Commons Reason and Amendments
7A: Page 39, leave out lines 11 to 13 and insert—
“(c) the need to contribute towards achieving compliance by the Secretary of State with section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 (UK net zero emissions target) and section 5 of the Environment Act 2021 (environmental targets) where each regulator considers the exercise of its functions to be relevant to the making of such a contribution;”
7B: Page 63, leave out from “compliance” in line 47 to end of line 48 and insert “by the Secretary of State with section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 (UK net zero emissions target) and section 5 of the Environment Act 2021 (environmental targets) where the Bank considers the exercise of its FMI functions to be relevant to the making of such a contribution;”
7C: Page 148, leave out from “compliance” in line 14 to end of line 15 and insert “by the Secretary of State with section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008 (UK net zero emissions target) and section 5 of the Environment Act 2021 (environmental targets) where the Payment Systems Regulator considers the exercise of its functions to be relevant to the making of such a contribution;”.
My Lords, I beg to move Motion A and, with the leave of the House, will also speak to Motions B and C. I am grateful to all noble Lords for their considered scrutiny of the remaining issues in front of us today and throughout the Bill’s passage.
I will speak first to Lords Amendments 7 and 36, and I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Boycott, in particular, for their leadership on these issues during the passage of the Bill.
The UK is a global leader in sustainable finance. The Government’s ambition to support the growth of this important area is demonstrated by the amendment relating to sustainability disclosure requirements made on Report, and the amendments in lieu of Amendments 7 and 36 introduced during Commons consideration.
I turn first to Lords Amendment 7. The regulators have an important part to play in supporting the Government’s ambitions, which was demonstrated by the inclusion of the net-zero regulatory principle at introduction. The Government have reflected carefully on the calls to ensure that the regulatory framework also reflects the Government’s nature targets.
While I welcome the intention behind Amendment 7, the Government cannot accept this amendment because it is too broad and therefore too open to interpretation. We have therefore brought forward Amendments 7A, 7B and 7C in lieu of Amendment 7, which add the relevant and well-defined targets made under the Environment Act 2021 to the new regulatory principle. It is important to recognise that addressing climate change and nature issues is not the regulators’ primary function, which is, broadly, to advance their objectives, including to protect the integrity of the financial markets and the safety and soundness of firms within the financial system and to deliver appropriate protection for consumers. Most of the levers for reaching our net- zero and environmental targets sit outside the regulators’ remit and control.
The amendments in lieu will ensure that, when acting to advance their objectives, the regulators will be required to consider the Government’s commitments to achieve the net-zero emissions target and the environment targets. I assure noble Lords that the amendments do not weaken the requirement for the regulators to consider the Government’s net-zero target. FSMA requires the regulators to act in a way that advances their statutory objectives when carrying out their general functions. When advancing their objectives, the regulators must also have regard to the regulatory principles, which aim to promote good regulatory practice.
It is for the independent regulators to decide how best to meet the requirements placed on them in legislation when discharging their general functions. The drafting of the amendments in lieu makes this clear: the regulators are required to have regard to the regulatory principle only in so far as it is relevant to advancing their objectives. This does not change the effect of the net-zero requirement, but the Government considered that this additional language was needed, alongside expanding the principle, to make this point clear and to ensure consistency. I am confident that the Government’s approach meets the intended effect of Amendment 7, and I hope noble Lords will acknowledge it as a significant step to further support the growth of sustainable finance in the UK.
I turn to Lords Amendment 36 on deforestation-linked financing. As I set out on Report, the Government again support the intention behind this amendment. The policy considerations for tackling the financing of deforestation risk commodities are complex. We are grateful for the work of the Global Resource Initiative and in particular its report on this issue from May 2022. This emphasised the need to take a staged approach and that further exploratory work would be needed to investigate the implementation of a prohibition on the financing of the use of prohibited forest risk commodities.
The Government have therefore brought forward Amendment 36A in lieu of Amendment 36, which commits the Treasury to undertake a review to assess whether the financial regulatory framework is adequate for the purpose of eliminating the financing of illegal deforestation and to consider what changes to the regulatory framework may be appropriate. This will ensure that any intervention is scoped appropriately and that the UK moves in lockstep with our international partners to ensure the effectiveness of any regime in tackling the financing of illegal deforestation.
The Treasury will be required to undertake this review within nine months of the first relevant regulations under Schedule 17 to the Environment Act being made. This will enable the Government to reflect those regulations in the review, which is essential if we are to have a joined-up and effective approach.
