Financial Services and Markets Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:45 pm on 27th October 2022.
Clause 27 inserts four new sections into FSMA 2000 to ensure that the FCA and the PRA review their rules regularly, so that they remain fit for purpose. It is important for the FCA and the PRA to regularly review their rules after implementation to ensure that they remain appropriate and continue to have the desired effect.
Regular reviews improve ongoing policy development by providing the evidence to make better decisions and helping to develop a better understanding of what works, for whom and when. There is currently no formal requirement for the PRA or the FCA to conduct reviews of their existing rules. Proposed new section 3RA will introduce a requirement for the two regulators to keep their rules under review. There are a range of approaches for assessing the effect of rules, from monitoring a set of indicators to an in-depth assessment of the effect of a rule from both a qualitative and quantitative standpoint.
The Government expect that, under this new requirement, the regulator will decide on the most appropriate approach on a case-by-case basis. The requirement to keep their rules under review should lead to a more systematic approach by the FCA and the PRA, in turn improving regulation, as any ineffective or outdated rules will be removed or revised more consistently.
Alongside that requirement, proposed new section 3RB requires the regulators to publish a statement of policy on how they intend to conduct rule reviews. That will provide clarity and transparency for stakeholders on how and when rules are reviewed, thereby increasing confidence in the regulation of financial services. Under these new requirements, how and when the two regulators review their rules to assess whether they function as intended will be an operational decision for the regulators.
In addition to the new legislative requirements, the regulators have confirmed that they will consult publicly on the statement of policy to ensure that stakeholders have an opportunity to contribute views as the regulators consider their approach.
I reiterate that, as set out in the Government response to the November 2021 FRF review consultation, and in response to calls from industry, the FCA and the PRA have committed to ensuring that there are clear and appropriate channels through which industry and other stakeholders can raise concerns about rules. Those channels will be set out in policy statements in due course. However, without further provision, there will be no formal mechanism for the Treasury to require the regulators to conduct reviews of their existing rules.
As the FCA and the PRA take on increased regulatory policy-making responsibilities following the implementation of the FRF review, there may be occasions when the Treasury considers that it in the public interest for the regulators to review their rules—for example, when there has been a significant change in market conditions or other evidence suggests that the relevant rules are no longer acting as intended.
Proposed new section 3RC of FSMA provides for more effective regulation by allowing the Treasury to direct the regulator to review its rules when the Treasury considers that to be in the public interest. Proposed new section 3RD requires the regulator to report on the outcome of the review and the Treasury to lay that report before Parliament. Any reviews initiated under the power will be conducted by the regulator or, where appropriate, an independent person. The regulator will be responsible for deciding what action to take, if any, in response to any recommendations arising from the review. This measure offers a new avenue for challenge of the regulators’ rule making, where that is required, while maintaining their operational independence.
Respondents to the November 2021 FRF review consultation felt that there should be further measures on accountability, although there was no consensus on what they should be. The Government considered the responses and decided that, while we must still uphold our commitment to independent regulation, the accountability framework needs further strengthening, so on Second Reading the Government announced our intention to bring forward an intervention power to enable the Treasury to direct the regulator to make, amend or revoke rules when there are matters of significant public interest. The Government will provide a further update on that power in due course. With that in mind, I recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.
I have a few questions. The measure is sensible, but at the same time, it can be read as being quite sinister. Perhaps it depends on how the power will be used. The past is not filled with massive numbers of examples of the regulator falling out with the Treasury or the Bank of England, so the measure seems rather like a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The powers are to be used in exceptional circumstances, but those circumstances are not really defined; the Minister’s comment on that would be interesting.
If the measure is a sledgehammer to crack a nut, does it risk giving the impression that regulation in this country is not independent and can be overridden when that suits a Government, rather than when that is in the public interest? Might this compromise outsiders’ views of how our system is regulated? In other words, the cost-benefit analysis of whether the measure is an appropriate reaction might be in the balance. Will the Minister say a little more about how he perceives the power being used and what “exceptional circumstances” are?
