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The Prime Minister:
If we had taken the Conservative partys advice, none of this years major Bills would have got through. We would not have decisions on
energy, planning, airports and many major issues that face the country, and we would not have the ID cards that we need for the security of our people. If we had taken the Conservative partys advice, we would have put all the tax cuts into stamp duty on shares and inheritance tax instead of helping 22 million people, as we have done today.
The Conservative party should face up to the fact that the right hon. Gentleman says that he supports flexible working, but he voted against it. He says that he supports families, but he voted against longer maternity and paternity leave. He says that he supports banking regulation, but a Conservative party report called for even more deregulation. He says that he cares about people on low incomes, but he opposed the minimum wage, tax credits and the new deal. The Conservatives now say that they want to help children, but they also want to cut Sure Start. The right hon. Gentleman says that he is tough on crime, but he also wanted to hug a hoodie. He claims that he is tough on immigration, but he does not want ID cards for foreign nationals. He says that he is interested in the environment and cycles to work, but the chauffeur follows behind. The Conservative party is so full of contradictions that it is unable to put forward a policy for the future of this country.
Today, we have presented our proposals for the economyand there was nothing from the Conservative party. We presented our proposals for greater opportunity for young peoplethe Conservatives opposed the last education Bill and I presume that they will oppose the next one. We presented proposals to improve rights for parents, patients and citizensthe Conservative view on that is not clear.
When we talk about police officers, the Conservative proposal is to elect one chief police officer in every areajust one person. Our proposal is for directly elected individuals from their communities. That is a far better way of local democracy working. The right hon. Gentleman should read our proposals before criticising them. He is a salesman without substance.
Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I thank the Prime Minister for advance sight of his statement [Interruption.] Well, it was only a few minutes before Prime Ministers questions, but let us be thankful for small mercies.
It has been a desperate week for the Prime Minister. Yesterday, he brought forward the Budget by a full 10 months and borrowed £2.7 billion to dig himself out of a political hole over the 10p tax rate, yet still managed to leave a million people worse off. Today, he has brought forward the draft Queens Speech, producing it a full two months before he did it last year. I have no idea what we can expect him to bring forward nextChristmas, perhaps. How desperate is he?
We already knew that the Conservatives would say anything to get elected, but it is now clear that the Prime Minister will try anything to cling to power. He has scraped the legislative barrel to save himself. The long legislative list is a rag-bag of proposals in which he either addresses things that the Government said were not a problem, such as the economy, or tries to turn around problems that the Government created, such as over-centralisation.
The Prime Minister established the banking regulation system. Is he not embarrassed to come here today and tell us that it does not work and that we need a new one? Is he not even more embarrassed to announce a £200 million fund to purchase unsold houses, when, by my reckoning, that will cover only 1,000 homesfar too little to make a genuine impression on the deep crisis in the housing market? He allowed irresponsible lending to over-inflate the housing market. Is he not embarrassed to admit that it needs propping up because of him?
How could the Prime Minister tell us, with a straight face, that he wants to empower people and communities? Let us remember that he was the man who turned Britains doctors and nurses into bean counters and took away our freedom of speech and right to protest. The new Labour Government have made more than 3,000 new things illegal since 1997. By my reckoning, that is two new illegal offences for every day that Parliament has sat since new Labour came to power. They capped communities council tax and imposed mass centralised school testing. Most shamefully, they took money from the pockets of the poorest workers. Since 1997, the Government have passed 65 home affairs Bills. Today, we are considering six more. If legislation made us safer, we would have been the safest nation on the face of the planet years ago. The NHSshoved from pillar to postwill get a 14th reform Bill in 10 years.
If the Prime Minister wants to devolve power, why is he introducing so much more central legislation? Another stir of the legislative pot will not save the Prime Minister. If he wants to devolve power and protect us from the economic downturn, he will have to do much better.
The Prime Minister: I thought that the right hon. Gentleman would say that he supported what we propose on the environment, on giving more power to local people, on the community empowerment Bill, on the Constitutional Renewal Bill and on all the changes that we are making that make for a better relationship between individual citizens, communities and the Government. I thought that the Liberal party was supportive of those proposals, and I hope that when it looks at them in more detail, it will support them.
The gist of the right hon. Gentlemans remarks was about the economy. It is right to protect banking depositors; it is right to take new action to do so, given what has happened over the last few months. I do not think that it is a criticism of previous Governments that everywhere in the world people are looking at strengthening financial services regulation after what has happened in the sub-prime mortgage market in the United States of America.
