Report (2nd Day)
Clause 6 : The new Regulators
25A: Clause 6, page 20, line 37, at end insert—
“(5A) In discharging its general functions the FCA must have regard to the desirability of not requiring the persons whom it regulates to observe any principles, rules or requirements that extend beyond those directly arising under the requirements of the EU single market legislation and of any other EU obligation (as defined in the European Communities Act 1972) or any directly applicable EU legislation, or of any related technical standards or guidance.”
My Lords, perhaps I may remind noble Lords who are seeking to leave the Chamber rather than listen to my noble friend Lord Flight that it is a courtesy of this House that they do not walk in front of him as they are leaving. I mean my own colleagues on my left.
My Lords, Amendment 25A stands initially on its face. It proposes that the FCA should have regard to the desirability of not gold-plating EU directive regulations for the financial services industry. I have tabled it particularly in the context of the RDR reforms due to go live at the beginning of next year because the European Parliament has voted quite decisively not to ban commission as a form of remuneration. The German Government have elected to retain the commission structure for Germany’s IFA industry. It is my great concern that proceeding with RDR will ultimately cause grave damage to saving levels in this country but, more particularly, will rob the great majority of people of any access to financial advice. They will be left having to do it themselves or to buy the products of the large banks, which are not necessarily bad or good, but are, ironically, products on which commission will be paid.
I am certainly not attacking extremely professional financial advisers, many of whom have functioned on a fee basis for some considerable period. The reality is that their clients are upmarket clients. They are the elite. The great majority of people, to the extent that they save, do it occasionally. In my observation, they are extremely unwilling to pay fees, and it is uneconomic for them as well. Every time anybody phones their accountant or their lawyer, the clock ticks and they get a bill, so they do not do it any more than they can help. The existing sensible practice is that ordinary folk phone up their IFA from time to time to discuss the bit of money they have to invest and they have a sensible exchange. Only if some form of investment is made does remuneration by commission come into effect.
My first big criticism of RDR is that it is elitist. It is fine for the better off or for financial intermediaries who have those sorts of clients, but for the great majority it is not fine at all. I estimate that some 5 million people will be left without any form of advice as RDR works its way through. Although the FSA has sensibly committed to a review later on, by the time that happens it will be closing the stable door after the horse has bolted because there will be a very limited number of IFAs left.
On 7 September, the FSA announced that RDR would go ahead from the beginning of next year, but it gave individual IFAs the ability to apply for a waiver if they were not ready. It did not specify the conditions for the waiver being granted, nor is it clear whether the FSA has the staff to deal with what may be many applications. A money marketing survey as recently as September found that only 36% of financial advisers had their statement of professional standing. That means that 22,000 financial advisers are not going to be RDR compliant. The FSA stated that 91% were, but I do not know the basis for that figure. It is significantly in conflict with the latest information.
In the face of RDR, the financial advice industry is already contracting. There was a 6.2% reduction this year, and over the past two years there has been a 10.6% fall. That represents 4,300 financial advisers ceasing to be in business. If each of them had 600 clients, that is about 2.5 million people who no longer have access to financial advice. Under the new regime, it will be uneconomic for those financial advisers who survive to have occasional clients because the fee level they would need to charge for the work they would have to do is considerably higher than people would be willing to pay.
There is the separate problem that many financial advisers are not young—perhaps 50 to 70 years old. Many have been in practice for 20 or 30 years and many, despite the unfair criticisms that are often made, have a clean bill of health with their clients. However, unlike everyone else they are not being grandfathered and people of that vintage are extremely unwilling to take examinations in their modern form, having not taken any for ages. Many find the examination syllabuses not particularly relevant to their part of the industry, so older IFAs are not, in the main, willing to take the examinations, and are likely to close shop instead.
I asked the other day whether the Government were considering requiring regulators to have exam qualifications. The answer was no. This seems somewhat ironic when the SFA has refused to budge on grandfathering well performing, long-standing IFAs. The Financial Ombudsman’s findings show that in the main the sinners have been the large banking institutions, and that the record of IFAs—I am not saying they are all wonderful—has actually been fairly good; the ombudsman has mostly found in their favour.
The bottom line is that the Treasury Select Committee very powerfully advised a pause. In my experience, the investment management industry in the main is highly critical of RDR but has felt it not worthwhile raising its criticisms because RDR was going to happen anyway and it did not want to upset the FSA. Many advisers have now spent a lot of money on installing systems to deal with RDR. I believe that there will be a significant shambles in the savings industry next year. The life insurance companies I talk to tell me that their systems are nowhere near ready and that they are not at all clearly organised about how to conduct their business in a post-RDR world. There is a very powerful argument at least for pause or, if not, for some adaption.
Historically, those advising small and medium-sized companies on their pension arrangements were remunerated by life insurance companies discounting their series of charges over 25 years and paying the advisers up front to cover the cost of the work. That is no longer being permitted. The SMEs are simply unwilling and unable to pay the sort of fees that are economically required. I believe the buzzword is “factoring”, but unless factoring—a present-value calculation of future commissions—is one way or the other permitted there will be a particular problem with small and medium-sized companies, with all they need to do to reorganise their pension schemes, where they are generally not in position to pay the sort of fees that this will cost.
