Examination of Witnesses

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:02 pm on 17th November 2020.

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Emma Reynolds and Catherine McGuinness gave evidence.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton 2:42 pm, 17th November 2020

We move on to our second panel of the afternoon, and the fifth in total. We have Emma Reynolds, formerly of this parish, now at TheCityUK, and Catherine McGuinness from the City of London Corporation. We have until 3.30 pm for this panel, and I will pull the plug if it goes over. Emma and Catherine, could you first introduce yourselves for the record, please?

Emma Reynolds:

I am Emma Reynolds from TheCityUK. We represent the UK-based financial and related professional services industry, which employs 2.3 million people, two thirds of whom are based outside London. We are the largest taxpayer, biggest net exporting industry and contribute over 10% of the UK’s total economic output.

Catherine McGuinness:

I am Catherine McGuinness, policy chair at the City of London Corporation. We are the local authority for the square mile. In addition, we work very closely with the UK’s financial and professional services sector, which carries our name even though, as Emma says, it is a UK-wide sector.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Q Emma, I will come to you first. Obviously, TheCityUK represents, as you said, a range of institutions and firms. It would be helpful for the Committee if you could set the context by summarising the industry’s reaction to the Bill, and try to give us the widest possible view of the industry’s reaction to the measures in it and what the consequences would be if we did not pass it. Afterwards, I will come to Catherine separately.

Emma Reynolds:

Thank you, Mr Glen. We support the measures in the Bill, and both the overarching and the stated objectives. It is absolutely right that the UK Government are onshoring the regulations. There are obviously other measures within the Bill that are extraneous to that, which we support. The Bill is a welcome first step, but we look forward to working with the Government to develop an overall strategy for the financial services sector that could pull all the different strands together, building on what the Chancellor said last week, which was very welcome.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Q Would you like to spell out where you think anything is missing from the Bill? The second part of your answer seems to suggest that there is a lack of an overall strategy. Is that what you are seeking to say? Obviously this has been contextualised as a first step, as we get towards the end of the transition period. I have indicated, as the Minister, that there will be subsequent legislation in future Sessions. Would you like to set out in more detail where you think there are specific gaps at this point?

Emma Reynolds:

It is a very welcome first step. All I would say is that we, as an industry, have a broader agenda about our industry’s long-term competitiveness going forward. I would not have expected to see that in this Bill. We had a very good relationship with Government, particularly with the Treasury, but some of the other issues that we are concerned about relate more to other Departments, whether it is access to skills and talent from abroad or green finance or other issues that are not in the Bill. It is a welcome first step.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Q May I turn to Catherine? Thank you for giving evidence. One of the issues that has come up generally is an apprehensiveness about the capacity of the regulators in terms of their technical expertise to implement detailed rules such as the Basel rules. I have been fortunate enough to have been a Minister for a while and I recognise the complexity of the dynamic between the Treasury and the regulators. There is an intimate relationship, but could you give us a view on how you see the role of the regulators in the context of this Bill? Do you see any risk that they are being asked to do something that stretches them beyond what they should normally be able to do? Could you give the Committee a sense of that responsibility and how well placed they are to do what we have asked them to do?

Catherine McGuinness:

Thank you for inviting me to give evidence. I cannot answer on the technical ability of the regulators in detail, other than to say that, in our experience, they are very capable of adapting and innovating. Indeed, we heard last week at Mansion House from both the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulation Authority about their plans. Obviously, the regulators will be gaining significant powers under the Bill. It is important that we look at how those powers are scrutinised, including by Parliament.

On that front, the International Regulatory Strategy Group, which both TheCityUK and the City Corporation support, has suggested that parliamentary scrutiny be strengthened and reordered, and that the role of the Treasury Committee be complemented by setting up a joint Select Committee on financial regulation to look in detail at specific pieces of financial services regulation. That would be important to strengthen scrutiny, as we hand more responsibility to the regulators. It would also be useful––and the IRSG has recommended it––to increase the transparency of decision making by both the Treasury and the regulators, and to improve scrutiny. I am not sure if I have fully answered your question.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury

Q You are referring to the response of both yourselves and TheCityUK to the consultation on the future regulatory framework, separate and additional to the Bill?

