My Lords, I am honoured to open this debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, and I look forward to many valuable and insightful contributions, particularly from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bristol and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, both of whom will make their maiden speeches. I thank my noble friend Lord Gardiner, who will wind up today’s proceedings.
This Queen’s Speech lays out a bold vision for Britain: a country where investors want to do business, where opportunity is open to all and where more people are in work than at nearly any time in our history; a country where every city, town and region has the tools to fulfil its economic potential, but in a sustainable way; and a country that is stronger for having been prudent with our finances over the past decade, but is now able to boost investment in public services and vital infrastructure. Today’s debate will consider the Government’s approach to public finances in the next Parliament, alongside plans for transport, business, financial services, and the environment and rural affairs. Each of these areas makes a crucial contribution to the development of a strong, secure and prosperous nation.
I turn first to spending and financial services. As Her Majesty’s gracious Speech made clear, the Government’s economic plan will be underpinned by fiscal responsibility—investing in economic growth while maintaining the sustainability of public finances. As a country, we are in a strong position. The deficit has been reduced by four-fifths since 2009-10 and we have seen the economy grow every year since 2010. There are 3.6 million more people in work, and the proportion of low-paid jobs is at its lowest in 20 years. Wage growth has outstripped inflation for over a year, putting more money in people’s pockets, and inward investment in the UK has created more than 200,000 new jobs over the last three years. With our robust fiscal position, day-to-day spending under control and a near-record low cost of borrowing, we can now invest more in boosting our economy and supporting the things that we care most about.
That is why, ahead of November’s Budget, the Government will review our fiscal framework to ensure that it not only meets the economic priorities of today, but succeeds in delivering a decade of renewal for our country. The review will be coupled with the development of a clear set of rules that will anchor our fiscal policy and enable us to keep control of our national debt.
Our continued ability to compete for investment and jobs depends on our competitiveness. Financial services are critical to the UK economy. The sector employs more than 1 million people in all four UK nations, contributes more than £127 billion to our national economy, and helps provide a trade surplus of over £61 billion. That is why in the Queen’s Speech we included measures to provide certainty and stability for this crucial sector through the financial services Bill. The Bill seeks to enhance the UK’s competitiveness as an international financial services centre, while maintaining our current robust consumer protections. It will deliver on previous government commitments: it will deliver long-term market access arrangements to the UK for financial services firms in Gibraltar; simplify the process which allows overseas investment funds to be sold in the UK, a step that will allow this country to maintain its position as a centre for asset management; and implement the Basel standards, strengthening the regulation of global banks in line with previous G20 commitments.
This Government are determined to ensure that productivity and opportunity are spread to every part of the country. Infrastructure is key to unlocking those benefits. Over 4,900 infrastructure schemes, both public and private, have been completed since 2010. The Queen’s Speech includes plans to build further on these projects, by this autumn publishing a national infrastructure strategy, which will be a blueprint for the future of infrastructure investment across the whole UK. The strategy will set out plans to close the productivity gap between the south-east and the rest of the country, raise living standards and ensure that no community is left behind. It will examine how, through infrastructure, we can address that most critical and pressing of challenges—decarbonisation. It will also set out plans to turbocharge a gigabit-capable broadband rollout and improve energy and transport infrastructure, helping to boost opportunity and spread prosperity throughout the UK.
I am proud to be part of a Government who fully recognise the value that transport brings to the country. Our roads, railways, ports and airports are the arteries that carry the lifeblood of our economy and provide the ties that bind us all together. Our commitment to modernising and extending Britain’s transport network is unprecedented, and our aviation sector is at the heart of our efforts to transform domestic and international connectivity. The UK aviation industry generates £22 billion a year for our economy and provides over a quarter of a million jobs. It is crucial that we support the sector because it makes such an enormous contribution to our nation’s strength.
Our complex and ageing airspace system has not been modernised since the 1960s and is now reaching capacity. Therefore, the air traffic management and unmanned aircraft Bill, contained in the Queen’s Speech, will give the Government the powers to ensure that vital airspace modernisation work can continue without delay to meet future aviation needs and deliver quicker, cleaner and quieter flights. It is essential that, as we help the aviation sector to thrive, we support it to decarbonise to help meet our national net-zero 2050 commitment.
The Bill will also help us combat a new threat—the illegal use of unmanned aircraft, such as drones. In the aftermath of the malicious drone disruption at Gatwick Airport last December, we brought in a range of measures to protect the public. Now, we are going even further and introducing new police powers that will help tackle the misuse of drones not only near airports but around prisons, over crowds and near important national infrastructure and protected sites. These powers include the ability to make someone land an unmanned aircraft and an enhanced ability to stop and search where the illegal flying of unmanned aircraft is suspected.
We are also taking action to deal more effectively with airline insolvencies, which, as we saw with the recent demise of Thomas Cook, can have profound implications for customers, taxpayers and the industry. We successfully brought home 140,000 Thomas Cook passengers from over 50 locations worldwide. It was one of the biggest ever peacetime repatriations, but it underlined the complexity and cost of such an operation. Therefore, we will bring forward legislation to enhance the Civil Aviation Authority’s oversight of airlines. It will create a new airline insolvency process to provide a means to keep the fleet flying and to get passengers home quickly and efficiently if the worst happens.