As the Government set out in the updated green finance strategy, we will convene a series of round tables this year. These will form the basis of a taskforce to drive forward the work of this important review and support the development of clear conclusions. This will complement the Government’s existing commitment to explore how best the final Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures—or TNFD—framework should be incorporated into the UK policy and legislative architecture. As the GRI report acknowledged, the developing work of the TNFD is increasingly important, especially as it has now included recommendations relating to deforestation in its draft standards.
Following the review, the Government will consider what further action is appropriate to progress the goal of eliminating the financing of illegal deforestation. The Bill and the existing provisions in FSMA provide the Treasury with extensive powers, including through the regulated activities order or the designated activities regime, to bring new activities into the scope of regulation if needed.
Finally, I turn to Lords Amendment 10. As the Economic Secretary set out yesterday, and as I set out on Report, the Government cannot accept this amendment. While I acknowledge the intention behind it, I reiterate the point that financial inclusion is a complex societal issue that cannot be solved through financial regulation alone. The Government are committed to the aim of ensuring that people, regardless of their background or income, have access to useful and affordable financial products and services. The Government’s view is that the FCA’s current and ongoing initiatives around financial inclusion demonstrate that it can already effectively support the Government’s leadership on this agenda through its existing operational objectives and regulatory principles.
Parliamentary scrutiny of the introduction of the new secondary growth and competitiveness objectives for the regulators comes after two consultations on the Future Regulatory Framework Review and extensive engagement with industry and other stakeholders. It is not appropriate to amend the regulators’ objectives, which are crucial to the effective regulation of financial services in the UK, at this late stage of the Bill’s passage without due consultation. Furthermore, the FCA’s new consumer duty, which comes into force on 31 July, seeks to set a higher and clearer standard of care that firms owe to their customers, and includes a new principle requiring firms to act to deliver good outcomes for consumers. It is important that the sector is given the opportunity to embed these important new requirements before considering further action of a similar nature.
I ask noble Lords not to insist on Amendments 7, 10 and 36 and to agree with the Commons in their Amendments 7A, 7B, 7C, and 36A in lieu. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, and will speak to Amendment 7A. I thank the Minister and her team for the considerable efforts that have been put in, since the Bill left this House, to find a way to respond positively to the issues raised in my original amendment, which was supported from all sides of the House. As the Minister knows, the central issue was that of providing a clear legislative basis for financial regulators to act, not only on our climate change duties, which the Government themselves recognised and included in the original Bill, but in relation to our duties relating to the natural environment.
This issue is seen as important in Parliament but also outside it. The inclusion of nature was supported both by Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta and, in a statement last week, by a group of eight leading financial firms. I am extremely pleased that the Government decided not to try to completely overturn the amendment but to introduce the amendment we have before us now, the basis of which the Minister has just explained. It recognises that the importance of climate should go alongside the importance of nature, which was not there originally.
As the Minister is only too well aware, and as she made clear, there are some differences between what the Government propose and the amendment passed in this House—and, indeed, some differences from the provision as it was introduced in the Bill. I am grateful for some of the clarification and reassurance that she provided in her introduction, but I will go through a couple of those points.
In the first instance, I would be very grateful for the Minister’s confirmation that the addition of the words
“where each regulator considers the exercise of its functions to be relevant”
is not intended to and will not dilute the strength of the original responsibilities. I understand her explanation that the clarification reflects the ongoing work to understand the interaction between the nature targets and the financial services regulators, but I note that, although the work on nature may be behind that on climate, the inclusion of nature in financial firms’ decision-making parallels that for climate, and the arguments about the materiality of nature-related risks and impacts are not markedly different from those for climate. I am grateful for the Minister’s reassurance that the legal effect and the strength of the original drafting remain unchanged.
Similarly, it is helpful to have reassurance that this is also the case in relation to the removal by this Bill of existing provisions conferred by the Financial Services Act 2021. I would be pleased to hear the Minister reconfirm that the legal effect of the new principles would be at least as strong as these provisions.
Finally, on the territorial scope of the Environment Act, I would appreciate clarification that, although the Environment Act targets referenced are applicable only in England and Wales, any actions that the regulators take as a result of this principle will apply to firms across the UK and have benefits across the UK.
The reason why I and many others have been so determined that nature should be included is, of course, related to our concerns about the urgent crisis of biodiversity loss, but is also because, if the Government intend to use the expertise of our world-leading financial sector to
“accelerate the shift to a green global financial system and catalyse green financing globally”,
that requires us to start with the whole natural system and the interrelationship between climate and nature. The inclusion of both in the financial regulators’ principles is not a matter of mission creep. As Frank Elderson, executive board member of the European Central Bank, recently told the Financial Times, it is actually “core economics” when 72% of eurozone companies and three-quarters of bank loans in the region are exposed to biodiversity loss.
