Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

Howard: What matters now is delivery

Speech in the House of Commons in response to the Queen’s Speech

"I start by warmly congratulating the proposer and seconder of the Loyal Address.

Both spoke with fluency and wit, and both are renowned as tireless campaigners for the causes in which they believe.

The Rt Hon Gentleman the Member for Rother Valley entered the House in the same year I did - 1983 - though we probably have fonder memories of that year than he does.

Two years later he became PPS to Neil Kinnock. But he's come a long way since then. Earlier this year, he came fifth in the ballot for Private Member's Bills, and used it to propose a tax cut - in stamp duty, no less.

As he explained: `hard-pressed first-time buyers will see a significant reduction in their stamp duty bills - with hundreds of thousands… paying no stamp duty at all…' So he's on the right lines. We look forward to his next proposal for tax cuts.

He's also a keen supporter of Rotherham United. Unfortunately they've been relegated. So they've changed their manager and they're bringing in younger talent to complement the more experienced members of the team. It's a strategy I wholly recommend.

I congratulate him on his excellent speech today.

Last July the Hon Member for Redcar was listed in the Guardian's list of `101 overlooked women intellectuals'. But she's been overlooked no more. First, Spectator Backbencher of the Year. Now seconding the Loyal Address. And soon no doubt in Government.

And the Hon Lady wasn't the only member of her household to win an award last year. Her Bedlington terrier Zack won the Westminster Dog of the Year prize in October. Although I understand he was run very close in the "sit up and beg" competition by the new Northern Ireland Minister, the Hon Member for St Helens South. As for the title "best groomed poodle", I believe the Rt Hon Member for Darlington has ruled himself out this year.

In contrast, the Hon Lady of course has always been her own woman, and she wasn't described as one of the brightest of the 2001 intake for nothing.

Her speech was a model of its kind.

I congratulate the Prime Minister on his election victory. The people have spoken and of course we respect their verdict. They elected a Labour Government, but they also voted for a stronger Conservative opposition to hold this Government to account.

I also want to welcome the new Members in all parts of the House. This is a new intake of high calibre.

Immediately after the election the Prime Minister said he would now deliver on the people's priorities. As I said at the time, whenever he does so we will support him.

And these days the Prime Minister needs all the support he can get.

His former Transport Minister says he should go `sooner rather than later'.

His former Sports Minister says `every MP that comes back will tell him just how unpopular he was'.

And his former Health Secretary - the Rt Hon Member for Holborn and St Pancras - has described him as `an enormous liability'.

But perhaps the best advice came from someone who worked with him even more closely than they have - the former Foreign Secretary. The RHG the Member for Livingston gave us the benefit of his reflections in a recent article in the Evening Standard: `We have all been here at some point in our lives', he mused, `Most of us have known a friend who clings to a relationship long after the other partner has any appetite for it. We have sighed when they plead for one more chance or another full term. Eventually one of us takes our friend down to the pub for a pint and tells him it is over'.

Now perhaps I can offer the Prime Minister some advice of my own. It comes from personal experience. The way to get your colleagues to ask you to stay is to set a timetable for your departure.

I hope the Prime Minister will take that advice in the constructive way it is intended.

The Prime Minister said the day after the election that he had `listened and… learned', and that, this time, he was going to `focus relentlessly' on people's priorities.

The signs are not encouraging.

Take the crisis in manufacturing.

During the general election, we saw the closure of Rover - a tragedy for thousands of workers and their families, and a painful reminder of the problems now faced by manufacturing industry. Britain's competitive position is under threat.

What was the Prime Minister's response? He looked at his policy on trade and industry, and what did he do? Did he change the policy? Did he change direction?

Well, to give him credit, he did take decisive action. He decided to give the DTI a new name, a name designed to show it was a great new organ of government. A Department of Industry, Productivity and Energy.

But he hadn't looked at the acronym. The Secretary of State told the Financial Times that the Department had attracted `various descriptions' - including "DIPPY".

When asked whose bright idea this was, the Secretary of State replied `I don't know. It certainly wasn't mine'.

That's not the only thing on which the Prime Minister didn't get his way. It's not just the names of the departments. He was thwarted in deciding which minister goes where.

He wasn't able to get the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry that he wanted. He wasn't able to get the Education Secretary he wanted. And he wasn't able to get the Health Secretary he wanted.

So he's been saddled with second choice ministers.

But at least one person's delighted with his job. The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. He says: `It's a fantastic privilege to be Secretary of State for Northern Ireland - having a castle to stay in…'.

Alas his new deputy, the Hon Member for St Helens South, thinks differently. He's going to find Hillsborough a bit pokey. And I'm told it only has one butler.

Then there's the new Parliamentary Secretary for Defence. Lord Drayson. Parliamentary Secretaries spend lots of time travelling to far-flung places where the British flag still flies. Gibraltar. The Virgin Islands. The Cayman Islands. All locations with which he and his tax advisers are very familiar indeed.

And what about the Minister the Prime Minister forgot? The Minister for Women - whom he appointed as an afterthought. He asks her to do the job in her spare time. And he tells her she's not going to be paid. So much for his Manifesto promise to `narrow the pay… gap between men and women'.

We welcome many measures in the Government's programme. For example we support legislation which will genuinely help in the fight against terrorism.

We support any legislation which will restore the integrity of the voting system - which was recently described as something that would disgrace a banana republic. But why is the Government continuing to ignore the advice of the Electoral Commission that voters should register individually? Why on earth won't the Government agree to that?

In Northern Ireland we support the Government's efforts to secure a comprehensive agreement. But there should be no place in government for any party that is engaged in crime or maintains its own private army. I hope the Prime Minister will agree that the onus is now firmly on the republican movement to deliver what it promised in 1998.

