Banking Reform — Statement

– in the House of Lords at 4:26 pm on 14th June 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 4:26 pm, 14th June 2012

My Lords, I refer the House to the Statement on banking reform made in another place by my honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, copies of which have been made available in the Printed Paper Office and the text of which will be printed in full in the Official Report.

The following Statement was made earlier in the House of Commons.

"Mr Speaker, the financial crisis exposed a great many flaws in the system. Banks borrowed too much, took risks they did not understand and bought securities that proved to be far from secure. Banking groups became too complex and interconnected to be managed effectively, regulators failed to identify the risks, and taxpayers paid the price. Between October 2008 and December 2010, European taxpayers provided almost €300 billion to prop up their banks, with liquidity and lending support in the trillions. In the UK, the bailout of RBS was the biggest banking bailout in the world.

Just as the crisis revealed many flaws, there is no single solution. This Government are reforming the substance and structure of the financial architecture, putting the Bank of England in charge of prudential regulation. We have created the Financial Policy Committee to look at risks across the financial system. Our permanent bank levy penalises short-term wholesale funding, and we have introduced the toughest and most transparent pay regime of any major financial centre in the world. We have worked with our international partners to deliver robust, consistent standards on prudential standards for banks and markets.

The White Paper we are publishing today sets out how we will implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking. These reforms form a key part of this Government's broader programme of reform. In the same way that the action we have taken on the deficit has meant that UK debt is currently seen as a 'safe haven' asset by investors around the world, we will ensure that British banks are resilient, stable and competitive, and so attractive to investors at home and abroad.

The eurozone crisis makes reform more, not less, important. The link between the strength of a country's banking sector and its own stability could not be clearer. At the same time, our proposals reflect progress that has been made in European and international regulation since December. The Government welcome the European Commission's recovery and resolution directive, which will improve member states' ability to resolve cross-border banks without imposing costs on taxpayers. This Government will continue to press for full implementation of Basel III in Europe.

The goals of today's White Paper are clear. First, since future financial crises rarely repeat the pattern of the past, we must make banks more resilient to shocks. Secondly, we must make our banks more resolvable so that, if they fail, they do not threaten the provision of vital services to the real economy. Seeing through these two goals will achieve our third: to curb risk-taking in financial markets. It must be clear that investors reap rewards when banks do well but take the pain if banks fail.

The Government will ring-fence retail deposits from the risks posed by international wholesale and investment banking. A ring-fenced bank will be economically and legally separate from the rest of its group, and run by an independent board. The ring-fence will not stop a bank failing, but it will insulate the deposits of families and businesses and, if a bank does fail, these essential parts of the banking system can continue without recourse to the taxpayer. The deposits of individuals and their overdrafts, and the deposits and overdrafts of small and medium-sized businesses, will in general be placed in ring-fenced banks.

To minimise the risks that the ring-fenced bank is exposed to, it will be prohibited from conducting the vast majority of international wholesale and investment banking. It will not be permitted to carry out activities through branches or subsidiaries outside the EEA, nor, except in limited circumstances, with financial institutions. Beyond this, and within certain constraints, firms may decide what to put inside the ring-fence. Ring-fencing provides customers with flexibility, but not at the cost of financial stability. The Government propose to strengthen the ICB's recommendations by applying strict controls on the use of derivatives that a ring-fenced bank uses to hedge its own balance sheet. This will ensure that a ring-fenced bank does not take excessive risks when managing its own risks, as was the case in JP Morgan's recent much publicised trading loss.

Governance of the ring-fenced bank will be important. The Government propose to strengthen the ICB recommendations in this area, establishing separate risk and possibly remuneration committees. But it is important to focus these reforms where they have the biggest impact; that is, on the biggest, "too big to fail" banks. So the Government propose that smaller banks, with below £25 billion of mandated deposits, be exempt from these requirements. Large, systemically important banks have a competitive advantage from the perceived implicit guarantee. Our targeted reforms remove that advantage, helping smaller banks and new entrants.

One of the clearest lessons from the crisis is that investors and creditors-not taxpayers-should bear the costs of failure. That is why we have supported Basel III, which increases banks' capital requirements to 7%, with a top-up for systemically important banks, and we have pressed for it to be implemented across Europe. But to protect taxpayers, this Government will go further. The largest UK ring-fenced banks should hold an additional 3% of equity on top of the Basel III minimum standards.

