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Part of Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 15th December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Sharkey Lord Sharkey Liberal Democrat 6:15 pm, 15th December 2015

My Lords, I have a short checklist of points that I would like to make. I start by thanking the noble Lords, Lord Bridges and Lord Ashton, and their team for the very high levels of engagement on the Bill. That applies too to their officials and the officials of the Bank, especially Anthony Habgood and Andrew Bailey. It has all been extremely helpful and it has resolved some, but not all, of the questions that were raised in Committee. Clause 22 is one of the unresolved questions.

As other noble Lords have said, Clause 22 alters the SM and CR that Parliament agreed to in the Financial Services Act (Banking Reform) 2013. This Act put into law the unanimous recommendation of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. The commission’s report recommended that the PRA and the FCA should be able to impose,

“the full range of civil sanctions, including a ban, on an individual unless that person can demonstrate that he or she took all reasonable steps to prevent or mitigate the effects of a specified failing”.

The reason given for proposing this measure was that it would,

“make sure that those who should have prevented serious prudential and conduct failures would no longer be able to walk away simply because of the difficulty of proving individual culpability in the context of complex organisations”.

This is an issue that was settled by Parliament in 2013.

Mark Taylor, Dean of Warwick University Business School, former FX trader and an adviser to the Bank of England’s Fair and Effective Markets Review, commented on the situation in May. Mr Taylor said that bonuses are too high, there is little threat of jail for wrongdoers and bosses are not held responsible. He said:

“The problem is the incentives for cheating markets is massive. If you can shift a rate fractionally you can make millions and millions of dollars for your bank and then for bonuses”.

He went on to say that:

“Once senior executives feel they are personally at risk if the culture doesn’t change, and individual traders feel they are at risk of being put in prison, then you’ll get a culture change”.

The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards recognised all that, which is why it recommended the new regime. Parliament recognised all that, which is why it passed the new regime into law. This new regime was due to come into force at the end of March next year, but Clause 22 stops that. It replaces the new regime with a lighter version.

Over the course of the stages of this Bill and in discussion, the Government have offered a variety of justifications for reverting to a lighter-touch regime. There have been four main arguments to date. The first was that since the Bill extends the supervising regime to all financial services, the tougher regime would bear down disproportionately on the smaller firms being brought under supervision. This is not a convincing or even coherent argument for relaxing the regime for systemically important players. It is an argument for a sensible two-tier regulation system—nothing more.

The second argument was that the prospect of the new, tougher regime was leading to individuals spending more time and resources mitigating the risk of being held personally liable for breaches on their watch. This was the whole purpose of the new, tougher regime.

The third argument, put forward by Andrew Bailey, was that noise around the tougher regime has been distracting future senior managers from complying with the spirit of other important aspects of the regime. Mandy Rice-Davies would have known how to respond to that.

The fourth argument I have heard made, entirely understandably—I heard it again this afternoon—was that the reverse burden of proof runs counter to our legal traditions. The Government have not pressed this argument strongly, but other noble Lords have at previous stages. I simply point out that there is ample precedent for this in English law and a helpful Law Lords ruling on where such measures are appropriate. The reverse burden of proof has been used in the Road Traffic Act 1988, the Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974, the Bribery Act, the Terrorism Act, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, the Trade Marks Act 1994, the Criminal Justice Act 1988 and the Official Secrets Act, and there are other examples as well.

But in the past few days, the arguments have focused on a different aspect of the proposed change: that the rigorous specification of responsibility will make it easier to identify senior managers who are guilty of misconduct or unreasonably allow misconduct to take place. This argument was advanced forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, in response to my Oral Question of 2 December, and by Andrew Bailey at a private meeting last week.

There is a very serious flaw in this argument. It assumes that it was previously impossible to identify senior managers with responsibility for misconduct. That is not the case. At the very least, board members and departmental heads carry, and have always carried, responsibility. That was not the problem. The problem was the evidence trail. This was, in all cases, so defective that all senior managers could say and did say, “I didn’t know”, and that was enough to get them off the hook.

As Tracey McDermott, the then director of enforcement and now acting CEO of the FCA, said in 2013 to the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, the inability to impose sanctions on senior executives was first and foremost due to the evidential standard required to prove their liability. That is why the old regime produced no penalties against senior managers, and that is precisely why the regime proposed in Clause 22 will not do that either. It is absolutely no use having a detailed organisation and responsibility chain if there is no evidence trail. Barclays knew this when it sent some of its people out to buy a safe to keep incriminating documents out of sight and prevent an electronic trail.

Then there is the question of equality of arms. Banks are rich. They employ many very bright people on astonishing amounts of money; they can afford very expensive and extended legal defences; they have absolutely enormous resources. By contrast, the FCA is underresourced, underpaid, overstretched and outgunned. The G30 report of this year, Banking Conduct and Culture: A Call for Sustained and Comprehensive Reform, also noted this inequality of arms. The contest between the FCA and the banks is unequal, made more unequal by Clause 22. It is notable that the Government have fielded no one from the FCA to defend their proposed change. They have relied instead on Andrew Bailey, a Bank of England official.

The senior manager regime proposed by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and enacted by Parliament is there because both the commission and Parliament recognised the extraordinary failure to hold any senior manager to account. What this regime says is simply this: senior managers must show that they have behaved reasonably in doing the right thing. Senior managers must show the FCA the electronic and paper trails that demonstrate that they took reasonable action to do their jobs properly. The Government proposal scraps that. It says that the FCA must extract, if it can, this paper and electronic trail from the banks. Well, it will not be able to do that, for the same reasons that Tracy McDermott gave the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards in 2013.

If Clause 22 remains part of the Bill there will be no holding to account, no changes in banking culture for fear of being held to account, and no reason to expect a change in behaviour. We will be back where we started. We should remove Clause 22, and we on these Benches support this amendment.