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Part of Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 6:45 pm on 15th December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Brennan Lord Brennan Labour 6:45 pm, 15th December 2015

My Lords, I support the amendment for three reasons, which I shall shortly state. First, there is a genuine and important public interest in the existing statutory system. Two years ago, this House enacted this system. It did so as the result of a government amendment, which was not opposed but agreed unanimously. The Minister speaking to the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, said that,

“the Government believe that it is in the long-term interest not only of bank customers but of the City of London that the highest possible standards are followed”.

He said that the system he was introducing,

“ensures that individuals are held to account when things go wrong”.—[ Official Report , 15/10/13; col. 405.]

That is the genuine public interest that the present system protects.

Secondly, the reversal of the burden of proof is a well-recognised feature of our legal framework. It is subject to safeguards and appropriate standards, but it exists and has done for a long time. For example, the Health and Safety at Work Act covers employers large and small—a point was made about the size of credit unions—across the whole country. They have a duty to protect their workers. In fulfilling that duty they are required to show that they did all that was reasonably practicable to satisfy that duty. It is a statute that can send people, after a court hearing, to prison. That is for a crime punishable by jail; this is not that—this deals with misconduct and disciplinary proceedings. The people involved should know the system they are trying to justify and explain. The regulator is entitled to be able to run a sensible regime which does not subject his organisation and his staff to undue pressure. That is what the public want. I would ask the House this: are we seriously suggesting that that which we demand of employers for our citizens is too much to ask of bankers; namely, to protect their customers?

I turn to the third reason. Why make this change? Why have the Government, a different Government but with the same Treasury officials, committed a complete volte-face within two years and without any plausible justification, as the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, pointed out? I suggest that, there being no plausible reason, the first thoughts of the House were the right ones and are what the public expect. We should do our best, on this kind of embarrassing occasion for the Treasury and the Government, to protect them from this intellectual disarray and to make sure that the House itself does not fall into the legislative embarrassment of telling the nation one year, “This is how we will protect you”, and two years later saying exactly the opposite. For these three reasons, this amendment should be carried.