[Relevant documents: The Twenty-first Report from the Treasury Committee, Session 2010-12, Accountability of the Bank of England, HC 874, and the Government response, contained in A new approach to financial regulation: securing stability, protecting consumers, Cm 8268, and the First Report from the Treasury Committee, Financial Services Bill, H C 161 .]
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
I have had the good fortune of coming top of the ballot for private Members’ Bills for two Sessions running, which is unheard of. The BBC calculated the odds at 58,000 to one. I wish I had put a bet on—I certainly will next time the ballot comes up.
Hon. Members can choose to use private Members’ Bills to promote a minor good cause or to redress a small anomaly in the law, but they can sometimes use them to send a message to the Government about the need for reform in the interests of good governance. If Parliament wishes to send such a message to the Government, it is best that the message is conveyed with a cross-party voice.
The Bill is an attempt to send such a message to the Government, and I have sought a strictly cross-party support base for the Bill, hence the Bill’s sponsors include Mr Tyrie, the Conservative Chair of the Treasury Committee; my hon. Friend Mr Mudie, the Labour vice-Chair of the Committee; Mr Ruffley, a Conservative; my hon. Friend Mr Love, a Labour Member; Andrea Leadsom, a Conservative member of the Committee; my hon. Friend John Mann, a Labour member of the Committee; Stewart Hosie of the Scottish National party; Mark Durkan of the Social Democratic and Labour party; and my hon. Friend Teresa Pearce, a Labour member of the Committee. Two senior Members expressed an interest in the issue—the hon. Members for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field) and for Altrincham and Sale West (Mr Brady)—and sponsored the Bill. I am grateful for their support for the measure. I would have been able to demonstrate wider cross-party support if more sponsors were allowed. Support was expressed by the leaders of Plaid Cymru and the Green party. There is a balanced and wide-ranging cross-party support base for the proposal.
The message that the Bill conveys to the Executive is straightforward. The Government’s Financial Services Bill is creating an immensely powerful post in the Governor of the Bank of England. The new Governor will be given a vast range of new powers and responsibilities. The Financial Times has said that the Bill will create the most powerful Governor in the history of the Bank of England.
It is often said that the European Parliament is powerless because it cannot initiate legislation. Although the House approves, votes on and debates legislation, it can never actually initiate it—the House does not have law-initiating powers. My hon. Friend is trying to initiate a law, but I worry that the Bill will be talked out and walked out by lots of whipped Conservative colleagues. Parliament is powerless. Mr Speaker calls Ministers to the House so they can be held to account by hon. Members, but is it not worrying that Parliament is powerless to initiate legislation?
This is one of the few opportunities when the House has the opportunity to initiate legislation. I take what my right hon. Friend says as a caution that we should take that initiation role seriously. We should take all our activities seriously, but Back Benchers should be especially serious when the onus falls on them to make a change in the nature of our governance.
That is a really useful advert—it might be one of the most constructive things said this morning.
I shall be as brief as I possibly can. The message contained in the Bill is that the appointment of the new, powerful post of Governor of the Bank of England should not be left solely to the Executive, and that Parliament, on behalf of the people, should also play a decisive role. The appointment is too important to be left in the hands of a single Minister.
As the hon. Gentleman knows, his Bill has the support of the Treasury Committee—it is similar to the Committee’s proposals. The principle of greater parliamentary engagement that he is articulating is a strong one, but does he agree that it could be enacted in a number of ways? Does he also agree that we need flexibility from the Government on accomplishing that engagement while the Financial Services Bill is in the Lords?
That is an incredibly constructive proposal, and I hope the Minister heard it. There are other ways of approaching this matter and we should be open to considering them. Yesterday, the Government entrusted the hon. Gentleman with a major inquiry—the inquiry Committee will comprise of members of the Treasury Committee and Members of the other House. If the Government have the confidence in Treasury Committee members to undertake that inquiry, it should have the confidence in them to have a decisive role in the appointment of a new Governor of the Bank of England. I therefore welcome the hon. Gentleman’s constructive comments.
May I thank Kate Emms, the Clerk, and Gordon Nardell QC for their assistance in drafting the Bill and the explanatory notes? I am extremely grateful for their assistance. The Bill amends the Bank of England Act 1998 to give effect exactly to the recommendation of the
Treasury Committee from its report of October 2011 that the appointment of the Governor should be subject to the approval of the Treasury Committee.
Between the time of choosing the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England as the subject of my private Member’s Bill and debating it, the world has changed somewhat. Last week’s revelations about the role of Barclays bank—and, more than likely, others—in the LIBOR scandal have given the Bill a new context, and there is a new significance in the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England. Mervyn King will retire in the next year, and the new Governor will play a pivotal role in what, it is increasingly clear, will, of necessity, be a radical reform and reconstruction of our financial system.
I am pleased that consensus was eventually reached yesterday and that the Chair of the Treasury Committee will now be able to perform his role in that inquiry. The Government’s confidence in the Treasury Committee Chair and its members in respect of that inquiry contrasts with their lack of confidence in respect of allowing the Committee a decisive role in the appointment of the Governor.
It is increasingly clear that the new Governor will have significant responsibility, and it is becoming obvious that we need root-and-branch reform of our financial services and our banking system. Therefore, whatever recommendations come of out of the various inquiries, and especially the inquiry that was established yesterday, much of the work of implementing reforms will fall on the shoulders of the new Governor.
The roles are different, as I will mention later, but the Chancellor did give the Treasury Committee responsibility, in the way it is asking for here, for the appointment of senior members of the Office for Budget Responsibility. Obviously, then, he had sufficient confidence in the Committee to involve it in appointments.
I shall come to that almost Jesuitical distinction between Executive roles.
It is critical that the right person be appointed to the crucial role of Governor of the Bank of England in this coming period. The new Governor will need to demonstrate not only that he or she is professionally competent, but that they can exercise sound ethical judgment. They must be able to convince the public and the markets that they can turn the liner that is financial services around. To have any credibility they will need to demonstrate that they have the confidence of not only the Chancellor of the Exchequer but of Parliament as a whole, and that they are independent—no crony, no place person, no political appointee—and able and willing to give robust independent advice. Given the scale of the task facing the new Governor and the heightened political atmosphere and context in which the banking reforms are to be developed, now, more than ever, this critical appointment cannot be left in the hands of a single Minister.
I am a member of the Business, Innovation and Skills Committee, where recently there was a political divide over whether to approve the appointment of the director of the Office for Fair Access for higher education. Does he agree that ideally we would have a political consensus over the appointment of the Governor, so that the person knows they have the full backing of Parliament, at least when they are appointed?
If Members keep on intervening and reading parts of my speech, I will not get very far. I fully concur. It is exactly as my hon. Friend describes it; she makes an important point.
Let me press on. I want to return to the question of probity, because there are issues outside the House this morning that we need to take into account. Given the scale of the task facing the new Governor, the heightened political atmosphere and the banking reforms, now, more than ever, this appointment cannot be left in the hands of one Minister. Leaving it solely in the gift of the Executive in what is, unfortunately, a tense political context, runs the risks of allegations of a political appointment, a lack of independence and even cronyism.
In the cold light of day, after yesterday’s ferocious party political knockabout and, at times, unfortunately very personal debate, it is important that calmer judgments now prevail and that we seek a consensus, as far as possible, over the key decisions, such as this one, that the House needs to take in reforming our financial system. This is a time for consensus building and a display of magnanimous behaviour on all sides, if we are to get through this crisis and restore confidence in our financial system. Sharing responsibility for the appointment of the new Governor and seeking consensus on this appointment would ensure the credibility of the appointment process and the appointee themselves.
In seeking that consensus, how would we avoid the risk highlighted by Katy Clark of the politicisation of an appointment, as happened in the situation to which she referred?
I suggest that people listen to my speech. I will get to that point, but if I miss it out, perhaps the Minister can intervene again.
The wider engagement of Parliament in the appointment process is more likely to result in the appointment of a talented and competent professional whose independence is demonstrable and protected, and who will therefore have the authority to drive through the reforms and change of culture in our banking system for which we are all calling.
This is not a revolutionary proposal. To allow Parliament, via the Treasury Committee, to have a decisive say in the appointment of key posts is nothing new. If Members read the Institute for Government’s excellent report, “Balancing Act”, by Akash Paun and David Atkinson, which the Committee recommended, they will see that the Bill stands in an evolutionary line on the growing role of Parliament in public appointments. In the past 30 years, there has been an evolution from all public posts historically being appointed by prerogative of the Executive through to pre-appointment hearings, confirmation hearings for the Monetary Policy Committee, to the current Chancellor granting the Treasury Committee a veto over the senior posts in the OBR. That was enshrined in the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011, the wording in which I have simply transferred into my Bill.
The OBR is not the only area where appointments are made subject to the approval of a Select Committee. For example, last year the Ministry of Justice announced that the appointment of the Information Commissioner would not be made if the Justice Select Committee opposed it. The proposal in today’s Bill, then, is nothing new or revolutionary but simply part of the evolving relationship between Parliament and the Executive.
In line with the evolutionary progress in that relationship, when the Treasury Committee undertook its investigation into the accountability of the Bank of England, the report of which was published in October 2011, it examined parliamentary involvement in the appointment and dismissal of the Governor and concluded:
“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.”
The Committee recommended, therefore, that it be given a
“statutory power of veto over the appointment and dismissal of the Governor”.
That was a fair, appropriate and responsible submission from the Committee.
I wonder whether the Bill is really necessary, given that the process, which we discussed yesterday—oddly enough—in the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Public Bill Committee, for decisions on public body appointments vis-à-vis Select Committee endorsement is already well enshrined. There is a list, which was last reviewed by the previous Labour Government in 2009, to which we can add or subtract.
If there was a way of moving forward by that process, I would use it, but the problem is that we have now debated this matter in the Financial Services Bill, both in this House and the other place, and the Government have refused to accept the Treasury Committee’s recommendation. I hope that once I have sent this message today, the Government will shift their position and use whatever device is possible—either an amendment to the Financial Services Bill, the route the hon. Gentleman suggests, other routes that the Chair of the Treasury Committee has suggested exploring or the acceptance of this Bill.
At the time of the Treasury Committee’s recommendation and the debates on the amendments here and in the other place, the Government set their face against the proposal. I shall deal with the five basic objections and arguments that Treasury Ministers have put forward. First, there is the argument made by the Chancellor to the Committee that the Governor must be independent. He said:
“I think it is proper that the Government of the day chooses the Bank Governor, is held accountable for that choice, but also that the Governor is given some protection, some independence, so it is quite difficult, to put it mildly, or extremely difficult, to get rid of them.”
Ironically, the Committee fully agreed that the Governor should be independent and that this independence should be protected, but concluded that the best way of securing that independence was to ensure that the appointment was not solely in the hands of the Executive or one single politician. It further concluded that dismissal should also be determined more widely. Logically, then, the Governor is more likely to be seen as a creature of the Executive if he or she is solely appointed by the Executive. Making appointments and dismissals subject to the Committee’s approval must logically increase a post’s independence from Government and free the appointee from any charge of being a political appointee.
The second issue, which the Minister raised, was potential politicisation.
The hon. Gentleman is making the point that the Bill would make the Governor more independent of the Executive. However, one of the things that I am sure several of my hon. Friends will be exploring in their speeches is that it may, in fact, interfere with his independence from the Treasury Committee.
It is a matter of striking a balance and, at the moment, the Governor’s independence is undermined by association with appointment by one Minister and the Executive. My Bill would spread the burden of accountability and responsibility for the appointment.
On the issue of politicisation, the argument was that the Committee veto would politicise the post of the Governor. However, spreading the decision, to include all parties in determining the appointment, would avoid the charge that the person had been appointed by one party or one coalition grouping and was therefore a party political appointee. The charge of politicisation also neglects to acknowledge that our Select Committees have, over decades, developed a good culture of cross-party working. Where there have been disputes over a ministerial appointment in the past, they have not been on political lines. There have been only two rejections of a Minister’s recommendation, and they were cross-party rejections. Having to secure the approval of the Treasury Committee would override any charge of a single-party or party political fix.
Will the hon. Gentleman explain what would happen, then, if a Committee voted on party lines and a minority party opposed the appointment? Would it not impair the Governor’s credibility if a bloc was against him?
That charge was laid before, but when the Institute for Government examined it in detail, it found no example of that happening, because the Select Committee system—
The decision in the case that my hon. Friend Katy Clark raised was not accepted. The Select Committee system has worked remarkably well, and when people have served on them, they have done so on a cross-party basis. However, the point the Minister makes still does not undermine the argument that it is better to have a group examining, interviewing and then coming to a decision about an appointment on a cross-party basis than to leave it in the hands of a single, party politician.
I have allowed large numbers of interventions. If I can press on, I will see whether I can allow further interventions later.
Let me go through the other arguments that the Chancellor has made. He also argued that involving the Treasury Committee in determining the appointment of the Governor would blur the lines of accountability, saying that
“it is proper that the Government of the day chooses the Bank Governor,” and
“is held accountable for that choice”.
However, the reality is that the Governor’s term of office rarely coincides with a Government’s term of office. Many Governments inherit the Governor appointed by the previous Government and can therefore barely be held accountable for that appointment. The involvement of Parliament in the appointment would simply mean that both the Executive and Parliament would be held accountable for it. That is perfectly proper and appropriate.
Let me turn to Executive functions. When challenged over his decision to allow the Treasury Committee a veto over an appointment to the OBR, but to refuse it one over the appointment of the Governor, the Chancellor argued that
“the Governor…is carrying out executive functions on behalf of the State,” such as setting monetary policy and monitoring financial stability. In the evidence session on
The other argument, which was raised in the other place, concerned market sensitivity. The argument was that the appointment of the Governor was market sensitive and that involving the Committee in the process could have a detrimental impact on the markets by creating uncertainty over the appointment. It could just as easily be argued that OBR appointments are extremely market sensitive. However, whether the appointment of the new Governor is undertaken behind the closed doors of the Treasury or openly and transparently in the Committee, there will still be speculation in the markets about which candidate will be appointed and what the impact will be. If the post is so market sensitive, it is even more important that the appointee is seen to have the approval and confidence of both the Executive and Parliament.
Let me take the hon. Gentleman back to his point about the Governor’s term of office, which would be a single, eight-year term. In other words, once appointed, the Governor does not have to seek reappointment and so can act independently. Therefore, we do not really need the Treasury Committee to be involved to ensure that independence.
The key aspect is independence at the point at which that person is appointed, so it is critical that the new Governor, when they are appointed, is seen to be completely independent, and also carries the House as well as the Executive. That is the point I am making.
I have spoken long enough and many other Members wish to speak, so let me conclude. Over the coming period a new Governor of the Bank of England will be appointed. The new Governor will not only have more powers and responsibilities than any Governor before him or her, but will face the immense challenges of reforming and restoring confidence in our banking system and financial services. My view—and, I think, the view of others—is that it is therefore critical that the person appointed to this vital post has the credibility, independence and authority to meet those challenges. Engaging Parliament in determining the appointment, along with the Executive, will ensure that the new Governor has that credibility, independence and authority.
Those are the arguments, but let me say this to the House. I hear that there has been organising among Back Benchers to filibuster today and talk this Bill out. We have been here before, so let me say this to hon. Members. That is an extremely short-sighted approach, and it is not in the interests of the Government or good governance. If we get into the puerile antics that we have seen before, it just brings Parliament into disrepute and increasingly encourages people to judge this House to be degenerating into an irrelevant farce, especially on today of all days, when, outside this House, there are flood warnings across the country. Many hon. Members will want to return to their homes and their constituencies to be with their constituents. I therefore urge Members to take this matter seriously and ensure that their speeches are as brief as possible—I apologise for speaking too long myself—to enable the House to come to a decision that the Government can then consider. If the Bill gets talked out today, I will deeply regret that, but let me say this to the Government and to the House. This issue will not go away; it will return at a later date. I ask the Government and the House to seize this opportunity to make this reform. I hope that wiser counsels will prevail. I therefore commend this Bill to the House.
I commend John McDonnell for the way he has introduced his Bill. He has made some thought-provoking remarks, but I would gently say to him that I am sure that Members on both sides of the House have been asked whether they would like to make a contribution today. I have cancelled a lot of things in my constituency to be here today, and I am now being called puerile and unprincipled, yet had I been speaking from the Opposition Benches or supporting his Bill from the Government Benches, I would now be principled and upstanding. Let me gently say to him that that is not entirely fair.
The hon. Gentleman has never engaged in filibustering that I have been aware of, but he knows that last year it occurred on several occasions, and was publicly and roundly condemned for bringing the House into disrepute.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman.
The Bill is supported by large numbers of Members from both sides of the House, including many right hon. and hon. Friends whose judgment and intellect I respect and admire. However, let me start by setting out the four points on which there are internal contradictions in the hon. Gentleman’s argument or where there are reasons to oppose the Bill. First, the role is unique, and its extension increases that uniqueness. Secondly, the Government are already putting safeguards in place through the Financial Services Bill. Thirdly, despite what the hon. Gentleman has argued, a lot of people would accept that what he proposes is a fairly major constitutional change. Moreover, an underlying point is that this Bill somehow fits with the principle “for the people, by the people” so that anything other than that would be unacceptable.
I recently participated in a transport debate and gave what I thought was a fairly good detailed speech; indeed, one or two people were kind enough to say it was useful. I was pleased to note that my hon. Friend Stephen Crabb who was the duty Whip at the time, said something like, “That was one of the dullest speeches I have ever heard; more time limits, please”! I hope the Whips will find my speech today to be equally dull; perhaps there is a case for time limits in debates such as this.
It might bring a little colour to the debate as well as a sense of purpose if we look at one or two of the Governors of the Bank of England over the last century who have been extremely powerful figures on the economy and powerful figures in respect of their independence from Government. We could reflect on how their appointments were made. Montagu Norman, for example, the Governor of the Bank of England from 1920 to 1944 was described by many as more of a bohemian artist than a banker. He liked to wear Sherlock Holmes-type clothing, was prone to nervous breakdown, regarded politicians as asses and openly said so. I just wonder what the Treasury Select Committee might have said to him when he was appointed.
Indeed. We could have a long discourse about the fact that Montagu Norman was the initiator of sound monetary policy, but in view of the strictures set out by the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, I shall not go down that course today.
It might be worth referring to two more modern Governors. Lord Kingsdown, who was Robin Leigh-Pemberton at the time he was Governor, was in some ways a classic figure. He had been a lawyer for many years and had no banking experience. He was appointed chairman of Nat West bank and was then invited to become Governor of the Bank of England. I am sure we could envisage the Treasury Committee saying, “But you are a lawyer, and we want a banker or someone with financial services experience”. The current Governor’s predecessor, Baron George, went from Cambridge to the Bank of England and never left it. Again, can we not hear the Treasury Committee saying, “But you are an insider in the Bank of England. You have no experience anywhere else. How on earth”—
My hon. Friend makes a valid point about the Governor being likely to come from the world of banking. Given the close integration of all our major UK banks and the Treasury, how could we possibly find an independent banker?
In this case, it would be for the judgment of the Treasury Committee or the Government. Someone with some financial experience might well be helpful in the current world.
This is not a filibuster, because this is exactly the point at which I am going to leave the history of the Governors of the Bank of England, merely making the point that the Treasury Committee might have rejected some of the candidates who have been appointed, even though they have been among the most excellent Governors of the Bank of England.
Under the current system, with a Select Committee able to provide a view, if not exercise a veto, is it not the case that any concerns could be made very public and very clear to the Government? That can already happen in the present system.
I can only concur.
The Financial Services Bill, now in the other place, is designed to redress the inadequacies of the current regulatory regime. As the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington noted, the new proposals view the Bank of England as absolutely at the heart of the regulatory system. It will now be charged, which it was not previously, with the protection and enhancement of the UK’s financial system. I do not need to rehearse in detail the fact that the Bank of England is therefore charged with looking at the working of the Financial Policy Committee and, underneath it, the Prudential Regulatory Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority.
My hon. Friend is correct, but I would not want to say that that makes the Financial Conduct Authority a part of the Bank of England. It will have an independent board. Martin Wheatley, the chief executive designate, has been appointed and is leading the review into LIBOR. The FCA is very much an independent body. Engagement with the Financial Policy Committee is relevant only when the FPC identifies a threat to financial stability that requires some action from the FCA. The circumstances in which the Prudential Regulatory Authority can veto acts of the FCA are limited. It is very clear in this approach that the FCA is not part of the Bank of England family.
I bow, of course, to my hon. Friend’s greater knowledge of this matter. My key point was that the Bank of England and its family, cousins and outside friends will now have a much greater role at the centre of the regulation of our financial system and, indeed, of our overall economy.
It is in some ways understandable that the immediate drive of the Bill before us is to increase the powers of parliamentary accountability, but I think there is some confusion between accountability and independence. Parliament will gain further powers of control, scrutiny and accountability under the Financial Services Bill. The exact powers are clearly defined, with reference made to the new financial stability objective, to the position of the deputy governor and the Financial Policy Committee, to the Governor’s appointment for eight years and to the fact that the Treasury Committee and, indeed, Parliament can hold the Bank of England to account. That being the case, it is not necessarily the case that giving the Treasury Committee the power of veto over the appointment of the Governor would enhance that accountability, although it might impede the Governor’s independence. It is right for Parliament to have greater accountability and greater scrutiny, but we need to be clear that the Governor, who is at the centre of the operation of macro-economic policy and macro-financial and prudential control, must be independent.
The Bill before us contains not only a power of veto but a power of appointment, which could be seen as a step backwards in the whole argument about independent policy making. The Bank of England Act 1998 took a momentous step forward in respect of the independence of the Bank and the Governor by giving the power of decision over interest rates to the Monetary Policy Committee. That was, and will remain, the historic achievement of the Labour Government. It followed from and was a continuation of what the previous Governor had introduced, in tandem with the then Chancellor, my right hon. and learned Friend Mr Clarke, with the publication of the minutes of the interest rate-setting committee.
Does my hon. Friend believe that the conduct of monetary policy from 1998 to 2008 was any better than it was when the Bank of England was not independent and when previous Conservative Governments from 1979 onwards were interfering in monetary policy very considerably?
Again, my hon. Friend presents me with a tempting line of debate. It is reasonable to suggest that the period between May 1993 and May 1997 will be regarded as one of the golden eras of the operation of monetary policy. It was the period that drove the first 12 quarters of growth before 1997, and it was the period during which my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Rushcliffe and Baron George—who, as I said earlier, might not even have been appointed by a Treasury Committee—operated monetary policy. I am sure that my hon. Friend and I could enjoy a happy morning discussing monetary policy, but, as I have said, I will not go down that line.
The protections and requirements introduced by the Financial Services Bill seem to me to be exactly the same as those introduced by the Bank of England in terms of independence. What concerns me is that if the Treasury Committee can hold the Bank responsible for its actions in the past as well as its immediate decisions, it does not necessarily need a power of veto over the Governor’s appointment. It has the power of accountability and of scrutiny.
My contention was not that he would not have been appointed, but that he might not have been, simply because he had been a Bank of England insider all his life and had no experience of other parts of the financial system, or indeed of the economy. I am merely suggesting that if we empower the Committee to appoint the Governor, it may not take account of a number of the salient factors that the Chancellor can consider. It may take a narrower view.
Katy Clark, who has now left the Chamber, made an interesting point about a split along political lines. In the case of Lord George, Committee members on both sides of the political divide might have taken the view, as a caucus, that a Bank of England insider would be entirely inappropriate as a Governor. I am not saying that he would not have been appointed; and my earlier remarks were not a filibuster, but a deliberate attempt to show that the appointments of some of the greatest Governors might have been called into question.
The Financial Services Bill rightly confers increased powers of scrutiny, but I do not understand how this Bill would safeguard independence, and I did not hear the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington explain that this morning. When he kindly allowed me to intervene earlier, I suggested that it would safeguard the independence of the Governor from the Government, but did not necessarily take account of his independence from Parliament. I think he should bear in mind the possibility that the independence of both the appointee and the institution itself would be undermined if the Treasury Committee were given the power of veto.
Could it not be argued that if the Committee had such a direct power of appointment and veto, that in itself could bring into question its ability properly to scrutinise an independent Governor for whose appointment it was responsible in the first place?
Having spoken to my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie, the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, in a private capacity, I think that he would be content for the Committee not to have a statutory veto, but merely to be consulted and to have an advisory role in the Governor’s appointment. I think it important for his private views also to be reflected in the debate.
I am grateful for the opportunity to hear the private views of my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie, but as he is not present to justify them, it would be wrong for me to comment on them. I will say, however, that if those are indeed his private views, I am surprised that he supports this Bill. The Committee is already able to attend pre-commencement hearings with appointees to the Monetary Policy Committee and will be able to do the same in future with appointees to the Financial Policy Committee. Obviously that could potentially involve agreement with the Government.
I apologise for intervening at this point, but having just spoken to the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, I think that he would want his attitude to be exemplified as a belief that the Committee should have a role in the Governor’s appointment. What he seeks, as does John McDonnell, is a signal from the Government that they would be receptive to that idea.
As I am not in the position of my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary—nor could I ever have the talent or ability to be so—that is not in my gift. We shall have to wait and see whether my hon. Friend chooses to make such a move later in the debate.
It seems to me that there are three crucial points to be made about the independence of the institution of the Governor of the Bank of England. Let me begin by saying that if the Governor were indeed appointed by the Treasury Committee, which would have the right of veto, the institution could be perceived to be tainted if the appointment reflected the politics or the political make-up of the Committee. That point was addressed by the hon. Member for North Ayrshire and Arran. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said that it was not relevant in the United Kingdom, citing the report from the Institute for Government, but anyone with even a cursory knowledge of American politics knows that appointment by committee in the American House is supremely political, and therefore potentially damaging to the role of institutions in that country. I shall make the same point shortly about the role of the individual, as opposed to the institution.
As my hon. Friend Brandon Lewis pointed out, there is a question mark over the ability of the Treasury Committee to scrutinise the Governor, but there is also the possibility that the Governor, or the institution, might be perceived as being subservient in will to the Committee. There might come a time when there would be an impasse between the will of the Executive and that of the Committee, and that in itself could undermine the institution.
I agree that Parliament must have the ability to scrutinise and that the body must be accountable, but I want the Governor to be independent as well. I am presenting some of the arguments that must be considered, or countered, if the Governor is to be independent in his operations. It is also true that the circumstance that I have just described would not arise if the Executive continued to make the appointment, because if the Treasury Committee did not have the power of veto, there could not be an impasse between the Committee and the Executive. However, the hon. Gentleman was probably referring to a point I made earlier.
The confirmatory hearings currently held by the Treasury Committee employ the criteria of competence and personal independence. Does the hon.
Gentleman accept that the existence of a framework within which decisions must be made by Select Committees, minimises—although it does not exclude—the chance of political interference?
It might and it could. I accept that point. But equally it might and it might not, and it could and it could not. That is the point I am trying to make.
The hon. Gentleman’s intervention leads me into the next part of my argument. My hon. Friend Joseph Johnson says the Treasury Committee Chairman wants to see some flexibility. There is already some flexibility in the system. The Committee has pre-commencement hearings for members of the Bank’s policy committees, which include both the Governors and deputy governors. The pre-commencement hearing is a process that allows parliamentary engagement, parliamentary scrutiny of appointments and parliamentary comment on appointments, but does not allow parliamentary veto. That is an evolving process that the Government have put in place and continue to support. It is, for a variety of reasons, the right mechanism.
Turning to the question of independence, there is a real risk in respect of the credibility of the individual concerned. While I am sure that all candidates will be of the highest ability and there will be no possible suggestion in the fourth estate or anywhere else that the successful candidate had been chosen on the basis of some odd criteria or that he was the only candidate the Treasury Committee would pass, others less generous than I might think that. That would lead to a credibility gap. It is also therefore clear that the person being appointed might be open to the charge that they were being appointed for their politics, not their economics. The Governor of the Bank of England must be free of the charge of being a political candidate.
I know my hon. Friend is keen to move to a conclusion, so I apologise for delaying him, but I am concerned that he appears to be setting a very low standard of expectation for a Committee of this House that is elected by this House. In electing the Chairman and members of the Treasury Committee, we should choose people we have confidence in to make such decisions. If we do not have that confidence, we should remove them and elect different Members.
The chairman of the 1922 committee is right on one thing and wrong on the other. It is very rare that I get to speak without a time limit, so I was not necessarily intending to conclude now—although I will, of course, do so very soon. As my hon. Friend will have noted from my argument, I was not trying to impugn the Treasury Committee or its candidate. I was merely pointing out that sometimes the outside observers of this House do not share the same faith in our institutions and decisions as we do. I was raising the possibility that a newspaper might impugn the reputation of a candidate by saying he is the only available candidate because he was the only one passed by the Treasury Committee. That would create a credibility gap in respect of that candidate, not only in the operation of financial regulation, but, more importantly, in the crucial international negotiations he will have to conduct on behalf of our country.
Is there not a danger that this whole process will create a media circus of the kind we see in the United States, and undermine the man or woman appointed as Governor before they even take up their position?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is one of my concerns. I have tried to lay out some arguments suggesting that giving a veto to the Treasury Committee does not necessarily enhance the independence of the position of Governor.
Moving on now to my concluding remarks—my hon. Friend Mr Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee, will be pleased to hear that—I just want to bring the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington back to his contention that this would not be a major change to our constitution. The Bill would put in place a legislative requirement for the Treasury Committee to have a veto over this appointment. The hon. Gentleman talked about the evolution of this role, but if he truly believed that, why does the Bill not seek to give Select Committees the power to veto all appointments—for there might be a number of Members of this House who would like to have parliamentary control of the appointment of the governor of the BBC, or the chief executive of Network Rail, or, closer to our hearts, the chief executive of the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority? The hon. Gentleman said that private Member’s Bills give Members an opportunity to suggest changes to the Government. He might have had even wider support than he already has if he had introduced a Bill giving Select Committees the power of veto over appointments, so we could have had that more general discussion. To give that power of veto over this one appointment gives rise to considerable concerns, however, and it would create a major change in the constitutional position.
The hon. Gentleman and I disagree on that. I think it is the ideal reason why we should not give this Bill a Second Reading. We should be giving a Second Reading to the principle. We should be discussing the principle, not this specific case.
In my short speech this morning, I have tried to draw out a few reasons why it is absolutely right for there to be increased accountability and parliamentary scrutiny of the operation of the Bank of England and of its Governor. Although the Bill might appear to guarantee the independence of the Governor, it does not necessarily do so, and it would create a major extension of the constitutional position of Select Committees. Therefore, I hope Members will decline to give it a Second Reading.
I am glad I was not there.
The Bank of England was established in about 1694, and we obviously must not rush these reforms. I commend my hon. Friend John McDonnell on introducing this sensible proposition. If, as I hope, the Bill moves into Committee, we can refine some of the details of the accountability mechanisms. The Opposition are of the opinion that there is a need for stronger parliamentary accountability in respect of the appointment of the Governor. That ought to be done by the House of Commons as a whole, on the recommendation and advice of the Treasury Committee, rather than simply be delegated to the Treasury Committee to decide.
The arguments have already been enunciated. It is important that pre-confirmation hearings take place, that recommendations can be made by the Treasury Committee, and that then Parliament as a whole can decide. That would be the best way to proceed.
I do not want to speak for long because I want my hon. Friend to have the chance to secure his Bill’s Second Reading and to pass it on to Committee, where we can talk about these details. The Government’s proposals will vest the Bank of England with significant and radical new powers, particularly over what is known as macro-prudential policy making, through the new Financial Policy Committee and the Prudential Regulatory Authority. The Minister rather coyly suggests that the Financial Conduct Authority does not have a dotted line on the accountability process within the Bank. We all know that this is not just about a powerful bank, but about the immensely powerful Governor of the Bank of England. Some have described that person as a superhuman individual and the appointment will clearly be of major national significance to our economy and to the finances of our constituents and businesses up and down the country.
We debated the question of improving internal checks and balances for the Governor of the Bank of England when we considered the Financial Services Bill. The Opposition said at the time that the court of the Bank of England needed radical improvement and that its role should be more supervisory. That recommendation came from the Treasury Committee, yet there was resistance from the Government. It is now not unreasonable to want to improve and enhance the external checks and balances on the Bank of England and I do not think that would in any way compromise the independence of the operational monetary policy decisions over interest rates. I do not think that those things are at all incompatible.
It would have been nice if the Financial Services Bill could have been amended in the Lords in such a way, but the Government resisted that. We need to ask why they are so frightened of giving Parliament—in which, by the way, they have a majority—the opportunity to have that debate on pre-confirmation hearings and have given the Treasury Committee the power to make a recommendation that the House of Commons could make on its own.
It is important to note that other central banks in other jurisdictions have similar arrangements. In the United States, for example, Congress has oversight over the appointments.
The contrast with the United States of America is very interesting, but surely the point is that Congress in America has jurisdictional right of veto over a whole range of appointments. That does not apply to this House, so to focus simply on the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England without considering other appointments seems to be slightly bizarre, if that is the development the Opposition want to see.
It is strange to hear ambitious and thrusting Government Back-Benchers seeking to continue to be neutered, saying, “No, please don’t give us any more of a say or any more powers. We don’t need any and it would be wrong for us to have any involvement whatsoever, even if that simply meant rubber-stamping the recommendations made by the Treasury Committee.” I am baffled that hon. Members should want to continue to hobble their role in such a way.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for being so well versed in my career history. I want to ask him about the substance of the issue that he is supposed to be discussing. Let me go back to his point about the United States: the big difference is that in the United States the Executive is not part of the legislature. Here, the Executive is part of the legislature, so when the Chancellor and the Treasury Committee appoint the Governor of the Bank of England, we still have a route of accountability via the Executive and the Select Committee. We do not need the same veto as Congress given how our constitution works.
We could have a long constitutional discussion, but essentially I do not think that anything is lost by airing more openly and transparently the background and the thinking of candidates for appointment as the Governor of the Bank of England in the Treasury Committee and then giving Parliament a say.
The hon. Gentleman referred to openness and transparency and to my hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng as neutered—although I am sure he is not. As a former Minister in the previous Government, the hon. Gentleman will have been privy to discussions on openness and transparency. Can he share with us the views of the previous Government on openness and transparency in the appointment of previous Governors?
Of course, the previous Government did not vest in the Bank of England such significant macro-prudential powers and we had a different regulatory approach, although that is a debate for another day. The fact that the Bank of England is so supremely powerful under this Government’s proposals makes the case better than I could for giving Parliament this say and this oversight. That is why it is eminently sensible to give the Bill a Second Reading. We can talk about detailed improvements to it in Committee. I personally do not believe that we should leave the responsibility entirely with the Treasury Committee, with only 12 members, and think that all Members should have a final say guided by the Committee’s view. That would be the best thing to do. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington for making this proposal.
I oppose the Bill. Based on the principles and the ethos expressed by John McDonnell, I share one or two common interests with him. I understand that he attended the local grammar school in my constituency of Great Yarmouth in his formative years, and I am sure that he still holds our town in great affection, as do I as its Member of Parliament. His reason for introducing the Bill is to ensure that there is full and proper scrutiny and an open and transparent approach to the appointment of such an important position, but I fear that that is the only principle on which, for this morning at least, the hon. Gentleman and I are likely to agree.
The Bill threatens us with direct parliamentary interference in the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England and, through that, unnecessarily jeopardises the wider political independence of the Bank. I want to address two particular elements of how the Bill approaches the problem, on which some comment has already been made. First, does it provide the right mechanism in how it goes about considering an appointment? I will come to that point in a few moments. Secondly, what effect would such a change have on how the Select Committee works and on the role of a Select Committee? As a member of the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, I fully appreciate its scrutiny role, and we have also considered appointments and commented on them. To my knowledge, there has not yet been a cry from our Committee to have the direct power of veto or appointment. It is simply important that the Committee has the chance to interview, take a view and make clear our opinion on a particular appointment.
I understand that the Bill was drafted in response to the comments made in wider circles, including by the Treasury Committee, about the need to have a greater say in the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England. That has arisen partly through the extension of powers provided by the Financial Services Bill. That Bill, as we know, is being examined in Committee in another place at this very moment and I am sure that that scrutiny will involve comment on whether there is any need for direct parliamentary involvement in the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England.
I want to offer some assistance to my hon. Friend and to the House. The subject was debated in the other place recently and the noble Lord McFall withdrew his amendment suggesting that the Treasury Committee should have such a role, in recognition of the fact that many in the other place felt that that was going far too far.
I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention, which highlights the fact that when this subject was considered in depth in the other place the view was taken that the Bill might not be the right way forward. When their lordships considered whether the non-statutory arrangements for scrutinising the appointment of the Governor and the deputy governors were adequate, they will have done so in light of the extensive new powers in the Bill and will have considered whether the Treasury Committee might or might not require a more formal role in the process. They have clearly commented on that. That process and involvement would require legislation to enshrine it in law and the Bill endeavours to formalise that process within the law. I am sure the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington will have read carefully the Lords deliberations in Committee to see whether there are any pronouncements in favour of the course of action that he prefers. So far, as we heard from the Minister, the Lords seems to have taken the view that that is not necessarily appropriate.
I shall listen carefully to the views expressed today and those expressed in another place. At present my view is that the Bill would interfere with, rather than strengthen, the Select Committee’s scrutiny. The current system used for the non-statutory hearings that precede the appointment of members of the Monetary Policy Committee is working and should continue to be used for the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England. The Treasury Committee has held those hearings since 1997 and has carefully scrutinised, reviewed and commented on appointees.
Members of the Select Committee have disagreed with the Government’s nominee. They urged the then Chancellor of the Exchequer to think again about appointing the economist Christopher Allsopp to the MPC. Well known in some circles for his flexibility on policy, Mr Brown promptly took no notice of the Committee’s recommendation and went forward with that appointment. That was his ministerial prerogative, as he was exercising the powers that he was given as a member of the Executive. A Treasury Committee report after that incident was still able to observe that the hearings played an important role nonetheless.
