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Queen’s Speech - Debate (6th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:25 pm on 22nd October 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Barran Baroness Barran Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 3:25 pm, 22nd October 2019

My Lords, the Queen’s Speech will deliver EU exit alongside an ambitious programme of domestic reform that delivers real change to the people of this country. It is my pleasure to update noble Lords on the Government’s plans for the next Session for the Department of Health and Social Care, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Education.

I turn first to the Department of Health and Social Care. In September, the Government announced the health infrastructure plan, the biggest and boldest hospital building programme in a generation. Six new hospital schemes will start immediately, and another 21 schemes have been given the green light to develop their plans. It was also announced in the Queen’s Speech that new laws will be taken forward to help implement the NHS long-term plan in England. The Government have already committed to a multi-year funding settlement that will see a £33.9 billion per annum increase in the NHS budget by 2023-24.

In September the NHS published a set of recommendations for legislation changes that would enable our health service to go faster and further in realising the ambitions set out in the long-term plan: to improve integration, reduce bureaucracy and promote collaboration. We are considering the recommendations made by the NHS thoroughly and we will bring forward detailed proposals shortly. In due course we will publish draft legislation that will accelerate the long-term plan for the NHS, transforming patient care and future-proofing our NHS.

Legislation will also be taken forward to establish the health service safety investigations body. This will be the world’s first such body, with powers to investigate incidents that occur during the provision of NHS services that have or may have implications for the safety of patients. Drawing on the approaches used in other safety-critical sectors, investigations by this new body will be independent and professionally led. This will transform the way that patient safety incidents in the NHS are investigated.

A medicines and medical devices Bill will capitalise on opportunities to ensure that our NHS and patients can have faster access to innovative medicines while supporting the growth of our domestic sector. The Bill will give powers to remove unnecessary bureaucracy for the lowest-risk clinical trials, encouraging the rapid introduction of new medicines, and it will ensure patient safety by implementing a scheme to combat counterfeit medicines entering supply chains and a registration scheme for online sellers. This will ensure that the UK remains at the forefront of the global life sciences industry after Brexit, giving patients faster access to innovative medicines and supporting the growth of our domestic sector.

We will also bring forward substantive proposals to fix the crisis in adult social care, giving people the dignity and security they deserve. Putting social care on a sustainable footing is one of the biggest long-term challenges facing society. The Government have given local authorities access to up to £3.9 billion more in dedicated funding for adult social care this year and made available a further £410 million for adults’ and children’s services. In the recent spending round, the Government announced that councils will be provided with access to an additional £1 billion next year for adults’ and children’s social care. The Government will consult on a 2% precept that will enable councils to access a further £500 million for adult social care. This funding will support local authorities to meet rising demand and will continue to stabilise the social care system.

We will continue to work to modernise and reform the Mental Health Act to ensure that people get the support they need and have a much greater say in their care. In 2017 we commissioned the independent review of the Mental Health Act to look at rising rates of detention, the disproportionate number of people from black and minority-ethnic groups detained under the Act and processes that are out of step with a modern mental health care system. The findings made it clear that we need to modernise the Mental Health Act to ensure that patients’ views are respected and that patients are not detained any more than is absolutely necessary. By the end of this year we will publish a White Paper setting out our response. This will pave the way for reform of the Mental Health Act and will tackle issues addressed by the review. We will ensure that people subject to the Act receive better care and have a much greater say in that care. Patient choice and autonomy will be improved—for example, by enabling patients to set out their preferences around care and treatment in advance. The process of detention, care and treatment while detained will be reformed, including by providing patients with the ability to challenge detention.

The Government also announced new legislation from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. This includes new legislation that will help accelerate the delivery of fast, reliable and secure broadband networks to millions of homes. We will roll out gigabit-capable broadband across the UK to achieve nationwide coverage as soon as possible, so that people can reap the huge benefits of the fastest, most secure and most resilient internet connections. Faster speeds will boost productivity, drive innovation in our public services and give people the fast connectivity they need to reap the benefits of the digital revolution.

The legislation will create a cheaper, faster, light-touch tribunal process for telecoms companies to obtain interim code rights or access rights for a period of up to 18 months. This will mean that they can install broadband connections where the landlord has failed to respond to repeated requests for access. Amendments to the Building Act 1984 will require all new-build developments to have the infrastructure to support gigabit-capable connections. There will be a requirement for developers to work with broadband companies to install gigabit-capable connections in virtually all new-build developments, up to a cost cap. As well as this, the Government have recently pledged £5 billion to support the rollout of gigabit-capable broadband in the hardest-to-reach 20% of the country.

The Government also announced that Ministers will continue to develop proposals to improve internet safety. Britain is leading the world in developing a comprehensive regulatory regime to keep people safe online, protect children and other vulnerable users and ensure that there are no safe spaces for terrorists online. The Online Harms White Paper published in April set out the Government’s plan for world-leading legislation to make the UK the safest place in the world to be online.

The proposals as set out in the White Paper include a new duty of care on companies towards their users, with an independent regulator to oversee this framework. We want to keep people safe online but to do so in a proportionate way, ensuring that freedom of expression is upheld and promoted online and that businesses do not face undue burdens. We are seeking to do this by ensuring that companies have the right processes and systems in place to fulfil their obligations, rather than penalising them for individual instances of unacceptable content. A public consultation on this has closed and we are analysing the responses and considering the issues raised. We are working closely with a variety of stakeholders, including technology companies and civil society groups, to understand their views.

Turning to the Department for Education, we will ensure that all young people have access to excellent education, unlocking their full potential and preparing them for the world of work. We are giving schools a multibillion-pound boost, investing a total of £14 billion over three years, so that the annual core schools budget is £7.1 billion higher by 2022-23. The IFS has said that this investment will restore schools funding to previous levels in real terms per pupil, also by 2022-23. We will level up minimum per pupil funding for primary schools to £4,000 and for secondary schools to £5,000, while making sure per pupil funding for all schools can rise at least with inflation.

We are also spending around £3.5 billion on early education entitlements this year alone, and next year we are planning to spend more than £3.6 billion. Our focus in this area is on delivering positive results. A record proportion of children are starting year one with a good level of development. More than 1.4 million children are taking advantage of funded early education in 2019. Over 850,000 disadvantaged two year-olds have benefited from a 15 hours early education place since the programme began.

We also have a world-class university sector. We are home to nearly half of the top 10 universities in the world. Since 2012, total income for universities in England has increased by around £6 billion and we have frozen the maximum tuition fees rate and increased the threshold for repayments, now worth up to £425 a year for graduates.

Looking ahead, T-levels will represent a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform technical education in this country, put it on a par with the best in the world and offer young people a real choice of high-quality training that is equal in esteem to traditional academic routes. We are on track for the first teaching of three T-levels in 2020; a further seven will be rolled out in 2021, and all 25 courses by 2023.

Finally, I would like to talk about the work the Government are doing on employment and pensions, in particular the Pensions Schemes Bill. The purpose of the Bill is to support pension saving in the 21st century and to help people plan for the future. It provides a framework for the establishment, operation and regulation of collective money purchase schemes, commonly known as collective defined contribution pensions. These schemes will provide more options for employers and offer members a target benefit level. The Bill will protect people’s savings for later life by strengthening the powers of the Pensions Regulator to tackle irresponsible management of private pension schemes. This will include introducing new criminal offences, with the most serious carrying a maximum sentence of seven years’ imprisonment and a civil penalty of up to £1 million. It will also create a legislative framework for the introduction of pensions dashboards. With record numbers of people saving for retirement, it is more important than ever that they can easily access information about their pensions. Pensions dashboards will mean that for the first time, people will be able to view online in one place all their pension information.

As the Prime Minister said last week, this is a programme that will set our country on a new upwards trajectory. At its heart is a new vision for Britain, a vision of a country happy and confident about its future, a vision of the country that we all love. The mission of this Government is nothing less than to make our country the greatest place on earth, the greatest place to live, work and do business, and this Queen’s Speech will set us firmly on that course.