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Hague: Blair won't wait to scrap the Pound

In a speech to a Conservative Party rally in Manchester, the Rt Hon William Hague, Leader of the Opposition:

"I will not give up on education.

There are few things more important to the future of this country than the education of our children. It is one of the most crucial responsibilities that any government will ever have.

Fulfil that responsibility and we safeguard respect for our laws, secure our continuing prosperity and succeed in making sure that each new generation plays its full part in our national life.

Fail in that responsibility and we sow the seeds of crime and disorder, we perpetuate dependency and poverty, and we all become poorer as a result.

Today, there are many parts of this country where we are not living up to our responsibilities. We may have the 4th largest economy in the world, we may be its 4th largest military power, but many of our children have to settle for an education that is second best.

When teaching vacancies are at their highest for decade and the Times Educational Supplement can boast about being the world's largest tabloid because it is carrying recruitment advertisements across its five sections, then we have a problem.

When the Government's own survey of secondary school-aged children shows that more one in seven of them admit to having taken illegal drugs and one quarter to having committed a crime in previous year, this country has a problem.

When we have young teenagers in our towns and cities vandalising property, stealing from shops, spraying graffiti and threatening or assaulting people in public, we have a problem.

When close to two-thirds of secondary pupils are worried about the safety of themselves and their possessions, never mind the elderly or much younger children, we have a problem.

This is the reality in too many of our towns and inner cities.

It is time to take a stand. It starts with the teaching of discipline and respect. There are those who say the difference between right and wrong can longer be taught. I say they are wrong. All children challenge the rules set down adults, that is normal. The problem comes when adults refuse to defend them.

When teachers and parents stand up for what is right. They earn respect for themselves and the values they are upholding.

It can be done. I know because I've seen it.

Last year, I visited the Archbishop Tenison's School in Southwark.

This school is set in a community where violent crime is three times the national average. A little over five years ago only one in every 100 pupils left the school with five or more good GCSEs.

Since then it has been transformed beyond all recognition. Its last Ofsted report said it had made an excellent improvement. Now 1 in every 4 pupils leave with at least 5 good GCSEs.

This turnaround cannot is not the result of Whitehall circulars or the meddling of politicians; in fact the school became Grant Maintained to keep the politicians at arms length. No, the transformation in Archbishop Tenison's is down to the leadership given by the head and his governors, the commitment and flair shown by the teaching staff and the hard work of the pupils.

Together they have created a school with a distinctive set of values. It has its own school uniform, it is proud of its sporting achievements and it expects the highest standards of discipline.

Archbishop Tenison's is not a grammar school, but it has a strong sense of its own identity.

It does not select its pupils by ability, but it demands the same standards of behaviour from everyone whatever their background.

It is not in the middle of an affluent catchment area, but parents are longing to send their children to it.

Archbishop Tenison's is just one school. There are others like it, but there are not enough of them.

That is why the next Conservative Government will make our schools places where all children can learn, all teachers can teach and all heads can lead.

We are committed to giving this opportunity to every pupil wherever they live or whatever their parents earn.

Some people say it is unfair to expect children from disadvantaged backgrounds to strive for the same standards as everyone else. I say it is unfair to expect anything less, because we are ambitious for everyone's children.

We will turn these ambitions into reality.

We will do this not by making the Secretary of State for Education the headteacher of every school in the land, but by giving every headteacher in the land the authority to make their own schools better.

We will do this not by telling teachers about how to spend every last minute of their working day, but by giving them less paperwork and more time to spend in the classroom teaching children.

We will do this not by forcing schools to put up with disruptive pupils in the name of social inclusion, but by giving these pupils the help they need away from those schools in the name of discipline and fairness to others.

By doing these things, we will create more of the schools that the country deserves.

Schools where discipline is upheld and respected.

Schools where standards are set and maintained.

Schools that hold parents to account and are themselves accountable to parents.

Schools that everyone in Britain can be proud of.

*****

People sometimes say to me: "Yes, Mr Hague, I agree with you about keeping the pound. But why do we have to decide the issue at this election?"

I'll tell you why. If Labour and their Lib-Dem sidekicks win on 7 June, they will begin taking us into the euro on 8 June. Because scrapping the pound isn't just about changing our notes and coins. It's about the whole direction of our economy.

Under a Labour Government, our interest rates, our exchange rates and even our tax rates would be set, not in the interests of Britain, but with a view to entering the euro. And that process would begin immediately.

Tony Blair says he wants to join the euro in two years. By coincidence, two years is exactly the period Britain would have to spend in the ERM. So a Labour Government elected on 7 June would presumably rejoin the ERM very soon after June 7th.

Think about that for a moment: once again, we'd be taking the huge risk of contracting out our mortgage rates to the European Central Bank. And not just our mortgage rates. Labour would also have to run taxation and spending policy to meet Brussels criteria.

So be in no doubt as to the choice we face. It's a choice between a Labour Government whose overriding economic objective is to join the euro, and a Conservative Government whose objective is British growth, British jobs and British prosperity. It is a choice that we face, not in two years, but in two weeks.

And it's not just the Government that will have to meet the transition costs. Those costs will also fall on our businesses and, through them, on their employees, their shareholders and their customers. Firms will have to retrain their staff, upgrade their tills, alter their software, run customer awareness campaigns, change their accounting systems.

Labour - not surprisingly - have steadfastly refused to put a figure on the cost of all this. But an independent study drawn up by accountants estimates that scrapping the pound will cost the public and private sectors a total of £36 billion.

£36 billion! We've all got used over the past couple of weeks to politicians bandying around large sums of money. But this is a truly enormous figure. It is equivalent to £55 million in this and every other constituency in the United Kingdom. It is equivalent to £1500 for every household in the land. It is equivalent to building a whole new Millennium Dome every month for the next three years.

And what's the pay-off? Having paid up this huge entry fee, what can we expect in return? To have our interest rates set in Frankfurt, our tax rates set in Brussels and our independence eroded. We could be handing away our power to govern ourselves, and paying for the privilege.

That is the decision we face in two weeks' time. We have two weeks to save the pound. Two weeks to decide whether, from 8 June, our economy should be run in our own interest.

It's true that Labour have been forced to agree to a referendum on the euro. But why are they trying to create an air of inevitability about its result by spending money on the transition costs already?

And, in any case, does anyone here really believe that Labour will give us a free and fair referendum?

Who will decide the terms of the referendum? Tony Blair. Who will choose the timing? Tony Blair. Who will set the question? Tony Blair. Who will decide how much the two sides are allowed to spend? Tony Blair.

There is only one free and fair referendum on keeping the pound. And that is the one that takes place on 7 June.

When historians look back at the general election of 2001, they will be interested in just one thing. They won't remember the precise details of the manifestoes. They won't care who had the better campaign. They probably won't even recall that this was the election in which the Labour Party began physically assaulting the electorate. But they will remember whether we voted to remain an independent country. They will remember whether we preserved for our children and grandchildren the freedoms that we were privileged to inherit from our parents.

The euro is not inevitable. It's up to you. You can vote Labour or Liberal to scrap the pound. Or you can vote Conservative to keep the pound.

All of you here this evening will know people who may not be Conservative supporters, but who share our concerns about the way in which power is ebbing away from this country. People who may be lifelong Liberal or Labour voters, but who want to keep the pound.

Those are the people I am appealing to tonight. People in every party who believe in this country. Lend us your vote. Lend us your vote this time so that your vote will still mean something next time, and the time after, and the time after that.

Vote Conservative this time, so that we can carry on having meaningful elections in an independent Britain."

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