Amendment 25

Financial Services and Markets Bill - Report (2nd Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 8 June 2023.

Alert me about debates like this

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean:

Moved by Lord Forsyth of Drumlean

25: Clause 36, page 50, line 30, leave out “chair of the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons” and insert “chairs of the relevant committees of Parliament”

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, I fear that the Minister has stolen my clothes. In speaking to Amendments 25, 29, 31, 36 and 38, which are in my name, and in looking at the government amendments, including Amendment 30, I find myself saying that the government amendments are far more effective and do a better job. They achieve the same purpose, so I say a big thank you to the Minister for having taken this on board. But, just reflecting on the debate we have had, I say that this will work only if very substantial resources are made available to any committee, whether that is a committee of this House or a Joint Committee.

I entirely understand the autonomy of this House, and the Government are to be commended in respecting it. It is up to this House and the other place to decide what committees they will establish, but here we have a statutory opportunity for us to set up a Joint Committee of both Houses, which my noble friend Lord Trenchard has made strong representations for, or indeed another committee of this House. But be in no doubt that any committee, whether joint or single, is going to have to look at the entire financial regulatory structure that has been taken from the European Union and given to the regulators. That is an enormous task. Although in this House we have many able people with expertise in this area, they have a finite amount of time and will absolutely need to be supported by people with technical expertise and knowledge, of the kind which the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, would have been quite used to when she was in the European Parliament, so ably chairing a committee with similar responsibilities.

I very much support the government amendments and certainly do not feel the need to press any of mine to the vote in this House. I thank the Minister for having listened so carefully, and for the time that she and her officials have given to considering the arguments and points, which have been made pretty well with a degree of consensus across the Committee and the House. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Faulkner of Worcester Lord Faulkner of Worcester Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

I must advise the House—this will not surprise the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth—that, if this amendment is agreed to, I will be unable to call Amendment 26.

Photo of Lord Eatwell Lord Eatwell Labour

My Lords, I will comment briefly on the proposal which has emerged and is contained in Amendment 30 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Penn. It refers to the possibility of parliamentary committees being

“the Treasury Committee of the House of Commons … the Committee of the House of Lords” or a Joint Committee. It says “and” but I presume that they would be mutually exclusive.

What is extraordinary about this amendment is that it contains a seriously bad idea which might lead to an extremely good outcome. The seriously bad idea is that the two committees, one in the other place and one here in the Lords, would be sitting at the same time and looking at the same material, requiring the same levels of expertise to advise them and the same commitment of time by the regulators—and, perhaps, producing divergent opinions which would lead to regulatory uncertainty. That is a very bad outcome. Why I fully support these amendments, however, is that the seriously bad idea will lead to an extremely good outcome, because people will see that the possibility of having a committee in the other place and a committee here doing the same thing, with all the negative connotations that I have just discussed, will lead to the rational outcome of a Joint Committee of both Houses.

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

My Lords, I added my name to the amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, so I thought I would stand and associate myself completely with his comments. I am delighted that the noble Baroness has effectively accepted the proposal. I will add my voice to say this: the subject of financial services is so huge, complex and important that it really requires a dedicated committee, whether a Joint Committee or committee of this House, not just to be part of, say, the Industry and Regulators Committee or the Economic Affairs Committee. It is much too big a subject to be covered by a committee that is not dedicated to the subject—and, if you have a dedicated committee, it must be properly resourced.

The Government rightly say that this is a matter for Parliament, but let us be realistic: they have huge influence on what happens there. I really hope that the Government and whoever the powers-that-be in this House who make these decisions are—even as the chair of the Finance Committee, this is still slightly opaque to me—are listening. This is so important. We must go ahead and must resource it properly.

Photo of Viscount Trenchard Viscount Trenchard Conservative

My Lords, I strongly agree with what my noble friend Lord Forsyth has said. I also put my name to his Amendment 25 and other amendments, and I think that he is entirely right.

I also thank the Minister for responding to the concerns expressed on all sides of the House and for recognising that the parliamentary oversight of the regulators may need to be done by a Joint Committee of both Houses. Like the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, I had also noticed that the amendment says not “or” but “and”, so there is a danger that there might be three committees doing the same thing, which would treble the work required by the regulator and, presumably, by the witnesses and experts who would be called to assist.

Also like the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, I had the experience of serving on the 1999 Joint Committee of both Houses. This was established by resolution of your Lordships’ House and another place separately but was effectively driven, or at least strongly encouraged, by the Government at the time. The noble Lord, Lord Burns, was a most effective chairman of the Joint Committee, and it was a pleasure to serve on it under his leadership. An added benefit of that Joint Committee was that it enabled noble Lords with an interest in financial services to work much more closely with Members of the other place and concentrated the expertise of both Houses in one committee. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, that it would be a seriously bad outcome were there to be two committees tasked with this huge job.

