Business and the Economy

Part of Debate on the Address – in the House of Commons at 5:01 pm on 14th May 2012.

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Photo of Lorely Burt Lorely Burt Chair of the Liberal Democrat Parliamentary Party 5:01 pm, 14th May 2012

I am sorry, but I cannot give way again.

I think that all hon. Members are looking forward to the Groceries Code Adjudicator Bill, which at last offers some fairness for producers at the mercy of the powerful supermarkets. Then there is the green investment bank. It has £3 billion at its disposal for investment, but Liberal Democrats would like it to have greater powers to act like a real bank, investing and borrowing as well as lending, and we are working on that.

All that will be to no avail if we cannot sort out the biggest problem still faced by business today: access to finance. Project Merlin has had some success, with £195 billion lent by banks to business, but we need more. Liberal Democrats will be doing all we can on policies to widen the range of banks and lower the almost insurmountable barriers to entry for new banks. We want to introduce more peer-to-peer lending, such as the funding circle, and would like to examine the feasibility of community banks.

Perhaps the most important piece of legislation of all is one that will stop a repetition of the banking crisis that resulted in the house of cards that the previous Government allowed the finance industry to build tumbling down. The Business Secretary foresaw it all: he warned Labour that light-touch regulation, over-optimistic ratios, complex financial instruments that few could understand, banks that were too big to fail and banks whose casino and retail arms were wedded would bring disaster, but not even he could have imagined the scale of the economic crisis that gripped the UK, America, Europe and large parts of the world and made them much worse off. The crisis is taking longer to sort out than anyone hoped.

We need only look across the continent at Greece, Spain and Italy to see what would have happened had we not gripped the situation there and then. Too far, too fast? It would have been “too little too late” if the Labour party had had its way. We would be paying treble the current interest rates, with much higher unemployment and much higher bond yields, as those countries have today. We are sorting it. The little blue and yellow tractor is taking the strain and pulling us out of the mire that the Labour party helped to create.