Clause 27 - Provision of investment services etc in the UK

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 9:25 am on 1 December 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 27 gives effect to schedule 10 and amends the markets in financial instruments regulation. MiFIR is a piece of retained EU legislation that will continue to have effect in the UK after the end of the transition period, with amendments made under the European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) Act 2020 to ensure that it continues to operate effectively.

In summary, the amendments that the Bill makes to MiFIR broadly reflect the changes that the EU has introduced to its own third country regime, so it makes sense for us to do so. The third country regime in MiFIR established the basis on which overseas investment firms will be able to offer investment services and undertake investment activities in the UK. It allows overseas firms to apply for recognition that will allow them to provide cross-border services to more sophisticated clients, without establishing a local branch, if there has been an equivalence in respect of their home jurisdiction.

The changes made in this Bill will ensure the effective operation of the equivalence assessments and the subsequent operation of the recognition regime. That will mean that we can access the EU and treat EU investment firms in the same way that the EU will assess the UK and treat UK firms in the future. I will detail the specific amendments that this Bill makes to MiFIR during my explanation of schedule 10. I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

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

I have two questions about schedule 10. The Minister has set out what it is intended to do, but I want to ask a few questions on the theme of monitoring and compliance.

New paragraph 5A of article 46 of the regulation defines reverse solicitation, and therefore an exemption from the equivalence rules, as when a business is not initiated at a client’s own initiative. Is the Minister confident that this is a tight enough turn of phrase to mean that firms cannot solicit business in the UK while dodging the stricter regulations that come within such marketing activity?

Secondly, and more important, new paragraph 1C of article 47 of MiFIR says that when making an equivalence determination the Treasury must take into account whether a country is classed as high risk for money laundering. Surely that is not strong enough. We will talk more about money laundering shortly. Why do we not say outright that the UK should not consider any such jurisdiction as equivalent until it is no longer considered a high-risk location for money laundering?

New article 48A of the regulation gives significant powers to the Treasury to impose additional requirements on third-country firms, but there are no details of what those requirements might be. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister said a bit more about that.

The amendments to article 49 of the regulation mean that it no longer says that the FCA “shall withdraw” recognition in circumstances where a country’s firms have acted in a manner clearly prejudicial to the interests of investors, but only that it “may withdraw”. Again, if someone has acted in a manner clearly prejudicial to the interests of investors or to the orderly functioning of markets, having seriously infringed provisions and requirements, that looks like a softening of our stance and I am not quite clear why we would want to do that.

Finally, what is the rationale for exempting rules made under MiFIR from the action for damages provisions of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000? Is that not an important consumer right? I am sorry, that was quite detailed, but it looks as if there is some loosening here of what we might do when people are breaking the rules or when countries are at high risk of money laundering, and that does not seem to me to be the right direction of travel.

Photo of John Glen John Glen Minister of State (Treasury) (City), The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 9:45, 1 December 2020

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his comments. He raises a number of specific points around drafting, and if there is anything that I cannot answer, I shall write to him today.

On the first point, the FCA needs to register overseas firms, which will give the right oversight, and also needs to monitor the overseas framework on an ongoing basis. From June 2021, the EU will be able to assess the UK and treat UK firms under a new regime. These changes are necessary to ensure that the Treasury is well equipped to assess the EU and that the FCA can exercise the appropriate level of oversight over overseas investment firms operating in the UK under this regime.

The core thrust of the right hon. Gentleman’s questions relates to the apparent weakening of the UK’s position. The Treasury has not yet determined which additional requirements, if any, would apply to overseas firms; that will be done when an equivalence determination is made, after the Government have fully considered the views of the FCA and other relevant matters.

The point the right hon. Gentleman makes about protection for consumers is obviously a critical one. Firms operating on a cross-border basis under this regime are not allowed to service UK retail consumers. The regime only applies to more sophisticated professional clients such as other financial services firms. None the less, I recognise that it is clear that we need to ensure that firms that are accessing UK markets from overseas are subject to similarly robust regulatory standards to those we place on our firms at home, and these amendments will do exactly that.

