Committee (3rd Day) (Continued)
101A: Clause 5, page 15, line 32, at end insert—
“(c) does not harm the competitive position of the United Kingdom in the markets for the provision of domestic and international financial services.”
My Lords, I am extremely happy with the domestic competitive objective of the FCA, where it is straightforward that a healthy competitive market is clearly in the interests of consumers. My amendment relates to international competitiveness. I well appreciate that the Treasury is sensitive to that being linked to the concept of easy and relaxed regulation which is being partly blamed for the problems that have occurred. This is why my amendment is in a negative form, reading “does not harm” competition rather than “actively promotes international competitiveness”.
In the context of this Bill the FCA is perceived primarily as looking after the interests of consumers, but it continues from the FSA to regulate in a wide range of territories. The balance sheets of life insurance companies and overall banking supervision go to the Bank of England. Left with the FCA is the investment management industry, retail and institutional. I should declare my interests, as in the register, in a number of investment management companies. What makes that industry stay and succeed in the UK is a mixture of a competitive tax regime, good regulation and a good supply of able people. I cast my mind back 30 years. On a largely fiscal issue I pleaded with the Treasury to enable the UK to compete with Luxembourg, but this did not happen for 20 years and more. As a result a huge investment management industry grew up in Luxembourg which London could easily have had. For institutional business in the various areas which the FCA regulates, it is important that it is at least mindful not to create situations that make the UK less competitive than it need be. There is a warning for the investment management industry that partly for fiscal reasons there has been an exodus from the UK over the past year or so by about 30% of the hedge fund industry and of other more straightforward investment management operations.
This is a practical matter. There is nothing to be ashamed of in having a requirement that what the FCA does should not harm the competitive position of the UK in the world at large. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have two Amendments in this group, Amendment 104, which is in my name, and Amendment 139A, which stands in my name and in the names of the noble Lord, Lord McFall of Alcluith, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Cohen and Lady Kramer. Therefore, Amendment 139A has a pretty solid set of supporters. I shall come to that amendment in due course.
In different ways, both these amendments and the others in this group address the position of the UK’s financial services sector. This is a difficult time to be defending the financial services sector in the UK because it is far easier to be in attack mode, as we have seen in both Houses of Parliament and in the media. I thought long and hard about whether it would be appropriate to speak to these amendments at this time, but whatever the current difficulties, which are huge for the banking sector and individual institutions within it—I remind the Committee that I am a director of the Royal Bank of Scotland—we need to be dispassionate about this legislation. We cannot solve all the problems of the sector in this Bill and, thankfully, another Bill will be coming along soon if we need to respond in legislative terms to the latest issues. However, this Bill could, inadvertently or otherwise, damage the broader financial services sector, which is and has been a major contributor to the UK economy. We have a duty to ensure that when this Bill leaves your Lordships’ House we have taken a balanced view of the risks and threats to the UK and have responded in a measured way.
I will start with Amendment 104A. It is very similar to Amendment 101A which my noble friend Lord Flight has already moved. My noble friend’s amendment places lack of harm to the competitiveness of the UK’s financial services sector as a general duty in new Section 1B. My Amendment 104A adds to subsection (5) of new Section 1B a “have regard” item in respect of the international competitiveness of the financial services sector. My amendment merely reinstates the law as it currently applies to the FSA and makes the FCA have regard to the desirability of maintaining the international competitiveness of the UK.
My concern has been that the loss of the FSA’s specific duty to have regard to international competitiveness may be taken as a green light to have no regard whatever to the issue. That would be a mistake for the UK. I do not need to remind noble Lords of the size of the financial services sector. It amounts to very much more than the global banks and it is important for employment, tax revenues and its contribution to GDP.
At Second Reading my noble friend said that the Government’s view was that having high standards of regulation was all that was necessary to establish,
“the attractiveness and competitiveness of London”.—[Official Report, 11/6/12; col. 1262.]
I hope that he meant more than London because the financial services sector is important to many parts of the UK and is not confined to London. More importantly, high standards of regulation can never be enough on their own. We can have the highest possible standards, but they could be operated in such a way that they actually drive business away. There is a very real danger that in response to the financial crisis and more recent revelations the regulatory pendulum will swing to a place which, to use the phrase of my right honourable friend the Chancellor, achieves the “stability of the graveyard”. If there is no reference in this legislation to the wider context of the financial services sector, there is a very big risk that it will be ignored entirely, and that is a risk which I suggest that we ought not to take with this legislation.
I should say that I tabled Amendment 104A in respect of the FCA but did not table a similar amendment in respect of the PRA. At that point, my primary focus was on the fact that the FCA’s objectives are very consumer-focused. That is clear from the Bill and is also clear from what Mr Wheatley, the chief executive designate, has said in public. However, the FCA has a very broad scope in wholesale financial markets, including the recognised exchanges, where issues go way beyond consumer protection in a narrow sense. Wholesale markets are important, both internationally and as part of the infrastructure which supports the financing of British business. There may be other ways of ensuring that the FCA does not forget the wider picture, but my amendment is just one way of achieving it.
I should probably have tabled a similar amendment in respect of the PRA. The two bodies have different functions but they both have the capacity to do harm or good to our financial services sector. I am therefore supportive of Amendment 129 tabled by my noble friend Lord Flight.
Both the PRA and the FCA should have something about the success of the financial services sector hardwired into their framework, so I have also tabled Amendment 139A, which was suggested by the London Stock Exchange. Amendment 139A is slightly different. It amends the regulatory principles, which will apply to both the FCA and the PRA through new Section 3B of FiSMA. Under subsection (1)(b) of new Section 3B, the regulatory principles include the principle of proportionality—that is, that burdens should be proportionate to costs. I am sure that we will look at this in more detail later in our Committee, but for present purposes my amendment states that in considering benefits and burdens, the regulators should consider,
“the capacity of the financial sector to contribute to the growth of the United Kingdom economy in the medium or long term”.
The point is that regulators need to think about the impacts of their regulatory actions in the broader context of the financial services sector and its impact on the UK economy. There could be direct impacts, as in the direct contribution of the sector to GDP or employment; or there could be indirect impacts; for example, through the ability of the financial services sector to support the real economy.
I am not wedded to the precise formulation of this amendment, or indeed the other amendment in my name, but I would simply note that it is drawn from wording that applies to the way in which the FPC is required to go about its business as set out in new Section 9C(4) under Clause 2 of the Bill.
When my noble friend the Minister wrote to noble Lords after Second Reading on the issue of proportionality, he urged us to examine the FSA’s compatibility statements, which are used to evaluate proportionality. My noble friend misses the point, which is that the FSA currently has the “have regard” obligation in respect of international competitiveness and so of course it includes the financial sector’s position in the compatibility statements. If we take the “have regard” out of the legislation or indeed any other similar reference to the wider context, it will follow, as night follows day, that such issues will drop out of the compatibility statements. We cannot assume that these issues will remain anywhere in the minds of the regulators.
The substance of these amendments is crucially important and much more important than the exact form of the amendments in this group. I hope that my noble friend will give them serious consideration.
I support Amendment 139A, also tabled in my name, along with the noble Baronesses, Lady Noakes and Lady Kramer, and my noble friend Lord McFall, who is not in his usual place. I remind the House that I am a director of the London Stock Exchange. The words are carefully chosen, and I would not disagree radically with the other amendments proposed. I believe that we are all seeking a regulatory regime, which, while preserving stability, leaves room for one of our most successful industries to grow and prosper. It can only do that if regulators are able, as the amendment suggests, to include consideration of the capacity of the financial sector to contribute to the growth of the United Kingdom’s economy in the medium or long term. It remains vital—even in hard times like this, when much of our financial services industry is under criticism —not to forget the long term and not to handicap the regulator, enabling the industry to grow as it should while retaining stability.
My Lords, I was delighted to add my name to Amendment 139A. The excellent speeches which precede me really laid out the case, so I have just a couple of comments. Although the financial services industry is currently the target of very much justified anger, I hope that this legislation sets a regulator in place which will last more than a decade. I think that the previous legislation lasted pretty much for 12 years. We have to take the long-term view and make sure that it is fit for purpose for the long term and when the period of correction within the industry has passed.
It also seems that the language is carefully crafted in such a way that it did not in any way encourage the regulator to look at this as an opportunity to take more risk but as an opportunity to make sure that there was healthy and sustainable growth within the financial services sector. Perhaps I may give a simple example: in a few later amendments we will look at social investment, which is one of the new fields that are beginning to gather some momentum. That is an aspect of the financial services industry which has initially gone to Luxembourg.
