Banking (Special Provisions) Bill

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:45 pm on 21st February 2008.

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Photo of Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay Spokesperson in the Lords, Treasury, Spokesperson in the Lords, Work & Pensions 1:45 pm, 21st February 2008

Before I reply, I wish to say that I agree with my noble friend Lord Tordoff. I fear that on both sides of the House we are drifting into Second Reading speeches on quite a lot of these amendments. It is going to be a very long day if we continue on this basis.

I thank noble Lords who have supported me on this amendment. I apologise to the Minister if I had not made it clear—I thought I had—that we are talking not about the normal commercial audit of Northern Rock on 31 December 2007 but about a one-off event, to be followed up later, of an independent valuation of the bank on the day we buy it. That is quite a separate issue.

Listening to him, I was not clear whether he was saying that the auditors are likely to be changed for the year-end report, although I am bound to say that if they are going to be changed, that will need to happen quickly. I would have thought the existing auditors would be well advanced with their work. So that was not very clear, but then it is not the burden of the amendment. For all the reasons I have given, the amendment calls for a totally independent take-on audit to be conducted, not personally by the Bank of England, but on its behalf and on its instructions.

The National Audit Office is a separate issue. In today's papers, the NAO is talking about investigating the process leading up to the nationalisation of the bank. That is quite different from kicking the tyres, going through the books and seeing properly what the quality of the mortgage book is. I am absolutely sure that the Chancellor and the Financial Services Authority are wrong, and that there are many cans of worms in Northern Rock's mortgage loan book regarding what has been granted over the past couple of years. I am sure that an independent, properly conducted audit will bear me out in that, but none of us will know until that is done. On that basis, I wish to test the opinion of the Committee.