[Mr Christopher Chope in the Chair] — backbench business — Banking Competition

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:00 pm on 12th July 2012.

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Photo of George Freeman George Freeman Conservative, Mid Norfolk 4:00 pm, 12th July 2012

I thank Mr Speaker for allowing this important debate to take place, and for my chance to contribute to it. I congratulate my hon. Friends on securing the debate and on their contributions, particularly my hon. Friends the Members for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom), for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Wells (Tessa Munt), but other hon. Members who have spoken, too.

I am not, never have been and never will be a banker, unlike hon. Friends who have specialist expertise in the world of high finance and banking. It is important that hon. Members bring to the House expertise in sectors that we need to regulate and guide. My interest, and my contribution today, is offered not with great expertise in the specific measures needed to put the banking sector right, but to articulate concerns about the implications of the banking crisis for what is sometimes referred to as the real economy.

I speak as somebody with a deep interest in growth, small business, enterprise and innovation. In a 15-year career before coming to the House, I was involved in starting small companies in the field of science and innovation, principally the biosciences. Typically, they were companies with an idea, a small team, a business plan and no money, raising funding for ambitious businesses to develop innovative products and services, often through a number of financing rounds, before acquiring another company or being acquired, or achieving an exit through the public markets.

I therefore speak with a particular interest in the life sciences, of which colleagues will be aware. The sector has much to offer the nation, as we seek to build a rebalanced recovery and a sustainable economic model. It has vast potential to help us to grow our trade links with the emerging world—the BRIC economies. A reference to Jim O’Neill and Goldman Sachs has already been made, and we met recently to discuss his latest analysis that, on top of the BRIC countries, the next 11 coming behind have phenomenal rates of growth in already large economies. Our life sciences have the potential to allow us to seed—literally, in some cases—the markets of tomorrow and to grow the alliances of tomorrow, which will, among other things, have the benefit of de-leveraging our financial dependence on the sclerotic eurozone.

I speak also as somebody with a long and passionate interest in the East Anglian innovation economy, a region that the Government increasingly recognise as a key driver for sustainable growth. It is a net contributor to the Treasury and has at its heart Cambridge, a globally recognised centre of science innovation, entrepreneurship and companies in need of finance. In my own county of Norfolk, the Norwich Research Park, a globally recognised centre of innovation, is becoming increasingly linked to Cambridge through the Government’s excellent investment in infrastructure.

I speak also as the father of two children. I am concerned about the world in which they will grow up and the economy in which they will have to make a living. Our generation in Parliament is important if we are to get this right. I want to touch on the context in which it is helpful to view this issue. This is not just a crisis of debt, although it is surely that. It is not just a crisis of regulation. It is not even just a crisis of political leadership. We are living through a deep crisis of political economy, which is shaking the very foundations of the world as we have come to know it in the past 20 or 30 years. One of the profoundly unsettling things about crises of political economy is that they undermine the very legitimacy of the institutions through which we seek to tackle them. That creates something of a perfect storm—a financial and political hurricane that fuels itself. As we see trust in the media, trust in the political class, trust in the bankers and trust in the regulators undermined—not least by the way in which those groups, in the past 20 or 30 years, have become too cosy—we start to fuel a growing public distrust of the idea that there is any institution capable of fundamentally tackling this problem. I am more optimistic than that. If we are honest about the causes of the problem, and rigorous and robust in our analysis, we can be optimistic about the future.