Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Jones: the real party of Wales

Speech to the Welsh Conservative Party conference at Venue Cymru, Llandudno.

"Good morning, and welcome to the second day of our conference.

And what an excellent conference it has been. Yesterday, we heard a tremendous speech from our leader, David Cameron. A speech of great importance to the future of Wales.

If anyone had any lingering doubts that we are going to win the next General Election, those doubts would surely have been dispelled by that speech.

David has shown himself to be a huge friend of Wales and the Welsh Conservatives. He has visited us no fewer than eight times since he was elected leader.

Compare this with Gordon Brown, whose sole foray into Wales was two weeks ago at the Welsh Labour Party conference. On the other hand, perhaps we shouldn't complain too loudly about that.

I would also like to pay tribute to Cheryl Gillan, who made the wonderful speech that opened our conference yesterday morning.

I have worked very closely with Cheryl over the past 15 months and can tell you that she is 100% dedicated to her duties as Shadow Welsh Secretary.

She is an extraordinarily hard worker and a tireless fighter for the Welsh Conservative Party. She lives, eats, breathes and - when she finds the time - sleeps Wales.

We Welsh Conservatives are very fortunate indeed to have her as our leader. Last Thursday, Cheryl and I spoke in the annual St David's Day debate in Parliament.

St David's Day debates are important occasions, because they underline one essential truth that we Welsh Conservatives hold dear: that Wales is a full, constituent part of our United Kingdom and that Welsh MPs have a central role in the work of our Parliament at Westminster.

Gordon Brown has recently appointed a new Secretary of State for Wales: Paul Murphy, who of course, is holding the office for the second time.

Now, Paul Murphy is every inch the urbane gentleman, every inch the diplomat, and he certainly needs all his powers of diplomacy.

Because, during the debate, the internal tensions within the Labour Party over devolution became very evident.

Don Touhig, the MP for Islwyn, for one, made his own concerns very clear indeed.

He warned against the dangers of separatism and of entering a "political cul de sac". Well, Don is entirely right.

There are those, both at Westminster and in Cardiff, who are avowed and unashamed separatists.

They want to see Wales torn out of the United Kingdom and become an irrelevant bit-player on the world stage.

They are, of course, Plaid Cymru - and, to Don's evident despair, Rhodri Morgan and Labour are in coalition with them in Cardiff Bay.

Plaid Cymru, the so-called "party of Wales".

Plaid Cymru: plaid o siawnswyr sydd yn lapio eu hunain yn y faner Cymreig, ond yn dewis eu hoff liw yn ôl pwy maent yn siarad â - gwyrdd yn y Gogledd, coch yn y De.

Plaid Cymru, a party of chancers, who wrap themselves in the Welsh flag but decide which of its colours they prefer depending on who they are talking to.

Green in the North, red in the South. I believe that Plaid are a truly pernicious influence on Welsh politics.

And the baneful effect that Plaid Cymru now has on the Welsh Assembly Government is now all too apparent.

Their leader, Ieuan Wyn Jones, is now the Welsh Transport Minister. Let's consider what he has achieved in just a few short months.

First, there was the quiet abandonment of the proposal to electrify the Wrexham to Bidston railway line, a project of crucial importance to the people of North East Wales.

It would bring the centre of Liverpool within easy commuting distance of Wrexham.

It would massively boost the North East Wales economy.

But in the first statement that Wyn Jones made to the Assembly on transport last summer, there was no mention of the long-promised, long-awaited electrification.

The project has, quite simply, been kicked into the long grass and it is unlikely that it will be resurrected for several years.

And then we have the Local Transport Bill. This is a UK-wide Bill dealing, for the main part, with such uncontroversial matters as local bus services.

However, the Assembly Government has now asked for Wales-only clauses to be inserted in the Bill, to confer a power to impose trunk road charges in Wales.

I am sure that you will remember that a couple of years ago the Westminster government was considering introducing trunk road charges.

Over 1.7 million people signed a petition on the Downing Street website opposing the proposal. As a consequence, the Government dropped it.

But it would appear to have been revived by Plaid in Wales. Mr Wyn Jones wants to impose a tax on road users in Wales that would not apply in the rest of the country.

One can imagine the deep damage the scheme will inflict upon the Welsh Transport industry, the Welsh tourist industry and the Welsh farming industry.

Welsh Conservatives, it is perhaps unnecessary to add, will oppose it.

Increasingly, under Labour and Plaid, there is a tendency for the Welsh Assembly Government to look inwards, to adopt a "fortress Wales" approach to public services.

