I beg to move,
That, in the opinion of this House, the Government should commission an independent, forensic, judge-led public inquiry under the Inquiries Act 2005 into the culture and professional standards of the banking industry, to be completed within 12 months, to be paid for by the banks, and that any such inquiry should provide an interim report and recommendations, by the end of 2012, covering the lessons learnt from the scandal of manipulation of the LIBOR.
I rise to open this very important debate, and to support a motion that has been tabled in my name and that of my right hon. Friend the Leader of the Opposition, and in those of the right hon. Member for Belfast North (Mr Dodds), the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd), and the hon. Members for Foyle (Mark Durkan), for Brighton, Pavilion (Caroline Lucas) and for North Down (Lady Hermon). Five separate parties in the House—the Democratic Unionist party, the Scottish National party, Plaid Cymru, the Social Democratic and Labour party and the Green party—have all supported the case for an independent and judge-led public inquiry.
This is a vital moment for our banking and financial services industries, for our economy, and for the reputation of this Parliament. We must today decide how to respond to the massive public anger that has erupted over the past week throughout our country, families and businesses large and small following the revelations of lying and market manipulation which have been exposed at Barclays and which we expect to spread more widely, and of the mis-selling of interest rate derivatives to thousands of small businesses. Those revelations will have also deeply dismayed and angered ordinary bank employees in London and across the country who work hard every day and do vital jobs, and who now see the reputation of their profession undermined by the shocking irresponsibility of a few. There is anger and incomprehension at the fact that traders and executives should behave in such a self-interested and duplicitous way, seemingly without any reckoning or proper punishment.
I will give way in a moment.
That sense of outrage comes on top of a deep and wide public discontent at the huge price that our economy and economies around the world have paid as a result of the gross banking irresponsibility in the run-up to the financial crisis. That price can be measured in billions of pounds in loans gone and debts written off, but it is also felt in the everyday lives of citizens in jobs lost, small businesses gone bankrupt, and living standards undermined. With our economy now back in recession and bank lending to small businesses still falling, it is being felt now—last week, this week, and in the months to come. Trust in our banks is in tatters.
I will give way in a moment, when I have finished my introductory remarks.
The public rightly want answers and actions to prevent this from happening again, but above all they want reassurance that it is not one law for the many, one price paid by the many, and another, softer option for the rich and powerful.
I will give way in a moment.
We need a change not just in laws and practices, but in ethics, culture and responsibility. We need a lasting consensus for the future. Today, in the House, we have a very serious task ahead of us: we have to decide how best that change can be achieved. The way in which we respond will have long-term consequences for the future of banking, for our economy, and also—I say this to Members on both sides of the House—for public trust in this Parliament. We all have a responsibility to get this right together.
Will the right hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to the time when he was the City Minister in the last Government? What action did he take to review the regulatory situation, and did he take any action against the manipulation of LIBOR?
As the hon. Gentleman will know—because I said this yesterday—at no point at any time when I was an adviser or City Minister was it suggested to me by the Financial Services Authority, the Treasury, the Bank of England, or anyone in the House that there was any reason to doubt the integrity of the LIBOR market. The facts came to light only subsequently, and they are now being properly investigated. I hope that that serves as a full answer to the hon. Gentleman.
This is a very important point, which goes to the heart of the issue of trust. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that, as far as he knows, no other Minister at either No. 10 or the Treasury spoke to the Bank of England about LIBOR during his time in office?
Here we go again, Mr Deputy Speaker. The reason we advocate an open public inquiry, judge-led, is precisely in order to get to the bottom of all these things.
Given the direction in which the debate is now going, before I set out the arguments before us today let me just say this to the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The cheap, partisan and desperate way in which he and his aides have conducted themselves in recent days does him no good; it demeans the office that he holds; and, most important, it makes it harder for us to achieve the lasting consensus that we need.
I have to say that what we have seen in the last few days makes the case more eloquently than any speech that I could deliver, or any speech that any of us could deliver, for an independent, arm’s length public inquiry to elevate this debate above the deeply partisan tone set by the Chancellor and his colleagues. As for the false personal accusations that the Chancellor has made against me, not on the basis of any evidence but purely in the hope of political advantage, he said yesterday—[Interruption.] Members should listen to this.
The Chancellor said yesterday that I was “clearly involved” in communicating with the Bank of England and Barclays in October 2008 concerning the LIBOR market, a claim that his aides repeat. He made that utterly baseless accusation before any proper investigation, before any witnesses had been called and before any papers had been examined. He did not say it to an inquiry; he said it yesterday to The Spectator. If he has any evidence, he should produce it now, in the House. [Interruption.] If he will not—[Interruption.]
The allegation made about me yesterday in The Spectator is utterly untrue. At no point did I have any communication, directly or indirectly, with Mr Paul Tucker, at any time when I was an adviser, a Minister, or subsequently a Cabinet Minister, and I had no discussion at any time with anyone about the LIBOR market and its operation. [Interruption.] It is not for me to provide the proof; it is for the Chancellor to prove his allegation. If he has any evidence, he should produce it now, in the House. I will take an intervention now. [Interruption.] If the Chancellor will not provide the evidence now, he needs to stand up at the Dispatch Box now, and withdraw this utterly false allegation.
In the last 48 hours we have discovered two things: first, there is the report commissioned by UBS that Baroness Vadera now says she saw and commented upon; secondly, we have learned from the personal account of Bob Diamond’s telephone call with Paul Tucker that senior figures in Whitehall contacted Paul Tucker, and Bob Diamond said in his evidence to the Treasury Committee that they were Ministers. In the last 24 hours, we have had the shadow Chancellor say it might have been Treasury Ministers at the time, and we have had the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer say they definitely were not from the Treasury, but maybe from elsewhere in Government. Will the shadow Chancellor explain what Labour’s involvement was? Who were the Ministers? Who had the conversation? Who were the senior figures? Let him answer for his time in office.
The House and the public will judge the integrity of a Chancellor who cannot defend here what he whispers to The Spectator magazine. He has no evidence, and he knows it, because what he said is not true, and he knew that too.
Let me read out what he said to The Spectator. He said:
“They were clearly involved…That’s Ed Balls, by the way.”
That is the allegation; it is utterly false and untrue.
I say again to the Chancellor that he should either present the evidence or withdraw the allegation about me right now. I have to say that the sight of a Chancellor who says one thing to the press but cannot defend himself in Parliament is embarrassing to that office.
The former chief executive of Barclays said this yesterday to the Treasury Committee. He said what Paul Tucker
“was trying to tell me was, ‘Bob, there are Ministers in Whitehall who are hearing that Barclays is always high. That could lead to the impression that you are not funding yourself.’”
Does the shadow Chancellor know who those Ministers were?
I am very sorry, but we cannot have a Chancellor of the Exchequer who behaves in this way. He made an utterly personal allegation about me. He said:
“They were clearly involved…That’s Ed Balls, by the way.”
I have said unequivocally that that is utterly untrue. The Chancellor should either provide the evidence or withdraw the allegation. We should not have to wait for an inquiry for the Chancellor to withdraw a false allegation made about me, which he has no evidence for, and which he knows is utterly untrue.
I have to say that the Chancellor’s behaviour will appal the public, who, rightly in my view, are unpersuaded that any of us—any of this generation of politicians, regulators and bankers—are currently rising to the challenge and putting right the wrongs for which they are paying a heavy price.
I will not give way now.
The reality is that we must all admit that regulation should have been tougher, including those who argued for less regulation. I say to the Chancellor that I will await, and press for, his withdrawal and apology day after day until I get it. All of us on both sides of this House need to show a little more humility, including the Chancellor—and the Prime Minister, too.
I am more than willing to attend an inquiry and answer any questions. What the public will ask about this Chancellor and this Prime Minister as they listen to this debate is, why are they not prepared to do the same in the public interest? That is the question they will ask.
Let me turn to the motion. The Government have three declared objections to a judicial public inquiry: scope, speed and form. Let me take each in turn. First, on scope, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor argue that we have already had the Vickers commission on banking, which reported last September, and now the Financial Services Authority will report. They say we do not need to have a more broad-based inquiry that, in their view, will lead to more uncertainty. “Get on with it,” they say, and it is right that there are a number of important questions that need to be asked about the LIBOR scandal, not least why, when this market was investigated by the British Bankers Association in 2008, the then chair, now Lord Stephen Green, gave it a clean bill of health. We need to look at these issues, including, if the Treasury and the BBA urged tougher regulation when they discussed LIBOR on 5 March 2012, when the Financial Secretary was asked the next day in Committee whether we needed a change in law, why did he say no? These are important questions that need to be addressed.
The issues go much wider, however. A member of the Vickers commission said earlier this week that
“banks, as presently constituted and managed, cannot be trusted to perform any publicly important function, against the perceived interests of their staff. Today’s banks represent the incarnation of profit-seeking behaviour taken to its logical limits, in which the only question asked by senior staff is not what is their duty or their responsibility, but what can they get away with.”
That is what a Vickers commission member says.
Given all the banking scandals to which my right hon. Friend has alluded, how will the banks be able to play a fundamental and trustworthy role in the economic growth and future of this country without our having an independent judge-led inquiry?
That is a very important point. Banks play a very important role in our economy. Hundreds of thousands of jobs depend on our retail and global wholesale banking industry. It would be very dangerous to take risks with that industry and those jobs. It makes no sense to throw the baby out with the bathwater. I say to the Chancellor, and those who use the importance of our financial services industry as an argument against a broad-based inquiry, that they badly under-estimate both public anger and what needs to be done, because banking is a profession which above all needs trust, and that trust is currently badly undermined.
The Chancellor said earlier this week:
“We know what went wrong”.—[Official Report, 2 July 2012; Vol. 547, c. 613.]
When the public hear that, I do not think they believe him. That is the problem. In the light of recent events, when they find out that the Government have decided, against the recommendation of Sir John Vickers, to allow complex derivatives inside the retail bank ring fence, they think, “Well, could this allow the appalling mis-selling to happen again?”
Let me quote to the House the comments of Mr Martin Wolf, a member of the Vickers commission, who was asked last week whether he agreed that any sort of derivative should not be sold to a retail bank. He was asked whether they should be kept separate, and he replied:
“We wanted to separate them completely and the Government has gone back on that and we think that is really quite dangerous. It leads to the very serious risk of mis-selling which we have seen has been a constant theme of the relationship between retail banks and relatively inexperienced, uninformed clients.”
That is right, and that is why a LIBOR inquiry is not enough. We need to look at these Vickers issues as well.
The shadow Chancellor may know that a constituent of mine is a former Labour Treasury Minister whom I unseated at the last election. For her sake, if not for mine, will he tell us who were the Ministers Bob Diamond was referring to?
We return to the smears of the Chancellor and his aides. We have had answers to that question from the City Minister at the time, the Chancellor and Shriti Vadera. I have asked the Chancellor to provide the evidence or withdraw and apologise, and he cannot. That says quite a lot about the Treasury team that he leads.
It is our view that a comprehensive review of the whole culture of banking must start with the conduct of bankers and traders, look at the institutions in which they operate, and cascade outwards into the rules, corporate governance, industry approaches and regulatory and legal frameworks in which banks have done business in past decades. There are many important, searching questions that we need to answer, and the only way to answer them—I have them here, but for reasons of time I will not go through them all—is through the broad-based inquiry that we need, not a narrow, LIBOR-based inquiry.
