Economy: Government Policies — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 12:10 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville Conservative 12:10 pm, 24th March 2011

My Lords, it is certainly a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Newby, and it is always a privilege and a pleasure to follow the lead of my noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby, just as it was during the four years of his outstanding chancellorship at the Treasury. I was the only Treasury Minister in those four years never to have worked in the City, a condition that will infect my speech today, although in the Treasury's housekeeping role I could not have enjoyed more being on the Treasury Christmas card committee. My noble friend was its chairman and I was the only other member. He gave guidance and took the decisions, I did the work, and our cards were voted much the best of all the Finance Ministry Christmas cards in the European Union by the Commission in Brussels. My noble friend was in characteristically grand form today.

The Library briefing note is of its usual high standard, but I saw it only an hour and a quarter before the debate started, and I shall concentrate on the wider world than Whitehall and the City. However, I am wholly behind the present Chancellor's policies as laid out yesterday. When I was in the private sector 40 years ago, I would give up an annual day to sit at the feet of that polymath sage, Herman Kahn of the Hudson Institute, who was confident that the UK would survive in the post-industrial society because of its recognised global eminence in government, education and medicine. I am therefore particularly pleased about the Chancellor's backing for advanced manufacturing, for life sciences and for the creative industries, all of which play well to our national DNA.

We should all be grateful to my right honourable friend David Willetts, in my right honourable friend Vincent Cable's department, to his success in protecting the science base and the science budget, for reinforcing the finances of universities and for helping to secure the recent revision of student visa priorities and procedures. I smiled when earlier this week the Official Opposition claimed credit for having closed down 140 bogus institutions of further education, as if it was a badge of honour that after 13 years there should be 140 such institutions available to be closed down.

After a quarter of a century as the Member of Parliament for the most inner of inner city seats in the land, I no longer live in London except when attending your Lordships' House, and I observe the national economy from the far end of Wiltshire, a county with so long a history as to be a proxy for a national bellwether. Wiltshire has 40 per cent of the world's chalk grasslands-I repeat that that is a global figure-and so was a magnet for Bronze Age man since there were no trees to cut down. It was where Alfred the Great achieved his victory over the Danes at the battle of Ethandun in 878 on the downs above the great priority church at Edington. That was built on the medieval wool finances of west Wiltshire, the latter being why Bradford-on-Avon in its built environment has proportionately more listed buildings than any other place in England.

Until recently, Wiltshire had no higher education institutions other than the Royal Military College of Science at Shrivenham-we are, since Alfred, a very military county-but the Sarum Missal was a key text in the evolution of the Church of England; the spire of Salisbury Cathedral was the highest in Europe and a copy of Magna Carta sits in the chapter house; Wilton, just outside Salisbury, was the medieval capital of Wessex and the Wilton Diptych, now in the British Museum, is the earliest surviving painting in England. Scarcely a year goes by without new archaeological evidence emerging from the mysteries of Stonehenge and Silbury Hill. Advanced manufacturing, scientific research and online consultancy occur all over the county. As I said in an earlier debate, 200 yards from where I live is a small engineering firm that builds buses in Brazil and trucks in China, and won Boris Johnson's prize for the new Routemaster bus.

I say all this is because-and I understand that the Prime Minister would approve-Wessex is not only the first proper region outside the home counties but a classic tourism county. Although I cannot be sure of the background, the news from the Rialto is that the vibrant and ubiquitous Wessex travel agency, Bath Travel, has recently sold its single medium-haul aircraft, which was always seen off from the marvellously convenient airport at Bournemouth until his recent demise by its exuberant chairman, the late Philip Bath. He knew most of the passengers, and they knew the reliability of his service to exotic locations all round the Mediterranean, the Atlantic and eastern Europe. It might have had its last flight in its colours because of old age or because of the state of demand, but it is a great loss to those passengers and, in either circumstance, it is a classic case of family finance needing a return to normal conditions of credit.

Tourism is an activity that has dozens of component aspects. Successful tourism requires each part to play its part well, and good performance requires good morale. When I was in the private sector, I had as clients two major family firms that had come here during the depression, because Garfield Weston and Forrest Mars thought that England was a soft market and then proved it. There is much to be said for Warren Buffett's mantra that hard times represent good opportunities, but for our economy to benefit from them we need morale that makes us look on the bright side and enthusiastic leadership.

To return to London for a final footnote, I declare an interest as president of the British Art Market Federation, which employs 60,000 people directly, and another 60,000 indirectly, behind a turnover of nearly £8 billion. For generations, London's art market has been the second largest in the world, but it was reported last week that China last year overtook us, part of the reason being the commercial disadvantage from which the EU suffers through the unique application of droit de suite, or artists' copyright. The noble Lord, Lord Myners, who is taking part in the debate today, asked a Written Question about this, which was answered on Tuesday by my noble friend Lady Wilcox. I know that she was not seeking to mislead the House, but her Answer relied in part on admirable academic research conducted four years ago, whereas I know that her advisers at the Intellectual Property Office, a week before her Answer was given, had a copy of the British Art Market Federation's submission to the European Commission's current consultation on this subject, which is four years more up to date. It takes one back to Harold Macmillan's remark about looking up a train in last year's Bradshaw. This sector of the economy is not only sufficiently important but so great a British success story as to deserve, in a fast moving market, government being wholly up to date. I am not expecting a reply to this in my noble friend the Minister's winding-up speech, but I look forward to news of the Government's policy on these negative developments.