All 28 contributions to the Financial Services Bill 2019-21

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Mon 9th Nov 2020
Financial Services Bill
Commons Chamber

2nd reading & 2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & Ways and Means resolution & Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons & 2nd reading & Ways and Means resolution & Programme motion
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Financial Services Bill (First sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 1st sitting & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tue 17th Nov 2020
Financial Services Bill (Second sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 2nd sitting & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 19th Nov 2020
Financial Services Bill (Third sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 3rd sitting & Committee Debate: 3rd sitting: House of Commons
Thu 19th Nov 2020
Financial Services Bill (Fourth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 4th sitting & Committee Debate: 4th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Tue 24th Nov 2020
Financial Services Bill (Sixth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 6th sitting & Committee Debate: 5th sitting & Committee Debate: 5th sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 6th sitting: House of Commons & Committee Debate: 5th sitting
Thu 26th Nov 2020
Financial Services Bill (Seventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 7th sitting & Committee Debate: 7th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 26th Nov 2020
Financial Services Bill (Eighth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 8th sitting & Committee Debate: 8th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 1st Dec 2020
Financial Services Bill (Ninth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 9th sitting & Committee Debate: 9th sitting: House of Commons
Tue 1st Dec 2020
Financial Services Bill (Tenth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 10th sitting & Committee Debate: 10th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 3rd Dec 2020
Financial Services Bill (Eleventh sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 11th sitting & Committee Debate: 11th sitting: House of Commons
Thu 3rd Dec 2020
Financial Services Bill (Twelfth sitting)
Public Bill Committees

Committee stage: 12th sitting & Committee Debate: 12th sitting: House of Commons
Wed 13th Jan 2021
Financial Services Bill
Commons Chamber

Report stage & 3rd reading & 3rd reading: House of Commons & Report stage & Report stage: House of Commons & Report stage & 3rd reading
Thu 14th Jan 2021
Financial Services Bill
Lords Chamber

1st reading (Hansard) & 1st reading (Hansard) & 1st reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 1st reading
Thu 28th Jan 2021
Financial Services Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 22nd Feb 2021
Financial Services Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage:Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 1st sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 24th Feb 2021
Financial Services Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 1st Mar 2021
Wed 3rd Mar 2021
Financial Services Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Lords Hansard
Mon 8th Mar 2021
Wed 10th Mar 2021
Wed 24th Mar 2021
Financial Services Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage
Wed 14th Apr 2021
Mon 19th Apr 2021
Financial Services Bill
Lords Chamber

3rd reading & Report stage & 3rd reading
Mon 26th Apr 2021
Financial Services
Commons Chamber

Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords amendments & Consideration of Lords Amendments
Wed 28th Apr 2021
Financial Services Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Thu 29th Apr 2021
Royal Assent
Lords Chamber

Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent & Royal Assent

Financial Services Bill

2nd reading & 2nd reading: House of Commons & Programme motion & Programme motion: House of Commons & Ways and Means resolution & Ways and Means resolution: House of Commons
Monday 9th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Commons Chamber
Read Full debate Financial Services Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Second Reading
18:26
John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
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Earlier today, we heard the Chancellor describe the UK’s financial services industry as fundamental to our economic strength. I wholeheartedly agree with that statement. This is an extraordinary industry: it drives growth and generates millions of jobs in every corner of our country, it has secured our reputation as a dynamic and world-leading financial centre, and it contributes vast sums to the public purse—money that has helped this Government to support millions of individuals and business through the pandemic. Now, however, as we leave the European Union and start our recovery from coronavirus, we commence a new chapter in the sector’s story.

We have set out a vision to create an industry that is even more open, more technologically advanced and greener than before; an industry that serves the people of this country and drives our economic recovery. That is underpinned by an unwavering commitment to high quality, agile and responsive regulation, and safe and stable markets. Through this Bill, I am laying the legislative foundations on which we will build to achieve those goals. I will speak briefly about the context in which the Government are bringing forward the Bill.

Until now, most of our recent financial services regulation was introduced through EU legislation. Having left the EU, we now have the opportunity to take back control of decisions governing the sector and, guided by what is right for the United Kingdom, to regulate differently and regulate better. That is why the Government are also undertaking a more fundamental review of our financial services regulatory framework, which will allow us to consider how the way in which we make our future rules might change to reflect the UK’s position outside the EU. The review will take time, however; the Government are consulting on it and there are changes that need to be made now. The Bill is therefore an important first step in taking control of our financial services legislation, which will support our position as a global hub for the sector in line with international standards.

In many parts, the Bill is consistent with the approach we took while this country was still part of the EU, but there are areas where it will better suit us to choose our own path, and this Bill marks the start of a process of evolution towards our goals. The Bill has three objectives: first, to enhance the UK’s world-leading prudential standards and protect financial stability; secondly, to promote openness between the UK and international markets; and thirdly, to maintain the effectiveness of the financial services regulatory framework, along with sound capital markets. I will speak about each of those objectives, starting with the first.



Clauses 1 and 2, along with schedule 2, require the Financial Conduct Authority to create a tailored prudential regime for investment firms—businesses that provide a range of services that allow investors to access financial markets. At present, investment firms are part of the same prudential regime as banks, even though their services are quite different and they do not pose the same risks to financial stability. The Bill will therefore require the UK’s independent regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, to set more proportionate prudential requirements, which better reflect these firms’ risks. These measures will drive healthy competition across the sector, while allowing the UK investment industry to thrive outside the EU.

The UK’s regulators are globally respected, in large part as a result of the expertise of leaders such as Nikhil Rathil of the Financial Conduct Authority, Sam Woods at the Prudential Regulation Authority, and, of course, Andrew Bailey as Governor of the Bank of England. That is why it is appropriate to delegate responsibility to them for this complex and technical area of financial regulation. However, I can assure the House that the Bill also introduces an accountability framework to ensure greater scrutiny and transparency of the FCA’s decision making when implementing this regime.

This framework will sit alongside the prudential regime for banks and the largest investment firms, whose failure would impact the wider economy. They will remain subject to internationally agreed prudential standards. That is why clauses 3 to 7, along with schedule 3, will enhance the prudential regulatory regime in line with the latest global Basel banking standards endorsed by the G20. That will increase the UK’s resilience to economic shocks, while meeting our international commitments to protecting the global financial system. The Bill will enable the PRA to implement the standards in its rulebook. It, like the FCA, will be subject to an accountability framework. These measures illustrate this Government’s commitment to global financial stability.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards (Carmarthen East and Dinefwr) (Ind)
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Is there any chance, therefore, that, as part of this process, some of the commitments the UK has signed up to, such as those under Basel III, will be watered down?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. The driving principle guiding the Government in bringing forward the Bill is to maintain the highest possible standards; indeed, our reputation globally relies on the maintenance of such standards. However, it will be in the role of our regulators, with their technical expertise, to determine how those standards are implemented.

Let me move on to the next part of the Bill.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
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My hon. Friend mentioned the word “banks”, which obviously stimulated my interest as the co-chair of the all-parliamentary parliamentary group on fair business banking. He mentioned prudential risk around banks. Currently, the capital adequacy requirements for banks are all pretty much treated the same, which can deter competition from new entrants, such as regional mutual banks. Is he interested in looking at that issue in this legislation or in a future piece of legislation?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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My hon. Friend has unrivalled expertise and tenacity in bringing these matters before the House. He is right that there is a challenge to examine the relative regimes for different sized banks and institutions. That is something that regulators, subsequent to this Bill, will need to look at—indeed, they are keen to look at it—and I would welcome my hon. Friend’s further interventions in discussions in this place as we move forward on that legitimate question.

Eight years ago, the world was shocked by the LIBOR scandal. As the House will recall, traders at multiple banks attempted to manipulate that crucial benchmark, which contributes to interest rates for everything from complex derivatives to mortgages. Since then, significant improvements have been made to the benchmark’s administration. However, the Financial Stability Board, an international body that monitors and makes recommendations about the global financial system, has stated that continued use of LIBOR and other major interest rate benchmarks poses a serious source of systemic risk. That is because the decline in the inter-bank lending market has meant that such benchmarks depend increasingly on the judgments of panel banks rather than actual transactions. UK regulators have been encouraging firms to gradually shift away from LIBOR and are at the forefront of the global response to the transition, so to ensure that that transition was orderly, the FCA agreed with the LIBOR panel banks that they would continue to contribute to the benchmark for a temporary period. However, that temporary period will expire at the end of 2021, and after that point there is a risk that the benchmark will become unrepresentative of the market that it measures, potentially leading to disruption.

While we want firms to take the initiative in migrating from LIBOR, we recognise that there are some contracts that cannot be realistically amended to achieve that goal, so clauses 8 to 19, along with schedule 5, will give the FCA the powers that it needs to oversee the orderly wind-down of critical benchmarks, including LIBOR, and clause 20 will extend the transitional period for benchmarks with non-UK administrators from the end of 2022 until the end of 2025. This will avoid difficulties for our firms while the Government consider any changes required to our third country benchmarks regime to ensure that it is appropriate for the United Kingdom.

I will move on to the second objective of the Bill: to promote openness to overseas markets. I am delighted that clauses 22 and 23, along with schedules 6 to 8, establish a framework to provide long-term market access between the UK and Gibraltar for financial services firms. As many will know, Gibraltar boasts an array of thriving businesses in the sector, many of which are UK household names, including Admiral and Hastings, to name just two. The new Gibraltar authorisation regime in this Bill delivers on an earlier ministerial commitment and recognises our long-standing special relationship.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill (Bromley and Chislehurst) (Con)
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I refer to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. May I say, as chair of the all-party group on Gibraltar, how delighted I am to see this in the Bill? I know that that is echoed by Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar and the whole Gibraltar community. The Government have made good on a promise and it is very welcome. The Minister is right to set out that some 20% of UK insurance contracts are written by Gibraltar-based insurers. Will he undertake that, as well as this important piece of legislation, we will now build on it with his colleagues in other Departments to develop a full free market—a free-trade area effectively—between the UK and Gibraltar in services and goods?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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My hon. Friend is absolutely right with that 20% statistic and to point to the extensive orientation of the Gibraltarian insurance industry towards the UK. Ninety per cent. of the business that it writes comes to the UK. He is right to say that this is foundational to a deepening relationship, and I will ensure that Gibraltarian firms can continue to access the UK market on the basis of aligned regulation and supervision. I look forward to listening to him, as we move forward, on further steps that he thinks would be appropriate.

The proposals will guarantee close co-operation between our regulators, and this measure highlights the spirit of openness that underpins our approach. The same can be said of clauses 24 to 26 and schedule 9, which make up the overseas funds regime. These measures will simplify the process under which overseas investment funds are marketed in the UK. Under the present system, the FCA has to assess the protection standards of every individual fund before allowing it to be offered to UK consumers. However, the Bill will allow the Treasury to give market access to entire categories of funds from other countries that have so-called equivalent regulatory standards to those in the UK. Funds in this group can then undergo a simpler application process, due to the confidence provided by their home regime, which will allow overseas investment funds to be marketed in the UK, maintaining the UK’s position as a global centre of asset management. There are currently over 9,000 funds that passport into the UK from the EU, and let me stress that the existing process will remain for funds that have not been declared equivalent.

Robert Neill Portrait Sir Robert Neill
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I am grateful to the Minister for correcting me. Of course, my figure of 20% related purely to motor insurance policies; it is 90% for all Gibraltar-based insurance. Can he help me on the specific point of the overseas funds regime? It is widely welcomed in the sector that he will allow access for overseas funds that have not yet achieved equivalence, but can he help give some clarity on a matter that is of concern to some providers? What is the position if people have invested in the fund and for some reason equivalency is withdrawn? What would then happen in practical terms if, for example, additional money is invested in the fund after suspension? Can he help as far as that is concerned? It is important for many people.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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It would not be for me at this point to set out the deductions to be made on individual funds, but I would like to follow up with my hon. Friend formally on that matter, because a process is under way for that to be examined, and I am happy to engage with him further in due course.

I will move on to the importance of ensuring that the FCA has an appropriate degree of oversight over firms that could register under the regime. To my hon. Friend’s point, there is a tension between the objectives set in Parliament and the regulators’ judgment on the ground. We need to ensure not only that they are accountable, but that we have set the right prescription for the outcomes we wish to see.

Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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Will my hon. Friend spend a moment putting the Bill in context? Earlier today, we heard the Chancellor outline the bold initiatives on green finance and on making the UK a leader in transparency internationally and financial technology. As we leave the European Union, we are keen to accelerate away from a sclerotic, introspective set of financial markets. The Bill looks very worthy, but can he put it in the context of those broader ambitions for financial services? Is this the first of a series of Bills we will see, or is it clearing things up so that afterwards we are in a position where we can move forward to capture that opportunity?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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This is a portfolio Bill of 17 measures, some of which I have been wanting to introduce for some while. It is the first step on a journey, and there will, if the authorities allow me, be further financial services legislation that we will need to make following the consultation on the future regulatory framework. We need to be ambitious for financial services. We live in a dynamic world where financial services are evolving all the time, and we need to have regulators that are nimble in developing world-class regulation that allows us to continue to grow, and that is reflected in our appetite for FinTechs, stablecoins, digital currencies and the right regulatory framework for firms of different sizes, as my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) referred to earlier.

The third objective of the Bill is to maintain the effectiveness of the financial services regulatory framework and ensure sound capital markets. Clause 28 introduces a streamlined process for the FCA to remove an inactive firm’s authorisation and position on the public register. That will improve accuracy, while reducing opportunities for fraudsters.

Clause 29 makes small changes to the market abuse regulation, making the regime more effective, while reducing some of the administrative burden facing firms. I draw attention to clause 30, which raises the maximum sentence for two kinds of financial market abuse from seven to 10 years in prison, bringing the penalties for those offences in line with other forms of economic crime, such as fraud. Clause 31 will ensure we can enforce the rules that apply to trusts. The Government are also taking proportionate and effective action elsewhere to prevent the misuse of these trusts, collecting a range of ownership information on those that have a connection to the UK.

Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake
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My hon. Friend mentions economic crime, the prevention of fraud and the penalties for fraud, but one of the things the Government are committed to doing is bringing forward a corporate offence for the failure to prevent economic crime. It is not within this Bill. Is there any reason why not? What timescale might we see around that kind of legislation?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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As my hon. Friend mentioned to me a few days ago, he is aware that the Ministry of Justice is conducting a consultation on that matter, and that will drive the Government’s response overall, but it is a matter we take seriously. Following the Financial Action Task Force review at the end of 2018, we needed to move forward a number of measures to improve and tighten our regime. It is critical for the integrity of the United Kingdom’s financial services industry to have in place the appropriate sanctions and the important regulations on reporting standards across the whole of financial services.

Let me turn to clause 32, which will strengthen our breathing space scheme that supports people with problem debt. That has long been a priority of mine as City Minister, and I put on record my gratitude to my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood (Kelly Tolhurst), who introduced a private Member’s Bill on this issue, for all her efforts, and to Members across the House for the consensus on that legislation’s introduction. The Bill contains crucial amendments that are required to implement fully and effectively statutory debt repayment plans, which will help people facing problem debt to pay back what they owe within a manageable timeframe. The Bill’s measures will allow us to compel creditors to accept these new repayment terms, providing greater peace of mind to consumers, many of whom will be vulnerable.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
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I congratulate the Minister on the work I know he has done over many years on this subject. I understand that the Bill amends the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 to ensure that the statutory debt repayment plan can include debts owed to the Government or Government Departments. Will he explain a bit further how that will work in practice? What will the ranking for claims be for creditors? Will it require a mediated process?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I thank my hon. Friend for his question. As he says, the purpose of the measure is to provide, during the eight-week moratorium—longer for those with a mental health condition—a set of options, and it is key that the Bill will allow us to compel creditors to accept the new repayment terms. He is right to say that it will provide peace of mind to all consumers, with a compulsion under the provision to bring in debts owed across the public and private sector. He asked me to list the hierarchy of debts, which is probably beyond my capacity at this point, but I am happy to write to him to set out in more detail what the provision gives us room to do.

Clause 33 complements the Government’s pioneering Help to Save scheme, which supports people on low incomes to build up a nest egg. These changes will ensure that people can continue to save through a National Savings & Investments account after their participation in the scheme ends.

As I mentioned earlier, there will be some areas where this country will decide that it is right to diverge from EU regulation. Clause 34 is a good illustration of that, making amendments to the packaged retail and insurance-based investment products regulation, commonly known as PRIIPs. That EU legislation was laudable in its aims, although, one might argue, not quite as laudable in its outcomes and achievements. Concerns have been raised by Members across the House, and most tenaciously by my hon. Friend the Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), that it is not working as intended and that there is a risk that consumers may be inadvertently misled by disclosures that firms must provide under the regulation. I am pleased finally to be able to address those concerns. The Bill will allow the FCA to clarify the scope of the regulation. It will tackle the issues around misleading performance scenarios and allow the Treasury to extend an exemption from the PRIIPs regime for undertakings in collective investments in transferable securities—UCITS—which are a type of investment fund.

These are some examples of how we intend to take advantage of a new ability to address issues in retained EU law. However, we have no intention of needlessly, ideologically or recklessly diverging from EU legislation. Instead, we will maintain existing regulations where they make sense for the financial services industry in this country. One instance of that approach is clause 35, which finalises reforms to the European market infrastructure regulation, which the UK supported as an EU member state, while clause 36 contains a change that should provide certainty to markets by ensuring the legal validity in the past and in the future of the financial collateral arrangements regulations.

Finally, clause 37 will make the role of the chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority a fixed five-year term appointment that is renewable only once, in line with other high-profile roles in financial services regulation. That was recommended by the Treasury Committee not so long ago.

I recognise that Members might be concerned that some of the Government’s prior commitments are not included in the Bill. I assure the whole House that our focus on these issues has not wavered. One issue that came up in questions to the Chancellor earlier was access to cash. The Government are committed to ensuring that everyone who needs it has easy access to cash. I have heard representations on the issue from Members across the House in recent weeks, including my right hon. Friend the Member for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale (David Mundell), whom I met recently, and Members from across Scotland and the whole UK.

Earlier this month, we launched a call for evidence, seeking a wide range of views on the subject’s key considerations. Once we have reviewed the findings, we will bring forward legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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I thank the Minister for making that point, because I was not going to make a great deal of it in my remarks. Does he appreciate the fears on the SNP Benches that by the time the Government get around to legislating on this, there will be no banks left?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I understand the hon. Lady’s anxiety—it is one she has expressed to me a number of times over the past nearly three years.

We asked Natalie Ceeney to do a review last spring. Immediately the review was completed, we put together the JACS process—the joint authorities cash strategy—and brought together the Payment Systems Regulator, the FCA, the Bank of England and the Treasury. We are working closely with LINK and the banks to look at a new way of making cash available. The cashpoint network in this country is not fit for purpose and urgent work is going on behind the scenes to bring forward a cohesive solution.

The prospect of legislation remains, and the call for evidence a week or so ago is another step in moving this forward as rapidly as possible. This problem has been extended and made worse by our recent experience of covid. I assure the hon. Lady that I am committed to getting to the end of this in a positive way.

To conclude, the Bill marks an important moment in the history of the UK’s financial services sector. It is the next step of an ambitious programme of regulatory reform that will be guided by what is right for UK industry. In short, the Bill will support financial stability and high regulatory standards, promote openness between the UK and international markets, and maintain the effectiveness of this country’s financial regulatory framework. I commend it to the House.

18:52
Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
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I thank the Minister and his officials for the information they have shared about the measures in the Bill over the past couple of weeks. I have, of course, been riveted by the Bill in recent days, but I confess that I had to put it down for a while at 5 o’clock on Saturday to watch CNN when something more exciting than the Bill came through on the news.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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Will the right hon. Gentleman clarify whether that is where all his colleagues are this evening? I note that he does not have many behind him. In fact, his Benches are empty.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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There is a phrase: I am not my brother or my sister’s keeper. They will have to answer for themselves.

The backdrop to these measures is formed by two significant events in recent years. The first of those is not Brexit but the financial crash of 2007 and 2008, which exposed the risks being run in the financial services industry and the huge knock-on effects for the rest of the economy when those risks go wrong. That experience prompted a global rethink about banking regulation, the capital levels that banks and other financial institutions are expected to hold, resolution measures in the event of banking failure, and the balance of obligations between the industry and the state. Much of that rethinking was expressed in the series of directives with which the Bill deals and in the Basel process on capital rules.

For all the complexity in the detail of these things, at root the questions are quite basic. First, how much capital should institutions hold as insurance against things going wrong? Secondly, who should be on the hook if things do go wrong? And thirdly, how do we insulate the wider economy from the consequences of instability in financial services? It is on these questions that much financial services regulation has focused over the past decade. The UK has been a key player in this process at both a European and a more global level. These are not things that have been imposed on us; we have played a significant role in the design of the measures that we are onshoring through the Bill.

The second event is, of course, Brexit and the consequent withdrawal from the European regulatory institutions responsible for the oversight and implementation of these directives. By definition, the process requires a recasting of regulatory responsibilities in the UK, and much of the Bill is concerned with that. The key question, then, is not so much the onshoring of the regulations themselves, but what happens next. Do the Government intend to diverge significantly from the rulebook, and in which direction will they go?

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards
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I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for setting the scene. Many of us are concerned that the Basel III regulations did not go far enough—that is, they did not really solve the “too big to fail” issue. We need to be very careful that we do not water down the proposals. Does he agree with that position?

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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I do, and I will talk later about the Basel III regulations; certainly Basel II did not prove to be any kind of protection against what happened in 2007 and 2008.

The other issue that we will have to consider is the role of Parliament in debating and deciding these matters. The approach that we will take is to ask at each stage what these measures will mean for the UK financial services industry, for the wider economy and for consumers. Do they guarantee robust regulation in the public interest, or do they expose the consumer to greater risk?

There is a particular onus on the UK to get this right, because we are a medium-sized economy with a globally significant financial sector. There are obviously crucial benefits of that to the UK: the huge number of jobs generated around the country by financial services; the investment that comes into the country through being a world leader in the sector; and, of course, the tax revenue that goes towards supporting our public services. But, as we have also learned, there are risks if things go wrong, and it is in no one’s interest for the post-Brexit regulatory system to result in a race to the bottom, where the public are exposed to greater risk in the name of increased competitiveness.

We know that parts of the financial services sector will be knocking on the Minister’s door. They will not put it in terms of watering things down; they will tell the Minister that they could be so much more competitive if only he changed this rule or that rule, or gave them this or that exemption. Of course, we do not argue that any rulebook should be frozen in time. Regulation must adapt to circumstances and innovation, but these things are there for a reason. Capital has to be held against lending and other products for a reason. These rules are the public’s insurance policy against the risks involved in the enormous capital flows that go across countries and between financial institutions. They are the as yet untested firewall against a repeat of what happened across the globe a decade ago.

Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami
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What is the right hon. Gentleman’s view on an expanding, ever more complex set of measures obscuring good supervision and prudential management of the financial services sector? To what extent would he welcome any efforts—whether cross-party or by the Government—to simplify regulatory standards while also ensuring that they continue to be robust? There is a danger for many in different parts of the industry not of watering things down, but of such complexity making it very difficult to manage a business on an ongoing basis.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Nobody should be wedded to complexity for complexity’s sake. As I said, beneath the complexity, the issues are actually not that complicated. They are about the safety of insurance and resilience when things go wrong, and that is what we are focused on, rather than defending complexity for complexity’s sake.

The second thing that we will have in mind as we debate the Bill is the broad question of what financial services are for. The Chancellor set out green goals for the UK financial services industry in his statement today, and we welcome, for example, what he said on green gilts. But those green goals are not mentioned in the accountability framework set out in the Bill. Indeed, in schedule 3, the accountability framework states that the regulator must have regard to

“relevant standards recommended by the Basel Committee”.

The hon. Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr (Jonathan Edwards) was right to say that that should be a minimum, not a maximum, given the importance of resilience and robust regulation. The regulator must also have regard to

“the likely effect of the rules on the relative standing of the United Kingdom as a place for internationally active credit institutions and investment firms to be based or to carry on activities”

and

“the likely effect of the rules on the ability of…firms to continue to provide finance to businesses and consumers”.

Nothing there speaks of the green goals. Do the Government intend to amend the Bill as it progresses, to reflect the statement made by the Chancellor today? There is an opportunity here to put regulatory power behind the goal of net zero and, indeed, broader social and governance considerations for the greater public good. As it stands, the Bill is silent on that—it does not do that yet. When will the Bill be reconciled with the statement that we heard this afternoon?

Thirdly, we will want to ensure that the UK maintains the highest standards when it comes to transparency, money laundering and corruption. We have already had the report from the Intelligence and Security Committee referring to the “London laundromat”, where illicit funds can be washed and corrupt financing rendered more obscure. The UK’s globally significant financial services sector must not be tainted with any sense that this is an easy place for illicit or corruptly obtained finance to be washed through different institutions. As the Bill progresses, we will seek to ensure the highest possible standards with regard to these issues. Of course we want a successful, globally competitive financial services sector, but it has to be based on clean money, honest endeavour and socially responsible goals.

I turn to some of the individual measures in the Bill. As the Minister said, clauses 1 to 7 deal with new prudential regulation requirements, the implementation of the Basel rules and the new accountability framework, which I quoted from a moment ago. As I said, the schedule on the accountability framework states that, when making these new rules, the regulator must have regard to the likely effect on the “relative standing” of the UK as a place for firms to be based or carry on activities. I want to explore that with the Minister. Does that clause about the relative standing of the UK mean that, every time a regulated entity says, “We don’t want you to do that because it will affect our competitiveness in relation to other countries”—and they are liable to say that quite a lot when regulatory proposals are put forward—the regulators have to keel over and give in? How does this point to the UK being a leading player in the kind of environmental or social regulation that can help to ensure that the power of our financial services sector is a force for good? What is the guarantee that the provision does not, in fact, become a deregulator’s charter, on the basis that we should not do things that some in the industry could claim put us at a competitive disadvantage relative to other countries? The wording is crucial. The accountability frameworks, Parliament’s role in them and what they should cover will be the subject of significant debate as the Bill progresses.

On capital ratios, the FCA has estimated that total pillar 1 capital requirements will decrease by 5%. What is the justification for decreasing the capital requirements when we know that over-leveraging was a key cause of the financial crisis? How can the Government ensure that the onshoring of these powers does not result in a chipping away of the public’s insurance policy on financial risk? Similarly, in relation to Basel reforms, the Bill’s impact assessment talks of

“flexibility to tailor the actual detail of these subject areas to the UK.”

Given the weakness of the Basel rules in the past, it is clear that they should be seen as a floor, not a ceiling. Adherence to international standards is a minimum, not a maximum to be wriggled out of when we get the chance, so what exactly is the flexibility to be used for?

Clauses 8 to 19 deal with LIBOR and the governance of benchmarks. For my sins, a few years ago I served on the cross-party Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which was established in the wake of the LIBOR scandal, which exposed manipulation, mutual favours and price setting based on conjecture rather than actual trades. The benchmark was abused to benefit traders, rather than markets or the end consumers of those trades, so it is right that it goes, but so many contracts around the world have been based on it that the Bill has to put in place a system for dealing with such so-called tough legacy contracts. The principles behind benchmarks should be clear: they should be based on actual trades and costs and should be insulated against manipulation for personal gain by those who submit the information to the benchmark in the first place. That will be the task of the FCA.

Clauses 22 and 23 establish the new Gibraltar authorisation regime. I share the warmth towards Gibraltar that is felt in all parts of the House. The measures could be described as a necessary consolation prize for taking Gibraltar out of the EU, by ensuring continued market access on a free basis between Gibraltar and the UK.

Clauses 24 to 26 give us a picture of how equivalence will work from the UK point of view, at least in part, by establishing the overseas fund regime, which negates the need for fund-by-fund approval and will instead be based on country-by-country approval and extending the time period for such funds to trade in the meantime. In his statement earlier this afternoon, the Chancellor had more to say about how we will grant equivalence recognition to others, but of course he could not say what would happen to UK companies that sell services overseas, because over that he has no control.

What was announced today dealt with one end of the telescope, because that is the position we are now in. Whatever this can be described as, it certainly cannot be described as taking back control, for we are now dependent on a response from others in respect of the crucial UK companies in the overseas markets in which they want to trade. There is also the question of how equivalence decisions are to be granted. Are such decisions a matter of economic policy or foreign policy—or both? I would be grateful if the Minister addressed that when he responds.

Jonathan Edwards Portrait Jonathan Edwards
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Considering the amount of work that needs to be done on this issue before the end of the transition period, is not the reality that the best we can hope for for the financial sector is some sort of base deal? The negotiations on what the situation may be down the line will then take many, many months, if not years.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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If we read the political declaration, we can see that this was all supposed to be wrapped up by June. We are now approaching mid-November. The hon. Gentleman is certainly right to suggest that the time has slipped.

Subsequent clauses in the Bill go through a number of other EU directives and the onshoring process. They cover the markets and financial instruments regulation, the market abuse regulation, European markets infrastructure regulation dealing with over-the-counter derivatives, and the EU financial collateral directive. I have no doubt we will have a lot of fun with all of them in Committee. On money laundering, we will want to see as strong a system as possible to ensure that the UK is no safe harbour for anyone who wants to wash dirty money, avoid taxes or evade accountability. Again, I am sure the Minister is expecting more discussion of this as the Bill progresses. He and I debated the statutory debt repayment plan a few weeks ago, and Labour supports moves to create this system. It will be particularly important in the light of the increasing debt burden on many families due to the covid pandemic, and the sooner it is in place, the better.

On PRIIPS, the Government propose to remove the performance scenarios. The question, of course, is what they will be replaced with, how useful and accessible the information for consumers will be and what protections will be in place against the mis-selling of products or fraudulent claims. The imbalance of information is always a challenge in financial products because, in most cases, the seller knows more than the purchaser. Regulators have an important duty to be on the side of the consumer when it comes to the marketing of such products, so if the current performance scenarios are to go, they must be replaced with something better that will genuinely help the consumer. Other measures, including the fixed term for the FCA chief executive, have finally found the legislative home for which they have been waiting in the Treasury for some time.

That is, broadly speaking, what the Bill legislates for, but there are important areas, as the Minister said, that are not included. The most obvious is access to cash. Cash use has declined markedly this year, as people have moved to more online shopping and many businesses have moved to card-only payments, but this is not a trend that falls evenly on the population. Most of the population might need less cash or, in some cases, no cash in the future, but we have a duty to ensure access to cash for those who still need it, including many on low incomes for whom cash budgeting is a vital way of making ends meet. If we do not do that, inequality will be sharpened and there is a real danger that cash-dependent consumers will be cut off from important areas of economic activity. The Government have said—the Minister repeated it tonight—that they want to ensure access to cash, but if that cannot be done through this Bill, we urge the Minister to come forward with appropriate measures as soon as possible.

Standing back and looking at all this, I get an overwhelming feeling of it being all deckchairs and no iceberg. The Government can, of course, rearrange the regulatory furniture, and in many areas that is a necessary consequence of leaving the EU, but the bigger policy decision to downgrade financial services in the negotiations was taken a long time ago. The Chancellor talked today about the economic and employment importance of this industry, and he was absolutely right to emphasise that, but the more he emphasises it, the more it begs the question why market access for this crucial sector, and indeed services in general, has not been a negotiating priority for the Government. The truth is that, in this negotiation, services have been thrown under the bus.

On manufacturing, we have also moved further and further away from the earlier promises of frictionless trade, exact same benefits and all the rest. The fact that these things are not front and centre of the final round of talks is not because agreement on them has already been reached, but because the Government have decided not even to prioritise them. That is a louder testament to where we have ended up in this process than anything in the Bill. This is a series of measures that are trying to compensate for much bigger decisions. This will create more trading friction and more market barriers for our crucial financial services, and for our broader services industry and manufacturing. In the end, no amount of cutting and pasting of EU directives or last-minute vision statements can change that bigger picture.

00:09
Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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My colleague from the Treasury Committee, the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), mentioned earlier that some of the Benches in this place are a little empty this evening. I am sure that that is not because this is not a wonderfully exciting Bill—well, perhaps. But we have to look at the reality of the situation that we are in. We are here in London in lockdown and people are being advised not to travel. So I do not hold a grudge against any Member who has decided not to travel today, for their safety or the safety of their constituents and their families. It is important that we consider each other in this place as well as those out there in every street in the country as coronavirus continues to spread.

I thank the Minister for his briefing on Thursday evening. It was a very good distraction from all the events in the United States. I also thank all the organisations that have provided such helpful briefings in advance of the Bill. The financial services are a significant part of the economy in Scotland in terms of the number of businesses, the number of employees and their contribution to the wider Scottish economy, particularly in the growing area of FinTech, where we have much innovation coming out of our universities.

The Bill is, relatively speaking, a wee bit dull and a wee bit functional. Some bits have been taken out of the back of the drawer at the Treasury and presented in the Bill tonight.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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The Minister says that is harsh, but he said himself that there are things here that he has wanted to do for quite a wee while and has not found the mechanism to do. It is a portfolio Bill, as he called it generously, of some things that hang together and some things that are a wee bit tacked on.

The regulations are important, and they affect us all in some way or another. The purpose of financial regulations is to protect us as citizens from the worst extremes of the financial inclinations of those who wish to grab the cash a wee bit quicker. We would all live with the consequences of deregulating to an extreme, so we need to be very careful of the regulations that we make.

The Bill’s objective is to enhance

“the UK’s world-leading prudential standards and promote financial stability”,

to promote openness

“between the UK and international markets”

and to maintain

“an effective financial services regulatory framework and sound capital markets”.

I am sure that that is all very laudable. It is what we had as a member state of the EU. Who could really object to any of those aims? We on the SNP Benches will not be opposing this Bill on Second Reading tonight, but we do hope to put together some constructive amendments for the Government to ignore in Committee. If they would like to surprise me and take them on I would be absolutely made up, but we shall see. I shall go ahead and hope rather than look at experience.

I hope that we can have some good discussions on the things that should be put into the Bill to give people greater protection, and where things should be that wee bit tighter. Despite what the Chancellor said earlier about unilateral equivalence, the reality is much more complex and many firms do not yet know what they are preparing for. Whether it is the worst or not quite the worst, it will still cost money, time and resource, at a time when covid affects us all, and it will still be significantly less advantageous than it was under EU membership or even single market membership.

I am nervous, as are many others, about Parliament’s role in the regulatory framework and where that ends up. CityUK has expressed concerns, as has Barclays, about taking back these powers to hand them straight over to the PRA and the FCA. This is hardly taking back control. I worry that with the safeguards that we have, we will not find out that something has gone terribly wrong until it is far too late, and far too far down the line. I worry that Parliament will find out about these things when it is too late, because that has been the experience of the banking crisis and other things. We need to be careful that we do not end up going down those same roads. A statutory limit on the term of the FCA chief executive is not quite taking back control in the same way. This is giving a whole lot of power to these institutions and cutting out Parliament.

I have some questions and I would be grateful if the Minister picked them up. For example, the Bill will allow Her Majesty’s Treasury to revoke the capital regulation in favour of PRA rules, so what happens to those who are already working to the CRR2 EU regulations and what do they now need to do? Will regulatory decisions and implementation be in line with broader public policy objectives and is there a safeguard within that, because Parliament should be satisfied that existing appeals mechanisms are sufficient and, as Barclays says, that they are commensurate with the increased level of autonomy and rule making for those regulators?

The ABI is also concerned about a number of areas. It talks about the need for the Gibraltar authorisation regime, saying:

“We welcome that Government will work with the FCA to ensure that, once the GAR comes into force, individuals and eligible small businesses using financial services sold in the UK by Gibraltar-based firms can refer disputes to the UK Financial Ombudsman Service”.

That protection ought to be there in black and white but it does not appear quite yet to be at that stage. People need to have that protection—that recourse—if something goes wrong.

It is of huge concern to us that the UK regulators have threatened to deviate from EU rules on share trading if Brussels does not deliver market access permissions to the City of London. The ABI has said that the equivalence process has occasionally been used as a political weapon to wield against third countries. It is concerned about where the overseas funds regime sits within this, particularly because it does not know what might happen should there be a negotiating advantage for one side or another when the cost is borne by companies and consumers.

There are further questions on what this means for existing investors if equivalence is withdrawn. What happens if someone has money in a particular fund and then it goes? What are the practicalities there? What do they need to do as an investor in those circumstances? We need urgent clarity for people so that they know where they stand on these issues. Perhaps the Minister cannot give us those answers yet. That is part of the wider problem that people do not know exactly what is going to happen and how they can prepare for it. There could be a risk that people will withdraw from these funds altogether rather than keeping their money there, which would have further knock-on effects.

We support the increased sentences for insider dealing and market abuse. It is quite right that those should be increased. However, as I have said many times in this House, enforcement is key—having the tools in the box to make sure that we can find these frauds, market abuses and insider dealings and then punish those responsible. That is crucial, because if people are felt to get away with these things, then having the rules is really not enough.

On people exploiting rules and general misbehaviour, I want to talk about money laundering. I was on the Committee that considered the Bill that became the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018 and I worked on it in this House. Clause 31 amends schedule 2 of SAML to ensure that regulations can be made in respect of trustees with links to the UK. Without it, any powers that HMRC sought to exercise to access information on such trusts are at risk of being held invalid under legal challenge. The Government say that this technical change

“will reaffirm the UK’s global leadership in the use of public registers of beneficial ownership, as identified by the Financial Action Taskforce’s Mutual Evaluation of the UK in 2018. This will further support the public and private sectors to efficiently and effectively target their resources towards potential criminal activity using trusts, maintaining the resilience of the UK’s defences against economic crime.”

That does not stack up to me because there have been opportunities to deal with this.

I was on the Committee on the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill, which sought to look at trusts as well. We took lots of evidence on how trusts are an open door for people to move money around, yet the Government are not really acting to deal with that. The Registration of Overseas Entities Bill went through the whole pre-legislative scrutiny process and then just disappeared. The difficulty is that people are moving money around and buying properties, largely in the city of London, where they can launder that money. There are huge buildings sitting empty in the city because people are using that as a means of moving money about. There is a huge homelessness problem as well, so this is a really pernicious problem that the Government need to get their head around.

I do not understand why there is not more to deal with the issue of trusts, or with the issue, as I have mentioned ad nauseum, about Scottish limited partnerships and proper reform of Companies House. The Chancellor mentioned the consultation on that earlier. That consultation has been going on for ever, it feels like, and nothing has yet changed. The Government have this huge, big, wide, gaping loophole in Companies House that allows people to move money around. If they want to do something properly, I would suggest that they deal with that, and do a lot more to take action on trusts and other means of shunting money about. Not doing that makes this country a home for dirty money. Lots of research has been done on this issue by Transparency International and others. The evidence is there; the action, unfortunately, is not.

The debt respite scheme in clause 32 can be enhanced further. I know the Minister is committed to doing this and wants to act on it. I would be curious to find out a bit more about what he has learned from what Scotland has done so far and how the schemes will work together, because we have had the debt arrangement scheme in Scotland since 2004 and the statutory moratorium since 2011. There are always improvements that Scotland can make and the UK can make as well. I would be very interested to hear what more can be done to improve upon that.

I have been contacted, as many other Members might have been, by Macmillan’s duty of care campaign. What conversations has the Minister had with the Financial Conduct Authority on that campaign? Macmillan fears that many people—people with cancer who are struggling —are finding things incredibly difficult. Can he say with certainty that the guidance put out by the FCA is enough? Could more be done to protect people in the most vulnerable of circumstances?

Help to Save customers have enough on their plate at the moment without having to navigate myriad changes to their saving products. We firmly believe that the accounts should continue to earn interest until this crisis is over. Savers who do not withdraw the funds after maturity and whose balance remains in the account do not seem to be eligible for further bonuses and they are also not earning interest. It seems very unfair to expect low-income savers, who are potentially dealing with the risk of redundancy and are worried about the risk of covid, to change financial products at this time to avoid losing interest. Some of this is the UK Government’s fault for not having set an end date when the scheme was introduced. We argue that they should extend the active period of these accounts at least until the end of this pandemic, so that nobody loses that all-important interest.

What is the communications strategy from the UK Government to make sure that nobody loses out? Since the launch of the scheme, more than 222,000 people have opened Help to Save accounts, with some £85 million deposited, I understand. So this is not a small amount of money for people at the very lowest end of our economy and they need to have some certainty that the scheme will not be rolled up and that they will not lose out because of the changes the Government seek to make in this Bill.

I wish to close by discussing a briefing I received from the Finance Innovation Lab, which makes three well made points about the Bill. First, it says that the Bill threatens to introduce a democratic accountability deficit in financial sector policymaking, and I made that point earlier. We cannot be in the situation where we take all these powers back from Brussels and hand them straight over to unaccountable, arm’s length organisations. They might come before the Treasury Committee once every six months or so, when we will ask them some questions, and that is the extent of the scrutiny they get from this House. We do the best job we can to ask them questions—I see some colleagues from the Committee on the Government Benches tonight—but that is not the same.

Secondly, the FIL also argues, as the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) did, that the purposes of the Bill should be broadened to economic, social and environmental outcomes. The Chancellor talked a lot earlier about how important those environmental outcomes are, but they are missing from this Bill. I do not know whether that is because one part of the Treasury is not speaking to the other or how else that has come about, but if the Government are now saying today that these environmental aspects are incredibly important and they should be a key part of COP26, as the former Governor of the Bank of England has also argued, they need to be in the Bill. If they are that important, the Government need to put them in the Bill.

Lastly, the FIL suggests that the Bill should help the UK to be a leader in financial regulation that sets high standards. There should be no backsliding on the standards we have built up as part of being in the EU. It is an area in which we had huge and significant influence as a member state in making a lot of these rules. Now if we want to have equivalence and have access, we are going to have to abide by some rules made by other people, rather than being able to make the rules ourselves. I believe firmly that we should not have less power as Members of this House than MEPs have to scrutinise all of those things that come before them, and we should have a bit more than we have in statutory instruments Committees; we cannot vote on those and we cannot amend them either. So we need to have a whole lot more by way of scrutiny of financial services in the future. In those Committees, I have argued regularly to the Minister that we need a plan and a framework, and we need to see the whole spectrum of what this Government propose for financial services. It needs to involve everybody—the people in the sector and Members from across parties in this House—so that we can build something resilient that we can all have trust and faith in. That trust and faith in financial services is what we all need. We need to be able to trust the institutions and that our money will be well managed and we will be protected in the event that anything goes wrong.

This is all about building something new, but there is really not a huge amount that is new in the Bill. The Government need to do a whole lot more on financial services, which have been neglected as part of the Brexit negotiations, put to one side and not prioritised, despite being an absolutely massive sector of the economy in Scotland and the rest of the UK. I hope very much that we will be able to make amendments to the Bill to improve it and that the Government will listen to those amendments and take them forward in good faith.

19:30
Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow my Treasury Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss).

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) talked about the historic events that had distracted him from preparing for his speech, although I do not think anyone would ever have known it, because he spoke in a very well-informed way. We often recognise historic turning points—certainly, Saturday at 5 pm was one of them, and today’s announcement of the Pfizer vaccine is another—and that is why I am a little disappointed that there are so few colleagues here for what is an important turning point in the UK financial services sector. I do not say that because the measures in the Bill are gripping, although they are sensible, practical measures, and they will no doubt be expatiated on at greater length by colleagues. Rather, I put in to speak in today’s debate because I wanted to hear the Minister at the Dispatch Box talk about the vision for post-transition UK financial services.

We are at an important inflection point, which is why I welcome the fact not only that the Minister outlined that vision today, but that the Chancellor was able to come here earlier to talk about the future, as he sees it, for this incredibly important sector. He emphasised in his statement, as the Minister did at the Dispatch Box, what a significant export sector this is. It is our biggest export sector. It pays £75 billion a year in taxes. It helps to fund the public services we all rely on. That is why we need it too to do well in the future and why it is important to note this historic turning point. We may look back at this moment, as we look back on the big bang in 1986, as being a really significant inflection point.

The Chancellor set out today three ways in which we can really build on our existing comparative advantage to become the leading financial services sector of the 21st century. He made some bold statements this afternoon that really reflected what financial services are going to become. First, he spoke about our global openness. It is a matter of regret that we have not been able to mutually agree equivalence with the EU. Obviously, we are entirely equivalent, and it would have been much more satisfactory if we had been able to respect each other’s starting point as being completely equivalent and to go forward from there. It is clear from the way in which the European Union has not been prepared to offer us equivalence that it will continue to use EU regulation in financial services as a bit of a stick with which to beat up on this sector, in which the UK already excels. I am sorry to say that, and it gives me no pleasure, but that would clearly be unacceptable.

In the Treasury Committee, we heard from the Governor of the Bank of England that it would be dangerous to financial stability if we were to allow an external regulator to suddenly take away equivalence from our financial services sector. So the judgment that was made to come to the Dispatch Box and say, “Do you know what? We’re unilaterally going to do it for the UK,” was regrettably the right decision to take historically. It was accompanied with the three statements about the kind of financial services sector that we envision for the 21st century—one that is globally open and inviting of inward investment and listings from around the world, not just from other EU countries.

Secondly, the Chancellor said that the financial services sector should also be technologically innovative. That is so important. We have led the world in the FinTech sector and regulation, and have set up FinTech bridges with other countries. Singapore, another FinTech innovator, was the first with which we established a regulatory bridge. That is clearly how financial services will evolve in the 21st century, and the announcement about the leadership we are showing on digital currencies was incredibly important.

Thirdly, the headline measure—the one that will no doubt get coverage around the world—was the equally important announcement that we will issue a green gilt. I am the first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies), who has been assiduous in calling for that. We have had announcements on the global vision, the technological vision and the importance of the UK being the lead financial centre for financing the climate revolution of the 21st century. We financed the industrial revolution, and we will finance the green industrial revolution. Countries from around the world will issue bonds in the UK against the green gilt benchmark, so this Bill is historic.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for the work he has done on breathing space. I know how passionate he is about it. He and I were elected in 2010, and he has always championed that issue, so it is wonderful to see him bringing forward legislation to make progress on it.

I want to ask the Minister a few questions. He and the Chancellor highlighted the UK’s importance as a global financial centre. First, what progress has been made on what the UK is hoping to achieve on a US financial services free trade agreement? That has always struck me as important. We are the biggest investors in each other’s countries, and the ability to do more in terms of financial services would help consumers in both countries, so what are his aspirations and ambitions for that?

Secondly, what is the Minister’s vision for the Basel framework, particularly with regard to the very high risk weighting that it gives to investments in Africa? When I was Africa Minister, one of the things that used to get me excited was the potential for inward investment into Africa. We had a big Africa investment summit in January. The risk weighting for assets in many African countries is incredibly high under the Basel rules, so can the Minister update the House on anything he is doing to try to make those assets appear less risky on bank balance sheets?

My third question is about the assets we still own as a result of the financial crash in 2008. Will the Minister update the House on what the exit strategy is for those remaining financial services assets?

Those are my three questions for the Minister. Given the general direction and strategy the Government have announced today, I think this is a historic moment for UK financial services. In 10 or 15 years, we will look back on it as equally significant as the announcement from Pfizer and the US election. I congratulate the Minister on introducing the Bill and I look forward to hearing more detail when he responds.

19:39
Christine Jardine Portrait Christine Jardine (Edinburgh West) (LD)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin).  I agree with her that we have seen significant changes in the last few days; historic turning points that for many of us seem like we are beginning, finally, to emerge from a very dark four years, not just for this country, but for the United States and Europe. I agree with the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden). It was very distracting for five days and I am not quite sure how I am coping now without CNN. It has been so long since I was actually in front of a screen.

In that context, with everything that is happening in the world at the moment, it is difficult to overstate the importance of the Bill, not only to the financial services sector but to our wider economy in this country. As the MP for Edinburgh West, that is particularly significant to my constituents. Edinburgh has the second-largest financial sector in the United Kingdom. Hundreds, if not thousands, of jobs in my constituency are dependent on the Government getting this right—thousands of jobs across the country as well. As we approach at great speed the end of the transition period from our exit from the EU, that becomes increasingly important day on day. I thank the Minister for being so open at his briefing the other night, but there are areas where the Liberal Democrats believe the Bill falls short of what is needed to protect those jobs and the financial sector itself.

The Government claim that the Bill will ensure that the UK maintains its world-leading status as a financial sector. However, I feel that the truth is that because of the Government’s reckless handling of Brexit, the financial services industry now faces unprecedented challenges that the Bill will have to face. For more than two decades, the greatest strength of our financial sector was being at the heart of the EU. That is no longer the case and it leaves in its place the problem of how we protect a market whose capacity is in the UK but whose bulk of custom is in the EU. Banks looking to consolidate may no longer do so in the UK. We have already seen, as was mentioned earlier, that more than £1 trillion—yes, £1 trillion —worth of assets moved to the EU from our sector. Thousands of jobs have gone with them. Barclays’ European investment arm has gone to Dublin. British-registered financial firms will lose the passporting rights that have allowed them to sell funds, debt, advice or insurance to clients across the EU as if we were in the same country.

Positive spin from those on the Government Benches about the Bill will not make up for what we have lost, and stand to lose, from a vital sector of our economy. We have to get it right. More than that, by being intent on breaking international law through the internal market, the Government risk damaging the UK’s standing as a global financial centre by throwing into question our commitment to the rule of law. The now President-elect of the United States is one of those who criticised the Government for the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill. I believe that the Financial Services Bill falls short of what the sector needs, particularly in three crucial areas on which my party intends to bring forward amendments in Committee.

On green finance, for example, although we had the welcome statement from the Chancellor today, we believe that the Bill requires some form of provision—more provision than we have heard—to take potential environmental impacts into account. The Chancellor’s earlier statement was welcome, but I do not believe it is accurate to say that we are leading the world. In fact, I think it is too little and too late. Since the start of the pandemic, our international competitors have announced billions of pounds worth of stimulus to their green economies. Germany has pledged €9 billion. France will spend €8 billion on electric vehicle charging. China has also pledged. We are acting too late. If the Conservative Government are committed to green finance, we have to acknowledge that selling off the Green Investment Bank in Edinburgh in 2017—the Liberal Democrats, as part of the coalition, were instrumental in setting it up—was a mistake. It was the first bank of its kind globally and would have been crucial at this stage in the development of our financial sector.

Indebted households across the UK will also need relief measures of some sort to support them through the hell that covid-19 has been and continues to be. Like every other Member, I am sure, I get calls every day, a huge proportion of them from people who have been left behind—people the Government have completely excluded from support. The Bill needs to recognise the scale of that problem and do more to protect them and those in other households who now find themselves in deep financial hardship. Specifically, we need breathing space. A moratorium period and a statutory debt repayment plan are welcome steps, but they were designed for the pre-covid world. Surely they need to be addressed now that that more households are in more debt and we have a different situation ahead. We want the Chancellor to amend the Bill to extend the 60-day breathing space period and to improve access to debt advice services.

I agree with the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East, that money laundering will in future be a serious problem for this country. It needs to be addressed.

