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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:15 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy) 5:15 pm, 8th January 2019

My Lords, I added my name to the amendment because I consider it one of the most important in the range we are addressing today. Two fundamental issues seem to underlie our concerns about the legislation. One issue comes from a constitutional perspective, concerning Henry VIII powers. It matters; we discussed it in other contexts but it is important in this context too. It has an impact on the relationship between Parliament and the Executive, including applying the ability to exercise policy power and Parliament’s role in scrutinising policy.

One aspect of that is particularly substantial in the Bill. In the two-year period when the regime discussed in the Bill holds sway, we will be in a critical time, determining our future relationship with the European Union and whether our financial services industry continues to have access to European markets for financial services. That is a huge discussion and decision; it should not be handed over to the Treasury to enact simply through statutory instruments. I am exceedingly concerned that using this legislation, we will find ourselves in a position where because of Treasury decisions, our negotiators will find that no matter what they wish at the end of their negotiating period, we will have diverged significantly in financial services, making it almost impossible to reconnect parts of the market. If the industry sees that we will go through a period in which that may happen, it will make decisions about where it puts operations, activities and jobs that would not be in the long-term interest of the UK. That two-year period—exactly the period when this legislation applies—is critical. We will basically delegate decisions on whether equivalence continues to be UK policy that come into effect in this House only through the weak medium of statutory instruments.

I see this measure as a safeguard. I recognise what was said by the noble Lord, Lord Flight: that some things about future European regulation in the financial services industry may be unsatisfactory and that we may decide to diverge from them. But it really should not be the Treasury’s decision to do that and it should not be the Treasury’s decision to shut off the possibility of creating a long-term equivalence regime. That is why I support this clause. If we accept that within this Bill and the Government decide that there are indeed instances where they want to diverge, they can bring forward primary legislation. It is simply that they could not do that through secondary legislation in the way that this Bill would currently allow them to do so. That is too major and fundamental a decision.

I remind the Committee that the financial services industry is probably the most important sector in our economy. It delivers something like £76 billion a year in taxes which support our public services. To make a decision that will fundamentally impact on key aspects of the industry and with all the consequences that that entails must surely need to be done only through primary legislation and with the full and total engagement of this House. That is why I am particularly concerned about this clause.