Clause 17 - Policy statements relating to critical benchmarks

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:00 pm on 26 November 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

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 17 introduces a new provision, article 23F of the benchmarks regulation. This clause requires the FCA to publish statements of policy and to have regard to those statements when exercising certain new powers set out in the benchmarks regulation. The FCA is required to publish a statement of policy with respect to the exercise of this power to designate a critical benchmark as an article 23A benchmark. This is the designation the FCA can make where it determines that a benchmark’s representativeness cannot be restored or maintained, or that there are good reasons not to restore or maintain representativeness.

The FCA must also publish a statement of policy with respect to the exercise of its powers under article 21A, which allow it to prohibit new use of a critical benchmark when the administrator of that benchmark has notified the FCA of its intention to cease providing the benchmark. The FCA is also required to publish a statement of policy in exercising its powers under article 23C, which allow it to permit certain types of legacy use of an article 23A benchmark by supervised entities. Finally, the FCA must also publish a statement of policy in exercising its power under article 23D, which allows the FCA to impose requirements on the administrator of an article 23A benchmark to change the methodology, rules or code of conduct of the benchmark.

The Bill states that the FCA’s duty to prepare and publish those statements of policy can be satisfied before as well as after this legislation comes into force. On 18 November, the FCA published two consultations inviting industry feedback on statements, which ask for views on how the FCA intends to exercise its article 23A and article 23D powers granted under this Bill. It has also stated its intention to engage with industry stakeholders and international counterparts in the development of its statements of policy with respect to its powers under articles 21A and 23C.

This clause increases transparency regarding how the FCA will exercise certain new powers set out in the Bill to support the orderly wind-down of a critical benchmark. In developing statements of policy, the FCA will be able to engage with industry and international counterparts. The clause also requires the FCA to have regard to those statements when exercising its new powers, reducing uncertainty for market participants. Therefore, I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

I just have a question about these policy statements. We have been through quite a lot about how the FCA will designate, compel and continue the submission of information and all the rest of it. What role do these policy statements play in all of that? Is the policy statement simply putting into law a requirement on the FCA to say why it has acted as it has, or is it, as part of what I think is behind some of the stuff in these clauses, insulating the FCA against the threat of legal action because of the possible effect on contracts? Is this a nice to have, best practice or is it something that helps to protect the FCA against the threat of litigation, which has been a thread through this discussion?

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Obviously, this is a very technical area, to say the least. I just want to ask a couple of questions so that I can get my head round how the FCA will use the power. We have different regulators who could make different determinations as to what constitutes benchmarks going forward, and yet those benchmarks write contracts worth trillions of pounds and dollars into the future. Any arbitrage opportunity in the way that those contracts work could make some people very rich and ruin others. This will be decided as one goes along. Some of these contracts are being made, but some are already projected into the future.

To ensure that markets are not distorted and the potential for nefarious profit by some with insider information is minimised, we need reassurance about how the FCA will perform the task, particularly in its interactions with the other regulators. I am not sure what the Government’s intention is, apart from saying they are going to liaise with other regulators. Is it the Government’s intention that these benchmarks ought to be similarly designed and defined across different regulatory jurisdictions, since this is almost a currency, or are we seeking divergence here as well in order to perhaps increase our chances of being the place where some of this business is written?

Perhaps the Economic Secretary could reassure me on that, because the FCA’s powers are pretty strong, but what is the intention? That might be in all of the many consultations, which I confess I have not read, so it might be set out there. If the Minister could put a little more on the record, we might at least have some certainty there, not least for Pepper v. Hart purposes.

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

I thank the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East and the hon. Member for Wallasey for their observations. The hon. Lady demonstrates her experience and professionalism in being able to jump in on the first clause, having not been here this morning—no disrespect intended.

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

The point that the hon. Lady makes is absolutely clear. We need to ensure that the regulations are in line with global practices because the issue is global. The interconnectedness of financial services markets demands, as in the statement I made just now, that we work very closely with regulators in other jurisdictions. It is absolutely right that we learn the lessons that the right hon. Gentleman, in his work on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards several years ago, drew attention to with respect to the appalling abuses in the market. This measure is designed to give us a framework and to give the FCA the powers to ensure that we have global best practice and no ambiguity.

The right hon. Gentleman asked about the statements of policy and their use, and sought reassurance on how this system will work. They are published by the FCA to describe in more detail how it will interpret and exercise its supervisory and regulatory functions more transparently. Obviously, the FCA has stated its aspirations with respect to LIBOR and its intention to engage market participants in the development of the statements of policy. But this measure will provide greater clarity and certainty to market participants—given the sums involved in the contracts, the associated risks are significant—as to how the overarching legal framework will be operationalised to deliver the orderly wind-down of this benchmark, which is the only critical benchmark to which these provisions would presently apply.

The FCA will continue to engage with market participants—that means domestically and internationally—as well as with other international authorities. In developing the statements of policy, the FCA will be able to consider the broad spectrum of views and determine the appropriate way in which its powers could be exercised.

I will say that I have been doing this job for nearly three years and I have received a considerable number of pieces of advice over that time, because this is such a complex problem to resolve well, as the industry will testify, but this measure is about ensuring continued evolution of transparent policy making in this area.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 17 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill