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Part of Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [HL] – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 15th December 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Worthington Baroness Worthington Labour 5:15 pm, 15th December 2015

My Lords, in Committee we considered three issues relating to the wider sustainability of financial services in the UK and the way they are regulated and overseen partly by the Bank of England, and by other bodies. In tabling this amendment at Report, I have endeavoured to capture the three topics that we discussed previously in one overarching obligation or requirement on the Treasury to report back to the House on these important issues.

Since Committee, two very important events have served to illustrate the importance of wider sustainability, and climate change in particular, in relation to our financial services. The first is the appalling flooding throughout the North of England and the impact that has had on our businesses, homes and financial services. The second is the signing into law of the climate change agreement in Paris, which clearly sets the world on a path towards rapid decarbonisation in order that we can stay within the new goal of a limit of well below 2 degrees centigrade, aiming for 1.5 degrees. This has been virtually universally accepted as an historic moment which will have significant ramifications.

On financial services and our economy, it is clear that we will need to adapt to oversee an orderly transition from a relatively carbon-intensive system to one in which we are no longer adding anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions to the atmosphere. The Treasury and the bodies which report to it can have a significant role in helping to bring about that orderly transition.

I will briefly mention the three issues the amendment touches on, the first of which is that we should consider the way we list various entities on our growth markets. It is clear that the Government intend to encourage investment in growth markets—they have indeed introduced a host of tax benefits to the companies listed in our growth markets—but these are relatively unregulated. The nature of those markets is that they can attract companies with a relatively short outlook—a desire to raise capital in London without thinking more broadly or in the longer term. A number of companies listed in our growth markets, including the AIM market, are in the extractive fossil fuel industries, which I would be hard pressed to classify as growth industries that the Government should be seeking to encourage investment in. We have asked that a report should look at these aspects and consider whether there is more that needs to be done to oversee the way in which these growth markets are attracting capital and rewarding investment.

The other important issue that we would like to be reported on is disclosure. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord McFall and the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who is not in his place, who spoke on this so eloquently in Committee. This topic is gaining in prominence. Indeed, in Paris, the Governor of the Bank of England, Mark Carney, announced that Michael Bloomberg will assist him in the FSB in looking into the whole issue of disclosure at an international level. I have spoken directly with the Minister about this, and I know that the Treasury view is that this should be conducted at an international level. I do not disagree with that, but in the spirit of leadership, which we showed so clearly in Paris, it is appropriate that the UK should lead at home on these issues and not simply rely on international, multilateral processes. We are, of course, one of the largest financial centres in the world; we have a number of extractive and energy industries listed here, raising capital here and operating from here, and it is incumbent on us to work out what more can be done to ensure that we speed this orderly transition to a cleaner economy.

Disclosure can have a powerful effect in that regard, but unfortunately, there are around 400 different disclosure regimes and they are not applied clearly and consistently. It is also very important that we make sure the rules are correct, which is another issue the amendment addresses. Overriding all this is the need to adopt a more long-term view in considering regulation of our financial sector. When Defra asked the Bank of England to look into issues related to climate change and climate risk, the FPC simply stated that climate change was beyond its time horizon. Customarily, these issues are viewed only within a three to five-year time horizon. It is clear that many longer term issues need to be taken into account when the Bank and other financial regulators consider sustainable economic growth, and we would like more thought to be given to the timescales used in assessing whether we have a sustainable economy.

This is more of a probing amendment to enable the debate to continue, rather than a legal text that we would expect to see adopted as law. But I would like to hear from the Minister what more the UK plans to do, in the light of events in Cumbria and Paris, to ensure that we are leading the world in getting our capital markets, financial sectors and services to apply themselves to the task of an orderly transition to a cleaner economy. I look forward to the Minister’s response.