Motion to Approve
My Lords, this SI is an important part of the Treasury’s programme of legislation under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018. It will address deficiencies related to the EU’s equivalence framework for financial services, and will make provisions for elements of the UK’s stand-alone equivalence framework for financial services, in a scenario where the UK leaves the EU without an agreement.
Many noble Lords will be familiar with the EU’s framework for equivalence. EU legislation allows the European Commission to determine that a country outside the EU—often termed a third country—has a regulatory and supervisory regime in a particular area of financial services that is equivalent to the corresponding EU regime. Granting equivalence is a key component of financial services regulation and supports cross-border activity. Equivalence decisions can reduce or eliminate overlaps in regulatory and supervisory requirements, thus decreasing regulatory burdens on firms. Some equivalence decisions provide improved prudential treatment, or facilitate the exchange of services. This can lead to increased competition, which benefits firms and consumers, while protecting financial stability.
Before making equivalence decisions, the Commission will undertake an assessment and may ask the European supervisory authorities for technical advice to support it. As an EU member state, any equivalence decisions made by the Commission currently have effect in the UK. In a no-deal scenario, the UK would be outside the EU’s equivalence framework. The Government place significant importance on having a functioning, stand-alone equivalence regime which will support our future relationship with the EU and other financial centres with which we want to build stronger partnerships.
Noble Lords will be aware that other Treasury statutory instruments which have completed their passage in Parliament have already transferred some equivalence responsibilities from the Commission to the Treasury, and functions from the ESAs to the UK financial regulators. Through these SIs, the Treasury has maintained the same substantive criteria that the EU uses to judge equivalence.
The SI does three main things to support a stand-alone UK equivalence framework in the event of a no-deal exit. First, it replaces the functions given to the ESAs with functions for the UK financial services regulators and creates an obligation for the Treasury and the UK regulators to enter into a memorandum of understanding that sets out how they will support equivalence assessments.
Secondly, the SI corrects deficiencies in existing equivalence decisions made by the Commission—for example, replacing references to the “Union” with references to the “United Kingdom”. Fixing these decisions is important to minimise disruption for some UK firms with businesses in equivalent third countries, and for some overseas firms which currently rely on these decisions.
Thirdly, the SI creates a temporary power for Ministers to make equivalence and exemption decisions for EU and EEA member states by direction for specified equivalence regimes listed in the SI. This is separate from the permanent arrangements for making equivalence decisions, which will become available only after exit and will require regulations subject to the negative resolution procedure. This temporary power is needed to prepare for the particular circumstances we would face if we left the EU without a deal.
As an EU member state, the UK has not previously needed powers to determine whether the EU is equivalent. However, in a no-deal scenario it will be important for the Treasury to have powers to make such decisions in time for exit day, to respond quickly and effectively to any risks to the financial system and to avoid disruption for firms and markets. To illustrate why these powers are required, I point the House to the European Commission, which has published several draft legal Acts granting certain technical exemptions to UK public bodies in a no-deal scenario. The Government would grant similar exemptions for relevant EU bodies in such a scenario, and this SI contains the powers to allow such exemptions to be put in place by exit day.
To ensure transparent use of the temporary power, this SI will oblige Ministers to lay directions before Parliament and to publish them. Noble Lords may have seen that the Treasury Select Committee wrote to the Economic Secretary to the Treasury on 7 February asking if 12 months was long enough for this power, given that other transitional regimes in financial services have been passed with longer periods. The Treasury’s response to the committee, published last week, emphasised that this power was needed only to mitigate the risks around exit. The Treasury expects that the permanent mechanism for taking equivalence decisions by regulations, subject to the negative resolution procedure, will be ready soon after exit day. As a result, the Treasury judges that 12 months is sufficient for this power.
The Treasury has worked closely with the Bank of England, the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority in drafting this instrument. The Treasury and the regulators have also ensured that the resources are in place to take on these functions. The Treasury has engaged the financial services industry and will continue to do so. The regulators and key industry stakeholders have expressed support for the provisions in this SI as necessary to mitigate disruption and to provide legal certainty about the UK’s equivalence system.
This Government believe that the proposed legislation is needed to ensure that the UK has an operable equivalence framework in a no-deal scenario. The powers it contains are needed to ensure that the Treasury and UK regulators are properly equipped to respond if the UK leaves the EU without a deal or an implementation period. I hope noble Lords will join me in supporting these regulations and I commend them to the House.
My Lords, the equivalence SI shares the same consolidated impact assessment with the next three SIs. I am grateful that this was published in advance of today’s debate and was available in good time in the Printed Paper Office. That is a significant and welcome improvement on last week’s lamentable performance. I would have preferred individual impact assessments, rather than this consolidated one. However, consolidation has the merit of making absolutely clear the unsatisfactory vagueness about the costs and benefits of these SIs and that this arises chiefly from the lack of consultation.
The summary sheet in the IA for this package of SIs notes that the likely cost for all of them is “Unknown: likely significant” in all three defined categories. The benefits are also unquantified, but are said to be “significant”. This rather dramatically illustrates the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in his later amendments. There has been no real consultation on any of these instruments. This is unsatisfactory and is entirely the Government’s fault. Had the Treasury started preparing these entirely predictable SIs earlier, consultation would have been possible. Why has the Treasury left things until the last moment? Although I sympathise strongly with the spirit of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I hope he will not press the fatal ones to a vote as we would not support him in a Division. It is critical to the functioning of our financial services that we make the changes—no matter how unhappily—set out in these SIs.
