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Hague: Conservatives will govern for all the people

I am delighted to be back in Devon today. For me, the South West has always been a place that embodies the character of rural England, with its coastland, its small towns and working countryside. But today the rural way of life over much of the South West is under threat.

Last year, Tony Blair described the countryside as 'prosperous, contented and reasonably well-served' - not a phrase that people here in the South West would be likely to choose. I represent a rural constituency in North Yorkshire and so I like you want a Government that stands up for rural Britain, its people and their way of life.

It goes without saying that agriculture matters here in the South West. That is why I am here talking to farmers in Barnstable. Farming in Britain is going through one of its worst crises since before the War. In 2000 alone, over 24,000 farming jobs were lost and over the past five years, farm incomes have fallen by ninety per cent.

But what farmers want isn't a handout, it is a fair deal. They want the Government off their backs. They want less red tape and more freedom to compete on equal terms with the rest of the world. So we need to stop the import of food which clearly falls below the standards required of farmers in Britain. And the next Conservative Government will introduce tough new honesty in labelling laws, so only products that are actually British can say that they are.

Fishing is not only an important part of the character of the South West - for many people here it is their livelihood as well. That is why I am visiting the port at Bideford today.

Talk to any fishermen here and they will tell you the Common Fisheries Policy has been a disaster for Britain. Only last week the European Parliament voted against renewing Britain's right to control the six miles limit around our coast - that would mean foreign fishing boats could come all the way up to the British shore, at St. Ives, Plymouth and Padstow. Instead, the next Conservative Government will return Britain's fishing waters to local or national control. Only this way can we safeguard fishing jobs and protect our fish stocks.

All this is symptomatic of the Government's general disregard for the interests of the South West. We used to talk of a North-South divide, but today areas like the South West are falling behind.

You are being hit hard by the closure of vital local services. Country pubs are closing, rural police stations are being shut and under Labour two rural post offices are closed in Britain every day.

You are being hit by heavy increases in council tax. You only have to look here in Devon to see a Liberal council that has increased Council Tax by 34% in three years. Labour's new funding formula has taken funds from Shire counties to Labour metropolitan boroughs.

And you are being hit by the highest fuel prices in Europe, because much of the West Country, the car isn't a luxury, it is a vital part of daily life. That is why a Conservative Government would cut fuel tax by 3p a litre.

Only the Conservatives are listening to Britain's countryside. That is why I am here in North Devon. A Conservative Government will govern for all the people - and that includes the South West, a part of our country that has been neglected by this Government for too long.

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