Previous Section Index Home Page

6 Nov 2007 : Column 21

Mr. Cameron: What the hon. Gentleman will find is that— [ Interruption. ] Let me answer; it is a very serious point. We will table an amendment to make sure that any such approach is about stopping people inciting violence and is not an infringement of free speech. On incitement to religious hatred, we got the Government to compromise and produce something that was not against free speech. The hon. Gentleman is not the best person to bring about change. After all, he was the person who tried to have the coup to get rid of Tony Blair that collapsed in complete ignominy. That is the sort of change that he tries to bring about.

The truth about this Queen’s Speech is that there is nothing new to offer.

Kali Mountford (Colne Valley) (Lab): I know that the right hon. Gentleman had to do his own Budget proposals on the back of an envelope, but now that he has had time to reflect will he tell the House how he would fill the gap of billions of pounds in his own proposals?

Mr. Cameron: I wondered how long we would go before we got to the Whips’ read-out question. I have to say to anyone else contemplating the Whips’ read-out question that there is only one black hole in British politics, and that is the gap where the Prime Minister’s credibility used to be.

We have been briefed—[Hon. Members: “More.”] Anyone?

Mr. Mark Hendrick (Preston) (Lab/Co-op) rose—

Mr. Cameron: Sir.

Mr. Hendrick: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. On the question of change, if this House and the other place pass the European reform treaty, will he—if there ever is a future Conservative Government —put that to a referendum?

Mr. Cameron: We want a referendum now, and the hon. Gentleman can help us. He and every one of his colleagues at the last election promised a referendum. If he can stick to his promise and vote with us in the Division Lobby, we can have the referendum that he promised his constituents.

We have been told—the Prime Minister, having said that he would not brief the media, has briefed the media—that the one thing that would be in the Prime Minister’s speech today was the right for anyone with children to request flexible working. Yet again, that is something that we announced, at our conference last year. Yet again, we are leading and they are following. A member of the Prime Minister’s own Cabinet said the other week:

No wonder the Prime Minister did not want an election. Listen to what a Labour party spokesman said recently:

6 Nov 2007 : Column 22

One cannot put it better than the Prime Minister’s good friend and old Cabinet colleague, Lord Falconer. He said that if this Government do not

I could not have put it better myself. No wonder he is not getting his pension.

We now see a Prime Minister bereft of vision, bending with the wind, buffeted by events. There is day after day of dithering. One minute, school surpluses are going to be confiscated; then, they are not. One minute, bins are going to be taxed; then, they are not—then again, perhaps they are. Entrepreneurs are going to pay capital gains tax; no, they are not. Look at the small print—they still are going to pay capital gains tax. Then, the biggest U-turn of all, with the Prime Minister inviting a hand-picked journalist into the bunker of No. 10 Downing street to tell the nation that the general election that he had planned for, prepared for and paid for was off. Say what you like about Tony Blair—at least he was decisive. Has not the only change been to swap a strong Prime Minister for a weak one?

This lack of vision, this weakness, would not matter so much if the Government were halfway competent, but this is a Government who are letting 2,000 prisoners out of jail early every month. This is a Government who allowed 8,000 people to die from hospital infections. This is a Government who somehow lost track of 300,000 migrants inside a week, so we were all pretty astonished to read from one of the Prime Minister’s spin doctors in a Sunday paper:

Hold on a minute—these are the people whose own laboratory caused the outbreak of foot and mouth. These are the people who have seen the first run on a British bank for 140 years. These are the people who cannot tell us from one day to the next how many migrant workers there are in the UK.

If we want just one example of the absolute bankruptcy of this Government, let us take the slogan that the Prime Minister wheels out every week: British jobs for British workers. Yes, if only he could see how embarrassed his Labour MPs are, how they shudder when he utters those words. I have done a bit of work on this little slogan of the Prime Minister’s. The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions told us that there should be no doubt. It is, he said,

We asked the House of Commons Library, and it said:

So there we have it: the reality is that the Prime Minister has no intention of providing British jobs for British workers, because he knows that it would be illegal under EU law. His proposals will not help British people working in Britain any more than they will help Italian people working in Britain or Polish people working in Britain. That is the truth about British jobs for British workers. I did a bit more research to find out where he got his slogans from: he borrowed one off the National Front; he borrowed another off the British National party. Where was his moral compass when he was doing that?

