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Banking Reform

Volume 546: debated on Thursday 14 June 2012

With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on banking reform.

The financial crisis exposed a great many flaws in the system. Banks borrowed too much, took risks they did not understand and bought securities that proved to be far from secure. Banking groups became too complex and interconnected to be managed effectively, regulators failed to identify the risks and taxpayers paid the price. Between October 2008 and December 2010, European taxpayers provided almost €300 billion to prop up their banks, with liquidity and lending support in the trillions. In the UK, the bail-out of RBS was the biggest banking bail-out in the world.

Just as the crisis revealed many flaws, there is no single solution. The Government are reforming the substance and structure of the financial architecture, putting the Bank of England in charge of prudential regulation. We have created the Financial Policy Committee to look at risks across the financial system. Our permanent bank levy penalises short-term wholesale funding, and we have introduced the toughest and most transparent pay regime of any major financial centre in the world. We have worked with our international partners to deliver robust, consistent prudential standards for banks and markets.

The White Paper that we are publishing today sets out how we will implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking. The Government’s reforms will form a key part of our broader programme of reform. In the same way that the action we have taken on the deficit has meant that UK debt is currently seen as a safe-haven asset by investors around the world, we will ensure that British banks will be resilient, stable and competitive, and so attractive to investors at home and abroad.

The eurozone crisis makes reform more, not less important. The link between the strength of a country’s banking sector and that country’s stability could not be clearer. At the same time, our proposals reflect the progress that has been made in European and international regulation since December. The Government welcome the European Commission’s bank recovery and resolution directive, which will improve member states’ ability to resolve cross-border banks without imposing costs on taxpayers. We will also continue to press for full Basel III implementation in Europe.

The goals of today’s White Paper are clear. First, since financial crises rarely repeat the pattern of the past, we must ensure that banks are more resilient to shocks. Secondly, we must make our banks more resolvable, so that if they fail, they do not threaten the provision of vital services to the real economy. Seeing through those two goals will achieve our third—to curb risk-taking in financial markets. It must be clear that investors reap rewards when banks do well, but take the pain if banks fail.

The Government will ring-fence retail deposits from the risks posed by international wholesale and investment banking. A ring-fenced bank will be economically and legally separate from the rest of its group and run by an independent board. The ring fence will not in itself prevent a bank from failing, but it will insulate the deposits of families and businesses, and if a bank does fail those essential parts of the banking system can continue without recourse to the taxpayer.

The deposits and overdrafts of individuals and of small and medium-sized businesses will, in general, be placed in ring-fenced banks. To minimise the risks that a ring-fenced bank is exposed to, it will be prohibited from conducting the vast majority of international wholesale and investment banking. It will not be permitted to carry out activities through branches or subsidiaries outside the European economic area, or, except in limited circumstances, with financial institutions. Beyond that, and within certain constraints, firms may decide what to put inside the ring fence. Ring-fencing will provide customers with flexibility, but not at the cost of financial stability.

The Government also propose to strengthen the ICB’s recommendations by applying strict controls to the use of derivatives by a ring-fenced bank to hedge its balance sheet. That will ensure that a ring-fenced bank does not take excessive risks when managing its own risks, as was the case with J. P. Morgan’s much-publicised trading loss.

Governance of the ring-fenced banks will be important. The Government propose to strengthen the ICB recommendations in that area, establishing separate risk committees and possibly also separate remuneration committees. However, it is important to focus these reforms where they will have the biggest impact, which is on the biggest, too-big-too-fail banks. We therefore propose that smaller banks, with less than £25 billion of mandated deposits, will be exempt from those requirements. Large, systemically important banks gain a competitive advantage from the perceived implicit guarantee. Our targeted reforms will remove that advantage, helping smaller banks and new entrants.

One of the clearest lessons from the crisis is that investors and creditors, not taxpayers, should bear the costs of failure. That is why we have supported Basel III, which increases bank capital to 7%, with a top-up for systemically important banks, and why we have pressed for that to be implemented across Europe, but to protect taxpayers, the Government will go further. The largest UK ring-fenced banks should hold an additional 3% of equity on top of the Basel III minimum numbers. The Government also strongly endorse the introduction of a binding minimum leverage ratio. The White Paper supports the Basel proposal of a 3% leverage ratio for all banks, including UK ring-fenced banks, and we will continue to press for the implementation of the Basel standard through EU law.

Large ring-fenced banks should hold a minimum amount of loss-absorbing capacity—made up of debt or equity—of 17% of risk-weighted assets. Their overseas operations should be exempt from that requirement unless they pose a risk to financial stability. For smaller UK banks, as the ICB recommends, the minimum requirement should be lower.

To deliver those proposals, the authorities need a way to “bail in” bank liabilities so that bondholders, not taxpayers, bear the losses. The Government will work with European partners to ensure that the ICB recommendations on bail-in are credibly and consistently applied across Europe through the recovery and resolution directive. We intend to introduce the principle of depositor preference for insured deposits. Unsecured lenders to banks are better placed to monitor the risks that banks are taking and should take losses ahead of ordinary depositors.

Our proposals on financial stability also improve competition in UK banking. The implicit guarantee to large banks distorts competition; its reduction will help to create a level playing field. However, we want to do more to encourage new entrants and promote competition. We will shortly issue a consultation on reform to the payments system. I welcome the reviews by the Bank of England and the FSA into the prudential and conduct requirements for new entrants to ensure that they are appropriate and not disproportionate. We strongly support the need for a stronger challenger bank to emerge from the Lloyds Banking Group divestment. We are engaged with Lloyds and the European Commission to ensure that the divestment process creates as strong a challenger as possible. A more competitive banking system will work only—[Interruption.]

Order. Government Members do not need assistance from the Opposition on where they should sit. The Minister is making a serious statement to the House. Perhaps Opposition Members could hear what he has to say.

That really sums up the Opposition. All they can talk about is who sits where. They have no ideas on how to resolve this banking crisis.

I welcome the reviews by the Bank of England and the Financial Services Authority into the prudential and conduct requirements for new entrants to ensure that they are appropriate and not disproportionate. However, as I have said, a more competitive banking market will work only if consumers are prepared to change banks. The Government are pleased with the progress on the industry-led initiative to make current account switching faster and easier for customers. Providers covering 97% of the current account market have signed up and the scheme is on track to be launched next September. However, to switch, customers need better information, so the Government welcome the fact that the Office of Fair Trading and the Financial Conduct Authority will take forward the ICB recommendation to improve transparency across all retail banking products. Work is already under way on a number of projects, such as making account data available to customers electronically, to enable them to shop around.

Financial stability is a prerequisite for growth. Our analysis suggests that the proposals in the White Paper will cost, in gross domestic product terms, in the region of £0.6 billion to £1.4 billion per annum. However, that should be compared with the estimate that the 2007 to 2009 crisis has already cost the UK economy £140 billion, which is one hundred times the maximum cost estimate of our proposals.

The proposals, although ambitious in scale, are proportionate in impact. They will promote financial stability while supporting sustainable growth and making the UK’s role as the world’s leading international financial centre secure. The reforms we are announcing today, together with the changes we are making to the regulatory architecture, demonstrate that the Government are determined to take action to deliver a stable and sustainable banking sector that underpins rather than undermines economic growth. I commend this statement to the House.

Let me begin by thanking the Minister for notice of today’s Treasury statement on the vital issue of banking reform. The reforms are so important that—we read in the newspapers—they are to be the subject of the Chancellor’s Mansion House speech tonight.

The Minister said the statement was serious, and I am sure Opposition Members and Government Members will all be thinking: “Why is the Chancellor not making it?” Should I call him the part-time Chancellor? He was able to spend the afternoon on the Government Bench yesterday to support the embattled Secretary of State for Culture, Olympics, Media and Sport, but he is seemingly unwilling, despite media trails, to come to the House today. What is the Chancellor running scared of? Is he too busy this week on his other duties to be the Chancellor, or is the truth that he is ducking answering the questions because—once again—he is not on top of the details of his brief?

