Clause 13 - Testing of FMI technologies or practices

Financial Services and Markets Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:15 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 discuss the following:

That schedule 4 be the Fourth schedule to the Bill.

Amendment 38, in clause 14, page 19, line 35, at end insert—

“(d) the views of the appropriate regulator in response to the consultation mentioned in subsection (5).”

This amendment would ensure that the views of the relevant regulator are included in any Treasury reports on FMI sandbox arrangements.

Clauses 14 to 17 stand part.

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

Clauses 13 to 17, along with schedule 4, enable the Treasury to set up financial market infrastructure sandboxes. One of the objectives of the Bill is to harness the opportunities of innovative technologies that could disrupt financial services. This is especially important for FMIs, which play an important role in providing the networks and services that underpin financial markets. However, there are currently barriers and ambiguities in legislation that prevent firms from using certain new technologies in FMIs or that prevent the benefit of new technologies from being fully realised.

An FMI sandbox is a safe testing environment that will help address this issue by providing temporary modifications to legislation to participating firms where existing legislation does not accommodate a new technology or practice. Those firms can then test and adopt innovative new FMI propositions while being subject to restrictions on their activities and close oversight from regulators. The provision in these clauses will allow the Treasury to set up FMI sandboxes, and I will now set out what each clause does specifically.

Clause 13 will allow the Treasury to set up an FMI sandbox via a negative statutory instrument that will set out the type of firms that are allowed to participate in a sandbox, the activities they can conduct, the temporary modifications to legislation that will be applied to participants, and the duration of the sandbox. Schedule 4 includes an illustrative list of provisions that could be included in a statutory instrument setting up an FMI sandbox, in order to provide guidance regarding how the powers are intended to be used.

To facilitate parliamentary scrutiny, clause 14 requires the Treasury to prepare and publish a report to be laid before Parliament on the arrangements for each FMI sandbox that is created under clause 13, having consulted the regulators. This will include an assessment of the effectiveness and/or efficiency of the FMI sandbox and how the Treasury intends to make permanent changes to the legislation.

Amendment 38 would explicitly require the Treasury to publish the detailed views given by the FCA and the Bank in response to the consultation. The Treasury is committed to ensuring that the regulator’s views are fully taken into account and represented fairly when any permanent changes are intended to be made to legislation. However, it is essential that during this engagement, regulators are able to express their views candidly, particularly about specific participants, and share commercially or market-sensitive information. It would not be appropriate for that to be published. I therefore hope that the hon. Members for Glenrothes and for West Dunbartonshire will not press their amendment to a vote.

Clause 15 will allow the Treasury to make permanent changes to the relevant legislation based on the outcomes of a sandbox on an ongoing basis. Clause 17 sets out the relevant legislation in more detail. As an FMI sandbox will be designed to test the right regulatory approach to new technologies, clause 15 enables the Treasury to legislate to set different requirements from those within the sandbox. This will ensure that if risks or unintended consequences are identified during the sandbox, these can be appropriately reflected in ongoing legislative changes. Where the Treasury proposes amending primary legislation, the Bill requires that the affirmative procedure is used. Where the legislation being amended is not itself primary, a negative procedure will be used instead. This is to ensure that Parliament gives the greatest scrutiny to the legislative changes that are the most significant—in other words, those that fall within primary legislation.

Clause 16 is intended to enable the Treasury to confer powers on the regulators as part of any statutory instrument setting up a sandbox, so that they are able to operate a sandbox effectively. It also sets out who the Treasury needs to consult before exercising the powers in clauses 13 and 15.

