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Bank Bonuses

Volume 521: debated on Tuesday 11 January 2011

We inherited from the previous Government a failed system of banking regulation and a situation where billions of pounds had been provided to bail out bankers with nothing demanded in return. It was a something-for-nothing deal that rightly left the British people seething with anger, and the British people and this Government will not accept extravagant bonuses this year without a change in behaviour. So this is what we are doing.

First, we are replacing the disastrous tripartite system for regulating banks that was established in 1997. Instead, our plan is to put the Bank of England clearly in charge. Secondly, we have created the Independent Commission on Banking to review the structure of the banking sector and address the issue of banks that are too big to fail. The previous Government’s failure to address that issue brought this country’s economy to its knees. The commission will report this autumn. Thirdly, we have introduced a permanent levy on the banks, in the face of opposition from the previous Government. This new banking tax started coming into effect last week and, once fully operational, will raise £2.5 billion each and every year, or £8.8 billion over this Parliament. We are also looking at the International Monetary Fund’s proposed financial activities tax, and we will work with international partners to secure agreement. Fourthly, we have demanded that the banks sign up to the code of practice on taxation—[Hon. Members: “Ooh!”] Well, the previous Government created the code, but we discovered that only four of the 15 major banks had signed up to it when we came into office. All 15 have now signed up to the code of practice. We are also legislating in this year’s Finance Bill for tough anti-avoidance measures directed at some of the practices in the financial sector that no one had previously attempted to stop.

Specifically on remuneration and bonuses, on 1 January this year we introduced the most stringent code of practice of any financial centre in the world. For the first time, there will be a strict limit on the amount of bonus payable in up-front cash. Also for the first time, there will be a requirement that 50% of bonuses be paid in shares or other non-cash instruments, which bank employees will not be allowed to sell on for an appropriate period. Guaranteed bonuses will become the exception and not the rule, as was the case under the previous Government, and crucially, the new bonus code has been significantly extended. It will cover payments and bonuses at 2,500 firms, whereas the code that we inherited covered pay and bonuses at only 25 individual financial firms.

When it comes to the Royal Bank of Scotland, I am having to deal with the thoroughly inadequate contract negotiated by the previous Cabinet; the House might not be aware that it puts no constraints on RBS bonuses for this year. Indeed, the contract signed by the previous Government explicitly encourages RBS to pay bonuses at market rates. Despite this, we have made it clear to RBS that we will have a smaller bonus pool than last year and that it should be a back-marker in the industry, instead of the front-runner it once was.

In the coming weeks, all the banks will be announcing their pay and bonuses for this year. I confirm that we are in discussions with the banks to see if we can reach a new settlement, where the banks pay smaller bonuses than they would otherwise have done; are more transparent about those they do pay; make a greater contribution to local communities and regional economies; treat customers more fairly; and, above all, lend materially and verifiably more than they were planning to lend to the businesses of Britain, especially the small businesses, so that they can grow and create jobs this year.

This is what a new settlement with the banks should look like: they should lend to the British economy; contribute to the British Exchequer; provide jobs for British people; be responsible on pay and bonuses; and make sure that Britain is a world centre of a properly regulated and internationally competitive financial services industry. If the banks cannot commit to that, I have made it clear to them that nothing is off the table. I will keep Parliament informed of our discussions—and if the Opposition who created this banking mess have a better idea, let us hear it.

We are here to hold the Government to account. I have with me the coalition agreement, and I believe that I can still sense the scent of the rose garden upon it. This is what it says in paragraph 1:

“We will bring forward detailed proposals for robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector”.

Where are those detailed proposals? When will we see them? Here is what the Chancellor said in his spending review statement in October:

“Fairness also means that, across the entire deficit reduction plan, those with the broadest shoulders will bear the greatest burden; those with the most should pay the most, and that includes our banks… Today we set out very clearly, for all to take note of, our objective in taxing the banking industry going forward… Our aim will be to extract the maximum sustainable tax revenues from financial services.”—[Official Report, 20 October 2010; Vol. 516, c. 951-956.]

But he has given the banks a tax cut from £3.5 billion to £1.2 billion and they will benefit more than any other sector from the cut in corporation tax. Cuts affecting children will contribute well over £5 billion and students will contribute £2.9 billion. Does the Chancellor think that children and students have the broadest shoulders? The man who said in opposition that no bonus should be higher than £2,000 will not even implement legislation forcing transparency about those receiving more than £1 million.

Where is the Deputy Prime Minister who, when not signing student pledges not to increase tuition fees or unveiling posters about VAT bombshells, was saying:

“Doesn't it make you angry that the banks have been allowed to ride roughshod over our economy, and are still handing out bonuses by the bucket load?”?

So in just seven months, the coalition goes from the scent of the rose garden to the stench of broken promises. The Chancellor who said, “We’re all in this together” bows to the rich and powerful while bearing down on everyone else. His sneering arrogance will not get him out of this one.

I do not know how much longer we are going to have to wait for a serious economic proposal from the shadow Chancellor. I suspect that time is running out for him. Let me repeat that we have introduced a code of practice that extends to 2,500 firms. There were 25 firms covered by the code of practice presided over by the right hon. Gentleman when he was in the Cabinet. We have introduced a permanent bank tax, which he and the Cabinet stood against during the general election.

The shadow Chancellor says that he wants a properly regulated banking system. However, he has opposed our proposals to regulate the banking system, we still do not know whether he supports the proposal to give the Bank of England a serious role, and—let us be clear about this—he has absolutely no idea about how to increase lending in the British economy, which he did nothing to achieve when he was in the Cabinet. Part of the pattern of an Opposition who have no serious plans to clear up the mess that they created is their habit of jumping on every passing bandwagon,

People will look at the shadow Chancellor and say that, although it is difficult to think of a way in which he could reduce his economic credibility further after the week that he has had, he has done just that today.

First, what steps are the Government taking to ensure that an international agreement is reached on the need for more transparency in regard to bonuses and remuneration? Secondly, does the Chancellor believe that shareholders should be much more actively engaged in restraining pay and remuneration, given the evidence that we heard from the chief executive of Barclays this morning that no conversations on the subject had taken place between Barclays and its shareholders?

I certainly want to see much more international action on transparency, and I have held discussions with all the European Finance Ministers about how that can happen. We also want the Basel III arrangements to be implemented by all the G20 countries, and to be translated properly into European law.

I strongly agree with the my hon. Friend’s sentiments about shareholders. We want them to be more involved in pay and remuneration, and we want to find a way of improving corporate governance in that regard. That is one of the issues that we are discussing with the banks, and I know that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills is considering it as well.

Order. There is, understandably, enormous interest in this subject, but I remind the House that what is being discussed is an urgent question rather than a full-length statement. If I am to accommodate a reasonable number of Members, brevity from Back Benches and Front Benches alike is vital.

Voluntary organisations and community groups face cuts of at least £3 billion this year. If we are really all in this together, would it not be better for the banks to use their profits to support those community groups, rather than paying themselves up to £7 billion in massive personal bonuses?

Bonuses amounted to £11.5 billion when the right hon. Lady was in the Cabinet, although that has not been recognised by any Labour Member who will stand up and ask a question today. What we are trying to do is persuade banks to make a greater contribution to communities, business and the regional economy, which we want to be supported.

On 1 September last year, the last Chancellor said that the bankers’ bonus tax had failed to change the City’s attitude to pay. He said that the tax was likely to be a one-off, and would not be reinstated by the coalition because it had failed to change bankers’ behaviour. Does my right hon. Friend agree with that?

The last Chancellor of the Exchequer has directly addressed the question of whether the bonus tax in the form in which he introduced it last year could be repeated this year. He thinks that it could not, because behaviour has changed. Indeed, we have seen base pay rise in response to the bonus tax. However, as I made clear in my statement, we are seeking a new settlement with the banks, and nothing is off the table if they cannot agree to that.

Why is the right hon. Gentleman not extending the existing tax on bankers’ bonuses, which has yielded £3.5 billion in the past year? Does that not prove that this is a Government of the rich, by the rich and for the rich, and does the right hon. Gentleman not realise that this rancid stink about bankers’ bonuses simply will not go away?

The right hon. Gentleman may not know it, or perhaps he did not really believe it, but he fought the last election on a manifesto—written, incidentally, by the Leader of the Opposition—that committed the then Government to opposing a unilateral levy. We have introduced such a levy, and it will raise almost £10 billion in the current Parliament. We are extracting from the banks revenue that the last Government did not extract. Indeed, they opposed the method that we have introduced.