There are questions to answer. Last September, the Opposition welcomed the report by Sir John Vickers and the Independent Commission on Banking, which sets out radically to reshape our banking industry. We urged the Government to implement the reforms without foot-dragging or watering them down, but I fear that watering down is where we are heading. Is not the truth that, having failed to secure international agreement in Brussels and Basel on tougher international banking standards, the Chancellor is now being forced to water down and fudge the Vickers reforms?

That is one area in which the Opposition would not welcome a U-turn from the Chancellor. The Minister will say in his response that I am wrong, and that there is no U-turn, just as Ministers said we were wrong to spot U-turns on pasties, caravans, churches, charities and skips, but a pattern is emerging with this Chancellor. He declares, “This Chancellor is not for turning,” and then sends along a hapless junior Minister to do the job for him. We can ask the Exchequer Secretary all about that.

If the Chancellor is not watering down Vickers, why will he not agree to the Opposition’s request to ask the Vickers commission to come back this autumn and publish an independent report on progress in implementing its reforms in the past 12 months? The Chancellor could publish that report alongside the autumn statement, when he will have to come to the House to explain why his failing economic plan has plunged our economy back into recession. That is one area where a U-turn would be warmly welcome.

On progress against the three tests for banking reform, first, to protect taxpayers, the Opposition support the Vickers conclusion that banking services should be safeguarded and ring-fenced. In November 2006, the Minister told the House that

“light-touch…regulation is in the interests of the”


“sector globally.”—[Official Report, 28 November 2006; Vol. 453, c. 995.]

May I ask this champion of light-touch regulation to explain why, contrary to Vickers, it is right to allow retail banks inside the ring fence to trade in derivatives and hedging products, which are among the controversial interest rate swap products that many small firms complain they were mis-sold in recent years? I have said many times that the previous Government got bank regulation wrong. Those on the Government Front Bench also got it wrong, but they are getting it wrong again. The Chancellor should be careful about leaving the door too wide open.

The Opposition agree with the Vickers view that we need a minimum leverage ratio and higher equity requirements for larger ring-fenced banks, but will the Minister confirm that the Chancellor is setting a lower minimum leverage ratio than the Vickers commission recommended, and that he is departing from the recommendation that larger banks should have tougher rules?

The Chancellor implied in December that he would mandate those services specifically within the ring fence to provide clarity and certainty. Can the Minister explain why the Chancellor is now delegating that detailed task to the Bank of England—the regulator—and not putting it in primary legislation? Will the Chancellor—or, on his behalf, the Minister—commit to inserting in the Bill the requirement that large UK retail banks should have equity capital of at least 10%? Is not the real problem that the Chancellor is not in the driving seat on this agenda?

That takes me to our second test, on international agreements. In December, I asked the Chancellor whether he was confident that he would get the necessary international and EU-wide agreements to implement Vickers. The answer is that he has not succeeded in delivering that. The Chancellor himself said at last month’s ECOFIN, when he refused to agree to an EU statement on capital requirements, that they would

“make me look like an idiot”—

a muttering idiot perhaps! Two weeks later, though, he signed up to exactly the same deal. The problem is that there remains the risk that he will be overruled by the EU.

There is a wider problem. We agree with the Chancellor that the UK should not contribute to a eurozone-wide deposit insurance scheme, but the Commission’s proposals go much wider and are said to be intended to apply to the 27. The Chancellor gives the impression that he has a veto on the plans, so that they would apply only to the 17. Will the Minister tell us, then, whether the proposals for Europe-wide banking supervision will be subject to qualified majority voting under existing treaties, and will he tell us how the Chancellor is doing in building alliances across the EU to ensure that British interests are properly protected and that Vickers is implemented?

That brings me to my final test: the impact on growth and the wider economy.

Order. I hope that the shadow Chancellor will be brief, given how much of the time allocation he has already taken.

I shall put my questions briefly, Madam Deputy Speaker. I only regret that I cannot put these questions to the Chancellor because he has not turned up.

