Monday, 3 November 2008

Thursday's debate on HBoS

Rob Gibson (Highlands and Islands) (SNP): When Tavish Scott spoke to the motion, he talked about the backdrop of economic chaos in the world. We are talking about one of the worst-ever experiences at the end of a trade cycle, which has developed into a banking crisis of massive proportions.

I am old enough to have been involved in the battles when the TSB tried to stop the Lloyds takeover. I was also active in the SNP when we had to try to save the Royal Bank of Scotland from takeover by various other banks. Lessons can be learned from that process, and they will have to be learned quickly in Scotland, in Britain, in Europe and elsewhere.

In this debate, we can acknowledge the way in which deregulation of banking in the 1980s has led to many of the problems that companies now face. The companies all took the bait in pursuit of the kind of profits that seemed possible from the derivatives markets. Countries now have to sort that out. In the 1980s, Norway and Sweden sorted out their banks after deregulation, which showed what small countries can do when they have the powers.

I want to talk about the European situation. There has been a big silence from Gordon Brown and company, after years of lecturing Europe about deregulation. Internal market commissioner Charles McCreevy of the European Commission said:

"I would like to have by the end of this year concrete proposals as to how the risks from credit derivatives can be mitigated."

This Parliament, our Government and others have to feed into the European debate. Smart regulation will liberate us from the pitfalls of the past.

I was amazed by John Park's suggestion that everything is fine and dandy and that Gordon Brown and Alistair Darling are serving Scotland well. I have to disagree. In The Herald last week, Eamonn Gallagher wrote:

"It was extraordinary that in the midst of an international financial crisis—and even as his own country is slipping into recession—Gordon Brown chose to argue that somehow global banking problems mean that Scotland should dare not consider questions of good governance any further. Is this not a rather curious assertion from the man who has held the reins of financial power in the UK for the past 11 years? The argument seems to be: 'Things have gotten really bad on my watch—best to let me keep handling things.'"

The question now is whether this Parliament can state that there are ways of applying Government controls to enhance the ability of HBOS to survive as HBOS rather than as part of a merged company. What issues arise as a result of European competition rules? No one has discussed those yet.

The scenarios that my colleague Alex Neil laid out have to be considered seriously. We have to give HBOS the space to rebuild. We have to allow liquidity for it to rebuild the real economy in the place where the Bank of Scotland was based for so many centuries and we have to secure the jobs in the bank to support the real economy. The wider economy will benefit from clear-headed thinking. This debate is not just about the immediate prospect of a merger but about learning lessons on the way in which banking has to be regulated. There has to be a European framework for that, and Scotland will have to have a direct say in that framework.

Members should support the motion. It is the only proposal that allows us to consider the options and allows us not to accept the way in which Scotland has been downplayed. Mr Brown has said that he can deal with a recession, but he caused many of the conditions in this country that have led to the problems for HBOS and many others in the real economy. Members should support the motion and reject the amendment from the Tories.

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