The Treasury will be able to determine whether a third country has a regulatory framework that has an equivalent effect to the UK’s, meaning that we can be confident that these third-country firms are regulated to the same level as our own. For firms that do not play by the rules, it is important that we have the right mechanisms to call that out, and the FCA will be able to step in where needed to protect UK investors and the integrity of our financial system.

On the right hon. Gentleman’s last point about money laundering specifically, we need to assess a jurisdiction’s regulatory framework as equivalent. That provides a high bar for anti-money laundering risks, and that is reflected in the guidance document that I referred to earlier. I will make the general point, though, that I understand the sensitivity to this fear and anxiety around wilful divergence to have a less regulated and less secure environment. I want to put it on the record that the Government do not see the changes as a mechanism to achieve some loosening. However, we will need to take account of the new directives that the EU continues to develop without our being at the table, and we will also need to develop our own response. Even though it will not be identical, that does not mean that we will not observe the high standards.

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

I think the Minister is getting to the heart of it. I asked detailed questions, but at the core of them is this one: is there a policy intent in these little changes of words, when we transpose the regulation, to have a loosening in some way, or are those little changes almost incidental—with no policy intention to have a less rigorous regime than MiFIR proper would apply to money laundering, recognition or any of the other things that I asked about?

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

There is no intention to moderate or significantly alter the effect of the regulation. This is about doing what is necessary to ensure that we regulate the services and activities of overseas investment firms following an equivalence determination. The changes are designed to be consistent with the direction of travel that we have pursued within the EU, but making changes that are necessary for the different outcomes-based approach that we have always taken in the UK.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

Just briefly to add to the questions from my right hon. Friend, why on earth is there all this faffing about when we are having total equivalence and companies will want the rules to be the same? Is this just another obtuse obsession with sovereignty, which will cost a hell of a lot more money because we will have to have our own bespoke regime that is meant to do exactly the same thing?

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

I think the hon. Lady’s point goes back to the decision made to leave the EU and the implications of that. I recognise that we had a conversation in the previous sitting about the nature of the regimes that have been mooted as a possible solution.

I did an extensive session with the Lords EU Services Sub-Committee yesterday morning dealing with the issue of equivalence. We see this as a technical process. We have filled in several thousand pages of forms across 17 questionnaires for the EU, and it has not made those determinations, so we moved forward and made our determinations of the EU and are seeking to bring as much clarity as possible. This is another example of our bringing clarity to industry in as straightforward a way as possible, and the changes reflect that.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I praise the Minister for his diplomacy. Having been a Treasury Minister myself, I know that diplomacy is extremely important when he sits in his bivouac. Has he made any assessment of the extra red tape that he is putting on our own financial services sector by insisting, for reasons of sovereignty, on a different but hopefully equivalent route? He and I both know that the minor differences between what is allowed and what is not can turn into weaknesses and reasons for arbitrage and rule breaking if those who regulate are not extremely careful.

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

I acknowledge the hon. Lady’s deep experience in this matter and I am grateful for her empathy with the need to be diplomatic as a Treasury Minister. The measure is about extending limited supervisory powers to replicate EU powers. Her general point about the additional costs that can accrue to industry is something that we are very concerned about. We have always had within the UK a different approach to onshoring regulations, and that will continue.

FSMA 2000 gives us that outcome-based approach. When we downloaded the directives that we participated in creating in the EU and the Commission process, we always did it in our own way as per those principles. The hon. Lady’s main point is a key concern for the Government. That is why we are anxious to give assurance of continuity where it is plainly necessary and illustrate how we can do things as smoothly as possible, to minimise disruption to industry in a time of prolonged uncertainty, which I hope will come to an end soon.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 27 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.