Catherine McGuinness:

indicated assent.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Q Good afternoon, Emma and Catherine. It is very nice to see both of you. Emma, I want to come to you first. You are the fifth panel to appear and there is beginning to be a pattern to the questions that we have asked. I feel that I have asked this of a few people.

The Bill does lots of different things but two big things are that it transposes, or onshores, lots of different parts of EU regulation from many different directives. It gives powers to the UK regulators to govern all that. In doing that, as we come to the end of the transition process, there is greater freedom for either the Treasury or the regulators to diverge from that body of EU law. The Bill does that, but it also has this overseas markets vision, which is granting equivalence on a country-by-country basis, to the 9,000 funds that are domiciled overseas but which operate in the UK. I want to talk a bit about these two different parts of the Bill. Starting with you, Emma, what do you think your members’ attitude is to onshoring this body of EU law? Do they broadly regard it as something that they would like to stick with or are there areas that they would quite quickly want to diverge from and, if so, what would be the most prominent areas?

Emma Reynolds:

We were delighted that the Government took the unilateral decision last week to grant the EU equivalence in a number of different areas. We are still hopeful that the EU might follow suit. We have been calling for a technical outcome-based approach to equivalence for some time now. Within that, you could have different rules but the same outcomes. Even if there are pinch points around Solvency II—only some elements of Solvency II—you could have different rules in the UK that achieve the same objective.

From now until 1 January, we will remain technically equivalent. Inevitably, over time, there will be some changes in regulation, both on our side in the UK and in the EU. The EU is currently reviewing some of its own directives, MiFID being a case in point, but there are others too. We do not want to see divergence for divergence’s sake. We would like to encourage a strong dialogue between regulators in the UK and the EU. There already is that dialogue, but we would like to see a framework for that plan. If you are a member of ours who trades across borders, you want similar or the same rules.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Q You referred to the equivalence decision announced by the Chancellor last week. That is one end of the telescope; the other end is hoping—I am sure the Chancellor hopes, too—that this is reciprocated. Do you see a relationship between the degree of divergence, which may occur and the decision-making process from the other end of the telescope on equivalence for UK firms trying to sell into EU markets? In other words, Mr Barnier talks a lot about the level playing field, but if it looks like we are departing from a level financial playing field, will that impact on those equivalence decisions you hope for?

Emma Reynolds:

We are still hopeful that the EU might take a similar decision to what we saw last week. We would not like to see divergence for divergence’s sake. There is no immediate appetite for great divergence from EU rules from our members. Does that answer your question?

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Q Yes. Catherine, can I turn to you on the question of regulators? This gives a huge amount of new powers to the regulators. I have a two-part question. One, do you think they can handle it? Two, returning to what you said about a new Select Committee on financial services regulation—or whatever the exact title was—do you think that is an important part of a new accountability regime for the regulators, given the enhanced powers that the Bill gives them?

Catherine McGuinness:

First of all, I do think the regulators can handle this, but I think it is important that we look at the right degree of scrutiny. Yes, when we speak to practitioners with the International Regulatory Strategy Group, it is their view that a joint Select Committee on financial regulation, which could look in detail at pieces of financial services regulation, would be a useful way of enhancing and embodying that scrutiny.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury)

Thanks very much. I have no further questions.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

For the Scottish National party, first of all, their spokesperson, Alison Thewliss.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Q Just to pick up where Pat left off on the idea of scrutiny, Catherine, I think you mentioned that the City of London has a joint committee on that. Could you tell me a bit more about how that operates and whether there is something Parliament can learn from that?

