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Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 4:39 pm on 1st February 2016.

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Photo of Richard Burgon Richard Burgon Shadow Minister (Treasury) 4:39 pm, 1st February 2016

I thank my hon. Friend, who has extensive experience in these matters, for that. Troublingly, the people who now say there is no risk of a financial crisis ever again were the very same people in the very same sector who were saying before 2008 that everything was fine and there was no risk of disaster at the time. Sadly, how wrong they were! Despite what the bankers did to our economy and our society, about which there was entirely justified anger among the population, the Chancellor has cunningly turned the bankers’ crisis into a crisis of public spending, and has adopted a policy of spending cuts to vital services to which there seems to be no end in sight. In looking at this Bill, it appears that the Chancellor believes that he can now turn back the clock in the banking and financial sector.

Under this Chancellor, things are going in the wrong direction. For example, he sold off shares in the Royal Bank of Scotland at a very significant loss to the taxpayer; he appointed Angela Knight, who was head of the British Bankers Association during the financial crisis and who defended the top bankers during the crisis, to head up the Office of Tax Simplification in the Treasury; and he decided he could do without the continued services of the respected chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority, Martin Wheatley. I am sure that he is delighted with the new appointment, as we have been told by the Minister that Mr Wheatley’s successor is fine with the abolition of the reverse burden of proof. I wonder whether Martin Wheatley, who departed prematurely, would have said the same.

The FCA’s planned public review into banking culture has now been cancelled, and its investigation into the promotion of tax evasion by HSBC has been brought to a premature conclusion. I know that we will be hearing more about the FCA in another debate this evening.

The Bank of England and Financial Services Bill was originally drafted, according to the Chancellor at a Treasury Committee meeting, to make changes to the Bank of England’s structure. One important concern is that it includes a major change to the regulation of senior bankers, undoing a key measure taken after the bankers’ crisis to change senior bankers’ conduct and to deliver transparency and accountability to financial decision making. I am talking about the presumption of responsibility—or the so-called reverse burden of proof.

We welcome the extension of the senior managers regime to senior managers across all regulated financial firms, but we do not accept the Government’s case for ending the presumption of responsibility for the top managers in banking.

The presumption of responsibility, as currently set out, applies to senior managers. It means that, to avoid being found guilty of misconduct when there has been a regulatory contravention in an area for which they are responsible, they will have to prove that they took reasonable steps to prevent that contravention. This Bill removes that onus on senior bankers. The onus is entirely reasonable, proportionate and, as bitter experience tells the British people, entirely necessary. Misconduct and misdemeanours in financial services are not merely a tale from history. In 2015, for example, the FCA had to fine firms more than £900 million. There was also a LIBOR scandal, foreign exchange fines and the mis-selling of payment protection insurance to the value of up to £33 billion.