I turn to the detail of the consolidated impact assessment. The first 40 paragraphs are clear, but some questions arise in subsequent paragraphs and apply generally to all the SIs. Paragraph 44 explains that,
“it has not been possible to discuss the impact of the full package of changes with firms as this impact assessment was being produced, and has therefore not been possible to produce a monetised estimate of their full impact at this stage”.
This is more than a pity: it is tantamount to a dereliction of duty. It would not be the case if the Treasury had started the process earlier. It has had plenty of time to do this: the deadline can hardly have come as a surprise.
Paragraph 50 acknowledges explicitly that the impact assessment,
“is not able to fully quantify the potential impact of these SIs on industry”.
It undertakes, as a result of this self-generated inability, that if these no-deal SIs come into effect in March,
“it will at the appropriate time complete further analysis considering all of the relevant SIs as a package”.
The word “appropriate” is very vague; what does it really mean? Does it mean, for example, in less than three months after a no-deal Brexit?
I do realise that the promised analysis is shutting the stable door long after the horse has bolted, and even longer after the horse gave notice that it would bolt. Nevertheless, Parliament should still have a chance to review the real impact of these SIs on industry. Could the Minister help the House with an explanation of the limits implied by “appropriate” and confirm that Parliament will be given an opportunity to debate the subsequent analysis?
I wonder whether the noble Lord is being a little too kind to the Government. Is not the reason we have not had these figures—and we have not had them because we did not start to do the figuring early enough—that when you actually add up the figures you discover that the cost of Brexit is enormously greater than anybody has pretended, and therefore it is to the convenience of the Government and of those who want Brexit not to provide the figures? Does he know of any other occasion when the Government have proposed huge changes and not provided at least some estimate of the bill?
I am grateful for that intervention. The short answer to the final question is: no, I do not. I shall try to be slightly less kind as I move on.
Paragraph 52 of the consolidated impact assessment notes that each of the SIs covered,
“contains provisions with indefinite effect and this is the majority of the content. For this reason, we have concluded that the standard 10 year appraisal period is appropriate”.
This seems to me an entirely perverse conclusion. Ten years is far too long for an appraisal of the effects of instruments containing such wide powers in a complex and critical field, which were produced in very great haste and which lack proper consultation or impact assessment. It would make more sense, and reduce any inadvertent harm, if we were to appraise after, say, two years. I am sure that if the industry were eventually consulted, it would agree with this timing. I would be grateful if the Minister would say why he is proposing 10 years for appraisal and what is wrong with two. Will he reassure the House that he will reconsider the timing of the appraisals? Perhaps he will write to us with his conclusions.
Finally, paragraph 73 of the consolidated impact assessment deals with the impact on the public sector:
“Where changes to the regulators’ rulebooks, or to EU technical standards, are required as a result of leaving the EU, the regulators intend to consult on these changes wherever possible”.
This “wherever possible” is alarming, especially in view of the Treasury’s failure to consult in the preparation of these SIs in the first place. Can the Minister give examples of situations in which it would not be possible to consult on the changes to the rulebooks or the technical standards?
My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the organisation that represents financial advisers and those who manage other people’s money. I come back to the point that the noble Lord has raised. It is very difficult for the industry to understand why the Government have not found it possible to talk in a lot more detail about the costs that are going to be placed upon the industry. After all, the industry pays these costs.
I am a great believer in regulation: I think good regulation is very important. I do not like the way that people sometimes mix bad regulation with the need to have no regulation, but if we are to have good regulation, there are two very important elements. First, it must be clearly understood, and, secondly, the cost must be clearly adumbrated so that people can make proper provision. I agree with the noble Lord who spoke last that it is unacceptable that, first, we do not know in advance; secondly, we will not know until after we have passed these things; and, thirdly, we will have to wait 10 years until we know whether or not we got it right. I have enormous respect for my noble friend, as well as enormous concern, given the difficulties he faces.
As much sympathy as one can possibly have. I can think of no other Minister I would be more sympathetic to, but I have to say to him that it is pretty difficult to think of another occasion on which a Minister has had to get up and tell the House that he does not know how much something is going to cost, he will not know how much it is going to cost, it is impossible to work out how much it is going to cost, we will not know until after it is all costed, and then we will not know for another decade. I do not think that the Minister will be a Minister in another decade.
That is not in any way to be rude. Frankly, we all move on—I am not sure that I will be asking the Minister this question in another decade. That is one of the facts of life. It is a pretty difficult thing to ask the House to do and he is able to ask us only because we do not have an adequate mechanism of altering the instrument so that we can insist on knowing the figures, on having an earlier date and that 10 years is too long. We do not have that mechanism and I fear that the Government are relying on the inadequacy of our system to get these measures through, however seriously they affect industry.
