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Credit Institutions and Investment Firms

Volume 535: debated on Tuesday 8 November 2011

I beg to move,

That this House considers that the draft Regulation on prudential requirements for credit institutions and investment firms (European Union Document No. 13284/11 and Addenda 1-4) does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity for the reasons set out in the Annex to Chapter 1 of the Forty-second Report of the European Scrutiny Committee (HC 428-xxxvii); and in accordance with Article 6 of the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, instructs the Clerk of the House to forward this reasoned opinion to the presidents of the European institutions.

I am pleased to have the opportunity to discuss the European Union’s proposals on prudential requirements for the financial sector, and I welcome the Scrutiny Committee’s thorough report on the issue. I find myself in a slightly odd position today, in that the motion before us today, which stands in my name, was tabled by the Committee. The Committee has done a fantastic job in identifying this issue around subsidiarity, and we shall be supporting the motion.

I am one minute in to my speech and my hon. Friend wishes to intervene. I am happy to give way.

My hon. Friend would need to be only half a minute in for the point that I am about to make. There are some recommendations sculling around in the Procedure Committee and the Liaison Committee that the Minister would not necessarily have to reply to the questions put forward by the European Scrutiny Committee and by the Chairman. Is my hon. Friend aware of that?

I am indeed aware of that and I think it is a good thing. Although my hon. Friends and I see eye to eye on many of these issues, there may be an occasion when a reasoned opinion is put forward which the Government do not quite agree with. That would put the Government and the Committee in a strange position.

I agree with the Committee that the Commission’s co-proposals on prudential requirements raise serious concerns over subsidiarity and, as drafted, the proposals seriously undermine the efficacy of the Basel reforms in the EU. As argued in the Committee’s report, the proposals for maximum harmonisation will severely restrict the ability of member states to conduct macro-prudential policy. They limit the ability of member states to respond to the unique characteristics and risks of their market, and where necessary, go beyond minimum standards to ensure financial stability in their own jurisdiction.

We cannot risk being straitjacketed into a one-size-fits-all approach in setting prudential levels. Across Europe, no two financial systems are the same, and in a system where euro area banks face the same centrally set interest rate, it is even more important that member states retain the flexibility to use other tools for financial stability. Let me deal with these issues in a little more detail.

As hon. Members are aware, the Commission’s proposal on prudential requirements is the mechanism by which the EU will implement the Basel III agreement to strengthen capital requirements and introduce minimum liquidity and leverage standards, changes that are absolutely necessary to correct the failures that preceded the latest crisis. Basel III is an ambitious agreement, a strong demonstration of collective endeavour and ambition, and an agreement that will fundamentally reform the global financial system. As we agreed with our international counterparts at the G20:

“We are committed to adopt and implement fully these standards”.

There are those who would seek to use current economic circumstances to row back from full implementation of Basel III—those who argue that full implementation would undermine growth at a time when we need to do everything we can to support a global recovery. We disagree. At a time of instability and at a time when bank balance sheets are under intense scrutiny and pressure, now is not the time to row back from strengthening those balance sheets. Stability is in itself a vital precondition for growth, and Basel III sets out the vital reforms that we need to increase stability in the banking sector.

Earlier this year the Commission published its draft regulation on prudential requirements for the financial sector. Despite the G20 commitment to implementing Basel III in full, the draft regulation deviates from that agreement in crucial areas. In doing so, the proposals significantly dilute the minimum standards agreed internationally for global banks and increase the taxpayer’s potential exposure to future losses. As the Scrutiny Committee highlights, the draft regulation also seeks to embed maximum harmonisation of prudential requirements.

I share the Committee’s concern that the draft regulation will severely limit the ability of member states to conduct macro-prudential policy, and where necessary, go beyond minimum standards to ensure financial stability in their own jurisdictions. We believe that it remains the case that member states are best placed to identify risks to financial stability in their jurisdiction. This is particularly the case when it comes to taking action concerning their own financial stability. Given the considerable experience, expertise, information and knowledge available to member states, it is difficult to see how the Commission can be considered to be better placed to assess macro-prudential conditions, systemic risks and appropriate policies for each member state than the member states themselves.

Furthermore, it is not clear that the Commission would be able to respond faster than the competent authorities of member states to risks as they arise. Therefore, I share the Scrutiny Committee’s concern that the inclusion of article 443, which contains a delegated power for the Commission to adopt delegated acts to impose stricter prudential requirements on member states, is entirely inappropriate. Not only is subsidiarity a matter of economic principle, but it is a matter of past experience. The financial crisis taught us that it is vital that national authorities retain discretion to react decisively and speedily to economic developments. It is vital that member states retain their flexibility to adjust prudential requirements to respond to emerging systemic risks and cyclical variations in economic activity, which, as we have seen in the build-up to the eurozone crisis, can be very large.

