Motion to Take Note

Part of Financial Supervisory Framework: EUC Report – in the House of Lords at 6:19 pm on 12th January 2012.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Lord de Mauley Lord de Mauley Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 6:19 pm, 12th January 2012

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated today in-as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, said-a thorough and insightful debate on the new EU supervisory framework. I particularly pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, and the members of the EU Sub-committee on Economic and Financial Affairs and International Trade for their report. It is of considerable interest as we seek to strengthen supervision following the recent financial crisis, both domestically and internationally.

In the United Kingdom, through the Financial Policy Committee, the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority, we are bringing greater judgment and foresight to micro and macrosupervision, ensuring that we put greater focus on the key links between the two. Likewise, as your Lordships have made clear, it is vital that we reform at the European level to ensure effective and consistent supervision of financial services, to realise the full potential of a single and stable market in European financial services. Noble Lords have also today referred to the very real threats that face us. That is why the Government-along with, I am pleased to say, the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and all other noble Lords today-welcome and fully support the establishment of the three new European supervisory authorities as well as the European Systemic Risk Board. Indeed, we are very pleased to have the European Banking Committee here in London.

Together, this new framework has the potential fundamentally to improve the quality and consistency of supervision, to ensure more effective rule-making and enforcement, and to improve identification of risks in the system. I welcome the fact that the committee's report shares those objectives and, along with its recommendations, supports the Government's position on the European supervisory authorities. Of course, there is still much work to do to improve and refine supervision through this new framework to allow the new institutions to build a reputation for their independence and quality of rule-making. It is a substantial task and the drive by some to grant even more power and responsibility would in our view merely add to the challenges they already face and risk undermining the success that we expect them to deliver between now and the 2014 review. Several noble Lords have referred to resourcing issues. I will come to those in a moment.

The Government believe that there are three key priorities for the new EU authorities. First, as the committee has argued, it is vital to build a single rulebook and ensure the implementation of robust, internationally consistent regulatory standards in order to minimise the risks of regulatory arbitrage. That work needs to be based on open consultation and a rigorous assessment of the effects on growth and the competitiveness of EU business, balanced with the need to protect financial stability and users of financial services. Secondly, the actions of the ESAs should not undermine national supervision. Here again, the committee was very clear. The ESAs, when mandated by legislation, have rule-making powers and are required to ensure that those rules are implemented, mediating if disputes between supervisors arise. Day-to-day supervision and the exercise of judgment within the law are not within the ESAs' remit.

Finally, we support greater co-ordination and the valuable role that the ESAs can bring in providing consistency of supervision across the EU. We see this as spreading best practice rather than forcing all supervisors to take the same approach. The business models, size and structures of firms-some very local, some global-require different approaches. It is vital that regulators have the capacity to deal with issues unique to their markets.

I would like to take the opportunity to comment on two further themes in the report. The Government strongly agree with the committee that UK influence in the ESAs is important. We have many talented people in the UK authorities and our history of consultation and impact assessments means that we have both the evidence and the experience to play a leadership role. I will return to this, if I may, in a moment.

The regulated community will also have an important role to play-not just in providing evidence of the cost, but also in assessing the potential benefits of effective regulation. We also agree with the committee's assessment of the ESA's powers and its wish to be consulted prior to an emergency being called. I will also come back to that point. Where emergencies are called, we will always endeavour to provide information in a timely manner.

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, raised a number of specific issues. He was not entirely satisfied with the Government's response to the committee's request to be consulted if the Government envisage asking the Council to declare an emergency or detect that another member state is likely to do so. Given the rapidly moving nature of such situations-often outside normal business hours-there may be practical considerations. Perhaps more importantly, there is often a great deal of uncertainty in these periods: sometimes markets and commentators overreact, so absolute confidentiality is of paramount importance. There will, therefore, be the key issue of market sensitivity and so on. Within those constraints, I can confirm the Government's intent to inform the committee as far as is possible about a Council declaration of an emergency.

Regarding short selling and credit default swaps, as an exception to a general rule about ESAs not having enhanced powers without the need to declare an emergency, the noble Lord referred to the committee's argument that giving ESMA intervention powers might be necessary. Indeed, there was quite a lot of debate about short selling. The Government believe that there is a case for giving national regulators a reserve power to impose a temporary ban on certain asset classes where there is a threat to the stability of the market. This would probably be in the context of an emergency situation, but could be confined to one or more local markets where a ban may be appropriate and there is a need to respect that national decision. In these cases, ESMA should have a significant role in co-ordinating the response and ensuring that any decisions are implemented and enforced.

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, mentioned that the committee had expressed a concern that the Government's decision to abolish the FSA and replace it with the new regulatory authorities could compromise the UK's leadership role in engaging with the ESAs. I understand the concern. The Government are fully committed to ensuring that the UK authorities continue to take a leadership role in European reforms, working both with one another and with the wider stakeholder community to deliver sound reform. This complements changes proposed to the UK framework. Given the relatively small size of the staff in each ESA, the ESAs will rely heavily on their members. We will expect the FSA-and, in due course, the PRA and the FCA-to put significant time and effort into ensuring that the UK's voice is heard and that the ESA's decisions are appropriate. The UK regulatory authorities will be well placed to influence and take part in the technical work of the ESAs-for example, the development of binding technical standards and the production of guidance and advice.