The Government’s inclusion of the natural environment in the Bill is important in its own right. I am grateful for the work that has been done. It is completely in step with the Government’s policy for the UK’s world-leading financial services sector to
“drive every step of the global transition”
“a resilient, nature-positive, net zero economy”.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 36, which was in my name and those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Sheehan and Lady Chapman, and the noble Lord, Lord Randall. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, by thanking the Minister very much for the time she spent working with us on this amendment and trying to lay out exactly why it has not quite passed. I am super grateful for the efforts that were made. I support everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, just said. We have to make sure that nature runs through everything we do like a stick of Brighton rock. It is extremely important. We cannot survive without it.
Amendment 36 would have introduced mandatory checks to protect the UK financial sector from lending to or investing in companies that engage in illegal deforestation and land grabs against indigenous peoples. It passed a vote in our House, which was wonderful, but sadly it was defeated in the other place, so instead of a new law to stop finance flowing to companies that plunder the environment, I am afraid we have ended up with another review.
I say that with sadness, because we have only just finished the last review into how to stop deforestation finance. That was the three-year inquiry by the Government’s expert body, the Global Resource Initiative —GRI—task force. I suppose many people have said this, but I will say it again: just to commission another review until one of them churns out an acceptable policy is not great governing. The GRI task force was composed of finance and business leaders, as well as civil society. It was excellently put together. It was tasked to provide a cross-sector blueprint to reduce the UK’s contribution to deforestation. In May last year—just over a year ago—it recommended that UK financial services firms should be obliged to check for the risk of any deforestation, legal and illegal, as well as any human rights abuses. The GRI recommended a due diligence regime much more far reaching than the one we proposed under Amendment 36, which, I hasten to emphasise, was limited to illegal deforestation only. Even the financial sector itself does not want this approach, as evidenced by the fact that investors representing £2.7 trillion publicly supported our amendment.
I will not push this Motion to another vote but, given the strength of support we have seen and the consensus behind the introduction of mandatory due diligence, I will ask the Minister for three clarifications. First, can she confirm that the Treasury’s review will put forward a specific proposal for a comprehensive due diligence system to prevent the financing of deforestation rather than another re-evaluation of what type of intervention is needed? It is vital that we do not waste any more time or money repeating the work of Sir Ian Cheshire and his GRI task force. This is not an excuse to wriggle out of due diligence and derogate to more reporting under frameworks such as the TNFD, which we discussed extensively at our meeting last week. I really hope to see a much more ambitious plan.
Secondly, can the Minister confirm that all forest risk commodities will be regulated under Schedule 17 to the Environment Act? Thirdly and finally, can she confirm here today a final date for when the now extremely delayed secondary regulations under Schedule 17 to the Environment Act will be made? The Treasury’s review will be limited at the moment to an investigation of how the UK finances prohibited commodities. This is fraught with problems, not least the fact that these regulations are nearly two years delayed. It also means that if the Government choose not to cover all forest risk commodities in that regime, the review will not be worth anything. For example, Defra’s June 2022 consultation proposed covering only two commodities. There were 14,000 respondents, and 99% of responses said that the law should cover all forest risk commodities, including cattle, palm oil, soy, rubber, cocoa, coffee and maize. This is the approach that the EU has taken. We risk becoming a laughing stock if our apparently world-leading secondary regulations cover only cocoa and soy, for instance.
To sum up, I am thankful that the Minister and the Economic Secretary have adopted a sensible proposal to allow the country’s financial regulators to address the threat of biodiversity loss. Our regulators should pay attention to nature because it is the bedrock of all our systems, but there is an irony to accept that an amendment merely commissioning a review into deforestation is all we are going to do. I spoke last week to the head of science at Kew, Alex Antonelli, and asked him to give me the up-to-date data from Kew about the state of deforestation across the world. He told me that illegal logging is the most important resource crime in the world and is valued at between $52 billion and $157 billion a year. Illegally obtained timber accounts for between 10% and 30% of all global timber that we all use, but in south-east Asia, central Africa and South America, between 50% and 90% is illegally obtained, so I think that the Government’s efforts need to be speeded up. But I will not oppose Motion C, and I thank the Minister for her considerations.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Boycott and Lady Hayman. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on her diligence in trying to come to some solution to our demands. As we have just heard, it is not quite what we wanted but it is getting there, pretty much. Personally, I am sure that the Minister shares our concerns, but sometimes the Treasury is a bit like one’s parents in saying, “You can’t have it all at once; you have to wait and be ready for it”.
