House of Lords
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what data they have on, or what best estimate they can give of, the extent to which the consumption of sugar will contribute to the substantial increase predicted in the incidence of diabetes in England and Wales.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health (Earl Howe): My Lords, the Government currently cannot provide an estimate of the extent to which sugar intake will lead to future incidence of diabetes in England and Wales, because, on balance, there is no clear evidence that sugar intake alone specifically causes diabetes. Obesity increases the risk of type 2 diabetes. The habitual consumption of calories in excess of needs for a healthy body weight results in weight gain, irrespective of whether these are from sugar or fat.
Lord Sharkey: My Lords, by 2050, on current trends, at least half of adults and a quarter of children are predicted to be obese, which will cause a huge epidemic of diabetes. Many experts agree that the excessive consumption of sugar is a factor in obesity and in diabetes. In fact, US scientists have concluded that sugar consumption levels are now so harmful that sugar should be controlled and taxed in the same way as alcohol and tobacco. Will the Minister give urgent consideration to taxing sugar in processed foods to help avert an imminent public health disaster?
Earl Howe: My Lords, we keep the question of taxation under review in the light of emerging international evidence on its impact. That will include looking at the experience of the recently introduced tax on saturated fat in Denmark and what effect it has had on diet and health. With any fiscal measure, there is always a risk of unintended consequences, so we would have to look at this particularly carefully.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, did the Minister have a chance to see the report from the London School of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, published earlier this month, which suggested that if obesity levels could be reduced, there would be sufficient food for 1 billion people worldwide. The report pointed particularly to the United States of America and at western Europe. Does this not both justify the Government’s campaign to reduce obesity and illustrate the truth of Gandhi’s remark that there is sufficient in this world for people’s needs but not for their greeds?
Earl Howe: I agree fully with the noble Lord. In this area, the message has to be that a healthy balanced diet is what we should all aspire to. As I mentioned in my initial Answer, obesity is one of the prime drivers for diabetes. If people can moderate their calorie intake to match their energy consumption, the world will be a healthier place.
Baroness King of Bow: My Lords, the Minister will be aware that increased sugar consumption leads to obesity and, in my view, diabetes. Is he also aware of the many studies, including one from Princeton University, which show that sugar is potentially addictive and activates endorphins in the brain in a way similar to heroin—I could hardly put down my Jaffa Cake long enough to come and ask this question. Does he not agree that it is important to look at research that shows that scientists have made rats sugar-addicted in just one month by feeding them sugared drinks? Will he revisit the nutritional standards for schools, because 62% of British schools currently do not have tough nutritional guidelines that would reduce sugar consumption among British children?
Earl Howe: My Lords, I am aware of that research, which my department is looking at very carefully, but I should put a health warning on it in that we do not yet accept the conclusion that sugar is addictive, although clearly in the case of young children those who get into the habit of consuming sugar are likely to continue doing so, so the noble Baroness is quite right that it is a risk factor in the young. The advice from the School Food Trust is of course to have a healthy diet at school. Many schools are adhering to that, and we are doing our best to promote that with our colleagues in the Department for Education.
The Countess of Mar: My Lords, the Minister mentioned unexpected consequences. Does he agree that people who are afraid of eating too much sugar because they might get fat will turn to sugar substitutes such as aspartame? Is he aware that aspartame contains 10% methanol, which, uniquely in the human body, is turned into formaldehyde and has its own neurological hazards? Would he recommend having sugar or sweeteners?
Earl Howe: My Lords, the Department of Health recognises that artificially sweetened or low-calorie drinks can play a role in helping people to reduce the number of calories they consume and offer a wide choice of low-calorie options. As for the safety of artificial sweeteners, all food additives, including sweeteners, are thoroughly tested for safety prior to approval and are subject to review by independent expert bodies. The Food Standards Agency considers that all approved sweeteners can be safely consumed at current permitted levels.
Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, this morning I was in a Waitrose and I looked at all the packets of cereals. Each one had a different sugar-based flavour, such as chocolate and apricot, and all the cereals contained sugar of different kinds. What is the Minister’s reaction to that?
Earl Howe: My noble friend draws attention to an area of concern. Cereals of that kind are particularly attractive to children, although I would say that the good news here is that added sugar consumption among children has fallen during the past few years, which is perhaps a sign that the messages on the levels of sugar that children can safely consume is getting through to parents.
Lord Collins of Highbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for reminding us that a small reduction in weight maintained over time can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. I must admit that I wish that I knew that when I stopped smoking and piled on the weight. As a consequence, I am type 2 diabetic. It is true that small improvements in eating and drinking habits can reduce the risk. I ask the noble Earl, as I asked him last November, whether the Government will take this threat seriously and undertake to lead a major awareness programme about what to do to avoid type 2 diabetes.
Earl Howe: My Lords, there is a great deal going on in this extremely important area. I am grateful to the noble Lord for emphasising its importance. There is a ring-fenced budget for public health, and weight gain is one of the key indicators in the public health outcomes framework. There is the Change for Life campaign, which has, I think, gained enormous credibility among the public and professionals. We are engaging with the food industry through the public health responsibility deal to take forward the calorie reduction pledge. There are NHS health check programmes, which are being rolled out throughout the country, and at GP level there are the nine tests which GPs are advised to undertake with diabetic patients. The rate at which those tests are being done has gone up very encouragingly over the past few years.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, the Government would, first of all, like to congratulate the Club and Institute Union on reaching its 150th anniversary. The Government themselves have no plans to commemorate this anniversary since these are private institutions. However, we are aware that the All-Party Group for Non-Profit Making Members’ Clubs, of which I believe the noble Lord is the secretary, has organised a commemorative event in Parliament on 11 July—tomorrow.
Lord Bilston: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very positive reply. My heart fills with pride in appreciation of the vital and outstanding service that the Club and Institute Union has contributed to the cultural, social, educational and creative life of working- class communities throughout the length and breadth of Great Britain over these past 150 years, which we are joyfully celebrating this week. Will the Minister kindly draw the attention of all government departments to the present burdens borne by the CIU—and not just the CIU but also by Conservative, Labour, Liberal and British Legion clubs and many others—through years of pernicious legislation, and offer them some respite in these very harsh and difficult economic and social times?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am very aware of the traditional nature of the clubs involved—the work they have done for so long, the people they represent, those to whom they give a good time and those whom they support. I will of course draw the attention of other departments to the nature of these organisations as requested by the noble Lord.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, we are talking about private clubs, and I have no idea why private clubs close. The Government are doing their best to support small businesses such as clubs, and have already granted them rate relief from £6,000 to £12,000 until March 2013. They are also ensuring that rural rate relief is available to public houses in particular, not all of which will have the club connections that the noble Lord refers to. The Government are doing what they can to support small business, particularly in the country, and they do not have a role in the closure of the clubs that he mentioned.
Lord Lexden: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that a number of clubs affiliated to the CIU contributed significantly in their early days to advancing political education throughout our country? Thanks in part to them, by the 1880s 100 towns had their own local House of Commons modelled on Westminster. Of those for which information survives, 33 had Liberal majorities and 26 had Tory majorities—33 Liberal against 26 Tory. I offer this on a day when my Liberal coalition colleagues might need a little consolation.
Lord Grocott: My Lords, it is very welcome that the Government have acknowledged this 150th anniversary and the tremendous work that has been done during that period—particularly the work, although he is too modest to point it out, done by my very good noble friend Lord Bilston both in his own area of Bilston, in Wolverhampton, and here in Parliament in the all-party group. The only thing on which I would like any
elaboration is the Minister’s referral to this, I think, as a small business initiative. These are much more than small businesses. As has already been pointed out from her own Benches, these clubs have provided much broader services to their communities over the years. In fact, I would almost suggest to the Minister that she might place them in the category of government business headed “the big society”, because we invented it long before anyone else did.
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, it is always dangerous to align anything with anything. I was trying to suggest that there was an opportunity for small business rate relief for these clubs—I drew attention to that. If I inadvertently said that they were small businesses, clearly that is not what they are; they are private clubs that do a good job for their members and have all the attributes that noble Lords have suggested. They have a valuable history and have seen a lot of people through some very difficult times, as well as through some enjoyable times. As my noble friend behind me suggested, they also have some political involvement.
Baroness Northover: My Lords, sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the independent judiciary. Where a judge or a magistrate sentences a mother to custody, mother and baby units are made available to ensure that the best interests of the child are met, enabling the mother and child relationship to develop and to safeguard and promote the child’s welfare. The number of women imprisoned with babies has remained broadly stable at around 50 over the past two years.
Baroness Benjamin: I thank my noble friend for that answer. Essential, emotional attachments are made between mother and baby during the first 18 months of a child’s life, but imprisoned mothers with babies are often denied these necessary bonding opportunities because of the restricted environments they are placed in—even within the mother and baby units, which are often far away from the women’s homes. Will the Government encourage the courts to consider the welfare of the baby before sentencing the mothers to custody and can we please have more smaller, baby-friendly secure community units as an alternative?
Baroness Northover: My Lords, the Government are fully committed to reducing the number of women in custody, and that is already happening. Recent sentencing changes should help that further. If a woman or a man is a sole or primary carer, that should be considered as a mitigating factor in sentencing. Recent guidelines from the Sentencing Guidelines Council
have reiterated this. There are seven small mother and baby units, the largest having 13 spaces, which support the development of mother and baby relationships. In deciding whether a mother and baby should be referred to one of these units, the interest of the child is paramount.
The Lord Bishop of Chester: My Lords, bishops see the inside of prisons rather more than most Members of your Lordships’ House do. There is no more depressing aspect of a visit than to go to one of these mother and baby units. Can the Minister tell the House what proportion of these mothers are there for drug-related offences, when they are often not the prime movers in the trafficking?
Baroness Northover: The right reverend Prelate is right that prisons of any description can be very depressing places, as is seeing the situation of people within them. However, I have visited the mother and baby unit within Holloway prison. If mothers are sentenced to prison, they need to be extremely well supported, and I thought that the support being given in that mother and baby unit was very good. Within the prison, too, the support in terms of mental health, tackling drug addiction and other problems was being approached. It is extremely important that we do what we can to try to keep women out of custody. The legal changes made in the last Bill help to move us in that direction and that is one of our aims, because the right reverend Prelate is right that many people in this situation are themselves very vulnerable.
Baroness Corston: My Lords, given that most of these women are imprisoned for offences for which no male would be locked up, and given that, as the Minister said, there are seven mother and baby units in this country, would she acknowledge that that small number indicates that, for many of these women, if they have other children, they have to make the stark choice between applying for a place at a unit and keeping their baby but losing contact with their other children, or giving the baby up at a time when they are probably breastfeeding so that they can remain in contact with their other children? Finally, will she acknowledge that there is overwhelming public support in this country for the proposition that women who commit non-violent offences and who are mothers of small children should not be locked up at all?
Baroness Northover: I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for all her work in this area, which shifted the last Labour Government enormously in terms of what they did. We are building on that work. As I mentioned, one of the changes in the last justice Bill, LASPO, says, for example, that if it is unlikely that somebody is going to have a custodial sentence, they are not remanded in prison. That should help women who find themselves in that situation. Similarly, there has been a turning around of what happens if somebody breaches their community order. It was mandatory before that that should be escalated, which often meant that women in that circumstance ended up in prison. What is suggested now is that there should be a fine—and that, too, should divert women away from prison. There are a
number of ways in which it is extremely important to approach this to try to ensure that women are kept out of prison when that is appropriate, but to ensure that they are well supported if they are in prison.
Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, can the Minister tell us at what age babies or very young children leave the mother and baby unit, and what arrangements are made to lessen the emotional trauma of a very young child being taken out of its mother’s care on a daily basis? What arrangements are put into place to lessen the anxiety for the mother and the child?
