Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill — Third Reading

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 10:48 pm on 9th December 2013.

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Photo of Lord Lawson of Blaby Lord Lawson of Blaby Conservative 10:48 pm, 9th December 2013

My Lords, once again, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Deighton and his colleagues in the Treasury for agreeing to bring forward this amendment. As he pointed out, it is in response to a recommendation of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Hitherto the Treasury has been reluctant to accept this, but it has now done so and it is in the Bill. Incidentally, this was also a recommendation of your Lordships’ Economic Affairs Committee, in its report on the auditors a little while back. This provision is needed in the Bill is because we have been here before. The Banking Act 1987—I introduced the Bill that led to that—enabled these meetings to take place, and for a number of years they did. However, in the run-up to the great banking crisis and meltdown they had ceased. That is why we on the commission felt that this time it was necessary to have this provision in the Bill, and I am grateful to my noble friend for that.

I know that the hour is getting late but I should mention another matter that relates to a recommendation of the commission. There was lamentable failure of these meetings to take place and the fact that the auditors were in front of the crisis—the dog that never barked—was partly because of the lack of meetings and was largely the fault of the regulators at the time. It was their responsibility above all to seek such meetings. However, there was also the lamentable inadequacy of the accounting system at the time, IFRS. It is probably an inadequate system in general but it is particularly flawed when it comes to the auditing of banks. That is increasingly recognised within the accountancy profession. It is too late for me to go into the details, and I have explained the specific failings in previous debates and I will not go over the ground again.

When the commission addressed this issue it said that since we cannot change IFRS because the “I” represents an international agreement—although it is, in fact, a European agreement because the Americans have made it clear that they do not want to have any part of it—the PRA must require the major systemic banks to produce a second set of accounts that satisfies the needs of prudential regulation and supervision. That involves a small extra cost to achieve a considerable objective.

When this matter was discussed in Committee, my noble friend Lord Deighton said that there was no need to put such a provision in the Bill because the PRA had the power to do so—and I very much hope that it will do so. It is up to the Treasury Committee in another place to keep the PRA up to the mark. I hope that the present chairman of that committee will do that. Andrew Tyrie, the Member of Parliament for Chichester, outstandingly chaired the work of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and he secured its important and unanimous report. However, I was slightly alarmed in Committee when the Minister said that the regulators already have power,

“to make rules requiring banks to prepare additional accounts, to the extent that this is permissible under EU law”.—[ Official Report , 23/10/13; col. 1022.]

While I thank him for the amendment, I must ask him: if the PRA wishes a systemically important bank to present a set of accounts in a way that it feels is necessary for proper prudential supervision, what will it be prevented from doing under EU law? The House needs to know that.