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There are things in this Gracious Speech that we very much welcome; in fact, we proposed some of them. I am delighted that the Government are going to link the basic state pension to earnings; we had that in our last manifesto. The Treasury has finally been forced to make the provision of statistics independent—again, a
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Conservative proposal. There is also the Climate Change Bill; that has been proposed over and again by the Conservatives, and opposed by the Prime Minister. I am delighted that it is in the Queen’s Speech. I hope that it will be a proper Bill, and not a watered-down Bill. Government have got to give a lead by setting a proper framework; that must mean an independent body with annual targets and an annual report from Government on its progress.

Let me turn to foreign policy. I welcome the specific mention of Darfur in the Gracious Speech; the Prime Minister will be acutely aware that what is happening there is a political crisis and a humanitarian disaster, which is now crossing international borders. Much of our discussion on the Gracious Speech will inevitably be on Iraq and Afghanistan. I supported both actions, I support both democratically elected Governments, and I support the troops and the work that they are doing. What matters now is that, with our allies, we take the right actions to maximise the chances for stability and progress in both countries.

Having been to Afghanistan, I have seen for myself the extraordinary work that our troops are doing as part of a NATO operation—now involving 37 countries—that is backing a democratically elected Government, entrenching stability, ensuring development and thwarting the Taliban. Those are legitimate British interests, and I hope that the Prime Minister will tell the House in his speech today how those efforts will be better equipped and, with our allies, strategically reinforced.

We have a profound interest in preventing Iraq from sliding further into bloodshed, and so does the wider world. The options are stark. Simply cutting and running would cause mayhem, but the prospect of an open-ended commitment serves neither Iraq’s interests nor our own—and, anyway, it is simply not practical. There are no easy options. Militarily, we must do all we can to build up the Iraqi army, and, diplomatically, we need to involve the regional powers.

While there is merit in contact with Syria and Iran—after all, the whole point of diplomacy is to talk to countries well beyond the sphere of our traditional friends—it is on the moderate Arab Governments that our efforts should concentrate. Their support for stability in Iraq is what we most need, and the key to securing that support is a fresh and unremitting push to resolve the Israel-Palestine conflict. I hope that the Prime Minister will press President Bush to use America’s influence to the full to achieve that, as well as enlisting the support of Europe. Taking those steps and maximising stability is the right background for bringing our troops home, but we should not set an artificial timetable. I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to tell us today how he hopes to make progress towards achieving those goals.

I also hope that, during the course of the coming Session, the Government will think again about how we can best ensure that the lessons are learned from that conflict. After the Falklands war, a committee of privy counsellors carried out that task in the Franks report; the same should happen again.

On Northern Ireland, we back the efforts to restore power sharing and devolution. We are clear that if that
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is going to succeed, Sinn Fein must support the police, the courts and the rule of law—and it can start by telling its supporters to co-operate with the police investigation into the brutal murder of Robert McCartney. When people look back at the Prime Minister’s time in office, they will give him enormous credit for his unstinting efforts to bring peace in Northern Ireland.

This will be the Prime Minister’s last Gracious Speech; indeed, it will be the 13th time that the Prime Minister has taken part in a Queen’s Speech debate as either Leader of the Opposition or Prime Minister. Many members of his party are, I know, relieved that he is going, but they are not half as relieved as we are. I have to say to the Prime Minister that I did check that he was going before I applied for the job.

A couple of days ago, the Prime Minister and I were talking about his first response to a Gracious Speech of 12 years ago—yes, the Chancellor has been sitting where he is sitting now, scowling and waiting, for that long. I have read that speech from 1994, and so should the Prime Minister, because back then, when he was Leader of the Opposition, he said:

yet today, under his Government, that situation is more chaotic than ever. Twelve years ago, as Leader of the Opposition, he said that the pension system was a scandal, yet it is his Government who have taken from every pension fund in the country. Twelve years ago, as Leader of the Opposition, he said that the Government

What better description could there be of our Government today?

The tragedy of this Prime Minister is that he promised so much, and yet has delivered so little. The tragedy of this Queen’s Speech is that all that his successor offers is more of the same: more laws on crime, yet violent crime is up; more laws on health, yet hospitals have closed; more laws on immigration, yet our borders are still completely out of control. Every year, the same promises; every year, the same failures.

The paradox of new Labour is that, 12 years on, the Prime Minister is still desperately looking for his legacy. Three massive majorities, a decade in power, 10 Gracious Speeches and 370 pieces of legislation, and the question that they have to answer is: why has so little been achieved? It is because they have put headlines above delivery; they believe in centralised power, not social responsibility; and all too often, they pass laws just to make political points, rather than to deliver real change.

This Queen’s Speech is no different. It is so repetitive and hollow that people feel they have heard it all before, and it is so depressing that they might think that the Chancellor had already taken over. The Labour party gave the game away when it said that it is all about smoking out the Opposition. That is what it said—it is not about keeping hospitals open or keeping the streets safe; it is about trying to keep a tired and discredited Labour party in power, and the truth is that it has failed to deliver.