In a parliamentary democracy it is right for Ministers to make Executive decisions and it is also right for Parliament to scrutinise those decision. I stress the word “scrutinise”. There is a clear line of differentiation in the current structure between the Executive and Parliament’s ability and role in scrutiny, and it is one that we should protect. It would be wrong for Select Committees to have Executive power, in effect, and such a change would create an Executive power for a Select Committee in an appointment.
I am in huge agreement with my hon. Friend, who is making exactly the point that if a Select Committee is involved in decision making, no matter how slightly, it becomes less inclined or less able to scrutinise ruthlessly the decisions and outcomes. Does he agree?
Indeed. One of the problems with the Bill, as I noted a few moments ago, is that it focuses on one appointment from one Select Committee. What would be more interesting is a debate in the House on the role of Select Committees in the public appointments that they scrutinise.
Is the hon. Gentleman therefore saying that Parliament got it wrong on the Office for Budget Responsibility?
Not at all. I shall come to that in a few moments. That is not the point that I am making. There is a clear difference between a role in making an appointment to the OBR and a role in making an appointment to a position that has Executive powers and makes Executive decisions. If this were a Bill that considered the role of Select Committees, there would be an interesting debate to be had about whether Select Committees should have a power of appointment or veto, but that would apply equally to all Committees and all appointments, particularly where they have an Executive role. That is an important delineation, of which we should be aware.
It would be wrong to give one Select Committee, as important as the Treasury Committee is, a power of Executive appointment over and above that of other Select Committees, which I am sure would take the view that they have equal power and an equally important role in the House, but which would thereby potentially be put in a second category of Select Committee. Creating divisions and different types of Select Committee would impede the function of all Select Committees.
The Public Administration Committee had a debate on Executive agencies and appointments. The Public Accounts Committee has included its Chairman in the decision on the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The Treasury Committee has developed the chairmanship of the Statistics Commission. In other words, piecemeal change is going on. Does not the hon. Gentleman accept that the proposal is part of that piecemeal change, and that we ought to give the Bill a Second Reading not so that we can pass it in its current form, but so that Parliament can have an honourable debate about the arrangements between the Executive and the legislature in relation to major appointments?
The hon. Gentleman makes a very strong point. I do not entirely agree because there is a clear difference between the type of appointments we are talking about and the role that those appointees take on and the powers that they have. However, a good argument can be made for the House to consider the role of Select Committees in public appointments, the associated power and at what level it sits. Perhaps he would like to come to business questions one week and make the case to the Leader of the House for time for such a debate, or make a case for it to the Backbench Business Committee.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington argued that part of the aim of a private Member’s Bill such as this is to get the Government to listen, to hear a message, to take a view. The Minister will hear the points made in the debate. He will hear various arguments from various Members about the role of a Select
Committee, its power or lack of power to appoint or veto an appointment, and will take that into account as part of the Government’s plans for the future. That is quite different from whether the Bill should have a Second Reading, when it is fundamentally flawed by giving priority and special treatment to one Select Committee over and above others. As much as I respect the Treasury Committee and all its members, I, as a member of the Work and Pensions Committee, do not think it fair that the Treasury Committee should be seen in a premier league, above the other Select Committees.
The Treasury Committee has argued for a role in appointing the Governor of the Bank of England by using as a precedent, as the hon. Gentleman did, the establishment of the OBR and the Budget Responsibility and National Audit Act 2011. The provisions of that Act give a statutory role, I agree, to the Committee in the appointment of the chairman of the Office for Budget Responsibility. Additionally, they give a statutory role to the Public Accounts Committee when a new Comptroller and Auditor General is appointed. However, that argument ignores a fundamental and crucial difference between the roles undertaken by those organisations and the role of the Governor of the Bank of England.
The Bank of England sets policy. Although the Office for Budget Responsibility is important, it primarily has an analytical or forecasting role, not an Executive ability to set monetary policy. It provides independent information to Government. That information is a powerful tool for Parliament to use in its scrutiny role and it is right, therefore, for Parliament to protect that role from political interference.
The Government’s position on the issue has been sensibly pragmatic. They have encouraged the involvement of the Treasury Committee in the appointment of the Governor. It has been interesting to hear from two speakers the private views of the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie, in his comment that what he thinks the Treasury Committee is looking for is the ability to have a clear and open influence on the role, which indicates that there is not necessarily a strong view from the Chair—it is a shame that he is not in his place, but he made a comment earlier—about having the power of veto or appointment. That is an important distinction from such an eminent Member of the House, who would be the Chairman who benefited from any change.
The Government made a commitment in the coalition agreement to
“strengthen the powers of Select Committees to scrutinise major public appointments”.
The key word is “scrutinise”. That emphasises a right to examine, challenge, query or inspect closely and thoroughly appointments to major public bodies. My Select Committee has done that as well. However, it rightly makes no mention of a right to appoint or veto. As my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond said, that would be a substantial constitutional change to the way in which Select Committees work.
It is worth exploring what would happen if there were a right of veto and the Government and the Treasury Committee reached a stalemate in the appointment of a new Governor. If the Government—the Treasury—were unwilling to back down, and the Treasury Committee were determined to uphold its right to veto, given to it by this Bill, that could lead to uncertainty, creating turmoil in the markets, and at the moment we do not need any more of that. We can certainly see what such turmoil means for international relationships as much as internal markets. It could lead to a loss in international confidence in the Bank of England and the United Kingdom, which we benefit from at the moment. The result would be untold economic chaos and damage.
My hon. Friend makes a good point. The way in which the American system can create turmoil is the very point I am making. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon said, we in this House know that the Treasury Committee would deal with the issue properly. The problem is the perception outside such turmoil. We have seen in the press how such matters have been dealt with in the United States, which shows that what matters is what the public and the markets would think of such an impasse, particularly if there is a lengthy process.
The hon. Gentleman uses the term “turmoil” and makes lurid comparisons with the United States. The US Congress endorses literally hundreds of appointments every year. The Treasury Committee has had confirmation hearings, and on only one occasion has it vetoed an appointment. The Committee has no buy-in; they are only confirmation hearings. Is not the so-called turmoil that the hon. Gentleman suggests vastly overstated?
The argument that something has not happened so it will not happen could have been put some years ago about the present financial turmoil in the eurozone. The argument that something will not happen because it has not happened before has unfortunately been proved wrong time and again. As has been said, one sees regularly in the press and hears in the markets in America the argument that a particular appointment has been made purely because it will get through a committee. There is no disrespect to the successful applicant, but it can give the impression that the appointment is a second choice. It is a matter of the most acceptable common denominator rather than the person wanted by the Executive or any other body; it is the person they can get through the door. That in itself detrimentally affects the individual’s credibility and authority to do their job. Such an impasse here, if the Treasury Committee and the Treasury were at loggerheads for any prolonged period in deciding on the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England, could result in chaos in international markets and our markets.
I appreciate that it is unlikely that an impasse would result in an unfilled post. It is almost unthinkable, but, as we have seen in recent years, too often now the unthinkable can become the reality. I hope that, in reality, the Treasury and the Select Committee would reach a compromise, such as extending the tenure of the incumbent Governor until a successor was confirmed. Although before my time, some hon. Members will have seen how a person’s authority wanes as soon as it is known that they are about to go. Continued uncertainty about the next appointment, with no decision and no sign of an end to the impasse, would damage the Bank of England’s credibility, which would be hugely detrimental to the role, not just of the Governor, but of the Bank of England itself, in both our internal and external markets.
The constitutional quagmire would be further exacerbated if the Treasury Committee adopted the procedure proposed by the Institute of Government. After a Select Committee hearing with the proposed candidate, the Committee would deliberate before announcing its verdict. Then it would have the opportunity to call the Chancellor before it to tell him why the nominated candidate was unsuitable, expecting him to justify why it should change its mind and agree with his proposal. Then we would be into further deliberation before the Committee decided that it did not wish to change its mind. Potentially, the appointment would then be referred to the House for resolution. If, after that lengthy process, the original candidate were confirmed, there is no doubt that their credibility and authority would have been fatally undermined by the whole political ping-pong between the Government and Parliament, never mind the trouble that that would cause to the markets during the weeks or months that passed while parliamentary time was made available.
Even if the Treasury and the Select Committee could agree on a compromise candidate quickly—regardless of this morning’s examples, we all know what quickly can really mean—the new appointee would be undermined before they had even taken up the post. The media would portray a second-choice candidate as not having the confidence of the Treasury, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, the Government or the Select Committee, whichever had originally been against the appointment. In those circumstances, what confidence would the wider banking and financial sector have that the new Bank of England Governor would be able to fulfil their role while working closely with the Government?
As I said earlier, the very Select Committee that scrutinises the role of the Bank of England and the Governor might be the Committee that appointed the Governor. For that reason there is a strong argument for allowing the Executive to appoint the Executive-imbued role of the Governor, and for allowing the Select Committee to scrutinise and comment on it, rather than having a Bank of England Governor who is answerable to the Committee for their job in the first place. As was said earlier, we in the House know that the integrity of members of Select Committees is strong enough and powerful enough to deal with that properly, but what matters is not necessarily what we in the House think on the role of the Governor of the Bank of England, but what people outside think, and what the markets think. It is the perception that becomes the reality, and we need the markets to have confidence and faith in the Governor and in his ability and independence, which the House can scrutinise.
Why stop with the Governor the Bank of England? The Bill’s purported aim is to preserve the Governor’s independence; to remove the appointment from political considerations and pressures. As I have said, it would do quite the opposite, but why stop there? Surely if there is a suspicion that the system is sullied by political interference because the appointment is made on the recommendation of the Chancellor, the appointment of the deputy governor or any members of the court of the Bank of England are likewise politically contaminated. Yet we hear little suggestions that their appointment process politically compromises those positions. In fact, these people act as a powerful check and balance within the Bank of England’s internal governance structure, to prevent any Governor of the Bank of England acting in a politically motivated way. At the moment he does not have to be concerned about the views and role of those on the Select Committee who appointed him.
There is also a substantial list of other public appointments made by her Majesty the Queen following recommendation by the Prime Minister or other Ministers. The Bill’s supporters could end up advocating that the relevant Select Committees should have an opportunity to veto or to make those appointments too. As Mr Love said, with the changes that have already happened there is a drip, drip effect, and we gradually see the evolution of change around such appointments. If the Bill were to be enacted there would be a big jump, and bigger jumps would follow. Perhaps members of the Culture Media and Sport Committee should have the ability and opportunity to veto or choose the appointment of the chairman, vice-chairman or other members of the BBC Trust. Perhaps members of the Defence Committee should have an opportunity to veto the appointment of the Chief of the Defence Staff. I have no doubt that members of the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee would enjoy the power to veto the appointment of the chairman of the Forestry Commission or any of the other 10 forestry commissioners, particularly in the current climate.
Where should we stop? It is a valid question, and one that I think deserves some time in this House. Indeed, the power that Select Committees have to veto appointments might be a good topic for the Backbench Business Committee to put forward for debate. However, I do not think that it is right for a single private Member’s Bill to give that Executive power to a single Select Committee. The Minister is here and has heard the views expressed and no doubt will take those thoughts forward. Should Parliament have the final say on the president of the Valuation Tribunal for England, or on which judges are elevated to the Supreme Court, or even on who is installed as the next Archbishop of Canterbury, a debate that I am sure would be of great interest to Members on both sides of the House?
As odd as some of those examples might be, they are all appointments made by Her Majesty following recommendations from her Ministers. I could list many more examples, but I assure hon. Members that they will not have to listen to that right now. Those are all positions in which the holder has a responsibility for making decisions that affect people’s lives.
Is it not odd that one of the previous Government’s last acts was to give the Prime Minister only one recommendation to Her Majesty on who should be Archbishop of Canterbury, which effectively took away from the Government and from Parliament a real choice over who would take that role and, therefore, moved appointments away from the proposal before us today, rather than towards it?
My hon. Friend makes a valid point, and one that counters the argument made a few moments ago on the continual drip, drip in that direction. He highlights the fact that that has not been happening. There have been some changes in some areas, but in others things have moved in a different way. It is also interesting that that decision was made potentially by the same Member who decided not long ago to ignore the Treasury Committee’s comments an the appointment of a member of the Bank of England’s Monetary Policy Committee.
We must be clear that in all the positions I have mentioned the holder has responsibility for making decisions that affect people’s lives. As has been commented on a few times now, there is a clear and precise line between those positions and the appointments in which some Select Committees have been involved—the Public Accounts Committee and the Treasury Committee, with the Office for Budget Responsibility and the Comptroller and Auditor General—because those Committees have a different type of role. They have a scrutiny role and a statistics role, but they do not have Executive powers to make decisions affecting people’s lives. That is what we in this House are elected to do through legislation and the appointments that flow from Ministers.
The OBR is responsible for bringing forward an economic forecast on the basis of which the Government must set out their public expenditure plans. That makes it an incredibly important body that can have significant influence on the direction of the Government’s economic policy.
It is a joy to be able to agree wholeheartedly with the hon. Gentleman, who makes a good point. He highlights and confirms the argument I am making. The OBR makes forecasts, but it does not have Executive power to set monetary policy. As he has just pointed out, it is the Government, following those forecasts, who make Executive decisions on how to move forward. Indeed, the Governor of the Bank of England might use Executive powers to decide the Bank’s monetary policy. There is a difference between the role of making forecasts and scrutinising and the Executive power that the Government hold.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for further enhancing my point about where Executive power actually sits, in contrast to the scrutiny and forecasting role, as important as it is, which is very different from the Executive power wielded by the Government and some of the Executive bodies we are talking about.
If we are to extend the right to veto the appointment of one public official to any given Select Committee, the natural extension is to do so for other public appointments. In doing so, we would turn our Select Committee system and this House into a new form of Executive recruitment agency. Our Select Committees were established to scrutinise, investigate, consider, report and recommend. Principally, our Select Committee system is there to hold the Executive and other public officials and bodies to account. It was not created to veto the Executive, and it was not envisaged that the Committees would be used as quasi-recruitment advisers.
We should be striving to make the Bank of England more accountable to Parliament—I have no disagreement with that—but we should be looking to do so without shackling its sovereignty with more direct control over certain aspects by Parliament. Current concerns from constituents about the Bank of England do not focus on how the Governor is appointed. I certainly have not had in my postbag any letters, let alone a deluge of letters, on that.
I want to hear my hon. Friend’s view on my suspicion that constituents simply want the Bank of England to do its job and do not want the process to be politicised any more than it needs to be. A move towards a Treasury Committee veto would make it more political and less appealing to the very constituents to whom he has referred.
I agree wholeheartedly with my hon. Friend. I attended a business forum meeting only 10 days ago and talked with businesses about the financial situation in our country. They were very optimistic and upbeat, but they were talking about what more we can do to make it easier for them to grow their businesses and create more jobs. Residents want to know what the Government are doing to allow more jobs to be created and to match the skills with the jobs that are available. They are not talking to me about how we choose the Governor of the Bank of England. They see a very clear difference—this relates to the interventions I have been enjoying from the hon. Member for Edmonton—between the Executive powers and the scrutiny powers and see that it is the Government’s job to set policy that will allow our economy to grow and, therefore, do not necessarily see, understand or have an interest in how the Governor of the Bank of England is appointed. They want to see that job being done properly and the Government setting out the economic policy correctly.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point, and not one that I had planned to make, so I hope that he will expand on it later.
In addition to the risk of having a Governor who is perceived to be a second choice or a lowest acceptable common denominator, which I hope I have outlined graphically, there is also the risk that that politicisation itself is part of the problem. In recent weeks many Members have made the point that we should focus our time and effort less on the process, which our constituents are not interested in, and more on the result and how we deliver for them and for our country. Suddenly giving a Select Committee the power to veto an appointment would detract from its ability, power and credibility to scrutinise what the Executive are doing to improve our country, because it would actually be focusing on being part of the Executive.
As I have said, the concern that our constituents might have about the Bank of England’s role in the banking and financial sectors, which is particularly prominent at the moment, is that its decisions are transparent. Any concerns they have about the Bank’s enhanced role under the Financial Services Bill focus on whether those functions are open to proper public scrutiny through Parliament. The inalienable political independence of the Bank of England is something that we, as Member of the House of Commons, should cherish, defend and uphold, which I think we do. When the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Darling, published his insider’s account of the financial crisis that beset this country in 2008, I was alarmed at his suggestion that he considered overruling decisions made by the Governor of the Bank of England. He so seriously considered that course of action that he sought advice from Treasury officials to ascertain whether it was within his competencies to do so as Chancellor of the Exchequer. If he had done so, the political uproar would have been enormous. The media and other commentators would and, no doubt rightly, could have criticised it as a blatant attempt at political interference, and, as Members will know, we had a debate along those lines just yesterday.
I urge Members to create no similar furore through this Bill, which blatantly attempts to assert direct parliamentary control over the appointment of the politically independent Governor of the Bank of England. Such unnecessary interference risks turning the appointment into a political football between the Executive and the legislature, which our financial markets would not tolerate or consider a sensible way forward. Indeed, they would, I believe, go into complete turmoil again, and our constituents would not thank us for being the ones who put them in that potential position.
The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said earlier—I made a note—that the Select Committee would seek consensus on the appointment, but our current system allows for that. The threat of a veto or the power to appoint moves things in a different direction, to an Executive role, and the appointment would therefore become an Executive one. It would be a mistake for the House to go down that route. Select Committees rightly have the power to scrutinise, but we must be clear about where the line is between the ability to scrutinise and comment as a critical friend and, from time to time, a non-friend, and the ability to adopt a decision-making power in an Executive role. That is something which rightly lies with the Executive—the Government—themselves, and I therefore oppose the Bill.
I support the Bill, to which I have attached my name, and I hope it will be supported in the Chamber today.
Many arguments have been made, and I have listened closely to those made by Brandon Lewis. I did not agree with many of them, and indeed, as he developed some of them, he seemed not to agree with what he had previously said. None the less, several points have been made and some touched on yesterday’s business, too.
The hon. Gentleman will not be surprised to know that I must challenge that comment. The core point I was making throughout my speech, from start to finish, was that there is an important distinction between what the Executive do and their power, and that we should not give a Select Committee an Executive power to make Executive recruitment decisions.
The hon. Gentleman made a long contribution, and I am sure that that top-up will add value to it.
At the start of this debate and in a number of interventions, reference was made to yesterday’s motions and debate, and a challenge was laid down: “How could anybody support this Bill if they didn’t vote for the parliamentary inquiry yesterday?”. The argument was that the Bill seeks to give an enhanced role to the Treasury Committee and that we cannot support it if we did not support yesterday’s motion for a parliamentary inquiry.
I did not support the vote for the parliamentary inquiry yesterday; my name was on the other motion, precisely because I really value the role of the Treasury Committee and the service it provides to the House. People have talked about the dangers to the Committee if its gets the powers in the Bill, and that it will fall apart and start to divide along party political lines, but there is more danger to the Treasury Committee from the decision that the House took yesterday, because its Chairman will find himself committed to a significant inquiry, which we are told will be time-intensive and extensive.
