Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 8:21 pm on 11th March 2013.

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Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 8:21 pm, 11th March 2013

I most probably will not even take 10 minutes.

I am very pleased that the plane of John Thurso did come in, because he always makes complex issues simple and entertaining. There is a consensus in the House around regulation as the approach to take towards resolving the banking crisis and ensuring that, if we do not prevent a future crisis, we at least stave it off for, as the hon. Gentleman suggested, possibly another 70 years. The degree of positioning is around Glass-Steagall-type full separation, a ring fence, and then, as he said, the novelty of an electrified ring fence. There must be different power levels of electricity on this ring fence, as well.

I stand outside that debate, because I do not think that regulation will work. I was the first Member to raise the issue of Northern Rock in this House. At that time, I completely underestimated what Northern Rock was up to. I thought that it was all about an offshore tax scam that was part of its link with the organisation that it called Granite; I had no idea of the scale of the problem that would be unravelled. I can remember the then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, I think, leaving the Chamber after I had talked about Northern Rock, to obtain a briefing about what I was talking about. I realised that what I was talking about was a crisis that was being created in the City by greed, primarily, and by speculation and casino banking. I remember being at the Labour party conference in the 1980s, around the time of big bang, and organising the launch of a book called “Big bang: the launch of a casino economy”, authored by Mr Skinner, which predicted some of the outrageous potential that there was for speculation as a result of big bang.

When I raised Northern Rock, I completely underestimated the levels of casino banking and the corruption that was taking place. In the previous debate a few weeks ago, I described the City as a “cesspool of corruption”, which it was. However, what was also revealed was the absolute incompetence. It was like “The Wizard of Oz”—when the curtain was pulled back, there was not a wizard but someone scrambling with various levers. We discovered then that the hierarchy of British banking did not even understand the instruments with which they were working because they were so complex. Then it all started to unravel, and we discovered scales of greed, incompetence and corruption that none of us expected.

At that time, we were assured that the regulatory system was not at fault, but we soon discovered how inoperable it was. The result, as we all know, is that the then Government intervened to borrow and used taxpayers’ money to bail out the system. At its peak, taxpayers’ exposure to the bank collapse was on the scale of £1.2 trillion. I understand that so far we have retrieved only £14 billion of that taxpayers’ money. The second wave was the austerity programme introduced to pay for the Government intervention to save the banking system. Mervyn King estimated the cost of that to be £1 trillion. Anthony Haldane, who is probably more accurate in his assessment, estimates that we have lost the equivalent of between one and five years’ GDP. Those absolutely staggering sums are the result of a crisis brought about by incompetence and greed. The majority of people are 7% poorer than in 2007, and their living standards have fallen, according to the latest estimate, by 13.2% since 2008. The median household income in 2015-16 will be the equivalent of that in 2002-03. These are the implications of what this wealth of greed brought about: mass unemployment, welfare benefit cuts, food banks, and parents missing meals so that children can eat. It is absolutely staggering.

I find it extremely difficult to come to terms with an issue that was raised by my right hon. Friend Frank Dobson. Since the crisis occurred—since I first stood up in this House and mentioned Northern Rock—and we went on to the nationalisation of banks, and then to quantitative easing on a scale that we had never seen before or could even comprehend, the scandalous practices have not gone away: they have continued. As my right hon. Friend said, the bonuses have continued, fraud has continued, LIBOR interest rate fixing has been investigated, and we have seen tax evasion and money laundering. This is happening even when the bankers are in full public sight. At a time when the eyes of the country are on them, they are still manipulating the system.

I find it astounding—I have raised this in the House three times, and 10 days ago I received a letter from the Minister about it—that when quantitative easing was introduced, we discovered through press reports that bankers even then sought to profiteer from it. The letter from the Minister confirmed that at one point the Bank of England had to intervene and withdraw from the market because there were suspicions of price fixing and manipulation of the market during quantitative easing.