I reiterate the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, regarding regulating all forest risk commodities under the secondary regulations, and ask also for a firm date. I am delighted that we have got as far as we have but I would say, not just to my noble friend the Minister but to all other noble friends and Ministers, that we will not rest here. As we have heard, deforestation is one of the biggest crimes going on in the world and a threat to us all. We shall continue with this.
My Lords, I first pass on the apologies of my colleague and noble friend Lady Kramer, who is unable to be in her place; hence, you have me instead. I identify with the comments made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Boycott, and will not repeat them. Although the Government have given some territory, I do not feel that it is substantial enough.
Two points in particular worry me. The first is with regard to the climate change targets and the wording that
“each regulator considers the exercise of its functions to be relevant to the making of such a contribution”.
The Minister emphasised in her introduction that the regulators have to consider that it fits in squarely with their major objectives. That is quite a discouragement to them to pursue these matters. The regulators do not have to follow every objective and principle anyway; so they do not have an objective or principle and this has now been further diluted by that wording. So, while it is good that there is something on the face of the Bill, a lot of following up will be needed to make sure that something happens.
When it comes to the forestry issues, yes, there will be another consultation—another delay—but why do we have to be in lockstep with our partners? I thought we wanted to be leaders. That means you have to be prepared to go out there and, if you are a leading financial centre, show that it can be done. To always tie ourselves down, to be in lockstep, means that there is a fear to move, there is trepidation, and that does not mark us out or distinguish us as a financial centre. I therefore hope for better, and I hope that comes out of the Treasury’s review.
Overall, the Bill has seen issues raised on all sides of the House and a lot of common thinking. Yes, there has been some yielding by the Government as a consequence—though in general I would say not enough —but this shows that the mood and understanding of this House and of the industry are that the size and momentum of what we are doing in delegating everything to regulators need to have a little more beefing up when it comes to accountability and how matters can be pursued if the regulators do not do things, if they do not do them quickly enough, and so on. In quite a lot of our amendments we have tried to pursue those issues but we have got nowhere. I think that means we will be coming back.
Parliament has been left with scrutiny, and scrutiny has to have consequences. That goes for all the environmental matters and for the substantial financial matters that will come before the joint committee that—I hope—will be set up. I very much expect that if the regulators do not act on the scrutiny of this House, the Government will step in and act upon it. We cannot delegate everything, with no consequence, to the regulators.
My Lords, I want to comment on Motion B, which no one has addressed. I congratulate the Minister, her colleagues, the Bill team and all the Peers who have contributed to this 337-page whopper of a Bill, which has been broadly welcomed by all. I remind your Lordships of my declaration of interests, which includes the fact that I am an employee of an FCA-regulated business that is currently seeking to merge with another FCA-regulated business.
That takes me to Amendment 10. Within the Bill are the important amendments to Sections 1B and 1E of FSMA 2000. Amendment 10 seeks to add subsection (2)(ca) to the already strong provisions for consumer protection in Section 1C(2)(a) to (h). I agree with my noble friend the Minister that we should not push through Amendment 10.
I can tell my noble friend the Minister and fellow Peers that in the market the Bill is desperately sought. There is still huge frustration at the FCA about the time taken to progress and execute transactions. That has been a significant block on economic growth, which is one of the objectives that the FCA will now have. I ask the Minister to ensure that the FCA is aware of its new objectives and requirements and that this actually takes place in practice.
My Lords, we on these Benches supported all three of the amendments that we are discussing today when we looked at them last time, including Amendment 7, which would expand the regulatory principle on net-zero emissions to include conservation and nature. We also voted for Amendment 36, imposing a duty on those conducting regulated activity to conduct due diligence with the aim of preventing illegal deforestation.
We have listened carefully to what the Minister has said and will be listening to what she says in response to this debate, particularly to the questions asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott. However, I thank the Minister for her openness in engaging with these issues and for the amendments in lieu, which demonstrate an agreement with your Lordships that these are issues that the Government need to address urgently. They may not be doing so in a way that we would have preferred today, but it is right that we acknowledge the moves that the Government have made.
Amendment 10 in my name would require the FCA to take financial inclusion into account when advancing its consumer protection objective of securing an appropriate degree of protection for consumers. The Government disagree with that amendment, saying they consider that the FCA is already able to tackle issues of financial inclusion within its remit. We argue that the problem is that the Government have failed to address our key concern in tabling the amendment, which is about the poverty premium—that is, the extra costs that poorer people pay for essential services such as insurance, loans or credit cards.
We see this Bill as something of a missed opportunity to build a strong future for our financial services and rethink financial resilience, including how some of the wider well-being issues are tackled by the regulator in the future. Everybody should be able to access the financial services they need, regardless of their income or circumstances. Although we do not intend to push this to another vote today, I can assure noble Lords that we will be returning to this subject at every opportunity—especially if that opportunity arrives in the form of a Labour Government.