The City now is expressing serious interest in the opportunities. Many institutions in the UK could use those kinds of instruments. But the regulator has not been aware of the differences between that sector and other sectors and, therefore, the sensitivity of regulation necessary to support the growth in a new area. I think most people would agree that we are not talking about unethical behaviour or the kind of risk that might be involved in some aspects of the more casino side of investment banking.
There are many areas where there is huge potential going forward. It will be absolutely essential that the regulator takes that on board and is a supporter of the healthy and sustainable growth of this industry, both to support the real economy and the many direct jobs involved with the sector.
My Lords, I support Amendment 101A in the name of my noble friend Lord Flight about the importance of maintaining the competitive position and that that needs to be uppermost in our minds. But I am also attracted by Amendment 139A which has drawn in the regulatory principles that are to be followed by both regulators. It seems to me that here we will be starting to set the culture. It is the culture of the regulator that will have such an important impact on the way our financial services develop and the way the people who work in them behave. As my noble friend Lady Noakes said, it is important not just to see this through the prism of City eyes but to realise that there are a wide range of financial services in Edinburgh and the provinces of this country which require the appropriate regulatory framework.
Competition, by its nature, introduces novelty—novelty being something that the regulators tend to fear. It carries risk, but of course what is old and familiar is much easier to deal with. In a way, that is liked. But, particularly when established firms tend to draw attention to the risks of novelty, the regulator tends to back down. I am not suggesting that we should not take risks. We need to be risk aware but we must not be risk averse. There is a danger that in the pendulum within the Financial Services Authority and, no doubt, driven by the criticism that it has faced, we have gone to the end of the risk-averse scale. There is a great deal we still need to do in this Bill to provide the right framework and culture. I shall look forward to returning to this in amendments to which we will come shortly. For the time being, I am delighted to support my noble friends’ two amendments.
My Lords, this side of the House has already acknowledged the role of competition in serving the consumer. Indeed, we could do with rather more of it in the retail banking sector. A rather more creative vision of competition could address some of our concerns in that regard. For example, Age UK has suggested shared branches which offer a perfectly competitive environment, ease of comparison, and switching from one customer to another within the same location. We are wholly in favour of a competitive environment for the benefit of consumers.
That being so, I obviously support most of the amendments in this group. However, I ask the noble Lord, Lord Flight, why the first amendment is needed, given that it seems to put competition as a brake on the FCA. I worry what the driver is behind this. I hope it is not to protect bankers’ bonuses, given there are still some in the City who seem to believe that high wages and bonuses are a vital aspect of what makes the UK competitive in this sector. I would instead call on the coalition programme, which says the Government will bring forward detailed proposals for robust action to tackle unacceptable bonuses in the financial services sector. Amen to that, although I am rather sad that—I think it is today—the Chancellor of the Exchequer is in Brussels voting against such an amendment.
Or is the amendment drafted because there is a feeling that regulation is too burdensome? I hope it is not for that reason, but the Prime Minister has form in this regard. In 2008, he said he thought that the problem of the past decade was too much regulation. The current Chancellor also said, in 2006, that financial regulation was,
“burdensome, complex and makes cross-border market penetration more difficult … and it threatens the global competitiveness of the City of London”.
I hope that the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer are now grown up enough to accept that it was too little rather than too much regulation from which we suffered.
I hope it is not—maybe we can get some assurance on this—the idea that international competitiveness should trump consumer protection. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, was much more concerned about the wholesale market. I think she will also understand the concern of consumers that this might trump the consumer protection aspects. Although we very much want this to be an internationally competitive industry, we do not want it at any price. We do not want a race to the bottom for moving wherever regulation is cheapest or less obvious.
In respect of Amendment 104A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, I know that Martin Wheatley, the CEO designate of the FCA, is very unkeen to have this duty. He does not think that in its intervention it is the function of a regulator to have to have regard to that as well as to consumer protection, and is concerned that it would create a set of conflicts. He said that,
“to have a specific UK competitiveness competition point can only lead to compromises in regulation”.
Perhaps the Minister can indicate whether the Government have the same concerns. Perhaps the “no regard” comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, is a better way of describing this, rather than making it trump some of the other aspects. I imagine the Minister will say something similar, because I know the Government, in responding to the Treasury Select Committee on this issue, while recognising the importance of a competitive sector, do not feel that these words would add much to the Bill.
Amendment 129 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Flight, is rather easier. It requires the PRA to consider the desirability of promoting the UK’s competitive position within financial services. We have no argument with that. London First I know is particularly supportive of this, stressing also the stability of regulation in financial services, which means no more change after this.
Amendment 110 in the name of my noble friend Lord McFall refines the FCA’s objective so that the integrity of the UK’s financial system includes the confidence that it generates within the UK, as well as in foreign financial markets. This would encompass consumer confidence, which would clearly be vital in rebuilding trust in savings and investment, so we are happy to support this amendment.
Finally, Amendment 139A in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and my noble friends Lord McFall and Lady Cohen of Pimlico provides that the objectives of both the PRA and the FCA should include consideration of the capacity of the sector to contribute to the UK’s economic growth, also supported by the CBI. As the coalition programme said:
“We want the banking system to serve business, not the other way round. We will bring forward detailed proposals to … create a more competitive banking industry”.
I am pleased to say that this is one element of the coalition programme that, again, we are very happy to endorse. Given that, sadly, growth continues to flatline under this Government, if ever there was a time to ensure that these new and powerful institutions focused on job creation, this surely is it, and we happily support that.
My Lords, this group of amendments seeks to ensure that the FCA and the PRA consider the impact that their actions could have on the competitiveness of the UK financial services sector or on the growth of the wider economy. We clearly all recognise the importance of a thriving financial services sector to the wider UK economy. Equally, we all agree that the financial services sector needs an appropriate level of regulation, and I recognise that this is a difficult balance to achieve. I hope we would all agree that in the run-up to the financial crisis this balance was wrong.
In resolving the balance, I listened very carefully to the concerns raised at Second Reading and I have also carefully considered the representations from the industry, including from the London Stock Exchange. I am going to explain why I feel that these amendments go too far, but I want to make it clear to the Committee that we are looking at alternative options to address noble Lords’ concerns that excessive regulatory action may unduly impact on the ability of the financial services sector to contribute towards the prosperity of the wider economy, and we will conclude on this ahead of Report. I see one puzzled face. I always try to be helpful to the Committee, and we brought forward some major concessions on each of the first two days. This is a very difficult area. I cannot accommodate all the concerns but I say up front that we want to see what we can do on this ahead of Report.
As these are important amendments, I shall try to do justice to them by talking through each of them relatively briefly. First, Amendment 104A, in the name of my noble friend Lady Noakes, would require the FCA to have regard to the same competitiveness principle as the FSA is currently required to do. The FSA’s report into the failure of the Royal Bank of Scotland made it clear that this competitiveness principle severely impacted on its ability appropriately to regulate the financial services sector. I have said this before but I hope that the Committee will understand why we cannot similarly constrain the FCA, and for this principal reason I am unable to accept this amendment.
Amendment 101A, tabled by my noble friend Lord Flight, would go further by requiring the FCA to carry out its general functions in a way that did not harm the competitive position of the UK financial services markets. As identified by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, this would operate as a brake on the FCA’s actions—along similar lines to the economic growth brake on the FPC, which we have already discussed. It would prevent the FCA from taking any action if that action could be seen as damaging to the UK’s competitiveness. I have already raised the negative impact of the FSA’s competitiveness “have regard”, so it would be impossible to accept an amendment that went even further in preventing the FCA from taking regulatory action to protect consumers, enhance competition and ensure integrity.
Amendment 129 seeks to impose a similar statutory duty on the PRA: to have regard to the consequences of its actions on the competitive position of the UK financial services industry and to promote this competitive position. I appreciate that there are some concerns that the PRA will prioritise financial stability above everything else. However, I believe that this amendment, as it stands, is based on a mistaken concept of the role of a prudential regulator, which does need to be focused on the safety and soundness of the firms it regulates. Although I understand the concerns that underlie the amendment, I cannot accept it. At Second Reading, I emphasised the importance of the proportionality principle, to which both the FCA and the PRA must “have regard”. The principle states that:
“a burden or restriction imposed on a person or activity should be proportionate to the benefits which are expected to result”.
This will act to stop the FCA and PRA from imposing disproportionate and inappropriate burdens on firms and also, in so doing, help to ensure that the UK remains a competitive centre for financial services.
On this question of competition and the right battles to fight, I will just say that I do not for one moment accept the construction offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, on our opposition to the European Parliament’s proposal that bonuses should be limited to one times salary. They would potentially harm the UK’s competitive position, but that is not the principal reason for us opposing it and I am surprised the noble Baroness takes the line she does. I thought we were all working to achieve a position in which risk and reward are much better aligned than they were in the past, and that is entirely consistent with the coalition agreement that the noble Baroness quotes at me. It would be absurd to go back to a position in which the fixed element of compensation was very considerably driven up by such a proposal and in which the risk/reward ratio, which we want to get right, was limited in the way that the European Parliament proposes. If a much higher proportion of bankers’ remuneration was on a fixed basis than it has ever been in living memory, it would work absolutely counter to the financial stability and market integrity priorities that I believe we all share. I would like to correct the noble Baroness on that point.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Turner, and other noble Lords have made the point about how often this particular definition of risk and reward did not align with the interests of consumers, or, indeed, often with employing organisations. There is nothing wrong with rewarding risk, but when that is not aligned to other people’s interests, that is to the detriment.
I completely agree, which is why we only very recently brought forward proposals including mandatory shareholder votes on board pay. There is, and will continue to be, a big agenda here on which this Government have been working very actively but which the European Parliament proposal would, I suggest, work against. That is why we are fighting hard in Europe, as we do on all matters, to get a result that is more desirable for the health of our industry.
I will just say a few words about Amendment 139A, which is another very important one. It would require both the PRA and FCA to consider the impact on the financial sector’s ability to contribute to the UK economy in the medium or long term, having regard to the principle of proportionality. The PRA and FCA must consider whether their actions are proportionate. That will act as a check on the FCA acting in a way that is excessively burdensome, which would prevent a subsequent negative impact on economic growth if there was not a greater benefit from taking the action. Similarly, if the PRA is being proportionate, it would be difficult to envisage a situation where the firms that it supervises could be required to be too safe or too sound.
I have listened to the valid points made by my noble friends Lady Noakes and Lady Kramer, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cohen of Pimlico, and I understand their concerns. It is essential that the UK financial services sector is not excessively constrained in its ability to contribute to economic growth. As I said at the beginning, in advance of Report, I will consider whether a more explicit consideration of the wider economic impact of the actions of the regulators should be included in the Bill. I should stress that in making changes there must be nothing that would seriously encroach on the regulators’ ability to take the action that may be necessary in furtherance of their objectives. Particularly in the light of that assurance I ask my noble friend to withdraw his amendment.
For the sake of clarity I thought the point that I was making regarding the FCA was that domestic competition is what matters for the consumer. The international institutional aspects which the FCA regulates are quite substantial.
The area that has been the real problem in the PRA and which has brought disgrace on the UK has been the banking sector, which has been largely the result of a cartel. That cartel was the result of regulation. Following Barings, it was made clear that the lender of last resort facilities were available only for banks judged otherwise too big to fail. Lots of lesser banks, such as Hambros, found that they were uncompetitive, so they closed and went away. We were left with a cartel, and when you have a cartel bad things always happen. In terms of the PRA’s ability to regulate and oversee the banking system satisfactorily, it is blindingly obvious that the UK needs a great deal more competition. It is not the sole cure of everything but it is very necessary.
The Government have taken the point and there is no point in putting the amendment to a vote. I hope that they will take note particularly of the need for greater competition in the banking industry as part of the vehicle by which the PRA can regulate better. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 101A withdrawn.
Amendments 101B to 101D not moved.
102: Clause 5, page 16, line 3, at end insert—
“(d) the deprived communities objective (see section 1F).”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 102, I shall speak to Amendments 118AA and 121. They are aimed at addressing three financial problems in our deprived communities. The problems are significant and so is the size of our deprived communities. The last indices of deprivation report published by the Government notes that more than 5 million people in England lived in the most deprived areas in 2008; 56% of local authorities contained at least one area among the most deprived; and 88% of the most deprived areas in 2008 were also among those most deprived in 2007.
The first problem that the amendment seeks to address is that many individuals in these communities face very great difficulty with financial services. In August 2010 a report to the Treasury called Realising Banking Inclusion: The Achievements and Challenges summarised the situation. The report concluded:
“Efforts on banking inclusion have moved 1.1 million into banking but the benefits appear to be unevenly distributed and barriers to banking remain”.
The report found that penalty charges had been a harsh reality of the banking experience for many. Around half of the newly banked had been hit by penalty fees and individuals who incurred these charges tended to be charged multiple times, averaging nearly six times per year each. Although there had been savings gains for some, the tendency to cash management and the impact of penalty charges had undermined overall gains. Worse, there had been a significant increase in debt among the newly banked, resulting in an overall increase in spending on debt servicing. Perhaps not surprisingly, in view of all this, there has been a relatively high degree of account failure. Net account failures are close to one in five. The report concluded that there is a case to be made that a penalty charge system constitutes an effective market failure in the provision of banking services to those on low incomes. This market failure is the first problem which the amendments seek to address.
The second financial problem in our deprived communities relates to the funding of SMEs. It is generally accepted that the health and supply of SMEs is critical to the health of our economy, but there is even more to it than that. Data from the Kauffman Foundation study published in July 2010, The Importance of Startups in Job Creation and Job Destruction, suggest that the role of start-ups is absolutely critical among SMEs. The study found that, on average, and for all but seven of the 28 years between 1997 and 2005, in the USA, existing firms were net job destroyers. All net new jobs came from start-ups and job creation in start-ups during recessionary years remained stable while net job losses in existing firms were highly sensitive to the business cycle. This is probably true for the UK too, and is undoubtedly why the Government announced its start-up loan scheme, four weeks ago, offering loans of £2,500 to people aged between 18 and 24. It is a clear indication of both an unmet need and a failure of the banks to supply this need.
This is all very small-scale stuff and marginal. The fact is that the SME sector as a whole has significant funding difficulty. The Breedon report of March this year estimates that, by 2016, there will be a shortfall of between £26 billion and £59 billion in finance needed by SMEs for working capital and growth. As the latest quarterly report from the Federation of Small Businesses shows, the situation is not improving. It is not just that the banks are not helping; they may actually have made the situation worse. We now know that they have mis-sold hedging products to around 28,000 small businesses. Andrew Tyrie said that the FSA’s investigation into this mis-selling is a damning indictment of the banks’ behaviour, that such products took advantage of small businesses and that this behaviour is completely unacceptable. This is just the national picture: it would conceal areas where there are more significant problems. The deprived communities will suffer more. According to a 2012 report by the Centre for Responsible Credit, only 4% of all lending goes to businesses in deprived areas. It is clear that the banks are failing in this area and this is the second problem the amendments address.
The third problem addressed by the amendments is related to the other two. It is not possible, at the moment, to have an accurate picture of what the banks are actually up to in our deprived communities. The data provided by the largest banks concerning their lending to SMEs are provided on an aggregated basis. This means that there is no information to allow local economic development agencies, including local enterprise partnerships and community development finance initiatives, to enter into an effective dialogue with the banks. There is no way of assessing performance, suggesting improvement, or of knowing which banks are performing better than others; there is no way of telling the terms on which credit is being made available in these deprived areas or of telling the extent, if any, to which banks are supporting the third sector to take advantage of their new rights under the Localism Act. We need access to disaggregated data and postcode level data so we can see clearly which banks are doing what in the deprived areas. This is what our amendment proposes.
Essentially, the amendments seek to impose a new objective on the FCA. As the Bill stands, the FCA has three objectives: consumer protection, integrity and competition. None of these objectives deals with the situation in deprived communities or even acknowledges that deprived communities may need special attention. Our proposed amendments address the issue directly by creating a deprived communities objective for the FCA. This objective requires the FCA to promote an appropriate level of financial services in deprived communities; it requires lenders to SMEs and others to publish meaningful disaggregated data so that lenders’ performances can be properly assessed; and it requires the FCA, when considering what is the appropriate level of financial provision in these deprived areas, to take into account the needs of SMEs, third sector organisations and consumers.
The Bill contains much that is technical, abstract and complex, but it should also contain simple provisions that provide help to our most deprived areas. We should not overlook that the Bill’s purpose is to deliver better financial services for all the people of this country, and that includes those in our deprived areas. These amendments will help to do that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to Amendments 108A and 117A, which essentially cover the same territory. They seek legislation which explicitly encourages the FCA to extend consumer access to financial services that meet their needs.