I greatly urge the Government to follow—for once—the EU and to accept the EU’s finding on RDR reforms that there is an ongoing role for commissions. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend raised some very interesting points. Of course the RDR issue has two parts. He referred to the basis for charging, but there is the qualification aspect as well. RDR will require advisers to get QCF level 4, which is only A-level standard. It does not seem to me to be too much to ask that people who are advising on savings should have an equivalent of an A-level qualification. I rather support the idea that RDR should endeavour to encourage the emergence of a profession. He referred to the fact that the profession was largely an elderly one and that we needed to encourage some new, younger blood. Careers will be more likely to be attractive if the idea of RDR with some qualifications—making you like the solicitor and accountant in your high street—comes to pass.
My noble friend’s second point was about the method of charging. We have here the question of how we square the circle between the reluctance to pay fees and the need for continuing advice. If you have a pension scheme that will last you for 15, 20 or 25 years, you need someone who is prepared to step up and advise you as to how it is going ahead. My problem is that we are now sufficiently far down the track on the idea of fee paying and the ending of commission. There is no doubt that commissions were raised not so much from the IFAs but often from the producers, to try to make the sale of the product more attractive. I do not think, as my noble friend said, that by any manner of means the IFAs have been the only people to blame, but we are sufficiently close to the start now that we need to continue with the approach of fees. It is not ideal, but I think that order plus counter-order would equal disorder. We have been marching the IFA community towards a fee-based remuneration schedule for two or three years. To pull back in the middle of November, when it is due to go live on 1 January, would cause the most enormous difficulties for the producers and the industry.
My Lords, I was not intending to take part in this debate. At one time, I was chairman of the Children’s Mutual, which was a friendly society/insurance company. At the weekend, in Northampton, I had discussions with some friends whom I would call middle-class savers. Not a single person, frankly, was the least bit prepared to pay a fee. It goes deeper than that. One’s own children are not prepared to pay fees up front.
There may have been much wrong with the old system in that it was not as closely scrutinised as it should have been in terms of the total cost to the saver. Nevertheless, here we are three and a half years into a major austerity programme and sufficient resources are not available for people who are genuinely wanting to or having to save. I do not know what the minimum fee will be and perhaps my noble friends on this side will be more up to date on that. I cannot see that it can be less than £500, if not considerably more.
I say to my Front Bench that it is all very well ploughing on because this has to happen in January but, as an aside, I reflect on how the FSA took three and a half years to realise that the projections on pensions were totally out of court. We have all been living with a base rate of 0.5% for a couple of years. Here we have projections approved by the FSA at, I think, 5%, 7% and 9%. That was totally out of court and nothing happened from the FSA. There had jolly well better be a plan B somewhere in the hip pocket because I very much fear what will happen. During the first three or four months nothing much will happen but, thereafter, there will be a major crisis unless there is a plan B ready to deal with it.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Flight has spoken eloquently on the issue of the retail distribution review both on this and a number of other occasions, both when we have been discussing this Bill and at other times as well. Clearly, his concerns go to the heart of the RDR. I respect him for the force and strength of his arguments and for the clarity with which he has put them. However, I think that my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, in his short remarks, takes a more realistic and pragmatic view of some of the things that are necessary in the RDR and of the practicalities of where we are now some five or six years into the process which was initiated back then by the FSA.
The RDR certainly goes beyond the requirements of the markets and financial instruments directive; that is true. It is to be implemented at the end of this year. It will, among other things, as we have heard, prevent product providers from offering commissions to advisers. These rules will go beyond the requirements of the directive, which does not prevent product providers paying inducements to intermediaries. I think that it is a bit of a leap from there to say that the EU has taken a positive view that commissions should be paid in the way that they have been to date, as I think my noble friend possibly recognises.
The Government are supportive of the RDR, which is intended to address long-running problems that impact on the quality of advice and consumer outcomes in the UK retail investment market. The financial detriment caused to consumers as a consequence of poor, biased financial advice leading to the mis-selling of products cannot be overstated and has led consumer groups such as Which? to support the measures in the RDR. For example, following the FSA’s pensions review in 2002, 1.7 million consumers received compensation totalling £11.8 billion due to pension mis-selling alone. More recent scandals such as Arch Cru, where between 15,000 and 20,000 people lost out on thousands of pounds because they were told that high-risk investments were low risk, demonstrate the devastating effects of poor financial advice. Indeed the FSA has estimated detriment to consumers to be in the region of £223 million per annum, so we cannot wish the problem away.
To tackle the problem, the RDR will raise the professional standards of investment advisers, address the potential for adviser remuneration to distort consumer outcomes and improve transparency for consumers. As part of this, the rules banning commission payments to advisers will tackle the risk as well as the perception that commission paid by product providers may bias advice, and rules requiring advisers to agree their charges upfront will promote transparency for consumers. Taken as a whole, the Government’s view is that the RDR should improve consumer confidence and trust in investment advice and it fits with the Government’s wider agenda on increasing transparency in the market.
I am not going to repeat all I said in answer to my noble friend’s recent Question, which led into the points about training. Again, while he and my noble friend Lord Naseby are quite right to raise concerns around the transition, I think that my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts is right to point out the need for and desirability of professionalisation, but also that the bar has not been set excessively high. I do not want to trade data, but I think that this is quite important. The FSA’s latest research shows that the proportion of advisers who meet the RDR’s new qualification requirements has increased from 50% in summer 2011 to 71% in spring 2012. The FSA research also shows that 93% of advisers are still on track with their prediction—93%, not 91%. I know that my noble friend challenges that, but the FSA has looked at this very carefully and its advice and research shows that 93% are still on track with its prediction to complete the appropriate qualification in time.
