[2nd Allocated Day]
[Relevant documents: the Twenty-first Report from the Treasury Committee, Session 2010-12, Accountability of the Bank of England, HC 874, and the Government response, contained in A new approach to financial regulation: securing stability, protecting consumers, Cm 8268; the Twenty-sixth Report from the Treasury Committee, Session 2010-12, Financial Conduct Authority, HC 1574; the Twenty-seventh Report from the Treasury Committee, Session 2010-12, Accountability of the Bank of England: Response from the Court of the Bank to the Twenty-first Report from the Committee, HC 1769; and the Twenty-eighth Report from the Treasury Committee, Session 2010-12, HC 1857, Financial Conduct Authority: Report on the Government Response.]
Further consideration of Bill, as amended in the Public Bill Committee
Orders under section 22 of FSMA 2000
Amendment made: 4, page 39, line 36, after ‘25(1)’ insert—
‘(a) after “22(1)” insert “ or (1A)”, and’.—(Mr Hoban.)
Permission to carry on regulated activities
I beg to move amendment 75, page 43, line 16, at end insert—
‘(3) Within a year of Royal Assent to the Financial Services Act 2012, the Treasury shall publish a report on measures to improve the stewardship of institutional investments, which may require amendment under subsection (1).’.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: Amendment 45, in clause 14, page 64, line 8, at end insert—
‘(3A) In section 73, subsection (1), insert at end:
“(g) to foster ethical corporate behaviour, including respect for internationally-recognised human rights.”.’.
Amendment 38, in clause 22, page 82, line 10, at end insert—
‘(c) provide for a requirement that an employee representative should be a member of the remuneration committee of a relevant body corporate, and
(d) provide for a requirement that the remuneration consultants advising on remuneration policy shall be appointed by the shareholders of a relevant body corporate.’.
Government amendments 5 to 8.
Amendment 73, in clause 40, page 127, line 38, at end insert—
‘Complaints by small businesses
234I Small businesses—complaints and proceedings
‘(1) The Treasury and Secretary of State shall bring forward proposals within three months of Royal Assent to the Financial Services Act 2012 in the following areas—
(a) to introduce provision for collective proceedings before the court in respect of financial services claims made on an opt-out basis by small and medium sized enterprises; and
(b) to introduce provision for complaints by small and medium sized enterprises to the FCA that a feature, or combination of features, of a market in the United Kingdom for financial services is, or appears to be, significantly damaging the interests of small business.’.
Government amendment 9.
Amendment 74, in schedule 5, page 204, line 37, at end insert—
‘(2) In subsection (1) after “approved persons”, insert “and the standards of stewardship expected of approved persons who are institutional investors.”’.
Government amendments 13 to 17.
This important Bill took a considerable amount of time in Committee, but it was still insufficient to cover many of the amendments that will be necessary to ensure that it is fit for purpose and able to fulfil the job for which it was designed. The Opposition believe that the Bill can still be improved, so many of the proposals we did not reach in Committee or that were not addressed on day 1 on Report are in today’s amendment paper.
This long group of amendments under the generic title, “Stewardship, etc.” covers a few issues, so I would be grateful, Madam Deputy Speaker, if you would bear with me while I touch on the details. Although amendments 75 and 74 relate to stewardship, other amendments are on different topics, which I should also like to address under this group.
On amendments 75 and 74, it is important to take the opportunity to ensure that the Bill properly improves institutional investors’ stewardship of pension funds or other savings or investments. Such funds are looked after by others on our behalf. In an ideal world, those who have pensions or other savings would spend time considering where they are invested, and whether they are invested ethically or in sustainable organisations and so forth. For reasons of practicality, however, that is often impossible, and investments are often grouped together in a basket of different products, so following the detail of where funds are invested is incredibly difficult.
That is why many people choose to use institutional investors—to ensure their best interests are being served. That means ensuring a good and strong rate of return, but many people care about where their money is invested. Most of British industry is partly owned by the collective pension funds of our constituents. They have voting rights through the shares and equity they hold, but they are often exercised without reference to our constituents and delegated to institutional investors to make decisions on their behalf.
The previous Administration and this one have therefore sought to address the quality of stewardship by institutional investors. Amendment 75 is on the threshold tests in the Bill and the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 on whether people are suitable or fit and proper, whether they have adequate resources to fulfil their responsibilities, whether they have close links with others in the sector, and so on. The Opposition felt it would be a good idea to ask Ministers to consider whether the array of reforms that should be made to corporate stewardship should be reconsidered in the light of those threshold tests.
Amendment 74 also looks to the 2000 Act and the general rules of conduct of approved persons and seeks to amend the Bill so that it addresses key aspects of the good stewardship agenda. We argued in Committee and earlier that the Bill is a missed opportunity radically to improve the stewardship of some of the key players in corporate Britain, especially those large firms—banks and institutional investors—that have such a direct impact on society at large.
The stewardship code was brought into force in 2010. We have had reasonable progress, with around 230 asset managers, asset owners and service providers signing up in the first 18 months, but sadly, the Bill does not reference the Financial Reporting Council, which is the UK’s independent regulator responsible for promoting, among other things, high-quality corporate governance. We want the Bill to do more to give regulators a proper and clear mandate to strengthen the stewardship code where appropriate and give them sufficient teeth to ensure that significant culture changes can happen. These things do matter. We have to build a framework that roots out bad habits and addresses what some people have called the principal agent dynamic—the fact that shareholders are often very fragmented and, when faced with unified managers, are often unable to make any headway. Senior executives can sometimes respond only if there is a 50% plus one coalition of shareholders.
We need to rekindle that dynamic. Some have said that it is time for a shareholder spring or awakening, and there have been some suggestions recently that certain company shareholders, at the annual general meetings and elsewhere, have begun to ask fundamental questions of the senior executives. It is the mismatch between the power that senior executives can have and the lack of power of—paradoxically—the owners of some of these large companies that needs addressing. In legislative terms, we often have debates about firm rules and fixed ways of doing business. Obviously, it would be preferable if the dynamic between owners and managers were able to ensure that we had a healthier, more open and transparent way of doing business.
I commend those institutional investors who show an active interest in how they use the voting rights of their investors and use that leverage to try and influence positive corporate behaviour by the relevant companies. It must be tempting for many institutional investors, when faced with a company perhaps with a management dysfunction or some behavioural failing, to sell up and walk away from that company. That is too often the history of such shareholding. It would often be far better if shareholders, as owners, could stay and try to fix the culture of the organisations that they own. It is that sort of change that we need to find a way of addressing. Yes, some shareholders will not want to say publicly that they disagree with senior executives, because that could affect the share price and they would therefore be affecting their own financial interests in some ways, but there are several ways in which institutional investors need to have the ability, directly or indirectly, to influence what is going on.
Protests in recent months have, in some cases, seen the rejection of some of the larger pay deals in big companies—for instance, the executive remuneration packages at Trinity Mirror, Pendragon and Aviva. The banking sector has also seen some significant shareholder disquiet, including at Citigroup with the rejection of the chief executive’s pay package. Nearly a third of Barclays shareholders voted against the pay policies in that particular company.
So there have been some signs that shareholders are becoming interested in that more active role. This is perhaps to commend the work of the Association of British Insurers, which has done good work recently in encouraging its members to take a more active role. Those members account for some 15% of the stock market, and they recently wrote an unprecedented letter to the chief executives of some of the major banks in particular, saying that they were not happy and would no longer tolerate a “business as usual” approach when it came to remuneration, especially for executive directors.
Those moves are very positive, but we should not feel that the balance between shareholders and executives is sufficient. The persistent imbalance needs addressing in a number of specific ways. For a start, a shadow is often cast across the Atlantic as many institutional investors feel that what are known as the “acting in concert” rules affect them here. To what extent can institutional investors come together and discuss with each other their ability to voice common concerns about the behaviour of managers? I have sometimes heard concerns expressed that this may somehow be in conflict with anti-trust regulations. If the Government could clarify the “acting in concert” rules, it would help to send a clear signal to institutional investors that it is possible to have those discussions, to come together to form a significant majority and to express a view about corporate behaviour.
As I said, some progress has been made recently on the stewardship code, but the results of some surveys remain slightly depressing. In March, a business bellwether survey conducted jointly by the Financial Times and the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators canvassed the views of company secretaries from the FTSE 350. It found that 79% of FTSE 350 firms reported that the stewardship code had led to no difference in meaningful engagement, with only 21% reporting a slight difference. Only one in 10 firms had actually met their top 10 shareholders in the past 12 months.
The culture, then, is not changing radically enough. That is particularly clear with the bonus culture. On numerous occasions, we have debated bank bonuses and the fact that the culture there has not changed sufficiently. We still receive correspondence from many constituents totally aghast at the scale of some awards paid in the industry. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has reported on its efforts to curb excessive pay deals and talked, primarily, about the need for a binding shareholder vote on annual remuneration policy. That is welcome, of course, but insufficient, especially if the binding vote on future remuneration policy does not have enough teeth. It has been suggested by many, including some in the asset management industry—Fidelity Worldwide Investment, for instance—that a 75% super-majority might still be necessary. That would make companies consult shareholders far more widely prior to the vote and would maximise shareholder engagement.
There is a series of other reforms on the stewardship agenda, however, that the Minister needs to consider and encourage the regulators to consider. For example, there is a strong case for simplifying and clarifying how executive pay is composed. Just finding out what exactly is being paid in remuneration packages is sometimes itself a high science. A case can be made for a basic salary element to be supplemented with one additional performance-related element to help to ensure that shareholders can clearly comprehend the absolute levels of executive pay. We need greater transparency so that shareholders can understand what is being paid to managers.
It would be helpful if the reporting of pay packages was more standardised across a range of businesses and included single figures showing total remuneration. The Opposition believe that to increase transparency, shareholders should also be able to see awards that go beyond the boardroom, particularly in the banking sector. We have said that figures for the 10 highest-paid employees outside the boardroom need to be published, again so that shareholders can know what is happening. Let us bear it in mind that these things are not simply a matter of natural justice; they significantly affect the behaviour of those senior executives and the risks they take. If remuneration practices continue to reward excessive risk taking, linked to the exuberant activities that resulted in some of the more dangerous aspects of investments that took place ahead of the global financial crisis, it could ultimately lead to a significant liability for the taxpayer. This is relevant if we are to learn the lessons of the financial crisis.
There is also a case for ensuring that employees have a greater stake in what is happening within the companies in which they work. The proposal—put forward I think by the High Pay Commission—to publish the ratios of the pay of the highest-paid employees to that of the median would be a good way of ensuring a better sense of how a company was bringing all its stakeholders along in its business plan.
One of the key issues that still requires action is something basic: the mandatory disclosure of voting patterns by institutional investors. Many institutional investors are beginning to disclose their voting practices. That is a good thing, but in this day and age, that needs to be a basic, minimum requirement. A number of organisations, including FairPensions and others, have been pressing for the change, and the time for action has come. Not only would the mandatory disclosure of the voting patterns of institutional investors help to inform the owners of stock—the investors in companies—of what was being done in their name; it would also promote competition and choice, so that consumers could judge where their investments might best be placed to match their views, whether ethical or environmental.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) has an amendment in this group, and she will no doubt talk to it in a moment. It is of course important to ensure that regulators and the sector pay greater care and attention to ethical, human rights and sustainability questions. However, I also want the general public—pensioners, and other savers and investors—to have the information about what is being done in their name with their investments. That is why the mandatory disclosure of voting patterns is so important. The Minister therefore needs to trigger the powers in the Companies Act 2006, which are ready to go, so that they are brought into force and the stewardship agenda is promoted, and to do so as soon as possible.
However, one of the most important reforms to stewardship must be the reform of remuneration committees in large corporations, in particular those in the financial services sector. I hope that amendment 38, standing in my name, will gain some traction with the Minister. Although we debated the matter in Committee, he must surely be persuaded by now of the virtues of ensuring an opportunity to appoint an employee representative as a member of a remuneration committee, and also that remuneration consultants—the specialists tasked with advising on the appropriate, going rate of pay for senior executives—should be appointed independently by the shareholders, not by the managers, who have a vested interest in the outcome of any review. Again, this is a pretty basic corporate governance reform, so I hope that the Government will accept the merits of it.
I cannot stress enough the importance of ensuring that employees have a better voice in addressing some of these questions. There is an incredible propensity for loss of morale in some of the big companies in this country if the employees feel totally disconnected from the continuous high pay, remuneration and bonus culture that they sometimes see in their own companies. When we have debated the issue in the past, the Minister has said, “We can’t possibly put an employee on a remuneration committee because that would involve a conflict of interest”—that is, because the employee would somehow be voting on their own pay and conditions. There are ample ways of dealing with conflicts of interest; the key thing is that the employee should have a voice to express a view about the ratios of the highest-paid to the typically-paid in a company, to ensure that we do not just have managers commenting on management pay, but that others can comment too. That would lead to a healthy dynamic on remuneration committees, and it is something that already happens in many of our European neighbour industries. We know that John Lewis and other UK companies already follow many of these best practices; I think the time has come for such arrangements to be broadened out.
It is also important to make sure that we move on from the perception that the remuneration consultants who are hired constantly make recommendations that please the highly paid management in some of these large banks and large corporations. Consultants will, like a sunflower, always face the sunlight and if they feel that their appointment will come by saying the things that please the people making the appointment, they will continue to say those things. There are some great consultants out there, and I do not, in any way, wish to denigrate their integrity, but, generally speaking, the culture can give rise to a perception that something is not quite right in how recommendations are made. So to ensure that those recommendations and the consultants’ behaviour are beyond reproach, it is important that we place this power more firmly and clearly in the hands of shareholders. That deals with amendment 38, and those are the points on the stewardship agenda that I hope the Minister will address.
Amendment 73 deals with a slightly different topic, as it seeks to amend clause 40. It has largely come about because of recent reports that small and medium-sized enterprises in the UK may have been mis-sold products by some of their bankers. In particular, some SMEs that might have taken out loan agreements were also told that they needed to take out an interest rate swap product—a hedge or an insurance against interest rates going too high—and therefore made such arrangements. Increasing concerns are coming to light about the way in which that practice occurred, with serious questions being asked of the commercial banks. This is obviously not of the scale of what happened with personal protection insurance, because that involved many millions of individual consumers being mis-sold a product. We are still in the early stages of finding out just what has happened, so this amendment seeks to bring forward powers giving small firms an ability to complain and to bring proceedings —court proceedings if necessary—to ensure that they could get proper adjudication on whether they were indeed mis-sold a particular product.
The amendment would do two specific things. First, it would require the Government to introduce proposals within three months of Royal Assent of this Bill to make it easier for groups of small firms to bring collective proceedings—class action suits, as they are often called—before the courts in respect of financial services claims, with the right to opt out for those companies not wanting to be party to the outcome of those cases.
I have written to the Minister on these points. Several years ago, he debated this issue when it came up during proceedings on the Financial Services Bill in 2009-10. He was then in a shadow role and he argued that the provisions could not go ahead because sufficient consultation had not taken place—the then Government undertook that consultation, partly at his behest. He has now been in office for a couple of years and we have another Financial Services Bill before us, yet still there is nothing in legislation on this.
In correspondence, the Minister tells me that
“legislating for collective proceedings through the Financial Services Bill would neither allow for the appropriate degree of consultation or take advantage of the opportunity to learn from the responses to the BIS consultation on private actions in competition law.”
All our amendment seeks to do is ask the Government to bring forward proposals within three months of Royal Assent. That would surely give ample time for proposals to be formed and for consultations to take place. If the Government cannot legislate now to help small businesses to ensure that, if necessary, they are able to undergo those collective proceedings to get justice in their cases, I do not know when a better time would be. The Minister needs to give us a little more information about the time scales he has in mind and the legislative vehicles he feels might be more appropriate than this Bill. The amendment would also empower SMEs to complain to the regulators, going beyond the collective proceedings in a court, and to give representative bodies the right to complain about market failures—in this case, to the Financial Conduct Authority—in the same way that consumers can complain.
SMEs are consumers, just as individuals are; and just as individuals can be victims of mis-selling, so can small businesses. There will from time to time be vexatious or malicious complaints about particular products, but they can be dismissed by the regulator. The Minister has helpfully tabled an amendment to clarify that a small firm—it might be an independent financial adviser or an approved person—should not be deemed as a consumer when making a super-complaint. That is a perfectly good amendment, but we need to recognise that there is a gap in the legislation when it comes to small firms wanting to make complaints in their role as consumers of financial products.