I also refer to what the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, said. I was in Brussels at the same time that she was chairman of the ECON, the economic affairs committee of the European Parliament. I often visited the European Parliament at that time. I was struck by the large number of staff and the great facilities available to the committees to carry out their role of scrutinising the legislative proposals brought by the Commission. We have not experienced that burdensome type of work: in the past, under the European model, all our financial services regulation was in primary legislation. It will now be given to the regulators. We therefore need more resources than have been available to us to scrutinise and supervise them properly. This is really important.

Noble Lords should also be grateful to the Minister for restoring equality of involvement between another place and your Lordships’ House. I thought that this was an unfortunate precedent for this type of legislation, particularly as many noble Lords have recent and continuing involvement with financial services firms. I look forward to the Minister’s winding up.

Photo of Lord Carrington of Fulham Lord Carrington of Fulham Conservative

My Lords, I will add my two cents’ worth to encourage the establishment of a Joint Committee. I cannot believe that having a committee in each House of this Parliament would work effectively, for all the reasons that the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, has suggested. The committees of this House and the other place are grossly underresourced in any case. We need a committee looking at something as detailed and complex as this which operates in the way that the Public Accounts Committee in the other place is set up, is dedicated to look at regulation and has the resourcing to double-guess not only the regulators but the advisers who advise them, so that it can stand up and come to its own opinion. In the small time that the members of those committees are able to dedicate to the committee, with all the other duties they have as parliamentarians, it should be able to analyse the evidence and come up with sensible, and inevitably highly technical, solutions.

I have some experience of the committees of both Houses. I chaired the Treasury Select Committee, donkey’s years ago, and I served on the Economic Affairs Committee here for some time. Neither of those committees has the resources to be able to undertake this kind of task. It needs a completely new structure. Possibly the only model we can look at is the PAC, which has the National Audit Office advising it very closely. I am not suggesting we should set up a national audit office for regulation, although I know my noble friend Lord Bridges has suggested such a thing. We need to make sure that whatever is set up is properly resourced. I recognise that it is a matter for both Houses to decide how they do that, but we have to be absolutely clear that both Houses can do that only if the financial resources are made available by His Majesty’s Treasury and the Government to enable them to do so. It will be a decision to be taken by His Majesty’s Government and my noble friend the Minister to ensure that the resourcing is available.

It is a necessary step. However, it is a step and almost certainly not the conclusion. Once we have experience of regulating the regulators, we will be able to judge what other changes are needed to make sure that the regulation is effective and that financial markets in London are regulated in a way that is effective and convincing for participants in those markets on a global basis.

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

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on being so persuasive. The Government have listened carefully to his advice and have come forward with amendments that are identical in their outcome, even if perhaps they have found a more effective or legally acceptable way to set out the wording. I am sure that that is a step forward, but I want to join the chorus.

I had the privilege of being on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which in effect was a Joint Committee of both Houses. It was very much driven by the Government, who set it up in the first place, and it was properly resourced. From the work we did over the two years, there are two lessons to be drawn. One is that, with that resource, you can genuinely produce the evidence and go into the detailed questioning that is necessary to expose what may not have been obvious from a superficial or limited inspection; in-depth was possible because of the resource that was made available. The second lesson is that as a Joint Committee—I am very attracted to Joint Committees, as they avoid the duplication that others have talked of—that commission received a degree of respect and significance that is probably not available to a committee that is the creature of one House but not the other. The joining together of the forces of both Houses was meaningful.

We have a new situation: a regulator powerful now beyond any of its expectations because the powers that once lay in Europe, and which, as my noble friend Lady Bowles said, were subject to a great deal of expert and ongoing scrutiny on a regular basis, have now been removed to the regulators and the regulator faces no such scrutiny. That is not good for the regulator either. I hope very much that the lessons will be drawn.

Although I very much liked the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, of an office for financial regulatory accountability, in effect a resource such as that would need to sit underneath a committee, or committees, in order to make sure that they have the proper tools and information. I hope the Government will realise that what they have done is a step forward but that they will have to complete the process. We still have a deficit in scrutiny and accountability, and it is a deficit that matters.

Photo of Lord Livermore Lord Livermore Shadow Spokesperson (Treasury) 4:00, 8 June 2023

My Lords, I join the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on persuading the Government to adopt his amendments, albeit in a slightly different form. Given the amount of regulation coming forward in the months and years ahead, and with the expertise that your Lordships’ House can offer, it was crucial that the Government extended the Commons-only provisions to include a relevant Lords committee, and we very much welcome these government amendments.

