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Public Bill Committees

Debated on Tuesday 1 November 2022

Financial Services and Markets Bill (Seventh sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Mr Virendra Sharma, Dame Maria Miller

† Bacon, Gareth (Orpington) (Con)

† Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)

† Baldwin, Harriett (West Worcestershire) (Con)

† Davies, Gareth (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)

† Docherty-Hughes, Martin (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)

† Eagle, Dame Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)

Grant, Peter (Glenrothes) (SNP)

† Griffith, Andrew (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

† Hammond, Stephen (Wimbledon) (Con)

† Hardy, Emma (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)

† Hart, Sally-Ann (Hastings and Rye) (Con)

† McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)

† Mak, Alan (Havant) (Con)

† Morrissey, Joy (Beaconsfield) (Con)

† Siddiq, Tulip (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)

Bradley Albrow, Simon Armitage, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 1 November 2022


[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

Financial Services and Markets Bill

Clause 45 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 46

Payment Systems Regulator

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 7 be the Seventh schedule to the Bill.

Good morning, Mr Sharma. It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship.

If it pleases the Committee, I would like to draw the Committee’s attention to a letter that I have written to you, Mr Sharma, and to the interim Chair of the Treasury Committee. I had previously undertaken that it was my intention to table for the consideration of the Committee some draft wording on a public interest intervention power. As a result of the new Prime Minister wishing to understand what is an important matter in more detail, such that consideration can be given to points that have been made and to whether the proposed wording is the right wording, I regret that it will not be possible for us to table a proposal at this stage. There will be further consideration of the matter on Report and at other stages, and my commitment to write to the Treasury Committee, as well as to members of this Committee, as soon as we have draft wording for Members’ consideration, stands. I give that commitment to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn as well.

The clause introduces schedule 7, which sets out corresponding or similar provisions to those introduced for the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority in chapter 3 of the Bill, relating to the accountability of the payment systems regulator. As the Committee is aware, the Bill repeals retained EU law pertaining to financial services. That means that the regulators, including the Payment Systems Regulator, will generally be responsible for setting the direct regulatory requirements for supervised entities where those were previously contained in retained EU law.

As the Committee has already discussed in some detail, it is important that that increase in responsibility for the regulators is balanced with clear accountability, appropriate democratic input and transparent oversight. It is also important that the accountability measures are applied consistently across the regulators. Schedule 7 therefore makes provisions corresponding or similar to those in chapter 3 in a way that is relevant to and appropriate for the PSR.

The accountability provisions are applied to the PSR by amending the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013, which is the domestic legislation governing the PSR. The key distinction is that because the PSR makes rules via powers of direction, as opposed to having the rulebook like the FCA, the accountability requirements on rule making apply where the PSR imposes a generally applicable requirement. Those are the PSR’s equivalent for rule making. Overall, the provisions in the schedule apply the accountability measures in a relevant and appropriate way to the PSR’s legislative framework and regulatory remit. This will ensure consistency in the application of the accountability provisions across the financial services regulators.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma. I have just one question for the Minister. How does he foresee the Payment Systems Regulator’s new sustainable growth principles taking account of the UK’s net zero emissions target? How will that balance work in practice? Will the regulator be required to report against its performance?

In substance, the Payment Systems Regulator, in the same way as the FCA, the Bank and the PRA, will have the target as one of its principles. It will be for the PSR to decide how it reports against that. These are ultimately decisions for the regulators themselves to put into practice. To the extent that I have more information at this stage, I will write to the hon. Lady with any clarity I can provide.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 46 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 7 agreed to.

Clause 47

Cash access services

I beg to move amendment 40, in clause 47, page 68, line 9, after “of” insert “free of charge”.

This amendment makes reference to the provision of free of charge cash access services in Schedule 8.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause stand part.

Amendment 41, in schedule 8, page 150, line 27, after “service”)” insert

“free of charge or on the payment of a fee”.

This amendment changes the definition of cash deposit services to include both those which are free of charge and which require the payment of a fee.

Amendment 42, in schedule 8, page 150, line 29, after “service”)” insert

“free of charge or on the payment of a fee”.

This amendment changes the definition of cash withdrawal services to include both those which are free of charge and which require the payment of a fee.

Amendment 16, in schedule 8, page 151, line 36, after “concerning” insert

“both free of charge and paid access”.

Amendment 17, in schedule 8, page 154, line 12, after “appropriate” insert

“and must include the provision of free of charge cash access services”.

Amendment 18, in schedule 8, page 154, line 18, leave out from “is” to the end of line 22 and insert “—

(a) an absence of free of charge cash access services in a locality in a part of the United Kingdom, or

(b) a circumstance which limits the ability of persons in any locality in a part of the United Kingdom to—

(i) withdraw cash from a relevant current account, or

(ii) place cash on a relevant current account.”

New clause 10—Access to cash: Guaranteed minimum provision

“(1) The Treasury must, by regulations, make provision to guarantee a minimum level of access to free of charge cash access services for consumers across the United Kingdom.

(2) The minimum level of access referred to in subsection (1) must be included in the regulations.

(3) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument, and may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

New clause 11—Duty to collect data on cash acceptance—

“(1) The FCA must monitor, collect and publish data in relation to levels of cash acceptance amongst retailers and service providers within the United Kingdom.

(2) The FCA must publish a report, as soon as practicable after the end of—

(a) the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and

(b) every subsequent 12-month period,

on levels of cash acceptance amongst retailers and service providers within the United Kingdom.

(3) The FCA can, by written notice, require a retailer or service provider to provide to the FCA information that it may reasonably require for the purposes of exercising its duties under subsections (1) and (2).”

New clause 12—Access to cash: Guaranteed minimum provision for small businesses

“(1) The Treasury must, by regulations, make provision to guarantee a minimum level of access to free of charge cash access services for small businesses across the United Kingdom.

(2) The minimum level of access referred to in subsection (1) must be included in the regulations.

(3) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument, and may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.”

It is good to see you in the Chair, Mr Sharma, and other hon. Members here today. It is a pity that my hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes cannot be with us, as he has played a large part in constructing these amendments. I know that other hon. Members will want to participate in a debate on free-of-charge access to cash. I look forward to hearing what they have to say. At the moment, depending on what the Minister has to say, it is my intention to press the amendment to a vote, but I will listen to the Minister’s comments.

It is important to give some examples about the reduction in free access to cash. People sometimes wonder where the constituency of West Dunbartonshire is. We are bound by Glasgow to our east, where we become an urban element of the west of Scotland. We move further west through Clydebank, into Dumbarton and through the Vale of Leven, becoming suburban and then semi-rural, to the base of Loch Lomond itself. The community has a diverse demographic, with a range of deprivation that also impacts on people’s need to access physical cash.

In the last four years in West Dunbartonshire—I am sure this experience is mirrored not only in Scotland but the rest of these islands—we have seen a drop of 27% in access to ATMs, or automated teller machines. That is three ATMs, coupled with closures of local bank branches. We are a population of more than 90,000, but we seem to have only three or four bank branches left, which is extraordinary. My constituents face being forced to travel across a range of areas, including sometimes into the city of Glasgow, to access cash. My hon. Friend the Member for Glenrothes and I think it is vital to protect our constituents and the constituents of all other Members, too, in making sure that they have access to free-of-charge cash, notably for the most disadvantaged groups and the elderly.

Let me declare a non-pecuniary interest as the chair of the all-party parliamentary group on Estonia. Estonia is usually used as an example of what a digital state should be. After the fall of the Soviet Union it picked itself up and ran with a full digital agenda. One of its biggest learnings was that no one should be left behind in the race to digitalisation, critically in relation to access to cash. For the Estonian Government, and the Estonian Parliament, making sure that any financial system is not only fit for purpose in the digital age but that it takes everyone with it, including access to services and free access to cash, was their big learning curve. They believed that they failed in that process to begin with.

I hope that, when reflecting on the amendment, the Government realise that there is a huge opportunity to maintain access to cash for a range of reasons. We can talk about our constituents, and predominantly those who are elderly or from disadvantaged groups who use cash on a more regular basis. We can also talk about small and medium-sized businesses, a lot of which have moved to digital transactions. When Members go to a small shop in their own constituencies, they will notice that a lot of transactions have moved to digital due to the pandemic, but shops still have a substantial amount of cash that comes through their doors. One of the big problems that shops also have—not just free access to cash for those consuming their products—is depositing their takings at the end of the day. They are finding that very difficult as well. Businesses rely on consumers who use cash, especially in disadvantaged communities.

I am mindful of what the NM Group said in its submission:

“Cash remains an important form of payment for millions across the UK, particularly during times of economic hardship.”

The narrative of the cost of living crisis is used across the House, so there is clearly an agreement that people are facing economic hardship and that access to cash during that time is critical. That is why we think amendment 40 is important, as are the other amendments in this group.

We should also note that the payment method with the lowest economic friction, providing businesses and members of the public with a crucially important alternative, is cash. It is an important way for people to manage their finances, especially those in a disadvantaged group or those who are elderly who do not use digital money. I also note that the figures published by LINK, UK Finance and the Post Office show that around £10 billion in cash is withdrawn each month. That is £120 billion per annum in physical cash from ATMs, or from bank counters and post offices. The volume of withdrawals from the LINK system alone equates to about two withdrawals per month for each adult member of the UK population.

To bring my thoughts to a conclusion, we need to also be mindful of some of the infrastructure. UK consumers can access cash from over 55,000 ATMs, 11,500 post offices and certain bank branches—if they are not closing down in our local communities. The number of post offices is actually shrinking; there are no longer two or three post offices in a community—there is maybe only one. Over 90% of cash withdrawals take place at actual ATMs. The critical issue around free cash deposit and withdrawal services within the amendment is extremely important.

The access to cash review in 2019 noted that we cannot sleepwalk into a cashless society. That reflects back to what I was saying about the Estonian learning about digital infrastructure: it can leave a substantial number of people behind. That was the reality for Estonia. Cash continues to be important. Contactless payments and online banking can make it easy for some people to live entirely cash-free. However, given the volumes of cash in society, its usage remains extremely high. That reminds us that we do not live in a cashless society. The LINK network still handles around 1.6 billion transactions a month—that was the average in 2021. On average, adults still withdrew over £1,500 a year. During a global pandemic, cash was still being physically used. It is important to listen to the Minister and the Government’s view on it, although it is my intention to press the amendment to a vote. I look forward to hearing what others say.

I apologise to the hon. Member; I am getting my procedure a bit mixed up, Mr Sharma, so I wonder whether you could clarify something for me. I have amendments 16, 17 and 18, on the issue of free access to cash. When will it be convenient for me to come in?

Thank you, Mr Sharma. I do not want to add too much to what the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire has said. He has articulated well the reasons why the original clause and his amendments are vital to our communities. The stark reality is that cash is still an important part of our local economic infrastructure, and more so for my communities, where we have seen two bank closures in the last 18 months. Many have had free access to cash taken from them. That is compounded by other infrastructure challenges, such as the lack of public transport and the inability to access free cash services elsewhere.

The amendments tabled by the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire are interesting and strike a balance in seeking to ensure that our communities can access a vital service, mainly cash. I listened with interest to him explaining the rationale behind his amendments, because I think we agree. We have to remember who these measures are ultimately targeted at. I often think of people with vulnerabilities who utilise cash as part of their budgeting. They use it every day, and for them it is a vital part of being able to continue to sustain themselves. Although the technological revolution over the last few years in particular might be great for some, for others it is not. For the communities that I represent and the areas where people are really trying to get by, cash plays a vital role in ensuring that people can function and manage their finances and their affairs. It is therefore vital that we have a strategy in place.

The amendments proposed by the hon. Gentleman, particularly the element of keeping the service free of charge, is important, particularly for communities like mine. We all talk about acute pockets of deprivation, but I remind the Committee that I represent the fourth most deprived ward in the west midlands. For many people, paying for ATMs is simply unacceptable. It takes away from them a vital part of the means they need to subsist and survive. Ensuring that we have a strategy to keep access to cash free for those who rely on it every day is vital. If we do not, we create a cycle whereby, because people have to pay out to access the means by which they survive, they use less and less of their income.

At a time when we are dealing with an acute cost of living crisis and people’s incomes are stretched, it is vital that the main source that they can use to survive is not tagged with a condition that makes it harder for them to access it. I agree with the philosophy, so to speak, behind the hon. Gentleman’s amendments. This is about enabling people to just survive and do the basics that they need to do. It is as simple as that.

I think of a constituent who came to my constituency office the other week. She could not access an ATM and was absolutely distraught. Her bank branch had just been closed and she did not know where to go. She was distraught and we had to help her out. That is at the forefront of my mind when I think of these amendments and what the Government are trying to achieve through their policy and strategy documents.

I ask my hon. Friend the Minister—I am afraid that he has had a bit of a shopping list from me, which I know his officials will have noted down—to ensure that cash is kept at the forefront of the Treasury’s thinking. I appreciate what the clauses are meant to achieve, but I hope that the Minister will take note of the intention behind the amendments, even if the Government decide not to support them, and ensure that the issue is brought to the forefront.

For many of my constituents, this is about how they survive, and our constituents are ultimately the people whom we are here to serve. The Minister and I have had conversations about this, so I know that he is aware, but it is particularly vital that our constituents can survive at the moment. One of the ways in which we can ensure that is by not hampering them in their basic means of survival by tagging them with a condition or charge. Will the Minister consider that?

I agree with the basis for and philosophy behind the amendments. I hope that my hon. Friend the Minister and the hon. Member for West Dunbartonshire will continue the dialogue that appears to have started today. We have some important issues to address in this part of the Bill.

It is a wonderful moment when there is unity on both sides of the Committee. SNP and Conservative Members, as well as—I hope—my Labour colleagues, are coming together to ask the Government not just for access to cash, but for free access to cash. I believe that much of the Bill arises as a direct result of Members of Parliament doing our constituency work and understanding our constituents’ concerns.

My hon. Friend’s amendments are an extremely important part of the debate, and I hope that the Government accept them. I should point out that when I sat on the Treasury Committee several iterations ago, we held an inquiry about free access to cash. We got agreement that all machines that charge for withdrawals should say so up front rather than right at the end. Although that transformed some of the problems, we are now discussing access to cash itself. It is funny how these things evolve but the issues remain the same.

I thank my hon. Friend, who I understand is currently serving as the interim Chair of the Treasury Committee.

My amendments 16, 17 and 18, together with new clauses 10, 11 and 12, address access to free cash, which is indisputably important in our society. Ten per cent. of UK adults—5.4 million people—continue to rely on cash to a great or very great or extent in their daily lives. One in five people says that they would struggle to cope in a cashless society, and that struggle would disproportionately affect those on lower incomes, the elderly and people with physical or mental health difficulties.

Without Government intervention, we are losing free access to cash in our society. In my constituency, the number of free-to-use ATMs has declined by 36% in the last five years, while the number of pay-to-use ATMs has increased by an extraordinary 22%—there is money to be made somewhere. The problem is not confined to Mitcham and Morden: since 2015, the UK has lost more than half its branch network—5,003 branches—at a terrifying rate of 54 branches each and every month.

Through my amendments, I wish to draw the Committee’s attention to the notable decline in the provision of free-to-use ATMs. Since August 2018, the UK has lost 12,599 free-to-use ATMs—a decrease of nearly 24%. Meanwhile, almost a quarter of ATMs now charge people for access to their own cash. It is no wonder that more than half of consumers experienced one or more issues accessing cash at a bank branch in the past year.

Who are the losers in this cashless society? The access to cash review unsurprisingly revealed that those earning less than £10,000 per year were 14 times more likely to be dependent on cash than those earning more than £30,000 per year, and yet they are the residents of the areas where free access to cash is hard to come by.

Take Pollards Hill in my constituency, where a ridiculous clause in the lease prevents the new Co-op from opening a free-to-use ATM because of two paid-for cash machines further down the row of shops. Residents are taking out small sums of money in order to control their budgets, some of them at just £10 a time, but they are charged £2 to take that out—a 20% charge for every single payment. They literally have to pay for access to their cash. Surely the legislation must be tightened to avoid imposing additional costs such as that on the most hard-pressed.

I believe that the need for access to cash is growing. Age UK highlights that one in five older people still relies on cash for everyday spending. The cost of living crisis has seen households reliant on cash counting out the pennies to ensure that they can make ends meet—it is no wonder that in August, the Post Office handled its highest total of cash ever. The evidence is overwhelming and I believe that there should be a societal duty on the Government to ensure that the most vulnerable people in our society have free access to cash and are not left behind.

It is not just me who has such concerns. The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Dr Davies), now the Under-Secretary of State for Wales, stated on Second Reading that he hoped the Government would commit to protecting free cash withdrawals and deposits, presumably in light of Prestatyn losing TSB, Barclays, HSBC, NatWest and Royal Bank of Scotland in recent years, initially leaving the town’s high street without a single bank or cash machine despite being a major regional shopping centre.

On 19 April, the hon. Member for Beaconsfield tweeted after the announcement of bank branch closures in her constituency that she would take up the issue in Westminster, describing crisis talks with the banks on access to cash on high streets everywhere as essential. I am sure she agrees that this is the moment to vote where her voice was.

The hon. Member for Havant has seen at first hand how damaging the removal of access-to-cash provision has been for his most vulnerable constituents, having launched campaigns against TSB, NatWest, Barclays and HSBC in recent years, and having raised his concerns with HSBC about the potential impact on the elderly, who might not be able to access online banking and are reliant on face-to-face services. The hon. Member for Orpington has seen Nationwide, Santander and Barclays close in Petts Wood. He pledged to hold the latter to account in support of those residents who do not use mobile or online banking. Well done to that Member!

The hon. Member for Grantham and Stamford, in advance of the closure of the HSBC branch in Bourne, shared concerns with his constituents about the impact on his elderly constituents whom he said relied on the bank as a vital service in the town centre.

The hon. Lady is making a fantastic speech—let me say that straight out of the gate—but may I clarify that her proposed access-to-cash solution is for the Treasury to make an intervention on the regulator?

I do not believe that the regulator, the FCA, will force through free access to cash unless we legislate for that. As Members, we are responsible for that. I suppose I am trying to say that hon. Members are doing their job excellently by highlighting concerns in their constituencies. Even though we have been through a very rough time in politics and a lot of our constituents are unhappy about the turbulent times we have entered, many of them still have faith in democracy, party politics and our system because Members do that sort of work. I believe that we need to follow through when we are given the power to do so.

I have more. The point was even more strongly expressed by the hon. Member for West Bromwich West, who made a powerful speech. Following HSBC’s decision to close its branch in Wednesbury, he gave this message to his constituents:

“The argument of go to West Brom is not good enough! I am determined to fight this”—

good on him!

The hon. Member for North Warwickshire described the impact on local residents as “obvious” when the Lloyds Bank branch closed, leaving Coleshill High Street without a bank branch. As an MP for a rural constituency, the hon. Member for Hastings and Rye detailed her concerns to our witnesses last week about her constituency being able to access cash free, and about the distance her residents would have to travel otherwise.