Is the hon. Gentleman concerned that, if the amendment is passed, financial institutions might stop providing the hedge products against interest rate changes or forex changes that SMEs might need and from which they might benefit? Is there not a slight risk of those products no longer being available, adding to the risk for SMEs over a period of time during which interest rates and foreign exchange rates might change?
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman, but no, I do not think that is a risk. Amendment 73 does not propose to outlaw interest rate swap products; indeed, it is not specifically related to those particular products. It is really about the powers of small firms to complain and to take proceedings if they feel that they have been mis-sold a particular product.
On the particular issue in the news about interest-rate swap products, there are some serious questions that the Financial Services Authority and the Minister need to answer. Were those interest-rate hedge products a requirement of loan agreements, or were they optional? Were the minimum and maximum parameters fair and balanced, or was the downside risk always likely to hit the consumer more than the banks? How frequently was there a mismatch between the term of the loan agreement and the term of the hedge product obligation? Sometimes the term of the hedge product obligation continued even though the loan term had concluded. Were there asymmetrical rights to cancel? In other words, could the banks cancel the arrangement for a particular product, with which the consumer or small firm had to continue? Those are some of the key questions.
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise this serious issue. What I do not understand in his amendment, however, is what additional powers it would effectively give to a small business, given that the Financial Services Authority can already investigate all these things. Am I missing something?
When it comes to complaints procedures, particularly about market failure, which the Financial Conduct Authority can look at, there is a trigger that small firms could have, but it is not available in the Bill. Just as the Minister has given super-complaint powers to a certain number of consumer bodies, so a case can be made for doing a similar thing for representative bodies of small firms. I am not claiming that the amendment is drafted to the perfection that the Minister’s officials might want, but I hope he gets the gist—that there is a gap here. Small firms might have written to him, expressing the fact that they feel that they have no power. I have certainly had some of them writing to me to say that they feel intimidated about complaining—to the regulator or to their bank—because of the sheer power that the bank has to withdraw lines of credit if it feels that the boat is being rocked.
There is an important underlying issue here, which the business community wants addressed. To what extent were small firms told to seek independent advice before signing up to the swap contracts? How widespread was the take-up of these particular agreements? I know that the Financial Services Authority is beginning to look at these questions, but I want to see more action and a swifter response from both the Government and the regulator.
Many of us want to see more action, but what I do not understand is the extent to which the hon. Gentleman believes that the FSA does not have the powers to investigate mis-selling of this type. If mis-selling has occurred—the hon. Gentleman provided some good examples of unfair and asymmetric contracts—surely the FSA is already able to investigate it.
Indeed it can, but it is the way of triggering an FSA investigation that is the case in point. The FSA can choose not to listen to the voices of dozens or hundreds of small businesses, not necessarily in regard to this product but in regard to other products in the future. It is a question of giving some power to small firms, as consumers, to trigger an investigation by the regulator. This is not just a pro-consumer amendment; it is a pro-business amendment, as I hope can be agreed on all sides.
I have spoken about the amendments tabled in my name; there are others on the list. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
Let me begin by referring Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests. I think that I should declare registrable holdings in RBS and Lloyds as regulated entities. I have just checked my entry in the register, and note that I have a declarable interest in Highway Capital. It is a stock exchange rather than a parliamentary interest, but I think that it should be declared because it is relevant to the debate. I also founded, and still chair, John Hemming and Company LLP, which supplies software to the financial services sector. Although it is not itself regulated by the FSA, it trades with FSA-regulated entities, so I think that interest should be declared as well.
My hon. Friend the Member for Solihull (Lorely Burt) sadly cannot be here today, although she attended 16 of the Committee’s sittings. She has, however, passed me certain comments that she has received from interested parties, which she wishes me to raise with the Minister.
Payday lending has been a substantial issue throughout the debate. My personal view is that it is not a good thing, because it traps people in many circumstances. The question of what is the best way of dealing with it is a complex one, and I think that the Government are entirely right to ask the University of Bristol to investigate it. However, I have spoken to companies in my constituency and have said that I do not think that it is a very good thing.
In Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Solihull said that the Bill should explicitly encourage the Financial Conduct Authority to seek to maintain and extend consumers’ access to financial services that meet their needs, and that when making regulatory decisions, it should assess their impact on markets and consumers. It should place value on policy proposals and regulations that increase access to savings, protections and other financial products, and also on financial advice. In the absence of such a requirement, there would be a risk of the FCA always being steered towards a risk-averse regulation. Markets might be restricted to large groups of consumers to avoid any consumer getting sub-optimal products.
The Government seek to encourage the development of simple financial products. If we are to succeed, we must have a regulator working with the grain of the policy rather than acting as an obstacle to it, as appeared at times to be the case with the last Government’s stakeholder products initiative. Does the Minister agree that the FCA now has the “teeth” to engage with the industry and engage in issues such as the maximum number of rollovers that a payday lender should be permitted to allow? Could the FCA set a threshold for market entry? Could it impose on companies real penalties that hurt, rather than the £50,000 limit imposed on the Office of Fair Trading, and make lenders pay compensation to consumers who have suffered detriment?
Let me now turn to the reflections of industry practitioners. The smallest businesses are keen to ensure that the cost of the regulation to them is not disproportionate. Forty per cent. of credit licence holders are sole traders. What cost-benefit analysis has been carried out for the smallest practitioners?
What about the implementation time? The Finance and Leasing Association has observed that the less far-reaching Consumer Credit Act took four years to implement. It estimates that implementation of this legislation would take between five and seven years. I am sure that the Government will work with all the professional bodies in devising a sensible implementation plan, but I should be grateful for any reassurance the Minister can give.
The Association of Independent Financial Advisers is fearful about the lack of a limit on time for complaints, which it says will place a burden on provisions that it will need to make to cover this open-ended provision—
Order. I should like the hon. Gentleman to do it now. Otherwise I am going to sit him down straight away, given that he knows that he was out of order. Presumably that is why he was speaking so fast. I ask him to speak directly about the amendments.
After that exchange, I rise to speak to amendment 45, which stands in my name and that of other Members, with some trepidation. I shall try to keep to the point.
The amendment places a duty on the Financial Conduct Authority, in its role as the UK listing authority, to require all applicants to the stock exchange to report on the human rights and sustainable development impacts of their operations. The Minister has said that the FCA needs to be a single-minded regulator. The amendment would not distract the FCA from its strategic objective, but would serve to uphold the integrity of the market and the London Stock Exchange in the fullest sense of that term. As the hon. Member for Hereford and South Herefordshire (Jesse Norman) has said, we must uphold honour and morality in the markets, but we must also maintain Britain’s international competitiveness. The amendment will achieve both objectives.
Conveniently, the amendment is also in line with the Government’s policy commitments. In June last year, the UK, along with every other member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, endorsed the UN framework on human rights and transnational corporations, which for the first time provides a framework for business and human rights. It was an historic agreement, and the Government are very supportive of it. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office has been particularly enthusiastic in its support for its principles, but so far the Government have not spelled out how they intend to fulfil them. Listing requirements specifically relating to human rights and sustainable development will be a very strong first step. As some Members may be aware, the LSE is currently host to a number of companies that have been found guilty of gross violations of human rights, particularly in countries that are in conflict or deemed high risk, yet very few companies have been held properly to account for such actions.
Last June, Richard Lambert, former director general of the CBI, wrote an opinion piece for the Financial Times. He said:
“It never occurred to those of us who helped launch the FTSE 100 index 27 years ago that one day it would be providing a cloak of respectability and lots of passive investors for companies that challenge the canons of corporate governance such as Vedanta…Perhaps it is time for those responsible for the index to rethink its purpose.”
Our amendment would clarify rather than rethink the purpose of the stock exchange, allowing the FCA to take into account an applicant’s respect for human rights and sustainable development, in protecting the integrity and respectability of the exchange. That has been done elsewhere, such as in Hong Kong, and Istanbul, Brazil, Indonesia, Shanghai, Egypt, Korea and South Africa have all taken steps in that direction.
Such regulation would not be burdensome on applicants. Publicly listed companies already report on their social and environmental impacts as part of the requirements under the Companies Act 2006. This amendment would simply make explicit the requirement to include human rights and sustainable development in their reports and demonstrate to applicants that the Government do not tolerate or accept failure to respect human rights.
Apart from the moral argument, there is a strong business case for such requirements. There is increasing recognition that environmental and social factors can have a material impact on business returns and a wider impact on reputation. The gulf of Mexico oil spill—which forced BP to cancel its dividend for the first time since the second world war and to report its first annual loss in 19 years—should have removed any doubt that environmental and social issues can be vital to company success.
One of the virtues of London’s financial services sector is its sustainability, security and stability, yet we are falling behind other countries in our commitment to sustainability. The Bill provides a great opportunity for Ministers to get on the front foot in respect of this agenda. The FCA’s purpose is to uphold the integrity of the markets. I ask Ministers to consider that term in its fullest sense in respect of companies’ environmental and social impacts.
This is a probing amendment, so I shall not press it to a Division, but I will listen very carefully to the Minister’s response.
I apologise, Madam Deputy Speaker, for coming and going from the Chamber during the debate; I have been chairing another meeting.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) on the way in which she has promoted the debate on the issue and on her amendment. She has approached the matter articulately and with considerable compassion. She has demonstrated that ability to the House on a number of issues, and I congratulate her on her promotion to the Labour Front Bench.
I was the Member who assisted in the launch in the House six weeks ago of the report, “UK-listed Mining Companies and the Case for Stricter Oversight”. The report was produced by the London Mining Network and supported by Amnesty International and a range of other organisations. It brought together examples of the operation of companies in the mining sector listed on the London stock exchange and the role that they played in the abuse of human rights, the environmental degradation of vast tracts of countries within the developing world and the overriding of the cultural values of local people.
The various organisations that came together to launch the report included human rights groups and environmental groups, as well as a number of community and religious groups, and they are looking to the Government for some movement on that issue. As my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan argued, those human rights, environmental and cultural abuses should not take place in the name of British companies listed on the British stock exchange. Any effort the Government can make to give this country’s financial authorities the powers to exert some influence on the operation of such companies is critical. As my hon. Friend has said, such actions are causing such long-term reputational damage not just to the individual companies but to the British financial system that they will eventually rebound on us. The matter needs to be addressed, and it needs to be addressed now.
When we launched the report, I was moved when I met the groups campaigning on the issue in Peru. I want to give this example not to delay the House but to demonstrate the significance of the amendment and the debate, as well as to suggest a possible route through for the Government. This example has gone unchecked by the financial authorities in this country. In 2005, Minera Majaz, a wholly owned subsidiary of the British company Monterrico Metals, was working hard in the northern highlands of Piura in Peru to get its social licence and start the operation of its first copper project. The concerns held by local people about possible environmental degradation as a result of such mining led 1,000 people to march on 1 August 2005 to protest against the mine. They were met by hired thugs who beat a large number of them up; 29 people were held within the mining camp, where they were tortured, and one person was killed. That was done in the name of a mining company that is listed in this country and is therefore considered to be a British company. A number of the women who were detained were sexually abused by the thugs with whom the company had armed itself. There have been some prosecutions and, thanks to the activities of Leigh Day and Co. Solicitors, the human rights lawyers, there has been some compensation. The case was exposed within the British media, too.
The operation of that company has damaged the reputation of this country in Peru in the long term, so the Government must be seen to act to put in place a regulatory system to prevent that from happening again. The least we can do is take on board the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan, which states that one factor to consider when overseeing the operation of a company listed in this country is its “ethical corporate behaviour”. In fact, the UN recently suggested that that was the role of member states, which should put place the necessary legislation and structures. My hon. Friend’s amendment is in line not only with the best interests of human rights and environmental sustainability but with the international obligations being placed on us and preserving the long-term reputation and viability of our financial services industry.
I understand where the hon. Gentleman is coming from but we have tried that and it has not worked. We sought under the recent Companies Act to increase the responsibilities on directors, but unfortunately we were unsuccessful. The evidence that came to the London Mining Network report, which I shall send to the hon. Gentleman, clearly shows that the existing system is not working, and this Bill provides an opportunity to enhance the powers of the regulatory authorities in this country.
My hon. Friend the Member for Wigan will not push the amendment to a vote. I understand why, although I am a bit more proactive on these matters. May I suggest to the Minister that the Government usefully look at the report and bring together the relevant representatives, including the existing authorities and the new individuals who will sit on the various authorities when the Bill has gone through, to discuss where we go from here? How do we ensure that we have an effective mechanism that includes the monitoring of corporate ethical behaviour within companies that are listed in this country and that gain all the advantages from that, such as reputational advantage, but that are doing our country a disservice through their operations in the developing world?
I am grateful for the opportunity to reply to this debate. The hon. Members for Wigan (Lisa Nandy) and for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) have raised some very important issues and there is a lot of truth in what they say. The reputation of the UK listing regime depends partly on the behaviour of companies, and we need to think about that quite carefully. However, there are other forums in which these issues should be explored—I do not believe that the Financial Services Bill is the place for it. In the regulatory reforms we have brought forward, we have tried to be very clear about the responsibilities and focus of the new regulators, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Prudential Regulation Authority, and the macro-prudential body the Financial Policy Committee.
Matters of stewardship and corporate behaviour are predominantly the responsibility of the Financial Reporting Council, which is responsible for the stewardship code and corporate governance issues. I encourage both hon. Members to engage with the FRC on this issue. Of course, it is not only the FRC that is relevant. The hon. Member for Hayes and Harlington talked about the mining sector, and the Government are engaged in that debate. We are a strong supporter of transparency in the extractive sector and we are pressing for requirements to be placed on EU extractive companies to disclose the payments they make to Governments. That is flowing from the accounting and transparency directives. We are also very supportive of the extractive industries transparency initiative, under which companies publish the payments they make to companies in resource-rich countries, so we are aware of the need to increase transparency.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way, but I urge him to speak to his colleagues, particularly in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, because this amendment is supported by a wide range of organisations. They include investors and members of the business community, as well as non-governmental organisations that represent those whose lives have been so appallingly blighted by some of the companies that my hon. Friend the Member for Hayes and Harlington (John McDonnell) and I have been discussing.
The hon. Lady makes a good point, and if my colleagues in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are not reading this debate carefully I shall certainly raise the matter with them and ensure that they think carefully about their role. I encourage her to speak to the FRC about these issues.
The Treasury Committee interviewed members of the Financial Reporting Council this morning. They explained to us that their powers are about implementing or explaining and that they do not have powers to deal with companies that break the rules in this regard. Would it not therefore be appropriate to involve a body such as the FCA, which really could deal with implementation?
As my hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) highlighted, there is a responsibility on directors and there are criminal sanctions for criminal behaviour. We need to be very careful that we do not duplicate powers that already exist elsewhere and that we do not confuse the role of the regulators. It was the Treasury Committee that highlighted some of the problems in the existing regulatory system with the confusion of roles and remits. We want to be very clear in these reforms about what we seek to achieve.
The FSA—and in future the FCA—has a role to play. The FSA supports the FRC’s stewardship code through mandatory requirements on asset managers to disclose the nature of their commitment to the stewardship code or to explain their alternative investment strategy. Those powers will transfer to the FCA.
I am saying that what we need to ensure in terms of the stewardship code, and what the FCA does, is to require asset managers to disclose the nature of their commitment to the stewardship code or to explain their alternative investment strategy, so the obligation is on asset managers rather than necessarily on companies themselves to disclose their adherence to stewardship matters.
All right, I will not be a pain any further. To be frank, that does not move the matter on. The Minister need not give an answer on this tonight, but it would be incredibly helpful if he or one of his colleagues met my hon. Friend the Member for Wigan (Lisa Nandy), me and representatives from the London Mining Network to talk this issue through because there is clearly a gap between the different institutions, which corporate ethics seem to fall down when it comes to their being pragmatically adhered to.
I am always loth to offer meetings on behalf of colleagues, because it has happened to me, but the hon. Gentleman may wish to approach the Minister with responsibility for consumer affairs, who is also responsible for corporate governance and the role of the FRC. That might be the most productive furrow to plough.
On amendment 38, the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) is absolutely right that we have heard it before. It is identical to amendment 150, which we discussed at some length in Committee before rejecting it. I do not think his arguments today were any more persuasive than they were a few months ago. I know that he will find that personally disappointing but I am sure he will get over it. In short, the objectives of each authority are broad enough to enable them to make the rules suggested in the amendment.
More generally, these issues are better considered in other forums, including those concerned with governance across the corporate sector. I also point out gently to the hon. Member for Nottingham East that the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills recently consulted quite widely on executive remuneration and that it included in that consultation both the suggestions that have been made, neither of which received significant support. [Interruption.] The hon. Member for Nottingham East says that it depends whom we consulted but it was an open consultation. Views were encouraged from across a wide range of bodies, including investor organisations, and I am sure that institutions such as the TUC and others would have taken part. I know that the Treasury Committee is also looking into this matter, so perhaps the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) can illuminate us about the conversations he has had this afternoon with Baroness Hogg.