I have a final point. Mazzini said that revolution, prima facie, demands an apology. Forcing through regulations without proper discussion and without the time to consider them certainly demands an apology. I have no doubt that the noble Lord who will speak for the Opposition will say, as he so often does, so elegantly, in his special way, “I have spent a lot of time on this but I have not been able to understand some parts of it, however much time I spend on it. It seems that those who have written it have had more time and expertise to do it but have so far not been able to explain it in a way that is entirely accessible by even the reasonably intelligent”. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, always refers to himself in this way: he is, of course, extremely intelligent and has understood this very much better than most, but he has said that the Government really ought to be apologising. They ought to be apologising for asking the House to do these things, which in any other circumstances they would not and could not: it is only because the SI system enables them to get away with proposing enormous changes without any costings—either now, tomorrow or in two years’ time, and with no real answer for another decade.
Was the noble Lord in the House to hear the exchanges between the chair of Sub-Committee A and my noble friend Lord Rooker about a letter which apparently is going to be sent to the Treasury, but has not been made available to your Lordships, complaining about the way that consultation and impact assessments have been conducted? It came out only in the course of debate that this letter is in preparation: apparently, the chairs of the two Select Committees cannot agree on the terms of the letter, even though we are in the midst of debating literally dozens of these statutory instruments. Does he not think it would have been a good idea if we had had this letter before this debate? If the relevant authorities of the House are about to write to the Government fundamentally questioning the way that the Government have approached the process of consultation and assessing the impact of these regulations, surely it is not satisfactory for us to be considering these regulations in advance of the completion of that process.
I was indeed in the House to hear that exchange. It was an amazing, remarkable exchange and another example of the total removal of this whole discussion from reality. It was so unusual that I left the House to recover some sense of sanity. First, it is obviously true that we should have had that letter. We thought that the letter, according to a senior member of the committee, had gone. We were then told by the chairman of the Joint Committee that it was almost gone, or nearly gone, or on the way to going. We did not understand whether it would go or whether it still had to be recovered and discussed. The fact of the matter is, I can think of no more appropriate role for the House of Lords than to tell the Treasury that it needs to be very much more precise and correct in its treatment of this House and of the other place. The answer is that it must at least give the figures, and to do that, it has to have a useful impact assessment, not one which is merely a matter of form.
My Lords, the noble Lord is a distinguished parliamentarian of long experience. Does he not worry that the tone of self-congratulation which we always adopt in this House for the way we conduct scrutiny and the excellence of our processes is coming under serious strain as a result of this no-deal regulation process? The earlier exchanges raise fundamental questions as to whether we are fit for purpose in the way that we are conducting this process ourselves. If it has taken us six months into this no-deal regulation process even to seek to agree an approach to the Government on how they should conduct consultations and impact assessments, does that not fundamentally question the whole process which we are ourselves adopting in holding the Government to account? Earlier a noble Lord made reference to horses bolting and stable doors being closed. Already 100 or so of the statutory instruments have bolted before the Select Committees of this House have been able to agree on what the procedure should be for considering them, let alone whether they are adequate in their own terms.
I feel philosophically and religiously opposed to self-congratulation, so of course I will not suggest that we should congratulate ourselves. As I said earlier, it is quite clear that our processes do not admit the proper consideration of the issues being put before us. However, the second thing which is quite clear—and after this, I really will sit down—is that the world outside thinks that we are absolutely barmy and wonders what on earth Parliament as a whole is doing. The world outside has become less and less willing to accept that our system is fit for purpose. We all know that all political parties—I mean all of them—are not seen by the vast majority of the population as in any way reflecting what they think, want and expect. We are engaged in a serious situation, and one of the sadnesses is that, if we are trying to do the job as well as we can, we have to be involved in them. However, we are involved in them in a way which may well mean that we are ourselves part of the very situation which is undermining the whole reputation of this, the oldest of Parliaments.
My Lords, I have amendments down in respect of the later statutory instruments, and on the substance of this statutory instrument I do not have much to add to what we have heard so far from the two noble Lords. However, the earlier exchanges raise significant questions. I put on record my hope that when we have the next string of these statutory instruments on Wednesday, the chairs of the two sifting committees might address us on what their procedure will be in respect of the handling and processes of consultation and impact assessments for regulations. I hope that the letter which is to be sent can be agreed—apparently there is a dispute between the chairs of the two sifting committees—and sent tomorrow. It sounds urgently necessary that it should be agreed and sent; indeed, that should probably have happened six months ago, not now. At least we are shutting the stable door after only half the horses have bolted, which I suppose is better than after all of them have left. I put on record that if the letter can be agreed, it is important that it is circulated to your Lordships before the debates on Wednesday, because it will have an important bearing on our proceedings. It may even be possible to slightly shorten our proceedings as a result. I feel obliged to make a speech on each of these statutory instruments about the inadequate processes of consultation and impact assessment, but if the relevant committees of your Lordships’ House are making these points about all the statutory instruments and requiring the Government to improve their regime in respect of all of them, we will not have to go through this gruesome process, statutory instrument by statutory instrument.
My Lords, I remind the House of my interests in financial services, particularly in international financial services for quite a long time.
Many of the speeches in this debate have given the Government a poor grade on things. However, it is important to remember business, which is at the centre of this. I always find that there is some confusion about what equivalence is. For financial services, there are 11 directives or regulations which give rise to powers to grant equivalences, 35 countries have taken advantage of that, and 279 equivalences have been granted—those are the figures from October on europa.eu. I gave evidence in respect of one of those 279 to try to get an equivalence for Bermuda—a successful achievement—some years ago, so I am very familiar with the process and also extremely familiar with how important it is for international business to have that equivalence.