The crisis also taught us that we were not alert to those systemic risks, and not just at the firm level. It is vital that we are not caught out again. National authorities must retain the tools and flexibility to tackle those risks. Therefore, although Basel III provides an historic and coherent set of minimum standards, the ability to go beyond them if necessary and deploy macro-prudential policy to tailor our response to idiosyncratic macro-financial risks is in our vital economic interest.

We are not alone in making that judgment. The previous head of the European Central Bank, Jean-Claude Trichet, has said that

“the Basel requirements are minimum, and they have to be considered as minimum.”

Likewise, the IMF argued in its UK spillover report:

“UK financial stability will be weakened (with adverse spillovers) if EU rules constrain UK financial regulations at insufficiently ambitious levels or if they limit the ability to use macro-prudential instruments to address emerging risks.”

Retaining that flexibility will not, as the Commission has suggested, undermine our commitment to the single rule book. Of course, a single rule book helps to reduce the burdens on cross-border firms, but that cannot come at the expense of a member state’s ability to implement higher prudential regulations. Instead, a single rule book that establishes harmonised definitions and minimum requirements would protect the flexibility to allow member states to adjust their prudential requirements as necessary, while at the same time helping to reduce burdens on cross-border firms.

Indeed, recommendation No. 10 of the Larosière report on financial supervision states that

“a Member State should be able to adopt more stringent national regulatory measures considered to be domestically appropriate for safeguarding financial stability as long as the principles of the internal market and agreed minimum core standards are respected.”

It is interesting that we have an agreement here. My hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash), Jacques de Larosière, who is the architect of the financial regulation, and the Government all agree with that we must have the flexibility to go further if that is appropriate.

I believe that we have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reform financial services and ensure that we embed a system that works in the interests of consumers and underpins stable and sustainable economies. The Government have neither dithered, nor delayed in implementing fundamental reform of our financial sector and our system of regulation. We are reforming the failed tripartite system, leading the debate on the future of the financial sector through the Independent Commission on Banking and leading the international agenda for full and fundamental reform across the global financial system.

At a time of instability, the European Commission will inevitably come under pressure to delay, obfuscate and pander to vested interests across the EU that want to soften standards. It is critical that the Commission stands firm against those pressures and, with respect to the prudential requirements legislation, implements the Basel agreement in full. We must ensure that the Basel requirements are implemented as harmonised definitions and minimum requirements, not a maximum, that member states have the flexibility to respond to the unique risks and characteristics of their own markets, and that we implement regulations that are effective, credible and consistent. I commend the motion to the House.

The capital requirements directives have sought to translate the proposals of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and apply them across the EU. Today’s proposal, CRD IV—another acronym that is familiar to many of our constituents—attempts to update those arrangements so that they fit the circumstances of today’s banking system and learn the lessons of the global financial crisis. As the Minister said, no one disagrees that the quality and quantity of capital that banks hold in order to absorb losses should be increased, and there is broad consensus on that.

CRD IV will make four changes. It will, first, introduce sanctions to ensure that all EU banks comply; secondly, prevent over-reliance on credit rating agencies, which should not substitute for proper internal due diligence; thirdly, improve corporate governance in the banking sector; and fourthly, address the pro-cyclicality of lending, which can accelerate the expansionary tendencies of an economic cycle. The difficulty comes when the Commission proposes “maximum harmonisation” in order to achieve a single EU rule book for banking, preventing member states from setting higher standards beyond the levels proposed in the directive.

I am aware that many City institutions also favour a harmonised international approach to regulation, but such an approach could render many of the recommendations of the Vickers commission, for example, redundant as we would simply be unable to introduce tougher standards here in the UK. The EU says that the directive is to prevent a race to the top, but we need to ensure that our financial services industry—by far the largest and most systemically important of any EU country—has a regulatory system that can protect UK taxpayers and UK consumers. After all, when domestic banks fail, domestic taxpayers have to come to the rescue, so we need domestic regulation that has the room and flexibility to go beyond any internationally agreed minimum standards.

The hon. Gentleman acknowledges, I am sure, that the real reason why we are in the situation we are in—I shall make a short statement about it later on behalf of the European Scrutiny Committee—is that we have transferred such jurisdiction to the European Union. As I said in a letter to the Financial Times the other day, we are fighting back against the background not only of the City having moved against the proposals, but of our having opened the sluice gates and allowed it to happen.

The hon. Gentleman’s work on the European Scrutiny Committee has been useful in respect of the proposals before us, and it would have been helpful if the Minister had clarified where we stand in terms of qualified majority voting versus any veto options that we might have. I would be grateful if the Minister could set them out.

Which proves the point that we need to ensure that we negotiate firmly.

The motion before us is worded correctly. It focuses very much on subsidiarity, and on article 443 and the proposals that would give the Commission the right to vary national regulations, even though it would prevent member states from changing their own rules beyond the maximum harmonisation arrangements—a step, I believe, too far. I agree with the draft reasoned opinion and, therefore, with the motion that the Clerk of the House forward this view to the presidents of the European institutions.

