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I am pleased to speak in support of this important Bill, which delivers a new settlement for the financial services sector—a vital sector of the UK economy—by strengthening the Bank of England and the regulatory regime governing individuals working in the sector. In particular, the Bill deserves support because it puts the Bank of England at the centre of a new regulatory system that will give it new powers, more responsibilities and better procedures. It will also strengthen the Bank’s governance, transparency and accountability and increase the accountability of staff working in our important financial services sector.
When the idea of a Bank of England first emerged after William and Mary came to the throne in 1688, the public finances were in disarray, the system of money and credit was weak and our financial markets were on the verge of collapse. Things were not much better 320 years later, however, under a Labour Government, who oversaw a banking system that had become too concentrated, took too many risks, and acted against taxpayers’ interests. It was under the discredited tripartite system that people such as Fred Goodwin were allowed to receive huge bonuses while running their banks into the ground.
Today our financial services sector is much stronger, and it requires the up-to-date effective governance and regulation that the Bill proposes. According to TheCityUK trade body, the financial services sector employs 7% of the UK workforce—two-thirds of whom are outside London—and accounts for 12% of our GDP. It is absolutely right that this Bill should support a growing and moral financial services sector.
I support clause 1, which will make the deputy governor for markets and banking a member of the Bank of England’s court. Following the expansion of the Bank’s responsibilities through the Financial Services Act 2012, a fourth deputy governor, with responsibility for markets and banking, was appointed and given responsibility for reshaping the Bank’s balance sheet. This important role, currently filled by Dame Minouche Shafik, does not have statutory membership of the court. Clause 1 will rectify that situation and ensure equal status for the fourth deputy governor. It will also give the Government the necessary flexibility to update the membership of the court, the Financial Policy Committee, the MPC and the new Prudential Regulation Committee. This will ensure flexibility to meet future need, and that the court is fit for purpose.
When the Bank opened for business in 1694 in temporary accommodation in the Mercers Hall in Cheapside, it had a staff of 17 clerks and two gatekeepers. Today its personnel is much wider, and none are more important than the members of the court. That is why I welcome the reforms in clause 1. It will update the powers of the court and increase its flexibility to ensure that new expertise is added when necessary. These are practical powers and they deserve the support of the entire House. I also welcome the reforms to the Oversight Committee, the Financial Policy Committee and the Monetary Policy Committee that my right hon. Friend Mr Tyrie, who is no longer in his place, articulately outlined.
A key element of the Bill is the transformation of the Prudential Regulatory Authority into the Prudential Regulation Committee. As Members will know, the PRA is responsible for the supervision of around 1,700 banks, building societies, credit unions and major investment firms. The transition will result in the PRA, a subsidiary of the Bank of England, becoming the PRC, a committee of the Bank. This will ensure that it is fully integrated into the Bank’s work while retaining its operational independence. This measure deserves the support of all hon. Members—[Interruption.]—including those on the Opposition Front Bench. This will continue the process of building a unified institution, which will allow the new authority to focus more closely on its policy work, rather than thinking about back-office issues such as IT procurement.