Election '97: Labour vision of reformed Britain

Manifesto details: Education is at forefront of commitments to build a more inclusive society
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Tony Blair held up a dual message of caution and radicalism to the British electorate yesterday with the launch of his party's 1997 manifesto.

The following is an edited text of the manifesto.

Education

Education, the manifesto says, is Labour's number one priority. The party promises that over the course of a five-year parliament, it would raise the proportion of national income spent on it.

There should be no return to the 11-plus, but comprehensive schools should be modernised with a focus on higher standards. All education authorities must prove every school is improving. A "fresh start" would be ordered for those that do not, and they would be closed down and opened again on the same site. In some cases, good schools would be allowed to take over bad ones.

Money saved from scrapping nursery vouchers would be used to guarantee places for four-year-olds, and targets would be set for universal provision for three-year-olds whose parents wanted it.

In primary schools, there would be testing for five-year-olds, and money from the phasing out of the Assisted Places scheme would be used to cut class sizes to less than 30 for five- to seven-year-olds.

Literacy summer schools would help to meet targets for every child to leave primary school with a reading age of 11 within a decade. A General Teaching Council would raise teaching standards, and in deprived areas there would be education action zones. British Telecom and cable companies would put schools on the internet.

Individual Learning Accounts would help adults to go back into education, and university students would be expected to repay the cost of their maintenance.

The economy

Labour would aim to spend wisely and tax fairly to ensure low inflation, rising living standards and high, stable employment levels. Economic stability is essential for sustained growth. Labour would seek to raise the trend rate of growth by strengthening the wealth-creating base.

Tax and spending

For two years, Labour would work within the departmental spending ceilings set by the Conservatives.

Labour's long-term aim is a lower starting rate of income tax of 10p in the pound. VAT on fuel would be cut to 5 per cent and there would be no extension of the tax to food, children's clothes, books, newspapers or public transport fares.

An inflation rate of 2.5 per cent or less would be aimed for, and the Bank of England reformed to ensure decision-making was more open. Labour would borrow only to invest and public debt would remain at a stable proportion of national income.

Departmental spending reviews would root out waste. A budget would be introduced within two months to bring in a windfall levy on the privatised utilities, to fund the welfare to work programme.

Health

Labour would raise spending on the National Health Service in real terms every year and put the money towards patient care. It would also cut spending on bureaucracy. As a result, extra resources would be channelled into patient care.

100,000 people would be removed from waiting lists and waiting for cancer surgery would be eliminated.

The internal market in the health service would be ended, and GPs and nurses will combine to plan local health services. Hospitals would be required to meet high standards, and managements would be held to account to performance level.

A minister for public health would be appointed to improve the health of the nation, taking into account the effects of poverty, poor housing, unemployment and a polluted environment. Tobacco advertising would be banned.

Business

Competition law would be reformed and anti-competitive practices stopped. Labour would promote competition between the privatised utilities wherever possible.

Labour would promote public/private partnerships and cut unnecessary red tape for small businesses. Advice and training would be improved through a university for industry, and a reformed Business Links network. Regional Development Agencies would be set up.

Unions and wages

Key elements of the trade union legislation in the 1980s on ballots, picketing and industrial action would be retained. People should be free to join or not join a union and where a majority of the relevant workforce wanted to be represented by one, it should be recognised.

An independent low-pay commission would advise on a minimum wage, which would be set according to economic circumstances.

Employee Share Ownership plans and co-operatives would give workers a share in their companies.

A Labour government would resist unreasonable public sector pay demands.

Welfare to work

A one-off windfall levy on the excess profits of the privatised utilities would fund a programme to give 250,000 under-25s opportunities for work, education or training. Every young person unemployed for more than six months would be given a job or training.

Four programmes would be offered to unemployed young people: private- sector jobs with a pounds 60-per-week employers' rebate for six months; voluntary work, paying benefit plus a fixed sum for six months; full-time study on an approved course; or a job with the environment task force, linked to Labour's citizens' service scheme.

A new Target 2000 programme will replace the Youth Training Scheme, offering high-quality education and training.

For the long-term unemployed, there would be a scheme offering tax rebates of pounds 75 per week to employers for six months if they took on someone who had been out of work for two years.

Lone parents whose children are at school would be offered extra advice to get them back into work, and new "employment zones" would offer help to all unemployed people. There would be a clampdown on Housing Benefit fraud.

Law and order

Labour would be tough on crime and tough on the causes of crime. A "zero tolerance" approach would ensure petty criminality among young offenders is addressed. Community safety orders would deal with threatening and disruptive neighbours. Child protection orders would deal with young children suffering neglect by parents because they are left out on their own too late at night. A new offence of racial harassment would be created.

Local authorities would be required to set targets for the reduction of crime and disorder locally.

Youth crime

The manifesto reiterates the pledge to halve the time it takes to get persistent young offenders from arrest to sentencing. Cautions would be replaced by a single, final warning. There would be new parental responsibility orders to make parents face up to their responsibility for their children's misbehaviour.

Drugs

Labour would appoint an anti-drugs supremo to co-ordinate the battle against drugs across government departments. The use of compulsory drug testing would be piloted and judges and magistrates would be able to issue treatment orders on drug offenders. The drug problem in prisons would be addressed with random drug testing of all prisoners.

