Report (1st Day)
Clause 1 : Deputy Governors
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out “members” and insert “directors”
My Lords, this group of government amendments comprises two straightforward technical concessions, which I signalled in Committee. The first, government Amendment 20, responds to an amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Kramer in Committee. This helpfully highlighted that the legislation does not expressly prohibit the Chancellor from appointing the governor, or one of the deputy governors, of the Bank to be chair or deputy chair of court. As I assured my noble friend at the time, the policy intention—indeed long-standing practice—has always been for non-executives to play these crucial roles. However, Amendment 20 puts this beyond all doubt by explicitly prohibiting the governor and deputy governor from being appointed as chair or deputy chair of court.
The other amendments in the group deal with the terminology around the Court of Directors. In Committee, various noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Philips of Sudbury and the noble Lord, Lord Burns, commented on the oddity of the Court of Directors being comprised of directors, which refers to the non-executive members only, and the executive members, who are not classified as directors at all. I make a commitment to go away and look at options for clarifying this, and the amendments in this group are the result. The amendments would change all references to “director” to “non-executive director”. This means that all the members of court are now directors, with the legislation distinguishing clearly between non-executive and executive directors. As I have said, these are straightforward concessionary amendments, which usefully tidy up the court arrangements, and I hope that the House will support them. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on the improvement to the drafting of the Bill that these amendments secure. It is worth pointing out that this is not a mere clarification. A persistent feature in the development of corporate governance in this country in the past several years has been the enhancement of the role and responsibilities of non-executive directors. Clear recognition in the Bill that these are non-executives carries with it the potential for them to play a proper role in the overall oversight of the Bank, a matter which we will come on to later when we discuss the role of the oversight committee. I support the Minister’s amendments.
Amendment 1 agreed.
2: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, leave out “directors” and insert “non-executive directors”
Amendment 2 agreed.
2A: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert—
“(2A) The Directors of the Bank of England shall only be appointed if Her Majesty is satisfied that they have the relevant knowledge and experience, and that their appointment will enhance the mix of skills and experience of the Court.”
My Lords, in Committee my noble friend Lady Hayter and I sought to ensure that the body of what we can now comfortably refer to as “non-executives” was suitably diverse to overcome the dangers of groupthink. Groupthink, combined with a persistent failure to challenge the executive, has been all too evident at the Bank of England over the past five years and, indeed, in the years preceding the economic and financial crisis.
We were criticised at the time for the imprecision of the term “diverse”, which we included in our amendment in Committee. We have taken those criticisms on board. We have gone away and thought about them. In particular, we were very struck by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, in criticising our position:
“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”.—[Official Report, 26/6/12; col. 176.]
We have decided to assist the noble Lord in taking it into consideration by using exactly those words, to which he has already agreed, in this amendment.
Let me reiterate the main point. Until now, those involved at the Bank in a non-executive capacity have not shown themselves capable of holding the executive to account. That is a serious failing in corporate governance. Until now, those involved in a non-executive committee at the Bank have been seduced by groupthink or overwhelmed by the power of the governor or deputy governors. This is again a serious failing in corporate governance. It is simply not good enough for the Government to say, “Well, we understand and we’ll do better in future”. It is simply not good enough to provide vague assurances. If we are to create a new Bank of England with new major powers and responsibilities, it should be capable of dealing with those responsibilities in a clear structured way with suitable non-executive scrutiny. That is what Amendment 2A would achieve using the words to which the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, has already agreed.
Amendment 6A, which is also in this group, makes the same point with respect to the mix of skills on the Financial Policy Committee. Of course, the skills mix will be different on the FPC from on the court. There will be a need for more technical expertise. For example, it would be a huge mistake to rely just on people with experience of working in financial services. I notice, for example, that no one appointed to the interim FPC has done any serious economic research into the phenomenon of systemic risk—not a single one. That is exactly the phenomenon on which the FPC is supposed not merely to opine but to take action. Therefore I think that a degree of diversity in the skill set of non-executive directors appointed to the FPC will greatly enhance its effectiveness and indeed its reputation.
I hope, particularly since I used his own words in my amendment, that the Minister will be happy to accept these two constructive amendments. I beg to move.
Noble Lords may be aware that a similar amendment to Amendment 2A was tabled and debated in another place. Then, as now, and as I said in Committee, the Government do not believe that such a legislative provision is necessary or appropriate. Starting with the question of knowledge and experience, the Government have repeatedly confirmed their commitment, as I did in words quoted by the noble Lord, to ensuring the appointment of serious, knowledgeable and experienced candidates who have the appropriate qualifications and skills to carry out the functions of non-executive directors of court. These appointments are fully regulated by the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments, which ensures a fair, transparent and competitive process. The code is binding and the Treasury is responsible for ensuring its compliance, thereby ensuring that appointments to court are made openly, transparently and on the basis of merit.
Even without a prescriptive legislative obligation, in order to build an effective court the Treasury is mindful of the need to seek not only an appropriate depth but breadth of skills and experience. Ministers can and do take this into account in forming their recommendation without the need to further impose a duty on Her Majesty to form a view as to the candidate’s knowledge or experience before she makes the appointment.
I turn to the question of diversity, which I understand to mean not only of gender, geography or ethnic background but also of sectoral experience, insight and knowledge, as is suggested by Amendment 6A. Court and, in future, FPC appointments are advertised openly, and applications are welcomed from candidates from a variety of backgrounds. For example, the role profile for the most recent court vacancies sought people with substantial experience as board members, as head of function of major financial organisations and as senior managers in a relevant area of public policy, or in the voluntary sector or a trade union.
The latest iteration of the Government’s code of good practice for corporate governance in central government departments clearly states that,
“a board should have a balance of skills and experience appropriate to fulfilling its responsibilities. Moreover, it stipulates that the membership of the board should be balanced, diverse and manageable in size”.—[Official Report, Commons, Financial Services Bill Committee, 21/2/12; col. 22.]
However, given the size of the non-executive contingent on court and the number of external members of the FPC, it would simply not be possible to prescribe a set of criteria to ensure full diversity—that is, to ensure that each and every different background and characteristic is represented on the board and committee —without severely limiting the potential field of qualified applicants. It is therefore a question of judgment.
I stand by exactly what I said in Committee, which is that the Government are committed to ensuring an appropriate breadth as well as depth of skills; and this is as true of the FPC as it is of the court. While I agree entirely with the sentiments and principles behind these amendments, I do not believe that it is necessary or appropriate to legislate to achieve these aims.
I hope that I have provided sufficient reassurance to the noble Lord and that he will be able to withdraw his amendments.
Could the Minister confirm that all these appointments will be advertised in appropriate places? I think that he said it but I am not sure that I caught what he said.
That is what I said, and I am sure that it will be clear on the record when the noble Lord reads it.
Could I ask the Minister whether he feels that the arrangements as they stand, where these posts are advertised and people apply, have actually delivered the sort of Court of the Bank of England that is appropriate to the needs going forward? There has been, I believe, fair criticism of the court for not being a robust enough body, but the court is assembled by the very arrangements that the Minister is talking about.
My Lords, the whole substance of the point here is that we are giving the court a very clear and enhanced mandate, particularly through the oversight committee, which we will come on to. In the context of the new role and mandate for the court, it will increasingly attract the very best people who go with the new mandate. The comparison with the past is not necessarily a fair one.
The Minister in reply says that this amendment is not necessary or appropriate. However, in attempting to substantiate those propositions, he referred to the policy of the Public Appointments Committee, which is not responsible in any way for a mix of skills but simply for the quality of the individuals who come before it. When he referred to the variety of backgrounds, he did exactly the thing that I was afraid he would do: he referred to people with senior board experience in commercial and financial organisations and not to anybody who actually understands systemic risk or how to manage it. If they did, perhaps we would not have got into the mess that we did. So I am surprised—well, I suppose that I am not surprised—but I am disappointed that he finds it neither necessary nor appropriate.
Can I clarify that I was citing the advertisement for the most recent court appointments and not for FPC appointments?
That is very helpful, and I thank the Minister for it, but my point on the FPC is reinforced by what he has just said. I would hope that in FPC appointments some reference would be made to the appropriate skill set, which was not that quoted, although it may be appropriate for the court. Perhaps if I could nudge the Treasury in that direction when making an advertisement, that might be a result. Having said that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2A withdrawn.
2B: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert—
“(2A) Within one month of the appointment of a person under subsection (2)(a), Her Majesty’s Government must make parliamentary time available for the House of Commons to debate and express a view on that appointment.”
My Lords, this moves us on to a rather serious matter. Everybody in the House will be aware that there is considerable and growing disquiet about the powers heaped on the Governor of the Bank of England; he or she will chair the court, the Monetary Policy Committee, the Financial Policy Committee and the Prudential Regulatory Authority. On top of that, he or she is designated by the Bill to be the sole interlocutor between the Bank and the Treasury in the designated meetings with the Chancellor. On top of that, the governor must guide the Bank’s other activities in policy and research. And on top of that, the governor will continue to represent the Bank in international fora. I suppose that just occasionally he or she will sleep.
This is a ridiculous amount of power in the hands of an unelected official. Kate Barker, a former member of the Monetary Policy Committee, said, in August this year, said that the,
“steady erosion of democratic control over regulation of the financial system would accelerate under proposals by the coalition government”,
“Mervyn King’s successor will be appointed to an unduly powerful role for an unprecedented eight-year term”.
Kate Barker has great experience in this field and seems to have captured exactly the problem. As noble Lords will be aware, there has been considerable disquiet from serious financial commentators about the future position of the governor.
There is another inevitable downside to this agglomeration of powers. The post of the governor has become—and will become yet more—excessively politicised. That is very unfortunate. However, that is the inevitable consequence of the Government’s proposals. If that is the Government’s wish, they should face up to the consequences, and permit Parliament to debate the appointment, at least after the appointment is made. Even then, the prospect of such a debate will focus the mind, let us say, of the Chancellor in making a recommendation, in the knowledge that he will have to defend it before the House of Commons. I beg to move.
My Lords, I strongly agree with much of what my noble friend has said. As I have said before, I have been extremely concerned about the new governor’s huge job. As my noble friend has spelt out, we would be giving enormous powers to that new governor. That is why I have expressed my dissatisfaction, to put it mildly, with the way that this Bill has been drafted. I hope that my noble friend will accept an amendment from me to his amendment; namely, that it should be available not only to the House of Commons but to Parliament. This House has scrutinised this Bill to an enormous extent. To say now that the appointment should be deferred only to the House of Commons is something that I certainly do not like. I hope that my noble friend will rearrange his amendment to accept the word “Parliament” rather than “the House of Commons”.
We will come later to the question of “must” and “may”, but I am very pleased to see that in this amendment my noble friend has put “must” rather than “may”. It is certainly crucial that it should happen, because the appointments are extremely important. Somebody should be doing the job that the current governor is not doing, and which he is not being asked to do. Now we are asking the new governor, whoever that may be, to do such an enormous job that some potential contenders have already withdrawn from the race—and understandably, because the job that will be asked of this man or woman is enormous. I hope to have the opportunity to propose an amendment a little later to reduce some of those powers, but for now I strongly commend my noble friend’s amendment, subject to my suggested draft amendment to his amendment.
My Lords, I do not particularly see how having a debate about the appointment after the governor has been appointed does very much to improve accountability. Ongoing accountability is needed. The debate is whether or not that should be through the Treasury Select Committee, or whether potentially there should be much greater constitutional development in terms of appearing before one or both Houses of this Parliament, in the sort of way that occurs in the USA. I agree with the principle that there is a great deal of power, which needs to have some accountability. Looking back over the events of the past five years, there was certainly a period between autumn 2007 and summer 2008 when it was very clear that the Governor of the Bank of England was completely unaware that a major banking run was overtaking this country. A bit of accountability and some questions from this House or the other place would perhaps have stirred things up.
My Lords, I concur with what the noble Lord, Lord Flight, has said, and I am a bit foxed by the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, introduced this amendment. I think I heard him say that these appointments have become more and more politicised, and that he regretted that. It strikes me that to require a debate to be held in the House of Commons after the appointment has been made is an invitation to the utmost politicisation, especially because, as far as I can see, there would be no consequence to that debate, in that the appointment would already have been made.
My Lords, before I turn to the detail of this amendment, I thank the Bill team for dealing with a significant hatful of amendments, this being the first, that turned up from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, rather late yesterday evening.
I will give way in a moment. I will do my best to engage in constructive and meaningful debate. As I say, I am very grateful to the team because we did not have much notice of a number of these amendments.
I am sure the noble Lord does not want to mislead the House. The amendments were sent to the Bill team on Friday afternoon and I had a long telephone conversation with it to discuss them. I assure the noble Lord that I had that telephone conversation. He says from a sedentary position, “not on all of them”. All the major items were discussed at that time. For him to suggest that they appeared only yesterday is inaccurate.
My Lords, Amendments 2B, 2C, 3L, 3M, 6B, 6G and 7F, among others—maybe that is the lot—appeared at the Treasury late yesterday and not all the amendments were discussed in the conversation to which the noble Lord refers. However, there are some important and some not so important matters in these amendments and I will do my best to do them justice.
As we have heard, this amendment relates to the role of Parliament in the appointment of the Governor of the Bank of England and has been the subject of much debate both here and in another place. Specifically, Amendment 2B seeks to secure a debate in another place following the appointment of the governor, something which I do not believe is necessary or appropriate. The Government are committed to maintaining an appointments process that is proportionate and attracts candidates of the highest quality. It is important to ensure the credibility of the candidate and safeguard his or her independence. If the appointment was subject to a debate in another place, I suggest that there is a significant risk of politicising the process and undermining the appointment of the new candidate. Of course, it has been argued that such a debate could enhance the credibility of the candidate but previous governors have achieved credibility without being subject to such a debate. Credibility ultimately stems from effective action to meet the Bank’s objectives. If the appointment were subject to a debate in another place, the candidate would not be present to answer questions or defend him or herself.