Does the right hon. Gentleman think it was a mistake to set up the tripartite regulatory structure, in which everyone and no one seems to have been responsible? He does not seem to know which part of his Government was doing what.
When the Conservatives gave reasons in Parliament at the time for opposing the establishment of the new regulator, did they talk about the tripartite system? The shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury, who was the lead on this issue at the time, said in 1999:
“Our concerns about the Bill may be said to fall into two general areas. The first is the very wide power still vested in the FSA and the danger that any concentrated executive power can lead to abuse.”
We know all about that from this Chancellor and his reforms.
“The second is the danger of over-regulation, with consequential damage to the United Kingdom’s position.” —[Official Report, 28 June 1999; Vol.334, c. 44.]
Perhaps the hon. Member for South West Norfolk (Elizabeth Truss) needs to go back and read the Hansard of the time.
The Government’s second objection to a full judicial inquiry is one of speed. As the Prime Minister said on Monday—
I need to make some progress. This is a very important issue and others want to speak. I have taken a number of interventions. I have to say, I am still waiting for the intervention that I want—the apology from the Chancellor. [Interruption.]
The Government’s second objection to a full judicial inquiry is one of speed. On Monday, the Prime Minister said that we need to just get on with it. We agree. We need to move ahead as quickly as possible. That is why the Leader of the Opposition has proposed a two-stage process for a judge-led review. Stage one: an immediate review into LIBOR and derivatives. Start now, conclude by Christmas, establish it immediately, meet through the summer—five days a week, if necessary—and without any need to stop for the summer recess. Then, there is a second stage, to be finished within 12 months from now, looking into the wider issues of banking practice that we have identified. That is a timetable that past inquiries have shown can be delivered.
I am not going to take an intervention from that hon. Gentleman.
While we need speed, we also need the inquiry to be thorough and genuinely cathartic, and to succeed in rebuilding public trust and confidence, or else we risk being back here again.
The third argument the Government employ is one of form: that, compared to a full judicial inquiry, a parliamentary inquiry can do the job just as well in less time, and with less cost. We do not believe that that argument holds water, but more important, it does not take on board the scale of the task ahead.
The hon. Lady should listen before she concludes whether to support our motion later on.
First, all the recent experience of the phone hacking scandal suggests that only a judge-led inquiry, under the Inquiries Act 2005—[Interruption.] Every time that Members interrupt me mid-sentence, I just conclude that I am not going to take their interventions. Why do you not listen and have some respect for this House and our debates? Have some respect for the arguments being made.
I will make the point and then take the intervention.
First, all the recent experience of the phone hacking scandal—[Interruption.] The Chancellor should listen—unless he is composing his apology. We should consider the recent experience of the phone hacking scandal and all the deliberations we see in, for example, the very important report on the details and reality of Select Committees and coercive powers, entitled “Select Committees and Coercive Powers—Clarity or Confusion?”, from the Constitution Society. All the experience shows that only a judge-led inquiry can have the necessary power to compel witnesses to attend and ensure the production—
I am not going to take an intervention from the hon. Gentleman, who interrupts every sentence. It is not good for the House or this debate, and I suggest that he stay in his seat.
I will say the sentence again, Mr Deputy Speaker, if that is okay with you—[Interruption.]
I will take the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s intervention, but I will make the point on powers first. I will do this in a proper way, Mr Deputy Speaker.
All the recent experience is that only a judge-led inquiry can have the necessary power to compel witnesses to attend and to ensure the production of documents, with powers of enforcement that make it a criminal offence to fail to comply—under section 35 of the relevant legislation, the penalty is 51 weeks or a £1,000 fine—or High Court powers of enforcement for contempt of court, under section 36. The problem is that Select Committees, in the modern legal world, just do not have the same powers in law to force witnesses to attend or to give evidence on oath, and nor do they have the necessary sanctions. The last time Parliament—
No. I will take the intervention from the Attorney-General next, thank you.
The last time Parliament imposed a fine for contempt of court was before the great fire of London in 1666. The last time a member of the public was imprisoned for contempt was before the Boer war. Select Committees do not have these powers.
I am very grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. I intervene on one key point. It is clear from what he says that he desires that the preliminary part of his judicially led inquiry should produce recommendations on the lessons to be learned from the scandal of the manipulation of LIBOR as quickly as possible and by the end of the year. The question whether there is to be a criminal investigation is not in my hands or, indeed, those of anybody in this House. The idea that such an inquiry can be run in tandem with a criminal investigation is, I am afraid, impossible.
We know that this proposal was cobbled together over the course of Monday. I wonder whether the Prime Minister and the Chancellor had the opportunity to consult the Attorney-General before they made this proposal. If we cannot have a judge-led inquiry until the criminal prosecution has been done, how can we possibly have a parliamentary inquiry? Exactly the same argument was made—
In a second. I am still waiting for the Chancellor to make his intervention.
The second point is that exactly the same argument was made in the case of phone hacking—that we could not have the inquiry until the criminal prosecutions had been done. But that is not what has happened with the Leveson report.
Is not the whole point about having a judge-led inquiry that judges are perfectly used to circumventing—making sure they go round the corners, so that they do not prejudice any criminal investigation? For that matter, all the serious evidence that has appeared in the public domain from phone hacking has come from the civil courts, through the Norwich pharmacal process, or from the judge requiring a statement of truth from all those providing evidence.
My hon. Friend is right, and I fear that the Attorney-General has just completely destroyed the basis of his own Government’s parliamentary inquiry. We know from experience that when the subject of a public inquiry overlaps with the prospect of criminal charges and trials, only a judge has the legal skills and credibility to conduct that inquiry without crossing the line of what is acceptable. That is what Lord Leveson showed and that is what parliamentary inquiries have been unable to do on phone hacking.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way. So far as the Leveson inquiry is concerned, that question was recognised at the time that it was set up. It is for that reason that it was split in two. Lord Justice Leveson has been at great pains to avoid interfering with the process, but the process contemplated in the motion tabled by the right hon. Gentleman and others envisages, as I read it, that the part of the inquiry dealing with the scandal of manipulation should take place at once. I have made the point as to why I think that that is extremely difficult.
The right hon. Gentleman then raised a second point, which was that that argument could also apply to referring the matter to a Joint Committee of both Houses. If I may say so, he is correct in that. It could present such a difficulty, but I note that there is no prescriptive timetable laid down for the working of the Joint Committee and I have no doubt—[Interruption.] I am sure that despite parliamentary privilege the Joint Committee will have to adapt to any criminal investigation or inquiry that takes place. However, that makes no difference to the fact that, as drafted, the right hon. Gentleman’s motion appears to me to have a fundamental problem associated with it.
I hear the right hon. and learned Gentleman’s points and I only wish the Prime Minister would talk to his own legal adviser. As far as I can see, the Attorney-General has entirely torpedoed the inquiry, which we were told yesterday would conclude by Christmas. If he is saying that the inquiry can take longer in order to deal with the issue of criminal charges, what does that make of the Prime Minister’s argument that the only reason for doing it this way was to do it faster? It is utterly incoherent. I am not saying in any way that the Attorney-General is being incoherent—it is just the Chancellor and the Prime Minister who have completely lost their grip on this whole process.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the legal advice that we seem to have heard on the hoof just now casts a whole new light on the debate? The Government’s argument all week for a Joint Committee of both Houses has been that it could proceed with its work quickly, whereas we have just heard an argument suggesting that precisely the same objections as the Attorney-General made to our proposals could be made to the Government’s proposals.
It is no surprise that the Chancellor has gone completely white as he sits on the Front Bench. Let us be honest: he did not consult the Culture Secretary on a tax on churches; he did not consult the Transport Secretary on a U-turn on fuel; and he did not consult the Law Officers on the inquiry—
I am sorry that the right hon. Gentleman is being so obtuse about what seems to me to be a fairly clear issue. The motion he has tabled is, for the reasons I have given to him, unlikely to be feasible if there is a criminal investigation. He then conflated that with the suggestion that there could not be any kind of inquiry by a Joint Committee of both Houses. That is simply not the case. Of course there can be, provided that it bears in mind the need to respect comity with any other court or proceedings that might be taking place. It is the structure that the—
I have to say that there would be no point taking an intervention from the part-time Chancellor on this point, as he clearly does not have a clue what is going on. The confusion is that the timetable that we have set down for our first-stage judicial inquiry is exactly the same as that which the Government announced for their parliamentary inquiry. If it is too short for one, how can it be the right length for the other? More than that, my argument was that when we are discussing complex issues that require fine legal judgment, the idea that judges would make that fine legal judgment in a worse way than a parliamentary Committee is nonsensical. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has done a very great service to this House. I had four objections to the form of the inquiry, but it has been torpedoed while I am only halfway through.
I have a feeling that the Attorney-General’s interventions might have completely killed off the parliamentary inquiry, but there are two more reasons why it is a bad idea.
Order. I point out that this is a time-limited debate and a substantial number of Members wish to contribute. All the noise and the number of interventions will mean that several Members will be disappointed. May we please hear Ed Balls in silence?
I am extremely grateful to the shadow Chancellor for giving way. On the question of the alternatives of a Select Committee and a judicial inquiry, it is perfectly clear that we can make any necessary adjustments through our Standing Orders on such issues as taking evidence on oath, for example. I will seek to explain that in more detail if I get the opportunity to make a speech.
The hon. Gentleman has proposed that a QC could advise the Committee; perhaps he will make that proposal later. Those important points take us down the road towards the judicial inquiry. The problem is—and this is my third objection—that experience shows that only a judge-led inquiry can ensure the necessary forensic cross-examination of witnesses, prevent witnesses from avoiding answering key questions that are important for establishing the truth and, in particular, avoid blanket refusals to answer questions on grounds of legal advice. I would be happy to take an intervention from the Attorney-General on this point, because we have seen it happen in parliamentary hearings.
The argument is that a witness before a parliamentary inquiry can say on legal advice that they will not answer a question, but in a judge-led inquiry the judge has the ability to explain to the witness why answering the question in the particular form set by him according to his legal judgment will not cross the line. Unless a judge is properly testing the boundary between self-incrimination and the answers that must be given for a proper inquiry, we cannot make progress. That would be doubly the case with the prospect of criminal investigations, which might take some years down the track. On the question of witnesses not incriminating themselves, it seems to me that the evidence shows—perhaps the Attorney-General will correct me—that it is impossible for a parliamentary inquiry to call any witness who might be implicated in the LIBOR scandal without the witness saying, “On legal advice, I will say nothing.” The inquiry cannot work like that. Only a judge can sort this out.
Does the shadow Chancellor accept that a Select Committee can ask a witness to release information covered by client-attorney privilege, as the Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport did in the phone hacking inquiry? That information cannot be requested by a public inquiry because it is covered by the same remit as a civil court. A parliamentary inquiry can request and receive information that a public inquiry cannot and, in the case of the phone hacking inquiry, that led to the production of the most significant information of the entire inquiry.
All my experience—and there are many Members on both sides of the House who have more detailed experience than I have—is that Select Committees find it much harder than a judge-led inquiry to secure the release of necessary and essential documents and, more importantly, to find out which documents they should ask for in the first place.