We would still like to see what the intervention power that the Minister keeps talking about would actually look like. He has not come forward with the wording of it. Today, we will be halfway through the Committee proceedings on the Bill, and past the time when it may be relevant. Will he bring that wording back on Report, or will we see it while we are still in Committee?
We support the powers granted to the Treasury in clause 27 to require the regulator to conduct reviews of existing rules. We think that is a proportionate and sensible approach. We agree that mechanisms should be available to allow Ministers to ask a regulator to think again about a rule that may not be working in the public interest. However, while it is important that regulators are held to account, does the Minister agree that the operational independence of regulators must be paramount? Does he therefore agree that, with the powers to direct rule making already included in the Bill, a so-called intervention power would be unnecessary and dangerous?
During the evidence session, the deputy governor of the Bank of England, Sir Jon Cunliffe, said that an “intervention power” risked undermining perceptions of the central bank’s 25-year-long independence. He warned that, in turn, it would undermine the global reputation of our financial services sector. Even though the Minister was there, I will quote him:
“That credibility of the institutional framework is very important to the competitiveness”––[Official Report, Financial Services and Markets Public Bill Committee,
of the UK. Martin Taylor, a former Bank of England regulator and chief executive of Barclays said that, while it would not necessarily turn us into “Argentina or Turkey overnight”, that would be the direction of travel if such a power were introduced. I ask the Minister once again, echoing what my hon. Friend the Member for Wallasey said: why does he believe that the powers in clause 27 are not sufficient, and why do the Government continue to ignore the advice of the Bank of England?
We have debated this matter under a number of clauses already. My commitment to table the draft wording of the proposed intervention power during this Committee remains. That remains the intention. I do not accept the characterisation of a sledgehammer and a nut. What we are doing in the whole of the Bill is giving vast new powers to the regulators that were previously held and exercised, with potential oversight and intervention, from Brussels. We are bringing that into the UK rulebook. The proposed power here, and any proposed intervention power, is a proportionate response to the significant expansion in regulations of financial services, which touch and are capable of touching every aspect of human life in this country.
It is important that we give the Government of the day, subject to Parliament, that failsafe ability. It may one day even be the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn who is exercising that power, and she may be grateful for the foresight of this Committee in providing that, with the caveat that this is clearly anchored in the public interest. That is a well-understood concept. I do not want to rehearse all the points that the Committee heard from witnesses, but it is the Government’s view that this power is necessary. To the extent that we seek to go forward with what is called the public interest intervention power, beyond merely directing regulators to look again at rules, we should discuss that again in the context of what the checks and balances on that would be.
I am not sure, but I think the Minister was advocating for a general election; I am not putting words in his mouth. I understand what he is saying, but we asked the witnesses to come and give evidence for a reason, so he needs to respond to the concerns of those witnesses, who were clearly concerned about this intervention power. Those two key witnesses said they were worried about undermining the independence of the Bank of England. What is the Minister’s opinion about that?
The Treasury has consulted widely on the future regulatory framework. One of the key points made by all the industry participants, very few of whom were part of the witness sessions—although we did hear from two particular witnesses, we did not hear the same volume of responses as in past consultations—was that industry is firmly of the mind that this is proportionate and potentially required.
I will clarify a couple of things for the Committee, because these matters are often misunderstood. First, we have operationally independent regulators. That is absolutely right, and no one is seeking to interfere in the findings of any particular regulatory review with respect to an industry participant. Secondly, none of this speaks to the scope of the Monetary Policy Committee. Sometimes the debate is couched in terms of monetary policy independence. What we are actually talking about is the regulatory rulebook. There are large public policy considerations for the insurance industry, for example, and in relation to consumer duty matters, such as access to cash and consumer protection, which we will debate in later sittings. Those are all matters that the Government consider and will continue to consider, notwithstanding the evidence given in that witness session. That is the right, proportionate response.
I should clarify that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn will get her general election in due course, but I fear she will have some time to wait.