Baroness Northover: Babies stay in the mother and baby unit until about the age of 18 months, so that can vary. It is therefore part of the way that the best needs of the baby are assessed to look at the length of the mother’s sentence and whether in due course it is necessary to remove a baby because the mother’s sentence is longer than the baby unit would enable them to stay together. Looking at the best interests of the baby is what underpins whether a mother and baby are referred to a mother and baby unit.
Lord Dholakia: My Lords, could my noble friend the Minister look at the international dimension of good practice, and could she invite the Children’s Commissioner to look at this particular issue, with the sole objective that the welfare of the child is of paramount importance?
Baroness Northover: The Ministry of Justice is always interested in international practice. Recently the Howard League sent through some interesting information about the situation in South Africa. Noting that, I would point out that the current policy in relation to mother and baby units is absolutely based on the needs of the child being paramount. It is surely right that that is the case.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of current concerns over the supervision of financial markets, what qualities are required in the successor to the current Governor of the Bank of England.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, the Financial Services Bill makes provision to strengthen the UK’s financial regulatory structure. The proposals will establish a new system of focused financial services regulation with the Bank of England at its heart. The current governor still has almost a year of his term to serve. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has confirmed that the process of appointing a successor will not begin before the autumn. The new governor’s qualities will of course reflect the Bank’s new mandate.
Lord Davidson of Glen Clova: I thank the Minister for his Answer. It is essential that the next governor is a man of unimpeachable integrity, or a woman of unimpeachable integrity—certainly a person who in all jurisdictions will command respect through their understanding of financial markets. Surely they will be required to be a person who has an intimate understanding of markets. The UK’s future problems are likely to have a substantial international context. Does the Minister agree that the next governor must have a character and position that enable him to have a strong, effective relationship with central bank governors in other jurisdictions, particularly the Middle East, China and the United States? If Her Majesty’s Treasury agrees with this, will it ensure that the next governor has these qualities?
so he is very clear on that point. The noble and learned Lord goes on to make an interesting suggestion about one of the possible dimensions of the job, and I listen carefully to what he has to say on that point.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, under the Financial Services Bill that we have been debating, the new governor would need to be chair of, or to manage, the FPC, the FCA, the PRA and the Court of the Bank of England. That involves, of course, threats to financial stability, the removal or reduction of risks, enhancing the resilience of the financial system, educating the public and, above all, co-operating with the Treasury, which is quite a job as I am not sure it knows what all these things are. Does the Minister think that a man or woman exists who is capable of doing that job, or is he thinking of applying himself?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, the Bank of England is going to have a very large new mandate, and the points that the noble Lord makes are rather important to this. Whether on the MPC, the FPC or the PRA, the governor is going to be very well supported, not only by deputy governors but by a range of internal and external experts. Just for clarification, the governor no longer chairs the court; that is chaired by a non-executive chairman. I do not know how it was in the noble Lord’s day, but I am sure that co-operation with the Treasury is going to be the least of the new governor’s difficulties.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, I regret that in the Financial Services Bill we have not established a mechanism whereby Parliament can have a say in confirming the new superwoman or superman to take up this role. Will the Minister at least give us an assurance that the Chancellor will look for someone who breaks away from the mould of groupthink, which contributed so much to the financial crisis in 2008, and who, while having all the necessary financial and economic background, perhaps comes with some other, different experience so that we can burst the bubble that has been a real problem in financial regulation?
Lord Sassoon: To be clear, Parliament will have a role in that the Treasury Committee will, I am sure, hold a pre-commencement hearing if it so wishes. Again, as I said to the noble and learned Lord, I take on board the suggestions that are coming this afternoon.
Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the next Governor of the Bank of England, besides having the proven competence that has clearly grabbed the Minister’s attention, should also be a person of honour and integrity—the sort of person who, should he or she wrongly impugn anyone’s integrity, would at least have the grace and courage to stand up, admit it and apologise?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, if that is an oblique reference to my right honourable friend the Chancellor, I do not believe that an apology is needed. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, that honour and integrity will be among the qualities needed by a future governor.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am not going to be drawn into a discussion of particular candidates, but the Bishops’ Bench is making some very notable contributions to the deliberations on the Financial Services Bill.
Lord Davies of Stamford: My Lords, Mervyn King has been a very distinguished governor and has made a major contribution to the science and art of inflation targeting, which is internationally recognised. Is it not desirable that in choosing his successor we choose someone not only of absolute integrity with great familiarity of the financial markets, and not just in the British amateur tradition, but someone who is a genuine monetary economist, is internationally respected in the field, and can hold his or her head high and deal on equal terms with Mario Draghi and Ben Bernanke, who are certainly in that category?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I am sure that whoever is selected and whoever is recommended by the Chancellor and the Prime Minister to the Queen, whose appointment it is, will be of the very highest quality.
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, Amendment 46 stands in my name and in the name of my noble friend Lord Eatwell. I shall speak also to Amendments 49, 52 and 67, which similarly stand in our names.
These amendments seek to ensure that when the Financial Policy Committee gives directions to the Financial Conduct Authority in the interests of financial stability, it does so in ways that do not conflict with the FCA’s duty to uphold consumer protection, that the Financial Policy Committee must take note of any representations from the consumer panel, and that where such directions, or indeed recommendations, are given, the FCA reports back to the Financial Services Consumer Panel as well as to the FPC.
If we did not know before last week about the detriment that can affect consumers where their interests are ignored, we must surely know now. Consumer trust in this industry has taken a body blow, and it is
really important that regulators never for a moment forget the end-user—the saver, the borrower, the lender. The Financial Policy Committee is clearly not a consumer-focused body. It will take decisions that have a huge impact on consumers but it will not have the expertise to do it well. The FCA’s consumer panel is meant to represent the consumer interest. Without these amendments, we are allowing the panel to be ignored. We know what happens when the interests of clients are not placed centre stage.
I argued at Second Reading that our regulation must be consumer focused or it will never do the job. These amendments would help to achieve that. The FPC will take decisions that impact on consumers. The Minister knows this. In Committee last week, he said that a direction or recommendation from the FPC,
“could have a serious negative implication for the safety and soundness of individual firms or for consumers”.
The Minister seemed to think that the FCA would be aware of possible impacts on consumers, but the chief executive officer of the Financial Conduct Authority is from the industry. He knows the industry and understands its interests and perspective, but that is not the same as voicing consumer protection issues. Let us consider a possible FPC direction, such as a cap on loan-to-value at 90%. That would trap an existing 95% loan-to-value mortgage customer with a particular bank. That is hardly consumer choice or competition. Just this time last week, at the annual public meeting of the Financial Services Authority, Adam Phillips, chair of the Financial Services Consumer Panel, said:
“We remain concerned about the predicament facing so called ‘mortgage prisoners’—those with interest only mortgages and those trapped on the standard variable rate because they are unable to meet the affordability criteria—and have urged the FSA to act quickly to mitigate this situation. We also hope that the lessons learned in this process will be considered by the Financial Policy Committee when developing its strategy for dealing with asset bubbles”.
But who will be there to bring such lessons to the FPC if the consumer panel has no access? Similarly, any increased capital requirements decided by the FPC could be passed on to consumers in an opaque way by increasing rates and/or fees. Sometimes, I can almost hear some people in the City saying to us consumers, “Now don’t you worry your pretty little heads about this. It’s really just for us big boys”. Those big boys are exactly the people who have created so many problems for savers and investors.
When the FPC is considering big issues, how will the voice of the consumer be heard against the grain of the industry’s interests? Perhaps “grain” is not the correct term. We have learnt this morning that, at the cost of £90 million, there are some 800 lobbyists—one for each Member of your Lordships’ House—working to ensure that the financial industry’s case is heard at the highest echelons, be they the Bank, the Treasury,
this House or another place. Is it any surprise that the still, small voice of the user—whose savings fund this industry, we should remember—are rarely accorded much precedence?
By contrast, these modest amendments are to ensure that not for one moment should the overall regulatory architecture ignore consumer protection. They hard-wire the consumer panel into consideration of the FPC’s biggest weapon—direction. Do we really need reminding that unless consumer confidence and trust return, unless the interests of consumers are centre-stage, no amount of shifting deckchairs on the regulatory deck will make a blind bit of difference? These modest amendments will simply help to keep consumers in every decision-maker’s eye. I beg to move.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I support my noble friend’s amendments. I was particularly struck by her parting remark, which concerns a point that has bothered me a great deal during our deliberations up to now. The voices of the financial institutions are being heard loudly and at great length in your Lordships’ House on this matter. I do not criticise them for that—they have interests that they wish to see served—but we have interests of a different kind; namely, that we must be dispassionate. In particular, therefore, if the voices of consumers—which means ordinary people—are not heard at all, then something has seriously gone wrong with why we are bothering to try to reform the financial system anyway. If I were asked why we would take the Adam Smith view of everything, I would say that, ultimately, the whole economy exists for the sake of the consumer, and not for the sake of businesses. Businesses exist for the sake of the consumer. To have any doubt of the absolute necessity that the consumer’s voice is heard is to be mistaken. I therefore rise strongly to say that that voice should be heard mandatorily, and not if it just suits the body that takes the decisions.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, this group of amendments, which go to the issue of consumer protection, deals with the Financial Policy Committee’s use of its powers of direction and recommendation in relation to the Financial Conduct Authority. These powers are the key means by which the FPC will seek to implement macroprudential policy. I should say at the outset that we wholeheartedly agree with the noble Baroness about the importance of consumer protection, which indeed is why we are creating a dedicated consumer protection regulator in the FCA.
In the case of directions, noble Lords will be aware that the scope of the FPC’s power will be determined by the Treasury. Under new Sections 9G and 9K of the Bank of England Act 1998, as set out in Clause 3 of this Bill, the FPC will be able to direct the PRA, the FCA, or both, to implement “macro-prudential measures” that have been prescribed by the Treasury by order, subject to parliamentary scrutiny.
Amendment 46 seeks to limit the FPC’s ability to make such a direction if it would conflict with the FCA’s consumer protection objective. I understand the general motivation behind this amendment. Indeed, it would not be appropriate for the FPC to issue
directions to the regulators without regard for whether they conflict with the statutory objectives of those regulators.
However, let me assure noble Lords that safeguards are built into the Bill to prevent this. Specifically, new Section 9E, as set out in Clause 3 of this Bill, provides that the FPC must, in exercising its functions in relation to the FCA, seek to avoid doing so in a way that would prejudice the advancement of the FCA’s operational objectives, including consumer protection.
This provision is contingent on the FPC being able to achieve its own objective for financial stability. That is right, given that financial stability must necessarily take precedence if the new regulatory system is to address the flaws revealed by the crisis. However, this places a clear obligation on the FPC to take into consideration the FCA’s objectives before acting, and, in subsection (2), to find a way to minimise any possible conflict. In addition, of course, the presence of the chief executive of the FCA as a voting member of the FPC means that the views of the FCA—and therefore of consumers—will be represented and taken into account.
More generally, I suggest that such conflicts are unlikely to arise often. In practice, it is likely that most of the FPC’s directions will be directed at the PRA, so there will not be significant potential for conflict to arise between stability and consumer protection. It is also worth saying that what really is in the interest of consumers is financial stability. If the FPC were to be given a tool, implemented through the FCA, the Treasury would take care to design it in such a way as to minimise the potential for conflict between financial stability and consumer protection.
Amendments 49 and 52 deal with the role of the Financial Services Consumer Panel in relation to directions made by the FPC to the FCA. Amendment 49 would require the FPC to take account of representations from the panel before issuing a direction to the FCA. The FCA will already be required to consider representations from the consumer panel with regard to its general policies and their compliance with its objectives under new Section 1R of FiSMA in Clause 5 of this Bill. This duty will continue to apply when the FCA is acting under direction from the FPC, so the panel will have ample opportunity to make its views known.
Amendment 52, which would require FCA-specific directions to be reported to the consumer panel, is rendered unnecessary by the Bill’s general provisions for openness. For example, under new Section 9J, to be inserted in the Bank of England Act 1998 under Clause 3, directions must be reported to the Treasury and, where appropriate, laid before Parliament. Under new Section 9R, the record of FPC meetings must specify decisions taken, including the decision to give a direction or to make a recommendation.
Likewise, the inclusion of recommendations within new Section 9R means that Amendment 67 is not necessary either. The amendment would require recommendations made by the FPC to the FCA to be reported to the consumer panel, but the general reporting requirement is already in place under new Section 9R. Even without these provisions, we would expect the
FCA to keep the consumer panel—indeed all the statutory panels—aware of relevant decisions made by the FPC. However, the provisions that are already in the Bill provide a guarantee of openness. I therefore hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Lord Barnett: Before my noble friend replies, perhaps I may add my support. The Minister’s reply enhances my concern about the depth of work being given to the Bank of England under this Bill. The Minister referred to the FPC, the FCA, the PRA and the MPC. I suggest that the Government look at all the initials that they are using in these clauses. They are somewhat confusing and might even confuse the new governor. The Minister’s reply briefly exposes the extent and breadth of this Bill. The reply to one modest group of amendments is, to say the least, somewhat comprehensive. I am sure that it might not be easily understood by many Members, let alone by people outside this House.
We are told now that consumer protection is to be decided by the Treasury and not by the Bank of England, which is being given powers under all those initials. It will be decided by the Treasury. Has it nothing else to do? Will the Bank of England have nothing else to do? The whole Bill needs to be looked at afresh, and I would not be at all surprised if, before we get to the end of it, it is not all withdrawn and started again.
Lord Peston: Just to supplement my noble friend’s intervention, am I right that the Minister is trying to tell us in a nutshell that there is no problem whatever with consumer protection in connection with these amendments and that everything will be all right, as Dr Pangloss might put it?
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town: My Lords, I thank my noble friends Lord Peston and Lord Barnett, who between them have been teaching me economics for 40 years. It is very nice to have their support now. I also thank the Minister for his response. Unfortunately, he does not answer the major question. He says that they will mitigate problems from any decisions. Under this amendment, we were trying to say that consumers should influence those decisions. We keep putting things right when they have gone wrong and we want a voice in those decisions. I do not think that those questions have been answered by the noble Lord; nor has he taken up the point that the chief executive of the FCA, who does not come from the consumer movement, does not have the feel of it. That is fine; it is a different job. I think that we will want to return to this matter, because clearly it is key to the Bill. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
“( ) An order under subsection (2) may only exclude or modify procedural requirements under FSMA 2000 where the Committee believe that this is necessary due to the urgency of the situation, and where this occurs the order must include an explanation of the reasons for excluding or modifying the procedural requirements of FSMA 2000.”
Lord Flight: My Lords, this amendment is not of huge importance but the point is this: the power in the new Section 9G(2) enables the FPC to issue directions which will require the PRA or FCA to exclude or modify existing procedural requirements under FiSMA, and this is likely to include the requirements on the PRA and FCA to consult on new rules. While I accept that under certain emergency circumstances it may be necessary and correct so to do, this should clearly not be a common occurrence, and this amendment seeks to limit the power to dispense with or modify these procedures by requiring a subsequent explanation and justification if they are so modified.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I was hoping that the noble Lord, Lord Flight, would speak at much greater length on this matter, because I find this whole section of the Bill very difficult to understand. The notes on clauses—I do not know whether noble Lords have bothered to take a copy—are about the worst I have seen in my life. They simply repeat the clauses, with no explanation whatever. Therefore, I would like to ask, via the Minister—I am not sure how one does this in Committee —whether the central point here is to deal with an emergency where the emergency is such that you cannot wait? The noble Lord, Lord Flight, has not given us an example. I have had great difficulty thinking of one. Perhaps he could tell me later what particular sort of emergency he has in mind. The great stock market crash of 1929 is a relevant event from the point of view of financial instability. I am sure the noble Lord, Lord Flight, knows that Irving Fisher, then the world’s greatest economist, said at the time that there was no danger whatever of the stock market crashing, it would go on rising considerably.
If that situation repeats itself, our intervention would be too late. That is the problem. The real point is, technically, whether we could ever be early enough. Therefore, I just want to make sure that I fully understand what the noble Lord, Lord Flight, is saying, when he recommends this amendment, which otherwise sounds fairly sensible to me.
Lord Stewartby: My Lords, I would like to add a word to what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has said, in particular to ask my noble friend Lord Flight about the frequency with which this situation is likely to happen. Would it be an exceptionally rare event, because that may affect the way in which one approaches it?
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): My Lords, I will see if I can help a bit here. Amendment 47A seeks to prohibit the modification or exclusion of procedural requirements—that is, the requirement to consult—except for reasons of urgency. The reasons for the exclusion or the modification would also need to be included in the order. I should briefly explain why the Treasury has the ability to switch off or modify procedural requirements—the requirement to consult—which apply to action taken by the PRA and FCA on a tool-by-tool basis.
As the Government made clear in their February 2011 consultation document, in the case of some macroprudential tools, directions from the FPC will be very specific, requiring no discretion at all on the part of the regulator to implement them. Noble Lords asked for examples. In these cases—for instance, where the FPC is simply changing the level of a particular lever—consultation or cost-benefit analysis undertaken by the regulator would have little value and would introduce unnecessary delay into the process.
The Government believe that in these cases the FPC’s policy statement for the tool and its explanation of how the action is compatible with its objectives will provide much more valuable information about the action and its impact than any consultation by the regulators. However, I reassure the Committee that the Government do not expect to modify or exclude procedural requirements for most tools.
The Government will in due course publish a consultation document with proposals for the composition of the FPC’s initial toolkit, which will set out whether procedural requirements will be amended for any tools. In that case, there will be complete transparency regarding whether there has been any proposal by the Government to cut out the normal full consultation processes, and, if so, the reason will be clear. On the other hand, taking the question of urgent cases, if a delay in implementing an FPC direction could pose a risk to financial stability, both the PRA and the FCA already have, under their existing powers, the ability to waive consultation requirements in order to take action urgently.
Therefore, I hope I can assure my noble friend that on the one hand it will not be, in his words, at all common for consultation not to take place and it will be transparently set out; on the other hand, the power in new Section 9H(2) will not be needed in cases of urgency because that is already covered. On the basis of that explanation, I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud): My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in the House of Commons by my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions. The Statement is as follows:
“I would like to make a Statement on Remploy and I am sure honourable Members will agree that Remploy employees must be first and foremost in our minds today. That is why they have been notified first of the decisions of the Remploy board in advance of this Statement today.
In her independent review published last year, disability expert Liz Sayce made it clear that segregated employment is not consistent with equality for disabled people. The Sayce review sets out that money should support individual disabled people, not segregated institutions, as well as recommending that Remploy factories should be set free from government control.
It cannot be right that the Government continue to subsidise segregated employment, which can lead to the isolation of disabled people. This is no alternative to promoting and supporting disabled people in mainstream jobs, the same as everyone else.
I have been absolutely clear that the £320 million budget for disability employment services has been protected, but by spending it more effectively we can get thousands more disabled people into work. It is important that this money is spent in a way that is consistent with what disabled people want, consistent with this Government’s commitment to disability equality, and consistent with helping more disabled people live an independent life.
When Labour put in place the Remploy modernisation plan in 2008, it started a process with £555 million to put factories on to a proper financial footing. It closed 29 factories as part of this process. What is clear is that the performance targets it set were not realistic, the reduction in costs could not be achieved and the modernisation plan has failed. In 2010-11, factories made almost £70 million of losses—money that could have been used to support thousands more disabled people into work. That is why the Government took the decision to implement Liz Sayce’s recommendations in March to stop funding Remploy factories that have been losing millions of pounds, year after year, but committed to doing everything possible to minimise the number of redundancies.
Today I can inform the House that the Remploy board has considered in detail 65 proposals to take factories out of government control as part of a commercial process. These proposals have been scrutinised by a panel, independent of Remploy, established by the department. The Remploy board and the Government have done all we can to support bids and safeguard jobs. This includes a wage subsidy for disabled members of staff totalling £6,400 and professional advice and support worth up to £10,000 for employee-led bids.
On this basis, nine sites have had business plans accepted and will now move forward to the “best and final offer” stage, where detailed bids will be considered. Back in 2008, when the right honourable Member for Hodge Hill, then Chief Secretary to the Treasury, started this modernisation process and closed 29 factories, there was no such offer. No factories were given the opportunity to continue outside of government control. Remploy is hopeful that these negotiations may lead to the transfer of business and retention of jobs. At the current time, this does mean that 27 Remploy sites will no longer be operating. Details of these sites will be placed in the Library of the House. Remploy employees have been informed of the board’s decision this afternoon. The Remploy board will now move into a period of individual consultation with employees.
Undoubtedly, for those employees who have been told that their factories are closing, this is difficult news. But let me make one point absolutely clear. We are doing everything we can to ensure that Remploy workers who are affected will receive a comprehensive package of support and guidance to make the transition from government-funded sheltered employment into mainstream jobs.
We have put in place £8 million to guarantee tailored support for every single disabled person affected for up to 18 months, including a personal case worker to help individuals with their future choices, as well as access to a personal budget for additional support. We are using the expertise of Remploy Employment Services, which, despite difficult economic times over the last two years, has found jobs for 35,000 disabled and disadvantaged people, many with similar disabilities to those working in Remploy factories. We are working with the Employers Forum on Disability to offer targeted work opportunities for disabled people through the First Shot, including guaranteed interviews, job trials, work experience and training. We have set up a community support fund to provide grants to local voluntary sector and user-led organisations. We have protected the budget for specialist disability employment services of £320 million on average for every year of the spending review period, and we have added £15 million specifically to Access to Work. This means that 8,000 more disabled people will be able to be supported into work as a result of today’s announcements.
This is an ongoing process. Over the Summer Recess, I commit to keeping right honourable and honourable Members—and noble Lords—updated on the status of the business plans going through to the next stage. I will provide a further update on progress when the House of Commons returns in September. Our approach has been led by disabled people’s organisations and disabled people themselves, many of whom have welcomed the move to end the pre-war practice of segregated employment. I believe that it should be welcomed by all sides of the House. By spending these protected government funds more effectively we can support thousands more disabled people in work. What is more, we can spend it in a way that fits the needs and aspirations of disabled people in the 21st century by promoting disability equality and supporting disabled people in leading full and independent lives”.
Lord Collins of Highbury: My Lords, I hear what the Minister said about the worthy objective of ending what I used to call “sheltered employment” and moving towards more integrated employment, but the Government on this occasion have a duty as an employer to employees who are incredibly vulnerable. There are already 515,400 disabled workers out of work in the UK, as well as 1.9 million people who are not disabled looking for work. I fear that unless there is a U-turn by the Government on closing the Remploy factories, the 2,800 disabled employees will be put on the scrap heap and most of them will never work again.
Quite simply, this is the wrong plan at the wrong time. To use another phrase: it is too fast and too deep. I am afraid that the Government have not understood all the implications of Liz Sayce’s report. She understood the need for change, but in making that change she also understood the need to involve the employees and the people who work hard in Remploy in ensuring that they have the possibility of a future. The Government have ignored those recommendations—in particular, about the time and speed of the implementation of these changes.
Why do the Government not honour the recommendations of Liz Sayce that they have chosen to ignore? Why do they not give factories six months to develop a business plan and two years before the subsidy is fully withdrawn? Why is there not a proper plan for transition that gives hope to people in work to remain in work? The viability of the Remploy factories could be decided not by a panel appointed by the department but by one that genuinely involves business and enterprise experts, as well as trade unions, rather than a simple unilateral action by the department. Will the Minister consider restarting the process on a proper basis that will enable businesses to examine whether they have a proper viable future? The public sector in each local authority area could be involved so that we can properly understand how government and local purchasing and employment policies impact on the viability of these factories.
I welcome the commitment in Liz Sayce’s report. The Government need to take a more flexible approach to transitional funding. Some of these factories—beyond those that the Minister has referred to—may need more time, particularly in areas with the highest unemployment. As we have heard today, some may need less. We are talking about the future of nearly 3,000 workers, and it is time for the Government to put the emphasis on ensuring the success of enterprises rather than saying there is no hope. I urge the Minister to look at this issue. It is not impossible to look at the tender process and to work in a way that meets the timeframe set down by Liz Sayce’s review. It is simply not credible to suggest that potential bidders can be drawn up at such short notice. With the number that we have got in the report and in today’s Statement, it is the clear position of the Opposition that not enough time has been given to the future prospects of these factories. I urge the Minister to consider these points and look at the whole picture and the impact of the proposals, which will mean thousands of workers having no future.
Lord Freud: Let me clarify one or two points on the numbers. The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about 2,800 workers on the scrap heap. The actual figure for the 27 sites we are talking about today is 1,422, of which 1,212 are the disabled group. There is a second process starting in the autumn with the next 18 factories. Those are the numbers that we are talking about.
There were two questions on process. The length of time taken to get this through, end to end, is just over five and a half months from the commercial process launched by Remploy on 20 March, not including the time for locking down the approved bids. We have had 65 bids, which we have boiled down to bids for nine particular factories. There has been an open process during which we have also put in support to provide subsidy for the first two years of £6,400 in the first year, tapering down to £1,000 in the second year. We have tried to find ways for local groups to take part in this process, including finding funds to support employee-led bids. We have run a process which, within the context of commercial and legal obligation, has been transparent and open.
It would not be appropriate or necessary to restart the process as the noble Lord said. We need to remove uncertainty and get on and finish this process in a satisfactory way so that people can work out their futures and take advantage of the very considerable package of support that we are putting behind getting people into alternative work.
Baroness Turner of Camden: My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised that I protest about the decisions which have been made in relation to Remploy, because I have raised the issue previously in debate in this House. He will be aware, of course, that the unions representing their members in Remploy have already protested very strongly against the decisions that have been taken.
Although I understand what the Minister says about it being much better for workers to work with other people and not to be segregated, for many people segregated employment is the only work available and appropriate for them, particularly in the neighbourhoods in which they live. The local siting of Remploy factories is very important.
I believe that the decision has been taken on a number of grounds, not necessarily in favour of the individual workers. There is an ideological attitude here on the part of the Government, who prefer privatisation to publicly owned enterprises. This was a publicly owned enterprise, a government enterprise, which everyone felt for many years was entirely successful. Many of the workers do not seem to have the organisation to effectively protest, although apparently they all belong to unions.
There is also the question of the people who supervise these workers. Supervising disabled people often requires a great deal more skill than supervising in ordinary circumstances, and the people concerned are trained to deal with the disabled people for whom they are responsible.
regret that the Government have taken this decision. As my noble friend on the Front Bench said, I hope there will be an opportunity for reconsideration, because there should be reconsideration. This is an important matter to the people who are directly involved, and I would like to protest on their behalf.
Lord Freud: My Lords, the first claim of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, about segregated employment being the only employment available, is undermined somewhat by the fact that many of the jobs provided by Remploy Employment Services are in the areas where the factories are situated. Indeed it is having a great deal of success in getting jobs for disabled people in non-segregated employment—I think that the figure is roughly 12,000 jobs in those areas in the past few years. Clearly it is tough to get jobs for disabled people but Remploy Employment Services’ remarkable performance shows how, with the right strategies and policies, one can be successful in getting people into non-segregated employment—which is, of course, our central strategy.
I do not think that the noble Baroness really believes that this is an ideological public/private issue. It is about segregated and non-segregated employment and trying to spread money as efficiently as possible among the disabled community. When you compare an operation which lost £70 million in 2010-11 and cost £25,000 year-on-year for each worker supported with Access to Work’s one-off investment, in many cases, of just under £3,000 to help people into non-segregated employment, you have to take these basic value-for-money considerations into account. I therefore commend this approach, which is being done with great concern and care for the individual workers involved, as a far better way of spending our budget for disabled people in work.
Baroness Browning: I share my noble friend’s aspiration for getting the people currently with Remploy into integrated, paid employment. However, this proposal, by any other definition, is something of an experiment by putting so many people into the jobs market at this particular time. I think that he mentioned that each worker would have a mentor and assistance in getting back into work for 18 months. However, I wonder if he would agree that the House should receive a full report from him in 18 months’ time telling us how many people are in contracted paid employment and how many are not. I must say to him that, in evaluating value for money, it is not only the public money that his department spends that would come into the equation. For those who might not be in paid employment at the end of the 18 months we would have to take into account not only the money that they had perhaps drawn in unemployment benefit but also a much wider expenditure which might include things such as mental health costs, physical health costs and costs associated with family breakdown. Those sorts of things—the therapeutic values and costs associated with this group in terms of their stability in the workplace—are not only important to them personally, although that is the most important part, but also involve a cost to the public purse. I really feel that the House should be able to access that
information in 18 months so that we can make a judgment on just how successful this experiment has been.
Lord Freud: My Lords, the monitoring of what happened in the 2008-09 closures was not very good—I appreciate my noble friend’s point, and I will look into the nature of the reporting back. There will be information and, if I may, I will specify the nature and timing of the feedback in a letter. I appreciate the point. On value for money, the assessment is that, over the current and the next spending review periods, this move will be worth just over £200 million. That is the context in which we are talking.
Lord Freud: My Lords, we are undertaking quite a major exercise around Access to Work, and one of the areas that we are working on is exactly the noble Viscount’s point about making employers feel comfortable. When Remploy began after the war, manufacturing was a major part of our economy. It is quite hard to be full steam in a steelworks, for instance, if you have a physical disability. As the economy has moved over to the service sector, it is very different, and the idea that many disabled people—certainly physically disabled people, around whom the concept of Remploy was developed—cannot do a whole stream of mainstream jobs is incongruous today. That is what we are talking about in the modernisation process. As I said, there is an issue about mental health. There, we are trying to push Access to Work so that people with mental health issues are pulled in and involved. We have a lot of work still to do about stigma. The Mind campaign has been extraordinary in starting to turn attitudes, and we need to get right behind it. That is a big and important issue to get employers behind.
Lord Addington: My Lords, I shall make a couple of points. First, the point made by my noble friend Lady Browning about reporting back is vital. This is probably the final public step of the process of looking at those with disabilities as individuals as opposed to people who are put away in blocs. I have always felt that the Remploy factories were on a time limit, and the previous Government accepted that. It is never the right time to make that change, and it is particularly unfortunate that it has to be done now, at a time of high unemployment. Can my noble friend assure me that in this process, those who are placing people outwith the specialist teams—normal job centres and secondary support services—are given greater briefing, particularly in the areas where people are being made unemployed? This may well be a useful test case for those who are providing better services overall. Unless we get that process right across the board, we will have merely pockets of good practice, not good practice overall.
support we are providing in this case, where we have the personal help and support package, which is considerably tailored with consultation at every stage with, most interestingly, a specific caseworker per person, so people’s individual requirements are analysed and taken into account, plus a fund to help people in. In this case, there is a lot of tailored support. One lesson may well be how important individual caseworkers are in helping people.
Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope: I have been following the development of this policy area, and it is very difficult. I understand the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about timing, but I disagree with him. I also disagree with him on his interpretation of the Sayce report. Liz Sayce, who did sterling service to this House and others by writing her report, is looking much more long term and I think that her long-term principles are absolutely correct. We have to get the implementation right to look after the individuals who will be directly and, in some cases, starkly affected by this change. I want an assurance from my noble friend that there will be a comprehensive package of support for the individuals affected.
In particular, as it affects these workers that we are all so concerned about this afternoon, transport access through the Access to Work programme is vital, because a lot of these factories and establishments are in very hard labour market areas. They may have to look further afield to find employment opportunities that are appropriate for their special circumstances.
I am reassured to hear my noble friend mention the individual personalised package. I am also reassured by his undertaking to report back. It seems strange to me that we spend £320 million or £330 million on disability specialist employment services but £7,000 million on disability unemployment services. As the architect of the famous DEL-AME switch I will be looking to him in the longer term—and I hope that these short-term problems are sorted out—to use his ingenuity to try to lever some of the money out of disability unemployment support to employment support in the future.
This is not easy—it is a change in direction. However, it does reflect a world which is moving on, away from the physical disability area, into the mental health disability area. There is a lot of work to be done there. We need the money to be used very efficiently. In terms of efficiency, roughly half of the money spent on Access to Work is in achieving things that would not have happened otherwise. In other words, there is, in the jargon, not too much dead weight. Clearly one of the objectives of any Government must be to ramp up the level of efficiency and reduce the level of dead weight as we direct the money to help people who particularly need it. As noble Lords will know, that is something I am trying to push hard, in every direction that I possibly can.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, I shall address Amendment 54, in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hayter. I will also speak to Amendments 55, 57, 58 and 61. I apologise to the Committee if there is some confusion over the grouping with respect to these amendments. We asked this morning for this amendment to be degrouped from the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, which deals with something rather different.
I will preface my remarks by saying that over the next several groups we will examine the exceptionalism of the Financial Policy Committee. This committee is an experiment, and it has powers transferred from persons who have the authority of election behind them and are part of the executive, to an administrative function. These powers are substantial: they manage the supply of credit, and possibly, if particular measures were handed over to the FPC, they will manage the demand for credit. Hence, it will have a major impact on the overall macroperformance of the economy.
There is also the potential for the FPC to be in conflict with the Monetary Policy Committee—the MPC—which controls the price of credit. That contradiction could be a serious element in the overall operation and management of the economy. The exceptionalism of the FPC, in our view, requires exceptional scrutiny and consultation as this experiment unfolds. I call it an experiment because we do not as yet know how effective these administrative measures are going to be. We do not as yet know even what they will be in content, so a degree of extra scrutiny and consultation is required at every stage to ensure that major mistakes are not made and that we design effective procedures and secure public acceptance for the role of the Financial Policy Committee.
Amendment 54 introduces a minor element, which has wider significance than might at first appear. It simply introduces the expression “and the public” into those who must be consulted with respect to the makings of an order. The public here is a term of art, meaning those who have a direct interest in this area. It would essentially involve the industry and perhaps a few specialist academics or others who have a particular interest in the field. Amendment 54 seeks, as does Amendment 55, to introduce the possibility of that wider consultation, which I believe is vital if this experiment—and it is an experiment—is to succeed.
Amendment 57 simply adds to the requirements for consultation by providing a back-up. When there is some failure to consult, perhaps because of the urgency of a particular measure, that failure should be,
“subject to scrutiny by the Treasury Select Committee”,
in a way which has been recognised in other parts of the Bill. Amendment 61 adds to the conditions associated with urgency that there should be a statement published within 10 days of an urgent measure on which consultation has not taken place. Those four amendments provide a wider framework of consultation for this experiment than is provided in the Bill. It seems to me that they are entirely unexceptional and would be widely welcomed throughout the financial services industry, and indeed the policy community.
