Previous SectionIndexHome Page

3.28 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): I begin by congratulating you, Mr. Speaker, on your re-election to Parliament and to the office of Speaker. I know that you will continue to serve the whole House with integrity.

I give my thanks to the proposer and seconder of the Gracious Speech. My hon. Friend the Member for Huddersfield (Mr. Sheerman) proposed the motion in his usual energetic manner. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer tells me that he will be drinking a toast to him later. My hon. Friend worked hard for his constituents and his party during some 18 difficult years in opposition, when the Labour party was out of power and it seemed that it would never get back into government; indeed, at times it even seemed likely to split asunder. In fact, my hon. Friend is available for therapy consultations with Conservative Members if needed.

My hon. Friend's service to the House during those years in opposition and afterwards is well recognised. In particular, his service as Joint Chairman of the Select Committee on Education and Employment has been valued by Members on both sides of the House. He is widely recognised as contributing greatly to policy and practice in both areas.

I know that my hon. Friend supports the historic and ancient team of Huddersfield Town football club as well as rugby league. I know also that it is a sensitive issue that is close to his heart. However, he will note that Huddersfield--like the Tory party, that other historic and ancient institution--play in blue, have had a terrible season and were relegated, but at least they have not lost their manager.

May I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Tottenham (Mr. Lammy) for an outstanding speech seconding the Gracious Speech? His passion for his constituency of Tottenham, like that of his predecessor, Bernie Grant, shone through his contribution, as did his

20 Jun 2001 : Column 49

defence of the Government's efforts to make life better for his constituents. As he said, this Friday marks his first anniversary in the House. I learned of his sound judgment during the course of the by-election, not merely afterwards when he failed to return my call, but beforehand, when he had to choose the photograph to go on his leaflet. He could have had a photograph of himself with me, but instead he chose as endorsement a photograph of himself with the manageress of his local fried chicken store. I thought that that was absolutely right.

As for the speech of the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague), the Leader of the Opposition, may I tell him that it was a vintage Hague performance? It was extraordinarily witty and eloquent, which is what we expect of him. Whatever else, and whatever disagreements we may have had, he has been a formidable adversary in the House. I wish him well in future, as we all do. The election to succeed him promises to be interesting. I understand that there are four names in the ring: one is in repentance, one is in hope, one is expectation and one is in Vietnam. However, whoever replaces the right hon. Gentleman will struggle to match the resilience he has shown in difficult circumstances--one of the qualities, I hope, that will continue to be demanded of whoever is leader of the Conservative party.

Amid all that is new, I hope that the House will forgive me for pointing out one thing that, in a sense, is new but which has also stayed the same. For the first time in our history, a second-term Labour Government are sitting on this side of the House, ready, willing and able to fulfil a full Parliament and build on the work that we have begun. Hendon; Hove; Hastings and Rye; Enfield, Southgate; Eastwood; and Birmingham, Edgbaston have Labour Members of Parliament again. Who would have thought that my hon. Friends the Members for Wellingborough (Mr. Stinchcombe) and for Kettering (Phil Sawford)--who, I seem to remember, were taunted by Opposition Members with cries of "Goodbye" every time they spoke--would be returned with increased majorities at the election? I offer particular congratulations to two people on my own side: one took Ynys Mon from the Welsh nationalists--it returned to the Labour fold after 22 years; and in Dorset, the place where trade unionism first flourished, a Labour Member of Parliament was returned for the first time ever at a general election.

However, the importance lies not in my hon. Friends' being returned, but in what we can achieve. That means, for example, that the poorest paid people in our country will receive an average increase of £8 a week in October, when the minimum wage goes up. It means that pensioners this winter will be assured of the £200 winter fuel allowance and free TV licences for those over 75. It means record investment in our schools--more teachers, more books, better school buildings and higher standards--and it means record investment in our health service too.

This is a Queen's Speech that bears out the mandate that we were given. It is a Queen's Speech for enterprise to build on stability; a Queen's Speech for public services; a Queen's Speech that puts schools and hospitals first. The public have signalled their priorities: the economy, health, education and crime. Today, we again signal ours: the economy, health, education and crime. I say to the Leader of the Opposition that of course we must look at

20 Jun 2001 : Column 50

ways of making Parliament more effective, but the biggest thing that will repay people's faith in politics is our carrying out the programme on which we were elected.

In our first term, we altered the entire system of economic management with Bank of England independence and new fiscal rules, which have given Britain today the lowest inflation in Europe, 1 million more jobs in the economy and interest rates half what they were in 18 years of Conservative government. I believe that today the Labour Government are the Government of economic competence for our country. In 1997, 42p of every extra £1 of public spending went on social security and on interest payments on the nation's debt. Today, the figure is 16p. Today, Britain has the fourth largest economy in the world, the national debt is falling and youth unemployment has been halved. Those are not abstract economic figures; they mark real improvements in this country and in the living standards of our people.

It is on those foundations that we must now fulfil our mandate for the second term--to continue building first-class public services and to introduce measures to boost productivity and enterprise, bringing prosperity to every region of our nation. That is why, during the next three years, spending on health will rise by 5.6 per cent. per year, on education by 5.4 per cent. and on criminal justice by 4.2 per cent. year on year. Transport spending and overall capital investment will rise by more than 10 per cent. a year during the next three years.

That is important, because it is our belief, borne out in the course of the election campaign, that public services are not optional extras to be sacrificed to short-term expediency or unaffordable tax cuts. Good public services are the vital infrastructure for rising prosperity in our country. They are the indispensable platform of security and opportunity for each individual citizen.

The Queen's Speech launches the most fundamental programme of reform in the public services for many years. The individual citizen is the focus of all our reforms--the pupil first, the patient first, the victim of crime first. Putting the individual first requires big investment and reform, and that was the issue during the general election.

The election marked Britain's desire to move beyond Thatcherism. The Conservative party lost because it lost the arguments about the kind of country that the British people want Britain to be, and I am pleased to say that I see precious little sign that it has changed its mind. As far as I can make out from studying the positions of many of the new intake of Conservatives, the only way to resolve the leadership question is for the title to be renounced, the by-election held and the mummy to come back to the Dispatch Box. If not that, I am told that the Conservative party's saviour looks set to be the right hon. Member for Kensington and Chelsea (Mr. Portillo) who is now, I understand, the moderate candidate for the Conservative party leadership--the man who brought in the poll tax, who in 1992 at the Treasury presided over interest rates of 10 per cent. and who was the author of the Conservatives' spending cuts programme at the election. If he is the answer to the Conservative party's prayers, may I say, in a spirit of cross-party consensus, that he may also be the answer to ours?

Mr. Alex Salmond (Banff and Buchan): On the question of public services and the indication of increased

20 Jun 2001 : Column 51

private finance in the health and education systems--to which the Prime Minister alluded during the election campaign and which is alluded to again in the Gracious Speech--after the huge success of private funding in the railways, how much private money does the Prime Minister anticipate for the health and education systems, and according to what time scale does he intend to introduce the creeping privatisation of the public services?

The Prime Minister: As the hon. Gentleman knows, we opposed the privatisation of the railways and we certainly do not intend introducing that in any part of our public services. But in respect of private finance, in, for example, the national health service, we have had the largest hospital-building programme since the war, with the hospitals being built to cost and on time. I should have thought that the hon. Gentleman would have learned that that was a sensible way of proceeding.

Next Section

IndexHome Page