We have consistently urged the Chancellor to take a swifter approach to competition and to have a growth objective for the new Financial Policy Committee. We and the CBI agree on that, but the Chancellor will not listen. The problem is that in those circumstances Vickers implementation could lead to a continuing impact on business lending at the expense of small businesses.

To conclude, we set three tests for Vickers, but on each one the Government are failing, causing uncertainty where we need confidence, lending and growth. They are failing to take the lead on reforms in the EU, and fudging and watering down proper taxpayer protection. We need a Chancellor who can do the economics, grip the detail and work full time on the job—someone who at least turns up in the House and answers questions on this vital issue.

The shadow Chancellor was the Minister who stood by when bank balance sheets ballooned and banks took on these risks. He did nothing to tackle that problem. As the Governor of the Bank of England said in May:

“With the benefit of hindsight, we should have shouted from the rooftops that a system had been built in which banks were too important to fail, that banks had grown too quickly and borrowed too much, and that so-called ‘light-touch’ regulation hadn't prevented any of this.”

Only two politicians were quoted in the FSA’s report on the failure of RBS as champions of light-touch regulation—the shadow Chancellor and the former Prime Minister, the architects and cheerleaders of light-touch regulation at home and abroad. They should recognise the costs that the British Government and economy have borne as a consequence of banking failure— £140 billion between 2007 and 2009. We must recognise the need for a stable banking system to ensure stable and sustainable growth in the UK economy.

As Sir John Vickers proposed, we are ring-fencing retail banking, imposing the higher capital standards required by him and introducing a binding minimum leverage ratio on banks. The shadow Chancellor asked some questions in the mix of his lengthy contribution, but he did not apologise for his role in the banking crisis. However, I shall respond to his tests. First, we have achieved international agreement with our European partners to implement Vickers through capital requirements directive 4 and capital requirements regulation. We have achieved that goal and are working to introduce a binding leverage ratio with international partners. Vickers can, therefore, be implemented through the existing international regulatory framework.

The shadow Chancellor talked about a banking union. Banking union is a product of the requirement for fiscal union and will be needed to promote stability in the eurozone, but that will not flow through to non-eurozone EU member states—an important distinction to make. Banking union is about the sustainability of the eurozone, not the EU.

The shadow Chancellor asked about hedging. Sir John Vickers recognised the need to ensure that retail customers and small businesses could access the hedging products necessary to manage risk on their balance sheets. However, we have gone beyond Vickers in imposing higher and tighter standards on how derivatives can be managed by a ring-fenced bank.

I have set out a clear programme of reform that responds to the mistakes of the previous Government and ensures a stable and sustainable banking system that underpins, not undermines, economic growth.

The White Paper just published contains an impact assessment, paragraph 104 of which makes clear a point that we heard in extensive evidence—that costs to small businesses will rise as a consequence of these proposals. We also heard evidence that the scale of the rise would depend on the Government’s decision on the design of the ring fence. They have now published a lead option for that design, so what is their estimate of the increased cost of these proposals to small business lending?

We have considered Sir John’s recommendations carefully, including the cost on banks, the economy and business, but we felt it was in the interest of business to ensure that a wider range of products could be sold within the ring fence, including complex ones such as derivatives. We set out, in our cost-benefit analysis, to look at the cost of the package as a whole, not to break it up into particular areas. I am confident, however, that we will have a more stable banking system in a position to lend to business on a more sustainable basis. Through these reforms, we hope to increase competition in the banking system, which is in the interests of small businesses and will help to improve competition on price. I think, therefore, that this is a good package for businesses and will ensure the stability of the economy.

Next Thursday, there will be a debate in the House on the mis-selling of derivative and hedging products to small businesses, yet the Minister has announced that these will be allowed inside the ring fence. His excuse is that there will be stricter regulation, but are these not high-risk products that should not be mixed up with deposits in retail banks?