The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has already quoted me in the previous debate. I quote what he had to say on this matter in Committee on 26 June. He said:
“We do not want to politicise appointments to the extent that has occurred in the United States”.
The suggestion that appointments might end up being considered by the whole House made him “nervous” as it would,
“inevitably be whipped and become very political indeed”.—[Official Report, 26/6/12; col. 165.]
I very much agree with that. Therefore, the Government believe that the pre-commencement hearing held by the Treasury Committee strikes the right balance in terms of scrutiny of this executive appointment and allows for a more constructive debate with the candidate in attendance to satisfy the committee’s concerns about his or her personal integrity and professional competence. The Government welcome the Treasury Committee’s ongoing role in holding such hearings and, importantly, as my noble friend Lord Flight reminded us, holding the governor to account throughout his or her tenure. I hope I have provided sufficient reassurance and that the noble Lord feels able to withdraw this amendment.
I wish to make a comment and ask the Minister a question. My comment is that there are no long words in this amendment. I would have thought that the average person who had been at school could just about understand it in a few minutes of reading it. The idea that the Minister cannot address your Lordships’ House without several days, if not weeks, of Treasury back-up seems to me absolutely preposterous. He should stop bellyaching about this sort of thing.
My question to him is: if this debate took place in both your Lordships’ House and the other place, has it not occurred to him that that debate might be devoted mainly to saying what an excellent appointment has been made in this case, what an extremely good person has been chosen and wishing him well in his very arduous task? Why is the Minister taking it for granted that the debate would be mostly about slagging off whoever the appointed person may be?
My Lords, I am not taking it for granted. I am merely quoting the fears of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, when he addressed this issue in Committee. “Inevitably be whipped and become very political indeed,” were his words, not mine. However, I agree that this is the way that these things tend to go. The concept of a congratulatory first is not one that sits easily with another place.
My Lords, I am grateful for the comments that have been made—some accurate, some less so. First, with respect to the issue of being politicised, my concern is motivated primarily by the powers being translated from elected persons to an unelected person. That is what is happening in this Bill. This will inevitably make the position of the governor much more of a political focus rather than the markets and technical focus it has been very much in the past—perhaps not in the 1930s with Montagu Norman, but in recent years. That is where the politicisation has come from. We need to recognise that powers have been transferred from the elected to the unelected by giving the elected some role.
The Minister did me the honour of quoting me, although of course out of context. I was referring—as I am sure he would agree—to pre-appointment hearings as are common in the United States. This is not the intention of this amendment at all. However, a series of important issues is going to come up again and again unless the Government take very seriously the very considerable conglomeration of powers in the hands of the governor, given by this Bill, and the fact that powers are being moved from the elected to the unelected. It is vital that Parliament should consider this crucial issue. I hope that the Minister will take some of these considerations away and think very carefully about them. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2B withdrawn.
2C: Clause 1, page 1, line 12, at end insert—
“(2A) Any persons appointed under subsection (2)(e) shall be appointed with the consent of the Treasury select committee.”
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, has made it clear today that the non-executives will play a major role in the governance of the Bank. This amendment seeks to ensure that non-executives, essentially here in the court, are appointed with the consent of the Treasury Select Committee. The point is being reiterated. Given the powers invested in the Bank, including and especially the FPC powers that have previously rested only with the Chancellor or other elected persons, it is appropriate that there should be some political oversight of the appointments. The Treasury Committee is surely the right place.
What are the major arguments against this pre-appointment scrutiny? First, that the procedure will be unduly intrusive and onerous; and, secondly, that it will be too politicised. As a result, suitable persons will not apply. I think that the arguments in the context of what is being done in this Bill are ill founded. The Government decided to politicise the position of the Bank by giving it powers previously reserved for elected persons. The Government decided to load on to the Bank virtually all regulatory functions and control of monetary and credit policy. In this context, the Government should accept that the Treasury Committee’s scrutiny is entirely appropriate. Let us remember that that committee has played a serious non-partisan role for a number of years, both when chaired by my noble friend Lord McFall and now, as chaired by Mr Tyrie. The committee does an excellent, non-partisan, technical and difficult job. In that context, it could play an important role in monitoring those persons to whom the powers previously assigned to elected persons are now to be given.
While Amendment 2C relates to the non-executive directors of the Bank, Amendment 6B in the group extends the same principle to the independent members of the Financial Policy Committee. If anything, the point is even stronger here, because these are people who will be participating in decisions that directly affect individuals’ lives. The members of that committee will be making decisions about your mortgage rate and the availability of credit in general to individuals in society. It is therefore surely right that appointments should be subject to the consent of the political part of national governance, as represented by the Treasury Select Committee, which is handing over these powers.
Sometimes, we in Britain are a bit overly sensitive about appointments procedures. I remember that university appointments used to be totally confidential to appointments committees. Now appointees have to appear before the whole faculty and the students, give lectures to demonstrate how good they would be and defend themselves.
Is that true?
Yes, it is true. They have to do that prior to any form of appointment. Therefore, the sort of sensitivity I mentioned is overdone. Greater transparency and more robust procedures would serve us well. Most important of all, there must not be an abdication of powers that in the past were reserved to elected persons without some substitution of proper political oversight, as provided for in Amendments 2C and 6B. I beg to move.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend on this issue. Anyone with experience of the Court of the Bank of England would say that its impact has been less than useful over past years. Given the powers that we have given to this Governor for an eight-year period, it is important that the sentiments expressed in the other place as regards accountability are satisfied, because, paradoxically, if that is not the case, it will make the role of the Governor even more political and members of the court will come under pressure.
I had personal knowledge of this during the height of the financial crisis. My concern at that time was to ensure both the political and the financial stability of the situation. It is therefore important that that is adhered to. There needs to be, as the Treasury Committee said, proper records of the court’s proceedings. If transparency is not available, the accountability element will not be pursued. The Government are making a big mistake by establishing what is, in effect—although some people may disagree—a multinational corporation with one person at its head, with little corporate governance best practice.
There needs to be a stage at which the Government can listen to Parliament on this, make the Bank truly accountable to Parliament and ensure the best outcome for the country. We have the Financial Policy Committee and the Prudential Regulation Authority, but there is no doubt that there will be conflicts of interest there. There will be one individual responsible, while the Government and Parliament are spectators and bit players. That should not be the case, and the Government really need to think very clearly and seriously about this issue.
My Lords, as a former member of the court, I feel slightly under attack this afternoon, but I was long gone before the financial crisis. In the context of the previous amendment, my noble friend Lord Flight pointed out that the important way to express accountability is on an ongoing basis, not at the point of appointment. The most important thing, going forward, is whether or not the new oversight committee will do its job and who will make sure that it is held to account. It seems to me that it should be the Treasury Select Committee in another place and it is not something for which we need to legislate. The Treasury Select Committee is well apprised of the need to ensure that there are proper accountability mechanisms to act as a counterweight against significant additional powers for the Governor of the Bank of England; and that there are proper checks and balances within the Bank of England and then from the Bank to Parliament.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, and to my noble friend Lady Noakes. My noble friend was an estimable member of the court and I am sure that she brought great distinction to its deliberations. As she reminds the House by referring to the oversight committee, the noble Lord, Lord McFall is right to say that the court has not always necessarily done everything that Members of Parliament would have wished in recent years. Critically, that is why the oversight committee that we are introducing changes the way that the court and particularly non-executives on the court will operate. I am grateful to be reminded of this critical background to our discussion. The other background point to make is that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has made a number of references in this and earlier debates about politicisation and transferring powers from elected politicians to the Bank. This is a red herring. I am sure that I should not say it is nonsense, but I simply do not accept this background analysis.
Powers are not somehow being moved from elected politicians to the Bank. The Bank is being granted a range of powers which are regulatory in nature. Financial regulation has been undertaken by independent regulators for over a decade in the UK and before that, of course, large swathes of it were not in any way carried out by elected politicians or even properly constituted regulators. They were done in a self-regulatory way. So this idea that somehow we are transferring stuff from politicians to the Bank, as if some heinous crime was being committed and that we need lots of belts and braces, is the wrong background.
Let me specifically address the amendments here and the role of Parliament in key appointments. As we have heard, they are different in some respects from the previous amendment about appointing the Governor. The appointments of non-executive directors of the court are not currently subject to a pre-commencement hearing by the Treasury Select Committee. As with the Governor, the appointments of non-executive directors are made by Her Majesty and governed by the OCPA code. As I explained earlier, this stipulates certain practices in terms of a robust and fair appointment process, with appointments made principally on merit. Members of the court are accountable to Parliament and it is right that the Treasury Select Committee can and does invite them to give evidence at the appropriate juncture. However, the non-executive directors are not policymakers. Their role is to oversee the running of the Bank and it would be highly unusual to make such appointments subject to the consent of the Treasury Select Committee. The Government therefore believe that the current appointments process for non-executive directors of the court remains the right one. Similarly, the appointment of external FPC members will be subject to a robust process that seeks qualified and experienced candidates. External members of the FPC will be subject to pre-commencement hearings—as was the case with the appointees to the interim FPC. The FPC will be accountable for its actions to the Bank’s oversight committee and directly to the Treasury Select Committee, which we expect to take regular evidence from the external members of the FPC, as it does already from the MPC and the interim FPC.
As with the roles of governor and external members of the MPC, the market-sensitive nature of these roles means that the combination of pre-commencement hearings and Treasury Select Committee scrutiny in-post offers an appropriate balance in terms of parliamentary scrutiny. Again, the Government welcome the ongoing role played by the Treasury Select Committee. I hope that I have provided sufficient reassurance for the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to everybody who took part in this short debate, and especially for the support of my noble friend Lord McFall, who has such experience in these areas. I always take very seriously indeed the opinions of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. I quite understand her concern that accountability should be a phenomenon that is ongoing and not just on appointment. Why not on appointment, too, so to speak?
I was puzzled by the introduction with which the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, prefaced his remarks. He stated that financial regulation had been going on for a decade. It has been going on at an international level since 1974. The whole point of this legislation is that macroprudential legislation has not been done at all before. That is why the various reports such as the Turner review by the FSA, the report of the US Treasury in 2009, and the report of the high-level committee of the European Union led by Monsieur de Larosière, all identified a new role for financial regulation in dealing with macroeconomic variables, which it had never done before. This is a new area of financial regulation which is specifically the responsibility of the Financial Policy Committee.
The Minister said that there had been no transfer of responsibilities. Was not the control of credit in our economy the responsibility of the Treasury? Has it not been so since the Second World War? Did not the various Acts on the control of credit start as Treasury Bills? Now the availability of credit is predominantly the responsibility of the Financial Policy Committee. That is a transfer of powers. I wonder if the Minister would like to consider that example.
The Minister then said something truly extraordinary. He said that the non-executive members of the court were not policymakers. Perhaps I may refer him to Clause 4 on financial strategy, which states:
“The Court of Directors must … determine the Bank’s strategy in relation to the Financial Stability Objective”.
That sounds to me as if they are policymakers. They must “determine the Bank’s strategy”. Are the non-execs therefore to sit down and keep quiet?
My Lords, will the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, concede that that is the responsibility of the Court of Directors as a whole, not of the non-executive directors as a group?
Certainly, but that is not what the Minister said. He said that the non-executive directors were not policymakers—but they are to participate as a nine-member majority of the court, including the chair, as he pointed out. However, we now hear that they are to sit silently while the executive directors determine policy. That is nonsense and the Minister knows it. These individuals are policymakers—and rightly so; they should be. That is why we need the right sort of people, and why it is right that there should be suitable hearings preceding their appointment, as suggested by the amendment.
The Minister is getting into a muddle. He should go away and think hard about what the Financial Policy Committee is required to do, recognise that there has been a transfer of powers and that macroprudential regulation is something entirely new that has not been done before; and try to get some of the legislation right. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 2C withdrawn.
Clause 3 : oversight committee
3: Clause 3, page 2, line 19, leave out “directors” and insert “non-executive directors”
Amendment 3 agreed.
3A: Clause 3, page 2, line 21, at beginning insert “overseeing and”
My Lords, this is a major amendment that I had the pleasure of discussing with the Bill team on Friday. I was going to preface my remarks by saying that there is a developing consensus that the Government are piling responsibilities on the Bank of England. But I hear that consensus is not developing on the other side of this Chamber, since the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, does not seem to recognise that the Bank and the governor are having these extra responsibilities or indeed that there has been transfer of powers.
Interestingly enough, others do recognise that. Mr Tyrie, just last week, with the oversight committee already in the Bill, referred to the Bank’s defective governance. Then, Mr Bill Winters, a former executive at JP Morgan and author of one of the very tightly constrained reviews into the Bank’s operations that was published last week, concluded that the Bank was too “centralised and hierarchical”. Then Sir John Gieve, a former deputy governor, commented on the same review saying,
“how do you bring more challenge into a hierarchical organisation?”.
That was last week, with the oversight committee in place. Those comments echo criticisms made by a number of former senior Bank of England staff and by serious commentators in the financial press. This is a serious issue.
I have already listed the major issues, but I will list them briefly in the context of this amendment because it may help the House. With respect to the powers assigned to the governor in the Bill, the power of an unelected person will be equivalent almost to that of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Indeed, it will exceed the Chancellor’s powers in that the Chancellor is under constant scrutiny from Parliament whereas the governor is under less intense and less constant scrutiny.
