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Instead, we have a Queen's Speech that is just a Labour press release on palace parchment. The Prime Minister is not legislating on the measures that the
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country needs: he is desperately trying a few tricks to save his own skin. When the country is crying out for change, are we really going to be subjected to six more months of endless relaunches, bogus legislation and these fake dividing lines that he keeps going on about? The simple fact that even this country cannot ignore is that some time in the next six months the Prime Minister is going to have to stop dithering, leave the bunker, go to the palace and finally request what we have been demanding for the last three years: a dissolution and a general election. Instead of wasting the country's time and inflicting further damage, why does he not just get on with it?

3.25 pm

The Prime Minister (Mr. Gordon Brown): Let me start this speech by paying tribute, as the Leader of the Opposition did, to the two members of our armed forces who have died in Afghanistan in the course of the last week: from 7th battalion, Rifleman Andrew Fentiman, who was on attachment to 3rd Battalion The Rifles; and from 33 Engineer Regiment, Corporal Loren Marlton-Thomas. In our thoughts and in our prayers, we will remember their brave service to our country. Let me speak for all of us who will contribute to the Queen's Speech debates in the coming days by paying tribute to the outstanding and selfless contribution and the courage of all those who serve in our armed forces, particularly those who serve in Afghanistan. They fight on foreign soil so that we will be safer on British streets. Let us pay tribute also to the families who sustain them, and the communities who support them. Their missions and their sacrifices for our country will not be forgotten.

Let me reiterate our determination to deal with the terrorist threat to our country. Let me explain to the House how the conditions that we have set for the next stage of our work in Afghanistan, in which Afghans will take more control of their affairs, are being met. Let me also explain that, while our strategy is exactly the same-to defeat al-Qaeda and to ensure that the Taliban cannot return to power in Afghanistan-the approach that we are taking after the McChrystal report and after the pressure that we have exerted in the last 18 months for change means that that pressure is being brought to bear in an effective way.

Yesterday, I spoke to President Karzai. He and his Defence Minister have agreed to provide 5,000 Afghan troops, who will be trained in Helmand. They will partner the British forces and be mentored by them. This will allow Afghan forces to hold ground, so as to free our forces for other tasks. Secondly, I have insisted on burden sharing. I am approaching eight NATO and coalition partners to ask them to contribute to the increase in the NATO and coalition forces. Yesterday, Slovakia was the first of the countries to announce that it would double the number of its troops serving in Afghanistan, and I expect further announcements from other countries in the next few days. I expect that there will be fairer burden sharing in the next stage of our efforts.

I have also pressed the Karzai Government, and two days ago, they announced an anti-corruption taskforce. In the next few days, we will have the inauguration of President Karzai, and I am determined that that Government should prove, by their actions at the centre, that they are tackling corruption. I am also determined
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that our Afghanisation strategy should mean, first, that there are Afghan troops on the ground in Helmand, and that there is an Afghan police force that is free of corruption and trained up to do the job. Secondly, I am determined that we can transfer control to the Afghans, district by district, so that they can take responsibility for their own affairs. In that way, over time, we will allow our troops to be able to come home.

Our strategy on Afghanistan is the same as will be announced by President Obama in the next few days, and I am determined that it should be a coalition-wide strategy that everyone supports.

Harry Cohen (Leyton and Wanstead) (Lab): I am very grateful to the Prime Minister for giving way. On Iraq, he will know that the Government refused to give out the number of Iraqi civilian casualties who died in that war. Will he be prepared to give out the number of Iraqi civilian casualties who have died in this war?

Hon. Members: Afghan civilians?

The Prime Minister: If my hon. Friend's question is about Afghanistan, the action that we are taking-and the action proposed in the McChrystal report-is designed to minimise the number of civilian casualties in Afghanistan. Our strategy is not counter-terrorism; it is counter-insurgency. It is to win the support of the Afghan people and then to ensure that the Afghan people can run their own affairs. This is not an occupying army; this is an army that is determined that the Afghan people can run their own affairs. I believe that that is the right strategy for the future, and I am grateful that there is all-party support for it. We will move it forward with announcements in the next few days.

We are just 20 days away from the UN climate conference in Copenhagen, and I want to respond to the Leader of the Opposition on that matter as well. I hope that the whole House will support me in calling on countries round the world to act with vision and resolve to achieve an ambitious, comprehensive and binding climate agreement.

The two issues that have to be dealt with are, first, that countries announce intermediate targets that they are prepared to follow and, secondly, so that we can have those intermediate targets announced by the developing countries and cut carbon emissions, we need to have a climate change finance deal similar to the one that we have proposed, which we will continue to push.

Let me turn now to the speeches of the proposer and the seconder of the loyal address. The seconder, my hon. Friend the Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry), enjoyed many years as a human rights lawyer working to achieve greater justice, equality and human rights. As a legislator, a campaigner and a charity fund raiser, she has carried into this House her commitment to supporting families, children and people.

