Amendment 23

Financial Services and Markets Bill - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 2:58 pm on 8 June 2023.

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Baroness Penn:

Moved by Baroness Penn

23: Clause 35, page 49, line 40, at end insert—“(ic) how it has complied with the statement of policy on panel appointments prepared under section 1RA in relation to the process for making appointments and the matters considered in determining who is appointed, and”Member’s explanatory statementThis amendment would ensure that the FCA includes in its annual report under paragraph 11 of Schedule 1ZA to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 a summary of how it has complied with the statement of policy on panel appointments in section 1RA as inserted into FSMA 2000 by Clause 43.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, I will speak to all the government amendments in this group, which are part of a package of changes that the Government have brought forward to support scrutiny and accountability of the financial services regulators.

This group of amendments focuses on supporting that work through independent analysis and scrutiny. The Government have listened to the view expressed by noble Lords that, for there to be effective scrutiny, it is critical that Parliament and others have access to accurate and impartial information to assist in assessing the performance of the regulators. The Government have carefully considered the proposal, put forward by my noble friend Lord Bridges in Grand Committee, to establish an office for financial regulatory accountability, or OFRA.

While the Government cannot accept the proposal to establish an OFRA, we have considered what more can be done to support the provision of independent analysis and scrutiny. FSMA already requires the regulators to consult on rule proposals and establish independent panels to act as a “critical friend” in the rule-making process. The regulators seek to engage the panels at an early stage of policy development and the panels voluntarily produce reports annually on their work.

Through the Bill, the Government are already enhancing the role of the statutory panels to support scrutiny and accountability. This includes Clause 43, which requires the regulators to publish a statement of policy on how they recruit members of their statutory panels. In addition, following the debate in Commons Committee the Government introduced Clause 44, which requires panel members to be external to the regulators and the Treasury.

However, the Government have heard the calls from across the House for further reassurance that the regulators’ approach to panel recruitment will ensure that panel members are drawn from a diverse range of stakeholders and are sufficiently independent of the regulators. The Government have therefore introduced Amendments 23, 24, and 57, which will require the FCA, the PRA and the PSR, as part of their annual reports, to set out how recruitment to their panels has been consistent with their statements of policy.

The Bill also already introduces measures to strengthen the quality of the regulators’ cost-benefit analysis, including the introduction of new, independent panels to support the production and development of CBA. It is important that CBA reflect as accurately as possible the costs and benefits to firms and consumers of implementing and following regulation. In assessing this, the experience of regulated firms themselves is vital.

The Government are grateful to my noble friend Lord Holmes for raising this issue in Grand Committee, and again through Amendments 44 and 47 today. The Government have reflected on that earlier debate and introduced Amendments 43 and 46, which will require both the FCA and the PRA to appoint at least two members to their CBA panels from authorised firms.

To ensure that Parliament has access to the important work of the panels, the Government have introduced Amendment 50, which provides a power for the Treasury to require the panels to produce annual reports. The Treasury will then be required to lay these reports before Parliament. I can confirm that, in the first instance, the Government will bring forward the necessary secondary legislation to require the CBA panels and the FCA Consumer Panel to publish an annual report to be laid before Parliament, reflecting the fact that the work of the Consumer Panel and the new CBA panels has been of keen interest to noble Lords in earlier debates. The Government will keep this under review, and the legislation will allow the Government to require other panels to publish annual reports and lay these before Parliament if they consider that appropriate in future.

Finally, Amendment 95 seeks to strengthen the independence of the complaints scheme through which anyone directly affected by how the regulators have arrived at their decisions can raise concerns. The scheme is overseen by the independent complaints commissioner, and Amendment 95 seeks to strengthen that independence further by making the Treasury responsible for the appointment of the commissioner, rather than the regulators.

Existing legislation requires the complaints commissioner to publish an annual report, including trends in complaints and recommendations for how the regulators can improve, which is to be laid before Parliament. Amendment 95 also enables the Treasury to direct the commissioner to include additional matters in the annual report. This will ensure that, where appropriate, the Government can make sure that the report covers issues which the Government consider are important to support scrutiny of. Amendment 95 also requires the regulators to include a summary of where they have disagreed with the commissioner’s recommendations, and their reasons for doing so, in their response to the commissioner’s annual report.

The Government have been clear that the regulators’ increased responsibilities as a result of the Bill must be balanced with clear accountability, appropriate democratic input and transparent oversight. The package of amendments we are debating in this group contribute to that and support Parliament through additional independent analysis and scrutiny.