I thank the Minister. What we were told today was that remuneration committees draw from a very select pool and are heavily influenced by the argument that their chief executive has to be at or above the average of all chief executives and that comparisons are made directly with the United States, which may be inappropriate. It was also made clear to us that we should widen that pool. One suggestion of how that could be done was to put an employee on the remuneration committee. If that is not acceptable, how is the Minister going to address this problem?
That is why the Government have embarked upon a consultation to look at ways to enhance the accountability of boards to their shareholders, looking particularly at the issue of executive pay. That is a welcome move and the Government will shortly respond formally to the responses to that consultation. I agree with the hon. Member for Nottingham East that shareholders must play a more powerful role in these issues, and in recent months they have put across their views more powerfully.
The hon. Member for Nottingham East spoke about the disclosure of voting patterns. As he mentioned, there is provision for such a power in the Companies Act 2006. The previous Government made it clear that they would use the power only if market practice did not improve. The outcome of the stewardship code has been to encourage institutional investors to vote more and to disclose that. The latest Investment Management Association survey of institutional investors shows that 66% of those surveyed now publish their voting records. That is up from 21% in 2004. Professor John Kay, in his review of equity markets and long-term decision making, is considering the issue and will report in the summer.
Let me move on to Government amendments 7 and 8 and Opposition amendment 73. Amendment 8 makes two minor technical corrections and allows firms and the Financial Ombudsman Service to make referrals to the FCA on matters of mass detriment. Amendment 7 deals with super-complaints. The new provision in the Bill for the FCA to receive super-complaints from designated consumer bodies has been widely welcomed. I am grateful for the scrutiny provided in Committee and in particular for the arguments made by the hon. Member for Makerfield (Yvonne Fovargue), who is in her place, who tabled an amendment in this connection.
It has never been the Government’s intention that the super-complaints mechanism could be made available to bodies whose purpose is to represent professional investors, but the debate in Committee highlighted the fact that the drafting would allow that. The amendment therefore revises the definition of “consumer” used in the super-complaints mechanism to exclude representatives of authorised firms.
Amendment 73 seeks to require the Government to introduce a provision allowing for collective proceedings for small and medium-sized firms and to give them access to super-complaints. The amendment has created confusion in the minds of hon. Members about the rights currently available to businesses to make complaints. Paragraph (b) of the amendment suggests that small and medium-sized businesses cannot make complaints. That is not the case, but I shall return to that.
I deal first with collective proceedings. The Government are consulting on a range of proposals to make it easier for consumers and small businesses to bring private actions in competition law, including on whether to extend to businesses the current right of consumers to bring a collective action following a breach of competition law, and whether to make it easier to bring such actions. We should take the opportunity to learn from the outcome of that consultation and reflect on what the implications might be for the financial services sector before proceeding to legislation. It would not be appropriate to legislate today in haste, without having consulted.
On access to super-complaints, the provisions in the Bill will not prevent bodies representing small and medium-sized enterprises which fit the relevant definition of consumers from making super-complaints. Within the new statutory framework the issue of what type of consumer body should have access to super-complaints is complex and will require more detailed criteria than can be set out in the Bill. These criteria will be of interest to parliamentarians and to organisations seeking to become super-complainants. I can therefore announce to the House that the Treasury will publish draft criteria for consultation later in the year.
On paragraph (b) of amendment 73 about the rights of small and medium-sized businesses to make complaints to the FSA, there has been much discussion about the mis-selling of interest rate hedges. I do not want to comment on that directly, as it is a matter for the FSA. However, I can point out that the FSA already has a powerful toolkit that can be very effective. That includes its powers to establish industry-wide or firm-specific redress schemes under section 404 of FSMA, which was recently used in the case of Arch Cru. The FSA is consulting on such an arrangement to help people who lost out as a consequence of the issues at Arch Cru.
The FCA will have the powers that the FSA already has to refer firms to enforcement, to use supervisory measures, to agree with or require a firm to undertake the necessary remedial action, including carrying out a past business review, and the payment of redress, or obtaining redress for firms through their use of their restitution powers under section 384 of FSMA. There are therefore provisions in place that will help the FSA to tackle complaints of mis-selling that businesses as well as consumers have brought to it. I hope that provides the clarity and reassurance that my hon. Friends are looking for.
My hon. Friend the Member for Warrington South (David Mowat) picked up in his interventions the confusion that amendment 73 has created. The FSA has the power to take action to help businesses which feel that they have been mis-sold products and to ensure that restitution can take place.
I am listening carefully to what the Minister says, and I agree that paragraph (b) has caused some confusion and may have planted some hope that did not need to be planted in some of my constituents, who have some sympathy with amendment 73, as do I. The Minister said that the FSA or FCA has a toolkit at its disposal, and I am sure it has been listening carefully to what he has said at the Dispatch Box this afternoon. Will he consider writing to the FSA to make that crystal clear, giving clarity to Members and constituents listening to the debate today?
I would not say that amendment 73 sowed seeds of hope. Rather, it sowed seeds of doubt by suggesting that those powers were not available. Of course they are available. I have written to hon. Members in respect of Arch Cru and also about interest rate swaps recently, setting out the work that the FSA is doing in this regard. It is looking carefully at the sales practices of a number of institutions in respect of interest rate swaps and will take action, as appropriate. I can reassure my hon. Friends and those who take a close interest in these matters on behalf of their constituents and businesses in their constituency that the FSA has the powers that it needs to tackle these issues properly and fully and to get to the bottom of them.
Sadly, I am none the wiser. I have three constituency cases in front of me on this very issue. Two of them include a letter from the FSA which clearly states that this is a matter for the courts to decide and is not part of its remits under the complaints procedure. Can my hon. Friend clarify why the FSA is telling constituents that it is a matter for the courts, but he says it is a matter for the FSA?
There are two issues here. There is a route through the courts that any type of consumer, whether retail or a business, can use if they have been mis-sold a product. That is a normal commercial right. What the FSA has identified as a consequence of the number of complaints on the issue that it has received from businesses is that it needed to undertake more work. It started that work in mid-March. It was looking at products that were sold in the run-up to the financial crisis, and as a consequence of its investigations it believed that more work was needed to establish the scale of the problem and to determine what action should be taken.
There is nothing contradictory about the letter that the FSA sent. Thanks to the efforts of a number of hon. Members who raised with the FSA the concerns of businesses in their constituency, it recognised that they were not just isolated examples and that there was a wider issue that needed to be addressed. Its powers under FSMA enable it to address the problem in the right way. That is a welcome step forward by the FSA.
Looking at the issue from a small business perspective, small businesses are not allowed, as the amendment proposes, to take collective action on these matters through the courts, which is frustrating. They feel that the FSA is not responding to them adequately. There are great delays in the system. The Minister has commented on the legal aspect of collective actions currently going through. May we have some reassurance today that the FSA will act more promptly in dealing with these matters?
As a consequence of the reforms that we are introducing, we are giving the FSA, and now the FCA, tougher powers to tackle these problems. The FSA has a much-reduced appetite for risk and a more interventionist approach to tackling matters where there appears to be consumer detriment. Some people feel very uncomfortable with this, but it is right for the FSA to act vigorously in defence of consumers and to take the necessary action to ensure that consumers get a fair deal. The Bill takes that one step forward and that is why we have been keen to ensure that we give the FCA more powers, which it has demonstrated the appetite to use.
Amendments 5 and 6 require the FCA and the PRA to publish a statement explaining how they consider making the proposed rules compatible with the principles of regulation set out in new section 3B. Given the important framing role of these principles, I agreed with the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Nottingham East in Committee that the Bill should be explicit about the regulator’s duty in that regard, and I committed to tabling the appropriate amendments when the Bill returned to the House. I am sure that the hon. Gentleman will be keen to support them.
Amendments 13 and 14 are minor and technical and are designed to maintain a position currently provided for in FSMA whereby the FSA is not required to make rules for the FSCS that provide cover over all regulated activities. The amendments ensure consistency with section 214(1)(g), which provides that the scheme may in particular provide for a claim to be entertained only if it is the type of claim specified by the scheme. These are technical changes and I hope that hon. Members will support the Government amendments and reject those tabled by the Opposition.
I am sorry that the Minister has not reacted to the importance of the issues in the amendments that we have tabled today, particularly when it comes to the need for small firms to have a greater capacity to complain or to make collective proceedings when there is lack of clarity about their capability to do so. The issues were raised not only by the Opposition; Government Members also felt it necessary to clarify these issues. The Minister should at the very least have committed to write to hon. Members so that they could pass on to the businesses in their constituencies a clear route map for communicating some of these questions, such as interest rate swap mis-selling. All we sought was that small firms that feel aggrieved should have their concerns taken seriously as consumers of financial products, but hopefully the point has been made in the debate.
I am sorry that the Minister felt it necessary to reject our amendments on stewardship issues. It is not good enough for the Government to rebut such questions. The Prime Minister had plenty of warm words in January when this issue was high on the media agenda, but we have seen precious little action subsequently. The Government are not taking the stewardship issue seriously and it is important that they do so, particularly with regard to the remuneration committees of some of the largest corporations and our banks and the idea that these obscene bonuses and excessive pay packages can continue to roll on. As my hon. Friend the Member for Edmonton (Mr Love) said, the remuneration committees are self-perpetuating. Would it not be a good idea to broaden them out and try to put an employee voice on their panel, and make sure that they appointed consultants in a way that did not conflict with their own management’s vested interests?
After we have voted on amendment 40, which we debated on day one of Report, on the need to regulate some of the excessive high-cost credit arrangements, I will press to a Division amendment 38 on remuneration committees, because it typifies one of those areas on the stewardship agenda where we need to see action most swiftly. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Rules and guidance
Amendment proposed: 40, page 80, line 2, at end insert—
‘(2A) The FCA may make rules or apply a sanction to authorised persons who offer credit on terms that the FCA judge to cause consumer detriment. This may include rules that determine a maximum total cost for consumers of a product and determine the maximum duration of a supply of a product or service to an individual consumer.’.—(Stella Creasy.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
Amendment proposed: 38, page 82, line 10, at end insert—
‘(c) provide for a requirement that an employee representative should be a member of the remuneration committee of a relevant body corporate, and
(d) provide for a requirement that the remuneration consultants advising on remuneration policy shall be appointed by the shareholders of a relevant body corporate.’.—(Chris Leslie.)
Question put, That the amendment be made.
The House divided: Ayes 224, Noes 285.Division No. 9][6.29 pmAYESAbbott, Ms DianeAbrahams, DebbieAinsworth, rh Mr BobAlexander, rh Mr DouglasAlexander, HeidiAllen, Mr GrahamAnderson, Mr DavidAshworth, JonathanAustin, IanBailey, Mr AdrianBain, Mr WilliamBalls, rh EdBanks, GordonBarron, rh Mr KevinBayley, HughBeckett, rh MargaretBenn, rh HilaryBenton, Mr JoeBerger, LucianaBetts, Mr CliveBlears, rh HazelBlenkinsop, TomBlomfield, PaulBlunkett, rh Mr DavidBrennan, KevinBrown, LynBrown, rh Mr NicholasBrown, Mr RussellBryant, ChrisBuck, Ms KarenBurnham, rh AndyByrne, rh Mr LiamCampbell, Mr AlanCampbell, Mr GregoryCampbell, Mr RonnieCaton, MartinChapman, Mrs JennyClark, KatyClarke, rh Mr TomClwyd, rh AnnCoaker, VernonCoffey, AnnConnarty, MichaelCooper, RosieCorbyn, JeremyCrausby, Mr DavidCreagh, MaryCreasy, StellaCruddas, JonCunningham, AlexCunningham, Mr JimCunningham, TonyCurran, MargaretDanczuk, SimonDavid, Mr WayneDavidson, Mr IanDavies, GeraintDe Piero, GloriaDenham, rh Mr JohnDobson, rh FrankDocherty, ThomasDodds, rh Mr NigelDoran, Mr FrankDowd, JimDoyle, GemmaDromey, JackDurkan, MarkEagle, Ms AngelaEdwards, JonathanEfford, CliveElliott, JulieEllman, Mrs LouiseEngel, NataschaEvans, ChrisFarrelly, PaulFitzpatrick, JimFlello, RobertFlynn, PaulFovargue, YvonneFrancis, Dr HywelGalloway, GeorgeGilmore, SheilaGlass, PatGlindon, Mrs Mary Godsiff, Mr RogerGoggins, rh Paul Goodman, HelenGreatrex, TomGreen, KateGreenwood, LilianGriffith, NiaHain, rh Mr PeterHanson, rh Mr DavidHarman, rh Ms HarrietHarris, Mr TomHavard, Mr DaiHealey, rh JohnHendrick, MarkHepburn, Mr StephenHermon, LadyHeyes, DavidHodge, rh MargaretHodgson, Mrs SharonHoey, KateHood, Mr JimHopkins, KelvinHosie, StewartIrranca-Davies, HuwJackson, GlendaJamieson, CathyJarvis, DanJohnson, rh AlanJohnson, DianaJones, GrahamJones, HelenJones, Mr KevanJones, Susan ElanKaufman, rh Sir GeraldKeeley, BarbaraKendall, LizKhan, rh SadiqLavery, IanLazarowicz, MarkLeslie, ChrisLewis, Mr IvanLloyd, TonyLlwyd, rh Mr ElfynLong, NaomiLove, Mr AndrewLucas, CarolineLucas, IanMacNeil, Mr Angus BrendanMacShane, rh Mr DenisMactaggart, FionaMahmood, ShabanaMalhotra, SeemaMann, JohnMarsden, Mr GordonMcCann, Mr MichaelMcCarthy, KerryMcClymont, GreggMcCrea, Dr WilliamMcDonagh, SiobhainMcDonnell, JohnMcFadden, rh Mr PatMcGovern, JimMcGuire, rh Mrs AnneMcKechin, AnnMcKenzie, Mr IainMcKinnell, CatherineMeacher, rh Mr MichaelMearns, IanMichael, rh AlunMiliband, rh DavidMiller, AndrewMitchell, AustinMoon, Mrs MadeleineMorden, JessicaMorrice, Graeme (Livingston)Morris, Grahame M. (Easington)Mudie, Mr GeorgeMunn, MegMurphy, rh PaulMurray, IanNandy, LisaNash, PamelaO'Donnell, FionaOnwurah, ChiOsborne, SandraOwen, AlbertPearce, TeresaPerkins, TobyPhillipson, BridgetPound, StephenRaynsford, rh Mr NickReed, Mr JamieReeves, RachelReynolds, EmmaRiordan, Mrs LindaRobertson, JohnRobinson, Mr GeoffreyRotheram, SteveRoy, Mr FrankRoy, LindsayRuane, ChrisRuddock, rh Dame JoanSarwar, AnasSharma, Mr VirendraSheerman, Mr BarrySheridan, JimShuker, GavinSimpson, DavidSkinner, Mr DennisSlaughter, Mr AndySmith, rh Mr AndrewSmith, AngelaSmith, NickSmith, OwenStraw, rh Mr JackStringer, GrahamSutcliffe, Mr GerryThomas, Mr GarethTimms, rh StephenTrickett, JonTwigg, DerekTwigg, StephenUmunna, Mr ChukaVaz, ValerieWalley, JoanWatson, Mr TomWatts, Mr DaveWeir, Mr MikeWhiteford, Dr EilidhWhitehead, Dr AlanWilliams, HywelWilliamson, ChrisWilson, PhilWilson, SammyWinnick, Mr DavidWinterton, rh Ms RosieWishart, PeteWood, MikeWoodward, rh Mr ShaunWright, DavidWright, Mr IainTellers for the Ayes:Mr David Hamilton andNic Dakin NOESAdams, NigelAfriyie, AdamAldous, PeterAmess, Mr DavidAndrew, StuartArbuthnot, rh Mr JamesBacon, Mr RichardBaker, NormanBaker, SteveBaldry, TonyBaldwin, HarriettBarclay, StephenBarker, GregoryBarwell, GavinBebb, GutoBeith, rh Sir AlanBenyon, RichardBeresford, Sir PaulBerry, JakeBingham, AndrewBinley, Mr BrianBirtwistle, GordonBlackman, BobBlackwood, NicolaBlunt, Mr CrispinBoles, NickBone, Mr PeterBottomley, Sir PeterBradley, KarenBray, AngieBrazier, Mr JulianBridgen, AndrewBrine, SteveBrokenshire, JamesBrowne, Mr JeremyBruce, FionaBruce, rh MalcolmBuckland, Mr