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Economy: Growth — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:01 pm on 29th January 2013.

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Photo of Lord Lamont of Lerwick Lord Lamont of Lerwick Conservative 4:01 pm, 29th January 2013

No. President Roosevelt initiated back to work programmes-that is true-but the private sector, the economy, was not generating growth. If the noble Lord, who is a very eminent historian, wishes to doubt that, just let him read the Morganthau diaries, because they are full of deep disillusionment about the pointlessness of the programme that he himself was implementing and the effect that it was having on the growth of the economy.

I am not arguing that deficit financing can never be of use or play a part in taking up the slack in the economy when the private sector is unable to borrow, but we are in a position where both public and private finances are under pressure at the same time. It is a much favoured parlour game to decide what Keynes would have thought of doing in this scenario today. Of course, the House is very fortunate in having the eminent historian, the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, who knows more about this subject than anyone else, to tell us. Indeed, we also have the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, a most distinguished Cambridge economist-a university that is profoundly affected today by the shadow of Maynard Keynes. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, remembers Milton Friedman's comment about Cambridge academics and their theories, which have applications within 25 miles of Cambridge University.

This recession is indeed different from a normal cyclical recession. It is, as the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, said, a balance sheet recession, but it is a recession that has followed a severe banking crisis. As economists such as Rogoff and Reinhart have shown, I think quite tellingly, such recessions tend to last much longer than normal, cyclical recessions, and are much deeper.

So what can be done to stimulate growth? I believe that there are things on the supply side that can do this-training; lifting and relaxing planning controls, as the Government have done; infrastructure spending, very much as the Minister outlined, although if infrastructure spending is to be financed by cuts in current spending, that will squeeze consumption further, which has been one of the problems of the economy, because inflation has not come down, and it has been inflation that has been squeezing consumption and living standards.

However, the real problem of the economy, I believe, is not fiscal policy but the lack of credit in the economy and the failure of the banking system still to make credit available. The risk is that the new businesses that drive innovation and produce the new products will be strangled because of the lack of credit. The Government have introduced the Funding for Lending scheme. It is too easy to say what the effects of that are, but if it has a good effect, maybe it ought to be expanded further. However, they have been piling regulation upon regulation and demands for more capital from the banks, and that, in the last analysis, is incompatible with more lending and makes more lending more difficult and more expensive for the banks.

The Government have said that they want to see new entrants into the banking sector, which I think would be highly desirable, but I am not sure that that message has got through to all parts, particularly the lower parts, of the Financial Services Authority. I noticed that the chairman of Metro Bank said the other day that if he had known what was involved in starting a new bank in the UK, he is not sure that he would do it again or would have done it in the first place.

We await the arrival of Governor Carney, and there are great expectations of him, but he will not exactly be a man on a white horse, and I think it would be unfair to regard him as that. He has talked a lot already about central banks doing more to promote growth. I hope, however, that the Bank and the Government will be cautious about more quantitative easing. There is in this situation, even now when we do not have growth in the economy, a danger of creating more asset bubbles. We have seen the consequences of the "Greenspan put" in the past, where central bank action has been taken to keep the financial markets buoyant and the result has not been that we have avoided a crisis but that the crises have got successively worse. When I look at the level of the stock market, which of course can be interpreted favourably in one sense, I wonder whether it is reflecting the prospects for the economy or the consequences of quantitative easing.

The Opposition have inevitably been very critical and the Government inevitably are in a difficult situation. I think it was Boileau, the French writer, who once observed that those who come to tell the people they are not well governed will never lack a welcome. The only surprising thing is that those who are telling the people they are not well governed are those who were in charge five minutes ago and helped to create the situation we are in. It is not an easy situation and, most of all, I think what we need are what Tolstoy called those two grand old warriors-time and patience.