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Bankers’ Bonuses

Volume 523: debated on Tuesday 8 February 2011

7. What objectives he has set for the outcome of his discussions to limit the bonuses paid to bankers. (38624)

13. What objectives he has set for the outcome of his discussions to limit the bonuses paid to bankers. (38630)

15. What objectives he has set for the outcome of his discussions to limit the bonuses paid to bankers. (38632)

Our objective in these discussions is to create a banking industry that lends to the British economy, contributes to the Exchequer, and supports economic growth and employment. The Government are in discussions with the banks to see if a new settlement can be reached so that bonuses and remuneration policies are more transparent and levels of bonuses paid are smaller than they would otherwise have been. Alongside this, we are looking at options to ensure that banks make an appropriate contribution to local economies and communities and provide the credit required to support the economic recovery, facilitate growth and create jobs.

Can the Minister tell the House why the Chancellor refuses to adopt Labour’s plan to repeat last year’s £3.5 billion bank bonus tax, as well as the bank levy, and use that money to help create the jobs and growth that so many of our communities badly need?

The hon. Gentleman should remember the words of the former Chancellor of the Exchequer, who said that the bank payroll tax did not work. Labour Members went into the last election ruling out a bank levy; they would not take the action that we have taken to ensure that banks pay a fair contribution to the costs they pose to the economy.

My constituents are appalled that the general attitude of the Government seems to be to withstand all criticism and not to deal with the real problem by making bankers accountable for what they are doing and pay their fair share. We are not all in it together.

I find that quite rich coming from Labour—the party that gave Fred Goodwin his knighthood. The reality is that under our bank levy the banking sector will pay more every year than it paid in one year under the bank payroll tax. That is the action that this Government have taken to ensure that banks pay their fair contribution towards the Exchequer.

The Chancellor must think he is good when he has put hundreds of thousands of public servants on the dole, cut pensions, especially those of the police and armed forces, and cut local government finance. It has been reported in the newspapers that a banker is to receive a £9 million bonus. Why does not the Chancellor get off his backside, get into the banks, and get it sorted?

I will take no lessons from the Labour party on bank bonuses. The shadow Chancellor presided at the Treasury when big bonuses were being paid out in cash, with no clawback and no lock-up. He backed that light-touch regime in government. We have taken the tough decisions on tackling bonuses. The Opposition should be apologising, not criticising.

Do Treasury Ministers agree that the real problem with bankers’ bonuses is that they are paid not out of profits, but out of revenues? Taxing banks after the bonuses have been paid merely depresses dividends, particularly for pension funds. Why are bankers’ bonuses not paid out of profits, as they always were by my very efficient stockbroking firm?

My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, under the old regime, there was no clawback when bonuses were paid out in cash, and no lock-up. The new code on remuneration introduced by the Financial Services Authority, which is ahead of international practice, has clear rules on deferral, requires that bonuses be clawed back for poor performance, and requires that bonuses for significantly highly paid members of staff—those who take risks—be paid out principally in shares, not in cash. That will ensure that the interests of bankers are aligned with those of shareholders.

How much has the Minister been constrained in his dealings with the majority state-owned banks by the contracts on payments that were signed by the Labour party before the election?

My hon. Friend puts his finger on the problem. When the previous Government entered into arrangements to bail out RBS and Lloyds, they limited the period of their involvement in the bonus regime. That is why we had to take action this year and why we have engaged with banks through project Merlin to achieve restraint on bank bonuses. We will make an announcement in the next week.

I congratulate the Chancellor on extracting a further £800 million from the banks this morning. Will he take this opportunity to rule out any reduction in his permanent bank levy, should it turn out to raise more money than expected?

My hon. Friend makes an important point, and I thank him on behalf of the Chancellor for his congratulations on the levy. As he recognised, the levy is a permanent feature, not a one-off tax like the previous Government’s bank payroll tax. It will raise more than the bank payroll tax did in its year in operation, on a net basis. We are committed to raising the levy from the banks over the life of this Parliament.

It is clear that the partial U-turn on the banking levy happened today purely by coincidence and had nothing to do with Treasury questions. Has the Minister anything else to tell the House? For example, what is he going to do about excessive bonuses? Perhaps we can coax him into another U-turn on the £1 billion corporation tax cut that he is giving the banks. If he wants to announce that at the next Treasury questions, that is fine.

I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is entirely on top of his brief on this matter. He knows that banks will pay more tax as a consequence of the levy. The tax cuts for the financial sector are far lower than the amount we will raise from the bank levy. This is a permanent measure. The previous Government failed to take action on bank levies and ruled out introducing them on a unilateral basis. This Government have gone ahead and done the right thing for the economy and for the taxpayer.