Independent Commission on Banking — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 4:37 pm on 19 December 2011.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 4:37, 19 December 2011

My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place today by my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer.

"Mr Speaker, the Government are proposing the most far-reaching reforms of British banking in our modern history. Our objective is to make sure that what happened in Britain never happens again, that taxpayers are protected and that customers get a better service.

Last year the Business Secretary and I set up the Independent Commission on Banking to look at what I called the "British dilemma": how Britain can be home to one of the world's leading financial centres without exposing British taxpayers to the massive costs of those banks failing. In the years leading up to the financial crisis, a failure of regulation contributed to the build-up of a debt-fuelled boom. Banks borrowed too much and took on risks they did not understand. When the bubble burst these banks turned out to be "too big to fail" and the previous Government had to spend billions of pounds bailing them out.

Of course, major financial institutions in other countries were bailed out by their taxpayers, but the British bailouts were on a different scale. The Royal Bank of Scotland bailout was the biggest in the world. The FSA's recent report into the failure of RBS attributed this to "poor decisions made by the RBS management and Board" against a backdrop of a regulatory regime that failed to stop them. The politicians responsible are named in the report.

This Government are determined to do better at protecting British taxpayers from the cost of failing banks while at the same time acknowledging the importance of the financial sector to our country. Britain should remain home to one of the world's leading financial centres and the home of global banks. However, the strength of this industry is also a potential weakness to the economy if not properly regulated. The sector supports nearly 1.4 million jobs, not just in the City but across the whole of the UK. The balance sheet of our banking system is close to 500 per cent of our GDP, compared to 100 per cent in the US and 300 per cent in Germany and France. So while a European and international regulatory response to the crisis is important, we cannot rely on this response alone to make our banking system safe.

We in this Parliament have to take action, and under this Government, we are. We are putting the Bank of England back in charge of prudential regulation. We have created the Financial Policy Committee to look at risks across the financial system. I also welcome today's report from the Joint Committee on the Draft Financial Services Bill. I wanted proper pre-legislative scrutiny. That has happened, and we will respond in the new year so that we improve the legislation. We have also introduced a permanent bank levy on wholesale funding, and we have introduced the toughest and most transparent pay regime of any major financial centre in the world. However, we also need to address the structure of our banks. That is why the coalition Government set up the Independent Commission on Banking. I want to thank Sir John Vickers and the other members of the commission-Clare Spottiswoode, Martin Taylor, Bill Winters and Martin Wolf-again for their impressive report.

The commission made three main recommendations: first, that everyday high-street banking services should be separated from wholesale and investment banking activities, and that this be done via a ring-fence; secondly, that banks be required to have bigger cushions to absorb losses without recourse to the taxpayer; and thirdly, that competition in the banking sector be strengthened by increasing the number of banks on the high street and the power of customers to switch accounts. When its final report was published in September, I made it clear that I welcomed these recommendations in principle, and would return to the House by the end of the year. Today I fulfil that commitment.

Let me now set out in detail how the Government plan to respond and invite further views before we publish a White Paper next spring. First, the Government will separate retail and investment banking through a ring-fence. It is important to know that this ring-fence will not prevent banks failing, but it does mean that if banks get into trouble, those elements of the banking system that are vital for families, businesses and for the whole economy can continue without resort to the taxpayer. So the following will be in newly ring-fenced banks: the deposits of individuals; their overdrafts too; and the deposits and overdrafts of small and medium-sized businesses. They will all be kept separate from riskier wholesale and investment banking-which will have to be outside the ring-fence.

Larger corporate deposits and lending, and private banking, can either be in the ring-fence or outside. The ring-fenced bank will be legally and operationally independent. It will be able to finance itself independently, have its own board and there will be limits on the amount it can lend to the rest of the group. The commission's interim report proposed a de minimis exemption for small banks that were clearly not systemic and we invite opinion on whether to proceed with this.

Our objective is clear. We want to separate high street banking from investment banking to protect the British economy, protect British taxpayers and make sure that nothing is too big to fail.

Secondly, we will make sure that banks have bigger cushions, so they are better able to withstand losses. The international Basel III requirement-which the UK was instrumental in negotiating-requires banks to hold minimum equity capital of 7 per cent, and there is a top-up for systemically important banks. We will go further. Large ring-fenced retail banks will be required to hold equity capital of at least 10 per cent. There will also be a minimum requirement for the loss-absorbing capacity of big banks of at least 17 per cent. This requirement will apply to the UK operations of British banks. It will also be applied to the non-UK operations of UK headquartered banks, except where they can demonstrate they do not pose a threat to the UK taxpayer.

I can also confirm that this Government will introduce the principle of depositor preference. In other words, the principle that unsecured lenders to banks, who are better placed to monitor the risks that banks are taking on, should have to take losses ahead of ordinary depositors. We seek further views on the best way to implement this principle. This comes on top of the guaranteed protection that the Financial Services Compensation Scheme offers, which covers 100 per cent of eligible deposits up to £85,000.

All these proposals on loss absorbency will also strengthen the European single market. One of the greatest distortions to the single market in banking is the perceived implicit taxpayer guarantee for all European banks. Through these proposals the UK is setting out a plan to remove this distortion for UK banks. The European Commission has indicated plans to consider what it can do to reconcile that distortion at an EU level. I welcome that, and the UK will engage actively in the debate.

This House and other member states have objected to the European Commission's proposals to impose maximum standards for bank capital. These proposals undermine efforts we and others are making to improve financial stability and the single market. In the view of bodies like the IMF, the European Commission's proposals also water down the international Basel III agreement, giving exemptions to globally active banks in certain European countries. We will be seeking, with others, changes to ensure that the EU faithfully implements international agreements.

Thirdly, the Government will take action to increase competition in the banking sector. The disappearance of banks such as Bradford & Bingley and the decisions taken by the previous Government on the merger of Lloyds and HBOS mean the banking sector is dominated by a handful of large banks. Last year, just four banks took 70 per cent of the market share. We need new banks to enter the market to provide consumers and businesses with more choice. The Government announced the sale of Northern Rock to Virgin Money last month, creating a new competitor in our retail banking sector.

In the coalition agreement, we made clear we wished to foster diversity in financial services, including promoting mutuals. We welcome last week's announcement that Lloyds has identified the Co-op as preferred bidder for the divestment of more than 600 branches to create a strong challenger in the high street. We will also make it easier for people to switch their current accounts. This recommendation from the commission has received less attention from the media, but could be of huge benefit to millions of customers. The idea is that individuals and small businesses can switch to another bank within seven days and all the direct debits and credits will be switched for them at no cost. The Government have secured the banking industry's agreement that it will implement these proposals by September 2013.

We will also support the Treasury Select Committee's proposal to bring the Payments Council within the scope of regulation and I can confirm that our financial services legislation next year will specify that one of the objectives of the Financial Conduct Authority is to promote effective competition in the interests of consumers. A new statutory competition remit will provide the FCA with a clear mandate for swifter, more effective action to address competition problems in financial services. So within months of the ICB report, legislation to bring this change into force will be introduced.

This brings me to timing. Some have questioned whether the Government will seek to delay implementation of these reforms-questions that come from people who never even contemplated reform when they were in office. In fact the reverse is true. On the advice of Sir John Vickers and others, I will be bringing forward separate legislation to implement the ring-fence. The Government's intention is that implementation should proceed in stages, with the final changes related to loss absorbency fully completed by the beginning of 2019 in line with the Basel agreement. But I can confirm to the House today that primary and secondary legislation related to the ring-fence will be completed by the end of this Parliament in May 2015 and banks will be expected to comply as soon as practically possible thereafter. The Government will work with the banks to develop a reasonable transition timetable.

