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Banking (Special Provisions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:00 pm on 21st February 2008.

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Photo of Lord Whitty Lord Whitty Labour 1:00 pm, 21st February 2008

It is difficult to argue with Amendment No. 5, the second amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, but I have the worry that it would place too great a constraint on the Treasury and its future management of Northern Rock. I note that the noble Lord, Lord Tordoff, is no longer the room, so I might be straying slightly into Second Reading territory since I could not be here for the first part of yesterday's debate.

We have talked about the interests of the deposit holders in Northern Rock; indeed, that was the reason for the intervention. We have talked about, and largely dismissed, the interests of the shareholders. The noble Lord, Lord De Mauley, and the unions have referred to the interests of the staff. However, the real people who are likely to miss out in the whole of this catastrophe are those on the edge of being given a mortgage in the normal way. A lot of the broad-sweep condemnation of sub-prime mortgages here and in the United States will, if we are not careful, rule out an awful lot of decent, hardworking people who would be paying back their mortgage but happen to be on relatively low incomes, to be relatively young, or to be in rather different family circumstances. Those are the real losers in all this. Advancing mortgages to them undoubtedly carries risk, but the vast majority of them have actually repaid their mortgage.

We would certainly expect the management of the bank to be prudent and to take all risk into account, which the previous management of Northern Rock clearly did not do, but placing too great a constraint on the bank's mortgage-giving arrangements has severe social repercussions, particularly in a situation in which owning your house is often the most obvious and desirable option in the housing market. Noble Lords will have heard me talking before about the absence of flexibility and available social housing and private rented housing—housing that in other circumstances would be the option. In a society in which owning your own house is vital and the best option for a lot of low-income families, we do not wish to see Northern Rock, or indeed the whole banking system, acting as an exemplar by excluding significant parts of the population from receiving mortgages. That point was not made strongly enough in yesterday's Second Reading debate. If the outcome of this crisis is that a significant proportion of the population can no longer get housing credit, then that is a problem. I fear that over-interpreting the words of the noble Lord, Lord Newby, in Amendment No. 5 could lead to that result.