Election '97: Tory blueprint for 2000 and beyond

Manifesto details: Fiscal rectitude at heart of package that addresses traditional concerns
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Tax breaks for families were the centrepiece of the Conservative 1997 election manifesto, but the programme for a fifth Tory term showed a shift away from tax cuts for the better- off.

John Major said the improved tax allowances for married couples costing pounds 1.2bn would take priority over reducing the standard rate of income tax to 20p in the pound, and past Tory pledges to abolish inheritance tax and capital gains tax were watered down.

"Our aim is to spread opportunity for all to succeed, whoever they are and wherever they come from, provided they are prepared to work hard. To turn the 'have nots' into the 'haves'. To support the family in providing security and stability," he wrote in the foreword to the manifesto.

The Economy

The manifesto says the Conservatives are the only party that can cut taxes because they are the only party which is serious about controlling public spending.

They make five key commitments:

"Over the next Parliament, we will achieve our goal for the Government to spend less than 40 per cent of our national income.

"Our aim is to ensure Britain keeps the lowest tax burden of any major European economy.

"Over the next Parliament, our aim will be to achieve our target of a 20p basic rate of income tax, while maintaining a maximum tax rate of no more than 40p.

"During the next Parliament, we will maintain an inflation target of 2.5 per cent or less.

"We will continue to reduce the burden of capital gains tax and inheritance tax as it is prudent to do so."

The Prime Minister had told the Tory Central Council in Harrogate on 30 March last year that inheritance tax was to go: "I want to cut, and when possible, abolish inheritance tax. Labour wince when I say that." But there was no mention of abolition in the manifesto.

The Family

The manifesto gives a commitment to give priority to "future reductions in personal taxation that help families looking after dependent children or relatives by allowing one partner's unused personal allowance to be transferred to a working spouse where they have these responsibilities."

Mr Major said it would "probably" be achieved in the second year of a Tory government.

Who will benefit? - about 2 million one-taxpayer couples with dependent children, or dependant elderly relatives and others needing care, would gain up to pounds 17.50 a week - around pounds 900 a year. The manifesto does not make it clear, but couples have to be married to qualify.

How would it work? At the moment, if one spouse does not take paid work in order to look after children or dependent relatives, they not only give up earnings but may also be unable to benefit from their personal tax allowances. In future, a housewife or husband looking after a child qualifying for child benefit or caring for an infirm relative, would be able to put their personal tax allowance against the tax of the family.

The Elderly

In the first session of the next Parliament, the Conservatives would implement the partnership scheme for long-term care for the elderly, making it easier for people to pay using private insurance schemes without giving up their lifetime savings.

Children

The Children Act would be monitored and changed if necessary to ensure it maintained a proper balance between the rights of children and responsibilities of adults. Legislation would remove unnecessary barriers to adoption. New guidance would be issued to ensure social workers "properly reflect the values of the community ... Social workers working with children will receive special training to cope with the often heart-rending cases they face."

A new regulatory framework would apply the same standards in the private and the public childcare sectors.

Jobs and technology

Project Work, a scheme similar to the American "workfare" system, is to be expanded. The stated aim is to help 100,000 people who have been unemployed for more than two years to find work; those who do not find jobs are required to work for a specific period on a community project. An innovative "Britain works" scheme will be developed using the private and voluntary sectors with the aim of getting people off welfare and into work.

The Millennium Lottery Fund will be used to pay for computer facilities and information links available in schools, libraries, museums, voluntary organisations and village halls after the turn of the century, when its current purpose ends.

Red tape and small businesses

"Sunset" requirements would ensure that regulations died automatically unless renewed. The small companies' rate of corporation tax will be cut in line with personal taxation.

"In the next Parliament, we will reform business rates to reduce the cost that falls upon small businesses."

A Competition Bill will be introduced in the first session of the next Parliament to give companies greater protection against price-fixing, dumping, and other restrictive practices by larger competitors.

Pensions

The state pension will be protected against price rises, though it will not rise in line with average earnings. But the emphasis is on self-provision through private pension schemes, including the conversion in the next century of state pensions.

Pensions Plus, a scheme announced by Peter Lilley, the Secretary of State for Social Security, will provide all young people entering the workforce with a personal pension fund paid for through a rebate on their National Insurance contributions.

At retirement they would be entitled to the full pension earned by this accumulated investment. They will be guaranteed a pension at least equivalent to the state pension - plus inflation - possibly amounting to pounds 175 a week, although no figure is given.

Social Security

Benefits will be targeted more at those in need. However, plans to tax or means-test child benefit have been dropped. The manifesto states that child benefit and family credit will be protected against inflation as part of a "family benefits guarantee".

A new Benefit Fraud Inspectorate will police the councils who provide housing benefit. There will be more home visits to crack down on cheats.

Single Parents

The Parent Plus scheme, which helps lone parents to find work, could be extended from pilots if it is successful.

Europe and the single currency

The manifesto states: "In an uncertain, competitive world the nation state is a rock of security. We should be in Europe, but not run by Europe. A British Conservative government will not allow Britain to be part of a federal European state."

