UK as a Financial Services Hub — [Graham Stringer in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:48 am on 6th February 2019.

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Photo of Robert Jenrick Robert Jenrick The Exchequer Secretary 10:48 am, 6th February 2019

I thank all hon. Friends who have spoken in the debate and my hon. Friend Bim Afolami for raising this important issue. We both enjoyed careers in the City before coming to this place, and it sounds as though those late nights were worth it after all—he has been able to use his experience in this place. I have always thought that there are some similarities between working as a City lawyer and coming here: late nights, with difficult people, spent negotiating the finer details of agreements. We did usually get them over the line, so I hope that that turns out to be true here.

As my hon. Friend said—there has been wide agreement on this across the Chamber today—the UK’s financial services sector is an engine for the economy: it brings prosperity and creates jobs and growth for citizens across the country. My hon. Friend said that it is a national asset. Actually, the argument that we have been making in our negotiations with our EU partners is that it is a European and international asset, which we all want to succeed. In the European context, a loss for London and the UK—with jobs and investment going to the United States, Singapore, Hong Kong or some of the emerging markets that hon. Members have mentioned—is as likely to be a loss for Europe as it is to be a loss merely for the UK.

We do not believe that our strength is ours by right, as my hon. Friend Robert Neill made clear. We are operating in an unprecedentedly competitive global market and we have to ensure the future of the financial services sector. That will require a successful outcome in the EU negotiations. It will also require us to look to the future by embracing new technology and the opportunities that brings, and by embracing new markets.

The incredible contribution of the financial services sector to the economy has been mentioned. It contributed £131 billion in 2017, including £77 billion in exports, and there is room for more on that front. A number of colleagues have made the point well that the tax take was £75 billion last year, which helped fund public services. The sector employs more than 1 million people in all parts of the United Kingdom, two-thirds of whom are outside London—a point made strongly by Anneliese Dodds and others.

London has long been the global capital of finance. We want that to continue. Its strengths are multifaceted. They come from the depth and breadth of experience and talent in the ecosystem here. That stretches, as we have heard, beyond pure financial services to the law, where a number of us worked, and to accountancy, shipping and insurance, which my hon. Friend Craig Tracey mentioned. We have to view that ecosystem as something special that needs to be preserved.

London is also an attractive destination culturally, socially and in terms of diversity, all of which need to be preserved. I am married to a New Yorker who moved to London and would never leave the UK now, because she thinks that it is such a special country and that London is the world’s greatest capital city. None of those factors should be underplayed and we should not be complacent about how we can keep them going in the future.

We have had a good debate about the importance of financial services in other parts of the country. My own city of Nottingham has a significant financial services presence. For example, it is home to Experian, the credit rating company, which employs thousands of people. Kirsty Blackman mentioned the importance of Edinburgh, for example for asset management firms.

We also heard about banking in Birmingham, back office processes in Bournemouth, the insurance industry in cities such as Cardiff and Norwich, and many other examples that we must preserve and give due consideration to in the debates we are having in Parliament at the moment. I agree with hon. Members that this House and the Government need to give more consideration to the fact that our economy is 80% services-based, and that there need to be more debates about professional services and the contribution they make to the whole economy.

It is important that the UK remains a tax-competitive jurisdiction in many respects, but particularly for financial services. We are committed to the reliefs that my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden spoke about, such as the seed investment enterprise scheme, the enterprise investment scheme and entrepreneurs’ relief, as well as the continued reduction in corporation tax, which we have just legislated for in the Finance Bill, to 17%. Together, those measures are critical to the future success of the UK in paying our way in the world and attracting investors here as an important place to live, work and form businesses.

The hon. Member for Oxford East also alluded to the importance of the financial services sector to the wider economy. Having strong capital markets in the UK is important for our venture capital industry, which is the European leader and is maturing, but there is more that it needs to do to create thriving sectors such as FinTech, the technology sector more generally and life sciences, for example in Oxford. There is also more to do in infrastructure investment, which the hon. Lady also referred to. We will shortly publish a review of how we can continue to be a strong player in financing major infrastructure projects. That will include the proposition of a national infrastructure investment bank, which has been suggested by a number of individuals, as well as by the Labour party.

It is important that the UK’s financial services sector is inclusive. The hon. Lady made an important point about diversity. Most recently, we commissioned Alison Rose to report on how we can improve the level of finance that is available to female entrepreneurs across the country, building on the charter alluded to by the hon. Lady. The Government are also committed to credit unions. The number of individuals who are members of credit unions is rising—it is now over 2 million. There has been some consolidation in the number of credit unions, but the number of members benefiting from them is increasing. I think that they now have assets of £3.3 billion. We are making a number of interventions in that respect, including a FinTech challenge fund to see how FinTech can help with some of the social problems that we have discussed in terms of access to capital.

Given that there is little time available, I am happy to write to my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden and any other hon. Members who are interested about the measures that we have taken and are interested in taking to ensure that credit unions become more widely available, including, of course, by increasing their scope from 2 million to 3 million members and their geographical reach, which helps them to have a larger presence in big cities and different regions of the country.

Brexit has clearly been a major factor in this debate. Like my hon. Friend Lee Rowley, I do not believe it would be responsible to rule out a no-deal scenario, as it is important to maintain that leverage in the negotiations, but we have to accept that this is a sector of the economy that would be significantly harmed by a no-deal exit. It would be problematic for a range of reasons, which we have discussed.

First, if we can secure a deal, it will provide an implementation period, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst said, would smooth out those cliff edges and enable firms to prepare as we transition to the future relationship. There is no escaping the fact that while we can take a generous approach to the European Union, there is no obligation on it to reciprocate, and we cannot prepare for that in advance.

Secondly, if we leave with a deal, it will ensure that we have the political declaration and, within it, the enhanced equivalence regime that we want, to ensure that we have a continued close relationship with the European financial system. It is critical for all of us to work together in the weeks ahead to secure a deal that we can support. Of course, it must not be just any deal, but a good deal that we can support for this sector. Ultimately, that is the only way we can give the sector the assurances it needs to continue to invest and protect jobs.

My hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden spoke about FinTech, to which I have alluded. There are now 80,000 people working in the FinTech sector in the United Kingdom. None of those jobs existed 10 years ago. We are a world leader. We have published a FinTech strategy. Of course, there is more that we might be able to do in the future. The next great opportunity is in SureTech. We are working with Lloyds of London and other parts of that industry to ensure that the same principles of open data that were taken forward by the Financial Conduct Authority can help to drive a revolution in products in the insurance industry. That is of interest both globally and to consumers in the UK, to ensure that they are protected.

We have heard about the importance of access to capital, on which the industry is reliant. We have taken a number of steps, from the patient capital review to increasing the amount of money available to the venture capital sector in the UK. There is more that we can and will do, such as working with pension funds in the UK so that they back these sorts of investments.

As we have heard, this is an industry that relies on attracting the best and brightest talent to the United Kingdom. We need to ensure that that continues. In March, we will be launching the start-up visa, which was announced last June by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. That will answer the question my hon. Friend the Member for Hitchin and Harpenden asked about how talented entrepreneurs in a sector such as FinTech can come to the UK. There will be no limit on the number of individuals who can benefit from that and it should be a major step forward.

We have also accepted the Migration Advisory Committee’s recommendations with respect to students. Those changes will be made in due course, which will make it easier for individuals to stay on in the UK after studying, to make a life here and to join businesses in financial services and elsewhere.

With respect to data sharing, which my hon. Friend the Member for Bromley and Chislehurst raised, we are pursuing a comprehensive relationship with the European Union, but we will be able to deliver that only if we can secure a deal and get on to those negotiations in due course.

I hope that I have answered many of the questions that have been raised today. There were many others, and I will write to the hon. Members who raised them. We are committed to financial services sector, which is a foundation stone of the United Kingdom’s economy and is of benefit to people across the country. The critical step in the days ahead is to secure a deal that gives the sector the assurance that it needs to move forward.