We are at a crossroads in many sectors of our economy, but financial services more than any other sector has been our strength in recent years. We cannot afford to let anything come in the way of that. I hope that in its final form the Bill will protect the sector.

19:46
Kevin Hollinrake Portrait Kevin Hollinrake (Thirsk and Malton) (Con)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine). I agree with many of the things she said; one thing I disagree with is her apparent belief that leaving the European Union brings only disadvantages. She does not see some of the economic opportunities we may have after we leave. I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary talk about opportunities, including the opportunity to do things differently and better. I will focus my remarks not on what the Bill does, but on the different and perhaps better things that might be done by the Bill in its later form or by another piece of legislation.

I am not a great fan of too much regulation. We should avoid regulating more than is absolutely necessary, but we need to make sure that we regulate better—that we think not about regulations but about effective regulation. Sadly, that is missing from some of our current financial services framework.

My first suggestion for the Minister, which I have talked about before, is that small and medium-sized enterprises should be allowed rights of action for breaches of the FCA handbook. At the moment, those are allowed only to private persons, not to SMEs, partnerships or corporates. As not all businesses know, that leads to SME commercial lending not being regulated above £25,000—here I speak in my capacity as co-chair of the all-party group on fair business banking; I also draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. As a result, if an SME is mistreated by a bank, for example, its ability to go to court relies purely on the letter of the contract or agreement it signed with the bank.

We have seen disgraceful scandals, some of which have been mentioned already, such as the LIBOR rigging, the swaps scandal, the RBS Global Restructuring Group SME banking scandal and the Lloyds HBOS Reading scandal. In those situations, SMEs cannot challenge the banks in any significant way, first, because it is almost impossible to take a bank to court due to the costs involved, and secondly, because when they get to court they only have the letter of the agreement to work with.

My hon. Friend the Economic Secretary has introduced some important new provisions—an expansion of the remit of the Financial Ombudsman Service to deal with larger businesses with turnover of up to £6 million, and an organisation he got me involved with called the Business Banking Resolution Service, which will deal with businesses with turnover between £6.5 million and £10 million. Businesses with turnover of up to £10 million will be able to take their case to an alternative dispute resolution service at no cost to themselves, and the case will be judged on a fair and reasonable basis. It will mean, effectively, that SMEs have a place to go, but will the Minister consider another alternative that would involve the key principles, including principle 6 of the PRIN rules, which is about treating customers fairly?

Another area that was mentioned in an earlier intervention was the Government’s commitment to make the failure to prevent economic crime a corporate offence. It is great that they have said they will do that, and that will start with a Law Commission review to see how best it can be done. As the Law Commission rightly said, if we do not change the rules on that, the UK risks falling behind international standards, which I am sure we would not want. That is clearly something to bring forward, but it could be done more hastily in the Bill, with a framework added on later, which would expedite the process. That would make a huge difference.

The Serious Fraud Office has tried to take forward many cases—those involving Serco, Barclays and Olympus, for example—but it could not do that because it had to establish a directing mind principle for the people at the top of those organisations before it could proceed with the offence of corporate fraud. The proposed measure would make that much easier. It is great that the Government are willing to take it forward, but they could do so more quickly.

Regulation is tight in the UK on personal and mortgage lending, and in the past—most famously in the case of Northern Rock—we have allowed regulated entities and the owners of mortgage books to sell those books to unregulated entities outside the country, including inactive lenders. There is no doubt that there is a regulatory gap around that. For example, some of the books from Northern Rock were sold into the clutches of Cerberus, an international private equity firm, and the rates charged to individuals, who were often mortgage prisoners, climbed significantly from below 2% to often in excess of 5%. The Financial Conduct Authority has confirmed that, as did the Financial Ombudsman Service in an email, which stated that there is a regulatory gap. I know there is a debate between the Treasury and the FCA about whether there is a regulatory gap between a mortgage book that is owned by an unregulated entity overseas, and one that is regulated in the UK, but the FOS is clear:

“While our standards have some reach into unregulated activity by regulated lenders, since the loan is now owned by an unregulated entity our rules and guidance on lender conduct, including treatment of vulnerable customers do not apply.”

We are allowing a regulatory gap by permitting mortgage loan books to be sold to unregulated entities, and it is my feeling, and that of many others, that that should be stopped, so that a regulated entity can sell a loan book only to another regulated entity.

As I said in an another intervention, we need to be more flexible on prudential risk. These provisions are reducing the opportunity for new entrants to the banking market, particularly regional mutuals, which in other countries have been successful in extending SME finance, particularly through difficult times. Many other jurisdictions, including the US, Germany and Japan, have a high number of regional mutual banks as part of their banking system, and they tend to be far more patient in their provision of capital through difficult times. For example, in the UK, SME lending between 2008 and 2013 reduced by 25%, whereas in Germany it increased during that period by 20%.

There is a real opportunity to use regional mutual banks with a much more long-term approach based on financial inclusion for businesses and individuals, but there are issues about the adequacy of requirements that make the need to raise capital far too high. It would be good to look at this, and to reduce the requirements on that to make it easier for regional mutuals to be established, and also perhaps to use some dormant assets to provide some seed capital for some of these regional mutual banks to make it easier for them to start, get up and get going.

Finally, one that has been discussed before is country-by-country reporting. Again, there is perhaps a place in this legislation for that. We know, despite the best efforts of the Treasury—with the digital services tax, for example, to try to clamp down on the likes of Amazon and others—that companies are bypassing those rules and passing such a levy on to sellers in their marketplace and not applying it to their own sales. We do need to make sure that the large multinationals pay a fair share of their tax. If we look at Google’s accounts, we see that internationally it turns over £137 billion. It had net income on its accounts in the last year of £31 billion, which is a 22% profit margin. The UK turnover is about £10 billion, and with a 22% profit margin, its profits should be about £2.2 billion, so it should pay tax of about £420 million in the UK on 19% corporation tax, but it actually pays about £67 million. So the provisions we have currently, although we have gone further than most countries in trying to make sure that companies pay a fair share of tax, are working to some extent, but not to the extent that we would like. Country-by-country reporting could make a big difference.

I will leave it there, Madam Deputy Speaker. I appreciate the opportunity to discuss those ideas with the House, and I look forward to discussing them at later stages of the Bill.

19:56
Stephen Flynn Portrait Stephen Flynn (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). It is safe to say, as others have done, that this is not a debate that will have folk at home sitting on the edge of their seat awfully excited, that is for sure. None the less, it is an incredibly important debate. It is an incredibly important matter for the UK economy, but also for the Scottish economy, as my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) outlined. The financial services sector in Scotland is incredibly important, and it is linked to tens of thousands of jobs across our nation. It is in that broader context that we are obviously quite content to let this Bill pass on Second Reading, bearing in mind the fact that a regulatory framework is needed at this stage. I hope the Government will be amenable to some of the amendments we will put forward. Those amendments will broadly—how shall I put it?—be borne out of frustration that perhaps the Bill does not necessarily go as far as it could or should go. I will seek to touch on a couple of those matters during my speech today.

The first one I would like to touch on is about clause 31, which is on money laundering. Clause 31 in itself appears to be one that is quite self-congratulatory in its nature. To quote, as I feel is appropriate to do on this occasion, the Government say that the Bill

“will further support the public and private sectors to efficiently and effectively target their resources towards potential criminal activity using trusts, maintaining the resilience of the UK’s defences against economic crime.”

On the face of it, that looks like a fantastic thing, but when we look a little bit more at what we on the SNP Benches have been saying for a number of years now about Scottish limited partnerships, it appears that the warm words of the Government do not actually bear fruit given the reality of the picture on the ground. It should not need to be said to Members on the Government Benches, but when we are talking about Scottish limited partnerships, we are talking about organisations through which people can access financial products without having to name who they are. If that is not an open invitation to money laundering, I do not know what is. When we look at money laundering in the context of Scottish limited partnerships and also of tax avoidance and £35 billion tax gap that exists in the UK at this moment in time, it is probably safe to say that the public are a little bit sceptical about whether the Government take this as seriously as they should.

Our frustrations do not stop there. They also relate to clause 32, on the debt respite scheme. The Government say that clause 32 will

“empower the Government to make regulations which will compel creditors to accept amended repayment terms”.

Again, on the face of it, that seems like a perfectly legitimate and correct thing to do, but does it necessarily address the situation at this moment in time, when businesses across Scotland and the UK have taken out bounce back loans and coronavirus business interruption loans that they will not be able to pay back? Does it meet the reality of the situation? I am very sceptical as to whether it does.

The Government have two options on that front. They could simply write off that debt for small to medium-sized enterprises, which are the lifeblood of our economy, or they could take strategic moves to turn some of that debt into equity stakes, where it would be appropriate to do so, to boost economic activity and perhaps gain some money back for the public purse. Unfortunately, again I am sceptical as to whether the Government will seek to do either of those things. That is not in any way a positive outcome.

Thirdly, I want to touch briefly on clauses 24 to 26, on the overseas funds regime. As my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow Central said, the ABI has expressed concerns about the potential for equivalence to be used as a political football. I think all of us have that concern. We heard warm words from the Chancellor earlier today about the fact that he would not seek to use it as a political football, but being a bit of a sceptic about this Government, I think that warm words from the Chancellor at the Dispatch Box are not quite good enough. The record of this Government when it comes to saying one thing and doing the complete opposite is all too clear for everyone to see, so I have grave concerns in that regard.

The issue of equivalence takes me on to the final point that I wish to make, which is about the ongoing shambles in relation to Brexit. The UK Government website states that the Bill will “promote financial stability”. We do not have a trade deal with the European Union, and the transition period is a matter of weeks away. We do not know whether it will be possible for our financial services to access markets in Europe uninhibited. The scale of that issue is immense, particularly when we consider the fact that the City of London alone accounts for just under a third of all capital market activity across Europe. The market that we are seeking to leave is enormous, and this Government appear to have no plan and no desire to act prudently.

We heard from the Chancellor earlier, and we will probably hear it again from Government Members, that the blame for this lies at the EU’s feet, because it is refusing to partake in discussions in a proper and appropriate way. Who can blame the EU when, as the hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) said, this UK Government are actively seeking to break international law? Who can blame the EU for being a little bit sceptical about the intentions of this Conservative Government? The sabre rattling needs to end, and the Government need to realise that the financial services industry must have the access it needs to support the tens of thousands of jobs that are reliant upon it, not only in England but in Scotland.

To conclude, I want to once again clarify that this Bill is very much born out of necessity, and we broadly support the regulatory framework around it. However, what is clear from this Bill, from the Brexit shambles and from the fact that the UK’s credit rating once again got downgraded just three days before the Bill was published, is that this Tory Government are no longer a Government of financial stability. I long for the day when Scotland no longer has to take its decisions in this place but can take its own decisions as an independent European nation.

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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I call Gareth Davies. I will give him a moment in case he is here—I should have gone to Specsavers. I call Jim Shannon.

20:04
Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP)
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You almost caught me unawares, Madam Deputy Speaker—I thought that the hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies) would be about.

I broadly support what is in the Bill, but I have a couple of requests, as others have had. I want to make three specific points on the LIBOR transition, debt respite and the inadequate FCA regulatory framework for SME lending. I say, first, that it is a pleasure to see the Minister in his place. He is always very responsive to us all on the questions we ask him, and he always keeps a smile on his face—it is always something you do extremely well, even though the questions that we may put to you are hard and perhaps not always put in the way that they should be.

LIBOR, the London interbank offered rate, is an interest rate benchmark used to indicate banks’ costs of funding their activities: for example, the cost of obtaining money for a loan they will make. It has been used and continues to be used as a reference in hundreds of trillions of pounds-worth of financial contracts, so this is a very important issue. The former FCA chief executive officer and now Bank of England Governor, Andrew Bailey, said that after 2021 the FCA will no longer persuade or compel banks to submit the underlying data that goes to calculating LIBOR, causing concern that it could cease to exist. Minister, it is a really big issue for us all, and certainly one that people have contacted me about. There have been many loans in the past and that are still in force where banks have used LIBOR.

I understand that the existing powers on benchmarks granted to the FCA, passed under EU law and to form part of UK law from 2021, are seen as insufficient to ensure a smooth transition away from the use of LIBOR, so again, Minister, perhaps you can give me an answer on that. I welcome, among other things, clauses 8 to 19, which appear to grant the FCA greater powers to compel the continued publication of the benchmarks, to prohibit the use of benchmarks and to oversee the orderly wind-down of benchmarks. I hope that the new FCA chief executive officer will now deploy these powers at the earliest opportunity. Again, Minister, perhaps we will be able to get some indication of a timescale for that, if possible, to assure us on where we are.

I welcome the fact that the Government have made a commitment to Gibraltar. Others have referred to it and others will—it is certainly one of the issues that I am concerned about. This gives peace of mind to that sector and we thank you for that.

Can I, Minister, perhaps underline another issue—

Eleanor Laing Portrait Madam Deputy Speaker (Dame Eleanor Laing)
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Order. The hon. Gentleman cannot say, “Can I, Minister—”. How many millions of times have I said this to the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon)—only usually, I do not, because there is no time and there is a lot going on? Here I have my opportunity: he has heard my request to him a hundred times to please address the Chair. He cannot say, “Minister, will you do this?” And even worse, when he is addressing the Prime Minister, he must not say, “Prime Minister, will you do this?” He has to say, “Will the Prime Minister do this?” and “Will the Minister do this?”—in the third person, not the second person, please.

Jim Shannon Portrait Jim Shannon
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I stand corrected, Madam Deputy Speaker, and I will use my best endeavours to do that. Sometimes I get carried away in the emotion of the debate—it is a very emotional debate, of course—and I find that maybe I do not use the correct words.

Will the Minister look at the issue of money laundering in Northern Ireland? I make that comment because in all the countries across the globe, and particularly in this United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, money laundering is one of the issues that concerns me greatly. We have had many cases of money laundering over the last while, and we have many cases in Northern Ireland where paramilitary groups are involved in clear money laundering activities, which are against the law. With the Bill coming forward, will the Minister be able to give an assurance on money laundering, particularly in Northern Ireland? What discussions have taken place with the regional Assembly and the Minister in the Northern Ireland Assembly with responsibility for policing and justice, and what has been the feedback from that? I think that if we are going to do this well, we have to ensure that contact is made with the regional devolved Administration and that there are discussions outside that, particularly with the Republic of Ireland. Many illegal things are taking place in respect of transport across the border in all places, but we must tackle the ability of paramilitary groups to actively use the border with this purpose in mind.

Secondly, on the debt respite scheme, will the Minister confirm that clause 32 will amend the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 to empower the Government to make regulations that compel creditors to accept amended repayment terms; provide for a charging mechanism through which creditors will contribute to the costs of running the scheme and repayment plans; and include debts owed to a Government Department at any level, including the devolved Administrations, in the statutory debt repayment plan? Again, I make a plea for the Northern Ireland Assembly: what will be the position in relation to any debts that are due? When do the Government expect to bring forward the relevant regulations? What discussions have taken place with the devolved Administrations on the statutory debt repayment plan?

The Treasury will be aware that the Business Banking Resolution Service has to be part of an effective solution under this process. The Democratic Unionist party remains concerned that we are not on track to do that. While the income from financial services is notable, so is the responsibility not only to shareholders but to the Government. We must ensure that that obligation is understood completely by enforcing the BBRS within legislation.

Thirdly and lastly, I refer to the bank lending regulatory framework. I finish with this because I believe it is the most important point. I know that the Minister is fully aware of it from discussions with the DUP and others who have contacted him. I have been in contact with him regularly about this issue since he first spoke about it at the Dispatch Box in January 2019. Of course, I have also been in touch with the Chancellor over the past month. The Minister must agree that it is crucial for SMEs to have the opportunity to export their products and services to the global economy, and the support to do so. I believe that our financial services industry, and banks in particular, must be regulated by the FCA in a much more legally effective way under this Government. Minister, it is very important that we have the bite, so to speak. It is all very well having words, but we need the strength of legislation to govern the banks’ small business lending post-Brexit.

The Government must get this right. I know that they can and I know that there is a will to do so. It is important that the future legal and regulatory framework allows our SMEs to have confidence in the 21st century global economy. I believe we have an opportunity to get it right this time, and it is time to do just that.

Madam Deputy Speaker, I hope that is to your satisfaction. Thank you very much.

20:13
Stephen Hammond Portrait Stephen Hammond (Wimbledon) (Con)
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It is always a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon), as I have on many occasions in this House.

The ambition of the Bill is clearly stated:

“To make provision about financial services and markets; to make provision about debt respite schemes; to make provision about Help-to-Save accounts; and for connected purposes.”

The Minister was absolutely right in his opening remarks that financial services are a key industry for this country. If we are to have a global Britain and a globally successful Britain, financial services—and services in the widest sense—must thrive.

It is also right that the Bill is an important part of trying to ensure that we have the right regulatory framework at the end of the Brexit transition. If we are to remain a world-leading financial centre, it can be guaranteed only by having financial services that are underpinned by a strong and proportionate regulatory framework. The Bill, as the Minister conceded, is the start of that, not the end. I suspect that this is the first of several Bills that will come before us.

If the framework is to do anything at all, it must protect the consumer, enhance competitiveness and, as the Minister said, make the UK an attractive place in which to invest. I welcome the Bill because that is necessary, but it is right to recognise at the outset that, notwithstanding the equivalence regime or the new equivalence criteria that the Chancellor rightly set out this afternoon, as recently as February a briefing paper from the Government stated that the UK hoped to secure “permanent equivalence” that would last for “decades to come”. Indeed, at the time, the Governor of the Bank of England was campaigning for super-equivalence in order to allow a new standard to be set for multilateral collaboration. That would have been a better context in which to be considering these matters this evening; none the less, the Chancellor’s statement this afternoon was welcome. Everyone in this House must now deal with the world as it is, not the world as we would like it to be if it were more economically rational.

This Bill is necessary and it does a number of things to ensure that the regulatory regime is in place at the end of the transition period, and to allow financial services to prosper. It makes a start on sorting out the relationship between Parliament and the regulators, starts to define the accountability and objective of the regulators, and ensures that the regulation and legislation are in place. That will be important as we look forward to 1 January.

A specific of the Bill that I particularly welcome—the Minister touched on this in his opening remarks—is the prudential regulation of investment firms. That recognises, quite rightly, the differing risks between banking businesses and investment management businesses. The Bill aims to put in place a prudential regime that is fit for purpose. That in itself has been widely welcomed across the financial services industry. It sets out four principles, as well as how the implementation of that prudential regulation may recognise the differing capital risks. However, there are some concerns, which I hope the Minister might address later, or about which we will be reassured in Committee.

The first concern is how Parliament is going to scrutinise the principles. I will return to that point in a bit more depth later. The specific issue raised is that Her Majesty’s Treasury intends to revoke the capital requirements regulation with a view to replacing it with standards set out by the PRA that are to be guided by Basel II. However, the Bill contains little clarity on exactly what will be in the PRA regime, how it would differ from the capital requirements regulation or how the Government intend to implement these new measures. I trust that the Minister will set that out today or that it will be clarified in Committee, because it is hugely important to the success of those provisions.

I welcome the provisions on the onshored EU PRIIPs regulation. This has been widely welcomed. It gives the PRA powers to make clarification, but there is an important duty to ensure not only that the regulations put in place are effective, but that they help the investing community and the public, ensuring protection for the consumer. It is not yet clear how those powers are going to be enacted and what is going to be there.

As the Minister has acknowledged, this is a wide-ranging Bill, so I want to touch on a couple of other issues of concern that can probably be cleared up now or in Committee. It is clear that we need to safeguard the ability of our world-renowned investment management industry to offer investment funds from overseas jurisdictions into the UK post transition. As the Minister set out, that is the aim of the Bill. If that were not so, it is clear that 9,000 individual funds would have to seek separate registration. From my reading of the Bill, it is not yet clear whether the temporary permissions regime—the regime which would allow that to continue—must be extended or whether a new, fully functioning regime is to be put in its place. That is important, because it signals the free flow of capital into the UK and signals that the UK remains open for investment and business. I have spoken to a number of those in the investment management industry over the weekend, and there is still some concern in the industry that it is not fully clear how that will operate.

The Bill also clearly states that it is meant to maintain a world-leading regulatory system and, among other things, enhance the competitiveness of the financial services sector, yet if we look at the history of regulation in the United Kingdom, a large number of people believe that the system has often rightly sought to give the consumer extensive protection, but with the cost of over-specification, a lack of accountability and, in terms, a narrowness of focus from the regulator. If the Bill is to achieve its ambitions, the Government need to look at those faults and be clear about how they are going to change them during the Bill’s passage.

The Bill allows for the transfer of hugely increased powers to regulators. The question for us therefore is how we balance the extra powers with the necessary scrutiny and accountability, without encroaching on the necessary independence or eroding consumer protection. I suggest that the Treasury needs to consider carefully what performance objectives it sets the regulators and how it will then manage their measurement. Previously, it has been clear that the overriding objective has been competition, but secondary objectives have been in place, and all too often regulators have not given those the regard that many would have expected. The regulators’ attitude to risk will need further definition if the Bill is to achieve the objective of enhancing and maintaining the UK’s international competitive position.

Who exercises the judgment on whether the criteria are being met and how the trade-off of benefit and risk is determined will be key. Schedule 2 is the key part in determining that. New sections 143G and 143H link to the broader questions of the FCA’s mandate, role and accountability. The Treasury has rightly just recently published a consultation document on the broader review of the framework for financial regulation, so this Bill is the first exploration of the issues around the oversight of the FCA.

New section 143G identifies a number of “Matters to consider” and therefore matters that the FCA must “have regard to”, including the relevant international standards and the effect of the rules on the UK’s international standing. Those are all to be welcomed, but are they really effective? I suggest, first, that the obligation is too weak, as it only requires the FCA to “have regard to”. Secondly, the obligation is too narrow. A number of other issues, such as sustainable growth and employment across regions, should also be part of the mix and part of the consideration. Therefore, I suggest we need to be prepared to go further and consider changing the FCA’s primary objective, or at least strengthening the secondary objective, such that it ranks almost pari passu with the primary objective.

There also needs to be rigorous scrutiny of the regulators’ rule-making powers by Parliament. As I said earlier, the Bill puts in place some major increases in powers for regulators, so it is completely appropriate that Parliament sets the scrutiny and accountability objectives. There are many ways to do that, and I know colleagues will suggest other methods later, but it is clear that one of the great successes has been the OBR, which analyses, scrutinises and gives an independent verdict on financial policy. It may well be appropriate that one of the ways that Parliament holds financial regulators to account is a similar body for financial regulation.

I was encouraged to be short, and I have already taken rather longer than the Whips wanted me to take this evening. I think the Bill is absolutely necessary. Therefore, notwithstanding some of the issues I have raised, and others that I am sure the Minister recognises and will want to address as the Bill progresses, I wish the Bill well and look forward to supporting its Second Reading.

20:24
Nickie Aiken Portrait Nickie Aiken (Cities of London and Westminster) (Con)
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I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this debate and to highlight, as other hon. Members have, the invaluable contribution that the financial and professional services industry makes to UK plc: more than 60,000 companies providing 2.3 million jobs and 10% of the UK’s overall gross value added. While two thirds of those jobs are outside London, I must stand up for my constituency by saying that the City of London alone contributes approximately 25% of the sector’s GVA.

I have spoken to businesses and business groups in the City of London, who are broadly in favour of the Bill’s overarching objectives. They want to see an efficient regulatory framework after our transition from the EU and would welcome in particular changes that help to ensure the UK’s regulatory regimes are more coherent and attractive to international firms. They also strongly believe that the new regime must maintain the highest of global standards to maintain the sector as a strategic national asset and ensure sound capital markets. Businesses also welcome the clear way in which the Treasury and my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury have sought their views in coming to their position and are keen to maintain a dialogue as the Bill and the future regulatory framework review progress.

I will turn, if I may, to address the specific content of the Bill. Businesses in my constituency are supportive of the Bill’s objective to enhance the UK’s world-leading prudential standards and promote financial stability, but they would appreciate clarity from the Government on specific clauses. In particular, with regard to the implementation of Basel III, as some businesses have been working towards the implementation of EU capital requirements regulation 2, further guidance would be welcome on how the UK regime may differ from the EU regime. With regards to the LIBOR wind-down and benchmarking, again I urge the Government to ask the FCA to provide the further detail and clarity that businesses require as soon as possible.

I turn to how the Government intend to promote openness between the UK and international markets. The businesses I spoke to in my constituency again welcome the changes, but, crucially, they would also welcome further clarity on how the Treasury intends to make equivalence decisions under the new frameworks. Business would also welcome assurances from the Government that they will continue to look to improve the UK’s global competitiveness. I would like the Bill to be more explicit in that area and expressly signal the objective to maintain and even expand our competitiveness on the world stage. I hope the Government will continue to work with the financial sector to ensure that that crucial aspect can be developed in relation to further rules and, in particular, when considering differing international tax regimes and access to talent.

I turn to the Bill’s third objective: maintaining the effectiveness of the financial services framework and sound capital markets. These provisions have been broadly welcomed. As businesses in my constituency know that an effective financial services framework has a significant impact on both business and customers, ensuring clarity in regulation and providing sound support mechanism for customers must be welcomed. However, the Bill also enshrines significant powers in regulators. I ask Ministers to consider whether they are satisfied that existing appeal mechanisms are sufficient. Will they increase the level of autonomy given to regulators? May that be worthy of consideration in the House at another time? In that vein, I would welcome from the Government a financial services strategy for the sector. That may enable arm’s length financial regulators to ensure that they interpret the “have regard to” objectives in the context of the Government’s vision for the sector.

