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I hesitate to think what a Conservative Queens Speech would look like in the present circumstances. No more grammar schools was a policy that was
publicised one week, but abandoned the next; then there were to be museum chargespublicised one week, abandoned the next; then there was to be VAT on airline flightspublicised one week, abandoned the next; and then, this week, there were to be taxes on alcoholsaid on Monday, abandoned by Tuesday. Then, of course, the shadow education Secretary, who led the clause 4 moment on grammar schools, was himself abandoned by the Conservative leader. It is U-turn after U-turn after U-turn in the Conservative party. The Conservative leader may U-turn if he wants; it is clear that the Conservative party is not for turning.
Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): If these proposals represent a genuine attempt by the Government to consult in advance of the Queens Speech, they most certainly should be welcomed, but I say to the Prime Minister that we should be concerned about the quality of legislation as much as we are about the quantity. I hope that he feels it appropriate to ensure that there is much more pre-legislative scrutiny during his time in No. 10 Downing street than there has been hitherto. It is worth pointing out that during the past 10 years, there have been 382 Acts of Parliament, including 10 health Acts, 12 education Acts and 29 criminal justice Acts, and more than 3,000 new criminal offences have been created. The mantra might have been, Education, education, education, but the reality has been, Legislation, legislation, legislation.
Sir Menzies Campbell: The Prime Minister has said that the Government intend to raise the school-leaving age to 18 years. How will the curriculum be made relevant to those who find themselves in school between the ages of 16 and 18, who might otherwise have anticipated leaving? What funding will be made available to ensure that that curriculum is worth while and constructive?
On housing, I state right at the outset that local planning gain should be locally located and controlled. I hope that in the consideration the Prime Minister is obviously willing to give to this issue, he will ensure that local authorities can reap the benefit of development within their areas, and determine in consultation with their citizens how that benefit should be supplied.
Since 1997, the number of families on social housing lists has risen by 50 per cent., from approximately 1 million to 1.5 million. That is a measure of the seriousness of the crisis, which is why I welcome the Prime Ministers attention to the issue. I suggest that we probably need as many as 1 million socially rented houses by 2020. He would help the House if he gave a more detailed breakdown of how the 3 million target will be made up. I hope that he and the whole House are sympathetic to the fact that by 2020, less than 10
per cent. of the total housing stock will be carbon neutral. If we are serious about dealing with climate change, surely more has to be done in relation to housing.
We do not have to go very far in the national health service to meet doctors, nurses and health professionals who are demoralised and confused by constant reorganisation. Any legislation that the Government introduce must surely focus on standards, and not on yet another restructuring.
We will obviously consider with care any proposals that the Government make on terrorism. We, of course, have previously argued for the use of intercept evidencephone-tap evidencein court proceedings, and for the notion of questioning suspects after charge, subject to proper judicial protection.
On climate change, to which I already referred, I hope that the Government will look again at annual emission reduction targets. How will we know whether we are making progress unless we have some annual figure on precisely what is happening as a result of Government policies? Should not the aim be a carbon-neutral Britain? The Prime Minister must remember that green taxes fell as a percentage of national income during his period at the Treasury.
On climate change and the environment, will he categorically state today that there will be no openor, indeed, hiddenpublic subsidy for the nuclear industry, bearing in mind the fact that we already have a liability of about £70 billion to clean up existing nuclear power stations?
Finally, I hope that the Government will embrace the idea that legislation, once passed, should not simply be allowed to lie on the statute book. It is time that we had a proper system of revision to repeal out-of-date, inept and ineffective legislation. If we are going to be better engaged with the quality of legislation through pre-legislative scrutiny, surely we should be equally conscientious in striking from the statute book provisions that have long since lost their use.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful for the support that the right hon. and learned Gentleman offers. I hope that it will be forthcoming on the counter-terrorism legislation, and I hope that there will be all-party consensus by the time we finally legislate. I hope, too, that he will be able to support the major measures of our constitutional reform Bill. I understand what he says about the number of Acts that come before this House and the House of Lords, but the House of Commons Library tells me that the number of Acts has, if anything, declined over the past 20 to 30 years. Between 1987 and 1997, there were 40 Government Bills per Session, and now the average is fewer than 35 per Session.
