The insurance industry has been urged to join the debate about the "true character" of risk in small business.

Speaking at Insurance Times' Making money from SMEs conference Mark Prisk MP, shadow minister for small business, said the industry had an "integral" part to play in spreading the word about the "danger and the rewards of risk".

He said: "We need to begin a public debate about risk and why it is essential to enterprise and, therefore, our national well being. You as individuals and as an industry need to get involved in that debate and bring your expertise and know how."

His call comes in response to the creation of a Risk Commission by the Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) to determine ways in which a better public understanding of risk can be achieved.

It aims to examine issues of risk in five key areas including childhood, transport, engineering, medicine and security.

Sir Paul Judge, chairman of the commission, said: "I believe that a series of factors have given many people a distorted sense of personal risk. This is having a damaging effect on the government of our society and on our personal attitudes to risk and enterprise.

The commission will draw on experts from different fields to help produce a report for each study area, analysing past scares and the responses to them, as well as assessing future areas of possible risk to influence public policy and opinion.

Geoff Taylor, chairman-elect of Airmic, said: "Airmic supports this initiative to educate the public about the nature of risk and are happy to participate.

"It is important to emphasise the positive nature of risk as well as the more unpleasant aspects; risk can be about opportunity, not just avoiding disasters."