Vince responds to the Queen’s Speech

by Stephen Tall on November 6, 2007

The Lib Dems’ acting leader, Vince Cable, has earned excellent coverage for the party in his response to Gordon Brown’s first, and Labour’s 11th, Queens Speech:

On BBC.co.uk: ‘Brown lacks vision, say Lib Dems’
On Politics.co.uk: ‘Cable attacks ‘coalition of ideas’
In The Guardian: ‘Cable brands Brown’s plans as ‘deafening anticlimax’’

However, I imagine there are literally thousands of LDV readers clamouring for the full text of Dr Cable’s denunciation as it was delivered in Parliament. Just for you, therefore, we’ve copied and pasted his words of wisdom from Hansard’s really rather marvellous online service, available here:


Dr. Vincent Cable (Twickenham) (LD): I start by paying tribute to the dead firemen. Firefighters put their lives on the line every time they go about their duty. The same is true of our servicemen and women, to whom we shall pay proper tribute on Remembrance day this weekend.

May I add my tribute to Piara Khabra? He was not only the first Sikh Member of Parliament but the last Member of the House who served in our forces during the second world war.
I thank the promoter and seconder of the Loyal Address. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Central (Mr. Caborn) is the ambassador—the tsar—for the 2018 World cup. If he is looking for venues, he need look no further than my constituency of Twickenham. My local football club, Hampton and Richmond, has a regular attendance of 250, but on Saturday it reached the heady heights of the first round of the FA cup. At the team’s current rate of progress, it will match Chelsea and Arsenal in 10 years.
May I also thank the hon. Member for Brent, South (Ms Butler)? [HON. MEMBERS: “Where is she?”] She is not here. She is clearly enjoying her stay in Parliament, but I fear that it will be a short one, because she will soon encounter my hon. Friend the Member for Brent, East (Sarah Teather)—soon to become my formidable and popular colleague for Brent, Central—after which she can resume her no doubt valuable career as a trade union official. I also note from her website that the hon. Member for Brent, South describes herself as a spokesman for youth. It is rather nice to feel that somebody is speaking for me.

The Queen’s Speech has been long in anticipation. The Prime Minister has been waiting for it for 10 years. He has had a 35-year political career distilling many of the ideas that have come forward today. He postponed the election in order to inject more vision, but the sense of anticlimax is deafening. We have heard little new, no ideas and little vision. Is that really what we were waiting for? I fear that the Prime Minister now cuts a rather sad figure. He was introduced to us a few months ago by his predecessor as the great clunking fist, but the boxing story has gone completely awry. Like a great boxing champion, as he once was, he has somehow made himself unconscious falling over his own bootlaces and is now staggering around the ring, semi-conscious and lost, and hanging on to the ropes. What is certainly absent is any forward movement or new ideas.

Buried in the Queen’s Speech is the germ of a big new idea—a grand coalition of ideas between the Conservatives and Labour on policy. The Prime Minister was the author of the Red Book, to which I contributed, and has now written the Queen’s Speech in the bluest ink. There are wide areas of policy on which Labour and the Conservatives have exactly the same position. They advocate the same tax policies with the same indifference to widening inequality; they are in the same love affair with the discredited council tax; they are both bidding for the anti-immigrant vote; they are both trying to prove how tough they are on crime by packing prisons with petty criminals, the mentally ill and people with addiction problems; they have both signed up to an energy policy that is centralised and depends on new nuclear power; they are both willing to sacrifice the environment for new airport development; they are both willing to load student tuition fees and top-up fees on to highly indebted students; they both have an obsequious relationship with the Bush Administration, which has led them to support the war in Iraq and new initiatives, such as the star wars programme; and they both sign up to a fundamentally unethical, cynical foreign policy that led them to get together at the beginning of last week for that little jamboree celebrating three decades of corrupt arms dealing with one of the most unsavoury regimes in the world.

Mr. Mike Weir (Angus) (SNP): I am slightly mystified by the hon. Gentleman’s lambasting the Labour and Conservative parties, considering the summit that the Liberal Democrats attended in Edinburgh yesterday with those very parties in order to carve up the future of Scotland. Why does one come to this Chamber and say one thing, but say something completely different in Edinburgh?

Dr. Cable: The hon. Gentleman will find that it is the Liberal Democrats who are leading the debate on devolution, as we are on all the issues that I have mentioned and many others, on which we are wholly distinct from those other two parties.

This debate gives us an opportunity to reflect on where the Conservatives are coming from. We heard some perfunctory references to state schools and health in the response to the Queen’s Speech, but the Conservatives keep coming back, over and over, to this cluster of issues: Europe, immigration, Scottish Members of Parliament and the politics of identity. Unfortunately, these days, nationalism has to be dressed up in politically correct language, but we all know the message that the Conservatives are trying to get across. We can all hear the dog whistle.
One of those issues, Europe, will be at the centre of the legislative programme. We believe that there should be a referendum on the issue of British membership of the European Union. The details of the treaty are important, but more important is the cumulative effect of three decades of widening and deepening the EU, and the fact that nobody under 50 has had an opportunity to express a view on Europe through the ballot box. We can have as much legislative scrutiny as we wish, but the fact is that, unless the British public are persuaded of the need to sign up to the European project, this issue will continue to poison British politics. That is why we want to go out and campaign for the European Union, and we want the Government to do the same in the context of a referendum.

