My Lords, this is no ordinary Queen’s Speech, due to two dimensions. First, there is Brexit, to which understandably every government department has to give priority for certainly the best part of two years. The other dimension is that the Session will last two years, which gives us an opportunity to tackle those areas of our society that, for one reason or another, the Cameron Government chose not to deal with.
I start with challenge number one—it is always best to start with something you know about. I have been involved in the housing market ever since I entered politics and stood in Islington North—dare I mention it?—in 1966. I was leader of the council and chairman of the housing committee. I have been a non-executive director of a construction company. Housing, I suggest, is issue number one domestically in this country. We have failed miserably in recent years, in Cameron’s seven years churning out 123,565 homes per year on average. I was a junior housing Minister in opposition in Margaret’s time, and just after that when she took power, we succeeded in building 190,000 a year. Now we need 200,000 to 250,000.
That means that we have to revitalise each sector, including social housing with its two elements. Clearly, local authority council housing has to be revitalised. We need to look again at the housing associations, which means that they must be given some resources and borrowing powers to get on and revitalise what they do so well.
We need to have a look again at new towns. I had the privilege of serving Northampton for nearly 25 years—a highly successful new town. Next door is Milton Keynes, which is equally successful, and down the road even dear old Stevenage did a pretty good job. It works, so let us see some new towns and consider that area.
Above all, one area that I feel really strongly about is young people. When I bought my first house in Islington for £7,000, I was given some help in getting the mortgage and even more help with a cash grant to put in a decent WC and water et cetera. I bought another one later on and did exactly the same. Young people need some form similar to that, and I am certainly willing to be a volunteer to help in that area.
Secondly, there is the challenge of energy. I served on the Select Committee on Energy. Our problem today is not messing around with the margin of cost—I do not know why we ever had anything to do with price caps, not least because Ofgem suggested they would not work. Today’s challenge in energy is security of supply. We already have very limited gas storage facilities, and we now read that the biggest field, the Rough field, is closing. On top of that, we know that Qatar is in a sense a problem for gas storage supply. We have to address that issue.
Thirdly, there is the challenge in industry and commerce. I highlight the retail trade. I have raised six Questions on the Floor of your Lordships’ House about business rates, and only in the last manifesto did I read that the Government will possibly look at a proper reform of business rates. Did no one understand that if we put up business rates—by up to 500% for some shops—people will go out of business? We can see it in the high street. It is obvious that the rates are killing off the retail trade. There is a disparity between the charges for online retailers who use warehouses, who pay only one-eighth of what is paid on the high street. There is bound to be unfair competition. Added to that is the fact that there is supposed to be an appeals system, but that is not happening; it is not working.
Added to that, there is supposed to be a £300 million special fund to help, but here we are three months into the new system and the funds are there—they have been given to local government—but nobody has chased up local government to ensure that they have been distributed to the retailers affected. We were told in your Lordships’ House that, basically, the change would be cost neutral, and I have discovered that Her Majesty’s Government have received an extra £1 billion. That is not cost neutral, as far as I am concerned.
I end by saying that there is much work to be done on the ground. We need to look at competition policy and support for SMEs. If we are short of money—which we are—why not recognise that, if we actually got a grip on tobacco smuggling, it would save £2.8 billion. That is an awful lot of money, and maybe we should do a bit of digging and do something about that.