You quiz Michael Howard
Conservative Party leader Michael Howard answers questions posed hy readers of the East Anglian Daily Times.Question: If the UK votes against adoption of the proposed EU Constitution, how will the Conservative Party, if it forms the next Government, resist pressure to hold further referendums until the UK eventually votes in favour because of "referendum exhaustion?" Would it not be better to start negotiating a new relationship with the other countries of the EU as soon as possible so that we can decide on our future ourselves instead of leaving it to the unelected in Brussels?Mr.
Conservative Party leader Michael Howard answers questions posed hy readers of the East Anglian Daily Times.
Question: If the UK votes against adoption of the proposed EU Constitution, how will the Conservative Party, if it forms the next Government, resist pressure to hold further referendums until the UK eventually votes in favour because of "referendum exhaustion?" Would it not be better to start negotiating a new relationship with the other countries of the EU as soon as possible so that we can decide on our future ourselves instead of leaving it to the unelected in Brussels?
Mr. P. Fleming 60 Brook Lane Galleywood Chelmsford
Answer: I do not believe there will be much pressure on Britain to vote again if we have a Conservative Government. Our European partners will understand that such a 'no' would be final. Even pro-Constitution experts like Charles Grant expect other European countries to accept the result. Besides, there are no good means to put pressure on us - we are the EU's second largest economy and one of the biggest net contributors to the EU budget.
Once all the countries in the EU have made their decision on the Constitution - and Britain may well not be the only country to vote 'no' - we will start negotiations to help the EU move forward. I believe in a 'live and let live' Europe that allows each country to find the level of integration at which it feels comfortable.
If some countries want to press ahead towards what the German Government calls a 'United States of Europe', we won't stand in their way, as long as they don't expect us to join them and we can take powers back where the EU is performing badly, like fishing, our employment laws and asylum. We won't be alone in wanting powers back - the Dutch, for instance, want to take back social policy. We have a great opportunity if Britain votes 'no': we can have the place in the EU that the great majority of British people want, enjoying the benefits of free trade and working together to tackle common problems like pollution, but without being dragged into a United States of Europe, as Mr Blair and the Liberal Democrats would go along with.
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Q: Your colleague in John Major's major government, Mr Gummer, was known as the "dirty little man of Europe," and worse. How will you reduce carbon dioxide production without a carbon tax?
R F Stearn, The Little Barn, Old Newton, Stowmarket, IP14 4EG
A: John Gummer was acknowledged by Friends of the Earth as the best Environment Minister we have ever had. We do not support a carbon tax as it simply imposes extra burdens on industry. We have plans to expand the Energy Efficiency Commitment into a self-funded, tradeable Energy Efficiency Obligation that would allow more players into the market for energy efficiency and allow millions of householders to benefit. We would replace the Climate Change Levy and use the £800 million that it raises to finance this so there would be no extra costs to the consumer.
We support an emissions trading scheme that includes aviation and should be expanded globally. That would achieve an equalisation of carbon pricing across the world.
Q: Will you re-introduce hare coursing and the Waterloo Cup?
Christine Warren, Rickinghall
A: We will introduce a Wildlife Management Bill, with conservation of the countryside at its heart, which would establish a comprehensive framework for countryside and wildlife management - one of the issues addressed will be hare coursing. It would also repeal the ban on hunting. On hunting, we would allow a free vote, as all hunting matters have been until now, and Parliament would decide based on the evidence, not emotion.
Q: How can someone of my age 25 with a student loan debt of £15,000 get onto the property ladder with high property prices and stamp duty?
R Sheppard, Lyle Close, Kesgrave, Ipswich
A: Our proposals for abolishing tuition and top-up fees mean that young people will not have the crippling burden of up to £19,300 of debt when they start out in their early twenties, so they will be able to save for deposits rather than spend all their money repaying loans.
As you know, if Labour wins the election, taxes will certainly rise, and they will carry on wasting taxpayers' money. But there is a clear choice - we have costed, affordable spending plans that mean we will be able to cut taxes, deal with Gordon Brown's black hole and improve the value for money that you get for your taxes. I believe that people know how to spend their money best - not the state.
We will increase funding and support for shared ownership schemes, which will allow people on modest incomes to get onto the housing ladder, but who are not eligible for social housing.
Q: Woodbridge is being inundated by thugs and vandals. When can we have our quality of life back, without the hooligans who currently blight it?
James Joss, 12a Seckford Street, Woodbridge, IP12 4LY
A: The single most effective thing to reduce crime is more police. We will recruit 5,000 more police a year - for your constituency of Suffolk Constabulary, there will be an extra 379. And we will make sure that the police don't spend half their time filling in paperwork - they will be out, visibly policing their beats.
On top of that, we will make sure that criminals are taken off the streets. When someone is convicted, if they are sentenced to three years, they will serve three years. We will abolish Labour's Early Release Scheme which has released so many criminals before their sentences are up and has given them freedom to commit over 3,700 more crimes.
Q: Why should pensioners be forced to use their life savings to pay for private health treatment, as you propose? It is simply creating an underclass of patient, who cannot afford to pay for elective surgery and who will be pushed further and further down the waiting list.
N Hall, Colchester
A: We're not forcing anyone to pay for treatment. The NHS will remain free to everyone at the point of use. What we are proposing is that people can choose to go to any hospital they want to. If the cost of private treatment is no more than the NHS tariff, then it will be free to the patient. If the cost is more than the NHS cost, then the state will pay half. This will help the NHS by freeing up capacity, and it will mean that an operation is carried out for half the cost to the NHS - meaning that the other half of the NHS cost can be used by someone else. With the Conservatives, no one will be charged for their operation, and waiting lists will simply become a thing of the past.
