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Howard: Fairness is at the heart of good government

Speech to the Scottish Conservative Party Conference

"It's a great pleasure to be here in Scotland amongst so many friends. On Wednesday I replied to the Budget. It was a "Vote Now and Pay Later" Budget; a Budget that took with one hand and gave with the other; a Budget for more waste and higher taxes.

Now Gordon Brown and I don't agree on many things. But there is one item of Whitehall expenditure that the Chancellor and I agree is a total waste of money: the £130,347 a year the taxpayer spends paying for Alan Milburn to run the Labour Party's election campaign.

Thanks to all your efforts, the Conservative Party has had great start to this campaign. For the first time in many years we are now in a position to restore principle to government, to stand up for common sense, and to put people's priorities first.

Since the beginning of this year - election year - we've been making the political weather. Our plans, rooted in decent, common sense values, focus on what matters: school discipline, lower taxes, cleaner hospitals, controlled immigration and more police.

Here in Scotland our team in the Scottish Parliament has been making the case for value for money. They're the real opposition in Holyrood - holding the Executive to account for its complete failure to deliver value for money or world class public services.

Peter Duncan has been making the case for fair play and accountability at Westminster. Unlike Labour MPs from Scottish constituencies he doesn't vote on issues only affecting England - because he understands that accountability and fair play really do matter.

And Nanette Milne has made cleaner hospitals a priority. She's been the real patients' champion.

Cleaner Hospitals

In Scotland more people are killed by infection picked up in hospital than are killed on Scottish roads. These aren't just statistics. They are personal tragedies.

I know. Three years ago my mother in law died of an infection she picked up in hospital. Yes she was frail. Yes she was old. But she still enjoyed life. And she need not have died.

Well Conservatives trust professionals to make the right decisions. We won't second-guess them at every turn.

So Scottish Conservatives will give matrons back the power to close wards they know are infected with the super bug. That's the way to clean up hospitals - put matron back in charge.

Practical Politics

I went in to politics to get things done - to make life better for everyone.

So I won't allow ideological dogma to come before the needs of our people.

That's why Conservatives will spend more on our hospitals. I believe in the NHS. My family and I use the NHS. And I want an NHS fit for the twenty first century.

That's why I've set out carefully costed plans to get borrowing back under control. Britain cannot carry on indefinitely spending more than it is earning without higher taxes or higher interest rates - both of which would be damaging for our country. Government must once again learn to live within its means.

And that's why I am determined to guarantee the independence of the Bank of England. A strong and stable economy is the bedrock upon which our country's future depends. And the Conservative Party is the only party which will never hand control over Britain's interest rates over to Europe.

Over the last couple of days, we've been setting out the choice people will face at the election on the economy. It's a choice between more waste and higher taxes under Mr Blair or lower taxes and value for money with the Conservatives.

Values Matter

Today, I want to talk about a different choice: the choice of values.

Governments don't have all the answers - but if they govern with the right values they can make a real difference: trusting enterprise; rewarding hard work; respecting others; personal responsibility; and a pride in nationhood.

These are the right values. They are Conservative values. And they are the values of the forgotten majority - the people who make up the backbone of our country but have been neglected by Mr Blair's Government.

When I was growing up in South Wales, Labour was the establishment then, as it's the establishment in Scotland now. It took power, and people, for granted. Its ideology was simple. Get to the back of the queue. Take what you're given. And know your place.

It guaranteed stagnation with all the precision of a chemical formula. And I knew in my heart it was wrong - not just for me, but most of all for those people who relied most on the State and were, therefore, the most badly let down.

Wherever Labour have been in power the same rot sets in. And Labour's failure to deliver for those most in need is nowhere more apparent today than in Scotland.

Labour is in power in Holyrood. It's in power in local government across Scotland. It's exercised power for generations in many parts of Scotland where people live in conditions of quiet desperation.

But while Labour have taken the votes of Scots for granted it has starved them of hope. In Scotland's poorest areas the drug culture is rampant, crime is out of control and the vulnerable are made victims. The condition of the poorest and frailest in our society is a cause for justified moral anger.

Scottish Labour is the party of urban deprivation.

Scottish Labour is the party of spiralling waiting lists and low life expectancy.

Scottish Labour is the party of an establishment that needs to be held to account.

And May the fifth is the opportunity to hold Labour ministers in their Whitehall offices to account: to send them homeward to think again.

In the coming weeks, there'll be one phrase we'll hear from Mr Blair again and again: "It's time to move on".

Every time anyone hears him say "time to move on" they should sit up and listen hard. It's a sure sign there's something Mr Blair doesn't want noticed, doesn't want questioned, doesn't want probed. In fact, he uses it as a "get out of jail free" card to escape what he hates more than anything else - being held accountable.

Accountability makes Mr Blair angry. Well Mr Blair - come polling day you're going to be very angry indeed. Because each and every day, from now until May 5th, we're going to hold you to account for the money you've wasted, for the promises you've broken, for the people you've neglected.

Our Armed Forces

And there's one group that have been particularly badly let down by Mr Blair's Government - our Armed Forces. Mr Blair's plans to scrap Scottish regiments are a stab in the back for men he's sent into the line of fire. While the Black Watch was fighting in Iraq, this Government was plotting in Whitehall to get rid of them.

Conservatives value our soldiers. We respect their traditions. And that's why we will keep Scotland's regiments.

Respect and Rights

Respect for traditions, respect for property and respect for others - these values are at the heart of a successful society.