Article 443 does indeed go too far, and it would not be appropriate. Paragraph 18 of the European Scrutiny Committee’s report sums that up well, stating there is no evidence to prove that

“the Commission is better placed than the competent authorities of Member States to address national prudential concerns. Indeed, there is a strong argument to say that national authorities are not only better placed, but can react more quickly than the Commission can by means of delegated legislation, thereby enhancing financial stability.”

Does my hon. Friend agree that the Commission almost certainly knows that it would not be better at that than the regulatory authorities, and that what is behind this regulation is an attack on the City in order to up the game of Frankfurt and Paris? It must be resisted at all costs. It is much more malevolent than just a bureaucratic mistake.

It is difficult to ascribe motives to the Commission in all circumstances. My hon. Friend may well be right, but then again I have also talked to some of the City’s large banking institutions, which have in some ways argued in favour of harmonisation, so it is a mixed picture. I agree with the Government on the point before us, however, and it is important that we stand firm and retain the flexibility of higher standards if we possibly can.

Is it possible that those banks that seem to favour harmonisation think that they might have an easier time under Europe-wide regulations than under more stringent regulations from the British Government?

My hon. Friend may well be correct. “Who knows?” is the ultimate question, but his cynicism has been proved right in the past and may well be right today.

The motion is a sensible assessment, and asking the Clerk to send a reasoned opinion to the presidents of the European institutions is absolutely right, but what happens next? Will the Minister set out in a little more detail the consequences of today’s motion, and whether we would have any prospect of shaping our own financial regulatory agenda if, indeed, many of the changes in the directive went through regardless of the opinion that we sent? The mismatch between the Commission’s view and the UK’s position is only the tip of the iceberg or, to use a better metaphor, only the beginning of the story.

I am afraid to say that the Government’s proposals for financial regulation have not been properly thought through and clash so much with European regulatory arrangements that they just will not be able to stand up adequately to their strength and power. Ministers knew very well that the EU supervisory institutions would be split across thematic groups around banking, pensions and insurance, and markets. Yet according to the Minister’s legislation, we are choosing to split our arrangements between prudential and conduct regulation.

I agree completely that we need a greater focus on prudential regulation, but there is a growing risk and increasing evidence that our UK institutions may leave us in a tangled mess unable to engage effectively with those very powerful EU structures. That concern is shared not only by Opposition Members, but across the City and other financial service sectors. If our voice is not adequately heard, we may be unable to be represented properly in the right meetings at the right time.

It is not just the Opposition who are saying that. Last year, the Financial Services Consumer Panel said that

“the current European structure under the ESMA would be a poor fit with the proposed new UK arrangements and that this could potentially weaken the UK’s voice in the European Union.”

In September, the British Bankers Association said that

“little has been related on how the regulators will go about ensuring…that UK representation around the European table is second to none. There has not, for example, been acceptance of the suggestion made by the industry that consideration be given to maintaining a single international secretariat across the relevant authorities as a common shared service and the establishment of cross-authority teams to ensure that UK representatives at the three European Supervisory Authorities and other European and international committees are in a position to draw upon all relevant expertise and knowledge.”

The Association of Independent Financial Advisers—incidentally, I am attending its annual dinner this evening—said in September:

“The AIFA is concerned that the twin peak approach to UK regulation is not consistent with the developing European sectoral approach. We must ensure that the UK system is able to efficiently interact with the European system and does not lead to significant confusion for regulated firms and cost inefficiencies, or damage the competitiveness of the UK.”

Indeed, two weeks ago, the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), said in a letter to the right hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley):

“How will the PRA and the FCA co-ordinate their interaction with the new European Supervisory Authorities which do not neatly match the twin-peaks model—particularly where both financial stability and consumer protection outcomes may be considered together at an EU level? With an enormous amount of EU legislation under way, how will the EU regulatory authorities ensure that UK interests are represented with one voice?”

So there has been a barrage of anxiety about the Government’s proposals and how the design of their domestic regulatory arrangements will fit with those European supervisory structures. The Minister has time to think about those matters before introducing the Bill. If we try to persuade EU regulators to comply with our approach to financial regulation retrospectively, it will genuinely be like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted.

The shadow Minister is perhaps being rather disingenuous when he says that the Minister may have time to think before the Bill comes through. I am sure the hon. Gentleman understands that, under the arrangements for the European Union, where a qualified majority vote is being applied and the measure becomes part of our law, we implement it under section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972. There is absolutely nothing we can do on the Floor of the House to reverse that unless we apply the provisions of my sovereignty arrangements notwithstanding the 1972 Act. It is about time we started to do so.

I am simply highlighting the anxieties felt across the City, the financial service sector and by many hon. Members, who are worried that we are stepping into a new set of financial service regulation structures domestically within the UK that are far away from those bodies we need to be influencing, steering and having our voices heard by. It may well be that we are stepping in the wrong direction. That is the anxiety I am voicing today.

