government will act swiftly, he adds.

Iain Watson
1224 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: David Cameron chose not to go headlong into an economic debate and instead tried to portray the prime minister as both evasive and incompetent. He did this not just by attacking the sale of gold "at rock bottom prices" but specifically challenged the prime minister to withdraw an appeal against releasing information on pension funds. If he didn't deeply wound the prime minister, he certainly drew some blood as Gordon Brown sidestepped the question, dealing with the issue only in general terms and - to Labour cheers - repeating the now familiar refrain that the Conservatives got it "wrong, wrong, wrong" on the economy. But he was even moved to remind us twice about the Conservative deputy chairman Lord Ashcroft's non-dom tax status - he thinks this attack plays well with Labour's core voters but his opponents believe it's a sign of political desperation.

1220 Tory Brooks Newmark goes back to the BA dispute - will Mr Brown urge all staff to go back to work this weekend? Yes, and I have done so repeatedly, says the PM.

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The measure of today's Budget won't be the big numbers on the deficit. It will be its approach to the poorest people in the poorest places.

1220 Conservative Graham Brady asks Mr Brown what he would "most like to be remembered for". He gets very short shrift - "Winning the next election," the PM replies.

1219 Conservative Mark Pritchard asks the PM to guarantee that no Labour MP caught up in the lobbying scandal will he given a peerage. Laughing, Mr Brown says: "Talk about an own goal". He doesn't answer Mr Pritchard's question but takes a dig over Lord Ashcroft instead.

Nick Clegg
1216 Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg gets up to ask about the lobbying row and claims both the Tories and Labour have blocked his party's efforts to clean up Parliament. He's barely audible over the jeers in the House. Will this Parliament go down in history as the most corrupt ever, Mr Clegg asks. Mr Brown replies by listing a series of improvements he is making or has made to the system.

1214 Now an easier question from Labour's Fraser Kemp about electric cars. Will there be more support from government for people who want to switch to using them? In answer, the prime minister says new investment by Nissan to build these cars was only possible under Labour - the Tories would have withdrawn it.

1212 "How long are we going to have to wait until we can get rid of this useless bunch of ministers?" asks Mr Cameron. "The cab meter's ticking," he says, in an apparent reference to former minister Stephen Byers' recent comments to an undercover reporter. "Tell us when the election will be," Mr Cameron adds. Unsurprisingly, he doesn't get an answer to that.

1211 Mr Brown says: "I'm happy for everything in my record to be published". But, he asks, will Mr Cameron tell the country what really happened with the Lord Ashcroft affair?

1210 Mr Cameron is now pursuing a line of question about efforts made by the government to keep Treasury information about the sale of Britain's gold secret. Mr Brown says this is a matter between the Treasury and the Information Commissioner's office - something that is met by jeers. The PM attacks Mr Cameron for having no serious policies to help people struggling in Britain today.

tweet
Getting ready for #Budget speech by Mr Darling at 12.30pm - think I may go buy loads of booze, fags and fill the car up before it rises!

1208 Mr Cameron briefly mentions the news that he is to become a father again in September. He says most of the texts and e-mails he has received in congratulation seemed to focus on the question "how do you find the time?"

David Cameron
1207 David Cameron is on his feet for his questions, but first pays tribute to Britain's latest Afghanistan casualty. The Tory leader says he has a simple question to start with - does the PM think civil servants - currently on strike and protesting outside Parliament - should cross the picket line and go to work? This harks back to last week's PM's questions when Mr Cameron tried to get Mr Brown to encourage British Airway workers to cross their own picket line.

Gordon Brown
1205 Mr Brown begins by paying tribute to the latest British soldier to die in Afghanistan. He is then asked by Conservative Michael Penning about the issue of defence spending - something the PM admitted making a mistake about in his evidence to the Iraq inquiry during last week's PMQs. Mr Brown says he realised the error when he read the transcript of his evidence, but stresses again that no urgent request from the Ministry of Defence was ever turned down.

e-mail sent in by reader
Is the chancellor going to give people on a low income, who rely on their cars, a break and decrease the amount of tax and fuel surcharges for once?

1202 Right we're crossing over to the Commons now, Gordon Brown is in place and ready to go.

1202 Former home secretary Jacqui Smith tells the BBC she wants to see a focus on fairness for middle-income families in the Budget, something, she adds, the country wouldn't get from the Tories. Unsurprisingly, former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith disagrees - he things the economy has "collapsed" under Labour. For his part, Charles Kennedy, ex-Liberal Democrat chief, says there's "an air of unreality" about today because "this Budget isn't going to see the legislative light of day" because of the impending election.

1201 One thing that's worth noting… Mr Darling had to make his way through protests held by striking civil servants in order to reach the Commons today. They have walked out in a row over redundancy pay and some chanted "Shame on you" as the chancellor left Downing Street.

