Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am delighted to be here today at this, the biggest Conservative Women's Conference since before 1997.
I would particularly like to thank your Chairman, Fiona Hodgson and her deputies for inviting me [Pauline Lucas, Eve Burt and Bobbie Middleton].
Conservative MEPs enjoy a very good relationship with the voluntary party and with the CWO in particular. We are looking forward to welcoming thirteen of your officers on a visit to Brussels next month.
I am very proud of the enormous amount of work that my team of 27 MEPs do, both here at home, and in Brussels and Strasbourg.
I will talk about our parliamentary work in a moment. But first I want to highlight the work that we do on the ground here at home. Conservative MEPs represent every part of the United Kingdom. We support Conservative Associations and candidates wherever we can, in particular in the areas where there is no current Conservative MP.
We work actively to help the Party 'reach out' to new audiences. The CWO has also been doing this recently - to great effect - engagiong with a much wider audience of women. Your officers should be congratulated for this important work.
As part of our efforts, I believe it is very important that we have a greater number of women in elected positions, especially as MPs and MEPs.
As you probably know, at present we have only one female Conservative MEP, Caroline Jackson. Caroline is retiring in 2009 after a long and extremely career.
We simply could not or should not have contemplated the prospect of an all-male MEP Delegation! So, I have worked to address this with regional chairmen, through the National European Forum, chaired by Caroline Abel Smith, and with excellent support from the Candidates Department at CCHQ.
I am very pleased we have arrived at a system for selecting candidates for the next European elections that will ensure we have a much better balance of male and female MEPs.
This system has not won universal approval and there were some very difficult discussions along the way. But it was vital that we made these changes and I am very pleased that the Party Board was able to support them.
I am very optimistic that early in the New Year, the Party will select some excellent candidates for Euro Elections in June 2009. We fully intend to have even more Conservative MEPs elected then, and those women who are elected - and I hope there will be plenty of them - will provide a welcome boost in our fight for reform in Europe.
Currently, we work to advance our reform agenda for the EU, based on the '3Gs' set out by David Cameron in his speech to the Movement for European Reform in Brussels earlier this year.
These are: Globalisation, Global Poverty, and Global Warming. I am delighted that the international dimension of your conference today has also seen some of these issues addressed, for example Africa and the Environment.
To address globalisation, we need a strongly competitive, open and free-trading Europe, with a true single market and without excessive regulation.
To address Global Poverty, we need action on overseas development, reform of aid policies and a renewed determination to champion human rights and democracy around the world.
And to address Global Warming, we need international solutions that work with business and wealth-creators, not against them, but set tough targets for reducing emissions and achieving a cleaner, greener environment.
BUT, Conservative MEPs are not only active in these areas; we use every opportunity to lead the debate and to promote Conservative solutions to Europe's challenges.
For example, later this week in Strasbourg we will be voting on new legislation to include the air transport sector in the EU Emissions Trading Scheme. This is a good example of where we must find the right balance between ensuring long-term environmental protection without damaging the international competitiveness of the aviation industry.
Also this week we will receive the Annual Report of the European Court of Auditors which, I expect, will refuse to give a clean bill of health to the EU's accounts - for the thirteenth consecutive year! As you would expect, we will be scrutinising this report closely, as part of our long-standing campaign against fraud and waste in the EU and Whitehall bureaucracy.
And of course there is one other, extremely important, issue that will be high on our agenda in the coming months: our ongoing campaign for a referendum on the EU Constitution.
Three weeks ago, the Prime Minister agreed to the new EU Treaty. Next month he will sign it, in Lisbon [before he and all twenty six other EU leaders board their private planes to fly to Brussels for a press Conference!].
The Prime Minister says the new Treaty is not the Constitution and this is why there is no need for a referendum. But that is nonsense and completely at odds with everything almost every other EU leader has said.
Indeed, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, the author of the original Constitution, wrote recently that:
"The difference between the original Constitution and the present Lisbon Treaty is one of approach, rather than content."
This is a matter of trust. How can we trust a Prime Minister on anything he says or does when he ignores a clear Manifesto commitment to hold a referendum.
The Prime Minister would do well to listen to the advice of the Irish Prime Minister, who said recently:
"If you believe in something ... why not let your people have a say in it. [I think it's a bit upsetting ... to see so many countries running away from giving their people an opportunity]".
I tell you, a referendum on this Treaty and its transfer of powers from Britain to the European Union is not only politically necessary, it is in my view a moral imperative.
So let me assure you, your Conservative MEPs will continue to campaign passionately for the British people to be given the referendum they have been promised, and to which they are entitled.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
As your MEPs, our duty is to serve our country and our Party. As Leader, it is a duty I am proud to perform.