My Lords, I intend to be brief, not least because the noble Lord, Lord Smith of Clifton, has somewhat stolen my thunder by saying exactly what I would have wished to say had I thought of it first—or, at least, had I appeared higher in the list of speakers.
It is very important that we do not forget that we have had 10 years of unprecedented growth and stability. As we sit here today listening to the doom and gloom of the current recession, it is most important to recognise that we have had very good times thanks to the sound economic policies of this Government. Hospitals and schools have been built, people who might otherwise not have been able to have bought their houses, and our town centres have been regenerated and rejuvenated. Therefore, we should not forget the advances that have been made and the wealth that has been created.
Perhaps I may detain noble Lords for a moment or two with an anecdote. I recently brought a couple to the House for tea. They were young entrepreneurs—I say "young" but it is all relative; they were in their early 40s. During the past 10 years, they had established and developed a very successful waste management business, recycling the waste products of the metal industry in south Wales. They had recently decided to gift 15 per cent of their company to their employees. Because of the wealth they had created due to the favourable economic conditions of the past 10 years, they had also decided to set up a fund to benefit social enterprises—that is, to benefit those who were setting up businesses designed not only to make a profit but to meet a social need. It is interesting that in these difficult times such businesses appear to be flourishing. I recently spoke at an event at which 250 people of high net worth appeared to listen to five or six young people talking about their businesses in the social enterprise sector. Those enterprises ranged from making fashion accessories out of recycled clothes to Jamie Oliver's trendy restaurant Fifteen. All of them excited great interest from potential investors. It is most important that we see where the potential green shoots are.
There is no doubt that we are in difficult times and that we must look for the best ways of managing and emerging from them. I am pleased that in the gracious Speech the Government set out plans to emphasise protection of employment and to develop training programmes. This is a perfect time to concentrate on the development of our human capital, as that is what will enable us to get out of the difficulties now facing us. We also need to concentrate on having a more diverse economy. There has perhaps been too much concentration on financial services and insurance, and we are suffering from it. Although it is important to focus on excellence, perhaps it would be useful to hedge our bets by focusing on a more diverse economy.
I would not want to sit down without saying something about competition. While I completely support the Government's moves in the banking sector in most respects, I am most anxious about lifting the competition rules within the sector. I have expressed those views in this House before and I express them again now. Although I understand the pressures of the moment, I am agreeing with Irwin Stelzer's views in today's Financial Times when I say that I think the competition regulators should be at the table when the negotiations on future regulation of the financial sector take place.
I commend the Government also on their moves to stimulate innovation. Young innovative entrepreneurs will provide us with the best way out of this downturn. We must remember that the downturn is of global proportions and it will take time, persistence and a great deal of support to improve matters. We are in it for the long haul, but I see green shoots of hope.