The areas that are covered by equivalence, where obstacles and barriers are lowered or removed by granting it, include: accounting and auditing; capital requirement measurement; risk exposure measurement; and reliance on other markets’ regulators that reduces the amount of senior management time that is taken up, making sure that regulators feel comfortable with whatever the business is that you are running within their regulatory environment. It is therefore very important indeed that we have this instrument in place, if there is a disorderly Brexit, in the first instance. I agree with many of the points that have been made about how the Government’s performance has not been that good on this, or indeed on other statutory instruments. However, this is vital for business and is a key part of our economy, so I hope that the House will hurry it through.
My Lords, I welcome this statutory instrument. I note that paragraph 77 of the consolidated impact assessment states:
“This does not remove the general need to review and improve legislation, which HM Treasury remains committed to doing in due course and where appropriate”.
Following the debates we had on the Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill, there are areas which might improve the financial services community and be for the benefit of the public and companies seeking to raise capital without the confines of some EU regulations; in particular, for small companies and for existing public companies that are seeking to raise capital from existing shareholders. At the moment, due to the expensive costs of a prospectus, they are prohibited from so doing. Although I have never prepared an impact assessment, I cannot imagine how one can be prepared in this sector, because there are so many potential benefits that might arise from this. I refer your Lordships’ House to my registered interests.
My Lords, I too declare my interest in the register with regard to the London Stock Exchange.
I will make a couple of points on specifics, but before that I will say that I agree with noble Lords who have spoken about the manner in which things have had to be done and are done, rather than possibly what is done. By and large, the Treasury has performed well in fixing what it has to fix, but it has fallen down, possibly through lack of time, sometimes on Explanatory Memoranda and definitely on impact assessments. One of the things is that the public hardly seem to appear in the commentary. When the Minister introduced this statutory instrument, he said that equivalence was beneficial—it is in several ways—because for one thing it aided competition. He then said that that was to the benefit of consumers. That was about the only reference to consumers.
If prudential requirements are lower, does that benefit the consumer? It surely does in one sense: if the costs to businesses are less, perhaps the services to the consumer are less, but what does that do for stability? There are lots of questions about that, and the whole scene is not set. If I may say so, I may be the only person who was in the room when every one of these equivalence provisions was put in place, so I know why they are different, but it is still very difficult on some of the other SIs that we are dealing with even for me to work out exactly what is going on.
Equivalence can benefit in two ways. It can benefit those who want to bring services in. If they are equivalent, they can come in and trade more easily here. There are also the prudential aspects that affect the companies here. If the assets in third countries can be given that preferential treatment because the legislation is the same, that means a lower cost to businesses here. So there is “them”, letting businesses in, and “us”, allowing our businesses to have preferential treatment.
In Solvency II, those two things were divided in one respect, with regard to provisional equivalence, which is available to allow the benefits of equivalence to those companies trading in third countries. It is interesting to see that that is implemented in full in the statutory instrument; it is what I asked about when we discussed Solvency II last week. It is a problem when we get things that relate to the same basic piece of EU legislation split across several different statutory instruments. Although we have dealt with Solvency II, I could not find what happened about provisional equivalence there, but I now discover that it is here. It is nice to know that it is covered, but it would also have been nice to have rather better signposting to that effect.
My third point is that a draft piece of legislation is still in the sifting stage, called the Financial Services (Miscellaneous Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This seems to deal with a whole batch of statutory instruments, about half of which we have already dealt with—the other half are somewhere in the pipeline. The draft legislation is already amending them again to correct mistakes and add extra tweaks. It was going to go through as a negative instrument; I somehow suspect that it will be upgraded to affirmative. The bits that interested me were to do with equivalence determination in Regulation 19 of the new regulation that we have not got yet. It amends Regulation 147 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which I think we have just considered, and adds an interesting sub-paragraph on equivalence, which states that there will be an,
“equivalence determination if a period of more than three years has elapsed since … the equivalence determination came into force”.
I am not quite sure, without sticking together about four documents, which I have not done, whether this means that we are on a regular cycle in which, every three years, equivalence will be redone. I see no reason why we should not check that the countries that were equivalent still are, but I should like the answer to that question. It seems to be an important point that could have appeared in what I think is the basic piece of regulation, if such a thing exists, about equivalence determinations.
My Lords, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will not be shocked to hear that as I have wandered through the corridors of this place, I have heard some noble Lords expressing the view that they are a little tired of his obsession with the statutory instruments. I hope that he will not be even more shocked to know that I am coming to his defence. I think that he is doing an important job and is highlighting one of the great benefits of Brexit. He is bringing to our attention the fact that, after 45 years when we have had to accept these accumulating piles of statutory instruments with scarcely a debate, with no possibility of rejection—that is why there has been no debate—with no hope of altering or amending, which is why we have not, up to now, considered any of the statutory instruments, now, because of Brexit, we are able to do so because, to coin a phrase, we are taking back control of our laws. We should be grateful to the noble Lord for being a convert to this. There is more joy in heaven over one sinner that repents than over 99 just men who have no need of repentance—and I rejoice with him.
