Clearly, the issue will be what the OFT concludes and what the EU concludes. Obviously, we will have discussions with the British Bankers Association, but Northern Rock will need to operate in compliance with UK competition law. It will obviously also have to comply with the EU state aid rules.
We have to remember the underpinning purpose of this intervention, which was to secure the financial stability of the banking system. As we have said previously, it would obviously not be in the interests of other banks or consumers for there to be unfair competition. Equally, it would not have been in the interests of other banks or consumers if Northern Rock had gone under in the autumn and there had been a spread of instability across the banking system. Sometimes I think that hon. Members who raise concerns about this are in fact raising concerns about the fact that Government guarantees have been introduced at all.
We think that it was right to introduce those Government guarantees, because we need to safeguard the stability of the wider banking system as part of the need to promote stability across the board. Therefore, I hope that the House will agree to disagree with Lords amendment No. 3.
I turn next to Lords amendment No. 1, which concerns the independent audit. Clearly, there should be an independent audit of Northern Rock. Indeed, an independent audit is currently under way. Northern Rock's audited annual accounts will be published, after independent audit, by the end of March. That should give the House and the public information on Northern Rock's assets and liabilities as part of its balance sheet. Northern Rock will continue to be subject to the requirements of the Companies Act 1985 and the Companies Act 2006. That means that the annual reports and accounts must be independently audited and filed with the registrar of companies for public access. We think that that is the appropriate way to conduct the audit.