I would like also to pay tribute once again to the courage and professionalism of British troops serving around the world, and especially in Iraq. The killing of Anthony Wakefield is a tragic reminder of the bravery they show day by day.

The world faces many other challenges. Hundreds of thousands of people have died in Darfur. I repeat the view, already expressed many times from these benches, that urgent action should be taken to bring that killing to an end - starting with a new resolution at the Security Council.

The Gracious Speech also mentioned Britain's Presidency this year of both the G8 and the European Union. That gives us a singular opportunity to press for reform on the international stage - in particular, to help lift people out of poverty by fighting for freer, fairer trade.

We also of course support a referendum on the European constitution. Will the Prime Minister confirm, to the House, the Government's unequivocal commitment to giving the British people a vote on that constitution - even if other countries vote No? If he does so why won't he name the day for the referendum?

The day after the election the Prime Minister set out his priorities - the priorities which are meant to be reflected in the programme before us today.

Controlled immigration. School discipline. Cleaner hospitals. Police.

Come to think of it, they sound rather familiar to me.

In fact it's almost the complete set. We had no idea he was thinking what we're thinking.

The only one of the five that's missing is lower taxes. I wonder why?

In looking at the Government's programme, our position is clear: where the Government does the right thing, we will support them.

We support more choice in schools and hospitals, and greater use of the independent sector where it provides quality and value for money. Likewise with genuine reform of incapacity benefit; and proper controls on immigration. On these measures if the Prime Minister means what he says - if he takes a stand on the things that matter, and sends a clear message to his backbenchers - we'll support him.

The Prime Minister's Manifesto set out 'New Labour's commitments for a third term'. In his first two terms he found it impossible to keep just five pledges. For his third term there are 274. I suppose he hopes people won't notice when he breaks them.

He says there'll be a points system for immigration. But what is the point of a points system without a limit? Isn't it utterly pointless?

And what of health reform? The Prime Minister was `absolutely astonished' to discover what everyone else knew - that his GP targets stop people getting an appointment when they want one. And it's not just GP targets that are a problem. Hospital targets are too. We know they stop hospitals dealing effectively with the superbug. The Chief Executive of the NHS says so.

I was pleased to hear that the Government is to introduce measures to provide for cleaner hospitals. I was less encouraged to hear the Secretary of State say that if hospitals fail she will prosecute them. A simpler solution would just be to get rid of the targets.

If only the Prime Minister would listen to his Chief Policy Adviser, Matthew Taylor. He said:

`The downsides of targets are several. One is that you get perverse outcomes… A second problem is that people cheat… But perhaps the biggest problem of targets is that they deny autonomy to frontline managers'

The reason the Prime Minister won't scrap the targets is that he doesn't trust people. He doesn't trust professionals, parents and patients to make the decisions themselves. In the misguided words of the Chancellor, ministers don't know any other way than targets to achieve value for money.

The Prime Minister says, and the Hon Lady the Member for Redcar referred to this, he wants to restore respect in Britain. I agree - I've said so many times.

Let me suggest one practical way in which we can do it.

If children don't learn to respect authority at school they won't respect others when they grow up. And the one thing that would most encourage respect in the classroom is to give head teachers complete control over what happens in their schools. That's the way to teach children respect at an early age and if the Prime Minister takes action to bring that about, we'll support him.

The minority should never be allowed to ruin the education of the majority.

The Prime Minister also promises a regulatory reform bill.

It's certainly needed. Just in the last fortnight we've had figures showing bankruptcy up, insolvency up, and more job losses on the way. Meanwhile production, retail sales and manufacturing orders are all down.

What's the Labour Party's response?

Last week, his own Members of the European Parliament voted for more burdens to be placed on British business - by abolishing the individual opt out from the working time directive.

The Prime Minister's manifesto promised that the Government would work hard with Labour MEPs and would `ensure that EU regulations are proportionate'.

Yet days after the election, in the first test of the Prime Minister's authority, his MEPs completely ignored him and voted for a measure he describes as `wrong' and `completely misguided'.

He hasn't even got the authority to get his own Members of the European Parliament to listen to him.

And it's not just red tape. It's tax, too.

So I want to remind the Prime Minister of his election promises on tax.

On April 15th he was asked: `almost every expert… think[s] you're going to have to raise National Insurance after the election'. He said: `I don't agree with that at all …'.

On April 20th he was asked: `You are going to have to raise taxes after the election, aren't you'. He said: `No…'.

And on 28th April he was asked: `what new stealth taxes do you plan to introduce first?' He said: `... well I don't plan any…'

So there we have it.

No increase in National Insurance. No new stealth taxes. No raising of taxes at all.

We shall not forget those promises.

We shall hold the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer personally responsible for each and every one of them.

But I hope those pledges prove more durable than those of the Liberal Democrats.

Their Education Spokesman says they might be offering tax cuts next time round. And the `decapitated' ex Liberal Democrat Member for Guildford said the Local Income Tax was unpopular with hard-working couples. Well, what a surprise!

Mr Speaker, the Rt Hon Gentleman the Member for Neath promised that this programme of legislation would be: 'a really strong, radical, fizzy first Queen's Speech'. He said: `it's going to surprise people'.

He was the one with the surprise coming - he's no longer Leader of the House.

For the rest of the country, all we have had so far is more fizzy rhetoric.

What matters now is delivery.

It's time to reward people who do the right thing: the people who play by the rules; who work hard and who take responsibility for themselves and their families.

And it's also time to restore respect in our society: to tackle the yob culture head on; to restore discipline at school; and to make sure the punishment fits the crime.

The Prime Minister talks about these things.

For the sake of our country I hope his actions will finally match his words. If they do, we'll support him. But whatever happens, this Party will hold him to account for the promises he has made to the British people."

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech