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TORY CONF: MORE EDUCATION CHOICE WITH TORIES SAYS PM

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New rules and reforms for young people and the old in care and changes in the rules to allow easier adoption were a...
New rules and reforms for young people and the old in care and changes in the rules to allow easier adoption were among anouncements contained in prime minister John Major's speech to the Conservative party annual conference today.

There would be more education choice with the Tories, he said, and tough measures for young offenders were promised.

He also announced that a team of 'sports ambassadors' led by cricketer Colin Cowdrey would go round schools to encourage competitive sport.

Extracts from Mr Major's speech:

'We've had a good week. It's been the week the Tory family came together - to renew the family contract with the British nation. And through the week, colleague after colleague has set out fresh, detailed, new policy for the future.

There've been some marvellous speeches. It's been 21 years since Michael Heseltine first got a standing ovation at this conference. And no one has sat down since.

The well-being of our country is more important than any political party. And the well-being of the Conservative Party is more important than any member of it.

So the lesson is clear. Everyone in the Conservative Party should work - and if I know them, will work - heart and soul, irrespective of personal interests, to secure the re-election of a Conservative government.

Over the last two or three years there's been attempt after attempt - by our opponents - to sully the reputation of our Party.

Well, I know this Party. No doubt it's not perfect - nor is everyone in it. But I grew up in it. And that campaign won't succeed.

Because this Party as a whole is straight and honourable and true and - like you - I'm proud to be a member of it. Unlike Labour, we aren't ashamed of our past. Unlike Labour, we haven't abandoned our principles.

Unlike Labour, we haven't had to reinvent ourselves. We're proud of what we've achieved. Because, Madam Chairman: we've changed Britain - for the better.

ENTERPRISE CENTRE OF EUROPE

When I became Prime Minister, I set out to make Britain a low inflation economy. I knew what a fight it would be.

But we went for it. We took the flak. No weakening. Heads down. We did what we always do when we're challenged: we came out fighting. And, as a result, we've had the longest run of low inflation this country has seen for a generation.

I want to thank my colleagues - and you - my party - for standing with me through that battle. Between us, we've transformed the prospects for our country. And we did it with raw political gut.

We set out to create jobs. And we're succeeding. Unemployment is lower here than in any comparable country in Europe.

In Britain it's falling. In Europe it's not. Last year, this year, and next year we're set to have higher growth here, in our country, than any big country in Europe.

Curiously enough, the Labour leader didn't mention these successes in his flight of fancy last week. Pages missing perhaps?

He just said the country was falling apart. Inflation down. Mortgages down. Unemployment down. Some fall.

Of course, there was a time when this country was falling apart. It was when we had a Labour Government. So I've got some friendly advice for Mr Blair. If you knock your country, you'll never lead it.

The plain truth is I'm the first Prime Minister for generations who can say ''We're the most competitive economy in Europe''.

And I intend to be the Prime Minister who builds on that success after we've won the next General Election. Madam Chairman, at that election there's a central question. It's this: who can be trusted with the future?

Labour try to persuade people it's them.

'We're different,' they say. 'We've changed our name.' 'Rely on us - you know we've always been wrong in the past.'

Well, that's candid - if a touch eccentric. Trouble is, they're wrong in the present as well. And it simply won't do for Mr Blair to say:

'Look, I'm not a Socialist anymore. Now, can I be Prime Minister, please?'

Sorry, Tony. Job's taken. And anyway, it's too big a task for your first real job.

Mr Blair's handlers are trying to spread the tale that he's a very fierce dog indeed, but also that he's quite harmless. Another eccentric message: 'Fierce dog - no teeth!'

By the way, have you noticed how the less a politician has to say, the more over-heated the language in which he says it?

When every aim becomes - 'a crusade'. Every hope - 'a dream'. Every priority - 'a passion'. Then it's time to duck for cover. And when the whole show is laced with words like 'tragedy', 'catastrophe', 'triumph' and 'destiny'' - terms with real meaning, but which, ransacked for political advantage, degrade the message - then I think of Ralph Waldo Emerson:

'the louder he talked of his honour, the faster we counted our spoons'.

BELIEFS

Madam Chairman, I came into politics to open doors, not shut them. They were opened for me.

I was born in the war. My father was 66. My mother was - how shall I put it? - surprised.

We were like millions of others. Not well off, but comfortable, until financially the roof fell in. Nothing special about that. But for us, it chather coped - as women do.

I left school at 16, because earnt something from that experience. In the game of life, we Toules. Give people opportunity and choice, to open up an avenue of hope in their lives.

And by 'people' I don't mean 'some people'. I mean everyone. Opportunity for all. It's in the bloodstream of our party.

It was Shaftesbury who gave an education to thousands of children from poor homes.

It was Disraeli who gave many working men the freedom to vote.

It was Salisbury who brought free education within the reach of almost every family in England.

All Tories.

And it was Margaret Thatcher - another Tory, as you may know - who sold council houses and public industries, giving people a real stake in this country.

Giving people opportunity marks the great divide in British politics.

In its heart, Old Labour, New Labour, any old Labour still believe that Government knows best.

I don't.

But then, I'm a Conservative.

I believe we should give families opportunity and choice and a wider, warmer view of life.

Our belief in choice is the driving force of our policy - its not a political ploy; for me it's the core of what I believe in.

EDUCATION

I start with education.

There are millions of children in our country. All unique. Everyone an original: different skills, different talents, different needs.

Should each child - with all his or her originality - be made to fit into a regimented education system?

Or should we design an education system to fit the originality of the child?

Well, of course we should.

So our task is to provide a rich choice of schools and colleges, giving the best to every child and demanding the best of every child.

And who should choose the right schools for those children?

The Government?

The bureaucrat in Whitehall?

The councillor in the Town Hall?

Or the parents, who love and care for those children?

Of course it's the parents.

Wherever possible, they should choose.

We're improving that choice every year.

And we intend to widen it further.

So, I make this promise:

If parents want more grant-maintained schools - they shall have them.

More specialist schools - we'll provide them.

More selection - they'll have it. Why should government say 'no' if parents think it's right for their children?

And if parents want grammar schools in every town - so do I, and they shall have them.

We grammar school boys - and girls, Gillian - believe in choice for parents.

That means parents shouldn't face a choice between one bad school and another.

What kind of choice is that?

I'll tell you.

It's the kind of choice you get in Islington - unless you move out of the borough.

We're going to change that. That's why this autumn, as Gill Shephard told you, we'll turn today's promises into tomorrow's reality with a flagship Education Bill.

We want high standards in every school.

It's why we set up the National Curriculum. It's why we insist on tests.

Without tests, how can you know what a child hasn't learned?

And how can parents be sure how well their children - or their school - are doing?

When we insisted on giving that information to parents, John Prescott called it 'Political Propaganda'.

Just pause and think about that for a moment. It tells you a lot.

Information to parents about their children - and the Deputy Leader of New Labour calls it 'Political Propaganda'.

Well, well. If education's a passion for Labour, it's a passion that dare not speak its results.

SPORT

While on education, I want to say a word about sport. Firstly, well done England on Wednesday. More please. And well done Scotland. I hear it was no effort at all. But you'd have won anyway. Last year, at this conference, I told you of my determination to restore sport, and particularly team sport, to the heart of school life. It's natural and healthy for young people at school to have their sporting heroes and heroines: sportsmen and women whom they can choose as role models.

So, with the enthusiastic help of the Sports Councils, I'm going to set up a team of Sporting Ambassadors - widely drawn from the best role models in sports, our leading athletes, past and present - who'll visit schools and talk to pupils, teaching staff, school governors and parents, to enthuse and inspire and encourage.

To work up the scheme, I have asked that legendary England cricketer - that man for all seasons - Sir Colin Cowdrey - to chair a small committee whose members will be drawn from the elite of the sporting and academic worlds. Colin is here today and I want you to thank him for agreeing to do this.

His committee will announce their conclusions by Christmas, and I intend that the scheme will be up and running in schools in the coming academic year. Colin scored nearly 8,000 runs for England. Now he's going to inspire nearly 8 million boys and girls who might want to play compete and represent their country. I want them to enjoy sport. And they'll enjoy it more if they play to win. Take it from me - winning is fun.

THE FAMILY

There are those who believe in the self-before-everyone, grab-what-you-can school of thought. They may find opportunity for all an odd philosophy. But it's ours.

And for the last 17 years we've followed it. We've cut direct tax, given more and more people the opportunity to save, to own shares, own pensions, own homes.

More than ever before, we've given families more independence and more freedom to choose. As a result, millions have become owners of homes, savings, shares and pensions. But not enough yet.

Madam Chairman, in our next 5 years, we will seek new opportunities; an opportunity owning democracy. Helping more people save and build security for retirement. Helping people who need care keep more of those savings. We're aiming for the least possible tax to give the greatest possible choice. As we can afford it, we'll move to a 20p basic rate for all. That's our priority. We know that cutting taxes isn't government giving anything back to people. It's the government taking away less of people's own money. That's why low taxes are right. We don't want to soak the tax payer.

Labour often say they want to soak the rich. But they're the only party in history who also regularly manage to soak the poor. And sometimes no taxes are right. So, to encourage wealth creation for the future, we'll reduce and then abolish Capital Gains Tax.

Many people in our country build up savings long after they've enough for their own needs. One reason they do that is to pass on the fruits of their life's work to their children and grandchildren.

This is a powerful, human emotion. So, over time, our next target is to remove the burden of inheritance tax. Building wealth for the many, not the few.'

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