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We are the Government who were the first to act on restructuring our banks. We are the Government who took action on Northern Rock, who recognised we had a problem of capitalisation and liquidity, who delivered a fiscal stimulus, and who delivered help to the unemployed, and we are the Government who worked with Europe to tackle recession. Not one of these measures was supported by the official Opposition party. I hope that it will support us this time when we move further to improve our economy, because this Queen's Speech is also about removing the fear of unemployment for thousands of workers and their families, about creating thousands of new employment opportunities for young people now and into the future, and about securing our
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future by building stronger manufacturing and service industries for the long term. So, to those of us on the Labour Benches, in this low-inflation environment it is right to say that, as a nation, we will go for growth. We will maintain the fiscal stimulus until the economy is strong enough to withdraw it, and for that we have the support of every country in Europe and every major economy of the world.

We will also do more to equip ourselves for the future. The legislation we announce today will create new jobs so that Britain can have high levels of employment in the years to come. The energy Bill promotes clean coal, offers financial support for carbon capture and storage projects and makes Britain a vital leader in this new technology. We believe that, over time, the measures in this Bill could create between 30,000 and 60,000 jobs. We expect that over the next five or six years the number of people employed in the low-carbon and environmental goods and services sector could rise to more than 1 million people, and as a result of the digital economy Bill, skilled jobs will flow from investment in world-leading digital infrastructure.This will advance the delivery of a new super-fast broadband network reaching every home, as well as take tough action against those who abuse copyright online.

Mr. Don Foster (Bath) (LD): Does the Prime Minister believe that it is acceptable to take money from the BBC's licence fee to pay for some of these Government policies or does he share my view that doing so would undermine the independence from Government of the BBC?

The Prime Minister: The hon. Gentleman should understand that under the arrangement for the rise in the BBC licence fee-when it did happen-the BBC would contribute funds to maintaining and improving the digital infrastructure of the country; when the licence fee was negotiated there was an agreement that the BBC would contribute to people being online and to the digital changes that we are bringing about. We are moving from an analogue to a digital structure, the BBC agreed to contribute to that and it is right, in my view, that the BBC should make that contribution as a result of the agreement that was made. From investing in a digital Britain, a third of a million jobs will be generated over the next few years.

The energy Bill and the digital Bill build on what we are doing to equip Britain for the long-term future. The planning legislation, the new national plans for energy, for nuclear and for ports, the decisions on airports, the start of construction for Crossrail, decisions on rail electrification, investments in science, the new fund for innovation, and our support for low-carbon technologies, allied to our active membership of the European Union, are all long-term decisions in Britain's interests, are all long-term investments that we, as a country, need to make, and are all long-term investments that cannot be left to the vagaries of the free market alone, but have to be made by a partnership of Governments taking an active and strategic role in preparing our future.

Mr. Elfyn Llwyd (Meirionnydd Nant Conwy) (PC): In what vehicle does the Prime Minister propose to introduce a guarantee for under-25s who are long-term unemployed-in other words, those who have been unemployed for 12 months or more?

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The Prime Minister: I was coming to that, so I hope that the hon. Gentleman would just listen to me. The dominant issue is, as he says, jobs; it is helping people be secure in their jobs and it is finding jobs for young people who are unemployed. We must not only act for the future, as we are doing with the digital and energy Bills, but we must do more to act now. In the last quarter, employment has risen. Even during this downturn there are 2 million more people in work than in 1997. There are more than 400,000 job vacancies in the country, 300,000 men and women are leaving the unemployment register every month and more than half of claimants find work within three months. If the experience of the 1990s recession had been repeated, employment would have fallen by 1.7 million more than it has. No one can justify leaving young people out of work, in poverty and without hope for the future, as happened in the 1980s under the Conservatives. Today, in answer to the hon. Gentleman's question and to others, I want to make four new guarantees designed to ensure that at no point are young people deprived, for any length of time, of the opportunity to work or train or prepare for work.

