Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 8th and 10th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee.
92: Before Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
“Meetings between regulators and bank auditors
(1) The FCA and the PRA must make arrangements to meet the auditors of each bank at least twice in each calendar year.
(2) The FCA and the PRA may conduct meetings under subsection (1) jointly or separately (but each bank’s auditors must be met separately).
(3) The purpose of each meeting is to discuss matters about which the FCA or the PRA believe that the auditors may have views or information.
(4) A bank has a duty to ensure that its auditors attend meetings in accordance with this section (and compliance with that duty may be considered for purposes of the exercise of functions under FSMA 2000).”
My Lords, Amendment 92 is in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Turnbull and Lord McFall. Grouped with it is Amendment 104D, which I will also speak to, although it has to be said that these two amendments have nothing whatever to do with each other. I will speak first to one and then to the other.
If I may be forgiven, I will go back a little bit in time to when I was Chancellor in the 1980s. As a result of what came to light with the collapse of the Johnson Matthey bank, and the total failure of supervision exercised by the Bank of England, which at that time had that responsibility, I became concerned about the quality of banking supervision in this country. I therefore introduced what became the Banking Act 1987 in order to greatly enhance the quality of bank supervision and bank regulation in the United Kingdom. If I may say, it was not helpful that the Labour Government tore that system up in 1997, but that is another story.
One of the things that concerned me was the lack of any intercourse between bank supervisors and bank auditors. Indeed, it was prevented because the duty of commercial confidentiality in those days meant that bank auditors could not speak to the regulators or the supervisors. That seemed extremely damaging. A dialogue between the auditors and the supervisors is particularly important, not just because the risks are far greater when things go wrong in banking than in the automobile industry or any other industry—as we know to our cost—but because if the auditors of another kind of company are very concerned, they might well qualify the accounts of the company they are auditing.
Auditors are, for very good reason, extremely reluctant ever to qualify the accounts of a bank—I cannot even remember when it has ever been done—because of course that might lead to a run on the bank and cause a banking collapse, which would have huge repercussions. So it is all the more important that they can talk confidentially to the supervisor and the regulator.
Among the measures in the Banking Act 1987, I broke down the iron curtain of confidentiality between the auditors and the bank supervisors. I did not make it a statutory duty—which I regret—because at that time the Bank of England did not want it to be. But I wrote into the Act the expectation that there would be—because there should be—this dialogue between the auditors and the supervisors. So if the auditors were troubled about something that was going on at a particular bank and the bank did not seem to be remedying it, they could tip off the supervisor. Equally, if the supervisor had reason to be concerned about something that was happening at a particular bank, they could ask the auditor to take a good look at it.
That worked to begin with—but it did not work. This is documented: the meetings between the bank auditors and the bank supervisors became less frequent over the years. In the run-up to the great crisis in 2008 there were virtually no meetings at all, and we all know that the auditors were among the dogs that did not bark. They did not alert anybody to the huge problems there were in a considerable number of our major banks.
When, a few years back, the Economic Affairs Committee of this House looked again at auditing, not simply in the context of the banks but including them, we recommended that this should be put on a statutory basis. There should be a statutory requirement for this dialogue to occur. This was not accepted by the Government, on grounds that I think were totally unconvincing. We repeated this recommendation in the conclusions of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. We said:
“We would expect that for the dialogue to be effective, both the PRA and the FCA would need to meet a bank’s external auditor regularly, and more than the minimum of once a year which is specified by the Code of Practice governing the relationship between the external auditor and the supervisor. This should be required by statute, as recommended by the House of Lords Select Committee on Economic Affairs”.
That was the firm recommendation of the banking commission and I regret that, so far, it has been rejected by the Government.
The argument that the Government make is that there is a code of practice. Their response states:
“This means that there is an expectation set out in law, that there will be a regular dialogue between the regulator and auditor”.
Expectation is not enough—we have been there before. We had the expectation before, following the 1987 Act. To begin with that expectation was fulfilled but increasingly it was not, and we know what disasters arose from that. I therefore ask the Government—there is no difference between us on the necessity of having this continuous, active dialogue much more than once a year; we probably should have it on a quarterly basis—whether there should be a statutory requirement. Given the lamentable history of the period when it was not a statutory requirement, I urge the Government to think again and make it one.
Amendment 104D concerns the form in which bank accounts are prepared and the requirement—because we felt very strongly that the new accounting system, IFRS, was totally inadequate, certainly so far as banks are concerned; indeed, that proved to be so in the run-up to the crisis—that there should be a requirement in law for a second set of accounts. Those should not be prepared on the IFRS basis but in a way that the supervisory and regulatory authorities feel is necessary in order to give them the information they require. They should be for the benefit of the regulators and supervisors and should not be published in the first instance. However, if the PRA felt that it was in the public interest that the second set of accounts be published, it could require them to be published.
The difficulties with IFRS are huge. Noble Lords may have seen the interesting article in the Accountant by Emile Woolf—one of the best known chartered accountants—who writes from time to time. I commend the whole article: noble Lords might find it beneficial, although they will be glad to know that I will not read it all out. Woolf writes that:
“The lapse of accounting and auditing rigour that has allowed IFRS compliance to dissemble truth and fairness has brought shame on our profession and begs the question of exactly what is our purpose”.
That is pretty strong wording, but it is well justified. The true and fair have effectively gone and the importance of prudence has given way to box-ticking. I understand why valuation by mark to market has come in. There were different difficulties with the historical cost basis but the result of mark to market has meant that in many cases, purely fictitious paper profits are in the accounts. Not only does that make the bank look stronger than it really is but, of course, these are then distributed in bonuses or whatever. It is a disaster. And there are other defects. The change in the provisioning requirements is totally inadequate.
It is probably true that there is a grudging acceptance of that throughout many of the leaders of the accountancy profession. The problem is that IFRS is enshrined in European Union law. Therefore, it cannot be changed without the agreement of all the members of the European Union. They are talking and talking and talking, and they are producing documents on one aspect or another. Goodness knows when they will reach agreement. Goodness knows if they will ever reach agreement.
The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards has said, “Okay, we accept IFRS as it is but for banks there needs to be this second set of accounts for regulatory and supervisory purposes”. What are the Government’s grounds for rejecting this? The Government are saying: Okay, you have made a good point, but,
“this needs to be balanced against the increased costs imposed by introducing a requirement for an additional parallel set of accounts”.
Compared with the massive costs of banks going belly up, the cost of having a second set of accounts which helps the regulators and the supervisors to do their job is peanuts—it is piffling. It is absurd to talk about it in the same breath.
Neither of these amendments is opposed to the Government’s approach to the issue of banking and I hope that the Minister will see fit either to accept these amendments or, if not, to introduce amendments of his own on Report which will achieve precisely this effect.
As for the reports of the inquiry, and as this is the beginning of the last day of the Committee stage, I draw the Committee’s attention to the extraordinary nature of this Bill. When we received it from the House of Commons it consisted of 35 pages. Assuming that the government amendments which have been passed on previous Committee days and the ones that will be debated later on are added—as I am sure they quite rightly will be; I am not going to vote against them—the Bill will be 189 pages. The Bill has increased already between fivefold and sixfold. There will probably be further amendments on Report and it will be even bigger. It is an extraordinary way to legislate. We need time to absorb all this, and I hope that the Minister will be able to persuade the business managers to give us adequate time to do so before we reach Report on this very important Bill.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord’s amendment enthusiastically because the auditors were the weak link in the financial crisis. In terms of profits, the banks booked expected profits and then found out they were not there. So the question is: where were the auditors in that situation?
I was chair in 2007 when the Treasury Committee looked at Northern Rock. There were no meetings between the regulators and the auditors. The auditors of Northern Rock received more income from consultancy for Northern Rock than they did from audits. If I remember correctly, the auditors wrote 10 letters on behalf of Northern Rock, from which they gained £800,000. That is £80,000 a letter: not bad for a day’s work. Again, if I remember correctly, there were about seven meetings between the regulators and Northern Rock. At the time the mentality in the Financial Services Authority was the bigger the bank, the bigger the risk; the smaller the bank, the smaller the risk. Of these seven meetings, four were conducted by phone. Three were face-to-face, with no minutes taken. If you were the secretary of your local community council or your golf club and came up with such practice, you probably would not be the secretary at the end of the year. The regulator, however, kept on swanning along. That practice was a terrible practice—the voice of the auditor was missing.
The Treasury Committee report was clear. We said that within the limits of what they are required to do, perhaps the auditors did an adequate job. However, if they did an adequate job in terms of what they were required to do, the question remains: what is the point of an audit? That question continues to haunt the audit profession and it has not started to answer it.
The Government say there is talk about a code of practice, but in 2011 in a letter to the Economic Affairs Committee, Andrew Bailey of the Bank of England was very clear that,
“the working relationship between external auditor and the prudential supervisors had broken down in the period prior to the financial crises”.
So the code of practice does not work. The aim of this amendment is to ensure that there is a statutory basis so that no one can come along in future and say “That aspect was overlooked”. There has to be a serious duty on individuals to look at that.
From an accounting and disclosure perspective, RBS, Halifax and Northern Rock went down because of factors such as huge wholesale funding and property exposures. It was clear from the accounts two to three years previously exactly what the risks were, but nobody took heed. That is why the voice of the auditors has to be that much stronger. At the time, RBS shareholders approved the ABN AMRO deal by 95% to 5%, but that was just months before it collapsed.
When he was on the Economic Affairs Committee the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, asked John Connolly of Deloitte a pertinent question about auditing. The answer was that perhaps Deloitte would have had a different interpretation of “going concern” if it had realised that the Government were not standing behind the banks at the time. How flexible and flimsy is this focus on auditing from the auditors themselves?
There is a long way to go on audit, not just with regard to a statutory basis. There has to be a look at what auditing uncovers and what information it gives. I suggest that the Government look at three key features of an early warning system, having said that the auditors knew what the risks were before. First, there has to be a duty on auditors to raise these issues early with the supervisor. They knew what lay ahead if the reckless approach continued. Secondly, and very importantly, the auditors need to become more professional and sift large numbers of high-impact, low-probability events so that the regulator can understand what the risks are. Remember that the regulator was operating on the basis of business models—the profit and loss accounts of companies—which had nothing to do with the regulator, so they never looked at that. That is why we ended up with such huge scandals as PPI, interest rate swaps and whatever else. Business models are crucial to the regulator, as they should be to the auditors, so it is crucial to sift that large number of high-impact, low-probability events.
Given the point I made earlier about nobody taking heed, there needs to be an increase in credibility to ensure that all stakeholders pay attention to what auditors are saying. In terms of auditors and auditing and the link between auditors and the regulator, there has to be a less compliance-driven and more comprehensive approach. There has to be an enhanced role for the auditor as an independent expert to check and challenge all the trivial and complex issues that banks present. There has to be clear and unequivocal communication from the auditor to the company, and it is important that the regulator is aware of that information. From the auditors there has to be an insight into the company’s risk management system. More than anything, there has to be a universally consistent interpretation and application of standards. Given that we have to increase the confidence of the stakeholders by auditors, financial reporting needs to ensure that investors understand what is happening in a company.
The Government’s response to the commission’s report is totally inadequate. They said that they are,
“not convinced of the need to define the frequency of this dialogue in statute”.
The Bank of England has also said:
“The PRA has published a code of practice on the relationship between an external auditor and the supervisor”.
That code of practice, by the way, was ignored and jettisoned in the past. The FSA, given its culpability in Northern Rock, Halifax and the Royal Bank of Scotland, has the cheek to say that it supports an open dialogue with external auditors.
Andrew Bailey’s letter states quite clearly that the code of practice does not work. The empirical evidence states quite clearly that the auditors and regulators did not do their job in the past. If all we have is an exhortation to the financial community, auditors and regulators, to do things better, we will be back here in a few years. I therefore ask the Minister and the Government to look at this issue very seriously, and if they cannot give us a full answer today, to ensure that when we come back on Report and have had adequate time to look and present our amendments on that, at least we can have a positive way forward.
My Lords, I strongly support these two amendments and the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord McFall. I will add only the point that IFRS renders accounts virtually impenetrable, and fund managers have to convert them into a more understandable form of accounting to understand what on earth is going on within the organisation. I have been critical of IFRS for more than 10 years. The point was made to me initially that this was not a matter for Parliament but for the profession. It is of crucial importance to Parliament, because if it leads to things such as the banking mess, the nation at large is responsible. Secondly, as the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, pointed out, not only did it exaggerate profits in good times and create fictitious profits on the back of which excessive bonuses were paid, but it also exaggerates the other way in bad times, and therefore arguably can lead to an underappreciation of a bank’s strength. I had thought that France and Germany had some sympathy with this view and, notwithstanding other criticisms, I had been hopeful that the EU was looking to address this issue. I am disappointed that, to date, nothing seems to have happened.
I also make the point that, going back 20 years, Switzerland actually put a legal obligation on the auditors to do the compliance regulatory checking. The auditors were then liable if they had not done their job properly. I think it is a pity that Switzerland changed from that practice because I thought that it worked extremely well. I am not necessarily recommending it for this country but it was a novel idea, and the auditors ought to know what is going on within a bank if they have done their duty in auditing that bank properly. Switzerland has since changed its approach. Indeed, it was after it did so that Switzerland, too, encountered problems.
When the crisis broke in 2007-08, I asked myself: where were the auditors? Since then, candidly, there has been justified criticism of the regulators, but the issue of what the auditors were doing and why, and why bank accounts were so unsatisfactory, has not been adequately examined. I believe that the Treasury Select Committee has looked at this, but I am not sure whether it has done so in any detail. It is still quite an important issue and I believe that this Government should exercise pressure to effect reform of IFRS. In addition to the havoc it caused in the banking industry, it has also been significantly responsible for massive damage to our pension systems by overestimating the liabilities, especially when bond interest rates are artificially low. That has led to massive closure of justifiable defined benefit schemes. It really is a problem and it needs addressing.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. I declare what I suppose is a former interest, as many years ago I was a senior partner in an accountancy firm of modest size—I say “modest size” by comparison with the three or four firms that audit banks or, indeed, any of the FTSE 100 companies. That firm became bigger since I retired, because it merged with a fairly large international group, but at the moment it is not one of the likely auditors of any bank, whether small or large.
The noble Lord who just spoke asked where the auditors were. That question arose constantly, and understandably. If a bank gets into that kind of trouble, what were the auditors doing over the years? Never mind dialogue with the regulators; what about a dialogue with themselves or with the banks? Something serious will have to be done by the Government or by the profession about there being only three or four firms which audit all banks or, as I said, any FTSE 100 company. It is a serious matter and will obviously have to be addressed. It has been broadly spoken about for years, but nothing has ever been done about it.
