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Thursday, April 15, 1999 Published at 11:52 GMT 12:52 UK

The Welsh Conservative Party

The Conservative and Unionist Party in Wales has recently adopted this new title. It is a sign that the party is trying to come to terms with devolution, a policy it opposed during the devolution referendum.

The Conservative Party

Ironically, the Assembly's proportional voting system it rejects could give the party a place in Welsh political life again, after it was wiped out in the 1997 General Election.

The Welsh Conservative Party is headed by Rod Richards, a Welsh-speaking former Welsh Office minister who resigned his post in the last Conservative government due to allegations about his personal life.

The Conservatives have fallen back heavily since their high water mark in Wales in 1983, when they held 14 Westminster seats. That declined to eight in 1987, six in 1992 and none in 1997.

They will be hoping to regain some of their traditional territory in seats such as Monmouthshire, Clwyd West, Vale of Glamorgan and Cardiff North. Like Plaid and the Lib Dems, they are promoting themselves as the likely second party in the Assembly after Labour.

The Tories promise to strengthen local health authorities so that they - not Assembly politicians - decide local health priorities.

They have pledged to restore the GP fundholding system in place of the Local Health Groups currently being established.

They are also calling for a thorough review of the recruitment, training, career structure and pay of nurses, saying the shortage of nurses and the low morale in the profession needs urgent action.

While in government, the Tories stressed the importance of inward investment - with the giant LG semiconductor plant at Newport being their biggest success story. For the Assembly elections, however, they are promoting themselves as the party of small business, pledging to promote indigenous enterprises.

They are calling for GDP levels across Wales to be equalised and for Wales's GDP relative to the UK to be increased.

The party wants education budgets to be passed on directly to schools, rather than being allocated by local education authorities, which it says waste money on bureaucracy. It also wants the private sector to be allowed to take over schools to provide free education.

Controversially, the Tories want parents to be able to let their children opt out of compulsory Welsh lessons during the last two years of secondary school.

The policy of compulsory Welsh was introduced by the Tories themselves. Now, he says it is counter-productive. The u-turn has been widely condemned by the other Welsh parties for breaking the carefully constructed consensus on teaching of Welsh in schools.

The party also opposes any attempt to abolish A-levels or sixth forms, and says it would introduce a National Scholarship for talented children to attend private schools. It is also calling for a thorough review of teacher recruitment, training, careers and salaries.

While accepting the inevitability of devolution, the Tories under Rod Richards have wasted no time in playing the unionist card, stressing what they say are the dangers inherent in the devolution process.

Under the title "Wales our nation, Britain our country", their manifesto invokes the rhetoric of Britishness. It says: "We will work hard to make sure that devolution does not become an instrument that undermines our British identity and leads to the break up of the United Kingdom."

As for Welsh culture, the message is more mixed. With an eye to their record as the party which presided over the establishment of the Welsh Fourth Channel, S4C, the passing of the Welsh Language Act, and the making of the Welsh language central to the National Curriculum, the Tories stress that the Welsh language and culture is "one of the building blocks of Britain."

However, the manifesto goes on to criticise Plaid Cymru-controlled Gwynedd council, which it says operates a policy of "linguistic apartheid" by only employing people who can speak Welsh or who are willing to learn.

The council itself strongly denies discrimination, saying that an ability in Welsh is necessary in a county where 75% of the people speak the language.

The Welsh Conservative Party is taking a strongly Euro-sceptic stance, and seeks to exploit the twin fears of increasing Welsh independence and increasing control from Europe. It sees the two processes as linked and says that devolution must not "become a process that facilitates the creation of political union with Europe".

The Welsh Tories also oppose further monetary union.

The manifesto calls the condition of local and rural roads in Wales " a scandal" and wants the Assembly to address the issue as a priority. While encouraging public transport, the party says it is "realistic" about services in rural areas and says it is unfair for higher fuel charges to penalise rural motorists who have no alternative to private cars.

The party wants a road link built from the M4 to Cardiff International Airport, a dualling of the relief road around Newport and improvements to roads west of Carmarthen.

It also says it would support road improvements to cut travelling time between north and south Wales and along the A5 road.

The Welsh Tories want the introduction of genetically-modified crops should be delayed until more is known about them.

It says it will encourage recycling, the development of better flood prevention and flood warning systems and would examine the cost-effectiveness of renewable energy schemes.

The party says the family farm is essential to the Welsh way of rural life and the Welsh culture.

The party says it would encourage better funding for countryside "stewardship" schemes, paying farmers to farm in a sustainable way. It opposes "right to roam" schemes promoted by ramblers.

It calls for the banning of all imports whose production methods would be illegal in this country. It also wants the beef-on-the-bone ban lifted and meat inspection charges to be borne by the public purse not by farmers themselves.

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