New Clause 17 - Reporting requirements

Financial Services and Markets Bill – in the House of Commons at 2:05 pm on 7th December 2022.

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‘(1) FSMA 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) After paragraph 11 of Schedule 1ZA insert—

“Other reports

11A (1) The Treasury may (subject to this paragraph) at any time by direction require the FCA to publish a report containing information about—

(a) any of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (ia) of paragraph 11(1);

(b) such other matters that the direction may specify.

(2) The Treasury may give a direction under this paragraph requiring information to be published only if the Treasury consider that—

(a) the information is reasonably necessary for the purpose of reviewing and scrutinising the discharge of the FCA’s functions, and

(b) other available information is not sufficient to meet that purpose.

(3) Subject to sub-paragraph (4), the FCA must publish a report prepared under a direction given under this paragraph in such manner, and within such period, as the direction may require.

(4) Nothing in this paragraph requires the inclusion in the report of any information whose publication would be against the public interest.

(5) A direction under this paragraph may not—

(a) require a report to be published more than once in each quarter;

(b) require the publication of information that is confidential information for the purposes of Part 23 (see section 348(2)).

(6) The Treasury must consult the FCA before giving a direction under this paragraph.

(7) In exercising the power under this paragraph, the Treasury must have regard to the desirability of minimising any adverse effect that the preparation of the report required in accordance with the direction may have on the exercise by the FCA of any of its other functions.

(8) The Treasury must—

(a) lay before Parliament a copy of a direction given under this paragraph, and

(b) publish the direction in such manner as the Treasury think fit.

(9) A direction under this paragraph may be varied or revoked by the giving of a further direction.”

(3) After paragraph 21 of Schedule 1ZB insert—

“Other reports

21A (1) The Treasury may (subject to this paragraph) at any time by direction require the PRA to publish a report containing information about—

(a) any of the matters mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (f) of paragraph 19(1);

(b) such other matters that the direction may specify.

(2) The Treasury may give a direction under this paragraph requiring information to be published only if the Treasury consider that—

(a) the information is reasonably necessary for the purpose of reviewing and scrutinising the discharge of the PRA’s functions, and

(b) other available information is not sufficient to meet that purpose.

(3) Subject to sub-paragraph (4), the PRA must publish a report prepared under a direction given under this paragraph in such manner, and within such period, as the direction may require.

(4) Nothing in this paragraph requires the inclusion in the report of any information whose publication would be against the public interest.

(5) A direction under this paragraph may not—

(a) require a report to be published more than once in each quarter;

(b) require the publication of information that is confidential information for the purposes of Part 23 (see section 348(2)).

(6) The Treasury must consult the PRA before giving a direction under this paragraph.

(7) In exercising the power under this paragraph, the Treasury must have regard to the desirability of minimising any adverse effect that the preparation of the report required in accordance with the direction may have on the exercise by the PRA of any of its other functions.

(8) The Treasury must—

(a) lay before Parliament a copy of a direction given under this paragraph, and

(b) publish the direction in such manner as the Treasury think fit.

(9) A direction under this paragraph may be varied or revoked by the giving of a further direction.”’—(Andrew Griffith.)

This new clause confers a power on the Treasury to require the FCA and the PRA to publish information at any time on any requested matters, in addition to the current requirement to provide an annual report to the Treasury (in the case of the FCA) or the Chancellor (in the case of the PRA).

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment (a) to new clause 17, after “mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (ia) of paragraph 11(1);” insert—

“(aa) the effect of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023 on financial stability, and potential risks to financial stability, in the UK;

(ab) an assessment of the delivery of the FCA’s objectives in the previous year;

(ac) an assessment of measures which could improve the delivery of the FCA’s objectives in the next year;”

Amendment (b) to new clause 17, after “mentioned in paragraphs (a) to (f) of paragraph 19(1);” insert—

“(aa) the effect of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2023 on financial stability, and potential risks to financial stability, in the UK;

(ab) an assessment of the delivery of the PRA’s objectives in the previous year;

(ac) an assessment of measures which could improve the delivery of the PRA’s objectives in the next year;”

Government new clause 18—Composition of panels.

Government new clause 19—Consultation on rules.

Government new clause 20—Unauthorised co-ownership AIFs.

New clause 1—National strategy on financial fraud—

‘(1) The Treasury must lay before the House of Commons a national strategy for the purpose of detecting, preventing and investigating fraud and associated financial crime within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) In preparing the strategy, the Treasury must consult—

(a) the Secretary of State for the Home Office,

(b) the National Economic Crime Centre,

(c) law enforcement bodies which the Treasury considers relevant to the strategy,

(d) relevant regulators,

(e) financial services stakeholders,

(f) digital platforms, telecommunications companies, financial technology companies, and social media companies.

(3) The strategy must include arrangements for a data-sharing agreement involving—

(a) relevant law enforcement agencies,

(b) relevant regulators,

(c) financial services stakeholders,

(d) telecommunications stakeholders, and

(e) technology-based communication platforms, for the purposes of detecting, preventing and investigating fraud and associated financial crime and, in particular, tracking stolen money which may pass through mule bank accounts or platforms operated by other financial services stakeholders.

(4) In this section “fraud and associated financial crime” includes, but is not limited to authorised push payment fraud, unauthorised facility takeover fraud, and online and offline identity fraud.

(5) In this section, “financial services stakeholders” includes banks, building societies, credit unions, investment firms, Electric Money Institutions, virtual asset providers and exchanges, and payment system operators.’

This new clause would require the Treasury to publish a national strategy for the detection, prevention and investigation of fraud and associated financial crime, after having consulted relevant stakeholders. The strategy must include arrangements for a data sharing agreement between law enforcement agencies, regulators and others to track stolen money.

New clause 2—Local community access to essential in-person banking services—

‘(1) The Treasury and the FCA must jointly undertake a review of the state of access to essential in-person banking services for local communities in the United Kingdom, and jointly prepare a report on the outcome of the review.

(2) “Essential in-person banking services” include services which are delivered face-to-face and which local communities require regular access to. These may include services provided in banks, banking hubs, or other service models.

(3) The report mentioned in subsection (1) must be laid before the House of Commons as soon as practicable after the review has been undertaken.

(4) The report mentioned in subsection (1) must propose a minimum level of access to essential in-person banking services which must be provided by banks and building societies in applicable local authority areas in the United Kingdom, for the purpose of ensuring local communities have adequate access to essential in-person banking services.

(5) The applicable local authority areas mentioned in subsection (4) are local authority areas in which, in the opinion of the FCA, local communities have a particular need for the provision of essential in-person banking services.

(6) In any applicable local authority area which, according to the results of the review undertaken under subsection (1) falls below the minimum level of access mentioned in subsection (4), the FCA may give directions for the purpose of ensuring essential in-person banking services meet the minimum level of access required by subsection (4).

(7) A direction under subsection (6) may require a minimum level of provision of essential in-person banking services through mandating, for example—

(a) a specified number of essential in-person banking services within a geographical area, or

(b) essential in-person banking services to operate specific opening hours.’

This new clause would require the Treasury and FCA to conduct and publish a review of community need for, and access to, essential in-person banking services, and enable the FCA to ensure areas in need of essential in-person banking service have a minimum level of access to such services.

New clause 3—Essential banking services access policy statement—

‘(1) The Treasury must lay before the House of Commons an essential banking services access policy statement within six months of the passing of this Act.

(2) An “essential banking services access policy statement” is a statement of the policies of His Majesty’s Government in relation to the provision of adequate levels of access to essential in-person banking services in the United Kingdom.

(3) “Essential in-person banking services” include services which are delivered face-to-face, and may include those provided in banks, banking hubs, or other service models.

(4) The policies mentioned in sub-section (2) may include those which relate to—

(a) ensuring adequate availability of essential in-person banking services;

(b) ensuring adequate provision of support for online banking training and internet access, for the purposes of ensuring access to online banking; and

(c) expectations of maximum geographical distances service users should be expected to travel to access essential in-person banking services in rural areas.

(5) The FCA must have regard to the essential banking services access policy statement when fulfilling its functions.’

This new clause would require the Treasury to publish a policy statement setting out its policies in relation to the provision of essential in-person banking services, including policies relating to availability of essential in-person banking services, support for online banking, and maximum distances people can expect to travel to access services.

New clause 4—FCA duty to report on mutual and co-operative business models—

‘(1) The FCA must lay before Parliament a report as soon as practicable after the end of—

(a) the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and

(b) every subsequent 12-month period, on how it considers the specific needs of mutual and co-operative financial services providers and other relevant business models when discharging its regulatory functions.

(2) The “specific needs” referred to in subsection (1) must include the needs of mutual and co-operative financial services providers to have a level playing field with financial services providers which are not mutuals or co-operatives.

(3) The “mutual and co-operative financial services providers and other relevant business models” referred to in subsection (1) may include—

(a) credit unions,

(b) building societies,

(c) mutual banks,

(d) co-operative banks, and

(e) regional banks.’

This new clause would require the FCA to report annually on how they have considered the specific needs of mutual and co-operative financial services.

New clause 5—PRA duty to report on mutual and co-operative business models—

‘(1) The FCA must lay before Parliament a report as soon as practicable after the end of—

(a) the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and

(b) every subsequent 12-month period, on how it considers the specific needs of mutual and co-operative financial services providers and other relevant business models when discharging its regulatory functions.

(2) The “specific needs” referred to in subsection (1) must include the needs of mutual and co-operative financial services providers to have a level playing field with financial services providers which are not mutuals or co-operatives.

(3) The “mutual and co-operative financial services providers and other relevant business models” referred to in subsection (1) may include—

(a) credit unions,

(b) building societies,

(c) mutual banks,

(d) co-operative banks, and

(e) regional banks.’

This new clause would require the FCA to report annually on how they have considered the specific needs of mutual and co-operative financial services.

New clause 6—Updated Green Finance Strategy—

‘(1) The Treasury must lay before the House of Commons an updated Green Finance Strategy within three months of the passing of this Act.

(2) The strategy must include—

(a) a Green Taxonomy, and

(b) Sustainability Disclosure Requirements.

(3) In preparing the strategy, the Treasury must consult—

(a) financial services stakeholders,

(b) businesses in the wider economy,

(c) the Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, and

(d) the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

(4) In this section a “Green Taxonomy” means investment screening criteria which classify which activities can be defined as environmentally sustainable including, but not limited to—

(a) climate change mitigation and adaptation,

(b) sustainable use and protection of water and marine resources,

(c) transitions to a circular economy,

(d) pollution prevention and control, and

(e) protection and restoration of biodiversity and ecosystems.

(5) In this section “Sustainability Disclosure Requirements” are the requirements placed on companies, including listed issuers, asset managers and asset owners, to report on their sustainability risks, opportunities and impacts.’

This new clause would require the Treasury to publish an updated Green Finance Strategy. This must include a Green Taxonomy and Sustainability Disclosure Requirements.

New clause 7—Access to cash: Guaranteed minimum provision—

‘(1) The Treasury must, by regulations, make provision to guarantee a minimum level of access to free of charge cash access services for consumers across the United Kingdom.

(2) The minimum level of access referred to in subsection (1) must be included in the regulations.

(3) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument, and may not be made unless a draft has been laid before and approved by resolution of each House of Parliament.’

New clause 8—Stewardship reporting requirements for occupational pension schemes—

‘(1) Section 36 of the Pensions Act 1995 (Choosing investments) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1) after “(4)” insert “and, for relevant schemes, (4A)”.

(3) After subsection (4), insert—

“(4A) The trustees of relevant schemes must publish information regarding their stewardship activities. In doing so they must have regard to, amongst other matters, the scheme’s—

(a) purpose, culture, values and strategy;

(b) governance structures and processes;

(c) conflicts of interest policy;

(d) engagement strategy, including escalation steps;

(e) aggregate statistics on total engagement activity;

(f) thematic engagement priorities; and

(g) engagement outcomes.”

(4) After subsection (6), insert—

“(6A) For the purposes of this section—

(a) a “relevant scheme” means a scheme with £5bn or more in relevant assets,

(b) “relevant assets” is to be calculated in accordance with methods and assumptions prescribed in regulations.”’

This new clause raises the baseline standard of stewardship for large institutional investors beyond the minimum standards set by the UK’s implementation of the Shareholder Rights Directive, drawing on the Financial Reporting Council’s Stewardship Code and ShareAction’s Best Practice Engagement Reporting Template.

New clause 9—Stewardship reporting requirements for certain investors—

‘(1) The FCA may make rules requiring some or all of those managing investments to publish information on their stewardship activities. In doing so they must have regard to, amongst other matters—

(a) purpose, culture, values, business model and strategy;

(b) governance structures and processes;

(c) conflicts of interest policy;

(d) engagement strategy, including escalation steps;

(e) aggregate statistics on total engagement activity;

(f) thematic engagement priorities; and

(g) engagement outcomes.

(2) The FCA may make rules to clarify the definition of “the most significant votes” in rule 3.4.6 of the systems and controls section of the FCA Handbook.’

This new clause would enable the FCA to make rules raising the baseline standard of stewardship for large institutional investors beyond the minimum standards set by the UK’s implementation of the Shareholder Rights Directive, drawing on the Financial Reporting Council’s Stewardship Code and ShareAction’s Best Practice Engagement Reporting Template. It would also allow the FCA to define and monitor “significant votes”.

New clause 10—Consumer Panel duty to report to Parliament—

‘(1) FSMA 2000, as amended by Section 6 of the Financial Services Act 2012 and Section 132 of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013, is amended as follows.

(2) At the end of section 1Q, insert—

“(7) The Consumer Panel must lay an annual report before Parliament evaluating the FCA’s fulfilment of its statutory duty to protect consumers, including comments on—

(a) the adequacy and appropriateness of the FCA’s use of its regulatory powers;

(b) the measures the FCA has taken to protect vulnerable consumers, including pensioners, people with disabilities, and people receiving forms of income support; and

(c) the FCA’s receptiveness to the recommendations of the Consumer Panel.”’

This new clause would introduce a further level of Parliamentary scrutiny of the work of the FCA to protect consumers by requiring the Financial Services Consumer Panel to lay an annual report before Parliament outlining its views on the FCA’s fulfilment of its statutory duty to protect consumers.

New clause 11—Personalised financial guidance: power to make regulations—

‘(1) The Treasury may by regulations make provision for UK citizens to access personalised financial guidance from appropriately regulated financial services firms, for the purposes of supporting them to make decisions which improve their financial sustainability.

(2) The “UK citizens” referred to in sub-section (1) include, in particular, UK citizens who are unlikely to have access to financial advice (provided in accordance with Chapter 12 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Regulated Activities) Order 2001).

(3) In this section, “personalised financial guidance” means a communication—

(a) that is made to a person in their capacity as an investor or potential investor, or in their capacity as agent for an investor or a potential investor;

(b) which constitutes a recommendation to them to do any of the following (whether as principal or agent)—

(i) buy, sell, subscribe for, exchange, redeem, hold or underwrite a particular investment which is a security, structured deposit or a relevant investment; or

(ii) exercise or not exercise any right conferred by such an investment to buy, sell, subscribe for, exchange or redeem such an investment; and

(c) that is—

(i) based on a consideration of the circumstances of that person; and

(ii) not explicitly presented as suitable for the person to whom it is made.

(4) The provision that may be made by regulations under this section includes provisions—

(a) relating to the provision of financial advice;

(b) relating to suitability requirements under MiFID;

(c) conferring powers, or imposing duties, on a relevant regulator (including a power to make rules or other instruments).

(5) The power to make regulations under this section includes power to modify legislation.

(6) The power under subsection (5) includes power to modify the definition of “personalised financial guidance” in subsection (2).

(7) Regulations made under this section, and which modify only the following kinds of legislation are subject to the negative procedure—

(a) EU tertiary legislation;

(b) subordinate legislation that was not subject to affirmative resolution on being made.

(8) Regulations under this section to which subsection (7) does not apply are subject to the affirmative procedure.

(9) Before making regulations under this section, the Treasury must consult the FCA.

(10) In this section—

“legislation” means primary legislation, subordinate legislation and retained direct EU legislation;

“MiFID” means Regulation (EU) 2017/565 supplementing Directive 2014/65/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council as regards organisational requirements and operating conditions for investment firms and defined terms for the purposes of that Directive.’

New clause 12—Requirement to publish regulatory performance information on new authorisations—

‘(1) The FCA and PRA must each lay before Parliament a report on their regulatory performance as soon as practicable after the end of—

(a) the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent, and

(b) each subsequent quarter.

(2) A report under this section must include analysis of data on—

(a) the number of new applications for authorisation made to each regulator during the reporting period, with a breakdown by authorisation type;

(b) the rates of approval for applications for authorisation by each regulator, with a breakdown by authorisation type;

(c) the average length of time taken from application to final authorisation decision by each regulator;

(d) the FCA or PRA‘s assessment of the time and cost incurred by applicants to comply with information requirements for authorisation; and

(a) such other matters as the Treasury considers appropriate.’

This new clause requires both regulators to publish regular reports to Parliament on their regulatory performance for new applicants for regulation.

New clause 13—Requirement to publish regulatory performance information on authorised firms—

‘(1) The FCA must lay before Parliament a report on its regulatory performance as soon as practicable after the end of—

(a) the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent, and

(b) each subsequent quarter.

(2) A report under this section must include the average length of time taken from the initial submission of an application for authorisation by an applicant to the issuing of a final decision by the FCA for each of the following regulatory responsibilities—

(a) approved persons;

(b) change in control;

(c) variation of permission;

(d) waivers and modifications that alter compliance obligations.’

This new clause requires the FCA to publish regular reports to Parliament on its regulatory performance for existing authorised entities and persons.

New clause 14—Determination of applications—

‘(1) The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 61(2) insert—

“(2ZA) In determining the application, the regulator must—

(a) assign a new application to a case handler within five working days of the application being received;

(b) complete an initial application review within ten working days of allocation to a case handler; and

(c) make no requests for additional information after a period of fifteen working days from the receipt of the application.

(2ZZA) The regulators must publish, on an annual basis, monitoring data relating to—

(a) the proportion of cases which require escalation to sponsoring firms, including summary trend data on the reasons for escalation;

(b) the average time taken to assign a case handler; and

(c) the average number of days it takes to complete determination of an application.’

This new clause would add to the regulators’ authorisation KPIs outlined in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 and require them to publish monitoring data related to the determination of authorisations.

New clause 15—Regulators’ duty to report on competitiveness and growth objective—

‘(1) The FCA and PRA must each lay before Parliament a report as soon as practicable after the end of—

(a) the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent, and

(b) every subsequent 12-month period, on how they consider that they have facilitated the international competitiveness of the economy of the United Kingdom and its growth in the medium to long term.

(2) Reports under this section must include analysis of data on the following—

(a) steps taken to simplify regulatory rulebooks and frameworks;

(b) the number of new market entrants to the UK;

(c) new regulations introduced in the previous twelve months;

(d) an assessment of the impact of the new regulations to UK competitiveness;

(e) comparative analysis of the number of new authorisations in the UK and other international jurisdictions in the previous twelve months;

(f) comparative analysis of product and service innovations introduced in the UK and other international jurisdictions in the previous twelve months; and

(g) such other matters as the Treasury may from time to time direct.’

This new clause would require both the FCA and PRA to each publish an annual report setting out how they have facilitated international competitiveness and growth against a range of data and analysis requirements.

New clause 16—Regulatory principles to be applied by both regulators: proportionality principle—

‘(1) The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 3B(1)(b), leave out from “benefits,” to end and insert “taking into consideration the nature of the service or product being delivered, the nature of risk to the consumer, whether the cost of implementation is proportionate to that level of risk and whether the burden or restriction enhances UK international competitiveness.”’

This new clause would amend the existing regulatory principle for both regulators and require them nature of and risk to the consumer, and the service or product being delivered, must be taken into account when imposing a new burden or restriction.

New clause 21—Prudential capital requirements for specified financial institutions—

‘(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, the Treasury must by regulations set prudential capital requirements for specified financial institutions.

(2) Regulations under this section must require financial institutions to hold in reserve £1 for every £1 used to finance assets connected with fossil fuel activities, which is liable for potential loss due to the climate risk exposure of the assets.

(3) In this section “fossil fuel activities” means the extraction, production, transportation, refining and marketing of crude oil, natural gas or thermal coal, as well as any fossil-fuel fired power plants, unless covered by an exemption.’

This new clause would give the Treasury the power to make regulations requiring financial institutions to hold capital in reserve to reflect the climate risk exposure of assets connected with fossil fuel activities.

New clause 22—FCA: Regard to financial inclusion in consumer protection objective—

‘(1) FSMA 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 1C (The consumer protection objective), after subsection (2)(c) insert—

“(ca) financial inclusion;””.

New clause 23—FCA duty to report on financial inclusion—

“(1) The FCA must lay before Parliament a report, as soon as practicable after the end of—

(a) the period of 12 months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, and

(b) every subsequent 12-month period,on financial inclusion in the UK.

(2) A report under this section must include—

(a) an assessment of the state of financial inclusion in the UK;

(b) details of any measures the FCA has taken, or is planning to take, to improve financial inclusion in the UK;

(c) developments which the FCA considers could significantly impact on financial inclusion in the UK; and

(d) any recommendations to the Treasury which the FCA considers may promote financial inclusion in the UK.’

New clause 24—Rules relating to forest risk commodities—

‘(1) FSMA 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 19 (The general prohibition) insert—

“19A Specific requirements regarding forest risk commodities

(1) A person must not carry on a regulated activity in the United Kingdom that may directly or indirectly support a commercial activity in relation to a forest risk commodity or a product derived from a forest risk commodity, unless relevant local laws were complied with in relation to that commodity.

(2) A person that intends to carry on a regulated activity that may directly or indirectly support a commercial activity in relation to a forest risk commodity or a product derived from a forest risk commodity, shall establish and implement a due diligence system in relation to that regulated activity.

(3) In this section, “due diligence system” means a system for—

(a) identifying and obtaining information about the commercial activities of any beneficiary of the regulated activity and of their group regarding the use of a forest risk commodity,

(b) assessing the risk that relevant local laws were not complied with in relation to that commodity, and

(c) mitigating that risk.

(4) A person that carries on a regulated activity in the United Kingdom that directly or indirectly supports a commercial activity in relation to a forest risk commodity or a product derived from a forest risk commodity shall be subject to—

(a) the reporting requirements under paragraph 4 of Schedule 17 of the Environment Act in relation to the due diligence system required under subsection (2) of this section, and

(b) Part 2 of Schedule 17 of the Environment Act as though they are a person to whom Part 1 of that Schedule applies.

(5) Terms used in this section that are defined in Schedule 17 of the Environment Act shall have the meaning given to them in that Schedule.”’