The right hon. Gentleman talks about fuel poverty, but we are the party that introduced the winter allowance; the Conservative party opposed it. We are the party that has raised the winter allowance in the last few weeks to help people who are in difficulty as a result of fuel bills. We are the Government who have negotiated a new deal with the oil, energy and utility companies so that £100 million, and £150 million in
future years, will go to help people on low incomes pay their fuel bills. The right hon. Gentleman should be praising us for the action that we are taking to try to protect people against the difficulties of rising fuel costs.
As for housing, the important thing, which the Conservative party forgot when it was in power, is that we can keep mortgage rates low. Some 1.8 million more people have homes as a result of a Labour Government, and the right hon. Gentleman should recognise the fact that that was possible only because we have kept mortgage rates low. Mortgage rates are half what they were under the Conservative Government. It is because we have run a strong economy, with economic stability over the past 11 years, that while other countries have had recessionsand the Government of the hon. Member for Tatton (Mr. Osborne) had two recessionswe are in a position to continue to grow as an economy.
We will take every action necessary to help home owners and others who face difficulties as a result of the world economic downturn. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Hallam (Mr. Clegg) should be supporting us, not criticising us.
Mr. Nick Raynsford (Greenwich and Woolwich) (Lab): I thank my right hon. Friend and congratulate him on his comments, particularly those on the housing market, and on his recognition of the importance of action. Although I welcome the proposals to introduce the new scheme to assist shared ownership, I put it to him that the scale of the problem, in terms of the withdrawal of lending facilities and the collapse of confidence among many house builders, is such that more intervention will almost certainly be required if we are to restore prudent lending at a level that will ensure that the market recovers. I urge my right hon. Friend to do everything in the coming weeks to achieve that, and to avoid the situation deteriorating to a point at which there would be parallels with the dreadful experience that we all saw when the Conservative party was in power.
The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is an expert on the housing market, and I am grateful for his remarks. The £50 billion that was injected as liquidity into the economy in the past few weeks is a means by which we can restore the flow of funds from banks and building societies to home owners. We will not hesitate to take the necessary action to deal with that.
However, I would disagree with my right hon. Friend on interest rates. At the moment, they are at 5 per cent.; in 1992-93, when the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr. Cameron) was advising the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, they were at 15 per cent. That was a shameful episode, from which the country took years to recover. We are not going to get into that position again.
Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con): This morning, the Prime Minister spoke about his defence of the Union. He is now faced with a referendum in Scotland. I remind him that in 1997, during the Scottish referendum Bill, he did not vote, or abstained, on a three-line Whip when I tabled an amendment calling for a United Kingdom referendum. About 400 of his colleagues voted against my amendment. Does he now agree that there should be a referendum of the United Kingdom with respect to the Scottish question?
The Prime Minister: There was no support for the hon. Gentlemans amendment in 1997, as he confirmed by having 400 people vote against it. But I have to tell him that no legislation is coming forward for a referendum in Scotland now or in the immediate future. It is not coming forward in Westminster and it is not coming forward in Holyrood in the immediate future, as far as I can see. So the hon. Gentlemans question is posed on a misunderstanding: there is no proposal for a referendum now or in the immediate future.
Mark Durkan (Foyle) (SDLP): I thank the Prime Minister for his statement and for the advance procedure in which we are engaged today. I will not dwell on the questions that some of us might have about the worth and workability of an immigration impact fund. However, when it comes to the new Bill to protect our seas and shores, will the Prime Ministers Government use the British-Irish Council to work with all the other Administrations on these islands so that all the Governments and Chambers with responsibility for a common marine environment adopt a compatible, co-ordinated and coherent approach?
The Prime Minister: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. Yes, that will form a discussion in the British-Irish Council. The Minister responsible for that, the Secretary of State for Wales, will take that forward.
Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): May I say on behalf of my party and the Scottish National party that we were rather disappointed not to have been given an advance copy of the statement? If the Prime Minister seriously wants to engage, providing advance copies is a prerequisite.
Several things in the Prime Ministers statement will no doubt be useful when we look at the detail. However, given the global downturn and the credit crunch, will he consider some form of equitable lending Bill that outlaws illegal lending? While I am on the subject of poverty, may I ask him again to reconsider the civil service job cuts in Wales, the vast bulk of which will fall within objective 1 areas, undermining all the good work that has been done there to try to raise gross domestic product?
The Prime Minister: I am sorry if the hon. Gentleman did not receive the statement in advance, and I shall look into that; I shall also look into what happened to prevent Members from having the statement early enough for them to be able to look at it.
