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Hague: A fresh start for Britain

At a press conference this morning, the Leader of the Opposition, the Rt Hon William Hague, outlined the Conservative Party's intended plan of action for the first two weeks of Government.

"We have reached the final week of what has been a hard-fought election campaign.

"The Conservatives have succeeded in setting the agenda for this campaign right from the beginning. We have talked about the issues that make a real difference to people the length and breadth of Britain.

"Before this campaign you often heard a view that all the parties are the same. That there are no real differences between what Labour promise and what the Tories offer.

"I think people now know differently.

"No one in Britain can now be in any doubt that a Conservative Government would cut taxes, while Labour would carry on raising them.

"No one can be in any doubt that a Conservative Government would be tough on criminals.

"No one can be in any doubt that a Conservative Government would sort out the chaos in our asylum system.

"No one can be in any doubt that Conservatives would get the government off the backs of our doctors, nurses, teachers and police officers and let them get on with the jobs they trained to do.

"And no one can be in any doubt that a Conservative Government would keep the pound, while Labour would ditch it by hook or by crook.

"We have set the agenda. We have made the choice very clear.

"And if we are elected on Thursday, we would be no less vigorous in setting about the task of making Britain a better place. That task would begin on Friday.

"In the first fortnight of a Conservative Government we will take 20 immediate steps towards a better Britain.

"The actions we would take during this first fortnight will set the direction of the next four years.

"A new commitment to delivering results, not spin.

"A new style of Government accountable to Parliament.

"A new direction of policy which hands back to individuals and families the ability to shape their own lives.

"It would be a fresh start for Britain.

"On Friday I would appoint at least three fewer Cabinet Ministers than Labour have at present. And when I came to appoint junior ministers on Saturday, there will be at least a dozen fewer than now. When I say I want smaller Government I mean to deliver smaller Government.

"And new ministers taking office would appoint only half the number of spin doctors that Labour ministers have employed at the taxpayers' expense.

"Foot and Mouth is still threatening our countryside - perhaps even more than the Government will tell us about before the election. We would act urgently by implementing our Strategy for Recovery including emergency interest-free loans for businesses whose cash-flow has collapsed as a result of the epidemic.

"On Monday we would initiate a Public Inquiry to find out why this crisis was allowed to spread so disastrously, with the terms of reference as set out by Tim Yeo last month.

"With a Conservative Government, Britain will keep the pound. So we would immediately scrap the National Changeover Plan to the euro. We would release the money that the Government has put aside for the costs of conversion in the public sector and divert it instead to Britain's charities, by abolishing their irrecoverable VAT charges.

"By the Tuesday after the election we would issue an Order to exclude the most serious criminals from the Special Early Release scheme, with immediate effect, and set in train the arrangements to abolish the entire scheme.

"Next Wednesday would see the beginning of improvements to our transport system. We would establish by then the new Road Safety Unit, that will recommend how to take traffic out of town and villages, and will set sensible speed limits for each stretch of road. The review of the roads programme and action to stop anti-car taxes would come soon after.

"We would lift the threat to our green fields and strengthen local government by abolishing Labour's national and regional housebuilding targets.

"By Thursday week, seven days after polling day, we would have abolished Labour's Waiting List Initiative, a throwaway pledge on a card that was an election gimmick. Instead we would give consultants the right to set a maximum waiting time for treatment, starting with cancer and cardiac services, and use the savings in bureaucracy to increase support for hospice care. We would give our GPs the freedom to refer their patients to the hospital of their choice.

"Permanent Secretaries across Whitehall would be instructed to plan for a 2 per cent reduction in administration costs for the current year, 5 per cent for 2002-3 and 10 per cent for 2003-4. Reversing the growth in the cost of government will allow us to return people's money to them in the form of tax cuts, including a 6p a litre cut in petrol tax in our first budget.

"We would begin the process of setting regulatory budgets for each Government department. And I would promote no minister who does not deliver a reduction in the overall burden of regulation in his or her department.

"On Friday 15 June, Francis Maude and I would travel to Sweden for the EU summit in Gothenburg, with a mandate and to begin a crusade for genuine reform of the EU. We would press the case for a flexible Europe that recognises the rights of nation states, and for reform of the Common Agriculture and Fisheries policies. We would insist that any EU defence force is inside NATO.

"By Sunday 17 June we would have established the new Office of Civil Society, which will give Britain's volunteers and charities their first powerful voice at the heart of Government.

"The next day we would abolish Labour's exclusion targets and give back to head teachers the ability to enforce discipline in their schools.

"On Tuesday we would publish an offer for sale for the Dome - ending the cloak-and-dagger secrecy that Labour have used to hide the scale of this failure from the public. We would sell it to whoever offers the best value for money for the taxpayer.

"Parliamentary scrutiny of a Conservative Government would be robust and rigorous. MPs would get the chance to hold the Prime Minister to account twice a week again. We would remove whips' control over the selection of Select Committee chairmen. And we would reform Parliament's standing orders so that legislation affecting only England and Wales is voted on only by English and Welsh MPs.

"And on Wednesday 20 June, we would publish a Queen's Speech which, among other things will include key bills to cut bureaucracy in schools and give new freedoms to head teachers, to give parents the power to change the management of failing schools, to take persistent young offenders off our streets, to bring in honest sentences, to impose tough sentences for those who deal drugs to children, to allow doctors to set guaranteed limits on waiting times for patients, to reform asylum, to reform commonhold and leasehold and to privatise Channel 4 in order to endow our museums and galleries.

"This Thursday, Conservatives offer Britain a fresh start. A new direction. And the real prospect of a better Britain for the next five years.

"A Britain that has a strong economy, and that is guaranteed to have its own currency at the end of five years.

"A Britain where families, pensioners, savers, drivers and companies are paying lower taxes.

"A Britain whose streets are safer for law-abiding people, because we have more police spending more of their time on the beat.

"A Britain whose schools have high standards and can attract our brightest graduates to work in them, because they get the chance to use their talents to the full to inspire our children, free from interference from the council and the Government.

"A Britain that would give back dignity and respect to its older citizens, giving them security and an income free from the indignity and uncertainty of the means test.

"A Britain self-confident enough to say no to proposals from Europe that would damage us, and confident in leading a vision of an expanded EU fully open to trade with the rest of the world.

"A Britain with a well-funded health service that champions, rather than thwarts, the doctors and nurses that work in it.

"That is not just a Britain Conservatives want, it is the Britain millions of people want.

"I know many commentators take their lead from the opinion polls and think that we cannot win this General Election.

"But the only poll that counts is the poll that millions of people will take part in on Thursday.

"During this campaign we have demonstrated that we are ready to win.

"If the people of Britain put their faith in us, we will not let them down.

"And over the coming four days we will spare no effort, hour or breath so that on Friday you will be surprised and we will be busy."

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