‘(1) Section 2 of the Bank of England Act 1998 (Functions of court of directors) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (5) add—
“(6) The court shall conduct retrospective reviews of the performance of the Bank with respect to its functions and objectives.
(7) The court shall determine the particular matters to be reviewed under subsection (6).
(8) The court must publish a report on each review carried out under subsections (6) and (7) unless the court decides that all or part of such a report should not be published for reasons of confidentiality or because it would endanger financial stability.
(9) When all or part of a report of a review is not published under the provisions of subsection (8), the court must—
(a) publish as much as possible of the report,
(b) send a copy of the full report to the Chairman of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons or, in exceptional circumstances, inform the Chairman of the Treasury Committee of the reasons for not sending it, and
(c) publish the report or part of the report as soon as possible after the court decides that the considerations in subsection (8) no longer apply.
(10) After each meeting of the court, the Bank shall publish minutes of the meeting before the end of the period of two weeks beginning with the day of the meeting.
(11) Subsection (10) shall not apply to minutes of any proceedings where the court has decided that publication should be delayed for reasons of confidentiality or because publication would endanger financial stability.
(12) Where any part of the court’s minutes is not published under the provisions of subsection (11), the Chairman of the court shall inform the Chairman of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons of the reasons.
(13) Any part of the minutes of a meeting of the court must be published as soon as the court has decided that the considerations in subsection (11) no longer apply.”.’.—(Mr Tyrie.)
Brought up, and read the First time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Reports by skilled persons —
‘The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 is amended as follows—
“(1) In section 166, subsection (1), leave out “require him” and insert “inform that person that it has appointed a person”.
(2) In section 166, subsection (1), at end insert “The Authority may require the person to whom subsection (2) applies to pay for the costs of the report in the event that it has resulted in enforcement action being taking against that person.”.
(3) In section 228, subsection (5), at end insert “except that this is without prejudice to the right of the complainant to sue for any amounts in excess of the maximum award limit in the event that the Ombudsman has made a recommendation pursuant to section 229(5) of this Act. The Complainant’s acceptance is also not binding on the Authority which remains entitled to take such action as it would have been had the award limit not existed.”.’.
New clause 3—Enforcement of money awards —
‘Schedule 17 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 is amended as follows—
“(1) In paragraph 16, leave out “which has been registered in accordance with scheme rules”.’.
New clause 13—Meaning of qualifying parent undertaking: assessment and review —
‘(1) The Treasury shall within twelve months of Royal Assent to this Act consult the FCA and the PRA on the possible need to exercise the powers provided for by section 192B(6)(a) of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and shall lay before the House of Commons a report containing an assessment of the need to exercise these powers.
(2) In subsequent years, the FCA and the PRA shall provide an annual assessment of the possible need to exercise the powers provided for by subsection (6)(a), to be reviewed by the Treasury. Any such review must be laid before the House of Commons.’.
Amendment 46, in clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end add—
“(2A) The appointment of the Governor and Deputy Governors shall be made only after the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons has been consulted and has reported on the suitability of the candidates nominated by the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the posts.’.
Amendment 47, page 1, line 12, at end add—
“(2A) Any member appointed under subsection (2) shall be appointed with the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.’.
Amendment 29, in clause 2, page 2, line 11, after ‘Authority)’, insert
‘and shall have regard to minimising, as far as possible, the use of public funds to support or rescue parts of the UK financial services industry.’.
Amendment 22, in clause 3, page 3, line 37, after ‘functions’, insert
‘having regard to the economic policy of Her Majesty’s Government, including its objectives for growth and employment’.
Amendment 23, page 8, line 32, at end insert—
(a) If the Treasury considers it appropriate to proceed with the making of an order under section 9K, the Treasury may lay before Parliament—
(i) a draft order, and
(ii) an explanatory document.
(b) The explanatory document must—
(i) introduce and give reasons for the order,
(ii) explain why the Treasury considers that the order serves the purpose in section 9K, and
(iii) be accompanied by a copy of any representations received from the FPC or the Governor.
(c) The Treasury may not act under paragraph (a) before the end of the period of 12 weeks beginning with the day on which the consultation began, unless the order is made in accordance with paragraph (b).
(d) Subject as follows, if after the expiry of the 40-day period the draft order laid under paragraph (a) is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Minister may make an order in the terms of the draft order.
(e) The procedure in paragraphs (f) to (i) shall apply to the draft order instead of the procedure in paragraph (d) if—
(i) either House of Parliament so resolves within the 30-day period, or
(ii) a committee of either House charged with reporting on the draft order so recommends within the 30-day period and the House to which the recommendation is made does not by resolution reject the recommendation within that period.
(f) The Minister must have regard to—
(i) any representations,
(ii) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and
(iii) any recommendations of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft order, made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft order.
(g) If after the expiry of the 60-day period the draft order is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Minister may make an order in the terms of the draft order.
(h) If after the expiry of the 60-day period the Minister wishes to proceed with the draft order but with the material changes, the Minister may lay before Parliament—
(i) a revised draft order, and
(ii) a statement giving a summary of the changes proposed.
(i) If the revised draft order is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Minister may make an order in the terms of the revised draft order.
(j) For the purposes of this section an order is made in the terms of a draft order or revised draft order if it contains no material changes to its provisions.
(k) In this section, references to the “30-day”, “40-day” and “60-day” periods in relation to any draft order are to the periods of 30, 40 and 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft order was laid before Parliament.
(l) For the purposes of paragraph (k) no account is to be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which either House is adjourned for more than four days.’.
Amendment 24, page 12, line 2, at end insert—
‘(f) an assessment of the impact of each macro prudential measure on employment and economic growth.’.
Government amendment 12.
Amendment 39, in clause 4, page 14, line 36, at end add—
‘Within a year of commencement of this Act the Bank of England shall publish a review of the effectiveness of co-ordination by the regulators of the exercise of their functions relating to membership of, and their relations with, the European Supervisory Authorities (namely, the European Banking Authority, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority and the European Securities and Markets Authority), and their relations with other regulatory bodies outside the United Kingdom.’.
Amendment 28, page 15, line 4, leave out clause 5.
Amendment 35, in clause 5, page 16, line 15, at end insert—
‘(c) the ease with which consumers, particularly those on lower incomes, can have access to financial services and products which are affordable and appropriate to their needs.’.
Amendment 67, page 16, line 41, after ‘is’, insert
‘intelligible to them, appropriately presented’.
Amendment 41, page 17, line 1, after ‘transaction’, insert
‘, any common law fiduciary duties owed by the provider in question’.
Amendment 68, page 17, line 35, at end insert—
‘(e) the ease with which consumers throughout the UK can identify and obtain services which are appropriate to their needs and represent good value for money.’.
Amendment 69, page 27, line 19, at end insert ‘and by the Consumer Panel’.
Amendment 70, page 27, line 19, at end insert—
‘(1A) Unless the PRA has established a panel as provided for in section 2K(2) to reflect consumer interests, it must consider representations from the Consumer Panel established under section 1Q where such representations relate to the PRA’s general policies and practices, the co-ordination of the exercise of PRA and FCA functions as provided for in section 3D(1), or the exercise of the PRA power in section 3I.’.
Amendment 34, page 28, line 38, at end insert
‘to minimise unnecessary additional expenses that might be incurred by virtue of the separate administration of the FCA and the PRA, and to maximise any common administrative savings achievable through close co-ordination.’.
Amendment 36, page 29, line 15, at end insert—
‘(g) the principle that, where appropriate, authorised persons should have a fiduciary duty towards the consumers who are their clients.’.
Amendment 71, page 29, line 42, at end insert—
‘(d) that each regulator engages with the other where they identify any gaps in or between their regulatory remits, or the exercise of these, that may become apparent in relation to any product, provider, institution, market practice, responsible shareholder interest or consumer concern;
(e) that as appropriate both regulators can identify areas where they can share services and information, acting to minimise burdens on firms supervised by both regulators and/or to maximise the understanding of consumers and facilitate the exercise of their responsible interests.’.
Amendment 33, page 31, line 24, at end insert—
‘(8A) The memorandum shall contain an estimate of the additional annual costs involved in the administration of the FCA and PRA when compared with the estimated costs of the administration of the Financial Services Authority.’.
Government amendment 1.
Amendment 42, in clause 25, page 108, leave out lines 29 and 30.
Amendment 43, page 108, leave out lines 34 to 39.
Amendment 49, in schedule 3, page 174, line 1, at end insert
‘with the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.’.
Amendment 50, page 174, line 2, at end insert
‘with the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.’.
Amendment 27, page 176, line 9, at end insert—
‘Publication of minutes and agendas
10 The FCA shall make arrangements to publish the agendas and minutes of its meetings, unless publication would be inappropriate.’.
As a number of colleagues across the House will have noticed, the Treasury Committee took the highly unusual step of tabling a new clause, which is signed by all but one member of that Committee. As hon. Members will be aware, the Committee feels strongly that this Bill is defective in a number of respects, and needs a good deal of attention and improvement. That is because the Bill will hand the Governor of the Bank of England
“unprecedented new powers to shape the British economy. While continuing to set interest rates, the Bank will take over the supervision of commercial banks and insurers, be responsible for…tackling threats to financial stability…and have the power to restrict lending on mortgages, or order banks to increase their capital…one…man or woman will wield all these powers. This individual will arguably be as powerful as the chancellor”.
As drafted, the Bill seems to fly
“in the face of all ideas of modern governance, let alone parliamentary accountability.”
Those are not just my personal views; they summarise reasonably well the views of the whole Treasury Committee. As it happens, I have not said anything off my own bat yet; everything that I have said so far is a verbatim quotation from an article by the previous Chancellor, Mr Darling.
I entirely endorse what my hon. Friend has said. May I also say, in my role as the Member for the City of London, that although I am not suggesting for one minute that the views he has just espoused are universally held within the square mile, many practitioners have deep concerns about elements of the Bill, particularly the aspects to which he has referred?
I have heard a good number of those concerns from the practitioners to whom my hon. Friend refers. What they say, what he has just said and the fact that I was quoting a former Chancellor all illustrate an important point: new clause 1 is not just supported by the Treasury Committee and by many independent experts who have taken a look at it. My impression, which has been gained from talking to fellow MPs and many others, is that the purpose behind the new clause is supported right across the House of Commons.
New clause 1 would bolster parliamentary accountability in two ways. First, it would place a duty on the court of directors to conduct retrospective reviews of the Bank’s performance and publish the results for Parliament to examine. Secondly, it would require the court to publish its full minutes. Those two suggestions sound, to me at least, pretty reasonable, but they encountered a wave of objections from the Bank. The Bank’s frequent refrain to us has been that the current accountability arrangements are pretty much okay just as they are. We need to be clear that the current arrangements for the court simply will not do. The board of the Bank—the court—is currently prohibited from examining the Bank’s performance and it cannot make recommendations about what it may discover if it does ask any questions. The court’s role is strictly confined to process—mainly to auditing the budget. Any well-governed institution must have a board capable of examining its performance and permitted to comment on how to learn lessons from mistakes or from successes. That is why we propose that the court be required to conduct and publish reviews of the Bank’s policy. Of course that would also give Parliament an opportunity to make recommendations on what it should look at.
