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Duncan Smith: The Conservative task is to make the Scottish Parliament work

Speech to 2002 Scottish Conservative Party Conference

Next year a new Scottish Parliament will be elected. Elections that will be a referendum, not just on the performance of the first Scottish Executive, but also on the performance of the Scottish Parliament itself.

Three years ago, 129 MSPs were elected with the goodwill and enthusiasm of the Scottish people. And together they carried the high hopes of a proud nation into Holyrood.

But three years of bickering, pettiness and politically correct trivia have dashed those hopes. Nothing illustrates this better than the way Tony Blair seeks to play games over the European issue. To have Stephen Byers brief the press that they are going to hold a referendum and then to deny it is cynical politics of the worst kind. Instead of trying to jump on the Euro issue he should be spending his time sorting out our failing health service, the rising levels of violent crime and the poor quality of our schools.

Scotland, like Britain as a whole, faces deep-seated social problems and failing public services.

The Scottish people looked to the Scottish Parliament for solutions but they have looked in vain.

The Labour-Liberal Democrat Executive does not share the Scottish people's priorities.

As drugs continue to claim the lives of our young people, the only smack that the Scottish Executive seek to protect children from is the discipline of their parents.

As rising crime drives decent people from the streets, the Scottish Executive seem more interested in making the fields safe for foxes.

And as vulnerable people in our hard-pressed communities cry out for decent housing, Labour and Liberal Democrat politicians are spending £300m on a monument to their egos.

For those of us that opposed the Scottish Parliament, the temptation is to say 'I told you so'.

But that is a temptation we must resist.

In the overwhelming result of the 1997 referendum, the settled will of the Scottish people was made clear. And despite all the disappointments of the last few years, that will remains unchanged.

The Conservative task is to make the Scottish Parliament work by ensuring that it rises to the challenge of serving every person and every community in Scotland.

The Scottish parliament needs more MSPs with new ideas on how to improve our schools and cut hospital waiting times.

The Scottish Parliament needs more Conservative MSPs who want to spend money on fighting crime rather than on expensive pet-projects.

The Scottish Parliament needs more Conservative MSPs who will deliver effective help for the vulnerable.

The Scottish Parliament needs more Conservative MSPs who will speak up for rural Scotland as well as urban Scotland.

The Scottish Parliament needs more Conservative MSPs who aren't going to spend all of their time campaigning for independence.

It needs more Conservative MSPs to join a team so ably led by David McLetchie.

Last week David set out the five key themes that will guide the Scottish Conservative Party as it prepares for next year's Parliamentary Elections: economic security; safe streets; first class public services for all; support for stronger families and communities; and a real safety-net for the vulnerable.

I spoke about helping the vulnerable during last summer's Conservative Party leadership election. I spoke of "the caring hearts and practical agendas of men such as Wilberforce and Shaftesbury".

Wilberforce and Shaftesbury embody the Conservative approach to vulnerability: blending compassion with practical effectiveness.

They championed great causes: freedom for the slave, help for the mentally ill, and education for all.

And today is a time for championing great causes, too.

People are switched off by politicians who would rather get a good newspaper headline than get something done.

But they respond to people who hold strong beliefs that are matched by effective policies.

The Labour and Liberal Democrat Scottish Executive is beginning to lose the battle of newspaper headlines but it has already lost the battle on public services and it has failed to help the vulnerable.

Nearly three months ago David McLetchie and I visited the Easterhouse estate in Glasgow. Today I visited there again to learn about how beyond the reach of Government they are able to help those in difficulty and need.

These visits are part of a number of visits that I and other Conservatives have been making to poverty-fighting projects all over Britain. But Easterhouse summed up the challenge that vulnerable people and vulnerable neighbourhoods face.

All of the major signs of vulnerability were present: crime; drugs; inadequate housing; failing public services; too many people without rewarding work; and too many children who never see their fathers.

But there were sources of hope, too: neighbours helping each other out; single mothers dedicating their lives to their children; and community and churchleaders providing constant care and support.

People in Easterhouse have been failed by politicians. But they don't want government to give up and run away - they want government to do things differently.