Amendment 58 is a little different and really should have been degrouped, but we feel we should not go too far in our enthusiasm for degrouping. Here we have a slightly different element that focuses, however, on the exceptionalism of the Financial Policy Committee because that committee has a particular responsibility for measures that are specific macroeconomic controls. I simply do not see how that responsibility can be in any way transferred to the FCA or the PRA, which do not have such a responsibility in their objectives or their specification of roles. This seems to be a major mistake in the drafting of the Bill. It is also unnecessary with respect to the directions by the FPC, since the ability of the FPC to authorise the exercise of discretion is covered in proposed new Section 9G(5). This part is therefore going too far, as the necessary role for the FPC is already covered.
This is a dangerous amendment—no, it is a dangerous position, not a dangerous amendment. It is a very beneficial amendment, which would remove a potential danger in the sense that the provision, as drafted, takes these experimental powers which we are handing to the FPC and allows them to be generalised outwith that very special framework that we are creating in the Bill. I urge the Government to accept Amendment 58. All the powers that the committee needs are covered by proposed new Section 9G(5) and this position is entirely unnecessary.
In dealing with the exceptionalism of the Financial Policy Committee, therefore, the amendments I am discussing in this group enhance the underpinning of consultation that will provide validity and acceptance to the powers of the FPC and remove what was perhaps an unwitting extension of those powers, which might undermine the entire project. I beg to move.
Lord Barnett: Apart from the slight slip, I agree with everything my noble friend said. Indeed, I would say that it is not the only major mistake in this Bill. There are lots of major mistakes; indeed, there is total confusion. My noble friend has referred to only part of it. The plain fact is that when he talked about the FCA or the FPC, I was not quite sure which one we were talking about. There is also the PRA, which I forgot to mention. The macroprudential is also very important. I do not know where it fits into all this and where the responsibility will lie. To say that it is confusing is to put it mildly. As I have said before, this Bill is a dog’s breakfast—I think that is the phrase. This Joint Committee that is being set up—perhaps the noble Lord can tell us when—was supposed to deal with everything very quickly. However, we are rising in a couple of weeks’ time, and if the Joint
Committee is not set up soon it will be October before it is. Perhaps the noble Lord knows, because he knows everything about this Bill.
The plain fact is that responsibility ultimately rests with the Treasury. On the previous group of amendments, we were told that the Treasury will issue another document. The one thing we are not short of on this Bill is documents. We have two huge volumes, one with the schedules and one with the clauses, plus Treasury amendments and all kinds of working papers. Frankly, if my noble friend is confused, anyone involved with this Bill is bound to be confused because it is totally confusing. I hope that the Minister will be able to reply comprehensively about how the whole thing will work and where the responsibility lies. I assume that ultimately it will lie with the Treasury, not with the FCA or the PRA or whoever. Who else will be responsible for financial stability? It must be the Treasury. No doubt, the Minister will be able to tell us. I strongly support my noble friend.
Lord Peston: My Lords, first, I support my noble friend Lord Barnett in his remarks about this Joint Committee of both Houses, about which we had a great row last week and were even divided on. We would certainly like to know when it will be set up and when it will appear in detail in the business statement. Having said that, I have two or three questions.
My noble friend is quite right to use the word “experiment”, but I hope he will agree that the whole Bill is an experiment. We have not had anything like this placed before us in this form, certainly in my quarter of a century here. That does not mean that it is an experiment that should not take place, but it does mean that we must be immensely careful when it comes to implementation. In particular, the one thing that we do not want to do is what I am afraid all Governments do: look at the past and then repeat the errors of the past willy-nilly. This is not a party political point; it is part of the nature of our political system. We need to make absolutely certain that we do not repeat the errors of the past.
“subject to scrutiny by the Treasury Select Committee”.
What troubles me much more is that I cannot see how what is said in the Bill does not lead to clashes with the MPC and what it seeks to do. There is an enormous blurred area of who is responsible for what. After all, if one knows any monetary economics, one knows that the MPC’s role is certainly to produce financial stability. That is the whole point of a correct monetary framework, yet there are these other bodies doing the same thing. I know that we went through this again last week and were told that the governor of the Bank—I add the now mandatory remark, “whoever he or she may be”—will be chairing both committees, but it is still a Herculean task for the governor to ensure that two different committees do not have a decision-making process that leads to conflict.
My last question is due to my ignorance of parliamentary procedure. Could the Minister say a bit more about what the phrase “by order” means? Does it mean putting an order before both Houses that is not amendable by us, or not? Apart from that, as I say, my support is strong.
Baroness Noakes: I may be able to help the noble Lord, Lord Peston, with his last question. In two groups’ time, we will be discussing precisely the nature of the procedure that will accompany these new tools. The noble Lord might like to wait until then.
The Commercial Secretary to the Treasury (Lord Sassoon): I am always grateful to my noble friend or anyone else who wants to take the heat on challenging questions. We will come back to the nature of orders.
On the question of what the experiment is here, the experiment that has failed is that of creating the FSA, and we now need to go back to putting the Bank of England at the heart of matters, which is what this is all about. I rather preferred the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, referring to a “project”, which he did at the end of his speech, rather than an “experiment”. It is indeed a major project.
To dispose of the not entirely relevant question about the Joint Committee on banking ethics and standards, the procedural Motion to set up that committee will be before us very shortly. There is not much more that I can usefully add. I do not think it is directly relevant to these amendments, but I am sure that that Motion will come forward very soon.
Lord Peston: It is directly relevant because the Minister has argued constantly that these are times of crisis and that we need to act quickly. He keeps arguing that and blaming the previous Government for the crisis rather than his own Government’s continued mistakes. It is therefore very relevant for us to know when this committee is going to be set up and who will be on it.
Lord Sassoon: I am sure that we will not have to wait for very long. I shall address what is more directly the subject of these amendments and the question about possible conflicts between the FPC and the MPC. While it is conceivable that the two committees might seemingly appear to be taking conflicting action, I do not actually believe that that is likely to be the case as each committee’s actions will be designed to address very different aspects of the economy and the financial system. That said, there are mechanisms in place to ensure that conflict does not arise. The committees will share information and briefing in order to aid co-ordination, and the Bill makes provision for joint meetings of the two policy committees if at any time that is required. The Bank has also said that it agrees with the Treasury Committee’s recommendation on this question and that the governor should consult the chairman of court if a conflict arises. It is unlikely, but the Bill makes provision through joint meetings and the consultation with the chairman of court.
I turn to the specifics of Amendments 54 and 55. These amendments seek to require the Treasury to consult the public before making any order which makes macroprudential tools available to the FPC. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, that effective consultation on macroprudential tools is essential, but this amendment is not the best way to achieve it. The practice of public consultation on important matters of policy and legislation is now well established and is engrained in good government practice. My honourable friend the Financial Secretary said in another place:
The Government have already committed to a consultation on their proposals for the FPC’s initial toolkit and will produce a draft statutory instrument as a part of that consultation. The Bill as currently drafted does not prevent the Treasury from consulting the public. The Government have already shown their willingness to consult on macroprudential tools and demonstrated their commitment to transparency by asking the interim FPC to make public recommendations regarding its tools.
I do not quibble with the term “public”. From what the noble Lord said, I suspect that he might have been expecting me to come back and say that this is not for the public, but for consultation with the industry. I accept the context in which he uses the word “public”. That is not my objection. It is good practice to do it. We are doing it. The FPC has been asked to make public its recommendations regarding tools. However, it may not always be appropriate to consult the public, which is why this requirement should not be in the legislation. Not all macroprudential orders will make large changes to the FPC’s direction powers. It is possible that some orders will contain only minor and technical changes and in this instance a three-month public consultation would be unnecessary. The previous Government rightly recognised the risks of undertaking full public consultation in cases where it is not necessary. Their own code of consultation listed seven criteria, one of which stated:
The Government have stated that they will, in compliance with the principles of good government, consult the public when material changes to the FPC’s direction powers are proposed and in non-urgent cases. I hope that that provides reassurance which the Committee seeks.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, while we are on this point and before the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, moves on to other elements, I am grateful for his clarification on this issue of consultation. I heard that we expect the Treasury to consult and there is nothing to prevent it consulting. I was seeking that the Treasury be required to consult.
Turning to the point which the noble Lord has just raised about the consultation criteria, which is enormously helpful, would it not be appropriate to write the criteria in to the conditionality with respect to when the
Treasury should consult? Then we will not have simply an expectation or a desire and we will not be saying that there is nothing to prevent consultation. We will be saying that the Treasury should consult in all circumstances other than those specified under the consultation criteria. Would that not be helpful?
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, of course that could be done, but I make the point again that it is now engrained in the principles of good government that there should normally be three months’ public consultation. There is a code of consultation that the previous Government put out. It sets it all out very clearly, including the point about burdens and so on that I read out. In its full richness, it cannot easily be drafted in legislation. Indeed, if we were going to do it in this Bill, I imagine there could be hundreds of other Bills in which it could be spelled out. I suggest that the Committee should not only take comfort from the standard governmental practice but from the fact that we have already indicated what we are going to do with the FPC toolkit. I believe we have covered it all and do not need to burden this Bill with a lot of detail any more than other Bills are burdened with it.
Amendment 57 seeks to provide that the reasons for making an order without consulting the FPC or the public be subject to scrutiny by the Treasury Select Committee. While I agree that accountability to Parliament will be important and the provisions within the Bill reflect that, I believe, as I have said on other occasions, that it is for parliamentary committees themselves to decide what they will scrutinise. I would expect the Treasury Committee to take a great interest in any circumstances where the Treasury felt it necessary to create a new macroprudential tool on an urgent and therefore possibly not-consulted basis.
I suggest to the Committee that it would be inappropriate for the Government to use primary legislation to force the Treasury Select Committee to scrutinise something. It must be a decision for the committee itself. The committee has already taken great interest in the interim FPC and I hope that this will continue. For those reasons I believe that Amendment 57 is neither appropriate nor necessary.
We then get to Amendment 58—I was going to say “the dangerous amendment”. It seeks to deal with what the noble Lord says is a potentially dangerous situation. He was entirely clear in his reasoning. The amendment seeks to remove the FPC’s ability to confer discretion on the PRA and the FCA as part of a direction.
Lord Sassoon: The noble Lord says that it is the Treasury’s ability to confer discretion. Whoever’s ability to confer discretion it is—I am just turning back to the drafting of the amendment, which really means looking at the clause as well. I will do that as I speak. I believe it is the FPC’s ability to confer discretion, but whether it is the FPC or the Treasury, the purpose of the provision is to allow the direction-making entity to take advantage of the expertise of the PRA and the FCA. Indeed, the noble Lord is completely right.
I have now checked the text and it is the Treasury. However, the point is the same. We need to take advantage of the expertise of the PRA and the FCA which hold the expert knowledge relating to the supervision of individual firms. This provision allows the Treasury to take advantage of that expertise in its directions. For example, if the direction required the PRA to require firms with large exposures to hold additional capital, it would be for the PRA to decide which firms had large exposures. That would be something for the supervisor—the regulator—to do. Therefore, I believe that the amendment would unnecessarily hamper the ability of the direction to have proper effect.
“may confer a discretion on … the FCA or the PRA”.
In other words, the Treasury has direct macroprudential tool access to the FCA or PRA, not via the FPC. Proposed new Section 9G(5) describes the correct procedure, in that a discretion that could be given to the PRA or the FCA comes via the FPC. In other words, it comes via the macroprudential authority—the institution that is responsible for macroprudential measures. The example given by the noble Lord is particularly pertinent in this case. If there were a requirement to increase the capital that is relative, let us say, to large exposures or to other risk-weighted measures, then that must be a decision of the FPC. I do not see how the Treasury could give that macroprudential role in any shape or form directly to the FCA or the PRA.
If the provision’s wording was that an order may confer a discretion on the Financial Policy Committee, which may then be transferred to the FCA or the PRA at the will of the Financial Policy Committee, the point that the noble Lord has just made about expertise would be entirely well taken. However, if we are to maintain the integrity of this experiment, or indeed project, then we must maintain the FPC as the focus for macroprudential regulatory management. That is why I referred to this element as dangerous, in the sense that it undermines that clear structure within the Bill.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, according to these provisions, when the Treasury specifies what macroprudential measures the FPC may exercise, the Treasury may, in relation to those macroprudential measures, confer functions on the regulator. It is intended that this is likely to be used for minor matters such as definitions. For example, the Treasury could provide that the FPC may impose additional capital requirements on exposures to residential property, and that the PRA, as the microregulator, would define the meaning of “residential property”.
There is, therefore, a web of interlocking provisions here, which I fear I did not do justice to in my first attempt to cut through this. Would it help the noble Lord if I take this one away, write to him and copy it to the other Members of the Committee who are here, to try to explain how these provisions will work together?
I do not believe that there is any gap here, because it is ancillary to the basic directions that will come via the macroprudentials of the FPC. But there may be some ancillary matters, particularly definitional ones, where the expertise of the PRA or the FCA would be operative and for which we need therefore to keep this element and not to close this off in the way that Amendment 58 seeks to do. I will write to try to set that out more clearly. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that.
Amendment 61 would require the FPC to publish a policy statement within 10 days of a direction being made in relation to a measure made before the FPC had been able to issue a statement of policy under new Section 9L to be inserted into the Bank of England Act 1998 under Clause 3. Again, the Government agree that transparency and openness will be vital to ensure sufficient accountability for the FPC and the use of its tools. However, I believe that this amendment is not appropriate.
The Bill already provides that a policy statement is produced and maintained for each of the Bank’s macroprudential tools. This would also apply to those measures granted using the emergency procedure. However, if a situation were urgent, it would be counterproductive to require the FPC to wait until it has drafted and published a statement of policy before it could use that tool.
We would expect the FPC to produce a statement of policy for the tool as soon as reasonably practical afterwards, assuming that the tool remains in the FPC’s toolkit. I suggest that the requirement in Amendment 61 would be excessively restrictive.
Lord Peston: I am very puzzled by the Minister’s answer. That may be because I do not understand what a macroprudential measure is. Macro normally means economy-wide: it does not mean dealing with a specific bank in trouble or anything like that. I would take it to mean that the whole financial intermediation process was in danger of going wrong. I am finding it very hard to believe that, as a matter of urgency if the FPC was acting to deal with that, it would not immediately draft a statement. The idea that it will take time to say, “We have got a crisis on our hands and we are acting” is preposterous. It rather takes us back to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, which carried the same kind of message. Surely, the point for the Minister to emphasise is that he wishes to make it clear that all of us take it for granted that the relevant decision-making body should do exactly what my noble friend says.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, the requirement is there for the statement to be made. Indeed, it would be the full expectation that a statement would be made. We believe that the Bill does not need any extra amendment in relation to statements that relate to macroprudential measures where they are exercised as a matter of urgency. The statement has to be made in any case.
Lord Eatwell: Perhaps I may help the noble Lord. I think that there was a slight misunderstanding in what he said in his initial answer on this amendment. He said that if there were an urgent situation, it would be
inappropriate to wait for a statement to be made. That is not what this amendment says. It in no way prevents urgent measures being taken immediately. It simply says that if that is the case—as the noble Lord said, as soon as possible, and as I say, within 10 days—a statement should be produced. Surely, it is appropriate to give confidence and comfort to the markets that they can have some degree of expectation that a measure taken in urgency would be subject to a statement within a timeframe which is known to the markets and therefore provides them with appropriate comfort.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, I do not believe that any additional requirement needs to be put in. The FPC already has transparency requirements at the heart of what it does. I completely agree that in certain cases, if it was an urgent matter, 10 days would not be the answer. It would make a statement based on the merits of the case either immediately, or on some other timescale. The Treasury would need to lay secondary legislation on an urgent basis to create the new tools required. Regardless of this provision, the laying of this secondary legislation would involve a public statement about the need for the tool and how it would be used. There is another backstop. If the new tool was required to be created, Parliament would immediately have a statement in front of it to back up the secondary legislation.
For a variety of reasons, Amendment 61 is redundant. On the basis of some partial explanations, and my commitment to write to him—particularly to explain in more detail how I believe the matters around Amendment 58 will operate—I ask if the noble Lord will withdraw his amendment.
Lord Eatwell: I am grateful to the noble Lord. Having a committee process where we go backwards and forwards on each particular amendment is helpful and removes the need for me to make a long summing-up speech. I will simply focus on Amendment 58, which has been the main matter of substance within this group which has exercised us, especially after the noble Lord clarified the issues of the consultations so well. Amendment 58 is still a serious problem, and I look forward to the noble Lord writing to me about it. Once I have his views in writing, perhaps we can consult further to find an appropriate way of sustaining the position of the FPC in the way that I have described. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Lord Eatwell: And now, my Lords, for something completely different. One of the objects relating to the governance of the Bank of England which we discussed in the first two days in Committee, and which is now coming up again, is to increase the collegiality of decision-making within the Bank, particularly with
respect to this project. It seems that the deputy governor for financial stability is going to have an important role in the development of the FPC, the development of its activities and, indeed, its overall credibility and acceptance. It therefore seems entirely appropriate in these circumstances that the deputy governor for financial stability should be given a special status within the legislation, both in respect to consultation with the Treasury when an emergency order is introduced, and with respect to the discussions with the Chancellor of the Exchequer after the publication of the
Financial Stability Report
Amendment 56 seeks to place the deputy governor for financial stability within the framework of consultation when there is an emergency order. Overall responsibility rests with the governor. However, surely the deputy governor, who has the prime responsibility, should be consulted when there is likely to be an emergency order. Moreover, when the Treasury and the Bank have their formal discussions, which are required by the Bill, following the publication of the Financial Stability Report, it is surely appropriate that the person responsible for that report—the deputy governor for financial stability is the acting element in this respect—should be part of those conversations, as we require in Amendment 79.
If the Government accepted these amendments, we would feel much more comfortable about the overall governance structure of the Bank. It would acquire a more collegial framework, which we strongly feel is very appropriate to the development of these new measures. I beg to move.
As the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, said, Amendment 56 would require the Treasury to inform not only the governor but the deputy governor for financial stability when it considers that there is insufficient time for the FPC to be consulted on the introduction of a new macroprudential tool.
Amendment 79 would place in the Bill a requirement for the deputy governor for financial stability to attend the biannual meetings between the Chancellor and the governor following the publication of the FPC’s annual stability report.
Clearly the Bank plays a crucial role not only in relation to the management of the UK’s economy but specifically, under the Bill, in relation to macroprudential and microprudential regulation. In fulfilling these very important responsibilities, we expect the Bank to act as the serious and respected organisation that it is. This means that the senior executives of the Bank will work as a team to determine the best course of action to achieve the Bank’s objectives and comply with the legal obligations placed upon it. The governor is the leader of that team and, working closely with his senior executives, will ultimately take the key decisions within the Bank.
It is clear that the success of the new regulatory structure, which, rightly, we are spending so much time debating, relies heavily on the relationship between the Treasury and the Bank of England, and I believe that
the Bill provides the necessary clarity of responsibilities. However, it also depends on the personal relationships at play here, particularly between the most senior leaders of the two bodies—the Chancellor of the Exchequer and the Governor of the Bank of England. One of the major problems leading up to the financial crisis was that the tripartite committee did not meet at principals level during the previous decade.
Therefore, there are clearly things that need to be legislated for, and this is not what the noble Lord is in any way seeking to argue against, but it is important background to this discussion. The Chancellor and the governor must meet regularly to discuss financial stability. That is why the Bill and the regulatory structure that it establishes place at the heart of the matter the institutional relationship between the Treasury and the Bank, and the personal relationship between the Chancellor and the governor.
I do not see any reason to attempt to insert into that relationship a further statutory channel of communication. First, I just do not believe that it is needed. The Treasury ministerial team regularly meets the current deputy governor for financial stability and the chief executive of the FSA. There is also a constant dialogue between the deputy governor and senior Treasury officials via meetings, phone calls and e-mails. The same was true under the previous Government, as I know, since I was part of it for three years, and it was very effective at working level. That has not changed and it will not change under the new structure. In practice, the deputy governor may well attend the biannual meetings between the two principals. If the Treasury notified the governor that a new macroprudential instrument needed to be introduced on an urgent basis, the deputy governor would be well aware of that.
I will just point out one slight correction that is relevant to this, which is that the FPC is responsible for the financial stability report to the deputy governor. That is relevant to the discussion of this amendment because it shows that we should not excessively personalise the relationships or draw attention to particular individuals if that risks, as it may do in this instance, causing confusion about who is responsible for what. I agree that the relationship with the two leaders of the bodies, the Treasury and the Bank of England, should be hard-wired in, as we have done. In practice, the deputy governor is, and will be, very much involved in all the relevant discussions. Amendments 79 and 56 are not necessary and go too far.
There is a strong argument here that such a provision could be positively unhelpful by opening the door to the possibility that the Bank may be divided and encouraged to speak with more than one voice. There is a risk of recreating elements of dysfunctionality that were in the system as it used to exist. I do not want to overplay this, since the main argument is the earlier one. However, I do see a slight but secondary danger that this provision could be built on in the wrong circumstances. On the basis of the earlier explanations, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, will withdraw this amendment.
by the previous Government did not work because of its structure. He has now admitted that it did not work because the principals did not work it and did not meet. That is a very different issue. The fact that the principals did not meet, and that we now find the need for them to meet in primary legislation, illustrates that it was not the structure that was wrong but the people working in it that went wrong.
I agree with the noble Lord that the Bank should work as a team. I am very much in favour of that. However, we have to distinguish between the captain of the team and those who take the penalty kicks. We may want Martin Johnson to be the captain but we want Jonny Wilkinson to take the kicks. In those circumstances, the particular specialist role of the deputy governor for financial stability seems to be an important element in effective communication between the Treasury and the Bank. Moreover, the noble Lord expressed, in a careful way, that this might expose differences in the Bank’s position and suggested that this might create dysfunctionality. There are differences in this Committee, but this Committee is not dysfunctional. It is making progress. The differences between us are highlighting, as it is their role to highlight, some problems in the Bill that can make it a better Bill, which is our entire objective. I do not accept that differences within a reasonably run organisation necessarily lead to dysfunctionality. That seems to be Sir Humphrey rampant, determined that there is a singular position.
The whole issue of governance of the Bank is still somewhat in the air. This is one element that we wished to put in the Bill and felt would be enormously helpful. Now the noble Lord has recognised that the tripartite system did not fail because of its structure, but because of the personalities who failed to work it, I hope that he will consider the value of these amendments when we return to them on Report.
Lord Barnett: I was confused before we started and my noble friend and the Minister have confused me even more. They talk about teams; apparently there is a Treasury team and a team from the PRA, MPC or FCA—I am not sure which it is. There are various teams who will be meeting to solve a crisis if it arises. The Chancellor of the Exchequer, of course, would know nothing about all of this. The people who know something about it might be here with us, including the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, who is a member of the team, apparently. Maybe he will take the penalty kicks.
Lord Barnett: We are talking about possible serious financial crises and stability. At the end of the day, the Chancellor will be held responsible if something goes wrong with financial stability. There could be as many teams as we liked, but the Chancellor would ultimately have to accept responsibility, even if he knew nothing about it. I am sure that any Chancellor—I am looking at one now—would know everything that was going on in his team.
I am confused about what the clause or the Bill will do to help us in this matter. My noble friend’s amendment might help, although we are told by the Minister that it could “excessively personalise”. I am blessed if I know what that is supposed to mean, but no doubt the Minister will tell us. At the moment, I am more confused than ever. I thought that I understood a few things about financial matters but, listening to the exchange between my noble friend and the Minister, I am confused more than ever.
Lord Eatwell: Perhaps before I sit down I can help my noble friend. We are discussing what is perceived to be an essential failure of the previous system. The failure was that the people responsible for working it did not take advantage of the tools that were provided. Here in the Bill, as the Minister pointed out, the Government have rightly insisted that the Treasury and the Bank convey information to each other, consult each other and act collectively when necessary. That is appropriate, and I commend the Government in that respect. I simply think that they have not gone far enough.
Lord Peston: If my noble friend were to ask himself who would know most about a macroprudential measure in the Bank, surely that would be the deputy governor, because that is his job. My noble friend is saying that the Treasury should consult. I would argue that the Treasury is sensible enough to know that it should consult the one person who would know what was going on.
Lord Eatwell: Just to reinforce what I said, neither the Government nor this side have entire confidence in the consultation procedure between the Bank and Treasury as it has taken place in the past. The Government are seeking to reinforce that confidence, and I wanted to reinforce it further. But at this stage I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) a draft order, and
(b) an explanatory document.
(a) introduce and give reasons for the order,
(b) explain why the Treasury considers that the order serves the purpose in section 9K, and
(c) be accompanied by a copy of any representations received from the FPC or the Governor.
(1C) The Treasury may not act under subsection (1A) before the end of the period of 12 weeks beginning with the day on which the consultation began, unless the order is made in accordance with section 9K(2)(b).
(1D) Subject as follows, if after the expiry of the 40-day period the draft order laid under subsection (1A) is approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament, the Minister may make an order in the terms of the draft order.
(a) either House of Parliament so resolves within the 30-day period, or
(b) a committee of either House charged with reporting on the draft order so recommends within the 30-day period and the House to which the recommendation is made does not by resolution reject the recommendation within the period.
(a) any representations,
(b) any resolution of either House of Parliament, and
(c) any recommendation of a committee of either House of Parliament charged with reporting on the draft order, made during the 60-day period with regard to the draft order.
(a) a revised draft order, and
(b) a statement giving a summary of the changes proposed.
(1L) In this section, references to the “30-day”, “40-day” and “60-day” periods in relation to any draft order are to the periods of 30, 40 and 60 days beginning with the day on which the draft order was laid before Parliament.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McFall, is unable to be with us this afternoon because he is en route to receiving an honorary degree tomorrow, which I am sure the Committee will agree is well deserved.
This is another amendment that the noble Lord, Lord McFall, and I have tabled to ensure that the issues covered in the first report in this Session of the Treasury Select Committee in another place are properly debated. I am pleased to see that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has added his name to the amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has already emphasised the importance of the macroprudential tools which are covered by new Sections 9G to 9M. I am sure that the thrust behind these new sections will command general support, but the detail of the new tools must be approached with very great care. My noble friend does not like the term “experiment”, but most of us think that if something looks like an experiment and sounds like an experiment, it is an experiment. We cannot get away from the fact that, because these macroprudential tools have not been used before in this country, nor is there much international experience to go by, we are talking about something very new which should receive very considerable scrutiny. Not even the Bank of England claims a monopoly of wisdom on what these macro- prudential matters should be.
This experimental phase will run for some time. The measures that are initially specified will almost certainly vary over time, as the focus of risks to financial stability changes and as experience is gained of working with the measures. We have something that is very new and, as the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has also pointed out, these are very powerful tools to be placed into the hands of the FPC. We have already seen the FPC’s first shot at what it believes those macroprudential tools should be. It has suggested a countercyclical capital buffer, sectoral capital requirements and a leverage ratio. At that time the FPC said that some other measures, such as loan-to-value ratios and loan-to-income ratios, would need public support before they were introduced. I would like to suggest that all the potential measures need public support and therefore there has to be proper debate before it would be wise to introduce them. The Government have, correctly, decided that the new measures cannot simply be set by the FPC or the Bank. They have to be prescribed by the Treasury by order, and that order is subject to parliamentary approval. That meets the point which troubled the noble Lord, Lord Peston, a little while ago.
So far, so good. The measures are to be initially specified by the Treasury, not left to the Bank and the FPC, and they have to be approved by Parliament. The problem is that new Section 9M prescribes the draft affirmative procedure. This procedure is, of course, better than the ordinary affirmative procedure which is, in turn, better than the negative procedure. However, none of these procedures is, in truth, more than a rubber stamp. Oppositions know this only too well, but that knowledge seems somehow to evaporate when they find themselves on the government Benches. Some of us still remember.
The importance of the macroprudential measures lies not in their technical specification and potential impact on financial stability, though those are very important issues. The equally important issues are the consequences of using the measures and their impact on the wider economy. These matters need proper scrutiny and debate both in Parliament and, as we discussed earlier, outside. Once the FPC has been granted these measures they will be able to use them without any further parliamentary intervention. The price for getting these wrong could be very high and so Parliament needs to be very sure that it understands the potential impact of the powers and that it has an opportunity to amend or circumscribe them if that is appropriate. The only way we can get a proper debate in these terms is through the use of the super-affirmative procedure, and that is what the amendment proposes.
“in enactments where an exceptionally high degree of scrutiny is appropriate”.
It is inescapable that these measures fall into that category. It is generally the case that Governments never start out thinking that the super-affirmative procedure is the right one. However, the will of Parliament does sometimes prevail over the Executive in this area.
The Government recently accepted in the Public Bodies Act 2011 that their powers to wind up such hugely important bodies as the Home Grown Timber Advisory Committee or the Railway Heritage Committee should be subject to the super-affirmative procedure, but it appears that they have yet to be convinced that granting these massive new powers to the FPC is of that importance. It is a no-brainer that the super-affirmative procedure should be used and I hope that my noble friend will be prepared to accept that that is the case.
I am aware that the Delegated Powers Committee, which I hold in the highest regard, has not raised objections to the affirmative procedure in the Bill. That is interesting but not conclusive. The final arbiter on these matters is Parliament. The Delegated Powers Committee acts as an early warning system of problems for Parliament to address. The committee does not act on behalf of Parliament to approve particular procedures.
In responding to the Treasury Select Committee, the Government have raised concerns about timing and, in particular, the impact of recesses. This is a red herring. We are not generally dealing with matters which need to be introduced immediately. However, if the FPC woke up one morning with an urgent need to acquire a new macroprudential tool, one’s first reaction would be that that was surprising. However, if that were genuinely the case and the Treasury were committed, my Amendment 62 does not remove the ability to act with urgency. The powers set out in new Section 9M for the made affirmative procedure can be used when the Treasury is convinced of the urgency of the matter.
When the Governor of the Bank of England came to talk to a number of us last week, he rightly emphasised the accountability of the Bank and the FPC to Parliament. Accountability is an ex post concept: Parliament also has to have the ability to be involved fully ex ante in the formulation of important matters such as the macroprudential measures, and the super-affirmative procedure is the only proper way to proceed. I beg to move.
Lord Northbrook: My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Noakes in her Amendment 162. Like my noble friend, I believe that there should be stronger parliamentary scrutiny of the macroprudential tools.
While I accept that there must be flexibility to grant the FPC new tools quickly in rare and urgent circumstances, I still agree with the Treasury Select Committee’s report on the accountability of the Bank of England. As the legislation stands, approval by the House of Commons requires only a 90-minute debate in a general committee and a decision without debate in the House. Like the Select Committee, I recommend that the Government amend the draft legislation to require debates on orders prescribing macroprudential measures to be held on the Floor of the House and not be subject to the 90-minute restriction. The House would benefit from prior scrutiny of such orders by the committee. This view is supported by the Joint Committee on the draft Financial Services Bill, which agrees that there should be a system of enhanced parliamentary scrutiny of these important tools. Like my noble friend Lady Noakes, I was disappointed.
Although I respect enormously the Delegated Powers Committee, I felt that its arguments for not wishing this were not as substantial as I would have liked.
Lord Eatwell: My Lords, I, too, support the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in her amendment. I also commend the Treasury Select Committee on having done such a good job in presenting the arguments for appropriate scrutiny of elements in the Bill.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, pointed out, the measures which the Financial Policy Committee is to have in its hands are extremely powerful. Let us consider introducing a leverage ratio in British banking. That notion has not existed within the structure or organisation of British banking. It would change entirely the relationship between the liability side and the asset side of the balance sheet of British banks. It is a major measure which thereby deserves appropriate consideration of the sort set out in the amendment.
Let us consider also the other tool which the FPC is claiming as appropriate for itself: pro-cyclical provisioning. Pro-cyclical provisioning involves enormously complicated decisions, both in the banking sector and in accountancy. Accountants tend to be very hostile to the notion of provisioning since it can be used to hide profits. It is a standard procedure which was common in the Enron case. If we are going to formulate a structure of pro-cyclical provisioning which not only achieves the goals that the FPC and all of us want but satisfies the complex needs of appropriate accounting—we have seen recently how accounting can be misused in the banking sector—these measures require very careful scrutiny. As the noble Baroness said so clearly, a 90-minute debate, which is then a rubber stamp, is entirely inappropriate. The procedure set out in the amendment would not only provide that level of scrutiny but contribute to the public confidence in these procedures which is vital if we are to achieve the goals which we have set out for the FPC.
Lord Peston: My Lords, I remind the Committee by way of background that we are discussing adverse, exogenous shocks to the financial intermediation process. Those shocks are impossible to forecast and extremely hard to recognise even when they hit the system. My understanding of why we require macroprudential measures is that it improves the way in which the system works so as to be able to cope with those shocks. It is partly to protect the system of financial intermediation and partly to improve its effectiveness and efficiency—so we have no difficulty about that.
However, if we need these instruments, it follows that in a democracy—and I still include your Lordships’ House as part of our democracy—Parliament must be able to scrutinise them appropriately. As the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is well aware, I am not an expert on all the different kinds of orders, and she simply lost me on them, but I ask her whether the measures set out in her amendment give Parliament, including your Lordships' House, a full right to scrutinise the introduction of the macroprudential measures and—here I got a bit lost—to amend them in the sense of saying to the Government, “We think that what you
are doing is right, but you can do it in a rather better way.”? If that is what the amendment says, and I see the noble Baroness nodding, the Minister has a duty to the House to say, at the very least, that he will take it away and think it through.
Lord Barnett: My Lords, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in a way, although the amendment would add even more confusion to the Bill than is already there. My noble friend Lord Peston referred to the fact that it is about shocks. I hope it is not an urgent shock, because the amendment would give time for draft orders to be laid for a period of up to 60 days or before the end of a period of 12 weeks. Then there must be orders in both Houses. I assume that both Houses would also take advice from their Select Committees. All that will be going on while urgency is required. I find the whole thing as confusing as my noble friend does. We are told at the end of the amendment that if this shock arises when the House is not sitting, all kinds of other things happen. As my noble friend said, if the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, cannot clarify the whole thing for us in asking for the amendment to be withdrawn, we should be glad if he would take it away to think about it further and let us know what he or someone else thinks about it.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, I am very much in favour of scrutiny by this House. I cannot pretend to be an expert either on the different varieties of orders or on the different measurements and tools that the FPC might introduce, but I would be concerned about a mechanism in this House that enabled tools to be amended. Although we have some experts, the capacity to understand the internal workings of a tool with sufficient precision to be able to introduce an amendment to a ratio strikes me as not the particular skill of a legislature or this House. We can raise questions about it or require that it be dismissed because the Government have not sufficiently made their case, but to amend it is not a skill with which we are particularly equipped.
For that reason, and with great respect to the House, it seems to me that the capacity for amendment is inappropriate in this case. The capacity to force the Government to make their case and to judge on that case is entirely appropriate, but not the capacity to substitute; that worries me.
Lord Myners: My Lords, I have considerable sympathy with the amendment. I declare my interest as a former member of the court from 2004 to 2008. I fully support the creation of the Financial Policy Committee—I think that it will become the most important committee in the Bank—but I am deeply anxious about the governance of the Bank and the lack of appropriate oversight from the court, the oversight committee as envisaged or, indeed, Parliament.
The Minister is in many ways the architect of this restructuring of regulation, as part of a project which he led for the Opposition, having ceased to work in the Treasury. I understand his thinking in evolving the proposals, but events have moved on. In the light of what we now know about the Bank of England, we must ask whether it is still right to put so much authority in the hands of the Bank without appropriate accountability.
When I was a member of the court, I sat in on a meeting of the Financial Stability Committee. That would have been in 2006 or 2007. At that meeting, one of the governors proposed that as a mechanism to cope with the crisis, the Bank should buy half a dozen or a dozen bicycles in order that members of the Bank could move swiftly and anonymously around the City. That tells us a huge amount about where the Bank sits in terms of its understanding of the complexity of financial markets. Some of the things that we have seen over the past few weeks have simply raised more questions about the wisdom of putting so much power in the hands of the Bank.
We are also about to have a piece of legislation to implement the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking. Having been intimately involved in the Government’s response to the banking crisis from 2008 onwards, I would point out that the losses incurred in the British banking system—at HBOS, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland—largely occurred within the ring-fence. The losses of $5 billion which we have seen recently reported in London from JP Morgan took place within the ring-fence as envisaged by the Vickers report. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, looks somewhat sceptical about that. Those losses occurred within the treasury operations, or the investment office, of JP Morgan, and as such lay within the ring-fence rather than outside it. In being sympathetic to this amendment, and hoping that at the very least the Minister will go away and reflect on that, I think that the Minister will have to rethink some of the fundamental building blocks of this legislation—in particular the great powers and responsibilities that we are placing in the hands of the Bank of England—before we reach its next stage. These are powers and responsibilities that the Bank of England has historically not had and, in my judgment, is still not equipped to exercise.
If we are to do this then, at the very minimum, we must ensure that the Bank and its various agencies, including the Financial Policy Committee, are properly accountable to a court which is clear about its functions and clear about who it reports to. As a former member of the court I know that it was never clear who we reported to. It must also be clear about its parliamentary accountability.
Lord Sassoon: It is always entertaining to have one of the Second Reading speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Myners. I am not sure what it had to do with this particular amendment—which is to do with super-affirmative procedures in respect of orders made by the Treasury—but, anyway, we did talk extensively about governance of the Bank of England over the last couple of sessions, and there will no doubt be other opportunities to talk about them. Here we are talking about an amendment that seeks to require macroprudential orders to be subject to the so-called super-affirmative procedure. Although I was not going to question the competence of Parliament to get into the detail of the macroprudential tools, my noble friend Lady Kramer did make a powerful point about the level of scrutiny that is appropriate to tools that are—yes—very important but also highly technical.
I say that in the context of believing that proper parliamentary scrutiny of these tools will be important to the overall accountability. That is why the Bill, as has been noted, requires the macroprudential orders to be subject to the affirmative procedure. As the Committee would expect, the Government maintain that that strikes the right balance between accountability and timeliness. Orders cannot be made unless a draft is laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.
I will of course draw attention to what the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee had to say, although my noble friend Lady Noakes dismisses its remarks as “interesting but not conclusive”. As a statement of fact, it is clear that its remarks are not conclusive. However, I take issue with her when she dismisses its remarks as “interesting”, because I think that we should take the consideration of the DPRRC very seriously on matters such as this. For the help of the Committee I shall quote the relevant paragraph, because I think that it shows that the DPRRC has thought about this matter in detail. It states:
“The importance of the power is recognised by the application of the draft affirmative procedure or, in urgent cases, the 28-day ‘made affirmative’ procedure … The Joint Committee on the Draft Bill and the House of Commons Treasury Select Committee have recommended an enhanced affirmative procedure for the non-urgent orders, based on that in the Public Bodies Act 2011. But the affirmative procedure provided for in the Bill should be a sufficient safeguard against inappropriate use of these powers.”
Before I go on to underline the point about the question of time it might help the Committee—specifically, in answer to my noble friend Lord Northbrook and others who have talked about a 90-minute rubber stamp and so on—if I say that my right honourable friend the Chancellor made an additional commitment on this when he reaffirmed in another place the Government’s commitment to full scrutiny. He said that he would be happy, if agreed through the usual channels, to debate these tools on the Floor of the House. The Government have therefore made a commitment, recognising the importance of these tools, to go further than the strict requirements of the procedure in the Bill as it stands. I hope that that will help my noble friends and the Committee generally to understand that we want to do something that recognises the importance of these tools but without locking ourselves into a super-affirmative procedure, which creates the potential for unacceptable delays even in non-critical circumstances. What may be a non-critical circumstance at the start of a procedure that takes a minimum of 124 days may, in the sort of market conditions we have now, be urgent by the time we are well into those 124 days.
Lord Peston: My Lords, one of our difficulties in discussing this matter is that no one has mentioned a specific macroprudential measure. We are discussing them totally in the abstract, so perhaps I might mention a couple and say why the positive approach might well be relevant. If we look back to the corrupt practices of
the past on the part of financial intermediaries, I suppose the worst of them was the mixing up of a package of toxic and non-toxic assets and then marketing them as if they were non-toxic. I would assume that for the relevant body here, if it was confronted with this, it would be relevant to introduce a macroprudential measure to say that that is simply not going to happen. It would describe the measure and intervene. The Minister shakes his head. Is he saying that that is not an example of a macroprudential measure?
Lord Sassoon: I would say that examples of macroprudential measures are things such as leveraged ratios. If we are talking about the mis-selling of products, that is generally not going to be a question of macroprudential tools but a conduct matter that the FCA would deal with. They would not be the sorts of things covered in the macro toolkit of the Financial Policy Committee, as the noble Lord describes it.
Lord Peston: Speaking as an economist, that sounds complete nonsense to me. I point out to the Minister that the measure I have just described was at the centre of the collapse of both the British and American financial systems in the post-2007 era. This is precisely what these financial intermediaries were up to and precisely what led to the enormous damage that all the economies have suffered. How the Minister can possibly say that that is not a relevant tool is completely beyond me. I could give him some more examples, but let us leave it at that one.
The only question then is whether the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, is right that if it were introduced as an order we could not debate it in a way to be able to say that the Government’s method of dealing with this problem could be bettered. That is the only point at issue here. I would not like us to do this all the time. I would simply like us—and I mean the other place at least as much as us—to have the power to be able to say, “We can see that you’ve identified the problem and that you’ve got a solution, which you’re introducing by this order, but we think you could do it better this way”. That is all I am arguing and I cannot see what is unreasonable about it.
Baroness Kramer: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Peston, for giving way on that because I am again working in murky waters here. The Minister may correct me but I think the example that he referred to was of a leverage ratio, in which the assets had to be weighted in some way for their riskiness or toxicity. There would be an argument for using those weights within a leveraged ratio, would there not? You can use risk weights on anything, I say, having used them. However, that is not the kind of detail we would want to get into on the Floor of this House. My argument is that it would become so highly technical. If there is an amending capacity, that is exactly where we will take ourselves—and without a series of blackboards and three academics to lead us through it, I am not sure we could manage, frankly.
a Bill. There are no amendments tabled and voted on but there is the ability of either House to pass a resolution saying what it thinks. Much as the noble Lord, Lord Peston, articulated, either House would be able to consider whether it thought that the tools were up to the job. More importantly, as I tried to explain in my opening remarks, Parliament could consider the potential impact of using those tools and say to the Government whether it thought the tools appropriate in the context of the wider impact, not simply the narrow impact, on the regulation of financial institutions. The super-affirmative procedure does not allow a specific amendment process but it allows Parliament to say, “Government, we think you have got this wrong”. It is in contradistinction to any of the other procedures where we have the nuclear option: we either accept the order or we do not accept it. It is a more deliberative and amenable process, in particular for considering these very new tools which are being talked about. I hope that helps the Committee.
Lord Sassoon: My Lords, this has been a helpful additional go-round of the tracks because it illustrates, I suggest, that with the procedures already in the Bill and the commitment that my right honourable friend the Chancellor has made to debate the toolkit on the Floor in another place—the same could apply here, clearly, subject to the usual channels agreeing it—we have in substance exactly what my noble friend wants to achieve. We have that without locking ourselves into the difficulty that goes with the 124 days, plus Recess time, which we can get locked into in cases that may be either minor ones where none of this is warranted or, more particularly, ones that started off not being urgent but then became more so. Having had this useful go-round and with the reassurance I have given of what the Chancellor has committed to, I ask my noble friend if she will withdraw her amendment.
Baroness Noakes: My Lords, the Minister has not appreciated the difference between the affirmative procedure and the super-affirmative procedure. Simply having a debate can have only one outcome, of approving or not approving the order, and that is the fundamental flaw. It is the thing that we all learn in opposition and that all Governments forget. Whether or not additional time is allowed or whether a different procedure is adopted in the other place may well improve the quality of debate but it cannot change its outcome. In your Lordships’ House, it is always open to us to have a debate on a draft order on the Floor of the House by the simple mechanism of any noble Lord tabling some kind of Motion disagreeing with it. That will automatically bring it into the Chamber. That is not the problem; the issue is the outcome.
The super-affirmative procedure is a more deliberative procedure; it allows views to be expressed without going so far as to say, “We are not having it”—the outcome of which is usually described as very harmful. That is why the House has a general practice of not voting orders down, because it is such a dangerous thing to do. That is why this super-affirmative procedure gives each House of Parliament more opportunity to debate all the issues contained within the order. It may be that we need a greater range of ways of handling
this; however, all the methods of handling an order other than the super-affirmative can allow only acceptance or rejection of the whole. That is a difficult thing for the House to do—to put itself in the position of disagreeing with the whole.
The other issue is delay, although I do not see an issue here. The issue is about whether we take the right amount of time to get the thing right. The Government have available in the Bill, unaffected by my amendment, the ability to put something through on an urgent basis. Nobody would dream of circumscribing that power, because it may well be necessary. Even in the middle of the process to get a new measure through, if it was suddenly decided that it was so important that it had to come in urgently, the Government could default to that procedure. As I said earlier, the timing issue is therefore a red herring. The issue is about whether government can give the proper amount of time and consideration to these important new measures.
I will consider carefully what my noble friend has said, but my first instincts are that he has not said enough to convince me that the super-affirmative procedure is not the appropriate procedure for these new measures. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(a) the reasons for the Committee’s decision to exercise the power, in the way in which it is being exercised, and
(b) the Committee’s reasons for believing that the exercise of the power, in the way in which it is being exercised, is compatible with the duties of the Committee under the following provisions—
(i) section 9C(1) (as read with section 9C(4)), and
(ii) section 9E.
(a) the power to give a direction under section 9G;
(b) the power to make recommendations under section 9N, so far as relating to the exercise of the Bank’s functions in relation to payment systems, settlement systems and clearing houses;
(c) the power to make recommendations under section 9O, so far as relating to the exercise by the Treasury of their power to make orders under any of the provisions mentioned in subsection (2) of that section;
(d) the power to make recommendations under section 9P.
(3) The explanation required by subsection (1) in relation to the duty in section 9E(3)(a) must include an estimate of the costs and an estimate of the benefits that would arise from compliance with the direction or recommendation in question, unless in the opinion of the Committee it is not reasonably practicable to include such an estimate.”
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, this group of government Amendments 69A, 69B, 76A, 76B and 76D seeks to strengthen the transparency and openness of the decision-making procedures of the FPC. We have already debated the government amendments providing the FPC with a secondary objective for economic growth. The Government are making the changes to this group of amendments in response to those who have argued that the FPC should be required more explicitly to balance the demands of financial stability and economic growth.