It is astonishing that the Bank has still not conducted and published a review of its own performance during the 2007-08 crisis. The Financial Services Authority and the Treasury have done this, enabling both to face up to weaknesses in organisation and performance, and to work out how to remedy some of them. The Bank should have done the same some time ago, and the fact that it has not done so tells us that the court seems to owe more to the dignified than the effective part of the Bank’s constitution.
What can I say about the Government’s position on all this? I find their position to be off beam—let us leave it at that. Their response to the Treasury Committee report states that
“the Government considers that the governance of the Bank should primarily be a matter for the Bank itself.”
It must be clear to most people that the Bank cannot be left to decide how it can be made accountable, as it is an interested party. This is the one issue, above all, that Parliament certainly should not leave to the Bank, and nor should the Treasury do so. After all, the Treasury is its 100% shareholder; it is legally responsible for the Bank’s accountability.
None the less, the Government and the Bank have both begun to shift their respective positions, albeit only under pressure. It is just a pity that a move towards common sense is being wrung as blood from a stone. First, the Bank conceded that some form of oversight sub-committee could be created but it maintained that such a committee should not have the power to examine the merits of decisions and should not have the authority to commission internal reviews. Now, more helpfully, the Financial Secretary has edged a bit closer to the Treasury Committee’s position by saying that the sub-committee could commission retrospective internal reviews. What we now need to do is give statutory effect to all this, rather than rely on pledges. We need to ensure that the court can look at the merits of decisions and that it is accountable to Parliament for doing this work. We need to have that put in the Bill. That, in a nutshell, is what new clause 1 would achieve.
The second part of new clause 1 would require the court to publish its minutes, as the Monetary Policy Committee already does, subject to some specific confidentiality concerns. The Treasury Committee finds the notion that that might be inappropriate a little strange to say the least. It must be right for Parliament to have at least that measure of transparency in respect of the affairs of the Bank. It is very disappointing that we have been asking the court for its minutes for the period of the crisis for more than a year and still have not received them—that simply will not do. The fact that we have not been given those minutes only illustrates the need for a statutory duty of accountability on this unprecedentedly powerful institution.
Given that, as my hon. Friend puts it, we are dealing with an unprecedentedly powerful institution, would he care to speculate as to why there has been this reluctance, in the face of repeated requests from the Treasury Committee, on the part of the Bank of England to do as he has asked?
My hon. Friend tempts me towards a place I would very much enjoy going, but—in the interests of I cannot think what; let me suggest brevity, or something like that—I will not go there.
There has also been a concession on the minutes, but it goes somewhat short of what is appropriate. The concession is that a record of court meetings will be published—I am citing the phraseology used—but it seems to me that that will not do either. The court should publish full minutes, not doctored minutes. I do not want to sound too pejorative, but the minutes should not be written especially for the purposes of a certain type of scrutiny by Parliament. The full minutes should be published, as is the case with the Monetary Policy Committee, subject to the confidentiality provisions to which I alluded earlier.
New clause 1 addresses only a small part of what is needed to knock this Bill into shape. Much more time should have been devoted to it. The need for all this to be on the statute book by the end of this year is yet to be explained to us. It would be far better to let the timetable slip for a few months and to get the Bill right. The crisis has afforded us a once-in-a-generation opportunity to overhaul the legislation and the Bank and it seems to me that we are not fully taking it up.
It is also regrettable that all this work is being done in the form of amendments to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which is itself an immensely complex piece of legislation. As the Governor of the Bank argued before the Committee and elsewhere, we would have done better to write a new Bill from scratch, but we were told that that would take too long. Again, there is a rather curious interaction between trying to get something right and the arbitrary timetable that is imposed.
I very much hope that the other place will get to grips with some of the other shortcomings of the legislation, many of which are relevant to amendments in this group. Let me list a few. The first is the effect on the accountability and governance of the complex web of interacting committees that are in place or being created—the FPC, the MPC, the Prudential Regulation Authority, and the sub-committee, NedCo, in particular. The second is the need for stronger accountability to Parliament as regards macro-prudential tools, and I note that amendment 23, tabled by Chris Leslie, addresses that issue—intelligently, if I may say so. The third is the heavy circumscription of the powers of the Chancellor to intervene in a crisis, which will, I understand, be addressed on day two on Report. More work is certainly needed to get this legislation right. The fourth is the need for Parliament and the Treasury Committee to engage in the process of the appointment of a new Governor, which has been in the papers over the past few days and is dealt with by amendments 46 and 47, tabled by John McDonnell. The fifth concerns the FCA, which seems to be the poor relation in all this legislation, and a similar duty to publish minutes and conduct reviews of its work. That is touched on in amendment 27, tabled again by the hon. Member for Nottingham East.
I am grateful for that support from my Committee colleague. Competition is now one of the operational objectives, but the punch of the FCA’s three operational objectives has been diluted by the fact that an overarching strategic objective has been placed above them, and it could be used to trump the operational objectives and enable the FCA to avoid a primary duty to take account of competition. I completely agree with my hon. Friend.
The PRA veto on the FCA’s work as a whole is another issue that the Committee has raised from time to time, but I must admit that it is not covered by this group of amendments. I shall therefore move on swiftly before I am ruled out of order.
It is now common ground that the proposed governance and accountability of the Bank and the FCA are defective and need to be strengthened. The Committee is determined that they should be strengthened. We regret that they are not already in much better shape, and there is a great deal of work for the other place to do to the legislation. As a Committee, however, we showed by our decision on the need to obtain a full explanation for RBS’s failure that we would not hesitate to take new steps in order to get information that we think should be in the public domain. We took the unprecedented step in that case of sending specialist advisers into the FSA to conduct a full investigation. It should be made clear now that we will not hesitate to do the same with respect to the Bank of England if this legislation remains defective. Sending in specialist advisers was a somewhat cumbersome route to getting to the facts of the RBS issue, and it would be far preferable to improve the Bill so that such action by the Committee would no longer be necessary.
The bottom line for improving Bank accountability, to its own board and to Parliament, should be judged by two criteria. First, does the proposal hold out the prospect of improving the performance of the institution—that is, the quality of public policy? Secondly, does it help secure public consent for the decisions that that body takes? The latter is particularly important for an institution as powerful and as remote, in many respects, as the Bank of England. The Committee believes that new clause 1 would meet both those criteria and I commend it to the House.
I thank Mr Tyrie—or is he right honourable? If he is not, he should be. I thank him for his eloquent and powerful advocacy of new clause 1. The Treasury Committee has done sterling work in trying to cajole and persuade the very reluctant Bank of England to move from the 18th century to the 19th century. If we could speed things up a little through his new clause, that would certainly be welcome. The hon. Gentleman is not exactly asking for the moon on a stick; he is simply asking for the publication to a reasonable degree of the minutes of the court of the Bank of England—shock, horror—and for proper internal scrutiny in the Bank and a review of how it has performed. The hon. Gentleman is entirely correct that it is appalling that the Bank of England has never conducted a review of its role in the 2008-09 crisis. Every other branch of government, including the FSA, has done similarly and I would have thought that such a review would be a pretty basic prerequisite for moving on, especially if we are moving to a new era when the Bank of England will be incredibly powerful thanks to the great news powers that the Government wish to bestow on it.
The Bank of England is an old institution. It started life in 1694 with just 17 clerks and a couple of gatekeepers, and it has subsequently been modernised by a number of Acts of Parliament. It is time, however, for it to become less of an honorific institution. The court should be made up of individuals who really take seriously the responsibility to scrutinise the performance of the executive of the bank, and the hon. Member for Chichester made his points perfectly well. As he says, it is like getting blood out of a stone. Some sort of oversight committee might, as the Minister said in Committee, be able to conduct retrospective reviews. The hon. Member for Chichester is entirely correct that it is ridiculous for only a record of the minutes to be published.
I will support the hon. Gentleman’s new clause, if it comes to it, but I suppose we should wait to hear what the Minister has to say. I shall not dwell on the new clause, though, as the group includes many other amendments which address a range of issues on the governance of the Bank of England and the new regulatory structures, and we have a very short space of time in which to debate it. I have, I think, 11 amendments in the group. I will not dwell on them all; I will focus on the key ones.
Amendment 22 would insert a responsibility on the FPC of the Bank of England, requiring it to have regard to the Government’s economic policy, including their growth and employment objectives. That is not an enormous requirement. The Bank of England Act 1998 gave the Monetary Policy Committee the same responsibility when making its decisions on monetary policy, and many central banks across the world, including the Federal Reserve, have to have regard to those important matters. We know that growth is flatlining under this Government and that they have a significant blind spot for the motor that we have to get going if we are to generate the revenues needed to kick-start the economy, but setting aside their political unwillingness to tackle the growth deficiency in our economy, there is also a major crisis of unemployment. If ever there were a time to ensure that these new and powerful institutions were focused on job creation, this is it.
It is simply inadequate for the Minister to point to the part of clause 3 that states that the FPC is not authorised
“to exercise its functions in a way that would…have a significant adverse effect on the capacity of the financial sector to contribute to the growth of the UK economy”.
That is not a significant protection—it is weak and caveated. We need the FPC to have proper regard to the impact its decisions can have, positively and proactively, on jobs and growth. That is why we tabled amendment 22. It is not something just dreamed up by the Opposition; the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, some of whose members are here this evening, recommended that the measure be in the Bill. The FPC must be made to think about the impact of its decisions on the real economy; otherwise, it could become obsessively risk-averse and start to stifle credit availability.
There is a sense of déjà vu, as the Bill Committee spent a lot of time debating this measure. The hon. Gentleman talks about what he perceives is the present Government’s blind spot, but the previous Government’s was clearly a regulatory system that was woefully inadequate to cope with the challenges that came its way and was found wanting. What the Bill aims to address is financial stability and to make it a core focus. Why does he want to diffuse the focus at a time when the key element we have to tackle is financial stability? Government policy more generally tackles what he wants.
This goes back to the odd statement from the Minister in Committee, when he said it would be wrong for the Bank of England and the FPC to be asked to have regard to the impact of its decision on economic growth and employment. I ask the hon. Gentleman to pause and reflect on what he is saying, which is that it is not the Bank’s and the FPC’s job to think about jobs and growth. If he goes to his electorate and says that that is what he is legislating for, I doubt he will get much of a response, but it is important. The FPC will be a vital player in our economy. The Monetary Policy Committee has this objective in its remit; it seems only reasonable to have it mirrored in the Financial Policy Committee’s remit.
This attitude, which we called the Fareham doctrine of compartmentalism, that it is for the Treasury alone to think about jobs and growth—that it would be wrong and somehow dangerous for the Bank of England to think about such issues too—is an extremely dangerous way to think about this vital and extremely powerful institution. The Chair of the Treasury Committee said that, in certain ways, the Governor of the Bank of England could become even more powerful than the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I want all the players in our economy to be thinking about the impact of their decisions on our constituents, their employment prospects, their business prospects and the prospects of growth.
I think the amendment should be made. It is exceptionally important, and I feel strongly that we should press the matter. In a sense, it is similar to amendment 24. In the Bill, we enter new verbal territory with descriptions of how policy will be made. I know that many Members are intimately familiar with macro-prudential regulation, but essentially, it is that suite of rules and powers that the Bank of England and the FPC will be able to use to intervene in their systemic oversight of the economy as a whole. We suggest simply that every time the Bank of England produces a financial stability report it should give an assessment of the impact that each of the new macro-prudential measures will have on employment and growth—a simple assessment of their impact on the real economy. As the Bill stands, there is no requirement on the Bank of England, when exercising those massive powers, to provide that assessment. As the House knows, in many policy areas, we require frequent regulatory impact assessments to be made; this is a parallel requirement. We want the Bank of England properly to analyse the impact of the measures.
Let me give hon. Members some examples, so that they understand what macro-prudential regulation is. It is about setting maximum leverage ratios; sectoral capital requirements; rules on the terms of or the conditions on a loan, either to businesses or to consumers; loan-to-value ratios and loan-to-income ratios in mortgages; haircuts on secured finances or derivative transactions; disclosure requirements; and minimum credit card repayment levels. All those things are of real and great concern to our constituents. If the FPC and the Bank are able to assess the impact of their policies on credit availability, they should also be able to assess and analyse their impact on jobs and growth. Amendment 24 would achieve that.
I thank the shadow Minister for his lecture on macro-prudential tools. I was on the Joint Committee and I certainly did not recommend the inclusion of a growth objective, because I believe that stability and growth are potentially competing objectives. We are passing the Bill because of what happened in October 2008. I was concerned that anything that diluted the absolute requirement for stability might give an excuse for failure, which I did not want to arise.
It was the Chancellor of the Exchequer himself who warned against the stability of the graveyard. We have to have joined-up Government and co-ordinated economic policy—I hope hon. Members accept at least that much. It should not be impossible to ask the Bank of England simply to have regard to Her Majesty’s Government’s strategy—not the Opposition’s; obviously, ours would be different—and objectives on growth and jobs. That is all we are saying. We are not saying that that should overrule the broader stability objective of the FPC. It is a simple bit of wiring to make sure that we have joined-up Government and that all the branches of Government talk to one another.
I support the amendment in principle, but surely it should have referred to a range of impacts, in the sense of a fan chart? It is not just macro-prudential tools, of course, but the impact of those with monetary policy, which may change —it may tighten or loosen—and fiscal policy, which may also have the impact of tightening or loosening monetary policy.
I accept that. It gets to the nub of the issue. There is no single variable that has an impact like pulling a lever and an economic outcome comes along down the track. A number of factors combine to create an economic outcome. That is why people say it is sometimes more of an art than a science, but in so far as there is an ability to make projections or to measure, that assessment is needed. I hope it could be as sophisticated an assessment as the hon. Gentleman suggests.
We want to see more competition in the financial services sector. That is an important aspect of improving choice and reducing costs for consumers, but essentially the amendments that I have been discussing relate to prudential regulation. I do not think the competition argument necessarily supersedes that.
I agree, and there is cross-party support for this, that we need to improve prudential regulation within our financial regulatory system. There is a degree of consensus in that area, which is why we did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading, for example. The question is how that pans out. The Chair of the Select Committee began his comments by saying that the Bill is defective in a number of regards and needs significant improvement. Amen to that. I agree. That is the problem and that is why I have so many concerns about aspects of the Bill, particularly in clause 5, in respect of the way the Government are choosing to divide up the regulators.
I must move on. Another area about which I have concerns is the Government’s refusal to accept that the Bank of England should be under a duty to minimise the use of public funds—to minimise the recourse to taxpayers’ money—in order to support or rescue parts of the UK financial industry. If we were all to go back to our constituencies and explain what we were doing on Monday, we would say that we had been talking about the Financial Services Bill. Most of our constituents would say, “Good. Does that mean that the taxpayer is not going to be on the line to bail out all those banks again in the future?” and of course we would all want to say yes. That is the whole purpose of what we are supposed to be doing here.
One of the most important things we need in the Bill is a provision to ensure that the system is designed such that any changes or rescue arrangements will not burden the taxpayer in the future. It is important to specify that the Bank of England should take responsibility for minimising that likelihood. It is a pretty straightforward amendment. These should not be partisan issues. That aim should be at the heart of the Bank’s financial stability objective. We know about the costs of bailing out the banks and how those have hit public finances.
Having heard the Minister’s entreaties in Committee, the hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock) and others said that the our earlier amendment was deficient because it would have placed a duty on the Bank of England to minimise the use of public funds. I have thought about that carefully and come back with an amendment that simply requires the Bank to have regard to the need to minimise that. I hope that removes any worry about justiciability, which was one of the arguments upon which the Minister relied to rebut the suggestion in Committee. I do not think it is reasonable to say that it will blur or confuse the issue if we ask the Bank of England to keep in its mind’s eye the impact that any of its decisions will have on public funds. Ultimately, most of our constituents would expect us to legislate today to minimise the recourse to public funds. I hope the Minister will accept the amendment. If not, the other place will return to the issue.
The hon. Member for Chichester pointed to amendment 53 in my name and that of my hon. Friend Cathy Jamieson about parliamentary scrutiny. For this House, it is an incredibly important issue and I know that Members on the Government Benches feel strongly about it too. We are giving the Bank of England extensive new powers that will affect businesses, consumers and our constituents. We still do not know what these macro-prudential tools will be. We had a report from the Bank of England last December intimating that they may touch on certain aspects of loan-to-value ratios, although Paul Tucker, the deputy governor at the Bank of England, said the other day, “This looks like hot stuff. Maybe it’s too hot for us to handle at the Bank of England.” Maybe that is for the Treasury to decide. I think the
Bank of England recognises that there is an accountability deficiency. That golden threat of accountability does not lead back to Parliament, as it should.
We have spent a lot of time discussing the issue. Does the hon. Gentleman not remember that the power to grant macro-prudential tools is subject to the affirmative procedure? There is a role for Parliament to play. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor said on Second Reading that he hoped that that debate would take place on the Floor of the House.
That was a minor concession but, as we can see, we have possibly an hour and a half to debate a major macro-prudential tool—and only the Treasury’s order to enact the power in principle for the Bank, not the actual use of that power by the Bank. That would be delegated to the Bank.
I will give way to the hon. Lady as I know she has thought about the matter in great depth.
It is important that we look at the work of the European Scrutiny Committee, for example. As hon. Members know, there is a steady stream of regulations coming from Brussels. Members of the Committee try their best to grapple with those, pick the most important ones and have a debate, albeit upstairs in Committee. When there are important issues, the measure is brought back to the Floor of the House for a vote. Ideally, I would like the Treasury Committee to deal in the same way with the sets of regulations that come on the conveyor belt from the Bank of England, but it has enough on its plate as it is. Perhaps we need a sub-committee of the Select Committee. Some sort of financial services scrutiny committee is required, with the time and space to go through the ramifications properly and thoroughly. Yes, then let the measure come back down under the affirmative procedure, but it is super-affirmative procedure that is necessary. That is essentially what we are doing.
We cannot amend the Bill to affect the Standing Orders of the House. That must be decided as a separate arrangement. What I am doing in amendment 23 is suggesting that there should be a longer period of time to allow the House to conduct its own inquiries into these issues. Essentially, I have cut and pasted the procedure under the Public Bodies Act which was recently passed by the Government, whereby if they wanted to abolish any quangos, the relevant Select Committee should have time and space to conduct its inquiries. That is, I hope, an appropriate way of allowing space for better parliamentary scrutiny.
I apologise to the hon. Lady; I know she wanted to come in.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman. He has probably given me the reassurance that I was seeking. It is not that we do not want the Bank of England to have those powers. In the past a lack of accountability and of central management has led to some of the problems that we saw during the financial crisis. It is not a question of focusing the authority and the powers within the Bank. It is a question of the accountability of the Bank in implementing those powers. Does he agree?
Absolutely. That is right. We are not saying that these powers might not be necessary. However, let us say, for example, the Government and the Bank consider it necessary to lean against a consumer credit bubble. They want to change the minimum repayments that our constituents make on their credit cards from 2% a month to 5% or 10%. That will have a big effect on our constituents. Imagine us going back to those constituents when they complain to their Member of Parliament, as they undoubtedly would, and ask, “Whose decision was that?” We would say, “It was the Bank of England’s decision. We voted on this in theory a couple of years ago, but now the Bank has pulled the lever and pressed the button, and this has happened.” There would be great anger. The public would expect us, at the very least, to have had the opportunity to debate and discuss that in more thorough and substantive detail, albeit in a Committee. That is all we are suggesting in the amendment.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right that there would be anger, but there would also be economic consequences. If one of the macro-prudential tools invoked was a change in sectoral capital ratios, which impacted to ration mortgages, and there was a 60-day consultation period, the impact in the market, either with deals being rushed through or deals being abandoned, might be as bad. Has he considered the downside of putting such information into the public domain for such a prolonged period?
I did indeed consider the downside of having parliamentary scrutiny that might in some way impact adversely in an emergency scenario. We have not sought to amend the provision that would allow the Treasury to bring forward those orders in an emergency situation. It could do that. We could have retrospective scrutiny of that order once it had come into place. These are for ordinary, normal times scenarios. The amendment may be imperfect. I would have liked a proper way to deal with the issues, but there has been significant resistance along the way for such measures.
I totally agree with the hon. Gentleman. That is the very least that we should have. I simply counsel the House that many hon. Members are already under significant pressure because of the European rules and regulations that seem to come from an unaccountable place. It is not entirely unaccountable, but it can sometimes feel that way to our constituents. If we end up with a situation where we do not put in place at this stage the right parliamentary scrutiny arrangements, we are potentially opening up another front where a powerful institution, unelected and seemingly very distant from our constituents concerns, could have a major impact on their day to day lives, and we would be sitting here twiddling our thumbs unable to do anything about it, never mind even to debate it. We have had debates in the past on the retail distribution review and other examples where there has been massive frustration in the House about the lack of an accountability thread between parliamentarians and regulators. That would be magnified many times over if we did not put in place the right arrangements.
In certain circumstances, Parliament should be sovereign. That is an important principle in our constitution. I do not think that regulators should be able to override Parliament, if that is the Minister’s suggestion. I am pretty sure it is not. Ultimately, in certain circumstances, Parliament should be able to make the final decision. That is an important cornerstone of our constitution.
It is entirely hypothetical. Of course we cannot do that at this stage, but there might be circumstances. I will remember the hon. Gentleman’s intervention for the many years that he will be in Parliament for when the time comes, if it comes, that he disagrees with a particular outcome of a regulation as it affects his constituents.
