Financial Services Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 9:10 pm on 6th February 2012.

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Photo of David Mowat David Mowat Conservative, Warrington South 9:10 pm, 6th February 2012

I agree with those who have said that we are here to make a good Bill better. The financial services industry is vital to our country, and it is possible that we lead the world in that industry more than in any other, yet it is an industry that lost us near enough £200 billion three or four years ago. We need to chart a course between not locking the door after the horse has bolted and ensuring that we establish a regulatory framework that looks to the future.

Some have said that the most important aspect of regulation is not the structure, and that may cause us to wonder why we are moving from a tripartite structure to a twin peaks system. Many words have been used tonight, but I believe that one that has not yet been used provides the most important explanation for the failure of the tripartite structure. I refer to the word “underlap”. The structure failed because none of its three components felt wholly responsible for taking the action which was needed and which they suspected might be required. That is why the twin peaks system is sensible. It is not a “quartet”. I think that the shadow Chancellor’s point about a quartet indicated that he did not understand the issue of underlap or take it at face value. Undermining the responsibility of the Governor of the Bank of England by asking his deputies to act as whistleblowers takes us back to that structure of underlap.

The Bill could be improved in three respects. First, I want to talk about the importance of international and European co-ordination, about which my right hon. Friend Mr Lilley, the Chairman of the Joint Committee, talked at some length. I have a little more sympathy for Mr Barnier than he has. Secondly, I want to talk about competition. Thirdly, I want to talk about the link between the Bill and the work of the Independent Commission on Banking and the Vickers report.

We are regulating two types of entity in the banking sector, those that are predominantly in the United Kingdom and those that are international, and I believe that the UK entities have been regulated to death. Apart from the ring fence, the capital requirements, all the buffers, the tier 1 and tier 2 capital and all that goes with it, I believe that we have fixed the problem, but one issue is still out there. If I were to predict where the next crisis will come, I would say that it will come in the international banks that straddle boundaries and continue to grow in complexity and scope: the investment banking and brokering parts of organisations such as Goldman Sachs, HSBC, Deutsche and BarCap.

Collectively, those organisations control $4 trillion of derivatives. I do not fully understand the economic purpose of $4 trillion, but I do know that regulating those entities is outwith the competence of a nation state, and we must be careful that we do not think we are doing it by passing a banking Act within our nation state. The organisation within those banks is global, the way in which they look at themselves is global, and the way in which they move capital around is global.

The Joint Committee took evidence from the Governor of the Bank of England, who explained that he would supply liquidity to an overseas bank with a subsidiary in the United Kingdom that wishes to fund activity in South America. The issue is global, and I want to talk about MF Global, the derivatives trader that went bust in the middle of October. Amazingly, the organisation was considered to be outside the scope of the PRA, yet its balance sheet was more than £40 billion. The capital flows between the USA and the UK were huge, and there now appear to be issues of insider dealing. Between £1 billion and £2 billion of customer funds have been lost. What happened to that bank is a model for the kinds of problems that we will have in controlling the financial system over the next two decades, and we need to focus on such organisations. It was a relatively small bank, only a tenth the size of Lehman Brothers, but its problems crept up on us and took us completely by surprise. There are many more banks and shadow banks like it. I would like the Minister to acknowledge this issue. It is not enough simply to say that we have colleges of regulators. I believe that this is the area in which the next crisis will arise. If I am right, I could be made Business Secretary.

Mark Durkan mentioned the pensions industry. The important aspect of the Bill is the competition objective. The City and the financial services industry would benefit from the systematic application of competition. The problem with systemically high salaries is not, in my view, the bonus culture; it is that there has not been enough competition in the industry to bring the salaries down. That can occur when the barriers to entry are too high, when there is market dominance or when there is asymmetric information—that is, when the organisations have much more knowledge than the punters. That is particularly true of the pensions industry. The hon. Gentleman mentioned fiduciary duty.

The fundamental problem is that the charging is too high, but the fiduciary duty requirement will not take that away, because the organisations think that the charging is all part of their applying their fiduciary duty. The funds industry needs to reach a point at which something like 31% of a pension pot no longer goes on charges in the private pensions industry, and it needs competition to achieve that. Such charging is one reason why this country is so massively under-pensioned, and the issue needs to be fixed before auto-enrolment provides a further subsidy for the industry.