Clause 9 - Rules relating to central counterparties and central securities depositories

Financial Services and Markets Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 25 October 2022.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

With this it will be convenient to consider clauses 10 to 12 stand part.

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

Retained EU law contains frameworks to regulate a number of entities that facilitate the proper functioning of financial markets. These entities are collectively referred to as financial market infrastructure, or FMI.

FMI helps to maintain stability in the financial services sector and performs critical functions that help make markets safer and more efficient. To establish a comprehensive FSMA model, the regulators will need the power, when retained EU law is revoked, to make rules to appropriately supervise and oversee FMI. That is provided for in the clauses that we are considering.

Clause 9 gives the Bank of England, which I will refer to as the Bank, a general rule-making power over central counterparties and central securities depositories, or CCPs and CSDs. CCPs sit between two parties to a trade and ensure that if either firm defaults on its obligations, the CCP can fulfil the firm’s trade. This reduces the possibility of contagion to the wider financial system. CSDs settle securities trades—that is, they complete the trade by transferring ownership of the assets, such as shares or bonds, between two parties.

The clause delegates the setting of regulatory standards to the Bank as the expert, operationally independent regulator. That is in line with the overall approach taken to the financial services regulators in the Bill. With the new rule-making powers provided for in the clause, the Bank will be able to adapt the regulatory regime in an agile and responsive way—for example, to take account of changing market conditions, address emerging risks or facilitate innovation. This will be accompanied by appropriate accountability arrangements that will apply to the Bank when it is exercising these new powers; we will discuss those when we get to new clauses 43 to 45.

The clause also enables the Bank to apply some or all of the domestic rulebook to overseas CCPs that are systemically important to the UK.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

Can the Minister give us an indication of whether there are existing institutions that he believes would be regarded as CCPs that are systemically important to this country? Apart from the obvious factor of the amount of business that a body does with the UK, what other factors will be taken into account when deciding whether to designate an institution in that way?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

That is a matter on which we would consult and be advised by the Bank. The Bank is the body with the expertise in this space. It would not be appropriate to try to pre-empt its views. This is an emerging area, and we have to be cognisant of how global clearing houses are developing. The UK hosts a number of the most systemic, but that market share cannot always be assured. This provision allows the regulation to follow the market share, or indeed follow the emergence of new CCPs and new clearing houses. The provision reforms the overseas framework so that the Bank has the power to apply domestic rules to CSDs and non-systemic CCPs as well.

Clause 10 provides the Bank of England with the power to direct individual CCPs and CSDs, requiring them to take action to comply with their obligations or to protect financial stability. Using this power, the Bank may either impose a new requirement or vary or cancel an existing one. The power is equivalent to those that the FCA and the Prudential Regulation Authority have under FSMA in relation to authorised firms, and it contains the same procedural safeguards. That includes, for example, a right of appeal.

Clause 12 ensures that the Bank’s regulation of CCPs and CSDs is undertaken in a way that is consistent with the wider financial services regulatory framework under FSMA. It does this by restricting the general power of direction, which the Treasury currently has over the Bank, to provide that it does not apply to its regulation of CCPs and CSDs. That is in line with the existing exemption that covers the exercise by the Bank of its functions as the prudential regulatory authority, in line with the PRA’s position as an independent regulator.

Turning to clause 11, the FCA is responsible for the supervision of certain other entities that help underpin the proper functioning of markets. Clause 11 gives the FCA general rule-making powers over two types of entity: data reporting service providers and recognised investment exchanges. Recognised investment exchanges are bodies such as the London stock exchange that are recognised by the FCA to facilitate the buying and selling of financial instruments and so help drive investment. Data reporting service providers make trade information public to help market participants make informed investment decisions. They also ensure that the FCA has the information it needs to monitor financial markets and protect against insider dealing and other forms of market abuse.

Despite their importance, both data reporting service providers and recognised investment exchanges currently sit outside the core FSMA regime, as they are largely regulated under retained EU law. To ensure that the FCA has sufficient powers to effectively regulate these entities once retained EU law is repealed, clause 11 brings them into the FSMA framework, in line with the approach taken for CCPs and CSDs in clause 9.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

On clause 9, how does the Minister think third country central counterparties and CSDs will be adequately assessed by the Bank of England for the risks they pose to the UK’s financial stability?

I also have questions on clause 12. I am not sure if the Minister wants to answer those now or to come back to them.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

I suggest that you make all your comments and then we invite the Minister to respond to all of them at the end.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury)

We support clause 12, which will empower the Treasury to give directions to the Bank where it considers it necessary in the public interest. Does the Minister not agree that such a mechanism is sufficient to direct the Bank of England when the Treasury believes it needs to do so in the public interest? Does he therefore feel that a so-called intervention power is necessary?