Amendment 35 talks about the impact of many of the changes within the regulatory system on consumers, particularly those on lower incomes. We believe that the FCA should have enshrined in its objectives a commitment to consider how easily consumers are able to find products that are appropriate to their income, and more broadly, products that provide value for money. In difficult times as incomes are squeezed it is right that consumers feel that they have a regulator that is on their side. If we are creating a genuine consumer champion in the FCA, it is important that it has a set of objectives and values that reflect that, particularly for those on the lowest income. It is a similar argument to that made in the previous group of amendments in respect of the Money Advice Service. We have seen excessive overdraft charges, high interest rates, and charges for hidden services. Those require a genuine consumer champion and this amendment would help to create that.
Amendment 36 would also shift the balance in favour of the consumer. It would introduce what is known as a fiduciary duty of care by authorised persons, by financial services providers, towards the consumers who are their clients. “Fiduciary” means holding in trust, holding in good faith, a concept that would help to rebuild confidence among the public in financial services. There is a serious lack of trust at present that is bad for consumers, providers and society at large. The Bill contains no explicit obligation on firms to avoid conflicts of interest, nor to profit at consumers’ expense without their knowledge and consent, nor to have undivided loyalties and duties of confidentiality to the customer. The pre-legislative scrutiny Committee commented on many of these aspects and recommended that some action be taken. Although the FSA has recently had its treating customers fairly initiative, we do not think that that is enough. We believe that a fiduciary duty of care is necessary, especially in the light of some of the major concerns of mis-selling scandals and the need to learn lessons from those.
Amendments 33 and 34 relate to the costs and expense of establishing the FCA and PRA, splitting the FSA into those component parts. I apologise for rattling through these. We have to minimise unnecessary additional expenses incurred, because ultimately the consumers will pay. The FSA’s budget for 2013-14 has gone up by 15.6%. I accept that the new regulatory system will have some costs involved in that, but the majority of those costs are operational and not necessarily related to the principles of regulation involved. It was a bit of a joke to see in the White Paper the Government say that the running costs under the new arrangements should not be “materially different” in real terms and aggregate from the current FSA. That will not happen. We are talking about extremely significant extra costs.
We suggest that the memorandum between these organisations should contain an estimate of the annual costs involved in administering the FCA and PRA, and compare those to the estimated costs of the administration of the FSA. That is a bit of a crude way of getting a cost comparator, but I would be interested in seeing it. Similarly, amendment 34 talks about minimising the
“unnecessary additional expenses that might be incurred by virtue of the separate administration of the FCA and the PRA, and to maximise any common administrative savings achievable through close co-ordination.”
The PRA is moving to plush offices in Moorgate, leaving vacant space at Canary Wharf, a lease that expires way down the line in 2018. There is a sense in which there is a bit of empire building going on at the Bank of England, which will be responsible for the PRA. The Threadneedle street empire is growing strongly.
That is why it is important that at the very least they have information, and some level of accountability, about the likely costs of this tangle of regulatory structures for them. The Association of British Insurers has voiced its concerns about the costs of the new regulatory system and it is important that we at least know from the Minister exactly what those costs will be. He skirted around the issue in Committee. Even when I asked the cost of the new building for the PRA next to Threadneedle street he said that that might be commercial in confidence. If he can help us with that I will be grateful.
The hon. Member for Chichester also spoke about publication of the minutes of the Bank of England’s court of directors. Amendment 27 seeks to introduce exactly the same for the FCA. If the FCA is to be a consumer champion, at the very least consumers should be able to see what is being discussed, who—potentially—is discussing it and, most importantly, what the nature is of the dialectic and discussions going on in its board. The Financial Secretary said in Committee that that will be a matter for the FCA, even though he could not really argue against the transparency principle, but he did promise that he would think about it. I saw a chink of light at the time and thought that publication of the
FCA’s minutes was a simple concession that we might get in the Bill. I hope that he has had a chance to reflect on that.
Amendment 39 relates to the relationship between the new regulators and the European supervisory arrangements. We might think that all these decisions on regulating credit, businesses and financial services are for us to take domestically in the UK, but I am afraid that 80% of the regulatory decisions are in fact taken in Brussels by the European Commission. Commissioner Barnier has his pipeline of proposals, which is very much the driving force behind the regulatory arrangements. Some of those are good changes, but nevertheless many people feel that the UK’s domestic regulators are there merely to transpose what is decided further up the chain, and that is of concern. Therefore, we want the regulators to be fit for purpose and able properly to influence and steer some of the policy decisions that are taken in Brussels.
However, we have concerns that the way the regulators have been set up, moving between conduct and prudential regulation, sits ill at ease with the thematic way in which the pensions regulator, the banking regulator and the securities and markets regulator have been set up in Europe and that this mismatch could cause a significant hiatus in the way the UK exerts its influence. Therefore, amendment 39 simply asks that within a year of the Bill being enacted we have a review to test whether there is a need to improve the effectiveness of the way our regulators influence European regulators. It is a simple amendment.
Finally, amendment 28 would leave out clause 5 altogether. It was with great regret that I decided that we needed to table the amendment, but the Bill is deficient in so many ways, as the hon. Member for Chichester suggested, that we felt we needed to address it. There is: the mismatch with the European regulators, which risks the further dilution of UK influence; the cost of having multiple regulators with insufficient effort to bear down on wasted duplication; the lack of a clear focus on tackling financial exclusion for those on the lowest incomes; poor scrutiny of the new rules that the regulators will generate; and insufficient transparency about the regulators and how they will reach decisions. It is for those reasons that we think that the Government have to go back to the drawing board and rethink, clarify and amend clause 5. The House of Commons should not have to approve such poorly drafted and inadequate arrangements for the FCA and the PRA. We hope that improvements can be made in the House of Lords.
I rise to support new clause 1 briefly. I had the privilege of sitting on the Joint Committee on the draft Bill and of being a member of the Treasury Committee, which is chaired by my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester
The main purport of new clause 1 is to establish a duty on the court of directors to conduct retrospective reviews of the Bank’s performance. The Governor of the Bank of England, in giving evidence to the Joint Committee and the Treasury Committee, has argued that it would be a bad idea to have a review into anything other than the processes by which certain policy decisions are reached. In other words, he does not want there to be a duty on the Bank to scrutinise retrospectively how good its decisions—meaning the decisions of the Financial Policy Committee or the Monetary Policy Committee—turned out to be. One of the reasons he gave was that there are lots of external commentators, such as outside economists in the City and the commentariat in the fourth estate, but it is fairly obvious that those entities are under no statutory duty to crawl through every decision of the FPC or the MPC and decide with hindsight whether they were good or bad.
The second reason the Governor gave is that the Treasury Committee holds the Bank to account, a point alluded to by Chris Leslie. The Treasury Committee, packed with talent though it is on a yearly basis, still has a huge amount of work to do and, not for the want of trying, does not have the amount of technical expertise or the number of macro- and micro-economists needed to conduct work month after month, tracking back and looking at how good or bad the judgment calls of the FPC, as constituted by the Bill, and the extant MPC turned out to be. My word, don’t we need such backward-looking analysis? If it had been present in 2007 and 2008, we might have avoided the difficulties of which we are all too well aware.
The Bill gives the Bank of England unprecedented powers. As a result of it, we will have a Governor of the Bank of England, whomever he or she is in the future, who will be chair of the Monetary Policy Committee, have a place on the court of directors of the Bank of England, chair the Financial Policy Committee and chair the Prudential Regulation Authority. With the creation of the FPC, alongside all the work that the Bank does on monetary policy, a lot of decisions are going to be made.
Not since the creation of the Bank of England in the late 17th century has its senior management and Governor had so much power, and, from even a cursory glance, the Joint Committee’s evidence and the evidence taken by the Treasury Committee in recent months all leads to one thing: one cannot have enough scrutiny of this big beast that the Bank will become as a result of the Bill coming into force.
The Treasury Committee argued forcefully for a severe new set of accountability and scrutiny powers. We advocated the creation of a new supervisory body inside the Bank of England in order to replace the court of directors, because the court, as everybody knows, is packed full of amateurs—well meaning amateurs, but people who simply are not, by any stretch of the imagination, able to hold the Bank of England’s senior executive members, who are on the MPC and will soon be on the FPC, to account.
The court includes has-beens in the City, or “never-was’s”, and people with indifferent reputations in the trade union movement, in manufacturing and in all aspects of public policy. But the evidence shows that remarkably few of them have any expertise in central banking matters, in fiscal policy, in macro-prudential policy or in monetary policy. The court is desperately under-geared, and its intellectual horsepower is not what it should be.
A supervisory body, with a majority of external members, overseeing the FPC’s and MPC’s judgments and undertaking retrospective reviews is the best-case scenario; it is what the Treasury Committee thought would be the best solution for scrutinising this very powerful—all-powerful, I might add—Bank.
I understand why Ministers have concluded that they do not want to go into battle with the Governor and the senior executives about a supervisory body, because it is way too radical, but it is absolutely incumbent on this House to look at the purport of new clause 1 to see that it actually imposes more scrutiny than the Bill currently provides on the policy decisions of not just the MPC, but the FPC. Let us not forget that the MPC has recently acquired, or arrogated to itself, certain very significant discretionary powers over monetary policy—not in setting the bank rate, but in quantitative easing.
How many debates have we had in this Chamber about QE and its merits or relative de-merits? The answer is relatively few. The Monetary Policy Committee is held to account only by the Treasury Committee. It is my suggestion that the Treasury Committee, marvellous and wonderful though it is—I am a member of it, so I would say that—will need the assistance of ex-post reviews to look retrospectively at the quality of the decisions that the Bank, with its new powers, makes. I therefore urge colleagues to support new clause 1.
I congratulate the Chairman of the Treasury Committee on new clause 1. I disagree with what was said about him becoming a right hon. Member. In my experience of this place, somebody as independent and straightforward has little chance of becoming right honourable.
On a more serious note, I follow my colleague on the Treasury Committee, Mr Ruffley, in saying that the Minister would be well advised to accept the amendment or to indicate that further thought will be given to it. I agree with my colleague that the amendment could and should have been much harder. The problem is with the behaviour of the court of the Bank of England. It is not that it has not been given power; it is that it has accepted the boundaries and the servile role imposed on it by the Governor and the executives of the Bank of England. As I have said in this Chamber and as has been said to the Treasury Committee in all but terms, the court is allowed to count the paperclips, but that is about it. Anything serious or to do with policy is nothing to do with it. If its members had any dignity or self-regard, they would not be part of it, because apart from receiving a nice little stipend for going, one wonders what on earth they do.
The discussion in the Treasury Committee, and even in the Joint Committee on the draft Financial Services Bill, has been about bringing the corporate governance of the Bank of England into the 21st century with a proper board, and about stopping it being the fiefdom of one person. If I were the Minister, I would accept the new clause in spirit and say that I would speak quietly to people about it to strengthen the proposals and move on. He could well find himself having a much stronger position forced upon him, which would be good for the Bank of England in the long run.
