Wednesday 1 February 2023
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, the Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.
Financial Services and Markets Bill
Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant document: 23rd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee
Clause 24: Competitiveness and growth objective
45: Clause 24, page 38, line 19, at end insert—
“(4B) The FCA must monitor and measure to what extent it has advanced the competitiveness and growth objective in various ways, including but not limited to—(a) the PRA’s responsiveness to entities that are regulated or seeking to become so,(b) its consistency of approach to entities that are regulated or seeking to become so, and(c) the proportionality of its approach to the regulation of entities that are regulated or seeking to become so.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment seeks to provide some measurable ways in which the competitiveness and growth objective can be monitored and subjected to scrutiny.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 45 in my name, I will speak also to Amendment 63. I apologise for being unable to contribute at Second Reading; the opening speeches were at the same time as a major evidence session for the European Affairs Committee. However, I sat through much of the debate and have my well-thumbed copy of Hansard here. I declare my relevant interests, as set out the register, as a shareholder of Hiscox Ltd and Schroders plc and a director of Alpha Insurance Analysts.
In my commercial career, I was a director, chief executive or chair of regulated financial services businesses in eight different major jurisdictions. I dealt with the regulators in those jurisdictions and regulators in other EU jurisdictions because of the passporting regimes, and with regulators in places where we decided not to set things up.
However, this amendment has nothing to do with that. Its genesis was in the report of the European Affairs Committee from June last year, The UK-EU Relationship in Financial Services. That report was a major piece of work; we took evidence from a galaxy of stars, including two of the four deputy governors of the Bank of England. The report was settled in the usual House of Lords way, on a unanimous basis.
Paragraph 145 of our report begins a section titled “A competitiveness objective”. In considering this, the committee was trying to form a better view on four real issues: first, the wisdom or otherwise of a competitiveness objective; secondly, what it actually meant; thirdly, how a regulator might implement such a thing; fourthly, how Parliament might scrutinise it. We will come to the fourth issue when we discuss later amendments, particularly those to Clause 36.
We put the problem of the competitiveness objective to our galaxy of star witnesses, including both of the deputy governors of the Bank of England. It was quite difficult for us to form a view on the wisdom of it because, throughout our evidence generally, there were considerable differences among all the witnesses as to what a competitiveness objective amounted to. That difference in the set of views, which were honestly held, was quite difficult for us to reconcile. While the committee generally felt that it was a good idea, it was a bit like how I took the mood of the Second Reading debate to be. There was an interesting set of differences in what it meant; if you do not know what it really means, it is jolly difficult to implement it consistently across a regulator. How will you do that not only between regulators but within a regulator when the FCA has several thousand employees? We were a bit dubious about that. In terms of scrutiny, if it is all unclear above you, scrutinising it is jolly difficult.
The committee tried to assist in this. We wrote various descriptive paragraphs; in paragraph 151, the first of our two conclusive paragraphs on this—not on actual scrutiny—we said:
“The Committee notes that, as a result of the Future Regulatory Framework Review, the Government is considering introducing an additional, secondary ‘competitiveness’ objective for the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority. However, it is equally important for the UK’s overall economic competitiveness for the Government and regulators to work together to develop a broader regulatory culture that is responsive, consistent, and proportionate”—
I emphasise those words.
Noble Lords will have noted that the words “responsiveness”, “consistency” and “proportionality” appear in Amendments 45 and 63. These amendments are designed to give effect to what we as a committee wanted to do, which was to give some directional help to regulators as to how they would be able to implement a competitiveness thing and to have measurable things before them. I must say that I have played the refrain of “responsiveness, consistency and proportionality” to various market associations since the report and I have heard nothing but a feeling that that is at least a start in finding a way of being able to help to define this elusive thing of the competitiveness objective.
It is worth quoting our second paragraph of conclusions:
“We ask the Government, in its response to this report, to explain in further detail how a secondary ‘competitiveness’ objective would be applied by the regulators in practice and how success will be measured.”
The Government’s response to our report was, in general, a very good one. I worked out that I have been in receipt —either as a committee chair or member—of well over 50 government responses, and I can promise noble Lords that this one was pretty good. On this particular bit, however, it was very weak. The response on this area had a quite a lot of paragraphs, but most simply repeated the question. The operative sentence is:
“The regulators will be responsible for operationalising their new objectives.”
I must say that my spellcheck is not modern enough for “operationalising”, so I am not quite sure what that means. But I am sure that the Government are washing their hands of that, which I feel is a mistake.
I submit that the European Affairs Committee’s view on this—remembering, of course, that the committee is cross-party and this was, as usual, an entirely unanimous report—is that there are three benefits to having clarity in this area. First, as a client—either an existing client or a prospective new client who wants to come in to be regulated in the United Kingdom—it provides some clarity. It is jolly good, let me say, if you are thinking of moving capital or business to a jurisdiction, to feel that the regulator will be responsive and consistent and will take a proportionate view of things. Those are all things that are directly relevant to any decision to set up in that jurisdiction or to maintain yourself in that jurisdiction.
Secondly, it is good for the regulators, because they will then know what they are meant to be doing. As I said, we asked regulators about that in our evidence sessions and we heard different answers as to what the thing meant. Thirdly, it is good for scrutineers. We, as scrutineers—I have jumped over the fence now; I am a solid scrutineer and do not do any business at all—will be able to ask the right questions and to have metrics given to us to see whether the regulators are doing a good job. That, I would submit, is a win-win-win scenario.
These two amendments build faithfully on the work of a major committee of this House and should, I feel, properly be part of this Bill. I beg to move Amendment 45.
My Lords, I will not repeat what the noble Earl has said, but I thank him for the depth of his proposal and the work that he has done in tabling these amendments.
I remind the Committee that I have chaired two quoted companies. I have been chairman of one friendly society and seen through both Houses the Mutuals’ Deferred Shares Act, so I think that I have some heritage, in particular in the mutual movement, which I think is really important to our society and our economy. I take a deep interest in that mutual movement and, indeed, I know that my noble friend on the Front Bench and the Government are particularly concerned about helping the mutual movement move forward. This group of amendments is there to help that.
For me, these two amendments are central to the Bill. I have said this before and will say it again: growth in financial services is dependent on, and an extension of, what is happening in the financial world. There are some really exciting new developments happening, but they need help and occasionally a little persuasion. The FCA has a major challenge on its hands. I welcome that, as I am sure it does, but there is an understandable danger that having an increased spectrum of activities is new to the FCA. It should be reminded to look around the corner, do a little investigation and find out what is happening underneath and therefore what is coming forward. I am sure it will do that, but it needs prompting and these amendments do that.
I say finally to my noble friend on the Front Bench that the mutual movement, both the friendly societies and the credit unions, is looking for new ways to raise capital. That is fundamental to both those mutuals. I therefore hope the Government will look at the noble Earl’s amendment with an open mind and accept it.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in day 3 of Committee. In doing so, I declare my financial services interests as set out in the register. I will speak to Amendments 66, 115, 116, 196 and 222 in my name. Before doing so, I give more than a nod to the amendment in this area that has already been so eloquently and eruditely set out.
Amendment 66 is on reporting on competitiveness, which is essential. As drafted, Clause 26 in effect enables the regulators to mark their own homework—“in its opinion”. Does the Minister agree that it would be far better for accountability to government and Parliament for there to be a criterion for measurement of adherence to the competitiveness objective? Amendment 66 sets this out. I would be grateful for her thoughts on each of the paragraphs proposed in Amendment 66.
Amendments 115 and 116 look at reporting the regulators’ activities in making authorisations for new and existing firms. There are many elements set out in these amendments and I would be grateful for the Minister’s response on all of them because we are really talking about the time and cost to firms and prospective firms. We need a lot more transparency and clarity, and Amendments 115 and 116 are focused in that direction.
Amendment 196 looks to reporting on determinations. Significant concerns have been raised on this issue across the industry. I point the Minister to the joint report of the City of London Corporation and HMT on the state of the sector. Does she agree with its conclusions on declining levels of responsiveness and the need for the regulator to up its game in this respect?
Similarly, when this Bill was in Public Bill Committee in the Commons, we heard of it taking nine months for an overseas CEO to receive authorisation and that it has been 15 years since a new insurance firm was established in the UK—a sector in which we have such heritage and past success. That evidence to the Public Bill Committee is a clear indication that heritage and past success are no guarantee of future performance. The regulator has played a key role in that being the current state of affairs.
I think we need to revisit the timelines for determinations and have a greater level of specificity and streamlining. A number of concerns have been expressed about the appropriateness of questions that people have found themselves on the end of. Rather than just seeing the 90-day statutory time set out, would it not be better to revisit this whole process and see how we could have a far more effective and efficient means of determination related to the type of determination that was being sought?
Finally, Amendment 222 asks the Government to do a review of regional mutual banks in the United Kingdom. There is a great, continuing problem which has dogged finance in this nation for decades, not least small and medium-sized enterprises and not least for those outside London and the Home Counties. Amendment 222 simply asks the Government to consider looking into regional mutual banks, how they have performed in other jurisdictions, not least Germany, how we could use such a means to develop patient capital and how we could reconsider capital adequacy requirements and really do something in this Bill through this amendment which would clearly speak to the levelling-up agenda, growth and the whole regional piece.
To that end, I ask my noble friend to respond to all the points in those amendments and, ideally, accept them in Committee to save me having to resubmit them on Report.
My Lords, there are many good suggestions in this group of amendments. Indeed, they are all good and they are all very supportable. It is particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, because with the amendment on the determination of authorisations he has put his finger on a specific problem that interferes with the day-to-day running of businesses, or those hoping to run new businesses, and is at the heart of competitiveness. So without addressing those kinds of issues, we will not get anywhere. This lies behind similar amendments in my name, in a later group, relating to efficiency.
I hope that, given the number of amendments, and no doubt contributions, from noble Lords from all sides, the Government and the regulators will acknowledge the need and the parliamentary appetite for further accountability through formal reporting and, as I point out in my Amendment 121, for independent performance metrics. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for signing that amendment. Of course, it is a probing amendment directed at the FCA. To be thorough, there would need to be another one replicating it for the PRA, but I had tabled enough amendments already. I am conscious also that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has proposed a more fully developed model, with an amendment in a later group creating an office for financial regulatory accountability. I have signed that amendment.
My amendment suggests that the FCA report its performance against a set of statistics developed and periodically updated by the National Audit Office, in consultation with consumer representatives, through which the FCA’s achievements and progress may be objectively evaluated. The idea for the amendment developed out of discussions that we had in your Lordships’ Industry and Regulators Committee when we were looking at competitiveness in financial services, particularly in the insurance sector, as well as the wider discussion about competitiveness.
The issue with reports by the regulators is that, even within a given topic, they are setting their own exam questions and then grading themselves on how well they have passed. There is a constant need to get different specifics and granularities as new issues arise, and that is not necessarily being done—for example, reporting on authorisations, as I have mentioned. The committee had some discussions with the NAO, finding it very helpful and astute, and there are always lots of interesting things in its report that at times already challenge what the regulators have said about themselves and how they have spent their resources. It sheds light on things that—shall we say?—have certainly been exaggerated by the regulators in the past.
It is clear from the number of amendments in this group and elsewhere that to address problems comprehensively within the structure of FSMA is quite difficult and convoluted, needing many amendments that make it ever more difficult and convoluted. That is one reason to have an external body that can look over everything and cut through some of the obfuscation and difficulty one has in trying to put something comprehensive into FSMA and needing about eight amendments to do it. My fundamental question is: does the Minister recognise that need for an independent body of substance that can update what is reviewed and measured around regulatory performance and is free from the regulators’ own glossing, and if not, why not?
I need touch only briefly on my other two amendments in this group, Amendments 157 and 158. They simply suggest that when respondents to consultations do not wish to be named—that is perfectly reasonable—there should nevertheless be an indication of the nature of the respondents so that we can see how many have come from industry and how many from elsewhere. That is done sometimes; it is done routinely in some departments but in others it is never done. It is just good governance because, without revealing the identity of individuals or companies, you can nevertheless see what the universe of respondents truly looks like.
My Lords, I have Amendments 83 and 84 in this group and I have added my name to Amendments 66, 115 and 116 in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. I did not add my name to some of the other amendments in this group but I think a pattern of considerable agreement is emerging from all parts of this Committee as to the things that we need to address. Perhaps we have not quite honed in on how to find the one solution to that, but the purpose of Committee is to explore these things.
My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond’s Amendment 66 aims at much the same target as Amendments 45 and 63 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I support what both said in introducing their amendments. I understand what the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, is seeking to achieve but it is not enough just to tell the FCA or the PRA to monitor and measure what they are doing in certain areas. We need to go further, and into regular and focused reporting, which is why I particularly wanted to support my noble friend Lord Holmes’s Amendment 66. Of course, the two issues are not mutually exclusive, and I can see the start of a way forward to an amendment on Report that encapsulates many of the issues arising in respect of the competitiveness and growth objectives.
I am particularly concerned that the regulators will pay lip service to the new objective: we will get pages of elegant words in their annual reports but whether they will amount to anything useful in terms of information is something of a moot point. I also believe that relatively few people actually read the annual reports of the regulators, much as not many people read the annual reports of listed companies. If noble Lords are in any doubt about the capacity of the PRA to write a lot of words without saying much of substance, they need only look at the PRA’s discussion document on how it will respond to this new competitiveness and growth objective. It runs to 70 pages but there is virtually no meat in there at all. We need hard data in a regular report which will get attention in Parliament and elsewhere, which is the other main theme that will emerge from our Committee: how we can start to build a proper system of accountability. However, reporting by the regulators is an important building block in there.
My Amendments 83 and 84 also concern the competitiveness and growth objective, but this time in the context of consultation on new rules. These amendments amend new Sections 138I and 138J of FSMA, as inserted by Clause 29, so that the PRA and the FCA have to include an explanation of the impact of how the competitiveness and growth objective has affected whatever new rules are brought forward. Whenever new rules are proposed, there is an important opportunity to consider their potential impacts on competitiveness and growth. As we know, regulators do not need many excuses to create new rules, but every time they respond to real or perceived risks with another addition to the rule book, they will end up imposing costs, and costs are ultimately borne by consumers. They can also have the effect of slowing down or hampering innovation, so it is important that, at the point before new rules are introduced, we have the opportunity to review the impact of those rules on competitiveness and growth in the UK. I like ex poste reporting, but I also like ex ante analysis and, if necessary, action to change rules before they have an adverse impact.
I have also added my name to my noble friend Lord Holmes’s Amendments 115 and 116 because they would give hard data on how speedy the regulators are in handling new approvals, which is an important area. Amendment 116, which would require information on various kinds of regulatory decisions made by the FCA, could usefully be extended to the PRA because it, too, seems to drag its feet on those areas.
Anybody who has worked in a bank will have a story about how long it took to get directors and key executives approved. Last week the Financial Times reported that a digital asset technology company was forced to register in Switzerland because the FCA was too slow to deal with its UK authorisation application. We really must have regulators in the financial services sector that work efficiently and effectively if the UK is to remain a successful financial centre. We need the kind of reports covered in these amendments to form part of a suite of information on which Parliament can start to hold these regulators to account more effectively.
My Lords, I declare my interests as stated in the register. The noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, is right in his Amendment 45 to bring the Committee’s attention to the need to ensure that the regulators take seriously the new objectives which may be given to them under the Bill. As your Lordships are aware, the Bill strengthens rather than weakens the regulators. My worry is that, if it is not made explicit, the regulators may not give enough importance to the new competitiveness and growth objective. Rightly or wrongly, the regulators are considered by much of the industry to be set on ensuring the stability of the graveyard and the protection of the investor against any possible risks. I entirely support the FCA’s new strategy to become more assertive and agile in detecting and taking action against scammers, but I wonder how, in practice, it can measure its advancement of the new objective in terms of consistency and proportionality and how it will balance that against its strategy to halve by 2025 the number of consumers who invest in higher-risk products.
