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Financial Services and Markets Bill

Volume 830: debated on Thursday 8 June 2023

Report (2nd Day)

Relevant document: 23rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee

Amendment 11

Moved by

11: After Clause 24, insert the following new Clause—

“Competitiveness and growth objective: reporting requirements

(1) Each regulator must make two reports to the Treasury on how it has complied with its duty to advance the competitiveness and growth objective.(2) The reports prepared by each regulator under subsection (1) must in particular explain—(a) the action taken by the regulator to ensure that the competitiveness and growth objective is embedded in its operations, processes and decision-making, and(b) how any rules and guidance that the regulator has made advance that objective.(3) The first report under this section must be made before the end of 12 months beginning with the first day on which section 24 of this Act comes into force, and must relate to that period.(4) The second report under this section must be made before the end of 24 months beginning with the first day on which section 24 of this Act comes into force, and must relate to the period beginning with the day on which the first report is published.(5) The Treasury must lay a copy of each report prepared under this section before Parliament.(6) Each regulator must publish its reports prepared under this section in such manner as it thinks fit.(7) In this section—(a) “regulator” means the FCA and the PRA;(b) references to the competitiveness and growth objective, and the duty to advance that objective, are—(i) in relation to the FCA, references to its objective in section 1EB of FSMA 2000 and to its duty to advance that objective under section 1B(4A) of that Act, and(ii) in relation to the PRA, references to its objective in section 2H(1B) of FSMA 2000 and to its duty to advance that objective under section 2H(1)(b) of that Act.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would insert a new Clause to ensure that the FCA and the PRA, in addition to their annual reports, each provide for two consecutive years a report on the new competitiveness and growth objective, as inserted into the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 by Clause 24 of the Bill.

My Lords, as your Lordships know, the Bill delivers the outcomes of the future regulatory framework, or FRF, review. It repeals hundreds of pieces of retained EU law relating to financial services and, as we have discussed, will give the regulators significant new rule-making responsibilities. The Government have been clear that these increased responsibilities must be balanced with clear accountability, appropriate democratic input and transparent oversight. The Bill therefore introduces substantial enhancements to the scrutiny and accountability framework for the regulators.

Following Grand Committee, the Government have brought forward a series of amendments which, taken together, seek to improve the Bill through further formalising the role of Parliamentary accountability, supporting Parliament through independent analysis and scrutiny, and increasing reporting and transparency to drive overall accountability. The group we are now debating covers proposals aimed at increasing reporting and transparency to drive overall accountability. I look forward to discussing the Government’s other amendments on accountability later today.

There has been significant interest in ensuring sufficient reporting, in particular of how the FCA and PRA are operationalising and advancing their new secondary competitiveness and growth objectives. The regulators are required to publish annual reports setting out how they have advanced their objectives, which are laid before Parliament. Clause 26 ensures that, in future, these reports must also set out how they have advanced the new secondary objectives.

Clause 37, introduced following the debate in Commons Committee, enables the Treasury to direct the FCA and PRA to report on performance where that is necessary for the scrutiny of their functions. To further support transparency, the Government published a call for proposals on 9 May, seeking views on what additional metrics the regulators should publish to support scrutiny of their work advancing their new objectives. This closes on 4 July.

The Government have been clear that they expect there will be a step change in the regulators’ approach to growth and competitiveness following the introduction of the new objectives, while maintaining high regulatory standards. It will therefore be important to have detailed information available to scrutinise how the regulators embed their new objectives into their day-to-day functions.

The Government have therefore tabled Amendment 11, which will require the FCA and the PRA to produce two reports within 12 and 24 months of the new objectives coming into force. These reports will set out how the new objectives have been embedded in their operations, and how they have been advanced. Once the new objectives have been embedded, it is appropriate that the regulators report on them in the same way as their other objectives, through their annual reports.

The Government have also heard the calls for further transparency to drive overall accountability in other areas of the regulators’ work. Clauses 27, 46 and Schedule 7 require the regulators to publish statements of policy on how they will review their rules. The Government’s response to the November 2021 FRF review consultation set out the regulators’ commitment to providing clear and appropriate channels for industry and other stakeholders to raise concerns about specific rules in their rule review framework.

Reflecting representations made during my engagement with noble Lords between Grand Committee and Report, the Government have tabled Amendments 20, 52 and 56, which strengthen this commitment. The amendments will place a statutory requirement on the regulators to provide a clear process for stakeholders, including the statutory panels, to make representations in relation to rules and a statutory requirement to set out how they will respond.

I hope that noble Lords will support these amendments, which seek to provide Parliament, the Government and stakeholders with the relevant information to effectively scrutinise the regulators’ performance and drive overall accountability. I therefore beg to move Amendment 11, and I intend to move the remaining government amendments in this group when they are reached.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in the second day of Report. I declare my financial services interests as set out in the register. I thank my noble friend the Minister and all the Treasury officials for their engagement during and particularly after Committee with the issues in this group of amendments.

I will speak to Amendments 12, 19, 40, 41 and 92 in my name. Noble Lords with an eagle eye on the Marshalled List will note that there is more than a similarity between the amendments I tabled in Committee and in this group, and the government amendments. I thank the Government sincerely for taking on board not just the issues but also my wording.