Of course, there are both costs and benefits to these reforms. The Government estimate the total costs to UK banks to be between £3.5 billion and £8 billion, broadly in line with the commission's estimate. Most of this reflects the cost to them of removing the subsidy that comes from any perceived implicit taxpayer guarantee, which is precisely what we intended. The cost to GDP is estimated by the Government at just £0.8 billion to £1.8 billion-slightly lower than the commission's estimate. These are far outweighed by the benefits of the ICB's recommendations. Even a relatively modest reduction in the likelihood or impact of future financial crises would yield an incremental economic benefit of £9.5 billion per year. Such is the cost of financial crises to the economy. Since the wholesale arms of non-UK banks would be unaffected by these reforms and the principal recommendations relate to UK retail banking, the competitiveness of the City of London as a location for international banking will not be affected.

We are fixing the banking system to protect taxpayers in the future. But we also need to clear up the mistakes of the past. I have already mentioned Northern Rock and Lloyds but the biggest call on the taxpayer was the bailout of RBS. The FSA's recent report was a damning indictment of all that went wrong in this crisis. Those responsible are clearly identified in it. We need to deal with the mess that they created.

Despite promises from the previous Government that taxpayers would profit from the RBS bailout, the Government's shareholding is now worth around £27 billion less. We are already reforming the regulatory structures that allowed these catastrophic failures to occur. Bonuses are a fraction of what they were four years ago. Early this year we placed a limit of £2,000 on cash bonuses for RBS and Lloyds. We have made it very clear that the bonus pool next year must be lower again and more transparent. We are also clear that at a time like this the Financial Policy Committee's advice should be followed-that bank earnings should be used to build capital levels, not pay out large bonuses.

RBS itself has also made significant changes since 2008, including reducing the size of its investment bank by half. But I believe RBS needs to go further and the management agrees. We are the largest shareholders. Let me set out our view: RBS has already announced that it will further shift its business strategy towards its personal and SME customers and its corporate banking business which serves UK and international companies. We believe that RBS's future is as a major UK bank, with the majority of its business in the UK and in personal, SME and corporate banking.

Investment banking will continue to support RBS's corporate lending business but RBS will make further significant reductions in the investment bank, scaling back riskier activities that are heavy users of capital or funding. RBS should emerge a stronger, safer bank, able to maintain lending to businesses and consumers, and which in time can be returned to full private sector ownership.

The British people are angry about what happened in our banks and angry at the politicians who let it happen. This coalition Government see two parties working together to clear up the mess of the past and to create a banking system that protects taxpayers and serves customers better. Today, we present the most far reaching changes to banking in our modern history so we can build an economy that works for everyone. I commend this Statement to the House".

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

Photo of Lord Eatwell Lord Eatwell Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:55, 19 December 2011

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for repeating the Statement made by the Chancellor of the Exchequer in another place. However, I regret that effective scrutiny by this House has been limited by the Government providing the 80-page response only half an hour before the noble Lord got to his feet.

As the Statement makes clear, banking policy in this country has two potentially conflicting goals: first, to ensure that a stable domestic financial system supports the real economy with a steady and reliable flow of appropriately priced credit, together with other domestic and international banking services; and secondly, there is the goal to sustain the City of London and other UK centres as the world's premier offshore financial centre, providing a wide range of financial services that transform and repackage saving flows from all around the world. This was the core conflict highlighted by the Independent Commission on Banking-the trading activities of the offshore centre can inflict instability and contagion on the domestic economy. The proposal of the ring-fence that the Government are endorsing today is a response to that core conflict. It is an inadequate response, but perhaps something is better than nothing.

Why is it an inadequate response? Noble Lords may be surprised to learn that more than three years on and contrary to the assertions of the ICB in its final report, nothing in these policy proposals would have prevented the collapse of Northern Rock. The reason is that there are two serious flaws in the ICB approach. First, there is the belief, echoed by the noble Lord, that moving to a 10 per cent capital to risk-weighted assets ratio will provide the resilience to the banking sector required to head off a serious crisis. This belief is a fantasy without empirical foundation. For example, Allied Irish Bank had capital in excess of the maximum now being proposed by the Government prior to its collapse. It was not enough. In a real financial crisis, no feasible capital ratio will be enough. While on the subject of risk-weighted assets, do the Government intend to maintain the Basel II approach that leaves the calculation of these risk-weights to the banks themselves? With respect to other primary loss-absorbing capacity, what is the Government's view of the buoyancy of the market for these instruments on which they put so much weight and which do not at present exist?

