My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Forsyth on securing today’s debate. I am very grateful for the opportunity to contribute on such an important and timely topic.
This debate comes just two weeks after the Chancellor delivered the Budget but, according to the National Institute of Economic and Social Research, the economy in this country is contracting faster than in the 1930s and far more than was forecast by Mr Darling in his Budget. Nearly 2 million people are unemployed at present and this figure is likely to rise. In addition to losing their jobs, large numbers of people are having their houses repossessed. On the Government’s own figures, the national debt will double again to £1.4 trillion; every baby will now be born owing £22,500; and interest repayments have risen to £43 billion a year, which is more than the schools budget.
In recent months, much has been said in your Lordships’ House about leadership. Instead of strong leadership, we have seen mismanagement of the economy, with the Government appearing to be in crisis-management mode, lurching from one disaster to another. Rather than strong and decisive action when it was most needed, Labour has dithered on important decisions, and this has resulted in the massive debt in which we as a nation and people all over the country find themselves. Today, we find ourselves less well prepared than any of our major competitors.
I think we all appreciate that fiscal responsibility must be the foundation of any economic policy. Rather than having excessive expenditure and failing to save when times are good, to my mind it is essential that a Government learn to live within their means. That is not just a good policy for the Government; it is an important lesson for every household up and down the country. We must all appreciate that there is not an endless amount of credit to be had and that restraint is good. British households have the highest debt of any major economy. The number of bankruptcies and repossessions is rising, and this legacy will take years to overcome.
As the chairman of an insurance organisation, I firmly believe in trimming expenditure and feel that the Government must be prudent. I believe that we can cut waste without affecting front-line services, and this is an important goal. There is too much waste in public services—in bureaucracy within the NHS, the police and other areas. By cutting this waste, we will not hamper their efficiency but improve it. Better front-line services are important to everyone, and we must be committed to cutting waste where it exists and ensuring better value for money for the hard-working taxpayer. We must strive to achieve this to ensure that help is in place for those who need it—the sick, the poor and the unemployed—when they need it.
I am an employer. All employers create wealth and provide employment. A number of employers and entrepreneurs earn more than £150,000 a year, and these people will be penalised by the imposition of the 50p tax rate. I firmly believe that higher taxes for the wealthy are counterproductive and that they stifle the creation of wealth for the country.
My business is financial services. In future, the banking and financial services industry needs to exercise proper housekeeping and better risk-management measures. There needs to be a change of culture. We need to revitalise the industry and to think carefully before we apply very strict regulations. The industry of course creates a considerable income for the country.
Most of us have elderly parents and relatives, and we should believe in a fair approach to pensions so that older people do not suffer and are comfortable in their retirement. Older people make a huge contribution to society but this is not always reflected by government. It is important that their potential is recognised and supported. Their savings need to produce an appropriate yield.
I have a number of friends who are doctors and I feel that we need to look carefully at all aspects of the National Health Service. This means that proper funding is needed and, where risk exists, it must be eliminated to ensure that patients benefit. A&E departments and maternity units are vital to communities, and these must be preserved and not cut. All this can be achieved by prudent spending and cutting back on unnecessary waste in the system. Front-line services such as the NHS do not have to be affected in the economic downturn if we are prudent about where the money goes.
Now is the time when we need to help ordinary families; instead, this Budget taxes the people who can least afford it. The national insurance contribution in 2011 will hit everyone earning £20,000 a year or more when we should be starting to see the economy grow further. My party wants to help families. On that note, I shall end as my time is up.