Previous Section Index Home Page

29 Jun 2009 : Column 27

What we have seen today is yet another re-launch—a re-launch without a price tag. Is it not clear to the whole country that the only way to sort out our finances, to get real reform of our public services, and to build Britain’s future, is to change this wretched Government?

The Prime Minister: The big question in this country is how to return to growth and secure extra jobs in the economy. The right hon. Gentleman has made not one policy suggestion that could get us moving in the right direction. We have announced that unemployed young people will get jobs after they have been unemployed for a year, and that is mandatory. His policy is to do absolutely nothing. We have announced an autumn guarantee for school leavers so that they can get jobs or training. His policy is to do absolutely nothing. We have announced help for unemployed adults in a way that no other Government have done before. His policy is to do nothing. We have announced new help for social housing today. His policy is to do absolutely nothing and to leave people without homes. We have announced new help for owner-occupiers today. His policy is to do nothing.

In every area in which the country is looking for a Government who will bring growth and jobs, the policy of the Opposition is to do nothing but cut public spending this year, next year and then by 10 per cent. in future years. That policy will neither create jobs and growth, nor reduce debt and deficits. It would bring worse debt and worse deficits.

As for public services, the Government were right to set targets for the future. Cancer waiting lists would not be down to two weeks had we not set a target and invested in the future. Hospital waits would not be down to a maximum of 18 weeks had we not set the targets and made the investment. GP surgeries would not be open in the evenings and at weekends had we not been prepared to make tough decisions. We will not build the health service of the future without the necessary investment.

The right hon. Gentleman wants to move from targets to a simple free-for-all. We want to move from national targets to personal entitlements, which people will see delivered as a matter of course, for shorter waiting lists, better treatment and, in schools, for parents to have more rights. But the Conservative party wants to cut spending and to cut the responsibility on public servants to deliver the service.

The right hon. Gentleman agreed with us on one— [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. Mr. Duddridge, we do not need you to bellow away from a sedentary position. It is much to the benefit of the House if you do not.

The Prime Minister: As for the Royal Mail, let me make absolutely clear that the Bill that we have put forward is to do a number of things. The first is to save the pension fund of the Post Office; the second is to ensure better regulation of the Royal Mail; the third is to ensure that the universal service obligation is maintained, whereas in other countries it is being reduced; and the fourth is to introduce more capital—more investment—into the Royal Mail. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly
29 Jun 2009 : Column 28
well what is happening to the market for investment in this country at the moment. We will continue to push forward with our plans to modernise the Royal Mail.

As far as the comprehensive spending review is concerned, the right hon. Gentleman knows that there was a spending review in 2004 and one in 2007. We have set out plans for 2009-10 and 2010-11. No Government have given more detail on their spending allocations, and we have moved from the annual spending plans that were a feature of the previous Government’s way of doing things. We will not make the mistake of pre-announcing ideologically driven public spending cuts— [Interruption.] Yes, 10 per cent. public spending cuts irrespective of growth, irrespective of employment, irrespective of inflation and interest rates. The Conservatives are now ideologically committed to 10 per cent. cuts in public services. That is not the policy of this Government. We are the party of growth; we are the party of jobs.

The Leader of the Opposition has only two policies: one is to cut public spending, and the other is to cut public spending even more by giving inheritance tax cuts to the very few—300,000 people in this country. For two years, he has been up against me as the Opposition leader. He has put forward no policies for growth, no policies to tackle the recession, no policies for jobs and no policies, but cuts, for our public services.

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): The Prime Minister and the leader of the Conservatives have just perfected their fake debate on public spending, yet both are treating voters as if they are children, too young to know the truth. This morning, the Government have reneged on their promise to hold a comprehensive spending review before the next election, and the Conservatives are not going to decide on their cuts until the day after it. Neither is willing to come clean on the difficult long-term savings we will need to make to balance the nation’s books. It is like a big hoax—they trade insults and numbers, but hide the truth.

There are some announcements—or, rather, re-announcements—that I welcome, not least the ongoing consultation to give local authorities control over housing rents and revenues, the proposals for an elected House of Lords and the commitment to give all young people under 25 a guaranteed job or training place. As ever, however, the devil will be in the detail. This is the 11th announcement on housing since September. The Government’s consultation on housing revenue has been grinding on since January, yet 1.8 million people are still waiting for a decent home.

We have been debating reform of the House of Lords—the other place—for more than a century, so now is the time for action, not simply more proposals. The Prime Minister is still silent on some of the wider more radical political reforms we need to clean up British politics once and for all. The hopes of young people to avoid the scrapheap of long-term unemployment must not be dashed in practice once again.

