Financial Services Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 5:48 pm on 6th February 2012.

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Photo of Edward Balls Edward Balls Shadow Chancellor of the Exchequer 5:48 pm, 6th February 2012

I made it very clear that I was not defending any particular regulatory structure. I do not think the crisis was caused by institutional structures in particular, because other countries with different structures had a crisis as well. We will seek to support the Government in reforming and strengthening the system of financial regulation, including through the addition of the FPC and the new powers of the PRA and FCA. However, all those individual agencies are being given statutory authority in the Bill.

The Bill cannot be setting out a binary or twin-peak system, because there will be the Treasury and the Governor of the Bank of England, then underneath him there will be a deputy governor who is also the head of the PRA, another who is also on the Financial Stability Committee, the head of the FSA—also a statutory office holder—and another deputy governor on the Monetary Policy Committee. The Bill is designed to bring in not a twin-peak system but a quartet system, which will be more complex than a tripartite one.

There may be very good arguments for having a quartet system and for splitting the FSA into the PRA and the FCA, and I support the FPC, but the system will be more complex, not simpler. The Chancellor is trying to fudge the matter by giving the impression in the memorandum of understanding that it will be not a quartet system but a twin-peak system, because things will be sorted out between him and the Governor.

That is not an ad hominem point. Other Chancellors and Ministers from Governments through the ages have known very well that there is an inevitable conflict in financial regulation between the regulator, examining systemic risks from individual firms, and the guardians of the system, who worry about potential systemic risks on the one hand and moral hazard on the other. The Chancellor’s role is as the guardian of the public purse and wider financial stability, so there are different points of view.

My advice to the Chancellor is that to try to subsume all those points of view into a separate institution away from him, without transparency and with multiple and overlapping roles for different statutory office holders, but then say, “I’m only going to deal with the Governor,” is ahistorical, deeply foolish and flawed. If the Chancellor changes and clarifies the Bill, we will be pleased, but at the moment it is a terrible fudge.