Speeches recovered from the Conservative party’s online archive More…

George Osborne: Fundamental reform of Financial Regulation

Mr Speaker, Can I thank the Chancellor for his statement?

Although, frankly, almost all of it was splashed over the front pages of today's newspapers - and so once again Parliament comes last instead of coming first.

But let me deal with the contents. 

Of course, there are some things in this White Paper we welcome.  

The improved consumer advice.  We look forward to David Wolfson's report on corporate governance.  We clearly need a much better resolution regime for failed banks and we hear what the Chancellor has to say about pay and bonuses - although frankly he could have set a better example with the pay and bonus package of the Chief Executive of RBS.

But in the most part, this White Paper is a totally inadequate response to what has happened over the last two years.

It first of all has no serious analysis of what went wrong.  

I only received a copy of this twenty minutes ago in Prime Minister's Questions, but as far as I can tell the only admission of any kind of responsibility for what has happened is the sentence that says, "the crisis has shown that aspects of prudential and micro prudential financial supervision were insufficient".

That is the understatement of the century when you nationalise half the British banking system.  

And it also, for the future, ducks every difficult question that needs to be addressed if we are to protect our society and our economy from a repeat of the mistakes that have caused such trouble.

How do we replace the failed tripartite regime?

What tools do we need to stop the excessive debt levels that have done so much damage to our economy?

And how do we make sure that we have a banking system that competes across the world, and offers families and small businesses in this country the services they are currently being denied in the credit crunch, without the British taxpayer picking up the bill for the mistakes that are made.

And none of these difficult questions are properly addressed today - every single one is basically left to the next government to deal with.

It means we have more of a White Flag than a White Paper.

A complete surrender of this government's responsibility to fix the system of regulating the City that it created and which so spectacularly failed.

Now let me press him on some specifics of the conduct and content of regulation.

First of all, the tripartite regime.

He must see how dysfunctional it has become - how institutional jealousies and blurred lines of responsibilities means that everyone gets involved but no one is in charge.

Let us all remember where this all began - with that arrogant decision from the new Chancellor in 1997, without warning or consultation, and in the teeth of the opposition of the late Eddie George, to remove banking supervision from the Bank of England.

My colleague, the Shadow Chancellor at the time, the Right Honourable Member for Hitchin and Harpenden, from this Despatch Box warned it would leave no one responsible for the liquidity of the banking system or guarding against systemic collapse.

And that prophesy turned out to be sadly all too true.

No one was responsible for liquidity.

No one was looking at systemic risk.

Even the FSA themselves admit that they took their eye off prudential supervision.

And when the crunch came over Northern Rock, no one knew who was in charge.

Almost two years later isn't it the case that we still do not know who is in charge?

And the Chancellor should have come here today to bury the tripartite system, not to praise it.

The only thing that stops him is the vanity of a Prime Minister who refuses to admit that he made such a fundamental mistake. 

And that applies too, Mr Speaker, to the content of regulation.

The first half of Lord Turner's Report contains the most damning critique of what went wrong with this government's economic policy.

He points, Lord Turner, to the 'major and continued macro-imbalances' in the British economy.

He says the failure to spot this was (in his words) "one of the crucial failures of the years running up to the financial crisis"

And he says the "vital activity of macro-prudential analysis ... fell between two stools".

So what does this White Paper propose with the putting of this vital activity in future?  It puts it between the two stools again.

We are going to have - wait for it, this is after two years of thinking in the Treasury - we're going to have a council on financial stability that will bring together the Treasury, the Bank of England and the FSA.  I thought that's what the tripartite regime was supposed to be about all along.

We don't another divided committee.  We don't want more divided responsibilities.  We need clear lines of accountability that run all the way to Threadneedle Street.

They do not exist at present.  Instead of clarity what we get from the government is confusion.

The Governor of the Bank of England appeared before the Treasury Select Committee two weeks ago, and he said this: "We were given a statutory responsibility for financial stability in the Banking Act and the question ... to which I have not really received any adequate answer from anywhere [is] what exactly is it that people expect the Bank of England to do?"

And we are none the wiser after this White Paper.

Perhaps it would have helped if the Chancellor had actually shown the White Paper in draft to the Governor of the Bank of England at some point two or three weeks ago instead of in recent days.

Isn't it absolutely clear that the Bank of England now has to be given not just the responsibility, but the tools for macro-prudential regulation?  Can the Chancellor confirm there is not a single new power for the Bank of England contained in this White Paper?

The Bank of England should have the power call time on debt - as we suggested almost a year ago.

It should be able to set counter-cyclical capital rules, in conjunction - yes - with other countries.  And by the way, it would be a much better use of international co-operation than the current proposals from the European Commission which are ill-conceived and damaging to the UK.

And it should have the statutory powers to intervene where the structure of a financial institution threatens the whole economy - so that it can force, in the Government's words, its sermons to be listened to.

It can't do any of these things, the Bank of England, unless it has the experience and knowledge of their day-to-day regulation.

So let me make it clear to the Chancellor today.

The next Conservative Government will abolish the tripartite system.

And let me tell Parliament first - unlike his policy - we will put the Bank of England in charge of the prudential supervision of our banks, our building societies and our other significant financial institutions.

For we have learnt from this crisis the old truth: that you cannot separate central banking from the supervision of the financial system.

And that sound regulation is not just about a check-list of rules; it's about the authority to exercise judgement and to see the bigger picture.

And that sitting alongside a stronger Bank of England we will have a powerful regulator to protect consumers - a regulator with the clout and the focus not just to add more health warnings alongside the acres of small print that already come with financial products, but to stamp out unfair practices like mis-sold Payment Protection Insurance and excessive bank charges.

We will set out the details of this in our own alternative White Paper later this month.

And then won't the choice be clear?

We have today really a submission from the Labour Party (it will only be implemented in full if they get re-elected) and proposals from the Conservative Party. The Labour Party wants to stick with the financial system which failed us and which they created.  We propose to overhaul that system and put the Bank of England in charge.

And then people will know at the next election that if they want to change the way the City is regulated and the way our banks are regulated, they need to change their Government.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech