I beg to move,
That this House
notes with concern that the recent Bank of England publication, Trends in Lending, shows that net lending to businesses has fallen in nine out of the last 12 months and by more than £10 billion in the last year;
further notes that a Department for Business, Innovation and Skills report published on
believes that bank executive remuneration should be related to performance and that banks either directly or indirectly supported by the taxpayer must recognise that the taxpayer expects very large bonuses only to be paid to reflect genuine exceptional performance;
notes with concern that the Government has not given due consideration to repeating the bankers’ bonus tax, in addition to the bank levy, to pay for 100,000 jobs for young people;
calls on the Government to increase transparency, accountability and responsibility in the setting of pay in the banking sector, including through the immediate implementation of the Walker Review on corporate governance, and the placing of an employee representative on the remuneration committees of company boards;
and further calls on the Government to reform the banking sector so that it better supports businesses and provides the credit they need to create jobs and growth.
I should like to take this opportunity to tell the House that I have been informed that the Business Secretary is not able to be here today because he is at a funeral. I am sure that the whole House will want to join me in wishing him well on this sad day.
The subject of the motion, responsibility and reform in the banking sector and in the wider economy, has been a matter of immense public interest of late and is one on which many Members have already spoken out. Let us be clear—I think I speak for most Members when I say this—that in speaking out on these issues hon. Members simply reflect the strong views expressed by our constituents on the subject.
The Labour party’s starting point is this: we are proud of our financial services centre, the City of London being arguably the world’s leading financial services centre. I, my hon. Friend Rachel Reeves, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who will make the Opposition’s winding-up speech, and many other Members are, I know, proud to have spent time working in the City of London before being elected to this place.
The City helps to give the country a competitive edge, thanks to the talent that we have here, our time zone, our company law, our jurisdiction and the free flow of capital in London. The financial services sector as a whole employs more than 1 million people nationally and makes up 10% of our total national income, but no witness to recent history could claim with credibility that the sector has functioned as British businesses, our economy and our society as a whole would have wanted over the past few years.
Ultimately, the fault for that lies with a minority of those working in the sector, but as the party in government through much of that period we, along with others in power throughout the world, must, and we do, accept with humility that we should have better regulated the sector, because dysfunction in the banking sector here and globally led to the financial crisis of 2008-09, to the recession that followed and to its aftermath. That recession, the gestation of which is found in the banking sector, is something for which the British people are still paying.
My hon. Friend will be aware that the current structures were set up following the closure of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International 20 years ago. There remain within the Treasury the confidential parts of the Bingham report. Does he think that it is time that those confidential parts were published? That would give us a better understanding of exactly what went wrong in the biggest collapse of a bank in British history.
I agree with my right hon. Friend. I know that that is something for which he has campaigned for a long time.
We all know the facts. From the middle of 2007, the losses sustained on securities backed by sub-prime mortgage assets led to a credit crunch. That credit crunch came about due to a loss of counterparty confidence and uncertainty about which financial institutions held toxic assets. Depressed asset prices and increased losses led to serious solvency issues in major banks here and in the United States.
In the US, Bear Stearns had to be rescued by J. P. Morgan, Lehman Brothers collapsed, and AIG was nationalised in 2008 by that well known socialist, the 43rd President of the United States, George Bush. Here, Northern Rock had already been nationalised by the Labour Government by 2008. Later that year, we put in place a £500 billion package of measures designed to recapitalise the banks. That included the special liquidity scheme and inter-bank lending guarantees. The Labour Government took stakes in two of our biggest banks so that, by the end of 2009, the Government held a stake in Lloyds of just over 40% and a stake in RBS that increased to more than 80%.
For all the criticism that is often heaped on my right hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling) and for Kircaldidy—sorry, for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown)—by Government Members, I believe that we owe a debt of gratitude to them both for the decisive action that they took to save the system from itself, to secure people’s savings and to ensure that the people we represent could continue to withdraw money from cash machines in the wall. The Opposition are proud of what they achieved.
As the Independent Commission on Banking stated:
“without the intervention of national authorities around the world—requiring taxpayers to incur significant direct costs and larger contingent liabilities—the consequences of the crisis would have been immeasurably worse.”
It is for that reason that this House has every right to take an interest in remuneration and reform in the banking sector. After all, our banks still benefit from an implicit taxpayer subsidy if they fail.
I do not believe that that is what the report on RBS said. I did concede earlier that the Opposition accept that, in office, we should have better regulated the sector. I also think that Government Members who urged us towards a light-touch regulatory regime should accept that they, too, were mistaken.
It is worth taking our minds back to the months leading up to April 2009, when the former Prime Minister went around the world galvanising support and encouraging people to attend the summit. It is worth noting that President Obama of the United States was not planning to attend the G20 conference in London, but in the end many people came here and the conference achieved great things and helped to secure the system. That was, indeed, leadership.
We have said that, if we had known then what we know now, we would not have knighted Fred Goodwin. However, I say to the hon. Gentleman that the future of the banking sector is bigger than the individuals who have featured in the headlines of late. It is important that we debate what happens in the sector as a whole rather than focusing on Fred Goodwin and other individuals, important though it is to make points about them.
As we are examining history—some Government Members do not like to hear accurate history—I point out that Lord Burns was the Chairman and I was the deputy Chairman of the pre-legislative Joint Committee that considered the financial services Act. I remember that very clearly indeed, because it took us many months and was the first time there had been a joint Lords-Commons pre-legislative inquiry. The context was bitter resentment from the banks, which tried to water down the Bill, and no help from the people who led the Conservative party.
I presume that my hon. Friend is referring to the Joint Committee that considered the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. The consensus at the time was shown in the approach instilled in the Act, and we are now revisiting the regulation of the sector.
The crash was global in nature, and the causes cited by the Independent Commission on Banking include declining underwriting standards, the mispricing of risk, a vast expansion of banks’ balance sheets and rapid growth in securitised assets—in short, gross irresponsibility. The commission also stated in its report that one problem was that some bank employees were remunerated
“on the basis of reported profits that were neither time-adjusted nor risk-adjusted, and led to employee incentives that were not always aligned with the long-term interests of the bank.”
“Compensation systems—designed in an environment of cheap money, intense competition, and light regulation—too often rewarded the quick deal, the short-term gain—without proper consideration of long-term consequences. Often, those systems encouraged the big bet—where the payoff on the upside could be huge and the downside limited.”
Does my hon. Friend agree that we should not demonise one group in society, whether they be bankers or benefit claimants? This is about fairness. We know from recent evidence that fairer societies are better for everybody, improving life expectancy and increasing social mobility. We should use that evidence to inform policy that is principally about fairness.
The Conservatives always tried to rewrite history when they were in opposition, but the truth is coming out now. Even Polly Toynbee, who was the biggest critic of my right hon. Friend Mr Brown, has now forgiven him and wishes he were back.
More importantly, if the man or woman in the street who goes to work every day fails in their job, they get the sack. No one but a banker would ever be rewarded for failure, but we now have a culture in this country of rewarding failure. Surely that must be wrong.
I am glad that the hon. Gentleman brought up that point, because I anticipated it. First, I think it is good that Members of this House have experience in working for business. Secondly, my experience of advising different companies and financial institutions on such arrangements has convinced me that we must reform the way in which the system works—[ Interruption. ] I would also say to Ministers, who are crowing, that they might wish to reflect on the fact that my ultimate boss at the time when I was more deeply involved in drafting such arrangements was the senior partner of Herbert Smith, whom the Prime Minister ennobled in the first tranche of peers at the beginning of this Parliament—no doubt because of his services to the legal profession and the City of London.
As the Leader of the Opposition said last week, we are still dealing with the aftermath of the moment to which I have referred and the recession it caused. Many thousands of people lost their jobs and now face the biggest squeeze on their living standards in a generation. Thousands of robust, profitable businesses have struggled to access finance or have gone under. At this juncture, I want to tackle head on the accusation that to raise those issues and criticise the financial services sector is to be anti-business—some have even referred to it as indiscriminate business bashing. That is an utterly absurd notion given that among the most vociferous critics of our banks are the small and medium-sized businesses that make up the overwhelming majority of businesses in this country. The people making those outlandish claims of anti-business sentiment talk as though large financial institutions are the only businesses in this country. Yes, those institutions are an important part of our business community, but there is so much more to British business than big finance. Indeed, we need to rebalance our economy not to diminish our competitive edge in financial services but to grow other sectors so that we are not so reliant on that one sector.
Businesses in other sectors are struggling right now. The most recent Bank of England trends in lending show that net lending to businesses has fallen in nine out of the past 12 months and lending has fallen by more than £10 billion in the past year. A report published by the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills last week states that the stock of lending to small and medium-sized businesses declined by 6.1% in November 2011 compared with a year earlier.
It is not just that the banks are failing to get the money out of the door to successful, profitable businesses with robust business models. There has been a move away from relationship banking, where banks saw it as their duty to get to know and understand their business customers properly. Yesterday, I met a number of successful export businesses in the home counties—businesses that help us pay our way in the world. I was told by the overwhelming majority that when it came to getting help from their banks to export and expand, their banks simply did not want to know.
Some have suggested that that is all the result of increased capital requirements on the banks, but Robert Jenkins, a member of the Bank of England’s interim Financial Policy Committee, told the Treasury Committee last month:
“Making the banks safer through greater resilience in their balance sheets and more capital does not, in and of itself, prevent additional lending.”
Despite all that, people and businesses have had to watch as billions in bonuses have been paid to bankers since 2008-09. It is worth stating that we are not talking about the sums earned by the average bank employee—the cashier, say, in a local branch—but about the enormous sums paid to investment bankers and a select few senior executives in the sector. Those bonuses have continued to be paid as a matter of course, regardless of the fact that many of the institutions, all of which directly or indirectly benefited from the interventions of the Government over the past five years and continue to benefit from an implicit subsidy, have been making thousands redundant, have seen their share prices and profits falling and have been found guilty of mis-selling payment protection insurance on a grand scale. To add insult to injury, Robert Jenkins, commenting on bank balance sheets, told the Treasury Committee:
“Every £1 billion of less bonus would support £20 billion of additional small business lending.”
It is no wonder that Sir Philip Hampton, the chair of RBS, himself said last week:
“Pay has been high for too long, particularly in the banks, particularly in the investment banks".
Does my hon. Friend also accept that lower-paid staff in banks often took much of their bonuses in the form of shares? Not only have they lost their jobs, many have lost out in terms of their pension savings.
My right hon. Friend makes a good point. We should, of course, spare a thought for the employees whom she mentions.
It matters because, as the Governor of the Bank of England said last month, people have seen an extraordinary squeeze in their living standards, but the institutions and bankers at the centre of the crisis that created those problems are not only not suffering a gigantic squeeze on their living standards but continue to get very high remuneration, in part because the taxpayer has been forced to step in and bail them out.
Can the hon. Gentleman explain why, under the regulatory structure introduced by his Government, banks were able to hire staff on guaranteed bonuses totally unconnected with future performance, and why not a single individual in any of the five largest banks was subject to a fine? The two largest fines imposed on Northern Rock executives were less than the bonuses that they had received the preceding year.
On guaranteed bonuses, there is an element of contract in that, in terms of the arrangements between individual banks— [ Interruption. ] Will the hon. Gentleman listen and let me finish the point? There is an element of contract that provides for a bonus, but also an element of discretion. The fact that large bonuses were being paid out regardless of performance is, of course, what people outside Parliament object to.
Ultimately, the taxpayer had to put about £1.2 trillion into the system to support it. Juxtaposing that against the amount paid in tax by the sector, I am not sure that it comes to the same sum. I get the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. I do not deny that the financial services sector has contributed in tax receipts, but that is not outweighed by what we have had to pay out to save it from itself.
“the single most important thing for banks and for businesses now is to focus on helping to create jobs and economic growth; and being able to do that requires us—banks in particular—to rebuild the trust that has been decimated by events of the past three years; and that rebuilding trust requires banks to be better citizens.”
I agree with Mr Diamond, but actions matter far more than words to people and businesses.
At the Business Secretary’s instigation, the Government established the Independent Commission on Banking, for which he deserves credit. If its recommendations are implemented, they will help to deliver a banking system that supports our economy’s interests in the long term. However, a number of things must happen to address the issues in the short term, not least of which is the matter of remuneration, which can be corrosive of public trust in our banks.
First, greater transparency on pay in the banking sector is needed. A good place to start would be immediate implementation of the Walker review. In 2009, Sir David Walker recommended new rules on the disclosure of bankers’ remuneration within pay bands above £1 million. In Government, we legislated for that fairly modest scheme to be put in place so that irresponsible remuneration practices could be identified and rooted out. So modest were the proposals that the now Business Secretary told the House at the time that Sir David had produced
“an embarrassing mouse of a report”.—[Hansard, 30 November 2009; Vol. 501, c. 900.]
In the June 2010 Budget, the Business Secretary and his coalition partners pledged to take forward these modest proposals, but in November 2010 the Chancellor suddenly declared that he would not countenance implementation unless he could secure international agreement for the measures. In giving evidence to the Treasury Select Committee in December 2010, however, RBS’s Stephen Hester indicated that unilateral adoption of the Walker review proposals would not put the UK financial services sector at a significant disadvantage. Given the modesty of the Walker review proposals, why on earth will the Government not implement them?
