Clause 3 - Transfer of certain prudential regulation matters into PRA rules

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:30 pm on 24 November 2020.

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Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 3:30, 24 November 2020

I beg to move amendment 23, in clause 3, page 4, line 31, at end insert—

“(9A) The Treasury must, within six months of making any regulations under this section, prepare, publish and lay before Parliament a report setting out—

(a) the reasons for the revocation of the provisions of the Capital Requirements Regulations being made under the regulations;

(b) the Treasury’s assessment of the impact of the revocation on—

(i) consumers;

(ii) competitiveness;

(iii) the economy.”

This amendment is intended to ensure the Treasury reports to Parliament on the impact of divergence from CRR rules.

In debating this amendment and this clause, I am hoping the Minister will be able to explain the relationship between this clause and clause 1. Clause 1 specifies the certain type of investment firms to which CRR rules need not apply, and he was at pains to say that that was a specific, targeted approach, but clause 3 looks to range very widely on the Treasury’s powers to revoke aspects of the capital requirements regulation.

The list in clause 3(2), on page 2 of the Bill, has many different headings, including business lends such as mortgages, retail investments, equity exposures and so on. Without getting into the detail of the technicalities of the Basel rules, not all capital is treated as equal. A pound is not just a pound. It depends against which line of business it is weighted. For example, financial institutions will argue that mortgages pose a particular category of risk, probably quite low risk, compared with another line of business where they may be lending against business loans, commercial property or some other activity. The Basel rules do not judge all these activities equally and they apply what are known as risk weights to them.

The clause allows the Government pretty sweeping powers, as far as I can see, to depart from and to revoke aspects of the capital requirements regulation, against all these different types of business. I would be very interested for the Minister to set that out and clarify it.

Through this process, the capital ratios are allocated. Again, I draw the Committee’s attention to the important paragraph (m) at the bottom of page 3 of the Bill, the leverage ratio. That is described in the notes on clauses as the “backstop.” I hope that that term does not cause too much excitement in the Committee. Like all backstops, it is there in case the list from paragraph (a) to paragraph (l) does not prove sufficient.

This particular backstop of the leverage ratio casts aside all this stuff about risk ratings. It takes the whole lending book and the whole lending business, and says that a certain proportion of capital must be held against the whole thing. It is a bit of an insurance policy in case the risk ratings do not do the job. It is true that the risk ratings are where this is open to all kinds of lobbying, as people will say that one line of business is less risky than another.

At the core of this is a debate between regulators who must consider the safety and resilience of the system as a whole, and individuals who will argue that if only they did not have to hold all this capital, they could lend more, stimulate more economic activity, and so on. That is the debate that takes place. Without wanting to go over all the ground that we covered this morning, the amendment asks for a report on the degree to which the divergence—the leeway powers, as we might call them—will be used, and the Treasury’s assessment of the impact on the economy. As I said this morning, we believe it is important that such a report should consider the impact on consumers, because they do not want to be on the hook for decisions that allow capital levels to fall too much, thereby weakening the resilience of the financial institutions in question.

This is a “lessons learned” amendment. It is important that the debate about capital ratios does not take place altogether in the dark—that it is exposed to what my hon. Friend the Member for Erith and Thamesmead called the daylight of scrutiny—and that we do not hear just from financial trade bodies. If they all genuinely have no intention of lobbying for a less safe system, have no desire for a race to the bottom and want the highest possible global standards on regulation, they have absolutely nothing to fear from this amendment. It does no more than ensure that we have reports from the Treasury on what happens when these powers are passed to UK regulators, and what happens if the divergence that is facilitated in clause 3—in this long list on pages 2 and 3 of the Bill—takes place.

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

I agree very much with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. It is important that we are kept up to date, in the absence of other scrutiny mechanisms. At the very least, within six months of Royal Assent, we should find out the impact of any revocations. The point was well made about consumers, because in many ways they are very far away from where this Bill is, and they may not see any issues that are coming up. It is important that we, as parliamentarians, are sighted on what those issues might be and have some degree of scrutiny over what happens with the regulations.

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

We are talking in quite abstract terms, but it is worth remembering that when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac fell apart in America, consumers were the first to feel the repercussions that were felt around the world. This financial regulation comes in in the aftermath of that, because it is still going on. There are still people and families who are paying the price for what happened in the financial crisis. This is not about reheating and repeating the arguments about who caused the financial crisis. It is about recognising that consumers in all our constituencies paid the price, first and foremost.