Finally, and above all in our view—and I note that the Attorney-General did not correct me on the calling of witnesses, but perhaps he will advise the Chancellor for his speech—only a judge-led inquiry can truly persuade the public that the inquiry is properly independent and objective and, given the Chancellor’s behaviour, non-partisan.
My hon. Friend makes his point in his own particular way. I was saying that the inquiry needed to be independent, objective and non-partisan, so I understand his concerns. I would probably also understand his bafflement about why the Chancellor and Prime Minister seem to be unwilling to appear before a public inquiry looking at wider issues of culture.
My constituents—like, I think, the right hon. Gentleman’s—want this mess in the banking industry to be cleared up as quickly as possible. They want laws to be changed—and there are two chances this year—they want people to be taken to court and, if necessary, sent to prison; and they want it now, not some time in future. Why can we not get on with it, rather than delay the action that has been delayed for too long?
The right hon. Gentleman has not answered the question I put to him earlier. He says he wishes to have a judge-led inquiry, and he gives some perfectly good reasons—[Interruption.] These are matters of debate. He has been quite unable to explain how, in the light of the fact that at the same time there is a desire for a criminal investigation, those two can be reconciled. He has come to the Dispatch Box to criticise the Government for their approach, so that is a question he ought to be capable of answering, or receiving legal advice on how to answer it. It is a real problem, not an artificial or concocted one, and he has not provided that answer at all.
It is a pity not only that the right hon. and learned Gentleman was not consulted before the inquiry was announced but that he is not leading for the Government today instead of the part-time Chancellor, as that would probably be a more enlightening debate. Let me repeat exactly what I said in my speech. When the subject—[Interruption.] I am going to answer the question, but it does not help if the Treasury Whip shouts from a sedentary position. If he wants to join the Chancellor and withdraw his allegations he can do so.
Let me repeat my answer to the question. When the subject of the public inquiry overlaps with the prospect of criminal charges and trials, it is our judgment that only a judge, as we have seen in the Leveson inquiry, has the legal skills and credibility to conduct that wider inquiry without crossing the acceptable line. A parliamentary Committee will never be able to do so. The reality is that there will be stalemate—witnesses not answering questions, documents not revealed—and we will not make progress. We adopted the Government’s timetable for the first stage of the inquiry, because we thought they had thought it through, but it turns out that they had not done so.
I will give way to the hon. Lady in a moment—[Interruption.] There is no need for any favours like that to get me to—[Laughter.]
Let me summarise the case for a public inquiry as simply as I can by quoting from a higher authority. Let me quote from a call for an independent public inquiry on banking:
“Is not the truth that in Britain people are losing their homes, small businesses are closing, unemployment is rising and manufacturing output is falling again and that, by refusing to hold a public inquiry, the Prime Minister is yet again demonstrating that he cannot provide the change people want?”—[Official Report, 5 November 2008; Vol. 482, c. 247.]
I could not have put it better myself. But those are not my words. They are directly from the right hon. Member for Witney—Cameron direct. I checked this morning and the quote is still on the Conservative party website, under the headline, “Why won’t the Prime Minister hold a public enquiry?” It even has a photo of the current Prime Minister there for us all to see. He said we need an independent inquiry. That was on 5 November 2008. How things have changed, for all of us. I know that the Prime Minister makes such a virtue of consistency, so I hope he will join us in the Lobby tonight for another Treasury U-turn—they just keep coming for this Chancellor.
Let me turn to the votes. I have set out three concerns—scope, speed and form—which we are told are the reasons the Government object to our proposal for an independent judge-led inquiry. I have explained why we do not believe that any of these arguments stack up—to be honest, the Attorney-General has been very helpful in this regard. We urge hon. Members to think hard. I said I would take an intervention from the hon. Member for Broxtowe (Anna Soubry), so I will take that first.
I am grateful to the shadow Chancellor, a fine Nottingham boy, and I am enjoying his contribution. We all agree that this is an outrageous scandal and we need to get to the bottom of it, but does he not also agree that out there in the real world people want to hear a little acceptance of responsibility and a little contrition from him, because he was a member of the Government when this scandal happened and it was on his watch?
Despite trying to intervene, the hon. Lady has been listening to my speech and so will have heard me say that mistakes were made and humility is needed from Members on both sides of the House. As a former barrister, she will also know, as will many Members on both sides of the House who have worked in the law, accounting or financial services, that the highest standards of integrity not only are necessary, but need to be seen if they are to command public confidence. That is the argument for our inquiry. I ask her and hon. Members on both sides of the House to think hard and support our motion today to put the banking industry on a sound footing.
We hope to win the argument this afternoon. We aim to persuade hon. Members to vote with us and support our motion. We recognise that the Government have a majority and intend to whip the vote tonight. If our motion is unsuccessful and the Government railroad through a parliamentary inquiry—they may be reconsidering now—we will continue to make the case for a full judicial inquiry. If further banking scandals emerge, as I fear they will, people will look back at this moment and conclude that the Government failed to grasp the opportunity.
I do not know the answer to my hon. Friend’s question; I do know that the open process of the Leveson inquiry has been challenging to Members on both sides of the House—but rightly so. If questions are raised, in an open judicial inquiry, about past regulatory decisions, that is right and proper; if they are raised about decisions made in the mid-1980s, that is right and proper; and if questions are raised about the financing of political parties and where donations comes from, that is right and proper as well.
We should have no fear of answering those questions, but, from what we have heard from Government Front Benchers, we know that the Government have no intention of holding such a full, open, public inquiry; they want an inquiry on the shortest timetable and in the narrowest way. The Attorney-General has told us why one cannot be held on a timetable for completion by Christmas, but let me remind him what the Prime Minister said on Monday:
“The Vickers Bill—the banking Bill—will be introduced in the House of Commons in January, and I want an inquiry to be completed by then so that we can take the best of that inquiry and put it in the Bill.”—[Official Report, 2 July 2012; Vol. 547, c. 590.]
But if that inquiry cannot do the job, how will we end up with the best? We will end up with the worst of all worlds.
It would help if the right hon. Gentleman listened, rather than getting carried away with his own rhetoric. There is nothing to prevent this House, if it wishes, from setting up a joint inquiry of both Houses into—[Interruption.] The “banking industry” is the way it was described, and that is what is in the motion—[Interruption.] Yes, to incorporate LIBOR—I make that quite clear.
Obviously, and this point applies as much to the right hon. Gentleman’s motion as to any other step, if there are criminal investigations or inquiries, any inquiry by this House will have to be managed in the light of that process—[Interruption.] Yes, it will have to be managed, because it must not interfere with that process. But, for the Government to support a motion for a judicial inquiry that cannot even get off the ground if criminal inquiries and investigations are taking place would be a rather odd thing for the Government to do, because such an inquiry could not happen.
The right hon. Gentleman has made a mistake in relation to the motion—
Order, Mr Balls.
Order means order for Front Benchers on the Government side as well. I understand that the Attorney-General is trying to be helpful to the House, but he has made several interventions, they have all been too long and I hope that we can move on now with the debate.
The Attorney-General is not right on that issue. It is far more dangerous to have a parliamentary inquiry, because article 9 of the Bill of Rights says that no court can impeach a proceeding in Parliament. Some witnesses who might want to evade justice might, therefore, choose to come to a parliamentary Committee to say things, so that they do not then get sued in court.
I understand the points made by Members on both sides of the House.
Before I summarise, let me say to the Attorney-General that I have tried to listen very carefully to his contributions. There have been many of them, all have been helpful and constructive and they have helped us to understand the challenges that we face rather better than we had done on the basis of the Chancellor’s contributions in recent days.
Let me say also that, if at any point I misrepresent the right hon. and learned Gentleman, I will always in an honourable way correct the record in this House—not, as we now know, a standard of behaviour that we can expect from the Chancellor in this House.
To summarise, the argument goes as follows. Point one is that the Attorney-General does not believe that it is possible to have a proper, thorough investigation into all the details of the LIBOR market by the end of the year. I understand that; I hear his argument. Our argument is that a judge-led inquiry gives us a better chance of having an investigation into something legally sensitive than a parliamentary inquiry. If one is true and two is true, that means that the Government’s proposal for a parliamentary inquiry by the end of this year is defunct—dead, torpedoed, gone.
That is why, rather than intervening again, the Attorney-General should speak to the Chancellor, call the Prime Minister—wherever he is—and say that they should withdraw these motions, get to the drawing board and come back with a plan that is baked rather than half baked. [Hon. Members: “Plan B!”] Plan B.
A few moments ago, the right hon. Gentleman said that even if the House votes for establishing a Joint Committee, Her Majesty’s official Opposition will continue to press for a judicial inquiry. Will he clarify that? Does that mean that he will be discouraging Members from the Labour party, be they in either House, from co-operating with and taking part in a Joint Committee? Is he going to wreck it?
I was going to come to the votes at this point. I have said that we will vote for our motion. I have said that if that fails, we will continue to press for a full public inquiry because we think that that is the only way to do this properly. The Attorney-General probably agrees with us on that matter now.
Tonight, the Leader of the Opposition and I will vote against the Government’s proposal for a limited parliamentary inquiry, for the reasons I have set out, as currently proposed. On the basis of the contributions we have now heard from the Government Front Bench, the inquiry is not even remotely up to the task ahead.
In answer to the question, put by the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin), about what we would do if we lost the second motion, on the basis of the debate so far and the Attorney-General’s comments, I say to all Members of the House, including the Liberal Democrats, that they should think hard, do the right thing, ignore the Whips and vote for the inquiry that will work.
I am not going to give way because I have answered the hon. Gentleman’s question. [Hon. Members: “No!”] I have.
We want to win this vote for the British people. Set against the depths of malpractice that have now been revealed and the scale of the challenge that we face, our strong belief is that the Government’s decision to reject our call for an independent and judge-led public inquiry is a grave mistake. Only an independent and open public inquiry—not politicians investigating bankers—can rebuild trust. That is our view, and the view of many Opposition Members. The doubters have been persuaded by the Attorney-General. Members on the Government Benches should change their mind—withdraw the motion, do the right thing and let us sort this out once and for all.
Madam Deputy Speaker—[Interruption.]
Order. We are not going to get anywhere in this debate if Members on both sides of the Chamber continue to bawl at each other. It would be a very good idea if we could listen to the Chancellor and proceed with the debate. I am sure that he will be generous in giving way.
I wish to speak to the motion in the name of the Prime Minister.
Today the House must come to a decision about how best to inquire into the LIBOR scandal that has shocked and angered our country and the failure of the culture and standards in banking that allowed it to flourish undetected for so many years. We have spent the last week, and indeed the last hour, arguing over whether a judge or the Members of this Parliament should conduct the inquiry.
Can I just say this before I give way to anyone? Let us bring the argument to an end today. Let us decide. To enable that decision to happen—and this is why, in Government time, the shadow Chancellor opened this debate—we have adopted a procedure without precedent, which is to allow two motions, one from the Opposition and one from the Government, to be debated today. I hope that although the argument has been a fierce one, and I have no doubt that the partisan attacks will continue—
My advice to the Chancellor, on the basis of the Attorney-General’s comments, is to stop the speech, withdraw the motion, and come back next week when he has done the homework. But my intervention is on the partisan tone. Let me ask him this: will he provide the evidence to substantiate the allegations—false allegations—that he made about me yesterday, or will he now withdraw and apologise for those false and untrue allegations? Has he the integrity to do so?
