Examination of Witnesses

Part of Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:11 pm on 19th November 2020.

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Fran Boait:

That is a really great question. It is definitely something that stood out for me when I first read through the Bill. The Bill sets the direction, and it needs to integrate the needs of the wider economy, social responsibility, the environment and thinking about how we set a direction that is different from the one that led to the global financial crash in 2008.

As you mentioned, there is clearly cross-party agreement, and we have had announcements from the Government this week and last week on wanting to be a leader in green finance, especially ahead of COP26. There is also pretty much cross-party agreement on issues such as the banking sector severely under-serving small and medium-sized businesses. In his speech yesterday, Andy Haldane, the chief economist at the Bank of England, mentioned that the funding gap is £20 billion. We know there is cross-party agreement on wanting more of our productive and manufacturing sectors to grow, and we need to level up. Some Conservative MPs, such as Kevin Hollinrake and Danny Kruger, have done reports on that and on the need for a different banking system. We have to recognise that that will all require quite a significant shift in the direction of financial regulation, yet there is not anything in the Bill that suggests that such a shift in direction is something that the Treasury is interested in at the moment.

We would certainly support the hardwiring of ESG considerations into the regulation. I looked this morning at the proposed amendments, and we would be very supportive of amendments 20 and 24, which have regard to climate and net zero in terms of investment firms and CRR—that is on climate and environmental. There are some other amendments on social practice and corporate governance that are really important, and there are potentially bigger amendments that we could be thinking about, which would embed sustainability in the regulatory framework of our regulators, such as the FCA and the PRA. That would involve further amending the Financial Services and Markets Act, which I know is being amended already in the Bill, but we could add an environmental sustainability objective, for example, to the FCA’s or PRA’s objectives.

It is worth noting that the UK’s financial institutions are among the worst culprits in Europe for fossil fuel financing. HSBC and Barclays alone have funnelled about £158 billion into fossil fuels since the signing of the Paris agreement. If the UK really wants to be a leader in green finance in a serious way, we need our regulators to be on board with that mission. Obviously, that starts with this piece of legislation and others. We would fully support the amendments to the Bill that have been put forward already, and we would potentially suggest further ones.