Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [Lords]

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 7:02 pm on 1st February 2016.

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Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 7:02 pm, 1st February 2016

Danny is what he seems to like to go by. He said in a recent article for the New Statesman:

“We are in search of good ideas…the new Labour Party still doesn’t have many economic policies to speak of...The new Labour leaders are not economists and are going to have to learn fast.”

This debate shows that they have not learned anything.

While the SNP’s reasons for opposing the Bill’s Second Reading show some common ground with Labour’s, the SNP is at the other end of the spectrum in thinking that the Bill fails to provide sufficient independence from direct political interference for the Bank of England. They cannot both be right; indeed, they are both wrong. The Bill strikes the right balance on operational independence at the Bank of England and the FCA, and scrutiny by the people in the form of the Treasury Committee and the elected Government.

I will now address some of the points raised in the debate. I noticed that Richard Burgon did not point out that we now have the toughest rules on bankers’ pay of any major financial centre and that we have brought in new criminal offences in terms of financial crime, and that he did not welcome the fact that we are widening the duty of responsibility to the whole of the financial services sector. He asked one reasonable question, which was about the memorandum of understanding between the BOE and the NAO. He knows that I have written to the Governor and to the Comptroller and Auditor General, Sir Amyas Morse, and they will endeavour to try to publish the memorandum during the course of the Bill’s passage through the House.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Chichester, who made a superb, sweeping masterclass of a speech on the history of financial regulation, came up with some interesting suggestions about making PRA rulings public. Obviously that would involve some issues of commercial sensitivity in some of the things that it deals with. He said that he wanted to rename the court “the board of the Bank of England”. He pointed out, quite rightly, that the concept of “too big to fail” is still in the banking system, not least in that the Government continue to own large chunks of it. He mentioned the timetable, and emphasised competition, which is very important.

The hon. Member for East Lothian, in an erudite speech, pointed out that responsibility is what we need, and we believe that we are delivering it through the duty of responsibility. He rightly highlighted the importance of changing the culture. I like his analogy with the captain of the ship, and we believe that setting out the responsibilities of senior managers achieves that balance.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster spoke up for his constituency. He mentioned a problem with interest rate swap claims running out of time, which I would like to take up with him on a separate occasion, if I may. I want to clarify that the power to appoint deputy governors is not the Governor’s alone; it is actually an appointment of the Queen, with the consent of the Chancellor.

The hon. Member for Bassetlaw, who is not in his place, wants more transparency and competition. I gently point out to him—perhaps he will read this in Hansard—that the building society sector has welcomed the fact that the reverse burden of proof is no longer in the Bill.

My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon made an excellent point about debt management, and I share his enthusiasm for free debt advice and organisations such as PayPlan, Christians Against Poverty, StepChange and, of course, Citizens Advice. I am keen to hear more detail from him about what more we can do to make sure that, as the FCA takes on responsibility for debt management, the fee structure works well for consumers.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr mentioned Welsh bank notes, which is an interesting idea, and proposed a sterling central bank. He will, of course, be aware that the North and South Wales Bank was bought by Midland Bank in 1908 and lost the ability to issue Welsh bank notes.

My hon. Friend the Member for Havant made a wide-ranging and supportive speech, but the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland and I are never going to see eye to eye on this Bill. On the sale of the Royal Bank of Scotland, how can she think that it is not in the wider interests of the economy for the Government not to own it? She is the one complaining about socialising losses, so she should be congratulating the Government on having started on the sale of RBS last August.

My hon. Friend the Member for Yeovil made a very good speech about competition and systemic risks. He is right that the investment firms and their systemic risk must be addressed by the regime. So far, eight investment firms have been identified as important in that regard.

The hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath made a very good speech about the importance of culture. We agree with him on that.

My hon. Friend the Member for Newark made a Nottinghamshire-based speech about the bellwether for the British economy. He made some excellent points. I reassure him that supervision and resolution will continue to be operationally separate under different deputy governors at the Bank of England. I also endorse his point about the regions. He will be pleased to know that Mr Andrew Bailey is, in fact, from Leicester, which is another important bellwether for the British economy. I was also glad to hear my hon. Friend make supportive comments about Pension Wise.

My hon. Friend the Member for Dudley South said how popular Pension Wise is in his area, and the hon. Member for Wolverhampton South West has clearly done his legal research.

In conclusion, the Bill brings National Audit Office scrutiny into the Bank of England for the first time. It protects its independence on decisions and extends a duty of responsibility, via the senior managers and certification regime, to change the culture of financial services firms. It brings extra help for consumers in the secondary annuity market and in capping exit charges, and ensures that the most vulnerable in society are protected from illegal loan sharks.

All those excellent measures will be lost if the Opposition have their way and tonight’s Second Reading is opposed. We cannot take irresponsible risks with financial regulation, which is what the Labour party wants to do. This is a good and sensible Bill, and I urge right hon. and hon. Members to back its Second Reading.