27/03/2012 03:37 BST | Updated 26/05/2012 06:12 BST

Ed Balls Fails To Vote In Commons 50p Tax Motion

Shadow chancellor Ed Balls has been mocked by Tories and members of other parties, after he and the vast majority of Labour MPs couldn't be bothered to vote on a motion in the Commons on Monday night on a motion relating to the scrapping of the 50p tax rate.

Speaking at the start of four days of Budget debate in the Commons last Thursday, Balls said: "There will be a vote next week, we will vote against the 50p. It's the wrong tax cut at the wrong time."

But when SNP and Plaid Cymru MPs forced a surprise late-night vote on the proposed new income tax rates on Monday night, no more than a couple of Labour MPs were among the 22 registering their opposition.

That meant a Government victory by a majority of 297, sparking taunts from Tory and nationalist MPs that Labour had capitulated in its opposition to reducing the rate to 45p for £150,000-plus salaries.

The realisation that the vast majority of Labour MPs failed to oppose the cut in the top rate of tax sparked mocking points of order from Treasury minister David Gauke and Conservative colleague Andrew Bridgen.

Mr Bridgen (North West Leicestershire) asked Commons Speaker John Bercow if he had powers to "censure HM opposition who spent five days opposing the cut in the top rate of tax from 50p and then abstained from voting the lobbies".

A Treasury source described it as "bizarre ... given their rhetoric just a few days ago".

Mr Balls played down the potentially embarrassing no-show, insisting he and his colleagues had joined an earlier vote against the whole Budget package. Retorting to the jibes on Twitter, he added: "No chance to vote solely on 50p tax. Will ensure there is in Finance Bill and vote against."

Liberal Democrat deputy leader Simon Hughes said: "After five days of huff and puff from Ed Balls, and sustained protest about the proposal to lower the highest level of tax rate next year, Labour MPs were not in the chamber to vote against the change.

"This says all the public need to know about Labour's position. A last-minute increase in the higher tax rate before the election and no real commitment to continue the 50p tax rate while they are in opposition shows how they value rhetoric more than action."

The Government won a series of votes on Budget proposals. Changes to child benefit, withdrawing the credit on a tapered scale from people earning more than £50,000, were passed by 318 to 244, Government majority 74.