Financial Services and Markets Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 27th October 2022.
It is a pleasure to see you in the Chair, Dame Maria, and to serve under your chairmanship. I would again guide the Committee to my entry in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
For many of us, chapter 3 of the Bill is hugely important because it looks at the accountability of regulators. As the Bill could hugely increase their powers, the themes that many of us explored during the evidence session—of transparency, accountability and proportionality—are fundamental. Clause 24 deals with the secondary objective. Regulation and regulatory culture are some of the biggest factors affecting the competitiveness and attractiveness of a jurisdiction.
This is not about a race to the bottom. Any jurisdiction that is not well respected and well regulated, with tough regulation and an independent regulator, will fail on the international stage. It is about ensuring the regulator’s accountability, particularly for the objective. We heard evidence from major City trade organisations last week, and Emma Reynolds from TheCityUK said to us:
“it is important that the regulators are not marking their own homework”––[Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee,
Charlotte Clark from the Association of British Insurers made a similar point.
It is clear that there is a track record, but we must make sure that the regulators stay on track and are held to their duty regarding the new secondary objective. Amendments 46 and 47, which are fairly simple, would change “facilitating” to “promoting”. Facilitating almost implies letting something happen, perhaps through disregard. There should be active promotion of the secondary objective to remain internationally competitive. Internationally, we would not be alone in taking such action. The Swiss Financial Market Supervisory Authority is required to take particular account of the effect that regulation has on competition, innovation and the international competitiveness of Switzerland. There is a very similar objective for the Monetary Authority of Singapore, and no one anywhere will suggest that those are not well regulated, competitive international markets.
London trade bodies, such as the London Market Group, suggest that in the UK, some regulatory costs are up to 14 times what they are in other places around the world. When we look at the one-size-fits-all approach sometimes taken by the Financial Conduct Authority, it is clear that a distinction needs to be drawn. If we are not careful, the objective could be subsumed in others and forgotten. If we want London to be the global financial centre, we should have regard to the secondary objective. I want the Bill to set out more clearly regulators’ accountability for this objective, the intention, and regulators’ role regarding the objective.
As ever, it is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Dame Maria. I refer to my interest, which I declared at the start of Committee proceedings. I welcome the Bill, and particularly clause 24 because of its competitiveness duty, for which I have campaigned for quite some time. I would prefer it to be a primary objective, and perhaps the Minister will look into that, but if we keep it in its current form, then we have to go further for it to be meaningful. There must be proper metrics to ensure that the regulator follows up on it. For that reason, I support the amendments put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon.
In the evidence sessions, I was surprised to hear that the FCA was not aware of any other regulator that had a competitiveness duty. That is quite worrying. It seemed slightly detached from what our competitors are doing. We need to ensure that the FCA is pressed hard on this issue, and that there is a clear, stated objective for them to promote competitiveness in the industry. To be clear, this is not at all about lowering standards. The FCA said in its evidence that it considers jurisdictions such as Hong Kong, Japan, Singapore and Australia to be robust financial centres. They all have a competitiveness duty, so a duty of that kind can be beneficial.
Let me put this into context by giving the example of insurance-linked securities. The FCA created regulations regarding them, which Singapore then lifted—took and used. Because of Singapore’s competitiveness duty, we lost one firm midway through the process. In the same timeframe, 15 firms have been regulated there, against five in this country. The estimated loss is around $700 million. That is money out of our economy that could come our way with just this simple change.
There is a similar story on captives. We do not have any set up here. The reason cited is over-burdensome regulation. The industry agrees that there needs to be regulation, but it needs to be proportionate, and we need to ensure that it does not block investment in this country. I hope the Minister will consider the amendments and see what can be done to strengthen the measures.
I approve completely of having a competitiveness and effective competition analysis duty being attached to the regulators, and for them to report on it annually, which would allow us to see how much they are taking account of it. I would also like them to be thinking about financial inclusion, but that comes later in our proceedings.
Will the Minister tease out a little for the Committee how he thinks the regulator can go about discharging that duty safely? We have seen some of the carnage caused by bad regulation in the energy sector, where a superficial view of competition has led to problems in that market, with companies collapsing. There is an obsession with the idea that competition is about the number of firms, whether or not they are sound. If something similar were to happen in this context, it could be even more serious and even more costly. I broadly support the aims of clause 24, but would welcome the Minister’s thoughts on how the problems and the bad effects in the energy market caused by the regulator’s misguided attempts to prove that there was competition—the trap of thinking that competition is just about the number of firms—can be avoided in this context.
I will speak to clause 24. I was going to speak to amendment 43, but it has not been moved.
We strongly welcome clause 24. We are completely committed to supporting the City to retain its competitiveness on the world stage and we support the new secondary objective for regulators to consider competitiveness and growth. However, I hope the Minister will agree that financial stability and consumer protection must always remain the priority for our regulators. Any compromise on those important objectives would be self-defeating. The competitiveness and global reputation of the City depends on the UK’s reputation for strong regulatory standards.
Although supporting the financial services sector to thrive and grow will be key to delivering the tax receipts that we need to fund public services, it will not be enough. To get the economy growing, the Minister knows that we need to harness the power of the City to drive growth in every part of the economy and the country. The financial services sector will have to play an important role in driving our transition to a low-carbon economy and creating the green jobs and businesses of the future. Perhaps the most interesting part of the new secondary objective is how our regulatory system can incentivise medium and long-term growth beyond the financial services sector in the wider economy.