Photo of Lord Holmes of Richmond Lord Holmes of Richmond Conservative

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in the debate on this group of amendments. I will speak to Amendments 42, 44, 45 and 47 in my name, and offer my support for all the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Bridges, to which I have added my name. I will leave him to set them out.

I again thank my noble friend the Minister, and the Treasury officials and team, for all the meetings and work done during Committee, and between Committee and Report, on the question of regulator scrutiny and accountability. I thank her particularly for adopting my Amendments 44 and 47 on the membership of the panels. On my Amendments 42 and 45, could she say a little more about the evidence base the panel will use to come to its recommendations? Would it be valuable to publish any dissenting opinions on the matters to be published? This would be extremely helpful for Parliament to scrutinise the panel’s decisions.

Finally, I ask a broader question around cost-benefit analysis. How will HMT and the regulator seek to ensure that the whole CBA process is meaningful, balanced, considers all majority and minority views, and does not fall into the potential trap of being a utilitarianist pursuit, which cost-benefit analysis can sometimes fall foul of?

That said, I thank again the Minister and the Treasury officials for their support for the amendments and for the discussions we had to come to this point, particularly on Amendments 44 and 47. I look forward to hearing in detail, particularly from my noble friend Lord Bridges and the Minister, the suggestion around the office for regulator accountability.

Photo of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Chair, International Agreements Committee

My Lords, I will briefly speak to Amendment 39, to which I have added my name, and government Amendment 50. I declare that I am on the board of the ABI. More relevantly, as the amendments are about the Consumer Panel, I speak as a former vice-chair of one of the statutory panels, the Financial Services Consumer Panel. It was some time ago and our focus then was on the FSA rather than the present FCA, but our role was essentially the same.

I was on the panel before the events of 2007 and 2008. As a panel, we were warning about the risk to consumers of interest-only mortgages, high loan to value mortgages—which were really unacceptable to us—and high mortgages relevant to income. It was just before the crash, but I am not pretending that we foresaw what would happen, even though we were worried about those things. We did not anticipate what was happening in the financial sector, starting with Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac and Northern Rock. Our concern was about how consumers would fare should house prices tumble and their incomes not rise—or, indeed, if interest rates should increase. We saw them as a very vulnerable group of consumers.

What is interesting and relevant to Amendments 39 and 50 is that our role was only to advise the then FSA. Sadly, it did not pay enough attention to what we were saying. It might have given it a little bit more on its dashboard had it done so. Had our report been to Parliament and the Treasury perhaps someone might have noticed and taken an interest. That lives in the “What if?” category of history, but it explains my support of any report made by people who represent consumers being brought to public attention.

Amendment 39, to which I have added my name, was so brilliantly written and argued for in the Commons by my honourable friend Nick Smith. I should say that a long time ago we worked together when he was the Labour Party agent in Holborn and St Pancras and I was the CLP chair. Quite a bit seems to have happened since then to both of us. I knew at the time that he was able to take an issue with which he was dealing and see the broader context, which is how we come to the amendment he has essentially developed and which is in front of the House today.

My honourable friend’s interest was sparked when he was campaigning on behalf of members of the British Steel pension scheme—a scandal which led the NAO and the PAC to conclude that the FCA fell drastically short of its proper role in protecting consumers of financial services. His interest in that brings me to where we are today.

In my time, we have witnessed nearly £40 billion being paid in compensation to consumers who were mis-sold PPI, although the full costs were paid much later. Again, as consumer reps, we flagged up that this was not an appropriate product for most of those it was being sold to. Just occasionally, listening to consumers is good not just for them but for the industry and the whole economy. The voice of consumers is worth listening to.

The Government’s Amendment 50 is very welcome. It requires the statutory panels—I am particularly interested in the Consumer Panel—to report to the Treasury and for their reports to be laid before Parliament. This will bring consumer interest to the heart of our public discourse, which will be good for all concerned. I thank the Government for their amendment on this. I am happy that this trumps, or at least meets, Amendment 39.

Photo of Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Liberal Democrat

My Lords, in general I support all the amendments in this group. I am particularly pleased to see government Amendment 50 on the panel reports, assuming that they are implemented, and government Amendment 63 and its companions in the next group to require the regulators to state how they have taken account of parliamentary committee reports in rulemaking. I thank the Minister and the Bill team for covering some of the amendments that I tabled in Committee and similar ones from other noble Lords.

