[Mr Andrew Rosindell in the Chair] — Banking in Scotland

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 2:30 pm on 14th October 2010.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Ian Davidson Ian Davidson Chair, Scottish Affairs Committee 2:30 pm, 14th October 2010

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Rosindell. Before the sitting, you set me the task of seeing whether I could mention Bermuda at some point in my speech. I am not sure how I shall manage that, but no doubt some opportunity will come up.

The debate is somewhat unusual in as much as it refers to a report produced in the previous Parliament that has been responded to by the Government in a new Parliament. Relatively few members of the Select Committee on Scottish Affairs have survived from the previous Parliament, but two, at least, are here. The new members wanted to make it clear that the report was not necessarily something they were involved with-just in case there was any blame to be distributed, and in case there was a Whip here who might in some way take offence at anything that might have been said. They are still at an age when they are in awe of the Government whipping process. I hope that they feel thoroughly cleared by that caveat.

I want to start by referring to the final recommendation from the Committee, which called on the successor Committee to continue to take the matter forward, and keep it under review and supervision. I am glad that we have today's debate as the first step in doing that, and that the Committee has already agreed to seek further information from the banks. Once we have studied that, I hope that we shall go on to seek further information from several other organisations that we discussed previously, to see how matters have progressed since the report was produced.

This is a quite fast-moving situation. What we said in February drew on hearings that had taken place in December 2009 and in January. We reported in February and there was a Government report in July, and things are not necessarily the same now. Because of the importance of the banking industry to economic life in Scotland, we want to keep the matter under review. I understand that the Minister's reputation does not put him among the worst of the Conservative Ministers-[Laughter.] I notice that he disputes that. I hope he will be prepared to work with us on an ongoing iterative relationship to keep the banks under review.

One of the generic problems, I suppose, of the Scottish Affairs Committee is that as a territorial Committee it is not our role to stray into general areas that are properly the remit of other Committees. Just as, in the work that we did on the forthcoming measures on the alternative vote and the changing of boundaries, we restricted ourselves to seeking advice and information from people on the aspects of the matter affecting Scotland alone, so, in the present case, we have sought not to duplicate the work of the Treasury Committee, but to restrict ourselves to considering those aspects that impinge on Scotland. We have looked, therefore, at the impact on Scotland in the context of the banking crisis.

I want to start by setting the report in the context of the banking crisis, a year or so ago. We would all, I think, accept that many of our economic difficulties now flow from the banking crisis. I remember Alex Salmond, as First Minister in Scotland, condemning the "spivs and speculators" who at that time were bringing down the Royal Bank of Scotland; unfortunately, he was not prepared to concede that the spivs and speculators involved were working for the bank at the time. I think that he was looking at the crisis that engulfed the Scottish banks as being of external origin, rather than having been to a great extent home-grown in those banks.

Those who brought down the Scottish banks were in them, working for them, gambling for them and mismanaging their money. We now have the responsibility of moving forward from that. The banks brought a crisis on themselves, but they brought it on the rest of us as well. The impact of the spending review next week will be very much influenced by that-indeed, more by that than by any other single factor.

It is undoubtedly a source of some shame to me as a Scot, and, I am sure, to many others of my Scottish colleagues, that a situation that developed at the Royal Bank of Scotland and the Bank of Scotland resulted in the need for a bail-out-a rescue-by the Bank of England. The Bank of England should perhaps more properly be referred to as the Bank of Britain in this context. It was of course founded by a Scot, and therefore we do not need to feel quite the same guilt that we might have felt had we been bailed out by an external body. Of course, the way in which the Bank of England, acting on behalf of the British Government, was able to ride to the defence and support of the Scottish banks in crisis, demonstrates yet again the strength of the Union and the importance of Scotland's remaining in it.

We must draw a number of lessons from bank failures and the bad behaviour of banks. The main one that the Committee drew at the time in question was that banks and bankers cannot be trusted to do the right thing unless they are under constant supervision. Where the previous Government went wrong was in the fact that new Labour, who in my view were unduly keen to suck up to big money, accepted the consensus, prevalent at the time, that regulation was in principle a bad thing that should be minimised.

I make that criticism of the Government whom I supported, as a valuable lesson, I hope, to new members of the Committee, so that they will understand that it is possible to be a member of a Select Committee and on occasion to be critical of the Government. I hope that that lesson will be supported by the Minister. If Committees are to work properly, there must be occasions when even the mildest criticism of the party to which one belongs is allowed. I hope that I shall be allowed that latitude here today.

Light-touch regulation became the mantra. New Labour was pressed all around by the then Opposition-now the leading party in the Government-the Scottish National party, the CBI and the City; all of them called for less and lighter regulation, and new Labour went along with that. The bankers ran wild, the system collapsed and we are now in a situation where ordinary people are left to bear the burden. The main lesson that we should draw-I hope the Minister agrees-is that we need to move away from an emphasis on minimising the examination of banks' conduct and on a lack of intervention when they behave in a way that is not conducive to the development of the economy and the relationships we would want within it.

External influence, and the way it needs to be controlled, is beyond the purview of the Scottish Affairs Committee. Therefore we imposed a self-denying ordinance that we would not make recommendations on those matters. I intend to stick with that approach today, although some of my colleagues who have more flexibility in the debate may want to comment.