The Government also strongly endorse the introduction of a binding minimum leverage ratio. The White Paper supports the Basel proposal of a 3% leverage ratio for all banks, including UK ring-fenced banks, and will continue to press for the implementation of the Basel standard through EU law. Large ring-fenced banks should hold a minimum amount of loss-absorbing capacity-made up of equity or debt-of 17% of risk-weighted assets. Their overseas operations should be exempt from this requirement unless they pose a risk to financial stability. For smaller UK banks, as the ICB recommends, the minimum requirements should be lower.

To deliver these proposals, the authorities need a way to "bail in" bank liabilities so that bondholders, not taxpayers, bear the losses. The Government will work with European partners to ensure that the ICB's recommendations on bail-in are credibly and consistently applied across Europe, through the recovery and resolution directive. This Government intend to introduce the principle of depositor preference for insured deposits. Unsecured lenders to banks are better placed to monitor the risks that banks are taking on and they should take losses ahead of ordinary depositors.

Our proposals on financial stability also improve competition in UK banking. The implicit guarantee to large banks distorts competition; its reduction will help create a level playing field. But the Government want to do more to encourage new entrants and promote competition. We will shortly issue a consultation on reform to the payments system.

I welcome the reviews by the Bank of England and the FSA of the prudential and conduct requirements for new entrants to ensure that they are appropriate, not disproportionate. The Government strongly support the need for a strong challenger bank to emerge from the Lloyds Banking Group divestment, and are engaging with Lloyds and the European Commission to ensure that the divestment creates as strong a challenger as possible. A more competitive market will only work if customers are prepared to change banks.

The Government are pleased with the progress on the industry-led initiative to make current account switching faster and easier for customers. Providers covering 97% of the current account market have signed up and the scheme is on track to be launched next September. But to switch, customers need better information, so the Government welcome the fact that the OFT and FCA will take forward the ICB's recommendation to improve transparency across all retail banking products. Work is already under way on a number of projects, such as making account data available to customers electronically to enable them to shop around.

Financial stability is a prerequisite for growth. Our analysis suggests that the proposals in the White Paper will cost, in GDP terms, in the region of £0.6 billion to £1.4 billion per annum-compare that to the estimate that the 2007-09 crisis has already cost the UK economy £140 billion, 100 times the maximum cost estimate. So these proposals, while ambitious in scale, are proportionate in impact. They will promote financial stability while supporting sustainable growth and maintaining the UK's role as the world's leading international financial centre.

The reforms we are announcing today, together with the changes we are making to the regulatory architecture, demonstrate that the Government are determined to take action to deliver a stable and sustainable banking system that underpins, rather than undermines, economic growth".

Photo of Lord Eatwell Lord Eatwell Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, having read the Statement, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for not repeating it. He has rescued the House from some tedium. However, I am concerned that the new procedures are having the unintended consequence of shielding the Minister from embarrassment, particularly the embarrassment of having watered down the Vickers proposals, and from a number of serious ambiguities in the Statement. I have not had the opportunity to read the White Paper. I hope it will provide a better vision of the future of UK banking than does the Statement.

We on this side of the House welcomed the Vickers report as a positive step along the road to making Britain's retail banking system safer, in particular protecting households and small and medium-sized firms from the instability that, as we have seen to our cost, may well be generated in wholesale financial markets, by banks' proprietary trading and by the complex interconnections that characterise today's global banking.

The Statement suggests that one of the Government's goals is,

"to curb risk-taking in financial markets".

Can the Minister elaborate a little on this? As many have commented, a financial market without risk is the market of the grave. If Britain is ever to return to boisterous growth-something which under this coalition must be in increasingly serious doubt-financial institutions will need to take risks. Indeed, the expansion of credit is vital to recovery.

How does the Treasury intend to monitor the risk that is generated within the ring-fence system? What is the Treasury's definition of "acceptable" levels of risk? What is the Treasury's estimate of the impact of these measures on the supply of credit to households and to small and medium-sized firms? For example, what will be the impact on the supply of credit of the severe limitations on wholesale funding of the balance sheet, given the important role that wholesale funding has played in the British banking system over the past decade? What will be the impact of the new leverage collar on the supply of credit? All these issues refer directly to the ability of British industry to receive the funding that it needs for recovery.