RobertBurley, Mr AidanBurns, ConorBurns, rh Mr SimonBurrowes, Mr DavidBurstow, PaulBurt, LorelyCable, rh VinceCairns, AlunCampbell, rh Sir MenziesCarmichael, rh Mr AlistairCarmichael, NeilCarswell, Mr DouglasCash, Mr WilliamChishti, RehmanClappison, Mr JamesClarke, rh Mr KennethClifton-Brown, GeoffreyCoffey, Dr ThérèseCollins, DamianColvile, OliverCox, Mr GeoffreyCrockart, MikeCrouch, TraceyDavey, rh Mr EdwardDavies, David T. C. (Monmouth)Davies, GlynDavies, PhilipDavis, rh Mr DavidDjanogly, Mr JonathanDorrell, rh Mr StephenDoyle-Price, Jackie Duncan Smith, rh Mr IainDunne, Mr PhilipEllis, MichaelEllison, JaneElphicke, CharlieEustice, GeorgeEvans, GrahamEvans, JonathanEvennett, Mr DavidFallon, MichaelFarron, TimFeatherstone, LynneField, MarkFox, rh Dr LiamFrancois, rh Mr MarkFreer, MikeFullbrook, LorraineGale, Sir RogerGarnier, MarkGauke, Mr DavidGeorge, AndrewGibb, Mr NickGilbert, StephenGillan, rh Mrs CherylGlen, JohnGoldsmith, ZacGoodwill, Mr RobertGove, rh MichaelGraham, RichardGrant, Mrs HelenGray, Mr JamesGrayling, rh ChrisGreen, DamianGreening, rh JustineGriffiths, AndrewGummer, BenGyimah, Mr SamHalfon, RobertHammond, rh Mr PhilipHammond, StephenHancock, MatthewHancock, Mr MikeHands, GregHarper, Mr MarkHarrington, RichardHarris, RebeccaHart, SimonHarvey, NickHaselhurst, rh Sir AlanHeald, OliverHeath, Mr DavidHeaton-Harris, ChrisHemming, JohnHenderson, GordonHinds, DamianHoban, Mr MarkHollingbery, GeorgeHollobone, Mr PhilipHorwood, MartinHowell, JohnHuhne, rh ChrisHunt, rh Mr JeremyHunter, MarkHuppert, Dr JulianJackson, Mr StewartJavid, SajidJenkin, Mr BernardJohnson, GarethJones, AndrewJones, Mr David Jones, Mr MarcusKawczynski, DanielKelly, ChrisKennedy, rh Mr CharlesKirby, SimonKnight, rh Mr GregKwarteng, KwasiLaing, Mrs EleanorLamb, NormanLancaster, MarkLatham, PaulineLaws, rh Mr DavidLeadsom, AndreaLee, JessicaLee, Dr PhillipLeslie, CharlotteLetwin, rh Mr OliverLewis, BrandonLiddell-Grainger, Mr IanLord, JonathanLoughton, TimLuff, PeterLumley, KarenMacleod, MaryMain, Mrs AnneMaynard, PaulMcCartney, JasonMcCartney, KarlMcIntosh, Miss AnneMcLoughlin, rh Mr PatrickMcPartland, StephenMcVey, EstherMensch, LouiseMenzies, MarkMercer, PatrickMetcalfe, StephenMiller, MariaMills, NigelMoore, rh MichaelMordaunt, PennyMorgan, NickyMorris, Anne MarieMorris, DavidMorris, JamesMosley, StephenMowat, DavidMunt, TessaMurray, SheryllMurrison, Dr AndrewNeill, RobertNewmark, Mr BrooksNokes, CarolineNorman, JesseNuttall, Mr DavidOllerenshaw, EricOpperman, GuyOttaway, RichardParish, NeilPatel, PritiPawsey, MarkPenning, MikePenrose, JohnPerry, ClairePhillips, StephenPincher, ChristopherPoulter, Dr DanielPritchard, MarkPugh, JohnRaab, Mr DominicRandall, rh Mr John Reckless, MarkRedwood, rh Mr JohnRees-Mogg, JacobReevell, SimonReid, Mr AlanRifkind, rh Sir MalcolmRobathan, rh Mr AndrewRobertson, Mr LaurenceRogerson, DanRudd, AmberRuffley, Mr DavidRussell, Sir BobRutley, DavidSanders, Mr AdrianSandys, LauraScott, Mr LeeSelous, AndrewShapps, rh GrantSharma, AlokShelbrooke, AlecShepherd, Mr RichardSimmonds, MarkSkidmore, ChrisSmith, Miss ChloeSmith, HenrySmith, JulianSmith, Sir RobertSoames, rh NicholasSoubry, AnnaSpelman, rh Mrs CarolineSpencer, Mr MarkStephenson, AndrewStevenson, JohnStewart, BobStewart, IainStreeter, Mr GaryStride, MelStuart, Mr GrahamSturdy, JulianSwayne, rh Mr DesmondSwinson, JoSwire, rh Mr HugoSyms, Mr RobertTapsell, rh Sir PeterTeather, SarahThurso, JohnTomlinson, JustinTruss, ElizabethTurner, Mr AndrewTyrie, Mr AndrewUppal, PaulVaizey, Mr EdwardVara, Mr ShaileshVickers, MartinVilliers, rh Mrs TheresaWalker, Mr CharlesWallace, Mr BenWalter, Mr RobertWard, Mr DavidWatkinson, AngelaWebb, SteveWharton, JamesWhite, ChrisWhittingdale, Mr JohnWiggin, BillWilletts, rh Mr DavidWilliams, Mr MarkWilliams, StephenWilliamson, GavinWillott, JennyWilson, Mr RobWollaston, Dr Sarah Wright, JeremyWright, SimonYeo, Mr TimYoung, rh Sir GeorgeTellers for the Noes:James Duddridge andStephen CrabbQuestion accordingly negatived.
Amendments made: 5, page 93, line 43, leave out ‘section 1B(1)’ and insert
‘its duties under section 1B(1) and (5)(a)’.
Amendment 6, page 95, line 9, leave out from ‘with’ to end of line 10 and insert ‘its duties under—
(i) section 2B(1) or, as the case requires, section 2C(1) or 2D(3), and
(ii) section 2G, and’.—(Mr Hoban.)
Provisions about consumer protection and competition
Amendments made: 7, page 125, leave out line 7 and insert—
‘(4) Sections 425A and 425B (meaning of “consumers”) apply for the purposes of this section, but the references to consumers in this section do not include consumers who are authorised persons.’.
Amendment 8, page 126, line 16, leave out from ‘that’ to end of line 18 and insert—
(i) if the complaint would fall within the compulsory jurisdiction or the consumer credit jurisdiction, the ombudsman would be likely to make an award under section 229(2)(a) or give a direction under section 229(2)(b), or
(ii) if voluntary jurisdiction rules made for the purposes of section 227 provide for the making of an award against a respondent or the giving of a direction that a respondent take certain steps in relation to a complainant, and the complaint would fall within the voluntary jurisdiction, the ombudsman would be likely to make such an award or give such a direction.’.—(Mr Hoban.)
Interpretation of FSMA 2000
Amendment made: 9, page 128, line 30, at end insert—
‘() omit the definition of “notice of control”;’.—(Mr Hoban.)
Mutual societies: power to transfer functions
I beg to move amendment 72, page 130, line 38, at end insert—
‘(g) making provision for the increased diversity of the financial services sector and promotion of mutual societies, including arrangements to measure the number of members of mutual societies, and the market share for mutual societies as a proportion of the UK financial services sector.’.
This simple amendment suggests that within six months of Royal Assent the Treasury should bring forward proposals to foster diversity in financial services and promote mutual societies. For the avoidance of doubt, Mr Deputy Speaker, I should declare that I am not only a Labour Member of Parliament but a Labour and Co-operative party MP. Inasmuch as there are interests involved in that, I am proud to support the Government’s stated intention to promote mutuals. I have before me page 9 of the coalition agreement—I am sure that all hon. Members have it emblazoned on the walls of their offices—where it says:
“We will bring forward detailed proposals to foster diversity in financial services, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry.”
It is perhaps not clear that the Prime Minister, the Chancellor and the Minister remember that they made that commitment. Therefore, in an act of generosity—the Minister will recognise the positive spirit in which we have tabled the amendment—we felt it important to suggest that the Treasury might want to enshrine that coalition pledge in statute and to make arrangements to measure the progress that it is making in promoting the mutual societies model. For example, each year the Treasury could publish the number of members of mutual societies so that we could see whether good progress was being made, and publish the market share of the mutual society sector as a proportion of UK financial services.
The amendment is fairly innocuous, and I hope that it can gain some cross-party support. After all, let us not forget that the mutual sector is all about ensuring that members own and govern their own financial institutions, have a stake in their future, and can set their agenda. That member-owned and member-governed ethos rightly ought to be promoted. Sadly, we have a small mutual sector, but it should be encouraged to grow, and that is the purpose of the amendment.
My hon. Friend is right to say that the Government made that commitment in the coalition agreement. Following their decision not to take seriously the case for Northern Rock to be converted into a mutual, many people, like him, doubt the coalition’s commitment to financial diversity. Is that not a further reason for the Government to take seriously his amendment to put right what they might see as a mistake in the public mind?
I thank my hon. Friend, who is entirely correct. He is an assiduous campaigner for the mutual sector and the mutual model, and he knows more than most about the Government’s failures over the past two years to make headway on this issue, on which they made a promise that remains to be fulfilled. Indeed, he recently wrote an article about how the Queen’s Speech could have been an opportunity to promote the mutual agenda in which he talked about ways in which the sector could be put more at the heart of banking reform. He said that we should consider expanding the credit union and CDFI—community development finance institution—sectors to reconnect banking with its local communities, and that we should look beyond the financial services sector to think about energy co-operatives, employment ownership measures, and co-operative housing tenure.
It is an important time for us to be debating the issue, because, as you will know, Mr Deputy Speaker, this is the international year of the co-operative.
The part of the Bill before us is mainly about transferring powers between the FSA, the FCA and the Prudential Regulatory Authority, and adding new powers, so I am not sure that it sits very well with the hon. Gentleman’s amendment. Will he explain in more detail why legislative measures are required when such objectives can be measured in other ways?
We are trying to ensure that the Government fundamentally address the question. These provisions give the Minister and the Treasury the power to make by order amendments to many of the rules, statutory instruments and suchlike that affect mutual societies. We think that they should have the capability to measure progress on mutuality in order to help to smooth progress towards fulfilling the coalition’s pledge.
Given that we have before us a financial services Bill, our constituents would expect us to be talking about firm and defined measures to make progress on diversifying the financial services sector. Unfortunately, they would be disappointed by the Treasury’s progress on that. The Treasury website has a very scant, short set of paragraphs stating the coalition agreement’s desire to promote mutuals. It says:
“The Treasury is developing policy and delivering legislative changes to…meet this aim.”
That is basically it—a statement but no substance. I want the Minister to tell us what progress is being made in fulfilling that objective. It is not good enough merely to talk about consolidating existing rules or legislation and wrapping that up as though the Law Commission’s recommendations somehow fulfil Government promises. We want to see more action.
Given that there is an appalling sovereign debt crisis in Europe affecting Greece, Spain, and so on, with the possibility of contagion, and given that we learned the lessons about the stability of mutuals following what happened in 2008, does my hon. Friend agree that it is remarkable that the Government are not pressing forward to reduce such risks by increasing diversity and promoting co-operatives?
My hon. Friend is entirely correct. When the Government have an opportunity to return to the market state-owned assets that the Treasury took in the height of the financial crisis, they simply look for a return to the vanilla plc model. They take a business-as-usual approach rather than taking the opportunity to rethink how we might have diversity in the financial service sector and in business operations. Yes, we need some organisations run on a plc model, and we have plenty of those, but why not think about opportunities to promote the non-profit or mutual sector? Northern Rock was a classic case in point. No adequate consideration was given to that option. A member buy-out suggestion would have been entirely feasible, but it was not considered seriously enough.
At this point, I pay tribute to the all-party group on building societies and financial mutuals. It made a series of recommendations a year ago, urging the coalition to adopt
“a comprehensive policy strategy to implement its Coalition Agreement commitment to promote mutuals.”
It stated that the Treasury should be proactive in promoting the interests of financial mutuals within the Government. One of the first conclusions in the summary of its report was:
“HM Treasury appears to have taken a reactive stance to the mutual sector beginning to deal with important issues such as building society capital, but little else of substance.”
I do not want to labour that point, because time is short.
For cross-party purposes, may I say that we will support the hon. Gentleman’s excellent amendment? It is important to push forward credit unions, in particular, as an alternative to high street lenders, which are currently not lending to many people. The Treasury needs to take a more proactive approach to building up existing credit unions as well as creating new ones.
The credit union sector deserves far more support and encouragement than it receives, and previous Governments of all parties have failed to do enough to promote it. The demutualisation agenda of the 1980s and early 1990s significantly reduced the size of the building society sector, and compared with other developed countries mutual providers have a very small market share, particularly in the financial services sector.
We used to hear about the share-owning democracy, but there have been tidal shifts in people’s desire to take risks and own shares. Does my hon. Friend agree that we have a moment in time at which we can change direction and have more diverse ownership among the population and a new culture of business? The Government are missing a trick.
Now is the time to think about the culture change that we want to see in the financial services sector. Yes, there are some good plc structures, but we have an insufficiency of good mutuals, building societies and so on. There should be new entrants of that type, and current ones should grow to provide some proper competition to the big banks.
My hon. Friend is being characteristically generous. One big concern examined in some detail in the all-party group report that he mentioned was about the future of friendly societies. Does he agree that the debate provides the Financial Secretary with a good opportunity to set out how the Treasury is responding to concerns about the effect that a particular interpretation of case law by the Financial Services Authority is having on the future of friendly societies? Their proportion of the insurance market is at risk of going into reverse because of how the FSA has approached the matter, and the amendment may well help to achieve a culture change in the FSA and get its lawyers to adopt a slightly more helpful mindset.
It is important that we have some metrics by which to measure the Financial Secretary’s performance on his coalition promise. After all, it is there in black and white—the Government said they would bring forward not just proposals but detailed proposals for promoting the mutual sector. This is his moment. We want him to explain to us what those measures will be. I am sure he does not believe in putting such promises in an agreement straight after an election and then letting them drift as though they did not need to be attended to. Many people want to see greater diversity in the financial services sector, and it is important that he is held to account.
Looking at the amendment, I wonder whether it illustrates the tensions in the contemporary labour movement. On one hand, this should be a time of celebration for all those who believe in mutuality, co-operatives and voluntary self-help, because Members of all parties are signed up to the idea. There is a Conservative co-operative movement, and many of us are very serious about it. On the other hand, Labour insists on top-down control and state direction. It wants to enshrine in legislation measurement, management and the direction of Ministers’ performance.
Is it not time that, rather than insisting on the production of numbers and pretending that the Financial Secretary can direct people to help one another voluntarily and mutually, we eliminated barriers to entry, accepted spontaneous order and encouraged people to build up the bonds of friendship and mutual co-operation? Ministers cannot direct or legislate for those bonds.
I was not suggesting that it would create a barrier to entry. I was suggesting that it would put in place measurement and management. That may well appeal to some people, but if we want spontaneous order, mutual societies and bonds of friendship, we cannot get them by state direction. There is very little point in measuring the Financial Secretary’s performance when we want spontaneous order and the bonds of mutuality. I do not support the amendment, but like many other Government Members, I certainly support the thrust of the Government’s policy.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on tabling the amendment. He is doing the job that the coalition parties promised to do in the coalition agreement but are failing to do.
I shall remind the House of a quotation from the coalition agreement. That is the benchmark for the action that the Government have pledged to take, so the House and others can judge them on it. It states:
“We will bring forward detailed proposals to foster diversity in financial services, promote mutuals and create a more competitive banking industry.”
I applaud the aim of greater diversity and competition, but missing from that statement is the aim of greater confidence and trust in financial services. My hon. Friend’s amendment captures the aims of diversity, the promotion of mutuals and greater growth in mutuals. Crucially, it would also require an action plan from the Government within six months. We have not had one after two years. It would also require regular public reports and stock-takes of progress. I say to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) that those reports would be about not the Minister’s progress but the growth of mutuals, the diversity of the industry and the growth of competition in the sector—all the aims that the Government set for reform.