The hon. Gentleman follows these matters carefully. I do not know whether he, like me, has a fixed-rate mortgage, but that is actually a form of derivative. These products are widely used and there is a need for them. It is in the interests of businesses that such products be within the ring fence—it will provide much more control over their sale—although it is important to supervise properly the conduct of the banks selling them. The Financial Conduct Authority is well placed to provide that supervision, and with the tougher powers we have given it, that supervision will apply not only to retail customers but to business customers.

Does my hon. Friend think it amazing, as I do, that the Opposition seem to take no responsibility for the tripartite regulation system that led to the complete disaster we have seen? I congratulate him on working to ensure that such a lack of accountability never happens again. Does he agree, however, that more can and needs to be done on new competition in banking, particularly on access for new banking entrants? Will he continue to assess—I keep asking him this—bank account portability, because it would be a game changer in the banking sector?

My hon. Friend, who is right to point out the lack of an apology from the Opposition for their role in the crisis, has persistently raised account portability. She will know that Sir John Vickers considered this matter in the report but opted for improvements to the switching process to make it easier and more straightforward for customers. It is important that we pursue that, although full account portability will be an option if the former does not prove effective. We also welcome the work that the FSA and the Bank of England are doing looking at the requirements on new entrants to the banking system to ensure that both the conduct and prudential requirements are appropriate and not disproportionate.

On banking reform, would it not have been appropriate to make at least some reference to the outright greed of those who head the banks or to the millions of pounds that some of them get each year? Why no such condemnation—or is it the case that this Tory-led Government could not care less? What is all this business about “We’re all in it together”? It does not appear so, does it?

The hon. Gentleman should reflect for a moment on what happened when his Government were in power. Bankers were able to take their bonuses in cash in the year they were paid, while Lord Mandelson said that he was “intensely relaxed” about the filthy rich. What we have done since we came to office is put in place the toughest and most transparent pay regime of a major financial centre and ensured that shareholders have a stronger voice over bank pay. We have tackled the problem, which the previous Government simply neglected and allowed to fester and develop, thereby contributing towards the crisis that we have seen in the banking sector.

Two of the core reasons why the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats came together in coalition were to stabilise our public finances and to reform Britain’s broken banking sector. Our constituents tell us that they want more banks that specialise in lending to small and medium-sized businesses, as well as ethical providers, such as Triodos bank, which is based in my constituency. Will the Minister undertake to smooth the path through regulation for new entrants and also make it easier for people to move their money from existing banks to new providers?

My hon. Friend makes some important points. We need to make the regime easier when it comes to authorising banks, which is why the Bank and the FSA are looking at prudential and conduct requirements, to ensure that they are appropriate and not disproportionate, which is one of the criticisms that many potential new entrants make. However, he is also right that once we have new entrants to the market, they need to be able to attract business from other banks. We need to ensure that customers are able to switch their accounts more easily. An industry-led initiative will be launched later this year which will help with that, but it is also important that customers understand the costs of their accounts and are able to use that money to help them shop around and opt for better-quality or new providers, so that there is much more choice and diversity in the market.

Considering that the banks are directly responsible for the great recession that we have experienced since 2008, is the Minister not concerned that delaying the implementation of the reforms until 2019, as reported in the press today, will leave seven years for the so-called golden goose to hold a golden gun to the heads of ordinary working people and the real economy, and give ample time for the all-powerful financial lobby to water down the proposals?

What we have been clear about, following the Vickers proposals on the timing of implementation—Vickers suggested that the measures should be implemented by 2019—is that we are taking steps now to ensure that there is a framework in place, so that banks understand what the rules will be and can respond. Today’s White Paper is part of that, and we will produce a draft Bill later, which will be subject to pre-legislative scrutiny as well. There will therefore be a transparent process to ensure that we implement the proposals. The proposals that Sir John Vickers made, such as ring-fencing, are vital to ensure the stability of the banking system and the stability of the economy.

In the 14 months since the publication of John Vickers’s interim report, which other major global financial centres have gone down the route of proposing either a ring fence along these lines or the gold-plating of capital requirements, which is also proposed, on top of Basel III, which was supposed to harmonise capital arrangements?