In our evidence sessions, which the Minister and other Members were at, we heard very clearly from the deputy governor of the Bank of England and the former chief executive of Barclays that a future intervention power would endanger financial stability and undermine the independence of the Bank of England. There were stark warnings from our witnesses. Does the Minister agree that it would be reckless to ignore that advice from the experts?

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle

I want to add to the points made by my hon. Friend on our concerns around clause 12 and the independence of the Bank of England, given that the Treasury has such significant powers over it. I refer the Minister back to the evidence given by Sheldon Mills from the FCA. He said:

“I have worked in regimes with public interest tests. I ran the mergers division at the Office of Fair Trading and the Competition and Markets Authority, and my learning from that is that, if put in place, such a test should be used exceptionally and with care, and that there should be specificity about the matters of public interest—in this case, financial services—on which it would be used.”––[Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee, 19 October 2022; c. 7, Q3.]

That is the FCA asking for specificity—it is easy for them to say—on exactly when the power would be used and when it would not be used.

Victoria Saporta from the PRA stated:

“A formulation whereby the Government can force or direct us to make or amend rules that we have already made, and that fall squarely within the statutory objectives that Parliament has given us, may be perceived as undermining operational independence and all the benefits that I talked about earlier.”––[Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee, 19 October 2022; c. 7, Q3.]

Those were really stark warnings from two of our key witnesses from the FCA and PRA, talking about the difficulties they had with this specific clause and how this could be seen as undermining their independence.

Martin Taylor went further in his evidence, when I questioned him on these intervention powers. He said:

“One of the problems that led to the recent turmoil—a very English description of what has just happened—was that the Prime Minister and the former Chancellor chose not to subject the mini-Budget to the scrutiny of the Office for Budget Responsibility.”

He continued:

“However, international investors looking at London will have noted this and it has a bad smell, if I can put it that way.”

Later, he said:

“If you were in Singapore or New York, you might be more tempted to do that than you would have been a month ago. We should not do anything else to make this worse. Everything is being done by the new Chancellor to steady the ship…but moves like this proposed measure just go in entirely the wrong direction as far as I am concerned. I think it is very dangerous.”–– [Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee, 19 October 2022; c. 76, Q149.]

Every single witness seemed to talk about the concerns they have over the level of intervention the Treasury could have over the Bank of England. I would like to hear reassurances from the Minister that he has been talking to the FCA, the other regulators and the markets about this. What reassurance can he give us that this is not HMT trying to again overrule our independent regulators?

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

Again, I fully understand the intention behind these clauses and I am not minded to move against them, but I am a bit concerned by some of the interplay between the clauses. I asked the Minister what factors he thought might be taken into account in determining that a CCP is actually a systemic third country CCP, rather than an unsystemic one.

The Bill, on lines 39 to 42 on page 13, suggests that a systemic third country CCP is

“any third country central counterparty that the Bank has determined is systemically important, or is likely to become systemically important, to the financial stability of the United Kingdom.”

The word “systemically” is doing quite a lot of work in that definition. As far as I know, there is no definition of “systemically” in this Bill, or indeed anywhere else, so I am concerned about whether the wording of the clause is tight enough that everybody, including the Bank of England, knows exactly when it can use these powers and when it cannot.

That is important because of the difference that being designated a systemic third country CCP makes. Under proposed new section 300G to the Financial Services and Markets Act, the Bank of England can exercise most of the powers

“only by the application of corresponding rules”,

according to proposed subsection (1)(a). However, proposed subsection (1)(b) says

“except in the case of systemic third country CCPs…only so far as authorised by regulations made by the Treasury.”

That seems to mean that if the Bank of England forms the view that it is dealing with a systemically important CCP, it is free to act in a way that is not explicitly permitted by Treasury regulations, whereas if the Bank decides that it is not systemically important, the ability to act becomes more restricted.

That is fair enough, until we remember that as far as we know, the Government still intend to bring in a new clause that would allow them to exercise as yet undisclosed powers to call in, revoke or overturn decisions by regulators. Are we therefore in danger of creating a position where, according to the letter of the Bill that I just read out, the Bank of England has the final decision on what is systemically important and what is not? By making that designation, the Bank acquires greater powers to act, without being specifically permitted to do so by the Treasury. However, the Treasury can overturn that, so what is the point of allowing the Bank to—in certain cases—exercise its powers without explicit regulations from the Treasury, if the Treasury can effectively overturn that anyway? There seems to be a potential contradiction there. If we think that the Bank of England is so important for maintaining financial stability that it sometimes must have the power to act without specific regulations from the Treasury, surely to goodness we will not bring in a new clause that allows the Treasury to overturn that.

