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We not only support our forces in Afghanistan but we support the reason why they are in Afghanistan, and that is to help deliver security and to stop Afghanistan from once again becoming a haven for terrorists. But we must be clear about the future and about the different options that we face. One option, favoured by some, is an immediate withdrawal. I do not believe that that
would be in our interests. The Taliban would take a large part of the country; there would be a danger of new terror training camps; it would imperil Pakistan, which is, after all, a nuclear power; and, it would be incredibly damaging to NATO and to our vital alliance with the United States.
The second option, the status quo, is also unacceptable. We cannot go on as we are, taking ground, sometimes at great cost, only to relinquish it later to the Taliban. Over a year ago, the Prime Minister told us how our troops had heroically delivered a generator to the Kajaki dam, but 15 months later that generator is still not working and, frankly, that dam is almost as dangerous as ever. So, more of the same-two steps forward, one and a half steps back-is just not tenable. We cannot carry on doing for the next eight years what we have been doing for the last eight years. Is not the right option, as General McChrystal recommends, a military surge to protect the populated areas and increase the rate at which we train up the Afghans, that is combined, vitally, with a proper political strategy?
That political strategy must place a much greater emphasis on dealings with provincial and district leaders, and involve a much tougher approach to President Karzai. The strategy must be accompanied by the appointment of a strong international figure to help drive it forward, and it should be combined, in our view, with the establishment of a permanent group of Afghanistan's regional neighbours. Last week, the Prime Minister said that he expected an announcement from Washington within the next few days. That was immediately corrected by the White House. I hope that the Prime Minister will tell us when he now expects that announcement to be made, and that he is fully involved in all the consultations.
On the vital matter of climate change, we desperately want the Government to succeed at Copenhagen. I believe that the Prime Minister is right to go personally to Copenhagen, and I hope that other world leaders will do the same. Does he agree that what is required is not a partial accord or a political declaration, but a full agreement with immediate, practical effect?
Let me turn to the Gracious Speech. There were some good things in it, such as home school contracts and transparency over pay, not least because they were proposed from these Benches. The Gracious Speech even says that the Government will "respond to proposals" on high-speed rail. I was glad to see that, because they were our proposals in the first place. What is most striking about the speech, however, is what is missing from it.
The Prime Minister has just made a great long speech about immigration, but where is the immigration Bill in the Queen's Speech? Last year, he promised regulatory budgets to relieve the burdens on business. He told us that they
"could transform the culture of Whitehall".
"give local people more control". -[ Official Report, 14 May 2008; Vol. 475, c. 1388.]
Where have they gone? They are not in the Queen's Speech. What about the three letters that should be in any Queen's Speech: NHS? Not a mention. It is clear that the national health service is not this Government's priority.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Will the right hon. Gentleman give a cast-iron guarantee, like his shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury on Sky News today, that anyone suspected by their GP of suffering from cancer will be seen by a specialist within two weeks?
Mr. Cameron: Everyone wants people to be seen by specialists within two weeks. Everyone wants to see hospital treatments happen quickly. We support the NHS constitution-indeed, it was suggested from these Benches. Basically, the Prime Minister is trying to legislate on a whole series of ideas, saying that virtue is good and then daring his opponents to vote against them. Well, we are not falling for that one. So his election campaign has just collapsed-perhaps we could now get on with the election. If this dividing line is so important, why is it not in the Queen's Speech? There is no mention of the NHS, and no mention of this vital dividing line. This Prime Minister is so incompetent that he failed to put his own dividing line into his own Queen's Speech.
Then there is the biggest omission of all, and frankly it will infuriate the British people whom we are here to represent. The Prime Minister said-hon. Members will remember this-that the whole reason for delaying the election, the whole reason he could not go to the country in the summer, was that he wanted to clean up the mess of MPs' expenses. Yet there is no mention of expenses or the Kelly report in the Queen's Speech. To implement Kelly-to clean up expenses-11 separate measures still need to be passed into law. So where is the legislation? Where are the laws that we were promised? Why are they not in the Queen's Speech?
Let me make this offer to the Prime Minister: if he brings forward legislation to implement the rest of Kelly we will support it and help him to pass it through this House and the House of Lords. I will give way to the Prime Minister so that he can stand up and say that he will bring forward this legislation and together we can take it through Parliament. Will he do it? No. No one watching will understand why this vital work is not being done in this Parliament. Why do we not show them that we meant what we said? Instead of the measures in the Queen's Speech-most of which will not become law by the next election-the expenses changes, the Kelly changes, could become law by the next election.