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Nowhere is this failure to deliver more clear than in the two vital areas of health and crime. Nine years ago, the Prime Minister claimed that there were 24 hours to save the NHS, yet today, 20,000 jobs are being cut in the health service. The Government never had a clue how to reform the health service. They scrapped GP fundholding; now, they are bringing it back. They abolished the internal market; now, they are bringing it back. [Interruption.] The Health Secretary shakes her head, but she is the one who said that the health service had had its best ever year. We have had 16 Acts and nine reorganisations. Health authorities that were abolished are being brought back again. Community health councils were scrapped and patients forums were brought in; barely are they up and running when they are all being abolished.

Morale has been sapped and money wasted, and deficits are at record levels. The chief medical officer tells us that in public health there are

The Royal College of Nursing says that staff are being placed under intolerable and unsustainable pressure, and the chairman of the British Medical Association says that he is dismayed by what he calls the

So much for 24 hours to save the NHS! All over the country, we are seeing departments closed, hospitals threatened and staff being sacked. To paraphrase a former leader of the Labour party, we have ended up with the grotesque chaos of a Labour Government—a Labour Government—scuttling around the country handing out redundancy notices to their own NHS staff. No wonder they are not trusted any more on the NHS.

Failure on health is matched by failure on crime. After nine years, every part of our criminal justice system is in a shambles. The chairman of the Youth Justice Board—let us listen to him—says that the juvenile system is in danger of meltdown. The chief inspector of prisons says that the system is approaching breaking point. The Lord Chancellor—the man in charge of the whole legal system—says that there is “general chaos”. Even the Home Secretary says that the probation service is poor and mediocre, the immigration service is dysfunctional; and the Home Office is not fit for purpose. Just today, we have found that Islamic extremists are apparently working in the immigration department. Hizb ut-Tahrir are banned Egypt; in Britain, they seem to be running our immigration policy. Now, we have the extraordinary sight of the Chancellor and the Home Secretary squabbling about how best to make this the election-winning issue for Labour at the next election. If they think that they can win an election on this record, let us get on with it.

We have had 50 Home Office Bills, some of which were completely contradictory. Let us take just one Act—the Criminal Justice and Court Services Act 2000. Six years on, 110 provisions are not in force. Seventeen were repealed even before the Act was brought in, and another 39 have been repealed subsequently. The Government like to talk tough, but they have just been acting dumb. That is the story of this Government.

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Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Given the right hon. Gentleman’s party’s voting record in Parliament in the past nine years on criminal measures and his being soft on crime, may I suggest that he take Elton John’s “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” off his iPod and instead put on Bob Dylan’s—he is a fan of Bob Dylan—“It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue”?

Mr. Cameron: As the Prime Minister might have said, the hon. Gentleman has been practising that one in the mirror for a little too long.

Look at the mess today—there are paedophiles in bail hostels, dangerous criminals in open prisons and 1,000 criminals released from prison who should have been deported. The Chancellor now tells us that he will guarantee security in a dangerous world. He told us that he would freeze the assets of terrorists, but he cannot even stop Abu Hamza from playing the property market, with public money, when he is sitting in Belmarsh prison. The Government talk about security, but it is their bungling incompetence that has made people feel so insecure.

At the beginning of his time in office, the Prime Minister offered the country hope that he would tackle the causes of crime, but as we look at the measures placed before the House today, all we can see is a complete betrayal and debasement of that vital agenda. There is nothing about family breakdown or addiction and dependency. The Prime Minister has simply given up on the causes of crime. All we are offered is a set of eye-catching initiatives that last about as long as a news bulletin. We have had night courts, weekend prisons and even ASBOs for unborn children—all launched in a great blaze of publicity, and all scrapped.

The Prime Minister and the Chancellor started out wanting to save the NHS and tackle the causes of crime, but they ended up closing hospitals and closing their minds on crime. They started with hope, now there is just fear; they started with ambition, now there is just a poverty of vision.

The Prime Minister is going to introduce the Queen’s Speech, but he will not be around to see it through. There is going to be a new—[ Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. The House should let the right hon. Gentleman speak. While I am on my feet, Mr. Ruane and Mr. Cawsey are two of the quietest hon. Members I know, but they are very noisy today, so perhaps they could be quiet.

Mr. Cameron: The Prime Minister will not be around to see this Queen’s Speech through. There is going to be a new power in the land. We have been lucky to have a unique insight—I think that the Home Secretary will enjoy this—from one of Britain’s leading character actors, Keith Allen, about what to expect. [Hon. Members: “Who?”] The House should wait and find out. Keith Allen is playing the sheriff of Nottingham in the BBC’s new drama “Robin Hood”. He describes his character as having a calculating political mind that will stop at nothing:

The Chancellor should not be upset. He got booed at the music awards last night, but what is worse than that
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is that people were chanting, “Bring back Tony!” We should not expect anything different from the Chancellor. If the problem with the Government is short-term gimmicks, politically motivated laws and failed centralisation, the Chancellor is not the solution—he is the biggest part of the problem. [ Interruption. ] Whatever happened to British day, when we were meant to put flagpoles on our lawns? It disappeared without a trace. What happened to the Chancellor’s e-university, which was meant to link communities together? No one uses it. What happened to his national tour, which was launched with such fanfare? It never happened.