Secondly, to increase accountability, we have said that an ordinary worker should be placed on the company remuneration committees setting pay. I do not understand why the Government have been so resistant to this idea. The Business Secretary has said that he is very sympathetic to the idea but has raised practical objections on the basis that there are many FTSE companies whose employees are predominantly overseas. These practical obstacles can be overcome, however, not least through technologies such as telephone and video conferencing, which in this day and age are a common feature of board meetings.
Having a worker on the board is not just about accountability. Would it not also address the fact that remuneration committees tend to comprise people much like the people whose salaries and bonuses they are assessing? It is not surprising, therefore, that they decide in favour of higher bonuses and salaries. That is another reason a different voice is needed on the committees.
I agree with my hon. Friend. First, an employee understands what is going on in the business—perhaps, in some respects, better than a non-executive director—and, secondly, employees have a stake in the business, and if the business fails, they ultimately pay the price, as thousands of RBS employees going through the redundancy process are now realising.
I am certainly not against this sensible proposal to put employees on boards, but as I understand the Walker review and its recommendations, it does not meet the situation now. Instead of innovations, we need something so dramatic that we change the culture in our banking system and its understanding of what is right and wrong, as was mentioned earlier. The culture is what matters, but I see nothing coming from the Government that will fundamentally change the culture that motivates the people working in the sector.
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.
I thank my hon. Friend for his contribution. The Walker review proposals are the start, not the end, of the reform needed, but my hon. Friend makes a strong point about the culture in the financial services sector. On the proposal to have an employee on the remuneration committee, would not the RBS board be in a stronger position if it could say, on matters of pay, that an employee representative had been involved in the decision making?
I am listening with great interest to the hon. Gentleman’s extended exposition on the failings of the previous Labour Government. It is nice to see him joined by so many for such an extended mea culpa. [Hon. Members: “Where’s the question?”] My question is this: does he think that the objectives of a company executive should be to maximise shareholder value for his business, to do the Government’s bidding or to do the bidding of a broader range of interests?
The hon. Gentleman asks a good question. Ultimately, of course, a director’s duty is to shareholders, but I take issue with those who suggest that the Labour Government did not introduce reforms, because we did introduce reforms, one of which was the Companies Act 2006, which changed the nature of company law so that other stakeholder interests could be accounted for. In some respects, though, shareholder interests are not necessarily completely separate from those of wider society. My strong view is that business and society are mutually dependent, and that goes for our banks as well. Banks rely on society to provide talent, skills and custom, and we rely on banks not only to perform a social utility function for individuals and businesses, but to provide growth and jobs. How does that relate to the hon. Gentleman’s point about shareholder value? If a bank fails its customers—as happened, for example, in the payment protection insurance scandal—that has a knock-on impact on reputation, which can ultimately have a knock-on impact on profit, which is against the shareholder interest.
I will move on, so that I can finish and others can get in.
What else needs to happen? The banks are accountable to their shareholders, and the Government have told shareholders to be more active. A starting point should be for the Government to practise what they preach in relation to their shareholdings in the publicly owned banks, particularly in the setting of pay and bonuses. It seems that their default position at the moment is that they do not want to get involved unless forced to do so. That has to change. More responsibility is needed. The public rightly expect the culture of excessive bonuses to stop. That means that bank executive remuneration that is described as performance-related should be just that: related to performance. Very large bonuses should be paid only to reflect genuinely exceptional performance, if trust in the system is to be maintained. The public expect the same of other organisations enjoying taxpayer subsidies. Network Rail—part of an industry backed by a £4 billion taxpayer subsidy—is a good example. It was planning to push through a new bonus scheme under which senior managers were due to receive 60% of their salaries as a bonus every year, and a further 500% at the end of each five-year funding period. That kind of bonus culture is unacceptable to people and difficult to fathom. Again, the Government did little to stop that, but in the end the Network Rail board saw sense.
My hon. Friend is being generous in giving way. When bonuses are paid for performance, is it not also important that they should be paid for performance that is related to the activities of the people receiving them? They should not be bonuses that could depend on factors that have nothing to do with the activities of the directors concerned, as would have been the case with Network Rail.
I will move on.
Given that market mechanisms since the crash have not operated to rein in excessive pay in the banking sector, the bank bonus tax, we have argued, should be repeated, on top of the bank levy, in recognition of the fact that the banking sector owes a responsibility to society in general. If the claim that we are all in it together is to mean anything, the reintroduction of that tax is a must. It would create 100,000 youth jobs and 25,000 affordable homes. It would do immeasurable good to the reputation of the sector and support jobs, growth and business in the UK economy.
I agree with some of the things that the hon. Gentleman has said, but the last Labour Chancellor said that
“it will be a one-off thing because, frankly, the very people you are after here are very good at getting out of these things”.
Those were the words of Mr Darling in autumn 2010. What has changed since?
I would say to the hon. Gentleman that they were not that good at getting out of it, because the bank bonus tax was expected to raise about £500 million, but in the end it raised £3.5 billion, which is a sizeable sum.
With house building down, homelessness up and nearly 2 million people on waiting lists for council housing, does my hon. Friend agree with the unemployed building worker in Erdington who said to me that the time has come to tax the bankers, build homes, put people such as him back to work, and create apprenticeships and hope for our young people?
I agree with my hon. Friend, and that is why we are arguing for the reintroduction of the bank bonus tax, as part of Labour’s five-point plan for growth and jobs.
I want to make a little more progress.
We need a more diverse and competitive banking system that is rooted in our communities and that better serves the financing needs of our businesses, as the Federation of Small Businesses and other organisations have argued. We need better developed equity finance, too, which is why we are exploring the possibility of creating in the UK something akin to the US Government’s small business investment company programme. That programme financed the likes of Apple and Intel in their early stages. We are also considering plans to set up a British investment bank that could step in if the market failed to provide for our entrepreneurs.
We all appreciate that this banking crisis has gone on considerably longer than we envisaged. In 2008, we probably all thought that we would have divested ourselves of our huge stake in RBS and Lloyds Banking Group by now. I therefore fully support the idea of a structure for bonuses that would come into play only when we have divested ourselves of our stake in those two banks. However, I get the impression from all that the hon. Gentleman has said that he draws no distinction between those two banks, in which we have large holdings, and the rest of the banking sector. Am I correct in that assumption?
No; partly because, whether we like it or not, the way in which the public regard RBS and Lloyds is different from the way in which they regard, say, Barclays or other banking groups, simply because of the public stake in them. That is the issue that crept up on members of the RBS board over the past couple of weeks. For all that was said about the terms on which the different executives and employees were joining RBS, they were essentially joining an institution that the public have very much come to regard as a public entity.
That is not actually what we are arguing for. We have said, given that the Government have been lecturing shareholders on being more active in relation to their shareholdings, that the Government should of course take a more active approach to those banks in which we have a stake. As has been pointed out, however, the sector as a whole needs a change its culture; that applies across the board.
Right now, we need the Government to make good on their promise to implement credit easing, to relieve the credit squeeze on businesses. That plan was announced to great fanfare more than four months ago, but nothing has happened. I am glad that the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mr Hoban will be responding to this debate. Perhaps he can tell us what has become of the scheme. The lack of speed with which the Government have proceeded with it is in marked contrast to the actions of the German and US Governments, for example. In Germany, KFW doubled the amount of small business finance available very quickly over the past couple of years through its lending programmes.
Some people suggest that if we do all these things, wealthy bankers will simply move abroad. We are for ever being held to ransom by that threat. It is notable, however, that many of those who put that argument benefit from the status quo. They have been making the argument for a number of years, but they are still here. They tend to ignore the fact that it is the banks’ shareholders—not just politicians and society at large—who are calling for reform. Shareholders such as Jupiter, F&C Asset Management and Legal & General have all reportedly told the banks to be sensitive to the popular mood, and to moderate pay rises to match sharp falls in shareholder returns. The Association of British Insurers is reportedly meeting all the banks at the moment, including Barclays. Those people also ignore the fact that bankers and executives in other countries are being required to change their ways. For example, our banks’ US rivals are cutting bonuses by up to 30% at the moment.
Where would those chief executives go? In Europe, they would get a lot less, and in America some chief executives have gone to court and even to prison. Perhaps they want to stay where they are because they feel safe here.
I am sure that many of those executives are watching the debate, and that they will pay attention to what my hon. Friend has said.
I will finish by returning to where I started. We are proud of our financial sector; it is an asset. We need it to help create the jobs and growth that are so lacking at present. All we ask is that it better serve the real economy in this endeavour—and that it does so more responsibly. With that in mind, I urge all Members to support our motion.
I welcome the opportunity to debate business lending and the reform of the British banking system. As hon. Members are well aware, we face extremely tough economic circumstances as we weather the ongoing crisis in the eurozone and fix the underlying damage that the previous Government inflicted on the economy.
The UK banking sector in particular faces a long and difficult road to repair, unwinding the irresponsible and unsustainable excesses of the previous decade. In the aftermath of the worst financial crisis in almost a century, bank balance sheets are shrinking under market and regulatory pressure. It is absolutely right that we ensure that our banks build their capital and liquidity reserves in these turbulent times. It was because of that action that all our banks passed the European Banking Authority stress tests.
It is stability that we are safeguarding for the long term by discarding the shadow Chancellor’s discredited tripartite system and implementing the recommendations of the Vickers committee. It is this Government who are ensuring that we build a stable financial sector with the capacity and the market confidence to provide sustainable lending to our most innovative, ambitious and entrepreneurial private sector firms.
Given that the Minister feels that the industry is more stable, is he concerned to hear the chief executive of the National Australia bank, which owns the Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks, say today that the bank might have to consider selling, or at least restructuring, the business—partly because the UK Government’s austerity programme has contributed to the harsh business environment, which is why the bank is carrying out a review?
The reason we have to have the austerity programme in place is to tackle the mess left by the Labour party when it was in government.
As I was saying, we are seeking to reform the sector to ensure that it can lend to businesses in the long term, but we have also taken decisive action to stimulate credit in the short term. That is why the Government secured an agreement with the UK’s largest banks to provide £190 billion of new lending to business in 2011. By the third quarter of last year, those banks had loaned more than £157 billion to UK businesses, which is 11% above their implied target. That includes £56 billion of lending to small and medium-sized enterprises—10% higher than at the same point in 2010.
I noted that during the rather long speech of the shadow Business Secretary, he talked about lending but put forward no ideas about how Labour would tackle it, yet we in government have taken action to get the banks lending to businesses and to make sure that there is a supply of creditors to SMEs.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. I have to say that many of the organisations that represent our SMEs will listen with incredulity to the Minister’s suggestion that credit conditions are somehow all fine and that all is well. The fact is that, according to the Bank of England’s latest figures, we have seen a net contraction in lending to SMEs in nine of the last 12 months. It is clearly still a problem. In fairness, the Government announced that they were going to provide some credit easing—admittedly when the Chancellor said so in his speech to the Conservative party conference, although I never quite understood what he was talking about—but so far we have seen absolutely no action. When will this credit easing system come into effect?
I had hoped that the hon. Gentleman would come up with some ideas, yet he took a rather lengthy intervention to demonstrate that Labour has no ideas about what to do. Let me set out some of the structural measures we are taking to tackle the supply of debt and equity finance to businesses, and SMEs in particular. We are continuing the enterprise capital funds, and we are simplifying and refocusing the venture capital trusts and enterprise investment scheme to encourage more equity investment in start-ups.
The issue of lending to small and medium-sized businesses is much more complex than Mr Umunna suggested. Some months ago I spent a day at Barclays SME sector lending centre in Birmingham. It is clear that many small businesses are focusing on paying down their existing debts, building up reserves, and using their existing overdraft facilities at around the 50% mark. Does my hon. Friend not agree that that is one of the causes of the problem?
Indeed. My hon. Friend has made an important point which should be noted by the Opposition. Net lending takes into account not just banks’ gross lending but decisions that businesses make to pay down their debt, and that is what we are seeing. We are seeing businesses deleverage in the same way as banks are deleveraging. I do not know whether the Labour party believes that banks should stop businesses paying down their debt in order to force up the net lending figures.
I have already been generous in giving way, and I will be generous again in a minute.
We will implement a new seed enterprise investment scheme to encourage investment in early-stage companies, with income tax relief and a capital gains tax holiday to kick-start the programme. We will ensure that our adventurous and ambitious small enterprises receive the support that they need to become the next world leaders.
Will hon. Members calm down for a minute, and allow me to deal with the point about credit easing?
I think that bank credit will remain the principal source of finance for businesses throughout the United Kingdom. That is why in our autumn statement we went further to ensure access to finance. Last year the Chancellor of the Exchequer announced two bold new credit-easing measures to provide up to £21 billion of new lending for UK businesses. Through the national loan guarantee scheme, we are allowing participating banks to raise up to £20 billion of funding with Government guarantees, lowering their cost of funding and enabling them to reduce lending rates to business by as much 1%.
An increasing number of subcontractors in my constituency, especially in the construction industry, are having short-term cash problems, either because their contractors have gone out of business or because the contractors are deliberately not paying the subcontractors. However, when the subcontractors go to the banks for help, the banks say “We are not going to help you.” As a result, subcontracting businesses are going bust and people are being thrown out of work, although it would be possible for the banks to provide finance in the short term.
The hon. Gentleman should tell the businesses in his constituency to use the appeals mechanism that was introduced to enable businesses to challenge decisions by banks and ensure that they are reviewed. Since the introduction of that scheme, 40% of bank managers’ decisions have been overturned through the appeals process.
When the Governor of the Bank of England appeared before the Treasury Select Committee, he deplored the banks’ refusal to meet the Merlin targets. Furthermore, he said that the Government had chosen the wrong targets, which allowed the banks to hide the fact that they were not lending properly to small businesses. Was he misleading the Committee?
I gave the hon. Gentleman the figures earlier. As I said, by the third quarter of last year banks had exceeded their Merlin targets for lending to businesses as a whole, and were about 10% ahead of their lending to SMEs in comparison with the same point last year.
Let me say a little more about the credit-easing measures that we are introducing. There will be a £1 billion business finance partnership to co-invest in funds that can lend directly to middle-sized businesses and further stimulate non-bank lending channels for SMEs. Those schemes capitalise on the Government’s commitment to tackling the deficit that the last Government left behind. Unlike the Opposition, we are determined to safeguard our economic stability and protect our credibility in the world market—credibility which has secured our triple A rating and kept our interest rates at record low levels, and which allows us to pursue innovative credit-easing measures to reduce costs for businesses and ensure that more money goes where it is needed.
In referring to the “non-bank” ways in which credit easing could be used, my hon. Friend has identified one of the best ways of establishing responsibility and reform in our banks: through the creation of powerful alternative mechanisms enabling our small and medium-sized businesses to raise finance.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. For too long businesses have been dependent on banks for their finance. We need to broaden the range of sources of finance that is available to business. This model works well elsewhere in the world. There has clearly been a market failure here, and our business finance partnership is aimed at tackling that failure. There are people out there who are willing to bring forward ideas to enable more investment to go into small and medium-sized businesses.
While we think about how to address these problems and encourage alternative forms of finance in the future, what will we do about the small businesses that are going bust now because they are not getting access to finance and do not have the time to go through what is a bureaucratic appeals process?
The challenge is to ensure that banks are ready to lend and have the resources to do so. Project Merlin has delivered that. It is a more ambitious programme of ensuring the flow of credit to the economy than the previous Government tried or the current Opposition have even thought about.
The credit easing schemes we have proposed are supported by businesses throughout the country, as well as by the CBI, the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses. These schemes, coupled with our reforms to the financial sector, will ensure that the UK banking sector continues to provide the fuel for a private sector recovery.
After the excesses of the last decade, it is clear that we can only build a sustainable financial sector and a sound economy by reforming the regulation and structure of banks. Yesterday the House held the Second Reading debate on the Financial Services Bill, at which the shadow Chancellor, Ed Balls, found himself in the awkward position of being forced to defend the failed tripartite system of regulation that he designed. He did not strike the same contrite note that the shadow Business Secretary has struck today. The Bill debated last night abandons the dysfunctional tripartite system and returns micro and macro-prudential regulation to the Bank of England, making the Bank the single point of accountability for financial stability. It also creates a new and strong conduct regulator to promote competition and protect consumers. Through these changes, along with the Basel reforms, living wills and new resolution regimes, and the reforms to the structure of banking from the Vickers report, we are remedying what the Chancellor called
“the biggest failure of economic management and banking regulation in our country’s history.”—[Hansard, 6 February 2012; Vol. 540, c. 43.]
That failure was, of course, presided over by the Labour party.
We need to build a foundation for the sustainable flow of lending to households and businesses across the country, and we must take a lead in building a financial sector that is based on the principles of responsibility, prudence and sustainability. In fulfilling that commitment, we must act on bank remuneration in order to tackle excessive and irresponsible levels of pay.
Yesterday, Ernst and Young said UK bank lending will shrink for the first time since 2009. It has predicted lending will shrink by 2.2%, with further shrinkage in 2013. Given that, does the Minister think Project Merlin has been a resounding success, or will he choose not to continue with it next year?
Project Merlin set lending targets for banks. At the point of the third quarter, the targets for lending to all business had been achieved and those for lending to small and medium-sized enterprises had just been missed. Project Merlin therefore has certainly achieved in respect of its goal of getting credit flowing to the economy. I agree that businesses face challenges in borrowing money. They need to have a viable plan, and we need to work more closely with businesses to ensure that the support is in place to enable them to make successful applications for bank funding.
We have a very large holding in RBS and we clearly will not be divesting ourselves of much of that holding for probably the next 10 years or so. What thought has the Minister given to using RBS, with its expertise and huge distribution network, as a mechanism for credit easing? I am sure that all Members hear from business people that these problems are not going to be solved unless we ensure that our SMEs have access to the capital that they so desperately need.
Under the last Government, we witnessed the growth of the bonus culture, where bonuses could be paid in cash, in one year, and were never clawed back in the event of failure. We are changing that culture. Bonuses under the Financial Services Authority code are paid out over at least three years, in shares, not just cash, and failure can be punished by clawing back bonuses, and at both RBS and Lloyds cash bonuses will again be limited to £2,000.
Let me make some more progress.
Through the disclosure regime, we have provided more transparency than ever before, revealing the executive pay of the five highest-earning non-board executives for the Project Merlin banks last year. We are consulting this year on extending the requirement to cover eight executives at all banks operating in the UK, and UK banks now also have to disclose the aggregate pay of all their key risk-takers. These are some of the toughest rules in the world. It is because of our pressure and our leadership that the Commission’s capital requirements directive—CRD IV—contains proposals for additional regulations on remuneration disclosure which closely follow the recommendations of the Walker report.
The Minister points out that the so-called “cash bonus system” emerged under the previous Government. Perhaps he can remind me, but I do not recall many Opposition day debates promoted by his party against the bonus culture. Did he personally, as a member of the shadow Treasury team at the time, mount any kind of opposition to or campaign against that bonus culture?
Clearly we had more power in opposition than we thought; we seem to be being blamed for the bonus culture and what was happening in the banks. As the hon. Gentleman will recognise, we have seen a bonus culture develop in this country and action needs to be taken. It is a bit rich for Labour Members to be criticising us, given that they were in government for the past 13 years and had the power to do something about the situation.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, at about the 35th time of asking. Will he now accept that it would be appropriate to repeat the bankers’ bonus tax and create 100,000 new jobs and 25,000 affordable homes, and give a boost to the construction industry, which is on its knees as a result of his Government’s policies?
I was going to discuss the bank payroll tax a little later, but let the hon. Gentleman just ponder for a while why the person who introduced that tax, the former Chancellor, described it as a “one-off and something that was not workable because it did not change the behaviour. What we have done is introduce the bank levy, which the Labour party opposed when it was in government, and every year it is raising £2.5 billion more than the bank payroll tax raised in a single year. That is the product of well-thought-through taxation policy. We have gone ahead and imposed that bank levy, but the Labour party, when in government, opposed it.
Let me discuss the interaction of bank bonuses and capital. We agree with the interim Financial Policy Committee that capital levels, not bonus payments, have to be the priority. Banks must strengthen their balance sheets as a foundation for lending to families and businesses. That is why the FSA is rigorously scrutinising bank distribution plans, and it will not approve plans unless they are consistent with required capital levels, ensuring that banks maintain the capital they need in order to finance businesses. It is because of our leadership that bonus levels have already started to fall. According to the Centre for Economics and Business Research, City bonuses tripled under Labour, and when the shadow Chancellor was Minister for the City they were £11.6 billion. At the time, the shadow Business Secretary was carefully drafting the contracts to ensure that people could earn those bonuses. Last year, bonuses were almost half that figure, at £6.7 billion, and we fully expect them to fall further this time. Thanks to the action we have taken, bonus pools have come down and Labour’s cash bonus culture has been ended.
The Minister may be aware that the number of bank branch closures is beginning to rise again, as is the number of branches with restricted opening hours. Will he tell the House what decisive action he has taken to reverse those trends?
The hon. Gentleman needs to reflect on what is happening in banking. I think his hon. Friend Sheila Gilmore even got as far, in last night’s debate on the Financial Services Bill, as suggesting that people should not use online banking so as to keep bank branches open. People are changing the way that they access banking and are thinking about whether they need to go into bank branches. We need to ensure that branches are there to meet needs where that is commercially viable, but there is no free lunch here. If the cost of maintaining branch networks continues to rise and insufficient numbers of people use them, the cost will be passed on to the customers who use the branches. The hon. Gentleman needs to think quite carefully about how many additional costs he wants to impose on bank customers in order to keep branch networks viable in that way.
Is the Minister aware of today’s announcement by the Clydesdale bank about its restructuring programme, which it says is taking place as a result of the UK Government’s austerity Budget, which is causing difficulties for the bank and a difficult economic climate? It employs 2,000 people in my constituency. There are real concerns about job losses in Glasgow and about the closure of branches of that bank, which was going about its business in a meaningful way.
If the hon. Gentleman had been here a little earlier, he would have heard my reply to his hon. Friend the hon. Member for Edinburgh East, who asked about exactly the same problem. The reality is that there are issues facing banks in the UK, and Clydesdale needs to reflect that. The hon. Member for Edinburgh East also raised the issue of the austerity programme, but that is in place to tackle the problems the Labour Government left behind.
On corporate governance, the previous Government failed to tackle the bonus culture and failed fundamentally to reform corporate governance. The Business Secretary has announced a package of measures to tackle the disconnect between top pay and company performance. Shareholders need the information and powers to hold boards to account on pay. We will give them that and we expect them to use those powers. The Institute of Directors, the National Association of Pension Funds, the CBI and the Association of British Insurers all support the Government’s ambitions. As Otto Thoresen, the director general of the ABI, said when he wrote to bank chairmen last December,
“it can no longer be business as usual for this remuneration round”.
Across the board there is consensus that we need to tackle excessive pay and this Government are answering that, but it is not an easy task. Across the economy, and especially in the banking sector, the previous Government allowed an unjustifiable sense of bonus entitlement to grow, whether in the public or private sector. Under them, a bonus became a right, not a reward, and simply par for the course. After 13 years of Labour Government, we now have a substantial challenge ahead—dismantling the culture of excessive pay in the banking sector. We have already gone some way towards dismantling that culture, but we still have a long way to go.
Will the Minister at least concede that this issue and the kind of perverse incentive structures we have heard about, with rewards for failure and excessive pay in the boardroom and the City, have grown over the past three decades under different Governments of different colours? Will he have the humility to accept that?
But the culture of bonuses did change under the previous Government. There was a tripling of bank bonuses between 2001 and the peak of the financial crisis. That is what we saw happening.
Well, one thing is for certain—I was not designing the contracts that gave the big payouts.
It is time that the banking sector demonstrated leadership, and the coming bonus round is another chance for it to demonstrate leadership on pay. As we empower shareholders to drive remuneration policy, the banking sector has to be at the vanguard of the debate on responsible executive pay.
The Minister is being admirably forward-looking in his speech by trying to present where we should go for the future rather than focusing too much on some of the battles of the past. One of the biggest concerns in this area is about institutional shareholders who have large stakes in FTSE 250 companies and in our banks. How are we going to embolden them to use the notional power they have as shareholders? Many of them have 5%, 6% or 7% shareholdings and could do something. What is going to ensure that there is a culture of change such that they become shareholder activists rather than shareholders who sit on their hands and their dividends year on year?
My hon. Friend raises an important point. The reforms outlined by my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary ensure that shareholders have the information they need to act. We are also giving them the power to vote and their votes will have a binding impact on future pay plans. The pervading culture today and the sense of concern in the wider economy means that institutional shareholders need to play their part by looking after the interests of the people who invest in their funds—the people whose pensions are dependent on good returns from their investments. Those shareholders owe an obligation to their customers to exercise their rights to determine the pay policies of boards. We need to focus on that in coming years. My predecessor, Lord Myners, talked about it a great deal. Our reforms have provided the tools and we must ensure that we use them to hold institutional shareholders to account.
We have been very clear as shareholders that we expect RBS to act as the back marker on bonuses. We have been keen to ensure that it restricts cash payments to only £2,000 a year. It is not just the Government who agree with that view. In an article about RBS, Mr Darling pointed out that the Government should not run RBS; they should not get involved in the day to day business of banks but should run them at arm’s length. That was a structure set up by the previous Government and I understand that the Leader of the Opposition supported it.
The shadow Business Secretary says that we should change it, but he should speak to his leader. Edward Miliband clearly endorses the structures set up by the previous Government. They should sort out their internal differences—it is not as though they are brothers.
I have spoken for quite some time and others want to speak, so I shall conclude. This Government have secured the stability of our economy by tackling the dreadful deficit left behind by our predecessors. This Government have secured the stability of our financial sector with tough regulatory reforms. This Government are supporting our entrepreneurs in rebalancing our economy, away from the unsustainable and wasteful spending under the previous Government. We are securing stable interest rates through our commitment to tackle the deficit. We are reducing the bureaucratic burden on businesses by slashing red tape and overhauling planning. We are unleashing private sector ambitions by cutting corporation tax to the lowest rate in the G7 and the fifth lowest rate in the G20. We are ensuring that our most ambitious and dynamic businesses have the finance they need to lead recovery in every part of our economy and our country.
Order. The House will be aware of the level of interest, and therefore the imposition of an eight-minute limit on Back-Bench speeches.
Obviously, I support the motion. The manner in which my hon. Friend Mr Umunna introduced it reflected the widespread concern among the public about the issues it encompasses. He gave a proportionate and balanced view of what has happened over the past few years and gave us an insight into how we have arrived where we are now.
I support my hon. Friend in saying that the Labour Government did not get it all right, and as a supporter of that Government I take my share of the responsibility. It will be interesting to read speeches made by some Government Members in debates before the 2008 recession. They advocated less regulation, not more. Indeed, the only person I can remember continually warning us about the consequences of the banking system was the current Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills. In opposition, as a Lib Dem spokesman, he repeated the warnings so often and so apocalyptically that he became known as the Member for doom and gloom. I can assure Members that now that he is in a position to do something about it, the Select Committee on Business, Innovation and Skills will interview him to see whether, in government, he lives up to the statements that he made in opposition.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for remembering accurately that my right hon. Friend Vince Cable warned repeatedly, in the run-up to the crash, that we were heading for a crash. Does he recall—I am sure that he did not do this—that many Labour Members used to jeer my right hon. Friend, saying that he was indeed a doom-monger and that he was wrong?
I acknowledge that, shall we say, continued repetition on that theme earned the right hon. Gentleman a certain notoriety among Government Back Benchers of the time. Most people would look back and say, “Yes, there was some truth in what he said,” but they would also say, “Let’s see if he lives up to what he said.” That is what my Committee and I will seek to find out.
The situation is profoundly worrying and contravenes the sense of fairness in this country. To most people in the street, there is something perverse about a system that punishes people on low and medium incomes for something for which they were not responsible, yet those who were responsible are rewarded. Even worse, that sense of injustice is compounded when the taxes of people on low and medium incomes finance that reward. It not only offends a deep sense of fairness but, it could be argued, it is socially and economically dysfunctional. That is the context of the debate.
Does my hon. Friend agree that among those who have the right to be most angry at what happened are the many thousands of people who work for banks, such as many individuals in my constituency, who are not on higher pay and do not receive massive bonuses, but who keep the banks going by working in offices, branches and so on? They are the real victims of this saga, more so than anyone else.
I agree. Lower-paid bank employees, of whom I was once one many years ago, have suffered collateral damage as a result of the antics of those who were their superiors and managers. If we are to debate the matter in the round, we must make that distinction.
No, I have given way twice, and there is a time limit on speeches.
There is a disconnect between wealth creation and money making in our society, which is offensive to our sense of fairness and bad for the economy as well. The business context can be demonstrated in a number of ways, one of which came home to me when I visited Rolls-Royce in Derby, and spoke to a bright, young girl at the company who was an Oxbridge engineering graduate. She told me that of her Oxbridge cohort she was the only one to go into engineering with an engineering degree: other engineers went into banking. Given the debate about the importance of manufacturing, engineering excellence and rebalancing the economy, to my mind, that demonstrates an important issue: we will not rebalance the economy unless we rebalance the rewards for working in different sectors. We cannot achieve one without the other.
Another factor is the relationship between banks and industry. It is fair to say that the German economy has survived better than those of other European countries, and one of the reasons for that—I accept that it is not the whole picture—is the relationship between banks and industry, which historically have worked together on a much longer-term basis. German SMEs are not totally immune to the problems facing their British counterparts, but they are not nearly as great. The Minister set out the situation with Project Merlin and gave a litany of schemes that have been put in place to help small businesses, but the fact is that lending is falling. Probably every Member has an example of an SME in their constituency coming to them and saying, “If only we could get a grant or get the bank to help, we could invest this or buy that, and we would be able to employ more people and expand, and that could get us out of recession.” The fact is that there is a dysfunctionality in our banking system’s relationship with industry that is grossly impeding our ability to create jobs and grow our way out of recession.
My hon. Friend Mr Umunna quoted Robert Jenkins, a member of the Bank of England’s Financial Policy Committee, when he made the point that £1 billion less in bonuses could provide £20 billion for SMEs. Banks must factor in risk when lending to businesses, but that £1 billion, if diverted, would be written off their balance sheets anyway. Why not look at some scheme whereby money that might have been allocated for bonuses is diverted, either through taxation or another scheme, to lending for small businesses? That could make a huge difference to the capacity of small businesses to play a full role in growing us out of recession.
Alternatively, we must look at tax. The bankers bonus tax would provide the basis for stimulating the economy. A high proportion of small businesses say they are not applying for loans because they are so lacking in confidence about their future prospects and current levels of consumer spending, and that is a barrier. Getting 100,000 more people into work as a result of that stimulus would help to overcome the problem.
I will conclude my remarks by acknowledging—one or two Members have mentioned this, quite validly—that our financial services industry in itself is hugely important to our economy, so we must be careful to ensure that any measures are proportionate and will not have unintended consequences that could damage the industry. However, there is no doubt whatsoever that the industry is not serving our wider economy or society as well as it could do. The sorts of measures that the Opposition propose would go a considerable way towards changing that.
We have a window of opportunity, with public opinion behind us and all the economic and social statistics demonstrating the validity of the case for taking action. The Government should lead on this, but at the moment they seem to be finding excuses for not doing so. If they would only apply to this matter the same resolution and commitment they have shown on welfare reform and other areas, we could have a change that would transform the economy and generate that sense of fairness in this country.
Here we are again in another Opposition-day debate centred on the economy, banks and bonuses. The handwritten notes I prepared earlier this afternoon read, “And yet again we hear no contrition from the Labour Front Bench.” However, as this is a debate and we have to respond to it, I will at least acknowledge that there was some contrition from Mr Umunna. I guess it must be easier for him, and indeed for his Front-Bench colleagues, who were all elected in 2010, to wash their hands of the last Labour Government’s decisions and offer at least some apology for what their predecessors did in office. However, it would be good to hear a collective apology from the Opposition, including those Members who were here in the previous Parliament, for the ineffective regulation and supervision of the banking industry, which was a major factor in the collapse of the banks and the economic failure and contraction that happened four years ago.
On the point about contrition, will the hon. Gentleman not also call on Government Front Benchers to apologise for calling for less regulation prior to the banking crash in 2008? While on the subject, what about having some contrition from him about tuition fees?
I am responsible for my party’s statements and, indeed, my party’s mistakes in certain instances but, as I said in my intervention on Mr Bailey, in the previous Parliament, my right hon. Friend Vince Cable warned consistently about the coming economic catastrophe. The hon. Gentleman was not here at the time, but I think that he would have been ashamed to hear the jeering and cat-calling that my right hon. Friend had to put up with at the time.
It was the culture, not just the lax regulation, that led to some of the problems we have experienced in recent years. During the last decade of the Labour Government, executive pay rose on average by 13.6% per annum, while the FTSE share index rose by just 1.7% a year. In 2002-03, the bankers bonus pool, which is at the centre of the motion, totalled £3.3 billion. In 2006-07, the year before the crash and everything starting to go wrong, the pool was £11.4 billion. In the year of the crash itself, when all the bankers were staring into the abyss, the pool was £11.5 billion. I do not recall any Minister at the time being worried about the size of the bonus pool or the distorting effect it must have had on executive behaviour.
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman finds this attitude terrifying, but I do, and it is on both sides of the House. We can blame the bankers all we like, but the truth about the problems across the developed world and the reason we are in schtuck is that successive Governments have not been able not to give in to demands to spend more money. In a global economy savvy investors and taxpayers—the best people—run off when they see a lynch mob. This is crazy.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting philosophical point about the whole culture that we have perhaps all grown up in over the past 30 years. It would require more than an eight-minute speech in a three-hour debate to deal seriously with those issues, but I am trying to raise some of them. For instance, when considering how to respond to the outbreak of collective madness on the streets of some of our cities last summer, we should recognise that some of what he says is relevant to the feelings of dislocation and despair that some people felt, but it was also about out-of-control remuneration, lax regulation and complacent political oversight. Opposition Members do not like me saying this, but I say it every time and will say it again: a previous Labour Business Secretary, Peter Mandelson, said that new Labour was intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich. Because of that, we saw the dislocation of director and shareholder interest.
No, because I have given way twice and I have a time limit, and the hon. Gentleman took rather a long time making his opening speech.
All of this happened under the previous Government, and the coalition Government are now having to clear up the mess. We have heard once again that all that is needed is the magic wand of the bankers bonus tax but, as my hon. Friend the Minister has pointed out, in every year of this Parliament, under the coalition Government, more money will be raised—£2.6 billion—from the permanent levy on the banks’ balance sheets. It is the behaviour of the banks, and their boards in particular, that needs to change, rather than necessarily the pay and remuneration of their employees, which I remind the House is now taxed at a higher rate than it was when Labour was in government.
The behaviour in the boardroom needs to change, especially in the remuneration committees. As I understand it, the Walker report, which is mentioned in the Opposition’s motion, simply recommended that remuneration of bank employees over £1 million should be disclosed in broad pay bands, which is hardly revolutionary.
The Merlin agreement, an interim measure while we await the implementation of more wide-ranging banking reforms, now states that a bank’s five highest-paid executives, as well as its chief executive and chairman, have to disclose their remuneration, so at least seven people each year now have to do so. That is the highest number in any global financial centre and more than in the United States, and, as the Minister pointed out, bonuses at the banks that are under effective state control, such as Lloyd’s Banking Group and the Royal Bank of Scotland, are limited to £2,000 in cash, with anything beyond that having to be offered on a deferred basis in shares.
My right hon. Friend the Business Secretary has responded to the High Pay Commission with a series of measures that were announced a couple of weeks ago, and central to those is changing the behaviour and composition of the remuneration committees, so that on the forward pay agreements that they recommend for approval they have binding votes: not the advisory votes that were in place under the Labour Government, but binding votes, so that shareholders really are empowered to make a difference and to instruct directors, who are supposed to have stewardship of their investments in those companies.
That will end the revolving door, whereby executives of one company become non-executives and sit on the remuneration committees of another, and whereby inevitably it is in everybody’s interests constantly to bid up pay in each quoted company. Indeed, they will also have to state how they have involved and consulted employees of what, in many cases, are global companies.
Labour, in its manifesto at the most recent general election, said—I had someone check this for me before the debate—that it would
“strengthen the 2006 Companies Act where necessary”.
I remember that legislation, which, along with the Crossrail Bill, was probably the least popular Standing Committee on which a Member could sit, because it was such a fat Bill and its proceedings went on for so long, but there was nothing in it proposing the regulation of corporate pay. Throughout the previous Government’s 13 years in office, they did little to act on that issue, and despite the huge legislative opportunity that they had in 2006 they did not seek to strengthen shareholder power.
The manifesto went on to state that Labour would strengthen the UK stewardship code for institutional investors so that they would have to declare how they vote on remuneration policies, which in turn should be approved by directors. It was silent on the interests of employees, and the shadow Business Secretary did not say much about that this afternoon, either. He certainly did not commit to having an employee on the board of every company.
It is the behaviour of the banks, not just their remuneration policy, that needs to change. One of the first acts of the coalition Government was to set up the Independent Commission on Banking. We have now had the Vickers report, but in our proceedings on the Financial Services Bill, which received its Second Reading last night, we went through all those issues, so I shall not go through them again today.
We also need a change of behaviour at company annual general meetings, whereby shareholders really engage with the power that they have over their companies. Recently I met the charitable group FairPensions, which is urging institutional investors, the pension fund managers who act on behalf of many of us, our constituents and local authorities, to use their power at company meetings in order to control executive pay and to act as responsible investors.
Some hon. Members may have noticed that I tabled early-day motion 2678 last week, supporting the Move Your Money UK campaign. Mr Speaker, you and I are of roughly the same political generation—although from different points on the spectrum. We would first have become involved in politics during the 1980s. So we would have been students at the time of the Boycott Barclays campaign, and indeed I had a Boycott Barclays poster up on my bedroom wall as a student. I suspect that you did not, Mr Speaker, but people of my generation will remember that the behaviour of consumers can make a real difference to the behaviour of companies, so I urge all hon. Members—I hope this is a cross-party issue—to support my early-day motion and to urge all our constituents as consumers to consider the behaviour of companies when they use their purchasing power as well as when they exercise their power as shareholders.
There has been systemic failure for quite some time, as the Opposition Front Bencher at least acknowledged. There was reckless behaviour by Mr Goodwin, but there was reckless behaviour also in the Cabinet room by the last Labour Government. The coalition Government are clearing up the mess. We are putting in place regulations and legislation to control pay policy, to introduce transparency into the implementation of that policy and to regulate the banks so that we have a sustainable financial services sector and sustainable banks, which are so essential to supporting the businesses that are required to grow our economy.
No one can seriously doubt that Britain urgently needs fundamental banking reform, but what has been done so far, since the crash of 2008-09, is timid beyond belief. Hardly any of the factors behind the crash have been effectively dealt with. Extreme light-touch regulation left too much to the markets; a vast global market was created in credit derivatives, which were not well understood but were recklessly securitised throughout the world because of their huge profitability; the selling frenzy was stoked even further by enormous bonuses, which drove the recklessness; the banking structure was so over-concentrated in the lead banks that, when disaster struck, they were judged too big to fail, with catastrophic and desperate consequences for the national budget and debt; and the business model linked speculative investment with retail deposit-taking, with the former as well as the latter protected by an implicit taxpayer guarantee.
All those problems, which were familiar to all of us, need to be dealt with, but none has been, partly because of the intransigence of the banking lobby in resisting reform, and partly because of the weakness of political supervision. That makes another crash quite likely, but if there is we might find it much more difficult to get public support for a bail-out.
First, no significant action has been taken to curb complex financial derivatives, which were, perhaps more than any other factor, central to the collapse. Derivatives are the obvious candidate to trigger the next crisis, because they add opacity and leverage to the financial system. The obvious requirement is transparency, and in the United States that was provided by the Dodd-Frank Act, which requires that all derivatives be traded across public exchanges. We all know that in this country some highly dubious securities gained a spurious status due to the scandal of the credit-rating agencies, which were paid by the very institutions whose creditworthiness they were supposed to assess. That ought to be made illegal; better still, the function should be transferred to the public sector to ensure integrity and transparency.
Secondly, there is public outrage—even now at this late stage the Government find it difficult to accept it—at a banking system, which owes its continued existence to massive Government intervention, paying itself mega-salaries and bonuses, and at the fact that 90% of investment bank profits are, in an age of austerity, directed not at strengthening balance sheets, not at shareholder dividend, not at lower fees for customers, but at gigantic personal pay-offs.
Ministers say that to do what some countries such as France are doing, with a mandatory cap and the removal of the bonus guarantee, is impractical, but there can be no doubt that, if the G20 Governments insisted on limits and made continued liquidity provisions dependent on compliance, no bank could refuse.
Thirdly, to avert financial crises, the Government have placed far too much emphasis on enhancing capital controls, and they have done so in a manner that is unlikely to be effective. At the outset of the 2008-09 financial crisis, almost all financial institutions across the globe had capital adequacy at least equal to, and in some cases even twice as much as, the minimum Basel regulatory requirements. But, despite the near-global collapse of the system under those provisions, Basel III proposed in 2010 that the core top-tier capital requirement be only 4.5% and the contingency capital requirement be only 2.5%. Of the EU's top 50 banks, 45 had already met those requirements, and Basel III does not even require them to come into force until 2019. For the Government to accept that is incredibly feeble. It is far too little, far too late and it reflects the Government’s connivance with the banks in minimising reform.
Fourthly, the Vickers commission proposals that the Government, unsurprisingly, have accepted are weak and deeply flawed. Trying to separate retail banking from investment banking with some kind of internal Chinese walls is doomed to failure because of regulatory arbitrage. Financial institutions always invent ever more sophisticated products simply to get around regulatory controls. That is the argument for a clean break between retail high-street banking and investment casino banking. That would have the key advantage of removing the implicit taxpayer guarantee, which allows financial conglomerates safely to use retail deposits for proprietary trading.
Britain arguably retains the most profoundly dysfunctional banking system of any G7 country. It came closer to collapse than any other in autumn 2008. The banking sector in this country is twice as large, relative to the rest of the economy, as in any other major EU country. It is stuffed with mega-banks that are addicted to property, mortgage lending, offshore speculation and tax evasion. Barclays Capital is only the most obvious example of that. Britain needs a much more diversified banking structure with smaller banks, in particular specialist business banks such as infrastructure banks, housing banks, green banks, creative industry banks and knowledge economy banks.
Does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern and that of many people inside and outside this House over bank charges for the ordinary account holder? The ordinary account holder seems to pay a higher price every time, whereas those at the top of the banks get the dividends.
I wholly agree with the hon. Gentleman. The mega-bonuses go along with small businesses having to pay exorbitant interest charges, if they can get a loan at all. The Financial Secretary says that the Government are doing their best with RBS, but why do the Government not tell RBS what level of business lending there should be and what the conditions on it should be?
In fact, RBS has a reasonably good record of lending to small and medium-sized enterprises. It just missed its Merlin targets. It launched a new product at the end of last year for businesses with low fixed interest rates, no early repayment charges and no fees for the first three months. It is above the market average for small business loans. Some 40% of all SME loans are from RBS, which is—
Order. I say gently to the hon. Lady that interventions must be brief. There is substantial pressure on time and I would like to accommodate Members.
The hon. Lady has obviously received a detailed RBS briefing. However, what she describes is very different from the experience of our constituents, who complain about how difficult it is to get loans and about the prohibitive conditions that are attached to them.
I want to make one more point. It is little recognised that 85% of the British public’s money is held by just five banks, which are able to use that money with little or no accountability to the public. Investment in the UK economy therefore reflects the interests not of the public or of society, but of the senior decision makers at the five largest banks. Given that the total gross spending of the banking sector in the run-up to the crash exceeded by far total Government spending, the decision makers in those banks potentially have more spending power to shape the UK economy than the whole machinery of Government. That is a significant fact. In effect, control over the money supply and the allocation of credit has been largely privatised. That is central to Britain’s problems.
Britain needs above all to escape the dangerously mounting deficit in our traded goods account, which in the last two years has been up to £100 billion a year or 7% of GDP. The allocation of credit cannot be left in the hands of private commercial banks, which currently channel only 8% of the money supply into productive investment. Instead, they generate colossal asset bubbles through mortgages and household borrowing.
What is needed is the re-adoption of the rationing of bank credit through official guidance, enforced where necessary through quantitative ceilings. That prevailed successfully in this country until the 1971 competition and credit control measures, which inaugurated the era that said that the market always knows best and in which the deregulation of finance depended almost exclusively on the price mechanism and variable interest rates.
Bonus figures released last week show that the top 1,250 executives in the eight leading London banks received an average of £1.8 million in 2010. That is £34,000 a week. What is really needed in banks, as elsewhere, is whole company pay bargaining, whereby the pay at each level, including at the top, has to pass the examination and approval not just of shareholders, but of the employed staff who are the bedrock of the organisation.
Before I was elected to this House, I spent a 15-year career in small business in IT and software, during which I experienced the ups and downs that are typical of start-up businesses. I also experienced the ups and downs of dealing with banks, including the Royal Bank of Scotland.
Entrepreneurs such as me and my colleagues felt that there was a gap between the risks that we were taking as entrepreneurs and the attitude of the banks, with their demands for personal guarantees and other security, and their occasional unwillingness to negotiate credit terms. When I have talked to small businesses in my constituency over recent months, I have heard similar stories about the attitudes of the banks. I hear about foreclosures on viable businesses, sudden unannounced changes to credit terms, and people who have worked hard to build a business being forced to face impossible choices. I welcome the action that the Government have taken to unblock credit and, as the Financial Secretary described, to improve the appeals process when companies feel that they have been badly treated by their banks.
A big gap opened between the banking culture and the entrepreneur and the small business man, and that gap has grown into a chasm. As other hon. Members have mentioned, our banking culture grew up during the boom and the banking industry became disconnected from the needs of the real economy. It became a self-reinforcing culture in which bonuses and rewards simply got out of control. We then had a spectacular bust that took many viable small businesses down with the banking industry.
This debate is important because Britain’s future depends on our building a viable, dynamic, entrepreneurial culture. Jobs growth will come only from a viable culture of small and medium-sized enterprises. Britain’s future depends on our fostering a culture of entrepreneurship, in which people are prepared to take risks to create new businesses. We need a banking sector that is designed to support that vital endeavour. We also need the banking sector to play a central role in rebalancing the British economy. It must help to create the businesses and infrastructure that we need in places such as the black country, part of which I represent. That is why I welcome the Government’s introduction of the banking levy, which will help to funnel investment into areas such as the black country.
The banks also have a wider moral duty to rebuild the British economy after the follies of the boom years. It is therefore right that we take steps to control the bonus culture in British banks and seek to reform the banking sector. That is why I welcome the Government’s acceptance of the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking.
However, we must not allow ourselves the indulgence of engaging in anti-business rhetoric or appearing to be anti-business. It is perfectly viable for us to be against the bonus culture that built up but also very pro-business, and it is important that we are. We need to celebrate the success of entrepreneurs, wealth creators and small businesses. As I have said, they represent the future of the British economy and create the jobs and skills that we need for the future.
As I learned in my 15 years as an entrepreneur, business is about profits and cash. However, there is also a moral dimension to business and the capitalist system. One of the proudest moments of my entrepreneurial career was receiving a commendation from Investors in People for how my business managed people. My motivation as an entrepreneur was about both profits and people. In the capitalist system, it is vital that people who take risks are rewarded, but also that they recognise the moral dimension of the capitalist system.
We need banks to play a role in building a culture of what we might call “responsible capitalism”, which can promote the entrepreneurial culture that Britain desperately needs to secure its future.
I rise to support the motion. I will begin with the obvious point, which my hon. Friend Mr Umunna also made, that however poorly some of our banks behaved, they are an essential part of our infrastructure and will be an essential driver of ensuring that our economy improves. The question, however, is whether we relied on them too much, which has to be answered with a resounding yes. When the crash came, we not only had to bail out some of the banks that had become too large to fail but lost a huge percentage of our revenue.
A wry smile comes across my face when I see the crocodile tears of Government Members for manufacturing industries, because I remember the period from 1979 to 1997, when I was a young man, when a lot of them were responsible for the demise of manufacturing. That ensured that my late father lost his job in heavy engineering and never got back into it.
Although RBS has become a byword for profligacy, we have to recognise that other banks, such as Barclays, did not request or need a bail-out. We know that we live in difficult times, but today the National Australia bank announced a review of its Clydesdale bank and Yorkshire bank. Combined, they employ 8,500 people in this country and have two UK networks, and the NAB is to re-evaluate its UK wing. Cameron Clyne, the NAB’s chief executive, said in his statement:
“It is clear that the UK economy is likely to experience a much longer period of subdued growth with the ongoing sovereign debt crisis in the Euro-zone and the continuing austerity program by the UK government.”
Government Members take great glee in complaining about what they describe as the mess that was left behind, despite the fact that we are nearly two years into their time in government and even though the urgent action that we in the UK took led the world. However, they should remember the saying, “What goes around comes around.” The chief executive of the NAB was actually saying that their economic policies are contributing to the problems that it is facing, because the Government are concentrating on austerity measures, not the growth of the economy. I hope that the Minister will respond to that point instead of jumping over it as the Minister did.
Although I recognise that the banks make a significant contribution to our economy, their reward structure and behaviour have been brought into sharp focus in the past four years. Based on the experience of businesses in my constituency, banks went from a Viv Nicholson “Spend, spend, spend” policy on lending to a Steptoe and Son penny-pinching policy. The businesses in my constituency with which I have been involved tell me that RBS wants to charge them exorbitant interest rates for safe, copper-bottomed business deals and has put itself first instead of looking after small and medium-sized enterprises.
Most outrageously—Ministers should take note of this—RBS stands accused of deliberately putting in place conditions to put businesses out of business, so that it can reclaim their assets at the cheapest price possible. That is an outrageous way for a bank to do business when the economy is in such difficulty. We need to ensure that we keep people in employment so that they can contribute to the wider good.
The remuneration situation is even more bizarre. When my colleagues were speaking earlier, I heard some chuntering among Government Members about the fact that business people who get large bonuses pay their taxes. There are many millions of our constituents who also pay their taxes, and I bet they wish they were getting the remuneration packages that are being given out in RBS.
As a former trade union official, I have negotiated more pay deals than I care to remember. In the civil service, in the early days of performance-related pay, the reward structure was changed from plain salary to salary plus a performance-related element. Irrespective of which bargaining unit I was dealing with, I always asked how performance would be defined and what an individual would have to do to get that additional payment. In 26 years as a lay and then full-time trade union officer, I never got a straight answer to that question. A job is a job, and someone is paid a salary to do it, but in response to that question I was given platitudes such as “We’ll give it to someone who puts in an effort above and beyond the norm”, and “We’ll reward exceptional performance.” However, when we tried to dig a little deeper into what those words meant, answer came there none.
We have to remind ourselves that the salary package that people such as Stephen Hester get is pretty significant in the first place. We therefore need to know the definition of exceptional work that brings a bonus. That needs to clearly outlined and transparent.
I am a little bit puzzled by the hon. Gentleman’s argument and that of the Labour Front Benchers on bankers’ bonuses and salaries. Are they against bankers’ salaries only, or all very high salaries? He mentioned Stephen Hester, but Carlos Tevez earns five times as much. Why is the Labour party not honest enough to say that it wants higher taxes instead of just focusing on bankers?
The crucial point that has come through in this debate is that RBS is owned by the public. Up until last week, when Stephen Hester did the right thing and announced that he was not going to accept the bonus, Government Members remained silent. Ministers said that it was up to him, if my memory serves me correctly—if the Minister wants to intervene, I will be happy to allow him to do so. The Prime Minister said that it was up to Stephen Hester. In relation to Carlos Tevez, I am not a Manchester City fan, so I will leave that issue alone. I have enough problems with Glasgow Celtic football club without worrying about Manchester City.
The hon. Gentleman seems to make a distinction between entities that are state-owned and those that are not. Is he therefore saying that if Hester worked for a non-state-owned entity, the hon. Gentleman would be quite happy with his bonus package? That seems to be the implication of his answer.