What is the Government's intention with respect to the substantial flow of liquidity into the UK economy from the Crown dependencies? Since large companies will be outside the ring-fence and the failure of those companies would impose unacceptable costs on the UK economy, is it not clear that the Government's proposal has failed to deal with the issue of "too big to fail"? How would the Government deal with the failure of a non-ring-fenced bank that imposed destructive instability on large UK companies?

The Statement also reads:

"The deposits of individuals and their overdrafts, and the deposits and overdrafts of small and medium-sized businesses will, in general, be placed in ring-fenced banks".

How can the Government be sure of this? What compels a saver to commit their savings to ring-fenced banks if those banks offer a lower rate of return than non-ring-fenced operations? Are the Government simply planning to force UK households to accept lower rates of return to secure the stability of institutions within the ring-fence?

The Statement also declares that,

"within certain constraints, firms may decide what to put inside the ring-fence".

I presume, therefore, that they may decide what to put outside. What do the Government have in mind here? Why are they abdicating their responsibility to determine the boundary of the ring-fence?

We are told that the Government have decided that ring-fenced banks should be required to hold 10% capital against risk-weighted assets. Whence do the Government derive the belief that moving to a 10% capital-to-risk-weighted asset ratio will provide the resilience that the banking sector requires to head off a serious crisis? This belief is without empirical foundation. A little investigation would reveal that Allied Irish Bank, the collapse of which devastated the Irish economy, always had a capital-to risk-weighted asset that was higher than that which the Government now propose as the basis of security of ring-fenced banks.

More generally, it is well known that the outcome of regulatory actions-that they stimulate a creative response from the banks, creative in the sense that they work out ways to circumvent or evade the regulations-reduces the impact of regulatory innovation over time. How do the Government intend to keep the operations of the ring-fence under review? Would it not be appropriate to keep the Independent Commission on Banking in being and charge it with the task of reviewing regularly the performance of the ring-fence? Why not ask Sir John Vickers and his team to return to the issue-let us say-12 months after the ring-fence has been introduced?

What is to be done on the timing of this legislation? We have before the House a Financial Services Bill the structure of which, as has been recognised by the Government and throughout the House, is seriously deficient. Would it not be better for the Government to withdraw that Bill, go back and rewrite it in a way which corrects its deficiencies, and incorporate the new measures from the Vickers report and the White Paper in that revised Bill? The House would then have the opportunity of assessing in its entirety the new framework for financial services in this country, rather than this hotchpotch of measures being introduced one after the other without clarity as to the way in which they relate to one another.

Photo of Lord Sassoon Lord Sassoon The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury 4:33 pm, 14th June 2012

My Lords, I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has not yet had a chance to read the very detailed White Paper because, when he does, he will see that a lot of his detailed questions have been addressed.

I find it disappointing that the noble Lord comes here and takes such a picky attitude towards this fundamentally important reform being introduced by the Government. The previous Government had two years in which to act on the collapse of Northern Rock and then on the failures of RBS and Lloyds and did absolutely nothing about them. Did it not occur to them that there might be a problem with the structure of banking in this country? It seems not. For two years, they sat on their hands, asked no questions and did nothing. When this Government came into office, we established within weeks the Independent Commission on Banking under the chairmanship of Sir John Vickers. It has come up with a very fine report to government. We have considered it very carefully and have published our final response today. What we have before us is one of the most radical reforms of banking that I suggest the world has ever seen.

Why have we done that? We have done that because we face in this country something which my right honourable friend the Chancellor has characterised as the British dilemma: how do we continue to host a world-class financial services sector, a sector in which our banks are able to go out to compete vigorously, as they do, around the world with the best and biggest that the rest of the world has, without putting the UK taxpayer at excessive risk? That is what is encapsulated by our response to the Vickers commission, a response that picks up the essence of what Vickers recommended but which interprets it in a way that is appropriate, flexible, forward-looking and balances those key interests of ensuring that we have a world-class but safe banking system.

The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, talked about risk-taking in the financial markets. The critical thing is that we want to make sure that the parts of the banks within the ring-fence, the parts of the banks in which the savings of the men, women and children of this country go, are properly ring-fenced and protected-the parts of the banks which service the SMEs of this country. We want to ensure that there is not inappropriate risk-taking within that ring-fence. The noble Lord asked how that is to be monitored. It is not for Her Majesty's Treasury to monitor it; it will be up to the Financial Policy Committee to look at the system as a whole-as it already is in interim form-and it will be for the Prudential Regulation Authority, under the Bank of England, to supervise individual firms in future.

