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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 appreciate the hon. Gentleman’s pedantry. With respect, he makes a point that does not bear too much political scrutiny. The global financial crash caused the huge increase in the deficit and stalled the economy. It also gave the Government the opportunity to carry out their long-harboured ideological desire, decades old, to cut public services and wither away the state.

The Bill comes to us from the other place, where there was considerable debate at every stage. The Bill has changed, following a number of amendments proposed by the Government. In our reasoned amendment, we recognise those changes as improvements, and they are welcome, but the Bill has not changed significantly enough. As I mentioned, the Bill is in two parts, and on the first part—on the Bank of England’s structures—we recognise that the Government have made some positive movement, although it is insufficient. We recognise that they have moved on aspects of the oversight powers of the Bank’s court of directors, but the directors’ forum for discussion—the oversight committee—remains abolished.

We also recognise that the Government have moved on the proposed power of veto for the Bank’s court of directors over National Audit Office investigations, but the memorandum of understanding referred to in the Bill remains under negotiation and unpublished. On other aspects, in the House of Lords, there was no agreement. I wrote to the Chancellor asking that the memorandum of understanding be presented to this House during the passage of the Bill. I am glad to say that the Economic Secretary responded, explaining that it is not yet complete and is subject to ongoing discussions between the Bank and the National Audit Office. She explained that she will write to the Governor of the Bank of England and the Comptroller and Auditor General at the National Audit Office to see whether they will be in a position to share the draft memorandum of understanding during the passage of the Bill. In such an important matter, it can only be right for the House to have sight of that crucial memorandum of understanding. Any other approach would be a cause for concern.

The Bill replaces the Prudential Regulation Authority with a new Prudential Regulation Committee. Peers on both sides—including Government peers—expressed concern that that represented a downgrading and threatened a loss of independence.

As I have discussed at length, the Bill also replaces the presumption of responsibility with a duty of responsibility. Opposition peers challenged that on Report, and the Government’s measure scraped through by only 200 votes to 198. If I believe what I am told by the Minister, scrapping the presumption of responsibility is entirely uncontroversial and entirely reasonable. Unfortunately, that is not the case, and the issue gives us particular cause for concern in the wider context of the Chancellor’s new settlement with financial services.

We need a healthy and effective banking sector that is appropriately regulated, that serves the interests of the whole economy, that does not hurt ordinary people or small and medium-sized businesses, and that delivers the vital investment our country needs for long-term growth. The Conservative Government climbdown on the presumption of responsibility, which they previously supported, will hinder, not help, the fulfilment of those ambitions. Personal responsibility is vital for the operation of our regulatory systems. The Chancellor’s policy U-turn reduces exactly the personal responsibility that the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards recommended in its 500-page report. Scrapping a key measure before it has even had the chance to be tested makes no sense—unless, of course, the Chancellor is just following bankers’ orders. The startling and precipitous scrapping of a widely welcomed measure shows that there is a very real risk of failing to learn the lessons of the bankers’ crisis.

Our concerns go much wider than the presumption of responsibility, to the role of the Governor, the work of the FCA and the programme of selling off, for example, Royal Bank of Scotland shares at a loss to the taxpayer. The Chancellor’s whole approach says, “Let’s get back to business as usual.” However, it was the bankers’ business as usual that brought Britain to the brink; it was the bankers’ business as usual that caused the deficit. Returning to business as usual will make another financial crisis even more likely, with disastrous consequences for those we are meant to represent in this place, and that—to clear up any confusion on the part of the Minister—is why we are asking the Government in our reasoned amendment to think again today.

Several hon. Members rose—