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Banking Reform

Part of Business of the House – in the House of Commons at 1:18 pm on 17th June 2010.

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Photo of Gareth Thomas Gareth Thomas Shadow Minister (International Development), Party Chair, Co-operative Party 1:18 pm, 17th June 2010

May I thank the Financial Secretary for advance sight of his statement, and as this is, I think, his first outing in his new role, may I congratulate him and welcome him to his post-and, indeed, wish him well?

While no one can dispute that a failure to regulate effectively was at the heart of the global financial crisis, the key failure by regulators in monitoring agencies and central banks across the globe was in understanding the growing systemic risks in financial services. We also should not overlook the failure in bank boardrooms to understand what was going on. This was not just an issue in the UK. Does the Financial Secretary accept that in some countries the central bank had prime responsibility for regulation, whereas in others, including ours, responsibility has been shared, and in our case between the Bank, the FSA and the Treasury, and that the Bank has always had responsibilities for financial stability?

Specifically, who will appoint the new Financial Policy Committee? Will individual members have their own vote, or will that be merely advisory to the Governor? Will FPC minutes be published, and will the Governor or the chief executive of the PRA ultimately be responsible for the decision on whether to act? Does the Financial Secretary also accept that there will be concern-not least among those who were victims of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International, of which my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz has consistently reminded the House-about the record of the Bank of England in financial services supervision, and will he now consider publishing part two of the Bingham Report?

Will the Financial Secretary not acknowledge too that the Financial Services Authority today is a vastly different regulator from the FSA of 2007-as, indeed, the Treasury Committee has acknowledged? Will he acknowledge that a significant level of better trained new staff and the new activism of the FSA in its supervisory role has led to a bolder, more vigorous approach to financial services regulation in recent times?

How, in practice, will the Financial Secretary avoid the very real risk of a loss of energy as regulators now focus on their own future, given that there continues to be considerable uncertainty and instability in global financial markets? Specifically, can he clarify who will be responsible for supervision and regulation before 2012, and will he acknowledge the profound risk, given the proliferation of new bodies he has announced, of ongoing regulatory confusion-of issues falling between the cracks? Indeed, is it not right that there will now be effectively two different regulators for many financial firms?

I was surprised by the absence of any reference to the Banking Commission in the statement. Does the Financial Secretary not accept that proposals to break up banks would not have made any difference to Northern Rock, a retail bank, or Lehman Brothers, an investment bank, and that what is needed is increased capital held by banks and living wills to manage the possibility of future banking problems? Will he explain how the deliberations of this commission on a possible break-up of British banks, such as Barclays or HSBC, can be conducted in a way that reassures the markets and does not exacerbate financial instability?

Does the Financial Secretary recognise that the financial services industry employs over 1 million people and remains crucial to our economic future? Will he ensure that, whatever proposals he accepts-if, indeed, he does accept any from the commission-we do not put ourselves at a commercial disadvantage compared with other countries? Specifically, how will the proposals announced today impact on remuneration, and what ongoing effort is there to secure international agreement on banking levies again, so that Britain is not at a competitive disadvantage?

Is it not the case that while the work of each of the new bodies and the commission will be worthy of serious scrutiny on their own merits, as the shadow Chancellor, my right hon. Friend Mr Darling, said yesterday, the Government risk creating a system that injects more, not less, uncertainty into the City? While the architecture of the regulatory system is clearly important, is it not the skills and judgment of individual regulators that matter most at the moment? Surely, it is not where they sit; it is what they do.

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