Catherine McGuinness:

Actually, what I was mentioning was the International Regulatory Strategy Group, which is a cross-sectoral group of practitioners, who come together to look at a number of issues and make recommendations. We can provide the Committee with their recommendations in this space. As I said, they are suggesting that we look at a joint Select Committee on financial regulation in Parliament. I am happy to share with the Committee more details about the International Regulatory Strategy Group and its current programme of work, if that would be useful, and to provide copies of the paper in this space.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Q That is really helpful, thank you. I think I share some of the nervousness that people have about all of these regulations being introduced and not having that level of scrutiny. Are there any particular areas where you feel that more scrutiny is necessary?

Catherine McGuinness:

Regulation is a complicated issue. I think that if we are handing powers to the regulators to make regulation, when over the past few years we have made regulation through the EU, where there is level after level of consultation and development, we need to look at how we replicate that and put in the appropriate level of scrutiny as we take things forward ourselves.

I have to say that we very much welcome this Bill as a step in the right direction in getting the framework in place but, as people have said, it is a first step. We think it is then important to move on and look at the next round in the Treasury’s consultation on the regulatory framework, as well as how to implement—to stray a little from your question—the Chancellor’s statements in his announcement last week.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Q Thank you. Emma, are there any particular aspects that you feel require additional scrutiny and transparency over decision making within the regulator’s new powers?

Emma Reynolds:

I would agree with Catherine and echo what she has said. Obviously, there are significant transfers of powers to the regulators, given that we are onshoring this regulation. In an EU context, we had the European Parliament’s Committee on Economic and Monetary Affairs, which is a sizeable Committee with huge resources and an enormous amount of time to write and draft amendments in this area.

It is not in the tradition of our Parliament to have such Committees. In a way it would mean this Bill Committee sitting permanently. In Parliament, working with industry and Government, we need to work out exactly how we will do it, bearing our traditions in mind. That is why the IRSG, which is a point of contact between us and the City of London Corporation, came up with some of the ideas in the paper, which Catherine mentioned. We are very willing to share that with the Committee.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

Q Thank you very much. One of the recommendations within TheCityUK briefing that was sent round was around working towards implementing EU capital regulation requirements and requiring further guidance on that. Do you feel that you have clarity since the briefing was sent, or do you still require more clarity?

Emma Reynolds:

Yes, we sent that briefing out. Thank you for referring to it. Yes, we would like to see more guidance and clarity from the Government as to whether the UK’s version of the so-called CRR II—Capital Requirements Regulation II—is going to differ in any substantial way from the EU’s CRR II. Some of our members have put resources and time into planning for that. It is just a question of ensuring that we have the most efficient planning for what comes next.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury)

That is useful. I will hand back to my colleagues.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

I saw Angela Eagle indicate she wanted to speak.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Catherine, you said that the City of London welcomes the Bill. What more would you have liked to see in it that is not in it?Q

Catherine McGuinness:

The Bill must be viewed as part of a package with what we then heard from the Chancellor’s announcement. It is a first step, but it does not set out an ambitious overarching strategy for financial services for the future. This is a critical part of our economy and we would suggest that we need that strategy as we move forward. The Chancellor’s announcement last week and the emphasis on openness, innovation and green seem to us to be a significant next step, but we need to look at an overall direction for this important part of the economy.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q Emma, does TheCityUK have any thoughts on the same question?

Emma Reynolds:

We agree entirely with what Catherine has just said. I think the Chancellor has made a start prior to the consideration on Second Reading of the Bill. He obviously set out certain key reforms in certain areas, most notably in green finance. He also launched a number of calls for evidence and taskforces. Working in partnership with Government, industry would like to see the Government come forward with a strategy that pulls all of that together. That is not an easy thing to do, but we are a world-leading financial services sector in the UK, and we want to see that continue. This is a question of partnership with the Government. We are not saying we want it done to us without us being in the room, but we do think there is probably more to do to create a more coherent strategy for going forward.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q There is this tension between equivalence, which you fairly unambiguously said you wanted a few minutes ago, and the argument made that we should leave the European Union so that we can have competition and—this argument is made implicitly—make our own regulations, so that we can make ourselves more competitive. Do you think that divergence could make us more competitive, or is it more likely to be destructive to UK financial services’ ability to trade globally?

