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Banking (Responsibility & Reform)

February 7, 2012

The Eurozone Crisis

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) We all appreciate that this banking crisis has gone on considerably longer than we envisaged. In 2008, we probably all thought that we would have divested ourselves of our huge stake in RBS and Lloyds Banking Group by now. I therefore fully support the idea of a structure for bonuses that would come into play only when we have divested ourselves of our stake in those two banks. However, I get the impression from all that the hon. Gentleman has said that he draws no distinction between those two banks, in which we have large holdings, and the rest of the banking sector. Am I correct in that assumption?

Chuka Umunna (Streatham, Labour) No; partly because, whether we like it or not, the way in which the public regard RBS and Lloyds is different from the way in which they regard, say, Barclays or other banking groups, simply because of the public stake in them. That is the issue that crept up on members of the RBS board over the past couple of weeks. For all that was said about the terms on which the different executives and employees were joining RBS, they were essentially joining an institution that the public have very much come to regard as a public entity.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) Is the hon. Gentleman therefore working towards putting in place a policy that would be more onerous for RBS and Lloyds Banking Group, in which the public have a large stake, than for the rest of the banking system? Does he feel that that would be a sensible way to go forward?

Chuka Umunna (Streatham, Labour) That is not actually what we are arguing for. We have said, given that the Government have been lecturing shareholders on being more active in relation to their shareholdings, that the Government should of course take a more active approach to those banks in which we have a stake.


Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative)
We have a very large holding in RBS and we clearly will not be divesting ourselves of much of that holding for probably the next 10 years or so. What thought has the Minister given to using RBS, with its expertise and huge distribution network, as a mechanism for credit easing? I am sure that all Members hear from business people that these problems are not going to be solved unless we ensure that our SMEs have access to the capital that they so desperately need.

Mark Hoban (Financial Secretary, HM Treasury; Fareham, Conservative) The national loan guarantee scheme will be open to all banks, including RBS, Lloyds, Barclays and HSBC, and we are currently taking that work forward. Under the last Government, we witnessed the growth of the bonus culture, where bonuses could be paid in cash, in one year, and were never clawed back in the event of failure. We are changing that culture. Bonuses under the Financial Services Authority code are paid out over at least three years, in shares, not just cash, and failure can be punished by clawing back bonuses, and at both RBS and Lloyds cash bonuses will again be limited to £2,000.

Mark Field (Cities of London and Westminster, Conservative) The Minister is being admirably forward-looking in his speech by trying to present where we should go for the future rather than focusing too much on some of the battles of the past. One of the biggest concerns in this area is about institutional shareholders who have large stakes in FTSE 250 companies and in our banks. How are we going to embolden them to use the notional power they have as shareholders? Many of them have 5%, 6% or 7% shareholdings and could do something. What is going to ensure that there is a culture of change such that they become shareholder activists rather than shareholders who sit on their hands and their dividends year on year?

Mark Hoban (Financial Secretary, HM Treasury; Fareham, Conservative) My hon. Friend raises an important point. The reforms outlined by my right hon. Friend the Business Secretary ensure that shareholders have the information they need to act. We are also giving them the power to vote and their votes will have a binding impact on future pay plans. The pervading culture today and the sense of concern in the wider economy means that institutional shareholders need to play their part by looking after the interests of the people who invest in their funds—the people whose pensions are dependent on good returns from their investments. Those shareholders owe an obligation to their customers to exercise their rights to determine the pay policies of boards. We need to focus on that in coming years. My predecessor, Lord Myners, talked about it a great deal. Our reforms have provided the tools and we must ensure that we use them to hold institutional shareholders to account.