My Lords, what a pleasure it is to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and my noble friend Lord Jones, who gave me quite a lot to think about. I wish I could find as many good quotes as he did. Five minutes is quite a challenge without hesitation, repetition or deviation—as one of my favourite radio programmes says—so I will focus on just a few issues.
On welfare and universal credit, I say that this House always feels we can never pay tribute. Six million extra universal credit claims were dealt with by the DWP. That is an enormous achievement, and it was done because we have a digital system and achieved because it was led by a dedicated person, Neil Couling, who has enabled this to take place. It is a huge achievement and we just do not pay tribute to it. Is it perfect? No: no system is, but just look at some of the things it is doing. There are 13,000 extra job coaches. What is their purpose? To get people back into employment. We have the lowest unemployment rate for—I do not know—30 years or more. Is that something to celebrate? I would have thought so. Maybe it is me; maybe I have got the wrong end of the stick.
Getting single parents back into work is of life-changing importance. Where generations have not experienced employment, getting somebody into a job changes the whole nature of what goes on in a family. It will mostly be mothers, and children will recognise that going to work is important. I say only one thing to the Government on this that I hope they will take into account: the cost of childcare makes this a challenge. I hope that they will address that.
You could spend two or three minutes on healthcare. We had an unbelievable healthcare Bill. Sometimes the House of Lords is wonderful, but on that Bill I started to despair. We seemed to want to discuss anything but healthcare—modern slavery, organ transplants. The most important things about healthcare are the people who work in the industry and delivering a quality service, where people’s lives are not put at risk as they were in some maternity hospitals. I want a health service where people are following best practice. There are huge opportunities to improve the efficiency of the health service. How can we possibly be in a situation where A&E people are waiting with a patient for hours on end and we cannot solve the problem? Do you think this would have happened in wartime? We would have found a way around it by now. We would have got volunteers in there or something. We would have used our imagination to crack this problem. The Healthcare Minister is not here, but he knows my views on this.
On education, I sometimes despair of the idea that things need to be one way or the other. I am in favour of variety. There are some excellent academies out there that have saved a number of badly failing schools. We have to recognise that. In fact, we did as a Labour Government when it was going on in London, so I do not know why we suddenly think academies are bad and maintained schools are good. They are both good; they both have a role to play, as do free schools. I have not got time to carry on with that.
It is a false debate to say that it is apprenticeships versus degrees. We want both, but I want to improve the status of apprenticeships. I want to be able to go into a school and see an honours board that says so-and-so got their degree and so-and-so graduated with their apprenticeship. We need to reform the apprenticeship levy. We need to fund FE colleges much better than we do at the moment, and some really good points on that were made by my noble friend behind me—I am having a senior moment and cannot remember his name; he will never forgive me.
Nobody has got student loans right. We have not. We have said we are going to abolish them; it will cost us a lot of money if we are. Following the Augar review, that one is not going to work either. What we should be doing is making it part of income tax. It is the fairest thing to do. And if you really have £19 billion or £20 billion to spend, spend it on early years. We know that if we get it right in early years, when those people leave school, hopefully they will be both literate and numerate.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, inspired me to finish on another point when she said that the gay conversion therapy Bill needed to have transgender included. Oh no, it does not. I must congratulate the Government on supporting the Cass review. At last someone has looked into this and realised that giving out puberty blockers as though they were sweets to young people from the age of 11 is the wrong thing to do. I support the Government on that, I thank noble Lords for listening and hope I have given you something to think about.