No changes to the Treaty of Rome would be accepted which would further centralise decision-making, or remove Britain's right to permanent opt- outs. Britain would retain its veto and oppose the extension of qualified majority voting. The rights of national parliaments would be defended. Frontier controls would be maintained, and any attempt to extend the concept of European citizenship would not be accepted.

On the single currency, the manifesto states: "We believe it is in our national interest to keep our options open to take a decision on a single currency when all the facts are before us. If a single currency is created, without suitable convergence, a British government will not be part of it."

Education

Under a new "Education Guarantee," there would be national targets for school performance. Each school would have to draw up improvement plans based on these. Parents will be told how their child's school was doing, and action would be taken against those schools which fail.Test results at seven, 11 and 14 would be published and every child would be assessed at five. There would also be a new test for 14 year-olds.

Education authorities would be subject to independent inspections, and a new system of teacher appraisal would take pupil performance into account.

Local authorities would be required to delegate more of their budgets to schools, and those which have not opted out would be known as locally- maintained schools.

By 2000, one in five schools would specialise in technology, arts, languages or sport. All schools would be able to select some of their pupils, and where parents wanted it, there would be a grammar school in every town.

All students between the age of 14 and 21 would receive vouchers for training or for education up to A-Level standard.

Health and the NHS

Resources for the NHS would be increased year-on-year as the economy grew. More information would be published on how successfully hospitals treated patients, and family doctors would be able to offer a wider range of services. The number of nurses working in GP practices would continue to grow, as would the number of GPs and nurses allowed to prescribe a wide range of drugs.

No long-stay mental hospitals would be closed unless there were adequate care facilities in the community, and there would be an increase in investment for the whole health service as the Private Finance Initiative unleashed a new flow of investment.

Privatisation

Private capital and management skills would be introduced to the Royal Mail, but its identity and characteristics would be preserved. Parcelforce would be transferred to the private sector, but every Post Office would provide a full parcel service at an economical cost.

Plans would also be brought forward to privatise the London Underground. The proceeds from this would be recycled to modernise the network within five years, but fare increases would be pegged at the level of inflation for at least four years.

Competition would also be extended for domestic gas users and would be introduced into the water industry.

Strikes

Industrial action which had a disproportionate or excessive effect, for example by disrupting an essential service, would no longer have legal immunity. Employers and members of the public would be able to seek injunctions to prevent it. Strike action would have to be approved by a majority of union members eligible to vote and repeat ballots would have to be held if negotiations were extended.

Transport

The privatisation of British Rail would be completed, and any surplus after the Tube network had been modernised would be invested in transport in London and elsewhere. Regional airports would be encouraged to offer direct services to the rest of the world.

Law and Order

New measures to cut crime would include the installation of 10,000 closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras in town centres in the next three years, with the backing of pounds 75m of public money. A voluntary identity card scheme would be based on a new photographic driving licence.

The courts would be able to impose Parental Control Orders on people who failed to keep their children under control, and would be able to order reparation to the victims of young criminals. Young offenders over 16 might be monitored through electronic curfews.

In rape cases and others where victims were particularly vulnerable, the judge would be able to stop a defendant from personally questioning them in the witness box.

A national crime squad would be set up and legal aid would be changed so that it functioned within defined cash limits.

Housing

Tenants would be encouraged to transfer their homes to new landlords including housing associations, raising some pounds 25bn of new private investment. Through this method, more than half the remaining public housing could be handed over and some of the worst housing estates would be improved.

Public landlords would be forced to sell houses that were empty without good reason for more than a year. More new homes would be built on reclaimed sites in towns.

The Rough Sleeper Initiative for the homeless would be extended, and hostel places would be provided so that no one needed to sleep out on the streets.

Agriculture and animals

Reform of rabies controls would be considered in a Green Paper. Measures to stop quota-hopping would be negotiated, and Britain would press the European Commission to set up regional committees for fishermen.

Sport and culture

Lottery money would be used to train young athletes and artists, and there would be revenue funding for bursaries, concessionary tickets to professional performances and support for young people's organisations.

Defence

There would be no need for a defence review, which would "raise fear and uncertainty about the future". The services would continue to have the modern weapons they needed, and resources would be targeted at recruitment.

An Army Foundation College would be set up for 1,300 16 and 17 year-olds who wanted to join.

The Constitution

There is no case for radical reform of the House of Commons, for a Bill of Rights or for changes in the voting system. However, Parliament would be given more time to consider legislation through a reform of the Queen's Speech to govern provisional plans for the following year.

The Union

The union between England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland underpins the nation's stability and should not be disturbed. However, the Conservatives have gone further in recognising the diversity of the nations and have published separate manifestos for Wales and Scotland.

Northern Ireland

Locally-accountable democracy must be achieved in the Province, and negotiation will continue with all the democratic parties. However, any security measures which are required to protect people from violence will be taken.

"We will never be swayed by terrorist violence nor will we ever compromise our principles with those who seek to overthrow the rule of law by force."

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