New Clause 4 - Strategy for financial services

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 3 December 2020.

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“(1) The Treasury must prepare and publish a report on the Government’s strategy for financial services after the UK has left the European Union.

(2) The report should include statements on the Government’s proposed approach to—

(a) regulation of the sector;

(b) market access for overseas firms;

(c) competitiveness of the sector; and

(d) the environmental, social and governance objectives for the sector.

(3) The report must be published within 6 months of the passage of this Act.”—

This new clause would require the Treasury to produce a report on the Government’s post Brexit strategy for financial services.

Brought up, and read the First time.

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

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

We are by definition entering a new world for UK financial services. Whether it is a brave new world, I do not know, but it is a new world. The measures in the Bill are a small part of that. We are onshoring EU regulations and, although we will still be part of globally agreed standards such as the Basel regime, we will have to decide what future we want in this sector. As the Minister has advised us several times, we should not see the Bill as the totality of what the Government are doing in financial services. There will be a future regulatory review, and there might even be future Bills, so this is one part of the picture. That creates difficulty for the sector, and perhaps for us, in trying to divine where we are going.

That is important because the UK has possibly the most globally significant financial sector of any country in the world. We learned the hard way what the risks of that were in the financial crisis, when the sector ran into trouble. However, the converse is that if the sector is properly regulated, if it pays its way in terms of its taxation contribution, its contribution to innovation, its capacity to bring inward investment to the country and the employment it provides, and if it is properly run, it can also be a huge advantage for the UK. The new clause asks the Government to pull all of that together and take the pipeline of changes that they have in mind, together with the new context, and produce a strategy that gives clarity to the sector, the public and Parliament about where we are going.

That is not particularly unusual for the Government. They do that for other sectors. In the automotive sector, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy has the Automotive Council UK, which brings together different players in the industry and looks at everything from supply chains and skills to inward investment. Over the years, it has played its part. The last couple of years have been pretty rocky, for reasons that we all know about, but up until then the UK had a growing, successful automotive industry. We were producing more and more cars each year, and we were very successful at winning inward investment.

If we take the parallel of financial services, there is plenty that such a strategy could cover. To name just a few obvious areas, we have a growing FinTech sector in the UK, which we want to succeed. It is doing more innovation, and we might hear more about that later. We have the development of cryptocurrencies, and it is in the public interest that we have a greater understanding of what that phenomenon is and what it means for investors, consumers and so on.

We have the green finance debate, which we have discussed a number of times over the past couple of weeks. If we really want the UK to be the leading force in green finance over the coming decades, what do we need to do to ensure that that is the case? We have also had an ongoing debate for some years about competition and about the challenges of getting new banking players into the UK market, which is, at the retail level, dominated by four or five high street names that account for the vast majority—90%-plus—of current accounts, deposits, savings and so on.

Then we have more difficult issues, which we have touched on, such as money laundering, fraud and so on. They are an ongoing challenge, and we will be talking more about them later this afternoon. There are probably a lot more, but those are the kinds of things that a financial services strategy might cover.

There is also the regulatory approach. Now that we are no longer going to be part of a common European rulebook, what is the philosophy behind the rulebook that we will have? What will it say to assure people that there will not be a race to the bottom? What will it say on capital to get the balance right between allowing innovation and protecting consumers from organisations that do not have enough resilience? Would there, for example, be a shift away from the traditional British strong focus on property investment to more investment in research, development, manufacturing technology and small business lending? That has been a constant theme. There is nothing partisan about it. There are many strong voices in the Conservative party as well as the Labour party speaking up for small businesses and raising the difficulties with lending and so on. That is also something that could be governed.

We spoke about the environmental, social and governance agenda. The Minister has been resistant to all our amendments on that. All the votes are on the record—we have had three or four of them. The Government do not want anything added to the Bill on environmental sustainability or anything like that. I have also said several times that the ESG agenda is really important for the UK, and the Government have said, at least in rhetorical terms, that they believe the same thing, so exactly how would it be advanced if not in the ways that we have tried to suggest—through the various amendments we have tabled to the Bill?

We have a lot of rebuilding to do as we recover from this pandemic. Many people have described it as a great acceleration in trends. There will be job losses, as the Chancellor tells us, and business closures. Many of the behavioural changes that we have seen in how people live, work and purchase things are likely to stay for a long time. A differently shaped day-to-day economy will emerge from this. Financial services will have a huge role to play in that, and Treasury Ministers will quite rightly want to say something about it.

How will that be received by the sector? We heard in oral evidence that such a strategy would be welcomed by the sector, and we might even call this the TheCityUK new clause, because it has called for such a such a strategy. The new clause could link together all these things—the Bill, the future regulatory framework, the pipeline of legislation—with some of the issues that I outlined. We all want the UK to succeed in this sector and to succeed in the future. We have done this elsewhere through the Automotive Council UK, and there is every reason why we should want to do this for our world-leading financial services industry.

Photo of Alison Thewliss Alison Thewliss Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Treasury) 12:00, 3 December 2020

I very much support what the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East says. It is important that we look at this in the round, and particularly at the newer technologies coming into force that we will need as part of our economy going forward.

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

I very much appreciate the sentiment behind the new clause. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East set out all the different areas of focus involved in financial services, taking me through all our different calls for evidence and ongoing pieces of work—there are a number of others, too. However, the new clause is unnecessary.

Only a few weeks ago, the Chancellor made a statement to Parliament on the future of the UK financial services sector. Indeed, Miles Celic from TheCityUK described it as an “ambitious vision” for financial services. Across the range of different elements that the right hon. Gentleman set out, a lot of activity is ongoing. Indeed, a number of consultations are out at the moment. As the Chancellor stated, we are at the start of a new chapter for the industry, and our having an open, green and technologically advanced industry that serves the consumers, communities and citizens of this country and builds on our existing strengths, including our world-leading regulatory system and standards, was the essence of that vision. The UK will remain the most open and competitive place for financial services in the world by prioritising stability, openness and transparency.

The Chancellor set out new proposals to extend our leadership in green finance, including by taking the key step of introducing mandatory requirements for firms to disclose their climate-related risks within five years, making the UK the first country to go beyond the “comply or explain” principle. He also announced plans to implement a green taxonomy and, subject to market conditions, to issue the UK’s first ever sovereign green bond next year. He set out his intention that the UK will remain at the forefront of technological innovation, to provide better outcomes for consumers and businesses.

The UK’s position as a global and open financial services centre will be underpinned by a first-class regulatory system that works for UK markets. The Government already have several reviews under way, including the future regulatory framework review and the call for evidence on Solvency II, to highlight two. We also have the FinTech review, which will report early in the new year. That is the Government’s strategy for financial services now that we have left the European Union.

I hope that I could not be accused, as the City Minister, of being unwilling to come before the House to provide updates on the Government’s work relating to financial services, whether in the Chamber, Select Committees—I think I have made about 12 appearances now—or in Westminster Hall, or of doing that infrequently. The Chancellor and I will continue to provide updates at the appropriate times in the normal way.

Having considered the issue carefully, I ask the right hon. Gentleman to withdraw the new clause.

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

The Minister is right to refer to the Chancellor’s statement on 9 November, which was called a vision. While it touched on the green finance things the Minister mentioned, it did not touch on many of the things that I mentioned. He is also right to say that lots of reviews are going on. While it may be unfair to say that that is the problem, there is nothing that really brings them together with clarity about where we are going. I will not press the new clause to a vote today, but we may return to it, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.