Clause 1 - Exclusion of certain investment firms from the Capital Requirements Regulation

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 24 November 2020.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 9:25, 24 November 2020

I beg to move amendment 19, in clause 1, page 2, line 21, at end insert—

“(7A) The Secretary of State must, within three years of this Act being passed, prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a report on the impact of the amendments to the Capital Requirements Regulation made by this section and Schedule 1 to this Act.

(7B) The report must assess the impact on—

(a) financial stability;

(b) competitiveness; and

(c) consumer risk.”

This amendment would ensure that, where departures from current capital requirements take place, the Government carries out a review of the impact on competitiveness and consumer risk.

Thank you for your chairmanship today, Mr Davies. With your indulgence, I would like to explain to the Minister broadly the approach we are going to take with these amendments. A number will be about reviewing, producing reports, parliamentary accountability and so on. Another number get into the accountability framework for the regulators and that “have regard to” list, and we will want to explore that quite deeply. Then there will be another set around the later parts of the Bill, relating to the savings provisions, the debt scheme and so on. That might help the Minister and the Committee to understand broadly where we are coming from when we move these amendments.

This first amendment, amendment 19 to clause 1, is in the first of those groups. Clause 1 exempts certain categories of investment firms from the requirements of the capital requirements regulation. This amendment explores what the effect of that might be and not only our right to know that effect, but our obligation to understand it. The reason we tabled this amendment is that capital, or the lack of it, was at the heart of the financial crisis. The banks that keeled over were over-leveraged and behaved as though a rainy day would never come. In fact, it is estimated that when the financial crisis hit, Royal Bank of Scotland, which was one of the biggest banks in the world at the time, was leveraged to a degree of about 50:1, so they had very little cushion of resilience for when more troubled times came.

The Basel II rules, which were in place at the time, failed to stop either the collapse or the public’s having to step in—through taxpayers and Governments around the world—to bail out the sector. Last week, when we were taking oral evidence on the Bill, I quoted Paul Volcker, the former Chairman of the Federal Reserve, who gave evidence in this House about a senior banker who had told him that his bank did not need any capital at all, that money could always be borrowed on the wholesale markets and that the banks could operate without capital. The crash proved that not to be true. The banks need capital. They need a cushion. That is not just their insurance policy, it is ours—it is the public’s insurance policy too.

Following the crash, the world’s regulators, whether in the United States, the UK or the European Union, set out to solve the problem of “too big to fail”, which has been characterised as privatising the profits and nationalising the risks, and developed a new set of capital requirements for banks and financial institutions. It was designed to make them more resistant to downturns. Those rules, on a global level, are set out in the Basel III process, now revised to the Basel 3.1 process, in the CRR and in the actions of national regulators. That is important, because the Basel rules should not be regarded as a maximum when it comes to the safety of our financial institutions. They should be regarded as a floor.

Most banks and regulators will say that today they hold significantly more capital against their loan books and that they are better equipped to handle a downturn or economic shock than they were 12 years ago. That is broadly true. Banks are better capitalised now than they were. However, they do not all like that situation, in truth. They will also say—I am sure that some banks tell the Minister and the regulators—that if only they did not have to hold so much capital they could lend more. They may well be saying that more loudly during the covid situation, when, as we see light at the end of the tunnel, we want to get the economy moving again. The smaller banks and new entrants will complain about being held to the same capital rules as larger and more established institutions. They will argue that that is a barrier to market entry and that it acts to reinforce the oligopoly in the UK where there are four or five major high street institutions, which it is difficult for new entrants to compete against. Other institutions will complain of being held to the same rules as deposit-taking institutions, which is part of the exemptions in clause 1, arguing that the character of their business is different.

Clause 1, as I have said, equips the regulator to respond to some of those points. We are not only onshoring, as it were, the capital requirements regulation, we are making provision, through the clause and other subsequent clauses, for the regulators to depart from it. Of course, departure from a common rulebook is a consequence of Brexit. Indeed, some might argue that it is the whole point. The clause allows it, and it is important that the Committee understands that the amendment would not prevent it. Neither does it seek to relitigate the referendum or to prevent the common rulebook to which we have subscribed for many years from ever being changed. That is not what the Opposition are saying. We are saying that, Brexit or not, and inside the EU or not, capital requirements still matter and they are there for a reason.