On the right hon. and learned Gentlemans specific points about the nuclear subsidy, we say in our consultation document that the nuclear industry will have to pay the full share of storage and the total costs of building and running, but that is very much part of the consultation we are having at the moment, and I look forward to hearing his comments, and those of others throughout the country.
On the issue of young people, I assure him that as we raise the education leaving age to 18, the plan is to
provide a vocational stream as well as an academic oneboth of high statusthat will enable young people at 14 to choose a vocational route that could lead to an apprenticeship and, certainly over time, to a career and job. Our investment in education means that we will have more than doubled the amount spent per pupil over the past 10 years.
I am sorry that the right hon. and learned Gentleman is reluctant to support what we have tried to do on the environment. We introduced the climate change levy but did not receive a great deal of support from other parties in the House. We did not have full-hearted support on the fuel duty escalator, even from the right hon. and learned Gentlemans party, when we tried to take those measures to deal with climate change. I hope that he will recognise that it is very difficult and that it is better to have a five-year target in the Climate Change Bill, given the performance of the economy in any one year. The amount of carbon used, therefore, is dependent on the growth rate of the economy, the weather and a whole series of incidental factors such as the price of oil and commodities. But of course, there is annual reporting.
There is an increase in social housing: there has been a 50 per cent. increase in the past three years in social housing built for rent. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that if we can find a solution on the planning gain supplement that allows us to achieve far more planning gain to enable us to build more houses and the infrastructure at the same time, we will support that. I hope that people will understand that the countrys attention must be on building more houses, and that that means making difficult decisions nationally as well as locally. We are determined to build as much of that housing as possible on brownfield sitesthat is why the percentage of brownfield sites used has increased under this Government and will continue to be high. I hope that over timedespite current evidencewe can get an all-party consensus on the need to build more homes.
Dr. Roberta Blackman-Woods (City of Durham) (Lab): I welcome the proposals on affordable housing. Will my right hon. Friend confirm that, unlike the current position in my constituency with the local Lib Dem planning authority, which simply approves plans for luxury apartments for investment purposes, his proposals will deliver housing for families and those in housing need?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right. The new housing developments should be for mixed communities and include a high proportion of affordable housing. I hope that all councils will bear in mind the fact that there is an outstanding demand for more housing, especially more affordable housing, in this country.
Mr. Kenneth Clarke (Rushcliffe) (Con):
I welcome in principle the idea of publishing for consultation at this stage a list of Bills that might be included in the Queens Speech. Does the Prime Minister agree that if the proposal is to have any practical purpose, as opposed to being just a gesture, it would now be a good idea to refer to the appropriate Committees of the House the question of how much time should properly be allocated to each Bill for debate and scrutinyand
for the Government to contemplate dropping from the programme such Bills as need to be dropped to make sure that we can make a sensible reality of debating and scrutinising Bills without the pressure of totally unrealistic timetables?
The Prime Minister: I take on board the right hon. and learned Gentlemans remarks. I know that he chaired the Conservative partys constitutional committee, which made several recommendations about the management of business in the House. The Liaison Committee will discuss the matter, and I look forward to its comments. Several Bills have already been published in draft, and that practice will increase. There will be a debate in Government time on the draft legislative programme before the summer recess. I hope that there will be a similar debate in the House of Lords. At the same time, it would be good for this country if region by region consultation took place, whereby people in their constituencies and communities could take a view on some of the more controversial measures. Of course the purpose of consultation is listening to what people say, and that means that we must be prepared to make changes as a result.