Finally, clause 17 sets out how the various terms and concepts used in the FMI sandbox clauses are to be interpreted. It includes a list of legislation that the Treasury is able to temporarily modify for firms participating in a sandbox, which provides an important constraint on the scope of the Treasury’s powers in relation to the FMI sandbox in the Bill. The Treasury is able to add to the list of legislation via a statutory instrument by using the affirmative procedure to ensure parliamentary scrutiny if the Treasury wishes to bring further legislation into the scope of a sandbox. To summarise, the measure will be a hugely valuable way for financial markets to innovate and enable industry regulators and the Government to learn and change in response to practical experience. For those reasons, I recommend that clauses 13 to 17, and schedule 4, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Tulip Siddiq Tulip Siddiq Shadow Minister (Treasury) 3:30, 25 October 2022

We strongly support the clauses. A sandbox for financial markets infrastructure will support innovations in the fintech sector, such as developments in blockchain, which has the potential to boost the transparency and productivity of the UK’s financial services. Could he please explain, however, whether clause 13 gives sufficient flexibility for the sandboxes to be used to support innovation in a wide range of financial technologies? The Bill says that sandboxing testing will occur “for a limited period”. Will the Minister further define that and set out the minimum timescales that he believes are necessary to adequately test a new innovation in financial technology?

On clause 14 and the reports on FMI sandboxes, which criteria will be used in the reporting of sandboxes, so that Parliament can transparently assess their effectiveness in safely supporting innovation? On clause 16, which sets out that prior to conferring such a power, HM Treasury must consult “the appropriate regulators” or such persons that it considers appropriate. Will the Minister please share his understanding of the definition of “consultation”? Which stakeholders would have to be consulted, and what is the estimated timeframe for such a consultation?

Clause 17 provides the Treasury with a power to amend the list of relevant enactments by way of the affirmative statutory instrument procedure. Will the Minister elaborate on how he sees that working in practice? Would every individual amendment to the list of relevant enactments be brought before the House for scrutiny? I presume so, but I want to have that on the record.

Photo of Shaun Bailey Shaun Bailey Conservative, West Bromwich West

The provisions in clauses 13 to 17 are incredibly welcome, because we are dealing with a financial services landscape that is constantly innovating and changing. I should declare that prior to becoming a Member of Parliament, I worked for the legal team at a major big seven bank and saw these developments as part of my role there. The provisions are very important because they will ensure that, as the fintech sector continues to develop and the regulatory framework continues to advance and change, they can do so within the perimeters of the sandbox arrangement introduced by the Government.

I particularly welcome the clause 16 provisions on consulting regulators, and the fact that there is going to be a discourse with them. We cannot cut regulators out of the conversation. The clauses do not seek to do that, but the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn was right to raise queries. We need a bit more clarity on what the consultation will look like. I fully appreciate that it is not always possible to give instant clarity when introducing primary legislation, but it will clearly be incumbent on the Treasury to ensure that, as the process progresses, His Majesty’s Government are as transparent as possible about what the consultation will look like.

We should remind ourselves that the practical application of the clauses will change and develop as the landscape itself develops, because that is the subject matter that we are dealing with. On clause 16, with respect to the development and work with regulators, I urge my hon. Friend the Minister not to forget the important role that lawtech plays in the regulation and monitoring of a lot of the instruments that will be part of the sandbox regime. It is often not talked about, but fintech and lawtech work hand in hand, side by side, particularly in this financial services sector.

I support the clauses; they are the right thing to do. As hon. Members on both sides of the Committee have articulated, they allow not only the financial services sector to innovate and develop, but the regulation to be developed in tandem with them. I would, however, welcome clarity from my hon. Friend the Minister on the what the practical applications will look like, particularly as we build that framework.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

I do not want to be the fly in the ointment, but I would like some assurances from the Minister about the FMI sandboxes. The Clifford Chance briefing notes that

“the FSMA Bill permits HM Treasury to allow broad participation in FMI sandboxes which in practice could include FMI providers, and participants in these systems as well as, conceivably, unregulated service providers such as technology companies and any other person that HM Treasury specifies.”

I am looking for an assurance from the Minister and his civil service team on the notion of unregulated service providers having access to the FMI sandbox. It seems that the EU pilot regime is far more limited in its multilateral trading facilities and securities settlement systems, and that it makes no mention of recognised investment exchanges or any other persons. It is not, therefore, making itself a hostage to fortune with its pilot system. Could the Minister and his team provide reassurance on the broad scope of innovation that they seem to be going for?