The noble Lord then talked about curbs on growth. That area is very important, because the flow of credit must go on, particularly at this time of challenge in the economy. That is precisely one reason why Sir John Vickers and the commission recommended that the implementation of the recommendations should be concluded by 2019, a recommendation that we have accepted. The numbers are set out in the document, but I suggest that the costs of implementation over that period and beyond on a running basis are very modest in relation to both the cost of the banking crisis over which the previous Government presided and the size of the UK economy.

The noble Lord then referred to the flow of funds in from Crown dependencies. He is clearly an expert on this subject. I believe that he is on the regulatory body of the States of Jersey. I am aware, as he is, that significant deposits flow from that and other Crown dependencies into the UK wholesale markets. That plays an important part of the funding of the wholesale markets and should continue.

The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, then asked: what compels a saver to deposit his or her money in a ring-fenced bank? The fact is that 87%, or thereabouts, of deposits in the banking system at the moment are within banks that will be subject to the ring-fence. It is highly implausible to suggest that it would be wrong to protect 90% of the deposits of the British public but not to say that there are other places that are not ring-fenced that are accessible. What the noble Lord presents is not a realistic picture. Sir John Vickers and his commission raised the question of a de minimis limit and we set a limit that the ring-fence should not operate for banks with deposits below £25 billion. I suggest to the noble Lord that one thing on which we might agree is that we need more diversity, more competition, and more new entrants in the banking sector. It is entirely appropriate, we believe, that the ring-fence should operate for only the biggest of our banks-those which account for some 90% of deposits.

The noble Lord then asked a number of technical questions about the way that the ring-fence will operate. I refer him to the details in the White Paper. If he has further questions that it does not answer, I would of course be happy to write on any supplementary questions that he may put, but there is a very full analysis there.

As to the capital ratios proposed here, the noble Lord talked about the Government proposing them but of course what analysis there was underpinning them was all the ICB's analysis. The Government have done one thing in this area today, which is to put out a 3% rather than a 4% ratio against total unweighted assets. That is to create a level playing field with what is proposed in Europe. We want this measure to be not a front-stop but a back-stop, in line with what the ICB proposed, and we want to make sure that our banks have every opportunity to compete on a level playing field.

The noble Lord then asked whether we should ask the ICB to return to the operation of the ring-fence, by keeping it under review and coming back to it one year after it comes into operation. Given that the implementation date is set by Sir John Vickers at 2019 it might be a little unreasonable to Sir John and his commission, who have done tremendous work on this, to keep them on the hook until 2020, or later, to ask them to come back to these issues. I am sure that there will be other ways of looking at the impact of these measures in due course.

Lastly, the noble Lord asked whether we should put these measures into one Bill with those in the Financial Services Bill, which is already before your Lordships' House. This is to misunderstand the different nature of what is being addressed here. On the one hand, the Financial Services Bill deals with the structure of regulation and, on the other, the measures that we are talking about today relate to the structure of banking. I accept of course that the two things taken together are the measures that, combined, will make sure that this country has a world-class financial services sector and will not put UK taxpayers excessively at risk. However, they are two sets of distinct measures. Your Lordships will now have them in front of you so that you can read across from one to another but any suggestion of delaying the legislative process, which the noble Lord and others have constantly urged us to get on with, would be wholly inappropriate.

Photo of Lord Eatwell Lord Eatwell Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

Before the noble Lord sits down, I would like to press him on a question on which I am genuinely puzzled. The Statement refers to the idea that UK households will place their deposits in ring-fenced banks. Why should they do that if the rate of return is higher on non-ring-fenced banks than it is on ring-fenced banks, and why should not an innovative financial sector create devices whereby households can take advantage of a higher rate of return in non-ring-fenced financial institutions? We are not planning-or are we?-to reintroduce Regulation Q as it was in the United States, where there was a limitation on the return that households could receive on their deposits to force those deposits into the commercial banking system.

