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Bourne: Conservative action for Wales

Speech to the Welsh Conservative Party conference

"Ladies and Gentleman, annwyl Gyfeillion. Maen bleser mawr siarad yn y Gynghadledd heddiw. It is a great pleasure to address conference today.

We meet at an exciting time - the general election is probably only a matter of weeks away. Our party is well positioned to win seats across the United Kingdom. Here in Wales, significant gains are within our sight.

What better place to meet than in the Millennium Stadium. It is not only our national rugby team that is back to winning ways - as we proved on Thursday in Rhos-on-Sea. What better message to send out in those key seats we are fighting in North Wales.

We are a party with ambition. Welsh Conservative MPs will be returned to Westminster once more.

For sometime, the electorate has been disillusioned with Labour. But disillusionment alone will not win us an election. People need positive reasons to vote Conservative.

Under Michael Howard, we have those reasons. Alongside members of the Shadow Cabinet, Michael has set forward an outstanding set of policies providing the platform for a winning government.

A government that will provide value for money, lower taxes and better public services.

I must thank Michael for his leadership and support to us in Wales. We look forward to seeing a Welshman in No.10.

Thanks too must go to my colleagues in the Assembly, whose talent and enthusiasm continue to make us the hardest working group - and the biggest headache to Labour. No wonder they need free prescriptions - keep taking the tablets Rhodri.

It is testament to the outstanding abilities of David Davies, Jonathan Morgan and Alun Cairns that they are making Conservative victories in Monmouth, Cardiff North and the Vale of Glamorgan a real and exciting possibility. I wish them well in the weeks ahead.

Best wishes too to David Jones, a former colleague in the Assembly, and to the team of outstanding candidates that we have in place.

Could I also express my thanks to Bill Wiggin, Jonathan Evans, Carole Hyde and Matt Lane.

And to you, all the party workers - the people who make a real difference on the ground - through thick and thin, day in day out, in fine weather and wet weather.

2005 has so far proved to be eventful in the Assembly. Jane Hutt has gone. I think that's worth repeating - Jane Hutt has gone.

After years of criticism from healthcare professionals, opposition Assembly Members, Labour MPs and, above all, Welsh patients languishing in pain on Labour's waiting lists, Rhodri Morgan finally caved into pressure and sacked Jane Hutt as Health Minister.

The Auditor General's damning report on the Labour Assembly government's health policy followed just a few days later. Coincidence, claimed Rhodri Morgan.

The report criticised Labour's culture of rewarding failure. As if to prove the point, when Jane Hutt got her P45 for Health she remained in the cabinet as Business Manager.

Reportedly, the health job was turned down by Carwyn Jones and Alun Pugh. Now Wales has a third rate health service with a third choice health minister.

For Labour, the job is a poisoned chalice, rather than a chance to make a mark - something that underlines their fundamental lack of vision. More than a change in personnel, Wales needs a change in health policy.

Brian Gibbons has been given a real opportunity to put the brakes on Labour's failure. But Labour lacks the ideas and leadership to implement the changes necessary. Rhodri Morgan made this clear when he told the Assembly that health was now Brian Gibbons' 'baby' and distanced himself from responsibility. No change there then. Success has many fathers but failure is an orphan.

Welsh MPs are clearly embarrassed by the Assembly government's handling of the NHS. Peter Hain has finally broken cover and urged colleagues to look at best practise in England. Something we have been pushing for, for a long time.

Welsh Labour's ideological baggage is getting in the way of progress. Determined to follow a socialist path, Labour are warring over the meaning of 'clear red water', while public services are deteriorating.

Inevitably, hospital waiting lists are still amongst the worst in Europe. The government is struggling with waits of over 18 months. One in ten of the population still reside on a waiting list.

And that's just to get into hospital. Once you're there, you'll have to dodge the germs and the risk of infection - and visits by Rhodri Morgan.

Our excellent NHS staff face an impossible task. Welsh Conservatives will continue to fight for a fundamental review of health strategy. Waiting times must start from the time of GP referral and spending must follow the patient, with NHS-funded care elsewhere if patients are kept waiting beyond set limits.

We would launch an assault on waiting lists. We would bring back the role of matron in our hospitals.

We would provide free annual check ups for the over 60s. We would invest more money in the frontline.

Without vision and leadership it is a natural consequence that the Assembly government lurches from one crisis to another.

Failure to attend the D-Day commemorations last year show just how out of touch Rhodri Morgan has become. Documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act now confirm that the First Minister had no intention of attending the event, failed to reply in time and was not bothered who went in his place.

One of the worst examples of Rhodri Morgan's chaotic leadership has been the handling of the WDA and other Assembly quangos.

In 1998, the First Minister said he wanted the Assembly to be "transparent and above board in its decision making".

Yet, without consultation, Rhodri Morgan announced the abolition of some of Wales' largest agencies - news to the heads of those bodies (who were informed by mobile phone only minutes before) as much as to the Labour backbenches and everyone else. This is no way to govern.

Devoid of meaningful policies, Labour continues to rely on gimmicks and cheap headlines. 'Free' school breakfasts were promised to give every primary school pupil a flying start.

Privately Labour never planned for every pupil to take up the offer. The policy is based on half-truths and uncosted proposals.

The cost of a breakfast has been dramatically reduced from £1.50 to around 30 pence, in a desperate attempt to bring the scheme within budget. Jamie Oliver would be horrified.