Finally, in the light of the ongoing covid-19 crisis, the objective of maintaining sound capital markets should not be underestimated or forgotten. The capital market provides a vital source of funding for businesses, alongside the lending market. The measures in the Bill will help to support a market that is vital to the re-energising of the economy post covid.

I encourage the Government to consider, with one eye to the future, how the Bill demonstrates UK leadership in addressing digital and sustainability-related regulatory challenges, because although a recovery from covid may dominate the short-to-medium term, the continued development of FinTech and our response to the global climate crisis will surely be long-term considerations for the financial sector.

The Bill should be welcomed as a necessary but early step as we leave the EU, but a fuller, more comprehensive overhaul of the UK’s regulatory framework is required to ensure that the UK—and in particular the City of London in my constituency—retains its competitiveness as a global financial centre. I look forward to working with businesses and Treasury Ministers throughout the passage of the Bill and the others that will surely follow to implement the necessary changes to ensure just that. I commend the Bill to the House.

20:31
Richard Fuller Portrait Richard Fuller (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)
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It is a great pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Cities of London and Westminster (Nickie Aiken). As an adviser to a venture capital firm, I draw the House’s attention to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.

I commend the Minister for such a thoughtful and thorough presentation of the Bill on Second Reading. I look forward to the Bill’s passage through the House. I also pay tribute to the Opposition spokesman, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), for his general welcoming of the Bill and for some of the important points that he made. He mentioned two of the contextual factors for the Bill: the financial crisis and Brexit. On the first, one issue that came from the financial crisis was not the absence or otherwise of regulation, but the fact that the regulations themselves were confused, as was the responsibility among different agencies. The various Governments since 2010 have made some progress towards streamlining the regulatory framework, and the Minister talked about further moves to make sure that regulatory organisations and their roles were streamlined.

A second issue from the financial crisis, about which the right hon. Gentleman will be aware from his time on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, was the lack of criminal sanction for the people who broke the law and the effectiveness with which criminal sanction could be brought to bear on those who misused their position in financial services. Through the right hon. Gentleman’s work on that commission, that has now been changed somewhat, and today the Minister presented further steps forward in providing criminal sanction for those who misuse their powers or rights in the financial sector. Those steps are to be welcomed.

On leaving the European Union, I would say from the other side of the argument that Brexit is a great opportunity for the United Kingdom. One of the things we are leaving behind is the scale of the European Union, but that gives us the opportunity to focus on those things that matter most to our country and to have the agility to make changes. On the point of equivalence, about which we have heard some shroud-waving from Opposition Members, my personal view is that the EU will come to regret quite strongly the decision not to provide equivalence on a mutual basis with the UK.

I wish to add three further issues to those contextual factors. The next is that we now have the opportunity to define the role of the financial services sector. We want the sector to be world beating and world leading—the Minister spoke directly about that—but we also need to make sure that, as many Members have said, it contributes to the wider British economy.

The fourth issue has not been commented on today but will be an important test for the regulations under the Bill: the context that we are living through an era of very inflated global assets. What is that going to do to the financial services sector in the next five or 10 years as we unwind the context of quantitative easing and other inflated assets? I would not mind hearing a bit from the Minister on that when he responds.

The fifth point, which the Minister touched on, is on innovation and technology. These regulations will meet a period of much more substantial technological change in finance. This country will be faced with choices between regulation and innovation, and trade-offs will need to be made. Unfortunately, too often in this House, we make vacuous statements about regulations. We talk about maintaining a gold standard on regulations or avoiding a race to the bottom on regulations. Both those statements are completely meaningless because they are entirely in the eye of the beholder. They mean nothing when we communicate them to one another. We should be focusing not on how tough regulations sound when we talk about them, but on how effective those regulations are in doing what we wish them to do. What is important about regulations is that they do what they are supposed to do and no more.

There are obviously some areas where regulation is important, as we have seen in the Bill in relation to protecting vulnerable customers. I welcome those measures in the Bill, but it is important to have regulation that promotes competition rather than entrenching established interests. There is a balance to be struck there in terms of innovation, which it will be interesting to discuss. There is also an important need to avoid systemic risk, which has been mentioned.

What concerns me, on the day when we are celebrating the vaccine, is that in our zealousness in this House to impose regulations, we forget that the innovations of private sector companies left to their own devices often provide the best outcomes for the people of our country and around the world. Pfizer, the company that has developed the vaccine we are talking about today, directly refused any Government assistance because it did not want the regulation and bureaucratic hand-holding that came with it. Sometimes we feel that the private sector is unable to deliver things that are a public good, but the truth of the matter is that most public goods are delivered either directly or indirectly by the actions of private companies and private citizens, and not by state diktat. The Bill has to provide the underpinning for that principle of deregulation and freedom for innovation, and for the opportunity for us to take advantage of our leaving the European Union. It must not provide a cloud of regulation that makes us feel good when we talk about it but does not actually do what it says when it is brought to test.

One of my concerns about the Bill is that we might be putting too much reliance on regulatory agencies. This was mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and I know it will be mentioned by other hon. Friends later. There is a subsidiary tendency for us, in our zealousness to regulate, to then pass these matters on to a regulatory agency. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) made the point that there is too little parliamentary oversight of such regulatory agencies. We do not have the necessary mechanisms in this Parliament. I hope that, as we progress the Bill, the Minister will consider that, given what is contained in the essence of the Bill.

20:37
Bim Afolami Portrait Bim Afolami (Hitchin and Harpenden) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am reminded of something that Lyndon Johnson, who is a bit of a political hero of mine, said at some point in the 1960s when he was talking about speeches on economics and finance. I hope I do not test your indulgence too much, Mr Deputy Speaker, because he said that making a speech on economics was a bit like peeing down your leg: it seems hot to you, but never to anyone else. I am reminded of that before I embark on my detailed comments on the Bill. I strongly welcome the Bill, and I do not want to repeat what other hon. Members have said about the good things in it. I speak as a former corporate lawyer working in strategy and restructuring at HSBC. Before that, I was a corporate lawyer at Freshfields and at Simpson Thatcher. Over the weekend, I was speaking to several people in the industry, including a constituent who I happen to have done a few deals with in the past—a man called Tim Lewis, who is an expert on financial regulation at Travers Smith. There are technical points I want to make to the Minister, and indeed I have written to him separately on some of them. I do not expect him to deal with them all in his summing up, but I think they are worth considering. He is looking forward to that, I can tell.

The Bill’s core purpose is to ensure a regulatory regime that continues to operate effectively after the end of the transition period at the end of this year. The first point I want to make is that the Bill empowers the FCA to impose obligations directly on certain parent undertakings of MiFID—markets in financial instruments directive—investment firms. But the current parent undertaking concepts in the Bill go beyond the equivalent EU legislative drafting in two important ways. I will not bore the House by going through that in immense detail, but proposed new clause 143B uses the wider concept of authorised parent undertaking. That matters because, effectively, it covers any entity that is regulated by the FCA. In its discussion paper, the FCA indicates that it currently regulates about 3,000 MiFID investment firms. However, it states on its website that it regulates nearly 60,000 firms in total. Those additional firms include, for example, small credit brokerages and insurance intermediaries. Therefore, the current proposal is, in short, a huge expansion of FCA power over smaller firms, going much further than what the equivalent European regulators can do. That is something we have to think about.

There is another way in which the proposals go beyond the EU regulation, and that is in relation to non-authorised parent undertakings. Today, it is accepted that parent undertakings will be caught by the regime where those undertakings are incorporated in the UK. However, it is not the case that any parent undertaking that has a UK office will be caught by the current regime. For example, a US-incorporated holding company with a US head office and a UK branch would ordinarily be out of scope of the rules.

Why does that matter? It matters because if the definition of non-authorised undertaking is retained in its current form in the Bill and is adopted by the FCA, that would lead to a significant expansion of the current rules. The effect might be to require some firms to restructure to close down existing UK branches of overseas businesses. It might push firms to ensure that overseas holding companies that carry out no substantive operating activities cease all UK activity, such as holding meetings in the UK, to avoid having a UK place of business. Again, this is a technical point, but it is an important one. To come to some of the points that have already been made, the Bill sees a big expansion of FCA powers, and we have to be very careful about that, particularly as we come out of the transition period and they expand beyond what is happening in the European Union. That is a particularly important point.

I also speak as the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden. In my constituency, I have not only many people who work in financial services, but some small financial services firms. The technical term for one group of firms is exempt CAD—capital adequacy directive—firms. The Bill and the FCA discussion paper leave open the question of how such firms will be treated. These firms are investment consulting, corporate finance and private equity firms, and their activities are limited to giving investment advice and arranging deals. In that sense, they do not hold much money; they are effectively providing advisory services. Today, they have a capital requirement of €50,000. The default position in the Bill is that the new rules will apply to them in full. If that is the case, many will see a significant increase in their capital requirements shortly after losing the benefit of the cross-border EU services passport, which some of them use. The Bill again effectively leaves it to the FCA to determine whether to make an exemption or transitional provision for these firms. Again, I make the point that the FCA needs to be scrutinised really carefully in relation to the powers it has under the Bill.

When making rules to implement and maintain parts of the investment firms prudential regime, the FCA will be required to have regard to a new list of matters. I do not want to repeat all the points made by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond), but these matters relate to important public policy considerations, including the relative standing of the UK as a place for internationally active investment firms to carry on activities. This point needs clarifying a bit further, whether from the Treasury Bench or in the Bill. It is clear what the Treasury is trying to do. It is trying to have a balanced approach between maintaining our reputation as a safe financial services centre in regulatory terms and ensuring that we do not fall too far behind other jurisdictions in our general attractiveness. However, I think we need to push the regulators much harder. I would like further clarity in this Bill on how regulators will need to actively seek to ensure that the UK financial services industry will be able, first, to support the UK economy and our ability to compete with overseas firms internationally, in addition to the UK’s relative attractiveness as a place to do business. This may sound like a technical difference, but I assure the House that it is not. If we do not clarify this and do not choose to try to expand the regulator’s requirement to think about our relative standing and competitiveness, not just in relation to this investment firms’ prudential regime, but across all of its rule making, I fear that this may be another example of the creeping weight of regulation and complexity that we have seen in recent years. I ask the Minister to confirm that the Government will at least consider publishing a financial services strategy in due course.

I wish to talk about how we are going to scrutinise the regulators and how this House and indeed this Parliament as a whole can do that more effectively. It is clear to me that the weight and volume of legislation and regulations after we leave the transition period will be quite significant, and I urge the Minister to consider strongly, within the review that the Treasury is already conducting, setting up a specialist financial services Committee in this House, perhaps a Joint Committee with the House of Lords, to consider not just statutory instruments that come through this House, but the actions of our regulator. What happens without that detailed oversight, involving a specialist group of people who are spending a huge amount of time on it? Financial services regulation is technical, as everybody in this House who has been listening to me for the past 10 minutes knows. We need to consider that.

My hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) made the point about the huge changes in global finance—the growth in asset prices, and the increasing role of central banks and quantitative easing. Regulators are playing a huge role in those decisions, yet the oversight by Parliament is relatively slight. So I want the Government to consider how we can strengthen this House’s ability to scrutinise our regulators, particularly as they are getting a huge number of powers in this Bill. However, I would like to finish by saying that I commend the Bill, the Minister—I know the hard work he has been doing—and his team. I also commend the industry, which has been feeding in and discussing the Bill with the Government and other Members. The Bill is very important. It is a landmark Bill. I am sure there will be more financial services Bills to come, and I support it.

20:48
Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With the leave of the House, I should like to respond to the debate and pick up on a few of the contributions made over the last couple of hours. The hon. Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin) spoke of historic turning points, citing the change of presidency and the potentially huge announcement today on a workable vaccine. She is right about those, but I thought it was a bit of a stretch to include this Bill in the same bracket, as a historic turning point.

The hon. Member for Edinburgh West (Christine Jardine) spoke of the importance of financial services jobs in her constituency and in many other parts of the country. The hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake), as chair of the all-party group on fair business banking, spoke of some of the past banking scandals, mistreatment of small businesses and so on. The hon. Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) told us that this might be the first of several such Bills, which gives us all something to look forward to in these long winter nights. He gently and right reminded us of the contrast between where we are and what was promised. He and the hon. Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) focused on the issue of accountability frameworks and the role of Parliament. That is very important because—let us be honest—that is what the discussion will be like in the Treasury. We have this big increase in regulatory focus in the UK. We have these existing regulators. We are going to pass a lot of this new power to the regulators through the onshoring of these directives and MPs will be standing up in Parliament saying, “Well, what about our role in this?” I suspect there is some scepticism about giving Members of this House a very active role in these regulations.

Exactly the same discussion took place during the financial crisis. Here, in the United States and in other countries, emergency measures had to be introduced and decisions had to be taken quickly by Executives, and the discussion was: what role for elected politicians? Hon. Members can be sure that there will be significant resistance to giving MPs in this House a big role in things such as capital ratios or whatever else is being discussed.

We will continue to debate these issues. To recap, our approach will be to protect consumers and the wider economy as these measures go through; and to focus on accountability frameworks and try to bring them closer to the policy aims of finance and what it can really do. We have broadened our understanding of that. The Chancellor, whether he meant to or not, has opened the door for us to discuss that through his statement this afternoon on the importance of green finance. Thirdly, our approach will be to try to ensure that this globally significant industry operates on the basis of finance that is clean, that is not a place for illicit funding and stops any race to the bottom on standards.

I look forward to debating these things with the Minister in Committee, but it is impossible not to contrast what is before us with what was promised all the way through and what was said earlier. The announcement today on equivalence is not taking back control; it is the opposite of taking back control. It was a symbol of our lack of control. It was, in fact, an act of unilateral financial disarmament. We decided to give companies operating here, for reasons of market continuity, the right to continue to practise. I understand why that was done, but the fact that we have no guarantee of what the response will be is a symbol of where we have ended up. It is certainly not taking back control. I fervently hope that that move is reciprocated, because that is in the interests of UK companies that are trading abroad, jobs here and this very important industry, but the fact that we cannot guarantee it and have no control over it speaks volumes about where we have ended up in this process.

The announcements on green finance were welcome, but they are not in the Bill. We have to ask why not, given that the Chancellor chose today to make his announcements, just an hour or so before we started debating the Bill. I am sure we will discuss that as we go forward.

To repeat, we have to have a UK-based system as a consequence of leaving the EU, and we will not oppose the Bill because we understand that reality, but that does not balance out or make up for the significant downgrading of our globally important financial services sector in the Brexit negotiations that are taking place at the moment. The fact that it is not front and centre in what we are trying to negotiate speaks volumes about where we have ended up.

20:54
John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

With the leave of the House, I too would like to speak a second time.  I thank hon. and right hon. Members for their contributions and I welcome the broad support that I believe exists across the House on the Bill. Clearly, I will not be able to address all the points that have been made, but I have taken extensive notes and I shall write to colleagues where I feel I can say something meaningful at this point. But I look forward to further comments to address some of these points in Committee.

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) is right to say that the UK is a key player in the global effort to ensure that globally active banks are subject to strong regulation. I have huge respect for him and his experience in Government. I think he set out very clearly and plainly the fundamental challenges with which we are grappling in this industry. The track record we have in the United Kingdom should give him and other Members comfort that this Government have no intention of watering down regulations that have been agreed on the international stage. High-quality, agile and responsive regulation is absolutely key to the continuing success of the UK financial services sector and to addressing the potential challenges raised by my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire (Richard Fuller) in his characteristically powerful speech.

On the matter of equivalence, I would like to address the wide-ranging questions from across the House. Equivalence assessments are an autonomous technical process. We have been clear from the beginning that the politicisation of equivalence is in no one’s interests. We are committed to an outcome-based approach. That means acknowledging how different approaches to regulation can achieve the same regulatory objectives.

A number of Members, including the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East, raised green finance. While he acknowledges that it is not directly related to the Bill—he wonders why—I hope the measures announced today show that the Government take their commitments in the green finance space very seriously. I look forward to engaging with him on the substantive points about how regulatory oversight works with the announcements made today.

I welcome the comments from the hon. Members for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss) and for Aberdeen South (Stephen Flynn) regarding overseas trust. The Government are taking proportionate and effective action to prevent the misuse of trust, through clause 31. The Government also intend to implement a register, the first of its kind, of beneficial owners of overseas entities that own or buy land in the UK.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Will the Minister give way?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would be very happy to give way, as always.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We both know that the Registration of Overseas Entities Bill was a Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Bill. Does the Minister have any further gen on what happened to it and when it might come back to this House?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think I have demonstrated that I have quite a lot to deal with in the Treasury, but I would be very happy to correspond with the hon. Lady further on the status of that Bill. I know she takes a very close interest in those matters.

On the hon. Lady’s words on the duty of care, the Government believe that the FCA, the UK’s independent conduct regulator, is best placed to evaluate the merits of a duty of care. She will know that last year the FCA published a feedback statement on its discussion paper on duty of care and announced that it will undertake further work to examine how best to address potential deficiencies in consumer protection, in particular by reference to its principles for businesses. The Government will continue to engage with the FCA, as I have done during my time in office, on a very regular basis.

The first objective of the Bill is to enhance the UK’s world-leading prudential standards and promote financial stability. On that theme, my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Bim Afolami) asked a number of characteristically insightful questions that I expect to cover in detail in Committee. But I will also look to respond to his letter urgently.

Let me address the constructive points made by all Members on the important issue of the democratic oversight of the regulation of the financial services sector. Our independent expert regulators are a key strength of the UK’s existing framework. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East and my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) should be reassured that it is these expert regulators who will be setting the firm-level requirements. We therefore think that they should continue to play a central role in developing and maintaining regulatory standards, in line with their statutory objectives. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon pointed out, that must be balanced with appropriate strategic policy input from Government and parliamentary scrutiny.

This Bill delivers for the specific purposes of implementing the remaining Basel standards and introducing a new prudential framework for investment firms. It introduces an enhanced accountability framework, specifying regulatory principles that the regulators must have regard to, as well as additional consultation and reporting requirements for the regulators when implementing the changes in the Bill. That sits alongside their existing statutory objectives. In addition, I recently issued a consultation on broader reforms to the regulatory framework as a whole: the future regulatory framework review. As I noted in my earlier remarks, this Government are committed to promoting openness to overseas markets. That is the Bill’s second objective.

My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire (Harriett Baldwin), who is one of my predecessors, spoke to our ambitions for building our relationship with the USA in the area of financial services. I value her comments. It is important that we continue to maintain a truly global outlook, and we have well developed regulator-to-regulator relationships. I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst (Sir Robert Neill) for his intervention concerning the Gibraltar authorisation regime. A number of Members mentioned the overseas funds regime, for which I am grateful, and I hope that the complexity of this technical measure can be fully discussed in Committee.

As our third objective, it is essential that we maintain the effectiveness of the financial services regulatory framework and sound capital markets. I have outlined the measures in the Bill that will help to achieve both those things. Finally, I listened with particular interest to the typically well-informed speech from my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). He covered a lot of important issues, some of which I may have heard before, and I look forward to discussing them further, as I always do; we do discuss these matters further, and we do make progress on some of them.

This Bill is a critical first step in taking control of our financial services legislation. As I said, it has three objectives: to enhance the UK’s world-leading prudential standards and promote financial stability, to promote openness to overseas markets, and to maintain the effectiveness of the financial services regulatory framework and sound capital markets. I am confident that the Bill will succeed in achieving all three, and I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.

Financial Services Bill (Programme)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Financial Services Bill:

Committal

1. The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.

Proceedings in Public Bill Committee

2. Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 3 December 2020.

3. The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets. Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading

4. Proceedings on Consideration and any proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.

5. Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.

6. Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.

Other proceedings

7. Any other proceedings on the Bill may be programmed.—(David T. C. Davies.)

Financial Services Bill (Ways and Means)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 52(1)(a))

That, for the purposes of any Act resulting from the Financial Services Bill, it is expedient to authorise provision enabling sums payable in respect of a debt in accordance with a repayment plan under the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018 to be payable towards costs of operating repayment plans of the debt respite scheme operated under that Act.—(David T. C. Davies.)

Financial Services Bill (First sitting)

Committee stage & Committee Debate: 1st sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Financial Services Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 17 November 2020 - (17 Nov 2020)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: †Philip Davies, Dr Rupa Huq
† Baldwin, Harriett (West Worcestershire) (Con)
† Cates, Miriam (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
† Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
† Davies, Gareth (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
† Eagle, Ms Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)
Flynn, Stephen (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
† Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)
† Jones, Andrew (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
† McFadden, Mr Pat (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
† Marson, Julie (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
† Millar, Robin (Aberconwy) (Con)
† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
† Richardson, Angela (Guildford) (Con)
† Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majestys Treasury)
† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
† Thewliss, Alison (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
Kevin Maddison, Nicholas Taylor, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Witnesses
Victoria Saporta, Director of Prudential Policy, Prudential Regulation Authority
Sheldon Mills, Interim Executive Director of Strategy and Competition, Financial Conduct Authority
Edwin Schooling Latter, Head of Markets Policy, Financial Conduct Authority
Simon Hills, Director, Prudential Regulation, UK Finance
Daniel Chichocki, Director, LIBOR transition, UK Finance
Paul Richards, Managing Director, Head of Market Practice and Regulatory Policy, International Capital Markets Association
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 17 November 2020
[Philip Davies in the Chair]
Financial Services Bill
09:25
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Before we begin, I have a few preliminary announcements: please switch electronic devices to silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during sittings. Can I emphasise the importance of social distancing? Spaces available to Members are clearly marked. As you can see, not all Members can fit around the horseshoe. Will Members sitting at the side of the Room or in the Public Gallery please use the standing microphone if they wish to ask a question?

Today we will first consider the programme motion on the amendment paper. We will then consider a motion to enable the reporting of written evidence for publication, and then a motion to allow us to deliberate in private on our questions before the oral session begins. In view of the time available, I hope we can take these matters without debate. I call the Minister to move the programme motion standing in his name, which was discussed yesterday by the Programming Sub-Committee for this Bill.

Ordered,

That—

(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 9.25 am on Tuesday 17 November) meet—

(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 17 November;

(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 19 November;

(c) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 24 November;

(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 26 November;

(e) at 9.25 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 1 December;

(f) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 3 December;

(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following table:

Table

Date

Time

Witness

Tuesday 17 November

Until no later than 10.25 am

Prudential Regulation Authority; Financial Conduct Authority

Tuesday 17 November

Until no later than 10.55 am

UK Finance

Tuesday 17 November

Until no later than 11.25 am

International Capital Market Association

Tuesday 17 November

Until no later than 2.45 pm

The Investment Association

Tuesday 17 November

Until no later than 3.30 pm

TheCityUK; City of London Corporation

Tuesday 17 November

Until no later than 4.00 pm

The Association for Financial Markets in Europe

Tuesday 17 November

Until no later than 4.30 pm

The British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association

Tuesday 17 November

Until no later than 5.00 pm

StepChange Debt Charity

Thursday 19 November

Until no later than 12.15 pm

Spotlight on Corruption

Thursday 19 November

Until no later than 2.45 pm

The Association of British Insurers

Thursday 19 November

Until no later than 3.30 pm

Transparency International

Thursday 19 November

Until no later than 4.15 pm

The Finance Innovation Lab; Positive Money

Thursday 19 November

Until no later than 5.00 pm

Hon Albert Isola MP, Minister for Digital, Financial Services and Public Utilities, Her Majesty’s Government of Gibraltar



(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clause 1; Schedule 1; Clause 2; Schedule 2; Clauses 3 to 5; Schedule 3; Clauses 6 and 7; Schedule 4; Clauses 8 to 21; Schedule 5; Clause 22; Schedules 6 to 8; Clauses 23 and 24; Schedule 9; Clauses 25 to 27; Schedule 10; Clause 28; Schedule 11; Clauses 29 to 44; new Clauses; new Schedules; remaining proceedings on the Bill;

(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Thursday 3 December.—(John Glen.)

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(John Glen.)

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Copies of written evidence that the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room. I call the Minister to move the motion about deliberating in private.

Resolved,

That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(John Glen.)

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will now go into private session to discuss lines of questioning.

09:26
The Committee deliberated in private.
Examination of Witnesses
Victoria Saporta, Sheldon Mills and Edwin Schooling Latter gave evidence.
00:05
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q We now resume our public sitting. We will hear evidence from Victoria Saporta from the Prudential Regulation Authority and Sheldon Mills and Edward Schooling Latter from the Financial Conduct Authority, all remotely. Before calling the first Member to ask a question, I remind Members that all questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill and that we must stick to the timings in the programme motion that the Committee agreed. We have until 10.25 am, at which point I must cut off this session. Do any members of the Committee wish to declare any relevant interests in connection with the Bill? No. In which case I call the first witnesses. Could you please introduce yourselves for the record?

Victoria Saporta: Good morning everyone, and good morning, Chair. I am Vicky Saporta, executive director for prudential policy in the PRA within the Bank of England.

Sheldon Mills: Good morning. I am Sheldon Mills, interim executive director of strategy and competition at the Financial Conduct Authority.

Edwin Schooling Latter: Good morning all. I am Edwin Schooling Latter, director of markets and wholesale policy at the Financial Conduct Authority.

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q It is good to have you before us for this first session. I have a question for each of you, but I will start with Vicky. Obviously there is a strong working relationship between the regulators and the Treasury. It would be really helpful if you could explain how your organisations worked with the Treasury on the preparation of the Bill.