Secondly, the report maintains the outdated and indeed discredited approach of focusing on the asset position of the banks and has very little to say about the liabilities side of the balance sheet. Hence, the ring-fencing proposals are all about what is done with depositors' assets and the capital needs are related to that dubious measure of risk-weighted assets. But in the case of Northern Rock, the collapse was entirely attributable to what was happening on the liabilities side of the balance sheet. It was the inability to turn over short-term funding that resulted in the taxpayer needing to provide a £30 billion rescue. The ICB's claim that current liquidity proposals could have prevented this is, I believe, wishful thinking. By the way, in the glance that I have been able to give the Government's response, I would suggest that the illustrative diagrams of balance sheets on page 28 are profoundly misleading as the boxes do not represent the proportions of liabilities and assets as they are presumed to do. I shall return to the issue of the liabilities side of the balance sheet later. For the moment, I give one cheer to the Government's endorsement of the ICB's approach. At least it is better than nothing. Ring-fencing is the right thing to do even if they put the fence in the wrong place.

Crucial to the entire approach will of course be the construction and policing of the ring-fence. Can the noble Lord tell the House whether the Government have accepted all-I stress, all-of the ICB's proposals on the construction of the ring-fence? In particular, the Government seem to suggest that ring-fenced banks will be permitted to hedge risks to which they are exposed in derivative markets. If they are allowed to hedge, how is the line to be drawn between hedging and speculation, and who is to draw that line? A major hole in the ring-fence as it now stands-or perhaps it is a flexible thing as it now waves in the wind-is that banking activity for large companies can take place either within or without the ring-fence. This means that organisations that produce well over half the UK's GDP will have banking services outside the ring-fence. In that case, will not banking operations outside the ring-fence be too big to fail, because they could bring down major British companies, and will not the exposure of the taxpayer that the ring-fence is supposed to eliminate be almost as great as it ever was?

More generally, it is a well known outcome of regulatory activities that they stimulate a creative response from the banks, creative in the sense that they work out ways to circumvent and/or evade the regulations. Hence there will be a need to keep the operations of the ring-fence under continuous review. How do the Government intend to do that? The response states:

"The Government believes that the location of the ring-fence should be flexible".

What does this mean-it sounds like a fine opportunity for lobbying to me-and who will determine the location of this "flexible" fence? Would it not be appropriate to keep the ICB in being and charge it with the task of reviewing regularly the performance of the ring-fence?

One of the declared objectives of the ring-fence, which the noble Lord repeated, is to protect the assets of depositors from the casino operations of the investment banking divisions of the banks. Where a ring-fenced bank is the wholly owned subsidiary of a bank holding company and that holding company fails, perhaps due to casino-style activities, will its creditors have access to the assets of the ring-fenced bank? If not, why not? If so, what is the value of the ring-fence?

I turn to the liabilities side of the balance sheet. Am I right in saying that the Government have no intention of limiting the wholesale funding of the balance sheet other than through the imposition of a leverage collar that fails to discriminate between deposits and wholesale funding? Why are the Government therefore intent on penalising banks that have a strong deposit base-banks that proved to be the most resilient during the financial crisis? Of course, the FSA's proposals on liquidity and a leverage collar will improve the situation, but surely they are not enough. Why do the Government not take note of the research that demonstrates that deposits by families and firms are "sticky", while wholesale deposits embody greater risk? On the other hand, what is to be the role of the interbank market within the ring-fence?

On competition, the noble Lord made it clear that the higher levels of capital and loss absorbency will apply just to UK banks. What of the branches of non-UK banks operating in the UK, such as Deutsche Bank? What is the Government's assessment of the competitive impact on UK banks of branches of European or other banks operating in the UK not being required, as the response states, to have the same levels of loss absorbency?

On timing, the ICB said that the ring-fence should be in place as soon as possible and well before the Basel III deadline. The Statement refers to compliance with the legislation on ring-fencing being as soon as "practically possible". Who is to determine what is practically possible and what are the criteria for that determination?