Mr. Graham Allen (Nottingham, North) (Lab): I warmly welcome the Prime Ministers statement, which contrasted with the churlish Punch-and-Judy effort from the Leader of the Opposition. I suspect that parliamentarians throughout the House will welcome my right hon. Friends comments today. Will he examine the relationship between Parliament and the Executive? Government and Parliament are stronger in partnership than when one dominates the other. In that context, will he ensure that all Bills are introduced in draft, so that the House can discuss them properly? Will he also ensure the fullest pre-legislative scrutiny? If we have that, we will end up with better law and better government.
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who takes a huge interest in those constitutional matters and has made several very good proposals about how we can improve the workings of the House. Yes, we want more draft Bills for scrutiny before they are given a Second Readingbut it is not always possible to do that, especially in relation to justice and counter-terrorism. However, I hope that the practice can become more widespread, that the House will play a bigger role in examining such matters before legislating, and that over time there will be all-party support for the procedures. My intention is to devolve power from the Executive to Parliament in some vital matters.
Mr. Michael Fallon (Sevenoaks) (Con): Why has it taken so long to develop the housing that was already planned for the Thames Gateway? Was the reason lack of co-ordination between Departments and agencies or was it the Prime Ministers own dead hand, as Chancellor, in refusing to finance the necessary infrastructure that Kent county council demanded?
The Prime Minister:
I think that the hon. Gentleman knows that planning permission was given for the Ebbsfleet project only in the past few days. One of the great difficulties is the amount of time taken in the
planning processoften for legitimate reasons and to deal with legitimate complaints that people want to make. The new planning Bill will make some provision to speed up planning applications in future. In addition, I hope that local authorities will co-operate and want to work with a strategy that is intended to build more housesand more environmentally friendly housesso that, with some of our proposals for eco-towns and eco-villages, we can move beyond the old debate about housing being an alternative to a good environment. Again, I hope that there will be all-party support for that.
Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): May I tell my right hon. Friend that for many people, the subject of climate change feels remote and distant, and that consultation will give people the opportunity to think about climate change in a real way? Will he, as part of the consultations, consider the virtuous circle that could be created, through investment in innovators in microgeneration, such as those in my constituency, so that people can make genuine choices about fuel efficiency in their homes? People can thus make for themselves choices that have an impact on climate change.
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right to say that microgeneration has an important role to play in future. We set up a new microgeneration fund, which is heavily oversubscribed because of demand for wind turbines, solar power and other means of using energy more efficiently and in a low carbon way. We will extend that in future, but it is one part of the solution to meeting our energy needs in an environmentally friendly way. I hope that my hon. Friend will understand that the debate about nuclear power, as well as that about the future of coal, oil and gas, is important to the supply of energy.
Mr. Edward Garnier (Harborough) (Con): Is the Prime Minister aware that in the century before 1914 there were only 13 criminal justice Bills, and between 1914 and 1997 there were 40, but that since 1997 there have been approximately 64, and we are about to embark on the 65th? May we have a little less legislation and rather better government? May we then perhaps have a reduction in the prison population, adequate capacity for prisons and a reduction in the rate of crime? At the moment, we seem to be getting a lot of bad legislation and a lot of bad crime.
The Prime Minister: I hesitate to make a partisan pointbut I will. The reason why we have had to legislate more on criminal justice is that crime doubled under the Conservative Government, and we had to take action to deal with it. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman that we want to consider better alternatives to prison in some cases, but we also need to build prison places. Again, I hope that there will be support from the Conservative party for doing that.
Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab):
One of the biggest issues that faces my constituency continues to be the number of people on incapacity benefitnearly one in five people of working agelargely thanks to
economic measures that previous Governments took. Nearly 50 per cent. of those people are on incapacity benefit with mental health problems. We are trying to get more people into work, but are we going to ensure that proper mental health services are available, so that instead of popping pills and sitting on benefits, people can be in work and lead a productive life?
