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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Deben Lord Deben Conservative 6:00 pm, 8th January 2019

My Lords, I remind the House of my declaration in the register of interests, particularly my chairmanship of PIMFA, the organisation that represents independent financial advisers and wealth managers.

I have to disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, about the meaning and purpose of this amendment. But I have to say to my noble friend that one of the reasons for this amendment is that many of us are very concerned that the Treasury in particular should take very seriously the issues of the financial services sector and the contribution that it makes to the British economy. That seriousness has not always been evident.

Secondly, the European Commission has been very helpful in listening to the British applications and those of our colleagues in the rest of the European Union and, should we leave the European Union, which I trust will not happen, we would certainly expect to have at least as much access as we have on the present stage and certainly as much influence.

I am concerned because in the past we have sought to pass amendments that asked the Treasury to bear in mind important matters. For example, an amendment some years ago stated that the Treasury should insist that regulators bear in mind the need for savings in our society. That was pooh-poohed by the Government who said that it was entirely unnecessary and of course everybody knew that. The result has been that regulators have not taken that issue into account and indeed pointed out that the Government did not accept when it was suggested to them that saving as part of our society was important. So it is important to bring home to the Government the issues raised with this amendment.

I want to make two further points. First, this is a very competitive world. We need to have legislation if we are not a member of the European Union that enables us to continue to be as competitive as possible. This may not be exactly the right wording, but it carries that meaning. Secondly, small companies find much of the legislation not only burdensome but unnecessary—points that my noble friend Lord Leigh properly made. That is not because one wants lower levels of legislation.

At this point, I want to take serious objection to what the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, said. I happen to be a Conservative. I sit on the Conservative Benches and I have been a Conservative Minister for longer than almost anyone else. But I am very much in favour of this regulation. The industry that I am happy to work in is also very much in favour of sensible legislation because we do not like cowboys either. They produce extremely bad reputations. Nobody can be tougher about the fact that we need proper regulation. There is no question in these amendments that somehow or other we would lower the bar. That is not the issue.

I would agree about some of the remarks made about Singapore. I am deeply upset to have a Foreign Secretary who thinks that Britain should be compared to Singapore. Fundamentally, that is as about as helpful as suggesting that we should be like Liechtenstein. I am sorry, but it is not a sensible comparison for so many reasons, not least because of the autocratic Government of Singapore. I do not want to be associated with them as a comparison.

However, our financial services need proper regulation. We want regulation, but it has to be proper regulation within the context of our competition. Therefore, it is proper to say that we do not want regulation that either makes it more difficult for us to compete or lays a disproportionate burden on the shoulders of small companies. Those seem two such simple and reasonable things to suggest that, on this occasion, my noble friends here and I are helping the Government.

Ministers are always suspicious, particularly when I say that I am trying to help the Government, but I am, on this occasion, trying to help them. I am doing it in great difficulty because I do not like this Bill at all. I do not want to leave the European Union. It is more and more clear that leaving the European Union is barmy, and we are having to spend time talking about barmy things that will take two years and then go away. It is a pretty insulting thing for this House, but that is what we are having to do. So I ask Ministers please to take this seriously and not to take the view of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in the way that he put it, but merely to agree that the amendment is sensible. If the Government cannot give us that undertaking, I have to say that the financial services industry will be very suspicious. If the Government are not prepared to do at least as well as the European Union has done in negotiation and discussion, I will be very sad.

I hope that people notice just how good the Commission has been when they attack the European Union for bureaucracy and suchlike. It has been more open and more able to discuss, and more concerned about the issues than any of our governmental structures. We have to remind people that the European Union is more open, more willing to listen and more concerned to be there for industry than the Treasury has been in history, which is why this amendment has been tabled.