The noble Earl’s amendment would also place a duty on the FCA to measure the PRA’s responsiveness to regulated entities. Does this not indicate clearly the additional complexity—especially for dual-regulated firms—that the well-intentioned but misguided decision to split the FSA into two regulators has caused? What proportion of the FCA’s time and costs will be spent on monitoring the PRA, and vice versa? Will my noble friend commit that, in the medium term, the Government will conduct a review of the effects on regulatory standards and the City’s competitiveness that have resulted from having two principal financial regulators?
In principle, I also support the noble Earl’s Amendment 63, which seeks to place a similar requirement on the PRA to measure the extent to which it has successfully advanced the competitiveness and growth objective. At Second Reading, I asked my noble friend the Minister to inform the House whether the new competitiveness and growth objective is to be a secondary strategic objective or a secondary operational objective. I suggested that, if the FCA’s new objective is only secondary, it will not be effective in changing the FCA’s culture and behaviour to the extent necessary to achieve the Government’s ambition for the UK to become the world’s most innovative and competitive global financial centre. It is too easy for secondary objectives to carry not much more weight than “have regard” principles, of which the regulators already have many.
I have added my name to Amendment 66 in the names of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond and other noble friends. It would introduce clear duties on the regulators to provide comparative data to show that they are simplifying their rulebooks and improving the competitiveness of markets, as compared with other jurisdictions. Without such a statutory duty, and especially if the new objective is to be only secondary, I am not sure that the regulators’ approach will change sufficiently to achieve the Government’s purpose in introducing it.
I have added my name in support of my noble friend Lady Noakes’s Amendment 83 for the same reason. My noble friend has already explained much better than I could the reasons why the Bill would be improved by adopting this amendment. The regulators should demonstrate clearly how they have taken the new objective into account in consulting on and formulating their new rulebook. I also support my noble friend’s Amendment 84.
I do not oppose Amendments 113 and 114 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, but they do not place a duty on the regulators while they are engaged in making rules—only afterwards. I think the Treasury is already authorised to require such reports from the regulators, so I am not sure that the noble Baroness’s amendments add very much.
I support Amendments 115 and 116 because they draw attention to the length of time the regulators take in approving new authorisations or changes to existing ones. There is a widely held belief in the industry that the regulators have been taking much too long in doing this.
I also have sympathy with the intention of Amendments 118 and 119, to which the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe will speak shortly, because it is regrettable that the mutual and co-operative business models do not have a place—or have less of a place than they used to. The recent example of Liverpool Victoria makes that clear.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s view on whether additional duties need to be placed on the regulators to protect the position of mutual companies. Amendment 121 in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, and my noble friend Lord Naseby has merit in that, clearly, the FCA’s performance should be reported against independent metrics.
Amendments 157 and 158 also have merit and would help to ensure that the quality and accuracy of the regulators’ accounts of consultation on rules are not unduly diminished by GDPR. I look forward to other noble Lords’ contributions.
My Lords, I take serious note of the comments of the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, because they reflect my fear that the amendments in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and the first amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, could easily be interpreted as pressure to raise the international competitiveness objective and the growth objective very close, if not equal to the financial stability objective. Frankly, that should be a major concern to us all. I do not want to put the regulators on the back foot when they prioritise financial stability.
In many ways, that is how it was in the 1980s and the 1990s, and we saw how the industry responded to that set of priorities and arrangements. The industry was blithe about risk as long as it generated short-term profit. In discussing the new international competitiveness and economic growth objectives, I have heard from many in the industry that they want them not only to be given greater weight but even to be primary objectives and to stand entirely equal with financial stability. That is such dangerous territory.
At Second Reading, I quoted Paul Tucker, a former deputy governor of the Bank of England, who lived through all that turmoil of 2007-08 and after, who urged Parliament not to give the regulators—particularly the PRA—an international competitiveness objective, praying in aid former governors of the Bank of England, who knew the very soul of the industry and knew that that would be dangerous and unadvisable. Those were not his exact words—his were more excoriating.
Risk in the financial sector is asymmetric, as we saw in 2007. The profits of risky behaviour go to the leading figures in the industry, and they typically keep those proceeds, despite the failure of the sector and the organisation and, in many cases, despite the fact that if you were to go back and unpick it, one could say that such proceeds were based on false profits.
The taxpayer then had to come in and rescue the sector with £137 billion in 2007-09. Much of that has been recouped, but what has not, even to this day—and which we and the country live with—is the damage to the wider economy. We had more than a decade of austerity, and it is a price we are still paying to this day. At our peril do we put ourselves in a position where there is increased likelihood of a repeat of that cycle.
I remember from his memoirs that Alistair Darling was shocked that banking chiefs uniformly showed no gratitude for the massive rescue package that kept their businesses afloat after the 2007-08 crisis. I sat on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, but have yet to find one to take any significant responsibility, not only for their institution but for the broader sector.
On competitiveness, let me quote from the report of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, because this was central to its findings of why the industry had become so out of control and behaved as it did:
“There is nothing inherently optimal about an international level playing field in regulation. There may be significant benefits to the UK as a financial centre from demonstrating that it can establish and adhere to standards significantly above the … minimum. A stable legal and regulatory environment, supporting a more secure financial system, is likely to attract new business.”
That was the consequence of nearly two years of taking evidence.
I turn to other amendments. Those in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, in this group focus the need for mutual and co-operative financial services. I wholly support that. I very much support the proposals of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on the establishment of regional banks. Local services focused on geography or a specific group are often treated as an afterthought or a Cinderella part of the sector today in the UK, but they can be the best way to deliver opportunity to ordinary people, including those presently excluded, and to help small businesses, especially in difficult times. We shall return to some of these issues in later amendments that we will discuss today.
I also support the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, which, in essence, are on efficiency. They seem to mesh very well with the amendments of my noble friend Lady Bowles, which are about transparency and mechanisms to evaluate the performance of regulators.
I return to my additional theme: I introduced a discussion on financial stability, almost out of shock that we now have such an intense focus on enhancing international competitiveness and economic growth—as if, somehow, financial stability were not the absolutely fundamental delivery that we expect from our regulators. Without that, frankly, everything else is worth nothing.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, I would just like to ask her a question about her very interesting speech. This also allows me to say that, in Amendment 45, the first “PRA” should read “FCA”—a good spot by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. But I do not quite understand how financial stability is threatened by a regulator being responsive, consistent and proportional. Could the noble Baroness explain that again?
The noble Earl may find that this is already a requirement of the regulator, but this is not about that. If the amendment were taken in the way that I suspect the noble Earl reads it, I might feel reasonably comfortable with it. However, as we listened to the discussion, we saw where this was going. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, captured that: the industry is looking at these kinds of amendments as a mechanism by which it can find leverage to enhance the status of the international competitiveness and economic growth objectives. If we could find a balance, in asking for the kind of language that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, is after, but making sure that that does not become weaponised and potentially raises those objectives to an equal status to financial stability, I would feel much more comforted.
My Lords, we are on day three of six. I cannot possibly envisage the seventh day, so I will make short speeches. Our amendments in this group are 118 and 119. Amendment 118 would give the FCA a duty to report on mutual and co-operative business models, covering how it considers the specific needs of credit unions, building societies, mutual banks, co-operative banks, regional banks, mutual insurers and co-operative insurers. Amendment 119 would do the same for the PRA.
Following Second Reading, I read the Minister’s letter on this topic with interest and was pleased with her assurances on the matter. However, a letter has little substance; virtually nobody knows about it, to start with. Therefore, as a minimum, I hope the Minister will repeat the assurances in that letter about mutuals, et cetera, and get them on the record in Hansard.
I hope the Minister will assure me that the department takes a keen interest in the growth of the mutual and co-operative sector. The UK has a smaller industry than some international economies, particularly in Europe. I would be interested to know what the direction of travel is in government on this. If we are committed to consumer choice and a diverse, dynamic financial services mix, a strong mutuals and co-operatives sector is surely an important part of it.
There are many amendments in this group and, in general, I like the direction they take. I hope the Government will look at the thrust of these amendments and, as the debate on the Bill develops, try to come back with proposals that take the best of them.
I am very interested in the introduction of the word “proportionality”. My career has been in aviation, in railways, in nuclear and, indeed, even in the military. Proportionality, done well, is undoubtedly the optimal way of introducing and managing regulation. Of course, it is a dynamic concept. As things change, if you really do believe in proportionality, your interpretation of proportionality has to change with the changing facts.
The problem with this is that it needs very able and mature regulators. That is why so much of safety regulation and, in a sense, financial regulation is prescriptive. One knows how to interpret prescriptive regulation: you do what it says and, when you cannot agree, you go to a court. I hope that we persist with proportionality, but I feel that we will need a very special regulator to do it. If that can be achieved, it will give a dynamism to the regulation in this Bill.
My Lords, I support this group of amendments to improve and tighten arrangements to monitor, scrutinise, measure, consult on and report on the competitiveness and growth objective. As matters stand, I fear that the Bill’s provisions here are without clear and precise external measures against which the regulators’ success can be assessed and scrutinised.
Yet, as noble Lords across the Committee have pointed out, we are giving the regulators greater powers in the new regime than under the old and, with the Treasury, are responsible for the legacy of retained EU law for deciding which rules will be kept, which are adapted and which are modified, and how they will be applied. The operation of the new system will be critical to the sector’s competitiveness and growth and how the regulator objective works will be central to that operation. If it is to be anything other than a vague aspiration under the heading of Chapter 3 in Part 1 of “Accountability of regulators”, all who want or need to know must know what, in practice, is being done to achieve it and how well it is being done against clear criteria.
These amendments for reporting on the numbers and metrics of market entrants, rules simplified, new regulations, performance measures or the time taken to process the various stages of authorisations will make things more transparent and give an outline of how, and how well, the new objective is working. I think particularly of Amendments 66, 115, 116, 121 and 196, although that is not to say that I do not welcome the support of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and other noble Lords for strengthening the mutual sector.
These amendments would serve another, vital purpose: they would help the regulators to focus on outcomes—tangible measures in assessing and defining the regulator objective of competitiveness and growth. This is particularly important, given that regulators will now be on a steep learning curve, having, for the most part, trained in an EU approach to rule-making, influenced by the precautionary principle in devising rules to cover every potential situation in a system based on process. They will now have to change course to the UK approach—the outcomes-based approach—which is indeed facilitated under UK law, which accommodates innovation and develops case law in the courts.
These amendments indicate a range of outcomes on which success can be measured. If such specific measures are included in this Bill, the regulators will be helped to make the change and to adapt from the EU law approach to one designed for UK markets in a way that builds on the UK’s own approach—an approach that, in practice, over many centuries, has facilitated and encouraged international competitiveness and growth.
I therefore support these amendments and urge the Minister to accept the strong case made by noble Lords.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a director of Prudential and chairman of Coutts.
I apologise to the Committee that I was unable to attend the first two days of this debate, but I spoke at Second Reading. I said then that I was very much in favour of the additional reporting requirements introduced to the Bill at that stage but hoped that they could be strengthened further. Many of these amendments do just that. I will not repeat the eloquent arguments of those noble Lords advancing them—indeed, there seems to be a large amount of consensus in this Committee—but I would like to emphasise my support in two areas.
First, on Amendments 45 and 63, in the names of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and my noble friend Lord Naseby, and Amendment 66, in the names of my noble friends Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lady Noakes, Lord Trenchard and Lord Naseby, I regard as of paramount note the introduction of the secondary objective for our regulators to promote the sector’s international competitiveness to support long-term growth. As this is a new objective, it is critical that the regulators should account to Parliament for their performance against this objective and against a clear set of reporting and performance metrics, measurements which are indeed measurable, verifiable and independently set.
Secondly, I especially support Amendments 115 and 116, in the names of my noble friends Lord Holmes of Richmond and Lady Noakes. I have direct experience, both personally and at firms with which I am involved, of how long it can take for seemingly eminently well-qualified individuals to gain authorisation. For the avoidance of doubt, I exclude myself from that category. Businesses have choices about where they place capital and people. The burden and cost of regulatory supervision really can damage London’s ability to attract talent and capital. I do not for one moment suggest that there should be any diminution in the rigour with which applications should be assessed, merely that in pursuance of their competitiveness objective, our regulators should give enhanced emphasis to the speedier clearance of the applications before them. These amendments should help them do just that.
My Lords, I will make a brief intervention. I declare my interests as an adviser to and shareholder in Banco Santander in Madrid. I have a lot of sympathy with some of the amendments in this group, especially those in the name of my noble friends Lord Holmes of Richmond and the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull.
I will take a quick step back. The Bill needs to be improved in three key ways. First, we need to improve the reporting by the regulators. Secondly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, said, we need to make sure that the regulators are not marking their own homework, which is why it is important that we create a form of independent analysis. Thirdly, we need to improve parliamentary accountability. The amendments clearly address the first point on reporting. I will not repeat the number of points made very eloquently by the noble Earl and others, especially my noble friend Lady Noakes. However, I strongly believe that, as has been said, this will help regulators define their actions and, in so doing, help address confidence in the regulators that they are meeting those objectives.
I listened to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer—I was about to call her my noble friend; she is a good friend—and she is absolutely right. We absolutely have to get right the balance between competitiveness and stability here. I do not think anyone here is arguing for a race to the bottom; that would be a disaster for our financial services sector. A strong financial services sector is based on robust, proportionate and simple regulation, so I completely heed that concern. However, I look at some of the amendments, especially some of the metrics being quoted here, and the data that they would provide would be exceptionally valuable to us as Parliament when we come to assess the performance of our regulators in a critical sector for our economy, and we can then judge them on those actions. I look at the consultation that the PRA set out, which states that it will include its performance in meeting this new objective but it does not say how. It is important that we send a signal, and at least have a very thorough debate as to what that might be.
I end on this point: does the Minister seriously think that the current reports we get from our regulators are satisfactory and adequate, especially in the light of the new powers and the new objective that the Bill confers on them and the concern that I think many on both sides of the Committee have about what that means for their powers and their accountability? That is a simple question.
My Lords, I declare my interest as an employee of Marsh & Co, the insurance broker. I too support Amendments 66, 115 and 196 in the names of my noble friends Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lord Naseby, Lord Trenchard and Lady Noakes. Since Second Reading the Bermuda authority has reported that it saw the highest number of new insurance-broking companies registered in more than a decade as 84 new companies were set up in 2022, but not one has been set up in the UK for 15 years. This is the reality of international competition that the UK is facing as it competes with jurisdictions around the world for investment, capital and jobs, but we note that we depend on high standards of regulation. It seems that a number of key changes are needed to address this to improve the accountability of UK regulators, making them more consistent in their approach and more responsive in ultimately ensuring that they act more proportionately, as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull.
Amendment 66 requires that the FCA and the PRA each publish an annual report setting out how they have facilitated international competitiveness and growth against a range of data and analysis requirements. Clause 26 currently allows regulators to decide for themselves how they believe they have met the requirements of their new competitiveness, as already mentioned. For example, the clause states that the FCA can decide “in its opinion” how to report on the objective and therefore decide solely for itself how it has met the objective’s requirements. The objective must therefore have alongside it a clear reporting criterion so that the Government and Parliament can properly hold the regulators to account. It is unclear whether the regulators will consider metrics specific to international competitiveness, not simply domestic competition. The criteria set out in the amendment can be measured and targets created to ensure that the regulators are operating effectively.
