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Gillan tries to play down deep Tory divisions over devolution; CONSERVATIVE PARTY CONFERENCE.

SHADOW Welsh Secretary Cheryl Gillan played down differences of opinion over devolution yesterday, saying no-one expected politicians to be "clones" who always agreed.

The Conservatives have so far struggled to adopt aunited front on devolution, with some activists still entirely opposed to the Assembly, and others - including Assembly group leader Nick Bourne-keen to see the institution take on more powers.

Former Minister Lord Roberts of Conwy has produced an internal report for David Cameron on the issue, but its conclusions have been kept under wraps.

Ms Gillan departed from the text of her speech at a fringe meeting in Birmingham yesterday to say: "I think you know... we don't always agree, but in the Conservative Party we are not clones, but we do share a common purpose, to help us win votes, throughout Wales, together."

She had been paying tribute to the work of the three Welsh MPs, David Jones, David TC Davies and Stephen Crabb.

Mr Davies has already announced his plans to campaign for a "no" vote if a referendum is held on devolving more power to the Assembly; other Conservatives are known to be in favour.

Ms Gillan added: "There may sometimes be policy disagreements between Westminster and Cardiff - that's devolution. But as a party we've grown and understood more clearly that the lines of communication always need to be kept open."

She said the current system of bit-by-bit devolution from West-minster to Cardiff was "complex and cumbersome", and created tensions between Westminster and the Assembly.

She added: "What is clear to me is that the people of Wales are actually not interested in complex legislative arrangements. They want to know whether their children can get into their local school, or if they can get NHS treatment without waiting for weeks.

"They want to know if their local post office is going to closeor if they can pay their fuel bills.

What the people of Wales care about is delivery." Labour has been "too preoccupied with the devolution debate, with Rhodri Morgan's succession, with whether or not to ditch Gordon Brown.

They've taken their eye off the big picture", she said.

The Conservatives are aiming to overtake Labour at next June's European election, when four Welsh seats are up for grabs. Labour currently holds two, with the Conservatives and Plaid having one each; the seats are allocated using Wales-wide proportional representation.

"Imagine the message that would sent to Gordon Brown if Conservatives outpoll Labour in Wales," Ms Gillan said. "Imagine the message that would send to Rhodri Morgan as he dithers over his retirement."

Kay Swinburne, who tops the Conservatives' list of candidates in the election, said: "No matter what our supporters' views on Europe may be, these are an important set of elections for us. The target is achievable. 'Conservatives outpoll Labour in Wales' would be quite a headline."
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Article Type:Conference news
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Sep 30, 2008
Words:473
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