In the drum roll of advance media leaks, we were promised a vision of the future from the Government based on decentralisation and personal entitlements. I welcome any recognition from a party and a Government of arch centralisers that they have got it wrong and that the levers of Whitehall do not provide all the answers. Yet many of the so-called personal entitlements are, on closer inspection, just the recycled versions of the old
29 Jun 2009 : Column 29
targets. Suddenly, the target to receive an operation within 18 weeks of seeing a GP is called an entitlement. Last week, the Prime Minister called the cuts an investment; this week, he is calling a target an entitlement, so can he tell us exactly what is the difference?

When one scratches beneath the rhetoric, the long screwdriver of Whitehall is still in place, because the Prime Minister, the great godfather of big government, still cannot really let go. Even as we speak, his Government are giving his Education Secretary—where is he? He is not here—153 new powers in the Apprenticeship, Skills and Learning Bill, including the power to hand-pick children’s school books. Is that what he calls “giving power away”? If the Prime Minister really wanted to make sure investment followed individuals, he would have announced a school funding premium tied directly to the most disadvantaged pupils so that they can get the personalised support and tuition that they need on their terms.

Given the likelihood that many of the Prime Minister’s proposals will not make it off the pages of the Government’s press release and are unlikely to work in practice, does he agree with a senior Government official quoted in today’s Financial Times who admitted that this Government have

All in all, the Prime Minister’s statement was a hotch-potch of unrelated Whitehall schemes—a ministerial cut-and-paste job scraped together by a Government without a unifying vision and a Prime Minister running out of steam.

The Prime Minister: The right hon. Gentleman recognises, as we do, that employment is a huge issue. The question is, does he support our proposals or not? We have presented specific proposals for unemployed young people, for adults who need help and for school leavers this summer. The proposals are very precise, and they will give help to people in different communities of this country. The right hon. Gentleman could not tell us whether he supported them or not, but I feel that this is the right way forward, and I hope that on reflection he too will consider that those are the right things to do.

In the case of the health service and education, it is right that individuals should now have personal entitlements. We could not have achieved the 18-week maximum wait for hospitals without the investment that we have made and the targets that we have set. It is right that individuals can now be sure that they will have that entitlement when they go to their hospitals wanting health service treatment. It is equally right that parents who need tutoring help for their children who are unable to read or unable to write, or are finding it difficult to count, should receive it when we can give it to them. The right hon. Gentleman should support that.

As for the House of Lords, I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will now support our proposals for change.

Several hon. Members rose

Mr. Speaker: Order. Thirty-six right hon. and hon. Members are seeking to catch my eye, so I ask for brief questions and, of course, for economical replies.

29 Jun 2009 : Column 30

Mr. Michael Howard (Folkestone and Hythe) (Con): I congratulate the Prime Minister on the close attention he has clearly been paying to the Conservative manifesto for the 2005 election. First we had a points system for immigration; now we have the abolition of top-down targets. Is the Prime Minister not saying, in effect, that the Conservatives were right and he was wrong, and is it not a pity that we have not had a Conservative Government for the past four years?

The Prime Minister: If the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s party had been elected in 2005, there would have been massive public spending cuts. That is the policy on which he stood at that election. We would not have had the health investment, the education investment and the investment in our public services that we have seen since 2005.

Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): Will my right hon. Friend confirm that more jobs, more houses, more and better schools, a better NHS and safer streets offer a hope that contrasts with the rotting Britain that the Government inherited from Thatcher and Major, and to which we would return if the Tories had their way?

The Prime Minister: My right hon. Friend is, as usual, absolutely right. When we came to power we had to invest heavily in the national health service and in education, and we will not see the advances that we made in health and education ruined by another Conservative Government.

Mr. Roger Gale (North Thanet) (Con): The Prime Minister has yet again promised education and training for 16 to 18-year-olds. On the risible assumption that he will keep that promise, may I ask whether he will also fully fund transport to and from those places of education?

The Prime Minister: We will look at all the issues concerning 16 to 18-year-olds, but I must tell the hon. Gentleman that the summer school leavers’ guarantee that we are giving is to enable young people who might have left school to stay at school, to embark on training or to obtain jobs. That is progress, and it is unfortunate that the Conservative Opposition have refused to support the policy. Despite what the Leader of the Opposition has said, the Conservative education spokesman has refused to support the summer school leavers’ guarantee.