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

My Lords, at the moment depositors have freedom as to where they place their deposits. It is certainly not the case that the vast majority of deposits go to the outliers, as there always are, in offering returns. When it comes to the future arrangements, I would anticipate that the vast majority of deposits will stay where they are. For better or worse, that is the system with a number of very large incumbent banks, which will all be ring-fenced. It will be very clear to people what the difference is between ring-fenced and non-ring-fenced banks. The Statement made by my right honourable friend was merely a clear statement of observed behaviour and likely behaviour into the future-not a Statement saying that people "must" or "are compelled to", or that they do not have any choice. Of course they will have choice, but 90% of the deposits are where they are today and I anticipate that that is not somehow going to be magically changed overnight.

Photo of Lord Bilimoria Lord Bilimoria Crossbench 4:45 pm, 14th June 2012

My Lords, building on what the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has just said, if we look back at the financial crisis, the FSA was asleep on the job, and that is being addressed by the Financial Services Bill. There is no question about that. The organisations that have got away scot free in the banking reform and the Financial Services Bill are the credit rating agencies, which were so much to blame globally for the crisis, the credit crunch and the great recession. Will the Minister address that point? Secondly, does he agree that it is surely a question of balance? Have we got the balance right with the banking reforms? There is no question that the good point about the big bang is that it opened up the economy, but the negative is that it is probably too open and not regulated enough. Are we going too far here? Quite frankly, this looks like Groundhog Day to me. We have been here before in 1933 with the Glass-Steagall Act. What lessons have been learnt from that? Have we not learnt?

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

The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, makes a very good point about the credit rating agencies. The Bill is about the structure of banking. Credit rating agency regulation is now essentially in the hands of the European Commission. The appropriate sub-committee of your Lordships' European Union Committee produced an excellent report, which we debated recently, on this subject. Yes, we must keep the subject of credit ratings under discussion, but the competence is not primarily here, and it is not the subject of the Statement we are addressing.

On the lessons of history, Glass-Steagall and so on, this is a different model from the Glass-Steagall model and from the model that the US is implementing at the moment. The Commission talked to a very wide range of people and, I am sure, studied the history very carefully. In the knowledge of the current and historical international precedents, that was its fundamental judgment about the high but flexible ring-fence. I believe it has come up with something that takes all those lessons on board, is appropriate for what we need now and is not going to impact significantly on the necessary driver for growth in this country, which is keeping credit flowing this year, next year and the year after.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat

It is with real pleasure that I welcome the White Paper and the Statement by the Minister. He will be aware that my colleagues in both Houses, especially Vince Cable, have long called for the structural separation of vanilla banking from more speculative investment banking. We look at Vickers and the White Paper as a very acceptable and effective compromise. As a result of its structural nature, ring-fencing has far more possibility of resisting erosion over the years as the masters of the universe regain their confidence and begin to attempt to transfer risk back to the taxpayer.

The Minister mentioned the Government's decision to stick with the 2019 timetable. Is that a really robust measure? He will have heard some of the major banks trying to put a bit of pressure on this. A long-grass strategy is clearly under consideration by those who are resistant to these changes.

I see no reason why the Financial Services Bill should be held up to make way for legislation that comes from this White Paper, but will the Minister and his team take a look to make sure that what is likely to flow from this can find a framework and that there will be genuine capacity within the Financial Services Bill? He will know that I am particularly taken with the section in the White Paper called "A More Diverse Banking Sector". I am delighted to see that and the whole competition area in the White Paper emphasised so strongly. Will he make sure that the capacity for that exists comfortably within the Financial Services Bill when it leaves this House?

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

Perhaps I might answer my noble friend first. I am grateful to her for welcoming these next steps as we implement Vickers. On the questions about timetabling, we are firm not only on implementation by 2019 but on sticking to our commitment to completing the passage of the legislation in this Parliament, which allows for time for pre-legislative scrutiny this autumn and a proper and full process. On her point about whether we have thought about the read-across to the Financial Services Bill, we have done so-for example, we have picked up the Vickers recommendation about the FCA having a competition objective, and that is already drafted in the Financial Services Bill. There will be other important elements, such as account-switching, that will come in from September 2013. Everything fits together. I appreciate her recognition that a more diverse banking sector has also been thought about; it is a very important element of this.