Ultimately, as the Minister said, this is one of the most significant changes to financial services regulation in a generation. It is important that, in structuring the role of the regulator, we have at this stage the right level of scrutiny and the right requirements for the regulators to provide the information required at the right time to undertake that scrutiny.

The arrival of the international competitiveness objective is a positive thing within the Bill. These amendments give scrutiny the right opportunity to see how that objective is operationalised. Does the Minister agree that it is important to look at every element of information and the timeliness of all the elements being given to both financial services regulators to enable the right level of scrutiny to take place? To that extent, I ask her to comment particularly on Amendment 92, alongside my other amendments, because this seems like no more than the base level of detail that one would want to be able to form that crucial scrutiny function.

Having said that, I am incredibly grateful to the Minister, the Government and all the officials for taking on board so many of the issues and the wording from Committee, and bringing them forward in this group.

My Lords, I find myself in the very odd position of having to say that the Government have handled Committee stage consideration of the Bill brilliantly. The Minister listened to a lot of quite robust criticism of the Bill, some of it from me, on the issue of accountability. It is fair to say that, across all sides of the Committee, there was a feeling that it was essential that there be proper accountability and scrutiny, given that we are, in effect, giving the regulators all our financial services legislation. She spent a great deal of time talking to all noble Lords in Committee and listening to those concerns. I therefore support the government amendments and thank her and her colleagues for the brilliant way in which they responded to what was a very robust Committee.

My Lords, there is a certain amount of confusion about the competitiveness objective and it is important to clarify it in discussion on Report. To illustrate this point, we have to understand that London is a rather peculiar financial centre, because it has a very limited hinterland of domestic savings. It is unlike the United States, where New York has a huge hinterland of domestic savings. It is therefore necessary for London to attract savings and funding from around the world, and it does that brilliantly well.

An important component of that is that London is seen as a well-regulated and efficiently regulated centre. The primary objectives set out in FSMA of maintaining market confidence, financial stability, public awareness, protection of consumers and the reduction of financial crimes are competitiveness goals in and of themselves. They make London more competitive and are a crucial component of the success of London at attracting funds from around the world.

The competitiveness objective that was introduced as a subsidiary objective is rather different, because there competitiveness means being allowed to take more risk. As everyone knows, in financial affairs the balance of risk and return is one of the key elements in making sensible decisions. This is true as much in regulation as it is in the operation of financial services business. It is particularly true in regulation when it applies to systemic risks, which only the regulator can understand and deal with.

It is therefore important that we do not overegg the competitiveness objective. It is important—it has introduced an important element in discussing the relationship between risk and return—but we should recognise that the primary objectives are the key to London’s competitiveness as a financial centre.

My Lords, I will comment briefly on government Amendment 11. The competitiveness and growth objective is a long-term, ongoing objective and, with the best will in the world, it is highly unlikely that we will see any discernible change in measurable competitiveness or growth in just two years. The objective does not end in two years and yet the amendment put forward by the Government has only two years’ worth of reporting.

As usual, the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, has put together an elegant solution in Amendment 12, which would create an ongoing annual reporting requirement, as well as being a bit more specific about what should be included within the reports. I understand from the Minister’s earlier speech that she expects this to be covered off in the normal annual reporting thereafter, and I think we can probably live with that.

I will add to the comments made by noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, with this caveat: I support the competitiveness and growth objective, but only as a secondary objective. The primary objective of stability must remain paramount. Can the Minister confirm that, as part of the reporting on the competitiveness and growth objective that is expected, the regulators will consider and report on the impact it is having on the primary stability objective? The two are not unconnected, as we have just heard, and it is really important that when we report on one, we also report on its impact on the other.

My Lords, I declare my interests as a director of two investment companies, as stated in the register. I agree to some extent with what the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, said, but I am not sure I can agree that the United Kingdom’s financial markets are uniquely peculiar in any sense. It is true that we do not have such a large domestic hinterland as the United States, but compared with financial centres such as Switzerland and Singapore, we have a rather larger domestic hinterland. I do not think what he said is therefore so relevant as he perhaps believes.

Furthermore, I agree that our high standards and what used to be called “my word is my bond”, which was what I was taught on day one when I went to work for Kleinwort Benson in the City, are very relevant. We have always been proud, and rightly so, of the very high standards and honourable way, in the main, in which our financial institutions have conducted their business. Indeed, competitiveness of the market depends, to a degree, on maintaining those high standards. But competitiveness also depends on having clear, comprehensible and proportionate regulation, and in recent years our regulation has become too cumbersome, particularly after the FSA was split into two regulators. If you are a dual-regulated company, it is a nightmare to have to report much the same information but in different formats to the two regulators. This is why the time spent by executive committees of operating financial companies in the City is so greatly taken up by compliance, reporting and regulatory matters, rather than innovation and the development of new businesses to attract more international companies to do their business in London, thus providing more revenue for the Exchequer and more jobs for British people, and indeed for non-British people to come and work here.

I support the Government’s amendments to strengthen the reporting requirements of the regulators, and Amendments 40 and 41 tabled by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. I agree with those noble Lords who have thanked the Minister most sincerely for her response to concerns expressed across the House about accountability and scrutiny. However, the British Insurance Brokers’ Association has expressed concern that the Bill, as drafted at present, largely allows the regulators to decide how to fulfil the reporting requirements for the competitiveness and growth objective.

