HBOS Reading: Independent Review

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 5:15 pm on 18th December 2018.

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Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 5:15 pm, 18th December 2018

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Christopher. I acknowledge the work of my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake in securing this debate and making an excellent speech, as he has done on several occasions this year in this place, and setting out a case that was well reasoned in many elements. I also pay tribute to the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for East Lothian (Martin Whitfield), who made fine contributions to the debate.

As we have heard today and in previous debates this year, incidents of banking misconduct and fraud have had a severe impact on some small and medium-sized enterprises. It has been and remains a top priority of mine in office to face up to the issues that have been generated by the cases that have been raised. I am conscious that many of the eight Back-Bench Members who have taken part in this debate will have heard sad and unfortunate stories from their constituents about how the actions of banks have affected them and their businesses. That includes not only the events at HBOS Reading, but the actions of the RBS Global Restructuring Group and the mis-selling of interest rate hedging products.

I begin by reminding Members that we expect the highest standards of behaviour across the financial sector. That is why the Government have introduced a number of necessary changes to restore public trust in financial services, such as the senior managers and certification regime. Before I address the substance of today’s debate, it is important that we pause for a moment to recognise the contribution that banks make to both the UK economy and our society. As Kirsty Blackman rightly said, it is necessary for banks to lend to SMEs. Lloyds Banking Group has, for example, increased its net lending to SMEs by £3 billion since 2014 and plans to triple that by 2020. Lloyds is the market leader in providing basic bank accounts, which help vulnerable customers, and its “Helping Britain Prosper” plan sets out a number of commitments on behaviour, diversity and charitable support.

However, I recognise that there has been a great deal of justified anger, within Parliament and beyond, regarding the fraud that was perpetrated against small businesses through the actions of individuals at the HBOS Reading branch. It is important to remember that the events at HBOS Reading constituted criminal activity. As such, it was right that those responsible were brought to justice, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton pointed out. The FCA continues to conduct an enforcement investigation into the events surrounding the discovery of misconduct at HBOS Reading, resuming an investigation placed on hold at the request of Thames Valley police. I will be keenly following the progress and outcome of the investigation.

In addition, Lloyds Banking Group has appointed Dame Linda Dobbs, a retired High Court judge, as an independent legal expert to consider whether issues relating to HBOS Reading were investigated and appropriately reported to authorities at the time by Lloyds Banking Group, following its acquisition of HBOS. It will consider issues raised by the Project Lord Turnbull report referred to by my hon. Friend. Dame Linda’s findings will then be shared with the FCA.

It is right that Lloyds set up a compensation scheme for businesses affected by the events at HBOS Reading, overseen by Professor Russel Griggs. That scheme has seen offers made to all customers within its scope, with 90% of customers accepting the offer. However, I acknowledge the concerns that Members have raised about the Griggs scheme. Those concerns have certainly been heard, and I am pleased to announce that Lloyds has agreed with the FCA that Lloyds will commission a post-completion review to quality-assure the methodology and process of the Griggs scheme. [Interruption.]

Overseen by an independent person, that review will go above and beyond a normal lessons-learned exercise. The independence of the person appointed to lead the review is vital. In particular, I would expect that person not to have been employed by Lloyds in any way, and to be able to demonstrate complete operational independence from Lloyds. I am pleased that Lloyds has committed to publishing the review once it has concluded, and I welcome Lloyds’ commitment to implementing any recommendations it produces. I have been consistently clear that it is vital that we get the right processes and procedures in place, to ensure that SMEs can obtain fair redress and resolve disputes with their banks.