Cryptoassets: Regulation — [Christina Rees in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:43 am on 7th September 2022.

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Photo of Richard Fuller Richard Fuller The Economic Secretary to the Treasury 10:43 am, 7th September 2022

It is a great pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Rees. I join all hon. Members who have spoken in congratulating Martin Docherty-Hughes, first, on securing the first parliamentary debate on this topic and, secondly, on his tour de force speech covering the opportunities and risks of crypto technology. I expect that this will be the first of many debates on the subject.

During today’s debate, hon. Members have rightly focused largely on the risks of the new technology, concerns about consumer protection and areas for regulatory clarity, but I suggest that we all share the hope that, through innovation and creating the right conditions, we can achieve opportunities for the crypto industry in the UK to contribute largely to the growth of the wider economy.

I hope to cover a number a points that the hon. Member made in his opening speech. I will start with three of them: financial inclusion issues, particularly with regard to central bank digital currencies; requirements for carbon neutral data centres; and enforcing the existing law against fraud. I hope to cover those points in my speech, but if I do not, I look forward to engaging with him, Dr Cameron and her APPG in the future.

Throughout the debate we have spoken about a wide range of related but distinct terms, and I would like to take a moment to separate some of them. First, distributed ledger technology is exactly what it says: it is a form of technology that allows ledgers to be kept up to date despite being in multiple places or distributed. Secondly, blockchain is a type of DLT that uses encryption, adding security and new functionalities. That is the technology that underpins crypto, although it also facilitates innovation in many other sectors, such as trade finance. Thirdly, cryptoassets are privately issued digital assets that rely on distributed ledger technology such as blockchain for their workings and security. So-called cryptocurrencies are the most well-known cryptoassets today. I will use the phrase “crypto technologies” to refer to cryptoassets and the blockchain that underpins them in the round. Stablecoins are cryptocurrencies that seek to maintain a stable price by pegging to a real commodity or a currency, but there are other forms of stablecoins that have their supply regulated by algorithm. Again, there are two separate terms under that overall heading.

I and other hon. Members have mentioned the central bank digital currency, which is a form of digital money issued by central banks. CBDCs are structurally different from cryptocurrencies, which are almost always decentralised whereas CBDCs are controlled by a central bank. The Government have already committed to issuing a public consultation on this topic, jointly with the Bank of England, later this year.

A number of hon. Members pointed to the issue of financial inclusion. There has been no decision on the issuance or design features of a CBDC, or indeed whether we will do one. In those decisions, considerations about financial inclusion and accessibility of central bank digital currencies will be at the heart of any technical design decision. I hope that addresses one of the concerns raised by hon. Members.

In all its forms, we are still on the cusp of the technology breaking through, and its uses are likely to evolve dramatically in financial services. As hon. Members have said, thousands of cryptoassets, including Bitcoin, have been issued, and together these have a total market capitalisation of around $1 trillion today.