Mutuals bring something quite special—a concern about values, not just valuation. That is the root of the consistently greater levels of confidence and trust demonstrated by those who deal with and borrow from building societies and mutuals compared with those who deal with their corporate competitors. Mutuals display a prudence born of concern for and knowledge of their members. If we look back over the past several years, we see that building societies and mutuals have not run the reckless risks that banks and other financial services have. They have not lost their core business purpose and their sense of what they are there to do and who they are there to serve, as many banks and other financial service companies have. Mutuals did not need a public bail-out and did not cost the UK taxpayer billions of pounds to make up for their mistakes like others in the banking and financial services sector did.
With that caution, however, there is also innovation. Some of the small, local building societies that are active in many of our constituencies across the country have seen their market share increase since the global financial crash. They have been ready to lend to local people—the people they know and serve best in housing markets they know best—in a way that many large, commercial multinationals cannot. They have innovated by linking with local house builders—companies with which they have an established relationship and of which they have a knowledge that cannot be matched by many of their big competitors.
It is not only the smallest of our local building societies that has demonstrated innovation in recent years; the largest of our national building societies—the Nationwide—was one of the founder lenders in the Government’s NewBuy scheme to support first-time buyers who do not have the capital that family members sometimes provide to help people meet the deposit requirements of many lenders. There are problems and flaws with the scheme, but I want it to work, and I welcome the fact that Nationwide was one of the founder lenders to get that innovation up and running.
Building societies and mutuals are the unsung success of our British financial services—they are unsung by a Government who promised to do the opposite.
Is not one of the unsung successes of the building society movement that it has sought to maintain an effective and broad-based branch network in the communities from which they grew, which sadly is not necessarily something that can be attributed to the major banks? There were wholesale bank branch closures in the last generation, and they are beginning again.
My hon. Friend, who knows far more about this matter than me and many in the House, is absolutely right. At a time when a loss of trust and confidence in financial services is evident across the board, that local presence and face-to-face relationship counts for a great deal.
Amendment 72 is a permissive amendment, and yet clause 47(3)(f) mentions
“making provision that appears to the Treasury to be necessary or expedient in consequence of the provisions of this Act.”
What will the amendment enable the Government to do by order that is not already possible under that measure?
I am disappointed in the hon. Gentleman, because he, too, has a strong track record on this matter, and that sort of nit-picking misses the point of the amendment. The point of the amendment is to hold the coalition parties in the Government to their coalition pledge, which he is unable to do. It is a way of making public two years of failure and saying, “Within six months, you must do better.”
The amendment does not make the Government do anything, because clause 47 states that the
“Treasury may by order amend the legislation”.
If the Treasury does not want to do so, it does not have to do so. The amendment does not hold the Government to account. No wonder you are failing as an Opposition; your amendments are badly drafted.
I have not seen the hon. Gentleman’s amendments to make the measure not permissive, but a requirement of the Government—Mr Speaker must not have selected it. Clearly, anything in statute would be a significant step forward, as the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East, has argued. Those on both sides of the House who have an interest could use a permissive measure in future.
No, but by measuring height, one makes a statement that height matters. The amendment makes a statement that the coalition pledge on mutuals, and on greater diversity and competition in financial services, matters. That is the purpose of the amendment and the debate. I hope that my hon. Friend presses it to a Division because it will expose the Government’s complacency in making promises and failing to live up to them.
I wanted to respond to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming), who seems to rest everything on clause 47(3)(f), on the basis that it could easily include what the amendment proposes. In the same vein, paragraph (f) could mean that there is no need for paragraphs (a) to (e) because it is all encompassing.
The amendment requires the Government to measure the number of mutuals and their share of the market. In so doing, it brings the Government to account. If there is no point to that, and if we want only what the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) called “spontaneous order”, we would not have the Office for Budget Responsibility, and we might as well forget measuring and management. The amendment seeks to bring the Government to account, and should therefore be supported.
There is a saying that what is measured matters, and if it matters, measure it. In many ways, that is the core of the argument being made by Opposition Members.
Sixteen per cent. of those who aspire to own their own home and who borrow to buy do so from building societies. Roughly one in six of us borrows our mortgage from a building society. That significant market share is gradually growing. That is why I have argued that building societies are the unsung success of British financial services. They are certainly unsung by a Government who promised to be their champion.
In my view, building societies are the quiet strength of British financial services, but it is time that that strength was properly supported by Government policy and action. Mutuals look at the coalition agreement and point to the words on the paper, but they cannot point to the action that followed. The amendment is designed to force the hand of the Minister, the Treasury and the Government. I am surprised that it finds any objection on the Government Benches, because it simply seeks to hold the Government to the promise they made
I have found this debate both curious and inconsequential in many respects. There has been a great deal of talk about the technicalities of achieving the objective, but not, as far as I can judge, a great deal about the reasons why mutual societies are so important. However, I share the view expressed by the right hon. Member for Wentworth and Dearne (John Healey) that the coalition agreement, of which I am not an uncritical observer, clearly stated that there should, in effect, be support for mutuals.
I declare an interest, because my family founded the Abbey National building society and the National Provident in the 1830s and later in the 19th century. The Abbey National is now Santander, and we need only look at what is happening in Spain to hope that there is some ring-fencing for its customers in the United Kingdom. The reason why mutuals are so important is the same reason why John Lewis is so important. It is the reason why the co-operative movement, which was founded in Rochdale—I do not apologise for also pointing out that that was where John Bright was born—is important. The Rochdale co-operative movement was the means whereby people could buy houses that they could not otherwise afford.
I have always been very much in favour of the right to buy, because having a property stake is important for individual responsibility. The great thing about the mutuals—and it still pertains, because they still exist, but need to be enhanced, improved, developed and encouraged—is that they enable people to come together in a proper and balanced relationship, with a sense of individual responsibility and, by co-operating together, to benefit each other and society as a whole in relation to the most fundamental aspects of property and insurance, without excessive profits, or indeed any real profits, for the people who put it together. That does not mean that I am against capitalism. Indeed, those who promoted mutual societies were invariably capitalists, and I count my own family in that number. William Cash founded the National Provident with the Lucas family, and the Cadburys were much involved in similar objectives. A raft of Quakers and other Dissenters were integral to the development of this incredibly important movement, which changed the face of society in the 19th century. We could do with that now.
Some five years ago, I wrote a letter to The Times, criticising aspects of the manner in which the banking system had given way to greed and self-indulgence. The Minister knows my views on the subject of the transfer of jurisdiction from the City to Brussels, including the point that legislation is no substitute for self-help. My hon. Friend the Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker) understands that better than anyone else. Indeed, Samuel Smiles, who wrote the famous book on self-help, was devoted to all these objectives because he knew that individual responsibility, operating within the framework of co-operatives and mutuals, would and should provide the kind of society that is worth living in. I put it as high as that, because to me this is a moral objective. We do not talk enough about morality. Law is no substitute for morality.
Clause 47 enables the transfer of functions and it states:
“The Treasury may by order”—
which is permissive—
“amend the legislation relating to mutual societies for any of the relevant purposes.”
It then sets out a whole list of functions, in a technical and somewhat boring manner, but there is no sense of the purpose that lies behind that, or the intentions and objectives, let alone any of the virtuous advantages that would come from increasing the degree and range of mutuals throughout the country, so that we could get away from the idea that the only way in which insurance or property ownership can be achieved is through technical, legal change. That will not change things. I would like to know from the Minister how all this ties in and how it is intended that the integrity objective—set out on page 17 of this enormously long Bill—will produce the results that are claimed for it in relation to the transfer of functions relating to mutuals.
In my judgment, mutuals do not need to be given the regulation, tight analysis and legal requirements set out for the purposes of restraining greed and self-indulgence by people who have no idea about markets and their virtues. Markets are virtuous. However, as I wrote during the Lloyd’s crisis, bad markets are bad for business. That is true. If the mutual system is really good, and is accompanied by protection for shareholders—I refer back to my Protection for Shareholders Bill which I have proposed over and over again since the 1980s; I sent a copy to the Prime Minister just the other day—they then have a stake and are able to restrain bad practice. That is how to do it, not by piling on more and more legislation, whether it is domestic and done under the aegis of the law of this land, or under the jurisdiction of Brussels. It does not make much difference, because law is no substitute for proper behaviour.
The problem of the last 40 or 50 years is that more and more legislation has been passed, as I said in my letter to The Times, which has narrowed the competence of those who are subject to it and increased its complexity to the point where there are literally acres of pages of legislation, most of which is completely impossible to understand for anybody except that unique bunch of people who happen to make a great deal of money from it in the City. I am not criticising them for taking advantage of that—law has always required interpretation —but I am certainly criticising successive Governments, including the Government who preceded this one, for piling on more and more complicated legislation, which requires the attention of an amendment of the kind before us tonight.
The amendment is permissive, but then the provision itself is permissive. Legislating to provide for amendment of other legislation in relation to mutuals will not necessarily be in any way improved by interpretation in the courts of the words
“the integrity objective is: protecting and enhancing the integrity of the UK financial system…The integrity of the UK financial system includes…its soundness, stability and resilience…its not being affected by behaviour that amounts to market abuse…the orderly operation of the financial markets, and…the transparency of the price formation process”.
This is legal jargon that will be interpreted by the courts. Will it make any difference, though, if mutuals are not fostered, developed and encouraged in line with what the coalition agreement originally stated? Will it produce the intended result—that people spontaneously and with moral purpose determine the new kind of society we move into?
Will the hon. Gentleman accept that one lesson regarding the regulation of building societies, friendly societies and other financial mutuals arising from the inquiry by the all-party group on building societies and financial mutuals, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) referred, was that regulators did not put enough time and effort into understanding the mutuals market and that this simple amendment will help to prevent a repeat of that scenario?
It may well. It behoves the Government to take this kind of amendment very seriously, despite drafting imperfections. It is important to the integrity of our financial system and, above all else, the sense of individual ownership in a mutual context for this movement not merely to be nudged along but to be massively encouraged. The more people have a stake as a result of being in a mutual condition, the better society will be.
I am completely in favour of capitalism—that might disappoint Opposition Members—but each category of activity in financial markets requires its own remedy, and the mutual system is vital to ensuring that there is a proper balance in society and that those who, for one reason or another, cannot get on to the capitalist ladder in the way that some can have the benefit of mutuals and can share in the prosperity that others provide. I regard that as a very important objective.
Even if the amendment is not perfect, the intention behind it is important. Wrapping the whole thing up in jargon—some of us are very familiar with jargon—will not solve the real problem in the way that mutual societies can. I hope, therefore, that the Minister will give careful attention to the objectives and purposes of mutuals, in the context of the amendment, and not simply say that the Opposition are talking nonsense or that the Opposition spokesmen are trying to be troublesome and criticise the coalition agreement. It is time we grew up, actually. By that I mean that instead of constantly talking about the Opposition as if they were simply trouble making and mischievous, we should recognise that in such matters we are trying to achieve something worth having.
The Opposition spokesman says, “Hear, hear”, but I do not want to give him too much encouragement. We need to understand, however, that the objective behind the Opposition’s amendment is important, not because of party politics but because it is about having a stable, good and fair society. That is what we should all be seeking.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash), whose strictures I shall try to address. First, however, I want to appeal to the Minister, who, I know, is personally sympathetic to mutuals: this will be a modest contribution that tries to reflect his own coalition manifesto commitment to foster diversity and promote mutuals. In answer to the hon. Member for Wycombe (Steve Baker), I say that the amendment seeks to do that by trying to measure the strength and complexity of the mutual movement using the regulator.
No one has said why we would want to foster diversity and promote mutuals. I want to address that question, because it goes to the crux of what the hon. Member for Stone talked about. First, members benefit greatly from membership of mutuals. The tables of the best savings rates or lowest mortgage rates are populated by mutuals, which provide basic but risk-averse financial services—exactly what the ordinary consumer is looking for. Of course, the reason they can provide such services is that they do not have any shareholders and, therefore, no demands for dividends each year, allowing them to deliver their services efficiently.
Perhaps even more importantly, mutuals provide a consumer benefit by offering a competitive spur in the marketplace. The hon. Member for Stone says he believes in capitalism. I believe in a market system, and competition is a very good spur, and that is exactly what the mutual movement provides. The reduction in the number of building societies has meant that they have not been able to provide a stronger spur, which provides another reason for the amendment.
Mutuals provide choice in financial services. Does someone want a mutual member benefit or to contribute to shareholder value? People will make that choice in all sorts of ways, for all sorts of reasons, but it is important in a marketplace to have choice. We are confident that people will choose mutuals, because all the studies and polling of consumers of financial service show that mutuals are more popular and, perhaps more importantly, more trusted than their plc rivals. That is a very important consideration.
Why move the amendment now, other than to reflect the coalition agreement? Currently, the marketplace is dominated by the plc model, which is unhealthy. We all know what happened in the lead-up to 2007 and 2008: heightened risk, and the search for yield followed by the credit crunch. I am not suggesting that the Government are not taking steps, including in this Bill and forthcoming legislation this Session, to address some of these problems. I am saying that there developed a monoculture—group-think—in which everybody thought exactly the same. We need to avoid that. This modest amendment will help us to do so.
The amendment will also address the danger of the one-size-fits-all attitude displayed in recent years by the regulator, who did not deal effectively with life funds for friendly societies and mutual insurers. At the heart of the ongoing dispute is the failure to understand the essential difference between a mutual and a plc. The amendment would go some way to address that. The regulator now admits that the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which was introduced some years ago, got it wrong by basing what each organisation had to pay on deposits, discriminating directly against building societies. There was no understanding or empathy in the regulator to address the issue. The Minister will say to me, “But the FSA has now updated its regulatory role. It’s opened a department to deal with these specific matters.” That is all to be welcomed; however, I hope that the Government will welcome this amendment, which represents a small step towards creating greater understanding and trust in the regulator’s dealings on these matters.
There is nothing sinister about this amendment. Yes, we couch it in terms of the manifesto commitment, but it is really about recognising that we need diversity in the marketplace, to avoid monocultures developing, to give choice to consumers and to create a competitive spur. If we can do all that, this amendment will provide some modest support in ensuring the continuation of the mutual movement in our country—a movement, it has to be said, that is small by international standards. Mutual insurers, along with what we would call building societies and credit unions, are much more prevalent in other marketplaces—including in the Netherlands, Germany, France and even the United States—than they are here. This modest amendment would go some way to addressing that and ensuring that the consumer—the member—got a fair deal in the marketplace.
I think there are two issues in this debate. First, everybody agrees that mutuals are good. They are good in a number of ways, one of which is that “boring” is good in finance. We need more boring finance —we need things that will not double one day, fall by a half the next, and go bust by next Wednesday. We have had too much “interesting” stuff in finance; we need some more boring stuff. Building societies have always been relatively stable—nothing much has changed; things are gradual, with perhaps a few mergers. Some building societies have suffered as part of the financial problem, and in other countries some credit unions have suffered. I should declare what is perhaps a non-declarable interest, namely my membership of Citysave, Birmingham city council’s credit union.
I think there is a major role for such bodies—the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) highlighted the issue of people having a stake in society. That is a very good thing, as is the fact that mutuals look to serve their depositors—often they will be depositors and borrowers. To that extent, I welcome the fact that the Opposition have raised this issue for discussion. The difficulty is that the amendment—it is a permissive amendment; it allows, for instance, the number of members of mutuals to be counted—is the sort of thing that would be done anyway. A mutual could be sent an e-mail saying, “How many members have you got?” It really does not require a statutory instrument to—[Interruption.] The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) says from the Opposition Front Bench that the number of members of credit unions is not being tracked. However, the amendment does not require it to be tracked, as he knows.
The hon. Gentleman makes the point that this is a permissive amendment, but it is actually an amendment to a permissive clause, which anticipates that there may, for various reasons, be all sorts of changes. However, in transferring the functions relating to disparate types of mutuals and so on, surely it is right to suggest that someone should have regard to ensuring that mutuals as a sector are promoted and that somebody should measure what is happening. If those in the coalition are committed, why do they not want to be able to know or show what is happening?
The amendment does not compel anything to happen; it merely makes it possible, if the Government wish, to change the law if necessary—which it almost certainly is not—to measure the number of members of credit unions. The Opposition may be right that the figure is not being measured, although that would surprise me, as the industry bodies will almost certainly have total numbers of members. If we contacted the Council of Mortgage Lenders, for instance, and asked how many members the building societies in the council had, it would probably give us the answer. Getting the answer should not be that difficult; however, as the amendment does not compel the Government to do anything, it will have no effect if accepted.
I return to the point that we have to welcome the fact that the issue of mutuals is being kept on the agenda. I would be interested if any Opposition Member wanted to liaise with me over the coming months to see whether we could find the answers that the amendment makes it possible to find—which are probably possible to find anyway, if the Government wish to find them. Indeed, I would have thought that the Government would not be that averse to knowing what the market share was.
