My Lords, the coronavirus pandemic is an unprecedented crisis. The Government have rightly focused on providing stability and support to the people, families and organisations most affected by the outbreak. However, as the Prime Minister confirmed at the end of May in his evidence to the Liaison Committee in another place, this Government are still fully committed to meeting all commitments made in the 2019 manifesto.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for that reply, but one of the commitments in the manifesto said:
“We will not borrow to fund day-to-day spending”.
Another promised that the national debt
“will be lower at the end of the Parliament”.
Sticking to these commitments in circumstances that no one could have foreseen, as my noble friend just said, would prevent the Government continuing on their commendable path of doing what it takes to mitigate the recession. Will my noble friend encourage the Prime Minister to modify that statement?
My Lords, my noble friend recognises that we are living through un unprecedented crisis at the moment but, as he will well know, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that later this year there will be a Budget Statement, which will address a number of the concerns raised by my noble friend.
My Lords, another manifesto promise was for
“a long-term solution for social care”,
but we have been here before. Last July the Prime Minister, standing on the steps of Downing Street, said he had prepared “a clear plan” to
“fix the crisis in social care”,
but nothing happened, and the palpable neglect of the care sector during the current crisis has been all too evident. Where is the plan that the Prime Minister had so carefully prepared last summer, and how is it to be financed?
My Lords, on social care, the noble Lord himself has a long and distinguished record as a health Minister. He will know that discussions about and consideration of this vital question have been going on for many years. I assure him that the question of long-term social care remains at the heart of the Government’s objectives.
My Lords, in February this year my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws launched in Parliament a report called Empowered Employment: Unlocking the Workplace for Muslim Women. With support from Oxford, Yale and SOAS universities, Dr Suriyah Bi surveyed 500 women at work, 84% of whom were highly qualified. They nevertheless face barriers to progression, including discrimination, Islamo- phobia and challenges from families and partners. In the light of the emerging information on socioeconomic disparities, in particular among Bangladeshi women, will the Minister say whether the Government will consider the economic empowerment of Muslim women in any reviews of their manifesto commitments?
My Lords, the noble Baroness makes powerful points. The Government campaigned on commitments to tackle prejudice, racism and discrimination of all sorts and to improve the quality of evidence and data about the types of barriers faced by all people from different backgrounds, to help drive effective and lasting change. I undertake to the noble Baroness that this will remain an important and central aspect of the Government’s work.
My Lords, the manifesto committed Her Majesty’s Government to a review of children’s social care. In a Written Statement in February, the Secretary of State said it would be independent, broad, bold and undertaken at the earliest opportunity. Given the significant additional pressures faced by the vast majority of families and social workers during Covid-19 restrictions, this review is needed now more than ever. Can my noble friend the Minister confirm that its terms of reference, independent chair and launch will be announced soon?
My Lords, I regret that the timetable of some government action has obviously been interfered with by the Covid emergency, but I think all noble Lords will agree that there is a vital social need to ensure that all sectors of society are protected during the Covid crisis. I repeat what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said recently: the Government currently intend to proceed with all their manifesto commitments.
My Lords, in April the Government said that in the light of the pandemic they were reviewing the development of the manifesto commitment to establish a national strategy for disabled people. Disabled people badly need some good news. Can the Minister give us some about the strategy?
My Lords, I can add little to the previous answers I gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Uddin, and my noble friend Lady Eaton. Of course, the Government attach the highest importance to tackling diversity and disadvantage of all sorts, and that remains our objective.
My Lords, the world has changed enormously since the election. The Conservative Party held power for two-thirds of the last century. John Maynard Keynes is reported to have said: “When the facts change, I change my mind.” Will the Government continue to support the working-class and trade union votes that got them into power through most of the last century and, when they adapt their policies, as they must, bear in mind the need for trade union and working-class people to continue—I stress the word “continue”—their support for the Government?
My Lords, the Government intend to be and are a Government for all people and respect every person in this country, not only the many who—as my noble friend rightly said—voted for them. The Government have made a major change in the face of the Covid crisis in giving unprecedented help to people at disadvantage. That in itself is a manifest of this Government’s intent and spirit.
My Lords, I follow up and reinforce the point made in the pertinent question from the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, and the Minister’s answer. Can the Minister please give an undertaking that during the review of the care system, careful attention will be paid to some of the innovative approaches that have evolved directly as a result of the lockdown and ensure that these are built into that review?
My Lords, to follow on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, in addition to promising not to
“borrow to fund day-to-day spending”,
the Government’s manifesto promised not to
“raise the rate of income tax, VAT or National Insurance”,
not to increase any taxes on small businesses and to “keep the triple lock” on pensions. Is the Minister able to guarantee that these commitments remain unchanged in light of the Covid-19 pandemic?
My Lords, I am absolutely delighted that the noble Lord is such an avid reader of the Conservative manifesto; I hope he found it improving reading. I repeat that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a financial statement later this year.
My Lords, even at the time of the general election, the haulage industry was seriously worried about the additional bureaucracy that a potential no-deal Brexit would bring. It has now suffered the crisis of the pandemic, and the Government are no nearer to getting a deal. Does the Minister accept that our haulage industry will not be able to cope with any further challenges this year? Do the Government accept that the transition period needs to be extended, as the haulage industry has requested?
I pay tribute to the haulage industry; it has been an outstanding performer, and not just in this crisis. However, the answer to the noble Baroness’s question is no. The transition period will not be extended. That has been accepted by the European Union, and I suggest it is about time that it was accepted by your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to the Minister’s responses, but would it not be prudent, at this time of unprecedented national and international uncertainty, for the Government to adapt to these new circumstances, or are they to follow an end game, irrespective of the consequences? How can the repeatedly professed line of seeking a deep and special relationship with the EU, on the one hand, be reconciled with walking away from negotiations, on the other—and that is before a probable downgrading in relations and a global trade war with China, together with an untested strategic trade relationship with individual Commonwealth members?
My Lords, we have moved slightly away from the manifesto. I do not know whether the noble Viscount saw the very friendly discussions yesterday between the Prime Minister and representatives of the Commission. There is a commitment on both sides to intensify negotiations to produce a satisfactory outcome. I remain confident that that is possible.