We have to remember that the governor will not only chair every financial policy committee in the land with the sole exception of the FCA, but will be the lone high-level interlocutor with the Chancellor. He holds these positions while having no statutory responsibility to consult or involve other senior officials at the Bank or non-execs. He may consult and he may delegate, but it is entirely up to him or her. If they do not wish to do so they can ignore them all.
In Committee, the Government took an important step by creating the oversight committee. But noble Lords will notice that within the designations of the responsibilities of the oversight committee, there is one notable oddity. There is a notable absentee. Nowhere does there appear the verb “to oversee”. We have an oversight committee that does not oversee. In fact, a careful reading of the designated activities of the oversight committee reveals that all its key responsibilities are retrospective. It must keep under review. It must monitor. It must review procedures. It must conduct performance reviews. The only thing that it must not do is oversee. This is not an oversight committee, it is a hindsight committee—a valuable role, no doubt, but hardly an activity to moderate the powers of the “Sun King” governor other than by retrospective embarrassment, and governors of the Bank of England seem to be peculiarly impervious to embarrassment.
The amendment introduces the verb “to oversee”. It gives the oversight committee the power of oversight. This will have a number of beneficial consequences. The governor and the executive will, as in all good governance systems, be accountable to the non-executives for their activities and their policies. As in all well run organisations, the non-executives will not design the strategy or tactics of the Bank—that is the job of the executive—but they will be the advisers and the arbiters. They will oversee.
Instead of being either a glorified review committee in the shape of the noble Lord’s hindsight committee, or creatures of the executive, as in the court, the quality of a person likely to be willing to devote a considerable amount of time and effort to the job of non-executive of the Bank will be significantly enhanced because they are getting a real job. The foundations will be laid for the creation of a modern governance structure within the Bank of England, appropriate to the 21st century and to the major powers now vested in the Bank.
In this group there are also Amendments 3B, 3G and 3H, which are a direct consequence of the recognition of the role of the oversight committee in overseeing the activities of the governor in particular, and of the Bank in general. If the oversight committee is to exercise this role effectively it should have the final sign-off to the policies prepared by the court and by other executive institutions. I should be clear that in all well run firms it is the task of the executive to prepare policy and to execute it, but it is the role of the non-executives—of the oversight committee—to scrutinise and sign off the executive’s proposal. The oversight committee should oversee.
Amendment 3K makes clear that the role of the oversight committee in its task of overseeing is to approve the policy prepared by the court; it is the precise role of non-executives in all well run companies. Amendment 6C makes clear that the oversight committee is not to be confined to the impotent ghetto of reviewing procedures of the FPC but can also review the FPC’s policies. After all, if it cannot review policies what will the performance review be about? If it is given the task of performance review, surely it should review policies and not simply procedures.
I quite understand that the Government have not had long to consider this core idea, although they have had a bit longer than the noble Lord earlier suggested. I give credit to the Bill Committee and I understand the pressures it is under; similar pressures are experienced in my office.
I do not want to labour the point but would the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, accept that I did not list Amendment 3A as one that came late? I fully accept that this is not one of the hatful that I referred to as arriving late. We have indeed had longer to consider this amendment.
Then I am sure that the noble Lord, having given the amendment such mature consideration, will be able to accept it.
I hope that, at the very least, the Government will agree to take this proposal away and think about it. After all, if we are going to have an oversight committee it should oversee; otherwise perhaps the Government should simply change the committee’s name. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am a bit puzzled by these amendments and I should say that while the Minister’s officials may have had them since last Friday, those of us who are trying to take part in this Report stage saw them only first thing this morning, which comes of when the party opposite chose to table its amendments.
The noble Lord says that there is no oversight in the new section dealing with the oversight committee. If I were to define oversight I would say it is about reviewing and monitoring; that is the very nature of what is involved. The noble Lord suggests it means some real-time involvement by the non-executives in what happens on a daily basis within the Bank. That simply cannot be—it seems to me the noble Lord misunderstands the role of non-executive directors.
This group of amendments also contains the concept of the non-executive directors, via the oversight committee, approving the strategy. The oversight committee is a sub-committee of the Court of Directors and is not there to approve what the court should be doing. This is correctly formulated in that it is the court that is preparing the strategy. The oversight committee has no role in relation to that except by virtue of the membership of the individual non-executive directors who are also members of court. I really do not understand this sequence of amendments.
I support my noble friend’s amendment. It is important to emphasise oversight because we are setting up a more complex body than the one we had before; we are going from a tripartite body to a quadripartite body. There are many interstitial areas and oversight is even more important in those areas.
As I mentioned earlier, there will be many conflicts between the FPC and the PRA. On the relationship between the Prudential Regulatory Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority, will prudential regulation trump conduct of business, which has happened in the past? Will the FCA feel inferior to the PRA as the FSA felt inferior to the Bank of England?
As to the culture, we can have all the rules we like but, within a plethora of rules, there can be a monoculture which reports to the top and a diverse range of opinions do not get listened to. There are many lessons to be learnt there. An oversight committee is very important in order to look at that and ensure that the Bank of England is indeed exercising the best corporate governance and best practice.
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Noakes I have some difficulty in understanding the thrust of these amendments. I see the issue of the nomenclature, which may be unfortunate, but I have to say, as a director of a company, that keeping under review and overseeing are almost one in the same. I do not see the difference between those two functions. It is absolutely clear that keeping under review and oversight are running on similar tracks.
The dangers behind the noble Lord’s amendments are that we are starting to find a way of dividing responsibilities. We are moving from clear lines of responsibility to a situation where a sub-committee of the board, as appears in the Bill, is starting to dictate the pace of the board itself. That is an unworthy, unnecessary and potentially dangerous development.
My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendment. The decisions on the aggregation of power within the Bank of England are now set. The Government are clear in their determination to achieve that.
In my view, no one form of regulatory architecture can be assuredly more successful than others. Looking around the world at what happened with the global financial crisis, we saw many different structures of regulatory architecture come under strain. Some point to the twin peaks system associated with Canada as evidence that the Government’s current thinking in this area is consistent with a model that appeared to work better there than in other jurisdictions. However, if one wishes to understand why Canada did not experience the same harsh consequences of the global financial crisis, as in the United States, Europe and the United Kingdom, one finds the answer in matters other than regulatory architecture—including the nature of the economy and control of lending and leverage—which are inherent in the Canadian system and distinct from those followed elsewhere.
If we are going to aggregate this power in the hands of the Bank of England, we have to ask ourselves questions about checks and balances because we learnt from the failure of individual UK banks and institutions that, in almost all cases, there was an overly dominant individual in charge of the organisation that failed. That is the big lesson, which the FSA has not picked up completely in its reports on the collapse of RBS and HBOS. However, it is a clear lesson, whether it is Sir Fred Goodwin at Royal Bank of Scotland or Mr Adam Applegarth at Northern Rock; and similarly Mr Crawshaw at Bradford & Bingley and Mr Cummings, Mr Hornby and others at HBOS.
Are we creating an architecture here in which we are putting too much power in the hands of one person? I think we are. I was a member of the court for four years and have seen how it and the Bank operate. One must be careful not to extrapolate from the behaviours of the existing incumbents of senior positions in the Bank and members of the court into the future, but a very clear lesson to me was that the court just could not be effective at corporate governance, as both the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, referred to earlier. The court cannot be effective in that way. When I was a member in 2007, three members of the court sought to escalate matters to the Treasury about the Bank’s management of liquidity and of risk. It simply was not possible for my two colleagues and me to register with the Treasury or anyone else, in any meaningful way, our concerns about the Bank’s failure to understand the risks that were accumulating in the system.
Are we creating a structure now in which that could not happen again in the future? I do not think we are. We are not clear as to the role of the court. We give it some responsibilities but very little power to influence the responsibilities that we give it. We must ask important questions about the constitution and membership of the court to ensure that, in future, it is not simply a ceremonial body that is, on the whole, discouraged by the governor from asking questions, but something that at least approaches the independent challenge that one would expect—
I will give way in a moment to the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, who has had his opportunity. We must look to create a body that is capable of appropriately challenging the current governor and governors in the future. I am not sure that this is necessarily seriously advanced by the language we are using here. Perhaps I will anticipate the point on which the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, wishes to intervene by saying that he is quite correct about perhaps dancing on the head of a pin when it comes to whether these are questions about supervisory roles or oversight. However, it is absolutely critical that we ensure, in this Bill, that the court is able to appropriately challenge and check the authority that this Bill places in the hands of the governor. We have learnt painfully in recent years about the consequences of coping with a dysfunctionality between the governor and members of the court. I give way to the noble Lord if he still wants to come in.
The noble Lord was quite right. I understood the force of his polemic and the seriousness of the point he was making but could not see how that is in any way addressed by adding the word “overseeing” to “keeping under review”, which seems to me, as he indicated, to be a distinction without a difference.
The words proposed by my noble friend take us a little further in the right direction. I would like to go a great deal further but am more than happy to support my noble friend’s amendment.
My Lords, despite the cogent words of the noble Lord, Lord Myners, I share the confusion on this side of the House about what these amendments are intended to do. Everyone agrees that it is vital that there should be strong oversight of the governor and the executives of the Bank by the non-executive directors and that we have proper accountability and scrutiny. But what is proposed here is a court that will have a clear and very sizeable majority of non-executive directors. The amendments proposed by my noble friend earlier made it clear that all the members of that court would be directors, and would be directors in common, sharing responsibility for the decisions of the Bank. However the non-executive directors would be in a majority, and if those non-executive directors disagreed with what the executives proposed, they could make that clear in the court and they would have the majority to hold sway.
According to these amendments, the court, involving all directors, would be able only to propose policies and then a sub-committee of the board of only the non-executives would then go away and approve them. That seems to turn corporate governance on its head. Either we have a supervisory board of non-executives, which is a totally different structure, or we accept that the Court of Directors is indeed the Court of Directors and should, with all its members, accept responsibility. What we have here is a very sensible proposal for an oversight committee of non-executive directors that will play its role in allowing non-executive directors to review and scrutinise offline, but to report to the full court, as is normal in any governance process. All directors must share equal responsibility in the end for the decisions of that organisation.
My Lords, I apologise for the fact that I have not taken part in the proceedings and I did not intend to do so today. I am completely out of date in that my experience goes back a long way. When I was the chairman of a Scottish bank, which belonged to an Australian bank, Fred Goodwin, as chief executive, reported to me, before he went to RBS for five years. We got on very well. I am quite thankful that he went to RBS and that I did not have responsibility at the end.
I completely sympathise with the points of view that have been put from the government Benches. The principles are exactly the same. It is impossible to conceive that one would appoint a majority board of non-executive directors along with an executive. They have the responsibility for oversight. You might have a sub-committee, but I would be very surprised if any candidate for the position of governor would actually accept it having power over the non-executives in the Court of the Bank of England. Therefore, I think that the amendment is nonsense in practical terms. Although I may be out of date, I strongly believe that it should be rejected.
My Lords, I share the qualms that have been voiced about this group of amendments. I believe that the court needs to exercise far more power than it has appeared to in the past, although I am intrigued to hear the noble Lord, Lord Myners, say that when three members of the court tried to make their views and their concerns known, they had no impact at all. That would seem to be a failing of the Government rather than the governance of the court.
The amendment that causes me particular concern is Amendment 3B, which proposes that the Bank’s strategy should for the time being be “prepared” by the Court of Directors. It does not seem to me that “preparing” a strategy should be for the non-executives. It may well be, and should be, their right to determine whether that strategy is the right strategy. However, we want them to “determine” rather than “prepare”.
My Lords, it seems to me that none of these things makes any difference. The real issue is that if a board of directors cannot sack the chief executive if it thinks that he is not doing his job properly, then it is an enfeebled board. That is the fundamental issue. As long as we have the chief executive appointed for a term period and not able to be removed by the board, then there will be an issue about the effectiveness of that board.
My Lords, I did not take part in the Second Reading debate. I should have done so. I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, which seemed to me to be absolutely correct. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheatcroft, I find Amendment 3B the most bothersome in this group. If the court is merely preparing, not determining, who is determining? There is a danger here of the decision-taking power moving to this oversight committee.
I cannot see that Amendment 3A has any real effect. Clearly, there is an overseeing role if the committee is called “oversight”, but I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is quite right about that.
The amendment that seems to be completely correct and would go some way to meet the point being made from the opposition Benches is Amendment 3C, which proposes that the committee should be entitled to a degree of professional support. That seems sensible to me.
My Lords, I am grateful for this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, started by welcoming the creation of the oversight committee as an important step, but then went a leap too far in getting rather confused about what, in his terms, “modern corporate governance” really means. As so many noble Lords have explained, it means that ultimately the governing body as a whole—the board of directors, the Court of the Bank of England—has to take the key decisions. As the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, said, the principal role of the oversight committee is for learning lessons. I completely agree with him, and will go on to explain that the role of the oversight committee, as constructed in the Bill before these amendments, is completely in line with what the Treasury Select Committee envisaged.
My noble friends have explained all these things much more clearly than I could. The noble Lord, Lord Nickson, modestly said that he is out of date. I do not believe that he is out of date at all. He and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, who has great current experience of corporate governance in one of the UK’s largest multinationals, have got this right. I had been puzzled—I wondered whether I had missed something in all this—but I am grateful that the House shares my concerns.