I would argue that for the UK the need for financial resilience is even greater than it is for most economies. We are a medium-sized economy with a huge financial sector. The consequences of that sector getting into deep trouble are potentially all the greater for our economy than for some others. Having a big financial sector is in many ways a great strength, of course. It brings employment, tax revenue and investment to the country, but it is a risk when it gets into trouble, as we found out in our recent history.

The other thing that we learned during the crash was how interconnected the system was. With so many institutions lending to and trading with one another, when one falls over the consequences for the whole system can be catastrophic. That old saying “The thigh bone’s connected to the knee bone” was certainly true during the financial crash, as it is of our interlocked and interdependent financial system.  We therefore have a duty, at the very least, to be vigilant about capital requirements. They are, as I said, the public’s insurance policy against having to bear the costs of another crash or steep financial crisis. The changes that have been made since 2007 and 2008 through the CRR, the Basel rules and other steps are, as yet, untested. Yes, the regulators do conduct stress tests and scenarios about what would happen if employment rose to this level or GDP fell to that level, but these are inevitably not quite real-world exercises. They are as real as war games compared to the real thing.

All the amendment does is ask for a report from the Treasury after three years of the new regime. That report should cover the impact of any departure from the current capital requirements in three areas: financial stability, that is to say the overall health of the system, because we learned how interconnected it all was; competitiveness, which is built into the regulator’s aims in the Bill and is bound to be the argument for any changes to the capital requirement rules; and, importantly, consumer risk. If we are only thinking about the competitiveness of our financial institutions and not considering consumer risk, we have not learned from the financial crisis. That is the other side of the scales. We can make the system ultra-competitive by asking institutions to hold hardly any capital but that exposes the consumers and public to greater economic risk. That last point is crucial.

To recap, the amendment does not attempt to freeze the situation forever as it is now. It does not stop clause 1 doing what the Government want it to do. It does ask for a report on the consequences and broader issue of divergence from capital rules, should the regulator allow greater divergence in the future. We should not allow this regime to be set up and then opened up to all the banking and industry lobbying that is likely to take place without making sure we have a means of understanding the consequences of that. Given the importance of this sector for the UK economy, we should be careful of these consequences. By enshrining these in a report from the Treasury, we can ensure that Parliament and the public see the consequences of divergence. That is the purpose of amendment 19.

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

It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Mr Davies. I rise to support the amendment. I think it is perfectly sensible that we make assessments and ensure that the changes the Government are putting in place are worth while and valid and that we keep a close eye on them, because of the very risks that the Labour Front-Bench spokesman set out. We cannot predict the future, but we can assess how things are going and make sure that neither consumers nor businesses are at risk. I support that very much and do not have much to add to his comprehensive speech.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I repeat that is a pleasure to see you in the Chair today, Mr Davies—there will be a bit more of that as we make our way through the Bill. I support my right hon. Friend’s amendment, and want to tease out some of the Government’s intentions in this very technical Bill. We may not have known before 2008, but certainly know now, that highly technical things can be crashingly important if we do not keep a close eye on them. Given that we are now onshoring all these directives, and that the Government have decided, before the transition period is even over, in anticipation of changes to the capital requirements regimes, to diverge from what was put into UK law as part of the withdrawal agreement, I think the Minister owes us—I am sure he will be prepared to do this—a detailed explanation of what the Government perceive to be the advantages of diverging from rules that we had such a crucial part in writing when we were in the European Union.

It was certainly the case when I was a Minister, and I am sure it still is, that because of the relative size and importance of the financial services industry in the UK, our technocrats, if I can call them that, were always very involved in drawing up and agreeing the financial service directives that were in effect in the whole of the European Union. We used to have quite vigorous arguments with the European Union about the nature of some of that, given the slightly different culture that we have in the Anglo-Saxon world, if I can put it that way—the Minister knows what I mean—compared with some things that more routinely happen in the EU, and also because, frankly, our financial services sector is far larger than most financial services sectors within the EU and differs in its make-up. There were always these cultural issues.