I am very grateful to the hon. Gentleman for allowing me to interrupt his characteristically thoughtful speech. Given what he is saying, does he think that this would be a very good, if not ideal, area in which to repatriate powers?

I do not think it is wrong to try to have some level of co-ordination on financial services regulation across the EU. This is a global industry, and that is broadly sensible. However, we now know very well how those supervisory institutions of the EU are to be structured, and yet we are designing new arrangements for the post-Financial Services Authority world that do not match very suitably with those. There may be different approaches to how we can make the fit more effective and improve Britain’s voice. However, there is genuine concern that even though we knew about these arrangements 18 months ago, the Government have not yet provided the capability to adapt the regulatory reforms to ensure that we do not lose influence—and, in fact, build our influence.

As regards the capital requirements directive, it is clear that for the time being we need to resist the Commission’s challenge to proper subsidiarity and give our reasons for retaining national discretion to have safer and higher standards for financial regulation here in the UK.

We support the motion but hope that Ministers will take the opportunity to think more strategically about how best to address the structural mismatch between their proposed reforms and the European arrangements, because that risks marginalising the UK’s voice time and again.

Before I go into the question of subsidiarity, I want to raise some matters that relate to what the shadow Minister said. He made some extremely important remarks. I am sorry that our own Front Benchers did not address those questions, because they know that they are very much on my mind and have been for a very long time.

The Minister said I would be glad to know that he and Commissioner de Larosière were ad idem as regards the de Larosière report. I have to say that I have been anything but ad idem with Mr de Larosière and his report for three or four years. The moment I saw the report, I wrote a letter to the Financial Times in which I pointed out that it was a very dangerous move and that its consequences would lead to jurisdiction over the City of London being transferred to the European Union. With all due respect to the shadow Minister, his Government were in power at the time this was under discussion. He has been issuing strictures about negotiations, but I am not interested in negotiations when 20% of our GDP is at risk in relation to a legislative system that will completely and totally undermine and annihilate our ability to maintain that strength in the financial services sector. I directly blame the previous Government for their total failure to do anything about this.

I will go further. I also blame those on our side of the equation who allowed this to happen, because it is, at the very least, acquiescence in a system. Before the general election, my hon. Friend the Member for Ludlow (Mr Dunne)—my own Member of Parliament—convened a meeting in the Grand Committee Room relating to these matters. Some very distinguished people were present. There were people from the City of London, the City institutions and the City of London Corporation, as well as the rapporteur, or lady in charge, of the financial services arrangements for the European Commission. It was a very high-powered conference. Despite the fact that I put up a very strong case for ensuring that this nonsense, from our point of view, did not continue, I found—not unusually, I have to say—that I was completely and utterly outvoted. At least, I was out-manoeuvred by a number of people, not on the quality of their arguments but on the sheer force of their attitudes, which amounted to saying, “This is a global marketplace, this is what we have to do, we must engage in a situation where the rest of the world works together.” We now hear the same talk about the dreadful proposal for a financial transactions tax.

The reality is that the City has woken up. The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) mentioned the British Bankers Association. I have not examined every document that has come from these great and august bodies, but I fear that they did not do the right thing at the right time and that they allowed this situation to happen. The Government and the Opposition of the time went along with the idea that it would somehow be beneficial to the United Kingdom for it to be put in this peril—and peril this is. The House is fairly thinly attended this afternoon, but I venture to suggest that these documents, which are six inches high on just the one issue of European Union prudential requirements, are a dagger pointing at the heart of the City of London.

The Minister rightly said that the proposal severely undermines Basel. He said that we will negotiate firmly. However, as I asked the Prime Minister yesterday, how will the Government be able to do anything about it in the context of the fiscal union that they propose, which must include voting solidarity among the members of the eurozone, who have long wanted to take the City of London away from us, when this issue is governed by a qualified majority vote? I have taken the trouble to look this up and my best recollection is that there are 231 votes for the 17 members of the eurozone compared with 130 votes for the rest. We are in a permanent massive minority. That is what is going on. It is a kind of economic warfare. This is not just about Euroscepticism; this is an issue that goes to the heart of our capacity to deliver revenues and prosperity in this country.

There may well be cases for reform. I have great sympathy for those who think that the City has gone off beam recently in many respects, including on salaries, pay and remuneration. Some of those points are exaggerated, but some are justified. I think that we should go back to a system of regulation that is more along the old Quaker lines, whereby one knew what one’s capital was and how to use it properly, and through self-regulation people who were out of line were put back into line by common consent. That is for another day, but I am deeply worried.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg) raised the question of repatriation. Why is it that I have argued consistently for the repatriation of powers, not just in social and employment legislation, which again is for another day, but in the kind of powers we are discussing? If the City of London goes down or is severely diminished, it will do nobody any good. Those who vote for the Labour party would also be affected because we need that money. For three and a half centuries, the City of London has been at the heart of our financial system and our revenue base. We cannot afford to have that money redistributed, like so much chaff, among the other member states.

