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Shadow Chancellor, Michael Portillo
"I think that people have been terribly over-taxed by this government"
 real 28k

Conservative Party leader, William Hague
"We will keep the pound"
 real 56k

Friday, 11 May, 2001, 13:30 GMT
Hague's tax sweeteners

The Conservatives have launched their election manifesto, putting a cut in fuel tax at the core of their campaign pledges.

Party leader William Hague said the Tories would deliver tax cuts totalling 8bn for savers, businesses, families, pensioners and motorists.

Mr Hague said the money would come through savings from tackling benefit fraud and cutting Whitehall bureaucracy.

But the proposals have been strongly criticised by both Labour and the Liberal Democrats who say the tax cuts will damage public services.

Fuel focus

Tax and pensions
6p cut in fuel tax
1m pensioners out of income tax
Increase in basic state pension
Young people to be allowed to opt out of state pension
New married couples allowance of 1,000
Remove "tax penalty" on private medical insurance
Reform taxation of charities
The manifesto, called Time for Common Sense, has 50 pledges, many of which have been proposed over the past few months.

But Mr Hague used his speech in London to announce that the party would cut "the most hated stealth tax", fuel tax, by 2.2bn or six pence a litre in its first Budget.

The pledge incorporates a three pence cut previously promised by the Tories.

Other tax promises include taking one million pensioners out of income tax altogether and introducing further tax cuts for families.

The manifesto commits the party to lower taxes for business and cutting the cost of regulation to industry year on year.

Europe
No to euro for next parliament
No to EU army outside Nato
No further power to Brussels
More flexible EU
"The next Conservative government will be a tax cutting government," Mr Hague said.

"We can't afford four more years of higher taxes and regulations when our competitors in the rest of the world are overtaking us."

Europe

Europe also features strongly in the 48-page document with the party confirming that it has ruled out joining the euro for the next five years. It will also refuse to transfer any further power from Westminster to the EU.

"We will call a halt to the steady erosion of Britain's independence," Mr Hague said.

Health and education
Increase NHS funding
Guaranteed patient waiting times
Patients to chose where they are treated
Freedom for headteachers to run schools
Parents to have power to change school management
Endowments for universities
Student loan repayments eased
The party will stop Scottish MPs from voting on matters in the House of Commons that relate only to England and Wales.

It will transfer more power to "effective councils" but will give local people the power to veto high council taxes by requiring local authorities to hold referenda if they want to increase bills by significantly more than the rate of inflation.

On law and order, the party has pledged to increase police numbers, give more rights to victims and take persistent offenders off the streets.

Stealing a march

Mr Hague said: "This is the most ambitious manifesto from the Conservative Party for a generation."

Councils and parliament
More power for councils
Referenda for high council tax rises
Only English and Welsh MPs to vote on English and Welsh issues in Commons
More parliamentary scrutiny of government
The party's decision to publish its manifesto first is aimed at stealing a march on Labour and the Lib Dems.

But party chairman Michael Ancram said: "We are doing so because we are fighting this election in earnest.

"We are fighting this election to win. We want right at the start of this campaign to leave no one in doubt about what we promise."

Criticism

Tony Blair attacked the Tories for promising things without any notion of how to pay for them.

He said: "The idea that you are going to pay for these promises by taking money off single parents or slashing the university budget or sacking a few civil servants...

"They will be paid for by deep cuts in basic services - schools, hospitals, the police - or by a return to debt and therefore higher mortgages and higher unemployment.

"This is not a course that our country wishes to go down."

Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy said: "William Hague's manifesto should come with a health warning. It threatens to undermine the NHS, education and the basic state pension.

"Michael Portillo's sums just don't add up. There is a credibility chasm in his costings - a yawning 70% of his savings just don't work."

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