The Economy

Part of Opposition Day — [8th Allotted Day] – in the House of Commons at 5:34 pm on 18th March 2009.

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Photo of Nick Ainger Nick Ainger Labour, Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire 5:34 pm, 18th March 2009

I was surprised by the comments of Mr. Heald. The opening speech made by his Front-Bench spokesman made no proposals other than the perpetually fed-out idea of a £50 billion loan guarantee system. There was nothing else. Where was the beef? This was an opportunity for the Opposition to set out what they would do if they were in government, and they have come up with one scheme that my hon. Friend Mr. Robinson was able to start picking holes in during the debate.

Thirty-two years ago this week, on 19 March, my daughter was born. On 20 March, I was made redundant. Understandably, that had an enormous impact on me. In my political life, I have always argued that everything and anything should be done to avoid unemployment and to keep as many people in work as possible. I would never want what my family went through—thankfully for a relatively short period—to happen to any other family if it was avoidable.

Although my hon. Friend Mr. Henderson said that he thought that the Back-Bench speeches had been good, I was disappointed because one thing seemed to be missing from the Tory Back-Bench speeches—we have not heard anything from Lib Dem Back Benchers, because they are not here—and that was a plan of action. We simply heard the claim that the £50 billion loan guarantee scheme would suddenly release funds into the economy and everything would be hunky-dory. It is quite clear that although lending is enormously important, we have a global recession and the real economy is starting to be hammered, too. That shows that the solution is not just about providing greater lending in the economy. I want to say a few words about how we got here.

I am a member of the Treasury Committee and we have taken hours of evidence—first on Northern Rock and now on our latest inquiry into the banking crisis. One thing that has come out is that although serious mistakes and errors have been made by the FSALord Adair Turner is certainly tackling those issues in his report, which was published today—blaming a politician or the FSA is rather like a serial burglar claiming when he comes before the magistrate that he robbed so many houses because the police were ineffective. The problem is that for possibly two decades—and certainly in the last decade—a "get rich quick" culture has developed in the financial services industry and the banking industry, where early profit was rewarded and no one minded about the longer-term issues.

That situation was highlighted for me by some of the evidence that we received from academics and those who work in the financial services sector—commentators as well as practitioners. One example concerned the complexity of the derivatives that have been developed in the past two decades and the complete failure of senior managers to understand the risks involved. The classic example of how we got into this mess involves Lord Aldington, the UK chairman of Deutsche Bank. His bank had to write of billions of dollars worth of dodgy derivatives—collateralised debt obligations—the week before he gave evidence to the Committee. The Chairman asked him to explain what a CDO squared was, but Lord Aldington said that he did not deal in that sort of detail.

However, it is not just the banks' boards or senior management who are responsible, because shareholders too have not been active enough in asking the necessary questions. To be fair, some financial institutions such as Legal and General were trying to persuade the RBS board in early 2008 to sack Fred Goodwin and Tom McKillip as the bank's chief executive and chairman. They felt that the bank was following a model that was far too risky, and they were proven absolutely right.