Opposition Day — [17th Allotted Day] — Banking

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 1:57 pm on 15th January 2014.

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Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire 1:57 pm, 15th January 2014

I think I am right in saying that the then City Minister is now the shadow Chancellor. My hon. Friend rightly reminds us that the regulatory architecture that allowed this disaster to occur was also set up by the previous Government. Having been regulated by that regulator for many years, I know how important it is that the regulation of banks has been returned to the Bank of England. That is important because the Bank of England sees the canary in the coal mine when banks have problems with day-to-day liquidity. The Bank of England was able to see such problems in the run-up to the crash, whereas the Financial Services Authority, in its lofty headquarters in Canary Wharf, was at one remove from that, and there was no ability to join up the reaction. My hon. Friend makes an incredibly important point.

At the start of this Parliament, our Government inherited, in effect, a state-owned oligopoly in the banking system, and that is not a good place to be if we want to achieve a competitive and healthy banking system. The Government have embarked on a long-term economic plan to reform the banking system and make it more responsive to the needs of businesses and consumers up and down the land. That cannot be done overnight—it takes time. Step No. 1 was to reform the system of financial regulation. That was an extremely thorough and elaborate process, involving many people from within this House and the other place, and as of last year we had the final enactment and implementation. So we have taken some difficult and long-term decisions to reform the regulatory architecture in a way that will make it impossible for this sort of crisis to occur in the future.

Secondly, we have established a long-term economic plan for people and for businesses in this country. We have reformed the way in which the economy is working: we have lowered the cost of mortgages for home owners; we have lowered the cost of government for council tax payers; and we have lowered the cost of fuel over and above what the Opposition planned, so that people who drive to work do not have to pay that extra £11 in tax that had been planned for them.

Thirdly, I come to the final piece of this journey in passing on to future generations a banking sector that is, once again, fit for purpose: addressing this problem of the state-owned oligopoly. We cannot restructure the failed banks effectively within the Government’s ownership, and the best way to say that we have closed this terrible chapter that we inherited in the banking system will be by privatising the banks that are publicly owned and returning them to the private sector. We have started on that with the sale of the first tranche of Lloyds shares. I sincerely hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that it is the Government’s plan to return Lloyds shares to the private sector.

I also argue that it is in the best interests of the economy and the country that we move now to return RBS, whose share price is still well below that paid by the former Prime Minister for its shares, to the private sector, even if that means recognising and crystallising a loss which is the price we pay for Labour’s banking failure. At the moment we are in the worst of all possible worlds: we have a system where we need to allow new entrants to come into the space, but a large semi-state-owned dinosaur is taking up a lot of market share. It would be better for that to be restructured effectively within the private sector.

My argument today is that the Government need to get out of the banking business as quickly as possible. It is not the role of government to be setting the compensation of every banker in this country. The Government must set the framework and the regulation, but this level of micromanagement is a function—a symptom—of the terrible inheritance that we received. By getting out, we must recognise that we will reform the banking sector for our children and our grandchildren. It will mean that those banks will then restructure within the private sector, and the socialists will never be able to get their hands back on running a large sector of our economy.