The Bermuda Monetary Authority takes a different approach and has different classes of insurers and reinsurers, together with authorisation criteria and KPIs that match the level of risk that the entity poses to the system. This allows it to undertake an authorisation of an international reinsurer with clients that are solely other insurance companies in less than one week—can you imagine?—thereby freeing resources to focus on entities serving individual retail customers.
Clause 37 gives Ministers a power over the regulators’ reporting requirements by providing them with a mechanism through which to direct information to be published. The danger is that this clause becomes more of a backstop measure, rather than something embedded in our new regulatory framework. While the clause is welcome in demonstrating the Government’s recognition of issues around needing to improve regulatory culture, it asks more questions than it necessarily answers. It is unclear how the Government will decide the criteria for requesting a report and whether they will seek input from industry and Parliament or the new bodies that the Bill creates, such as the cost-benefit analysis panels, in understanding where there is a demand for information. It is unclear whether, as part of its report, the regulator will undertake comparative analysis of its performance against the UK’s competitor jurisdictions as well as analysis of product and service innovations taking place in key markets. This is how Parliament will best understand whether the UK is performing well globally.
What we need are mechanisms in the Bill that help ensure that accountability becomes part of the day-to-day operation of the regulators, not something used ad hoc. That is the only way that we will get culture change and deliver the kind of culture change that we in Parliament and industry want, as addressed by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral at Second Reading. That is why measures set out in these amendments are so important. I hope we can look at further changes along these lines.
Finally, Amendments 115 and 116 require both regulators to publish regular reports to Parliament on their regulatory performance for new applicants for regulation and for existing authorised entities and persons. Regular accountability on performance is not an infringement on regulatory independence. The regulators in many of our most successful competitors—Singapore, Switzerland, Bermuda, Hong Kong, Australia and many states of the United States—have competitive duties to promote their markets and enhance their competitive position without compromising independence, high standards, financial stability or consumer protection, as my noble friend Lord Remnant pointed out at Second Reading.
Amendment 196 adds to the regulators’ authorisation key performance indicators outlined in FSMA 2000 and requires them to publish monitoring data relating to the determination of authorisations. Businesses have choices about where they place capital, income and people, and regulation is a vital part of that decision-making process. The burden and cost of regulation and supervision can create a negative perception, which damages the ability of London and the country to attract capital to support the commercial insurance market.
Concerns have been raised across the market regarding recent performance in meeting KPIs, particularly the experience in that market of authorisations and approvals taking longer than they should, again as noble Lords have already mentioned. Both regulators should revisit the timeframes for the complete review cycle for authorisation of individuals. This should involve reassessing the time it takes for a case to be assigned through to the final decision on authorisation and the publication of revised service level agreements for the complete authorisation cycle. The current legal requirement to complete application reviews within 90 days could be reduced, if regulators can find ways to adjust current timescales sustainably. Addressing this issue would boost the competitiveness of the London market by reducing the compliance burden for firms, which regularly need to clear applications for proved individuals, as their business can be negatively affected by delays in appointing to key roles. This could, in turn, also promote the openness of the London market for overseas talent.
The financial and related services industry is very significant to this country. The UK has a golden goose, but we need to be careful that it does not get strangled and swept away by someone else.
My Lords, there is a large number of amendments to cover in this debate, so I aim to be succinct. While these amendments cover a range of issues, they all relate to reporting requirements on the regulators to enable effective scrutiny and oversight of their work.
First, on Amendments 45 and 63, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and Amendment 66, in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes, the Government agree that it is vital to have appropriate public metrics to ensure that the operationally independent regulators can be held to account for all aspects of their performance, including against their new growth and competitiveness objectives. FSMA establishes multiple channels for this, including annual reports. The regulators also voluntarily publish a range of data—for example, on operating service metrics. Specifically, Clause 26 will require the FCA and the PRA to report on their performance against the new growth and competitiveness objective, as part of their annual reports. That sets out for my noble friend Lord Bridges the existing reporting done by the regulators—but the Government recognised the need to go further in requiring the regulators to publish information, which is why we added Clause 37. It provides an additional mechanism for the Treasury to require the regulators to publish information, including performance data, on a more regular basis, where the Treasury considers it necessary to support scrutiny of performance.
The broad approach is that FSMA requires the regulators to report on how they have discharged their functions and that the decisions on publishing operational metrics are appropriate for the operationally independent regulators to determine, working with government, where appropriate. It is impossible to predict how the power in Clause 37 requiring regulators to publish information on a more regular basis may be used, but I reassure noble Lords that the Treasury will work with stakeholders, industry, consumers and Parliament to understand the evidence base for whether it is in the public interest to exercise this power and the kinds of situations in which it would be desirable to do so. That power also includes a number of safeguards to ensure that it is exercised appropriately.
However, locking specific, detailed metrics into primary legislation would result in a static framework unable to adapt and respond to wider changes, and impose fixed requirements which may not be possible or appropriate for the regulators to report on. Clause 37 provides a more flexible—and therefore future-proofed—mechanism for ensuring appropriate scrutiny. Similarly, Amendment 121, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, seeks to impose a requirement to report against metrics determined by the National Audit Office, along with consumer representative bodies. Again, embedding this in primary legislation would not be the most effective approach. The NAO is already able to examine and report on the value for money of spending by public bodies, including the FCA and the PRA, and it reports its findings to Parliament. The Government consider that the setting of specific reporting requirements for these bodies goes beyond the scope of the NAO’s remit.
May I interrupt the Minister? The whole point of my amendment—whether it be the NAO or otherwise—was specifically to address the fact that the criteria might need to be changed, so it would not be a fixed list but would develop depending on circumstances. Perhaps the Minister does not think that the NAO is the body, but the question I posed was about this in general. There is a difference between it being an independent body and it being the Government. Given all the other powers that the Government have to direct the regulators, it could look like a conflict of interest if it is not done with a greater degree of independence. The fact that the Minister said that Clause 37 needs to be used with discretion seemed to recognise that that potential tension and conflict might be wrong. Would it not be better to have an independent body involved?
I thank the noble Baroness for teeing me up to answer the question that she posed at the end of her remarks. I understand her point about trying to have a more flexible framework of criteria and the NAO being one idea for an independent organisation that can do that. She will know that the Government considered this as part of the future regulatory framework review and found that there are substantial practical costs and resourcing obstacles to overcome in making such a body operationally effective. Such a body would also duplicate existing accountability structures and potentially undermine the regulators’ operational independence.
In considering that question, the Government concluded that the existing avenues for stakeholders to provide input, feedback and challenge through public consultation are appropriate, supported by strengthening the statutory panels, independent challenge and cost-benefit analysis.
In addition, the Treasury and Parliament will continue to assess the work of the regulators in their oversight role, strengthened by a number of the measures in the Bill. That position was supported by the TSC report The Future Framework for Regulation of Financial Services, which said:
“The creation of a new … body … would not remove the responsibility of this Committee to hold”
the FCA and the PRA
“to account, and it would also add a further body to”
the regime that Parliament would need to scrutinise. The Government therefore concluded that the Treasury, as the department responsible for financial services policy, is best placed to assess whether, as a backstop, further reporting is required by the regulators and to direct them to publish this if necessary and appropriate.
I fully appreciate that the Committee will want to continue to explore this question in discussing these amendments and further amendments as we reach them, but I think it is helpful to set out that the Government considered this question as part of their consultation and work in the development of the Bill. Careful thought has been given to it. We have been open to making improvements: indeed, I believe Clause 37 was an improvement made when the Bill was in the House of Commons, so we are open to further thoughts, having already given this quite a lot of consideration.
Turning to Amendments 83 and 84, I hope I can reassure my noble friend Lady Noakes that Sections 138I and 138J of FSMA already require the FCA and the PRA to provide an explanation of how their draft rules advance their objectives as part of their public consultations. The Government’s policy intention is that this requirement extends to the new secondary objectives. However, I thank my noble friend for raising this issue. We will consider whether the legislation could be made clearer on this point before Report.
I move to Amendments 113 and 114, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. The Government recognise that the Bill represents significant reform, and it will be important to provide an assessment of its effects on the system. However, we think it would be inappropriate to task the regulator with this assessment. In line with Cabinet Office guidance, within three to five years of Royal Assent, the Government will submit a memorandum to the Treasury Select Committee with a preliminary assessment of the impact of the Act in practice, to allow the committee to decide whether it wishes to conduct further post-legislative scrutiny.
Turning to Amendments 115, 116 and 196, tabled by my noble friend Lord Holmes, I am aware that the speed and effectiveness with which the regulators process applications for authorisation and other regulatory approvals remains an area of concern for both Parliament and industry, and the Committee has reflected that to me again today. I welcome the report published by TheCityUK last week about this important issue and, just as importantly, the constructive way in which the regulators have engaged with that feedback from the sector.
The Government share these concerns. In December, the Economic Secretary 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. In their replies, both CEOs committed to publishing more detailed performance data on authorisation processes on a quarterly basis going forward. The FCA, in particular, has an extensive programme of activity under way to improve the timeliness of its approvals. It recruited almost 100 new authorisation staff in the last financial year, streamlined its decision-making processes and is digitising its application forms to make the process smoother for firms. The power in Clause 37, which I mentioned earlier, for the Treasury to require additional reporting from the regulators could be used to hold the regulators to account on the important issue of authorisations raised by these amendments, but, as I say, there is a commitment by the regulators to publish more detailed quarterly information on this matter. However, the Government will continue to engage in discussions with the regulators on continuing to improve operational efficiency.
Amendments 118 and 119 from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, seek to require regulators to consider the specific needs of mutual and co-operative financial services providers and other relevant business models. The regulatory principles of the PRA and the FCA include the desirability to exercise their functions in a way that recognises differences in the natures of businesses carried out by different persons, including mutual societies. They must set out how they have considered these principles in their annual reports, which are laid before Parliament.
The FCA, as the registrar for mutuals, publishes a separate annual update on them. Additionally, under Section 138K of FSMA, the FCA and the PRA must consider how any new regulatory rules may impact mutual societies and whether the impact would be different to that on non-mutual entities. The regulators must also prepare a statement setting out their opinion on whether there is a difference in impact and, where there is a difference, what it is. They must publish these statements when consulting on rules. The Government therefore consider that there are already appropriate provisions to ensure that the regulators consider the needs of mutuals and co-operatives when discharging their functions and reporting that allow Parliament to scrutinise this work.
Amendment 222 seeks to require the Government to report on the existing barriers to the establishment of regional mutual banks in the United Kingdom. Regional mutual banks are still establishing themselves in different forms under the current legislative regime, the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014. Given that these institutions are not yet trading in the UK, the Government believe that it is too early to report on the current regime and any possible limitations for regional mutual banks.
I reassure noble Lords that the Government are committed to ensuring that the legislative regime for regional mutual banks and for wider mutuals is kept under consideration. As part of the Edinburgh reforms package, the Chancellor announced that the Government will, in due course, bring forward legislation to amend the Building Societies Act 1986 to give building societies further flexibility to raise funds and modernise corporate governance requirements.
In addition, the Government are supporting Sir Mark Hendrick’s Private Member’s Bill, which would allow co-operatives, mutual insurers and friendly societies further flexibility in determining for themselves the best strategies for their business relating to their surplus capital and restrictions on the use of these assets. Furthermore, we are in active discussions with the Law Commission on options to proceed with a review of both the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act 2014 and the Friendly Societies Act 1992, with a view to launching these reviews in the next financial year. I hope that has reassured the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, and my noble friend Lord Naseby, among others, that the Government remain committed to this agenda and have a further programme of work to look at what more we can do to support mutuals in future.
On a point of clarification, my noble friend talks about mutual societies, which are very important. Mutual firms have many characteristics that are similar to those of so-called Islamic banks—banks that are sharia-compliant. Do her comments also refer to that slowly growing part of the economy?
They refer to organisations that were formed under the legislation to which I referred. We are taking forward work to look at amending the Building Societies Act, the Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies Act and the Friendly Societies Act. The definition of who I am talking about is driven by those Acts.
Amendments 157 and 158 are on transparency over who has responded to the regulators’ consultations. While promoting transparency is important, confidentiality must be respected. If a respondent has not consented to the publication of their name, they may be deterred from responding by the knowledge that a category description will be published, which risks making them identifiable. This is particularly the case in areas where only a small number of firms are affected. It could therefore reduce the number and scope of responses, which would weaken the effectiveness of the consultation process as a way for the regulators to receive challenge and feedback on their proposals. This would be contrary to the Government’s aims and, I believe, to the intentions of noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles.
This brings me to the conclusion of my remarks—
I believe I have just addressed Amendment 222. We are supportive of the establishment of regional mutual banks in the United Kingdom, but they are currently still establishing themselves and are not yet trading. So it is a little too early for us to report on the current regime and any possible limitations of it for regional mutual banks.
As the noble Lord himself noted, proportionality is already within the regulators’ objectives and operating principles. It is a concept that the Government support in how the regulators undertake their business. I believe that it is provided for within the current framework.
I hope, therefore, that the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, will withdraw his amendment and that other noble Lords will not move theirs.
I thank the Minister. It has been a fascinating hour and 20 minutes on reporting requirements. The common themes, I think, have been clarity and independence. I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and his very good way of expressing the problems with the Bill. Coming from the insurance industry, I was of course very worried by what the noble Lord, Lord Ashcombe, had to say about the number of insurers being set up in Bermuda versus the number being set up here. Bermuda overtook the UK in 2004 in size of market; we remain number two but we are going backwards, and this needs to be addressed.
I feel that many of the amendments in this group need to be discussed with the Minister. I hope I will see her nod her head. My amendments derive from a big committee of this House which thought a long time and took a lot of evidence on this. The amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, have a lot of merit in them as well. When we sit down, we will certainly hear the warnings issued by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, in our ears, but I hope that she agrees to discuss those well before Report so that we attain some additional clarity and some independence for the data that comes to whatever it is that will scrutinise all this. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 45 withdrawn.
46: Clause 24, page 38, line 19, at end 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 predictability and consistency objective (see section 1EC).”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment and Lord Lilley's other amendments to Clause 24 require the FCA and PRA to maintain high standards of clarity, predictability and certainty in exercising their general functions and applying their rules and guidance.
My Lords, I rise to address the amendments in this group standing in my name and those of my noble friends Lord Moylan, who is currently speaking on the Online Safety Bill, and Lord Trenchard.
The Bill gives the regulators the responsibility for replacing retained EU law and regulations with more user-friendly common-law rules. That greatly enhances their already considerable power to make as well as to apply regulations. That has led to demands from across your Lordships’ House to increase the accountability of the regulators to Parliament, which I support. However, parliamentary scrutiny is inevitably broad-brush and largely ex post facto so it cannot alone provide effective accountability. Legal accountability is also needed—above all to ensure predictability and consistency in the way that regulators develop and apply their rules.
The amendments standing in my name and those of my noble friends attempt to achieve that. I am not a lawyer, so I am grateful to those distinguished legal practitioners who have drafted these proposals and whose glove puppet I am. The overall aim is to ensure that regulators act predictably and consistently: first, by giving them that explicit objective; and, secondly, by enabling more case law to develop on the meaning of the regulators’ rules through the application of legal reasoning to disputes between financial institutions and SMEs, consumers and others.
We have sought to achieve that aim subject to two constraints: first, the revised system should not generate unnecessary litigation or legal costs; and, secondly, SMEs and consumers should retain all their existing rights. That is most relevant to the amendments in a subsequent group, which mainly concern the Financial Ombudsman Service. Today’s set of amendments deals with the higher-level regulators: the Financial Conduct Authority and Prudential Regulation Authority.
