Banking Bill ping-pong

It's a bit of a moving target but next week's big law-making event will be a series of attempts to re-write the Banking Bill - OK, Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill - during its Lords report stage on Tuesday and Wednesday.

I've been banging on about how the members of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking who sit in the Lords have the clout to amend the bill in line with their recommendations, and this is their moment.

The likes of former chancellor Lord Lawson, uber-mandarin Lord Turnbull, former Treasury Select Committee chair Lord McFall, and of course, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby may well be able to persuade the House that the Bill needs toughening up in key areas.

This could, in turn, set up an uncomfortable bout of ping-pong with the Commons, if the current Chancellor, George Osborne, decides he wants to overturn the changes they have made.

The government wants the bill passed fairly soon, and there is a view around that the influx of new coalition peers (and, quite possibly, the promotion of Lib Dem commission member Susan Kramer to the government) is explicitly intended to help tank it through, un-amended.

Archbishop Welby is seen as the key figure; he will be essential to mobilise crossbench votes and maybe Bishops' votes too. A government defeat or defeats will require a strong Labour turnout plus heavy support from the crossbenches, bolstered by rebellion from the coalition parties.

All of these are at least possible: Labour peers will be whipped to attend, the crossbenchers may be lured by the siren songs of Archbishop Welby and Lord Turnbull and Lord Lawson will have allies on the Conservative benches.

But there are no guarantees.

It's rumoured that the government have found a rival Freudian authority figure to bat for them on the Crossbenches, in the shape of the former Treasury permanent secretary Lord Burns; historically, Conservative peers normally turn out to support the Treasury with greater enthusiasm than they muster for other causes, and then there's the Lib Dems.

With Susan Kramer now a member of the government, a voice that might have been arguing the Parliamentary Commission line has been silenced.

So is there anyone to make its arguments among the Lib Dems?

Perhaps Lord Sharkey, an influential peer who has an amendment of his own down on payday loans?

Perhaps John Thurso, the Lib Dem MP who sat on the commission, who also has the rare distinction of having sat in the Lords as a hereditary peer?

Or perhaps the voice that will be heard is that of the Lib Dem Chief Whip Lord Newby, who is also a Treasury spokesman in the Lords, who has quietly carved out a reputation as a formidable parliamentary organiser, helping outmanoeuvre the Conservatives over constituency boundaries.

The other point to make is that there is not necessarily a direct read across between the various issues on the bill - peers who support the Commission on the "electrification of the ring fence," for example, do not automatically sign up to its view on who should determine the leverage ratios for banks (See below....).

So the balance of power in the House may vary wildly from issue to issue and amendment to amendment.

Which is one reason why things are so fluid.

I'm told the Commission Chair, Andrew Tyrie, and key peers have had a series of meetings in the Treasury this week, to try and strike deals on the various points in the Bill...

So I'm afraid it's a matter of watching out for new amendments, perhaps embodying new compromises, to emerge over the weekend.

And so to the substance.

The bill started life at 35 pages; 160 have been added (so far).

Some peers have already suggested that, on those grounds alone, it should be thrown out.

And meanwhile, the Parliamentary Commissioners have a considerable shopping list of changes they want to make:

Electrification of the ring fence

The commission wanted much tougher proposals than the government; they wanted not just a clear separation between the retail and investment arms of banks, but also the "electrification," of this barrier, in the form of powers for the regulators to step in if they felt that a bank was "gaming the system".

They want to be able to intervene to enforce complete separation, if a bank is seen to be playing with fire.

The commission is suspicious of the government because they thought ministers had promised to enact this, only to find their detailed proposals fell well short of what they thought was needed - this was the issues that Andrew Tyrie raised at a recent Prime Minister's Question Time, and which led to a bit of a furore.

They want the government to include standby powers to allow full separation to be imposed by Statutory Instrument, allowing ministers to move very rapidly, if they believe a problem is developing.

The government retort is that this is a very bad idea and that making a far reaching change to the vital financial services sector via an un-amendable SI is plain silly, and would lock them into what might prove to be the wrong solution to a crisis.

Meanwhile the commission also want provision for the regulators to trigger a full-scale review of ring-fencing, if they felt it was unenforceable - a proposal designed to zero in on the considerable doubts they believe surround the government's approach to ring-fencing.

This who set of issues led to intense debate in the Lords at Committee Stage, and will certainly be revisited next week.

Leverage

The amount of capital banks are required to hold in relation to their liabilities.

Both the Vickers Commission and the Parliamentary Commission wanted something tougher than the government was prepared to accept, and there's an additional issue about who should decide the ratio.

The commission wants it to be the Financial Policy Committee of the Bank of England that, and within that, there's a debate about whether the job could be done on a bank-by-bank level by inspectors from the Prudential Regulation Authority.

Remuneration

The commission wants bonus payments to be made when a risk pays off (or not made if it doesn't) rather than when a risk-carrying product is sold.

The idea is that the bonus should be a reward for getting something right, rather than simply for having sold something, and it wants some kind of legislative underpinning so that the regulators and the banks are required to take this issue seriously.

(It went to the lengths of having legislation drafted to prove that this was achievable.)

Special Measures

A kind of "yellow card/sin bin" procedure under which banks that run into trouble face detailed monitoring and are required to take action to remedy their problems.

Something similar operates in the US.

Proprietary Trading

A British version of the Volcker Rules in the US, which ban most derivative trading (see the PCB's Report pp 92-97).

The proposal specifically prohibits a bank or institution that owns a bank from engaging in proprietary trading that is not at the behest of its clients, and from owning or investing in a hedge fund or private equity fund, and also limits the liabilities that the largest banks can hold

Excessive lobbying

A provision allowing the Bank of England to stamp on excessive attempts by the industry to influence policy-makers - again, strongly resisted by the government.

Individual Responsibility

Designating named individuals within banks as being responsible for the conduct of high risk operations, so that they can be held to account if things go wrong, and will not be able to plead ignorance.

Plus a licensing system where a bank has to explicitly authorise individuals to engage in high-risk trading, keep a register of these key figures, and can withdraw the license of be ordered to withdraw it.

The idea is to create a real penalty for reckless or dishonest trading, as in the Libor scandal, and to ensure that individuals who engage in it cannot just move on to another institution and start again, without having to answer questions about how their licence came to be withdrawn.

Abolition of UKFI - the holding company which administers the state-owned banks and building societies.

The PCB argued it was a fig leaf for ministerial control; the government disagreed.

Providing the Banks with some defence against arbitrary or capricious decisions by their regulator

Including measures to separate the Regulatory Decisions Committee of the Financial Conduct Authority, which signs of on interventions in banks, so that it is clearly more than an internal rubber-stamping process.

Under the PCB's proposals it would have to be clearly autonomous and would be subject to judicial review if it wasn't.

Oh, and watch out for Lord Sharkey's amendment on capping the interest payable on payday loans - he has essentially taken what he believes is a successful law limiting rates in Florida, and put it into UK legislative language - again a proposal that could attract cross-party support.