The hon. Gentleman is making the powerful case, with which I agree, that this is malevolent legislation that is directed at undermining the City of London. I suspect he will agree with me that the Government should use the fundamental crisis at the heart of the European Union to be as brutal and as determined as possible in bringing back as many powers as they can, because the European Union is not a benevolent body when it comes to the UK’s interests.

I very much agree with the hon. Gentleman. The more I have heard from him over the past few years, the more I have admired his determination to speak the truth. That is the position. This is not a party game; this is serious and it is deadly. This move is determined and deliberate. That is what people need to know.

Roland Vaubel, the famous economist from Mannheim university, talks about the use of the qualified majority voting system in the Council of Ministers as a form of “regulatory collusion”, and mentions the strategy of deliberately raising rivals’ costs. Particular groups of countries—there are no prizes for guessing which—enter into arrangements behind the scenes, and vote accordingly. Both France and Germany use that system to their advantage, and as I said in the Financial Times the other day, we are being outmanoeuvred.

Despite all the time, money and effort being put into the Vickers report, there are, as the shadow Minister made clear, serious worries that Vickers may yet be undermined by the very proposals that we are discussing. The problem goes much further, but I do not need to enlarge upon all that any more.

Some people tend to sneer at the idea, which I occasionally put forward, that our sovereignty is the most important issue of all. I say that for one reason and one reason alone—it is only by exercising the sovereignty of this House on behalf of the British people that we have any chance of being able to return and repatriate powers if the other member states are not prepared to negotiate.

I am prepared to listen to the Prime Minister telling me that he will fight hard, or whatever answer he gave me yesterday, but I remain totally unconvinced. We are at risk as a result of proposals such as these, so it is absolutely essential that we get things right. When I wrote a pamphlet for him—in fact, for the general public—called “It’s the EU, Stupid”, I set all that out, so I do not need to enlarge on it any further.

I have got out of the way the general points that I believe are necessary to put the whole matter in context. I see the Foreign Secretary laughing a little. I do not hold that against him, but I have to say that this is no laughing matter; it is a very serious question. We are reduced to having to argue about reasoned opinions and subsidiarity. Important though those are, as I have said, there is a dagger pointing at the City of London. Not just this particular draft regulation but an accumulated vast array of weaponry is being aimed at the heart of our economic system.

Could my hon. Friend help by reminding me how much is owed to the City of London as a proportion of national income?

It has been declining, and that is another reason for concern, but the latest figure is something of the order of 15% to 20% of our gross domestic product. Take that away, and where would we be? The draft regulation is a deliberate attempt to do that, and it is only one document of many.

The aim of the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision is to

“enhance understanding of key supervisory issues and improve the quality of banking supervision worldwide.”

I hope that it succeeds. However, the various directives in question relate to the taking up and pursuit of the business of credit institutions and to capital adequacy, and they are collectively known as the capital requirement directive or CRD. They introduce a supervisory framework within the EU, designed, it is stated, to

“ensure the financial soundness of credit institutions (banks and building societies) and certain investment firms.”

I take a slight interest in that, because my family founded the Abbey National building society back in the 19th century and the National Provident Institution in 1835. Those institutions were run on sound grounds and lasted until very recently, but have unfortunately now been mopped up as a result of some of the international goings-on in the financial sphere.

In 2011, the European Commission proposed a draft regulation—the document referred to in the motion—and a draft directive, known together as CRD IV. They would incorporate the Basel III agreement on prudential requirements for credit institutions and investment firms into EU law. How often have I said that the danger is that when a matter is transferred to EU jurisdiction, we lose control? Because of section 2 of the European Communities Act 1972, we cease to be able to control it. We hand over control of the drafting, method and interpretation of the law, and its effect on our own institutions, our own initiative and our own ability to be innovative and succeed.

The proposals are still before the European Scrutiny Committee, pending the receipt of further information from the Government. Meanwhile, the Committee has recommended that the House submit a reasoned opinion on the draft regulation to the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the European Parliament. A draft is annexed to the Committee’s report. I mention that because if enough member states issue a reasoned opinion, we will be able to stop the proposals. I strongly urge the Government to get as many member states as possible together, and I am sure they are doing that, if only to retrieve the situation as best they can.

Of course, as we all know, other member states will know what we are up to, and they will not enter into an arrangement to submit a reasoned opinion. We have seen that in the past—we do not get the requisite number of member states, and the proposal goes through. This is a test not just of the Government but of the integrity of the system. If a reasoned opinion is required because the Commission has exceeded its powers in relation to subsidiarity, nothing should prevent that from going ahead on an objective basis. I am not trying to pre-empt the decision, but I am anxious, on the grounds that I am about to mention, for other member states to understand that a reasoned opinion is necessary. It is in their hands to prevent the proposals from going through.