To address the specifics, Amendment 3A would shift the oversight committee’s functions from a more backward-looking, reviewing role—the lesson-learning role that the noble Lord, Lord McFall, referred to—to a real-time overseeing role, which would involve scrutinising and perhaps second-guessing the Bank’s policy decisions while they are being taken. As my noble friends and other noble Lords have made clear, if that role is taken at the board level, it is taken by the board as a whole. I do not believe that this proposed new role would be at all appropriate.
As I have said, we can look to what the Treasury Select Committee in another place said when it recommended the introduction of ex-post reviews of the Bank’s policy performance. This is worth quoting at some length, from the committee’s 21st report of the Session, Accountability of the Bank of England:
“The Governor stressed to us that ‘the decisions that the PRA, FPC and MPC make on policy are not decisions that the Court needs to second guess’. We agree. The Bank’s governing body should place more emphasis on oversight and ex-post scrutiny. This does not require or authorise it to become involved in second guessing immediate policy decisions. But there is a need to analyse and learn lessons from the actions of the Bank on a routine and consistent basis, drawing on expertise from within the Bank. Ex-post review of the Bank’s decisions would, we believe, be in the interests of good governance of the Bank”.
The report went on to recommend that ex-post reviews of the Bank’s performance be carried out,
“not less than a year after the period to be reviewed”
in order to avoid,
“second guessing at the time of the policy decision”.
The current wording describes one of the functions of the oversight committee as,
“keeping under review the Bank’s performance”,
which is entirely consistent with the Treasury Select Committee’s recommendations and strikes the right balance between ensuring effective retrospective scrutiny of the Bank’s policy decisions and avoiding a situation where the non-executive members of the court would be second-guessing the policy decisions taken by the Bank’s expert policy committees and Bank executives. Of course, in this context my noble friend Lord Blackwell is quite right to point out that when these decisions are for the court as a whole, the non-executives are, as one would expect in any good modern corporate governance structure, in a majority.
I am a little puzzled by Amendments 3B, 3G, 3H and 3K, which seek to make the non-executives of the court solely responsible for determining the Bank’s financial stability strategy. Again, this is completely at odds, as the House has been told, with the way in which model corporate governance operates. Surely the reason for making the governing body as a whole, in this case the court of directors, responsible for the strategy is because it is that body, and in particular the executive members of that body, who will be accountable for delivering the strategy. Like other noble Lords, I struggle to see how the process that is proposed in these amendments could possibly work in practice. The oversight committee is made up of the non-executive directors of the court and those non-executives make up the majority of the court, as my noble friend has suggested.
On the role of the non-executives, I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Myners, is right when he says he could not get the Treasury to take concerns seriously back in 2007, but I cannot answer for what happened in the Treasury under the previous Administration. All I can say is that if any member of the court of the Bank, whether executive or non-executive, came to the Treasury now, we would take their concerns extremely seriously.
I do not want to belabour the point, but I am not sure whether the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, is envisaging situations in which the non-executive directors, coming from a court meeting in which they agreed the financial stability strategy, then go into an oversight committee meeting where they decide perhaps that the strategy agreed by the whole court was wrong in some way. We need to distinguish here clearly, as have many noble Lords, between the differing responsibilities of the court and of the non-executives on the court. The court, as the Bank’s governing body, is responsible for setting the Bank’s overall strategy, including its strategy for financial stability. It is the responsibility of the executives of the Bank, with the support of the court, to deliver that strategy. It is the responsibility of the oversight committee to hold the executive to account for how it delivers on the strategy by keeping its performance under review and, again in the words of the noble Lord, Lord McFall, for learning the lessons. This split of responsibilities in the Bill is appropriate and consistent with modern corporate governance.
Finally, Amendment 6C would add policies to the existing requirement in subsection (4) of new Section 9B that the oversight committee keep the procedures of the FPC under review. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, that this amendment is entirely unnecessary. The oversight committee is already responsible for keeping the policy and performance of the FPC under review. Subsection (2)(a) of new Section 3A of the 1998 Act, as inserted by Clause 3 of this Bill, clearly states that the oversight committee is responsible for keeping under review the Bank’s performance in relation to all of its objectives and strategy, including the objectives of the Financial Policy Committee. With the benefit of this useful debate, I hope that the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
I want to be helpful and pick up one point about the references that have been made by several Peers to models of good corporate governance. The noble Lord, Lord Flight, with considerable experience and great standing in business in the City, has already pointed out one respect in which the court cannot be compared with a conventional board of directors: its ability in the end to remove the executive if it has lost confidence in it.
The point that I raised about our experience in 2007 is another distinct difference from corporate governance; namely, there is no shareholder to whom the non-executives can appeal. What happened in 2007 was that three members of the court had meetings with Treasury officials to raise their concerns about the absence of full challenge and the dominant influence of a single voice in the court. They expressed those views to Treasury officials, who shrugged their shoulders and said that there really was not much that they could do. The governor is ultimately appointed by Her Majesty and members of the court are elected to do their work, and there is nothing that the shareholder—effectively the Treasury—can do. That is another area where we must be very careful not to assume that we are just picking up the corporate model and inserting it into the Bank. The Bank is different by virtue of the very limited powers placed on the court and the absence of a shareholder.
Finally, I question whether the Minister’s constant references to good corporate practice would be reflected in the role of a board in overseeing ex post facto what a company does. My experience of sitting on boards is that boards are very much involved in reviewing the formulation and implementation of strategy on a constant basis, not in carrying out post-implementation exercises. Your Lordships’ House should be careful to recognise that there are limits to the complete applicability of corporate practice to the particular circumstances of the Bank of England, the court and the governor.
My Lords, I know that the custom of this House on Report is that noble Lords do not make second substantive speeches, so the noble Lord will understand if I do not respond to his points—otherwise we will not make much progress. However, I will clarify one point in answer to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Flight about the removal of the governor and the suggestion by the noble Lord, Lord Myners, that the governor cannot be removed. This is of course wrong, as I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Myners, knows. If he would like to refresh his memory of the Bank of England Act 1998, paragraph 8 of Schedule 1 sets out precisely the conditions under which the governor can be removed.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the discussion which I have enjoyed very much. I have been educated and entertained by the remarks made by noble Lords all around the House. The key position that we have to start from is that the Bank of England is different. Its structure is different and the structure of responsibilities is different. When we think about corporate governance, we have to think about the way in which we can maintain a suitable degree of accountability.
In Amendment 3A, I was attempting to nudge the Government a little further on the oversight committee which, as the noble Lord made clear in contradiction to what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, is entirely retrospective at the moment. In those circumstances, the maintenance of accountability is not really enough, given the degree of responsibility and powers that the Bank will have.
It occurred to me that a non-executive committee often has the final say. When things really go wrong, it is the non-executive committee that has to gather together and deal with what is going wrong in a company. Here the non-executive committee, by nudging it a little further and including the word “oversee”—for an oversight committee—would actually nudge the oversight committee, as conceived by the Government, in a direction in which it could hold to account the executive of the Bank to a greater degree than is the case at the moment. I think that the Government are being excessively complacent about this. We have this massive switch of powers, and we are being told that everything will be all right and that this Committee—which, as the noble Lord says, is entirely retrospective—will somehow create an aura of accountability. I just do not see that happening.
I regret that the noble Lord has not taken a constructive view of what we were trying to achieve. I would have been quite happy to accept some recognition by him that there is a degree of a problem in this particular institution and that we need—in this House and, indeed, in Parliament in general—to address this problem if we are to move forward successfully with the structure of financial regulation and oversight in this country. The noble Lord has given no indication of any sympathy whatever. Instead, he wants to keep the oversight committee purely retrospective, with no ability to take a broad view—not on a daily basis, of course not—and he wants the non-executives to have that specific role. Given that he has shown no interest at all and no understanding of the serious issues involved, I would like to seek the opinion of the House.
6 November 2012
Division on Amendment 3A
Amendment 3A disagreed.View Details
Amendment 3B not moved.
3C: Clause 3, page 2, line 40, at end insert—
“( ) The Bank will ensure that the Oversight Committee has adequate economic, legal and research support.”
My Lords, in the debate that we have just had we heard a lot about the values of the oversight committee and what an important job it has to do. The noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, made some comments about new Section 3C, perhaps inadvertently, while he was reflecting on the group of amendments that we have just looked at. The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the oversight committee—or hindsight committee, as I think it should be called—has the resources to do its job.
We have to remember that the Bank of England has form in this respect. In the early days of the Monetary Policy Committee, independent members were deliberately starved of resources by the Bank in order to enhance the position of the executive members. We all hope that the Bank has learnt its lesson from the very negative publicity that that incident produced. However, we are now in different territory. The powers are greater, and the responsibilities are wider. Hence it is vital that the oversight committee should be well resourced. New Section 3C refers to the possibility of hiring people to conduct a performance review, but that is one step down the line. The committee needs its own staff to help determine exactly which performances should be reviewed, and who should be asked to do that sort of important secretarial work.
That is the purpose of the amendment before us. It can do nothing but strengthen the Bank of England, making the committee into an effective instrument of retrospective monetary and financial governance. I am sure that that is what the Government would like, so I would like to hear them accept this amendment, or at least give an undertaking to take the idea away and think about it with care. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment in substance. The noble Lord will be delighted to hear that I also wish to make a couple of semantic points. My noble friend said that the committee should have its own staff. My view is that it should not only have its own staff but should appoint its own staff, thereby guaranteeing that the staff are its own, work for it and, to use the slang expression, are not “narks” of the governor. Therefore, the noble Lord ought to accept the amendment.
My two semantic points are as follows. First, I find the committee’s name most unattractive. Will the noble Lord ask the Bill team to look up the definition of “oversight” in the dictionary as it has a very definite meaning which I am sure the Government and the Minister do not wish to be associated with this committee. It may not be too late to choose a more felicitous name. I wonder whether I am the only person who has thought what a ridiculous name the committee has.
Secondly, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Eatwell on solving the problem with which, as your Lordships know, the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, and I are obsessed: that is, the “must/may problem”. My noble friend has solved it in a really interesting way. He does not use “must” or “may” but “will”. I would like the Minister to ask the Bill team whether it would consider going down the path of using “will” rather than “must” or “may”.
If the noble Lord, Lord Peston, could persuade his noble friend to rein back to just a couple of amendments a day, I am sure that we could carve out time to look at all sorts of semantics. However, I shall stick to the substance of this amendment, which seeks to place the bank under a statutory duty to ensure that the oversight committee has,
“adequate economic, legal and research support”.
I entirely agree with the sentiment behind this amendment. As we have already discussed this afternoon, the non-executive oversight committee has a very important job to do in reviewing the Bank’s performance and will require access to the information and analytical support that it needs. That is why, for example, the legislation makes it clear that members of the oversight committee have access to the meetings and papers of the MPC and FPC and have a specific remit to commission work and reviews from external bodies and experts.
It is a well established principle that it is the responsibility of the governing body of any organisation to ensure that its members and sub-committees are properly supported. I recognise that the Bank was slow to realise that the external members of the MPC required dedicated resource and support. I am confident that the Bank has learnt its lessons on this. Both the MPC and the FPC members have access to all the analytical and secretariat support that they need. I am wholly confident that the Bank will similarly make support available to the oversight committee to make sure that it is adequately supported without the need for legislation on this point. I hope, therefore, with the further reassurance on that, the noble Lord will see fit to withdraw his amendment.
What the noble Lord has said does not address the important issue here. He said that the oversight committee will have access to papers, be able to commission work and have access to the secretarial and research skills of the Bank. However, the point of this amendment is to give what every non-executive group really needs, which is access to independent advice. Any non-executive group of which I have been a member has always prized its access to independent advice: that is, its ability to seek advice outwith the immediate organisation of which it is a part.
The point has been made around the House this afternoon that the Bank of England is different in a series of ways with respect to its overall organisation. It is also different in terms of the sorts of powers which it will exercise. Therefore, I feel very strongly that it is important that the oversight committee, which is, after all, the committee of non-executives, has access to independent advice. It is regrettable that the Government feel that assurances are enough. I entirely accept that the noble Lord and, indeed, the officials who have looked at this question feel confident in giving their assurances but they cannot bind their successors. The point of this amendment is to ensure that successors who hold this responsibility both within the Treasury and within the Bank recognise the importance of the advice and support that the oversight committee should receive if it is to do its job. I hope that the noble Lord will take that away and think about it although I probably hope in vain. Nevertheless, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3C withdrawn.
3D: Clause 3, page 4, line 20, leave out “Bank” and insert “Oversight Committee”
My Lords, I am afraid it is me again. These amendments refer to the decision to publish performance reviews. Let me remind the House that the performance reviews referred to in the particular clauses which are to be here amended are reviews that the oversight committee has commissioned or conducted. The amendment removes the Bank’s veto over the oversight committee: a veto which the Bill gives to the Bank—otherwise known as the governor—over the publication of such reviews.
Again, the Bank has form in this respect. As Members of your Lordships’ House will be aware, the Bank of England is the only major public institution directly involved in the financial crisis that has not seen fit to conduct and publish a full assessment of its own activities, procedures and policies during the crisis and to own up to the contribution it made to the crisis. The Financial Services Authority has done that as has the Treasury. The Bank has not seen fit to do that. The three reviews published last week have been very carefully circumscribed in their terms of reference to prevent proper consideration of the Bank’s record. You only have to read the Bank’s tepid response to the reviews—it did not refer at all to the comments on the Bank’s excessively hierarchical structure—to realise there is still a deep-seated cultural failing in this respect in the Bank. Where other organisations review what they have done, think through and learn from their experiences, the Bank seems to be unwilling to do this.
