Penrose Review: UK Competition and Consumer Policy — [Clive Efford in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 8th March 2022.

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Photo of John Penrose John Penrose Conservative, Weston-Super-Mare 2:30 pm, 8th March 2022

I thank the Minister for that information. If they comply with seven different principles of good subsidy, as opposed to bad subsidy, they can just get on with it—whether that is a local council or a national Government Minister, or anybody in between.

That is fine, except that we are keeping them a secret. We are not telling anybody what the subsidies are that we are dishing out. The EU system, which is what we are trying to replace, says that it is necessary to disclose any subsidies above half a million euros, which is quite a high level, actually. It means that a lot of subsidies are never disclosed at all, particularly if they are dished out by local councils. We are saying that it is not necessary to declare any subsidies under half a million pounds. The last time I looked at the euro-pound exchange rate, that is a higher level of disclosure than the old EU system. There are some other levels that are a bit lower for other bits and pieces, about which I am sure the Minister will remind us.

However, broadly speaking, we are going to declare less in future: we will be less transparent than we were in the past. That leaves the door open to cronyism—to local authorities or national Governments dishing out money to their mates, secure in the knowledge that nobody will know because we will not be able to see. It also leaves the door open to higher levels of subsidisation, potentially of less competitive firms, and therefore to wasting taxpayers’ money in future. Given what is happening to the cost of living at the moment, none of us wants to waste a single penny of hard-won taxpayers’ money, particularly when we have to take it as taxes in the first place.

It is a curate’s egg. It is sort of two cheers, rather than three, for what has been done so far. After a year, there has been genuine progress, and I am delighted to celebrate the points on the positive side of the ledger that I started off with. However, there is quite a lot—marginally more—on the negative side of the ledger; those things have not yet happened, but they could. The advantage is that most of the reforms that I have gone through—which have not yet happened, but which could—will not cost the Treasury a bean. They will not cost the taxpayer a bean. They will mean that British jobs and companies will become more competitive, more sustainable and safer in the long term, because, ultimately, the only thing that protects us against international competition is the fact that we are better than the international firms we compete against. It is a cheap route to economic success.

I am hoping, therefore, that it is a bit of a no-brainer. It is one of those things about which we say, “Why wouldn’t you do all of this stuff? Why on earth would you not?” The only reason, I am sure, is that there are genuinely significant vested interests behind some of these things that make them difficult to shift. However, we have a doughty warrior in the shape of the Government Minister responding to this debate. I am therefore looking forward to hearing how quickly he will be able to fight and smite the various different vested interests that would otherwise slow us down.