However, in the aftermath of the financial crisis, there was widespread recognition and agreement—not only in the Basel III and 3.1 regulatory negotiations and how those agreements were put into EU law, which we are talking about now—about what had gone wrong; about needing to identify systemically important companies and make sure they were regulated appropriately, given the risk that under-capitalisation posed to the economies of countries in which those organisations were based; and about having rigorous and intrusive regulation to avoid some of the mistakes and traps that were fallen into in the run-up to 2008.

I am particularly interested in—I hope the Minister will explain it—how this will work, given that the Bill gives our regulators the power to change what has just been onshored to create a completely different system for investment firms, and then to take that forward in future regulation. We know that we have to be eternally vigilant to the way that companies evolve to respond to regulatory systems. If we end up fighting the previous battle, we will probably miss the next bubble. I would therefore appreciate it if the Minister—in commenting on the amendment, which is probing, in that sense—will explain how he believes that the regime that the Bill introduces will be able to respond to the challenges of the evolution of threats. Once the nature of what had been going on during the financial crisis was laid bare—a lot of it had been going on under the radar—one of the surprises was the connection between investment companies and banks, particularly the investment arms of banks. We discovered their trading of derivatives and the leverage they got out of those derivatives to make more money for themselves, more commission and more remuneration. Actually, a lot of what was in those derivatives was not sighted, and the regulation had essentially involved taking on trust the rating agencies’ assessments of what those derivatives were worth, without looking inside the packages.

There are many slightly different ways in which a similar problem could occur with investment companies. When the Minister replies to the debate, could he set out how he believes the Financial Conduct Authority and the regulatory authorities will keep an eye on that, if we are going to make it easier, as I believe the Bill does, for investment companies to pull away from the regulations that the CRR and the directive have imposed on banks?

I accept the argument that investment companies are not deposit-taking institutions and so we will not see a run on them, but there are equivalent runs on those companies when their credit freezes. We saw that happen in more than one example during the financial crisis, and we also saw many banks dragged to the edge, and potentially over it into insolvency, by the activities of their investment arms. I want some reassurance about how such interconnections, often not fully visible, can be properly tracked if we are loosening the regulatory requirements on investment bodies.

I remember talking to the Governor of the Bank of England about how deep and liquid the credit market was shortly before the whole thing froze. There is a lot going on below the surface that is not always obvious, including connections between institutions in terms of some of the assets they hold. Everyone missed that during the crisis, but there will be other new things that the Minister and I have probably not thought of that those institutions will be doing even as I speak. I hope that the regulators will know about that; otherwise we are in for some even more exciting times than we have had this year. I want reassurance that the proposed loosening, change and divergence that this Bill allows for does not prove less effective than the regime that we helped to design, and which we are now leaving behind.

Can the Minister share with the Committee some of the benefits that that divergence will deliver for the country? We know from 2008 what the risks can be, and that is why the amendment is so important, because it asks for an impact assessment to be made public of the effect of the changes that this Bill, were it put on the statute book, would introduce. It is only worth introducing change and diverging from what is generally judged to be state-of-the-art, good, high-standard regulation if we get some benefit from that. Perhaps the Minister could outline what he believes that benefit to be.

In common with my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East, who speaks from the Opposition Front Bench, I worry about just using competitiveness as the reason for fewer regulations. We have been there and seen the damage that can be done if competitiveness runs away with itself. Can the Minister say a bit more about competitiveness, and how he thinks that the proposed regime will benefit those who seek to ply their investment trade in this jurisdiction, as opposed to that of the EU or others around the world? Risks may have to be balanced, and I would like an understanding of them.

In line with what my right hon. Friend said, we must not forget the consumer interest. It is not often mentioned in the fog and the forest of regulation, but if money is being taken out of the system by middlemen and remuneration systems that incentivise the wrong behaviour, the people who suffer—first and foremost and always—are the consumers and customers of these institutions. If it is systemic and goes badly wrong, we all suffer as a result. I would like some information from the Minister about the benefits and the potential risks that we are running in introducing this regime.