Further savings are expected: Jane Davidson will be in charge of the frying pan and Rhodri will be dishing out the Weetabix. Not the early morning start we would wish for Welsh children.

The Education Minister accused the Welsh Conservatives of wanting parents to give children breakfast in the mornings. We plead guilty as charged. It is extraordinary that Jane Davidson believes the state is better placed to provide breakfast than parents - an example of the nanny state at its worst.

While Labour focuses on gimmicks, poor discipline in schools is escalating out of control. Truancy is commonplace. Disruption and violence are on the rise.

Teachers are at a loss, without the proper backing to instil order. Conservatives would take real action to return discipline to the classroom.

A fog of uncertainty engulfs the future of our university students. With top-up fees planned for England, it looks very likely Welsh Labour will go down the same route.

In the Assembly, the Welsh Conservatives have fought tooth and nail against university fees, but the impact of Blair's plans will undoubtedly have huge and dreadful repercussions.

If you want to guard against top-up fees, the message is clear: vote for a Conservative government in Westminster.

A vibrant and flourishing Wales requires an excellent education system and a positive economic outlook.

Economic forecasters predict that Labour will have no choice but to put up taxes again in order to fill the black hole in UK public finances. Further tax rises will hit hard in Wales.

Official figures reveal that Wales is now the poorest part of the UK. More must be done to encourage new businesses and create economic growth. Regulation must be cut. Transport must be improved.

Inadequate road links mean communities across Wales are struggling to survive.

Without decent jobs, young people are simply unable to remain in the areas where they grew up. Local homes are beyond their reach and many are forced to move to our cities or out of Wales altogether.

Welsh language communities are often amongst those areas which are most seriously affected.

Economic regeneration must be a priority. This means improving north-south connections and look at imaginative ways to address the lack of affordable housing.

It is a shocking truth that rural Wales is now poorer than parts of Eastern Europe. Villages are under threat, with post offices and schools closing at an alarming rate.

Labour is switching the light off in rural communities across Wales and is in the dark when it comes to the problems of agriculture.

Our agricultural communities face problems of bovine TB, disposal of fallen stock, dairy prices on the floor and an assault on their very way of life. Rural Wales deserves better.

Of course, whether you live in a rural or urban area you will not have escaped Labour's massive council tax hikes.

Average council tax bills are up 79%. That's an extra £391 compared to 1997. In my own area of Powys, council tax has more than doubled.

On top of that is revaluation, due to hit in a few weeks time. A stone's throw from here, on the other side of the Taff, in Riverside, 93% of homes have gone up at least one band.

The Assembly government can no longer wash its hands of the problem of local government funding.

A Conservative government in Westminster would place the Assembly government under pressure to cut council tax by 50% for Welsh pensioners.

Taxes have soared, but so too has crime. Anti social behaviour and crime blight too many areas.

Violent crime is on the increase. Instead of fighting crime, Labour has threatened super casinos and introduced 24-hour licensing.

With the escalating problem of binge drinking, I am aware that some of you were concerned about holding our conference in the very centre of Cardiff over Friday and Saturday nights.

It is appalling that our capital city is considered a no-go zone for many people - young and old - at the weekends. The fact that Welsh cities are gaining notoriety for anti-social behaviour is extremely troubling and 24-hour licensing will only increase the problems of cities such as Cardiff and Swansea.

We would give local authorities greater powers to control licensing hours.

Another major way in which we can address the problem of crime is to increase the police presence on the ground.

A Conservative government will put thousands more police on the streets in Wales to make our neighbourhoods safer.

Labour's warped priorities and mismanagement have led to waste on a massive scale. Symbolised in the lavish new Assembly building, but evident all around us.

In the excessive regulation hampering businesses, in the paperwork heaped on schools, in the endless targets for hospitals, form filling in police stations and in the burgeoning bureaucracy tying the hands of local government.

The cost of administration has soared. Conservatives will lower taxes and provide value for money. Consulting the people - referendum

The Assembly government has pursued policies that have severely damaged the reputation of the whole Assembly.

Naturally, this has impacted on people's judgement when it comes to the question of Assembly powers. I believe that Welsh Conservatives have worked harder than any other party to make devolution a success. We have invested an enormous amount of time and effort into the Assembly.

It is also important to point out, Conservatives have fared well under the new system. Welsh Conservatism is once again a serious force in Welsh politics, thanks in large part to devolution.

I believe Wales would benefit from primary legislative powers, although not necessarily within the timescale suggested by Lord Richard. But that is my personal opinion.

Opinion within our party is mixed, just as it is in the nation as a whole. Certainly, opinion polls have demonstrated that an increasing number of people would prefer powers on areas like health and education to lie in Cardiff rather than Westminster, but the most legitimate opinion poll is a referendum.

We will trust the people. A Conservative government would provide a referendum offering people a range of options including abolition and full legislative powers. This is surely the best way forward.

A Conservative government would be responsive to the needs and wishes of the Welsh people.

Conservatives will invest in frontline services and cut waste. Ensuring our money is used wisely and efficiently.

A Conservative government will provide cleaner hospitals and better discipline in schools.

Under Michael Howard, we will have an asylum and immigration system that is fairer and controlled.

A Chancellor who will tax us less and take better care of our money. A Home Secretary who will put more police on the streets to create safer neighbourhoods.

The building blocks have been put in place. We made gains in the Assembly elections. We made gains in the local elections. We will win in the general election. And Wales will lead the way.

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