New clause 25—Long term economic resilience and prosperity objective—

‘(1) FSMA 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 1B (FCA’s general duties)—

(a) in subsection (2) leave out “function well” and insert “deliver long term economic resilience and prosperity”;

(b) in subsection (3) for paragraph (c) substitute—

“(c) the climate safety objective (see section 1E);

(d) the nature protection objective (see section 1F).”

(3) For section 1E (The competition objective) substitute—

“1E The climate safety objective

The climate safety objective is: facilitating the net UK carbon emissions target in section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008, and the 1.5 degrees temperature goal of the Paris Agreement.

1F The nature objective

The nature objective is: facilitating alignment with halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.”’

This new clause would make the FCA’s strategic objective ensuring that the relevant markets deliver long term economic resilience and prosperity, remove the competition operational objective and introduce two new operational objectives; climate safety and nature protection.

New clause 26—Prohibited regulated activity: new fossil fuel developments—

‘(1) A UK bank, or person acting on behalf of a UK bank, may not carry on a regulated activity where the carrying out of the activity would have the effect of providing financial investment in, or facilitating the financing of, new fossil fuel developments.

(2) In this section—

(a) “new fossil fuel developments” includes—

(i) any activity, in the UK or elsewhere, which enables or contributes to the enabling of, the extraction, processing and distribution of fossil fuels, and

(ii) the construction, in the UK or elsewhere, of fossil fuel-powered electricity generation;

(b) “fossil fuels” has the same meaning as in section 32M (Interpretation of sections 32 to 32M) of the Electricity Act 1989;

(c) “UK bank” has the same meaning as in section 2 (Interpretation: “bank”) of the Banking Act 2009.

(3) The FCA may impose sanctions against the relevant bank, where the prohibition in subsection (1) is contravened.

(4) The sanctions mentioned in subsection (3) includes—

(a) the imposition of a penalty of such amount as the FCA considers appropriate;

(b) suspension of variable components of remuneration;

(c) suspension of dividend pay-outs;

(d) removal of access to central bank funding; and

(e) removal of permission to carry on regulated activities.

(5) This section shall come into force on 31 December 2023.’

This new clause would prohibit banks from conducting regulated activity which may enable new fossil fuel developments from December 2023 onwards, and give the FCA powers to impose certain sanctions for non-compliance.

New clause 27—Refusal to provide services for reasons connected with freedom of expression—

‘(1) No payment service provider providing a relevant service (the “provider”) may refuse to supply that service to any other person (the “customer”) in the United Kingdom if the reason for the refusal is significantly related to the customer exercising his or her right to freedom of expression.

(2) Where a customer has prominently and publicly exercised his or her right to freedom of expression, it is to be presumed that any refusal by a provider to supply a relevant service was significantly related to the customer exercising his or her right to freedom of expression unless the provider can provide a substantial basis for believing there was an alternative good and proper reason for the refusal.

(3) Where a customer has prominently and publicly exercised his or her right to freedom of expression and has been refused a relevant service by a provider on application by the customer, the FCA must within 5 working days issue an order to the provider immediately to recommence supply unless the FCA considers it clearly inappropriate to do so.

(4) An order issued pursuant to subsection (3) must last until the FCA is satisfied that there was or there has subsequently arisen an alternative good and proper reason for the refusal.

(5) Upon considering an application by the customer under subsection (3), where the FCA decides not to issue an order to the supplier, the FCA must give reasons in writing to the customer explaining its decision not to issue an order.

(6) Where the FCA is satisfied that there has been a breach by a provider of the obligation in subsection (1) or the failure to comply with an order issued pursuant to subsection (3), the FCA may impose a penalty on the provider of such an amount as it considers appropriate. The FCA may, instead of imposing a penalty on a provider, publish a statement censuring the provider.

(7) The FCA must within three months of the coming into force of this section prepare and arrange for publication of a statement of its policy with respect to—

(a) the circumstances the FCA will consider under subsection (3) in deciding whether it is clearly inappropriate to issue an order; and

(b) the imposition of penalties and statements of censure under subsection (6).

(8) A breach by a provider of the obligation in subsection (1) and the failure to comply with an order issued pursuant to subsection (3) are actionable at the suit of the customer, subject to the defences and other incidents applying to actions for breach of statutory duty.

(9) In this section—

(a) a “relevant service” means a service which is (in whole or in part) directed at users in the United Kingdom and constitutes—

(i) any service provided pursuant to any regulated activity; or

(ii) any service in relation to a payment system for the purposes of enabling the transfer of funds using the payment system as referred to in section 42(5) of the 2013 Act; save for any service expressly excluded by regulations;

(b) a “payment service provider” has the same meaning as under section 42(5) of the 2013 Act;

(c) the right to freedom of expression has the same meaning as under Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights

(i) save that it includes the right to campaign for or seek to protect the right to freedom of expression of others; and

(ii) save as excluded by regulations;

(d) “the 2013 Act” means the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013.

(10) Regulations under this section may be made pursuant to the provisions of section 428 of FSMA 2000 save that—

(a) before preparing regulations under this section, the Secretary of State must consult the FCA and such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate; and

(b) they must be adopted using the affirmative procedure before Parliament.’

New clause 28—Regulation of buy-now-pay-later firms—

‘(1) Within 28 days of the passing of this Act, the Secretary of State must by regulations make provision for—

(a) buy-now-pay-later credit services, and

(b) other lending services that have non-interest-bearing elements to be regulated by the FCA.

(2) These regulations must include measures which—

(a) ensure all individuals accessing services mentioned in sub-section (1) have access to the Financial Services Ombudsman,

(b) ensure that individuals applying for services mentioned in sub-section (1) are subject to credit checks prior to the service being approved, and

(c) ensure that individuals accessing services mentioned in paragraph (1) are protected by Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act.’

This new clause would bring the non-interest-bearing elements of bring buy-now-pay-later lending and similar services under the regulatory ambit of the FCA, as proposed by the Government consultation carried out in 2022.

New clause 29—Cost benefit analyses to include assessments of economic crime risks—

‘(1) FSMA 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) In section 138I(7), at end insert—

“(c) an assessment of economic crime risks posed by the proposed rules”’.

This new clause would require cost-benefit analyses to include assessments of the risk of economic crime arising from the proposed rules.

New clause 30—Establishment of Financial Regulator’s Supervision Council—

‘(1) The Secretary of State must, within six months of this Bill receiving Royal Assent, make provision for the establishment of a body to be known as the Financial Regulator’s Supervision Council (“FRSC”).

(2) The role of the body established under subsection (1) is to provide independent scrutiny and oversight of the work of the FCA and its fulfilment of its duties and responsibilities, particularly its consumer protection objective.

(3) The responsibilities of the body shall include, but not be limited to—

(a) overseeing the performance of the FCA from a consumer perspective, including undertaking annual appraisals and commissioning or undertaking periodic reviews as appropriate; and

(b) appointing, reviewing annually the performance of and, where appropriate, dismissing—

(i) the Chair and Chief Executive of the FCA (jointly with HM Treasury);

(ii) the non-Executive Directors of the FCA appointed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy;

(iii) Members and Chair of the Financial Services Consumer Panel;

(iv) the Financial Regulators’ Complaints Commissioner;

(v) the directors of the Financial Ombudsman Service and its Independent Assessor;

(vi) the directors of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme; and

(vii) such employees as the FRSC requires to perform its statutory role.

(4) The body is to be funded by a 1% levy on the FCA’s revenue.

(5) Membership of the body shall be selected through open competition and must include individuals representing the interests of financial services consumer groups.

(6) The Secretary of State may by regulations, following consultation with consumer groups, make further provision for the body’s responsibilities, powers, constitution and membership.

(7) Any reports published by the body must be laid before Parliament.’

New clause 31—Regulators’ duty of care—

‘(1) Individuals and organisations undertaking activities within the remit of the FCA and PRA shall owe a duty of care to consumers.

(2) The “duty of care” means an obligation to act towards consumers with a reasonable level of watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence.

(3) An individual or organisation in breach of this duty of care may be subject to legal claims for negligence.’

New clause 32—Regulators’ immunity from civil damages action—

‘(1) Relevant regulators may be the subject of civil damages actions in cases where—

(a) a consumer has suffered material financial loss,

(b) the loss has occurred since 1 December 2001,

(c) the activity in the course of which the consumer suffered material financial loss is within the remit of the relevant regulator, and

(d) the relevant regulator was aware, or could reasonably be expected to have been aware, that the consumer would have been at risk of suffering financial loss and negligently failed to take sufficient action to prevent the consumer from suffering such loss.

(2) Any recommendations made by the investigator appointed under section 84(1)(b) of the Financial Services Act 2012 following the upholding of a complaint made against a regulator by a consumer who has suffered financial loss, which may include the providing of material financial redress, shall be considered binding on the regulator.

(3) The Limitation Act 1980 shall not apply in relation to any civil actions brought under this section until six years after this section has come into force.’

New clause 33—Reporting requirement: Green agenda—

‘(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act, and every twelve months thereafter, the PRA and FCA must jointly lay before the House of Commons a report setting out their assessment of—

(a) the ways in which the PRA and FCA have incentivised and promoted green finance for the period covered by the report,

(b) the impact of the UK financial system in incentivising green investment for the period covered by the report, and

(c) the ways in which the PRA and FCA have supported the Secretary of State’s ability to meet the duty set out is section 1 of the Climate Change Act 2008.

(2) For the purposes of this section, “green finance” means financial products or services which aim to reduce emissions, and enhance sinks of greenhouse gases, and aim to reduce vulnerability of, and maintain and increase the resilience of, human and ecological systems to negative climate change impacts.’

This new clause would place a requirement on the PRA and FCA to report on ways in which they have promoted and incentivised green finance and green investment.

New clause 34—Investment duties of occupational pension schemes—

‘(1) Section 36 of the Pensions Act 1995 (Choosing investments) is amended as follows.

(2) In subsection (1) remove “(4)” and insert “(4A)”.

(3) After subsection (4), insert—

“(4A) The trustees must act in the way they consider, in good faith, would be most likely to be for the benefit of the beneficiaries as a whole and to be fair as between the beneficiaries, including as between present and future beneficiaries and in doing so have regard (amongst other matters) to—

(a) the likely consequences of any decision in the long term,

(b) the impact of their investments on society and the environment,

(c) environmental, social and governance risks and opportunities (including, but not limited to, climate change),

(d) the desirability of the trustees maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct,

(e) the need to act fairly as between beneficiaries and members of the scheme, and

(f) in relation to investments that provide money purchase benefits, the views of beneficiaries and members of the scheme.

(4B) The trustees shall publish a policy statement of its understanding of benefit as relevant to its beneficiaries and of how it has regard to the matters in subsection 4A(a) to (d). The Secretary of State may make regulations regarding such policy statements.

(4C) The trustees shall report to beneficiaries the performance of the portfolio in delivering the benefit as defined in the policy statement and shall do this at the same time as it reports on the financial performance of the portfolio.

(4D) A fiduciary investor shall take all reasonable steps to ensure that all of its delegates and advisers comply with this section.”’

This amendment broadens the investment duties of trust-based pension schemes and FCA-authorised personal pension providers to require specified investors to make investment decisions in the “best interests” of beneficiaries.

New clause 35—Investment duties of personal pension providers—

‘(1) The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 is amended as follows.

(2) After section 137FD insert—

“137FE FCA general rules: pension investment

(1) The FCA must make general rules requiring managers of some or all relevant pension schemes to invest the assets in the best interests of members of the scheme and in the case of a potential conflict of interest, in the sole interest of members and survivors. In doing so they must have regard (amongst other matters) to—

(a) the likely consequences of any decision in the long term,

(b) the impact of their investments on society and the environment,

(c) the desirability of the managers maintaining a reputation for high standards of business conduct, and

(d) the need to act fairly as between members of the scheme.

(2) The FCA may make general rules requiring managers of relevant pension schemes to report publicly on how they have met the requirement in sub-section (1)

(3) In this section “relevant pension scheme” means—

(a) a personal pension scheme within the meaning of an order under section 22, or

(b) a stakeholder pension scheme within the meaning of such an order.”’

This amendment broadens the investment duties of trust-based pension schemes and FCA-authorised personal pension providers to require specified investors to make investment decisions in the “best interests” of beneficiaries.

New clause 36—Duty to report fraud—

‘(1) Financial services providers must, upon the detection of fraudulent activity or suspected fraudulent activity, report such activity to a relevant investigating authority.

(2) Financial services providers must publish an annual report which includes information on levels of identified fraudulent activity and steps taken, or planned to be taken, to reduce and prevent such or further fraudulent activity.’

Government amendments 8 to 11.

Amendment 19, in clause 29, page 41, line 12, at end insert

‘, and also to financial inclusion.

‘(2A) For the purposes of this section, “financial inclusion” means the impact on those who might be prevented from accessing financial services as a result of the new rules made by either regulator, or from accessing them on the same terms as existed before the making of the new rules.’

Government amendments 12 and 13.

Amendment 1, in clause 40, page 54, line 29, at end insert—

‘(c) be provided with any information or data that the Panel requires in order to fulfil its duties;

(d) publish the agendas and minutes of meetings of the Panel; and

(e) make publicly available its recommendations in full including, but not limited to, the evidence base and analysis it used to make its recommendations, the assessed costs and benefits of the FCA’s activities and the range of representations made by Panel members regarding those recommendations.’

Amendment 2, page 54, line 36, at end insert

“at least two of whom must be representatives of FCA authorised firms.”

Amendment 21, page 54, line 38, at end insert

“, at least three of whom must have experience and expertise in the field of economic crime, with one each drawn from the public, private and third sectors respectively”.

This amendment would require the FCA’s Cost Benefit Analysis Panel to include individuals with expertise in economic crime.

Government amendment 14.

Amendment 3, page 54, line 41, leave out from “must” to end of line 42 and insert

“within 30 days of the receipt of representations made to it by the FCA Cost Benefit Analysis Panel, publish a response to such representations, including a statement of actions it will take as a result of the representations.”

Amendment 4, page 55, line 20, at end insert—

“(c) be provided with any information or data that the Panel requires in order to fulfil its duties;

(d) publish the agendas and minutes of meetings of the Panel; and

(e) make publicly available its recommendations in full including, but not limited to, the evidence base and analysis it used to make its recommendations, the assessed costs and benefits of the PRA‘s activities and any dissenting representations made by Panel members regarding those recommendations.”

Amendment 5, page 55, line 2, at end insert

“at least two of whom must be representatives of PRA authorised firms”.

Amendment 22, page 55, line 29, at end insert

“, at least three of whom must have experience and expertise in the field of economic crime, with one each drawn from the public, private and third sectors respectively”.

This amendment would require the PRA’s Cost Benefit Analysis Panel to include individuals with expertise in economic crime.

Government amendment 15.

Amendment 6, page 55, line 32, leave out from “must” to end of line 33 and insert

“within 30 days of the receipt of representations made to it by the PRA Cost Benefit Analysis Panel, publish a response to such representations , including a statement of actions it will take as a result of the representations.”

Government amendment 16.

Amendment 7, in clause 64, page 78, line 20, at end insert—

“(5A) The relevant requirement referred to in subsection (5) must specify that reimbursement in qualifying cases cannot be refused on the basis that a victim, or victims, ought to have known that the payment order was executed subsequent to fraud or dishonesty.”

This amendment would prevent reimbursement for victims of fraudulent or dishonest payments being refused on the basis that that they should have known the payment was fraudulent or dishonest.

Amendment 20, page 78, line 20, at end insert—

“(5A) The relevant requirement mentioned in subsection (5) must set out clearly that—

(a) those to which the requirement applies have a duty to ensure that reimbursement is made in all qualifying cases, and

(b) the penalty imposed by the Payment Systems Regulator, under section 73 of the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013, for failure to comply with that duty, will be not less than £100,000 in each instance of failure.”

Amendment 23, in schedule 2, page 119, line 19, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) and (3).

This amendment would maintain the regulator’s duty to establish appropriate position limits in commodity speculation, to ensure the effective functioning of commodity markets and prevent potentially risky speculation.

Amendment 24, page 119, line 2, leave out “that paragraph” and insert “paragraph (1)”.

This amendment would maintain the regulator’s duty to establish appropriate position limits in commodity speculation, to ensure the effective functioning of commodity markets and prevent potentially risky speculation.

Amendment 25, page 119, line 32, leave out sub-paragraph (5).

This amendment would maintain the regulator’s duty to establish appropriate position limits in commodity speculation, to ensure the effective functioning of commodity markets and prevent potentially risky speculation.

Amendment 27, page 120, line 4, leave out paragraph 48.

This amendment would remove the proposed amendment to the FCA’s power to intervene, to maintain transparency in commodity markets and reduce the scope of so-called “dark pools”.

Amendment 26, page 120, line 10, leave out sub-paragraph (4).

This amendment would maintain the regulator’s duty to establish appropriate position limits in commodity speculation, to ensure the effective functioning of commodity markets and prevent potentially risky speculation.

Government amendments 17 and 18.

Amendment 28, page 155, line 7, at end insert—

“(1A) When exercising its functions under this Part, the FCA may issue a direction to a designated person, for the purpose of establishing a banking hub.

(1B) A designated person must comply with a direction under subsection (1B).

(1C) A “banking hub” is a facility which—

(a) provides cash access services,

(b) is facilitated jointly by multiple providers of such services,

(c) contains private consultation spaces at for users of cash access services, and

(d) is established for the purpose of ensuring reasonable provision of cash access services where there would otherwise be a local deficiency of such provision.”

This amendment would require designated persons to comply with direction given by the FCA for the purposes of establishing banking hubs.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The financial services sector is central to our Government’s ambition to bolster our global competitiveness and boost growth in all parts of the United Kingdom. This Bill delivers on our ambition by seizing the opportunities of our departure from the European Union, tailoring financial services regulation to UK markets and delivering better outcomes for the economy, consumers, victims of fraud and businesses. There are many amendments for consideration today, so I will be as succinct as possible, and I look forward to having time to respond to hon. Members’ contributions later.

In Committee, I heard from colleagues on both sides of the House about the importance of holding the operationally independent regulators to account regarding their performance—in particular, that there should be regular reporting on their performance to support scrutiny, beyond just the annual report. Regulation is about not just the contents of the rulebook, but how effectively and on how timely a basis those rules are enforced and implemented.

The Government and regulators are both committed to the highest standards of operational effectiveness. That is why last week we published an exchange of letters with the regulators, making clear the intention to publish more detailed performance data in relation to their authorisation processes on a more regular basis. However, I also noted the clear consensus in Committee on the need to enhance the existing statutory provisions. In particular, I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon (Stephen Hammond) and for North Warwickshire (Craig Tracey) for raising this important issue.

As a result, new clause 17 provides a new power for the Treasury to require the regulators to publish additional information on a more regular basis, where that is necessary to support this House’s scrutiny of their performance in discharging their general functions.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I have seen the exchange of letters—that is very welcome—and I have read new clause 17. Both lack any specificity about what those metrics may be. I do not expect the Minister to respond now, but perhaps in his summing up, to reassure those of us on the Back Benches, he could provide some comfort about how specific he and the Treasury will get.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank my hon. Friend who, as one of my predecessors, has made a significant contribution to getting the Bill to where it is today. I will try to indulge him, but he will also recognise that the Bill is about putting enabling powers in place, and there will be opportunities on future occasions to discuss how we deploy those.

New clause 18 introduces a requirement for the regulators to ensure that all members of their statutory panels are external and independent of the Treasury, the Bank of England and the regulators. That will codify the current approach taken by regulators, putting it in statute, building confidence in their independence and ensuring that it is maintained on a long-term basis.

New clause 19 introduces a new requirement for the regulators to publish a list of respondents to their public consultations, provided that the respondents consent. The requirement is limited to the financial services regulators and their specific statutory consultation in existing financial services legislation. New clauses 18 and 19 also address points raised by my hon. Friend Richard Fuller and Sarah Olney.

I also note the interest of my hon. Friend Bob Blackman in enhancing regulator accountability through his new clauses on a new regulators’ supervision council and ending regulators’ statutory immunity from civil damages. I understand where he is coming from, and I note that he chairs the all-party parliamentary group on personal banking and fairer financial services, but the Government’s position is that a new supervisory council would duplicate existing accountability structures. Indeed, none of the representations that I receive from industry says that the biggest thing that will help growth and competitiveness is another layer of regulators. There is also a great deal of existing accountability structures, including the role undertaken by this House and its various Committees, which is why that position was supported by the Treasury Committee in its July 2021 report. Removing the regulators’ statutory immunity from liability and damages would risk regulators over-regulating to avoid the risk of liability. There are already mechanisms for holding regulators to account, including the complaints scheme. That scheme is overseen by the independent complaints commissioner, who has powers to recommend redress.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

I certainly appreciate the Minister’s concern that we might see precautionary regulation, but is the best way to avoid that not simply to restrict the removal of liability to cases in which the regulator has clearly and negligently failed to act to deal with a situation in which an already regulated activity was being carried out in an unacceptable way? That is what happened with Blackmore Bond. It was not an unregulated activity; it was an activity that fell within the scope of the Financial Conduct Authority, but it failed to act and £46 million was stolen from people as a result.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Member draws our attention to the very tragic cases that occur when financial regulation goes wrong and does not do its job in the way every Member of this House would like to see. He also talks about a legal threshold for that. He will perhaps appreciate that I do not have the facts of that particular case before me and that we are not drafting things here and now. I have heard from Members on both sides of the House about some of the problems in what we are talking about, which is essentially the conduct of the regulator, and I understand colleagues’ desire to look at legal liability as one remedy, but there are many powers in the Bill, and as I say, the Bill will not constrain the ability of this House or Ministers going forward.

Emma Hardy, with whom I spent a lot of time in the Bill Committee—I suspect we will hear from her later this afternoon—has tabled a new clause on considering economic risks in regulators’ cost-benefit analysis panels. I would like to reassure her that the regulators already take steps—and, to assuage her concerns, they could perhaps do more—to think about economic crime when they do that. They have the power, of course, to consult experts where they consider it relevant.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire again for raising the issue of regulatory proportionality. I wish to reassure him that the Government are clear that the burden of any regulation should be proportionate to its benefits, and that is set out in existing legislation. I am very happy to reiterate again today that I expect the regulators to fully and proactively embrace that principle, which is embedded in statute. That is particularly important, as the Bill confers on them greater rule-making responsibilities. I suspect we will hear from my hon. Friend later on.

