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Programme highlights Monday, 14 May, 2001, 14:30 GMT 15:30 UK
Tory tax questions raised
Michael Portillo defends Tory tax cuts on Friday
How big are the Tory tax cut plans?

The Conservatives presented a cut-down conference this morning: a single theme - that 6 pence per litre cut in fuel duty, and a suggestion that European tax harmonisation could lock us into higher fuel prices in perpetuity.

But the party is finding it really hard to hold to the discipline it's tried to impose on itself.

A huge effort has been applied to maintaining a disciplined approach, based on 8 billion of supposed savings to be applied to various tax cuts.

More tax cuts?

But one unnamed Shadow cabinet minister told the Financial Times that the Tories were actually hoping to give back 20 billion in tax cuts by the end of the next Parliament.

That clearly opens the door to accusations of making 'irresponsible' promises.

Conservative Senior Vice-Chairman Tim Collins
Story is "knocked down"

Meanwhile a named party spokesman Ian Duncan-Smith, reverted to the long dead "Tax Guarantee" when - on GMTV - he seemed to rule out any tax increases under a Tory administration.

So when Francis Maude, the Foreign Affairs spokesman, addressed the press this morning, he had some difficult questions to answer.


He insisted that the 20 billion figure mooted today had no basis in reality but did say that the 8 billion figure for tax cuts was a minimum and that further cuts would be considered if realistic.

So what might the figure be? It was a question left hanging. William Hague too ducked the question about a twenty billion tax cut. The Shadow Chancellor Michael Portillo also tried to brush the supposed 20 billion cut aside, saying it was "not a figure he would use".

Francis Maude at this morning's Conservative Press Conference
20bn rumours: no basis in reality

Back at the morning press conference, reporters pressed Mr Maude repeatedly on Ian Duncan-Smith's apparent resuscitation of the Tax Guarantee - that a Conservative Government wouldn't raise taxes AT ALL, direct or indirect: it all flustered Mr Maude. He claimed that the need for such a commitment did not arise because the Conservatives have committed themselves to cutting taxes, unlike Labour and the Liberal Democrats.

He said that Labour's spending plans amounted to a tax increase guarantee.

When pressed by reporters, he would not be drawn on whether the same problem arose for the Conservatives - unless they pledged no tax rise at all, wouldn't they be caught on the same tax/spend hook?

Collins answers queries

The World at One questioned the Conservatives' Senior Vice chairman, Tim Collins, about their projected tax cuts.

He denied there was any division in the party over the size of cuts and said the Financial Times' story had been "knocked down".

He told us that the only figure on tax cuts that the Conservatives were putting forward at this election was the predicted 8 billion described in the Conservative Manifesto.

He did say that there was a general aspiration to reduce taxes further as the economy grew, but that the official figure was 8 billion - which would be used for cutting petrol tax, taking pensioners out of tax and abolishing taxes on savings.

However, Mr Collins would not give an answer on whether the Conservatives would guarantee not to raise taxes.

Tim Collins
"A single report in a single newspaper from an anonymous figure"
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