What do the Government expect to be the impact of these recommendations on the supply of credit? Given the abject failure of the Government's Project Merlin and the desperate need to increase lending at reasonable rates to UK SMEs, the Bank of England's executive director for financial stability has suggested that the ratio of capital requirements to risk-weighted assets should be lowered, not raised as the ICB and the Government recommend. Do the Government agree with the ICB or with the executive director of the Bank of England?

I welcome the Government's announcement on the Royal Bank of Scotland. These are changes that we on this side have urged for some time. This is a taxpayer-owned bank and it should pursue the taxpayer interest.

I therefore give one cheer for a faltering step in the right direction. We will seek significantly to improve the approach when the Government bring forward their legislative proposals.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 5:05, 19 December 2011

My Lords, I suppose I should be grateful that we got one cheer from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, who is a hard man to please. I am sorry that he finds serious flaws in the ICB's analysis where most other commentators have not found flaws with what is widely recognised as an impressive and important analysis and one that is being looked at well outside the UK for the light that it sheds on continuing issues that other countries have around their banking systems.

I shall take a number of the noble Lord's many questions. First, he asked about risk weights and the loss-absorbing capacity. The ICB did a detailed analysis of almost 40 banks. Its key chart is picked up in the Government's document today. Of the 40 banks that suffered significant losses that the ICB looked at, the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, highlighted the Anglo Irish Bank as the only one where the loss exceeded the 17 per cent-I think he referred to 10 per cent-loss absorbency which the ICB recommends for big banks. As my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer made clear, this is not about making sure that no banks will fail but about a combination of things, including loss absorbency, that will make our banking system much more resilient in the face of the range of losses that are likely.

The noble Lord also asked whether the Government have accepted all the ICB's proposals on the ring-fence. A detailed discussion of ring-fencing issues takes up one chapter, or some 15 pages, of our response today. A number of outstanding technical considerations are clearly set out in the discussion. As I have already said in repeating the Statement, this is the first round of a sequence of consultation and draft legislation, both primary and secondary, to get this right. I make no apology for not having answers to all the very detailed questions at the moment. We are putting out this 70-plus-page document today as the start of the discussion that must go on.

The noble Lord then questioned what activities should be inside and outside the ring-fence. On the question of where the ring-fence is located, he picked up on the adjective "flexible", which is advisedly used in the Government's response document. The key driver about what should be inside and outside the ring-fence in the ICB's analysis is whether it is an essential banking service, the interruption of which would cause great difficulty. For individual and SME deposits and overdrafts it is quite clear that interruption of normal banking activity would cause hardship whereas large corporates and private banking are clearly categories of banking consumer much better able to look after themselves for a period in those circumstances. That is what has determined in principle where the ring-fence should be. On this flexibility, in order to have an efficient banking system, it is quite right that the banks should be able to decide on a one-off basis whether their large corporate activity should be inside or outside the ring-fence so that they can match up their activity on the lending side with the structure of their deposit base.

The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, then raised questions about the situation of branches of a European bank in this country. It is certainly the case, as he recognises, that branch activity of a European bank would not fall within the provisions of this ring- fence. They cannot and should not do so under the arrangements for the single market. However, in relation to branch activities in this country, the supervisors-the FSA and, in future, the Bank of England-will of course have regard to subsidiarisation in relation to the scale of activities that are carried out through foreign bank branches.

Lastly, the noble Lord asked about implementation and timing. As I have said, both the primary and secondary legislation will be completed in the course of this Parliament. The final part of the proposals in line with the ICB's timetable-on loss absorbency and with regard to capital-will be in place on the same timescale as the Basle III implementation in 2019, but between now and then we expect to see the ring-fence itself put in place. As I have said in repeating my right honourable friend's Statement, we will work with the banks on what is judged by the Government to be a practical implementation timetable. That, I emphatically say, will, along with all the rest of it, be a decision for the Government and, where appropriate, for the legislation that will come before Parliament in due course. We have been fast on the case to respond to what has been an enormously detailed report and, as I say, we will get the legislation through in the course of this Parliament.

Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Liberal Democrat 5:12, 19 December 2011

My Lords, I warmly welcome these proposals because we have been advocating many of them for a number of years. I have two questions. First, on timing, the noble Lord has made it clear that the aim is that primary and secondary legislation will be completed by 2015. Can he confirm that, given that there will be a lot of secondary legislation, the Government intend that the primary legislation will be introduced in the 2012-2013 Session, so that we can get that through and then get all the secondary legislation through well in advance of an election in 2015?

Secondly, on bonuses, the Minister made it clear that the Government wish the bonus pool in respect of RBS and Lloyds to be lower next year. Can he confirm that the Government have done more than express a view on this, and have in fact instructed UKFI that the bonus pool, particularly in respect of RBS, shall be significantly less than it was last year and that we have not a vague aspiration but a very firm steer from the Government?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for welcoming the Government's response to the ICB. On his question about timing, I cannot go further than what I said already: that we will bring out a White Paper in the spring, followed by the draft legislation and that we will get all the draft legislation, primary and secondary, through in this Parliament. There is a detailed table in the response document published today of all the ICB recommendations and whether they require legislation or could be put in place by regulatory action. There are other things which are already proceeding, particularly on competition, and there are other matters where regulatory action can take place.

I was grasping to think what my noble friend's second question was. I can indeed confirm what he said about the Government's firm intention regarding bonuses for this year.

Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative 5:15, 19 December 2011

My Lords, I warmly welcome the Government's determination to press ahead without equivocation with the radical proposals in the Vickers commission report. My noble friend will be aware that ever since the banking crash of 2008 I have been campaigning for a complete structural separation of retail and investment banking. The proposals go a long way towards that, although not all the way.

I realise that there is a problem, which the Vickers commission recognised, that full enforced structural separation is probably contrary to European law, but, as I am sure that my Liberal Democrat friends would agree, that is not something that we should allow to stand in our way.

My concern is twofold. First, the top management of banks may be deficient in judgment and in some cases may be deficient morally, but they are certainly not deficient in well advised ingenuity. There is a real risk that they may find ways around the ring-fence if there is not full structural separation. Secondly, what we need is a cultural separation. We need to have a culture of prudence back again in retail banking, unlike the culture of adventure, if I may call it that, in investment banking.

I confess to my noble friend that I am concerned about the difficulty of having two totally separate cultures in one organisation. When this is in place it will be necessary, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, said, at least to keep it under review all the time, although I think he is wrong in saying that we should keep the Vickers commission alive to do it. We should charge the Bank of England and the organisations that have been set up under the new regime with the responsibility of keeping this under close monitoring all the time, so we may need to go to full separation.

Finally, on the timing-I will confine myself to the ring-fencing-I am very glad that the ring-fencing legislation is going to come forward first, but there is bound to be a time lag because not only is the legislation complex but the banks will then need time to change and reorganise themselves to implement whatever the final decision of Parliament is in that legislation. I urge my noble friend to introduce the legislation not merely in this Parliament but in its next Session.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, I well recognise the consistency, firmness and clarity with which my noble friend has held his views on separation from very early on in this debate; we discussed it three years ago. However, the Government agree with the ICB that full separation is not the route to go down. I say to him that having independent directors on the boards of the ring-fenced banks will go a long way towards making up for, as he puts it, possible deficiencies of top management and their ability to get around these things. Having independent directors of ring-fenced subsidiaries is a model that has worked well in utility companies. As he says, it is right that the Bank of England will be watching this in its new role of supervising the system.

Photo of Lord McFall of Alcluith Lord McFall of Alcluith Labour

My Lords, when Sir John Vickers appeared before the Draft Financial Services Bill Joint Committee, it was clear that his report would not solve the "too big to fail" issue. What was required was a good regulatory structure, and no regulator globally succeeded in that.

In the draft Financial Services Bill report there were a number of issues relating to the governance of the Bank of England, and I should like an assurance from the Minister that the Government will take these all-party proposals very seriously. As a previous speaker said, culture is more important than architecture. I think that will be one of the main recommendations of our report.