Clause 37 acts as a backstop that allows the Treasury to compel additional reporting. What assurances can the Minister give that the Government’s response to the ongoing consultation on the appropriate metrics for the regulators to publish will lead to concrete changes to which metrics are published, given that the Bill will have been passed by the time the Government respond to the consultation? Given that it will not be possible to include any details of specific metrics or how the Treasury will exercise its powers in Clause 37 in primary legislation, how can the Government ensure that the consultation will lead to a sufficient challenge to the regulators, allaying concerns about them marking their own homework in their reporting? Will the Minister also give assurances that the Government’s response to the consultation will reflect the parliamentary debate in this area, where noble Lords have consistently stressed the need for extensive metrics to be published by the regulators with regard to the new objectives?

My Lords, I do not want to run the risk of repeating myself, but I have made plain in previous debates my concern about the inclusion of the competitiveness objective in this legislation. Just to be clear, I think it has no place, but I welcome these provisions that there should be a report on the competitiveness objective. My concern is that the wording does not get to the heart of the problem that I believe exists, which is the interaction between the competitiveness objective and the other objectives. My reading of the way this is worded is that the report just has to talk about the competitiveness objective and does not have to say how it affected the other objectives. Maybe the Minister in her reply could allay my concerns and make it clear that the regulatory bodies are required to look across the whole gamut of their obligations when reporting on the competitiveness objective.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as an employee of Marsh Ltd, the insurance broker. I offer my support to the amendments in this group, so thoughtfully proposed by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. My noble friend the Minister has indeed made improvements since Grand Committee, and for that I thank her, but I wonder whether the Government have gone quite far enough. I particularly thank the Minister for the generous amount of time she spent with me the other evening.

My noble friend the Minister’s amendment proposes two reports, 12 months apart, as has been mentioned, but I believe that it is important that reports from the regulators should become an annual occurrence concerning the competitiveness and growth objectives. The financial sector of the United Kingdom is a major driver of revenue for the country and we must ensure consistency over time, not just the immediate future. In turn, this suggests the need for consistent metrics on which to report, allowing for the proper comparisons.

Amendment 19 concerns the principle of proportionality, recognising that not all financial services are the same. Again, I will look at the insurance market in particular, but I suspect there are similarities in other financial lines. I am all for keeping individual retail and small business customers safe when working with insurance companies, but there are significant differences to be found between them, users of the London wholesale insurance market—which is used by knowledgeable buyers, using one of many potential advisers—and captive insurance entities. Smaller customers need a level of protection not required by either of these other two groups.

In the debate on this amendment, I wish to refer particularly to captive insurance companies. Captives are wholly owned subsidiaries set up to provide risk mitigation services—insurance—for their parent company and/or related entities. The parent is inevitably a sophisticated entity, almost certainly hiring advisers. They should require a very different approach from the retail customer.

There currently seems to be a one-size-fits-all approach by the regulators when reviewing insurance companies that does not take into account the nature of the purchaser. This is not only time consuming but costly in comparison with other overseas regimes. Captives provide low risk to the financial system and the buyer of their services requires a significantly different level of regulation from an insurance company trading with individuals. They are fundamentally different.

There is no captive company authorised in the UK and even those of our major companies, including UK public bodies, are located in overseas jurisdictions. The captive insurance business generates in excess of $50 billion annually, and here lies a significant opportunity for growth in the insurance sector which, should the regulator alter its stance and act with proportionality, could, as an example, add significant additional capital into the country.

Amendments 40 and 41 refer to the requirements to publish regulatory performance on authorised firms and new authorisations. The Government certainly recognise in Clause 37 the need to improve the regulatory culture, but we need more teeth in terms of reporting metrics so it becomes standard practice within the regulators. This culture needs to become ingrained.

The metrics being proposed in Amendment 40 are granular concerning timing and would bring some needed haste to the system. In business, time is often of the essence and being held up disproportionately by a UK regulator, as opposed those in other jurisdictions, acts as a deterrent to trade in this country. The metrics being proposed in Amendment 41 link together to give a consistent window into the activities of the regulators. With quarterly reporting it will be possible to gain some comparative statistics that will tell a story.

Lastly, Amendment 92 concerns determination of application. London remains one of the world centres of insurance and we must do all we can to preserve its status, but there are for sure a number of other locations that can attract capital more easily and so challenge it. Unfortunately, regulatory burden is regularly raised as an issue damaging London’s ability to attract additional capital and support the market.

Concerns have been raised about the overall performance of the regulators in terms of timing, with authorisations and approvals taking longer they should. It is recognised that they are falling behind their KPIs. Insurance companies here have experienced delays in case handler assignment, which is the beginning of a domino effect. In addition, concerns have been expressed over some of the questions asked and the appropriateness of the data being requested, leading to additional time and expense. The regulators need to streamline their activities by being relevant.

These amendments refer to a great extent to measures designed to bring some more accountability to the reporting by the regulators. I realise there is a consultation with the financial markets, but I believe that the measures being proposed are the bare minimum that should be required and included in the Bill. These sets of metrics will prevent the regulators deciding which of their own sets of data to publish. Certainly, from an insurance perspective, this will allow life to proceed way more freely. This will ensure transparency from the regulators, which is surely what is being strived for.

