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Last Updated: Monday, 6 October, 2003, 05:22 GMT 06:22 UK
Duncan Smith answers your questions
As the Tories' annual conference gets underway in Blackpool, party leader Iain Duncan Smith answers questions from BBC News Online users.

When is the quiet man going to speak up? Paul Walsh, Leeds

When I became leader, we had just suffered a heavy election defeat.

Iain Duncan Smith
Duncan Smith says the prime minister faces awful problems

I am sure that few people would have wanted us to just continue in the same way.

We needed to change, so I ordered the widest-ranging policy review in the history of the Conservative Party.

We've produced some good stuff. We'll create a patient's passport to give people real choice in their healthcare, we'll put 40,000 extra policemen on our streets, and we'll abolish tuition fees.

I can promise you that you will be hearing a lot of us until the next general election.

Do you agree that with all the problems being faced by Tony Blair you should be much further ahead in the opinion polls? Mark Martin, UK

I don't pay too much attention to polls to be honest - but it is increasingly clear that people are beginning to realise that only the Conservatives can provide a fair deal for everyone.

That is why under my leadership, we have made huge gains in elections across the country, and have become the largest party in British local government.

I am deeply disillusioned with standards in public life and government. Can the Conservative Party restore what has so clearly been lost? Myles Harrison, England

I absolutely give my word that the Conservatives will restore probity and integrity to the work of government.

From the long list of Labour's many failures, the lack of honesty and truth has been the most disgraceful. We will make government honest again.

As evidence of our intentions, we have pledged to introduce a Civil Service Bill - which will end the politicisation of the civil service, cut the number of special advisers, and restore honesty and integrity to politics.

Isn't it hypocritical to attack the government for the case they made in favour of war when it was a case that you suggested they make? Danny Callaghan, England

Yes, we said it was right to go to war with Iraq. We still say it was the right thing to do.

If patients choose to be treated in non-NHS hospitals, and so cut the queue for others, we will help them too, because after all they have paid their taxes

A brutal dictator, who tortured and impoverished his people, has been removed. An oppressed people have been liberated.

And a government implacably opposed to our way of life and with links to terrorist groups has been removed.

But what we have said is that Labour's nasty habit of resorting to spin, to lies, and to deceit, undermined the case and undermined public support for what was the right thing to do.

It is for that reason that there must be a full, independent, judicial inquiry. Hutton does not go far enough.

How will you pay for the private healthcare passport scheme without siphoning money out of the NHS? Sam Tudor, UK

The patient's passport is an entitlement to treatment at the hospital that patients and their GPs choose - not, as happens at the moment, the one they are told to go to.

Let me make it clear that NHS care will remain free at the point of use.

If patients choose to be treated in non-NHS hospitals, and so cut the queue for others, we will help them too, because after all they have paid their taxes.

The Conservative Party remains absolutely committed to the principle that those who are unable to provide for themselves are helped by those who can.

The idea that somehow the Conservatives want to destroy the NHS is nothing more than a Labour lie.

Why don't you privatise the whole of the NHS and buy in services for all who require hospital services? B Patel, Britain

It's wrong to think in terms of privatising because what we should be thinking about is the patient and not the system.

The NHS must provide the type of care that patients need.

It doesn't matter to us where people are treated - what matters is that they get the treatment they need when they need it.

How will a Tory government aim to combat the apparent lawlessness that occurs in the inner cities? Rod Belcher, England

It is hard to exaggerate the scale of lawlessness in our inner cities.

Conservatism is about opportunity and fairness, and our plans for university will mean that people can go to university based on their ability to learn

Every day there seems to be a different story on the news of somebody being shot or stabbed.

The victims of crime are often elderly people living on their own, or people living on run down estates.

These people rightly feel that Labour has done nothing for them.

We are totally committed to restoring order to our cities, through real neighbourhood policing backed up by 40,000 extra police.

The next Conservative government will also give a massive boost to drug rehabilitation schemes to get young people off the hard drugs that cause so much crime in our cities.

Why do the Conservatives oppose tuition fees when in general they favour the principle of paying for what you get? Simon Stevens, UK

Conservatism is about opportunity and fairness, and our plans for university will mean that people can go to university based on their ability to learn.

Two very Conservative beliefs underlie our approach.

First, Labour has imposed and increased too many taxes - and their tax on learning is one of the most damaging.

Second, we in Britain are facing a severe skills crisis. Eight million people lack basic skills.

We have fewer than half as many people qualified to apprentice, skilled craft, and technician levels, as in Germany.

More graduates is clearly not the answer to this crisis.

The government's tax on learning will just be wasted on damaging government initiatives that rig and over-expand university admissions.

What steps are you taking to make the party more representative? Vineet Gupta, England

British political parties of course need to become more representative of Britain in the 21st Century.

That's why the Conservatives are working so hard to boost participation amongst under-represented groups.

I have set up a Party Community and Cohesion Executive to interact with minority communities.

Euro membership is of course intended to be permanent - which is one of the reasons why it's such an important decision
We have also been working very closely with Operation Black Vote to help us learn how to attract candidates from more diverse backgrounds.

And we have reformed our procedures for selecting candidates.

Though there is much still to do, we are making some real progress. We have more female candidates selected than ever before.

And I hope the appointment of Sandip Verma as our prospective parliamentary candidate - in Enoch Powell's former constituency - will send a positive message about how we are changing.

David Willetts has suggested that it would help the country if more babies were produced. How would your policies make motherhood more appealing? Deborah Clark, England

We believe that families should have easier access to childcare.

We want to offer as much support to families through the tax and benefit system.

Above all, we want to deliver a fair deal for mothers - who should be free to decide to go to work or stay at home with their children.

I agree that something needs to be done about council tax.

Since Tony Blair was elected in 1997 council tax has gone up by 70%.

This year alone it went up by 13% - that's four times the rate of inflation!

Families and people on fixed incomes, especially our old age pensioners, are really being squeezed by Labour's tax rises.

The Conservative Party is currently reviewing many of our policies and I hope to release our proposals on making council tax fairer before the end of the year.

Would you take the UK back out of the euro if another party has taken us in? Robert Steadman, UK

Euro membership is of course intended to be permanent - which is one of the reasons why it's such an important decision.

But Tony Blair's ambition to take us into the euro before the next election is now a dead duck.

There's no way he can credibly claim it would be in our economic interests to give up control of economic policy.

The Swedish vote makes a mockery of any claim that joining the euro is somehow inevitable; the British people remain implacably opposed; and the Prime Minister seems to have abandoned his plan to tour the country extolling the virtues of the euro.

Perhaps that is because he knows that no-one believes a word he says any more.

I intend to win the next general election, I expect to win it, and I'm planning on the basis of winning it.

So if Tony Blair can't take Britain into the euro before then, the question of what happens after he's done so simply won't arise.

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