Major ushers in 'ownership revolution' as answer to Blair

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PRIVATE ownership was placed by John Major at the top of his political agenda yesterday, distancing the Tories from Tony Blair's Labour leadership.

'I want people to have ownership of more of their lives,' the Prime Minister said in a lecture to the European Policy Forum in London, which foreshadowed more private-sector involvement in public services.

A clear pledge to cut income tax for 'the less well off' was given by Mr Major to underpin his promise to extend choice and ownership to more people before the next general election. 'Low income tax rates widen choice. But there are more forms of ownership, too.'

Heralding an 'ownership revolution', Mr Major said the Government intended to drive ahead with more privatisation, and more privately financed public projects.

Cabinet ministers have been warned that they must be able to show public schemes cannot be privately financed before seeking more money from the November Budget.

Privately financed schemes listed by Mr Major for action over the summer include the Channel tunnel rail link, the west coast main line, four toll roads and two prisons. Ministerial sources said tenders are going out for a hospital to be built and run by the private sector, under the NHS.

Without mentioning Mr Blair or the Labour Party by name, the Prime Minister gave the right wing of the Conservative Party a clear signal that he intended to concentrate on the core Tory issues of law and order, education, and low taxation.

Douglas Hurd, the Foreign Secretary, will go further today in a speech in Newbury by accusing Mr Blair of donning Tory armour. Mr Hurd will identify the market as a dividing line between Labour and the Tories, arguing that the Conservatives have used it to improve services, without destroying standards.

Mr Major's speech was attacked as 'directionless' by Gordon Brown, the Shadow Chancellor. Labour sources accused Mr Major of trying to correct problems he had caused, including NHS bureaucracy and the collapse in the housing market.

In spite of the fall in house prices, Mr Major insisted home ownership was still part of 'popular capitalism' which the socialists rejected. A Bill to combat pension fraud was included in a list of at least seven Bills promised by Mr Major for the Queen's Speech in November.

Other Bills in the package will include the job-seeker's allowance, agricultural tenancies, the Post Office, local government reform, and the NHS.

Leading article, page 17

Andrew Marr, page 19