My Lords, the amendments in this group fall essentially into two categories. Those that improve communication and representation to statutory panels are small but positive improvements and, although I remain of the view that these panels should be given proper independence, I am glad to see that at least there is some improvement in the regime.

The other amendments I view very differently, and I will pick up the issues raised by the noble Lords, Lord Vaux and Lord Davies of Brixton, that if the reporting requirements included a proper consideration of how the competitiveness and growth objectives as they became operational were also impacting on financial stability, systemic risk and consumer protection, I would find myself very much in favour of them. But actually I regard them as a sort of slightly disguised mechanism to enhance the status of the secondary objectives to something which I think the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, described on Monday as “secondary plus”, or even “secondary plus plus”. I think that is exactly what these various amendments are intended to do.

This House knows well that I join Sir Paul Tucker, Sir John Vickers, pretty much every former Governor of the Bank of England and many others in regretting the introduction of these objectives because, for exactly the reason that others have said, they will incentivise and drive risky behaviour and we will come to rue that. So this further enhancement of these secondary objectives, very much driven by the industry—we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Ashcombe, how strong the feeling was that we try and get towards making these objectives either primary or close to primary—should be a warning to all of us. So I cannot give these amendments my support, although we are obviously not going to vote on them today. However, it is necessary that the House takes note of some degree of warning.

My Lords, I realise that we are on Report, but I should have declared my interest as chairman of Secure Trust Bank. I understand that it is not enough to have done so in Committee; it needs to be done at each stage.

My Lords, I will be very brief so as not to detain the House further. Much of the substance of these issues was debated in the previous group on Tuesday evening, when I said that we strongly support the inclusion in the Bill of the new secondary objective for the regulators of international competitiveness and economic growth.

While the introduction of this secondary objective is a positive step, it is also important to ensure that it is meaningfully considered in the regulators’ decision-making. One of the main ways of doing this is by introducing some proven accountability measures to require the regulators to report on their performance against the objective. We therefore welcome the government amendments in this group, which will provide for initial reports on implementation of the competitiveness and growth objective, as well as other provisions that seek to improve regulatory accountability.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for that constructive debate and I seek to engage only with the points that have been raised.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, that high regulatory standards are a key to London’s and the UK’s competitiveness as a financial centre. That is why the growth and competitiveness objective is a secondary objective to the primary objectives already in existence. However, high regulatory standards are not the only contributor to the growth and competitiveness of our economy or the sector. The new secondary objective, therefore, has an important role to play.

To address specifically the concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, on day one of Report—the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, reflected on that again today—that the government amendments in this area somehow seek to elevate the secondary objective from its position within the hierarchy, that is not the case. These amendments reflect the fact that they are new objectives for the regulators and it is right that we have a focus on new objectives being added through the Bill to understand how they are being embedded into the operation of the regulators.

The noble Lords, Lord Vaux and Lord Davies of Brixton, asked how the reporting will take into account the fact that the objectives are secondary and how they will impact on the primary objectives. It is in the structure of the objectives that the growth and competitiveness objective can be delivered only in the context of achieving the primary objectives. That is built into the system. Each year, in addition to these two reports provided for in our amendment, there will be the annual report from the regulators looking at their delivery across all their objectives.

Several noble Lords asked whether having a report on this specific objective for just two years was the right approach. We think it strikes the balance between reflecting the new nature of these objectives and, over time, integrating them into the working of the regulators and reporting them in future annual reports. However, I point out to noble Lords that the Government have the power to specify certain matters to be addressed in those annual reports if we think it necessary in future. Under Clause 37, we also have the power to require further reporting on certain matters, so if the Government felt that further focus on the embedding of these new objectives was needed, there are powers in the Bill that would allow that to be drawn out.

My noble friends Lord Trenchard and Lord Ashcombe, and others, raised concerns about the need for specific metrics for reporting the regulators’ delivery against their objectives, as set out in my noble friend’s amendment. As noble Lords recognise, that is exactly the purpose of the Government’s current call for proposals. We do not think it is right to have the metrics in the Bill, because that would hinder the objectives that my noble friends are talking about, in terms of having the best possible set of metrics that can be adapted and updated to ensure that Parliament, industry and the Government get the information that they need on the regulators’ performance.

My noble friends Lord Holmes and Lord Ashcombe also drew attention to Amendment 92 in this group. I am aware that the speed and effectiveness with which the regulators process applications for authorisation remains an area of concern for both Parliament and industry, and the Government share those concerns. In December, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury wrote to the CEOs of the PRA and the FCA, setting out the importance of ensuring that the UK has world-leading levels of regulatory operational effectiveness. Publishing more and better data detailing the FCA and PRA’s performance is critical to meeting these aims. That is why, in their reply to the Economic Secretary’s letter, both CEOs committed to publishing more detailed performance data in relation to authorisation processes on a quarterly basis.

On 19 May, both the FCA and the PRA published their first set of enhanced quarterly metrics relating to their authorisations performance, including the average time taken to process applications. The reports demonstrate that the regulators, particularly the FCA, are making progress towards meeting service-level targets, while recognising that there are further improvements to be made on some measures. The Government will continue to monitor this data to assess performance and discuss continuing efforts to improve operational efficiency with the regulators.

