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Bank Lending

Volume 565: debated on Tuesday 25 June 2013

1. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on economic growth of the level of bank lending to businesses. (161218)

11. What recent assessment he has made of the effect on economic growth of the level of bank lending to businesses. (161228)

The Government are committed to creating a banking system that supports the British economy, rather than being supported by it. Two months ago, the Government and the Bank of England extended the funding for lending scheme, with a particular focus on small business lending. Last week, the Office of Fair Trading announced its review into how to make that lending more competitive, and at the Mansion House, I announced a plan for taxpayer shareholdings in RBS and Lloyds that will return these banks fully to the private sector, get value for the taxpayer and support the economy.

Last Monday, I met businesses at Greater Manchester chamber of commerce and heard how banks were often failing them, thereby having an adverse impact on business performance. Does the Chancellor accept that bank lending to businesses has fallen over the past year and that the Government’s funding for lending scheme has totally failed businesses in Greater Manchester and the United Kingdom?

Gross lending to businesses is up under the scheme, but I am happy to agree with the hon. Gentleman that there is an issue—let us be honest, there has been an issue since 2008-09—with the contraction of bank lending to businesses in our communities. That is why we are taking further steps in two respects. First, with the Bank of England, we are extending the scope of the funding for lending scheme. It has proved very effective at getting mortgage rates down, and now we need to reduce the rates for small businesses. Secondly, we are sorting out the Royal Bank of Scotland, which is the largest lender to small businesses in our country.

The Government claim to have established a business investment bank. How is it doing, and how many businesses has it actually lent money to?

The business bank, which was established last year, is now making loans to the funds that will lend to small businesses, creating non-bank lending channels. [Interruption.] There was no business bank under the Labour Government. I will tell the House what we had instead: we had a socking great banking crash under the Labour Government, and the person sitting opposite, the shadow Chancellor, was City Minister when it happened. We are cleaning up the mess from one of the biggest financial crises in the country’s history by ensuring that it never happens again.

May I say to my right hon. Friend that after a lifetime as a stockbroker and fund manager, my instinct, as bond yields rise all over the world, is that we are heading for another banking crisis that will certainly choke off the already inadequate lending of banks to small businesses? May I put on the record my dismay that he has not yet committed himself to the total separation of investment from commercial banks, which I have been urging on him ever since he became Chancellor? I am absolutely convinced that if we do not go back to something approaching Glass-Steagall, it will be an absolute disaster when the next banking crisis hits us.

Of course, I respect my right hon. Friend’s experience. A powerful argument has been made that we should completely separate and split up retail banks from investment banks. We asked John Vickers to convene a commission to look at this specific subject, and he came forward with proposals to ring-fence retail banking, as he thought that that would be a better approach. We also set up a cross-party parliamentary commission to consider the ring fence, and it thinks that the ring fence is the best approach. It made a specific recommendation that we should give the regulator the power to split up a bank that had refused to comply with the ring fence, and we are giving the regulator—[Interruption.] The shadow Chancellor shakes his head, but again not one of these things was done when he was City Minister. Let me say to him again, because he obviously does not understand, that we are giving the regulator a specific power to split retail from investment banking in a bank that is ignoring the ring fence. I think that that is the right way forward.

In the Treasury Committee this morning, the Governor of the Bank of England expressed considerable concern that unacceptable pressure had been brought to bear on the Prudential Regulation Authority from within Government, both from No. 10 and from No. 11, at the behest of the banks, putting at risk the regulator’s independence. Will the Chancellor reassure the House that he knew nothing about this, that he was not personally involved, that he will investigate the allegation that others did bring unacceptable pressure to bear, and that he will report to Parliament?

Of course, if there is unacceptable pressure, I absolutely say that that is not acceptable—if that is the right way to put it. The PRA, which we created, is completely independent and it has made its independent decisions on capital in our banks. We also have the Financial Policy Committee, which again is completely independent and able to make these recommendations. We empower our regulators to do their job. Of course, banks, consumer groups and anyone else can make their case, but this is ultimately an independent body, an independent regulator, that makes the judgment. That is the system we have created.

The whole House agrees that we need to see more lending to small businesses and a return of RBS and Lloyds to the private sector so that taxpayers can get their money back, yet two weeks since the Chancellor helped to remove Stephen Hester from RBS, the taxpayers’ stake in the bank has fallen in value by £4 billion. Was that part of the plan?

In case the hon. Lady had not noticed, stock markets around the world are down. Bank stocks are down—

RBS: the world’s largest bail-out, under a Government who completely failed to regulate it. How dare the right hon. Gentleman have the audacity to come here and complain about the Royal Bank of Scotland? We are fixing the problems in the Royal Bank of Scotland. We are looking at the case for establishing a “bad bank”, which, as I said at the Mansion House, should have been done in 2008. We are going to fix the mess in the banking system that Labour left behind.

I congratulate my right hon. Friend on setting up the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. Does he believe that implementing some of its recommendations will help banks to lend? Will he urge the Leader of the House to allocate time for a debate on this subject?

We will have plenty of time to debate the recommendations of the parliamentary commission, which I think has done an absolutely excellent job for the House, by the way. We will shortly have the Report stage of the Banking Bill, at which the Government will say how we intend to respond to those recommendations. If there is more work to be done on the drafting of specific amendments, those amendments can be tabled in the House of Lords and they will of course come back to the House of Commons as well. The whole purpose of the parliamentary commission was to enable us to get on with this. If we had created a public inquiry, as Labour recommended, it would only just be getting going now. Instead, Parliament has done what it is supposed to do, which is to investigate a problem and provide recommendations, and we are going to debate those recommendations here.