The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is right; I know that he has taken a big interest in those issues. Getting the numbers of people on incapacity benefit down is one of the Governments major strategic objectives. The numbers on incapacity benefit have fallen in the past year, despite a big rise over a 20-year period. I accept my hon. Friends point that many people could benefit from special help to deal with mental health problems. I hope that, as a result of some improvements in the new deal in particular, we can give people better advice, better support and better counselling, and help them get from benefit into work.
Today, the Plaid Cymru leader in Cardiff will be sworn in as Deputy First Minister. He will, in effect, be acting First Minister during Mr. Rhodri Morgans indisposition. Will the Prime Minister confirm that he will commit himself to co-operating fully with that Administration in seeing through the various changes for which the National Assembly calls?
It is pleasing that the Government are reconsidering planning gain supplement. On business, the Prime Minister mentioned regulation of the minimum wage. Will there be something on corporation taxperhaps export assistance through research and development?
A week ago, together with my hon. Friend the Member for Moray (Angus Robertson)[Hon. Members: Its pronounced Murray.] Whatever. Together with the hon. Gentleman sitting beside me, I wrote to the Prime Minister to say that we in Plaid Cymru and in the Scottish National party were fully committed to talks about changes in terrorism legislation. We have received no answer to that letter yet. Will the Prime Minister please confirm that he will include us in those discussions?
The Prime Minister: I will write to the hon. Gentleman today. On the other issue that he raises, I am sure that the whole House will want to send our best wishes to the First Minister in Wales and wish him a speedy recovery. I will, as I have already said, co-operate with the devolved Administrations in every respect and work with them for the benefit of the whole country. As for the research and development tax credit, we continually examine the matter and I have no doubt that in the run-up to his pre-Budget report and Budget, the Chancellor will be looking into how to improve our ability to service the research and technology companies of this country so that we can become world leaders in a whole range of areas where we deserve to be so, and where support from the Government can be of help. If the hon. Gentleman has any specific proposals, will he put them to the Chancellor?
Jeremy Corbyn (Islington, North) (Lab): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement, and I welcome the concept of having a discussion about legislation before the state opening of Parliament. I am particularly pleased with the section on housing, but is my right hon. Friend aware that typically, more than three quarters of the population living in inner London have no possibility whatever of buying their homes in their communities? For them, the only way out of the housing crisis is the construction of social homes, particularly council housing, so will the Prime Minister ensure that legislation promotes that? Will he also give real consideration to the plight of people living in private rented accommodation and the need for real accountability of social landlords such as housing associations, as part of the package for dealing with a very real crisis affecting many people in inner London whose lives are blighted by bad housing?
The Prime Minister: It is precisely because of what my hon. Friend says that we are publishing our proposals, and the Minister for Housing will present our Green Paper next week. I agree with my hon. Friend about the special problems that people in London face, and I know that the Mayor is planning to publish a housing strategy paper by the end of the month. We will attempt to support him in his efforts to increase the amount of social housing in London. As for the rented sector, we are looking at the Hills report on social housing. We are interested in improving accountability to tenants in the housing system, and we will consider any proposals that my hon. Friend puts forward.
Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): What proportion of the 240,000 new houses to be built every year are accounted for by the move towards smaller households, and what proportion are accounted for by net migration? If the Prime Minister cannot give an accurate reply now, I would be grateful if he would write to me later.
The Prime Minister: The biggest increase will be in respect of housing for single people, where there is clearly a deficiency at the moment. The hon. Gentleman should view the figures not as an attempt to create more houses out of the same sites, but as an attempt to increase the number of sites available. I said earlier today that we had identified 500 additional public sector sites where the land can be released and housing can be built. I hope that within that development, the amount and proportion of affordable housing will be very high. This is an attempt to release more land in order to get the housing market moving, and to increase the supply in a way that I believe both sides of the House should welcome.
Mr. Michael Meacher (Oldham, West and Royton) (Lab): I very much welcome my right hon. Friends setting out his plans for consultation in this way. What plans does he have to deal with the unacceptable growth of inequality in our country, particularly in view of the indefensible non-domiciled tax status, and the frankly Babylonian excesses of private equity?
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