Amendments 54 and 64 would set predictability and consistency objectives for the FCA and PRA, respectively. Amendments 46 and 57 would require them to act in accordance with those objectives. Amendment 82 would require them, when making rules, to ensure that they meet the objectives of predictability and consistency. Amendment 85 would then oblige them to use a common-law approach in interpreting regulatory rules. This is the usual and powerful way that we achieve predictability and consistency in other legal contexts.
Regulators have increasingly taken to laying down general principles; inevitably, the detailed implications of such principles may not be predictable. Amendment 85 would therefore allow regulators to continue to make rules with such a high level of generality, but they would be able to enforce such rules only if either the rule itself or the guidance issued by the regulator made the implications of such general rules clear. Otherwise, general principles may be used to interpret and apply more concrete rules laid down by the regulators.
I hope that the objectives of predictability and consistency are self-evidently desirable, but let me briefly deal with issues that arise from making them a statutory objective. First, concerns have been raised about adding additional objectives in other contexts, such as the growth, competitiveness and net-zero objectives. However, those objectives greatly widen the responsibilities of the regulators and add to their burdens. The predictability and consistency objectives would not expand the regulators’ responsibilities; they merely spell out the way in which those responsibilities should be exercised. Nor would they conflict with other objectives; indeed, predictability and consistency contribute to competitiveness, growth and stability.
The second question that these objectives raise is: why are these objectives so important? Clearly, predictability and consistency are an end in themselves and make life easier for business in the financial markets. That is a feature of our markets that has attracted businesses from across the globe, and reinforcing it will restore and enhance that attractiveness. I recall that, post big bang, London has been able to boast more American banks operating here than in New York and more European banks than in any European centre. But there are further benefits to the economy: the more predictable and consistent the regulatory environment, the less the burden of compliance. Compliance costs have been the fastest increasing cost faced by most firms in recent years. That, in turn, will remove the dampening effect that unpredictable regulation has on enterprise and innovation.
I mentioned at Second Reading that the seminal conclusion of studies of the economics of regulation was that, in the absence of accountability, regulators regulate in the interests of regulators. A number of financial institutions that have contacted me in support of these amendments—and I am glad to say that they do seem to have considerable support in the City—have reinforced that point. They say that the amendments would not only result in better regulation but, equally important, help to change the culture of the regulators. At present, our largely unaccountable regulators tend to be bureaucratic and negative. They prioritise box-ticking and find it easiest to say “No”. Moreover, companies admit that this culture feeds back into their own compliance departments, often staffed by people from the regulators who bring the same bureaucratic negativism with them. That dampens companies’ enterprise and initiative from within.
I also mentioned at Second Reading that it is no coincidence that the four greatest global financial centres are all based on common law, as are the new ones starting up in the Middle East and elsewhere. Part of the reason for the dominance of common law in finance is that it provides the maximum predictability and consistency with the maximum freedom to innovate. These amendments are designed to strengthen those attributes. I hope my noble friend the Minister will give them serious consideration.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Lilley’s Amendment 46, to which my noble friend Lord Moylan and I have added our names. It adds a further objective to ensure that the regulators discharge their duties in a manner which maintains high standards of predictability and consistency. Noble Lords might ask why this is necessary, given that the competitiveness and growth objective obviously requires them to act in a predictable and consistent manner. As I have already remarked, it is hard to be confident that this secondary objective will have enough effect on how the regulators exercise their functions.
I agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said on the previous group: it is necessary to find the right balance between different objectives. However, I fear that defining an objective as secondary and placing it lower in the hierarchy will in reality lead the regulators to apply an anti-competitive balance. These amendments provide a necessary safeguard against the lack of certainty currently worrying many market participants due to the very great transfer of powers to the regulators. As my noble friend has explained so well, this additional objective should make our financial market rules more predictable, increasing the attractiveness of our markets as the best place to introduce new and innovative products.
I also support Amendment 70 from the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and my noble friend Lady Noakes and its intention to introduce a principle to require the regulators to exercise their functions in an efficient manner. I also support Amendment 72 from my noble friend to promote proportionality as something that the regulators must apply in exercising their general duties. I am not advocating a race to the bottom, but it is widely believed that much of our current regulatory regime is applied in a less than efficient manner; it is often disproportionate in that the benefit, if any, is often smaller than the cost of achieving it.
Amendment 74 from my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond also seeks to strengthen the existing regulatory principle when the regulators are considering a new restriction but, on balance, I prefer the amendment from my noble friend Lady Noakes, which has wider application. In considering all these amendments, we should not lose sight of the need to question what the regulation is for. Amendment 77A in the name of my noble friend Lady Noakes ensures that we constantly ask ourselves this question. If there is no evidence that a regulation is needed or brings any benefit, we should not introduce it, or if it exists, we should abolish it. I hope my noble friend the Minister will accept these amendments and look forward to hearing her response.
My Lords, I will speak briefly to Amendments 54 and 64. They are vital to the future planning of existing companies, but they seem even more important to people entering a financial market, whatever it may be. When they are doing their planning, they must recognise—it must be self-evident to them—that there is consistency and objectivity. Most of my commercial life has been in the creative world and bringing it into the ordinary world—for want of a better description.
It may be that there is a difference between what is required for growth, which is the primary objective behind the Bill, and the competitive nature. They are two distinct objectives.
My Lords, I first apologise for not having spoken at Second Reading. I speak in support of Amendments 46, 54, 57, 64, 82 and 85 tabled by my noble friends Lord Lilley, Lord Moylan and Lord Trenchard. When effected, they will provide a much-improved basis for regulation. These amendments introduce an additional statutory objective, consistent with the existing objectives—namely, predictability and consistency.
Amendment 85, as we can see, obliges the FCA and PRA to apply common-law techniques of interpretation to regulations. These are to be interpreted in the same way as a court would look at them. That is critical for the promotion of predictability and consistency. Here I speak, as noble Lords know, as a lawyer, not a financier. By Amendment 85, rules of high-level generality will be used by the FCA only to assist in interpreting specific rules, not as stand-alones, as a general principle.
The context of these amendments is important. First, the ombudsman can award as much as £375,000—that is a lot of money—in an individual case and there might be 50 claims. Secondly, its determination is in respect of a vast body of technical rules with which the financial companies have to comply. Thirdly, as we have heard, the ombudsman decides a dispute on the basis of what is “fair and reasonable”, but is under no obligation to be predictable or consistent, nor to explain its reasoning. Indeed, the ombudsman is
“free to make an award different from that which a court applying the law would make”
when applying a rule. Lack of consistency results in unpredictability. We need legal accountability and predictability. We are dealing here with complaints about potentially large sums of money.
Lack of predictability means that firms must build compliance programmes based, in part, on guesswork about how the regulator might react when applying its rulebook. This is particularly so when considering the vaguely drafted rules known as “principles”. To take one example, it will be a principle for there to be a new vague duty to
“act to deliver good outcomes for retail customers”.
That is a rule with a high level of generality, which our amendment will address. It should not stand alone.
To apply such concepts to specific fact situations, without case law precedent, can be contentious. It is hard to challenge the assertions of the regulators as to how their rules are to be applied. Lack of definition in the rules cannot be good for entrepreneurs or for the competitiveness of the United Kingdom. Compliance activity becomes materially inefficient where there is lack of clarity and certainty in drafting and where there is lack of predictability and consistency in application. Costs are driven up; ultimately, the consumer pays.
We seek to introduce a new approach which produces predictability. Having established the principles set out in the amendments in this group, there will follow in later groups the means to give them practical effect through properly conducted adjudications. The gain for all concerned will be consistency and predictability, flowing from having to apply the regulations consistently and in accordance with ordinary legal principles of interpretation. Everyone concerned will know where they stand.
It will be simple, therefore, for the regulator to see whether a regulation is being applied—by adjudication or on appeal by the courts—as it would wish. It can then make changes based on hard evidence. Consumers and financial companies, meanwhile, will know where they stand. We invite my noble friend the Minister to acknowledge the need to incorporate these new objectives and the need for consistent, predictable application of the rules.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 70 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, because any way that we can reinforce the need for the regulators to be efficient is welcome. I look forward to hearing what she has to say when she speaks to her amendment.
I also have two amendments of my own in this group: Amendments 72 and 77A. Amendment 72 deals with proportionality, which the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, referred to in the discussion on the first group of amendments. My amendment seeks to raise proportionality from a regulatory principle to a general duty. I have to say that I have always found the hierarchy of what the regulators have to follow rather difficult. They have general duties, strategic objectives, operational objectives, secondary objectives and a number of statutory “have regard” duties, which include regulatory principles. On top of that are the so-called recommendations from the Treasury to which they also have to have regard.
The regulatory principles in Section 3B of FSMA are a list of eight motherhood and apple pie things about which I am sure there is little debate, but there should be a debate about whether all or any of them have any practical impact on the way in which regulators behave. For example, one of the principles is that consumers should take responsibility for their decisions, but the FCA’s direction of travel is the opposite. Indeed, I do not think that caveat emptor has any part in the FCA’s thinking. There are other principles on value for money and transparency, but if we thought that they had any impact, we would not have the amendments that we have in today’s Marshalled List.
I am sceptical about regulatory principles not because they are bad things but because they appear to be ineffective. With Amendment 72 I have sought to elevate the proportionality principle, which is one of the eight, into a duty so that it has more meaning in how the PRA and the FCA go about their business. In case anybody has any doubt about whether proportionality concerns are real, I will give a few examples.
The first is PEPs, which we will be debating later in Committee, but, for today, both Houses of Parliament are full of people who have faced wholly disproportionate action by financial services providers. Of course, at the end of the day, it is the financial services firms—the providers—which apply the rules, but the FCA has done nothing of substance to ensure that the firms act in a way that is proportionate. Had it done so, the aggravation that we and, importantly, our family members have had to face would have been considerably reduced. It is obvious that we present no more risk than the general UK population, yet enhanced due diligence is still required—and is often extremely officiously applied.
My second example is from insurance broking, in particular fair value assessments. These are required for each agency and each product that a broker deals with. A typical small broker has 30 insurer agencies and 18 products—that is 540 in total. For each of these, a questionnaire has to be completed; it has 20 questions—so 1,080 questions in total. In a survey by London Economics, 85% of respondents said that the FVA process was not proportionate to the very small benefit that it delivered for their customers. This is against the background of direct regulatory costs being estimated to have increased by 40% between 2019 and 2022. Such costs are estimated at over 8% of fees and commissions, so it is not surprising that, over the last 15 years of FCA regulation, the number of brokers has nearly halved.
My third example is MREL, which is, as all noble Lords will be aware, the minimum requirement for own funds and eligible liabilities. This was invented in the EU and we were required to implement it from 2016. I do not think it is controversial to say that the EU’s approach was over the top. In effect, the EU imposed on smaller banks the kind of loss-absorbing capital that the systemic banks comply with, so a system that was designed for systemic bank failure—
If I could just interrupt, the noble Baroness might want to go back and take a look at the MREL rules. It is in the UK that smaller banks got loaded up with the MREL requirement. I do not have the exact numbers in front of me but I could easily get them for the noble Baroness. She will discover that within the EU, small banks do not have to deal with the MREL issue. This was the particular interpretation by the UK PRA and has long been a battle that I have every time I meet PRA officials.
I thank the noble Baroness for that. Of course, I got carried away by my usual desire to knock the EU and lost sight of the essential principle, which is that the PRA is in fact applying the MREL rules disproportionately. I think that on that, the noble Baroness and I will agree.
So the PRA is applying a system that is designed for systemic bank failure to smaller banks, which present no systemic risk at all. While some modifications were made in 2021, medium-sized banks still end up having to issue MREL-compliant capital, which adds to their cost of capital, and this in turn reduces their capacity to lend. A number of mid-sized banks told the Treasury late last year that this reduction in the capacity to lend could amount to £62 billion over the next five years. Everyone loses—except the larger banks, who see smaller competitors facing considerable competition barriers. I believe that the regulators need to focus more on proportionality, which is the aim of my amendment.
Earlier I said that I was sceptical about the regulatory principles in FSMA, but they exist and we need to make sure that they are comprehensive. My Amendment 77A introduces an additional regulatory principle of being evidence-based. We have inherited all those EU rules, which were drawn up in the context of the EU’s well-known precautionary approach to regulation. I can see how easy it is to slip into the habit of regulating in the UK in the same way, just because we had to regulate that way in the past.
On our first day in Committee, we had a short debate on short selling. There is no evidence that short selling is or has been a problem in the UK, and yet the Government and the FCA are lining up to carry on regulating it. We need a shift of mindset in financial regulation in the UK, because the regulators should regulate only where the evidence points to the need for regulation, and we should not be regulating on the basis of hypothesis or speculation. That may well mean stepping back from regulating in areas where there is a possibility of a problem but no evidence that problems actually exist.
If we have a nimble system with agile and responsive regulators—I accept that that might be a rather big assumption—we should have no problem in stepping back, because we can act when a problem emerges. I certainly do not recommend or seek the widespread dumbing down of our regulation, because good regulation is part of the strength of our financial services sector. However, I believe that we are failing to take advantage of our Brexit freedoms to liberate our financial services businesses where there is no evidence that it is not safe to do so. That is what lies behind my seeking to add an additional regulatory principle.
I declare my interests as in the register. I was not intending to begin with these remarks but I think the one thing we can all agree on is the fundamental weakness of the Bill, which is that it repatriates considerable powers to UK regulators from the EU without giving any meaningful consideration as to how these powerful bodies will be scrutinised and held accountable.
The noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has made a detailed proposal; there are others around. Somewhere in that area we have to put something on to the statute book to accompany these measures. I think that is relevant to the consideration of the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. One task such a body can be asked to accomplish is to evaluate and make suggestions for more far-reaching reform. A number of the amendments in the noble Lord’s name might fall into this category and they may have quite profound effects on the way that we are regulated.
As for competition—which I also was not intending to speak about but I cannot resist it—I spent an enormous amount of effort and time, with the noble Lord, Lord Flight, and others, when we were in the other place, trying to get competition and competitiveness built into FiSMA; this was in 1998-99. We largely failed and even now we have not succeeded as much as we would like. I strongly agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said about these multi-tiered objectives and principles—operational objectives, strategic objectives, et cetera. The consequence, of course, is that they are gamed by regulators, which implement the bits that they most like and leave behind the bits that they do not like if they are all too difficult.
These two first points I have made are interlinked. Currently nobody holds regulators to account for that gaming. If we did have a more powerful body, if Parliament could have at its disposal more effective expertise—something akin, perhaps, to the NAO but much smaller and specialising in regulatory scrutiny; we will come on to this in more detail next week—we might find that the regulators stopped picking and choosing.
When I first read the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, I thought they were easy to support. They have some of the character of motherhood and apple pie about them. What could be more reasonable than that the regulator should be given the additional statutory objective of predictability and consistency? But, having thought about it a bit and discussed it with quite a few people, now I am not so sure. I am becoming concerned that, taken together—the noble Lord’s amendments are interlinked—and notwithstanding his good intentions, they could have a major effect on the conduct of financial regulation in the UK, and not altogether necessarily for the public good.
Perhaps I could step back for a moment and explain why, in the context of some of the work we did on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards. The current regulatory framework derives directly from that commission, which I chaired, and from the Vickers commission. These proposals have largely been put on to the statute book and implemented, where appropriate, in the rulebook, with many of those rules being implemented only recently.