There is a final area I would like to ask the Minister about. The three pillars, I think, of investment company will be regulated differently. I am sorry; I meant classes, not pillars. I am all over the place at the moment with Test and Trace and all sorts, so I often get my pillars and classes mixed up. Class 1 investment companies are the systemically important ones: if they go belly up, we have a big problem. Class 2 is slightly lower, and class 3 is much smaller. Clearly, if regulations are proportionate, it makes a lot of sense not to regulate the class 3 ones as if they were systemic.

I am interested in a couple of points. First, has the Minister thought about the dynamics of how the class system might change? How does a firm get from class 2 to class 1? Is the Minister introducing incentives to make it harder for firms to grow because they become systemic? Should we be worried about potential cliff edges? Secondly, if something below a systemic element is not systemic—which by definition has much lower levels of oversight and regulation—there is an incentive for companies to remain in class 2 rather than go up to class 3. Has the Minister thought about that? How will the FCA deal with that if there are situations with companies that might be on the edge in a dynamic situation?

Those are just a few observations about our amendment. I would like some insight from the Minister over and above the rather dry descriptions in the notes about how they foresee the system working.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 9:45, 24 November 2020

I would like to take this opportunity, at the beginning of the Committee scrutiny stage, to say what a pleasure it is to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies, and to consider this important legislation with all Committee members. I welcome the opening comments of the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East, who described how the Opposition will approach the eight sittings over the next two weeks. I also broadly acknowledge and agree with virtually all of the comments that he and the hon. Member for Wallasey made in respect of the history of financial services regulation, and I look forward to responding to the points made and to a wide-ranging and constructive discussion over the next two weeks.

As I set out on Second Reading, this Bill forms an important part of the Government’s wider strategy for financial services at this critical moment, as we approach the end of the transition period. I just want to say at the outset that financial services, as some of us know––I look particularly to the hon. Member for Glasgow Central who has been in multiple Committees with me over the last three years––is necessarily a complex topic with a sometimes impenetrable vocabulary of its own. I will do my utmost to ensure that, in speaking to the Bill and any Government amendments, my comments are as clear, accessible and accurate as possible. Please feel free to challenge me on this and if at any point Committee members feel that I have fallen short of that ambition, I look forward to trying to correct that.

Let me move to amendment 19. The Government are fully committed to ensuring that any delegation of responsibility to the regulators is accompanied by robust accountability and scrutiny mechanisms. Members referred to divergence and regard to consumer interests. The differentiation between different categories of firms depends on an assessment of eight systemically important firms that will continue to be the responsibility of the Prudential Regulation Authority. Amendment 19 seeks to add a requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a report within three years of this Act, including an assessment of the impact of amendments to the capital requirements regulation on financial stability, competitiveness and consumer risk.

The amendments to the capital requirements regulation tell only a small part of the story. The Bill amends the capital requirements regulation to remove Financial Conduct Authority investment firms from the scope of the banking regime. The more important story will be told by the FCA’s rules that implement the investment firms prudential regime. I want to be absolutely clear on the point about divergence. Obviously, as we get towards the end of the transition period, we will get to a point where we have left the EU and the provisions of alignment within the transition period. Therefore these measures reflect the reality of where we will be on 1 January. As the hon. Member for Wallasey said, the UK’s regulators, Ministers and officials played an instrumental role, given the size of the UK financial services industry, in shaping those regulations on an EU-wide basis. But it is surely only appropriate that, when we have left the alignment provisions of the transition period—and rightly so—we should look to actually govern and set the regulatory environment that suits the particular needs of our industry. The configuration of that industry, as was understood in the speeches that have been made, is different.

When the FCA does implement the IFPR, the Bill requires the FCA to demonstrate how it has regard to several considerations, which I shall set out now. First it must have regard to relevant international standards: Basel 3.1. That goes to the point about the relative standing of the UK. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East made a point about the risk around individual firms lobbying for differentiated treatment. It is right that the regulators are responsive to the needs of the UK industry, but they are also accountable to those international standards––the relative standing of the UK––in addition to the current statutory objectives under the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to protect consumers and the integrity of the UK financial system.