The Minister mentioned the issue of switching current accounts. Will he accept that the portability of current account numbers is the key? That revolutionised the mobile phone industry. Only with the portability of current account numbers will we see a revolution in switching accounts in the banking industry.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, that the Joint Committee's report, which was published only today, will be taken very seriously on governance and all the other matters that are contained in it. As to switching accounts, I hear what he says about number portability, which is not at all an easy issue, as he well knows. All I would say is that the ability for seven-day switching, including all direct debits, credits and standing orders-which we now have the banks' agreement will be implemented by September 2013-is a significant advance that will help millions of consumers.

Photo of Lord Higgins Lord Higgins Conservative

My Lords, the report by the ICB is very large, comprehensive and detailed. It says that it would be desirable for the Government to express a view on it as soon as possible, which they have done. However, the Statement appears also to include one or two items that-I think I am right in saying-are not in the report. In particular, I understood my noble friend to say that there would be a tightening up of the Basel proposals, or that the Government would propose that. Secondly, he said that there would be depositor preference, which does not appear in the report unless I am mistaken. Will that require primary legislation and, if so, when are we likely to have that? Overall, it seems that we have just had another Statement, which has become available only recently. When will we have an opportunity to debate it? We have not really had any opportunity to comment on it now, since it appeared only a few moments ago.

Finally, on timing, there are two things. I agree very much with my noble friend Lord Lawson about the timing of the legislation. The banks need to know what is in the legislation. We should get that through the House at the earliest possible moment. Saying that we will do it in the course of this Parliament means that it will take far too long. Waiting until 2019 for the overall implementation is absurd. To suppose that there will be no financial crisis that is related to these proposals until 2019 would be the height of optimism. We have to get it through before then.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, on the tightening up of Basel III, as my noble friend puts it, the provisions around loss absorbency of 17 per cent and the bailing provisions are items that go beyond Basel. They are welcomed on a global basis. We now have to make sure that the way in which the EU implements Basel III is not only compatible with Basel III itself but allows the UK to go further for as long as the global community is entirely comfortable with that. Depositor preference requires primary legislation. In relation to primary legislation, discussion of all this and the process, the next major stage will be a White Paper, setting out in greater detail how the remaining important detailed matters will be handled in the draft legislation. The draft legislation will then come. I believe that there will be plenty of opportunity, in a staged way, for noble Lords to consider all the detail.

Photo of Lord Lea of Crondall Lord Lea of Crondall Labour

My Lords, is this what one might call the final stage in a number of statements about reform of the banking industry, following what has happened over the past four years? Is the Minister aware of the concern about this up and down the country? I welcome the Statement, with the sort of qualifications given by my noble friend Lord Eatwell.

There is great concern about accounting standards which led to false accounting regarding the state of many banks. While no one is suggesting that any senior banker should be shredded in front of his family, the fact is that there seems to be a total black hole as regards anyone taking any responsibility in the banking industry. Is that not something that still needs to be corrected?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, the report today is a response to the Vickers commission's work on the structure of banking. I fully accept the noble Lord's reference to other matters, particularly accounting standards. The committee of this House did some extremely important work in that area. I do not pretend that we are solving everything today and accounting is another issue that I am sure Members of this House will not forget as we go forward.

Photo of Lord Stewartby Lord Stewartby Conservative

My Lords, will my noble friend say something about supervision and where it fits into this very complicated arrangement of new committees and authorities? The report of the Joint Committee, which was published only today, states that it is planned that microprudential regulation will be done through a new subsidiary body called the prudential regulatory authority. However, regulation is not a micro-activity. Supervision is a micro-activity, but regulation is not. If microprudential regulation is meant to refer to supervision, it would be better to say so and not to put it in that form of verbiage.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, I am sure that there will be other occasions and places in which to discuss the Joint Committee's important report on the Bill, so I do not want to get dragged too far into doing that. I recognise that, even for those of us who have been involved in the banking industry, confusing "regulation" and "supervision" can sometimes be a trap into which it is easy to fall. Supervision will be the responsibility of the Bank of England in the new structure, if the Bill is passed by Parliament.