To that end, it is desirable that the FCA should assess the impact on markets and consumers when making regulatory decisions. For example—we have yet to see the result—the RDR reforms, though from many aspects fully justified, run the risk of having the reverse effect of reducing substantially the access to financial services and products for the great majority of people. In the absence of a requirement there is the risk that the FCA will always be steered towards risk-averse regulation, preferring to see markets restricted for large groups of consumers in order to avoid any individual consumer getting sub-optimal products.
The issue also arises in the context of the Government’s welcome initiative to encourage the development of simple financial products. If it is to succeed, it will need a regulator which is working with the grain of that policy rather than in the other direction, and which has a clear brief to act in a way to help extend consumer access to financial services that meet their needs, and not the reverse.
My Lords, Amendments 102, 118 and 121 are very dear to my heart. They are perhaps some of the most important amendments to the Bill that have been brought forward. I have been interested in financial services for deprived communities for more than 20 years, partly from living in Chicago and seeing the impact that community development banking had on the revival and regeneration of Chicago’s south side. It was an area once written off because it was both black and impoverished and, in the end, it was only action by the banking regulator, under legislation, that drove forward change which was, and continues to be, dramatic.
The noble Lord, Lord McFall, who is not in his place today, will remember the visits that the Treasury Select Committee made to community banks in the United States in 2006—I take some credit for nagging the committee into making some of those visits—which made clear how much we are missing in this country. Both individuals and small and new businesses in the United States have a degree of access to financial services and credit that we cannot rely on in the UK.
The changes in the United States came through a piece of civil rights legislation, the Community Reinvestment Act. This amendment is not a copy of that Act, but it attempts to repeat its achievements. The data that the Act forced banks to publish exposed vacuums in lending across the United States and, to no one’s surprise, they matched very much with the boundaries of deprived communities and—I hope that we would not see the same thing here—the boundaries of communities of ethnic minorities. The regulator then stepped in and required those banks to meet the target of serving those communities, or to fund someone else who would, before allowing them to engage in mergers and acquisitions. It was an extremely effective strategy and continues to be so to this day.
The amendment is also a read-over from the banking reform White Paper, because it would allow the regulator to play a significant role that is described in paragraph 4.4 of that White Paper as,
“a more diverse banking sector”.
Surely the areas where banks are failing to play a role should be at the top of the list for new and diverse participants.
On our previous day in Committee, I said that the role of the regulator nowhere seems to touch on a responsibility to make sure that financial services are available all across our complex communities. Competition is focused on making sure that there is multiplicity of products, not that there is coverage of the full range of demand. Surely if we wish all our citizens to be able to participate in the economic growth of the country and want small businesses to become established, to grow and to build our economic future, we have to pay attention to that access and coverage issue as well. The requirements set out in these amendments get us to that point.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and to speak on other amendments in this group. I believe that the Minister received a letter from the Community Development Finance Association which specifically supports the amendment. It is a powerful case and I trust that he will respond positively at the end of this debate.
Although the Bill grants the FCA significant powers, it makes little mention of consumer access to financial services and products. Access to such services is essential in a 21st-century society, but the Bill makes no mention of it. It would be extraordinary for a competition authority, as the FCA will be, to be required to judge the effectiveness of competition in the markets which it regulates without taking into account whether the market is delivering products and services that are good value for money.
There is not much point talking about a fairer, more competitive market if consumers are unable to access the services on offer, yet uncertainty as to whether the FCA can have regard to affordability might make it reluctant to take action on a fundamental aspect of competition for fear of being challenged. Amendment 104AA, in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Eatwell, is about access by consumers to financial service products and the need for good value for money, including for the financially excluded in society.
In many parts of the country, there are individuals who struggle even to open basic banking facilities or to gain access to small levels of credit, yet credit is a necessity of life for many people, bridging the gap, as we know, between when one has to spend and when paydays arrive. I know that in another place Mark Hoban has said he fully agrees that consumers should have access to financial services that meet their needs, but he prayed in aid the FCA’s new competition objective, which he said would give it an explicit mandate to consider the needs of consumers and to act to improve competition. However, that does not necessarily bring people into the market; it is probably only competition for those who are already there.
Amendment 104AA would remove any uncertainty by spelling out accessibility and affordability. Amendment 102 offers a way forward for financial institutions which reflects a decent, responsible approach to the needs and ambitions of communities in a way that would benefit not just them but the economy as a whole. The amendment would promote an appropriate level of services in deprived communities, as we have heard, and ensure that the FCA plays its role in that by its interventions in affordable loans, savings and insurance products. As we have heard, that is crucial for small businesses and social ventures as much as for individual consumers. It is estimated that more than 4.5 million small businesses and social ventures and more than 3 million households are unable to access the fair and responsible finance that they require. It is particularly apposite in the context of the current revulsion—one has to use that word—felt about some parts of the banking community. This is the chance for them to rise to the challenge and show what the good side of banking can be.
All of us have heard of small shops or service providers going to the wall thanks to the inappropriate policies of banks. It is not simply about mis-selling of interest rate swaps, important though those were; it is also about the unavailability of financial products for small entrepreneurs or, sometimes, for larger ventures that want to locate in some more deprived areas. There needs to be a proper investment strategy for social enterprise and small businesses, especially where they work in those difficult areas.
In the past, I thought that encouragement alone would work in making banks be socially responsible in such a way as to help consumers and potential consumers in difficult areas. I no longer think that. When the previous Government were trying to set up basic bank accounts, we tried very hard, along with the FSA, but people were still denied access. People need a bank account and insurance these days; they have become essentials rather than nice- to-haves.
Amendment 104AA would make the FCA have regard to consumer access to affordable and appropriate financial services, and Amendment 118A requires an access and choice code to make clear what the FSA expects of those it regulates. I hope that the Minister will be able to accept the amendments and enable the FCA to play a role not just in promoting competition for existing consumers but for those whom we all want to be consumers.
My Lords, I share many of the concerns raised in this debate. Access to financial services and access to lending for individuals and businesses are vital to our society. The question we have to ask is: who should be charged with tackling access issues? The FCA will be a conduct of business regulator with a clear objective concerned with creating the right conditions in which well functioning markets can meet the needs of consumers. Ultimately, the menu of products and services they offer to whom and at what price is a decision for firms themselves. The FCA is there to regulate the market, not to ensure that the market delivers a particular set of services or products.
Where the market fails to provide the services that consumers need, there may well be a case for intervention in the market to promote consumers’ access to financial services. The noble Baroness mentioned that issue in connection with the previous Government’s drive on basic bank accounts. That is rightly the province of government and action needs to be taken. However, I do believe that it is not a matter of regulation. It is a matter of social policy and it is therefore the responsibility of the Government. It is not the job of the FCA to prescribe that there should be universal provision and who should be required to deliver it. That is for the Government.
I will not detain the Committee with the great detail that I could go into of the actions we are taking to promote and extend access to financial services: to boost lending, particularly to small businesses; to nurture and encourage the mutual sector; and to help increase consumers’ capabilities and work with industry to make access to simple products possible. We have touched on some of these issues in considerable detail in the past. There are some areas which my noble friend Lord Sharkey specifically raised, such as bank charges. I draw his attention to the agreement we announced with the banks last November, under which the major personal customer account providers came forward with a new agreement to send text alerts when balances fall below a certain level, and to provide buffer zones and so on. The action there has been significant.
The provision of data is another area which has needed and continues to need attention. It has had some attention. Information is already regularly published concerning lending and the provision of loans and other services in deprived communities. For example, the banks that are members of the British lending task force have publicly committed to continue to publish subregional lending data on an annual basis through the BBA. I could point to a significant number of initiatives. These are things that the Government will continue to work on but they are outside the ambit of the Bill.
Is the Minister aware of the mechanism that has been successful in the United States and how much that is tied to action by the regulator under the Community Reinvestment Act? It is the regulator that has driven that process forward, because only when conditions are met does it give permission for the banks to act in ways for which they need the regulator’s permission. Is he abandoning a tool that we know has been successful?
No, we are not abandoning a tool; partly because in this country, of course, we do not have the tool. However, I think it would be perfectly feasible for the Government, essentially as a matter of social policy, to decide on any number of actions that might require the regulators to play a part in implementing them. I do not believe that anything in the Bill would rule that out. That is quite different.
The American example shows that the right way to go is through a focused decision by the Government or a specific piece of legislation that tackles this issue, which may then impose responsibilities on the regulator. That is quite a different matter from giving the FCA a very general power to take on itself a responsibility that is rightly the responsibility of the Government.
It will not surprise the Committee if I say, in respect of Amendments 102, 118AA and 121, which seek to give the FCA this new deprived communities objective, that for the reasons I have given I do not think they are appropriate and I cannot support them.
Amendment 104AA also seeks to ensure that the FCA has regard to the issue of consumers’ ability to access affordable and appropriate products that meet their needs. It does that by seeking to add access to the list of matters to which the FCA must have regard in discharging its general functions. The “have regard” provisions that are currently listed there include only financial crime and the regulatory principles. That is why I cannot support the amendment. I cannot agree that the FCA should be required to have regard to something that it is not responsible for. This is the important distinction between financial crime, for which the FCA is responsible and which is listed in proposed new Section 1B, and access, which is not.
Amendments 108A and 108B seek to ensure that the FCA considers access when advancing its consumer protection objective by adding,
“the ease with which consumers can access regulated financial services that meet their needs”,
to the list of matters to which it must have regard in assessing what constitutes,
“an appropriate degree of protection for consumers”.
I have already set out why I cannot support these amendments, which seek to give the FCA a formal role in promoting access, but I will remind the Committee of the kind of considerations that the FCA will take into account when advancing its consumer protection objective to help consumers. The FCA must have regard to consumers’ differing experience and expertise and to their needs for timely, accurate and fit-for-purpose information. The FCA must therefore consider whether vulnerable or marginalised consumers engaging with financial services may need additional information, protection or support. The FCA’s consumer protection operational objective provides the mandate for the regulator to design a regulatory regime that delivers this.
Amendment 117A seeks to make sure that the FCA takes into account consumers’ ability to access financial services in advancing its effective competition objective. Again, I cannot accept this as I am absolutely clear that it is neither necessary nor appropriate for such a have regard provision to be added to the competition objective.
I turn to Amendment 118A. I have explained why I do not think it right to give the FCA an access mandate. Where there may be a case for action beyond the FCA’s objectives, this is a matter for government, but that does not mean that the Treasury should be able to direct the regulator on how it should interpret and indeed advance its objectives, as Amendment 118A seeks to provide. This would fundamentally go against the Government’s intention that the FCA should be an independent regulator and would, I suggest, blur the boundaries between regulatory and social policies. I also do not think it would be appropriate to have a power in statute, as proposed here, to allow the Treasury to give the FCA greater powers to act in an area that is rightly a matter for the Government to deliver, or indeed to give the Treasury the power to impose requirements directly on industry. We would be blurring the lines of responsibility. As I have explained, there is a lot we can do and are doing to advance some of these important social policy issues. If it came to legislation that impinged on the regulator’s prerogative, it is right that any powers in this area should be considered as part of that legislation and Parliament should consider the consequences for the regulator at that time.
Finally, Amendment 112A seeks to add “and products” to the regulated financial services for which the FCA will promote effective competition. I will briefly try to reassure the Committee that this amendment is not necessary. We agree that products are important. In fact, the focus on the design and governance of products will be one of the key ways in which the FCA will be different from the FSA. The Bill contains enhanced powers for the FCA to regulate products and I look forward to discussing in due course the new product intervention power, which is provided for in Clause 22. However, the outcome which this amendment seeks to deliver is already reflected in the Bill. A product in the context of financial services is ultimately an agreement under which one person agrees to provide a service of some kind to another person, so products are captured in the definition of “regulated financial services” as used in the Bill.
In summary, we are sympathetic to the aims of my noble friend’s amendment and to a wide range of the concerns that have come up in this debate. We are taking action on a significant number of fronts in this area. However, these are not matters for the financial regulator in the way that they have been drafted and I ask my noble friend to consider withdrawing his amendment.
I thank all those who have spoken in support of the amendments in my name or in support of their general intent. At the beginning of his response the Minister said that the FCA is a conduct of business regulator. I say to him that it is precisely the inadequate conduct of the banking businesses that we want the FCA to regulate. I note that in the Bill the FCA is already required to take account of the needs of different consumers. All the amendments do is make this more explicit and more directed. I am disappointed by what seems to me to be a very narrow perspective in the Minister’s response. I do not agree that responsibility for helping funding into deprived areas is not a matter for this Bill. I will withdraw my amendment but I will return to the matter on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 102 withdrawn.
103: Clause 5, page 16, line 7, at end insert “and society”
My Lords, seven amendments in this group of nine are in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Kramer. All the amendments have support from other quarters: from the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, who supports several; from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who apologises to the House that she has had to make a compassionate visit this evening; and from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham.
There is a vast constituency outside the House that is listening to our every word tonight. That may surprise some; however, the not-for-profit world, if I can call it that, or the social investment sector, to use another phrase, is fair and square behind these amendments. My noble friend the Minister will have already received a letter on 25 June, signed by 16 bodies. Your Lordships may be interested to know that they include Charity Bank, the Community Development Finance Association, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations, the Charities Aid Foundation, the Social Stock Exchange Association, Co-operatives UK, Social Finance and, no less in support of recognition of the social investment sector in this Bill, Big Society Capital, which was set up by the previous Government under the Dormant Bank and Building Societies Accounts Act 2008. There were also CFG—the Charity Finance Group—Triodos Bank and ACEVO. There are very many others. They all have one plea, and this group of amendments has one central aim—to distinguish in regulation between a Barclays Bank on one hand and at the other end of the scale, a small not-for-profit local organisation. I thought your Lordships would be interested in an unsolicited communication I had in the last week from the Perth and District YMCA, which is an exemplar of this not-for-profit sector. The development manager there wrote this:
“Just today I was at the official launch of the Living Balance Programme in Perth and District YMCA which is supported by the Department for Work and Pensions Innovation Fund and is structured as a Social Impact Bond. This project will provide a unique project for 300 young people over the next three years to progress towards a stable independent life style in their local community. Nearly two thirds of the investors in this Social Impact Bond were local private individuals who invested sums ranging from £5,000-£30,000 of their own money … I am convinced that we need to … create the opportunity for this kind of investment to occur in a way which is not so over burdened with prohibitive legislative barriers that the immense potential value of these opportunities is lost”.
That message is repeated from end to end of the not-for-profit sector. It wants the regulators to have a sensible discretion to distinguish, as I say, between these very different animals.
The Minister in the Commons made a plea that we must have a level playing field, with no distinction between massive international banks and a little local social endeavour. To the sector, and indeed to me, that is not a level playing field; it is a level killing field. One size does not fit all. What we need, and with the Bill we have a chance to do this, is to regulate proportionately, appropriately, sensibly and sensitively and to avoid stifling the very initiatives that were referred to in the previous set of amendments and which are vital for the success and advance of power in our embattled society.
I use the word “proportionately” because that is one of the six regulatory principles enunciated in the Bill, and it is classically needed in this instance. I am sure that I do not need to elaborate or enlarge on our present circumstance, but we in this country are now in a critical situation vis-à-vis the financial sector as a whole. This is not just because of the economic and financial crisis over the past three years; it is because we have had a really dispiriting series of revelations about the motives and modes according to which far too big a part of the financial sector has run, and continues to run, its affairs—a monolithic, obsessive preoccupation with profit and profit alone.
One of the beauties of the not-for-profit sector is that it contrasts almost wholly with that rather grey and demoralising picture of the financial sector. By contrast, it is made up of charities, mutual organisations, community interest companies, co-ops, friendly societies and so on, and all of them, not just as a matter of policy but as a matter of constitutional centrality—they have no choice in this—have a public benefit purpose, a social purpose, a not-for-profit purpose. By dint of this wholly different set of values and motives, they are able to reach the parts that the conventional financial sector has not reached, is not interested in reaching and will never reach. The answer to the maiden’s prayer for them is to allow them to go on growing dynamically, rootedly, accountably, socially and morally, vibrant as they are.
In case anyone thinks that this is not a sector worth worrying about, it might be worth repeating the statistics that the Young Foundation and the Boston Consulting Group researched: in 2010-11 the amount of investment by the sector was £165 million and, more importantly, if the regulation barriers could be lowered for it, the investment level would be expected to rise to £750 million. A report in 2011 by Social Enterprise UK shows that 57% of social enterprises predicted growth for this year. That is a 40% higher rate than for small and medium-sized enterprises, which, as noble Lords will know, are themselves much more dynamic in terms of development than the large companies. These small, socially innovative organisations have an infectious enthusiasm. They want to grow; they want to help; they want to do more.