Photo of Lord Tugendhat Lord Tugendhat Conservative

My Lords, I welcome the Statement and I congratulate the Government on the speed at which they are moving. I have one question: where one part of a bank is within the ring-fence and one part is outside, does the White Paper say anything about auditing? Would one expect there to be the same auditors for both parts of the bank, or would they expect to have different auditors? Does the White Paper take a view on that?

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

As far as I am aware, there is no prohibition or restriction on the use of auditors. I am pretty sure that the audit position is not addressed, but if I am wrong about that I will write to the noble Lord.

Photo of Baroness Northover Baroness Northover Baroness in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip), Lords Spokesperson (Department for International Development)

My Lords, to be fair, it is actually the turn of the Labour Benches. If they are happy, then we will hear from the Cross Benches first before hearing from the Labour Benches. I think that the noble Lords have given way.

Photo of Lord Rees-Mogg Lord Rees-Mogg Crossbench

We were just brewing up to have a very satisfactory little argument about the Glass-Steagall Act. The important thing about it is how long it lasted; it was passed by the Senate in the 1930s and ultimately repealed by President Carter, who had been persuaded to do so by Wall Street. Its great virtue was that it identified more clearly than previous legislation, and more clearly than most subsequent legislation, the difference between retail bankers and what you could call casino bankers, and put different responsibilities on them. That protection worked. If one went, as I did, to Wall Street in the 1950s, one found that Wall Street had come to the conclusion that it was not going to have another slump, primarily because of that Act but also because of the wartime Bretton Woods agreement, which was masterminded by our very own Maynard Keynes. This is a consistent fruit. The set of ideas that were developed in response to the crisis of the early 1930s worked their way through the financial body and the intellectual body, and gave us what we are now looking for-a restabilisation of our own economy in its own terms.

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

The noble Lord, Lord Rees-Mogg, of course speaks with great authority on these matters. All I do is to say that I listen with great interest to his historical analysis.

Photo of Lord Desai Lord Desai Labour

My Lords, before we had the report from Sir John Vickers at the commission, there was talk of living wills that banks would make. Whatever happens, we are now to make quite sure that the taxpayer does not once again have to bail banks out. While it is all right to have ring-fencing and so on, we have to remember that Northern Rock was not a bank with investment banking divisions. It was a bank which failed purely because of misbehaviour. Are we sure that, whatever happens, if even a ring-fenced bank fails it will not be rescued by the taxpayer?

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

The noble Lord, Lord Desai, as always, brings up important points. Of course, living wills are an integral part of the whole construct for better resolution of banks than we had before. Indeed, the FSA has been leading the project for a couple of years or more to make sure that all the arrangements are in place. The noble Lord draws attention to another important part of the construct.

Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates Conservative

But can my noble friend confirm that the banking crisis actually cost the taxpayer, in direct cash, loans and guarantees, close to £500 billion-£465 billion pounds? Therefore, it behoves the Government to take some action to protect savers and the interests of the taxpayer in this regard. The introduction of the leveraging ratio is therefore welcome, particularly as it follows international norms rather than putting our industry at a competitive disadvantage.

I have one small, technical point. The Minister has an incredible grasp of the detail, but does my noble friend have understanding of whether there will be any implications of introducing that leverage ratio for the Government's holdings in Lloyds Banking Group and RBS?

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

I am grateful to my noble friend for pointing out the extraordinary cost of the banking crisis. He cites one figure; I think that the estimates ranged from £140 billion upwards. They are extraordinary figures, which, as I said at the outset, the then Government did not seem to think required any response. I completely agree with my noble friend Lord Bates that something needed to be done, and that is what we have brought forward.

As for the effect on the Government's holdings in RBS and Lloyds, I am sure that your Lordships like reading, as I do, the fine detail of impact assessments. At the back of the White Paper, the impact assessment contains several paragraphs analysing the effect. It gives a number on a rather theoretical comparison of what the effect might be, but then points out that this is probably already priced into the market so that the price of the holdings today takes account of what is proposed.

Photo of Lord Jones of Birmingham Lord Jones of Birmingham Crossbench

My Lords, I declare an interest, and refer noble Lords to the register of interests, advising both providers of finance and also those who consume it. I remember my Yorkshire grandmother when I was about 12 saying that it was a condition of my Christmas present that an account was opened at the Halifax Building Society, and it went in there. Little did Grandma Jones ever believe that that money and its successor funds would be used to be gambled by the Bank of Scotland on commercial folly, so I congratulate the Minister on a good start.