The Chairman said yesterday that he wanted the membership of the inquiry Committee to be heavily drawn from the Treasury Committee, so a select number of the Select Committee will also be absorbed by the inquiry throughout the autumn when what the Treasury Committee needs to do is concentrate on many other things, not least following up what emerges from the Wheatley review, which the Chancellor has announced. That review will recommend amendments to the Financial Services Bill, so the Government have recognised that in the light of what has happened with Barclays and the whole LIBOR issue, significant amendments to that Bill will need to be considered.
In essence, the Bill that my hon. Friend John McDonnell has tabled today is a prompt, which canvasses for a fairly modest amendment to the Financial Services Bill—a modest amendment that might have its case reinforced by whatever recommendations emerge from the Wheatley review and the amendments we make to that Bill. As hon. Members on both sides have said, it already creates significant added powers, responsibilities and potential difficulties for the Governor of the Bank of England, the Bank and the whole hinterland of authorities and agencies around it.
Parliament has devolved more responsibility to the Bank and the Governor, and the appointment of the Governor will remain an appointment of government, although, as the Minister in the Financial Services Bill Committee, when correcting me and others, insisted on saying, “It is not appointment by the Government or the Treasury, but by the Crown.” I understand the distinction; I do not believe the fiction; and it is quite clear from his hon. Friends’ contributions today that they do not, either. They are ruthlessly defending the appointment as an Executive—ministerial—appointment.
The hon. Gentleman tries to take up a point that Stephen Hammond made earlier, when he talked about the Bill representing “a major constitutional departure”, a phrase that he used, I think, three times. But he ended up criticising the Bill for not going far enough or ranging wide enough. He wanted a Bill to give all Select Committees responsibilities and powers of appointment in relation to all sorts of other things. Hon. Members can have it both ways in their own contributions, but they are not going to have it both ways in mine.
The hon. Gentleman is being generous with his time, but he misunderstands the point that my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond and, certainly, I was making. We do not necessarily think that a Bill that changes the whole structure of Select Committees and how they work is the right thing to do or that we would vote for it; we just think that it would make more sense, if people feel that way, than a Bill that focuses on one Committee and on one particular power.
That is not what the hon. Member for Wimbledon said and certainly not what I heard. We seem to be hearing a lot of interventions from Government Members interpreting what each other said. Several Members have mentioned what the Treasury Committee Chair, Mr Tyrie, is saying in private, and that it is different from what members of the Committee have said and different from the fact that the hon. Gentleman’s name is on the Bill.
I do not want to ask about the hon. Gentleman’s interpretation of somebody else’s point. I want to ask about his view, because given the point that he made before the two recent interventions, I do not quite understand whether he thinks that the Bill is a major constitutional innovation.
I do not think that it is a major constitutional departure; I think that it would be a significant step and gain for Parliament. I do not go as far as my hon. Friend Chris Leslie in saying that the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England should be subject to a full debate and vote in this Chamber, however, because that would cause all sorts of difficulties. Many of the difficulties that people allege could occur if the Treasury Committee had the role given to it by the Bill would certainly become risks in a highly charged debate and Division in this Chamber on the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England. The issue would become highly political and potentially partisan, and it would cause market shakes and do nothing for the reputation of this House.
This Bill, which would give a parliamentary stamp of approval to the appointment, is a modest measure, because it would involve the relatively contained, constrained and considered forum of the Treasury Committee. In yesterday’s debate many hon. Members told us how special the Treasury Committee is. They said that it was a partisan-free zone where people are wise and worthy and do not go into it with any ulterior agendas. Then suddenly we are told today that if it were given the extra role that it seeks for itself in the context of the Financial Services Bill, all that would change. I do not believe that it would. This is not the power of appointment that Conservative Members are describing; it is a power of consent and confirmation. The Treasury Committee would not be doing the interviews, drawing up the shortlists, and so on.
No. I have already been generous enough, and some Members were too greedy in terms of the length of their speeches.
The Treasury Committee would have a power of confirmation. Some hon. Members are saying that it would have a power of veto, but what appear to be the powers on paper would not be exercised in that way.
Earlier we heard reference to appointments to the National Audit Office. Some appointments are notionally appointments by Parliament because they are subject to votes in this House—for example, appointments to bodies such as the National Audit Office and the Electoral Commission—and my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East would say that there could similarly be a vote on the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England. However, I do not believe that that is a comparable situation. Given the significant extra powers and functions that the Governor will have, particularly after our experiences over the past few years and the allegations that we heard yesterday about the whole murky interface between the Government, the Bank of England and the City, it would be remiss of Parliament to say “We’re quite happy to leave this in that odd black box that exists somewhere between Whitehall and the City. We as Parliament do not want to step up to the plate and say, yes, when this appointment is made in future there will be a parliamentary stamp on it.” That is all that the Bill is asking for, and it would entrust and delegate that parliamentary stamp to the Treasury Committee.
The hon. Gentleman seems to be ignoring the fact that the Treasury Committee already scrutinises the work and operations of the Bank of England. In fact, only last week the Governor gave evidence to the Committee. There is already parliamentary scrutiny of the substance of what the Bank of England does, and I do not see why we need to give the Treasury Committee this major constitutional power to veto the appointment as well.
I am not ignoring anything that the Treasury Committee does, but nor am I here to filibuster and rehearse everything that it does. The hon. Gentleman needs to recognise that the Committee itself has unanimously recommended this change.
We heard in yesterday’s debate, and we heard from the Chancellor on Monday, about the importance of a parliamentary Committee of inquiry being able to produce a unanimous report and about its being worth nothing if it is not unanimous. Here we have a unanimous recommendation from the Treasury Committee, and the very people who have been telling us about the power and significance of parliamentary Committees and the compelling power of unanimity are saying, “We don’t care about it, we don’t want to know.”
No. The hon. Gentleman will have plenty of time to come back to this or any other point.
It has been argued that the Bill could be dangerous because it might enable the Treasury Committee or other Committees to go on shopping sprees for all sorts of other powers or abilities. I do not believe that this is a vanity trip on the part of the Committee. Most people would think it odd if the parliamentary Committee that was considering a change of the scale and importance of the new architecture in the Financial Services Bill did not say that Parliament wanted to have at least a bit more of a role regarding the key appointment to this fixed eight-year term. I will not get into the arguments that we had in the Bill Committee about the Putin clause whereby a Governor might be reappointed as a deputy governor for certain reasons.
In yesterday’s debate we heard people who supported the call for a parliamentary inquiry say that it was about Parliament stepping up to the plate. In many ways, the Treasury Committee seeking this role is about Parliament stepping up to the plate. If there is another financial crisis or banking scandal in a few years’ time and the new regulatory regime is seen as confused and difficult to understand—as we heard earlier, even hon. Members who support the Financial Services Bill do not understand what it means and are confused about its architecture—people will turn round and ask, “Who’s to blame this time?” Of course, the current Government will simply blame the previous Government for the way in which legislation has come about. In my view, yes, legislation can be blamed on the Government who sponsored it, but when it is wrong and flawed, that is also the fault of Parliament. Parliament, as well as the Government, should take its fair share of the blame when we get legislation wrong. We will be to blame, as a Parliament, if there are mistakes in the current Government’s legislation such as those that I hope they will remedy when they make further changes to the Financial Services Bill after the Wheatley review in the autumn.
We cannot turn round in future and say “It was all the fault of the Government—it was their legislation. The Bank of England got it wrong and the regulatory regime did not work. It is the Governor’s fault and the Bank appointed him.” The public are fed up with politicians washing their hands of responsibility—with all of us being in the business, as we saw in yesterday’s debate, of trying to fix the blame rather than trying to fix the problem and taking responsibility. If hon. Members trust the new arrangements in their Financial Services Bill, they should be prepared to trust Parliament to take its stake in the key decisions that will be made. We are told that Governor of the Bank of England is a key appointment, but it is odd that it should not receive a parliamentary stamp of involvement and approval despite the fact that people want that parliamentary stamp on many other appointments.
That is why I support the Bill. It is not a starter for 10 whereby we then go on to say that we will appoint the deputy governors and others. It is modest even on its own terms. It does not even say that the Treasury Committee should have the power of consent over the appointment of the deputy governors. Those are also key appointments given the distinct roles that they will play. Conservative Members need to stop exaggerating in their arguments against the Bill. They need to listen to the compelling case for it and to remember that this would be a much more modest amendment than the significant changes that we will probably have to make to the Financial Services Bill in the autumn.
I congratulate John McDonnell on bringing forward the Bill. I was slightly worried earlier when I looked up and he had moved over to this side of the House and was having a conversation with my hon. Friend Mr Brady. I thought that perhaps the arguments of my colleagues had been so compelling that he had decided to move. I was concerned about his cynicism—he has been in the House for longer than I—that some of today’s contributions might be intended to filibuster and drag out proceedings. I hope that he does not think that I have that intention, because I have thought carefully about his Bill.
When I read the Bill and the words,
“the appointment and dismissal of the Governor of the Bank of England be subject to the consent of a Committee of the House”,
it seemed to me that it was okay. On the face of it, the Bill would add the Select Committee to the process that is nominally in the name of Her Majesty the Queen, but is really conducted, as we all know, by the Prime Minister, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and so on. It was only when I continued reading and thinking about the subject that I thought that there were a number of compelling reasons not to support the Bill. I do not say that because of dogma or because I have been told to by the Whips or anybody else. I am pleased to have the opportunity briefly to put those arguments forward.
The Chancellor of the Exchequer has announced quite a few improvements in the process for selecting the Governor of the Bank of England. Traditionally, it has been done behind the scenes, nobody has known quite how it has been worked out, and in the end there has just been an announcement. Some of the changes might seem superficial, such as the post being advertised. However, as far as I know, in no other democracy or comparable economy is a post of this magnitude advertised openly in publications such as The Economist. It is also clear who is on the selection panel. It will comprise members of the Treasury and No. 10, and will take the advice of the court of directors, which is effectively the board of the Bank of England. That is not dissimilar to the process for appointing chief executives in most major companies and other significant organisations.
The changes perhaps reflect the way in which society is moving. Every Member of the House to whom I have spoken generally welcomes the increasing transparency in these systems and procedures. I realise that that comes nowhere near the veto power that the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington is proposing in the Bill, but I do not think that it can be taken as insignificant; it is a step forward.
Secondly, there is the question of how public the scrutiny can be for an executive position. Governor of the Bank of England is an executive position, not a scrutiny position or a non-executive position. It is effectively the chief executive of the Bank of England. I have tried to compare the Bank of England to a business, because most of my experience in life has been in business, from quite small businesses to larger ones, while reading about and observing public life. I am not one of these people who are obsessed with business and who say that everything is like a business. However, some matters of governance are comparable.
This proposal is comparable to the chief executive of a major company being appointed and ratified not just by the board of directors, but by its shareholders, with Parliament as the shareholders. I know that we act on behalf of the general public, but we are a shareholder-type body. There is market sensitivity in big appointments in businesses, but it is as nothing to the market sensitivity that there is when a country’s financial system is involved. I do not think that it would ever be feasible to have this kind of open, televised, broadcast scrutiny for a chief executive’s position, even in a large company. I therefore do not think that it is suitable for the Bank of England.
Another significant point is that the Select Committee system is evolving. There is no doubt about that. The coalition agreement calls for an enhanced role for Select Committees. Most Members from both sides of the House have sat on Select Committees that have scrutinised appointments. As a member of the Select Committee on International Development, I have taken part in the appointment process for the independent scrutineer of the activities of the Department for International Development. An example that has been mentioned often by colleagues, including in this debate, is the appointment process for the Office for Budget Responsibility, in which a veto was used for the first time. However, those are all matters of scrutiny. They are all extensions of the Select Committee’s role in relation to bodies or individuals involved in scrutiny. They do not relate to executive appointments.
If I may use a DFID analogy, it would be difficult to reason that because Oxfam is a major beneficiary of DFID’s money, the International Development Committee should have a veto on the appointment of its chief executive. I do not say that to suggest that the roles of Oxfam and the Governor of the Bank England are of the same magnitude, but the principle is the same. Select Committees scrutinising the responsibilities of people or institutions is one thing, but their deciding on executive roles is completely different.
Parliament is perfectly free to decide that we need an American-type committee system, in which almost every appointment, including to the equivalent of ministerial roles, is approved in public committee hearings. I do not support that view, but I can understand it.
For once in my political career, I am completely speechless. I cannot claim before I scrutinise Hansard tomorrow that I fully understand my hon. Friend’s point, but I am sure that, being the person he is, he is absolutely right.
A further extension of the role of the Select Committee would make a fundamental difference to our system. It is not just a question of extent, as is the spreading practice of giving various Committees different scrutiny roles. Select Committees getting involved in hearings on major executive posts would be a fundamental change, and Parliament should discuss it if Members believe it is the right thing to do. That would an interesting and significant debate.
I would oppose the change. We have all seen the hearings that take place in America on the appointments of judges, Secretaries of State and so on, which are watched live all over the world. Although I do not feel that such hearings add anything to the democratic process, a valid argument can be made for them. However, they should not be introduced on a one-off basis in the case of the Governor of the Bank of England, because that would represent a fundamental change to our system. I do not think many people in this country would support judges being publicly appointed, and the same is true of many other roles including, I believe, the Governor of the Bank of England.
Select Committees are very good for scrutiny—that is their role. The Standing Orders, which I probably do not read enough, state that a Select Committee is
“appointed to examine the expenditure, administration and policy of the principal government departments”.
However, the control of executive appointments is quite different. The importance of that point should not be underestimated.
In 2000, in the report “Shifting the Balance”, the Labour Government stated:
“Any indication that a Ministerial appointment relied upon the approval of a Select Committee or was open to a Select Committee veto would break the clear lines of accountability by which Ministers are answerable to Committees for the actions of the executive”.
That is true. I ask the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington to consider the fact that the Treasury Committee having a veto over the Governor of the Bank of England might allow a Chancellor or Prime Minister to say, “Well, it wasn’t my doing. That wasn’t the candidate I wanted”. That would give them an excuse, whereas now there is direct and clear accountability to Parliament.
I hope that no one, least of all the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington himself, thinks I am saying that he has introduced the Bill with anything other than the best intentions, but the point about accountability should be considered. I believe in direct accountability, not in our senior elected politicians—or indeed junior ones such as myself—having an excuse to blame somebody else. I fear that that could be an unintended consequence of the Bill.
I believe in extra accountability and in making Select Committees strong, but I cannot support the Bill, because it goes totally against our current system. It is that system itself that Parliament should discuss and debate at length.
I congratulate John McDonnell on introducing the Bill, but unfortunately I shall speak against it. My first 10 years in business were in the City, but living for the past 25 years up in South Derbyshire far away from City issues has given me an ability to reflect on other things—I now deal with everyday issues such as potholes, farming, milk prices and goodness knows what else we do in South Derbyshire. The debate is somewhat esoteric: funnily enough, they are not talking about it at great length at The Dog and Duck in Shardlow—[ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and his hon. Friends are having a conversation about it, and perhaps about withdrawing the Bill. If they withdraw it now, we could all go home.
That the Bill has any legs at all is frightening, because it changes the Select Committee role from one of scrutiny to one of appointee. I do not believe that that is what Select Committees are for. We should not go down the American route—there is a bun fight every time anybody tries to be elected to courts or other positions. That is demeaning, and I am disappointed that the hon. Gentleman felt he needed to introduce the Bill. Select Committees confirming rather than vetoing appointments is a better way to enhance their authority, and perhaps we should have a conversation on that basis.
I should chuck into the mix the question of how the Treasury Committee came to its conclusion. I sit on two Select Committees, but I do not know what machinations took the Treasury Committee to that point. Perhaps a member of the Committee could tell the House how that came about. The proposal sounds a little bit like land grabbing, as if members of the Committee have said, “We’re terribly important and we know it, so we want one more power to show how important we are.” That could be true—my hon. Friend Michael Fallon, another member of the Committee, has arrived at the Bar of the House—but I am concerned that Select Committees sometimes overreach.
As all hon. Members know, Select Committee reports come to the Chamber—they are not accepted on the nod, but debated. The nonsense of the appointment role—this bun fight—could go on and on, which would be demeaning to Parliament.
The public are not talking about this issue, and it is a shame that we have got to this stage. I appreciate why we have private Members’ Bills—one day I hope to be lucky enough to come high in the ballot and to do something about wind farms—but we have an opportunity and a duty to talk about the really important things going on in the world. It is not appropriate to talk about a land grab from certain Select Committees, and I shall oppose the Bill.
I, too, thank John McDonnell for introducing the Bill. He has a reputation as a firebrand in Parliament, so I was surprised and pleased at his thoughtful speech. He almost got me to cross the line and support him. However, I was somewhat surprised to realise, as the debate continued, that the Bill is a Trojan horse. It is not about the Governor of the Bank of England; it is about appointments in general and the power of Parliament in making them. The Bill should do what it says on the tin. If it is meant to be a prod for us to debate reforming the role of Parliament in making appointments, it should say so, but it does not. It is specifically about the power of appointment and dismissal of the Governor of the Bank of England.
I never fail to be surprised at the ability of hon. Friends and hon. Members to vote for what they do not really believe in, as we might see next Tuesday. [Laughter.] The Whips do not need to write that down.
Before I read the substance of the Bill, I thought I would look at the history of the Bank of England. I promise not to go too far back, but I glanced to see whether there was a precedent for Parliament’s being involved in the appointment of the Governor. The Bank of England was formed to raise money for the Government of the day, who could not raise the princely sum of £1.2 million themselves because they were not credit worthy, even though they had sought to attract money by offering 8% interest rates—an eerie echo of the problems of the Greek and Spanish Government 318 years later. It is not the time, while we are dealing with sovereign debt crises, to discuss whether Parliament should appoint the Governor of the Bank of England, and I will talk later about what would happen if we had to appoint someone in the middle of a crisis.
The Bank was originally a private bank paid for by private subscriptions. I read through its book of subscriptions from 1694—in fact, I have a copy of it with me. I was tempted to read it all out. I have the scars on my back from introducing the London Local Authorities Bill. I am pleased to see my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg here, because he taught me that the way to prolong a debate was to read out, in detail, the coat of arms of all the London boroughs, so it was tempting to read out the list of original subscribers.
I can assure my hon. Friend that I learned a huge amount from the painful experience of taking that Bill through the House.
I wanted to find out whether anything could be learned from seeing who were the original subscribers to the Bank. One of them was the Receiver of Their Majesty’s Customs. I thought it was rather odd that a tax collector—a modern day Treasury Minister—was a founder of the Bank of England. Under the column headed “Quality” are listed merchants, widows, haberdashers, scriveners, grocers and apothecaries. Even clerks were allowed to subscribe to the original Bank of England.
As extremely entertaining as the hon. Gentleman’s speech is, may I suggest that it is an example of the filibustering that, in the eyes of the general public, demeans the House? May I suggest that he addresses the Bill instead of using this mechanism in this way to embarrass himself and degrade the proceedings of the House?
Order. That might be the hon. Gentleman’s opinion and the opinion of people outside the House, but Mike Freer is in order. If he was not, I would prevent him from speaking. I appreciate that that is the view of John McDonnell, and that he has now put it on the record, but the hon. Member for Finchley and Golders Green will be in order if he wishes to advance this argument.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I shall indeed turn to the substance of the debate, but I find it rather sad that an hon. Member seeking to restore the rights of Parliament should seek to deprive another hon. Member of the right to continue the long-established tradition in the House of speaking at length, if they so choose.
I was talking about the original subscribers, so I—[ Interruption. ] I cannot hear what Lyn Brown is chuntering about. If she wishes to intervene, she should please do so. [ Interruption . ]
With the forbearance of the House, I will come to the substance of the Bill, but I want to set out the historical perspective for a few more minutes, if the House will indulge me.
Looking at the original subscribers, I was surprised to see the clerk of Eton college. Nothing changes: those Eton chaps get everywhere. Sadly, however, I could find no forebears of the Eton alumni who serve in the current Executive, but I did find a Mr du Bois, a Mr Gape and a Mr Wollaston, so I wondered whether there was an historical link to my hon. Friends the Members for Enfield North (Nick de Bois) or for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) or the hon. Member for Ilford South
(Mike Gapes). The index of subscribers was clearly a list of butchers, bakers, candlestick makers, tinkers, tailors and soldiers, but sadly I could see no spies—although, suspiciously, there was a rather large number of French names.
Although the Bank was not a modern-day co-op, it was owned by ordinary people until nationalisation in 1946. At the Bank’s inception, the original subscribers—the original owners—could appoint an agent to act on their behalf. That brings me to the present day—I am grateful to the House for indulging me to this point. The Bank is now technically owned by the people and, through the people, this House. Acting for the people, we have appointed the Prime Minister and his Ministers to act as our agents. The appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England by the Executive is therefore entirely in accordance with the tradition of the Bank from its original founding fathers—the original subscribers.
I have listened to the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington and to the arguments of other Members—specifically, those on the Treasury Committee, whom I admire greatly. When considering whether to speak in this debate, I noted that my hon. Friend Mr Tyrie had put his name to the Bill, which gave me pause to wonder whether it had some merit. I appreciate the view that the way in which the Governor has been appointed has not changed substantially since the Bank was nationalised in 1946 and that some feel that reform is required. I also appreciate the wider point that the relationship between the Executive and the legislature in this House should be rebalanced. I welcome the current Government’s moves to do so thus far. Others have compared the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England with appointments to the Office for Budget Responsibility, but there is a huge difference between bodies that can advise and people with the power to intervene. There is a big difference between the Bank of England and the Office for Budget Responsibility.
A consensus appears to be developing that Select Committees are an under-utilised parliamentary tool. However, we have recently seen a national focus—indeed, an international focus—on the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport and, this week, on the Treasury Committee, which is so ably chaired by my hon. Friend. Although new to these Benches, I have sensed a shift, both inside and outside the House, in the role of Select Committees. They no longer simply scrutinise expenditure or the performance of Departments; they now have an investigatory role. That is valued, but there is a huge difference between scrutinising and investigating, and getting involved in appointments. I am particularly worried by the parallels with congressional committees in the United States, because of the precedent set by the vitriolic stand-offs and deadlocks between the Executive and Congress over appointments. I vividly remember the appointment—or the non-appointment—of Clarence Thomas. Whatever the merits of that particular case, the whole drawn-out saga and the blood on the political floor was deeply damaging to the institutions involved. I fear that if this Bill passes, we will go down the same path.
I welcome reform, but I have a number of concerns about the Bill. The Treasury has already agreed new powers for the Governor, and I remind the House that the Governor is one of the most important financial figures not just in this country but in global finance. He or she—as it might well be in the future—is of vital importance not just to the UK economy, but to the world economy. Tinkering with our constitution has ramifications not just for us, but across the world.
My concern about constitutional tinkering is that it is like a thread. If we pull that thread, we will not know where it leads. As my hon. Friend Stephen Hammond said, why stop at appointing the Governor of the Bank of England; what about other public bodies? The thin end of the wedge argument carries a lot of weight, as does the argument that we are tinkering with the constitution.
I refer hon. Members to what will happen next Tuesday. If it comes to pass, the House of Lords will be abolished or “reformed”, as it is euphemistically called. We will have a new elected body at the other end of the building. How long will it be before that body starts to—
Order. I have to tell the hon. Gentleman that what he is saying now is not in order. He is speculating about something that has not yet happened. I suggest that he concentrate on this Bill, either on a historical or contemporary basis, and not refer to Bills that we have not yet debated.
I am grateful for your advice, Madam Deputy Speaker.
My worry is that the other place, in whatever form, will seek to flex its muscles and say, “If the Commons has a role in appointment and dismissal, why not us?” There could be a deadlock not only between the Executive and the House of Commons but between the House of Commons and the other place.
The Treasury Committee’s role is vital. I have no doubt that its role in expressing a voice in the appointment of a Governor of the Bank of England is crucial. Let me deal, however, with the issue of deadlock. In reality, if there were a deadlock, we are told that it could come down to an opinion being expressed on the Floor of the House. Given the potential for such an impasse to create instability in the markets, I remain unconvinced that this Bill provides proper safeguards to prevent this from occurring. In reality, a vote on the Floor of the House is likely to be whipped, and the Chancellor of the day would get his candidate. The Chancellor would have his way, but only after a delay and a bruising stand-off between the Committee and the Chancellor. How would the markets react if there were such a delay?
That is one argument, but the contrary argument is that if the chosen candidate fails to carry the support of a substantial number of Members—there could be a majority of just one—there would be a credibility gap and the candidate would be damaged. What if the Chancellor were forced to withdraw a candidate or if the candidate chose to withdraw and we ended up with a second candidate or a third, eventually getting to the least worst candidate? That is not good governance; it is certainly not good for the credibility of the institution and cannot be good for the policy of the Bank of England.
People say, “Well, if there is a delay, it does not matter too much; it is more important to get the right person for the job.” Members will recall that when the former chairman—if that is the correct term—of the International Monetary Fund, Mr Strauss-Kahn, was forced to resign, the gap between his departure and the appointment of Mrs Lagarde caused a huge sense of drift in the international markets. That should cause the House to think twice about creating a scenario that could cause the same sense of drift here.
I have another objection to the Bill. We have already agreed to a fixed eight-year term for the Governor’s appointment. That is a difficulty in itself, because the eight-year period will not be coterminous with the fixed parliamentary terms, but if we continue to delay an appointment, a huge problem may be caused. Governors could be appointed mid-Parliament, which could lead to a politicisation of the appointment.
Does my hon. Friend not agree that the plan for an eight-year fixed term is a much better safeguard for independence, and for the ability of the Governor to do his or her will and act according to his or her abilities, than the Bill’s proposal to make the appointment contingent on the will of the Treasury Committee?
I certainly agree that the fixed-term appointment is a huge step towards independent stability. As I was trying to explain, what concerns me is that if the vacancy arose after a change of Government, the new governing party could seek to ensure that the new Governor was much more in tune with its own political views. I fear that both the appointment and the removal are much more likely to be politicised if the Select Committee gets its way.
The hon. Gentleman has suggested that the Government might have a partisan agenda in appointing the Governor. Surely the best way of protecting the appointment from the allegation that the Chancellor’s motivation was purely partisan is to give the Select Committee a role, whether the appointment is made at the start of a Parliament or, even more interestingly, at the end.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. I do not think that any appointment is without politics, but I fear that a Select Committee is much more likely to adopt a political method. We have recently seen Select Committee investigations involving minority reports, and the pursuing of party political agendas in the interrogation of witnesses.
Did the hon. Gentleman vote for a parliamentary inquiry yesterday? Did he support all the arguments that were advanced in its favour? He seems to be contradicting those arguments now.
I did vote for a parliamentary inquiry, and I do not disagree with some of the points that the hon. Gentleman has made. However, I believe that a Select Committee’s role is to investigate. There is a huge difference between investigating issues and appointing executives with Executive powers who can intervene daily in monetary policy, and there is a significant difference between making such appointments and the interviewing of bank chief executives for wrongdoing.
I have not set myself against reforms. I have no doubt that the appointment of Governors and other senior public officials requires greater transparency than we have seen hitherto. What worries me is that, while pre-commencement hearings are a good thing, involving the Select Committee in the right of veto will not help and, indeed, could hinder the appointment of Governors. I believe that the Treasury Committee should have a voice but should not have a veto, and I therefore cannot support the Bill.
I congratulate John McDonnell on his extraordinary luck in topping the private Members’ ballot not once but twice, and on choosing this important subject from among the many that must have competed for his attention.
The Bill, which requires the Treasury Committee to consent to the appointment or dismissal of the Governor of the Bank of England, goes to the heart of a very important constitutional question about the precise nature of the responsibility of, respectively, the Executive and the legislature in relation to public appointments. As we suffer the after-effects of a profound financial crisis, none of us needs to be reminded that this is a matter of interest not just to constitutional experts. The quality of regulation and supervision can have dramatic effects on rates of economic growth and on the wealth of nations.
Furthermore, as the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington said, at a time of great change in the regulatory framework, which deliberately places the Bank of England at the very heart of our financial system, it is entirely right to double-check that we do, indeed, have in place appropriate scrutiny mechanisms for the Governor. The Financial Services Bill, which is now in the other place, gives the Bank considerable new powers in macro-prudential and micro-prudential regulation, and in the assessment and management of financial crises. Its governance should, indeed, be appropriate to these new powers, as the Treasury Committee has argued in its review of the Bank’s accountability to Parliament.
While I agree with the hon. Gentleman that the Bank must be accountable for its actions, I am reluctant to go as far as him, in calling for the radical step of providing the Treasury Committee with co-decision rights, in the form of a veto over appointment and dismissal. I will try not to linger over arguments that have already been very well made by many colleagues on the Government Benches, but let me reiterate that there has been an increase in accountability since the Bank acquired operational control over the setting of interest rates in 1997. While Bagehot’s dictum,
“We must not let daylight in upon magic”,
applied initially to the monarchy, it could have been said to have applied just as well to the Bank of England prior to 1997, but that is clearly not the case today.
Since 1997, the Treasury Committee has held regular pre-commencement hearings with the Governor, Deputy Governor and Monetary Policy Committee members, providing Parliament with a valuable opportunity to challenge key appointees before they begin work. Since 2009, these appointments have also been subject to open public competition. That was precisely what happened in 2009, when Paul Tucker became Deputy Governor, and this Government, like the previous Government, have agreed that that eminently sensible practice will continue.
The process of increasing accountability has carried on under this Government. Provisions in the Financial Services Bill for a non-renewable eight-year term, rather than the current system of a renewable five-year term, combined with internal reform of the Banks’ board arrangements, will further reinforce the Governor’s independence from the Government and the quality of oversight undertaken by the court of the Bank of England. The accountability deficit, which definitely existed, has therefore narrowed considerably over the past 15 years, and it will close still further if the Bill is enacted. Providing for a parliamentary veto over the appointment and dismissal of the Governor is not an ideal solution for closing what might remain of any accountability shortfall. I do not want to repeat what has already been said, in particular by my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for Great Yarmouth (Brandon Lewis) in their excellent speeches, but I worry that giving the Treasury Committee strong powers—in effect, powers of co-decision—in the appointment of the Governor might negatively impact on the Committee’s ability to scrutinise the Bank and hold the Governor to account for his performance. Put simply, Committee members will be unwilling to criticise the work of the Governor if they were complicit in his appointment in the first place. Having invested their own reputational capital in the appointment of the Governor, they will inevitably to some extent pull their punches in questioning him later. That is just human nature, and that is why we have a separation of powers in the Committee system.
The hon. Gentleman is obviously experienced in these matters, but what about the parallel case of local government-appointed chief executives? Also, the fact that there is a joint appointment of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner by the London assembly, the Mayor and the Home Secretary does not fetter their ability to ask tough and robust questions, as they are required to do—and as we are required to do. I do not see why somebody who was involved in deciding who to appoint to a post will later not properly question what that appointee does. We are here because people have sent us here to ask tough questions.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his excellent intervention, but I would make an important distinction between being consulted and having the right of decision. That is a fundamental distinction and, on balance, arrangements that tilt towards giving the Select Committee system powers of decision over public appointments are going too far. The role of Select Committees might be better restricted to consultation than decision.
Does my hon. Friend agree that there is another distinction, particularly for the example of local authorities? I was a local authority leader when we appointed a chief executive, and there are two implications. First, although the chief executive is approved by the council, they are always clearly the choice of the leader and, more to the point, they are the chief executive of the body appointing them. They do not become the governor of a body that is, in theory, completely independent, as would be the case with the Select Committee.
Order. With respect, shall we leave the Chair of the Treasury Committee to express his own views and stop talking about his private views?
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will follow that guidance.
I am equally concerned that giving the Treasury Committee a veto over the dismissal of a Governor could, in certain circumstances, create an unacceptable situation in which the Governor has lost the confidence of the Government but hangs on as a lame duck. That would clearly be unacceptable given the Executive powers he would be discharging on behalf of the state. That is exactly why the Government have historically attempted to address those issues by limiting the Treasury Committee’s role to non-statutory pre-commencement hearings with members of the Bank’s policy committees, which of course already include the Governor and deputy governors.
“simply by the way it brings people in, talks to them, summarises its opinions and then leaves it in the hands of Ministers to decide how far they wish to take account of those views”.—[Hansard, House of Lords, 26 June 2012; Vol. 738, c. 163.]
Does my hon. Friend think that the Bill would give the Select Committee enormous powers that are totally incommensurate with its constitutional functions in this House?
Yes, I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. Like other Members who I will not mention again, I think that it would be far preferable for the Treasury Committee, if it is to have a formal role in any appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England, to be a statutory consultee. I do not believe that it would be remotely appropriate, however, for it to be given powers of decision over any such appointments.
In my view, moving towards the system of making the Select Committee a consultee, perhaps through a tweak to the Financial Services Bill as it goes through the other place, would be a more sensible system that would not cloud lines of accountability and would, in my view, avoid putting the Treasury Committee in the position effectively of having to mark its own homework. That would inevitably be the case if it were given veto rights over a candidate that it had itself jointly chosen in a binding pre-appointment hearing. From Parliament’s perspective, I believe that it would be better and preferable to stick with the status quo, whereby the appointment of the Governor is a matter for the Crown on the advice of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. That enables the Treasury Committee to do its job of holding the Bank to account regularly and effectively in hearings with policy committee members.
In support of calls for a parliamentary veto of the appointment of the next Governor of the Bank of England, much has been made of the supposed precedents set by the Treasury Committee’s veto in the appointment of the head of the Office for Budget Responsibility. Reference has also been made to the rather more long-standing role of the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee in the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General. The CAG is an officer of Parliament but until 1983 they were appointed by the Executive. Since the passage of the National Audit Act 1983, the CAG has been appointed following a vote in the Commons on a motion proposed by the Prime Minister with the agreement of the Chair of the PAC. The selection process preceding that is run by an unusual partnership between Parliament and the Government, with the Chair of the PAC sitting on the selection panel with representatives of the Executive.
I happen to think that the comparisons are rather misleading and unhelpful. The role and responsibilities of the Governor in economic and financial policy making are completely different from the role of the Chair and members of the OBR, who are responsible collectively for producing forecasts and other analyses twice a year. In the case of the OBR, a parliamentary veto of the appointment can make sense in terms of providing assurance about the independence of the role of the OBR. The role and responsibility of the Governor are completely different. Whereas the OBR performs an important function in providing an independent and unbiased forecast on which Government policy can be based, the Governor carries out Executive functions on behalf of the state and has responsibilities delegated to him for key areas of economic policy.
A further important difference already touched on by my hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth is that the appointment of a prospective Governor is clearly market-sensitive in a way that appointments to the OBR or National Audit Office in the case of the Comptroller and Auditor General clearly are not. Once an appointment is announced, his or her perceived policy leanings—whether or not, for example, the next Governor is perceived to be a hawk or a dove—can be duly factored into asset prices in an orderly way. Pre-appointment hearings of a sort that give MPs on the Treasury Committee a potential veto could quite easily cause anxiety and costly volatility in financial markets, for little obvious benefit—a point also made by my hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng.
To reiterate the central point, rather than giving the Treasury Committee a veto, a better option would be to upgrade and modernise consultation arrangements, potentially to include not just the Chair of the Treasury Committee—a point that I made earlier—but the chairman of the court of the Bank of England. It is important that we upgrade and modernise the court of the Bank of England so that it can perform its oversight function more effectively than it traditionally has done and so that it feels properly empowered to use the rights that it already has under the Bank of England Act 1998, which are to manage the Bank’s affairs, other than the formulation of monetary policy. That means much more than simply addressing what many have described as an excessively deferential culture at the “court of King Mervyn”, as the
Financial Times cheekily described it some time ago. It means more than changing the court’s somewhat archaic name, or removing a little of the flummery—the men in pink coats deferentially bearing silver platters around the Bank, and so on.
My hon. Friend is right. It is important to focus on the substance of what needs to change at the court, rather than on the men in pink coats and the silver platters. That means ensuring that members of the court, or the supervisory board, as the Treasury Committee would prefer it to be called, have the ability and willingness to take a tough and challenging line, with a chairman who is prepared to take on a rather more effective and higher profile role than has, perhaps, been the case in the past.
Logically, if anyone should be given a right to consent to the appointment or removal of the Governor of the Bank of England, it should be the chairman of the court of the Bank of England, rather than the Treasury Committee as a whole. That avoids many of the constitutional difficulties to which many of my hon. Friends have referred.
I thank the Minister for that intervention. The Governor can be removed only with the assent of the court of the Bank of England, but the chairman of the court is not at present a statutory consultee in the appointment of the Governor. One of the means of strengthening the court as an oversight mechanism might be to consider whether the court, through the chairman of the court, could be made a statutory consultee in any appointment process. If the chairman and the court are to be taken seriously by the Governor, and given that it would be unacceptable if a Governor were appointed in whom the chairman of the court did not have confidence, it is essential that he should be seen to be somebody who has played a significant role in the appointment of the Governor. I am therefore sympathetic to the idea—originally floated, I acknowledge, by Baroness Wheatcroft in the other place—that the chairman of the court of the Bank of England should be consulted by the Chancellor, and I hope that the Government might consider tweaking the Financial Services Bill to that effect on Report in the other House.
The legislation as it stands does not prohibit the Chancellor from consulting widely before recommending that a candidate be appointed as Governor, and in practice the Bank of England and the Treasury work closely together to recruit key Bank of England posts.
The Financial Services Bill would strengthen the governance of the Bank of England if it specifically mentioned the chairman of the court as a statutory consultee, and thereby indirectly achieved the principal objective of the Bill before us without introducing all of the constitutional risks that come with giving the Treasury Committee a veto.