1200 Robert Peston thinks we will find out the scale of the efficiency savings that individual government departments are going to have to make. Specific programme cuts, on the other hand, are likely to remain largely a mystery.

Iain Watson
1158 From BBC political correspondent Iain Watson: This could well be the penultimate prime minister's questions before polling day, and will certainly be the curtain-raiser for the last Budget before the election. So expect the session to be dominated by plenty of yah-boo politics and lots of economics. Gordon Brown will no doubt insist the government got just about everything right in tackling the recession and that the Conservatives, inexperienced and committed to early cuts in public spending, would wreck a fragile recovery. David Cameron is likely to paint a rather different picture of Labour's stewardship of the economy, blaming them for presiding over the biggest post-war budget deficit and potentially putting at risk Britain's international credit rating. Nick Clegg is likely to accuse the other parties of getting into an argument about when to cut spending, rather than what to cut - and will suggest they should be more honest with voters ahead of the election on where the axe would fall afterwards, if the deficit is to be brought down. For all the recent juicy scandals over MPs' expenses, and the competing promises to invest in a "greener" future not only prime minister's questions but the election debate is likely to be dominated by the economy where even relatively small divisions will be magnified, as polls still point to the possibility of a hung parliament and each party is keen to get its own distinctive message through to a sceptical electorate who have been subjected to tough times.

Stephanie Flanders
1152 Economics editor Stephanie Flanders says that when you look closely at the numbers there actually isn't much difference between the three main political parties. The government says don't cut now, but in fact it is withdrawing considerable fiscal stimulus this year. The Tories, meanwhile, say they want to cut sooner than Labour, but the gap in rhetoric between Mr Osborne and Mr Darling is actually much bigger than the gap between their practical plans, she says.

1150 Our correspondent Naga Munchetty is in the City of London. Rob Kitchin, from firm BCG Partners, tells her the financial sector wants to see a tough "head-on" plan to deal with the country's deficit and calm the markets. But he says he fears it might just a party political broadcast for the Labour Party.

1147 The BBC's Giles Dilnot is in Dudley in the West Midlands, which has been particularly badly hit in the recession. Mike Dell, from the local chamber of commerce, explains what he would like to see in the Budget - top of the list for him, and probably all businesses, is to have the planned National Insurance hike, due in 2011, scrapped.

Robert Peston
1145 BBC business editor Robert Peston says he's most interested in what the chancellor is going to demand from the banks which were bailed out by the government. We expect him to make it a requirement for them to give everyone in the UK a bank account. He could also outline new taxes on bank profits and measures to force banks to lend more to small and medium-sized businesses.

Nick Robinson
1144 On BBC Two's Daily Politics BBC political editor Nick Robinson says the message the chancellor wants to deliver is "steady as she goes" - "we've made the right decisions to get us through the recession, now here are the right ones for the recovery".

1143 In terms of PM's questions, might we get a relatively quiet session given the serious business of the Budget coming next? Maybe not. Strikes could feature heavily, with BA cabin crew due out again at the weekend weekend, and votes by British Gas staff and railway signal workers in favour of industrial action taken in the last few days. There may also be some mention of the lobbying row which has seen three former Labour minister suspended from the parliamentary party.

1141 An amusing anecdote has come to us about what happened when Mr Darling met the rest of the cabinet to explain his Budget. He apparently told colleagues that while he was preparing it a press report was given to him saying that the North Korean finance minister had been executed by firing squad. He said he hoped that wouldn't be his fate too…

Beer
1139 The BBC has also received word on a traditional Budget favourite - the "sin tax" on alcohol. We understand the chancellor plans to significantly increase the duty on strong ciders and "alcopops" - which will raise money and hopefully cut binge drinking by young people. Other alcohol duties are also expected to go up.

House
1137 A few titbits have come to us this morning via the Westminster grapevine. Stamp duty for first-time buyers purchasing homes worth up to £250,000 looks set to be scrapped. We also hear that the planned 3p rise in fuel duty - scheduled to hit next month - could be introduced in stages instead in order to soften the blow.

1135 There's been lots of speculation about what we're going to see today. Most experts seem to think we're unlikely to find out much more about spending cuts and Mr Darling himself has ruled out both a "giveaway" Budget and a rise in VAT.

1133 We will cross to the House of Commons for prime minister's questions at 1200 GMT. Once Gordon Brown has had his weekly grilling, Chancellor Alistair Darling will take centre stage at 1230 GMT and begin delivering the Budget.

1130 Hello and welcome to our live coverage of the 2010 Budget and, before that, prime minister's questions. We'll be bringing you analysis from our correspondents, reaction from the political parties and a selection of your e-mails and Twitter contributions.




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