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May: Women''s Choices Debate

Good afternoon Ladies and gentlemen and welcome to this Conference session on Women`s Choices - so-called after the document we launched earlier in the year which set out across a number of policy areas the issues that women in particular had raised as we Listened to Britain.

"Ladies and Gentlemen, this is a different type of Conference session.

"It is the first time that the Party has focused in any session of Conference on issues which are of particular importance to women.

"It also gives us a chance to raise matters of concern across the traditional subject or departmental boundaries.

"In a few minutes the floor will be yours and I hope you will raise the matters that worry you across our three areas of "Choices for future generations", Choices in the Workplace" and "Choices for Families". Responses to those sections will come from Caroline Spelman, Judith Edwards and Marney Swan.

"We want to hear your views about the problems faced by families trying to bring up children in today`s world, about how women cope with an increasingly complex lifestyle, about the challenge of working and caring. The list seems infinite. Yet these are the very issues that women are worried about and which politicians must address.

"Women are fed up with spin and failure to deliver. They've had enough of that from Labour. They want some plain talking and straight answers.

"Now, some of you may ask why we are having a session which appears to look at issues facing only one group of people. We have never believed in ghettoising any group - unlike Labour who have patronised women for far too long. The issues we will be raising today are issues for us all - and we are developing policies for all.

"But what women told us as we listened to Britain was that there are particular issues that worry them, because it is often women who first see the failures of this Government to deliver.

"They worry about how long they or their family might have to wait for an operation as hospital waiting times rise. They worry about whether their son will be able to do as well in school as the girls in his class. They worry about the disruptive child in their child`s class who is stopping others from learning, and worry even more when the Head teacher says he tried to exclude him but the Local education authority insisted that he go back to the school. They worry about how long their elderly mother can stay at home and how much it will cost to get long-term residential care for her.

"The overwhelming view that has come through our listening to women so far is that women want to be able to choose how to live their lives according to what suits their family. They don`t want to feel pressurised to go out to work as under this Labour government, but they also don`t want to feel government is keeping them at home.

"We believe in choice and individual freedoms, unlike Labour who have been nannying and interfering in people`s lives since they came to power.

"The women`s minister has told us that women should not become hairdressers. Where on earth would John Prescott`s wife be without a hairdresser. This same minister held a body image summit which reportedly decided that an official body should count the number of fat and thin women on television.

"Women are becoming increasingly disillusioned with this Labour government.

"Only the other day a new survey showed that 73 per cent of women feel the government isn't listening and that women don't trust Labour to deliver on the issues they care most about.

Why was Tony Blair slow handclapped by the WI? Because they knew more about what he was talking about than he did.

"They knew the problems of getting an appointment to see a consultant. They knew about rising class sizes and the difficulty in getting any help to look after an elderly relative at home. They knew about the problem of rising crime in their area and the fears of too many people that its not safe to walk the streets - and they knew the impact of rising petrol taxes.

"Women want a government that delivers practical answers. They don't want to be told their daughters need assertiveness training, nor do they want to be told what jobs they can or cannot do. They want some answers to the questions they face every day.

"I hope that in our session today we will hear some of the problems but also hear from you what you think those answers should be."

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