I turn now to the argument about the objectivity of a reasoned opinion. When the Commission makes a proposal for legislation, it is now required under the European treaties to produce a “detailed statement” that makes it possible to appraise the proposal’s compliance with the principles of subsidiarity. I do not for a minute demur from what I said during the Maastricht debates—that subsidiarity was a con trick intended to establish hierarchies, not true subsidiarity. We shall see.

That detailed statement is not just a bureaucratic procedure for its own sake, although one might be forgiven for thinking that some in Brussels think it is. It is the principal means left whereby national Parliaments and electorates can assess the basis on which the Commission considers legislation to be necessary at supranational rather than national level. The presumption underpinning subsidiarity is that decisions are best taken as close to the citizen as possible. Amen to that, providing that it happens.

It is not sufficient to underline the importance of those detailed statements. I remind, or inform, the House that no piece of European legislation has ever successfully been challenged in the Court of Justice of the EU on the grounds that it breached subsidiarity. Not one. That sends a very powerful message. There is not a little suspicion, therefore, that subsidiarity is just something to which lip service is paid. It strikes the democratic gong, but is not followed by any lunch. One of the jobs of national Parliaments—that is us here in the Chamber—is to try to change that position.

I suggested yesterday in European Committee A that, as the hon. Gentleman suggests, subsidiarity has not functioned well. In fact, I do not really understand it myself. I suggested that it was a political decoration, to overcome a difficulty. The reality that I would understand is opt-outs and opt-ins, with member states having the independence to do what they thought was right for their interests.

I very much agree. All that I can say is that on this occasion, there will be a very good test of whether subsidiarity can win the day. Let us see.

Given the importance of the detailed statement, the treaty makes several stipulations about what it should contain, which include an

“assessment of the proposal’s financial impact…in the case of a Directive, some assessment of the proposal’s implications for national and, where necessary, regional legislation; and…qualitative and, wherever possible, quantitative substantiation of the reasons for concluding that an EU objective can be better achieved at EU level.”

When the European Scrutiny Committee looked at the draft regulation, it found—not by any means for the first time—that neither the Commission’s explanatory memorandum nor its impact assessment contained a detailed statement to make possible an assessment of its compliance with subsidiarity. Hon. Members should bear it in mind that the draft regulation, which is of immense importance, amends the capital requirements directive by removing the discretion previously given to member states to impose stricter prudential requirements where national circumstances require that. That is a significant change. Indeed, the Government argue that it could lead to greater financial instability and, as the Minister said, could severely undermine Basel. It will be seen from the draft reasoned opinion that the Committee concluded that the Commission failed to discharge the treaty obligation placed upon it to provide quantitative and qualitative reasons for that change in the form of a detailed statement.

Putting the procedural failures to one side, the House will gather from the draft reasoned opinion that, on the substance, the Committee agrees with the Government that the objectives of the regulation were not better achieved by precluding member states from imposing stricter prudential requirements when they considered that necessary. The Committee came to that conclusion because it was clear from the Government’s explanatory memorandum that there continued to be a need for a flexible approach to address prudential concerns at a national level. That reality was reflected in the fact that the Commission proposes in article 443 of the draft regulation that it should be able to adopt delegated Acts to impose stricter prudential requirements for member states where necessary. The Committee could not find sufficient evidence to demonstrate that the Commission was better placed than member states to address national prudential risks that suddenly arise. Indeed, there was a strong argument for saying that national authorities were not only better placed, but could react more quickly than the Commission by means of delegated legislation, thereby enhancing financial stability.

I also have grave misgivings about the Commission having such powers delegated to it—ever. EU delegated legislation is not unlike our own: it affords considerable Executive power with far less oversight.

Finally, the Commission’s approach to the consideration of subsidiarity is a matter of concern not only to the European Scrutiny Committee, but to every national Parliament of every member state. I hope that they take note and do something about it, because a great deal is at risk. At its last meeting, COSAC—the bi-annual conference of the EU Committees of national Parliaments, which I attended—concluded that the Commission was not complying with the treaty obligations placed upon it to provide sufficiently detailed statements. That was on the motion that I proposed, which was accepted by COSAC. This was good news, because the Committee had been pushing for it. We await a response from the Commission, but we need support from other member states.

I repeat: I urge the Government to use all their diplomatic and persuasive powers, because we are put at a significant disadvantage as a result of the transfer of functions to the European Union. If there is sufficient opposition from enough member states, we can defeat this proposal.

I shall be brief in following my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash) and in supporting the reasoned opinion. I also hope to strengthen and add to some of the arguments made by the Minister and the Opposition spokesman from the Dispatch Box in favour of subsidiarity in banking regulation.

If there is one over-arching lesson that we learned from the financial crisis of the past few years, it is the importance of having the primary banking regulator close to the financial market. I welcome the direction of travel on financial regulation in our national life, which will place much more importance on the role of the Bank of England, because the Bank follows what is happening in this country’s financial markets on a day-to-day basis.