Emma Reynolds:

If you are a global company that trades across borders, not just in the EU but in other jurisdictions, what you really want is the same or a similar set of rules. You certainly want global norms and standards on which those rules are based. There is no clamour for significant divergence from what we have. It is worth saying that although we are technically equivalent right now, and that will not change until 1 January, there will need to be responses from regulators, in terms of new regulation going forward.

We have the rise of FinTech, which brings its own challenges, but is a great asset to the UK. We have green finance, as well as some of the socioeconomic trends that have been accelerated by covid. All of these bring new challenges, and so our regulation cannot afford to sit still. We want to avoid unintended divergence when the EU and the UK are facing some of the same challenges. We may go about making our rules in a very different way, but if we could achieve broadly the same outcomes, that could mean we were equivalent, and that would provide advantages to those of our members who trade here and in the EU.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q Thank you. Catherine, we are coming out of the European Union, where we used to wield great heft in the technical discussions around this regulation. I assume that is still the case. I speak from my experience as Treasury Minister. Are you worried that, untethered, the EU will go off in a different direction and regulate in a way that makes it much harder for us to trade into the single market?

Catherine McGuinness:

I would say two things here. First, if we are not at the table helping to shape the regulation, there is, of course, the risk of divergence from either side as we exercise our own autonomy. I think that global standards are going to be critical for all of us, because we are talking about markets that operate across borders. It is in all our interests—the EU’s, ours and the institutions in the sector—to have a set of global standards around global issues. So, yes, there is a risk of divergence from either side. Keeping the conversation going as the regulation develops is going to be critical.

Taking the green question, for example, we have the EU, which is fairly advanced with its own taxonomy. We are now going to be looking at our own taxonomy, and I think that is a great thing that we should be doing. I also think that green finance is an area in which we can really lead the way, including in regulation. It will be important that we look at how those systems mesh together, and this is a conversation that the sector is encouraging our regulators to have with other countries, too—not simply the EU. I was nearly late because I came from a panel in the US speaking about the importance of a regulator-to-regulator discussion about some of these issues, and the role the sector might play in helping to develop thinking. It is possible that we may diverge, but it is in the interest of customers and businesses that there should be well regulated financial markets, with consistent rules and regulations over cross-border challenges.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q With our leaving the EU, there has already been some competitive behaviour on the part of certain countries in the EU that shall remain nameless, which are trying to grab some of our business. Emma, do you think that that kind of dynamic, competitive, semi-predatory behaviour is going to trigger a kind of race to the bottom? Would whether or not there is a deal in the next few weeks make any difference to how you would contemplate that activity?

Emma Reynolds:

I hope you do not mind if I take your last question first, because I think it sets the scene for the rest of your questions. There is very little in the deal for financial services, if there is a deal. However, our industry thinks it is incredibly important that there be a deal, because that would leave the door open for the EU granting equivalence in certain areas of financial services, and for other agreements that are essential to services more generally, such as provisions around data; frankly, if there is not a better agreement on that between the two sides, that could be very difficult, not only for our members, but for other service industries, too. I hope that answers your question on deal versus no deal.

There is nobody in our industry I could name who wants a race to the bottom. That is not the way to make yourself more competitive. We view the UK’s high standards as giving us an competitive edge. We have some of the highest standards in the world. We do not think that there will be a race to the bottom in that way.