I am glad to have heard the general support for the Government’s amendments in this group. As my noble friend Lord Holmes said, we drew heavy inspiration from his contributions in Committee, and those of other noble Lords.

Amendment 11 agreed.

Amendment 12 not moved.

Amendment 13

Moved by

13: After Clause 24, insert the following new Clause—

“Financial Inclusion Objective for the FCA

(1) FSMA 2000 is amended as follows.(2) In section 1B (FCA’s general duties), after subsection (4A) insert—“(4B) When discharging its general functions in the way mentioned in subsection (1) the FCA must, so far as reasonably possible, act in a way which, as a secondary objective, advances the financial inclusion objective (see section 1EC).”(3) After section 1EB insert— “1ECFinancial Inclusion ObjectiveThe financial inclusion objective is: facilitating as far as is practical, the inclusivity of the UK’s financial system.””

My Lords, there are currently quite a few difficulties with the UK economy, but one that seldom gets the focus, attention and commentary that it requires is the lack of financial inclusion for so many people right across the United Kingdom. At its extreme, it is best summed up as: those who have the least are often forced to pay the most for financial services and products. However, it is a question not just for individuals but for micro and small businesses, which can find themselves effectively financially excluded.

Amendment 13 simply seeks to introduce a secondary objective for the FCA on financial inclusion. It would not in any sense fetter any of the other objectives, not least the primary objectives. It could operate effectively and efficiently within that current stream of objectives for the regulator.

Without in any sense seeking to pre-empt my noble friend when she comes to wind up, I think that she may well say that it is not the right approach to introduce a new objective for the financial service regulators without first undertaking a significant and serious consultation. That is a fair point. If she is unable to accept my Amendment 13, would she agree to take away the opportunity and possibility to launch the consultation into a secondary objective for our financial service regulators on financial inclusion? I beg to move.

My Lords, my Amendment 14 proposes a new clause to the objectives, adding the principle of protecting the mental health of consumers. I set this out at some length in Committee, and I think it is worth repeating the point. I should perhaps say at the beginning that I support the other two amendments, although I prefer the one from my Front Bench. I would like to see an explicit statement that the concept of financial inclusion extends to people who have problems dealing with financial services because of problems with their mental health.

Financial services have to understand and recognise the nature and scale of the mental health problems faced by some people. They need to be placed under an explicit duty of care to their customers who suffer from these problems, and they should be required to take explicit additional steps to minimise the potential difficulties faced by those who have or are at risk of having mental health problems associated with their finances.

I am sure that all noble Lords accept the principle that financial regulation should pay regard to the problems faced by people who have problems with mental health. It goes almost without saying. The issue is not about the principle but about whether it should be referred to explicitly in this bit of the legislation. I think that it should, but I am willing to take small mercies if the Minister can make clear the explicit and implicit responsibilities on the regulators to undertake to provide this sort of support and explanation for people who have mental health problems.

The experience works both ways: financial problems lead to mental health problems, and people with mental health problems have difficulty in handling their finances. That is an established fact. I ask for general support for the principle and an indication that, one way or another, the legislation will provide these people with the support they require.

My Lords, I thought it might be useful to speak at this point to introduce Amendment 18, the amendment in my name in this group. I have taken part in many discussions in this House on financial inclusion. It is to this House’s credit that such a keen interest is taken by Members on all sides on this topic. Financial exclusion is a priority concern for the Labour Party. It is often caused by the way that financial products are designed and marketed. Of course, poverty and the cost of living crisis plays a huge part in this: they mean that the poorest often pay more in fees for products, but there are even things like mobile phones not being available on a contract unless you have a bank account. We know that all these issues can make life more expensive for people who can least afford it.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton for their amendments and the way in which they introduced them. I agree with everything they said. Their contributions highlighted the importance of ensuring that our financial system is inclusive and understanding of the challenges that consumers face.

Many challenges relating to financial inclusion, and their consequences on mental health, have become even more apparent in recent years. Various financial inclusion amendments were tabled and debated in Committee. It was apparent to us that although the Government say that they recognise and share our concerns, and those of many consumer organisations, they do not seem willing at this point to match the ambition that we have.

To get the previous Financial Services Act through, the Government ultimately conceded on giving the FCA a consumer duty, but this stopped short of a full duty of care towards consumers and required a lengthy consultation process. None the less, it was a positive step in the right direction. We welcome the steps being taken by the FCA to implement its consumer duty, but organisations such as Fair By Design have rightly pointed out that its scope is limited and that not all financial inclusion issues will be adequately addressed, even once it is fully in force.

We completely understand the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for a secondary objective in the style of the new competitiveness objective we have been debating. However, it seems that the Treasury and the FCA are in a bit of a standoff over this, with each saying that it is for the other to act. With that in mind, we think that our “have regard” proposal is a realistic way forward and hope that the Government might be tempted by it. It would provide an important additional tool for the FCA, ensuring that it explores financial inclusion issues across its work and properly considers the inclusion implications of its policy interventions.

As Fair By Design and many others have observed, a formal requirement for the FCA to have regard to issues around financial inclusion would accelerate change where it is so badly needed by less well-off households. My Amendment 18, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, would not close the financial inclusion gap overnight, but it would become a tool in the arsenal and accelerate change in a number of important areas where the Treasury and the FCA sadly have so far been too slow to act. We will of course listen to the Minister’s response, but as things stand we are minded to test the opinion of the House on this amendment.

My Lords, I have attached my name to Amendment 14 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, who very powerfully introduced it. I associate myself with all his comments. Essentially, he was talking about reasonable adjustments for people with mental health conditions in dealing with the financial sector.

I will briefly address this consumer protection objective from the other side, which is that the financial sector should not make people ill. I am sure the Minister will recall the meeting we had a couple of months ago with mortgage prisoners. At that meeting, we heard some testimony about the impacts of how people had been trapped in the system and suffered enormously as a result.

I want to reflect on two things. The first is the figures that have come out since Committee and the fact that the head of UK Finance has labelled the UK the fraud capital of the world, with fraud last year estimated at £1.2 billion. That reflects the fact that very many people now approach any interaction with the financial sector with a sense of fear, asking, “Is this true?”, “Is this right?”, “Is this a proper email?” This is something that the financial sector needs to do more to address so that people are not suffering that stress and pressure.

The second thing is that I know some individuals who are somewhat older than me who find that there is an inability to walk into a branch and deal with an issue by having a person solving your problems face to face. People spend weeks and weeks trapped in cycles of emails and phone calls. No one can ever solve your problem and you never speak to the same person twice. That has serious impacts on people’s lives and well-being. We need to acknowledge that and say to the banks that this is not acceptable and not good enough.

On the financial inclusion amendments, I have spoken about this at some length so I will not go over the same ground. However, it is clear, in all the amendments in this group, that the financial sector is not meeting the needs of our society. As a Parliament, we need to ensure we do more to make sure that it does.

My Lords, I support Amendment 18 in the name of my noble friend Lady Chapman, while also recognising the contribution made in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and my noble friend Lord Davies.

This is an extremely urgent matter because between 6 million and 7 million of our fellow citizens conduct all their financial affairs in cash. Cash is becoming increasingly unacceptable in a whole series of financial transactions that are conducted by electronic means. This means that cash is ceasing to be money, because money is something which is generally accepted in payment of a debt. If you cannot use cash to buy things, it is no longer money.

It is therefore necessary for both the Bank of England and the Treasury to consider making available to all citizens in this country a means of electronic payment. That is a big challenge, but it is urgent because we are all aware that, over the next decade, virtually everything will be entirely electronic and cash will be unacceptable in most transactions. My noble friend Lady Chapman has hit the nail right on the head by saying that this is a consumer protection objective. That 10% of our fellow citizens needs to be protected by financial inclusion in this way. This is an urgent matter which should not be postponed.

My Lords, in speaking to this group I am channelling my colleague, my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield, who is unwell and, to her distress, cannot be here. I will focus on Amendment 18, which she has signed, which would require the FCA to have regard to financial inclusion within the consumer protection objective. My noble friend Lady Tyler chaired the Select Committee on Financial Exclusion in 2017 and this was a cornerstone recommendation. A further Lords review in 2020 came to the same conclusion, as did the Treasury Select Committee in 2022.

My noble friend Lady Tyler made a powerful speech in Committee so I will not repeat the detail, but I will cite the briefing I have received from Fair4All Finance, which finds that more than 17 million people—I previously used the number the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, used of between 6 million and 7 million people who are under stress for this—in the UK are in financially vulnerable circumstances, with access to credit being increasingly difficult. We will discuss access to cash later.

Endless years of discussion on this topic have failed to significantly move the dial. Basic bank accounts are a little improved but still limited. The hopes for credit unions or fintech solutions have faded. Frankly, nothing will change unless the FCA puts its shoulder to the wheel. Amendment 18, if noble Lords look at it in detail, is not the introduction of a new objective; it is a clarification of the consumer objective through a “have regard” duty. In that way, it is different from the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes—which I do not object to, but the Government have frequently said that we cannot have additional objectives. This is not an additional objective; it is clarification and emphasis of a key aspect of an objective.

Amendment 18 does not ask the FCA to step into territory which the Government have said is theirs—to close the gap on financial inclusion—but to use powers within its existing scope, which it has shown us it will not do without this emphasis from Parliament. I very much support Amendment 18 and consequently hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, will ensure that it is tested in the House if the Government do not accept it—although government acceptance is of course the preferred route for us all.

My Lords, the Government are committed to ensuring that people, regardless of their background or income, have access to useful and affordable financial services and products. We work closely with the FCA in pursuit of that goal.

The FCA’s strategic objective is to ensure that relevant markets function well. Its operational objectives are to secure an appropriate degree of protection for consumers, to protect and enhance the integrity of the UK financial system and to promote effective competition in the interests of consumers. The FCA’s objectives are at the very core of its work, and it is its statutory remit to advance those objectives. While I therefore commend the intention behind Amendments 13 and 18, the FCA’s objectives should not be changed lightly and without detailed consultation, given the potential for unintended consequences for the way financial services are regulated in the UK.

Noble Lords will be aware that the new secondary growth and competitiveness objectives introduced by the Bill were the subject of in-depth consultation in several stages, to ensure that the legislation will have its intended effect. While some respondents to that consultation process raised the issue of requiring the regulators to have regard to financial inclusion, there was no consensus on this proposal in terms of approach or effect.

