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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 06:38 GMT
Tories defend tax plan
Conservative Party chairman Michael Ancram has defended his party's decision to make a cut in fuel tax the central plank of their manifesto.
He was responding to Tony Blair's suggestion that the promised 6p-a-litre reduction in petrol and diesel duty was simply "opportunistic".
It came as the Liberal Democrats claimed the party's tough stance on immigration and asylum was contributing to racial attacks.
The Conservatives dismissed the allegation as "disgusting remarks".
Mr Ancram told Sky News: "It is a very significant part of the ordinary family's budget, the price of petrol. They have seen the tax go up significantly."
The Conservatives had concentrated on fuel tax because there was, he said, a £10bn "black hole" in Labour's spending plans and the most obvious way to fill it was by putting up fuel duty, he claimed.
And he rejected suggestions that Tory plans - including their pledge to cut £8bn in tax did not stand up.
"We have taken a lot of time to make sure that these figures are robust," he said.
Although William Hague last week challenged Labour to say that it would not put up taxes at all in the next parliament, Mr Ancram admitted that the Tories themselves could not give such an assurance. "I think anybody who said that were going to give a complete blanket assurance would actually be defying the way the economic cycle works," he said.
Mr Ancram also indicated that no disciplinary action would be taken against Sir Peter Tapsell, who compared Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder's blueprint for Europe with Adolf Hitler's Mein Kampf and stepped out of line with Tory policy by stating his opposition to Britain ever joining the single currency.
"We accept within our party there are a few people who don't follow the exact line on Europe," Mr Ancram said.
But he argued that the "vast majority" of Conservative MPs supported the leadership's policy of ruling out membership of the euro for the lifetime of the next parliament.
Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Simon Hughes attacked the Tories for allegedly contributing to a rising tide of racial violence.
"The Tory Party has indirectly increased the number of racial attacks and violence," he said.
"Tory language in the last three years has actually, indirectly increased the number of racial attacks and racial violence and increased the prevalence of racist attitudes.
"I have seen 14-year-old Bangladeshi kids in my constituency nearly killed in recent months and I have no doubt that it is in least in part due to the language we have had from William Hague and William Hague's Tory Party."
That prompted Tory shadow home secretary Ann Widdecombe to brand Mr Hughes's comments as "complete nonsense".
During a live debate on BBC 1's On The Record, she said: "The term bogus has even been used by the prime minister, the term floods has been used by the attorney general.
"We are trying to have a debate which distinguishes asylum seekers who have a claim who should get a quick and settled haven... and those who are simply trying to use the system as a means of getting into the country.
"I don't believe we should be driven off that debate because it is a serious one."
Later Miss Widdecombe described Mr Hughes's remarks as "disgusting".
"This is a disgusting allegation and shows Simon Hughes' desperation given that he and his party have no practical proposals for dealing with the chaos in our asylum system.
"He is hoping to exploit human tragedy for party political purposes and should retract these disgusting remarks at once."
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