Hague under fire for 'ring fence' against Europe

Opposition parties launch policy documents to attempt to reverse Government's recent advance in opinion polls
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William Hague came under fire from within his own party over Europe yesterday when the former prime minister Sir Edward Heath dismissed his party's election strategy on the subject as "nonsense".

William Hague came under fire from within his own party over Europe yesterday when the former prime minister Sir Edward Heath dismissed his party's election strategy on the subject as "nonsense".

Sir Edward attacked plans in the party's pre-manifesto document, Believing in Britain, to "ring-fence" policy areas in British law to prevent interference from Brussels.

The paper, due for publication tomorrow, will propose legislation to protect British sovereignty over tax, health, education, defence and the security services.

Interviewed on breakfast television yesterday, Sir Edward said he had not yet seen details of the paper, but added that any such policy was nonsense. "And they expect others to go on accepting us if that is the line we take?" he asked. Sir Edward said he could not think of one thing William Hague had got right over the summer. "We ought to be thinking how do we make the biggest impact over the next two years. That does not mean sudden explosions about this and about that," he said.

Mr Hague said in an interview with a Sunday newspaper that this was the moment when the Tories would "move from being an opposition party to a potential party of Government".

"It will illustrate the extent of our ambitions for this country," he told the Sunday Express.

There will also be a range of measures on education, new technology and the economy. The Tories want all schools funding to come direct from Whitehall and for all schools to be known in future as "free schools", although they acknowledge some services such as the assessment of pupils with special needs will continue to be offered by local authorities. The document says the plan would provide an extra £540 per pupil for schools - between 15 and 20 per cent of the current budget. However, much of that would have to be used to provide services such as transport, which currently is paid for by localauthorities.

The plan would also provide a "Parents' Guarantee", which would allow parents to demand an Ofsted inspection if they were unhappy with their children's school. If Ofsted's inspectors agreed the school was failing, the head, governors and even staff might be removed and replaced.

There would also be more vocational options under a slimmed-down National Curriculum, which would help to give children training for careers in information technology careers from an early age.

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