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Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 5:41 pm on 1st February 2016.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw 5:41 pm, 1st February 2016

I shall stick to your request that we keep to 10 minutes, Madam Deputy Speaker, not least because I hope to catch your eye in the second debate. I will therefore not speak about the FCA now, although it would be relevant.

I reiterate what can now be called the East Lothian question: if the ship goes down, should the captain not go down with it? I thank the constituent of mine who last night sent me the link to the footage of the session of the Treasury Committee in 2009 at which a Mr Andy Hornby and Mr Fred Goodwin gave evidence. Nothing could encapsulate the East Lothian question more profoundly than that hearing, their performance and their escape from real responsibility for their failures in office. The reverse burden of proof change and the dropping of the FCA’s culture review are two sides of the same coin.

The Chancellor’s actions are consistent with what he has done and said in the past. The House should remember that, speaking about regulation in 2007, one year before the crisis, he cited Ireland as an example of why there should be less regulation and greater deregulation of precisely the authorities we are talking about now. We saw in Ireland what would have happened here had we followed his advice, but we are a much bigger economy, so it would have been far worse for our people. History is not repeating itself; ideology is repeating itself.

I note some interesting clauses in the Bill. It is hard to disagree with the reduction in the number of MPC meetings from 12 to eight. There have been more than 80 since the last decision to change anything. One can begin to question, therefore, not whether there is group-think, but whether that body needs to put quite as much effort, month after month, year after year, into making no decision at all, and whether we need to put quite as much effort into scrutinising, month in, month out, its inability or unwillingness to make a decision—or perhaps even its correctness in making no decision. It shows how we are missing the point.

Some bigger things are not in the Bill. Transparency is missing at every level in the Bill. When it comes to it, there is no transparency. Minor improvements are proposed, but the workings of the Bank of England and the financial sector and its regulation remain in great secrecy. That is a fundamental problem.

In the past, I have proposed that there should be differential risk, particularly in retail banking. If I wish to speculate my money away with an Icelandic bank, the bookies or anybody else, I should be allowed and not be stopped from doing so, but I should not expect the taxpayer to pick up the tab if things go wrong. We have the principle with premium bonds, but we have not expanded that into the mutual sector, for example. There should undoubtedly be a lower interest rate. There should be absolute guarantees. We have failed to look at differentiating the risk for the consumer. That will come back to haunt us.

Lip service is paid to competition, with the Chancellor and the Treasury wanting again to dominate the FCA. Under clause 18, they want to be able to tell the FCA what it should be doing. What is missing from the bigger picture is competition. There are competition objectives, but it is the same old banks. In fact, it is far worse, as it is not just the same old banks—the building society sector has largely disappeared from the retail sector compared with 10, 20 or 30 years ago. I am certain that, if the old-style Halifax building society were resurrected, many of my constituents would wish to put their money there, as I did all my life, and as my mother, all my family and many people in the north did.