What is less well known is that when my hon. Friend was 10 years old, she was a member of the girls church choir. There was a boys choir in a rival church in the same parish and Emily was outraged to learn that the boys got paid twice as much as the girls, so when the Equal Pay Act 1970 came in, a very young future Member of Parliament wrote to the rector of her church to demand that there be equal wages for girls and boys. Unfortunately, the complaint not only fell on the deaf
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ears of the rector, who did not bother to reply to her letter, but the next day he took the assembly at her school and his theme was "the sin of greed". Redress follows in the equality Bill that we are now bringing to the House of Commons.

In 2007, as the Leader of the Opposition mentioned, my hon. Friend joined a cross-party group of MPs raising thousands of pounds for charity. She did trek across the Arctic, slept in reindeer herder huts, subsisted on the fish she had caught, and she froze as a result. On that trip, she was pulled along, of course, by a pack of huskies, but history does not tell us whether they were the same huskies which, in that same year, had a close encounter with the Leader of the Opposition, and the passing cameraman.

I should also highlight the valuable role my hon. Friend has played as vice-chair of the all-party cycling group, which she mentioned in her speech. She does much work to make cycling easier and safer. I am pleased that so many Opposition Members are fellow members of the group, but she does assure me that when she travels to Westminster by bike, she does not add to, but cuts pollution-there is no car travelling behind her.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) is such a strong and respected campaigner against apartheid that he is respected-many people will not know this-as one of the people who in 1964 stood in protest outside the South African embassy when Nelson Mandela was imprisoned, and he was there again in 1990, celebrating the day on which Nelson Mandela was released. My right hon. Friend has been a consistent campaigner on behalf of the anti-apartheid movement, who makes us very proud indeed of what he has achieved over these many years.

When my right hon. Friend first became Secretary of State for Health, plans were already advanced to stage the Buckingham palace garden party to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the NHS, as he mentioned. Having heard his speech this afternoon, I know that he has such famous constituents that we could be forgiven for thinking that he would have invited them to Buckingham palace to celebrate that event, but the new Secretary of State for Health caused huge offence by insisting on holding a ballot of all the million NHS staff to decide who should attend. As a result, hundreds of NHS porters, cleaners, ancillary staff, nurses and technicians found themselves with the Queen at the garden party, and there for the first time. Some colleagues warned the Secretary of State for Health that the palace might frown on such an idea; what they did not know was that the Secretary of State had cleared the idea in advance with Her Majesty, who also supported it.

As a lifelong friend of the NHS, including my right hon. Friend's successful period as Health Secretary, he was once invited to Great Ormond Street hospital in his constituency to be Father Christmas-and not to put too fine a point on it, who better for the part? When my right hon. Friend walked in to greet the children and hand out the gifts, one child burst into tears. The staff had to comfort her and when they asked what the matter was, she pointed at Santa and declared, "That's not Santa-he's got a false beard."

Coming from a Yorkshire railway village, my right hon. Friend was the first from his primary school to pass the 11-plus exam before a council grant enabled
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him to go on to the London School of Economics. I believe that my right hon. Friend's whole life as an MP and a Minister has been driven by a determination to give the same opportunities that he was able to enjoy in education and health to other people in his constituency. We are very proud of what he does.

I know that both proposer and seconder are passionately committed to building on the national health service's successes by creating the new personal rights and guarantees that we have promised. We have invested heavily in cancer services, in the right to see a specialist within two weeks and the right to diagnosis within one week. We would like to have the all-party support that was not forthcoming this afternoon in the response of the Leader of the Opposition.

I heard a speech made by the Leader of the Opposition a few days ago, on exactly the same day as his withdrawal from his iron-cast- [Laughter]-his cast-iron commitment on Europe. What did he say about the national health service on that day? He spoke to the Royal College of Pathologists-and this must make people very worried-of

People should worry indeed when they hear that being said.

There is to be a social care bill that will ease the anxieties of thousands of elderly people and give new rights to them. There is to be the first-ever digital economy Bill, the first-ever legislation to abolish child poverty, and a second historic climate change and energy Bill. For pupils, there is to be the first guarantee of catch-up tuition. Parents will also be made responsible for the antisocial behaviour of their children. There is to be an equality Bill, and legislation banning cluster bombs. There is to be a draft Bill to put the 0.7 per cent. development target in legislation for all time. There is to be action on bank bonuses. There are to be regulations so that agency workers are never again denied the rights that other workers have.

When we propose these measures, we are speaking up not in the party interest but in the national interest. We are responding to new national needs relating to social care, climate change, economic restructuring and high levels of education. We are standing up for Britain. I say that the one party that had the policies enabling it to make the right decisions to deal with the recession is the one party that has the policies that can build a long-term recovery.

The Leader of the Opposition has promised to support some of these Bills. Let me thank him for that, but let me also tell him that promises from the Conservative party-guarantees from the Conservative party, particularly cast-iron guarantees-are not what they used to be.

Simon Hughes (North Southwark and Bermondsey) (LD): There were, of course, some good measures in the Queen's Speech, but there was not a single word about housing. May I ask the Prime Minister why, after 10 years during which wages have risen by a third and house prices by 150 per cent., and when the number of people waiting for social housing is higher than it has been in any decade since the 1940s, there was nothing to show the sort of the commitment that people would have
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expected from a Labour Government to deal with the massive housing crisis that is being experienced in every constituency in Britain?

The Prime Minister: That is because we announced in July new measures to put £1.2 billion into social housing and building new houses. We gave local authorities power to build houses again, and at the same time we said that we would build new social housing for people in this country to rent. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that in first 10 years we modernised 2 million houses, repairing and refurbishing them for the new generation. Now we have to build new houses, and we have committed ourselves to doing so. That is in the statement that was made in July to move the housing programme forward.

Mr. John Redwood (Wokingham) (Con): The Prime Minister is proposing a Bill to cut public spending by between 6 and 7 per cent. of GDP over, I believe, a four-year period. What are the main ways in which he would recommend that we do that?

The Prime Minister: The first thing that we have done is raise the top rate of tax. I have not heard the Opposition parties say that they would support us in that course. Perhaps the Leader of the Opposition will indicate that he will support us. We have taken action to remove the tax reliefs for pensions. We have taken action to raise national insurance by half a per cent. from next year. We have taken the action that is necessary to cut the deficit in half over the next few years. I do not think that we have heard similar announcements from the Leader of the Opposition.

I want to talk about the economy, and about-

Rob Marris: Will the Prime Minister give way?

The Prime Minister: I will.

Rob Marris: I am grateful to the Prime Minister. Would he say with the benefit of hindsight, given the world recession, that there was too much intervention and too much regulation, particularly in the financial services sector, and that government was too big, or would he say that there was too little regulation and too little intervention in that sector?

The Prime Minister: For 12 years the Conservative party asked us to deregulate. It asked us to have less regulation. It opposed the Financial Services Authority. It wanted us to deregulate, but I believe that the answer we must take from the crisis of the last few years is that we need to have global supervision of our financial institutions, and that is what I want to talk about today.

Last year, we were prepared to take unprecedented action to support our banking system. We nationalised Northern Rock, and we took action to buy shares in RBS and Lloyds TSB. We also took action to underpin the whole banking system with emergency legislation that was repeated throughout the world. Let us be clear: the banking sector is vital to the future of our country, helping supply the money that is needed for homes, businesses, investments and protecting savings, but the banks and financial institutions must understand that a return to their old ways is impossible. Our financial services Bill, which we will publish in the next few days, will ensure that the salaries and bonuses paid to bankers are now consistent with the effective management of
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risk and the rules set out by the Financial Stability Board internationally, and are fair to the general public of the United Kingdom. Our Bill will automatically make any remuneration contract that contravenes the rules void and nullified.

Mr. William Cash (Stone) (Con) rose-

The Prime Minister: I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman's question is about the European Union, although I rather suspect that it is so, but his argument is not with me; it is with the Leader of the Opposition.

Mr. Cash: My argument is emphatically with the Prime Minister, because he is responsible for this policy. How does he think he will improve the financial regulation of the City and also improve the economy of this country and maintain GDP by handing over the whole arrangement to majority voting and ensuring that the ultimate decisions are taken by countries such as France and Germany, which do not have our interests at heart?

The Prime Minister: You see, Mr. Speaker, they are back to the old ways. The Conservative party cannot stop arguing about Europe; and far from the Leader of the Opposition being able to hold his party together, it is rent asunder by the very issue of European union. [Interruption.] The financial services- [Interruption.] Mr. Speaker, this is the Leader of the Opposition who gave a cast-iron commitment to hold a referendum and then tore it up one day, much to the chagrin of the hon. Gentleman.

The financial services Bill- [Interruption.] Opposition Members do not like hearing about what we have got to do. The financial services Bill will allow us, for the first time, to require companies to publish the remuneration of their most senior executives. It will give us the powers to reform the running and the boards of banks, not least where there have been potential conflicts of interest. In the last few weeks, we have removed £300 billion-worth of potential liabilities on the Government, and let me state that when the pre-Budget report comes in December, we expect there will be a reduction in the debt that we have to write off because of the banks. As I have said before, when the crisis is over, it will not be the public who have paid money to the banks; it will be the banks repaying money to the public of this country. I will continue to argue for globally co-ordinated financial action. Whether through an insurance premium, contingent capital, resolution funds or a global financial levy, there has to be a new contract of trust between the banks and the society they serve, and I hope that all Opposition parties will support the need for that action at a global level.

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