Clause 6 — Extension of scope of regulation

Part of Financial Services Bill (Money) (No. 2) – in the House of Commons at 8:45 pm on 10th December 2012.

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Photo of Chris Leslie Chris Leslie Shadow Minister (Treasury) 8:45 pm, 10th December 2012

We have moved on to another series of amendments that have arisen largely as a result of the scandal that was discovered this summer, when it was found that some of the largest banks—obviously, we have heard about the concerns in relation to Barclays—had been manipulating LIBOR, the benchmark from which flows billions, if not trillions, in financial services products and investments worldwide.

The scandal had massive ramifications across the banking sector. It was as though having gone through three or four years of attempted reform following the global financial crisis, after which it was clear that the risks that many in the banking sector had been taking were not properly understood or accounted for, the sector was again knocked sideways. It turns out that it was not just about exuberant risk-taking; it was, in fact, about corrupt manipulation of what people had thought was a trustworthy index. What is worse, it hit the reputation of the City of London in particular. It was all in the name: the London interbank offered rate. This was taken by many other international financial centres to be a moment of weakness for the UK financial services sector, and we saw several examples of other jurisdictions taking action swiftly to capitalise on the disarray in which many in the financial services sector found themselves. It was therefore important that the Government took urgent action and commissioned a review of what happened in the LIBOR scandal.

At the time, we felt that the matter was of such significance that we called for an independent judicial inquiry into the whole question of banking standards and ethics. As I am sure you will recall, Mr Deputy Speaker, we had a very heated debate in which the Government said, “We’ll have a parliamentary banking commission,” while we said, “Go for an independent judicial variant.” Of course, the Government won the day, and hence the Chairman of the Treasury Committee is now demonstrating his stewardship of that commission, which is due to report shortly. I hope that it has an opportunity to look into the wider issue of ethics and standards in banking. The Government have been keen that it starts to focus, almost in pre-legislative mode ahead of the banking reform Bill, on the Vickers reforms, but these questions of standards, ethics and culture also matter tremendously.

The Government made several amendments to the Bill in the House of Lords. In amendment 79, it is envisaged that there will be new provisions for a benchmark administrator, but it is not certain that a private sector organisation, even if it has a certain amount of experience, will be totally immune from conflicts of interest. Did the Government give any consideration to establishing a more independent body or entity for that administrative process? It is vital that the process of finding a new benchmark administrator is open and transparent. Will the Minister give more details about the process that he is undertaking and how the tender process is happening?

On amendment 115, it is important to ensure that the new criminal offences have a strong effect in respect of misleading statements on benchmarking and in general. In terms of its jurisdiction, is the amendment limited to British banking and financial services activities, or does it cover activities undertaken by UK organisations or UK-approved persons in operations in countries beyond our shores? Clearly, in a globalised world, that is relevant to how we see the behaviour of those in the sector.

The Government’s proposals to regulate benchmarking currently apply only to investments. We want to ensure that the regulatory net is also cast around commodities, including oil trading, gas market trading, silver, gold, foodstuffs, and so on. I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you can think of a range of potential commodities. Therefore, in the marvellous parliamentary way in which we do these things, we are seeking to amend a Lords amendment to ensure that the definition is focused not only on investment but, for clarity’s sake, puts commodities into the Bill. The Government say that they are consulting on this arrangement and might have the power to include those things later down the line but do not believe that there is a requirement to do so at this stage. However, it is time that we got ahead of these issues early on.

In the Public Bill Committee in March, after several hours of debate—it had been a bit of a long day—I asked the Minister’s predecessor, in relation to LIBOR and the benchmarking of these arrangements, “Do the Government have a view about whether there is manipulation and whether changes need to be made to the regulatory arrangements?” He stood up and answered with the single word, no. Of course, he came to regret that stance and several months later—I think it was in June—we learned that a tremendous scandal had taken place. If we have these legislative vehicles, it is important that we take the opportunity to deal with any potential issues.