As others have said, when we think about financial regulations, it can feel quite technical, distant and obscure because of the language we use, but let us remember back to those days. Many years ago, when I first came into Parliament, we were dealing in 2010 with the aftermath of the financial crisis, and it was a very painful crisis for many. Everybody asked why we did not see what was happening. Why did we not see it coming? How could we not have seen that banks were over-leveraged? How could we not have seen that mortgages were being resold in the subprime market? The truth was that it was a closed shop, so everybody was marking each other’s homework and saying, “I am sure this will be fine.” This seems to me the mildest of amendments, simply asking whether we have the information to ensure that such an occurrence could never happen again, when we are talking about something as simple as the capital requirements that banks and financial institutions should have. After all, that is exactly what happened in 2008: everybody leveraged each other, so the capital was gone, and when the roundabout stopped, it was our constituents who paid the price. I know by now, on the first day, that Ministers will think we are a broken record, but to ask the Treasury simply to provide that information and to look at it from a consumer perspective does not seem an unfair thing to do, given the history and the legacy of this that we have seen for so many in our constituencies.

I would like to push back a little on the Minister, because in the debate on the previous amendments he said, “Well, these are the technical reasons why these proposals for scrutiny would not work,” but he has still not set out an adequate alternative. If he does not want to provide reports or have that modicum of accountability on how any divergence might affect our constituents, it would be very helpful if he set out on the record what he sees as the alternative accountability metrics for our constituents. Then we can go back to those who might still be in rented accommodation because they lost their properties, because their jobs went, because entire industries ultimately went, because of the financial consequences for us as a country in paying back those debts, and say, “It’s okay. With this new Financial Services Bill, we have put in protections to ensure that we can never be in a position again where, after the fact, everybody turns round and says, ‘Well, of course we should have seen that coming. Of course we should have seen the problems that were coming with the subprime market,’ and yet nobody did because there was not that adequate financial regulation, there was not that scrutiny and, frankly, there was not that consumer element.” The industry was deciding what risk our constituents could take, rather than our constituents’ having somebody speak up solely for their interests.

If the Minister does not want to accept this amendment, which is simply about producing a report and checking that the homework is accurate, can he set out what he is going to do to ensure that none of our constituents ever goes through one of those experiences ever again?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 3:45, 24 November 2020

In addressing this amendment, I want to start by saying that the Government are fully committed to ensuring that this greater delegation of responsibility to the regulators is accompanied by robust accountability and scrutiny mechanisms. To pick up on the point made by right hon. Gentleman about clauses 1 and 3, they amend the existing banking framework for different reasons. Clause 1 only removes FCA investment firms from the CRR. Clause 3 enables the implementation of Basel standards for the remaining firms, credit institutions and PRA investment firms by enabling the Treasury to revoke parts of the CRR that relate to Basel. That is so that the PRA can fill the space with its rules.

Amendment 23 seeks to add a requirement for the Treasury to assess and report on the impact of its revocations of the capital requirements regulation on consumers, competitiveness and the economy. However, I would argue that the emphasis is in the wrong place. The Treasury will only make revocations to enable the introduction of the PRA’s rules. A stand-alone assessment of the provisions being deleted would not provide meaningful information for Parliament—it is unnecessary. Those revocations are to be subject to the draft affirmative procedure, so they will be explained to Parliament and Parliament will be able to debate their appropriateness before they are made.

I agree with the principle of scrutiny, but the emphasis should be placed on the PRA’s rule making, and that is what this Bill does. The Bill includes provisions requiring the PRA to publicly report on how it has had regard to upholding international standards and relative standing in the UK, as well as facilitating sustainable lending. Those are in addition to the PRA’s existing statutory objectives on safety and soundness of financial institutions and its secondary competition objective, so they overlap with the areas that the amendment attempts to address.

The provisions in this Bill sit alongside existing provisions in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which require the PRA to publish a cost-benefit analysis alongside its consultation on rules. That will provide Parliament and the public with the information required to scrutinise the PRA’s actions. Therefore, the current provisions in the Bill, combined with those existing provisions in the Financial Services and Markets Act, already ensure that the information that Parliament is seeking will be in the public domain. The hon. Member for Walthamstow asked me to set out a vision, almost, for the conduct regulator with respect to the future operating environment.  To some extent, that is deferred to the future regulatory review, but I will give her my view because this goes to the core of the future of financial services. We need an environment in which the regulator is accessible to consumer concerns. I recognise the work that she has done and the shortcomings that she perceives with the regulator’s current dynamic. We need Parliament to be at the heart of scrutinising its activities. The legislation would give it an obligation to report, but then we need meaningful scrutiny from Parliament.

