Economy: Government Policies — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:48 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative 1:48 pm, 24th March 2011

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lawson of Blaby for introducing the debate. Your Lordships' House is indeed fortunate to have this debate on the day following the Budget. In recent weeks and months your Lordships have spent an inordinate amount of time discussing tinkering with the constitution rather than concentrating on important, urgent matters such as the subject of my noble friend's Motion. It is good that we have an opportunity to redress the balance today.

I declare an interest in that I am employed by Mizuho International, the investment banking arm of the Mizuho Financial Group of Japan, but I speak in your Lordships' House in my personal capacity. Nevertheless, my employment circumstances-the fact that I also serve as a director of an investment company whose manager's ultimate holding company is Prudential Financial of the United States and as a director of a chemical manufacturing company on Teesside, whose ultimate holding company is the Lotte Group of Korea, provide me with a basis to judge how attractive the United Kingdom is seen as a centre for investment by major foreign, financial and industrial groups. They will certainly welcome the Chancellor's decision to reduce the tax burden on controlled foreign companies.

My noble friend's Motion calls attention to,

"Government policies to promote enterprise, growth and the fundamental rebalancing of the economy".

I believe that, in referring to rebalancing the economy, my noble friend means to rein in the bloated public sector in order to create the resurgence that we need in the private sector. The policies pursued by the previous Government produced more than 1 million new mainly unproductive jobs in the public sector but saw the loss of 1.7 million jobs in our already depleted manufacturing sector.

There are those who talk about rebalancing the economy between the financial and manufacturing sectors. They believe that the economy is a zero-sum game and that a withdrawal of resources from our flagship financial sector will assist the creation of a larger and more profitable manufacturing and industrial sector. I think that the reverse is the case. In order to nurture and build on our manufacturing base, it is essential to protect and preserve London's position as the leading global financial centre to ensure that innovative companies can obtain the funds that they need to grow; and that personal and corporate tax rates are low enough not to counterbalance the United Kingdom's other natural advantages over rival investment centres.

During the 11 years for which I worked for Kleinwort Benson in Japan, I was able to encourage Japanese companies to invest in the United Kingdom because of our relatively low tax rates, our sound and stable political system, a reliable accounting system, a respected legal system based on common law and our relatively benign regulatory regime. All those relative advantages have now been compromised to a greater or lesser extent.

The Chancellor's announcement that he will ask HMRC to find out the truth as to whether the application for the 50 per cent tax band is revenue-positive is welcome. The top rate will actually be 52 per cent from next month, and it is probably already counterproductive. It makes it too expensive for international companies to base their most talented employees in this country and adversely affects the competitiveness of our markets. However, I cannot help wondering whether HMRC's study will be entirely objective. Far too much time and resources are now being wasted on the interplay between market participants and regulators. More importance is now placed on that than on the interaction between lenders and their clients. Senior executives of banks cancel meetings with their clients in order to be available at all times for the FSA, which is now overstepping the mark through its unwarranted incursions into matters such as the composition of subsidiary boards of directors and its unreasonably tough interpretation of capital adequacy rules.

I have some sympathy for the FSA, because besides its dismemberment it has been subjugated to the three new European level regulatory bodies: the EPA, the ESMA and the EOPA. I deeply regret that the previous Government acquiesced in the subordination of our regulatory regime to Brussels. The consequences, including the unnecessary and inappropriate regulation of hedge funds and, indeed, all alternative investment companies, are already having a negative effect on the promotion of enterprise and innovation in the financial sector, limiting the dispersal of risk among multiple players small enough to fail.

Financial markets are global, not European, and the new regulatory regime definitely hinders the City in playing the role that it should have in the promotion of cracks and enterprise in the wider economy. Do the Government fully understand just how serious the problem is, and what steps does my noble friend intend to take to mitigate its damaging consequences?

It is also crucial to ensure that the other formerly attractive features of United Kingdom markets are preserved and protected during a period when higher than optimum taxes need to be applied. I do not argue that lessons did not need to be learnt from the financial crisis, but bankers have been forced unfairly to take a disproportionate part of the blame. There is no evidence that we need more intrusive and more specific regulation. Rather, too much regulation lulls market participants into a false sense of security and tends to absolve them from responsibility for their actions. Will my noble friend bring his influence to bear on the Chancellor and persuade him to reverse the unfair attempt to exclude the banks from the welcome reduction in corporation tax through a further increase in the bank levy? That will do nothing to enable the banks to increase lending to SMEs, and it will have a negative effect on the competitiveness of British banks and of London as a financial centre.

Time does not permit me to comment on many of the other positive measures in the Budget. However, I ask the Minister two further questions. First, will he tell the House whether and when the Government will restore the personal allowance to all taxpayers, thus removing the disincentive caused by the 64 per cent effective band, which is of course widened by £1,200 by the new £600 increase in the personal allowance? Secondly, welcome though the 2 per cent reduction in corporation tax certainly is, will he set out a timetable for its further reduction to 20 per cent-or even the 15 per cent advocated by the Institute of Directors?

All in all, I congratulate the Chancellor on his pragmatic and courageous response to the critically high public sector deficit produced by the profligate and uncontrolled public spending policies pursued by the previous Government. The Chancellor is right to stick to his guns.