Thank you for your continued chairmanship of this Committee, Dr Huq.
The clause makes changes to section 272 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which allows individual investment funds from other countries and territories to be marketed to the general public, including retail investors, in the United Kingdom. Although we have separately introduced a new overseas funds regime to allow specified categories of overseas funds to market to retail investors, section 272, the existing provision, will remain and will be available for investment funds that do not fall within the scope of an equivalent determination under the OFR, but still wish to market to retail investors in the UK. Investment funds that are eligible to apply under the OFR will not be able to make an application under section 272. This is to ensure that funds always apply through the most efficient route possible.
We have proposed simplifications to section 272 and sections relating to it, which are supported by both the Financial Conduct Authority and industry. First, the changes will streamline the FCA’s assessment of individual investment funds from other countries. In making its assessment, the FCA would now need to consider only issues that are subject to existing rules on UK authorised funds rather than potential laws that do not yet exist. Secondly, we will simplify when the fund operators have to notify the FCA of changes to their funds and, thirdly, we will make wider changes so that section 272 is compatible with the new OFR.
Also, provisions are added to FSMA, mirroring the ones in the OFR, to enhance consumer protections and ensure consistency in comparability between the two regimes. This includes requiring fund operators to notify such persons as the FCA may direct, such as investors, if the fund’s permission to market is suspended or revoked. The FCA will also have the power to make public censure if certain rules and requirements are breached. Finally, we are also making it clear that sub-funds can be recognised under section 272 if investment funds are part of an umbrella and sub-fund structures.
As I noted earlier, an umbrella fund is a legal entity that groups together different sub-funds where each sub-fund has a separate pool of assets that typically has its own investment strategy. The changes set out in clause 25 will improve the process in section 272, reducing the administrative burden for the FCA and asset management firms. I therefore recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dr Huq.
I want to ask the Minister where the clear water is. In simple terms, is this about granting equivalence recognition to individual companies from countries where we do not grant the overall country the equivalence recognition? The Minister nods, so perhaps that is what it is about. That implies that those firms might need a higher level of monitoring or observation, given that they are from countries that have not been granted equivalence recognition—presumably, we think that the regulatory system in the country in which they are based is perhaps not quite of the standard of some other countries. Will he tell us a little more about how that would work? Will there be a set of firms that the FCA keeps an extra eye on? If the FCA decided that equivalence recognition permission should no longer be granted to an individual firm, how would the process work? Is it something that can be withdrawn quite quickly if we think things have changed?
I thank the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East for his questions. His characterisation of what this is about is absolutely right: the clause provides a mechanism to ensure that funds that are not eligible for the new overseas fund regime may still apply and secure access. In terms of the FCA, monitoring and protection, it is important to point out that the FCA’s online register shows that there are currently four stand-alone funds, seven umbrella funds and 27 sub-funds that have permission to be marketed to UK retail investors under section 272. Some of those funds have been carried over from a previous regime for overseas funds marketing to the UK, set out in section 270 of FSMA.
To give some comfort about investor protection, the FCA is required to examine whether the fund gives adequate protection to investors in the scheme. It will examine whether the fund’s arrangements for constitution and management are adequate; the powers and duties of the fund’s operator, trustee or depositary must also be adequate. It is another mechanism to be applied in conditions where a country as a whole is not given the adequacy equivalence decision.
Under the clause, the FCA has suitable powers to verify the full context of the fund’s operations and to take account of the risks associated with the fund. It would make a determination based on the full range of factors available to it.
We will be discussing a couple of similar clauses very soon, but it strikes me that quite a big role is envisaged for the FCA in advising the Government on equivalence recognition and regulation in other countries. It has not performed such ongoing monitoring up until now. It is quite easy to go through the Bill clause by clause, subsection by subsection, and think that each change is a nothing more than a small change here and a small change there that do not add up to much, but the impression gained is that the Bill creates a big job for the FCA. Is it properly resourced and equipped to carry out that role?
As ever, the right hon. Gentleman makes a very reasonable point. In this context, the obligations on the FCA and the Prudential Regulation Authority will continue to be considerable. They will have significant responsibilities. In previous sittings, we talked about the necessity of having a clear framework for the regulator to be accountable to Parliament, subject to Parliament’s determination of what that will be. The resourcing of the FCA with the right sort of skills to carry out the proposed functions will be an issue that its new chief executive will consider in due course. We will seek to co-operate with him to ensure that he has those resources.
The section 272 provision is extant and I outlined the number of funds that are using it, but I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s general point about the FCA. It is something of which we are very aware.