Victoria Saporta: Thank you for the question, Mr Glen. Yes, we worked closely together, as you would expect for a Bill that proposes to revoke elements of the acquis and give the regulators specific powers. Ultimately, of course, it is for the Government to introduce the Bill and for Parliament to take it forward. However, the working relationship was very close, and because of that we are content with the content of the Bill and the proposed measures.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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Q Shall I move to Sheldon? One of the themes that has already come out in early observations is around the commitment, or not, to maintain our highest international standards. I just ask you to make any observations about that, in terms of that commitment and how you will ensure that that continues.

Sheldon Mills: We have had close interaction with you and your officials throughout the drafting of this Bill, and also the preparations for a new UK financial regulatory system, as we move to exit from the EU. We think it is important that there is an agile and confident UK financial services regulatory system, which will support the UK financial services industry and, importantly, also protect consumers and ensure market stability. We feel that the Bill is a good first step in that direction, to enable us to play our role in those goals and objectives for the UK financial services industry.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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Q Thank you, Sheldon. If I could move to Edwin, one of the 17 measures in the Bill deals with the wind-down of the LIBOR benchmark, which is an incredibly complex process by which we are giving the FCA power. Could you explain to the Committee how you see the FCA executing the power and using it in practice?

Edwin Schooling Latter: Yes, of course. Committee members will be aware that LIBOR is a benchmark that has had a troubled past. It is also a benchmark that probably does not suit the needs of its users as well as some alternatives; but it is very deeply embedded in the financial system, so while we think it is the right thing to move towards the end of LIBOR and its replacement with better alternatives, we need to be able to do that in an orderly way. The provisions in front of you contain some important measures to enhance the FCA’s powers to manage an orderly wind-down—for example, to identify the point at which the benchmark is no longer sustainable and to take measures to ensure that its publication ceases in the least disruptive way possible for the many hundreds of thousands of contract holders who have mortgages or more complex financial instruments that reference the benchmark in some way.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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Thank you. That is all.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
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Before I begin, can I get some sense from you, Mr Davies, about whether we can have a few questions?

None Portrait The Chair
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Yes, absolutely. Fire away.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Q Thank you. I would like to begin with you, Vicky. The Bill goes through a process of onshoring a number of EU directives that are concerned with financial services. Can you tell us conceptually whether there is a difference between the way the UK regulators tend to go about their business or think about these things, compared with the way the various EU directives have been drawn up, debated and discussed in the EU institutions until now?

Victoria Saporta: Yes, I am happy to do so. The way the EU tends to function in terms of regulations—particularly banking regulations, which are part of the provisions of the Bill that relate to the PRA—tends to be quite unique relative to other non-EU regulators. Essentially the Commission proposes very technical regulations, which in banking are often agreed by technocrats in the Basel environment—in the Basel committee—and then these are debated in the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers, and become directly-applicable law. The reason for that way of doing it relates to the single market, so that every EU member state has exactly the same regulations. As I said, that is very unique. Every other member of the Basel committee, for example—all the G20 jurisdictions with the exception of Switzerland, which is another federal democracy—would have its regulators applying these technical rules that they have themselves negotiated internationally.

Pre the treaty of Lisbon and before the single market rulebook, this was the way that regulation was done in the UK through the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. Primary legislation set out the objectives, framework and constraints through which regulators would operate and the regulators would then go about implementing the rules for the purpose, so that they could achieve the objectives that Parliament would have set for them.

Traditionally, UK regulators have done that in the prudential sphere, which is my current sphere. To preserve safety and soundness and contribute to financial stability, the PRA currently has a secondary objective of facilitating competition, but with the remit that the Government give them and always with an eye to preserving responsible openness and dynamism.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Q If you are a bank that wants to lobby about the rules or a trade body representing financial institutions, do you think there is any advantage in your lobbying in one of these systems or the other—the more rule-based one or the more flexible one that you have outlined? Which is the more open to lobbying?

Victoria Saporta: There is a considerable body of empirical research that suggests that regulatory independence is strongly correlated with stronger financial stability. Particularly in the banking system, there are lower losses under stress. One of the reasons for that is because regulators—at least in theory, but I happen to believe from my experience that that is the practice—potentially have longer horizons than Governments, and therefore regulatory independence tends to be more robust to such lobbying in the longer term, subject, of course, to accountability and objectives set by Parliament.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Q Thank you. Sheldon, I want to ask you about the accountability framework in the Bill. It asks you and the PRA to take account of various things. In going about your work in the FCA of regulating conduct, products and so on that financial bodies distribute, what account is taken of wider Government objectives? I am thinking most obviously of things such as the net zero commitment and the legislation that has been passed for that. Do you consider those things or do you say: “Look, our day job is the fairness and stability of financial products and it’s somebody else’s job to worry about that”?

Sheldon Mills: It is a good question. The starting point is our statutory objectives. We set our priorities for the year and also over three years on the basis of our statutory objectives, which are consumer protection, competition and market integrity. We then work out whether, serving those objectives, certain types of activities will help protect consumers, and help us ensure market integrity or further competition.

If you take the example of net zero, it is quite clear, regardless of where Government’s ambitions are in relation to net zero, that the move towards net zero forms a part of the issues that we face globally in terms of climate change. Those are risks in the economy and therefore impact the firms that we regulate and in turn may impact the consumers that we seek to protect. In a sense, we have little choice but to consider and be cognisant of Government’s aims in relation to net zero, because if we are not thinking about those climate risks and challenges, which our firms face, we would not be doing our job and serving our statutory objectives.

Quite often, you find that the aims of Government are merely looking at some of the risks that are impacting markets, impacting the firms, and therefore it is right and proper that we have work in relation to those areas, and we do have work in relation to net zero and climate change.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Q Thank you very much. My final question is to Mr Latter. In the onshoring of all these EU directives, where do you see, if you like, the main opportunities not to do things that the directives currently mandate us to do? Where are the divergence opportunities for the UK financial services sector?

Edwin Schooling Latter: In answering that question, I think that an important starting point is to recognise that the UK regulators, including the FCA, played a very large role in designing a lot of that EU regulatory framework. So the overall picture is definitely one where we support the nature of that framework and the provisions within it. There are a few areas where compromises to span 28 countries perhaps do not suit as well as they might the particular circumstances of UK markets. I think that there are some areas, for example in the MiFID regime, where we could look at an approach that was better calibrated to the UK’s capital market infrastructure, but areas where we would diverge are the exception rather than the rule.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Thank you.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
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Q I have a couple of questions, first to the FCA. Can you explain a wee bit more why you feel that you need a change in primary legislation in order to remove companies from your register?

Sheldon Mills: We have an obligation under FSMA such that all authorised firms will sit on our financial services register, and that allows a sense of public transparency as to who is authorised and what they are authorised to do. As the Committee may or may not know, we regulate tens of thousands of firms, upwards of 60,000 firms, so the register is quite large. The current rules allow firms that are authorised on the register to maintain their registration even though their activities are, in effect, dormant and they are not actually carrying out certain financial services. We need to give them rights to be heard in order to remove them from the register, and that takes time. Therefore, having a different regime, whereby we can give notice to firms that their removal might be pending unless they prove to us that they are active, is going to be a much more efficient and effective way of operating the register. This is important because harms are occasioned by the presence on the register of dorman firms. There is the activity of cloning, whereby firms use dormant names on the register to practise certain fraudulent and scam activity, which is a significant problem that we are seeking to tackle. We are committed, of course, to removing people from the register as swiftly as possible, but the provisions in the Bill will really help to accelerate that for us.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Q Thank you. Is there a reason why you cannot just remove them now? Is that more a resourcing issue than a legality issue?

Sheldon Mills: It is not a resourcing issue as such. The process that one needs to go through in order to remove somebody from the register is time and resource-intensive and requires quite a lot of back and forth to execute, so this will be a more efficient process, which still respects the right of the person on the register to explain to us that they are using their licence or authorisation, but which will allow us to move forward a bit more quickly.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Q I think that you referred to 60,000 firms. What proportion of that 60,000 would you expect to remove from the register by using this process?

Sheldon Mills: I will need to come back to you on that.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Q Okay, thank you. Let me move on to other issues, about capacity. It is a huge amount of regulation coming back to the UK. Do you feel at the moment that you have sufficient capacity to deal with this, given the huge amount of responsibility that you are taking on, in addition to the pandemic and everything else that is happening?

Sheldon Mills: We can always do with more resources—that is a common refrain of regulators. Naturally, we will have to reorder our priorities in order to ensure that we are able to take on the onshored rules, to provide them with the right level of attention and make the right decisions. They will fall into two categories. Some we will be able to accept quite quickly and onshore reasonably easily, but others will have areas where we will rightly need to work through how they sit within the specifics of the UK market in a post-Brexit world, and they may take a little more time. All of them will require some form of consultation with the public, so that will take some time. I feel, however, that we have the expertise, experience and knowledge that certainly help us to have the head start on onshoring.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Q On the risk of a cliff edge, Nausicaa Delfas of the FCA said that financial services face a cliff-edge situation in January. She raised particular issues with derivatives trading, the transfer of personal data and offering services to customers in the UK. Are there any improvements that could be made to the Bill in order to smooth that transition and make that process a bit simpler and easier?

Sheldon Mills: I do not think so. What Ms Delfas was referring to is the need for firms to ensure that they are making efforts to be ready for transition. We have worked with firms and the Prudential Regulation Authority to ensure that firms are ready for transition. When we describe a “cliff edge”, what one is describing is the need to ensure that we are prepared for what we know is coming. We are working closely with firms and putting the right sort of pressure on them to be ready for that point.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Okay. I will leave some questions for colleagues.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
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Q Mr Mills, I wonder whether you could say a little more about the resource implications of the Bill. An awful lot of our financial services regulation—well, all of it—used to go on in the European Union, but now that is ending and all these complex and technical issues are being onshored. That must be the cause of a huge amount of extra technical work for the FCA, and in fact for the PRA. Is the FCA getting any extra resources? Are you trying to import all the people who used to live in Brussels back into the FCA?

Sheldon Mills: As I said, we have a significant amount of expertise in the United Kingdom. The reason we have that expertise is that—I have to be careful how I put this—much of the financial services legislation that has come about in the EU, the UK has fully participated in, often leading on the legislation. If we take the investment firms prudential regime, which is in the Bill, our colleagues at the FCA were leaders in that space, setting the pace and direction in the EU. So I think we have the expertise and the experience.

When I think about resources, there are areas where we will need to consider hiring more people, in particular the area of prudential expertise—that is a specific area within the FCA where we will need to hire. We will need to consider our resourcing carefully, as more parts of the acquis are onshored, but currently, where we stand, we think we are capable of moving around our resources in order to meet the demands.

The impact that it could have is of course the speed at which we are able to turn to the different pieces of legislation. If the ask was to do everything on day one, there would be an impact on resources; if we have a sensible framework and approach, I think we can manage.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
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Q Mr Mills, I am glad you think you can manage but, given that this onshoring is happening, we have already seen the beginnings of some quite fierce competition—if I may put it in a non-technical way—to nick some of the financial services that we have in this country and to take them abroad. We have already seen quite a competitive and non-co-operative environment develop, seeing who can get what when we are outside the European Union. That is an entirely new form of activity that somehow you have to take account of, and that has not had to be taken account of in the past.

Are you sure that will not cause your resources to be stretched in a way that you had not anticipated? For example, if we have to approve new ways of doing things, onshore all these things and get new systems up and running, those who might wish to carry on can just shift to the internal market and carry on doing things, without having to wait for all the consultations that you and your colleagues will be doing to try to re-establish a UK-based regulatory system.

Sheldon Mills: The starting point is that the foundations of the system are clear to all financial services markets in the UK, so there will not be a gap that means organisations will not know the type of regulatory system that they expect when they are authorised a licence to operate in the UK. We will ensure that that is maintained and is clear throughout the transition and into the future.

On what I think you are referring to as the competitive regulatory system that we might enter into, I can assure you that we are engaged internationally through all international bodies. We play leadership roles in the ESB, the Financial Stability Board and all sorts of international bodies in financial services. Therefore, we are key actors in regulatory systems and the latest approaches to regulation across the world, and that will also support our being a sensible regulatory environment in which firms wish to operate. We are clearly engaged with negotiations and discussions with the European Securities and Markets Authority in relation to a range of regulatory activity, so I am confident that we will not have any significant gaps or issues that would cause issues for the UK financial services industry or for those who wish to come and play an active role in that industry.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
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Q Thank you. It appears that the EU will not be in a position to offer us any equivalence, or to certify any of the things that we are doing as equivalent, until at least the middle of next year. There are noises that we will be diverging in some of the areas that we are re-onshoring. You said that would be the exception rather than the rule. Can you give us a bit more information on how divergence will work? I am concerned that the Bill has its Committee stage this side of the transition, and then its Report stage the other side of the transition, when we might be in a different situation. Are you planning for there to be big importations of new stuff into the Bill at the last minute?

Sheldon Mills: The Bill is a matter for Government to take through Parliament. The important thing for us, as regulators, is that the Bill provides us with sufficient flexibility to meet the needs that we face as we move through the transition and into the future. In a sense, the Bill is silent on whether we are divergent or equivalent. Equivalence is a policy matter for Government, as opposed to a matter for us. All we need is sufficient flexibility to ensure that we have an appropriate regulatory system, depending on how Government policy emerges in relation to equivalence.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
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Q Just to make that clear, you are basically saying that you are neutral on the amount of divergence or equivalence, and that you can cope with whatever is thrown at you?

Sheldon Mills: Neutral is too strong a word. My point of view is that we are interested in what I would call outcomes-based regulation. Equivalence can be done in one of two ways within the bounds of equivalence: it can be done line by line and letter by letter, or it can be done on the basis of seeking to meet equivalence objectives within an outcomes-based regulatory system. We are moving towards the position of the latter. Overall, equivalence is a matter for Government.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
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Q Finally—I am conscious that I have put questions only to you, but I am sure colleagues will put questions to other witnesses—you were saying at the beginning that part of what the FCA has to do is protect financial services in this country and create a good environment for them, as well as protect consumers and ensure market stability. There is only so much bandwidth, so will all the work relating to onshoring compromise consumer protection?

Sheldon Mills: I do not think so at all. To give an example, it may look like it would take an army of 50 or 60 people to do the work of the investment firms prudential regime, but in reality it takes around 10 people to do that work. These are significant specialists in the technical architecture of designing prudential regulation. We would not ordinarily use those people in our consumer protection work, and they have different skills and are involved in different activities. I do not think that we will be any less vociferous in protecting consumers. During the crisis, those who watched us saw that we were at the forefront of ensuring that we tried to provide relief to consumers during the pandemic. We will continue in that vein. As the FCA’s conduct regulator, I am committed to ensuring that the consumer is at the heart of everything we do.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
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Thank you, Chair.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
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Q Thank you for taking the time to speak to us. I know that you are in favour of the Bill, as it will give you greater agility and flexibility to deal with things. Going back to some of the comments you made earlier about the consultation process, in which you were clearly fully engaged, one of the things I want to find out relates to the consultation discussions, and obviously you have more responsibilities. Will you shed some light on what came out of those discussions in terms of making sure that there is effective accountability and oversight in relation to the additional powers that you are likely to be given?

Sheldon Mills: I will go first and then pass over to Vicky. It is useful to start with our current accountability, because the Bill and future regulatory frameworks being consulted on by the Government deal with that issue. We wish to be accountable. As an independent regulator, an important part of our process is for us to have public accountability. We serve the public and ultimately are scrutinised by Parliament. Our main form of scrutiny is that of the Treasury Select Committee, but we attend many other Committees. Explaining our activity to Parliament is an important part of our work. Below that, within the Financial Services and Markets Act for the FCA specifically, are our statutory panels. They are there to scrutinise our work in a much closer engagement with the organisation. Then we have the consumer panel, the practitioner panel and the small business practitioner panel, as well as the advisory panel on markets and listings. They are able to make public their views, and—believe me—they do very often make public their views on our activity. In addition to that, we will consult on our policies when we do policy-making work ourselves, as do other public authorities. We will also provide access to non-confidential information and data so that all interested parties can make their views known to us.

We also evaluate our work to ensure that it meets its intended outcomes. We already have an existing accountability framework that would sit well with the additional rule-making powers we may get through the Bill and as we move forward with the proposed reform to the financial services regulatory regime. The future regulatory framework is out for consultation, so I will not say much in relation to it, but we of course acknowledge that there may need to be adjustments to the accountability framework to accord with the additional powers that we are getting. We look forward to seeing the responses to the Government’s consultation in relation to that.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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Q Just for clarification, during the consultation period there was no analysis looking, in terms of the additional powers, at how the accountabilities need to be changed. My understanding, from what you have just told me, is that it is very much reliant on the processes you think you have got already, which I have concerns about, if I am honest, because the current processes do not appear to take into consideration the additional powers.

Sheldon Mills: As I said, we acknowledge that we will be getting additional powers and there may need to be changes to that accountability framework. Within the Bill, you see the foundational approaches in terms of how things may change. Within each of the specific policy areas, if we take the investment firms prudential regime review, there are certain “have regards” obligations that we will need to take account of in that regime. I think that is a sensible approach to take as you bring in onshored regulation. There are specific needs that Parliament considers it is appropriate for us to consider for that onshored regulation. Then, that “have regards” mechanism of pointing that out to us and us being accountable for meeting those “have regards” in accordance with our statutory objectives is a sensible approach and adds an additional layer of accountability and scrutiny for us.

There are other mechanisms within the future regulatory framework, which is out for consultation. Again, I do not have a strong view on them. I recognise that we are getting more rule-making powers and we may need to have more strengthening of the accountability framework.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
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Q I put the same question to the other witnesses.

Victoria Saporta: To response to your question directly, yes, from the very beginning we had discussions with Treasury colleagues about how, within the narrow confines of this Financial Services Bill—I can talk about the related but quite distinct issue of the future regulatory framework—we could be more accountable, given that the Bill effectively gives the Government powers to revoke particular narrow areas of what will become, on 1 January, primary legislation, and then asks the regulators to fill in those particular gaps. The Government were keen that the process should be part of an enhanced accountability framework.

As Sheldon has said, within the confines of this Bill, the enhanced accountability framework applies to the updating of the rulebook to take into account the new Basel III provisions and the investment firms regulation, and three new “have regards” regulatory principles, which are set out in the relevant schedule and refer to us having to take regard of relevant standards recommended by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. That applies obviously to the PRA. We need to take the likely effect of the rules on the UK’s relative standing as a place for internationally active credit institutions and investment firms to carry on activities. Also, we need to take into account the likely effect of the rules on the ability of firms to continue to provide finance to households and businesses. This is an enhanced accountability framework, and the Bill also obliges us to publish how we have taken into account these “have regards”.

Those measures are within the proposals in the Bill to enhance our accountability publicly. There is the separate issue of the consultation that the Government are currently doing on how the future regulatory framework will look, what the enhanced accountability provisions within that are and how they should apply. I would not want to pre-empt that consultation but, clearly, the Government are interested and are trying to look at ways of keeping our feet to the fire, and that is absolutely appropriate.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)
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Q My questions are for the FCA. In terms of the impact of the Bill on the end consumer and the end user of financial services, what impact assessment has the FCA done on the potential regulatory cost and how that might affect the consumer? We hear a lot from financial services firms about the cost to them, not only of regulations, but also of the fees that they have to pay to the FCA. What business plan and cost assessment has the FCA done on the impact that the measures and the responsibilities in the Bill will have on the industry, which will then be passed on to the consumer, or will it be a reduction in cost?

Sheldon Mills: We have not undertaken a cost-benefit assessment of the Bill. That would be a matter for the Government. We have considered, as we discussed in response to earlier questions, the impact on resources within the FCA. Our current intention is to keep that within our current financial envelope, so we are not predicting at this stage an increase in fees or levies to take account of the Bill. That is all I can say at this stage.

In terms of the impact of the Bill and the onshored legislation, when we review the regulations on the investment firms prudential regime and so on, we will do a cost-benefit analysis of the rules and regulations that we are proposing at that stage. At this stage, we will not be doing that—that would be a matter for the Government, not for us.

In terms of the impact on consumers more generally, as I said, there are aspects of the Bill that are very consumer enhancing. I do not think they came up very much on Second Reading, but the provisions in relation to breathing space will be very helpful for consumers facing issues around statutory debts, which we are interested in as a financial regulator. The issues in relation to the register will be extremely helpful for us in terms of tackling fraud and scams. There are many elements of the Bill that are helpful. It is complicated, but the investment firms prudential regime is also consumer enhancing; currently, the capital requirements facing investment firms are those for the systemically important banks, and they are not fit for purpose. This regime will help us have a capital and prudential regime that is fit for investment firms. So there are a whole host of aspects of the Bill that are supportive of consumer interests and will not necessarily increase costs in a way that will be inimical to their interests.

Harriett Baldwin Portrait Harriett Baldwin
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Q The FCA has not prepared anything specific demonstrating that—it is a hunch based on what is in the Bill—but has it done any cost-benefit analysis of the breathing space measures that you mentioned?

Sheldon Mills: All these measures are Government proposals, so the cost-benefit analysis that is required will be carried out by the Government and not by us. Once the Bill has been passed, in whatever form—we are bringing forward rules and regulations—we will undertake a cost-benefit analysis. I am giving an indicative view, as opposed to one based on a cost-benefit analysis that we are not required to carry out at this stage.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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Q I should like to explore what you have said, particularly about how the Bill will benefit consumers—after all, we are all concerned about the regulation of financial services markets. You set out your interest in the debt respite scheme. We all agree that that is very welcome, but debt prevention is an ultimate aim. How do all three of you think that this way of regulation will help businesses and households with debt prevention?

Sheldon Mills: It is a broader question than the Bill, but I will answer by giving our approach to debt.

As a regulator, our approach is not to have a policy on whether people should be able to access credit, but we are concerned about the impact on people of firms providing credit. We want firms to be able to provide credit in a way that treats individuals fairly, takes account of their needs and circumstances and, in particular, supports vulnerable customers if they are in debt.

We work closely with debt charities. Some of the issues that we are seeing, which we all face and of which the FCA is cognisant, include the accumulation of debt among certain parts of the population, which is why it is important that rules and processes are in place to support people with debt management and why a breathing space policy forms an important part of that. I think that answers your question, but you might have more specific questions.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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Q I do, but I should like to hear about one of the roles that the FCA has tacked on to the Financial Services Act 2012—investigating regulatory failure. The Bill is about how we address that regulatory regime and the things to which you have regard under that regime. Your colleagues might have a view on whether explicitly having regard to whether a product or a firm is likely to cause debt—unsustainable, unaffordable debt—should be built into the new regulatory regime, given some of the investigations that have, or have not, taken place over the past couple of years.

Sheldon Mills: I think it is for Government to decide whether we should have that “have regard” regime, but there are current rules that firms should take account of the needs of customers. If customers are clearly displaying signals that they are taking on debt that is not affordable—and, in that sense, is not sustainable—firms should have in place mechanisms to ensure that they do not provide further credit or loans to them. There are rules in place on unaffordable lending.

It is for Government to decide whether we have “have regards”, but I do not think that we necessarily need them. I agree that there are issues with debt throughout society that we need to tackle, but I believe we have the right rules in place to ensure that firms make appropriate lending decisions.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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Q Perhaps I can come at that question from another angle, because the FCA has been performing this role for several years now. Are there any examples of where the Financial Ombudsman Service has stepped in? I am thinking particularly of the high-cost credit industry, where a lack of proactive regulation in the past could be addressed by having stronger, robust, and clearer direction from us that we wish to see the FCA intervene to protect consumers from unaffordable debt, and to have regard to firms that may be promoting unaffordable debt.

Sheldon Mills: You will have seen that we have done a significant amount of work in relation to high-cost credit and unaffordable lending. We have put caps in relation to forms of high-cost credit; we have tackled payday loan operators; we have a business priority that relates to consumer credit; we have introduced a review, which our former interim CEO, Chris Woolard, is undertaking in relation to aspects of unsecured consumer credit. We are extremely proactive in this area, and the overall system—in terms of the regulatory system—works well. The fact that consumers are able to go to the Financial Ombudsman Service, where they have had certain issues and the service is therefore enabled to give redress to those customers, is an important part of the system. However, I would not want you to think that that we are not proactively seeking to tackle the issues in this area.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
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Q A final question to you and colleagues. With that in mind, in moments where there has not been as strong an intervention and early in the process of new products coming to the UK, could you tell us a little bit about what you see coming ahead? We are all very aware of FinTech coming to these shores, and you will be dealing with an awful lot of legislation, as my colleagues pointed out, that you will be onshoring. When you do your horizon scanning—this is a question to all three witnesses—are there any particular products or markets that we should be aware of when thinking about how this legislation will be applied in the coming, say, five years?

Sheldon Mills: I will let my colleagues go first, then I will come in.

Edwin Schooling Latter: Let me raise one area where work is under way. FinTech was mentioned, but the area of crypto-assets has been popular in some quarters. That is an example of an area where we have taken a very proactive approach to putting limitations on where those can be marketed to retail investors who may not fully understand the difficulties of valuing those, the risks attached to them, or the possibilities that they would lose all of their money the more speculative end of that product range.

Sheldon Mills: I would agree with Edwin. The main area which we will see in relation not just to financial services, but to any product, is the continued development of digital means both of accessing and of providing products and services. Our approach to that is twofold: one approach is to encourage innovation. These products and services can bring efficiency and lower cost, and they can bring different levels of access for consumers, including vulnerable consumers. However, while doing that, we ensure we are clear on the ethics and consumer protection aspects of these new forms of products and services. Those are some of the areas where we will see future opportunities and challenges within the financial services system.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Do you regret, then, not moving more quickly on the buy now, pay later industry, because that is not regulated by the FCA at the moment, yet that is exactly an industry which we all now recognise is causing consumer detriment to people on low incomes?