This approach aligns with the March 2020 House of Lords EU Financial Affairs Sub-Committee recommendation to delegate more power to the regulators, underpinned by more and strengthened parliamentary scrutiny. We are delegating this to regulators because they have the technical expertise, not the Government. The Bill’s reporting provisions should provide the information that Parliament is seeking. This amendment would create a duplication of efforts by the regulator and the relevant Departments on undertaking such an assessment.

I recognise that some points were made about, and the hon. Member for Wallasey in particular asked me to respond on, the relationship in terms of moving between different categories of firms. I think it absolutely necessary that we essentially, through this provision, right-size the regulation for the different configurations of firms. I also think this right in an environment where, in general in the UK, we have had standardised models of capital requirements. One of the key arguments with respect to banks, for example, is that there has not been meaningful competition because those capital requirements are too rigid. I will draw attention to the Committee’s experience last week with Gurpreet Manku from the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, who, when asked about the levels of capital required, said that in some cases higher levels of capital would need to be held. I think that that recognises that what we are doing here is actually seeking to empower the regulators to right-size the regulation, having regard to international standards but also fixing it appropriately for the UK regime.

I do not see that this amendment delivers over and above the accountability and scrutiny mechanisms already in the Bill, which already find the right balance in relation to parliamentary scrutiny and regulator accountability. Therefore, I ask that the amendment be withdrawn.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 10:00, 24 November 2020

I want to come back on that and press the Minister on a couple of questions that, with all due respect, I do not think he answered in his response. Clearly, our amendment is a hook on which to hang a debate about transparency, so that we know what the regulators are doing, and about accountability, because, as I said earlier, if these organisations begin to respond to particular inducements, such as their own remuneration, they can cause risk to happen in a way that can be severely detrimental to consumers and entire economies, as we have seen in recent history. I think that, in the light of that, we are perhaps owed a little more of an explanation from the Minister—I am putting this gently—about what the approach of the regulators will be. The Minister can stand there and say, “The regulators are going to right-size regulation.” That sounds like a fantastic thing because of the very phrase that the Minister has used—“right-size”—but how are they deciding?

We clearly got the wrong size because of evolutionary behaviour to avoid regulation and increasingly risky behaviour in the global financial system in the run-up to the global financial crisis in 2008, which was caused by or began in the subprime mortgage market in America but which brought most of the—if I can put it this way—western-style banking systems close to ruin in the rest of the very interconnected economy because of what had been happening with derivatives. Therefore I wonder whether the Minister might be able to say a little more about the benefits of having the regime that he called right-sized regulation; why we might wish to move away from the current position so quickly after the transition period is over; and what he sees as the benefits of doing this. Refusing our amendment means that there will be no transparent analysis of the effect on the public domain, so we will not be able to discuss it.

I for one think it is important to get these very technical, dry regulations out into the open and to translate them, with the seriousness they deserve, into the potential implications that they present for all our constituents. Our amendment seeks to do that by at least having a transparent publication of these kinds of analyses. The Minister wants to keep it in the regulators’ ambit, in which there is not so much light, to be honest. It is highly technical, and it is hard for those on the outside to have a look inside to see what the implications are. I have hardly had any correspondence from outsiders on the Bill to help me through the long hours and sittings to come. That rather illustrates my point: that a light needs to be shone on this area, because of the risks if we get it wrong.

The Minister rightly wants to get it right, but surely it is relevant to hear from him and to have a bit of transparency, and to put something on the record now about how he sees the advantages playing out, as opposed to the risks. Will he have another go?

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

I am very happy to have another go. The hon. Lady is at risk of suggesting that there is somehow a clumsy, rushed delegation to regulators and a risk that—in that delegation—the industry will influence regulators to right-size in a way that damages consumers. I draw her attention to the fact that the legislation gives the FCA responsibility to have regard to the impact on consumers, on the market and on firms—that is, the impact on themselves—of not having the appropriate capital requirements.

