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Hague: We will renew Britain's civil society

In a speech to launch Renewing Civil Society, a Conservative Party report to Britain's voluntary sector and faith communities, the Rt Hon William Hague, Leader of the Conservative Party, said:

"As-salam- a-laikum.

"I would like to thank Mohammed Riaz, the Conservative candidate in Bradford West at this Election, both for his warm welcome and for doing so much to organise this event today. And I look forward to seeing you along with many more Conservative colleagues in the House of Commons after 7 June.

"As always, I am delighted to be back in Bradford and it is a great pleasure to be able to meet so many leading representatives of the Muslim community here. British Muslims today represent the second largest religious community in the United Kingdom after the various Christian denominations. You make an outstanding contribution to the strength, prosperity and success not just of Bradford, or West Yorkshire but to the whole of our country.

"I always stress our country because, as a Conservative, I believe in One Nation. The fact that the United Kingdom is made up of different communities with a variety of different cultures and traditions greatly enriches our national life.

"Whatever our religious beliefs or our ethnic background I believe passionately that the United Kingdom belongs to all of us. It has never mattered to me whether people are Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Jewish, White, Black or Asian. As far as I am concerned we are all as British as each other. That has always been my view and it is the clear and unequivocal position of the Conservative Party.

"Muslims have lived in Britain since the sixteenth century. Within the Muslim community today there are of course different traditions with British Muslims originating from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh, India, East Africa, the Middle East, Sudan, Egypt, North Africa and Kurdistan.

"The Conservative commitment to One Nation means that we will govern for all the people of Britain. The next Conservative Government will be totally committed to rooting out racism and bigotry. The Brick Lane, Brixton and Soho bombings revolted us all. They were a reminder that even in a civilised society there are fanatics intent on terror on grounds of race. The internet makes racism even easier to disseminate. We can frame public policy to fight this menace. That is why the last Conservative Government introduced legislation to make, the publication of racially inflammatory material an arrestable offence.

"I believe in a Britain where intolerance, bigotry and racism are rooted out and replaced by genuine openness, genuine inclusivity and genuine tolerance. I want a society that is at ease with diversity and pluralism, and a society that can celebrate it.

"We can all play our part in helping to bring that about. We can make a start by avoiding some of the stereotypes that we are all so familiar with and by presenting a much fairer and more balanced view of different cultures.

"But we can go further. For my part, I am passionately committed to encouraging not just Muslims, but people from all backgrounds, to participate more fully in the mainstream of our national life.

"I want the drive and energy that has helped so many of you to succeed in your respective walks of life to take you to the top in the arts, the professions, the media and yes - politics too.

"I am the first to admit that political parties have not always been successful at welcoming the various ethnic groups in our society. Many of them have seen the mainstream of politics as something of a no-go area, where their views are not wanted and never listened to.

"A number of people, in all parties, have all too readily accepted that the ethnic minority vote went automatically to Labour. There was a widespread perception that the Conservatives were not for them - though I am proud that it was a Conservative Government that, in the teeth of strong opposition, stood by the Ugandan Asians in the 1970s.

"Any political party seeking to represent the whole British nation must in its character and make-up seek to be truly representative of that nation. That is what I want the Conservative Party to be. I want to change forever the appeal of the Conservative Party for British Asians. If we are to govern for all the people, we must be representative of all the people.

"Ever since I made my first speech as Leader of the Conservative Party, I have set the highest priority on bringing people from ethnic minority communities into my Party at every level. To help me achieve this, I established a Cultural Unit at Conservative Central Office and appointed Mohammed Riaz along with two more Conservative candidates, to advise the Shadow Cabinet on cultural and ethnic issues.

"We have made progress. At the European Elections in 1999 Nirj Deva and Bashir Khanbhai became the first ever British Asian members of the European Parliament and in Bashir we have the first ever British Muslim MEP.

"At this Election we have eight Muslim candidates. But I want to see more. More Asian MPs representing not just Asian communities but all communities. I want to see Asian MPs in future Cabinets and, yes, one day leading a major political party.

"Britain's first Jewish Prime Minister was a Conservative. Britain's first woman Prime Minister was a Conservative. And I want Britain's first Muslim Prime Minister to be a Conservative - though I hope you will forgive me if I say not quite yet.

"So the message should go out loud and clear. Conservatives welcome people from all communities into the mainstream of our party, in the mainstream of our policy making process, the mainstream of our social activities, the mainstream of our campaigning and the selection of our candidates.

"It is possible to be in the mainstream, without any of us turning our backs on our distinctive culture and traditions. It is part of what belonging to a pluralist, tolerant society is all about.

"As well as trying to encourage more people from ethnic minority communities into the Conservative Party, I have made it a priority over the past four years to get out and listen to the variety of religious traditions and voluntary sector organisations we have in the United Kingdom.

"For example in March I spoke to the Muslim Council of Great Britain. Last November, I attended the Conservative Cultural Unit conference entitled Values in the Twenty First Century. This was the first ever multi-faith policy forum organised by a political party to discuss shared values.

"As a Conservative I believe in One Nation. The fact that the United Kingdom is made up of different communities with a variety of different cultures and traditions greatly enriches our national life.

"Many British Muslims made significant contributions to that conference. They demonstrated that while the Muslim community has its own traditions of which it is rightly proud, a number of Muslim values are common to us all.

"In particular, we can all share the emphasis that members of the Muslim community place on enterprise, on hard work, on education, on respect for others, on standing up for what is right, on carrying out our obligations to others, on the importance to society of marriage and the family, of community and tradition and, through your religion, the need for a spiritual dimension to our lives.