6 Nov 2007 : Column 23

I will tell the House what should have been in the Queen’s Speech. In this new age of freedom, we need to give people more opportunity and power over their lives. That means a supply-side revolution in our schools; cutting stamp duty to help people on to the housing ladder; and more power for local government. In this age of unease, we need to strengthen families and make our society more responsible. That means ending the couple penalty in the benefits system; backing marriage in the tax system; and radical welfare to get people off benefits and into work. In this age of new insecurity, we need to make our country safer and greener. That means proper prison reform; it means real police reform. That is what Britain needs: solving long-term problems, not short-term political tricks; a clear vision for the future, instead of a tired and cynical Prime Minister who has forgotten what he is trying to achieve; and consistent, strong leadership, instead of a weak Prime Minister who cannot stick to anything for longer than five minutes. That is the change that people want, and that is the change that our party will deliver.

3.31 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): I am sure that the whole House will wish to send, as the Leader of the Opposition did, our condolences to the families and friends of the four firemen who tragically lost their lives over the weekend. Being in the fire service means that they never know what moment they will be called upon for extraordinary and heroic action, and the British people are privileged to have been served by firemen who showed such courage and dedication.

Let us also remember all those who serve our country as members of our armed forces in every theatre around the world and thank them for their dedication, service and courage, too.

It has become a noble tradition to remember Members who have served the House and who have died during the year, and I am sure that all Members will also want to join the Leader of the Opposition in remembering Piara Khabra. He was Member of Parliament for Ealing, Southall from 1992 until his death, and his life was an extraordinary journey that began in abject poverty in India, led him as a young man to enlist in the fight against fascism, volunteering in the Indian army, then to work as a teacher in London and then as a councillor and to live on to become the oldest Member of the House of Commons. It was his experience of poverty in India that made it his lifelong work to fight injustice wherever and whenever he found it.

For too many Members on both sides of the House these days, a large public meeting tends to be in single figures of attendees. Indeed, I recollect, with embarrassment and some humility, my first public meeting as an MP in 1983. I had just one attendee and a chairman who wanted to go off to another meeting. But such was the measure of Piara’s popularity and organisation that when Piara Khabra invited someone to his constituency to address a meeting, hundreds—indeed, on one occasion, thousands—turned out. He was a good man. He served his community and his country well. He graced the House with his presence. His life was a life well lived in the service of others. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear.”]

6 Nov 2007 : Column 24

I want also to thank the proposer and seconder of the motion today. It was said of Lord Roseberry, when he was a member of the Government in the 19th century, that when a Cabinet meeting clashed with a race meeting, he always chose the race meeting. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) has managed to find a better way of enjoying both sport and politics, as he served as Sports Minister and is now the ambassador to the 2018 World cup.

The Leader of the Opposition reminded the House of the less than auspicious start of my right hon. Friend when he was asked five questions on Radio 5 in 2001. In fact, in the same month in 2001, he was joined in another less than auspicious start: that of the former Foreign Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor. He went out on that occasion to address the press after his first European Council, and he started his press conference by saying how pleased he was to be in Brussels. It was pointed out to him that he was actually in Luxembourg. Both Ministers went on to enjoy long and distinguished service and continue to do so. It just shows that a few difficult headlines in a new job can be safely overcome.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Central and I have a great deal in common, though we are from different parts of the country. We have teetotal temperance and Presbyterian families. We also share a love of football. He rightly reminded me of England beating Scotland 9-3 in 1961. That result was so humiliating for the Scottish people that the Scottish goalkeeper emigrated to Australia. Even 30 years later, when he asked whether it was safe to come home to Scotland, he was told “No.” He ended his career as a cabaret singer down under. Let me thank my right hon. Friend for his tireless work, together with Tony Blair and my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), to secure the Olympics for Britain, and for the work that he is now doing to ensure that the next decade can be one of the great sporting decades for our country. There is not just the Olympics in 2012, but possibly the Commonwealth games in 2014, the Rugby world cup in 2015, and the football World cup in 2018. We will owe him a great debt of gratitude for his work in achieving those great sporting events.

Having heard my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler) speak, I can understand why she was described in one journal as the most promising feminist under 35. I understand that she organised her first sit-in at the age of 11. She set up a homework club, which she ran, in her teens. She also ran an after-school club from her father’s van. Her popularity and success is built on her effectiveness as an organiser and as a constituency MP, and not least on her passion, which she talked about today, for building better youth facilities for teenagers. I believe that she has that rare gift of empathy and approachability that makes politics more accessible and attractive to the young people whom she talked about. Her very success, not only here today but in her career, explains why we must continue in the ongoing struggle to make this House truly reflect all the people whom we represent. Having heard her speech, I was struck by how much further we still have to go. This morning, I asked someone in Downing
6 Nov 2007 : Column 25
street to check this, and my memory was right: when I was elected in 1983, there were 59 male Members of Parliament named John, 30 male MPs called David, and only 23 women MPs. Even now, we have a long way to go to improve representation and improve the facilities here for parents and children. She spoke with passion today, and I am confident, on the basis of what she has said, that she has a great deal to contribute, not just to our future debates, but to the future of our country.

