Previous SectionIndexHome Page

Andy King (Rugby and Kenilworth) (Lab): Will the right hon. and learned Gentleman give way?

Mr. Howard: No, the hon. Gentleman should listen to this, because it is rather important. The Secretary of State has admitted that

The right hon. Lady knows, as we all do, that Labour promised far too much and has delivered far too little.

26 Nov 2003 : Column 21

Labour Members know that they cannot deliver and they know that they are incompetent. They know that they have failed, and the Gracious Speech will do nothing to remedy that.

We could be doing so much better. We are the world's fourth largest economy. We are a nation of hard-working, enterprising, energetic people. We have great potential, but this Government—who promised so much—have let our country down. In the absence of real reform, their only answer is higher tax. When that fails, they turn to higher taxes still. They approach every problem with an open wallet and an empty mind. They are taxing and spending and failing. After six and a half years, the Prime Minister has lost his grip and the Government have lost their way. They are running out of steam, and they know it. We need better schools and the Government just give us top-up fees. We need safer streets, but the Government abolish the Lord Chancellor. We need improved hospitals but the Government give us legislation on the euro.

The Prime Minister and the Government are simply unequal to the task. They have run out of ideas, they have run out of money and they are running out of time. All they have to offer is open wallets and empty minds. [Hon. Members: "You've said that."] And I will say it again, because it happens to be true.

This Queen's Speech should have included a programme that delivers real power to patients, to parents, and to front-line professionals. It should have included a programme that gives value for taxpayers' money and security for the national interest. But that programme will only be put in place by a different Government—a Government who boost the economy rather than chain it, who implement serious reform of our public services, and who give real power to people. That Government is the next Conservative Government, and the sooner it comes, the better life will be for the people of our country.

3.30 pm

The Prime Minister (

Mr. Tony Blair): Let me start by remembering our colleague Paul Daisley, who sadly died in June this year. Paul had been a Member of Parliament for only two years when he died, but I know he made a great impact on both sides of the House and had many friends from all parties. As has just been said, his courage through his illnesses was remarkable, as was his service to his constituents both as a Member of the House and, prior to his election, as a councillor and, indeed, council leader in Brent. I know that the thoughts of the whole House are with his wife Lesley and his family.

Perhaps the House will permit me to express yet again our deep sorrow at the death of Gareth Williams, the leader in the other place. He was someone of quite exceptional ability, intellect and integrity, and I know that he, too, is missed on all sides of the political spectrum.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dumbarton (Mr. McFall) made an immensely engaging and witty speech, as we anticipated. I thank him in particular for his kind words on Northern Ireland and all that we have done over the past few years. I can assure him that we will carry on working for peace in Northern Ireland to the

26 Nov 2003 : Column 22

best of our ability, both now and after the elections today.

My hon. Friend is the well-respected chair of the Treasury Select Committee. [Interruption.] I am sorry; the Tories want me to say "Chairman". I thought they were getting up to date, but no. They could have a free vote on it maybe; I do not know.Anyway, my hon. Friend lists running among his hobbies. I understand that these two seemingly unconnected skills came together recently when, with just two minutes to go on the vote on paying Select Committee Chairmen, he found himself by mistake in the No Lobby. Who said Select Committees cannot move fast when they want to?

My hon. Friend has taken up many issues. I had occasion to read his maiden speech, which included an immensely powerful attack on the poll tax. I suspect that little did he know that, 16 years later, he would have the opportunity to move the Loyal Address, to be followed by Mr. Poll Tax himself—the right hon. and learned Member for Folkestone and Hythe (Mr. Howard)—so it is very much back to the future for him, and indeed for all of us.

As I am sure the whole House would agree, my hon. Friend the Member for Gloucester (Mr. Dhanda) also made an effective and amusing speech. I am particularly grateful that he did not remind me that before I entered the House I was rejected as the Labour candidate for Gloucester; obviously, his qualities are far more appealing both to the party and to the electors there. The Gloucester seat was, as he explained, the first seat for which my hon. Friend had applied, and as he said rather movingly in his tribute to his constituency, the people of Gloucester showed by sending him to the House that all they cared about was his character, his commitment and his talent, and that is an example to all. How right they were can be seen from the fact that my hon. Friend showed very early in his parliamentary career that he was a politician who could spot the issues and priorities of the future. How else can you explain a new Member of Parliament who, within weeks of arriving in the House, starts a campaign to ensure that top-class international rugby is open to all television viewers? I am sure that all of us would like to be able to see the future with such accuracy.