I will now turn to Government amendments 8 to 11 —I apologise, but there are quite a lot of amendments to crack on through. Clause 6 already enables the Treasury to exempt regulators from the statutory requirement to consult on rules when they are replacing retained EU law repealed by the Bill without making material changes. Amendments 8 to 11 go further. They create a blanket exemption from the statutory requirement to consult in situations in which the regulators remove EU-derived rules from their rulebooks without replacement. The amendments also allow the Treasury to exempt the regulators when they are amending EU-derived rules or replacing retained EU law in their rulebooks, and when the only material effect of the change is to reduce regulatory burdens. That ensures that the regulators can take that proportionate approach to consultation, accelerate the repeal of retained EU law, and not let the requirement to consult be an obstacle or delaying factor. It is a long time since the British people voted for Brexit, and it is time to start delivering those benefits. Nothing in the amendments changes the obligation on the regulators to act to advance their statutory objectives, so any reduction in regulatory burdens must be compatible with those objectives.

Let me briefly cover the two remaining Government amendments, and I will then move on. New clause 20 ensures that a new type of fund vehicle currently being explored—the unauthorised contractual scheme—would be commercially viable if it were introduced. The proposed fund has the potential to improve the competitiveness of the UK by filling a gap in the UK’s existing fund offering and supporting the domestic growth agenda by facilitating greater investment in UK real estate by UK funds. Amendment 17 is a minor and technical amendment to rectify an inadvertent omission in drafting.

I will now address the amendments tabled by other Members. I am conscious that I am speaking before Members have had a chance to introduce their amendments, so I look forward to responding in more detail, where necessary, at the end of the debate. Let me start with the important issue of access to cash. I represent a rural constituency with a higher-than-average proportion of elderly and vulnerable residents, so I am acutely aware of the very real concerns around this topic. As of today, there remains extensive access to cash across the UK as a whole—over 95% of people live within 2,000 metres of a free cashpoint. I want to be clear that it is not acceptable for people to have no option but to travel large distances or pay ATM fees to access their own money.

If hon. Members have a concern in their local area, as I know many have, I strongly recommend that they reach out to LINK, which is leading the industry-led initiative to see what can be done to help constituents. LINK is delivering, for example, a new free-to-use ATM in the Pollards Hill estate in the constituency of Siobhain McDonagh—I have already made a commitment to her to visit and open it.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

May I say to the Minister that I am delighted that LINK is providing that machine? That part of outer London is, as many Members here will know, inaccessible apart from by limited public transport. There are two paid-for machines in the terrace, but a free one has been refused for years and years and years. I believe that this machine may be coming because of this very amendment—new clause 7. Unless it is there in writing, how can anybody in this House feel confident that free cash machines will be kept? Their numbers are reducing at pace.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Lady probably proves each of our points, including my point that we start from a position where there is an industry-led solution, and I am sure that many colleagues will be auditioning for these new industry-led free cash machines.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I was just about to mention my right hon. Friend.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

The Minister and I had a very good conversation about this very subject. He is aware that back in the days of a former Treasury Committee and an earlier Government, there was a huge move away from ATMs per se, let alone free access to people’s own cash. Can he therefore make it clear at the Dispatch Box what he said to me, which is that the Government are entirely behind free access to cash and will make that clear in the guidance?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

My right hon. Friend is just one of many colleagues—many in the Chamber today, but also my hon. Friends the Members for Newton Abbot (Anne Marie Morris) and for Don Valley (Nick Fletcher)—who have made precisely this point. It is the Government’s expectation that the industry-led initiative must deliver. As I will come on to clarify, the powers we are taking in the Bill—we are not mandating them, because we do not support the amendment from Siobhain McDonagh—give us the flexibility in future, by means of a direction statement to the industry, to mandate free cash machines.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Let me finish this point, because I know many Members are vexed by this issue and we understand how important it is. Work has been done since my right hon. Friend the Member for South Northamptonshire occupied my position. A further 47 communities represented in this House will benefit from similar cash facilities funded by the banks, as part of that LINK assessment process. I urge all colleagues to take advantage of that, and my office is happy to help to do that.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I am going to finish this point, and then we will hear from more Members. We must not underestimate the significance of what the Bill is doing: it is taking legislative action for the first time in the more than 1,000-year history of the Royal Mint, where the UK pioneered paper banknotes in the 17th century and since we introduced the world’s first ATM in 1967. This Government—right now, today—are putting on the statute book and protecting access to cash, to safeguard the needs of those who need it.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

Like my right hon. Friend Dame Andrea Leadsom, I had a very useful conversation with the Minister. Will he confirm what I think he just said, which is that if it becomes clear that people do not have free access to cash across the United Kingdom, the Government will proactively intervene to make sure that they do?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

We talked about my right hon. Friend’s relative munificence of 53 free cash machines in his constituency—I think it was that at the last count. What he says is the case. The Bill gives the Government the ability at any point in time to give direction to the Financial Conduct Authority, the relevant regulator—this is the basis on which we regulate all our financial services in this country—through a policy statement that will set out the Government’s policy on such matters as cost and location. I am being clear that it is our expectation that the industry will deliver on this important issue for our constituents. If not, the Bill gives any future Government the ability to mandate that.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

Notwithstanding the support that the Minister is giving to the notion of free cash, he will recognise that the Government cannot sit there like King Canute, and that between 2010 and 2020 the number of payments made in cash went from 50% to 17%. That has fallen yet further during the pandemic. There are significant advantages to cashless transactions, not least in the elimination of crime. Actually, it is a bit of a myth that there are sections of society that struggle, and we see that most apparently in the advent of cashless parking. There are hardly any councils left in the country now that use cash for their parking. They are all using apps on smartphones. When we introduced it when I was at Westminster City Council, we did not have a single complaint from an elderly person—quite the reverse. They often found it much easier than fumbling around for coins and notes to be able to park, as well as having the ability to extend the time using the phone. There are great advantages to the elimination of cash in society too.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

My right hon. Friend is right and illustrates well the Government’s desire to achieve the right balance in this debate, rather than operate at either extremity. He will know from his former role the significant move in relation to Oyster and the ability to be cashless.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

Is the Minister aware that we have lost 12,599 free-to-use ATMs since 2018? That is a reduction of 24%. Who in this House, understanding that trajectory, would believe that the numbers are not going to fall further?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I will repeat my previous point, and the hon. Lady will have her chance to speak later. It is the objective of the Government, in the course of the transition that my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse talked about, to protect the vulnerable and ensure that protection of access to cash. The hon. Lady’s statistic is right, but I reiterate that more than 95% of people today live within 2,000 metres of a free cashpoint, and I hope she recognises that.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

I want to follow up on some of the comments from my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse. Cash is being used far less than it was previously. That is good and convenient for many people. I fully support the Government’s moves and the ambition across this House to ensure that we have access to free cash, but there is no point in people having access to free cash if they cannot spend it on essential items. I just flag that many retail outlets no longer accept cash. It is not just parking; there are cashless bars and so on. That is fine, but there is a scenario where outlets that sell essential items such as food shops and chemists might at some point be required to accept cash, because if they do not accept cash, lots of people will be excluded.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

My hon. Friend makes another important point, and I fear we are in danger of previewing the debate that we shall have this afternoon. When we talk about access to cash, we are not just talking about withdrawals; we are also talking about the deposits that are so vital. If our small businesses in particular are to continue to take cash, they need to be able to deposit that securely, safely and conveniently.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

I just want to broaden the debate from ATMs to bank hubs. These were promised as a panacea for towns where the last bank has gone, such as Acton. It is not just about rural communities. Acton was one of 10 places that were promised a bank hub last December, but nothing has happened. There is a lack of will, and they are under-resourced and voluntary. Perhaps there is an argument for more regulation to make them happen, because The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail were saying in the autumn that none of these—zero—has happened, but I understand that since then two of them have. In the meantime, Acton is a cash desert. In 2018 we lost our post office, never to be replaced. What advice does the Minister have for me? How can he compel that bank hub to open?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The bank hub initiative, just like the new voluntary initiative on LINK cash machines, has an important role to play. Frankly, these initiatives have started relatively recently, and as well as making sure today that we get the right balance in statute, we also need to see them delivered. I will take that case forward for the hon. Lady, and I will write to her. The bank hubs programme is now being deployed at pace. My hon. Friend Anthony Mangnall boasts of his bank hub, which I suspect will not make the hon. Lady delighted, but it shows that they can deliver, and that is what we want.

I will clarify for the record what we are saying, if I may. Under the Bill, the FCA, when acting to ensure reasonable access to cash, has to have regard to the Treasury’s policy statement in this area. That is the statement that will set out from time to time the Government’s position on matters such as cost and location, and the FCA will have to have regard to that when setting the detailed prescriptive regulations.

That gives time—I am putting the industry on notice—for those industry-led schemes to prove that they can deliver, and to ensure that the Government have a robust regulatory framework: a belt-and-braces framework. I believe that is the right and flexible way of dealing with the matter, rather than right now locking it in statute for all time. I will ensure that we reflect the House’s views on that when we craft the policy statement.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

The Minister is being very generous in giving way. The point made by Kit Malthouse makes clear the need for free access to cash to be provided for in the Bill. As the number of people making cash transactions falls, it becomes more expensive to distribute cash freely. There is, however, as I hope we all understand, a vulnerable group in our society who still need free access to cash. As cashless transactions increase, the need to maintain free access to cash for the most vulnerable people in our society increases. That is why we are asking for it to be provided for in the Bill.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I agree with the hon. Lady’s point that it becomes a pressing issue. The justification, having successfully transacted in cash since the first Roman emperor decided to dispense pieces of metallurgic value with his head on them, is precisely that we see the transition and we want to get it right, in the interests of the vulnerable. The Bill also contains powers to regulate the wholesale distribution of cash—those people who trunk cash up and down cash centres across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

We have spent a long time on cash, so I will take one final intervention on this. Then I will make progress, simply to allow other Members the chance to make the points that they are here to make.

Photo of Kit Malthouse Kit Malthouse The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

I am grateful to the Minister. He may not be old enough, but some of us will remember the moment the cheque started to go out of usage. There were lots of claims of damage to certain sections of society, and that lots of people would be outraged when the cheque disappeared. Now people operate without chequebooks on a daily basis, and no retailers, as far as I am aware, accept cheques. On the idea that we should mandate that cash be accepted, we cannot stand in the way of the fact that consumers are voting not to use cash. The market is telling us that cash is running out of use, and let us scotch the myth that there is such a thing as a free ATM. The network at the moment costs about £5 billion to operate. That is paid for by every user of the bank, whether they use the ATM or not.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

My right hon. Friend makes his points very well. As he said earlier, there are significant benefits in relation to fraud, traceability and the environment from dematerialising, but it is not the position of the Government to advocate for it.

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. I reiterate what the Minister said: a lot of Members wish to speak in the debate, and he has been on his feet for about half an hour. If we are to have time for the amendments and other contributions, we need to cut back on interventions.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker; you are as wise as my right hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire is flattering. We will make some progress and allow others to contribute.

Let me move on to access to banking and payment services. Just as we have said about cash, they are the essential ingredients of modern life and for many businesses. The new clause tabled by my hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart) and for Northampton South (Andrew Lewer) raised the important issue, to all of us in this House, of free speech, and the crucial role of payment service providers in delivering services without censorship. Since Committee stage, I have met with my hon. Friend the Member for Hastings and Rye, the FCA and PayPal regarding its recent temporary suspension of some accounts. I draw hon. Members’ attention to my letter deposited in the House, in which I set out the Government’s position on that important matter. I also circulated the letter from PayPal that sets out that it re-evaluated and reversed its decision in a number of the specific cases raised. It says that it was never its intention to be an arbiter of free speech, and that none of its actions was based on its customers’ political views.

I want to be extremely clear that the Government are committed to ensuring that the regulations respect the balance of rights between users and service providers’ obligations, including in respect of freedom of expression, whether of the Free Speech Union, the trade union movement, law-abiding environmental movements or anyone else expressing lawful views. To ensure that the existing regulatory regime is operating as it should in that respect, I will seek further evidence through the Government’s review of payment services regulation in January. To continue this transparent dialogue with colleagues on an important subject, I will provide an update to Parliament in the form of a written ministerial statement before the formal closure of that review, and table amendments to the relevant regulations using the powers in today’s Bill, if necessary.

We recognise the value that the mutuals sector brings to the UK economy in providing a door to affordable credit. The Government are committed to the health and prosperity of the mutuals sector, which is why we supported the private Member’s Bill of Sir Mark Hendrick, which would allow co-operatives, mutual insurers and friendly societies further flexibility in determining for themselves the best strategies for their business. As I said in Committee in response to amendments tabled to today’s Bill by Tulip Siddiq, the Government consider that the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 already ensures that regulators consider mutual entities as they exercise their regulatory functions.

Let me turn to another matter, which is as important to me as I know it is to many colleagues across the House: financial inclusion and consumer protection. The Government are committed to financial inclusion, and want to ensure that people, regardless of background or income, have access to useful and affordable financial products and services. While I respect the intention behind the amendments tabled by Emma Hardy, who has been a consistent voice on this important matter, the FCA gave evidence that it does not consider that a new requirement for it to have regard to financial inclusion would add to its ability to act in this area.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay 2:45 pm, 7th December 2022

On the FCA and financial inclusion, it is very wise that we ensure that good financial advice is imparted by the powers-to-be. In referring Members to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests, may I say that when it comes to things such as investment trusts, we are still trying to throw off the yoke of well-intentioned but misguided EU regulation when it comes to information that could lead to a misunderstanding about risk? The FCA seems somewhat reluctant to carry that forward. Will the Government ensure that the regulators, including the FCA, are doing their job?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

My hon. Friend makes a very fair point. To be clear, the purpose of good financial regulation cannot be to extinguish risk, but is to give people choice and indeed allow them to reap the rewards of taking risk in an appropriate and informed fashion, so I completely agree with him.

On the theme of reporting, I assure Nick Smith and my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown that the consumer panel, like all other statutory panels, already produces an annual report with the panel’s opinion on matters that it has engaged with the FCA on; however, following new clause 10 being tabled, I recognise the need to ensure that reports are brought to the attention of the House. I have engaged with the FCA, which has agreed with me that in future it will notify the Treasury Committee, as the relevant Committee of this House, on publication of the consumer panel’s report, to ensure that Members of this House are aware of and can fully engage with it. I hope that that goes some way to giving the hon. Members the satisfaction that they seek.

Before I speak about the financial advice guidance boundary, raised in new clause 11 in the name of my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin, the Chair of the Treasury Committee, let me congratulate her on her relatively recent election to that role—although I hope that we have worked well together even during her short time in it.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

I congratulate the Minister on his earlier remarks about seeking to improve the performance of the FCA. Many people on both sides of the House want that to happen. It is pleasing that the Treasury Committee will hear information on reporting from the consumer panel of the FCA; however, a number of financial scandals have affected the constituents of Members across the House in recent years. While I hear what the Minister says, I am really looking for a greater opportunity to challenge the FCA through its consumer panel than he has so far suggested, but I hope that we can work together to strengthen that point.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank the hon. Member for his point. I had that conversation with the FCA precisely to try to achieve that purpose. If there are other ways to do that that will help him, I am happy to do so.

I was talking about the financial advice boundary, which is a real concern and speaks as much to financial inclusion as to the work of the advisory sector. My hon. Friend the Member for West Worcestershire, when she was in this role, undertook some important work on the comprehensive financial advice market review, which led to some important improvements in the market at that time. Unlike me, however, she was not blessed with the Brexit freedoms of being able to influence our own rulebook.

I completely agree with my hon. Friend that it cannot be right that only the wealthiest can access financial advice. The situation today is a good example of the unintended consequence of well-meaning regulation that we should be alive to. I thank the Investing and Saving Alliance and others for their efforts to promote reform in this area, and it is something that I will take forward and see what I can do to progress. We will revisit the issue and work closely with the FCA and the industry. I assure her that there is nothing in the Bill that would impede any of the things that she seeks to do.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

The Minister is making some encouraging sounds about new clause 11. In addition to the commitments that he has just made, will he instruct officials to look at the matter with the greatest urgency?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I am happy to confirm that we will pursue it with great urgency, as the Government should be doing with everything in this important domain. Although the Government will not be supporting new clause 11 today, it goes some way to address the issue, so I will look at it as a basis for potentially moving forward. The Bill enables us to do that, so we do not have to do it today. I commend the other amendments tabled in relation to preventing consumer harm.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

The Minister has been talking about the importance of regulation. He will know that one area that is not regulated at all is buy now, pay later, and he will have seen new clause 28 in my name. A poll published today says that 40% of the British public will do their Christmas spending with a buy now, pay later loan. A quarter of those who use buy now, pay later are missing other payments, because they are getting into a cycle of unaffordable debt. We have been talking about regulating these companies for nearly three years now; the Government’s proposals talk about regulation possibly coming in another year’s time. Can he see a way to at least introduce the protection of the ombudsman, so that this Christmas does not leave families with a nasty wake-up call come 1 January?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I will try to respond to the hon. Lady’s points further when I sum up, so I can make some progress. We had that debate several times in Committee. We have to be slightly cautious about the unintended consequences of taking into scope a much wider set of transactions that involve an element of deferred payment, but I am sympathetic to her points.

I thank my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow East for raising the topic of a statutory duty of care for consumers. Ensuring that consumers of financial services get the right protection they need remains a priority. The FCA comprehensively analysed the options for improving that, which led to the consumer duty that will come into force in July.

Wera Hobhouse tabled new clauses 34 and 35 to require trustees of occupational pension schemes and fund managers to act in the best interest of beneficiaries, which is indeed the position as it stands today, although I will listen carefully to her points. Trustees and fund managers will be subject to the FCA’s consumer duty, which puts on them a focus of delivering good outcomes for customers.

I turn to amendments relating to frauds and scams. The Bill is a huge step forward in tackling the growing problem of authorised push payment scams. I will be clear that, as I set out in my response to the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn in Committee, the Government are committed to tackling fraud far more widely than in just financial services. She may like to know that the Home Office has now confirmed that a national fraud strategy will be published early in the new year.

Specifically for financial services, UK Finance publishes a half-year fraud update, which sets out how the industry is working together to respond to the fraud threat and to support customers. In relation to the amendments concerning the reimbursement of victims of authorised push payment scams, the payment systems regulator has already signalled its intention to deliver a higher degree of consumer protection.

On sustainable finance, no Government have done more on the climate. We have legislated to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. We support strengthening the UK financial services regulatory regime’s baking in of the climate, as underlined by clause 25, which requires the regulators in discharging their functions to have regard to the need to contribute to achieving compliance with net zero. The regulators will be required to report annually on how they have considered that regulatory principle. That is a significant step in our goal of making the UK a net zero-aligned financial centre, and builds on our green finance and net zero strategies across the whole gamut of regulatory activity. The Government committed to updating our green financial strategy and will announce further information on timing imminently.

Photo of Andrea Leadsom Andrea Leadsom Conservative, South Northamptonshire

I am delighted to hear that from my hon. Friend. Does he agree that that not just gives the UK a competitive edge but creates many new jobs and opportunities for the UK to lead the world in green finance, as well as other green industries in future?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Absolutely; it is a strategy that pays back on many levels. It is biased towards left-behind communities and parts of the United Kingdom, it creates jobs and prosperity, it safeguards the prospects of the City of London and our financial and professional services and, of course, it ensures that we deploy capital in pursuit of the transition to a clean, low-carbon world.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Labour, Sheffield, Hallam

How does the Minister square the language that he has just used about how great the UK is with two major banks that are based here providing £107.44 billion to the top 50 companies expanding upstream oil and gas? Is that not exactly why we need some of the sustainable finance amendments that have been tabled?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I beg to differ with the hon. Lady, because it is important to finance the transition to achieve a just green financial future. While we are making all these efforts and coming forward with things such as the taskforce on nature-related financial disclosures, we will therefore make sure that we are not defaulting to divestments and boycotts, because that is not our view of the way that the Government will finance the clean energy revolution.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion

The Bank of England’s climate stress test, published in May, showed that banks need to take climate action immediately or face a hit to annual profits of up to 15%. This is not just about airy-fairy words about the transition, but about banks that, as we have just heard, are bankrolling the fossil fuel industry, which will bring real risks to the finance sector as well as to the rest of the world. Can the Minister say whether he will support new clause 25?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Before the Minister does, I will just say that he has been speaking for three quarters of an hour now. A lot of people want to contribute to the debate.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

On this side of the House, we are about action not words. I listened with great care to what the hon. Lady said, but action starts at home. In her constituency, the Green party leader flew on a jet aeroplane to COP and the level of recycling is half that of neighbouring West Sussex. People should get their own house in order before coming to virtue-signal about others’.

New clauses 8 and 9 in the name of Olivia Blake raise the important issue of financial stewardship. The Department for Work and Pensions, which is responsible for that, has already made a public commitment to review stewardship disclosure requirements. That will be done during 2023.

Finally, the Government believe that effective commodities market regulation is key to ensuring that market speculation does not lead to economic harm. The current regime we have inherited from the EU is overly complicated and poorly designed. To ensure that this is calibrated correctly, the Bill delegates the setting of position limits from the FCA to trading venues themselves. The amendments in the name of John McDonnell seek to reverse this. The Government’s position is that this would place unnecessary restrictions on investors, to the detriment of all market participants. It would place the UK at a disadvantage compared with other international financial centres, such as the EU, that apply restrictions only to contracts that genuinely pose a risk.

Mr Deputy Speaker, I apologise for having spoken at some length—I wanted to engage with as many colleagues’ amendments as possible—but I hope I have provided a clear and reasonable explanation of the Government’s position and why we have taken it. I look forward to a constructive debate on the Bill.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington 3:00 pm, 7th December 2022

On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. I do not wish to delay the debate, but in the Financial Times today there is an announcement that the Chancellor of the Exchequer will make a significant statement on Friday about the future of our financial services. There was no reference by the Minister to that statement. It looks as though the statement will be made outside the House, not to the House, because it is being made in Scotland on Friday. Could I ask for your intercession to remind the Government that major statements of this sort, and it is billed as the most significant statement in the last 20-odd years, should be made on the Floor of the House?

Photo of Nigel Evans Nigel Evans Deputy Speaker (Second Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I am getting no indication that the Minister wants to comment on that, but the fact is that the Speaker has said time and again that he deprecates statements that should be made to the House first being made elsewhere, and I am sure the Minister will take that on board.

I call the shadow Minister.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

The Opposition support the Bill, particularly the new secondary objectives for regulators on international competitiveness and long-term growth. It is a welcome first step in supporting the City to take advantage of opportunities outside the EU, such as creating a welcoming environment for new financial technologies and incentivising financial services to increase investments in domestic industries through reform of solvency II.

We were delighted when, after much pressure from the Labour party, the Minister decided to drop his dangerous policy of the intervention power. Despite repeated warnings from the Bank of England, business and the Labour party that he should not be putting the UK’s international competitiveness at risk by threatening our system of regulatory independence, the current Minister pushed on and told me it was a good thing. In my eyeline, I can see Richard Fuller, who, when he was the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, said to me on Second Reading that it was right for Ministers to be able to intervene in such a way.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

On regulatory independence, notwithstanding the particular call-in power the hon. Lady is describing, would she agree that it is important for the elected Government and this House to be able to set the direction in which regulators are meant to go, and that if the regulators are not going in that direction, this House and the Government should be able to correct the direction they are going in?

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I support much of what the hon. Member says, and I will come on to that a little later in my speech, but the call-in power is very different from what he is describing. Time and again, we warned Ministers that this would be detrimental to our regulatory independence, and they did not listen. However, if the hon. Member listens carefully, he will hear, when I come on to the next page of my speech, that I will address the valid points he is making.

In Committee, when I pushed the current Minister on why this dangerous intervention power was necessary, he told me that voices in the industry had told him we needed an “agile and flexible system”, which he claimed could only be brought about by this intervention power. After all of this from the three Economic Secretaries I have shadowed in 10 months, who kept pushing this dangerous intervention power, strangely enough the Government then dropped the policy: I just received an opaque letter, which did not really offer any proper explanation for why this Government have had a change of heart. If you do not mind my saying so, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thought about when I got a text from my crush in the sixth form telling me there would be no second date, without his actually telling me face to face why he did not want to see me again. I do wonder why, but I say to the Minister that I am grateful that he listened to the Labour party and has dropped the dangerous intervention power. I only wish he had done it sooner, so we could have saved some unnecessary damage to our global reputation.

While the intervention power was wholly inappropriate, we recognise that the Bill facilitates an unprecedented transfer of responsibilities from retained EU law to the regulators, and this does require democratic accountability. That is why I am glad the Government have listened to the concerns raised by me and others in Committee and have introduced new clause 17, which will allow regulators to be held to account against key metrics.

I hope the Minister will be able to commit to supporting new clause 10, tabled by my hon. Friend Nick Smith, to further strengthen the democratic accountability of regulators.

I was absolutely delighted that Harriett Baldwin was following my speeches at the Labour party conference so closely, where again and again I made the case for a new form of regulated personalised guidance. She has tabled new clause 11, which would create the space to do that, and I hope the Government will support her new clause.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

I hope the hon. Lady’s ex-crush realises what he has missed, but may I briefly pick up the point about democratic accountability when it comes to supervision of the regulators? I suggest that those regulators need to heed the advice of the professional bodies working in the sector. I raise again the issue of investment trusts. We have the Association of Investment Companies and many others saying that key information documents—a well-intentioned but misguided legacy of misguided EU regulation—are actually assessing risk incorrectly, to the detriment of investors. They are saying that now, and the FCA has control, yet we do not seem to be doing much about it. We are not making much progress on this issue, and meanwhile investors are being misled. Would she agree that we need to listen to the trade bodies as well?

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I always want to listen to experts such as the trade bodies. The hon. Member has a wealth of knowledge in this area, and I accept what he is saying. Overall, the Labour party agrees with a lot of the policies in this Bill, which is why we have given it our wholehearted support. There are some missed opportunities that we feel could have been taken, and I think we could have strengthened our attractiveness for investments, as he is saying—I will come on to that later in my speech. I take his point, which is well made, and I hope the Minister will listen and will respond to it in his summing up.

Turning to my own amendments, I am worried about the lack of ambition in the Bill on strengthening fraud prevention. My new clause 1 would introduce the first national fraud strategy and data sharing arrangement for a decade. The National Audit Office, in its recent report, said that the Government simply do not understand the full scale of the fraud epidemic, despite the NAO calling for rapid action over five years ago. That is a damning statement. UK Finance has found that the Government’s failure to act on the fraud strategy and data sharing has seen the amount of money stolen from hard-working families’ and businesses’ bank accounts through fraud and scams hit a record high of £1.3 billion.

Despite that, in Committee, the Minister urged me to withdraw my new clause on the matter. He told me to be patient, and he told me that there would be a fraud strategy before Christmas. Now he is saying there will be one early next year, but how can we trust him not to kick the can further down the road? So I will be holding the Minister to account. There are only 24 days left until the end of the year, and people whose lives have been ruined by fraudsters cannot afford to be patient any longer.

Following our debate in Committee, leaders from across the financial services sector told me that the Government’s approach of placing data sharing responsibilities on the banks alone was stuck in the last century and allows tech-savvy criminals to get rich at the public’s expense. My new clause would put in place a data sharing arrangement that extends beyond just the banks to include social media companies, crypto-asset firms, payment system operators and other platforms that are exploited by criminals. If the Minister does not listen to the Labour party, I hope he will listen to the National Audit Office, businesses and victims of fraud, and finally give enforcement agencies the powers they need to crack down on criminals by voting for our new clause today. I also hope the Government will support my new clauses 2 and 3 and new clause 7, tabled by my hon. Friend Siobhain McDonagh; because we have spent a substantial amount of time speaking about free access to cash I will not elaborate too much on that, but she has our full support.

Photo of Matt Rodda Matt Rodda Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions) (Pensions)

My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech. Does she agree that new clause 3, on access to banking, is particularly important? For many disabled and elderly people and others with mobility issues, and indeed for small businesses, access to banking as a whole, as well as access to cash, is hugely important; that has been very evident in my constituency.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

My hon. Friend is a doughty champion for his constituents. I will speak about that later, but I feel that we politicians have a duty on this: even if there has been a decline in the number of people using cash, there is still a small group of vulnerable people who do so, and they risk being excluded if we do not save free access to cash and face-to-face banking services. We have a duty to our vulnerable constituents, disabled constituents and those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds who still rely on cash.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

I fully understand what the hon. Lady is saying, but it is not a small number of people: it was estimated in 2019 that 8 million people across the United Kingdom would struggle without access to cash.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I welcome the fact that the Government have finally announced that they will bring forward access-to-cash legislation, but this Bill does nothing to protect face-to-face banking or free access to cash, which is our main concern and is what the most vulnerable in our society depend on.

Since 2015, on this Government’s watch nearly half of the UK’s bank branches have closed. It is inevitable that banking systems will continue to innovate—no one is denying that—but the failure to protect these services risks leaving millions of people behind. My amendment would empower the Financial Conduct Authority to review communities’ needs for and access to essential in-person banking services. To be clear, I am not saying banks should be prevented from closing underused branches—far from it. I explained this thoroughly in Committee but will say it briefly again now: vital face-to-face services could be delivered through a variety of models, such as shared banking hubs, which are already being set up across the country to provide cash services.

In Committee, the Minister was again very persuasive and convinced me to withdraw my new clause. He said he accepted the underlying need for action and that solutions would be brought to the table. I believed him, but despite warnings from Age UK, Which? and the Access to Cash Action Group—which does fantastic work in this area—that vulnerable people are at risk of being cut off from the services they desperately rely on, the Government have completely failed to engage on this important issue, and this time I will not be making the same mistake: I will not withdraw my new clauses. The Government need to demonstrate they will not simply abandon those who are struggling to bank online.

Photo of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards Independent, Carmarthen East and Dinefwr

I want to pledge my support for new clauses 2 and 3. In my constituency we have lost 13 to 15 banks since 2015, and we are more or less wholly reliant now on the Post Office to provide financial services in large parts of north Carmarthenshire. Worryingly, the new deal starting next year only lasts until 2025, and if that were to break down for whatever reason, there would be real issues in many communities.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury) 3:15 pm, 7th December 2022

The hon. Gentleman is right that this is not just about bank branch closures; it is also about pressures in the Post Office. It is possible to provide some of the services through the Post Office, but we have a duty to preserve some of the banking hubs to ensure that the Post Office does not get overwhelmed. I am sure the hon. Gentleman has travelled around his constituency, and anybody who walks around their constituency will see the need for bank branches, banking hubs and post offices for our most vulnerable constituents. I am also surprised that the Bill has so little to say on financial inclusion more broadly, despite my hon. Friend Emma Hardy flying the flag for financial inclusion with her brilliant amendments.

The co-operative and mutual sector also plays an important role in delivering financial inclusion. The Bill’s measures fall short of the Labour and Co-operative parties’ shared ambition to double the size of that sector in the UK. That is why I have tabled new clauses 4 and 5 requiring the regulators to report on how they have considered mutual and co-operative business models. In Committee, the Minister said that given that appropriate arrangements are already in place for regulators to report, that the FCA and Prudential Regulation Authority already produce well combed-through annual reports and that there is no deficiency in the level of engagement with the sector, such a measure is simply unnecessary. The sector was shocked by the Minister’s ill-informed response. It pointed to the FCA’s most recent annual report, published in July, where there is not one mention of the needs of co-operatives, mutuals, building societies or credit unions, while in the latest PRA annual report, building societies are just lumped in with standard banks. Every single business leader that I have spoken to, from Nationwide to the firms represented by the Building Societies Association, have called for the FCA and the PRA to report separately on these specific business models. Either the Minister believes he understands the needs of British mutuals and co-operatives better than the sector itself or he should support my amendments.

What is perhaps most striking, however, is how little the Bill has to say about green finance. Over a year ago, the present Prime Minister promised to make the UK the world’s first green financial centre, but on Monday the CBI warned that the Government are “going backwards” on building a greener economy. CBI director-general Tony Danker said firms need more action from Government on green finance. I therefore hope the Minister will support my new clause 6 requiring the Treasury to publish an updated green finance strategy with a clearly defined green taxonomy, as well as new clause 24 tabled by Chris Grayling introducing greater protections against deforestation. The Minister has said he is going to produce such a strategy imminently, but we look forward to hearing a timeline, because we are now very suspicious of the word “imminently” and want to hear clear dates and times.

In Committee, the Minister and his Conservative colleagues seemed astounded when I said that the Government and Minister were complacent about green finance. They took such issue with that that I felt I had to provide some evidence in my speech as to why I said it. The Government’s own independent Green Technical Advisory Group told them last month that they had to send a rapid market signal or we would risk falling further behind Europe, which launched its taxonomy back in 2020. In 2020 the Government legislated through a statutory instrument for a legal deadline of 1 January 2023 for the UK to establish the first set of green taxonomy criteria. That is less than a month away, so can the Minister tell me whether he is going to meet his own legal deadline? He is welcome to intervene on me if he thinks he is going to meet it.

The highlight of the Committee stage was when I received an early birthday present from the Minister: he gave me a copy of the “Global Green Finance Index” to read, which I read from cover to cover. It is scintillating. I thank him for the interesting read, but has the Minister read his Government’s own policy document, “Greening Finance”? If not, I have a copy here for him. The report says that the country is committed to consulting on the UK’s green taxonomy in the first quarter of 2022. No one will disagree that we are well beyond the first quarter of 2022. The reason I used the word complacent is that we are dealing with a Government who have missed their own deadlines and their own targets on green finance. If that is not complacency in action on green finance, I do not know what is.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Conservative, Chelmsford

I want to talk about new clause 17, especially in relation to the insurance sector.

The insurance sector is extremely important in my constituency. Insurers and insurance brokers based in Chelmsford are responsible for about 3,000 jobs in my constituency. In addition, Chelmsford is a major commuter city and many more of my constituents commute into London to work in the insurance sector. It is also a very important sector to the UK. The entire UK insurance industry accounts for 4% of our national GDP. The sector brings in an estimated total tax contribution in the region of £16.1 billion, or 2.2% of UK Government tax receipts for 2020. To put it another way, the insurance sector’s tax paid the salaries of every single nurse in the NHS in 2020-21. It is a really important sector and we do not discuss it often enough.

Insurance is also a very international business. Insurers and brokers based in Chelmsford have parent companies in the US, Switzerland, Japan and Australia. All have chosen to be in the UK as a centre for investment, and more international investment means more highly paid jobs supporting not only the City of London but local economies such as those in my constituency and beyond. That investment is under threat. It faces competition from other jurisdictions and the amendments we are debating today will help to show new and existing investors that the UK is open for business. It is a highly competitive global trading environment and London must keep pace with other parts of the world—they want our business. London remains a world-leading speciality insurance market. Three quarters of business booked in the UK comes from outside the UK and London. It is an export-led market. It is not replicated anywhere else in the world.

London retains a lead role thanks to its historical prominence. However, its market share has stagnated in the past decade. The UK needs a renewed focus on competitiveness and growth, and the amendments we are discussing today will help to ensure clear accountability and transparency in how we do that. It is not a theoretical risk that we will lose business to other countries. We have already lost out on new markets, investment and opportunities. Singapore copied the UK’s insurance-linked securities regime, a new form of insurance and risk transfer product. It recognised the quality of the UK’s legislation that this Government introduced in 2017, but when it implemented the regime, the Singapore regulator took a proportionate regulatory approach and that has encouraged many more new entrants. Singapore has approved 18 ILS vehicles in less time than it took the UK to do five. In 2021 alone, the UK lost out on over $700 million of foreign investment in ILS to Singapore, because its regulator is more agile and more proportionate, even though it has the same legislation.

There are also problems in just getting the day-to-day work done. The Bill Committee heard evidence from industry about how the FCA is sometimes taking nine months to authorise a chief executive coming from overseas to operate in the UK. That is just not good enough. I have also been told that not a single new insurance company has been set up in the UK in the last 15 years. Surely that is a clear sign that the UK is risking its position as the world’s leading insurance centre? Businesses face vital choices about where they place capital, income and people. Regulation is a key part of that decision-making process. That is why it is so welcome that the Government are introducing the new secondary objective on international competitiveness and economic growth. It is crucial. This is not a call for a race to the bottom in regulation. High regulatory standards are a strength of the UK system, but regulators across the world, from Australia, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the EU, are all required to consider international competitiveness, so we should do so, too.

I congratulate the Minister and his officials on their work to date, especially on new clause 17. It is a very welcome recognition from the Government that there is a cultural problem with the regulators, that action is needed on the part of the regulators to address key issues regarding their performance, and that the Government have a key role in holding the regulators’ feet to the fire. The new clause introduces a power over the regulators’ reporting requirements by providing a mechanism through which to direct information to be published, but it is unclear how and in what circumstances His Majesty’s Treasury would use the powers within it. Can the Minister therefore confirm whether he intends to seek a report on the new international competitiveness and growth objective as soon as possible, given that it is a critical new objective for the regulators? Can the Minister also confirm that, in future reporting of the international competitiveness objective, he and other Ministers will impress upon the regulators the need to consider metrics specific to competitiveness, not just domestic competition, and that that must include comparative analysis of our regulators’ performance against competitor jurisdictions, as well as analysis of product and service innovations taking place in key markets?

The new clauses tabled by my hon. Friend Richard Fuller go further on proposing a clear reporting criteria for the regulators to follow and on delivering international competitiveness and the growth objective. That would enable Parliament—I am looking at the Chair of the Treasury Committee, my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin here—to understand better how the regulators have been performing and the contribution they are making to facilitate our competitiveness and growth. In particular, new clauses 13 and 14 are designed to give the Government powers to require the publication of more performance metrics, including on new applications, authorised entities and persons. They already have some performance criteria, but the new clauses would extend that approach. It does not mean reinventing the wheel. Many are taken from the performance criteria of regulators in competitive jurisdictions. It would not compromise their independence, high standards, financial stability or consumer protection.

New clause 14 would add to the regulators’ authorisation key performance indicators outlined in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000. It would require them to publish monitoring data related to the determination of authorisations. This is a real issue for many of those acting in financial services. It would reduce the compliance burden for firms that regularly need to give clear applications for approved individuals and would, in turn, promote the openness of the UK for highly skilled talent. I am nearly finished, Mr Deputy Speaker, but there are a few more I want to mention.

New clause 15 would require both the FCA and the PRA to publish an annual report setting out how they facilitated international competitiveness and growth against a range of data and analysis requirements. Instead of allowing the regulators to mark their own homework, it would enable Parliament to understand how the regulators are helping the UK to be more competitive and ensure that they undertake comparative analysis with other jurisdictions.

New clause 16 is targeted at achieving a more proportionate approach to wholesale and retail financial services. Although the regulators have a proportionality principle, it is clearly not working in practice. I have heard time and again from insurers in my Chelmsford constituency and others that the regulators have adopted a one-size-fits-all approach to regulations by treating all financial services, no matter the product or customer, as the same. This means that the regulators in insurance are spending time and effort on over-regulating sophisticated corporate entities with teams of professional advisers, which is really affecting their competitiveness. It would be much better for them to spend that time and effort on protecting individual retail customers, such as our constituents, when they are buying products online or on the high street. The wording of the new clause should be familiar to the Minister’s officials, because it is borrowed from the recommendation for a proportionality principle for all regulators, which was published in June of last year by the Government’s taskforce for innovation, growth and regulating reform.

Amendments 1 to 6 would ensure that the cost-benefit analysis panels are better equipped to undertake the necessary scrutiny of regulators’ work, and would ensure that they are independent from the regulators, that they can publish their recommendations, and that the regulators must respond to those recommendations. Again, this would mean that Parliament, industry and public see the data and avoid a situation in which the regulators are marking their own homework behind closed doors.

I understand that my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire might not move the amendments, but they are all extremely serious. As I said, the industry makes such an important contribution to the tax income of this country and is key to funding our public services. It would be a tragedy to lose our international competitiveness and an industry that dates back to the Great Fire of London, so let us make sure that the Minister and the Treasury team can take the amendments into account.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary) 3:30 pm, 7th December 2022

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am pleased to speak on behalf of the Scottish National party in this afternoon’s debate, and I find myself in a strange position: after welcoming the new SNP leader last night, it is quite possible that, having stood up from the Front Bench, I might be sitting down on the Back Benches. It is a strange experience for me, but it has been quite common on the Conservative Benches for most of this year.

Colleagues who served on the Bill Committee will know that I had to miss most of its considerations for family reasons, and I want to place on the record my thanks to my hon. Friend Martin Docherty-Hughes, who unhesitatingly took on my share of the work on the Committee as well as his own. By all accounts, from what I have heard from Members of all parties, he did so very well. None of them said that he did it better than I would have done, although quite possibly he did.

We have well over 60 new clauses and amendments in front of us today, and we are not going to do justice to 10% of them—that is the nature of the way this place operates. I am also well aware that since we started the Committee deliberations, only three parties have had the chance to contribute, and I think it is only fair—I hope it is possible—that that balance be addressed later today. Other parties have voices and constituents, and the voters and constituents who do not like the governing party have a right to have their voices heard in the debate, which will be the only chance that they get.

I intend to simply restate the SNP’s position on the main themes of the Bill, as an indication of where we stand on most of the amendments. I will mention some specific amendments, but I hope that my comments will give an indication of which ones we support.

We recognise that there is a need for a complete overhaul of the UK’s financial services regulatory framework, although possibly in a slightly different direction from where the Government want to take it. For example, I have long argued that the Financial Conduct Authority does not have enough powers or resources. It has to be said that sometimes it does not seem to have the desire to take swift and effective action to stop frauds before they happen, and sometimes it does not have the power to compensate victims afterwards.

The SNP continues to have severe reservations about forcing regulators to put international competitiveness on an equal and sometimes higher footing than their actual regulatory responsibilities. There is a potential and very clear conflict of interests between being responsible for regulating the conduct of organisations and being responsible for helping them to become profitable. There are ways that companies can become more competitive that are quite clearly helpful to the public interest, and there are ways they can do it that are neutral to the public interest. There are also ways that a company can become more competitive that are extremely damaging to the public interest—for example, look at the way P&O treated its workers a few months ago. That made the company more competitive, but it was clearly against the wider public interest.

The regulators should have clear responsibilities on matters such as financial stability, consumer protection, fraud prevention and climate change objectives. On climate change objectives, I will not shilly-shally and make excuses; I will support new clause 25 if the House divides on it.

The Government have missed the chance—although from the Minister’s comments, I think we can assume that they have deliberately ignored the chance—to put financial inclusion at the heart of the Bill, so we will support amendments that address that. My understanding is that the official Opposition will press new clauses 2 and 7 to a Division today and we will certainly support them. As has been mentioned, free access for people to get their cash out of the bank is important and has to be available as a legal right, not simply as a by-your-leave on behalf of the banks and other financial institutions. I share the suspicion that if the amendments had not been tabled and if the banks had not known that those were coming, they would not have been nearly so keen to adopt voluntary codes of practice, and so on. We will also support new clause 23, which will force the FCA to give much more recognition and priority to the requirement for greater financial inclusion.

As I mentioned, we welcome the Bill’s anti-fraud measures, but they do not go nearly far enough. The Bill is hardly even present-proof, never mind future-proof. It is almost as though we are finally catching up to legislate, at the end of this year, for last year’s scams, and we are failing to notice that the bad guys and gals have designed new scams for this year and are already working on next year’s. For example, I welcome the fact that the Bill will give the Payment Systems Regulator a duty to improve the reimbursement of authorised push payment scams, but the same provision will not be carried over to the victims of crypto-scams, pension scams, investment scams or various others.

We will support new clause 1, as well as new clause 36, if that is pushed to a vote. New clause 36 emerged from a conversation between Public Accounts Committee members after we took evidence recently on the Government’s record on tackling fraud. A lot of us were struck by the fact that we knew, but had never really thought about, the fact that nobody has any idea of what the real level of fraud is in the United Kingdom, because, too often, financial institutions have a self-interest in choosing to cover it up rather than to report it. We know that 40% of reported crime in the United Kingdom is fraud, and the proportion is probably higher than that because a lot of the frauds against individual institutions are covered up rather than reported.

I am grateful to Olivia Blake for taking the time and trouble to introduce that new clause. If, as I strongly suspect will happen, the Government say that they are not against the principle but that they do not like the way in which it has been drafted, I hope that they commit to introducing a similar amendment in the other place in due course.

I remember—I think a lot of Opposition Members do—that not that long ago, the Tories were very enthusiastic about the idea of forcing people, including Members of Parliament, to report cases of suspected illegal immigration. It will be a real test and give a real indication of how seriously the Government take the damage that fraud causes to all our constituents if they refuse to even consider a similar requirement to report cases of suspected fraud.

The final serious concern that we have about the Bill, as with several other Bills that we have seen being rammed through this place, is the relentless drive to become as different as possible from the European Union, just for the sake of it. Although I do not know whether amendments 8 to 11 will be voted on tonight, had the Government submitted those as new clauses in Committee, or had they been part of the Bill as published, it is almost certain that we would have opposed them.

It will come as no surprise that, on behalf of the people of Scotland, the SNP will resist any attempt to drag us further from our European friends and neighbours than we already are. We make no secret of our intention to keep our country in a position where the restoration of our independence will be followed as swiftly as possible by our restoration to our rightful place as a sovereign nation in the EU. We want the transition back into EU membership to be as easy as possible, so we want that to be from the starting point of being as close to alignment with the EU as we can be.

