Financial Services Bill

Part of Oral Answers to Questions — Home Department – in the House of Commons at 9:51 pm on 6th February 2012.

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Photo of Mark Hoban Mark Hoban The Financial Secretary to the Treasury 9:51 pm, 6th February 2012

This has been a thoughtful debate. We have had 21 speeches, led by the Chairman of the Joint Committee, my right hon. Friend Mr Lilley, who was supported by his colleagues on the Committee, including my hon. Friends the Members for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley) and for Warrington South (David Mowat), Mr Brown and Mr Mudie.

We have also heard from my hon. Friends the Members for St Austell and Newquay (Stephen Gilbert), for West Suffolk (Matthew Hancock), for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), for Cities of London and Westminster (Mark Field), for North East Cambridgeshire (Stephen Barclay), for Vale of Glamorgan (Alun Cairns), for Macclesfield (David Rutley), for Thurrock (Jackie Doyle-Price), for Wycombe (Steve Baker) and for North East Somerset (Jacob Rees-Mogg). There were some thoughtful speeches from Opposition Members, too, of which I would highlight those made by the hon. Members for Islwyn (Chris Evans) and for Foyle (Mark Durkan).

I shall deal with some of the issues that have been raised in the debate, and first with Europe, which hon. Members on both sides raised several times. It is absolutely right to ensure that, at a time when Europe is becoming increasingly important in determining the regulatory framework, we engage in the debate about Europe. We took on board the Joint Committee’s comments, and it is fair to say that the regulators and the Treasury already co-operate effectively on influencing the shape of European regulation, but it is also important that we get the regulation right to enable the FSA’s successor bodies to supervise firms based in the UK.

That is why, in the debate about capital requirements directive 4, for example, we seek to achieve a single rule book through high common minimum standards of capital, and to give the supervisors in the UK the flexibility to go further in imposing high levels of capital if they think it appropriate, given the structure and nature of banking in the UK. That will also enable them to introduce the reforms proposed by Sir John Vickers and his commission.

Several hon. Members raised the issue of the Financial Policy Committee, so let me explain why we have set it up. It is a fundamental part of the architecture, it ensures that there is a body tasked with identifying risk to financial stability and, crucially, it remedies a flaw in the architecture that the previous Government set up, giving it the power to tackle those risks.

Those powers are important. We talked about the macro-prudential tools that the FPC will have, but it will also be able to give advice on where the regulatory perimeter should be in order to tackle issues such as shadow banking. It is also worth pointing out, in response to a comment made two or three times this evening, that its objective is symmetrical: it is about financial stability and considering the impact of its decisions on the prospects for growth in the economy. That symmetry is absolutely important, and we have gone a long way to address the concerns that have been raised today.

As well as the FPC, we will also see a move to unite key parts of micro and macro-prudential supervision in the Bank of England, joining it to the Bank’s existing responsibilities for stability and monetary policy and removing a structural flaw that helped such disastrously unsustainable levels of risk to build up in the run-up to the financial crisis.

The reforms answer the question posed during that crisis: “Who is in charge?” There is currently confusion over who is in charge in a financial crisis, and that cannot continue. The Treasury Committee, the Joint Committee, the Governor and the previous Chancellor of the Exchequer all recognise that. The Government will end that confusion. The Bill makes it clear that as soon as there is a material risk to taxpayers’ money, the Chancellor will have targeted power to direct the Bank to take action. The responsibility for each part of that action is clear, whether it is with the PRA in triggering the use of the special resolution regime or with the Bank in the day-to-day responsibility for crisis management. As soon as there is a threat to public money, the Bank must notify the Chancellor of the Exchequer. That happens when there might be a risk. It does not prejudge what the decision should be. I think that that deals with the point that the shadow Chancellor raised early in his speech.

On consumer protection, the old regulatory structure not only failed to maintain financial stability, but let down consumers. As the FSA’s report into RBS made clear, the remit given to the FSA by the previous Government was too broad, covering both prudential and conduct-of-business regulations. Those require different cultures, experience and expertise. That is shown most acutely by the FSA’s failure to prevent the payment protection insurance mis-selling scandal. With prudential supervision at the Bank of England, we will have a regulator that is focused on conduct issues and driven by consumer protection, market integrity and promoting effective competition.

The FCA will be more proactive, transparent and accountable. It will have new powers to deliver better consumer outcomes, including the power to ban toxic products. It will promote effective competition so that consumers get a better deal. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Cambridgeshire talked about the risk appetite of the FCA. Let me make it clear that it will be much more likely to intervene to tackle consumer detriment than it has been in the past. That is an important advance that will protect consumers.

Across the House, there has been widespread concern about consumer credit. That matter has been debated this evening. The hon. Member for Walthamstow took a narrow view about what one can do to protect consumers and focused on the total cost cap. Like my hon. Friends the Members for St Austell and Newquay and for Thurrock, I think that we need a broader range of powers to ensure that there is proper consumer protection for those who take out loans. There should be the same level of protection that people take for granted when they buy an insurance policy or take out a mortgage. The Bill gives us the power to transfer the regulation of consumer credit from the Office of Fair Trading to the FCA, giving a better deal for borrowers.

As my right hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden and others have said, our reforms are as much about the style of regulation as about the structure. They are about culture, focus and philosophy. A key failure of Labour’s regulatory system was its focus on tick-box regulation. The financial crisis demonstrated the inadequacies of that approach to bank regulation. That approach also helps to explain failures of conduct regulation, such as with PPI. Judgment and discretion will be at the heart of prudential and conduct supervision. We expect the PRA and FCA to be pro-active, to challenge and to intervene.

I believe that we will see a significant change in conduct regulation and prudential regulation, moving away from the detailed prescriptive rules of the past to giving the regulators the power and authority to intervene, exercise their judgment and spot problems as they emerge, rather than waiting to resolve them once the crisis has broken. That will tackle the broken system that we inherited. That style and structure of regulation let down consumers who were sold toxic products, taxpayers who paid the bill for the banking crisis, and those who relied on banks to finance their business or to enable them to buy a home. Our reforms will change the structure and style of regulation.

The Bank of England and the PRA will have clear responsibility for the stability of banks, insurers and the financial sector. The FCA will have the power to ban the sale of toxic products and to name and shame those who have let consumers down. The FPC, the PRA and the FCA will exercise the judgment and discretion that are needed to supervise financial services better across the UK. The Bill will help mend our financial system to benefit families, businesses and the taxpayer. I commend it to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill accordingly read a Second time.