The right-sizing comment refers to the fact that the firms are currently bound by rules that align them to other institutions that are clearly functionally different. Nobody really believes that it would be right for there to be a prescriptive mandate from primary legislation on exactly how those technical rules and those capital requirements on a firm-by-firm basis should exist. The FCA has the right to reclassify firms and monitor that reclassification as firms evolve. The PRA will retain oversight of systemically important firms.

I contend that the Bill contains sufficient mechanisms to ensure public and parliamentary scrutiny of both the FCA and the Treasury through the draft affirmative procedure and the FCA reporting requirements. That combination of the FCA’s existing statutory duties and the “have regards” set out in the Bill cover the areas that amendment 19 seeks to address.

I make one further important point that goes to the heart of the wider regulatory framework. The future regulatory framework consultation that we launched on 19 October sets out over a 12-week period to look holistically at what should be the constitutional relationship between the FCA, the PRA, the Treasury and Parliament to embed an enduring accountability framework on a much broader basis. There will be another consultation subsequent to that. I anticipate that the response to the consultation might be, “Why haven’t you done this before?”. The bottom line is that the measures are required to meet international standards within an internationally determined timeframe of expectations. I declared on Second Reading that this is the first in a series of pieces of legislation, and I have always said so. This first piece of legislation sets the accountability framework for the initial measures.

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

I do not think any of us doubt the Minister’s intention to get this right and to recognise that these decisions have a consumer impact. The challenge, which I think we all see, is that it is one thing for the FCA to conduct a public consultation on high-cost credit firms, for example—he knows my specialist subject—but on something like LIBOR or the Basel regulations, which is less tangible but no less impactful, the argument he is making seems rather to strengthen the point the amendment makes about including consumer risk as one of the things to be reported on, because it does not immediately grasp people’s imagination until a catastrophe such as the last financial crisis happens. He says he envisages the FCA’s performing this role, so will he set out how he sees it performing that role if we do not say, “Actually, could we in a couple of years’ time get some information on how consumer risk has been identified and addressed in this process?”. That is harder to quantify, but no less important.

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

I am very happy to respond to that point and I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. I recognise her expertise, particularly on high-cost credit, and I look forward to—I imagine—further amendments on that, perhaps next week.

The FCA will be required to publish an explanation of how having regard to the additional considerations that I have set out has affected the proposed rules that it comes up with. When the FCA makes those final rules, it will publish an explanation complying with them, as well as a summary of those new rules, aligned to the FSMA publication requirements.

The challenge here is a bit of a mismatch between the concerns that we have collectively in Parliament to maintain standards that will not allow a repeat of what the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East eloquently set out as the problem leading up to 2008 and to have regard to the enduring and ever-transforming consumer risks, which derive from rules and technical standards that we in this place are not well placed to deliver, given their design. What we must do subsequently with the future regulatory framework review—it is not some short, rushed exercise, but a deliberately open exercise of consultation to try to examine best practices—is to come up with something that gets that balance right between the direction that Parliament sets in primary legislation and the accountability to this place that will exist for our regulators, through the Treasury Committee and through potentially significantly enhanced accountability mechanisms.

However, setting out the enduring final framework of that relationship between the regulators and Parliament is the point of that consultation exercise. With respect to this measure, I believe that the accountability mechanisms set within it and the procedures set out will achieve the accountability that is necessary and appropriate at this stage.

Photo of Philip Davies Philip Davies Conservative, Shipley

Before I call the shadow Minister, I say that one of his many qualities is that he is very softly spoken, which is not conducive to Committee Room 14 with social distancing in place, so I encourage him to speak up; I am sure that would be appreciated by all.

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

I am a softly spoken and moderate man; it has not always done me good, but I am on track here at the moment.

I want to respond to the Minister’s reasons for advising us not to press the amendment. I talked at the beginning about three pots of amendments, and it strikes me that there are really two or three pots of reasons why Ministers say no to amendments. The first is that the amendment is wrong or not competently written in some way. Pot two is that it has completely misunderstood the Bill and therefore is not just incompetently written, but actually wrong in its intent. Pot three is to say that it is covered anyway. Usually, if somebody is not going to say yes to an amendment, it falls into one of those categories. The Minister has gone for pot three today. He has not really argued that the amendment is wrong in its content or that there is anything wrong with the way it is written; he has argued that this kind of thing is covered anyway. There is a problem for us in accepting that.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Does my right hon. Friend agree that there is a fourth one, which is to say, “This should not be on the face of the Bill; we are going to do it, but we are going to put it in secondary legislation,” which of course is unamendable and usually rammed through this House in a way that makes scrutiny even harder?

