Queen's Speech — Debate (5th Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 11:16 pm on 16th May 2012.

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Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 11:16 pm, 16th May 2012

My Lords, we have had a wide-ranging and, as ever, insightful debate. I am particularly pleased to have heard the maiden speeches of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham and my noble friend Lord Ashton of Hyde. I know that the House will look forward to their future contributions if they are anything like as good as their contributions to this debate.

We have an unusual but, we have been reminded, not unprecedented amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon. While I will respond to as many of the specific points raised in the debate as I can, I will therefore spend the bulk of my time explaining why the House should emphatically reject her somewhat misplaced amendment, which I ask her to withdraw once she has heard what I have to say. Having heard the masterly speech by my noble friend Lord Bates, I rather thought that the noble Baroness might have been minded to withdraw her amendment immediately, but I will have another go.

I welcome this opportunity to reinforce the Government's commitment to securing our economic recovery and our determination to promote growth, create jobs, and return our country to prosperity. It is not an easy task. It is clear that your Lordships understand the difficult challenge we face to overcome the crippling legacy that was left to us by the previous Government, which included a decade of unbalanced growth that left the UK the most indebted country in the world, resulted in the most highly leveraged financial system of any major economy and meant that the UK entered the crisis with the highest structural deficit in the G7.

All that meant that when we got hit, we got hit the hardest. Our recession was among the deepest and our deficit was among the largest, which means that our challenge to deliver a sustainable recovery is among the greatest. The Government have a strategy to rid the economy of the burden of the debt left by the previous Government and to secure our stability at a time of ongoing European instability, as my noble friend Lord Higgins and other noble Lords reminded us. Our strategy puts private sector enterprise, ambition and innovation at the heart of our recovery. It has delivered over 630,000 new private sector jobs since we came into government, which is one and a half times the number of public sector jobs that have been lost.

Let me remind noble Lords that the Government came to office inheriting the largest peacetime deficit the country has ever faced and the largest forecast deficit in the G20, larger than that of many of those countries mired in the sovereign debt storm in the euro area. Two years ago, UK government bond yields were roughly equal to those in Spain and Italy. Because we took tough decisions to tackle the deficit, our rates have now fallen to near-record lows of less than 2%, while those in Spain and Italy have risen to well over 5%, a point made forcefully by my noble friend Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market. Record low interest rates help businesses to secure affordable loans, families to pay mortgages and the Government to finance the debt mountain with which we have been lumbered.

The solution to debt is not more debt. I do not need to take on the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, on this. The noble Lord, Lord Desai, and my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft have already done that for me. However, as my noble friend Lady Noakes pointed out, the Opposition would have us pile on yet more debt, suffer higher interest rates and place a bigger squeeze on families and living standards. Indeed, even this afternoon, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, advocated more government borrowing. Let me explain to the House that even a 1% rise in effective mortgage rates would add £12 billion a year to household mortgage payments-around £1,000 on a typical £100,000 mortgage. We should make no mistake: it is the poorest and most disadvantaged, not the wealthiest, who are hit the hardest when a country loses control of its finances.

It is fair that we tackle our debts today so that we do not burden our children tomorrow. We should also ensure that we can continue-which we can-to provide high-quality public services and support to those who need it most, and provide those public services partly though refreshed local government, as my noble friend Lord Tope reminded us a short while ago.

We cannot and will not be complacent about tackling the deficit. We are sticking to our plans. Her Majesty's gracious Speech reaffirmed that commitment. We will not jeopardise the fiscal credibility that is critical to delivering a sustainable recovery. It is only by securing a sustainable private sector recovery that we can help to restore and improve living standards, support families and get people back into work. That is why this Government have set out ambitious plans to unleash private sector growth right across the UK. Those plans include more than 250 wide-ranging and ambitious economic reforms to lift the dead hand of the previous Government's legacy from our businesses and entrepreneurs.

We are reducing corporation tax to 22% by 2014; cutting an uncompetitive and ineffective top rate of income tax; slashing the red tape that continues to suffocate our most entrepreneurial start-ups; overhauling our cumbersome planning rules to embed a presumption in favour of sustainable development; and setting out plans for some £250 billion of infrastructure investment, including the new green investment bank with an initial capitalisation of £3 billion. In answer to my noble friend Lady Kramer, I say that we want to get that £3 billion into real investment as soon as the large projects will permit. As my noble friend Lady Randerson said, the green investment bank is already in business; it is actively considering the first 20 proposals. Beyond that, we are helping to tackle underinvestment in renewable energy as a precursor to comprehensive electricity market reform through the energy Bill, and helping to attract the £110 billion of investment that we need in the next decade to deliver secure, low-carbon energy across the UK. That was a point made very clearly by my noble friends Lord Crickhowell, Lord Selborne and Lord Freeman. The noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, pointed out one very challenging but potentially significant opportunity in delivering that ambition.

The Government are ensuring that our businesses have access to finance by securing £190 billion of new lending to UK companies in 2011 and providing SMEs with access to cheaper loans through the new national loan guarantee scheme. My noble friend Lord Northbrook questioned whether it was up and running. Indeed it is, as evidenced by the fact that Barclays and Lloyds have already issued bonds linked to the loans in the scheme.

As my noble friend Lord Caithness noted, securing a more resilient and sustainable financial sector through the banking reform Bill is another priority. It is a measure which, as my noble friend Lady Wilcox said earlier, will complete its passage in this Parliament. We also will increase the opportunities for businesses to capitalise on non-bank lending channels.

Across government, we are matching the endeavour of our businesses to restore growth across the UK. Through the enterprise and regulatory reform Bill, we are driving through regulatory reform, streamlining employment tribunals, boosting research and development through the catapult scheme as the noble Lord, Lord Broers, reminded us, making it easier to do business and giving employers more confidence.