There must be responsibility across every business, whether it is private or public. I am not a communist—the hon. Gentleman will be delighted to know that. I do not suggest that we move to the Cuban model and are all paid the same for doing different jobs, as I recognise that people have different contributions to make and should be paid different salaries for doing so. Often, examples that go to the extreme, such as those about footballers, and that go into other systems of capitalism in the country in which they work do not take the debate much further forward. My analogy is between the civil service and the Royal Bank of Scotland, as the civil service is in the public sector as is the Royal Bank of Scotland, because we own the largest share in it. The difficulty we had in defining performance-related pay in the civil service reads across, it strikes me, to the difficulty we have in defining performance-related pay in the Royal Bank of Scotland.
I think I have been generous enough in giving way, and other Members want to speak.
On bankers’ bonuses, it appears that when the behaviour being rewarded is non-productive—the Royal Bank of Scotland and other banks have not met their Merlin targets and, in each of the past 12 months, they have not met their targets for lending to SMEs—it is surely a case of the emperor’s new clothes. Bankers’ bonuses cannot be based on an opaque set of rules. They are a travesty, a charade and the practice should be outlawed not only in RBS but in other organisations that cannot properly define a performance-related pay system. The era of these unacceptable bankers’ bonuses must come to an end, as we need a direct relationship between reward and performance. Most importantly, the Royal Bank of Scotland has an economic duty to lend to small and medium-sized enterprises to ensure that the economy of our country starts to improve. On that note, I commend the motion and I will support it tonight.
I welcome the debate and want to discuss a number of issues that arise from the motion, but, having explored it, I think it contains a strong hint of political expediency and opportunism. To a degree, the Opposition seem to be ignoring part of the history of the UK Government between 1997 and 2010. That said, this is an extremely important and topical issue and the motion therefore deserves proper consideration and scrutiny.
My starting point would be to reflect on where we are today with some of the issues at hand and on what we are trying to achieve.
Although the reform of banking is important, does my hon. Friend agree that we have not heard today about the importance of the financial services sector and banking as a whole? The sector employs 1.1 million people and contributes 12% of the total tax take and 10% of UK GDP. We should be talking about how to create a strong and vibrant sector that helps to grow the UK economy.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point and I hope that some of my comments later will enthuse her about my stance on that issue.
Not many people would disagree that we need to move from irresponsible banking practice to responsible but successful banking, from poor Government regulation to effective regulation, from bailing out the banks to getting taxpayers’ money back, from the state ownership of banks to putting them back into private ownership, and from the state guaranteeing banks to ensuring that they stand on their own two feet and are not too big to fail. We need to draw some important distinctions when we consider such matters. There is a distinction between taxpayer-owned banks and private banks and we also need to take into account the taxpayer guarantee. When we consider irresponsible bankers—who now seem to be epitomised by Fred Goodwin, who should not be singled out but seems to be taking the brunt of the blame for all the irresponsibility in the banking industry—there should be a distinction between their type of banking and the more responsible banking that many are trying to promote.
One person who was brought in to try to promote more responsible banking and to get RBS back on its feet was Stephen Hester. He came in and took on a job, and although we might all agree or disagree with the definition of the success that he was tasked with bringing about, the fact is that he was given that definition—I think by the Labour party, when it was in government—and now Labour seems to want to move the goalposts and change the definition of success or failure within his remit.
Despite the fact that the opening speech from the Opposition spokesman was coached in such reasonable terms, did my hon. Friend see the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury on “Newsnight”, remarking that Stephen Hester’s bonus was a reward for failure? Does my hon. Friend not agree that that is a gross distortion of the reality? He will agree, I have no doubt, that Stephen Hester has brought many more benefits to RBS.
I will not give way. We need to be careful that we do not vilify people who we entrust with such positions—we should not vilify wealth creators, because they are the very people who we need to get UK plc back on to its feet.
That brings me on to regulation. The tripartite system given to us by Labour clearly failed; we had banks that were thought too big to fail, with no proper checks or balances on their activity. I am pleased to say that the Financial Services Bill, which had its Second Reading yesterday unopposed, will change that situation of ring-fencing banking, so that we no longer have banks that are considered too big to fail.
That leads me on to other issues, particularly the bailing out of the banks, state ownership of banks and state guarantees for banks. They are all probably undesirable for the taxpayer and it is important that we work to try to reverse the unsustainable position that the taxpayer has been put in. We need to consider carefully how we facilitate our banking and finance industry to ensure that we can try to right the wrongs. One way of doing that is through the regulatory framework, which we are dealing with, but we can also do it through competition. We must be well aware of global competition.
I did not take part in last night’s debate on the Financial Services Bill, but spent some time listening to speech after speech from Opposition Members saying that regulation of our banking system needed to take into account the global situation that our banking industry found itself in. I totally agree, but they must therefore acknowledge in tonight’s debate that our banks must be competitive within that global market. Vilifying our banking and business sectors with an unbalanced argument and approach and putting excessive taxes on those sectors will move us away from having banks that are competitive in that global environment.
That brings me, quite neatly, to the bankers’ bonus tax, which is mentioned by the Opposition time after time. They seem very keen on that tax, which they mentioned before the Government put in place the bank levy, which raises £2.5 billion a year, rather than the £2 billion that the bankers’ bonus tax would have raised. The goalposts seem to have moved again and the Opposition seem now to be advocating that it should be an additional tax for the banks to pay.
The Opposition’s position is interesting, as we are now trying to encourage our banking sector to lend, particularly to small businesses, to put their balance sheets in good order and to keep bank branches open—we expect them to do an awful lot of things as well as pay additional taxes. We need to be careful about how we approach this matter.
I thank my hon. Friend for his intervention; I apologise that time is short.
Lending to small business is extremely pertinent, and it is important that it is in the motion, but we should not forget that we need to encourage our banks to lend to small businesses rather than curtailing lending. One of the most important areas in which we need to do that—it has been mentioned by Opposition Members—is manufacturing industry, but they forget to mention that the reason we are in our present position is that the economy was completely unbalanced and we lost 1.7 million manufacturing jobs under their party.
To conclude, although the motion might be populist bordering on opportunist, it does little to solve the problem of irresponsible bankers and poor regulation. It takes no account of the importance of the banking industry not just to bankers but to the rest of industry and commerce in this country and to the UK Exchequer. It does little to get banks to stand on their own two feet, repair their balance sheets and lend again, and it does little to set out a proper strategy for creating sustainable employment for our young people, an agenda that this Government are now tackling with vigour.
I am reducing the time limit to six minutes, to try to get everybody in.
I welcome this important debate, the ramifications of which stretch far beyond the banking sector in particular and economic policy in general. The issue of high pay and bonuses is central to the kind of society that we want to live in. I share the disgust and outrage of my constituents at the fact that successive Governments have allowed the incomes of the wealthiest 10% of the population to rise 37% in the past 10 years while those of the poorest 10% have fallen by 12%, and that the earnings of top executives at Barclays have increased by a stratospheric 4,899% since 1980, while wages for the average worker at the bank have increased only threefold.
We have heard much about a more responsible economic system in recent weeks, and I welcome that debate, but unless that fine rhetoric is backed up with concrete and far-reaching action, I fear that we will merely see more of the same bankrupt business as usual. The first thing we must do to address properly the concerns raised today is ask one important prior question: what purpose do we actually want the banks to serve?
I believe that banks ought to be useful servants of a productive economy and of the new economic, social and environmental challenges that we face. Introducing a statement of purpose requirement for banks and banking activities, in order to allow regulators and customers to assess how much or how little those activities contribute to a productive economy that serves and protects the environment, would be a useful starting point. It has already been done by the German Sparkassen network of community banks, and would go some way towards giving power back to people and allowing them a say in the future of our banks.
The bottom line is that markets alone cannot deliver the kind of banking system that we need—one that is safe and fit for purpose. Governments must step in, and not just when bail-outs are required. Tackling pay at the top end of the sector is an important first step. I support a special tax on bankers’ bonuses, but we should make it permanent. At the top rate of 50%, Labour’s one-off tax raised about £3.5 billion for the Exchequer, but did not do anything like enough to curb the excessive bonus culture, as we now see. Curbing Stephen Hester’s bonus and stripping Fred Goodwin of his knighthood are a start, but let us not pretend that throwing some red meat to the tabloids is a substitute for urgently needed thoroughgoing reform of the banking system. In the absence of major re-regulation, our financial system remains dangerously dysfunctional.
If we are intent on curbing excessively high pay, as we should be, we must recognise that it is not a problem in the finance sector only, and match any action with measures to improve wages at the opposite end of the scale. That means supporting a genuine living wage and considering policies such as a 10:1 ratio between the highest and lowest-paid staff of a company, or a guarantee that no member of staff should receive an annual bonus exceeding the annual wage of the lowest-paid worker in that business or organisation.
I have said that tackling pay was just one part of the challenge. There are many others: 3 million people in the UK do not even have a bank account, and 9 million lack access to affordable credit. Banking reform must address that urgently as well. A universal banking obligation could ensure a taxpayer quid pro quo for future bank support. It would have to cover where banks lend and include a banking code to ensure that everyone has access to essential financial services. A people’s bank could operate via the post office network to address financial exclusion and provide real, fairly priced competition in local communities. A UK community reinvestment Act would ensure that banks lend money where they are prepared to take deposits. We also need to separate banks’ retail and commercial arms properly, not just ring-fence them as the Government plan to do.
Ecological theory suggests that a system is most resilient when it is divided into compartments to protect it from external danger. In order for banks to be resilient, they too should be modular, without excessive connections between them that can transmit shocks rapidly through the system. For that reason, serious restrictions on inter-bank lending and derivatives trading and the reintroduction of exchange controls designed, among other things, to reduce sharply international flows of money between banks should be explored in much more detail.
The next round of quantitative easing may well be announced on Thursday. Recently, I met the man credited with inventing the term. He explained that he was in Japan at the time and wanted to talk about credit creation, but that those words in Japanese meant something different. Credit creation goes to the heart of how the banks operate. The current economic system enables commercial banks and other financial institutions to exert an unacceptably large influence on the economy. Now is surely the moment for us to challenge the virtual monopoly that we have allowed the private banking sector to exercise over credit creation.
One step towards achieving that might be to introduce green quantitative easing. We know that during the last round of QE, the Bank of England purchased £275 billion in Government bonds, yet that money did not find its way into the real economy or help small businesses get loans. Green quantitative easing would inject money directly into the economy, circumventing the paralysed banking system. By purchasing green assets such as solar photovoltaic assets for a nationwide roll-out, for example, we could create far more jobs, stabilise the economy, reinvigorate our local businesses and reduce our emissions.
There are many other things to be said, and I have only 20 seconds left in which to say them. We need diversity on our high streets. We need more community banks and credit unions. We will not get the banking system that we need if we leave it to a monopoly of four or five main high street banks. We need a diversity that we can learn from ecology. If we bring that into our banking system, we might just have a chance at a banking system fit for purpose.
It has been interesting to sit in this debate and hear such an extended series of mea culpas from Opposition Members for the failings of the last Labour Government on this issue. Let us not forget that that Labour Government presided over the decline of British manufacturing, under which the concentration of banks about which they now complain took place and the meaning of the word “bonus” became so debased. There is so much for them to say sorry for, and so little time in a three-hour debate for all of them to come forward and repent.
I am not repenting, but the hon. Gentleman might like to repent for the fact that the real origins of the problems that we are facing can be traced back 30 years to Margaret Thatcher’s Government. [ Interruption. ] I can hear hon. Members cheering, but it was Margaret Thatcher’s Government who undermined the manufacturing industry, used financial services as an alternative engine of economic growth, ran down the mining, steel, shipbuilding and car-making industries and totally destroyed manufacturing in this—
Order. Shorter interventions, as I have already expressed, are the order of the evening.
I turn to the mishmash of observations that the Opposition have called a motion. It might, to them, make a motion, but it certainly does not make a policy.
On the key issues, the coalition Government have already taken sensible steps towards reform: they have found an answer to the mess of regulation by centralising it under the Bank of England; they will implement the recommendations of the Vickers report; and they are introducing changes to the compensation culture so that it can get back to supporting enterprise and rewarding merit, which is what we all want.
The shadow Business Secretary did a good job of holding back the hostile anti-business rhetoric. I just hope that the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury can restrain herself in her usual anti-business rhetoric when she winds up for the Opposition.
The hon. Gentleman is much more generous than his colleague Mr Jones. With long-term unemployment up 157% in Bedford since the start of 2011, does the hon. Gentleman think that the priority should be a tax cut for the banks this year or a programme to invest in youth jobs?
That is a very good point. Perhaps the hon. Lady will be interested to know that I am leading the establishment of an enterprise investment scheme fund in Bedford to get local people to invest in jobs and create businesses in Bedford. Government Members believe in practical action to support entrepreneurs and jobs, not the empty rhetoric that we get from Opposition Front Benchers. I invite her to Bedford to see the successes that we are having and from which perhaps her party can learn. The shadow Business Secretary made some interesting points, and I only wish that he had had time to speak more about his idea for moving forward with a UK equivalent of the small business investment company in the United States. That is an interesting direction of travel from the Labour party.
It is always hard in a free society to explain or justify why some people earn more—sometimes fantastically more—than other people. That justification can be secure only when clearly based on merit—the merit that comes from taking a risk that works out or from delivering exceptional performance. It is clear, however, that throughout large swathes of the economy, those two forms of merit have been losing hold in the setting of compensation in our country. My hon. Friend James Morris spoke eloquently about that disconnect between the financial sector and our entrepreneurs. I know that the Government are committed to changing that.