It is instructive that the United States—a country that has had monetary union for the past century—is also caught up in the financial crisis. That subsidiarity in banking regulation continues to apply in the US in that each state is responsible for banking licences and supervision in its jurisdiction.

I am fascinated by my hon. Friend’s line of argument, because she has raised the question of commercial states’ rights, which are embedded in the American constitution—they are inviolable. Countries in the EU have no such rights. When legislation at EU level goes through—this is why I so strongly attack and resist the idea of transfer of jurisdiction to that level—we are required under the 1972 Act to implement the law. We do not have commercial states’ rights.

Indeed, and to continue with my example, the US Federal Reserve is very much a system of individual reserve banks—the Federal Reserve Bank of New York and the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco all play important and distinct roles, recognising that different banking markets have different characteristics, and recognising how vital subsidiarity is in banking regulation.

My heart sank when I asked at the Vote Office for papers relevant to today’s motion and was handed this 1,200-page document. We discussed earlier how the EU could save money on its budget, but the document is a prime example of where money could be saved. It is completely unnecessary.

I opened the document at random and found that one proposal is to start dictating quotas for women on the boards of financial institutions in the EU. Page 1,132, which I am sure my hon. Friend the Member for Stone will want to read in detail, is on quota laws for the number of women who sit on the boards of financial institutions in different countries. I noted that in the table of a survey of governance arrangements, Iceland and Norway are included, but the last time I checked, they were not even member states. I put myself firmly in the camp of people who think that the more diverse range of views one has on boards, the better, but I certainly do not think that that should be laid down in 1,200 pages of EU guidance.

To give another example, article 218 refers—incomprehensibly—to the so-called financial collateral comprehensive method. To illustrate how far away we have moved from the notion of running a capitalist and financial system sensibly, we are now down to formulas. I shall try to quote it. The document states:

“Institutions shall calculate the volatility-adjusted value of the collateral (CVA) they need to take into account as follows …CVA = C (1 - HC - Hfx)…where…C = the value of the collateral”.

That is absolute gobbledegook, but that is the manner in which our system is run. It is completely mad.

I can see that if I carry on giving examples, I will only encourage my hon. Friend to find more passages of gobbledegook to read into the record, but it is indeed the most appalling document.

The hon. Lady makes powerful points on subsidiarity. We have had some fun at the expense of the document, which is long, convoluted gobbledegook, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) said. However, the reality—this makes my heart sink too—is that unless we get enough countries in Europe to agree with us, the document will become directly applicable law in the UK. That is how serious the matter is. When one considers the amount of scrutiny that we rightly give to legislation in the House, one realises that the amount of scrutiny given to the document is appallingly low.

What adds to the power of the right hon. Gentleman’s argument is the fact that this week, of all weeks, we have seen how completely inadequately the euro countries have managed the governance of their budgetary arrangements and affairs over a matter that is causing serious problems for the world economy.

I wish to conclude by making one further point. I was completely gobsmacked by the chutzpah—if that is a parliamentary word, Mr Deputy Speaker—of the Opposition spokesman, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie). Although I welcome the fact that he agrees with the motion, I noted that he did not refer to the previous Labour Government’s role in signing us up to the Lisbon treaty without a referendum. It displayed a stark lack of acknowledgement of his party’s role in getting us to this position.

I have spoken briefly because there is important business to follow, but I want to reiterate how important it is that the Financial Secretary be armed with the maximum political support for his trip to argue our case against this ridiculous 1,200-page document.

It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin). I agreed with practically every word she said.

I want to focus on subsidiarity in relation to the bank capital requirements. It seems to me that those capital requirements must rest with the lender of last resort, because the organisation that will be best informed about the requirements of banks within its system will be the bank to which they report. This regulation might therefore be an area where it is suitable for the eurozone to have a single regulation, but where those outside the eurozone ought to have regulations referring to their own currencies and central banks.

That works both ways. There has been much concentration on the need to raise bank capital rates when an economy is booming, as part of efforts to calm down an economic expansion, and that is obviously true: had bank capitalisation rates been raised during the last boom, the effects would have been lessened, the degree of gearing, particularly in the Royal Bank of Scotland, would have been lower and the problems that followed would have been fewer. However, it is equally important, when an economy is turning down, that bank capital requirements might need to be lowered, and that might well be the case now.

When banks face large amounts of bad loans and write-offs, we might need our central bank to say, “Well, at this point, we cannot enforce a high bank capital adequacy ratio because, if we do, our banks will not be able to continue in business, or they will not be able to make loans to good-quality borrowers now coming forward.” The key argument of subsidiarity, therefore, is that bank capital adequacy regulations have to relate to the currency at issue, and that comes back to the central bank at issue—in our case, of course, the Bank of England. Those ratios must be flexible beyond international agreement, because if the lender of last resort is willing to lend to a bank with low capitalisation in a time of crisis, that is a decision for that central bank and its risk-taking decision makers; it does not need to be decided at an international level.