My hon. Friend is, I am sure, at the start of a long career in the House, but I have no doubt that whatever else he achieves in life, he will be for ever remembered for a publication that he authored in 1993 entitled "Measuring Distances using a Gallium Arsenide Laser." I am afraid that there is nothing further that I can say—that is clean—about that.

We have heard two excellent speeches—self-deprecating, generous, forward looking and compassionate. Now, though, I come to the speech of the Leader of the Opposition. Free and fresh from his leadership triumph, the Conservatives are consulting the people—a contest in the best tradition of the politics of North Korea, I thought. Six years ago, of course, when he last stood for his party's leadership, he came a poor fifth out of five candidates; but here he is today. Why did his party believe in 1997 that he was the very last person who could convince the country that the

26 Nov 2003 : Column 23

Conservatives had something to offer? I think that we all know why—it was because of his record in office. No wonder the Conservative party did not want juries to know about previous convictions—he has got form as long as your arm.

In fact, on almost every occasion when there was a serious crime against this country, the right hon. and learned Gentleman was on the scene. Who was the Environment Minister who personally brought in the poll tax? He was. Who was Home Secretary when police numbers were cut by 1,000 after he promised to increase them? He was. [Interruption.] We are talking about his record in government. Who was the Employment Secretary when unemployment rose by 1 million? He was. That represents 1,300 people added to the dole queue for every day that he was called the Employment Secretary. Not even Paul Daniels could make that record disappear.

It is no wonder that the Tories want to hide previous convictions. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman said when he was Home Secretary, "If you don't want the time, don't do the crime." His crimes were in government, and six and a half years in opposition is not long enough for him. Of course, we are told that he has changed. He stands before our wondering eyes the new born-again leader of the Conservative party, shedding all the earlier skins—something of the day about him. Along with the bright born-again leader comes a bright new born-again team. There they all are, the shadow Cabinet, facing tomorrow's challenges with yesterday's men—and one woman. At least the reshuffle has confirmed one thing: it takes two men to do one woman's work—two men trying to control the Tory party, but only half a man to run education and half a man to run our health service.

There are not just two party chairmen: the right hon. and learned Gentleman has also appointed three former Tory leaders and a former Chancellor as his personal advisory team. I can just imagine the discussion they will have. The right hon. Members for Chingford and Woodford Green (Mr. Duncan Smith) and for Richmond, Yorks (Mr. Hague) will keep telling him to turn right on every occasion. The right hon. and learned Member for Rushcliffe (Mr. Clarke) will want to turn left. The former Member for Huntingdon, John Major will most likely stop in a lay-by to consult the map. There has been nothing like that ominous presence in one group since the four horsemen of the apocalypse, but it is all a sham to let them concentrate on their real objective—and my goodness did we see it here this afternoon—to mount a ceaselessly negative attack, without anything positive to say about the future of this country.

I thought that it was the most predictable speech that we could have heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman. He may want to pose as the nice Dr. Jekyll, but we know that, deep down, he is still the same old Mr. Howard—utterly negative. The NHS is apparently hopeless. The schools are all failing. The economy is on the road to ruin. It was straight out of the Saatchi book

26 Nov 2003 : Column 24

of negative campaigning. [Hon. Members: "Labour isn't working."] Oh yes, they are remembered for saying, "Labour isn't working." That was when unemployment was 1 million and then the Tories trebled it—not once, but three times.

This Queen's Speech, by contrast—[Interruption.] Oh yes, we are going to draw a contrast between the measures for the future and the return to the past under the Conservative party. The Queen's Speech addresses the issues, even difficult ones, that allow us to meet the challenges for the future on the basis of opening up opportunity to all. First, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman talked about delivery, we must preserve our hard-won economic stability. This country has weathered the storm best of all G7 countries. We have the lowest interest rates for many generations, low inflation, low unemployment, the highest-ever levels of employment, and debt down from 44 per cent. of GDP to 32 per cent.

If we want to contrast what we have done in the past few years on delivery with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman delivered, let us remember the interest rates at 10 per cent. to 15 per cent., the 1.5 million fewer people in work, the boom and the bust and the borrowing at 8 per cent. of GDP. How did the Conservatives create that mess? They promised tax cuts and higher spending at the same time, which is exactly their policy now. Re-linking the basic state pension with earnings was described a short time ago by the new member of the shadow Cabinet who speaks on policy development as


It is now their policy, however, along with 40,000 more police, extra spending on defence, farming and local government, scrapping university fees and their pensions pledge—which alone will cost about £8 billion over this Parliament—all at the same time as promising to cut taxes.

Next Section

IndexHome Page