I believe in a government that devolves power and responsibility to local communities. While Labour trusts the state, Conservatives trust people.

When Labour thinks of community - it thinks of politicians, committees and taskforces. When Conservatives think of community we think of the family, local schools, charities, and places of worship. These are the people-sized institutions that operate on a human scale. In them we find friendship, identity and belonging. They are the building blocks of a neighbourly society.

Government cannot solve every social challenge but government can support these institutions and the values that energise them.

That is why the Conservative manifesto for the next Scottish Parliamentary elections will contain practical ideas to support families, charities, social entrepreneurs and other people in the frontline against poverty.

The manifesto will also focus on schools, hospitals and crime-fighting. When I talk about failing schools, patients on waiting lists and street crime Tony Blair says that I'm exaggerating.

When I read the relentlessly optimistic spinning put out by the present government, I am tempted to quote Groucho Marx: "What are you going to believe? Me? Or your own eyes?"

For whatever Labour might want us to think, you do not need me to tell you that our schools and hospitals are getting worse. Our great public services desperately need reform.

But not Labour's kind of reform. Suffocating schools and hospitals under even more layers of bureaucracy, while leaving the underlying problems untouched.

No, that kind of reform is all about helping Labour throw a cloak of lies over the evidence of their failure.

It's the sort of sleight of hand that keeps Tony Blair out of trouble, but leaves vulnerable people more exposed than ever.

And it costs. Hard working families pay more in tax to fund these fake reforms. But as we know in Scotland, Labour can raise spending on schools and hospitals and still fail pupils and patients, teachers and nurses.

Labour tax more and deliver less. The burden grows on rich and poor alike. But, the rich at least have a choice. They can pay again. They can buy their way out of the public sector and into private schools and hospitals.

Most people don't have that choice. Most people have nowhere else to go. Labour's failure to reform the public services makes millions of people vulnerable - when illness strikes, when classrooms are disrupted, when crime brings fear to the streets.

Labour's fake reforms increase vulnerability. Conservatives are committed to real reforms that increase security.

Conservative reforms that are straightforward and easy to understand. Conservative reforms that are built around familiar and trusted institutions and values.

Conservative reforms that respect the public service professionals and strengthen the neighbourly society. What does that mean for the National Health Service?

Its means an NHS that is responsive to local needs, local patients and local GPs. It means giving patients and their doctors a choice over their hospital treatment. It means freeing our hospitals from bureaucratic control and political interference. Hospitals will be part of the communities they serve.

The same is true of our schools - which we will re-establish as local institutions. I want to stop that pitiless rain of central directives and clear the way for the leadership of head teachers and school governors.

I am determined that teachers and school boards will have the respect not just of government, but, even more importantly, of their pupils too.

We will not allow the disruptive few to damage the education of the many, we will give heads the authority to restore discipline in schools.

And discipline will be the strength of schools that prepare their pupil not just for work, but also for life in all its fullness.

Young people are under pressure as never before and parents want schools that help them to build character in their children, the strength to resist self-destructive behaviour and to achieve their hopes and dreams.

We have failed our children for too long. And the evidence for that can be seen on the streets where young people are the victims of a culture of drugs and crime.

We look to the police for protection and to the courts to stop the spiral of decline in both individuals and communities.

But here too, the fake reformers are at work. Bureaucracy takes the place of action, central control the place of local accountability, political correctness the place of genuine care.

Our police are pulled back from the fight against social disorder: and out of the petty crimes of vandalism, drug dealing and intimidation comes the threat and reality of mugging, rape and murder. None of us are completely safe, but again it is the vulnerable that suffer most of all.

There is something seriously wrong with a society that leaves the poor, the young and the old unprotected on the frontline against fear. Conservatives will bring about real reform. We will put police back on the streets.

Neighbourhood police officers that everyone knows - especially the local yobs.

We will back them up with the powers that brought security back to the streets of American cities like New York.

We won't just hold the line against fear, we will take back the ground lost to forces of disorder and hand it back to the vulnerable.

I want Conservatives to be the party most associated with new thinking on the real problems facing people and their communities.

