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Debt Management Office

Volume 720: debated on Tuesday 20 July 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will transfer responsibility for the Debt Management Office to the Bank of England.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but I urge him to reconsider it since it effectively endorses the mistaken decision of Mr Gordon Brown, when he first became Chancellor of the Exchequer, to give responsibility for monetary policy to the Bank of England but to take away its responsibility for debt management, which is clearly a major influence in deciding what is likely to be the money supply. The problem has become even clearer with the introduction of quantitative easing because the Bank has been buying assets while at the same time the Debt Management Office has been selling them. It has been an entirely circular arrangement, and there has been virtually no increase in the money supply as a result of the quantitative easing. Would my noble friend not agree that in the present circumstances, it is crucial that we have an effective monetary policy and that can happen only if the Bank of England is given the powers it used to have?

My noble friend Lord Higgins raises an important question. I think that it is part of a wider debate at the moment about the responsibilities and levers which central banks have, including, among others, the linkages between the conduct of monetary and financial stability policy. As noble Lords are aware, we are not shy of making structural changes where they appear to be justified, as we are doing by moving banking supervision back into the Bank of England.

That said, I believe that the arguments for minimising conflicts of interest by separating debt management and monetary policy objectives and accountabilities are persuasive. The IMF has maintained the position that countries should have such separation and it has become international best practice among our peer-group countries, including France and Germany.

My Lords, the Americans passed the Glass-Steagall Act in 1933, which was to reform their banking sector. That was repealed only in 1980 and now they have just passed the Dodd-Frank Act. Will the Minister explain the pros and cons of this Government’s proposed banking and financial sector reform compared with the American Dodd-Frank Act?

My Lords, there are some big questions. I will try to bring the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, back to the Debt Management Office and the Bank of England, which will make it more manageable. In the context of a fragile banking system, it is very important that the objectives on monetary policy of the Bank of England, including its ability which it exercised up to £200 billion to use quantitative easing as a way of fulfilling its monetary policy objective, are kept separated from the equally critical role of the Debt Management Office. Thanks to the deficit left to us by the previous Government, it had to issue more than £200 billion of debt last year, which compares with £8 billion in 1998-99. They both have challenging objectives and separation in that sense is very important.

My Lords, given the decision yesterday by National Savings & Investments to withdraw its index-linked bond, have the Government any plans to review the strategy of NS&I and, in particular, its scope for generating funds to help meet the Government’s overall funding target?

My Lords, we consider carefully each year and publish transparently the mandates for the Debt Management Office, but consider in that context the remit that we give to NS&I. Its essential task is to contribute in a cost-effective manner to debt raising. It has to look against the targets for debt raising, which we give it, at the appropriate product set that it offers to the public. It is in that context that it periodically withdraws or introduces new products.

My Lords, do the Government agree with the Written Answer of the previous Government on 21 July 2009 to the effect that overall supervision of all our financial services is to be vested in the European Union? Which category does this debt management fall under? Is it day-to-day supervision or will it be controlled by the overall supervision of all our financial services which we have passed to Brussels?

My Lords, I do not recollect the previous Government’s Answer to that Question, but I would be surprised if they gave the Answer that we have just heard because supervision of our financial institutions is not being transferred to Brussels under any current proposal.

My Lords, coming back to the original Question, does my noble friend the Minister agree that an increase in the money supply would be highly desirable from the point of view of the recovery? If there has been no increase in the money supply because of the inter-relationship between debt management and quantitative easing, is that not something that should be looked at again?

My Lords, as I have stressed, monetary policy is for the Bank of England. Therefore, it is not for me to comment on the way in which it exercises that responsibility. But the fact is that it took the decisions that it did to purchase assets under the so-called quantitative easing programme in order to meet the inflation target which the Chancellor gives them. The Bank’s latest assessment was that that programme contributed to keeping long-term interest rates 1 per cent below what they would otherwise have been.

My Lords, the noble Lord has just said that it is not for him to comment on what the Bank of England does, but a senior official at the Treasury sits in on Monetary Policy Committee meetings on a permanent basis. Does he never talk to him?

My Lords, it is correct that a senior official of the Treasury sits in on the monthly Monetary Policy Committee meetings, but that official is not a member of the committee. I have performed that function myself on one occasion, and I understood that it was my duty to bring to the attention of the MPC anything the Treasury thought it ought to be aware of.