Ms Karen Buck (Regent's Park and Kensington, North) (Lab): Whatever the mythology about queue-jumping, is not the reason we have homelessness, housing waiting lists and overcrowding a long-term failure to build enough affordable homes? While I warmly welcome the additional money, does my right hon. Friend agree that a problem has been caused by the fact that Conservative and other councils throughout Britain have been blocking much-needed new housing development? Will he help to ensure that the money that he is now committing will go where it is needed most, and that those local authorities will not be able to block much-needed new homes?

The Prime Minister: My hon. Friend is a long-term campaigner for more social housing and better housing provision in her area, and she is absolutely right. The money we are making available must be used to improve
29 Jun 2009 : Column 31
local authority accommodation, to improve social housing and, of course, to build new houses for ownership as well as for rent. We will insist that investment takes place in every area of the country.

Anne Main (St. Albans) (Con): The Prime Minister said that he wanted to give more priority to local housing for local people. How will he make that fit? He could not make British jobs for British workers fit. Surely he does not disagree with the proposition that local people should not be given housing before people who should be given more priority because they are homeless or have large families.

The Prime Minister: I have just announced that more houses will be built, and as a result we can now reform the housing allocation system. That is what I have announced today.

Dr. Tony Wright (Cannock Chase) (Lab): The previous Conservative Government’s citizens charter came with no guarantees for citizens. I therefore welcome my right hon. Friend’s announcement that this approach will have guarantees attached to it, but can he assure me that there will be a way of enforcing those guarantees?

The Prime Minister: Yes, there will be, and that is possible only because of the investment we have made in the national health service. It is possible to think of having a guarantee of a maximum of 18 weeks before people are treated in hospital only because of our substantial investment in the national health service. If we had taken the advice of the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard) when he was Leader of the Opposition, we would not have had that investment in the NHS.

Sir Menzies Campbell (North-East Fife) (LD): In a statement entitled “Building Britain’s Future” is not the absence of any reference to defence policy and its financial implications for the British economy a significant omission? Do the Government not now accept that there is an overwhelming and urgent need for a full-scale defence review, to bring commitments and resources into balance?

The Prime Minister: We made a detailed statement on national security last week, when we looked at all the issues surrounding the future national security of this country. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is right to fund the great work that is done by our troops in Afghanistan and other areas around the world, and I agree that it is important that we show that we can fund them well into the future. So far as any future reviews of defence are concerned, it is important for us to remember that we have funded defence services for the next two years.

Ms Dari Taylor (Stockton, South) (Lab): I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend announce that a new green energy Bill will be introduced in Parliament. I say that because Teesside is a national leader, and has the potential to become a global leader, in the production of green
29 Jun 2009 : Column 32
energy. How, therefore, will this Bill help Ensus, Sembcorp and other companies that are already producing green energy?

The Prime Minister: The proposed legislation in the next Session will help in two ways. First, the energy Bill will make possible new energy investments in our country. Secondly, the innovation fund that I have announced today will be available to companies specialising in low-carbon technologies, to enable them to invest for the future. Britain wants to be, and will be, a leading global player in low-carbon industries, and the innovation fund is one means by which we can help the companies my hon. Friend mentioned.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): What public spending cuts has the right hon. Gentleman identified to meet the £1,500 million extra for housing?

The Prime Minister: We have reallocated money within both the Department for Communities and Local Government budget and other Departments’ budgets to make possible the extra spending. That is why we are able to announce that more than 100,000 houses will be built in the next two years.

Barry Gardiner (Brent, North) (Lab): Does the Prime Minister agree that the statement today on increased housing will be welcomed by the lady who came to my surgery and informed me that she had been told when she went on to the housing list that she would not get a house because she had no children? That lady was recently told that she would no longer qualify for a house because her children had now left home, even though in the 20-year intervening period she had been unable to get accommodation. Does the Prime Minister therefore also agree that there must be a reprioritisation of housing need so that it is based on length of wait?

The Prime Minister: In the last 10 years, we have spent a huge amount on modernising and improving our housing stock. It is right that we spend more money now on building. That is why we have made these new announcements today that at least 100,000 more social houses and houses to buy will be built over the next two years.

Mr. Peter Lilley (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con): Will the Prime Minister tell us whether any of the ragbag of measures he has announced today involve public expenditure additional to the plans he has already announced, which he will confirm mean that next year we were already set to spend through the public sector almost half the national income, and in some regions of the country 70 per cent. of GDP, which compares with just 60 per cent. of GDP spent by the state in Cuba? Is he proud of his record of almost “out-Castroing” Castro?

Next Section Index Home Page