I congratulate my hon. Friend Chris Leslie on amendments 22 and 23. I will deal with them briefly because many Members want to speak. This is not a political point, but the response to those amendments from Government Members is interesting, because my hon. Friend has raised a matter that deserves discussion and thought. The powers being given to the Financial Policy Committee will affect people, industries and firms, and there must be accountability. The problem arises from the fact that there is no consensus on the definition of financial stability, but the House is setting up a Financial Policy Committee, the objective of which is financial stability. The Chancellor of the Exchequer raised the most pertinent point before the Joint Committee, which was that although we do not want it to, the FPC could define financial stability as the “stability of the graveyard” and reach it. My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East raised that point today.
If the FPC had the responsibility for making the definition and wanted to do it without much fuss, it could set the required level of economic activity so that it neither pressed the ceiling nor went through the floor, but would that give us the growth and employment that the Government might want? Should not the FPC be asked to work towards the Government’s policy, whichever party is in government?
Let me be mischievous for a moment. I know that after the Budget it is quite clear that the Government run the finances with not much view to growth. None of the measures in the Budget changed the growth forecast in any way whatever, and I think it will probably go down this week. However, the Government, the Treasury, the Bank of England and the FPC should operate against a remit, and if that remit cannot be defined, it will be hard for the Treasury Committee or anyone else to hold them to account.
Amendment 22 is very modest. David Mowat, who spent many hours on the Joint Committee with us, says that the Committee did not agree to its provision. I do not mean this to be controversial, but paragraph 44 of the Committee’s report states:
“The Bill should be redrafted so that like the MPC, the FPC must have regard to the Government’s growth and other economic objectives subject to meeting its primary responsibility of attaining financial stability.”
That wording may be less objectionable to him than that of amendment 22, but it states that the FPC should not be run in a vacuum. If the Government are seeking a given level of growth or employment, the FPC should not do things that cut across that. In fact, it should work its policies to ensure that it happens.
I know that the hon. Gentleman is very knowledgeable about these matters and was on the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, but has he not seen that proposed new section 9C(4) in clause 3 contains some clear wording about what the FPC should do? It states that subsections (1) and (2) of that proposed section do not
“authorise the Committee to exercise its functions in a way that would in its opinion be likely to have a significant adverse effect on the capacity of the financial sector to contribute to the growth of the UK economy”.
The matter is addressed, so what does he want in addition to that, and why does he feel the need for more?
I accept that point, which has been made clear all the way through, but that is negative language rather than positive. Instead of telling the FPC, “In carrying out your duties, you mustn’t adversely affect growth”, I would rather put it to work with the MPC on ensuring that we have a buoyant economy with steady, acceptable growth and employment levels. At the moment, apart from the negative words that the hon. Gentleman quotes, all we have is the requirement of financial stability.
The hon. Gentleman was with a number of colleagues here on the Treasury Committee. We go through accountability with the MPC. It is bad enough trying to get the Governor of the Bank of England to be accountable even when he has a named target; what would he be like, or what would a future Governor be like, when he came before the Committee to which he was accountable and only had to defend his actions on the grounds of financial stability, which cannot be defined? It is a case of the emperor’s new clothes. There really should be a joint mandate, with a definition of financial stability and an acceptance of the Government’s picture of growth and employment.
I agree with very much of what my hon. Friend says. When the Bank of England was given its independence—so-called—I thought that if it started to fly in the face of what was obviously sensible for the economy, a Government might choose to take that independence back to the Treasury and into the hands of the Chancellor. If the Bank is not sensible in respect of managing the economy as a whole, is it not possible that a Government might choose to take back that independence and operate policy from the Treasury?
One can see many scenarios. I have seen many political philanthropists since I have been a Member of Parliament. I worry because they come to the House as politicians, but seem not to want to do anything or take any responsibility. They have offloaded power to quangos and agencies, and gave independence to the Bank. The real question is why are the Chancellor and the Treasury sitting back and watching their ground—sensitive economic ground—being given away to a quango, an unelected bunch of people? Under the Bill, those people can take the remit and the guidance on it, which the Treasury sets, and say to the Treasury, “We don’t agree with you,” and that is that. That is the situation we are reaching on accountability and responsibility despite the worry about giving away powers.
On amendment 23, some hon. Members were hard on my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East, although it is not as if he cannot defend himself. The Government’s original proposition, which was put out for consultation, included macro-prudential tools, which, as hon. Members have said, are highly sensitive and powerful. One aspect of the proposal they have given up because of its sensitivity—I am going by what has been in the papers in the past few days—is the ability to interfere in the mortgage market on loan-to-value and similar matters. What happens if the unelected Financial Policy Committee starts leaning against the wind in a way that affects large numbers of people, and there is no way of talking to it or affecting its position?
The Government’s original proposal was that decisions on macro-prudential tools would go upstairs to the Committee Corridor as statutory instruments—secondary legislation—for a 90-minute debate on a measure that would not be amendable. All hon. Members know what happens upstairs. The Minister talks for an hour, the shadow Minister talks for 25 minutes and we all go home, with the measure voted through by the Government majority. That happens with Governments of all parties. The way secondary legislation is dealt with in Parliament is an absolute disgrace. We can excuse a lot of it, but matters as important as the ones we are discussing, it is scandalous.
To be fair to the Chancellor, I raised the proposal with him when he first introduced it and asked him to look at it again because of its undemocratic nature. I am pleased that the line has softened, but there is more talking and work to be done. If hon. Members are asked to give away powers that affect our constituents so directly, it is important for us to be absolutely sure that we have had the opportunity to at least have our say in the strongest possible terms and ones that might allow the regulator to think about what has been said, although it is not for us to take its take its job.
A Government Member attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East and asked him whether he would interfere with a regulator. We had that situation when the Treasury Committee discussed the retail distribution review with the chief executive of the FSA. We said to him, “This Committee feels strongly about this matter. We’ve had a lot of press about it and a lot of pressure, and we’d like you to think again.” He replied, “No, we won’t think again, unless you give me evidence.” The Treasury Select Committee giving evidence to the chief executive of the FSA—what arrogance! My hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East is doing the Government a favour. They might not agree with the detail of the amendment, but the spirit is that we give the House every opportunity to comment on, think about and be aware of the powers we give to individuals that might affect our constituents.
The House will not be surprised to hear that I rise to speak to new clause 1, tabled in the name of my hon. Friend the Committee Chairman, under whom it has been a great pleasure to serve. He is a very forensic Chairman of a Committee doing some extraordinarily good work at a time when it could not be more important—when we are facing some of the most fundamental problems in the economic world and when it is incredibly important that we do something significant about financial regulation. There is no doubt that something needs to be done. We have had a problem with a system of financial regulation that failed to address the problems with the banks, and the Bill travels a huge distance in trying to resolve those problems and come up with a robust new regulatory framework.
Having been a compliance officer under not one but three regulatory regimes—the Securities and Futures Authority, the Financial Services Authority and the Securities and Investment Board—and, prior to that, a regulated dealer on the floor of the stock exchange under the old stock exchange rules, I have had a fair degree of practical experience of financial regulation. Furthermore, in the past 18 months or so, I have, with the rest of the Committee, spent a huge amount of time scrutinising and studying the draft recommendations for the Bill. I also spent some 50 hours, in the Bill Committee, with Chris Leslie, who waxed lyrical and at great length—and with great intelligence, I might add; and here we are on the Floor of the House talking about the matter yet again.
A number of things in the Bill are not ideal, but the one surgical cut that would have the most effect would be new clause 1. The Bill contains perhaps the single most fundamental change that we will see in financial regulation—the creation of the Financial Policy Committee. We have heard a lot about the FPC. One of the criticisms is that it could make profound changes to our financial system in trying to deal with financial instabilities, with bubbles that seem to be growing and all the rest of it. We can speculate ad nauseam about the type of interventions that could be made, but the one that people talk about a great deal is where the FPC may, with one of its tools of direction or recommendation, direct banks to change the loan-to-value ratios on mortgages. That could have far-reaching effects for our constituents.
May I make it clear that the FPC has ruled out intervening on loan-to-value ratios? It is important that we do not let this hare continue to run much longer.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that clarification. Interestingly enough, though, it is perhaps one of the powers that the FPC should have kept. Although it could have profound effects for people moving and so on, it is incredibly important not to lose sight of what others issues the FPC is there to address. In the past, as bubbles have grown, Members have sometimes been reluctant to take away the punch bowl before the party is over. Sometimes, when we allow bubbles to get bigger than they should be, the result is a financial crisis of the kind that we have seen. There are many things, on an analysis of the financial crisis, that could have happened, but one of them was allowing a colossal asset bubble to grow against uncontrolled lending. If a Member of Parliament or the Chancellor of the Exchequer had turned around in 2007 and said, “We’re going to stop that,” there would have been an absolute outcry. However, if the FPC had done that, it would have been acting without the worry about what would happen at the next general election, and perhaps we would have avoided the problem. It is for that sort of intervention that the FPC is being created.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s intervention, because that is exactly the point I am coming to. What is the accountability of the FPC? Ultimately, it has to come down, in some way, to the court of the Bank of England making an intervention to assess what is going on.
As we have discussed, the FPC will have far-reaching powers to intervene, some of which we may never know about. Some might be restricted to a 30-year rule, so we might hear about them in the future, although an awful lot may well be published. However, it is incredibly important that we look at what the Bank of England does to supervise. Currently, the court of the Bank of England is responsible for administrative matters, as we have heard—it is responsible for pay and rations. What we on the Treasury Committee want is the Bank to have a proper board—probably with a new name that reflects its updated role, although I do not think that will happen. We recommended that it should have a majority of external members who must have the relevant skills and experience, and the Treasury Committee wants the court of the Bank to be able to conduct—this is an important point—retrospective internal reviews of policy decisions of the Bank. The Bank’s response envisages limiting that to commissioning external reviews or conducting internal reviews only of the decision-making process of the Bank.
The creation of the FPC—on which my hon. Friend Bob Stewart intervened on me—makes this governance issue incredibly important. As we have heard, the Monetary Policy Committee has just two tools: quantitative easing and interest rates, which it uses openly and publicly. We see detailed minutes of the meetings, followed up by evidence sessions by the Treasury Committee, which is also part of an incredibly important scrutiny process, which is fully transparent and very simple. However, as we have heard, the FPC has a large range of tools at its disposal, which means that it might not be able to give a full and open account to the Treasury Committee or publish entirely transparent minutes. Moreover, as I have said, it might be years before we know what intervention has been made. That is why we need an organisation that can intervene to look at what the FPC is doing and take on a strong governance responsibility.
That is why the court of the Bank of England needs to be able to look at the merits of the FPC’s policies and not just the method. The Bank’s board must not be restricted to finding out whether the wrong decisions were made but in the right way. That is why I would be incredibly grateful if the Minister gave serious consideration to new clause 1.
I am not part of the charmed circle of the Treasury Committee, but I wish to add my congratulations to Mr Tyrie and the members of the Committee on the work they have undertaken in examining the Bill as it has gone through the House.
