Financial Conduct Authority

Bank of England and Financial Services Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 11 February 2016.

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Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury) 12:00, 11 February 2016

I beg to move amendment 37, in clause 18, page 16, line 12, leave out paragraph (a) and insert—

“(a) publish any notice under subsection (1) within one month of giving such a notice, and”.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 38, in clause 18, page 16, line 14, after “before”, insert

“and make a statement to both Houses of”

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

It is a ray of sunshine to be serving under your chairmanship on this bright day, Mr Brady. Amendments 37 and 38 are straightforward, and I am sure that the Government will accept them, so perhaps we can move on to debate the clause. Proposed new section 1JA(1) gives the Treasury the power to give directions to the Financial Conduct Authority. The rest of the new section deals with how that power shall be exercised at least once in each Parliament, and with the publication of those directions. Our straightforward amendments would tidy that up.

One must recognise that there is a balancing act between the FCA’s independence and the need for public accountability, refracted through the Treasury. That is always difficult, and we accept that, but there is a bit of a problem with the Financial Conduct Authority. Immediately after Second Reading a couple of weeks ago, there was a debate for more than two hours in which I think it would be fair to say that Members from both sides of the House expressed grave concerns about some of the actions or inaction of the Financial Conduct Authority. It is purportedly independent of the Government and the Bank of England, but there is so much cosy overlap.

We have Dr Bailey, who now seems to have all kinds of hats. I stand to be corrected, but I think he is the deputy governor for prudential regulation and has been the chief executive officer of the Prudential Regulation Authority since April 2013. He is therefore also a member of the Bank’s board of directors, the PRA board and the Financial Policy Committee, and now he is going to the Financial Conduct Authority. There are questions not about that gentleman’s integrity, but about perceived conflicts of interests and so on. There is someone on the FCA board, Jane Platt—she also joined in April 2013—who is the chief executive of National Savings and Investments. Sir Brian Pomeroy, CBE, joined the FSA board in November 2009. I think that he may still be on the FCA website.

The FSA was abolished because it was, shall we say, pretty useless. Private Eye, correctly in my mind, used to characterise it as the Fundamentally Supine Authority. If we look at the prosecutions, or the lack thereof, and the steps taken by the FSA after the crash in 2008, or the lack thereof, it did not exactly cover itself in glory as an institution. I make no comments on the individuals within it; I am referring to the institution. The Government recognised that, and therefore we had the Financial Conduct Authority.

It is all a bit cosy. The noun of this Committee thus far seems to be groupthink. That refers to the risk that those who have a cosy relationship will start to be blinkered in the way in which they exercise their regulatory functions. The FSA has been characterised by Professor Alastair Hudson, whom I thank for his assistance in tackling what is quite a technical Bill. He said, “The FSA previously began to think of itself as being in partnership with the financial institutions which it was supposed to regulate.” I think he had a point. So, I suspect, did the Government, which is why we now have the FCA, not the FSA.

However, there is still a big question mark over the FCA’s relationship with the Government, which is to do with how independent it is. The Minister has previously told the House that the FCA’s decision to abandon its investigation into the culture of banking, which had not actually started, had nothing to do with the Treasury. That, of course, touches on questions of groupthink, blinkered thinking and so on. I do not impugn her for saying that, but looking at it from the perspective of Labour Members, that is a surprising situation. It is relevant to what we are discussing, because of course proposed new section 1JA, to be inserted by clause 18, talks about the Treasury giving directions to the FCA in certain circumstances.

The FCA, in its business plan for 2015-16—the year we are in—said that it would do a culture review:

“In 2015/16 we will conduct a new thematic review on whether culture change programmes in retail and wholesale banks are driving the right behaviour, in particular focusing on remuneration, appraisal and promotion decisions of middle management, as well as how concerns are reported and acted on.”

It would have been very useful to have had the fruits of that culture review before us when debating the Bill.

Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Is the hon. Gentleman aware that there are quite a number of studies that indicate that approximately 70% of major organisational failures can be attributed primarily to cultural problems?

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I was not aware of that statistic, but it does not entirely surprise me. I thank the hon. Gentleman for that.

We have the chair of the FCA’s foreword to its business plan for 2015-16—as I said, the current year. That is John Griffith-Jones, who by the way worked at KPMG from 1975 to 2012; we all know that KPMG has questions to answer about what it was doing in relation to the financial institutions in the lead-up to the meltdown in 2008. I was talking about cosiness; he comes from KPMG, and he said in that foreword:

“In our last Risk Outlook we identified the seven most important forward-looking areas of focus in our view. We do the same again this year. Unsurprisingly, given the long-term nature of these risks and the underlying drivers, the list is largely unchanged. Poor culture and controls continue to concern us, notwithstanding the efforts being made by firms to improve both.”

So there he is, in his foreword to the business plan, less than 12 months ago, stressing again the concerns about “poor culture and controls”. The FCA said in the business plan that it would investigate the culture of banking and financial institutions and then, in a whiff of smoke, it was gone—no investigation whatsoever. The Minister says that is nothing to do with the Treasury, but I hope she will recognise that the Opposition are a little concerned about the relationship between the Treasury and the FCA. We are concerned about how much control and direction the Treasury can give the FCA.

The FCA is constitutionally a creature of statute, hence the Bill and previous legislation, but in everyday terms it is somewhat a creature of the Treasury. It would be helpful if, when addressing clause 18 and the minor amendments 37 and 38, the Minister said a little more about the current relationship between Her Majesty’s Government, refracted through the Treasury, and the FCA, and what she foresees that future relationship being in the changed landscape that the Bill introduces.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Clause 18 is effectively about remit letters, which I think is why the hon. Gentleman took the opportunity to bring a lot of fairly extraneous issues into discussion. I will respond to some of them in the course of my remarks.

It is important that regulation takes account of both the implications of the economic environment for the regulators and of the regulators’ own impact on that economic environment. I am sure all members of the Committee agree with that. That is reflected in the statutory remits of the regulators. For example, both regulators have a duty to have regard to the desirability of sustainable economic growth in the medium or long term. The objectives of both regulators recognise the importance of effective competition, and I trust that members of the Committee do not wish to raise any controversy or have any criticism about that.

Clearly, therefore, both regulators need to understand how the Government’s economic policy may affect their work. I want to be absolutely clear that the recommendations in the letters that the Government will be able to send to the regulators will indicate the Government’s economic policy. They will be recommendations and will not be binding. They will certainly not be what the hon. Gentleman termed “direction”. They will not compromise, modify or override the regulators’ statutory objectives in any way, nor, importantly, will they relate to individual firms or cases.

The hon. Gentleman raised one of his favourite topics: the fact that the FCA had a bank culture review in its business plan for the year ahead. Despite my assurances to him in the Chamber that the first the Treasury heard of that was when it was covered in the media over the new year, he does not seem convinced by what we have said. We have replied to numerous written questions with the same response, and I repeat it for his benefit today.

The FCA is clearly operationally independent. It took an operationally independent decision to change what it is going to focus on over the coming year, and that decision was made completely separately from the Government.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I take what the hon. Lady says. Is she comfortable that that was the right decision for the FCA to take? It was made by a body that is so incompetent that it could not even monitor the share dealings of its own staff.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Gentleman cannot have it both ways. If he thinks that I should have no operational interference in whether the FCA does a cultural review study, obviously I should not have any operational interference in whether it reinstates the study. That is the situation in which operational independence results. Where the Government have a role is through sending these non-binding remit letters and through the power to appoint the chief executive and the board. The hon. Gentleman has described the history of the predecessor organisation, the FSA, and obviously we had to abolish that organisation—that is the power of the Government of the day. His party’s Front Benchers have a range of different and fairly eccentric ideas about the independence of the Bank of England, which are on the public record. I will not entertain the Committee by talking about them.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

The hon. Gentleman is serving in the team of a shadow Chancellor who wants to end the independence of the Bank of England.

