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EDITIONS
Conservatives Tuesday, 3 October, 2000, 13:18 GMT 14:18 UK
Hague challenges Blair to TV debate
Hague
Mr Hague: Every democracy should have a live debate
Conservative Party leader William Hague has challenged the prime minister to a live televised debate in the next election campaign.

The head-to-head should be just between the two leaders, with no advisers or spin doctors, he said.


At the next election there should be a live, televised debate or series of debates... between Hague and Blair

William Hague
Mr Hague's challenge came at the end of a question-and-answer session with Conservative members at the party conference in Bournemouth.

He said: "Tonight in the United States, George Bush and Al Gore will be having a televised debate in front of the American people.

"I believe in other democracies there should be televised debates at election time.

"We believe that if there can be a debate between Bush and Gore, at the next election there should be a live, televised debate or series of debates, with no advisers, no spin doctors, between Hague and Blair."

"Let's make that challenge," he added.

'Upbeat conference'

The party faithful greeted the idea with cheers and huge applause.

Commentators say Mr Hague regularly succeeds in ridiculing Mr Blair during prime minister's questions, and knocks his confidence with his performances.

Hague
Mr Hague promises better healthcare
The Tory leader made a series of promises in a host of policy areas, ranging from pensions and taxes to the Dome, the family, policing and law-and-order.

Mr Hague hailed the party's conference as the most "upbeat and united" for years.

He said it provided a "great start" for the party's bid to win back power at the next election.

On pensions, Mr Hague promised the elderly would be better off under Conservative plans to scrap the winter fuel allowance and increase the basic weekly pension instead.

He promised everyone would be better off if bureaucracy and administration were cut.

Mr Hague condemned Labour's spending of up to 900m on the Millennium Dome as a tragedy. He said it was a scandal no-one was taking responsibility for it and called for a public inquiry.

The Tory leader also:

  • signalled his support for marriage and pledged a future Tory government would reintroduce the married couples' allowance

  • promised Dome money would go to causes such as cancer research, sports projects and community projects

  • pledged to cut bureaucracy in the health service and put doctors in charge, not politicians, as well as expanding private healthcare

  • called for proper labelling for British-produced and grown food, promising to support farmers

  • accused John Prescott of encouraging new building on green-field sites

  • pledged to restore the twice-weekly prime minister's questions

  • and hailed his party's plans to welcome members of all ethnic minorities.

    Asked whether the Tories would "stem the tide" and bolster the institution of marriage, Mr Hague said: "I don't believe that we should say that everyone has to live in a married family.

    "But I do believe it is much the best thing for our country and our society if the vast majority of people are in stable and happy families - and marriage is usually the cornerstone of a stable and successful family."

    Local planning promise

    He also said the countryside had been "utterly neglected and abandoned" by the government.

    He argued that regenerating urban areas would take the pressure off greenfield sites.

    "We would do away altogether with these house-building targets which are imposed from on high on local communities and country councils.

    "We will scrap those targets. We will give local people a much greater say in planning decisions."

    Asked whether he would send his own child to a state or private school, Mr Hague said he would use the state system, but that he believed everyone should have the freedom of choice.


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