Q: Mr Howard, you introduced the council tax to replace the poll tax. But it is hitting pensioners and those of us on fixed incomes really hard. Your answer is to reduce the amount OAPs pay by up to half, but surely would it not be better to do away with the council tax altogether, fund education out of central taxation, and introduce a local income tax as proposed by Charles Kennedy, or even a sales tax which seems to work in the United States?
Mrs L Payne, Ipswich
A: Council tax worked perfectly well until Mr Blair started using it as one of his 66 stealth taxes. There were no marches, and people didn't go to jail for non-payment.
Under Mr Blair, council tax has risen by more than 70 per cent - that's over double the rate of inflation, and, as you will know, for pensioners, more than a third of the increase in your basic pension has been swallowed up by these huge council tax rises. As a first step, we will introduce a 50 per cent discount for pensioner households. This will mean a discount of up to £500 for pensioner households, on top of existing one-off payments.
I don't believe a local income tax would solve the problem - it would simply shift the burden onto other members of your family. The average couple would end up paying £630 a year more in local income tax than even in council tax under a Liberal Democrat high-tax regime.
Q: Your candidate in Harwich for the General Election, Douglas Carswell, has stated quite categorically that he would prefer the UK to withdraw from the European Union rather than become more and more integrated in a federalist European state.
1) Do you agree?
2 )Do you honestly believe the other 24 states of the EU would allow the UK to jog alongside a growing political and trading entity without being a full participant?
R Parker, Clacton-on-Sea
A: 1) That isn't the choice before us. We can say no to more integration and stay in the EU. With our strong negotiating hand, we can also take powers back, and I think people will be surprised at the number of countries that would join us. Of course, if Mr Blair remains Prime Minister, judging by his record, I expect he'll be ready to give Brussels ever more control over our lives even if the British people reject the Constitution.
2) It's an outdated idea to think that in order to be a full participant we must have exactly the same arrangements as everyone else. Some countries in the EU have the euro, some don't. Some countries have abandoned their border controls, others, like us and Denmark haven't. We believe that this principle should be extended further into the future. The Dutch want the EU to have more power in criminal law but much less in employment law or regional funding. So what I think needs to happen is the evolution of a different kind of EU, a much more flexible one, with each country taking part in those areas it wants to. Britain should be the natural leader in making the case for that kind of Europe.
Frustratingly, Mr Blair has given in again and again to those in countries like France who want Brussels to have ever more power - he used be against the Constitution but caved in on that. He promised to keep our veto on asylum and immigration, but now he's given that away. A Conservative Government could make a real difference here, not just to Britain but to all of Europe, by providing real leadership rather than just making concession after concession. I think people are tired of a Government that doesn't put Britain first. People want a government that will take powers back from Brussels.
Q: Your party when in government from 1970-74 and 1979-97 closed down local rural and urban councils, cottage hospitals, and rural primary schools in favour of larger units, and also deregulated the buses, leading to the withdrawal of uneconomic and unsubsidised services. Is it not rather shallow politics now to defend village pubs, shops and post offices when your party started the attack on the rural way of life?
D Ambrose, Needham Market
A: Rather than examining the circumstances of 25 or 30 years ago, we are concerned with how things stand now. We are responding to needs in the light of new evidence. No one is in any doubt that the Conservative Party is the true Party of the countryside.
People living in rural areas pay more council tax but receive worse services because of the way that Labour has left them under-resourced.
Labour has deliberately undermined the principles of Green Belt land. Homelessness in rural areas is rising at three times the rate of the national rise. Rural property prices are around 15 per cent higher than the national average. Nearly 60 per cent of rural households do not have access to a regular bus service. Rural crime costs farmers £100 million a year, yet 98 per cent of parishes have no permanently staffed police station. Some 3,000 rural post offices have closed.
These are all problems that need to be dealt with. And I will deal with them.
Q: You oppose regional government, but wouldn't directly elected authorities be better than the current democratic deficit of unelected place men and women, many of whom are Tory appointees, voting to build hundreds of thousands of houses across the East of England? What would you do to house essential workers and first time buyers in East Anglia?
H Rogers, Aldeburgh
A: We will scrap the unelected regional assemblies, and hand back to democratically elected local councils the powers which the regional quangos have seized. People identify with their towns, villages and counties, not the government office regions.
We will increase funding and support for shared ownership schemes, which will allow people on modest incomes to get on the housing ladder, but who are not eligible for social housing.
Q: Why is it necessary to build a second runway at Stansted Airport? How do you defend the destruction of the landscape and the environment?
L S Johnson, Braintree
A: Aviation is a rapidly growing transport sector which has enabled many people to take advantage of cheaper holidays and quicker business links. However, it also creates significant noise and environmental pollution and can blight people's way of life.
In the South East there are significant issues about airport expansion, as both Heathrow and Gatwick are approaching full capacity. Any expansion at Stansted needs to take account of demand, and should only go ahead if Britain is a full participant in an emissions trading regime which includes the aviation industry, and which should be expanded globally.
This will need to happen before any expansion in runway capacity in the South East is sanctioned. In addition, I don't believe that the cross-subsidy of airport development costs is beneficial, and we will ask BAA to review its compensation arrangements with a view to being more generous to those people whose homes are blighted by proposed airport development.