I do not doubt that my constituency neighbour, the hon. Member for Wimbledon, shares my concern about the loss of cash machines and bank branches in Morden town centre, which we share. One of the only remaining free-to-use ATMs is hidden in a Cashino—an arcade. That is extraordinary.

Government Members need not worry: the new Chancellor shares their view. He was pictured in the Alton Herald just last November celebrating the arrival of a new free-to-use cash machine in his constituency. I say to the Minister: do not worry. If these amendments pass, the Chancellor is right behind you.

Given what appears to be an overwhelming consensus on the issue, I hope Members on both sides of the Committee acknowledge that the Bill needs to be amended to ensure not only that there is access to cash but that there is free access to cash. They will be lauded in articles in their local newspapers and posts on Twitter and their social media for passing these amendments.

It is an absolute pleasure to follow my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden, who is just awesome. Is awesome a parliamentary word? It should be. On a personal level, let me say how much I enjoy being on the Treasury Committee with such incredible Labour women. It is brilliant—inspiring.

To follow on from a couple of points that my hon. Friend made, I hope the Minister’s response will touch on the baseline geographical distances between free cash points. It frustrates me immensely that in one of the poorest estates in my constituency, the ATM charges £1.50 every time people use it. We would like some details about the geographical distances between the places where people can access free cash.

We should also look at why businesses do not take cash. As my hon. Friend said during the evidence sessions, it is often because there is nowhere for them to deposit it. If we are to make access to cash free, which I completely support, we should also help businesses to take cash. There is no point having free cash if it cannot be used. Bank or other branches should accept cash, and we should look at the geographical distances.

I got a bit frustrated when banks were closing branches in my constituency, because they said, “Well, the other one is only one-point-however-many miles away, so it’s fine.” I said, “It is not easy for people to get to.” There is sometimes an assumption that everyone is able to drive and has the mobility to go around and find a free cash machine, but that is not always possible. Can we look at geographical distances, at businesses accepting cash and at ensuring branches accept cash so that businesses can pay it in? My hon. Friend made a powerful speech on cash access and the principle that people’s access to their own money should be free.

I will speak to clause 47 and the various amendments tabled to it by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden and the hon. Member for Glenrothes, who cannot be here because of a personal commitment. I pay tribute to him and all the work he has done so far. While we sympathise with the principle behind amendments 41 and 42, we believe that the amendments tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden would better achieve free cash access. Before I continue, I pay tribute to her for all her work on financial inclusion. She is not stopping her fight for justice, and she talked about this being a societal duty. She also has a ten-minute rule Bill that seeks to persuade the Government to give free internet access to children on free school meals. I pay tribute to her work.

We are delighted that after years of delay, the Government have brought forward some legislation to protect access to cash. The industry, particularly the major banks, should be applauded for coming together to help protect cash services at the end of last year, which put this legislation on a statutory footing. However, the delay in bringing forward the Bill has cut off whole sections of society from our economy, including millions of the most vulnerable, the poorest and older people, as my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden pointed out. It has also damaged smaller businesses that rely on cash.

On top of this, almost 6,000 bank branches have closed since 2015 on this Government’s watch, and the Bill does nothing to protect essential face-to-face banking services, which the most vulnerable in our society depend on for financial advice and support. I know we are discussing new clauses 4 and 5 later, which will protect access to essential in-person banking services, so I will stay focused on cash for now, but I do not feel that we can have this debate without talking about face-to-face banking services, or the lack thereof.

It is inevitable that payment systems will continue to innovate, but a recent report from the RSA that I am sure the Minister is aware of found that 10 million people still depend on cash and that the pandemic, which saw an acceleration in the digitisation of payment systems, has made it increasingly difficult for many of us to pay for the goods and services we need—especially people from a lower socioeconomic background.

The Bill is a welcome step in guaranteeing access to cash, but clause 47 goes nowhere near far enough in ensuring that cash is available for those who depend on it. My hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden pointed out how so many people in her constituency—where I was born, I am proud to say—still rely on cash, especially free cash. The Bill makes no commitment to protect free access to cash. That is what we are worried about. That is why we support amendments 16, 17 and 18, as well as new clause 10, which were all tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden. They would provide a guaranteed minimum provision of access to free cash.

Protecting free cash access has never been more important, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Data collected by the Post Office has shown that the use of cash in recent months has increased. As the cost of living crisis deepens, the poorest in society are increasingly turning to cash to manage their budgets on a week-by-week, often day-by-day basis. Data collected by the consumer group Which? found a notable decline in the provision of free-to-use ATMs in recent years.

In July 2022, there were around 12,000 fewer free-to-use ATMs in the UK than there were in August 2018. That is a decrease of nearly 24%. Does the Minister agree that forcing the poorest in society, who are increasingly reliant on cash, to pay for access to cash in the middle of the worst cost of living crisis on record risks further deepening financial exclusion in our country? Is this the kind of society we want to live in?

I am sure the Minister knows of Natalie Ceeney, chair of UK Finance’s Cash Action Group. During the Committee’s evidence session, she made it absolutely clear that the Government have a societal duty to ensure that the most vulnerable people in the UK have free access to cash.

Which? warned that if these clauses do not make it clear that they will protect free cash withdrawals and deposits, the entire objective of this part of the Bill will be undermined. Which? is right to stress the importance of free cash withdrawals and deposits. That is crucial to securing cash acceptance. There is little point in the most vulnerable having access to cash if they have nowhere to spend it. That is why Labour will support new clause 11, which would place a duty on the FCA to collect data on cash acceptance.

During her oral evidence, Natalie Ceeney also warned that we have to ensure that the Bill

“covers small businesses as well as consumers. Small businesses, typically…pay for their cash access.”––[Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee, 19 October 2022; c. 51-52, Q101.]

Increasingly, small business owners also have to travel long distances to deposit. That is a dangerous disincentive for them to accept cash. Natalie Ceeney also pointed to Sweden, where shops have largely stopped taking cash. If the UK wants to avoid a similar outcome, we must ensure that small businesses can deposit cash easily. That is why we will push new clause 12 to a vote. It would guarantee minimum provision of free cash access services for small businesses.

The Minister is likely to respond that we must wait for the Government’s access to cash policy statement. If he does, will he confirm when that statement will be published? Does he not agree that, if the Government are truly committed to protecting free access to cash services, there is no reason not to make protections for free access explicit in the Bill?

I will speak first to clause 47, before turning to the many amendments and new clauses proposed by hon. Members.

Although the transition towards digital payments brings many opportunities, the Government’s view is that cash remains an essential payment mechanism for many, particularly those in vulnerable groups. I am particularly familiar with the work of Age UK in this respect. Protecting access to cash for those who rely on it is a priority for the Government, and clause 47 delivers on that.

The hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden highlighted not just her own concerns about the issue but, rather thoughtfully, those of all hon. Members, to which I should add mine as well.

I thank my brilliant researcher, Dan Ashcroft, for finding the great comments of all the Conservative Members. It was harder to find anything from the Minister, so it is good to find out what he believes about free access to cash.

As part of the research for this debate, I looked at the prevalence of free-to-use ATMs in the constituencies of members of the Committee. My quite rural constituency is somewhat bereft compared with the embarrassment of riches, surprisingly, in the constituency of the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, which has a staggering 120 free-to-use ATMs, reportedly. That puts many of us to shame.

I am astounded that there are 120. I would be grateful if the Minister could show us a map of where they are, because I certainly have not found them. What can I say? We like our cash in Hull.

Very good.

Until this moment, there has been no substantive legislative framework for access to cash. No regulatory authority has the legislative responsibility or powers to ensure that cash withdrawal and deposit facilities are available for people and businesses to use. We should not underestimate the degree to which the Government are moving on this important issue.

Clause 47 addresses cash access in statute for the first time. It introduces schedule 8, which sets out a legislative framework granting the Financial Conduct Authority responsibility to seek to ensure that there is reasonable provision of cash deposit and withdrawal services across the UK. It also gives the regulator the powers it needs to fulfil that responsibility.

The hon. Member for Wallasey talked about the pioneering work by the Treasury Committee. We should all celebrate this clause; we should celebrate the achievement of this House in significantly moving forward the protection for access to cash. We just need to remember that what we are talking about here is a very small increment—from the statutory protection of access to cash, to the precise terms on which that is agreed. I understand that there may be different views on that, but we should not allow that to detract from the significant advance on access to cash that the Bill represents.

The Treasury will publish a policy statement in due course, and doing that “in due course” is the right thing to do. There will be the right moment to do it—

The hon. Lady is very good at anticipating what I would not say. Perhaps she is going to finish my sentence for me.

Well, we have certainly spent enough time together. “In due course” is very vague, as I am sure the Minister will agree. Can he not give us any sort of timeline? I have not had a straight answer to this question for a few months now—to be fair, I recognise that it was not him in that chair, but his predecessor.

I am a big fan of taking one step at a time, and the step in front of us today is to pass clause 47 and put it on the statute book—to make that very significant advance in the statutory protection of access to cash. I look forward to continuing my tenure and engaging with the hon. Lady, and it seems appropriate for us to bring forward the policy statement very rapidly once Royal Assent has been achieved, taking this important topic step by step.

The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle nodded vigorously at the obligations on the FCA to collect more data. I think that that is absolutely right. One challenge, as cash potentially diminishes over time, is to ensure that we nevertheless have the right and detailed datasets in order to continue to protect our constituents.

Without wishing to return to a previous debate, one way we could ensure that the FCA collects data is to ensure that it has regard to financial inclusion.

The hon. Lady has made that point powerfully, and I assure her—notwithstanding the disappointment that I seem to continue to cause to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn—that that has lodged very firmly with the Government and is something I would hope we can continue to discuss before Report.

The provisions introduced by clause 47 are vital to support those who continue to use cash. With that, I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Let me now turn to the amendments. Amendment 40 would change the description of schedule 8 in clause 47 to refer to free-of-charge cash deposit and withdrawal services. Amendments 16 to 18, in the name of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden, concern free access to cash. There is a commendable focus on this issue from Members on both sides of the Committee, and we heard the intervention from my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West about his constituents and their vulnerabilities.

The Government do not believe that it is appropriate for legislation itself to stipulate that access to cash must be free. Let me try to explain why, because I understand the consternation of some hon. Members. This very significant step forward having been taken to protect statutory access to cash, the Government are concerned that taking a blanket approach might have unintended consequences and leave us stuck with legislation that is too prescriptive. In turn, that might stifle innovation by industry to support cash access. For example, ensuring the free provision of cash for certain vulnerable consumers is quite different from ensuring provision for business customers, which could be delivered through different solutions.

The provisions in schedule 8 ensure that legislation provides appropriate flexibility now and in the future. Consistent with a lot of the debate that we have heard about the independence of regulators and the regulatory model being baked into financial services regulation since the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, the Government believe that the FCA is best placed to deliver a sustainable, agile and evidence-based approach to managing cash over time in order to respond to the needs of people and businesses. The FCA has the flexibility and powers to do that.

As part of the FCA’s responsibility, the regulator will be able to have regard to matters it considers appropriate, which can include the cost to end users. The FCA will need to think about withdrawal and deposit, local and national provision, and the needs of vulnerable individuals and businesses, which may present different considerations. Rather than taking a one-size-fits-all approach, the FCA will continue to undertake analysis to inform its approach. It is currently developing its regulatory approach to access to cash and will issue a formal consultation, which Members will be interested in and to which they will no doubt respond in due course.

Amendments 41 and 42 would amend the definition of cash access services in schedule 8 to include both free-of-charge and pay-to-use deposit and withdrawal services. However, the current definition in schedule 8 is already wide enough to capture both those services, so the amendments are simply not necessary.

Let me turn to new clauses 10 and 12, which would require the Treasury to make regulations to specify a minimum level of provision for free cash access services for consumers and businesses. Again, we feel that the FCA is best placed to ensure that people have access to cash, and the new clauses risk undermining the FCA’s ability to take account of detailed evidence in considerations and to execute its powers to protect access appropriately through time.

Lastly, new clause 11 is designed to place a legislative duty on the FCA to monitor cash acceptance by retailers and equivalent service providers. Although the Government are sympathetic to the intention, we do not view the new clause as appropriate at this stage. Such a duty would extend well beyond the FCA’s remit of regulating the financial services sector, and it could risk placing a disproportionate regulatory burden on many businesses, including small and medium-sized enterprises, which may need to provide transaction information to the FCA for the purpose of monitoring cash acceptance. I consider those to be significant issues with new clause 11.

I will conclude on this important area, on which there is a high degree of consensus on both sides of the Committee. The Bill reflects the priority that the Government place on protecting access to cash for those who need it. Let me reiterate that the provisions are a significant step forward and have never been seen before—in the history of money, I would say, but that probably overstates it—under this regulatory framework. However, it is also important that the Bill allows the FCA, with the appropriate flexibility, to monitor and respond to trends in cash usage as they develop through time, which is the approach that we take in so many other areas of financial services regulation. As I said, the Government will publish our policy statement in time for the FCA to conduct its role under the statute. For those reasons, I ask hon. Members not to press amendments 40 to 42 and 16 to 18, and new clauses 10 to 12.

Before I call Martin Docherty-Hughes, I inform the Committee that I will take one vote on amendment 40. There will be no other vote on this group.

Thank you, Mr Sharma.

It was interesting to hear what the Minister and Members on the Government Back Benches had to say—I congratulate the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden on the litany of exasperation from the Back Benches, which I thought was well played. I was glad to hear the hon. Member for West Bromwich West agree with the vast majority of what I had to say, and I go back to what the Minister said about the statutory protection of cash. If that is the truth, 27% of free ATMs in West Dunbartonshire would not have closed in the past four years.

I am usually minded to push my amendments to a vote. I seek some reassurance from my colleagues on the official Opposition Benches that if I do not push my amendment to a Division, all the amendments in the name of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden will be moved. The Clerk may want to give some advice to the Chair on that issue, because I know that if I withdraw my amendment, I can bring it back on Report. I look for some clarification on that issue first.

The advice is that if you withdraw your amendment, I will take one of the three amendments from the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden.

You choose one of those three, and I will take it if the hon. Gentleman decides not to push his amendment to a Division.

I think I am getting my assurance that one of those amendments will be pressed to a vote by the official Opposition, so in order to make sure that we have a coherent and agreed process, I will not push my amendment to a Division. However, I make it clear to the Government that I have not heard anything today that means that free access to cash will be safeguarded for my constituents, and I will probably bring my amendment back on Report. I look forward to voting with my colleagues in the official Opposition. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 47 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 8

Cash access services

Amendment proposed: 16, in schedule 8, page 151, line 36, after “concerning” insert

“both free of charge and paid access”.—(Siobhain McDonagh.)

Question put, That the amendment be made.

I beg to move amendment 19, in schedule 8, in page 154, line 12, at end insert—

“(2A) Before making a determination under subsection (2), the FCA must publish how it intends to define and assess the reasonable nature and extent of provision when making the determination.”

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 21, in schedule 8, page 154, line 32, at end insert—

“(7) In carrying out its functions for the purposes of section (1) the FCA may put in place arrangements for the purposes of ensuring that members of the public, elected officials, community groups, local authorities, councils, and other local persons the FCA considers may have an interest, can request a review of their local community’s access to cash needs.”

Amendment 20, in schedule 8, page 154, line 32, at end insert—

“(8) Upon making a determination of local deficiency in the course of carrying out its functions under subsections (1) to (7), the FCA must—

(a) make provision for the publication of this assessment, and

(b) outline steps to be taken by relevant parties to address such deficiency.”

That schedule 8 be the Eighth schedule to the Bill.

I rise to support my amendments 19, 20 and 21, which are grounded in transparency and evidence, requiring the Financial Conduct Authority to collect and publish relevant data related to access to cash. Examples include enabling public bodies to request a review of the local community’s access to cash needs or to publish how they intend to define and assess the reasonable nature and extent of provision when meeting a determination of access to cash; making provision for the publication of that assessment; and outlining steps to be taken by relevant parties to address such a deficiency.

Currently, under the voluntary agreements put in place by the Cash Action Group to preserve access to cash, individuals or community groups can request a review of their access to cash where they consider it to be inadequate. Where unmet needs are identified, LINK can recommend the installation of a new cash access point. I must say that it is doing precisely that in my constituency, in Pollards Hill, so I am grateful to LINK and the Cash Action Group for their progress.

The amendments call for a similar ability for individuals or communities to request a review of local cash provision, irrespective of whether baseline geographic distances set in the Treasury’s policy statement are met. I argue that that should be enshrined in the Bill to give consumers confidence that their concerns in their local areas will be considered by the regulator. Whether for transparency, fairness or consumer confidence, it is vital that the legislation compels the FCA to publish both the criteria that will apply when determining whether a cash access point is required in a community and the assessment of a local community’s access to cash.

I hope that chimes with commitments made by the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd on Second Reading, when he argued that assessments of the needs of communities should be transparently published and that there should be a formal process of appeal. Surely such an appeal is impossible unless the data is collected, understood and available. I hope that this uncontroversial call will have the support of hon. Members as we seek to strengthen access to cash for communities and individuals up and down the country.

I shall speak to schedule 8 and amendments 19, 20 and 21 together. We recognise that the Bill sets out an important, overarching framework to protect access to cash. However, many critical elements, such as the baseline geographic distances that will apply to withdrawal and deposit facilities and which are factors that the FCA will take into account when assessing a local area’s needs with regard to access to cash, will be set out in a policy statement to be published by the Treasury. That makes it impossible for members of this Committee, more widely, Members of Parliament to judge whether the Government’s proposals will deliver an adequate level of free access to cash services. That is why the organisation Which? and others have called on the Government to assess the significant gap by setting out, in Committee, the details of the draft policy statement, which will determine the proposed baseline distances between cash facilities.

As my hon. Friend the Member for Mitcham and Morden has said, we also want the Government to set out how local deficiency of free cash access will be assessed by the regulator and how local people can request an FCA review of their communities’ access to cash needs. That is why we will be supporting amendments 19, 20 and 21 today. If the Conservative party does not lend its support to the amendments, will the Minister set out how he will ensure that Parliament has adequate opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s draft policy statement before the Bill leaves the House of Commons?

I shall speak first to amendments 19, 20 and 21, before turning to schedule 8. Amendments 19 and 20 seek to introduce requirements on the FCA in relation to how it will determine reasonable provision of cash access services and how it will assess and address local deficiencies in provision. I am grateful to the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden for raising that important issue, and I recognise the strength of feeling expressed by many in the debate on Second Reading and here this morning. I reassure the hon. Member that the Treasury has considered the matter carefully, and will continue to consider it through its approach to a policy statement.

