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However, a number of aspects of the proposals, if implemented, should give us at least some confidence that they may be effective. No doubt other noble Lords, like me, will have had a wry smile when it was suggested that the basis on which many of the risk principles should be applied should be that currently used under building society legislation, given that it is the demutualisation of the building societies that has led to some of the problems with which we now find ourselves. However, that legislation, that framework, is tough and it would be very sensible to use it.
I take the point that independent boards have their limits, but they are better than nothing. The principle that the ring-fenced bank and the other entities in the same group should operate no more favourably than third-party relationships is sensible. It is also sensible that the ring-fenced bank should meet its regulatory requirements on a stand-alone basis.
The other factor that will be crucial in implementing the proposals effectively is the way in which the new PRA operates. Surely, if that new organisation is to be worried about anything in its reputation, it will be that it manages to regulate the newly divided banks effectively.
Despite the Government's support of the principles of Vickers, the only way we get the ending of uncertainty is by early legislation. Here I disagree with the noble
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How quickly should this be implemented? Vickers says by 2019 at the latest-not, incidentally, before 2019. Like other noble Lords, I think that that is too long. I cannot believe that it is necessary, given the work that is needed in the banks to do it. I think they would probably prefer to get on with it now that the die is cast.
Secondly, we must remember why we are doing this. We are doing this to protect the country against another banking crisis. Although I am an optimist by nature, I am not 100 per cent certain that we will not have another banking crisis before 2019.
Vickers talks about other aspects of banking which I do not have time to deal with today. In my view, the Vickers proposals are a necessary part of making the banks the servants of their customers and the country rather than their masters.
Lord May of Oxford: My Lords, I join others in my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Myners, for giving us this debate. I also express my gratitude for the privilege of hearing the incisive analysis of the report of the noble Lord, Lord Lawson. Perhaps I should also explain why a theoretical physicist who had a mid-career transmogrification into an ecologist and epidemiologist is having the cheek to speak in a debate about banking.
In 2006, in a very prescient way, the US National Academy of Sciences and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York put together a study on the premise that in the increasingly elaborate things happening within financial systems with the aim of maximising profit for minimum risk for individual institutions-allegedly- nobody was thinking about the system as a whole. The NAS and the Fed put together a study that was going to focus on systemic risk. In doing so, they drew in people from cognate disciplines where there might be some read-across-ecology, epidemiology and the electricity grid. It turns out that the electricity grid is not so interesting because we really understand how it works and how switches can control it.
As a result, when the crisis manifested itself a couple of years later, I spoke with friends at the Bank of England. I have been working with Andrew Haldane, the executive director of systemic risk at the Bank of England and some of his very able younger people, following through those ideas about what might be called systemic risk in banking ecosystems. The first conclusion, which I cannot emphasise too strongly, is that there is a huge gulf of difference between natural
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That caveat having been issued and emphasised, the simple fact is that the recommendations which emerged from the work of the National Academy of Sciences/Federal Reserve Bank are strongly in support of the major recommendations in John Vickers's independent banking commission report. Specifically, if very telegraphically, first, perhaps I may read from an op-ed that Andy Haldane and I wrote in the FT:
"Are big banks less prone to failure? The traditional economics of diversification suggest so. By scaling up balance sheets across different classes of asset, risks to portfolios will tend, on average, to cancel each other out".
If you look at complex systems in the round in nature, you find that they tell a different tale. Very often, scaling up risks in that way causes them to cascade rather than to cancel out. The conclusion from that is that the present situation in banking is, in many respects, perverse. All banks becoming diversified-spreading risks-means that they become more homogenous, whereas if they were all different and one failed that would be it. The homogeneity and the linkage refer to the system as a whole, and there is genuine tension between the interest of the individual and the interest of the whole, between diversification of individual banks and diversity of the system.
Some of the morals of that translate into the simple fact that, over the past decade or more, if you look at systems of that kind, if you think of the spread of infectious disease within networks, we have learnt to focus our attention on the superspreaders-HIV among people with many partners. The analogue here is the big banks. By virtue of their size, the big banks have argued that they may hold relatively smaller capital reserves and that has been the habit. All the messages of a general kind suggest that in a system like that, the superspreaders, the big banks, should hold relatively larger capital reserves and liquidity, and that is one of the firm recommendations of the Vickers report.
More interestingly, going back to ecosystems, there used to be a naïve notion that there was a balance in nature and that complex systems would be stable by virtue of their complexity, which turns out to be rubbish in ecology. Redefine the research agenda to ask what are the specific structures that real ecosystems have: as observed, that reconcile the complexity that we see with persistence and stability? One of the most
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I will not inflict any more of this seminar on the House but I want to conclude by touching on two other topics which have already been broached with more authority and more force, I suspect, by previous speakers. All of what I have been talking about, much of what the analysis has been about, and much of what the banking commission report is about, is systemic risk. If I were a supreme dictator and could do one thing, I would try to forbid the trading in instruments that are so complicated that they cannot be reliably priced. It does not require much sophistication to recognise that if you have a bunch of triple B house mortgages, even though you conceal the assumption in a lot of jargon, and you are going to assume all fluctuations in individual houses are totally uncorrelated, you will have a sort of quadruple B-they will certainly not be triple A. There are more sophisticated examples of that and I would like to see us taking more steps against the inherent problem in credit rating agencies going out of business if they are too diligent.
Finally, I turn to a point raised by the other Friedman, Benjamin Friedman, distinguished professor at Harvard, who, in the spring issue of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, asked: what is the essential purpose of the financial markets? He said that it is to allocate capital efficiently in that best of systems, free markets, but that the time had come for a serious evaluation of the costs and benefits. He offers the following remarkable statistics: 30 years ago, the cost of running the financial system in the United States was 10 per cent of all profits earned in the United States; 15 years ago, the figure had grown to 20 to 25 per cent; and just before the crash the estimate was one third.
The time is more than right to go beyond the Independent Banking Commission, sound though I believe its recommendations are, to a more fundamental examination of the effective running of the financial system.
Lord Griffiths of Fforestfach: My Lords, in taking part in this debate I declare my interest as a vice-chairman of an investment bank based in London, not a universal bank-we do not take regular deposits so it is less relevant in that sense to this debate-and a subsidiary of a bank based in New York. I, too, appreciate the noble Lord, Lord Myners, initiating this debate, not simply because of the publication of the Vickers report but because that report has to be seen in the context of what will happen in the coming days, weeks and months in continental Europe and in the eurozone, which is very relevant to what Vickers is talking about.
Contrary to some, I think the report is a first-class piece of work. It shows a very good mind, it is tightly argued, well written and very thorough. I would have thought that there could be complete agreement on its objectives; namely, to protect taxpayers from the consequences of mismanagement by banks and at the same time to create a competitive banking system. I
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However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Myners, was a little hard on what it said about competition. I first wrote on the subject and specialised in it when teaching at the LSE in December 1970 and, calling for an end to the banking cartel. As I look at the diagnosis of what is wrong in terms of insufficient and misdirected competition, concentration of barriers to entry, lack of transparency and, problems of switching, I think that it has gone about as far as it could. The commission tried to make recommendations to deal with that and, short of saying that you should break up the banks into smaller entities, I am not sure that it could do much more. Ever since we had a more competitive banking system, starting in the early 1970s, I do not think that, as a country, we have had a great record of competitive banking. The authorities could take more action and I think what they propose, especially in terms of the potential recommendations of the Office of Fair Trading inquiry into personal current accounts, is on the right lines.
A more difficult problem relates to creating greater financial stability through ring fencing retail banking, increasing equity in the system and strengthening the ability of banks to absorb losses. As I read the report, which I found quite tough going as it is very densely argued, I found myself asking more questions than were being answered. I suddenly realised that that was because I was making two assumptions. The first is that the reforms being proposed are a major reconstruction of the UK banking system of a kind not seen in living memory. I cannot think of any changes as major as this since Lloyd George required the banks to finance the First World War and said that in exchange they could have a banking cartel. You almost have to go back that far to see something as significant as this because it is creating new institutions, new rules, new governance and so on and doing so at the same time as we are creating two new regulatory agencies. We are really facing enormous uncertainty. In addition, the commission very honestly says that the cost is considerable, being up to £7 billion a year. The second assumption that I realised I was making was about unintended consequences. In the past 50 years, we know that international banking has been highly competitive and highly innovative, and when you have regulatory changes you have unintended consequences. In the 1950s, when the Federal Reserve introduced regulation Q in the US, we had the growth of the euro dollar market offshore in Europe. When the UK Government placed restrictions in the late 1960s and early 1970s on bank lending, we had the growth of the secondary banking system. In the years immediately preceding the financial crisis, when there was a glut of global saving and very low interest rates-very low margins in banking-we had the growth of the shadow banking market. So change creates uncertainty
Reading the report, It was quite easy-if we want more equity and we want separation, the authorities could simply say, "we need more equity and we will totally separate the activities of banks". That is one possibility, Vickers produces another and a third would be to remain as we are. I found that the following
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There is also uncertainty as to whether UK banks will redomicile, either entirely or in part, and there is also the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, that European banks could get under the wire at present and we could have a very curious structure there. Finally, there is the question of how the proposals of Vickers relate to what is happening at present in Europe, which I think is very important, because the stress tests of the EBA found that British banks are much more interconnected with continental European banks than we imagine. Altogether, I feel that there are great uncertainties in these proposals and that to rush things and go straight into legislation would be a great mistake. We need to probe and stress-test Vickers much more. It would be a great mistake to legislate too soon, because we would have the problem that they have in America with the Dodd-Frank legislation; namely, that they have general legislation with all the detail having to be worked out and nobody really knowing what the terms of doing banking are.
I welcome the fact that we have eight years before this huge potential change to the UK banking system takes place. It would be far better to take time to get it right than to rush it, threaten one of the key sectors of our economy and attempt to pick up the pieces later.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Myners, for this debate, which is unusually timely for your Lordships' House. This is a vital subject and the debate has already taken on a rather academic air. The noble Lord, Lord Myners, appears to give the Vickers report a beta plus query plus, the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, definitely has it in the alpha category-alpha alpha minus. I am somewhere in-between; I am a beta-alpha man on Vickers in that I think that it is an excellently argued case, but I do not think that it is a full answer to the problems that the British Government have been grappling with since 2007-08 of what on earth to do about the banks.
I had a little personal knowledge of this when I was helping as an adviser to the noble Lord, Lord Mandelson, when he came back into the Government in the middle of the crisis in 2008. In that crisis, the Government had very clear objectives: to save the banking system from collapse and to save the world from falling over the precipice into another worldwide great depression. Over the succeeding six months the Labour Government-the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, and the Chancellor, Alistair Darling, ably advised by
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The Labour Government faced the conflict immediately after the crisis of, on the one hand, wanting to sustain lending to business when the banks wanted to strengthen their balance sheets, and, on the other, wanting to restore the banks' profitability so that the taxpayer could get a return on the vast billions that had had to be injected into them to shore up their finances. An attempt was made to resolve that unresolved tension through the lending agreements, and under the present Government we have had Project Merlin. I am not satisfied that that has worked and I do not know that there is any answer to those problems in the Vickers report. However, the clear problem that happened after 2008 which was not resolved under the Labour Government was that, having rescued the banks, we had created a moral hazard for the future, which, I suppose, is why Mervyn King was so reluctant to get involved in the first place.
"Too big to fail", once we accept the argument, results in an implicit taxpayer guarantee and taxpayer subsidy. This is a very real issue: I got very frightened by the substance of this issue when I read an excellent paper-Banking on the State-a couple of years ago by Andrew Haldane, who collaborates with the noble Lord, Lord May. It really frightened me and I think, as a social democrat, that the British welfare state would find it very difficult to withstand another major banking crisis on the kind of scale we have seen. We have to find some effective solution to this problem and I think Vickers, with his proposals for separation, goes in the right direction. My doubts about it are over the effectiveness of the ring-fence and the obvious fact that structural reform is not, in itself, a complete answer to the problem. After all, the Labour Government ended up having to nationalise Northern Rock, which was not a universal bank, and Lehman Brothers, which was not a universal bank either, collapsed yet everyone now thinks that it was a great mistake not to rescue it. The problems are complex and Vickers goes some way towards resolving them.