In the future, will my right hon. Friend come to the House and let us know the extent to which the banks have complied with the requirement to lend more to businesses in my constituency? There was little sympathy for them under the last Government, when big bonuses were provided and they received little help from the bankers who received those bonuses.

An absolute central part of any settlement we might reach with the banks will be a material and verifiable increase in the amount of lending to British businesses, especially medium and small businesses. [Interruption.] Labour Members mutter, but they secured absolutely nothing for British business when they bailed out the banks. They had the money in their hands to give to the banks, and they secured absolutely nothing in return.

A quick glance at today’s newspaper financial pages shows that the share price of RBS is 40p today compared with 52p this time last year, while that of Lloyds was 66p today compared with 64p a year ago. My constituents in Leeds West would not expect bonuses for such performance, so why should taxpayers’ money be used for the bonuses of our nationalised banks?

The deal that the previous Government signed with RBS as a condition of being part of the asset protection scheme stated that it should not pay bonuses in 2009, but that for the bonuses awarded in 2010—the period we are talking about now—it should pay the market rate. That was the deal that Labour signed up to. I am trying to reduce the RBS bonus pool, and I have made it very clear—as has the Prime Minister—that it should be a back-marker, not a market leader.

Is not the problem with the leading bankers that they are often arsonists and firemen rolled into one? The trouble with the previous Government is that they left the arsonists in charge of the haystack. They bailed them out, but they did not protect the depositors adequately, and now they want to shoot the firemen. What is that going to achieve?

Well, I think we still have the haystack at the end of all that. My hon. Friend makes an important point, however. Of course I understand and share the feeling of anger that if we do not get a change of behaviour, these bonuses could be paid, and that is what we are addressing. However, this House will have an equally important—indeed, possibly even more important—issue to deal with later this year: the report from the Independent Commission on Banking, which we have established, again in the face of Labour opposition, to look at the whole issue of “too big to fail”. That is what my hon. Friend was talking about. The commission will look at how we can ensure that the British taxpayer does not stand behind the banks, but that the banks can be allowed to fail in an orderly way without bringing down the British economy.

In August 2009, the right hon. Gentleman said that it was “totally unacceptable” for bonuses to be paid while the Government were guaranteeing the banking system, and added, “It must stop.” Why has it not stopped?

Because I am clearing up the mess left to me by the hon. Gentleman’s party. This Government have done more in the last seven months to create a safer, more properly regulated banking system than Labour did in 13 years. As of the beginning of this year, we have a new code of practice that applies to 2,500 firms, compared with the 25 firms that were regulated under the previous Government, and, as I have said, we are seeking this new settlement with the banks that will, I hope, lead to a material increase in the amount of money that they lend to the British economy, and a material decrease in the amount they would otherwise have paid in bonuses.

The clue is in the question: his title is “Sir”—and he was given that knighthood by the previous Prime Minister.

In the real world, jobs are being lost, wages squeezed, and taxes are rising, while businesses cannot get the credit they need and home buyers cannot get the mortgages they want. Does the Chancellor not recognise that that austere backdrop makes the very idea of a £7 billion bonus-pot toxic in the real world? Does he not regret washing his hands of this last night, and, effectively, giving the green light to a return to the bad old days of big bonuses?

It is precisely the real-world situation—where businesses need more lending, communities need support and we need more investment in our regional economies—that I am seeking to address. As the hon. Gentleman well knows, as a Member from Scotland, we need a successful, properly regulated financial services sector that employs tens of thousands of people in Scotland and, indeed, hundreds of thousands of people across the United Kingdom. That is what we are seeking to agree with the banking system. The fantasy world is the one that the Labour party occupies, where it bears no responsibility for the mess in which it has left this country.

The Chancellor must understand the level of public anger about huge bank bonuses and recognise that obscene rewards for short-term gain without regard to the long-term consequences were part of the problem that led to the banking collapse in the first place. Surely it is to avoid a repeat of that that bank bonuses should be restrained and, importantly, weighted towards sustainable long-term performance, rather than short-term speculation.

