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Second Reading

Part of Welfare Reform and Work Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:21 pm on 17th November 2015.

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Photo of Lord Lansley Lord Lansley Conservative 5:21 pm, 17th November 2015

(Maiden Speech) My Lords, it is my privilege to address your Lordships’ House for the first time. I beg your indulgence, together with my noble friends who are making their first speeches in the course of this Second Reading debate. It is a privilege to follow the right reverend Prelate and to contribute to this debate.

Coming here, having retired from another place, and not seeking re-election, one is often asked, “What’s the difference? Why did you do that?”. The difference was lost on my 10 year-old son, who said, “So you’re off to the five-star place with the red seats and the gold leaf”. He was literally right, but the metaphorical differences are much more important. I went to the other place as part of a governing majority and—perhaps I am old-fashioned in this respect—with the purpose of upholding that governing majority and securing the Government’s business in what I regard as the determinative House. Here one has a freedom; I come here with the intention of seeking out that freedom—the freedom to take my own view about the policies that have a long-term impact on this country.

I am proud of what we achieved in the coalition Government. People will argue heatedly about whether the things I did as Secretary of State were right or wrong, but from the policy point of view I believed in them and I continue to believe in them. I think they made an enormous difference compared to what would have happened without them in a transition over three years, which was achieved on time and on budget, which saved £5.5 billion off administration costs in the last Parliament, which gave to the NHS an independent voice, which just over a year ago the NHS used for the first time at a general election—its own view of what should happen for the NHS in the next Parliament. We brought waiting times down to their lowest ever level; we kept the NHS out of deficit over the course of that transition; we brought hospital-acquired infections down to their lowest ever level; we virtually abolished mixed-sex accommodation and had a million more people with access to NHS dentistry; and this at a time when the increase in the NHS budget was marginal in real terms, as compared to large real-terms increases in the past.

Policy can change things, but very often the optimum policy and the exigencies of politics are not the same thing. I will not go on at length about the differences—many here realise that entirely. I come here knowing, as a Secretary of State and a Cabinet Minister who had to take Bills through this House, what this House is capable of doing. It is presumptuous of me to say so, but I hope to be part of that. I saw Bills, like today’s Bill, where the prior debate was a reflection of the interests, the stakeholders and the comment that came to this House from outside. To that extent, it started to feel as if it was going to be—how shall I put it?—a rerun of the same arguments. However, what I appreciated as a Cabinet Minister, enjoying all the frustrations of watching this House scrutinise my legislation, was that as time went on more and more Members of this House took the trouble not just to listen to what other people were saying but to read it themselves, to understand it, to see why things were being done in the way that they were in the legislation, and then to propose worthwhile amendments to do those things better, not to try to overturn the purposes of government but actually to fulfil them in a more effective way. I hope that that is what we can achieve here.

From my point of view, I started as a policymaker—I was a civil servant before I was a politician—and I hope in a sense to be a policymaker after being a politician. I should say that when I first came here I was rather surrounded by all my old bosses. When I was a civil servant my noble friend Lord Tebbit was my Secretary of State. I am the first, and thus far I think the only, Principal Private Secretary to a Cabinet Minister subsequently to have become a Cabinet Minister. I am not sure that civil servants should necessarily seek to emulate my path, but there it is. I want to be a policymaker after being a politician, and in this House we can do that.

It is important in the debate on this Bill to realise that its purposes are the right ones. I have never been a fan of declaratory legislation, of simply setting up targets in legislation and imagining that those things will happen as a matter of course. They do not; you have to have policies and substance to make them happen. However, I do not think that legislation can be, as this is designed to be, a mechanism for accountability. Regarding life chances for children and social mobility, therefore, it is important to set out in this legislation what that accountability should look like. For my part, I think this structure is better than the previous Child Poverty Act structure because in the past there was a risk that it added no value—that it was essentially about redistribution. For the benefit of our children we need to add value and ensure that their life chances are greater than they would otherwise have been without our policy interventions.

I look to the Minister and suggest that we look beyond simply key stage 4 educational attainment and reducing the number of workless households, important though both of those are. When I was Secretary of State we supported the work of the Marmot review on the social determinants of health, and there are aspects, particularly for children, such as readiness for school when children first go to school and minimising the number of those who are not in education, employment or training, that in themselves are central determinants of subsequent health and indeed of long-term life chances as well. So we should be looking progressively to see whether we can expand the accountability aspects of the reporting process.

The other thing that we have to do, of course, is recognise that there are two purposes of the Bill that we must see through. The first is the manifesto mandate to reduce the cost of welfare and enable the Government consequently to reduce the deficit, so we have to see where those savings will come. On the first day when I was here after my introduction I listened carefully to the tax credit debate. I heard more about what was wrong with what was being proposed than about how in practice the saving could be accomplished in a way that did not significantly reduce the incentive to work.

My second and final point is exactly that: the Bill is designed around a purpose of sharpening incentives to work. Doing the right thing is often tough. However, it is important to look at the evidence and say, “Is the present structure of work incentives in the employment and support allowance, or in the new structure of universal credit, right yet?”. If it is not right, and if it is not yet delivering the work incentives that it should, we have to support the Government in the Bill in trying to make those incentives much more effective in future. For those reasons, because I agree with those purposes, I for one will certainly be supporting the Bill.