Photo of Lord Newton of Braintree Lord Newton of Braintree Conservative

My Lords, I have two quick questions. First, is there any estimate or expectation of a rise in the costs of retail banking as a result of these proposals? It seems to me that that must be a possibility. Secondly-I declare an interest as a 55-year long customer of Lloyds TSB bank in Harwich, Essex-given that the Minister has welcomed the sale of some Lloyds branches to the Co-op Bank, what will happen if we immediately use our switching rights to go back to another branch of Lloyds Bank if we are sold like a commodity?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, the ICB estimates that the increased cost of borrowing could be of the order of 0.09 per cent to 0.16 per cent as a result of implementing these proposals. That is a very modest additional cost which is well within the smallest ever incremental change to the bank rate introduced by the Bank of England. I will not speculate about what might happen to bank customers where they are sold from one bank to another, but I believe that it is completely right that we should make it easier in all circumstances for bank customers to be able to switch their accounts. That is what the banking system is going to deliver.

Photo of Lord Hamilton of Epsom Lord Hamilton of Epsom Conservative

My Lords, like my noble friend Lord Lawson, I shall sleep at night only when retail banks and investment banks have separate shareholders. Will the noble Lord answer my noble friend's point about the ingenuity of those who run banks to find a way round the ring-fencing, thereby enabling retail banks to continue to back investment banks?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

My Lords, as I have said, the way that the governance will work is that the ring-fenced subsidiary will have to have independent directors in the way that, for example, regulated utilities have to have directors who are independent of the holding company's board. That is the principal protection in these circumstances.

Photo of Lord Hollick Lord Hollick Labour

My Lords, I welcome the Government's response. It is an important step, but only a first step, to what surely must be full separation of the banks. That is the logic of the Vickers report and is, I should point out, the logic of the Government's response, which states:

"The Government believes that the ring-fenced bank should not be dependent on the financial health of the rest of its corporate group for its solvency or liquidity".

If that is to be achieved, the treasury function, which is right at the heart of banking, would need to be split and there would need to be two treasury functions. Similarly, loan capital would have to be provided separately to the high street bank. That would simply leave the question that my noble friend Lord Eatwell raised: what happens to the capital in the event that the holding company goes under? Surely, the logic of this is to separate these two completely. Can the Minister confirm that banks would be required to separate the treasury function, whereby loan capital will have to be raised separately for the high street bank?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

First, I do not accept that the Government's logic drives towards complete separation any more than the ICB itself argued for it. The ICB and the Government believe that there are efficiency and other benefits in allowing banks to keep the two parts of the business together under one holding company. However, the principal protection in the areas to which the noble Lord refers is that there will be limits on the exposures of the ring-fenced bank to other parts of the group. That is what, in particular, will deal with the noble Lord's concerns.

Photo of Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market Lord MacGregor of Pulham Market Chair, Audit and Risk Assurance Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee

My Lords, in the recent hearings of the Select Committee on Economic Affairs, the banks accepted that the Vickers report is more or less a done deal but argued that the costs would be considerably higher than those that Vickers calculated and the costs that the Government have estimated today. If in the forthcoming negotiations there is a major dispute about costs and their possible effect on customers, will the Government keep reminding the banks that there is still more to be done to contain costs on bonuses, salaries and other payments?

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury

I agree with my noble friend's sentiments on costs and I have stressed in the Statement that the position of the Bank of England, at this time in particular, is that banks should be using profits they generate to rebuild their balance sheets rather than paying out bonuses. However, to differ a little from my noble friend, I do not see this as representing any negotiation with banks over the costs. The ICB carried out an analysis, and the Treasury made a separate analysis that has resulted in different figures. We have used the input of the banks and their modelling in order to arrive at those numbers. We have come up with numbers for the costs that were higher in some areas than those originally estimated by the ICB. They are very much based on a lot of numbers that the banks themselves have modelled. I do not see a negotiation to be had in that area.