In these circumstances, it would be quite wrong to give the Bank a veto over the publication of the oversight committee’s reports. If this serious committee of non-executives—a majority of the court—put together a report and decide that it should be published, then why should there be a veto over them? The oversight committee is quite capable of taking the advice of the Bank, the governor or whoever on whether the publication is against the public interest. If the Government really want effective performance reviews and not whitewash I am sure they will support these amendments.
My Lords, I share many of the frustrations that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has exposed in relation to the reviews that were commissioned, late and inadequate, and I completely accept that the Bank’s response did not seem fulsome. However, I think we have to give the new Government’s arrangements within the Bank a chance. While the Bill says that the Bank will decide about publication, that should be the Court of Directors and, as we know, the Court of Directors has a majority of non-executives. I hope that they will be invigorated by the new context provided by the separate oversight committee. If we keep trying to make functions of the Bank be carried out by the oversight committee we will undermine the court. We need to ensure that the court is strengthened and takes its responsibilities seriously. I also sincerely hope that the Treasury Select Committee in the other place becomes more active in seeking to engage with the non-executives via the oversight committee on how things work in practice.
My Lords, I agree with my noble friend very strongly indeed. He has made a very strong point. I should declare an interest, I suppose. Until very recently I was probably the oldest living non-executive chairman of a plc. I hope I was a very active chairman. However, I know through many experiences of my own that some non-executive directors do not play a very constructive part, they just take their money and go and do very little—so there are two different kinds of non-executive directors.
I hope my noble friend manages to persuade somebody to change the name from the oversight committee. It is, as my noble friend Lord Peston said, a very strange name to have in the Bill, but it is not the only strange thing in the Bill. I hope the officials who advise the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, will perhaps come up with a new name but on the whole I would like to commend the officials, particularly those headed by Mr Whiting. He has been extremely diligent in the job he has done on all sides of this Bill, sending things and meeting people. He has been excellent.
I wish I could say the same about the Minister. I like him personally but I cannot say the same about his response to the amendments. My noble friend has made a very important point that an important committee here—whatever we call it, it is now called the oversight committee—can be overruled by the governor. I find that quite unacceptable. I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, shaking his head means he cannot overrule it. I would be glad to hear that, but that is what it seems to be saying. I would like to hear how he puts that given the wording of the Bill, but for the moment I strongly support my noble friend Lord Eatwell.
I think one has to draw a line between the past and the future. I once again found myself very much in agreement with what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said. If a report was made to the oversight committee and it believed it should be published, and the decision goes to the court, as it should because a subset of the court cannot decide that, it seems to me extraordinarily unlikely—almost unthinkable—that the governor, from a position of one or four against nine, would be able to overturn the view of the oversight committee. The decision must be taken in the court, but it will be a very rare occurrence when a decision as to what is the public interest is taken by the executives overturning the majority view of the oversight committee when the issue comes before the court, so I do not understand the amendment.
My Lords, I do not understand the intervention. Why has the governor been given the power if he cannot use it? If you do not want him to use it you do not give it to him.
My Lords, if I may take the semantic point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, if the word “oversight” is capable of being misinterpreted why not use “supervisory”, which is just the Latin version and means exactly the same without the possible misunderstanding?
My Lords, I am not at this point going to get sidetracked into semantics, fascinating though I find it, as noble Lords know. Let me echo again, because I had said already what a good job the Bill team was doing, that I completely agree about that. I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Peston, thinks—I am sorry; I meant the noble Lord, Lord Barnett. Do forgive me. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, may think that I am doing an excellent job but I know that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, does not. Anyway, it is entirely my fault and not the fault of my officials, as the noble Lord recognises.
Let me try to be brief on this one. This is not a question of the governor having a power to overrule the oversight committee, as other noble Lords have said. The construction in the Bill is that it is for the Bank as whole—the court of the Bank—to decide and to make an informed judgment whether damage might be caused by the publication of a report on a public interest test. I understand the starting point of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, which is some suspicion or concern that the people who commissioned the report—the oversight committee—should be the group of people who decide whether it should be published. However, it is appropriate for the Bank as a whole—that is, the court, with a majority of non-executive directors, as my noble friend has reiterated again—to take the decision.
Perhaps the noble Lord will let me finish. It is a decision of the Bank. The Bank is better placed to make that judgment and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, makes the point that it would be only in exceptional extraordinary circumstances —I cannot remember his exact words—that one would envisage this being overturned somehow on the whim, or rather the view, of the governor, when the Court of the Bank of England looks at it.
Let me make one more point before I give way to the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, because one critical part of this is that the Treasury will receive copies of all reports, regardless of their sensitivity. I would expect the Treasury to come to its own view on whether each report is genuinely unsuitable for publication. If it believes that the public interest carve-out was not justified, it would challenge that decision where appropriate, because the Treasury ultimately has an even wider perspective on the public interest. It is therefore right to remember that there is that further fallback, because the reports in all cases will go to the Treasury. Let me, as well as asking the noble Lord to consider withdrawing his amendment, give way to him.
I just wanted to ask a question of clarification. What particularly disturbed me about subsection (3) of new Section 3D was that it refers to “the Bank”. Can the noble Lord assure me that in that subsection “Bank” means “court”? If he can, I would be happy. That is the point that I was trying to make. I think that I confused the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, slightly in that respect.
Yes, my Lords, the court is the governing authority of the Bank, and that is, I believe, completely the right construction for this particular matter.
What the noble Lord said just now seems to provide a new reason to change the name of the oversight committee. We do not need one. He is saying that the governor and the board of the Bank will know better than the oversight committee. Why bother with an oversight committee at all? That would be a simple solution.
My Lords, I must say that I am very happy and I will now read through the Bill with great care and presume that wherever the term “Bank” appears, it means “court”. If that is so, I will check all the various clauses as we go along to ensure that “Bank” means “court” at all stages. If it means “court”, the Bill should say so and be clear—and that is what it is not.
My noble friend should not really accept this, because no one reading the Bill could conceivably read the word “Bank” to mean “court”. “Bank” means the Bank, and the Bank, in practice, is the governor.
With all due respect to my noble friend, these days, where matters are in dispute about the interpretation of Bills, reference is made to Hansard. The noble Lord has effectively amended this clause in his remarks by saying that “Bank” means “court”. On that basis, we have now clarified this section of the Bill considerably. We have had a successful debate and achieved something valuable.
Given the various comments on the name of the oversight committee, I must confess that until my noble friends pointed it out I had failed to notice the double entendre in that label. I thought that “oversight” meant to oversee or supervise. I take it as meaning “oversee”, and I will not go as far as my noble friends.
I will go through the rest of the Bill, note where it refers to the Bank and either write to the noble Lord or raise in the House those points at which there is ambiguity as to what “Bank” actually means. However, now that we are absolutely clear that in new Section 3D “Bank” means court, I am happy to beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3D withdrawn.
Amendments 3E and 3F not moved.
Clause 4 : Financial stability strategy and Financial Policy Committee
Amendments 3G and 3H not moved.
3J: Clause 4, page 6, line 1, after “Committee” insert “and the Treasury”
In Committee, I raised the issue referred to in the amendment and not only argued that should the Treasury be able to make recommendations to the FPC at any time—which it appears not to be able to, given that it is left out here—but proposed to make subsection (3) consistent with subsection (2) of proposed new Section 9A. The amendment would allow the Treasury to approach the FPC at any time.
After the Committee stage, the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, was good enough to write to me on this matter. I appreciated that. In his letter, he argued that there was no need for specific statutory provision because the Treasury could make recommendations at any time as it already had a common-law power to do so. This was one of those “not necessary” defences. Therefore, the common-law power was the basis for the Treasury being able to make recommendations at any time.
I have considered this matter carefully and, after long reflection, I regret that I find the noble Lord’s argument unsatisfactory for two reasons. First, it is not good enough in the complexity of financial legislation to rely on the common law. There are people who will use this Bill who will not be lawyers and, even if they are, they may be lawyers who are not fully conversant with the common law. For example, many of our European Union partners are not conversant with the common law, and members of the relevant European Union regulatory bodies that will need to understand the Bill will not necessarily have familiarity with the common law that we would expect in common-law jurisdictions. Therefore, relying on the common law is not good enough in this legislation. We need real clarity about who does what to whom and we ought to include the Treasury in the provision so that everyone knows that it can intervene with the FPC at any time. The European authorities in particular, which will have a locus in this respect, would understand that point.
Secondly, a fundamental problem with the regulatory system before the crisis was the lack of communication between the Treasury and the Bank, as the noble Lord himself argued in Committee. I am sure that he will remember saying that a real problem with the tripartite structure was that the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank never met. He said:
“One of the major problems leading up to the financial crisis was that the tripartite committee did not meet at principals level”.—[Official Report, 10/7/12; col. 1052.]
The amendment re-emphasises the need for regular communication and co-operation between the Treasury and the Bank in general, and the Treasury and the FPC in particular, given the FPC’s macroeconomic responsibilities.
As I said, there are two reasons for the amendment. First, we should not rely on the common law as there are lots of people who are not conversant with the common law who need to understand this relationship clearly. Secondly, we need to reiterate the importance of regular communication between the Treasury and the Bank, especially the Treasury and the FPC. I beg to move.
My Lords, I find it is bizarre and slightly disappointing to see this amendment again. My noble friend Lord De Mauley explained in Committee why the FPC requires an express power in statute to make recommendations whereas the Treasury does not. As the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, recognises, I wrote to all interested noble Lords on 2 July setting out that explanation again, so I had rather hoped that the matter was resolved. I fear I should again explain the legal position, which is that the Government are clear that both the Treasury and the FPC should be closely involved in the ongoing development of the Bank’s financial stability strategy. I am happy to put that on the record. I have said a lot of other things which I am happy to be quoted on, such as comparing the practice under the old tripartite regime of people not talking to each other on a regular basis with what I now observe, which is much more regular communication. However, by amending this part of the Bill, I suggest we will not do anything more on that front. The Government are clear on that, which is why subsection (2) of new Section 9A of the Bank of England Act, as inserted by Clause 4 of the Bill, requires the court to consult both the FPC and the Treasury before determining or revising the Bank’s financial stability strategy. We do not need to overlabour the point, but it is a critically important one that the noble Lord raises and it is in there.
Moreover, the Government’s view is that neither the FPC nor the Treasury should have to wait to be formally consulted on the strategy. This should be part of the normal ongoing dialogue. If either body wishes proactively to suggest changes or amendments to the Bank’s strategy for financial stability, it should and will be able to do so. In order to ensure that this is the case, it is necessary to create an express power for the FPC to make recommendations to the court regarding the Bank’s strategy. As I have said before, this is because the FPC is a creation of statute, which means that the FPC’s main functions need to be set out in the legislation. That is why new Section 9A gives the FPC a power to make recommendations to the court on the financial stability strategy. If the provision did not exist, it would be unclear whether the FPC had the power to do so. In contrast, it is not necessary to create specific statutory provision to allow the Treasury to make recommendations. The Treasury already has a common-law power to make recommendations at any time to whoever it wishes.
Of course, the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, does not challenge that underlying basis, but he makes a huge drama out of European authorities and overseas bodies needing to understand whether the Treasury has authority to do this, that or the other. I find it very unlikely that European bodies would need to do that, but if they did, their lawyers would understand very clearly the common-law construction, which would be explained to them. If we went down the line of not relying on the common law in legislation, I hate to think how a Bill like this would grow like Topsy.
I am genuinely puzzled by all this, but I hope that the explanation of the common-law position is clear and that it can be explained in these unlikely situations that the noble Lord postulates. Of course, these European authorities will have the benefit of reading Hansard as well. It is an important point that the interaction is much better than in some respects it has been in the past. We expect that to be the case. I would like to think that perhaps we have finally put this point to rest and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, it would be easier to withdraw the amendment if the noble Lord had actually answered the points. Essentially, all he has done is reiterate the common-law point and make the rather bold assumption that European-trained lawyers on the European Systemic Risk Board would understand the common law. However, if he is confident that that is the case and that a suitable number of British-trained lawyers, or the equivalent, can be seconded to that body, then perhaps things will work out in a satisfactory manner. I am glad to hear that he is confident that the interrelationship between the Bank, the Financial Policy Committee and the Treasury is ongoing and regular today as it was not in the past. That is a considerable improvement and I am pleased to have that assurance. However, there is an important element in financial legislation which the noble Lord overlooks. Financial legislation in a global financial market has to be really clear to all those around that market who read it. Simply saying, “We know because we are trained in the common law,” is really not good enough. I was trying not to change the relationship but to make it clearer. However, given that the Government are apparently not interested in doing that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3J withdrawn.
Amendment 3K not moved.
3L: Clause 4, page 6, line 9, leave out “3 years” and insert “1 year”
My Lords, once again, we return to an issue that we discussed in Committee and I promised at that time to return to it on Report. I am keeping that promise. Subsection (6) of new Section 9A requires the court to review the financial stability strategy once every three years. That is far too long. Let us consider what has happened over the past three years. Since 2009 there has been a fundamental change to the overall economic environment, a radical change in government policy, and a double-dip recession. Really significant things have happened, which should be taken on board in assessing the strategy. The idea that, over that period, the court would not review the financial stability strategy in the light of events is, I believe, inconceivable. If the court really is going to review the strategy in the light of events, the markets need to know that. A regular report once a year would be a significant reassurance, even if that report says no change. Indeed, that would be a significant reassurance to the markets that the financial stability strategy is unchanged.
I quite understand that strategies are not designed to be the creatures of current events, but it is important to learn from events and not plough on regardless when the facts change. An annual review would provide the court with ongoing insights into the systemic risks associated with the financial stability strategy. That is far better than a review which is postponed, as facts change, for three years.
Let us then suppose that something really dramatic happens so that there has to be a review before the three-year time limit is up. What effect will that have on confidence? How much better to pursue the reasonable strategy of an annual review, both to ensure that the financial stability strategy is up to date and to provide appropriate confidence that the Bank’s strategy deals with matters with which the markets are concerned. I beg to move.
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has taken sufficient account of the provision in proposed new Section 9A(1)(b) that allows the court to review the strategy at any time. There is reference later in the proposed new section to revision of the strategy. I would have thought that those provisions covered precisely the concern that he correctly raised.
My Lords, I am slightly concerned at the proposed obligation to conduct an annual review. The role of directors is constantly to keep a strategy under review and to see whether it is still relevant. However, to impose this would impose a burden. A proper strategy review is an extremely expensive and far-reaching undertaking. It would be far better to have a backstop of a three-year requirement and rely on the good judgment and good sense of the directors, in particular the non-executives, to call for more frequent reviews as and when they are needed. It is inconceivable that we would go through the sorts of events that we have been through since 2008 and that non-executives would sit and say, “We do not need to look at the strategy”. It is part of their role to do that and we should rely on their judgment, not on process, with a backstop of the three years, as proposed.
My Lords, I will pick up on a term in the final sentence of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. He referred to relying on the judgment of the non-executives. Many issues around the court will depend on the quality of the people appointed, and how they conduct themselves. A slightly less than perfect structure, superbly implemented, is likely to give a better outcome than a perfect structure that is poorly implemented. The Minister on a number of occasions referred to best corporate practice. Can he envisage any situation in which a corporate board performing effectively would not carry out an annual review of strategy? Every board of which I have been a member has had an annual strategy session to look again at past strategy and in many cases endorse or modify it in the light of circumstances. Regardless of what we say here, court directors seized by their legal responsibilities would almost certainly want to carry out an annual review. Does the Minister agree with that observation?
My Lords, I certainly agree with the construction of my noble friends Lord Phillips of Sudbury and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I think that essentially they are agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Myners, that boards will take sensible views on these matters, and that we do not need to require the court to review the Bank’s stability strategy on an annual basis because a perfectly sensible arrangement will emerge that will to some extent involve a strategy that is set for a longer period than a year. Clearly, to some extent, a strategy needs to look out further—as the noble Lord, Lord Myners, agreed. Equally, of course a board will look to see how a strategy is going on a more frequent basis.
I have not changed my view since Committee on the lack of need for the provision proposed in the amendment. The interventions in this discussion reinforced my view. The legislation does not set out how regularly the Bank’s strategy should be reviewed. In practice the court has revised the financial stability strategy on an annual basis. That is understandable, given the sheer volume of legislative and other changes that there have been in the system of financial regulation in the past three years. On the other hand, as the noble Lord, Lord Myners, agreed, a strategy needs also to be a longer-term, forward-looking document. We do not need to hardwire in an annual review and suggest in any way that we require a short-term, business-plan view to be taken rather than a genuine strategy. That is why new Section 9A will require the court in future to revise the strategy at least every three years—so that it is a longer-term document—but there will also be flexibility for the court to revise the strategy earlier. I continue to believe that a three-year timeframe is the correct requirement for the Bill. It leaves plenty of flexibility.
I will add that I am conscious that in talking about this matter I use “court” and “Bank” to mean different things. I did not want to prolong the earlier debate, but I did not say then that court equals Bank. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, did not believe that to be the case, or that I suggested it. What I suggested in the earlier context was that there were certain critical issues on which the court would take a decision. The matter that we talked about—the public interest test in connection with publishing reports—was one. Here is a clear example of a case where we are talking about the court setting a strategy for the Bank. There will be many more examples as we go through the Bill of cases where “court” and “Bank” mean different things. We need to look at each instance as it comes up. With that slight digression, I hope that the noble Lord has been comforted by this further discussion of the strategy timeframe issue.
My Lords, we are debating two things at the same time. I will refer first to my amendment dealing with the timing of reviews of the financial stability strategy. Writing into the Bill that there should be a backstop of three years is a major mistake because it creates the possibility—even probability—that a review will have to take place in a shorter timeframe, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, pointed out. If that is done, what will be the effect on confidence? It will give the impression that the Bank is panicking and is not willing to go to its three-year period; it has suddenly had to shorten things. The reaction will be: “My gosh, something is really going wrong”. That is why the notion of an annual review has solidity and regularity. It fits in with the publication of the financial stability review, which is twice per year. So every year there would be a review, even if it endorsed a policy of no change to the financial stability strategy. Including the three-year figure is a major mistake because it will tend to excite apprehension when reviews take place more frequently.
Is the noble Lord not assuaged by the wording of the Bill, which seems to be extraordinarily wise? It calls for a strategic review, which it later defines as coming every three years. It then states that the court of directors must,
“from time to time review, and if necessary revise, the strategy”.
Surely that is exactly what the noble Lord was talking about. If circumstances take an unexpected and dramatic turn, that stipulation is precisely germane. I do not see why the noble Lord is not satisfied with what seems to be an extremely sensible arrangement: a report every three years, but also a power of review.
I am sorry that I did not make myself clear. I was referring to a review taking place other than at three years and the effect that that might have on the confidence of the markets. They might feel that the Bank is not sticking to its usual three-year timetable but is bringing things forward because something is going badly wrong that it knows about and perhaps the markets are not fully informed about. An annual review is embedded in so many companies. The annual away-day where everybody goes off and does the annual review is such a standard procedure that I think the three-year business is a mistake.
I want to return to the noble Lord’s revisionist comments on the position that he took on the earlier amendment when we were referring to the business of the oversight committee and the public interest notion of publication. I asked the noble Lord whether in this section Bank meant court. I think that I made clear that if it did mean court, the best option would be for it to say so. Therefore, the best option would be for him to come back at Third Reading and say, “Look, the word Bank occurs all the way through the Bill. It is used in different contexts in different places and let us be absolutely clear who is responsible. We will amend this clause at Third Reading to say ‘court’ because that is what I mean. It is not what I say; it is what I mean”. Let us now say that the noble Lord means court.
I was quite deliberately saying that if the noble Lord really wants the word Bank to mean court throughout the Bill I would read through it. I was confident that I would have no difficulty finding a number of cases where he did not want it to mean court. That is why he has now stood up, having received the advice of his officials, to correct what he said earlier.
I am just finishing.
With respect to new Section 3D, it is important that we are clear that Bank means court there. We will take on advisement what the word Bank means elsewhere in the Bill.
I merely wanted to say that I was not standing up to correct anything I said before: I stand exactly by everything that I said before. I wanted to head off the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, from wasting a lot of time by going through and analysing the precise meaning and the underlined way in which the powers of the Bank would be exercised situation by situation in the Bill. It is up to the court as the governing body of the Bank as to what it takes unto itself and what it delegates to the executive of the Bank. I was merely trying to make a helpful suggestion that perhaps the noble Lord would find himself doing quite a lot of wasted work if we went too literally down this path.
My Lords, I am sorry to prolong this, but now we are told that the court can delegate to the executive of the Bank. Is that the case in new Section 3D, which we discussed before? I am sorry to prolong this but I thought that the noble Lord made absolutely clear that in that section, Bank meant court—not a delegation to the executive or the governor or anyone else. He actually said himself, if I recollect accurately, that the court contains the nine members of the oversight committee, they would be sitting there and therefore they would not contradict themselves. There was no notion of delegation. They had a role. It is very important that legislation, particularly in financial policy, is clear. Can we please be clear on this particular element?
I do think that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, is trying to get into semantic games. There is an important point. I was completely clear before and I think it is understood. It would be complete nonsense if a recommendation on such an important matter of the oversight committee, which is a committee of the court of the Bank, was taken by anything other than the court itself. That is plain and completely clear. That is what I said before and that is what I stand by. It would be absurd to suggest that the court would delegate such a matter. That is what I said and that is clear. But there are plenty of other matters throughout the Bill on what the Bank does where, equally, it would be ridiculous to suggest that the court did something itself and did not delegate.
Well I rest on the proposition that I made earlier. If that is what the noble Lord means, why does he not say so instead of leaving this ambiguity on the face of the Bill?
However, returning to the issue of three years, I think that it is unfortunate for the reasons that I have spelt out. Annual reviews are completely usual and normal in the corporate and financial worlds. Everyone knows what they are. Three years leaves too much of a gap for unfortunate and disturbing events to occur that could then be exacerbated by the Bank’s seeming need to change tack at that time.
I hope people go away and think a little about this. I know that I almost certainly hope in vain, but hope springs eternal. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 3L withdrawn.
Amendment 3M not moved.
4: Clause 4, page 6, line 25, leave out “2 members” and insert “one member”
In moving this amendment, I will also speak to Amendment 5 in this group. In so doing, I hope to give the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, a break from his obsession with the difference between the court and the Bank.
The amendments concern membership of the Financial Policy Committee. In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, and I tabled an amendment that reflected the conclusion of the Treasury Select Committee in another place that there should be a majority of external members on the FPC to mitigate against groupthink. The Joint Committee that examined the Bill had reached a similar conclusion.
The Bill prescribes 12 members of the FPC in total. There should be six from the Bank, the chief executive of the FCA, four external members and a representative from the Treasury. I will ignore the Treasury in my remarks because the Treasury person cannot vote and his views can be ignored quite a lot of the time according to Schedule 1. I will talk about the 11 active and voting members.
The Government like to portray this composition of the FPC as a 6:5 split, putting the chief executive of the FCA in the external-to-the-Bank category, with six internal to the Bank and five outside. But the chief executive of the FCA, while he is external to the Bank, is not a completely independent member because of the many and varied associations and interactions between the FCA and the PRA which are envisaged in this Bill. While the chief executive of the FCA will have independent responsibilities in relation to the FCA, he will inevitably be susceptible to the kind of groupthink that the Treasury Select Committee warned against. The de facto ratio in the Bill is 7:4, because seven members have custodianship of the financial system as part of their day jobs and only four would be independent of that. I do not believe that that ratio is a healthy one.
In Committee, my noble friend the Minister argued against having external members in the majority because it would interfere with the holding of the Bank of England to account in some way. I think that that is a highly arguable position but my noble friend will be relieved that I am not going to argue with it this evening. Instead, I propose with Amendment 4 a more modest rebalancing of the FPC and I am delighted that my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft and the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, have added their names to this amendment.
By virtue of Amendment 4, one of the Bank of England insiders would come off the FPC so that the Bank membership would then be the governor, the three deputy governors and one other Bank member, probably the executive director for financial stability, the person covered by Amendment 6 in this group. There would then be 10 members; five Bank insiders, one from the FCA and four independent external members. The external members would not be in the majority but their relative position within the FPC would be better balanced. An alternative way would be to increase the size of the external component of the FPC and Amendment 5 does this by adding one extra external member, which would take the total active membership to 12, five of whom would be independent members.
In Committee, my noble friends Lord Hodgson and the Minister objected to the FPC getting larger because it would become unfocused and unwieldy, and I completely agree with this. When Sir David Walker produced his report on bank governance in 2009 he included a particularly interesting annexe on the psychological and behavioural aspects of boards. One paragraph from that said:
“The optimum size of a sub-committee—”
—and that is what the FPC is—
“is between 5 and 9. To ensure quality thinking and effective interaction, sub-committees should be groups of not less than 5 and not more than 9. At 5 a group becomes more of a team, at 7 thinking is optimised; above 9 the ability of the cognitive limit of the group is exceeded”.
So I do not advocate my alternative, Amendment 5, and note that even with the modest change in my Amendment 4 the FPC would number 10, or 11 if you include the Treasury, and would thus be outside the cognitive limit referred to in Sir David Walker’s report. If the Government cannot face telling the Bank it cannot have two extra people on the FPC, the solution is available to them by adding one, as in Amendment 5, although the Government would have to recognise that this solution would be sub-optimal. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment in the name of the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes, Lady Wheatcroft and Lady Kramer. I, too, have been struck by the potency of the Walker report appendix on group effectiveness, drafted by the Tavistock Institute. My experience leads me to conclude that the larger the group, the less effective it becomes. The R-squared is actually extraordinarily high and making the FPC any larger would not be the right solution, although it would be better than doing nothing.
Amendment 4 is, in my judgment, significantly superior to Amendment 5 and I think the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has, as she so often does, put her finger on the issue. It is almost certainly the governor who is insisting on having this right to appoint additional people to the committee. The past culture of the Bank is that it speaks with a single voice and that voice expresses the opinion of the governor. The more people around the committee table who therefore speak with that single voice, the better it is from the perspective of the executive. From the perspective of a functioning committee, that is almost certainly not an optimal outcome. In fact, if the Tavistock Institute had been invited to comment on the existence of a cabal or blocking group within a committee, I am sure it would have been even more powerful in its views about its appropriate constitution.
The central thrust of everything we are doing in helping the Government get this legislation through Parliament is to try to ensure that we have as many checks and balances in place as is appropriate. One of them must be a check on the strength of the voice of the executive of the Bank on these committees and, while both of the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will achieve that, Amendment 4 is preferable to Amendment 5.
My Lords, Amendment 4 will achieve an improvement in the balance of the FPC and I support the other amendments in this group, tidying-up amendments which would bring the number of extra appointees from the Bank down to one instead of two. It is obviously better to have a balance, if we can, between the Bank team and the outsiders—as they will undoubtedly feel that they are to start with.
We have heard about groupthink. There obviously has been a fair amount of groupthink at the Bank in the past, although it is worth remembering that on the Monetary Policy Committee the Governor of the Bank of England has been outvoted on several occasions, so it is possible for people to disagree with the governor and for the committee to go against him. However, on the basis that a balance would be better, bringing down the level of Bank people represented on the FPC would be an improvement.
I merely suggest that in these detailed discussions, when we hear mainly from those who are very expert, it is as well to consider views from outside, from business as a whole. A trick which all businessmen know is that there are two ways in which you can control a committee. One is to have a very small committee mainly related to you, and the other is to have a very large committee in which you know very well that you can organise the dynamics. I am much impressed with the arguments of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who has put her finger on a very important issue. I hope that the Government would accept that nowadays there is a good deal of expertise looking at these matters and the Tavistock Institute has much of it. I would be unhappy if we suggested that we knew better than its experience, over a very long time, of how best to do these things. I hope the Government will see this as a perfectly reasonable thing, a balanced situation. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and I do not always agree on matters—indeed, there are lots we disagree on—but on this occasion, coming from my understanding of trying to run boards and companies, this would be a good thing to do and not to do it would seem a little perverse.
My Lords, I cannot pretend to have the expertise on boards that the previous speakers have had and I do not want to repeat the very powerful arguments they have made; I merely add two quick comments. I think that the Minister will have understood from the debate that has gone on for much of today that there is still a general uneasiness over the amount of power that flows to the Governor of the Bank of England under this new framework. Here is a sensible way to put a bit more challenge into the system. I think that we all feel that a bit more challenge would be a good way in which to make sure that the governor has to do the thing that is the greatest check on any individual: to persuade others to go along with him. That is rather more necessary in an absolutely core function, one of financial stability and economic growth.
Secondly, we have all been somewhat concerned about the role of the FCA and the kind of status that the chief executive of the FCA may have in comparison to his peers in the regulatory family that falls more directly under the Bank of England. His role becomes a little more pivotal when you look at Amendment 4 and I suspect that that is no bad thing. It also makes sure that the FCA voice is heard rather more clearly and independently than it might have been without this amendment. I hope that the Minister will take all that on board.
My Lords, I have added my name, as has my noble friend Lady Hayter, to Amendment 5, which is the second-best amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. However, even in this second-best version, achieving what the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, referred to as “a bit more challenge” is an excellent and desirable objective.
My Lords, this is an interesting and important area. The balance of the FPC’s members between the Bank and non-Bank executives is an issue that has been raised a number of times in this House, in another place and in the committees that have scrutinised the Bill. My noble friends who have spoken to this issue have done so with characteristic clarity and eloquence.
There is clearly an important argument about the possibility of rebalancing the membership of the committee away from the Bank executives and towards the external members. The external members will need to provide an outside perspective and challenge function to the deliberations of the FPC and, crucially, Amendment 4 achieves the important objective of enhancing the role of the non-Bank members while avoiding creating a situation where the Bank would be in a minority on the committee, which would make it virtually impossible to hold the Bank accountable for the FPC’s actions.
I see a great deal of sense in the alternative ways of doing this, but in the Amendment 4 approach rather than the Amendment 5 approach—the second best approach, as we now know it. I could not talk in the language of cognitive limits and other good stuff but, in a practical sense, I understand why having only nine voting members, which is comparable with the MPC, is better than having 11 members with a Treasury observer. Making the FPC larger by creating additional members would risk making the group unwieldy, and I now understand—which I did not before—that the Tavistock Institute provides a theoretical underpinning to what I see as a practical argument.
On balance, the proposal put forward by my noble friends to rebalance the committee by removing a Bank member is not only preferable to the one of adding an external member but has some attractions. The tone of my noble friend Lord Deben’s remarks was to assume that of course I would dismiss all this out of hand. However, this is a serious point and the committee has come back to it. We have been here before in a number of respects and it is important.
Amendment 6 would ensure that it is the executive director with responsibility for the analysis of markets who would be removed from the FPC. Although the person in this position may have an important role in providing information relating to financial markets to the committee, it is true that this role could be achieved without that person being a voting member. The executive director who would remain as a voting member on the FPC would be the director with responsibility within the Bank for financial stability, and I agree that that executive director would seem to be the appropriate person.
The remaining amendments are consequential in nature and simply remove a later reference to the executive director with responsibility for the analysis of markets and reduce the quorum of the FPC from seven to six, reflecting its reduced size.
So where does this leave me? Given the importance placed on this issue by the House, reluctant though I am to agree on many things, although I agree on some, with the noble Lord, Lord Myners, and even though I would go a different route—the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, clearly shares the view of the House about the desirability of rebalancing—I accept the thrust of my noble friend’s amendments. If my noble friend will permit me, I would like to reflect on the debate, and particularly on the wording of the amendments, to make sure that we have got it right. If my noble friend will consider withdrawing her amendment now I will commit to tabling a government amendment at Third Reading to rebalance the membership of the FPC by removing a Bank executive as provided in Amendment 4 and the following consequential amendments.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate and I thank the Minister for his welcome remarks. I believe the technical response in this situation is “bingo”. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 4 withdrawn.
Amendments 5 to 6C not moved.
6D: Clause 4, page 7, line 6, leave out “subject to that,”
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Peston, who tabled this amendment, had to leave earlier this evening, but he asked me to move it on his behalf. I do so because it is an important and valuable amendment.
In Committee, the Government conceded the arguments made by the Treasury Select Committee and by Members in the other place that the growth and employment objective should be written into the terms of reference of the Financial Policy Committee. However, they have undermined the pursuit of this objective by the way in which it has been incorporated into the Bill. The phrase “subject to that” in proposed new Section 9C(1)(b) makes the growth and employment objective secondary to the stability objective.
Perhaps the Government are over influenced by current events here. Any Government who have presided over the economic policy of the past two-and-a-half years and continually justified their own actions with reference to levels of interest rates and financial stability will undoubtedly be motivated to downplay the growth and employment objective in the Financial Policy Committee’s considerations. However, in the longer view this is surely a mistake. Under the Bill as currently constructed, the Financial Policy Committee could cite the financial stability of a persistent recession as evidence that the objective has been met—stability, but the stability of the economic grave.
How much better that the Financial Policy Committee should take a balanced and mature view of the relationship between financial stability and growth and employment? I am confident that, if we get the right people in place, the committee will be able to take that mature view and would much better serve the overall financial stability strategy of the Bank. My noble friend’s amendment would achieve this and it deserves both serious consideration and support. I beg to move.
I am distressed that the Minister should feel that on the previous occasion I suggested that he would be other than magnanimous, for he is always magnanimous. I speak in his support because we have to be very careful about constantly adding all the good things that we might like to have taken into account in all circumstances. Financial stability in these circumstances is exactly what we should be saying first and we refer to the other, perfectly rightly, because it is necessary. I find it incredible that any committee, in any circumstance, would get up and say it thinks it is a frightfully good idea to have the stability of total sterility. I do not understand where the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, really thinks that anybody would come to that conclusion. This seems a totally unnecessary amendment and I hope very much that the Minister will refuse it.
My Lords, I feel positively disturbed by this amendment. I am far more concerned that ultimately we will have to resist the optimism and buy-in to “all is going well, let’s take the leash off”, and the erosion of regulation and structural protection. It is important that financial stability should be the primary objective for the Financial Policy Committee. It was important to add the economic growth objective to sit alongside it, but in a secondary role—to say that if the requirements for financial stability are met, the committee should make sure that, alongside and within that, economic growth has the chance to take place. That is an appropriate balance, which has been achieved by earlier amendments to this Bill.
To pull away that protection now and put us back exactly where we were—perhaps I may say, under the last Labour Government—would suggest that people have not learnt their lessons. That is the great fear: we have a crisis and people immediately react to counter the crisis. However, my goodness, our memory is short. As soon as times become good, it is very hard for a regulator to continue to impose constraint and manage risk. It is absolutely crucial that we make clear that this is meant to be a permanent feature of the Financial Policy Committee, not just a feature for now.
My Lords, I will add a rather mundane legal point. I do not believe that the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Peston, would achieve anything, even if it were accepted. Subsection (1), whose two limbs cover the matters to which the Financial Policy Committee must have regard, is quite clear about the stability objective. However, in a situation where the Government had no objective for growth, it would not bite, even if you took the words “subject to that” out of the clause. That is, as I said, a very mundane lawyer’s point.
My Lords, I recall that when the previous Government set up the Monetary Policy Committee, they formulated its secondary policy objective in precisely this form, “Subject to that”. Can the Benches opposite explain when they had a damascene conversion on this topic?
No? Sometimes silence speaks volumes. We can all—
I am sorry, I will say something. The Monetary Policy Committee has had a damascene conversion. You can see it in the quantitative easing policy. Indeed, the Treasury continuously encourages the Bank to take a more aggressive monetary policy with respect to growth and employment and to ignore the high rate of inflation.
My Lords, first, this is well trodden ground for the House so I will be brief. In any case, my noble friends have all made extremely telling points, which knock this one pretty comprehensively on the head. The FPC’s primary focus must be financial stability. That is its primary purpose, in the same way that the MPC’s primary focus must be price stability. Both financial and monetary stability are necessary prerequisites for stable and sustainable growth, so both committees already contribute to growth by achieving their primary purposes. Subject to doing so, they should act to support the Government’s economic objectives. The result of giving the FPC dual, equally weighted objectives for financial stability and economic growth would be to allow the FPC to take action that would damage financial stability with the aim of encouraging growth. This would take the FPC outside its remit and expertise, and frustrate its primary purpose—which has got to be financial stability.
I do not believe that the model proposed in this amendment is appropriate or workable and I ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.
My Lords, this has been an intriguing discussion, since it appears to ignore the economic history of the last two years. I was struck by the comment from the noble Lord, Lord Deben, that nobody would possibly accept the notion that financial stability was important when growth was absent. He should come more often and listen to the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, justifying the current policies of the Government. The Minister continuously says it is vital that the policy which has produced zero growth over a year, and leaves us with a level of output about 3.5% lower than the peak in 2008, is entirely justified by the need to secure financial stability. He refers to low interest rates and financial stability all the time. If the noble Lord would like to hear someone justify that position, he can just turn up and listen to the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, justifying the Government’s policy. He will get that straightaway.
The noble Lord really must not interpret what I said in a way that is convenient for his argument and then blame the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, for speeches that I have certainly heard and with which I agree. All I am saying is that the noble Lord’s idea that somehow or other, unless this is in here, nobody will take any notice of growth at all and that everyone will want a kind of sterile system is just not true. Nor is it sensible.
I really do not want to prolong this too long, but the idea that somehow financial stability is the same as a sustainable fiscal position is really stretching the concepts a bit far. However, there we are.
I was merely describing the way that the noble Lord continuously justifies the current squeeze that the Government wish to exert on the economy. The other really intriguing point is that it is the Government’s amendment that has introduced the growth and employment objective here, but he now tells us that it is outwith the committee’s expertise. So he has now introduced an amendment that is outwith the expertise of the committee that he has asked to consider it, even if as a secondary objective. I have been very struck by the debate, which has also failed to recognise, as I suggested earlier, the dramatic change in policy by the Monetary Policy Committee, urged on by the Government. This amendment simply attempted to believe, perhaps naively, that the Government might recognise what is happening in the policy-making of their institutions at the moment might give the FPC some credit for being able to make a mature and balanced judgment, given its overall responsibility for financial stability. However, I was no doubt overly naive there. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6D withdrawn.
6E: Clause 4, page 7, line 19, at end insert—
“( ) factors likely to lead to a loss of confidence in the financial system as a whole”
My Lords, this amendment seeks to include in the list of factors that are to be considered as systemic risks the factors likely to lead to a loss of confidence in the financial system as a whole. I am afraid that this is a significant bugbear among those of us interested in the economic foundations and problems of systemic risk. The list of elements that are included here—
“structural features … distribution of risk … unsustainable levels of leverage, debt or credit growth”—
are all essentially microeconomic. They miss the whole point about macroprudential regulation and the macroeconomics of risk, which the FSA tried to put forward in the Turner review and the US Treasury put forward in its review. They missed all that. The point is that at the macroeconomic level, there can be a transmission of risk which is not observable in the microstructures of the market, and is transmitted through a loss of confidence. Factors which can lead to a loss of confidence may not be identifiable in precise microeconomic connections.
I understand that this list is not intended to be exhaustive. That is why I composed this amendment to be a very general statement. I was not attempting to be precise, just presenting factors which can lead to a general loss of confidence. The point is to recognise that the systemic risk which we encountered in the last four or five years does not derive simply from the observable microeconomic variables listed here, but derives—most importantly, or at least, equally importantly—from the general loss of confidence which can sometimes be associated with these variables, and sometimes with others.
That is why I wanted to include some recognition of what has now become the accepted economics of systemic risk, the macrogeneration of risk. Macropropagation of contagion as risk is a crucial element which must be taken into account in any assessment of overall financial stability related to general macroeconomic systemic issues. After all, what is the definition of macroprudential regulation? It is concerned with matters which are not associated with the characteristics of individual firms. That is what it is about. That is why it is important that that dimension should be included in the overall considerations of the FPC. It is simply the recognition, if you like, of where the analysis has got to, and indeed, what we have learnt over the last three years. I beg to move.
My Lords, again, this was an issue on which there was a comprehensive debate in Committee. As set out in subsections (1) and (2) of proposed new Section 9C of the Bank of England Act, the FPC is tasked with contributing to the Bank’s financial stability objective by identifying and monitoring systemic risks and taking action to reduce or remove those risks.
Subsection (5) defines “systemic risk” to mean,
“a risk to the stability of the UK financial system as a whole or of a significant part of that system”.