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

My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Perhaps there is even a fifth one, which is, “Wait for the consultation on something else.” The problem with going for pot three and saying the amendment is covered anyway is that that concedes that it would be completely harmless and there would be nothing wrong if it were accepted. The Government are, in effect, agreeing with its intent and saying they will do it.

The Minister, probably not for the last time, referred to the future regulatory framework consultation that was published a month ago and said, “We will cover a lot of this in there.” I have had the pleasure of going through that document—I was looking longingly as I did so at Tim Bouverie’s excellent book on appeasement on my bedside table and resisting the urge to pick it up—but we do not know its conclusions. He might turn out to be right and we might have something similar, but we might not.

More seriously, the reason why we need such a report and why we need to be careful about what is in the clause—we may come to this in the stand part debate—is that although investment firms, which do not take deposits, may be characterised in some ways as different from deposit-taking banks, we learned during the financial crash about the degree of interconnectedness. Frankly, if the system falls over, no one will care about that—it will not matter at all. When the system is so connected, it will not matter that one company, metaphorically speaking, put its hand up and said, “We wanted to be treated differently because we did not take deposits.”

That brings us back to the consumer, who has to know that the system as a whole is safe—or as safe as can be expected. I find myself unconvinced by the reasons not to accept the amendment, so I am minded to press it.

Question put, That the amendment be made.

Division number 1 Financial Services Bill — Clause 1 - Exclusion of certain investment firms from the Capital Requirements Regulation

Aye: 6 MPs

No: 10 MPs

Aye: A-Z by last name

No: A-Z by last name

The Committee divided: Ayes 6, Noes 10.

Question accordingly negatived.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

As ever, the UK remains committed to the highest level of regulatory standards. The UK is also committed to better regulation—regulation that is fit for purpose and appropriate to the risks, size and activities inherent to UK firms. At present, investment firms are supervised by either the FCA or—for those that are systemically important—the PRA. However, both currently operate under the same prudential regulatory regime as banks, which is not appropriate for non-systemically important investment firms. Such investment firms do not typically grant loans or accept deposits, so the risks they face and pose are different from those of banks.

A new, bespoke regime is required for investment firms, and the first step in that process is to remove non-systemically important FCA investment firms from the relevant regulations for banks. That is precisely what clause 1 does: it sets out the necessary amendments to remove FCA investment firms from the scope of the capital requirements regulation. Only credit institutions and PRA-designated investment firms will remain under the CRR. That is appropriate, as systemic investment firms pose similar risks to financial stability as the largest banks.

Clause 1 also introduces a definition of “designated investment firm” that recognises that only investment firms that conduct bank-like investment activities may be designated by the PRA as systemic institutions. As such, commodity dealers, collective investment undertakings and insurance undertakings that are not bank-like are excluded from the definition. That reflects the EU’s approach. The remaining investment firms—all FCA investment firms—will be regulated under the new investment firms prudential regime, which I will turn to when we debate clause 2 and schedule 2.

Clause 1 also amends the Capital Requirements (Country-by-Country Reporting) Regulations 2013. The amendments are necessary to ensure that FCA investment firms adhere to tax reporting requirements that are consistent with the new investment firms prudential regime, and not with the current banking regime. For example, the smallest FCA investment firms will be exempt from the reporting requirements, which is in line with the IFPR’s more proportionate application of regulatory requirements on the smallest firms.

Clause 1 is merely a first step in the introduction of the investment firms prudential regime, but it is a crucial step. I therefore recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

I just have a couple of questions for the Minister. He described the rationale behind the clause, but can he tell us how many firms we are talking about? How many of the non-deposit-taking investment firms are likely to be exempt from the capital requirements regulations under the terms of the clause?