I received a letter from the parliamentary affairs counsel to the City Corporation, which realises that it ought to get involved. He refers to the fact that big society capital will invest £50 million by the end of this year in these social bodies. It is in that context that Deutsche Bank is apparently launching a fund of £10 million and HSBC a fund of £4 million—small amounts, but, I believe, indicators of much more to come. Through its Bridge House Estates the City has allocated £20 million for social investment.
There are many other examples which will cheer us all. Peterborough prison has issued a social impact bond—a rather unlikely development. Bonds have recently been issued by the charity Scope. There is fast growth in what are called crowd funding and peer-to-peer lending, such as Buzz Bank and Zopa. Oxfam is engaged with a microfund to be used in the developing world. We have the prospective launch in London next year of the Social Stock Exchange. And so it goes on.
New Section 137R on page 89, to be inserted into the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, stipulates under general supplementary powers that the rules by either of the regulators, the FCA or the PRA,
“may make different provision for different cases and may, in particular, make different provision in respect of different descriptions of authorised persons, activity or investment”.
My noble friend Lord Sharkey referred to that in what he just said.
These amendments will give a clear and essential steer to the regulators to enable them to use with imagination and flexibility the powers that they have under new Section 137R. They will offer a realisation of what great profit there is to this country and our society by liberating some of these small, non-profit organisations from heavy-handed regulation. Everybody accepts that such regulation may be necessary for huge financial entities that can cope with it and, by dint of what has happened recently, need it. We cannot pretend that one size fits all.
Lastly, we in the coalition—and I appeal to the Minister—must walk our own talk. The country is a little anxious about the extent to which we are doing that. If ever we have talked up the importance of social investment and the not-for-profit sector in finance, it is in this area. The big society idea is at the root of it. I have already referred to Big Society Capital. We had a paper from the Government in February last year, Growing the Social Investment Market. What was that about? It was about encouraging and not stifling the market that this Bill, unamended, will indeed stifle. We had the Red Tape Challenge and the task force in pursuit of it. My noble friend Lord Hodgson is involved in that. We had another paper in May this year called Unshackling Good Neighbours. What was that about? It was about promoting investment in social ventures. In the autumn the Cabinet Office is producing a response to Unshackling Good Neighbours, in particular to that bit of it which says that,
“regulation barriers make it difficult for social ventures and investment in them”.
Francis Maude and Nicholas Herbert have gone on record again and again extolling the need for social investment. I appeal to the Minister. Although it may be difficult in some ways, we must put something in this Bill. I ask him not to say, as he said to the previous group of amendments, that we will have to have a separate Bill. That will not wash. It is not good enough.
I end by saying that this vital sector needs the chance to grow and to do what nobody else is doing or can do. It is bottom up, it is rooted, it is ethically vigorous, it is public spirited and, above all, it is grounded in fellowship. With that introduction, I hope very much that, although there are only 14 of us here at this time, there may be some support for this group of amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, my name is down to four amendments, Amendments 104, 120, 137 and 139, and I support very strongly what my noble friend Lord Phillips has just said. I take issue with him on only one technicality. He talked about “not for profit”. I think the words should be “not for profit distribution” because these small organisations must be able to accumulate reserves for the bad times, for the contracts that do not go quite as well as—
Apart from that, I agree with the thrust of his remarks.
I chaired the task force that produced Unshackling Good Neighbours, and I am glad to be able to tell my noble friend that we have already had the Government’s response and are meeting on 26 July to produce our follow up. The problem with this is not making the recommendations but making sure that they are followed through. As I have told the House before, I am completing the review of the Charities Act 2006 for the Government and will be publishing a report on that next week. The terms of reference for that review required me to consider the barriers to the growth of social investment.
This is a very interesting area. The market is immature and therefore carries with it some dangers, such as overexpansion, perhaps of too much money being raised before there are projects sufficiently ready to absorb that money, and of overoptimism. There is a weight of expectation about what can be done that we have to make sure is not disappointed. As my noble friend made clear, this idea has the capacity to transform the financing structures in the charity and voluntary sector and so radically increase the amount of funding and the number of people who will give support to those sorts of endeavours. As I have said elsewhere, how do we persuade someone who would give £50 to invest or lend £500? How do we turn this social investment chrysalis into a butterfly?
There are lots of regulatory challenges, and not all of them are in my noble friend’s department. Not all of them are actually for the Government; they are also for the professions and the sector. As my noble friend said, we need to send signals from this area because this is the keystone that will set in train other serious changes. Therefore, the enabling provisions contained in Amendments 104, 120, 137 and 139 are important because they recognise, and ask the regulator to recognise, the distinctive features of social investment and regulate appropriately in an even-handed way. The hour is late. I could go on for a lot longer, but this is important, and I very much support what my noble friend said.
Amendment 104ZA is tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. That amendment is not suitable, because it requires the FCA to promote the growth and development of social finance and social investment. The role of a regulator is not to promote but to enable. It can promote good behaviour and good approaches, but it should not promote a particular form of finance, because that could lead to the disillusionment that I have referred to. I quite understand her good intentions, but they do not help us. Nevertheless, I very much support Amendments 104, 120, 137 and 139, and I hope that my noble friend will be receptive to this important part of the big society and localism, on which we as a party and a Government have placed such stress.
My Lords, I will add only a few words, because of the powerful speeches that have preceded me. After hearing the noble Lords, Lord Phillips and Lord Hodgson, who have spoken with such enthusiasm, the Minister may have the wrong impression that this sector is taking off with great and roaring strength, so why on earth should we worry about the role of the regulator? However, if he looks back at the numbers that have been quoted to him, the amounts of money that are being raised or proposed are extremely small compared to the demand and the need. The regulator needs to act in order to release the energy of this whole sector.
I know that the Government are constantly concerned that no one sector should be favoured above the other, but it is important to recognise that this sector is distinctively different. I draw his attention to one example that may help clarify the matter—and which I have raised with the regulator, which acknowledges that it is clearly a problem. This is based on a communication that I received from someone involved as a financial adviser, who directed me towards a report done by Nesta in collaboration with Worthstone called Financial Planners as Catalysts for Social Investment. The response that they got back in the course of this work made it clear that the regulatory environment is not yet appropriate for this sector. The report contains quotes such as:
“The social investment asset class, due to its early-stage of development lacks the regulatory clarity of other markets”.
That lack of clarity is turning into a real problem. It is not clear, for example, that an independent financial adviser can advise a client on a social investment because the return is a combination of some sort of more traditional manner of financial return, but also of a social benefit—and how is that to be measured? More to the point, how is it to be set within the suitability requirements that financial planners have to observe when they advise clients? The report states:
“Ultimately, there is a need for the FSA”—
which I suppose is the FCA now—
“to establish clear guidelines around suitability to provide financial planners with a frame of reference. Consistency is required, together with a set of understood and agreed practices and procedures”.
That is one small example. Rather than tackle this issue by issue and try to hoe the ground in the most difficult kind of way, we should make sure that the regulator clearly understands that they need to act in a way that would enable this industry to develop to its full potential. That would accelerate the flow of funding, and I believe that as an economy we would only benefit from that.
My Lords, I first apologise to the Committee, because I would like to degroup Amendment 128AA, which is in this group. I know that the Minister has had minutes’ notice of this, but I apologise to others. It is an important issue, and clearly we will return to that.
I support the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, and I will also speak to Amendment 104ZA. As we have heard, social enterprises are businesses that trade to tackle social problems and improve communities, people’s life chances, or the environment. They make their money from selling goods and services in the open market, but they reinvest their profits back into the business or the local community. So when they make profits, society profits. They do not make profits for the shareholders. In future, perhaps we should adopt the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, and call them not-for-profit distribution, NFPDs, which may be the new word for them.
Funding is certainly needed to start up enterprises but, just as critical is the need to scale up and sustain them. That means getting access to modest and responsible sources of finance which will grow profits and jobs in this case, and make the local and national economy work. Appropriately funded social enterprises can lead an economic fight-back in the most deprived communities. The more deprived the community, the more likely you are to find social enterprises working there. They reinvest in the community. Indeed, 39% work in the 20% most deprived communities. They employ more people relative to turnover than mainstream small business and are outstripping other SMEs in terms of growth and sustainability. Just as access to funding can unlock the social enterprise sector’s potential, so it is the single largest barrier to the sustainability of this sector. Last year, 44% of respondents to a survey said that they were hampered by the availability and affordability of finance.
