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Finance: Peer-to-Peer Lending

Volume 741: debated on Wednesday 19 December 2012


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the impact of peer-to-peer lending on major financial institutions.

Wait for the Answer—but I believe it is a good news story.

Peer-to-peer platforms are currently small in the context of the UK lending market but they are growing fast. It is too soon to assess what impact they might have on other financial institutions but, over time, we expect alternative forms of finance, including peer-to-peer platforms, to bring additional choice and greater competition to the lending market.

I thank my noble friend for his response. This positively being his last time at the Dispatch Box, I take this opportunity to thank him for all his work there.

Although there is a place for peer-to-peer lending, small firms really require lenders who understand their business, who can see them through difficulties as they arise, who understand what they need in the way of advice and who certainly will not pull the rug away from them at the first sign of difficulty. The Government are doing what they can to encourage lending to small businesses but can my noble friend tell me whether they are managing to encourage a longer-term approach?

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s remarks. I certainly agree that we want diversity in lending. I do not believe that p-to-p lending will solve every problem but I think it has an important role to play. Alongside the money that BIS put in to support two of the p-to-p businesses only last week, through the Business Finance Partnership, BIS also put some money into funds managed by lenders that I think will probably fit more with my noble friend’s model. It is also worth noting that some of the new bank lenders, such as Aldermore, have been some of the biggest takers, relatively, of funds under the Funding for Lending scheme. I agree that diversity is needed.

My Lords, I wish the noble Lord well in his retirement. I hope he is retiring only from the Treasury. I have very much enjoyed our exchanges over the past two-and-a-half years.

Can he confirm that one of the many subsidiaries of the huge new Bank of England under the Financial Services Act will have the power to regulate in this case? When it is really a business-to-business matter—it is a big and growing business and I gather that some trade associations are already involved—can the Minister say whether it would be liable to tax relief and therefore part of a possible new tax avoidance scheme? Of course, that will be very different from one Peer lending to another, or one Baroness lending to another.

As always, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, who keeps me on my toes until the end. On regulation, we had some interesting debates in the course of the passage of the Financial Services Act but, on balance, I think it is appropriate that p-to-p lending comes within the FCA’s regulatory framework. We also need to look at the experience in places such as the US and ensure that regulation does not kill off what could be a very valuable contribution to lending. There are some issues on tax, which are the subject of ongoing debate between the industry and HMRC. We certainly do not want anything to stand in the way of the growth of industry. I do not believe that tax issues do that. There is a big, ongoing agenda of which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, identifies some of the key issues.

My Lords, I add my thanks to my noble friend for the careful way in which he has dealt with our questions and issues and wish him every success. How do the Government expect the banks to lend more money to small businesses if we are requiring them to hold more capital in the form of government bonds or deposits with the Bank of England and taxing them more by increasing the banking levy? Where are they going to find the money? Is there not a case for relaxing, in a counter-cyclical way, the capital requirements so that the money is there to get growth in our economy?

My Lords, these are critical issues. There is a fundamental trade-off between stability in the system, which clearly has to improve over what it was before the financial crisis, and the need to boost growth. The fact that the Financial Policy Committee at the Bank of England is up and running in shadow mode and is identifying the counter-cyclical tools that it will need is a very important new step in this area. The Funding for Lending scheme is, I believe, the most important sign of what can be done with the strength of the Government’s balance sheet. Lower funding costs are already coming in to wholesale bank funding, declining by over 100 basis points since June. One indication of the impact on consumers is that quoted rates on fixed-rate mortgages have declined by 0.3 percentage points since the Funding for Lending scheme has come in. However, I certainly agree that we need to be very attentive to this issue.

My Lords, yesterday the Opposition expressed their best wishes to the noble Lord on leaving the Front Bench. In the Treasury team, that Motion was carried by seven votes to one, and I am not quite sure whether I should confess to being the one. Nevertheless, I have enjoyed the cross-Dispatch Box jousting that we have had from time to time and I appreciate the Minister’s skill in replying—often, of course, defending the indefensible. Will he, on this occasion, give us real hope for the future? There is a possibility of very rapid growth of peer-to-peer lending. Is he certain that what will be in place is rigorous regulation of this developing sector? We obviously failed with regard to the banks in the past and there are a lot of anxieties about the new scheme now. This one presents particular challenges and I would like some reassurance from the Minister.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham. I would not want, on an occasion like this, to point out that the previous Government did not take any policy on p-to-p lending, but it was very small then. These lenders only got into business in 2005. The critical thing is that now, having handed the challenge and the responsibility to the FCA, we will see a draft plan very soon, certainly in the first quarter of the new year, as to what the framework for regulation will be. Draft rules will come in later in the year and, as I said earlier, it is very important that we get the balance right in providing an appropriate degree of regulation, not something that kills off what is likely to be a very fast-growing and important area of activity.