However, regulatory rules will be the key tool by which the FCA regulates cash access, and I draw the attention of the Committee to proposed new section 131V of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which is in schedule 8 and which requires the FCA to consult on how it intends to regulate access to cash when it plans to make rules. I mentioned earlier that the FCA is developing its regulatory approach to access to cash, and it will issue a formal consultation in due course. I know that Members and, indeed, the Treasury Committee will engage with that process and the FCA’s future role, so I hope that the Committee understands our reluctance, having taken this substantial step, to continue to rush headlong into more and more statutory provision, which is against the tradition of regulation in this space.

It is hard to hide a cash machine. Cash machines do not appear by stealth in the undergrowth. Therefore, when it comes to regulating access to cash, the FCA does have form on extensively consulting and on putting a great deal of data in the public domain, and hon. Members—carrying out their job of diligently representing their constituents as we have heard today—will continue to have a role to play in surfacing data and exposing points of weakness. I am content that the FCA will diligently listen to that.

I would suggest to the Minister, though, that the FCA was late to the party over bank branch closures and that the groundswell created by people and by Members of Parliament forced the FCA finally to act. Who believes that individual communities, particularly poorer communities, have the same strong voice as the chief executive of a major high street bank? That is not going to be the case, and we know it is not going to be the case. We also know that unless the guidelines are there, people will not be listened to.

I held a public meeting about the closure of my local Halifax branch, and I could not convince anybody from the Halifax to attend. The idea that we can get these things done by institutionally agreeing that those people will understand the same things we understand, and understand the concerns of those who come to our advice surgeries and the concerns in our constituencies, is also not the case.

The hon. Lady makes a powerful point that I will take away, but I perhaps do not entirely share her view of the FCA. It will be interesting to explore that further. However, I should congratulate her, which I omitted to do earlier, on successfully procuring a new LINK ATM for Pollards Hill. If she would like me to do so, I should be delighted to come to witness her opening this important facility for her constituents.

Let me turn to amendment 21. Following the Government committing themselves to legislating, industry has, in parallel, established voluntary arrangements to co-ordinate its response to provision of cash access—that includes the process for LINK, of which the hon. Lady has availed herself; LINK operates the UK’s largest ATM network—to assess a community’s needs in the event of closure of a core cash service or a request made by a local community, or indeed by a diligent Member of Parliament representing their constituents.

The Bill will provide the FCA with powers over operators of cash access co-ordination agreements such as those operated by LINK, so it provides a legislative safety net. However, members of the Committee will recognise that no decisions can be made in respect of designating any firms until we get the Bill on the statute book—the important work in which we are engaged today.

More widely, the Bill will require the FCA to use its powers to seek to ensure reasonable provision of cash access services—we are giving the FCA the corpus of work to do that. The Bill will allow the FCA to make rules or issue a direction requiring designated entities to establish a process to allow cash users to request reviews, should the regulator consider that appropriate. I understand the point made by the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden about the conduct to date, but I would respectfully say that we are also giving the FCA very significant powers and putting duties upon it. The Treasury, the Select Committee and Parliament itself will continue to scrutinise those duties, and ensure that they are being fulfilled diligently. For that reason, I ask her not to press amendments 19, 20 and 21 to a vote, following a good debate on them.

Briefly, schedule 8 has attracted considerable interest from Members. Part 1 of the schedule inserts a new part 8B, titled “Cash access services”, into FSMA 2000. That introduces the legislative framework for access to cash and establishes the FCA as the responsible regulator. The schedule places a new statutory responsibility on the FCA to exercise the powers granted to it for the purpose of seeking to ensure that there is reasonable provision of cash access services in the UK. The FCA is then responsible for determining what it considers to be reasonable provision—I understand that some hon. Members would like to go further and be more prescriptive on that—while having regard to the policy statement, which will be issued in due course and at the appropriate moment by the Treasury, and any local deficiencies in the provision of cash access that the regulator has identified, the impacts of which it considers significant.

The FCA may also have regard to other matters that it considers appropriate. The FCA has already developed extensive monitoring of the coverage of cash access, and has undertaken research on the use of cash to inform its approach. In terms of the entities that will be subject to FCA oversight, the Government believe that it is right that the largest retail banks and building societies are held accountable for ensuring that their customers or members can continue to access cash services. The schedule therefore gives the Treasury powers to determine which banks and building societies—[Interruption.] I can see from the expression of the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden that Halifax may well be auditioning as a candidate. It would be wrong for me to prejudge that list, but I imagine that hon. Members have lots of potential candidates to put to the Treasury.

The schedule gives the Treasury powers to determine who they should bring within the scope of FCA oversight through the designation regime. Furthermore, the Treasury will be able to designate operators of cash access co-ordination arrangements for FCA oversight. In order for it to fulfil its new role effectively, the Bill grants the FCA the ability to make rules, issue directions and impose disciplinary measures, including financial penalties upon any of the organisations designated by the Treasury. The new legislative framework will be an effective, proportionate and strong way to ensure that there is reasonable provision of cash access across the UK in the future. I therefore recommend that the schedule stand part of the Bill.

We will come back to the amendment, and those with which it is grouped, but for now I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Schedule 8 agreed to.

Clause 48

Wholesale cash distribution

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 9 be the Ninth schedule to the Bill.

In addition to ensuring reasonable provision of cash access services in the UK, it is vital that we have an effective, resilient and sustainable wholesale cash system to support continued access to cash.

The UK’s wholesale cash infrastructure is a system of cash centres that sort, store and distribute banknotes and coins. A decline in the transactional use of cash has put pressure on the business models of the existing wholesale cash networks. Over time, the industry is expected to transition to a smaller overall network.

Clause 48 and schedule 9 contain provisions to give new powers to the Bank of England to oversee the wholesale cash distribution industry by creating a two-level regime. First, it gives the Bank oversight over, and the ability to regulate, the market activities of the wholesale cash industry. That will ensure the effectiveness, sustainability, and resilience of the system. Secondly, it gives the Bank the ability to prudentially regulate a systemic entity in the market, should one form in the future, to manage risks to financial stability.

Schedule 9 enables the Treasury to make a wholesale cash oversight order, which specifies an entity as a recognised entity. That will set out whether an entity is recognised as having market significance only, or systemic significance. If a firm has market significance, it will be subject to the market oversight regime. If it is systemically significant, it will be subject to both the market oversight regime and the prudential regime.

The Treasury does not currently consider any entity to be systemic, but the provisions will ensure that the Treasury and the Bank can respond effectively to future changes in the market to manage risks to financial stability. It is expected that the industry will transition to a smaller overall network, potentially with fewer operators, in the coming years.

The powers given to the Bank under both parts include the ability to publish principles and codes of practice, gather information, give directions as required, make inspections and enforce the regime. Under the regime, the Bank can also collect fees, which must relate to a scale of fees approved by the Treasury. The Bank will seek to exercise its powers proportionately.

Schedule 9 also requires the Bank of England to prepare and publish a policy statement on its regulatory approach before exercising its powers under the legislation. The Bank will launch a consultation on that policy statement shortly. Once the regime is operational, the Bank is required to provide an annual report on the regime to the Treasury, which must be laid before Parliament.

In summary, clause 48 and schedule 9 are necessary to ensure that the wholesale cash industry remains effective, resilient and sustainable. The measures form part of the Government’s action to support the continued access to cash. I therefore recommend that clause 48 and schedule 9 stand part of the Bill.

We welcome clause 48, but I have two questions for the Minister. First, how will Parliament and industry be consulted on the scale of the fees placed on businesses by the Bank to cover the operation of the scheme, and on the penalties for non-compliance? Clause 48, as drafted, allows the Treasury to designate an entity as being subject to the Bank’s new prudential regimes for the wholesale cash industry, but how will the Government ensure that the Bank is adequately consulted on additions to the regime?

The answer is that, in the normal way, the measures will be laid before Parliament. If there is any extra detail with which I can furnish the hon. Lady, I will write to her.

Question put and agreed to. 

Clause 48 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill. 

Schedule 9 agreed to.

Clause 49

Recognised bodies: senior managers and certification

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 10 be the Tenth schedule to the Bill.

The clause introduces schedule 10, which provides for the new senior managers and certification regime—SMCR—for financial market infrastructures. The existing SMCR was first introduced following the 2008 financial crisis to strengthen governance in financial services firms and to promote high standards of conduct among all staff. Today, the regime applies to most authorised firms across the financial services sector, including banks and insurers; however, it does not apply to firms that are regulated outside the main FSMA authorisation framework. The clause addresses that by allowing a new SMCR to be created for certain types of financial market infrastructure. It will help to bring governance requirements for such systemically important firms in line with the majority of the financial services sector.

Schedule 10 provides for the new regime by inserting proposed new chapter 2A into part 18 of FSMA 2000. That will allow for an SMCR to be applied to central counterparties and central securities depositories through the negative resolution procedure. The schedule also allows for the regime to be extended in future to recognised investment exchanges and credit rating agencies, should that be appropriate. The power can be exercised by the Treasury through the affirmative resolution procedure in respect of credit ratings agencies, and through the negative procedure in respect of recognised investment exchanges. The Government will undertake consultation with relevant parties before deciding on whether the regime should be extended to such entities.

The key features of the new regime mirror those of the existing regime: a senior managers regime, a certification regime and conduct rules for all employees. The certification regime applies to employees whose roles do not have senior management functions but could cause significant harm to the firm or its users. Those roles must be performed only by employees who have been certified by the firm as being fit and proper to perform the roles. The regime will also allow regulators to make conduct rules for all employees of the firms.

Schedule 10 also provides supervisory and disciplinary powers for the Bank and the FCA, including the power to impose financial penalties and to take action against misconduct. The Bank and the FCA will be able to make prohibition orders such that any individual they do not consider to be fit and proper can be banned from performing a function at one of those types of entity, or at any authorised or exempt financial services firm.

The new regime will be an effective and proportionate way to strengthen governance arrangements and to promote high standards of conduct among all staff. I therefore recommend that the clause and schedule 10 stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 49 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 10 agreed to.

Clause 50

Central counterparties in financial difficulties

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 9, 24 to 28, 10, 29, 11 and 12, 30, 13 to 15, and 31.

That schedule 11 be the Eleventh schedule to the Bill.

The clause introduces schedule 11, which expands the existing resolution regime for central counterparties, or CCPs. CCPs provide clearing services for large volumes of financial trading activity and are systemically important pieces of market infrastructure.

Resolution is the framework for managing the failure of systemic financial institutions. It provides the Bank of England, the UK’s resolution authority, with the tools required to manage the failure of a financial firm safely. If a CCP got into difficulty and could not continue to provide its clearing services, there could be serious consequences for financial markets, affecting financial stability and potential risks to public funds

Although the UK has an existing resolution regime for CCPs, introduced in 2014, a fuller and stronger set of powers will enable the Bank to take faster and more extensive action than it can now. Schedule 11 will therefore expand the existing CCP resolution regime, providing the Bank with a comprehensive set of tools and powers to protect financial stability and limit contagion within the financial sector. That includes powers to remove impediments to resolvability in a CCP before it gets into any difficulties, and the ability for the Bank to put a CCP into resolution before the CCP’s own recovery measures have been exhausted, if continued recovery actions would be likely to compromise financial stability.

The schedule gives the Bank the powers needed to impose losses on the CCP and its clearing members in the first instance of the very unlikely event of failure, thereby protecting public funds. It also enables the Bank to take control of a failing CCP to stabilise the CCP and ensure the continuity of critical clearing functions while it is in resolution.

By expanding the existing regime we are also ensuring that our regime reflects international standards, as set out by the Financial Stability Board. That will cement the UK’s reputation as a global leader in providing clearing services and further enhance confidence in the UK’s financial system. The provisions therefore demonstrate the Government’s ongoing commitment to high standards and effective stewardship of the UK’s financial services sector, so I recommend that clause 50 and schedule 11 stand part of the Bill.

I also commend amendments 9 to 15 and 24 to 31. They are technical amendments that will ensure that schedule 11 functions as intended, reflecting the original policy intent by rectifying drafting errors and ensuring the legislation is applied consistently across the UK.

Because of the volume of trades cleared through CCPs, the failure of one could pose risks to the stability of the financial system. We therefore welcome clause 50 and the Government’s various technical amendments. Does the Minister agree that, because of the high risk to the financial system that a failed CCP could pose, the expanded regime must be brought in as a priority? How long after the Bill has passed will the provision become law and the regime be implemented?

I agree with the hon. Lady that, given the systemic importance, it is important to bring the regime into place as quickly as possible. It will be for the Bank to consult on that. I expect the Bank to do that shortly after Royal Assent and then bring forward the necessary measures to put it in place. I hope that is enough for the hon. Lady at this time. We want to see the implementation proceed as quickly as possible.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 50 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 11

Central counterparties

Amendments made: 9, in schedule 11, page 205, line 21, leave out “9A” and insert “9B”.

This amendment corrects a cross-reference so that the provision refers to paragraph 9B of Schedule 17A to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which is inserted by clause 10 of the Bill.

Amendment 24, in schedule 11, page 228, line 22, leave out sub-paragraph (1) and insert—

“(1) This paragraph applies where the Bank uses one or more of the stabilisation options mentioned in paragraph 1(3) in respect of a CCP unless the CCP has ceased to be subject to the exercise of any stabilisation power mentioned in paragraph 1(4).”

This amendment widens the scope of paragraph 39 of Schedule 11, on shadow directors etc, by ensuring that it applies following the exercise of any of the Bank’s stabilisation options under Schedule 11, not just the powers in paragraph 38.

Amendment 25, in schedule 11, page 228, line 28, leave out

“, or as a temporary manager under paragraph 6,”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 27 and omits the reference to temporary managers as they will be included in the list of relevant persons in paragraph 39(3) under Amendment 27.

Amendment 26, in schedule 11, page 228, line 38, at end insert—

“(e) the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989/2405 (N.I. 19));

(b) the Company Directors Disqualification (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 (S.I. 2002/3150 (N.I. 4));”.

This amendment ensures that the list of relevant enactments in paragraph 39(3) of Schedule 11 includes the relevant Northern Ireland legislation so that the position regarding shadow directors is consistent across the UK.

Amendment 27, in schedule 11, page 228, line 41, at end insert “, and

(c) a temporary manager appointed under paragraph 6 of this Schedule.”

This amendment ensures that the list of relevant persons in paragraph 39(3) of Schedule 11 includes temporary managers, for consistency with the bank resolution regime.

Amendment 28, in schedule 11, page 255, line 43, after “EMIR” insert

“where they have a contractual relationship as principal with the CCP”.

This amendment operates on paragraph (d) of the definition of “relevant person”, to limit that group of persons entitled to compensation to those who are direct creditors of the CCP.

Amendment 10, in schedule 11, page 256, line 16, leave out “or 29(3)” and insert “, 29(3), 66(2) or 73(2)”.

This amendment provides that the definition of “residual CCP” applies to properties transferred under paragraphs 66(2) and 73(2) of Schedule 11 (transfers subsequent to resolution instrument and transfers subsequent to share transfer to bridge CCP).

Amendment 29, in schedule 11, page 257, line 43, at end insert—

“(5) An obligation imposed on the residual CCP or a group company under sub-paragraph (2)(d) or (e) continues to apply despite the residual CCP or group company entering insolvency, and may not be disclaimed by a liquidator under section 178(2) of the Insolvency Act 1986 or Article 152(1) of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.”

This amendment provides an equivalent provision to section 64(6) of the Banking Act 2009 (continuity obligations relating to property transfers), to ensure that certain obligations continue to apply despite the residual CCP or group company entering insolvency.

Amendment 11, in schedule 11, page 259, line 25, leave out

“CCP whose business has been transferred”

and insert “transferred CCP”.

This amendment provides the correct terminology in relation to share transfers, to which this provision relates.

Amendment 12, in schedule 11, page 259, line 26, leave out “property” and insert “share”.

This amendment provides the correct terminology in relation to share transfers, to which this provision relates.

Amendment 30, in schedule 11, page 260, line 19, at end insert—

“(5) An obligation imposed on the transferred CCP or a former group company under sub-paragraph (2)(b) or (c) continues to apply despite the transferred CCP or former group company entering insolvency, and may not be disclaimed by a liquidator under section 178(2) of the Insolvency Act 1986 or Article 152(1) of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989.”

This amendment provides an equivalent provision to section 67(6) of the Banking Act 2009 (continuity obligations relating to share transfers), to ensure that certain obligations continue to apply despite the residual CCP or former group company entering insolvency.

Amendment 13, in schedule 11, page 267, line 2, leave out “or onward” and insert “, onward, bridge or subsequent”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 14.

Amendment 14, in schedule 11, page 267, line 3, after “50,” insert “52, 66,”.

This amendment adds to the list of instruments in paragraph 105(6) to include instruments made under paragraphs 52 (bridge CCP: share transfers) and 66 (property transfer subsequent to resolution instrument).

Amendment 15, in schedule 11, page 267, line 5, leave out “or onward” and insert “, onward, bridge or subsequent”.

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 14.

Amendment 31, in schedule 11, page 299, line 30, at end insert—

“(g) the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989/2405 (N.I. 19));

(b) the Company Directors Disqualification (Northern Ireland) Order 2002 (S.I. 2002/3150 (N.I. 4)).”—(Andrew Griffith.)

This amendment ensures that the list of relevant enactments in paragraph 165(2) of Schedule 11 includes the relevant Northern Ireland legislation so that the relevant law can be applied consistently across the UK in the event of a resolution of a CCP.

Schedule 11, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 51

Insurers in financial difficulties

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Government amendments 32 and 33.

That schedule 12 be the Twelfth schedule to the Bill.

That schedule 13 be the Thirteenth schedule to the Bill.

Clause 51 introduces schedules 12 and 13. The UK insurance industry is the largest in Europe and the fourth largest in the world, managing investments of more than £1.8 trillion. It is an incredibly important part of our financial services sector. The UK’s insurance sector is robustly regulated and supervised, well capitalised and resilient to shocks; as a result, insurer insolvency is uncommon. However, as the UK is a global financial centre, the Government are through the Bill enhancing the powers available to the authorities to manage an insurer in financial distress. That will strengthen protections for policyholders and mitigate potential value destruction when an insurer fails.

Schedule 12 makes provision for the powers of the court in relation to the liabilities of an insurer that is, or is likely to become, unable to pay its debts. I will describe its key provisions. The schedule defines an order made in the exercise of such powers as a write-down order, which involves reducing the value of an insurer’s contracts. It makes amendments to FSMA that are designed to make the new procedure more viable for an ailing insurer.

Part 2 of the schedule introduces the new role of a write-down manager—an officer of the court who will monitor a write-down. The manager will consider, on an ongoing basis, whether a write-down remains likely to lead to a better outcome for an insurer’s creditors and policyholders than if the write-down were not in effect.

Part 4 of the schedule provides for the PRA to amend its rules governing the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, requiring the scheme to provide top-up payments to certain policyholders affected by write-down orders. This safeguard aims to ensure that FSCS-protected policyholders are not worse off following a write-down than they would have been in insolvency.