I will deal with all the specific issues raised by the Leader of the Opposition as I go through the legislative programme, but I must say that he may have been good on jokes, but he was pretty bad on policy. When he tried to claim credit for flexible working being his idea, I quickly checked up on the facts. He voted against maternity leave, he voted against paternity pay, and initially he voted against the first right to flexible working in this House.

The Queen’s Speech refers to the Climate Change Bill, which makes us the first Government in the world to impose legally binding targets for a sustainable environment. The Leader of the Opposition wishes to say that the measures in the Queen’s Speech are simply short-term. The Climate Change Bill is a transformatory act, and we are the first country in the world that will legislate in that way. On energy, housing, pensions, education, work-life balance, citizenship and anti-terrorism measures, the central purpose of the legislative programme is to make the right long-term changes to prepare and equip our country for the future, and to meet the rising aspirations of the British people. I will tell the right hon. Gentleman the point of what we are doing, and the point of the Government. To ensure that all our young people have the skills that we need to compete in the global marketplace, we are proposing the first legislative Bill in 60 years to raise the education leaving age in this country. Two million teenagers a year will benefit, and I hope that all parties will share that ambition with us when it comes to the votes.

Angus Robertson (Moray) (SNP): That proposal, like many others in the Queen’s Speech, is an English-only matter. Does not the Prime Minister agree that it is completely iniquitous that although English MPs are not able to decide on matters in Scotland, Scottish MPs from the UK parties vote on matters that affect only England? Why does he not join the Scottish National party in abstaining on such issues?

The Prime Minister: I just want to remind the hon. Gentleman that only a third of the people of Scotland voted for separation or for a separative party. There is no support for his position, and I was surprised to hear the Leader of the Opposition say that he now supported English votes for English laws. Indeed, his tutor at university has just written an article saying how ludicrous a constitutional proposition that is. Some time, the Conservative party must realise that there can be only one Chamber to which the Executive is responsible. It can be either a Grand Committee or the Chamber of the House of Commons, but we cannot have two sources of authority in a legislature if it is to survive. Both the Scottish National party’s policies of separation and the anti-unionist sentiment
6 Nov 2007 : Column 26
of what used to be the Conservative and Unionist party are something that people in the country do not wish to support.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): May I ask the Prime Minister to follow up his comment about young people’s aspirations? One of the things to which most young people—and, indeed, most families—aspire is a home of their own at a price they can afford. After 10 years of singular failure to deliver affordable housing—and almost no council housing—will the Prime Minister’s housing Bill make sure that every council in England can build the amount of council housing that it wants to build?

The Prime Minister: There are 1.5 million more home owners in this country as a result of what we have done. Millions of houses have been repaired and renovated as a result of the money that we have spent. Yes, I want more home ownership and more social housing. The hon. Gentleman will see in the later part of my speech that we will build 50 per cent. more social homes in the next few years. That is something that we can afford, as against the Liberal party’s totally unaffordable policies. We agree with the Liberal party about the importance of home ownership, but I was surprised to read the statement made only a few months ago by the hon. Member for Welwyn Hatfield (Grant Shapps), a Conservative spokesman on housing, that we cannot build our way out of our housing problems. A housing spokesman who says that we should not build houses is a contradiction in terms, and I hope that when we come to that part of the debate, the leader of the Conservative party can explain his position.

To give adults a second chance to acquire skills, we will legislate for a universal right, free of charge, to learn basic and intermediate skills. This is the first time ever that a Government have legislated to do so, so that those who want a second chance can have one for the first time. To ensure that all employers meet their obligation to the work force, we will legislate—again, for the first time in this country—to provide a pension for every employee with a matching contribution from their employer. I hope that there will be all-party support and consensus on this, as it is something that many people regard as essential that we should decide together for our future.

Sir John Butterfill (Bournemouth, West) (Con): I was very interested to hear about that proposal, but will the right hon. Gentleman clarify something? If someone has a corner shop, and employs a shop assistant, will the proprietor be obliged to set up a pension scheme for that shop assistant?

The Prime Minister: There will be special arrangements for small businesses, but the principle behind the provision is, first, the automatic enrolment of people in pension schemes and, secondly, the requirement for employers to make a contribution. I hope that the Conservative party, which said a year ago that it supported the pensions legislation, will not resile, as it has suggested in the newspapers today, from supporting it in future. Again, the Leader of the Opposition was virtually silent on the future of pensions.

Next Section Index Home Page