Financial Services Bill — Second Reading (Continued)
Viscount Trenchard (Conservative)
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for introducing this important debate. I must first declare my interests in that I am employed by Mizuho International plc and am a non-executive director of two other financial services companies. I also wish to pay tribute to the excellent maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord O'Donnell. If he becomes the next Governor of the Bank of England, I believe that we can easily dispense with all three deputy governor positions. In common with other noble Lords, I thank all those who served on the Joint Committee for their hard work and great contributions.
I believe that the financial regulatory arrangements that existed during the initial stages of the financial crisis were deficient in three principal ways. However, the crisis was not caused principally because the tripartite system in itself was deficient. As other noble Lords have commented, a regulator's culture and judgment are more important than its architecture. First, there was no bank resolution mechanism in place. If the Banking Act 2009, which enabled the swift resolution of the Dunfermline Building Society insolvency, had been in place, it is likely that the Northern Rock situation would have been quickly and relatively painlessly resolved.
Secondly, the deposit protection scheme that applied was inadequate, because it was not a 100% scheme. If today's scheme had been in place, there would not have been a bank run of such severity. Thirdly, although the Bank of England was charged with responsibility for financial stability, nobody was looking at the system as a whole. The Bank should have been given a power of direction over the FSA. Although I wholly accept my noble friend Lord Tugendhat's observations on the Bank's record as a regulator, I nevertheless believe that the body charged with financial stability should also have ultimate responsibility for regulating financial markets and their major participants.
In 2006, I was working in Brussels as the director-general of the European Fund and Asset Management Association. It is my recollection that at that time the FSA did not consider itself an activist, firm-specific regulator, even though most of its 300 bank supervision staff had come from the Bank of England. I felt that the FSA was more interested in attending conferences and engaging with other European regulators to discuss harmonisation of regulation than actively supervising the banks. It is also clear now that the levels of capital and liquidity required under the Basel I accord were completely inadequate.
I was privileged to serve on the Joint Committee on Financial Services and Markets under the inspired chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Burns, which scrutinised this Bill's predecessor before its introduction to Parliament in 1999. Some of us believed that competition and the competitiveness of our financial markets should have been made an objective of the FSA rather than merely one of the principles to which it had to have regard. I welcome the fact that the FCA is given a competition objective in the Bill, but it is inadequate in that it falls short of a responsibility to maintain or enhance the competitiveness of the UK's financial markets.
I am not persuaded that it was necessary to dismember the FSA in order to make our regulatory system fit for purpose. Besides, the Government are trying to reduce the number of public sector bodies with all their associated costs, boards of directors, et cetera. Some 2,000 firms will now have to report to two financial regulators, the PRA and the FCA, which will demand the provision of information-in part common to both, in part different-which will require an increase for all dual-regulated companies in compliance staff and commensurate costs.
It is interesting that we consider it appropriate to redesign our regulatory framework in this country at a time when the EU has just established a different regulatory framework based not on the twin-peaks system that we have adopted but divided between banks, securities markets and insurers, including pension providers. The matrix of reporting lines between the UK and the European regulators certainly raises the question of whether the Bank, the FCA or the PRA will have the necessary influence on any of the European regulators commensurate with the UK's status as the world's pre-eminent financial market.
I appreciate that a lead regulator system will be adopted and that a memorandum of understanding to be drawn up by the PRA and FCA will establish arrangements for co-ordination with each other and with the three European regulators. However, I worry that the complicated matrix of communication channels that will be established as a result not only increases the risk that some vital piece of information will not be passed correctly but also makes it more likely that there will be a great deal of duplication, which is expensive for the taxpayer and for the regulated firms, which will have to satisfy the myriad of regulators' increasing hunger for ever more detailed and overlapping information on their businesses.
The draft MoU states that the FCA and the PRA will co-ordinate with each other on rule and policy-making, although my understanding is that very little scope remains for national regulators to make rules following the establishment of the three European sectoral regulators. As far as the 2,000 firms that will be dual-regulated are concerned, the draft MoU clearly anticipates a considerable amount of duplication. It provides for the establishment of supervisory colleges for individual firms and groups comprising members of both regulatory bodies. It is important that the Treasury should monitor the escalating costs and complexity of the regulatory system, having due regard to proportionality. The fastest growing departments in many financial institutions are compliance and IT, which certainly does not help the London markets maintain their international competitiveness. RSA Insurance has incurred a dramatic increase in regulatory fees, from less than £500,000 in 2007 to more than £9 million in 2011. As the CBI has urged, the new regulatory authorities should have as a specific objective the supporting of economic growth. There must be a joined-up approach between the FPC, PRA and FCA, and between them and the three European-level regulators.