Last December, the Chancellor promised us a comprehensive report on the financing of terror. I would have thought that Government Members would be interested in a report on the financing of terror. Almost a year later, nothing has happened. All those examples are typical hallmarks of the Chancellor. When it comes to centralisation, it is the Chancellor and the Treasury that have complicated the tax system, confused the benefits system and virtually bankrupted the pensions system.

Today, the Government are promising action on immigration. We have now had 10 Gracious Speeches from the Government, and this is the fourth time that they have promised to tackled immigration, the fifth time that they have promised to tackle antisocial behaviour and the seventh time that they have promised to reform the House of Lords. All they are offering is more of the same, but nothing ever happens. People have heard it all before and they do not believe it any more. All that we will get from the Chancellor is a darker shade of fail.

Michael Jabez Foster (Hastings and Rye) (Lab): The right hon. Gentleman is coming to the end of his speech, so can he tell us whether he has a single idea, before we waste the rest of the afternoon?

Mr. Cameron: The hon. Gentleman should be patient. As I have said, the only good ideas in the Queen’s Speech are our ideas. The Climate Change Bill, the point system on immigration, using proper methods for teaching children how to read—those were all Conservative proposals, and they are all being implemented by Labour. The Queen’s Speech should have been about the long term, the national interest, and about trusting people and not centralising power. We need an NHS independence Bill that gives responsibility to professionals in the health service. We need a communities Bill that gives local people control over money spent in their area. We need to build a stronger economy by trusting business, with cuts in regulation and simple taxes. Action on climate change, backing Britain’s families, real improvements in the health service and real standards in our schools—the Conservative party is leading the debate in all those areas.

Today, there is a new dividing line in British politics between hope and fear. This was the Prime Minister’s last chance to offer hope for a better society, but instead he chose fear, to try to cover up his failures. It is the politics of fear from a Government of failure. In place of this exhausted Labour Government, we need a fresh Conservative party and a Conservative Government who offer change, optimism and hope.

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3.21 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Tony Blair): Mr. Speaker, before I come to my speech, let me just say to the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron), who talked about 12 years ago, that I remember 12 years ago; our economy had just been through two recessions caused by the Conservative Government. Today we have the strongest economy, the lowest unemployment, the lowest inflation and the lowest interest rates. I remember that, 12 years ago, we had thousands of people waiting 18 months, and that was just on an in-patient list. Now, we are on the way to an 18-week maximum target for in and out-patients. I remember that 12 years ago we had kids being taught in crumbling school buildings. I remember, 12 years ago, a Conservative Government who had doubled crime. He is talking about hope, but let me just tell him something about hope. Hope is not built on talking about sunshine, any more than antisocial behaviour is combated by “love”. Hope is what a strong economy gives us; hope is what investment in the NHS and schools gives us. Hope means proper measures to tackle the long-term challenges. Hope, true hope, is about tough decision making, and the right hon. Gentleman has never taken a tough decision in his life. Now for my speech— [Interruption.] I may be going out, but on that performance, he is not coming in.

Before I begin, and after that little interlude, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in sending—as the right hon. Gentleman did, very properly, at the beginning of his speech—our condolences to the families and friends of the five service personnel killed in Iraq in recent weeks: Kingsman Jamie Hancock, Warrant Officer Lee Hopkins, Staff Sergeant Sharron Elliott, Corporal Ben Nowak and Marine Jason Hylton. Our thoughts are also with the families of the three servicemen who were injured in Sunday’s attack. They were doing an essential job for the security of Iraq and the wider world, and we owe them a profound debt of gratitude. Remembrance Sunday took on a special significance for the country at this time, in respect of our losses in Afghanistan and Iraq. Our thoughts and prayers are not just with the families of those who have fallen, but with all those who serve in our armed forces in difficult fields of conflict today.

Obviously, I will join fully in the tributes to my right hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, South and Penarth (Alun Michael) and my hon. Friend the Member for Cumbernauld, Kilsyth and Kirkintilloch, East (Rosemary McKenna), but before I do so, let me pay tribute to those Members of Parliament of all parties who have passed away since the last Queen’s Speech, and I fully join in and endorse the tributes of the right hon. Member for Witney. Patsy Calton, Robin Cook, Rachel Squire, Peter Law and Eric Forth may not have had much in common in their political views, or indeed in their length of service in the House, but what they did all have in common was the high regard in which they were held, both by their constituents and by colleagues on all sides of the House.

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