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Spelman: Who is My Neighbour?

Speech to Conservative Party Conference 2002

Domestic Violence

I hope by now you have realised why we called this session 'Who is My Neighbour'. Whether internationally or closer to home we have to look out for each other.

We are part of a global village where people's misery, poverty and conflict are beamed into our front rooms, and pictures of our relative affluence are beamed at least to a television set at the corner Café.

Compared to the 1.3 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day, we are affluent indeed.

But affluence itself is no protection against the problems of rising crime, drug addiction, and the breakdown of our social fabric. As we have heard this afternoon, one in four women are victims of domestic violence. The law of averages must mean that there will be some of you who have been victims of domestic violence.

Discussing domestic violence is not something we have done at Party Conference before. It is a strong sign of the changes taking place in the Conservative Party. Domestic Violence is one of the most prevalent and hidden social problems in our society. Only when the horror of domestic violence is revealed, examined and dealt with in all its shaming detail, and only when the perpetrators are brought to justice and the victims protected can we even pretend to live in a what Oliver Letwin has called a neighbourly society. And we will not simply talk about domestic violence here in conference - when we return to Government, we will do something about it.

There was a time when this serious crime was dismissed as 'just a domestic'. But as we have heard today, the police now take this very seriously. One in four violent crimes are linked to domestic violence. You have to admire the courage of police officers called to a 'domestic'. One women police officer told me how she was threatened by a man with a hatchet. I pay tribute today to the bravery of the police who risk their own personal safety to protect women from the threat of violence in their own homes.

As a new MP, I remember my local police explaining to me that when a woman who had been beaten came to their station, they had nowhere to send her, except straight back home to where the violence occurred. In a borough of 200,000 inhabitants, we had no refuge.

So much for Labour's rhetoric about addressing what women want and need. The refuges in this country have all been set up by charities. Just this morning I visited a refuge for victims of domestic violence here in Bournemouth. We have just set one up in my constituency - thanks to the efforts of the local churches, charities, police and social services. Our Party supports the efforts of the not for profit sector succeeding where the state falls short.

Those of us who have never experienced domestic violence may ask: 'Why do women stay in relationships where they are abused?' Usually they are afraid, or they have nowhere to go - they do not want to leave their homes, their friends, their family or their children. Also, there is still a stigma associated with being a victim of domestic violence. The way to deal with stigmas is to talk about them openly, which is why I am pleased the Conservative Party is doing this today.

Each Christmas, as levels of stress, alcohol and debt increase, domestic violence reaches a peak. Conservatives are trying to do something about this. This Christmas, the Conservative Party intends to launch a campaign to help women who are victims of domestic violence. We want to end the climate where women have to suffer in silence.

International Development

This debate is meant to challenge us to ask the question - who is our neighbour?

So far we have talked about neighbours in a purely domestic context.

However, the focus of much of our thought in the last year has been on the international scene.

If this war on terrorism has reminded us of one thing, it's that the poverty and misery of people a thousand miles away can affect us all. If Globalisation means anything at all, it means that the people of Afghanistan are our neighbours.

This time last year, we began the campaign against the Taliban - and we promised to rebuild Afghanistan when the conflict was over. That commitment was right - we called for it, and we supported it. Our support for the rebuilding of Afghanistan, supplying our troops to keep the peace, our efforts to educate girls, to provide decent healthcare, to feed the hungry - are the test of being a global good neighbour.

People sometimes say 'But it's not my problem'.

How ironic that most of the heroin on our streets, comes from Afghanistan - if we are to tackle the problems of drug addiction in Britain, we should tackle the problems of a country like Afghanistan.

Conference, I am proud to say that the Conservative Party's commitment to the international agenda has never been higher. If anything, our response to the situation developing in Iraq has reaffirmed our sense of international engagement. And whereas the Liberal Democrats have frequently sought to make political capital out of highly dangerous international situations, Iain Duncan Smith's response to the international crisis both in Afghanistan and in Iraq has been consistently statesmanlike and dignified.

This year the Conservative Party more than ever before has put pressure on the Government over levels of poverty in the Third World. Conservatives lead the International Development agenda in the Commons, in the Lords, and in the Country as a whole. Just this morning, Iain Duncan Smith hosted a breakfast, sponsored by World Vision, and attended by most of the leading aid organisations.

It is an article of faith for us that poverty can be alleviated through free and fair trade, as we heard Oxfam say earlier. We are determined to campaign on this issue. When 12,000 thousand people turned up in London to protest for Fair Trade for the Third World, it was the Conservative Party that forced the Government to debate the issue in Parliament.

When millions of people campaigned for debt relief for the Millennium, they were backed by the Conservatives. Many of you will have supported the Jubilee 2000 coalition but will be sorry to hear the debt relief initiative is now failing.

The Government must now re-work the debts of the poorest countries. Why? Because commodity prices in the developing world are collapsing, and the AIDS pandemic is advancing. Reforming the debt relief initiative will be a major priority for a future Conservative Government.

We should be proud of our sense of international responsibility. Which Party has done most to raise the plight of the people of Zimbabwe who are suffering at the hands of Robert Mugabe? Was it the Liberal Democrats - who said that to intervene would be too colonialist? Hardly. Was it the Government - whose dithering has been exploited mercilessly by Robert Mugabe? No - it is the Conservative Party who have most consistently defended the people of Zimbabwe and the principles of democracy, human rights and the rule of law.

The two big issues facing international development as we speak are the famine in Africa and the humanitarian crisis in places like Iraq. I know, as Conservatives, you share a passion with me to tackle these issues. Conservative activists form the backbone of the charities working to help the Third World. In any high street or market square where money is being collected in buckets or boxes, in charity shops up and down the land, on fund-raising committees - wherever good work is being done for those at home and abroad who need our help the most - there you will find Conservatives. You can count on that.

Compassion and generosity are not values we learned from focus groups.

These are among our core principles. They are part of what it means to be a Conservative in the first place.

Iraq

Conference, if the spirit of compassion is to be core to our Conservative beliefs, then we must be prepared to help the people of Iraq in the event of conflict. The regime of Saddam Hussein is culpable for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of women and children, through systematically denying them food and medicine, and subjecting them to the most gruesome chemical and biological attacks. I believe the case for dealing with Saddam is strengthened, not weakened, by the plight of the Iraqi people, who have suffered more than most in a region which has seen more than its fair share of human misery.

Instead of publicly debating whether or not she should resign, Clare Short should now focus all her attention on the added humanitarian disaster which may unfold in the event of war. I have already asked her to conduct an assessment of the humanitarian impact of future conflict. Conference, we know the end game for our Government, rightly, is the eradication of weapons of mass destruction. Now we need to know what is the end game for the future of the Iraqi people. The Iraqi people, by my definition, are my neighbours too.

Steeped in our culture is an understanding that we should love our neighbours as ourselves. This is not pure idealism - it is how society works best in practice. I believe that there IS such a thing as society … and it is made up of neighbours. Let me leave you with a question as you leave this conference hall tonight: ask yourself, which party will turn this nation into a nation of good neighbours - the building blocks of society. I contend, that under Iain Duncan Smith, that will be the Conservative Party.

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