Election `97: Lib-Dems focus on improving schools

Manifesto details: Big idea is to fund pounds 2bn education programme with 1p rise in basic income tax
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The Liberal Democrats' big idea is to pump pounds 2bn per year into the education service, funded by a penny on the basic rate of income tax. The following is an edited version of their manifesto.

Education

Extra money raised for education would be spent on doubling the amount of cash available for books and equipment within a year, reducing primary school class sizes to less than 30, investing pounds 500m in buildings' maintenance over five years and giving adults more chances to learn.

The Liberal Democrats also promise high-quality early-years' education for all three and four-year-olds whose parents want it, and the scrapping of the Tories' nursery voucher scheme.

The party wants to set up a General Teaching Council, strengthen the school inspection system, support teachers to maintain discipline and launch a national Truancy Watch scheme. The National Curriculum would be replaced with a more flexible Minimum Curriculum Entitlement.

All major faith groups would be allowed to establish publicly-funded schools if they had sufficient community support, and independent schools would have to work with state schools if they wanted state funding.

There would be more access to further education, and the Student Loans Scheme for higher education would be replaced with a repayment scheme linked to earnings. The party also proposes that all 16- to 19-year-olds would receive the equivalent of two days' training a week.

The economy

Priorities would be to provide stability, to encourage long-term investment and to promote enterprise and small business. The Bank of England would become an independent UK Reserve Bank, charged with keeping inflation low and accountable to Parliament.

Borrowing should not exceed total investment, and the government would be accountable to Parliament for keeping to that rule. Wasteful spending would be cut. Effective public-private partnerships would be promoted, and councils' borrowing would be curtailed.

Jobs

Unemployment benefits would be turned into "working benefits" paid to employers to recruit and train people. Investment in the infrastructure, promotion of small businesses and energy conservation will create hundreds of thousands of jobs.

Business

Banks will be encouraged to develop new sources of private finance for small and medium businesses as well as new codes of banking practice. Red tape will be cut by stopping European institutions interfering and Whitehall departments from adding their own new rules to the European ones.

Regional development agencies would foster partnerships between business and local authorities, tourism would be promoted and employees would be given new rights. Firms would have to publish information on their investment achievements.

Industrial relations

The benefits of the Social Chapter of the Maastricht Treaty would be extended to all UK employees, but new rules which unnecessarily harm job opportunities would be resisted.

Employees would be given new rights to consultation and participation in decisions. Profit-sharing and share-ownership schemes would be encouraged.

Consumers

Ombudsmen schemes would help customers to get redress if they had complaints, and product standards and labelling would be improved. Food products with genetically modified ingredients would be clearly labelled.

An Office of Utility Regulation would be set up, and utilities would be asked to involve their customers in ownership and control of their companies. Independent regulation of financial services would be improved. The Monopolies and Mergers Commission would be merged with the Office of Fair Trading to promote competition.

The Environment

Taxes on pollution would be increased while income tax was cut. Every government policy would have environmental objectives built into it, and tough targets would be set to cut energy waste, reduce traffic congestion and control pollution.

Carbon dioxide emissions would be cut by 30 per cent from the 1990 level within 15 years. Central and local government would have to meet targets for sustainability and biodiversity.

A separate department for environment and energy policy would be set up, and the Environment Agency would be given stronger powers to enforce compliance with the law.

Animal welfare would be promoted through a dog registration scheme, new rules on transporting live animals and a ban on animal testing for cosmetics, weapons and tobacco. A free vote on hunting would be held in the Commons.

Transport

Public transport would be expanded through partnerships with the private sector. London Underground would remain in public ownership but would be given the right to seek private finance for new investment.

Freight on the railways would be trebled and passengers doubled by 2010. Railtrack would be given targets for investment, and if it failed the government would withhold public subsidies and use the money to buy a controlling interest in it. On the roads, car tax would be cut to pounds 10 for cars up to 1600cc, but petrol duty would go up by 4p a litre.

Housing

Houses would be built through public-private partnerships, and mortgage interest tax relief will be replaced with a first-time buyers' Mortgage Benefit. Over time, housing benefit for people renting would become part of the same system. By 2000, no one would be forced to sleep on the streets. Councils would be made to set up self-funding rent deposit schemes to help homeless people into private housing.

Rules forcing under-25s on benefit to live in shared houses would be scrapped.

Crime

An extra 3,000 police officers would be put on the beat within a year. Young offenders would be made to repay their debt to society, and citizens' service would help them to get involved in crime prevention schemes.