My final point is the one made by my hon. Friend the Member for Stone (Mr Cash): there is a danger, under the qualified majority voting system, of regulations entirely suitable for the eurozone being passed through for the whole of the EU. Her Majesty’s Government need to be alert to that and to make every effort to prevent such regulations from being forced upon us. I hope, therefore, that this motion, when passed, will be taken seriously by the EU, and that we will be allowed to regulate our banks in our way, as appropriate.

This has been a helpful and thoughtful debate, and it will give the Government immense support in making the arguments over the coming months about the need to get CRD IV right; about recognising that it should be the responsibility of competent authorities in member states to set appropriate levels of bank capital beyond high minimum standards; and about the fact that we need the flexibility to do so in order to protect the stability of our financial system. That recognises the fact that banking structures and systems vary between member states. The complexity of those banking systems manifests itself in the extraordinary length of the document before us. These are complex issues that we need to tackle.

I want to make a point about engagement with Europe, picking up on the comments made by the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) about trade bodies. The same comments were made to the Treasury Select Committee today. There is nothing new about regulators co-ordinating the views of others when representing the UK on regulatory bodies. At the moment, the Financial Services Authority is our representative on the European Securities and Markets Authority, and in its representative role, the FSA must also reflect the views of other regulatory bodies not represented on ESMA. For example, it must take into account and reflect the views of the Financial Reporting Council and, on takeovers and mergers, the Takeover Panel.

Furthermore, the European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Authority has to represent the views of the Pensions Regulator. If I am right, at one point, the UK’s representative on EIOPA’s predecessor body, the Committee of European Insurance and Occupational Pensions Supervisors, was not the FSA, but the Pensions Regulator itself. There is nothing new, therefore, about one body representing the views of other regulators in the UK on these European bodies, and it would be wrong to suggest that this is something novel or different.

We need to ensure that, under the new regulatory architecture, we are clear about who speaks for the UK on these matters. On the European Banking Authority and EIOPA, the Prudential Regulation Authority speaks for the UK, so it will want to gather the views of the Pensions Regulator and the Financial Conduct Authority on insurance issues, for example. It is clear that the FCA will represent the UK on the board of ESMA, and it will have to gather the views not only of the FRC and the Takeover Panel, as it does now, but of the Bank of England, on clearing houses, and the PRA on prudential issues relating to securities firms.

I do not therefore see this as some great novelty or innovation. It needs to work. However, surely no one in the House is suggesting that UK regulatory bodies should be driven by what is happening in Europe, rather than meeting the needs of businesses and consumers in the UK. I do not think that anyone is seriously suggesting that we have sectoral regulation in the UK, rather than functional regulation. If the Opposition want to go down the former route, let them say so, but we should find a way of ensuring that the current system works.

What is the Financial Secretary’s assessment of the British Bankers Association’s suggestion for a properly resourced international secretariat to ensure a better single interface with those European institutions? He might be right that we should not necessarily follow those European arrangements, but surely he accepts that a complex existing arrangement could be made even more complex by the proliferation of financial regulatory bodies that he is proposing.

The hon. Gentleman has just recommended such a proliferation of bodies—with this co-ordinating secretariat. The PRA and the FCA are more than capable of talking to each other about these matters. We need to ensure that they gather people’s views and that the interests of the FRC and the Pensions Regulator are reflected. However, I do not consider it to be the huge problem that he is inflating it to be.

It is also the case, of course, that the negotiation of level 1 instruments, such as the directive before us today, is the responsibility not of the PRA, the FCA or the Bank of England, but of Her Majesty’s Government and, in particular, the Treasury. It is very clear where the focus is; we do not seem to have any problem at all in co-ordinating the views of others for that process.

This has been a helpful debate. It will help strengthen the Government’s hand in negotiation with Brussels. It is very clear that it is not just the UK Government who believe that we should have the freedom to go further beyond minimum standards if necessary, and the freedom to set our own macro-prudential strategy. That is the view of the International Monetary Fund, the view of Jean-Claude Trichet and the view of Jacques de Larosière. There is a consensus around this. What is important, I think, is that the Commission listens to that consensus and takes the right action to enable member states to tackle financial stability. I am grateful for the support for this motion and commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.


That this House considers that the draft Regulation on prudential requirements for credit institutions and investment firms (European Union Document No. 13284/11 and Addenda 1-4) does not comply with the principle of subsidiarity for the reasons set out in the Annex to Chapter 1 of the Forty-second Report of the European Scrutiny Committee (HC 428-xxxvii); and in accordance with Article 6 of the Protocol on the application of the principles of subsidiarity and proportionality, instructs the Clerk of the House to forward this reasoned opinion to the presidents of the European institutions.