Financial Services and Markets Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:45 am on 27th October 2022.
Having left the EU, we have a unique opportunity to take the approach to the UK regulatory framework that most suits our markets. The Financial Services and Markets Bill is delivering on that and will support efforts to build on our historic strengths as a global financial centre. That includes developing our relationships with jurisdictions around the world, attracting investment and increasing opportunities for cross-border trade.
Mutual recognition agreements are one of the tools that the Treasury has to support the openness of the UK’s international financial services, alongside free trade agreements, financial dialogues and equivalence regimes. MRAs are international agreements that provide for recognition that the UK and another country have equivalent laws and practices in relation to particular areas of financial services and markets regulation. They are designed to reduce barriers to trade and market access between the UK and other countries. The UK is currently negotiating its first financial services mutual recognition agreement, with Switzerland.
Giving effect to MRAs, including the agreement being negotiated with Switzerland, is likely to require amendments to domestic regulation. Clause 23 therefore enables changes to be made through secondary legislation to give effect to that agreement and future financial services MRAs. That secondary legislation will be subject to the affirmative procedure, to ensure parliamentary scrutiny of the proposed changes. That will be in addition to the parliamentary scrutiny of the mutual recognition agreement that Members will be familiar with under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act 2010, known as CRaG. Parliament will, therefore—I am anticipating questions that hon. Members may raise—be able to scrutinise MRAs in the usual way before this power is used to implement the ratified agreements.
Clause 23 can be used only to implement MRAs relating to financial services, not to make broader changes to legislation or to implement any other form of international agreement. Each financial services MRA will be different, but it is anticipated that clause 23 will allow the Treasury to confer the necessary powers or impose duties on the financial services regulators to give effect to the MRA. That could include a duty to make rules on a particular matter—for example, rules governing cross-border provision of particular financial services by overseas firms.
The clause requires the Treasury to consult the relevant regulator before imposing any duties. In financial services regulation, market access between the UK and other jurisdictions is generally delivered through the UK’s equivalence framework for financial services, and the mechanisms under that framework are primarily found in retained EU law and based on the EU model of equivalence. The MRAs negotiated by the Government may in some cases go further than, or simply function differently from, those equivalent mechanisms. The clause therefore includes the power to modify the application of existing equivalence mechanisms, or to create new mechanisms to reflect what has been agreed in the relevant MRA.
Together, those provisions ensure that the UK can negotiate and deliver ambitious MRAs and implement the agreements in a timely manner that maintains the UK’s credibility in negotiating future MRAs. I therefore recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.
We support clause 23, but how does the Minister think it will help the UK to secure international trade agreements that are favourable to the UK’s financial services sector? I ask because the Government have made very little progress on securing trade deals for the City, including with the EU, which remains, as I am sure he will agree, one of our most important export markets.
We completely recognise that regulatory divergence with the EU on areas such as fintech and Solvency II will help boost our competitiveness on the world stage. However, we cannot ignore the fact that Europe will always remain an important market for our financial services sector. Last year, exports of financial services to the EU were worth more than £20 billion—I am sure that the Minister knows that—which was 33% of all UK financial services exports. I have been speaking to the sector and it is disappointed that the Government have so far failed to finalise a memorandum of understanding on regulatory corporation, or to negotiate mutual recognition with the EU of professional qualifications for our service sectors. I want to hear more about that from the Minister.
Since 2018, the value of UK financial services exports to the EU has fallen by 19% in cash terms, and very little progress has been made in securing trade deals around the world for our financial services. Will the Minister tell us how the clause will help secure important agreements with the EU? I also want to hear more from him about how he hopes it will turn around the Government’s record on boosting financial services exports.
I want to focus on parliamentary scrutiny of these changes. They are quite technical, but they could be very important, including for consumers. If we do not get them right, they could have unintended consequences for financial stability and so on, because of the range of agreements under discussion. One assumes that those negotiating the agreements have a reasonable model of what they want to achieve, but that will also be the case for those with whom we are negotiating. The context is about gaining an advantage in the international competition for financial services. Indeed, both Front Benchers have hinted at that. If we are looking for a competitive advantage and growth, that kind of struggle for an advantage has obvious implications.
