Committee (8th Day)

Part of Financial Services Bill – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 17th October 2012.

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Photo of Lord Tunnicliffe Lord Tunnicliffe Opposition Deputy Chief Whip (Lords) 5:00 pm, 17th October 2012

My Lords, I shall refer to the memorandum of understanding, particularly paragraph 20. I am mindful that people reading Hansardmay wonder which memorandum of understanding it is and where it is. It is Annexe E to A New Approach to Financial Regulation: Securing Stability, Protecting Consumers, Cm 8268, from January 2012.

Paragraph 20 of that document states:

"During a potentially fast-moving crisis, it will become especially important to ensure close and effective coordination so as to maintain coherence in the overall crisis management process. At the heart of institutional coordination during a live crisis will be frequent contact between the Chancellor and the Governor. However, the Chancellor and the Governor may agree to establish ad hoc or standing committees at other levels to support this process".

That is fine as far as it goes. Our amendment seeks to require in the MoU more detail of how a temporary stability committee-as we have called it but we do not mind what the Government call it-would be convened and how it would function in a crisis. We are essentially saying that we would like a commitment in the Bill to emergency preparedness-to planning how the crisis might be handled.

I have a very strong relationship with the concept of emergency preparedness. It has been part of my whole professional life. My first job was as an airline pilot-third class; I struggled up to second class. We spent our time hurtling down runways with engines on fire and so on and coping with it-not for real, I hasten to add, or there would be piles of burning metal all over the place, but in simulators. It was a crucial part of our role. The public who use those services have every right to expect that people in that critical position spent a great deal of time preparing for emergency.

The next phase of my career in which this was particularly important was when I was managing director of London Underground Ltd. A year before I came into that office we had 31 people at Kings Cross. We got more or less everything wrong that could possibly have been got wrong. Emergency preparedness was part of the series of errors. If we had had good emergency preparedness processes and all other things had gone wrong, in probability nobody would have died. Later in my career I was chairman of the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority, which has the potential of course to release radioactivity into the atmosphere and we took the whole issue of emergency preparedness right up to what the role of the non-executive chairman would be in such circumstances.

In the airline business, London Underground and UKAEA, we had the potential to kill tens or hundreds of people-in LU, it was thousands of people. I am happy to reassure anyone reading this debate that we engineered out the scenario that involved thousands of people and London is much more secure for that. Nevertheless, they were grave and important consequences and we took them very seriously. Yet the damage that we could cause through our failure in that mode pales into insignificance compared with the pain the country is suffering in this double-dip recession.

I do not want to go into the causes of where we are today. There is not the slightest chance of the Minister and I having any serious common ground in such a debate. Despite the time we have in front of us this afternoon, it would be rather fruitless to start such a discussion. Yet I do not believe that we would disagree that the banking crisis made a significant contribution. We might argue over what came first or so on, but if the banking system had remained stable through the circumstances as they developed in the last part of the previous decade and the first part of this one, we would be in a much better position. A banking crisis does absolutely enormous damage to an economy-and to the world economy-and needs to be prevented, avoided or handled at all costs.

This amendment invites the Government to set out, at least in terms of duties or some such way, how they do the necessary emergency preparedness for such a crisis. For anybody who has been through a crisis-I have been through some modest ones in my professional career-there is absolutely no question that the extent of emergency preparedness has a significant impact on the ability to handle that crisis. Knowing who to talk to, who to bring together for skills and how to communicate with appropriate external agencies, and the effort put into developing scenarios and looking at the various tools that can be addressed by them, is massively repaid in those scenarios happening.

In my previous professions, very serious scenarios were very improbable. Very serious scenarios in the banking world have proved all too probable. They really happen and cause enormous damage. This amendment seeks to encourage the Government to set out what planning they are doing, how they would convene the committee envisaged in paragraph 20, what functions it would have and how it would involve the main players. In our experience, you have to have the top players involved. I am sure that, for instance, in contemplating a possible unfavourable military situation in the Middle East, the Prime Minister spends part of his time working through how the Government would respond to that and how the process of debate, analysis and so on would take place. I put to the Committee that exactly those sorts of capabilities ought to exist within Government for a possible future banking crisis. I am reasonably confident that they are in place. As a minimum, I hope the Minister can outline what preparedness is envisaged. I ask him to accept the amendment, which would require him to set out that preparedness in a memorandum of understanding. I beg to move.