It is a pleasure to speak in this Second Reading debate.
I was reminded this weekend in my constituency that my constituent, Thomas Smith of Newark, became the first provincial banker when he founded the very first bank outside London, in Nottingham in 1658, called Smith’s Bank. It later expanded to a branch in Newark and one in Retford in the constituency of my neighbour John Mann. Several of Thomas Smith’s illustrious ancestors became Governors of the Bank of England, and so those of us who know these geeky facts about Nottinghamshire, including the hon. Gentleman, thought it was fitting that Mark Carney chose to make his first speech as Governor of the Bank of England in Nottingham, and to declare our city and county as the bellwether for the British economy.
In that speech in 2013, which I listened to, Mr Carney committed us all, and particularly the Bank of England, to using all of the tools available to the Bank to secure a sustainable economy for all parts of the country, particularly the regions of the UK. This Bill, in reasonable and modest ways, helps us to refine and improve the toolbox that is in the hands of the Governor of the Bank of England.
From knowing a few people working at the Bank of England or who have worked there in recent years, while I would say it is a good institution of which we should all be proud as members of the United Kingdom, it would be fair to say it has been somewhat inward-looking. If one were being critical, one would say its culture has been stuffy and overly theoretical, and it moves quite slowly, to say the least—although that is not always a bad thing, of course.
I think Mark Carney, as a younger, dynamic Governor, has made a real impact in tackling these cultural concerns when that was appropriate. If I could make any suggestion from my experience and those of acquaintances who have worked at the Bank, it is that it should continue to do as he has tried to do, which is recruit more people with practical experience of life in the financial services sector and the corporate world—those who have worked in banks, law firms or elsewhere, who can provide an essential counterbalance to those who are perhaps overly theoretical and not so practical. With a proper court or governing body—a board as my right hon. Friend Mr Tyrie rightly said it should be described—this larger and more powerful organisation, enhanced by the structural changes of this Bill, can operate in a much more modern and dynamic way than its predecessor.
I was pleased to hear that Andrew Bailey had been appointed to the FCA, and others have already welcomed that. From my very limited interactions with him, and when he came to Parliament last week to address the all-party parliamentary group on corporate governance, of which I am an officer, I found him to be clever, practical, down to earth, affable, but willing to speak frankly when necessary. He clearly possesses a deep and broad knowledge of the financial services sector, all of which suggests that this has the making of a good appointment. He appears to have done a good job of taking over and improving prudential regulation at the Prudential Regulation Authority.
Having worked as a commercial lawyer, dealing routinely with the old FCA, I know that that organisation and some of its personnel were in a very poor state before these moves, and morale was extremely low. It is still a struggle to recruit and retain the best talent, as my hon. Friend Marcus Fysh wisely said, when the rewards are usually, if not always, less than those on the frontline elsewhere in the financial services sector. It is essential that we give all the tools necessary to Andrew Bailey and others to enable them to recruit more talented individuals. It seems, as my hon. Friend said, a wise step in that direction to bring the PRA within the Bank of England because that is inevitably a more attractive institution to work for, be part of and have on one’s CV than any other, perhaps lesser, regulator.
Although the Bill is not revolutionary in content, it continues the work and takes a series of very sensible steps forward. Some have argued today and elsewhere in the press that we should go much further in changing the Bank of England or even re-imagining the role of a central bank in the 21st century. I would caution that the Bank has been subject to a great deal of change in recent years. Although I do not have the exact figures to hand, I imagine, for example, that a staff of around 2,000 has already increased to 3,500 or thereabouts. The challenge of integration—of building a large integrated organisation and of ensuring quality, because quality and standards are ultimately all that matter—is very great, and we should be careful not to give our regulators too much to contend with.
The formalisation of the PRA’s position as part of the Bank therefore seems sensible. It always seemed rather strange that it was merely a subsidiary of the Bank.
I did note, and I am sure the Minister and the Treasury have already seen this and decided it makes sense, that whereas previous legislation had deliberately kept the supervisory role then exercised by the FSA separate from the resolution role, the new landscape brings them together. In other words, it used to be believed by the sector and by the Government that it was more appropriate that the organisation supervising a bank should be different from that tasked with resolving whatever problems or mess it got itself into. Presumably the view is that this is no longer necessary, and of course the Bank is capable of handling both sides of the coin.
The proposal in the Bill to provide the Treasury with more information seems logical. After all, whereas the Bank of England provides temporary liquidity and support to a bank in crisis, it is the Treasury and taxpayers who ultimately step in and pick up the tab. These measures are all part of the Government’s laudable efforts to ensure that banks are properly supervised and, to the extent possible, are too big to fail.
The value for money component, which many other Members have mentioned, is welcome. As the Bank becomes more powerful and significantly larger with the advent of the PRA, so it is appropriate that it is open to greater scrutiny. Questions of freedom of information and others will no doubt arise if the Bank’s powers continue to increase.
The Bank of England’s accounts have always seemed to me to be extremely difficult to understand. It always seems to make a profit. I have always been suspicious of that—as a former partner at a law firm once said to me, of course the Bank of England can print its own money!
On the wider questions of openness and governance, I would like to see a greater part of the governance of the Bank drawn from the regions of the UK, not for superficial reasons, but—rather like my opening example of the long-gone world of Thomas and Abel Smith and the Governors of the Bank of England who began their careers in Newark—so that there are experienced voices at the heart of our central bank with direct knowledge of the regional economies, particularly Scotland and Wales.
Finally, on the senior managers regime, a great deal has been said here and, clearly, agreement will not be reached across the House. The position in the Bill seems fair and workable as it continues to put the right pressure on senior managers to be named and to take direct personal responsibility. I am not interested in grandstanding. I am looking for what will have the greatest effect on our financial services sector. The vast majority of my constituents—almost all, I would venture—have never heard of this regime. What they have heard of and what they are expecting of their Member of Parliament is to ensure that there is a financial services sector that is stable, secure and resilient. I believe the Bill is the best way to deliver it.
I welcome the change which the Bill introduces to the pensions regime. Although this aspect has barely been touched on in the debate, the pensions guidance service, Pension Wise, can in future be more widely applied to those looking to take advantage of the great opportunity that was achieved in the previous Parliament to use their annuities in whichever way they see fit. We must not allow one of the great developments in pension reform and other Treasury policies from the previous
Parliament to be sullied by mis-selling. One can easily imagine mistakes being made by constituents who, by their own admission, are not always as financially literate as they would wish. This could be, as wiser souls have said, the next great mis-selling scandal.
Although Citizens Advice, which was initially given the difficult task of providing support for members of the public on their pensions, is a superb organisation and I praise those in my constituency who are involved in it, any additional support that we can give through Pension Wise to ensure that our constituents make the right decisions for them at a crucial juncture in their financial lives must be welcomed.
In conclusion, the Bill contains a range of modest and reasonable proposals to further the Government’s aim to provide a stable and resilient financial services sector to secure a successful economy for the United Kingdom. I cannot for the life of me imagine why other Members would vote against it tonight.