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I am grateful to the Leader of the Opposition. This follows on from the point just made, which is one of fundamental principle. Whatever happened during this specific caseall of us have concerns about that, and they will be addressedwhat the Leader of the Opposition is saying from the Dispatch Box is tantamount to the creation of a new principle if he were Prime Minister [Interruption.] If Opposition Members will listen to me, I shall tell them what it is. He is announcing in advance that, as Prime Minister, he would be perfectly happy for any civil servant, on their own judgment, to
release any information other than that classified for national security purposes and that he would support its publication for the public. Is that what he is saying?
Mr. Cameron: The right hon. Gentleman knows that that is absolutely not what I am saying. Of course no GovernmentI have worked for a Governmentwant to see information leaked. But the principle that he and others on the Labour Benches now seem to be putting forward is that it is all right for the police to arrest a Member of Parliament for doing his duty.
Mr. Cameron: I have answered the right hon. Gentlemans question. I have to say that he told us that the Home Office was not fit for purpose. What my hon. Friend the Member for Ashford has done with the information that he has published is just prove that it is not fit for purpose. There are many former Home Secretaries in this House. Another one, the right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), has said that he would have behaved quite differently had he been Home Secretary instead of the one whom we have in post.
Mr. Blunkett: I would not want to delay the Leader of the Opposition in getting round to the Queens Speech, but I just wish to put it on record that what I said was that I found the way in which the police had operated and behaved very disturbing; I thought it was heavy-handed. At no time have I suggestednor would Ithat the police did not have the right to investigate Members of Parliament.
Mr. Cameron: I listened very carefully to what the right hon. Gentleman said. The term that he usedheavy-handedwas exactly the one that I used when I was first asked about this issue. He takes a very common-sense view of these events, and I just wish it was shared more broadly on the Labour Benches.
Is it in order to point out that the Leader of the Opposition inadvertently misled the House when he suggested that I had supported the arrest of a Member of Parliament? I did no such thing; I said that
it was subject to inquiry. My point related to the point of principle, and not to the specific judgment as regards the hon. Member for Ashford.
Mr. Cameron: We support the excellent work of our troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, and I would like to pay tribute to the two Royal Marines who were killed in Afghanistan on Thursday, Marine Tony Evans and Marine Georgie Sparks. We should remember once again all those whose names have been read out in this place over the last year, and what they have done to serve our country.
In Iraq, we support the draw-down of troops as conditions allow, and I am sure that the Prime Minister has learned that the draw-down must take place when appropriate and not according to some pre-announced political timetable.
On Afghanistan, the British Government will clearly come under pressure to increase troop numbers as President-elect Obama plans a surge in US forces. Does the Prime Minister agree that any proposal for an increase in British forces should be accompanied by an increase in troops from other NATO nations, an increase in helicopters to ensure that they are properly mobile, and an increase in equipment and protection for our troops? I hope he also agrees that we will not succeed in Afghanistan through military means alone. We need better co-ordination of aid, less corruption and better government. I hope that the Prime Minister will give us a realistic assessment of the situation when he speaks.
The work of our armed forces also reminds us of the threat that we face from global terrorism. We saw it last week with the appalling attacks in Mumbai, and our thoughts are with the friends and families of all those who lost their lives. We should be clear about what the terrorists are trying to do: they are trying to rob India of her rightful place in the global economy, to set one community against another, and to set east against west. We should also be clear that those terrorists will not stop trade and co-operation, and they will not break up the excellent relations that exist between Britain and India. We must never give in to that sort of terror.
One thing that was promised but that did not appear in the Queens Speech was the draft floods Bill. The Secretary of State promised it for this Session, and I hope that the Prime Minister will be able to confirm that it will go ahead.
Of course, there are some things in the Queens Speech that we welcome, not least because we proposed them. There is the NHS constitutiona Conservative idea. There is the independent exam regulatorI proposed that in 2005. There is a savings scheme with matching contributionsthat was in our 2005 manifesto. More security for ports and airports was also in our 2005 manifesto. The Prime Minister likes to accuse me of
writing that manifesto; he has now introduced most of it. Welfare reforms and direct elections for police accountability were both in my conference speech last year. The Prime Minister likes to accuse us of having no substance, but without Conservative substance there would be almost nothing of any worth in the Queens Speech.
Let me tell the Prime Minister what is wrong with this Queens Speech. There is no recognition in the Governments programme of how the world has changed. We are moving into an age in which there is no Government money left, so we need public sector reform to get better value for money. We are moving into an age of massive debt, so we need to mend the broken society and reduce the demands on the state. But in the Queens Speech there is no serious reform, just bureaucratic bungling and technocratic tinkering. It is all about the short-term prospects of the Prime Minister, not the long-term future of the country. It is last years Queens Speech from yesterdays Prime Minister.