Photo of Roger Mullin Roger Mullin Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 12:15, 11 February 2016

I hear and accept entirely what the Minister says about not interfering in operational matters. However, I invite her to indicate whether, at some stage, a review of the culture would help the Government.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I think we can all agree that that would be a fascinating study to read, but I will not get involved in directing the FCA to change its business plan. That would be interfering with the operational independence of the FCA, which I am sure Opposition Members do not want me to do.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I thank the hon. Lady for being so generous in giving way. Actually, I never said anything about not interfering in operational matters. She rightly says that, in theory, the Government could abolish the FCA. This clause does not cover a directive to the FCA; it talks about a recommendation. A recommendation from the Treasury, a body that could abolish the FCA, is something akin, in everyday parlance, to a directive. Pursuant to proposed new section 1JA(1)(b) of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, such recommendations could be on “how to advance” one or more of its operational directives.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

I have outlined some of the things that the Government put in their remit letter, which is not binding on the organisation but provides important context for what the Government, elected by the British people, want to focus on.

Let me now turn to the amendments. Amendment 37 would require the Treasury to publish the recommendations it makes to the FCA within one month, and amendment 38 would require the notice laid before Parliament to be accompanied by a statement to each House. The amendments raise the important issue of transparency, which is at the heart of the Government’s proposals for these remit letters. The remit letters themselves form an important element of transparency, and they provide a transparent and formal means of conveying Government economic policy to the regulators, so it is an important part of the provision that the Treasury must publish its recommendations and lay a copy before both Houses of Parliament.

These probing amendments have been useful to confirm how the process will work. I assure members of the Committee that I cannot foresee any circumstances in which the notification for either regulator would not be published and laid before Parliament within a month. I am happy to commit the Government to that practice. I am not going quite as far as accepting the hon. Gentleman’s amendment, but I am happy to commit the Government on the record to that practice. I hope my assurance will be sufficient.

We need to retain flexibility about the best way of informing the House. For example, the updated recommendations might be issued as part of the Budget statement. In that case, it would be more appropriate and efficient for the House to be informed of the new recommendations in the Budget speech, as has happened when the FPC remit letter is updated at that time.

The hon. Gentleman raised a few other points, and it might be helpful if I respond to them. Without criticising Mr Andrew Bailey in any way, the hon. Gentleman did imply that he thought he was doing too much. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that Mr Bailey will stop being the chief executive of the PRA on the day he moves over to be chief executive of the FCA. The hon. Gentleman referred to conflicts. I hope that he is not alluding to any specific conflict of interest, because that would be inappropriate in terms of impugning Mr Bailey’s integrity.

The hon. Gentleman mentioned a “cosy” relationship. There were a lot of allegations relating to the fact that many individuals involved have worked with, and have experience of, other organisations. However, that is where the operational independence, structure and framework of statutory duties and responsibilities, as set out by Parliament, is so important. FSMA, for example, made it clear that the terms of all appointments have to ensure that the appointee cannot be directed by the Treasury or any other person, including the Bank.

When we make appointments, we consider the appointee’s current and previous background—of course we do —including any material conflicts. In our view, it would be entirely appropriate for people who are appointed to these important functions to have extensive experience of a relevant institution. Therefore, I do not think that the hon. Gentleman is right to talk about “cosiness”; he ought to be saying how important it is to have experience and wisdom in the statutory framework that we are discussing.

Without more ado, I hope that my points on the amendment and the clause have been sufficient to satisfy the hon. Gentleman. I am very grateful for his probing amendments. I hope I have been able to address the concerns and that the clause may stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Rob Marris Rob Marris Shadow Minister (Treasury)

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 18 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 19