I have only one other query on these clauses. Does the Minister envisage that CCPs and CSDs that are active in the UK but based overseas will be subject to a different regulatory regime to those based in the UK, or is the expectation that everybody plays by the same rules? That is not particularly clear.

Related to that, will the Minister confirm that where a CCP is based will be a factor in assessing whether it is a systemic third country CCP? Some CCPs will be based in places where we are completely comfortable with the domestic regulation, and some will be some based in places where we are not comfortable with the domestic regulation. Worryingly, there may be some based in jurisdictions where the Government think the standard of financial regulation is okay, but the rest of us think it is far short of okay. What difference, if any, will the geographical location of a jurisdiction where the CCP or CSD is based make to the way that the Treasury expects the Bank of England to act in regulating it?

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey 3:15, 25 October 2022

My questions seek some reassurance from the Minister, since I think these clauses are broadly welcome and, indeed, vital in the context of the Bill. One would not want to have this system without giving extra powers to the Bank, the Prudential Regulation Authority and the Treasury.

Problems in some of these markets can erupt suddenly and pose substantial, systemic problems. We saw it happen just a couple of weeks ago in the pensions industry with the sudden increase in gilt prices, which suddenly made a lot of the investment strategies of our defined benefit pension fund managers quite perilous. We can all commend the Bank and the regulatory authorities for taking action to try to stabilise the situation with liquidity in the pension funds. I am sure that all of us want to be content that the structures in place for dealing with these kinds of eruptions will be as implied in these three clauses.

Given the extra powers for the regulatory authorities in the Bill, will the Minister give the Committee some comfort about the extra resources that will be made available to the regulators for their extra oversight? The Bill implies that there is much more work for regulators to do across the piece, and it is very important in the vast majority of cases. I worry that they will not be given enough resource to keep a proper eye on the very fast-moving, complex, interactive system that they will be charged with regulating, keeping an eye on and, if required, intervening in, for reasons of contagion or systemic threats to that very interrelated system. If they do not catch that early enough, we know where it can end. I would appreciate some comfort from the Minister, if he can provide it, on the resourcing implications of the powers. Is he satisfied that the resources are there to do the job adequately and properly?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

I will try to respond to all the points in turn. First, in answer to the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle, clause 12 is not an intervention power. It clarifies that the power to direct is effectively removed in respect of the new regulations around CCPs. In many ways, it will give the Bank of England the independence and autonomy that the witnesses she cited sought, although in a more general context. There is a separate point, which is probably not in order for today, about the intervention power, as and when that is tabled. However, that is not the purpose of clause 12, which is a clarifying point in respect of the Bank of England.

The hon. Member for Wallasey raised the issue of resources. The Bill gives the regulators, including the Bank, powers to fund themselves using a levy. That is a stronger financial position than they are in today. The hon. Member knows that I am relatively new—that could change during the sittings of this Committee—but in all my interactions with the regulators, they have expressed themselves satisfied with the resources available to them, but we must be collectively careful about the burdens that we place on them and ensure that those are appropriate.

On the question of what is systemic and whether it is right to regulate overseas CCPs and CSDs, the thrust of what the Bill tries to achieve, and the broad thrust of the debate, is that those are precisely matters that should be decided by the operationally independent regulators in this domain. Although I and others may have views, it will be for the Bank to use its new powers—as now, and as in other domains that are in scope—in consultation with the Treasury, Parliament and others.

Photo of Peter Grant Peter Grant Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Europe), Shadow SNP Deputy Spokesperson (Treasury - Chief Secretary)

To clarify, if the Bill is enacted as it stands, does the Bank have the option to create a different regulatory regime for overseas parties than it has for those that are based in the UK, or is the intention that the same set of rules will apply regardless of where the organisation is based?

Photo of Andrew Griffith Andrew Griffith The Financial Secretary to the Treasury

If an organisation is overseas, the approach will be that the Bank, in using those powers, will defer to the overseas regulator where that is appropriate, as it does now. I would not want us to fetter the Bank. It is for the Bank to lay out how it proposes to use the powers that the Bill enables, so as to be able to make the appropriate regulation that it feels comfortable with. I think we can all agree that this is a prudent enhancement of its powers. It broadens their scope, and allows the Bank to follow the risks to this country in a CCP, wherever those may lead it.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 9 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 10 to 12 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller Conservative, Basingstoke

Before we come to the next group, could I ask the Parliamentary Private Secretary to remove the brown paper bag? It is not appropriate to have our lunch out on the side.