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Queen’s Speech - Debate (4th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:05 pm on 9th January 2020.

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Photo of Baroness Stroud Baroness Stroud Conservative 6:05 pm, 9th January 2020

My Lords, I rise to support Her Majesty’s gracious Speech. It is a huge pleasure to be able to add my congratulations to Her Majesty’s Government on their remarkable election victory. With this victory the voice of the British people has unequivocally been heard and their will made crystal clear, not just to get Brexit done or to build one nation but to tackle the key social challenges of our generation.

One of the main findings of the Legatum Institute’s 48:52—Healing a Divided Britain report, and here I declare an interest, was that voters were concerned that public services and the social fabric of the nation were no longer working for them. In particular, people wanted more from their health and education services and had concerns over housing and employment stability.

These were their top four issues. The test for me of Her Majesty’s gracious Speech was to look at how these issues would be addressed: the four tests. To take health first, the UK prosperity index has charted a marked decrease in our satisfaction with the quality of our healthcare, down 21 places in recent years to 34th globally. The commitment, therefore, to level up our NHS is an important first step in addressing this felt public service gap. Forty new hospitals, 50 million more GP appointments, 50,000 more new and retained nurses and an extra £650 million in NHS funding weekly will help ensure that our healthcare is far more equitable across our most vulnerable communities. This commitment represents a renewed focus and a commitment to drive change.

The second test is education. Educational ability, as we have heard, is spread across our great nation, but opportunity is not. We should be proud of the gains that we have made over the last three years in education, but we need to ensure that we are focused on giving all students equal opportunity to reach their full potential. So the pledge in the Queen’s Speech

“To ensure every child has access to a high-quality education” by increasing levels of funding per pupil in every school is welcome, as is the announcement of the national skills fund of £3 billion over the course of the Parliament.

Yet although the outcomes and investments are results that our teachers and students should be proud of, some worrying signs arose from the PISA report. On student well-being, only 53% of 15 year-olds across the UK reported that they were satisfied with their lives. Nearly 50% of our young people feel a severe lack of identity and purpose. For a Government who are committed to building one nation, I would welcome hearing from my noble friend the Minister what action they will expect from parents and teachers to ensure that our young people are confident in their identity and future, as the current approach is obviously not working and more of the same will not do.

The third test concerns housing. We are currently facing a housing crisis nationwide, but, as we all know, there is no silver bullet for this issue. However, I welcome the Government’s energy, vision and focus expressed through the commitment to shared ownership, supporting local families on to the housing ladder, improving the rental market, and housebuilding. I welcome the building of a million new homes, but can my noble friend comment on what change of pace, policy and impetus will be deployed? The “million new homes” figure seems familiar now and we really need delivery.

The last test is for job security. Out of the 48:52 report, a clear link emerged between stagnant, low wages and a vote to leave the EU. However, we have an extraordinary record as a nation: on average, 1,000 new jobs have been created each day since 2010, with levels of employment at a remarkable 76%. The election saw a resounding roar from those in tough circumstances and a clear message that they do not want handouts but want to be able to work hard and support their families. The Queen’s Speech lays the foundations for the development of an economy where prosperity can grow through the creation of jobs that are stable, full time and in every corner of our nation.

I welcome Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, the energy and vision with which this Government are setting about the task of building prosperity and levelling up, and their commitment to the creation of opportunity and quality of life. If this becomes reality, we will indeed take great strides towards meeting the four tests of a stronger health and education system, access to housing, and stable, full-time employment, while building the longed-for one nation.