I make no apology that our Amendment 104ZA asks the FCA to discharge its general functions in a way that promotes growth and development of social finance and social investment. We ask that it should promote competition. This is, if you like, an emerging market, which needs a little help at the moment. I think that the word “promote” is not too dangerous but if the Minister would accept “enable”, I would settle for that. There is a distinctive difference to this sector. I hope that our regulatory system is big enough to engage with it.
My Lords, one of the reasons why the likes of Wonga charges high rates of interest is that its formula for doing business is mechanical. What is required in order to be able to offer proper rates of interest on small amounts of money to people who are not well off is trust, knowledge and community. That is what this sector sets out to provide. Armed with that, it is capable of giving a much better deal to borrowers without imperilling those who are lending money. It is a thoroughly worthwhile sector of the financial industry.
We need to ask the FCA not to promote it but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, says in her late revision, to enable it. The Government and regulation stand in the way. They give the big banks privileges which are not extended to small lenders. Some of them probably cannot be. I do not know that there is any way in which the £85,000 guarantee can be got down to these sorts of institutions. But they impose immense tax differentials so that you can end up not being able to offset losses if you have made them in community lending. As the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, says, you can end up not knowing as a financial adviser whether you are allowed to mention these sorts of investments. We need a financial regulatory structure that gets out of the way, levels the playing field and gives these businesses a fair opportunity.
My Lords, let me begin by saying that, as with the previous group, I wholeheartedly support the sentiment underpinning these amendments. The Government want markets which serve the wider economy, underpin growth and contribute to a more prosperous society as a whole. We want more proactive and judgment-based regulation, and we want the FCA to be tough and decisive in identifying and acting on bad practice in the financial services sector.
The Government have been very clear that they want social ventures to create positive change in our society and that to achieve this we need to make it easier for them to access the capital and advice they need. There is a growing social investment market which seeks to combine financial return with social impact. Investors are often willing to accept higher risk and a lower financial return because of the social value that their investment can make. However, as has also been noticed, the market is embryonic and needs support. The Government are committed to providing that support. In a moment, I will describe how we seek to do that. Before I do so, I will turn to some of the specific amendments to which noble Lords have spoken.
There are a number of reasons why I cannot support Amendments 104, 104ZA, 120, 137, and 139. First, where their intention is to promote social investment, that is simply not an appropriate role for the regulator. Although I agree with my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury that the Government need to act in support of the social investment sector, we will not create a healthy UK financial services market, including for social financial services, by giving the FCA the job of taking forward what should be and is part of the Government’s wider social policy agenda. Let me be clear: the FCA’s job should be to administer a regulatory regime, policing it so that consumers are appropriately protected, regardless of what they invest in, that there is effective competition, and that markets are clean and operate with integrity.
Secondly, where the intention behind the amendments is to—
I am sorry to interrupt my noble friend, but he did make a provocative remark just now, I suspect without realising it. He said that I was asking in these amendments for the FCA to “take forward” the social investment market. That is not the case. These amendments are couched extremely carefully, and not in any proactive way. To take Amendment 104, they merely ask the FCA,
“so far as is compatible with acting”,
in accordance with “its operational objectives”, to take,
“account of the distinctive features of social investment”,
and not to inhibit the development of it. On no basis can that be characterised as asking the FCA to “take forward”. It is merely asking the FCA to note the particularities of this sector and not to impede it.
My Lords, we will have to disagree on the construction of some of the words here. Taking some of the amendments in the group, I appreciate that some of them are couched in the way in which my noble friend has just elaborated. However, for example, Amendment 103 inserts into new Section 1B(4) the words “and society” at the end of a very critical recital of what the FCA must do. It says it must,
“discharge its general functions in a way which promotes effective competition in the interests of consumers and society”.
I accept that it is all driven with an override,
“so far as is compatible with acting”,
in a way that advances the consumer protection objective, but it would add something which is tantamount to asking the FCA to be proactive in driving forward the social objective.
I am sorry. The hour is late, but that simply cannot be the construction. As I explained in my remarks, I could not support the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, because it said “promote”. The four that I have signed up to, and the only four, are the ones which are entirely neutral, and all they are is enabling. With the greatest respect to my noble friend, who has dealt with us with courtesy and kept smiling despite the most enormous amount of provocation, the fact of the matter is that a lot of what he is saying is about investor protection in conventional investments. We are not talking about conventional investments here; we are talking about social investments, where the parameters are entirely different. The Treasury will persist in seeing it as a profit-making type of investment, as opposed to a profit and a social return. It simply cannot get it into its head that this is a different type of investment. It keeps writing for my noble friend speaking notes that do not recognise that difference.
My Lords, one of the problems is that I am speaking here to a group of amendments. If we had longer or they were all degrouped, we could tease out one from another in more detail. I appreciate that some are more directive than others. However, perhaps I may move on to my second area of difficulty here. It probably will not help but I have a number of difficulties with this group of amendments.
Where the intention behind the amendments is to ensure proportionate regulation of this budding social investment sector, I reassure the Committee that the FCA will indeed take a proportionate and risk-based approach. Both regulators must take a proportionate approach to the regulation of small or socially orientated firms, particularly in comparison with large and complex banks.
My noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury referred to new Section 137R, which enables different rules to be made in relation to different authorised persons. I could also draw the Committee’s attention to new Section 1C(2)(a), which requires the FCA to have regard to the differing degrees of risk involved in different transactions. Another is new Section 3B(1)(b), which requires the FCA to have regard to the principle of proportionality. Therefore, I believe that there are appropriate layers of protection there without this series of amendments highlighting the social investment sector in the way that they seek to do.
Perhaps I may finish this part of the argument and then of course I will let my noble friend come in again. I believe that this proportionate approach that I have described will be vital in supporting effective competition, as well as helping the social sector, and the requirement to make regulation proportionately has to be an important tool in delivering that. However, equally, consumers have to be reassured that if they deposit money with, or buy financial products from, socially oriented financial institutions, they will be subject to the same level of protection and security as would be the case with any other institution. My noble friend may come back and say that that is not what the words actually say. He compared the activity of the big banks with the very well meaning institutions—which I accept they are—in this budding sector. Nevertheless, we have to be very clear and careful in making sure that those who deposit money are subject to the protection that they would expect, regardless of whom they transact with. I believe that in this area the Bill as currently drafted will deliver a proportionate balance for both regulated firms and consumers. I will continue to listen to the full range of arguments on this important issue and we will continue with important strands of work.
My noble friend Lady Kramer referred to the ability of financial advisers to advise on social investments as an asset class. I agree that this is a concern. That is why it is one of several regulatory issues that are currently being considered by the Cabinet Office review. Therefore, there are other avenues through which these issues are being actively considered, as they should be.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way. I am sorry to detain the Committee at this time of night but this is an important group. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts made one extremely telling intervention. I recognise what a difficult task my noble friend the Minister has in piloting this incredibly complicated measure through this place. He called in aid—reasonably, because I myself referred to it—new Section 137R, which is headed “General supplementary powers”. I quoted from the first part of that new section in what I said. My point, which I do not think my noble friend has taken account of, was, and remains, that unless there are some indicators in the first part of the Bill as to the considerations that are legitimate for the regulator to take into account, being naturally conservative, it will not take them into account. It will not differentiate. The wording in Amendment 103 therefore adds “and society” to the part of the new section that instructs FCA as to what it must do. That section says:
“The FCA must, so far as is compatible with acting in a way which advances the consumer protection objective or the integrity objective, discharge its general functions in a way which promotes effective competition in the interests of consumers”.
The Minister objects to the addition of the words “and society”. Surely we have learnt over the past three years that the objectives of consumer protection, integrity and competition depend on a financial sector that, in promoting competition, does not just take into account the interests of its customers but also of society at large. Society is what social investment is about. It slightly gives the Government’s game away for the Minister to argue as he did. I repeat that this important section that he referred to, which gives the FCA and the PRA the power to make rules, seems to cut off the prospect that he afterwards says is there; namely, the power to differentiate between different types of financial organisation, including the social financial organisations.
I am sure this is a discussion we perhaps had better have outside the Committee. It is late at night. I am only registering—I think I have some support in this—disappointment that the Government are not construing their own provisions in a way that seems consistent with how my noble friend started when he said they were wholly behind the development of the social finance sector.