The challenge is based on the work that the hon. Lady did after 2010—we came into Parliament at the same time—after which there was a rapid evolution in business models and new types of things. That is why I am delighted that Chris Woolard is doing a high-cost credit review and looking at some of the areas that she is engaged in, such as buy now, pay later. He is looking at that urgently so that we do not make the mistakes of the past and do not face some of the emerging challenges, in terms of behaviours—[Interruption.] She smiles. I suspect that she is not completely convinced by what I am saying about the provisions. We are resisting the amendment because in the narrow confines of what we need to achieve, with respect to the translation of these directives appropriately at the end of the transition period, that is distinct and different from an enduring solution. I look forward to her contribution to the regulatory framework review, because that will drive a meaningful discussion about how we achieve the sort of accountability that she and I want and think should be enhanced.

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

I am sure the Minister will have some delightful conversations about the regulatory framework that will keep many people wide awake for hours to come, but the two are not mutually exclusive. This amendment and this debate are about capital holdings.

Does the Minister recognise that what I said about what happened in 2008-09 is directly linked to this? We need to keep a tight eye on this, especially because of the global context in which it is happening. We cannot protect our economy and our constituents without some form of scrutiny and control. The Minister said that it is important to have parliamentary involvement, but he has just refused an amendment that would have brought the Select Committees into the process.

I am struggling to understand why in this instance, with this amendment and this requirement of the Bill, given the role of the FCA in overseeing capital requirements, the Minister feels that it would not be important to have the data, so that we are not in a position in which that subprime lending happens again in a different guise. If we have learned anything—this is not just about the high-cost industry—it is that these models evolve. It is like water: exploitation in the system will find a way through unless we have robust procedures. It is possible to have both this report and a regulatory framework; the two are not mutually exclusive. If there is not a reporting provision, the Minister leaves a gap until one is in place.

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

This legislation provides the regulators with the responsibility and the reporting obligation to Parliament. What the hon. Lady has done is make an explicit relationship between conduct failure and capital requirement decisions. Decisions about the overall framework for accountability for the regulators are embedded within this Bill. The point of disagreement between us is whether there are sufficient obligations, in terms of reporting and scrutiny, for these narrow measures. We obviously disagree. I am trying to signal that, more broadly, on the wider issues of the future dynamic among Parliament, the Treasury and regulators, there is scope for significant review, and appropriately so given the changing nature of where these regulations are coming from. I do not have anything else to say.

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

You both look too young to have been here all your adult life.

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

The Minister said that he does not want to accept the amendment because he thinks it is in the wrong place. I would find that a little bit more convincing if I really thought he would accept it if he thought it were in the right place, but so far today, Members on the Government Benches have steadfastly voted against this kind of reporting back and reviewing of things to do with the capital rules, as well as the other amendments tabled. I am sure that the Minister has read the whole amendment paper, and will have seen that I have tried to come at the same issue from a number of different angles and different timetables. This morning, we pressed to a Division an amendment asking for a report after three years, which was defeated. I will not press this one, Dr Huq, but we will be coming to other, similar amendments very soon. I therefore ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

The 2008-09 financial crisis led to significant economic hardship. Since then, post-crisis regulatory reforms set by the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision have supported financial stability, which underpins our economic prosperity. We in the UK intend to uphold our international commitment to the full, timely and consistent implementation of these reforms, alongside other major jurisdictions, and clause 3 creates the space in legislation for the financial regulator—the Prudential Regulatory Authority—to implement the remaining Basel standards. Like our approach to investment firms, our intention is to delegate the responsibility of implementing these to the PRA with enhanced accountability, as I have described. This is the right thing to do: the PRA has the technical expertise and competence to implement these post-crisis reforms as they should be implemented.

However, in delegating this responsibility, this Bill ensures that checks and balances are in place. First, clause 3 ensures that we transfer only some elements of the capital requirements regulation, or CRR, to the PRA, and that the extent of the Treasury’s powers to delete will be constrained to those areas of the CRR that are necessary to implement the Basel standards and ensure the UK upholds its international commitments. Secondly, this clause ensures that the deletions the Treasury makes take place when it is clear that adequate provision has been made by the PRA to fill the space. Those deletions will also be subject to the draft affirmative procedure, providing the opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise the Treasury’s actions. The clause also allows the Treasury to make consequential, supplementary and incidental deletions to parts of the CRR. This is to ensure a coherent regime across the CRR and other PRA rules, amounting to a clear prudential rulebook that industry can follow.