Along with the noble Baroness, I have the privilege of sitting on the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships’ House, which goes through these regulations and changes to ensure that they accord with what they are supposed to accord with, to highlight any aspect of them which we think needs to be brought to the attention of the House and, if need be, to upgrade them. I have to say that it has been a revelation to me to see the scope, scale, detail and complexity of legislation which, in the past, has been implemented simply because it is EU legislation. Even if the whole House had rejected it, it would still have become the law of the land.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, is right to be concerned about several things. He is right to be concerned about consultation, because now consultation will matter. There will be some point in listening to what people think about statutory instruments because we will, in extremis, be able to reject them, and certainly to suggest to the Government that they might choose to do things differently, and it will be possible for them to do so.
The noble Lord is also right to point to the need for impact assessments and measures of cost. My noble friend Lord Deben—another great convert to Brexit—pointed out that these were important and suggested that the failure to cost these things was because the Treasury was anxious to hide them. I can tell him that today our committee considered one measure which concerned the European budget. We suggested that there should be a costing of that, because there would be a saving of between £10 billion and £12 billion net from no longer being part of the European Community if we leave without a withdrawal agreement on 29 March.
I do not quite understand how we can know the net saving if we have not estimated the actual cost of any of these statutory instruments. That, surely, is the issue. Although we all understand my noble friend’s very amusing and charming way of putting it, many of us realise that the reason why we have these things in this form is that it gives us real equivalence. The problem we are now faced with is that we have fake equivalence. We decide what we want, but if others are not prepared to go along with it, our financial industry will be very much disadvantaged.
I am trying to get the full gist of my noble friend’s intervention, which was, first, that he seemed to think that the cost of all the statutory instruments which have not been costed—although many of them have—might somehow accumulate to anything approaching the £10 billion to £12 billion a year net contribution that we will save as a result of this one statutory instrument that we have been discussing in the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee today, which will remove us from the EU budget. If he thinks that they are on that scale, I invite him to name one that might be worth £1 billion, for example. I suspect that he will not be able to do so.
My noble friend went on to talk about equivalence, which is important and can be valuable; that is the substance of this SI. It is worth the House remembering that equivalent regulation is not as important as superior regulation. It is far more important for this country to have good regulation—that is, the best in the world, which is not to say the most detailed or intrusive regulation but effective, appropriate, not-too-onerous regulation that ensures good quality of business. That has been the City’s great strength over the years. Better regulation than other countries has often been more important than identical regulation. The Eurodollar market is in London, not New York, because of bad regulation in America: Regulation Q, or whatever it was, drove all the business out of America. Our success in the trade in German state bonds was because the majority of it took place in London, due to our regulatory system being superior to the Germans’ before we introduced the single market and they had to improve theirs somewhat. Likewise, we carried out a high proportion of the trade in French equities because our regulatory system was superior, rather than identical, to that of France.
We should remember that the four great financial centres in the world—New York, Singapore, Hong Kong and London—all have something equivalent to each other and are great financial centres because they have in common common law and all the infrastructure built on that, such as legal and accounting processes, which make them flexible and desirable places to do business. In effect, they outpaced countries with different legal systems. We should welcome equivalence where appropriate but be very glad that we will not have to have regulation identical to that of our friends and partners on the continent. It is almost certainly beneficial to London to be a rule-maker, not a rule-taker.
Perhaps I could explain to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that one reason why so many of us are making comments and expressing concerns about procedure, including about the impact assessment and the limitation on what we can do with statutory instruments—we cannot amend or change them—is because the whole process pales greatly in comparison to the equivalent process available to us as we dealt with these fundamental issues as EU members. Then, we were framing the overarching directive that set the context through extensive and transparent consultation and scrutiny, via a process in the European Parliament and the European Council. Typically, we then engaged our regulators for the final stretch, but in the context of all that work in discussion and negotiation. One of the reasons for London’s great success is that it was able to shape so much of that discussion in the way it thought appropriate, bringing all its experience to the table. That is what made it Europe’s premier financial centre and the great global financial centre it is today, all of which it achieved in the context of EU membership.
The noble Baroness makes an important point but one that deflects a little from reality. When I was a Treasury Minister, I had to negotiate things in Europe. I suppose we had a certain influence, but at no point did the House get involved much, rightly or wrongly. She should not create an ideal world that did not exist.
I accept fully that this House did not get involved, but I do not consider democracy as having only one locus. Our Members of the European Parliament were democratically elected as democratic representatives. The Ministers we sent to Councils engaged with democratic representatives. I do not think that this process happens in only one place. It seemed to me that as a consequence of that representation, we had real importance. Now, we face two situations—
Well, we also had MEPs, for whom I have great respect, and engaged broadly in the process.
One of my problems is that the equivalence SI we are dealing with today essentially puts, for the next 12 months, all relevant decisions on whether we remain equivalent or, as the EU makes changes, become equivalent in any new area into the hands of the Treasury alone. Not only does that not engage this House—I suppose you could consider the Chancellor to be involved—but it represents the most disengagement we have ever had at an absolutely critical time. If we leave the EU, how we behave on equivalence in the coming months will shape the context of any negotiation on the economic future of the UK, this being its most important economic sector and a major contributor to taxes and jobs. It is pivotal to the economy, yet the Treasury alone will make many of these key decisions. All we have for context are the comments in the political declaration. I will not repeat discussions we had earlier today, but those comments are exceedingly limited and give very little sense of direction.
