Archbishop of Canterbury backs calls for review into gambling in the financial sector

On 15th October 2013, the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Revd and Rt Hon Justin Welby, spoke during the Committee Stage of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill. He spoke in support of an amendment tabled by Liberal Democrat Peer Lord Phillips of Sudbury, which sought to require a review to be undertaken into the current exemptions some banks and similar institutions enjoy from the Gaming Acts, on transactions which could be understood as gambling. Following the debate on the amendment, it was withdrawn.

Archbishop of CanterburyThe Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, I am slightly surprised that the Minister should be resistant to what seems to me a very reasonable amendment. One of the dangers that we have faced in the markets over many years is that of parallel markets. The derivatives markets are, as we know, opaque, as has already been remarked on, and we examined them in some detail in the banking standards commission. The computer-driven markets are also very opaque. We examined those markets and remarked that they would constitute the next great crash. When you have these gambling markets on the side that no one quite understands or knows who is participating in them, and which often take place offshore, it seems to me that at the very least there are grounds to hold an inquiry into the effect they are having on market prices through their impact on the shadow market—we should also examine the psychology of the dealers—and on those involved directly in the more regulated market.

One of the great lessons learnt from the events of 2008 was the ineffectiveness of the clearing system for over-the-counter derivatives, which there was no means of settling. That has been one of the major problems for the liquidators of Lehmans. The gambling markets have much the same problem. We are setting up mechanisms—they are being set up internationally—to deal with the settlement of derivatives contracts, but nothing is being done in this parallel market. The noble Lord, Lord Phillips, has made a very useful point, albeit that the hour is late and it is almost 10.40 pm, which may enable this issue to become slightly clearer in terms of understanding what can be done.

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Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I am grateful to the most reverend Primate and to the noble Lord, Lord McFall. However, I am not so grateful to my noble friend the Minister, as I thought that he rather missed the point. The fact that Tom, Dick and Harry can go down to the betting shop or the local casino, run up a debt and be sued for it has nothing whatever to do with the amendment that I propose tonight. As noble Lords have commented, and as is obvious, we are dealing here with huge sums of our money which are gambled, often to the excessive benefit of the gamblers. We do not know how they function and have not looked carefully and closely, as we should, at the impact of this. I refer not so much to the economic impact, although it may be found that the destabilising effects of this market are greater than we realise, but to the ethical, cultural and social effects. For the life of me, I cannot see why a liberal-minded Government should want to staunch such an investigation. I see no downside to it; it would not be expensive and would be simple to operate. It would all be within the purview of the Treasury and it might yield some surprising and valuable results. I therefore hope that the Minister will give this a little further thought, as I am very inclined to bring this back on Report.

Lord Newby: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for clarifying exactly what lies behind his amendment. I am sorry if I in any way misconstrued it. The issues that he raises about the social and broader consequences of some aspects of the “socially useless” parts of the financial services world are obviously important. I am somewhat less certain about whether the kind of inquiry that he is seeking would produce any decisive results.

I wonder whether he may wish to consider between now and Report whether there is another means of achieving the same result because these issues are very much in the public domain. A dry inquiry might not get us to the answer that he wanted. I wonder whether there might be some broader inquiry, bringing together groups of people with expertise and concern, possibly moderated by a think tank or charity, to look at some these issues. The membership of such an inquiry would be important in determining the result. Too narrow a membership would tend to produce a series of dry, probably useless, recommendations, whereas a broader group operating in a relaxed and unconstrained manner might produce more wide-ranging and socially useful conclusions.

Lord Phillips of Sudbury: I am not sure whether I am supposed to say any more to the Minister except, “Thank you”. I thought that at the end he was arguing my case rather better than I was. I will certainly think between now and next time, and talk with him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 91B withdrawn.

(via Parliament.uk)