I agree with all of that. We want to see bonus restraint; we want to see bonuses lower this year—[Interruption.] Lower this year than they were under the Labour Government. That is one objective. Secondly, we want to see bonuses deferred. Thirdly, we want to make sure that they do not reward risk-taking that goes badly wrong—that is why we want the ability to claw back. We also want to get away from the system—again, this thrived under the previous Government—of guaranteed bonuses, which people got regardless of what happened to their financial institution. That is precisely what the code of practice addresses, it is precisely why we are looking at greater transparency and greater shareholder involvement, and it is precisely why I want this new settlement with the banks.

Is not the truth of the matter that this Government want the students, the homeless and the disabled to pay for this deficit, while their banking friends—the Tories’ banking friends—will get off scot-free, despite causing the problem in the first place? It is a bucket load of hypocrisy.

Again, the hon. Gentleman has amnesia. He seems to forget that for 13 years he supported a Government who allowed this problem to develop. Indeed, as far as I can tell, half the people who were in that Cabinet have gone on to work in the City.

I congratulate the Chancellor on his Department’s excellent record on tackling banking excess, which contrasts so favourably with the lamentable record of the Labour party when it was in government. Bonuses are only part of the mix of compensation, so could he update the House on the progress that the Independent Commission on Banking has made on tackling remuneration?

The Independent Commission on Banking is examining the structure of the banking industry and is specifically examining the “too big to fail” issue. It is examining competition in the banking industry, because in recent years we have seen an enormous consolidation of the industry. On taxation, I should of course have mentioned that banks pay income tax on the bonuses and employers’ national insurance at 12.8%.

The Chancellor said in his statement that he expects the banks to make a greater contribution to local economies and local communities. Can he tell the House how much he expects them to set aside for that purpose and how he proposes that they should distribute it?

One of the issues that we are talking directly to the banks about is lending into regional economies outside London and the south-east—that is in addition to the contribution that they make to the whole national economy. That regional emphasis is a very specific part of the discussions we are having.

The Chancellor has already told the House that under the banking contract, bonuses were actively encouraged by the previous Government for the current year. Can he tell the House whether lending to cash-strapped small businesses was also encouraged under that contract?

Nothing meaningful was secured on lending to small businesses by the previous Government at the very moment when they had maximum leverage: when they were bailing out these banks. That is part of what we are dealing with. We are also dealing with the situation in which they bought their very large stake in the Royal Bank of Scotland—as I have said, the deal explicitly says that the bonuses covering the year 2010 should be paid at market rates. I am saying that we want to see the bonus pool smaller and the Royal Bank of Scotland as a back-marker, rather than a front-runner.

Was it coincidence or careful Treasury planning that ensured that the amount projected in this year’s bonuses was the same as the £7 billion that the Government have taken in cuts? Does the Chancellor understand why people in this country make an equation between those two and are so very angry about it?

Of course I understand the British people’s anger at the economic mess that the banking community and the previous Government helped to create, but they also support those with a serious economic plan to put right those mistakes. At the moment, they are not hearing a serious economic plan from the Labour party.

What progress has the Chancellor made in discussions about implementing a Tobin or Robin Hood tax either with other countries or alone?

The financial transaction tax is something that the international community is looking at and it is on the agenda for the G20 discussions. Almost everyone who looks at the idea accepts that it would have to be done internationally or else business would probably disappear overnight. It is on the international agenda and we are engaging in that discussion.

The Chancellor should realise that the public will be angry at a Government who do not take action against the bankers who caused the financial crisis and have got back to bonuses as usual. Can he, for the record and in a moment of transparency, tell the House whether there is any disagreement in the Cabinet about the Government’s policy?

The Cabinet is completely agreed. [Interruption.] I know that the Labour party finds the idea of a united Cabinet difficult, but there is a united Cabinet that wants to see the banks lending more than they did under the previous Government and paying less in bonuses than they did under the previous Government, with more transparency, more shareholder involvement and more contributions to the community. That is what we seek to negotiate and I am doing that with the Business Secretary on behalf of the Cabinet.

Last year, there was a one-off tax on bank bonuses. Can the Chancellor confirm that this year the higher bonuses will attract the 50% income tax and 12.8% employers’ national insurance rates?

Of course it is right that they attract both income tax and employers’ national insurance contributions. I know there is an issue with the economic credibility of the Labour party at the moment but it is worth reading what the previous Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), said when he explicitly and directly addressed the question of whether the tax he introduced a year ago could be reintroduced in exactly the same form. He said that it would be difficult to do and that it would have to be a one-off because people would find all sorts of imaginative ways of avoiding it in future. We have to deal with that reality, but as I have made very clear, we seek a new settlement with the banks and if we do not agree a new settlement—if they are not able to meet our requirements—then nothing is off the table.

Unemployment in Tottenham is now the highest in London, benefits have been cut and students are being asked to bear the burden. Will the Chancellor take the opportunity to condemn the statement of Bob Diamond this morning that bankers should stop apologising for the economic crisis?

The apology should start with the previous Labour Government. Unemployment is high in the right hon. Gentleman’s constituency because it rose under the previous Labour Government and we are having to deal with welfare costs because they soared under the previous Labour Government. When it comes to student fees, I believe that he was the Minister responsible for higher education who commissioned Lord Browne to do his report. Frankly, opportunism and the Labour party go hand in hand these days.

When my constituents complain about bankers’ bonuses, it is usually in the same breath as highlighting poor banking practices such as overcharging as well as issues with their ability to get credit for their business. What assurances can the Chancellor give that those poor practices will stop?

It is explicitly those sorts of practices that are part of the discussions we are having with the banks. We want to ensure that they treat customers, including small businesses and households, more fairly, to look at the overcharging issue and to make sure that families and business are given good advance warning of the need to renegotiate terms. That is all part of what we seek to renegotiate. As I have said, we have heard absolutely no positive proposals from anyone in opposition. That says a great deal.

The Chancellor has given the impression that the new bonus restrictions have been implemented at his instigation, whereas, of course, they have been introduced to ensure compliance with EU rules, particularly those of the capital requirements directive and the Committee of European Banking Supervisors. The directive was opposed by Conservative MEPs. As for disclosure, Stephen Hester has indicated that the industry is quite relaxed about the implementation of a unilateral disclosure scheme. In the light of his comments, will the Chancellor reconsider the implementation of such a scheme, so we can at least know what is paid in the sector?

As I said, we are looking for greater disclosure. We are also seeking agreement at European level, because this is an international industry. These are perfectly sensible steps to take, and we have introduced in this country the toughest financial code on bonuses of any financial centre of any size anywhere in the world.

The UK financial industry will pay £54 billion in taxes this year—more than any other industry—and its 1 million employees will pay a further £25 billion in income tax. Does the Chancellor agree that those tax revenues will help to pay for our schools and hospitals, and to cut the record budget deficit left by the Labour party?

It is, of course, important—I said this in my statement—that we have a successful but properly regulated financial services industry, which employs hundreds of thousands of people, including thousands of people in many constituencies represented in the Chamber. It used to be the case—although perhaps it is not the case any more—that senior Labour politicians would at least acknowledge that. That is why I would much rather reach a settlement with the banks, and that is what we are seeking to do. We want a successful industry that pays a proper contribution to the Exchequer and lends more to British business, and that is my objective.

Does the Chancellor of the Exchequer think it fair that pensioners and hard-working families in my constituency are paying 2.5% more in VAT as a result of his Government’s broken promise on VAT, while the bankers get away scot-free?

We have introduced a permanent bank levy. An argument was made at the general election by Labour Treasury Ministers and the Labour Prime Minister that we should not introduce a levy unilaterally, as it would make Britain uncompetitive. That argument was aired then, and we have now introduced a permanent bank levy. I do not know whether the Labour party supports it or not, but it will raise almost £10 million during this Parliament, and it applies each and every year, rather than being a one-off.

Has the Chancellor noted that in The Guardian this morning, when given the opportunity to support the idea of continuing the bank payroll tax, the right hon. Member for Edinburgh South West (Mr Darling), whom I cannot see in the Chamber, refused to back the opportunistic policy of the Leader of the Opposition?

The former Chancellor has clearly made his views known, and I would suggest that he has more credibility on the subject than the shadow Chancellor.

While the Chancellor acquiesces to the bankers’ demands, his Government propose to cut the sick pay of workers who are genuinely off sick. May I therefore ask the Chancellor: where is the fairness in that?

Where is the fairness in a record budget deficit? That is what we have to address. We are taking difficult measures; I know that every single one is opposed by the Opposition, who created that deficit, but that says more about them than it does about our plan.

What percentage of bankers based in the City of London are British citizens, and therefore taxed at the higher rate on their bonuses?

