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Last Updated: Tuesday, 13 May, 2003, 20:45 GMT 21:45 UK
Tories outline 'fair deal' for Britain
Iain Duncan Smith and his wife, Betsy
Duncan Smith says Labour imposes big burdens for small ambitions

A pledge to scrap tuition fees for university students will be a key plank of the Conservative platform for the next election.

Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith outlined the policy as part of a keynote speech spelling out his party's strategy for a return to power.

Entitled "A fair deal for everyone", the speech attacked Labour for holding the British people back and pledged a "different kind of government altogether".

And Mr Duncan Smith went out of his way to echo Tory traditions stretching back to Disraeli by pledging to "rebuild this country as one nation".

Policies highlighted included plans to increase choice in healthcare through "patient passports"; raising police numbers by 40,000; and proving a "lower tax party".

Mr Duncan Smith branded the government's controversial tuition fee policy - which is in place in England and Wales - as a "tax on learning".

No-one is helped by holding back people who create wealth
Iain Duncan Smith

But Leader of the House John Reid said Mr Duncan Smith's speech showed that the Tories were determined to deliver tax cuts for the few at the expense of cuts in services for the many.

"This is the fourth relaunch since he became leader but it's the same old story.

"It's very simple what he's going to do is he's going to cut back on the money that's going in, therefore cutting back on the number of students."

Finances

The Tories say they will get rid of the government's target of getting half of all young people into university.

The new admissions regulator being introduced by the government, the Office for Fair Access (Offa) would also be abolished.

The party says getting rid of tuition fees would save students and their families up to 3,000 a year.

The cost to the taxpayer would be 700m but the Tories insist that not expanding the university sector in line with government plans would save 485m.

Scrapping Offa and other measures would, they claim, save more than 200m.

Family penalty

Mr Duncan Smith told his audience at the University of London: "We will scrap university tuition fees - which has become and will become a tax on learning.

"Their fees have penalised hard-working families who want their children to get on.

Students
The Tories are setting their sights on the student vote

"We will make the university sector better focused and will provide places to all who will benefit from them, on the basis of their merit and their potential, regardless of their background, regardless of their means."

Vocational training would also be strengthened, he said.

In a wide-ranging attack, Mr Duncan Smith used the speech to argue that Labour policies "involve big burdens and small ambitions".

"They respond to every problem by increasing the power of politicians and the centralised state," he said.

"But a greedy, know-all state crushes public service professionalism and voluntary action - just as much as it flattens economic enterprise."

'Nobody left behind'

He said there was no contradiction between ensuring economic success and "world class" public services.

And it was possible to be fair to both "those who need jobs and those who create them".

Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative leader
Hodge says the plans would see "terrible" cuts in student numbers

"The Conservative Party's fair deal for everyone is built on a unifying commitment to ensure that no-one is held back and no-one is left behind," he continued.

He spoke of recapturing communities from the problems of crime and drugs and of "beating poverty".

The Conservatives gained more than 560 seats at the local elections, in what Mr Duncan Smith called a "Mayday signal" from voters.

Higher Education Minister Margaret Hodge poured scorn on the Tory education proposals.

She said: "The Tories have demonstrated yet again that they have a complete lack of understanding of the funding crisis that universities currently face."

She predicted the plans would mean 100,000 fewer university students, with the number of lecturers cut by 6,500.

'Gimmick'

Liberal Democrat education spokesman Phil Willis dubbed the Tory policy announcement as a "gimmick" and claimed the figures did not add up.

A spokeswoman for the Association of Teachers and Lecturers said it welcomed the Tory stance.

"But we wouldn't want to see this at the expense to expand higher education or make access to higher education more equitable," she added.




WATCH AND LISTEN
The BBC's Andrew Marr
"Today, Iain Duncan Smith was selling a new message"



SEE ALSO:
Tory leader predicts Blair's demise
09 May 03  |  Politics
Higher fees 'will damage' economy
07 May 03  |  Education
'Fair access' test for universities
08 Apr 03  |  Education
Duncan Smith sets out his vision
13 May 03  |  Politics
Universities query student sums
13 May 03  |  Education


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