Opposition Day — [17th Allotted Day] — Banking

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:52 pm on 15th January 2014.

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Photo of David Gauke David Gauke The Exchequer Secretary 3:52 pm, 15th January 2014

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I do not know whether the Opposition are embarrassed by previous occasions when they claimed more would be paid from a bankers’ bonus tax than was actually paid in bankers’ bonuses. Perhaps they have noticed that if they cap bonuses they will get less tax from them. They may want to revise their numbers on that.

It has to be pointed out that it has been estimated that City bonuses in 2012-13 were more than 85% lower than at their peak in 2007-08. I know there is genuine concern about bank bonuses encouraging short-term high-risk behaviour, but it is not just the amount that matters; it is also the structure of the bonuses. There is a difference between cash bonuses and bonuses paid in shares with the opportunity for clawback if there is bad behaviour or a need to rebuild regulatory capital. Under the PRA remuneration code, large parts of bonuses must be deferred and paid in shares, aligning the interests of the employee with the long-term interests of the bank. The implication of many of today’s comments is that there is a concern about total remuneration, yet the motion and everything we have heard from the Labour Front Bench is about only one part of remuneration: bonuses. The reality is that the European directive and the policy pursued by Labour will drive up salaries. It is not clear why the Opposition are interested in only one aspect of remuneration, and we have certainly not had an explanation of that. It is also worth pointing out that the Governor of the Bank of England was critical of a cap in his evidence to the Treasury Committee this afternoon.

I am pleased that Labour appears to support the virtues of competition, but that was not its record in government. There were 10 banks in 1997, but that figure reduced over the following 13 years. The Cruickshank report, produced in 2000, was supposed to encourage more competition, but it was blocked by the Treasury and nothing was done. Our record has involved a much greater focus on competition, and it is a primary objective of the Financial Conduct Authority and a secondary objective of the Prudential Regulation Authority. We have a payment systems regulator, which makes things easier for small businesses, and we have changed the application process to make it much more proportionate for new businesses. Furthermore, the regulators indicate that 22 new banks are interested in acquiring authorisation in the UK.

On empowering consumers, our new switching policy saw a 54% increase in switching in December, compared with the year before. We have heard Labour’s proposals for a quota system. We do not have the details, of course, but simply reducing the number of branches of one bank will not create huge new levels of competition. There are concerns about branches being lost under Labour’s proposals. Most significantly of all, the Governor of the Bank of England told the Treasury Select Committee this afternoon that that would not help with competition. One other person has been critical of that policy in the past. In April 2011, the shadow Chancellor said that

“there is no need to break up institutions”.

The last Labour Government’s record on the banking sector was lamentable. Their regulatory system failed, and their attempts to ensure that individuals were held to account also failed. They tried to ensure that bonuses did not create perverse incentives, but that failed. They tried to encourage more competition; that failed. They tried to protect taxpayers’ money, but that failed too. Their record is one of failure, and until they acknowledge that, there is no reason why the British people should take anything they say on this matter seriously again.

Question put.

The House divided: