Clause 19 - Changes to and cessation of a benchmark

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 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

The clause introduces amendments to article 28 of the benchmarks regulation, including new paragraphs 1A to 1E. Article 28 of the benchmarks regulation stipulates requirements for benchmark administrators and supervised entities in preparing for changes to, or the cessation of, benchmarks. I will refer to this as the change and cessation procedure.

The clause inserts the word “robust” in paragraph 1 of article 28 to define and strengthen the nature of the change and cessation procedures that benchmark administrators are required to publish. The clause also inserts new paragraphs 1A to 1E, which set out requirements for the written change and cessation procedure that a benchmark administrator must publish.

New paragraph 1A establishes that the administrator must publish a robust written change and cessation procedure alongside the publication of the administrator’s benchmark statement, which, among other things, sets out the market or economic reality that the benchmark intends to measure. The documents must be published within two weeks of the benchmark being registered in the FCA’s register. Wherever a material change occurs, the benchmark administrator is required to update its written procedure. For critical benchmarks, the proposed changes in new paragraphs 1B to 1E set out additional and more stringent requirements.

When publishing its written procedure, the administrator of a critical benchmark is required to provide an assessment to the FCA, on the basis of the information available to it, that considers the nature and extent of the current use of the benchmark, the availability of suitable alternatives, and how prepared users are for changes to, or the cessation of, the benchmark. Before publishing an updated written change and cessation procedure, critical benchmark administrators must also provide that assessment together with their updated written procedure to the FCA for review. The FCA is required to review and consider whether the procedure is sufficiently robust. The administrator must not publish an update of its procedure without receiving written notice from the FCA that its procedure is sufficiently robust.

In order to be designated as a critical benchmark, a benchmark must be used extensively, and its cessation may pose significant and adverse impacts on market integrity, financial stability, consumers, the real economy, or the financing of households and businesses. It is therefore reasonable and proportionate to require administrators of critical benchmarks to demonstrate via an assessment that their cessation plans are robust. We do not expect it to be an overly burdensome assessment for benchmark administrators. The clause will support increased preparedness in the event of changes to, or the cessation of, benchmarks in the future. I therefore recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Again, I have just a few questions so that I can get in my head precisely what the reason is for putting this in primary legislation. LIBOR clearly had its issues but it was used for a very long time. Is the Minister anticipating that benchmarks will change much more rapidly in the future, or does he want some kind of stability with the new benchmarks that are based on actual prices, rather than the guesses of participants in the market, as LIBOR came to be defined prior to its demise?

Is the Minister expecting that this kind of provision for ceasing benchmarks will be used regularly? I anticipate that the answer will be, “Only when it is needed because of what is happening in the market.” If this kind of procedure is theoretical and on the face of a piece of legislation but hardly ever used, does that mean that the mechanisms that the Minister is setting out in clause 19 and other parts of the Bill will rust away? They will be there in theory, but there will be nobody there to work them properly. How does he anticipate that the market, the FCA and the benchmark administrators will maintain the capacity to do this if cessation is a very irregular, rare thing?

Will the Minister spend a bit of time defining what “robust” means in this context? In my time in this place, I have had many arguments with Ministers, and made many arguments as a Minister, about why we must not put particular words on the face of Bills and what their meaning is. Can the Minister enlighten us as to what he, the FCA and the Treasury mean by “robust” and how they are defining that in law, so that I can have a bit more confidence that they have got it right on the face of the Bill?

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

I thank the hon. Lady for her comments. Although the provisions of this legislation are under the heading of benchmarks, they really refer to the capacity that we need to have to deal with the LIBOR issue. She is right to raise the question of the enduring provision and how tested and exercised that capacity would be, but this is about setting a framework for future use, which is very difficult to anticipate. We want to ensure that it is fit for purpose for the future.

The hon. Lady asks when the framework could be used, which is not a matter that I can reasonably be drawn on, because it would be about market conditions evolving, but it certainly means that we are ready for whatever might evolve, in terms of benchmarks on the path towards becoming critical. However, it will be for the FCA, in conversation with the market and Parliament, to determine how to bring that forward.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Does the Economic Secretary think that, given the incredible trouble that the wind-down of LIBOR has caused in the markets—not least because of what is on the face of the Bill and the very difficult issues caused by having to exit the LIBOR benchmark—it is best to try to get the next benchmark sorted and future-proofed, so that it does not turn into LIBOR 2 and cause his future successor in the Treasury and me all this kerfuffle in a Public Bill Committee?

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

Absolutely. It is absolutely right that we give the power to the FCA but also keep a vigilant eye on evolving market conditions, so that we are well placed to move earlier to deal with any failures in benchmarks.

The hon. Lady asked me to define “robust” in the context of the Bill. I am reluctant to be drawn on that, because it is a matter of legal definition, but I would be very happy to write to her on that and respond at subsequent sittings of the Committee, if she wishes me to do so.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 19 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.