Central Bank Digital Currencies (Economic Affairs Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 1:26 pm on 2 February 2023.

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Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee 1:26, 2 February 2023

My Lords, I thank all the speakers who have contributed to this short debate. What we have lacked in quantity we have certainly made up for in quality.

As my noble friend rose, I was wondering why the House was suddenly filling up with other noble Lords. Was there a sudden massive outbreak of interest in CBDCs? Then I remembered that of course, we are about to debate Brexit. As a captive audience is here, I ask all noble Lords to start to focus a bit more on this subject, which I think demands more parliamentary scrutiny, given the profound issues we have been hearing about from the noble Lords, Lord King, Lord Desai and Lord Tunnicliffe, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and obviously the Minister. What we are talking about here could have a profound impact not just on our currency and how we pay for things, but on our wider economy.

I have three brief points to make. First, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is quite right that we need to keep our critique of CBDCs balanced. We certainly need to explore this subject, and she is right that 114 countries are looking at it. Obviously, we should avoid falling into groupthink, which is I think where the noble Lord, Lord King, is coming from. But at the same time, the fact that China and particularly the EU are progressing incredibly fast in the development of central bank digital currencies could have deep geopolitical and global macroeconomic implications. So the noble Baroness is right that we need to look at the subject, and in so doing it may have spin-offs in terms of benefits and innovation.

My second point is equally important, and this is where the noble Lords, Lord King and Lord Desai, came in. As I said in my opening speech, the challenges that the creation of a central bank raises are significant. As the noble Lord, Lord Desai, put it—and he is right—the question is not just, “What problem is the CBDC trying to solve?” but, “What problems might it also create?” We need to bear that in mind. I noted down the motto that the noble Lord, Lord King, wants to have for every central bank, and which he certainly abides by: only do what you can do alone. How very true, and that should certainly be a guiding thought.

Whether one is sceptical about the rationale for introducing a CBDC or more persuaded of its merits, we must continue to scrutinise and debate these issues. For sceptics, too little scrutiny means that we might stumble into introducing a CBDC, which could have profound unintended consequences. For those who are more forward-leaning, a failure to progress might mean not just missing out on opportunities but getting left behind, which could have geopolitical and macroeconomic consequences.

I say for those who were not present that I bombarded my noble friend with lots of questions—I apologise—but the central question was: what problem is the CBDC trying to solve and, crucially, why can it not be solved by other means? I think my noble friend said that the reason for it is to address the decline in cash. That is obviously a reason, but I make two points. First, the Bank of England itself recognised that the CBDC would be an imperfect substitute for cash, saying two years ago:

“For those in society who value the physical nature of cash, the introduction of CBDC is unlikely to affect their payment behaviour, and so we consider that CBDC would likely act as a complement to cash rather than a substitute.”

Secondly, are there not other means to address that?

Finally, and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for raising this, we still need a much clearer and unequivocal answer to the question: will it be Parliament that votes on whether to introduce a CBDC? It could have a major impact on this country, and it is only right that Parliament takes that decision. It cannot be taken by the Bank of England and the Treasury alone. We will return to this point, but I thank my noble friend.

Motion agreed.