When the PCBS and subsequently the Treasury Select Committee were trying to work out how to improve the regulatory framework, which had so manifestly failed in 2008-09, we had several core purposes in mind. Among these were, first, to challenge and, where possible, expunge the box-ticking, back-covering culture which had grown up in both the regulators and the regulated community, often in the search for safe harbours—safe harbours for both of them, incidentally. In doing so, we hoped to bear down on regulatory capture—the dangerous community of interests between the regulators, the regulated and the sponsor departments, which develops at the least opportunity. I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said about what regulators will regulate for if no one keeps an eye on them at all.
A second purpose we had in mind was to try to safeguard market entry; that is, in particular, to develop a regulatory framework that did not discourage challenger banks: regulation to competition, not from it. I mention in passing that this is very much unfinished business, to put it mildly. There are barriers to entry everywhere.
A third purpose, and closely related to the second, was to bear down on excessive legalism. Access to the law is rarely cheap and usually favours large incumbents. Regulatory barriers to entry suit them and they are difficult and expensive for small firms to deal with. Big firms can certainly look after themselves. Tracey McDermott—I am almost quoting; I tried to look up the quote just before I came in this afternoon but could not quite find it—once suggested in evidence that we catch the small fry, the big fish get away.
A related point on excessive legalism is that legal scrutiny can provide greater certainty, but after a certain point it comes at the price of effective regulation. Markets are themselves inherently uncertain. Risk-making is of its nature forward looking. It will therefore always be imperfect for the conditions in markets at any one time. Regulation can be a lot better than nothing, but there will always be regulatory failure, and there will always be some legal uncertainty.
The fourth purpose we had in mind was to limit the FCA to a narrow range of objectives and to expect it to explain in much more detail than prior to the crash how they should be applied. This lies at the heart, at least in theory, of principles-based regulation supported by guidance. Multiple objectives, as I said a moment ago, will always be gamed by the regulator. Generally, the fewer the objectives, the better.
Others may disagree with everything I have said, but I still think that those purposes, which were not the only purposes that we had in mind, were probably on the right track. What concerns me about these amendments is that, among other effects, several of them will strike at some of these core purposes. For example, building on Amendment 54, Amendment 85 seems to suggest that the regulator can make new rules only if, or will find it difficult to make new rules unless, they are fully consistent with existing rules and that they are capable of prediction. At the least, even if the regulator can make rules, can they be enforced? This is what I understand proposed new subsections (1) and (2) in that amendment to say. It seems to me that it is how the objectives of consistency and predictability will be satisfied in law. My concern is that this will restrict adaptation and enforcement by the regulator. Fast changes in markets and the creation of new markets are features of much of the financial sector. We want to encourage dynamism and creativity and it seems to me that this proposed new requirement of predictability could make it more difficult for a regulator to enforce rules to address new market developments. It certainly seems likely to make regulators more cautious about enforcement.
I heard calls on the radio today for regulation of the cryptocurrency markets. I offer no view on the merits of cryptocurrency market regulation at the moment, but if they are to be regulated and enforced, does that have to be done in a way that could have been predicted from current regulation; for example, from the regulation of securities markets? I hope not, and I may have misinterpreted. I certainly do not think that was the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, but I hope it is not the effect of his proposal.
I look forward very much to hearing what the Minister has to say about the effect of these amendments. I very much hope that what she says will be informed by what she has had from the FCA and the PRA, among others; I do not normally carry huge numbers of cards for them but I think that what they say on this is important.
We may be told by the Minister that all public authorities’ decisions are already capable of being overturned if they are arbitrary, inconsistent, uncertain or disproportionate, or if they conflict with what would have been a legitimate expectation. That is pretty much what current law says. If they are already covered by current law, I do not see what these amendments are adding. I have many other concerns about them but I will not linger on them. A number of these amendments will interact with the predictability and consistency objective; for example, Amendment 169 seeks to alter the way the Upper Tribunal—the appeals process—conducts its work. I will come back to that later if I can, when we get as far as Amendment 169.
Altogether, it seems that unintended consequences may well apply to these objectives, and I am very nervous about it. One thing I am reasonably certain about is that they do not look like motherhood and apple pie to me.
My Lords, I declare my interests on the register as a shareholder in an FCA-regulated asset management company. I should add that I have worked for 30 years within investment banking and investment management, including five years as a designated senior manager, and in that role I had direct experience of the FCA. I also apologise that I did not contribute at Second Reading.
I speak in support of my noble friend Lord Lilley’s Amendments 54, 85, 46, 57, 64 and 82, which require the regulator to act with predictability and consistency. I believe these also tie in neatly with a number of amendments, yet to be discussed by my noble friend and others. Those address oversight, accountability and right of appeal, and following precedent will be important to those functions—fundamental to our legal system but not necessarily to our regulation at present.
I think all would agree that predictability and consistency of rule interpretation and enforcement are desirable, but they are not always in evidence, and I do not believe that the Bill addresses that. Indeed, by placing on the FCA secondary objectives around economic growth, international competitiveness and UK net-zero emissions, I agree with my noble friend that the Bill is likely to reduce predictability, defeating those secondary objectives by making the UK a more difficult place to do business.
From my own experience, I believe that the FCA is an effective and informed regulator, but there can be a fear of the unknown when interacting with it. Dealing with the FCA often requires legal intermediaries to try to understand what that body is currently thinking about interpretation of the rules. Enforcement actions frequently happen in the shadows and are surrounded by rumour. The legal intermediaries have the only access to these precedents that are established by those actions. There is also pressure on senior managers to enforce these unspoken interpretations under threat of personal liability if they fail to implement them in line with the FCA’s thoughts. Who would want to be a senior manager?
To address the noble Lord’s points on legal uncertainty, I believe this can be avoided by dynamic communication from the FCA on emerging issues and how those rules will therefore be enforced in future. That appears to remain perfectly possible under the amendments proposed.
These amendments would force the FCA to be clearer about how it interprets and enforces rules, leading to greater disclosure around the precedent being established in its recent actions—where information is confidential, perhaps anonymised. That in turn will also allow for more effective oversight of the FCA, as greater disclosure will allow more informed investigation of whether these rules and interpretations are consistent with the mandate of the regulator. Greater regulatory certainty would reduce barriers to innovation and entrepreneurialism. It would reduce the cost and complexity of doing business in the UK by removing unnecessary precautionary compliance expenditure. We need the regulator to demonstrate that it is acting with predictability and consistency to free our finance industry to focus on creating wealth for this country within a transparent regulatory framework.
These are excellent amendments, and I would have put my name to them had I known how.
My Lords, I rise to speak to Amendment 74 in my name, but before I do so, I give my wholehearted support to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Lilley and those in the name of my noble friend Lady Noakes, particularly Amendment 72, which is excellent.
My Amendment 74 can be summed up in one word: proportionality—simply that—no more, no less. Disproportionality does not reduce risk or increase consumer protection, and it certainly has nothing to say about optimising the resources of any organisation. Amendment 74 seeks to simply insert the proportionality concept, as does Amendment 72 in a broader sense—rightly. I hope my noble friend the Minister will respond positively when she comes to sum up.
My Lords, I will make three brief observations. First, in this context, we are looking at the mandate that we are giving the regulator. One obviously could look at rules by some ex ante supervision, but that is not how this will work. Leaving it all to accountability after the horse has bolted is not the right way to proceed. It is very important that we give attention to the scope of the mandate.
Secondly, there is an obvious illustration as to the scope of the mandate in the proposal from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes: proportionality. I would be astounded if anyone disagreed with that proposition, because only a fool would argue that you should make disproportionate legislation.
It seems to me that, in looking at this, we ought to know how the people given the mandate by Parliament intend to operate. Do they intend to produce consistent and predictable rules? I would imagine that they do intend to. They may agree with many of these objectives, but it is very important for the Committee to know the Government’s view of the form of regulation—the mandate—before we decide on what should happen. We also need to know how they are going to do it, because you always ask your agent how they will do something. If we were informed, there might be much less dispute.
My Lords, I have Amendment 70 in this group, which was also referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who supported and signed it. It would insert a regulatory principle of efficiency that the PRA and FCA must ensure that their supervisory and approval interactions are efficient from the perspective of the regulated entities and in comparison with regulators in comparable countries. Clearly, it overlaps with some of the issues that we have already discussed, but it gets to the heart of the matter as to how and for whom the regulators are thinking, and whether they recognise what their impact is.
My Amendment 122 establishes that a corresponding report is required, which must include how they have undertaken this efficiency comparison, including the periodicity of the comparison and its outcome.
Amendment 144 is another go at inserting the same principle into the bank’s supervisory roles. It will not have escaped the notice of those who have read all the amendments that a similar amendment also appears in other places and formats, in part as a response to the layering of objectives to make sure that they actually happen. The point is really to find the best place for this, not to keep repeating it, but I had several bites at the cherry.
As I said, the substance of my amendment has already been discussed in the previous group, but I wanted to bring out the perspective point. The regulator itself might be very efficient at the expense of the industry it regulates—for example, by using the same template letter at the start of institutional approval processes, without any regard for proportionality or without saying anything useful about what might already have been presented at an extensive, exploratory, preliminary meeting. I recognise the traps that the regulators are trying not to fall into, but this has to be looked at from the other side.
As I said before, when the Industry and Regulators Committee was looking at competitiveness, there was a constantly repeated complaint from industry about delays over routine approval matters, including staff appointments, which caused delay and costs in day-to-day matters. These issues keep coming up, both in real life and in the amendments from noble Lords from around the House, including from the Government’s side. I therefore hope that the Minister and Government will help us to address them as we proceed on the Bill. It is obviously a matter to which we will return on Report, probably in more than one way. Therefore, some preliminary discussions with the Minister would be very useful.
I must also comment on the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. If you look at all his amendments, you will see that he is also a victim of the need to insert the same thing all over the place in FSMA in order to make it happen—and I appreciate that there are bigger and more developed amendments to come. My concern is whether the amendments achieve the objectives they set out to. I see the attractiveness of predictability, but I think that some of the concepts underlying these kinds of amendment are about reintroducing thinking in the regulator and in industry. By having layer on layer of complex rules, starting at the top, drilling down, then making the next one slightly different and providing lots of tick boxes, you can get certainty. But everybody says they want principles. I thought the idea was to have principles and then to discover that, if you did not take some reasonable precautions, there may be some regulatory actions against you. I have had these kinds of conversations with some of the authors of these proposals.
This almost goes back to where it used to be, when there was unlimited liability, but you took a little more care, because you might be for the high jump. You had to think about what you would do and consider the harm, instead of looking at a set of rules, against which you could put a little compliance tick that took away the thought and judgment that should be going into what you are doing in such an important industry. This cannot be tick-box. I fear that this is driving in the same direction. If I heard correctly, even the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, talked about these broad principles needing more detail underneath.
These amendments do not solve what some of those who have spoken in this group have told me that they want them to solve. I fear that this will be static rather than agile, yet after Brexit we keep saying that we want our regulators to be agile to new things and able to adjust. One cannot be both agile and wholly predictable, because you have to respond to new circumstances.
I do not oppose the notion of the regulators being challenged more in court—I think a little bit of that would be quite helpful. The notion that no one in the industry wants to because they fear that they would then be discriminated against by the regulator is a bad thing. I asked the regulators in committee whether people who challenged would be penalised, and they categorically and absolutely said no, but I am not sure that the industry feels confident in that. That is sad, because sometimes you need a test, a challenge, and a little bit drilling-down by fresh eyes, and the judiciary are very good at doing that. However, neither do I think that we in this country want the situation that prevails in the United States, where every last little thing is subject to very expensive challenge, which our regulators are not funded to do. One judicial review would bust them. If you want such a proposal, the funding of the regulators will have to be much greater, much more as it is in the United States. I do not mind having a United States-type regulator. Every time I go there, I think I want one of them, because they can be very powerful, but we do not necessarily have the size of industry to be able to support that. I will listen with interest to further discussion of that, but I do not really see how we can get it to work in this formulation. I think it will only further embed some of what it is intended to be against—tick-boxes, instead of thinking about what you are doing. That is what I want industry to do—I want it to be thinking.
Thank you. We are desperately trying to work out what we do to remain winding speakers but, thanks to the flexibility, that is allowed in Committee. It disappears at Report, but it has been very useful.
I wanted to make a few comments because I want to ensure that we focus strongly on the issues raised by my noble friend Lady Bowles: looking at the international competitiveness objective through the lens of efficiency of the regulator. When I talk to the industry, its beef is typically not with the regulation but with the way it is applied. It is the endless paperwork, delays, time-wasting, and everything else. The amendments that she has tabled get us laser-focused on that and tell the regulator, “This is unacceptable. It may mean that you need more resources, but then open your mouths and ask for them, because I think you would find that Parliament would row in behind you to ensure that you have that capacity to deliver that effective, efficient regulation.”
I was slightly taken aback by the example of a one-week approval authorisation in the Bahamas only because I am very conscious that the 2007-08 crash was finally tipped over the edge by AIG, the major US insurance company, saved at the last minute by a bailout of $150 billion. It has rectified itself today. I would hope that our regulators would take more than four or five days to look at authorisation for company with the capacity to bring down a very large part of the world’s economy. I just turned pale for a moment. I hope that we will not take that as a continuing example.
I also do not see the regulators as typically capricious—inefficient, but not really capricious. I am therefore concerned about the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, to the extent that they would remove agility. All of us who work in some way or other in relation to the financial services industry recognise that we are in a period of the most extraordinary change. Technology and globalisation are driving it, and all kinds of innovation are out there. We need a regulator that can cope with the pace of change that is taking place and does not come late to the table.
When I first got involved in politics, fintech was new. I remember asking every member of the fintech industry to meet me, and there were 12 people around the table. Now the leading figures associated with fintech would not fit in the Royal Albert Hall. That is brilliant—but I remember the difficulty then in trying to explain to the regulators that we needed a completely different regulatory environment, if fintech was going to develop. It wanted regulation. Being without regulation led the industry to fear that rogue players would suddenly enter that would disgrace the industry and cause a regulator to come on to its lawn with tanks blazing. There was a real desire to get appropriate and sensible regulation in place, but it had to be different and innovative and had to recognise the features of the industry.
When it comes to the word “predicted”, it seems to me that for a court it would be very hard to go through that kind of analysis, and to understand the business issues and the differences and risks in various industries, to understand whether or not predictability applied. When I looked at this issue, I thought, “My goodness, I bet this was drafted by lawyers because it looks rather like a lawyers’ charter.” I do not think that providing additional business to some of the law firms in the City is one of the purposes of the Bill. I have some real concerns, and they centre very much on that area. I hope we will think this through extremely carefully. Anyway, I consider that I have wound up, and I will sit.
My Lords, we have no amendments in this group. I have listened to this interesting debate. It comes back to the classic dilemma in all parts of life, from family dilemmas right through to how you manage an industry, and it comes right to this proportionality issue. It is very easy to create rules so simple that you cannot see what they are trying to achieve. It is very idealistic to try to create some ideas that the industry should contain. I look forward to listening to the Minister’s reply, but I have enormous sympathy with her, and I hope she might perhaps give some thought to whether we might try to develop some mechanism between now and Report to see if we can create common ground on this extraordinarily important issue.
My Lords, the Government agree with noble Lords that the efficiency, predictability and proportionality of financial services regulation are a particularly important issue, and one that the Government and Parliament should continue to hold the regulators to account on. We have heard in this discussion many different approaches and ways of getting at this issue and seeking to advance it. I hope that in my response I can set out how the Government have had those concepts at the forefront of our mind when looking at the framework, and I shall seek to support the points that have been made by noble Lords today.
