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Banking Culture Review

Volume 604: debated on Tuesday 19 January 2016

2. What discussions he has had with the Financial Conduct Authority on its decision to end its review of banking culture. (903100)

13. What discussions he has had with the Financial Conduct Authority on its decision to end its review of banking culture. (903111)

The Financial Conduct Authority is an independent regulator. No Treasury Minister or official had any discussions with the FCA before it took the decision to discontinue the review.

Given that the popular image of bankers right now is probably on a par with used car salesmen or MPs even, does the Minister not agree with the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) that to abort the review now, which could have looked at regulating challenger banks as well as historical mis-selling, is a missed opportunity?

I find it hard to take lectures from the Labour party on regulating the financial sector. In fact, since my right hon. Friend became Chancellor, we have set up the Financial Conduct Authority and moved on from the failed regulatory system under the Labour Government. We made it a criminal offence to manipulate the UK’s key benchmark, we brought in the toughest rules on bankers’ pay of any financial centre, and we are bringing in a new criminal offence so that senior managers whose reckless decisions bring down banks can face up to seven years in jail.

With the terrible impact of bad banking practices highlighted in the Tomlinson report, particularly in commercial lending to small businesses, still unresolved for one of my constituents, does the Minister agree that both the public and small businesses still have significant concerns about the behaviour of many individuals within the banking sector?

I completely agree with the hon. Lady that we need to see the highest levels of conduct from the banking sector. We also need to continue to take steps in terms of our long-term economic plan to secure access to funding for small businesses. That is why we have taken steps to back peer-to-peer lending and extended funding for lending for another two years. We continue to benefit from record low interest rates thanks to our prudent economic management.

There has been speculation that the Treasury has influenced the decision by the Financial Conduct Authority. While I think that such speculation is certainly fanciful, it is important to remind the House that the FCA was set up in 2012 as an independent organisation. Does my hon. Friend agree that one way we could underpin the independence of the FCA would be to adopt a similar process to the one we have with the Office for Budget Responsibility, whereby the Treasury Committee can have power of veto over the appointment of the chief executive?

My hon. Friend, who is a very constructive and engaged member of the Treasury Committee, will have the opportunity to ask questions of the acting chief executive and the chair of the FCA on Wednesday. I agree that it is very useful for such a Committee to have pre-appointment hearings with any executive of the FCA.

The Symphony interbank communications software, which allows for the permanent deletion of emails, advertises itself as being able to save banks billions of pounds in fines. Will the Minister join my campaign, in conjunction with the Business Secretary, to ensure that the FCA retains the encryption codes for the Symphony software system for seven years, as happens in America?

My hon. Friend asks a salient question. The FCA is investigating this matter, and he will be aware that new rules—the markets in financial instruments directive II—will require firms to keep information for a considerable period, but this is the subject of ongoing discussions.

23. Will the Minister agree that one of the biggest problems with the banking culture is that banks are too big to fail, and will she consider the issue of diversity in the sector, including, for instance, new lending platforms and market disruptors? In particular, will she consider new primary duties on the FCA to consider the issue of diversity? (903122)

I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will welcome the announcement we are expecting on Wednesday from the Bank of England, the FCA and the Prudential Regulation Authority about their working together to back innovation in the financial sector. A key part of our long-term economic plan is to back competition in the banking sector, which is why I am pleased there were eight new entrants to the banking sector in the last Parliament. In this Parliament, we are aiming for 15.

Mr Speaker,

“interventions by HM Treasury and other bodies have raised questions…regarding the board’s independence”—

not my words but those of an FCA-commissioned external report on the FCA board published last week. How will the Chancellor demonstrate that the appointment of the new chief executive will not be yet another example of an overreaching Chancellor trying to get his own way?

It was good of the hon. Gentleman to turn up for Treasury questions this time—I guess there was not a Stop the War march or a picket line to join today. I can assure him that the Treasury has the power to appoint both the board and the chief executive and to set its remit, but from then on it has operational independence.