Amendments 32 and 33 ensure that the drafting meets full policy intent. Amendment 32 ensures that the moratorium on legal proceedings does not interfere with certain collateral and security arrangements among participants in the financial markets. It also provides the Treasury with the power to amend the list of exclusions, which is given legal force by amendment 33. Both amendments mirror exclusions and a similar power to amend the exclusions contained in schedule 13.

Schedule 13 inserts proposed new schedule 19C into FSMA. It introduces provisions for the enforcement of contracts while an insurer is undergoing a write-down or certain insolvency proceedings. The changes are intended to provide certainty and stability to an ailing insurer’s financial position. The schedule defines “financial difficulties” and provides for restrictions on policyholder surrender rights when an insurer is judged to be in such difficulties.

Surrender rights allow policyholders to surrender life insurance contracts in exchange for cash value. Annual withdrawals of up to 5% of the policy value will continue to be permitted. The provisions will mitigate against the possibility of mass surrenders by policyholders, which could further destabilise an insurer in financial difficulties. However, part 2 of schedule 13 also enables specific parties, including the court, to consent to a surrender when satisfied that not doing so would cause hardship to a person.

Part 3 of schedule 13 provides that while an insurer is in financial difficulties, relevant contracts to which the insurer is party cannot terminate because the insurer is in financial difficulties. That seeks to mitigate the risk of value destruction, business disruption, policyholder harm and cost arising from the contracts being terminated.

The provisions enhance the powers available to the UK regulatory authorities and courts to manage an insurer in financial distress. That will strengthen protection for policyholders and mitigate potential value destruction at the point of failure. I therefore recommend that clause 51 and schedules 12 and 13 stand part of the Bill.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 51 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 12

Write-down orders

Amendments made: 32, in schedule 12, page 310, line 43, at end insert—

“(2A) Nothing in this Part of this Schedule affects the operation of—

(a) Part 7 of the Companies Act 1989 (financial markets and insolvency);

(b) the Financial Markets and Insolvency Regulations 1996 (S.I. 1996/1469);

(c) the Financial Markets and Insolvency (Settlement Finality) Regulations 1999 (S.I. 1999/2979);

(d) the Financial Collateral Arrangements (No. 2) Regulations 2003 (S.I. 2003/3226).

(2B) The Treasury may by regulations amend sub-paragraph (2A).”

This amendment ensures that certain exclusions apply in relation to the moratorium on proceedings during a write down and provides a power to amend that list of exclusions.

Amendment 33, in schedule 12, page 315, line 8, after “paragraph” insert “3(2B) or”.—(Andrew Griffith.)

This amendment is consequential on Amendment 32 and ensures that regulations made under new sub-paragraph (2B) are subject to the affirmative procedure.

Schedule 12, as amended, agreed to.

Schedule 13 agreed to.

Clause 52

Application of provisions to regulatory functions under this Act

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The clauses contain a mix of substantive and technical amendments to FSMA, which lists the functions and responsibilities of the FCA and the PRA and requires them to perform them in line with their statutory objectives and principles. Clause 52 adds to that list the responsibilities conferred on the PRA and FCA by the Bill and any functions conferred on them by future regulations made under the Bill.

On clause 53, currently, except in a few specific circumstances, the FCA and the PRA cannot use their disciplinary powers against firms that committed misconduct when they were authorised if they cease to be authorised. That means that if a firm has committed misconduct while authorised, and that comes to light only once the firm has ceased to be authorised, the regulators cannot take disciplinary action. It also means that when an authorised firm is under investigation for misconduct, the regulators must sometimes choose to maintain the firm’s authorisation to preserve the ability to sanction it following the conclusion of the investigation. To address that, the clause will enable the FCA and the PRA to take action against unauthorised firms in relation to misconduct that occurred while they were authorised.

Clause 54 enables the regulators to impose conditions on new controllers of financial services firms when to do so would advance their statutory objectives. That fills a gap in the regime identified by the PRA and the Treasury Committee in its Greensill inquiry. It will give the regulators more flexibility to manage changes of control in a way that they consider appropriate with reference to their statutory objectives.

Clause 55 makes two minor technical changes to the legal framework governing the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. The Office for National Statistics reclassified the FSCS as a public financial auxiliary in 2020. To reflect that change and bring the FSCS in line with other public financial auxiliaries, clause 55 removes both the requirement for the FSCS to have an accounting officer and the Treasury’s power to require certain information in connection with accounts.

Clauses 56 and 57 are necessary to reflect the regulators’ additional rule-making responsibilities when retained EU law is repealed. Under the comprehensive FSMA model of regulation that the Bill enables, the direct regulatory requirements that apply to firms will generally be in regulators’ rulebooks rather than set out in legislation.

Clause 56 inserts proposed new section 141B to FSMA, giving the Treasury the power to make consequential changes to legislation to reflect changes to regulator rules. At the moment, domestic and EU legislation sometimes makes reference to regulator rules; the power will ensure that the legislative framework remains up to date and consistent if those rules change. It is a consequential power only.

Clause 57 enables the Treasury and regulators to make ambulatory references to regulator rules and domestic legislation respectively. That means that when the Treasury references regulator rules in secondary legislation, it can do so in such a way that the references will automatically update to refer to the current version of the rules whenever the regulator updates them, thereby ensuring that the regulator rulebooks and the legislation will remain consistent over time, without the need for constant amendments in response to respective changes.

Clause 58 allows the Treasury to amend and repeal provisions in part 9C of FSMA that were introduced by the Financial Services Act 2021, which dealt with the immediate post-Brexit priorities for financial services, including by implementing the latest Basel standards, while the wider approach to regulation was considered as part of the Government’s future regulatory framework review.

Sections 143C and 143D of FSMA create duties for the FCA to establish the investment firm’s prudential regime, and section 143G requires the FCA to have regard to certain matters when making rules as part of that regime. Those provisions will be replaced by the general approach to obligations and “have regards” that the Bill introduces, which the Committee has already considered. Clause 58 enables those sections to be amended to avoid duplication.

Clause 59 introduces small technical amendments to two provisions of FSMA that cover transitional arrangements. The amendments ensure that an existing power to make transitional arrangements under sections 426 and 427 of FSMA is updated to correctly refer to the current regulators—the FCA and the PRA—and is available to the Bank of England when it is acting as a FSMA regulator. I recommend that the clauses stand part of the Bill.

We welcome this series of technical clauses, but I have two questions for the Minister. First, will he set out what disciplinary action regulators could take under clause 53 against firms that are no longer authorised? Secondly, on clause 55, the Transparency Task Force has recommended the creation of a financial regulators’ supervisory council, which would have a number of roles, including appointing and overseeing the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, to ensure greater independence. If the Minister is aware of that proposal, what assessment has he made of it? If he is not, I would be happy to hear his thoughts about it after the sitting.

I thank the hon. Lady for those points. The powers that the regulators will have in relation to formerly authorised firms will mirror those that they have in relation to authorised firms: they will have the full range of powers to seek information and to impose sanctions, remedies and conduct. The substantive purpose of the measures is to ensure that those powers are not extinguished at the moment a firm becomes unauthorised.

I am not familiar with the detail of the proposal for a financial supervisory board that the hon. Lady mentioned, but we have a good framework for the supervision of financial regulators. I and the Government will always be interested in any practical suggestions to enhance that without duplication and unnecessary obfuscation about where true responsibilities lie.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 52 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 53 to 59 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Joy Morrissey.)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill (Fifth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Mr Laurence Robertson, Hannah Bardell, Julie Elliott, Sir Christopher Chope

† Anderson, Lee (Ashfield) (Con)

† Ansell, Caroline (Eastbourne) (Con)

† Byrne, Liam (Birmingham, Hodge Hill) (Lab)

Crosbie, Virginia (Ynys Môn) (Con)

† Daly, James (Bury North) (Con)

† Hodge, Dame Margaret (Barking) (Lab)

† Hollinrake, Kevin (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy)

† Hughes, Eddie (Walsall North) (Con)

† Hunt, Jane (Loughborough) (Con)

† Kinnock, Stephen (Aberavon) (Lab)

† Malhotra, Seema (Feltham and Heston) (Lab/Co-op)

† Mann, Scott (Lord Commissioner of His Majesty's Treasury)

† Morden, Jessica (Newport East) (Lab)

† Newlands, Gavin (Paisley and Renfrewshire North) (SNP)

† Stevenson, Jane (Wolverhampton North East) (Con)

† Thewliss, Alison (Glasgow Central) (SNP)

Tugendhat, Tom (Minister for Security)

Kevin Maddison, Anne-Marie Griffiths, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 1 November 2022


[Mr Laurence Robertson in the Chair]

Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill

I have a few preliminary reminders. Please switch electronic devices to silent. I am afraid no food or drink is permitted, other than water. Hansard colleagues will be grateful if Members could email their speaking notes to; alternatively, pass them to the Hansard colleague in the room.

We now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today’s sittings is available in the room. It shows how the selected amendments have been grouped together for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same or a similar issue. Please note that decisions on amendments do not take place in the order in which they are debated, but in the order in which they appear on the amendment paper. The selection and groupings list shows the order of debates. Decisions on each amendment are taken when we come to the clause to which the amendment relates. Decisions on new clauses will be taken once we have completed consideration of the existing clauses. Members wishing to press a grouped amendment or a new clause to a Division should indicate when speaking to it that they wish to do so. As Dame Margaret Hodge is not here, I call Seema Malhotra to move amendment 77.

Clause 1

The registrar’s objectives

I beg to move amendment 77, in clause 1, page 2, line 10, at end insert—

Objective 5

Objective 5 is to act proactively by—

(a) making full use of the information, intelligence and powers available to the registrar in order to identify issues of concern, and

(b) sharing information about any issues of concern with relevant public bodies and law enforcement agencies.

(2) In this section, an “issue of concern” includes—

(a) inaccurate information,

(b) information that might create a false or misleading impression to members of the public,

(c) an unlawful activity.’

I will come back with further mention of the clause later. The amendment was tabled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking—[Interruption.] Who has just arrived—

My right hon. Friend will want to speak to her own amendment, but I will lay out a few comments. She is right that we need Companies House to become a more active agent in our efforts to combat economic crime as a result of the Bill—I am sure the Minister will agree that we do not want an economic crime Bill No. 3 in the House, and nor do we have the time for delay in sharpening our response and defences against economic crime.

In evidence given to the Committee, Thom Townsend from Open Ownership stated that the clause—or the important objectives laid out in it—

“seems like a ridiculously low bar.”––[Official Report, Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Public Bill Committee, 25 October 2022; c. 63, Q136.]

He is absolutely right. I am sure that all Members listening to that evidence agreed. My right hon. Friend will speak to her own amendment, but we very much support it, because this House needs to send a clear message about our expectation of a proactive role for the registrar—not just a reactive role.

Why is it so important to do so now? As Companies House now begins its transformation to reform its systems, processes and capabilities, part of that will be about its culture, and in line with what this House will expect, the proceedings of this House and this Committee will be important in sending that message. It is our job to ensure that the objectives and powers are very clearly laid out in legislation, so that there is no confusion over our expectations.

The fifth objective in the amendment would raise the “ridiculously low bar” of the first four objectives, as stated by Thom Townsend, from minimising risk to proactively identifying suspected uses of the register for criminal purposes and acting accordingly. As the Secretary of State herself stated on Second Reading:

“We want to ensure that there are more restrictions on who can register with Companies House so that we prevent the abuse of the regime.”—[Official Report, 13 October 2022; Vol. 720, c. 285.]

But I am sure that my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking will want to speak to her own notes on this. Thank you, Mr Robertson, for giving me the opportunity to do so.

Sincere apologies for being late, Mr Robertson. I want to start by welcoming the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton, to his role. I have worked very closely with him over the past few years, and it is great to see somebody who understands the issues sitting in his seat. I hope that we can have very positive engagement with him while considering the Bill.

Like the hon. Gentleman, I welcome the reforms. The amendments that we have tabled, including this amendment, are all designed to improve the quality of the legislation that we pass. I hope that they will be taken in that spirit. Having been a Minister in my time, I am very aware of the fact that when amendments are tabled by hon. Members, whether they are on the Opposition or the Government Benches, there tends to be a mood of “reject” from the officials advising the Minister. I simply say to him that many of the amendments that we are putting forward, like this one, are really there to improve the Bill. They are not about trying to raise contentious issues. Perhaps as we proceed, we will come across more contentious issues, but this amendment is not contentious; it is simply to secure an improvement. It is not party political, and I think it reflects common sense. I hope that the Minister will feel able to accept this particular amendment.

Why have we tabled the amendment? I draw the Minister’s attention to the Government’s own factsheet on the Bill, which states that broadening the powers of the registrar of Companies House is designed—that is my word—so that the registrar can become a “more active” gatekeeper over company creation and a custodian of more reliable data. Companies House itself has six strategic goals, one of which is to combat economic crime through active use of analysis and intelligence. We have there a commitment from Government and from the organisation itself that it should take a proactive role in using the information that it has.

Our amendment would embed in legislation the Government’s intent and the organisation’s goals. It would ensure that that intent and the goals were on the statute book and therefore implemented in the future. Too often, as the Minister knows, we have organisations and bodies that have powers but simply do not use them. We can think of His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and its oversight of company service providers as just one example of where there is a power but, without emphasis on that duty in legislation, it tends to get ignored. The aim of our amendment is just to ensure that what is a power becomes a strong duty.

Why does that matter? Companies House holds a massive amount of data: information about 4.5 million companies, with more than 800,000 new companies incorporated each year and more than 10 million documents filed annually. That data is full of red flags that should be proactively investigated to ensure that we really bear down on economic crime. We want to pursue the wrongdoers, and if we get that stronger investigation and it is known that Companies House does use its proactive powers, that is a good preventive measure because it is much less likely that the ne’er-do-goods will indulge in bad practice.

Let us look at the sort of stuff that has come out so far. There are endless examples: five beneficial owners control over 6,000 companies—a massive red flag. They are clearly not the real beneficial owners. Four thousand beneficial owners are under two years’ old, including one who is not born yet. The company Atlas Integrate Services LLP was registered in September this year. The person of significant control in that company is just two months’ old. In her two months of life, she has not just found time to start a business but apparently has got married, as she is listed as “Mrs” in the register.

We know from all the leaks how Companies House and our UK corporate structures are used and abused by bad people. I take just one example from the FinCEN files: 3,267 of the LLPs and the LPs were holders of bank accounts that involved suspicious transactions—British corporate structures. Of those 3,267 British corporations, 1,656—over half—were created by just four agencies. Nine agencies created more than 100 UK entities. One agency created 646 limited liability partnerships and limited partnerships. Those are examples of strong red flags that suggest malpractice.

It is not just the perpetrators who benefit but the victims who suffer, as the Minister knows. The only successful prosecution in this space is that of Kevin Brewer—the Minister will probably remember the case. This was a man in his 60s who deliberately set about showing the flaws in the system in Companies House. He set up a company called John Vincent Cable Services Ltd, when Vince Cable ran the Department that the Minister is now in. He did that in 2013. He then wrote to Vince Cable to tell him what he had done.

In 2016, he used the names of James Cleverly and Baroness Neville-Rolfe to set up another company. Again, he wrote to them. All he was doing with drawing attention to what was wrong with the system, but he was prosecuted. The Government proclaimed that prosecution as a great victory of how Companies House is vigilant over the quality of the data. Nothing could be more wrong. I think the Minister will agree that, in effect, he was a whistleblower. He was treated abominably by the authorities. That throws into stark relief the lack of action taken against others responsible for setting up bogus companies.

I urge the Minister to accept the amendment. It is common sense. It simply ensures that there is a strong duty on Companies House to use that wealth of data to investigate, proactively raise red flags and talk to the enforcement agencies. I hope that he sees the amendment as something that adds to the value of the Bill.

It is a pleasure to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Robertson, and to speak after the right hon. Member for Barking. As she knows, and I hope all Committee members know, I am—like her—incredibly ambitious for the Bill. Hopefully, the dialogue we have in this room over the next few weeks will serve a great purpose to ensure that this legislation is fit for purpose.

I entirely agree with the thrust of the amendment. Of course we want a proactive gatekeeper of the information. The right hon. Member for Barking highlights many examples, as does the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston, who talked about the culture of the organisation. She is absolutely right that the culture needs to be focused on making sure that the information held by Companies House is accurate, but we need a balance. We must avoid an impossibly bureaucratic and expensive system. The right hon. Member for Barking highlights some of the problems of dealing with a register of this size. There are between 4 million and 5 million companies and about 7 million or 8 million directors in the UK. To independently verify all those records, one by one, is clearly a huge challenge.

On changing the culture of the organisation, the Bill has its four objectives: accuracy, completeness of records, reducing risk and reducing the chances of unlawful activity. I would also point to the text in bold type in clause 1—the objective

“to promote integrity of registers”.

That does exactly what the right hon. Lady intends with her amendment. To me, promoting the integrity of the registers speaks to the proactivity that we want to see. We definitely want to see Companies House sharing information with law enforcement agencies proactively, for example.

The right hon. Lady spoke about a number of obvious cases that would raise red flags, and that happens because Companies House is not operating as she wants it to. One of the key bases of the Bill is to change the role of Companies House from registry to gatekeeper, and to promote integrity properly and proactively by identifying information on a risk-based approach.

I join my colleagues in welcoming the Minister to his post, in what is a very welcome appointment, and I apologise to you, Mr Robertson, for being slightly late this morning.

Surely the Minister must see that there is a world of difference between action to promote the virtue of something and action to prevent the badness of something. I have been a Minister too. I have created Government agencies. I have tried to enshrine objectives in agencies, from which a business plan is then written. It is incredibly important to say what we mean and mean what we say when we are specifying the objectives of an agency such as Companies House. I urge him to think again about the amendment. It is not simply a matter of word play. It is about doing what is needed to be done.

I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s work in this area. We should not get into semantics. The key point, as he says, is making sure that we have a plan that sits behind the objectives, and Companies House is currently working on how it will perform its duties under the objectives. That is key. We can legislate all we want in here, but legislation is less important than implementation. The implementation of the rules is key. We must ensure that the plan is robust and that it identifies the red flags on a risk-based approach and shares that information with the relevant law enforcement agencies that have their duties to undertake. “Promoting integrity” does what the right hon. Member for Barking wants.

I am grateful to the Minister—I know he is struggling. Why not put this objective in? If Companies House is going to do this work anyway, what is the objection? Why not let it stand there? It will ensure the work over time. Our lives are always short as Ministers. The Minister is not going to be there all the time. Other people are going to take over from him. We want Companies House to be proactive throughout the time that the legislation lasts. Why not put this objective in?

The only reason I can think of for why the Minister is getting objections from his civil servants—I assume the objections are coming from them—is that Companies House will not carry out this proactive role, because it will prioritise its other role of verifying information, and we will lose the advantage of the wealth of data with integrity that we could use to eliminate the wrongdoers.

I take the right hon. Lady’s point, but I do not agree. Clearly, we will seek to improve many things as the Bill goes through its various stages. However, if we look at the objectives themselves, objective 1 is to

“ensure that any person who is required to deliver a document to the registrar does so.”

That is, to me, a proactive condition and objective. We probably have arguments about the drafting, but the nature of what we seek to achieve is the same. I would therefore politely ask that the amendment is withdrawn.

On this occasion, having heard what the Minister has said, I think that this is an ongoing debate. We will want to have some further discussion and perhaps come back to the issue on Report. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move amendment 71, in clause 1, page 2, line 10, at end insert—

“(4) The Secretary of State must ensure that the registrar has sufficient resources to fulfil the objectives set by subsection (3).”

This amendment would require Companies House to be properly resourced in line with its new responsibilities.

Much like with the previous amendment, it seemed sensible to bring things to the attention of the Government right at the very start of the Bill, because matters can get diluted over time. If we put this issue front and centre of the Bill, and say that the Secretary of State must ensure that the registrar has sufficient resources to fulfil the objectives set by subsection (3), that puts an obligation on the Government, and on future Governments, to follow through on the recommendations regarding the very worthy legislation in the Bill.

We heard a lot of evidence about earlier legislation. I served in Committee on some of it, such as in the evidence sessions for the Joint Committee on the Draft Registration of Overseas Entities Bill, and in Committee for the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. Over the years, there has been much legislation, but, as Bill Browder said in his evidence, without any enforcement of that legislation, and without the resources to ensure it is followed through, the Government can write as much law as they like but it does not actually matter.

We want to see resources put front and centre of the Bill, right up there at the start, and to hold future Governments to the important principle of funding this work. If the registrar is not funded to carry out the work it is being given to do, it just will not do that work. That has been the evidence of Companies House over many years. If it is not funded as well as empowered to do the work, it seems very unlikely that it will complete the tasks that the Government and all of us in this room expect of it. I therefore think the amendment is important and urge the Minister to accept it.

The amendment tabled by our SNP colleagues would amend clause 1 to require the Secretary of State to ensure that Companies House is adequately resourced to achieve its objectives. I raised the matter on Second Reading, and I am sure we will come back to it.

On Second Reading, the Minister himself talked about legislation with implementation, and I am sure that he will have some sympathy for the sentiments of the amendment. As Jonathan Hall said in his evidence:

“The one thing that I think would make all the difference would be to resource Companies House.”––[Official Report, Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Public Bill Committee, 25 October 2022; c. 34, Q70.]

We support the principle of the amendment, but we are looking to address the same issue in our new clause 26, which we will discuss later. It is right to put the issue on the radar today and have it on there as we proceed through Committee. I look forward to coming back to further discussions on how we ensure that Companies House is adequately resourced.

This is an important debate, and I think that the Minister’s reply will be, in a sense, a useful “Second Reading” debate on how he will deal with the problem of resourcing. I know that he, as a new Minister, will have spent the weekend reading all of the evidence that we gathered last week. It was very much like an autopsy on the state of economic crime in our country—grisly and appalling. He will have been not shocked, because he is familiar with the facts, but reminded starkly that he is a Minister at a watershed in the debate. It is clear that the time to act is now.

The world is divided, and there is a great kleptosphere from Kaliningrad to Kamchatka, so it is important that we set out our stall as a place not just of free trade, but of fair trade, as well as, crucially, clean trade. That is where economic advantages will flow from in the years to come. It is therefore a matter of enormous national shame that we have become such a hotbed of money laundering. It is appalling that about 40% of the corporate structures used for Danske Bank money laundering were here in the UK, and appalling that we have become such a country.

Hundreds of billions of pounds-worth of money stolen from the Russian people has been laundered through UK corporate structures, yet last week we heard from Bill Browder and Catherine Belton that UK corporate structures are absolutely being used by friends and allies of President Putin to move money abroad to help to finance Russian intelligence operations and other nefarious activity. However, as Mr Browder said, we are not prosecuting the crime and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking pointed out, there has been only one prosecution despite hundreds of billions being stolen and moved through UK corporate structures.

In part, we are not prosecuting the crime because we are not policing the crime, and all of us on the Committee will have heard loud and clear last week’s evidence from City of London police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council, which said that they need more resource. It is as simple as that. They cannot afford the specialists they need to police this area, and the task of policing such crime would be an awful lot easier if we ensured that there was a proper gateway doing its job in Companies House.

We know that Companies House needs more resource as there has already been a wide-ranging debate. Indeed, the Minister, in his pre-ministerial life, is on the record as having speculated about what some of the resources might need to look like. We hope he will repeat those comments on the record as a Minister of the Crown in the Committee today.

Let us be clear about the risks, which were starkly described for us last week by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation: there is a direct relationship between economic crime and national security. This is not simply a question of bad people stealing lots of money from good people; it is about a threat to our country. The Minister has an opportunity to ensure not only that our economy is operating on a clean-trade basis, but that our national security defences are strengthened. That is why the amendment is important, and why it is important that the Minister set out clearly today how he is going to approach the solution to this problem.

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central, who I worked closely with on the Treasury Committee, for all her work on economic crime. I absolutely agree we need the right resources to go alongside the Bill, so I am fully committed to anything I said before in the Chamber or otherwise about ensuring that that resourcing is available. I certainly agree with the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill when he talks about clean trade—absolutely right. We do not want this country associated with dirty money in any shape or form.

The right hon. Gentleman gave an interesting example about the money laundering through Danske Bank, which was, as he said, hundreds of billions of pounds-worth of Russian money stolen from the Russian people flowing through UK shell companies to its destination. That was subject to regulatory action and potential criminal enforcement; it is not as though the matter was held secretly until it was identified locally in Danske Bank. Danske Bank will get sanctioned for that, so it is not as though law enforcement is not happening. However, the right hon. Gentleman and I would agree that, too often, big banks turn a blind eye to the problem on the basis that it is quite profitable for them, and the fines are ultimately a cost of doing business. What we need to do is hold people properly to account, including individual directors.

I agree, but the point with Danske Bank, as with so many of these massive scandals, is that it was a whistleblower who uncovered wrongdoing, not the enforcement agencies. We will come to whistleblowing later in our considerations, but what we want is for the enforcement agencies—in this case, Companies House—to be equipped to do the work themselves and not to rely on whistleblowers.

I agree with the right hon. Lady’s point. As she knows, I am a big fan of improving the legislation on whistleblowers. I am delighted to say that role is part of my portfolio and I am determined to take that forward as quickly as possible.

The Minister is being characteristically generous in giving way. The point about Danske Bank is that the money was moved through UK corporate structures that should not have been set up in the first place. If we had a stronger verification regime—if we had a stronger set of obligations on Companies House and a better-resourced Companies House—we would surely have run a chance of the crime being prevented, because the checks would have created a tripwire that would have stopped the structures being set up and the money being moved through them. The point about resources and duties is incredibly important.

I absolutely agree. That is the nature of and the substance behind the Bill—making sure that the resources fit the need and that Companies House can promote the integrity of the register and work with law enforcement agencies to share that information and identify the red flags with a risk-based approach. We need to make sure that the work it is doing is appropriate to the task it has been given and that it is sufficiently funded.

Currently, the fees for Companies House are set at a level commensurate with its activities. The Bill seeks to massively increase the scope of its functions to that gatekeeper approach, so it has to be sufficiently funded. The funding started in this spending round, with £63 million for personnel and improving technology to be able to more easily identify the red flags. Companies House is bringing in external expertise to look at its work and what it will need to do to take the expanded activities into account. We need to make sure that as we go forward the resources will be sufficient for it to deliver on its new duties. It is right not to put the cart before the horse. We cannot say, “It should be £50” or “It should be £100”. Various figures have been thrown about. I think the Treasury Committee suggested £100. We need first to identify what it will cost for Companies House to cope with the new duties and then set the figure attached to that cost, to make sure that it has the right resources but does not become a huge bureaucracy that is out of control in terms of costs.

We are very quickly getting to the crux of the issues on resourcing for implementation. He referred to independent experts coming in to work with Companies House on its new capabilities and how it will need to be resourced. Will there be a recommendation from those experts on how much resource will be required? We have the objectives and we have debated whether they are sufficient to achieve the goals of the Bill, and we will come back to that point, but will there be a recommendation on how much resource is required and will that recommendation be a matter of public debate?

Yes, in both cases. That work is going on now. Those recommendations will then be discussed with me and my colleagues in the Department and we will come back to the House. The decisions we make will be approved by the House under the affirmative procedure.

I suppose we may as well get all the details out now. The estimates for how much extra resource Companies House might need range from three times to 10 times its current level. I was very surprised to hear from Companies House that it was proposing to employ only 100 extra people. That is an increment of about £5 million to £6 million extra, which feels radically short of what is proposed and for the implications of the Bill. Will the Minister therefore put our minds at rest by saying to the Committee that those figures will be radically improved when the Companies House business case for the next financial year is approved?

My intervention also relates to that of my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill. There is a risk of underestimating the amount of work, and of that then being locked in. I hope that during the course of the Committee, if we are to use our time to best effect, there will be further challenge to the scope of the work or to the expectations of how much work happens. We do not want the scoping for resources to be based on the Bill at the start; that is not necessarily what it will be at the end. Will the Minister clarify that the resourcing plan will be made in light of the ambition of the Bill, because we do not want it to fall short? The Minister’s words—about legislation with implementation—will keep coming back to him, and I am sure he is the first to want not to fall short of them.

That is hugely important. The hon. Lady makes exactly the right case: for us to give a figure now, whether that is £50 or £100, is to put the cart before the horse. We all agree that the right resources will be needed, but they will be based on the duties in the final version of the Bill approved by both Houses. That is what we will seek to do with Companies House. My intention is absolutely that Companies House will do that.

In response to the point made by the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill, it is not just about people. I do not yet know the extra numbers that Companies House will dedicate to this work, or when. That is what we need to see in a clear plan that it will set out. Technology, however, can also play a huge part. Companies House holds a huge amount of data, public and non-public, that law enforcement agencies can make use of with a risk-based approach. Technology can certainly play a part, and that is not always inexpensive.

My sense is that the Minister will steer clear of specifying the order of magnitude by which we need to increase Companies House resources. That is a disappointment to many of us, but will he therefore advise the Committee how as a House of Commons we best guard against the risk of under-resourcing Companies House once the Bill has reached Royal Assent?

Scrutiny—by Ministers and by Back Benchers, such as those in Committee and in all parts of the House. Parliamentary scrutiny is the most important thing—scrutiny of the plans of Companies House, to ensure that they are fit for purpose. I promise that no one is keener to see that than me.

May I address one other point in this conversation? Parkinson, for all his work, came up with two laws: first, that work expands to fill the time available; and, secondly, that expenditure rises to meet income, which we probably all recognise from our personal lives, but we could say the same of Government. We do not want to set a figure now, because if we did so, Companies House might expand to fill that envelope—

But I do not. I want to see the plan, to ensure that it is fit for purpose and that it delivers an excellent service at the lowest cost to the taxpayer. That is what we need to do. Doing it this way around is a better way.

Several things arise from the Minister’s great contribution. First, I look forward to his support for our amendment to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny of the work of Companies House, which will come later in our consideration of the Bill. Secondly, one knows how spending reviews go, and this will never become a top priority. I hope that the Government will see it is a security issue, but until they do so, it will not become a top priority for expenditure. That is why the Opposition—supported by the Minister, I hope, given his passion—want to put a figure into the legislation, to link it to inflation and to ringfence it, so that no Treasury official down the line can get hold of it. The final thing I wanted to ask—

I will be brief. We think that Companies House has to do more in a whole range of areas if it is to be effective, such as on information on directors and proper control of company service providers. We do not want to create another cohort of people who allow bad things to take place. Those things will require greater resources. Will the Minister make a commitment today on that? If we are successful in passing the amendment, will he take those things into account when thinking about the financing?

Thank you, Mr Robertson. I think it is wrong to put a figure in the Bill. Do I believe that Companies House should be properly resourced? Absolutely, but we need to ensure that that happens through this process and through Companies House’s plan. I can reassure the hon. Lady on one thing: Companies House is supposed to get paid by the fees that it collects to cover its activities. It is not like the Treasury, which goes and nicks some of the money. It does not want that to become a tax; the organisation is funded by its fees. I think we would all agree to ensure that it is self-funded to the level that it needs to properly deliver on its duties. For all those reasons, I hope the hon. Member will withdraw her amendment.

I would like to press the amendment to a vote because it does not set a figure or commit the Government to any particular sum of money, but guards against the under-resourcing that has plagued Companies House for many years. According to openDemocracy, economic crime costs the UK £290 billion a year, whereas Spotlight on Corruption tells us that the Government spend only £852 million on enforcement, or 0.042% of GDP. A lot more needs to be done. I am not committing the Government to any figure whatsoever, but the amendment would ensure that the register has the resources to fulfil its objectives. It is a simple and neat amendment.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

The Government acknowledge the growing unease in many quarters about the limitations on the company registrar’s ability to manage the quality of information that finds its way on to the register for which she is the custodian. The entirely new objectives introduced by the clause set the scene for the rest of the Companies House measures in the Bill. They signal the biggest step change in the whole ethos of Companies House and the registrar since that role was established in 1844, which I think the Committee will welcome.

The objectives make it clear to all that the registrar will no longer simply be the passive recipient of information; in performing her duties and functions as modified and expanded in the other Bill provisions that we will discuss in Committee; the registrar will be emboldened to be much more active in her guardianship role. No longer will Companies House be a passive receptacle for company information; nor will it simply accept in good faith what it is given. This Bill will give the registrar wide-ranging new powers to assist her to query more information and to reject filings that the registrar does not believe meet the standards of proper delivery or which do not tally with information that the registrar already holds. The registrar will be able to analyse and share information with other bodies, including law enforcement.

Those are just a few examples of how Companies House will operate differently in the future. The new powers will be exercised with the new objectives introduced by this clause firmly in mind. The objectives are geared towards ensuring that information that companies and others provide is complete, accurate and not misleading, and towards minimising the extent to which companies and others carry out or facilitate the carrying-out by others of unlawful activity. The Government are confident that, in aggregate, their introduction will make Companies House a far more effective gatekeeper.

I am grateful to the Minister. Now that we are debating clause stand part, perhaps I can officially say “welcome” to him—I was saving it until now. It is indeed good to see him in his place and to be having the debates with him on the Front Bench.

We have debated aspects of clause 1, and have raised relevant questions. The issue is not whether we agree with the objectives, because of course we agree with all the objectives that have been outlined. The issue is whether they go far enough. Objective 1 is about delivering documents to the registrar. Objective 2 is about those documents containing all the information that they are required to contain. Objective 3 is designed to minimise the risk of information on the register creating a false or misleading impression to the public. Objective 4 is about minimising the extent to which companies and firms carry out or facilitate the carrying out by others of unlawful activities.

I think we might ask ourselves the question again and again: why has it taken this long to get here when we have been having debates on the need to tighten up Companies House for so long and legislation has been promised for some time? When we read the provisions, I think we can say again: is this really the extent of our ambitions? Getting to second base is not the same as getting a home run, is it? I think that is the question and will remain the question. Although we agree with clause 1 and what is in it, we are going to keep asking the question about whether the basis on which so much else will be based in the Bill will be strong enough to give Companies House all it needs, along with the message about its duties to achieve its objectives.

This legislation is designed to tackle economic crime. As we have heard in the debate, it is also designed to protect UK national security. Those are two really serious matters that go together. We are talking about making it harder for kleptocrats, criminals and terrorists to engage in money laundering, with an impact on other crimes: crimes that go on in our streets, crimes related to drugs, crimes related to low-level theft and, now, even the security of our mobile phones and our data and conversations. So much more is at stake in terms of what goes on in people’s everyday lives and their everyday security, much more than perhaps we envisaged when this legislation was first promised at least six years ago. The scale of the challenge has absolutely increased, and the question is as much about whether we will be forward-looking in the legislation as it is about tackling the scale of the problem, on the basis of which legislation began to be drafted perhaps one or two years ago.

In our view, we need to ensure that we can prevent problems, not just look at a cure, which is always much more expensive. We need to see investment in Companies House as an investment that will bring later savings in time and cost: cost not just in the form of Companies House resources but the cost to the nation—the hundreds of billions that are lost through economic crime. A key tool in our armoury must absolutely be the strengthened role of the registrar and the duties that go with it. The intention of the objectives is for the registrar to maintain the integrity of the registers that she maintains in relation to companies and other registrable entities. These are the very basics a nation should expect from a really important function of Government. The objectives are an important step forward, but in all honesty they do not go far enough in giving the registrar the focus that is needed to achieve the stated goals of the Bill.

The Government’s White Paper on Companies House reform in February, which arguably was more ambitious than some of what has ended up in the Bill, stated that

“recent years have seen growing instances of misuse of companies”.

Criminals are getting faster and cleverer. We must ensure that we have resources and safeguards in place. I know the Minister has only just taken up his role, but he has important decisions to make with this Bill. He knows that he has the will of Members on all sides of the House with him. I hope that he will ensure there are no back doors or Swiss cheese in this legislation and that it is as watertight and resourced as it needs to be to achieve its goals.

I think this has been a disappointing start to the Committee. Last week in the evidence sessions, I read out the objectives and asked the witnesses what they thought of them. We had anti-corruption organisations there—people who have given their lives to tackling corruption and economic crime—and they were very clear, saying the objectives were too weak and needed to be stronger. I will set out the politics of this for the Minister, new in his role as he is. He is on the wrong side of the argument. He risks going into the debates we are about to have as someone who it is too easy for His Majesty’s Opposition to characterise as soft on economic crime. That is not his position. It is not a position he wants to be in. I hope he will reflect on the debate we have had today and come back with stronger and proactive anti-corruption objectives, including a duty to prevent corruption placed on Companies House.

To summarise the debate we have had, we are going to have a set of objectives for Companies House. Then we are going to match the resources to those objectives. The problem with setting the bar for our objectives too low, too soft and too weak is that we end up setting a resource base that is too low, too soft and too weak. On this side of the Committee—on both sides I think—we would rather see a much tougher set of policy objectives, and we would want Companies House to have the requisite resources to fill that role. I am afraid the Minister has found himself on the wrong side of the argument today. I hope that he reflects and comes back—possibly on Report or in the other place—with a strong set of objectives and the resources to match.

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. I do not agree with what he has said. I read through much of the evidence given to the Committee before I was part of it, and Transparency International said that

“the Government has taken an important step toward cracking down on kleptocrats, criminals and terrorists—including associates of the Putin regime—who abuse UK companies for nefarious purposes.”

It also says that the Bill

“presents a number of welcome reforms to the operation of Companies House that, if implemented effectively, would help to prevent money launderers from abusing the UK’s company incorporation system”.

There are people who agree with what we are doing here. We should of course reflect on the comments that have been made by hon. Members in the Committee, but I do think these objectives are important steps forward. We must ensure that they are effective, that there are no Swiss cheese loopholes, as the shadow Minister mentioned, and that the relevant bodies are properly resourced. That is a body of work I will continue with over the next few weeks.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Memorandum of association: names to be included

I beg to move amendment 85, in clause 2, page 2, line 15, at end insert—

“(2A) After subsection 1, insert—

‘(1A) The memorandum must also state—

(a) the nationality of the each subscriber; and

(b) the country in which each subscriber is ordinarily resident.’”

This amendment would require a memorandum on the formation of a company to include the nationality and country of ordinary residence of each subscriber (a subscriber being one of the company’s initial shareholders at the time it was set up) along with their name.

With this it will be convenient to discuss clause stand part and clauses 3 to 8 stand part.

Clause 2 is important, and we have no concerns with it at all. It amends section 8 of the Companies Act 2006 to state that, for individuals, “name” means a forename and surname, and it goes into further detail. It is another example of an area where it is extremely surprising that our system has lasted for so long while being so feeble in the extent of the information it requires of company subscribers. Subscribers are initial shareholders in the company when it was set up: those who sign the important memorandum of association in forming the company.

Currently, information about subscribers is extremely limited, and there is no verification or definition of what constitutes a subscriber’s name. That relates to the deeper issue, to which we will continue to refer in Committee, around the transparency of shareholders. Alongside our discussions of directors and officials, we must ensure that we keep shareholder transparency very much centre stage. Not having clear names affects the reliability of the subscriber information held by Companies House.

We welcome the clarity provided by clause 2, but we believe that the Bill could go further in requiring information from company subscribers. That is why we tabled amendment 85, which would insert a new provision that would require the memorandum on company subscribers to include the nationality of each company subscriber and the country in which the subscriber is ordinarily resident. Without that information, which should be verifiable, the formation of a company that registers with Companies House could be questioned by the registrar.

Transparency International has remarked that the UK has a terrible reputation as a hub for dirty money. That is something we do not even need to keep saying, because we are so used to hearing it. That is exacerbated and enabled by a lack of transparency about those who own and control UK-registered companies. If the Bill is to fulfil its ambition of clamping down on dirty money flowing through our economy, the Minister should support the amendment, which would provide that greater transparency and scrutiny of who owns companies registered with Companies House. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I rise to support this useful amendment. It is fundamentally about enhancing the transparency of the register and what we know about the people on the register. It is also about tracing control: who owns what and where they happen to be. That is useful. Those are things that the Bill should look to fix. The Bill is about putting right things that are not quite right. The amendment adds to the richness of the information that is available to people. It seems perfectly logical that the Minister should support it.

Let me go back to 1855 for a moment, which is when this House last debated the creation of limited liability companies. It is worth every member of the Committee studying the Hansards of those debates, because the speeches reveal that, when our ancestors in this place made it possible for people to pool together small amounts of capital but nevertheless receive a limit on the liability that they would encounter if things went bad, their view was that it was in the common good of the country to allow in Britain the invention of limited liability, which had operated in the United States for some time. The common good of the country was the guiding principle by which the debate was shaped, and eventually the Bill was passed.

Right now, too many people are not contributing to the common good, and are using UK corporate structures to circumvent their obligations to pay tax and obey the law of the land. We should be trying to crusade against that, and this amendment would help us do that.

At the end of this year, the register of beneficial ownership for property will be published, but it is already clear that there are shell companies that own assets, including property in expensive parts of this country, whose nominal shareholders are resident abroad. There has been an enormous surge in non-resident, foreign national shareholders of shell companies that own property in this country. We have not only the phenomenon of shell companies but, as Oliver Bullough made clear, the new phenomenon of shell people.

The Minister has a decision to take. Will he put in place measures that help us guard against that risk and ensure that we honour the principles that were agreed back in 1855, or will he leave our enforcement regime as weak as it is today?

Before I turn to the amendment tabled by the hon. Members for Feltham and Heston and for Aberavon, it might be helpful if I set out the intentions and effect of the clause.

The purpose of the companies register is to provide details of company ownership, and via these clauses the Government are introducing measures in this Bill to improve transparency requirements and increase the usefulness of the information held on the shareholders, subscribers and guarantors of UK companies. Clause 2 provides that each person who decides to form a company—a subscriber—must state their name on the memorandum of association. Currently, a subscriber does not need to state their full name—they can merely state their name as J. Bloggs, for example—as there is no definition of “name” for subscribers in the Companies Act 2006 or the associated regulations. This clause provides that, in relation to a subscriber, “name” means forename and surname. In that example, the person would have to state “Joe Bloggs”.

The shadow Minister and the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill are absolutely right to try to get to the basis of ownership and control of companies. That is why we are focusing our attentions on the people who control companies—namely, the directors and persons of significant control. As the right hon. Gentleman states, if somebody really owns the company, that information would have to be disclosed and that person’s identity would have to be fully verified.

I remind the Committee that persons of significant control are not just those who hold more than 25% of shares in a company. They can also be people who own more than 25% of the voting rights of a company, people who have the right to appoint or remove the majority of the board of directors, and people who might influence or control the company through other means—namely, a nominee. The company may also be controlled by a trust or firm without a legal personality. The provisions really focus on directors and persons of significant control, which are defined in a number of ways.

Amendment 85 would require that the memorandum of association also states the nationality of the subscriber and the country in which each subscriber is ordinarily resident. Subscribers are the persons who agree to form a company and become its members by subscribing their name to a memorandum of association. Upon incorporation of the company, they become its members and usually, but not always, its shareholders. Their details are recorded in the company’s register of members.

The Bill already contains provisions that could not only achieve the intent behind the amendment, but require the same information from a wider category of person. Clause 45 inserts new section 113A into the Companies Act 2006. New section 113A provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations that amend the particulars required to be entered into a company’s register of members. That power could be used to require the nationality and country of ordinary residence of all members to be entered into a company’s register of members.

Is the Minister minded to use that power to enter the nationality of individuals on a company’s register of members?

I am certainly minded to consider all aspects of the debate we have had in Committee and to discuss the matter with the Secretary of State and others. We are here to inform the debate, and Members on both sides of the House are better informed as a result.

In the light of that remark, will the Minister go further and tell the Committee how he will tackle the problem of shell people if we are unable to get information about them? Shell people is the phenomenon of having what look like foreign nationals or residents of other countries controlling shell companies, which may, in turn, own assets in this country. If it is not possible for us to establish the nationality or the ordinary residence of those people, how will we know whether we have a problem? If, for example, people put down their nationality as British, we would know where to find them, but if we do not have that information, we risk getting a little lost.

If the person is a director or owns more than 25% of the shares in a company, they have to have their identity verified. If the right hon. Gentleman means nominees, such a person could easily be living in the UK. I am not sure that the right hon. Gentleman would be better served by knowing where they were based, unless we were taking a risk-based approach to people from a certain nation.

Such as Russia. It is key that the ID verification works for directors and persons of significant control—that is where we are on that. We need to debate whether the amendment, which seeks to find out the nationality of company members, who are not necessarily shareholders or directors, serves any purpose at all.

We might as well pursue this point while we have the time. The 25% threshold is obviously very high, and an amendment will be tabled seeking to lower it. If that does not go through, however, the risk is that there will be members on the register with a significant or even a controlling stake of below 25% in a company, yet we will not know where they are resident or where they live. We are now running that risk.

The definition of “persons with significant control” accounts for exactly that—it accounts for the fact that a person with influence on a company might have any level of shareholding, even including zero shares. That is catered for in the definition of “persons with significant control.” Of course, there is always discussion about how we find out about and verify such information, which is very difficult to ascertain in any circumstance. The subject of ID verification is interesting to debate. I have discussed different aspects of it with officials and we should definitely consider it further.

The regulations under new section 113A will be subject to the affirmative resolution procedure, so the overall intent behind the amendment would be better addressed in a wider conversation about what additional information, if any, it would be proportionate to require every company to provide about its members via these regulations. I hope I have provided some assurance that this amendment is not necessary. Therefore, I would be grateful if the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston would withdraw it.

Clauses 3 to 8 will require those seeking to form a company to confirm that they are doing so for lawful purposes. The clauses make it absolutely explicit that those forming companies are welcome to do so only if they intend to do so for a lawful purpose. Through the requirement and provision of the new statement, subscribers to a new company can be in no doubt that if they are found not to be telling the truth, action can be taken against them.

Clause 4 will require applications to register a company to include a statement that none of the company’s subscribers, founding members or initial shareholders is a disqualified director. The definition of “disqualified person” is provided in proposed new section 159A(2) of the Companies Act 2006. Clause 4 enables the registrar of companies to reject the application if any subscriber is a disqualified director. The registrar should reject such applications, because by being involved in the formation of a company, a disqualified person breaches the law.

Under clause 5, an application to incorporate a company must include a statement confirming that all the company’s proposed directors have either verified their identity or are exempt from verification requirements.

How will the exemption be defined? Will the regulations confirming the exemption be subject to the affirmative procedure? Also, I draw to the Minister’s attention an example that he could look at: Fedotov took advantage of exemptions to use Russian stolen wealth in the UK. These exemptions are very dangerous; I want to hear from the Minister how we will ensure that they are properly regulated and monitored by Parliament.

The right hon. Lady makes a fair point. I am sure that she will accept that the Secretary of State is as keen as she is to clamp down on this activity. Exemptions can be made when directors undergo sufficient scrutiny on employment. Also, the director’s ID can be confirmed without verification when the prohibition to act as a director while unverified does not apply. An example would be directors appointed by the community interest companies regulator under section 45 of the Companies (Audit, Investigations and Community Enterprise) Act 2004.

I am worried about this. Will the Minister look at how Fedotov managed to get an exemption, and then perhaps write to Committee members about it? Then we could see whether there is a systemic issue, and whether we ought to have a better overview of the way in which exemptions are determined.

I can see the officials writing like mad. I am sure that they will have picked up on that. I am happy to look at this as well. I reassure the Committee that the affirmative procedure is required, so that we can ensure sufficient scrutiny of exemptions from the obligation on directors to verify their identity, and so that Members can see why those exemptions are proposed.

We will come to other identity verification clauses later in Committee, but I am confident that Members will agree that clause 5 is vital. It improves the accuracy and integrity of the companies register by allowing the registrar to refuse incorporation of a company if the directors are neither ID-verified nor exempt from the requirement to be ID-verified.

Clause 6 requires a company’s subscribers to provide a statement when an application to register a company is filed confirming that none of its proposed directors is disqualified or ineligible to be a director. Disqualified or ineligible people include undischarged bankrupts and individuals subject to asset freezes. The clause allows a registrar to reject an application to register a company if a proposed director is disqualified or ineligible for appointment. The registrar’s rejection prevents the company from being formed. If the statement confirms that a proposed director who is disqualified has received a court’s permission to act, the registrar will accept the registration. The clause helps to ensure that disqualified and ineligible directors do not make it on to the companies register.

Clause 7 requires that applications to register a company include a statement that none of the people with initial significant control is a disqualified director. People with initial significant control are individuals or legal entities that will own or control the company once it is registered. The clause will ensure that the registrar has the necessary information and power to reject an application if the person with initial significant control is a disqualified director.

This is about new registrations. Will the registrar go back through the Companies House records to find people who may still be on the register but ought not to be, because they have been disqualified?

All directors and people with significant control need to be ID-verified for existing companies, and the same obligation will be placed on new corporations.

Finally, clause 8 will permit an application for the registration of a company to contain a statement that the identities of its persons with significant control have been verified. The clause will allow persons with initial significant control to comply with the ID verification requirements at the point of registering a company. Where a company’s subscribers cannot make a statement confirming that persons with significant control have complied with ID verification requirements, the company will nevertheless be registered. The registrar will then direct the persons with significant control to comply with the identity verification requirements.

It is a pleasure to speak to clause 2 and to clauses 3 to 8. I have been listening carefully to the Minister and have a few questions. I have made extensive remarks in support for clause 2, so I do not intend to go much further on that. Suffice to say that we have had an important debate, and I think the Minister will find that we will continue to come back to some of these matters.

On the point about the nationality of the subscriber and the country in which they are ordinarily resident, I did not hear the Minister give a clear answer as to whether the Government might consider tabling future amendments if they do not want to support ours. I have good faith in the Minister and want him, on day one of taking up his responsibilities, to take on board hon. Members’ points, so I would be grateful if he could come back to us on how he plans to consider that matter. My hon. Friend the Member for Aberavon may want to apply a similar principle to other clauses, so it would be most helpful if the Minister could take away the point about the subscriber’s nationality and the country in which they are ordinarily resident.

We support clause 3, which will ensure that when a company registers, it cannot be formed for unlawful purposes. It is extraordinary that we have not made that clear before or sought such a declaration previously, but it is a necessary provision in the light of the scale of abuse of Companies House by those whom we are now seeking to prevent from doing so in the future. We need to clear out companies that are not performing the functions that we would expect of a company registered in the UK. As the Minister goes through the resources question as to how quickly we will be looking to Companies House to go through and verify existing company records, this will fall into that important cleaning-up exercise. It is a necessary provision and is intended to ensure that if such a declaration turns out to be inaccurate, the registrar can reject the company’s filing on the basis that a false filing offence will have been committed. That is an important step forward.

Clause 4 will ensure that when a company registers, it must declare that none of its subscribers—its initial shareholders—is a disqualified director. We welcome the clause, because it is important to think about people’s roles and how games could be played with Companies House, and therefore with Britain and the British public, without cross-checks and balances in place. The clause is necessary to ensure that the registrar is able to actively reject and remove company subscribers who have been disqualified as directors. It cannot be right that somebody who has been found unwilling or unable to meet their legal responsibilities as a director could still be involved in, and have control of, the formation of a new company. It was a loophole in the Companies Act 2006 that a disqualified director was not prevented from owning a newly established company. It was a loophole ripe for exploitation, but we welcome clause 4.

I will say a few more words about clause 5. My right hon. Friend the Member for Barking made an intervention about it, and I hope that the Minister made a note to write back to her on the matter that she raised. Clause 5 will ensure that company directors, on application to the registrar, have verified their identity. We cannot disagree that that is vital; it is important to have it in the legislation to ensure the accuracy of the information on the register.

We welcome the measure, but it does not appear to be the strongest of safeguards, although any missing or false declaration rightly allows the registrar to reject the application to form a company. There are still many unanswered questions in this legislation, not least about the roll-out of the verification procedures and whether they will be of as high a standard as possible. The Minister referred to other secondary legislation that may be coming, but it is frankly extraordinary that we are debating this Bill in Committee without having further detail on verification processes and procedures. Will the Minister clarify how he would expect the registrar to be able to confirm the veracity of directors’ identities? For example, would there be an expectation to check against any other databases?

We also want greater clarity about the power of the Secretary of State, as has been highlighted, to set out exemptions to the director verification requirements on company formation. That has the potential to be a serious and worrying point of entry through the back door. The issue is really important: in the course of the Bill, we have seen a number of Henry VIII powers and Secretary of State’s powers to allow for these exemptions without accountability, necessarily, and without transparency.

I would be grateful if the Minister clarified, at this stage, when it is intended that such powers to exempt may be used; he may have scenarios and situations. We have talked about the importance of the Bill for tackling not just economic crime—in relation to money laundering and oligarchs buying yachts and homes and buying up our town centres—but national security.

As a Committee, we need to understand how we should expect these exemptions to be used, under what circumstances and with what safeguards. If we cannot have those scenarios to give us the confidence that it is important for the Secretary of State to have those exemptions, or clarity about some way the use of that power will be published—or maybe scrutiny through other mechanisms in the House, which could be on Privy Council terms—how can we expect the powers of the Secretary of State to be subject to accountability and scrutiny? If we cannot get that clarity, we have to ask why the provision is necessary. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

I have a few brief comments on clauses 6, 7 and 8. We support the new provision brought in by clause 6. We recognise that it is an important step for subscribers to introduce a statement to the memorandum of association that none of the proposed directors is disqualified or ineligible to be a director. That will force that question to be asked of directors as well, because they are legally responsible for running a company, with statutory responsibilities and duties that they must adhere to. Ensuring that that is delivered is part of the important step of prevention, which the Bill should be looking to fulfil.

My question to the Minister is: have the Government considered the case of a director with previous multiple disqualifications, perhaps all of which have been spent? Is there any interest in there being a box to tick to state that someone has been disqualified more than three times, say? Has that been considered? Have any conclusions been drawn about that?

Clause 7 introduces the same provisions as clause 6, but in relation to persons with initial significant control. Again, it is an important step, but similar questions might apply. Finally, clause 8 amends the Companies Act 2006 to allow company subscribers to make statements confirming that the future company’s people with significant control have verified their identities. We all agree on the importance of verifying identities for company directors, shareholders and people with significant control; that has been proposed by predecessors in the Department for at least the last three years, if not six.

The Labour party welcomes the introduction of the measure, but why has it taken so long? It is important to learn lessons and to be clear on the consequences of that wasted time. Perhaps in due course, as Companies House does its verification of existing companies, the Minister will report the number of bogus company incorporations made for fraudulent and criminal purposes—particularly in the last three years since identity verification was first suggested, but even prior to that, because maybe the mere suggestion caused a change in behaviour. As we look at cleaning up the Companies House database, it is important that we get some feedback on what the scale of abuse may have been and what we can learn to make sure that we are as tight as possible for the future. That may even test whether the legislation requires amendments in due course.

I want to reinforce the last point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Feltham and Heston. If we are going to equip the Minister with new powers, it is important that he tells the Committee, at this stage, how he intends to use them. The key question is: what is his deadline for ensuring that every single company on the register has fulfilled the obligations created by these clauses? Can he clarify what his risk tolerance for bad behaviour will be?

I ask the Minister that because I was forced to table parliamentary questions in October last year, which revealed—extraordinarily—that 11,000 companies on the Companies House register had still not disclosed their persons of significant control, even though it was a legal requirement at the time. That is a very big number, but despite that fact, only 119 convictions had been secured for wayward directors.

If we are going to give Companies House the new obligations and new duties that the Minister is taking through, but they are not going to be enforced, then frankly there is very little point in the Bill. If the Minister is not able to today, I hope that he will write to us later to confirm two things. First, will he confirm that his intention is for 100% of companies to meet their obligations under the Bill? Secondly, I think the whole Committee would welcome his setting out a timescale for seeing that target secured.

A number of points have been raised. The shadow Minister talks about the veracity of information and how we can become certain of it. As she knows, we are talking about a huge number of records—double-digit millions when adding up companies and directors. If we added shareholders, that would be many millions more.

The focus of this debate should be on who is controlling a company, be it a zero shareholding, small shareholding or larger shareholding. That is why traditional ID verification focuses on directors, who are obviously the officers of a company and control it, or a person of significant control—someone who sits behind that organisation. That is why we ask for those IDs to be verified. That can be done by Companies House or a corporate service provider. Some of those have a dubious reputation—I am sure that will be discussed in Committee—but let us see this for what it is: many of them are bona fide, reputable organisations such as Deloitte, EY and PwC. If someone has proven their identity to those organisations [Interruption.]—I am someone who can see his wrongdoing, but I do not see wrongdoing on every single corner. Most people working in commercial enterprise are decent, honourable people who seem to do the right thing. We should keep that in the context of this debate.