"The Conservative Party's dialogue over the past four years with a broad section of Britain's faith communities and voluntary organisations has played a major role in shaping policies that are at the heart of the Conservative programme at this Election.

"And many of these are brought together in the report by the Conservative Party's Renewing One Nation Team, renewing civil society - how Conservatives will empower Britain's good neighbours, that we are launching today. It is a document that outlines how Conservatives will support families, local schools, charities and faith communities that build a stronger society.

"Few groups in society understand the importance of marriage and the family better than the Muslim community. It is embedded in everything you do. The family is the building block of society that, if it did not exist, would have to be invented.

"A Conservative Government will support marriage and the family by cutting taxes. Over the last four years Britain's families have borne the brunt of Labour's stealth taxes. We've seen taxes on marriage, taxes for driving, taxes for wanting to own your own home, taxes for putting a little money aside, even taxes for growing old.

"And it is the poorest families who have been hit hardest. Latest Government figures show that the poorest fifth of Britain's households are actually paying a greater share of their income in tax than they were before.

"We will give a major boost to families with young children by increasing Children's Tax Credit by £200 a year. We will support widows and widowers who face the daunting task of bringing up children without their partners by making the widowed parents allowance tax free.

"I believe that there should be a recognition of marriage in the tax and benefit system. That is why we will provide a new Married Couples' Allowance, worth nearly £1,000 a year, where one parent chooses to stay at home to look after their children.

"A Conservative Government will cut taxes for pensioners and savers. Taxes on savings and dividends will be abolished altogether, except at the higher rate. As a result of our proposals more than a million pensioners on modest incomes will be taken out of income tax altogether and the tax paid by many more will be reduced by £8.50 a week. We will also increase the basic pension by £4.80 for couples below 75 and £6.80 for couples over 75s.

"Few communities display a greater commitment to education than Muslims. Yet far too many of our children are being failed by the education system. They are often penalised as a result of where they live. This is especially the case in many of our inner cities. Too often parents have no choice but to send their children to schools with low standards and no discipline.

"Some people say it is unfair to expect children from disadvantaged backgrounds to strive for the same standards as everyone else. I say it is unfair to expect anything less.

"So under our proposals, parents will be given more choice, teachers will be set free to teach. Headteachers will be given more power to run their schools, to set their own admissions policies and impose their own discipline. Schools will be given an extra £540 per pupil per year on average to help them. Instead of the words "education, education, education", Conservatives will deliver policies to ensure discipline, standards and choice.

"It is no accident that many Muslim schools have fine records of educational achievement. Our free schools policies will actively encourage faith-based schools to be established. Voluntary groups, charitable and religious bodies, companies or groups of parents will be encouraged to set up new partner schools or take over failing schools. They will operate within the maintained system of state education.

"Local authorities will no longer be able to frustrate schools from being established because of surplus places elsewhere. We will abolish the rule that stops the private sector or charities from creating new schools on the grounds that the Government should not allow classes to be anything but full.

"Standards, discipline choice in place of spin, failure to deliver and political correctness. And that is why a Conservative Government that believes in education and the family will keep the protection against the abuse of council taxpayers' money and keep Section 28.

"Conservatives will respect Britain's religious based organisations that work in almost every part of the country helping vulnerable individuals and communities. I have seen for myself how Churches and other faith based communities can successfully tackle deep-rooted social problems that often defeat conventional approaches.

"Yet too often Muslim and other religious projects that might be improving the lives of vulnerable people are denied a fair share of public funds because of the very religious character that makes them successful.

"We will end this discrimination and welcome all of Britain's faith communities, such as Muslims, to the urgent task of helping those people who are not sharing in the opportunities of today's Britain. We will resist the political correctness that compromises organisations that wish to employ people of their own religion or belief. And we will lift the ban on national Christian and religious broadcasting so that people with faith can offer an alternative set of values in the media marketplace.

"Conservative tax cuts will encourage the responsible society where people are rewarded for looking after themselves, their families and their communities. We will cut the tax and regulatory burdens that are threatening the independence of charities and the voluntary sector. And we will end the funding crisis facing Britain's hospices.

"Our compassionate agenda will extend beyond our shores to the poorest of the world. We will double the proportion of our international aid budget that is channelled through development charities. By working with communities in developing countries, Britain's aid charities are delivering sustainable change, are empowering women and avoiding the corruption that so often sours government-to-government aid.

"To ensure that the concerns of families, faith organisations and volunteer groups are heard, Conservatives will establish an Office of Civil Society within the heart of Government.

"The Office will encourage Britain's voluntary sector to take a greater role in schooling, housing and regeneration. It will help simplify form filling and paper work and make it easier for voluntary groups to apply for funding and remove burdensome regulations. It will help us remove discrimination against these voluntary groups by public funding and regulatory bodies. The Office will also have a further role in strengthening the family. It will assess the impact of public policies on the family, on marriage and on parenting.

"Too many people struggle in life. Yet in a responsible society they should not be allowed to face adversity alone. Of course there is a role for the government. But families, churches, mosques, charities and other good neighbours will also rise to the challenge of being a friend or a mentor. They should not be held back.

"A Conservative Government will work with faith based organisations of all denominations and the voluntary sector. We will form a new partnership, through our Office of Civil Society, so that they are able to flourish and provide their own forms of assistance and practical help. They promote the values that we have in common - things like the family, marriage, education and responsibility. These are Muslim values. They are Conservative values. They are shared values. Working together we can put those values into practice and renew Britain's civil society."

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