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The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair):

First, may I join in the tributes to our colleague Jim Marshall. He was a well-respected Member of the House who worked tirelessly for his Leicester, South constituents. He will be missed by them and by his many friends on both sides of the House, and the thoughts of all of us are with his family at this time.

My hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East (Mr. Howarth) made a typically warm, witty and generous speech, and I pay tribute to it. As he said, he entered the House after a by-election in 1986. He replaced Robert Kilroy-Silk, whose television career, from what I hear, was largely spent with warring families who were at each other's throats. What a relief it must have been when he left television to join the UK Independence party.

I wholeheartedly support my hon. Friend's warm tribute to Harold Wilson and I pay tribute to my hon. Friend's work as a Northern Ireland Minister. He achieved something which I know from experience is pretty rare in the politics of Northern Ireland: he was popular in all parts of the community. Along with him and all Members of the House, I hope that we can restore devolved government in Northern Ireland.

My hon. Friend is, as we all know, a kind-hearted individual, but he is also someone with a sharp sense of humour, as we have heard today. In addition to other remarks made about his personal appearance, one parliamentary sketch writer rather unkindly described him as looking like a serial killer. My hon. Friend wasted no time in dropping the journalist a note to warn him that appearances "are not always deceptive". [Laughter.] I suspect that my hon. Friend is the only Member who can claim to be the chairman—unpaid—of an ice-lolly factory, which is famous locally for its slogan, "What could be nicer than a Pendelton's Twicer". So it is clear that politics' gain has been advertising's loss.
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I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and also, of course, to   my hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Heeley (Ms Munn). Like my hon. Friend the Member for Knowsley, North and Sefton, East, she knows her constituency extremely well, having been born and brought up there. Her mother was a linchpin of the local health service, having first been a nurse and then helping to train hundreds of others to follow in her footsteps, and I hope and am sure that she is proud of the investment and improvements that the Government, with her daughter's support, have wrought in the national health service.

I am told—although I have no means of knowing whether it is true—that for many years, as a child, my hon. Friend went camping with my right hon. Friends the Minister for Sport and Tourism and the Home Secretary; and even that did not put her off the Labour party. I also know that her late father was not only agent for the constituency but was also lord mayor of Sheffield, so she has a very long family tradition of association in Sheffield. She tap dances, as she said; she did not say that she also speaks several languages. I am not sure whether she does both at the same time, but I congratulate her on an excellent speech and wish her many years in the House.

The Queen's Speech commits the Government to continuing the policies for economic opportunity and change in our public services. The right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) asked where was the delivery, and he mentioned the Government's record. I am very happy to engage in a comparison of records, and indeed on what we have delivered. Over the past seven and a half years, Bank of England independence, prudent economic management and the new deal have delivered the lowest interest rates, lowest inflation and lowest unemployment for decades. Living standards of every section of the population are up. That is delivery after seven and a half years.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a leading member of the last Conservative Government, we had two recessions. We now have sustained economic growth. We had interest rates of 10 per cent. for four years; now they stand at about 5 per cent. When he was Secretary of State for Employment, this country lost 1 million jobs; in the past seven and a half years, we have gained 2 million jobs. That is delivery. We saw pensioner poverty and child poverty increase under the last Government. Now we see 700,000 children lifted out of poverty and 2 million pensioners lifted out of acute hardship.

In the last Conservative Parliament, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was a senior member of that Conservative Government, we saw spending per pupil in our schools cut. Since the Labour Government came to power, it has been increased by £800 per pupil in real terms. That is delivery.

When the right hon. and learned Gentleman was last in office, national health service waiting lists—under the Conservatives—rose by 400,000. Now they have fallen by 300,000. Of course there are still problems; he mentioned one—MRSA. But let us be clear: after years in which the NHS was run down, its services depleted, its training cut and its buildings unrenewed, we now have the national health service on its way back, thanks to the investment and reform under the Labour Government.
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Go to any constituency. Look at the schools and see the computers, the new classrooms and new sports facilities. See the new nurseries and the Sure Start programme. Look at the hospitals and the new wings in hospitals—the biggest building programme in the NHS since it was formed.

Abroad, the Government can be proud that Britain is leading the way in debt relief, aid and help to the continent of Africa, with overseas aid to Africa set to treble by 2007–08. That is delivery, too.

Chris Grayling (Epsom and Ewell) (Con): Can the Prime Minister explain why three secondary schools in my constituency have to close one lesson early on a Friday for financial reasons?

The Prime Minister: I cannot, no, because I do not know the particular circumstances of the schools in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, but I bet that, if I look at the figures for those schools, they will have received substantial extra investment from the Government over the past few years. I do not know the particular circumstances of those schools, but I do know that, if we go into any constituency—I believe that mine is typical in this way—there is investment in primary schools, in secondary schools and in the numbers of teachers and classroom assistants. All of that was denied under the last Conservative Government; all of it delivered under this Labour Government. Let us never forget, indeed, that every penny piece of that investment, every economic measure, such as Bank of England independence, and every attempt at fairness, such as the minimum wage, was opposed by the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe and the Conservative party.

The Queen's Speech therefore builds on our record. Legislatively, it focuses on crime and security, but it should be taken alongside the pre-Budget report next week, which will focus on economic stability and opportunity, and the five-year programmes, not just for the NHS and schools, but for skills, child care, housing, public health, transport, pensions, art and sports. In every area, we recognise that the future is posing fresh challenges, that the traditional ways of meeting them no longer do so and that, if we want to help the British people to cope with economic globalisation, terrorism, organised crime and the pressures of modern work and family life, we have to change radically the way that public services, the welfare state and the criminal justice system work.

In respect of crime, the Queen's Speech does indeed build on earlier legislation. The right hon. and learned Gentleman suggested that all that had failed. He said that we did not want to look at recorded crime figures, but let me remind him that recorded crime doubled under the previous Government. According to the British crime survey, crime is down since 1997. It actually rose, even under the last Government, on the British crime survey figures. It is not true either that earlier legislation is effective. Antisocial behaviour legislation is now accepted in all parts of the House as one of the most successful pieces of law and order legislation that has been passed.
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Mr. Nigel Evans (Ribble Valley) (Con): Will the Prime Minister now give the House an estimate of how many police hours he believes will be used in enforcing the shambolic hunting ban?

The Prime Minister: I do not believe that police time will be diverted into that, as the Home Secretary made clear at the weekend, but I hope that the hon. Gentleman would agree that 12,500 extra police officers—record numbers of police officers and community support officers—is something that the Government can be very proud of.

Mr. David Trimble (Upper Bann) (UUP): The Prime Minister has just said that antisocial behaviour legislation is accepted in all parts of the House, and it is warmly supported in this part of the House, but the people whom we represent will be quite disappointed to hear that the Government's third antisocial behaviour Bill has been announced, when we in Northern Ireland have only just got the first on the statute book, but not yet in force, and have no sight of the second. Will the Prime Minister ensure that his Government implement in Northern Ireland what they promise for the people of the rest of the United Kingdom?

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