I have tabled amendments 46, 47, 49 and 50, which seek to enhance the Treasury Committee’s role in the appointments of the Governor and deputy Governors of the Bank of England, and the chair and chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. I have done so because the background to this legislation is perhaps the most catastrophic failure of the Bank of England and the financial regulatory authorities that we have seen in 70 years. Their failure to predict or intervene effectively to ensure that the financial crisis was averted or dealt with adequately, speedily and effectively is there for all to behold. It has brought this country to its financial knees and into a recession that is turning into a depression, which is something we have not seen since the 1930s. The reasons for that have been evidenced today. New clause 1 would address part of the issue—namely, the lack of transparency of the old regime—but another element was the lack of accountability.
This legislation will create, in the Governor of the Bank of England, one of the most important roles in the country. The Financial Times editorial of
“The central bank governor is not just some technocrat, but the most powerful unelected official in the country. His role has become more political since the crisis, not less, and will be even more sensitive when the BoE acquires new powers to avert financial crises. The next governor must win public acceptance and possess sharply honed political antennas. This might be harder for a foreigner.”
That last comment refers to the speculation about some of the candidates that the Government are considering.
In today’s Financial Times, the shadow Chancellor sets out his concerns about the range of powers and responsibilities that the new Governor will have, stating that only a superman or superwoman need apply, because the job will be so influential and will have such a wide range of roles and responsibilities. The Treasury Committee appreciated that fact very early on in the game, in its consideration of the new legislation. That is why, way back in November, it recommended that it should have a role in the appointment of this significant post. The Chancellor of the Exchequer argued against that proposition. I find it extraordinary that the Treasury Committee won the right to have a veto over the appointment of the chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, yet failed to win a role in the appointment of the much more significant post of the Governor of the Bank of England. Indeed, it has no role in the appointment of the deputy governors, and no effective role in the appointment of the Financial Conduct Authority proposed in the Bill.
I genuinely thought that the Government were about to shift their stance on this matter, because, back in November 2011, the Treasury Committee stated strongly that it was not persuaded by the Chancellor’s refusal to grant it a role in the appointment. It went on:
“The power of veto with respect to the OBR was given to ensure the independence and accountability of that body. The Governor of the Bank’s independence from Government is crucial for his or her credibility. Given the vast responsibilities of the Governor, the case for this Committee to have a power of veto over the appointment or dismissal of the Governor is even stronger than it is with respect to the OBR. We therefore recommend that, in order to safeguard his or her independence, the Treasury Committee is given a statutory power of veto over the appointment and dismissal of the Governor of the Bank of England.”
I wholeheartedly supported that view. The Chancellor’s argument was that the Treasury Committee could not have such a role because the Governor was exercising an Executive function and should therefore be a Government appointee. That is an absolutely specious argument.
The legislation to give independence to the Bank of England went through the House, although I never supported it. That means that the Governor has more than an Executive function. The Bank is not an Executive arm of the Government. The Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Government cannot have it both ways. If they support the independence of the Bank of England from the Government, they must establish some other form of accountability to Parliament. If they do not believe that it is independent, and that it is simply an Executive arm of the Government, the Governor will be appointed directly by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Even if that is the Government’s argument, the Chancellor of the Exchequer is still accountable to the House, so there must be some role that the House can play in advising him on the appointment of this important post.
My amendments would simply reassert the role of the Treasury Committee and thus Parliament itself in this vital range of decisions about appointments to key elements of the new structure proposed by the Government. Let me be frank. I agree with everything said about the role of the Treasury Committee Chairman and I agree that he needs to be called “right honourable” and the all the rest of it, but sometimes people are born great and sometimes people avoid greatness being thrust upon them. I do not know what negotiations went on, and it might well be that the negotiations were along the lines of, “We will not push for a veto on appointment as long as we can get some transparency and thus at least some element of accountability for that post to the Committee itself.” If that was the tenor of the negotiations with the Government—I happily allow the Treasury Committee Chairman to intervene to clarify it—I am afraid that the deal is not good enough.
What needs to be said very clearly by this House is that these are such significant appointments—particularly the Governor of the Bank of England but also the head of the Financial Services Authority in view of its key role in seeking to avoid further crises and in regulating this country’s financial services—that this House must have at least some say over the calibre of these persons.
I can reassure the hon. Gentleman that the report does not reflect any back-room deals, but I would like to ask him a question. I am strongly sympathetic to the approach set out in his amendments. He needs to know that the Treasury Committee intends to hold pre-appointment hearings for these jobs in any case, including for the very senior jobs like that of the Governor, when he is identified. In the unlikely event that a nomination were challenged by the Committee, many would argue that the position of the person, even at nomination stage before he or she took up the appointment, would be untenable. In that case, does the hon. Gentleman not agree that the sensible thing for the Government to do is to engage with Parliament and with the Treasury Committee a little earlier in the appointments process?
I wholeheartedly agree, but sometimes in relationships with the Government a line is drawn in the sand, which makes the right of veto sometimes crucial, particularly if there is a bloody-mindedness in the direction of policy making by the Chancellor when it comes to appointments to key posts. Although I take the gist of the hon. Gentleman’s argument and can see how the Treasury Committee could create a climate of opinion or produce a report that influences the appointment in a way that makes it impossible for a person to take it up because of the lack of credibility, I think there needs to be an even stronger role for the Treasury Committee and therefore Parliament in all these matters.
This is a crucial opportunity missed in respect of the Treasury Committee’s ability to influence the Government; in respect of the Government’s ability to demonstrate to this House a greater openness when it comes to the transparency of the operation of the Bank of England and of the new regulatory authorities; and in respect of the Government themselves in how they make appointments to these crucial positions.
Does my hon. Friend agree that this is not just a matter of the relationship between the Government and this House, as it also relates to the relationship between the Government and the public? As we move into a period of austerity, if there is not sufficient accountability for the sorts of measures the Government view as necessary, it creates political instability. People do not see where the accountability lies for some of the austerity measures that are coming—not just in this country, but across Europe.
That is exactly the point I am seeking to make. This post will have wide responsibilities and the decisions taken will have immense ramifications for the country as a whole and for all our constituents. Because of the unique role of the Governor of the Bank of England, the individual will be subject to public scrutiny in a way that a Bank of England Governor has never been under scrutiny before. I think he will become an individual in whom people must have confidence. I have to say that I have some anxieties about some of the names being bandied about at the moment, such as the appointment of a former member of Goldman Sachs, a company that does not have a particularly distinguished record in relation to the operation of economies throughout the world before and after the financial crisis.
I appeal to the Government to think again about their refusal to allow Parliament to play a part in the final appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England in particular, but also in the appointments of deputy Governors. The Bill sets out the roles of the deputy Governors, and amendments which we will not debate tonight refer specifically to the possible appointment of a deputy Governor dealing with corporate ethical behaviour. The deputy Governors will perform the incredibly important task of restoring confidence to our financial system, and I believe that if Parliament does not have a say in their appointments, mistakes will be made. The same applies to the appointments of the chair and chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. People must have confidence in them as well, and I think that that will be possible only if their appointments are fully transparent and Parliament has a say in them.
I urge the Government to think again. I fear that if they do not do so we shall have to revisit the issue shortly, because there will be no confidence in whatever appointments are made by the Government if they do not have the support of the House or that of the community in general.
It is a pleasure to be part and parcel of such an interesting debate. I especially commend the speech of my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie. Chris Leslie also made a thoughtful contribution, which covered a range of issues. As he said, it is regrettable that much of the real scrutiny of the Bill will be carried out in the other place, partly because of the guillotine but also because of the way in which votes on amendments are driven through here. I do not think that that reflects at all well on the House of Commons, which should be a place for genuine scrutiny rather than one that railroads Bills through their stages.
I do not go quite as far as the hon. Member for Nottingham East does in amendment 28. I do not think that we should get rid of clause 5 altogether. However, there is little doubt that the regulatory changes proposed in the clause, and the creation of the new supervisory architecture, will do little to address some of the significant risks that currently exist in the market. I say that as someone who speaks to practitioners every day in my role as Member of Parliament for the City of London.
A central issue is the ability of the FCA to carry out prudential regulation of firms that have sizeable assets and, often, complex structures. The recent failure of firms such as MF Global, Arch Cru and Keydata—all of which would have been prudentially regulated by the FCA—demonstrates the need for firms that have sizeable assets and are engaged in complex activities to be properly managed. One outcome of the failure of those firms has been that the liabilities of other UK businesses to the financial services compensation scheme are increasing in line with larger payouts to UK consumers. A wider effect has been that smaller and more innovative companies which, by their very nature, have less capital available to pay compensation on behalf of other firms face increased risk and rising costs. That will ultimately erode the attractiveness of London and, indeed, the UK as a venue for financial services businesses.
The FCA will not be a specialist prudential regulator. The experts will be located in the Prudential Regulation Authority, and it will be important for the FCA to work closely with the PRA to ensure that complex firms within its scope receive an adequate quality of prudential regulation. It is therefore crucial for the Bill to contain adequate safeguards and assurances that robust information-sharing agreements will exist between the two regulators. That important detail is lacking in both the Bill and the draft memorandum of understanding.
The Government should provide greater protections in clause 5, specifically in regard to the relationship between the FCA and the PRA. That would enable the two regulators to share information on systematically important companies to ensure that the PRA could make a judgment on whether they needed macro-prudential regulation. A key question is whether the FSA has learned from the problems of Lehman Brothers and the events of the past three and a half years or so. Despite the financial crisis, the FSA has failed to adjust the manner in which it supervises firms. The Turner review, published in 2009, provides a detailed analysis of the causes of the economic crisis and the areas of the financial and economic system in which the FSA and other, global regulators failed to identify growing problems.
The review promised a new philosophy of regulation that it describes as “intensive supervision”. That amounts to a huge number of new initiatives and commitments:
a significant increase in the resources to be devoted to the supervision of high-impact firms; an increase in the resources devoted to sectoral and firm comparator analysis; investments in specialist skills, with supervisory teams able to draw on enhanced central expert resources; a much more intensive analysis of information relating to key risks; and an investment in specialist prudential skills.
Three years on from the publication of the Turner review, the FSA has increased the number of conduct interventions, a proportion of which have not involved consumer detriment—for example, in client asset and financial crime cases—but it has not been able to prevent the failure of a number of non-systemic companies.
The most worrying feature of what is going on at present, with the collapse of MF Global, Arch Cru and Keydata, is that under the new regulatory system they will all be prudentially managed by the FCA. It is set to be a competent financial conduct regulator, but it is no secret that it is not an expert prudential regulator. The prudential experts will all be located in the PRA. That is fine when the firms that are prudentially regulated by the FCA are small and relatively straightforward with few systemic risks, but none of the three firms to which I have referred can be regarded as small or straightforward businesses.
We are going to hear a lot more about MF Global in this House in months and years to come. It was involved in complex transactions as an intermediary on a range of financial products. The estimated gap owed by MF Global to futures customers is as large as $1.6 billion following bankruptcy. The total cost for MF Global UK has been estimated in the region of £600 million, and about $1 billion of client money remains locked in other financial institutions according to its administrators, KPMG. The total liability to consumers when Arch Cru collapsed was some £100 million, and a £54 million financial redress scheme was agreed between the FSA and the other professional organisations, Capita, HSBC and BNY Mellon.