Put together, Amendments 46, 54, 57, 64 and 82 from my noble friend Lord Lilley seek to introduce a new effective for the PRA and the FCA relating to predictability and consistency. As I have said, the Government agree that predictability and consistency are an important component of an effective regulatory regime. As observed by IMF studies, when independent regulators make judgments on the design of regulatory standards, they are more likely to deliver predictable and stable regulatory approaches over time, and thus the centrality of the independence of our regulators at the heart of our regime seeks to support those objectives.
As we have discussed in previous debates, the FCA and the PRA are required to advance their objectives when discharging their general functions, as set out in FSMA. The Government’s view is that the regulators’ objectives should be focused on the core outcomes they should seek to achieve. The Government agree that, where possible, the regulators should advance their objectives in a predictable and consistent way. The framework already addresses this through the regulatory principles, as set out in Section 3B. These regulatory principles aim to promote regulatory good practice. The statutory requirement in FSMA for the FCA and the PRA to consult on rule proposals seeks to ensure that there is a predictable approach to rule-making. As part of this consultation, the regulators must explain why the making of the proposed rules advances, and is compatible with, their objectives as set by Parliament in legislation and how the proposals are compatible with their obligation to take into account the regulatory principles. These requirements are designed to ensure that consumers, market participants and wider stakeholders have a meaningful opportunity to scrutinise and feed into the development of regulator policy, guidance and rules. It also ensures that stakeholders are aware of planned changes to rules and can engage in their development.
In addition to seeking to introduce the new objective, Amendments 54 and 64 would also insert a provision that would prohibit the FCA and the PRA from taking retaliatory action against firms that challenge regulatory decisions. While I understand that firms may be concerned about how an appeal or judicial review may impact their relationship with the regulator, the Government consider that it would be wholly inappropriate for a regulator to treat a firm differently simply because it had chosen to challenge a decision. The Government would expect a regulator to respond to any such challenges appropriately and professionally. I am not aware of any evidence that the regulators have taken such alleged retaliatory action, and firms already have avenues available to them to contest and appeal enforcement decisions. The Government therefore do not believe that an amendment is required in this area.
Amendment 85 seeks to restrict the regulators from enforcing rules made at a “high level of generality”, except in certain circumstances. The FCA’s approach to regulation involves a combination of high-level principles and detailed rules. We discussed this balance and the benefits of those different approaches earlier in Committee and I am sure that we will continue to do so. Through its Principles for Businesses, the FCA aims to encourage firms to exercise judgment about, and take responsibility for, conducting their business in line with those principles. When conducting the future regulatory framework review, the Government reviewed over 100 responses to two separate consultations, which concluded that the provisions concerning enforcement and supervision remained appropriate. Enforcement decisions are specific to the firm and the rules concerned, and the FSMA model requires independent supervision and enforcement.
Amendment 85 would also require that regulator rules are interpreted according to common-law methods of interpretation. The Government are repealing the prescriptive provisions in EU law though this Bill so that they can be replaced with domestic legislation and regulator rules made under FSMA. I reassure my noble friend that it will be up to the UK courts to determine how that domestic legislation and rules are interpreted.
I turn to Amendments 70, 72, 74, 77A, 122 and 144, which in various ways aim to ensure that the regulators act proportionately. Again, I emphasise that the Government agree about the importance of proportionality and agree with the words of my noble friend Lord Holmes when he spoke to his amendment on this. A number of the regulatory principles already address the themes of good policy-making that these amendments seek to embed. These include principles of efficiency and economy, proportionality, and requiring the regulators, where appropriate, to exercise their functions in a way that recognises differences in the nature and objectives of different businesses subject to requirements imposed by or under FSMA. The Bill also introduces these principles for the Bank of England in its regulation of central counterparties and central securities depositories.
Additionally, the Government are introducing measures through the Bill which will help ensure that the regulators take a proportionate approach. Clause 24 introduces a new secondary objective for the FCA and the PRA, which will require them to facilitate the international competitiveness of the UK economy and its growth in the medium to long term when discharging their general functions. The Government expect that this new objective will result in more proportionate rule-making while maintaining high regulatory standards. Additionally, the Bill includes a package of measures to support the regulators’ cost-benefit analysis, including the requirement to establish new CBA panels and to publish and maintain statements of policy on their conduct of CBA.
I emphasise to noble Lords that the Government are not complacent on this issue. We have taken an approach in the Bill to try to include stronger measures to encourage proportionality, building on what is already in the FSMA framework. We agree that regulatory efficiency is extremely important, including for the UK’s international competitiveness. While we believe that, with the provisions in the Bill, we have the right legislative framework to support this, we acknowledge that the culture of the regulators is crucial to delivering these outcomes.
As I noted in an earlier debate, in December the Economic Secretary 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. In response, the regulators have committed to publishing more detailed performance data on a quarterly basis. Parliament will continue to have a critical role in holding the regulators to account in relation to how they have carried out their functions and advanced their functions under FSMA, and the Bill makes several improvements to the current framework to support Parliament’s work in this area. As previously discussed, Clause 37 provides the Treasury with a power to direct the regulators to report on matters, including performance, where it is necessary for scrutiny of the discharge of their functions.
While there is always more to do to ensure that regulation is proportionate, the regulators are already taking important steps in this direction. The Government announced in 2020 that the regulators would set up the Financial Services Regulatory Initiatives Grid and Forum. That process provides a clear picture, twice a year, of expected regulatory activity to help stakeholders plan ahead. The grid seeks to improve proportionality, co-ordination and transparency across the regulatory landscape, reducing the operational burdens of implementing change. I also point to the PRA’s “strong and simple” initiative; it has indicated its ambition to go further to ensure a proportionate regime and promote competition via this initiative for smaller banks and building societies.
Given the existing legislation and the provisions provided for in the Bill, the Government are not persuaded that amending the existing proportionality principle would have a material effect on the way in which the FCA and PRA consider proportionality when discharging their general functions.
On the amendment on proportionality tabled by my noble friend Lady Noakes, she raised several examples and I do not want to go into all of them today. She raised PEPs, on which I do not want to pre-empt a further debate. However, as she noted, proportionality is strongly emphasised in the regulators’ guidance on PEPs; it then becomes a question of how firms take that forward. However, the regulator has engaged firms on that point. On the example of short selling, my noble friend will also know that the Government disagree with her on that point. We see the benefits of short selling but we can also see the risks, and all major financial jurisdictions have some form of short-selling regime.
Amendment 77A, also from my noble friend, would introduce a new regulatory principle to ensure that the FCA and the PRA have regard to the concept that regulatory action should be taken only where there is evidence that action is needed. The Government are clear that the burden of any regulation should be proportionate to its benefits, and under FSMA the regulators can make rules only that are necessary or expedient for the purposes of advancing their objectives. FSMA also requires the regulators to demonstrate how a regulatory proposal advances their objectives during the consultation process. The Government therefore consider this additional principle unnecessary, as the expectation is that the regulators will act only on the basis of evidence, as is already clear in FSMA.
This has been a really interesting discussion on the issues before us, particularly the discussion of the amendments in my name of my noble friend. We have also seen that there can be a wide range of views on how to tackle some of these issues and a need to avoid unintended consequences. The Government have given the approach that we are taking in the Bill very careful consideration and extensive consultation, but of course we will continue to listen to the debates in Committee because on this area we are all trying to achieve the same objective.
On the specific question of drafting rules, what do they think their mandate is? Do they accept that the rules have to be proportionate and clear? It would just be very useful to know how they see their new approach to things. I think it can be done in two pages, but that is a good test.
I am sure that the regulators have provided some of those views already. For example, they gave evidence during the Commons Committee stage of this Bill. I do not want to speak for them but I absolutely undertake to the Committee to seek that from the regulators, and obviously it will be down to them as to how they wish to deal with the request. With that, I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments.
My Lords, this has been a fascinating and valuable debate, the highlight of which was obviously the agreement between my noble friend Lady Noakes and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, on the disproportionality of the PRA. Another common feature of the whole debate was that everyone seemed to express concern about the lack of accountability of the regulators. I was encouraged by the Minister’s remark that she would look positively at the debate.
I am grateful for the support of my noble friends Lord Trenchard, Lord Naseby, Lord Sandhurst, Lord Roborough and Lord Holmes for the amendments that stand in my name. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tyrie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for applying their critical faculties to the amendments that we tabled. I will consider carefully what they said. It will be easier for me to respond when I can actually read the text rather than doing so immediately now—anyway, I only have time for a few words now—but I think I can assure them that the amendments would not require new rules to be predictable from old, existing rules, nor would they forbid new rules that were inconsistent with existing rules; it would just have to be explicit that they overrode an existing rule—although I may have misunderstood what they said.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, mentioned that she is worried about excessive powers to lawyers and litigation. I am in the unusual position of being in alliance with lawyers. I got into trouble early in my parliamentary career by quoting
“let’s kill all the lawyers”
in a debate in which it turned out that I was the only non-lawyer. I think we have to recognise that the only alternative to the common law approach which we seek to entrench here, which is the purpose of the Bill, is the codified approach, which is very much more rigid and unable to respond quickly to the rapidly varying world to which the noble Baroness rightly referred, or simple discretion which may not lead to being capricious, but does mean that it is very unpredictable for practitioners who do not know how rules are going to be applied. I will, of course, withdraw the amendment, but I hope we will return to these issues on later groups and perhaps on Report.
Amendment 46 withdrawn.
Before I call Amendment 47, I advise the Committee that if it is agreed, I cannot call Amendment 48 by reason of pre-emption.
47: Clause 24, page 38, line 22, leave out from “facilitating” to end of line 23
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment probes what “relevant international standards” are and their relationship with the competitiveness and growth objective.
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 58 in my name. The new competitiveness and growth objective, which I strongly support, is rather curiously drafted, as the FCA and the PRA are mandated to pursue competitiveness and growth
“subject to aligning with relevant international standards”.
My Amendments 47 and 58 remove this from the formulation for both the FCA and the PRA on a probing basis to try to understand what the Government mean by it.
International standards come in all shapes and sizes and it is far from necessary for the UK to adhere to everything which claims to be an international standard. The term is not defined in this Bill nor, I think, in FSMA. Part of what I am seeking is to understand what is a “relevant standard” and what kind of standards can in effect trump the competitiveness and growth objective. I hope that my noble friend will be able to explain this when she winds up.
The competitiveness and growth objective is already circumscribed by its status as a secondary objective. Using the PRA as an example, this means that it has to act only
“so far as reasonably possible”
in a way which advances its competitiveness and growth objective. Its primary objective—promoting the safety and soundness of PRA-authorised persons—will always trump a secondary objective. In this respect, I am not sure that Amendment 65 from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, is necessary. That is certainly the view of the PRA, which has been clear about the primacy of its prime objective.
Although some of us might have preferred competitiveness and growth to be a primary objective, which could then raise different issues, the Bill does not go that far and the secondary objective is therefore secondary to the primary objective. I completely understand if the PRA choses to follow international standards because it believes that this advances its primary objective, and that would trump the secondary objective. On that basis, there is no need to refer to international standards in relation to the competitiveness and growth objective because if the PRA thinks that they are necessary, they are already absorbed within its primary objective. However, if an international standard is not necessary for the primary objective, I do not understand why any such international standard should crowd out the competitiveness and growth objective.
There may well be a presumption that standards promulgated by bodies such as the Financial Stability Board or the BCBS will be followed, but that is accommodated within the primary objective. However, even in that context I think we have to remember that, for example, the Basel capital standards have not always been followed universally, most notably by the USA, which pursued its own course for a considerable period of time. International standards are not matters of international law. Their implementation is always a matter of judgment for the home regulators and therefore needs to be considered in the judgments they make on their primary objective.
I believe that the words
“subject to aligning with … international standards”
give too much weight to policies developed outside the UK and could damage our competitiveness and growth. The regulators should not be allowed to ignore the secondary objective on the grounds that they are following international standards if those standards are not core to their primary objective.
I look forward to hearing the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, on her Amendment 49, but my initial view is that it is right to keep the reference to financial services in the competitiveness and growth objective. Whether we like it or not, the financial services sector contributes around 12% to the UK economy and 7% of all UK jobs, according to the City of London Corporation. The regulators that can have the biggest impact on the financial services sector are clearly the financial services regulators: the PRA and the FCA. It seems to me only right to emphasise that their new secondary objective should specifically refer to the financial services sector. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendments 47 and 58 in the name of my noble friend Lady Noakes, to which I have added my name. I also appreciate the support of my noble friend Lady Lawlor.
The FCA is influential in the formation and development of standards, and states on its website:
“We contribute to and implement international standards, and supervise and enforce rules based on them in the UK.”
The principal international standard-setting body for the industry is IOSCO. Will the Minister confirm that the UK is already using its enhanced influence in that body resulting from our having a seat at the table in our own right rather than through the EU? IOSCO’s key strategic goal is to be accepted as the recognised standard-setter for securities regulation. The International Association of Insurance Supervisors seeks to play the same role for the insurance industry. Its mission is to promote effective and globally consistent supervision of the insurance industry to develop and maintain fair, safe and stable insurance markets for the benefit and protection of policyholders and to contribute to global financial stability.
Nevertheless, international standards are a very subjective concept, and the introduction of this concept does not assist the need for clarity and predictability, besides the question of whether international standards will assist or impede the advancement of the competitiveness and growth objective. I am unable to support the proposal of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, to include sustainability in addition to relevant international standards because I think that sustainability is an even more subjective concept and that this amendment would reduce clarity and predictability.
I do not understand Amendments 49 and 59 from the noble Baroness; I think the financial regulators’ responsibility for financial services does not extend to different spheres of activity, although I, too, question why this limitation is included in the Bill anyway. The amendments in this group are really important because the Bill provides for rather limited supervision of regulators, and I believe it is necessary to improve parliamentary oversight.
I support the aim of Amendment 50 in the name of my noble friend Lord Altrincham, who is unable to be in his place. At Second Reading, he questioned what regulation is for. An understanding of the underlying purpose of financial services in allocating capital tends to lead to more stable regulation. My noble friend also spoke of the problems around the regulation of defined benefit pension funds, but captive investment funds invest in derivatives rather than tangible UK investments. Considering the purpose of financial services for investment can improve regulatory decision-making. Would my noble friend the Minister support not just growth but medium and long-term investment? That would help bring the Bill in line with other Bills that we see in the House and with government policy.
Amendment 65 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, seeks to ensure that the new secondary objectives do not threaten the supremacy of the regulators’ primary objectives. I am afraid I cannot support the noble Lord. It would be much better if the new competitiveness objectives ranked equally with the primary objectives, because absolute stability will never allow any risk-taking at all, which would ultimately lead to no markets, no jobs and no opportunities.
On Monday, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, strongly supported the inclusion of a climate and nature objective, but she opposes the inclusion of the competitiveness and growth objective. If the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, had their way, it would certainly deliver a double whammy to the financial services industry. The exclusion of the competitiveness objective and the inclusion of the noble Baroness’s preferred objective would have a negative effect on growth, leading to reduced investment in new and cleaner energy and infrastructure projects and, perversely, making the Government’s net-zero targets even harder to attain.
My Lords, I have several amendments in this group. Amendment 48, which has already been referred to, seeks to add “sustainability” in as a sort of foil to the international aspect. Amendments 49 and 59 seek to remove the bits in brackets relating specifically to financial services, which is more of a comprehension issue. Amendments 51 and 60 propose another placing of the efficiency amendment in case it might sit better within the competitiveness and growth objective.
There is another very dangerous thing going on here, on which I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes—we agree more often than people would think. To some extent I support her Amendment 47, as I will explain later.