As I said earlier, there is an important distinction between binding pre-appointment hearings and advisory confirmation or pre-commencement hearings. We more or less have the balance right today between those two forms of parliamentary scrutiny, and I strongly urge the House not to veer wildly to an extreme that it may later come to regret.
I have made clear my concern that the Treasury Committee’s ability to scrutinise the Bank of England effectively would be impaired if we were to make it complicit in the appointment of the Governor. I have also argued that the supposed precedents set by the role of Parliament in the appointment of the head of the OBR and the Comptroller and Auditor General are misleading. With an enhanced role for the chairman of the court of the Bank of England, potentially with a consultee role for the Treasury Committee; with an enhanced and streamlined court of the Bank of England, whose members are empowered to create a real atmosphere of challenge; with the introduction of a single eight-year term for the Governor rather than renewable five-year terms; and with regular scrutiny of the Governor, his deputies and policy committee members by an impartial Treasury Committee, we are putting in place a stable and strong governance structure for the 21st-century Bank of England that will equip it to play a central role in this country’s economic and financial system.
I rise to speak in this important debate to challenge some of the views that have been put forward, but also to set out the deep constitutional changes that are built into the Bill. It is appropriate that the Bill is given full scrutiny in the House, and those who have said otherwise are, with the greatest respect, slightly missing the point about the Bill’s centrality to our constitutional settlement. That is quite a strong thing to say, but I will go into it, and also discuss some of the international and historical examples that the Bill brings to light.
Dr Johnson, in his celebrated dictionary of the English language—a man almost as wise as my hon. Friend Joseph Johnson—defines a Tory as one who adheres to the ancient constitution of the state. While the Tory party is putting that to the test more broadly, I stand as a proud defender of our ancient constitution, even while it needs upgrading from time to time. It is in that role that I speak against the Bill today.
The proponents of the Bill, in particular John McDonnell, underestimate its profound implications and how it would alter the foundations on which the Westminster system is built. For it is the job of the Executive to provide strong and decisive government, and it is the task of the legislature to hold that Executive to account. We have heard many speeches that make that distinction. It is a distinction that has survived revolution, war and financial crises, and it even broadly survived 13 years of new Labour Government. It has been adopted and revered by some of the greatest and most successful democracies in the world, such as Australia, New Zealand and Canada, all countries with records of strong central bank performance and all countries in which the governor of the central bank is appointed by the Executive without the legislature having a veto.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the structural relationship between our Executive and legislature, the line we have talked about quite a bit today, and the way the Bank of England works and its autonomy are exactly why countries around the world have mirrored our structure so that they can deliver for their residents?
Indeed. The English-speaking world and countries more widely have been wise to mirror that structure because it leads to strong Executive Governments who can deliver for the people in good times and bad. The Bill would have us rend asunder the gossamer fabric of the British constitution. I note that Mark Durkan, who is no longer in his place, supported the Bill, but described it as a significant constitutional departure. However, he also said that it was not a major constitutional departure. I will not go into an analysis of the difference between a significant departure and a major one, but I think that the Bill would wrest a key instrument of Executive power—the power of appointment—away from Her Majesty’s Government and confer it instead on a single Committee of this House.
Other Members have made the point that if we are to go down this route, we should perhaps seek to extend the powers of this House and its Select Committees, whereas the Bill relates to only one appointment. We should really be looking either at the mass or not considering the Bill at all.
Like my hon. Friend, I find it odd that some Members have concentrated on the implications of the Bill, rather than on the Bill itself, and others have made the point he raises clearly. Because that discussion has already been aired quite a lot and I want to keep my comments relatively concise, I will leave it where it is, other than to say that I agree with the broad thrust of his point.
Another implication was raised by my hon. Friend Heather Wheeler in her short speech. She pointed out that the decisions of the Treasury Committee, and indeed those of all Select Committees, are technically referred to the Floor of the House for what is in almost all circumstances a rubber-stamping exercise. I am a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, which does in fact have some executive powers, but they are over the running of this House, not the Executive functions of the UK Government under the Crown. That distinction is as vital as the distinction between oversight and scrutiny on the one hand and Executive power and veto on the other—voice not veto, as it has been eloquently put. The constitutional implications are not inconsiderable. Given that the Government have already proposed to spend 10 days in Committee of the whole House discussing a constitutional change of a broadly similar size, the idea that we should pass this Bill—
Does my hon. Friend agree with me that 10 days is a negligible amount of time to debate so important a constitutional change and that for a constitutional change of that magnitude, we would need the whole Session?
I agree with my hon. Friend in one respect, which is that changing the separation between the Executive and the legislature that scrutinises them would have great constitutional implications. I ask Members to draw their own conclusions on the contrast between that and merely changing the form of appointment to one of the two Houses of the legislature. That is a matter simply within the legislature, rather than to do with the role of the Crown in Parliament, which is the basis of our constitutional monarchy.
Let me bring the debate down to more practical considerations. If the Treasury Committee were to reject the Government’s preferred choice of Governor, a small number of MPs would effectively have vetoed a Crown appointment. The whole House would not have made that rejection; a small number of MPs would have done so. I do not think that there is any precedent for such a challenge, whereby a small number of MPs who are not Ministers challenge, through the power vested in them, the authority of our Executive—at least not since the days of Charles I, and we all know how that turned out.
Where would the Bill leave the royal prerogative? That question needs to be addressed. What would it mean for the role of the Crown in Parliament? In this jubilee year, as we celebrate 60 glorious years of Her Majesty, these are questions to which we need answers. It is perhaps no coincidence that the original proponent of this broad constitutional change was himself an avowed republican, with a history of great hostility to the Crown’s role in government: Tony Benn. Indeed, I understand the heartfelt and strongly held republican position of the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington. He does not contradict me, so I presume that is his position. The Bill directly challenges that question of parliamentary accountability.
The Governor of the Bank is already accountable to the Treasury Committee for his or her decisions on monetary policy and financial stability, but I turn to the question of the increasing role of the Bank, because there is no doubt that under the Financial Services Bill it will have a bigger role than hitherto. The separation of bank regulation from monetary policy is a flaw and a mistake that has had grievous consequences, not least because the banking system is the conduit for monetary policy’s impact on the real economy.
I therefore strongly and passionately support the relevant change in the Financial Services Bill, but it does not follow directly that, under it, the position of the Governor is stronger than hitherto, because up until and including today in matters of financial stability the Governor has been imperial within the Bank of England. Executive powers over the areas of financial stability for which the Bank is responsible are the sole responsibility of the Governor in person, accountable to the court of the Bank and to the Treasury Committee.
Under the new proposals, the Governor will chair the Financial Policy Committee, and it is in that committee, rather than in the individual, that powers over financial stability will be vested. So on matters of financial stability not only will there be accountability externally, but decision making will be conferred on a committee that the Governor chairs, rather than on the person of the Governor himself.
Does my hon. Friend, who served with me on the Financial Services Bill Committee, not share my view that we risk over-personalising the debate by suggesting that the Governor exercises all judicial power? My hon. Friend is right to highlight the fact that the Governor will be chairman of the Financial Policy Committee, is chairman of the Monetary Policy Committee and will have three deputy governors to work with. These powers are and will be vested in the institution, not in the person of the Governor.
I am grateful to the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for making that clear, and I agree wholeheartedly. In the debate about accountability under the Financial Services Bill, one fact often overlooked is that, whereas previously a power vested in the Bank of England involved a decision by the Governor alone, for which the Bank’s deputy governors would take collective responsibility, it will now formally involve a decision by a committee, of which the Governor will be chair. That is an important distinction. Despite concerns about increased power going to one individual, in fact the increased power goes to an institution, but the internal arrangements at the institution are being changed in order to reflect that increased power. That is why I strongly support the Financial Services Bill not only in principle but in the design of the system that we are discussing.
To whom would the Treasury Committee be accountable if it had this Executive power? In the words of Juvenal, “Who watches the watchmen?” Under this proposed amendment to the Bank of England Act 1998, the Treasury Committee could stall or reject the appointment of a perfectly qualified candidate for whatever reason it chose— perhaps, heaven forfend, even in order to raise the personal profile of a member of the Committee. Given the powerful investigations by Select Committees over recent months—for instance, into phone hacking—I am sure that we would all be sceptical about the idea that any member of a Select Committee could possibly try to change the way in which an inquiry went forward in order to raise their own personal profile. I am absolutely certain that that does not happen.
I have a great deal of respect for the intellectual integrity of the supporters of the Bill, but they cannot have it both ways. They cannot argue both that the Bill would have no impact because a Government with a majority could force their decision through the House of Commons and that it would be very important in changing how things operate. If the Treasury Committee vetoed a proposed Governor and that decision was then overturned by a Government vote on the Floor of the House, in practice the direct consequence would be that the position of that proposed Governor would be completely undermined.
I am interested to follow this line of reasoning. My hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg said that a vote on the Floor of the House of Commons, or perhaps the Government, could overturn a Treasury Committee decision and, if necessary, get rid of the Committee. However, the problem is that Committee members are no longer appointed by Whips but elected, and there is no guarantee that a newly elected Committee would not also choose to be in conflict with the Government.
Of course. The Government must command support for their programme from a majority of the House of Commons, but the Treasury Committee is voted for by Back Benchers, and as the two electorates are different we would not necessarily get the same result from both. The argument put forward by my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg is an argument for deadlock because it could lead to the Treasury Committee pushing one point of view and—because it is elected by a different electorate from those who support a Government—ending up with a contravening view being expressed on the Floor of the House. That is because the Bill would apply to the Treasury Select Committee or its successor body should its name be changed or its powers be passed to somebody else.
If a Government command a majority in this House, they are in control of the Standing Orders, and therefore if a Select Committee made a wholly irrational decision, it would be completely open to them to find a way to change that Committee. It must always be true that the Floor of the House—the whole House—has command of any and every Committee of the House, but it would be an extreme circumstance for a Government to try to push through such a scheme.
The argument appears to be that we should give the Treasury Committee a power of veto, unless the whole House disagrees with that veto. However, the majority in the House support the Government and it is the Government who initially propose who should be Governor, so therefore the Government could never be overruled in extremis. To support a Bill in which the ultimate safeguard is the abolition of the Select Committee system is a little extreme.
Does my hon. Friend not think that this knotted discussion about the relative powers of the Select Committee and the Government demonstrates the quagmire of indecision and delay that the route proposed by the Bill would lead us into?
I do not think that the principles in the Bill have been well thought through. That is why I started by arguing that the constitutional implications of the Bill are profound and underestimated by its proponents. Many of the questions that are being raised in interventions on me are ones that I had not even thought of while I was wondering what view to take on the Bill.
(Matthew Hancock) agree with the point that I made in my speech, which was that the complication and complexity in this debate highlight the turmoil that this process would create for the markets, even if it lasted for only 24 hours? The damage to the markets could be enormous. My hon. Friend has great experience of this world. What does he estimate would be the cost to our economy of even a 24-hour delay, let alone a delay of several weeks, because of this kind of back-and-forth?
If there was parliamentary deadlock and votes were needed to change the Standing Orders of the House in order to get a Governor of the Bank of England, the cost would depend on the economic circumstances. In good and calm economic circumstances, there would undoubtedly be a cost because of the increased uncertainty in the markets. For example, one might expect the yield on Government bonds to rise and for uncertainty over the future of the banking system to grow, which might have an impact on the LIBOR market. I do not want to touch too much on the LIBOR market. In times of financial stress, such as those that we have been living with for five years with few signs of abatement, the impact of the uncertainty could be very serious indeed.
Does my hon. Friend think that an unintended consequence of the proposal might be that the belief that such complications could happen would put off some of the best potential candidates for Governor of the Bank of England from putting themselves into the process in the first place?
I have no doubt that the appointment of a Governor of the Bank of England should be above politics. We should appoint somebody for their economic, financial and policy-making experience. They should be somebody of weight from that world. The position has rarely been filled by somebody from the world of politics, and for good reason. As well as having to engage in the political world of the country, the Governor has great duties in putting the economic and financial interests of the nation to the fore. I would therefore be concerned if a potential Governor chose not to put their name forward because they did want to get involved in the quagmire of party politics during their appointment. The point that my hon. Friend Brandon Lewis makes is an important one, and it anticipates a point that I have on page 36 of my speech. Since I am only on page 4, perhaps I should make some progress.
I will not dwell on the argument that the constitutional precedent would be much wider than simply the implications for the Treasury Committee. My hon. Friend the Member for Great Yarmouth made the point that the Chief of the Defence Staff might have to be confirmed by the Defence Committee, so I shall cross that line out of my speech. A potential head of MI6 might have to be scrutinised by and avoid a potential veto from the Intelligence and Security Committee before being given the job. There are more extreme and absurd examples showing that we should not take this lightly and push a new principle through the House on a Friday afternoon.
My point about Parliament and our system of government is only one consideration, but it is the reason why the principle of the Bill deserves serious and profound reflection. Its ramifications could outlive the Government of the day and last many Sessions of Parliament, because once such changes are made they tend to take hold. The appointment of the judiciary is a long-standing and slowly evolving matter, and very few Members would support the idea that the Justice Committee should have a veto over the appointment of High Court judges, but that is analogous to the proposition in the Bill.
I will go through some of the lessons from history and some of the international lessons that are pertinent to the Bill. Central banks are unique financial institutions and have a delicate balancing act to perform. As has been pointed out, the Bank of England was set up in 1694 to finance the nine years’ war against France. We won that war largely because Britain had the ability to finance a standing Army effectively, through the Bank of England. Instead of borrowing directly from the market, Britain established the Bank of England to issue debt on behalf of the Government. From then on, the strength of the institution was watched and repeated in countries around the world. In 1844, the United Kingdom broke new ground by issuing to the Bank of England a monopoly on the supply of money, so that competing banks could no longer issue banknotes of their own.
Was not one of the principal features of the Bank until its nationalisation that it was entirely independent of the Government? Does my hon. Friend think that was important in any way?
It was, but I would not wish to return to private subscription for the ownership and governance of the Bank of England, because of its role in our political economy. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset might wish to push for that, but I believe that the settlement reached after nationalisation in 1946, whereby the Bank of England has its own capital base but is effectively part of the national political economy and one of the national institutions of economic governance, is the right one, rather than having private shareholders.
Since the Bank Charter Act 1844, other banks have been able to issue notes in sterling, and I believe that nine other banks do so in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but they have to be 100% backed by Bank of England banknotes held in the vaults of either the Bank of England or the issuing bank. That ensures that control of the money supply is within the grasp of the Bank of England rather than any other bank. I know that there are some Members who would prefer to return to the system from before 1844, not least my hon. Friend Steve Baker, with whom I regularly debate the point. I did so yesterday. However, the broad and settled view of the House is that we should retain the current situation.
Because the central bank is the monopoly provider of money and the lender of last resort, it must share a common strategy with the Government even though it is vital that its operational decisions on interest rates and financial stability are independent. The current appointment process fulfils well the twin objectives of operational independence and broad agreement on strategy. It also means that the Government can appoint a Governor who broadly shares their philosophy of economic management, even if the Governor is kept at arm’s length from party political machinations, the 24-hour news cycle, headline grabbing, tweeting and retweeting, and the Westminster bubble culture, which is the special discourse of the modern political set-up.
Economic history shows us the importance of the broad strategic agreement between the Governor and the Government of the day.
The Treasury and the Bank currently work together on the funding for lending scheme. Is my hon. Friend aware of any instances in which the sense of co-operation between the Government and the Governor was not quite as strong?
Absolutely, and the Minister will be delighted to hear that he has anticipated the next section of my speech.
The nine years’ war, which the Bank of England was set up to finance, was the first example of successful co-operation on a strategy between the Governor and the Government of the day. The first Governor was a man called Sir John Houblon—his face appears on a modern £50 bank note, so hon. Members will know him well. Like many of his successors, Sir John dealt with the City but was not part of it. He was a grocer by trade and rose through the East India company—he was a business man who came to the City to oversee the Bank. At that time, the Governor, deputy governors and directors of the Bank were voted for by private shareholders, who had to have a £500 shareholding—a huge amount in those days. The Governor had to have a £4,000 shareholding.
We can only speculate who would get the job now if the late 17th century equivalent of the Treasury Committee had a veto over candidates. The House of Commons was, back in the day, notoriously corrupt and vice-ridden, unlike today. By way of illustration, the prospective parliamentary candidate for a by-election in Bath laid on a meal before polling day. There were 32 voters, but the meal consisted of two boiled haunches, two chines of mutton, four geese, four pigs, 12 turkeys, plain chickens, rabbits, an abundance of claret and sherry, and—my favourite—two venison pasties. A ball to persuade the voters’ wives followed. Glasses were broken and windows shattered at the end of it.
The modern system of corporate governance is similar to chief executive officers having skin in the game in financial organisations. As my hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng pointed out, when the Bank was given operational independence in 1997, it was returning to the independence it had enjoyed for 200-odd years until it was nationalised in 1946.
There are examples of when the Bank and the Government have agreed broadly on strategy and prosecuted it effectively, but there are also historical examples of how things can go wrong. The Bank was founded before the first Governor took office by an initial loan made by a Scottish banker called William Paterson. Founding the Bank was not Paterson’s only contribution to economic history; he was also the main instigator of the infamous Darien scheme, which involved a Scottish colony in Panama that was supposed to replicate the success of the English colonies in north America. With a monopoly company facilitating trade between the new and old worlds, the Scottish public went wild for the scheme and invested a quarter of the country’s gross domestic product in the embryonic New Caledonia. Of course, the reason the Panama canal is not called the firth of the Pacific is that the colony was a disaster—thanks to poor leadership, endemic diseases and weak demand for Panamanian goods—bankrupted Scotland and led, indirectly, to the Act of Union in 1707. Although William Paterson was not the last Scot to drive a country to the brink of financial ruin, he might have been the first.
I shall cite another example of the Bank and the Government having separate strategies that shows why the Bill would be a mistake. In 1716, a man named John Law, another Scottish gambler-turned-economist, managed to persuade the Government of France that, having defaulted on their debts four times between 1648 and 1715, they could create a scheme to end the national debt by enabling them to take control of the money supply and replace gold and silver, whose price was ruled by the markets, with something that he said would be more stable. He suggested creating a central bank in France along the lines of the Bank of England. In return for the deposits on gold and silver, there would be paper money deposited in a state-owned scheme that would turn it into something more valuable. This proved irresistible to the French people.
On the subject of gold and silver and the gold standard, there is a much more modern example of where the Governor and the Government split over policy—post-first world war and into the 1930s, when Montagu Norman disagreed with the Labour Government about returning to the gold standard. We know the catastrophe that followed then.
In that example, there was one person who understood the implications of returning to the gold standard and whose views were more consistent with the Labour Government’s. John Maynard Keynes argued vociferously for the strategy that many in the Government wanted to pursue but which he could not persuade the rest of the Bank to pursue, which was that they had to stimulate the economy in times of economic weakness and that there would not be an automatic return to growth. That is an argument with which I strongly agree. It is important to ensure an effective stimulus when the economy is weak. The most effective such stimulus today is monetary policy.
