Sensible risk-tasking must replace the “draconian” Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, Conservative peers have told ministers.
Tory Baroness Noakes warned the coronavirus is causing “massive damage” to the economy as she pressed for the existing “risk aversion” approach to be replaced to aid the recovery.
Party colleague Lord Dobbs also argued “lockdown means poverty” and workplaces must begin to open up, acknowledging there are risks in such an approach but that these fell on both sides of the equation.
Lord Dobbs added a public inquiry into the UK’s response to the pandemic will take place, but told peers: “We must go on getting better and we should remember even Winston Churchill needed a Dunkirk before he reached his D-Day.”
Tory former work and pensions minister Baroness Buscombe urged the Government to be “proportionate” and reduce the social distancing rule to one-metre and called for schools to re-open “to free up the workforce and to stem the tide of this, frankly, with respect, cultural and economic suicide”.
Their remarks came during a virtual House of Lords debate on the role of business and the private sector in the Covid-19 pandemic.
Lady Noakes urged further support for small and medium-sized businesses before saying: “We need to move from risk aversion to sensible risk-taking.
“Let us have an end to the draconian Covid-19 restrictions as soon as possible so businesses and individuals can return to the normal world of taking responsibility for making informed decisions.
“Economic recovery cannot begin without that.”
Opening the debate, former Conservative Party deputy chairman Lord Dobbs said the private sector will be key in meeting the challenges faced as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic – and dismissed as “nonsense” the belief of “welfare before wealth”.
He said: “Private enterprise is showing itself to be extraordinarily adaptive. I read on the BBC that one quick-witted manufacturer has turned his 3D printing operation, one that usually makes sex toys, into producing ear protectors for the NHS.”
Lord Dobbs added “it’s not quite swords into ploughshares” but he praised the ingenuity.
He also told peers: “A new generation is about to discover the pain of mass unemployment through no fault of its own.”
Lord Dobbs said there will be “hard times ahead for us all”, adding: “Yet there are some who almost welcome the downturn, using it for their own narrow ideological purposes.
“More control, more regulation – ‘we must put welfare before wealth’, they cry.
“Rarely has more nonsense been encapsulated in a single phrase.
“Without wealth, and particularly without new wealth that we’re going to have to create, there will be no welfare.
“We can’t share what we haven’t got.
“We’re going to face entirely understandable demands in increases in spending on health, on our growing number of elderly, on cleaner, greener industry, on education and training, yet far from their hoped for increases, these sectors and many others face budget cuts that will turn their dreams to nightmares unless we can get Britain back to work.”
There's no place called safety right now, and I'm also keen for this House of Lords to get back to our proper way of businessLord Dobbs
Lord Dobbs said Covid-19 must be “fought on many fronts” and warned the economic recession will bring mental illness, poverty, pessimism and other problems.
“In the coming months we’re going to be hit by a tidal wave of appeals to support this sector or that interest, all of which may be thoroughly worthwhile even vital,” he said.
“But we can’t look forward if we’re shackled by poverty and failure, and lockdown means poverty.
“If Britain ends up permanently poorer then the virus will have won. So we need to turn the situation into opportunity to create new wealth.
“That’ll only come through the private sector.”
Lord Dobbs said workplaces must “open up again”, adding: “Yes, there are risks in doing that but there are risks on both sides of the equation.
“There’s no place called safety right now, and I’m also keen for this House of Lords to get back to our proper way of business – otherwise the idea will grow that we’re nothing but a gathering of the elderly and infirm.”
David Blunkett contributes to a Lords debate, with his dog barking in the background.— Richard Wheeler (@richard_kaputt) May 21, 2020
Hopefully Hansard will include: "My Lords **Woof! Woof! Woof!** in my **Woof!** two minutes **Woof!** I wish to emphasise the importance **Woof!** about..." pic.twitter.com/dlnaJPAYdv
Lady Buscombe later said: “We cannot afford this disproportionate approach to the risks.
“Otherwise, unless we are prepared to radically reform our generous welfare system, the private sector and the taxpayer cannot afford to support the fall out from this crisis.”
Labour peer Lord Hunt of Kings Heath said, despite a “fantastic response” from business to tackling the pandemic, there had been “a puzzling” number of examples of the Government being reluctant to accept offers of help.
Independent crossbencher Lord Tyrie, chairman of the Competition and Markets Authority, highlighted the future role of the watchdog in “post-crisis reconstruction” and indicated it would need tougher powers.
The former Tory MP, who headed the Commons Treasury Select Committee, said: “The starting point won’t be good.
“Big recessions usually weaken competition as market concentration rises.
“Legislation is going to be needed and to play a full role we will need a stronger legislative base.”