It is sensible to look for measures that focus remuneration more on merit, but that is precisely what the Government’s recommendations seek to do. The problem with the speeches from Opposition Members was that they could not define the problem that they were trying to solve. Were they trying to solve the problem of compensation in state-owned enterprises? Were they trying to solve the problem of compensation in banking? Were they just hostile to high compensation generally in the economy? They could not define the problem owing to the different points of view among Opposition Members. Some call for a return to the rhetoric of the 1980s, attacking people for earning too much money and trying to draw false and upsetting comparisons between people who get paid a lot and those who cannot find a job.
In this country, we need to support the risk takers and the entrepreneurs to create the jobs that people in my constituency and constituencies around the country want. The promotion of an anti-business rhetoric will be harmful. As my hon. Friend Mr Jones said, the reaction to Mr Hester’s bonus sent the unwanted signal to business that this country was anti-business. As many have said today, Members on both sides of the House have a responsibility to make it clear that that is not the case and that we all want business to be strong in our communities.
Strengthening shareholders’ responsibilities will be central to that. One of the perhaps unintended consequences of the raid on pension funds by Mr Brown was to weaken the ability of shareholders, particularly pension fund holders, to hold boards to account over remuneration. There was a change in the ownership of shares, which increasingly went offshore, while those custodians of long-term interests—our insurance companies and pension funds—had their voices and representation weakened on boards. It is right, therefore, for the Government to consider in detail how to strengthen shareholder representation and control over compensation in general.
Several speakers made the connection between banks and support for small business. I ask the Government to be bolder in looking for alternatives to banks in meeting the challenge of financing our small businesses. We need to consider ways of growing bond markets for small business, and we need to go even further than we already have by adopting innovative schemes for promoting equity financing for our small and medium-sized businesses. There is no more honourable a thing for people with money today to do than putting it into equity and our small businesses, and the Government have already provided tax incentives for them to do so. I only encourage the Minister to do more.
On credit easing, will the Minister be cautious about the ability of Governments to stimulate the economy in the short term? By the time that Governments get round to deciding what to do, often the problem has passed. However, credit easing presents another opportunity, which is to use financing, through a credit easing facility, to reduce some of the long-term debt obligations in this country. As the Minister knows, I have spoken before about the possibility of using either some or all of the credit easing financing to create a future fund and unburden the next generation of taxpayers of some of the tax that would otherwise be needed to meet the unfunded public pension liability. We must look to the long term when considering how to fund our small businesses, and not always think that the Government have the answer in the short term. They rarely do.
Richard Fuller said that we must reward the risk takers, but is not the problem and the reason for this debate the fact that the risk takers took too many risks with the world economy and completely destroyed it, and that while destroying the world economy, they got massive bonuses, pay and entitlements to which they were not entitled? That is why we need to look at these risk takers, who he says are the wealth creators.
Opposition Members have no problem with business or with people who want to work hard, achieve, create jobs and stimulate the economy, but it is important to remember—this is what this debate is about—that, as the Leader of the Opposition said in his party conference speech last year, there are producers and there are predators. As always, those comments were taken out of context, but what he talked about is what the Prime Minister now talks about: responsible capitalism and responsibility in society.
In the light of that, we are having this debate, which is not surprising—in the light of that, we are having this debate. I repeat myself because it is important to know why we are having the debate. As my hon. Friend Mr Umunna said, this debate on the crisis is timely but, more importantly, the question is: how do we prevent the problem from reoccurring? We should be concentrating on that, instead of the point scoring that we have seen.
We realise that there have been problems with the regulation of the banking and the financial services over the past 20 or 30 years. As my hon. Friend said, the Opposition have accepted responsibility and acknowledged that the Labour Government could have done more to regulate the sector, but as has been pointed out no one in the Conservative party at the time complained or argued that regulation should be tighter—if anything, they asked for even less regulation. Nevertheless, they continue to say, “We didn’t do anything.” We have accepted our mistakes, but Government Members made them as well. Furthermore, as everyone knows, the relaxation of regulation started in the ’80s, when a Conservative Government were in power. It is about time that they apologised for getting this whole thing going.
I do not want to get into a party ding-dong. I want to talk about what we can do to help to create a situation in which businesses and banks can work properly and the country can prosper. The Opposition have argued that the Walker review, which states that, if a banker’s remuneration is more than £1 million, that information should be published, should be implemented as soon as possible. That, coupled with the recommendations of the independent High Pay Commission, should be implemented in full, with investors and pension fund managers required to disclose how they vote on remuneration decisions, so that those paying into pension funds know where their money is going. Additionally, to boost transparency, the Government should publish figures setting out the largest pay ratios.
Another thing that we should be doing is using our influence in the banks in which the taxpayer has a stake to restrain excesses and promote good practices. Where the Government—the state—have discretion, they should intervene, such as with Network Rail recently. We should introduce a framework for fair pay across the economy, including through employee representation on remuneration committees and measures to enable greater shareholder activism. We should repeat the tax on large bank bonuses and use the money to get 100,000 young people into work. In tough times, when there is less money around, fairness matters more than ever. Instead of providing leadership, the Government have been dragging their feet on tackling excessive pay and rewards for failure. They have taken 20 months to come forward with any plans, and they are delaying even those that they are implementing. That is in stark contrast to the autumn statement, which took three times as much from families with children as it did from the bankers.
“Every £1 billion of less bonus would support £20 billion of additional small business lending.”
I urge the Government to act on that, and to support Project Merlin—which we do not think has been as successful as it should have been—to ensure that the banks involved in the scheme lend more. Evidence has shown that investment and credit lending by those banks has decreased by 6% in real terms, whereas investing and giving more credit would be a real step to boost the economy. At the end of the day, some of the banks have been bailed out with public money. They and the Government should be doing more to—
In opening the debate, the shadow Business Secretary stressed the importance of a strong financial sector and called for a new culture, given the high pay and excessive bonuses that we have seen. Many of us on the Government Benches agreed with what he said in that direction and with the overall tone that he struck. He was asked how much money had been given away in bonuses under the last Government. According to my figures, £66 billion was paid out in bank bonuses under the last Government. Much of that was encouraged by the last Government, for the massive tax revenues that it generated, with more than 50% coming back to the Exchequer.
Much has been made of the linkage between businesses and bank lending, but I would dispute that. We need to see much more lending to small businesses, but, as I explained in an intervention, the reason for the current lending issues is not just that the banks will not lend. Opposition Members do businesses a disservice by continuing to promulgate the myth that banks will not lend, because one reason that businesses are reluctant to approach banks is that they think they will be rejected. We must not engage in too much rhetoric, accusing the banks of not lending, when RBS, for example, grants 85% of the loan applications that it receives from small and medium-sized enterprises.
First, I accept that the reason there is not as much lending to SMEs as one would expect is not just because of the banks, but because of people’s confidence in the economy—one might argue that the Government’s policies have had an effect on that. Secondly, I pointedly made it clear in my speech that it is not just a question of the banks not getting the money out of the door to robust, profitable businesses; rather, it is a question of their relationship with their business customers in this day and age. Often, people are put on the phone to some person in a regional office who knows nothing about their business and is therefore not in a position to assess the risk properly.
First, on the causes of why businesses are not seeking loans to invest, that has much more to do with the eurozone crisis and the global economy in general. For any company seeking to export, there is a general nervousness across the world—not just in the west, but in China and the far east. Secondly, I agree with the hon. Gentleman about banks losing a lot of skills over the past 10 to 20 years in managing their business customers, but I see signs of change. I visited Barclays in Birmingham a couple of months ago, and I sensed the real commitment, along with an upgrading of skills, that that bank—to name one—is making to its business customers.
I am listening carefully to my hon. Friend’s speech. Further to her discussion with the shadow Business Secretary, there are new entrants to the high street lending market, which I think, without name-checking them and giving them the publicity, will shake up the “Computer says no” culture. [Hon. Members: “Name them.”] Virgin Money is coming on to the high street, and it will shake up that culture. Sometimes we are in danger of talking about just the traditional high street banks and lenders, when there are new entrants coming into the market that will really shake things up and change things.
I thank my hon. Friend for that excellent intervention. Indeed, I attended a Virgin-sponsored event last week at which its youth capital fund was launched, to try to get money available for young entrepreneurs as seed finance, so I very much agree with his point.
The Opposition want us to raise taxes—again—to fund a youth unemployment initiative, but I strongly object to the motion. We cannot do enough for youth unemployment—I agree with that. It is an absolute scourge in my constituency, so I am pleased about the new proposals we are seeing, with the youth contract getting £1 billion in funding, which will create 410,000 work opportunities for our young people. We are also seeing record numbers of apprenticeships across the country. I would therefore argue that the Government are doing all they can to support young people back into work, which I absolutely agree is a challenge facing us all.
I want to speak on behalf of taxpayer interests, because we all own a stake in two of our high street banks. I also want to talk a bit about the protection of our tax revenues, as well as employment in the financial services sector, because I fear that by raising yet another tax on bonuses—on employment, essentially—we are jeopardising that investment. The shadow Business Secretary is the acceptable face, perhaps, of the Opposition, but many other Opposition Members, including the shadow Chief Secretary, Rachel Reeves, alighted on one individual—Stephen Hester—a couple of weeks ago, repeating the mantra that “It’s all about rewards for failure.” The record really ought to be set straight when it comes to RBS. She should not judge the performance of that company just on the share price, and she is pedalling a half-truth when she does so. She should look at the repair of the company’s balance sheet and the extensive disposal programme undertaken by RBS, which is on track despite incredibly difficult market conditions. The capital ratios have been improved, with SME lending by the bank making up 40% of total bank SME lending, which is higher than its market share. This country and its taxpayers would be dealt a mighty blow if the chief executive, Stephen Hester, were to react to the terrible publicity that he has had to endure by leaving that taxpayer-owned bank. Who do the Opposition think would want to take his place, after all that has happened?
On the question of the bonus tax—I shall choose my words carefully—I feel that taxes are plenty high enough already. The Opposition are proposing to raise them even higher, however. On any employment income at the level of bank bonuses, the higher rate tax of 50% applies. With employers’ national insurance and a degree of personal national insurance on top of that, the effective tax rate on some of those bonuses is already more than 60%. Let us not forget, too, that under the Government’s proposals, everything in a state-owned bank bonus apart from £2,000 in cash has to be deferred and taken in shares. If the individual then sells their shares, that will incur capital gains tax at the increased rate of 28%.
I shall finish by issuing a warning to Members on both sides of the House. In the days of the last-but-one Labour Government, under whom I grew up in the 1970s, the top marginal rate of tax was 98%. Do the Opposition really want to take us back to those times, during which enterprise was absolutely stifled?
I had not intended to speak in the debate, but Lloyds TSB has today announced 300 job losses in Scunthorpe, as part of 1,000 job losses across the country. That is on top of the 30,000 job losses that have been announced by that organisation over the past three years. I want to talk about the importance of the banking sector in our communities as a provider of jobs and services at local level. Too often, the debate is about the banks and bankers at national level, and that has been well covered in today’s debate, but it is important that we also remember the value of the banking sector within the communities that we represent. Another case in point in my constituency is the announcement by HSBC that it is to close its branch at Kirton-in-Lindsey. It is the only branch for nine miles, and its closure will have a significant impact on the way in which that community manages its business.
James Morris made a thoughtful and insightful contribution to the debate. He drew on his experience of the disconnect between the banks, on the one hand, and the small and medium-sized enterprises and the communities of which they are a part, on the other. He said that it was possible to be anti-bonus but pro-business. There is unity across the House on that point. We need a better and more responsible capitalism that better serves the people of this country. Excessive pay and rewards for failure are bad for shareholders, bad for the economy, bad for society and bad for business. I hope that the people listening to the debate, in the banking community and in the communities that we serve, will recognise the importance of banking as a provider of services and jobs in our communities, and as an engine of the growth of this proud nation.
There are some basic questions of fairness that people in Britain feel strongly about, and we have to reinstate that fairness. In 1979, the top pay at Barclays was only 14.5 times that of the average pay. It is now 75 times higher. Did people not want to work at the top of Barclays then? Did they not want to work hard for their bank? I think that they did. The problem is that the top levels of pay have accelerated to a level that no one considers fair. The suggestion that, if we do something about that, people will go elsewhere and that we will be unable to recruit seems strange. Margot James spoke of a time when personal tax rates were higher, but people were still prepared to do those jobs here. We cannot go on accepting the mantra that they will go elsewhere—
They did not go, and the banks did not collapse. They recruited chief executives and board members.
In fact, in 1979, the inequality gap, as measured by the Gini coefficient, was at its lowest in the entire post-war period. Does that matter? I suggest that it does. If I were an employee of Barclays, working as a teller or in a back-room job, my motivation to work hard would go down as I learned about the huge disparities in pay. This is not about jealousy, or about feeling that people should not be able to earn. If we want people to accept, as we have suggested, that we cannot increase public sector pay in the way that we want to, and if we are all in this together, it has to be fair. That is primarily what the motion is about. Those who do not support it will find that, rather than wanting to dig in and be “all in this together”, people will be dissatisfied and demoralised, and our businesses simply will not grow.