That brings us directly to the strategy now. The Bank and the Government broadly agree on the economic strategy of tight and responsible fiscal policy and loose monetary policy in order to deliver economic growth that is sustainable and not based simply on building up more debt. However, immediately before the 2010 general election, when I entered the House, it appeared that the Bank did not agree with the then Government’s strategy. This was destabilising. I used the example from 1716 to show that there is a long history of problems when there is disagreement on strategy, but it is by no means a problem that went away after 1716—it was with us right up until 2010, although fortunately it is not the case right now.
My hon. Friend might have heard an Opposition Member say earlier that this kind of thing will not happen because it has not happened before. Does he agree that the examples he has just given prove that just because something has not gone wrong for a long time, it does not mean that it will not cause a problem in the future?
I agree strongly. We need to be vigilant and—dare I say it—humble about how little we know about the future, instead of making grand assertions that because something has not been a problem in the past, it will not be a problem in the future.
I agree with my hon. Friend that there have been many occasions in history—a few of which I may quote later—when Governors have shown themselves to be hostile to Government policy, but I wonder whether that is an argument against independence of central banks, rather than against the ratification of the appointment of central bankers.
My argument is in favour of the operational independence of central banks—“freedom in a framework”, if I may put it that way, or “constrained discretion”, as economists inelegantly call it. The argument is that the broad strategy should be agreed on and put in place. Within that strategy and agreed framework, independence allows the Bank of England—or the institution making operational decisions—to look past shorter-term considerations and the impact of their decisions on Twitter and the next day’s headlines, and thereby take the political cycle out of the political economy of a decision affecting the country over a long period.
My analysis of the past tells us something important about central banks now. The point is that they should never be forced to do the Government’s bidding in the areas delegated to them. As we saw in Weimar Germany and Zimbabwe, removing operational independence has significant risks. Although I respect the view of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset that the so-called Ken and Eddie show resulted in a more effective monetary policy than that which was pursued after operational independence was granted in 1997, I do not agree that the previous structure was better, because the ability to look past the political cycle is of value.
I wonder whether we sometimes try to perfect structures as against what actually works. The period of monetary policy from 1998 through, really, to 2010 was disastrous, and was responsible for some of the problems from which we are still suffering.
I agree with my hon. Friend that money was too loose. In fact, the growth of bank balance sheets—and, therefore, the money supply—was running at up to 25% a year for several of the years leading up to the crisis. The problem of over-leverage and too rapid growth in broad money is one of the things we are now dealing with as banks try to deleverage. Mistakes were made, but I would not put that down to the independence of the Bank, not least because, in whatever structure, the appointment of the right person and a system to appoint them is crucial, and this debate is directly relevant to the Bill.
I wonder whether one can draw any conclusions from appointments during this period, because Sir Alan Greenspan—with his honorary knighthood—in the United States, whose appointment was ratified by the Senate again and again, was probably one of the worst central bankers in history, and I need not tell my hon. Friend how central bankers were appointed in the United Kingdom.
I supported yesterday’s decision, because one thing we are dealing with now is the consequence of money being too loose, which is the deleveraging in the banking system, which is causing a huge drag on the economy. Therefore, the mitigation of that deleveraging, through loose monetary policy—low interest rates and in a quantitative sense—is something that I support. However, more strongly than supporting the Bank’s decision, I support its ability to make it in a way that is unconstrained by political considerations.
Absolutely; this argument is vital to the Bill. It is a question of whether the Governor’s appointment should be in the gift of the Government or should be capable of being vetoed by people who are not necessarily the Government’s appointees. I apologise if I did not make it clear why this is precisely and closely related to the Bill.
In considering the Bill’s impact, it is important to remember that the Governor is only one member of the Monetary Policy Committee and of the Financial Policy Committee. As we saw last month, the Governor voted in favour of quantitative easing a month before the Committee had a majority for it. In that light, it is slightly odd that the Bill considers only the Governor when the body that determines our monetary policy is the whole membership of the Monetary Policy Committee. There are nine members, five of whom are executives of the Bank of England and four are so-called external members. While the Treasury Committee has oversight over, and the ability to scrutinise, all the others, there is no proposal for the other eight Committee members or the other members of the Financial Policy Committee to be subject to a veto by the Treasury Committee. In that sense, those who support the arguments in this Bill—I do not—should support a veto over the appointment of the other members of the Committee.
The Bill makes it clear from line 20 onwards that the deputy governors are not subject to the oversight of the Treasury Committee. Given that the deputy governors have one vote each and the Governor has only one vote, too, although he does by convention vote last, the argument does not change with respect to the deputy governors and the Governor. There is thus a confusion at the heart of the Bill.
The proposed appointment process by the Treasury Committee ignores the measures in the Financial Services Bill, which I think removes the motivation for bringing this Bill forward now. The structure of the Bank of
England will change from having an imperial Governor to having one who is the head of a committee—the Financial Policy Committee—on the financial stability side of the Bank.
The need for a common strategy between the Bank and the Government is more important now than it has been for a long time. The financial crisis laid bare the importance of co-ordinating monetary and fiscal policy. For a while, it was wrongly believed in this country that those two policies could be separate. Indeed, financial policy was separated again, so we had a tripartite system, with financial policy vested in the Financial Services Authority, monetary policy in the Bank of England and fiscal policy in the Treasury. It is not the case that they were separable. It is clear from how the world is having to manage the current difficult situation that these are not discrete entities, but aspects of one another.
The banks themselves are part of the transmission mechanism, too. I like to say that they stand in relation to the Monetary Policy Committee as the Higgs boson particle stands to matter: they give substance to the Committee’s decisions because they transmit interest rates and monetary policy into the real economy. Similarly, the level of debt in the economy is symbiotically connected to banking regulation because regulation of the leverage of banks has a direct impact on the amount of debt, and the removal of the regulation over leverage and the amount of debt in the economy was one of the main drivers of the over-leverage and vast expansion of the money supply that led to the grave difficulties we face in managing the current economy. That explains why it is so important for the broad strategy of the Government of the day to be supported by the Governor of the Bank of England.
What we do not want to see are more asset bubbles, and we might see those if we had a Governor who did not agree with the strategy of the day. Fiscal policy could work against monetary policy, rather than the two broadly working together both to deal with an over-indebted economy and to enable the decisive action that is necessary to stimulate the economy and prevent a banking crisis from turning into a slump. This is not, as some of my hon. Friends have suggested, a matter that has no impact on our postbags. Although few people write to me about the appointment process of the Bank of England, an error in that process could have a profound impact on our economy, and would doubtless hit our postbags very hard.
I understand the point that my hon. Friend is making, and he is, of course, absolutely right. That is the beauty of being able to make a speech lasting for three quarters of an hour that takes us from A to Z. It is very impressive. Members who prefer to make short speeches tend to allow the floor to others so that they can express all these other views at greater length.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, although I am slightly embarrassed by her eloquence. As she said in her speech, it matters to people that we get the management of the economy right. When it goes wrong, as it has in the past, that has a massive impact on our postbags. It is therefore right and proper for us who debate these issues in the House to devote a great deal of scrutiny to them.
The funding for lending scheme, which was announced last month, is a good example of how this works in practice. When interest rates are near zero, the connection between monetary and fiscal policy becomes even tighter. The ability to get low interest rates out into the real economy can depend on the use of the Government’s own balance sheet. The funding for lending scheme and the liquidity scheme, which I think is one of the most vital elements of our economic recovery, are a joint matter involving use of the Treasury’s balance sheet and the indemnity for the Bank of England, and Bank of England action in the markets, both between banks and in the context of the wider availability of debt. That is a clear indication of the requirement for not just operational independence, but a common strategy between the Governor of the Bank and the Government of the day.
Allowing banks to borrow from the Bank of England in order to lend directly into the real economy means having to ensure that the high rates paid by one bank to another because of the insecurity of, ultimately, their creditworthiness and the difficulty of accessing liquidity are not passed on to people who pay for mortgages or businesses that need to borrow to finance investment. Many businesses that have taken advantage of opportunities, and many mortgagees who have bought houses, are capable of repaying a loan directly at a decent interest rate that is worth while to them, but a margin is added because the banks cannot lend to each other at decent rates that are almost free of risk.
The involvement of the Government in liquidity is nothing new. It has not happened for about 15 years, but for several centuries before that, the Bank of England intervened in the provision of liquidity in the City through the discounted bill market. Liquidity was available to ordinary businesses, and indeed to people wanting to buy their homes, when it was supported by the Bank of England, normally as the “third name” on a bill, in order precisely to ensure that the monetary policy of the central Bank—whether independent or not—got into the real economy and did not end up stuck in the banking system, as happens too often today.
“the long term nature of the lending and its pricing mean that the Bank could conduct such an operation only with the approval of the Government, as offered by the Chancellor…such a scheme would be a joint effort between Bank and Treasury.”
If, as set out in the Bill, the Treasury Committee could veto somebody who had a strategic agreement with the Government, and in their place ensure that only somebody who agreed with its strategy, and not the Government’s, went into the job, that would undermine this potential for joint working.
I am very sympathetic to what my hon. Friend is saying, but if there were a recalcitrant, stubborn Governor who was not approved by a Select Committee, but was appointed directly by the Executive, and he dragged his heels and was very reluctant to allow an easing of monetary policy, how would a Government deal with that?
That would be an example of where monetary policy and the wider economic policies of the Government were not working in tandem. The Minister explained the procedures for the removal of a
Governor, and they require the proposal of the court—I think the strengthening of the court is important. There are procedures in place, therefore. It might be thought that a wider discussion of this point would not be in order, but the Bill is about getting rid of the Governor as well as the appointment of the Governor. My hon. Friend might therefore want to touch on that point in more detail later. I had not considered it, but it is important and it should be scrutinised properly and at length by somebody who has considered it more closely than I have.
As for the counter-factual, or what happens when the views of the central bank are at variance with those of the Government, the problem in the years running up to the crisis was not that the leadership of the Bank was too close to the Government, but that the voice of the Bank was being ignored by the Government for political reasons, hence the fact that the growth of the money supply was too fast and the subsequent difficulties in handling the crisis. This was pointed out by the Bank, and Sir Andrew Large made a speech making clear the problems of over-rapid growth of the money supply in 2004. He pointed to the dangers of supposedly benevolent innovations such as the rise of securitisation, and he asked whether that was causing problems that our Government should be addressing. There was no response from the Government of the day.
In May 2006, the current Governor warned that
“a potentially large social problem, with many households getting into difficulty with their debts, is materialising.”
He was in a position to know, because he had received in the post a piece of junk mail—a credit card application from a bank—and the literature said:
“We have the solution, Mervyn, for your bankruptcy.”
It is to do with the appointment and dismissal of the Governor, and my argument is that the broad strategy of the Governor must be aligned with the broad economic strategy of the Government, and that this Bill could render the two asunder.
What is currently happening in the eurozone serves as a definitive example of the problems that can arise when the views of Governments and of the leadership of a central bank diverge, and it shows what could happen if this Bill were to be enacted. The history is familiar to us all, so I will not go through it again in detail. Since the start of the sovereign debt crisis, the European Central Bank has injected euros and liquidity into the system, yet monetary policy in much of the eurozone remains very tight. That clearly harms some of the countries in the eurozone. There are tensions as a result of the relatively tight monetary policy and the need for some countries to tighten fiscal policy—there are no fiscal transfers between the members of that currency. That, compounded by weak banks, means that the monetary policy on the ground is even tighter. The lack of co-ordination between the ECB and the countries and Governments in the eurozone is highlighted on our television screens many nights of the week. Greek bond deals leapt more than 10 points to more than 100% when it was announced by the Government in November that there was to be a referendum on the bail-out package supported by the president of the ECB.
We have heard anecdotal evidence so far about the impact of a governor on financial markets and uncertainty. Adam Posen, who serves on the MPC, and Kenneth Kuttner wrote a paper in 2007 which found substantial academic evidence that the appointment of a central bank governor can have a direct impact on the markets, which my hon. Friend the Member for Spelthorne was speaking about. They concluded that
“financial markets tend to react to the appointment of a new central bank governor with larger-than-normal price changes, especially when a distinction is made between ‘newsworthy’ announcements…and those merely confirming an anticipated appointment.”
That is the problem that Members were talking about: uncertainty in the financial markets as a result of bank appointments becoming unclear and uncertain.
I want to take up the question of whether the Treasury Committee should have a veto. I said earlier that I am a member of the Standards and Privileges Committee, and I am also privileged to be on the Public Accounts Committee. That Committee’s power over the appointment of the Comptroller and Auditor General is, I think, similar to the power of veto that the Treasury Committee has over the OBR. The National Audit Office is obviously not Executive but merely a provider of sophisticated information about the Government and the wider world. That distinction between providing information in an independent way, separate from Government, and taking Executive action in the broad strategy set out by the Government is crucial.
As I come to a conclusion, I want briefly to consider the international evidence.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way. I know that he has been on his feet for close to an hour now, so he will not be aware that a Member from his own side, Mr Carswell, is saying on the Twittersphere that what is going on here is a Government ploy to talk out an attempt to make the Bank of England more democratically accountable. What does Matthew Hancock say to that member of his own party?
I think that it is up to any hon. Member to use whatever communicating devices are at their disposal, quite frankly. The House is clearly here for Mr Carswell to come to and speak, if he so wishes; if he does not wish to do so, it is up to him.
Hear, hear, I say. I think that all sorts of communication are very useful in this modern age. I respect my hon. Friend Mr Carswell a great deal—and Nick Smith—but I have a very simple response. As I said at the start of my speech, I think that this proposal would mark a significant constitutional departure. It is about the distinction between the legislature and the Executive and about blurring that distinction. The idea that we should pass the Bill after only five hours of debate on a Friday lunchtime, compared with the 10 days of debate in Committee of the whole House proposed by the Government on House of Lords reform, which merely changes the architecture within that legislative branch, is absurd. If we want to make a change of such importance, we should be able to debate it fully and frankly. Going through some of the historical and international comparisons is vital to a significant change.
Is it not important to consider not only whether we should allow a Select Committee to have the power of appointment or dismissal of the Governor, but the impact that that has on all Select Committees, and the difference between their scrutiny role and their Executive role, which is a big constitutional change in the way that the House works?
My hon. Friend makes the point well so I will not dwell on it. No doubt all Members who have a serious interest in the impact of the Bill are in the House. Those who do not want to come to the House to discuss it are perfectly at liberty not to do so; that demonstrates the amount of interest they have in the consideration of the matters before the House.
Given the scale of the change proposed in the Bill, it is vital that we look at what has happened in the rest of the world. I hope hon. Members will indulge me a moment as I do that. About one tenth of major countries involve their legislatures in the appointment of central bank governors. The United States has been mentioned. Japan, Croatia, Latvia, Armenia, Belarus, Georgia, Macedonia, Lithuania and the Ukraine are also examples of countries where the decision and the veto power are vested in the legislature. Nine out of 10 countries have broadly the set-up that we have. Of that list of countries, only two have financial systems of the same size and sophistication as the UK. They are the USA and Japan. The US system, which is comparable to the proposition in the Bill, has already been discussed.
When I looked a little more closely at the US system, I was surprised to find that in the entire history of the Federal Reserve since it was founded in 1913, not a single presidential nominee for the chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve has ever been rejected by the Senate. We heard the argument earlier from Mr Love, a member of the Treasury Committee, that we should not worry, as the veto will never be used. It that is an argument for a change of constitutional significance, I do not know of a weaker one. The argument that we should change something of great importance because it is never used would not find much support.
The US Senate’s record in vetting all presidential nominations shows little evidence that elected representatives are any better than the Executive at rooting out views on economic policy. One of the people who was most frequently re-vetted and given a warm send-off by the Senate was Alan Greenspan, who served as chairman of the Fed from 1987 to 2006. He was reconfirmed five times, yet his final tenure at the Fed resulted in some of the most disastrous economic policy decisions in central banking history. He got it wrong on derivatives when he argued in 2005 that
“sophisticated approaches to measuring and managing risk are key factors underpinning the greater resilience of our largest financial institutions”.
He was wrong in thinking that the price that investors are prepared to pay is the only valid valuation of an asset. He was dogmatically opposed to action against financial bubbles, saying:
“Bubbles generally are perceptible only after the fact.”
He went on to admit that he got these things wrong when he told a congressional hearing in 2008, after the bubble had burst,
“I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks . . . were such that they were . . . capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms . . . I have found a flaw. . . I have been very distressed by that fact”.
The Senate failed in its job of vetoing people who would make great and grave economic police mistakes. That stands as a great question that the Bill’s proponents need to answer. Why would the Treasury Committee be better than the Senate at rooting out people whose economic policy propositions are mistaken? I also use the other counter-factual, which is that the Senate has vetoed people who have a wide reputation for being excellent in their field. For instance, last year the Senate vetoed Patrick Diamond—who I am assured is no relation—a Nobel prize winner in economics. He was vetoed by the Republican Senators in retaliation for the Democrats refusing to reappoint a Bush nominee in 2008. Such political tit for tat, which led to a Nobel prize-winning economist not being allowed on to the Federal Reserve board, is a strong argument for rejecting the Bill.
Is my hon. Friend saying that all Nobel prize-winning economists should be revered? Do not some of them disagree with the policy of Her Majesty’s Government?
I am merely saying that Mr Patrick Diamond was a good candidate for that role. I am particularly concerned about the tit for tat political retaliation, which we do not want to bring into this system.
In Japan, in March 2008, the opposition party had a majority of seats in the upper house—this ties closely with the debate that we will be having in this very Chamber on Monday and Tuesday next week—and it rejected proposals by the Government to appoint a former Finance Minister as the Bank of Japan governor. That led to a 20-day period, at the height of the financial crisis, when Japan had no Governor of the central bank. It subsequently took two years to fill all the vacancies on the Bank of Japan policy board. That is evidence of what happens when there is a parliamentary veto. The argument that that would lead to more effective policy making has been roundly dismissed, but the argument that it would bring risks into policy making, and the risk of having no Governor at all, is strengthened by evidence in the US and Japan, the two biggest economies that have a similar process.
There is one final risk, which is that after the veto, the candidate who is then in place is seen as the second choice by the markets, and that is a great risk to the economic future of the country.
I certainly agree. The private consultation, for instance, would be a far better process to ensure that there is consensus and the strength of a broad agreement behind the incumbent, who has to rise above party politics once appointed.
There have been some great central banking success stories over even the last decade. The Reserve Bank of Australia has an appointments process similar to that of the UK, yet no Australian bank needed a bail-out—so far—or suffered a downgrade, and Australia avoided recession. The Governor of the Bank of Canada is nominated by independent directors of the bank and confirmed by the Government. During the global recession, Canada’s GDP declined by 3.4%, compared with 4% in the US and more here. Not a single Canadian bank failed or required an emergency capital injection from the Government. Today, employment and economic activity in Canada are back at their pre-crisis levels, whereas here they languish below those levels because of the depth of difficulties that we got into when a Government did not listen to the Governor of the Bank of England. In addition the Bank of Canada had regulatory control over their banks, as proposed in the new Financial Services Bill.
This Bill is no magic bullet. It brings in risks without rewards, it is of a deeply constitutional nature, it deserves all the scrutiny that it is getting, and I oppose it.