Having said all that, I should just spend a minute on the amendment itself. As we discussed in Committee, the FCA and the PRA will be required to have regard to the principle that any burden they impose should be proportionate to the benefits that flow from it. This proportionality principle will apply to any proposed requirement whether it originates in EU law or purely domestically, so it already covers gold-plating. I would also point the House to government Amendment 44, which we will be debating in due course, and which adds a new regulatory principle giving the regulators the duty to have regard to the desirability of sustainable UK economic growth. That is a principle that will apply also to both the FCA and PRA. I am sure they will take it very seriously when they consider gold-plating. It will also be pointed out to them as a hook, as it should be, to avoid unnecessary gold-plating. So, in short, I do not believe that the amendment is necessary, nor does it fit with the Government’s wider aims in this area. I hope that my noble friend will feel able to withdraw it.
My Lords, first, I am glad to learn that the amendment taken at its face value is not necessary, in the sense that the FCA already has the obligation when implementing EU directives to have regard to proportionality and reasonableness. With regard to the RDR situation, I remain of the view that the FCA, the FSA and the Treasury are complacent about what is going to be quite a serious situation for those who are not professionals, are not used to paying fees and have modest savings, who will be left with very few conduits. That is a particularly undesirable outcome.
I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. Clearly, yes, the industry wants to become professional going forward, but the point that I was making with regard to qualifications was about grandfathering existing practitioners. I would repeat the noble Lord’s comment, in that I hope that the Treasury has plan B in its back pocket—and, for that matter, I hope that the FSA has plan B in its back pocket. My understanding is that by no means all the senior members of the FSA are entirely happy about RDR.
It is clear that it is not appropriate to put this amendment to a vote, but it has at least served to air a subject that has been rather ignored in both Houses of Parliament. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 25A withdrawn.
25B: Clause 6, page 20, line 41, after “codes” insert “, including a code of conduct, as set out in section 1LA (Code of conduct), for the financial services industry”
My Lords, there can be little doubt that an enforceable code of conduct is sorely needed in this industry. Many banks publish so-called codes of conduct that read impressively. The Barclays code of conduct says:
“We … expect every Barclays employee, and others who work on our behalf, to conduct themselves according to consistently high professional and ethical standards. This expectation applies equally to all, whatever their role”.
This from the bank that sold PPI and whose employees fixed the LIBOR rate. HSBC encourages employees to make decisions based on,
“doing the right thing but without ever compromising the ethical standards and integrity on which the company was built”.
Yes—that is the same HSBC that we learnt on Friday had been facilitating tax and AML-avoiding bank accounts in Jersey. Some integrity.
The Chartered Banker Code of Professional Conduct, which sets out the ethical and professional attitudes and behaviours expected of bankers, has been endorsed by virtually every major high street bank. But there is clearly something missing. The words are there, but the behaviours do not follow. The code does not have the necessary sanctions to strike people off the register, nor does it have governing structures independent of the industry.
Other professions have codes of conduct which are independently supervised and enforced. In the case of barristers and solicitors, the functioning and enforcement of these are overseen by the Legal Services Board. In the case of accountants, auditors and actuaries, they are overseen, and in the last resort enforced by, the Financial Reporting Council, which I noted before, sadly, gets no mentions in this Bill, despite the importance of its role. But here we are concerned with those bankers, and others, who do not belong to one of those professions and therefore have no individual code of conduct to cover integrity, the avoidance of conflict of interest and other behavioural matters. For them, there is no supervision of their individual behaviours, and no professional enforcement procedure; action kicks in only when specific rules are broken. This is not good enough for an industry that has shown itself lacking in the very attributes that this vital sector should have engraved in its DNA. The evidence read out about the last amendment by the Minister is ample evidence of that. It is an industry where conflicts of interest are too rarely identified, declared and avoided. LIBOR and PPI are examples.
There is a Bank of England code for members of the FPC, but there is no requirement for a code for directors and senior executives of banks and other parts of the financial services. Yet as the noble Lord, Lord Turner, acknowledged, bank directors bear responsibilities to the public which go beyond those of other private sector directors. Any failure on their part is therefore,
“of public concern, not just concern for shareholders”.
Hector Sants, then of the FSA, told the Treasury Select Committee that,
“we should change the regulatory regime to … ensure that people who have shown … serial misjudgment are not allowed to run financial institutions again”.
However, where does this Bill stop them? Simply relying on the significant influence function procedure may not be enough and, anyway, it is a slow burn. If the person concerned moves abroad, no penalty is exercised and no bonus returned. Or if they apply for a significant influence function after some years, there may be no current or warm evidence or witnesses on which to base a decision. A code of conduct is needed to which these people must individually sign up and a breach of which should expose them to investigation and possible action. Without this, we will continue as before with all our interests at risk.
I should note that the Government have accepted the need for a code to cover one aspect of banks’ day-to-day work—the submission of rates for the LIBOR benchmark. Amen to that; we will welcome that shortly. However, surely it is nonsense to agree the need for a code for just one aspect of the banks’ work, because it has been found wanting, but not to the myriad other decisions which banks and their staff take every hour of the day. The exact name of such a code may be debated: John Kay’s review spoke of good practice; some professions call it a code of ethics. The principle is that it governs behaviours, outlaws conflicts of interest and is enforceable. It governs the profession of stewardship, which is what most of this industry is about.
