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6 Nov 2007 : Column 27

To help families who work hard to meet their responsibilities to young children in a world where two parents going to work should not mean the sacrifice of family life, we will build on paternity and maternity leave. We will set up a review to determine how to extend the right to request flexible working, not just to the parents of younger children but to the parents of older children as well. To increase protection for vulnerable workers, we will legislate to strengthen the enforcement of the national minimum wage and sanctions against failure to pay it so that every employer meets their obligations to provide decent pay, as we tackle exploitation of the work force.

Public transport matters to millions of people. To improve bus services, which remain a lifeline in many communities, we will legislate to end the free-for-all that left the passenger and the public behind. We will give local authorities more control over the availability, frequency and reliability of bus services. Alongside that, for the first time there will be free national bus travel for pensioners and the disabled from April 2008.

We have already talked about the needs of young people in our communities. To ensure that young people in our communities have somewhere to go, for the first time we will legislate to enable the transfer of unclaimed assets of financial institutions to pay for youth centres, among other improvements, in every community in the country.

We will match the Climate Change Bill, with an energy Bill. We will also legislate to ensure sustainable and secure energy for the long-term future of our country.

The first duty of the Government is stability, security and the defence of the country, so the anti-terrorism Bill contained within this programme will address the continuing threat of extremists in a way that continues the measured response that we have taken to the terrorist events of June last year. We will publish a national security strategy and, reflecting the statement of the director general of MI5 yesterday and the broad consensus that a security response alone is not sufficient to meet those threats, we will publish new proposals for winning the battle of hearts and minds.

Whether in relation to terrorism, immigration or the continuing evolution of the rights and responsibilities of the individual, the need to define British citizenship more clearly is evident. The importance of that is such that in advance of publishing our draft citizenship Bill, we will make a prior statement setting out our proposals for consultation and debate.

Foreign and defence affairs will be the subject of later debate on this Queen’s Speech, but ahead of that I can confirm to the House—the Leader of the Opposition asked me about this—that as our forces move to an overwatch role, provincial Iraqi control will be established in the Basra provinces in the next month.

In the coming weeks, I will make a statement to the House about Afghanistan, about our 8,000 troops who are there, about the efforts at reconciliation and conflict resolution and about our proposals for development, which the Leader of the Opposition rightly mentioned—we are discussing those issues at
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the moment. As I have said, our troops and our armed forces continue to serve the country with distinction and with courage.

As recent events have unfolded in Pakistan, we have strongly urged the restoration of constitutional order and a commitment from the Government of Pakistan that elections will be held on schedule in January. We have also called, as I believe that all hon. Members want us to do, for the release of political prisoners and for the freedom of the media to be respected.

We continue to support further sanctions against Iran—again, I was asked that question—if the regime does not comply with its obligations under the non-proliferation treaty.

We should not lose sight of an historic opportunity in the coming weeks—the challenge for the international community at the Bali conference to begin the process of establishing a post-2012 international agreement, which could make the difference between our ability to tackle climate change internationally and a failure to do so. The Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will argue for common but differentiated responsibilities in which every country and every continent must play their part. Our success in advocating action on the international stage depends also on action at home, so we will be the first country to put legal limits on carbon emissions. We will ask the new independent committee on climate change to advise us whether the proposed 60 per cent. reduction by 2050, which is—

Mr. Speaker: Order. There are so many private conversations going on in the Chamber. That is clearly unfair, and it is not the proper thing to do in the Chamber.

The Prime Minister: I understand who wants to listen to the discussion about the serious issues facing our country.

As part of meeting our target on renewables, I can announce that today we have granted consent for a 450 MW wind farm in the Irish sea. That brings our new capacity offshore to 2.5 GW authorised in only 12 months. We have already announced a feasibility assessment of the Severn barrage, which could provide almost 5 per cent. of current UK electricity demand.

Our draft marine Bill will balance the needs of the environment with the development of the coastline. For all their warm words on the environment, let us not forget that the Conservatives opposed the climate change levy and the renewable obligation, and they oppose wind turbine projects all around the country.

I also have announcements to make about measures that arise from the housing and planning Bills. I can confirm that we plan to build the first new towns for nearly half a century, and we will require their design to reflect both the needs of the residents and the need for environmental sustainability. Right across the country, more than 50 applications for such towns have now been received; we will select 10, with a potential for 100,000 new homes.

