Committee (2nd Day)

Part of Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 15th October 2013.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord Glasman Lord Glasman Labour 3:45 pm, 15th October 2013

My Lords, I should like to speak in favour of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. It is very important that we recognise the severity of the situation relating to the banks and precisely what happened in 2008. I commend the localism agenda of the Government in terms of politics, but I wait to see how the localism agenda applies to banking institutions and their restructuring. It is very important to see the four root causes of the crash.

The first is that it is not only the state that centralises power; it is also capital that centralises. There is a consistent tendency to oligopoly and then to monopoly, unless there are constraints on that. What we have seen, and what we continue to see, is that 80% of our banking still goes through the same failed institutions, and what we have is more of the same, rather than something distinctly different. What we have is a collapse of regional business investment, which is extremely harmful and manifests itself in two ways: in constraints on productivity on one side and, on the other, the extraordinary growth of payday lenders, as the banks cannot deal with local needs. So centralisation is one aspect of the crash, and a lack of accountability in the structures of the bank is the other. This is where I am very much in favour of what my noble friend Lord Eatwell says, with one proviso.

Relationality is crucial and, when there is representation of interests in the corporate governance of banks, you have a greater degree of honesty. If you look at the story with the Spanish banks and the German local banks, you find that the constraints on them were eased and they were, in fact, acting like normal profit-maximising banks. They had lost their regional commitment and got themselves involved in series of overextended loans, very similar to ours. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Flight, that that is not a condemnation of regional banks; it is a condemnation of the fact that they ceased to be regional.

One anecdote that crystallises the problem is the example of Northern Counties Permanent Building Society, which was established in 1850 and flourished through 150 years. It went through four depressions, grew and merged as a mutual in 1965—noble Lords will see where this story is going—with the Rock Building Society. It then became the Northern Rock Building Society, which did well until 1997, when it was demutualised. It became the fourth largest mortgage lender in the country and sponsored Newcastle United but it also, by the maximisation of returns, completely lost its asset. We do not need any symbolism here; Newcastle United Football Club used to be sponsored by Northern Rock and now it is sponsored by Wonga. That is the reality of the circumstance that you confront, and there is no virtue in that; it is of no benefit to anybody. There is centralisation, lack of accountability, recklessness and deceit. They are all part of the same story of being unable to hold anybody to account. Without incentives to virtue, unfortunately, you get incentives to vice. That was the system, and it is the system that we still have.

I want to speak for the logic and the virtue of the amendments proposed here. The first element is regionality. As I say, all the cases that my noble friend Lord Eatwell and the noble Lord, Lord Flight, referred to, concerning Germany and Spain and their regional banks, were due to those banks no longer being regional. When there is a constraint on the bank to lend within a prescribed geographic area, banks will flourish. We can see how effective that has been from the Sparkassen in Germany. I remember the noble Lord, Lord Flight, a while ago referring to the stability of the German system being based on its currency, but it is also based on the fact that there is a regional banking system that sustains business through ups and downs, and where there is a genuine local knowledge of what is going on in those businesses as well as a vocational work scheme.

The third part of this is the most important—that is, the representation of the skills and knowledge of the workforce and stakeholders in the corporate governance of the firm. This leads to a balance of interests that holds people accountable. I completely agree with my noble friend Lord Eatwell about the stress on regionality and relationships in the second part of the amendment; relational banking is absolutely essential. However, that implies local knowledge and the restoration of what we have lost, which is trust. So this is not a quick fix. I commend the work of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury in talking about a 10 to 15-year structure of reconstituting credit and trust in the nation. There will have to be a coalition between different stakeholders in doing so. But it is a terrible missed opportunity when we have an asset that has not been regionalised and has not been subject to proper balance of power in corporate governance, with no regional accountability in it to look at bad practice and correct it before it reaches the taxpayer. Above all, as the story of Northern Rock teaches time and again, if you maximise immediate returns on investment, you will lose the asset. There have to be constraints on that which allow capital to maintain its presence in areas and be a partner to business and families. In terms of regionality, relationships, stakeholder accountability and non-maximisation, this amendment holds the key to the establishment of the banking system that must come now.