Let the work of change begin.
Let us examine them. We were told that there would be loads of eco-towns, but only one is still alive. He promised zero-carbon homes, but there have been virtually zero of them. There are just 15 in the whole country. He promised 3 million new homes, but house building fell by a quarter last year. What about free nursery education for all two-year-olds? That has been abandoned. More maintenance grants for students were granted last year, collapsed in a complete shambles this year and face massive cuts next year. Then there is the Prime Ministers promise of a new constitutional settlement. We were promised more powers for Parliament to question the Executive. That one ended up down the nick.
What about the statement of British values? Does anyone remember that? According to Government sources, that will never see the light of day. What about British day? Does anyone remember that one? The question is simplewhen will it be? How long does it take to set a date for a new bank holiday? Given that the Prime Minister is about to stand up and cancel happy hour, we need cheering up. When will it be?
It would not matter if those ideas were all just gimmicks, but some of them really raised peoples hopes. Whatever happened to social homebuy? The scheme was launched in a blaze of glory and was by now meant to have helped 10,000 families to buy their home [ Interruption. ] I know that the Government do not follow these things, but we like to check up on them. It was meant to have helped 10,000 families, but it has helped just 235. With this Prime Minister, it is always about short-term politics and never about long-term change.
Most of the Bills in the Queens Speech replace one set of failing quangos with another set of failing quangos. Let us take one measure as an example, the thing that the Prime Minister has banged on about year after year, in Budget after Budgetskills. Seven years ago, the Government set up the Learning and Skills Council. They then created 47 local learning and skills council branches. There were then four reorganisations. In 2006, the 47 branches were replaced by nine regional centres, but with 148 local partnership teams. What was the
result? The Learning and Skills Councils own report this year said that unnecessary duplication abounds and that one arm does not know what the other is doing.
What is the Prime Minister doing in this Queens Speech? He is scrapping the Learning and Skills Council altogether and he is passing responsibility for education and training for 16 to 18-year-olds back where it came from, to local authorities. What a waste of time, money and effort. The most ridiculous thing about it is that instead of just killing off the quango, the Government are introducing three new onesthe SFA, or skills funding agency; the YPLA, or young peoples learning agency; and the NAS, or national apprenticeship service. Millions are being spent on redundancies, reorganisation and rebudgeting, and administrative costs are going through the roof. In the middle of all that, the number of people being trained has gone down. That is what has happened.
The Government have abandoned public sector reform, there is no social reform and the promised change never happened. Labour was on the verge of getting rid of the Prime Minister, but the party now clings to the one thing that it thinks that it has leftthe economy. So let us look at the state of the economy after the Prime Minister has been in charge of it for a decade. So far, we have focused on the claims that he has made over the past 10 years and on how hollow they sound today. One of his claims was prudence, when we entered the recession with the largest budget deficit in the industrialised world. Another was stability, when unemployment is rising more quickly than in any other major economy. Another ridiculous claim was that he abolished boom and bust. That was ridiculous because under him we had the most unsustainable debt-fuelled boom followed by one of the biggest busts in our history.
So much for the claims of the past 10 yearslet us now take a look at the claims of the past 10 weeks. They are just as threadbare. He told us that Britain is better prepared for this recessionhe says that it is truebut it is now forecast by sources that include his own Treasury that we will have the worst recession in the G7 next year. That is how well prepared we are. He told us that Britains debt is more sustainable, but just yesterday Britains credit-worthiness slipped behind that of Portugal, Belgium and even HSBC.
The other claim of the past 10 weeks is that the whole world is following the Prime Ministers plan for fiscal stimulus. This weekend, the German Finance Minister said [ Interruption. ] He is following my plan, as Labour Members will find out if they listen. He said:
Since Ive been dealing with economic stimulus packages, that is, since the end of the 1970s, theyve never had the real effect that was hoped for. In the end, the state was just more in debt than before.
Just because all the lemmings have chosen the same path, it doesnt automatically make that path the right one.
Rob Marris (Wolverhampton, South-West) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman tell the House what the shadow Chancellor refused to tell us? What five things would his party do differently to combat the recession?
Mr. Cameron: I am coming to exactly that point, but let me tell the hon. Gentleman what we will do. Let us freeze the council tax for two years for every family in the country. Let us give small businesses a £10 billion VAT boost by letting them pay their bills late. Let us cut national insurance for the very small companies so that they do not have to fire people. Let us have a £3 billion jobs plan to use the money that will be spent on unemployment benefit to get people off the dole. Above alland this is absolutely fundamental, although the Prime Minister does not understand itlet us have a truly massive Government-backed insurance scheme to get the money out of the banks and into small businesses. Those are five good reasonsperhaps the hon. Gentleman will listen to them and cross the Floor so that he does not have to lose his seat.