This is a very confusing speech. The hon. Gentleman is in an honoured position, speaking on behalf of the Liberal Democrats. They helped to write the coalition agreement, so he has a responsibility to say what progress is being made on the detailed proposals to promote mutuality. Do the Liberal Democrats agree with that objective, and, if so, what are they doing to achieve it?
I think it is a good idea to encourage mutuality. There is no question about that. As for asking me, randomly, to answer such detailed questions on what the Government are doing, I must admit that I am not a Minister. This is, admittedly, a debate about mutualism, however, and I am quite happy to do a certain amount of research to see whether I can find the answers that the amendment would allow the Government to find—if they wished to do so by changing legislation, which almost certainly is not necessary.
That brings us to the nub of the problem with such an amendment. It would have almost no effect, because if the Government wanted to find out how many members the building societies had, they would simply ask the building societies, without going through the process of tabling a statutory instrument, whether through the permissive approach or whatever it may be.
On that basis, although we should welcome the fact that the issue of mutuals is being kept on the agenda, it would be better done by an amendment that had some effect.
I had not originally intended to speak to this amendment, as time is tight and we need to make progress. I have also dealt with some of the points in interventions.
The Government say that they are committed. This Bill gives them an opportunity to go a bit further on that commitment. That is what the amendment offers them. The Government have said that they want to encourage mutualisation. I have heard Ministers talk about the damage done by the rampant trend towards demutualisation in the past—they have blamed that on others, as well as perhaps accepting some blame on behalf of a previous Government. However, clause 47 is a permissive clause, and there is good cause for saying that if the Treasury amends legislation dealing with mutuals—let us remember that we are talking about industrial and provident societies, building societies, credit unions and friendly societies—and if it transfers functions to the FCA, the PRA or both, given that the clause provides that functions can be transferred between different bodies, the Treasury should, in making those arrangements and exercising those powers, have regard to ensuring that someone can measure the size of the mutual sector overall and show progress where that is relevant. That is what the amendment would provide for. Such information will be relevant for Parliament’s interests and purposes—I am sure that future Treasury Committees will want to know what is happening and who is responsible for measuring such things, rather than relying on the market players. The information will also be hugely important for consumers, because if, as the hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) said, we are to encourage more people to have confidence in this option, then the more people we can show are using it successfully, the better.
When the hon. Gentleman suggested that the mutual sector would, by its nature and character, not need detailed regulation and legislation, it occurred to me that he was going off in a different direction. Given the experience that some of us had with the Presbyterian Mutual Society and others, I can say that mutuals do need to be regulated by their nature, so that people can be sure that they are living up to the good name that they properly have. Consumers embrace mutuals on the basis of that confidence. They need to be able to rely on the fact that legislators have put in place a regulatory system to ensure that what they are getting is what they think they are getting.
I would not want the hon. Gentleman to misunderstand what I meant. It is not that I do not think that there should be a degree of regulation. Rather, I am concerned about over-regulation to the point where the purposes of mutuals, as with so many other sectors of society, are sucked out by a vast amount of oppressive legislation, which is so bureaucratic and impossible for people to understand that they cannot see the wood for the trees. The whole objective of the mutual arrangement is that it is very much a personal relationship in a society to enable people to benefit one another.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that clarification. That brings us to the point that we go through all this complicated legislation, with all this complicated jargon, to try to give consumers confidence that a regulatory regime is policing these matters for them, so that they know that the people they are entrusting with their money—their savings and so on—are performing to a due and proper standard. I would not want the House to create a situation where people felt that mutuals were, by their nature, less safe and less regulated, because non-mutuals would use that on a predatory basis in their marketing.
Let us come back again to the amendment. I noted, on the internet, a report from the Building Societies Association indicating that in 2011 the market share of the mutual building societies increased by 16%, which contrasts with growth of 3% and a figure of 7.7% in the whole market. So the coalition Government are obviously delivering on their promise to have a larger mutuals sector, and the information has already been measured.
The information may well be measured by that group of building societies. In terms of industrial and provident societies and others, surely it makes sense that the Treasury will want to make provision on who measures the different sectors or who measures them in aggregate terms as the mutual sector—this amendment would allow that. We must remember that, as the hon. Gentleman says, the amendment is entirely permissive, and it would be set in a clause that is permissive. The clause is meant to demonstrate the coalition’s commitment to mutuals.
May I apologise for the fact that I missed the beginning of this debate? The hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) spoke for the Opposition, and he knows that I chaired the mutuals inquiry to which he refers. Is the problem not the one outlined by the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr Love): the amendment is modest? I do not think our inquiry was seeking that modest a response from the Government. We are looking for something that matches up to the commitment made in the coalition agreement, and what is being proposed is very much short of that.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that intervention, as it shows exactly why people should be worried. If the best argument that Government Members can make is that this amendment is modest and merely permissive, people should be worried that the Government are opposing and rejecting such a straightforward, common-sense amendment.
I shall be brief, Mr Deputy Speaker. The coalition Government say that they want to encourage diversity in the market and increase the proportion and number of mutuals, yet they refuse to agree with measuring the number of mutuals or their market share. Anybody who is serious about any policy should want to measure it in order to manage it and show that it has been successful; otherwise they come across as completely hollow. Given that we have the Office for Budget Responsibility and so on measuring important things such as outputs and economic performance, I cannot understand why we cannot include mutuals as part of that portfolio.
But as I have just said, if that is the case why do we need the OBR? We could go on the internet, like the hon. Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) did, and then say, “I’ve got a figure from a reliable mate in the City.” This is completely absurd—
My point is that second-hand information is available in all sorts of marketplaces, but the Government make a great virtue of the OBR, and of other reliable and robust statistical sources, in order to measure the effectiveness of the outcomes of their policies.
This is about having the reliable and consistent measurement of data in order to measure the effectiveness of policies, rather than having to rely on looking at the website of whatever trade association we are talking about. That is the essence of this amendment and it is why I support it.
The hon. Member for Stone (Mr Cash) mentioned the Rochdale pioneers, and I am glad that he did so. At that time, the idea of co-operation, co-operatives and mutuals was forged very much in the fire of unbridled capitalism and an economic Darwinism that I know some hon. Members would like to see return in the so-called “spontaneous order” of things. In that unbridled free market, the weaker members of society were being crushed, and a collective, mutual ownership emerged, through mutual societies and co-operatives, that enabled normal people to share risks, benefits and ownership, and to reinvest surpluses in their mutual. That is why those organisations grew, and I am very proud consistently to a have supported them.
One of the questions that arises is: why has there been a slight falling away of mutuals over the past few decades? Partly it has been because the Conservatives pushed demutualisation to get quick profits for their friends, who are involved in the capitalist system to make quick profits. Then, in 2008, we have this tsunami and suddenly people wake up in the debris of this chaos realising that some of the surviving organisations are mutuals, and they rightly ask why that is. The answer, of course, is that the focus of mutuals—their raison d’être—is not about just reaching out to maximise profitability and taking irresponsible risks; it is about delivering services for their members, who have equal shares. As a result, the time of mutuals is back.
This is a time of enormous global financial turmoil. We all know about the risks from the sovereign debt of Greece, Spain and elsewhere, and the knock-on impacts of that. We also face a great deal of risk from German banks and other financial institutions that do not have the inherent solidity and risk management of the co-operative system. If the Government are serious about this, now is the time to move forward. The coalition Government have said that they will move forward, but they cannot even be bothered to measure the market share and the number of mutuals. So how seriously can we take them? The answer, self-evidently, is: not seriously at all. The top management consultancy McKinsey has the mantra, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” That company knows that that is self-evidently the case, but we are saying here, “We don’t really want to manage it. We won’t measure it. It does not really matter.” That is what is coming across, and it is a great shame that it is.
Labour Members are saying, “Let’s paint a picture of how things are changing. Let’s try to use that to make progress and to actively encourage credit unions, housing co-operatives and so on.” Such organisations tend, by their very nature, to be locally owned, with local benefits for local people. That contrasts with the situation described by the hon. Member for Stone, whereby a member of the Royal Bank of Scotland may find that Santander has suddenly sent them part of their bill, and they wonder why that is and whether there is a risk from the Spanish contagion, linked into the Greek risk. Somebody was mentioning that sort of situation to me the other day, and of course it arises because of the global nature of these organisations.
People want the security and assurance of knowing that they can go to local co-operatives and be offered loans if they save, whereas they would be excluded from high street banks, which would say, “You’re too poor. We can’t give you an overdraft”, but if people were in a credit union they could get one. A lot of this is about risk management and stability, but it is also about ethics. We know that mutuals—the Co-op in particular—are trying to promote fair trade, sustainability and so on. If we are serious about encouraging risk management, and a better and fairer future for all our communities with mutuals, we should be serious about pushing forward the top line of this amendment—that to manage it, we should measure it. I very much hope that the Minister will accept this modest amendment.
We have had a wide-ranging debate on mutuality, and it has acted as a peg for discussion. As is clear from this evening’s contributions, we all recognise the strength of the mutual sector, its importance in providing choice and diversity, and the benefits it brings. A couple of times, however, Opposition Members seemed to elevate mutuals into semi-religious institutions. Let us be realistic about some of the issues that mutuals faced during the crisis. Some mutuals had to be bailed out by others, and the first use by the previous Government of the special resolution regime was on the Dunfermline building society. A number of mutuals strayed from their core business model, which had consequences.
One hon. Member—I think it was the hon. Member for Harrow West (Mr Thomas), who is no longer in his place—referred to mutuals supporting their branch network. I recall that one of the first Adjournment debates I replied to as a Minister was as a consequence of Nationwide closing a number of branches in south-east London. All mutuals face commercial pressures, which needs to be acknowledged.
It depends on risk management and the business model that mutuals follow. There is a different set of constraints around building societies, which helps to ensure their stability, but that does not mean that they are immune from some of the mistakes that have caused failure in the past.
The clear intention of the Bill—we discussed this at length in Committee—is to ensure that regulation does not discriminate against mutuality, or indeed any other type of ownership, simply because it diverges from the norm of public or private ownership. I believe that the Bill delivers that result. For example, in clause 22, new section 138K requires the Prudential Regulatory Authority and Financial Conduct Authority to analyse the impact of the proposed rules on mutual societies. This will help to build up a base of impartial evidence to allow the regulators to continue to assess whether mutuals are being treated appropriately within the regulatory system. It is important that regulators think through very carefully the impact that their rules will have, particularly on mutuals.
My hon. Friend will recall coming to our all-party group on insurance and financial services, when we asked him some questions on these issues. In fact, the regulator thinks that the Financial Services Authority has changed its processes in order to recognise the specific position of mutuals. What it is that the Government have changed, other than their even-handed approach?
The new duty in the Bill goes beyond what the FSA currently does. It imposes a requirement separately to identify the impact of regulation on mutuals. Let me continue my remarks and set out some of the other things we have done to promote mutuality. As I was saying, the regulatory principle of proportionality also bites in this regard. If the regulators are taking action that impacts on one type of firm more than another, it should be done on the basis that the action is necessary and proportionate.
Let me highlight a number of ways in which the Government are promoting mutuality outside of this Bill. In January this year, the relevant provisions of our Legislative Reform (Industrial and Provident Societies and Credit Unions) Order 2011 came into effect, allowing credit unions to grow faster and compete better by offering interest on deposits and admitting corporate bodies like local charities and firms as members.
My colleagues in the Department for Work and Pensions recently commissioned and published a report on enhancing the sustainability of the credit union sector. It looked at some of the initiatives undertaken by the previous Government, how they have helped the credit union sector and how best to take that work forward. Important recommendations were made to the Government that will help to enhance the sustainability of credit unions and ensure that if there is further public sector investment in them it will be used to expand their base and ensure that they are sustainable.
The capital requirements directive, CRD4, includes a capital instrument that is available for use by mutuals and building societies. That was not on the agenda when we came into office two years ago. It is a consequence of the work that this Government have done with their European partners to ensure that that instrument can enable building societies to issue capital instruments so that they can expand and deal with some of the challenges they face. A number of Members of the European Parliament, as well as the Government, have been working to ensure that within CRD4 a particular capital instrument is available for the Co-op, which, because of the nature of its ownership, falls outside the instrument that is available to building societies.
The Prime Minister announced earlier this year that we intend to bring forward a Bill to consolidate most legislation governing co-operatives and mutuals. The industry greeted the announcement of this Bill warmly, and I believe it is important to bring forward this consolidation. Ed Mayo, the secretary-general of Co-operatives UK, stressed the importance of bringing together a series of nearly 20 Bills or Acts of Parliament, which will make it easier and cheaper to establish co-operatives and remove some of the ambiguity in the sector. Co-operatives UK is looking forward to working with the Government to bring forward this consolidation Bill.
The Minister has already admitted that credit union deregulation goes back many years. I was frustrated by the lack of progress under the previous Government; it has taken us a long time to get here. As for a consolidation Bill, I asked the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills why it was not included in the Queen’s Speech, given that it is a relatively modest and non-controversial measure—yet the Government could not give enough priority to it. Is there not some concern—
Consolidating something like 18 pieces of legislation is not a simple task. It needs to be done properly and well, and we would need to do it in conjunction with the co-operative movement, as well as with the Law Commission. Other pieces of legislation need to be implemented before the introduction of the consolidation Bill. It represents an important step forward, which is why it has been welcomed by people like Ed Mayo as a way of making it easier to set up mutuals in the future.
In the Government’s response to the recommendations of the Independent Commission on Banking, we committed to assess whether the Building Societies Act 1986 should be updated in line with the reforms to the wider banking sector. We want to work with building societies to identify the barriers to their growth. We will shortly publish a paper, alongside the White Paper on ICB implementation, as a consequence of that work, to identify where the Building Societies Act 1986 needs to be amended to enable building societies to take advantage of the opportunities that are out there.
I believe that this Government have demonstrated a clear commitment to promote mutuality and to diversify the mutual sector. Our commitment takes its shape in many forms—whether it be the new capital instrument, the protection given to members of Northern Ireland’s credit unions, legislation to help to take forward and grow credit unions, or the increased public investment in credit unions that should flow from changes to the model on which they operate. That demonstrates the practical concrete steps that the Government are taking to strengthen the mutual sector.
The information requested by the amendment is clearly widely available, if my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Yardley (John Hemming) can Google it in a minute, and it will be maintained and kept. I do not think that this requirement to provide information, placing additional burdens on the regulator and the sector, is necessary. Actions speak louder than words and they speak louder than data. What this Government have clearly done is bring forward a series of measures to strengthen the mutual sector, which will be to the benefit of all our constituents.
“Actions speak louder than words”: that is the conclusion that the Minister reached when rebutting this modest amendment. Some Opposition Members said that it was too modest, and not strong enough. You cannot win when you are in opposition. Sometimes Opposition Members propose amendments and are told that they go much too far, but it seems that this amendment did not go far enough.
The aim of the amendment was simply to hold the Government to account in respect of their own promise in the coalition agreement to produce detailed proposals to promote mutuality. The Minister tried his very best. My hon. Friends could probably hear the sound of the barrel being scraped as he listed all the papers, reviews and consultations—half of which, by the way, had their genesis under the last Labour Government, or were thanks to the European Commission.
The Government’s commitment to mutuality is conspicuous by its absence. They have an embarrassing dearth of commitment to the mutual sector. The Minister must do far better than this. As my hon. Friends have said, it is no wonder that the Government do not want to measure the progress that is being made in any modest way. I think it is time that we held them to account.
Members in all parts of the Chamber care about the mutual sector. I greatly respect the work that is being done by the all-party group, and the commitment of others who believe that it is important for us to take the steps that are necessary to support the mutual and co-operative sector. All that we were trying to do was obtain from the Government some sense of how they were doing in relation to the coalition agreement, but the best that we have been able to secure is a scraped-together consolidation Bill that does some administrative tidying up. It is not good enough, and I therefore wish to press amendment 72 to a Division.
More than three hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, 23 April).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).
Directions under section 57: supplementary provisions
Amendment proposed: 10, page 136, line 22, leave out from ‘Bank’ to ‘on’ in line 23 and insert
‘must give the Treasury one or more reports’.
Orders: parliamentary control
Amendment proposed: 11, page 165, line 21, at end insert—
‘() an order under section 91 (power to make further provision about regulation of consumer credit);’.
The financial services compensation scheme
Amendments proposed: 13, page 240, line 8, leave out ‘are, or are not, to’ and insert ‘may, or may not,’.
Amendment 14, page 240, line 10, leave out ‘are, or are not, to’ and insert ‘may, or may not,’.
