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Gillan: A real alternative to Labour in Wales

Speech in the St David’s Day debate to the House of Commons.

"It is good to welcome the Secretary of State for Wales who has taken time off his busy campaigning schedule to join us and make a guest appearance.

So little does he ever mention Wales these days, preferring to be referred to as the Northern Ireland Secretary, that Andrew Marr actually described him in his interview on Sunday as the former Welsh Secretary.

This could well be his last St David's day debate as Welsh Secretary and I for one would like to wish him all success with his deputy leadership campaign as he would certainly be a step up from the present incumbent.

Much as I suspected he has used this opportunity of the St David's day debate to mount his usual ranting attack on our party. But, he himself said, the assembly elections will be a bare knuckle fight with the Tories and we are obviously now considered to have made so much progress that in his view we are the main protagonists.

Even the Rt Hon Member for Sedgefield believes the Conservative Party has something to offer to the people of Wales.

However I am not about to take his biased view of Conservative history lying down or allow his fixation with facts that are ten years out of date to divert attention from his parties' own inadequate performance.

It is of course a day for Welsh people to celebrate their culture and identity and I am therefore proud that my party's support for the Welsh Language is well recognised and generally appreciated.

It was a Conservative Government that introduced the Welsh Language Act which has led to the great renaissance in the use of Welsh and set up the Welsh Language TV Station S4C.

Both these achievements have secured our Welsh culture and identity for many generations to come and we all owe a great debt of gratitude to my Noble friend Lord Roberts who continues to play such a pivotal role in the affairs of Wales.

I also recall the tremendous role that Conservatives played in the Cardiff Bay Barrage and the resulting regeneration.

So conveniently forgotten by Rhodri Morgan who opposed it tooth and nail at the time.

However I am not ungenerous and I am sure that he and his party, like us, have the best interests of Wales at heart but they have failed to deliver.

Failed to deliver - at a time when they have held the reigns of power in both Westminster and Cardiff Bay and now there is no place to hide .

It is time for Wales to have an alternative.

Not an alternative such as Plaid who would tear Wales out of the heart of the United Kingdom but an alternative that would put heart back into Wales with a revolution of social, corporate and personal responsibility.

So in the brief time that I have, I am going to set out just some of the hopes and aspirations we have for this valuable part of our United Kingdom.

Despite the false rhetoric of Labour - we are determined as a party to improve the NHS for everyone - not helping the few to opt out.

We are committed to the NHS ideal and have ruled out any move towards an insurance based system.

My colleagues in the Assembly have already set out some exciting proposals to improve the performance of the health service in Wales.

They have been making plans so that, if successful in the elections, they can move to ensure safe and speedy access to local and appropriate hospitals, access to modern medicines, improvements in the hospital environment and to promote health and wellbeing throughout Wales.

We have a vision for the NHS and healthcare in Wales which trusts the doctors and nurses and it is they, not politicians that should be in the driving seat so that they can decide what is best for patients.

Contrast this vision with eight years of Labour reality. Waiting lists that are higher than when the Assembly was created, Trusts facing accumulative debts of over £100 million, less than half the adult population registered with a dentist and a health service that is taking on administrative staff at a faster rate than it employs doctors and nurses.

Even Labour's first initiative which was to create 22 health Boards out of the five existing health authorities is disastrous.

This alone cost the Welsh Taxpayer £15million and has resulted in a duplication of effort and huge increase in bureaucracy that has since curtailed any chance of increased efficiency and productivity in the service.

S o bad has their stewardship been that even the BMA in Wales in 2005 passed a vote of no confidence in the Labour WAG following their mishandling of the GP contracts.

Our health service is certainly not safe in their hands.

Climate Change is probably the biggest challenge that faces us today in Wales or beyond our borders.

I wonder if the Rt thon gentleman shares the views of Rhodri Morgan that climate change is good news for Wales.

To the first Minister this is a subject of amusement, warranting flippant remarks about the weather.

To me and my colleagues it is a subject of great concern.

Not least following the publication of the annual key environmental Statistics in Wales today which shows that emissions were higher in 2004 than in 1990.

Welsh Conservatives have been developing plans to reflect the need to develop and exploit renewable technology by exploring the viability of tidal power, bio-fuels and hydro power.

We will also need to evaluate the need to replace our nuclear facilities such as the plant at Wylfa.

We want to see an increase in corporate responsibility which will ensure that business and government work together to make those changes that will contribute to a thriving environment not a dying one.

But in the spirit of St David - it is also the little things that count. We will be setting tough standards for recycling and re using our waste so that we continue to make progress in tackling the mountain of rubbish we are all guilty of contributing to.

Similarly of great concern, is the future of our farming and countryside?

The rural economy cannot flourish unless a vibrant agricultural sector is at it s heart. Welsh Conservatives believe that farming must be properly valued.

We do not want to see dairy farmers going out of business or large tracts of land abandoned and we know that farmers must be confident that government has a coherent vision for a more prosperous rural economy.

Our plan is to work with farmers in partnership - recognising the vital role they play in food production and the responsible management of our rural heritage.

We also want to encourage new entrants and those that work in land based industries and ensure that they have the opportunities of education that meet the modern demands of the agricultural sector.

Our countryside is not just farms but our wildlife and our stunning National Parks and coastal geography.

The balance that must be struck by future administrations is to protect this heritage whilst allowing development to deliver a greater prosperity to as many as possible.

Our seaside towns, in particular deserve much greater attention than they have received under this administration.

They have served generations of holiday makers well in the past and under Conservative plans will be given a new lease of life to provide the holiday destinations of the future.

With award winning beaches such as Oxwich Bay on the Gower and as awareness of carbon footprints rises, so too, with some encouragement, could the demand to holiday closer to home.

We must be ready to meet that demand.

And we must be ready in Wales, to meet the demands of the ever more challenging globalisation of our world and the competition that is eating the heart out of some of our traditional industries in Wales.

We must all send our support today to Airbus that provides leading edge technology and engineering capabilities in our Welsh economy and supports nearly 7,000 jobs in Wales.

They also impact on 50,000 more jobs in the supply chain. I hope the government can give us assurances that they will continue to ensure that research and technology which is vitally needed for this company to secure work in the future will be available.

We need an improving economy in Wales and no matter what the Secretary of State says, he cannot escape the fact that 10 years of Labour Government has left Wales as the poorest part of the United Kingdom.

That is one point curiously missing from his party's "dodgy dossier" of 250 so called Labour achievements for Wales.

Under Labour the Welsh economy has suffered. For many, the very purpose and benefit of devolution was to enable more suitable policies to be developed for Wales with the key aim of bridging the wealth gap between Wales and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Since 1999 there has been a range of government led activities but it remains that Wales is still officially the poorest part of the UK and a quarter of Welsh children live in households at or below the poverty threshold.

Labour wants to make its economic record a key part of the Assembly election campaign but its efforts have largely failed.

Official figures show a widening wealth gap between the richest and the poorest parts of Wales and despite hundreds of millions of pounds in EU aid being spent in west Wales and the Valleys since 1999, the region is now even further behind east Wales in terms of average wealth and west Wales and the Valleys are now poorer than when the Conservative Party left office in 1997.

Yes - unemployment rates have fallen since 1997 - not least due to the increase in public sector employment - but inactivity rates are amongst the highest in the UK and we see a trend of inactivity rates amongst men rising whilst more women are going out to work to keep the body and souls of their families together.

We will need some radical thinking to help the Welsh economy thrive again. Whether it is re examining business taxes, incentivising entrepreneurs, improving our transport system or boosting our research and development and our science base - Welsh Conservatives will be putting in that effort to raise our economic prospects.

We worked quite clearly and enthusiastically with the other parties (despite Labour's efforts to claim the sole credit) to support the St Athan bid which will bring some of these badly needed jobs to Wales.

But we will also work enthusiastically against them if we feel they are damaging and demoralising the work force such as the HMRC workers that I met in Pembrokeshire the other day.

The callousness of a government that claims the credit for job creation in one part of Wales in advance of the elections, then leaves a decision over the future of Revenue workers until after the Assembly election deserves contempt. No wonder politicians get a bad name.

And no wonder they get a bad name when we see one of the most important tasks that government should execute carried out so poorly that our safety is no longer assured.

I refer of course to the policing of our country and our borders. I am second to none in the admiration of our 4 police forces in Wales.

They carry out a difficult and dangerous job and deserve the support of the government and the populations they serve.

They also deserve some common sense and responsibility.

It is not responsible to make police forces waste time efforts and money on pursuing administrative changes that are then abandoned with the subsequent loss of time and money to those forces.

It is not responsible and it defies common sense to preside over a system whereby the police arrest suspected illegal immigrants only to find they are instructed to release them back into the community.

(It also defies common sense to discover that the Secretary of State for Wales does not seem aware of what has been happening in his own back yard)

The Home Office, despite countless promises to review, reform and redress its failings, remains quite clearly unfit for purpose and there is absolutely no point in the Minister trying to blame this on us as this rests fairly and squarely on his own government's incompetent shoulders.

I hope that when the Minister of state comes to wind up he can address this issue and tell us what his government has done to ensure this sort of security lapse never happens again either in Wales or elsewhere.

Over the past year I have listened to the Rt. Hon. Gentleman and his colleagues imply that there can be no criticism of their record that can be valid, because under Labour, there has been record investment.

There may well have been record expenditure but there has not been record performance. And we all know any fool can spend money.

There may be new school buildings but thousands of school children are leaving school without the basic skills to have a fulfilling future.

There maybe more spending on healthcare but waiting lists are still higher than when labour came to power and, I repeat, less than half all adults are registered with an NHS dentist and too often people have been denied access to modern medicines.

There may be more grants coming in from Europe but 3,500 jobs have been lost since April last year and there is still deprivation and social exclusion across the country.

And record expenditure comes at a price - the average family in the UK is paying £9,000 more in tax than when Labour came to office.

Every homeowner, in Wales knows about the cost of revaluation and today we learn that with the enormous increase the average council tax bill in Wales is now likely to rise above £1,000 for the first time.

(And remember all that money Labour has taken out of people's pockets - helping themselves to the money from the windfall tax, the sale of gold, the third generation mobile phone licences, the pension funds - billions of pounds that have been spent and still Wales is the poorest part of the United Kingdom??)

For decades Labour had claimed that Wales would be better under their management than under the Conservatives and this is now patently one of the great political deceptions of out times.

As Patrick Mcguinness a former Labour Candidate wrote

Labour is the party that "has presided over the increase of inequality between the rish and the poor, often in the very constituencies of those who most vociferously complain about the supposed 'crachach'"

He adds:

'That they have run a health service which is "a blight on the devolution project'

I could not have put it better myself.

The Conservatives now have a new spring in their step. We offer a new agenda, a fresh agenda.

The prospectus that will be laid out by the Rt Hon Member for Witney together with myself and the leader of our Welsh Conservatives Nicholas Bourne will offer hope.

Much needed hope that there can be a better future in Wales.

And we are working on that future for everyone

As Chris Chapman who, at 19,is our youngest community councillor in Rogerstone near Newport, put it:

'The more I read, the more I was drawn to the conservative party - freedom of enterprise, freedom of choice and freedom of opportunity for all members of society regardless of their background'.

That is the Conservative message and one of which I think St David would have approved.

So when May 3rd arrives we will be asking the electors in Wales to look at Labour's record and wake up to the fact that after 10 years they have really not fulfilled their promises and urge them for the sake of our future to vote Welsh Conservative for a Change - a much needed change."

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