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George Osborne: Our Plan for Sound Banking

The White Paper we are publishing today sets out the Conservative plan for sound banking that will lead the British economy from crisis to confidence.

It is an essential component of a sustained economic recovery.

It addresses head-on the difficult issues that the Government's own White Paper so conspicuously ducks.

In putting our policies together we have drawn extensively on the knowledge and experience of market participants, central bankers and regulators from around the world - both past and present.

We build on the detailed review of the tripartite system which I asked Sir James Sassoon, a former managing director at the Treasury, to conduct for us last autumn.

And when you look at this policy paper, I hope you will be impressed by the quality of the analysis and the level of the detail it contains.

Never before has an opposition party in this country produced such a thorough plan for reforming our financial system - and never before has such a plan been more needed.

The contrast with the last change of government in this country is striking - then a new Chancellor forced through rushed changes to the regulatory system, kept secret when he was Shadow Chancellor, with almost no consultation or discussion.

He removed the historic role of the Bank of England in keeping an eye on overall levels of debt in the financial system.

Britain is living with the consequences of those ill-considered changes today.

We are taking a more honest and open approach:

So let me set out the main reforms in the White Paper.

We will abolish the Financial Services Authority and the failed tripartite system and give the Bank of England responsibility for maintaining financial stability, and the tools to do it.

We will give the Bank responsibility for the prudential regulation of all of our banks, building societies, and other significant financial institutions including insurance companies.

Crucially, this will bring together the operation of monetary policy with regulation of the banking system.

The last two years have shown what happens when you try to separate central banking from an intimate involvement and knowledge of the banking system - and around the world people recognise that was a mistake.

Above all, the culture and experience of a central bank gives it the confidence not just to insist that rules are followed but to exercise judgement.

The structure of the Bank of England will change to reflect its new powers and responsibilities.

We will create a Financial Policy Committee, working alongside the Monetary Policy Committee to bring the same collegiate approach and external expertise to bear on the problem of financial stability.

We will give the Bank of England the power to regulate the pay structures, riskiness, complexity and size of financial institutions.

I believe that there is a case for separating some of the riskiest investment banking activities - such as large scale proprietary trading - from retail banking.

But it would not be sensible or indeed effective to impose that separation unilaterally, so we will continue to examine the case internationally.

We will require those banks with structures that put financial stability at risk to hold large amounts of capital as an insurance policy to protect the taxpayer.

And since the quality of regulators is critical to the quality of regulation, we will give the Bank the resources it needs to recruit and retain more poachers turned gamekeepers by raising the industry levy.

With the Bank of England in charge of prudential regulation, we will also create a strong new Consumer Protection Agency.

This will take responsibilities to protect the consumer that are currently and confusingly divided between the FSA and Office of Fair Trading, and place them in a single powerful body able to stand up for consumers and ensure they are treated fairly.

The CPA will have new powers to name and shame institutions that break the rules or who receive a lot of consumer complaints.

And like the Obama administration in the US, we will force financial institutions to be more transparent about their retail consumer charges, providing information to consumers in a standardised way so that they can see if they would be better off switching provider.

The consumer is also entitled to make their choices in a competitive market.

There is no doubt that the events of the last two years have created a far more concentrated banking sector.

So we will ask the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition Commission to conduct a focused examination of the effects of consolidation in the retail banking sector.

The findings of the OFT and the Competition Commission will help to inform a Conservative Government's strategy for disposing of the banking shares owned by the taxpayer.

Finally, we will defend the vital interests of Britain's financial services sector in Europe.

The European Union has an important role in bringing national regulators together.  But I have to say that the recent proposals from the Commission would damage London and undermine confidence.

The Treasury is not fighting hard enough for our national interest.

So a Conservative Government will, for the first time, include a senior Treasury minister with responsibility for European financial regulation.

This Minister will spend as much time as necessary in Brussels to build alliances and defend Britain's interests.

And we will fight any new attempts to create an executive pan-European supervisor.

Let me conclude.

We want the City of London to grow, to compete and to succeed.

We want other financial service centres like Edinburgh, Leeds, Bristol and Birmingham to grow, to compete and to succeed as well.

This industry matters not just because of the many thousands who work in it, other earnings it generates, or the tax revenues it sends to the Exchequer.

It matters because successful financial services power a productive economy.

If we can bring stability to our banking system, and reward long term returns over short term bonus chasing, then we will have put in place a key foundation stone of an economic recovery.

Creating a strong regulatory framework here at home will help do that and inspire confidence in Britain as a global centre for finance.

The Government has made it clear that they will stick with the system they created and that failed us all.

The public now have a clear choice: if you want to change the way your banks are regulated then you need to change your government.

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