Amendments 92 and 104D relate to some extent to leverage, which is what Amendment 93 concerns, and to whether banks have adequate capital to do the job of being a normal bank. This clearly is a serious issue, which nobody has properly addressed. How do we get to the situation where other major banks can be called on to have some kind of competition for who does that auditing job? When a firm knows that it will have that job permanently, the likelihood is that it does not do the job as well as it could or should. That has been happening all the time.
I hope that the Government will listen very carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, my noble friend Lord McFall and others said, and what previous Select Committees said. This is an all-party issue, as the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, knows. I hope that he will be able to tell us that the Government will seriously consider what has been said today. If they cannot accept the amendment because the drafting is not quite as it should be—which I would understand—I hope that they broadly agree with it and will come back on Report with an amendment that does the job. We cannot just leave this; something will need to be done. I hope that the Government will listen very carefully today.
My Lords, I will say a few words, as a director of a bank and a member of an audit committee, to give a current perspective on these issues. We have heard interesting speeches from my noble friend Lord Lawson and from other noble Lords that were not directly relevant to the amendments in this group.
One of the amendments before us concerns whether there should be a statutory requirement to make arrangements to meet auditors twice a year. As a consequence of last year’s Financial Services Act, there is already a requirement on the PRA and the FCA to make arrangements for relationships with auditors, and indeed actuaries. That has led to the revision of the code of practice developed under the FSA into the ones that have recently been produced by the PRA and the FCA.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, referred to Andrew Bailey and the previous existence of relationships between auditors and the FSA. It may well have been true that that did not work well in practice. However, I assure noble Lords that in my experience, both the PRA and the FCA are wholly resolved to make the arrangements for working closely with auditors work extremely well. That is the nature of what they have done in producing their codes of practice. If the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, or any other noble Lord looks at the codes of practice, they will see a very different intensity of engagement from any previous code. In particular, for category 1 firms—which, I am sure, are the firms about which noble Lords are concerned—not only are two formal meetings scheduled but the guidance makes it absolutely clear that it is expected that there will be additional meetings and informal contacts with the auditors throughout the process.
We have to accept that the world has moved on. There is now a statutory underpinning of the arrangements that are made for relationships with auditors. From my perspective, both the new regulators have taken to heart any lessons to be learnt from the past and are very focused on ensuring that the arrangements work well, going forward.
My Lords, I support the two amendments in this group. They address real flaws in the current arrangements. The comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, were interesting on whether the flaws are now covered by the codes of practice. The concern in the committee report to which the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, referred—I was part of that committee—was that there was no active and effective dialogue between the auditors and the regulators. Regulation requires as much light as possible to be shone on what is going on in the organisation being regulated. In part, that is to do with the provision of information and data—of which there are tonnes in banks. At another level, it is very important to give a perspective and a judgment. This goes to the heart of some of the problems.
First, and bluntly put, the auditors—as has been pointed out—are appointed, paid and retained because they work with the management of the bank. Their duty is to shareholders, of course. However, the reality is exemplified by Barclays, which had the same auditor for, I think, 240 years. It is very important that we underwrite the independence of the auditor. The statutory requirement to talk to regulators helps auditors have the necessary degree of independence so that they can inform the regulators of what they are concerned about.
The second issue is that of the accounts. As the noble Lord, Lord Flight, made clear, investors have a completely different set of accounts. They put IFRS to one side because it is incomprehensible and meaningless. It is completely pro-cyclical in banking, which is the most dangerous thing to be. The fund managers look at their own accounts, but of course if you sit on the board of a bank—as a number of Members of this House do—you see a different set of accounts as well. You see the management accounts about how the bank is trading. You look at the bankbook and try to assess the risks. Before IFRS came along, when times were good it was a practice for prudent bankers to say that some of the loans might turn bad and that it was necessary to put some provisions to one side. IFRS has stopped that practice, although we were told in our committee that IFRS is reconsidering the rules; its rules committee has recognised the shortcomings of IFRS. A Member of this House has also written a very good report which tries to get accounting back from being totally rules-based to being principles-based and asking: “Is this a going concern? Is it a true and fair view of accounts?”.
The audit firm that signed off Northern Rock to say that it was a going concern—when it was funded entirely by overnight money—made a clear misjudgment, shall we say. The bank’s own management accounts—and indeed the auditor’s own judgment—would have helped the regulator to look at that much more closely. It is therefore important that the Government think again on this. The argument about cost is not a real one; that is a bit of nonsense, to be blunt, because these sorts of accounts are published and provided to board members to review the performance of the organisation.
As for relying on expectation, we owe it to the taxpayers in this country to have rather clearer rules. Expectations and codes of conduct are all very well, and one would wish to have them clearly set out and published. However, in a matter as serious as this, it is very important that there is a legal requirement to do this. The noble Lord, Lord Lawson, wishes that he had put one into the 1987 Act. The Government owe it to the taxpayers to think again on these issues.
My Lords, I am going to build on what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord McFall, Lord Barnett and Lord Hollick. Then I will make one suggestion in respect of Amendment 92, which I support. Comment has been made about the fact that the accountancy profession has got too concentrated for public benefit. It is altogether too cosily placed vis-à-vis the very largest banks and companies. The noble Lord, Lord Hollick, referred to Barclays using the same auditors for more than 100 years; it that is not a recipe for slack auditing, I do not know what is.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, noted that many accountancy firms provide both auditing and consultancy services. Sometimes, the non-auditing services are more valuable than the auditing services, which is a crazy situation. It is a pity that the Bill does not address that because if, as auditor, you ought to be saying some things with “rigour”—the word quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, from an article by Mr Woolf—how can you avoid a deep conflict of interest? I suggest, and experience bears me out, that you cannot bring to the very difficult task of auditing the rigour that is on occasions necessary to bring a bank or a large company to heel and to ensure, as far as any audit can, that some of the disasters we have seen are thereby avoided.
As I say, I am sorry that we are not addressing that issue in this Bill. Perhaps it is not too late to table such a provision on Report. However, I fear that a great deal is lacking. I think I am right in saying that all the big four accountancy firms have been penalised or fined many millions of pounds in the past few years. I remember that in America, KPMG was fined more than $450 million for running fraudulent tax schemes for years on end. What happens to these firms’ reputation and business? Very little does, as far as I can see. I suggest to my noble friend Lord Lawson and his co-proposers of Amendment 92 that it is not clear beyond peradventure that the bank under consideration should not be present at these statutory meetings. It may seem an obvious common-sense point that you cannot have such a statutory meeting with somebody from the relevant bank being present. However, given the cynicism of our world, we should make that clear. Given that we are at a flexible stage of our consideration of the Bill, if Amendment 92 goes forward, I recommend that that provision be included in it.
My Lords, I do not think anyone can disagree with the arguments put forward by my noble friend Lord Lawson that the regulators should have access to the best available information from the auditors and should be able to request the information relating to the accounts that they want. What I am less clear about from this discussion is whether there is a need for that to be built into this legislation. I should be very grateful to my noble friend the Minister if he would clarify whether there is anything in the current law that prevents regulators doing exactly what these amendments suggest.
Like my noble friend Lady Noakes, I sit on the board of a bank and on its audit committee. Things have moved on considerably since 2008. It is clear to me that as regards the major banks, the PRA has frequent confidential discussions with the auditors; and those are perfectly proper. It is also clear to me that the PRA can, and does, request information from the relevant bank in any form that it feels it needs to have to perform its duties. Therefore, the question is whether there is anything in the current legislation that would allow an auditor to refuse to meet the PRA or to refuse to provide information on the grounds of commercial confidentiality or conflict. Are those powers extant in existing legislation? Is there anything that allows a bank to withhold financial information if it is requested by the PRA? If those powers are already available, I am less clear what these amendments would add.
My Lords, it is clear from remarks made around the House that noble Lords support the intention of these amendments—that there should be regular dialogue between the regulators and auditors, and that accounts submitted to the regulators should be fit for purpose and provide the relevant information to inform their decision-making. I understand that the contested issue is whether these meetings take place at the moment, and whether there are sufficient codes of practice—or simply what is regarded as normal practice—to enable these meetings to take place. However, I do not think that that is enough. As my noble friend Lord Hollick said, we have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure that these meetings take place and that the appropriate accounts are provided to the regulators.
When he replies to this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Deighton, will have to tell us that he can guarantee that these meetings will take place and that accounts will be provided in appropriate form: not simply relying on codes of practice, but on the force of statute.
My Lords, these two amendments concern the role of auditing in banks. Many excellent points have been made about the historical challenges and weaknesses and to some of the problems they have created. However, not all of these have specifically addressed the amendments themselves.
Amendment 92 seeks to strengthen quality engagement between auditors and supervisors. We agree we want to accomplish that and the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, made the same point. The question is about the most effective way to ensure it is consistently brought about and the difference between us is about how we accomplish that. It may appear attractive to require greater engagement in statute as a guard against complacency in the future, but the clause risks weakening the auditor dialogue and perpetuating the tick-box approach that was found wanting in the last financial crisis. That was one of the most important lessons about regulation we learnt from that crisis. The FSA was widely criticised for measuring adherence to its rules—like how many times you met the auditor—but not coming to an informed judgment about the risks in individual companies and the wider market. That is where the focus of our regulation needs to be.
I may have been in the private sector too long, but solving a major problem by legislating for a number of meetings has never been the best way to get quality outcomes to serious problems. The FSA was criticised, beforehand, for not engaging enough with the auditors of the banks they supervised. The then statutory requirement for regulators to meet with auditors at least once per year simply became another process and the wider purpose of the meetings was not properly developed. The whole point of the Financial Services Act 2012 was to make sure such failing was addressed and that the regulators follow a judgment-led approach to supervision. This means that all enforcement activities must enhance the regulators’ understanding of the business and the wider market to better enable them to detect risks before problems become serious.
FSMA now includes a new Section 339A—which deals with the powers to which my noble friend referred—requiring the PRA to have arrangements for sharing information and opinions with auditors of PRA-authorised persons, and to publish a code of practice setting out the way in which it will comply with this obligation. This code of practice, which we have talked about, sets out the principles governing the relationship between the regulators and bank auditors. The code has been laid before Parliament, so provision has already been made, both in and under FSMA, for a regular dialogue between the regulator and the auditor. These requirements mark a change in focus away from process—stipulating the number of meetings—to actual outcomes: getting them to do the job properly. This requires regulators to consider serious engagement with auditors and subjects their stated approach to scrutiny so we can see if they are complying with the code of conduct: it does not just fall away. This process is not only more rigorous in the short term, but gives the opportunity for parliamentary scrutiny when the codes of practice are laid before Parliament and provides a check on potential complacency in the future.
My noble friend Lord Lawson referred to the need to make sure the dialogue was at least quarterly: the PRA code says that it should be. Most noble Lords will not be familiar with the details of the code of practice, but for the major firms—the ones that are perceived to represent the greatest risk to the stability of the financial system—at least three or four meetings per year are encouraged. This is a risk-based approach and the meetings are: at least one routine bilateral meeting between the lead audit partner and the supervisor; one routine trilateral meeting between the lead audit partner, supervisor and the chair of the firm’s audit committee; and one bilateral meeting between the lead audit partner and supervisor in the lead-up to and during the annual audit of accounts.
Conversely, the amendment’s legal requirement for more regulator meetings with auditors would just follow in the footsteps of the tick-box policy from before the crisis. I am really talking about the smaller, much lower-risk firms, where the guidance is, generally speaking, for at least one meeting a year. Having two meetings a year would simply increase the workload of regulators and take them away from exercising judgment and away from prioritising the most concerning engagements. They would simply be setting up meetings, irrespective of individual circumstances, just because they needed to fulfil a rigid requirement. In our view, such rigidity would weaken engagement and impair the regulators’ ability to adapt their approach as circumstances change.
Because of all that, the Government remain unconvinced of the need to define the frequency of this dialogue in statute, as the PRA code already specifies this and invites scrutiny. My noble friend Lady Noakes put it very well when she spoke about how the world has moved on and how this now operates.
In relation to the second amendment, the Government have been clear that the crisis highlighted deficiencies in accounting standards and the fact that there was room for improvement. We all agree with that, and that is what we said in our response to the final banking standards report. The regulators must have the information they need to do the job of safeguarding financial stability, and in some instances that may require disclosure of financial information on a basis different from that used by other audited bodies. In response to the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, the PRA will have access to management accounts, for example.
In response to the banking standards report, the Government asked the PRA, working with other authorities and the FPC, to undertake a broad-based review of this subject. That review will take account of the nature and scope of information required to create a separate set of accounts, the costs and benefits of the initiative, and international requirements. From 2014, the new Capital Requirements Directive IV will require banks to disclose supplementary information which goes beyond the international financial reporting standards. Therefore, it is not yet clear whether we need an additional, separate set of accounts in the light of the extensive prudential and other regulatory reporting requirements that are being imposed through the CRD IV framework.
However, I can assure noble Lords that, whatever the outcome of this review, the powers that have been given to the regulators under the Financial Services and Markets Act, as amended in 2012—this, again, goes back to my noble friend asking about the existing powers—are already sufficient to permit the regulators to do everything that this amendment gives them the power to do. Their current powers would permit the regulators to make rules requiring banks to prepare additional accounts, to the extent that this is permissible under EU law, to specify the principles that should govern the preparation of such information and to make it public. To the extent that the amendment merely gives the regulators the powers they already have and does not require anything else of them, it is unnecessary. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I have listened to what the Minister has said. On the second of his two points, I think that he is very close to the position that I and other noble Lords who have spoken are in concerning the IFRS accounts and their defects. He is very much closer than he is on the first one, and he is very close to what I was trying to say. He said that the Government are going to see whether they can get an improvement. He referred to CRD IV, which goes some of the way but is not entirely satisfactory. The only way that we will get accounts in a form that is satisfactory for the regulators and the supervisory requirements is if they ask for that. He is absolutely right that they can do that now. In practice, they could have done it before the 2008 crash, but they did not. That is the problem. Those of us who support the amendments are saying: once bitten, twice shy. It could have been done before; it can be done now. But it was not done before. Therefore there should be a statutory duty, which would make it more likely that it will be done. How can that be objectionable?
On the first issue the principle is the same: once bitten, twice shy. The idea that this is simply a bit of box-ticking is an insult to the intelligence of this House. As we say in the amendment, the meetings should take place more than once a year—and they will be nothing to do with box-ticking. They will be meetings of the kind that the supervisor and the regulator find most useful. Those people will use their discretion; there is no box to be ticked at all. That idea is—if I may say so, with great respect to my noble friend the Minister—a total absurdity.
It is perfectly true that under the code of practice and so on, such meetings could take place anyway. But that was also the case before: not only could such meetings have taken place, but the Banking Act 1987, which was then in force—that part was not repealed— encouraged them to do so. However, although meetings did take place to begin with, towards the end they did not happen. That is why it makes sense to make it a statutory duty for those meetings to happen. They will not take the form of box-ticking; they will take the form that the regulators and the supervisors find most useful. We leave that to their discretion, but we do not wish to leave to their discretion—this is, in effect, the Government’s position—whether the meetings take place at all. We may wish to discuss this further, but for the present I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 92 withdrawn.
93: Before Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Treasury must make an order under section 9L of the Bank of England Act 1998 (macro-prudential measures) enabling the Financial Policy Committee to give a direction under section 9H in respect of a leverage ratio for banks.
(2) The direction above may specify the leverage ratio to be used.
(3) For the purposes of this section “leverage ratio” has the meaning which the Financial Policy Committee considers that it has in European Union law or procedure from time to time.
(4) The order under subsection (1) must be made within the period of 6 months beginning with the date on which this Act receives Royal Assent.”
My Lords, the amendment concerns an issue of critical importance. As was said in the previous debate, the regulatory and supervisory system clearly failed badly. The regulators were not primarily responsible; the bankers were primarily responsible—but the regulatory and supervisory system performed badly, as did the auditors. We are all of us seeking to prevent that sort of problem from occurring again, and part of that endeavour is to have a supervisory regime that requires the banks to be more prudent than they were in the years leading up to the disaster of 2008.
This subject was considered by the Independent Commission on Banking—the Vickers commission—and one of its conclusions was that basing the regulatory requirement on what are known as risk-weighted assets was unsatisfactory. That is, incidentally, also the considered view of the Bank of England and the PRA. One of the reasons why that is unsatisfactory is that the amount of risk with which one weights particular assets is to a large extent subjective. It is done by the banks, using their own models. The Basel people set a test for a whole lot of different banks. They gave them all the same portfolio of assets and asked the banks to risk-weight them. The difference between the risk weighting of the overall package in one bank was getting on for three times that of another. Indeed, for particular classes of assets, the difference between the risk weighting of the banks was eight times. To a large extent, the banks were able to use whatever risk weighting they chose.
The Vickers commission, the Bank of England and the banking commission concluded that a more robust and reliable basis for ensuring that banks are prudent would be to lay down a leverage ratio—as our American friends call it. It is simpler and more straightforward; it is the ratio between the capital of a bank and the assets on its books. The Basel committee said that the capital should be at least 3%, which is a very low level. That is why it is not surprising that the Vickers commission, the Independent Commission on Banking, said that it should be a little over 4%. The Government rejected that on grounds which I and, I think, the commission found inadequate. It is striking to note that in the United States, looking at the major banks where there is a potential for systemic risk, the ratio varies between 5% and 6%. When this was pointed out at Second Reading, my noble friend the Minister replied that the Americans work it out differently. I looked into this carefully and consulted the Bank of England, and am assured that the difference in practice is trivial.
This is an important and potentially dangerous area. However, we did not say what we think the leverage ratio should be. What we said was that it should not be set by politicians. It should be set by the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England, which would look at this objectively and decide what is necessary. Again, there is a read-across with the United States because the responsibility for setting the leverage ratio there does not lie with the Treasury, but with the Federal Reserve as the supervisory authority. We have said that in this country it should not be for the Treasury or the politicians, who are heavily lobbied by the banks—we all know about that—it should be for the FPC to decide what the ratio should be and then to lay it down. That is why the amendment states simply that the importance of the leverage ratio is such that it should be left to the FPC to decide. I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment, which I hope will become a new clause in the Bill, is probably the most important in the Bill. It defines whether we are really serious. If we are not serious, we will reject the idea of having a leverage ratio as one of the armaments of the FPC. If we are serious, the Financial Policy Committee must have this tool.
As the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, has argued, risk-weighted assets have been discredited as a measure of risk within the banking system. It is regrettable that so much legislation both here and in some of the discussions in Basel and in the European Union still use this discredited measure as a means of devising appropriate regulatory measures.
The leverage ratio is simple, it is clear and it provides a protection to the overall stability of the financial system; it provides protection for a resolution regime; and it provides protection for depositors because, with the regulatory determination of the amount of capital relative to the asset base of the bank, that regulatory determination pursuing those goals will have the effect of reducing an important component of systemic risk. It is not me who makes that argument; the Government did so in the Financial Services Act 2012. In defining systemic risk, that Act defines one of the characteristics of systemic risk as “unsustainable levels of leverage”.
If the Financial Policy Committee is supposed to be managing systemic risk and a component of systemic risk is unsustainable levels of leverage, why cannot the Financial Policy Committee have the tools to do anything about it? At the moment the Government are telling us that they will review whether the FPC should be given this particular tool in 2017. They will review it: we are not even sure that the Financial Policy Committee will receive the ability to manage the leverage ratio in 2017-18.
By the way, even if it does appear in 2018, the Financial Policy Committee and the Governor of the Bank of England will be given this tool just as Mr Carney gets on the plane back to Canada. We have managed to secure someone who the Government tell us—and I think is generally acknowledged—is a highly skilled central banker and we are not giving him the tools to do the job which he is asked to do in the 2015 legislation. I notice that it was said in the Commons Public Bill Committee that:
“The Financial Policy Committee cannot be expected to work with one hand tied behind its back”.—[Official Report, Commons, Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill, 26/3/13; col. 207.]
Not giving the Financial Policy Committee this particular power ties both its hands behind its back because it is, as I have already said, required to take account of unacceptable levels of leverage and yet it has no tool to do anything about it. The amendment of the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord Turnbull, and of my noble friend Lord McFall, achieves that goal. Surely this is what is necessary if we are serious and are not overwhelmed by the lobbying of the banks.
My Lords, I support the amendment and the account given by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. I shall add a bit of background to this matter. For probably two decades, up to about 2004, the leverage ratio of the British banking system fluctuated between 20 and 25. It then rose, reaching a peak in 2008 of somewhere over 40. The Government’s wish that the number of the leverage ratio should not be greater than three implies that the limit of their ambitions is to get this leverage ratio back to 33, which is still, by historical standards, a very high ratio.
A very interesting chart in the Vickers commission report shows how risky people thought assets were. It shows that they fell—this is the assessment that banks put into their own models—between 2004 and 2008. How can anyone believe that 2008 was a year of greater financial stability? I believe the way this came about was as follows. You said in 2004, “I have a portfolio of commercial property and have not lost a penny on it in the past 10 years, so I will give it a weight of X”. You come to 2008, four or five years later, and say, “I have still not lost any money on this, which tells me that this portfolio is not as risky as I thought it was in 2004, so I will give it a lower risk rating”. What is happening all the time when you have an upswing is that, as the upswing gets riper and riper, the risk weights go down and down, until there is a crash. The whole purpose of having a leverage ratio is to provide a backstop to that. One or two people argue that we should run on basic leverage ratios alone but, in my view, both the leverage ratios—unweighted and risk-weighted—should run in tandem. Each provides a check on the other. Relying solely on risk-weighted assets leads you into the farce of banks marking their own homework and doing the opposite of what they should be doing by marking things as less likely at precisely the moment in the cycle where they become more likely.
Another argument that has come up in relation to 3% and 4% is that we must not get out of step with regulation abroad. However, when it comes to risk-weighted assets, the Government have accepted that they want to impose a higher figure—partly because we have more systemically important banks and it is important for a medium-sized economy running a very large banking sector for that sector to be safe. When you say, “Does that not mean that what we thought was a 3% figure should move pari passu”, the answer is, “Oh no, we can’t do that because we will get out of line with what everyone else is doing”. But if you can do it for one of these measures, why can you not do it for the other? I find that argument completely unconvincing.
There was a view in the commission that higher leverage ratios were a good thing. However, that is not what this amendment is about. Although we thought that, the amendment says that it should be the FPC that makes the judgment. As my noble friend Lord Eatwell has pointed out, the absurdity of hiring this super-duper, global-standard central banker and then not giving him this essential tool until the very point at which his contract ends is beyond belief. It seems an absolutely simple point that the FPC should start this. Elsewhere in the world, other people will be thinking about this and it seems very strange indeed to leave the Bank and the FPC unable to start deploying this measure.
There is an argument that certain kinds of banks, particularly those with low-risk assets, will find that this 4%, or the leverage ratio, becomes the binding ratio. People making that argument cite, principally, various former building societies. You have to look around and ask where the biggest failure in Britain was. It was former building societies thinking that they had a portfolio that was a good deal safer than it really was. Some of them also got into quite a lot of commercial real estate. Northern Rock, for example, would have been well advised to have followed a leverage ratio of this kind. If it turns out that the supply of mortgages is not adequate—although we are doing lots of other things to promote it—you might want to differentiate between one kind of organisation and another. That should be done by the regulator as a derogation from a world in which we are working with higher leverage ratios than the Government currently envisage.
My Lords, from the discussion, I am once again not clear on whether this needs to be built into the legislation in the way that is being suggested. As the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, has said, I do not think that anyone would now dispute that it is a useful backstop to have a leverage ratio alongside the risk-weighted assets calculation of capital. However, that is built into CRD 4, and the PRA and FPC have recently demonstrated that they are perfectly capable of anticipating that in terms of the capital guidance that they give to institutions on the capital that they are required to hold.
There is an argument about whether 3% is the right level or not. I can assure my noble friend Lord Lawson that in the UK at least, whatever banks may have done in the past, they would not get away with applying whatever risk weighting they chose to devise against their own risk assets. All the risk weightings applied in the risk-weighting process are reviewed intensely by the PRA. It has to approve the internal model in order for it to be used to assess your own risk capital, and that process is now extremely well scrutinised by the regulator.
Nevertheless, there is a good argument that, because the process is bound to be imprecise, having a backstop of an overall leverage ratio makes sense. I think that is generally agreed. However, if you make that leverage ratio too restrictive, you may distort behaviour in a way that you do not desire by encouraging banks and other financial institutions to put too many of their assets into risky assets. If you have only a leverage ratio that does not discriminate by risk, and you are allowed only to hold that amount of assets, then you will stop risk weighting them and simply go for the riskiest assets you can get within that overall leverage ratio. The two have to work together. We should be careful about believing that having too hard a biting overall leverage ratio will reduce banks’ risks as it may work in the other direction.
The issue here is not whether you should have a leverage ratio; it is not whether it should be statutory or not. The issue is who should determine it: the Chancellor of the Exchequer or the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England. That is the issue. Although I speak as a former Chancellor of the Exchequer, I still think it would be better left to the FPC. That is the issue; not whether it should be statutory or whether it should be alone without any consideration of risk-weighted assets. The issue is simply who should determine it.
I thank my noble friend for that clarification, but I was responding to the points that were made by him and other noble Lords in advancing their arguments. If you come down to the question of “Does the PRA need more powers in order to enforce a higher or more restrictive leverage ratio?” then it can, under its existing powers, require capital add-ons to banks if it is not satisfied with the risk weightings. That is the way it would deal with it. It seems a slightly tangential point as to whether it is setting the overall leverage ratio or whether it is setting the capital ratio by other means. I should like to hear the Minister’s response on whether he thinks there is a case for this being built into the legislation.
I, too, strongly support this amendment. This is a serious matter. It is not a backstop, or at least I do not see capital as a backstop; I see it as the foundation upon which safer financial institutions can be built. We debated in great detail, quite properly, the regulatory process and all of the regulatory initiatives, but at the end of the day there is nothing that can protect the public and the depositors other than a strong capital foundation.
In a characteristically robust article in today’s Financial Times—which of course I will replace in the Library—John Kay said:
“It is hard enough to find people capable of running financial conglomerates—the fading reputation of Jamie Dimon, JPMorgan Chase chief executive, confirms my suspicion that managing these businesses is beyond the capacity of anyone. The search for a cadre of people employed on public-sector salaries to second guess executive decisions is a dream that could not survive even the briefest acquaintance with those who actually perform day-to-day supervisory tasks in regulatory agencies. They tick boxes because that is what they can do, and regulatory structures that are likely to be successful are structures that can be implemented by box tickers”.
He goes on to say:
“Financial stability is best promoted by designing a system that is robust and resilient in the face of failure”.
That is what a strong capital base does.
It is very important that the Financial Policy Committee has the power to do this. Of course, politicians can always be relied on to make the right decisions but, as we know, when political priorities are to encourage Chinese banks to come to London, for instance, they are allowed to open branches. I am sure that China is a better credit risk than Iceland but it gives you an insight into how decisions can be made by politicians. It is very important that the Financial Policy Committee is given the power to make these decisions, and to make them independently, just as the Bank of England does over interest rates.
My Lords, I agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Blackwell said—in fact, I probably agree with all that my noble friend Lord Blackwell said—but I would like to pick up something that my noble friend Lord Lawson said when he intervened on my noble friend Lord Blackwell, that the issue was who was to decide on the leverage ratio.
The amendment before us says that the direction, which is the Treasury’s direction,
“may specify the leverage ratio to be used”.
The key issue with this amendment is not who potentially decides on the amount of the leverage ratio but the timing of the leverage ratio. People have been clear, and it is going to be a requirement of CRD IV, that there will be a leverage ratio, and the current international timing is to be 1 January 2018. As I understood it, that timing was going to drive the Government’s decision on what leverage ratio to introduce, given that they have the power to include it within the macroprudential toolkit under the legislation that has already been passed. We should not rush into a leverage ratio because there is still much work to be done on understanding how these leverage ratios, which have not been used much recently, actually work in practice.
My noble friend Lord Lawson also pooh-poohed the idea that the difference in practice between the US and the UK was significant. Some analysis done by the British Bankers’ Association has identified that on any given balance sheet the difference can be 3% under CRD IV and 5.3% under the current US rules. So we potentially have quite a significant difference, and the BBA talks about different leverage ratios as well. We also need to understand the impact of any given level of leverage ratio once the definitions are sorted out.
Mark Carney, who is chairman of the Financial Stability Board as well as Governor of our own Bank of England, has been clear that this is to be a backstop measure and that it is important to calibrate it so that the risk-weighted asset calculation of capital bites before the backstop method. Unless we are very clear when we introduce the leverage ratio about what the impacts will be, we potentially lay ourselves open to the unintended consequences of positively driving the capital requirements of the banks or, more likely, their lending capacity.