First, our September guarantee for young people provided funding for 55,000 extra places for young people this September. Today, I can announce that we will offer, for the first time, a January guarantee for young people. So, from January next year -[Interruption.] I know that the Opposition do not like hearing about measures to deal with unemployment, but they should remember that they were the party that created the highest level of unemployment our country has had since the war and we are the party that is acting to bring unemployment down. Today, I can announce that we will offer for the first time a January guarantee: from January, all 16 and 17-year-olds who are not in employment, education or training-who are without a place-will be guaranteed a place in learning. Together, these steps will mean that overall, since last summer, an extra 100,000 young people will have benefited.

Secondly, earlier this year the Work and Pensions Secretary announced that all young people would be guaranteed a job, training or work experience-and would be required to take it-after 12 months' unemployment. Because of the financial savings we have made from lower than expected unemployment, the Work and Pensions Secretary will announce in her employment White Paper a new guarantee that thousands of additional young people who are unemployed for less than a year will now be able to benefit from there being a guaranteed job or training. But I also want a day-one guarantee to all young people out of work, so that at no point will they be lost to the labour market and to opportunity. So, we will offer online training courses direct, and, at the start of their claim, offer the opportunity of work experience places to young people. I can also announce a graduate guarantee, so that no graduate will become long-term unemployed: all new graduates still out of work after six months will have access to a high-quality internship or to training, or help to become self-employed. For that, I am grateful for the partnership that we announced recently with the Federation of Small Businesses. Together, those four new measures, and those introduced over the past 12 months, will constitute the most comprehensive and effective programme in our country's history for preventing higher unemployment, and we are determined to see it through.

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Andrew Selous (South-West Bedfordshire) (Con): Will the Prime Minister explain to small businesses in my constituency on the verge of ceasing to trade because of the vast hikes in business rates why, for small businesses in his constituency, rates have either been scrapped completely or severely reduced?

The Prime Minister: We have helped 200,000 businesses, including many in the hon. Gentleman's constituency, with their cash-flow problems during this recession. That has helped 200,000 businesses, been worth about £4 billion and enabled businesses to keep going. I believe that if he talks to the Federation of Small Businesses and other business organisations, such as the CBI and the Institute of Directors, he will find that they support that. As far as other measures are concerned, he will have to wait until the pre-Budget report, which the Chancellor will bring forward.

We have invested £5 billion in employment support so that young people and adults can get back to work, but the Conservatives opposed it. The new deal has helped more than 2 million people into work, but the Conservatives opposed that too. Our September school-leavers' guarantee is helping more than 1.5 million 16 to 18-year-olds, but the Conservatives would refuse to give such a guarantee. We have also made available 10,000 additional student places. We have taken such measures so that thousands more will not be unemployed. However, every major policy that we have announced to support young people and the unemployed has been rejected by the Conservative party. Its policy is not a guarantee, but a gamble for people facing the future without the help that they should have.

The Conservative party says that it has moved to the centre, and that it is about helping the poor and supporting public services, but every measure that it announces is simply a repeat of the failed policies of the 1980s and 1990s. Where does the money go in the Conservative economic programme? What is its flagship policy? I have here the Conservative party's economic policy produced for its annual conference, and it confirms what I did not think possible during a recession- [Interruption.]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I say to the hon. Member for Blaby (Mr. Robathan), the Opposition deputy Chief Whip, that after 17 years in the House, he knows that he has to set an example to others. He has a responsibility to behave with some dignity, and he ought to start now.

The Prime Minister: I was explaining that even during these difficult economic times, even after questions about the Conservative party's priorities and even after the Leader of the Opposition's speech last week in which he said that the gap between the rich and poor was too great, that inequality was a problem that had to be dealt with and that differences in wealth contribute to our social problems, he has decided to maintain its commitment to give £200,000 to the richest 3,000 people in our country through an inheritance tax cut.