Everything that the Prime Minister has told us, not just in the past 10 years but in the past 10 weeks, has completely fallen apart. His latest claimand I want to be fair to him by taking it apartis that the political division is between action and inaction. That is typical of his approach. He cannot handle a real argument with a real alternative, but can only ever set up a straw man. We see it week after week at Question Time: he takes a set of beliefs that nobody holdsa set of propositions that no one agrees with and usually a set of things that nobody has saidand then proceeds to attack them.
That is a sign of his weakness, not of his strength. This recession was brought about by runaway borrowing and a massive failure of financial regulation, yet the Prime Ministers answer is more discretionary borrowing and a complete refusal to admit any mistakes in the regulatory system that he created.
The real solution, which we are putting forward, should lie in lower interest rates, massive Government-insured guarantees for bank lending, and support for families and businesses that does not permanently impair the public finances and the chances of recovery. That is the answer, and it is contained in the five points that I just outlined to the hon. Member for Wolverhampton, South-West (Rob Marris). Only some boneheaded Whips plant could argue that that is inaction; even the hon. Gentleman is nodding his head in agreement that what I have set out is not inactionit plainly is not. The real division is between the right and the wrong action, between our long-term action that will really make a difference and the Prime Ministers short-term action taken just to get through tomorrows headlines.
Let us take the situation with the banks. When will the Prime Minister accept what the whole country now knowsthat his bank recapitalisation is not working? It rescued the banks but not the small and medium-sized firms. They cannot get the loans or overdrafts that they need, and the charges being levied on them are frankly outrageous.
The Governments response is to hold endless meetings with bankers that are conveniently briefed to tomorrows newspapers to try to make the Prime Minister look good, but it is not making any difference. That is why we need, in this Queens Speech, a Government insurance scheme to get the banks lending. That is long-term change, not short-term politics.
Now let us take the cut in VAT. The Prime Minister wanted a stimulus so a stimulus we had to havethe only problem being that borrowing money when we are already virtually broke to cut prices when they are
already falling and then warning of tax rises that are coming down the road is not exactly stimulating. Instead, what we need in the Queens Speech is a plan to reduce the future growth of public spending to show how we can keep taxes down in futureagain, that is long-term change and not short-term politics.
What is the long-term consequence of the Prime Ministers failed Budget and short-term approach? It is a black hole in the public finances that everyone knows means taxes going up under Labour. The Government have already told us about the national insurance change, but that is not just a tax rise on anyone earning over £19,000it is also a tax rise on every job in the country. Can anyone think of anything more stupid than putting a tax rise on jobs when the economy is going to be struggling to recover?
We all know what the secret tax rise isVAT will first be raised to 18.5 per cent. and then to 20 per cent. [ Interruption. ] It is no good Labour Members shaking their heads, as we have all seen the Government order. This was not some leak to the Tory Front Bench; this was the Financial Secretary to the Treasury signing a document and putting it on the Treasury website. Who is the Prime Minister going to arrest for that one?
The Prime Ministers approach of making endless announcements to try to win short-term advantage depends on one crucial assumption, and it is one that I think he always gets wrong. He assumes that the British people are stupid and that they will not realise he will have to fill the black hole with higher taxes. He assumes that they do not notice when the Government present a tax-con rather than a tax-cut Budget, and that they will believe it when he tells them that all the problems come from America.
The Prime Minister thinks that British people are stupid, or that they do not see through him when he wanders off to Iraq to visit the troops in the middle of a Tory conference. However, he has to realise that if he takes people for fools, they will never take him for their Prime Minister.
A proper Queens Speech would be honest about the state that the country is in. The truth is that the Prime Minister is borrowing so much because he has spent so much, and that he has spent so much because he has done so little to solve our social problems. Let us just look at those problems.
Welfare dependency is worse: there is more youth unemployment in Britain today than there was when the Government took office in 1997. That is why we need the Conservative plan for radical welfare reform, by giving the voluntary sector the power to go into our most deprived communities. On family breakdown, we have one of the worst records in Europe. That is why we need the Conservative plan to strengthen families, to end the couple penalty and to back marriage in the tax system.
What about health inequality? Surely a Labour Government would do something about that. Wrong. The gap in life expectancy between the richest and the poorest in our country is greater than at any time since the reign of Queen Victoria. That is why we need the Conservative plan to scrap the top-down targets and to stop doctors answering to Whitehall and get them answering to patients. All that needs to be underpinned by our plan to reconstruct a battered economy.
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