Andrea Leadsom – 2010 Maiden Speech to the House of Commons

Andrea Leadsom
Andrea Leadsom

Below is the text of the maiden speech made by Andrea Leadsom, the Conservative MP for South Northamptonshire, on 22 June 2010.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, the amount of global derivatives outstanding is now $1.14 quadrillion; that is more than $1,000 trillion and more than 10 times the GDP of the entire world. It is a vast risk, and not only that; it is largely unregulated and traded between the banks themselves.

I am grateful for this opportunity to give my maiden speech during today’s crucial Budget debate. There is no doubt that the actions we take now to cut our deficit and make our banking system safer will determine how quickly our economy recovers.

In speaking today, I am following in the big footsteps of my predecessor, Tim Boswell. He made his maiden speech during a debate on the Finance Bill in 1987, and I hope I am not tempting fate, because within a few months of his speech the stock market spectacularly crashed.

It is a great pleasure to pay tribute to Tim’s 23 years of service in this House. He is one of a small number of politicians to have been called a saint by The Daily Telegraph and he has certainly been an honourable Member of this House. As well as his many virtues, however, he also has a wicked sense of humour. He recently e-mailed me to tell me he was never going to vote for me again-ever. It was only after a few minutes of sheer panic that I realised that that was his way of giving me the great news of his elevation to the other
place. Tim has many friends on both sides of the House and I am sure many Members will want to join me in congratulating him on his well-deserved new role.

South Northamptonshire is a new constituency, with two thirds of it from Tim Boswell’s Daventry and a third from Northampton South. My family members have worked and farmed there for generations. It is a wonderful place in the heart of England: we have a mixture of ancient villages, with the market towns of Brackley and Towcester; we have thriving new communities on the outskirts of Northampton; and, of course, we have the world-famous Silverstone circuit. Engineering and technology businesses are a great strength, and we also have some big local employers, such as Barclaycard and Carlsberg.

We do have our own challenges, however. Under the last Government Northamptonshire was a huge target for housing growth, with little regard for the needs and desires of existing long-standing communities, and I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government has announced plans to scrap the regional spatial strategies, thereby giving power back to local people.

We have been beset with applications for wind turbines on the edge of villages, where local residents have felt unable to defend their own environment.

More recently, we have whole communities under threat from Labour’s preferred route for high-speed rail. It would literally cut through farms and villages in my constituency, in some places on a 6 metre-high embankment. We all know that we cannot build new infrastructure painlessly, but there is a huge price to pay by people whose homes and businesses would be destroyed by the track. I urge our Government to make sure that the consultation on high-speed rail gives to everyone whose life and business will be affected the opportunity to have their voice heard. South Northamptonshire is a gem of a place to live, to work and to visit and I am hugely honoured to be its first Member of Parliament.

Let me return to the subject of the debate. To me, it is absolutely key to restore the health of our financial services sector as a critical part of restoring our broken economy. There are two ways of doing that. First, I am glad that my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already decided to give back extra responsibility to the Bank of England.

In 1995, Barings bank collapsed due to rogue trading in the far east. Nick Leeson had found a way to put on massive uncovered derivatives exposure without the knowledge of Barings’ treasury in London, in a different time zone if not on a different planet. At the time, I was managing the investment banks team at Barclays, and we were the principal banker to Barings. The collapse came on a Friday evening and the markets were threatening chaos, but Eddie George, the then Governor of the Bank of England, called together a small group of bankers, including myself, and we worked over the weekend to calm the fears of banks that were exposed to Barings. The direct result was that there was no run on the banks on the Monday morning, Barings was allowed to fail and there was no systemic contagion.

The difference between that experience and the more recent experience with Northern Rock is the difference between accountability and the tripartite system. In 1995, Eddie George knew that it was down to him to prevent a run on the banks, whereas in the case of Northern Rock, we had the Financial Services Agency looking to the Bank of England, which was looking to the Treasury for action. The result was the first run on a bank in 150 years and a taste of the financial meltdown to come.

From my experience, I am positive that a key to restoring the health of our financial sector is giving back powers and accountability to the Bank of England, and I am delighted that my right hon. Friend plans to do just that.

There is a second key action that we need to take as well. The financial crisis was not just a failure of regulation; it was also a failure of competition. The great Adam Smith always said in his wealth-creation ideas that for markets to be free and for us to create new wealth we have to have free entry and free exit of market players.

But in the world of finance those principles have not been true for years: cost and complexity have created huge barriers to new entry; we have already seen that Governments cannot possibly allow a single bank to fail when there are issues of systemic contagion; and we see every day the distortion of free competition in the power of investment banks to charge huge margins for derivatives trading and underwriting.

So, I and many of my ex-City colleagues argue that a key way of making our banking system safer is through measures to change the culture of our financial sector. The banks that are supposedly too big to fail must be broken up. The barriers to entry must be removed. The ability to charge monopoly prices must be taken away.

In South Northamptonshire, businesses are struggling because of the lack of available working capital, but with our high-tech and engineering expertise we should be really well placed to build new jobs in the low-carbon economy that our Government want to create.

The Government are right to want to promote a broader mix of business in our economy. That mix must contain a successful financial services sector with healthy competition and the free availability of working capital.

It is a mix that will be at the core of our economic recovery.