What it does not resolve, to my mind, is the key problem of access to finance for industry. I think we are going to need much more public intervention in banking in future and that this is bound to happen as a result of the higher capital adequacy ratios that we are inevitably going to impose on the banks as an insurance policy. This is a crucial issue for access to finance for innovative SMEs, which are our future if we are to rebalance our economy. It is also a crucial issue for mortgage lending and will lead to great social inequality and stress if the current rules on mortgage lending stay in place. We are going to have to have
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The other point that I will make in conclusion is that these are long-term reforms. I am in favour of getting on with them: I am not in favour of a long and protracted process. They are long-term reforms, but we face a very immediate crisis. There is a real possibility of a second banking crisis as a result of what is happening in the eurozone. The British Government ought to be showing more leadership on this issue. It seems that all our Chancellor of the Exchequer is doing, while throwing out interesting ideas about the need for fiscal union, is using the eurozone as a distraction from Britain's problems, and at the same time dangling before Eurosceptics on the Conservative Benches the possibility of fundamental change in our relationship with the European Union. This is far too serious for that kind of playing about. As my noble friend Lord Myners said, we need, urgently, a plan for the recapitalisation of European banks. As the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, said, we are affected by this because of cross-border impacts. We cannot say that because we are not in the eurozone it does not affect us. We are deeply affected and I would like the Government to urge that on our partners. So yes, let us move ahead with Vickers-but let us also address other fundamental issues that are important to our future.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, I declare my interest as a pension fund investment manager for the past 35 years. Noble Lords may be surprised to hear that for half of that time I have worked in banks. I am also a friend and former colleague of Martin Wolf and Martin Taylor. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, handed out marks to John Vickers. As one who sat at his feet at an Oxford college and did not learn nearly as much hard economics as I should have done, I am happy to give him a pure alpha, although he never gave me one.
The noble Lord, Lord Myners, certainly knows how to damn with faint praise. He is too grudging. This is an excellent piece of work by Sir John and his colleagues. I believe that it is also an example of the old adage that politics is the art of the possible. Certainly, I and many others would have preferred a complete separation, but we are in a coalition rather than a Liberal Democrat Government, so we must be realistic about what we can get through. Sir John has judged it very well. I say in particular, to those who have waded through to the last 100 pages of the annexe, that he has shown brilliant tactical sense by smoking out all the banks' objections in his interim report and then shooting them down in flames in his final report. That is why, like the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and others, I believe that it is essential that we get on with reform now. The banks have had ample time for special pleading and talking to No. 10 and No. 11. Parliament is now the right forum to progress
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I see the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, looking expectantly at me. She sent me a text just before I started, saying that she was looking forward to lots of fire and brimstone. I am sorry that I have to disappoint her. We have had plenty of that already the past few weeks, not least from me, so I will focus on two key points. I have touched already on one: timing. On radical bank reform, we have won the argument about "whether": we are now on to "when". We should look at what the Vickers report said. There was a lot of shorthand this week about 2019, and the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, repeated it. The report stated:
I will say from very long experience of turbulent markets like these that markets can live with almost anything except uncertainty. Given that the Government have clearly taken the decision, there is every case for getting on with it.
It also made it very clear that 2019 was a longstop date for final completion of all the details. That is perfectly logical for getting up to the final capital requirements, but it is no argument for delay on crucial structural points.
Today's horrific news that a so-called rogue trader has struck again, this time at UBS, reminds us how much toxic banking risk remains in the system, and how urgent radical reform is. The problem is that big investment banks are full of rogue traders: it is what they do.
Secondly, I will say a word about culture and governance. Again, the Vickers report is right when it points out that it is difficult for regulations to work effectively when they operate against the grain of corporate culture.
Lord Marlesford: Perhaps I may say that I just do not think we can let the noble Lord say that this is what rogue traders do. Traders work on behalf of their bank. Rogue traders exploit their position to do things that are not on behalf of their bank. There is a total distinction between traders and rogue traders. For the noble Lord to put them together is absurd.
Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: If I may say so, the noble Lord has put his finger on it; the trouble is that all these traders are working on behalf of their
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I will move on to how we implement the separate culture of the ring-fenced retail banks, as the Vickers report recommends. The report makes another excellent and important point when it states that there is already a model in the utilities sector, where,
The report recommends that on the board of the ring-fenced bank there should be a majority of directors who are independent non-executives, with a minimal crossover between these directors and members of the group. That is vital.
I see in her place the distinguished former business editor and national newspaper editor, my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft, who incidentally is on the Joint Committee. I hope this does not put the mockers on her chances, but I think that she would be an ideal chairman for a ring-fenced retail bank, particularly with her recent experience on the board of Barclays. Sorry, Patience.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, I remember the banking set-up in London in the 1970s and 1980s, when I was at Warburg. We can recreate that within the safe part of banks. I share the worry of my noble friend Lord Newby about Bob Diamond saying that he can live with it. I very much hope that that is because he does not think that it will be implemented. Let us prove him wrong. People like him are light years away from the objectives and culture of, for example, Barclays' Quaker founders. They did not gamble or avoid tax. They saw themselves as stewards of people's savings, which they lent prudently for productive purposes so that their fellow citizens could work and prosper. That is the spirit we must recreate in our ring-fenced retail banks to make them safe. Let us get on with it now.
Lord McFall of Alcluith: My Lords, I am delighted to participate in this debate and would like to thank my noble friend Lord Myners for securing it. I draw attention to my registered interest. I am a director of NBNK Investments, which is one of the companies looking to acquire banks.
One of the South Sea bubble stocks was entitled "A company for carrying out an undertaking of great advantage, but nobody to know what it is". The evidence that I heard as chairman of the Treasury Select Committee over the years convinced me that, 400 years on from 1620, quite a lot of banking philosophy and practice was characterised by that. Essentially, privatisation of profits and socialisation of losses must give way to a more democratically functioning market system, which is more aware of its wider social responsibilities.
That is why structural change is essential to make UK banking more resilient. In that vein, I welcome Vickers, but I am very much aware that there are issues that the report will not tackle. For example, it will not tackle the issue of too big to fail or the issue of cross-border resolution, particularly in Europe at the moment, but it has taken a stab at it.
The characteristics of the financial crisis were, quite simply, complexity, extreme risk-taking and lack of corporate governance. Those characterised quite large parts of the industry. Vickers provides a blueprint not only for a national debate but for an international debate. I have described it as a game changer. But what is the game? There is still a lot to fill in. Is it, as Philip Stephens said in the Financial Times this week, a victory to the "bankers' shop steward" Bob Diamond, whom he compared with Bob Crow in his appreciation of fine wine and food, or is it a real game changer? The core issue is the ring-fence. Is the ring-fence an impervious wall, or is it one with multiple gateways that are easily passable? That is the issue for us as politicians and policy-makers.
As my noble friend Lord Myners said, 2019 is an awfully long time away, and if we park this even for a year or two in Parliament, it will lose its potency. We currently have a Draft Financial Services Bill before us, and I would suggest that, after talking informally to regulators such as the Bank of England, the issues are so complex that we need to get on with it and put some of the elements into that draft Bill. If we are to have a Bill on its own, there has to be a commitment from the Front Bench that, in the next Queen's Speech, there will be a financial Bill taking this on. We need clarity on that point for politicians and for the industry.
On the issue of the objectives of the new bodies, which we are discussing upstairs in respect of that Bill at the moment, such as whether competition should be the primary objective of the financial conduct authority, I think that those issues can all be reduced. I think the primary objective of all these bodies should be to have a fair and transparent market for financial services, which will lead to confidence. Do not say that you have to establish confidence without the ingredients for confidence. The transparency of the market is very important. To change that, we need to tackle the culture of the market. I think that if Vickers missed anything, it was looking at the issue of culture and governance.
I happen to be a member of the Future of Banking Commission, which I established along with David Davis, a former shadow Home Secretary, Vince Cable, who is now Business Secretary, Clare Spottiswoode, Roger Bootle and others. Surprisingly, one of our advisers was Father Christopher Jamison, the former abbot of Worth, because we wanted a wider concept of society in terms of the culture and philosophy of banking, and that proved to be very important. One of
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In that report, which we did pro bono, we suggested a code of conduct for the banking industry and a new professional industrial body along the lines of the General Medical Council or the Legal Services Board. If individuals in banking engage in misconduct, they would be struck off. I think that if banking wants to be seen as professional, it has to step up to the plate on that issue.
During our inquiry, we looked at the issue of culture and ethics, culture being behaviour and ethics being how to negotiate conflicts of interest. We got a very interesting contribution from Goldman Sachs, whose ethics code states:
Hear, hear to that; but ominously, there was a rider, which said that from time to time, the firm may waive certain procedures of the code. However, we do not want an opt-out. It is for us as legislators to look at such fine words to see what they mean and to put them under a microscope and ask "What will that mean in practice?". It is only culture and behaviour that will change the financial services industry in the long term. My plea is that companies that are presently looking at their business models as a result of Vickers should incorporate that issue of culture and ethics.
But behind Vickers, we need to ask the question of what it will do for jobs and growth. That is the shadow that is overhanging us at the moment. The prosperity of society is behind all this. I remind noble Lords that economic prosperity and social stability go hand in hand, and if we forget this, we may get one but we will damage the other and damage society at the same time. We cannot afford to do that.
Baroness Valentine: My Lords, I am chief executive of London First, a not-for-profit business membership organisation that includes businesses from a range of important London sectors, including banks, professional services firms and their customers.
I start by joining others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Myners, for introducing this debate, but I thank him more for his swift action back in 2008. The Independent Commission on Banking has two aims: to increase stability and to increase competition. Clearly, both objectives are important and, like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the approach that the commissioners have taken and to the experience and judgment they have brought to this difficult and contentious task.
Recent events in the eurozone have reminded us that the battle for financial stability has not yet been won, and factors beyond our control may yet have serious economic consequences. Within these constraints, the ICB has made credible recommendations about limiting the impact on UK retail banking, and therefore
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However, a third and vital consideration has not been given equal billing: the need for the UK to maintain its global competitive position. My concern is that both in perception and in reality, Government must create a tax and regulatory framework that ensures that the UK remains an attractive place to do business. The Basel committee notes that the increased stability from higher capital adequacy ratios comes at the price of reduced economic growth. Concern has been voiced that the unilateral creation of a ring-fence and the imposition of higher capital adequacy ratios on retail banks will disadvantage the UK economy. However, it is unacceptable for taxpayers to bear the cost of poor lending decisions by banks, and better regulation can also be a source of competitive advantage, giving a more stable and reliable environment in which to do business. Confidence and trust are intangible but essential components of a successful business environment, particularly in the current climate.
The Government now have the important and complex task of finding the right place on the yield curve between risk and reward and stability and growth, and much of this devil will be in the detail. In this context, the debate about the timing of implementation is pertinent. The challenge is to do this as quickly as practicable but also to get the implementation as right as possible, and to do so based on a thorough understanding of the law of unintended consequences and the impact on growth. Not only do policy-makers need to understand the impact on bank customers and on UK and EU-regulated banks, but the changes sit alongside wider changes in tax and regulation, nationally and internationally, and an unsettled economic backdrop.
In the UK, we have strong reason to exercise particular care. Our success as a financial services centre is a vital component of our economic recovery and an Achilles heel in our reliance on the sector and our exposure to future shocks. Finance accounted for 10 per cent of GDP in 2009, which is significantly higher than in the US, almost double that of the Japanese and French, and well over twice that of Germany.
I commend the Chancellor's Statement in the Commons explicitly welcoming London's status as the pre-eminent global centre for banking and finance as well as supporting UK-headquartered universal banks. They form a key plank of our economic infrastructure, particularly given the experience of the repatriation of liquidity at the time of the last crisis, and government policy must not be indifferent to their fate. Similarly, real commitment to maintaining the City as the premier international global financial services centre is key. Although focused in London, financial services have a nationwide presence and national importance. They account for a million jobs directly, with another million in professional services, two-thirds of which are outside London. As the world's leading supplier of financial services, UK financial services contribute a net £36 billion to reducing our trade
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Other countries eye our success covetously. The Chinese Government are attempting to establish Shanghai as a leading international financial centre by 2020. During the Prime Minister's trip earlier this week, the Russians sought UK expertise in setting up an international financial centre in Moscow. Others, closer to home, have long dreamt of usurping London.
With these thoughts in mind, I commend the Independent Commission on Banking for having navigated a difficult course. It is critical that we prevent any future recourse to the taxpayer. However, we must regulate so that it is safe for the UK to host a globally dominant financial services industry and attractive for that industry to call the UK home. I urge the Government to continue their dialogue with UK and foreign banks as well as with the businesses that are their customers. We must be mindful of the overall effect of the full range of post-crisis reforms, whether at national or international level, and our objective must, of course, be better, not just more, regulation, and therefore the reinforcement of the UK's competitive position.