This morning, an opinion poll showed support for Scottish independence at 56%—by jings! The new leader of the SNP group has fairly made his mark, has he not? Fifty-one per cent. would vote SNP in a Westminster election; that is even more than the landslide that we had in 2015. That increases to 53% if, as the SNP intends, the Westminster election becomes a de facto referendum.

The prospect of Scotland applying to rejoin the European Union as an independent nation within the next few years is not just a fanciful idea, nor is it just likely; it is now highly probable and is rapidly becoming a certainty. We have to act in the best interests of the people of Scotland by making sure that after independence we remain as close as possible to our friends and neighbours in the European Union so that our transition back to European Union membership can be as swift and smooth as possible.

When we rejoin the European Union, it is very likely that central Scotland will immediately become its second biggest financial services centre. It matters to our economy to be able to get back into the European Union with as little fuss and disruption as possible. For that reason, the future of our financial services sector lies not in isolationism from the Government, but in internationalism through membership of the European Union.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

Order. My plan is this: because there is a lot of pressure on time, I intend to prioritise those hon. Members whose amendments have been selected. It is really important for everybody to stick to six minutes. I am sure that the Chair of the Treasury Committee will lead by example so that I do not have to impose a time limit.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will try not to gabble.

I rise to speak to new clause 11, which stands in my name and in the name of many right hon. and hon. Members; I am pleased to hear from Tulip Siddiq that the Opposition support it too. I should clarify that I am speaking in this debate as an individual Back Bencher, rather than as Chair of the Treasury Committee.

As the Economic Secretary has highlighted, one of the many benefits of being able to bring financial regulation back into the UK is that we can create rules that will help to unleash growth and investment here. My new clause highlights the opportunity that reviewing MiFID presents for us to look again at the boundary between regulated advice and guidance.

I am proposing personalised guidance on financial matters. As we all know, the implementation of the retail distribution review about a decade ago has meant that financial advice is now a very high-quality service that is very expensive. The vast majority of our constituents do not pay and are not willing to pay for it. Something like 8% of people—I confess that I am one of them—are lucky enough to afford a financial adviser, but 92% of our constituents do not have that luxury.

When I was Economic Secretary in 2015, I launched the financial advice market review, which came up with 28 recommendations to help our constituents. Many wise steps were taken at the time, including enabling people to use £500 from their pension savings to pay for financial advice when using their pension freedoms. Despite those measures, however, there is still an enormous gap for our constituents. For example, about 10 million people in this country are fortunate enough to have more than £10,000 in savings, but 58% of that money is just sitting there in cash, and we all know how inflation is eroding the value of those investments.

My new clause 11 approaches the problem from the other direction. I was pleased to hear the Economic Secretary commit at the Dispatch Box today to using the new flexibilities and seeing whether he can do something like a personalised guidance review with great urgency. That will help our constituents in the following generic examples.

A customer may be saving for a deposit for their first home, but doing so with a cash individual savings account. They could get a nudge from their financial institution to consider putting the money into a lifetime ISA so that they get the Government rebate.

A customer may be sitting on a large cash balance for many months, well above their normal three-month outgoings. They could get an alert to warn them about the detriment to the value of cash as a result of inflation and to narrow down some suggestions for getting a better deal for their cash. With many of our constituents, particularly our elderly constituents, there is a lot of inertia because they are not receiving very much on their deposits. This approach would give them a nudge that there are better rates out there that they could be receiving.

A customer might have invested in a fund on a platform many years ago and have done nothing with it since. If the fund is poorly performing, they could get a nudge with some personalised guidance. A customer who opened a junior ISA, which by definition would have a very long time horizon, might get a nudge that cash was not the ideal investment, and that in his or her circumstances an investment with a longer time horizon might provide better protection from inflation.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Chair, Work and Pensions Committee, Chair, Work and Pensions Committee 3:45 pm, 7th December 2022

I agree with the case that the hon. Lady is making—indeed, I have signed her new clause. I wonder whether she has seen the report produced by the Work and Pensions Committee in September, which expressed concern about stepping across the advice-guidance boundary and constraining the ability of pension schemes and employers to give people helpful, sensible support as they make their choices about what to do with their pension savings. Would her new clause help in that regard?

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for signing the new clause, and for his Committee’s excellent report. He is right to suggest that the workplace is one of the best places for people to be given these nudges, and for employers to explore that boundary between advice and guidance.

Our constituents are craving advice of this kind, especially during this cost of living crisis. They want more guidance from their financial institutions. They are turning to online sources of often unregulated information to help them navigate their finances. They are finding the process complex and confusing. They are choosing investments that are often very high risk and not suited to them at all, such as meme stocks, crypto or spread betting.

It should not need to be this way, because the technology exists for financial services and fintech firms to guide people towards making better financial choices and following good mainstream investment opportunities, but MiFID-originated legislation is getting in the way. My new clause would enable the Treasury to introduce, with great urgency, the necessary legislation to allow regulated financial services firms to offer UK households personalised guidance. It is a great opportunity to unlock investment in our country, it will help our constituents to earn more, and it will allow innovation. Financial technology will help our constituents to level up their own economic futures. I am therefore delighted that the Economic Secretary has agreed today to look into this as a matter of urgency.

Photo of Crispin Blunt Crispin Blunt Conservative, Reigate

I fully support the proposed measure. Let me say something that is specifically for the ears of my hon. Friend and those on the Treasury Bench. Just is a company in Reigate, formed from a company called Just Retirement and Partnership, which provided products that challenged the existing ones, involving, for instance, equity release and life insurance for smokers. As a provider of challenger products, it was anxious for people to have access to independent advice, rather than just being directed only to its own products.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Chair, Treasury Committee, Chair, Treasury Committee

Let me end by saying that personalised guidance would offer the Economic Secretary the chance to make his mark and help all our constituents to benefit from better financial information. I am very pleased that he has committed himself today to look into it with the utmost urgency.

Photo of John Martin McDonnell John Martin McDonnell Labour, Hayes and Harlington

I entirely agree with what Harriett Baldwin has said, and I apologise for not signing her new clause; I wish I had.

I will be very brief, Madam Deputy Speaker. This is an appeal more than anything else. I am concerned about the way in which the Bill will undermine the constraints on commodity market speculation that were introduced during the financial crash of 2007-08. I was in the House before and during that crash. People remember that it was a banking crash based on the sub-prime housing market, but what is less discussed is what then happened with regard to commodity speculation. The funding shifted from housing to commodity and, in particular, food speculation, and we saw massive food price increases as a result. The price of wheat rose by 168% during that period, and the price of rice doubled. This was largely not to do with supply, which at that time was relatively stable; it was to do with commodity speculation.

We supported, on a cross-party basis, reforms to regulate the market. We gave the FCA the task of setting position limits. We also opened up the whole commodity market to greater transparency. I accept that there has been a watering-down of those regulations since then, particularly by the Trump Administration but also by signals from Ministers in the UK Government. That weakened regulation and weakened culture have opened the door to what is happening now, which is billions shifting into food commodity speculation. This is fuelling the cost of living crisis. It is not just about energy; it is now also about food prices, some of which have gone up by as much as 16%.

Of course, we cannot ignore Ukraine, climate change or the breakdown of supply chains with regard to covid, but another severe factor that is influencing this is commodity market volatility. Speculation is creating price rises, and this is making fortunes for individual speculators, but I have to say that the banks themselves are also making a killing at the moment.

I say this not as some kind of Cassandra—I was the first to raise Northern Rock in this Chamber, although others have claimed that too—but economists on both sides of the Atlantic are saying that this could be a systemic crisis unless we get to grips with it and accept that we need to strengthen, not weaken, regulation. One of the reasons I am concerned is that the Lighthouse report suggests that a lot of commodity investment is taking place by pension funds themselves. That could have an effect not only on prices but on the stability of people’s pensions.

The Government will say, “Don’t worry, we’re not scrapping the limits. We’re handing over control to the trading floors.” That is madness in itself. The trading floors have an interest in attracting traders, and the lesson of history is that they cannot be relied upon to regulate themselves. They do not worry about the interests of the whole economy. That is the job of the Government and Parliament. Also, I see no rationale for scrapping the transparency element of MiFID II. I would love to know what possible justification there could be for undermining access to more transparent information, because the markets are already opaque and this would make them worse.

A final comment from me—you will note that I am well under time, Madam Deputy Speaker—is one that I have made before. The best writer on the banking crash of 1929-30 was J. K. Galbraith, who said that, yes, we would put institutions in place to protect against a repeat of that kind of crash but one of the most significant things would be memory; people would remember what had happened. Unfortunately, I fear that we are now replicating the circumstances of 2007-08 and undermining the very regulations that we as a House put in place to protect against the food speculation, the price increases and, I have to say, the starvation that occurred as a result of that crisis. I never want to see that again. I think this is a mistake by the Government, and I hope that they will think again. I also think we might be able to bring forward some amendments in the other House that will help the Government to move along a more constructive path than the one they are on at the moment.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

I rise to focus on new clause 24, tabled in my name and with the support of a number of Members on both sides of the House. It focuses on one of the great challenges of the moment, which is how we reverse the loss of habitats and forests around the world. Deforestation in South America, Asia and, to an increasing degree, in the northern parts of the world is a real crisis for our planet. It is appropriate that we are having this debate today, the day on which the biodiversity summit begins in Montreal. It is my hope that that summit will lead to a new international agreement on tackling habitat and biodiversity loss around the world.

New clause 24 focuses on taking the battle against illegal deforestation to the next step. This Government and this House took the first important step last year in the passage of the Environment Act 2021, which introduces a requirement for those dealing in potential forest risk products in the United Kingdom to have a due diligence process in place to ensure that they are not sourcing their products from areas of illegally deforested land. That was a substantial and very positive step, and I am pleased to see that the European Union has taken a similar step this week and is perhaps going slightly further in tackling the issue of forest risk products.

But a substantial area that remains untouched both here and in many countries around the world is the question of financial services investing, whether through equities, loans or bonds, in companies that source forest-risk products. We know from the work of organisations such as Global Witness that, over the years, there have been far too many examples of banks knowingly, or sometimes unknowingly, financing the activities of companies that purchase directly from those who are illegally deforesting areas of the Amazon, for example, for beef production or soya production.

We need to extend the work we have already done on forest-risk products, and those who directly deal in them, to the financial services sector and the banks that fund companies that have the potential to participate directly or indirectly, knowingly or unknowingly, in illegal deforestation.

I hope the Government will take this on board, and I am grateful to the shadow Minister, Tulip Siddiq, for her words of support. New clause 24 would replicate almost exactly what this House has already approved in the Environment Act 2021, translating it into a duty on the financial services sector to carry out similar due diligence to ensure that its work does not support illegal deforestation.

The reality is that these financial services businesses already do due diligence. No major institution simply lends or invests in a business without doing very careful due diligence on where it is putting its money, on the likely return on that investment and on the likely risks of that investment. New clause 24 would not ask them to do something wholly different from what they are already doing; it would simply require them to extend their due diligence into this area, which most institutions, at a senior level, would say is vital to all of us.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire

My right hon. Friend is making an incredibly important point about an issue I also massively care about, and I totally support the ambition to get some form of regulation in this space. When I was environment editor of The Observer and The Times, I often wrote about deforestation. There is a real problem with doing due diligence on supply chains, as the loggers in Brazil log illegally but tell their intermediaries that they log legally, so the intermediaries say they are logging legally, and so on. That is all quite difficult to trace. If there is not a robust due diligence system, and many people have struggled on that, my fear is that financial services companies will end up not backing any wood product companies at all, as even the legitimate ones would be seen as a risk.

Photo of Chris Grayling Chris Grayling Conservative, Epsom and Ewell

My hon. Friend makes an important point. What makes it possible for big organisations to track their supply chains is the presence of Earth observation data, which many supermarkets now use to understand where they are sourcing from. Interestingly, it is a central part of this week’s proposal by the European Union. The data is available, but it is complicated. I recently had a meeting with a major institution that financially supports companies in Brazil, and it said it is incredibly difficult to track, all the way down the supply chain, where products are coming from. Well, it may be incredibly difficult, but it still has to be done.

New clause 24 would place a duty on financial institutions, as we did with retailers, to carry out proper due diligence on their investments, to understand and to be absolutely certain that the companies they deal with have due diligence processes in place themselves, so they know from where they are buying beef, soya or palm oil and so they work properly to ensure they deliver products from sustainable sources in a responsible way.

We hear warm words coming from the executive suites of our major financial institutions all the time about their commitment to sustainability, to net zero and to being responsible citizens. Sometimes they do it, sometimes they do not. There might be the will in head office, but sometimes a local branch does not deliver. New clause 24 would make it a clear duty on those institutions to do due diligence to make sure they know where products are coming from and so they know where investments are being made. This country has been a leader, and new clause 24 would be one further step in dealing with the blight of deforestation, which affects everyone’s future.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I rise to support new clause 7, which stands in my name and those of dozens of right hon. and hon. Members from all corners of this House. The amendment is simple: it proposes that the Treasury must not only make provision to guarantee a minimum level of cash access, but ensure that this access is free. Why? Because surely it cannot be right in 2022 that almost a quarter of our cash machines charge people to access their own money.

The facts are stark but simple, and may I give particular thanks and praise to Which? for such hard-hitting evidence? The UK has lost more than half of its branch network since 2015—that is 5,013 branches, at a terrifying rate of 54 every month. But money talks, and as they flee the high streets, our free cash machines disappear with them. We have lost 12,599 free-to-use ATMs in the UK since 2018, which is a decrease of nearly 24%—and it is getting worse. Replacing them are paid machines, with almost a quarter of ATMs now charging people to access their own cash. The providers really are in the money. How can that possibly be right at any time, never mind in the heart of a cost of living crisis, where the reliance on cash has soared, with the Post Office handling its highest total on record in August?

This is not just a problem for rural areas. As we have already discussed, in my constituency in south London, Mitcham has seen three bank branches flee our town centre in the last three years. When Barclays left, it swapped a busy branch for a bus that pulled up every now and then outside the empty building. But at least Barclays had the decency to show up to face the music at a public meeting, unlike Halifax, whose pledge to engage with its most vulnerable customers did not quite chime with its no-show at a packed St Mark’s church hall. Many of the attendees were from Pollards Hill, a neighbourhood cut off from the London transport network, with residents relying on the small shopping parade for everyday spends. There are two cash machines on the parade, but both charge a fee and are very profitable. That means that residents who are carefully managing a budget and taking out £10 at a time face a 20% premium just to access their own cash. How can that possibly be right or fair? When the Co-op moved into the parade last year, with the expectation of bringing a free-to-use machine with it, a ridiculous clause in its lease prevented it from opening a free ATM. If this is happening in Mitcham and Morden, it is happening in all hon. Members’ constituencies.

Success has many parents, and if this new clause is successful today, it will be in no small part thanks to the six Select Committee Chairs, seven members of the Treasury Committee and the dozens of Opposition MPs, from all parties, who have put their names to it. But I recognise the particular importance of the 21 Conservative MPs who have put their heads above the parapet to add their voice on behalf of their constituents. I thank them, because I recognise the importance of working on a cross-party basis when an issue is as uncontroversial as this. I sincerely hope they will bring their view and their colleagues to the voting Lobby later today.

I understand that the Government are considering advising free access in the policy statement, concerned that requiring free access will result in the loss of paid machines. That simply does not make sense.

Photo of Siobhain McDonagh Siobhain McDonagh Labour, Mitcham and Morden

I am tempted to give way, because I want to debate this, but I am observant of the Chair’s ruling on limiting speeches, so I apologise to the hon. Gentleman.

Adding the word “free” into the Bill would not result in the loss of a single paid ATM. It would simply preserves free access for every community, so that no one is obligated to pay for their own money. We have all seen how devastating the impact of bank branch closures can be on our communities, particularly for the elderly, the disabled and the most vulnerable, who are least likely to be able to use online banking and most reliant on access to cash. For them, cash is king. It is why MP after MP has led local campaigns fighting to save bank branches in their town centres, but what is the point of the photo in the local newspaper or the packed public meeting unless the rhetoric is matched by a vote in favour today?

It is time for Members to put their money where their mouth is, to listen to their constituents, to challenge their Whip, and to make a simple, lasting change for the most vulnerable people in their community. It is uncontroversial, tangible, straightforward, no nonsense, common sense and cross party. Free access to cash is, quite simply, bang on the money, and I hope that it will have the support of the House.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

After such a thoughtful presentation by Siobhain McDonagh, I am sure the Minister will consider carefully her entreaties and also the opinions of those on the Conservative Benches.

I congratulate the Minister and his Treasury team on this important and big Bill passing through its Committee stage and maintaining its cross-party support, which is so evident here today.

One of my greatest concerns about the Bill is that we underestimate the importance and the severity of the international competition that our financial services face. We are in a fierce global competition and the balance of risk has to be that the UK will not move fast enough, it will not be smart enough and its moves will not be significant enough to maintain and build the comparative advantage of our financial services sector, which is why I have tabled some of my new clauses. It is also why I am looking forward to hearing what the Minister will say to reassure me in his closing remarks.

We need a Bill, a Government and a country that are pro the financial services sector. That is where the wealth is created in this country. If we do not allow the financial services sector in this country to grow to be globally competitive we are harming the taxes that then pay for all the public services on which our constituents depend. In addition, as my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford has said, and as is the case in my constituency and the constituency of my hon. Friend Craig Tracey, I have many constituents whose incomes are directly related to the success of our financial services sector.

My new clauses put down some requirements on the regulator to get with that spirit behind its new objective of international competitiveness. New clause 12 would make it a requirement to publish regulatory performance information that is material to new authorisations, because new authorisations mean growth for the United Kingdom’s financial services sector. We need a very close focus on how effective the regulators are being on that, and the new clause asks for some general statistics.

New clause 13 talks about how the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority work effectively to support already authorised firms, and is specifically to do with approved persons, rules and timings on change in control, variation of permissions and waivers and modifications. Those are the tools of doing business, and if they are not greased and moving quickly enough, that is a source of competitive disadvantage.

New clause 14 is about determination of applications. It would create a new key performance indicator for the FCA. None of this is a criticism of the two individuals who run the FCA and the PRA. They are doing a fine job, but the FCA has a lot of KPIs, which have nothing to do with how effective it is in building the financial services sector in this country. It needs to rebalance—I know the Minister is supportive of this—and I will talk about that in a minute.

New clause 15 would create a duty for the regulators to report on their competitiveness and growth objectives. For me, this is a crucial new clause, and I would like to hear from the Front Bench today that the Minister will commit to this report. If he could look through some of the specific items in my new clause about what should be included, I would very much appreciate a specific response.

The Minister talked about the proportionality principle, and there is indeed a proportionality principle, but I reworded it, because it was not done in a way that was effective for the success of our financial services sector and made a difference between wholesale and retail financial services firms. I have tabled amendments about the cost-benefit panel, which gets to the root and branch of how Government should work out whether to enact a new regulation: what are the cost and what are the benefits?

I appreciate that the Minister has said that he is excluding people who are direct employees of the regulators from being part of those panels, and it seems a pretty basic principle that people should not mark their own homework. However, we need the voices of those who are being regulated in that cost-benefit analysis—their opinions, their views and their data.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

I am afraid I cannot give way because of your desire to get on, Madam Deputy Speaker, which I completely agree with.

Amendments 1 and 4 bring in the importance of transparency for those two regulators, the FCA and the PRA. We do not want to see regulators going away into a secret room, not telling anyone what the cost-benefit analysis is, and then coming out and saying, “We’ve decided it is X.” We need true transparency on their deliberations and on the opinions that they have received. I am very specific in those amendments.

Tulip Siddiq, the shadow spokesperson, who is not in her place, spoke about her concerns about the intervention power, which I think she completely mislabelled as a dangerous thought—I think it is a fairly reasonable thought. In her absence, I will just say to those on the Opposition Front Bench that what looks good in an era of declining yield curves and quantitative easing in a democratic country may look differently in an era of rising yields and quantitative tightening.

My amendments are quite specific. The Minister has been supportive throughout the process and I look forward very much to hearing his conclusions in his summing-up.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

The Liberal Democrats recognise the importance of good regulation. Well-designed, effectively administered, properly enforced regulation creates a level playing between competitors and instils confidence in consumers and players in all markets. As the Liberal Democrats’ Treasury and business spokesperson, I have spoken to many businesses in many sectors, including in the City, and I have not found anywhere an appetite for the sweeping away of regulations often advocated by Members on the Conservative Benches. Everywhere I hear calls for effective regulation, properly administered.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Would the hon. Lady be able to identify any Member of this House who has talked about the merits of sweeping away regulation? That is not the position of the Government.

Photo of Sarah Olney Sarah Olney Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Treasury)

With respect, I did not say it was the position of the Government, but the Minister cannot deny that it has been advocated for on many occasions during the referendum campaign and on many occasions since. I think he is being disingenuous.

Although the Liberal Democrats welcome some aspects of the Bill that will update the regulatory framework for financial services, we remain concerned by the lack of accountability of the regulators to Parliament and by the potential impact of this Bill on financial stability. The Government have described this Bill as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to reshape financial regulation, but as currently written the Bill lacks ambition and inspiration. In particular, it is a missed opportunity to create a regulatory framework that turbocharges the green agenda and strengthens protections for victims of fraud.

My fundamental concern with the drafting of the Bill is how it undermines the role of Parliament while extending significant new powers to both regulators and the Treasury. As ever, the devil is in the detail, which will be largely hidden within secondary legislation that will not receive parliamentary scrutiny or oversight. Accountability and transparency are the cornerstone of effective regulation. It is vital that those principles are upheld to maintain national and international confidence in the UK’s financial services sector and to improve the operational performance of regulators.

The Bill did not previously contain sufficient powers to require the regulators to report on their performance against their objectives. I am therefore pleased that the Government have made some steps towards improving accountability and transparency though the addition of new clause 17. However, the new clause still does not go far enough in establishing parliamentary oversight of the regulators. Regulators’ powers are granted by Parliament, and that is who they should be accountable to—not to a Minister who may only be in place for a matter of weeks.

I remain concerned that the new statutory objective on international competitiveness could increase risk-taking in the financial services sector. We do not need to be reminded of just how damaging that sort of behaviour can be. I am particularly concerned that the secondary objective of competitiveness will negatively impact the regulator’s delivery of its primary objective of ensuring financial stability.

Our amendments (a) and (b) to new clause 17 would place additional requirements on the regulators to report on the delivery of their objectives, including with an assessment of the impact of the Bill on financial stability. If the last few months have proved anything, it is that volatility in financial markets has a very real and direct impact on households, so I urge the Government to think about how the Bill can be strengthened to ensure that financial stability remains at the forefront of regulators’ activities.