However, as my noble friend the Minister has said, there is no best or perfect structure. If I recall correctly, he also said that the structure of the industry is at least as important as the regulatory structure. Today is not the day to debate the implementation of Sir John Vickers' recommendations, but I should like to say that the current extremely difficult economic environment should lead the Government to do what they can to provide a stable and benevolent framework for our financial services industry, which directly employs more than 2 million people and accounts for some 20% of national income. The financial sector contributes more than £60 billion in tax revenue and its markets support more than 7 million jobs in UK-incorporated companies.
It is true that the existing single-regulator structure was not perfect either, so I do not advocate going back to it. There were difficulties in focusing clearly on prudential regulation, and pressure from consumer organisations inevitably tended to push consumer protection to the fore. Even if those difficulties could have been resolved without dismembering the FSA, we have moved on. What will be interesting is the extent to which the consumer agenda dominates the policies and strategy of the new European regulators which, as I mentioned, have not adopted the twin-peaks structure.
The European regulators and many in Europe believe that there will eventually be no need for national regulators except as local enforcement agencies and branch supervisors. In that case, all this complicated legislation may seem redundant in 10 years' time. However, if the rapid fiscal integration now sought by the eurozone is realised, the European regulators may eventually become the regulators purely for the eurozone and our own regulators will be restored to an independent and equal status among the world's leading financial regulators.
The new architecture is fiendishly complicated. It will no doubt be reformed again before many years have passed, as national and global markets are evolving at an accelerating pace. However, some parts of the Bill need to be improved. In certain areas, the powers of the FCA are too restricted for it to live up to the expectations placed on it. For example, the provision that it must consult before issuing warning notices should perhaps be limited. Otherwise it may effectively be prevented from doing so. The measures on greater regulatory transparency and misleading promotions are to be welcomed. The FCA should be given a power to prevent hidden charges. The objective to promote competition should be extended to maintain the competitiveness of the United Kingdom's markets, because this is surely as much in the interests of consumers as of taxpayers. The BBA has correctly stated that such a commitment would not conflict with the objective of ensuring that UK regulation is suitably robust and that it would send a strong signal that Britain was open for business if we were to commit to a competitive regulatory regime.
Why does the Minister consider it inappropriate to give the PRA a competition objective? At least the competition principle which exists in FSMA should be retained. After all, the FSA has recently stated that the regulation of capital markets has worked well. How will the FCA, the FPC and the PRA relate to the newly created Competition and Markets Authority?
I do not really like the name Prudential Regulation Authority because it does not make it clear that it is a regulator of financial institutions. It is surely sensible when something is reformed to give it a new name, but surely every regulator in the land is bound to exercise its functions in a prudential manner. However, I suspect that, increasingly, the PRA will be referred to as the Bank of England, of which it is indeed to be a part.
The FCA, in fulfilling its important consumer protection role, should also have regard to its impact on the real economy, as the FPC is required to do. As my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft has already commented on that, I ask the Minister to clarify the meaning of the regulatory principle to be applied by both regulators,
"that a burden or restriction which is imposed on a person, or on the carrying on of an activity, should be proportionate to the benefits, considered in general terms, which are expected to result from the imposition of that burden or restriction".
That principle is very subjective and can be interpreted in many different ways: proportionate to the benefits-for whom? Considered in general terms, which are expected to result-by whom?
Another question identified by my noble friend Lady Noakes which needs to be closely considered is the diminished importance of the practitioner panel established under the FSMA, in particular the absence of any requirement on the PRA to establish a regular consultation mechanism such as the practitioner panel currently provides. I agree with the CBI that the FPC needs a more proactive focus on supporting economic growth. Clause 3(1) explains the financial stability strategy to be adopted by the Bank and the role of the FPC. Section 9C of the amended Bank of England Act 1998 lists the objectives of the FPC in subsections (1) to (7), but actually only subsections (1) and (2) are objectives. Subsections (3) to (7) contain parameters and principles to be followed by the committee in carrying out its two objectives. If a third objective, to promote growth, was included, the rather negative subsection (4) could be dispensed with.
The Bank of England's new structure with three deputy governors is certainly rather complicated and the Treasury Select Committee has correctly identified the need to strengthen the Bank's governance and accountability. I hope that your Lordships' House will be able to improve the Bill to mitigate the difficulties in putting this complicated structure into practice and ensuring that the United Kingdom has a financial regulatory system which is fit for purpose and a degree of security through the unseen storms that lie ahead.