Lord Plant of Highfield: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Myners for initiating this timely debate. I shall concentrate my short remarks on issues to do with accountability and responsibility in the investment banking sector. These remarks are not the result of any specific expertise in the area. I am neither a banker nor an economist; I am an academic philosopher by trade. Nevertheless, these reflections, however naive, have led me in the direction of thinking that, at the very least, ring-fencing or complete separation of investment banking is the best that we should be looking to achieve, if it is politically feasible.
The character of the present banking system in the UK embodies the development of the liberalisation of financial markets pursued by both Conservative and then Labour Governments since the early 1980s. It is also the result of the growing globalisation of the economy, particularly of financial markets. As the noble Lord, Lord May, said, world financial markets are rather like an ecosystem in which a disturbance in one place can have major and unintended consequences elsewhere.
My argument is that the processes on which economic liberalism normally depends to constrain reckless behaviour have become less operative in the banking system. One of the major instruments for constraining reckless behaviour was the prospect of bankruptcy. People would make their investment decisions and their allocation of capital decisions in the light of the possible consequences in terms of bankruptcy. However, as we have seen in the past few years, this threat has become less and less plausible. This is partly because of the too-big-to-fail problem in which the bankruptcy of a major bank could have untold consequences for domestic economies and, indeed, for economies in other countries. The case of Lehman Brothers shows how unlikely it is for a large bank now to be allowed to fail. The situation has been exacerbated by globalisation. As banks are interlinked in this kind of financial
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In addition, it seems to me that the internal controls exercised by banks on risk-taking behaviour have been eroded. By internal controls, I mean two things: the first is the role of the board of directors and its committees, and the second is the role of shareholders, which was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Myners. Why do I say that they have been eroded? The reason is that the products of the commercial or, if you like, disparagingly, the casino arms of banks have become extremely complex and, indeed, in the case of securitised assets, such as bundled-together mortgages, extremely difficult to understand. Often their worth is computed on the basis of mathematical models and the judgments of rating agencies, both of which are rather dubious in my view.
The economic liberalism that has allowed such assets to be created has drifted away from its original insight; namely, that economic and financial value is a product of individual preferences in a free-market context. Individuals making mortgage decisions are in that context when they initially take up a mortgage and buy a house, but as that mortgage becomes securitised, sliced up and bundled up with other people's mortgages, those other people are also choosing mortgages for individual properties and so forth, and you are getting further away from the idea of a market value. The only way of imputing value to these securitised assets is through a rating agency using extremely complex mathematical models. If products become more complex and understanding of them is confined to a limited number of people, it is not clear how boards can properly supervise risk-taking behaviour or, indeed, have a clear sense of the value of their securitised assets. The same point applies to shareholders. There is asymmetry of understanding and information between those who are managing the assets and those whose job it is to have oversight and to determine whether undue risks are being taken.
In addition, there is asymmetry of motivation between the traders and the board. The incentive or motive of a trader on a bonus is to preserve his or her positions and not to render them wholly accountable to supervisory inspection. That is much stronger than the motivation of the supervisor who does not have that sort of financial stake. This is a consequence of the bonus culture. There have been spectacular cases, not the least of which happened today at UBS, that show the truth of this point. The ability of a trader to evade proper scrutiny and accountability is partly the result of the bonus culture and partly the result of the complexity of the assets that are being created and traded. There is an asymmetry of information and motivation between traders and those who are supposed to be supervising them. This also applies to shareholders. I am not at all clear how this can be overcome, except by ring-fencing at the very least, or, as I would prefer, a separation of investment banking.
David Hume argued in the 18th century that when we think about public institutions like banks, we should assume that people are knaves and we should try to erect institutions that protect us from that kind of
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We should be very wary of blaming the banking crisis on a failure of regulation. The bankers caused that mess and it is the bankers' responsibility, by and large. To say otherwise is like blaming the police for criminal behaviour. Obviously regulation has to be improved and the Financial Services Authority did not cover itself in glory, but then neither did the Bank of England. We would be extremely naive to think that a new regulatory system is going to cure all the problems. It has to be a new regulatory system, plus separation of the investment banking sector.
The Earl of Caithness: My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Myners, for introducing this debate. It is very appropriate that we are having the debate on the third anniversary of the collapse of Lehman Brothers. I tried to get a debate on the interim report but it was not welcome, so I am even more grateful that he has got his debate today.
The noble Lord said it was the management and governance of banks that caused our present economic crisis. I disagree with him fundamentally. It is the banking system itself that is corrupt and dishonest, as I have been saying since 1997. One actually cannot blame greedy bankers for exploiting the existing system; it is the system that is wrong. My right honourable friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in welcoming the Vickers report, said the commission had,
I posed that question. In fact, I introduced a Bill in 2008 called the Safety Deposit Current Accounts Bill, but it was summarily dismissed in the House, as the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, will know because he spoke for the Government at the time. Therefore, I have been quite used to being in a minority of one in this House. However, today I see that I have more friends on my side than I have had for some time.
The report recommends that large retail ring-fenced banks should have equity capital of 10 per cent of risk-weighted assets and that retail and other activities of large UK banking groups should have loss-absorbing capacity of 17 per cent to 20 per cent of risk-weighted assets. Unfortunately in the report there is no definition of risk-weighted assets. Perhaps my noble friend on the Front Bench will tell us what he thinks Vickers meant by risk-weighted assets. I have googled it and there are various options. That ratio means that 90 per cent of large retail ring-fenced banks' risk-weighted assets will still be exposed, as will 80 per cent to 83 per cent of large UK banking groups' risk-weighted assets. Herein lies the rub. If one digs a little deeper into the report one discovers that risk-weighted assets represent only 50 per cent of total bank assets. Therefore, between
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In the light of this observation, I find it difficult to understand both his recommendations and those of the ICB. There is no doubt that the economy needs investment stimulus and that it needs it now. We can all agree on that. From where will the money for investment come? The banks legally own all the money deposited in them. That, of course, is all the money not in circulation. Therefore, most people and businesses that need money turn to the banks to raise it. However, banks provide money through the creation of new debt. Banks lend money. Yet we propose a solution that, by definition, produces new debt. Bank lending increases the level of debt. That is totally illogical.
Now that we all seem to agree that there is an overhang of debt that is holding back our economy, surely the last thing we need is yet more debt. The economy needs investment but it needs to be equity investment, not further debt. Equity investment stays in a business and remains its life-blood. Businesses need capital. Capital is an asset, debt is a burden. Contrary to popular belief, banks do not provide capital; they provide only debt. Unfortunately, the consequences of the judicial decisions of 1811 and 1848 mean that banks own all the money deposited in them; it no longer belongs to the depositors. Indeed on the day the Statement was read, on I think Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, questioned whether that contravened the Theft Act. I wonder whether my noble friend would like to comment on that.
Therefore, access to most of the money in the economy is only through bank lending. That is what the ICB and the Chancellor should have addressed. I believe they both missed the mark by not dealing with this blockage to the flow of capital into the economy. Banks' total ownership and control of all the money they hold allows that blockage. Ownership of the money in a bank rightfully, if not legally, belongs to those who earned that money and deposited it in the bank in the belief that it would be stored safely for them and paid out according to their instructions. Current accounts hold people's family budgets and business budgets. It is their life-blood and should not be put at any risk. Banks often say they invest savings. That is misleading. They also use current account deposits for making loans and all loans have some risk.
The remit of the ICB was to ensure that there could not be another bailout of banks by the taxpayer, yet it recommends only a partially secured deposit system. Between 85 per cent and 90 per cent of deposits will remain at risk under the partially secured system that they propose. It is too little and it is too late. Such a system is doomed to failure. Parliament needs another option. I will retable my Bill, which I have amended slightly, and that will be an alternative for your Lordships
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Lord Sawyer: My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Myners, for initiating the debate. It is always a pleasure to witness him in full flight on this issue, as it is to reflect on the contributions of other noble Lords who have expertise in this field. My life experience has been elsewhere and I have a limited knowledge of the university of banks and their various ways, but my interest in banks and financial services in general stems from the fact that these organisations are extremely powerful. They work in very complex and difficult ways, often unseen and unknown by their customers, and have a dramatic effect on the lives of ordinary people. That is why I intended to intervene in this debate. I want to explore what benefits, advantages and opportunities the commission on banking might hold for customers. That is what I am particularly interested in.
What does the lay person, the customer of a bank, make of the recommendations? Certainly, the ability to switch accounts more easily should be welcomed, although we have heard little of that today. We, the customers, do not want to travel in the direction of the energy industry with the ridiculously high level of cold calling that goes on to persuade people to change their providers. We hope that the Government will look carefully at the recommendations on switching.
If the retail ring fence can make retail customers' deposits more secure and avoid the anxiety in people's minds, it can also be viewed in a positive light. There are lots of arguments both ways around costs, viability and stability of the ring fence, but the general impression, the general consensus, and certainly what we have heard from the Government and the Opposition is that the principles are right and that we should see a programme for implementation.
There is still widespread disillusion with banks and the banking system. If these proposals do more than put in place technical mechanisms for the management of deposits, the customers need to be taken on board in a big way. I hope that if the Government decide to take this report forward, they will engage with ordinary people and customers to say what the advantages will be. At present, it is two cheers as far as customers are concerned.
The timetable seems rather long to me but I assume that in time, inside the ring fence, customers' deposits will be safer and free from the financial speculation and exotica that scurry around the commercial banking system. I also assume that within the ring fence there will be a dedicated board of directors and perhaps different forms of governance than we have seen before that would give confidence that the banks do not wildly speculate with their deposits. This is what I should like the Government to consider.
In this period of careful implementation, which we have heard about, I should like the Government to press upon the banking leaders the importance of re-establishing trust with their customers. That can be done basically in two ways. First, they should talk to
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Secondly, there is a huge gap between the boards of banks and their customers. No matter who is on the board, the gap between the board and the customers is enormous. Banks try to bridge this gap with customer service, focus groups and other devices that are more about marketing and not at all about customer engagement. I should like the Government to open a conversation with the banks and to ask them seriously, as a result of this report and the possibility of the ring fence, and all that might happen there, what they can seriously do to engage customers more effectively in their work. I also believe-this is a really important point-that proper customer engagement can affect the behaviour of the banks. The problem in the past has been that top bankers have never had to talk to ordinary customers. If they have to engage with such customers, they just might see the world in a different way. It is important that the Government, who are our representative in these negotiations, take those points on board.
The world's most ethical bank is the British Co-operative Bank. The behaviour of this bank is determined and shaped by the members on the board, 50 per cent of whom are not bankers, which is not a bad achievement for a bank. There are other institutions inside the Co-operative Bank which you do not find in other high street banks. It has a customer council that engages random customers in a dialogue with a top leader of the bank in order to determine how the bank should behave. I am not saying that every bank has to be a co-op bank, and I fully understand and accept that banks have a responsibility to their shareholders, but they also have a responsibility to their stakeholders, their customers and their employees. I am saying strongly that with 10 years' experience of chairing a customer council within a bank and building society, the Vickers report implementation provides us with a new opportunity to open up a conversation with banks. Within the ring fence, I ask my friends in the banks what they can do to gain the trust of their customers once again. Can that be a bad thing? I do not think so. What can the banks do to engage customers and employees more effectively?
I know some of the answers but the answers have to be with the banks and not with me. All of us in this House will accept that customer engagement that brings the customers and the banks more closely together is a good thing. We would all support it. Let us work out a plan of how it might be done and let us see that the Government are on the side of the voters. I wait to hear.
Baroness Kramer: My Lords, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Myners, on achieving this debate, perhaps I may say that as I listened to him, I indeed thought of the Chinese meal that he described. He
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For my sins, for 15 years I was in the banking trade, primarily in the United States and in central and eastern Europe. One of the consequences is that I am a cynic. In my time I saw banks decline on the back of at least two devastating collapses in real estate markets, following the collapse of heavy industry in the north-eastern United States. I joined the Continental Illinois bank on 5 July 1982. On that morning it was the most prestigious bank and the largest lender worldwide to businesses. By that evening it was clear that fraud and incompetence in oil and gas lending had utterly destroyed the institution. But all that could be dealt with in that period because, essentially, the failure was contained. There were rescue plans, acquisitions, mergers and restructurings, but the banking system as a whole did not tumble as a consequence.
