Financial Services Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:12 pm on 30th November 2009.

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Photo of Mark Todd Mark Todd Labour, South Derbyshire 8:12 pm, 30th November 2009

I do not know whether I shall be serving on the Committee for which some people are volunteering and on which others will be extremely disappointed not to be serving. It will consider a portmanteau Bill covering a wide range of issues relating to financial services. Thus, Dr. Cable reasonably said, "Well if it is such a bag, let's see what other elements might be stuffed into it." The Committee will almost certainly have before it a number of amendments suggesting the inclusion of a variety of measures, particularly on consumer protection, that might be useful.

May I run through some of the issues in which I have been particularly interested, the first of which relates to the Council for Financial Stability? I serve on the Treasury Committee and I subscribe to the opinions that it expressed: that this would appear to be a rebranding exercise, unless far greater detail is given about how this body will function. The Bill is silent on that-we will doubtless hear more in Committee. Those who miss that experience will miss out on the detailed exposition that might be given.

One of the difficulties that we face is that at the start of this crisis no institution explicitly had responsibility for financial stability, but now everyone has. The Financial Services Authority has been given it-or it will be given responsibility, should this Bill pass into law-and the Banking Act 2009 gave it to the Bank of England. I am not sure that that makes us feel much safer, partly because when everyone shares a responsibility, it is not entirely clear who is genuinely answerable for decision making-I shall discuss that later.

Secondly, I am not sure that we are very clear on what financial stability actually means. We know when it is absent-that is easy to work out; we have been through a period of obvious financial instability-but it is not entirely clear how we define "financial stability" and how we learn, institutionally, of the threats that there might be to it, which will not be identical to the ones through which we have been recently.

In any institutional framework-be it this tripartite system or the system that Mr. Osborne proposed-the things that most concern me are how exactly it will work, and how information flows and how the allocation of the tools and responsibilities for dealing with crises are addressed. This is one of the areas where the Governor of the Bank of England has been perfectly fairly pressing the political class in this country to define its positions more clearly. If we are to allocate responsibilities for financial stability, the crucial element is to work out who does the various tasks. We are still searching for firm answers on that.

One of the issues that concerns me most is information flow. If the FSA retains, as I believe it should, the regulatory responsibility for financial institutions in this country, the information gathered will be a crucial part of the Bank of England's carrying out of its financial stability responsibilities. I am not entirely clear that that information flow works correctly now; it is not built into law in the 2009 Act. I, like those who sat through that Committee stage, remember some discussion about whether it might be included in the legislative obligations attached to the FSA and passed through to the Bank of England.

My second area of concern relates to who exactly makes the decisions. There are trigger points during a crisis at which it is clear that one person provides information and another says, "This is what we are going to do." I am always uncomfortable about such a process. We still have some refinements to make on this.

The hon. Member for Tatton has departed to the event that will keep him away from the wind-ups, so I shall have to address Mr. Hoban in the hope that he may pass this point on. The hon. Member for Tatton gave an exposition of the support that he appears to be getting, but some of that comes from those who, as I have said, are naturally looking to their own futures and wish to make positive remarks to what they see as a possible Government in waiting. If I were in such a role, I would not want to be dismissive or rude about proposals put to me by an Opposition who appear to be leading in the opinion polls. We have to understand human nature.

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