It is important that we let the current timetable for the development of the leverage ratio proceed and let the calculations be done properly. Banks are already disclosing leverage ratios to the regulators and will be disclosing considerably more information as time goes on, so there can be much more of a public debate about the impact of different leverage ratios on banks and other financial institutions.
I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lawson, which stands in my name as well. As the noble Lord said, the amendment is, quite simply, about who is doing it. Whatever they do at some future stage, we will let them get on with it, because it is about authority. There are two issues here: learning the lesson, and the authority.
On learning the lesson, I noted the comments of Adair Turner, former chairman of the FSA, when he said:
“We allowed the banking system to run with much too high levels of leverage, inadequate levels of capital, and we ignored the development of leverage in the financial system … That was a huge mistake”.
I had never gone back to basics and asked, “Why do we allow banks to run with 30, 40, 50 times leverage?” Neither had anyone else, funnily enough; so it is about time that somebody asks that question and keeps it in their mind on a daily basis. My point is that politicians—Chancellors, Prime Ministers or whoever—will not keep that in their mind on a daily basis. We learnt that from the financial crisis before. If we set up a new organisation we should give it the authority. I noted the comments made by Lawrence Tomlinson, who was brought in to BIS recently as an “entrepreneur in residence”. He questioned why the British Bankers’ Association needed,
“60 people working full-time lobbying”,
when the Government owned majority stakes in two of the banks, Lloyds and the Royal Bank of Scotland. As he said:
“We already own the banks. Why are Lloyds and RBS paying the BBA to lobby us? They can just get lost! … It’s amazing we let RBS spend tens of millions advertising its services with 80% of our money”.
I mention that because the banking sector is the best sector in the country for lobbying. The banking sector, unlike any others, gets direct access to No. 10 and No. 11 Downing Street. That happened with the previous Government and it is happening with this one. If you do not allow the proper authority—the FPC—to have this leverage ratio, you are weakening its authority in an instant. I suggest that the institutional memory of a Chancellor or a Prime Minister is much less than the institutional memory of the Financial Policy Committee.
In terms of the leverage requirements, we have had the Vickers commission, the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, and the interim Financial Policy Committee asking for that leverage to be handed over. The Government have refused. If the Government do not want to be accused of playing politics, it is important that that is put to the Financial Policy Committee.
Let us look at leverage even today. I looked at Barclays, which has been,
“the poster child for excess leverage. Its balance sheet is roughly the size of the UK’s GDP. It funds 1.5 trillion pounds of risk-taking with 97.5 per cent debt and 2.5 per cent loss-absorbing equity … The average hedge fund trades with less than 3 times leverage … Barclays has chosen to operate with 45 times leverage … So Barclays deploys gearing 15 times that of most hedge funds. If the bank’s assets eroded in value by a mere 1.5 per cent, it would be 100 times leveraged. How confidence inspiring is that?”.
If we do not allow the FPC to look at these issues on a daily basis, when No. 10 and No. 11 Downing Street will not be looking at them, we will find ourselves in trouble in the future. As mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, Dr Carney said that it is,
“essential to have a leverage ratio as a backstop to a risk-based capital regime”.
We are saying that, if we have appointed Dr Carney with all the thrills and frills of a Chancellor’s appointment, we should give him that authority so that he can get on with the job straightaway and we can keep it away from the hands of the politicians.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, pointed out, this is crucially important territory. However, I am not certain that the amendment gives the right answer.
I recollect that when I was studying economics at Cambridge 40-something years ago, a capital base of 8% and a gearing ratio of 12.5% was viewed as the prudent formula for a bank. Things have changed a great deal since then. Who was it that allowed banking ratios to get to such ludicrously low levels in this country? It was the regulator. Although we have a change of regulator organisation, there are still, to some extent, the same people and I am not sure that I necessarily trust the regulator in its new name as being sound in overseeing such things.
Look what has happened, I repeat, in the past 10 or 15 years. I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, who made the point that risk-weighted asset formulae are somewhat discredited. Again I agree and, having had some recent experience of it, I have little confidence going forward.
I also note in terms of ratios permitted that the regulator for some extraordinary reason—at least until the recent present—had ridiculous differences between the capital ratios required for large, too-big-to-fail banks and smaller and new banks. The ratio for mortgage lending was something like 20 times as much for a small bank as for a large bank. So, again, how come the regulator allowed crackpot different capital ratio requirements to creep in in a way that was thoroughly anti-competitive?
I am not sure that the Treasury may not be the safer party to ultimately have the power to determine capital ratios. As has been pointed out, the amendment states:
“The direction above may specify the leverage ratio to be used”.
The direction is given by the Treasury and so the amendment ultimately gives the last-call power to the Treasury and not to the PRA.
So where are we? I do not think the issue is resolved. It certainly needs addressing.
My Lords, I agree with much of what my noble friend Lord Flight has said. I also agree with a great deal or all of what my noble friends Lord Blackwell and Lady Noakes have said. I was also impressed by the way in which the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, stated that he believed that the straightforward, unweighted leverage ratios should operate in tandem with a risk-weighted ratio.
I noticed that noble Lords opposite smiled when my noble friend Lord Blackwell pointed out that if the absolute ratio bites first and becomes effectively a frontstop rather than a backstop, it will lead banks to concentrate more heavily on risky assets, on lending on assets which they think will give them higher returns. I am convinced that that is correct. It is therefore important that the absolute ratio should be a backstop rather than a frontstop.
I am confused by the difference in responsibility between the FPC and the PRA. The amendment suggests that the Treasury should enable the FPC of the Bank of England to determine what the leverage ratio should be. However, as noble Lords have pointed out, the FSA had already become more involved in interfering with and providing advice, exercising influence over banks’ lending policies and questioning their formula and the basis on which they applied certain leverage to certain categories of asset class.
I am not sure where the writ of the FPC stops and where that of the PRA starts. I know that they are both part of the Bank of England and this is confusing. I would welcome clarification from the Minister.
My Lords, Mr Andrew Tyrie, the chairman of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, described leverage ratio as,
“the single most important tool to deliver a safer and more secure banking system”.
In their reply last July, the Government accepted this importance. Indeed at paragraph 5.50, they plainly stated that in the future the FPC should determine the ratio, provided that it was not allowed to fall below the international standards reflected in Basel III. However, at paragraph 5.51, that commitment having been repeated, it is then said that it is,
“subject to a review in 2017”.
The question therefore arises, if the Government are committed in principle to the FPC determining the ratio, what in this review in 2017 might affect that principle? Questions of amount or the approach to ratio in the light of Basel III go to the process rather than the principle of who determines the ratio. I presume that over the next four years, the Treasury will determine the leverage ratio and will place such requirements about it as it thinks fit on the banking industry.
At page 68 of the response, the Minister will recall that under the heading “leverage ratio”, it is stated that the Treasury is presently reviewing with the FPC the balance between backstop and frontstop considerations. The intention is to publish the results before the end of the year. Given the six weeks or so of parliamentary time that we have left until Christmas and assuming that Report is, for example, in December, will the Minister undertake to ensure that that review is published before Report? It will affect the debate, should it recur on Report, on the question of who makes the decision. The key point, however, is: why 2017, if the principle is accepted now?
My Lords, I welcome the engagement of noble Lords on this critical issue of the leverage ratio and the FPC’s toolkit. Everybody agrees the importance of making sure that our financial institutions are appropriately capitalised. There is no dispute about that and the lessons we should have learnt from the financial crisis. The real question—and again my noble friend Lady Noakes hit the nail on the head—is about the journey we take to get there, how it integrates with what is going on in global standards, and what powers the FPC and the regulators already have to ensure that we are in the right place in the mean time. I think that also comes back to the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brennan.
I shall try to give some context, particularly for those who are not so familiar with all the aspects. With each of these amendments, I ask myself what the point of substance is between the amendment and the Government’s position and whether I can reconcile the two with the existing actions we are taking. In this case I have been able to comfort myself that adequate protections are absolutely in place, given the objectives of this amendment.
The FPC has two main sets of powers at its disposal. The first is a power to make recommendations. This includes recommendations to both the PRA and the FCA. They can be made on a “comply or explain” basis. The second set of powers, which we are talking about here, is to give directions to regulators to adjust specific macroprudential tools. Amendment 93 proposes that the Government give the FPC direction powers to implement a minimum leverage ratio in the UK. Before explaining why the amendment is not necessary or desirable, let me explain the international and domestic context, beginning with the international.
In order to address recognised problems with the system of risk-weighted capital requirements—which we have all talked about and acknowledged—the Basel III accord recommends a complementary binding minimum leverage ratio. Again, we have all agreed that the right way ahead is for the two to work together, so there is no dispute about that. That standard comes into force in 2018, following a final calibration of the leverage ratio in the first half of 2017 so that we get it right. Separately, at the European level the European Banking Authority will undertake a review of the leverage ratio with a view to the European Commission introducing legislation in 2017. The Government agree, and have consistently argued, that banks must be subject to the binding minimum leverage ratio requirement, which supplements the risk-weighted capital requirements as set out by the Basel III accord. Therefore the Government fully anticipate the development of internationally agreed minimum standards of leverage.
The Government take the view—and we believe that the regulators agree—that the optimal approach to creating a lasting binding minimum standard is to work towards international agreement and its implementation through legislation. As Mark Carney wrote in the Financial Times on 9 September:
“Yielding to calls for unilateral action to protect domestic systems would risk fragmenting the global system, slowing global growth and job creation”.
Once that minimum is agreed domestically, the Government propose—and this directly addresses the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell—to furnish the FPC with a specific macroprudential tool to vary the leverage ratio, through time, obviously subject to it not falling below the minimum.
However, the question raised by the amendment is: what powers do the regulators have to take action on leverage between now and 2018 in advance of the introduction of that internationally agreed binding minimum requirement through European legislation? Let me reassure noble Lords that the regulators already have extensive powers to address the issues raised by this amendment. The FPC has broad powers to make recommendations to the regulators, on a “comply or explain” basis, including on leverage. The PRA has all the powers necessary—which we have talked about—under Section 55M of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to require individual firms to take specified actions, including on leverage. Under Section 137G of FiSMA it may make rules in pursuance of its general functions, including rules on leverage ratios.
The killer fact, if I may call it that, is that on 20 June—interestingly, one day after the publication of the PCBS report containing this recommendation—the PRA announced that it would require eight major UK banks to meet a tougher leverage ratio than that prospectively required by Basel III. They have already done that. That action followed a March 2013 recommendation from the interim FPC to the PRA to consider applying higher capital requirements to any major UK bank or building society with concentrated exposures to vulnerable assets, or where banks were highly leveraged relating to trading activities. Put simply, the regulators already have the powers to do what the noble Lord appears to be suggesting in advance of international agreement.
I am intrigued by that argument. The noble Lord started off with a powerful argument for the necessity of a leverage ratio that is allied with risk-weighted assets and other measures. He is now saying that we do not need it because it is all there already. Why, then, are we even bothering to think about introducing it in 2017 or 2018? As he said, we have all the powers already. He is absolutely contradicting himself in a single speech. Will he also address the fact that the Bank of England’s response today to the banking commission’s final report states that the FPC will publish its assessment of the appropriate level of the leverage ratio by the end of this year? When the FPC publishes that assessment, what will the regulators and the Treasury do about it?
There was nothing contradictory in what I said, but I will clarify it. For the longer term, we absolutely agree that we need an internationally consistent standard that will work with a minimum leverage ratio. In the mean time, before we are able to employ that in a way that is consistent with how those rules work out, we have the powers individually to make sure that leverage ratios exist which protect the system. I do not think that there is anything contradictory about that. It simply shows that in the short term we have the capacity to protect the financial system, and that is exactly what the regulators have done. There is nothing contradictory in that at all. The regulators have the powers to do what they need to do and will continue to have those powers after international agreement has been reached, at which point we will integrate them through the power that we will give the FPC to set the varying leverage ratio through time.
I will say, to give noble Lords the international context, that international agreement is on its way. It is in this context that the Government’s commitment to providing the FPC with this additional tool in its toolkit should be understood. Once the baseline minimum level has been set, the Government have made clear their intention to give the FPC an express power of direction to vary through time the baseline leverage requirement for deposit-takers and investment firms, subject to it never being below the requirement, as you would expect, determined by Basel III. The precise design of the tool will therefore depend on the provisions of the relevant European legislation. This is a mechanical reserve to ensure that they fit together effectively. It would not make much sense to add this macroprudential tool to the toolkit until the baseline had been set. Indeed, as the FPC noted at its September meeting in response to a recommendation directed to it by the PCBS,
“a full assessment of the appropriate leverage ratio will depend on the definition of leverage agreed internationally”.
While work on the international standards is under development, in addition to the powers described the FPC will also have specific powers available to tackle systemic risk stemming from, for example, excessive leverage or any identified issues with risk weights on one or more classes of assets. In particular, the Government have already agreed that the FPC should be made responsible for policy decisions on the countercyclical capital buffer, which I think was a point raised strongly before. That will be in the hands of the FPC. It will also be given a power of direction over sectoral capital requirements. Those would be deployed if concerns of bubbles in certain asset classes took place—for example, in commercial property. The statutory Financial Policy Committee gained its powers over sectoral capital requirements on 1 April 2013, so that is already in place. For the reasons I have given, I call on my noble friend to withdraw this amendment.
My Lords, will the Minister answer the question I asked about the statement that the Bank of England has made today that the Financial Policy Committee will publish its assessment of the appropriate level of the leverage ratio by the end of this year? When it publishes that assessment, who is then going to act and what are they going to do?
I apologise to the noble Lord. I was so excited about the first question that I forgot about the second one. It is consistent with what I have already said that the FPC intends to address this recommendation in that timescale, but a full assessment will depend on the definition of leverage agreed internationally, so it all rather depends. In terms of who is going to implement it, as I said, the regulators already have the power to do so. In June this year, they changed the ratios on our key eight institutions to protect them in the mean time, so they have these powers and they have exercised them. I think that is a killer fact.
My Lords, in some ways this has been a rather puzzling debate. I warmly endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, said. This is one of the most important—if not the most important—issue that we have to discuss in the course of this extremely long Bill. For that reason alone, I think it likely that we will wish to come back to it at Report. Meanwhile, I am encouraged to some extent by what my noble friend the Minister said. However, he seemed to be saying at least two completely different things, if not three. One was that we would have to have the leverage ratio—we are all in agreement that we have to have a leverage ratio—that was internationally agreed. Then he said that we would also have discretion, with the FPC, to decide the leverage ratio, and therefore that there was no need for the amendment because the provision was already there.
First, I am not convinced that it is already there. I shall read very carefully what the Minister said. When my right honourable friend the Chancellor responded to the recommendation of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, he said nothing of the sort. Nor did he say whether he disagreed with it. He said the first part of what my noble friend said: namely, that we have to accept the international standard.
There are only two major global financial centres: New York and London. It is important that we do what is right for our financial centre—and the United States takes the same view. We should not rely on international agreements. Too often it is the lowest common dominator that is agreed. The United States is going its own way, particularly with large banks. It realises that it is a major global financial centre and that New York is so important to the American economy that they have to get it right.
In the United Kingdom, the banking and financial sector is even more important to the British economy. In relative terms, it is five times as important to our economy as the American banking and financial sector is to theirs. Therefore, it is all the more important, if we are to have a strong and successful financial centre and a strong and successful economy in this country, to do what is right.
It is quite clear that that means that we should have a leverage ratio that may be the same as what is agreed internationally—if it is agreed internationally—but may well be a more prudent one. It certainly would not be a less prudent one, but it may be in the interests of the City of London and the British economy that it should be more prudent.
The amendment states that the decision should be taken by the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England. In a sense, my noble friend agreed with that when he said that the duty was already there and that we had given it to the committee. If that is so, it is good news. However, I suspect that it is not entirely the case. Therefore, it is very likely—in fact, more than likely—that we will come back to this very important issue on Report. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 93 withdrawn.
94: Before Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The PRA and the FCA must carry out a review of proprietary trading by banks.
(2) The review must be completed before the end of the period of 3 years beginning with the day on which this Act is passed.
(3) The PRA and the FCA must give the Treasury a report of the review.
(4) The report must include—
(a) an analysis of any action taken by the PRA and the FCA to monitor whether and to what extent banks engage in proprietary trading and any action taken by the PRA or the FCA to discourage banks from doing so;(b) an account of any difficulties encountered by the PRA or the FCA in taking that action and an assessment of its efficacy;(c) an account of any requirement imposed on banks which the PRA or the FCA consider may be engaging in proprietary trading to publish a statement of the banks’ exposure to risk in their trading operations and of the controls applied to limit that risk;(d) an assessment of the impact of the ring-fencing rules on proprietary trading by banks;(e) an assessment, drawing on experience in countries other than the United Kingdom, of the feasibility of prohibiting banks from engaging in proprietary trading or limiting the extent to which, or circumstances in which, they may do so (having regard, in particular, to any difficulties of definition); and(f) a comprehensive analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of prohibiting banks from engaging in proprietary trading or limiting the extent to which, or circumstances in which, they may do so.(5) The Treasury must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.
(6) The PRA and the FCA must publish the report in such manner as they think fit.
(7) The Treasury must, following receipt of the report, make arrangements for the carrying out of an independent review to consider the case for the taking of action in relation to proprietary trading by banks.
(8) The appointment by the Treasury of persons to carry out the review requires the consent of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons.
(9) The reference in subsection (8) to the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons—
(a) if the name of that Committee is changed, is to be treated as a reference to that Committee by its new name, and(b) if the functions of that Committee (or substantially corresponding functions) become functions of a different Committee of the House of Commons, is to be treated as a reference to the Committee by which the functions are exercisable; and any question arising under paragraph (a) or (b) is to be determined by the Speaker of the House of Commons. (10) The persons appointed to carry out the review must give the Treasury a report of the review once it has been concluded.
(11) The Treasury must lay a copy of the report before Parliament and publish it in such manner as it thinks fit.
(12) In this section—
(a) “proprietary trading”, in relation to a bank, means trading with funds on markets on the bank’s own account (whether or not in connection with business with the bank’s customers),(b) “ring-fencing rules” has the meaning given by section 417 of FSMA 2000.”
My Lords, this amendment is in my name and those of the noble Lords, Lord Turnbull and Lord McFall. It concerns proprietary trading, which gave the banking commission so much concern that we produced a report entirely devoted to the subject.
Proprietary trading is speculative activity conducted by an institution entirely for its own benefit, where no clients are involved at all. It uses its own financial resources to conduct the speculative activity, which can be very profitable. I have no argument with it taking place, but I have always believed that it is the sort of thing that hedge funds should be doing—and good luck to them. It is not something that banks should be doing.
There are two main reasons for this. One is that it can be exceedingly risky—and we know that there is enough risk in the system without that. Since the activity can be perfectly well done—and in a free market, should be done—by other institutions, namely the hedge funds, that is fine.
The other reason that it is dangerous for banks to do this is the issue of culture. When the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards was set up, one thing that we were charged to do was to look at the issue of banking culture, because it was clear that it had gone radically wrong. Two aspects of banking culture in particular are relevant here. One is prudence. It always used to be the case—and it should now be the case—that this is an essential part of the culture of any bank. People put their deposits in banks thinking that it is a safe thing to do because bankers are prudent. The other aspect of the culture is service to clients. Of course, with proprietary trading, by definition there is no client; there is no service to clients at all. It is pure speculation on the financial markets, and on the bank’s own books, without any clients being involved.
That is why my old friend Paul Volcker—whom I have known for many years; he was chairman of the Fed when I first became Chancellor, and I had a lot to do with him—lobbied the American Government to introduce what was called the Volcker rule, which forbids American banks from conducting proprietary trading. He did this for the same reasons that I outlined. However, we did not go that far.
Incidentally, it is interesting that proprietary trading was rife in British banking before the crash. As much as 30% of the business of some banks was proprietary trading. Now it has almost completely disappeared, in the aftermath of the crash. The banks are saying, “Why are you bothered about proprietary trading? We don't do it any more”. That is true—they do not. But they will. They will come back, as they did before. When they feel that they have got over the aftermath of the disaster, and the blood is coursing rather faster through their veins, they will take these risks and do it all over again.
What we have said is that this is a serious issue that needs to be addressed, and that in three years’ time there should be a serious review of this, which will take into account what is happening in the banking world and will see how the Americans have got on with banning proprietary trading for banks. I am not totally optimistic, because the Americans have a crazy legislative system in which, once a piece of legislation has been introduced, the legislators festoon it like a Christmas tree with all sorts of baubles of this, that and the other. The simple rule that Paul Volcker wanted has been encrusted with page after page of appalling legislation, which he regrets; he makes no bones about that. I am quite sure that we in this country, with our much superior system of government, would not do that.
Nevertheless, we will be able to learn something from the experience of the United States. We will learn from the experience of what happens over the next three years, and I strongly hope—again, I cannot see any objection—that the Government will accept the amendment, which calls for a review to be held in three years’ time, and, in the light of that, for the Government to decide whether we should have a Volcker rule in this country and whether we should ban banks, although certainly not hedge funds, from engaging in proprietary trading.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, in this amendment. It seems a modest amendment, calling for a review in three years’ time when the appropriate information from the United States will be available. It will be valuable to have this clause in the legislation to ensure that that review takes place, because it is so easy—given the exigencies of the moment—for major issues, which were recognised as major in the past, to be neglected because of day-to-day pressures. Therefore, having done all our work on banking in the Bill, if we set this process in motion so that the review happens, we will be performing a valuable service.
My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I moved Amendment 91B at the close of our second day in Committee, which overlapped to a considerable extent with this amendment. In my amendment, I also talked about looking at the cultural as well as economic effects of this mass of gambling, as it is, within the financial markets. I hope that the Government will smile upon this; it may be that if it comes back on Report I will try to amalgamate my amendment and this one.
My Lords, I also support my noble friend’s amendment, but with some qualifications and a request for some clarification. The amendment simply refers to “proprietary trading by banks”; that does not distinguish between one part of a ring-fenced bank and another. The arguments on this issue are so clear that we should take a perfectly clear view that there ought to be no proprietary trading whatever by any ring-fenced bank.
There is also no real need to wait three years for such an inquiry. My noble friend referred to the Volcker rule in America; not all of us in this Chamber have Paul Volcker as a personal friend, but I have great respect for him. He is absolutely right that this should not be carrying on in the United States. Although it may be that there has been a decrease for the moment, over a period of three years the situation might change somewhat. Therefore, we could take a clearer view on this between now and Report than is set out in the amendment. As my noble friend has pointed out, this is effectively the banks’ carrying out risky trading on their own behalf—in the past, not infrequently, it was risky trading on their own behalf with clients’ money—and this, again, is a crucial point. Perhaps we should clarify that aspect of the matter, but I have not the slightest doubt that this is a move in the right direction and I hope that we can make rapid progress on it.
I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, that it is certainly not intended, while this activity might remain within a banking group, that it should be done, under the plan, by a ring-fenced bank. One of the reasons why we took the view that we should wait and see is that the dividing line between a proprietary trade and a trade on behalf of a customer is not straightforward, which is why it is very difficult in the US. For example, if I lend the noble Lord money he may seek some kind of hedge which I would provide. That might mean that my position as the bank is no longer what I really want it to be. As a bank, I would look around to see what my colleagues have done during the course of the day, and we would then add up all the positions that we have taken. We may well find that that position is not where we really want to be, so on the following day the bank goes out and undertakes a trade which gets it back to the degree of hedged position that it wants. Was that a proprietary trade or was it a trade that was a consequence of serving a customer? That is why this is actually very difficult and why we are wise to wait and see whether workable definitions could be found of what constitutes real proprietary trading and of what constitutes trading in response to a customer. This measured amendment enables us to do precisely that.
My Lords, the ICB considered in detail the case for a ban on proprietary trading in the UK, but decided in favour of ring-fencing. The PCBS heard evidence from a wide range of sources that prop trading does not appear to play a large role in the UK at the moment—as my noble friend Lord Lawson pointed out—nor did it play a significant role in the financial crisis. The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, has already addressed the question of my noble friend Lord Higgins, but it should of course be noted that the ring-fenced banks will be banned from proprietary trading as well as from market-making and other forms of trading activity that would expose them to risks from global financial markets. Therefore, from a prudential perspective, much of the risk posed by prop trading can be addressed by a suitably robust ring-fence which is, of course, the thrust of our legislation. This was the point made by the PRA in response to questions from the PCBS.
It is also worth noting that the evidence heard by the PCBS also suggests that prop trading is not necessarily the sole avenue for the cultural contamination of banks. For example, the PCBS highlighted in its excellent report the serious failings in culture and standards at HBOS, a bank which did not engage in any prop trading at all. Indeed, it is perfectly possible to run an integrated securities business with full integrity in a way that manages any potential conflicts of interest quite satisfactorily, so they do not necessarily follow. It is far from clear, therefore, that prop trading is the real problem facing the UK financial system, or that structural solutions address cultural problems. In light of that, and of observations about the practical difficulties of a ban on prop trading, as it is being attempted in the US through the Volcker rule, the PCBS did not recommend a ban on prop trading.
It is not wholly clear what further evidence would support a different conclusion to that reached by the PCBS in its own assessment, so it is unclear what a further review into proprietary trading within such a short period of the PCBS’s own report would add. Still less is there a need for such a review to be followed immediately by an independent review of the same question. Of course, we have no issue with reviews as a matter of principle: we are just not sure that, in this case, legislating for one in advance really does much for us.
As the findings of the PCBS do not suggest that prop trading presents a serious prudential risk at this time, I do not think we need to legislate for the regulator to carry out a further review. The absolutely valid point made by my noble friend Lord Lawson was that this could change in the future. That is what we are trying to address. Should that happen, the PRA has made it clear that it already has the powers it needs to bear down on prop trading where it endangers the safety and soundness of a firm or where the risk incurred is not consistent with the publicly stated risk appetite of a bank.
Moreover, monitoring and reviewing all risks to a bank constitutes an essential part of the PRA’s work. The PRA’s approach is to insist that firms adopt and follow a risk appetite that is consistent with the PRA’s statutory objective to promote the safety and soundness of firms that it regulates. This will include regular monitoring and review of all risks, not limited just to those associated with prop trading. Therefore, to require the PRA by legislation to undertake such a review seems unnecessary. Should we legislate for a review of how reference rates are set, for example? Should we legislate for a review of mis-selling practices? Why, therefore, should we do it for prop trading? It is not apparent to me what problem a review would solve. While I think that reviews can play a useful role, in this case we are not sure that it is justified in advance.
We need to give the regulator the space to allocate its resources in a way that is appropriate and proportionate when considering all the different risks to the UK financial system, not only focusing on one particular risk. Our more widely framed reporting requirements allow for this. For all of these reasons, I do not think that a review on the particular issue of prop trading is necessary. The regulators are already subject to extensive reporting requirements. I expect the PRA to make the Treasury, and Parliament, aware of any emerging risks it identifies, whether through prop trading or anything else. The deputy governor for financial stability has already written to the chair of the Treasury Committee, offering to discuss arrangements for reporting. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, the Minister says that we do not want to have the regulator wasting resources. However, if we ban an activity, it would not waste resources. I am also not absolutely clear—I thought I was—that we are going to say that proprietary trading by a ring-fenced bank is absolutely banned. If that is so, ought we not to make it absolutely clear in the Bill?
On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, we have to distinguish between proprietary trading and other activities such as hedging as there may be a case for the bank operating on behalf of its clients by hedging for a foreign exchange risk or whatever. However, that is not at all the same as what is normally meant, certainly by Paul Volcker, whereby banks use a client’s money to take on particularly risky investments which have nothing to do with the client.
I was trying to be clear but I shall reinforce my comments. I think this issue was covered on the first day in Committee when we dealt with the details of ring-fencing. It is clear that proprietary trading for ring-fenced banks is not allowed; it is an excluded activity, as defined. As my noble friend implies, there are some exceptions to that which are predominantly related to a bank’s own hedging activities to deal with its own surplus liquidity. My noble friend’s phrasing was accurate and the issue is included in the Bill.
My Lords, I think that there has been a slight misunderstanding. My noble friend the Minister said that we have gone down the ring-fencing route instead. That is a different matter altogether. The idea of ring-fencing is to put a sharp barrier between the commercial banking operations of a universal bank—the lending to individuals and to small businesses and, indeed, medium-sized businesses—and the investment banking activities. There should be a line between them. There is also the great question, which we debated earlier, as to whether there should be a total separation. This is about whether a universal bank—I agree with my noble friend that it would not be done in the ring-fenced part—should be permitted to engage in proprietary trading at all.
It is all very well to say that there may be cultural contamination as a result of proprietary trading but that, as there are other forms of cultural contamination as well, we should not bother about this one. I do not buy that. If we can significantly reduce the amount of cultural contamination by making proprietary trading by banks illegal, that is a plus. There may still be other problems with the banking culture, but at least we would have solved an important part of it.
My noble friend the Minister also seemed to say that there was no need to review this issue. There is a need to review it for the very reason that the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, pointed out. The overwhelming weight of evidence received by the commission in conducting its inquiry was that it would be a very good idea for banks not to engage in proprietary trading for some of the reasons that I and other noble Lords have given in this short debate. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, identified, the problem was how precisely you define proprietary trading and distinguish between it and market-making and some of the other activities referred to.
I have known Paul Volcker for 30 years. He is a very wise old bird. I am not suggesting that my noble friend the Minister is not wise, but of all the people I have known in the financial sector Paul Volcker is among the wisest, if not the wisest. If he thinks that this measure is desirable and workable, that carries a great deal of weight with me. He said that if a chief executive of a bank did not know whether or not he was engaging in proprietary trading he ought to be fired. At one level that is a perfectly good answer. Nevertheless, there is a complicated issue of definition. That is why we have said that we should see how things develop over the next three years and see whether there is a workable system in the United States or whether those who say that it is completely impossible to have a satisfactory definition because it will not work are right. We will find that out and then we will take action accordingly.
It is nice to hear mention of the notion that the PRA can bear down on proprietary trading as it implies an acceptance that there is, or could be, a problem. However, that is not the same thing as saying very clearly that no bank should be doing this, even if it is not a ring-fenced bank. At present, the Bill does not go far enough in that regard. This is something to which we will almost certainly wish to return on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 94 withdrawn.
95: Before Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The FCA and the PRA must prepare (and may from time to time revise) a remuneration code.
(2) The remuneration code is to apply to all persons who have approval under section 59 of FSMA 2000 to perform a function in relation to the carrying on by a bank of a regulated activity which is designated under subsection (6B) or (6C) of that section as a senior management function.
(3) The remuneration code must—
(a) require that persons to whom the remuneration code applies are, except in specified circumstances, to receive a proportion of their remuneration in the form of variable remuneration,(b) require that a specified measure of profits is to be used in calculating any variable remuneration which is calculated by reference to profits,(c) require that the nature and amount of variable remuneration is to strike an appropriate balance between risk to the bank providing it and fair reward for the receipient of it,(d) require a proportion of variable remuneration to be deferred for such period, not exceeding 10 years, as is appropriate to strike a balance between risk to the bank providing it and fair reward for the recipient of it, (e) require that no, or only a limited amount of, variable remuneration of a person to whom the remuneration code applies is to be calculated by reference to sales made by the person or by any group of persons employed by the bank providing it, and(f) require that non-executive directors of a bank are not to receive variable remuneration.(4) A requirement imposed by the remuneration code is a relevant requirement for the purposes of Part 14 of FSMA 2000.
(5) In this section “variable remuneration” means remuneration (whether in money or in securities or any other form of money’s worth) the amount or value of which varies in accordance with profits, sales or other matters.”
This amendment stands in my name and in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Lawson and Lord McFall. It seeks to legislate for a remuneration code for banks administered by the PRA and the FCA and to provide some headings on its content. I shall speak also to Amendment 96 which seeks to establish a more stringent regime for clawback.
We can analyse this remuneration issue at several levels. Is a special regime needed for banks? We already have a regime for remuneration in UK corporates, partly determined by BIS regulations and partly enforced by the guidance issued by investors and investor groups such as the ABI and the NAPF. This remuneration structure has recently been reinforced by increasing the amount of disclosure and by increasing the voting power of shareholders. We also have—or have had—a remuneration code for financial institutions—going wider than banks—administered by the old FSA. Why should we go to something more stringent for banks?
The Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards took the view that a special regime for banks beyond that required for other financial institutions and listed companies generally was justified. Why was that? We identified a number of characteristics that make banks special. They are responsible for an essential service which has to be operated continuously and has, hitherto at least, created a presumption of being too big or too complex to fail, thereby creating an implicit guarantee which can be exploited. Banks are highly interconnected and can fail very quickly, damaging not just themselves but affecting people’s confidence in other parts of the banking industry and the wider economy. Banks are also very highly geared, as has been mentioned today. Their capital structure is not at all like that of the general run of FTSE companies. Equity counts for low single figures. Like the noble Lord, Lord Flight, I read Essays in Money and Banking in Honour of R S Sayers, and the ratios were vastly higher in those days. As a result, those running banks are incentivised to take risks and their shareholders are incentivised to support them. Therefore, I think you can rely less on countervailing pressure from shareholders to achieve restraint in bank remuneration.
Banks are also special in the way they behave. Total remuneration has increased hugely and takes a very high share of the total surplus compared with dividends, taxation, retentions, building up capital and so on. As has also been said today, cash bonuses have been paid on the basis of mark-to-market profits which, in the end, proved ephemeral. There is unlimited upside when remuneration takes the form of equity but, unlike the old partnerships which have gradually been superseded, there is limited downside.
If you accept the premise that there should be something special for banks, what should be the content of this regime? The first thing that should not be there is what the EU and the European Parliament are trying to put in: a limit on the ratio of variable pay to base pay. That is likely to be counterproductive, pushing up base pay and reducing the quantum which is provisional and, therefore, at risk of clawback. What should be there is something about the proportion of variable pay that is deferred and the time period over which it is deferred. The commission recommended that some, not necessarily all, could be deferred for up to 10 years, in recognition of the cyclical nature of banking.
Amendment 96 seeks to strengthen clawback. The terms “clawback” and “malus” sometimes get muddled up. Most of what people have said is strengthening clawback is better described as malus. It is where remuneration has been conditionally offered but not yet vested and there is still the option of cancelling the vesting. This clause suggests that, in the really serious case of a bank being run so badly that it fails and ends up being taken into public ownership or requiring the commitment of public money, even sums that have been vested should be at risk. Some of this could be pension money. If someone has paid for a pension regularly, through contributions, I would, by and large, say it was their money. However, we have seen instances where very large, discretionary amounts are paid into people’s pension funds precisely in order to put them somewhere where, hitherto, they have had immunity.
Those are the principal components of the amendments. You could go further. For example, Charles Goodhart has argued that it is a mistake, in the case of banks, to make variable pay take the form of shares because the shares are highly geared and it would be better if a significant amount was not in shares but in bailable bonds. This would limit the upside but that value would not be transferred if the bank failed.
What is the scope of these arrangements? How far down the bank should they go? They should certainly cover the senior managers’ regime. What is offered below that is not the licensing regime that we suggested which should apply to people who had the ability to damage the bank in some way. As it is set up at the moment, it could be any employee, which is a much less focused scope in terms of who is covered.
The other issue is about which parts of banking should be covered. We came across this argument and are still uncertain about whether it is those people who work in entities which take deposits or whether it should also cover people engaged in investment banking, which is the common sense view. Another amendment in my name attempts—probably unsuccessfully—to produce a definition which is wider than simply those who are in banking entities which take deposits. However, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, has written to a number of noble Lords recognising this problem and undertaking—I hope he will confirm this—to work with us to find a definition which covers the kind of people and activities that we want it to.
The final question is whether this all needs legislation. I can confidently predict the noble Lord’s response as we have had it at least three times today. I think he will say, “We agree there is a need for a special regime for banks and we agree on lots of the components that should be in it. We will work with you to agree the coverage, but we do not agree that it needs to be in legislation as the PRA has all the powers that it needs”. I think that is pretty much what is in his folder. Why is the commission pressing for legislation? In the whole of the financial crisis, two issues have infuriated the general public. The first, which we dealt with last week, is the absence or extreme weakness of personal accountability. The second is the sense that the bankers made the money but did not lose it in the bad times. They were incentivised to excessive risk-taking: too much upside, not enough downside. The public find the existing regime incomprehensible and they want something done about it. In particular, they want assurance that it cannot happen again. The way to ensure that there is no backsliding is to provide the powers proposed in my amendment. We should also set some of the parameters of what that covers.
My Lords, we have already, on some previous amendments, begun to discuss the issue of the culture within banks and the culture which contributed significantly to the disaster in the banking system of the past four or five years. Nowhere does that bite become more evident than in the issue of remuneration. There has been considerable disquiet about the sheer scale of remuneration but this amendment, particularly in terms of the elements listed under subsection (3), goes to the heart of the matter which is the relationship between remuneration and risk-taking and the way in which remuneration systems incentivised, to an extraordinary degree, risk-taking which went way beyond the ability of the financial institution to manage it effectively.
If we are to persist with the banking structure we now have in this country, with very, very large banks—which are extremely difficult to manage—dominating the banking scene, then it is necessary to de-incentivise the risk-taking which did so much damage. That is the most valuable element in this amendment. The elements to which the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, referred are also important, but we need to provide a clear statement that a remuneration code will be developed which does not incentivise selling insurance or financial instruments that individuals or firms do not need. This has been a characteristic of banking in this country over the past four or five years and has been directly incentivised by remuneration structures. We have to remove that sort of structure by giving the FCA and the PRA the responsibility to develop a code, expressed here in quite flexible terms, without the excessive rigidity in current European Union proposals. This is a very flexible structure but it focuses on the exact issue of incentives and risk-taking. In that sense, I think that it could achieve an enormous amount in changing the culture in British banking and in ensuring that banking is more stable and significantly safer than it has been in the past.
My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury. He regrets very much that he cannot be in his seat today, but it is seldom that one has the opportunity to offer Christian baptism to a young couple, particularly when their child is a future heir to the throne of this country. None the less, I know that he, like me, would want to echo the support for these amendments, which have been spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Turnbull and Lord Eatwell. In a sense, I now regret that I am here doing my duty, because I could not have put it better myself.
In the wake of the economic debacles following 2008, one of the greatest areas of concern among the public was the apparent lack of change in the financial fortunes of those whom they viewed as being most responsible for the banking crisis. As we have heard, the salaries of senior bankers seem to remain high and bonus levels have quickly regained their old levels, while for many ordinary people and ordinary businesses across the country, it has been a matter of tightening the belt and looking very seriously at difficult household and commercial budget decisions. The submission of the Church of England’s Mission and Public Affairs Council to the banking commission said of this disparity between what I am going to talk about as two cultures that it,
“has gravely harmed the public perception of banking”.
Recognition of the disjunction between these disconnected groups—the wider public, who need the services of good banks, and those who lead those banks—is, I believe, at the heart of what these amendments seek to achieve. It is about implementing sensible measures, and we have been very sensible this afternoon, one with another, about what needs to be done: striking an appropriate balance between risk and reward; looking to the long-term benefits of decisions made by key figures in the banks; and giving incentives for a trustworthy and productive culture, rather than one that promotes excessive risks, ending in disaster. Deferred remuneration, which we have in this proposal, and clawback provisions —central components of the proposed remuneration code—are technical terms, but at the heart of these principles is a simple question: what sort of culture, as has been mentioned by several noble Lords, do we want to establish in these organisations? As the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has already pointed out to the Committee, one rather well known former banking executive said that there had been a culture in the banks focused on what happened when people were not looking.
There is now an increasing interest, including in your Lordships’ House, in culture, and we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, about the two principles of prudence and customer-centred or customer-focused culture. I hope that both the Government and the banks will give a high priority to insisting on these profound changes in culture. Indeed, at a regional level—and this may seem a little parochial for the high level of discussion that we are engaged in this afternoon—in Birmingham and the Midlands, well resourced bank employees from well resourced organisations, their banks, are already looking way beyond their computer screens and boardrooms to wider and deeper responsibilities in the community. They are looking at simple things such as finding and supporting young entrepreneurs, and giving basic financial skills to local citizens—I have said before in your Lordships’ House that there are 100,000 citizens in Birmingham who do not have a bank account—and they are even getting involved in making sure that future employees of the bank in our local primary schools have enough food at breakfast so that they can learn the basic skills of their education.
These tentative cross-cultural relationships and initiatives give me hope not only that executives in banks will run sound businesses but that, as they experience and affect for good the lives of ordinary citizens, including those who are much less protected than themselves in ordinary life, the worthy values printed in the foyers of the headquarters of many of our large banks may at last begin to enter not just the policies of the banks and their structures and cultures but the policies, structures and cultures of the leading executives in those banks. I shall mention just one of those banks where these values appear; in fact, I may not mention which bank it is because I think that noble Lords should try to work out which one I am talking about. Those values read: “Serving Customers”; “Working Together”; “Doing the Right Thing”—a new one that has been inserted; and, fourthly, “Thinking Long Term”. It is in the policies, structures and cultures of the leading executives in those banks that I believe culture change will really happen. We have high expectations of that change but, as many noble Lords have said, it needs to be undergirded by legislation. It cannot be left simply to hope or chance or to the individual motivation of altruistic colleagues.
Therefore, I welcome that in both amendments we find provisions to limit sales-based incentives at both the individual and business unit level. In the PPI scandal, we saw what happens when banks come to value the sale of financial products as the objective of the whole exercise, with little or no thought for customers’ needs. Banks are now having to take responsibility for this culture of “selling at any cost” and the new remuneration code before us seeks to make explicit the realisation that an excessively sales-based culture can be very damaging both to the financial well-being of customers and to the reputation of the banks.
I hope that my noble friend the Minister will recognise that this amendment is not seeking to overly restrict remuneration, devalue the work that our senior bankers undertake or unduly affect the competitiveness of our world-beating banking sector. What it does is to set out some of the values and virtues that should underlie the banking system: long-term risk management; a fair balance between risk and rewards; valuing customer needs above the sale; and, above all, valuing collective interest beyond the individual or the unit, or even the bank itself. This will be good for both business and society.
My Lords, I commend the mover of the amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull. If, as I assume, this matter is brought back at Report, I should like to raise two questions. The first concerns the fact that the code is to be solely the responsibility of the FCA and the PRA. I wonder whether it should have a broader base than that. The City is a real bubble. The two authorities are part of that bubble, as are most of the people working in them. Everybody—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, in moving the amendment—has said that we have to break out of this small enclave to understand the wider national, social and cultural impact of what is going on in the square mile. I just throw that idea out.
My second question concerns proposed new subsection (3)(a) in the amendment, which requires that those subject to the code shall,
“receive a proportion of their remuneration in the form of variable remuneration”,
although it does allow specific exceptions. For the life of me, I do not see why that is being insisted upon. Twenty-five years ago, most of the senior bank executives and those on the boards of banks did not receive a variable element in their remuneration at all. The problem that the amendment seeks to address was not present then, or at least not remotely to the degree that it now is. Therefore, again, if this matter is to be brought back at Report, I should be grateful if more thought could be given to the need for subsection (3)(a).
My Lords, I support the amendment. The most important and admired banker of the 20th century—the late Sir Brian Pitman, the former chairman and CEO of Lloyds—came to the Future of Banking Commission, which I established, and on which David Davis MP, Vince Cable, Roger Bootle and others served. He gave us a lesson that day: he said very clearly that he understood that banks should be run for the long-term benefit of shareholders, and that that was what customers wanted most.
Sir Brian’s synopsis of what mattered to him as a banker was very clear, when he said in evidence to us:
“Nobody is a greater believer in shareholder value than me ... It’s long term shareholder value and everything has to be structured around the long term, particularly the remuneration structure … The minute you move to a huge emphasis on short term big bonuses you're going to change the behaviour. It is perfectly possible, in our case for 17 years when I was there”—
at Lloyds, that is—
“we were doubling the value of the company every three years for 17 years. Nearly everybody had shares in the company; messengers were worth a quarter of a million pounds when I left because we’d been successful as an organisation. But we believed it all had to start with the customer”.
He was very clear that if you had the customer in mind in terms of remuneration, you had to measure it on a 10-year basis. Only that way do you find out about the business cycle, and about whether the money paid in bonuses is money that has really been earned at all. As was said earlier, that money was not really earned in the past, because remuneration was based on expected profits, which did not materialise.
For the senior executives in banks it was upwards all the way: whether the bank went down or up, they had their bonuses. Sir Brian distinguished banks from other organisations as follows: “Banks and insurance companies have the unique ability to engineer increases in profits by pulling a lever that forces their banks to take more risks to lend and invest more relative to their capital resources, unlike other institutions”. That is why, in our report, we wanted a statutory basis, and we wanted the regulator to look at this issue.
When the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, and I were on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards we considered the same issue on our sub-committee. We examined Barclays and its culture, and looked in particular at the structured capital management division —which, incidentally, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, referred to as tax avoidance on an industrial scale.
We wanted to find out about the business model for that, and we spoke to insiders. When Sir David Walker and Antony Jenkins came to the committee, we had prepared questions, and my question for Sir David was along these lines:
“I would like copies of all management reporting and management performance information provided to Roger Jenkins”—
who established BarCap, along with Bob Diamond—
“and Iain Abrahams to support the bonus pool”—
in other words, to provide the numbers for us. I continued:
“The second one is the information used for the purposes of calculating the bonus pool of the structured capital management division, and the information used for determining the bonuses in particular for”,
three senior executives for the past decade.
The reason why we asked for that information is that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, said in the evidence session that Roger Jenkins, who established the division, had had more than £40 million in one year. Bob Diamond had £100 million over a 10-year period. We wanted to find out exactly how they had earned that. The insiders told us that in 2008 BarCap was responsible for 110% of the profits of the whole entity. Here we had a tax avoidance unit on a massive scale masquerading as a bank, and responsible for 110% of the profits—and we did not have a clue how they made their money. I said that we wanted the information,
“in sufficient detail in order to identify each of the subcategories of the structured capital management business. In that respect, it will be the year-end management accounts information and quarterly reports information”,
which we received. We went on to ask for more—and we received absolutely zilch information. So, as we take this banking reform Bill through the House, we still do not know exactly what BarCap was up to.
What I—and the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, and others—want to know is that the regulator has the authority, so that it can see exactly how a business is performing and getting its money, and what business model and culture it has, so that the remuneration structure does indeed have a long-term basis and serves the long-term interests of society and of customers. That is not happening to date. That is why the amendment is before the House.
My Lords, I am not sure that I agree entirely with what my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury said about what happened 25 years ago in that the senior management of investment banks—merchant banks, as we called them then—did not enjoy variable remuneration. I worked for Kleinwort Benson for 23 years, and then for Fleming for four years, and more recently for the Japanese bank Mizuho for five years. To me, the culture of Kleinwort Benson was absolutely excellent, honourable and upright, even though it was doing investment banking.
There was a considerable cultural difference between the banking department and the bond trading department, but that reflected the environments in which the various people were carrying out their activities. We should also remember that even the asset management business was not separated at all at that time, and there were obviously enormous conflicts between underwriting securities and buying those same securities for clients’ managed portfolios. Those conflicts were dealt with internally, because of the overall culture, which was excellent. That was one of the reasons why the City of London earned respect around the world, and other places have attempted to model their own financial centres on what they perceived to have been London’s strengths.
Notwithstanding the disasters that have befallen us, quite a lot of that regard and respect still obtains today around the world. I worry that we are going too far down the road of state interference in remuneration, which is properly the responsibility of management, who are accountable to shareholders. In a command economy that may be the normal thing to do, but I do not believe that if we go too far down that road it will lead to the establishment of the kind of culture that existed in the City of London for decades. That is tarnished and damaged—we all agree—but I believe that it should be restored.
I do not believe that the case is made that the state should interfere too much in the salaries of bankers, any more than it does in those of the senior management of utility companies, for example. I fear that if the state interferes too much in this area it will definitely lead to the best bankers in the generation now coming up going to work in other centres. Many noble Lords may say, “Good riddance. If they are so greedy, we don’t want them here”, but I do not believe that that is so. We must have a regime that can attract the very best bankers—and I mean the very best in terms of the most capable, but also those with excellent moral standards because that is absolutely necessary.
Over the past few years, the interference in setting the variable remuneration of controlled persons or senior managers in banks has led to a massive increase in fixed salaries in all banks, including small banks and Japanese banks which do not pay multimillion pound bonuses. The senior directors in Tokyo do not receive the kind of figures that shock ordinary hardworking people in this country. That is understandable because they do not accept that a banker is worth thousands of times more than a comparable engineer or anyone else. Inflation in salaries has occurred over the past three or four years because of the limited interference in variable remuneration that has already happened, and I am certain that if we go as far as this amendment would take us, that will lead to a great deal more inflation in the fixed salary element.
That is my advice, based on my experience of being a banker in a merchant bank. Fleming was an investment house that became a merchant bank, but it was not one of the original accepting houses. The Bank of England had an influence on the accepting houses, but they were rightly highly regarded. Of course there were slip-ups from time to time, and there always will be, but if we set up a framework that creates an environment where everything is tightly prescribed by the state, that will not encourage innovation or lead to the development of the right kind of responsible culture.
My Lords, I strongly support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull. I know that my noble friend Lord Higgins wants to give us the benefit of his wisdom, but perhaps I may intervene now because I would like to explain to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, why he has got completely the wrong end of the stick in terms of what this amendment is about. I must say that I was puzzled when he said that one of the reasons we got into difficulties with banking was because of interference with bankers’ remuneration. There has been no interference with bankers’ remuneration at all. It is true that there is a proposal from the European Union to cap bonuses, but that is not something we have in this country and the commission was explicit in saying that we do not want to see it. This amendment has nothing to do with that.
This amendment is about the structure of remuneration, not the quantum. We are not making a statement about the quantum, but about the structure. I shall explain why that is so. I am sure that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham will accept that nothing in this world is without flaws. I yield to no one in my conviction that, for all its flaws, the market system is the best system for conducting an economy and securing economic prosperity for the benefit of the people of a country. One of the essential elements of the market system, without which it cannot work, is the fear of failure. However innovative, adventurous and enterprising industrialists may be, they always know that if they get it wrong, they will fail. The fear of failure is vital because it is an essential market discipline. The problem in banking is that when you have banks that are too big to fail, that fundamental discipline does not work. That is the difficulty. If it is the case, as it was in the management of the banks up to the crisis, of “Let’s gamble, because heads I win, and tails the taxpayer loses”, you are encouraging gambling. You are bound to see more recklessness, which is exactly the reverse of what banks should be doing.
The noble Viscount referred to the good old days of the merchant banks. I knew them very well. While I did not have the privilege of working in a merchant bank, for a time I wrote the Lex column in the Financial Times, so I got to know them. One of the reasons for their great success was that although they were extremely innovative and they were staffed by very clever people, on the whole they were partnerships, and the partners had their own fortunes at stake. That was the vitally important discipline, but that is not the case with the banks. Incidentally, however, it is the case for hedge funds. I can recall, as will many noble Lords, that some years back there were a few people who thought there were dangers in the City and that some things might go wrong. What did they point to? They pointed to the so-called shadow banking system—the hedge funds. They thought that the big banks were fine, but that those dodgy hedge funds might cause problems. In fact, there were very few problems with them. Why was that? First, the hedge funds knew that they were not too big to fail. They knew that they would not be bailed out by the taxpayer. Secondly, on the whole, the proprietors’ own money was invested in the hedge fund.
This remuneration code set out in the amendment is not the whole solution to this problem. We have to make it possible for banks to fail, and that is part of what the Government have been doing with the resolution procedures and the bail-ins; we have read page after page on that. We have to enable banks to fail because that is the only way we will get the right kind of system; not that we want them to fail, but it has to be possible for them to do so. But unfortunately, at the present time, I do not think that they will be allowed to fail. They believe that they will always be bailed out by the taxpayer, so we have to buttress this in another way.
One of the most important aims of the amendment is to replicate after a fashion the discipline of the partnership. It provides that the PRA will be able to insist that bonuses—saying nothing about how much they are—would have to be deferred for a number of years in order to ensure that top management is more careful. It will know that it cannot grab the all bonus money in one year in the knowledge that the institution will be bailed out later on. Management will have to think a bit longer term. In a sense, it is like top managers’ own capital being invested in the company because their bonuses will be deferred for a number of years. The amendment provides a remuneration code to act as a sort of buttress. On its own it will not do much, but it could serve as an important buttress to other measures that the Government are introducing—there are a few more that I would like to see introduced. That will give us a banking system which is not a casino.
My Lords, I have listened carefully to my noble friend Lord Lawson and I apologise if, as he said, I got the wrong end of the stick. I would like to make just two points. With regard to my noble friend’s assertion that there has been no interference in variable remuneration by the state until now, unfortunately I believe that that is not correct. I have served on the executive committee of a bank since 2009 and the regulator has definitely interfered with the variable remuneration in terms of its ratio to fixed remuneration. Over the past three years, that has led the firm to increase fixed salaries considerably, and that has been going on in many banks all over the City. I am just saying that that has already happened and that the attempt to apply restrictions on the proportion of variable to fixed remuneration has led to inflation in fixed salaries.
The second point is that Kleinwort Benson was a listed company when I joined it and that the other merchant banks were mostly companies by that stage. I agree entirely with my noble friend that the partnership ethos was still there, but the listed nature of the businesses enabled even relatively junior people to be awarded modest amounts of shares as part of their variable remuneration from an early stage.
My Lords, we have had a fascinating debate within a debate between the noble Viscount and my noble friend Lord Lawson. I merely make one or two points. It seems to me that there is a case for a remuneration code. In a way we could let the amendment end after subsections (1) and (2) and leave it to the FCA and PRA to take a view. It raises the question of whether, after they have done so, the code they come up with ought then to be considered further in this House. I leave that on one side.
As far as culture is concerned, what my former constituents regard as unfortunate is the whole culture of bonuses. I think that they take very strongly the view that the people concerned should be paid a rate for the job and then get on with it. Rather than specify, as this amendment does, that a proportion must be in the form of remuneration which is variable, I think they would rather the opposite—or at any rate, that the proportion which is variable should be limited.
There are, of course, very real practical problems concerning remuneration in a company which is clearly going on the rocks, when one needs to recruit someone to sort it out. That is a particular case. More generally, we could usefully consider the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull. The argument for his attitude, if I understand it correctly, on variable remuneration is, “If it is variable, we can claw it back at some later stage”, but that may be a long while after the actual events have taken place. There is also the problem of companies being not just too big to fail but, as has been said on previous occasions, too big to manage. Part of that problem is that we are looking at remuneration for banks which are in that situation. What has become clear in recent events is that people have been paid very large sums when the organisation they are asking to manage is not capable of being managed at the size that it is. Be that as it may, there is a case for a remuneration code, but we should probably leave it to the bodies concerned, which are suggested in this amendment.
My Lords, we have had an extremely wide-ranging debate on many aspects of bankers’ remuneration. I remind the House of the two specific amendments in front of us. The first imposes a duty on regulators to prepare an additional code on remuneration in relation to senior managers of banks, while the second proposes additional powers for regulators to claw back deferred remuneration of employees of banks that require state aid.
The statutory requirement on regulators to prepare another remuneration code aims to implement a set of remuneration reforms similar to those recommended by the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. I will explain why the existing remuneration code, current rule-making powers and further regulatory action in response to the parliamentary commission provide a clear basis for the implementation of these proposed reforms.
The existing remuneration code addresses the commission’s objectives for regulating remuneration in a way that combines a concrete legal basis with a rigorous system for application. The remuneration code is made under the rule-making powers given to the regulators in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, including Section 137H, which extends the provision which may be included in remuneration rules. Any breaches of the regulator’s rules, including breaches of the remuneration code, can be punished with serious sanctions. The code reflects the Financial Stability Board’s principles and standards for sound compensation practices, and European legislation under CRD IV. So this is a code established under statute and therefore might not in any way be thought to be ephemeral.
The content of the existing code already goes a long way to addressing the content proposed in the amendment and, where that is not the case, the regulators have indicated their intention to consult further on any necessary changes. So, for using profits to calculate pay, the existing code states that firms must assess current and future risks, and the need for consistency with the timing and likelihood of the future revenues. This clearly requires firms to calculate profit-based remuneration carefully with regard to risks to the bank. On the balancing of risk and reward, the code makes extensive reference to the close relationship that remuneration and risk considerations must have. Reward calculation based on profit and non-financial metrics must encourage effective risk management and not constitute a risk itself.
On pay deferral, the code specifically requires that at least 60% of variable remuneration above £500,000 or to a director of a significantly-sized firm is deferred over a period of not less than three to five years. On top of the existing requirement, the regulators have said in their response to the PCBS that they will consider adding to their code requirements on deferral. In this area, the existing code is already rigorous and set to become even more so. Regarding the issue of variable pay for non-executive directors, the PRA has stated clearly in its response to the PCBS that there is currently a presumption that this practice should not take place and that this will continue to be the case.
The FCA is conducting a thematic review of sales-related incentives and assessing what action would most effectively prevent those presenting conduct and stability risks. This could include further high-level remuneration principles for staff not subject to the full remuneration code. Additionally, the PRA and FCA have stated that they will update the remuneration code following consultation next year. This review will take into account the PCBS recommendations, including those on a greater use of instruments such as bail-in bonds to tackle the practice of compensating recruits on change of employment and greater and more granular disclosure by remuneration committees in banks’ annual reports.
Therefore, to specify in primary legislation exactly what the code should cover on top of the rigorous current approach seems unnecessarily rigid. The exact content of the code will need to be updated from time to time, including in the light of international best practice. Ensuring that the regulators have the necessary powers and authority to undertake such changes in a timely manner is crucial—and that is already achieved in FiSMA. Overprescribing in primary legislation risks adding an unwieldy layer to what is already an effective process.
I believe we have already given the regulators the necessary powers to apply rules to manage financial stability risk and promote responsible behaviour in banks. The existing code is based on internationally agreed principles and is responsive enough to incorporate new provisions when called for. Indeed, nowhere is this clearer than in how the PRA and FCA revisions of the code, and the FCA thematic review, will take account of the parliamentary commission’s recommendations.
On the subject of the clawback of deferred remuneration at banks in receipt of state aid, I should begin by being clear that the Government perhaps more than that of any other country, recognise the consequences of bailing out financial institutions. We have been clear that individuals must be held accountable for misconduct and that there should be no rewards for failure. The Government agree that there should be specific powers available for the regulator in relation to remuneration at banks where they require state assistance. The ability to reduce or revoke deferred remuneration when a bank requires state aid would further strengthen accountability and complement the extensive reforms which the Government have undertaken to remove the implicit taxpayer guarantee.
However, regulators already have the power to require the cancellation of deferred remuneration and loss of office payments where a bank requires state-aid support under their existing powers. In the PRA code, specific provision is made for the reduction of deferred remuneration where a bank suffers subsequent poor performance. Additionally, the reforms introduced under the EU capital requirements directive IV have reinforced existing rules on pay at banks in receipt of state support so that: bonuses are strictly limited where inconsistent with the maintenance of a sound capital base and timely exit from government support; regulators will be able to require banks to restructure remuneration in a way that is aligned with sound risk management and long-term growth; and directors should not receive a bonus unless justified.
The Government sought to build on these measures to strengthen further the accountability of individuals who are responsible for an institution which requires government intervention by requesting the PRA to consider the PCBS recommendations on this issue. In response, the PRA has stated that following consultations next year revisions to its code will strengthen and broaden the circumstances in which unvested awards can be reduced and vested awards clawed back. The PRA is also considering to whom these rules should apply and whether further powers are desirable in this regard.
However, extending these powers to cover the removal of pension benefits which have not yet become payable, but which the individual concerned has a contractual right to receive, is difficult. That would restrict the rights of the individual concerned under the European Convention on Human Rights to the “peaceful enjoyment” of his or her possessions. The Government do not consider that this would be appropriate. The PRA will consult further on these issues early next year, including on the details of how the powers should be drafted and the population of staff to whom it should apply.
The noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, specifically asked to whom the remuneration code applies. The code currently applies—and will continue to apply—to around 2,700 firms, including all banks, building societies and capital adequacy directive investment firms. That includes broker-dealers and asset managers—such as most hedge fund managers and all USIT investment firms—as well as some firms which engage in corporate finance, venture capital and the provision of financial advice, brokers, multilateral trading facilities and others. In terms of who is covered within those firms, the code defines “Remuneration Code Staff” to include,
“senior management, risk takers, staff engaged in control functions and any employee receiving total remuneration that takes them into the same remuneration bracket as senior management and risk takers, whose professional activities have a material impact on the firm’s risk profile”.
Some of the principles in the code must be applied to the whole firm, including those on guaranteed variable remuneration and the more general principles around risk management et cetera.
The right reverend Prelate talked about the culture in the banking sector and changes that he is seeing in Birmingham, which he hopes are the start of a process. I think we would all agree that that is desirable. In some of the big banks at least, there has undoubtedly been a noticeable change in culture in recent months and years. The right reverend Prelate and a number of other noble Lords talked about the overall level of remuneration. That is a matter for the bank’s shareholders but the Government and my colleague in another place, Vince Cable, have strengthened the powers of shareholders to require boards to explain and get approval for what they plan to do on remuneration. That has considerably increased transparency and, I hope, might have a moderating influence.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, asked whether the regulator would have access to Barclays management information, to know how it makes its money. I think we talked a bit about this in an earlier debate. The PRA has access under Section 165 of FiSMA to require banks to provide it with all the information or documents that it reasonably requires for its function. That is a very broad power and would cover the information referred to.
The nub of our argument, as the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, rightly pointed out in his opening speech, is that we have a code. It is operating with increased rigour and will be amended next year to take account in detail of what the parliamentary commission has said. That being the case, we do not need any further provision.
My Lords, I agree that this has been an interesting debate. I start by thanking the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Birmingham for his supportive remarks. He referred to the way in which companies print mission statements, values et cetera—what the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury referred to as doing the three Ps, or, “Print, pin up and pray”. We have to move beyond that and make these things a reality.
First, I will respond to various speakers. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, made two comments. One was to ask about all the other people in the City. The remuneration code which exists—I declare an interest as a director of an insurance company—still applies and will apply. The issue here is whether a kind of upper tier is to be created that relates specifically to banks. I believe there is a case for that. He also asked why anybody needs variable remuneration. A number of noble Lords have given the answer to that. One is that base pay builds in fixed costs. In the case of banks, why do you defer? One reason is because, particularly given the way that they are accounted for, profits which look okay today vanish tomorrow—they are ephemeral. You suddenly find that a series of trades that you had valued at a certain level just disappears. You should wait and see until the profits are actually made and then you can pay it out. The argument has also been made that this would tend to raise base pay. A degree of variable pay is actually a beneficial part of the system, although it needs to be controlled.
The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, asked about leaving the responsibility to shareholders. If shareholders own only 3% of the business, are they really going to be a sufficiently powerful force, particularly when their investment is highly geared? They share the same incentive as the managers. The managers are, in a sense, overincentivised and the shareholders are the same. The other thing that has come out is that there are strong externalities working in this world. The failure of a bank, and particularly the banking system, has the ability to create havoc over a wide area. The impetus and responsibility on the state to see that the banks provide a continuous service means that other people have a locus in this. You cannot simply allow banks to be run with the entire remuneration system being put into the hand of one set of stakeholders, such as the shareholders.
As for inflation over the past two or three years, my reading is that bank pay has probably plateaued in that period. Most inflation came in the decade before that, when there was precious little intervention from either the state or investors. The noble Lord, Lord Higgins, said that my support for variable pay was based on giving it to them so that you can then claw it back, but the deferral is really there because you want to make sure that these profits have actually been delivered and the benefits then shared with the bank, in terms of its capital, and through dividends. I absolutely agree that many banks are too big to manage. At the moment, a lot of them are shedding activity, although we will have to wait to see whether they are going fast or far enough.
The Minister’s response was pretty much as I expected but there was also quite a lot of “wait and see”. There will be new proposals but what is not clear is how far the Government have really taken onboard that there is a case for going further with banks than with other financial institutions. This crisis owed nothing to the rest of the City; if anything, the rest of the City were victims of it. We were arguing that provisions for longer deferral were more appropriate for banks than generally.
It is partly a question of knowledge; I do not know that people really understand what the remuneration code is. Between now and Report it would be quite good if the PRA or the Treasury could circulate to us what this code now looks like, which propositions are currently being consulted on and which decisions, if any, have not yet been put into effect. We will then be better able to judge whether we think this is going to be adequate, otherwise it really is a case of “Trust us, we’ll get round to it”. But this crisis is six years on. Time is moving on, so simply saying “We will get some further proposals next year” is not enough. A better job needs to be done in informing people of what is currently being considered. They will then be in a better position to make a judgment on whether that is good enough or whether we need to go further. Preferably, to pick up the point that the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, made, if there was quite a lot more time between now and Report we would be able to look at that to get a better understanding of what is in the pipeline.
The final question was about pensions. If you say, “What is in someone’s pension fund is inviolable”, you create an absolute incentive for people to stack money in there. This is about not their contributions but the discretionary payments that the company has decided to put in. Perhaps it has put another £1 million into someone’s pension fund. If that is done on a contractual basis, by saying, “Here is the regular contribution we make to your pension fund and here is the addition that we are making. You should be aware that that bit could be clawed back”, then I do not really accept the argument that says, “It’s your money now—it’s absolutely yours forever and we can never touch it”. You need to set up the basis on which deferred pay is offered in a way that makes it possible to claw it back.
We have seen in two cases, RBS and HBOS, that pensions were a crucial issue. In both cases, by a kind of popular pressure, concessions were made but it should not really need to depend on that. We should not simply accept the story that nothing more can be done. However, there is work needed to understand what the PRA and the Treasury have in mind. That would put us in a better place to take the discussion further between now and Report. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 95 withdrawn.
Amendment 96 not moved.
97: Before Clause 16, insert the following new Clause—
(1) This section applies where the FCA or the PRA—
(a) has reason to believe that a bank’s systems or professional standards or culture do not provide sufficient safeguards against the commission of actions in respect of which the FCA or the PRA has power to take action, but(b) do not have reason to believe that any such action has been committed (ignoring any action which is already being investigated or in respect of which action has been or is being taken).(2) The FCA or the PRA may give notice to the bank of the belief mentioned in subsection (1)(a).
(3) If the FCA or the PRA gives a notice under subsection (2), it must invite the bank to make representations showing that sufficient safeguards are in place.
(4) Following the giving of a notice under subsection (2) and the receipt of representations under subsection (3) (if any are made), the FCA or the PRA may commission an independent investigation into the bank’s systems and professional standards and culture with a view to establishing whether sufficient safeguards are in place; and for that purpose—
(a) “independent” means independent of the FCA, the PRA and the bank, and(b) an investigation may not be commissioned from a person involved in the auditing of companies.(5) The bank must cooperate with the investigation.
(6) Following receipt of the report of the investigation under subsection (4), the FCA or the PRA may by notice require the bank to take measures to provide sufficient safeguards and to monitor their effectiveness.
(7) The bank must—
(a) comply with the notice, and(b) appoint an appropriately senior member of the bank’s staff to oversee compliance.(8) Compliance by a bank with a duty under this section may be considered for the purposes of the exercise by the FCA or the PRA of functions under FSMA 2000.”
Amendment 97 would create a regime of special measures. In the report of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, from paragraph 966 onwards, we argued that regulators should have a power to give notice to a bank where they believe that the bank’s systems, professional standards and culture do not provide sufficient safeguards. First, they could require an independent investigation, and then require a remedial programme of corrective action. This would be seen as a precursor to enforcement. It is basically a way of trying to avoid getting into the morass of enforcement. A similar regime is operated in the US by the office of the controller of the currency. It is called the safety and soundness plan.
Although the amendment refers to the PRA or the FCA, I believe that it would work best if the special measures plan was jointly owned. The twin peaks system of regulation has its advantages but there was always a danger that with each regulator focusing on its specific areas of concern, between them they would fail to capture the bigger picture. There could be a more generic problem of standards and culture and this would be an opportunity to work collectively and engage with the bank.
It may well be that yet again the response is that regulators have these powers already. Indeed, if they believe that the way that a bank is being run is a risk factor, they can impose a capital add-on. However, the argument against all these cases where we have these powers already comes back to if that is case, how did we get into this problem in the first place? What we are trying to establish is whether things will be different in the future. It would help us judge that better if the PRA/FCA could produce a working document on how they envisage using powers of this kind—a special measures regime—where they are looking for generalised improvements in the culture and the way that a bank is being managed. I beg to move.
My Lords, we agree with the spirit behind the special measures proposal, as the noble Lord expected, but we do not believe it is necessary to give the regulators new powers in this area. They already have the powers to do everything the PCBS has asked. We have therefore been working with them on how they could respond to the recommendation using their existing powers.
The regulators published their responses earlier this month. These responses explain that both the FCA and PRA can, and in fact do, use the powers that they already have to do many of the things that the PCBS recommended and that are included in the amendment. The regulators have a significant range of powers to identify and tackle serious failings, either to rectify existing problems or prevent further consumer loss or reputational damage to markets. In fact, the regulators are able to replicate all the steps outlined in the amendment using their existing powers.
For example, the regulators already have the ability to give notice to a firm through an appropriate mechanism, be it a letter or an e-mail, as a matter of course if they have any concerns or think there may be a problem. The regulators will look to engage with the firm to address the concerns they raise. Whenever it is appropriate, the regulators may request information from the firm under Section 165 of FiSMA. If, following an investigation, the regulators believe further action is needed, the PRA and FCA can use their powers under Sections 55M and 55L of FiSMA to impose requirements on firms to undertake or cease a particular action. These powers can certainly be used to require a bank to adopt additional safeguards or to strengthen its existing safeguards.
Similarly, the regulators can appoint an independent person to undertake investigations using their power under Section 166 of FiSMA to commission a skilled persons report, or under Section 167 to conduct an investigation into the business of an authorised person. Both the PRA and FCA are committed to doing so in instances that they believe add substantially to their understanding of an issue. However, we do not think it is appropriate that the use of an independent person should be a requirement in all cases. There are some instances where the necessary information will be available from other supervisory sources making any such requirement unnecessarily costly and counterproductive.
Finally, there are already duties in regulations made by the regulators that require firms to deal with their regulator in an open and co-operative way. It may be that the noble Lord has not had a chance to look at the responses from the regulators and that, having done so, he will be satisfied, or, equally, that he would like further clarification. I suggest to him and any other noble Lords who have a particular interest in this matter that, if they have any further concerns having looked at those documents, we would willingly arrange a meeting with the Treasury to discuss any further elaboration that the noble Lord feels would help clarify how the system is going to work. Given that the powers exist, we really believe that the special measures powers envisaged in the amendment are unnecessary, and I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw it.
I am grateful to the Minister. I think I received a link to the document but never got round to reading it. I will go and find it again and if I cannot find it I will come back and ask for assistance. I welcome the fact that this is recognised as a tool by the regulators. It may be that when I have read the remarks the Minister has just made, I will find that satisfactory.
One other point that I agree with concerns the use of Section 166. At various conferences I go to around the City, people think that Section 166 is probably being overused. Very often you could say, “We want you, the company, to investigate this. You could get it done by your chairman of audit or your chairman of risk or someone else”, but inevitably one of the four accounting companies ends up being a rather expensive and laborious way of doing it. I share the noble Lord’s sentiments on that.
I will go and do a bit more homework. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 97 withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.32 pm.