Sheldon Mills: With respect, I cannot regret not acting on something which I do not regulate. However, what we are doing is looking at that area through the form of this review. As you know, and as is implicit in your question, that does sit outside our specific regulation.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Victoria, I think you were about to say something.

Victoria Saporta: Sorry, I am conscious of the time. I have basically one comment to make in our particular area. I agree very much with Sheldon on digitalisation and with Edwin on crypto. Another particular area that we are looking at—

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Order. I am afraid that brings us to the end of the time allocated for this session. I thank our witnesses on behalf of the Committee for their evidence.

Examination of Witnesses

Simon Hills and Daniel Cichocki gave evidence.

10:25
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We will now hear from Simon Hills and Daniel Cichocki from UK Finance, who are joining the sitting remotely. Can you introduce yourselves for the record?

Daniel Cichocki: Good morning, Chair. I am Daniel Cichocki. I am the London inter-bank offered rate transition director at UK Finance and, as such, am focused on the benchmark elements of the Bill.

Simon Hills: Good morning. I am Simon Hills. I lead the prudential policy work at UK Finance, so my particular area of expertise is the prudential regulation of banks.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I remind colleagues that we have until 10.55 am for this session, so it is much shorter than the previous one. I hope that colleagues will be mindful of that.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Simon, I want to focus on your responsibilities with respect to the Basel rules and the expertise of the regulator. Can you set out the competence that you have within your organisation to do this, and could you comment on the suitability of the UK to implement its own approach to the Basel framework, perhaps with reference to what happens in other jurisdictions to give the Committee a sense of how we fit alongside international comparisons?

Simon Hills: It is important to recognise that the Prudential Regulation Authority has been a strong supporter of Basel 3.1. It has been very influential in the way it was finalised, and I think that it is committed to implementing the Basel 3.1 framework in an internationally aligned way. That is important for our members, particularly if they are internationally active, because they want a coherent and harmonised regime across the world. If you are a UK bank operating in the UK, North America, Europe and Asia, you want one version of Basel 3.1 and you want it to be implemented in a coherent way. If not, and if there are different approaches to regulatory reporting, to how credit risk is assessed and to liquidity requirements, you have to implement a number of different versions of Basel 3.1, which will be more difficult.

In terms of UK Finance’s competence in, if you like, holding the PRA to account, we have a wide range of members for whom Basel 3.1 implementation is very important. I am pleased to say that I have good working relationships with Vicky and her colleagues at the PRA.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I am conscious of time, so I will allow others to come in, but I wish to ask Daniel about the work that you are doing on LIBOR. This is an incredibly complex area with lots of challenges, and the key issue is around the wind-down of the benchmark and the move to deal with the tough legacy contracts. Could you comment on what the Bill achieves with respect to that, whether there are any alternatives to it, and what the implications would be if we did not do what we are planning to do in the Bill?

Daniel Cichocki: Certainly, the issues with the lack of sustainability of the LIBOR benchmark are very well documented, and it is important, as the Financial Stability Board has acknowledged at an international level, that we move away from LIBOR on a smooth and timely basis. It is also very important, certainly from an industry perspective, that as a result of moving away from LIBOR on to more robust reference rates, customers who have contracts referencing LIBOR are not inadvertently affected by that transition.

What this Bill seeks to do—and we are very supportive of its provisions—is to make sure there is a safety net in the form of powers being granted to the FCA, to ensure that those contracts that cannot be migrated on an active basis before LIBOR ceases have a solution so that the customer has a clear outcome for the contracts beyond LIBOR cessation.

These powers are important because before 2017, and the acknowledgement that LIBOR would cease, many contracts did not have clear, robust terminology setting out what would happen if LIBOR ceased. They may include terminology addressing if LIBOR should be unavailable for a day or two, and that might be the reference point those contracts would take. In that instance, without these powers, we may have seen customers falling back on to the last available LIBOR rate to the point of cessation, essentially becoming a fixed-term contract. We may have seen customers falling back on to cost of funds, which would create very diverse and disadvantageous outcomes for them. Equally, we would have seen fairly significant levels of contractual disputes beyond the end of 2021. These powers, in preventing all those negative outcomes for both customers and market integrity, are absolutely critical as part of the transition.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you very much. I shall pass over to my colleagues.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you both for coming along this morning, virtually. Could I begin with you, Simon, and ask about onshoring and divergence? The Bill onshores significant bodies of EU legislation and directives. From the point of view of UK Finance, where would you like to see the Government and regulators diverge from that body of EU law in the future?

Simon Hills: I am not sure that we would want the UK Government and authorities to diverge significantly, if at all, from other standards. We are not sure yet what Europe will do in respect of Basel 3.1. We do not expect draft legislation from the Commission until around Easter next year. That said, from the way in which the Commission has implemented previous iterations of Basel, I would expect it to stick quite closely to that Basel 3.1 framework, for the same reasons I have mentioned: international coherence and harmonisation, and easing the comparison of different banks and jurisdictions.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q We have had the Chancellor’s announcement on equivalence from the UK end of the telescope last week. Do you think there is a relationship between the degree of divergence we pursue in the future from the EU rulebook and equivalence decisions from the other end of the telescope, that is, by the EU or EU member states to UK companies selling into their markets?

Simon Hill: Yes, I think there is likely to be work to be done there. Of course, one of the accountabilities the Financial Services Bill gives the PRA is to take financial services equivalence and international competitiveness into account, and, importantly, the banks’ ability to continue to provide finance to UK businesses and consumers on a sustainable basis. I think we will all want to understand how different regulators around the world—not just in Europe—look at the PRA’s implementation when it gets down to those technical standards, which is why it is important for both Parliament and UK Finance to make sure there is no inappropriate deviation from international standards. I can assure you that if UK Finance members see that there is, we will speak up about it.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q May I ask you, Daniel, a question about LIBOR to fill in a small gap in the knowledge of those of us who have not followed every twist and turn of this? The measure became a scandal because it was being manipulated for the benefit of the traders who were submitting information. That information was based sometimes not on actual trades but on their estimates of what trades would cost. What changes have been made to the administration of LIBOR in recent years to stop those things?

Daniel Cichocki: It is absolutely right to acknowledge the issues with conduct around LIBOR in the past and the reforms that have taken place to make sure that those things are prevented. That includes the FCA oversight of the LIBOR benchmark, the introduction of the benchmark regulations at a European Union level, and transcribed into UK law, and broader reforms since the financial crisis, including the senior managers regime to ensure that the issues with LIBOR are not repeated. As the Committee will be aware, the fundamental reason why it is important to move away from LIBOR is that the underlying markets on which the rate is based have largely dried up. Therefore it is right to move us on to robust reference rates based on markets that are highly liquid and not reliant on expert judgment.

Simon Hills: It is important to remember that individuals in banks who are responsible for benchmark submission and administration are classified as so-called certified persons under the senior manager certification regime and they have to be certified as fit and proper every year by their firm. If they are not certified as fit and proper, they will lose their job and will find it very difficult to find a role in financial services again.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q One more for you, Daniel. As things stand with LIBOR today, is it still possible for traders to submit information based on their estimates of what trades would cost rather than actual trades that have taken place?

Daniel Cichocki: LIBOR as it is formed today includes both elements of actual transactions and expert judgments of firms. These expert judgments, as a result of the issues in the past, are subject to those very high levels of governance control that I have talked about being introduced as a result of the benchmark regulation—absolutely appropriate as a result of the issues with LIBOR in the past. The underlying reason why we need to move away from it is that we want to be internationally on rates that do not require that expert judgment.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

So no more cases of champagne? Thank you.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Are there any further measures that you expected to see, or would have liked to see, in the Bill?

Simon Hills: Shall I go first and talk about the prudential regulation of banks? The Financial Services Bill achieves what it sets out to do: to implement a coherent version of Basel 3.1 in the UK. It is quite important to our members that we do Basel 3.1 the same in all the major financial centres in which firms operate. If a firm that is regulated by the UK operates in a different host country and the host country says, “That UK firm operating on our patch is supervised by the PRA and the PRA has introduced a watered-down version of Basel 3.1”, then they would add extra supervisory levels to bring it back up to the Basel 3.1 standard. That leads to a bifurcated approach with different regulatory standards in different countries, which makes life very difficult. A coherent approach, which is what the Bill seeks to achieve, is what we and our members want.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q So when the EU makes its regulations, and it goes ahead with what is in its interests, essentially you would want us to mirror the EU wherever possible?

Simon Hills: We would not want to see wholesale deviation from Basel 3.1. Of course, Europe itself may choose to deviate from Basel 3.1, and that is a matter for its legislative process. I would not want to see the UK deviate from the agreed framework for Basel 3.1.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Are there any international competitors that you think have struck the correct balance with a regulation that you would want to see us take on here?

Simon Hills: I think there is a difference of approach in some G7 countries. Some perhaps apply a graduated or targeted approach to regulation. Canada, Japan and the US apply different iterations of the Basel standards to different sorts of firm. A large, internationally active bank would face the full gamut of Basel 3.1 in all its glorious granularity—in my view, that is right and proper—but a smaller, less systemic bank might face a different approach.

Of course, Basel 3.1 is applied by Europe—and that is what we are bound by at the moment—to all banks, not just those internationally active banks that are the target of Basel 3.1. The EU took the decision back, I think, in 1992—before even I got involved in this space—to apply the Basel III framework to all banks, from the smallest local Sparkasse in Germany to the largest, internationally-active bank.

I feel we must ask ourselves whether that is right; should there not be a risk-adjusted approach to safety and soundness? A sub-regional building society operating in the UK, for instance, has a vanishingly small probability of bringing the whole financial services system crashing down if it fails. Is it right to ask that firm to comply with all aspects of Basel 3.1? Maybe not.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q That is useful, thank you. Can you give any particular examples of how far you think divergence could go before you risk withdrawing equivalence?

Simon Hills: We don’t know yet how Europe will determine equivalence. I hope that our colleagues in the EU will look at our implementation of Basel 3.1, compare it with their own implementation and ask themselves the question, “Does this achieve what Basel 3.1 is seeking to achieve?” If they do, I hope there will be a form of equivalence—however we term it in the future—determination.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you very much.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Do any other Members have any questions?

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I was wondering, Daniel, whether there are any dangers in the move away from LIBOR. Obviously, we know about the dangers of staying with it, but are there things that keep you awake at night about the transition?

Daniel Cichocki: As the Committee can imagine, from an industry perspective, we are absolutely focused on ensuring that the transition away from LIBOR—which is the right thing to do—is done in a way that treats customers fairly and consistently.

There is an awful lot of work being done at both an international and domestic level to agree standardised approaches to transition, where possible, but also to ensure that there are clear expectations from our regulators—here in the UK, it is the Financial Conduct Authority—about how that transition should be done.

Lots of work has been done and lots of work remains to be done, and, as you can imagine, we are speaking very frequently to the regulators here in the UK, and also working through the national working group to ensure that customers are transitioned on a fair and transparent basis.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Obviously, LIBOR is a benchmark. Any benchmark is a sign of some of the profit that can be made on a transaction. If there are differences of approach or changes, there are areas where customers can be fleeced or left out of pocket without, in some ways, even realising it because of the very technical nature of these kinds of transactions. To what extent do you have a consumer protection voice helping you with these changes? Do you think that the protections for consumers who may be disadvantaged during this transition are strong enough?

Daniel Cichocki: We are one voice from the perspective of the banking and finance industries, but it is important also to recognise that, within the overall national working group in the UK, there are voices that, rightly and properly, represent the end users of LIBOR, be they corporates themselves or the representatives of corporates. Although those voices are important in our national transition working group, it is equally important to address the concern that you articulate, which is absolutely right: the guidance that the FCA has provided to all firms that are transitioning their customers that the process should not be used to move customers on to inferior terms or rates that would be expected to be higher than LIBOR would have been. After speaking to our members in the industry, that message from the UK conduct authority has been heard loudly and clearly. All of us who are focused on moving away from LIBOR are acutely aware of the history of the benchmark and committed to ensuring that we move away from it in the right way and in a manner that treats customers fairly.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Obviously we will be keeping an eye on that as it happens.

Mr Hills, the industry has been lobbying the Government, Parliament and regulators to design regulations that will make UK firms more internationally competitive. Indeed, all of us in the room would share the aim of protecting our financial services industry. Do you think that the Bill achieves that?

Simon Hills: Yes, I think it does. The important thing is that the Bill achieves that by setting expectations of how the Basel 3.1 framework is implemented in an internationally coherent way. The PRA has to think about not only international competitiveness, but financial services equivalence, and the Bill achieves that.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q So you are not too worried about divergence because you do not think there will be very much of it.

Simon Hills: I do not think that it is in the interests of the UK financial services industry and banks to introduce a divergent regime. We are talking about the importance of the City, and we want people to bring their money to the City for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. UK Finance members are certain that it is in no one’s interest to diverge from internationally agreed frameworks because that creates the risk that we bring in the wrong sort of people.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you very much.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

If there are no further questions, I thank the witnesses for their evidence.

Examination of Witness

Paul Richards gave evidence.

10:48
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Q We will now hear from Paul Richards from the International Capital Market Association, who is here in person. I remind colleagues that we have until 11.25 am for this session. Paul, would you please introduce yourself for the record?

Paul Richards: I am Paul Richards. I am a managing director at ICMA, which is the international bond market association. I am here to give evidence on the transition from LIBOR. I am involved in the transition from LIBOR to SONIA—the sterling overnight index average—because I chair the bond market sub-group, which consists of issuers, banks, investors and four major law firms. We work closely with the FCA and the Bank of England. If you will permit me, I shall make a short introductory statement.

I hope to be able to give you a bond market perspective on the Bill but, for the market as a whole, we are all trying to move away from LIBOR to risk-free rates while minimising the risk of market disruption and litigation. The Bill is welcome and very important for the bond market because it will give the FCA extra powers to deal with tough legacy LIBOR contracts and wind them down in an orderly manner.

There are three main points on which it would be very helpful if the Committee was willing to strengthen the Bill. First, the Bill needs to provide continuity of contract between the current definition of LIBOR and the new definition of LIBOR for legacy transactions once LIBOR is prohibited for new transactions. Legacy contracts referencing LIBOR under the current method of defining LIBOR need to be read as references to LIBOR under the new definition as determined by the FCA, so that there will be continuity there—this is sometimes called a deeming provision. This will reinforce the message that LIBOR will continue to appear on the same screen page, and it should also help to remove uncertainty and minimise the risk of a legal challenge on the basis that the current definition of LIBOR and the new definition are not the same and one party or another is worse off.

This is particularly a risk in the bond market in cases where LIBOR is specifically defined in legacy bond contracts in terms of its current definition. Continuity of contract or deeming provision like this was used when the euro was launched in 1999, and it worked well. Clearly, it would need to be drafted with the help of the Treasury and it would probably need to be drafted in terms of an article 23A benchmark in the way that the Bill is looked at. That is the first point.

The second and related point on which I hope the Committee will help is that the provision of the continuity of contract under the Bill needs to be accompanied by a safe harbour against the risk of litigation. This would provide that the parties to contracts would not be able to sue each other as a result of the change in the definition of LIBOR, and it would allow them to make conforming changes to bond market documentation.

The third point on which I hope the Committee will help is that the safe harbour and contract continuity provisions in the Bill need to be drawn as widely as possible, to protect any entity that uses the new definition of LIBOR for legacy transactions in place of the current definition of LIBOR. This would need to cover not just supervised entities in the Bill, but non-supervised entities, as the range of institutions involved in the international bond market is very wide.

Finally, I would like to draw your attention to two other points where there are significant legal risks under the Bill. One is that there needs to be equal treatment between legacy LIBOR bonds when the new definition of LIBOR takes over from the current definition, so that some legacy bonds are not preferred to others and there is no discrimination between them; otherwise, legal problems may arise. This would be a matter for the FCA under the Bill.

The other point is that there needs to be alignment internationally between the Bill and the similar legislation that is being introduced in the US and the EU, so that the rate used for legacy dollar bonds under English law and legacy dollar bonds under New York law is the same. Thank you, Mr Davies. I would be very happy to do my best to answer your questions.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Paul. The Committee will be very aware of the breadth and depth of your experience in this domain. You have gone into three quite specific issues. Could you set out, at a higher level, the LIBOR challenges that you think this Bill does not deal with, and where you think it is going to be defective? Obviously, a lot of work has been done with regulators to get to this point and we have had evidence previously about the nature of this change and the more general desire for it. Perhaps you could contextualise the specific issues you talked about with respect to continuity and the other matters you raised.

Paul Richards: Thank you, Minister. First, as I mentioned, we welcome the Bill. The only question is: can it be improved to minimise disruption and litigation? The essential point is that, in the bond market, we have moved to SONIA as the risk-free rate, and new issues have been in SONIA for over two years now. That is the first step in the process.

The second step in the process is that we actively convert as many bonds as we can from legacy LIBOR to SONIA. We are making some progress there, but the third point is that we will still have tough legacy contracts that cannot be converted, either because they are too difficult to convert or because there are too many to convert by the end of 2021. In those circumstances, the provisions in the Bill are extremely helpful, because they provide for an orderly wind-down of tough legacy contracts. From that perspective, the Bill is very helpful. My questions relate to when the current definition of LIBOR is replaced by a new definition. Will there be contract continuity and a safe harbour to minimise the risk of disruption in the market and litigation?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you for clarifying that. That is very helpful for the Committee.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you for appearing before us, Mr Richards. Can you set out for us, in as simple terms as possible, the difference between how prices are set under SONIA and how they were traditionally set under LIBOR?

Paul Richards: LIBOR was set by a panel of banks. As the market no longer uses the underlying information that it used to use for banks, it has now changed, or will change, with the admission of SONIA, to a different definition. SONIA is essentially an overnight rate. It is a robust rate, because it is used widely in the market, whereas LIBOR is no longer used in the market as it was 30 or 40 years ago. That is one difference. A second difference is that LIBOR is a term rate—it is expressed over one month, three months or six months—whereas the liquidity in the SONIA rate is focused on the overnight market, which is therefore a much more representative selection and does not require expert judgment, unlike LIBOR.

A third point, perhaps, is that it is not just a UK proposal to replace LIBOR with risk-free rates in SONIA. A similar change is taking place globally. In the US, USD LIBOR is being replaced by the secured overnight financing rate, which has a similar sort of construction, and the situation is similar around the world. Those are the main reasons for the change.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Can I just focus on the point about expert judgments? That is quite a polite term for some of things that happened with LIBOR. They were not really expert judgments in some cases, were they? They were effectively deals between different traders to put in submissions at particular prices, to the individual advantage of the traders, based on the trades that they were doing. To what degree is SONIA insulated against that kind of manipulation?

Paul Richards: As you say, LIBOR depended on expert judgment in many cases, because the market was no longer using LIBOR in the way it had been constructed. With SONIA, it is a much more liquid market and there is no need for expert judgment at all. That is one of the reasons why it is being preferred as the replacement for sterling LIBOR, and similarly around the world in other currencies.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Can I take you back to the second point you made about the danger of litigation? We might all agree that moving away from LIBOR is a good thing, partly because we do not want to see a benchmark manipulated in the way that LIBOR was. However, as a consumer, I might have agreed trades or contracts based on a particular price set by LIBOR. What is the situation with potential litigation from a consumer who says, “You’re telling me that SONIA is a more honest benchmark because it’s based on actual trades and actual prices in market transactions, but now I’m being told that instead of paying x%, I will be paying x% plus y%”? What does the Bill say about that kind of situation at the moment, and what would you like it to say?

Paul Richards: A significant difference between LIBOR and SONIA is what is called the credit adjustment spread, which takes account of the difference between LIBOR and SONIA. In the consumer market, the proposals are, at a general level, to treat customers fairly. In the wholesale market, the aim is to have continuity of contracts between the old definition of LIBOR and the new definition that will be used for legacy transactions. This will be determined under the Bill by the FCA. It is not specified how it will determine it. There are market assumptions about that, but it is not decided yet how they will determine it. It is thought that it will consult the market before making a decision, but the end result will be that the rate that arises under the new definition of LIBOR will take over from the old definition of LIBOR, and there will be continuity of contracts between them. If that is emphasised in the Bill, that will give legal protection for all those involved, which is one of the main reasons for providing it. It needs to be accompanied by a safe harbour provision, which would protect all the different market participants involved. I would like to be able to tell you that this will eliminate the risk of litigation, but I cannot tell you that. What I can tell you is that it will minimise the risk of disruption and litigation that might otherwise occur because of the huge volume and value of transactions.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q So how would this safe harbour provision that you are advancing work? Why is it needed beyond the FCA acting to ensure continuity for legacy contracts, as is I think is already envisaged in the Bill?

Paul Richards: They are both needed, I think. The FCA’s judgment about treating customers fairly relates primarily to consumers. The protection that a safe harbour would provide, so that parties would not sue each other as a result of the change from the old definition to the new definition, is essentially designed for the international markets. So they are both needed. The FCA is already making statements about treating customers fairly, but the Bill should include both the continuity of contracts provision and a safe harbour protection to accompany that. The broader the safe harbour protection is drafted in the Bill—the Treasury, I am sure, could help on this—the better and more effective it will be in minimising disruption and the risk of litigation.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Have you already made these arguments to the Treasury only to be rebuffed, or is this the first chance you have had to make them because the Bill was published only a few weeks ago?

Paul Richards: These are points that law firms that work in the City are acutely aware of from their previous experience. The law firms have been looking at what needs to be done to ensure that there is continuity of contract and a safe harbour protection. Of course, I hope that the Treasury will take account of that, as your Committee will take account of it before reaching a final conclusion. We should do everything we can to minimise the risk of market disruption and litigation, within the context of the overriding point, which is that we do need to move away from LIBOR to risk-free rates. That is, of course, what we have done, with new issues in the bond markets and with the conversion of legacy contracts from LIBOR to SONIA. We have a tough legacy problem for the future, which needs to be dealt with. The Bill helps to deal with that.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have some follow-up questions. You mentioned how the FCA will determine these things. Do you feel that that needs to be set out quite explicitly in the Bill—how the FCA will make those determinations around benchmarking and LIBOR contracts?

Paul Richards: Sorry, I did not quite catch the last point.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

You mentioned the uncertainty of how the FCA makes decisions around LIBOR contracts and benchmarking. Do you feel that needs to be set out more explicitly in the Bill so that you can know what to anticipate?

Paul Richards: I think it would be helpful for the Bill, specifically, to make provision for continuity of contracts—the deeming provision—and also for protection against litigation through a safe harbour, to be drafted as broadly as possible. That is not because the move away from LIBOR is not something that we should do—on the contrary, it is something we must do and we have made great progress in doing it already—but because, to deal with the tough legacy contracts in the Bill, we have to make sure that the new definition and the old definition are treated in the market as the same.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Okay, that is useful. I have been looking through some of the lawyers’ statements and I would be grateful if you could clarify something for me, as this is not an area of expertise for me but it is for you. You mentioned article 23A benchmarks, and something else I read mentioned the types of contracts that would fall within the article 23C exceptions. Can you tell me a wee bit more about what that would mean?

Paul Richards: I think that we are talking about 23A benchmarks in general in the Bill. What I have been talking about is specifically relevant to LIBOR. When the Treasury looks, as I hope it will, at whether anything is needed to advise you to strengthen the Bill, it might need to draft that in terms of benchmarks in general and not just LIBOR in particular.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. You talked about the costs of litigation and the impact that that would have. What is the extent of these legacy LIBOR contracts—their value, their number and the cost that that litigation might entail?

Paul Richards: In the bond markets, we have to convert legacy contracts bond by bond, so it is the number of the bonds that is important, not just their value. In the sterling bond market, we think we have about 520 different legacy bond contracts, or 780 if you include the different tranches of securitisations. We have converted just over 20 of those so far in the market, but we know that we will not be able to convert all of them because some are too difficult to convert and there are too many to convert.

The FCA has an international role and English law applies in dollars as well as in sterling, so we need to take account of dollar legacy bond contracts under English law. In terms of number, we understand that there are more than 3,000 of those. In terms of value in bonds, we think we have around 110 billion in sterling outstanding.

The critical point for us in the bond market is that we need to convert them bond by bond. You will notice that that is different from the derivatives market, where there is a multilateral protocol that enables the market to do everything at once, which is currently in course. We cannot do that in the bond market.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q And the potential cost of litigation?

Paul Richards: It is impossible to estimate the cost of litigation. The great thing is to avoid it wherever you can, and the Bill presents an opportunity to minimise the risk of it.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Okay. It sounds like a good time to be a lawyer in this area. Thank you.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Do the provisions of continuity and safe harbour apply in America as it converts away from LIBOR? Are the things that you are asking the Committee to consider putting in the Bill happening in other jurisdictions?

Paul Richards: In the US, the alternative reference rates committee, which is the group equivalent to the sterling risk-free reference rates working group, has proposed legislation that is not identical to the UK’s but has the same effect, and so the concepts of continuity of contract and protection through safe harbours in the UK context will be recognised, we think, internationally as well.

Of course, we are not dealing here just with the proposals under New York law. We are having to look more generally. The EU has a proposal for legislation as well. It is important to recognise that the FCA has an international role, because the FCA is the regulator of the administrator of LIBOR, so what the FCA, through this Committee, decides in the UK will have an international impact.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Okay. You did not answer the question from my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East earlier about whether you had asked the Government for this and they had said, “No, the FCA can do it; we’re not putting it on the face of the Bill,” and so you have come here to make the argument again, or whether it is work that you are in the process of doing and you have got to the stage where you want to make these proposals, as the Bill has arrived. Have the Government considered this and said no, or is it something that you have just proposed?

