Financial Services (Implementation of Legislation) Bill [HL] - Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 4:00 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 4:00 pm, 8th January 2019

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for contributing to the debate and speaking to their amendments. Let me set out the Government’s position regarding the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and the amendments spoken to by the noble Lords, Lord Sharkey and Lord Davies. I will then come back to some of the points made during the debate by the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, and the noble Lord, Lord Adonis.

I will speak to Amendments 1, 3, 5 and 7 together, if I may. They relate to the breadth of the amending power, which was central to the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and the ability to account for the UK’s specific position outside the EU for the two years in which the power would operate. As I understand it, Amendment 1, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, stems from her concern—repeated by all Members who spoke in the debate—that the power is currently drafted too broadly. The amendment would require that no legislation can be made under this Bill which is corresponding but not similar, or vice versa, to the original EU legislation. It is clearly important that we go into the precise definition of each term, as they have different interpretations and implications. In doing so, I hope that we will add to the body of information that can be referred to in future to clarify the Government’s intent in this process.

First, we take “corresponding” to mean “identical in all essentials or respects”. The term “similar” means “having a resemblance in appearance, character, or quantity without being identical”. In practice, of course, the legal interpretation of the two terms can vary, with some judging that “corresponding” affords a wider latitude. However, it is nevertheless clear that on the basis of the current drafting, any exercise of the power would need to be limited in subject matter and purpose. It will be possible to exercise the power only to achieve the aim of the original EU legislation, with an option to make adjustments to account for the specificities of UK markets, rightly reflecting the fact that we will no longer be a member of the EU. It will not, therefore, allow for wholesale changes to the character and intent of the original legislation.

For example, if the Government were implementing a file on pensions regulation, they would need to seek to achieve the same purpose, even with adjustments, and remain focused on that subject matter—not extend it to another policy, such as insurance. However, the Bill provides the ability to best reflect UK circumstances in the implemented legislation, which is key. The intent is to clarify that, in a no-deal scenario, the UK has the tools to ensure that it remains an attractive and competitive place to do business and continues to implement the latest international standards, with regulation that reflects the best interests of UK markets and those international standards. The wording suggested in the amendment would allow provisions to be made under this Bill only should they be corresponding and similar. This would require the legislation as it is implemented to fulfil two different legal standards simultaneously. We consider that this would be a highly uncertain legal bar to pass and in some cases it may even make the power essentially unworkable.

I would also like to reassure the Committee that the formulation “corresponding, or similar” is well established and has been used—to provide recent examples—in the Pension Schemes Act 2015 and the Recall of MPs Act 2015. I hope that this will reassure the noble Baroness regarding the limitations that will apply and the formulation “corresponding, or similar”, for which there are precedents. In short, the current wording is already intended to ensure that the powers under this Bill cannot be used to create substantively new policy outside the bounds of the original EU legislation.

I turn to Amendment 3 tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey. I understand that this comes from a similar place, intending as it does to forbid the Government’s amending legislation in such a way that it would create significant new policy separate from the original EU legislation, a concern also expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Davies. I hope that my response to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, will provide noble Lords with some degree of the reassurance that is needed. As drafted, the Bill would not allow the Government to significantly alter, expand or run contrary to the primary purposes of that original legislation.

I turn now to Amendments 5 and 7, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Davies, and spoken to by the noble Lord, Lord Davies. They would limit the power in the Bill to make adjustments in a similar manner to the limitations in the EU withdrawal Act—limiting changes to legislation purely to a fixing of legal deficiencies. I understand the concern across the Committee that the power in this Bill goes beyond that of the EU withdrawal Act. I have already touched on the importance in a no-deal scenario of ensuring that European Union legislation implemented in domestic law best serves the interests of UK financial services, so I will not rehearse the same arguments again at length. However, I will reiterate that we cannot be certain about what files will look like once they are finalised or of the context in which the files will be implemented. The powers in the EU withdrawal Act are strictly limited, and the purpose of the legislation we are making under the Act is to ensure that there is a workable legal framework in place at the point of exit and to minimise disruption to financial services firms and their customers who currently operate under the existing EU rules. It is therefore appropriate to keep any changes made on exit day to a minimum.

There is a fundamental difference between this legislation and the EU withdrawal Act, and this comes directly to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis. The withdrawal Act deals only with the legislation which has been agreed at the EU level, with the UK present at all stages of the negotiations. As my noble friend Lord Hodgson pointed out in his intervention, this Bill provides a temporary solution, specifically in a no-deal scenario, to deal with the dynamic regulatory landscape for the financial services industry after the UK has left the EU negotiating table and taken its own path. This is a different challenge that requires a different solution.