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Gillan: Meeting the big challenges

To the Welsh Conservative Party conference in Llandudno.

"It is a great pleasure for me to begin our Party conference here in Llandudno.

I feel like a Welsh export returning home.

And I have no doubt that over the next two days, this conference will show the Welsh Conservative Party has come home, revived, refreshed and in great heart.

It will show how, under David Cameron at Westminster, Nick Bourne in the Assembly and Jonathan Evans in Europe, we are the united, modern and vibrant force in Welsh politics offering change, optimism and hope.

It will present a Conservative Party occupying the common ground of politics, and brimming with the new ideas that will deliver for the people of Wales.

And it will demonstrate beyond doubt that the Conservative Party in Wales is Built to Last.

So I speak to you this morning, setting the scene for our conference, with great enthusiasm for the future of our Party and our country.

And in doing so let me first pay tribute to the dedication and hard work of all of you.

It is that hard work which caused the Welsh Conservative revival to begin in earnest last May with the election of (our three musketeers) Stephen Crabb, David Davies and David Jones - our three terrific Welsh Conservative MPs in the House of Commons.

Already they are putting Welsh Conservatives on the map in Westminster.

And we have now laid the foundations to meet out next challenge - to increase our Conservative representation in the Assembly elections next May, when we can send a clear message to Peter Hain, Rhodri Morgan and Welsh Labour.

Stop taking the people of Wales for granted and behaving as if you had a divine right to govern here. We are putting Labour on notice in Wales. We are going to let Labour have more time off for bad behaviour.

All our representatives, in Parliament, in the National Assembly and in local government across Wales do a fantastic job for our Party. I want you to know how much you are appreciated.

In Cardiff, Nick Bourne leads our AMs with great distinction. Under Nick the conservative Group has won the reputation as the hardest working members in the Assembly. Thank you Nick and all our AMs.

We have a superb Chairman in Lyndon Jones, ably supported by a first class team headed by Matt Lane, and of course Vince Morris here in North Wales, backed by all our loyal and dedicated party workers and members. We are grateful to all of them.

But there is one other person I'd like to single out for special thanks. Wyn Roberts - My Lord - a tireless servant of our party, a Minister for 15 years and still carrying the baton as our principal spokesman in the House of Lords. To him a special thankyou.

And it's Wyn who over the coming weeks will be leading our opposition to the unacceptable elements of the Government of Wales Bill as it leaves the Commons and goes into the Lords.

This Bill has preoccupied most of my time since David Cameron gave me the privilege of becoming Shadow Secretary of State in December.

And it has been a fascinating experience - watching Peter Hain and Nick Ainger stumble through the Bill's details and complexities that often seemed completely beyond their comprehension.

Our position on the Bill is clear and consistent with the commitment of the Conservative Party under David Cameron to effective devolution and localism.

As we set out in our statement of values, Built to Last, this week - we want to make the devolved institutions in Wales work and we want your views on that statement.

By the likely time of the next General Election, the National Assembly will have been in existence for a full ten years - making it an established feature of the Welsh political landscape.

Realistically there can be no turning back the clock or putting the genie back into the bottle.

The question in 2006 is not whether we have devolution, but how now we have it, we make it work.

And work in a way that produces real and lasting benefits for everyone and does not cost Welsh tax payers a King's Ransome!.

The next Conservative Government at Westminster will work constructively with an Assembly Government of whatever party, or parties, in the interests of all the people of Wales.

Nor will we oppose giving the Assembly more powers - IF that is what the people of Wales clearly show, in a referendum, that is what they want.

Conservatives believe in trusting the people and sharing responsibility. We believe in practical solutions not empty rhetoric.

Not so Peter Hain. He is proposing significant changes to the 1998 devolution settlement without bothering to ask for the views of the people. (He even ignored the views of his own people by abandoning the Richard Commission's report).

He has given the illusion he is consulting the people in the Bill but the referendum he is offering is not for now but 10 years time. And he will not call until he is certain he can win.

And that's what he calls democracy.

It is a recipe for instability, confusion and constitutional conflict.

We agree with those provisions of the Bill that create a separate Assembly Government. That is sensible and will end some of the confusion that currently exists.

It will end the Assembly itself being blamed for the failures of Labour Assembly Ministers.

But we cannot accept that the proposed new Order in Council procedure for giving the Assembly enhanced law-making powers. This is devolution by the back door. It is a recipe for instability, confusion and conflict.

It significantly weakens the ability of Westminster to scrutinise Welsh legislation.

It undermines the role of Welsh MPs - which is why it has had such a rough ride even from those Labour MPs who bothered to take part in the Bill's proceedings in the Commons.

And through the spiteful changes to the electoral system it threatens to sustain two classes of Assembly Member.

We believe these are all matters that should be put to the people now in a referendum.

Peter Hain has missed an opportunity. He could have separated the Assembly Government from the rest of the Assembly, watched how things settled down and then sought a consensus on changes to the Assembly's powers.

That would have been a sensible, moderate and pragmatic way forward. That's what I would have done - getting the assembly working properly, not interfering at such an early stage.

But Peter Hain's decided to do it his way - because from start to finish the Government of Wales Bill has only ever been about serving the interests of the Welsh Labour Party… It is his own agenda, a Labour agenda.