Increasingly, there are references to "in country" or "all Wales" solutions - irrespective of whether or not those solutions are of benefit to the people of Wales.

A prime example of this isolationist approach arose last year in the field of medical care.

The newly-appointed Welsh health minister, Edwina Hart, announced that she intended to adopt a "in country" approach to neurosurgery.

She wanted patients from all parts of Wales would have to go to either Cardiff or Swansea for surgical treatment.

Now, this may be - and probably is - entirely acceptable for the people of South Wales.

However, here in North Wales we have traditionally enjoyed excellent neurosurgical services at the Walton Centre in Liverpool.

Not only is Walton a world-class facility, but it is convenient. From Colwyn Bay, it is about a 90 minute journey along dual carriageway roads.

Swansea, however, is a 5 hour journey away down a difficult, winding single carriageway, the A470, which regularly features in the list of the top ten worst roads of the United Kingdom.

Not surprisingly, Mrs Hart's announcement has caused outrage throughout North Wales.

It is, in short, a thoroughly bad idea. All this isolationism is quite wrong. It is a disturbing trend that has got to be stopped. There is no border between Wales and England.

Nor will there ever be, so long as there is a strong Conservative party in this country.

Because we Conservatives believe that the people of Wales, who pay their taxes and their national insurance contributions at precisely the same rate as anybody else, are entitled to the same quality of service as anybody else.

As citizens of the United Kingdom, they are entitled to enjoy the best medical services, wherever they may be found.

The sad thing is that Labour used to believe that too. And clearly, some Labour members, such as Don Touhig, still believe that. This is, essentially, a problem of ideology.

There are those in Cardiff - and some at Westminster - who believe that the important thing is that services are delivered on an "all Wales" basis.

I happen to believe that the important thing is that services are delivered.

And that, I feel it safe to say, is what most other sensible people believe, too.

So the question is: is devolution working? Peter Hain said that the new Government of Wales Act would settle the devolution question for a generation. But it clearly hasn't.

Regularly and repeatedly, the Welsh Assembly Government are seeking additional law-making powers under the Act for Cardiff Bay.

Cheryl and I, with our colleagues in the Assembly, consider these requests on a case-by case basis.

If the powers sought are right for Wales, we support them; if they are not, we oppose them.

Some we oppose because - like the proposals contained in the new Planning Bill - they are designed to suck powers up from local councils to Cardiff.

They are - quite simply - the very reverse of devolution.

In other cases, such as the Mental Health order proposed by Jonathan Morgan, we offer our support.

But the current system, which was graphically described by the Labour MP and Father of the House, Alan Williams as "salami slicing", just won't work in the long run.

The whole issue of devolution has got to be settled, once and for all. We can't continue like this.

The media this week - most particularly the BBC - are trying to whip up a frenzy over the question of when a referendum on law-making powers for the Assembly will be held.

As if anyone is likely to say it is going to be held a week next Thursday.

The plain fact is that any referendum will not be held for some years yet.

Everyone - even Plaid Cymru - recognises that. The latest polls show that any referendum would be too close to call, so nobody WILL call one until public sentiment becomes clearer.

And anyway, it is inconceivable that, even if a referendum were held which did prove in favour of law-making powers, Plaid Cymru would regard that as the end of the road.

The next step would be to press for tax-raising powers, for power over policing - and more.

Because Plaid will never be satisfied with any settlement until Wales has been completely detached from the United Kingdom. We can't have that.

So I was delighted when David Cameron announced yesterday that he has appointed Lord Roberts of Conwy to look at the whole issue of Welsh devolution and deliver his initial report as early as July.

Wyn Roberts is a Welsh Conservative who commands respect from people right across the political spectrum.

He is the father of the Welsh Language Act, a man who has forgotten more about Welsh politics than people such as Peter Hain will ever learn. And Wyn forgets very little.

So if anyone can come up with proposals that will "settle the devolution issue for a generation", Wyn Roberts is the man.

And all Welsh Conservatives must wish him well and work closely with him in his great endeavour. But let us never forget this.

Any settlement for Wales must ensure that Wales's place at the heart of the United Kingdom is firmly preserved.

That is what we Conservatives will insist upon - nothing less.

Dim ond un plaid sydd yn sefyll am Gymru gref mewn Prydain gref ac unedig. Ni, y Ceidwadwyr Cymreig. Yn falch o fod yn Gymry, yn falch o fod yn Brydeinwyr.

There is only one party that stands up for a strong Wales in a strong, united Britain.

It's us, the Welsh Conservative party. Proud to be Welsh, proud to be British.

Ni yw gwir blaid Cymru. We are the real Party of Wales."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech