Financial Services and Markets Bill: Archbishop of Canterbury stresses importance of serving the common good

On 10th January 2023, the House of Lords debated the Financial Services and Markets Bill in it’s second reading. The Archbishop of Canterbury spoke in the debate, highlighting the need for good practice and quality of service in the finance industry:

The Lord Archbishop of Canterbury: My Lords, this year marks the 10th anniversary of the final report of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, Changing Banking for Good. I declare my interest having served on that commission, and I welcome the presence in this debate of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, who also served, as did the current Lord Speaker. I also welcome the maiden speeches of three noble Lords today: the noble Lords, Lord Ashcombe and Lord Remnant, and the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor.

We need to remember that the extraordinary crisis in 2008—which led to the various commissions, reports and changes in regulations, including the financial services Act 2013, in which the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards played a part—caused huge and ongoing crises. While welcoming the Bill very strongly, I join some of the hesitations mentioned by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Sharkey and Lord Vaux. It has been estimated that the financial services industry, and particularly the major banks, have an effective subsidy as a result of the implicit government guarantee that they receive, which is worth approximately £30 billion a year. If there is £30 billion a year going spare, many other industries and not a few churches would welcome that very warmly. However, that subsidy, which is at the risk of the taxpayer, as we saw in 2008 and 2009, is what gives the result of the banks having heavy social obligations; we must look carefully at that when the Bill reaches Committee, as has already been said. The issues of inclusion, stability and access at all levels, especially for micro-businesses, are very important, not least for levelling up.

I will raise three particular and short issues, the first of which is the human factor. The banking standards commission commented that, in the rapidly changing science of the financial markets, regulation is a vain hope, as the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, has already said. By the time regulation is brought in to address a problem, all but the doziest horses will have long since fled the stable. The commission highlighted that the question of culture is at the heart of good banking practice: attitudes of greed, the socialising of losses and the personalising of profits, the kind of legacy people wish to leave, and the issues of virtue. Is the mindset and approach of key leaders in the industry one of casino banking or banking for the common good? That is essentially a moral question.

Some of that is addressed very well in the Bill. I particularly welcome Clause 69, addressing credit unions, and the opportunity that that will give for levelling up and extending the range of financial access to small businesses. But we see in the recent crypto-market crash a perfect example of the failure of culture, as well of regulation, and of technology moving infinitely faster than any regulation. We need a system that is agile and keeps regulation light, so that the industry is competitive, but keeps principles tough and flexible, with heavy consequences for breaking them.

On the importance of capital adequacy and the ring- fence, this was clear at the time of 2008, when one of the major banks had 2% capital to support a more than £1 trillion balance sheet. We need to recognise that banks go under because of bad lending and bad dealing, and the remedy to that is adequate capital and adequate principles and culture—otherwise, we will get back to the point, as we did in 2008, where the taxpayer bears the burden.

Finally, we need competition and an effective industry but not a race to the bottom. There needs to be a race to the top, to the best-quality services, which serve people and the common good both now and in future generations through its green aspects. There has been a tendency over the years to say how much the City contributes, but let us be clear that, if we take into account the roughly £250 billion pumped into the banking system in 2008, it is not so obvious that the City is in credit to the taxpayer—it may well be that it is in significant debit. Nevertheless, this Bill is very positive. As long as it ends up reminding financial services that they are services for all and has principles at its heart, it will be welcomed and make a significant difference.


Extracts from the speeches that followed:

Baroness Northover (LD): The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of values; others have made it clear that values and self-interest can and should be aligned.

My focus here will be on climate change and the transformative role the financial services sector can and must play in combating this. My question is therefore whether this comprehensive Bill helps to deliver the UK as a green finance centre, as the Government have promised. I noted that the Minister emphasised in her speech that our financial services need to be open and green, as well as technologically advanced.

We are familiar with the pledges agreed by Governments in 2015 in Paris, seeking to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees. We know how far we are from meeting that. Developed countries’ money and pledges are vital but will not deliver on the scale required. A key change that occurred at the Glasgow COP in 2021 was business and finance becoming involved, with outstanding leadership from Mark Carney. That is potentially transformative.

Baroness Bennet of Manor Castle (GP): The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said that anyone who wants the banks actually to serve the real economy of small businesses, to which lending has effectively stopped, should be concerned with financial regulation; and of course, anyone who wants a liveable planet with a healthy natural world should be concerned with financial regulation, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Hayman, among others, have highlighted.

We have a financialised economy, including everything from care homes to health provision, public transport to housing, tax dodging to serving oligarchs and plutocrats. Every Member of your Lordships’ House, whatever they regard as their speciality, whether it is alleviation of poverty or delivery of better health education, should be concerned with this Bill, and every member of the public should be concerned with this Bill. So I am going to agree for a second time with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, that the official Opposition would be letting the Government and the financial sector off the hook if our Committee stage was consigned to the murky obscurity of the Moses Room. That is, of course, perhaps unsurprising behaviour, given the Times report that the leaders of our official Opposition are heading off to Davos to send a message to the super-rich that Labour is the party of business.

Noble Lords might expect me to focus on nature and climate, but others, most notably the noble Baroness, Lady Sheehan, have already covered at length the “dismissive view” that this Bill takes of the very foundation of our economy, that on which every penny of our banks and every pound in a worker’s pocket depends: functioning ecosystems. But I shall take a more systemic and structural view: what is the financial sector for and what is the economy for? The economy should be in the service of a healthy, prosperous and sustainable society. The financial sector should be a tool for that type of economy, and this Bill should redirect our financial sector towards that. Instead, we have a primary objective of competitiveness. More finance is the aim—snatching it from other nations and growing what we have when we already have too much finance.

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