Guns

There would be legislation to allow MPs a free vote for a complete ban on handguns.

Families

A national childcare strategy would plan provision to match the requirements of the modern labour market and help parents, especially women, to balance family and working life. Labour supports the right of employees not to be forced to work more than 48 hours per week, to an annual holiday entitlement and to limited, unpaid parental leave.

Housing

Councils would be able to reinvest receipts from council house sales in building new ones and rehabilitating old ones. Tenants in multi-occupation houses would be protected. A new form of tenancy, commonhold, would enable people living in flats to own their homes individually and to own the common parts collectively. Rules on purchase of freeholds by leaseholders would be simplified. The duty on local authorities to protect those who are homeless through no fault of their own would be reinstated. Labour is consulting on the best way to tackle the problem of gazumping.

Pensions

The basic state pension would be retained as the foundation of pension provision and would continue to be uprated in line with prices. Labour would create a new framework, stakeholder pensions, involving partnerships between financial services companies, employers and employees. Labour would retain SERPS.

Couples divorcing would have to split pensions between themselves. Local authorities would be able to continue providing old people's homes. Labour would introduce a long-term care charter defining the standard of services which people are entitled to expect from health, housing and social services. Labour would set up a review of the central areas of insecurity for elderly people.

The environment

Government departments would have to promote policies to sustain the environment. Parliament should have an environmental audit to ensure high standards across government. Labour sees no economic case for building new nuclear power stations.

Transport

Labour's goal would be to win more passengers and freight for rail. There would be more effective and accountable regulation and Labour would ensure public subsidy best serves the public interest. A new rail authority would be created to provide a strategic programme for the development of the railways. London Underground would not be privatised but a new public/private partnership would be created to improve it. Bus services would be regulated and more bus lanes provided.

Labour remains unconvinced about the need for 44-ton lorries. There would be a strategic review of the roads programme.

The countryside

Labour favours a moratorium on large-scale sales of Forestry Commission land. There would be a free vote in Parliament on whether hunting with hounds should be banned.

Arts and culture

Labour proposes to set up a National Endowment for Science and the Arts to sponsor young talent. Well-known artists would be encouraged to support young talent by donating copyright and royalties to the fund. Labour would review the distribution of lottery proceeds and aim to ensure the lottery is administered efficiently. When the current contract runs out, Labour would aim to seek an efficient, not-for-profit operator. Labour proposes a new millennium commission to support a range of education, environment and public health projects after the Millennium Exhibition is finished.

Sport

Labour would bring the policy of forcing schools to sell off playing fields to an end. It would back the bid to host the 2006 soccer World Cup and aim to attract the Olympics to Britain.

Media

The regulatory framework for media and broadcasting should reflect the realities of a far more open and competitive economy and enormous technological advances.

Political reform

The right of hereditary peers to sit and vote in the House of Lords would be ended as the first stage in a process of reform to make the Lords more democratic. Life peers will continue to be appointed, with an emphasis on crossbenchers and Labour says no political party should seek a majority in the House of Lords. Prime Ministers' Question Time would be made more effective.

There would be a referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons. On the funding of political parties, Labour would ban foreign donations and ask the Nolan committee to consider how the funding of political parties should be regulated and reformed. A Freedom of Information Act would lead to more open government.

Devolution

Labour would enact legislation as soon as possible after the election to allow the people of Scotland and Wales to vote in separate referendums on proposals for a Scottish Parliament and a Welsh assembly.

The referendums would take place not later than autumn 1997 and, if the vote is in favour, Labour would introduce substantive devolution proposals in Parliament.

Local government

Local decision making should be less constrained by central government and more accountable to local people. Councils would have a new duty to promote the economic, social and environmental well-being of their areas. To ensure greater accountability, there would be annual council elections with a proportion of councillors elected every year. Although universal council-tax capping would go, Labour would retain reserve powers to control excessive rises.

Councils would not be forced to put services out to tender. Every council would be forced to publish a local performance plan and the Audit Commission would get additional powers to monitor performance and efficiency.

London would get a strategic authority and a mayor, both directly elected, which would take responsibility for economic regener- ation, planning, policing, transport and environmental protection.

Labour would establish regional chambers, where there was clear popular consent.

Northern Ireland

Labour would continue a bipartisan approach. It is committed to reconciliation between the two traditions and a political settlement which could command the support of both.

Europe

Labour has set out a detailed agenda for reform, leading from the front during the UK presidency in the first half of 1998. Labour would aim for rapid completion of the single market, enlargement of the European Union, reform of the Common Agricultural Policy, greater openness and democracy in EU institutions, retention of the national veto and signing the Social Chapter. Any decision about the single currency would be preceded by a referendum.

Defence

Labour would conduct a review to consider how the role of the armed forces should be adjusted. Labour would retain Trident and press for multilateral negotiations towards reductions in nuclear weapons.

Labour would work for implementation of the Chemical Weapons Convention and ban the import, export and manufacture of all forms of anti-personnel landmines with an immediate moratorium of their use.

International relations and aid

Labour would press for a reform of the UN, including an early resolution of its funding crises and a more effective role in peace-keeping.

A cabinet minister would lead a new department of international development. Labour would make the protection and promotion of human rights central to foreign policy.

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