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

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 8th January 2019.

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Photo of Lord Bates Lord Bates The Minister of State, Department for International Development 6:15 pm, 8th January 2019

My Lords, I again thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, particularly my noble friend Lord Leigh. His amendment touches on the critical point with regard to the Bill, which is the importance of safeguarding the competitiveness of the UK’s world-leading financial services industry as well as maintaining proportionality in the regulations that govern these markets. These are two of the key reasons this Bill has been introduced. It will ensure that our regulatory system remains up to date in the period following a no-deal exit and that UK firms are not left at a competitive disadvantage as regulations are updated in the EU. I can of course assure my noble friend that the Treasury will exercise its powers under this Bill with competitiveness and proportionality firmly in mind, which my noble friends Lord Flight and Lord Hodgson encouraged, and which my noble friend Lord Deben urged it to do.

When people are talking about the market in the City, people instinctively think of very large institutions, but having worked in the financial services industry, I recognise that it is made up of many small firms delivering outstanding benefits and value to their clients. There are some 58,000 small and medium-sized businesses operating in financial services.

In answer to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, the reason why the UK is so successful and the City of London so respected around the world is the strength of the regulatory basis. Reputation and trust are all when it comes to conducting financial services. If people are investing their life savings or pensions with organisations, they need to have confidence that the organisations they are investing in will look after them well and that they will get the return or benefit that they anticipate.

I therefore appreciate my noble friend’s helpful and well-intentioned amendment. However, I am mindful of the difficulties of placing these assurances on a statutory footing, given the difficulties of defining these terms clearly in legislation. In particular, judging the exercise of powers against a hypothetical case—for example, the state of the UK financial market had the UK not left the EU—would be highly challenging. It is also worth noting that many of the files are themselves being designed, with the UK’s input, at the moment, to aid competitiveness and proportionality issues. It is right that we put that on record at this point. My noble friend Lord Leigh set out clearly at the beginning that we pay tribute to the work of the Commission in listening to the voice of small business, a point to which my noble friend Lord Deben returned. Examples are the prospectus regulation listed in Clause 1, which creates a more proportionate regime for all firms, including SMEs, and key measures such as the introduction of a new growth prospectus—a lighter, less burdensome document—to be used by SMEs within the regulation. I hope my noble friend will recognise that the Government are alert to his concerns in this area and support the need to maintain the competitiveness of the UK financial services industry and to ensure that any regulatory burdens are applied to small and medium-sized enterprises in a proportionate way. In the light of these reassurances, I hope my noble friend feels able to withdraw his amendment.