Let me give the Prime Minister another chance, now that he has finished consulting the Leader of the House. Let him stand up now and tell us that together we can pass the laws to implement Kelly in full. He tells us that he is serious about cleaning up politics, but when it comes to the crunch-absolutely nothing. What is the point of this Government? What else has the Prime Minister got to do? This is the shortest Queen's Speech since 1997. They have run out of money, they have run out of time, they have run out of ideas, and we have just seen from the Prime Minister that they have run out of courage as well.
The background to this speech is that we face the most difficult circumstances for our country for a generation. More than anything else, there is an economic crisis, with the longest recession since the war and the worst public finances in living memory. The budget deficit- [ Interruption. ]
Mr. Speaker: Order. I apologise for interrupting the right hon. Gentleman, but there is far too much chuntering from a sedentary position taking place on the Government Back Benches and, I am sorry to say, on the Front Benches. The Leader of the Opposition must be heard.
All that the Prime Minister says about the deficit in the Queen's Speech is that he is going to legislate to halve it, but there is not a single new measure to make that happen, so how is it going to work?
Rob Marris: The right hon. Gentleman has said that he is against big government. Could he give an indication, in terms of Government spending as a proportion of gross domestic product, of what he thinks the right size of government should be in, say, five years' time?
Mr. Cameron: We face a catastrophic situation at the moment where we are borrowing 14 per cent. of our GDP and our GDP is still shrinking. What is required is some political leadership-not setting some meaningless target as the Prime Minister is doing, but actually saying what the tough decisions are that we are going to take. The contrast between our side and his side is this: on the question of public sector pay, we have said what we would do, and on the question of pensions, we have said what we would do, but this Government, who have the biggest budget deficit in our peacetime history, have absolutely nothing to say, and he should be ashamed of that.
Judy Mallaber (Amber Valley) (Lab): Does the right hon. Gentleman think that it is a tough decision to give a huge tax giveaway to multi-millionaires by cutting inheritance tax? Is that what he means by a tough decision?
As the economist who actually served the Bank of England says on the front page of the Financial Times today, the Prime Minister's plan to halve the deficit simply by passing a law is a complete "con". To address this issue directly would have been in the best traditions of the Prime Minister's party. In the past, Labour Prime Ministers such as Callaghan and Labour Chancellors such as Jenkins did in the end try to do the right thing,
not the popular thing. They actually started to try to mend the country's finances after the irresponsible spending spree of a Labour Government. Why will this Prime Minister not do the right thing? Why will he not think about the national interest?
Mr. Cameron: We are in no doubt that there are enormous amounts of waste across the Ministry of Defence, which is now bigger, in terms of manpower, than many parts of the armed services. I must tell the hon. Lady that we have made the tough choices on public sector pay, on pensions and on benefits.
What we have in Britain today is an Opposition behaving like a Government, and a Government behaving like an irresponsible Opposition. One Cabinet Minister this week said it himself: he boasted that this was intended to be the most political Queen's Speech of the past 12 years. This lot are actually proud of the fact that, instead of trying to govern in the national interest or pass laws to improve the lot of the country, all they are trying to do is embarrass the Conservative party. What a pathetic way to run a Government.
The great irony is that the Government are not even very good at these dividing lines. Remember what happened to the last dividing line-the one we had in the summer? Week after week, they boasted about Labour investment versus Tory 10 per cent. cuts. Then we saw their leaked Treasury documents. What did they have plans for? Ten per cent. cuts! Only this Prime Minister could draw a dividing line and find himself on the wrong side of it.
This Queen's Speech is a time to judge this Government not only on the past 12 years, but on the past two and a half years that this Prime Minister has been in charge, and there can be only one conclusion: this Government have been a monumental failure. Every promise he has made has turned to dust. He promised full employment, but in fact unemployment is half a million higher than when he became Chancellor. He promised to make Britain the great global success story of this century, but our economy has just been overtaken by Italy. He promised 3 million new homes-that was his big boast when he became leader-but house building in England today is at its lowest level since 1947. Think back to those big promises he made on the steps of Downing street-that his Government would be a Government of all the talents; that he would always be prudent on the economy; and that his moral compass would guide him in everything he did. Each of those claims has been completely discredited.
Let us take the Government of all the talents, to which the right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras referred. Where are they now? No longer tethered to the Government, they have wandered off. Where is Lord Carter now, the digital guru? He is a management consultant. Lord Malloch-Brown-the great UN expert-is now an adviser to Global Redesign. Then there is Lord Digby Jones. He is now back in business, but at least he is still making speeches. I have, for the sake of greater accuracy, obtained a copy of his latest effort. This is what the Minister that the Prime Minister appointed has to say:
"today we have a tired, stale Government...It's a big, big six months ahead...a General Election...cannot come too quickly."
