Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 9:20 pm on 3rd November 2008.
My Lords, it has been a long debate and a fair time since 3.15 this afternoon. I thought that we were being warned that the end of it was another five hours off, and it that it would be 2.15 am before I got cracking. We have heard a variety of views. Before I sum up, there are two issues in particular that I want to raise.
There are two elements to the banking problem: first, that loans have been able to be dispensed to those who may not be able to afford the repayments; and secondly, that loans have been dispensed from borrowed money, not only borrowed short to lend long but borrowed short in bulk to lend long.
Your Lordships will not be surprised that I shall refer again to the H in HBOS. As on the previous occasion, I declare an interest in that my son-in-law is an employee of HBOS in Halifax. The Halifax was formerly the biggest building society in the world, demutualised in 1997. In 2001, the merger with the Bank of Scotland took place, leading to the acronym HBOS. It is interesting that it was 63 per cent H and 37 per cent BOS, but the directors were seduced by the Mound and took the headquarters to Scotland. As a result, all that we have heard about for the past couple of months is "the Scottish bank".
I asked previously whether the Lloyds TSB merger, or takeover, is really needed. Perhaps it was thought that this was one way out when Mr Brown tapped on the shoulder, but, bearing in mind all that has had to happen since in banking, one wonders.
But who is interested in Halifax? The chairman and the chief executive of Lloyds TSB, Sir Victor Blank and Mr Eric Daniels, have been invited there. The Halifax Courier is running the headline, "Where are you, Eric?". We have had no visit whatever from anybody to do with Lloyds TSB, even though they have been invited by council leaders and the mayor. It is amazing that the word "Halifax" is now but a trading name of Bank of Scotland.
It is significant; it is getting all this government money. What is the Government's view on Halifax? Where is the regional policy? In welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Myners, to his post, I note that we are dealing with a Cornishman. That gives me hope that someone who has regional roots may be concerned about the regions of England, and that financial services are seen as a matter not just of London and Edinburgh but of the English regions.
The Scottish Secretary has announced a mystery bidder for the Halifax, but, yet again, he said that it is all about jobs in Scotland. Today, Lloyds TSB publicised its own proposals for the takeover and referred to £1.5 billion in savings. It is clear that those savings are about people on the payroll. I would be interested to know, as I am sure would your Lordships, where those job cuts are to be.
Are the Government interested in jobs in Halifax and Yorkshire? I have seen the diminution of the regional dimension. Many of your Lordships will remember Martins Bank in Liverpool, Williams and Glyn's Bank in Manchester, the Yorkshire Bank in Leeds, the Halifax Building Society in Halifax, of course, the Leeds Permanent Building Society in Leeds and five building societies based in Bradford. Amazingly we now have Ministers of State for all the regions. What are these regional Ministers doing in terms of regional financial services and making certain that this is an important feature of our life in this country?
My second and very different point is about the unintended consequences of some of the decisions that the Government have made in recent days. In 1946 I was taken to the Isle of Man with my bucket and spade. Therefore, I have had an interest in that place. I declare the interest as vice-chairman of the APPG for the Isle of Man. Perhaps because of concerns about people going to warmer climes it has moved to financial services and now has a thriving financial services industry.
The Government here have put in administrators at the Icelandic bank, Kaupthing Singer and Friedlander. That has meant tremendous difficulties for its subsidiary in the Isle of Man. That bank was there because the Derbyshire Building Society had a Manx subsidiary. The Isle of Man is a Crown dependency. It has a tiny compensation scheme. What are the Government doing in their negotiations with the Icelandic Government to help it?
Coming back to the debate as a whole, I think that there have been about 20 themes, starting with people wanting an inquiry, the delay in having the debate, the cost of food and oil, banking, overseas implications, inflation, interest rates, debt, boom and bust, regulation and supervision, unemployment, housing and repossessions, small business, tax, national insurance, fiscal policy, pension funds, education, Keynes, prudence and confidence. I have been marking—not on quality but on quantity. It is an interesting feature that, in terms of quantity, regulation and supervision has been raised most in this House. Clearly, there is tremendous concern about regulation and supervision, particularly as that applies to the banking sector. Banking has been raised time and again, as has small business. Keynes is coming up on the ropes as one of the features raised today.
On specific matters raised by noble Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, told us that she was opposed to a spending spree. I hope she is not opposed to an investment spree. That matter was raised by other noble Lords and appeared to be something that several people were interested in. My noble friend Lord Newby raised the issue of banks being thought of as utilities as far as regulation is concerned. He also referred to credit unions. It is remarkable that we are now talking about credit unions at a time when we have said goodbye to so many of those institutions called building societies. I think it is true that not a single demutualised building society is or will be shortly an independent organisation, yet we are having to reinvent a building society and call it a credit union.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chelmsford raised the idea that, in a time of economic doubt and uncertainty, we must not forget international aid. My noble friend Lord Smith, in his inimitable contribution, referred to high pay. I was thinking that the Government have concerned themselves with low pay, with a Low Pay Commission and bringing low-pay rates. My noble friend could have gone a bit further and suggested that there should perhaps be a commission on high pay, and whether some people who are getting such high pay are worth it.
The noble Lord, Lord Lamont, used a quaint phrase: "impairment losses". I have no idea where this phrase came from, but I think that it means "bad debt". Bad debt is there because of bad business. I am rather in favour of plain speaking.
The noble Lord, Lord Naseby, had detailed proposals for small business, with important and useful details. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Warwick, raised social enterprises and ethical banking. I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Bates, refer to the north-east of England, his concerns over how Northern Rock is now being operated by the Government, and his suggestion of the enterprise economy.
In conclusion, it is important that the Government use clear language, as is confidence in money, saving and borrowings. It is important that people can have clarity in value. I am concerned about small business and how it will go on; how, on the one hand, we are talking about small business, yet on the other we have increasingly big banking. As I indicated earlier, I hope that the Government are looking at both the local and the regional, and the variety that can be available in banking. Small business and big banking do not necessarily go together.