My noble friend invited me to take up the opportunity to consult further on this matter, anticipating what I might say. However, as I have just reflected, this was, in part, considered in the work that was done in the lead-up to the Bill, which took place over several years, and we have been considering the Bill before us for nearly a year. So, while I have heard the views raised in this debate, there has also been a strong feeling over the course of the Bill that there is a desire for the Government and regulators, once we have the Bill in place, to press ahead and use the powers in it to deliver regulatory reform. I do not think that further consultation on further changes to the objectives at this stage would be the right approach.

As I said, this was considered as part of the FRF review. Indeed, in its consideration of these matters, the Treasury Select Committee specified in its future of financial services regulation inquiry that it did not recommend that any changes related to financial inclusion should be made to the regulator’s objectives, noting that financial inclusion is a broader social issue and that the primary role of the FCA should not be to carry out social policy.

The FCA’s consumer protection objective requires it to protect consumers from poor conduct by financial services firms. Financial exclusion is driven by many factors which may not be attributable to firms’ conduct. Given this, the consumer protection objective is not the appropriate place to seek to address financial inclusion. Indeed, an objective to protect consumers from harm may, at times, be in tension with an objective to increase financial inclusion. For example, certain credit products or investments may not be appropriate in all circumstances and could be detrimental to a consumer’s financial situation and well-being. The FCA will already seek to balance this through developing its rules and interventions, but that means that adding a formal requirement to advance financial inclusion as part of the consumer protection objective risks adding complexity and uncertainty to one of the most important parts of the FCA’s work.

Where there are gaps in the market which mean that some consumers struggle to access appropriate products, it is right that the Government seek to tackle these. I hope that noble Lords will be reassured that we are taking, and will continue to take, action. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, spoke of the importance of cash to many. That is why the Government are taking unprecedented action in the Bill to protect access to cash.

The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, referred to—

I actually said the opposite; access to cash will not be useful if the cash cannot be used to make a transaction. Increasingly, transactions cannot be made with cash but only electronically.

Some of the implications of the noble Lord’s contribution on potentially obliging people to use certain payment systems show that including financial inclusion under the consumer protection objective could have quite far-reaching consequences that we would want fully to think through and consult on before changing the objectives. That lies behind the Government’s concern about this approach.

As I was saying, this does not mean that there is no action to promote financial inclusion by the Government and the regulators. Major banks are required to provide basic bank accounts for those who would otherwise be unbanked. As of June last year, there were 7.4 million basic bank accounts open and during 2020-21 around 70,000 basic bank account customers were upgraded to standard personal current accounts, graduating to more mainstream financial services products. The FCA’s financial lives survey has shown that those aged over 75 are becoming more digitally included, with 64% digitally active in 2020 compared to 41% in 2017. However, we absolutely recognise that there is more work to be done in this area. The Government have allocated £100 million of dormant asset funding to Fair4All Finance, which is being used to improve access to affordable credit, with a further £45 million allocated recently to deliver initiatives to support those struggling with the increased cost of living.

While the FCA has an important role to play in supporting financial inclusion, it is already able to act where appropriate. For example, it has previously intervened in the travel insurance market to help consumers with pre-existing medical conditions access affordable cover. As the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, recognised, the new consumer duty developed by the FCA is yet to come into force and we are yet to feel the full benefits of that. However, importantly, these issues cannot be solved through regulation alone. Where there are gaps in the provision of products to consumers, the Government will continue to work closely with the FCA and other key players across industry and the third sector to address them.

I turn to Amendment 14 from the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton. I reassure him that the FCA is already well placed to take into account the protection of consumers’ mental health within its existing objectives. The regulator’s vulnerability guidance sets out a number of best practices for firms, from upskilling staff to product service and design, and specifically recognises poor mental health as a driver of consumer vulnerability. Where FCA-authorised firms fail to meet their obligations to treat customers fairly, including those in vulnerable circumstances, the FCA is already empowered to take further action. Since the publication of the vulnerability guidance, the FCA has engaged with firms that are not meeting their obligations and agreed remedial steps.

In summary, the Government believe that this is an incredibly important issue but consider that it is for the Government to lead on the broader issues of financial inclusion. Where necessary, in the existing framework the FCA is able to have the appropriate powers to support work on this important issue. While the Government do not support these amendments, I hope that I have set out how they are committed to making further progress in this area. I therefore hope that my noble friend Lord Holmes will withdraw his amendment and that the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, will not press theirs when they are reached.

My Lords, I thank everyone who has participated in this debate, and my noble friend the Minister for her response. This will continue to be a significant issue until we have something in the country which looks far more like financial inclusion for all those who are currently feeling the sharp end, or the wrong end, and who are shut out of so much of what passes for financial services today. However, having listened to my noble friend the Minister, I will not push this matter any further today. I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 13.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Amendment 14 not moved.

Clause 25: Regulatory principles: net zero emissions target

Amendment 15

Moved by

15: Clause 25, page 39, leave out lines 11 to 13 and insert—

“(c) the need to contribute towards achieving compliance with sections 1 (the target for 2050) and 4(1)(b) (net UK carbon account) of the Climate Change Act 2008, and the conservation and enhancement of the natural environment, including compliance with relevant targets approved by Parliament, the Scottish Parliament, Senedd Cymru, and the Northern Ireland Assembly.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment adds nature to the new regulatory principle on net zero emissions.