"The trouble with Socialism",
"you run out of spending other people's money."
Darzi, Carter, Vadera, Malloch-Brown and Digby Jones are all gone. The only jobs that this Prime Minister has created are for his cronies, all of whom have repaid his generosity by leaving his Government at the first opportunity while, of course, keeping their well-upholstered seats in the House of Lords. Never has so much ermine been wasted; never have so many stoats died in vain. Never mind jobs for the boys: under this Prime Minister, it is stoats for the GOATs.
The Prime Minister's main promise on the steps of Downing street-indeed, his whole qualification for the job-was his economic stewardship, but everything he has told us has turned out to be wrong. He promised an end to boom and bust, but in fact he has delivered the longest and deepest bust since records began.
Jim Sheridan: This Government are committed to halving the deficit over the next four years. If the right hon. Gentleman has a plan to cut the deficit faster, could he tell us when it will happen and by how much?
Mr. Cameron: Let us be clear about the aim of halving the deficit. Next year the deficit is forecast to be 14 per cent. When Denis Healey was Chancellor and Britain nearly went bust, it was 7 per cent. So under this Prime Minister's magnificent plan to halve the deficit, we will be back to where we were-virtually bankrupt-last time Labour wrecked our economy.
As for who has a plan to cut the deficit, I am sorry to have to repeat myself, but who has made the tough choices on pensions, on public sector pay and on benefits? It is the Opposition who are behaving like a Government-not the Government, who are behaving like an Opposition. The Prime Minister said that we would lead the world out of recession. Do we all remember that one? In fact, the rest of the world-the US, France, Germany and the eurozone-are all out of recession and we are still in it.
The Prime Minister's specialism is meant to be financial services, regulation and the future of banking, but we have had the biggest bank bail-out in the world; the biggest bank run in Europe; and, proportionate to the size of our economy, more support pumped into the banking system by taxpayers than any other major economy. And after all that, the verdict from the Governor of the Bank of England is that there has been little real reform. What was supposed to be this Prime Minister's greatest strength has turned out to be his greatest weakness. The financial services Bill in the Queen's Speech today will not help, as it keeps the failed tripartite system in place. That system needs to go and, under a Conservative Government, it will.
What about the great moral compass we were promised? In the last three years, we have had slogans taken directly from the British National party about British jobs for British workers; we have had the Prime Minister's personally appointed Downing street spokesman smearing members of the Opposition; and, with the abolition of the 10p tax band, we have had a Labour Government hitting the lowest earners in our country. I have to say to Labour Members that if they thought that the abolition of the 10p tax was bad, they just need to wait for the small print of the Government's new care service. The Government are planning to scrap the benefits on which millions of elderly people rely-attendance allowance and disability living allowance. We will fight that every step of the way.
The last two years have not only been a moral failure for the Prime Minister. They have been a monumental failure for our country. If we are to ensure that that failure is never repeated, we need to understand the reasons behind it. There is the Labour belief that the answer to every problem is more big government and more spending. We have seen the welfare budget rise, but the poorest in our country have got poorer and there are more of them. We have seen the budget for affordable housing quadruple, but the number of new social homes built in Britain has been cut in half. The next failure is the belief under this Government that Whitehall always knows best, so we have had nearly 50 criminal justice Acts and more than 3,000 new offences, but violent crime is up by nearly 70 per cent. We have seen nearly £1 billion spent on truancy initiatives, but the number of children skipping school is up by 45 per cent.
The greatest failure of all can be traced directly back to this Prime Minister-political calculation dressed up as a moral conviction. When we look behind the curtain of the great, clunking machine of this Government, all we see is someone frantically pulling levers and pushing buttons-not in an effort to improve the country, but in a desperate attempt to relaunch his failing political career and somehow get one over on his opponents.
Instead of some half-baked Queen's Speech and a delayed general election, we need an immediate election and a real Queen's Speech. A real Queen's Speech would acknowledge just how broke this country is and have a proper plan to reduce the deficit. We are not just talking about the deficit: we are setting out what should be done about it. Yes, we will take out the waste-the bureaucracy, the ID cards and all the Labour nonsense-but we have made the tough choices too. A real Queen's Speech would acknowledge the tragedy of unemployment, with one in five young people not getting a job, and introduce a proper welfare reform, involving the private and voluntary sectors and paying them by results. A real Queen's Speech would not tinker with the education system, but would break open the state monopoly, allowing new schools to be set up and giving parents more choice. A real Queen's Speech would mean real reform of our NHS to ensure real choice for patients and real transparency, with health outcomes published online so that doctors are accountable to their patients.
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