Since the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards was established, the BBA has launched a taskforce to investigate a code of conduct. However, I believe that a standards board run by the BBA—the organisation that administered LIBOR—would have zero credibility. A standards board must be independent of the industry, with the ability to set high standards, the tools to supervise the code and the power to strike off those who breach the code. The other professions’ codes of conduct lay down exactly what is expected of people and we need the same for banking. Anyone who breaks the conduct code should be struck off, whether for market manipulation, gaming indices or deliberate mis-selling. People should not be allowed in banking again if they have mis-sold a product.
I believe that confidence will not return until we strike off those whose conduct has let us all down. The details of the code need not detain us here. Amendment 31A, which is consequent on Amendment 25B, allows for the code to be drawn up by, we hope, the FCA and the PRA in consultation with relevant stakeholders. No one, I am sure, can argue against the intention of this amendment. I trust that the Minister will not argue against its wording. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to support both of these amendments in the names of my noble friends. I think that my noble friend Lady Hayter is right to place all of this in the context of the experience of the past few years. The general proposition on which our discussion must be based is that, if the financial services sector misbehaves, we all suffer—not merely those who buy financial products directly, but everybody in the country. I use the word misbehave advisedly. Systemic risk and systemic events do not appear as if by black magic but result from the way that people who work in the financial sector conduct their business.
Why do they occur? They occur because of the way that people in the sector do things. The solution to the problems must be found partly through regulation, as the Bill recognises. On the one hand, we must bring in regulation to deal with some aspects of this matter. On the other hand, improved behaviour by the enterprises operating in financial services is not merely required but urgently required, as I think my noble friend said. Until recent events emerged I, for one, was not aware of the lack of professionalism and the seeming total unconcern with ethical standards on the part of people in the sector. Whenever I reflect on it, I still find it astonishing that apparently decent people behaved like a bunch of crooks, not to put too fine a point on it. They did not mis-sell products by chance; they deliberately mis-sold them.
Clearly, something must be done. My noble friends are right to see the Bill as the ideal vehicle for doing something, and for tabling amendments to it that would actually achieve something. The object is not to damage the sector, as it is a very important one that earns a lot of money for our economy, but to make it fitter for purpose, if I may use a cliché. My noble friend Lady Hayter is entirely right when she says that as a minimum—I underline “minimum”—there must be a code of conduct which is mandatory and enforceable. I was not clear whether she had in mind all sorts of penalties rather than just the most draconian of all of saying, “You cannot work in this sector again”. Perhaps she will clarify that when she sums up.
I hope that the Government understand all this. Certainly the public understand these problems. I also hope that the Government do not play their usual card and tell us that these amendments are not necessary because buried somewhere in some bit of fine print is an inferior version of what they do. In my judgment these amendments are necessary and the sooner we get them on the statute book, the better.
My Lords, I have amendments in the next group and so will keep most of my comments on this aspect of the Bill until then.
I wholeheartedly endorse what the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said in moving this amendment and, indeed, what the noble Lord, Lord Peston, has just said. The problem for all of us, most particularly my noble friend the Minister, is to try to contrive a state of affairs for the future which is fundamentally different from that which has prevailed hitherto. I think everybody in the House agrees that we cannot go on as we have done. The City of London, which has been the jewel in our economic crown, is now so tarnished and undermined by its own conduct that its future is far from certain. I have been involved in the City of London since 1964. It has strayed so far from its own mottoes of “My word is my bond” and “May God direct us” as to become almost laughable—indeed, “tragic” is a better word.
If one is to be hard-headed about this—there is no other way than to be extremely hard-headed when dealing with the financial sector—one has to own up to the fact that codes of conduct have not worked very well hitherto. One will find that nearly all the main actors within the City are members of professional, or quasi-professional, bodies that have codes of conduct, but the fact remains that, in the City and in other financial centres, the general level of conduct, particularly of what used to be called morals, has declined to an unsustainable point. We are not on our own but we are better than most. I say that while supporting the sentiment of the amendment because, frankly, even if it were on the face of the statute, it would not be worth a row of beans unless it were enforced.
The great failing in our society, and in our financial sector over the past few decades, has been a lamentable gap between what the law requires and what is enforced on the ground. There is no shortage of criminal law to deal with most of the worst abuses that have occurred and are still occurring; we have a plethora of criminal law and probably more than any democratic society on earth, but the problem is enforceability. I hope that my noble friend will address that issue when he responds to the amendment because it is equally relevant to the next set and to other sets of amendments. Unless we can beef up the authorities that have the hugely difficult task of policing these hugely complicated measures, we cannot pretend that they will work. Some of the most fertile and brilliant brains in lawyering, accounting and so on are available for hire in the City to anyone prepared to pay their generous fees. Unless the measures that we emerge with at the end of this process are clear, you can be sure that they will be got around.
The failure of our tax system, about which we hear more from month to month, is a classic tale of legislation that is unfit for purpose and, above all, an enforcement resource that is grotesquely unfit for purpose. Any one of the large banks can wheel out more lawyers and accountants to defend them from a single thrust from the regulator than the regulator has in its entirety. It is not David and Goliath; it is David, without his sling, and Goliath. This is a very difficult Bill to be leading on and this is perhaps the most difficult aspect of a difficult Bill but I hope my noble friend will have something to say on enforcement.
