Queen’s Speech - Debate (3rd Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:38 pm on 13th May 2021.

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Photo of Baroness Altmann Baroness Altmann Conservative 4:38 pm, 13th May 2021

My Lords, I, too, offer my congratulations to my noble friend Lady Fraser on her excellent maiden speech, as well as to the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, on her poignant speech. Both noble Baronesses will, I am sure, make valuable contributions to this House. It is a particular pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, whose work on the Brexit legislation was so powerful.

I also welcome the content of the gracious Speech, subject to a few concerns. I fully support an electoral integrity Bill to ensure that voters must prove their identity, as already happens in Northern Ireland and many other countries. Waiting for a major electoral fraud, rather than acting to put prevention measures in place now, does not seem sensible. Anything that we can do to become closer to the operations of our devolved nations seems a sensible idea.

The Dissolution and Calling of Parliament Bill to repeal the Fixed-term Parliaments Act is also welcome, as the current system has failed, but we should carefully heed the words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. We should be on guard against overriding the central feature of our constitution: that Ministers are answerable to Parliament.

On other matters, I support the aims of the online safety Bill, which must include proper protection for consumers against the increasing problems of investment or pension scams. UK Finance reported a 32% increase in 2020, with billions of pounds being lost. The pandemic has fostered lower interest rates, higher household savings and a rising use of online platforms. All this has been a gift to scammers who have increasingly moved online, with 85% of all fraud estimated by Action Fraud to be cyber-enabled in the year to June 2020. I hope the Bill will impose legal duties on internet giants to verify the legitimacy of the financial products that they advertise on their sites and to remove fake sites and scam adverts as soon as they are notified of such harmful content.

I welcome the reintroduction of the Environment Bill and the Government’s commitment to the green agenda, but I also hope noble Lords will ensure that this legislation contains proper measures to protect our waters and waterways from pollution with waste and sewage, imposing duties on firms to control their effluent release by law.

I have to express immense disappointment that the Prime Minister’s radical, sustainable proposals for long-term social care reform, which are so many years overdue, are still awaited. I had hoped that after the pandemic there would be urgent action to remedy the failures of our social care system. There is no silver bullet and the decisions are difficult, but if we count ourselves as a decent country then we must look after our most vulnerable. There is cross-party recognition of the urgency.

In the year to March 2021, our broken social care system saw overall numbers of deaths in those relying on domiciliary care increase in England by 50% year on year, while in Scotland it increased by 70%. This was not due to Covid; most of the excess deaths were from other causes, as many isolated elderly people fell through the cracks. Tens of thousands of people also died in care homes, highlighting the problem of a disjointed system. Care homes were used as an overflow service, discharging people without adequate PPE or resources to protect them and others around them.

We need a national system of contributions towards care costs. We must no longer tolerate a second-class system of social care, relative to health, which forces widows with dementia to pay their full costs while millionaires with cancer can have all their costs met by taxpayers.

Overall I welcome the Queen’s Speech, and I hope noble Lords will work together across the House to ensure that these measures are effective for the general public.