Until we left the EU, much of the negotiation on the financial directives that were promulgated went on within the European Commission. The UK had a great deal of influence over how those directives were negotiated, but it did not always win out; for example, the markets in financial instruments directive was a cause of some consternation for our financial services, because it did not fit with our kind of plan. We were always the country with the largest financial services sector, and were mostly likely to be impacted by agreements and compromises that did not clearly represent our best interests. We can now hope to move back towards that position, if we can come to an agreement. However, as my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead and Kilburn said, we are constrained by the fact that a great deal of our financial services activity happened within the EU. I suspect that the divergence is likely to become greater over time. What does the Minister think would constitute a timely attempt by Government to ensure proper parliamentary scrutiny of these things? Aside, that is, from Parliament potentially debating 50 pages of extremely technical statutory instruments.
We know that the Treasury Committee will have a say, but some of the changes negotiated in these agreements with other countries may have important impacts on consumer rights, and larger number of Members of Parliament might want a say on them. Perhaps the Minister could say how he envisages the process going forward. I presume we will have some agreements—there has been a slow start. How can Parliament keep an appropriate eye on the philosophy behind the agreements, and the way in which they are going, as we diverge more from our closest partner?
I want to probe the Minister a little further. Obviously, it is a huge disappointment that we do not yet have a memorandum of understanding with the EU. Will the Minister indicate when we will have one?
The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn is right about the significance of the European Union member states as trading partners for our financial services. It remains the Government’s intention to form the closest possible relationship with those partners, and to help our financial services businesses access those markets in the most frictionless way. Both sides will have to be involved in reaching any agreement. I do not want to stray too far off the point, Dame Maria, but yesterday I met my German counterpart; Germany is probably the state with the biggest market for financial services. I hope the Committee will take that as a statement of our intent to negotiate as many agreements as possible, whether at national or EU level.
As I said, it is not the Government’s position to diverge for divergence’s sake. The hon. Members for Hampstead and Kilburn, and for Wallasey, accurately identified some of the provisions on which there may be opportunities to diverge, based simply on a different fact pattern in our financial services industries.
It is positive news that the Minister has met his German counterparts. Could he give any indication of the progress made towards a memorandum of understanding, and of when we might see one with the EU?
The hon. Lady will forgive me, but I cannot give an indication of timing. However, I will undertake to engage with the Treasury Committee, whose acting Chair is with us today, as we go through that process. To speak to the point made by the hon. Member for Wallasey, we have a diligent Treasury Committee that exercises oversight of this area. I consider it unlikely that we will suddenly procure an MRA that blindsides that Committee, and I certainly undertake to keep it informed, so that the detailed parliamentary scrutiny provided for in the Bill is adequately exercised.
I thank the Minister for giving way. Flattery will, of course, get him everywhere. Given the nature of that complex negotiation, might it be possible for him to undertake to give the Treasury Committee a heads-up on progress before agreements are made, so that we can try to ensure that we can encompass appropriate consideration in our heavy workload?
I will not fully bind the Government on that, but the hon. Lady makes a reasonable point. These are not matters of overly partisan division between us, and it would certainly be our intention to do that, so that the scrutiny under CraG, and the scrutiny required by the affirmative procedure, can be carried out, and so that the right resources can be dedicated to it.
The hon. Member for Wallasey talked about these MRAs being a struggle for advantage. There is that element to them, but another key element is that they are mutual. It is certainly not the Government’s position that they are a zero-sum game. The objective is to procure such agreements with as many different jurisdictions as possible, so that, as the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn mentioned, we can grow our sector and boost exports of not just financial services but related professional services, which the UK is extremely fortunate to have.
We now come to amendments 43 and 45, in the name of Peter Grant. Would any member of the Committee like to move them? If not, we will move on to amendment 46.