The Crown Prosecution Service will be overhauled and the use of community sentences encouraged in order to ensure that no one goes to prison unless it is essential to the public. A Royal Commission will be set up to tackle the problem of drugs.

Rural communities

The Liberal Democrats would work to replace the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy and would set up an independent Food Commission. Village schools and shops would be supported and rural areas would be helped through more affordable housing and better transport.

Arts and media

Media monopolies would be tackled, the BBC would be protected, and the National Lottery would be used to improve access to the arts. Film production in Britain would be promoted.

Health

The party would increase funding for the NHS by pounds 540m a year, maintaining it as a comprehensive service free at the point of need and funded primarily from taxation. The aim would be to make the NHS more accountable and begin a shift towards preventive medicine.

Tobacco advertising and promotion would be banned. The party would make the Health Education Authority "truly independent" and free to criticise government policy. A Food Commission, independent of the agriculture ministry, would seek to ensure that food was healthy and safe; pounds 200m would be invested each year to recruit more staff for frontline care. This would be enough for 10,000 extra nurses or 5,000 more doctors.

The party would also aim to cut hospital waiting lists to a maximum of six months over three years. There would be an end to the "two-tier" service in which treatment depends on the type of GP people go to. Free eye and dental checks would be restored. A National Inspectorate for Health and Social Care would be established to improve standards and promote patients' interests.

Political Reform

The aim would be to restore trust in British politics by ending secrecy and guaranteeing people's rights and freedoms. A Bill of Rights would be passed and as a first step the European Convention on Human Rights would be incorporated into UK law. A Human Rights Commission would be set up to protect individual rights and a Ministry of Justice would be established. The party opposes the introduction of identity cards.

There would be a Freedom of Information Act establishing a citizen's right to know. Unnecessary quangos would be scrapped and there would be greater use of referendums.

Outdated institutions would need to be modernised, giving a bigger say to Britain's nations, regions and local communities. There would be home rule for Scotland and Wales and regional decision-making in England would be made more accountable.

Proportional representation would be introduced and there would be reforms to Parliament. Higher standards of conduct for politicians would be expected. There would be a fixed parliamentary term of four years.

The number of MPs in the Commons would be cut by 200 - a third - and the Lords would be transformed into a predominantly elected chamber. In Northern Ireland there would be a power-sharing executive to ensure a respect for individual liberties.

Opportunities

Individual self-reliance would be promoted, strengthening equality for all before the law. In employment the party would work for a society that cherishes diversity. There would be more help for the long-term unemployed to get them back into work and welfare system would be modernised to provide a more effective safety net for the disadvantaged, to encourage work without compulsion and to widen opportunities.

For older people there would be a minimum standard of living in retirement and there would be a "flexible decade of retirement" between the ages of 60 and 70.

For younger people there would be new rights and new responsibilities. All those between the ages of 16 and 19 would have the opportunity to work, learn, train or take a place on a new Citizen's Service where two years work for the community would be offered.

Families would benefit from a new system in which Income Support and Family Credit would be replaced by a simpler and more efficient Low Income Benefit. That would help people back to work.

Employers would face tougher obligations to introduce equal opportunities and the pensions system would be made fairer to women. Comprehensive legislation would be passed to ensure civil rights for disabled people. Britain would play a leading role in strengthening European legislation banning discrimination against ethnic minorities. Lesbians and gay men would enjoy equality before the law.

Foreign Policy

Britain needs to play a leading role in shaping Europe, democratising its institutions and strengthening its role as a promoter of prosperity, peace and security. Any major changes in Britain's relationship with Europe would have to be endorsed in a referendum. A plebiscite would have to endorse a single currency, but the party believes that it would bring low inflation and low interest rates.

Tax

A copy of the party's Annual Tax Contract would be delivered to each household following the Budget each year. There would be no taxation without explanation, no promises unless they have been costed and no more tax without tackling waste.

Under the banner "fair tax for all" the party would want to ensure that everyone contributes according to their ability to pay and that the burden is fairly shared. It would aim to take more of those on low incomes out of tax completely. There would be a clampdown on tax avoidance and evasion.

The basic rate of income tax would increase from 23p to 24p in the pound to help finance investment in education. The starting rate for the payment of taxation would increase by pounds 200 to pounds 4,245. This cut would be paid for by introducing new rate of income tax of 50 per cent payable on income over pounds 100,000 a year.

Half a million people would be freed from taxation altogether. Five pence would be put on a packet of cigarettes, which would be used to restore free eye and dental checks and freeze prescription charges.

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