It is right and proper that we have had this debate in the House this afternoon. Today, we have shown that the concerns of the country are the concerns of this House. But I am sorry and disappointed—notwithstanding the fact that the Business Secretary is at a funeral—that no member of the Cabinet has been willing to attend the debate. I am disappointed—[ Interruption. ] Oh! I am sorry! The Education Secretary has arrived. I am not sure how long he has been here—[ Interruption. ] Five minutes, apparently.
I am disappointed that the Chief Secretary to the Treasury has not been willing to explain the Government’s failure to follow through on the Walker review’s recommendations on transparency and high pay. I am disappointed that the Chancellor has not been willing to explain why they oppose the inclusion of ordinary workers on remuneration committees. I am also disappointed that no Cabinet Minister has been willing to come to the House to defend the tax cut that this Government are giving to banks this year.
People up and down the country are amazed when they read about individuals receiving bonuses in a single year that amount to more money than most people will see in their entire working life, especially at a time when families are struggling to make ends meet, when small businesses are finding it hard to access finance, when people are finding it hard to get a job, and when many young people are struggling to get their first job.
The “Oxford English Dictionary” tells us that a bonus is
“a sum of money added to a person’s wages as a reward for good performance”.
It goes on to say that a bonus is
“an extra and unexpected advantage”.
It is clear, however, that for a few, bonuses have come to be expected, an automatic part of their pay. Whatever their performance or that of their businesses, bonuses can be cashed, year in and year out. That seems to be the case even when the share price is falling, even when thousands of jobs are being lost and even when lending targets to small businesses are not being met. And this is happening in an industry that is significantly supported by us, the taxpayers, and that risks rapidly losing the trust and confidence of those it is supposed to serve, because of the actions of a few at the top.
Let me speak plainly. Labour Members recognise the importance of the financial services sector to our economy. A high proportion of jobs in my constituency are directly or indirectly dependent on the continued success of Leeds as a financial hub. Private sector employers whom I meet tell me time after time of the critical importance of bank finance to their ability to grow and employ more people.
The financial services industry is, and must remain, a strong part of the British economy. It offers an opportunity for Britain to play a positive role in the global economy and it plays a critical part in supporting the small businesses that could be and should be the driving force of our economic recovery. That makes it all the more important that Members are not afraid to approach the banking sector as a critical friend—not afraid to deliver home truths or the views and perspectives of the people we represent.
In expressing public concerns about excessive bonuses, we must remember that the vast majority of people who work in banks earn modest salaries. Those I know in Leeds are on salaries of £20,000 or £30,000 a year, and they find these six or seven-figure bonuses as shocking and alien as the rest of us do—especially a few years after failures in the banking sector brought the global economy to its knees.
These are the concerns we have heard in contributions to today’s debate. It must be a matter of regret that throughout this afternoon, save for the Education Secretary, no Cabinet member has been here to hear them. It is a shame that no Cabinet members were present to hear the passionate speeches by, for example, my hon. Friend Nic Dakin, whose constituents are fearful this evening for their jobs. It is a shame that no Cabinet Minister is going to respond to the concerns expressed in the passionate speeches of my hon. Friends the Members for East Kilbride, Strathaven and Lesmahagow (Mr McCann), for Edinburgh East (Sheila Gilmore) and for Bolton South East (Yasmin Qureshi) or of Caroline Lucas. Those Members spoke about the increasing disconnection between a small number of people at the top of the banking sector and the experiences and values of the rest of the country. This disconnect must be repaired if we are to strengthen the national purpose and shared interest that we need to get through these tough economic times.
It is a shame, too, that no Cabinet member will respond to the contributions about struggling businesses—especially to the thoughtful contributions of my hon. Friend Mr Bailey, who spoke about the dysfunctional relationship between banks and industry, which grossly impedes our ability to grow out of the recession, and of my right hon. Friend Mr Meacher, who forcefully rebutted an intervention suggesting that the banks are lending. That suggestion was totally out of touch with the experience of small businesses in all our constituencies. The reality is that many businesses are being refused the loans they need to tide them over or to keep people in work. We all need a banking sector that lends, supports small businesses and acts as a sector that we can trust and rely on.
We also heard contributions from the hon. Members for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) and for Bristol West (Stephen Williams), which I thought added important dimensions to today’s debate. I want to pick up on the contribution by Mr Jones, as he would not let me intervene when I tried to do so earlier. Both he and Margot James seem to disagree with the decision of the RBS chief executive to hand back his bonus, when I had thought that every Member of every party would welcome that. The fact is that the chief executive of RBS earns a salary in excess of £1 million a year—46 times more than the average worker. That should be reward enough for doing his job; he should not be getting a bonus of £963,000 on top of that when few others could expect to earn that sort of salary in a lifetime.
Will the hon. Lady explain the Opposition’s policy on creating growth in the financial sector? We have heard a great deal of criticism about everything, about how dreadful bonuses are and all the rest of it. That is fine, but what is Labour’s policy for growth, for being creative and for going forward?
We have argued a five-point plan for jobs and growth—to put money in the pockets of ordinary families with a VAT cut and a national insurance holiday for small businesses that are struggling to take on new workers. Those are the sort of policies that will get the economy moving again and will protect jobs in all our constituencies.
We should welcome the RBS chief executive’s decision to hand back his bonus. The reality is that, over the last year, the RBS share price has fallen, it failed to meet its lending targets and it laid off workers. As I said, I would have thought that a salary in excess of £1 million is reward enough.
Today’s debate, however, is not about one man or one bonus or one bank; it is about the need for an overhaul of the way in which bonuses and pay are structured. As my hon. Friend the shadow Business Secretary has spelled out and as many contributions have highlighted, issues of pay and performance—of individuals and of the banking industry as a whole—cannot be separated.
Banks need to show that they recognise the need to change, the need to reform their business models, the need to rebuild their relationships with small businesses and customers and, most of all, the need to restore public trust. The British people deserve a banking system that they can believe in and respect—a banking system that inspires trust and is seen as a responsible custodian of our earnings, our savings, and our pensions. I know that the majority of people who work in banks at all levels also want to feel proud of the job they do, so today’s debate is about beginning to restore that trust and integrity.
Opposition Members have set out clear, constructive proposals in three key areas: transparency, accountability and fairness. [Interruption.]On transparency, the Labour Government legislated for the implementation of David Walker’s recommendations on high pay, including for rules to disclose the numbers of employees paid over £1million a year. [Interruption.]
Order. I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Lady, but Members are holding conversations in the Chamber, but they expected others to listen to them when they made their speeches. I expect Members who want to conduct private conversations to do so outside the Chamber and not in it.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that some Members do not want to hear the truth.
Transparency would give shareholders the vital information they need to rein in excessive remuneration, but what have we seen from the Government? No answers and no action. On accountability, the High Pay Commission has recommended the inclusion of an employee on company remuneration committees. We have called on the Government to legislate, but what have we had? No answers and no action. Yet again, on the matter of fairness, when banks continue to award bonuses beyond most people’s imagination at a time when everyone else is being squeezed, why will the Government not do what is right and tell the banks that if they continue to pay out large bonuses, they will impose a tax to ensure that some of that money comes back to the taxpayer? Hundreds of thousands of young people have been looking for work for months and even years now, struggling with the consequences of a crisis that was caused by the financial services sector for which they are paying the price. That is the real crisis our country is facing—the crisis of more than 1 million young people out of work, but what do we see from this Government? We see no answers and no action.
On transparency, on accountability and on fairness, our constituents want answers and they want action, so why do the Government not take responsibility? At the end of the day, it comes down to priorities. Labour’s priorities are those of the British people: of families facing a squeeze in living standards, of the 1 million young people trying to find work and of the thousands of good businesses trying to stay afloat.
By contrast, this Government’s priorities are increasingly clear: a tax cut for the banks and a quiet life for the Cabinet. Well, we can tell the Government that this issue will not go away. We will continue to raise the concerns of voters and if this Government will not take the necessary action, the public will draw this conclusion—that this out-of-touch Prime Minister just does not get it, that his Cabinet colleagues do not get it either and that the Labour party is the only party that does.
We have heard 11 interesting contributions from Back Benchers, although I cannot say that the last contribution was either interesting or, indeed, informed. I should begin by drawing the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
I have to say that the last contribution was in sharp contrast to the more emollient tones of the shadow Secretary of State, Mr Umunna, who actually admitted—I think for the first time from the Dispatch Box—that Labour got it wrong on this issue when it was in government. What is not clear, however, is whether he cleared those remarks with the shadow Chancellor. It seemed that this set of remarks was new to a number of faces on the Back Benches.
We heard very good contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) and for Nuneaton (Mr Jones) and excellent contributions, too, from my hon. Friends the Members for Bedford (Richard Fuller) and for Stourbridge (Margot James). We heard an interesting contribution from the Chairman of the Select Committee, Mr Bailey, who pointed out that it was my right hon. Friend Vince Cable—[Interruption]—who, notwithstanding the shouting and screaming from Labour Members, highlighted the existence of real challenges and problems when his party was in opposition. I am sure that my right hon. Friend will be happy to acknowledge that.
Let me begin by making it clear that this Government have an absolute commitment to addressing excesses in the banking system that were allowed to go unchecked and unregulated for much of the 13 years before we came to office. It was a system in which light-touch regulation and record bonuses were encouraged by a Government who were keen to reap the rewards. Since coming to office, we, as a coalition Government, have made a return to responsible banking a key priority. We have taken concerted action to ensure that, in return for extensive taxpayer support, banks must once again live up to their obligations to support the wider United Kingdom economy.
That is why, as my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury pointed out, we are discarding the discredited tripartite system and implementing the recommendations of the Vickers commission. It is also why we are actively supporting the flow of lending to businesses, especially small businesses, so that they can gain access to the finance that they need if they are to invest and grow. We on these Benches passionately support the entrepreneurs and hard-working small business owners who create the wealth and jobs on which the rest of us rely.
There has been some discussion about the Merlin agreement this evening. Let us be clear about that. Under the terms of the agreement, the five major UK banks committed themselves to making £190 billion of new credit available last year. Of that new lending capacity, £76 billion was dedicated to small and medium-sized enterprises, which would be a 15% increase on the previous year. The latest figures, for the third quarter, show that the banks are broadly on track. At that point banks had lent more than £157 billion to UK businesses, 11% above their implied target, and three—Barclays, Santander and HSBC—have all made recent statements to the effect that they have met their Merlin targets. We await the final figures, but that is good news that we should bear in mind.
Moreover, a report from my Department, to which the motion refers, reveals—although I did not hear this from Labour Members—that three quarters of SME employers are being given the loan or overdraft they request. My hon. Friend the Member for Stourbridge rightly pointed out that it is wrong to suggest—as some Opposition Members do—that no small firm can obtain a loan.
I understand—we understand—that to the 25% of SME employers who do not obtain that loan or overdraft, the fact that 75% do will be no consolation. That is why the Chancellor is taking decisive action to provide some £21 billion, £20 billion of it under the national loan guarantee scheme, which will be available over two years and will allow banks to offer lower-cost lending to smaller businesses. [Interruption.] Notwithstanding the chuntering of Opposition Members, that scheme is supported by the Federation of Small Businesses, the British Chambers of Commerce and the CBI. The details will be made clear in the next few weeks.
No, I will not give way to the hon. Lady. We heard a diatribe of clichés from her, but we heard no policy, no original ideas and no original thoughts.
We are also making available an initial £1 billion through a business finance partnership that will allow small businesses to invest through non-bank channels. My hon. Friend Richard Fuller was absolutely right to say that we should not just consider the bank channels, but should ensure that other players in the market can come forward. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis—who, unlike many Opposition Members, has actually run a business—was also right to draw attention to the importance of choice and competition. I agreed with the shadow Business Secretary when he said that we should think about the business model and the return of relationship management. I hope that we shall hear some positive contributions about that from Labour, and not just the usual flannel.
The Opposition motion refers to the need for a reform of banking, and to the need for more regulation and responsibility. The motion is right to refer to responsibility; it is just a shame that that was not one of Labour’s policies when it was in government. However, I suppose that it is nice to have a convert, even if the conversion is late in the coming.
Yesterday the Chancellor introduced the Financial Services Bill, demonstrating that we would overhaul the regulatory environment that we had inherited. The Bill’s principles are important: responsibility, prudence—I think we may remember that word—and sustainability. That means addressing the old system of excessive and irresponsible levels of pay.
As we have heard this evening, under the new FSA remuneration code we have ensured that bonuses will be deferred by at least three years and linked to the performance of employees and companies. Through the disclosure regime, we are providing more transparency than we ever saw from the Labour party when it was in government. Bonus levels are already starting to fall. As we heard earlier, last year they stood at £6.7 billion, just half as much as when the shadow Chancellor was the City Minister in the last Government.
This evening’s debate has also dealt with the wider issue of executive remuneration. The Government strongly believe that successful people who work hard should be properly rewarded. It is vital that, in a debate about the excesses of a few, we do not give the impression that enterprise and endeavour are unwelcome in Britain; but, sadly, quite a few Opposition Members simply do not understand that. We need to make our message clear. The Government are determined to work with businesses to reform executive pay, and to do so in a way that strengthens business in Britain in the long term. As was alluded to but never actually examined by the hon. Member for—