I completely agree with my hon. Friend’s comments about MF Global and the fact that we did not learn quickly enough the lessons of that or of Lehman. Is there not one major aspect, however, that the Bill does not address particularly well, perhaps because it cannot: the fact that the regulation of such firms must mirror their organisational structure, which is international? Neither the FCA nor the PRA, nor any other regulatory body, can do that without much more effort being made.
I do not disagree with what my hon. Friend says. However, the special administration in respect of MF Global—which, as I have said, will be high profile in years to come—seems to be considerably better organised in every other jurisdiction than it is in the UK. That is doing great damage to the reputation of the UK as a destination for financial services.
Following the failure of the firms to which I have referred, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme has announced it will need to raise an additional £60 million in the investment intermediation sub-class, resulting in rising costs for firms in that category, and in the coming year both MF Global and Arch Cru will, I fear, generate further liabilities of some £600 million or more.
My hon. Friend is making very forceful points, especially on the FSCS. As that is currently funded by the industry itself, and given that the FCA cannot have detailed knowledge of the workings of every product, does my hon. Friend agree that in order to ensure that there is adequate protection, the FCA must work with the industry and accept the intelligence that comes from it?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right about that.
I want to touch on the impacts, however. Smaller firms dominate the advisory and investment sector, and they clearly do not have the capital available to make the sizeable pay-outs that are an integral part of the scheme on behalf of other companies. The larger banks are present in most major financial centres, but it is the success of innovative smaller companies that marks out Britain’s financial services industry, or at least has done hitherto.
I am aware, as I have spoken to this company in recent days, of a FTSE 250 firm whose costs have risen by 270% under the compensation scheme, year on year, from 2009 to 2010. That includes some £4.7 million of interim levy costs for Keydata, a current cost of £470,000 for MF Global—again, I fear that that is an interim cost—and some £700,000 for Arch Cru. The company had predicted that its total cost for MF Global could end up being as high as £9.5 million.
This situation is an enormous concern. Firms are facing increased liabilities through the compensation scheme and the future structure of the supervisory regime does not suggest that prudential regulation of these firms is likely to be improved. This matter should be addressed in this Bill, as the FCA will not be a specialist prudential regulator. As I say, the experts are located elsewhere, so it is crucial that the Bill contains adequate safeguards and assurances that robust information-sharing schemes are to be put in place between the two regulators.
I briefly wish to discuss my new clauses 2 and 3, which seek to amend section 166 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. Section 166 sets out arrangements for a report by a skilled person, and the whole section urgently requires changing. The FSA has the power to insist on an investigation without determining who does it and without paying for it. The result has been that too many recent section 166 reports have cost the players in the financial services market huge sums, without producing anything of great value. Under the current regime, firms are guilty until proven innocent, and they have to pay for their own prosecution, regardless of whether guilt is proved or not.
The number of section 166 reports has, perhaps understandably, risen dramatically since the 2008 financial crisis. Nevertheless, such reports are increasingly used as a standard regulatory method, rather than being reserved, as they should be, for the most serious cases. They are becoming a phenomenally big burden on hard-pressed small firms. The costs can run into hundreds of thousands of pounds in each and every case, and companies often cannot recoup the costs, even if there is no evidence of wrongdoing.
I know that others wish to speak, but I just wish to put on the record the breakdown of the cost of section 166 reports. As I say, this is now an issue of major concern.
In 2006-07, there were just 18 such cases, at a cost of £3.8 million. That number increased to 29, 56, 88 and 95 cases respectively for each of the four succeeding years, with the costs increasing from £3.8 million to £32.2 million for the year 2010-11. It is essential now that the FSA, which has not previously selected skilled persons to have a direct line of accountability, changes its whole approach on this matter. There is much more that I would like to say and I am sorry that time is so limited this evening. I hope that this matter will come back for further scrutiny, although I am afraid that that will be in another place.
Quite a few more hon. Members wish to speak and the Minister wants to come in at 9.40 pm, so if we could help each other, I would be grateful.
I wish to join others in acknowledging the strong case that members of the Treasury Committee have made on the issues addressed in new clause 1. Like others, I do not think that new clause 1, in itself, goes far enough in resolving some of the Bill’s deficiencies, but it is a commendable effort.
As we are dealing with a number of proposals that appear on the amendment paper under the heading “Governance of the Bank of England and the new regulatory structure”, there is a danger that we might make the mistake of thinking that all the provisions are about issues inside the beltway; we may think that they are all about parliamentary influence, scrutiny and the relationships between the Financial Policy Committee, the Bank of England and the Treasury and so on. Of course, as we heard in the remarks made by Chris Leslie, many of these provisions touch directly on issues that we thought we were discussing in the previous grouping in relation to consumer protection and the consumer interest.
I wish to discuss a number of the amendments in this group that I have tabled, particularly new clause 13. It is aimed at dealing with what seems to be a fairly gaping loophole in the Bill and relates to provisions in clause 25, on page 108, and the regime for consolidated supervision of the parent undertakings of financial institutions. The provisions in the Bill as they stand would mean that the only parent undertakings that will be regulated under consolidated supervision are those that were deemed to be financial institutions, whereas those that were not deemed to be financial institutions would be immune.
Given the changes we are seeing in the financial services market—including the activities of groups such as Tesco and the arrival of Virgin—we must ask whether there is a danger of an unlevel playing field for other providers in which some are subjected to consolidated supervision whereas others are not. More importantly, it gives rise to questions for consumers. Are they duly protected? Are those bodies that are not subject to consolidated supervision able to use their market intelligence in particular ways? Can they use their business, market and customer relationship with many people to the disadvantage of either consumers or other players?
New clause 13 makes provision for what would happen so long as the Government wanted to go along the lines outlined in clause 25, which would allow the Treasury to amend the legislation by order in future and therefore change the qualification for financial institutions. If the Treasury were to say that that was to be the future proofing against other market changes, I would want it to be subject to regular review and assessment that would be brought before this House. The new clause therefore provides that the powers given to the Treasury to amend the legislation would be the subject of a review within the first year after the Bill received Royal Assent and of annual assessments after that. The power in the Bill to reconsider these matters rests entirely with the Treasury and not the regulators, whom we would assume would hear from other practitioners and from the consumers. The new clause creates a proper scenario of assessment by the regulators and the Treasury.
I have put my name to other amendments in this group which also address consumer interest. They concern some of the language that would be used and expected as regards consumers as well as the status of the consumer panel. We are told that there will be a consumer panel for the FCA, but it is given no remit as regards the PRA, even though on some measures the FCA will have a duty to co-ordinate with the PRA. Some of those issues will, clearly, be about consumer interest. There is not the same scrutiny, comeback or advocacy for consumers built into the provisions for the PRA as there is for the FCA, and so a number of the other amendments would address that, not least amendments 69 and 70.
Amendment 71 provides for improvements in the duty to co-ordinate between the FCA and the PRA. As I read the Bill, the duties on them to co-ordinate relate to their own interests and considerations. They are meant to consider what matters to them and to each other. I do not think enough is built in about the regard they are meant to have for the impact of their collective or separate efforts on firms that are subject to dual regulation. Nor is there sufficient emphasis on their having proper regard to consumer interest.
This group of amendments is not just about governance and the relationship between the democratic process and regulation. It also goes to the heart of what regulation should be about, which is protecting the consumer interest and ensuring fair play in the marketplace.
It is a pleasure to speak in this debate, albeit briefly. Like Mark Antony in “Julius Caesar”, I come to praise the Bill, not to criticise it. I accept that the Government are all honourable men and women, but so, it might be reasoned, are the members of the Treasury Committee, who are also honourable men and women, advancing a slightly contrary view.
I support the fundamental ethos of clause 1 and welcome the review of the performance of the Bank of England. I certainly do not support Opposition amendment 28, which would remove clause 5; that would be entirely wrong in the present circumstances. I speak as a critical friend of the present system and as the secretary of the all-party group on the Arch Cru Investment Scheme, which is seeking to recover compensation for the thousands of men and women in this country who have lost their lifetime savings. What happened to them is manifestly wrong, and anything that this House can do to strengthen the regulatory system to prevent such disasters, I welcome wholeheartedly.
I speak also as an MP who, almost every week, has a constituent come to me saying that they are unable to obtain bank lending and finance. That is because of the lack of competition in the present banking structure—an issue that is raised regularly. I urge the House to embrace greater competition and to open up the market to competitors to the existing large banks, which will be in a position to provide the bank finance sought by businesses up and down the country.
The other end of the telescope must also be addressed. At present, we have the large banks, but there are no small banks. Germany and America have local banking structures that work tremendously positively: individuals can set up local banks, which provide for a community purpose above all else, which is manifestly a good thing. That is why I support wholeheartedly the competition objectives set out in new section 1E of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, inserted by clause 5, which states that there should be an emphasis on
“the ease with which new entrants can enter the market, and…how far competition is encouraging innovation.”
I have met the chairman of Metro bank, which is that remarkable thing: a bank set up to exist at the weekend. It opens on weekends and at 8 o’clock in the morning. Imagine what could be done if we had that at the local level.
“We are conscious of the balance to be struck between ensuring high standards at the gateway, and the importance of allowing innovation and appropriate levels of access for new firms.”
The letter continues:
“there has been public debate about the potential advantages of new entrants in the area of small, regional banks focused on servicing the SME sector. In such cases we will be proportionate in our approach and would invite all firms with a viable business model and appropriate levels of resources to a pre-application meeting to help guide them through the application process”.
The Bill will, I suggest and sincerely hope, make it easer to establish local banks, which can only be a good thing.
I rise to express my strong support for the amendments in the name of my hon. Friend John McDonnell.
There are two components of the argument: the first is the relationship between the Governor of the Bank of England and the Government, but the second is the relationship between this House of Parliament and the Government. On both, I strongly believe my hon. Friend has a point. Like him, I was unhappy about the decision to hand power over monetary policy to the Bank of England and give it independence. All aspects of macro-economic management ought to be matters for Ministers accountable to Parliament. I maintain that view and, in a sense, recent events have proved that my hon. Friend and I were right. I thought at the time that if the Governor of the Bank of England or the Monetary Policy Committee chose to be hawkish on interest rates when we had a recession on our hands, there could be a serious conflict between the Bank and Government. Fortunately, the Bank has been sensible in managing monetary policy and that clash did not occur, but it could have happened in 2008. Had the Bank been governed by a hawkish Governor, we could have seen a serious clash and those powers no doubt taken away. I was comforted by the thought that if the Bank of
England got out of control, we could easily take back powers. It is not the same with the European Central Bank, where powers have been given away and cannot be taken back.
In relations between Parliament and Government, pre-appointment hearings have been shown to be a success. I have been involved in not just the two most recent pre-appointment hearings, but in developing the arguments in favour of pre-appointment hearings as a member of the Public Administration Committee for the past 10 years. Brilliant work was done by Tony Wright, who made a real impact on our constitution. Pre-appointment hearings are first class. They are not just an experiment; they are here to stay. I would like the Governor of the Bank of England to be subject to a rigorous pre-appointment hearing so that we know that they will serve the economy and relate to the House, and not just be a law unto themselves. I have probably run out of time. I know the Minister needs to speak, but I have made my point.