I have looked at those proposals, and the Leader of the Opposition has to face up to the gap between rich and poor and to the inequality that his proposals would create. An estate of £1 million would benefit by £120,000; an estate of £1.5 million by £320,000, and an estate of £2 million by £520,000. Is it not to say one thing and do another to promise, as the Conservative party has done,
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to attack the gap between rich and poor, but then to be responsible for the most regressive policy imaginable, under which 99 per cent. of the benefit would go to the richest few in our country?

The Conservative party has said that it will cut education maintenance allowance and save money by restricting Sure Start. It has refused to commit to raising child tax credits and will speedily raise the retirement age for women, but will not match our promise to people in need of care in their homes. It will freeze public sector wages and cut the school building programme. Its only definite commitment is to cut inheritance tax for the smallest number of people imaginable. In the majority of constituencies there will be nobody who benefits. The typical constituency will have only five people who will benefit. The biggest group of beneficiaries will be in one area of the country-Kensington and Chelsea, which of course includes Notting Hill.

That must be the only tax change in history where the people proposing it-the Leader of the Opposition and the shadow Chancellor-will know by name almost all of the potential beneficiaries. Is this what the Conservatives mean when they say, "We're all in this together"? Is this what they mean by the age of austerity-austerity for the many, to pay for tax cuts for the very few? I say: poverty and inequality will endure until doomsday if the Leader of the Opposition is all that will confront them.

Are the Conservatives also seriously telling us that the best way forward for the NHS is to remove a cancer guarantee that has saved the lives of hundreds of people in this country? Are they seriously telling us that the best way forward on law and order is to cut policing, through a £5 billion cut in public services this year? Are the Conservatives seriously telling us that they will have a referendum on the treaty of accession for Croatia? Are they seriously saying that they will split Europe over an attempt to repatriate the social chapter to this country? When they have a policy, it is always the wrong policy.

Mr. Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) (Con): On the subject of Europe, will the Prime Minister tell the House how his campaign to get one of the top jobs in the European Union is going, or is it a case of "nul points"?

The Prime Minister: That intervention tells us two things. One is the absolute fixation with Europe on the part of the Conservatives. Secondly, they cannot ask questions about policy; it is all about personalities. When will they realise that when it comes to the choice in this country, it will be a choice about the policies that we pursue as a country? At no point during the Leader of the Opposition's speech did he put forward one new policy that would benefit the country as a whole.

The Conservatives have been wrong on every issue that we have faced in economic policy this year. They have been wrong on the fiscal stimulus and wrong on what we have done on employment, and they are wrong on dealing with the recession, wrong on inheritance tax, wrong on social care and wrong on law and order. We are bringing in a legislative programme that involves substantial restructuring of the financial system and the building of a digital economy in this country. We are leading the world with an energy Bill on clean coal. We are giving guarantees for parents and patients. We
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have a social care Bill that will help hundreds of thousands of people. We have a Bill to protect against crime and make our communities safer. We have an equality Bill to end discrimination and make life fairer for everyone. We are banning cluster munitions. Our changes are for the many and not the few, and I commend them to the House.

3.57 pm

Mr. Nick Clegg (Sheffield, Hallam) (LD): I would obviously like to add my own expressions- [ Interruption. ]

Mr. Speaker: Order. I do hope that the House will behave in a way that reflects credit on the House. May I therefore appeal to right hon. and hon. Members who are leaving the Chamber to do so quickly and quietly?

Mr. Clegg: I would obviously like to add my own expressions of sympathy and condolence to the family and friends of Rifleman Andrew Ian Fentiman from 7th Battalion the Rifles and Corporal Loren Marlton-Thomas from 33 Engineer Regiment, who tragically lost their lives in Afghanistan this week. It is clear now to everyone, in all parts of the House, that we are arriving at a pivotal, make-or-break moment in the debate about our mission in Afghanistan, as announcements are made here, in Kabul by President Karzai and, most importantly of all, in Washington by President Obama. All of us will need to decide whether those announcements collectively represent the sufficient step change from a failing strategy to a strategy of success. However, throughout all that, we will never forget the professionalism, bravery and sacrifice of all those brave British servicemen and women who are serving in Afghanistan.