I hear what the hon. Gentleman says about lending and what he wants to be done, and I shall consider what he has said. As for civil service jobs, we have to recognise that new technology is making possible major changes in how occupations are constructed. That was the purpose of the Gershon report, and now a second Gershon report is to be done. We have to catch up with the changes in technology that are taking place, and I believe that we can make major changes. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will recognise that although jobs are being lost in certain areas of the civil service in Wales, overall a substantial number of additional people are in work as a result of the other policies of the Labour Government.
Dr. Stephen Ladyman (South Thanet) (Lab): When banks get into trouble, directors and shareholders tend to make decisions in their own interests, rather than those of depositors. Will my right hon. Friend say whether the new banking Bill will include a power, similar to that in the United States, that will allow an independent authority to override the shareholders and insist that decisions are made in the interests of the people who have their money in the bank?
The Prime Minister: I shall certainly look at what my hon. Friend says and pass his comments on to the Chancellor. The purpose of that particular clause of the banking Bill is to make sure that there is adequate and full financial protection for depositors in the event of a banking crisis or failure. As we dealt with Northern Rock, we found that more had to be done to make sure that depositors were properly protected. We raised the ceiling of protection and at the same time gave wider guarantees, and the purpose of the Bill is to put those into legislation.
Sir George Young (North-West Hampshire) (Con): At the beginning of his statement, the Prime Minister made it clear that the draft legislative programme would be debated in the House and the country, and I welcome that. However, will he reflect on whether it then makes sense in November, when we have the Queens Speech proper, to spend another five days debating a legislative programme that we will already have debated? Would it not make more sense to reinstate into Government time debates that we used to have on public expenditure and the economy, which have mysteriously disappeared from the programme?
The Prime Minister: I hear what the right hon. Gentleman says. Last year and this year we published the Governments legislative programme in advance, and that is unique. We are allowing for an early debate about its merits so that a full consultation can take place. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly says, that raises questions about the nature of the Queens Speech debates that follow.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): My right hon. Friends statement on assistance for people buying houses through shared equity schemes and for people to enter the housing market is welcome. However, I stress to him that even with that assistance, house buying is out of the question for many of my constituents in London. If we are to provide affordable housing for young families who are trying to set up their own homes to bring up their children, we will need more affordable rented accommodation. Will he bear that in mind?
The Prime Minister:
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. He has brought this issue to my attention on many occasions. One of the purposes of the £200 million fund is to purchase unsold new homes and then rent them to social tenants, which would, in the short term at least, increase the amount of rented accommodation. He is absolutely right that our plans
for increasing affordable housing over the next few years involve a substantial increase in rented homes, and that is the right thing to do.
Sammy Wilson (East Antrim) (DUP): I welcome the Prime Ministers statement. I am sure that everyone would wish to see a successful policy implemented that will steer us through the current global economic crisis. However, examination of the detail does not seem to live up to the headline that he has claimed. On the housing market, does he agree that the funding he announced will result in about 1,000 new houses being bought and about 2,000 people being helped through shared equity schemes? Will he explain how, given that it takes three or four years to turn round failing schools, he can claim that by 2011 there will be no failing schools in this country?
The Prime Minister: It is an ambitious programme to turn round all underperforming schools, but we are determined to do it. I do not think that a child who is not benefiting from a good school should have to wait longer than is necessary to get the best schooling possible. We have set an ambitious target, and it is one that we want to achieve. I hope that there will be support for that in all parts of the House.
As for the hon. Gentlemans comments on housing, the two additional proposals about extra resources for a purchasing scheme and a shared equity scheme are on top of many other initiatives that we have announced before. An open market homebuy scheme and a second shared equity scheme are already allowing thousands of people to take the first step on the housing ladder. Those policies are on top of the huge amount of money that is spent on social housing by the Government as part of the public expenditure plans. If we are going to deal with the problems of the housing market, it is important that interest rates remain low. What really did the damage in the early 1990sI know that the Conservatives do not want to hark back to this, because there were 200,000 repossessions [ Interruption. ] I do not think that they have learned from the pastthat is the problem. What really did the damage in the 1990s was that interest rates
Mr. Speaker: Order. I say to the hon. Member for Beverley and Holderness (Mr. Stuart) that he must not heckle the Prime Minister or any other hon. Member who is addressing this House. If he does so, he is defying the Chair, and that is a very serious matter.
The Prime Minister: It is important that interest rates can stay low, and that demands that we bear down on inflation. Even facing huge increases in world oil prices, as is happening in every country, inflation is currently at 3 per cent., while it is 4 per cent. in the United States and about 3.5 per cent. in the rest of Europe. We will continue to bear down heavily on inflation so that we can keep interest rates low. That is the best thing that we can do to help potential home owners.
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