That is the change that we face today. The crises will not end, but we now live in a world of interconnectedness. That started out as a mechanism by which banks could manage risk, but essentially, through structured finance and derivatives, and the layering of transaction upon transaction on the back of an individual initial loan, a situation has been created where, rather than just the bank that directly made a stupid or fraudulent loan finding itself at risk, the whole system can be pulled down after it. What I so appreciate about Vickers is that it takes a sword and strikes right through that interconnectedness. Surely that has to be essential in what we do. The deep structural change being proposed is also, I would suggest, very hard to erode. I said that I am a cynic, and as a consequence of that, I do not believe that regulation, supervision or even living wills can, by themselves, eliminate or enable us to deal with systemic risk in our system.
Noble Lords might think that the regulators had no way of knowing in 2008 that we were entering a financial and banking crisis. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord May, described the absence of various forms of systemic analysis that he is now hoping to introduce. But, frankly, if you ignored the top bankers and talked to the people I know-I have certainly never been a top banker or a board member-one person after another could have told you that the loan books were going wrong, there was bad stuff in them, there was a lack of transparency and a crisis was coming. The noble Lord, Lord McFall, is no longer in his place, but he was chair of the Treasury Select Committee on which I served briefly. We were in the United States in January 2006 and we talked extensively with investment bankers. Again and again they would say to us quite casually, "You understand that there are storm clouds gathering and a major crisis is coming in 18 months to two years off the back of some of the ridiculous home mortgage lending that has been happening in the
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Banking is an industry in which structural barriers have to be put in place. You cannot rely on regulation and supervision, not just because of the frequent absence of common sense but also because I think that we can guarantee that the leaders of our various banking institutions will, within 36 months, be back in through the door of the regulators and the Treasury trying to persuade everyone to go back to a much lighter touch. It is far harder to change structural division than it is to constantly amend regulation at the fringes. That is why it is absolutely crucial.
Many noble Lords have talked about the increased costs involved in separating the banks, and I fully accept that. However, there are some counterweights, and I again recall my own time in banking. When there was separation of companies which by culture and by customer focus essentially did not belong together, both received a new lease of life. Retail banks are suddenly free to be genuine retail banks, with different training and corporate structures, and can look at their customers in a different way. They should become far more competitive and responsive, and much more competitive in terms of price than one might think given the difference in their capital ratios and the additional costs that fall on them. Indeed, we might even see some new excitement and innovation in the investment banks when they no longer find that everything they do is masked by the pool of retail deposits. When they have to face that reality, I suspect that they will be equally innovative. That is one of the reasons why I am happy to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, that I am not afraid for London's pre-eminent position. The artificial intermingling of two very different kinds of institution has been demonstrated in other industries to do no one any good, so I do not think that we are going to see the kind of damage which many have been afraid of.
I have two final comments. The first is that it would be interesting to have an opportunity to focus much more on the whole range of measures that are being used to deal with our financial and banking crisis. I was struck by the concerns expressed by Donald Kohn, an external member of the Financial Policy Committee, about the lack of transparency and,
We have talked in this House about "dark pools". There are a lot of issues that have to be dealt with alongside because we have highly fragmented financial markets. We are also seeing relatively little in terms of international co-ordination at the moment. If one thinks in terms not just of Vickers but of Basel III, the EU capital requirements directive IV, the Dodd-Frank Act in the United States, the EU insurance industry
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The noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, was one of the few noble Lords who spent a lot of time talking about the change in the competitive environment for retail banks. I am going to take this chance to make one last plea: that one of the considerations for the bank that comes in and joins our high street is that it will service micro and very small businesses and economically disadvantaged individuals who are of no interest to our mainstream banks. If we could kill those two birds with one stone, I would find Vickers to be something close to a perfect report.
Lord Davies of Abersoch: I declare a range of conflicts, as I work with a number of companies in the financial services industry. Until I became a Minister in the Government, I had been a career banker-I should perhaps lower my voice at this stage. I love the industry, which may be an unfashionable thing to say, and found it to be an industry with huge integrity. In fact, I was going to thank my noble friend for introducing this debate until he described the bankers as either thieves or pimps operating in a shallow money trench-I shall pass over that quickly.
I was lucky enough in my career to become a chief executive of a bank and a chairman. I served more than 12 years on the board of Standard Chartered in Asia and London. So many factors affect running a bank; it is, after all, the risk business. This is a business where you need trained professionals who operate within a strong culture. Culture and values are just as important as balance sheets. If you have the wrong culture in an institution, you will go bust. It is also important to have checks and balances. We have touched on auditors. Auditors were missing in the run-up to the financial crisis. They were not mentioned in the report; they should have been.
This morning's announcement of UBS's losses of $200 billion highlighted yet again that this is an industry which has the capacity to shock. You cannot have an autocratic style in a bank. You need pragmatism and caution; you also need a balance between risk and reward. So much of running a bank is about the board of directors and the relationship that the executives have with the board. It is also about having individuals and the blend of experience and skills to govern a bank. In a number of the British institutions, we did not have the right mix and we paid the penalty.
Banks and financial companies are complex and operate with sophisticated products. We should never forget-I know because I was a chief executive-that the shareholders of the companies were pushing CEOs to grow faster and expand more aggressively.
Every crisis, whether it is dotcom, Russia, the Asian crisis or even the tulip crisis many moons ago, has taught us that bubbles occur, that markets collapse and that management has to scenario-plan and think through the downsides. Culture, values and skills are all key ingredients, supplemented with proper supervision. There was insufficient supervision.
It is important to highlight that is an unusual industry because you are playing with other people's money. You are selling products that you want back, perhaps after 40 years in the case of a mortgage, in arguably better condition than when you sold them. If you get it wrong, the consequences for society generally are catastrophic. Contrary to the "casino" image that goes around, most banks facilitate trade and support their consumer and corporate customers-with foreign exchange, trade, term loans and mortgages. During the past few decades we have seen the world become a smaller place. Companies today source from Bangladesh and Shenzhen. They sell online; they sell in the high streets of all the UK. We are living in a true global economy. Banks such as Barclays, HSBC and Standard Chartered typically operate in more than 50 countries. They may be British, but they are multinationals, like Coca-Cola, Unilever and Vodafone. They cannot operate with 50 different regulatory approaches. The Vickers report may have some great recommendations, but we are part of a global economy.
I turn to another issue. London, through focus, through its timeline and through a clear strategy, has become a top-three world centre of excellence, particularly in insurance, foreign exchange and wholesale trading, et cetera. Now is the moment to learn from our mistakes. We have to yet operate within the global economy; we have to keep London's top-tier position; yet we have to protect the consumer and the taxpayer, and we have to be balanced-something that so many banks got wrong. That is the nature of the dilemma that we are facing today.
The regulators, as I said earlier, missed it. Boards missed it. The shareholders and owners missed it; they were nowhere. A very large bubble burst and nations have paid a huge cost. Now, as we talk about the Vickers report, we have another European crisis to add to our worries. The one thing that the report does not mention is that all these crises have one characteristic, which is the shortage of liquidity. When you run a bank, so much of your conversation is making sure that you have the right liquidity-the right funding. Northern Rock did not have it and neither did some of the other banks, and they collapsed.
This is a global, international industry and political leaders at this moment have to be just that: leaders. We need a global standard, not a set of British, Indian, Singaporean or even American initiatives. The regulatory arbitrage that will result from the implementation of the Vickers report if the US, Hong Kong and other places go with a different model will result in a much bigger unintended consequence-lower lending and a major global slowdown.
Lord Lawson of Blaby: The noble Lord speaks with immense authority and therefore it is important to tease out one particular point that seems to be emerging. Is he actually suggesting that we do nothing in this country along the lines of the Vickers report or whatever until we have a global agreement, which might take goodness knows how many years and might never be attainable?
Lord Davies of Abersoch: No, not at all. This is the moment in history where we use the Vickers report and the European crisis and in the next six months we
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If one of the key competitors of an HSBC, Barclays or Standard Chartered is saying in America that it is not even going to comply with Basel III, we will have a major regulatory arbitrage in the world. Long term, that is a big mistake.
If you are a chief executive or are on the board of the bank, you have to ask which centre you should have your head office in. The amounts of capital required are extraordinary. The Vickers report has huge implications. I have great sympathy with separating retail and investment banking. They are fundamentally different businesses. But let us truly understand the amounts of capital that will be required to fund the investment banks with the capital ratios that are being suggested before we rush to a law.
We need to be very aware of the political anti-banker bashing. We have had that and we need to move on. We need to move into an era where the G7, G8 and other applicable countries come together, learn the lessons and in the next six months agree a regulatory framework.
Autocratic leadership, reckless lending abroad with the wrong make-up, a disastrous acquisition coupled with shareholders who seemed to egg the bank on-that is the story of RBS. It was not actually about capital: it was so much about the culture of the board. I am concerned about a move to saying that the answer to all the banking problems is just capital. It is not.
The important thing about banking is that retail banking is all about small loans and a huge volume of customers. The other thing that the Vickers report misses is that it is increasingly difficult to fund a retail bank without wholesale deposits. That is the fundamental issue for the future of banking.
Viscount Trenchard: My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Myners, on introducing this debate. It is certainly to be welcomed that your Lordships' House has an opportunity to discuss the Vickers report during the week of its publication but the other side of that is that not all noble Lords have had time to read every word of the report yet. I am afraid I count myself among that number. Like other noble Lords, I congratulate Sir John Vickers and his colleagues on their hard work in addressing the very complicated task set for them by the Government.
I must declare an interest in that I am employed by Mizuho International plc, the investment banking and securities subsidiary of the Mizuho Financial Group of Japan. I have been a banker for 38 years. I joined Kleinwort Benson in 1973, at which time it was what my noble friend Lord Lawson called a merchant bank. However, it actually combined both a significant
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I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Myners, said about governance and the need to concentrate more on it. The report is somewhat thin on that and I think it is also true that Vickers does not adequately address the reasons for the banks' failures. They were somewhat different in each case, while the banks that failed were not like each other in any particular regard. It is absolutely not necessary or desirable to introduce these additional reforms, certainly at present given the economic background with the euro situation and other things. The effects of the already increased capital requirements, the bank levy, restrictions on remuneration and stricter regulations have already completely changed the environment in which banks operate.
It is absolutely right to set up a framework which minimises the risk that the taxpayer will again be required to bail out our banks. However, I fear that the gold-plated additional capital requirements, over those internationally agreed in the Basel III framework, together with a very cumbersome proposed regulatory system and the ring-fencing proposals mean that the greater risks which the taxpayer faces today are very different from those from which Vickers seeks to protect him. International banks' perception of London's attractiveness has already changed for the worse. The problem with our regulation is not that we did not have enough but that the FSA did not do what it was supposed to do-and did not work effectively with the Bank of England.
Several major banks are already booking more business in other centres, and new businesses that would have been set up here are now not going to be. There are already fewer banking jobs and reduced income tax revenues from bankers, in spite of the 50 per cent tax rate. I welcome the Chancellor's decision to launch an inquiry into whether it is a net contributor. If our banks are so encumbered, with too much detailed prescriptive regulation and unnecessarily large capital buffers, they will cease to be competitive compared with their international peers. They will lend less to smaller companies and their margins will have to be higher. This will restrict growth in the economy. That will prevent the Government from restoring our former competitive tax rates, which played a part in establishing London's leading position.
If the banks are broken up as proposed, that will have a serious adverse effect on the price and the timing of the Government's intended sale of shares in
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I welcome the report's recommendations to make account-switching easier, but I rather wonder what will be the point of doing so if every Vickers-style retail bank is identical, offering the same products probably on identical terms. I would rather that the customer had real choice of what type of bank he switched to. For example, he might see a significant difference between RBS with its significant investment banking business and Lloyds with very little.
I refer noble Lords to the article by Sir Martin Jacomb in yesterday's Financial Times. As noble Lords will know, he is a distinguished banker. He was a vice-chairman of Kleinwort Benson when I joined and went on to be chairman at BZW and, later, the Prudential. As he argues, when Governments decide that retail depositors must not lose money and that some banks are too big to be allowed to fail, regulation becomes essential and the importance of sound management is diminished.
My noble friend Lord Lawson argues for a return to the separation of banks and investment banks. I think that I have heard him on a previous occasion advocating the introduction of a Glass-Steagall Act in the United Kingdom. As Sir Martin points out in his article, though, Glass-Steagall was abolished because customers want the services that universal banks can provide. In any event, the purpose of Glass-Steagall was completely different from that now sought by the ring-fencing proposal.
I do not believe that ring-fencing is the answer or that the lack of it was the cause of the bank failures. Neither do I think it likely that any other country with a significant financial market will introduce it. Even in a Vickers-style ring-fenced retail bank, there will still be some risk. We should beware the paradox that a system to limit risk invariably increases it.
Lord Wood of Anfield: My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Myners for making this debate possible. I am grateful to him, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, my noble friend Lord Davies of Abersoch and others for their expertise and insight. It has been a real treat and has given me serious food for thought. Unlike many noble Lords, I have no particular expertise. The only interest that I should declare is that I have a current account and a joint savings account with First Direct.
Like many noble Lords, I would have liked Vickers to have gone further. I support, though I will not repeat, many of the concerns of my noble friend Lord Myners, the noble Lord, Lord Lawson, and others. However, I am also aware that the best should not be the enemy of the reasonably good and that, contrary to some of the views that we have heard from people in the banking industry over the past few days, time is pressing.
I want to make some points about the importance of ensuring both that the recommendations of the commission on banking are implemented swiftly and that we do not make the mistake of thinking that the set of issues addressed by the commission, crucial in
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It is good to hear strong support for the proposals of the commission across the political spectrum. There is widespread recognition that the two key proposals in the final report-the requirement for the ring-fence to protect individuals and small business and the stipulation of minimum capital requirements-are tough as well as right. They offer the prospect of much more effective protection for ordinary depositors, small businesses and taxpayers alike. They are serious proposals, which are commensurate with the seriousness of the structural problems in our banking industry revealed by the crisis. The primary challenge now is for the Government to show decisiveness in response to the commission, not simply by welcoming it-although I am glad that they have done that-but by legislating sooner rather than later. Acting swiftly should not be tendentiously misinterpreted as acting rashly.
The magnitude of these changes requires that they are made in collaboration with the banks. The structural changes to banking operations need to be planned and tailored to each bank, as Vickers notes. Minimal capital requirements cannot be introduced overnight. All this is understood. However, an early and swift move to legislate is crucial, first, because the banking industry itself and its shareholders and customers need certainty to plan ahead. Secondly, we need to send an unambiguous signal that the period of lobbying to contest both the basic approach and the provisions of reform is now over. We have all noted the noises off, as well as some noises on, from the banking industry over the past few days, as well as some of the thin praise uttered though gritted teeth by others. However, I hope that our leading banks recognise that the Vickers recommendations will be implemented and co-operate in making that happen promptly and smoothly.
The Government have a role to play here, too. If they allow a mood music of reticence, foot-dragging and uncertainty to emerge after the publication of the report, they may give false hope to the small-we hope-minority in the banking community who want to turn a period of reflection on how to implement Vickers into a period of rethinking whether the recommendations should be implemented at all. That is why I join the noble Lord, Lord Newby, and others in urging the Government to get on and legislate in the near future, and to agree that the upcoming financial services Bill is the best vehicle to do as much of the work as possible in laying the legislative groundwork for these reforms.
Secondly, I hope the Government remain robust, both privately and publicly, in rebutting the criticisms that have been lodged against these recommendations. Some have said that the reforms will damage the competitiveness of British banks, penalise shareholders and lead to an increased cost of credit. However, underlying these criticisms is a slightly false choice between the competitiveness of our banking sector and the stability of the banking system as a whole. We cannot afford to base the banking industry on inadequate
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The recommendations of the commission are important, and it is important that the Government act swiftly to get the ball rolling on making them a reality and hold the line against those who want to derail this process. It is equally important to recognise that there is a set of related issues around the activities of our banks and their relationship to the wider economy that cannot and should not be parked, but requires action in parallel with implementing the commission's recommendations. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that Vickers cannot answer all the issues surrounding our banks and the problems that we have experienced. My concern is that these other issues are addressed-and addressed in parallel.
First, as many noble Lords have said, the commission has some good recommendations on competition in the banking sector, particularly on greater divestiture of Lloyds branches, account switching and the case for a new challenger bank, although detail on how to achieve some of these is a bit slight. However, I am puzzled as to why the commission has backtracked on its interim report recommendation that the Financial Conduct Authority should have a primary duty to promote competition, to saying simply that the duties of the FCA should go in a more pro-competition direction. I hope that this is not a prelude to a weak rather than a strong competition role for the FCA. In addition, the recommendation that the Government should wait a full four more years before even considering a Competition Commission reference two years after these reforms should have come into effect, seems a bit lax and not to reflect the importance of ensuring greater competition as soon as possible.
I welcome the Chancellor's early and clear support for the report as a whole. However, I think that many people will be surprised that concerns about the weak supply of credit lurk behind some of his scepticism about the banking commission's reforms, when at the same time the Government have done so little to get credit flowing from our banks to our small and medium-sized businesses over the past year and a half. This is, of course, in part a consequence of a policy choice of a contraction in economic policy during a period of prolonged stagnation. But more specifically, I hope
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Thirdly, the Vickers proposals on structural reform of our banks are intended to protect taxpayers' interests in the event of future bailouts. We all understand that but we must remember that the financial crisis threw up other activities and practices that undermined the stability of the banking system as a whole, and on which Vickers' report says not as much. In particular, we know from the past decade the risks of activities such as proprietary trading where banks essentially develop internal hedge funds and trade using their own rather than their clients' money-activities which were associated with the crises at Drexel, Barings, Salomon Brothers and others. We know that proprietary trading can lead to concerns about conflicts of interest that undermine confidence and increase the fragility not only of individual banks but of the banking sector as a whole. In the United States there is a strong debate going on in Congress and elsewhere about how to respond to this problem. Opinions differ on that, but there is a recognition that there is an issue that needs to be addressed. I hope that in the coming months the Government set out what their thoughts are on this important area of financial regulation. Perhaps the Minister might say something about his thoughts on that.
Lord Wood of Anfield: I am sorry. I have just one or two more sentences. The key message here is that the ball is now in the Government's court. I hope the House will agree that if we want British banks to be not only world-leading, secure and efficient but also the servants of ordinary depositors and of businesses whom we rely on for jobs and prosperity, we need to maintain the level of ambition and urgency that this report demonstrates.
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the House is indebted to my noble friend Lord Myners not only for securing this extremely timely debate on such an important and pressing subject but for identifying the issues raised in the Vickers report and seeking to put them into context, including issues that perhaps Vickers addressed more marginally, if at all. I am grateful that this theme was taken up, most significantly by the noble Lord, Lord May, who illuminated the debate with his analysis of the problems of systems and how we need to address ourselves to the totality. He was followed by my noble friend Lord Plant who was keen to emphasise that bankers should act with a sense of morality to enable our country to be better served than it has been in the recent past.
First, I wish to concentrate on some basics, as did a number of noble Lords. I am not going to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, my noble friend Lord Liddle,
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We also need to put that into the context of what the country demands. It of course demands some security as rapidly as possible against the horrors that have been visited upon our fellow citizens as a result of the banking crisis of recent years, and the economic and financial crisis that is the consequence of it. That is why we support the report, but we are somewhat concerned about the timescale of implementation that the Government appear to be sympathetic to. I agree entirely with noble Lords who have emphasised this in this debate. It was begun by my noble friend Lord Myners, but others have supported the need for us to take legislative action as rapidly as we can. We all recognise that some fresh legislation will be necessary and that that will take some time, but the fact that we have a financial services Bill under some consideration by Parliament surely provides an option for early action to lay some of the groundwork on implementing some of the key features of the report.
I appreciate the aspects of the debate that have emphasised the degree of additional competition sought in the report. We share the anxieties that the FSA is not in fact being charged with quite the same proactive role to encourage competition as the earlier report presaged. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that it is important that we see the emergence of competitive banks in such a way as to, first, make us less dependent on the growth of the mega few and, secondly, provide greater choice for the consumer. It is clearly a reflection of a long-standing position in the community that the numbers of people who change their bank accounts-their current accounts-each year in Britain is a mere 6 per cent, which is less than in almost any other advanced country. That is a reflection of the fact that the consumer sees no overt advantages in competition between the retail banks, which we want to encourage. This report indicates a route down which that could be pursued. We want greater competition between retail banks.
However, we are also concerned about investment banks. For instance, it seems that the effective charges put on equity underwriting fees have increased enormously over the past 25 years-again a reflection of the rather closed circle in which these decisions and opportunities are expressed, rather than in a more open system. Of course we appreciate that the tougher capital standards that will be required will make demands upon the banking system, but the earlier we approach these issues the less the danger that ordinary members of the public will bear these costs, whether they are individual account holders or small or medium-sized businesses seeking to borrow at reasonably competitive rates.
This is of cardinal importance for business. Thus far, the Government have replied overwhelmingly, in all responses on the question of increased investment and opportunities for credit by banks to businesses, on the Merlin project. Clearly, the Merlin project is a failure. The amount of lending under that framework is falling year by year, at a time when it is so clear that we need to rebuild our small and medium-sized businesses in this country.
Finally, my noble friend Lord Myners broadened the context of the report by emphasising the international dimension. That theme has been picked up on several sides. I recognise the points made about the importance of ensuring that London is internationally competitive. I was very grateful for those contributions, which emphasised the significance of the finance sector to our economy.
It is clear that if we are to make progress on the effective structure of British banks, we need to appreciate the international context within which they work. That is why so much work needs to be done in the international sphere. If there is a criticism that I would want to express in a debate that has been largely free of party politics, while at the same time seeking to deal with the inherent nature of the problem that confronts us all, it is that the Chancellor ought to be more active in the international councils that set out to deal with international crises in circumstances in which we all recognise that we cannot solve the problem just on a British basis. However, the report, if implemented by the Government as rapidly as possible, can go a considerable way to creating security for our banking system and remedy the abuses of the past.
Lord De Mauley: My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Myners, on the timeliness of this debate. Even if I do not agree with everything he said, I thank him for his questions, because they set the parameters for the debate today, which was helpful.
When they came to office, the Government faced the task of establishing a new culture for regulation where irresponsible risks were unacceptable, while creating the space for innovation and commercial success. This included addressing the issues of financial institutions deemed too big to fail.
Alongside a wider programme of reform in financial services, the Government established the Independent Commission on Banking to formulate policy recommendations with a view to reducing systemic risk in the banking sector, mitigating moral hazard in the banking system, reducing the likelihood and impact of firm failure, and promoting competition in both retail and investment banking.
I join others in thanking and paying tribute to Sir John Vickers and the other members of the commission, Clare Spottiswoode, Martin Taylor, Bill Winters and Martin Wolf, for their work during the past 14 months. Theirs has been little short of a herculean task, producing an issues paper, an interim report and now their final findings-in all, more than 600 pages of documentation. They have sifted through more than 300 submissions and thousands of pages of evidence from market participants, consumer groups,
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However, I agree with him that decisive action is needed to reform financial services and to ensure that the sector is responsibly managed and well regulated. I shall set out the commission's key recommendations and how the Government intend to respond.
The report proposes a high ring-fence around retail banking to protect the provision of vital retail banking services, such as taking deposits from individuals and small businesses and the provision of overdraft facilities. Furthermore, it adds that retail subsidiaries should be able to operate and meet regulatory requirements independently and that relationships with the rest of their group should be conducted in the same way as with third parties. I can confirm to the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, that the ICB proposes that they would have separate boards of directors and I welcome some of his other helpful suggestions. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Wood, the report is clear that proprietary trading, about which he was concerned, is very firmly outside the ring-fence.
As my right honourable friend the Chancellor has said, we welcome this recommendation in principle, as we do the commission's other proposals. Successful implementation of them will allow us to resolve universal banks more easily in the event of a crisis, without affecting vital payment systems or banking services. They will also help to address issues such as the perceived implicit guarantee from taxpayers of so-called too-big-to-fail institutions.
Today there were powerful arguments from my noble friend Lord Lawson and the noble Lord, Lord Plant, among others, for total separation. Decisions on implementation will be taken once the Government have considered the report. The Government accept in principle the ICB's recommendation that retail banking should be ring-fenced. For any ring-fence to be practical, it will need to be set up so that high-street banking can still provide vital banking services efficiently. The Government's response will be announced by the end of the year; however, the ICB believes that ring-fencing can achieve equal benefits at a lower cost because total separation could have a higher economic cost than ring-fencing in terms of efficient intermediation between saving and investment, diversification of risk and customer synergies. It is not clear whether total separation would make for greater financial stability, as it would preclude support for troubled retail banks from elsewhere in banking groups and because total separation is harder to enforce under European law inasmuch as universal banks in other member states would still be entitled to own UK retail banking operations.
The point of firewalling is not to eliminate all risk, but to minimise the cost to taxpayers should a bank fail. These measures should not be seen in isolation. The noble Lord, Lord Myners, referred to governance. Here the Government are taking strong action on financial regulation. The UK's resilience to future crises will be strengthened by the creation of a new prudential regulation authority as a subsidiary of the
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The noble Lord, Lord Myners, and my noble friend Lord Lawson asked an important question about who will monitor the integrity of the ring-fence. The FSA and the future prudential regulatory authority will be responsible for supervising UK deposit-takers. Recovery and resolution plans will provide the regulators with a basis on which to assess whether a bank is resolvable. As set out in the PRA White Paper, bank resolvability will be at the heart of supervisory risk assessment of United Kingdom banks.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, asked whether a ring-fence is permeable and whether it contains any doorways between the retail and investment bank and how firm will be the separation. The retail ring-fence will limit the funding and capital exposure to the investment bank. The ring-fenced bank will be able to access funding only from the investment bank on a third-party basis as though it were borrowing from another bank. Those restrictions are part of limiting contagion in the event of failure, ensuring that the ring-fenced bank can continue operating, should the investment bank fail. The Government will examine those proposals in detail and respond before the end of the year.
My noble friend Lord Griffiths asked about ring-fencing for retail banks and suggested that it did not address the Lehman risk or the financial stability consequences of allowing the investment bank part of a universal bank to collapse.
Ring-fencing the retail bank will mean that it can continue functioning even if the investment bank were to collapse. However, it is essential to consider the stability benefits of ring-fencing as part of a wider package of reforms, of which I spoke earlier. Vickers has presented his report as a package aimed at improving bank resolvability and reducing taxpayer exposure.
Turning to loss absorbency, the commission recommended a 3 per cent equity surcharge for large, ring-fenced banks, over and above the minimum 7 per cent required under international requirements, giving an overall equity capital requirement of 10 per cent, supported by a tighter leverage cap than proposed in Basel III. The commission also recommended that banks be required to hold so-called bail-in bonds and for this to be supplemented by a backstop statutory bail-in power to improve their loss-absorbing capacity in resolution and ensure that bondholders share the costs of bank failure. I thank the noble Lord, Lord May of Oxford, for his fascinating contribution which, I think, focused on this area and I would like, if I may, to think further about what he said.
My noble friend Lord Caithness raised the issue of the adequacy of any particular level of capital. The ICB has done a great deal of work examining what happened in the recent crisis and has not lightly recommended a loss-absorbing capacity of between 17 per cent and 20 per cent of risk-weighted assets for the UK's largest banks. The Government will, as I have said, review these recommendations and particularly how these impact upon our banks in different ways.
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The third area of the ICB's recommendations is the depositor preference for deposits covered by the financial services compensation scheme to give depositors super-senior status over other unsecured creditors.
Finally, there are a number of recommendations to improve competition in the banking sector, including an account redirection service, to which the noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, referred. I assure him that we will be examining it carefully. It will make it easier for personal and small business customers to switch their bank account from one bank to another. Other recommendations include welcoming the Financial Conduct Authority's proposed statutory competition duty while proposing changes to the treatment of competition and efficiency in its statutory objectives, reiterating that the Lloyds Banking Group divestment should deliver an effective new challenger and recommending that the Office of Fair Trading should review progress against these measures in 2015.
The noble Lords, Lord Myners and Lord Davies of Oldham, asked what is proposed to increase competition. It is clear that the UK banking market needs increased competition. The ICB puts forward sensible proposals that the Government will consider. The proposals on account switching-making the switching process easier, faster and risk-free for consumers and small businesses-will empower bank customers to hold their banks to account better. The ICB also recommends giving the Financial Conduct Authority a primary duty to promote competition. We agree in principle with all the recommendations and will need to work through them in detail. Allied to this, the noble Lord, Lord Myners, asked what the Government are doing to encourage new entrants. The Government are committed to reducing barriers to entry in retail banking, subject to the risks which we must, of course, take into account. The Financial Services Authority has taken steps to reform the new bank authorisation process-the application process for prospective new banks. The process is now more streamlined, with "minded to approve" letters now provided to applicants to provide feedback. Numerous new banks and lenders are currently going through this process. The Government will consider the ICB's competition recommendations carefully to see what more can be done to foster an environment in which banks better serve their customers.
The noble Lords, Lord May and Lord Wood, asked about a review of the market by the OFT. The ICB's competition proposals include measures on transparency, switching, the objectives of the Financial Conduct Authority and the Lloyds divestment. These measures cannot be implemented overnight and it is important to get them right. The FCA still needs to be set up by the next financial services Bill and the finer details of the transparency measures still need to be worked out
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The Government are very grateful for the proposals that were put forward by the ICB. We recognise the need to give industry certainty. To that end we will begin considering and consulting on the costs and benefits of what has been proposed, and examine the design and implementation options that might be available, so that we can provide the Government's initial response to the commission's proposals before the end of the year.
As the Chancellor made clear in his Mansion House speech, the Government will judge the commission's final proposals against the condition that, as the noble Lord, Lord McFall, said, a bank should be allowed to fail without affecting vital banking services, without imposing costs on the taxpayer, and in a manner applicable across our diverse sector and consistent with EU and international law. We will then seek to implement any resulting measures according to Sir John's recommended timetable, with any necessary primary legislation by 2015 and implementation by 2019.
The noble Lords, Lord Myners and Lord Davies of Oldham, and my noble friends Lord Lawson, Lord Griffiths and Lord Oakeshott, spoke about the speed of implementation. Not all of them came at it from the same direction. The Government have welcomed the suggestions in principle. However, as Sir John noted, these are extremely complicated, far-reaching and detailed proposals. The report acknowledges that the additional capital measures in particular will need an implementation period of the order recommended. Crucially, as my noble friend Lady Kramer and the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, said, we need to consider the changes with international partners to ensure consistency with international agreements, in particular Basel III and EU law.
Powerful arguments were made today for the Government to get on with it. I acknowledge that need. There is every intent in government to act in a timely manner, and I will welcome further debates and questions, which I have no doubt that noble Lords will bring to your Lordships' House to keep up the pressure.
Noble Lords raised a number of other issues in the debate that will need to be considered by the Government ahead of their response. The noble Lords, Lord Myners and Lord Wood, and my noble friends Lord Lawson and Lord Newby, were among those who asked how the proposals would be legislated for. The Government will consider ICB implementation options between now and the publication of their formal response. To the extent that the Government decide that legislation is necessary, they will set out their plans before the end of the year, with the intention of legislating by 2015.
The noble Lord, Lord Myners, asked whether there would be a buyers' strike for senior debt. It is fundamental to market discipline that private investors, not taxpayers, bear the losses where a bank fails. The Vickers report contains analysis of the kinds of losses that investors might absorb to leave the taxpayer protected in the event of bank failure. The Government will now consider
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The noble Lord, Lord Myners, and my noble friend Lord Lawson asked whether the bank levy would be dropped. I noted the comments attributed to Mr Winters in today's newspapers. The bank levy has been an important part of the Government's reform of the banking sector. I note that the idea of dropping it was not in the report. However, the Government will consider the overlap between existing policy and the Vickers report in drawing up their response.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, referred to the vital issue of economic growth. This is an important issue that the Government will keep continually under consideration and bear closely in mind as they consider the report. The recent financial crisis demonstrated the significant detrimental impact that failure in the financial sector can have on the real economy and public finances. The Government are clear that decisive action is needed to reform the financial services and ensure that the sector is responsibly managed and well regulated.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, asked what impact these proposals might have on lending. This is of course related to growth, and something that we will consider carefully. As the report says, ensuring that banks are more robustly capitalised, and creating a ring-fence, would provide a secure and stable framework for the supply of credit to businesses and households in the UK economy. Ring-fencing should strengthen, not weaken, the framework for the supply of bank credit to households and businesses in the economy.
My noble friend Lord Trenchard took the most extreme position against the ICB's proposals. I will not respond to him today, but will be happy to do so afterwards. However, I am a long way from agreeing with his central thrust.
The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, referred to Project Merlin and the noble Lord, Lord Wood, also asked about actions on lending. In February, the Chancellor announced a new commitment by the United Kingdom's biggest high-street banks to lend £190 billion of new credit to business in 2011, up from £179 billion in 2010. The Bank of England is monitoring lending on a quarterly basis, and, at the half-year point, banks are lending over £100 billion against the implied target of £95 billion, including £37 billion to SMEs.
The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, made a point about the importance of the competitiveness of the UK's financial sector. This is an important issue that the Government will clearly be taking into account. Increased financial stability will be a positive for the UK's role as a financial centre as well as for the wider economy. It is of course important to decrease the probability of another crisis happening.
The noble Lord, Lord Sawyer, made a welcome suggestion about customer service quality. Ring-fenced retail banks, no longer allowed to siphon customer deposits from their investment arms, will be forced to focus on their core business of lending to SMEs and individuals. This renewed retail focus will mean that banks will need to know their communities better and
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I admit to having spent some of the happiest days of my life, at least before joining the Government, working for the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Abersoch, at Standard Chartered Bank, and I agree with him on what he says about the importance of culture. The health of his former bank speaks volumes for that culture. I have to say that being in opposition has certainly made his personal health look considerably better than being in government. His point about liquidity is well taken and, as I have said, we will consider all these issues before we respond to Vickers.
My noble friend Lady Kramer and the noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked whether the proposals take sufficient account of the need for international co-ordination, which is of course a vital point that I have referred to before. The Government are focused on preserving a level international playing field to ensure that UK firms are not unnecessarily disadvantaged. The UK continues to engage actively in international fora-in particular the Basel committee, the Financial Stability Board, the EU and the G20-to achieve a level playing field. That said, the size of the UK's financial sector is very large relative to the size of our economy, and it is important that we take account of this as we examine the proposed reforms of the UK banking system.
I am sure that I have not answered every question raised by noble Lords today, of which there was a veritable blizzard, and if I have not, I will write to noble Lords afterwards. Strong, well capitalised banks will be an important part of a strong economy, providing credit and vital services to people and SMEs. As economic growth recovers, the financial services sector will need to respond to meet increasing demands from business customers. Poorly regulated banks have, however, cost our economy billions of pounds. The recent financial crisis demonstrated the significant detrimental impact that failure in the financial sector can have on the economy and public finances.
Lord Myners: My Lords, I thank the Minister for a very constructive response and I thank those of your Lordships' House who have contributed. The debate has once again shown the breadth of experience not only from those who might be described as insiders on this issue but from outsiders, who made fascinating and challenging contributions, such as those of my noble friends Lord Sawyer and Lord Plant and the noble Lord, Lord May of Oxford.
I expressed some reservations about the Vickers report, but perhaps I carried expectations higher than they should have been. Both the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and my noble friend Lord Wood of Anfield reminded me that this is but part of the complex series of actions being taken to address issues in the banking industry. On that basis, it is only right that I should note that Sir John and his esteemed colleagues Mr Winters, Mr Wolf, Mr Taylor and Miss Spottiswoode laboured
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However, the Government are on notice. Sir John Vickers and his team have told us that the current system is unstable and places the taxpayer at an unacceptable level of risk. The taxpayer is on the hook, and the Government leave them on the hook until they take action. It is interesting that in his closing speech the Minister mentioned proprietary trading. The Government have done nothing to stop state-owned banks engaging in propriety trading. They are still speculating on the back of the taxpayers' guarantee. However, I think we have had a very good debate, and on that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Lord Hylton: My Lords, it is a long time since this House last discussed Kosovo, so for that reason I am very pleased to be able to introduce this debate. Kosovo is a highly symbolic place for two rival nationalisms. It was the centre of the great medieval Serb monarchy and contained its royal monasteries. In Ottoman times, it became more and more inhabited by Albanians, who declared independence in the 19th century at Prizren in Kosovo. The subsequent clash of cultures has led to great suffering in recent years. During Tito's time, Kosovo enjoyed a high level of autonomy and was modestly prosperous.
Milosevic, however, imposed direct rule, and the Albanians developed parallel institutions for education, welfare et cetera. When the tyrant began to drive out the Albanian population, NATO responded with a bombing campaign and the Kosovo Liberation Army fought back. It was thus that in 1999 Kosovo came to be occupied by KFOR and administered by UNMIK. In February 2008, Kosovo declared its independence, and this was confirmed by the International Court of Justice 18 months later. Its population is estimated at 1.8 million, of whom some 92 per cent are Albanian. This compares with 1.6 million people in Northern Ireland and somewhat over 600,000 in neighbouring independent Montenegro. Kosovo has a Parliament of 120 members, and by now has been recognised by 81 states. It is a member of the World Bank and the IMF.
This incomplete recognition is due, in part, to the fact that Kosovo does not have full control of all its territory. North of the Ibar River, the mainly Serb population has partly broken away and linked itself to Serbia. Mitrovica is a divided city, and last year I stood on the bridge marking the divide between Albanians and Serbs. Currently the Kosovo Government are
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I am inclined to be somewhat critical of the international groups in Kosovo, which I have already mentioned and to which I would add EULEX, which has responsibility for the administration of justice and some oversight of law and order. No doubt they have suffered language and culture difficulties, while frequent rotations of staff have hindered full understanding. Nevertheless, they have been overconcerned with stability and have tended to avoid confronting difficult issues, such as the conditions of the Roma minority or relations between the historic Serbian Orthodox monasteries and their neighbours.
Will the Government seek to ensure that the right lessons are learnt from past experience, and that the activities in Kosovo of the European Union, the OSCE and the Council of Europe are better co-ordinated? Can the Minister first say to what extent Kosovo now has its own system of justice? Are the civil and criminal courts fully functioning? Secondly, given the still high unemployment, have Kosovo's large mineral resources been fully, or even begun to be, brought into production?
To come back to the monasteries, almost all are on beautiful sites. The smaller ones cause little difficulty and often have good relations with their Albanian neighbours. Of the two major ones, Peç is a community of nuns and the seat of the Serbian Orthodox Patriarch. Deçani is a community of monks. Both are UNESCO cultural and historic sites, and I have visited both of them. They should not, however, be considered just as monuments of the past. They support living, functioning communities and are of huge symbolic importance. It should not be necessary, 12 years after the war, for detachments of KFOR to stand guard at their gates, checking the credentials of all visitors. This has the perverse effect of cutting off the residents from their neighbours.
Through two world wars, earlier Balkan struggles and the whole of the Ottoman period, the local Albanians successfully protected the monasteries against external violence. This traditional local situation should be restored, bringing free access for bona fide visitors and pilgrims, and freedom of movement for the monks and nuns. I believe this to be quite possible; indeed, my friend and colleague who founded the NGO called the Soul of Europe for peace-building work, first in Bosnia and now in Kosovo, has been invited by both sides to facilitate good, normal relations. The nearby Kosovar municipalities are keen, and the veterans of the KLA are also willing to sit at the table. Will the Government give more than just verbal support to this initiative? It has great potential as a confidence-building measure that would help further the wider bilateral negotiations already mentioned. Can the Government give some indication of how far those negotiations have already progressed and about their future prospects?
I am sure your Lordships would wish to see Serbia, Kosovo and their neighbours all playing their full parts in the European institutions. This would bring historic antagonisms to an end and greatly benefit their people. However, this cannot just be engineered from on high. It must be built upwards from the hearts and minds of people in villages and small towns. That is why I conclude by asking why community development is not built into the briefs of the international agencies, in particular those working in Kosovo. We have people, particularly in Northern Ireland and in multiethnic English cities, who have great experience in peace-building and community development. This could be a truly effective form of technical assistance. I saw something similar in Moldova during a 10-year period after their civil war. I commend this idea, and look forward to the Government's response.
Baroness Nicholson of Winterbourne: I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for giving us this unusual opportunity to discuss the state of Kosovo. It is a great pleasure to follow his wise words. I will concentrate my remarks on two perspectives that have been of large concern to the European Union and the Council of Europe during the last years. I first visited Kosovo in the late summer of 1999, where I met Mr Bernard Kouchner, who was the high representative in the wake of the reconstruction and development plans for Kosovo.
Since then, the EU, both in its member states and institutions, and most particularly the European Commission, has played a very prominent role in the reconstruction and development of Kosovo. It is worth reminding ourselves that the European Union is the largest single donor, I believe, to the reconstruction of Kosovo. I think we have forwarded more than €2 billion to Kosovo since my first visit in 1999. I welcome that assistance and I particularly welcome, and wish to draw attention to, the valuable work of EULEX, which is working on the European justice system in Kosovo.
I also draw noble Lords' particular attention to the valuable work that EULEX is doing on child trafficking and on bringing criminals to justice. I also commend the work of the high representative and vice-president of the European Commission, the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, in this area. Of course, EULEX is a technical mission that mentors, monitors and advises, and the legal basis is the Council joint action of February 2008.
Noble Lords will be aware of several quite significant problems that Kosovo has faced in human rights. I will first mention the extraordinary problem of a number of families in grave difficulty since 1999. They live on the tailings of lead mines. Perhaps the most infamous one is Osterode. In 1999, I visited those families with Mr Kouchner, a medical expert. A number of Roma and other families had been placed on the tailings of the lead mine.
All of us in this House are well aware of the dangers to human health of lead. They are dramatic and drastic. Mr Kouchner, on behalf of the international community and the European Union, pledged to the
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I have examined the World Health Organisation's statement and I spoke with Mr Kouchner again recently. I wrote to him in 2008, when I also spoke to him. It is extremely sad that in the summer of 2000, although Mr Kouchner ordered his UN medical team to assess the extent of the lead contamination, these families have not been moved. The WHO report from the medical team declared that the families should be moved immediately and the camps destroyed. Blood tests carried out on some of the children showed that they had the highest levels of lead poisoning recorded in medical history, so the situation is extremely grave. When I met some of those families, I could see the impact of lead poisoning that has now gone on for over a generation. Because no records have been kept in the area and therefore no deaths have been recorded, it is difficult to say how exactly many stillbirths, deaths on arrival, maternal deaths and deaths of people in their early thirties can be attributed to lead poisoning. Many people have slow learning capabilities that may be due to this poisoning. However, the blood levels recorded in the children indicate the most devastating outcomes. As Mr Kouchner himself wrote to me:
I was pleased to learn that the British Government had addressed this issue. David Miliband, the previous Secretary of State, wrote a good letter on 17 February 2009. He also pledged that the Foreign Office, various different members of the European Commission and the European Union, and of course the Government of Kosovo themselves, would do everything possible to support these families more effectively by placing them somewhere where they could survive. But I have to say that since UNMIK handed over the management of these places-I would not call them camps-to the Government of Kosovo, very little progress has been made. They were handed over in the first half of 2008 and are now the Government's full responsibility. However, although the Commission has continued to provide financial assistance in the form, for example, of the €1.2 million CARDS project and much in the way of food provisions, legal assistance, basic household appliances and so on, the situation remains the same for one of the saddest and most tragic groups of people I have met for a long time. I wish to draw the Minister's attention to this tragedy.
My second point derives from my present position in the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. In January this year the Council of Europe accepted a report by Dick Marty, the special rapporteur on trafficking in human organs from Kosovo over the past decade. It is a gravely worrying report. I am pleased to say that on 15 June the European Union appointed a special prosecutor to investigate trafficking in human organs in Kosovo. I believe that the prosecutor will be supported by investigators, and the Kosovo
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There is a marketplace, and some evidential trails indicate that perhaps some eminent or better known persons in the wider Europe may have been involved in, or at least had knowledge of, this issue for over a decade. Sadly, organ trafficking does not appear to have stopped. A particular tragedy is that medical advances have meant that an organ, a liver or kidney, can alas be taken from a six year-old child and usefully placed in a middle-aged man. That used not to be the case. The result is that children in Kosovo are gravely at risk of organ trafficking, as well as through associated trafficking throughout Europe and the wider world.
I hesitate to put such sombre facts on the record, but I have the greatest confidence in the British Government and the Foreign Office, and I wish to request support for the resolution of these problems.
The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, it is a great pleasure and privilege to join my noble friend in this debate. I apologise for being here after his opening speech because of unforeseen delays due to the closure of the Jubilee line and so forth. I also apologise to the government Whip and the opposition Whip and thank them for allowing me to come in at this late stage. In fact I have not missed anything: I have already read what my noble friend kindly gave me and I was here to hear the noble Baroness. It is a pleasure to be here.
As a tennis player, may I salute Novak Djokovic for winning the US Open? I had the opportunity to watch him win one of the earlier rounds in New York two weeks ago. While he is Serbian, his family comes from Zvecan in Kosovo. I can only hope that while he will be a young and loyal ambassador for Serbia, he will also be able to represent the special problems of Kosovo itself as he travels around the world.
My excuse for being here is that I have long stood beside my noble friend and others, including the noble Baroness, in arguing the case for greater autonomy for minorities in Africa and the Middle East and most recently South Sudan, which I visited in February. In fact there is a stronger parallel there than I had realised since religious, language and cultural differences are as relevant as territorial integrity and human rights abuses on a dramatic scale such as we have just heard from the noble Baroness. The comparison stops there because in Kosovo's case, in spite of the ICJ ruling on UDI last year, true independence is still a good way off. I will be interested to hear the Minister's forecast.
The international guarantees are much more complicated in Kosovo as they involve several different institutions including the EU itself. Starting with the EU, I hope that the Minister will first clarify any differences there may still be between the UK and EEAS. Britain's role has been critical since 1999 and while there is virtually no public interest or awareness of it in this country, our support for KFOR, UNMIK, EULEX and the other institutions has been well maintained by this Government, which is to be welcomed.
Earlier this year, arguments were surfacing in the Commons EU Scrutiny Committee between the Minister's colleague David Lidington and the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, about the respective roles of the EU special representative and a representative in the International Civilian Office. A similar problem was occurring in Bosnia and Herzegovina. Will the Minister say whether there is still double hatting and whether these posts in Kosovo, having been nominally de-linked, still overlap and are therefore slowing down the critical process of negotiation? It is vital that the Pristina-Belgrade dialogue continues and is facilitated at the highest level.
At our own EU Committee during the summer, I asked Mr Lidington about the EULEX programme and whether the rule of law extended into the north or stopped at the internal frontier. His answer then was that there was no agreement at all about the mandate of institutions, principally the judiciary and the police north of the river at Mitrovica, and I expect the Minister will confirm that that is still the position. But it is the major sticking point, because lawyers and judges have made hardly any progress against organised crime such as we have just heard about-trafficking and offences against young people in vast no-go areas of the north. The EULEX programme there is still at a standstill.
There was fierce resistance along the internal border late in July when Kosovo quite reasonably attempted to strengthen its policing authority and since then the UN has sought to calm things down, although the underlying tensions of course remain. NATO has flexed its muscles and KFOR has had a change of command. Serbs in the north continue to protest against KFOR's presence just metres over the border by blocking roads between the two communities.
This seems to accord with the opinion of the noble Lord, Lord Ashdown, namely that through Europe we shall be able to guarantee the rights of the citizens of the former Yugoslavia, wherever they may be and divided as many of them remain within the current national boundaries. This means that Serbia will, at some future stage when it has accepted all the safeguards for Kosovo, be welcomed into the European Union. Does the Minister foresee this scenario and, if so, does he agree that since July it has receded even further over the horizon? Indeed, Chancellor Merkel had to warn Serbia only three weeks ago that it would have to dismantle its parallel institutions in the north if it was to have any real prospect of European membership. That is going to take a lot more time to negotiate.
Finally, what are the Government doing to explain what we are doing in Kosovo to our own general public in the UK, who seem quite unaware of the gravity of the situation or the potential risks there? Kosovo is no longer a faraway place in which we have no interest. It is a territory for which we have risked lives in our recent history. In case of any further outbreak of violence, what have the Government done to prepare us for any future commitments which may be forced on us? Also, why have we decided to withdraw our aid programme from Kosovo next year? I am
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In conclusion, I pay tribute to all the moderate citizens of Kosovo who recognise the value of international assistance and the strengthening of their institutions over the past decade and who, despite the frustrations, continually seek to win over their nationalist neighbours to ensure that they can live in peace and prosperity in the future.
Lord Sheikh: My Lords, I am interested in the Balkans and some years ago I used to handle the insurance account of Yugotours, a state-owned travel company which specialised in arranging holidays to Yugoslavia. During the existence of Yugoslavia I visited Slovenia, Serbia and Croatia. Since the independence of Kosovo, I have known the Kosovan ambassador and met him on several occasions. In fact, I saw him last night at a meeting I hosted in the House of Lords. I know the Imam of the Kosovan community mosque in Maida Vale and I have visited the mosque on several occasions and performed its inauguration. I have arranged for Friday prayers to be said in the House and the Imam has led these prayers several times. I have also met various members of the Kosovan diaspora. A high-powered delegation from the country recently came to see me in the House. I chair the Conservative Muslim Forum and one of my executive committee members is in fact a gentleman from Kosovo.
The Prime Minister of Kosovo, His Excellency Mr Hashim Thaci, has stated that he has worked towards three aims: freedom, independence and European integration. These aims are shared by all Kosovans, regardless of ethnicity or political background. In 1999, our Government played a crucial role in bringing about NATO intervention which saved Kosovo, and Britain was among the first countries to recognise Kosovo on 18February 2008, a day after it declared its nationhood.
I feel that our Government should lobby with other countries, within Europe and globally, for Kosovo's inclusion within the international system. Furthermore, we should support Kosovo's and Serbia's EU integration prospects, as their entry will help to maintain peace and stability in south-eastern Europe.
I also believe that membership of the EU for both countries should be considered simultaneously. We should support the Kosovo Government's action in extending the rule of law throughout the territory of Kosovo. I understand that a range of agreements have been reached between Kosovo and Serbia that will pave the way for the normalisation of trade between the two countries. In fact our ambassador, along with other European ambassadors, has met the Prime Minister of Kosovo today to discuss the implementation of the new customs regime.
We should look at the possibility of doing more business in Kosovo. The IPU is arranging a parliamentary delegation to visit Kosovo in October. There are opportunities for investment in Kosovo and the country has a lot to offer potential investors. Although small in size, it has abundant natural resources. Kosovo has large reserves of lignite, lead, zinc, nickel, chrome and bauxite. The ongoing privatisation process presents an excellent investment opportunity in the mining sector. Another sector that presents opportunity for investment is agriculture. Kosovo has large areas of fertile land, and investment in this field will be worth while and bear fruit.
Another great asset of Kosovo is its people. It must be emphasised that Kosovo has a young and educated population with a high literacy rate in foreign languages, and there is an excellent workforce to be employed. Notwithstanding the financial difficulties that a number of countries have suffered, Kosovo has experienced between 4 per cent and 6 per cent GDP growth in recent years, which I hope will continue in future.
In my dealings with the people of Kosovo I have found them to be hospitable and kind, and they have a will to succeed. I hope that the links we have built with Kosovo are strengthened and our friendship with the country and its people will continue to develop.
Lord Liddle: My Lords, I think that we would all like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for raising this subject for debate. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Nicholson, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, who have spoken; they are all familiar with aspects of Kosovo in a way that I am not. My own personal knowledge of Kosovo was confined to the bunkers of Downing Street and the Ministry of Defence when, as an adviser there in the Blair period, I was greatly involved in the politics of the Kosovo campaign in 1998. It is an unpopular thing to say these days but I was proud of the courage that our Prime Minister, Tony Blair, showed on that issue, and it was a successful episode in what is now called liberal interventionism. We helped to prevent a genocide and secured the right of people to self-determination. From this side of the House we welcome the progress that has been made towards international recognition of Kosovo, including through the recent ruling of the International Criminal Court.
The recent strategic survey-another bible for opposition foreign affairs spokespersons-raises serious concerns about the situation in Kosovo. There are
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Kosovo needs to address these problems. They are problems not only for the Kosovars but for the Serbian Kosovars. They will not achieve full recognition of their statehood unless they accept the responsibilities that come with it. At the moment they are in this rather awkward in-between position. Fundamental to these matters are the independence and integrity of the police, the prosecuting authorities, the judiciary and the rule of law. That is still seriously in question.
We all want Kosovo to become a member of the European Union one day-at least, I assume we all do. I certainly do, as do the Opposition. However, increasingly there are questions about whether the EU can be the magic wand that spirits away the problems of the Balkans and the former Yugoslavia. There is enlargement fatigue within the European Union. There is a loss of interest in the Balkans, particularly from the Americans, who face many other problems in the world. The EU is incredibly internally focused because of the crises that it currently faces. How can Britain play a role within the EU to keep up the momentum of progress that has been made in the Balkans and take the countries there towards EU membership?
I should like the Minister's view on whether there is something of an opportunity in what has happened in Serbia. I know that Serbia has lots of pluses and minuses but the arrest of Mladic was a great step forward. It showed that President Tadic, who I have met, takes his nation's EU ambitions seriously. That is why this happened. Can we and the EU use the wish of the Serbs to progress their EU membership as leverage to resolve the outstanding Kosovo issues? Kosovo will not get anywhere unless those questions are resolved.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, talked about the Serbian monasteries and whether progress can be made towards autonomy within Kosovo or whether that is unrealistic. Of course, the Kosovars also have incentives to settle these issues if they are to make the final progress that they need towards recognition and getting on the path of EU membership. On behalf of the Opposition, I hope that we will continue to pursue an active policy in these areas. However, we will succeed only if the general framework of our European policy is right. I am sorry if I sound like a record stuck in its groove on this issue but we will have absolutely no influence over our partners if people think that we are heading towards a semi-detached relationship. We will have no influence on shaping the justice and home affairs issues which are so important in the Balkans, particularly in Kosovo-everything to do with criminality, law and the rule of law-if we decide to opt out of it all in 2014. That will not send the right signal about British engagement. Of course, if the rest of Europe allows the Balkans simply to stew in its own juice, we cannot rule out the possibility of future bloodshed.
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In conclusion, like the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, I want to see Britain play a very active role in trying to maintain progress towards Kosovo's independence and membership of the European Union; and, indeed, towards the enlargement of the EU in the whole of the Balkans. However, we will achieve this only if the Government's policy framework towards the European Union is right.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I agree strongly with those who have said that it is high time to have a debate on Kosovo. We should not neglect the western Balkans. Indeed, one of the occasions on which I have represented Her Majesty's Government since the election was at a very useful conference on the western Balkans. This is not something which Her Majesty's Government neglect.
As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, recognised, there are severe problems in maintaining public awareness. Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan, the Arab spring and Libya have driven Kosovo off our television screens and on to, at best, the side columns of page 20 of the quality newspapers. Therefore, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for opening this debate and maintaining his active interest in the Government's policy towards Kosovo.
Her Majesty's Government are a firm supporter of Kosovo's independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity. Our objective is to see a stable and prosperous Kosovo making progress towards the EU in line with that of the wider western Balkans region. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, that I, my party and many others actively supported the Blair Government's intervention in Kosovo. It was absolutely right. I am a little puzzled that he thinks that the United Kingdom is being stand-offish on European defence just after the conclusion of the Franco-British-led operation in Libya. Her Majesty's Government are not standoffish on European defence. The exchanges that people like myself occasionally have with members of other Governments about whether we are in favour of a "common European army", which those representatives often think would actually not do anything, are a very long way from the practical co-operation with the French and other Governments which we have been pursuing and will continue to pursue. Whether one should accept that what Europe needs next in European defence is a common operational headquarters that will take a number of staff officers away from different countries and not then actually do anything, or whether the way forward is precisely the sort of practical co-operation that we are pursuing, is a matter to which we will no doubt return on other occasions.
Kosovo has been through a period of bitter relations between its majority and minority communities. Mistreatment of the majority under Milosevic's regime was followed by conflict in which both sides committed a number of what one has to call atrocities. It takes a
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However, the past 15 years have seen the establishment of greater stability across the western Balkans. The region nevertheless requires continued active engagement, as the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, reminded us, because the area is still criss-crossed by ethnic, religious, cultural and historical divisions. Many people are still very poor, organised crime and corruption are still big problems, investment is growing slowly and government remains weak. In all those respects Kosovo is no exception.
That is why the Government unequivocally support Kosovo's ambition to join the EU and NATO. We will support, encourage and, at times, challenge the Kosovo Government on their way to achieving that goal. As one of Kosovo's near neighbours, Croatia, has so successfully shown, progress towards the EU means stability, security, a long process of improvement in institutional, judicial and civil rights, and economic and commercial opportunity. It also means the full implementation of European values-democracy, equality, the rule of law and respect for human rights, including the rights of minorities. Regional co-operation has a crucial role to play in bringing political stability, security and economic development to the region. Not only is that a cornerstone of the European integration process but it can act as a catalyst for reconciliation in the region.
Recent events have shown how vulnerable the progress we have seen in the western Balkans can be to the politics of ethnic division. In July, a Kosovo police officer was killed in northern Kosovo, and Kosovans of both Serb and Albanian ethnicity were injured. These events have shown us more than ever why the EU-facilitated dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia is of crucial importance for the future of both countries and for our collective efforts to realise peace and stability in the western Balkans. Many in this House will know Robert Cooper, the senior official who is leading that dialogue. The noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, can continue to rely on Britain's unwavering support for her stewardship of this process. With political will on both sides, it will improve the quality of life for the citizens of Kosovo and Serbia. It will support in a more stable manner the progress of both countries towards EU accession.
The dialogue is slowly making progress. On 2 September, Serbia and Kosovo agreed after the dispute that led to the incidents in July to use Kosovo's customs stamps-thus paving the way for a free flow of trade between Kosovo and Serbia. The EU's Rule of Law Mission in Kosovo, EULEX, has engaged closely with the Governments of Kosovo and Serbia on how to implement that programme. Tomorrow, 16 September, EULEX will reopen the customs controls that had been disrupted by July's violence. Kosovo's customs officers will be at the gates alongside EULEX staff. This is welcome. But even now we are witnessing efforts by some to undermine this progress, to raise the rhetorical ante, and to provoke further tensions between the communities. The UN Security Council will this evening discuss this question in closed session.
Her Majesty's Government urge the Governments of Kosovo and Serbia to act in a mature and responsible manner during this period of unavoidable tension, to avoid engaging in provocative rhetoric and to do everything in their power to moderate responses to the opening of those two conflict-ridden gates.
Kosovo is now, we hope, moving towards a more stable relationship with Serbia. On northern Kosovo, the EU and the international community have repeatedly said that there can be no change to Kosovo's borders. Any attempts to encourage the partition of Kosovo or to reopen status talks would threaten stability in the entire Balkans region and will be strongly resisted. Kosovo's status has been resolved and there can be no turning back. I think that we are all conscious that the current situation in northern Kosovo is unsustainable. The potential for northern Kosovo to become, if you like, another Transnistria-a lawless area which is a base for organised crime-is there. That would be a danger to the entire region.
The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, was unkind to EULEX. EULEX has an indispensable role to play in Kosovo. It has nearly 3,000 staff. Unavoidably there is turnover, but not at too fast a rate. It is playing a role in the judicial development of Kosovo in customs and police. That is a vital contribution to enabling Kosovo to meet EU standards for the rule of law. Tackling organised crime and corruption is essential for the long term and for the long-term stability of the western Balkans as a whole. Furthermore, it has a direct impact on organised crime networks operating across Europe, including within the UK. It is also essential for Kosovo to make progress on its European perspective.
Britain currently provides more than 30 secondees to EULEX. EULEX has an executive mandate to enforce the rule of law in the north, as shown by its recent operations to arrest those individuals suspected of involvement in the burning of Customs Point 1 and the murder of a Kosovo police officer in July. Full co-operation from both Belgrade and Pristina is essential for successful EULEX operations in the north. EULEX is a good example of how all member states, whether or not they have recognised Kosovo's independence, can work together in support of Kosovo's European perspective. Indeed, some states which have not yet recognised Kosovo are providing support for EULEX.
On access to monasteries, the United Kingdom consistently urges the Kosovan Government to fulfil the terms of the comprehensive settlement proposal, including on freedom of religion. We understand that relations between the Serbian monasteries, particularly those in the centre and the south, and their local communities, have improved a great deal, and we will give all support to further means to bring those monasteries closer to their communities. We are sorry that we cannot yet provide the more than verbal support asked for-I note that hint-because the United Kingdom budget, like everything else, has its limits, but we have been giving as much support as we can to all those initiatives. We agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about the importance of intercommunity dialogue.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, talked about industry and investment. We hope that the mines will soon
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On the Roma question, we have been working to assist the rehousing project for Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian residents away from the lead-contaminated camp. That is now under way. We are very sorry that it has not yet been completed.
On organ trafficking, as noble Lords will know, US Ambassador Clint Williamson has been appointed as chief prosecutor in charge of the investigation. We welcome his appointment and it is our firm view that EULEX has the mandate, jurisdiction and resources needed to undertake an objective investigation into these allegations.
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