Committee (1st Day)
Relevant document: 4th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee.
My Lords, I notice that the Chief Whip is in her place, so when will we who propose to spend quite a lot of time on the Bill and make serious contributions be told of the days on which we will be sitting, and how many days we will be sitting, before the House rises? It would enable some of us at least to get something resembling a life.
My Lords, the Forthcoming Business will be issued in the normal manner following discussions through the usual channels.
1: Before Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
In section 1 of the Bank of England Act 1998 (court of directors), for subsection (1) substitute—“(1) The court of directors of the Bank shall be replaced with a Supervisory Board.””
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 2 and 201. Before addressing the amendments, I crave the indulgence of the Committee in making a few general comments on the Bill and our procedures.
This is a very important Bill. Yet, as we know, it is a dog’s breakfast of amendments to earlier legislation and is, accordingly, extraordinarily and disproportionately difficult for the House to assess properly. The Treasury Committee of the other place has objected to the current construction and argues that there should be a new Bill to replace earlier legislation. Only then can that committee and, indeed, the regulated community gain a proper overview of the full import of the measures before us.
Most importantly, the Bill as currently drafted severely limits effective scrutiny by this Committee. Not only is there the question of excessive complexity in drafting but many of the most important debates on Bills take place on the Motion that Clause “X” stand part of the Bill. As this Bill is constructed, this is just about impossible, as failure to agree, say, that Clause 3 or Clause 5 stand part would not only wreck the entire Bill but render it completely meaningless by taking about 40 pages out of it. The drafting is a mess.
Secondly, there are fundamental problems with the overall structure of the Bill, identified by the Joint Committee and the Treasury Committee, which could better be addressed by proper redrafting rather than by piecemeal amendment.
I think the answer is no. The issue is the straightforward drafting of the Bill. The problems, as I said, could be better addressed by proper redrafting rather than by piecemeal amendment. For example, the appropriate structure of the governance of the Bank of England in the 21st century, a matter to which the Treasury Committee paid particular interest, should be dealt with by a full rewrite of the Bank of England Act 1998 rather than by the cumbersome and opaque clauses before us.
Thirdly and most importantly, the Treasury Committee of the other place has raised a number of major objections to the content of the Bill with respect not only to Bank of England governance but to a number of other crucial issues of economic management, especially at times of crisis. Before today, few of these had been taken on board by the Government, although we will consider their proposal of an oversight committee later today.
I was delighted to read in the Financial Times yesterday that amendments derived directly from the Treasury Committee’s report of 24 May have been tabled by my noble friend Lord McFall, a distinguished former chair of the Treasury Committee, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, perhaps the most tenacious opposition speaker on Treasury affairs for many a long year—my noble friend Lord Myners has the scars to prove it. Your Lordships’ House has a fundamental responsibility to pass those amendments so that the other place has the opportunity to consider amendments proposed by its own committee. This is a valuable constitutional innovation.
I recognise that a fundamental rewrite of the Bill would take some time, but the Treasury Committee has faced up to this issue, too, arguing that the legislation is proceeding with undue haste. I agree. I recognise that the planning blight that hangs over the FSA is causing problems, but the performance of the shadow committees and authorities has already been such as to give us confidence that delay will not be disproportionately damaging.
All this adds up to the fact that the Bill as drafted is a barrier, not an aid, to effective macroprudential regulation. This is not a party political issue. I say with all due respect that the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, are not natural political allies. This is about getting the legislation right, which is what we on this side will endeavour to do.
The noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, and I worked well together to improve the Bill that established the Office for Budgetary Responsibility, and I hope that we can work well together to improve this Bill, although I would not start from here. When the Minister first speaks, I think he owes the Committee an explanation as to why the Government have consistently ignored the advice of the Joint Committee and the Treasury Committee on the structure of this legislation.
I turn—to the relief of the Committee, I am sure—to the amendments in this first group. Their fundamental objective is, I hope, clear: to set in train a wide-ranging restructuring of the governance of the Bank of England. The Bill gives the Bank remarkable new powers in macroprudential and microprudential regulation and in the assessment and management of financial crises. The structure of governance and levels of accountability should be appropriate to these new powers.
A key element in the structure of governance of the Bank is the court. As many commentators have noted, the current constitution of the court, its powers and resources are simply not up to the job. The Treasury Committee has paid particular attention to the role of the court, which is currently responsible for managing the Bank of England’s affairs other than monetary policy. The committee’s evidence sessions have exposed doubts, expressed by many witnesses, as to the court’s fitness for purpose as presently structured. A distinguished former member of the Monetary Policy Committee, in evidence to the Treasury Committee, described the court as,
“an historical legacy institution that now serves no useful purpose and creates the appearance or illusion of accountability or oversight where none exist”.
These concerns are especially important because of the role that the Financial Services Bill, as currently drafted, envisages for the court with respect to determining the UK’s financial stability strategy. In the context of monetary policy, where the Bank of England’s objective is to maintain price stability HM Treasury is required to write to the Monetary Policy Committee at least once a year to specify price stability and the Government’s economic policy. The annual Treasury remit letter fleshes out the concept of price stability in practical operational terms while avoiding undue rigidity. It strikes a balance between operational independence and democratic accountability.
A quite different model is proposed for financial stability. It is envisaged that the primary responsibility for determining and keeping under review the strategy for achieving the financial stability objective will reside with the court, although the court will be required to consult the Financial Policy Committee and the Treasury, and the Financial Policy Committee can, at times, make recommendations.
However, here we have a crucial difference in views—given the court’s role in determining the financial stability objective—on whether the court is up to the job. The view that the court should be abolished and replaced by a supervisory board was advanced by the Treasury Committee. In the face of the powerful arguments advanced by the Treasury Committee, the Government replied that they were not,
“at this time, minded to pursue the more radical changes to Bank of England governance recommended by the TSC, including the replacement of Court with a supervisory board. In general, the Government considers that the governance of the Bank should primarily be a matter for the Bank itself”.
This is astonishing. Indeed, it is nonsensical. As the Treasury Committee points out, the Government are the sole shareholder of the Bank, and many of the Bank’s responsibilities, functions and powers are defined by legislation. The Government do not regard the governance of private sector companies as a matter just for those companies. They really cannot wash their hands of this central issue.
Finally, the Bill grants major new powers to the person of the governor. It is important that the governor is backed up by a powerful supervisory committee to which he is accountable and is not an individual exposed on his or her own, so why a supervisory board? What is in a name? The whole point of this proposal is to recognise this necessary break with the past if we are to have a modern, effective structure of governance at the Bank of England. In the convoluted context of amendments to this Bill, we have been able to present only a sketch of what we on this side of the House have in mind, but we shall return to the matter on Report.
By accepting this amendment, the Government would acknowledge that the new Bank, with its new powers, would have a board to whom the executive is responsible and that is capable of performing an effective supervisory function. That should be its job: to supervise, to set strategy, to advise and review, not to run the Bank on a day-to-day basis and certainly not in the context of a crisis. These amendments are a signpost towards the new Bank with a new regulatory structure, and hence towards a truly effective regulatory system. I beg to move.
I rise to support my noble friend. This is an immensely complicated Bill, and I certainly find it virtually impossible to follow. I cannot tell you how many hours I have put in trying to find out what almost any sentence actually refers to when it refers to some other sentence in the Bill. It contains clauses, subsections, paragraphs—I think I could find an infinite regress in there somewhere that went on for ever.
I am sure, given the earlier intervention, that that is exactly what parliamentary draftsmen like getting up to. Unfortunately, none of us is a parliamentary draftsman; we are simply ordinary Members of the House of Lords trying to do our duty by scrutinising a Bill. To give some examples, all manner of things in the Bill are referred to on one page and then not defined until a great many pages later. Some of those are acronyms, which makes it even harder for those of us who are not good at this sort of thing to find where that acronym is converted into ordinary English. To take just two examples, the financial stability objective and the financial stability strategy are both mentioned on page 2, but you go through page after page before you find anything resembling a definition, let alone an interpretation of what they might mean. The FCA itself is mentioned on page 3 but is defined on page 15. I should have thought that many a Member of your Lordships’ House would decide to give up on the Bill altogether before getting to page 15, because there must be better things one can do here to make a contribution.
That is one general question. I am also concerned—this is the last of my general remarks—about the Government marching in with an enormously complicated amendment, such as one that is tabled to be discussed today. We have had it for, what, three days? We are meant somehow to scrutinise that amendment. When we do all that, we are justifying the continued existence of your Lordships’ House. We are meant to do that today. How we can manage to do that successfully is beyond me. I have gone through it several times and until I hear the Minister I doubt if I will even understand what the Government think that they are up to, let alone be able to criticise him for it.
My main remark, however, concerns the amendment. In A New Approach to Financial Regulation, the Government state, in terms, that they intend to place the Bank of England,
“at the heart of the financial system”.
The obvious response to that is: why? On the basis of the Bank of England’s performance from 2008 to the present day, the idea that anyone in their right mind would give it more power rather than query what it is up to altogether is completely beyond me. Can the Minister tell us why that group of people, who have bungled everything since the original crisis hit our system, should be given more power? When the economic history of our time is written, it will say that the Government must be crackers. That goes much further than my noble friend wants to, because he has Front-Bench responsibilities, but I am totally at a loss as to why those people should be given more power, given how they have failed in the past.
That is the basis of my remarks. If the Government are determined to go ahead with placing the Bank of England at the centre, we need to find some way to defend our financial institutions, many of which make enormously profitable contributions to our economy, from the damage that might be done to them by a lot of those people, who can at best be described as incompetent.
My Lords, I am unclear as to what are the Government’s proposals, the Opposition’s proposals and even the Treasury Select Committee’s proposals. It strikes me that a great deal of complexity is made out of a situation which should be extremely straightforward. The Bank of England should have a board of directors—you can call it the court, if you like—composed of proper individuals independent of the Bank of England who have substantial experience in the financial services industry and who have all the powers of a board.
I am a commissioner of a minor regulator, the Guernsey Financial Services Commission, and we operate as a board controlled by non-executives to which the executive regulator is accountable and where the board has the power to fire the chief executive and the requirement to understand and be on top of every regulatory issue that is in the course of being addressed. I cannot see why the Bank of England should not have a board of that nature. Indeed, the court has a lot of the powers required to exercise that role. It is just that it has not done so for many years and has been an ornament.
We then have the question of what the FPC should do. Some have said that it will take over as the board that runs the Bank of England. However, it seems to me that the FPC should be a specialist body which focuses on the fundamental issue of what is going on in the banking industry and advises the board on financial stability; it should not be a substitute for or take over from a proper board of the Bank of England which covers all the issues. However, if there is a specialist body and a proper board in this structure, I cannot see what is wrong with it.
I also have to agree that, certainly between 2007 and 2008, the Bank of England did not exactly do very well. Much to my chagrin, it was really the ECB that managed to keep the banks and the City of London afloat, since the Bank of England, extraordinarily, did not recognise a major run on the banking system that was far greater than the one in 1974, which I also lived through. My reply on that point is that these bodies need to contain a majority of independent people. If the board or the FPC is not controlled by independents, then they will be in the control of the governor. Both bodies need independent people who can stand up to the establishment of the Bank of England.
I look forward to learning from the Minister precisely what the amendments mean. Solving the situation should not be particularly difficult but is actually a matter of common sense.
My Lords, I, too, share the nervousness of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, about the governance of the Bank of England, and I agree that the Bill is extremely complicated. I take my hat off to those who have worked hard on the Joint Committee. Their task was very much harder than the one that the noble Lord and I had—under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, who is in his place—when we scrutinised the then Financial Services and Markets Bill some 12 or 13 years ago. This task is clearly much more difficult given that it does not attempt a total rewrite of that legislation. Although I am not sure whether the PRA or the FCA will be the continuing entity of the FSA, as I understand that two-thirds of the FSA personnel will be moving to the FCA, I believe that for most purposes the PRA will nevertheless be the continuing entity.
Although I understand why the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has moved his amendment, I am afraid that I am unable to support it. Like my noble friend Lord Flight, I believe that the situation is quite simple: the Bank of England has a perfectly good Court of Directors—a term which I think sounds rather good. Some of your Lordships may think that it sounds arcane and fusty but, on the other hand, it has a certain amount of gravitas. To change it to “supervisory board” would be very un-British. In my business life, I have come across many supervisory boards, in Holland and in Germany. In many cases, I find them semi-detached, rather remote and rather nervous to exercise their powers. If we were to adopt the term “supervisory board” it would give a weak impression—much weaker than the rather heavy-sounding Court of Directors gives. I do not think that there is no problem with the court’s name. However, I agree that its accountability needs to be strengthened, given the additional powers that the Bank will receive. Certainly, some changes need to be made to the governance of the Court of the Bank of England.
The noble Lord also referred to the asymmetry between the Monetary Policy Committee and the proposed Financial Stability Committee, in that the first is independent of the court, whereas the new Financial Stability Committee would be subordinate to the court. I do not think it necessary, in this connection, to strive for total symmetry, because the Monetary Policy Committee has a very specific responsibility, to set interest rates, which is a technical matter. It is essential that it continues to conduct its business in a transparent and independent way and to be composed of persons who are able to provide technical expertise in determining interest rates. The Financial Stability Committee will have a much broader remit. Regarding the oversight of our prudential regulation, both macro and micro, I do not quite understand why it is necessary that the two be so separated; it makes the structure more complicated than it need be. So I have sympathy with the noble Lord’s purpose, but I cannot agree that to replace the court with a supervisory board would be the right way to go.
My Lords, what we have heard so far exposes to me why, as I have said before, this is a non-party political Bill. I agree with everything that has been said so far. The noble Lord, Lord Flight, was very good. The way that this Bill is being managed is not the Minister’s fault—we should not have had a Bill in the first place. What an amount of paperwork; we are supposed to be becoming a world without paper, but I have left huge volumes of advisory papers behind in the office. I also have with me the Bill itself, of course, and various other documents. The management of this, as my noble friend said, has been outrageous. A few days ago we had four pages—as if the Bill and the amendments were not enough to read—of government amendments. Those were, I think, on page 3 of the paper. We have to read those as well as find out what all the committees, sub-committees, courts and directors, and God knows what else, are going to do. They are all going to be responsible for matters which, at the end of the day, the Chancellor will never give up. Indeed, we are told that the Treasury will be very involved with the various committees. We will come to that later.
For the moment, however, I would like the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, to tell us why we removed the FSA. My understanding at the time of the Bank of England Bill was that Gordon Brown took away the FSA from the Bank of England precisely because he did not want to make the Bank as powerful as this legislation now proposes making it. Those powers are now much wider—the court of the Bank is being given much greater powers as well as various committees and sub-committees. The Bill proposes all sorts of things that we are supposed to understand. Frankly, I do not understand them. Will the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, be able to explain the Bill rather than just read out his briefs? Perhaps he should send his briefs to us; that might be easier than listening to what they say. The whole thing is so complex. The powers of the Bank of England are now so huge that I assume that the Treasury and the Chancellor will never allow them to be used. Members of the Treasury itself are on various committees of the Bank. I do not know who is going to be responsible anywhere.
I entirely agree with my noble friend, and I hope the House can understand why I personally voted for the Bill to go into Grand Committee—it needs detailed scrutiny. Indeed, it needs separating; the whole Bill needs breaking up into something smaller. That could be done only if we had sensible discussions in the Moses Room, which would have been much better. We used to have very good discussions with the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, over the budget responsibility Bill, and I for one am desperately sorry that we are having to take this all on the Floor of the House now. I agree with all that has been said, and I certainly agree with the amendment that was so well moved by my noble friend Lord Eatwell.
My Lords, I would like to make one comment on the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and then make some comments on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Peston. On the way in which the amendment is drafted, I am not at all clear about how the notion of a supervisory committee fits with the language of new Section 9B of the Bank of England Act 1998 in Clause 3(1), which talks about the Financial Policy Committee being,
“a sub-committee of the court of directors of the Bank”.
I am a very long-in-the-tooth lawyer, and the normal language of sub-committees is to make them clearly subsidiary and subject to not just the oversight but the decision-making of the body of which they are a sub-committee. I put that to the Minister because we have enough confusion in the Bill already and, as has been mentioned, the name “supervisory committee” has many connotations from other jurisdictions that frustrate his desire to make this clearer.
Given that the issue of clarity and comprehensibility has been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, and others, this is probably the only chance I have to add to that and ask my noble friend if he will take profoundly seriously the way in which the Bill is being put to us. I venture to suggest that not one Peer in 50, however learned or experienced they are, will be able to get their head around these 168 pages. It is not just those pages, of course, since they cross-refer to hundreds and hundreds of other pieces of statutory legislation and instruments.
I hope that my noble friend will take back the undertaking that I thought I got two years ago to the effect that where we had a Bill of this nature with, as I say, constant cross-references, those of us who wanted to get our heads around it would be given the legislation that was amended by the Bill, with the amendments shown on the face of that legislation so that we could relatively quickly—I use the word “relatively” advisedly—get our head around it. I have to tell noble Lords that if they go to the Library and pull down the 1998 statute, they will find that subsequent amendments have not been incorporated into it and they will have to go off elsewhere to find them. The whole thing is totally counterproductive to the work of this House. Most of us have neither secretaries nor research assistants of any sort. It really is scandalous—I use that word—that as legislators we are not assisted as far as possible to do our job effectively.
If the Minister is having sleepless nights, I urge him to look at subsections (1), (4) and (5) in new Section 9B, where the language is so—I nearly used an Anglo-Saxon expression, which would have been much more colourful—hyper-complicated. New Section 9B(1) says that this particular sub-committee is to be called,
“the ‘Financial Policy Committee’”.
However, new Section 9B(4) says,
“The court of directors must keep the procedures followed by the Committee under review”.
Given that the Bill has just said that the way to describe the new sub-committee is as the “Financial Policy Committee”, which committee is meant in subsection (4)? Then new Section 9B(5) says that:
“The court’s function under subsection (4) is to stand delegated to the sub-committee”,
which is not supposed to be referred to as that at all, so perhaps that is another sub-committee that we have not heard of and which is defined 63 pages later. And so it goes on. I do not know about anyone else, but I think that I have spent eight hours so far in trying to understand Clauses 5 and 6. I may be becoming an old f—no, I may be losing my sharpness, but I urge the Minister, not only with this Bill but with so many other Bills that we are called upon to deal with, to make the task for us legislators as readily accessible and easy as possibly can be.
My Lords, I am delighted that cleverer people than me have found this Bill incomprehensible, because I have real fears that we will get very lost in the detail of this Bill, and we will certainly get lost in the alphabet soup of acronyms contained within the Bill. However, I will return to the substantive issue.
The Bank of England is to be the pre-eminent financial services regulator. A regulator has to be transparent, consistent, and readily understood internationally. I would be delighted if, when the Minister replies, he will explain to us why it is necessary to vest such untrammelled power in the Governor of the Bank of England. The governor becomes much more powerful than the Prime Minister, who is, after all, only primus inter pares. The governor becomes completely unchallengeable. That is why the idea of a supervisory board in the amendment proposed by my noble friend is sensible.
I will not get tied up on titles. The court concept is anachronistic, and it is not readily understood by our main competitors. I am much more interested in the substance of supervision. One of the key elements of the work of the Bank of England as financial regulator will be to insist upon the best kind of corporate governance that we can get in our financial institutions. It should, therefore, be an example in itself in how it is governed. I have no confidence that that level of modern, transparent, corporate governance is in the model that is outlined in this Bill, as I understand it.
If people are tied up with the history of the Bank, which is long and distinguished, we can still have chaps running around in pink coats, and we can still have a wonderful collection of silver. However, at the end of the day, if we, as a nation, are to remain a leader in the financial services industry, we have to have a system of governance of our financial regulator that stands up to very tight scrutiny. I therefore urge the Minister, when he replies to this amendment, to give us some explanation as to why the Government have not come up with a model of corporate governance that gives that kind of confidence.
We will come to other elements when we talk about the role of the governor. I am extremely concerned about a repetition of what happened in the run-up to the run on Northern Rock. Some ill advised, perhaps unintentional, comments by the governor contributed to the run on that bank. We cannot allow ourselves to get into a situation where something like that could happen again.
My Lords, I do not want at any length to add to what many noble Lords have said, except to record that this is one of the most incomprehensible Bills that I have had business with. Several times I started on what I thought was a trail of decisions, and at the end of it I could not work out who did what and how they knew what they should do.
I have one small technical question for my noble friend that is along those lines. I know that “macro” means “long” in Greek. I do not know what is meant by “micro”—which means small—so far as it is applicable to prudential regulation. Is the micro bit about the size of the body being investigated or about the scale of the activities of the regulator? I am not at all clear about this. Having come across these terms “macro” and “micro” regulation, I found myself unable to work out what quite a lot of these fundamental things mean.
Unfortunately, under the old regime there was a lack of clarity about who did what and who was responsible. However, I am not sure that we are getting away from that, as we ought to. It is a difficulty, and I hope that my noble friend can shed a little light on it. Many who have spoken in this short debate have pointed out that the Bill is not very easy to follow, to put it mildly. I would strongly welcome anything that would make it easier.
My Lords, this is the most important Bill to have come from the coalition. We are expected to right the wrongs of the financial service and have that in place for the next 20, 30 or 40 years. This Bill has been tacked on to the Financial Services and Markets Act, which is why there is such complexity and why it is wrong. The Governor of the Bank of England himself said in June 2011:
“We are losing the simplicity and the ability to have a cleaner debate about the new framework. Certainly the Government rejected our”—
the Bank of England’s—
“request to have a new Bill and the argument that they gave, understandably, was that at the cost of some complexity we could ensure that all the provisions that were appropriate could be put into an amended FSMA and it would be a faster way of doing it”.
He went on, with some understatement:
“I think we have seen the complexity”.
If the comments of noble Lords today are anything to go by, we have not seen anything yet as a result of that. The governor went on:
“I am not quite sure whether we have avoided delay”.
Going back to the crisis of 2007 and 2008, the main issues were complexity, the question of who was in charge and transparency. We are making them worse, rather than better. We are moving from a tripartite system to a quadripartite system. When we ask exactly who is in charge—the deadly question that no one could answer at the time of the financial crisis—it will be equally hard to give a decent answer as a result of this Bill.
That is what is wrong with the Bill. It needs the utmost scrutiny in this Chamber. The other Chamber debated the Bill for 43 hours and 28 minutes. However, the Financial Services and Markets Act was debated for 89 hours and 59 minutes—more than double the time. As a result, the Treasury Committee says, in its frustration, in the first paragraph of its report, that it is now over to the House of Lords to change the Bill. Why does it say that? It says so because Clauses 80 to 103 and Schedules 17 to 21 were not debated due to a lack of time for the programme Motion. We need time for, and simplicity in, the Bill but we are getting complexity. That is the issue that has brought the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and me together. We are very clear: give us that simplicity, not complexity. The audience that is looking at this from outside may then understand that we have the best interests of the financial services and the country at heart, and we may get a decent Bill out of this.
My Lords, I told the Minister that I would ask him a question but I forgot to ask it. I hope I will be allowed to ask it before he replies. Its origin is in my getting lost in the Bill. I was in the Public Bill Office and pointed to something on the page—a number, a letter and another number—and said, “I cannot find it”. They flicked the pages over and said to me, “What you need is a Keeling schedule”. I had never heard of a Keeling schedule so I rang the Treasury and asked one of the noble Lord’s assistants what it was. I gather from talking to the Minister earlier that he now knows what it is. I should like him to tell your Lordships’ House what it is and where we can get one, since I gather that it will enable us to find things.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, that the Bank of England needs a modern and transparent form of governance, the best governance that it can have. I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Flight, that the form of governance that is best known in this country and is best practice is a unitary board—a board that consists of a majority of non-executive directors. It also consists of executive directors with a non-executive chairman. The present structure of the court seems to me very close to that. We may not like its name, but in terms of structure, it seems it could very easily be turned into such a body. The issue is not what its name is or even the composition of it; it is to do with the powers that the court has.
It has been mentioned that the court has many of the powers that a normal board would be expected to have. Some of those powers that it does not practise at present are contained in the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, will move later today to do with dealing with issues of oversight of policy in the past and the extent to which that should be done.
I would hope that we could retain the present structure of the court. As I said, whether the name should be changed is a matter of taste, but we should concentrate on the powers of that court and the extent to which the powers that it needs to operate as a normal board are contained in some of the other amendments being put forward. Certainly, as I interpret some of those that we have seen already, it begins to come quite close to what I would expect to be a modern, transparent and very good form of governance.
My Lords, it has been an interesting 45 minutes. I really thought that this group of amendments was going to be, in cricketing terms, a loosener from the opening fast bowler from the Opposition Benches, instead of which I have been faced with a number of bouncers and, I dare say, a couple of wide balls on the way through.
I will not respond to all of what I might term the Second Reading points that have been reiterated. I answered all the substantive points at Second Reading and would refer noble Lords back to those debates. I also will not be tempted into discussing clauses yet to come. In answer to my noble friend Lord Eccles about what “micro” means—
I beg my noble friend’s pardon. I think I was looking at the Annunciator, which was misleading at the time. I rather wished we were already where my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury was, on Clause 9, but sadly I looked down and we were still on Clause 1. We will come to all these points in due course.
I will respond to the comments on the form in which the Bill is presented. Although I explained at Second Reading why we are amending FiSMA rather than giving a wholesale rewrite, it is clearly of some concern to noble Lords and I should address the points as I did at Second Reading. Our approach was widely supported by consultation respondents. It will minimise the extent to which regulated firms and other users of FiSMA have to deal with legislative change. I appreciate that there might have been forms that would have made it easier at the margin for your Lordships’ House, but I think the substantive point here is that we are asking a major UK industry to absorb significant and necessary change and it is certainly the watchword of this Government in all that we do to minimise regulatory and administrative burdens; and we listened to what the industry had to say in response to the consultation.
I also believe that the way in which the board is constructed will allow for more focused parliamentary and stakeholder scrutiny of the key changes to the regime rather than open up a full discussion of everything again. The Government recognise that it is difficult. We have well over 300 pages of the Bill before us, which is precisely why we published a consolidated version of the Financial Services and Markets Act, which at some 650 pages was a huge exercise by Treasury officials. It took an enormous amount of time and is available on the Treasury website. I drew noble Lords’ attention to it at Second Reading. A comprehensive amended version, as it would be amended if this Bill goes through, is available for scrutiny on the Treasury website.
My Lords, different noble Lords will want to digest the material in different ways. Some of us may find it much easier to focus on what we are interested in on a computer screen. I am certainly conscious of the wasteful expenditure of resources and taxpayers’ money when people do not want printed copies. I will investigate, but it may be that copies are available through the Library. I do not know—let me have a look at that. But it is certainly on the website. I suggest that noble Lords may not want to download all 600 pages but will be interested in particular sections. I underline the fact that a huge effort was gone into that far exceeds anything that would normally go into a Keeling schedule.
The noble Lord, Lord Peston, asked about Keeling schedules. When he asked about them a couple of days ago, I had no idea what they were. So I asked for somebody to have a look on the internet, where there is a very interesting debate. It starts by questioning whether these schedules were named after the stunt woman, Liise Keeling, or the distinguished former Member of Parliament for Twickenham, Mr E H Keeling, later Sir Edward. It was the latter who did it in conjunction with Mr R P Croom-Johnson, later Mr Justice Croom-Johnson. So there was, indeed, a Keeling schedule, but it is something that has fallen out of common use over the past decade and more. I suggest that we have gone rather further than a Keeling schedule in producing a fully amended version of FSMA on the Treasury website. There is not, before I am challenged, an amended version of the Bank of England Act, because the changes that we propose to that Act are relatively straightforward. The major innovations in the Bill, such as Clauses 3 and 5, which we will get to in due course, are drafted as entire new clauses, and may be read and scrutinised very straightforwardly as self-standing provisions.
It is something that used to exist and the concept is still out there in the ether, but it has fallen out of common use over the past 20 years. For this Bill, there is no Keeling schedule but there is the 658-page, fully amended version of FSMA, which is accessible on the Treasury website. It serves the purpose of a Keeling schedule and does more than that.
I am reluctant to intervene on the Minister again, but it is important that even if he does not provide a print-off of this labour of love, hard copies of this mammoth work should at least be available in the Library. Some of us find that the time that it takes to run off 658 pages on our clapped-out machines is itself unnecessary.
Finally, the Minister may find that a Keeling schedule is exactly what has been done by the Treasury in this regard. That is my understanding of a Keeling schedule.
My Lords, it may be the largest Keeling schedule ever known to this House. I will certainly make sure that the Library is aware of where to find the amended version of FiSMA, and I am sure that it will print copies off on request in the normal way.
I turn now to the substance of this clause. The amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, seek to convert the court of directors into a supervisory board. We will discuss in detail later—as has already been identified by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and others—government Amendment 13 and related amendments which, I suggest, address all the points of substance behind the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, by creating a statutory oversight committee. I will have a lot more to say about that when we get to Amendment 13.
The only substantive difference, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has said, between the Government’s amendments and those in his name appears to be in the name of the Bank’s governing body. The noble Lord’s amendments do not seek to change the structure or membership of the court; it is simply, as he identified, that he does not like the term “court”. I agree with other members of the Committee that simply changing the name is not what we should be focusing on. The name of the Bank’s governing body is largely irrelevant. It is important that it is a body that is fully equipped and prepared to fulfil its role in the new structure effectively and that the non-executives on the court have a clear and explicit remit to oversee the Bank’s performance, both in policy terms and operationally. We will come on to why the Government believe the amendments to the Bill that we have put down are needed.
In answer to the questions about why we put the amendments down when we did, I listened very carefully to all the points on governance and other issues that were made at Second Reading and have come forward, at the earliest practicable date, with amendments ahead of discussion in Committee rather than after it, both in relation to oversight and growth. I make no apology, but your Lordships will appreciate that there was not much time between Second Reading and today to get some important amendments sorted out in detail. I hope that explains what we have done.
My Lords, on that point, it is my understanding that Mr Hoban made the commitment to produce this committee at Third Reading in the other place. It does not seem to me that the noble Lord had to wait until after Second Reading here to formulate his amendment.
My Lords, as I said at Second Reading, I wanted to take full account of the wisdom of this House before we finalised and tabled the amendments. That is exactly what we have done and, as I will explain later, I believe that they meet the concerns of many noble Lords who spoke at Second Reading. The new oversight committee achieves the substance of what is required.
However, as has been said by a number of noble Lords in this debate, if we were to change “court” to “supervisory board”, as suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, it would be grossly misleading. What many people, maybe most people, would understand by a supervisory board is that it would be a board of non-executives exercising independent oversight. Actually, as the Committee should be aware, merely changing the name “court” to “supervisory board” would means that it would still be a body made up of executive and non-executive directors, and therefore it would not have the effect that most people would understand by the term “supervisory board”, unlike the oversight committee which the Government are proposing and which we will come on to. I understand the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke, makes. We want proper, independent oversight, but changing the name of the court is not the way to do it. This has been an interesting debate but, on the basis of that explanation, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
I mean generically. I raised the question in my opening remarks as to whether it would be appropriate for this House to give the other place the opportunity to discuss the amendments tabled by its own committee. Does the noble Lord think that is appropriate?
My Lords, we have a series of amendments down in the name of my noble friend Lady Noakes and the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith. The best thing to do is to discuss them when they come up and take them one by one on their merits. If the noble Lord had wanted to discuss all these matters together, he could have grouped a number of amendments together but he, or the usual channels on his behalf, chose not to do so. We had better proceed as per the groupings list.
My Lords, the noble Lord is not answering the question about what he considers to be the generic nature of that set of amendments derived from the Treasury Committee report.
I am very grateful to noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. As I understand it, the discussion broke into two parts. Many noble Lords were disturbed by the complexity of the legislation before us and felt that this complexity was preventing a satisfactory consideration of the overall implications of the legislation. Having worked on this for some time, I have some sympathy with them. The noble Lord referred to the many hours that Treasury staff had to devote to creating the unified Bill—the Keeling schedule. Similar hours will no doubt have to be devoted to deriving a full understanding of the implications.
Leaving aside the issue of complexity, I turn to the issue of governance, which lies behind the first amendments that I have proposed and which will be before the Committee as we roll through a number of other amendments. Every noble Lord who spoke, with the exception, to a certain extent, of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, felt that there were important issues to be addressed with respect to the governance of the Bank of England and that the court as currently formulated is not fit for purpose. Some of this will be discussed later, in the context of my Amendment 8 and of Amendment 13, which establishes the oversight committee. There are some major questions to be raised about the oversight committee, which we shall deal with at that point. It does not achieve an effective system of clear, transparent governance in the way that one would expect of a major public institution.
With respect to the name, being a bit of a traditionalist myself, I have some sympathy with the noble Lords, Lord Flight and Lord Burns, who felt that the court might as well be called the court. However, when the noble Lord says that the term “supervisory board” is misleading, do we think that the term “court” is not misleading? Whatever does that mean to anybody not steeped in the history of the Bank of England? The Minister has failed to address the generic question about the amendments derived from the Treasury Committee in another place.
This is a significant constitutional development which I think is very valuable, but the noble Lord seems not to want to discuss it. We will return at several points—
My Lords, is the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, aware that what he describes as the Treasury Committee amendments were debated on Report in another place? Does he accept that, perhaps contrary to the impression which he may not have meant to give, they were indeed debated on Report in another place?
I think that the noble Lord will find that not all the amendments were debated. Indeed, the key amendments relating to the governance of the Bank of England were withdrawn on the basis of Mr Hoban’s assertion that he was going to bring forward some new arrangements. Therefore, the issue before us is whether those new arrangements measure up to the issues raised by the Treasury Committee—a matter that we will discuss in a moment.
Given the nature of our discussion, which I think has got us under way and raised a number of important issues that are yet to be resolved, for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 1 : Deputy Governors
Amendment 2 not moved.
3: Clause 1, page 1, leave out line 9
My Lords, if anyone troubles to read the amendment, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Peston, they will see that I am asking why we need two more deputy governors. I do not know whether that means that they get higher salaries. Perhaps the noble Lord can tell us the salaries of the members of the Court of Directors. It is not clear to me just who is responsible for financial strategy. The Bill proposes the introduction of one deputy governor for financial stability and one for monetary policy. I do not know how many people are responsible for this. As has been said, there are supervisory committees, boards, a Court of Directors, the Financial Policy Committee, the Monetary Policy Committee and the Treasury, and I assume that ultimately the Chancellor might take a slight interest in financial stability and so on.
Why do we need two new deputy directors? They could be called deputy chairmen, or anything you like, but the point is that we should just let them chair the committees. I assume that the work they will do will be repeated elsewhere many times. I do not even know whether the Court of Directors will have the final word. To my knowledge, the Court of Directors has never made the final decisions in the past. The noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, once told me that when he was a senior official at the Treasury he attended the Monetary Policy Committee as the Treasury spokesman. I have never been able to find out, either from him or from anyone else, just what the Treasury spokesman spoke about at the Monetary Policy Committee. Clearly, he had some important things to tell that committee before it came to its conclusions.
I suppose that the question underlying our two amendments in this group is: who is ultimately responsible for these major issues? Is it the Court of Directors of the Bank of England, the Financial Policy Committee or the Treasury, and why do we need two new “deputy governors” rather than just “members of the court”? I beg to move.
Perhaps I may respond to the noble Lord’s comments about the Monetary Policy Committee and the Treasury person on it, having been that Treasury person at a very large number of MPC meetings. That person is referred to as the Treasury representative. In the early stages of the meetings, they would explain what was going on in fiscal policy to allow fiscal monetary co-ordination to take place. However, the convention was that the Treasury representative did not get involved in the committee’s discussion about a decision on interest rates.
I shall speak to the amendment in my name, which is in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and others, have commented that the governor’s powers under this Bill are extraordinary. In fact, in the internal running of the Bank the governor will become totally dominant and virtually unchallengeable, as it will the governor who sits on all the relevant key committees. By virtue not only of sitting on them but of chairing them, the governor will have power over the agendas and the conduct of business. That will enable the governor essentially to control the direction of the PRA, the MPC and the FPC completely.
The purpose of the amendment is to pick up some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, made so well a few moments ago and which had been made earlier. It seeks to balance the powers in the committees so that the deputy governors have control of their own special areas and are capable of ensuring that the committees focus on the areas that they know well. Noble Lords are aware that in the crisis of 2008, part of the problem, which has been brought out in subsequent inquiries, was that the governor’s focus was inevitably on one area and that others were overlooked because they were not the governor’s principal concern at the time. It is therefore necessary to try to balance the internal powers to create a robust and demanding internal discussion within the Bank long before it comes to the oversight or review of what might have gone wrong in the past—in other words, to stop things happening before they happen rather than afterwards.
Government Amendment 13, which is a fascinating, interesting and useful amendment that will be discussed later, seems, with respect to the noble Lord, to be retrospective rather than prospective. There is quite a lot of closing the stable doors after the horses have left. We do not want another run on the banking system; we want people to stop one. It is the old pink elephant problem: how do you prove that the system has stopped pink elephants being around because you never see one? We will be looking backwards, not forwards, with Amendment 13. It is useful in helping us to understand what has gone wrong but not what happened at the time.
My other concern in trying to balance out these major three committees, two being chaired by a deputy governor, is to try to make the FCA slightly less of the runt of the litter. At the moment, with one person having so much control, the FCA, which is the only committee of the big four that the governor does not chair, ends up being overlooked, I fear. Will the Minister comment on whether he agrees with the point made forcefully earlier that the most rigorous models of governance today should be those that are modelled on the Bank, which include ways of ensuring that it is a learning organisation before rather than after disasters happen. What further action can he suggest to ensure that the FCA’s voice is heard clearly, given its widespread impact on consumer finance across the whole nation and not only in the major financial institutions in the City of London?
My Lords, I support Amendment 9, to which the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke. On Second Reading, several noble Lords commented on the powers that the Bill gives to the Governor of the Bank of England. The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, made the same point half an hour or so ago. It is clear that such a concentration of power calls for robust checks and balances. To an extent, the Bill recognises this, and some of the government amendments recognise it even more. Perhaps necessarily all the proposed checks and balances are formal and procedural, and many are backward-looking. This is necessary but not sufficient.
I have, in my commercial life, worked extensively with the chairs, CEOs and senior management of many very large multinational corporations, and all these companies are acutely aware of the dangers of the concentration of power, sometimes of apparently absolute power, in the hands of an individual or small group of individuals. In my experience, all these corporations address the problem in two ways. The first is the usual formal array of non-execs, committees and review bodies, much like the proposed architecture in the Bill. These non-execs, committees and review bodies are of course important and are taken seriously, but this arrangement is widely acknowledged to be somewhat mechanistic, occasionally cumbersome and frequently tardy. I believe this is why most large corporations pay very close attention to the culture of their organisations. They recognise that a clear, widely understood and widely accepted set of values can be the most important and effective check on potentially over-mighty management and that defining, promoting, teaching and sustaining these values is absolutely critical.
This same point was made forcefully by the noble Lord, Lord McFall, at Second Reading, when he said, referring to the Joint Committee on the draft Financial Services Bill:
“We all agreed that architecture is of secondary importance. The issues that matter are culture, conduct and communication”.—[Official Report, 11/6/12; col. 1182.]
There is probably no way of directly legislating any of these things into existence, and it is probably self-defeating to try, but there is a way of encouraging the development of elements of proper and appropriate culture and conduct. There is a way of encouraging, for example, frequent, informal and effective challenges to apparently overwhelming authority, and this is to have a senior management cadre that feels that it has access and the right to speak frankly to the CEO without necessarily having to operate through formal channels. A frank and challenging direct conversation is often much more valuable and certainly faster than process-driven discussion.
No good corporation insulates its CEO from this kind of access, this kind of frankness or this kind of challenge, and no good corporation allows the CEO to suppress this kind of behaviour. If senior management is genuinely to have this role, it must have clearly defined management responsibilities by which it is not simply the agent of the CEO. Primus inter pares might not be in the traditions of the Bank of England, but we do need to give senior managers some clear authority and sphere of action in a direct sense, which is why I support this amendment. I think it is healthy and right, practically and culturally, that the governor should not chair all of the MPC, the FPC and the PRA. It is right that the deputy governors should chair at least two. In fact, I would go further, as the noble Lord, Lord Myners, did at Second Reading when he suggested that the deputy governors should chair all these committees. I realise that even if the Government were to accept these proposals, as I hope they might, that will not immediately resolve the problem of instilling into the system the appropriate and necessary cultural values.
The Bill is, of course, generally silent on this issue of culture, probably because it is not easy to legislate for, and I sympathise with that. Any corporation faced with the same difficulty, however, would have in place a definition of the required cultural values, a set of working practices for inculcating them and a feedback mechanism for review. The Government should therefore encourage the Bank to act in exactly the same way as these large corporations with respect to culture and should say in this Bill at some point how they intend to give the Bank this encouragement.
My Lords, I had considerable sympathy with the amendment of the right reverend Prelate, which I found rather clearer and easier to understand than I did the explanation of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. I am not convinced that appointing an additional two deputy governors is necessary because I believe these three sub-divisions of the Bank could be rationalised. However, appointing deputy governors will tend to make the governance of the Bank of England more rather than less level in that if you have a governor and one deputy, only one person comes close to challenging the governor’s authority. As proposed in the Bill, there will be three deputy governors, which will mean that the perception of the balance of power will be more level than before.
It is completely unnecessary for the governor to chair the Financial Stability Committee, because the governor chairs the court and the Financial Stability Committee is a sub-committee of the court. It is not right that the chairman of the court—that is, the governor—should also chair one of its own committees. That is highly illogical.
My Lords, I am not in favour of the amendments. First, there is the post of the deputy governor for prudential regulation. This is the old head of the FSA, in so far as it deals with macroprudential regulation, who is given the status of deputy governor in order to bring him into the councils of the bank. No extra posts or salaries are being created here. One might have been created by the creation of the FSA, but that is not here.
Secondly, as to the checks and balances on the governor, I do not think that a committee as important as either the NPC or the FPC being chaired by his deputy is a good way of exerting supervision of the governor. You cannot work for someone and supervise them at the same time.
At the moment, the governor chairs these committees and brings their thinking together; and, as we discussed earlier, there are other mechanisms around the court or the oversight committee—whatever it is called—that check the over-mighty power of the governor. Using one of his deputies to do this does not make sense.
My Lords, I shall not talk about the Treasury representatives because we have an amendment relating to them later in the list and I shall save my vitriol for then.
I did not understand Amendment 9 until the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham spoke. I am grateful to him because I now understand it. In essence, he is saying that three different people ought to chair the three different committees, which makes perfectly good sense. Chairing a committee is an important task and would involve a great deal of work, and I am sympathetic to the amendment.
However, going back to my and my noble friend Lord Barnett’s amendment, these appointments are only titular. It is not for your Lordships’ House to decry those who like titles. In other words, if there are three people, men or women—although I am afraid that these days it seems to be all men in the Bank of England—who want to be called deputy governor, it is no big deal. If it turns them on, and if a wife refers to her husband as the deputy governor and that cheers her up, why not? However, I am concerned as to whether it is more than that in two ways. First, do you get paid more for being a deputy governor? The Minister keeps telling us that we have to be economical, so we have to ask whether this is the correct way to spend money.
More specifically, the amendment is also about the following. First, can we have a full job description in each case? Does a full job description for these three posts exist, and if so can we see it? Secondly, how are the three of them appointed? For example, are the three jobs advertised, and can someone from outside apply to be a deputy governor with appropriate references, experience and so on? Thirdly, who appoints to this post? Those are the questions that I wanted answering. In the transparent, modern world in which we live, the answers should be that anyone can apply for these jobs, that the jobs should be advertised, and that there should be a precise job description and a proper appointing panel. That is the world in which we live, so I hope that the answer to all my questions is yes.
My Lords, perhaps I may comment quickly on Amendment 9. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, presented what I suspect will be the Government’s argument, which is that having the Governor of the Bank of England in all these roles provides co-ordination. At Second Reading, I described the twin-peaks strategy as a small mountain range, so your Lordships will understand that I appreciate the need for co-ordination, but to use as the co-ordinating mechanism the single person of the Governor of the Bank of England strikes me as exceedingly inadvisable. The challenge is huge. It is a mechanism for co-ordination that is likely to suffocate, challenge and encourage group-think, but, frankly, no matter how much of a superman the individual who is appointed to that post is, I cannot see that they could possibly have shoulders broad enough to carry all those roles in the demanding way which this legislation and the economy require. Co-ordination strikes me as not the appropriate argument. If the argument is to be made, it must be on other grounds and not to make up for other weaknesses in the Bill.
My Lords, the essence of the debate on these amendments comes down to a lack of a clear governance structure in the Bank. If there were a clear governance structure, with the roles which exist in modern corporations—described clearly by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey—being performed, we could understand how the co-ordinating activities referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, might be carried out. In general, any organisation would be expected to review its internal operations and create an efficient internal management structure, but there is no evidence that the Bank of England is capable of doing this. Given the significant powers that are to be bestowed on the Bank, surely the Government cannot sit idly by. This may be unfortunate, and primary legislation is probably too rigid for the goals that the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, seeks, but we cannot accept a dictatorship at the Bank or even a belief elsewhere that such a dictatorship exists.
Generally, I am in favour of developing the roles of the deputy governors, particularly in the three major areas of financial stability, monetary policy and prudential regulation. That could provide a framework within which a more collegiate structure of decision-making was developed in the Bank. As I noted at Second Reading, given the differing roles of the MPC, the FPC and the PRA, it is likely that they will put forward contradictory proposals. If one person is supposed to chair all those committees, he or she will either be driven mad or will concentrate on one area to the neglect of others, as we saw the Bank do in the run-up to the crisis. Therefore it seems to me that the right reverend Prelate’s idea of having the deputy governors chair the committees is a good one. Then the Bank could presumably develop a proper management structure in which it was the role of the governor of the Bank to gather together the views of the committees and develop a coherent policy structure from their differing perspectives.
The right reverend Prelate is on to a very important development. It is unfortunate that these procedures do not seem to be developing within the Bank itself and that we do not have a clear governance structure for a Bank which is going to be placed, as the Government say, at the centre of UK financial regulation, and therefore I am very sympathetic to the ideas that the right reverend Prelate has developed.
My Lords, these committees seem to me to be very different bodies. The MPC and the FPC are, in essence, intellectual bodies reviewing policy, one in the monetary area and the other in the stability of the system. They are not bodies employing hordes of people carrying out an executive function. This is in contrast to the PRA, which will be an organisation employing lots of people doing a detailed regulatory task, and the court itself, the board that runs the Bank of England which does all the banking and other things. They are very different entities, and the PRA and the court actually need chief executives. I think it very reasonable that the chief executive of the PRA—you can call him the deputy governor, that is fine—and the chief executive of the Bank of England should be the governor himself. Thus the governor should not be chairman of the court, which should have an independent chairman. When it comes to the MPC and the FPC, the chairman is actually the person who is hosting the taking of the decisions, and so I do not think it is inappropriate for the governor to be chairman of both or at least chairman of one.
I support the noble Lord, Lord Flight, in that and pick up on what the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, was saying about this issue. I completely agree that the problem is whether the governor concentrates on one area to the exclusion of the other. You risk making things worse if you make the governor chair of one of these committees and not the other. I would say that you cannot have a Governor of the Bank of England who is not sitting on the Monetary Policy Committee. I just cannot see how you would have a governor who does not have a vote on the interest rate for this country. It does not seem to make any sense whatever. The Financial Policy Committee is going to take decisions on instruments such as loan-to-value ratios which will have quite an important bearing on macroeconomic issues which also matter to the MPC. I completely accept the issues about concentration of power. They are very important and should be handled through the accountability relationships that we set up. I also agree that the third body is very different and therefore the governor should not chair it, but the MPC and the FPC overlap so much that I do not think it is feasible not to have one person chairing both. If you were governor, and sent your deputy to chair one of these meetings, can you imagine how much time would be spent instructing them on what you thought they should do and getting feedback? It is far more transparent and open that one person chairs both.
My Lords, this has been a very interesting discussion. Let me first deal with Amendments 3 and 4 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Barnett and Lord Peston, and remind the House of one or two background issues with the deputy governors. First, we are not creating any new positions here. We are talking about two deputy governors who were created in the Bank of England by the Bank of England Act 1998. For the avoidance of doubt, we are not talking about anything new, but about existing deputy governors. Of course, the details of their pay and that of all other members of the Bank’s senior management are set out in the annual report and accounts. If it helps the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, page 41 of the 2011 accounts sets it all out in full detail. We are not talking about something new here.
As to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about job descriptions, when the role is advertised for a new appointment, a full job spec of the sort that he would expect is indeed produced. If he will forgive me, we will come on to questions of appointment in a further grouping, when no doubt we can come back to that point.
The two amendments open up a discussion about why we have deputy governors and what is their role, so I should say a word or two on that. I suggest that the role of the deputy governors is crucial. It would be enormously challenging for the governor to handle the breadth of policy and operational responsibilities of the Bank without support from the two specialist deputy governors. Each of the existing deputies is responsible for the Bank’s activities relating to one of its two statutory objectives: monetary policy and financial stability. That in itself goes 90% of the way to explaining the job description in very clear terms. The deputy governors run those areas on a day-to-day basis; they take the lead in many cases in international negotiations in those areas; they communicate with the public; and they have a major role in the relationship with the Government and Parliament in their respective areas.
Particularly given the enhanced responsibilities that the Bill will give to the Bank, I see absolutely no reason why we would want to weaken the Bank’s senior executive team by removing the deputy governors. I hope that that is not what the noble Lords who tabled the amendment would want, although that would be its effect. Rather the reverse: the capacity of the Bank’s senior team must be strengthened to equip it for its new responsibilities, which is precisely why Clause 1 creates a new deputy governor post. The third deputy governor will be the chief executive of the PRA and will be responsible for prudential regulation within the Bank. This has been a useful teasing out of what the deputy governors do, and I hope that that explanation has proved useful.
I turn to Amendment 9 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, which would require the court to remove responsibilities from the governor. It will be no surprise to the Committee when I say at the outset that I do not believe that that is appropriate. The governor is the most senior executive in the Bank and is ultimately accountable for all the Bank’s decisions and actions. Of course, a great deal of Bank policy-making is delegated by statute to policy committees, including the MPC and the FPC. Indeed, it could be argued that most of the Bank’s most vital decisions are taken by the FPC and the MPC—and, in future, also by the PRA board.
I largely agree with the three noble Lords who are very distinguished former Permanent Secretaries to the Treasury. The Committee should be very grateful that they are here and able to illuminate this debate with such clarity. However, having heard the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, in particular, at Second Reading, I suspect that there may be moments later down the track when we may not be in complete agreement. The interventions of the noble Lords, Lord Turnbull and Lord O’Donnell, on the amendment have been illuminating. The noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, quite rightly highlighted the co-ordinating role and the need for balance and the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, rightfully made the point about where the buck stops. I suggest that it is right that the governor, as the head of the Bank and being fully accountable for the decisions taken by the Bank’s policy-making bodies, should chair these committees.
I will come on to some rightful concerns about that position in a moment but I add, in parenthesis, that I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, for answering the question that I have had on a number of occasions from the noble Lords, Lord Barnett and Lord Peston, about what the Treasury representative does on the MPC. I was privileged to be there on one occasion; even the Permanent Secretary to the Treasury needs a holiday in August occasionally, so I deputised. I hope that the very clear explanation from the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, will mean that we do not get the question quite as often in the next two years, so I am grateful for that.
The substantive concern underlining Amendment 9, about the concentration of power in the Bank and in the governor as an individual, is an important issue. I was not going to argue for one minute, and will not argue, that the oversight committee is the answer to that point. No doubt we will come on to talk at length about the oversight committee which, among other things, responds to the Treasury Committee’s specific recommendation that reviews be retrospective in order to allow enough time to pass to learn the lessons effectively from decisions and actions that are taken by the Bank. We will come on to that but it does not address the issues we have here.
Let me suggest, in answer to the point in Amendment 9, that there are some effective checks and balances in the system. To start with, in each of the governor’s roles—as chair of the MPC, the FPC and the PRA, and as head of the Bank itself—he or she will be both supported and challenged by a group of experts. Those experts will include internal Bank executives such as the specialist deputy governors, who we have talked about; the executive directors and the non-executives of the two governing bodies, the court and the PRA board; and external members of the policy committees, the FPC and the MPC. I certainly agree with my noble friend Lord Sharkey that that challenge is important. It is already there and it will continue in the new construct so that in each area of the governor’s areas of responsibility, he or she will not be responsible for taking decisions alone. In the MPC and FPC, policy decisions are taken collectively, with each member having a voice and a vote.
On the specific issues raised by my noble friend Lord Sharkey, those votes do not always go the governor’s way. Members of the Committee may be aware that the governor has found himself on the losing side of the MPC vote on a number of occasions, most recently in the June MPC meeting. I suggest, first, that there is the right construct of individuals to challenge and that, secondly, we have evidence that challenge takes place and is effective. Equally, on the governing bodies of the Bank and the PRA, decisions will be taken collectively, with non-executive members being in the majority on both bodies. As chair of the PRA board, the governor will ensure strategic co-ordination between the PRA and the rest of the Bank group; that aspect of co-ordination is also important. That will help to ensure an effective and joined-up response to emerging threats to financial stability.
However, the governor will not play a hands-on role in the day-to-day running of the PRA. That will be the job of the deputy governor for prudential regulation in his or her role as chief executive. The governor will therefore be fully supported in all the different roles and will receive effective challenge from both Bank insiders and external members. It is entirely right that the responsibilities of the governor and the arrangements to ensure that he or she is both supported and held properly accountable should be determined and set by Parliament through the legislation we are scrutinising today, rather than delegated to the discretion of the Court of Directors of the Bank. For all those reasons, therefore, I cannot support the amendments in this group. I would ask the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and the right reverend Prelate to withdraw their respective amendments.
Before the Minister finishes what he is saying, could I ask him a question which is a sort of question of economics? I entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, that it would seem very strange indeed if the Governor of the Bank of England did not chair both the FPC and the Monetary Policy Committee. But then I ask myself, “Does that mean that there is a vast amount of spare capacity in the governor; that he has been twiddling his thumbs looking for other things to do, and this is a way of making use of his skills?”. This is a very serious question. I remember that when I chaired the Economic Affairs Committee—or rather, its predecessor—the previous governor chaired the committee in a way completely different from the way that the present governor chairs the MPC. I could enlarge on that, if the Committee liked. I was given a complete set of papers for the MPC, a vast amount, which I found fascinating. On the basis of those papers, I would have found it a full-time job just to chair that committee. I am therefore at somewhat of a loss as to where the spare capacity comes from. What is the governor not now going to do in order to chair the FPC? That is a very serious question indeed. This would not have been a problem for the previous governor, because he regarded his role as chairman as just chairman. He did not intervene; for example, he always voted last. He was never defeated, and when he used to give me lunch regularly I would say to him, “There is no big deal in being on the losing side”. He said, “It is impossible for me as Governor of the Bank of England ever to be defeated in the MPC. It would be quite out of the question”. I was very impressed with the present governor being willing to be defeated. I am often defeated, but I never think I am wrong; I just shrug and walk away.
Could the Minister therefore tell me where the spare capacity in the governor is to be found, so that he can chair both these committees entirely satisfactorily, in the way the present governor does it?
My Lords, first of all, I am not going to respond to the challenge of how different governors have handled committee chairing. As I have explained, I have sat in on one meeting of the MPC. We have other noble Lords, or at least one, who have sat in on a lot of meetings. I am not sure where the noble Lord, Lord Peston, gets his first-hand experience from, but let us put that aside. I hear now that he has no first-hand experience. Well, I am glad to hear that, but let us put that on one side.
I appreciate that in this Bill, and under the present arrangements, the Governor of the Bank of England has a very challenging job. The essence of what we are putting back into the Bank of England is, of course, leadership in financial supervision, which was part of the historical role of the Bank, except for the last 15 years or so. The Bank has essentially had these responsibilities in the past. The governor is and will be very well supported, partly by the deputy governors, as I have explained, but also, of course, by the whole Bank and PRA executive. This whole construct has been discussed in detail with the present governor, so I am fully confident, without being able to go through the governor’s time and analyse it, that this has been carefully thought about and the new proposed role of the governor is entirely manageable with the support that the governor has and will have.
Having sat through large numbers of meetings of the Monetary Policy Committee chaired by Eddie George and Mervyn King, I know that the reality is that the chairman has one vote, although they have a casting vote. That dominates the style of the meetings; they are not so much dominated by the style of the individual who is chairing them. Having sat through all those, I do not think that the contrast is as great as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, makes out. It is certainly true that I remember one occasion when the vote was coming round to Eddie George and he was 4-3 down, and he chose to use his vote to make it 4-4 and then used his casting vote to make it 5-4. That was an interesting use of the chair’s power. It is important, though, that the chair has only one vote and that therefore, of the nine, they can be outvoted; indeed, that is a good thing.
As laid down in the previous Act, the governor has always had responsibility for financial stability, so it is a question of how they choose to use it. Like the noble Lord, Lord Peston, I worry about the sheer weight of meetings because it is not just these meetings but the international ones as well. That is an issue, and it may be that one of the things that we got wrong with the Bank of England Act was specifying precisely how many meetings there should be. On occasion, it would be nice if you could go through a period of longed-for financial and economic stability when you might be able to pass on one or two of these meetings and not be forced to have them quite so often when actually there was not that much to do. However, that is a nirvana that we are not that close to at the moment.
My noble friend and I put down the amendment not because we care too much about whether someone is called a deputy governor but to discuss the underlying problem here. The Minister might be saved a lot of work in future; as we have heard, we are very fortunate in this House as it is, without reform, in having three noble Lords who can answer our debates, and the Minister need not bother. I am grateful to them, and we are fortunate to have them here. I know that one of them is even worrying about the job of the governor and whether he can cope with it—I see the noble Lord nodding—and he may find at the end of our debates on this Bill that he would rather not bother.
The Minister has not replied to my questions, but of course I did not expect him to. He did not tell us what the salaries were or whether someone gets more of a salary as a deputy than as an ordinary member. He told us that the job was advertised and anyone could apply. I wish I had known that years ago; I might have thought of applying. I do not know who was on the committee then; it may have been those three noble Lords on the Cross Benches who decided on the candidates. Whoever it was, we have had an interesting debate. However, what we have not yet discussed, although no doubt we will have other opportunities to do so, is the job of,
“a Deputy Governor for financial stability”,
and “for monetary policy”.
After all this, I am still not clear what the Monetary Policy Committee does, what the Financial Policy Committee does, what these deputy governors and their committee do, what the governor is going to do, what the Chancellor is going to do and who the hell is doing what. I am sure that in our later debates the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, will be interested to know. As I have no intention of applying for any of these jobs, I would like to know how they are decided and who applies. Incidentally, as my noble friend Lord Peston said, it is interesting that there is never a woman anywhere in the Bank. There may be some lower down in some menial jobs.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I would point out that very recently Rachel Lomax was a very distinguished deputy governor of the Bank, to name but one, and there are now some very able senior female members in the banking sector, to avoid any doubt on that matter.
Amendment 3 withdrawn.
Amendment 4 not moved.
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert—
“(2A) Any person appointed under subsection (2)(a) shall be appointed with the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.”
My Lords, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I am moving Amendment 5 and speaking to Amendment 10, which is consequential on Amendment 5.
As the noble Lords, Lord O’Donnell and Lord Sharkey, said, this is about the concentration of power in and the accountability of the governor in the new financial system. In fact, Alistair Darling, when he appeared before the Joint Committee on the draft Financial Services Bill, called the governor the “Sun King”. I would suggest that we are giving the governor an impossible job. The MPC and FPC require an academic economist of the highest calibre, and we have that in the present governor. However, the Bank of England, as it is comprised now—with the PRA and the FCA and so on—is the equivalent of a multinational enterprise. It requires a chief executive and skills that are separate from those required on the Monetary Policy Committee and the Financial Policy Committee. We make a mistake by not realising that particular point.
I have invited the governor to come here so that all Peers could listen to him, in the hope of understanding and inquiring how he sees the position. He will be departing in 2013, so we are legislating for the future in this respect. Perhaps I may give my own view on the debate taking place at the moment about deputy governors, and so on, as a former chairman of the Treasury Committee and someone who had an intimate association with the governor and others especially during the financial crisis. I believe that the words “deputy governor” relegate the authority of the position. We have a vertical accountability here but we do not have a horizontal accountability. That is what we should be looking at on this issue—how do we get that horizontal accountability?
The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, was correct about the concept of culture and ethics. I raised the issue of culture and ethics when the Northern Rock problems arose and it was a foreign language to the financial services industry of the time. The people involved thought that we were talking about Moses bringing the tablets down from the hill. However, culture is about behaviour, and ethics is about how you resolve conflicts of interest. It is as simple as that. I was delighted to see that the FSA, after being pressed for many years, has taken on that view. In his last speech before departing, Hector Sants spoke exclusively about the issue of culture. The issue of culture and behaviour is extremely important. If we concentrate on titles, then we will miss the main point. That is the issue that I would like to get across now. We need checks and balances.
My experience with the financial crisis also showed that when the crisis hit, both the Treasury and the Bank of England were found wanting. The Treasury had diminished its financial expertise. I knew the people in the Treasury who had the financial expertise—two of them have left by now, but at the time there were three. That was the situation we were in. If we wanted a response to the financial crisis from the Government we could not get one because they did not have the skills and understanding. The Treasury therefore invited people in from the City to advise it, which is where the problem started in the first place. That is the paucity of the situation at the moment.
Parliament therefore has a very important role to play in terms of the checks and balances. It was acknowledged by the governor and others that the Treasury Committee played an important role in Northern Rock, particularly in the legislation that was put through on “lender of last resort” resolution regimes and so on.
The amendment says that Parliament has to exercise its authority. The Treasury Committee has asked for a statutory power of veto over the appointment or dismissal of a governor. Given that a future governor will now be appointed for eight years, which will overlap with two Governments, maybe of different complexions, it is important that the independent authority of the governor is established.
When the Statistics Commission was established, Sir Michael Scholar was appointed as its first chief executive and came before the Select Committee to be grilled about it. The first question that I asked was about his son, Tom Scholar, who worked in No. 10, and whether he had had any contact with him before the appointment. Sir Michael, being an individual of the utmost integrity, said, “Absolutely not. He didn’t know that I was applying for the job”. Speaking to me months later, he said, “That appearance before the Select Committee, when I was asked all those different questions, gave me an authority that I didn’t previously have”. Therefore, the role of Parliament can be very positive in ensuring that individuals get that authority and have their independence preserved. This is part of the checks and balances. It is in that spirit, on a cross-party basis, that this amendment has been tabled. I beg to move.
My Lords, the amendment raises a very important question, largely unresolved, about what responsibility the Executive and the legislature have for public appointments. The truth is that we have not found a definitive solution to it.
There is a case for the status quo, which involves the candidate being interviewed by the Treasury Select Committee and, if the Minister ultimately decides that he wishes to go ahead with an appointment, the Minister being free to make the appointment. However, the bar has been raised and it has been made more difficult to bring forward a candidate of poor merit. There are also advantages to the candidate of the kind that the noble Lord, Lord McFall, has just mentioned.
The second option is for the candidate to be interviewed but for the committee to have a veto. At the moment we are still talking about appointments, and that is what we have with the OBR.
The third option is the scheme that was the subject of a report by the Institute for Government, under the chairmanship of a much beloved Member of this House, the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. It suggests dividing candidates into two tiers. These are unambiguously tier-1 appointments. The Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Government propose someone and the candidate is then interviewed. If the committee is dissatisfied, it then summons the Minister to defend their case. If there is still no resolution, the matter goes to the whole House; it does not simply go back to the Select Committee. The OBR case, which I may have voted for at the time, is a bit of an anomaly. You either stay where you are or go for the wider power. If there is a serious disagreement, the whole House should be involved.
As for dismissal, this is in some ways even more important. If the Government are to remove the Governor of the Bank of England, the issue is so big that it should go beyond the Treasury Select Committee and be a matter for the whole House. However, there is one caveat. Did he jump or was he pushed? I can think of many instances, including that of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, where someone might resign because their position has been made untenable. The Minister may say, “I did not sack him. It had nothing to do with me. He decided to go”, yet all the time he has been pushing away, undermining his position. We do not really have very much control over that as that has to be a question of conduct. I have some sympathy with the principle that this post, particularly if it comes to a dismissal, needs some very powerful protection. However, if it is that important it should be referred to the whole House and not simply to the committee.
My Lords, I speak in favour of Amendment 6. The amendment concerns the corporate governance of the Bank, and we have heard much this afternoon about perceived gaps in that. I understand the desire to strengthen the court, but I think that this can be achieved without drastic changes either of name—as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, said, “What is in a name?”—or in structure. In particular, I have qualms about giving strong new powers to the Treasury Select Committee. Having heard my noble friend Lord Turnbull, I think that if we go in that direction, perhaps it should be the whole House that gets to answer the question of who should be the future governor.
However, we need not do anything quite so drastic yet. If we wish to strengthen the governance of the Bank, it seems to me more appropriate to do so by giving the court—or supervisory board, if you want to call it that—an enhanced role. The government amendments that will be moved later this afternoon go some way towards doing that with the formation of the oversight committee. It certainly enhances the remit of the non-executives from where it is currently perceived to be. It may be retrospective, but the power of being held to account retrospectively is quite a powerful force with regard to current behaviour.
Nevertheless, the court already has significant powers. The Bank of England Act 1998 stipulates:
“The court … shall manage the Bank’s affairs, other than the formulation of monetary policy”.
Some have interpreted that as being little more than looking after the housekeeping, and it has sometimes appeared that way. However, the Act goes on to say that,
“the court’s functions … include determining the Bank’s objectives (including objectives for its financial management) and strategy”.
Surely the ability to determine strategy is a pretty powerful one.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, has pointed out that within the court there is pretty much the structure of a corporate board. Perhaps it has not always seemed that way, but we need the court to feel empowered to use the powers that it has. Much will depend on the ability and willingness of the members of the court to take a tough and challenging line; and there is no reason why they should not if they are well qualified and strong.
We have heard about the need for challenge; the court should be providing it. However, I believe that the Government need to send a firm signal about how important they believe the role of the court to be. In a normal company, the crucial role of the chairman is to ensure that the company has the best and most effective chief executive. Companies thrive best when the chairman and the chief executive have a constructive relationship and mutual regard. Is it not therefore imperative that, even though the Bank is no ordinary company, the chairman should at least have some involvement in the appointment of the chief executive?
This amendment does not call for drastic change, but in demanding that the Chancellor should consult with the chairman of the court—or the supervisory body, should that be preferred—it would underline the importance of the court and the notice that the Government want to take of it. It would encourage the court to be brave, perhaps braver than it has been in the past. Formal discussions may go on now between the Chancellor and the chairman of the court, but there is no mistaking what a low-profile role the chairman has had—indeed, some thought that the governor was the chairman of the court. I think that we need the chairman of the court to have a rather more effective, higher-profile role. That could start with a formal requirement that the Chancellor should negotiate and discuss the future governor.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 8A in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. In doing so, I shall not comment on Amendment 6 in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Kramer and Lady Wheatcroft, simply on the grounds that the subject is totally beyond me. I am no expert on governance whatever, and I could not tell good from bad governance if it hit me over the head. However, what the noble Baroness said sounded very persuasive, and I am sure that she is right.
I also apologise to my noble friend Lord McFall. I just did not notice his Amendment 10. If I had done so, I would have tabled an Amendment 10A as I have tabled Amendment 8A.
I take noble Lords back to the Bank of England Bill, which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and I played a full part in debating. Indeed, one thing that I still remember with enormous pleasure and some amusement is the fact that, while the noble Lord and I were enthusiastically in favour of the Bill and said so, Conservative noble Lords who were then on the opposition Benches were doubtful. One of my tasks was to try to persuade many Conservative Peers that what Gordon Brown was doing was not only the right thing but that it was a very strong move in a Conservative direction to give independence to the Bank of England for monetary policy. I still give the odd lecture, and I sometimes boast that I was once involved in educating the Conservative Party in the correct way in which to run monetary policy.
In the course of debating the Bank of England Bill, all references to feeding back were to the House of Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and I put down an amendment—I think that it was the only one that was accepted from us—to say that wherever the word “House of Commons” appeared it should be deleted and replaced with “Parliament”, and the Bill was changed so that Parliament became the body, meaning that it included the House of Lords. That established the fact, on which Lord Williams of Mostyn got a definitive opinion from the Clerk of the Parliaments, that the House of Lords is fully entitled to look at any matters of this kind and to be consulted on them. The Commons does not have to take any notice of us on these matters, but we can certainly exercise our rights. That is why I object very much to the form of Amendment 10 in my noble friend’s name and feel that the correct wording should be, “Treasury Committee of the House of Commons and the Economic Affairs Committee of the House of Lords”. This is a matter of principle for your Lordships’ House. I am personally not persuaded by any of what might then happen, but that is another story. If it is going to be done, I feel very strongly that both Houses should have access.
That was all about appointment, which comes up several times later on other things, but I shall make one speech do for all the other times it comes up. In my total naivety, it never occurred to me that there was any question of removal from office being a serious matter. That is another reason why I apologise to my noble friend. I would probably emigrate if we got to a state in our society where we were dealing with the removal from office of the Governor of the Bank of England. I hope that that was what the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, was saying as well. We are all very keen on science fiction, but I think that we can go a little too far.
My Lords, I have attached my name to Amendments 5, 6 and 10, so I think I will by definition be hated by any future Governor of the Bank of England.
I want to speak for a moment on Amendment 6, which was spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft. The 2009 report by Sir David Walker, on behalf of the Government, which took a detailed look at corporate governance in the UK banking industry, is very relevant. Your Lordships will remember his recommendation that:
“Balance also needs to be found between the role of executives and non-executives on a well-functioning bank board”.
Amendment 6 goes a significant way towards achieving that and establishing that real relationship between a non-executive chair and the Governor of the Bank of England as the chief executive. That distinction is also important for the purposes of accountability which others, including the Minister, have described as significant and important.
Looking at Amendments 5 and 10, when I was in the other place I had the privilege of being on the Treasury Select Committee for about six months under the outstanding chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord McFall. What struck me about it was that, like many committees in the other place and here, it was not party partisan in the way it operated. We sometimes see in the United States that it infects its confirmation process. Here, we have perhaps achieved the situation where committees understand their responsibility both to Parliament and to the community at large. Therefore, to deny the opportunity for a democratic part of the House to have a proper say in the appointment of a figure so critical and the opportunity to bring what are often years of direct experience and observation to that moment of final selection is a real loss. We have within this group of amendments a real opportunity to change the democratic profile and the confidence and accountability with which the governor operates. We should seize these opportunities in this Bill.
My Lords, I support Amendment 6 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft. As she said, in terms of strengthening the power of the court or the board of directors, whatever we are going to call it, giving the appropriate powers, respect and position to the non-executive chairman of that court would be a very important part of making it an effective functioning body.
I was Permanent Secretary at the Treasury in 1993 when Eddie George was appointed governor and Rupert Pennant-Rea deputy governor without any warning being given to any of the members of the Court of the Bank of England. It caused a great deal of upset among members of the court who felt that they had been undermined by the lack of warning. In a world where we are trying to build some good corporate, modern, transparent governance, as we have heard today, giving a role to the chairman of the court, at least in terms of informing him or consulting him, would be an important part of it.
With respect to the amendments covering the powers of the Treasury Select Committee, my noble friend Lord Turnbull has set out the analysis of that position. It would be wrong to underestimate the power of the Treasury Committee simply in terms of its ability to summon people and to question them. I regard the Treasury Committee—I have watched it for many years and I appeared before it many times—as a very skilled body in terms of oversight. It fulfilled its role in terms of challenge, questioning and advice. I would rather it did the job that way rather than by seeking to have vetoes over positions. It can make a huge impact simply by the way it brings people in, talks to them, summarises its opinions and then leaves it in the hands of Ministers to decide how far they wish to take account of those views and whether they really want to push it. At the point at which they want to push it, the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, probably come into play.
I particularly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Peston. I cannot remember an occasion when the term of a Governor of the Bank of England was shortened other than by his own will. I would have thought that it would be an issue of some significance that would require not just the House of Commons but, as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, said, Parliament in general to agree it.
My Lords, I also support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, for essentially the reasons given by the noble Lord, Lord Burns, and as part of the process of restoring the court to being a proper board.
I want to comment on Amendment 5. I have mixed views, but I think it is quite healthy that someone being appointed to such an important role should be subject to vetting in the same sort of way that occurs typically in the United States and that it probably is the Treasury Select Committee that is equipped to handle that vetting.
If I may digress, the present Governor of the Bank of England studied economics at the same university as me at the same time, and anyone that knew that knew that the teaching of economics at that time at that university was appallingly bad. That illustrates that it takes some effort to assess the sort of mind that someone being appointed to that job has got. The absence of any form of politically accountable examination is probably wrong in today’s world. Therefore Amendment 5 is worthy of serious consideration.
My Lords, I disagree with Amendment 5. It gives the Treasury Select Committee too much power. As I understand it, the Treasury Select Committee already holds pre-commencement hearings with those who have been selected to become governors and deputy governors. Furthermore, as I understand it, the Government have no powers to remove a Governor of the Bank of England; rather the Treasury must give its consent if the Bank decides the governor has met the criteria for removal. It is the Bank’s decision to make. The pre-commencement hearings provide the right balance between giving Parliament an opportunity to question the new appointee on their views and qualifications without bringing into question or placing doubts over the appointment itself.
My Lords, I was unable to participate in the early stages of the debate this afternoon because I was at a Select Committee, but now that I am here I should like, on the basis of experience, to support the proposition of my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft—not experience of the court of the Bank of England, I hasten to add, but of the European Commission. The President of the European Commission is appointed quite separately from the other members of the Commission and he has no particular power over who else is going to become a member. The way it is done leaves him at the mercy of Governments. My experience under a very strong and good president in the case of Roy Jenkins and under a much weaker and less effective president in Gaston Thorn is that if the chairman or president, whatever he is called, of a body has no influence over the appointment of his colleagues or over whether they stay or go, it seriously diminishes the significance of the person in charge.
As the noble Lord, Lord Burns, said earlier, we are trying to put together something that has a governance structure in keeping with the modern age and which sets an example, inasmuch as that is possible in a body such as the Bank of England which is quite separate from the corporate sector, to the rest of the country. If the chairman is to be taken seriously by the governor and, indeed, by the entire Bank of England beneath the governor, it is essential that he should be seen to be somebody who has played a significant role in the appointment. It would be quite unacceptable if a governor were appointed in whom the chairman did not have confidence. It would be quite unacceptable if the governor felt that the chairman did not have confidence in him, just as it would be unacceptable if the chairman felt that the governor did not have confidence in the chairman.
The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, has put forward a very sensible and practical proposition. As I say, I speak with experience of having served in a body where the chairman did not have the powers that the noble Baroness suggests. My experience is that that was not a very good way of doing things.
My Lords, these amendments raise some interesting and important issues with respect to the person of the governor. Despite the warm words of the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, about degrees of consultation, balance and so on, the idea remains that the person will be endowed, under this legislation, with quite extraordinary powers and therefore the process of appointment should be more transparent and subject to consideration by democratically elected Members. If we are to accept an unelected individual having these powers, at the very least the appointment process should be transparent.
The idea that the Treasury Select Committee should express its views is a very good one, but I am not sure about this notion of a veto. That goes a little too far. We do not want to politicise appointments to the extent that has occurred in the United States, which makes me nervous about the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, that appointments might end up being considered by the whole House, which would inevitably be whipped and become very political indeed. The Treasury Select Committee, although it may sometimes be eccentric, is not party political in quite that sense. It is a good idea that the Treasury Select Committee is consulted about an appointment and it would be a bold Chancellor who would ignore the committee’s views. Since the committee does not have a veto, it is less likely to have the propensity to develop into an overly politicised hanging court. That covers Amendment 5, which is one of the amendments from the Treasury Select Committee in another place put forward by my noble friend Lord McFall and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.
I am sympathetic to the idea expressed in the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, and found the arguments put forward by the noble Lords, Lord Burns and Lord Tugendhat, convincing. The notion that the chairman should be consulted and that the degree of confidence in the relationship between the chairman and the governor should thereby be established seems to have the ring of good sense about it. The Government should take this matter under serious consideration.
My noble friend Lord Peston referred to the role of the House of Lords. Although the expertise in your Lordships’ House often comes to bear most effectively and positively on Treasury issues, in the context of an appointment of this seriousness and magnitude, one really has to turn to elected Members. If the constitution of your Lordships’ House changes in the future, then perhaps the House of Lords could have a role in this respect. However, for the moment, the Treasury Select Committee should be the focus of consultation—
In that case, I really cannot see the noble Lord’s argument at all. I hate to disagree with anybody sitting on my own Front Bench, but if this is a matter of consultation, it is a matter of great significance that your Lordships’ House is treated as an equal House. This principle has been established beyond any doubt whatever, and I therefore find it quite unacceptable that whoever is speaking from our Front Bench would not take that view on this subject. I am sorry to say that.
The noble Lord and I are both professional economists and therefore we have disagreement built into our DNA. The role of the Treasury Select Committee in another place is special in this case.
I move on from the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, to Amendment 10, which raises some very difficult issues. Given the new, complex set of conflicting goals that the governor will necessarily need to navigate, the idea that his or her removal from office should be subject to some form of special scrutiny is entirely appropriate. I am not sure whether this is the right form of special scrutiny, but I am certainly going to take this away and think about it and may return to it on Report.
To sum up, Amendment 5 goes a little too far. Consultation is the key in the appointment process. The noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, has identified something very valuable indeed, and we should be grateful to her, as should the Government, who should say so and accept her amendment. A number of very difficult issues have been raised with respect to Amendment 10, which I need to take away and think about at greater length before we come to Report.
My Lords, first, of course the Government place great importance on the suitability and independence of the Governor of the Bank of England. We are all clear that the governor’s role is already a challenging one and that future holders of this post will need to possess an even broader range of skills, experience and expertise. We do not in any way seek to deny that. However, although I fully recognise the great importance of this appointment, I am very confident that there are already robust arrangements in place, which I will go through in a minute.
It is good that we are now focusing in this debate for the first time very directly on the amendments that we are discussing, which makes for a much more productive 35 minutes than we have had on this. In the debate, which has been instructive and interesting, I have heard some voices speaking up for some form of parliamentary veto, some arguing for consultation, some arguing that it should be the Treasury Committee in another place and some suggesting that it should be that committee and/or—I am not quite sure which—the Economic Affairs Committee of this House. Although it is not the subject of an amendment, I heard at least one suggestion that if we were going to change anything, we should go rather more radical and make it subject to a vote of the whole House in another place. That is a rather broad menu. There are many ways to skin this particular cat but I suggest that there are already robust arrangements in place
The governor and the deputy governors of the Bank are appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the recommendation of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister. Since 2009, this Government and the previous Government have agreed that in principle these appointments will be subject to open public competition. That is what happened with the most recent example of Paul Tucker, who was appointment deputy governor in 2009, and that practice will continue. The Treasury Committee already holds pre-commencement hearings with those who have been selected to become governors and deputy governors. Therefore, I do not believe that Amendment 5 is necessary.
To be absolutely clear regarding something that I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord McFall, say, I certainly agree that Amendment 10 is connected with Amendment 5 but, to be technically right, I would not accept that Amendment 10 is consequential on it. I just wish to be clear on that technical point.
Having been appointed, the governor certainly cannot be removed on a whim. Indeed, the Government have no powers to remove a Governor of the Bank of England. Rather, the Treasury must give its consent if the Bank decides that the governor has met the criteria for removal. However, it is the Bank’s decision to make. The legislation is clear that the governor, a deputy governor or a director of the Bank can be removed only with cause—that is, if the Bank is satisfied that he or she has been absent from meetings of the court for more than three months without the consent of the court, that he or she has become bankrupt, or that he or she is unable or unfit to discharge their functions as a member. That is very clear.
Some commentators have suggested that the fact that the appointments of the chair and independent members of the Office for Budget Responsibility are subject to a Treasury Select Committee veto sets a precedent and that governor appointments should also be subject to a parliamentary veto. However, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who suggested that these cases are rather different. The role of the governor and the members of the OBR are both characterised by the need for especially talented and independent candidates, but that is where the similarities end. The OBR performs an important function in providing an independent and unbiased forecast on which government policy can be based, whereas the governor carries out executive functions on behalf of the state.
More than that, and more broadly relevant to the amendments, this policy-making role makes the appointment of a prospective governor extremely market-sensitive in a way that appointments to the OBR and many other appointments simply are not. The uncertainty created by a public pre-appointment approval process could, depending on the market conditions at the time, be significantly damaging. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, may not like this analysis but I suggest that the person performing the role of governor attracts significant market interest. A huge amount of time and effort is spent examining every scrap of information relating to members of the Bank’s policy committees in order to gain insight into their thinking and determine likely future policy responses, and that will very much be the case with candidates for the post of governor.
Once the candidate is announced, his or her particular leanings can be factored into asset prices. The Treasury Select Committee will then be able to conduct pre-commencement hearings, providing a useful insight into the professional competence and personal independence of the appointee. However, I suggest that pre-appointment hearings of the sort suggested and necessitated by the amendments in this group would exacerbate the uncertainty of markets about who will be appointed, and that would be inappropriate.
I am also sure, and I do not need to point out, that I could apply similar arguments regarding the dismissal of a governor. The uncertainty around any such dismissal would be just as damaging. In addition, I cannot see how the position of a governor whom the Bank had sought to remove for reasons of unfitness for the post could be anything other than untenable if the Treasury Committee reversed the decision, so I simply do not understand how that would work in practice.
I believe that the current arrangement of pre-commencement, rather than pre-appointment, hearings provides the right balance. It gives Parliament an opportunity to question the new appointee on their views and qualifications without bringing into question, or placing doubts over, the appointment itself. A parliamentary veto on appointments and dismissals would introduce uncertainty into these processes, and that would apply whether the veto was given to the Treasury Committee in the other place or to your Lordships own Economic Affairs Committee. For these reasons, I believe it is inappropriate for the Bill to provide that a parliamentary committee must approve governor appointments or dismissals.
Before the noble Lord moves on to his next point, can he, for my education, explain one aspect of the drafting of the Bill? With regard to what we are discussing, can he tell me whether there is any significance in lines 8, 9, 10 and 11 on page 1, which refer to “a Governor” and “a Deputy Governor”, and line 15, et cetera, where the references are to “the Governor” and “the Deputy Governor”? Is this a fundamental matter of parliamentary draftsmanship, which is beyond me, or is it simply a grammatical error?
My Lords, it relates to the former. I do not think it is fundamental; it just fits in with the construct of the legislation that we are talking about. There is no mystery behind it; it is purely a case of the grammar that the draftsmen have thought appropriate to use in the different lines.
My Lords, the Minister has just put forward an argument for retaining the current process, which excludes the Treasury Select Committee from participating in the appointment of the governor. However, has he ever looked at the idea of allowing the Treasury Select Committee to question pre-appointment, even if there is no veto? I think we can all see a potential scenario—one that we hope never to have—where an appointee who is already in position, although they may not have commenced the role, comes before the Treasury Select Committee and does not win the confidence of the committee or the confidence of Parliament. That would leave us in a particularly dire situation and it is one that I think most of us would wish to avoid.
I attempted to address the pre-appointment versus pre-commencement issue and I shall not repeat my remarks, other than to say that I believe that, for the market reasons I have given, among other reasons, it would be damaging if there were significant doubt over the clarity of the appointment of a particular individual as governor. One can very easily see how such a situation would be damaging and dangerous in present market conditions. Therefore, I repeat that I believe there is a distinction—
Perhaps I may complete the answer to my noble friend Lady Kramer, then I will give way. As I pointed out, I believe that there is a great distinction between pre-appointment and pre-commencement, that we have the balance right, and that with any appointment put forward to the Queen on the recommendation of the Chancellor and the Prime Minister there will be a very high degree of likelihood, approaching certainty, that the figure appointed will have the confidence of the Treasury Committee.
My Lords, following on from the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, while I agree with the noble Lord that a veto by the Treasury Committee is not a good idea, I really do not understand his arguments about pre-appointment consultation, whereby a prospective candidate appears before the Treasury Select Committee prior to his or her appointment being confirmed.
The argument about market sensitivity entirely contradicts what the noble Lord told us about the collective decision-making process in the Bank. If there are all these collective procedures in which the governor is challenged and supported by deputy governors, technical staff, and so on, the idea that a new governor arriving would dramatically change the nature of monetary or stability policy seems to be ridiculous. There may be a change of tone or style, but the idea that the governor will somehow be the sole factor who can move markets by the very nature of his character would seem to reinforce all the fears of those who believe that we are appointing a sun king. The noble Lord argued persuasively that there existed a degree of collegiality in the Bank, which some of us were quite surprised to hear, but none the less we understand what he says. However, he cannot argue that and at the same time deny the possibility of pre-appointment consultation because it is market sensitive.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, always applies impeccable logic but the way in which the markets look at these things is rather different and not necessarily logical. While I entirely accept at one level the logic of the noble Lord’s argument, it is not the way in which the markets seek to interpret what they can read into every tea leaf, let alone something as important as the appointment and the person of a new governor. I certainly do not accept that my two arguments are in any way at odds with one another.
My Lords, if the markets are so irrational, as the noble Lord says, why will we have our appointment process distorted by these irrational forces? Surely, if they are so irrational we should simply leave them to their own devices and develop a sensible, coherent appointment process that fits the needs for the appointment of this very important figure.
My Lords, I was not going to bring this up, but I am not sure about the logic of the position of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. I understand that he was arguing for consultation but not a veto by the Treasury Committee. I am not at all clear why, if he is asking for consultation but not a veto, he is so hung up on whether it be pre-appointment or pre-commencement. Pre-appointment seems to imply some form of effective veto that goes with it. I am genuinely rather confused.
I thought that I had made that clear in my opening remarks on the amendments. An individual who is being proposed by the Government to Her Majesty for appointment may be found by the Treasury Select Committee to be unsatisfactory in various aspects of his skill set or whatever, but while the Government may ignore that, they would at least have to take it into account and justify the appointment. Indeed, in doing so, that would perhaps strengthen the position of the governor thereafter.
My Lords, I have dealt as fully as I can with the arguments. All I would suggest is that it further points out that this is not an easy area. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, said, there are lots of possible solutions. If he were to change it at all, he would go to a solution that is not one of the number on the table at the moment. The Government’s position remains that we have an appropriate balance in all of this.
In answer more specifically to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, since I had the time during that little exchange to do a bit more research into “a”s and “the”s, the point is simple. The first reference is to the creation of “a Governor” and the subsequent reference is to “the Governor” who is at that point in the flow of the legislation being created. I hope that that helps to explain what is going on.
Even if it does not matter, I try. I do my best to answer these points, even if it causes more confusion. Sometimes the “a”s and the “the”s could be very important.
I move on to Amendment 6 tabled by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, on which, no surprise, I will not be much more accommodating, but it is an important point that should be discussed. As I said, it is vital that the post be filled by the best possible candidate and taken from candidates who have expertise and skills to fulfil the role effectively. The legislation as it stands does not prohibit the Chancellor consulting widely before recommending that a candidate be appointed as governor. In practice, the Treasury and the Bank work together closely to recruit for key Bank of England posts. I am sure that my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer will engage with key individuals as appropriate during the process to identify the next Governor of the Bank of England. Indeed, well ahead of the formal process kicking off, the chairman of court, Sir David Lees, and the Chancellor are already in touch on this matter.
However, I suggest that we should keep in mind that the appointment is ultimately for the Queen to make on the advice of the Prime Minister and Chancellor. Many people may be consulted as part of the process to appoint a new governor, but it would be impractical to attempt to define them prescriptively in the Bill. By leaving the legislation broad in this way, the Chancellor will be able to consult whoever he or she feels will add value to the advice. The people consulted may well change depending on the circumstances of the appointment. I suggest that that is how to leave the legislation but I hope that I have given the Committee some perspective on how these things will be handled. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, the aim of the exercise is contained in the Treasury Committee report, which said that an amendment was tabled on Report in the other place but that because of “insufficient time” the Minister did not give an answer. This amendment is to elicit an answer. I suggest that the Minister should think again on this issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said that there is a role for Parliament. If Parliament feels excluded, that does not augur well for the stability of the system. I understand that giving a veto to a parliamentary committee is a bold measure, so I understand the concerns being expressed. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, made the point that the Treasury Committee could make a recommendation and the House could look at it. There has to be either a formal or an informal way of including Parliament in this. My noble friend Lord Peston said that if the Governor of the Bank of England left, he would leave the country.
If he was fired, that would happen. I bring not an exact parallel to the Committee’s attention. A number of months ago, comments were made by members of the present Treasury Committee about the chief executive of the Financial Services Authority. They felt that he was responsible for the demise of the Royal Bank of Scotland. A few weeks later the chief executive, Hector Sands, left. I do not know whether there was a causal relationship. I pointed out to Members of the Committee that if the environment in the other place is charged, it can have unforeseen consequences. Parliament therefore has to be considered.
My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt as I misunderstood. In my judgment as an economist, the chairman of the Monetary Policy Committee is quite capable of doing some things via that committee that could destroy the whole economy of this country. However, as far as I can see, the rules are that he cannot be fired for that. He can be fired for going bankrupt and one or two other things, but there is no way he can be fired for making a mess of economic policy. I am pretty sure the Bank of England Act does not allow him to be fired for the reasons that my noble friend is raising. If we were asked if we could get him fired for a wrong policy, fine, but it is my understanding that the rules for firing a governor do not include a wrong policy. You may say that is a bit irrational but I am pretty sure that I am right.
The rules do not include wrong policy and I never suggested that they did, but what I am saying is if there is a charged atmosphere in Parliament and there could be a scapegoat, perhaps the governor or a future governor would leave as a result of that. We must be mindful of that situation and I gave a parallel, if not an exact one, of what happened a few weeks ago on that particular issue. We also have the governor now being appointed for eight years. That was adopted after being suggested by the Treasury Committee and no one has commented on it in this Chamber. I think it is something which needs much more reflection from the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Burns, spoke about the chairmanship of the court. I would suggest to the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, that this is a big challenge to the Bank of England, which at the moment is not perceived to have that challenge. That aspect of challenge is really important. I could give noble Lords an example from my time on the Treasury Committee. No names, but I was approached by the representatives of a number of non-executives during the financial crisis and asked if I would see them. They wanted to tell me about the situation on the board of their company and explain why no change was affected by them; my answer was, “Absolutely not. You’re on your own. If you’re a non-executive and you cannot challenge, you should not be on the board. You should leave the board as a result of that”. The aspect of challenge still resonates and we need that. It is the issue that the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, was pointing to and the Minister needs to reflect on it.
The noble Lord, Lord Flight—if I can wake him up, no, I do not think I can—made the point about Mervyn King and economics teaching. He made the distinction that it was the economics teaching that was bad and not the present governor’s teaching—
Yes, the former, exactly. Economics has lost its way on this issue. I would point the noble Lords to a good letter in the Financial Times yesterday that said economists are there for the well-being of society and that they forgot that. There needs to be a fundamental rethink of the economics curriculum. When Alan Greenspan appeared before the Senate, he said the intellectual edifice that was built up has now crumbled as a result of that.
Other noble Lords have made the point that Amendment 5 is going too far, but we need reflection on it and I can understand where people are coming from. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, raised the issue of Parliament’s involvement and pre-appointment consultation. I think the Government can do something in terms of pre-appointment consultation, whether it is overt or covert. I would suggest that if they do not want any further annoyance at the other end of this building, they should reflect on that issue and come back with something in terms of pre-appointment. It can be done, it is feasible.
My Lords, just before the noble Lord, Lord McFall, sits down it may be worth being clear for the record that when I said the governor can be fired if he or she proves to be unfit to perform the role, that was completely right. In answer to the question from the noble Lord, Lord Peston, about whether the governor can be fired for wrecking the economy, I would suggest that at that point the Bank would probably decide that the governor was unfit. Without getting into a long debate about where unfitness comes into it, it is worth saying that at that point, unlikely though the scenario might be, wrecking the economy might lead the Bank to decide that the fitness test would apply.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for his reply; I confess I found it disappointing and I thank those noble Lords who spoke in support of my amendment. I was trying to find a simple means of showing that the court was held in some esteem and had powers to exercise. I do not doubt that informal conversations go on but I am slightly reluctant to rely on informal arrangements when we are trying to strengthen the corporate governance of the Bank. Not just to strengthen the corporate governance but to strengthen the perception of that corporate governance. I would ask my noble friend to think about this matter and maybe other ways in which he might strengthen perceptions of the corporate governance of the Bank. However, I shall not move my amendment.
Is it your Lordships’ pleasure that the amendment be withdrawn?
Amendment 5 disagreed.
Amendment 6 not moved.
7: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert—
“(2A) The Chancellor of Exchequer shall only appoint a person under subsection (2)(e) if he is satisfied that the person has knowledge or experience which is likely to be relevant to the Court’s functions and would enhance the diversity of the composition of the Court.”
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 7, which as noble Lords will see from the Marshalled List refers to the experience and knowledge of individuals appointed to the court; that the Chancellor should be satisfied that they have appropriate experience and knowledge; and that their presence would enhance the diversity of the composition of the court.
The immediate reaction to this amendment might be yes, of course, it is unnecessary; anyone who makes sensible appointments would do that sort of thing. However, if it is accepted, a statutory responsibility to ensure that the supervisory board or the court, whichever we have, has a diverse range of appropriate talents will be a crucial guideline that Chancellors must follow and when necessary justify.
The importance of this amendment lies in its combination of expertise and diversity. The crisis should have taught us all of the dangers of conventional wisdom. Conventional wisdom underpinned the decision-making in central banks and treasury departments throughout the world and Mr Greenspan’s confession of the way in which his decisions were distorted by a conventional view of risk analysis has already been cited by my noble friend Lord McFall. In building a successful court or supervisory board, we need the contrary, the awkward and the different to be part of the debate. This will not guarantee that we get it right but at least we will be more likely to than if we appoint a committee of well intentioned sound thinkers who all think the same way.
Diversity here is a reference to diversity of view of analysis and of opinion. There is no doubt that often diversity of view is correlated with other aspects of diversity, maybe of gender or of ethnicity. This is not what I am trying to get at here, it is diversity of view that I would like to suggest. It would be pointless, for example, to appoint a racially diverse, gender-diverse board, all of whose members happened to share the same analysis and views. The degree to which diversities are correlated will perhaps provide some guidance and inspiration for a Chancellor. This amendment is designed to be a permanent challenge to the Chancellor in the very important task that he or she has of deciding on the composition of the court and particularly the non-executive members of the court.
My Lords, I support Amendment 7. Looking at this amendment the casual observer might wonder why it is necessary. It makes perfect sense that you would not leave governance of the Bank of England—and therefore governance of the economy and our financial institutions—to a bunch of interested amateurs. Frankly, however, we have occasionally seen that happen with some of our financial institutions—we need only look at the trails of chaos over the years from banks such as Barings and onwards to the catastrophe of Lehman Brothers. If noble Lords wish to read a horror story they should read Michael Lewis’s The Big Short. I confess that I did not understand some of the complex derivatives being talked about until I read The Big Short, and I have spent most of my life in and around the world of economics.
It is critically important that there is a balance of knowledge, experience and expertise on the supervisory board, or whatever we choose to call it. It will need people with a wide range of competence, with experience ranging from macroeconomics to prudential regulation. It is a wide mix to put together.
The other side of the coin—a matter to which my noble friend referred—is diversity of opinion. In this case, as he pointed out, we are not talking about gender or ethnic diversity, although that would be very good to have. We heard an exchange within the past hour between two distinguished economists—my noble friends Lord Peston and Lord Eatwell—and there will undoubtedly be differences of view among any number of economists. I would love to throw behaviouralists into the mix of any supervisory board of the Bank of England. Quite apart from behavioural economics, it is how people react that can bring economic chaos.
The amendment may seem unnecessary because it is a no-brainer that you would seek to do this anyway. We have learnt along the way, however, that it is better to get such things written down. Then you will have a wee bit more of a chance of achieving them. I therefore support Amendment 7.
My Lords, I am afraid to say that I agree with the final remarks of the noble Baroness—it is a no-brainer.
I speak as a weary lawyer who is tired unto death of our legislation getting more and more prescriptive and complex as well as longer. If we cannot trust the Chancellor of the Exchequer to exercise sensible judgment in a matter of this kind then, frankly, he or she should not be Chancellor of the Exchequer. If, as it says in the amendment, the member has to add to diversity, what about integrity and independence? You could go on and on adding to and subtracting from the characteristics. I know that that is reflected in other parts of the 1998 Act but the amendment, for all its good intentions, is unnecessary and potentially disruptive.
If you want to play legalistics with this, you might ask what will happen if you have a full diversity of opinion on your board or court. Do you still have to add further diversity when you have got a full hand of diversity? As the provision is drafted here, you would. It is unpoliceable. For all those reasons, and despite its excellent intentions, I am against the amendment.
My Lords, I direct this question to the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. Does he regard Amendments 122 and 123—which were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and refer to persons representing the constituent parts of the United Kingdom —as helpful or unhelpful to his cause? Are they helpful because they may add to diversity, or unhelpful because you would be choosing people on the basis of their geographical representation rather than their professional expertise?
If it is of convenience to the Committee I am quite happy to do that. The noble Lord—indeed, my old pal—Lord Andrew Turnbull, has put me on the spot here by placing me in opposition to some propositions put forward by my noble friend. I was very clear that I was seeking diversity of view. Where someone lives does not seem a basis for that.
My Lords, that illustrates one thing about the amendment—that the ways in which people interpret its words are rather different, which in itself is not ideal.
The noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke, got it right when she said that it is a no-brainer, and we do not believe that it is necessary to make legislative provision for it. My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury said so in vigorous and direct terms which I can only echo. On one level, I feel that I should say no more and sit down. Nevertheless, I should explain to the Committee exactly what is going on.
As the Committee may be aware, the Treasury’s Select Committee report into the accountability of the Bank of England concluded:
“The new responsibilities of the Bank will require its governing body to have an enhanced mix of skills”.—[Official Report, Commons, Financial Services Bill Committee, 21/2/12; col. 21.]
The Government agree with this conclusion and in their response to the Treasury Committee they committed to take it into consideration in relation to future appointments. We understand the concern underlying the amendment and have already taken it into consideration, including in the latest appointments to the court. For example, both Tim Frost and Bradley Fried bring extensive experience of financial services as practitioners to the court. However, I do not believe that it is necessary to make legislative provision for this.
I can assure the Committee that the appointments of non-executive directors to the court are fully regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, OCPA, which ensures a fair, transparent and competitive process. The practical elements of the appointments process are run by the Treasury, with the most recent interview panel consisting of senior Treasury officials, the chair of court and an independent assessor. The Treasury seeks to find the best candidates for these roles. This means people with a deep and diverse range of experience in relevant sectors. This can be, will be and is achieved without a prescriptive legislative obligation.
Court appointments are advertised openly. Applications are sought from candidates with diverse experience and from a variety of backgrounds. For example, the role profile for the last NED vacancy sought people with substantial experience as board members or heads of functions in a major financial services organisation; and/or someone who had built up a successful enterprise of a significant size; and/or someone who had played a prominent role in a relevant area of public policy, the voluntary sector or a trade union.
I can assure the Committee that the decision is taken with full consideration of the impact on the broader composition of the court and the fit of each candidate within the make-up of the court as a whole. I hope the noble Lord feels that he can withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords—except the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, who ambushed me—who have commented on the amendment.
As to the other issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, most issues of integrity and so on are covered by the committee on appointments in public life, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, referred. All those elements have to be taken into account. However, the issue that does not necessarily have to be taken into account is diversity of view, which I am particularly emphasising at this point. The noble Lord may feel it inappropriate to consider all these matters but, other than diversity of view, they already have to be considered under legislative structures.
It was kind of the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, to say that he fully understood—indeed, supported—the thinking behind the amendment, which is very encouraging. It would be more encouraging, however, if he accepted the amendment. I was trying in this amendment to create a permanent challenge to the Chancellor so that he or she always had it in mind that diversity of opinion is important. It is very difficult in institutions such as the Bank of England to avoid the power of groupthink. Having worked as an economist for 40 years, I know well how dominant views tend to become respectable and how difficult it is to put forward an unrespectable view and take a contrary position because of the weight of opinion. Conventional wisdom is very powerful in economics and economic policy-making, the constraints of which we need to be able to overcome. That was the purpose of the amendment.
Although I am grateful for the Minister’s warm words, I am afraid that I cannot be entirely confident, as he is, that these matters are considered in any event. For the moment, however, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
8: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert—
“( ) In section 2 of the Bank of England Act 1998 (functions of the court of directors) for subsections (1) and (2) substitute—
“(1) The Supervisory Board will be responsible for overseeing the development and execution of the objectives and strategic policies of the Bank of England, including monetary policy and stability policy, subject to instructions from the Treasury.
(2) There will be a Supervisory Board Secretariat, charged with providing economic, legal and monetary advice and research support to the Supervisory Board.””
My Lords, the amendment stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town. It takes us back, because of the way in which the Bill is constructed, to the court or supervisory board of the Bank of England. The amendment lays out the roles of the court to specify more clearly than current legislation does the role of the supervisory board or court—let us leave that argument aside and concentrate on the body—which the amendment states,
“will be responsible for overseeing the development and execution of the objectives and strategic policies of the Bank”.
It relates, therefore, to the development of strategic policies, as is laid down with respect to the Financial Policy Committee, as well as to the objectives and strategic policies. They are subject always to instructions from the Treasury, which are defined in statute, as are particular responsibilities of the Monetary Policy Committee. The idea is to ensure that the board has the status that I think everyone who has spoken today feels that it should have. That is the first part of Amendment 8; the supervisory board or court would have that appropriate status.
The second part of the amendment—which proposes that the supervisory board should have its own secretariat,
“charged with providing economic, legal and monetary advice and research support to the Supervisory Board”—
arises because, I regret to say, the Bank of England has form in this area. In the early days of the Monetary Policy Committee, its independent members were denied access to satisfactory technical support. The Governor of the Bank of England at the time declared that if they should have suitable support, it would undermine the status of the Bank. It was only after a public outcry once the governor’s position was made clear that suitable economic and secretarial support was given to the independent members of the Monetary Policy Committee to enable them to do their job. The governor had prevented them having that support until there was a public outcry.
Members of your Lordships' House who have been non-executive directors of boards will know how important it is for the non-executive directors to be able to access independent advice at times in order for them to fulfil their proper fiduciary role. Having access to advice—whether it be legal or, in the case of the court of the Bank, economic and monetary—is a crucial part of the independent directors being able to do their job.
If the Bank had not behaved in this way in the past, I would not feel that the amendment was necessary, because one would say, “Well, of course, they should have appropriate support”. Unfortunately, however, important independent members operating within the structure of the Bank have not in the past been given the support that they needed to do their job. It is therefore important that independent members of the court should have access to the advice and research support that can make them effective non-executive directors. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. He draws the lesson from what happened to the outside directors of the Monetary Policy Committee. It might be said that the Bank has learnt its lesson on that and that the situation will not arise in the future, but as I pointed out at Second Reading, the Bank has behaved unacceptably in relation to having an inquiry into its performance during the financial crisis. Whereas the FSA had an inquiry and the results were published, the Bank of England rather stuck to Montagu Norman’s axiom, “Never explain, never excuse”. The Bank of England is a fine and venerable institution, but it finds it difficult to change. Unless there is some provision of the sort that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, suggests, one cannot be sure that the supervisory board—or whatever it is going to be called—will necessarily have the economic, legal and monetary advice and so forth that is required. The role that it is taking on is complex. It will deal with highly competent officials in the Bank. It is essential that the non-executives on the supervisory board have absolute certainty that they have all the back-up they require.
When one looks at the demands being placed on non-executive directors of more normal financial institutions, it is clear that, if they are going to fulfil their functions, they will need much more back-up than non-executive directors were accustomed to in the past. Their responsibilities and accountabilities are greater and they will need absolute certainty and right of access. That applies to the Bank of England and I hope that the Government will take into account that, if we are to have proper governance, it requires proper support.
My Lords, we debated earlier amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, which sought to convert the Court of Directors into a supervisory board. Following on from those amendments, Amendment 8 sets out some of the functions of that board. There is little between the noble Lord and the Government on the substance of the amendment, but my key argument is that the amendment is not needed because its most important parts are addressed by government Amendment 13.
Government Amendment 13, which I will talk to at much greater length when we get to it, will give the new oversight committee responsibility for overseeing the Bank’s performance against its objectives and strategy—precisely what the first part of Amendment 8 seeks to achieve. As for the second part of Amendment 8, I appreciate that in the past the Bank was slow to realise that the MPC members needed their own dedicated support. That lesson was learnt a considerable number of years ago, and both MPC and FPC external members now have access to appropriate resources. The point about the FPC is important and relevant because that has been created in shadow form only very recently.
We can see the considerable output that the FPC is already producing, which it could not possibly do without that support. I am wholly confident that the oversight committee will have sufficient support once it comes into being, and I do not believe that it is necessary to put it into the Bill. I ask the noble Lord to consider withdrawing his amendment.
I apologise that I was temporarily distracted by other channels. I am heartened to hear that the Government feel that the Bank has learnt its lesson on the provision of resources. I still feel that it would be appropriate to provide that insurance, particularly legal advice, for independent members. Legal advice is crucial for non-executive or independent directors in any environment because they can so easily be outgunned by the executive in a way that ultimately is not beneficial for the institution as a whole.
By the way, I am heartened by what the Minister had to say about the definitions of the supervisory board’s roles, but we will come on to that issue in our detailed consideration of his Amendment 13.
I am sorry to be so roundabout in this respect, but going back to the issue of resources, I will consider what the Minister has said and decide what I will do on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendments 8A and 9 not moved.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 10 not moved.
11: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Retrospective reviews of Bank performance by the court of directors
(1) Section 2 of the Bank of England Act 1998 (functions of court of directors) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (5) insert—
“(6) The court shall conduct retrospective reviews of the performance of the Bank with respect to its functions and objectives.
(7) The court shall determine the particular matters to be reviewed under subsection (6).
(8) The court must publish a report on each review carried out under subsections (6) and (7) unless the court decides that all or part of such a report should not be published for reasons of confidentiality or because it would endanger financial stability.
(9) When all or part of a report of a review is not published under the provisions of subsection (8), the court must—
(a) publish as much as possible of the report,(b) send a copy of the full report to the Chairman of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons or, in exceptional circumstances, inform the Chairman of the Treasury Committee of the reasons for not sending it, and(c) publish the report or part of the report as soon as possible after the court decides that the considerations in subsection (8) no longer apply.””
This amendment is about corporate governance and the best practices in corporate governance. The Treasury Committee has concluded that the corporate governance in the Bank of England is well short of that in the best public and private institutions. Given the concentration of the regulatory responsibility in the Bank of England, there need to be checks and balances.
The Treasury Committee has recommended a supervisory board, using the term “supervisory” rather than the term “court”. We had a debate about this earlier so I do not want to go over old ground, but this is not really about nomenclature but about powers and responsibilities. Frustration has been expressed over many years, by both parliamentarians and by people who have sat in the court, that the court is toothless. We need to make this an efficient body, so whether we call it an oversight committee or a supervisory committee is immaterial. It is about powers, accountability, best practice and corporate governance. That is the essence of the view in this amendment.
The supervisory court, as the Treasury Committee has recommended, should take an explicit view on the Bank of England’s budget, both in the level of changes to the allocation of resources and in prudential and monetary areas. The inclusion of experts on prudential policy, particularly for the chair of the board, is essential. The board currently comprises 12 members. It is a good suggestion to reduce that number to eight, because the best boards have smaller numbers, and 12 is rather unwieldy.
There is also a debate about the board’s minutes, and it is suggested that the supervisory board minutes should be published to a timetable similar to that of the Monetary Policy Committee. Again, as has been mentioned, the staff support for a supervisory board has to be upgraded quite a lot to achieve best corporate governance. The ability to conduct ex-post reviews of the Bank’s performance, both in prudential and in monetary policy, would help to ensure that lessons are learnt for the future and would be consistent with avoiding second-guessing at a time of policy decision.
The Joint Committee on the draft Financial Services Bill, which I served on, supported that point and concluded that the Treasury Committee was right to say that the governance structures within the Bank needed strengthening. After the reports from the Joint Committee and the Treasury Committee, the Bank of England changed its mind by moving from a supervisory committee to the oversight committee. Again, however, the Treasury Committee feels that that has been a bit more of a paper exercise that has not ultimately changed much, and it is very important for the Government to reflect on that. The Treasury Committee was clear that it should not plug that gap because the role would be so heavily circumscribed that it could not be relied upon to provide adequate scrutiny.
The Government believe that the governance of the Bank of England should be primarily a matter for the Bank itself. I think that most parliamentarians disagree with that on the basis that the Government, who are accountable to Parliament, are the only shareholder in the Bank of England, and many of the Bank’s responsibilities and functions are defined in legislation. Therefore the Government are responsible for the structure of the governance of banks, the crucial aspects of which should not be delegated. Once again, a new clause was tabled on Report in the other place, but there was insufficient time for that to be fully looked at. The Minister gave it some reflection but said that he would reflect on the matter when the Bill goes to the other place: hence the purpose of this amendment.
My Lords, it may be helpful if I speak early in this group because there are substantial government amendments here. The Treasury Committee’s report last November concluded that the increased responsibilities given by this Bill to the Bank of England warranted another look at the Bank’s governance arrangements. The Bank’s Court of Directors has been statutorily responsible for managing the Bank’s affairs since nationalisation in 1946, albeit with some modernising changes brought in by the Bank of England Act 1998 and the Banking Act 2009. I expect the court, as it has done over the decades, to adapt and evolve to the Bank’s changing role, which was brought in by this Bill to enable it to continue to operate as an effective governing body.
However, we should not—and I am already clear from our Second Reading debate that we do not as a House—underestimate the court’s task. It must effectively oversee the transition to the new arrangements, ensure that the Bank is adequately resourced to meet its new responsibilities, and at the same time provide a vital link of accountability to Parliament.
Recognising this challenge, in January the court published its response to the Treasury Committee’s recommendations, proposing the creation of a new oversight committee made up of the court’s non-executive directors. The court accepted the Treasury Committee’s recommendation for retrospective reviews of policy, proposing that the oversight committee commission these reviews from expert external bodies. The court also accepted that an ex-post review or reviews be published, subject to the need to maintain appropriate confidentiality. In line with the Treasury Committee’s proposals, the court proposed to give the oversight committee the papers from the meetings of the MPC and FPC.
Some hours ago, the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, somewhat mischaracterised the Government’s approach to governance. The Government’s position has been that governance is in the first instance for the Bank itself, but we have not sought to distance ourselves. We listened to the Treasury Committee’s and then to the Bank’s response and have come forward, in the light of those responses and the Second Reading debate, with these amendments.
Subsequent to both the Treasury Committee’s and the court’s response, the Chancellor agreed with the governor and the chairman of court that the oversight committee’s remit would be extended to encompass the commissioning of internal reviews of the Bank’s policy performance. Finally, as part of our response to the Treasury Committee and the Joint Committee that scrutinised the Bill in draft, the Government committed to considering further whether the proposed reforms ought to placed on a statutory basis.
My honourable friend the Financial Secretary to the Treasury restated this position in another place. As I said during Second Reading, the Government have now determined that that should be done, and we are tabling these amendments.
Amendment 13 writes the new oversight committee into the Bill, simplifying the governance structure of the Bank by subsuming the role and responsibilities of the existing committee of non-executive directors—the so-called NedCo—into the new oversight committee.
Subsection (2)(a) of new Section 3A provides that the oversight committee will be responsible for keeping under review the Bank’s performance in relation to its objectives and strategy. This includes both monetary policy and financial stability, including the responsibilities of the MPC and the FPC.
Subsections (2)(b) and (c) give the oversight committee responsibility for overseeing the Bank’s financial management and internal financial controls, and subsection (4) lists a number of additional responsibilities in relation to the procedures of the MPC and the FPC and the terms and conditions and remuneration of key posts within the Bank. I hope that when we hear from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, he will accept that that provision fulfils the purpose behind his Amendment 29, which would make the non-executive committee of court responsible for overseeing the activities as well as the procedures of the FPC.
The oversight committee will be made up of all the non-executive directors of court, but in some cases it may be inappropriate for particular directors to have an active role in certain of the oversight committee’s functions. For example, a director of court who is also an external member of the FPC—as is the case with Michael Cohrs at present—should not have a role in directly overseeing the FPC’s performance. Subsection (4) of new Section 3B therefore allows the oversight committee to delegate any of its functions to two or more of its members.
New Sections 3C and 3D give the oversight committee an express power to commission and publish external and internal performance reviews. I hope that that satisfies the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, whose Amendment 11 is also intended to implement the Treasury Committee’s recommendation for retrospective reviews of the Bank. In fact, in a number of respects, government Amendment 13 in the names of the noble Lord and my noble friend Lady Noakes goes further than that. Amendment 11 relates only to reviews carried out by the court itself; whereas Amendment 13 provides for reviews to be commissioned from an external person, such as an academic or independent expert, or from an officer or employee of the Bank itself.
I also note that Amendment 11 is limited to reviews of past conduct; whereas government Amendment 13 allows reviews of current practice to be carried out that may be appropriate to the functions of the oversight committee in the financial management and internal financial controls of the Bank.
Consistent with the Treasury Committee’s recommendations, subsection (5) requires the oversight committee to ensure that sufficient time has elapsed before commissioning any review, to allow it to be effective and to avoid impeding the ability of the Bank to continue to operate effectively while the review takes place.
In line with the Treasury Committee’s recommendation and the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, new Section 3D would require the oversight committee to publish its reviews, unless publication would be against the public interest. Published reviews will also be laid before Parliament. Where publication of all or part of a review is delayed, the oversight committee must keep that decision under review and publish that material as soon as the sensitivity has reduced.
New Section 3E requires the oversight committee to monitor the Bank’s response to the report and ensure that it fully implements recommendations that it accepts. That gives the oversight committee an explicit role in ensuring that reviews translate into real action, and that the Bank fully takes on board the lessons learnt.
The Treasury Committee recommended that non-executives have access to all papers considered by the MPC and the FPC. New Section 3F implements that recommendation and goes even further by allowing members of the oversight committee to attend all MPC and FPC meetings in order to observe their discussions.
The remainder of the new clause and government Amendments 28, 30, 33, 91 to 96, 98, 99 to 101 and 145 to 147 make consequential amendments to implement the new oversight committee, and I do not intend to take up the Committee’s time by making any further reference to them.
In conclusion, the Government fully recognise the importance of strong lines of accountability for the Bank, given its expanded responsibility and powers. The amendments represent the most significant legislative reform of the governance arrangements of the Bank of England since nationalisation, and on that basis I hope that the Committee will support them.
My Lords, in the provisions setting up the oversight committee, which obviously has a hugely important and wide-ranging job to do, my noble friend mentioned the right of delegation in new Section 3B, but that is limited to two or more of its members. He mentioned under new Section 3C the right of delegation of a review to a person whom the committee can appoint. May there be wisdom in having a slightly wider power of delegation, so that one could under new Section 3B have an outside person or persons as part of that sub-committee and, in new Section 3C, more than one delegated reviewer? There may be occasions when that would be helpful.
My Lords, I welcome both the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, on behalf of the Government and Amendment 11, in providing for reviews of the conduct of the Bank of England. A review covering mid-2007 to date is well overdue. However, I note, quite correctly, that the amendments come with the caveat that anything that would be against the national interest if it were published may not be made generally available. The one issue that I do not really understand is the need for yet another committee. Why cannot the board of the Bank of England discharge the roles of the oversight committee? The board of a regulator would normally do that, in my experience, so adding yet another body seems slightly unnecessary. I noted the point that there may be some people on the court of the Bank who cannot review themselves, but I do not really see that as a problem. If somebody on the court was, for various reasons, prejudiced against doing some review or other, that is fine and they would not participate. I am nervous about proliferating committees, and I would welcome the Minister’s explanation as to why this cannot be a duty of the court.
My Lords, I found this amendment attractive because it seemed to be very direct and to provide a very important check. Having served on the boards of companies, it is extraordinary how often you find in the post-investment assessment report, which is what we are talking about here, that you have not quite landed up where you thought you were going when you set the policy and made the decision in the first place. That is a very important issue. As my noble friend Lord Flight has just said, the court is the body responsible, and it is perfectly possible when dealing with a matter that may be sensitive, such as individual directors’ conduct, for appropriate arrangements to be made to avoid that. I am not entirely convinced of the need for an oversight committee, and I am not sure that it cannot be carried out within the arrangements of the court as it stands.
I am very grateful to my noble friend for the extensive answer that he gave. Perhaps I might raise one point about proposed new Section 3D, on publication. Subsection (1) of the proposed new section says:
“The Bank must give the Treasury a copy”.
I do not want to sound cynical, but one wants to be able to ensure that this can come out unimpeded. One does not want to find that the hidden hand will be able to say, “Actually, it’s most inconvenient if you say this. We’d like this to be doctored, monitored, removed or dealt with in one way or the other”. The “public interest” referred to in proposed new Section 3D(3) is always a useful cosh to avoid things that are not necessarily against the public interest but may be simply embarrassing at the time. When he comes to speak further, can my noble friend give an assurance that my cynicism is unfounded and can he address the point made by my noble friend Lord Flight about the proliferation of committees?
My Lords, I join with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and I have a couple of quick comments to make on this very substantial proposed new section. I have two queries on it, which I wonder whether the Minister can clarify. The oversight committee, as he conceives it, is to be chaired by the chair of the court. Am I correct in understanding that he expects this to be a non-executive chair? Although there is currently a non-executive chair of the court, the Minister will know that I have concerns about the Banking Act 2009. In Part 7 of that Act, Section 241 seems to be quite ambiguous about whether that is a requirement or merely in the gift of the Chancellor. If I am right, I hope that that can be corrected at some later stage of the Committee.
My second set of comments concern proposed new Section 3C(5), on performance reviews. When the cynics among us—I am afraid that I confess to being one—read a phrase that says:
“In the case of a performance review, the Committee must have regard to the desirability of ensuring that sufficient time has elapsed … for the review to be effective”,
the Minister will understand that there is an element of thought that that could mean the long grass, if we are not careful. Paragraph (b) of that proposed new subsection,
“to avoid the review having a material adverse effect on the exercise by the Bank of its functions”,
could be read as “no serious criticism required”. I would like some assurances from the Minister that that is not a possible reading.
The Minister will understand that some of those concerns are reinforced by widespread criticism of the delay, under the current banking structure, of the three reviews that were started in May this year. Seeing those reviews now in place, it seems an awfully long time since the financial crisis. There are also real questions about the scope of the reviews, particularly the review looking at the provision of emergency liquidity assistance in 2008-09. Many of us would have asked, “Why did this not start in 2007?”. Notwithstanding the fact that the Treasury Select Committee has looked at that, it is surely not a substitute for the Bank of England or the court doing the work itself. There are concerns in that area, and I look for reassurances from the Minister.
My Lords, perhaps I might ask the Minister a very brief question. Proposed new Section 3E(2) says:
“The Oversight Committee must … if or to the extent that the Bank accepts the recommendations, monitor the implementation of the recommendations”.
My question is very simple. If the Bank does not accept the recommendations, what then happens?
My Lords, I, too, support the burden of this amendment. It is a subject that a lot of us spoke about during Second Reading, and this is an important part of strengthening the governance of the Bank of England, which we have been speaking about for much of the afternoon. The things set out here have the ability, over time, to change quite substantially the relationship between the non-executives and the executives at the Bank. I think we all agree that that will provide a better balance, given the wide-ranging powers that the Bank of England will have. The proposed new section sets out some of the important issues about making reviews of policy performance, which lie at the heart of this, and the engagement of the non-executive directors in what has been happening from a policy perspective within the Bank. The suggestions about publication and handling recommendations would also be extremely helpful.
The very same question raised by the noble Lords, Lord Flight and Lord Hodgson, also came to my mind. Why does one need a separate oversight committee for this, rather than handling it within the board itself? I have sat on a lot of boards by now and I have never found a problem with engaging with this kind of activity. Within a unitary board, people know the occasions when they must remain silent or absent themselves and who is in a position to do that. It is very much about commissioning reviews, as set out here. It is not as if one is suggesting that the directors themselves would be conducting the reviews, but they are going to be commissioning them, either from inside or outside the Bank.
It seems to me that the only argument arises from the scepticism that we have heard from many noble Lords about the entrenched position of the executives relative to the non-executives of today. Therefore I understand why the Government might think that this is a way of bringing confidence to this process. However, over the long term, I hope that it could be done within the remit of the board as a whole, because that gives confidence within a unitary board; confidence between the executives and non-executives that, together, they can review what has happened in the past and can learn the lessons of the past so that an attitude of confrontation does not develop between one set of people reviewing the performance of another set. However, I understand why it might be right at this point.
The committee consists only of the non-executive directors; the executive directors will be there, in a sense, only in attendance. It can work. Normally within a board, if it was doing this kind of review, it would be the non-executive directors who were in the lead and making the running. I have found from experience that one should do everything one can to keep the executive and non-executive directors together when one is handling these kinds of issues and trying to learn lessons from the past. We do not want a situation where one part of the board feels that it is being picked on by another. However, given the level of distrust that we have heard this afternoon from many noble Lords about this, I can understand the concerns that, if the Government had brought forward the proposal in the sense that a number of us suggested, they would have come up against the pressure of saying, “Well, it will simply be controlled by the executive directors, in the end, if it is done that way”. Over time, however, a well functioning board should be able to handle these kinds of policy reviews within the whole of the board. That is the best way of learning longer term lessons from these experiences.
My Lords, I agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Burns, has just said. This is an admirable amendment, and I agree with almost all of it. There is one point I am going to raise in a moment, but I do not see why it cannot be done by the court. The fact that the Government have gone to all this trouble to set up a committee instead of leaving it in the court means that one wonders what lies behind it. It seems to be diminishing the authority of the court in some peculiar way. I do not understand the purpose; if the court consists of the directors of the Bank, it seems very odd. That is one point. Otherwise, however, I agree with the thrust of this amendment.
I would like to point out to the Minister an inconsistency in his approach. In a couple of the previous amendments that we have discussed, he told us that what is being suggested is unnecessary, because, of course, the Government would behave in a proper fashion. They would consult everybody, including the chairman. There is no need to be specific in saying that the chairman should be consulted on the appointment of the governor. There was another occasion when the Minister said that there was no need to be specific. Yet here the Government say,
“If the person to be appointed to conduct a performance review is an officer or employee of the Bank, the appointment requires the consent of the Governor of the Bank”.
The Government are being very specific indeed here—very belt and braces. Of course, on a reasonably conducted board, one would expect that the chief executive—in this case, the governor—would be consulted. It would be strange if somebody was appointed against the will of the chief executive or the governor. However, it seems very strange that where the governor’s position is in question, the Government go for absolute explicitness and give the governor a complete blocking position, whereas in the other amendments we have been discussing, the Minister says that we should trust people to behave in a proper and sensible fashion. There is a certain element of one sauce for the goose and another for the gander here.
My Lords, we have a great deal of common interest here that would advance the position of the court. We have two rival schemes, one in Amendment 11 in this group, the other tabled by the Government. We can mix and match here. The sense is that we prefer the Amendment 11 reference to the court, but we prefer the amendments in the government group, particularly about whether these amendments are made using internal or external resources, or whatever. If we put these two things together, we have a rather good scheme.
My Lords, I want to enlarge on the question I asked my noble friend just before he sat down. The point has been made from different quarters of the House about the desirability or otherwise of having yet another committee. However, whichever way that argument goes—and I note the rather odd situation that this oversight committee is to be a sub-committee of the court, and the composition of the court and the composition of the oversight committee are precisely the same—
I have been restraining myself from clarifying a number of other points, but I think that there is perhaps a point that will help the Committee. A director, as defined, is a non-executive director, so the executive members—the governor and the deputy governors—do not, under the definitions here, count as directors. It is only the non-executive directors, which may help my noble friend.
I am grateful for that, and I apologise for the error. However, I want to reinforce the importance of extending the power of delegation under new Section 3B. That could be very important to the work of the committee and strengthen it because it would bring in outside voices and give strength to its deliberations. I hope, therefore, that the Government may review this and decide to extend the power of delegation, not just to members but to outsiders as well. Subsection (3) already provides that outsiders can attend and speak at meetings of the committee, but to be members of a delegated body is crucial, as, indeed, in the review structure under new Section 3C, it would be helpful on occasions to have more than a single person appointed to conduct a review. If it is a complex review, there could be a lot of point in having a small team of three. At the moment that is not permitted by the wording of new Section 3C.
My Lords, I welcome Amendment 11, which is the Treasury Select Committee amendment, put down by my noble friend Lord McFall and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I also welcome the government amendment, which is taking us forward on this vexed issue of the governance of the Bank of England. I regard that as a general welcome, notwithstanding any criticisms or questions I may later have about some particulars of the amendment.
However, before getting into the discussion of Amendments 11 and 13, I reiterate the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, with respect to Section 241 of the Banking Act 2009, where it appears that the chair of the court is in the gift of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. There is nothing in that clause to suggest that the chair must be one of the non-executive members.
Let us hope that it is fixed by the Government, to general approbation.
I turn to Amendments 11 and 13. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, perhaps hit the right note when he said that there are elements of each of the two amendments that, if combined, could be turned into a truly satisfactory structure for this activity. As far as I can see, there are three crucial differences between the amendment proposed by my noble friend Lord McFall and that put forward by the Government. The first, as several noble Lords have pointed out, is that my noble friend’s amendment refers to the Court as a whole. Secondly, the Government’s approach would not allow the proposed oversight committee to consider the merits of the policy pursued by the Bank, a point that could be considered under Amendment 11. Furthermore, there is a third point: the Government’s approach does not commit anyone other than those internal to the Bank to know if a report is lying somewhere gathering dust, unpublished because of some concern about the public interest. Surely this is not the best way to grow confidence in the procedure, and the suggestions made in Amendment 11 would give some confidence that if reports were not published, at least there was some outside overview of the report and the reasons why it would not be published.
Given the detailed scope of the Government’s amendment, I am going to concentrate on its provisions. This represents a major concession, finally forced out of the Bank through gritted teeth by the criticisms of the Treasury Committee and the Joint Committee, to some sort of oversight of its actions. As the Committee will be well aware, the Bank has severely damaged its own reputation, as several noble Lords have said, by its persistent refusal to conduct a proper, wide-ranging review of its conduct in the run-up to the financial crisis. There was the downsizing of the financial stability department, for example; its obsession with moral hazard during the crisis when what was urgently needed was a recapitalisation of the banks; and indeed since the crisis the governor and others have persistently suggested that they knew what was going on but either did not have the tools to respond or were not loud enough in their protestations. I must say that that seems to be a derogation of duty.
So the Bank has form that has been damaging both to itself and to the effective development of stability policy and the British economy. It would greatly help the Committee if the Minister would specify precisely in what ways the proposal for an oversight committee now before us differs from the proposals first advanced by the Bank in January. Has the Treasury added to or subtracted from the bank’s suggestions, and what are the implications of the Treasury’s modifications? Can we now have confidence that the Bank will not only learn from its mistakes but have sufficiently critical procedures in place that it learns before making them?
I am afraid that my confidence in these proposals was severely undermined by the Bank’s own commentary on the proposed oversight committee:
“It is vital that the Oversight Committee does not seek to second guess the decisions of policymakers themselves. The passing of such judgements could threaten the relationship of trust that is necessary between policymakers and the Oversight Committee. Were the Oversight Committee to be seen to ‘take sides’ in the policy debate, those policymakers from whom it differed would be less likely to trust as independent its judgement of whether proper processes were followed”.
I think that that is nonsense. I really had no idea that policymakers in the Bank were such delicate flowers that they could not withstand a little robust assessment of their decisions.
On several occasions today, Members including myself have quoted from the evidence of Mr Greenspan before the US House of Representatives, when he said:
“This modern risk management paradigm held sway for decades. The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed in the summer of last year”.
At least Mr Greenspan had the guts to stand up and admit what was true for every central banker: that this was an intellectual failing, and analysis and judgments were wrong. That is why it is imperative that the oversight committee has the powers to penetrate groupthink at the Bank, to assess and evaluate analysis and judgments and to create a framework in which the institution can learn and adapt in the rapidly changing environment of financial markets. As the Treasury Committee itself said:
“It is unrealistic to suppose that an oversight body could plausibly be expected to commission an external review of a policy decision without assessing the substance”,
of that decision.
What is the full significance of the phrase,
“keeping under review the Bank’s performance”,
in new Section 3A(2)? Will it enable the oversight committee to review the judgments of the Financial Policy Committee as defined in proposed new Section 9C and the Monetary Policy Committee as defined elsewhere? For example, does the expression “duty of the FPC” include the tasks set out in new Section 9C(2)? Does the review of strategy include the right to criticise the intellectual framework used by the Bank in pursuit of its responsibilities under new Section 9C and the proposal of alternative frameworks? In other words, can the oversight committee do exactly what the Bank said it did not want the committee to do when it reviewed the proposal?
Then there are the phrases that the noble Lord, Lord Tugendhat, has referred to in respect of an office or employee of the Bank who could conduct the review but who has to be approved by the governor. I find that rather disturbing; surely if there is an employee who is truly competent and is chosen by the court and/or the oversight committee, and that employee may end up criticising some judgments of the governor, it is not appropriate that the governor should be able to approve that person.
As my noble friend Lady Drake pointed out, under new Section 3E(2) the oversight committee must monitor the Bank’s response and, to the extent that the Bank accepts the recommendations, monitor their implementation. As she pointed out, it is not at all clear what is going to happen if the Bank rejects the committee’s report. What is the committee supposed to do, slink away with its tail between its legs? What is supposed to happen in this case? What of the oxygen of publicity? As I have already commented, new Section 3D makes clear that the Bank may choose not to publish a report. That is entirely understandable in particular circumstances, but surely an outside eye needs to be cast over that decision, as my noble friend Lord McFall and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, have suggested.
I shall briefly address Amendment 29 in this group, which is in my name and that of my noble friend. Given what I have said already, the point of the amendment should be clear. As the Bill is presently drafted, the oversight committee would be able to keep only the procedures of the Financial Policy Committee under review. If that clause is inappropriate, as the Minister suggested in his introductory remarks, surely it should not be there or it should be appropriately amended. Proper oversight should be able to keep all the activities of the Financial Policy Committee under review. Once again, the Treasury seems to be unreasonably constraining the scope of oversight. The Minister shakes his head; I am delighted, but then why is the clause not amended?
I should refer to Amendment 31, which was put down in my name and that of my noble friend, and I was delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, added his name to it. I regret that I have had to express such caveats regarding the Bank’s and indeed the Treasury’s motives in the design of the oversight committee but, as I said earlier, this is really because the Bank has let itself down and done itself significant reputational damage in failing to be open about its own failings in the crisis. A way of repairing that damage would be to develop an effective supervisory board, the court, with a proper strategic role including the oversight function, which I commend the Government for proposing.
I have raised these issues for clarification. I want to be clear that we have not been stuck with the proposals that the Bank itself put forward in January, and that the issue of oversight really would be as comprehensive as the noble Lord suggested. I hope that the Government consider the proposition put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, and see that there are merits in both these amendments, and that by combining them later on in the development of the Bill a truly satisfactory structure could be attained.
My Lords, in most senses I am very grateful for the number of questions. I am also grateful for the general welcome that there has been for the Government bringing forward this very important series of amendments to the way that the oversight and governance of the Bank operate. We are coming to one of the key parts of this Bill. I am grateful, therefore, for the general support from around the Committee for what we are trying to achieve here. Let me reassure noble Lords that a lot of their concerns have been thought about and are adequately dealt with, although there are one or two things on which we have consciously taken a particular course, which not all members of the Committee would agree with.
Let me start by reassuring my noble friends Lord Flight, Lord Hodgson and Lord Tugendhat, and others, that we are certainly not creating any new body here. The committee of non-executive directors of the court, the so-called NedCo, already exists; we are folding that committee’s responsibilities into the new oversight committee, so we are not proliferating committees.
I have considerable sympathy with the position of the noble Lord, Lord Burns. To summarise his position, it is that in fact a mature board can do all of this without effectively throwing the executives out of the room. There is, however, a long tradition within the governance of the Bank of this critical role of NedCo, which has been accepted and not seriously challenged over the years, combined with calls from all sorts of quarters, including the Treasury Committee, to do it in the way that we are doing it. We have had calls for a supervisory board from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and others, which have a similar end. Many, therefore, both in this House and in another place, have been calling for this separation.
Yes, I understand that in the best of all worlds it should not be necessary, but the Government have responded to the calls for this separation between the executives and the non-executives to carry out the oversight role. We believe that we have done it in the most efficient and effective way here by not creating new committees and additional complexity. Neither have we chosen to do it in what I would suggest would be another inappropriate way—namely, to have a supervisory board, which is itself composed only of non-executives. All these considerations, therefore, have been factored into the basic construction here.
In terms of the basic construct, my noble friend Lady Kramer asked whether the Chair of Court would be executive or non-executive. It will be non-executive. I am aware that my noble friend has identified a possible lack of clarity by reviewing the existing legislation, and I know that she has tabled an amendment on this that we will debate later. However, the intention is very clearly that the chair will be non-executive.
I will take some of the other key points. My noble friend Lady Kramer asked whether new Section 3C(5) would mean that the committee should avoid criticising the Bank. That is absolutely not the case. The section only relates to the timing of reviews, and it is sensible to provide that, in deciding when to carry out a review, the committee should consider whether having a review at that time would disrupt the ability of the Bank to do its job properly. My noble friend also went back to questions about why the Bank had been so tardy, and about the scope of the reviews it recently commissioned. I would suggest that that illustrates why this amendment is appropriate and will make the whole position much clearer and different with this remit on the oversight committee. Without debating the rights and wrongs of the timing and the scope of reviews that have recently been commissioned, this amendment very much deals with that concern.
The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, raised a concern about the scope of the work here, and what is kept under review. As he helpfully clarified, Amendment 29 seeks to require the non-executive committee to oversee the activities of the FPC. That is precisely what the Government believe Amendment 13 achieves as it makes the oversight committee responsible for overseeing the Bank’s performance against its objectives, including the FPC’s pursuit of its objectives. I believe, therefore, that in drafting its scope, that concern is taken fully on board.
My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury asked questions on the ability of the committee to delegate, and on the interaction of new Sections 3B and 3C. These are different points, and therefore the construction here works as it was intended. New Section 3B allows the committee to delegate its own functions to two or more members of the committee. That is a different point from that in new Section 3C, which allows the committee to appoint, not to delegate, others—either an individual or a group—to undertake reviews of Bank performance. Therefore, the drafting works on that point and deals appropriately with the concerns that my noble friend expressed.
As regards the concerns around these processes, a number of points have been raised about possible redaction or disagreement with recommendations and so forth. The noble Baroness, Lady Drake, asked what would happen if the Bank did not accept recommendations that had been made. If that were the case, it would certainly be made public that the Bank had rejected a recommendation. I would expect that any such decision would therefore be subject to very close scrutiny, including appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. That would work in a very similar way to the scrutiny that surrounds government responses to independent and other reviews. There is no way that the Bank could walk away from proper challenge in such circumstances.
On that point, I am sure that it would leak or become obvious but what is laid before Parliament is not the report that the Treasury receives but the report that the Bank publishes. This provision allows for the Bank not to publish on the grounds of its view of a public interest issue.
My Lords, it is generally accepted that carve-outs are needed, particularly in relation to the time-sensitivity of reports. As I have explained, this is very tightly circumscribed and the question of when it is appropriate to publish must be kept under review. The publication of the report, or any delay to that publication, can be achieved by the Bank only in those very circumscribed circumstances. They must keep publication under review. Therefore, there will be publication and appropriate challenge at the earliest appropriate time. It is difficult to see what the circumstances might be in which the Bank’s not agreeing with a recommendation would justify non-publication. There is proper but not excessive protection of the position here.
There was also a question from my noble friend Lord Hodgson about the Treasury’s possible ability to step in and in some way redact or hold back reports. The Treasury has no powers here. It merely receives a report. It is up to the Bank, again on public interest grounds, to hold back parts or the whole of a report. I should not say that I quite understand my noble friend’s cynicism about references to the Treasury because I certainly do not. However, I understand why he has properly raised the question.
I think I have already touched on this point but the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, specifically referred to proposed new Section 3A and whether the government amendment allows the committee to consider the merits of the Bank’s action. Proposed new Section 3A provides that the committee is to keep,
“under review the Bank’s performance in relation to … the Bank’s objectives”.
I reiterate that the main concern here has been addressed.
On the broader question of what the Government have done not only in relation to the Treasury Committee but about the recommendations that the Bank made in January, there is nothing that I can add to what I said in my opening remarks, in which I attempted to be very clear on that point.
Perhaps I can clarify the question for the noble Lord. The question is really about whether the oversight committee could pass judgment on the decisions of policy-makers. As the Treasury Committee put it:
“It is unrealistic to suppose that an oversight body could plausibly be expected to commission an external review of a policy decision without assessing the substance”.
This is what the Bank objected to in the initial form of the oversight committee. Has the Treasury put aside the Bank’s objections, and can the oversight committee now refer to make its assessment of the substance of policy decisions?
Let me address this very directly. The requirement for the oversight committee to ensure that sufficient time has passed before commissioning a review is there precisely to ensure that it does not put itself in the position of second-guessing the Bank’s decisions when those decisions are still playing out. After that point, it will be appropriate to assess the effect of those decisions, but while they are playing out it will not be possible effectively to estimate how they are playing out and it would be inappropriate to do so. The way that the amendment is drafted is precisely consistent with the Treasury Committee’s recommendation that the reviews be retrospective, rather than in any sense contemporaneous.
I hear clearly what the noble Lord says: there is a difficult balancing act here, between allowing the oversight committee the ability to question everything and not boxing it into questioning the judgments that have been made on policy decisions. Yes, it can challenge and review judgments on policy decisions but it should not be boxed into doing so while the consequences of those decisions are playing out. In substance, that is what the Treasury Committee recommended.
Let us focus this by taking a concrete example. It is now generally accepted by everybody except the Bank that the Bank made some calamitous decisions shortly before, or in the process of, the collapse of Northern Rock. Various statements were made by the governor that accelerated the run on the bank. The continuous reference to issues of moral hazard when the bank needed recapitalising did significant damage in that case, and that damage reverberates to this very day.
Now that significant time has passed, suppose we were to commission a review of the Bank’s activities at that time. Would it be permissible for the oversight committee to say, “Look, this decision was made on the wrong analytical grounds and was a serious mistake. The Bank should readjust its perspective to think in a different way. Perhaps it should introduce some other analytical tools so that that mistake is not made again”? Would that be appropriate?
My Lords, without wanting to endorse the conclusions of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, from the experience in 2007, yes, of course it would be possible and appropriate for the oversight committee to conduct or commission that kind of review. Without detaining the Committee for much longer, I will address a couple of other points.
Could the Minister point to where his amendment says that that would be allowed? Looking at proposed new Section 3A(2), I can imagine a very sterile debate between the oversight committee and the Bank or the governor. The function of the oversight committee is to keep,
“under review the Bank’s performance in relation to … the Bank’s objectives”.
If it asked, “Did you stick by your objectives?”, the Bank answered, “Yes”, and the committee said, “We don’t think you did stick by your objectives”, where would it go on that issue? The committee could ask, “Did the Financial Policy Committee do its duty under Section 9C?”. The answer could be, “Yes, it has”, or, “No, it hasn’t”. The Minister needs to point to areas that would allow for the questions that my noble friend Lord Eatwell has asked.
My Lords, I think the critical point here is that the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, posited a situation in which this would be, in his words, a sterile debate with the governor. It goes perhaps to the heart of the question that I started with as to why the oversight committee is a committee of the non-executives. It means that it is the oversight committee without the governor or any of the executives of the Bank being members of that committee that takes the decision, under this provision in Amendment 13, to commission reports over a very wide area. So there is no question at the front end of a negotiation with the governor and the executive about whether they would commission a report in those circumstances. That is for the oversight committee to do. We have discussed the timing issue. The report is made and, subject to the issues that we have already discussed, the report is published. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord McFall, that there is no negotiation to be had at that front end. The non-executive oversight committee of the court of the Bank will have a very clear statutory function to take precisely what is proposed in new Section 3A, and it will be untrammelled by any possibility of the sort of sterile debate that the noble Lord suggests might happen. I hope that that reassures him.
I want to address a couple of other points, largely people issues of two kinds here. My noble friend Lord Tugendhat and the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, questioned the need for the governor to consent to the appointment of an internal reviewer. This is intended to be a perfectly straightforward and practical measure. In practical terms, if the person selected is on the verge of leaving the Bank for another post, going on sabbatical or maternity leave, or whatever, the non-executive directors on the court may not necessarily be aware of this, and it is a practical way of ensuring that the appointment works. It also provides the governor, as the person ultimately responsible for the staff who work for him or her, with the opportunity to determine whether the person selected has the capacity to undertake the review in the timescale envisaged without impacting their other responsibilities. There is no more to it than that.
Lastly, I go back to a point which I believe the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, made at the beginning about the size of the court. It is not directly the subject of this amendment, but I think that it is worth answering that point. Given that there will be four executive members—the governor and three deputy governors—if the court were reduced to eight, it would not allow for a non-executive majority because we have four insiders on the court. More generally, if there were such a small number of non-executives, it would be difficult to have sufficient diversity of experience and views, which was a point that we discussed earlier and which I completely agree with. If we had a reduction in size, it would be impossible effectively to have a non-executive majority or indeed, as I say, sufficient diversity.
I hope that I have been able to deal with the very understandable and important questions and concerns on this issue so that the noble Lord, Lord McFall, might see his way to withdrawing his amendment and the Committee will support the Government’s amendments.
My Lords, is the Minister accepting my Amendment 29? He seemed to say that it was referring to the right sort of thing. If he is not accepting it, why is proposed new Section 9B(4) left in the form that it is, referring only to procedures? I have another question, but would he answer that one?
May I add a question so that the Minister can answer both together? The Minister is dealing with these matters with such grace and elegance that I feel very bad in questioning his or the Government’s motives in any way. Nevertheless, when we were dealing with the question of whether the chairman should be consulted on the appointment of the governor, basically what the Minister said was that reasonable people will behave in a reasonable fashion and there is no need to spell all this out, because it will be done in the normal course of events. Here he is insisting on absolutely spelling it out so that in practice the governor has a block. Of course I agree that in a properly run organisation, as I am sure the Bank would be, an employee would not be appointed contrary to the wishes of the governor; the relationship between the chairman and the governor would overcome that. None the less, to give the governor an absolute block is a sort of belt and braces that is completely at odds with what the Minister said in an earlier discussion. That means that one does look with some suspicion as to why, as I said earlier, there is one sauce for the goose and another for the gander. If he wants to spell it out here, why could he not spell it out earlier?
My Lords, in legislation we come back regularly to this question of what needs to be spelled out and what does not. Elegantly or otherwise, I am not sure what more I can say other than that we have to take each case on its merits. Sometimes there are good arguments for spelling things out and at other times there are not. I know that I will disappoint my noble friend and it is a perfectly fair question, but I am not sure that there is much more that I can usefully add.
On the question from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, about Amendment 29, I will be clear. I do not accept Amendment 29 because I do not believe that it is necessary. I believe that Amendment 13, which I thought was helpfully clarified during this debate, more than covers the ground. I refer the noble Lord in particular to proposed new Section 3A(2)(a), which I would suggest makes it clear right at the beginning of the Government’s amendment that the function of the oversight committee and its ability to review performance is very widely drawn in relation to the objectives of the Bank and of the FPC. I believe that new Section 3A enables the oversight committee explicitly to review the activities of the FPC, which are there right at the beginning of this amendment.
Clearly I am having difficulty understanding the noble Lord’s concerns but I am absolutely clear that the substance as he has explained it and the specific example that he gave are completely within the ambit of what is being put in the Bill as the function of the oversight committee.
The point is that the oversight committee is supposed to keep the activities of the Financial Policy Committee under review. There is an amendment among the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, that changes “court of directors” in new Section 9B(4) to the “oversight committee”. So if we accepted his amendment, it would read that the oversight committee,
“must keep the procedures followed by the Committee under review”.
Why do we have that when we have new Section 3A doing all the work for us?
I think that is wrong. It is not the Court of Directors that becomes the oversight committee; the Court of Directors remains the Court of Directors. It is effectively the committee of non-executive directors, or NEDCo, of the Bank, which becomes the oversight committee. The court remains the court. So there may be some misunderstanding of who is doing what here, but the Court of Directors must indeed keep the procedures of the FPC under review, which will be principally done through the oversight committee, which is a committee of the court.
The references here to the Court of Directors of the Bank in new Section 9B(1) says:
“There is to be a sub-committee of the court of directors of the Bank”.
When it says Court of Directors in that case does it mean the whole court? Earlier we were being told that “directors” simply means the non-executive directors and that the governors are not counted as being directors of the court. That seems to be part of the problem that is causing this ambiguity.
Let me try again. The court of the Bank, which is the executives and non-executives, must keep the procedures under review. The non-executives through the oversight committee have a remit and function that includes procedures but goes wider and is able to review the performance of the Bank and the FPC against its objectives in the full wide way that I believe the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, is asking for it to do—and I am confirming that it does.
I am afraid that this does not help, because the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, Amendment 28, says on,
“page 3, line 28, leave out “court of directors” and insert “Oversight Committee”.
So this should actually read, “the oversight committee must keep the procedures followed by the Committee under review”. Why is that there when new Section 3A covers it, we are told? But I shall not pursue this—I shall leave it with the Minister. Either we have just got in a muddle or there is a drafting error.
I think that it is me that has got in a muddle. It is kind to say that we have got in a muddle or that there is a drafting error. I apologise to the Committee, as I am the only person who has got into a muddle on this, as I track through amendments and consequential amendments. New Clause 9B(4) is being amended by government Amendment 28 so that it no longer says “court” but says “oversight committee”. I apologise for my confusion on this, but we may have finally got to what it is intended to say. The two things will be consistent so that the oversight committee, to the substance of the point, will be able to deal with both procedures as envisaged under new Clause 9B(4) as amended and as explained in Amendment 13. So I hope that we are getting there.
We are getting somewhere. What we have here is redundancy. New Clause 9B(4) is redundant, given the Minister’s explanation of new Section 3A.
I apologise to the Minister for raising a quite different question, which I shall just leave on the table. In my earlier remarks, I did not refer to the schedule. In the enthusiasm to replace “court” or “Bank” with “oversight committee”, the Government have gone a bit too far. Perhaps the Minister could check on this later, because the terms and conditions of non-executive members of the Financial Policy Committee are now amended to be determined by the oversight committee. That must be a mistake—it must be the court as a whole. That is in government Amendment 91. In government Amendment 93, the oversight committee can remove appointed members of the Financial Policy Committee. Surely that must be a mistake as well—it must be the overall court. So I think that there has been a great enthusiasm for replacing “court” with “oversight committee” and somebody has got rather carried away. But I am not going to press this issue now. I shall just leave it on the table for the noble Lord and his officials to consider and bring back to us later.
I am grateful to the noble Lord because I think that we are getting into very detailed drafting points. I will certainly have a look at those points and write to the noble Lord and copy the letter to others who have spoken in this debate, just to check that nothing has gone astray in the drafting here. We will take that on board.
I hope that my noble friend agrees that the noble Lord, Lord Burns, had quite a point. It harks back to earlier discussions about the complexity of drafting. It is the fact, as I hope my noble friend will confirm, that the definition of Court of Directors in Clause 1 of the Bill includes the four executive directors and “not more than 9” non-executive directors—which makes 13. The interplay of the phrase Court of Directors and the new body that is the subject of the government amendment makes for extraordinary complexity in understanding. One thing that my noble friend might consider for the next stage is that when the Bill and his amendment refer to non-executive directors they say non-executive directors, because there are four executive directors—the governor and three deputy governors. They are directors too.
I thank noble Lords for their contributions. It has been a very interesting debate. I had more of an idea what things are about at the beginning of my speech than I did at the end and whether it is the oversight committee or the court. Perhaps the Minister could just clarify whether the chair of the court will chair the oversight committee and whether the oversight committee will be composed of non-executives, with no officer of the Bank on the oversight committee. I cannot see that detailed in the Bill.
I agree with noble Lords in asking why we need another committee. The reason why I asked the Minister questions earlier was that the Treasury Committee in another place is very firm that this proposal does not plug the gap. In the light of the debate, there needs to be a review from the Government and they need to come back to us on Report so that we can get some clarity when it goes back to the other House. The core of this is corporate governance. If we get good corporate governance on the court, there will be no need for the oversight committee at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, had a very good suggestion. Why do we not combine my amendment with the Government’s amendment and then we can come back to this matter, look at it and, I hope, all agree? I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 11 withdrawn.
12: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Publication of court minutes
(1) Section 2 of the Bank of England Act 1998 (functions of court of directors) is amended as follows.
(2) After subsection (5) insert—
“(6) After each meeting of the court, the Bank shall publish minutes of the meeting before the end of the period of two weeks beginning with the day of the meeting.
(7) Subsection (6) shall not apply to minutes of any proceedings where the court has decided that publication should be delayed for reasons of confidentiality or because publication would endanger financial stability.
(8) Where any part of the court’s minutes is not published under the provisions of subsection (7), the Chairman of the court shall inform the Chairman of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons of the reasons.
(9) Any part of the minutes of a meeting of the court must be published as soon as the court has decided that the considerations in subsection (7) no longer apply.””
My Lords, the MPC is obliged to publish minutes of its meetings, but the Financial Policy Committee has just been asked for a record. In the other place, Mark Hoban, the Minister, pointed out that,
“the FPC also produces what it calls a record of its meetings, which is a very full account of the debates that go on in the FPC, and we will expect a similar process to be undertaken for the court’s meetings”.
What is good for the MPC should be good for the FPC as well.
As a veteran of Labour Party constituency meetings during the 1970s and 1980s, I really know the difference between the record of a meeting and the minutes. There can be many battles behind the scenes on that. This is not as arcane debate as we think it is.
When the Minister replied in the other place during the passage of the Bill, Chris Leslie, the opposition spokesperson, said:
“I just want to be clear about what the Minister is saying. Is he saying that when the Bill comes before the other place for consideration he will accept retrospective reviews and publication of minutes or that he will simply consider it?”.
The Minister replied:
“We are clear that we want to see the court’s minutes published”.
The chairman of the Treasury Committee, Andrew Tyrie, then asked a further question:
“when he says that he is committed to the publication of the court’s minutes, does he mean the publication of the full minutes or only a summary record of them, which it appears is what was proposed before”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/4/12; col. 766.]
That question has still to be answered. This amendment is put down for the sole purpose of eliciting that information.
My Lords, I will speak to the amendment standing in the name of my noble friend Lord Eatwell and myself while supporting Amendment 12, moved by the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I am sorry to do so in his absence, but I particularly welcome Amendment 144, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, to which I very happily added my name. The Government responded speedily to a request for the FCA’s minutes to be published, following, I am sure, my intervention at Second Reading and for no other reason. I am pleased about that because it was as late as February that the Government saw the publication of board minutes as a matter for the FCA board rather than for legislation. However, we believe that publication is particularly important when considering the difficulty faced by those seeking to represent the long-term interest of consumers, be they savers, borrowers or debtors, as they follow every twist and turn of a regulator’s wide remit. The minutes are invaluable to lay out the narrative of the FCA’s focus.
The regular publication of minutes is undoubtedly a matter for public policy and therefore correctly in the Bill rather than being for the board itself to decide. After all, it is its work that will be scrutinised by this openness. I know that the Government’s move will be welcomed by Which? and the Financial Services Consumer Panel, as well as by the wholesale market players, for whom the FCA is of particular importance.
However, consumers’ interests go further than the FCA, important though that is. The vital work and the decisions undertaken by the Bank, the FPC and the governor can only benefit from greater debate by, and input from, a range of commentators, be they the press, academics, market participants, representative organisations, other regulators or indeed users. Publication both improves the internal thinking through the debate that it generates and has an important role in accountability. The Government have described the FPC as,
“a powerful new authority sitting at the apex of the regulatory architecture”.
It is therefore beholden on us to ensure that the mechanisms to ensure the FPC’s democratic accountability are commensurate with the strength of its powers. This starts with transparency and the beginning of a new culture of democratic dialogue.
The Treasury Select Committee report of 19 October is already familiar to us and will become more familiar. It argued for the need for clear transparency both in the publication of the remit and in the FPC’s responses. It said:
“There should be the presumption that ex-post reviews would be published, except where confidentiality needed to be maintained”,
in which case a redacted version could be published or publication delayed. It also said that,
“the Chairman of the Treasury Committee should be shown an unredacted version of the findings with an explanation of the reasons for non-publication”.
We endorse that recommendation. The committee also stressed that,
“The date of publication should then”—
in other words, if it has been withheld—
“be reviewed periodically until such a time as full publication would not endanger confidentiality or financial stability”.
I turn to the issues mentioned by my noble friend Lord McFall. Mark Hoban in the other place agreed that there was,
“a clear need for the Bank’s accountability arrangements to be strengthened through the publication of the court’s minutes”.
He agreed that the Government would consider this further when the Bill came to this House for its scrutiny. However, he made it clear that he wanted to see the court’s minutes published, as well as retrospective reviews,
“so that Parliament and stakeholders can hold the Bank to account for the way in which it has used its powers not just when it comes to the Financial Policy Committee”,—[Official Report, Commons, 23/4/12; col. 766-67.]
but more widely. We welcome those sentiments and hope that the Minister will now be able to signify his support for the amendments, which I think are in line with the recommendation of the Minister in the other House.
My Lords, I support the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord McFall. I noted that in the Treasury Committee’s first report on the Financial Services Bill of 23 May, Mark Hoban was quoted as having spoken in the other place as follows. I hope that the Committee does not mind me repeating it, because it is quite important:
“My hon. Friend the Member for Chichester also mentioned publication of the court’s minutes. The Bank has committed to publishing what it terms a record of future court meetings. It is worth pointing out that the FPC also produces what it calls a record of its meetings, which is a very full account of the debates that go on in the FPC, and we will expect a similar process to be undertaken for the court’s meetings. Let me be clear: I believe that there is a clear need for the Bank’s accountability arrangements to be strengthened through the publication of the court’s minutes and the enhanced scrutiny of the court’s work, although I believe that the changes announced by the Bank help address the concerns raised by my hon. Friend and the Treasury Committee. He made some powerful arguments that have been echoed by other members of the Committee, and we will consider further whether these arrangements should be put in the Bill. We will reflect on these matters and reconsider them when the Bill goes to the other place. I hope that that helps to reassure the House on how seriously we take these matters and our willingness to listen and respond to the concerns raised by Members during the debate”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/4/12; col. 766.]
I ask the Minister to consider those comments by Mr Hoban in the other place.
My Lords, in its report on Bank of England accountability, the Treasury Select Committee indeed recommended that the court publish minutes of its meetings. In its response to the Treasury Select Committee, the court accepted this recommendation in principle and agreed to begin to publish a record of its meetings once the new structure was in place. By putting this requirement into the Bill, as we propose to do through government Amendment 97, we ensure that this important transparency mechanism will remain in place.
As the Treasury Committee itself recognised, the court is likely to discuss extremely sensitive matters that are unsuitable for publication—for example, the provision of emergency liquidity assistance to an ailing bank. Therefore sub-paragraph (3) of new paragraph 12A establishes that the record must not contain any information whose publication would be against the public interest. I am pleased to see that Amendment 12, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord McFall, contains a similar provision. However, in a divergence of opinion, perhaps similar to that discussed by my noble friend Lord Sassoon in the previous group, the Government do not agree that the court should be required in all cases to notify the Treasury Select Committee of the reasons why information might have been withheld for public interest reasons from publication.
When the Bank takes actions that involve risk to taxpayer money, such as liquidity operations indemnified by the Treasury, it is the responsibility of the Treasury rather than the court to ensure that the relevant parliamentary committees are informed, on a confidential basis if necessary. There are already formal and informal mechanisms in place for this to happen, including in the new crisis management MoU. When a court discusses sensitive matters that are not related to public money, I do not see the value in creating a bureaucratic requirement for the court to notify the TSC, or to keep under review material that it excludes from meeting records, with a view to publishing it at a later date. Of course, the court may publish information on discussions that were originally excluded from the record at a later date if it believes it appropriate to do so.
The same arguments apply to Amendments 72 and 86 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, in relation to material excluded from the records of FPC meetings and meetings between the Chancellor and the governor. There is also widespread agreement that the Financial Conduct Authority should publish a record of its board meetings. The future leadership of the FCA has agreed to this. We have therefore brought forward Amendment 144, which makes similar provision for the FCA. Indeed, the FSA will publish in early August a record of its June board meeting, consistent with the provisions proposed.
Amendments 70 and 80, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, attempt to include the word “minutes” in other places in Clause 3 where the word “record” is used. That goes to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord McFall. The specific word used is not important. I hope we can agree that what is vital is ensuring that the record provides a clear public account of decisions taken by the court, the FPC and the FCA, and of the rationale and arguments that were put forward by members in favour of and against each decision. Sub-paragraph (2) of proposed new paragraph 12A, which sets out what the record must contain, ensures that that will be achieved for the court. Identical new provisions cover the FCA under Amendment 144. New Section 9R(2) similarly sets out precisely what the FPC’s meeting record must contain.
I move on to Amendment 85, which was also tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. Subsection (5) of new Section 9U requires the Treasury to consult the Bank before publishing the record of the meeting between the governor and the Chancellor. That will ensure that the Bank’s views about whether material is suitable for publication will be taken fully into account. The noble Baroness can be assured that the Treasury would not publish any material which the Bank believed was sensitive.
Amendments 20, 59, 60, 71, 77, 78, 83, 84 and 85 are generally speaking to do with websites. Transparency and openness are a critical part of any regulatory system. Transparency of decision-making is a vital aid to the public understanding of regulatory actions. In all cases where the Bill provides for certain documents to be made public, including those affected by amendments in this group, I would of course expect the publications to be made available on the relevant website. That is because the internet is at present the primary method for the public to access this type of material. However, I ask noble Lords to accept that technology advances at a tremendous pace. Fifty years ago, neither the internet nor websites existed. It is impossible to foresee how far digital communication will have advanced in the next five years, let alone 50.
As well as publishing documents on their websites, the Bank, the Treasury and the FSA already make use of Twitter, Flickr, YouTube and RSS to communicate with the public. Any one of these, or some other new form of media, may become the most widespread way to communicate with the public in the future. That is why we should not make provision in the Bill for specific types of communications media that may be superseded sooner or later. That is in line with the long-standing principle of future-proofing new legislation. While I think we agree on the principle of transparency and openness, I hope that the noble Lord will be persuaded to withdraw the amendment.
Let me reassure noble Lords that this should not be taken to imply that the new authorities will not make use of the internet to promote transparency and openness. The interim Financial Policy Committee has already published two financial stability reports and a record for each of its five meetings on the Bank’s website, with the latest record to be published on 6 July. In addition, last year the Bank published on its website a public consultation on macroprudential tools. I have no doubt that this will continue, but in general I contend that it is sensible to allow the publishing authority to decide in what manner to reach interested parties most effectively, which is why I hope noble Lords will understand why I cannot support Amendment 82, which seeks specifically to remove this discretion from the Treasury. I hope that noble Lords will accept government Amendments 97 and 144 and be prepared not to press their own.
Did the Minister mean to refer only to the Treasury Select Committee? Our amendment related to the decision taken not to publish and whether only the chair of the Treasury Select Committee would be informed of the reasons. He did not actually comment on this.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Clause 2 agreed.
13: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Bank of England Act 1998 is amended as follows.
(2) For section 3 substitute—
“3A Oversight Committee
(1) There is to be a sub-committee of the court of directors of the Bank (“the Oversight Committee”) consisting of the directors of the Bank.
(2) The functions of the Oversight Committee are—
(a) keeping under review the Bank’s performance in relation to—(i) the Bank’s objectives (that is, the objectives specified in relation to it in this Act and the other objectives for the time being determined by the court of directors of the Bank),(ii) the duty of the Financial Policy Committee under section 9C, and(iii) the Bank’s strategy as for the time being determined by the court of directors of the Bank (including its financial stability strategy);(b) monitoring the extent to which the objectives set by the court of directors of the Bank in relation to the Bank’s financial management have been met;(c) keeping under review the internal financial controls of the Bank with a view to securing the proper conduct of its financial affairs;(d) the functions conferred on the Oversight Committee by the provisions listed in subsection (4).(3) The Bank may arrange for specified functions of the Bank to be discharged by the Oversight Committee.
(4) The provisions referred to in subsection (2)(d) are—
(a) section 9B (review of procedures followed by Financial Policy Committee);(b) section 16 (review of procedures followed by Monetary Policy Committee);(c) paragraph 14 of Schedule 1 (remuneration of Governor and Deputy Governors);(d) paragraph 5 of Schedule 2A (terms and conditions of office of members of Financial Policy Committee appointed under section 9B(1)(e));(e) paragraph 9 of that Schedule (removal of members of Financial Policy Committee appointed under section 9B(1)(e));(f) paragraph 4(2) of Schedule 3 (terms and conditions of office of members of Monetary Policy Committee appointed under section 13(2)(c));(g) paragraph 9 of that Schedule (removal of members of Monetary Policy Committee appointed under section 13(2)(c));(h) paragraph 15 of Schedule 1ZB to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (terms of service and remuneration of members of the governing body of the Prudential Regulation Authority).3B Oversight Committee: procedure
(1) The chair of the court (designated under paragraph 13 of Schedule 1) is to chair meetings of the Oversight Committee (when present).
(2) The Committee is to determine its own procedure, but this is subject to subsection (1) and subsection (5).
(3) The Committee may invite other persons to attend, or to attend and speak at, any meeting of the Committee.
(4) The Committee may delegate any of its functions to two or more of its members.
(5) If a member of the Committee (“M”) has any direct or indirect interest (including any reasonably likely future interest) in any dealing or business which falls to be considered by the Committee—
(a) M must disclose that interest to the Committee when it considers that dealing or business, and (b) the Committee must decide whether M is to be permitted to participate in any proceedings of the Committee relating to any question arising from its consideration of the dealing or business, and if so to what extent and subject to what conditions (if any).3C Reviews
(1) In the discharge of any of its functions, the Oversight Committee may arrange—
(a) for a review to be conducted under this section in relation to any matter by a person appointed by the Committee, and(b) for the person conducting the review to make one or more reports to the Committee.(2) The persons who may be appointed to conduct a review include an officer or employee of the Bank.
(3) A review under this section is a “performance review” if it—
(a) is arranged by the Committee in the discharge of any of its functions under section 3A(2)(a) and (b), and(b) relates to past events.(4) If the person to be appointed to conduct a performance review is an officer or employee of the Bank, the appointment requires the consent of the Governor of the Bank.
(5) In the case of a performance review, the Committee must have regard to the desirability of ensuring that sufficient time has elapsed—
(a) for the review to be effective, and(b) to avoid the review having a material adverse effect on the exercise by the Bank of its functions.3D Publication of reports of performance reviews
(1) The Bank must give the Treasury a copy of any report made to the Oversight Committee by a person appointed under section 3C to conduct a performance review (as defined by subsection (3) of that section).
(2) Subject to subsection (3), the Bank must also publish the report.
(3) Subsection (2) does not require the publication of information whose publication at the time when the report is made would in the opinion of the Bank be against the public interest.
(4) Where the Bank decides under subsection (3) that publication of information at the time when the report is made would be against the public interest, it must keep under consideration the question of whether publication of the information would still be against the public interest.
(5) Where the Bank decides that publication of any information is no longer against the public interest, it must publish the information.
(6) The Treasury must lay before Parliament a copy of any report or other information published by the Bank under this section.
3E Recommendations resulting from review
(1) This section applies where a report made by a person appointed under section 3C to conduct a review makes recommendations to the Bank as to steps to be taken by it.
(2) The Oversight Committee must—
(a) monitor the Bank’s response to the report, and(b) if or to the extent that the Bank accepts the recommendations, monitor the implementation of the recommendations.3F Oversight Committee: further provisions
(1) The documents to which the Oversight Committee is to have access in the discharge of its functions include documents considered, or to be considered, by the Financial Policy Committee or the Monetary Policy Committee.
(2) One or two members of the Oversight Committee may attend any meeting of the Financial Policy Committee or the Monetary Policy Committee, but a person attending by virtue of this subsection may not speak unless invited to do so by the person chairing the meeting.
(3) Subsection (2) does not affect—
(a) anything done in relation to the Financial Policy Committee by a member of that Committee who is also a member of the Oversight Committee,(b) the powers of the Financial Policy Committee under paragraph 13 of Schedule 2A, or(c) the powers of the Monetary Policy Committee under paragraph 13A of Schedule 3.”(3) In section 4 (annual report by the Bank), in subsection (2), for paragraph (a) substitute—
“(a) a report by the Oversight Committee on the matters for which it is responsible, and”.(4) In section 16 (functions of court of directors)—
(a) in subsection (1), for “court of directors of the Bank” substitute “Oversight Committee”,(b) in subsection (2)—(i) for “the court’s function” substitute “the function of the Oversight Committee”,(ii) for “the Committee” substitute “the Monetary Policy Committee”,(c) omit subsection (3), and(d) accordingly, in the heading, for “court of directors” substitute “Oversight Committee”.”
Amendment 13 agreed.
Clause 3 : Financial stability strategy and Financial Policy Committee
Amendments 14 to 15 not moved.
16: Clause 3, page 2, line 26, at end insert “, and
( ) the public”
My Lords, I rise to move Amendment 16. The issue here is simply that with respect to the financial stability strategy we believe that consultation should be as widespread as possible. The main reason for stressing this is that the area of financial stability is at present unformed. There is as yet no clear analytical framework to which everyone can appeal, as is the case with monetary policy, and a number of ideas and empirical observations are, if you like, the grist to the mill, but what comes out of the mill is not necessarily consistent or widely accepted. Therefore consultation and ideas from a wide range of sources, particularly within the financial services industry, are immensely valuable as the financial stability strategy is developed.
For example, the Financial Policy Committee has told us that consideration of matters of leverage will form an important part of the instruments that it uses within its remit. It would be useful to consult the Financial Reporting Council, which defines the way in which balance sheets are structured and hence has insight into the relationship between variations in balance sheets and the generation of systemic risk, should leverage collars be imposed. Similarly, many financial institutions would like to react to the notion of a leverage collar and to present their views as to what the full implications might be.
Valuable ideas could also be derived, for example, in the use of derivatives in liquidity management should the Financial Policy Committee, as it has suggested in its publications, turn to issues of managing liquidity as a direct means of reducing systemic risk.
Given the wide range of instruments that the Financial Policy Committee is considering it might use and the broad nature of the development of its strategy, the way to secure acceptance of the control of such important levers on the economy by an unelected committee is to have the widest consultation possible. We would therefore like to add consultation of the public in general to the formal internal governmental consultations included in the clause. I beg to move.
My Lords, when I first saw the amendment and the reference to the public I thought it could mean consulting someone on the Clapham omnibus about the Bank’s financial stability strategy. However, the noble Lord said that he meant financial institutions and those with a financial interest rather than a broad definition of the public.
Perhaps I may clarify that point. It is a term of art to say that you consult the public. When an institution such as the Bank of England or the Financial Services Authority initiates a general consultation and publishes a consultation document, they consult the public. In fact, it tends to be the financial services industry and other immediately interested parties who are consulted, not the gentleman on the Clapham omnibus.
My Lords, as I said in the debate on the last group of amendments, the Government recognise the need for transparency and accountability in financial regulation. The Bank also places great value on transparency and openness. It uses a variety of methods to engage with the public on issues of policy, including FPC and MPC meeting records, financial stability and inflation reports, public speeches, policy papers, consultations, regional agencies and various forms of social media. The Bank and the FPC further demonstrated their commitment to transparency in their work on macroprudential tools by publishing a discussion document in December that invited public opinion.
The Bank’s court will be responsible for setting the Bank’s strategy in relation to its financial stability objective. The Bill requires that the court consults the Treasury and the Financial Policy Committee about a draft of the strategy before determining or revising it. The Bill does not prohibit the court seeking the opinions of others. For example, the court might wish to consult the European Systemic Risk Board to get is opinion on the outlook for financial stability in the European Union; it might wish to consult the International Monetary Fund or the Financial Reporting Council, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, mentioned; it would almost certainly want to consult the PRA board and perhaps the FCA too. The list goes on. The Bill is drafted in a flexible way which allows the court to consult anyone on its strategy.
As to Amendment 16 specifically, the current drafting of the Bill already allows the court to consult the public on its financial stability strategy. The Bank’s financial stability strategy is currently published annually in the Bank’s annual report and is available on the Bank’s website. It is open to any organisation or member of the public to send the Bank comments on its financial stability strategy if they wish. I would expect the Bank to take seriously any contributions from the public and, where appropriate, to take them into account when revising the strategy. Given that revisions to the financial stability strategy will be less frequent—every three years—the court may well choose to undertake a public consultation process in advance of revising its strategy, particularly if the Bank were considering making any significant changes to it.
Such a public consultation process may not be necessary or even possible on every occasion. For example, the changes being made might be minor and technical and so not warrant a public consultation. In other cases, the changes to the strategy may be urgent and so there may be inadequate time for public consultation.
While I entirely support the sentiment behind the amendment, I do not think that it would be appropriate to put in the legislation a prescriptive requirement for public consultation in all cases. On that basis, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I was very struck by the Minister’s speech because it was rather better than mine in support of my amendment. He said that the public would typically be consulted. The only slightly off-base comment that he made was that the financial stability strategy would be revised every three years. That is not according to the Bill, which says,
“complete a review … before the end of each relevant period”.
“Before the end” could be one month, six months, two years, 11 months or 30 days, whichever is relevant. The notion that revisions will take place irregularly—in fact, on a three-yearly basis—is not what is in the Bill.
The Minister then shot his fox by saying that urgent revisions might have to be made. In that case, given that revisions can take place at differing intervals depending on the exigencies of the time—let us remember that financial markets can change their character and behaviour quite rapidly and unexpectedly—and if this impinges on strategy, it should be appropriate that consultation takes place. My amendment provides that variations in strategy be widely consulted on, including among the public. A public consultation would take place, and the relevant authorities listed so accurately by the Minister would no doubt participate.
I do not understand the Minister’s rejection of what I would think is an extremely helpful amendment given what he had to say. However, we will come back to this matter on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
17: Clause 3, page 2, line 27, after “Committee” insert “and the Treasury”