I am pleased to see that a number of amendments on green finance have been tabled, but it is disappointing to see the Conservatives’ lack of ambition in that area. We have such an opportunity to be a leading global centre for green finance, but the Bill does nothing to facilitate that. There is an increasing appetite among investors to support the green transition, but British businesses often struggle to access the green capital they need. New clause 33, tabled in my name, would place a requirement on the regulators to report on ways in which they have promoted and incentivised green finance and green investment. Time is running out for us to lead the world on this, and I urge the Government to commit to a green finance strategy and to start thinking seriously about how a regulatory framework can mobilise green finance.

The final aspect of the Bill that I will talk about is its failure to tackle fraud, of which there is only one mention. Fraud causes enormous financial hardship and distress to businesses and individuals, and the Government are simply not taking it seriously enough. According to figures from UK Finance, less than half the money through bank transfer scams is reimbursed to the victims—in 2021, that equated to just £271 million of £583 million. Clause 64 requires banks to reimburse victims of push payment scams, but it allows the payment services regulator to set the rules on the grounds of reimbursement. We have tabled amendment 7 to close that loophole and ensure that banks cannot refuse to reimburse victims on the grounds that they ought to have known it was a scam. This Government must do more to protect victims of fraud; the onus should not be solely on individuals to protect themselves, because they are being increasingly disempowered.

To conclude, we welcome the Bill in principle, but there are real weaknesses in its drafting—primarily, the lack of parliamentary oversight and the missed opportunities in promoting green finance and tackling fraud.

Photo of Sally-Ann Hart Sally-Ann Hart Conservative, Hastings and Rye 4:15 pm, 7th December 2022

In 1215, the Magna Carta was written and signed into law by King John I of England. Although that important document did not guarantee freedom of speech, it was considered the cornerstone of liberty in England and began a tradition of civil rights in Britain that laid the foundations for our first Bill of Rights of 1689, which granted freedom of speech in Parliament.

That was the first time in history that any form of freedom of speech was codified in law. It was extremely influential throughout the western world, leading to the declaration of the rights of man in 1789—a fundamental document of the French revolution that provided for freedom of speech—and the US Bill of Rights in 1791. In 1948, the universal declaration of human rights was adopted virtually unanimously by the UN General Assembly, and urged member nations

“to promote a number of human, civil, economic, and social rights”, including freedom of expression. Under article 10 of the Human Rights Act 1998,

“Everyone has the right to freedom of expression…subject to such formalities, conditions, restrictions or penalties as are prescribed by law and are necessary in a democratic society”.

Criminalising the incitement of violence or threats, for example, is widely considered a justifiable limit on freedom of expression.

What we cannot have are global tech firms, online payment services, banks and others deciding who they can censor because they do not like or are offended by the views of others. It is essential to have freedom of expression—it is essential to society—and we have to be able to express and discuss differing ideas and ideals to ensure that we have a full and therefore better understanding of the challenges we all face in this modern world.

Freedom of expression in the UK is under threat and must be protected. New clause 27 protects free speech and the exercise of free expression. It seeks to prohibit service refusal by financial service providers on grounds relating to lawful exercise of free expression by requiring providers to explain the reason for a refusal of service, allowing the Financial Conduct Authority to intervene, and creating a civil law remedy for affected customers. We should not allow a system where payment service providers or even high street banks can terminate the accounts of individuals or organisations on the basis of lawful speech if adequate notice is given. Britain has led the world for centuries on democracy and freedom of speech, and it needs to do so again against the global tech companies that want to impose their view of the world and stifle free speech.

Members may remember in early September media agitation surrounding PayPal’s decision to cancel the online payment accounts of the Daily Sceptic, the Free Speech Union and an individual’s personal accounts. Many of us here may not agree with the politics of these organisations or that individual, but it is fundamentally wrong that online payment accounts can be exited because the payment service provider or its staff do not agree with the opinions of the service user. We are not talking about hate speech, terrorism or crime—we have legislation to deal with that; we are talking about lawful speech.

The relatively recent digitalisation of financial transactions has placed an unprecedented amount of power in the hands of online payment service providers such as PayPal, as well as banks, credit companies and online platforms. UK legislation must keep pace with these rapid technological changes and financial censorship must be prevented. As we switch to an increasingly cashless society, we must put in legislation to protect people from being punished by payment processors for expressing legal, but different views, no matter our politics.

New clause 27 is designed to ensure that the regulator has the ability to ensure that financial service providers cannot withdraw or withhold service from a customer on political grounds. The battle to preserve free speech in our society is something we must all fight for. Rising political polarisation is contributing to the threat to our freedom of expression, and the alternative—placing power in the hands of the easily offended—cannot be an option. This issue has to be of grave concern to us all, whatever our politics. I am grateful to the Minister for his assurances earlier, spelling out what he is going to do and his commitment to take this matter further. There are plenty of colleagues who will hold him to that.

Photo of Nick Smith Nick Smith Labour, Blaenau Gwent

I rise in support of new clause 10, and I am pleased to have worked alongside Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown on it, as fellow members of the Public Accounts Committee. Since 2017, I have worked with others supporting steelworker pensioners across Blaenau Gwent and the United Kingdom. Thousands of them fell victim to financial sharks. They were wrongly advised to move out of their defined benefit British Steel pension scheme. It took until last Monday, five years later, for the Financial Conduct Authority to announce a redress scheme. It was about time. The FCA righted those wrongs, but I think too late.

Early on in the campaign, I remember meeting the then chief executive of the FCA, now the Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, where I was met with a lacklustre response. Along with my hon. Friend Stephen Kinnock and other campaigners, I continued to press the FCA. In 2020, I wrote to its newly appointed chief executive, however Mr Rathi did not want to meet. He asked one of his directors to meet us instead.

Later, in 2021, frustrated with the FCA giving us the cold shoulder, I wrote to the Comptroller and Auditor General of the National Audit Office. I asked if it would please investigate the FCA’s oversight of this terrible scandal. Fair do’s, the NAO did that, and it published its full report in March this year. It observed that in the summer of 2017:

“The FCA had limited insight into…what was happening in the BSPS at the time of its restructure.”

There were terrible things going on.

Even more damning were the conclusions of the Public Accounts Committee. We found that:

“The FCA failed to take swift and effective action at all stages of the BSPS case.”

It failed

“to prevent consumers from being harmed”, which makes clear the

“limitations with the FCA’s supervisory approach”.

The point is that the FCA took proper notice of this injustice only when Parliament, through the NAO and eventually the Public Accounts Committee, dug deep to investigate.

Of course, the BSPS case is not the only example of the FCA’s failure to protect consumers in recent years; I have heard many complaints from Members across the House. The scandals surrounding Blackmore Bond, Dolphin and Azure come to mind. Consumers are our financial sector. As long as the FCA fails to exercise its powers to protect ordinary workers, it will continue to fail our constituents. New clause 10 would require the FCA’s consumer panel to lay an official report before Parliament. We could then judge whether the regulator is fulfilling its duty to protect consumers.

During my 12 years in this House, I have learned many things, but one thing stands out: parliamentary scrutiny matters. I am pleased to have support from across the House for the new clause—from our Labour Treasury team, senior Conservative Members, the Liberal Democrat spokesperson, Treasury Committee members, other colleagues and fellow members of the Public Accounts Committee. By supporting our new clause, Britain’s consumers could be better heard, and our financial services sector would be all the better for it.

Photo of David Mundell David Mundell Conservative, Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale

I apologise in advance to you, Madam Deputy Speaker, to the Minister, and to Siobhain McDonagh, who tabled new clause 7, as I may not be able to be present at the conclusion of the debate, but I wanted to speak on the issue, having campaigned on it since I returned to the Back Benches, principally with my hon. Friend Paul Maynard. I am very pleased with what is proposed overall in the Bill, because during the period of covid it became clear that the system of use of cash could have collapsed. It was incoherent in the way it was managed and regulated, and we saw the potential pressures of not using cash or its usage not being permitted.

I am disappointed that my right hon. Friend Kit Malthouse has left the Chamber, because I could not disagree more with the points that he made in interventions. We cannot simply move in an unstructured way to a cashless society. We are not ready for that. As I pointed out in an intervention, about 8 million people, whether they are rural dwellers or those living in deprived areas, rely on cash and will continue to do so. I declare that I still have a chequebook, because there are circumstances, particularly when dealing with small voluntary organisations, where a cheque is accepted. Cheques may be on the way out, but there are still circumstances where they are required. Therefore, we have to move forward at the pace of the slowest in our society.

I believe that the prospect of regulation has been very positive, in terms of forcing the banks and others in the sector to become a lot more constructive in the debates and discussions. As the hon. Member for Mitcham and Morden mentioned, the banks have been pretty disingenuous over the period. I have had many closures in my constituency, and they have often been made with undertakings that certain things would happen. For example, in the community of Lochmaben, the branch closed and the free auto-teller was to remain; now it is to be removed, two or three years on. Often the promises given are not worth very much, but I am sure that the threat of legislation, and hearing the Minister say that the Government’s position is a commitment to free access to cash, will ensure that the industry stays on board and delivers for people.

As has been set out, there has been a significant drop in the number not only of bank branches but of free-to-access ATMs, while the number of ATMs that require a fee has risen. As the Minister would expect from our lively discussion, I am in favour of consumer choice—if people want to pay for convenience, that is fine by me—but they should not have to pay several pounds to withdraw £10 from an ATM. At the core of this issue is the fact that many transactions are small transactions, not the ones that we might think of that are made of larger cash sums, which is why we have to stick to the free-to-access commitment.

There are two points that I would like the Minister to address, as I asked him to do when we met. First, the FCA should have an overview of the ability to use cash. There are many anecdotes about whether cash can be used in particular circumstances, but we need to know the facts about the current reality of locations where people can and cannot use cash, and the FCA should have a role in that. Secondly, I would like more detail about what the geographic requirement will be for people to have an ability to access cash. I have one of the largest constituencies in the United Kingdom—indeed, it is larger than any constituency in England or Wales—and its needs are clearly different from central London. We need to get that right.

We also need to get the situation right with the post office. In the earlier statement, I was pleased to hear my hon. Friend Duncan Baker highlight the fact that it is not working in the way that we would want and it is not an attractive prospect for many businesses. In my constituency, when a post office is cited as being close by, that often means a small van going to a community for two hours a week; it does not mean that there is a post office in that community.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means) 4:30 pm, 7th December 2022

If there are any other right hon. or hon. Members who cannot stay for the wind-ups, they should let me know. I was not aware that David Mundell could not stay. It is important that people stay, so I would not necessarily have called him.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

I rise to speak to new clauses 22, 23 and 29 and amendments 19, 21 and 22 in my name, which are all about financial inclusion. I thank Martin Coppack from Fair By Design, the Phoenix Group and Mastercard for meeting me earlier this week to talk about why they support financial inclusion.

When we think of financial inclusion, we tend to think of the consumer groups that support it, such as Citizens Advice, and it is not widely known that it is supported by FTSE 100 companies such as the Phoenix Group, Mastercard and Legal & General. When I asked why they support it, they said that since we left the EU, regulators are more powerful than ever before. Of course, I do not believe that the Government should have the call-in powers that were debated earlier. That huge transfer of powers to the regulator means that it becomes even more crucial for Parliament to set the correct objectives; we have to get the objectives right if we are to allow our regulators to function effectively in the post-Brexit world.

There was a rumour that the Government were keen to push back on any additional objectives for the regulators. Apparently, they compared it with the national curriculum, where everybody wants to get their bit in, and perhaps in the same way, everybody wants their bit to be a new objective for the regulators. But even if that is the case—clearly, there is a demand for the regulators to have many new objectives and for objectives to be strengthened—that does not mean that we are incorrect, because financial inclusion is important. Ensuring that the FCA has regard to financial inclusion turns it from a nice to have to something that we must have. It would embed financial inclusion in the design of financial services and products forever.

When I met people from Mastercard and they were talking to me about future innovations in financial services, fintech and the way financial services are developing new products, they said that at the moment financial inclusion is seen as an add-on, in that they develop a product, and financial inclusion is fitted into it by asking, “Well, how can we make this financially inclusive?” Those from Mastercard told me that they want financial inclusion to be there from the beginning, so that when new products are designed and created, it is given primacy, and is there throughout the whole design.

Without financial inclusion, constituents will continue to face what is called the poverty premium. I have spoken before about the poverty premium, which is basically the additional cost of being poor, and it explains why it is so expensive to have such a low income. In Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, the poverty premium works out at £459 per household, which is nearly £6 million paid in extra costs by my constituents just because they happen to come from lower-income families. This is all calculated by Fair By Design.

For too long, the idea of financial inclusion has been a hot potato passed between the FCA, the Treasury and other regulators and Departments, with nobody prepared to take ultimate responsibility. For example, the Competition and Markets Authority started to carry out investigatory work on the poverty premium across essential services, but in the end determined it was too difficult, and it now signposts organisations to sector regulators such as the FCA. However, the sector regulators say that this is not their responsibility, as it involves elements of social policy and pricing of risk—and so we go on.

We are asking the FCA to collate the information needed to really look at and analyse the poverty premium. Of course, as we expected, the FCA says it does not want another objective. I think we probably understand why it does not want to be given any additional work to do, but it is our job as Parliament to set and establish the types of financial services we want, and to ask what our principles are as parliamentarians, what things we care about and what we want our future financial services to look like. Surely Members across the House would agree that having a financially inclusive sector or financially inclusive products that cater for people right across the population of the UK, not merely the most profitable ones, is a good thing.

When I was talking to people from Mastercard and Phoenix about this, they said that financial inclusion could open up new markets for them among those who would be interested in their products, if they were designed in an effective way. My new clauses and amendments ask the FCA to have regard to financial inclusion, and would place a duty on the FCA to report to Parliament annually on how well it is doing with financial inclusion and giving that information back to us. The proposals would end the current damaging situation by placing a clear remit on the regulator to ensure it routinely and properly explores financial inclusion issues across its work, allowing greater clarity on unintended consequences and the best interventions needed to ensure financial inclusion, as well as who is best placed to act.

The Government could save my constituents in Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle nearly £6 million, and it would not cost them a penny. Surely that, if nothing else, means that the Government should look more favourably at the amendments I have tabled.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds

I am grateful to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I congratulate Nick Smith on tabling new clause 10, for which he should receive much of the credit. This amendment has an extremely simple intent in laying a duty on the FCA to report to Parliament on

“(a) the adequacy and appropriateness of the FCA’s use of its regulatory powers; (b) the measures the FCA has taken to protect vulnerable consumers, including pensioners, people with disabilities, and people receiving forms of income support;
and”— finally and most importantly—

“(c) the FCA’s receptiveness to the recommendations of the Consumer Panel.”

I will now say why paragraph (c), in particular, is so important. The hon. Member has explained clearly why the FCA should regularly report to Parliament, and in my role as deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, I have constantly urged openness and transparency, wherever possible, so that our constituents can make full and proper judgments on the actions, or lack of them, of regulators such as the FCA.

Like the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, I will give the House an example. The PAC inquiry that we held in April and June this year highlighted the plight of some 2,000 of the 7,700 British Steel pensioners who in 2019 suffered significant financial shortfalls because of the wrong advice given by a significant number of independent financial advisers who advised pensioners to opt out of their valuable defined-benefit pension schemes. To add further insult to injury, the actions by the regulator caused a number of independent financial adviser companies to go out of business or merge with others, and therefore the compensation that pensioners received rightly was capped. I know this is a complicated subject but both the hon. Member and I are using it as an egregious example of why the FCA needs to be more accountable to Parliament and our constituents. This amendment stems from recommendations 5a and 5b in the PAC report “Investigation into the British Steel Pension Scheme”, published on 21 July:

“The FCA should be more proactive and consumer-focused in its engagement with stakeholders. It should have a better mechanism for responding to consumer harms and collect more evidence on a regular basis to pick up on issues that are being raised, especially from emerging risks in financial markets…The FCA must also review how effective the Financial Services Consumer Panel is at consumer protection and how it influences policy debates within the FCA from a consumer angle.”

The hon. Member and I have had discussions with the Economic Secretary, who is on the Front Bench today, and I believe he is sympathetic to the principle that the FCA needs to be much more accountable. If that is the case, I very much hope that he will concede the principle of this amendment and incorporate it as a Government amendment in the other place. Neither the hon. Member nor I wish to be prescriptive about how or when this reporting should take place to Parliament; that is a matter for the Government.

No financial institution will ultimately exist without its consumers. The whole point of the FCA as a regulatory authority is to protect their interests. Rather than having to work through long and complicated reports, there needs to be clear, easily available information on what regulators are doing, or not doing, on their behalf. All of this requires a fundamental shift in the regulator’s—the FCA’s—attitude to the consumer and a commitment to engage more when things go wrong.

Finally, I want to comment on the fraud aspects of the Bill. The PAC recently conducted an inquiry on fraud and discovered that 41% of all reported crime in June was accounted for by fraud, up from 30% in 2017, yet just 1% of police resources is being devoted to fraud crimes. So we urgently need to see the Government’s new comprehensive fraud strategy.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I rise to add my wholehearted support to the comments of my hon. Friend Emma Hardy, to new clause 7, to my Front Bench, and indeed to the points made by Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown: many of us have had concerns about the FCA and its ability to represent consumers for many years, and it is good to see that work being done.

I shall focus on new clause 28. The bridge of the Titanic received seven warnings about icebergs. It was told exactly where the iceberg was, but on hearing those warnings it varied the direction of travel by one or two degrees yet kept going full steam ahead. The visible iceberg was 50 to 100 feet high and 200 to 400 feet long, yet still they ploughed into it. It does not take a rocket scientist to recognise that we have a personal debt crisis in this country with a cost of living crisis, that our constituents are struggling because there is too much month at the end of their money, and that those who make their money from those who are struggling are licking their lips.

This Bill is about financial regulation yet one of the most pernicious legal loan sharks is the buy now, pay later industry. The pool in which they fish is wide. This country has £205 billion-worth of consumer credit lending to account for, up £482 million on the previous month. People are borrowing not just to pay Peter and Paul, but to pay for their mortgages, to put food on their table, petrol in their car and clothes on their children’s backs. Let me be clear: I do not stand here with a hair shirt on saying nobody should borrow, but in that environment, when our constituents are being exploited by these companies, it is absolutely right to regulate them and protect our constituents, yet that is not what is happening here.

For nearly three years we have been warning the Government on the need to act on legal loans harks and the buy now, pay later companies—those warnings that came to the bridge of the Titanic. The Klarnas, the Laybuys and the Clearpays are the companies whose names we see when we go to check out online. They account for 6% of all online spending in the UK, and that is expected to double in the next two years. High thousands of reputable retailers have them on their websites. They have them not to help people to spread their payments as the companies claim, but because people spend on average 30% to 40% more if they use buy now, pay later.

But what people are telling us very clearly is that they are spending money they do not have. A quarter of all buy now, pay later users have been unable to pay for at least one essential because they are having to make repayments on buy now, pay later products. Some 25% of users have also missed a payment or made a late payment on a buy now, pay later loan in the last 12 months.

In the three years we have been warning, urging, holding votes in this place and begging the Government to regulate those companies, the companies have exploded their interest across the UK. Companies such as Klarna are now worth billions of pounds because they can exploit our constituents. Two and a half years ago, the FCA said, “Yes, we should regulate these companies.” They exploit a loophole. Officially they do not charge interest, so they are not regulated by consumer credit.

What does that mean in practice? It does not just mean that right now our constituents are better protected if they take out a payday loan; it means they have nobody to complain to. They cannot go to the ombudsman if they feel they have been mis-sold this type of credit, and many constituents and consumers are saying they are being mis-sold. They did not realise that they had used buy now, pay later because it is so pervasive on websites. It means that consumers are dependent on the companies themselves, because they are not regulated, to do their own affordability checks, which is literally like asking turkeys whether they think Christmas is a good idea. It also means that when consumers get into debt they can only turn to these companies again for help.

For retailers, this is where the money is being made: the 30% to 40% extra that people are spending that they do not have. It is worth recognising who is using these companies. This is not about fast fashion anymore. People are buying food using buy now, pay later. The average age of users is my age, 44—I am actually 45, but there you go. One in 10 people using the service are buying basic items such as toiletries and food. We can now get Klarna on Deliveroo and Zilch on the Domino’s Pizza app.

For years, we have been forwarding proposals to regulate and the Government have accepted proposals to regulate, yet regulation has not come. We have had consultation after consultation. Indeed, the companies themselves now say they think they should be regulated. They all say, as they do, “It’s the others who are the bad apples. We’re not the bad guys; it’s somebody else.” Where have we heard that before? Where have we seen this behaviour before—dragging people into debt so they keep having to borrow from you because they cannot go to anyone else? We have seen that from the Wongas, the BrightHouses and the Amigo Loans of this world. Time and again, high-cost credit companies have plagued our constituents and we have been too slow to tackle them. Why have we been too slow? Because of the idea about unintended consequences.

The iceberg is looming. We can see it in the water. We can already see the numbers of people who are getting into debt. This time last year, StepChange reported that 10% of all adults were holding one or more buy now, pay later debts. A survey out today says that 40% of our constituents will put their Christmas spending on buy now, pay later. To wait another year is unforgivable in a cost of living crisis. New clause 28 would bring in the protection of the ombudsman, so that at the very least when people come to our constituency surgeries there is somebody who can take up their case.

The Minister ignored my question before, using time as the reason why. He has to do better than that. We have to understand what is being done to urgently tackle the damage that these companies have done. I can tell him that I heard all these stories before in relation to legal loan sharks, and we still have thousands of people in debt because of Wonga. Let us not make the same mistakes again. Let us regulate the buy now, pay later lenders and make sure that this Christmas does not turn into a terrible January for all our constituents.

Photo of Miriam Cates Miriam Cates Conservative, Penistone and Stocksbridge 4:45 pm, 7th December 2022

I rise to speak in support of new clause 27, tabled by my hon. Friend Sally-Ann Hart. As she said, it would prohibit payment service providers from refusing to supply a customer based on the customer exercising their lawful right to freedom of expression.

On 15 September, PayPal notified the Free Speech Union that it had closed its account with immediate effect. The reason given was that the Free Speech Union had breached the company’s acceptable use policy, but no further information was forthcoming. The accounts of UsForThem, the Daily Sceptic and the journalist Toby Young were also terminated. It is still not entirely clear why PayPal closed the accounts, but the apparently common theme among those organisations and individuals is that they have each become prominent champions of free speech, expressing critical, non-conforming opinions and asking challenging questions.

The effect of PayPal’s decision was to temporarily disrupt the ability of those organisations to operate. In some cases, their accounts were frozen, thereby denying them access to their funds. In the light of that, 42 peers and MPs wrote to the then Business Secretary, my right hon. Friend Mr Rees-Mogg, and to the Minister currently on the Front Bench. PayPal then restored the accounts of UsForThem and the Free Speech Union. Although PayPal’s actions may seem unjustifiable, payment providers and high street banks may terminate the accounts of groups on the basis of lawful speech, so long as adequate notice is given. As the law stands, the only thing that PayPal did wrong was not to give sufficient notice of the closure.

