Bank of England (Appointment of Governor) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:42 pm on 6th July 2012.

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Photo of Matthew Hancock Matthew Hancock Conservative, West Suffolk 12:42 pm, 6th July 2012

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.