Conservatives will put forward real solutions to the problems of poverty, crime, hospital waiting times and poor discipline in schools.

Only by focusing on real issues and effective solutions will politics be rescued from its current unpopularity.

But politicians must also set a better example.

Last week another terrible tragedy occurred on the railways. Every person who uses the railways sought reassurance that the government was serious about understanding what went wrong and that everything was being done to put things right for the future.

Frankly, Stephen Byers was in no position to offer that reassurance.

I simply do not understand why the Prime Minister keeps him in his Cabinet.

Mr Byers is not only doing damage to the reputation of the Labour Party - my concern is that he is doing much greater damage to the whole reputation of politics and public life.

People watch a Cabinet minister who lies and misleads but is never punished or rebuked.

Mr Byers has demeaned Parliament and the office he holds. The longer he stays the deeper the taint in Tony Blair's government.

Politics will never be free from the kinds of people who make mistakes or behave badly. That is sadly the reality of human conduct in every walk of life.

But politics needs leaders who will not excuse misconduct.

I will not tolerate unacceptable attitudes or dishonesty from any Conservative politician.

It is time that Tony Blair ended his weakness over his Transport Secretary.

Mr Byers should go and he should go now.

Labour in Scotland have had their own share of problems.

David McLetchie properly exposed the office expenses scandal when the SNP opposition was either asleep or, perhaps, planning a photo opportunity at a TV studio.

But the scandal of Scottish politics is as much about its scale as it is about its nature.

There are simply too many politicians in Scotland.

I began my speech by urging Scotland to elect more Conservative MSPs.

But the Scottish Parliament needs fewer MSPs overall.

Money being spent on extra politicians and their accommodation, spindoctors and bureaucracy can be much better used by the Scottish people themselves or by Scotland's public services.

Scotland's voters reject the SNP because the SNP only have the one big, bad idea of smashing the United Kingdom.

Scotland's voters reject the Liberal Democrats because they surrendered their principles in return for a little power and must now share the blame for Labour's terrible record on schools, hospitals and crime.

For a long time Conservatives have been on the back foot in Scotland.

In recent times there has been strong evidence that the tide is turning.

For a start, there are more elected Conservatives across Scotland and for that I pay tribute to all of your hard work and to the leadership of Jacqui Lait and David McLetchie's team.

But even more significantly Scotland's Conservatives are the party of new ideas. The party with the determination to find new solutions to the problems facing our schools, hospitals and other public services.

In the 1980s and 1990s Conservatives focused upon the economy and by releasing the creativity of the British people the country was saved from economic meltdown.

But we were not rejected without reason in 1997.

People had not only become bored with us. Scotland's people, in particular, felt we didn't share their concerns and their values.

The introduction of the poll tax in Scotland - one year ahead of the rest of Britain - encapsulated the problem.

Things are changing.

A difficult chapter of the recent Conservative Party history may be most associated with Scotland but it is a closed chapter.

I urge Scotland's people to look forward because the renewal of the Conservative vision was declared in Easterhouse and my commitment to helping the vulnerable is not a passing phase.

We will deliver on the Conservative commitment to fight crime and improve Scotland's schools and hospitals. No stone is being left unturned as we search for practical solutions in America, France, Sweden, Holland and Germany to improve peoples lives.

Next year's local and Parliamentary elections are vital for Scotland.

Scotland's voters will have a chance to endorse the terrible record of Labour and the Liberal Democrats or they can vote for real change.

The SNP will never deliver real change because they never have any new ideas.

David McLetchie and I are united as Conservatives but we are also united in our love for this country.

Scottish Conservatives are from Scotland, of Scotland and for Scotland. We are the only alternative to the socialists, the separatists and the cynical Liberal Democrats.

Only Scotland's Conservatives will deliver action against crime. Action to improve our schools and cut waiting times. Action to cut the cost of politics - real solutions to the problems of vulnerable communities.

Now is our opportunity to show the Scottish people that the Conservative and Unionist party deserves their trust again. It is a challenge for all of us and a challenge we must rise to.

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