What is the Minister’s response to the point that my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey and I have been trying to make about interconnectedness? He has advanced a reason as to why such investment firms should be treated differently, but how will the regulators cope with the interconnectedness of the system if companies are treated differently in that way?

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

My concerns very much lie around the interconnectedness, because the system will be only as strong as the weakest part within it. If the weakest parts start to pull down everything else and make everything else unravel, we have a real problem on our hands.

My questions are about the monitoring of risk within the system that is being established. How can the Minister be certain that the risks are being closely monitored by the regulators, that the regulators understand the business that smaller firms are doing in their part of the market, and that the activities that those smaller firms are engaged in does not pose a risk to everything else? There is definitely cause for them to be monitored in order to have an eye kept on them, and to ensure that their activities do not cause wider risk. If attention is not being given to them, how can we ensure that their activities are above board and are not causing further risks anywhere else within the system?

How will the monitoring be scrutinised more widely by Parliament and others? The Treasury Committee gets the opportunity to question the regulators, but getting down to such a level of detail is not necessarily something that we would do. How does the Minister envisage Parliament having a role in that scrutiny in order to ensure that, should something happen or go wrong, we find out about it timeously rather than when it is too late to have any impact and when the whole thing has tumbled down?

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Like the hon. Member for Glasgow Central, I am on the Treasury Committee. We have a very full programme. The hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford also shares the pleasures of being on the Treasury Committee. However, it would be very difficult for us to question the FCA with this level of granularity. Therefore, given the onshoring and the importance of this regime as it evolves, how does the Minister expect the transparency, oversight and accountability to be put in place going forward? Does he expect that to also include consumer authorities and the consumer interest, and will explain what he expects these companies to be able to do under this regime that they cannot do now?

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

I am grateful for those questions, and I shall seek to bring some clarity. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East asked me two questions about the numbers. I cannot give a specific number here, because it is fluid and would be something for the FCA to determine. I am sure the FCA would be very happy to give him an indication on that.

To the other point around interconnectedness, made by the hon. Member for Glasgow, Central as well, the classification will be based on the evolving nature of the activities, and this is something the FCA makes judgments on all the time. The PRA is responsible for eight systemically important institutions, covering Goldman Sachs and J. P. Morgan, among others, which are of a size and scale such that their interconnectedness means they are of systemic significance.

There are a lot of complex relationships between financial institutions. Therefore, as acknowledged by the hon. Member for Wallasey, as people who are technically capable of evaluating those interconnected elements, it is appropriate and in their interest to make those judgments, and that sort of decision making does go on currently.

The scrutiny process links back—I will not keep repeating it—to the point that the right hon. Gentleman made about the “Future Regulatory Framework Review”, which will look at the appropriateness in a situation where that scrutiny has previously happened at an EU level, through combined conversations, the Council of Ministers, work that is then is auto-uploaded to the regulators. What is the new mechanism to hold regulators accountable in a situation where they are given the task from this place? That would be the purpose of the extended regulatory review and future legislation. It may involve an enhanced role for the Treasury Committee, with additional resources to augment the expertise that already exists, but that is a matter for that consultation.

In answer to the question from the hon. Member for Wallasey about what I expect the companies will be able to do that they currently cannot, this comes back to some of the evidence we heard last week from the British Private Equity and Venture Capital Association, which says there is a wide family of firms with different activities. The question is: are the regulations as they apply at the moment—as fitted for 28 countries, where obviously some compromises were made—appropriate for the configuration of firms as they exist?

What I would expect to see is consideration given for capital requirements that match the actual profile of activities, notwithstanding the very legitimate points made around the interconnectedness and the risks associated with their broadest activities. I have stressed throughout the passage of this Bill so far, and I reiterate now, that the essential purpose of the Government’s approach is to ensure that we have the highest regulatory standards. Our reputation as a centre for financial services is based not on finding quick fixes that shortcut regulatory standards, but on finding something that fits the nature of our industry, aligned to international standards, that gives us the best opportunity to grow and prosper in a way that is safe and secure for consumers.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.