Two hundred and fifty thousand people or thereabouts are eligible for the 50p rate, which came into effect in April. As I have said, other taxes, too—such as employers’ national insurance—are levied on bonuses, and in the Finance Bill, which we have published in draft, we have taken specific measures, on which we will seek to legislate later this year, to deal with some of the avoidance practices in the financial sector that were allowed to proliferate under the previous Government.

In October 2009 the Chancellor said that high street banks should be banned from paying bonuses above about £2,000 in cash. Is that his policy today as well?

I have made it very clear that I want to see bonuses lower this year than they were in the last year of the Labour Government. That is the objective. The Labour party either supports that or it does not, but that is what we are seeking to achieve with the banks.

I share and understand the concerns that people have about the sheer scale of bankers’ bonuses, but it is also vital to look at how bankers are measured. When the Governor of the Bank of England came to the Treasury Committee in November, he said that he felt it was better to reward bankers according to return on assets rather than return on equity. I wonder whether the Chancellor believes that that view merits further consideration.

That is one of the issues being considered, and I noted the Governor’s comments. The code of practice has a number of constraints on how bonuses are paid. It is a vast improvement on last year’s situation, and will help create a better regulated banking sector.

When the Chancellor’s colleague the Prime Minister said in 2009 that no bank with significant taxpayer support should pay bonuses of more than £2,000, was he jumping on an Opposition bandwagon or was it a serious policy initiative? If it was the latter, what has changed since 2009?

That was about the time when the right hon. Member for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Mr Brown), the then Prime Minister, said:

“The day of big bonuses is over.”

That is the kind of rhetorical—[Interruption.] That is the situation that we have inherited—no proper code of practice, no permanent bank levy, no plan for improving the system of regulation. We are putting in place measures that we believe will materially improve lending in this economy and the regulation of our banking system. Every single one of them has, for opportunistic reasons, been opposed by the Labour party.

On BBC television yesterday, the Leader of the Opposition stated that Labour’s bankers tax brought in £3.5 billion whereas the Government’s levy would bring in only £1.3 billion. Will the Chancellor confirm that the right hon. Gentleman got his figures incorrect? Actually, Labour’s bankers tax brought in just £2.3 billion, whereas the Government’s levy will bring in more, at £2.5 billion.

My hon. Friend is right. When the bonus tax was introduced by the previous Chancellor, he explicitly said that there would be displacement activity and that the net receipts to the Treasury would be less. Those have been looked at by the Inland Revenue and verified by the independent Office for Budget Responsibility. They are less than the £2.5 billion or thereabouts that our bank levy will raise on a regular year-on-year basis once it is fully up and running.

What are ordinary hard-working constituents listening to the Chancellor’s announcements from millionaires’ row today to do but conclude that his message to them is that we are not all in this together, and that his message to the bankers is, “Carry on filling your boots?”

The hon. Gentleman was, I believe, a Minister in the Labour Government. In the first year of this Government we are seeking lower bonuses than were paid in the last year of the Labour Government. Perhaps he will explain that to his constituents.

Will my right hon. Friend give the House an indication of the time scale within which he expects the banks—particularly those such as RBS, in which the taxpayer has a substantial shareholding—to make proposals on how they will increase responsible lending, on reasonable terms, to small and medium-sized businesses in my constituency and the constituencies of right hon. and hon. Members across the House?

The discussions are taking place now. In the next couple of weeks, I expect to be able to come back to the House with the conclusions of those discussions. The pay packages and bonuses for UK banks will be announced either right at the end of January or in early February; those for American banks will be slightly earlier.

A lot of people will be particularly disappointed, because how the Chancellor is speaking today is so very different from how he spoke in opposition. As someone who has recently been going downhill fast, does he understand how depressed people will be about what they are hearing from him today compared with what he said as shadow Chancellor?

I hope that what people are hearing from us today are serious proposals: to increase lending in our economy, which is very important; to reduce the bonus pool, so that it is not as large as it was under the Labour Government; and to increase the contribution to communities in the way that we all want to see. That is what we are seeking to agree with the banks. As I say, there is absolutely no proposal to the contrary from the Labour party, which actually created this mess, and feathered the nests of the banks, while it was in office.

Does the Chancellor share my view that one reason why there was no bank levy under the Labour Government was because, in Lord Mandelson’s words, they were

“intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich”?

That was one of the things that Labour Cabinet Ministers said at the time—and indeed, quite a few of them have lived up to it since leaving office.