Further minor and consequential amendments
Amendments proposed: 15, page 288, line 18, at end insert—
(c) in paragraphs (c) and (d), for “notice of control” substitute “section 178 notice”.
‘(2A) In subsection (2)(b), for “notices of control” substitute “section 178 notices”.’.
Amendment 16, page 288, leave out lines 20 and 21 and insert—
‘(4A) “The appropriate regulator”—
(a) for the purposes of subsection (1)(a) and (b), is the regulator to which the application for permission under Part 4A is made;
(b) for the purposes of subsection (1)(c) and (d), is the appropriate regulator as defined in section 178(2A).
(4B) “Section 178 notice” means a notice given under section 178.”’.
Amendment 17, page 288, line 24, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) to (5) and insert—
‘(2) In subsection (1)—
(a) for “the Authority”, in the first place, substitute “a regulator”,
(b) in paragraph (a), for “subsections (7) to (9) of section 52 do” substitute “section 55X does”, and
(c) in paragraph (b), for “Authority” substitute “regulator”.
(3) In subsection (2)—
(a) for “the Authority”, in the first place, substitute “a regulator”,
(b) in paragraph (a), for “section 52(1) and (2)” substitute “subsections (1) to (3) of section 55V”, and
(c) in paragraph (b), for “Authority” substitute “regulator”.
(4) In subsection (3)—
(a) for “the Authority”, in the first place, substitute “a regulator”, and
(b) in paragraph (b), for “Authority” substitute “regulator”.’.
Amendments proposed: 18, page 315, line 22, after ‘this’ insert ‘Part of this’.
Amendment 19, page 316, line 11, leave out ‘the scheme’ and insert ‘a scheme under this paragraph’.
Amendment 20, page 316, line 18, after first ‘this’ insert ‘Part of this’.
Amendment 21, page 317, line 2, at end insert—
Property, rights and liabilities of Office of Fair Trading
6 In this Part of this Schedule “the OFT” means the Office of Fair Trading.
7 (1) This paragraph applies if after the passing of this Act the Treasury make an order under section 22 of FSMA 2000 which has the effect that an activity—
(a) ceases to be an activity in respect of which a licence under section 21 of Consumer Credit Act 1974 is required or would be required but for the exemption conferred by subsection (2), (3) or (4) of that section or paragraph 15(3) of Schedule 3 to FSMA 2000, and
(b) becomes a regulated activity for the purposes of FSMA 2000.
(2) The OFT must make one or more schemes under this paragraph for the transfer of property, rights and liabilities of the OFT to the FCA.
(3) A scheme under this paragraph made by the OFT is not to be capable of coming into force unless it is approved by the Treasury and the Secretary of State.
(4) The OFT may not submit a scheme under this paragraph to the Treasury or the Secretary of State for their approval without the consent of the FCA.
(5) Sub-paragraph (6) applies if —
(a) the OFT fails, before such time as may be notified to it by the Treasury as the latest time for submission of a scheme under this paragraph in connection with an order falling within sub-paragraph (1), to submit such a scheme to the Treasury and the Secretary of State for their approval, or
(b) the Treasury or the Secretary of State decide not to approve a scheme that has been submitted to them by the OFT (either with or without modifications).
(6) Where this sub-paragraph applies, the Treasury may, with the approval of the Secretary of State, make a scheme under this paragraph for the transfer to the FCA of such of the OFT’s property, rights and liabilities as appear to the Treasury appropriate to be transferred to the FCA in consequence of the order falling within sub-paragraph (1).
(7) The property, rights and liabilities which are the subject of a scheme under this paragraph are transferred in accordance with the provisions of the scheme on such day as the scheme may specify.
(8) The OFT must provide the Treasury or the Secretary of State with all such information and other assistance as either of them may reasonably require for the purposes of, or otherwise in connection with, the exercise of any power conferred on the Treasury or the Secretary of State by this paragraph.
(9) In the following provisions of this Part of this Schedule a scheme under this paragraph is referred to as a “transfer scheme”.
8 The property, rights and liabilities that may be the subject of a transfer scheme include—
(a) any that would not otherwise be capable of being transferred or assigned, and
(b) rights and liabilities under a contract of employment.
9 A transfer scheme may—
(a) apportion, or provide for the apportionment of, property, rights and liabilities,
(b) define the property, rights and liabilities to be transferred by specifying them or by describing them (including describing them by reference to functions that are transferred by the order falling within paragraph 7(1));
(c) contain provision for the payment of compensation by the FCA to the OFT;
(d) contain provision for the payment of compensation by the OFT or the FCA to any person whose interests are adversely affected by the scheme;
(e) contain supplemental, incidental, transitional and consequential provision.
10 A transfer scheme which relates to rights and liabilities under a contract of employment must provide for the transfer to which the scheme relates to be treated as if it were a relevant transfer for the purposes of the Transfer of Undertakings (Protection of Employment) Regulations 2006.’.
Question put (single Question on amendments moved by a Minister of the Crown), That amendments 10, 11 and 13 to 21 be made—(Mr Hoban.)
Question accordingly agreed to.
Amendments 10, 11 and 13 to 21 agreed to.
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read the Third time.
It is worth stepping back at this point to look at why this is such a crucial Bill and why we must get it right. The UK banking system is emerging from the most serious financial crisis in over 100 years. It was a global crisis, but in the UK it highlighted fundamental dangerous flaws in the existing tripartite system of regulation. That system was put in place by the previous Government and designed by the shadow Chancellor—a system that, because of its flaws, failed its first major test.
The Bill addresses the most serious weaknesses in the system. Currently, all responsibility for financial regulation rests with the Financial Services Authority, resulting in an unwieldy remit across prudential and conduct-of-business regulation. The conflicts and challenges involved in that dual mandate were highlighted in the recent FSA report on the failure of RBS. The Bank of England is responsible for financial stability, but it did not have the tools with which to effect change, and the Treasury has no clear remit in a crisis, in spite of the immense threat to public funds in such scenarios. The confusion and lack of clarity in respect of roles and responsibilities triggered the asking of this question: who is in charge? The system’s structural flaws were compounded by flaws in approach. The FSA’s focus on tick-box compliance in the run-up to the financial crisis meant that insufficient time and resource was dedicated to thoughtful and challenging analysis of risk.
The Bill gives a clearer mandate to the regulatory structure and ensures that the regulators are equipped with the powers they need to tackle the problems both of today and, crucially, of the future. The Bill gives the Bank, through the new Financial Policy Committee, a much clearer mandate to protect financial stability and the ability to develop and use levers to fulfil that role. In Committee, we discussed at length the remit of the FPC and the tools that would be required, and I reconfirm what I said then: we will consult on the macro-prudential tools later this year, to ensure that there is full public discussion of them and their effects both in the outside world and here in Parliament.
In response to questions about who should be the prudential regulator, and recognising the close synergy between macro-prudential regulation—the task of the new FPC—and micro-prudential regulation, we have established a new subsidiary of the Bank of England: the Prudential Regulatory Authority. The PRA will have a new emphasis on a judgment-led approach to regulation. We will ask it to act proactively and to look ahead at problems that may emerge. The PRA will be empowered to act to tackle problems before they emerge, rather than waiting to clean up afterwards.
Does my hon. Friend agree that it is important that the PRA and the FPC consider the need for greater bank competition in the UK? Does he also agree that it is important that when the Bill moves into the other place consideration is given to any changes that might encourage greater competition through the new PRA?
The FPC’s remit does not cover the consideration of competition in the system. Its role is to consider stability and the threats to it. On the question of the Prudential Regulatory Authority, one of the challenges we need to accept is that, for a host of reasons, the failure of a bank is costly and expensive. We saw that in the UK with the response to the banking problems during the crisis, when a huge amount of public money was pumped into banks to prevent some of the problems that bank failure would create. Part of the responsibility for tackling the problem lies with the previous Government, who introduced living wills through recovery and resolution plans in the Banking Act 2009, work which is now being taken forward.
Of course, the Vickers report includes in its recommendations ways in which it will be easier to allow the orderly failure of a bank. Helping a bank to have an orderly failure where there is a problem will help to tackle the problem with barriers to entry. At the moment, the cost of failure is so high that the barriers to entry are proportionately higher. The regulators want to know that a bank is safe and to have huge confidence in that bank and they will require it to have high levels of capital because the cost of failure is so high. If we can tackle the barriers to exit from the banking sector, it will be easier to tackle the barriers to entry. That will help enormously in improving competition.
We have also given the Financial Conduct Authority an explicit objective of improving competition in markets. We have strengthened that objective, taking into account the work of the Treasury Committee and the representations of others, and I believe, as I think my hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire (Andrea Leadsom) does, that competition plays an important role in improving outcomes for consumers. That is why we see competition as one of the key new roles for the FCA, which will be a specialist regulator of conduct and will have strategic objectives not just to promote competition but to focus on consumer protection and to ensure that markets function well and have integrity.
We have also listened to the widespread concerns about the regulation of consumer credit. The Bill gives us powers to transfer the responsibility for regulating consumer credit from the Office of Fair Trading to the FCA. That will bring significant benefits and will ensure that consumer credit is well regulated. The FCA has a wider range of penalties than the OFT and can take a wider range of enforcement action, which will help to reassure our constituents that we are tackling the issue of consumer credit properly and sensibly.
The hon. Gentleman makes an important point. I emphasise that it is the Bank of England that is getting more powers, as I do not think we should be personalising matters in the context of who within the Bank will get more power. It is the institution that will get more power. We have taken steps in the Bill to increase the accountability and transparency of the Bank. It is very important, for example, that the FPC, in explaining its actions, uses the financial stability report to communicate the risks it identifies and what its responses should be. I expect that the FPC will be held to account by business, the banking sector and this House. That is important but, as I said on our first day on Report, the Treasury Committee has raised a number of issues—I pay tribute to the work of the Committee and its Chair in highlighting them—and we will return to them in the other place.
It is important to get the arrangements for the governance of the Bank right. I believe that accountability and transparency should be at the heart of the regulatory system, which applies not just to the regulators but to some of the tools that we have given to them, which I think will help. For example, at the moment no one knows when a financial promotion has been withdrawn at the direction of the regulator, but that information will now be made public, which will help consumers to know which financial services firms push the boundaries with promotions. That is why we want to see the publication of warning letters. I know that that is controversial, but it is right that consumers should know when enforcement action is being proceeded with and that that information should be in the public domain. The powers we are giving to the FCA to ban toxic products are also an important strengthening of that regime. In a range of areas, we are changing not only the structure of the regulatory organisation of this country but the approach. Transparency and accountability are part of that, as are the increase in competition and the new powers that we are giving to the FCA.
The process of scrutiny has been constructive, I think, and I pay tribute to the Treasury Committee for its work. We also had pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill by a Joint Committee of both Houses chaired by my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden (Mr Lilley). As we have developed the Bill, the way in which we have listened to the arguments being made inside and outside Parliament has demonstrated that we listen carefully to what is said and will amend the legislation as appropriate. We passed a number of Government amendments on Report that reflected comments that were made—even those made by the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie). That just shows that we are prepared to listen. The fact that there has been such widespread support for the Bill in the Commons demonstrates that our aim to ensure that there is widespread consensus behind our reforms to the structure and approach of regulation was achieved through the consultation process we adopted. That consensus is important. It demonstrates confidence in our proposed changes and shows that this Bill should receive its Third Reading.
I hope that the Opposition are not going to oppose Third Reading. If they do, it will demonstrate that they have not learned the lesson of the past—[Interruption.] The deputy Opposition Chief Whip says, “You never know,” from a sedentary position, but if the Opposition vote against this Bill on Third Reading people will wonder whether they are so wedded to the constructs of the past that they cannot move on. People will think that they are so wedded to the system put in place by the shadow Chancellor that they cannot move on and that they cannot recognise the flaws in both its structure and approach. If they choose to vote in such a way, the world will know that they have not moved on and that they have not learned those lessons.
The Government have looked at the financial crisis and the reforms that must be made. The structure we are proposing today will help to deliver better outcomes for consumers and to strengthen and improve the resilience of the financial system in the future. I commend the Bill to the House.
Let me start by thanking those of my colleagues who served on the Committee that considered the Bill, as well as the trade bodies, consumer groups and others who made representations about it. In particular, I thank members of the Treasury Committee for the time and attention they gave to trying to improve the legislation. I thank also the members of the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee, who did a phenomenal amount of work in the months ahead of the legislative process, albeit to make a series of recommendations that the Government then promptly ignored. However, we will come to that when the Bill goes to the other place. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Foyle (Mark Durkan). His contributions were from a different political party but he made a very constructive contribution to the Committee. I also thank the officials and others who work hard behind the scenes on legislation such as this.
It is a shame that we have had such woefully insufficient time to debate this massive piece of legislation, which consists of more than 300 pages and hundreds of clauses. We tabled more than 200 amendments but the best we could get from the Government, even though they have nothing else going on in the Chamber—they are padding out the legislative process—is one and a half days, with three hours for the second day on Report. We ran out of time to debate some of the key, critical issues concerning how the Governor of the Bank of England and the Chancellor of the Exchequer would manage in a crisis, and we did not even get an opportunity to debate those crisis-management arrangements. However, I am glad that we extracted one major achievement from the Government and No. 10: when it comes to public funds, when there is a direction to the Bank of England from the Treasury, the Government will now require the Bank to report back on its progress on that direction. That is a positive change, which we did not get a chance to debate in discussions on the previous section of the Bill. I am grateful for the change.
When it comes to some of the other problems to do with crisis management, the Government are relying on a non-statutory memorandum of understanding between the Bank of England and the Treasury, which leaves gaping holes in knowing how things would work in a crisis. They say that there will be a temporary standing committee or an ad hoc committee but there is no sense of who will be on it or how it will be constructed. No advance thought is going into that and I worry that if we get into a crisis we might waste hours or even days figuring out how on earth to convene this ad hoc committee.
Similarly, there are serious difficulties to do with whether the heads of the new regulators and bodies that the Bill creates will have a direct line of communication with the Treasury or whether everything will have to be filtered through the Governor of the Bank of England, in whom enormous new powers will be vested under this legislation. There is an irony in that yesterday or the day before the Bank conceded—this was dragged out of it—that it ought perhaps to have minor reviews and partial inquiries into what went on in parts of the financial crisis. We still have not had a fundamental review by the Bank of England about its role in the crisis, and that is a great shame. It should be big enough and have the humility to undertake the review that the Treasury and even the FSA have undertaken. It is time that the Bank also opened up and looked inwardly and seriously at its own capabilities.
There are positive aspects to this legislation. We agree with the concept of prudential regulation and we wait to see the detail. The Minister said that he is going to consult on some of the macro-prudential tools. It is very important that we get right the concept of the greater systemic overview of the system—the eagle-eye view that needs to be taken rather than getting too bogged down in the detail of firm by firm, company by company regulation—but the theory needs to be translated properly into practice. That is where the devil is in the detail. In a number of respects, the Bill falls short and could have done with massive improvement. The Opposition tried their best to make recommendations, including many of those made by the pre-legislative scrutiny Committee and the Treasury Committee. I sometimes see the Minister as—I will not call him an irresistible force—an immovable object resisting time and again attempts to improve the Bill.
We need more transparency and accountability for the regulators that the Minister is creating. The degree to which the new Financial Conduct Authority will publish its minutes is still unclear—we need a firmer commitment from the Government on that—and as I have said, the crisis management memorandum of understanding is still insufficient. There is a severe risk that costs that firms pay in their levies to the new regulators will be duplicated and that there will be inefficiency in the expense of splitting the regulator and having two new regulators. We know that the PRA is already in aggrandising mode, securing beautiful new offices in Moorgate right next door to Threadneedle street because, apparently, Canary Wharf is far too far away. It is about 12 or 13 minutes on the tube, but apparently that is a major problem. So millions more pounds are to be spent on those offices in Moorgate, and the Government have resisted attempts to bring about greater efficiencies by means of the Bill.
The key aspect that is missing is proper attention to the necessary parliamentary scrutiny of those macro-prudential tools. Many of our constituents would baulk at that phrase and ask what on earth it means. It is about the regulator and the Bank of England deciding, for example, that the minimum repayments on their credit card may need to change at a moment’s notice. The Governor of the Bank of England will have the power to say, “I’m sorry, we’ve got a particular issue coming on, so instead of paying back 2% a month, you’ve got to pay back 10% a month on your credit card.” The Governor of the Bank of England will have the power to intervene on business lending, on the terms and duration of loans, and possibly even on the cost of those loans, and will be able to do that at a moment’s notice.