In this group, I have added my name to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, which concern the setting up of an office for financial regulatory accountability, as I did in Committee. The noble Lord is unable to be here today and has asked me to give his apologies and to introduce his amendments.

There is no need to go through the debate that we had in Committee, except to say that since FSMA 2022 there has been a growth in voices calling for an independent oversight body, including the main industry bodies. Those bodies were somewhat disappointed by the Minister’s suggestion in Committee that there was no industry support or suggestion along those lines, because they have made their views clear. I have received emails assuring me that they put points in the consultation responses as well as in published industry papers, although I acknowledge that those were early days and they may not have got as far as formulating ideas in the same way that I had in my consultation response.

There has also been a growth in support in this House. As has been said, if we had campaigned during the Brexit referendum that there would be this massive amount of power going to government, which would then be pressed onwards to unelected regulators, maybe some people would have had different thoughts, but that is water under the bridge. Going back to the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, the suite of amendments that cover the office for financial regulatory accountability—Amendments 64 to 72—includes some useful amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, with which the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, agrees.

Taken together, the amendments propose the set-up of the office, a Treasury charter for financial regulatory accountability, the main duties of the office and reports, and functional matters such as the right to information and data, membership and financial arrangements. It is of course a large group of amendments, and they will not be pressed to a vote, but the message that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, particularly wished to give is that we said that this was needed and in due course government will regret that it was not set up. Down the line, as is so often the case, it will be, “We told you so”.

The Government have made the changes to the panels. I acknowledge that it is an improvement that the statutory panels will have to report to Parliament, but that is not the same as having a wholly independent body. The panels are still too much within the web of the FCA. We have criticised them in the past for being captured. The proof of the pudding is perhaps yet to come in how they will be able to act, but they will not be the same as—if you like—an inquisitorial inquiry into specific things that are going on. They are much more in a consultee role, as far as I can see.

I will not disguise the fact that I wished to go further by in some way or another having a programme of independent thematic reviews, with which some other noble Lords agreed, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who, unfortunately, cannot be in her place this week, as was explained on Tuesday by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. I remain hopeful that, in the future, the Treasury will see fit to use the powers it has for thematic reviews, not least echoing the point made, on Tuesday as well as today, that the Government are introducing a great deal of emphasis and reporting around the new competitiveness and growth secondary objective—as the Minister said, because it is new, we need to check up on how it is going—but there are many other themes that are equally deserving of attention from time to time.

As I said, while reporting is being introduced around important matters, that is not the same as independent probing to find out about what is not reported. That independent probing, such as it is, will now be left to Parliament’s committees. I appreciate the amendments that the Government have offered, which will be talked about in the next group, but it is clear that if we are to do the kind of scrutiny that gets anywhere near that which I was involved in in the European Parliament, it has to be funded so that the committees can have expert assistance and not just one clerk. That is particularly relevant when we look at the committees in this House of Lords. We already have history here of requests for a sub-committee being declined because there is competition for such things. That has to be fixed. It is no good us having legislation changed to enable us to do scrutiny and then us being impotent to do it, either because there is something else that is sexier for a committee or because there are not the resources to fund it properly.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative 3:15, 8 June 2023

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend the Minister for again responding to the strong views expressed within your Lordships’ House and for introducing the amendments that she has. I also agree with what my noble friend Lord Holmes said.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, for the introduction of my noble friend Lord BridgesAmendment 64 and the others in that group. I supported his amendments in Grand Committee and am pleased to do so again today. My noble friend set out with his usual clarity, as did the noble Baroness, why we should support these amendments, and I will not waste your Lordships’ time in repeating them.

As my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean said in Committee, in order for Parliament to be able to hold the Treasury and the regulators to account, it is necessary to have an independent source of information. The proposed office would provide that. It is also welcome that the main duties of the office will include a duty to prioritise the analysis of regulations that restrict competition, negatively affect competitiveness and add compliance costs.

I do not believe that the new office would be a regulator of the regulators. Rather, it would be a means to ensure that the regulators really do get on with the job on which they are behind schedule—the promise made in 2016, in the general election manifesto and many times since that we will take advantage of our regulatory freedoms to eliminate or simplify those regulations which do not suit our markets and which place a disproportionate burden on market participants. We should not do this at the expense of standards, but to recast the rulebook in common law style will make it much easier for firms to maintain the high standards on which the regulators, the Treasury and noble Lords will all insist. The proposed office would greatly assist in ensuring that this will happen.

I also note—although we will discuss this in the next group—that, ideally, the office would deal principally with a Joint Committee of both Houses rather than two separate committees which might compete with each other. That would double the work and the costs that the office and the regulators would have to bear in carrying out their duties.

I believe the creation of an independent office such as the one proposed would be more helpful than the creation of a multiplicity of panels, which may be set up by statute but remain panels of the entities of which they form part. These are also duplicated between the two regulators, which doubles the cost and time taken by the regulators, and by the relevant committees of your Lordships’ House, in discussing with them.

I hope my noble friend the Minister is prepared to consider further the creation of something which is truly independent of the regulators. I think we have too much legislation by statute to require entities to negotiate with panels of which they are a part, which conceptually I find rather odd in any case.

Photo of Lord Vaux of Harrowden Lord Vaux of Harrowden Chair, Finance Committee (Lords), Chair, Finance Committee (Lords)

My Lords, this is the first of two groups that seek to improve the level of parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. Arguably, I think the groups are the wrong way around from a logical point of view, but we are where we are. We had long debates on this in Committee, and it was clear that accountability and parliamentary scrutiny was probably the single biggest issue on which Members from across the House felt that the Bill fell woefully short, particularly given the huge amount that is being transferred to the responsibility of the regulators by the Bill.

We heard in Committee of the need for three legs to the whole process of scrutiny and accountability: reporting, independent analysis and the parliamentary accountability elements. This group is about the second leg—the independent analysis that will support the parliamentary scrutiny and accountability. The Government have listened, and that is welcome, but I am sure I am not alone in finding what they have proposed to be rather thin gruel.

The Government have introduced a number of amendments which enhance the role of the various policy panels, in particular the cost-benefit analysis panel. These are welcome, but I am afraid they really do not go far enough. Other noble Lords, especially the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, have tabled further amendments to enhance and support the role of the panels. Again, that is very welcome but not, I think, sufficient. Despite these improvements, the panels remain appointed by the regulators and are not genuinely independent.

I remain strongly drawn to the amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Bridges of Headley, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, to which I have added my name, to create a genuinely independent office for financial regulatory accountability. As I said, so much responsibility is being handed to the regulators that it must make sense to have a genuinely robust system of oversight over the regulators, not just responding to consultations about proposed changes to regulations that the Government have put into the Bill but a much more holistic oversight of the whole regulatory direction—something that deals with what the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, referred to as the multiplicity of panels. We need to draw this all together, and we need to be much more forward-looking about the direction of regulation, rather than backward-looking as to what is proposed.

This is such an important matter and such a huge volume of work that, if we are to scrutinise it effectively, we need to have something such as the proposed office for financial accountability to enable parliamentary committees and others to carry out the meaningful scrutiny. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, talked about the need for resources; we will come on to that in the next group, but she is quite right. This would really help because, if the independent information were available to the committees, it would save them the job of doing all the sifting and all the rest of it, and they would be able to concentrate on the bits that really matter.

Even with the amendments proposed by the Government, I do not think that we get anywhere near that real scrutiny. I am sorry to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, does not intend to push these amendments; I would have liked him to do so and would have supported him if he had. I hope that he will continue to use his influence as the chair of the Economic Affairs Committee to push for a similar approach.

Photo of Lord Eatwell Lord Eatwell Labour

My Lords, I totally agree with what the noble Lord has just said and therefore I will not repeat his words. The office for financial regulatory accountability proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, would become an important part of the whole regulatory architecture in this country. The reason why I have proposed a couple of amendments—I am delighted to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, actually likes my amendments to his amendments—is to enhance the position of the office within that architecture.

We have to recognise that there will be virulent opposition to this in the Treasury. The Treasury’s darkest day in recent years was the day that the Office for Budget Responsibility was established as an independent entity evaluating the performance of the economy. In the same way, having gone through that dark day, I can imagine the horror with which the Treasury observes the possibility of an independent entity evaluating the performance of regulators and the performance of the Treasury in its activity in guiding regulation. It is no surprise at all that we have what the noble Lord has quite appropriately called “thin gruel”, instead of something that would be truly effective and would create both an independent assessor and a sounding board for the industry, consumers and others who have an interest to express in regulation to get their views on to the front line.

With my Amendments 67 and 72 I am again in slight opposition to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, in the sense that I want to remove the lines in the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, that specifically focus on the competition objective, because I do not want to second-guess what the office might do. The office could choose to travel over any part of the regulatory countryside. I regard my Amendment 72 as much more important because, as part of the architecture, the office should be funded through the levy in the same way as other parts of the regulatory system; the FCA, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and so on are all financed via the standard levy on the industry. After all, this would be a trivial amount of money because—as has been pointed out—it would be only a relatively small entity. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, liked my amendment to his amendment. I hope that he will be able to carry forward these proposals in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, suggested.