Alongside this, the FSA-and, again, in due course, the PRA and the FCA-will have a significant formal role in representing the UK's competent authorities in the ESA board of supervisors and voting in the board on ESA decisions. Similarly, the Governor of the Bank of England will be represented in the ESRB and vote on any warnings and recommendations. Finally, it will also be very important that the UK regulatory authorities encourage their staff to take up temporary secondments in the new ESAs. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, referred to that. The FSA is currently reviewing its staffing and deployment policies to ensure that they promote such participation in the new ESA. We will expect the Bank of England to take a similar approach to the ESRB. Therefore, I generally agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Newby in this regard.

On macroeconomic stability, the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, spoke about the sharing of information. A memorandum of understanding that fully respects the confidentiality of individual firms has now been drawn up by the agencies and is in the public domain. I hope noble Lords will accept that we are moving in the right direction on that.

The noble Lord, Lord Harrison, referred to the Government's proposal to legislate to require the establishment of a statutory MoU between Her Majesty's Treasury, the Bank of England, the PRA and the FCA, and the further use of MoUs to frame relationships between regulators. I accept my noble friend Lord Newby's point that an MoU on its own is not enough, but I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harrison, that the draft legislation provides for the UK regulators to include in the MoU provisions relating to co-operation between any of them and a body exercising functions relating to the stability of the UK financial system or the regulation of financial services.

Perhaps I should also say that legislation can go only so far in setting down how a wide range of functions are to be conducted. Therefore, it is entirely reasonable and, indeed, vital that it is planned and conducted carefully, set down in detail and agreed and understood by all. There will of course be ample opportunity to debate the legislation over the forthcoming months.

The noble Lords, Lord Harrison and Lord Woolmer, the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, and my noble friend Lord Newby asked about the resourcing of the ESAs, especially the EBA. They are right: the ESAs, including the EBA, have limited resources in the sense of the number of officials directly employed. However, they can and do call on the resources of the national regulators. This enables them to secure the necessary expertise and experience. If an emergency were to be called, that co-operation from national regulators-including, importantly, those in the United Kingdom-would ensure that the necessary work could be undertaken. As I say, we are committed to providing that assistance.

I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for his suggestion about stamp duty, which I will certainly pass to my colleagues at the Treasury.

The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, and my noble friend Lord Newby referred to the recommendation of the Joint Committee on an international co-ordination committee. The Government welcome all the work that the Joint Committee has done. We are considering its recommendations and will respond in due course.

My noble friend Lord Newby specifically asked whether the capital requirements directive could limit our ability to implement the Independent Commission on Banking. My noble friend Lady Wheatcroft also referred to this. The CRD is designed as maximum harmonisation legislation. This could indeed restrict our ability to impose higher standards but others agree with us, including the ESRB. Therefore, in discussions in the Council and the European Parliament we will work hard with like-minded member states to ensure that the CRD, when adopted, will include flexibility to implement the ICB recommendations and, more generally, to impose higher standards.

The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked three questions, which my noble friend Lord Dykes echoed. Both noble Lords have given me much food for thought. I assure them that the United Kingdom will continue to use all avenues available to it to press its case, suitably evidenced by facts and examples of the costs and benefits of the UK's thinking on the key issues. We do not expect to be outvoted by our European partners, but we have recently experienced Commission proposals that are not evidence-based, and could have a negative effect on growth and harm the EU's global financial centre in London. Securing safeguards would have been helpful in ensuring that these concerns could not be ignored. The consequence of raising these concerns has been beneficial in focusing minds across Europe on the need to ensure that legislation is evidence-based and that the ESAs are not overburdened with new powers before they have built a reputation prior to the 2014 review. The noble Lord, Lord Kerr, gracefully offered me the opportunity to respond further in writing, and I shall take advantage of that offer.

The noble Lord, Lord Woolmer, asked several questions. He asked whether the Government believe that the ESAs have a capacity to deliver what they are mandated to deliver. Yes, we do. The ESAs were established with a view to undertaking certain tasks and were resourced accordingly. Their operation and success was to be reviewed, as I have said, in 2014. However, if additional tasks are given, they will not have sufficient resources, nor are they likely to be able to procure the expertise or experienced supervisors. That is a matter that we need to keep a very careful eye on. He also asked whether we agree that engagement with the EU is important. Of course we do. Ministers and senior officials are engaging with our European partners on a daily basis, either in meetings, bilaterals, or through other means.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, that a financial transaction tax, the so-called Tobin tax, would need to be agreed globally. I note the continuing interest in the intervention of the Prime Minister in the European Council on 9 December. I am afraid that I am going to disappoint him on the matter of Hamlet's father. I do not think that he will be surprised to hear that we do not publish informal draft text proposals. This has been government practice for a long time and continues to be so, particularly when those taking part are in the middle of negotiations.