New Clause 17 - Reporting requirements

Part of Financial Services and Markets Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 7 December 2022.

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Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 5:30, 7 December 2022

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.