I will comment on Amendments 44 and 47 from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on the membership of panels at the FCA and the PRA. I support his view that placing practitioners on panels can have a very positive effect. I say this because I was an independent member of the board of the old Securities and Futures Authority, which was a practitioner-run regulatory authority with independent members, of which I was one. I was very impressed by the way that practitioners, when required to be regulators and placed in a regulatory role, assumed the role of regulators—they were not just representatives of their special interests. In fact, their special interests were left at the door; what came in with them was their specialist knowledge. I was sceptical when I first joined the board of the SFA but was won over by the performance of practitioners there. The proposal from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for practitioners will add to the regulatory effectiveness and knowledge of these panels.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative 3:30, 8 June 2023

My Lords, I agree with everything that has been said by everyone in the debate so far and support all these amendments. I know that my noble friend Lord Bridges is mortified that he cannot be here today. We discussed the arguments and I supported them in Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, is absolutely right about how this would have gone down in the Treasury. But I do not want to be grudging, given the amount of movement that the Minister has been able to achieve as a result of the debate, and the government amendments in this group will make a difference. We are dealing with the old “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” problem here. This group of amendments would have taken it a lot further forward, although the government amendments are helpful.

I do not want to anticipate the next debate, but the key question will be, as a number of noble Lords have pointed out, the resource that is made available. If it is not to be through a body such as the OBR, as my noble friend Lord Bridges was suggesting, it will have to be provided by the parliamentary authorities. Whether that will work, and how effective it will be, will depend on the extent to which the Government give a clear indication that they would welcome it, although it would be a matter for the House. I suspect that would be helpful.

I thank the Minister for having listened to the debate in Committee, which we are in danger of repeating, and having taken some measures, if not going perhaps as far as my noble friend Lord Bridges’s Amendment 64 would require. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for so ably making the case for it.

Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy)

My Lords, I will speak very briefly. It will be evident to the House by now that, as was true in Committee, essentially every speaker takes one position, other than the Government. Maybe one or two support the Government’s position, but overwhelmingly there has been a common feeling across political ideologies and views. People from different perspectives, including those who are independent in this House, all share the same set of concerns.

We all particularly welcomed the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, because it was a piece of completely new thinking—a way to break the conundrum very effectively by making sure that an office of financial regulatory accountability would change the game by providing Parliament and anyone else responsible for scrutiny and accountability with the analysis, information and data they need to do that effectively. I very much hope that the Government will take it away and consider it.

I join all other noble Lords in finding not only the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, but those from the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and the others in this group extremely constructive. I vary slightly from the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth; I understand that the Government have moved a little in the amendments they have brought forward in this group but, my goodness, it is a baby step. This issue is far too big to be dealt with only by baby steps.

Photo of Baroness Chapman of Darlington Baroness Chapman of Darlington Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, Shadow Spokesperson (Business and Trade), Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury)

My Lords, I start by acknowledging the government amendments in this group, which make a number of changes that we think are sensible to ensure that the cost/benefit analysis panels have representatives from industry, to allow the Treasury to direct statutory panels to make annual reports and to make it the Treasury’s job to appoint the complaints commissioner. These all represent steps in the right direction—even if, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, has just said, they are not necessarily the giant leaps that some would hope to see.

We tabled Amendment 39 in this group, which would require the FCA consumer panel to produce annual reports on the regulator’s fulfilment of its statutory consumer protection duties, and my noble friend Lady Hayter explained why we were backing this so firmly and spoke about the work with the British Steel pensioners, led by Nick Smith. She saved my blushes because Nick is my husband. I know that is not a declarable interest, but in the interests of transparency, I should probably let people know. We are pleased to see Amendment 50 and will not be pressing our Amendment 39 to a vote because of it. We believe that the government amendments go a significant way to addressing our concerns, so will not press our amendment, but that does not mean that we are convinced that consumer issues are by any means resolved, and we may have to revisit this topic in future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, helpfully introduced the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, and presented his proposal for an independent office for financial regulatory accountability. This is an interesting proposal but, when considering the Government’s numerous concessions on scrutiny and accountability, at this point we would not be minded to support it at a Division, because the creation of such a body needs significant work and amounts to a fundamental change in how we regulate the sector. We do not want to pre-empt what the Minister has to say, but it was not a core focus of the future regulatory framework review, the outcomes of which the Bill seeks to implement.

The amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, raise important questions about the capacity of parliamentary committees to scrutinise the regulators’ output, and this is something we have consistently raised with the Minister during our private discussions. When I say “we”, that is very much the royal “we”—I obviously mean my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe. I am sure that he is grateful to the Minister for the time she has given to him, to my noble friend Lord Livermore and to me in recent weeks. While we understand that it is for Parliament to make its own arrangements, both now and in future, we hope that the Government will acknowledge the substantial workload that committees will have and remain open-minded about whether and how the regulators can better facilitate Parliament’s work.

I am especially grateful to my noble friend Lord Eatwell for his amendments to the OFRA texts, but I suppose this highlights in part the difficulties with supporting the detail of the proposal at a Division at this point. We see that many people agree with the principle, but there is probably a great deal more work to be done on the detail.

Photo of Baroness Penn Baroness Penn The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury

My Lords, let me respond briefly to the points raised in the debate. I take first the amendments from my noble friend Lord Bridges, well introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles: Amendments 64 to 66 and 68 to 71, which would establish an office for financial regulatory accountability. As I said in my opening remarks, the Government agree that the provision of accurate and impartial information is extremely important for assisting Parliament in its important scrutiny role—and, indeed, others.

However, as the noble Baroness opposite acknowledged, creating a new body raises questions about how it would interact with the existing accountability structures and the balance of responsibilities between government, Parliament and independent regulators. As I noted in Grand Committee, the provisions for the establishment of the Office for Budget Responsibility referred to in this debate, on which OFRA is, at least in part, modelled, were brought forward in a stand-alone Bill after public consultation, where there was sufficient time to consider carefully its role and remit in advance. The Government therefore do not think that establishing such a body through amendment to this Bill is the right way forward at this time. We acknowledge the strength of feeling and degree of consensus from different parts of the House on this idea, and noble Lords can rest assured that my noble friend Lord Bridges has made it very clear to me that this is not the last that the Government will be hearing from him on this subject.

I turn to the series of amendments from my noble friend Lord Holmes. Amendments 42 and 45 seek to make specific provision for the regulators’ new CBA panels to be provided with the information required to perform their functions. The Government support the intention of these amendments but consider that the requirement in legislation to establish and maintain the panel already requires the regulator to ensure that the panel has the appropriate information and data to perform its functions.

My noble friend Lord Holmes asked how we could ensure high-quality cost-benefit analysis work. As he and the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, noted, key to this is the composition of the panels. Panels with members who have diverse backgrounds, expertise and thought will be better placed to ensure that the FCA, the PRA and the PSR receive the most comprehensive appraisal of their policy. That is part of the reason why we have Clause 43, which requires the FCA and the PRA to set out a clear and transparent process for appointing members.

The FCA has also recognised the importance of improving diversity in the membership of its statutory panels and is undertaking a review to identify ways in which it can boost diversity so that the composition of panels appropriately reflects the range of practitioners and stakeholders in financial services. The Government welcome the work that is being done to move recruitment to the panels in this direction.

Amendments 41 and 45 seek to require the new CBA panels to make public their meeting materials and recommendations. The Government are not able to support this as it could undermine the confidentiality of the panels’ contributions, which is crucial to their role as a critical friend to the regulators. The panels and the regulator will already be able to make public their deliberations and materials when they consider it appropriate, without undermining that confidentiality. Through an amendment in this group, the Government are taking a power to oblige the panels to publish their annual reports on their work and lay them before Parliament; we think that this will deliver sufficiently.

If a panel feels that its work or conclusions are being ignored by the regulator, or where there are issues on which the regulator and the panel differ, the Government expect that these will generally be resolved in the course of regular engagement between the regulator and the panel. However, as I have said, panels are able to express their views publicly, including through their annual reports or by publishing responses to consultations. For example, as it currently operates, the FCA’s consumer panel regularly publishes its responses to the regulator’s consultations.

I turn to Amendment 39 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman. I am glad that she and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, feel that government Amendment 50 seeks the same outcome and should help to deliver that, although I note that, as the noble Baroness said, this is not the last word on consumer issues. However, at least when it comes to this particular focus, we have, I hope, delivered on that.

I know that not all noble Lords are satisfied with all of what the Government have put forward, but this is a step forward in the right direction. I expect to hear more from noble Lords in future on how the new system that we are establishing through this Bill is operating. For now, I commend the amendment.

Amendment 23 agreed.