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My Lords, I rise with some trepidation to bring this period of peace to a close. I, too, have been involved in this Bill from the beginning and have worked with my noble friend Lord Davies and the Minister, and I, too, thank him for the enormous amount of time and effort he has put into trying to achieve a consensus on so much of the Bill. The amendments we have already agreed tonight are the product of that work. I also commend the Minister, his team and the members of the Bank, the PRA and so on who put so much effort into trying to persuade us not to move this amendment. It is somewhat sad that they failed, and therefore I rise now to speak to Amendment 20, which is tabled in my name and that of my noble friends Lord Davies and Lord McFall and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer.
The effect of the amendment is simple. It would ensure that the so-called reverse burden of proof on senior managers comes into force as planned from March 2016. The Government have argued that the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013 and the senior managers and certification regime—the SMCR—represent a significant improvement to the regulatory system and the regulatory standards that existed before the financial crash. On this, we are in full agreement. Along with the structural reforms that have already been set in motion by the Financial Services Act 2012, the 2013 regulation also had a very important message for senior managers in the financial service sector. From March 2016, the burden of responsibility for failure to prevent regulatory breaches would live solely with them, and whether they were aware of failings or not would be irrelevant. They would have to show that they had taken all reasonable steps necessary to prevent a breach taking place. Quite simply, the buck would stop with them.
Two years on, before the regime has even come into effect, the Government want to back-track on the promises they made to the British public and replace the reverse burden of proof with a duty of responsibility. That means that the burden will be on the regulators, rather than the bankers themselves. According to the Government, the introduction of the duty of responsibility in place of the presumption makes little difference to the substance of the new regime. They even suggest that the change is one of process, not substance. We disagree.
We believe that the retention of the reverse burden of proof is crucial. So too does the Parliamentary Committee on Banking Standards and, following intense debate in your Lordships’ House and the other place, so did both Houses of the previous Parliament. Despite a lack of any case history to back up their claims or any examples to draw on, the Government have suggested that the original proposals will create a checklist and tick-box mentality that ultimately will be unhelpful, and that merely presenting evidence that this template had been followed would enable senior managers to meet the burden of proof for defence but leave the regulator to prove that the steps taken were not reasonable.
As I stand here, Major Tim Peake, the first British man in space—whether he is the first British person is somewhat debatable—is safely up there, speeding over us at 175,000 miles an hour. Actually I do not really know where he is; he could be thousands of miles away, but the fact is that he is safely in space. How did he get there? Did a bunch of people wake up this morning in Russia, join together and, to somewhat paraphrase the Minister’s letter, form a responsible management team taking considered and reasoned decisions? No, they did not; they woke up this morning with checklists that they went through and ticked off, and, because those checklists contained hours of thought and lots of experience all moulded together into a process, the take-off was successful and he is safely in space.
In deriding the value of checklists, the Government could not have picked a less appropriate person than myself. I have lived with checklists for over 50 years. Ever since the man said, “If you don’t learn the checks, lad, you can’t fly the aeroplane”, I have been involved in checklists. I was involved with checklists in aviation and in the railway industry, of which I ran a small but important part and we ran a whole series of operations using checklists. We did not call them checklists; we called them manuals and procedures. We would spend millions of pounds on a whole variety of projects because at board level we considered what rules to make, and at executive level we said, “Meet these rules if you want your projects to run”, and that worked well. Then I moved into the nuclear industry, where if you wish to run a nuclear site you will approach a checklist of 36 chapters that forces you to set out how it will be run and be safe and viable. For a period I was chairman of the Rail Safety and Standards Board, which did nothing but create rules that people had to obey to make things safe.
So I am afraid that I believe in checklists. If the present legislation means that banks are spending their time carefully setting out what procedures should be followed in order for them to operate safely and legally, then that is a good thing. Good checklists, good tick-box procedures and good checks on those procedures are a good thing. Bad checklists are a bad thing, bad law is bad, bad procedures are bad and bad regulation is bad, but we are not talking about them; we are talking about banks using their resources to ensure that they obey the rules of the future.
I turn to what I believe is the heart of the issue, something that the Government have dismissed over and again: the question of culture—more specifically, what will bring about the much-needed cultural change in the banking sector. There was a time when banks were trusted and respected, part of the local community. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, referred to Captain Mainwaring. He was a cartoon figure, but that was how my generation looked at banks. We expected banks to give a service for our interests; we had the sense that we could trust them and did not have to question them. We were probably naïve and maybe we were being ripped off rotten, I do not know, but we trusted them. We are not there any longer. Ask the British public today what they think of banks, and bankers in particular, and they will use words like “greed” and “exploitation”. You certainly cannot blame them for thinking that way; events like the PIP scandal, rate swaps or HBOS give people the impression that these are not the exception but the norm. A change of culture is desperately needed if banks are to regain their reputation as public service institutions. I am certainly not saying that this will be an easy or quick task. It will require sustained effort from all involved, but in the view of the Opposition there is no better starting point for this repair than the implementation of the reverse proof of burden.