My Lords, it is always an honour to speak in such an auspicious debate and at a crucial juncture, having heard two excellent maiden speeches. I welcome my noble friend Lord Callanan to his new position.
Even though it did not fare as well with voters as we on this side of the House had hoped, there was much in the Conservative Party’s election manifesto to be commended, and we must hope that some of it, as appears to be the case from the Address, will be carried forward in legislation. I am reminded of President Truman, who said that Herbert Hoover once ran on the slogan, “Two cars in every garage”. The Republican ran on the slogan, “Two families in every garage”. It did not quite go as expected but we have some significant proposals in the manifesto, beginning of course with Brexit.
I have spoken before in this Chamber about the importance of international trade and the opportunity that Brexit will bring to set our own approach and pursue our own bilateral deals. It is worth reminding noble Lords again that being part of the EU bloc has meant that to date free trade deals struck with third countries have not necessarily been designed with Britain’s economy in mind. It is to be welcomed that the Address indicates that there will be a trade Bill, meaning that we will ultimately leave the customs union and strike out on our own, even if, as the Chancellor suggests—and even as a Brexiteer, I agree with him—there may need to be a transitional period inside the customs union.
Elsewhere, and closer to my own patch—I refer your Lordships to my interests listed in the register—I want to touch on corporate finance and the importance of ensuring that growing businesses have access to the capital they need. This should begin with announcing a new mandate for the British Business Bank to give it more capacity to invest in the UK through venture capital.
Similarly, I believe that it is not too early to consider how we might plan to make more of EIS and VCTs to help them finance larger companies. As your Lordships may be aware, the limit is currently £15 million, which of course is a restriction due to European state aid rules. I am not sure where the national productivity fund and promise to help SMEs win more government contracts, as in the Conservative manifesto, went in the Queen’s Speech. Perhaps my noble friend the Minister can assure us that they will be kept in the Government’s plans. Gone too are the corporate governance and executive pay restrictions and the inhibitions on FDI by changing the current takeover rules. This is welcome and, I believe, marks a turning point.
As my noble friend Lady Rock said, government is now listening to the voice of business, which frankly, as Luke Johnson recently wrote in the Sunday Times business section, needs to be less timid and more forthright. The business community has a responsibility to stand up and explain to all its stakeholders the devastation to the economy that a Labour Party Queen’s Speech would have wrought. It promised unaffordable borrowing, crude executive pay caps, trashing the flexible labour market, nationalisation of key industries at unspecified cost and increasing corporate tax, among many other measures, which, all the evidence suggests, by increasing the rate, would have reduced the tax take. Business has a right to be heard and an obligation to speak up. Neither has happened recently; thus, big business is currently considering making the easy move overseas if a change of Government were to arise. SMEs are also petrified of this eventuality and all businesses look to this Government for assurances that they are valued as a key contributor to our political economy.
There is some light ahead. I look forward to the findings from Sir Damon Buffini’s review into patient capital. I hope he finds creative ways to encourage pension funds to invest in venture capital. Elsewhere in the manifesto and the Address we continue to pursue regulation that ensures good and fair competition in markets, not least in energy. Ensuring that markets work for consumers is quintessentially Tory and something we on this side of the House should never lose sight of. We must keep up with corporate tax reductions as a clear signal to business that it continues to be welcome here.
In short, this is of course an Address that rightly focuses on Brexit, and the decision to extend Parliament to a two-year Session is wholly justified. I hope noble Lords will seek to work across party divides to ensure legislation is passed that enhances our current very competitive position, which is in part due to our low taxes and our flexible labour market. We need to strive to help existing and aspiring entrepreneurs to create wealth for all UK citizens. We have a Government who are, as my noble friend Lord Flight said, spending more not less, who are cutting the deficit, and who have seen the highest employment rates and fastest growth rates of any comparable country in the world. How is that? It is because they have a vibrant and entrepreneurial business community.
I look forward to that energy coming back into government to help our economy with legislation focused on ensuring business, and thus economic, success. We have shown we can do it; let us not stop now.