Membership of court of directors

Part of Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 9 February 2016.

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Photo of John Mann John Mann Labour, Bassetlaw 9:25, 9 February 2016

It is an honour and a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Wilson. The issue of the court and its lack of transparency— the amendments attempt to bring in some transparency—is one that has bypassed the majority of commentators and the general public. Hidden in the rather grand depths of the Bank of England, the court holds significant potential power, yet it has become embodied by not a concept of nepotism within the financial sector, but something akin to that. Perhaps “revolving door” is a better term. Someone goes in one door, they fail and go out of another door, and then they turn up in the same industry and at the same heights, time and again.

The criteria for who is on the board have always been shrouded in some secrecy. The hon. Member for East Lothian raised the question of the representation of the labour movement. That is a good and interesting point to examine in this context, because it remains the case today that Mr Prentis of Unison is on the court, as was Mr Brendan Barber of the TUC before him. I believe that Mr Bill Morris was on the court before that, and Mr Gavin Laird was too, in the distant past. Indeed, I used to see the papers that Mr Laird received at the time and the contributions he made. If they had been listened to at the time it would have had a significant impact on British competitiveness. Mr Laird used to argue repeatedly, very eloquently and in beautifully scripted speeches, that we were in danger of overemphasising the importance of finance at the expense of manufacturing. That is an issue not only for the Government, but for the Bank of England itself. Industry, as opposed to finance, needs to be in at the Bank. That is a fundamental weakness, because at present it is financiers as opposed to industrialists who are evident at the Bank, not so much in the expertise but in the mindset and the thinking which lead to decision making. The Bank thinks as financiers do, and it does not think more widely.

In the same way, my hon. Friends on the Front Bench propose to broaden the court with consumer champions and others who are missing at the moment. The Chancellor is decisively, deliberately and calculatedly removing consumerism and the consumer interest from regulation. Why? Because that is seen as a barrier to the ever onward growth and recovery of the big banks, not least RBS and Lloyds. Some commentators are speculating that there might be a fuel tax increase. That is quite wrong, in my view. What the Chancellor wishes to do is maximise his returns on the sale of shares in RBS and Lloyds. In itself, that is very sensible, and it is something that the Bank of England would support, does support and will support. However, speed and timing are critical in all of this. We have the Bank of England being unduly influenced by the Chancellor and the Treasury, while at the same time it is losing external influences from the world of industry. That includes both the employer and, potentially, the trade union influence.

There is the intriguing possibility of a more regional Bank. What would the world come to if there were people in the Bank of England who did not live in London or, more likely, in the commuter belt outside London? How would the world survive? It is a shame that my hon. Friends did not go even further and suggest that the court ought to meet not in the hallowed chambers on the third or fourth floor of the Bank, but in Manchester, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, Aberdeen or Sheffield, in order that the public can see and hear it and get a feel for it. That would be an easy, significant win, and I am sure that the Bank’s representatives listening in will take note of that. I commend the amendments to the Committee; they are excellent and should be agreed.