The duty is on a director of an organisation to make a statement to say that their identity has been verified. If that statement is false, criminal sanctions are attached. That is how this is regulated. It would make no sense for Companies House to revisit tens of millions of records to ensure that people at Ernst & Young and Deloitte have properly verified the identity of an individual. They are subject to those criminal sanctions.

On multiple disqualifications, I think the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston was talking about some kind of “three strikes and you’re out” system for a director. The Insolvency Service has the opportunity to ban a director for up to 15 years. It is fair to say that if someone had constantly not paid their tax or filed their accounts and had been banned, their days as a director would be just about done by the time they had got three penalties of 15 years.

The exemptions, as I said before, will be brought forward by affirmative regulations. The provision is intended for when there is no need or purpose to going through another round of ID checks, to avoid needless bureaucracy. We should all welcome that because, as anyone who has been at any organisation knows, bureaucracy equals cost for somebody—whether that be a cost on commercial enterprises or on the taxpayer. We have to be careful not to step too far unnecessarily.

That is an important point. The Minister is basically telling the Committee that he wants to ensure that the verification checks are proportionate, but across Government—in the Passport Office, the visa service and benefits agencies—there is a well-established infrastructure for verifying identities. If people are applying to become a director or a person of significant control, it is hard for many of us on the Committee to understand why the checks on their identity should be much lighter than those applying for other benefits from the state.

I do not understand why the right hon. Gentleman says that the checks are lighter. This is ID verification where the individual has to be identified against a form of ID such as a passport. It is a proper ID verification. That process will be brought forward so that the Committee can decide whether it is fit for purpose. It is absolutely right that we do that, but these are proper ID verification requirements.

The deadline for ID checking of existing directors is 28 days from the commencement of this legislation—[Interruption.] The right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill is not even listening, even though I am answering his question. Existing directors will need to be verified within 28 days. The deadline that he asked for is 28 days from the commencement of the legislation.

I thank the Minister for his comments. I think he has committed to write to me about nationality and country; he did make a note. Did he make a note? Did I get that right? It is a matter that my colleague will also be raising, but I think he said that he would write to me with the Government’s view on that matter. On the basis of that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 3 to 8 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 9

Names for criminal purposes

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

I do not think I did commit to write to the hon. Member for Feltham and Heston, but I am happy to do so if she would like. I am definitely committed to considering all the contributions to the debate.

The Companies Act 2006 contains a range of provisions, whose focus it is to mitigate potentially undesirable impacts arising from a company’s choice of name. For example, it is already unlawful to incorporate a company the name of which, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, constitutes an offence or is offensive. Clauses 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13 will place further controls and restrictions around the choosing of company names by making amendments to the Companies Act 2006.

Clause 9 will give the Secretary of State the ability to prevent the registration of a company name that, in his view, is intended to facilitate the commission of an offence involving dishonesty or deception, such as fraud. It is sadly all too common for Companies House to observe the opportunistic establishment of new companies, whose names, for example, appear to exploit natural disasters or humanitarian crises. At present, Companies House has no means of preventing the registration of company names capable of facilitating deception of this nature. This provision will provide that power.

Clause 10 builds on existing safeguards in the Companies Act 2006, which restrict the extent to which companies can adopt names that give the false impression of a connection with a UK public authority. At present, if a name was to suggest association with UK national or local government, the devolved Administrations or specified local authorities, the Act and associated regulations provide a framework within which consent needs to be sought. The clause supplements that framework by providing safeguards in the international sphere. However, rather than applying a system of consenting, the starting assumption will be to prohibit names that, in the opinion of the Secretary of State, give a misleading impression that the associated company is linked to a foreign Government or its agencies.

Such a prohibition will also apply to names that reference recognised international organisations—for example, NATO or the United Nations. Of course, there may be occasions where overseas Governments and international bodies quite legitimately wish to incorporate companies in the UK. The clause would not prevent those companies from having names that connect them with a Government or body where that connection is a true reflection of reality.

Clause 11 will give the Secretary of State the responsibility to reject the registration of names that comprise or contain what, in his opinion, constitutes computer code. Company names are a potential vehicle through which bad actors can infiltrate the systems of those who access or download them. Computer code embedded or incorporated within a company name has the potential to subvert and to exploit the networks of unwitting third parties. That is clearly something we would wish to guard against.

Clause 12 inserts a provision that effectively prevents a company from re-registering a name that has already been the subject of a direction. That change will prevent an administratively burdensome cycle of repeat name-change directions, which is clearly better avoided.

Clause 13 prevents directors and shareholders from carrying a name to another company when they have already been denied its usage, as a consequence of either a direction from the Secretary of State or an order made by a company names adjudicator. It does, however, recognise that there might be instances in which secondary use would be quite legitimate. Scope is therefore provided for the Secretary of State to approve a name, notwithstanding the general prohibition introduced by the clause.

We support clause 9. We recognise that it amends the Companies Act to give the Secretary of State the ability to prevent registration of a company if they think the name of that company is intended to facilitate dishonesty or deception. Companies House deals with up to 100 cases of corporate identity theft every month, and given that this form of fraud and others are starting to become more prevalent, it is right that there be these new powers to prevent registration, stemming—we hope—the flow of new fraudulent registrations. An incredible amount of distress arises from the impact of that dishonesty and deception.

Clause 10 inserts into the Companies Act a new section prohibiting company names falsely connected to foreign Governments and international organisations, and the Minister has spoken about why that section is important. It gives the Secretary of State the ability to prevent the registration of a company with a proposed name that, in the Secretary of State’s opinion, suggests a connection with a foreign Government, its offshoots or international bodies where none actually exists. As has been mentioned, that could be the UN or NATO, or any other body. Of course, we support the principle behind that measure, but in the interests of transparency about the use of that power, could the Minister clarify whether, when the Secretary of State is asked to make a judgment in such a situation, he expects that the judgment will be publicly shared—that, for example, Companies House might report on the uses of that power as part of its reporting?

I also want to clarify how the power will be used. When a company is formed that the Companies House registrar suspects is not actually connected with a foreign Government or other international body, but looks like it might be, will the registrar have a duty to flag such instances with the Secretary of State? That is important, because it comes back to the question of the proactiveness of the registrar’s duties, so it would be helpful to clarify it. What about the scenario where an attempt is made to register a company with a proposed name that, were it to be raised, would go through that process and very correctly be stopped by the Secretary of State, but it is not picked up by Companies House? If that situation arose for any reason—it could be new staff, or it could be the pressure of time because of insufficient resources; mistakes can be made in those circumstances—could a third party then apply for the name of that company to be changed? How would that work if it were an international organisation?

If uses of the power were reported by Companies House, would we be able to search and see that a number of people had sought to set up a company called United Nations Associates, or something like that? Would we be able to have a sense of how Companies House is perhaps being used in that way?

Should a company that has had its name changed by direction of the Secretary of State continue to seek to trade under that company name—perhaps in an overseas jurisdiction, if the name is falsely connected with foreign Governments—it would be helpful to clarify what measures could be taken, and by whom, to seek to put an end to that. There may be an obvious answer.

I want to highlight again to the Minister the issues in these clauses that Graham Barrow raised in the excellent evidence that he gave to the Committee last week. He said:

“The Bill does include the ability for Companies House to reject similar names, but if you have 3,000 companies a day—and that extends to companies across the world that may have similarities—I do not see how you are going to enforce that reasonably. There is just too much volume and too many potential comparative data points to compare them to.”

His suggestion was that the system needs to have

“a little bit of friction”.––[Official Report, Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Public Bill Committee, 27 October 2022; c. 109, Q204.]

Instead of Companies House turning around an application in less than 24 hours, a little bit of time should be taken to assess and analyse it.

The human element of this process is also important. Some of it may be possible to achieve with clever computer algorithms to sift out any companies whose names are too similar to existing ones, but there needs to be human judgment as well. This goes to the point of Companies House resourcing and staff being able to understand what they see in front of them. That will take expertise and long-term knowledge, not only of the company in front of them but of the existing companies on the register—and they are there in their millions.

I will address a point that has not really been raised before about clause 11 and names containing computer code. When these kinds of things come up, I reach for the expertise that I have pretty much at hand. I went to my husband and asked him about this, because it is his profession—he is a computer coder by trade—so I thank Mr Joe Wright for his assistance. I said, “Is this really a problem, and what does it actually mean?” My understanding is that the clause is to guard against SQL injection into the Companies House register, because anyone pulling that out of the register can have their systems corrupted by companies that register with computer code.

My husband directed me to a very useful article, which people should have a wee look at, by Neil Brown on that looks into this in some detail. A company has been registered using computer code. It was registered under the name ; DROP TABLE "COMPANIES";-- LTD, which has some computer code around it. Dr Michael Tandy registered that company name, but Companies House did not publish the name on its register; it said that the name was available on request. Can the Minister clarify whether the clause will deal with that specific case, or whether it is broader than that?

The article by Neil Brown raises some questions. What exactly would be prohibited? The Bill does not define computer code; it prohibits the use of names that

“in the opinion of the Secretary of State”

are computer code. I do not know whether the Minister knows his SQL from his JavaScript, but that seems like a big judgment and responsibility to put on Government Ministers. In its very essence, computer code is just an instruction to a computer, and that instruction can be in plain English text as well. Can the Minister tell us exactly how this will be assessed and what systems will be put in place at Companies House to define what computer code is, in practice? That, again, comes down to the human element—someone understanding exactly what is in front of them.

I urge the Minister to give a wee bit more clarity about what is code, what is not code and what exactly the clause is intended to catch. There are such companies on the Companies House register, and because code can be in text that we would understand—rather than a series of numbers, letters and symbols—it might be more difficult to enforce this. I would be grateful if the Minister could help us understand a wee bit better how the Secretary of State’s complete discretion to define what is and what is not computer code will be used in practice.

This question is really just for information. Can the Minister explain why the three categories were chosen for inclusion in the Bill? Why are we only looking at these? What was rejected, and why did these three come about? I cannot understand it. Is there a right to appeal if somebody chooses a name for a legitimate reason but it is misunderstood by Companies House? Who will take the decision? Is that something the Secretary of State will delegate to Companies House, or will it have to come up for ministerial approval every time?

A slight aside: some of us had dinner last night with Catherine Belton, and she talks convincingly about the way that companies linked to the Kremlin have individuals who do not reveal that link. The link to foreign Governments is more worrying than the idea of someone abusing the name of foreign Governments to set up, say, a travel agency to go to Russia. That sort of thing seems to me perfectly all right. The other side of this coin is what causes great concern. It can become a vehicle for money laundering and hiding a lot of the Kremlin’s money in banks abroad.

I echo the concerns raised by my right hon. Friend the Member for Barking. She has drawn out some important distinctions. One is where there has been duplicity in setting up a company with a particular name, and there may be good reason for wanting to challenge that. She has highlighted the safeguards, but she is right that we need clarity in relation to kleptocrats and real connections to foreign Governments, which the Bill is trying to stop.

I thank Joe Wright. The hon. Member for Glasgow Central is right, because technology and people who use it are getting more and more sophisticated. Embedded computer code can maliciously infect the systems of those who access or download data. I saw the very real impact of data getting on to servers when I recently visited a company in Liverpool for a roundtable. Their systems had gone down, but luckily they had safeguards to stop what had happened. How quickly viruses, spyware and other means of destruction can travel, and they pose such security risks for companies and countries. That is an important part of our security, so it would be helpful to have some further information on that.

We welcome clauses 12 and 13 as important provisions. Clause 12 ensures that companies cannot use names that are misleading or used to mask criminal purposes. Clause 13 provides a mechanism to ensure that where there is good reason for a direction to change company names, it is not bypassed by those who use the registrar for fraudulent purposes. What enforcement mechanisms would come into force in such situations?

On a point of correction, I said in answer to a question from the right hon. Member for Birmingham, Hodge Hill that existing directors and people with significant control had 28 days to verify their identity. That figure has not been set yet. It will be set in a commencement order, which I will find out more about. The 28 days applies to relevant legal entities.

I have only six minutes left, so if the right hon. Member wants to hear from me on all those points, he will have to keep it very short.

Could the Minister also clarify his target for compliance? I hope it is 100%, but if he could clarify that as well, I would be grateful.

I am grateful. Of course, my target will certainly be 100%; I cannot imagine why it would not be. The 28 days refers to the time that relevant legal entities will have to rectify their identity from receipt of the registrar’s direction.

To answer the hon. Member for Glasgow Central on computer code, there have been a small number of instances where Companies House systems have identified computer code. What constitutes that may change and evolve over time, so the drafting is future proof. Companies House already has a security capability that will develop and evolve over time. Where necessary, Companies House’s internal scrutiny functions will consult other experts.

The right hon. Member for Barking asked what had been rejected. No other categories were rejected in the course of policy development. I think that these categories were deemed important, but I do not know of any others that were considered. The right to appeal regarding the name change would be through a judicial review. Clearly, it is fair to say that Companies House will use its judgment.

To answer the right hon. Lady’s point on the Secretary of State’s functions, Companies House exercises those functions. There is a well-established administrative process by which Companies House makes the Department aware of potentially problematic names, so the Secretary of State can also exercise their judgment. On how we identify any of those names, of course, a lot of that is technology-based.

I am really sorry, but I just want clarification. Does that mean the decision is taken by both Companies House and the Secretary of State—or a Minister on their behalf?

As I understand it, Companies House makes the decision under delegated authority.

On trading styles or business names, which the shadow Minister mentioned, that is clearly not something that Companies House oversees directly, because it does not have a register of trading styles or business names. However, it does rely on third-party information to understand what a company may be trying to do regarding its trading style.

On the other problem—the other side of the coin, as the right hon. Member for Barking says—of money laundering and people supporting the Russian state, those matters are, of course, principally dealt with through money-laundering regulations or, indeed, sanctions regimes. People supporting the Russian regime, for example, should very often be subject to sanctions.

Question put and agreed to.  

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Clauses 10 to 13 ordered to stand part of the Bill.  

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned.—(Scott Mann)

Adjourned till this day at Two o’clock.

Financial Services and Markets Bill (Eighth sitting)

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Mr Virendra Sharma, Dame Maria Miller

† Bacon, Gareth (Orpington) (Con)

Bailey, Shaun (West Bromwich West) (Con)

† Baldwin, Harriett (West Worcestershire) (Con)

† Davies, Gareth (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)

† Docherty-Hughes, Martin (West Dunbartonshire) (SNP)

† Eagle, Dame Angela (Wallasey) (Lab)

Grant, Peter (Glenrothes) (SNP)

† Griffith, Andrew (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

† Hammond, Stephen (Wimbledon) (Con)

† Hardy, Emma (Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle) (Lab)

† Hart, Sally-Ann (Hastings and Rye) (Con)

† McDonagh, Siobhain (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)

† Mak, Alan (Havant) (Con)

† Morrissey, Joy (Beaconsfield) (Con)

† Siddiq, Tulip (Hampstead and Kilburn) (Lab)

† Tracey, Craig (North Warwickshire) (Con)

† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)

Bradley Albrow, Simon Armitage, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 1 November 2022


[Mr Virendra Sharma in the Chair]

Financial Services and Markets Bill

Clause 60

Bank of England levy

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Sharma.

Clauses 60 and 61 deliver on the Government’s commitment to replace the Bank of England’s cash ratio deposit scheme with a new Bank of England levy. Under the cash ratio deposit scheme, banks and building societies with over £600 million in eligible liabilities must place a portion of their deposits with the Bank on a non-interest-bearing basis. The Bank then invests the deposits, and the income generated is used to fund the costs of the Bank’s monetary policy and financial stability functions.

However, the Bank of England’s policy remit and policy responsibilities have grown in recent years, and the cash ratio deposit scheme has not generated the income required to fully fund those functions. As a result, the shortfall has been funded by the Bank’s capital and reserves. Clause 60 replaces the scheme with a new Bank of England levy, repeals the provisions governing the cash ratio deposit scheme in the Bank of England Act 1998, and inserts new section 6A and new schedule 2ZA into the Act.

As with the cash ratio deposit scheme, the new levy will fund the Bank’s financial stability and monetary policy activities. The same eligible financial institutions participating in the cash ratio deposit scheme will pay the levy, with contributions proportionate to their size. Each year, the Bank will be required to publish information setting out the policy functions that it intends to fund through the levy, and the amount that it intends to levy.

The Bank will remain subject to National Audit Office value-for-money reviews to ensure that it remains cost-effective. The levy will deliver a more reliable and stable funding stream to the Bank, and banks and building societies will benefit from greater certainty about the size of their annual contributions towards those functions. Secondary legislation will be introduced in due course to set out further details of the operationalisation of the levy, including how institutions’ contributions will be determined. The Treasury will consult on the draft legislation and has committed to review it every five years.

Clause 61 simply makes a number of consequential amendments to the Bank of England Act 1998 that are required to reflect the new levy. The levy will provide greater certainty to the Bank, as well as to financial institutions. I therefore recommend that clauses 60 and 61 stand part of the Bill.

The operation of the cash ratio deposit scheme referred to in clauses 60 and 61 is subject to changes in two variables—the gilt rate and the size of deposits eligible for the scheme—so I have two quick questions for the Minister. How did the recent crisis in the gilt market affect the Bank of England’s income under the scheme, and how has the recent crisis in the gilt market, and the subsequent actions taken by the Bank, informed Government thinking on clauses 60 and 61?

There is not a direct relationship between the recent turbulence in the gilt market and the Bank. The clauses will deliver a more reliable income stream to the Bank to fund its activities, because it will receive a levy rather than the income on the difference between interest-free deposits—the money that it gets from levy payers—and the returns that the Bank is able to harness from them.

The current scheme was set up in an environment of higher rates, when higher yields were obtainable. The recent experience over many years of much lower levels of return is the reason why the Bank has not been able to fully finance its activities simply from those interest-free deposits. I hope that answers the hon. Lady’s question.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 60 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 61 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 62

Liability of payment service providers for fraudulent transactions

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Clause 62 enables and requires the Payment Systems Regulator to take action to improve the reimbursement of victims of authorised push payment scams, or APP scams as they are commonly known. APP scams occur when someone is tricked into sending their money to a fraudster. Almost 200,000 cases of these scams were recorded in 2021, with known losses to victims totalling £583 million. Sadly, fraudsters often target the most vulnerable people in our society.

Under the European regulatory system that we have inherited, there is no statutory or regulatory requirement for payment service providers to reimburse victims of these scams. We need to do better and we can do better for victims of fraud in the UK.

Although the creation of a voluntary industry reimbursement code has improved matters, reimbursement outcomes for victims have been inconsistent and only around half the money stolen is being reimbursed. As a result, many victims are left facing significant losses; in the worst cases, victims lose their life savings.

