Clause 12 - Mandatory contribution to critical benchmarks

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:30 pm on 26 November 2020.

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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

Clause 12 amends article 23 of the benchmarks regulation, which concerns the mandatory contribution to a critical benchmark by supervised entities. Article 23 already provides the FCA with certain compulsion powers over the administrator and supervised entities, which contribute to a benchmark, including the power to compel supervised contributors to continue to contribute to a benchmark. These powers were previously only available where the representativeness of the benchmark was judged to be at risk.

The clause amends the article to ensure that it works with the new representativeness assessments we are introducing under the Bill, and that these powers are available either where the benchmark is at risk, or where the benchmark has actually become unrepresentative. The changes mean that, for instance, the power to compel a contributor will now become available whenever the FCA has made a finding that the benchmark is unrepresentative, or its representativeness is at risk.

The clause also extends the compulsion powers to supervised third country contributors and requires that if a contributor gives notice that it intends to withdraw on a specific date, it may not cease contributing on that date without written permission from the FCA. It also clarifies that the FCA’s compulsion powers and other powers in paragraph 6 of article 23 are available specifically for the purpose of restoring, maintaining or improving the representativeness of a benchmark.

These powers are important in ensuring that a critical benchmark does not simply cease in circumstances where the representativeness of the benchmark could reasonably be maintained or restored through appropriate FCA action. I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

I have one or two questions to the Minister. The clause gives the FCA the power to mandate contributors, including those outside the UK—it will be interesting to see how that works—to continue to submit information to a benchmark for up to five years. However, clause 9 states that synthetic LIBOR—the ghost of LIBOR—can be kept going for up to 10 years. Why is it five years in this clause but 10 years in clause 9?

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

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his question. He draws attention to the discrepancy between the provision for five years in clause 12 and 10 years elsewhere. It is important to remember that the powers in the Bill are not just for LIBOR but will be relevant to benchmarks that are designated as critical in the future. The changes in the clause ensure that the existing compulsion powers work with the amendments made to the wider regulation. Where we have a benchmark that is unrepresentative or is at risk of being unrepresentative, the FCA should have access to these powers.

With respect to LIBOR, the amendments ensure the FCA will have the required time to implement the various processes that we are introducing, to access their new powers, and to mitigate the risk of the rate simply ceasing due to insufficient input data. The 10-year provision is a contingency about the ongoing use of the benchmark. The timeframes are constructed with respect to both the LIBOR provision and the wider needs of benchmarks and have been constructed in consultation with the FCA over quite a long period.

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

I am not sure that that is entirely convincing, because neither clause refers specifically to LIBOR, for reasons that the Minister has explained. They both refer to benchmarks in general.

The different timescales used throughout this section are somewhat confusing. There are reviews every two years; other timescales of three months are mentioned here and there. I am genuinely confused about why clause 9 gives the power to compel contributions for up to 10 years, yet here we are a few clauses on talking about five years. I accept that the Minister says that the 10 years might be a maximum, but if these powers are to deal with the issue of legacy contracts, I am still not sure why we have this discrepancy. It could be that I am not understanding something or that I am missing something. That is certainly possible. Is this an arena where the Government may come forward with an amendment during the later stages of the Bill’s passage?

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

I am always open to looking at the possibility of amendments, as I have demonstrated during the sittings we have had so far. The 10-year reference was under the revised methodology for LIBOR to be produced by the administrator. It will probably be useful for me to reflect on this exchange, and to write to the right hon. Gentleman and the Committee to clarify the apparent discrepancies and rationale for this. I recognise that this is genuinely complicated. I want to bring satisfaction to the Committee and I am happy to do that.

Photo of Julie Marson Julie Marson Conservative, Hertford and Stortford

It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Davies. The shadow Minister is obviously concerned and quite rightly scrutinising the detail of every clause. Does my hon. Friend agree that it would be apposite to recall from the evidence from the regulators, including the Prudential Regulation Authority, the FCA, and specifically the LIBOR transition director for UK finance, how supportive they are of the provisions of this Bill? The LIBOR transition director said explicitly in his evidence:

“These powers, in preventing all those negative outcomes for both customers and market integrity, are absolutely critical as part of the transition.”––[Official Report, Financial Services Public Bill Committee, 17 November 2020; c. 18, Q30.]

That plays back into the consultation and regulators’ support for the Bill.

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

I appreciate my hon. Friend’s intervention. It demonstrates that there is widespread concern for this legislation to be passed. The right hon. Gentleman is pressing me, quite appropriately, on these apparent anomalies, and I am happy to submit to his questions. The issue is that synthetic LIBOR is related to the 10-year provision, but the five-year provision is for other critical benchmarks, which do not have the same context in terms of their contractual longevity. As I said in my response to the right hon. Gentleman, I will write to him and to the Committee to bring clarity on this matter. It is an important matter that needs clarifying.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 12 accordingly order to stand part of the Bill.