... keeping the pro and anti-devolution wings of Welsh Labour together.

... And preserving Wales as a Labour fiefdom in the event of a Conservative Government at Westminster.

So we at Westminster will continue to oppose this frankly rotten and dishonest Bill during its passage through the Lords for the sake of Wales and for the sake of the Assembly itself.

Of course, I don't just want to see a Conservative Government in Westminster. All of us in this Party want to see a time when we are challenging and then overtaking Labour's dominance here in Wales.

I know that to many that might seem like a distant dream. But let me be clear about one thing - I didn't come into politics constantly to come second, or to spend my career permanently in opposition. And, I suspect, neither did you.

Every one of us wants a Conservative government and everyone of us would wish for a Conservative Assembly.

But the truth is that if we are going to get close to realising that ambition then as a party we simply have to change with the times.

Change the way we go about our business, change the way we talk to people and change the way we look - not for the sake of change but because that is a natural progression for our great party.

It is time, as a One-Nation Party, to broaden our base and widen our appeal.

Here in Wales, and across the United Kingdom at every level of government, we need to select top-quality candidates - yes, the best and brightest, and on merit - but candidates who better reflect the society in which we live.

That must mean more people from Wales's ethnic minority communities, more disabled people, and more women and I say, speaking as a woman…it's not before time.

It was Disraeli who said in the 19th century that we are a national party or we are nothing. In the 21st century that has to mean reflecting all the people who make up our national life.

With the right candidates, a united Party and imaginative policies, we can approach the Assembly elections with confidence.

We can present a clear choice between a tired and inept Labour Assembly Government in Cardiff, and a Conservative Party brimming with talent, energy and ideas.

Between a Labour Government running out of excuses and a Conservative Party ready to run them out of office.

A Labour Government stuck in the past, and a Conservative Party working constructively for the future of Wales.

Here in Wales, Labour has been the political establishment for too long. I say it's time to have a tilt at that establishment.

Don't forget - it's a political establishment…a Labour establishment

And it is Labour…that brought us the 99 per cent hike in council tax bills and the politically motivated revaluation that has seen 60,000 properties move up two bands or more.

…that has presided over a fall in the number of hospital beds leaving the scandal of Welsh hospital waiting lists that have almost doubled since 1997.

…that has failed to end Wales's status as officially the poorest part of the United Kingdom.

…that ditched its pledge for free breakfasts for all school kids.

…that only last a fortnight ago ditched one of its top ten pledges, free home care for the disabled……… And I could go on………..

The problem with listing Labour's record of failure in Wales is not where you start -it's that once you start, you risk never ending.

If any organisation had performed as badly as Labour in Wales over the past nine years, then the management would have been given its marching orders years ago.

It's shameful.

But Labour has no shame. Labour's latest act of political bullying is, of course, to merge Wales's four proud police forces into one single force for the whole of Wales.

A change being bulldozed through by the Home Secretary.

His announcement yesterday has struck despair into our police authorities, despair over the cost to taxpayers, despair over the inadequate consultation, despair over the future of neighbourhood policing, and despair over the quality of the protection of our communities.

This is not a merger. This is a hostile takeovers.

For once the Government should listen to the people. If we want to keep our regional forces we should be allowed to keep our regional forces. And here in North Wales that is what many people want.

Unlike Peter Hain, Nick Ainger or even the Lib Dem's - Lembit Opik, I was made in Wales, born in Llandaff and educated in Llanishen. I spent the first eleven years of my life here and am grateful for the great education I received from first class Welsh teachers.

So I am proud to be Shadow Secretary of State for Wales and I'm proud to be able to return something to the land of my birth.

And of one thing you can be assured. In the Conservative Party, and under David Cameron, representing the interests of Wales is a full-time job and a fulltime job, rightly where it should be, within his Shadow Cabinet.

Mr Hain might think he can stand up for Wales and solve the problems of Northern Ireland at the same time. I think not.

I'll concentrate on standing up for Wales. We need Wales at the heart of the Conservative Party

And under David Cameron, we are starting to address the six great challenges that we face as a country: making our economy more competitive; tackling globalisation and global poverty; improving public services; improving the quality of life; protecting our security; and ensuring social justice.

All of these issues require serious thought and policies for the long term.

So I am determined that the people of Wales will have a voice in each of the policy groups that David has established to take these issues forward, and I know that David will want to say more about this in his speech to you.

Wales will not be sidelined or marginalised in our Party. It will be in the mainstream.

Westminster and Cardiff Bay will work together for the benefit of all the people of Wales.

These are exciting times to be a Conservative. We are beginning to find our voice again. And with it is a new determination to win.

We have a great challenge ahead of us. And we are all involved in taking the challenge right up to Labour's doorstep.

I look forward to working with all of you to deliver success - for our Party and for the people of Wales who, frankly, deserve so much better than Labour's nine years of waste and broken promises.

So let the message go out loud and clear from this Conference to all the people of Wales. The Welsh Conservatives are back as a political force to be reckoned with.

The Conservatives are back and, under the exciting leadership of David Cameron, they are a party Built to Last throughout the UK and Built to Last in Wales.

Diolch yn Fawr."

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