My Lords, it is difficult to disagree with the objective of appropriate codes of conduct in this industry but I am left wondering what the amendment adds to the state of current regulations. As the noble Baroness will know, there is a regime of approved persons in the industry and to be an approved person, and to hold any position of responsibility in financial services, you are required to behave in accordance with a fairly clear code of conduct which covers many of the things that this amendment seeks to introduce. Before calling for the writing of yet another code, it would be helpful if the noble Baroness could explain what she thinks is omitted from the current code for approved persons, or whether it is an enforcement problem and, if so, how that would lead to better enforcement than currently exists under the approved persons regime. Otherwise, we are in danger of rewriting the same words over and over again.
My Lords, I strongly support my noble friend in her amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, seems to be replying for the Minister, telling us why it is not necessary. Is it harmful to have this amendment in the Bill? If so, let him tell us how rather than asking whether it is necessary. As I would have expected, the case has been made very well indeed by my noble friend Lady Hayter and supported elegantly and eloquently by my noble friend Lord Peston. I hope the Minister will not take any notice of the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, when he replies.
My Lords, I always take a lot of notice of my noble friend Lord Blackwell. However, Amendments 25B and 31A raise a very important issue. The revelations during the summer about the attempts to manipulate LIBOR and Euribor demonstrated, if any demonstration were needed, that perhaps a considerable number of individuals in the banking sector have failed to live up to the most basic standards of professional conduct and that must, of course, be put right. We are tabling our amendments to this Bill to bring the setting of LIBOR within the scope of the regulatory regime and make it a criminal offence to attempt to manipulate benchmark rates, but that is only the first step.
The critical issue here, which I think has been rather forgotten in this debate, is that the Government acted very quickly to establish the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, made a passing reference to it. The noble Lord, Lord Peston, suggested that I may fob the House off by saying I have another version—he would say an inferior version—of this in the Bill. I absolutely will not say this. I will say there is a superior answer to this very big problem coming from the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. I entirely accept that there is a serious issue to be dealt with but the commission is established, it is doing its work and it will look at precisely what is needed to deal with the challenge.
I must be a bit thick; I thought that the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards was not due to report until this Bill is passed into law. Where will its recommendations, assuming it makes any, then be passed into law?
I will come on to that if the noble Lord, Lord Peston, will hear me out. Of course it is no good having a commission if its recommendations are not going to be taken seriously or enacted if necessary. We should remind ourselves of how this House is represented on the commission. It is quite striking that I do not see my noble friends Lady Kramer or Lord Lawson of Blaby in their places this afternoon, nor indeed the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham or the noble Lords, Lord McFall of Alcluith and Lord Turnbull. Why are they not here? I believe it is because the commission is at work today looking into these very critical questions. Experience and authority is being brought to bear on these issues in order to identify ways to put the highest standards of ethics and professionalism at the heart of the UK banking system and I believe that we should leave the commission to do its work.
I know, as do other noble Lords, that the commission will examine all possible solutions and of course the introduction of codes of conduct should be one of them. We have heard different views about the effectiveness of codes of conduct, but it is quite right for the commission to look at that. The commission has the membership and the tools it needs to do a very thorough job in this area and I do not think we should pre-empt it. It has the power to interview witnesses under oath and to send for the necessary people and papers. It has already heard evidence from, among others, Paul Volcker, the former chairman of the Federal Reserve, Martin Wheatley the chief executive designate of the FCA and from various members of the Independent Commission on Banking. The commission has already gathered an impressive range of written evidence from stakeholders, including the major banks, regulators and consumer groups, and that evidence was published last Thursday.
So, given that the commission’s work is ongoing, it is not the right time to make decisions on this very important matter. To do so would be to pre-empt and undermine the conclusions of the commission, which is investigating this issue so thoroughly.
I will give way to the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, in a moment but perhaps I may answer specifically the question of the noble Lord, Lord Peston.
The Government look forward to receiving the commission’s report and recommendations and will consider them with great care. It is due to report by the end of the year. As to when we might legislate, as the House knows, the Government will introduce the banking reform Bill, which was published in draft last month, into Parliament in the new year. That Bill may well provide an appropriate vehicle to implement any of the commission’s recommendations that require legislation. So we certainly will not lack a possible legislative vehicle, in the right timeframe, when the recommendations are made by the commission.
My Lords, the noble Lord has not hesitated, quite rightly, to put the LIBOR scandal amendments in this Bill. Now he is saying that he does not want to put in the code of conduct in case the commission comes up with it. In that case, why has he put the LIBOR scandal amendments in the Bill?
My Lords, the Government kicked off a number of inquiries and reviews immediately we became aware of the LIBOR scandal. Martin Wheatley, the managing director of the FSA and the chief executive designate of the FCA, carried out one of the reviews which have led directly to the amendments in this Bill. We have acted on his amendments specifically addressing criminal offences and so on around LIBOR in this Bill. We also set up the commission to look at the wider question of professional standards and the way that banking operates and it will report by the end of the year. We will have a legislative vehicle in the new year, if required, to take up its recommendations, which the Government will take very seriously.
It is not that we are dragging our feet or want to stop these issues being addressed. It would just seem foolish to pre-empt a commission of great eminence which is doing enormously important work as we speak. I hope that, on that basis and the confirmation I have given about what is going on, the noble Baroness will be persuaded to withdraw her amendment. While the Government agree with the need to restore public trust in banking, we should not jump to legislate now but do so once the parliamentary commission has had time to do its work.
I am still a bit lost. As I understand it, the Minister cannot at this point commit the Government to bringing in any specific Bill that they have not brought in yet. However, setting that on one side, the more important point is that all of my remarks, as he will be aware, were addressed to the whole of the financial services sector. Is it possible to have a banking Bill in which amendments will be put down referring to the code of conduct for the whole financial sector? In my view, we will be told that either the short or long Title will not let us do it. That is why I argue that this is the obvious vehicle for this, and nothing the noble Lord has said so far tells me that this is not the obvious vehicle.