To make matters almost worse, it is quite clear in the SI that, beyond that period, future decisions will be made through negative SIs—not through some policy framework in this House, engagement with your Lordships in broad debate or extensive consultation, but through the negative procedure. That will make it even harder for us to be engaged in the process. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that all the Brexit issues we are dealing with lead to the massive democratic deficit of great concern to many of us.
Did the noble Baroness notice that my noble friend said, “I think we may have had influence”? Is it not true that we have been at the centre of these discussions and that the European Union is much more transparent and open when it comes to them than the British Government have ever been—certainly more so than the Government now propose to be under these statutory instruments?
I can only agree. We have major transparency problems. I am working on the Trade Bill; it is unconscionable that we do not have available to us information that the EU would not only put automatically on a website but constantly report back on, with discussion between the Commission, the Council and the Parliament.
Let us set that aside so I can move on with this particular instrument. I reinforce the concerns about the impact assessment. I must say that the consolidated impact assessment discussed by my noble friend Lord Sharkey contains three pages dedicated exclusively to this SI—I am sure that the Minister will point that out—but anyone who cares to read it will discover that, although it is usefully descriptive, telling us a bit more about the instrument, what used to happen in the EU and what will happen under this instrument, it cannot be called three pages of impact assessment. It does not even attempt to monetise the impact and give us a sense of the costs and the value of the benefits—that is beyond it—and it never deals with the risks in any way. Never in my commercial life have I seen impact assessments that did not assess risk—but these do not even begin to do so.
That is very disappointing, particularly for the businesses which will be picking this up. They want to make sure that this SI goes through, because anything that reduces uncertainty in any area where there is not a cliff edge will be of great value to the relevant businesses—but, my goodness, they would have welcomed something much richer in terms of the discussion to give them some forward vision rather than one that just deals with the very short period of time that will immediately follow departure under a no-deal scenario. I find that very frustrating and a real weakness in the way in which impact assessments are being dealt with here.
That takes me to perhaps the last issue that I will address, which was touched on to some degree by my noble friend Lady Bowles. There is very little discussion in any of this about what I call reciprocity. In order for equivalence for the industry to be able to function without any kind of cliff edge in no deal, not only does the UK need to provide equivalence but the EU needs to grant equivalence as well. In many instances it has not done so, but it may do so in the future. My interpretation is that at the moment it is doing so only in areas where it thinks that not granting equivalence would cause financial instability, rather than looking at broader market access issues.
I take this as a real shot across the bows that we need to take on board, framing the EU intent as to where it will take future negotiations in this area. That is important and I am rather concerned that the Government do not deal with those kinds of issues in this impact assessment, because an honest discussion of that is crucial for businesses as they use the product and everything that we are printing to try to understand what the context is going forward. It has made me feel very gloomy that we will see a much more fragmented set of financial services. I am sure that London will remain a crucial global centre, but I can see the way in which the pattern is developing. It will have some very significant rivals that will take away very significant pieces of business. Over the long term that has real consequences for the UK.
In all that we have here there is one last issue which perhaps the Minister would address, because it could be my deficiency in reading all of this. At the moment we know that third countries operate, as it were, within the EU because the EU has granted them equivalence. As I understand it, the UK will be granting identical equivalence under this SI for the day that we leave if it is a no-deal scenario. But I am unclear about how many of those third countries are granting us reciprocal equivalence. Not only do we have questions about in which areas the EU is granting us third-country equivalence, I am not clear where we stand, for example, in terms of the US. Will we be granting the US equivalence using exactly the same pattern as that of the EU currently? It is not clear whether the US is granting us equivalence and on what terms—and that is just one of the many different countries with which we have built up a kind of network through mutual equivalence that has been established over the years.
Equivalence is extraordinarily complex. It is not a matter of a simple one-hour discussion about four or five easy to understand factors. It is exceedingly complex, it often comes with conditions and it may be limited in a whole variety of ways such as by time and by content. It may have many issues attached to it, and therefore negotiating new equivalence arrangements from scratch would concern me a great deal. I say that in particular because of what we have seen with some of the trade deals, where Liam Fox was absolutely confident that we could take existing trade deals between the EU and the 71 other countries with whom we had free trade agreements and roll them over. He has now been woken to the fact that most of those countries see this as an ideal opportunity to improve their position and to renegotiate. It has become a much slower, much more difficult and much more complex process. I want to try to understand where we are with our equivalence agreements, because potentially the situation is exactly the same. It is very different having an equivalence agreement to have access to the market in the UK from having access to a market of 500 million people. I do not know how many of these equivalence agreements are in play.
My Lords, I shall be brief on this instrument and brief to the point of extinction on some of the others. I wish I thought that that would have any significant impact on the length of the debates we are going to have, but I fear that my brevity may be somewhat wasted tonight.
Every time we look at a bunch of these instruments, I hope to be forgiven for making the simple, formal statement that I regret being here doing these SIs. Her Majesty’s Government should rule out no deal. The Prime Minister is behaving irresponsibly in not doing so, but unfortunately no deal seems increasingly possible. From my limited understanding of history, most bad things that have taken place were by accident. Unfortunately we have a Government who are playing a game of chicken and hoping that the EU will blink first without realising that one of the outcomes of a game of chicken is mutual disaster. Accordingly, we will not obstruct Her Majesty’s Government’s legislation in preparing for no deal because it is a genuine probability. It was good that at least one speaker in the debate—I think that it was the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull—pointed out that industry needs these SIs in order to get on with its business.