Sadly, the actions of PayPal in September were not a one-off. It also closed the accounts of the UK Medical Freedom Alliance and Law or Fiction, both of which are opposed to lockdowns, and it has not reopened either of them. It is therefore hard to avoid interpreting PayPal’s actions as an orchestrated, politically motivated move to restrict certain views within the UK. This is unacceptable.

In an increasingly cashless society—we have heard a lot about the merits of cash today—access to a digital payment system is not a luxury, but a basic requirement for participation in society. No campaigning organisation can function without the ability to perform financial transactions. Imagine if the suffragettes had not been allowed to have or use cash, or if those campaigning for Brexit had been refused a bank account. Freedom of speech and freedom of expression are foundational to democracy, and there can be no meaningful freedom of expression without the ability to conduct financial transactions.

It is of course right that in the UK private companies can choose which customers they do and do not want to do business with, but this is based on the assumption that there is a functional marketplace with healthy competition and that companies are regulated by, and compliant with, UK law and regulations. PayPal is eight times larger than its nearest competitor. It is a Californian company with its European headquarters in Luxembourg. Are we happy to delegate important powers relating to freedom of speech and expression to unaccountable global tech firms?

Of course, unlike socialists, conservatives want markets to operate freely, without unnecessary bureaucracy and state control. But as conservatives, unlike liberals or libertarians, we understand that there must be limits to this freedom, because without limits, human beings and organisations will sometimes—perhaps often—put their own interests before the best interests of customers and societies. As UK national conservatives, we believe that the proper bodies to set the bounds of free speech and political opinions in the UK are the UK Parliament and UK courts. That is why we must act to legally prevent payment providers from closing accounts of the basis of political beliefs, because if we do not, big global companies will put their own interests—financial, reputational and political—before any moral duty to act fairly.

The principle of using law to protect free speech is well established. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of religious or philosophical beliefs, but this protects individuals, not organisations, which is why it cannot be used in this case. The Government are also acting to protect free speech in universities, and the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill is today making its passage through the other place.

The PayPal saga identified a gap in our free speech protection that must be filled with appropriate legislation, which is why I support new clause 27. I thank the Minister for his engagement on this issue, which I know he takes very seriously—I was delighted by his opening remarks and commitment to work further on it. I very much hope that, following the evidence that he will gather, he will legislate if it is appropriate to do so. I appreciate his assurances on that.

I want to finish with a recent example of what happens when free speech is threatened. I know we do not want to think back to covid, but we had lockdowns and school closures. In fact, UK schools were closed for longer than those in almost any other country in Europe, and our children missed more face-to-face learning than those in any country other than Italy. The effects on children have been absolutely horrendous and will last a generation. They include lost learning, an increase in eating disorders, self-harm, a loss of socialisation, exposure to domestic violence—I could go on and on. [Interruption.] But I will not, because you are clearly telling me not to, Madam Deputy Speaker.

The Government now say that doing that was a mistake and that there was not sufficient evidence, but one reason that schools were reopened and children were eventually protected was the effective campaigning of the group UsForThem, which—unlike so many—stood up for children and their welfare. Its views were unpopular and it was said to be spreading misinformation. Imagine if its bank account had been cancelled two years ago—where we would be now? We need this protection. I appreciate the Minister’s commitment and I look forward to working with him further.

Photo of Olivia Blake Olivia Blake Labour, Sheffield, Hallam

The Bill is important because it presents an opportunity to set out a new, responsible and green vision for the City and financial services, but the Government are squandering that opportunity. That is why I rise to speak in support of amendments that would enshrine climate protections and harness the power of the City to act as a force for people and planet.

Let us look at the resources in that sector. Globally, privately invested financial assets are expected to reach $145.4 trillion by 2025—a 250% growth in less than 20 years. In the UK, pension assets amount to a staggering £2.7 trillion. The financial challenge for decarbonising the economy is significant. The UN has estimated that, globally, we require £90 trillion of infrastructure investment by 2030 alone. In the UK, private investment in carbon-cutting activities needs to grow by an extra £140 billion over the next five years to reach our net zero goals. We should mobilise the huge resources in the finance system to meet the existential challenge of the climate crisis. Instead, financial institutions are adding fuel to the fire, as I mentioned.

Britain is a financial giant and is the biggest net exporter of financial services in the world. I support new clause 6, tabled by my hon. Friend Tulip Siddiq, because we need a strategy for how we use that influence to reshape the system in accordance with climate priorities. However, those climate priorities are not the priorities in the Bill. Rather than making it a statutory aim of regulators to ensure compliance with our net zero aims and protect our natural environment, the Bill makes the main aim of regulation growth and competitiveness in the sector. In fact, although it is supposed to represent the Government’s vision for the future of financial services, it does not mention “nature” once. That is why I support new clause 25, which aims not for growth and competitiveness on its own, but for a regulatory regime designed for long-term economic resilience, climate safety and nature restoration.

The science is clear: complying with our net zero and Paris agreement obligations means keeping dirty fossil fuels in the ground, so we should encourage divestment in fossil fuels and put an end to fossil fuel extraction. New clauses 21 and 26 have my full support because they rightly restrict and provide disincentives for that kind of harmful investment. We need not only to incentivise fossil fuel divestment, but to ensure that investors make demands of companies on climate action.

I tabled new clauses 8 and 9 because we need to raise the bar on stewardship rules, putting ethical engagement with companies on the climate crisis and much more at the heart of investor activity. I support amendments 23 to 27 because they would reinstate the position limit rules on the kinds of awful things that we have seen relating to speculating on food and betting on hunger. We should stand firmly against that, especially given global heating.

I will finish by saying a few words about fraud. My constituents have been frustrated by the lack of accountability in the financial services sector. Some fraud victims are passed from pillar to post in trying to access justice, so I welcome new clause 1, which tasks the Government with creating a national strategy on preventing fraud. Although these will not be pressed to a separate vote, I draw the House’s attention to my new clause 26 and my amendment 20, which make clear the responsibility for reporting fraud and compensating victims. I also express my support for new clause 2, which would ensure that everyone has access to essential in-person banking services.

We need financial services that work for people and planet. As the clock ticks on climate action, now is the time to pull every lever and seize every opportunity to decarbonise our economy and society. However, the Bill has presented us with more of the same agenda—deregulation and lip service to climate goals. As the slogan goes, we need “system change not climate change.” I am afraid that without significant changes, the Bill will deliver the opposite.

Photo of Craig Tracey Craig Tracey Conservative, North Warwickshire

I declare an interest as chair of the insurance and financial services all-party parliamentary group. I welcome the Bill as a great opportunity to cement the UK’s position as a leading market for financial services.

The London insurance market alone is bigger than all its competitors combined. That is great news, but it also means that it is a target and that it has the most to lose, so it is really important that we get this key legislation right. I thank the Minister for his engagement at earlier stages; I know he is keen to make the Bill a big success, as I am, and I really appreciate the conversations that we have had.

I will focus today on the competitiveness duty, for which I have been campaigning for a number of years. It is great to see it coming forward. I echo much of the speech of my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford, who used the example of insurance-led securities to set out why the Bill matters, and why it matters that we get it right.

For the Bill to be meaningful and to deliver what I and the Minister want to achieve, I still think it needs to set out definite KPIs and metrics. Members of the Public Bill Committee will remember that I tabled several new clauses designed to add certainty, both for firms and for the regulator. The Minister agreed to meet me and look in more detail at what could be done, so I did not press my new clauses to a vote.

Off the back of my new clauses, the Government have now tabled new clause 17, which is welcome inasmuch as it demonstrates their clear recognition of the need to improve the regulatory culture. However, I do not think that it goes far enough in setting out the expectations that Parliament and Government have of the regulator.

I am therefore pleased to be a co-signatory of new clauses 12 to 16 and amendments 1 to 6, which my hon. Friend Richard Fuller has tabled and which I urge the Minister to consider. The most important of them, as my hon. Friend articulated, is new clause 15, which sets out some sensible metrics for the regulators to include in their reports:

“steps taken to simplify regulatory rulebooks and frameworks…the number of new market entrants to the UK…comparative analysis of the number of new authorisations in the UK and other international jurisdictions…comparative analysis of product and service innovations introduced in the UK and other international jurisdictions”.

I ask the Minister to consider adopting the metrics in new clause 15 to address the gaps in the Bill that are worrying me. I know that my worries are shared by the industry itself: it has never been frightened of regulation, but that regulation needs to be right if we are to get the full aims of the Bill across the line.

If the Minister is unable to give such a commitment in winding up today, will he commit instead to providing some kind of statutory guidance to address concerns about new clause 17, such as how the Government will decide the criteria for requesting a report and whether they will seek input from the industry or Parliament? Will he ensure that the regulators provide a comparative analysis of performance against key competitors, including for product and service innovations? What do the Government consider “reasonably necessary” as a trigger for a report? How can we ensure that the regulators provide info of sufficient quality to be meaningful? Finally, do the Government consider the impact on regulators’ reputation of a poor report on its regulatory performance to constitute an adverse effect?

I appreciate that I have thrown quite a lot at the Minister with not long to go in the debate, but I would appreciate it if he addressed some of my questions or wrote to me after the debate. Just by adopting new clause 15, he could take away some of the uncertainty. I welcome and appreciate the Bill—there is much in it that we can welcome—and I thank the Minister for his time.

Photo of Caroline Lucas Caroline Lucas Green, Brighton, Pavilion 5:00 pm, 7th December 2022

This Bill should be a once-in-a-generation opportunity to ensure a rapid, stable, co-ordinated and just transition to a low-carbon economy, to advance financial inclusion and to protect consumers, investors, banks, asset managers and other financial institutions against the catastrophic financial risks associated with climate and nature breakdown. Sadly, I believe that it fails to deliver on all those counts, and many others too.

I have signed a number of new clauses with the aim of improving the Bill, on matters such as free access to cash and better regulation of buy now, pay later credit. I also strongly support the new clauses tabled by Olivia Blake. However, I want to use my speaking time to focus on three new clauses in my name.

New clause 25 goes to the heart of what the Bill is about. It seeks to reposition the objectives of the regulator so that they are consistent with the future that we are facing. It would change the strategic objective so that it is no longer simply about ensuring that the relevant markets function well, but about ensuring that they deliver long-term economic resilience and prosperity. It would also create two new operational objectives. The first is a climate objective to facilitate the meeting of targets set out in the Climate Change Act 2008 and the 1.5°C temperature rise limit of the Paris agreement. The second is a nature objective, to facilitate alignment with the Government’s commitment to halting and reversing biodiversity loss by 2030.

Those changes matter on a great many levels. Most obviously, as the United Nations Secretary-General warned just last month:

“We are in the fight of our lives and we are losing…And our planet is fast approaching tipping points that will make climate chaos irreversible.

We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”

We therefore need to deploy every tool at our disposal to the task of creating an economy that reflects this new reality. There is no greater moral imperative, or indeed any greater financial imperative.

The Bank of England’s first climate stress test was published in May. It sought to understand how climate change would affect banks’ business models, and whether they held enough capital to cover climate-related risks. The results were clear: banks need to take climate action immediately, or face a hit to annual profits of up to 15%. If the net zero transition is delayed by a decade and global temperatures reach 1.8°, by 2050 banks will face losses of £225 billion. However, the banks are not alone in being exposed to huge climate risks. Investors, consumers, anyone with a pension, asset managers, savers, mortgage holders and other financial institutions are all threatened.

The Bill should provide an opportunity to meet those challenges and lay the foundations for a secure and stable future-facing economy, but I believe that without my new clauses, it simply does not do that. Leading financial institutions agree, including Aviva Investors, Phoenix, Hargreaves Lansdown and BUPA Insurance. They raised concerns with the Bill Committee, saying that

“the proposed regulatory principle will not provide a sufficiently strong legal basis for regulators to promote a thriving net zero financial sector. It certainly won’t encourage the regulators to ensure that the UK becomes the world’s leading green financial centre.”

Moreover, as it stands, nothing in the Bill acknowledges the crucial role of nature, although the Economic Secretary himself recognised in Committee that we could not achieve our climate goals without recognising and acknowledging that vital role.

New clause 25 would go further and remove the proposed competitiveness and growth operational objective for the FCA. The financial impacts of pursuing a climate-busting competitiveness and “growth at all costs” approach over climate action is clear. For example, it is estimated that the UK will lose 10% of GDP by 2050 if we do not tackle climate change, and that Europe will see a 30% rise in defaults on corporate loans to the most exposed companies. No wonder the Treasury Committee advised against a primary focus on competitiveness, warning that it could lead to weakening standards and a reduction in the UK’s financial resilience, and could undermine the reputation of the UK’s finance sector.

It is worth recalling that Parliament itself deliberately removed competitiveness from the mandate of the financial regulator just a decade ago, learning the lessons from the regulatory failure leading up to the global financial crisis of 2007-08, which saw millions lose their savings, homes, businesses and jobs. With so much at stake, I can think of no good reason why the Government is making such a reckless move, and no good reason why it could not instead support a focus on the creation of a wellbeing economy designed to foster long-term economic resilience and prosperity.

I have also tabled new clause 21, which mandates the introduction of a one-for-one capital requirement for the financing of new fossil fuels. In other words, for each pound that finances fossil fuels, financial institutions should have a pound of their own funds held liable for potential losses. It is a principle that is used elsewhere. In June 2021, for example, the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision—the global standard setter for the regulation of banks—recommended its application to some cryptocurrencies’ exposures. At present, however, the Government are not seizing these opportunities.

Even with no fossil fuel expansion, by 2025 global emissions from existing projects will be 22% too high to stay below 1.5° and 66% too high by 2030—all while the scientific reality makes it clear that fossil fuels assets are uneconomic and financially uncompetitive in a 1.5° or 2° world. Fossil fuel financing increasingly threatens economic stability. It increases the physical risks of climate change, thereby leaving the financial system exposed to significant losses from balance sheets and from environmental damage to the wider economy. That is why these amendments are so important and that is why we should get fossil fuels out of our financial sector now.

Photo of Danny Kruger Danny Kruger Conservative, Devizes

I am going to speak briefly to new clause 7 on access to cash, and to new clause 27 on access to banking services. I very much support the Bill and completely commend what the Government are trying to do. It is a source of great pride that they are bringing financial regulation home as one of the great benefits of Brexit. I applaud what they are doing and appreciate all the engagement that Ministers have had with colleagues on the new clauses that I am speaking to.

I understand that there is an intention not to push new clause 27 to a vote, and I intend to abstain on new clause 7 if there is a Division on it, because I look forward to the policy statement that the Government have promised. I support the principle behind both the new clauses. As Members have mentioned, we seem to be moving inevitably towards a cashless society, and we can all see the personal convenience of that. Like the royal family, I personally do not carry cash around. It is only embarrassing when I am in church and the platter comes around. That is pretty much the only occasion when I feel the need for it, but that is not the case for everyone.

For anyone using a digital payments system, the operator of the platform has potentially immense control over their life, in principle and in practice. That is why what PayPal did to the Free Speech Union and others a few months ago is so important. Yes, we can acknowledge that that event was an outlier. It was a rare and slightly inexplicable event and, yes, it was quickly corrected in some of the cases of the accounts that were closed, but the fact is that it happened. It was a straw in the wind, and the fact that individuals and organisations with heterodox political opinions found themselves unable to operate economically because of the decision of a private company acting entirely on its own initiative, possibly under pressure from external campaigns, is a troubling development. So it is vital that we send the strongest regulatory, and also cultural and political, signal to these private payment platforms that the opinions of their customers are none of their business.

Nor are private opinions any business of the state, and this is why the question of access to cash is about more than the important issue of protecting the vulnerable, although I agree with the points that have been made on that. It is also about liberty. Just now, behind the scenes, the Government and the Bank of England are developing plans for their own central bank digital currency. Again, we can see the practical appeal, but the threat is that the Government will have oversight of the economic activity of private citizens, which is something that no Government of this country have ever had in our history. It is therefore vital that the debate on a central bank digital currency has liberty front and centre. We can all say warm words about the importance of safeguards and freedoms, but the fact is that if the emergency is bad enough and the powers are available, those powers could well be used.

We saw this happening around the world, and to some degree in our own country, during the covid crisis. We have only to look at what the Canadian Government did to block access to the bank accounts of truckers protesting against the covid policy there to see what can be done in a modern liberal western country. It would be a shame if we took back control of financial regulation from the EU only to empower private payment platforms, or indeed our own central bank, in that way. Cash services and banking services are part of the infrastructure of our communities. They are also part of the infrastructure of liberty.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Transport), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Energy and Climate Change)

I rise to speak in support of new clauses 34 and 35. Both are tabled in my name and deal with the rules and duties of pension schemes and investments.

This Bill could be a unique opportunity to develop the green economy we need by providing the finance required to support our net zero transition. Unfortunately, this Government might again miss the boat. The Bank of England recently warned that UK banks and insurers will end up shouldering nearly £340 billion-worth of climate-related losses by 2050. Such losses will be unrecoverable, so it is cheaper to save the planet than to destroy it.

The World Bank suggests that up to 216 million people could be forced to move within their countries by 2050, but immediate climate action could reduce that by up to 80%. Limiting global warming to 1.5°C instead of 2°C could result in around 42 million fewer people being exposed to extreme heatwaves. We have pensions to provide adequate quality of life after retirement. How absurd it would be if the climate catastrophe meant that there was little quality of life left.

My amendments would remove a significant barrier to private investment contributing to a sustainable net zero future. The amendments would broaden the investment duties of pension schemes to require that investment decisions are made in the best interests of beneficiaries. They would clarify what is meant by “best interests” to encompass the long-term risks and impacts of investment decisions, including social and environmental factors. In doing so, the amendments would retain the core principle of fiduciary duty while amending the law to enable schemes to think more holistically about their investment decisions.

A recent paper published in Nature estimates that the UK’s financial sector is exposed to $98 billion-worth of losses from stranded oil and gas assets. Most of those losses would be borne by individual people through their pensions, investments and savings. The law must empower schemes to avert these losses and to ensure savers retire into a world they wish to live in. My amendments would ensure that trustees still have a duty to ensure adequate financial returns for retirees while being released from pressures to qualify and justify every investment decision on its short-term returns. That will enable them to focus on the long-term financial, social and environmental prosperity that is genuinely in the best interests of savers.

There is still confusion about fiduciary duties and environmental, social and governance factors. The Law Commission has set out a two-part test for trustees aimed at helping them to consider the impact of investments on ESG, but it does not go far enough in empowering trustees to embed these considerations in investment plans. The Government always defend their net zero strategy by placing responsibility on the markets, yet investors and the markets prioritise short-term returns at the expense of social and environmental risks and the long-term health of planet and people.

We can no longer afford to view climate investment as a future consideration. We need investors to put their money where their mouth is now. It is morally wrong to make climate action a task for future generations. The worst impacts of climate change stretch well beyond typical election cycles. Rather than prioritising short-term competitiveness, the Bill must help us to meet our long-term net zero commitments. The law must support investors to make more prudent choices to ensure a liveable future for all of us. It is difficult to put an exact number on the financial risk of climate inaction, but we know the impact will be catastrophic if we continue to invest in fossil fuels. Climate change is the biggest threat to our future. It is time that the Government put our net zero targets at the heart of every sector.

Several hon. Members:

rose—

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I now have to announce the results of today’s deferred Divisions.

On the draft Agricultural Holdings (Fee) Regulations 2022, the Ayes were 291 and the Noes were 159, so the Ayes have it.

On the draft Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (Amendment) Order 2022, the Ayes were 289 and the Noes were 12, so the Ayes have it.

On the draft Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2022, the Ayes were 289 and the Noes were 12, so the Ayes have it.

On the draft Police and Crime Commissioner Elections and Welsh Forms (Amendment) Order 2022, the Ayes were 289 and the Noes were 13, so the Ayes have it.

Returning to the debate, if everybody speaks for five minutes instead of six minutes, it will give the Minister what I would consider to be a reasonable amount of time to respond.

Photo of Bim Afolami Bim Afolami Conservative, Hitchin and Harpenden

With your indulgence, Madam Deputy Speaker, I would like to start, before getting into the meat of this, by paying tribute to a Labour councillor in Hitchin who recently and suddenly passed away in my constituency. Judi Billing had served as a district councillor since 1980 and was an excellent servant, and I wanted to make that point on the Floor of the House.

I rise in particular to support new clause 17. As we all know, this is really an enabling Bill and a lot of its meat will come in regulations that will be passed in the coming weeks and months. In the short time available to me, I think it is important to stand up for the regulators, because someone has to in this debate. I want to stand up for them not because I have agreed with every decision of the Prudential Regulation Authority, the Financial Conduct Authority, the Payment Systems Regulator or anyone else, but because a lot of the right criticisms that I and many other colleagues have had of the regulators arise more as a function of the system in which they operate than as a result of the decisions made by those individual regulators or institutions.

There is a key point about accountability, which many colleagues on both sides of the House have already raised: there needs to be strengthened accountability to this House. I have made the point many times before, but I urge those on the Treasury Bench, His Majesty’s Treasury and Parliament to look at this more deeply. Unless we can strengthen the accountability to this House and the other place of the regulators directly, we will continue to run up against criticisms that they are not taking colleagues’ considerations into account.

There is also a need for more effective accountability to the Government. What I mean by that is that the Government have clearly set out, in a series of actions, policy statements, speeches and strategies over the past few months, and in numerous reviews, what their intentions are. Those have been supported when it has come to votes on the Floor of this House, but sometimes there is a gap between the intention of the Government and what ends up coming through, even when regulations are passed to that end. It is important that the regulators and the Government work together to find a system whereby the Government can ensure that their strategic aims are being supported on an ongoing basis by the regulators. This is not just about saying what the policy is, passing regulations and allowing the regulators to get on with it. However well they try to do that, a lot will get missed, so we need to think about that.

We need to rethink the entirety of our regulatory structure, particularly as to how it governs financial services. We have very powerful regulators that have taken on a huge amount of power from the European Union, and they are doing their best. There are some overlaps between them and there are times when certain aims of one conflict with the aims of the other, even in relation to the competitiveness objective that has come up many times in the passage of this Bill. We end up with the situation where the regulators have to balance off competitiveness and other secondary objectives, and indeed the primary objectives. We have to work out how we are going to put together a framework that enables better accountability to this House, and better accountability to the political aims that have been passed by this House and to the aims of the Government, so that we get a regulatory system that drives a better, more competitive, safer financial services system.