As has already been said, my Amendment 48 seeks to add in “sustainability” so that the competitiveness and growth objective would be “subject to sustainability and aligning with relevant international standards”. We have been talking about the need for balance and I felt that that, potentially, was a balance that we wanted. That also seemed a suitable place in which to write sustainability into the Bill. Perhaps we could choose other words, because I meant it to cover sustainability in financial terms and in a humanitarian and environmental context, too. I am not clear that some of the things which are said to be covered actually are covered.
When we were talking about position limits, I believe that the Minister said that taking humanitarian matters into account was something that the FCA could do. I cannot see anywhere among its objectives or anywhere else where that comes about. I can see that there can be market integrity things on position limits, but not whether you want to think about whether you are causing people to starve. There are things that we expect to be taken into consideration—it is not a subliminal matter, but just by implication—but they are not there if you look for the words. From experience of looking at things when they have gone pear-shaped and the regulators want an excuse, it seems to me that they will be asking where it says those things.
Returning to the competitiveness and growth objective, the more I look at it, the less I like it, not from the point of view of the competitiveness and growth bit but for all the other drafting around it. This is where I agree: what on earth is this “subject to international standards” doing there?” It gets sprinkled around quite liberally in legislation. When I was an MEP, I learned very soon after I got to Brussels that the Treasury wanted “alignment with international standards” put liberally into EU legislation as a way to try to cut down EU degrees of freedom. Now, here we are, post-Brexit, trying the same trick on ourselves and handing it to unelected bodies. Much as I did not object to the EU system, we are where we are. I do not think it is right. If we think recently in terms of LDI and so on, we hear the Bank of England saying, “Until we have the international rules on non-bank financial institutions, we have not done anything”, when something that is a complete viper’s nest is going on that is completely within everything to do with the United Kingdom. That shows us—we will come to this later on with some of my financial stability amendments—that it is looking for support and to hugger-mugger together with the rest of the regulatory organisations rather than putting the UK first and thinking clearly about what we want.
Are we now trying to control the regulators as we tried to tie the EU? We do not need it to control the regulators because they largely control what goes into the international standards, and those international standards have far less parliamentary scrutiny than anything done by UK regulators for the UK. I accept that the Treasury has a seat at the table and therefore knows what is going on, but it is very difficult to scrutinise what goes on at Basel and the other international organisations. You can get our regulators to explain what they agree with and claim victories where they put things in, but to get any explanation in time to be able to react to it and to influence it is extremely difficult. I tried this while I was chair of ECON in the European Parliament when we were doing the capital requirement rules. We forced one or two meetings with them, but they did not really want to know, and we are going to be in even more difficulty trying to follow those kinds of things within the UK’s parliamentary system.
Here we are signing up blind to something rather than signing up after scrutiny. That is what happens in other countries, notably the EU and the US, which have a whole system, including parliamentary procedure, to determine whether they are going to sign up to the international rules.
There is nothing wrong with political statements being made which say that the broad expectation is for us to be in alignment with the international standards, but I do not see what that does without any kind of caveat around it within primary legislation. It makes a mockery of us trying to scrutinise anything when we know that what we will be getting is just what the regulators have decided with other regulators, at a different level over the UK’s head.
As I mentioned on the last group, I also put my amendments on efficiency here, so I will not go into those again. We can discuss among ourselves where they fit best.
My final point relates to the words in brackets, which I address in my Amendments 49 and 59. Simply, when I read this part of the Bill, it did not read as if the financial services references were in there because that was the bit that the regulators were empowered to do; I thought that it was possible to make it read as if some kind of preference could be given to financial services over and above other things. I know that that is not the intention, so my only objection to these words is to ask whether the Government are absolutely sure that they read properly. I am not suspicious of the motives but, if one of my assistants had written this back in my patent attorney days, I would have been thinking that it was not quite right and asking if we could rephrase it. So there is nothing more suspicious to it than that.
I do not think that those words are actually needed because, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said, they can only influence financial services. Financial services must serve the economy and must serve other businesses. So you could, theoretically, enhance the economy within financial services by putting up all your charges to the rest of industry. One hopes that competitiveness and competition laws would stop that from happening, but you could have that interpretation. Somebody might be able to hang something on those words if they are still there.
That explains my amendments. I do not think there is anything too untoward; I would be interested to hear from the Minister about international standards. I accept that we have them in other pieces of legislation, but if we have got it wrong somewhere else, we do not need to keep repeating it.
My Lords, I speak briefly to give full-throated support to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Noakes. This tying to international standards seems odd, at best, for at least two reasons: first, this is attached to the competitiveness objective and not run through all objectives, not least the primary objectives; and, secondly, this objective, even before it has been launched, is fettered and shackled through this connection to international standards and the ISSBs that they are under. That seems curious, in that it seems to run counter to the espoused purpose and intention of the Bill. I would be very keen to hear my noble friend the Minister’s comments when she comes to sum up on those points.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a board member of the Association of British Insurers. I apologise that I was not able to speak at Second Reading. I had my name down, but unfortunately had to scratch because of a commitment from the committee that I chair.
I speak very briefly on Amendment 65 in the name of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe—I was not going to, because I am sure that he will explain it, but as it has sort of been challenged already, I thought it would be useful to bring the Committee’s attention to the view of TheCityUK. On the secondary objective, it says that economic growth and competitiveness would remain subordinate to the regulatory primary objective of promoting competition, preserving stability and protecting consumers. TheCityUK thinks that is the proper place for it. I think my noble friend may explain that his was more of a probing amendment, but certainly I hope that the Committee is of the view, along with many of us, not just TheCityUK, that primary means primary and secondary means secondary, and therefore that the primary will always trump the secondary.
My Lords, I and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, oppose the Question that Clause 24 stand part of the Bill.
As I read the Bill, I wondered why growth and competitiveness as a regulatory objective appear at all. A friend in the City reminded me that the Government have been unable to deliver any Brexit benefit and have to show that they are doing something; therefore this had to be tagged into the Bill—although I understand that this clause was written at the behest of TheCityUK and UK Finance, which wanted to sponsor it.
The secondary objectives of growth and competitiveness cannot be reconciled with the main role of ensuring financial stability and consumer protection. If there is growth because of financial stability and consumer confidence, that is fine, but to go out of your way and say that the regulators must somehow grow the finance industry and promote international competitiveness is something else. Unless the Minister points me to it, I could not find anything in the Bill which indicates exactly what kind of weight is to be attached to each of those four conflicting objectives.
How much growth are the Government trying to secure in the finance industry? Are there any limits, and what are the economic and social costs? What would be the opportunity cost of more graduates going into the finance industry and shunning other careers, whether in manufacturing, chemicals or any other industry? How will the regulators ensure that somehow the UK has a greater supply of graduates? How will they ensure that there is adequate infrastructure? I could not see that any of these issues were answered in the long and hefty impact assessment.
The promotion of competition is an existing aim of the financial regulators. Here we can see that the FCA has persuaded some challenger banks to enter the market, although it has been utterly unable to tame the major banks that dominate the market; they have not been broken up and have reduced people’s access to the market—for example, by closing bank branches. Is taming the banks and breaking them up a matter for the FCA or for the CMA? The regulatory architecture continues to become more and more complex. Each regulator already passes the buck to somebody else, saying, “It’s your job to secure competition”, and that is domestically. When we move on to the bigger picture, it becomes even more complicated.
The common understanding is that the notion of competition relates to the state of the market and access to it. That is very different from the notion of competitiveness, which as a discourse does not have any permanent meaning in any sense; its meaning is always constructed and needs to be given. Essentially, however, it relates to the industry as a whole. That is a task for the Government, not for the regulators at all.
International competitiveness, as many noble Lords have already said, is about the ability to attract business from other financial centres. In the words of the former Business Secretary, Vince Cable,
“chasing ‘competitiveness’ really means … a race to the bottom—watering down standards in the hope of attracting more dubious sources of money to an industry.”
That is quite an indictment of the government objectives by a former Minister. Similar principles—that is, the principle of competitiveness—and approaches were behind the 2007-08 crash that hammered the whole economy. We are yet to recover from that folly, but they are being brought back. The Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, said that before the last crash the regulator
“was required to consider the UK’s competitiveness, and it didn’t end well, for anyone”,
yet we are embarked on exactly the same course again.
There was an unprecedented bailout of the finance industry. No other industry in British history has needed that kind of state support, and we continue to be plagued by all kinds of scandals, even in an environment where regulators are not pursuing international competitiveness. We have had nearly £1 trillion of quantitative easing to the finance industry. The result is that there is asset price inflation and real wages are still down, yet it is hard to see any reflection of that in the Government’s impact assessment.
Competitiveness, as we all know, was specifically removed from financial regulation in 2012, but it is being unceremoniously smuggled back in. The Government are clearly opting for a race to the bottom for a sector that has been a serial offender and has actually eroded growth. The finance industry has mis-sold numerous financial products over the years, including pensions, endowment mortgages, precipice bonds, split capital investment trusts, payment protection insurance, mini-bonds and much more. It has led the field in international tax abuse, money laundering and sanctions busting. Is that what the Government really want to grow? Is that what the regulators are supposed to be growing?
Rather than cleaning up the industry, this Bill should have been preceded by a public inquiry into the finance industry to see what exactly needs to be cleaned up, but that never happened. Rather than cleaning up the industry, the Government, the Bank of England and other regulators have actually colluded with the UK banks over the consequences of their own criminal conduct. I have given examples, and I will repeat one here. HSBC was fined $1.9 billion in the US for facilitating money laundering. It admitted in writing that it had been engaged in “criminal conduct”. The then Chancellor, George Osborne, in collusion with the Bank of England and the head of the FSA, secretly wrote to the US regulators to say that they should go easy as HSBC was too big to jail and too big to fail. The result is that HSBC continues to commit financial misdemeanours.
Is that an example of the regulators somehow managing to balance growth and competitiveness? There is certainly growth in dirty money; that has continued. As for competitiveness, all the banks are still charging us roughly the same fees for overdrafts, and they are engaged in other nefarious practices as well. I provided that example regarding HSBC in the previous debates on the Bill.
Scholarly research carried out at the University of Sheffield, where I am emeritus professor, shows that between 1995 and 2015 the finance industry made a negative contribution of £4,500 billion pounds to the UK economy, yet the Government are weakening what modest regulation there is under the guise of the pursuit of growth and competitiveness. Just how bloated does the finance industry have to be before anyone recognises the danger signs flashing all over it? What evidence is there to show that the financialisation of everything is a positive development?
At the next crash, which will come if these objectives are implemented, not just banks but the whole high street will be in trouble, because organisations such as Morrisons, Asda and many others are under the control of private equity, which is utterly unregulated but meshes into the sector that we are trying to regulate. I hope the Minister provides us with some evidence to show that the financialisation of everything, which is inevitable if we grow this sector, will somehow be positive. I look forward to that reply.
The Government have provided no evidence to show that the finance industry has turned a new leaf. Since the 2007-08 crash, there have been scandals galore, whether London Capital & Finance, Blackmore Bond, the Woodford fund, banks forging customers’ signatures or numerous others. What are regulators going to do when faced with multiple objectives?
Do the Government and the regulators even know what the finance industry does? Mini-bonds came as a shock to the FCA; when people told it about them, it did not pay much attention. After the Kwarteng Budget, the gilt market declined because neither the Government nor the regulators knew anything about the impact of market yields on liability-driven investments and pension funds. Just yesterday, the Work and Pensions Committee was told that that Budget resulted in a £4 billion loss to pension funds. The Bank of England earmarked £65 billion of expenditure to bail out that market. As a result, some people made fortunes, but many innocent people made huge losses. There were huge wealth transfers from City speculators to pension funds.
How is the regulator going to adjudicate which kind of wealth transfer is good and which is bad? Regulators have no mandate to do that; only Parliament has that mandate and only the Government can act on behalf of Parliament to do that. Financial stability, growth and competitiveness cannot be reconciled, because there are too many contradictions and the Government are not willing to deal with them.
These kinds of losses are part of the reason why our economy is in the doldrums. The IMF is telling us that we are a basket case in terms of economic growth, yet we are piling on more and more of exactly the same. Ministers have not explained what the competitiveness and growth objective will do to regulators’ duties. We have about 41 regulators in the finance industry; will they all be required to promote competitiveness? How will their efforts be measured? There are 25 anti-money laundering regulators; how will they promote growth? Will they encourage more money laundering and bring in more hot money? Will they object? What will they actually be doing? Perhaps the Minister can spell that out.
We have a real patchwork of enforcement. We have the FCA, the Serious Fraud Office, the Crown Prosecution Service, HMRC, the Bank of England and others. How will they be promoting competitiveness and growth? Will they be lax? Will they copy Chancellor George Osborne, secretly intervene and say to somebody, “Please do not prosecute HSBC, even though it has been caught laundering money and admitted to it”? The Government have provided no answers to these questions and there is nothing about in in the Explanatory Notes. The Government are, in effect, laying the foundations of the next crash, just as the Conservative Government’s light-touch regulation laid the foundations of the 2007-08 crash.
Experienced voices are telling us to change course and not to go down the line that the Government are pushing. For example, Howard Davies, who served as chair of the Financial Services Authority between 1997 and 2003, said that
“he was ‘not keen on’ the competition clause, which went further than the guidance laid out prior to the financial crisis. At that time, he said the FSA only had to prove that issues such as competitiveness were ‘taken into account’ and were not something ‘you were trying to achieve directly’.”
So that is a warning. He added:
“In my view, to give the regulator the objective of promoting competitiveness, could be the thin end of a rather peculiar wedge. I mean, why would … the regulators not come in and tell us to cut our cost-income ratio? That would improve our competitiveness. And if they had a competitiveness objective, it seems that would give them an ‘in’ to the way we run our business, which I think would be a bit tricky, really, and that is one reason why the regulators aren’t really keen on it either.”
The noble Lord, Lord Turner, chair of the FSA in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, stated that
“It is a mistake to give the regulators of the finance sector a competitiveness objective.”
Maybe it is just there as a decoration—maybe regulators will just ignore it and the Government will claim, “Well, we created this kind of objective but there is no real detail.”
Sir John Vickers, who chaired an independent commission on banking, stated that the secondary objective was either “pointless or dangerous”. Perhaps the Minister will tell us which one it is: pointless or dangerous—it sounds like a TV gameshow, does it not? Maybe “Pointless” is one.
Finance industry regulators are already subject to heavy lobbying from the City. If they are given an explicit remit to pursue the competitiveness and growth of the industry, they will lobby even more to gain further leverage on the regulators. The FCA chair, Charles Randell, told the Treasury Select Committee that the risk is that
“whenever we propose to do something we receive a large amount of lobbying input saying, ‘This rule does not exist in this country, that country or the other country, and therefore you should not do it’”.
In other words, it is a race to the bottom—nothing else.
Finally, there is a concern that the competitiveness and growth objectives would give the Government an avenue for directing the regulators and telling them exactly what to focus on. That will completely destroy their independence.
In time, we will oppose this requirement in the Bill.
My Lords, I start by speaking to my own two amendments in this group and will then move on to winding for the Liberal Democrats.
In a sense it is quite pertinent that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, because, as members of this Committee will know, I have some real concerns about the competitiveness objective and its effect and implications. It comes from people who are very much founded on the experience of the financial crash of 2007-08 and a fear at the time that lessons would be learned very briefly but the industry would very quickly push back as it is now, hoping that the crisis has been forgotten. I notice that all the speakers who are in favour of the competitiveness agenda seem very careful not to go back to that time, and they describe in some way why this is inherently different from then. If that cannot be done, or if they have all forgotten exactly what the experience was in that period, we are moving into difficult territory.
