Lord Paul Myners, the Treasury Minister, demonstrated how he has become an adroit House of Lords performer when he administered a devastating put-down of Cross-bencher Lord Bilimoria in the second Lords Question this afternoon.
He was answering a question originally posed by Lord Joel Barnett (the question was actually asked by Lord Robert Sheldon on his behalf as he was absent today – on his 86th birthday – having suffered a mild stroke in the Chamber on Monday) about what specific policies have been imposed on the banks over which the Government has effective control.
The second supplementary came from Lord Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra Beer which has recently faced some insolvency problems with creditors losing £75 million. The exchange – which drew gasps from the House – was as follows:
“Lord Bilimoria: My Lords, given what the Minister has just said, why is it that—I know this through bitter experience—everyone from whom I hear in the SME community continues to feel that they cannot get lending from the banks? Why have the Government saved the banks while not doing enough to save the businesses that those banks are there to serve?
Lord Myners: The experience that the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, describes is not one that completely accords with what we hear from the banks. Yesterday afternoon, my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch and I met the heads of small business lending of every major UK bank, together with representatives of the CBI, the Engineering Employers’ Federation and the Federation of Small Businesses. It was quite clear from that meeting that the primary issue in terms of lending to creditworthy, well managed and solvent businesses is demand. I cannot speak to personal experiences in which those definitions of business may not necessarily apply.”
Squelch! Who can he have had in mind when he referred to businesses that were not creditworthy, well managed and solvent?