10 Questions for David Cameron

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Indy Politics

The Independent on Sunday put 10 questions about Conservative policy to David Cameron, in areas where we felt that the Tory leader has avoided being straight with the voters. Here are the questions as posed and a spokesman's answers in full. On our reckoning, the spokesman gave a definite answer to two out of 10, but we leave our readers to judge:

1. Will you keep British troops in Afghanistan for the next five years if necessary to win the war?

We shouldn’t and won’t set a timetable for withdrawal. Of course, whilst we want our troops to come home as soon as possible, we will leave when the Afghans are able to keep the country secure and are able to prevent it from falling into the hands of terrorists and their sympathisers. That’s why we want to train up the Afghan security forces as quickly as we can.

2. Will you hold a referendum on the Lisbon Treaty if it has been ratified by all 27 countries?

Obviously, we don’t know what the situation on the Lisbon Treaty will be at the time of the next election. It's currently subject to two legal challenges in the Czech Republic and it isn’t clear how long they'll take or what the result will be. If the Treaty does come into force then our view would be that it would lack democratic legitimacy in Britain because the British people would have been denied any say on it at all, either in the promised referendum or in a general election. In our view, too, political integration would have gone too far and so we wouldn’t let matters rest there. We would announce our policy if and when the Lisbon Treaty came into force, but anyone thinking we'd just forget about it would be making a serious mistake.

3. Do you aim to reduce the 50p top rate of income tax during the next Parliament?

We don’t like the 50p top rate of tax. But we cannot pledge to reverse it. It’s got to take its place in the queue of Labour’s taxes we want to get rid of. The first of Labour’s tax rises we want to avoid is the tax on jobs – the hike in National Insurance that will hit anyone earning £20,000 or more.

4. Do you have any plans to make voluntary work a condition of receiving unemployment benefit?

One of the ideas we proposed in our green paper on welfare reform was to introduce community work programmes for people who’d been to specialist welfare to work provider and were still unable to find a job. We still want to roll that out as soon as we can. We think it’s important to set in stone the principle that you should do something in return for your benefit – it’s not just free cash. And we firmly believe that provided you’re well enough to do it, work is good for us all – getting out of bed in the morning, having a routine, interacting with other people – the health and social benefits are obvious.

5. Are you planning departmental spending cuts greater than the Government's plans up to 2014?

As Gordon Brown has finally had to admit, who ever wins the next election will cut spending. Leaked treasury documents show that Gordon Brown had been planning spending cuts since before the Budget. We have made it clear that we make a start sooner, and therefore get the deficit down faster.

6. Will you raise taxes on flying?

We have said that we will introduce a new per-plane Airline Pollution Duty to replace the flawed Air Passenger Duty. This will incentivise fuller and cleaner planes in order to tackle the problem of rapidly rising carbon emissions from air travel.

7. Will you raise the cap on tuition fees beyond the current Government’s plans?

We support the idea that those who benefit from higher education should meet some of the cost of their degree. At the same time, we must ensure that those who could gain from university are not put off by the prospect of debt.

Ministers keep kicking their long-promised review into tuition fees ever further into the long grass. We need robust information on the options for funding higher education, especially as the recession starts hitting people’s finances. The Government’s student finance review should start now and be as comprehensive as possible. We are keen and willing to work with the Government on a bipartisan basis.

8. Will you abolish the target for cancer patients of having text results within one week of seeing their GP?

We don’t think Labour’s central targets are in the best interest of patients. Cancer survival rates in this country are amongst the worst in Europe. The problem with Labour’s central process targets is that they only focus on the procedural side of care and ignore the actual result of a treatment. So, in this case, hospitals have been more concerned with treating cancer patients within a certain timeframe than making sure those patients get the right treatment that best helps them live longer.

9. Do you rule out any change to the voting system for the House of Commons under a Tory government?

Yes. Real voting reform should concentrate on delivering equal-sized constituencies, so that everyone’s vote is of equal weight, and reducing the size of the House of Commons – both of which we have pledged to deliver.

10. Will you cut or means-test child benefit for higher earners?

We have no plans to cut or means-test child benefit for high earners. However, we have said that, given the state of the public finances, it is right to ask whether higher earners should receive tax credits.