My Lords, we have published the Bill in draft already, so it is already on the slipway in that sense. I am not equipped to get into questions about what precisely the scope could be in that Bill. I believe it is wide enough. If it is not, the Government will find other legislative vehicles in which to introduce this. However, I am reminded that although I loosely call it the banking reform Bill, it will actually be titled the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill and therefore the scope will be plenty wide enough to bring in a code of conduct right across the piece. I hope that provides further reassurance to the House.
My Lords, I thank noble Lords who have spoken on the amendment. I will give one specific answer to my noble friend Lord Peston: there would be a range of penalties possible under an enforceable code, from working under supervision to requalifying or even paying fines
It is disappointing that the Minister, if I heard him correctly, accepted the problem and—I think—the need for a code but simply said, “Not yet”. I do not think that is the right answer. We need to have stronger regulation. I do not agree that the approved persons regulation system worked—if it had, we would not have had all these problems. We need action now. It was not lack of regulation that led to PPI mis-selling, it was the banks’ lack of concern for their customers. It was not the absence of regulation that led to the LIBOR manipulation, it was, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, a lack of morals.
Until we have an enforceable code of conduct across the whole of the financial sector to govern internal behaviours, we will not see the difference between the past and the future, to which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, also referred. I feel certain that the House will support the inclusion of a code of conduct within this Bill. We do not want to wait for a commission that may not have a unanimous report and whose findings the Government have said they will only consider, not endorse. Therefore, I would like to test the opinion of the House.
25C: Clause 6, page 21, line 8, at end insert—
“( ) As part of upholding the FCA’s consumer protection and integrity objectives, and in order to support a cultural change across the UK financial system, the FCA shall also have a general duty to take into account firms’ professional standards.
( ) This must include—
(a) an assessment of firms’ competencies including the extent to which professional qualifications and continuing professional development are embedded across core functions; and(b) an assessment of firms’ conduct including adherence to a code of conduct or code of ethics, and the extent to which employees are members of a recognised professional body.”
My Lords, historically, bank managers were much trusted to act in the best interest of their clients, especially when I was a child. Sadly, however, today consumers and small businesses no longer retain that trust. Bank staff have been incentivised to sell complex and sometimes worthless financial products, such as interest rate swaps or PPI. Lloyds alone, for example, has had to set aside £5.3 billion to make good those mis-sellings. We need a banking system which is trusted: a return to old-fashioned stewardship banking which serves every region, business and family in the country. This demands professionalism, which this amendment seeks to embed within the Bill.
Ministers and regulators have both spoken about the importance of instituting cultural change within firms. The then FSA Chief Executive Hector Sants argued that regulators should,
“ensure firms have the right culture for their business model—the right ethical framework—to facilitate the right decisions and judgements”.
Earlier this year, in setting out his vision for a “new orthodoxy” in financial services, Martin Wheatley said that he wanted a world,
“where the culture of firms, from product governance to sales, is aligned with the best interests of the customer”.
These amendments seek to promote such a cultural change by ensuring that FCA supervisors judge professional standards when assessing the conduct risk posed by firms.
Professional standards are vital. The higher a practitioner’s commitment to professional standards, the lower the likelihood of customer harm. Likewise, high levels of professional standards are linked to increased consumer trust and confidence. However, the Bill makes no reference to professional standards, despite the recommendation of the Joint Committee and the evidence of incompetence and even dishonesty. This is a significant omission. Were they written into the Bill, the regulator would have greater persuasive powers and there would be a power incentive for firms to embed higher standards at every level. This would enhance consumer protection and underpin the integrity of the UK financial system. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group, Amendment 26D and Amendment 27A. As I said during debate on the last group of amendments, this part of the Bill is extremely difficult and I make no pretence that what the Government and indeed the parliamentary draftsmen are contending with here is other than the greatest test of their skill.
None the less, I think that they have got the balance wrong. Noble Lords will know by now that there are three objectives that must be satisfied as far as possible under the Bill: the consumer protection objective, the competition objective, and what is called the integrity objective. My two amendments are designed to buttress the last of those three: the integrity objective. I suggest to your Lordships that of those three objectives, integrity must surely come first. It is frankly no use if the competitive aggression of the City of London remains the highest on the planet, bar perhaps Wall Street, if the standards of integrity are wanting. The same is true of consumer protection.
However, the Bill gives priority to competition over consumer protection and integrity. I dare say my noble friend the Minister will deny that, but I leave that to your Lordships to judge. Having set out those three objectives, proposed new Section 1B(4) to the FiSMA on page 20 then says the following:
“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”.
That is either a pointless subsection because it has no meaning whatever, or it is a subsection which gives priority to competition. One does not need to labour the point that the tragic and appalling depths to which the City has sunk over recent decades and which it is not yet out of—let us make no bones about it—have their source in simple, ethical failure, and not in a want of competence, aggression of trades, shrewdness or anything else. We as a Parliament really owe it to the country—and, in a strange way, to the City itself—to make it clear that above, before and after all else it is integrity which must be supreme.
I must confess that I am now sorry that I did not attack proposed new Section 1B(4) head on. With other amendments, however, I have sought to strengthen the arm of the regulators in Amendment 26D, which puts as one of the issues that has to be considered when the regulator construes the integrity objective what I call,
“the fairness and integrity of policy and conduct of those directing or operating in the financial markets”.