On your question about protectionism, I think there is a live debate right now in the EU. One EU interlocuter put it to us very succinctly the other day as the trade-off between location and efficiency. European business has access at the moment to deep and liquid capital markets in the UK, which they find very useful, and which they cannot find in the EU currently. We would like to see that continue—that is in the interests of businesses not only here, but on the continent—but you are right that there is a live debate about what happens next, and whether location is more important to the EU. That debate is going on not only in the EU; covid has accelerated the trend towards protectionism, which is why it is so good to see that the UK Government are taking such an open approach in the Bill. We would encourage that to continue, because we think it is one of our strengths, and it gives us that competitive edge.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Q Thank you, Emma. Catherine, I know this is a slightly invidious question, but I am going to ask it anyway. Do you think the FCA is properly equipped and resourced to take up the duties that the Bill confers on it?

Catherine McGuinness:

Yes, but I think it is welcome that the FCA, under its new leadership, is also carrying out a review. That is appropriate. Clearly, we are asking a new role of it, and it is absolutely appropriate that it should review how it operates as it takes that on. I am very confident in our regulators, but I am also pleased to hear that the FCA is carrying out its review. Secondly, I would go right back to my point around the need for scrutiny and challenge in that space. That should involve not just the Joint Select Committee, but looking at the Treasury’s role.

May I revisit the question about how the UK can retain its voice in setting standards?

Catherine McGuinness:

I feel I missed a couple of points there. It is true that part of the way we will retain our global leadership in standard setting is by bilateral dialogue and co-operation, regulator to regulator, with other countries. There is also the question of how we work with the multilateral organisations. We need to take a good look at how we engage, on our new footing, with the Basel committee—how we engage with other global standard setters. We have a good story to tell. I think next year gives us a very good opportunity, as we take up the presidency of the G7 and with COP26 coming up. I have already mentioned our potential leadership on green standards. We should really look at next year as part of this new chapter for financial services, and look at how we can make clear our place in standard setting, and in that conversation around global standards.

Photo of Stella Creasy Stella Creasy Labour/Co-operative, Walthamstow

My colleague, Angela, has asked most of the questions that I wanted to ask. I just want to get a bit of clarity. Clearly, there is the question of whether your members are thinking about how the Bill will affect the future landscape for their operation. Could you give us some sense of how you feel the Bill will affect the many who are thinking about whether to stay in the UK or go overseas? What issues around the regulatory framework would be the tests for them? Are there things that we could do in the Bill to make it even more likely that people will commit to the UK, and are there things that would make it less likely?Q

Emma Reynolds:

There are measures in the Bill that do, as I understand it, reflect some of the measures that the EU has taken around prudential requirements. In the past, there has been a bit of a one-size-fits-all for different sizes of companies. For smaller companies that carry a smaller risk, you need to take a proportionate approach to regulation. That is by no means saying that we want lower standards, or a race to the bottom; it is about considering firms of different sizes and the risks that they bring.

Obviously, there are challenges every time there is a significant change such as this, and 1 January will look and feel very different, but there are some opportunities, too. For example, we will be in a position where the UK is making laws and regulations for one member state. I mentioned the fast-moving challenges coming up, involving socioeconomic changes to do with covid, FinTech and green finance; the UK will have more flexibility and agility, and so can perhaps act more quickly than before, or than the EU can, operating with 27 member states.

Catherine McGuinness:

I think that is right. To add to what Emma has said, the Bill is very helpful in demonstrating the planned way forward. People will be looking for an ongoing commitment to high standards—and, yes, agility in how we make our rules, but also a rigor in that. We cannot stress often enough the importance of this country’s openness to welcoming trade and business, and to high standards, against our strong regulatory backdrop.

It is very welcome that the Treasury will be looking at the strong patchwork of the bases on which people can come into the UK and operate here—the overseas persons exemption and so on. The Treasury will look at how that whole framework can be knitted together in a more coherent manner, as I understand it. What people will be looking for is an ongoing commitment to high standards and the ability to do their business.

Photo of Rupa Huq Rupa Huq Labour, Ealing Central and Acton

Are there any further questions? In that case, I thank our two witnesses on this fifth panel. Emma and Catherine, thank you for your evidence.