A number of countries have argued for the freedom to go further and impose higher capital surcharges—Switzerland is one and Sweden, which has introduced higher capital surcharges, is another. It is our responsibility to ensure that we protect the stability of the UK economy and the interests of the taxpayer, and respond to the structure of the banking system in the UK. Bank balance sheets in the UK are many times larger than our economy. We are much more exposed to risk. It is therefore right that we should take actions in the UK that help to protect the economy and the taxpayer, which is why we are introducing these proposals today.

The Scottish Finance Secretary and the Scottish First Minister have said that if Scotland were to become a separate country, the Bank of England would remain the lender of last resort, while UK regulatory authorities would still oversee Scottish institutions. Can the Minister tell us what representations the Government have received from the Scottish Government and whether he is aware of any other EU country that does not have its own central bank or regulatory regime?

The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting question. There are some important questions to be answered about how the banks would be regulated if Scotland were to become independent. As I made clear in my response to the shadow Chancellor, a fiscal union needs its own system of banking supervision and its own resolution arrangements, and it is hard to see quite how things would work for an independent Scotland.

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for his statement today, and also for these measures, which go a long way in dealing with the “too big to fail” problem, and in some ways deal with the “too small to start” problem. He will be aware that in the last 100 years, only one ab initio banking licence has been granted. Part of the problem is a reluctance on the part of officials at the FSA to grant new banking licences. Will he look again at the issue of competition in the Prudential Regulatory Authority, in order to try to help challenger banks enter the marketplace?

My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I have said, the Bank and the FSA are looking at prudential and conduct requirements to ensure that they are proportionate. However, the other thing I would say is that the implicit guarantee enjoyed by our bigger banks distorts competition. Our reforms tackle that, helping to create a more level playing field for new entrants and enabling them to compete properly with established players.

The Minister will know that four weeks ago today the liquidation of the largest bank to have gone bust in Britain—BCCI—was completed, after 21 years. The foundation of the system introduced by the last, Labour Government was the Bingham report. The first part has been published; the second part is still confidential. As far as I know, only successive Chancellors have read it. Has the Minister read the second, confidential part, and does he not think it is time to publish it, so that we can have a proper understanding of the reforms that he has set before the House today?

I know that the right hon. Gentleman has raised this matter on a number of occasions, and I am not going to give a different answer from those that I or the Chancellor have given before.

I congratulate my hon. Friend on the measures relating to bail-in and depositor preference in particular. However, I am sure he will remember that under the last Government the FSA came under political pressure. Will his measures deal with that and ensure that, in future, banks are resolved under the rule of law?

It is important that independent regulators exist and that their independence is credible. Going back to the FSA’s report on the RBS failure, it was interesting that the FSA clearly came under sustained pressure from the shadow Chancellor and the then Prime Minister to have a light-touch regulatory system, and we have seen the consequence of that. It is important that there are clear rules to ensure that regulators act independently and that their regulation is seen to be credible. The shadow Chancellor should recognise that he got it wrong when he called for light-touch regulation and championed it throughout the world.

Given the double-dip recession and the continuing fall in net lending to businesses, what exactly are the Minister’s reforms going to do to stimulate the economy? Is there not a risk that we are going for the stability of the graveyard?

The hon. Lady makes an important point about getting the balance right, but let us not forget that the banking crisis cost this economy £140 billion between 2007 and 2009. An unstable banking sector costs the economy dear: it costs jobs, it costs tax revenues and it costs families. The important thing is to ensure that we get the banking system right, so that it is stable and promotes growth, rather than allowing banks to let loose, grow their balance sheets unconstrained and take on risks that they do not understand, which is what happened in the lead-up to the financial crisis, when the shadow Chancellor’s system of regulation was in full swing.

It has always been the case that I would make the statement today. This may come as news to the shadow Chancellor—it may be different from his experience when he was City Minister—but the Treasury is a team. We have worked together on these reforms, and it was always the intention that I would make today’s statement. The shadow Chancellor should not believe what he reads on Twitter.