It is a bit strange that there is no reference in this huge Bill to the regulator in relation to the individuals who are conducting business in the financial markets. My second amendment is to the proposed new section that defines the competition objective. It requires, among the matters to which the FCA must have regard,
“how far the methods or culture of any competition may undermine the integrity objective”.
I have just one more thing to say. The regulators in the City—as I said earlier, I have been there, mainly, not as a City player but within the City and acting occasionally for City entities and individuals—have an almost impossible task. That is because the law on regulation is now so voluminous and complicated, and those against the regulator are so clever, intensive and overwhelming in the resources that they can bring to resisting when it tries to intervene, that we owe it to what we are trying to achieve and, in aid of that, to the regulators to make it clear beyond peradventure that although this new Section 1B(4) will give competition priority between the three factors, none the less these additional subsections would introduce the conduct of the individuals and the concept of fairness into the equation, because they are notably absent in the wording of this Bill.
I have dealt with some of the regulators over the years and I can only pity them. We need to think what it is like when they are under huge attack and dealing with heaven knows how many cases, all of them complicated and all against businesses which will array against them 10 times the number of professionals that they have to deploy. We really need to make life that bit easier for them so that some cynical and crafty lawyer cannot say, “If you look at that clause and that clause, then that schedule and that schedule, then this Act and that Act and the rest of it, it is not clear. So, old friend, go ahead”. We do not want that.
The noble Lord makes a good point. He should perhaps have talked to some of his friends on the last group of amendments, when they all voted with the Government. I wonder what they might do this time. Has he convinced them, I wonder? We will have to wait and see. I was surprised by the proposed new section to which he referred because I thought I had understood the “may” or “must” argument. Those words are used profusely throughout the Bill. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Sassoon, told us that he had asked officials to go through the whole Bill and work out which of them they should keep. What I had not appreciated—this is a point drawn to our attention by the noble Lord, Lord Phillips—is that on page 20 we have, in new Section 1B(4), another method of having “must” or “may”. We have a qualified must:
“must, so far as is compatible”,
with the later words. In practice, it is not “must” at all. The noble Lord wants to strengthen it, and I agree. We need to strengthen the arm of regulators everywhere. That is why I voted for the previous amendment.
We may be told that we should wait for the banking Bill, which we have in draft. We cannot be sure that that Bill will appear in that form. I know that at least one noble Lord on the Opposition Benches wants to insert in it something that the Government do not have in mind to insert; namely, a Glass-Steagall amendment. The Minister will know what I mean. I do not know whether he has committed himself or the Government to the draft Bill appearing in the new year. I think he said that we will have it in the new year. Perhaps he will confirm that. We clearly need a banking Bill.
I understand when the Minister says that the Government will take into careful consideration what the banking commission says, but he has not committed himself on that either. What exactly are the Government committing themselves to? They have set up this very high-powered commission, of which colleagues on all sides of the House are Members, and I understand that they are doing a first-class job, but we have been told only that he may, after serous consideration, introduce what the commission recommends. Will he firm that up this afternoon? Will we definitely have a Bill early in the new year, based to a large extent on the work of this high-powered commission, that will deal with some of the points that have rightly been raised about integrity and care? All these matters could be in a banking Bill as well as in this Bill but, for the moment, we have only this Bill. I support my noble friend Lady Hayter and the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. I will support him when he moves his amendment, and I hope his colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches will do the same.
My noble friend Lord Phillips is quite right to draw attention to the importance of integrity. Integrity lies at the heart of confidence in the financial services system, indeed, in any commercial activity. In Amendment 26D, the noble Lord seeks to insert an additional requirement about,
“the fairness and integrity of policy and conduct of those directing or operating in the financial markets”.
He needs to be aware that the significant influence function committee already checks everybody who is undertaking the sorts of roles that he considers important—which are indeed important—and does so very thoroughly. It has done so with increasing pressure and difficulty in recent years, so much so that people are now ceasing to wish to undertake these roles. They are starting to ask whether they need all the hassle, the problems and the dangers of adverse publicity from people like the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. Powers exist to give authorisation to the people who will set the tone and the philosophy that he seeks to achieve, which all of us who work in the City feel are essential and which, as he rightly pointed out, have not always been present in the past. I say to the House, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that we must get the philosophy right. The creation of codes and more regulations will not necessarily produce the right people. We are looking for people with judgment. We rely on judgment, not on process, and as we do this we are in danger of moving more and more to a process-driven system that does not allow the exercise of judgment that will lead to the desirable results that my noble friend indicated in his remarks.
My Lords, I intervene reluctantly, but I see a lack of logic in what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. If the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, is not needed, and nor is that of my noble friend Lady Hayter, can he give us any explanation of how the criminal—I use that word again—activities of so many people in the City went on for year after year? If everything is fine and we do not need to establish standards, why did the City not behave appropriately? I use the words “the City” to indicate not just one or two people in the City but a culture right across it. It was the atmosphere there, that is what happened and that is why, in the last-chance saloon of your Lordships’ House, my noble friend Lord Phillips and others are trying to do something about it—in order, to put it bluntly, to get the reputation of the City back to where it was decades ago, when most of us were young and could look at it with admiration and pride. We cannot do that now.
