Economy: Government Policies — Debate

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 2:42 pm on 24th March 2011.

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Photo of Lord Risby Lord Risby Conservative 2:42 pm, 24th March 2011

Trillion. It is simply wrong and absolutely immoral to bequeath to our children and grandchildren a debt burden of this order, which would have been even worse because of the profligacy of this generation in government.

However, at the heart of this most difficult legacy was the behaviour of banks, so disproportionately important to the UK economy. This was due substantially to a failure of proper regulation. I have heard it described as a product of light regulation. The FSA's bureaucratic procedures and micromanagement meant that it did not focus on the big picture-for example, the borrowing and lending practices of Northern Rock. The tripartite system ensured that neither the Treasury nor the FSA nor the Bank of England took the necessary pre-emptive action to stop what so tragically ensued. It diminished in consequence our credibility and ability to influence the pattern of emerging European financial services regulation.

Nevertheless, given the massive importance of the financial services industry, it is crucial that previous failed arrangements are replaced. No regulatory system is perfect, but at least the Bank of England previously closely monitored financial institutions and will do so again. Without this, overall economic recovery will not happen. While Governments can assist with an appropriate tax and regulatory framework, it is the private sector that will ensure this, with innovation and new enterprise crucial to it.

I declare an interest in this regard because I am deputy chairman of the Small Business Bureau. The renewed emphasis on smaller businesses is extremely important, as the weight of regulatory and tax pressure is for them inevitably disproportionate. Planning laws have been too restrictive and have benefited larger businesses such as supermarkets. They have also had the effect of distorting house prices. Therefore, I greatly welcome George Osborne's recognition of this, and the reform of Business Link to assist budding entrepreneurs is welcome, too.

Of significant potential is the renewed government-supported export drive, which specifically includes small businesses. It is gratifying that the strategy outlined in your Lordships' House by my noble friend Lord Green includes financial support and advice to SMEs. The structure of export promotion in this country has been ill focused, with regions even competing with each other at international trade fairs. Our trade promotion activities compared with those of our rivals have been inadequate, and the strategy which has been outlined brings fresh coherence to a huge marketing opportunity abroad. The new enterprise finance guarantee scheme, a new working capital scheme, a new bond support arrangement and credit insurance are specifically targeted at SMEs and in that regard are particularly welcome.

This focus on acorn companies is long overdue. They account for half of all private sector output and 60 per cent of private sector jobs. Freeing them from new domestic regulation, limiting audit and reporting burdens, the small business rate relief and fresh access arrangements to increase finance to them, matched with easier planning consents, will help promote entrepreneurial activity. The increase in the SME rate of research and development tax credit is additional good news.

History has shown us that, in politics, defeat often produces a kind of introspection. It has certainly manifested itself since the last general election. It is as if the Opposition were not responsible at all for the economic crisis which engulfed us. In the context of the economy today, to have one policy, which is simply to say that reduction of the deficit should be slower, is frankly no policy at all. If there is a coherent alternative strategy, I hope that we shall hear it today.