We have a bit of a debate about whether loan-to-value ratios and loan-to-income ratios on mortgages will also be in the hands of the Governor. Interestingly, one of the deputy governors has said, “This is a bit too hot to handle. Maybe this is for the Treasury, which is accountable to do that.” The point is that there are phenomenal powers invested in the Bank of England, and we need that thread of accountability to come back to Parliament at some point. This is why we have suggested that there should be a super-affirmative process, rather than a rubber-stamping statutory instrument Committee which many Members have attended and where they know orders go through on the nod with a formal vote.
I detect some cynicism on the part of the Government Whips, but of course they want to nod these things through. We should give Parliament a proper opportunity to consider the impact of those phenomenal powers on our constituents and on the economy. I hope that in the other place the Government will think again about the need to improve the parliamentary scrutiny of the new powers.
When it comes to consumers, the Bill has not properly addressed what we wanted to see, particularly the powers of the Financial Conduct Authority. There has been no movement on compulsory financial education. The Money Advice Service, which is the body tasked with trying to improve the financial literacy of the population, will not be adequately focused in statute on the most deprived in society and those who are most financially excluded. We saw the Government rebut attempts today to give the FCA a proper mandate on the regulation of high cost credit. The Government refused to give the FCA a proper role to take account of social investment, charity finance and other needs. We know they have a chip on their shoulder about charities and philanthropy generally, but it is a shame that they did not recognise those needs in the Bill.
There are a number of consumer aspects, whether debt management plans, helping customers plan ahead for their mortgage finances, or giving firms a fiduciary duty to have regard to the best interests of consumers, on which the Bill should have been improved. We have spoken separately about how the corporate culture in the financial services sector could have been improved. Today we tried to press the Government on improving the stewardship, the corporate governance arrangements and the actions of remuneration committees in reining in some of the excessive bonuses and pay packets.
It is with particular reference to the impact on the economy that I close my remarks on Third Reading. A powerful new committee is created in the Bill—the Financial Policy Committee, which will make the decisions about macro-prudential tools. It will be under no proactive obligation to have regard to growth and employment in this country. We may well see a mismatch between the obligations under which the Monetary Policy Committee remains: it must have regard to the growth and employment objectives of the Government, but the FPC does not mirror that obligation on the MPC. It is told, “Don’t do anything to harm growth”, but it is not given an obligation to have regard to the Government’s proactive—we hope—strategy on growth. Maybe that is because they do not quite understand what the growth agenda ought to be, or they do not know how to get there. They cannot see why that is important. In addition to that general obligation, it is also important that there should be an assessment of the impact of each of the macro-prudential tools on the economy—on growth and employment—but the Government have neglected to do that. Also, there was not a sufficient duty placed on the Bank of England to take care of public funds. Those are some of our concerns.
The Bill does not properly fit with the European level of supervision for financial services. There is the sense that it was dreamt up on the back of a cigarette packet by the Chancellor in opposition, when he wondered how the previous administration, the FSA, could be blamed for all the ills of the global financial crisis. But he forgot to recognise that most of the financial regulations in this country come from Brussels, the EU and Commissioner Barnier, on that conveyor belt as it throws out all the directives and regulations. The regulators that we are creating in this legislation are merely there to transpose a lot of the decisions taken in Brussels. That is essentially their function. The Bill does not properly recognise how our regulators should fit with the European decisions and those realities. We should be framing legislation not just to influence those European decisions, but to steer those decisions. The Government still have not addressed that point properly.
I am pointing out that there is a fundamental mismatch. We know that the supervisory authorities have gone for a thematic approach and the Government have gone for a twin peaks approach. Then there is this bizarre committee or secretariat in between to try and be an interlocutor. It is a tremendous spaghetti, diluting our influence on those supervisory decisions. We can already see that the Government have had to cave in on a number of ways in which the European Banking Authority can overrule many of the capital requirement arrangements. Perhaps that is the result of a deeper weakness in the Government’s diplomatic stance.
I am not saying that the Bill cannot be salvaged. There are ways in which it falls short, but there is still time for the Government to listen. The Bill is deficient, but it can be improved, and I hope that the noble lords in the other place will take the opportunity to do so. We agree with the concept of prudential regulation. There is virtue in some of the theory in the legislation. But it is because of the way in which the Government are yet again incompetently putting that theory into practice that we have our doubts. We will not oppose Third Reading, but I hope that the other place, perhaps with the more time that they have under the rules, will do a serious job and pick up on some of the issues that the Government, by timetabling the Bill in such a draconian way, failed to give the House of Commons the proper opportunity to do.
I much agree with the sentiment of the remarks of the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) a moment ago, and I will elucidate a little on some of the points that I think their lordships might want to look at. The Bill is the most important overhaul of financial regulation ever undertaken in this country, and it has implications for the health of the whole economy and affects everybody—every citizen, every business up and down the land. Along with the forthcoming banking reform Bill, it will change the landscape of our financial services industry, in which we lead the world in many areas and on which so many jobs in the UK depend.
The legislation certainly leaves this place in better shape than it might have done, which I think has something to do with the number of amendments that have been tabled and arguments that have been listened to by Ministers. Sometimes those arguments have come from those on the Opposition Front Bench, sometimes from the Public Bill Committee, sometimes from the Joint Committee, and sometimes from the Treasury Committee, which I chair. On that, I would like particularly to thank my colleagues with whom I work on the Committee who have been so helpful and generated so many ideas, helping put together the succession of reports that we have put out. They have, to some degree, influenced the shape of this Bill.
None the less, it is the Treasury Committee’s considered conclusion that the Bill is still defective in a number of respects. On the first day on Report, the Committee proposed a new clause to make the court more transparent and to require it to act more like a proper board. The Bank must have a board that is capable of assessing the institution’s performance, but it is explicitly prohibited from doing so at present. In view of the Minister’s favourable response to that new clause in the debate a few weeks ago, I look forward to seeing movement on the issue in another place. A number of other defects remain in the Bill, a few of which I will list in a moment.
It is important to put on the record one or two other points. Right from the beginning, the Government made decisions about the reform and the timing of the Bill that, in my view, have made the legislative process more complex and difficult than it could have been. For a start, we should have had a new Bill, something on which the Governor of the Bank of England and the Treasury Select Committee wholly agree. The complexity of the Bill could turn out to make it a lawyers’ charter—I only hope not.
Then there is the rush to get all this done quickly. After all, the horse has bolted. We have just had a most serious financial crisis; a crisis of the sort that we might have hoped the legislative framework would have protected us from. We now seem to be legislating to what can only be described as an arbitrary timetable in order to get the Bill through by the end of the year. Neither I nor the Committee have heard a good reason why we cannot take a few more months to get the legislation right. That meant that the Bill was produced without taking into account a number of views, including that of the Treasury Select Committee, on the shape of the Financial Conduct Authority. Some of the Bill’s current weaknesses owe something to the fact that not enough attention was paid to those views. We must therefore depend on the other place to get the legislation right.
I will briefly summarise a number of areas to which the Treasury Select Committee has drawn attention and which I hope the other place will look at. First, I have already mentioned the new clause that my colleagues and I proposed for improving accountability, and I am glad that there has been Government movement on that.
As I said on Report, all proposals to improve accountability, both of the Bank to its board and to Parliament, should be judged against two criteria. First, does the proposal hold out the prospect of improving the performance of the institution, meaning the quality of public policy decisions that the Bank will take, and secondly, does the proposal help secure public consent for the decisions? That is particularly important in a powerful body that is remote from the citizenry, such as the Bank of England. On both criteria, and particularly the second, the appointment and dismissal of the Governor would benefit from a parliamentary veto. The Treasury Committee’s second point is that the independence, authority and, in a sense, legitimacy of the Governor’s decisions will be enhanced if there is a parliamentary veto, through the Committee, over the appointment and dismissal of the Governor.
Thirdly, the Financial Policy Committee and the court should publish full minutes. The Government’s proposed compromise, that a so-called record be published, simply will not do and will not be enough to satisfy the Treasury Committee. We will inevitably end up demanding the full minutes and, one way or another, will persist until we get them.
Fourthly, the Chancellor needs a general power to direct the Bank of England in a crisis when public funds are at stake, not the rather strictly circumscribed powers the Bill currently contains. The Government picked up part of the proposal that the Committee made in our report on the need for some kind of limited power of direction for the Chancellor over the Bank in a crisis in order to deal with the problem to which the previous Chancellor has alluded, not least in his rather graphic memoirs of that period. The measure that the Government are proposing to put on the statute book might deal with the current crisis, which we have had over the past few years, but it might not put at the Chancellor’s disposal the right tools in some future crisis.
Fifthly, there needs to be enhanced scrutiny of the secondary legislation that will accompany the Bank of England’s macro-prudential tools. The hon. Member for Nottingham East referred to exactly that when he talked about the need for a super-affirmative procedure, and the Treasury Committee agrees: we must have something that provides for full debate and time to consider the proposals, except in case of emergencies.
Sixthly, the MPC and the FPC should both have a majority of external members. We on the Treasury Committee think that, in the longer term, this is essential in order to guard against group-think on those committees.
Seventhly, the Lords needs to look again at the Financial Conduct Authority’s objectives. The FCA would work better if it focused on a single set of objectives. Midway through the process, the Government added to the proposals what they describe as overarching strategic objectives, but the Treasury Committee concluded that they add nothing to the operational objectives in the Bill and might, indeed, take something away by creating confusion.
Eighthly—but by no means last, and certainly not least, although I probably will end on this point—the Financial Conduct Authority’s accountability mechanisms need strengthening. The FCA should publish its minutes, its chief executive should be subject to pre-appointment scrutiny and it should review its own performance without the need for the Treasury Committee to force it to do so. The Committee managed to get the Financial Services Authority to review the collapse of RBS, but it was hard work persuading it to do so.
The Financial Conduct Authority has been the poor relation throughout this process of parliamentary scrutiny, and regrettably the legislation carries over into the new body many flaws—the box-ticking culture, the burdensome problems of regulation, its cost and some of the regulation’s apparent pointlessness—in existing FSA practice, so I very much hope that their lordships get their teeth into that problem.
Overall, therefore, this legislation is a big step forward from the legislative framework that was in place at the time of the crash, but much more could be done to improve it further. It really could be so much better, and there is still time to do something about it. Let us hope that, when it comes back from the other place, that work has been done.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), the Chair of the Treasury Committee. Like him, I recognise that the Bill represents an improvement but that it is capable of being improved further in a number of respects. He has touched on some issues, such as the balance of membership on the MPC and the FPC, which we addressed in Committee, and the future accountability of the new regulatory players.
There are deficiencies, and the hon. Gentleman at the very end of his remarks touched on what for some Members in Committee was a difficulty: when we put forward many amendments, we were told by the Minister that they were not necessary or were redundant, because the FSA was already doing what they proposed. For quite a lot of the time in Committee, we appeared to be told that the new regulatory regime was essentially going to be “Continuity FSA”, and that we could take it for granted that every good and acceptable thing that it was doing would carry on regardless. It was very much “Carry on FSA” throughout large parts of the debate in Committee.
Like other hon. Members, I recognise the deficiencies in the Bill. As I stressed in Committee, it has significant holes in its provisions for compelling consumer interests, which the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) touched on. The Government rejected key amendments to the provisions on consumer credit, and the related but very distinct issue of debt management, that would have given the Bill more meaning and relevance to people and offered them a bit more of a promise. Instead, the Government are merely saying, “We will attend to these things in future, and there is enough future-proofing in the Bill to allow us to amend it for all sorts of reasons and purposes.” They rejected, as they have again today, amendments that would have coloured in how those amending powers could be used—in particular, they rejected the amendments that would have indicated where the regulators were meant to reflect on certain matters and to advise on where regulation may need to change.
The hon. Members for Nottingham East and for Chichester emphasised the importance of parliamentary oversight and reporting. The need for crisis provisions may not be far away in the current circumstances, and we require clarity about that. After the next crisis, when there is confusion about who is responsible and which bit of furniture is meant to support which particular aspect, people will not accept that hon. Members did not know about these issues, because we are the authors of this legislation. As the hon. Member for Chichester said, it is a pity that the Bill, instead of having its own full sweep of provisions, tends to rely on going in and out of various bits and pieces of all sorts of other legislation, which are bumping into each other and not connecting very well. It is a bit like that Johnny Cash song, “One Piece at a Time”.
No, I will absolutely resist the idea of singing it. The only people who ask me to sing are bouncers, because it helps them to clear the premises.
Another deficiency relates to stewardship and the fiduciary duties of institutional investors and fund managers. Again, the Government assiduously resisted straightforward amendments in that respect. I cannot understand why they would refuse to have in a Bill principles that they say are reflected in common law. If this about consolidating legislation and making sure that there are no ambiguities in future, it would have made sense to include such provisions.
There is another serious gap in relation to consolidated oversight, and I hope that the Lords will pick up on that. The Bill provides for consolidated oversight in relation to regulated authorities where the parent holding company is itself a financial institution and a regulated authority, but not where it is not. That gives rise to the whole question of the “Tescofication” of banking services. While the Bill provides that there can be changes in future, it does not specify where they might happen. The Government resisted amendments that would have coloured in the responsibility for considering where changes might be needed and, in particular, ensured that the new regulators did that.
On a more regional level, there is particular interest in Northern Ireland about the progress of the Bill and its associated measures because of the change to the regulation of credit unions. I hope that the Minister is aware that there is still deep disappointment among those in the credit union movement in Northern Ireland about the impact of the new regulations, which will take them back from where they should be and diminish their existing capacity to make sound investment choices. They look forward to being able to offer more services. Although that will be possible under regulation by the FSA and, in future, the PFA, they are disappointed that the price for that, from the first day of the new regulatory system, is that they will be restricted in making the sensible, prudential investment decisions for their members that they have been making very successfully.
The Whips have asked me to be brief, and I will.
The Chairman of the Treasury Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), listed eight issues. I am pleased to say that he did not get to the one that I wish to raise, which is the area in which the Bill could be improved. That is international regulation.
The Bill is very strong on the national position. There are bail-ins, capital buffers and ring fences—the whole macro-prudential suite. In fact, there is a whiff of over-regulation in the ring fence. There is not such a whiff, however, in how we are going to deal with the international issues that confront us. If there is another crisis, it will not occur in a national bank, and I say that to whoever is in charge when the next crisis arrives.
I was on the Joint Committee on the draft Bill and listened to the risk managers from Barclays Capital, Goldman Sachs and J. P. Morgan, and it struck me that their outlook was entirely global. They have global IT systems and global profit and loss accounts, and they manage risk and divvy up bonuses globally. To the extent that the national position matters to them at all, it is because they have to produce accounts, often three, four, five or six months later, so that they can pay taxes and satisfy statutory requirements.
We must consider the issue of risk arbitrage, but what we need to do is not just about that. The regulatory structure must follow the structure of entities such as those that I mentioned. The Bill is national in its outlook, which was why I probed the hon. Member for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) on his point about Europe. Perhaps it has to have such an outlook, but that leaves us a big issue to consider.
It is instructive to consider the two big things that have gone wrong in the past year, while the Bill has been going through the House. They have been at MF Global and, more recently, J. P. Morgan. I do not believe that much of what is in the Bill would have had any effect on either situation. MF Global had a £40 billion balance sheet, and it would not have been regulated by the FPC. The case of J. P. Morgan is even more interesting. It lost £2 billion—in fact, yesterday it was suggested that it may have been £4 billion. Even if there were another nought on the end of that, I am not sure the situation would have been picked up under the Bill, but it would have started to get serious. That loss occurred in London, but only because that happened to be where J. P. Morgan put its risk management function. It could have been anywhere.
When we design a regulatory structure, it has to mirror the organisation of the bodies that it is regulating, or it is just irrelevant. I am concerned that too much of what is in the Bill is irrelevant to where the risks will emerge in the next decade or two. I want to give three examples of potential problems. The first is one of co-ordination. We have heard the point about twin-peaks regulation versus sector-based structures. The situation is not brilliant, but there is a committee to fix it and we will do our best.
The second potential problem is ambiguity. We talk about judgment-based regulation in the UK, whereas the Europeans talk about rule-based regulation. Those two methods will be regulating the same entities, and possibly the same departments of those entities. How will that be sorted out? Where ambiguity exists risk exists, because things always go wrong on the boundaries.
The third potential problem is one of international risk management. In my judgment, there is nothing more important than how the college of regulators works.
Four hours having elapsed since the commencement of proceedings on consideration, the debate was interrupted (Programme Order, 23 April).
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Question already proposed from the Chair (Standing Order No. 83E), That the Bill be now read the Third time.
Question agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.