New Clause 10 - FCA recommendation to remove a self-regulatory organisation: Ministerial statement

Financial Services Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:15 pm on 3 December 2020.

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“(1) When the FCA makes a recommendation that a self-regulatory organisation be removed from Schedule 1 to the MLR pursuant to Paragraph 17 of the Oversight of Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing Supervision Regulations 2017, the Treasury must make a statement to Parliament.

(2) The statement must be made within four weeks of the recommendation being made.

(3) The statement to Parliament must set out—

(a) the Government’s response to the FCA’s recommendation;

(b) the likely impact on the sector of any action the Government is proposing to take, including—

(i) the impact of the organisation retaining its Anti-Money Laundering supervisory responsibilities if the Government decides not to remove the organisation from Schedule 1 to the MLR; and

(ii) where the Government intends to place an organisation’s Anti-Money Laundering supervisory responsibilities if it decides to remove the organisation from Schedule 1 to the MLR; and

(c) where applicable, a timescale for the removal of the self-regulatory organisation from Schedule 1 to the MLR.

(4) For the purposes of this section, “MLR” means the Money Laundering, Terrorist Financing and Transfer of Funds (Information on the Payer) Regulations 2017.”—

This new clause would require the Treasury to report to Parliament on its response to any recommendation by the FCA that an organisation have its anti-money laundering supervisory responsibilities removed, including the impact of either accepting or rejecting any such recommendation.

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Abena Oppong-Asare Abena Oppong-Asare Shadow Exchequer Secretary (Treasury) 2:30, 3 December 2020

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

New clause 10 would be good for consumers. At the same time, it would improve the ability of our crime prevention agencies to do the job that we all want them to do—namely, to crack down on criminal activity and, in this case, money laundering. Our aim in tabling the new clause was to take the opportunity offered by the Bill to address technical deficiencies in the anti-money laundering regime. Again, I hope that we will receive cross-party support for our proposal, as I believe we are all united in a desire to clamp down on money laundering.

Tackling money laundering has a strong international aspect, but the Government need to ensure that we have clear and effective anti-money laundering measures within the UK. The intergovernmental Financial Action Task Force was founded by the G7 in 1989 to design and promote policies to combat money laundering around the world. In the EU, FATF standards are implemented by way of money laundering directives, which are designed to establish a consistent regulatory environment across member states. As I said, there is clearly a strong international aspect to the work, but it is the responsibility of the UK Government to implement effective measures in this country. Implementing new clause 10 would certainly help to address that.

There are concerns about fragmentation. Indeed, that is a long-standing concern about the UK’s anti-money laundering supervisory regime. In the UK, there are, in the accountancy and legal sectors, 22 different professional bodies with responsibility for monitoring compliance by their members with anti-money laundering measures. The EU’s fourth money laundering directive made it clear that bodies that represent members of a profession may have a role in supervising and monitoring them. As I said, however, the supervisory landscape in the UK has been criticised for being highly fragmented.

In 2015, that was recognised by the Government in the “UK national risk assessment of money laundering and terrorist financing”, the first such assessment, which highlighted the challenge of having a large number of supervisory organisations. Advocacy organisations such as Transparency International, which gave evidence to our Committee a few weeks ago, have long criticised the fragmented nature of the UK’s anti-money laundering supervisory regime.

In 2018, the Government created a new office within the Financial Conduct Authority to improve standards among professional supervisory bodies—the Minister will probably mention that—but concerns have been raised about its effectiveness. For example, the Oversight of Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Terrorist Financing Supervision Regulations 2017 gave the FCA the role of ensuring that the anti-money laundering work of the professional supervisory bodies was effective. That would be done through the new office within the FCA, the Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision. The 22 professional bodies that OPBAS regulates are named in schedule 1 to the 2017 regulations.

However, a Treasury Committee report from last year, entitled “Economic Crime - Anti-money laundering supervision and sanctions implementation”, concluded that it was not clear how the Treasury would respond to an OPBAS recommendation to remove a professional body’s supervisory role. In particular, the Treasury Committee said that there was not an adequate indication of where the Treasury would move a body’s supervisory responsibilities if it was stripped of them. It concluded that the lack of preparation created a risk that a supervisor might become “too important to fail”. That is quite concerning to me. The Committee recommended that the Treasury publish within six months a detailed consideration of how it would respond to a recommendation from OPBAS.

In their “Economic Crime Plan 2019-22”, which was published in July last year, the Government committed to meeting the Treasury Committee’s recommendation by publishing

“a detailed consideration of the process for responding to an OPBAS recommendation to remove a professional body supervisor’s status as an AML/CTF supervisor, including managing changes in supervisory responsibilities, by September 2019.”

In a letter to the Chair of the Treasury Committee dated 17 October last year, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury set out in a few paragraphs the Treasury’s response to an OPBAS recommendation. The letter provided little extra information and cannot be taken to constitute the

“detailed consideration of the process” promised in the economic crime plan.

In September this year, the Royal United Services Institute noted:

“OPBAS are working with HM Treasury on designing a process in the event that a supervisor is removed from the Schedule 1 list of approved supervisors. This work is nearing completion, but has been delayed to autumn 2020 by the Covid-19 situation.”

In short, the Government committed to publishing a detailed consideration by September last year but still have not done so. It is now December 2020, so it has been more than a year.

Labour’s new clause seeks to underline the importance of the Treasury having a clear and credible response to OPBAS recommendations. For OPBAS’s role to be as effective as possible, it is crucial that its ultimate sanction must have credibility, so the Treasury must be clear of its response to a recommendation from OPBAS to remove a professional body’s supervisory responsibilities. Our new clause attempts to formalise the process of a Treasury response by committing the Government to publishing their response within four weeks of an OPBAS recommendation to remove an organisation from schedule 1. The response must make clear what the Government intend to do and, crucially, the impact of their decision either to leave an organisation on schedule 1 or to remove it.

We would welcome a commitment from the Minster today—this is my third time trying, with a third new clause—on when the Government will finally publish their

“detailed consideration of the process” for responding to OPBAS recommendations to remove a professional body supervisor from schedule 1. This is also an opportunity for the Minister to set out the Government’s intended approach to complying with the FATF standards after the end of the transition period, and whether the Government intend to meet or exceed future EU money laundering directives. For that reason, the new clause really must be added to the Bill to help the Treasury finally to meet its obligations.

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

The Government are committed to ensuring consistently high standards across the UK’s anti-money laundering supervision system, and the FCA’s Office for Professional Body Anti-Money Laundering Supervision—known as OPBAS—is a key part of that. It works with the 22 professional body supervisors to address any weaknesses identified in their supervisory responsibilities. When OPBAS has identified deficiencies in professional body supervisor oversight arrangements or practices, it has taken robust action, including by using powers of direction. OPBAS will continue to take such action with supervisors when appropriate, to ensure that consistent high standards of supervision are achieved.

Regulation 17 of the regulations that establish the role of OPBAS ensures that there is a clear route to removal if OPBAS has significant concerns about a supervisor’s effectiveness. As the hon. Lady pointed out, following the Treasury Committee’s economic crime inquiry, I wrote to the Committee to set out the process by which the Treasury would respond to a recommendation from OPBAS for such a removal. That covers each of the points that have been included in subsection (3) of the proposed new clause.

The removal of a professional body supervisor would be a highly significant decision; the Treasury would carefully consider any recommendation and, if approved, would work with other professional body supervisors, OPBAS and the statutory supervisors to ensure the continuation of anti-money laundering supervision for the affected professional body supervisor’s members. That would also require the agreement of a transition period before the removal of the professional body supervisor from schedule 1 of the money laundering regulations. It could not just be done abruptly without due recourse to what interim measures or further successor measures would need to be put in place.

It is essential that any recommendation is given due consideration and planning before a decision is announced, and the introduction of a four-week statutory deadline from the issuance of a recommendation would place that at risk. If a decision has not been reached, any enactment or publication of details of the recommendation would be inconsistent with regulation 21(2) of the OPBAS regulations, which prohibits such publication.

While any recommendation for removal would be treated with urgency by the Treasury, the length of the process would be dependent on the circumstances. We therefore believe that it would be wrong for a statutory deadline to be placed on reaching an effective outcome. In the event of OPBAS’s recommending the removal of a professional body supervisor, a notice would be placed on once a decision on removal had been reached and, if necessary, plans would be agreed for the transition of affected businesses. I therefore ask the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East and the hon. Members for Erith and Thamesmead and for Manchester, Withington not to press the new clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.