Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 6:20 pm on 1st February 2016.

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Photo of Marcus Fysh Marcus Fysh Conservative, Yeovil 6:20 pm, 1st February 2016

It is a bit rich for the Opposition to be talking about this as if it were some sort of a party political issue. [Interruption.] Let meexplain why I said that. Everybody shares the frustration at what happened in the lead-up to the banking crisis, but we cannot get away from the fact that the Labour party played a large part in it. Even though the regulation and the powers were there, the practices were not pursued assiduously enough, which put financial stability at risk.

Financial stability is crucial. This is not really about bankers’ bonuses; it is about the fact that ordinary people suffer the most when finance fails. I must say that I have some sympathy with what Helen Goodman said about the separation between retail banking and investment banking. When I left university, I joined the training course at the SG Warburg group. Lord Roll, a very wise old man, gave us a lecture about all of the things that had gone wrong throughout the 1930s and so on. He said that whenever the separation between retail banking and investment banking is weakened, there will be a problem, and that has really stuck with me. We must look at ways in which we can introduce more competition and put that separation back, so that there is not such a burden on regulators to use their powers. None the less, for the time being, this Bill is a useful step.

I wish to deal with this Bill in two sections. The first is to do with regulation, and the second governance. The proposed regime for senior managers is good. I do not agree with Opposition Members who say that it is a reduction in the power of the regulations. The thing about financial services is that they are ongoing. If things go wrong, a manager has a duty not just to their clients and to the system generally, but all the way along. The beauty of the measures before us is that that duty of responsibility will have to be proved, all the time, by each manager to their regulators. Importantly, that duty applies to any breach and to any manager. What was proposed previously was effectively a two-tier system: firms with a potential prudential impact would have to comply with the legislation while those in investment funds would not. That is incredibly important, especially in the modern world in which we now operate and especially since the financial crash. As banks have had to build up their capital and have been less willing to lend, a large burden of the lending and credit business has fallen on to investment funds. Under the old legislation, those aspects would not have been covered.

I am a bit concerned that the Prudential Regulation Authority—or the Prudential Regulation Committee as it becomes—does not regulate some of these investment firms that do have a potential systemic impact on the markets. I would prefer that it took a much more active look at such firms, especially the credit and derivative funds, which quite often operate with a large degree of leverage. Because of the volatility in oil prices, we have seen some of the lower grade credits in America, particularly of oil firms and gas firms, really suffering. Yields have blown out. Regulators in America, who do not want to highlight the problem, are saying to the banks, “Don’t mark these to market”. The Minister should look at that issue, because I fear there are some firms in London that are involved in similar business, and that poses a risk for us as we go forward.

Bringing the PRA in-house is a good thing. When the retail and investment banks are together, as they are now, we really need the PRA, or the PRC as it will become, to have the sharpest teeth possible and the best people working in it. The less time that it has to focus on the corporate governance of a separate company or institution, the better.

Also coming in-house will be the people who work for the authority. Let us face it, there can be a revolving door in this industry as most of the jobs in regulation do not pay as much as those in the financial markets that they have to regulate. What we want are the people with the best brains and the most application, because they have to see a way of having a lucrative career in the Bank of England, which is a great success. It will be much better to keep regulation within the Bank, rather than outside it.

Other developments on the governance front are useful, especially the oversight and tightening up of the Monetary Policy Committee. I have quite a lot of sympathy with what was said by my right hon. Friend Mark Field. We do need to take a very active role in looking at what the Bank of England does and does not do. That is especially true at the moment when we are seeing bank balance sheets around the world dramatically expanded in a very experimental way. Recently, we have seen the European Central Bank and the Bank of Japan both going full tilt at the windmills of trying to create inflation. The jury is very much out on that policy. We must not forget that our own MPC made a terrible mistake back in 2005 by cutting interest rates at exactly the wrong time, which sent exactly the wrong signal to the housing markets and to the banks. It was done at a time when the creation of money was racing away. We need to be all over this in this place, both on the regulatory front and on looking at what happens in monetary policy decisions. None the less, this Bill is a first step and I commend it to the House.