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

I find myself rising to try to elaborate on the important points that have been made. I do not think that anyone would argue against the need to think very carefully about how to pilot—or sandbox, to use the jargon—the very rapid development and potential of what is happening. It is also important in the context of financial market infrastructure.

Certain infrastructures in our financial system are really old. One need only consider how long it took to get the bank clearing process vaguely up to date to understand the importance of modernising infrastructures. I do not think that anyone would object to an attempt to come up with a structure that tests activities, which is what these clauses do.

The Minister, however, has not provided any detail on issues such as risk mitigation; whether parallel sandboxes involving similar infrastructures will be developed, almost in competition with each other; whether this will happen in just one area; or how the powers will be used to test whether potential infrastructures might be worth using. Could he add a little more colour to how he sees those things happening? How big will the sandboxes be? How long will they be allowed to continue? The Minister is grinning because this is the kind of detail that an enabling Bill does not contain, but it might be quite important.

Testing regimes in other areas are sometimes very limited. I would be worried if we had an unlimited testing system running for a long period, allowing unregulated organisations in, perhaps running in parallel with each other. If that is what the Minister is suggesting, I would be worried. If he is suggesting something much more minor and limited, to see whether the technology works and whether people can interact with it to redesign the way in which websites work, I would be less worried.

Photo of Martin Docherty Martin Docherty Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Industries of the Future and Blockchain Technologies), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Foreign Affairs Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Defence Team Member), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (PPS to the Westminster Leader)

I am delighted that the hon. Lady has allowed me to intervene. The technology is not new, and that is what concerns me in relation to a lot of the debate on the Bill. There is nothing new under the sun about a lot of the technology, which underpins sandboxes, cryptocurrency and so on, that we are talking about. It just seems that a lot of the terminology takes over the substance of the issue that we are discussing.

Photo of Angela Eagle Angela Eagle Labour, Wallasey

That is true. Blockchain has certainly been around for quite a while. Its use has implications for transparency and for the levels of employment that there might be in the old, more bureaucratic banks.

What would be the use of artificial intelligence in trying to decide how automated these things could become? Would there be worries about over-automation? How would that be looked at in terms of regulation? How open are we going to be about the way in which AI is applied and how it might evolve in ways that might embed discrimination such that we get a system where certain people may be discriminated against and excluded? There are a range of issues that need to be tested in these kinds of environments. It is hard to do that under a negative resolution procedure. I take the Minister’s point, however, about affirmative resolutions. If one of these things worked during the trial period, was issued and became permanent, it is important, as the Minister has said, that any changes are subject to affirmative regulation.

There are a whole load of black boxes in the Bill that we might need to debate further. Could the Minister give us more colour on whether there will be parallel sandboxes, on transparency on what will be used and how it will be compiled, and on how large the sandboxes will be in terms of money on the exchanges or turnover, or however he wants to put it. Then we could consider whether risk is being mitigated and how we can develop a system using trundling and analogue legislation, if I may put it that way, in an environment where innovation is digital and rapid.

I understand what the Minister is trying to do, but this Parliament must still be aware that we need to be on top of the detail of this Bill, rather than just passing shells of enabling legislation that do not give us enough of a handle on what is intended.

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

Thank you, Dame Maria, for clarifying earlier that we are talking about sandboxes, not sandwich boxes. Some Members seem to have been a bit confused about that. I am intrigued by the use of the term “sandbox”. To me, a sandbox can be a road safety feature: it is literally a gravel or sand pit on a bad bend in the road to allow someone who loses control to get off the road safely. Alternatively, a sandbox is something that any cat owner will be familiar with. I am genuinely intrigued as to which of those metaphors somebody thought was appropriate for what we are discussing.

The principle behind these measures is absolutely sound. By this time next year, new practices in financial services will have evolved that none of us can begin to imagine just now. That is how things are moving. I take the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for West Dunbartonshire that the technology itself has not significantly changed—it is certainly not new—but the way in which people will use the technology is. The kinds of products that people will start to devise may well mean that existing regulatory practices need to be changed very quickly. The idea of being allowed to pilot something that is genuinely new in a safe space before letting it loose on the wider world is absolutely correct in my view. However, the devil, of course, is in the detail.

I am a bit concerned that the first in this group of clauses says that the purpose of the sandbox will be to test

“for a limited period, the efficiency or effectiveness of the carrying on of FMI activities”.

It does not say that one of the purposes is to test the effectiveness of any regulation that may go with it, which concerns me. Obviously, if someone knows that the activity they are carrying out in a sandbox will be looked at very carefully, they are going to behave themselves. How can we be sure that as well as being effective, it will work for the purposes of the providers? How do we know that the regulation that goes with it will also be effective? Again, that has to be effective as soon as the thing goes live. We cannot wait and regulate it effectively a few weeks later, because it will be far too late by then.

I hear the Minister’s comments on amendment 38. That is not my reading of its wording; it certainly was not intended, and I would not interpret it as saying that the precise wording that the regulator sent back to the Treasury has to be replicated in its entirety. If that is genuinely the only issue, I am minded to withdraw the amendment and bring it back with a slightly different wording at a later stage. If we did not put that in, think of where it would leave us: with the possibility that we could be asked to agree to the extension or the permanent implementation of a set of financial practices when we would not get to see what the regulator thinks of them during the test period. The Treasury would, but it would not have to pay any attention to them.

There have been instances recently where other Government Departments have completely ignored the strongly declared views of regulators elsewhere. We could have a position where the regulator says to the Treasury, “We don’t think we can regulate this properly just now,” and for its own reasons the Treasury decides to go ahead. We, as Members of Parliament, would be given the opportunity to vote on an affirmative motion, but we would not be told what the regulator is saying. I know that we will get assurances from the Minister that that would never happen, but if the law allows it to happen, my concern is that sooner or later it will. I will not push amendment 38 to a vote today, but I hope that something similar that deals with the concerns raised by the Minister and clarifies the wording will be brought forward; otherwise, the affirmative procedure does not carry the reassurance that it needs to.

I have a couple of queries on other parts of the clauses. Clause 15 appears to say that, having gone through the process of setting up a sandbox, the Treasury can decide to implement it wholesale without waiting for the end of the pilot process. Why would someone set up a pilot process to test something if they then needed the power to implement it wholesale without necessarily waiting for the end of the pilot? If that is not the intention behind the wording of the clause, I am sure the Minister will put me right. I am never happy, as I have mentioned, with the likes of clause 15(4), which allows regulations to be made that change primary legislation to an Act of Parliament. I can take a bit of comfort from the fact that this case is covered by the affirmative rather than the negative procedure. If Members do not have full information on how the pilot was assessed, they will not be able to make an informed decision on whether to support a vote under the affirmative procedure; if it is not an informed decision, it is unlikely to be a good decision.

Following those remarks, I will not ask the Committee to divide on any of the clauses. I have concerns about the wording of some of them, and I hope that in not pressing amendment 38 the Minister might see fit to bring in something similar that achieves his intent a bit more clearly at a later stage in the passage of the Bill.

Photo of Emma Hardy Emma Hardy Labour, Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle 3:45, 25 October 2022

In relation to the sandboxes, and particularly in relation to clause 14, I draw hon. Members’ attention to the written evidence submitted by Spotlight on Corruption—in particular, if anyone wants to read along with me, paragraph 12. The recommendation from Spotlight on Corruption is that the Government should update their regulatory impact assessment

“to ensure that an analysis of the economic crime risks is included as part of the evidence base in each assessment.”

That seems incredibly good and sensible advice. As part of the way someone assesses how effective these sandboxes are, they could look at the potential economic crime risks. Spotlight on Corruption goes on to say that the RIAs should

“include a standalone ‘economic crime risks associated with this intervention’ section based on both quantitative and qualitative indicators. It should also include an assessment of the costs/benefits, and wider impacts as well as establishing how the Treasury intends to monitor and evaluate risks after the regulations come into place.”

If we are going to produce a report on how effective this measure is, one of the key things that I think we can all agree on is the need to look at economic crime. Although I have not tabled an amendment to that effect today, I hope that the Minister will look at the issue seriously and perhaps it is something we can return to on Report.

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

I thank the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn for her party’s support for these measures, which I hope will be a useful addition to the financial services industry.

I will try to answer some of the questions. By their very nature, there is a discomforting element to trying to create safe spaces for innovation. Let me reassure the Committee that all the existing safeguards, whether they relate to economic crime or to consumer protection duties, relate to any changes that are, as it were, released into the wild after the period of experimentation. There is no attempt to create a back door or any diminution in the high quality of financial regulation throughout.

The overall level of scrutiny for this House was raised by the hon. Member for Wallasey. The statutory instrument would be laid in respect of each potential use of the sandbox. It would not be right for me to fetter whether that will be used in serial or in parallel, so we have to contemplate that there could be multiple sandboxes operating in some really quite separate domains at any one point in time. I do not think that would be a bad thing. In many ways, the test of this legislation’s success is that the sandbox is indeed used, and within that process we should contemplate that many of those pilots should fail, just as many should succeed; that is the nature of risk and innovation.

That statutory instrument would set out what categories are in scope of the sandbox, what sort of securities or products are included within it, traded or settled, the platform involved and what limitations there would be. There was a question about the minimum period of time. That would all be laid out in response to the individual applicant to use the sandbox, so that would be determined, and it would be reviewed by the regulators as part of the process of the Treasury laying the statutory instrument. It could well include any additional regulatory oversight, and the important issue of economic crime and prevention. However, to be clear, that is not the Government’s intention, nor would it be looked on favourably if anyone attempted to use that to create back doors for economic crime. The level of scrutiny of any pilot in a sandbox is generally higher than the level of scrutiny intervention from regulators in general.

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

I do not think that the evidence submitted by Spotlight on Corruption in any way implied that it would be the Government’s intention for these sandboxes to bring about economic crime. However, I think we all accept that economic crime is on the rise. Spotlight on Corruption specifically asks for it to be stipulated that the associated economic crime risks are looked at as part of the report into sandboxes. I would be grateful if the Minister could take that point away to consider further.

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

I am very happy to take that point away and, if appropriate, I will write to the hon. Lady in response. The construct of regulation in this space is that we have a level of trust in our operationally independent regulators, and prevention of crime and of harm to consumers is at the core of the regulatory structure. She should have some comfort that that issue would not be overlooked.

I will try to give a little bit of colour regarding the intention to use the sandbox. It is the Government’s intention that the sandboxes be used rapidly after Royal Assent; indeed, consultations on the matter have already indicated a strong appetite for things such as the use of distributed ledger technology, both for settlement and for other aspects of the financial regime. Those things would be seen by the Government as an enhancement in many respects—whether dealing with settlement risk, credit risk or the speed of transactions. That is an example of the sort of use case that we would expect to be brought forward.

We talked about the regulatory outcome. The relationship with regulators was one of the first points raised. The Bill contains a provision to ensure that the regulators’ views are taken into account. The regulators will, de facto, have a very strong level of scope. Although we would not want to cut off participants by virtue of not being authorised—that would be to cut ourselves off from a source of potential innovation—it is expected that any participant would have had interaction with the regulators prior to entering a sandbox. As some hon. Members know, the regulators interact intensively with bodies such as the Treasury Committee, which we would expect to have a heightened level of interest in these matters.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 4 agreed to.

Clauses 14 to 17 ordered to stand part of the Bill.