Having invested so much time advocating EU jurisdiction over banking in the City, how are the Government going to protect the City of London both from that EU jurisdiction and from qualified majority voting?

I think it is very clear that the emerging debate about a banking union flows from the problems we are seeing in the eurozone. It is important that the banking union helps resolve some of the problems in the eurozone, but it is a consequence of having a single currency, not a consequence of having a single market. It is important for the eurozone to move ahead in dealing with its problems and strengthening the banking regime within it. It is also important for the future of the City to ensure that there are proper safeguards over the functioning of the single market.

With a double-dip recession made in Downing street, bank lending having fallen for five consecutive quarters and businesses facing a shortfall of £190 billion in finance over the next decade, why are there no further proposals in the White Paper to diversify the range of banking institutions to make sure that finance gets into the real economy?

I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman has yet read the White Paper. If he had, he would have seen a section on competition that deals with encouraging diversity, making it easier for new entrants to come into the market and promoting switching. When the hon. Gentleman has read the White Paper, he might like to come back to me.

One of the very important and positive aspects of the Government’s reforms has been transparency, particularly over pay and banking products. Will the Minister assure us that there will also be a move to ensure greater transparency over bank lending figures, as small business organisations, and indeed small businesses themselves, tell us that the new lending figures provided often include existing loans and are simply not honest?

My hon. Friend is right, and I think transparency plays a key role in holding the financial system to account. We need to make sure that data on lending is transparent, but we also need to focus on identifying other ways in which we can help small businesses. That is why the Government introduced the national loan guarantee scheme—to help support lending to new businesses. That scheme is working; it is making thousands of loans to small and medium-sized enterprises, which are benefiting from the lower interest rates that the scheme delivers. That is an important way to help businesses grow.

Why will the Treasury not agree to Opposition requests for the Vickers commission to implement a progress report on how the Government are doing with its recommendations? Is it because the Government are trying to water them down?

The process we are going to go through is a very transparent one. We have published a White Paper today, setting out clearly our response—our detailed response—to John Vickers’ recommendations. As I said earlier, we are going to publish a draft Bill, which will be subjected to pre-legislative scrutiny. We are being very transparent about how we are implementing Sir John Vickers’ recommendations. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will work with us and ensure that the recommendations get through, so that we remedy the mistakes of the past.

I welcome the Minister’s proposals for the long-term protection of depositors, but he will be aware that many of us are concerned about the supply of credit to businesses in our economy right now and the impact right now of these long-term proposals. What analysis has the Treasury made of the impact on credit from these proposals in the near term? May I suggest that the Minister continues to monitor the impact with more urgency so that the concerns that have been raised can be assuaged?

Strong banks that are in a position to lend to businesses are absolutely vital to the long-term future of our economy. We have seen that the mistakes of the past eventually catch up with people. They have led to a weakening of bank balance sheets, which are now being strengthened. We need not only strong banks, but schemes in place to sustain bank lending and to ensure a supply of credit to SMEs.

In the week we discovered that a plan put forward to the last Government to prevent the run on Northern Rock was ignored, I warmly welcome these proposals. How will the Minister ensure that as finance changes in the years ahead, the Vickers proposals to ensure separation will always stay up to date with new technology and new techniques?

My hon. Friend makes two important points. He is right to highlight Hector Sants’s comments this week about how the previous Government ignored his proposals, leading to a run on Northern Rock that triggered widespread financial instability. If his proposals had been listened to, we could have had more financial stability, which would have been to the benefit of the economy.

My hon. Friend is also right that finance changes. Part of the problem of the previous Government’s regime was that it did not keep pace with changes in the markets. The previous Government clearly did not understand what was going on in the banking sector, despite the many meetings between the City Minister and the banks, but I think the regime that we are putting in place is forward looking. We will have the Financial Policy Committee looking at emerging threats to financial stability, and both our introduction of the Vickers reforms and the rules of the Prudential Regulation Authority will help to ensure that the ring fence is kept up to date and meets not just the needs of business, but the need for a strong and stable economy.