On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. Whatever Members might think of the Bill, I think that it is worth putting on the record the abundant criticism on Twitter and elsewhere about what is happening in the House today. In normal circumstances there would be an opportunity to claim to move that the question be now put—a closure motion—but that is not possible today because many Members have returned to their constituencies because of the flooding. It is completely understandable that they should do so to look after their constituents’ interests, but it is worth putting it on the record that that is one of the procedural issues we have had to face today.
Further to that point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. This is completely proper parliamentary procedure. Otherwise, you and your predecessors in the Chair would have ruled it out of order. It is absolutely proper that things are debated and it is up to Members to decide whether to be here or in their constituencies on any day of the week. It is quite wrong to criticise Members for debating things fully; that is what we are here for.
I am extremely grateful to you, Mr Rees-Mogg, for doing my job and responding to the point of order that I had decided not to respond to.
I was particularly interested to hear the contribution of my hon. Friend Matthew Hancock, who added an international and historic dimension to the debate, which I think should be broadly appreciated. I congratulate John McDonnell, my near neighbour, on bringing the debate to the House. I think that his measure would contribute in some way to scrutiny, but I am afraid that the Bill raises important constitutional considerations and, on those grounds, I am reluctant to support its Second Reading.
Another feature of the debate has been the frequent comments, often from a sedentary position, about the length of the speeches. I have been a Member for two years and know that the constant refrain is that proceedings are guillotined, debates are not fully developed, idea are not fully expressed and that there is far too little consideration or earnest debate on important matters on the Floor of the House. Today, by contrast, we have had a very full debate, yet some Members are complaining about that. They cannot have it both ways. They cannot complain about the truncated nature of many of our debates and then complain about the full and thoughtful speeches that have been made today. Those are inconsistent principles.
I want to make a remark about the Bill, and not of a partisan nature. I am very grateful to be able to speak fully, and I will not be intimidated or bullied into truncating my remarks to make them shorter than I had anticipated—
Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I am suitably bullied and shall proceed as I intended.
The Bill raises important constitutional issues. We have a Parliament, we have the honour of sitting in the House of Commons, and we all know the struggles the House had in order to assert its primary function and its principal character as the legislature and main law-making organ of government. I am afraid that the Bill represents a further encroachment of the powers of the House of Commons. I am a Conservative. I happen to think that there should be a balance and distinction between the Executive and the legislature. As someone who has read a little of the history of this place, I also recognise that the position of the House of Commons in the constitution should be guarded, but this new development—this assertion that the Treasury Committee should have a power of veto or even a power of appointment over the Governor of the Bank of England— represents an unprecedented extension of the powers of this House.
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point, but will he not care to look at the matter slightly differently? Yes, the Bill extends greater powers to the House of Commons, but in reality these are currently powers of patronage over which the House has no control. The Bill represents a very small encroachment on those powers of patronage, which are the Achilles heel and bedevilment of the British parliamentary system.
The hon. Gentleman makes a very good point, and he talks about patronage, which is a feature of our system, but if we are to talk about patronage, we should do what other Members in the debate have suggested and talk generally about the powers of the Select Committee system. It seems rather bizarre that in the Bill we should debate the appointment of a single public official, because we should debate—if that is what we want to do—the powers of Select Committees over other appointments.
I agree that we should debate and, indeed, extend the powers of Select Committees, because I do not see any reason why, if a Select Committee is so minded, it should not be allowed to introduce legislation as well as to supervise appropriate appointments within its purview. That after all is one reason why we are elected to Parliament—in order to have some democratic influence over what in our society are largely undemocratic institutions.
I appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s remarks, but Mr Deputy Speaker, with your forbearance, I suggest that this debate is about the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England. We can have more extensive and general debates about the appointment of other officials, but I think that our current system works well. I would not want to see, for example, the Archbishop of Canterbury hauled up in front of a religious affairs Committee for “ratification”.
The points that Opposition Members have made go to the heart of the problem with this Bill, because it would be stage one of—to quote what an hon. Member said earlier—a drip-feed effect that changed the very way in which Select Committees worked by changing their power from one of scrutiny to one that is linked to the Executive.
Absolutely. If Jeremy Corbyn wants to debate that point, he should include it in his own private Member’s Bill, if he is fortunate enough to introduce one. He should introduce a Bill, and then we might have a lengthy debate.
The specific proposal before us is not appropriate, however, and I shall say why. The historical examples, which have been too little regarded, are very important. We have to look at the development of Parliament, to understand its powers and to understand the evolution of the Bank of England and its unique role in the historical and current governance of political economy. We have to understand a range of things.
As my hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk said, we have to look also at international examples from recent history and throughout the world, and it is quite wrong for Opposition Members to try to curtail or to truncate debate. As I said at the beginning of my speech, I do not think it wrong for the House of Commons to debate things fully, and, on that basis, I turn to what Parliament does and what we are trying to do.
We scrutinise the Executive. Our job is not to make Executive appointments, to opine upon or to veto people appointed by the Crown; it is simply to scrutinise the Executive. The appointment of a Bank of England Governor is a matter for the Executive, and has been ever since the Bank’s nationalisation in 1946. One of the more interesting speeches today related to the origins of the Bank, because we have to understand where it has come from, and I repudiate any attempt to curtail Members’ right of speech when they are describing the history of the Bank. Everything is contingent: one has to understand the history of institutions to understand better how we can develop them.
The Bank of England was for almost 270 years an independent institution. It was a private bank, and its governor would spend two years’ in the role on a rotating basis. That broke down after the first world war, in 1920, when Montagu Norman was appointed Governor of the Bank of England. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington suggested that the new Governor—this superman or superwoman—would have such enormous powers and influence that no Governor has ever equalled them. That is completely unhistorical and false. Montagu Norman was Governor of the Bank from 1920 to 1944. He was Governor in 1925 when we went back on the gold standard and in 1931 when we came off the gold standard. He was Governor in 1939, just before the second world war, when exchange controls were imposed. He only left, dragged kicking and screaming from his post, after 24 years. He was a man of enormous power and influence, and it is very unlikely that any subsequent Governor will exercise the same kind of power. The simple reason is that under the current proposals we suggest that a Governor should have a single term of eight years, so there is no question of a man or woman being Governor for the same length of time as Montagu Norman or, similarly, Kim Cobbold, who was Governor for 12 years.
Members who are trying to make the case for supervision are utterly exaggerating the nature of this man or woman’s power once he or she is appointed to this important role. That is obviously due to their desire to exaggerate the power of the Governor to try to justify the appropriation of power on the part of the Treasury Committee. Under the Bill, that Committee, which is made up of 13 Members of this House, would have inordinate powers unequalled by that of any other Select Committee. That would distort the relationship of the Treasury Committee to this House and give it a preponderant influence in relation not only to scrutiny but to the Executive branch through its power of veto.
The proposal imports an alien structure from the United States, and that frustrates and disappoints me. The American constitution is a very different beast with a very different history from ours. As my hon. Friend Mr Gyimah, who is not in his place, pointed out, it has a strict division of powers. In America, no members of the Executive sit in the legislature. It is therefore right and proper that the legislature, as embodied in Congress, should have the power of scrutiny over an Executive who have no role in the legislature.
Order. Mr Pound, resume your seat. If I heard a filibuster taking place, clearly I would have ruled it out of order. Mr Kwarteng, after his initial little problem, has been in order.
I profoundly apologise, Mr Deputy Speaker; I abase myself before you.
I put it to the hon. Gentleman that he might just as logically say that dictators dictate. Surely there can be no greater or more magnificent ornament of the constitution than the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, to whom I listened last week as he interviewed a preferred nominee for the post of Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary. A little bit of democracy is not that painful; it is rather a healthy thing.
The right of veto proposed in the Bill, which apes the structures in the United States of America, is totally inappropriate and would take the constitution down a road that we have not travelled down before. My hon. Friend the Member for West Suffolk talked at length—but to the point, I must say—about the structures in the United States. It is important that we understand what goes on in the United States in order to understand what might happen here if the Bill becomes law.
We well understand the recent financial history of the world. I was working in the City in 2000—[ Interruption. ] I am not ashamed that I had a job outside this House. I do not think that it is something I should apologise for.
I worked on a dealing room floor in 2000 at the time of the election in the United States. The financial uncertainty that prevailed in the markets as a consequence of the indecisive nature of that election, with the fight between Bush and Gore being taken up to the Supreme Court, was debilitating. I have first-hand experience of that.
I would not want to see a situation in this country in which a candidate to be the Governor of the Bank of England was scrutinised by the Treasury Committee and an impasse reached, resulting in days or even weeks without an appointment being secured. I know from first-hand experience that that is the worst message that could be sent to the financial markets in what are perilous and uncertain times. It would be irresponsible of us to delay or complicate the process in that way.
Does the hon. Gentleman not feel that in his opposition to the Bill, he is in danger of treading down the rather dodgy road of saying that he supports some kind of technocratic Government, with democratically elected politicians becoming observers, rather than the participants and the controllers? Surely the whole point of the US constitution was that democratically elected politicians were trying to assert their power over the structures of society. I realise that there is much corruption in the US financial system, but surely the principles of the US constitution are not entirely wrong.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman. All I am suggesting is that the balance of powers is about right. We know that the House of Commons had a long struggle against King Charles I and the Executive. However, I think that the current constitutional balance is about right.
I do not think, as I suggested earlier, that the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Chief of the Defence Staff or the chairman of the BBC should be scrutinised by Select Committees, but that is a debate for another time. I cannot support this Bill because it would add an element of uncertainty to the financial markets, which is the last thing that we need at this time. I thank Members of the House for indulging me in my brief remarks.
This has been a thoughtful debate and some interesting issues have been raised by Members on both sides of the House. I commend John McDonnell on his success in getting the first Bill in the ballot for two years running. The odds of him being first again next year are about 14 million to one—roughly the same as winning the national lottery. If he tells us his numbers, we will all enter it, although I fear that it would make only a minor dent in the deficit that we inherited from the previous Government.
The hon. Gentleman made his arguments in a calm and considered way, but I felt that he did not do justice to some of the more complex issues that have been explored over the last few hours. I am grateful to my hon. Friends for their support in teasing out the issues that underpin the Bill. My hon. Friend Stephen Hammond—the Cliff Richard of Parliament, as he was described earlier—talked about the substantial constitutional change that the Bill would make. Chris Leslie, who is no longer in his place, made one of his shorter speeches at eight minutes. Those of us who served on the Financial Services Bill Committee would have welcomed more speeches of that brevity and concision.
My hon. Friend Brandon Lewis made a powerful and measured speech, using his experience from the Work and Pensions Committee and highlighting some of the challenges that exist. Mark Durkan, who is no longer in his place, made the second of only two Back-Bench speeches in support of the Bill. He got himself into a bit of a hole trying to justify why he voted against a parliamentary inquiry last night but was in favour of the Bill today.
My hon. Friend Richard Harrington highlighted the importance of transparency and openness in appointments, which I hope to come on to in a moment. My hon. Friend Heather Wheeler, in her typically pithy way, made some important and powerful points about the changes that the Bill would introduce.
My hon. Friend Mike Freer came with a list of original shareholders of the Bank of England and tried to identify whether any of their successors were in the House of Commons. I have with me a list of Governors of the Bank of England. [Interruption.] No, just be patient. I wondered whether Humphry Morice, the Governor between 1727 and 1729, was related to the hon. Members for Easington (Grahame M. Morris) and for Livingston (Graeme Morrice), but unlike them he was not called Graeme. My hon. Friend Joseph Johnson will be interested to know that Reginald Eden Johnston was the Governor between 1909 and 1911. My hon. Friend quoted Bagehot, and I have my own Bagehot quote to trade with him. I think it rather neatly encapsulates some of the problems with the Bill. He said:
“No result could be worse than that the conduct of the Bank and the management should be made a matter of party politics, and men of all parties would agree in this, even if they agreed in almost nothing else.”
That highlights the problem at the heart of the Bill. The power in it could be used to politicise the appointment of the Governor in a way that would be to the detriment of how the Bank functions.
My hon. Friend Matthew Hancock made an impressive speech—
In its quality, too. The hon. Gentleman should acknowledge that.
Among the many facts that my hon. Friend gave, I have to correct one or two. He said that only nine banks could still issue notes in Scotland and Northern Ireland, but in fact it is only seven. The Bank Charter Act 1844 was the beginning of the move towards the Bank of England’s note issue monopoly, after which no new banks were permitted to issue notes and the stock of notes could not be increased. I am sorry that my hon.
Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg is not in his place, because the last bank to issue notes was one called Fox, Fowler and Company, which was based in Somerset. Sticking to tradition is a feature of what my hon. Friend does, so perhaps that is not a surprise to him.
I hate to say it, but I thought my hon. Friend was uncharacteristically uncharitable about our hon. Friends the Liberal Democrats. Perhaps they did not get the three e-mails that I got from the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington imploring me to be here today. I answered that call, and I am sorry that more Members on his side of the argument did not do so.
No, I think I ought to have the opportunity to summarise the Government’s position on the Bill.
We are committed to maintaining the appointments process for the Governor, which is proportionate, attracts candidates of the highest quality and represents value for money for the taxpayer. It is important to ensure the credibility of the candidate, and to safeguard his or her independence and prevent them from becoming a political pawn.
The Financial Services Bill, which is currently in the other place, already contains provisions to strengthen the Bank’s governance arrangements, including moving the Governor to a single eight-year term. Much has been made of the enhanced powers that the Financial Services Bill bestows on the Governor, but it is important to remember that the Bill does not create new responsibilities for the Bank. Rather, it is returning the Bank to a role more akin to the one it played prior to the creation of the Financial Services Authority, when it was responsible for financial stability and prudential supervision of banks. In a way, we are going back to the situation prior to the Labour Government.
The Governor is already accountable to court and to Parliament, and the Treasury Committee holds pre-commencement hearings for the Governor and deputy governors. That is the right balance. Of course, the Governor—rightly—is regularly called before the Treasury Committee. The market-sensitive nature of the Governor’s role makes it unsuitable to be subject to the approval of the Treasury Committee. Such a step risks uncertainty, delay and disruption to financial markets. That is also true in respect of the proposal to make the dismissal of the Governor subject to the approval of the Treasury Committee. I therefore cannot offer the Government’s support for the Bill.
The Minister will be pleased to note that his speech does not come as a surprise, because the Government have laid out their position, not least in the Financial Services Bill. However, the relationship between the Executive and the legislature is evolving. Ad hoc relations, such as those with the Comptroller and Auditor General and the Electoral Commission, have been mentioned. Will the Minister give serious consideration to taking into account the views of both the Treasury Committee and Parliament? Can he envisage a role for them in the process?
The Treasury Committee already has a role—it conducts, for example, pre-commencement hearings for members of the Monetary Policy Committee. Paul Tucker and Charlie Bean, the two deputy governors, have been through that process, which we envisage will continue.
Even the Labour Front-Bench spokesman in the House of Lords was wary of the proposed increase of authority for the Treasury Committee. Although there has been a broader debate on the role of the House in appointments and whether there should be pre-appointment hearings, this is not the time to make those broader points. If there is to be such evolution, we need a much broader debate. Alighting on the appointment of the Government as a peg for that debate is not the right way to go about things. If I make more progress, I shall highlight the Government’s response to the Liaison Committee, which has discussed increasing the role of Select Committees.
That is a fair point. The weight of opinion has been to oppose the Bill. I gave a list of hon. Members who have spoken—I forgot to add my hon. Friend Kwasi Kwarteng, who was the last Back-Bench speaker—but the balance of views has been against the proposal. There has been some discussion of the fact that the debate has continued until almost 2.30 pm, but the hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington, despite his three e-mails, could not get the 100 hon. Members required for the closure. The House has expressed its view today.
The appointment veto was proposed by the Treasury Committee. There was a consultation on, and pre-legislative scrutiny of, the Financial Services Bill prior to its Second Reading but, except for the Treasury Committee, no one called for the appointment of the Governor to be subject to its approval.
We need to recognise the changes being made to the accountability and governance of the Bank. It is facing pretty significant organisational change, and it is right that the arrangements for its governance and accountability be thoroughly debated as part of that process. In November, the Committee published its report into the accountability of the Bank and in it made several recommendations on governance. As a consequence, we have tabled amendments in the other place to strengthen and modernise the Bank’s governance arrangements.
Those amendments will replace the current committee of non-executive directors of the Bank with a non-executive oversight committee that will have a broad remit to oversee the Bank’s performance against its objectives and strategy, and provide for explicit powers to commission and publish internal and external reviews of the Bank’s policy-making process. In the Bank’s annual report and accounts, published on Monday, the Governor said in the foreword that the Bank must carry out its new responsibilities with
“openness and transparency, and be held accountable for them to Parliament and the public, just as”— it is “for monetary policy”—an important signal from the Bank about its role.
Since the Bank’s nationalisation in 1946, appointments have been made by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. The Bill would require that the appointment be made by Her Majesty with the consent of the Treasury Committee as well. The current legislation states that the Bank may, with the Chancellor’s consent, remove the Governor from office in certain circumstances, but again the Bill would require that the Treasury Committee consent to that removal. We have made our position clear: we do not believe that giving the Treasury Committee a statutory power over appointments or dismissals is either necessary or appropriate.
The Minister indicated that we were returning to the Bank powers over financial stability and oversight of the banking industry, but he forgot to mention that it already had powers over monetary policy, which it never had in the past. In effect, the Bank and the Governor have unprecedented powers. I accept that parliamentary oversight has been strengthened—sometimes at the behest of the Treasury Committee—but, given these unprecedented powers, will the Government consider going further and putting in place appropriate parliamentary scrutiny to ensure that the powers are being used effectively?
We are improving the parliamentary scrutiny of the Bank. As a result of the Financial Services Bill, we will see more regular reports into regulatory failure, and I expect the Governor to appear before the Treasury Committee. On financial stability decisions, we are trying to ensure that the Bank’s six-monthly financial stability reports are transparent and open, and that they explain the risks facing the economy, what the FPC will do about them and what the consequences might be. There is, then, a great deal of transparency in the work of the Bank. That is a significant leap forward, and I pay tribute to the work of the Treasury Committee in encouraging that increase in transparency. We listen to the Committee and respond to its conclusions.
The Government believe, as did the previous one, that the existing appointment process is robust, appropriate and ensures the independence and accountability of the Governor. We are introducing a single eight-year term for the Governor, which will preserve his independence. That was a proposal from the Treasury Committee but also one that we made when in opposition. It will help to strengthen that independence. There are risks, however, in giving the Treasury Committee a veto over appointments. There could be an impact on market stability, with a risk of undermining market confidence. There is also a risk of creating a party political or politicised process—the very danger that Bagehot warned us against.
It would be wrong for the Bill to receive a Second Reading, although there is much more that I would like to say about the matter. I do not think that we have properly explored the issues, but I am grateful to hon.
Members on both sides of the debate for their contributions. These are weighty matters that deserve proper parliamentary attention and—
The debate stood adjourned (
Ordered, That the debate be resumed on