The right hon. Gentleman was the City Minister during the LIBOR scandal. We know, as I said in my interventions on him earlier, that, first, Baroness Vadera admits that she saw the report that was commissioned on the LIBOR rate; and secondly, that Bob Diamond said that Ministers in Whitehall were putting the bank under pressure through the Bank of England. If he is able to tell me—[Interruption.] I am answering his question. I have said that he has questions to answer. [Interruption.] That is precisely what I have said. I want to know the answer to this question: which Labour Ministers were involved?
That is not what the Chancellor said. He said to The Spectator:
“They were clearly involved…That’s Ed Balls, by the way.”
Where is the evidence? He should either put up or shut up—present the evidence or apologise. That is his choice if he has any integrity in this House.
Order. Mr Gwynne, I have already said that I do not expect people continually to shout across the Chamber. I know that people on all sides are angry about this, but we cannot have a debate if we cannot hear what is being said. I ask all Members, including those on the Government side, to bear in mind that our proceedings are being watched by people who are a darn sight angrier than people in this House.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. The best way to abate the anger in the Chamber and to have a calm and proper debate would be for the Chancellor simply to withdraw the accusation that he made against the shadow Chancellor.
I have never seen Labour Members and the shadow Chancellor so rattled about their time in office. We had one hour of an attempt by the former City Minister to defend his conduct when he was in office and these scandals happened, and we have still not had from him a simple apology for what he did—his failure of regulation. He should get up and say not, “We were all involved in this; there were Governments all over the world doing it”, but “I was the City Minister and I am sorry.”
The Chancellor knows what I have said in the past. I have said that people from all parts of the House regret what happened. I have apologised to this House before. I have apologised to the House for the failures of regulation. I am asking the Chancellor to apologise now. He has impugned my integrity. He made the allegation in The Spectator and all over the newspapers that:
“They were clearly involved”
in the 2008 LIBOR scandal. He said:
“That’s Ed Balls, by the way.”
I was named. He has made an allegation, but he has no evidence because there is not any, because it is untrue. He knew that there was no evidence because he knew that it was untrue, and he said it anyway because that is the character of the man. I am saying to him that if he has any integrity, on this narrow point of his allegation, he should stand up now, withdraw the allegation and apologise. And he won’t.
The idea that I am going to take lessons in integrity from a man who smeared his way through 13 years of Labour government and who half the people who served with him think was a disgrace in his post is another thing entirely. Let him redeem himself today by not blocking an inquiry into what happened under the last Government. Take part in the inquiry. You are not prepared to do that.
The shadow Chancellor is creating a smokescreen because the evidence is clear: Ministers in the previous Administration knew of a conversation that took place between Paul Tucker and Bob Diamond. They need to come clean—whether it is shadow Chancellor or the Leader of the Opposition—and answer the question: which Ministers knew about that conversation?
My hon. Friend is right that throughout this debate and over the past two days, not a single Labour Minister from the previous Government has come forward and told us who was involved. Who was involved? Answer the questions. One of you must know. Hands up, come on. One of you must know who was involved.
I want to take the Chancellor back to his comments a few moments ago in which he quoted something that had been said by Mr Diamond before the Treasury Committee. Is not part of the problem that that format does not get to the bottom of these issues? Statements of a general nature were made about some discussion that took place with certain Ministers. Do we not need a judicial inquiry?
I am very grateful that I took that intervention, because right at the end, the hon. Lady said that there were allegations that Ministers had been involved. As I said, it is extraordinary that they are all blaming each other. The people who were in the Treasury are blaming the people who were in No. 10, and the people who were in No. 10 are blaming the people who were in the Treasury. Why do they not take responsibility collectively for the absolute mess that they made of regulating our banks, including the LIBOR market, during their time in government?
Would my right hon. Friend like to speculate on why the Opposition may want the review to be pushed back? He might like to comment on the fact that at that time, the shadow Chancellor was the City Minister, the shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury worked at the Bank of England and the Leader of the Opposition was ducking mobile phones in No. 10.
I have taken some interventions, and many Members want to take part in the debate. The shadow Chancellor spoke for an hour and I have been speaking for 10 minutes, so I will make some progress and then take some more interventions.
For all the fierce argument in the Chamber, let us at least acknowledge that the public are very angry about what happened and want to know how it was allowed to happen and how we can prevent it from happening in future. That is presumably an area of agreement between us. We can also agree that what happened at Barclays bank was completely and utterly unacceptable and demonstrated the triumph of private greed over public good. The FSA report—
I will give way in a moment, but let me make this point.
We all agree that, in the words of the FSA, Barclays
“failed to conduct its business with due skill, care and diligence”,
“take reasonable care to organise and control its affairs responsibly and effectively”
and failed to
“observe proper standards of market conduct”.
We all agree that the misconduct of Barclays created the risk that
“confidence in or the stability of the UK financial system would be threatened.”
We can also agree—this is material to the point about whether there should be a judge-led inquiry or a parliamentary inquiry—that the FSA and the Department of Justice in the United States have done a very effective job in identifying what went wrong after the event. Sadly our regulators failed to see it coming, but the job afterwards has been effective. Now, I think we can all agree that we want the prosecuting authorities to see whether there are legal routes that they can take to bring proceedings against those involved. That is of course a matter for them. In this very partisan debate, that at least is a matter of consensus.
We heard from the Attorney-General that a judge-led inquiry may, in his words, not even get off the ground. The idea that we cannot have a parliamentary inquiry is obvious nonsense, because yesterday the Treasury Committee questioned Bob Diamond on the LIBOR scandal. Of course it is entirely possible for a parliamentary inquiry to take place. Our motion will enable us to get an inquiry under way and assuage the anger of the people of Northern Ireland and the rest of the country.
I am very pleased that the shadow Chancellor has agreed to give evidence to the parliamentary Committee, where he can be held to account for his role in the LIBOR scandal. Does my right hon. Friend the Chancellor agree that others who were involved should be compelled to give evidence, including those who are currently absentee Members of the House?
Of course, all involved need to answer questions. The first thing that we are doing to address the immediate issues with the LIBOR—[Interruption.] There are very serious issues of financial stability that we in the House have to address—[Interruption.] When is the shadow Chancellor going to take some responsibility for his time in office? He takes none whatever.
We have asked Martin Wheatley, the chief executive-designate of the Financial Conduct Authority, to review urgently what reforms are required to the framework for the setting and governing of LIBOR and other price-setting mechanisms in the financial markets.
I will give way in a moment, but let me explain what the FCA’s chief executive-designate will do. It is very important. He will work swiftly and report this summer, so that the Financial Services Bill, which is currently before Parliament, can if necessary be amended and the regulators can acquire the new powers that they need. Yesterday, he responded to the damning FSA report into the failure of RBS with plans for new sanctions for the directors of failed banks, including the possibility of criminal sanctions. I speak for hon. Members on both sides of the House when I say that, sadly, there is a stark difference between the powers available to the UK authorities and those available to their US counterparts. We need to correct that.
Does the Chancellor accept that the Wheatley review can proceed to do its work and inform changes to the Financial Services Bill without prejudice to the inquiry that the Opposition seek in motion 2? The motion does not prevent the Wheatley review, so using the review as an argument against the motion is a red herring.
I was not using the Wheatley review as a reason not to have a public or parliamentary inquiry. I was merely explaining the review for the people out there who care what the Government are doing to regulate the financial markets and who want to hear what we are doing urgently to deal with the transparency and integrity of the LIBOR market.
I was about to explain that a judge-led inquiry would not allow us to amend the law to deal with those problems in this Parliament. That is what I fear from a judge-led inquiry. It simply would not enable us to come to the kind of decisions we need to make in this Parliament. I shall set out exactly why later in my speech.
I support the Chancellor’s firm action in the past few days, but he should know that 12 months ago, the Serious Fraud Office declined to investigate whether LIBOR-rigging gave rise to a breach of the Theft Act and the Fraud Act 2006, and to the criminal offence of conspiracy to defraud. Instead, the SFO shuffled responsibility off to the FSA and the Office of Fair Trading. Will the Chancellor guarantee that, as part of his reforms, he will beef up the SFO so we have a serious prosecuting authority like the one in New York?
My hon. Friend makes a good point, and I agree absolutely with his instinct. We need to look at giving more criminal powers to our prosecuting bodies. One thing that Lord Turner has said is that, unfortunately, the FSA does not have the criminal powers it needs—[Interruption.] While the hon. Member for Islington South and Finsbury (Emily Thornberry) interrupts me from a sedentary position, let me say this: Lord Turner has said that it is a matter of regret that the FSA does not have those criminal powers available to it. That is precisely one of the things we need to look at this year to see whether we can amend the law this year. The second point I would make to address the point she makes from a sedentary position is that the SFO is completely independent of the Government of the day. It is actively looking at what criminal powers are available to it. The director of the SFO has said that he will be able to tell us how he will proceed by the end of the month. The hon. Lady wants to persuade me that the law unfortunately does not give us all the criminal sanctions we need to deal with financial crime in the way that we deal with crime on our high street, but I absolutely agree with her. The people responsible for that situation are Labour Members.
All hon. Members want wrongdoers in both the authorities and the banks rooted out, but does the Chancellor agree that we need swift action so we can attract investors to this country and start to build up our economy? Is not that what our constituents want to hear about?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. This is not just about assuaging public anger; it is also about restoring any damage that has been done to the reputation of the City of London and ensuring that London remains the pre-eminent financial centre in the world.
I have already given way quite a lot. I shall make some progress and then give way again. I want to come to the heart of the issue dividing the House today: the question of whether we should have a public judge-led inquiry or a parliamentary inquiry. The Opposition have completely forgotten that one of the first things the Government did was to set up an independent inquiry under John Vickers—the independent commission on banking—that took evidence in public and comprised a panel of experts who came forward with proposals to ring-fence the retail banks and completely change the structure of banking. That was never proposed, let alone enacted, in 13 years of a Labour Government.
We have already had an independent inquiry into the structure of banking. The question, then, is what type of inquiry we should now have into the professional standards and culture in the banking industry. Let me explain why I think a public judge-led inquiry would be a mistake and why a parliamentary inquiry is the right approach. First, there is a general principle that judge-led inquiries be used when other forms of investigation have completely failed. Of course, everyone here has mentioned the Leveson inquiry, but that was set up because of the failure of police investigations. In Ireland, the Bloody Sunday inquiry was set up because of the community’s anxiety about the investigations into Bloody Sunday. No one here doubts that the Financial Services Authority and the US Justice Department have been effective in trying to find out what was happening on the trading floor of Barclays when these things took place. There is no question, therefore, of a failed investigation. We have had a detailed investigation, and now we have to act on its conclusions.
I will give way in a moment, when I have made my arguments about the public inquiry.
Secondly, judge-led public inquiries take an incredibly long time to conclude. I shall set out my evidence. In the motion, the Opposition want an inquiry established under the Inquiries Act 2005. There have been 14 inquiries under that Act, seven of which are still ongoing or have not been published because of criminal proceedings—remember, as we hear, there could be criminal proceedings in this case—and one of which was set up seven years ago and still has not been published.
