The Bill returns to the House at a very important moment for the country’s economy and our financial services industry. We have just come to the end of the transition period with the European Union, and we are of course in the teeth of the battle against the virus. Against a background like that, the business of legislating can seem even more prosaic than usual, and perhaps that is even more the case with a Bill such as this one. It is a mixed bag of measures dealing with everything from onshoring various EU directives to the length of the term of office for the chief executive of the Financial Conduct Authority. Some of it is a necessary consequence of our withdrawal from the European Union, and other parts look as though they have been sitting in the Treasury waiting for a legislative home, like policies hoping for a passing bus.
I want to focus on the amendments tabled in the name of the Leader of the Opposition and then turn to some of those tabled by my right hon. and hon. Friends. The first amendment I want to speak to is our amendment 1 on the UK’s net zero commitments. The Bill sets out, in schedules 2 and 3, a list of things that the regulators have to have regard to in the exercise of their new and expanded functions under the Bill. It talks of international standards and competitiveness, yet nowhere is there a mention of the overarching goal that will shape so much of our economy in the decades to come.
In this place, we have rows and arguments about all manner of issues, but sometimes the things that generate the most heat, if the Minister will pardon me the pun, are not always the biggest or most important issues. Conversely, just because an issue has bipartisan support does not make it less significant, and there is no doubt that the Climate Change Act 2008, as amended by the Climate Change Act (2050 Target Amendment) Order 2019, is one of the most significant pieces of economic legislation to pass in this country for many years.
To achieve our net zero goals will require wholesale change in many walks of life. The briefest of looks at the Committee on Climate Change’s report on how this should be done shows what the main areas will be. On energy, we need to find replacements for fossil fuels, we have to invest in the shift to hydrogen and we are still trying to make carbon capture and storage a practical reality. On transport, the transition to battery power will have to proceed at an ever-increasing pace. On housing, we need not only to build new zero-carbon homes, but to retrofit millions of existing homes with zero-carbon heating systems. Agriculture, food production and even the clothes we wear—all these things will undergo big change, and all of them will require significant financial investment.
The UK financial services sector has a huge role to play. In seeking a post-Brexit role, what better long-term mission could there be than empowering the change that we need to make to preserve the planet for future generations? This is not just my view—the Chancellor himself has said as much. In his statement on the future of financial services, given two months ago from the Government Dispatch Box, he not only announced the first green gilts, but said he wanted to see
“the full weight of…capital behind the critical global effort to tackle climate change”.—[Official Report,
Yet this Bill, which empowers the regulators in so many other ways, is totally silent on that issue. The Minister says we might do it in the future. [Interruption.] He says from a sedentary position that we will do it in the future. He has an opportunity to do it today—he could just accept the amendment. What is the point of waiting until the future to do this, as he has indicated he will, when there is an amendment that does not seek to add any new commitments but simply to make this part of the remit of our financial services regulators?
There are many reasons, as my newly ennobled—if that is the correct word; newly honoured, perhaps—hon. Friend Dame Angela Eagle said, to say no to amendments, but “not invented here” is one of the worst if the Government have indicated they are going to accept it.
The Government say they want the UK to be the centre for green finance globally, but their first legislative outing on this sector since we left the European Union says nothing about mandating the regulators of the industry to make that part of their mission. As I said, our amendment does not seek to add to the commitments on net zero that the UK has already made, which are already set out in legislation and enjoy the support of all sides of the House, but to make these part of the remit of the regulators that shape our financial services industry. There is already a move towards greater environmental investing from investment funds and from consumers who want to invest in this way, and there is a desire for these products, so why do the Government not back that up by making it part of the regulators’ remit?
We know that these commitments cannot be met without large-scale investment. To anyone who says to just leave it to the market if there is an investor desire, we also know that it cannot be done by the private sector alone. This will take both the private sector and the public sector working together and pulling in the same direction. It is in that spirit that we put forward the amendment. We ask for something that has bipartisan support, is in line with the post-Brexit goal for the sector as set out by the Chancellor himself and will make it easier for the country to achieve its commitments.
Further to that, we are also asking for something that the Minister said in recent minutes that the Government will do at some point anyway. We very much hope that, between now and six o’clock, the Government will reconsider and accept the amendment, which they said they agree with and will bring forward in some way themselves at some point.
Just two weeks ago, the House approved the post-Brexit trade and co-operation agreement, but for financial services this is basically a no deal agreement. The references within it do no more than repeat standard pledges of co-operation in every free trade agreement. The Prime Minister himself acknowledged that, for this sector, he did not achieve as much as he hoped. Indeed, within a few days of the agreement, £6 billion-worth of euro-denominated share trading shifted from London to European exchanges—an immediate response to the new situation.