A consensus is growing that we should build 240,000 houses by 2016, and in the decade to follow 1 million carbon-free homes. Today we are publishing the updated list of 170 organisations—including the CBI, major house builders, planners, local authorities,
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charities and environmental groups—that have signed up to this goal, which I hope will soon have all-party support. Some 78 local authorities have already applied to be designated as new growth points for housing; they have the potential to deliver 450,000 new homes. We are now assessing more than 900 public sector sites to deliver 200,000 homes on public sector land. Our aim is that half the homes on surplus public sector sites will be designated for social rent, for first-time buyers and for key workers. By raising spending on affordable homes to at least £8 billion between now and 2011, we will deliver 180,000 new affordable homes—25,000 a year with shared equity and at least 45,000 new social homes a year. As I said, that is a 50 per cent. increase in building.

The Conservative party should face up to its responsibilities on housing. I quoted the Conservative party’s shadow housing spokesman, who said:

housing problems. Then the shadow culture spokesman, an Oxfordshire MP, did an interview on housing in his constituency. He said:

Then, of course, there is the Leader of the Opposition:

that was 4 October 2006. On 23 October 2006:

are built. Confused, contradictory and not thought through—that is the policy of the Leader of the Opposition on housing.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): With regard to social housing, will the Prime Minister sanction the release of capital receipts to local authorities?

The Prime Minister: I have to say that the change in the process of capital receipts happened in 1997 or 1998. I know that the hon. Gentleman spends a great deal of time out of the House, but I wonder where he has been. We will continue to provide the funds for local authorities and others to be involved in improving houses, and we are going to bring local authorities, with others, into the process of building.

I want to talk about the raising of the education leaving age, following the raising of the school leaving age, on which the last piece of legislation was the Education Act 1944, supported by all parties. That raised the leaving age to 15 and then to 16. Now we propose that we raise the education leaving age—that includes part-time as well as full-time education and training—and that education and training should be available free from the age of three to 18.

As skills demands go even higher, I believe that our country needs those academic and vocational skills. I believe that we need to give every young person a path to a career. To those who say that more will inevitably mean worse, let us reply that other countries, including America, Australia, Korea and Taiwan, are already moving beyond 50 per cent. in higher education. In Britain, only 14 per cent. from low-income
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backgrounds are in higher education today. We must make sure that we now remove all the barriers, in the interests of the global economy, to opportunity in our society. So we are establishing the right of parents to request one-to-one help for any child falling behind in reading and writing; we are establishing the right for secondary pupils to have a tutor of studies; we are changing the grants system and giving equivalent help to apprentices. That is on top of the 39,000 more teachers, the 170,000 more support staff, the 100,000 more teaching assistants and the thousands of schools repaired and modernised since 1997.

Again, I have to ask: where are the Opposition on this? The Leader of the Opposition said little about education. In June, the then shadow Education Secretary said that he was sceptical about the principle of free universal education. At no point have the Opposition committed to our ambition of half of young people having the opportunity to attend university. At no point, under the new shadow Children Minister, have they supported our academic and vocational diplomas, dismissing them last week as “fantasy qualifications” and as “undermining academic excellence”. Why can they not support diplomas in the way that the CBI, universities, employers and businesses all over the country are wanting to build them up?

Why can the Opposition not support the right to full-time training or education up to the age of 18? Why did the shadow Children Minister say yesterday that raising the education leaving age was “a stunt”, when the principle was supported by the CBI, the Engineering Employers Federation, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses and the chambers of commerce? Why can the Opposition not give full support to a minimum one day a week of training for 16 to 18-year-olds in work? Why can they not give support to education maintenance allowances for young people to stay on at school? Why can they not support the doubling of apprenticeships and 50 per cent. of young people going to university?

It is no surprise that the Opposition cannot do it, because the Leader of the Opposition flunked the test when it came to his clause IV moment on grammar schools. When his education spokesman said that “serious reform” was needed so that thousands of children could do better, he did not support his spokesman and change the party—he sacked his spokesman and gave in to the party and rejected reform. Why can the Conservative party not support education for all instead of education for a few?

The Leader of the Opposition said little about law and order. Let me say that drugs destroy communities; that is why, alongside the extension of neighbourhood policing to every community, and alongside the consideration now being given to reclassifying cannabis, we will strengthen in the legislation the policies to act against the dealing of drugs. There will be new powers to close crack houses and tackle premises at the centre of disorder, and we will publish a new drugs strategy at the beginning of the year. We have focused action, since the events of last summer, on the four cities where two thirds of deaths that arise from gun crime occur. We have put in place additional police patrols, extensive undercover work, more use of stop and search, weapon detection equipment, and getting more young people out of gangs. At the same
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time, we will legislate new orders against violent offenders, and we stand ready to introduce legislation as a result of the Flanagan review.