Paul Richards: No, I hope that the Government will consider this and say yes. I hope that that will happen, but it needs to be looked at in the context of the Bill as a great help to the market. It needs to be looked at in this context: can anything be done to strengthen the wholesale market?

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I understand your point about how those things would calm things down in the changeover, but why do you not trust the FCA to do this? Why does it have to be in the Bill?

Paul Richards: The FCA has great powers under the Bill and I am sure that it will exercise them wisely, but we are dealing here with law internationally, and anything that can be done to strengthen that—and the Bill has the capacity to do that—will be helpful. I hope that it will also be helpful to the FCA.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

If there are no further questions from Members, I thank the witness for his evidence. That brings us to the end of our morning sitting. The Committee will meet again at 2 pm in the same room to take further evidence.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(David Rutley.)

11:12
Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Financial Services Bill (Second sitting)

Committee stage & Committee Debate: 2nd sitting: House of Commons
Tuesday 17th November 2020

(3 years, 6 months ago)

Public Bill Committees
Read Full debate Financial Services Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Public Bill Committee Amendments as at 17 November 2020 - (17 Nov 2020)
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Chairs: Philip Davies, †Dr Rupa Huq
† Baldwin, Harriett (West Worcestershire) (Con)
† Cates, Miriam (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)
† Creasy, Stella (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
† Davies, Gareth (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
† Eagle, Ms Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)
† Flynn, Stephen (Aberdeen South) (SNP)
† Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)
† Jones, Andrew (Harrogate and Knaresborough) (Con)
† McFadden, Mr Pat (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
† Marson, Julie (Hertford and Stortford) (Con)
† Millar, Robin (Aberconwy) (Con)
† Oppong-Asare, Abena (Erith and Thamesmead) (Lab)
† Richardson, Angela (Guildford) (Con)
† Rutley, David (Lord Commissioner of Her Majestys Treasury)
† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)
† Thewliss, Alison (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)
Kevin Maddison; Nicholas Taylor, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee
Witnesses
Chris Cummings, Chief Executive, Investment Association
Emma Reynolds, Managing Director, Public Affairs, Policy and Research, TheCityUK
Catherine McGuinness, Deputy, and Chair of the Policy and Resources Committee, City of London Corporation
Adam Farkas, CEO, Association for Financial Markets in Europe
Constance Usherwood, Prudential Director, Association for Financial Markets in Europe
Gurpreet Manku, Deputy Director General, British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association
Peter Tutton, Head of Policy, StepChange
Public Bill Committee
Tuesday 17 November 2020
(Afternoon)
[Dr Rupa Huq in the Chair]
Financial Services Bill
14:00
The Committee deliberated in private.
Examination of Witness
Chris Cummings gave evidence.
14:02
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I remind members of the Committee sitting on this side of the room, or in the Public Gallery, to use the standing mikes when posing their questions. Our first witness this afternoon is Chris Cummings from the Investment Association. Mr Cummings, welcome.

Chris Cummings: It is a pleasure to be here. Thank you for your time.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We have until 2.45 for this session. Mr Cummings, can you first of all introduce yourself for the record?

Chris Cummings: Good afternoon. My name is Chris Cummings. I am chief executive of the Investment Association, the representative body for UK-based fund managers, an industry now of some £8.5 trillion pounds, based here in the UK. Our products and services are used by three quarters of UK households, and we are deeply grateful for the opportunity to give evidence to your Bill session this afternoon.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Thank you. We will start with the Minister, John Glen.

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q57 Chris, it is good to see you. Thank you very much for addressing the Committee. Obviously, the Bill has a large number of measures, some of which will be of more interest to your members than others. I think it would be useful for the Committee if you could set out the significance to consumers of introducing a more proportionate regime for overseas funds to access the UK based on equivalence, and why it is important for consumers to be able to access funds based outside the UK. Perhaps you could tell us what your members feel about that measure and whether you have any reservations about it.

Chris Cummings: Thank you for the opportunity to speak to one of the most central parts of the Bill. May I take a moment to congratulate you and your team on introducing the Bill? It provides much-needed reassurance to my industry, so thank you for that.

The industry is very pleased to see the overseas funds regime introduced as part of the Bill. Around 9,000 funds are currently available to UK investors as a result of the current regime. The reason we feel it is in the interests of UK savers and investors to have access to such a variety of funds is that it brings to the market not only choice but much-needed competition. It means that individual investors have greater choice and an ability to tailor their portfolio in a way that makes sense to them and reflects their risk profile. It is really the foundation of why the UK is the pre-eminent fund centre, not just in Europe, but globally. As the Minister knows, the UK has long enjoyed a reputation for being an attractive centre for fund management. That is built on the ability of UK investors to access an innovative and ever-adapting fund market.

We support this measure in the Bill wholeheartedly. At the moment, as the Minister knows, we manage around 37% of Europe’s assets, which is enabled through measures such as this. It is important for UK savers and investors; having such a variety of funds goes to the heart of having such a sophisticated savings environment in the UK.

It is important to note that if there was a cliff edge—if UK investors were not able to access these funds—that would constrict consumer choice. In trying to replicate something akin to what we have at the moment, we would bring a heavy burden of extra costs on to the industry and greater bureaucracy. It would reduce significantly the number of funds to which UK investors could have access. That is why we believe that the overseas fund regime is material.

It is worth contrasting that with what we see at the moment. In order to help navigate these turbulent waters through the Brexit period, I was delighted that the Government heard our calls to introduce a temporary permissions regime with the Financial Conduct Authority. I am pleased to note that the Bill extends the period from three to five years for that requirement, which is very good. It also allows us to tackle two particular issues wrapped up in the overseas funds regime.

First, there is a review of section 272, which is the current structure by which a fund sponsor or investment management company would seek to have their fund recognised by the FCA—our regulator here in the UK. Section 272 is okay, but it is rather cumbersome. It does not stand up well compared to international comparators. It is a rather lengthy form, which takes a while to complete and gives the FCA a six-month period to look at approving that particular fund.

The proposals in the Bill take us to a completely different level, where the FCA is able to look at fund structures across the piece rather than at each individual fund. We feel that is a big step forward. While section 272 could be reviewed and reformed, there is a different category of opportunity presented by the Bill and that is why our industry is so keen to see the Bill come forward and have the overseas fund regime baked into it as a measure that goes ahead. I will pause there in case there are comments before I move on to comment on equivalence, as you were kind enough to mention.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q It would probably be worth talking about equivalence. I am keen at this point to get an explanation of the measure for the Committee. I am sure others will want to probe some of the weaknesses or disadvantages that they may perceive.

Chris Cummings: Currently, we enjoy unfettered marketing right across the whole of Europe and the EEA. Post Brexit, naturally, that will come to an end. The way that the regulatory authorities assess whether a particular fund is suitable is to judge the equivalence of the regime of the sponsoring organisation or where the organisation is based. Having that judgment of equivalence has been one of our industry’s clear calls throughout the Brexit process.

We were pleased that the Chancellor took a step forward in recognising and granting equivalence to a limited measure in the House of Commons in his statement last week. We think that was absolutely in the right direction. We have been unstinting in our calls for the European Commission and our European regulator, the European Securities and Markets Authority, to respond to those in kind and move forward so that the equivalence determination could have been made by now and be working. We were sorely disappointed that in June ESMA decided not only not to make a decision on equivalence, but to defer it for a period of time until after the IFR comes into effect.

We feel that that was a missed opportunity to settle the fact that the UK and the EU would be equivalent, which we currently are, having adopted, rather in full vigour, the European rules under which our industry labours. We are hopeful that continuing industry efforts to encourage ESMA and the European Commission to recognise the UK as equivalent will come through, but we are more than pleased with the steps that the Chancellor announced and the comments that are carried forward in the Bill. At the moment, we see that as a first step, but we look forward to greater work being done on this in the months and years ahead.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you very much, Chris, and thank you, Chair.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Chris, good afternoon and thanks for giving evidence today. I want to continue to ask about the same things.

The Bill does lots of different things, but I would like to mention two. First, it onshores or incorporates a significant body of EU law through different directives into UK law and gives the governance of those to the UK regulators. Secondly, it sets up this overseas fund regime, by which it grants equivalence on a country-by-country basis. It says that the Treasury will make these equivalence decisions as well. The Chancellor announced the direction of travel last Monday.

How do you see the relationship between these two different parts of the Bill? In theory, in future, having onshored the body of EU law and the directives, we are now at liberty to depart from them if we so choose. Do you see a relationship between that debate around divergence and the degree of divergence that the UK decides to opt for and the equivalence decision that we now need from the rest of the EU?

Chris Cummings: It is worth reflecting on the good work that has been done so far in trying to bring the different regimes together and match equivalence. Looking to the future, there is a strong argument for the UK to continue to bolster its presence in the international standard-setting fora, whether that is the Financial Stability Board, the International Organisation of Securities Commissions, Basel, and so on. Our authorities can continue to play a very strong role in arguing for what our industry would prefer, which is global and international standards.

We continually push for international standards as a global industry because that allows us to operate with reduced bureaucracy and by taking costs out of the organisation so we can really focus on looking after client needs. The UK has an outstanding track record of having its policymakers and regulators taken seriously in those international fora, because of the scale of the market that we have in the UK and the sophistication of our capital market in particular. At that level, if we can push for international standards in an international environment, that reduces some of the potential friction between the EU and the UK or other jurisdictions about where divergence may or may not be happening. That is the first thing we would like to stress—the international nature.

Secondly, something that has become part of the discussion in terms of the future relationship of the UK and the EU, and which our industry thoroughly supports, is a much clearer focus on outcomes and outcome-based regulation. It is noticeable that across the EEA there are different approaches in different European jurisdictions, all of which have been judged equivalent so far. Recognising that different jurisdictions will walk up to the same issue from different directions, yet seeking to achieve the same thing, that is the material part.

The third area I would just point to, if I may, is the depth of relationship between the UK authorities and those across the EU, not just in ESMA, our European regulator, but in the national domestic regulatory authorities. It is still absolutely the case that the UK policy-making apparatus—the UK regulatory bodies—is seen to have considerable expertise to offer. So just because we start in different places, it does not mean that we should not see the UK taking a little leadership and the EU tacking towards us in terms of lessons learned because of the sophistication of the market that we can offer. That was one of the reasons why we in the IA, among many other organisations, through the Brexit process was keen to press for a regulator to regulate a dialogue, which could be technically oriented, focused on bringing market and regulatory understanding to bear and making sure that there was a no-surprises, keeping-markets-open focus through the process that we have been through.

So I do not see equivalence and divergence as axiomatically pulling in different directions. I think what we will undoubtedly see is a period where the definition of equivalence needs to be—we need to have a thoughtful discussion, actually, about the substance of equivalence, moving away from its ephemeral nature and the fact that it can be granted or dismissed within a 30-day notice period. We need to have a much more joined-up and mature discussion about how two major markets can keep on doing business together, particularly in investment management when, as I mentioned earlier, 37% of Europe’s assets are managed here in the UK and when, for certain member states, whether it is the Dutch pensions industry or something else, the quality of investment management conducted here in the UK is seen as a prized asset and something that they want to learn from and continue to enjoy the benefit of.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q What would be the practical implications for UK-based investment companies— your members—if we stayed where we are now, with the UK having granted equivalence recognition to EU-based companies but not having a reciprocal recognition in return?

Chris Cummings: We have been helping our members prepare for all shades of Brexit outcome over the last four years. Firms have taken the decisions that inevitably they would take, so they have set up extra offices, they have recruited further staff, they have gained the necessary permissions and licences from the national competence authorities. At the moment, even with, perhaps, no deal or a rather thin deal, we are as well prepared for that outcome as it is possible to be. We are giving much more thought to the companies that we invest in—everything from life sciences to technology, to transport and infrastructure, to make sure that those companies are well prepared for the Brexit outcomes, but from our industry’s point of view, recognising the equivalence decisions that have been made today, we are set as fair as any industry can be. I am trying not to over-promise, but suggesting to you that the industry has thought long and hard about potential outcomes, and we are as prepared as we can be for immediate issues.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thanks. Can I slightly switch subjects now, to ask you about packaged retail investment and insurance-based products? The Bill removes the requirement for performance scenarios on PRIIPs. Could you just set out for us, in as simple terms as possible, what is wrong with these performance scenarios, and why there is a desire to remove them? If they are removed, what kind of information should be provided to consumers to help them make as informed an investment choice as people can?

Chris Cummings: Thank you for the question. You have touched on such an important issue for our industry. Through the consultation on PRIIPs we highlighted to EU policy makers and regulators, to our own Financial Conduct Authority and others, the dangers that we saw in the PRIIPs key information document, the PRIIPs KID. Because of how the methodology for PRIIPs was created—taking a rather avant-garde view of the calculation basis—it meant that we could have negative transaction costs. Somebody could trade in the market and it would not only not cost them any money; they could actually lose money by making a trade. That led to some perverse outcomes that were pro-cyclical in the presentation of the information they gave.

Let me give you an example by reflecting back on a new fund that has had just two or three years’ experience. Imagine if, over the course of its life, that fund had had a very strong performance; it had done very well over a three or four year period. Because of the pro-cyclicality of how it had to report performance scenarios—looking to the future—it would have to present a potential investor with scenarios that were entirely positive and that generated levels of return that nobody in the industry would seriously put in front of a retail investor to suggest that this was what they could actually get. They were being forced to do it because of the methodology—the calculation basis—which reflected only that, if you had a few good years of performance, your fund would continue to have good years of performance. Similarly, if your fund had had a few bad years of performance, all you could project was that that bad performance would just continue and continue. That was because of the calculation basis and the way that the rules were written.

As an industry, we kept drawing this issue to the attention of the policy-making community in order to say that, if nothing else, when it comes to disclosure and investment, we have managed to convey the central message that past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Please let us keep on reminding people that past performance is no guarantee of future performance. Sadly, that requirement was taken away. The new calculation basis was introduced, which led to the industry ultimately being forced by its regulator to produce this pro-cyclical—and deeply misleading, in our view—information.

We continued to lobby against the wider introduction of the PRIIPs KID, arguing first that it should not be introduced. Secondly, having lost that argument and seen that that it was introduced only to closed-ended funds, we argued that it should be kept there until the wider implications were seen and not extended into the world of undertakings for the collective investment in transferable securities, because of the scale of UCITS and how many millions of people across the UK and Europe rely on them.

We were genuinely heartened when the Treasury announced that, post Brexit, it would be undertaking a review of the PRIIPs KID. What we hope to see, actually, is a wider-scale review of disclosure, whereby we can start from a different position. Given the technologically advanced world that we are living in today—the greater use of mobile phones, applications and computers, and just understanding that people engage with financial services in a very different way—could we have a rounder discussion about how we can do the thing that we want to do as an industry? We want to have a more engaged client base and to help them understand the different funds that are available and the different risk profiles of those funds, so that they can invest with more confidence, and certainly with more clarity about likely outcomes, rather than having to give false performance scenarios that simply nobody trusted in the industry.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss (Glasgow Central) (SNP)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I have a couple of questions on equivalence. Equivalence is a bit of a point in time. How far do you feel that the limits of equivalence could go? How much change would happen before that was withdrawn?

Chris Cummings: I think this is a “two ends of the telescope” question, if you pardon the analogy. We tend to think a lot about the UK changing rules and changing approaches, and there are one or two examples of that in the Bill—we have just mentioned PRIIPs KID. There always seems to be a sense that it would be the UK moving away from the central European view of regulation. Of course, that need not be the case. There are a number of regulatory reviews that are timetabled to be considered by the European Commission. There is the alternative investment fund managers directive. There is the review of PRIIPs and so on. Looking two or three years out, there are quite a few opportunities where, actually, the UK may stay still because the rules work in practice and it could be the European Commission that is drifting away from the central scenario that we are in today. That is perhaps almost inevitable, looking 10 years out; there are bound to be changes to the regulatory architecture and the regulatory regime, because the UK will need to modernise its approach to regulation, and not only here and across Europe, but more globally, every economy is thinking about growth-oriented policies as a result of the covid crisis.

That is why, for us, we approach the discussion around equivalence very much from a point of view of saying, “Okay, even if the words on the page change, how can we make sure that the bandwidth is agreed by all sides, so that minor degrees of divergence from equivalence are not the straw that breaks the camel’s back?” That is why I come back to the point I was making just a moment ago about having a regulator to regulate a dialogue—a set, established forum where the FCA and the Prudential Regulation Authority can meet the European Securities and Markets Authority and the European Central Bank and so on, in order that information can be shared, regulatory approaches can be discussed and data can be shared as well, on a “no suprises” policy, so that we can make sure that in the UK and Europe there is a commonality of view, or a commonality of outcome certainly, that is being laboured towards.

I am confident that that would make sure that any discussions on equivalence are structurally much more sound and that we remove the political overlay. Across the industry, there is a concern that equivalence could be used as a political process rather than a regulatory one, which perhaps does not really lead to an outcome that is in the interests of savers and investors.

Every time a new rule is introduced that is different in the European Union from the UK, that adds costs to the industry, because we have to navigate our way through two sets of rules, which might not contradict, but simply do not join up. There are different reporting deadlines for data and so on. That is why we would really like to make sure we move to an outcome-based approach, rather than to a prescriptive, words on the page, exact phraseology, which will simply prove a headache for all.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q That is a good point about equivalence working on both sides; even though we have got off the bus, we might need to try to catch up with the bus to make sure we are still going in broadly the same direction. In your earlier answer, you mentioned other jurisdictions having more experience, having dealt with this for longer. Are there any particular examples that you feel would be useful, which the UK could learn lessons from?

Chris Cummings: Our friends in Switzerland have been navigating these waters for a period of time. The Investment Association continues to cultivate deeper relationships with our Swiss opposite number to see how it has mapped the terrain. We should make sure that we learn the lessons from how the US and the EU have negotiated when it has come to major directives. We have had a few instances where either the US was trying to apply its rules extraterritorially, into the EU, or where the EU sought to apply its standards and approaches outside the EU.

A really noticeable one was around costs of research. The EU, as part of the MiFID approach, suggested that all research had to be paid for. Investment managers had to pay for research produced by investment banks; in effect, we had to hand over cash. In the US, those payments were illegal. So the two regulatory regimes, both trying to protect consumer interests, found themselves at loggerheads.

Through industry intervention and working very closely with the regulatory authorities in the UK and in Europe and the SEC in the US, we were able to come up with a reasonably uncomfortable but workable compromise that has lasted over three years now, which gets reviewed on an ad hoc basis, but which allows both markets to function, even though the rules do not align. It is that kind of approach that makes you think, well, it works but it is sub-optimal. It feels ephemeral and, from an industry point of view, it is something else that is a distraction from the work of looking after our clients and investors. That is why we think that an openness and transparency around regulatory initiatives and regulatory thinking will help cement relationships into the future.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. That is useful. Is there anything else that you expected to see in the Bill or that you would like to see in the Bill?

Chris Cummings: Actually, I think the Bill is a rather comprehensive document. I would defer to others who may have different opinions, but from the investment management industry, there is a good discussion about the overseas fund regime, which was essential for us; the future of passporting; a review of section 272, which we felt very strongly about; and of course equivalence. If anything, it goes towards what is most essential for our industry, which is protecting the delegation of portfolio management, because our industry in the UK is underpinned by an ability to manage the clients’ investments—yes, from the UK, but across Europe and much more internationally. Ensuring that ability to protect and preserve delegation is simply mission critical for the investment management industry, which is one of the few UK growth success stories that we have seen really expand over the past decade.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you. Lastly, are you clear enough on what happens for existing investors if equivalence is withdrawn?

Chris Cummings: This is a matter that we have been working on very closely with our regulator, the FCA, and talking to Treasury about. It is part of the reason why, in firms’ preparations for—forgive the terminology—a no-deal or a hard-deal Brexit, the industry had to do the thing that we exist to do, which is look after our clients. So that has led to more substance, regulatorily speaking, being established in other jurisdictions, particularly in Luxembourg and Ireland, which have traditionally been the places where most investment management back-office work has been done, with the UK, of course, being the centre for fund management and the actual investment aspect of the industry.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I have second the shadow Minister, Abena Oppong-Asare.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Chair. Thank you for coming to speak to us. There are four audit firms and one of the allegations is that they are very close to each other and cosy with big companies. What are your thoughts on that? In the Bill, it is not very clear that that has been addressed.

Chris Cummings: I am terribly sorry. I was having an IT glitch and I missed your question. I do apologise. Can I ask you please to repeat the question?

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q The four audit firms: there are concerns that they are very cosy with each other and are very close with the big companies. The Bill does not essentially address that kind of issue. It does not seem very clear to me. Do you have any thoughts on how that could be addressed in the Bill to strengthen it so that there is better transparency and the relationship is less cosy?

Chris Cummings: Thank you for the question. We take the very strong view that we, as investors, rely entirely on public information. The quality of information produced by management is pivotal to the investment decisions that we make as investors. That has led to the point now where the investment management industry has a stake in more than a third of the FTSE. We think long and hard about investing in any particular company, listed or unlisted, and that is why we believe that it is the investor who is the client of the audit. A company pays for the audit, but it is the investment community that is the client of the audit. That is why we are so outspoken in pushing for better quality audits, and ensuring that the chairs of the audit committee take their responsibilities towards their investors seriously.

We absolutely worry about too close a relationship between an auditor and the company that they are auditing. That is why we feel that audits should be reviewed and we are constantly striving to have a more competitive ecosystem in the audit world, so you raise a very good point. If I may, I will offer to review that section of the Bill in more detail, and if we see anything that strikes us as being too weak or in need of strengthening, I will write to you with our proposals on that very quickly.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q I want to follow up on that, because I recently read your comments about a new audit regulator in the Financial Times. The proposals gave me the impression that you felt that it would be able to ensure better reporting, and essentially hold the governance authority accountable to Parliament. Are you able to explain further about that?

Chris Cummings: Indeed. The audit profession has been through three major reviews recently. We entirely support the proposals to bring ARGA into existence. The work the FRC has been doing to prepare for the transition to ARGA has been commendable, but we need to go one step further and actually encourage policy makers to ensure that ARGA is brought into being as quickly as possible. Personally, I have been impressed by the new head of the FRC’s ability to convene and cajole the audit companies to exercise some soft power, to encourage them to improve the quality of audit. Still, it is not the same as having that statutorily recognised independent regulator, and we encourage this Committee—and other parliamentarians —to push for the establishment of ARGA as soon as possible.

Abena Oppong-Asare Portrait Abena Oppong-Asare
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Thank you, Chair.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

I call Gareth Davies. Gareth, I think you will have to move to the microphone over there.

Gareth Davies Portrait Gareth Davies (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q First, Mr Cummings, thank you for your comments about the extended permissions and the overseas regime, which I would agree with. However, can I specifically ask about these 9,000 funds? My understanding is that around 75% of all EU-domiciled funds are a SICAV vehicle, and I have two questions on that. First, what is your assessment of the demand level from UK investors for the SICAV vehicle, given that typically, historically, they have been much more expensive than the UK-domiciled equivalent? Secondly, can you explain more about the complementary nature of these funds to our market, specifically as relates to money market funds?

Chris Cummings: You are right in saying around 75% are UCITS. UCITS have become a global brand. It is a high watermark, at least currently, in an investor-centric investment vehicle, and rightly recognised by jurisdictions across Europe and internationally. In thinking about how the UK develops its own UK fund regime, which is some work that the IA has put forward to the Treasury and the FCA, we have taken the UCITS regime as our benchmark to think about how it can be expanded upon; how can it be modernised given the experience with UCITS over the last few years.

One of the core issues that the industry takes very seriously is better governance of funds. That is one of the reasons why we supported our regulator, the Financial Conduct Authority, in stipulating that, at fund level—not at company level—there must be an independent, non-executive director who asks the big questions about governance of the fund, and ensures that there is a clear value for money assessment at least annually, to drive down costs for investors and to ensure that investors are getting a better deal out of those funds. In terms of modernisation, we think that a great deal is already happening in the industry, with more to come.

Although money market funds are used by some retail investors, they are seen more as a capital markets instrument. Given their brevity, they tend to attract a lot of overnight money. Their particular structures are perhaps for more sophisticated professional and institutional investors. They are a useful counter, but really for us UCITS are the gold standard at the moment. We are naturally keen to extend the UCITS regime, especially post Brexit.

That is why we brought forward our own proposals for a long-term asset fund, which we think will not only modernise the UK fund regime but draw together some of the more interesting parts from other fund regimes. It has the benefits of an open-ended fund, and some of the advantages of a closed-ended fund, with an extra layer of governance. It will allow UK savers and investors, institutional as well as retail, to invest more in infrastructure, taking a longer-term view, and in what traditionally have been higher-growth companies—technology companies, life sciences, biotech and so on—taking a much longer-term perspective. We think that the long-term asset fund will be a great complement to the existing UK and European fund family.

None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

Does anyone else on the Committee wish to catch my eye in the remaining four minutes? In that case, thank you very much, Mr Cummings, for your evidence.

Examination of Witnesses

Emma Reynolds and Catherine McGuinness gave evidence.

14:42
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

We move on to our second panel of the afternoon, and the fifth in total. We have Emma Reynolds, formerly of this parish, now at TheCityUK, and Catherine McGuinness from the City of London Corporation. We have until 3.30 pm for this panel, and I will pull the plug if it goes over. Emma and Catherine, could you first introduce yourselves for the record, please?

Emma Reynolds: I am Emma Reynolds from TheCityUK. We represent the UK-based financial and related professional services industry, which employs 2.3 million people, two thirds of whom are based outside London. We are the largest taxpayer, biggest net exporting industry and contribute over 10% of the UK’s total economic output.

Catherine McGuinness: I am Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation. We are the local authority for the square mile. In addition, we work very closely with the UK’s financial and professional services sector, which carries our name even though, as Emma says, it is a UK-wide sector.

None Portrait The Chair
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Thank you. We will start with the Minister, John Glen.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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Q Emma, I will come to you first. Obviously, TheCityUK represents, as you said, a range of institutions and firms. It would be helpful for the Committee if you could set the context by summarising the industry’s reaction to the Bill, and try to give us the widest possible view of the industry’s reaction to the measures in it and what the consequences would be if we did not pass it. Afterwards, I will come to Catherine separately.

Emma Reynolds: Thank you, Mr Glen. We support the measures in the Bill, and both the overarching and the stated objectives. It is absolutely right that the UK Government are onshoring the regulations. There are obviously other measures within the Bill that are extraneous to that, which we support. The Bill is a welcome first step, but we look forward to working with the Government to develop an overall strategy for the financial services sector that could pull all the different strands together, building on what the Chancellor said last week, which was very welcome.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Would you like to spell out where you think anything is missing from the Bill? The second part of your answer seems to suggest that there is a lack of an overall strategy. Is that what you are seeking to say? Obviously this has been contextualised as a first step, as we get towards the end of the transition period. I have indicated, as the Minister, that there will be subsequent legislation in future Sessions. Would you like to set out in more detail where you think there are specific gaps at this point?

Emma Reynolds: It is a very welcome first step. All I would say is that we, as an industry, have a broader agenda about our industry’s long-term competitiveness going forward. I would not have expected to see that in this Bill. We had a very good relationship with Government, particularly with the Treasury, but some of the other issues that we are concerned about relate more to other Departments, whether it is access to skills and talent from abroad or green finance or other issues that are not in the Bill. It is a welcome first step.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q May I turn to Catherine? Thank you for giving evidence. One of the issues that has come up generally is an apprehensiveness about the capacity of the regulators in terms of their technical expertise to implement detailed rules such as the Basel rules. I have been fortunate enough to have been a Minister for a while and I recognise the complexity of the dynamic between the Treasury and the regulators. There is an intimate relationship, but could you give us a view on how you see the role of the regulators in the context of this Bill? Do you see any risk that they are being asked to do something that stretches them beyond what they should normally be able to do? Could you give the Committee a sense of that responsibility and how well placed they are to do what we have asked them to do?

Catherine McGuinness: Thank you for inviting me to give evidence. I cannot answer on the technical ability of the regulators in detail, other than to say that, in our experience, they are very capable of adapting and innovating. Indeed, we heard last week at Mansion House from both the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority about their plans. Obviously, the regulators will be gaining significant powers under the Bill. It is important that we look at how those powers are scrutinised, including by Parliament.

On that front, the International Regulatory Strategy Group, which both TheCityUK and the City Corporation support, has suggested that parliamentary scrutiny be strengthened and reordered, and that the role of the Treasury Committee be complemented by setting up a joint Select Committee on financial regulation to look in detail at specific pieces of financial services regulation. That would be important to strengthen scrutiny, as we hand more responsibility to the regulators. It would also be useful––and the IRSG has recommended it––to increase the transparency of decision making by both the Treasury and the regulators, and to improve scrutiny. I am not sure if I have fully answered your question.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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Q You are referring to the response of both yourselves and TheCityUK to the consultation on the future regulatory framework, separate and additional to the Bill?

Catherine McGuinness: indicated assent.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Q Good afternoon, Emma and Catherine. It is very nice to see both of you. Emma, I want to come to you first. You are the fifth panel to appear and there is beginning to be a pattern to the questions that we have asked. I feel that I have asked this of a few people.

The Bill does lots of different things but two big things are that it transposes, or onshores, lots of different parts of EU regulation from many different directives. It gives powers to the UK regulators to govern all that. In doing that, as we come to the end of the transition process, there is greater freedom for either the Treasury or the regulators to diverge from that body of EU law. The Bill does that, but it also has this overseas markets vision, which is granting equivalence on a country-by-country basis, to the 9,000 funds that are domiciled overseas but which operate in the UK. I want to talk a bit about these two different parts of the Bill. Starting with you, Emma, what do you think your members’ attitude is to onshoring this body of EU law? Do they broadly regard it as something that they would like to stick with or are there areas that they would quite quickly want to diverge from and, if so, what would be the most prominent areas?

Emma Reynolds: We were delighted that the Government took the unilateral decision last week to grant the EU equivalence in a number of different areas. We are still hopeful that the EU might follow suit. We have been calling for a technical outcome-based approach to equivalence for some time now. Within that, you could have different rules but the same outcomes. Even if there are pinch points around Solvency II—only some elements of Solvency II—you could have different rules in the UK that achieve the same objective.

From now until 1 January, we will remain technically equivalent. Inevitably, over time, there will be some changes in regulation, both on our side in the UK and in the EU. The EU is currently reviewing some of its own directives, MiFID being a case in point, but there are others too. We do not want to see divergence for divergence’s sake. We would like to encourage a strong dialogue between regulators in the UK and the EU. There already is that dialogue, but we would like to see a framework for that plan. If you are a member of ours who trades across borders, you want similar or the same rules.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Q You referred to the equivalence decision announced by the Chancellor last week. That is one end of the telescope; the other end is hoping—I am sure the Chancellor hopes, too—that this is reciprocated. Do you see a relationship between the degree of divergence, which may occur and the decision-making process from the other end of the telescope on equivalence for UK firms trying to sell into EU markets? In other words, Mr Barnier talks a lot about the level playing field, but if it looks like we are departing from a level financial playing field, will that impact on those equivalence decisions you hope for?

Emma Reynolds: We are still hopeful that the EU might take a similar decision to what we saw last week. We would not like to see divergence for divergence’s sake. There is no immediate appetite for great divergence from EU rules from our members. Does that answer your question?

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Q Yes. Catherine, can I turn to you on the question of regulators? This gives a huge amount of new powers to the regulators. I have a two-part question. One, do you think they can handle it? Two, returning to what you said about a new Select Committee on financial services regulation—or whatever the exact title was—do you think that is an important part of a new accountability regime for the regulators, given the enhanced powers that the Bill gives them?

Catherine McGuinness: First of all, I do think the regulators can handle this, but I think it is important that we look at the right degree of scrutiny. Yes, when we speak to practitioners with the International Regulatory Strategy Group, it is their view that a joint Select Committee on financial regulation, which could look in detail at pieces of financial services regulation, would be a useful way of enhancing and embodying that scrutiny.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Thanks very much. I have no further questions.

None Portrait The Chair
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For the Scottish National party, first of all, their spokesperson, Alison Thewliss.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Q Just to pick up where Pat left off on the idea of scrutiny, Catherine, I think you mentioned that the City of London has a joint committee on that. Could you tell me a bit more about how that operates and whether there is something Parliament can learn from that?

Catherine McGuinness: Actually, what I was mentioning was the International Regulatory Strategy Group, which is a cross-sectoral group of practitioners, who come together to look at a number of issues and make recommendations. We can provide the Committee with their recommendations in this space. As I said, they are suggesting that we look at a joint Select Committee on financial regulation in Parliament. I am happy to share with the Committee more details about the International Regulatory Strategy Group and its current programme of work, if that would be useful, and to provide copies of the paper in this space.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Q That is really helpful, thank you. I think I share some of the nervousness that people have about all of these regulations being introduced and not having that level of scrutiny. Are there any particular areas where you feel that more scrutiny is necessary?

Catherine McGuinness: Regulation is a complicated issue. I think that if we are handing powers to the regulators to make regulation, when over the past few years we have made regulation through the EU, where there is level after level of consultation and development, we need to look at how we replicate that and put in the appropriate level of scrutiny as we take things forward ourselves.

I have to say that we very much welcome this Bill as a step in the right direction in getting the framework in place but, as people have said, it is a first step. We think it is then important to move on and look at the next round in the Treasury’s consultation on the regulatory framework, as well as how to implement—to stray a little from your question—the Chancellor’s statements in his announcement last week.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Q Thank you. Emma, are there any particular aspects that you feel require additional scrutiny and transparency over decision making within the regulator’s new powers?

Emma Reynolds: I would agree with Catherine and echo what she has said. Obviously, there are significant transfers of powers to the regulators, given that we are onshoring this regulation. In an EU context, we had the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, which is a sizeable Committee with huge resources and an enormous amount of time to write and draft amendments in this area.

It is not in the tradition of our Parliament to have such Committees. In a way it would mean this Bill Committee sitting permanently. In Parliament, working with industry and Government, we need to work out exactly how we will do it, bearing our traditions in mind. That is why the IRSG, which is a point of contact between us and the City of London Corporation, came up with some of the ideas in the paper, which Catherine mentioned. We are very willing to share that with the Committee.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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Q Thank you very much. One of the recommendations within TheCityUK briefing that was sent round was around working towards implementing EU capital regulation requirements and requiring further guidance on that. Do you feel that you have clarity since the briefing was sent, or do you still require more clarity?

Emma Reynolds: Yes, we sent that briefing out. Thank you for referring to it. Yes, we would like to see more guidance and clarity from the Government as to whether the UK’s version of the so-called CRR II—Capital Requirements Regulation II—is going to differ in any substantial way from the EU’s CRR II. Some of our members have put resources and time into planning for that. It is just a question of ensuring that we have the most efficient planning for what comes next.

Alison Thewliss Portrait Alison Thewliss
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That is useful. I will hand back to my colleagues.

None Portrait The Chair
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I saw Angela Eagle indicate she wanted to speak.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Angela Eagle (Wallasey) (Lab)
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Q Catherine, you said that the City of London welcomes the Bill. What more would you have liked to see in it that is not in it?

Catherine McGuinness: The Bill must be viewed as part of a package with what we then heard from the Chancellor’s announcement. It is a first step, but it does not set out an ambitious overarching strategy for financial services for the future. This is a critical part of our economy and we would suggest that we need that strategy as we move forward. The Chancellor’s announcement last week and the emphasis on openness, innovation and green seem to us to be a significant next step, but we need to look at an overall direction for this important part of the economy.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
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Q Emma, does TheCityUK have any thoughts on the same question?

Emma Reynolds: We agree entirely with what Catherine has just said. I think the Chancellor has made a start prior to the consideration on Second Reading of the Bill. He obviously set out certain key reforms in certain areas, most notably in green finance. He also launched a number of calls for evidence and taskforces. Working in partnership with Government, industry would like to see the Government come forward with a strategy that pulls all of that together. That is not an easy thing to do, but we are a world-leading financial services sector in the UK, and we want to see that continue. This is a question of partnership with the Government. We are not saying we want it done to us without us being in the room, but we do think there is probably more to do to create a more coherent strategy for going forward.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
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Q There is this tension between equivalence, which you fairly unambiguously said you wanted a few minutes ago, and the argument made that we should leave the European Union so that we can have competition and—this argument is made implicitly—make our own regulations, so that we can make ourselves more competitive. Do you think that divergence could make us more competitive, or is it more likely to be destructive to UK financial services’ ability to trade globally?

Emma Reynolds: If you are a global company that trades across borders, not just in the EU but in other jurisdictions, what you really want is the same or a similar set of rules. You certainly want global norms and standards on which those rules are based. There is no clamour for significant divergence from what we have. It is worth saying that although we are technically equivalent right now, and that will not change until 1 January, there will need to be responses from regulators, in terms of new regulation going forward.

We have the rise of FinTech, which brings its own challenges, but is a great asset to the UK. We have green finance, as well as some of the socioeconomic trends that have been accelerated by covid. All of these bring new challenges, and so our regulation cannot afford to sit still. We want to avoid unintended divergence when the EU and the UK are facing some of the same challenges. We may go about making our rules in a very different way, but if we could achieve broadly the same outcomes, that could mean we were equivalent, and that would provide advantages to those of our members who trade here and in the EU.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
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Q Thank you. Catherine, we are coming out of the European Union, where we used to wield great heft in the technical discussions around this regulation. I assume that is still the case. I speak from my experience as Treasury Minister. Are you worried that, untethered, the EU will go off in a different direction and regulate in a way that makes it much harder for us to trade into the single market?

Catherine McGuinness: I would say two things here. First, if we are not at the table helping to shape the regulation, there is, of course, the risk of divergence from either side as we exercise our own autonomy. I think that global standards are going to be critical for all of us, because we are talking about markets that operate across borders. It is in all our interests—the EU’s, ours and the institutions in the sector—to have a set of global standards around global issues. So, yes, there is a risk of divergence from either side. Keeping the conversation going as the regulation develops is going to be critical.

Taking the green question, for example, we have the EU, which is fairly advanced with its own taxonomy. We are now going to be looking at our own taxonomy, and I think that is a great thing that we should be doing. I also think that green finance is an area in which we can really lead the way, including in regulation. It will be important that we look at how those systems mesh together, and this is a conversation that the sector is encouraging our regulators to have with other countries, too—not simply the EU. I was nearly late because I came from a panel in the US speaking about the importance of a regulator-to-regulator discussion about some of these issues, and the role the sector might play in helping to develop thinking. It is possible that we may diverge, but it is in the interest of customers and businesses that there should be well regulated financial markets, with consistent rules and regulations over cross-border challenges.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
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Q With our leaving the EU, there has already been some competitive behaviour on the part of certain countries in the EU that shall remain nameless, which are trying to grab some of our business. Emma, do you think that that kind of dynamic, competitive, semi-predatory behaviour is going to trigger a kind of race to the bottom? Would whether or not there is a deal in the next few weeks make any difference to how you would contemplate that activity?

Emma Reynolds: I hope you do not mind if I take your last question first, because I think it sets the scene for the rest of your questions. There is very little in the deal for financial services, if there is a deal. However, our industry thinks it is incredibly important that there be a deal, because that would leave the door open for the EU granting equivalence in certain areas of financial services, and for other agreements that are essential to services more generally, such as provisions around data; frankly, if there is not a better agreement on that between the two sides, that could be very difficult, not only for our members, but for other service industries, too. I hope that answers your question on deal versus no deal.

There is nobody in our industry I could name who wants a race to the bottom. That is not the way to make yourself more competitive. We view the UK’s high standards as giving us an competitive edge. We have some of the highest standards in the world. We do not think that there will be a race to the bottom in that way.

On your question about protectionism, I think there is a live debate right now in the EU. One EU interlocuter put it to us very succinctly the other day as the trade-off between location and efficiency. European business has access at the moment to deep and liquid capital markets in the UK, which they find very useful, and which they cannot find in the EU currently. We would like to see that continue—that is in the interests of businesses not only here, but on the continent—but you are right that there is a live debate about what happens next, and whether location is more important to the EU. That debate is going on not only in the EU; covid has accelerated the trend towards protectionism, which is why it is so good to see that the UK Government are taking such an open approach in the Bill. We would encourage that to continue, because we think it is one of our strengths, and it gives us that competitive edge.

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you, Emma. Catherine, I know this is a slightly invidious question, but I am going to ask it anyway. Do you think the FCA is properly equipped and resourced to take up the duties that the Bill confers on it?

Catherine McGuinness: Yes, but I think it is welcome that the FCA, under its new leadership, is also carrying out a review. That is appropriate. Clearly, we are asking a new role of it, and it is absolutely appropriate that it should review how it operates as it takes that on. I am very confident in our regulators, but I am also pleased to hear that the FCA is carrying out its review. Secondly, I would go right back to my point around the need for scrutiny and challenge in that space. That should involve not just the Joint Select Committee, but looking at the Treasury’s role.

May I revisit the question about how the UK can retain its voice in setting standards?

Angela Eagle Portrait Ms Eagle
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Please do.

Catherine McGuinness: I feel I missed a couple of points there. It is true that part of the way we will retain our global leadership in standard setting is by bilateral dialogue and co-operation, regulator to regulator, with other countries. There is also the question of how we work with the multilateral organisations. We need to take a good look at how we engage, on our new footing, with the Basel committee—how we engage with other global standard setters. We have a good story to tell. I think next year gives us a very good opportunity, as we take up the presidency of the G7 and with COP26 coming up. I have already mentioned our potential leadership on green standards. We should really look at next year as part of this new chapter for financial services, and look at how we can make clear our place in standard setting, and in that conversation around global standards.

Stella Creasy Portrait Stella Creasy (Walthamstow) (Lab/Co-op)
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Q My colleague, Angela, has asked most of the questions that I wanted to ask. I just want to get a bit of clarity. Clearly, there is the question of whether your members are thinking about how the Bill will affect the future landscape for their operation. Could you give us some sense of how you feel the Bill will affect the many who are thinking about whether to stay in the UK or go overseas? What issues around the regulatory framework would be the tests for them? Are there things that we could do in the Bill to make it even more likely that people will commit to the UK, and are there things that would make it less likely?

Emma Reynolds: There are measures in the Bill that do, as I understand it, reflect some of the measures that the EU has taken around prudential requirements. In the past, there has been a bit of a one-size-fits-all for different sizes of companies. For smaller companies that carry a smaller risk, you need to take a proportionate approach to regulation. That is by no means saying that we want lower standards, or a race to the bottom; it is about considering firms of different sizes and the risks that they bring.

Obviously, there are challenges every time there is a significant change such as this, and 1 January will look and feel very different, but there are some opportunities, too. For example, we will be in a position where the UK is making laws and regulations for one member state. I mentioned the fast-moving challenges coming up, involving socioeconomic changes to do with covid, FinTech and green finance; the UK will have more flexibility and agility, and so can perhaps act more quickly than before, or than the EU can, operating with 27 member states.

Catherine McGuinness: I think that is right. To add to what Emma has said, the Bill is very helpful in demonstrating the planned way forward. People will be looking for an ongoing commitment to high standards—and, yes, agility in how we make our rules, but also a rigor in that. We cannot stress often enough the importance of this country’s openness to welcoming trade and business, and to high standards, against our strong regulatory backdrop.

It is very welcome that the Treasury will be looking at the strong patchwork of the bases on which people can come into the UK and operate here—the overseas persons exemption and so on. The Treasury will look at how that whole framework can be knitted together in a more coherent manner, as I understand it. What people will be looking for is an ongoing commitment to high standards and the ability to do their business.

None Portrait The Chair
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Are there any further questions? In that case, I thank our two witnesses on this fifth panel. Emma and Catherine, thank you for your evidence.

Examination of Witnesses

Adam Farkas and Constance Underwood gave evidence.

15:14
None Portrait The Chair
- Hansard -

For this third afternoon evidence session—the sixth in total—we have Adam Farkas and Constance Underwood from the Association for Financial Markets in Europe. It is our first panel in person. We have until four o’clock for this session. Adam and Constance, do you want to start by introducing yourselves for the benefit of the Committee, and for the record?

Adam Farkas: Good afternoon. Thank you for inviting us both. We are delighted that we decided to come physically. We did not know what the other invitees would decide. I am Adam Farkas, CEO of the Association for Financial Markets in Europe. AFME is a pan-European trade group representing a broad array of European and global participants in the wholesale financial markets. Our members include banks headquartered in various jurisdictions, spanning from Japan to the United States, and inside and outside the EU. What they have in common is that they all do business in the UK and the EU. Our purpose is to serve as a link between capital markets, participants and policy makers across Europe.

My experience in the financial services sector spans over 30 years, covering both private and public sector bodies. Prior to joining AFME this February, I was executive director of the European Banking Authority for nine years, and before that, I acted as executive chairman of the Hungarian financial supervisory authority. In my capacity at the EBA, I also served on the Basel committee for eight and a half years. I should note that there are a few topics directly related to my prior position at the EBA that I am not permitted to address today because of my restrictions, but Constance will address those as appropriate.

Constance Usherwood: I am Constance Usherwood, director of prudential regulation at AFME. My experience also covers both public and private sectors. I also worked at the European Banking Authority some time ago, and have worked for a globally systemically important bank. I am very grateful for the invitation to be here with Adam today to give evidence. I hope that that is helpful to the panel.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Welcome to the Committee, and thank you for giving evidence. Adam, may I start with you? We have heard a number of references today to the role that the UK has played in the EU financial services legislation process. Given the wide experience that you have just mentioned, it would be useful if you could explain how you see the UK, in terms of the role that it has played. In the context of the investment firms review, do you think it is right that we should be implementing a more proportionate regime for investment firms?

Adam Farkas: I will try to answer the first part of the question, but then I will leave it to Constance. because this is one area where I was personally involved, and I am not allowed to comment.

On the first part of the question, it is beyond doubt, and everybody in the public and private sector recognises it, that the UK as part of the European Union was playing a leading role in shaping and forming financial services regulations in the Union. That is clearly evidenced by the leading role of London and the UK more broadly as the financial services centre or hub of the Union. That is beyond any doubt. It was respected as such, and had a very strong voice in shaping the different regulatory initiatives. For the future relationship, it is important to have engagement and openness, and that a co-operative attitude, or co-operative setting, is retained, with two autonomous decision-making jurisdictions, in which the two sides can co-ordinate, exchange views and possibly even influence each other’s new initiatives or the evolution of their respective regulatory frameworks, with the potential aim of maintaining as much consistency as possible and practicable. On the investment firms regime, I pass the floor to Constance, because I was part of the development of the standards at the EBA, so I must refrain from comment.

Constance Usherwood: With the investment firms prudential regime, the UK authorities have played a key role in the development of the prudential regime that is specifically targeted to the business models of investment firms and making sure that it is proportionate. In that respect, we fully support the approach that is being taken today. In terms of the application to the different prudential frameworks and of the regimes versus the CRR, the bulk of our membership will probably not be directly impacted by the regime due to their size and activities. That would also tally with the approach that the EU has taken.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q If I may probe just a little further, you are saying that this proportionate change for the UK is in line with your members’ expectations and does not offer any serious threat to the integrity and reputation of the UK in this area?

Constance Usherwood: Yes, I would agree with that, absolutely.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q May I ask you about the LIBOR benchmark? This is a complex area, as we have already heard today. Do you agree with the approach that we have taken in the Bill? What would be the implications if we did not take this approach, and can you say what other approach we could take if you disagree with it?

Constance Usherwood: I am going to apologise, but I think that Adam is probably best placed to come in on this one.

Adam Farkas: We very strongly support the clear and oft-repeated message of the UK authorities that active transition by transaction parties to the new risk-free rate is the only way to achieve certainty of outcome in the transition. We have promoted this message regularly and we have developed market standard language to support it that can be used by investors to assist them in this process.

A very difficult part of the transition process relates to what happens to legacy contracts already in place that reference the old LIBOR rates that are being phased out. Within legacy contracts, there are the so-called tough legacy contracts, which are very difficult to repaper or change the reference in. They cause the most complex challenges for end users as well as for members of AFME or other financial services providers. We therefore very much welcome the provisions of the Financial Services Bill that give the FCA new powers to mitigate that risk by directing the administrator to change the methodology of LIBOR if doing so would protect the consumer and market integrity. That would enable the FCA to stabilise certain LIBOR rates during the wind-down period so that their limited use in legacy contracts can continue. The answer is yes, we are very supportive. None the less, we welcome the further clarity which, I think, will be forthcoming on 25 November from the FCA and the Treasury on what steps the authorities are planning to further this objective, because there are some outstanding questions that require clarification. I would be happy to go into them, but in the interests of time, I will stop there.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Just to be clear, there is no substantively different path that you anticipate that we could have taken on this matter that would give us a better outcome than the one that we are headed for, notwithstanding the need for the further clarification that is in train?

Adam Farkas: That is a difficult question to answer because we have not speculated on different outcomes, but certainly the path that the Bill is taking is something that we can very strongly support.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Thank you for coming today. I want to start with our current situation on equivalence, where we had an announcement from the Chancellor that the UK will grant equivalence recognition to companies based in current EU member states but we have not got a reciprocal equivalence recognition for UK companies selling into EU markets. What are the practical implications for UK-based financial services companies if that situation continues to exist for some time?

Adam Farkas: Very briefly, equivalence determinations provide the major legal framework for different jurisdictions to provide access to service providers that are licensed and supervised in each other’s markets. To answer your question, if equivalence determinations by the EU are not forthcoming, or not brought forward at pace or with the width that is expected, that will put limitations on the access of service providers—financial services companies and firms—to the EU market. This is really an issue of market access.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Q Can you give us some practical examples of what kind of barriers companies could face and of what decisions they might have to take to overcome them?

Adam Farkas: In very simple terms, if a company is licensed in the United Kingdom and does not have access, or loses access, to the EU—of course, that is completely free under passporting regimes—it will find limitations in serving clients or trading with counterparts in respect of the financial services that it provides in the other jurisdiction, which would be across the channel in this case. A lack of equivalence has been a risk throughout the process of the negotiations, so authorities have made significant efforts to prepare regulated entities—financial firms—and to force them to prepare for all eventualities. In other words, everyone is hoping for the best but preparing for the worst.

AFME members—of course, our membership is tilted towards the large players—have made extensive preparations over the years to get ready for the worst outcome, which would limit direct market access from the United Kingdom to the EU, by way of setting up entities, moving activities across the border and making all necessary arrangements to allow them to continue to serve their clients across the European market. Of course, if equivalence is granted and access is provided on that basis, it would improve the general situation of market access between the EU and the UK, so we welcome the Chancellor’s announcement and the UK Government’s determination last week to grant equivalence within a certain scope to third countries, including EU countries.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Q So the main mechanism for preparation, as you put it, is to establish an operation inside the EU if you have not already got one.

Adam Farkas: With a lack of equivalence. If no market access is provided on another basis, the main mechanism is to establish entities that are licensed, capitalised and supervised in the other jurisdiction, meaning that that entity can have access to the market, but that involves costs and operational implications.