I should like to join others in congratulating the mover and seconder of the Loyal Address. The right hon. Member for Holborn and St. Pancras (Frank Dobson) did a truly excellent job of opening the debate. He is widely admired in all parts of the House for his unbending refusal to follow fads and fashions. He is known as a determined campaigner who never gives up-so much so, I discovered this week, that his "Frank for Mayor" campaign website is still live on the internet. Throughout his long political career, he has often spoken words of wisdom; words that, it may surprise him to learn-it might even dismay him-I have often agreed with. There was the time in 1980 when he said that nuclear missiles were okay, so long as anyone who launched them was compelled to stay above ground afterwards. Then there was the time in 1988 when he argued in favour of televising the House of Commons because, as he put it beautifully, we did not have "any reputation to damage". There was also the moment in 2003 when he memorably remarked to the Labour party that, if a "Slaughter of the First Born" Bill were issued from Downing street, there was a group of super-loyalists who would vote for it.

Speaking of super-loyalists, I thought that the hon. Member for Islington, South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) gave a compelling speech. When she recounted some of her life experiences, it was also very moving. As it happens, I had the privilege a few years ago of travelling with her and some other hon. Members on the fund-raising charity trek north of the Arctic circle that has been referred to several times already today. I saw then, as I think that we all did, that she is a force to be reckoned with.

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The hon. Lady will remember that we all tried fishing through holes in the ice, but she was the only one to catch anything-which was extraordinary, given her confession just now of an interest in marine matters, fishing and the marine Bill. I can report that, with impressive strength and a little brutality, she bludgeoned the life out of a poor fish right there on the ice. [ Interruption. ] She did indeed. As we stood watching with a growing sense of alarm, she turned to me and my hon. Friend the Member for Cardiff, Central (Jenny Willott) and said, "I enjoyed that; I pretended it was a Liberal Democrat fish." That is true.

I turn now to the substance of the Gracious Speech. All the pageantry in the world cannot cover up the fact that this is a fantasy Queen's Speech, from a Government who are running out of road and a Parliament that has lost the trust of the British people. It is a Queen's Speech that will not give people the help with housing, bank lending or adult joblessness that they so desperately need in this recession and that will not fix our rotten politics. After 12 long years, in which this Government have passed nearly 500 different laws and countless thousands of statutory instruments, it is right to stop and ask the simple question, "What is this Queen's Speech really for?"

When they are backed into a corner and unsure of what to do, this Government have always reached for their pen to start drafting yet another new law. Legislation is Labour's comfort blanket; it makes the party feel good. Yet in these dying days of the Labour Government, when people desperately need help, the Government should legislate less and focus on getting things done. That means creating jobs-beyond the re-announcements of today-for the 2.5 million people who are unemployed. It means drawing up plans for a fair tax system, closing loopholes at the top to cut taxes for people on low and average incomes. It means getting the banks to start lending again so that businesses can survive. It means setting out a new and workable strategy in Afghanistan. Those should be the Government's priorities, not fantasy Bills that we know will not even make it on to the statute book.

Of the Bills proposed in last year's Queen's Speech, just two had made it on to the statute book by May this year, and this coming year will not be any different. The legislation promised today is just a political displacement activity for real action to help people. How absurd is it to have a fiscal responsibility Bill making it law for the Government to halve the deficit over four years? It is like passing a law promising to get up early every morning-one does not pass a law for that; one just does it. Does the Prime Minister have so little faith in his own self-discipline?

Then there is the Child Poverty Bill: it sets a legal target, but it does not put a single penny in the pocket of a single struggling family. If laws could feed and clothe children, there would not be a single family in poverty in Britain after 12 years under Labour. Another law will do nothing. We need action.

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