This has been a thoughtful and constructive debate covering the wide range of issues in this group of amendments. I shall organise my remarks in two parts. I shall deal first with issues relating to the Bank of England and the Financial Policy Committee, and secondly with the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority.
I begin by speaking to Government amendment 12. This change was prompted by an amendment proposed in Committee by Chris Leslie, on the wording used to ensure that the view of the Treasury member of the FPC cannot be taken into account in determining whether the FPC has reached a decision by consensus. Although the substance of the provision, which is consistent with the general principle that the Treasury member of the FPC should not have a vote, was endorsed by the Committee, some members of the Committee thought that the wording was ambiguous. Some, including Mark Durkan, felt that the current wording could imply that the Treasury is not even allowed to exercise influence through debate or discussion.
I therefore committed to look again at the wording to see whether it could be made clearer. Amendment 12 amends the provision to make it clear that in determining whether the FPC has reached consensus, the chair should disregard “any view expressed” by the Treasury member. This does not mean that the Treasury member cannot influence the discussion and debate, but in determining consensus, that voice should not be taken into account.
The main focus of the debate has been accountability and transparency. That is absolutely right. Hon. Members are right to highlight the fact that as a consequence of the Bill, the Bank of England takes on more power and responsibility, partly because the PRA becomes part of the Bank family, and through the creation of the FPC. It is right that we strengthen the transparency and accountability of the Bank as a consequence of the reforms before us. The debate about macro-prudential tools was a helpful way of characterising that debate and talking about some of the proposals that we have made. We are committed to ensuring the ex ante approval of those macro-prudential tools by this place and the other place. Hon. Members are right to call for a review of the use of those tools and a retrospective review of the Bank’s performance. That is important too.
Let me deal first with the ex ante side of the equation. Amendment 22 talks about economic growth being part of the FPC’s objective. The Government are clear that the FPC’s principal aim should be to make the financial system safer and more stable. We do not seek the stability of the graveyard. The FPC should not be able to pursue stability to the point where the financial sector can no longer support the real economy. This means that the FPC should not be able to take action that would seriously damage the ability of the financial sector to contribute to growth in the medium to long term and the FPC should consider whether the costs of the action that it proposes would be disproportionate to its benefits. The Bill as drafted already ensures this.
The economic growth element in the FPC’s objective is stronger and more restrictive than the growth element in the MPC’s objective. The MPC’s secondary objective
“to support the economic policy of Her Majesty’s Government” is subordinate to the primary objective to maintain price stability. This means that the MPC need only pursue its secondary objective if it has no impact on price stability. In contrast, the economic growth “brake” imposed on the FPC by new section 9C(4) is an absolute prohibition. The FPC cannot in any circumstances take action that would have a significant adverse effect on the ability of the financial sector to contribute to the sustainable long-term economic growth of the economy, regardless of the impact on stability. There is a strong element in the FPC’s objectives to get right the balance between stability and growth.
Amendment 23 relates to the super-affirmative procedure for statutory instruments on macro-prudential tools. The Government agree that public and parliamentary scrutiny of macro-prudential tools is important. The Bank has already consulted on tools and made public recommendations to the Treasury. The interim FPC has recommended to the Treasury that the statutory FPC be given the following three tools: the counter-cyclical capital buffer, sectoral capital requirements and a leverage ratio. That was in a document that it published in March. The Government are considering those recommendations and will consult publicly on their proposals for the FPC’s initial toolkit during the passage of the Financial Services Bill. The Government will aim to maximise the amount of scrutiny available to Parliament. The secondary legislation itself will, as recommended by the Treasury Committee, be subject to approval by both Houses of Parliament, as will any changes to it to reflect changes to the FPC’s toolkit. Therefore, strong arrangements are in place to ensure that there is public and parliamentary engagement in determining the macro-prudential tools that should be available to the FPC.
I realise that the Minister will not want to commit himself to change anything now, but would he be prepared to say now that he would consider looking at the possibility of going a little step further than the affirmative procedure in some measure towards something that we would recognise as a super-affirmative procedure for these measures?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. We need to ensure that the right scrutiny arrangements are in place, but we also need to recognise that the super-affirmative procedure can create delays, because there are times when if the House is in recess the clock stops, so there is a challenge there. In addition, a blanket adoption of a super-affirmative procedure may mean that even minor technical changes are subject to quite a lengthy process. The point that I would take from this debate is that we need to ensure that proper parliamentary scrutiny of these measures is in place, and that there is proper consultation with the public and a proper assessment of the economic impact of these macro-prudential tools on the wider economy. I hope that the Government’s position is clear. I am not ruling out the proposal. There are some issues with it, but we are committed to ensuring that the right procedures are in place to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny.
I come now to the matters at the heart of new clause 1 tabled by my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie and his colleagues from the Treasury Committee. I agree entirely that the robustness of the Bank of England’s governance arrangements is vital. Hon. Members on both sides of the House have been absolutely right to point out that it is even more important given the expanded responsibilities provided to the Bank of England under the legislation. There is a consensus that the governance of the Bank needs to be strengthened in order better to equip it for these new roles. The court will need to adapt and evolve in order to operate as an effective governing body, able to oversee the Bank in transition and in steady state, ensuring that the Bank is adequately resourced to meet its new responsibilities, offering challenge to the Bank’s executive and supporting accountability to Parliament. With that in mind, a set of proposals has already been put forward by the Bank of England to help address these concerns.
Last year the Treasury Committee published an in-depth and thoughtful report into the accountability of the Bank. In response to that, the court of the Bank of England set out some positive and constructive proposals to strengthen its oversight of the Bank’s financial stability activities and to enhance accountability. Central to the court’s proposals is the creation of a new oversight committee for financial stability, a sub-committee of the court that will be responsible for overseeing the entirety of the Bank’s financial stability activities. This wholly non-executive committee will have access to the meetings and papers of the Bank’s policy-making committees, including the FPC, and will be able both to review the internal decision-making processes leading to policy outcomes and to commission periodic reviews of policy-making performance from expert external authorities. These reports will be published, unless publication would be contrary to the public interest. We welcome the court’s proposals.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester, in his remarks welcoming the court’s response to the Treasury Committee’s recommendations, recognised that there has been change, but he also outlined a number of areas in a report published on
Bank’s policy makers of their own policy making and implementation performance. I think that the Bank has made some progress, but my hon. Friend raised the important question of whether the oversight arrangements should be set out in primary legislation in the Bill.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester also mentioned publication of the court’s minutes. The Bank has committed to publishing what it terms a record of future court meetings. It is worth pointing out that the FPC also produces what it calls a record of its meetings, which is a very full account of the debates that go on in the FPC, and we will expect a similar process to be undertaken for the court’s meetings. Let me be clear: I believe that there is a clear need for the Bank’s accountability arrangements to be strengthened through the publication of the court’s minutes and the enhanced scrutiny of the court’s work, although I believe that the changes announced by the Bank help address the concerns raised by my hon. Friend and the Treasury Committee. He made some powerful arguments that have been echoed by other members of the Committee, and we will consider further whether these arrangements should be put in the Bill. We will reflect on these matters and reconsider them when the Bill goes to the other place. I hope that that helps to reassure the House on how seriously we take these matters and our willingness to listen and respond to the concerns raised by Members during the debate, particularly the contributions made by my hon. Friend and others.
We are clear that we want to see the court’s minutes published, which I think is absolutely vital, and that we want to see those retrospective reviews in place. The questions my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester has asked are whether we have gone far enough, whether the proposals should be in the Bill or whether we should just accept the proposal put forward by the court. Tonight I have committed to listening to those arguments—he made a powerful speech—and returning to the issue when the Bill goes to the other place.
Will the Minister clarify a couple more points? First, when he says that he is committed to the publication of the court’s minutes, does he mean the publication of the full minutes or only a summary record of them, which it appears is what was proposed before. Secondly, he thoughtfully suggested that the non-executives of the Bank should commission internal reviews. Will they also be permitted to look at, assess and comment on the merits of the material they receive?
I think that it is important that the court’s non-executives perform a full role in scrutinising the Bank’s activities. They need to be able to look at the output of those reviews, consider them and express their views on them. On the issue of minutes, I will not say that we are getting into a semantic debate, because that would be unfair. What we want to do is ensure that a proper record of the court’s meetings is published.
I am not sure that the minutes should necessarily be verbatim, reporting every word that everyone has said, but they should certainly be a very good summary, catching the thought processes that took place in the court and the issues that were debated and discussed, so that Parliament and stakeholders can hold the Bank to account for the way in which it has used its powers not just when it comes to the Financial Policy Committee, but in other areas. I hope that that gives my hon. Friend the reassurance he looks for on our commitment to transparency and on ensuring that we do all we can to strengthen the transparency arrangements of the Bank of England.
I am very conscious that a number of other points were made, and I want to discuss them. John McDonnell tabled two amendments on the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England and Parliament’s role in it. We do not have time tonight to go into the detail of that procedure, but the Chancellor has said that there will be an open process, and having heard the debate in the House he will reflect on it when thinking about how the process should develop.
I turn to Government amendment 1. In Committee, the hon. Member for Nottingham East argued for a check on the PRA’s ability to decide not to disclose the use of its veto over the FCA. The Government accept that the PRA will always be the best placed organisation to determine whether or when to disclose the use of its veto, but there is room for an element of independent consideration when it decides against such disclosure. The Government have therefore decided to place a duty on the PRA, through amendment 1, to consult the Treasury on a decision not to disclose, and this will ensure that proper disclosures do take place.
I will respond in writing to the remarks that my hon. Friend Mark Field made on the use of skilled persons. He raised some important issues.
What is important is that the PRA establishes its process for consultation with regulated firms. It is required to set out in its annual report its process of consultation.
In conclusion, this is an important part of the legislation, and I am very disappointed that the hon. Member for Nottingham East has tabled a wrecking amendment that would take the guts out of the Bill. I thought that the Opposition supported the reform of financial regulation, but they clearly do not, so I hope that if the hon. Gentleman puts his wrecking amendment to the vote the House will oppose it.
I am grateful to the Minister for what I have heard this evening. He has shown enough flexibility for me to feel able to withdraw new clause 1, but before I do so it is just worth my spelling out what I think I have heard.
I think I have heard that we are going to have the publication of the full minutes of the court of directors, and that we are going to permit and, indeed, encourage the court—the non-executives of the Bank of England—to commission internal reviews, to assess them and to give us their assessments, made available to Parliament.
I heard also about some flexibility on whether we will go beyond the affirmative procedure when looking at macro-prudential tools. Their proper scrutiny is extremely important for millions of people in this country. Whether we will go as far as a super-affirmative procedure I do not know, but an element of flexibility has also been provided for there.
With that in mind, my intention is not to push new clause 1 to a vote. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the motion.
Clause, by leave, withdrawn.