The shortest inquiry established at the outset under the Act—into the tragic loss of life following the explosion at the ICL Plastics factory in Glasgow—took one year and five months. No other inquiry established from the outset under the Act has taken less than two years. Frankly, the idea that a widespread judge-led public inquiry into the culture and professional standards in Britain’s largest industry would take place much quicker than a public inquiry into an explosion at a plastics factory in Glasgow is fanciful. It leads me to believe that the Labour party wants to put off the moment when we actually investigate what happened.
The motion talks about an inquiry under the Inquiries Act, but all the inquiries that have taken place under that Act have taken longer than one year, and the only one that took less than two years was into the tragic explosion at the plastics factory in Glasgow. The idea, then, that we could have a full public judge-led inquiry, while criminal prosecutions are taking place, and that it could conclude inside 12 months is completely fanciful—and the Labour party knows it. And by the way—[Interruption.] Calm down. That presents the House with a serious decision, because if we do not have the results of a broader inquiry, we will not be able to amend the banking Bill, when it is introduced into Parliament next January, in order to change the law and adopt the conclusions of the inquiry. We have one of two choices, then. We can either delay the inquiry—[Hon. Members: “Hooray!] We can either delay the introduction of the Vickers Bill or, as I say, we will not be able to amend it in this Parliament.
The whole House will be aware that the banking industry employs 1 million people and contributes £60 billion in income in direct corporation tax, with employees contributing a further £25 billion in income tax. Banking is Britain’s biggest export industry and it has suffered enough as a result of the appalling regulatory regime and the failure of moral compass. Does the Chancellor agree that it is imperative that we sort this out and get on with the inquiry?
My hon. Friend is right. It is worth listening to what Richard Lambert—who used to employ the shadow Chancellor and whom the shadow Chancellor advised the then Chancellor to put on the Monetary Policy Committee—said:
“The last thing that is needed in this period of systemic fragility is the long period of regulatory uncertainty that a Leveson-style inquiry would make inevitable”.
That is something we have to bear in mind about an industry that employs millions of people across this country. As I say, if we have a public—
I am eternally grateful for the help from the hon. Gentleman in reminding the House of what I have already said to the House, which is that if Members believe that this demonstrates the behaviour of the House at its very best on a serious matter, they are sorely mistaken, regrettably. However, each Member in this House is responsible for their own behaviour, and not me, thank goodness, so perhaps we can continue with the debate.
No, I am not going to give way; I am going to make this point.
If we go ahead with a judge-led inquiry, it will almost certainly take longer than the shortest inquiry that has ever taken place under the Inquiries Act 2005. Why? Because we are talking about an inquiry into the professional standards of the entire banking industry, which is a pretty big subject for an inquiry. Even if we assume that we could find a judge very quickly, that the inquiry was up and running at some point in the autumn, that took a year and a half—which is how long the inquiry in Glasgow took—and that the Government were allowed six to nine months to respond to the inquiry’s conclusions, have a White Paper and do the consultation required under Labour’s laws, that would make it impossible in this Parliament to make the changes to the law that might be required. This Parliament would be saying, “We are simply not able to change the law to deal with the scandal,” which would have happened almost a decade ago.
There is something else I want to say to the House. Of course we can act swiftly or follow the Opposition motion, which means delay, but there is a broader point. A Joint Committee can summon people under oath and it can summon papers. I commit to giving it any resources it needs to do its job. It can sit in public, and we can get to the bottom of what happened. But there is this final point for the House to consider—[Interruption.]
Order. If Members of the House think that constantly standing and holding out their arms will make the Chancellor give way, they might be wrong. I would be grateful if the Chancellor would indicate to the House whether he has any intention of taking further interventions. In that way, perhaps we can manage the debate in a more seemly fashion than we are doing at the moment.
I have taken many interventions, and I know that many people want to speak in the debate. That is why we will have a time limit on speeches. I want to say one final thing to the House. We are sent here to hold people to account on behalf of the public. What does it say about us if we fail to investigate? We talk about a lack of trust—
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for a Member of this House, outside the Chamber, to smear his opponents with utterly false allegations for which he has no evidence whatever, and then to refuse to substantiate or withdraw them when he gets here? It is a complete disgrace.
Mr Austin, I think you know that I am grateful for the fact that I am not responsible for what Members choose to say in the House. Each Member needs to reflect on the accusations and counter-accusations, whoever they are. That is not a point of order. It is a matter of debate, and Members are making their feelings felt very forcefully on that point.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I think that we have learnt today that the Brownite cabal and all its tactics are alive and well in the Labour party, and that they have taken over the leadership of the party. All the things that brought the last Government into disrepute are being repeated by the Labour Opposition today.
Let me end by saying this. What does it say about Parliament if we fail to investigate ourselves? We talk about a lack of trust in politics, but why should the public have confidence in their politicians when we politicians do not have the confidence to investigate scandals such as this? We have in Parliament the skills, the expertise and the mandate to do the job. We were created to hold power to account. Let Parliament make its decision today, and let all parties abide by that decision. Let us set up the inquiry and hold finance to account, and let us get on with it.
In quoting the proceedings of the Treasury Committee, the Chancellor failed to quote accurately. I happen to have the transcript of yesterday’s sitting here, and it is unambiguous. The Tory vice-Chairman, the hon. Member for Sevenoaks (Michael Fallon), asked Mr Diamond the final question on this point. He said:
“I understand all that, but the effect of what you have written down here is that Ministers or officials were in effect asking you to fiddle your submission.”
Mr Diamond replied, in his final comment on this point:
“I didn’t believe that, no.”
He also said something that is of even more significance than the Chancellor’s smears, when it comes to the decision that has to be made. Diamond confirmed what we knew already from what the Financial Services Authority had said: he said that other banks were involved. One bank that has had to sack people is the largely state-owned Royal Bank of Scotland—the one that the Chancellor is primarily responsible for via a Government agency. There is no question but that what went on in Barclays was going on in—it has been suggested—at least 20 other investment banks, including the one that the Chancellor is predominantly responsible for: the Royal Bank of Scotland.
This scandal is therefore not restricted to Barclays. We know what a scandal Barclays is. I asked Mr Diamond 13 questions yesterday, and got no answers, other than his confirming that, as the man in charge of an investment bank, he asked no questions and carried out no analysis whatever of why the rates were different or whether there were any oddities in the rates that were being presented to the British Bankers Association by his bankers. He says he knew nothing, which is a little incongruous, but he did confirm that there were inter-bank issues here, as bankers from other banks were ringing Barclays and asking for favours—with the now infamous bottle of Bollinger being offered as a present in recompense.
The Royal Bank of Scotland is the Chancellor’s responsibility. Unfortunately, he failed to take interventions, including from myself; if he had allowed me to intervene I would have asked him directly what questions he has been asking about what has been happening over the last few months with the fiddling of the LIBOR rate within RBS—the bank for which, I repeat, he is predominantly responsible. In particular, I would have asked what the FSA is now telling the Chancellor about its inquiries. That is important because it will impact hugely on the nature of the investigation to be carried out. To suggest, as did the Chancellor—and the Prime Minister previously alluded to it—that this investigation could be confined solely to Barclays bank is clearly nonsense. What we are going to see, which we have not yet seen, is what the FSA has to say about these other banks—up to 20 of them. We are also going to see what comes out in the United States over the next six months—precisely while the inquiry, whether judicial or parliamentary, is ongoing.
The only thing of which we can be certain is that this is a moving feast. That creates a major dilemma for us, whichever way we choose to go. A judicial inquiry cannot be limited to a short period of a few months and guaranteed. If it comes out that what happened at RBS is comparable to Barclays, that presents an even bigger issue for us and for the Government to address. RBS is a huge British bank—one that the taxpayer has had to bail out and one largely owned by the taxpayer. The consequences for the Exchequer and the taxpayer will undoubtedly be even larger for RBS than for Barclays.
We do not know where the civil actions in the US are going to go or how quickly they will be carried out. That problem would afflict a judicial inquiry, however independent it was—and it would be independent—but it would afflict a parliamentary inquiry even more so. Who is going to sit on it, and for how long? That might sound like a small question to the outside world, but it is a major question. If the Chairman of the Treasury Committee or its members participate in the parliamentary inquiry, which would make some sense, it would effectively put the Treasury Committee out of action—perhaps for six months, but potentially for a year or 18 months—at a time when all these other major issues are before it.
That is the biggest reason why the joint inquiry will not work. It is simply not feasible for the Chair of the Treasury Committee to be effectively seconded for that period of time. However well resourced the Treasury Committee, its members will have to do two jobs simultaneously. The RBS question has not been answered in this context. I urge the House to consider it, because the issues are even bigger than for Barclays.
The rigging of the LIBOR market is shocking. It is the worst case of City malpractice I can recall. The Chancellor proposed the idea of a Joint Committee to me in several phone calls over the weekend. It was an honour to be considered. None the less, I made clear right from the start what ingredients I viewed as required to make a success of it.
First, the Joint Committee’s terms of reference should be tightly drawn and forward looking. This cannot be a witch hunt. Having an exhaustive and inquisitorial committee of inquiry, whether it be within or outside Parliament, into the respective roles and responsibilities for mistakes of Ministers, civil servants, the Bank of England, regulators and commercial banks would do more for the history books than for the quality of legislation. The job of the Joint Committee must be to concentrate on how to get one part of the banking Bill into better shape, and in quick time. For that purpose it will need tightly drawn terms of reference, focused on improving standards and corporate governance in banking, and it can and should do the work quickly.
Secondly, as I said in that conversation, any committee of inquiry, particularly a parliamentary Committee, must have the support of the major parties across the House of Commons. It appears from what I am hearing here that it does not have that support at present.
I will withdraw that comment, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will say that the Chancellor gives the impression that he did something that he did not do, and then refuses to apologise. How does he think that he can secure co-operation across the Benches when he does that?
I shall not address the second part of the hon. Gentleman’s question, but the first part was absolutely right. I think it essential for us to have cross-party support for any inquiry of whatever type.
Let me now refer to a tiny bit of history. A hundred years ago, partisanship made a mockery of an attempt by a Select Committee to investigate the Marconi scandal. The Conservative Opposition killed any value that that inquiry might have supplied, and as a result Select Committees were written out of the piece for inquiries for nearly 100 years. I think it vital for Parliament that another clash of the Titans—which seems to be going on now—does not leave us in a position in which we, as Parliament, cannot subject this issue to an inquiry of any type.
May I raise the issue of the powers that a Select Committee has? One of the things that we have learnt from the Leveson inquiry and the whole phone hacking experience is that the powers of the House of Commons are very, very uncertain. We do not know whether, once we have taken evidence on oath, a perjury case can be brought against anyone who has lied to Parliament, or misled Parliament. We do not know whether we can force someone to come here. However, we do know that courts can do it, which is why we—why I—support a judge-led inquiry.
I will not, if my hon. Friend will forgive me. I am going to get on with my speech now.
The third point that I made to the Chancellor was that while the participation of some very experienced peers could add considerable value, any Committee should be Commons-led, should be governed by Commons rules of procedure, and should draw on existing membership of the Treasury Committee.
The fourth point—which has been made again today—was that the Committee would need full technical support, not only from private sector expertise but from officials and the Bank of England, and some legal advice as well. The absence of all that is the main factor that would inhibit the Treasury Committee from doing this work at the speed that would be required to enable it to contribute to the banking Bill.
