1 Lord Callanan debates involving the Department for International Trade

Wed 12th May 2021

Queen’s Speech

Lord Callanan Excerpts
Wednesday 12th May 2021

(2 years, 11 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure, privilege and—as the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, pointed out—somewhat of a challenge to respond to today’s excellent debate on Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, opened so eloquently by my noble friend Lady Berridge. She spoke in her opening remarks of many of the priorities that this Government will focus on over the next Session and gave us a snapshot of the breadth of work that the Government will deliver on. Consequently, we have heard from numerous speakers today—almost 90 of them, in fact—engaging with different topics and making very valuable contributions to this debate.

I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev, for his maiden speech, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blake, for her excellent maiden speech. They both join this House with valuable experience, and I look forward to engaging and debating with them both. The noble Baroness, Lady Blake, spoke of Leeds United. I am a Newcastle United fan, and it gives me no pleasure whatever to admit that Leeds have scored seven goals against Newcastle this season, and the less said about our respective positions in the league, the better—although I am comforted that we will both be returning to continued competition in the Premier League next year, and I am sure that we will give them more of a challenge next season.

I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth on his valedictory speech and associate myself with all the remarks that have been made by many noble Lords about his considerable contribution to the business of the House during his time in office. I know that he has been particularly focused on welfare reform and poverty and has given considerable service to the people of his diocese for over 10 years. I understand that he is now into his third week of retirement, which was particularly well timed with the end of lockdown and which will give him an opportunity to enjoy a well-deserved break and retirement. I am sure we wish him all the best for the future.

With so many topics to cover, it might indeed be easy to miss the forest for the trees. As we talk of building back better, climate change, green recovery, skills training, education, recovery and opportunity, it is important to remind ourselves of the dramatic context in which we are operating. There are of course huge challenges all around—there can be no doubt about that. However, I hope that there will be equally little doubt about how committed the Government are to tackling them. Our ambitions for the next Session are therefore not solely about recovering from the pandemic; they are about recovering in the right way, so that what comes after is greener, fairer, more resilient and more productive than what has happened before.

As our economy reopens, our schools get back to normal and our freedoms expand again, the Government have a legislative agenda to make the most of each of those challenges, whether that be embedding green options into our recovery, investing in skills and education, supporting the life sciences sector or continuing to support workers and businesses across the whole of the UK as they look for life to return to some kind of normality. In all of this our vision is both optimistic and realistic: built on the strengths of our four nations and a belief in our diverse people. When we talk about levelling up, that is indeed what we mean: uniting everyone behind a shared vision of a brilliant, pioneering United Kingdom, believing in the people of this great country and giving them the means to build their success in their own particular way so that, when we look back at this crucial moment in history, we will be able to say that this country led the way.

When it comes to leading the way, this country has been a true pioneer in the fight against Covid-19. I agree completely—for a change—with the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, when she talked about the work of the NHS, our researchers and pharmaceutical companies. Their work has really been outstanding this past year and I am sure I speak on behalf of the whole House across all Benches in offering my heartfelt thanks to those heroes.

Surely the most welcome news of the last 12 months has been that more than two-thirds of the UK adult population have now received a first dose of a vaccine—myself included. That is entirely to the credit of the groups that the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, and I have mentioned. They have shown what can be achieved when our health sector is given a clear goal, a lot of support and the freedom to think for itself.

The noble Lord, Lord Owen, asked about our preparation. For many years the UK has held and kept up to date preparedness plans for pandemic influenza and other infectious diseases, which provided a solid foundation from which we elaborated our response to the Covid-19 pandemic. As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, also just mentioned and as noble Lords will be aware, the Prime Minister today announced a full independent inquiry to begin in spring 2022. That is the right place to examine the response and learn the lessons that we will need to learn for the future. We now need to turn to the continued recovery of the bedrock of health services which the NHS is world renowned for.

A number of noble Lords spoke directly about the waiting list for patients. We are committed to recovering from drops in services caused by the pandemic, but it will of course take time. This year we are investing over £1 billion to help the NHS recover further and faster from the latest wave and to begin to address backlogs in elective care.

Many noble Lords made valuable contributions to the debate on health and social care—I probably lost track of all of them, but they included the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton, Lady Tyler, Lady Bowles, Lady Walmsley, Lady Blower, the noble Lord, Lord Knight, my noble friend Lord Ribeiro, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, and many others. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Patel, asked—as did, I think, the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton —about the contribution of the health and care Bill and how it will help local areas prioritise patient access. The Bill puts forward proposals for integrated care partnerships, bringing together NHS and local authorities to design and prioritise services for patients and the public, ensuring that they get the care and support they need.

In response to the second question from the noble Lord, Lord Patel, integrated care boards will have to set out how they will manage conflicts of interest. Moreover, in response to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, in his question about how NHS reform will keep people healthy, integrated care boards and integrated care partnerships will give the NHS the means to identify priorities, including around prevention.

The noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, asked why there is no alcohol strategy. This is because the Government are already committed to publishing a new, UK-wide, cross-government addiction strategy. This provides opportunities to do more work on alcohol, particularly for those drinking at high-risk levels. We are considering the emerging evidence on the increased alcohol harms and alcohol-related health inequalities which have been seen during the pandemic and what further action is needed as we develop the scope of the addictions strategy.

My noble friend Lady Chisholm rightly spoke of the challenge of the recovery of diagnostic services; this is a priority for the NHS. Additional capital and revenue funding has been made available to deliver additional diagnostic capacity through new community diagnostic hubs and pathology and imaging networks.

The noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, spoke about the welfare and morale of NHS workers; they were right to raise this important issue. As we emerge from the pandemic, it is vital that staff have time to recover and to receive the ongoing support that they need. For some people, time off will be enough; others will need more specialist support and interventions. The NHS has established a people recovery task force to develop a framework and a set of interventions to support this. Local organisations can implement this framework flexibly, depending on their own particular situation.

I pay tribute to all noble Lords who raised the issue of mental health, which is so important. The past year has been tough for many people. The public have shown great resilience during these challenging times, but we know that the pandemic has had an impact on the mental health and well-being of many people in this country. The Government have published our mental health recovery action plan, backed by a one-off, targeted investment of £500 million, to ensure that we have the right support in place over the coming year.

The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, spoke of funding for dementia research. We are strongly committed to supporting this vital work. The Government are currently working on ways to significantly boost further research on dementia, to meet commitments made in the Conservative Party manifesto.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, spoke about tendering in the NHS. The Cabinet Office is reviewing the full range of legislative proposals set out in the White Paper and is in discussion with the Department of Health and Social Care to ensure that we work together to shape procurement across government. The Government are clear that health and care data should be used and/or shared only where it is used lawfully, treated with respect, held securely and where the right safeguards are in place. Noble Lords should expect nothing less. The UK’s high standards of data protection will be maintained; trade agreements will not undermine—and have not undermined—the safeguards that we have in place for health and care data.

The noble Lord, Lord Astor, asked whether the Government would consider making Covid-19 testing VAT exempt. VAT is a broad-based tax on consumption, and the standard rate of 20% normally applies to most goods and services, such as testing kits. However, medical testing administered by registered health professionals is exempt from VAT. The Government continue to offer free Covid-19 testing to those with relevant symptoms and everyone in England, including those without symptoms, is able to take a free rapid coronavirus test twice a week.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Baronesses, Lady Tyler, Lady Bowles and Lady Jolly, spoke about social care. The Prime Minister has been clear that long-term social care reform is a top priority as we emerge from the pandemic. We will be working with local and national partners, including those with direct experience of the sector, to consider how we deliver the sustainable improvements that we all wish to see.

There can be no doubt that, without the efforts of our health sector, this country would be in a far worse state than it is in today. The same can be said for many of our businesses, which have shown extraordinary resilience over this past year. From businesses forced to close to those finding new ways for employees to work from home, employers have had to adapt as never before.

At the same time, many workers faced the prospect of losing their incomes as high streets ground to a halt and offices closed their doors. This has been a challenging time for millions of our fellow citizens and for businesses across the country. I am proud to say that the Government have been there to help them, every step of the way. The Prime Minister has already announced that step 3 of the road map will go ahead as planned next Monday, bringing a further degree of normal life that will be welcomed by all—although, of course, he also stressed the need for us all to remain vigilant. Alongside this, the Government’s package of support has evolved with the path of the virus and will continue to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Hain, spoke about the choices of how long to continue this support. As an example, the Government’s policy to extend the CJRS until the end of September goes beyond what many businesses have called for. The CBI asked for an extension until the end of June and the British Chambers of Commerce asked for an extension until the end of July.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Griffiths, Lord Lebedev and Lord Sikka, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth, talked about the important subject of child poverty. The Government are committed to helping vulnerable families and have acted swiftly to provide support during the pandemic through their package of welfare measures. Her Majesty’s Treasury’s analysis published alongside the recent Budget shows that government interventions have supported the poorest working households most as a proportion of income. The Government have also recently extended the subsequent winter package to provide further support for children and families beyond winter until 20 June this year.

Many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Monks, Lord Haskel, Lord Bassam and Lord Watson, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Blower, Lady Ritchie and Lady Kramer, asked about the employment Bill. Given the profound effects that the pandemic is having on the economy and the labour market, we do not think it is right to introduce an employment Bill while the pandemic is still ongoing. In the interim, the Government have taken unprecedented but necessary steps to support working families and businesses and to protect jobs. We will continue to do so.

On the gig economy, which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Portsmouth asked about, the Supreme Court judgment upheld employment law status as it stands. Other operators in the gig economy will undoubtedly be looking at the Uber Supreme Court judgment, and should also ensure that they are fulfilling their legal responsibilities.

The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, asked about flexible working. The Government have committed to consult on making flexible working the default unless employers have good reason not to. This consultation will be launched in due course.

While building back better, we also have to build back greener. My noble friend Lord Bridges spoke about the need for government to help businesses to go green. I completely agree. Andrew Griffith MP has been appointed by the Prime Minister to be the UK’s net zero business champion ahead of COP 26. Indeed, I have spoken alongside him at a number of events on this very subject. He is energetically encouraging UK businesses to sign up to climate action via the Race to Zero science-based targets initiative, championing the actions that businesses are already taking, and helping them to exploit the many opportunities of the transition to a low-carbon economy.