To that end I have set up the Regulatory Reform Group, of which some Members of this House and others outside are a part. I intend to work with the Government on this issue, because unless we get it right, all the best intentions that all colleagues have in different areas will find it hard to be effected because of the structural difficulties that are inherent. So I would like to stick up for the regulators but say that they need to be able to operate in a more effective system.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner

I am delighted to be able to speak in support of the Government this evening, because this Bill is of great importance to my constituents, many of whom work in our financial sector, and also to the capital city, of which my constituency is a part.

Since I contributed to the earlier stages of the Bill, I have had the opportunity to hear from UK Finance, Zurich, Lloyds, the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry, the Property Institute and Just Group and many others, and they have reflected back to me the broad and strong support of the financial sector, which is the jewel in our industrial crown, for the measures that the Bill envisages. The key thing from the perspective of my constituents is that the Bill seeks to right-size regulation in the United Kingdom to reflect the fact that the risks and the challenges that the sector faces change over time. Just as we need to manage the risk from competitors, through the measures on competitiveness, we also need to ensure that we have a financial sector that enables all of our citizens to access the broadest possible range of financial services.

I have listened carefully to the points made about financial inclusion, for example, which are very important in the context of our financial sector. We need to ensure—and I think this Bill does—an appropriate balance between products that are pricing in a degree of risk, but that enable people to build their creditworthiness and their participation in the benefits that the financial sector can bring in their lives, with a recognition that there are risks to constituents, in particular from the development of new products, which the Bill seeks to address through better regulation in areas such as crypto investments.

Briefly, on new clause 27, although I have sympathy with the points that have been made by a number of Members, this strikes me as an example of where there is a significant risk of unintended consequences. As Ministers have heard, there is a need for due process for those who feel that they have been wronged by the decisions of a provider to be able to seek a remedy for that, but we do not want to get into the kind of situation that we have seen in the past, where an obligation to provide a universal service sees significant numbers of providers—useful providers—exiting the market because they are not prepared to accept the risks that come with that. My view is that the Government are finding about the right balance.

Let me turn now to the issues around the Financial Conduct Authority and the regulators. There will be a new chair of the FCA from 21 February next year. I wish to bring to the attention of the House and of Ministers that the strong view of my constituents and many in the sector is that we need to see a greater degree of rigour in the enforcement action that the FCA in particular is able to take. It is a matter not of new powers, but of making sure that they are operating effectively.

In respect of access to cash, I would like to thank Ministers. Certainly, in my constituency, we have seen really significant efforts by financial institutions to ensure that every high street has at least one free-to-use cashpoint, and, thus far, the feedback from business owners is very good.

In conclusion, I strongly support the Government’s position. I am not afraid to say if I think things are going wrong, but, in this case, it is clear to me that the Bill is beneficial to my constituents as business owners, as employees in the sector, and as consumers of the sector’s product, and it is beneficial to the taxpayers of the United Kingdom.

Photo of Anna Firth Anna Firth Conservative, Southend West

I rise in support of new clause 17. The Bill is central to the Government’s commitment to long-term economic sustainability while also ensuring that our banking system is fair and provides reasonable protections for the vulnerable, including continued access to cash. Now that we are outside the EU, it is vital that we take this opportunity to build an even more agile and an even more muscular internationally facing financial centre. To do that, we need regulation that is designed to unlock growth, that will attract international investment into the UK, and that will also attract the best talent into our financial services sector, while not forgetting our equally important duty to level up financial services across the UK, including continued access to cash, to which I wish to turn straight away.

I welcome the wording of the Bill about providing “reasonable” access to cash. I appreciate that the Government have a balancing act to perform, given a fast-moving sector, changing consumer patterns and the need to provide protections. It is a balance that the Government have provided with this “reasonable” access to cash.

I wish to place on record that in picturesque Leigh-on-Sea, a part of wonderful Southend West, we have lost every single one of our high street banks over the past four years. In a constituency such as Southend West, where over one fifth of the population are over 65 and more than 6% are over 80—significantly more than the national average—local banking services are vital. Senior citizens in Southend West do not want to bank online, they do not want to bank on an app, and they should not have to. That is why I am working with fantastic organisations such as LINK and OneBanx to set up a local banking hub.

However, access to cash is not the only reason elderly people need to visit a branch. A point made very powerfully today by my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin and touched on by my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford and my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown is the need for personal financial advice. For many people, visiting their branch is the only way to make sure they are getting the best possible interest rates on their savings.

There is a piece of work to be done there, because I believe that every saver should have the opportunity to get the best possible rate of return on their money. Reasonable access to financial advice is essential—that is what levelling up financial services means. When interest rates move, banks must pass those changes on swiftly to borrowers and savers alike.

Sadly, that is not always the case. On 29 November, the Bank of England published a report highlighting that UK savers are receiving on average 0.52% on their interest-bearing sight deposits, an increase of only 0.4% this year. Yet we know that during that time the UK banking base rate has risen by a massive 2.9% to its current level of 3%. According to the Bank of England, £998 billion—almost £1 trillion—of hard-working taxpayers’ savings is in low-earning savings accounts, earning an average of 0.52%.

Many of those savers are elderly and financially unsophisticated and they do not have access to sophisticated financial advice. That is why it is so important that we provide access to that advice, so I welcome the comments by my hon. Friend the Minister that he is going to take this point away. To put the Bank of England figures into perspective, they equate to UK savers losing £15 billion or more a year. In Southend West, that equates to £19 million a year or £270 per person.

I conclude by reminding the Minister—not that he needs any reminding—that the Financial Conduct Authority’s first objective is to promote effective competition in the interest of consumers, and that it is specifically charged with identifying where firms may exploit the difficulties that customers face in making choices. I welcome this Bill and look forward to seeing the FCA step up to its greater responsibilities. Everybody who lives in Southend West deserves a fair rate of return on their hard-earned savings and to have fair access to banking facilities. I urge the FCA and the Treasury to use their groundbreaking new powers to make sure that happens.

Photo of Anthony Browne Anthony Browne Conservative, South Cambridgeshire 5:30 pm, 7th December 2022

As I have made clear in previous iterations of this legislation, I am very broadly supportive of the aims of this Bill and on the Treasury Committee we have scrutinised it in detail, so I will limit my comments to just some of the huge number of amendments. I love this exercise in democracy where different MPs with different interests come forward with their amendments; I have actually worked with many of them in my life and have direct experience with them.

I absolutely support new clause 27 on freedom of expression, which my hon. Friend Miriam Cates mentioned. UsforThem, which was founded by someone in my constituency, has done some great work campaigning on schools, but was utterly traumatised by the sudden loss of access to PayPal, and we need due process around that.

On new clause 28 relating to buy now, pay later, which Stella Creasy mentioned, I was involved with the regulation of payday loans, something else that fell between the gaps and needed to be sorted—it was outrageous. I am convinced by her arguments that buy now, pay later is another gap that is not addressed. I am sure the FCA has powers to deal with that already, but I hear her frustration that the Government keep saying that they will deal with it but have not done so, so I urge the Minister to put that on his list of things to take up and deal with.

The same applies to new clause 11, which the Chair of the Treasury Committee, my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin, talked about convincingly. It is an absolute scandal that huge swathes of the population cannot get access to financial advice and are impoverished as a result because of a failure of regulation, or excessive regulation—we can blame the EU. I was on an FCA taskforce some time ago to try to sort out this problem—I was trying to remember where it went, but it clearly ran into the sand. We absolutely need to deal with this urgently. Again, I take reassurance from the Minister’s comments that he will deal with it as a matter of urgency. I will hold him to that, as, I am sure, will the Chair of the Treasury Committee.

Access to in-person banking is really important. In fact, I negotiated the deal with the Post Office on behalf of the banks to open up post offices to offering banking services. There are actually more post office branches than all the bank branches in the country combined. A lot of people complained to me about the lack of access to certain banking facilities, and I would always point out that they can do those things at their local post office, which they did not know—we need to raise the profile of that.

Opposition Members need to define clearly what they mean by “in-person banking”. There are lots of different things. Do they mean going to ask for a mortgage or just paying a bill, for example? We do lots of different things in different places. The deal with the Post Office is being renegotiated, and I think the main thing there will be to ensure that whatever services we want are put into the negotiations.

Finally, I want to talk about access to free cash. I said in an intervention earlier that I massively support access to cash. Cash use is dwindling—clearly, more people are using cards and other payment types—but we need to make sure that people who do not want to use other means have access to cash and, indeed, access to free cash. I should say—I do not think anyone has remarked on it—that paid ATMs have been dying a death over the last 15 years. There is about half the number now than there was 15 years ago. People pay for only 5% of ATM withdrawals—I never do because I find it offensive to pay to take out my own money. I fully support the sentiment.

However, on new clause 7, there is already a power in the Bill for the FCA to ensure access to cash, and that could include pricing so that the FCA can ensure access to free cash. I have two things to say about the drafting of the new clause. First, it does not stipulate whether it applies to personal or business customers. Traditionally and historically, a lot of business customers have paid for cash-handling services. Is the new clause saying that they should no longer pay for them? It is not quite clear. If they are no longer required to pay, are non-cash businesses cross-subsidising them? Secondly, the new clause does not stipulate whether it applies just to sterling cash and not to foreign exchange. If I was a bureau de change dealer, I would be rather worried about having to offer my services for free.

With those comments, I basically urge the Minister to stand by the various commitments he has made this afternoon. I support the Bill.

Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay

I very much welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on listening to and engaging with the points raised by many of us on the Back Benches.

I support new clause 11 in particular—I was heartened to hear what the Minister had to say about it—but may I perhaps reinforce a very simple message about the urgency required on financial advice? We in this country have been blessed with the City of London and many other world-leading financial institutions around the UK. I think I can say with some confidence that London is the financial capital of Europe, if not the world. The world comes here to do business on a variety of fronts. Yet we have very little good access to advice. In fact, if anything, we have a widening advice gap.

On the one hand, we have wealth managers raising their minimums, banks withdrawing from the high street and withdrawing fully from providing investment advice; we also have the retail distribution review, which I supported because it was ending the backhand commission for unit trusts—that was bad for the consumer—but it has resulted in independent financial advisers having to charge more and few of them being used. On the other hand, with all that advice in retreat, we have the Government and all parties saying that we must take greater control of our finances, there are greater pension freedoms and there is a great demand for good advice.

A lot of people of modest means who have no access to good advice fall into that void. They may be tempted, for example, to leave cash in the bank earning a pitiful rate of interest while inflation erodes its value. This is where the law of unintended consequences comes in, because all that regulation that had to be met before one could offer full-blown advice is fine when we are talking about full-blown advice, but there is a middle ground that needs to be covered. I offer a basic statistic that might interest or help those willing to take a particularly long-term view to their financial planning: instead of leaving money in cash, if they invest in equities over the long term—25 years, for example—they stand a very small chance of losing money. There will be volatility, but because they are investing, hopefully, in growing businesses, they will do well, and 97 times out of 100, that will beat cash deposits. That is the sort of advice that banks, building societies and many others could give, without getting too complex about financial planning. It would offer consumers a choice, rather than just letting their cash sit in banks and get eroded. Will the Minister therefore give impetus to the assurance he has given on new clause 11 and really get the Treasury looking at this issue, because there is a halfway house, and we must not stop regulation being the enemy of the good? That is what we are asking for.

I will add one other thing quickly in the minute I have left. Please make sure that our regulators listen to the various trade bodies when it comes to regulation, because we are inheriting—I very much welcome this Bill—a lot of powers from the EU. We are in control of our own destiny, but I take issue with the FCA on a number of points. One of them is that when it comes to investment trusts, there are such things as key information documents. They are an invention of the EU and are misleading about risk and putting consumers at risk of losing money—it is as simple as that. The Association of Investment Companies has said that. By the way, it has also said, in relation to those key information documents, “burn before reading”. Despite that, there has been no meaningful action from the FCA on that issue, and that is wrong. I ask the Minister to make sure that our regulators do not rest on their laurels, realise the greater freedoms they have got and rise to the occasion.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I thank Members from all parts of the House who have spoken today for their valued and often very informative and sometimes passionate contributions. I sense a tone of disappointment in Tulip Siddiq, my shadow on the Opposition Front Bench. I will try to endeavour not to disappoint her in return for her party’s support for this important and landmark Bill. I spoke at length in my opening remarks. I hope I was generous in taking interventions, and perhaps colleagues will indulge me if I try to get through this as quickly as possible.

We heard from my right hon. Friend Vicky Ford, my predecessor, who contributed so much to this Bill. We also heard from my hon. Friend Richard Fuller and from my hon. Friend Craig Tracey, who served on the Bill Committee. They all spoke to a greater or lesser degree in support of new clause 17 and about how we can make that better and better hold the regulators to account.

We heard about the specific metrics suggested in new clauses 12, 13, 14 and 15—my hon. and right hon. Friends are very productive. I can say that I will consider things very carefully. In those amendments, they gave specific examples of how we could potentially deploy the powers in new clause 17, and I undertake to consider carefully whether those are the right way forward. We heard from my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford about that sense of urgency, and we got that again in new clause 11. Again, it is potentially a good way forward that I would like to consider.

We all understand that it comes down to financial inclusion, for which Emma Hardy rightly never fails to agitate. If, however, the consequences of our financial regulation exclude, as I think we heard, 92% of people from getting basic guidance on the sorts of products that are right for them, that is a problem for inclusion and for the industry. It is something that I was asked to take away with due urgency, and I commit that once we have the Bill on the statute book that is absolutely what I will do. Technology can be our friend there as well. We heard that from my hon. Friend Harriett Baldwin, the Chair of the Treasury Committee.

Hon. Members on both sides of the House are wrestling with what to give to the financial regulators, in a sector that touches the lives of so many individuals and so many facets of human behaviour, and how to manage the process of repatriating those rules from the unaccountable European Commission, which my friend, Peter Grant, the spokesman for the SNP, is so anxious that we do not diverge or derogate from, so as to ease our passage immediately back into that unaccountable world.

We heard contributions from my hon. Friend Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown and Nick Smith on the work, and frankly the challenges, that hon. Members have faced in the case of the British Steel pension fund, trying to get redress and to speak up for their constituents in the face of regulators that—whether this was real or imagined—they certainly felt were unaccountable to this place. They had to use the mechanisms of the Public Accounts Committee and the National Audit Office. I have taken away how we can improve the parliamentary scrutiny in the way that both hon. Members sought. We heard about that big issue again from Sarah Olney. It would be cheap to suggest that going back into the EU would remove the parliamentary accountability that she seeks, but nevertheless we are all pushing, in many ways, at the same thing.

We rightly spent a lot of time talking about access to cash. We heard significant contributions from Siobhain McDonagh. I still look forward to visiting her new LINK ATM cash machine as part of the industry-led initiative. I am now as keen to see it as she and her constituents no doubt are—I hope that can be an early 2023 commitment. My right hon. Friend David Mundell also talked with great passion, and his knowledge from campaigning on the issue. He spoke about 8 million households. It is absolutely the position of the Government that this is a problem, and there is a firm expectation on the industry to help us address it.

We must not underestimate the significance of the legislative action that we are taking in the Bill, putting an access to cash obligation on the regulators for the first time. I have made very clear my expectation of what that will look like, as well as the consequences if the regulators, together with the industry voluntary sector, do not solve the issue for us. The Government will achieve that by means of the statement that will set out our position on matters such as cost and location.

Although I understand the desire behind new clause 7, and its superficial attractiveness to many in this House, we need to be wary of unintended consequences. It is not as simple as just inserting the word “free”. There are a number of initiatives in this space already, and I do not want them to be prejudiced by artificially rushing to statute. The Government will therefore not support new clause 7, but we will continue to work to ensure that we protect our constituents on this issue.

We are protecting our planet as well. My right hon. Friend Chris Grayling talked, on this day of the biodiversity summit in Montreal, about the deforestation crisis and the need for financial providers to do due diligence on where their money is going. That is of course absolutely right. It is what we expect from good stewardship. He was kind enough also to talk about some of the challenges, in that financial providers do not always know directly or indirectly where their capital ends up. I will continue to work with him.

The Government have supported the taskforce on nature-related financial disclosures. We are a big backer of that taskforce, which we have given £3 million of funding, and its work continues in the first half of 2023. In parallel with that, we will consider bringing those standards into the disclosure framework as they develop; I hope to continue to work with my right hon. Friend on that.

I was clear in my opening speech about the importance of freedom of speech and expression. We heard passionate contributions from my hon. Friends the Members for Hastings and Rye (Sally-Ann Hart), who has done so much work on the issue, and for Penistone and Stocksbridge (Miriam Cates), who first brought the Free Speech Union and the issue to my attention. I am disturbed to learn of other cases. As I said, we commit to consult on that, to look at whether there is a more systemic problem and to consider what the right legislative solutions could be.

The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn talked about the climate and our position on green and sustainable finance—I do not fully accept what she said about us not being a leader. That is our objective and I will do everything I can to continue what I regard as London’s lead on that. We have exchanged various documents about it and she does not quite agree with my interpretation, but we are pushing in exactly the same direction.

We will introduce new sustainability disclosure requirements, on which the FCA is consulting. We are introducing transition planning requirements to move to the clean, green future that we all seek as we move into the clean, low-carbon economy. Last September we launched the green financing programme with a record-breaking debut sovereign green bond, and I hope the Opposition support that initiative. Subsequently, that programme has raised £22 billion of green finance to finance the green transition. London is a leading hub, with issuances totalling more than £10 billion from worldwide issuers, including Chile, Egypt, Mexico, Hong Kong and Fiji.

We have heard a lot about fraud, on which the hon. Lady has tabled an amendment. I reassure hon. Members that the Government take that important issue extremely seriously. We are dedicated to protecting the public from that devastating and sadly growing crime. Tackling fraud requires a unified and co-ordinated approach across Government, law enforcement and the private sector to better protect the public and businesses from fraud. We want to reduce the impact of fraud as well as its prevalence, and increase the disruption and prosecution of fraudsters. We will put the right resources into frontline policing to ensure that they can do that.

Photo of David Simmonds David Simmonds Conservative, Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner 5:45 pm, 7th December 2022

I recently heard from my local borough police commander that a major priority in the recruitment of new officers to the Metropolitan police is finding people not to go out on the beat but to do the detailed back-office work of tracking down fraudsters and scammers, and that the Met had enjoyed considerable success. Does the Minister agree that should be a high priority for the Home Office and police forces across the country?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

My hon. Friend is absolutely right that that is a critical priority. We heard the figures—no one disputes them—about the growing prevalence of fraud, much of which is displacement as people go online. We need to give people the tools to protect themselves and we need to ensure that it is a high priority for those who seek to protect us.

We will empower the public with information. The hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle talked about financial inclusion. As we know, there is a slight difference of opinion, in that the FCA considers that that is already within its remit. It is absolutely something that I would like to see greater transparency on, and perhaps that is somewhere we can make common cause.

Photo of Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Geoffrey Clifton-Brown Conservative, The Cotswolds

On fraud, about which I gave the figures to the House earlier, we had a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee the other day. I suggested two things: first, fraud should be made a strategic priority for every police force; and secondly, every police officer in the country should receive at least some basic training in the likelihood of fraud crimes.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Fraud is of course a shared responsibility between the Treasury and my hon. Friends in the Home Office, and when it comes to the report that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn is quite rightly challenging us to produce as quickly as possible, we want that report to be right rather than quick, but we do need to bring it forward as quickly as possible. We will use the time wisely to engage with expert stakeholders, which could well include the training of which my hon. Friend speaks, and we will come forward with that early in 2023.

In addition, this Bill is a seminal moment in protecting victims of authorised push payment fraud. It will ensure swift protections for the vast majority of APP scam victims, reversing the presumption and making sure they receive swift reimbursement so that they are no longer victims of this crime. The measure enables the Payment Systems Regulator to take action across all payments systems, not just faster payments, which is where the fraud occurs most, so that it does not merely get displaced. The Government expect protections for consumers across all payments systems to keep pace with that.

Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller Conservative, North East Bedfordshire

My hon. Friend has not yet had an opportunity to talk about the Government’s initiative on stablecoins and digital currencies. Given that he has just talked about scams and some of the concerns with cryptocurrencies, is he reassured that what is in this Bill relating to stablecoins remains absolutely front and centre of the Government’s attention?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I again thank my hon. Friend, who did so much work on this Bill. It is absolutely right that the Government keep an open mind to new technologies, and my hon. Friend Danny Kruger, who is always very thoughtful, talked about this, but we have to understand the risks. While the risks to consumers of scams in the crypto-space, among others, is extremely high and has been well telegraphed, when it comes to looking at different payment systems—with the power of distributed ledger technology to solve issues such as settlement to make our financial markets cleaner, faster and more efficient—it is absolutely right that the Government consider looking at that, and we will be looking to do more in that domain.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the Minister for his response, and he is making encouraging noises about the forward strategy, which I look forward to seeing, but I have not yet heard him mention anything about data sharing. The fact is that frauds and scams have moved on from what they might have been in the past. Is he going to give some indication of whether there will be a data-sharing arrangement that goes beyond just banks and takes into account social media companies, crypto-asset firms and other platforms that criminals are exploiting, because our vulnerable constituents are falling prey to frauds and scams? It is no good just going back to the old ways on frauds and scams—I am sure he understands that—so could I hear a bit more about data sharing, please?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

He does indeed understand that. We are addressing legal challenges to data sharing in the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which will introduce provisions to protect firms from civil liability. As was discussed earlier, it is important to regulate the online world, which my colleagues in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport are doing in the Online Safety Bill.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I will not give way to my hon. Friend this time.

To conclude, financial and related professional services play a crucial role, as we have heard from many speakers. They contribute nearly £100 billion in taxes and, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Chelmsford reminded us, that pays for more than the cost of the salaries of every nurse in this country. The Government have an ambitious programme for an open, outward, sustainable, technologically advanced and internationally competitive sector that will unleash the most opportunities not just for those who work in it, but for communities across the United Kingdom.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

I am sorry to interrupt the Minister in his final flow, but he did promise he would give me a direct answer. With 40% of people saying they are going to put their Christmas spending on buy now, pay later loans, and they have no regulatory protection, what is going to do to help them this Christmas?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Lady knows from our conversations in the Bill Committee our ambition to look again afresh at the regulations in the consumer credit market. That is outwith this Bill, but it is a commitment that remains and that we will bring forward at the earliest opportunity.

Do not underestimate the power of this Bill. This is an unlock for our financial services. This is the start of delivering our Brexit freedoms. It is giving us back the opportunity to make ourselves competitive—a more prosperous economy, jobs for our children and grandchildren, tax revenues that will pay for our high-quality services, and higher GDP growth. All of that is contained in this Bill, at the same time as protecting the consumers that Members opposite talk about, and delivering on the ambition to put this on the statute book.

Question put and agreed to.

New clause 17 accordingly read a Second time, and added to the Bill.

6 pm

Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order, 7 September).

The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (Standing Order No. 83E).