The Deputy Prime Minister threatened very serious action against bankers who sought to pay themselves unjustifiable bonuses. Should we regard the Chancellor’s answer today as a description of the very serious action that the Deputy Prime Minister was talking about?

I have made it very clear that nothing is off the table unless we can agree a settlement with the banks that allows an increase in lending, an increase in community contributions and a lower bonus pool.

Does the Chancellor agree that, in addition to getting the banks to lend more to business, we should be focusing on getting the maximum sustainable tax take from banks? That involves concentrating on the tax take, not just tax rates—a mistake that the Opposition often make.

Absolutely. What we want is the maximum sustainable tax revenue—that is the objective of this Government—and, indeed, to get the maximum sustainable lending into the British economy. We are trying to link the two in a settlement. I have no idea what the Labour party is proposing, but this is the sensible way forward.

May I give the Chancellor another opportunity to answer the question? When are we going to see the detailed proposals for robust action, as promised on page 9 of the coalition agreement, specifically to target—bankers’ bonuses?

“It says here.”

What I would say is that we have introduced the code of practice, which extends the coverage of the code to 2,500 firms rather than 25. We are taking that action, and as I have said, we are also seeking a lower bonus pool than existed when the party that the hon. Lady supports was in government last year. That is a sensible step forward in the current climate.

Is it not a shame that the something-for-nothing deal that was done goes far beyond just bankers’ bonuses, and has meant that small businesses in my constituency have to struggle to get a continuation of a line of credit? Can the Chancellor help me in my dealings with NatWest in this particular process in relation to a number of small businesses in Daventry?

Of course I shall be happy to look at my hon. Friend’s constituency case. He highlights the central issue that the previous Government completely failed to address: how to increase lending to the small and medium-sized business sector. That is one of our central economic objectives; that is why we are in discussions with the banks. The previous Government achieved nothing in that regard; we hope to achieve something, and we will come to the House and report on our progress.

In the Chancellor’s judgment, what is the maximum bonus that Barclays should offer its chief executive Bob Diamond for 2010?

Hard-pressed taxpayers in my constituency will rightly be annoyed at the disgraceful deal done by the previous Labour Government. What leverage will my right hon. Friend bring to ensure that bonuses are paid on the basis of bankers’ performance rather than just financial information?

That is precisely why we are improving the governance around bankers’ pay and remuneration, and why we are changing the system of regulation to replace the failed tripartite system created by the previous Government and voted for by many Opposition Members. We have done more in seven months than they did in 13 years, when they lived off a philosophy that there would be no more boom and bust. We are now picking up the pieces of that failed philosophy.

Constituents in Brigg and Goole are rightly concerned about the bonuses, but they also remember that it was Ministers in the previous Government who spent at least 12 of 13 years supping cocktails with bankers, praising them around the world and dishing out knighthoods to them. I therefore congratulate the Chancellor on his comments on social responsibility and the community fund. Can he tell us when that community fund for the banks will be established, and whether small as well as larger good causes locally will be able to benefit from it?

I do remember exactly that story of the Labour Government; indeed, I was reminded of it recently when I saw Tony Blair, that well-known consultant for J. P. Morgan. We are trying to sort out the situation that we inherited—a complete mess with no plans to put it right. Now, seven months in, the Opposition still have no serious economic policy to put forward.

Is the Chancellor of the Exchequer as appalled as I am by the mock anger of those on the Opposition Benches, which is a blatant attempt to mask the fact that they completely failed to regulate the banking industry that amounts to no more than blatant opportunism, and smacks of canting hypocrisy?

It is blatant opportunism, and it is a substitute for a serious economic policy. People will have long memories about what happened when Labour was in charge of our economy.

The Chancellor has said several times that nothing is off the table if the banks do not conform to the code of practice. Can you explain to me and to people here today what exactly is on the table, and what you will do if they do not conform?

As I have said, what is on the table at the moment is the discussion that we are having to increase lending in a material way—in other words, more than would otherwise have been the case—and to reduce bonuses more than would otherwise have been the case. I have made it very clear to the banks that nothing is off the table if we do not agree this settlement, and we will look at all the options available to us.

I thank the Chancellor and all colleagues for their succinctness, which has enabled every Member who wanted to ask a question to do so, and to secure an answer.