Major declares pride in 'rewards' of the Budget

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Political Correspondent

Kenneth Clarke's Budget was the fairest way of giving people back a growing share of their own money, John Major declared yesterday in an effort to rally his party behind the Chancellor.

In the closing address to the Conservative Women's Conference in London, the Prime Minister went on to challenge Labour to support yesterday's plans for pilot workfare schemes, announced by Gillian Shephard, Secretary of State for Education and Employment.

Mr Major sprang to the defence of Mr Clarke in the wake of barely concealed disappointment by some Tory backbenchers that he had not gone for bigger cuts in public spending and tax.

Declaring he was "proud" of the Budget, Mr Major said: "I read all the pre-Budget options: 'Bribe people; take risks; don't worry about the long term' ... I've heard it all my life, and I tell you this, I won't do it."

The Budget would "reward those millions of our citizens who have worked so hard to help to build the economic success we now enjoy by giving back to people, in as fair a way as we could devise, a growing share of their own money ... widening the bands, cutting the basic rate, and introducing a new, lower, 20 per cent rate on savings." Mr Major said the workfare scheme, under which those who refuse an offer of work experience will lose some or all of their benefit, was an example of "how we develop long- term policies to deal with long-term problems - and then take real action."

David Blunkett, Labour's education and employment spokesman, said the Government's pounds 10m scheme would be more likely to result in people going back on welfare at the end, rather than getting a permanent job.

Mr Major told the conference that Labour approached every problem with a flapping chequebook. "They hold the pen, but it's your chequebook and your money ...

"Spending more means only one thing. They would have to put up taxes. It's as simple as that. Without higher taxes, Labour's sums don't add up."

Turning to Europe, Mr Major declared that a speech by Tony Blair, the Labour leader, on Thursday had "misled the country". Mr Blair said Labour would never be "isolated" in Europe. "If I had never been isolated, Britain would now be in the Social Chapter, losing jobs instead of gaining investment," Mr Major said.

Mr Blair was "plain wrong" on the Social Chapter, he added. "He made out that it was like a buffet lunch ... pick and mix, choose only what you like ... The Social Chapter is a mechanism, a means to an end. On much of it, there's no veto. No picking and choosing. You have to swallow the lot."