With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I would like to make a statement regarding developments in financial markets to bring the House up to date.
The events in America over the last few weeks and in Europe over the last few days have again demonstrated the global nature and the sheer scale of the problems affecting the global financial system. What started in America last year has now spread to every part of the world and the disruption in global financial markets has intensified, especially over the last few weeks.
People are rightly concerned about what is happening, and I have made it clear that we will do whatever is necessary to maintain stability. Along with Governments across the world, I have a responsibility to support a stable, well functioning banking system. Financial transactions are at the heart of everything we do. They allow people to buy goods, pay for services, buy homes, save for pensions and invest, so it is essential that we take action to support the banking system as a whole, as well as being ready to intervene in particular cases where it is necessary to do so. It is not a case of doing either one or the other. Both general support and individual intervention are necessary.
We need, too, to work with other countries to tackle the causes of those problems, as well as dealing with their consequences. Let me briefly remind the House of what we have done to stabilise the banking system as a whole. Since April, the Bank of England, with support from the Government, has introduced the special liquidity scheme providing funding to the banks. The Government have made available in excess of £100 billion of long-term funding to be lent through the scheme, and the Bank of England has extended it until January. I am willing to make further resources available as necessary and the Governor has made it clear that
"in these extraordinary market conditions, the Bank of England will take all actions necessary to ensure that the banking system has access to sufficient liquidity".
The Bank of England has also continued to inject substantial funds into markets through its normal operations, and it will continue to do so. Tomorrow, it will put in another £40 billion, taking in a wider range of security, and those operations will continue into November.
We also need to deal with specific problems as they arise, to maintain stability. In February, we took special powers to bring Northern Rock into public ownership—now seen by most people as the right thing to do. I can tell the House that Northern Rock has now paid back more than half the taxpayers' money that was lent to it and it continues to repay its loan ahead of schedule.
In August, I announced that the Government would swap up to £3 billion of outstanding debt for equity, if required, to strengthen Northern Rock's capital position. In September, we amended the competition regime to allow the interests of financial stability to be considered in the proposed merger between Lloyds TSB and HBOS. We took that exceptional measure because financial stability had to come before normal competition concerns.
Ten days ago, we had to deal with the problems at Bradford & Bingley. We transferred the savings business, the branches and the related jobs to Abbey Santander, protecting savers, and took the rest of the company into public ownership. We acted decisively to protect savers, and also the interests of taxpayers, ensuring that the financial sector bears its share of the costs.
I have made it clear on many occasions that our priority is to maintain stability and protect the interests of depositors, and safeguard the interests of the taxpayer. I want to set out what we have done so far here at home and also to deal with developments in Europe over the weekend.
The Financial Services Authority has announced a further increase from tomorrow to the compensation limit for retail bank deposits to £50,000 per depositor, which means £100,000 for joint accounts. That measure will ensure that 98 per cent. of accounts are fully covered. The FSA is consulting on whether to increase that limit further to ensure that arrangements here continue to be comparable with international best practice.
I have always been clear that each country needs to do whatever is necessary to deal with its own particular circumstances. However, I also believe that, wherever it is possible to do so, countries should work together and act to maintain stability. This afternoon—in the last hour—all 27 European Union member states have reaffirmed the need to take whatever measures are necessary to maintain the stability of the financial system, whether through liquidity support, action to deal with individual banks or enhanced depositor protection schemes. But in the light of what has happened over the weekend, it is especially important that EU member states work far more closely together. So tomorrow I will meet European Finance Ministers in Luxembourg to discuss further how we bring stability to the system and protect depositors.
This demonstrates that every country in the world—Europe included—is being affected by these problems. In the United States, Congress has now approved measures to support its banking system, which we welcome. Our approach has been different, but what has happened in America emphasises yet again the need for countries to take whatever action they believe is necessary while also working closely together not just to resolve these problems, but to try to prevent them from happening again.
Later this week, I will attend the G7 and International Monetary Fund meetings in Washington. Our aim is to reduce uncertainty and to improve confidence in financial markets by increasing the openness of financial institutions' exposures. We also want to change and improve the effectiveness of credit rating agencies. These measures are now being implemented, but I believe that we need to move far more quickly.
Here at home, a number of specific steps are necessary. First, the Bank of England will continue to do whatever it takes to make cash available for banks to lend. Secondly, the banking Bill will be introduced tomorrow, building on the special powers we took in February to allow us to intervene quickly and decisively. It will also give the Bank of England a statutory role to maintain financial stability, to complement the role of the FSA.
Thirdly, just as at an international level, lessons need to learned. We need to ensure our regulatory system here is up to the mark. It is not about light touch against heavy-handed regulation; it is about making sure that we have the necessary rules in place and that those rules are enforced effectively. I have asked Adair Turner, the new chairman of the FSA, to make recommendations for reforms. As recent events in the financial markets have shown us, regulation should be about liquidity as well as capital. That is why the FSA is considering changes to the liquidity requirements. It is also looking at remuneration structures in the institutions that it regulates.
Fourthly, we must do everything we can to ensure not only that banks have the confidence to lend to each other, but that lending is maintained to the mortgage market, businesses and individuals. I shall publish Sir James Crosby's recommendations on options for improving the functioning of the mortgage finance markets shortly.
These are exceptional times, and I am in no doubt as to the size of the task facing us and Governments across the world in bringing order to the financial system. The process of change will necessarily take some time to work through, and because we are dealing with international institutions and international markets, it will require not only action at a national level here, but concerted international action.
It is right that we look at every aspect—liquidity, capital and regulation—with other countries and of course with the financial sector itself, but it would be irresponsible to speculate on the specifics of future responses. Indeed, providing a running commentary could add uncertainty in already febrile market conditions. But I want to make it clear that all practical options must remain open to us. I have made it very clear that the Government are ready, with the resources and the commitment, to do whatever is necessary, and I will keep the House informed.
Our priority, at home and abroad, is to bring stability to the financial system, to ensure that depositors and savers are protected, and to defend the interest of the taxpayer. I commend this statement to the House.
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