Public confidence in banking is now very low. That is bad for Britain in so many ways, but it is particularly unfair on the hundreds of thousands of hard-working and trustworthy people in the financial services industry who do great work for this country, and who, having done nothing wrong, have found themselves impugned by implication. It is not realistic to expect that, in a few months, a Committee of this type would be able to draw the sting of the public anger about banking, but I do believe it realistic to hope that its recommendations could, once implemented, reduce the likelihood of such things happening again. The Wheatley review is due to report in about six weeks. We need to make sure that those perpetrating disgraceful practices such as the rigging of markets face stiff penalties, including jail. It is the fact that so many people have got off scot-free that really sticks in the gullet of the electorate.
Over my time here I have done what I can to strengthen the role of Parliament. If colleagues across the House—and I mean right across the House, including the Front Benches—want me to do this work, I will do everything possible to make an inquiry of this type succeed in order to clear up this scandal.
The tone of this debate has been regrettable. It was, in effect, set by the article written in The Spectator by the Chancellor. It is clear that that article was written before Bob Diamond appeared before the Select Committee yesterday, so the evidence the Chancellor uses to back up what he says in it was given after it was published. He cannot produce any proof or evidence backing up the unfortunate accusation he has made.
The Government must understand that the public are very angry about what banks have been getting up to, and they are not going to be satisfied if a Select Committee or a Joint Committee is set up to investigate the matter. That is just not going to get to the bottom of the issues that have made the public extremely angry.
Mr Diamond was deputy chief executive of corporate investment and banking until 2010, and he had been in that role for three years. That is the division of banking that deals with this area of investment. The idea that when he became the chief executive of Barclays he had no understanding of how LIBOR is set, the negotiations between banks and some of the sharp practices employed, and that he would remain completely ignorant of them, is beyond belief. In my opinion, it is clear that he attempted to cover up his knowledge of that when he appeared before the Select Committee yesterday. That just goes to show that there is a great deal of background that needs to be investigated. A Select Committee or Joint Committee would not be able to do that.
When hybrid Committees investigate a planning issue, it takes an enormous amount of effort and time to trawl through all the evidence and come to a balanced judgment. I have some knowledge of the Crossrail hybrid Committee, as that project affected my constituency. The Committee took up an enormous amount of its members’ time and effort. In respect of this banking issue, in-depth investigations of the allegations and counter-allegations are required, and I am not sure whether a Committee of Members of this House, supported by House of Commons staff, will be able to undertake them with sufficient thoroughness to meet the level of public anger and concern.
My hon. Friend anticipates another part of my speech. The processes in this House to set up Committees of this nature—with Government Whips selecting Committee members—will undermine the independence of any investigation. Unless this Committee is independent and the Government take their grubby little hands off it, its investigations will not satisfy the public at all.
Does my hon. Friend agree that a Government majority on such a Committee prevents any chance of equality or objectivity? Does he also agree that before the wind-up speeches, the Chancellor should be asked whether he will agree with the Whips that, as a minimum, there will be equality of representation on the Committee, in order to secure public support?
My hon. Friend has made the point, and in the interests of brevity I will leave it there for the Government to comment on.
The Attorney-General is wrong to say that we cannot set up an inquiry such as the one the Opposition are calling for today while a criminal investigation is taking place. At least two criminal investigations are going on while the Leveson inquiry is taking place.
We have been here before. On 4 September 2010, the News of the World issued the following statement:
“We reject absolutely any suggestion there was a widespread culture of wrongdoing at the News of the World.”
We all know what that meant. The then editor of the News of the World, Colin Myler, told the Press Complaints Commission in August 2009 that
“Our internal inquiries have found no evidence of involvement by News of the World staff other than Clive Goodman in phone-message interception”.
Let us compare that with Mr Diamond’s comment in his letter accepting the invitation to appear before the Treasury Committee:
“This inappropriate conduct was limited to a small number of people relative to the size of Barclays trading operations, and the authorities found no evidence that anyone more senior than the immediate desk supervisors was aware of the requests by traders, at the time that they were made.”
We heard exactly the same sort of defences being made against the Leveson inquiry being set up, suggesting that this was a small matter that needed to be investigated. This is too deep an issue to investigate through a Joint Committee of this House or a Select Committee.
I am instinctively supportive of the idea that we should set up such Committees, but fundamental reform of this House of Commons would be required for us to carry out such an inquiry. Back Benchers would need to be able to conduct business independently of the Executive. We do not have the structures to deal with an issue such as this. We would also have to change the culture of this place. Back Benchers would have to have a duty to the public, rather than to our respective Front Benchers.
I have given way twice and I will not give way any more because of lack of time.
Fundamental change in this House would be required of the type that simply has not taken place. It is such fundamental reform that we need, rather than the messing about that we have with the House of Lords, which will go absolutely nowhere.
The inquiry that the Opposition are calling for today could establish what we need to do in order to legislate to clean up the setting of the LIBOR rate. That could be dealt with and expedited, but when it comes to the underlying issues and the people involved, we are talking about criminal activity. Let us remember that, at a time when taxpayers’ money was being poured into the banking system to prop it up, these people were acting in their own personal interest and to profit Barclays and other banks, and against the interests of the country. In fact, it could even be called treason. These people belong behind bars, and the inquiry that needs to take place here—[Interruption.] Millionaires’ row over there are giggling at that, but I can tell them that the public out there do not think it is funny. We need to have a proper investigation, independent of this House, that will satisfy the public.
I will start by declaring an interest. When I was the chairman of the Future of Banking Commission it was funded by the Consumer Association, which might have influenced my views on this matter.
May I start by commending the Chairman of the Treasury Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), for the tone of his speech? I agree that we should not let the smoke of political battle in this place come between us and rescuing one of the most important industries in the country. Members on both sides of the House should bear that point in mind.
The title of the debate and of both motions refers to the professional conduct of the business of banking. This is not just about LIBOR and the LIBOR scandal. If it stopped there, we could deal with it through two actions: a change to the procedure to make it transaction-based and audited, and the criminal prosecution of everybody involved. That would resolve the issue once and for all, but that is not as far as this goes.
We all know that the practice of banking in this country has become perverted by huge incentives, which have led bankers to behave in ways that do not serve the economic interests of the country or our national interests—indeed, they have had the opposite impact. Although the Chairman of the Select Committee rightly said that the inquiry would need to be tightly drawn, it will nevertheless go pretty far. I am quite certain, for example, that even if it is confined to banking, things such as the derivatives market will undergo a lot of investigation in the course of the Committee’s investigation. We must understand that this issue is much bigger than just LIBOR.
Secondly, we should take on board the fact that we are debating the superstructure of the inquiry when we should perhaps be talking about its engine room. What matters are the inquiry’s powers, whichever we have, and they do not need to be so different for a judicial inquiry and for a Select Committee inquiry. I am afraid that the hon. Member for Eltham (Clive Efford) was just plumb wrong about the status of Select Committees in this House and their powers. I speak as a past Public Accounts Committee Chairman who summoned bankers, rail operators, pharmacy companies and all sorts of companies that did not want to come, to give their documents or to give evidence. We did not take evidence on oath, but they did not want to give evidence to the Committee and were made to do so.
I want to ask the right hon. Gentleman about the relative skills of a parliamentary inquiry and a judge-led inquiry. Some people in this House have very deep skills, but not everybody does, but a judge-led inquiry would have the necessary skills to carry out the kind of deep inquiry that he rightly says is needed. Will he comment on that?
Absolutely. The Select Committee on Culture, Media and Sport and its inability to reach a unanimous view has been held up as an example. In my entire time as PAC Chairman—and, I think, that of all the subsequent Chairmen—there was never anything other than a unanimous outcome, because of the factual basis of the inquiries. That is what this inquiry must have. It must rest on the facts, which is why the Committee will need forensic accountants, lawyers and investigating teams. It will, I think, need one change in the law. It will need protection for whistleblowers, as we do not have that, but the same would be true of a judge-led inquiry. That would open the inquiry up to its full extent.
Let me make one more point about judge-led inquiries—it goes back to the Leveson inquiry and is slightly embarrassing for those on my side of the House, but I shall make it anyway. Judge-led inquiries cannot work around a criminal investigation without paying attention to it, and that can cramp what they do. If Members did not see it, I recommend that they look back at the evidence given by Andy Coulson and Rebekah Brooks, both of whom were facing potential criminal charges. Those were wholly useless days at the Leveson inquiry because the QC involved had to tiptoe around the issues. That might apply to almost every witness who appears before this inquiry, thanks to the issues facing it, so we must bear it in mind that we cannot solve that with a judge. We will solve it through a different mechanism that either approach would have to use and that, frankly, would be in camera hearings with those witnesses. Although the conclusion will have to be wide, open, wide ranging, honest and transparent, that might not be possible for the evidence-taking.
Although a House inquiry will be faster than a judicial inquiry—there is no doubt about that, for the reasons the Chancellor has given—there is the simple problem that any inquiry will have trouble completing by Christmas.
I have taken one intervention and I cannot take any more.
Whatever the inquiry, it will take a long time, because it is a big issue, and it has to be got right. If it is got wrong and the inquiry is handled badly, and it turns out not to be well managed, it will do enormous damage to the City of London and the entire economy. If it is got right and it leaves the City of London with a reputation for clean and honest dealing it could be the single most important thing that happens under this Government.
We need an investigation into LIBOR—there is no question about that. We need it because of the result of the FSA investigation into Barclays. The final notice on Barclays makes gruesome reading: LIBOR rates were manipulated for three and a half years, for which Barclays has been given a large fine. That means that there will be questions to the tripartite regulatory framework, and to the British Bankers Association, which is responsible for collating and calculating LIBORs. There will be questions of competence, action, oversight and omission for the Financial Standards Authority, the Bank of England and the Treasury.
This is an historic issue. We are already changing much or most of that, with the prudential regulation authority coming into being; the Financial Conduct Authority looking at the conduct of business; the recommendations of the Vickers commission being implemented; and the Basel III requirements being implemented to sit over what the banks do. The Chancellor has announced that the chief exec-designate of the FCA will be given responsibility for looking at the setting and management of LIBOR. We are looking at strengthening the Financial Services Bill and at criminal sanctions in relation to LIBOR, and we want to make recommendations quickly so that we can change, beef up and strengthen the as yet unseen banking reform Bill. That is all good stuff, but the problem—and it is a huge problem—is that our concerns are about more than simply technical changes, better supervision and the implementation of a criminal sanction regime in relation to LIBOR, however necessary those things are, and they are extremely necessary.
Yesterday, we heard quite extraordinary testimony from Bob Diamond, the ex-chief exec of Barclays, who told us that although LIBORs had been rigged for three and half a years, no one above the pay grade of desk supervisor knew anything about it. That is almost impossible, but it points to the fact that this is more than simply a technical problem—there is a deeper cultural problem.
The other problem is that this is not about Barclays at all. The media tell us that there may be 20 or more banks in the frame, even before we look at other financial institutions that may do similar things. This is a fast-moving story. The right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) spoke about derivatives: this is not really a LIBOR problem—it is a problem of derivative traders manipulating LIBOR. I am not sure, within the narrow remit of a Joint Committee, that we can do all the cultural stuff we need to do. It might also be the case—in fact, I am certain that it will be—that issues arise not necessarily about LIBOR or even related to it but, equally serious, as a result of investigations that are under way in other banks. We will of course want to deal with those issues in changes that we make, as they may have the same consequences in the real economy and cause the same deterioration of confidence in the banking industry as the LIBOR scandal.
