Cuts in tax and red tape top contender's bill

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The Independent Online

Political Editor

John Redwood yesterday unveiled a programme tinged with populism - and a touch of monarchism - with tougher law and order, tax cuts, opposition to the single currency, repatriation of European Union powers and cutting bureaucracy, at the top of his priorities.

He used his second crowded press conference of the campaign to declare confidently that it was "time to deliver" on the tax promises that won the Conservative Party its 1992 general election victory, and that the "first task" of a new administration would be to cut the "waste and unnecessary expenditure" in the pounds 303bn Government spending programme.

Indicating that he would release more detailed costings at a later stage in the campaign - saying the "dance of the seven veils is much more exciting if they're not all taken off at one go" - he confronted head-on John Major's statement that there was no need for any change of policy and added that the local elections proved "we should listen and learn from the electorate". "The Conservative Party is the party of low taxation or it is nothing," he said.

Key points of Mr Redwood's programme include:

t "Substantial reductions" - including widespread recruitment freezes - by cutting staff levels, quangos and consultancies. Regulation must be looked at "with fresh eyes" to "pay for the salaries of nurses, doctors and teachers ... [and] recruit more medical staff";

t "Greater support for the traditional family, the prudent pensioner and small business through tax reductions." Although Mr Redwood did not say so, this package is thought to include proposals for reversing cuts in the married couple's allowance, possible large-scale extension of the "granny bond" scheme unveiled in the 1993 Budget, and possible national insurance or corporation tax reductions for small businesses;

t Large scale extension of "choice", including: more competition in the water industry; the money to extend popular schools "so that more people can obtain their first preference"; "smaller and older hospitals should remain open" - though Mr Redwood said he was talking about future policy, not reversing the recent decision to close St Bartholomew's in London;

t Declaring that "we must keep up the power of the armed forces", Mr Redwood said that "no more regiments should go" and the reservists should be strengthened, ensuring that "we maintain sufficient forces" to defend Britain and our interests. He added: "Tories keep royal yachts not scrap them";

t On law and order: the police should be able to use "alternatives" to the Crown Prosecution Service; more concern for victims of crime than the "so-called victims of the criminal justice system"; large scale extension of closed-circuit television and a drive to increase the detection rates of crime;

t A one-year experiment in removing council capping - giving local authorities "real choices" in how to spend their money - but the Government would retain the right to re-impose it if spending still ran out of control;

t Hostel places or "suitable help" for all those living on the streets. Care in the community should offer "more care and less paperwork" and the elderly need "more help with cleaning and shopping rather than another assessment meeting". "The state does not make the best parents and the extended family wherever possible should be encouraged to provide care and support." New housing association properties should be let with the right to buy - a policy adopted by the Government in its Housing White Paper yesterday;

t On Europe: "In the next few years" - outright opposition to the single currency, pressure on the EU to negotiate and limit the powers of the European Court, and the transfer of more EU powers to "national and local governments or to people". Mr Redwood said that he was in favour of a referendum if new shifts of power to the European government were proposed - but he would not "as Prime Minister" put forward such changes - including a single currency.

Mr Redwood said it was a "hypothetical" to ask whether he would now advocate joining the EU if Britain were outside it and said that he accepted the decision in favour of community membership in the 1975 referendum. The British people had not, however, voted for a superstate. Asked if, based on his stated European policy, it might not be better to withdraw from the forthcoming Inter-Governmental Conference, he replied: "Never withdraw, I think there are a lot of like minds across Europe."

He added: "There must be a healthy debate by the democratic parties on the continent of Europe so that everyone there also feels that their point of view has had a chance to be represented."

The former Welsh Secretary insisted his plans were "part of the same family of policies" already being implemented by the Government.

"My views are wide-ranging. Many of them are what you would call moderate if you had not been told in advance who the speaker was ... many of them will have appeal across the board both in the party and in the nation," Mr Redwood said.