I will keep saying it and no doubt we will have to disagree on this. On the narrow point of new Section 137R, that is a power to make different provisions. However, the other relevant provisions that sit with it are duties. There is a duty to act proportionately and a duty to have regard to different degrees of risk. When it sets rules, the FCA will have to explain and justify those matters in the consultation processes it goes though. It cannot simply escape from this.
I will again directly address the points made my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury on Amendment 103. The same thing applies to Amendment 111. There are certain things that we can expect of the FCA and there are other things that would place entirely unrealistic expectations on it. When the FCA is assessing whether there is effective competition in a market, we can expect it to consider the needs of consumers and act on its assessment. However, the needs of society as a whole are another matter entirely. It is not, and cannot be, the responsibility of the FCA to consider, even in a passive way—which I agree is different here from the way that it is formulated in some of the other amendments—what the best outcome for society is at any given point. It simply does not have the mandate to do that. It would not have the expertise or the powers fully to act on its findings. This is not in any way to say that these are not important matters. It is simply that I contend, as with the previous group of amendments, that these are judgments not for the FCA but the Government. The Government will not shirk these judgments.
I have referred to a number of the initiatives that are going on and there are others that I could mention, such as the Treasury’s current review of financial barriers to social enterprise. Recommendations from that review will sit along with the community interest tax relief revisions that were announced at the Budget. There are multiple strands of work at the Treasury and the Cabinet Office that are aimed, among other things, at making it easier for investors to invest in community development finance institutions. Those must go on. They are not the proper province of the FCA.
I am sorry and recognise the late hour, but if we let this opportunity go we will not get it back again. I wonder whether the Minister will—even if it is afterwards—sit back and think through this issue. I am a simple person. I come from a banking background where you look at outputs. We know that investors are seriously interested in these kinds of products. We know that there is a need on the far side, whether individuals, small start-up businesses, charities, social enterprises and whatever else. In the middle we have a regulatory pattern of behaviour. If the regulation was not acting as a barrier, surely the outputs we would have would be a thriving community development banking sector, a thriving social investment sector, and a thriving social bond market. We can look at other countries and see these things in far more advanced states of development than we have. The conclusion has to be that the regulator is playing a significant role as a barrier in this process. If we cannot tackle that in this legislation, how on earth can we tackle it?
The FSA currently has responsibility for one particular sector of the social enterprise movement—the industrial and provident societies. I suggest that the Minister asks his officials in the morning to ring the FSA and ask how many people are working in the industrial and provident society section. The answer is half.
I understand. I will check on that but I hear what my noble friend says. The FSA is under pressure in a lot of areas. I stress again that I do not mean to say that there are no barriers. I have explained the ways in which we are looking at them but this is a Bill about the regulatory structure. There are other avenues through which the structure of the industry is being looked at, not least through the Bill that will enact the Vickers reform. In the most fundamental ways we are prepared to take on the structure of the industry. It is just that we want to keep this Bill and this architecture to what it is intended to be, which is about financial regulation and not about wider social issues, however important they are, even though there is great interlinkage with what we are talking about in the Bill.
I should do justice to Amendment 109, which is the last one that I have not directly touched on. It is another amendment over which I have some concerns. It seeks to ensure that the FCA considers social responsibility in advancing its market integrity objective. Social responsibility sits rather oddly alongside the other matters listed in new Section 1D that elaborate on what is meant by integrity. All the matters in the non-exhaustive definition of integrity in that section have a clear expectation of action associated with them. The FCA will act to prevent or root out and punish activities such as insider dealing or other market misconduct and abuse as well as money laundering, terrorist finance and corruption; it will test the reliability and robustness of computers and wider systems and controls to see whether it can guarantee the operational soundness, stability and resilience of the system, its orderly operation and the transparency of the price-formation process. These are all concrete actions, critical to ensuring that the financial system is effective in meeting the needs of people who use it and is, I suggest, rather different from social responsibility which very much stands out from that list.
Before I let my noble friend come in again, I want to repeat that determining what social responsibility is and how it should be delivered is a matter for the Government.
I am grateful to my noble friend for giving way and hope this will be my last intervention. In new Section 1D, the integrity of the UK financial system—which is of course crucial, because it is one of the FCA’s operational objectives—is said to include soundness, stability and resilience. In Amendment 109, I have suggested adding “and social responsibility”. The Minister asks what on earth social responsibility has to do with the FCA which is all about banking things such as stability and soundness and so on. My point is that we are dealing here with a financial sector that marches to a completely different drum. It is about social responsibility: that is its purpose. For that not to be an element in the section of the Bill which, in effect, defines integrity, first, does not face that reality, and, secondly, demeans it. Thirdly, I hark back to the matters which the two regulators have the duty to have regard to when making rules and so on. Lastly, I put it to the Minister that if we had social responsibility in this list, it would mean that in future the regulator could and indeed should look at, for example, mis-selling. Mis-selling is not a crime, it does not impact on the soundness, stability or resilience of the bank, but it is none the less a practice which I am sure he will agree has been powerfully damaging to all concerned. That phrase in this part of this section would, I believe, put the regulator on its mettle to look beyond the conventional issues and take account of the social impact of some of the practices of the banks.
My Lords, I cannot agree with that construction of what is intended here. Mis-selling very clearly comes under new Section 1C, the consumer protection objective. We have, perhaps, teased out of this discussion that if we are talking about social responsibility in the sense that my noble friend intends and in the way he has described it, it is more linked to the consumer protection objective, rather than the integrity of the UK financial system. The difficulty may partly be in the different uses of “integrity”. We are not talking in new Section 1D about integrity in the direct sense of the behaviour of the individuals in the system. We are talking about the wholeness and stability and soundness of the financial system, which is why these particular factors are listed in Section 1D(2). They are linked to concrete actions that would be expected of the FCA, examples of which I have just given. We may be partly mixing up apples and pears here because I do not think that social responsibility fits into this clause of the Bill.
If my noble friend came back and tried to attach it to proposed new Section 1C, I would still argue that social responsibility is a matter for government. Social responsibility in the sense that he is talking about will go to the heart of what the Joint Committee will look at in response to the LIBOR scandal. The responsibility of the participants in the sector will be tackled in different ways.
I have tried to reassure the Committee—I can see that I may have given only partial reassurance—that the Government firmly believe that the financial industry should serve society. There is a big unfinished agenda and the Government will not shy away from driving it forward. The right way to do so is through different avenues but not through expecting the FCA to be responsible for these particular areas. I ask my noble friend to consider withdrawing his amendment.
My Lords, while my noble friend is doing that, perhaps he will say something about the effect that Amendment 103 would have in a practical sense. If faced with the words “and society” at the end of the subsection, how would the FCA’s decisions be different? Under what kind of practical circumstances would it make a difference?
My Lords, that is a strictly out-of-court request at the moment. However, if the Committee will indulge the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, and myself, I will give him a short answer.
I am concerned, and those who have supported the amendment and the whole of the social investment sector are deeply concerned, that there is no single recognition in 168 pages of its special nature—not one single indication. I agree with them—others have made the point—that that is a profound omission given where we are, the financial sector we have got and the innovative drive and importance—potentially more than actually—of this new social sector.
Does the noble Lord not accept that we have a very immature sector still? We have not got the right corporate forms that will combine the different streams of investor, whether it be a Government, a charity which is running the scheme, a grant-giving charity or private investors, who may be corporate or private individuals. We must be very careful not to put too much weight on the structure too early because if we arouse expectations about what it can deliver and it crumbles away, not only will the sector be disappointed but—dare I say it with my noble friend on the Front Bench?—the regulator will say, “I told you so”. We need to be very careful about that.
I wholly agree. That consideration is not at all incompatible with the intent of this group of amendments—indeed, my noble friend has strongly supported the group. It is partly because I share his concern about the immaturity of this new branch of the financial sector that I want it to be incorporated within the regime that will follow on from this massive piece of legislation.
At this time of night and with this tiny number of people present, the Minister can be safe in the expectation of there not being a vote called, but I say to him that we must, by hook or by crook, have included in the Bill by Report some form of words which recognises this new sector and gives it proper allowance and scope to develop and thrive, because, as everybody agrees, including the Government, it has the potential to be hugely important in the future. If the Minister will agree to meet between now and Report, which I hope will be after the Summer Recess, we may be able to concoct something which satisfies the new financial sector and those of us who supported the amendment. I do not think that that is beyond the wit of man. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 103 withdrawn.
Amendments 104 to 104ZA not moved.
House adjourned at 10.41 pm.