Finally, I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, that I completely agree that inclusive diversity is crucial to a successful economy, and Eid Mubarak to all those who are celebrating this week.

On top of the challenges that come from working at home normally—lack of access to colleagues, working from the kitchen table and so on—many parents have faced an additional hurdle: taking on responsibility for home-schooling. Some people prefer to educate their children this way, but for the vast majority it is not a choice that they have made. Education is the foundation on which our society and economy are built. It is vital that we ensure that it is inspiring and as consistent as it possibly can be, which means supporting schools, colleges and universities, giving young people the opportunities and the access to the ideas that they deserve.

Recovery is a vital. The noble Baroness, Lady Morris, speaking with the benefit of all her experience, asked when further information would be forthcoming about the schools catch-up programme. The Government are working with the Education Recovery Commissioner, Sir Kevan Collins, to develop an ambitious long-term plan that builds back a better and fairer education system. We will make an announcement on the long-term recovery plan in due course.

The noble Lords, Lord Storey and Lord Winston, spoke about support for schools. This Government are delivering the biggest funding boost for schools in a decade, which will give every school more money for every child. We increased core schools funding by £2.6 billion in 2021 and we will increase it by a further £4.8 billion and a further £7.1 billion by 2021-22 and 2022-23 respectively, compared with the 2019-20 baseline. This includes additional funding for children with special educational needs and disabilities.

I always welcome comments on disability, including from my noble friend Lord Shinkwin. The Government have an ambitious agenda on disability We are investing in a range of provisions to help people with disabilities get or stay in work, and we will publish a national strategy for disabled people shortly, which I hope will reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.

The noble Lords, Lord Clark and Lord Campbell-Savours, raised the issue of Newton Rigg. We are aware of the many challenges faced by Askham Bryan College and its Newton Rigg campus and have been working to identify a sustainable solution for its future. But it is important to bear in mind that further education colleges are independent of government, and the decision to close the campus was taken by the governing body of Askham Bryan College—but we have taken careful note of the comments from both noble Lords.

Also important were the points on freedom of expression raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lebedev. The Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill will ensure that universities in England are places where freedom of speech can thrive for all staff, students and visiting speakers, contributing to a culture of open and robust intellectual debate.

The noble Lords, Lord Patel and Lord Eatwell, spoke about R&D funding and European schemes, including Horizon Europe. The Government will make available an additional £250 million in 2021-22, and £400 million of the funding announced at the spending review 2020 will support the Government’s priorities and help to pay for association to the Horizon programme. As a result, UK scientists will have access to more public funding than ever before.

The noble Lord, Lord Patel, also asked about ARIA. With ARIA, the freedom to make its own decisions will be central to its success, and that means scientists, not the Government, setting its research priorities. I hope the noble Lord will agree that the Bill balances that necessary independence with good governance, and as that is a Bill I will be taking through, I look forward to debating this matter further with him.

Of course, one of the principles underlining this Queen’s Speech is lifelong learning. As I am sure many noble Lords with children and grandchildren have learned in the past year, you are never too old to learn something new, whether that means getting to grips with video calling—remembering to unmute yourself, which is my problem—and seeing a familiar face from afar, getting to grips with algebra to help with homework, or learning how to exercise better, paint, play an instrument or even to just relax. We never stop being capable of adapting and improving, and the Government recognise that.

As we strive to take our economy in a greener, more productive direction, we have a duty to ensure that no one gets left behind. While our growth will be built on many of our existing strengths and skills, where new skills are required, we are committed to providing the training and education that people will need to attain them. On this topic, the noble Lord, Lord Watson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, asked about sectors not covered by the lifetime skills guarantee. The Government are of course keeping the list of qualifications and the sector subject areas in scope under review to ensure that they adapt to the changing needs of the economy. Qualifications not included in this offer will, of course, still be eligible for advanced learner loans.

Finally, my noble friend Lord Baker, with his immense experience of education policy, asked about careers provision. We will introduce a range of measures to incentivise schools and colleges to prioritise careers guidance and to hold them to account for the quality of their careers programmes, including a strong statutory framework, tougher enforcement and an Ofsted review of provision.

While I acknowledge that this is a debate that could—and, I am sure, will—carry on into the months and years to come, I am afraid that it is time for me to draw my comments to a close for today, before I get the Whip’s warning. In doing so, I again thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this enlightened and important discussion. I trust that the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, will cross-examine my spelling and grammar with the same vigour that she has deployed in today’s debate.

The gracious Speech sets out a clear, confident vision for the United Kingdom’s path ahead: high tech, open for business, conscientious and inclusive. As we leave this most difficult of years behind, we are seeing the opportunities in the challenges and, I hope, in our people. We will build back quicker, greener and better than before, and I sincerely believe that in this parliamentary Session, we can set this country and this place on a path to a brighter future.

Debate adjourned until Thursday 13 May.