For now, I place on the record our sincere thanks, particularly to the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Boycott, who have been highly effective in raising nature and deforestation issues. I also thank my noble friends Lord Livermore and Lord Tunnicliffe for their work on this Bill. We are probably at the end of it now. I note what the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, said about the need to get this Bill through and on to the statute books for the benefit of this important sector.
My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for the debate today, and I would like to address some of the points raised.
On the addition of the obligations under the Environment Act to the principle on climate change, I intended in my opening speech to clarify some of the language in that amendment. I am very happy to emphasise again the Government’s intention that the legal effect of the new provisions will be the same as the original climate principle, with the addition of the targets under the Environment Act. The intention is that it will be at least as strong as the provisions in the Financial Services Act 2021. I explained in opening the reasons for amending the language. It is not about diluting the principles or commitments, but further clarifying them, given that these are new areas.
I accept the noble Baroness’s point that often, these issues can be two sides of the same coin. We had the debate on whether the issues were sufficiently covered by just mentioning climate. Adding the explicit reference to the Environment Act targets led to a desire to be even clearer about the effect of that principle, but it has not changed in the wording of our amendment.
On Lords Amendment 36, there were questions on the timing of the provisions under Schedule 17 to the Environment Act. I am afraid that, as hard as I have tried, I cannot provide a definitive date, but I reassure noble Lords that I have met the Minister leading on this at Defra. Work is under way to bring forward those regulations, and we are seeking to do it at the earliest opportunity.
The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, and my noble friend Lord Randall of Uxbridge asked what commodities those provisions will cover, and the noble Baroness mentioned a consultation on two forest risk commodities. My understanding is that the consultation and impact assessment covered a variety of policy options across three different turnover thresholds and seven different commodities. While I cannot pre-judge the outcome of the regulations under Schedule 17, our approach to this review will mirror the approach taken forward under Schedule 17.
On the point about the outcomes of this review, I am sure that the noble Baroness will understand that I cannot prejudge that, but I can say that it is not intended to duplicate work already being done; it should build on it. I am happy to make sure that noble Lords and other parliamentarians are involved in the progress of that review as we take it forward, so that they can see that it is heading in the right direction.
I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman of Darlington, for the constructive way she has approach the Bill in its latter stages. She raised the issue of the poverty premium that can be placed in financial services. We are progressing work in areas where the poverty premium can occur. For example, we are working with Fair4All Finance, the organisation set up to use funding from dormant assets for financial inclusion, to improve access to affordable and appropriate financial products, including a package of tailored support to scale affordable credit in order to help the sector develop a sustainable model for serving people in vulnerable circumstances. We also looked at issues in the insurance industry in a number of areas, in terms of outcomes and access. We will continue to look at the areas where the poverty premium occurs, the factors that are driving it and the right levers we should think about to address it. It is different for different sectors, services and products, but that work will continue, despite our not being able to accept the noble Baroness’s amendment.
I therefore ask noble Lords not to insist on Amendments 7, 10 and 36 and to agree with the Commons in their Amendments 7A, 7B, 7C and 36A in lieu.
Motion A agreed.
10A: Because financial inclusion is a broader social policy issue, the Financial Conduct Authority is already able to take action on issues related to financial inclusion within its remit and it would not be appropriate to amend the regulators’ objectives without due consultation as it would create uncertainty for FCA-regulated entities.
Motion B agreed.
36A: Page 87, line 34, at end insert the following new Clause—
“Forest risk commodities: review
(1) The Treasury must carry out a review to assess the extent to which regulation of the UK financial system is adequate for the purpose of eliminating the financing of the use of prohibited forest risk commodities.
(2) In subsection (1) the reference to “prohibited” forest risk commodities is a reference to forest risk commodities, or products derived from forest risk commodities, the use of which is prohibited by paragraph 2 of Schedule 17 to the Environment Act 2021.
(3) Having carried out a review the Treasury must lay before Parliament, and publish, a report stating—
(a) the conclusions of the review, and
(b) the steps the Treasury considers it appropriate to take to improve the effectiveness of the regulation of the UK financial system for the purpose stated in subsection (1).
(4) Subsection (3) must be complied with before the end of 9 months beginning with the day on which the first regulations under paragraph 1 of Schedule 17 to the Environment Act 2021 are made.
(5) In this section—
“forest risk commodities” has the same meaning as in Schedule 17 to the Environment Act 2021;
“UK financial system” has the same meaning as in FSMA 2000 (see section 1I of that Act).”
Motion C agreed.