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Motion to Take Note (Continued)

Part of Comprehensive Spending Review – in the House of Lords at 9:01 pm on 1st November 2010.

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Photo of Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke Baroness Liddell of Coatdyke Labour 9:01 pm, 1st November 2010

My Lords, it is a real privilege for me to respond to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Nye. I do not think that either of us believed that this day would come when we met in the old North British Hotel in Edinburgh in about 1978. The noble Baroness was at that time a civil servant working for the then Prime Minister, Jim Callaghan, and I was the general secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland. We were moving towards one of the most difficult general elections that we have ever experienced. Shortly after that, with a certain Gavyn Davies, I wrote a report for Jim Callaghan on the truck dispute that was then causing chaos. For some reason, that report was never given to Prime Minister and he made the famous "Crisis? What crisis?" speech. However, Gavyn Davies was to go on to do better things and to become the husband of the noble Baroness, Lady Nye.

I can think of no one from this side of the House who would have anything other than the utmost respect and affection for the noble Baroness. She is held in high regard by members of the Labour Party the length and breadth of the country. Always silent, always calm and always good-humoured, in her working life from the 1970s onwards she has worked for four Labour leaders and two Prime Ministers. They were always much better when they took her advice. The noble Baroness has today made what she says is her first public speech. We have heard eloquence and, for the first time in this lengthy debate, we have heard the global financial crisis put into context. Many of us had forgotten the circumstances around it in its detail and it was for the noble Baroness to put it into context. This House is much enriched by having her among us and those of us who are her friends are delighted to see her here.

Going on to the context that the noble Baroness set out, I watched the global financial crisis develop from the other end of the world. We have perhaps forgotten the extent to which the rest of the world looked to Britain to provide leadership. That initiative, taken with the Prime Minister of Australia at that time, Kevin Rudd, to make the focus not the G7 or the G8 but the G20, was of real significance. It was a moment when the financial architecture of the world changed, because it involved the emerging markets, many of them critical to our long-term well-being in this country.

Like many noble Lords, I am concerned about the lack of attention to growth in the economy, because growth will be much needed to get us out of the situation that we find ourselves in. The noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, put it in very blunt terms, but I notice that the Chancellor was celebrating the fact that the recovery has proved to be stronger than we had anticipated. Quite frankly, that was as a result of the Labour Government's policies. I draw to the Minister's attention the fact that a key part of those growth figures are construction figures. Many of those construction figures came as a consequence of actions taken by the previous Government. While I am not in the league of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, I know that in economics there is a very important law: the law of unintended consequences. When the Minister reflects on Sir Philip Green's prescription for the Government to get themselves into a new kind of shape, would he reflect that he advocates getting rid of government property? Now, all of us might think, "Yes, get rid of some of the buildings and sell off some of the stuff that we do not need", but that means £25 billion of commercial property coming to a city centre near you. That is a troubling and disturbing aspect for future economic growth.

I shall move on to an area that is close to my heart: SMEs. I shall talk just a little about tourism. With all respect to the noble Lords, Lord Plumb and Lord Clark, both of whom made very convincing cases for economic regeneration in rural and remote areas through agriculture and forestry, I argue that one thing that can bring rapid economic growth to remote areas is tourism. In this country, tourism is one of our major industries; I should say at this point that I am a member of the board of VisitBritain, the international marketing arm of our tourism industry. Tourism supports 2.6 million jobs. One in 12 jobs in the UK is in tourism and, with over 200,000 small and medium-sized businesses, it already contributes £115 billion, or 8.2 per cent, of the UK's GDP. It is set to be one of the best-performing sectors over the coming decade, better even than some of our technology-led industries.

One reason why I am concerned about tourism in the future-I am not going to whinge about more than a third of the budget being cut from VisitBritain-is that if we do not give rapid support to our tourism industry we run the risk of losing the opportunity of a lifetime. The depreciation of sterling has meant that Britain is a much more affordable marketplace. Allied to that is the run-up to the Olympics in 2012, the Commonwealth Games in 2014 and the Decade of Sport. Tourism can get to those parts of the British economy that other economic instruments cannot reach and I urge the Minister to look carefully at the opportunities that can exist for tourism.

VisitBritain has already taken substantial cuts; its aim is to do better with less. Over the past two days, it has been named as the only public sector organisation to come in the top 30 Twitter sites in the UK, as modern marketing tools are used to market British tourism abroad. While the B&B in Truro, the chocolate factory in Oban and the inn in Glenelg cannot market internationally, VisitBritain can. We need to allow our tourism industry to fill the market gaps that are created. Through no fault of anyone, there is market failure in the international marketing of tourism, because it is an agglomeration of small businesses.

I have one final point, although I do not want to take up too much of the House's time. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, pointed to the supply-side issues that have not been properly addressed in the comprehensive spending review and spoke about innovation centres. Innovation centres are a great idea. They were a great idea in the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and 2000s. They are a critical way of taking the genius of our universities and turning it into businesses. However, that is not an easy job for the simple reason that, contrary to what many people believe, the banks are an inhibitor to the development of SMEs. Public sector involvement through innovation centres brings in the public sector and its aversion to risk. Raising money for SMEs and business start-ups in high-tech areas is a nightmare. I know; I have done it. There is the dilemma of risk in the public sector. There is an understandable venture capital gap in this country. It takes more to promote an investment of £1 million than an investment of £100 million. Many people set up high-tech businesses based on personal guarantees to banks and the banks are not lending. In conclusion, I ask the Minister to look closely at how the financing of innovative businesses can be secured when we have this dearth of lending from the banks and at how a framework can be created to allow a more adventurous attitude to risk. Without risk, we will not get innovative companies developing.