However, of course we have one or two problems. First-and I would welcome the Minister's comments on this-I notice that the Statement includes SMEs inside this ring-fence as well as private individuals, the provision of retail, the taking of deposits and the provision of finance. The problem is: how do we get capital and liquidity back into the small business sector? Bigger businesses have balance sheets awash with cash but lack the confidence to invest it. At this moment, smaller businesses do not. One of the biggest reasons for this is that they have lost trust in the banking sector. If you had a good credit record in 2008 and 2009 but had your credit facility taken away and had to borrow from friends and mortgage your house, you are hardly likely to trust the bank the next time around. Today does nothing to help that unless you make a virtue of necessity and prove to small business that this will in some way free up capital towards the provision of liquidity. I am not sure that this measure in any way does that and would welcome the Minister's comments.

Secondly, there is the enormous problem of how you get the balance right so that we are seen as a well regulated, safely executed and prosecuted banking environment, without encouraging the most successful of our globally competitive sectors not to leave these shores. It would not go elsewhere because of all the problems with salaries and bonuses and the vilification of banking, but because it will just become too difficult to lend here and easier to lend in other markets. I ask the Minister, and I include his coalition partners in this-it would be nice to have a Secretary of State for Business who supported business for once-whether, just for once, some positive words might come from the Government about the financial services sector in this country, rather than constant smacking instead of encouragement.

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

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Birmingham, is always rightly concerned about the financing of British business, which is very important. Today's measures are not principally about that. I could talk about the £21 billion national loan guarantee scheme or the fact that our 10-year sterling sovereign rate has been in the 1.5% to 1.7% range for the past few weeks, which is an unprecedented level. That all flows through. Here, we are significantly reducing the risk of another banking crisis. It was that crisis-the disruption and its aftermath-that caused such difficulty in the flow of loans to our businesses. Whatever we do here to minimise the chances of it happening again must be good for our businesses.

As for the UK being a competitive centre of banking, the Government are working incredibly hard. For example, only this morning I was at a very important meeting with businesses and authorities from the UK and Hong Kong, talking about how we would build the offshore RMB centre in London. That is an example of the forward-looking approach that we take to making sure that the UK and London continue to be the global financial centres of choice.

Photo of Baroness Drake Baroness Drake Labour

My Lords, I have only just had time to read the White Paper but I ask the Minister to elaborate on two issues. The Statement makes it clear that the strength of a country's banking sector strengthens its stability and gives it a competitive advantage-a view that I endorse. However, that view clearly worried the European authorities, as evidenced by Mr Enria's evidence to the Joint Committee on the Financial Services Bill. These are my words, not his, but he expressed the view that capital requirements for banks in Europe should have both a minimum and a maximum. However, the White Paper confirms that the Government support the ICB view that further buffers should be added to those of the Basel III international standards, and that the Government will, through the CRD4 negotiations, work to ensure that they can be implemented in accordance with EU law. Therefore, my first question is: how confident are the Government of securing the national regulatory freedom to impose the additional capital buffers that they would like to see?

Secondly, I am pleased to read in the White Paper that, for the first time, the position of pension funds in the ring-fencing will be important. The issue is to do with making sure that the regulatory framework for pension funding is not breached when dealing with the banking separation.

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

In answer to the noble Baroness's first point, we are confident, and we are absolutely on top of and watching her second point, which is important.

Photo of Baroness Wheatcroft Baroness Wheatcroft Conservative

My Lords, I welcome the White Paper and the accompanying Statement. Separating risky banking from core retail banking is essential but we have to be careful that the ring-fence does not become a Chinese wall. It will take some policing. We also need to be very careful in watching to what extent the hedging that will be allowed within the ring-fence is monitored by the various authorities. I have some qualms about that.

I am also concerned about the timetable. I am delighted to hear that the 2019 deadline will stay but I am puzzled as to why that needs to be the case for more than the capital requirements. I would have thought that the ring-fence might have been installed sooner than 2019, which sounds a long time away. My final point is about why on earth households would put their money into a ring-fenced bank. I cannot see why their money should be guaranteed if they put it in a riskier institution. Perhaps the Minister will answer that.

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

I would very much like to respond to those points but I see that the clock has reached 20 minutes. I do not like to do this but I had better write to my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft on these important points.