My amendments are quite specific and are very definitely probing—I hope that the Minister will disabuse me. When talking with a leading player in the industry, who was encouraging me to support the competitiveness objective, I took the government and regulators’ line: “It is a secondary objective—financial stability is clearly the priority.” I was told, “No, you haven’t read the Bill. You need to look at the section that refers to mutual recognition agreements. You have to read the two together. When you look at mutual recognition agreements, that gives us the leverage, combined with the competitiveness objective, to force the regulator to always adopt for the UK whatever is the standard that is embedded in that mutual recognition agreement.”
I am extremely troubled by that strategy, but from reading the language I can see where that thinking comes from. The attractiveness of the mutual recognition agreement to this individual was that it was an arrangement—in effect a treaty or an agreement—that was not negotiated by regulators. They might have a discussion with regulators and there might be input from regulators, but ultimately it was negotiated by businesspeople, and therefore that would be the guiding principle, not concerns about financial stability—those are not the concern of a trade negotiator—but arrangements, while measures within a trade negotiation contain a lot of compromises and trade-offs. This disturbs me hugely, and I would like the Minister to explain how those concepts and clauses work together. I was talking with someone who was using their imagination, but there was a lawyer present who was confirming what was being said, so I am really quite concerned about that interaction. We need to understand how that works as we proceed with this Bill.
I very strongly support my noble friend Lady Bowles. I am not going to repeat the arguments that she made, which were really important, but I want to pick up on the issue of relevant international standards. Like others, I am troubled by the idea that we might have slavish adherence to a set of rules that are made elsewhere, but on the other hand I am trying to trade off in my mind what we do if we do not have international standards in significant areas of financial services. We may say, as the Americans often do, that we know better than everybody else, that the way we structure our industry means that international standards do not really apply to us and that their capital requirement standards veer quite considerably away from the standards that were agreed at Basel and were largely adopted within the EU. But how do we turn to other places and say that they need to use international standards or that they should not fall below them if we say that that is allowed to us? I am trying to work my way through that thinking process because we live in a very globalised world.
The financial crash of 2007-08, which essentially exposed huge weakness, abuse and mismanagement in the UK, was triggered by events in the United States—the way in which subprime mortgages there had been packaged up and sold as collateralised debt obligations. As I mentioned earlier, subprime mortgages brought down the largest insurance company in the world, AIG, which was rescued by the American Government who, when Lehman Brothers began to collapse, said “Wait a minute. Enough. Suddenly we’ll have to rescue everybody if we’re not careful. We draw the line here.” The consequences reeled not so much through the United States but through the UK, exposing all our various weaknesses.
With this globalised world, what happens in one country, what is done by one regulator, impacts others. How do we manage this unless we have some sort of standing for international standards? I am not arguing against the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes; I am just saying that we somehow need to think this through, how it works, how we scrutinise it and how we consider it. It seems to me that it ought to be on only an exceptional basis that we decide that we do not apply those standards in the UK, but we need a mechanism for that and it seems to me that this should be largely something that Parliament determines, because it has significant consequences and would fit with much of the parliamentary accountability agenda that we have talked of today.
I want to pick up on the sustainability issue. Forgive me if I have the wrong person, because I had done that before, but I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, who mentioned sustainability and said, “How vague can you get?” As far as I remember, we have used sustainability in a lot of prior legislation, so I think there is a body of understanding. Some of the energy legislation that we dealt with certainly had the word “sustainability” in it, so there is a body of definition that sits behind that. I am one of those who would very much like to see sustainability attached to the words “economic growth”. I am not so concerned by the secondary economic growth objective, but I want growth to be sustainable. For me, that encompasses sustainability in every sense, both environmental—as it is often used—and economic.
As I say, I remain concerned about the competitiveness objective. We need to be very clear about its implications. If there are other levers that I have missed in the loan agreement that provide it in a non-obvious way with additional power and strength and the ability to get court rulings in its favour, I hope the Minister will explain them to us because I would find that very necessary for our future discussion.
My Lords, I do not wholly associate myself or my party with my noble friend Lord Sikka’s comprehensive description of the finance industry, but I go back to one important area. I mentioned earlier that my previous career had a lot to do with safety. One of the things that it brought out was that people readily forget the catastrophic because the catastrophic occurs so rarely that attention drifts away and they get on with the day to day.
We broadly support the growth and competitiveness concept, although its impact will be modest. It would be a miracle if it added 1% per annum to the growth of the UK. If we read Alistair Darling’s autobiography—and yes, I am aware of the Mandy Rice-Davies test, “He would say that, wouldn’t he?” but it reads pretty convincingly—we see just how close we came to a totally catastrophic situation. It was only saved by a number of individuals, including Alistair and Gordon Brown, taking the very brave decision to do what had never been done before, which was essentially to throw the whole economy at a guarantee of the banking system. That is a pretty dodgy thing to do and, frankly, if you look at the timeline, it got very close to a catastrophic situation.
When one is looking at catastrophic risk—a low probability, perhaps, but catastrophic—you have constantly to bear that in mind. I do not think that the average practitioner in the finance industry works like that; I feel that day to day they are making trades and so forth. The sense of the primary objective is that that should be the salient thought behind all their decision-making: “We must not create another catastrophic situation.” To be fair to the Government, over the past decade or so quite a lot of sensible legislation has been introduced to protect ourselves from catastrophic risk. The Bank of England has a department working away at the regulation of financial institutions to make sure that they are orderly, safe and so on.
I have forgotten what the words are, but the concepts of stability, security and probity must be there in the primary objective and must be well-defined and clearly prime—the top objective. After that, competitiveness, growth and so on would be great.
Our Amendment 65 was a probing amendment and it has worked very well. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, assured me—perhaps the Minister will use similar words—that there is no question about the primacy of the objectives, that it is set in other rules and that if I looked at all the rules together, I would not be worried about it. I think that is basically what she said, and I hope it is right, because it is absolutely right that we bear in mind protection from catastrophic risk.
I note the assurances that the Minister gave in her letter following Second Reading, but I am still not clear about the specific mechanism whereby the primary objectives are expressly meant to take precedence in FSMA. To me, it appears that they are indeed split up, but there is nothing to define what it means to be primary. I may be wrong in that concern, and I am here to be persuaded that I am wrong. The more effort that is put into persuading me, the more will go on the record and form the environment in which financial services are delivered. I feel concerned that there is nothing in legislation, in the regulators’ rulebook or elsewhere to guarantee the primacy of the FCA’s and the PRA’s most important objectives. However, as I said, that is an open question, and this debate has been good.
Regarding the international dimension, I see the concerns being expressed about giving it too much primacy—although I do not want to use that word, because it has the wrong effect. My memory is useless but, about two years ago, we had what I will roughly call the Basel III Covid legislation. Many of us were there to debate it. If I remember rightly, it took out the EU law and made space for the regulators to create the situation we are talking about now. My recollection is that aligning with Basel III and the FSB—or whatever it is called—became an objective within that. I see the Minister is nodding, so my memory has some fragments of it.
Once again, it is clearly a good idea to be that bit looser if we are to be innovative. The probing worked brilliantly, as I far as I am concerned. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, quite openly said that competitiveness and growth should be equal to the regulators’ concern about stability and safety. Arguably, that is a properly viewed position, but it is not my position. Failure must be avoided—not quite at all costs but, wherever there is a debate between bigger risk and modest profit, the bigger risk should be avoided.
My Lords, I will speak first to Clause 24 before turning to the other amendments in this group. The Government consider that, alongside their core responsibilities, it is right that the regulators can act to facilitate medium to long-term growth and international competitiveness, reflecting the importance of the sector as an engine of growth for the wider economy and the need to support the UK as a global financial centre. Therefore, Clause 24 introduces new secondary objectives for the FCA and the PRA to provide for a greater focus on growth and international competitiveness. This will ensure that the regulators can act to facilitate long-term growth and competitiveness for the first time.
For the FCA, this objective will be secondary to its strategic objective to ensure that markets function well and to its three operational objectives: to ensure consumers receive appropriate protection; to protect and enhance the integrity of the financial system; and to promote effective competition. For the PRA, this objective will be secondary to its general objective to ensure that UK firms remain safe and sound and its insurance-specific objective to contribute to the securing of an appropriate degree of protection for those who are, or may become, policyholders.
This is a balanced approach. By making growth and competitiveness a secondary objective, the Government are ensuring a greater focus by the regulators on growth and competitiveness. However, by making these objectives secondary, the Government are giving the regulators an unambiguous hierarchy of objectives, with safety and soundness and market integrity prioritised.
As set out in Clause 24(2) and (4)(b) and in paragraphs 215 and 216 of the Explanatory Notes, Clause 24 does not permit or enable the regulators to take action that is incompatible with their existing primary objectives. It is therefore clear that the FCA’s strategic and operational objectives and the PRA’s general and insurance-specific objectives are prioritised ahead of the secondary objectives in the regulatory framework. I hope that that provides further reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, on his Amendment 65 that, in instances where the regulators’ primary and secondary objectives are incompatible, their primary objectives will take precedence over the secondary objectives.
I turn to Amendment 49, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, which seeks to ensure that, when facilitating the new growth and competitiveness objective, the FCA does not consider the financial services sector specifically. The Government are committed to ensuring that the financial services sector is delivering for businesses and consumers across the UK. It is therefore right that the objectives of the financial services regulators reflect the Government’s view that the UK financial services sector is not just an industry in its own right but an engine of growth for the wider economy. The Government are confident that the current drafting recognises that the levers with which the regulators can act are specific to the markets that they regulate—the financial services sector. We believe that this is a helpful clarification, and expect the new objectives to benefit the growth and competitiveness of the wider economy as well as of the financial services sector specifically.
I now turn to Amendments 51 and 60, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, concerning the efficiency of the regulators’ operations. I believe that we have discussed this in Committee before, so perhaps we will move on if the noble Baroness permits me.
That brings me to Amendment 48, also tabled by the noble Baroness Lady Bowles, which seeks to amend Clause 24 to include consideration of sustainability. The new secondary objective is clear that the regulators should seek to facilitate sustainable growth by specifically mentioning growth of the economy in the medium to long term. The Government do not want the PRA or the FCA to act in a way that benefits short-term competitiveness at the cost of long-term growth. However, the Government are aware that, increasingly, and particularly over recent years, “sustainable” has also been taken to mean green or environmental considerations by some stakeholders.
As discussed in previous groups, Clause 25 introduces a new regulatory principle to require the FCA and PRA, when discharging their general functions, to have regard to the need to contribute towards achieving compliance with the Government’s net-zero emissions target. Therefore, the current drafting of the objective is clear that economic growth should be pursued sustainably, and the Government are already strengthening the requirements for the regulators to consider environmental sustainability targets in undertaking their duties.
On Amendment 50, tabled by my noble friend Lord Altrincham, the Government agree that high-quality infrastructure is crucial for economic growth, boosting productivity and competitiveness. More than this, it is at the centre of our communities: infrastructure helps connect people to each other, people to businesses, and businesses to markets, forming a foundation for economic activity and community prosperity.
In the Chancellor’s recommendation letters to the FCA and PRA, of December 2022, he set out that the supply of long-term investment to support UK economic growth, including the supply of finance for infrastructure projects, was a key aspect of the Government’s economic policy to which the regulators should have regard. Therefore, the Government already expect that, when advancing their new growth and competitiveness objectives, the FCA and PRA should include investment in infrastructure among their considerations. There are a number of other aspects in this Bill, such as reform to Solvency II, which will remove barriers to private investment in infrastructure.
I turn to Amendments 47, 52, 58 and 61. Robust regulatory standards are the cornerstone of the attractiveness of the UK’s markets. Including a reference to international standards in the growth and competitiveness objective demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment for the UK to remain a global leader in promoting high international standards and maintaining its reputation as a global financial centre.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, expressed the importance of those standards well. Many of the issues that regulators need to address require international co-ordination and co-operation. To address the Committee’s concerns, the Government also recognise that it will not always be appropriate to fully consider international standards—for example, if it is best for UK markets to go beyond the international standard or where nuances of the UK market mean that the international standard is not appropriate. Those international standards operate on a comply-or-explain basis, recognising that individual jurisdictions will sometimes need to tailor standards to their own markets.
No standard trumps the objectives, and the clause does not constrain pursuit of the objective in relation to standards that we have not signed up to or that the regulators do not think are relevant in pursuing their objectives. It is there to acknowledge the importance and role of international standards, but we appreciate this nuance, where we may need to look at those standards and either go beyond them or adapt them to the UK market. I appreciate that this is difficult to navigate, but I hope we have done so successfully.
I also reassure the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, that the Government do not consider MRAs to be international standards. To expand on this further, we consider international standards to be those set by specific standard-setting bodies listed in the Financial Stability Board’s compendium of standards. These standards are internationally accepted as important for sound, stable and well-functioning financial systems, and include those from organisations such as the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision and the International Organization of Securities Commissions. To reassure my noble friend Lord Trenchard, we are using our seat on those organisations to influence those standard-setting bodies effectively.
Alternatively, MRAs are international agreements subject to international law and based on the principle of deference, where the UK and another country agree to mutually defer to each other’s regulatory, supervisory and enforcement regimes. MRAs are therefore simply a vehicle to recognise where another country meets equivalent regulatory standards to those already established in the UK. They provide a mechanism to reduce barriers to cross-border trade and facilitate greater market access between the two jurisdictions.
Would an MRA covering these issues be enabled only if an equivalence decision had already been provided by the Treasury? In other words, are these only for countries whose financial services industries are already covered by equivalence decisions or could they be in agreements where that standard has not been met in the eyes of the Treasury?
I suggest that I triple-check that for the noble Baroness and write to her. The provision to enable the implementation of MRAs included in the Bill does not enable the Government to change the clear hierarchy of the regulators’ objectives, only to specify the areas in which regulators should make rules to give effect to an MRA. If, after I have written to the noble Baroness, she wants to discuss the Government’s interpretation of international standards, or if my noble friend wants to discuss her points further, I will happily meet them if that would be helpful.
I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, can withdraw her amendment and that other noble Lords will not move theirs when they are reached. The Government, of course, support Clause 24 standing part of the Bill.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has turned out to be a rather more interesting one than I thought we might have on this subject. It has raised a lot of very interesting points. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, challenged us on why we do not keep referring back to the financial crisis. There is a very simple reason: we are in a different world now. As we know, financial regulation was overhauled both in the UK and internationally. The banks have far more capital but, more importantly, significant changes have been made to ensure that they can fail safely. We are not talking about carrying the inherent risks which came to fulfilment in the early part of this century. Constantly harking back without recognising the huge changes that have happened since then is just not helpful.
I thank my noble friend the Minister for explaining which standards are intended to be covered by this. That is a helpful statement to have on the record. However, I confess that, while I completely accept the notion that we will want generally to comply with international standards—we lead them quite a lot of the time—as far as I can tell, the regulators spend at least half their lives on airplanes to exotic parts of the world to have meetings about international standards. I am not sure that that is a very good use of their time.
It could be that we do not wish to follow particular standards, even though being in a leadership position would imply that we would generally do so. It continues to trouble me that the wording says
“subject to aligning with relevant international standards”,
as if we align with them automatically, not merely as our default position. I am not entirely convinced that my noble friend has explained to my satisfaction that this wording gives sufficient flexibility to allow international standards to be ignored when relevant to the UK. I completely accept that whether or not international standards are followed will be primarily determined by our regulators, in the light of what is necessary. I may well want to revisit this on Report but, for this evening—which has gone on for rather a long time—I beg leave to withdraw.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, I mentioned that I wrestled with this in the EU. There it says “having regard to”, which I would have thought was the appropriate wording: we have regard to it and usually do it, but do not have it in binding language.
Amendment 47 withdrawn.
Amendments 48 to 54 not moved.
Committee adjourned at 8.20 pm.