We are also pleased that the Minister included the option of a Joint Committee, as this future-proofs the legislation in the event that colleagues in both Houses feel—as does my noble friend Lord Eatwell—that such a body would provide a better form of scrutiny of the regulator’s work. As my noble friend Lady Chapman mentioned in a previous group, and as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, stressed further, there are still significant outstanding questions about the level of staff resource and expertise that relevant parliamentary committees will be able to draw on. Although these questions cannot be adequately addressed through the Bill, these concessions will at least safeguard the role of your Lordships’ House and enable conversations on resourcing to now proceed.

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

My Lords, the amendments in this group focus on further formalising the role of parliamentary scrutiny of the regulators. The Government agree with noble Lords that effective parliamentary scrutiny, in particular through parliamentary committees, has a critical role to play in improving the quality of regulation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, said, and the performance of the regulators overall.

The Bill, through Clauses 36 and 47 and Schedule 7, seeks to ensure that the Treasury Select Committee has the information it needs to fulfil its role, by requiring the regulator to notify the TSC when publishing any relevant consultations. However, the Government have listened to the case made by noble Lords that the important role of this House was not adequately reflected by that approach. We have therefore tabled a series of amendments which will require the regulators to also notify the relevant Lords committee when they publish a consultation. These amendments will ensure parity between arrangements for the Commons and the Lords. They also provide that, if a Joint Committee is set up in future, the regulators will be required to notify it in the same way.

I am glad that my noble friend Lord Forsyth feels that these amendments fulfil the aims of his own; that is just as well, as his amendments in Committee and on Report formed the basis for the Government’s approach—that is no coincidence. I am grateful to him for the work that he has put in on this issue and for the time that he has taken to discuss these matters with the Government.

I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Bridges and the noble Lord, Lord Hollick, for their engagement as the chairs of the current committees in this House that look at the work of the financial services regulators. When I spoke with them, they explained how the EAC and the IRC currently split some responsibility for financial services policy, an example of which was their recent work on LDI, where the EAC focused on the work of the Bank of England and the PRA and the IRC focused on that of the FCA. The Government’s amendments would allow for the two committees to continue with that approach if they wished to do so and for a different Lords committee to receive notifications of consultations from the FCA and the PRA. That structure would be for Parliament to decide.

I shall now pick up on the concern from noble Lords about having multiple committees looking at the same issues or the work of the same regulators. As I have said, the structure is a matter for Parliament, but currently we have the TSC in the Commons, and the Economic Affairs and the Industry and Regulators Committees in the Lords, which at the moment look at various aspects of the regulators’ work without duplicating each other or creating unnecessary burdens. Given the scale of powers for the regulators being established in this Bill, there will be more than sufficient work to go round different committees, and they have already proven themselves able to co-ordinate their work so that it is not duplicative.

We have heard, given the scale of the task before us, that there is concern about the resource made available to those committees. Committee structures and their resourcing will remain a matter for Parliament to decide and I have noted that noble Lords agree that that is the right approach. However, the Government recognise that the new model for financial services regulation will require a step change in this House’s scrutiny of the regulators and agree there must be suitable resource in place to support this. The Government will work with the usual channels and the House authorities in the appropriate way.

The Government have also heard concerns about the feedback loop when Parliament engages with regulatory proposals. There can often be a significant period of time between an initial consultation and the Bill’s existing provisions regarding the regulators’ engagement with parliamentary committees, and final rules being published. In particular, the Government recognise amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, in Grand Committee, seeking to require the regulators to explain how parliamentary recommendations have been considered. The Government have therefore tabled Amendments 61 to 63, which require the regulators, when publishing their final rules, to explain how they have considered representations from parliamentary committees. This will ensure that the regulators provide a public explanation of how the views of parliamentary committees have been considered at the point when rules are made. This complements the existing requirement in Clauses 36 and 47, and Schedule 7, for the regulators to respond in writing to the chairs of committees that have made representations. This will ensure not only that regulators appropriately consider Parliament’s representations but that they set out publicly how they have done so.

The debates so far have shown that there is no single silver bullet to solve the problem of accountability. However, the Government are committed to creating an effective, overarching ecosystem in which the various different actors all play their roles in holding the independent regulators to account, ensuring high-quality financial services regulation in the UK. I am therefore grateful that my noble friend Lord Forsyth has said that he will withdraw his amendments, and I intend to move the Government’s amendments, based on those amendments, when they are reached.

Photo of Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Conservative

My Lords, I am most grateful to my noble friend the Minister for the way in which she has responded to this. I entirely agree with her point, as a former chairman of the Economic Affairs Committee, on the way in which we have worked with the Treasury Select Committee. I agree also with the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, that it is carefully drafted and—who knows?—it may very well lead to both Houses deciding to have a Joint Committee, which would certainly be the best possible option. But that is obviously not a matter for me and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 25 withdrawn.