I want to talk about the legislation. Regulators are currently mandated to report progress against their objectives to the Treasury via their annual reports, but I want the Minister to set out how regulators will be held to account specifically on how they have considered medium and long-term growth in the so-called real economy. What metrics does the Minister anticipate will be used to assess such progress or lack of progress? The hon. Member for Wimbledon referred to TheCityUK, which called in its written evidence to the Committee for the elected Government and parliamentarians to be given greater powers in the Bill to require regulators to report their performance against specific criteria and metrics. That could include—this is my example, not that of TheCityUK—metrics on how the PRA and FCA’s regulatory activity has considered the need for sustainable investment in the UK economy in sectors beyond the financial sector. Has the Minister considered TheCityUK’s suggestion, and does he believe it could be an effective way to hold regulators to account on their objective to consider medium and long-term growth in the UK economy?
I thank my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon and for North Warwickshire for raising some important matters, and those on the Opposition Front Bench for their support for clause 24. They clearly speak with a great deal of authority from their own experience, and the Government will take away their points and consider them further. Let me describe the clause, and then I will try to come back to the points that have been made.
The Bill asserts our domestic model of financial services regulation, whereby the Government and Parliament set a policy framework within which the regulators are generally responsible for setting the detailed rules. It is therefore necessary to ensure that the regulators’ objectives, as set out in the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, are appropriate, given their expanded responsibility and the UK’s position outside the EU. The Government believe that the regulators’ current objectives set broadly the right strategic considerations, but we also consider it right that the regulators’ objectives reflect the need to support the growth and international competitive-ness of the UK economy, particularly the financial services sector. I welcome Members’ support for that.
The clause introduces new secondary objectives for the FCA and PRA in relation to growth and competitiveness. The new objectives will require the FCA and PRA to act in a way that, subject to aligning with relevant international standards, facilitates the international competitiveness of the UK economy, including the financial services sector, and its growth in the medium to long term. For the FCA, that objective will be secondary to its strategic objective to ensure that markets function well—I believe the hon. Member for Wallasey mentioned the importance of that, which is clearly paramount—and to its three operational objectives, which sit below the strategic objective, to ensure that consumers receive appropriate protection, to protect and enhance the integrity of the financial system, and to promote effective competition. Again, the hon. Member for Wallasey mentioned financial inclusion, and we will talk about that when we debate later clauses. For the PRA, the growth and competitiveness objective will be secondary to the PRA’s general objective to ensure that UK firms remain safe and sound, and to its insurance-specific objective to contribute to the securing of an appropriate degree of protection for those who are or may become policyholders.
The new objectives do not require or authorise the FCA or PRA to take any action inconsistent with the existing objectives. I will come back to the hon. Member for Wallasey on that, but they are subordinate objectives and secondary to their financial stability and prudential objectives, which they talk about. The new objectives will give the regulators a legal basis for advancing growth and international competitiveness for the first time. It does not go quite as far as my hon. Friends the Members for Wimbledon and for North Warwickshire have suggested in the amendment. Nevertheless, it is a significant enhancement in that respect on the status quo. As they said, it moves us in line with other international jurisdictions. That is a balanced approach. By making those objectives secondary, we are nevertheless giving the regulators an unambiguous hierarchy of objectives that prioritises safety and soundness, and market integrity. I therefore commend clause 24 to the Committee.
Amendments 46 and 47 seek to amend the new secondary objectives and require the regulators to promote, rather than facilitate, the international competitiveness of the UK economy and its growth in the medium to long term. The wording of the objectives in clause 24 aligns with the PRA’s existing secondary objective, which is to facilitate effective competition. The vast majority of respondents to the November 2021 future regulatory framework review consultation supported the Government’s proposal to introduce new secondary objectives for the FCA and the PRA to facilitate growth and competitiveness.
I reassure my hon. Friends about the importance of the Government’s plans on growth and competitiveness. We expect that there will be a step change in the regulators’ approach to the issue that will be similar to the change that took place following the introduction of the PRA’s secondary competition objective in 2014, which led to a significant number of new policies to facilitate effective competition. I therefore ask my hon. Friend the Member for Wimbledon to withdraw the amendment.
In responding to the hon. Member for Wallasey, I will not assume to myself a degree of expertise about the energy market or any failings in that market. However, I completely agree about the need to avoid an overly binary or unbalanced approach to competition in any market. I think we all agree that we need to get the right balance. On how the regulators can safely advance the objectives, my response is as follows: with a balanced approach; with the right level and volume of resources, in terms of both the quality of expertise and the people they attract and retain; and with good governance. The hon. Lady herself, like all Members of Parliament, is also part of the regulators’ governance model.
The hon. Lady is right to pull me up on my failure to address her point, although later clauses and amendments also address it. I am familiar with TheCityUK’s proposal, and the Government are prepared to look at that area. She gave an example of the regulators helping the real economy through sustainable investments, and potentially reporting some metrics against that. That is worthy of consideration.
I should have said at the beginning that I warmly welcome clause 24. The purpose of the amendments was to tease out the Minister’s exact thoughts. I was pleased to hear that he thinks there is regulatory step forward. I was also pleased to hear that the Government may look again at some of the wording in chapter 3. Will he meet me and colleagues, perhaps next week, or some time in the future? With that, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.