Clause 20 - Extension of transitional period for benchmarks with non-UK administrators

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 amends article 51(5) of the benchmarks regulation, which provides for a transitional period during which the UK’s supervised entities can continue to use all third-party benchmarks. Those are benchmarks that are provided by administrators located outside the UK. When the UK onshored the EU benchmarks regulation, the transitional period for third-country benchmarks was extended from the end of 2019 to the end of 2022. The extension was made to provide third-party benchmark administrators with more time to apply for continued access to UK markets. For the UK’s supervised entities to continue to use benchmarks that are administered outside the UK after the end of 2022, the benchmarks or their administrator must be listed on the FCA benchmarks register.

The benchmarks regulation provides three access routes for third-country administrators or benchmarks. They must apply for the endorsement of specific benchmarks or for recognition as an administrator, or they can benefit from an equivalence decision made by the Treasury with respect to their home jurisdiction’s regulatory framework. As of October 2020, however, only 14 third-country benchmark administrators have come through the access routes that are outlined in the EU benchmarks regulation. Industry engagement has also revealed important concerns about the operation of the current regulatory regime for third-country benchmarks under the benchmarks regulation. For example, many non-European economic area jurisdictions do not have specific regulator rules for benchmarks.

The UK will explore how best to support the use of global, non-UK benchmarks that adhere to equivalent regulatory outcomes. The endorsement and recognition access routes both rely on third-country administrators being willing to apply for market access, and require the appointment of a UK entity to facilitate their application for ongoing market access. Some third-country benchmarks are provided on a non-commercial basis, however, meaning that those administrators lack an economic incentive to apply. Smaller firms may also be reluctant to appoint a third-party UK entity to oversee their benchmark administration.

Consequently, under the current regulations, UK firms are at risk of losing access to important third-country benchmarks after the end of 2022. Those benchmarks are relied on for key business functions, such as risk management, Treasury financing and overseas investment. The Government will consider changes to the third-country regime so that it is proportionate for third-country benchmarks and appropriate for the needs of the UK economy. By extending the transitional period for third-country benchmarks to the end of 2025, the clause will provide legal and economic certainty for UK firms that rely on third-country benchmarks. That will also allow the Government to fully consider and operationalise an appropriate third-country benchmarks regime for the UK. I will update the House on that in due course.

Photo of Pat McFadden Pat McFadden Shadow Economic Secretary (Treasury) 2:30, 26 November 2020

I just want to ask the Economic Secretary a question to ensure that we have properly understood the clause. All through this part of the Bill, we have talked about the different timescales in different clauses, and here we have another, which extends the transition period for benchmarks with third-country administrators until the end of 2025.

For my clarity, and perhaps for that of colleagues, will the Economic Secretary clarify whether the measures are different—I think they are—from the five and 10-year timescales in clauses 9 and 12, relating to the FCA designating what the hon. Member for Glasgow Central called zombie LIBOR? Is this five-year period about something different or does it relate to that?

Having debated this matter for a couple of hours, I am not sure that we have resolved it. My feeling is that we are leaving quite a lot to the FCA. I hope that the clause minimises the risk of harm. We have talked a lot about the risk of litigation, but there is also the risk of harm to those who have entered contracts based on LIBOR in good faith. The Government and regulators are trying to move away from that system for reasons that we understand are to minimise harm to those who signed up in good faith, but I suspect that there is still a fair bit of work for the regulator to do to ensure that that is the case.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Will the Economic Secretary share with the Committee the intention behind the extension to 2025? He said that it was to create certainty—I can understand that. Is the intention to transition to something different—the new third-country regime—after the extension, or is it to develop and introduce it earlier if it looks like there are advantages to doing so? I know that I am asking him to gaze into the future, but this will be in the Treasury and regulators’ work list and they will presumably schedule it at some stage. Does he expect the creation of a third-country regime to be difficult or quite easy? Are the Government thinking of basing it on the existing regimes or diverging from what we are used to? Will he give us a little more information about how the Treasury intends to proceed with this piece of technical but very important work.

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

I am very happy to address those points. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East raised the issue of the different time periods. This is different from the LIBOR transition; it is about the third-party benchmarks exclusively. It is a response to the market reality, as we have seen in the number of applications. I will come to the point of the hon. Member for Wallasey in a second.

The right hon. Gentleman also asked about the risk of harm concept and how important that is. Clearly, the LIBOR transition, as we have established today, is an incredibly complicated matter with a great deal of legal complexity, an imperative to align to global best practice, the need to produce a synthetic alternative and the evolution of policy around that. It is also designed to protect. He is right to say that there is a lot more work to be done; there is no off-the-shelf solution. This measure allows the formal framework for that to evolve.

The hon. Member for Wallasey asked me to comment on the future time period by which the new third-country benchmark regime would be constructed. The extension is a response intended to resolve industry concerns and to ensure that UK markets can retain access to the third-country benchmarks. There is no intention to find some way of deviating from norms on that. It is in our interest to have complete alignment to global best practice. The extension gives UK firms the legal and economic certainty. As soon as it can be done, it should be done. I cannot give her the precise location of where that is in the work plan—the FCA has a lot on at the moment—but she is right that we need to operationalise it appropriately, recognising the different obligations on different sized firms. I will be working with the FCA to keep an eye on that in the coming weeks and months.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 20 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.