Virtually all the Treasury SIs have three parts. They tend to transfer functions, to transfer references, and to have a little policy where a decision has to be made if it is not self-evident where the status quo lies. This SI is similar. Its substance is set out in Regulation 2(1), which states:
“The Treasury may, by direction”,
and so on. In the Explanatory Memorandum there is a very important statement on this power:
“It provides ministers with a temporary power, for up to twelve months after exit day, to make equivalence directions and exemption directions for the EU and EEA member states. This power is intended to be used only in cases where it is necessary to make equivalence decisions for the EU and EEA member states quickly and efficiently to support UK market activity and the continuity of cross-border business”.
Unfortunately, nowhere in the SI is that assurance made. There is no limitation on the powers in the statutory instrument itself. As a minimum I hope that the Minister will repeat the essence of what is in the Explanatory Memorandum and assure us that this power is designed to be very limited. As I understand it, the power can be and in fact will be used after exit day. What I would value is if the Minister could explain the parliamentary process that will be associated with it because, so far as I can see, it boils down to nothing. I assume it just boils down to a Written Ministerial Statement. I hope that he can give us some more comfort that whenever this power is used, we will know about it and that he will be making a statement of some kind.
Finally, towards the end of Regulation 2—one usually runs out of energy before one gets to the end of these—paragraph (6) states:
“The power of the Treasury under paragraph (1) includes the power to revoke or vary an equivalence direction at any time”.
Could the Minister make it clear whether that paragraph dies after 12 months, like the power in paragraph (1)? The power to revoke or vary an equivalence direction—which seems almost as powerful as the power to create a direction—is pretty important and should die at the same time as the power in Regulation 2(1).
I will not make any other general comments, other than to note that all the SIs this evening, as far as I can tell, do not have reciprocity. The whole issue of the negative impact that leaving without an agreement brings is that there is no reciprocity. All we can do is create the rules that allow us to make the move towards the EU, and we have to hope the EU sees the sense in making reciprocal powers. This is just one more reason why crashing out of the EU is a thoroughly stupid thing to do.
We could probably start with agreement across the House in saying that that is certainly something the Government do not want to happen. There is a very easy way for the noble Lord to ensure that that does not happen: to ensure that his colleagues support the deal before the House. This would then be unnecessary. This is not in any shape or form an objective this Government relish. It is a possibility that any prudent Government must prepare for. That is its status—nothing more, nothing less.
Given that we are going to be in for five substantial debates tonight, I will set one thing in context at the beginning. I will not cover some of the points, because I know they will come up in later debates, so I will try to not test the patience of the House by repeating answers five times to five different SIs. I will try to keep them as concise as possible so we can move through them at some pace.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, as the official spokesman for the Liberal Democrats and the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, as the official spokesman for the Opposition, for stating their intent to let this legislation go through, because they recognise that—whatever their concerns—there is a greater concern to ensure that there is a functional statute book in the unlikely event of no deal. I recognise that responsible approach, and I am sure it will be welcomed by the industry. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, spoke from that perspective.
I want to put this on record, because I think it is really important. In their presentations the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, set out brilliantly and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, set out extremely well—and indeed the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey—the outstanding work that the Parliament and the Commission did in regulation. The UK has been a leader, an influencer and a shaper of regulation. It really has been a good process. Every single one of the SIs we are dealing with through this entire process has gone through that scrutiny. We are not dealing with something that has never been thought of before; this already exists and has been subject to scrutiny—not only in the Parliament but, let us not forget, in another important group that does incredible work in this House: the European Union Committee and its six sub-committees. They scrutinise all the regulations and directives that come out. Then we had the European Union (Withdrawal) Act, in which we said—because it included a revocation of the European Communities Act 1972—that we needed to bring a lot on to the statute book. That is what we are doing: bringing on SIs, directives and regulations from the EU that have been subject to scrutiny by a UK Minister, the European Parliament and your Lordships’ House in the sub-committees, at the instruction of Section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. Many of us recall the long and painful process of that working its way through the House. I looked it up: we spent 10 hours on Section 8, which gives us the powers and sets up the process we are now following.
The idea is sometimes presented that somehow what we are doing here is bringing onshore a whole load of stuff that we have never prepared for and that industry has not had any clue about dealing with. Industry is working with it, and we are now bringing it onshore. The process by which we deal with new regulations in future—the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Lilley and Lord Leigh—is something we need to look at. What we are doing at the moment is bringing across what is already in existence and has already been considered through a rigorous process, and putting it on the UK statute book.
Perhaps this is my misunderstanding, but as I read the SI I did not have the understanding that the Treasury, following exit day with no deal, would be able to act only in exact accordance with the pre-existing rules established under European directives but that it could make fresh and new decisions to revoke, effectively amend or make new decisions for a 12-month period; a process would appear at some point in that time that was not Treasury-only, but it would be structured around a negative SI. I thought that was part of this whole package.
The powers the Treasury will have are the powers the Commission currently has. The Commission cannot have them because we will have left the EU without a deal. Somebody therefore has to have them, and it goes to the Treasury because that is the equivalent body. Where the European markets authority was the regulator, that is transferred to the regulator here. We are simply doing all the things the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, has said at least two dozen times when we have discussed these points. He looks to see if we are actually following the rules as set down in Section 8 of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act. That is what we are doing. We are not making substantial policy changes, just correcting deficiencies and making fixes. The noble Baroness is absolutely right; that is the process.
I know the noble Baroness is seeking to make a point, but the Treasury does have a representative in your Lordships’ House. I know the noble Lord, Lord Deben, thinks, with the Chief Whip present, that I will be here today, gone tomorrow. That may well be the case.
Perhaps the noble Lord was not aware that he and I served in the same Government 25 years ago. He was a personal hero of mine because he abolished the hated Cleveland County Council and returned it to the North Riding of Yorkshire, which was greeted with absolute acclamation. However, it was still not enough to get me past the 1997 general election, so I find myself here in your Lordships’ House. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Young, was there 40 years ago—so there is form.
My point is that the Treasury is accountable to Parliament. It is possible to question a Treasury Minister here in the House of Lords in the way that noble Lords could not question a Commissioner in the House of Lords, so I do not want us to run down that particular track. Nor do I want to overegg the situation and say that it is perfect. We are having to prudently prepare for a set of circumstances that nobody in this House wants but for which we need to prepare because the industry requires that assurance.
Let me try to deal with some of the specific points in this debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, asked what third countries will do to declare the UK equivalent. The Treasury and the regulators have been in close contact with third-country authorities, including the United States regulators. We expect to replicate all arrangements with third countries which are based on equivalence. The UK will have grandfathered all existing Commission decisions through the EU withdrawal Act, and there will be retained EU law—the point I referred to.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about a no-deal scenario, and I have dealt with that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, asked why the negative resolution procedure is considered appropriate for equivalence. We went through this whole area. I will not repeat it, but, if the House will bear with me, it is good that the usual channels are here. As part of the EU withdrawal Act, there was intense discussion and debate about the correct process for considering the large body of regulation that would be coming onshore. A comprehensive system of scrutiny—involving sifting committees, the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee—was set out for your Lordships, and it has been working. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, will come back at a later stage to some of the debate we had, which was probably as interesting to me as it was to him as we listened to Sub-Committees A and B. But the reality is that that scrutiny work is going on through your Lordships’ House and is following exactly the process set out in the Act and agreed through the usual channels.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, said that the legislation is hard to follow. The Government are committed to ensuring that the law is transparent and accessible. That is why the National Archives will publish online a collection of documents capturing the full body of EU law as it stands on exit day. It will also gradually incorporate retained direct EU legislation into the Government’s official legislation website, legislation.gov.uk. She also asked whether decisions will be reviewed every three years because of the forthcoming SI. The future Treasury SI deals with making sure that equivalence directions fit into part of the existing FSMA framework. It does not mean decisions will be reviewed every three years.
Further, the noble Baroness asked why the SIs are being undertaken in such a piecemeal way and wondered why changes cannot be assessed holistically. A number of legislative changes will be necessary to ensure that there is a functioning statute book on exit day. HM Treasury has been as open as possible about this legislation and the potential impact, particularly by publishing draft legislation in advance of laying, alongside explanatory policy decisions.
The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, asked whether we could provide examples of consultation on proposed rule changes. The regulators have undertaken extensive consultations on the proposed changes to their rules and technical standards. However, the powers in the EU withdrawal Act allow them to proceed without consultation, where necessary, to ensure that the necessary regulations are in place for exit day.
Does relying heavily on secondary legislation leave room for departments to push through unpopular or controversial legislation? These are powers granted under scrutiny by the EU withdrawal Act, as I have already explained.
Let me turn to another point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, and my noble friend Lord Deben. They asked why we have chosen a 10-year appraisal period. This is not about when we review the legislation; this is a technical issue about the period over which the costs are allocated. We have committed to further analysis and, if the SIs come into effect, we will need to consider what an appropriate time is, but it will be much less than 10 years.
The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, asked about consulting and whether we would allow more than is quantified in the impact assessment. The limitations set out in the impact assessment would not be overcome by consultation at this stage. Firms need to consider all the changes made by these SIs, alongside the broader changes that occur at the point of exit, which cannot be known in advance.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, asked why we have not mentioned the public in the commentary. Consumers benefit from both competition and financial stability. This instrument will allow the Government to have due regard to both.
The noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, asked why no one has come forward to provide transparency around the costs of Brexit. The impact assessments for these SIs focus solely on their direct impacts; the wider costs of Brexit were covered in the cross-government analysis.
When we talk about the costs of these SIs, which just bring onshore regulations that already exist, has anybody thought for a moment to consider what the costs would be if we did not have them ready by exit day? What would that mean for the financial services industry? It would be cataclysmic. It is absolutely the reason that the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord Tunnicliffe, were right to say that, while they recognise the need for scrutiny, they also recognise how important it is for the industry that we get these measures through.
I will come back to some of the other issues in later debates on this evening’s SIs.
Will the noble Lord consider my point on paragraph 2.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum? It assures us that these powers will be used in a narrow way to manage the transition and not to introduce new policy. That is quite a strong statement, but it is nowhere on the record and there is nothing in the instrument to limit the use of the powers mentioned in paragraph 2.1.