Bank of England (Economic Affairs Committee Report) - Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords am 3:09 pm ar 2 Mai 2024.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Lord Bridges of Headley Lord Bridges of Headley Chair, Economic Affairs Committee, Chair, Economic Affairs Committee 3:09, 2 Mai 2024

My Lords, this has been an absolutely terrific debate and I thank all speakers who have taken part. In particular, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Moynihan of Chelsea on his maiden speech, and I very much look forward to his further contributions. In passing, I would like to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord King, on moving from looking after the MPC to looking after the MCC, where I am sure he will root out groupthink and shoddy forecasting.

We covered an enormous amount of ground and your Lordships will be delighted, given that I am sure everyone wants to get a very late lunch, that I will not try to repeat it all. I will just summarise what I have heard by saying that I can sense broad consensus—I stress “broad”; there is not unanimity—on four key points.

The first is about independence itself. It is clear from this debate that the vast majority of speakers think that independence should be preserved. Some have questioned its contribution more than others, but as far as I can sense noble Lords think that independence should be kept. On the framework for operational independence, here I sense that there is a consensus that that framework is, as our report stated, under quite considerable strain. A number of noble Lords—the noble Lords, Lord Burns and Lord Turnbull, for example—spoke of the blurring of the distinction between operational independence and policy independence. A number of your Lordships referred to the blurring of the lines between fiscal and monetary policy. Why has this happened? Obviously, we debated that: the remit being expanded, QE and QT and the enormous fiscal and economic impact of that. Therefore, there seems to be consensus that there is quite a significant challenge we need to face on the framework.

The second area where there seems to be consensus is, pretty obviously, that the Bank failed to control inflation in recent years. Again, there was consensus on the need for much more focus on intellectual diversity, not just forecasting—although my noble friend Lord Lamont made a very good speech on that. We need to look at both people and process.

Area number three where I sense there is broad consensus—here I stress “broad”—is about what should be done. Let us just try to divide this up. There is performance: issues that need to be tackled to improve performance. I do not think there is consensus on the remit; I sense from noble Baronesses opposite that there is opposition, obviously, to some of the points that were made in our report. However, I stress—I will come back to this in a moment—that those differing views highlight the need for much more debate and scrutiny of the remit letter. That said, there is consensus that a lot more needs to be done on the hiring and appointment processes within the Bank, and again, for different reasons. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, has a different view to mine on this, but I think that we would all welcome that and, again, more scrutiny and accountability are necessary there.

The next area where I sense there is consensus is the need for more transparency and more clarity. I am sorry to have intervened on my noble friend, but I am still completely baffled as to why we cannot have the deed of indemnity published. It is an absolutely critical document. Billions of pounds are at stake here, and I find it very odd that we in Parliament cannot be told the details around the deed of indemnity. I find it extraordinary just simply to be told it is market sensitive when the governor told our committee a very different thing. We will have to return to that. Likewise, I think that there is a need for clarity on debt management. I will not repeat the points there, but I want to stress points made by my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lord Blackwell. It is important that, at times, we take a step back and ask ourselves whether we are absolutely clear as to where our responsibility for fiscal and monetary policy lies. As I said, I think this framework is being challenged. We should not see it as pickled in aspic. We should be courageous enough to ask questions about it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said. Challenge strengthens independence.

Finally, therefore, I think that there is broad consensus on the need for Parliament to up its game. Indeed, this debate, lasting three hours, shows the value of constructive criticism and challenge. I note what my noble friend Lord Gadhia said. Of course we need to be mindful of the tightrope between independence and accountability, and to be respectful of what operational independence means. However, that is no reason to say that we should not up our game.

Ahead of this debate, I asked the House of Lords Library to look up how many debates have taken place in this Chamber and the other place specifically on issues relating to the Bank’s performance. How many do we think there might have been over the last five years—10? There has been one in this House on QE, one Private Notice Question and none in the other place. I completely agree with what my noble friend said. There are opportunities for parliamentarians to question the operational framework of the Bank, the remit letters and so on. We are delighted to welcome the Governor of the Bank and the Chancellor to the Treasury Committee—or, in our case, the Economic Affairs Committee—but given the magnitude of the topics that we have been discussing today, enormous issues such as climate change and QE, is that really enough?

We may differ on the role and remit of the Bank, or on monetary policy, but surely we all agree that if we are giving these enormous powers to unelected officials, we need more transparency, more scrutiny, more accountability and more action in Parliament. Overall, reform is needed.

Motion agreed.