Further, clause 3 enables the Treasury to make transitional and savings provisions to protect cliff edges from the deletion of certain provisions on the operations of a firm. This will allow the Treasury to save permissions already granted by the PRA, to modify capital requirements and avoid the need for firms to reapply for those permissions under new PRA rules where they are being replicated in the rulebook as a result of the Bill. This clause is essential to the delivery of our international commitments, and I therefore commend it to the Committee.

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

I do not want to force the Minister to go over the same ground again and again, but I am just trying to fully understand this. He used a phrase something like “the clause allows for departure from the CRR in order to implement Basel”, if I have understood him correctly. I am not trying to be obtuse, but I want him to explain fully to the Committee what that means. Why do we have to “depart” from the capital requirements regulation in order to implement the Basel rules? On the face of it, the list contained in clause 3 is a very wide list of things from the CRR that the Treasury is taking powers to revoke, and I am therefore trying to fully understand what the effect of this clause is. Is it just to implement Basel, or does it give a wider, ongoing power to the regulator to change capital ratios against these lines of business that are set out in the amendment? I genuinely want to understand that.

My second question is about the potential impact on risk weightings and how capital ratios can look. There is a potentially perverse effect here—almost a mathematical one. Because these things have risk weightings attached to them, if the regulator makes a decision to reduce that weighting—from 50% to 40%, for example, or whatever it is—but the bank still holds the same amount of capital against that stream of business, it has the effect of making the bank look more safe and secure, even though it does not have any more capital—even though nothing has changed.

It is possible for the amount of overall capital held to fall and, if the risk weighting also fell, that could still make the bank look more secure, even though it had less capital than it had at the start of the process. How will the Government guard against the process of divergence against that line of business set out in the long list in clause 3(2) from resulting in that perverse effect of reducing the risk weightings and making the banks and the institutions look more secure, when actually the amount of capital that they have is the same as they had in the beginning?

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 4:00, 24 November 2020

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his points. On the first point about why we are deleting what we are deleting, we are deleting elements of the capital requirements regulation to the PRA so that it can implement the provisions of capital requirements II, which the EU is commencing, in the appropriate way for our firms—that is basically it. The EU is on a journey of implementing CRR II, and we need to do what is appropriate for our firms, as I have discussed.

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

The future in terms of the evolving rulebook of the EU and other jurisdictions and how we seek to do that here will be subject to the future regulatory framework. We cannot anticipate the future evolving regulatory direction of new directives that have not yet been written elsewhere. What we have to do is to build the right framework for origination of rules in the Treasury and from the regulators, with the right accountability framework in place.

The problem we have conceptually in this discussion is that we are coming out of an embedded relationship in which we have auto-uploaded stuff that we have discussed, crudely, elsewhere. We have a legacy set of issues over which we have not had complete control this year that we are obliged to implement, but as we approach the end of the transition period, we have to make provision for things that actually make sense and we want to do anyway, in an appropriate way.

The driver of the right hon. Gentleman’s remarks— I understand why—is this desire to scrutinise the appetite for a sort of ad hoc, and I do not mean to be pejorative, but almost opportunistic, divergence, when what we are trying to do is to enable the regulator to do what is appropriate for a set of entities that will not naturally conform to the enduring direction of travel of the CRR II within the EU, because of the different nature of our firms and, as we have discussed, the different treatment of capital that is appropriate, given what they are actually doing vis-à-vis banks.

Secondly, he asked some detailed questions about risk weight.

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

Before the Minister moves on to the potentially perverse effects, does clause 3 simply give the regulators the powers to implement Basel 3.1, or does it give the regulator broader powers to change risk weightings against those lines of business in ways other than under Basel 3.1?

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

My understanding is that the licence to operate given to the PRA is to make it consistent with Basel 3.1, in the context of the evolving rules that are being implemented elsewhere, but the notion that there is a single downloadable format of the Basel 3.1 rules in every single jurisdiction is a false proposition. Every regulator in different jurisdictions will do that in different ways. It is important, therefore, that whatever decisions they come to around the specific decisions on different entities will be published and scrutinised, such that it could be justified against the international standing and the other factors that we have put in place as a meaningful accountability framework.

I am probably close to the limit of my capacity to answer further on this point, but I am happy to reflect further and to write to the right hon. Gentleman and make it available for the Committee, to clarify anything that would be helpful to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 3 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 4 ordered to stand part of the Bill.