My Lords, when we debated this on Tuesday evening I was greatly encouraged by the support from all sides of the House for adding nature, alongside net zero, to the regulatory principles in the Bill. We also had support externally, particularly from Professor Dasgupta himself. I am afraid that I did not find the Minister’s arguments compelling, and therefore I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Clause 26: Sections 24 and 25: consequential amendments

Amendments 16 and 17

Moved by

16: Clause 26, page 39, line 15, at end insert—

“(1A) In section 1JA (Treasury recommendations in connection with general duties), after subsection (1)(c) insert—“(ca) how to discharge the duty in section 1B(4A)(duty to advance competitiveness and growth objective),”.(1B) In section 1K (guidance about objectives), after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) The reference in subsection (1) to the FCA’s operational objectives includes, in its application as a secondary objective, the competitiveness and growth objective (see section 1EB).”.(1C) In section 2I (guidance about objectives), after subsection (1) insert—“(1A) The reference in subsection (1) to the PRA’s objectives includes, in their application as secondary objectives, the competition objective and competitiveness and growth objective (see section 2H).”.(1D) In section 3B (regulatory principles to be applied by both regulators), for subsection (3) substitute—“(3) “Objectives”—(a) in relation to the FCA means— (i) operational objectives, and(ii) in its application as a secondary objective, the competitiveness and growth objective (see section 1EB), and(b) in relation to the PRA means—(i) the PRA’s objectives, and(ii) in their application as secondary objectives, the competition objective and competitiveness and growth objective (see section 2H).”.(1E) In section 3D (duty of FCA and PRA to ensure co-ordinated exercise of functions), for subsection (4) substitute—“(4) In this section, “objectives”—(a) in relation to the FCA means—(i) operational objectives, and(ii) in its application as a secondary objective, the competitiveness and growth objective (see section 1EB), and(b) in relation to the PRA means—(i) the PRA’s objectives, and(ii) in their application as secondary objectives, the competition objective and competitiveness and growth objective (see section 2H).(5) Where a regulator is proposing to exercise a function that is not one of its general functions, the reference to “objectives” in subsection (1)(a) does not include the secondary objectives mentioned in subsection (4)(a)(ii) and (b)(ii).(6) In this section, “general functions”—(a) in relation to the FCA, has the same meaning as in section 1B(6), and(b) in relation to the PRA, has the same meaning as in section 2J(1).”.(1F) In section 138I (consultation by the FCA), in subsection (2)(d) after “1B(1)” insert “, (4A)”.” Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would ensure that provisions of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 that refer to the objectives of the FCA and the PRA also include a reference to the new competitiveness and growth objective, as inserted by Clause 24 of the Bill.

17: Clause 26, page 39, line 20, at end insert—

“(2A) In section 232A (scheme operator’s duty to provide information to FCA)—(a) the existing words become subsection (1), and(b) after that subsection insert—“(2) The reference in subsection (1) to the FCA’s operational objectives includes, in its application as a secondary objective, the competitiveness and growth objective (see section 1EB).””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would ensure that section 232A of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 includes a reference to the competitiveness and growth objective, as inserted by Clause 24 of the Bill.

Amendments 16 and 17 agreed.

Amendment 18

Moved by

18: After Clause 26, insert the following new Clause—

“FCA to have regard to financial inclusion within consumer protection objective

(1) FSMA 2000 is amended as follows.(2) In section 1C (the consumer protection objective), after subsection (2)(c) insert—“(ca) financial inclusion;”.”

My Lords, we are very disappointed with the Government’s response on this matter so far. They are wilfully not engaging with this topic in the way that we would like. Financial inclusion is relevant to the regulation of financial services. How products are designed, marketed and administered and how advice is provided are all of concern to the FCA and directly important to financial inclusion. There have been piecemeal interventions, which the Government say are welcome, but we would like to see more at this stage. I wish to test the will of the House.

Amendment 19 not moved.

Clause 27: Review of rules

Amendments 20 to 22

Moved by

20: Clause 27, page 40, line 6, at end insert—

“(1A) The statement must provide information about—(a) how representations (including by a statutory panel) can be made to each regulator with respect to its review of rules under section 3RA, and(b) the arrangements to ensure that those representations are considered.(1B) In this section “statutory panel” has the meaning given by section 1RB(5).”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would impose a duty on the FCA and PRA to ensure that those regulators include in their statements of policy about the review of rules (required by section 3RB of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, as inserted by Clause 27) information about how representations (including by statutory panels) can be made and considered.

21: Clause 27, page 41, line 13, at end insert “and

(iii) advance the competitiveness and growth objective;”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would ensure that new section 3RD of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, as inserted by Clause 27 of the Bill, includes, for the purposes of the FCA’s report, a reference to the competitiveness and growth objective, as inserted by Clause 24 of the Bill.

22: Clause 27, page 41, line 15, at end insert “and

(ii) advance the PRA’s competition objective and the PRA’s competitiveness and growth objective;”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment would ensure that new section 3RD of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, as inserted by Clause 27 of the Bill, includes, for the purposes of the PRA’s report, a reference to the competition objective and the competitiveness and growth objective, as inserted by Clause 24 of the Bill. (The words after “review” in section 3RD(2)(b) would become sub-paragraph (i)).

Amendments 20 to 22 agreed.

Consideration on Report adjourned.