Our political parties back the call for a judge-led inquiry. It is the right thing to do, because the issues are far wider and deeper than merely the technical ones. However—and I say this to my friends in the Labour party—if we fail to secure a judge-led inquiry we will not stand in the way of a joint parliamentary inquiry, because there is an absolute imperative to investigate LIBOR. Nevertheless—and I think that Labour Front Benchers were right on this—the calls for a wider inquiry into the culture that led to the problems at Barclays must be heard.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), a fellow member of the Treasury Committee. I am particularly grateful for his last point. I believe that there is an honest disagreement on the best route, but that there is far more consensus than members of the public who watched the early part of this afternoon’s debate might be given to think. There is a consensus both in the House and across the country that the LIBOR fixing is a scandal, that banking has yet again let down the country and that Parliament must take appropriate action to remedy that. There is also a consensus that further questions must be answered and advice taken to ensure that we take the right steps to remedy the banking industry for the longer term. Today’s debate should be about how to achieve that, and none of our constituents will be grateful if the result is a partisan deadlock while the bankers escape scot-free once again.
What do we actually need to know? First, we need to know all the facts relating to the LIBOR scandal. Secondly, we need to know how that has affected our constituents, both individuals and small and medium-sized enterprises, and how they can be compensated. Thirdly, and to my mind most importantly, we need to know whether banking as it now exists in the United Kingdom is fit for purpose and has the right model to deliver what society requires of it. How best are we to deal with that?
On the first point, with regard to Barclays we have all the facts relating to LIBOR. The report is comprehensive, as most people who have read it would admit, and, along with the US Justice Department’s report, gives us the facts we need. There will be new facts to come when the FSA reports on other banks, an important matter to which I will return. The FSA report on Barclays shows two things: traders fiddled for their own gain before the crash; and Barclays as an institution low-balled after the crash in order to protect itself. Both behaviours are unethical, and when I asked Mr Diamond about that yesterday he said, “Yes, they are unethical.” As I understand it, arrests may have been made and further arrests can be anticipated, so the facts are clear. What we need to know now is what we should do about it.
On the second point, which is about our constituents, the FSA has put forward a model for how it will redress the swap selling scandal, and it involves the financial services ombudsman. I suggest that that is a technical process that will be able to do the job, but that we should monitor it.
We come to the third and most important point: is banking delivering for society? What do we need from our banks, and not the investment banks, but those on the high street? We need a payments system that works. The RBS outage showed us that that is not always obvious. We need to have a safe home for deposits. Most importantly, we need a source of prudential lending for businesses. It should be a low-risk, low-return operation. It is clear that retail and investment banks have, and should have, separate cultures, so it is clear in my mind that they should be separated. We have had the Vickers recommendations, which represent the ring fence. I was prepared to accept that and would like it to be revisited as part of the inquiry.
There are a number of material points that we need to look at. I want to look at how best we can do that, because we need to get right the legislation when it goes through Parliament and the banking Bill that is to come. I happen to believe that a judge-led inquiry is not the best way to fulfil that objective, but I recognise fully that others take a different view. I believe that a parliamentary inquiry is up to the job, but only if the standard Committee procedure is improved. I believe that the Committee should have a QC, a legal team and, as the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) suggested, forensic accountants. It should have the resources that the Chancellor has said he will put in so that the new bits of evidence can be properly assessed and the barrister can lead part of the questioning.
If today’s debate, therefore, leads us simply to an entrenched partisan position, nobody wins and the bankers get away again. It is essential that at the end of today’s debate we support an inquiry, whether it be parliamentary or judicial.
When some more facts come to light in respect of what the FSA is looking at, we may decide that a wider and deeper inquiry is needed. Let us cross that bridge when we come to it, but let us for now get on with the job of taking what we have and putting it into legislation, so that we end up delivering for our citizens banks that are fit for purpose.
I strongly support the proposal for a judicial inquiry. I am sure that under the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) a parliamentary inquiry will do its best, but I think that for the reasons that have been advanced today there is a need for a judicial inquiry, because as the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie) and the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden (Mr Davis) have said, this issue goes way beyond fiddling the LIBOR rate. This is a much bigger issue, and it is the bigger issue that needs to be addressed.
Whether the inquiry is parliamentary or judicial, I have concerns about the continual emphasis on the need to do something about the culture and standards of banking, because it implies that if we change the people at the top of banking we will change the behaviour. Would that were the case. I do not believe that it is. There are of course many people who work in banks who do an excellent job. They work very hard, they do not get paid a great deal of money or share in massive bonuses, and they are as disgusted as we are by what has gone on, but even if the most pious, puritanical person is put in charge of a den of inequity, they will eventually be corrupted.
That is what happens when someone is put on a trading floor, and I speak as somebody who worked in a bank. Many years ago I worked for Coutts, when it did what traditional retail banks did—what the hon. Member for Caithness, Sutherland and Easter Ross (John Thurso) described, and what the general public want. But if somebody is put on a trading floor and deals in obscure derivatives and other financial products, they will be either corrupted by what goes on, crushed by their peers or, if he or she is very brave, turned into a whistleblower.
Of course, there is a culture in banking that needs to be looked at—the culture of remuneration and bonuses. However, it is not just banking that has a culture whereby somebody who is paid to do a job, such as a nurse, teacher or bank clerk, then expects to get a massive great bonus for doing it, irrespective of whether they do it well or badly. This is far removed from the lives of the general public because of the amounts of money being talked about. Bob Diamond has earned £100 million, and if he walks away the question is whether he will get £20 million. Twenty million pounds is way beyond what the vast majority of our constituents can expect to earn in a lifetime, even if we add in their pension pots, so we are talking about a surreal world as far as the wider public are concerned.
To be fair to the Business Secretary, he has said that the problem can be addressed through shareholder power. That is naïve, however, because the biggest shareholders of public companies are the institutions—and many of the people in those institutions sit on other boards, so it all becomes an incestuous circle. Different remuneration committees can consist of the same people. It all comes down to, “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine.”
If the Government were serious about making radical changes to the culture that I have just referred to, they could do worse than limit the number of directorships of publicly quoted companies that any one person can have. They could also change the rules so that the remuneration committees of all publicly quoted companies had a majority of small shareholders. That would really send shock waves across the institutions, but not the shareholders, who would welcome the opportunity.
Time is running out. We need to change not just the culture but the structure of banking. In 1986, the wild west came back—all the firewalls and protections put in place following the previous financial crisis in 1929 were swept away. We are all responsible in some part for that; we created the masters of the universe, who have not done us any favours. We have to go back to basics and reconstruct a banking system that is fit for purpose, serves the people and is not self-serving for a small minority.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Hall Green (Mr Godsiff) has underlined the importance of having a banking system that commands public confidence. I do not know how serious the LIBOR scandal is in relation to the ability of the banks to support jobs and growth, which we so desperately need at the moment, but it is clearly a mortal blow to the reputation of the City so we need to deal with it effectively and quickly.
I say to Front Benchers on both sides in this debate that this has not been the finest hour of the House of Commons. We have not seen the finest, highest and most principled leadership from Front Benchers of either side. Many among the public will look at the debate and scoff at our self-importance and arrogance. The City itself will be in utter despair that Front Benchers should have chosen to use this opportunity to tear chunks out of each other instead of co-operating to find a solution on which they can agree.
No solution will work unless there is consensus. I say that with a very heavy heart, having great respect for the prodigious abilities of both my right hon. Friend the Chancellor and the shadow Chancellor, as well as for their public service in the House. But I really think that we have to do better. Anybody could have seen over the past few days that the debate would be a complete car crash, and so it has been. We must seek to extract something positive from it at the end of the day.
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie) raised the tone of the debate in a laudable manner. He referred to the Marconi scandal of 1912; this is its 100th anniversary, and I will say a few words about it soon if I have time. The parallels are chilling.
First, I shall say a brief word about the powers of Select Committees. The shadow Chancellor is completely wrong—we have the powers. There is some doubt about the manner of their exercise and how we might deal with contempt, but there is no doubt that we have the powers. As Chairman of a Select Committee, I have exercised them. People are in fear of them. It does the House no service for the shadow Chancellor to go around saying that we do not have powers. That undermines the authority of the House and it is not in the interests of the House.
Actually, it is the Liaison Committee on which I serve as a Select Committee Chairman. I am personally looking into the matter and will report to the Liaison Committee next week; that will be part of our report on the powers and effectiveness of Select Committees, which we hope to produce before the end of this term. It greatly ill serves the House to denigrate the powers of Select Committees.
I am going to support the Government motion. I am not in favour of a judicial inquiry; I think it would be completely dotty to plunge us into such a lengthy procedure. However, I want to sound some warnings about the dangers that might befall a parliamentary Select Committee inquiry as proposed in the Government motion. We must be mindful, not least, that if Ministers or ex-Ministers were to be called to give evidence to try to sort out the absurd row that we have seen this afternoon, the Committee could not possibly function. Indeed, it could not possibly function if Opposition Front Benchers were determined to undermine its authority and operation.
It was highly irresponsible of the shadow Chancellor to fail to answer my question or that of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor about whether the Opposition will go on non-speaks if the motion is carried. I commend the hon. Member for Dundee East (Stewart Hosie), who said that even if the Opposition lose the vote, Scottish National party Members will co-operate with the inquiry. How is the House meant to make a judgment about whether to vote for the motion unless we have a clear view from the shadow Chancellor?
My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester mentioned the Marconi scandal. That occurred when Ministers—Liberal Democrat Ministers, I hasten to add, just for fun—were accused of buying and selling shares for profit—
I beg my hon. Friend’s pardon. Of course—rebranded to cleanse the history.
Lloyd George’s Government were deeply embroiled in what we would call an insider dealing scandal. A Select Committee was very contentiously set up. It divided on party lines, it divided on whether to call Ministers as witnesses, it divided into party groups during the questioning of witnesses, and it divided along party lines in the writing of the report. In fact, it produced three reports—the official report, the Chairman’s report, and a minority report. Interestingly, the introduction to the 23rd edition of “Erskine May” says:
“Such highly visible failure condemned their successors”—
“to a very limited role for almost half a century.”
I place great faith in my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester that he will draw stumps on the exercise if there is any danger that the Joint Committee is going to collapse in such a welter of recrimination. First, it could not produce a decent report under such circumstances; and secondly, it would damage this House in a very serious manner.
I do not wish to give succour to Her Majesty’s Official Opposition, but I note that the consequence of the Marconi scandal was the passing of the Tribunals of Inquiry (Evidence) Act 1921 when, following a subsequent scandal that engulfed the Government, it was decided that there had to be an alternative means of conducting a judicial inquiry outside Parliament with a judge, and that is how that format came into being.
The report by the Salmon royal commission on tribunals and inquiries, which was produced in the 1960s and is still the bible of how tribunals and inquiries are conducted, said that it would be “a retrograde step” to resurrect the format of a judicial inquiry within Parliament. Among the drawbacks listed by Lord Salmon were that Committees were composed of Members representing the relative strength of parties in the House, that parliamentary Committees do not hear counsel—something that has been suggested today—that some of, if not all, their members will have no experience of taking evidence or cross-examining witnesses, and that witnesses might not enjoy the same absolute privilege as in a tribunal set up under the Act. Those are the dangers that we have to guard against when we vote for the motion.
As I say, I am going to support the motion, but I add one other caveat. I would be grateful if the Minister will confirm that the Government will not present any objection to providing the resources—the money—that the Joint Committee will need to carry out its functions. We cannot have this new Committee raiding the staff and resources of other Committees. I think that if the inquiry is confined to matters of policy and recommendations for legislation rather than trying to settle the internecine disputes that we have seen on the Floor of the House this afternoon, then it can function with the support of the Opposition, but if the Government want it to happen it must have the necessary resources, which may be substantial. I would also recommend recalling a senior Clerk who has recently retired instead of raiding a Clerk from another Committee, because otherwise all our work will be disrupted.
The sole argument advanced today by the Chancellor as to why there should not be a thorough, comprehensive, judge-led inquiry is that it would not report quickly enough. Despite the enormous bluster and noise of this debate—I very much agree with the hon. Member for Harwich and North Essex (Mr Jenkin) about that—that argument has been overturned by the Leader of the Opposition’s proposal for a two-tier inquiry, with the section on LIBOR to report by the end of December and the second part, which is the more important part, to report within 12 months.
We have to answer the question that has not been answered: why are the Government so coy about a genuinely independent inquiry? Is it because of their fears over what a Leveson-style inquiry into banking might expose? After all, the City, which is a pretty hard-nosed institution, does not give half the Tory party’s total income to it year after year for nothing. It expects, and undoubtedly gets, a great deal in return. Is that why the scams that repeatedly tumble out of the City under the false pretence of financial innovation, such as the mis-selling of private pensions in the 1970s, which has not yet been mentioned, and the recent mis-selling of payment protection insurance and credit default swaps, have always been treated so lightly?
Is that why the Vickers recommendations, which were already weak since the City will always get around Chinese walls by regulatory arbitrage, have been watered down further through the lobbying of the banks? The crucial rise in capital ratios was initially set at 4%, which is certainly the minimum that is necessary. That was reduced by the Chancellor to 3% and even that feeble reform has been postponed, almost unbelievably, until 2019.
I appreciated the right hon. Gentleman’s support for my efforts in January to secure a Back-Bench debate on criminal prosecutions in financial services. He asked why Government Members want a parliamentary inquiry. Does he not accept that our constituents have a visceral attitude towards the misdeeds in the financial services sector, and that one problem with a judicial inquiry is that it is the equivalent of a snooze button and the people disengage? A parliamentary inquiry would not suffer that fate.
I think the exact opposite is true. The Leveson inquiry has aroused and maintained intense public interest. Yesterday’s Treasury Committee sitting showed what happens on such occasions. Unfortunately, it became very personalised about what each Member had been saying and drew attention to the degree to which Bob Diamond was not put under serious threat. There are therefore very good reasons for a judge-led inquiry.
Is the close political-financial nexus that exists in this country the reason why the demands of Germany and France for a financial transactions tax have been swept so cavalierly under the carpet by the Prime Minister and the Chancellor? Is that why the pressure from Germany and the US to wind down the egregious tax avoidance that is largely centred on Britain’s Crown dependencies has been flatly rejected by the Government at the behest of the City?
Why are the complex derivatives that lay at the heart of the crash in 2008-09 being retained by the Government within the ring fence? Why has the incestuous relationship between the credit rating agencies and those whose creditworthiness they are supposed to be assessing been left untouched by the Government, when it allowed junk derivatives to be sold around the world with a triple A rating? What is the answer to all these questions? I think that they are very significant. Why has the colossal scandal of tax avoidance on the industrial scale of £42 billion a year, in which the City is so intimately involved, been ignored so unscrupulously?
I shall give an example. The Government set up the Aaronson group to consider the issue, led by a lawyer who has always represented the tax avoidance industry and never Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. On the first page of its report last November, that group said that a general anti-avoidance rule was not necessary. It produced the preposterous proposal that if there were such a rule, HMRC would have to seek the permission of an external body before it could be used. It gets worse, because there would have to be a majority of tax avoidance industry representatives on that body. Not surprisingly, the Government have accepted those recommendations in full. That shows the inordinate lengths to which they will go to protect the City by appearing to do something but in reality elaborately constructing a paper aeroplane in the sure knowledge that it will not fly. Those are just some of the reasons, and I believe a lot more remain hidden, why the Government do not want a judge-led inquiry at any price. They are exactly the same reasons why a systematic, wide-ranging inquiry is now so necessary.
I agree with many Members that in the last analysis, this is not about personalities or even about the corrupted culture of banking. It is much more about the deeply flawed structure and role of banking in Britain. The banks are far too big, and the big five control up to 90% of the money supply, which is far too much. We need smaller, more specialised banks that focus on key areas such as infrastructure, relational banking like that in the German mittelstand, the knowledge, science and research and development industries, the green economy, small and medium-sized enterprises and all the rest.
Above all, we need to regain public control of the money supply, which was privatised as a result of deregulation in the 1990s, so that—this is the crucial point—the nation’s financial resources are focused not on the banks’ interests of profiteering from overseas speculation, tax havens and property, in which they specialise most of all, but on the national interest of putting the nation’s resources primarily into industry, manufacturing and export. That is why the whole House should unite behind the Opposition’s motion.
In 1993, I joined Warburg’s as UK economist. One of the first things I recall is visiting the chairman of the bank, Sir David Scholey, in his office with my entry cohort. He said to us that what the bank had that mattered most was its reputation, that capital would always flow to good ideas and that if we did not have great amounts of capital, that was not a problem because we had our client relationships. He said that we must always remember to put our clients’ interests first, never our own.
My first boss was George Magnus, the chief economist at Warburg’s, who is still active. I remember him saying to me that we should never talk our book, and that we were there to be objective. He said that we should never be particularly proud if we got something right or concerned if we got something wrong, but that we should be proud of the integrity of our way of thinking. When I was given a bonus, I expressed gratitude. The culture had not yet become that we should look upset in the hope of more next time.
Only when I went to do an MBA at Columbia university in New York did I realise that the fact that I had become a rated analyst was of personal value to me and that I could perhaps have gone to another bank and got more money. When I came back from America, the position here had changed. We had the regulatory system of the FSA, and I was more involved in advising retail banks.
One case that I worked on for a substantial time was that of a retail bank merging with an insurance firm. It was clear to me that to treat customers fairly in merging the compliance function, as I was tasked to do, we had to focus on how that insurer might sell products to the bank’s customers. There was nothing wrong with that per se—that, along with stripping out cost, was the rationale for the merger—but it clearly brought risks, and we needed a function that would stop inappropriate sales to customers for whom they were not correct. Yet the main issues in dealing with the FSA were a turf war between the bank and the insurance regulator and a vast amount of time spent on box-ticking compliance. The question is not just whether the system is over-regulated or under-regulated, it is about the quality of the regulation.
I then became a lawyer—I am both a qualified barrister and a solicitor—when I worked on bank recapitalisations and FSA litigation. I served as a judicial assistant to the vice-president of the Court of Appeal. The motion asks for a judge-led inquiry. I have enormous respect for our senior judiciary, but they have almost entirely been judges and lawyers—they have not worked in financial services industries and are not, as hon. Members are, representative of wider society.
On LIBOR, two separate things happened with Barclays. First, there was market abuse—we will see what happens in respect of other banks. Because the two mid-quartiles of LIBOR were measured, it was thought there could be no gain by giving a low or high response, but there was collusion by so many players that there was market abuse, and the FSA was asleep on the job.
I would encourage hon. Members to think about the second Barclays aspect in terms of the perspective of the time. The British Bankers Association says that LIBOR
“is not necessarily based on actual transactions”.
Banks are asked a question:
“At what rate could you borrow funds, were you to do so by asking for and then accepting inter-bank offers in a reasonable market size”?
We should note that the question refers to “offers” rather than “an offer”, but the BBA goes on to say:
“Therefore, submissions are based upon the lowest perceived rate at which a bank could”
borrow. It also says that “reasonable market size” is not defined and that
“it would have to be constantly monitored and in the current conditions would have to be changed very frequently.”
Whitehall was therefore using Barclays reports for a purpose for which they were not designed. It was looking not at LIBOR, but at one particular bank’s reports, which were quite possibly compiled by a junior person, in an incredibly difficult market position. Therefore, if Barclays reported a higher rate than other banks, it might be that it had different perceptions of “reasonable market size”, or it might not ask the offered rates because the market had frozen. Which banks were asked and how are those considerations to be reported? The banks are not being asked: “What are your bid and offer rates?” They are being asked: “What do you perceive one of your competitors might offer you were you to ask?” In the context of the financial crisis, that is potentially different from the market abuse I have described.
We should also consider the UK in the international context. We have a huge banking industry in this country. If a regulator says that much of it is socially useless, people might reply, “Yes, but the employment and prosperity of many people in the country depend on it.” How do we clear it up so we can offer a market and export our financial services to the world sustainably and in a way that will keep our reputation? Hon. Members can rail and bash the bankers for the bust we are suffering—that is quite fair and proper—but we must accept that the bankers also gave us our boom. Our borrowing and extra spending was based on candyfloss, and on a boom that the bankers created. They are as responsible for what we enjoyed in the boom as they are for the bust.
Elements of such regulation have been backed, but we must look at the quality of regulation. We can have a market system in which people are clear what the regulation is, or a system in which the Government run regulation and bail everyone out, making the taxpayer responsible. We were betwixt those two separate models. Some parts of the market but not others were regulated, and people put stress and reliance on LIBOR that it was never designed for, which led to much of the problem.
We cannot take what the regulators say as Gospel. Many say that Barclays accepted that the Bank of England and Paul Tucker had not told it to lower the rate. Barclays was let off tens of millions in fines because the regulators agreed that, but the regulators have a vested interest—people might ask why they were asleep on the job in the earlier phase, and what LIBOR was doing in 2008-09. Hon. Members should consider what reliance Ministers or officials at that time put on LIBOR—we should ask what LIBOR said about Barclays, why the Government were trying to push Barclays into a bail-out it was trying to resist, and why there was such reliance on that rate.
My hon. Friend is making a very interesting speech. Is he saying that because it was widely known that the Government were prepared to rescue the banks, the self-discipline that liability for bankruptcy provides in a banking system was abandoned and the whole market was distorted?
For the calculation of LIBOR, I wonder whether it had been abandoned for RBS and Lloyds HBOS—as it became—while Barclays continued operating in a market context. The BBA now says that banks have to quote on the basis of an unsecured, unregulated, non-Government-supported rate, but I do not know whether that was the definition it gave at the time. That would have been a concern.
In conclusion, Members of Parliament, representing their constituents, have the necessary range of experience to have a reckoning, as a society and a nation, with what has happened with our banks, to assess the costs, as well as the benefits that we enjoyed, and to consider how to move on and put the matter behind us. I know, from my experience on the Home Affairs Committee, that we can have a non-partisan Committee that can reach across. We have people with the necessary experience and independence of mind. We can get together a group of people to come up with a report that downplays partisanship, to find out what went wrong and to learn the lessons for the future.