But today people worry that children no longer respect teachers at school. Their tolerance turns to anger when they see special interest groups like travellers openly defying the law. And they rightly question why failed asylum seekers are allowed to remain in our country, using our public services, when they aren't genuine refugees.

I'll tell you an important reason why: the rights culture. It's turning common sense on its head. It's undermining Britain's sense of fair play. And it's eating away at our tradition of tolerance.

I've got my rights has become the verbal equivalent of two fingers to authority.

Too many people today seem to think they don't have to play by the same rules as the rest of us: that they are somehow above the law. And they're using so-called "human rights" to get away with doing the wrong thing.

Now this hasn't happened by accident. At the heart of this phenomenon is Mr Blair's so-called Human Rights Act. Seldom can a piece of legislation have been so badly named.

The most basic human rights are individual freedom and the guarantee that government will play fair. Mr Blair's so-called Human Rights Act guarantees neither.

Just consider who has benefited from Mr Blair's Human Rights Act. Here in Scotland we've seen the Act at its worst. It has led to a 40 per cent increase in the number of prisoners serving life sentences released early on parole.

It has resulted in a convicted rapist winning four thousand pounds worth of compensation because his second appeal was delayed.

And in England we've seen a burglar given taxpayers' money to sue the man whose house in broke into.

Laws are there to punish criminals - not to help them get out of jail, or get rich quick.

But Mr Blair's Human Rights Act has become the law which rewards the law-breakers. It's become a charter for chancers and makes a mockery of justice.

Thanks to the Act, a schoolboy arsonist had his exclusion from school reversed because enforcing discipline apparently denied his "right to education".

What about the right of the majority of children to learn free from the disruption of the minority?

Thanks to the Act, travellers who have occupied sites and erected permanent homes in defiance of the planning rules have been allowed to stay put, thumb their noses at the law and squat on the green belt because of their "right to family life".

What about the rights of the forgotten majority who play by the rules and see their neighbourhoods turned upside down by people with no respect for fair play?

Thanks to Mr Blair's Human Rights Act a convicted serial killer has been given hard core porn in prison because of his "right to information and freedom of expression."

What about the rights of the majority, who wish to see decency upheld, killers pay the price for their crime and prisons remain places of punishment?

Since it passed into law Mr Blair's so-called Human Rights Act has led to more costly litigation, more claims for compensation and eroded the sense of fair play on which all justice depends.

And worst of all, the Act offers no protection for the most important human rights.

Mr Blair has tried to erode the right to trial by jury - but it's been the House of Lords not the so-called Human Rights Act which has restrained him.

Mr Blair has been trying to introduce detention without trial and give ministers the powers which properly belong to judges.

But the so-called Human Rights Act gave us no protection against these erosions of our liberties. It was only determined opposition in Parliament - led by the Conservatives - which stopped Mr Blair from abandoning real human rights.

It seems to me a historic tragedy that when real human rights are spreading across the globe Britain has a government that so casually tramples on the historic rights which made us the envy of the world.

I passionately believe that fairness is at the heart of good government.

We are all British. We are one nation. And we should all have to play by the same rules - whatever the colour of our skin, whatever our sex, whatever our religion.

I do not believe in special rules for special interest groups. There should be no second-class citizens in our country.

But the politically correct regime ushered in by Mr Blair's so-called Human Rights Act has turned the principle of fairness on its head. And we're not alone in believing the Act offends the basic principles of justice.

As the distinguished Scottish Judge Lord McCluskey, former Chairman of the John Smith Memorial Trust accurately predicted, the Act has established: "A field day for crackpots, a pain in the neck for judges and legislators and a goldmine for lawyers".

Do you think our society needs more lawyers? More crack pot cases? More rights for criminals? Or are you thinking what I'm thinking - that we need more discipline, more decent values and more respect.

That's why the Conservative Party is reviewing Mr Blair's Human Rights Act. And if it can't be improved it will be scrapped. I am determined to ensure that the rights of those who play by the rules are respected, that the scales of justice are rebalanced and that fair play returns to the heart of the justice system.

And Conservatives will also ensure that criminals can't profit from their crimes. We will prevent any prisoner making money by writing about their misdemeanours. That will preserve one of the most basic rights of all - the right of victims to know tthat their misery will not become a route to riches for wrong-doers.

So there will be a clear choice for people at the election: a Conservative Government that will roll back the tide of political correctness, and stand up for people who want more respect and a return common sense to government; or Mr Blair who gave us the Human Rights Act, who has let the rights culture rip and who has let political correctness run riot.

Conclusion

Practical, sensible, pragmatic government is what the country needs. And thanks to the hard work of all of you in this hall, and thousands more dedicated activists across Scotland, we are in a position to offer the Scottish people that hope.

Our policies are rooted in common sense. But our vision of what our country can be knows no limits.

A Conservative victory would be a liberation for the people of this country.

Just Imagine. Imagine how proud we could be of our country with a government which guarantees real dignity to the old, real opportunity to the young and real respect to the professionals in our public services.

Imagine how far the talents of our countrymen could take us, when they are freed from red tape, regulation and restrictive government meddling.

Imagine how much more secure our country would be with a government that takes a clear stand against political correctness in the courts, controls immigration and strengthens our borders against terrorists.

Well you don't need to imagine too far. I'm not asking you to dream an impossible dream. In just a few weeks time the country will have the chance to elect a Conservative Government which will deliver the opportunity and security our people deserve.

We have been given a special task at this election.

We have the opportunity to give the hard-working mainstream of the nation - the forgotten majority - the chance to see their values taken seriously at last.

We must not let them down. We will not let them down. We will give them back their country."

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