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The BBC's Carolyn Quinn
"Hague will have to work hard to prove to the sceptical public that he can form a credible alternative, to the government"
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Conservative Party Leader, William Hague
"offers pension increases of 3.50 above anything the government might propose"
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banner Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 10:39 GMT 11:39 UK
Tories promise pension increases
William Hague
William Hague: "The political tide has turned"
William Hague has promised the Conservatives will match and then better any increase that the government offers to pensioners.

He said he was offering "straightforward" increases in the basic state pension, on top of whatever the government was proposing.

In the run up to his party's annual conference, Mr Hague said he was convinced "more than ever" that the Conservatives could win the next general election as "the political tide had turned".

New figures suggest Labour has re-established a six-point lead over the Tories since Prime Minister Tony Blair promised to listen to concerns about fuel and pensions in his own conference.

Mr Hague told BBC One's Breakfast With Frost programme that, if elected, the Tories would scrap all the one-off payments and "gimmicks" like the special winter fuel payments, Christmas bonus and free TV licences for the over 75s.

We don't think you can go on year after year squeezing people harder with increased taxes

William Hague
The New Deal for lone parents would also be dropped, and the social fund - which lends money to poor families - would be cut.

The money saved would go to the basic state pension, giving pensioners over 65 an extra 3.50 a week, 4 for a couple, 5.50 more for the single over 75s and 7 for couples.

Mr Hague said the proposals "would mean sizeable increases in the weekly state pension for all pensioners".

"Everybody would be a little better off and everybody would have dignity and choice," he said. "There would be more money in total going to the pensioners of this country."

Mr Hague also pledged to match Labour spending on health, and said spending on education under the Tories would rise "within what the country can afford".

Hitting out at the Labour government, he said: "We don't think you can go on year after year squeezing people harder with increased taxes."

'Making up policy'

He promised that Conservatives would boost spending on public services "year by year", and dismissed Labour suggestions that Tories would cut 16 billion from public spending.

"I believe it is easily possible to increase the spending on vital public services but to save money from the enormous amount the government wastes."

Mr Hague also revealed plans for a voluntary private pension scheme for people under 30.

It would allow them to opt-out of the basic state pension and put their national insurance contributions into private investments

Alistair Darling
Alistair Darling: Warned pensioners to be wary of Conservative promises

"If we had done this 30 years ago then we would have far less pensioner poverty today," he said.

But Social Security Minister Alistair Darling warned pensioners to be wary of Mr Hague's promises.

"They are making policy up as they go along, they have not seen our figures and no one will believe they have costed these plans properly," he said.

A poll in The Sunday Express puts Labour on 43%, the Conservatives on 37% and the Liberal Democrats on 13%.

The Conservative conference, which opens on Monday, will feature a series of debates on the policies outlined in Mr Hague's pre-manifesto document Believing in Britain.

Speeches from shadow ministers will be mixed with question-and-answer sessions and opportunities for members from the floor to deliver one-minute comments on the issues under discussion.

For the first time, there will be no motions from local party associations.

But several open-air rallies - on the pound, red tape, the countryside and the preservation of the Union - will be held as part of the conference.

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