We recognise these issues and so clause 62 does two things. First, it removes legal barriers in retained EU law that currently prevent regulatory action by the PSR. That will finally enable the PSR to mandate reimbursement in any payment system under its supervision.

The PSR has the relevant expertise, powers and objectives to tackle this crucial issue. However, regulation 90 of the Payment Service Regulations 2017, which form part of retained EU law, prevents the PSR from using its powers to require reimbursement. Therefore, clause 62(11) amends regulation 90 of the 2017 regulations to remove the existing legislative barrier to regulatory action. That will enable the PSR to use its relevant powers in relation to APP scam reimbursement across any payment system designated for regulation by the PSR.

Secondly, clause 62 places a specific duty on the PSR to take action in relation to the faster payments service. This service is the main UK instant payment system and is currently the payment system within which the highest volume of APP fraud is committed. Therefore, action is needed in this regard as a priority.

Clause 62 places a duty on the PSR to consult on a draft of the regulatory requirement in relation to the faster payments service within two months of this legislation coming into force, and the PSR must impose the requirement within six months of the clause coming into force. In 2021, 97% of APP scams occurred across the faster payments service, because it is the UK’s main payment system for instant consumer-bank transfers. Therefore, by requiring the PSR to take action in relation to the faster payments service, the legislation will improve outcomes in the vast majority of APP scam cases.

As a result of the clause and subsequent regulatory action, consumers will be more consistently and comprehensively protected when they fall victim to an APP scam. This is a vital measure to ensure that customers are protected amid the growing threat posed by APP fraud.

I therefore recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Labour fully supports clause 62, which enhances protection for victims of authorised push payment schemes, but we are deeply disappointed that the Bill does nothing to strengthen fraud prevention.

When asked about fraud in February, the former Chancellor, the right hon. Member for Spelthorne (Kwasi Kwarteng), claimed that fraud and scams are not something that

“people experience in their daily lives”,

which is tone-deaf. Essentially, he dismissed crime as inconsequential. In the real world, countless lives have been destroyed by fraud and scams, and I am sure the Minister will have examples from constituents in his inbox. There is a new Chancellor now, but the lack of ambition in this Bill on fraud shows that the Government’s approach to fraud remains the same. We will debate my new clause 6 on broader strategies for tackling fraud later, but I want to focus on the inadequacies of the provisions in clause 62.

UK Finance has estimated that the amount of money stolen directly from the bank accounts of hard-working families and businesses through fraud and scams has hit a record high of £1.3 billion. That is bad at the best of times, but it is even worse in the midst of a deepening cost of living crisis. That is because the Government have failed to get to grips with new types of fraud, such as identity theft and online scams, which have seen people’s life savings stolen and their economic security put at risk. I ask the Minister to explain why his Government continue to fail to take fraud seriously and continue to push responsibility on to just the banks. For example, the Bill ignores the fact that digitally savvy criminals are increasingly exploiting a range of financial institutions, such as payment system operators, electric money institutions and crypto asset firms, to scam the public.

In its written evidence to the Committee, Santander UK stated:

“Bringing crypto-exchanges into the scope of the Payment Systems Regulator’s powers to mandate reimbursement for APP fraud would be consistent with the principle of ‘same risk, same regulation’ and would introduce important new protections for consumers in area where risk of fraud is significant.”

I ask the Minister to explain why clause 62 completely ignores the emerging fraud and scam risk that EMIs and crypto asset firms pose to the public. What is his response to Santander’s evidence? Barclays similarly asked for clause 62 to be amended to expand the reimbursement protections beyond faster payments scheme payments to cover payments made over other relevant payment schemes or systems. Will the Minister explain why the Bill provides only for the reimbursement of fraud victims who send money using the faster payments system and why other payment systems have not been included in the scope of the Bill?

In reading the written evidence, there was an interesting cautionary tale from Mobile UK about how the banks introduced two-factor authentication through SMS without speaking to it. It found that fraudsters had worked out that they could get a one-time code by having a duplicate SIM card and intercepting the code sent from the bank, which immediately made me slightly worried about using two-factor authentication text message schemes. Mobile UK was able to find a way around that, but it highlights the need to involve as many stakeholders as possible when looking at fraud.

Mobile UK’s evidence was damning. Its conclusion stated:

“The mobile sector is committed to fighting fraud; the banking sector is clearly also committed, but, from the fraudsters point of view, this is a very low risk crime, as the chances of being pursued are very slim. This has to change.”

I recognise that some of these points are outside the scope of the Bill, as they would involve policing, investment and national crime agencies, but there are lots more things that could be done in the Bill to deal with fraud.

In its written evidence, Barclays said it welcomed that all payments made over FPS are covered by the new protection, but that it

“would note there are other relevant commonly used payment schemes and systems that should benefit from the same protection—for example, the CHAPs payment scheme, and ‘on us’ payments… The Bill should therefore be amended to give the PSR power to require participants in other payment schemes to reimburse scam victims.”

That seems to be incredibly sensible advice from Barclays.

It was echoed in the evidence given by Which?:

“to avoid gaps in protections the PSR should also be required to work with other regulators to introduce reimbursement requirements, including for payments made between accounts held with the same bank or payment provider (which are regulated by the FCA) and for the CHAPs payment system used for high-value transactions”.

That is exactly the same as what Barclays said.

There seems to be a lot of consensus among consumer representative groups such as Which? and in the banking sector about broadening out the provisions, looking at other ways in which fraudsters are working, and dealing with the issues raised by Mobile UK. At the moment, the people who are committing these frauds seem to be getting away with it.

I will be brief. We all join hands in taking any action that we can against fraudsters. It is a terrible crime, and one that is on the rise, and the Government will do everything in our power to take action.

I say to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn that I will take no lessons from the Opposition on fraud. The impediment to cracking down on this issue lies solely within EU law. It is this Government that have withdrawn from the European Union—a policy that her party now belatedly supports, but did not for many years. It is only by bringing forward this legislation and withdrawing from the European Union that we are able to put in place clause 62.

I will happily give way to my colleague, who I think, unlike the Opposition, still wants to be part of the European Union.

Definitely. Is the Minister therefore saying that the European Union was promoting fraud within the financial framework of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland? Is that what he just said?

I wish the hon. Gentleman was attentive to what I was saying. That was not what I said; I did not use the word “promote” in any way. I said it was an impediment. Clause 62 addresses the fact that under retained EU law, it is not possible to take the action that we wish to take on push payment fraud. That is a fact, and that is why we came forward with the Bill. There are many other things the Government are doing outwith the Bill to tackle fraud, and I will happily sit down and talk with anybody—and meet with any party—who has practical suggestions to tackle fraud.

The Minister is reasonably new to his post, but will he look at the Treasury Committee’s report on fraud, which contains a great deal of very practical things the Government could do to crack down on what is a growing problem? Everybody recognises that the anti-fraud authorities—the people who are trying to fight this—are very fragmented, there is no co-ordination across the piece and there is very little enforcement of the laws that are already there. That is why fraud is a growing problem—the rewards are so fantastic and the risks that fraudsters take are so miniscule that no fraudster is ever put off by the thought that they might get caught.

UK Finance found that fraud has hit a new high under this Government. Is the Minister going to blame the EU, once again, for that record high? Would he like me to send him the UK Finance report?

I am sorely tempted, but I will resist the urge to rise to that.

If my officials can find the report to which the hon. Member for Wallasey refers, I will look at it, and outwith the Bill, I will ensure that our efforts are equal to the task. I accept that fraud is rising, and in particular that this level of fraud is rising. That is facilitated by both online technology—there are other measures outwith the Bill to tackle and police the unregulated online world—and, as we heard earlier, the shift from cash, which suffered from its own forms of fraud and theft, into a more digital world.

Will the Minister refer to the specific examples that Barclays and Which? raised around CHAPS payment and other payments? If he is unable to give a full response today, I hope that he will consider before Report whether we could extend some of the provisions in the clause to cover the specifics that Barclays and Which? raised.

I can confirm to the Committee that, because the measure relates to all payment systems that fall within the remit of the Payment Systems Regulator, the measure is not confined solely to fast payment. Fast payment makes up about 97% of reported fraud—those are UK Finance figures—so of course it makes sense for it to be the first in our sights, but the clause will follow fraud and payment systems as they evolve. That is its whole purpose. It is not confined simply to the faster payment system. If that is the understanding that Barclays and Which? have, we should correct it, because any of the PSR-designated platforms are in scope.

The Bill provides for the reimbursement of fraud victims who send money using the faster payment system. Is the Minister saying that other payment systems are included in the scope of the Bill?

Yes. If that is not correct, I will write to members of the Committee, but my understanding is that all the measures that we have been talking about cover the scope of the Payment Systems Regulator.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 62 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 63

Credit unions

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss that schedule 14 be the Fourteenth schedule to the Bill.

The Government are a strong supporter of the mutuals sector, and recognise the unique role that credit unions play in their communities. Clause 63 introduces schedule 14, which makes amendments to the Credit Unions Act 1979—a particularly good year—to allow credit unions in Great Britain to offer a wider range of products and services, thereby supporting the growth, diversification and development of the sector.

The Credit Unions Act 1979 sets out the regulatory framework for credit unions and specifies the products and services that they can provide. Schedule 14 adds proposed new subsection (3ZZA) to section 1 of the Act, introducing a new optional object, or objective, for credit unions, which specifies additional products and services that they may now choose to offer. The services included are hire purchase agreements, conditional sale agreements, and insurance distribution services. When the Association of British Credit Unions Ltd consulted the sector in 2019, those were the additional products and services that credit unions wanted to be able to offer their members. In order to offer those additional products and services, credit unions must obtain permission from the Prudential Regulation Authority or the Financial Conduct Authority in the same way as other providers, and of course secure approval from their members.

Schedule 14 also grants the Treasury a power to add further products or services to the new object via a statutory instrument. That will ensure that the Government can continue to support credit unions in Great Britain to expand into other areas. The schedule also adds proposed new section 11E to the 1979 Act, which makes provision in relation to those new products and services. It caps the interest that a credit union can charge on hire purchase agreements and conditional sale agreements at 3% per month. That cap already applies to loans offered by credit unions.

The schedule gives the Government the power to amend the cap in the future via secondary legislation. The Government already have that power in relation to other credit union products and services. It allows the cap to keep pace with changes in the economic environment and allows credit unions to offer hire purchase agreements, or conditional sale agreements, to corporate members, subject to member agreement. The aggregate outstanding balance that can be owed to corporate members is capped at 10% of a credit union’s total aggregate balance under those agreements.

The Bill also makes provision for a credit union’s ability to lend to and borrow from other credit unions. Section 11 of the 1979 Act will be amended to clarify that credit unions may offer loans to other credit unions, regardless of whether they have a membership link. That will further support the growth, diversification and development of the sector.

The Bill introduces a requirement for credit unions to submit annual returns to the FCA, and to be subject to the “year of account” provisions in the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. Those amendments will ensure greater regulatory oversight and support good corporate governance practices. Together, clause 63 and schedule 14 will support the credit union sector to grow sustainably for years to come, and help them to expand their reach as providers of affordable credit. I therefore recommend that clause 63 and schedule 14 stand part of the Bill.

Clause 63 contains some welcome and long-overdue provisions, such as enabling credit unions to offer a wide range of products. However, I do not think the Bill does much to address the outdated regulatory regime facing credit unions as a whole. We will discuss Labour’s proposals to address that, and the barriers facing the wider co-operative and mutual financial services sector, when we debate new clauses 7 and 8.

However, for now, I will push the Minister on some of the areas where the Building Societies Association—and others—has called for bolder action in its written submission to the Committee. First, why do clause 63 and schedule 12 not relax the same-household requirements for family members? Secondly, why does the Bill fail to restrict access to the register of members, in line with best practice for the protection of members’ personal data?

I agree with the official Opposition on clause 63. I must say, we have talked about 1979, but I would mention 1977, when the Dalmuir Credit Union was opened, and I was number 501 with a membership card, around the age of six, on the church hall stage.

I am very aware of the good works that credit unions such as Dalmuir, Dumbarton and Vale of Leven do in my constituency, and, I am sure, across other Members’ constituencies, but I share the concerns expressed by the official Opposition about the existing infrastructure. I hope that the Minister can say something to alleviate concerns about that existing framework—not only for credit unions but for other local banks, which have been diminished over the past couple of years—and about how the legislation helps to grow this sector of mutual financial support in local communities. We know our banks and post offices are closing, but the credit unions, especially, can be a good cause on which we can all agree.

I thank the hon. Members for West Dunbartonshire and for Hampstead and Kilburn for raising those points. I look forward to hearing the debates about the new clauses that have been tabled.

The Government are on the side of credit unions. We would like to see the mutual and co-operative movement flourish. We need more diversity, affordable options and access to credit. The Government introduced this clause with the absolute intention of helping to expand the range and create more economic opportunities for those bodies. If we have, in some way, fallen short of what could be achieved, I look forward to hearing more about that. I cannot comment on the specific point made by the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn about sharing households and data, so perhaps she would allow me the courtesy of writing to her afterwards if I can find out anything about those points.

This Bill is part of a wider set of measures. On Friday, we discussed on the Floor of the House a Bill to help to prevent the demutualisation that has reduced the number of mutuals in recent years. I was pleased to give Government support to that Bill. There is an ongoing conversation with the Law Commission on the options to review the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 and the Friendly Societies Act 1992. There is a very good case for looking at modernising the legislation in this sector.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 63 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 14 agreed to.

Clause 64

Reinsurance for acts of terrorism

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

This clause is targeted to support the effective management and oversight of money on the public accounts. It confers on the Treasury a power to issue a direction in order to oblige public sector bodies extended a guarantee under the Reinsurance (Acts of Terrorism) Act 1993 to comply with the necessary controls so that money on the public accounts is managed appropriately.

The power will be a safeguard to ensure that public sector bodies within scope comply with the requirements expected of a public sector body, in line with Government policy and the expectations of Parliament. The clause also confers a specific power to direct such bodies to appoint an accounting officer.

Ultimately, ensuring compliance with these requirements will provide value for money, probity, regularity and propriety in the public sector bodies within scope. The ability to issue a direction is a backstop power that will only be used if the relevant body does not comply with the requirements expected of a public sector body.

The new power is similar to powers the Treasury already has to issue directions to central Government Departments in relation to their estimates and accounts. For transparency and accountability, the clause also requires the Treasury to publish and lay any given direction before Parliament.

As well as my campaign for financial inclusion, I am sure Members will have heard me talk about flooding. I have not tabled an amendment to the clause, but I might be minded to in order to have a further conversation in future.

The clause addresses reinsurance for acts of terrorism. Has the Minister explored looking at reinsurance for acts of flooding? We have the Flood Re scheme, as I am sure he is aware, but that only applied up to 2007 and properties built after that are not included, nor does it apply to businesses. With this welcome move to consider reinsurance for acts of terrorism, has the Minister thought about other aspects, specifically flooding?

We welcome clause 64. I support the principle of the Treasury guaranteeing support for reinsurance in the event of a terrorist attack, but how will the provisions in the clause ensure that the taxpayer is adequately protected from such risks? How will the Treasury hold any public sector body to account regarding the requirements in the clause? Will the Minister provide some detail on the role of the accounting officer, in terms of ensuring that public sector bodies have sufficient oversight of the requirements of the clause?

On the point about flooding, that is simply outwith the scope of the Bill. The Flood Re scheme is the responsibility of the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and it is not something that falls under this Bill or the Acts I have mentioned.

The role of the accounting officer is the same as colloquially accepted in any public body—the person responsible for maintaining financial records and owning that liability. The governance remains with the board of directors of the relevant body and the duty to the taxpayer is exactly the same as it would be. The clause effectively gives step-in rights or the power to direct in particular circumstances. It does not alter where the core cost and liability start and should remain.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 64 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 65

Banking Act 2009: miscellaneous amendments

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Clause 66 stand part.

Government amendments 5 to 7.

Clauses 67 to 69 stand part.

Government amendment 8.

Clauses 70 and 71 stand part.

Government amendment 23.

Clauses 72 and 73 stand part.

Government new clause 13—Chair of the Payment Systems Regulator as member of FCA Board.

First, I shall speak to new clause 13 and Government amendment 23, which appear in my name, before speaking to clauses 65 to 73 and Government amendments 5 to 8, which also appear in my name.

New clause 13 adds the chair of the Payment Systems Regulator to the board of the FCA. Since the PSR was established in 2014, the roles of the PSR chair and the FCA chair were performed by the same person. As a result, the PSR chair has always been on the FCA board. However, the FCA chair and the PSR chair roles will now be performed by separate individuals, following the appointment of Ashley Alder as the FCA chair in July 2022. The composition of the FCA board is set out in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, and the new clause adds the PSR chair to the FCA board. This will help continued effective co-operation between the FCA and the PSR. Government amendment 23 provides for those changes to come into effect two months after Royal Assent.

Clause 65 makes five minor but necessary technical amendments to the Banking Act 2009, to ensure that it continues to function as intended. Clause 66 sets out a small number of definitions to ensure that the provisions of the Bill are interpreted correctly.

Turning to clause 67, the Bill makes a number of changes to the matters that the regulators must consider when they consult on rules. In particular, the Bill introduces a new growth and international competitiveness objective and a new regulatory principle to consider the Government’s net zero target. The clause allows the regulators to fulfil their obligations to consider such matters in consultations that are published before the Bill receives Royal Assent. That means that the regulators can begin acting to meet all their new consultation obligations in this Bill as soon as they are ready to do so, avoiding any unnecessary delays to important regulatory reforms.

Government amendments 5, 6 and 7, which appear in my name, widen the effect of clause 67 to include any obligation to consult introduced by the Bill. That includes, for example, the obligation for the FCA and the PRA to consult their cost-benefit analysis panels.

Clause 68 provides for any expenditure incurred under the Bill to be paid out of money provided by Parliament in the usual way. Clause 69 empowers the Treasury to make consequential changes to other legislation, to ensure that the provisions in this Bill function effectively where they interact with existing legislation. The Treasury will be required to use the affirmative procedure to make consequential provisions that amend, repeal or revoke any provision of primary legislation. That will ensure that there is appropriate parliamentary scrutiny of the exercise of this power.

Clause 70 provides for powers delegated by the Bill to be exercised by statutory instrument. The clause also allows the Treasury to make regulations under this Bill that include ambulatory references to rules and other instruments. Government amendment 8 makes a technical change to clause 70 to ensure that the power to restate and modify saved legislation can rely on the power to make ambulatory references provided for by the clause.

Clauses 71 to 73 are technical in nature. Respectively, they set out the territorial extent of the Bill, when provisions in the Bill will come into force, and the short title of the Bill. I therefore recommend that clauses 65 to 73 stand part of the Bill, and commend Government amendments 5, 6, 7, 8 and 23 and new clause 13 to the Committee.