I was not aware that I said that everything in the City was perfect. I said that integrity lies at the heart of the financial services industry, as indeed it lies at the heart of most commercial endeavour. I said that there were clearly areas where the City had fallen short, but I pointed out to my noble friend and to the noble Lord, Lord Peston, that the significant influence function committee has very considerable powers that it has been exercising with increasing strength in recent years. Therefore, I doubt that we need amendments such as this.
I am a bit confused. If the noble Lord absolutely agrees with me on the primacy of integrity, he cannot have read proposed new Section 1B(4) of FiSMA or he would not be content to oppose these amendments. New Section 1B(4) clearly states that the three objectives are equal but one is more equal than others—namely, competition. If he agrees with me and if one is going to be more equal than others, it should be integrity.
My Lords, I am not on the Front Bench, but as I read it, proposed new Section 1B(4) gives equal weight to these objectives. It states that in,
“so far as is compatible with acting in a way”,
the three are equal. I agree that integrity is extremely important, but we are not in a position where we want to avoid the other objectives, which have a real place in the creation of a dynamic City that is competitive on the world stage.
I hesitate to trouble the House with a further intervention—
My Lords, perhaps I may remind noble Lords that the rules of the House are that on Report, Members speak once on an amendment.
We can speak for clarification and to ask questions. We cannot make substantive points.
My Lords, I spoke about the role of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards when discussing the previous group of amendments. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, doubts the seriousness with which the Government intend to take its recommendations. It is a joint commission of the two Houses—something that any Government would take extremely seriously. We acted to initiate the setting up of the commission so I am disappointed that the noble Lord seeks to tweak my tail on this one. When it comes to a legislative vehicle, I could not have made it plainer that we have already published a draft Bill. The Financial Services (Banking Reform) Bill is on its way. That provides potentially a perfect legislative vehicle if there are things that come out of the commission, as no doubt there will be, that require legislation. The issues raised by Amendments 25C, 25E and 26C are firmly within the remit of the commission and it would be wholly inappropriate for us to jump the gun in a semi-considered way rather than waiting for the magisterial output of the commission in a short time.
Amendment 26D would add a new paragraph (f) to proposed new Section 1D(2) to be inserted in FiSMA 2000 under this Bill. It refers to,
“the fairness and integrity of policy and conduct of those directing or operating in the financial markets”.
That is on the same theme but seeks to place specific emphasis on issues of integrity and fairness by making changes to the FCA’s objectives. As we have heard from my noble friend Lord Phillips of Sudbury, Amendment 27A would specify that, in considering the effectiveness of competition, the FCA may have regard to the extent to which the,
“methods or culture of any competition may undermine the integrity objective”.
I sympathise with the amendment to the extent that it is clear that when the FCA considers taking action, it will need to consider all its objectives. Recent events have demonstrated how important it is that the regulator has a mandate to take action to protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system.
The Government have given the FCA the three operational objectives, as we have been reminded, of competition, consumer protection and integrity so that it determines the right balance between them in individual cases. The regulator cannot unduly prioritise any one objective and neglect to consider the others. My noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts has already given another construction, which perhaps is more balanced, of proposed new Section 1B(4) and I am grateful to him for that.
This is a complex interaction of provisions. In one case we are talking about a competition objective but also, in the context of proposed new Section 1B(4), a duty designed to ensure that the FCA considers competition as a means to, and in the context of, delivering other objectives. But that needs to happen only as far as it is compatible with the integrity and protection objectives. I believe that it is a keenly balanced series of interlocking provisions here, of which these are only two. Of course, there are further elaborations of just what the integrity objective and the other objectives involve. Further, it is important to “have regard to” under this new section. I believe that the balance is right and that there is no need to adjust the structure of the competition objective to require the FCA to consider integrity in the way proposed here.
Similarly, the FCA’s integrity objective will come into play when the FCA is exercising its general functions in relation to conduct. While it must think about whether competition is working in the interests of consumers, I do not believe that it is for the FCA to police the markets to establish and enforce what fairness is. I do not believe that fairness should form part of the explanation of the term “integrity”. It is a separate issue.
There are other issues about the interrelationship between the two new authorities. Proposed new Section 3D requires the PRA and FCA to co-ordinate their functions in areas of common regulatory interest where one may have relevant expertise or wherever one may have a material adverse impact on the objectives of the other. This means that, while it is right that the PRA must focus on its safety and soundness objective, where its actions may impact adversely on consumer protection it will have to listen to the FCA, which has a strong consumer protection objective.
In summary, I accept the wider point about the importance of these issues. As this short debate has teased out, these issues are very complicated. They are best addressed through the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. In the light of that, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I thank noble Lords for their support on the amendment. I actually think that the Minister is wrong. This is not complicated; this is about integrity. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, had it right. We are not talking about how to impose rules. We are talking about something within the people who work in this industry. The problem is that the significant influence function has not worked. Sir Fred Goodwin was appointed under it. It was not working, it has not worked, and we need something different. We need it in the Bill.
The Minister talked about the report of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards and what is going to come out of that, but that was not set up when the Bill was written. Would the Minister have accepted the code and the amendment on professional standards if Libor had not happened and if a banking commission had not been set up? The Bill was intended to mean no more failures and no more of that behaviour. We are talking about integrity. I had not planned to divide the House on this. However, as the Government have just voted against a code of conduct, I am so tempted now to put it to them that we should vote on professional standards to see whether they really want to say that they have a Financial Services Bill to make changes to the way we regulate but they do not want professional standards in that. For once in my life I will resist temptation. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 25C withdrawn.