Lyn Brown (West Ham) (Lab): Is the hon. Gentleman as surprised as I am that we have yet to hear any condemnation from the Leader of the Opposition of the comments about Enoch Powell from the Conservative candidate for Halesowen?

Dr. Cable: I thought that the Conservatives put forward their views in very polite language, but I am afraid that, deep down, the prejudices are all too plain.

The proposed counter-terrorism Bill will be an important piece of legislation. I think that it is the Government’s eighth counter-terrorism Bill, which suggests either that the previous seven were not very successful or that the Government are using legislation as a cover for inaction. There is a big, sensitive issue involved here—namely, pre-charge detention. We recognise that there is a delicate balance to be struck between individual civil liberties and collective security. Because this is a delicate issue, it is important that decisions should be driven by evidence and facts. The fact is that, when the Home Secretary recently appeared before the Home Affairs Committee, she acknowledged that no recent case would have been helped by extending the detention period beyond 28 days. If the Government persist with their proposed policy, it will be not merely unnecessary but counter-productive. As we have heard from the noble Lord West in the past few days, people are still actively recruiting to terrorist organisations, and they must not be encouraged. The same argument applies to identity cards, whose introduction the Government are persisting with. They are unnecessary, counter-productive and massively expensive, and they should be abandoned.

We see merit in some of the Government’s constitutional proposals. They are rather minor, and they do not address the big constitutional anomaly presented by the first-past-the-post voting system. That is a far bigger constitutional anomaly than the West Lothian question or, for that matter, the Lords question.

Mr. Redwood: A large number of people in England think that the big constitutional anomaly is the poor treatment of England. What is the hon. Gentleman’s party going to do about that, given that bogus regionalism in England is extremely unpopular and makes English people feel even less well represented?

Dr. Cable: We recognise that there is a constitutional anomaly, and that it must be dealt with properly and carefully, and in the context of finance. We are the only party, as far as I am aware, that wants to open up the issue of the Barnett formula and to reconsider whether resources can be better distributed on the basis of need.

We note that the Government have flunked the issue of legislation on party funding. We believe, as do the public, that there must be limits on the amounts of money spent on party politics by political parties between and within election periods. There must be a cap on individual donations, whether from rich individuals or from trade unions, and that must be dealt with on an even-handed basis.

There are other areas in which we have common ground with the Government. We welcome the principle behind the Climate Change Bill. We believe that it could be greatly strengthened by introducing annual targets, and the fact that the Government have recently been backsliding on targets for renewables reinforces the need for that policy to be firmly anchored in legislation.
We are more concerned about the planning Bill, which has the potential to transfer a great deal of power from elected representatives to an unelected quango. Of course, the purpose behind it is to drive through new nuclear power and airport developments—very little to do with planning—and it threatens to undermine completely the checks and balances that have held the planning system together for many years.

It is the same centralising instincts that seem to lie behind the new education Bill—this rather naive belief that we can fundamentally change the behaviour of grown people through compulsion. We are heading now for an absurd situation in which large numbers of adults are clamouring for more education and more retraining, but cannot get it because their local colleges are having their funding taken away, while at the same time the Government are trying to force young people into courses at local colleges that they do not want to attend and are completely unsuited to their circumstances.

The Government’s reputation—and particularly the Prime Minister’s reputation—ultimately hinges on what happens to the economy. The Prime Minister is quite right that we have had a decade of stable growth. However, as I have warned over several years, that growth is seriously unbalanced by growing private debt linked to an inflated bubble in the housing market. Not just me, but many other people are starting to warn of the dangers. The International Monetary Fund is so warning, as is the chief economist of the Bank of England. Last week, we saw alarming evidence of the rapid rise of repossessions, which is what happens when we have a combination of excessive debt and a slowdown in the economy.

The Government are providing new legislation on the specific issue of deposit protection—the aftermath of the Northern Rock affair. That is a reaction to what happened, but what we now need is some forward thinking about the new threats to the economy. When the Prime Minister first came in as Chancellor, he introduced some visionary legislation—the Bank of England Bill. It served this country very well; I gave my maiden speech in support of it. But the world is now a very different place and we need mechanisms to deal with inflation and deflation in the housing market and to deal with the looming problem of large numbers of people who cannot maintain their mortgages, facing the risk of losing their homes. We need mechanisms to ensure that the Chancellor’s homilies about responsible and old-fashioned lending are translated into practice. We are not going to get this while the Government simply hang on, waiting for good news. We need vision, new ideas and fresh thinking, which are totally absent from this Queen’s Speech. That is why we shall oppose it.