That means that any risk to UK financial stability is captured within the FPC’s remit. At the prompting of the Joint Committee that scrutinised the Bill in draft, we added subsection (6) to underline the fact that,
“it is immaterial whether the risk arises in the United Kingdom or elsewhere”.
Let me be clear: the FPC must identify and address any risk that could compromise the stability of the UK financial system regardless of its origin.
The purpose of subsection (3) is to specify certain types of systemic risk which the FPC should look for. This does not limit or restrict the FPC’s remit in any way. In other words, just because a systemic risk is not listed in subsection (3) does not mean that the FPC has any less of an obligation to identify, monitor and address it. There could perhaps be a temptation to continue adding to subsection (3) in an attempt to try to define all possible sources of systemic risk. But this would be a fruitless, and potentially counterproductive, endeavour.
Amendment 6E seeks to add,
“factors likely to lead to a loss of confidence in the financial system as a whole”,
to the list. I agree that a loss of confidence can magnify cross-sectional or structural risks captured in the financial system. But I do not believe it would be appropriate to expand subsection (3) in this way. As I have said, the list is not intended to be exhaustive, rather it is designed to highlight the broad categories of systemic risk that have been identified by academic research, something which the noble Lord is rightly keen that we should factor in. Subsection (3) as it stands already serves this purpose by describing the main categories of cross-sectional and cyclical risk. I hope that, on the basis of this explanation, the noble Lord will withdraw what I continue to see as an unnecessary amendment.
Before the noble Lord sits down, I heard but one argument against the case that I was making, which was that it was not appropriate. Will he explain why it is not appropriate?
My Lords, I thought that was what I had done in the last three minutes. I explained that this is not an exhaustive list. Yes, the factor that the noble Lord identifies is an important consideration, but we have included the much more specific categories of systemic risk which are identified in the research. If we started putting looser considerations in there, it would be difficult to know where the list should stop. Indeed, as one extends lists like this, it risks by implication leaving out other important factors. I do believe that subsection (3) and the whole of proposed new Section 9C as drafted completely embrace the ability and the requirement for the FPC to pick up what the noble Lord is getting at, but does not run the risk of us trying to draft in some of the other things that we all might be able to think of.
Before my noble friend sits down, will he comment on the essential point made by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, about the risks defined in subsection (3) covering only “micro” rather than “macro” risks? It does seem that the language is actually “macro”. It talks about systemic risks, structural features and so on. Does the Minister agree?
Yes, I agree with my noble friend. He makes an important point.
Well, yes, my Lords, the logic of the noble Lord’s argument is either to accept my amendment or delete proposed new subsection (3) altogether, because one has to ask: what does it do? It says:
“Those systemic risks include, in particular”.
In particular, this is what the committee should be looking at. That is misleading in that it focuses on structural issues of the economy, which are microeconomic —on leverage and on debt, which are microeconomic, and on credit growth, which is moving into the more macroeconomic area. What it fails to do is to take in the general point of the loss of confidence which can come from other sources.
As I pointed out when I introduced this amendment, I deliberately constructed it so as not to get into the trap of attempting to produce a detailed list. It certainly does not do that. It simply alerts the committee. If the committee is to be alerted to deal with a number of factors in particular, it seems that it should also be looking in particular at those factors which might lead to a general loss of confidence in the economy as a whole.
So if the Government really wish to ask the committee to focus in particular on some things, I would like my amendment to be accepted. If, on the other hand, it is quite happy to rely on subsections (5) and (6), I suggest that subsection (3) be deleted, so as not to create this spurious concentration on a particular list of points.
However, given that the argument has made little progress, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 6E withdrawn.
Amendments 6F to 6Q not moved.
7: Clause 4, page 12, line 13, at end insert—
“(1A) If the Treasury considers it appropriate to proceed with the making of an order under section 9L, the Treasury may lay before Parliament—
(a) a draft order, and(b) an explanatory document.(1B) The explanatory document laid under subsection (1A) must—
(a) introduce and give reasons for the order,(b) explain why the Treasury considers that the order serves the purpose in section 9L, and(c) be accompanied by a copy of any representations received from the FPC or the Governor of the Bank.(1C) Subject as follows, if after the expiry of the 40-day period the draft order laid under subsection (1A) is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Minister may make an order in the terms of the draft order.
(1D) The procedure in subsections (1E) to (1H) shall apply to the draft order instead of the procedure in subsection (1C) if—
(a) either House of Parliament so resolves within the 30-day period, or(b) a committee of either House charged with reporting on the draft order so recommends within the 30-day period and the House to which the recommendation is made does not by resolution reject the recommendation within the period.(1E) The Minister must have regard to—
(a) any representations,(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and(c) any recommendation of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft order, made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft order. (1F) If after the expiry of the 60-day period the draft order is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Minister may make an order in the terms of the draft order.
(1G) If after the expiry of the 60-day period the Minister wishes to proceed with the draft order but with the material changes, the Minister may lay before Parliament—
(a) a revised draft order, and(b) a statement giving a summary of the changes proposed. (1H) If the revised draft order is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Minister may make an order in the terms of the revised draft order.
(1J) For the purposes of this section, an order is made in the terms of a draft order or revised draft order if it contains no material changes to its provisions.
(1K) In this section, references to the “30-day”, “40-day” and “60-day” period in relation to any draft order are to the periods of 30, 40 and 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft order was laid before Parliament.”
My Lords, this has taken me a little by surprise—I thought I had another few minutes’ rest before we got to my amendment.
Amendment 7 deals with the parliamentary procedure for approving the Treasury’s direction to the FPC setting out the macroprudential measures that the FPC can impose on the PRA and the FCA. Under proposed new Section 9N of FiSMA, as inserted by Clause 4 of the Bill, the procedure is to be the draft affirmative one. My amendment seeks to convert that into a super-affirmative procedure.
The draft affirmative procedure requires parliamentary approval of the draft of an order before the final order is actually made. It gives slightly more opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny than an ordinary affirmative order, but the end result of the parliamentary procedure is binary—it is either approved or not. Such an order is not amendable and the only option available to either House would be to reject the whole order. The political composition of the other place effectively means that an order is always passed, whether draft or not. It does not matter whether the debate is in a Committee Room or, as has been suggested by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the Floor of the House. The end result is the same. In this House, technically we can reject an order but by convention we do not do so. It has happened only very rarely and is rightly regarded as a nuclear option.
Like the Joint Committee that scrutinised the draft Bill, the Treasury Select Committee in another place concluded that the content of an order setting out macroprudential measures deserves an enhanced level of parliamentary scrutiny. The Treasury Select Committee believes that the situation satisfies the Erskine May formula that talks of the super-affirmative procedure being used where,
“an exceptionally high degree of scrutiny is thought appropriate”.
The super-affirmative procedure in my amendment would require the Treasury to set out, in some detail, why the order is to be made. It would allow either House of Parliament to make recommendations on the draft order, which the Government would have to have regard to before returning with the final version of the order. Neither House would have any power of amendment but would have the power to recommend amendments, which the Government would have to consider.
It was suggested in Committee that macroprudential measures are very technical and not amenable to amendments—the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, made this point. That may or may not be correct, depending on the particular measure. It is certainly true that the wider economic impact of the use of macroprudential tools is a proper subject for parliamentary debate, and either House may well want to say to the Government that their chosen tools are perhaps too wide or not wide enough. In contentious cases, Parliament may well say that the tools should be sunsetted or should be subject to additional reporting to Parliament on the impacts of the measures over time. Many important things could come out of a proper parliamentary debate that may or may not represent suggestions for amendment.
I have no particular concerns about the initial macroprudential toolkit. The FPC has been open about what it wants and why, and the Government are consulting transparently on their draft order. However, the initial tools are probably the easy ones because they largely align with international developments, and my amendment is directed at the development of the measures over time. For example, the FPC deliberately held back from asking for loan-to-value or loan-to-income powers, recognising that these should be decided by Parliament and that a full public debate would be necessary before such measures were introduced. If enforced, loan-to-income or loan-to-value rules could have a massive impact on the availability of mortgage credit and therefore raise wider societal issues as well as financial stability ones. Without the backstop of the super-affirmative procedure it is far from clear how Parliament could ensure that its—or anyone else’s—voice would be heard.
The Government’s main objection to this enhanced parliamentary scrutiny concerns the potential for delay. If the macroprudential measures were straightforward and uncontroversial, I do not believe that the super-affirmative procedure would add a very significant delay. If there are concerns and matters are contentious, the process certainly could take longer under the super-affirmative procedure—but so it should if there is to be effective parliamentary scrutiny. I do not believe that the time limits set out in my amendment, allowing up to 60 days, are unreasonable.
The limits that I am proposing are more modest than those which the Government accepted in your Lordships’ House during the passage of the 2011 Public Bodies Bill because, unlike that Act, my amendment omits a prior 12-week public consultation period. I could have argued that what is good for the abolition of a minor quango ought to be the minimum standard for something which could impact on the financial health of our economy and our citizens, but I have proposed a shorter timetable for macroprudential tools.
I also stress that my amendment has absolutely no impact on the ability of the Treasury to make—and remake—an order in urgent cases using the made affirmative procedure under new Section 9N of FiSMA. I doubt there will be many instances where a macroprudential measure is genuinely urgent but I am completely prepared to trust the Treasury if the need for urgent action arises. My amendment is directed at what I believe will be the normal case, where careful deliberation and scrutiny are desirable before making law.
I conclude by reminding noble Lords that the way that statutory instrument scrutiny generally works gives almost all the cards to the Government and almost none to Parliament. In opposition, we got this and I hope that my Front Bench remembers it today. The super-affirmative procedure is the right approach to orders that are potentially of huge significance to the economy and individuals in this country. I beg to move.
My Lords, of course, this is another issue that was discussed at some length in Committee. The Government recognise the importance of proper public and parliamentary scrutiny and accountability for macroprudential tools. That is why the Bill requires that macroprudential orders be subject to the affirmative procedure.
The Government have given a number of undertakings to further demonstrate our commitment to ensure transparency and effective scrutiny of macroprudential orders. In another place the previous Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Mark Hoban, clearly stated the importance that the Treasury places on taking a consultative approach to policy-making, and that he expected this to apply to macroprudential tools. In addition, my right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has said that he would be happy for debates on tools to take place on the Floor of the House, subject to arrangement through the usual channels.
The Government have also committed to consult on their proposals for the FPC’s initial toolkit. I note that my noble friend has no complaint on that score. Nevertheless it is important to recognise that the consultation document containing the Government’s proposals, a draft order and an impact assessment on those proposals was published on 18 September. The consultation will run for a full 12 weeks. In Committee a number of noble Lords highlighted the 90-minute restriction on debates and the inability for orders to be amended. However, I believe that consultation and the statement made by the Chancellor address these concerns effectively. I encourage noble Lords to read the consultation and respond if they feel able to improve the drafting of the order. I also hope that the relevant parliamentary committees will make their views on the Government’s proposals known.
Importantly, the Government’s stance on the parliamentary control of these macroprudential orders has been endorsed by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Maybe I did not notice it, but I do not think that my noble friend referred to the DPRRC. I know that she regards the committee, in her words, as an early warning system of problems for Parliament to address. In this instance, it has considered our proposed procedure and determined that there is not a problem to address.
As I suspect my noble friend knows, the DPRRC has stated:
“The importance of the power is recognised by the application of the draft affirmative procedure or, in urgent cases, the 28-day ‘made affirmative’ procedure … The Joint Committee on the Draft Bill and the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee have recommended an enhanced affirmative procedure for the non-urgent orders, based on that in the Public Bodies Act 2011. But the affirmative procedure provided for in the Bill should be a sufficient safeguard against inappropriate use of these powers”.
It is also important to remember that orders made under new Section 9K will not always be major pieces of legislation. It could be the case that minor technical amendments need to be made to the tools over time. Under such circumstances, requiring the super-affirmative procedure would be a disproportionate use of parliamentary resources. I note that my noble friend has made some adjustments to the super-affirmative procedure that would make it less onerous, and she has addressed those at some length in her remarks. I still feel that her proposal would require a disproportionate amount of parliamentary time and resource.
The bare minimum amount of time to pass an order under these proposals is 40 days, which can be increased to 60 days by resolution of either House or by recommendation of a committee of either House. The time taken to make an order where the consultation process shows that substantial changes are required is even greater. Even once the 60-day period has elapsed, this amendment would require the Treasury to obtain prior approval to the amended instrument before it could be made. This would introduce a significant amount of uncertainty around the time it would take to amend the FPC’s macroprudential toolkit.
I have stated many times that the Government place great importance on public and parliamentary scrutiny of the macroprudential tools. Given the steps already in the Bill and the commitments made by this Government, I ask my noble friend to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am disappointed with my noble friend’s response on this. He has repeated that in the other place there can be a debate on the Floor of the House, but the location of a debate on a statutory instrument is completely irrelevant. The outcome is exactly the same. He has rested on the full process for the early order but, as I said, those ones, with a high degree of international agreement on what the early phase of macroprudential tools should be, were easy to do. That is not really an issue. My noble friend rightly raises the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, for which I have the highest respect. I have equally the highest respect for the Joint Committee which scrutinised the draft Bill, and high regard in particular for the Treasury Select Committee in another place, which has been tireless in its scrutiny of this legislation. I have two committees to play one.
The best parliamentary procedure would in this instance be the super-affirmative. I can only say that I am extremely disappointed with my Government for hiding behind the easiest option of parliamentary procedure, but I will accede to my noble friend’s request and beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 7 withdrawn.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.25 pm.