We are going to improve the framework for the sentencing of young people and strengthen provisions on antisocial behaviour. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, South said, part of the mistrust that still afflicts communities reflects the fact that many of these communities lack places for teenagers to go. We have created 1,500 children’s centres and rebuilt 1,100 schools, but many of us will know from our own constituency experience that we must use the unclaimed assets to provide appropriate facilities and activities for teenagers in our constituencies, and we will consult young people on those facilities.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con) rose—

The Prime Minister: Let me hear the authentic voice of the Conservative party.

Mr. Redwood: The Prime Minister, as always, is all charm. Could he tell the House why we should believe that this set of proposals to deal with antisocial behaviour will work, when 10 years of criminal justice Bills and proposals from his side of the House have singularly failed?

The Prime Minister: Because crime is down by 30 per cent., burglary is down by 50 per cent., and there are more police officers in our communities than ever before. If we had taken the advice of the No Turning Back group, we would be cutting £30 billion out of public expenditure to pay for tax cuts, and we would be having to cut the police forces in our country.

I want to say something about the economic situation. In the face of continuing financial turbulence around the world, the legislative programme also includes measures to ensure that we maintain economic stability. We will act to replace the current savers’ compensation scheme that has been in place since 1982. It used to guarantee only 90 per cent. of bank deposits up to £35,000; we are now consulting on guaranteeing, for the first time, up to 100 per cent. of the deposits of individual savers in banks and building societies, up to a specified limit, as we build on measures that have brought us 10 years of growth, free of recession—something never achieved by the Conservative party.

We have had the longest period of economic growth and stability in British history, and inflation has been brought down to 1.8 per cent—within our target of 2 per cent. Just as we have had to deal with turbulence after the Asian crisis, the IT bubble, the US recession and the trebling of oil prices, so our strong economic framework is designed to continue to maintain stability and growth now and in the future. We are determined never to return to the old days of the early 1990s: unaffordable tax cuts, spending promises that could not be met, resultant inflation, 15 per cent. interest rates and the worst recession since the war. The Leader of the Opposition may remember that. He was pictured side by side with Lord Lamont on Black Wednesday. Even on that day—the worst day in financial history since the war—he could not resist a photo opportunity.
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I listened to the Leader of the Opposition and I heard very little policy on the big issues. [ Interruption. ] Is it not remarkable that the Opposition put an advert in the paper last Thursday setting out the policies that they would follow in government? We checked up, and four of the so-called new policies came from their 2005 manifesto, under the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard), who was the leader of the party then, and five of them came from the 2001 manifesto. We knew that the Leader of the Opposition took his jokes from the right hon. Member for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague); he now takes his policies from him.

Where are the Conservatives on the big issues? Have they thought them through?

Mr. Cameron indicated assent.

The Prime Minister: Ah! He has. I shall give way to the right hon. Gentleman. Are the Conservatives for a referendum after ratification of the European treaty—yes or no? He said in the advert last week that the Conservatives are committed to a referendum. We know that 47 Tory MPs have demanded a post-ratification referendum, two shadow Ministers have called for one, and of course nine of his shadow Cabinet Ministers voted against a referendum when the question came before Parliament before. Where is he on Europe? Is he for a post-ratification referendum or not? Did he not say in a letter that has been sent out:

Why does he not say that he is in favour of a post-ratification referendum? Is the answer yes or no? I am happy to give way. [Hon. Members: “Come on!”] He cannot give an answer.

On the energy Bill, where do the Conservatives stand on the big choices on nuclear? Are they for it or against it? They cannot tell us. Their policy is confused, contradictory and not thought through. What do they tell us on health? In their advert, they say that they would stop all closures, even medically agreed ones. But at the same time, they say they want no centrally imposed decisions. What sort of policy is that? It is confused, contradictory and not thought through. They have a housing spokesman who does not want to build houses. What sort of policy is that? They have an education spokesman who is not in favour of opportunity being extended to young people. [ Interruption. ] Their education spokesman has not committed himself to the education leaving age being raised to 18. He has not said that he supports 50 per cent. of young people going to university, or that he supports the new diplomas in any positive way, even though business throughout the country is doing so.

However, does the Conservatives’ tax policy not show their real priority? The difference between their inheritance tax policy and ours— [ Interruption. ] They should listen to this. Under their policy, every single year— [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Let the Prime Minister speak.

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