Financial Services Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House
Moved by
78: After Clause 40, insert the following new Clause—
“Short selling review
(1) Within the period of six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must commission a review of legislation relating to short selling.(2) Following the conclusion of the review, the Secretary of State must lay a report before Parliament.”
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to have this opportunity to speak to and move Amendment 78, and to thank my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond for his support and for co-signing the amendment.

Clause 40 deals with subordinate legislation made under retained direct EU legislation. This is a probing amendment to look at what I consider to be a timely review of the practice of short selling. The background to this is that short selling is regulated now by the Short Selling (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2018, based on the earlier EU regulation 236 from 2012, also amended by the Technical Standards (Short Selling Regulation) (EU Exit) Instrument 2019. Clearly, there are powers for the UK to prohibit or restrict short selling or limit transactions when the price of various instruments admitted to trading on a UK trading venue, which includes shares, sovereign and corporate bonds and ETFs, has fallen more than the appropriate percentage threshold from the previous day’s closing price. In exceptional market conditions, there are also powers under these regulations to address adverse events or developments that pose a serious threat to financial stability or market confidence in the UK.

The powers are set out and include extending the scope of the notification disclosure regime to include additional financial instruments admitted to trading on a UK trading venue and requiring lenders of financial instruments admitted to trading on a UK trading venue to notify any significant change in their fees. There are other powers as well.

Most recently in the UK, the Bank for International Settlements conducted a study suggesting that fund providers offered lower-quality paper to fill redemption markets, as reported in the Financial Times, and that it was felt and alleged that bond ETFs might have short-changed market-makers during the 2020 panic—as if there was not enough going on with the Covid-19 pandemic. It is obviously deeply worrying that this happened in 2020, as confirmed by the Bank for International Settlements. This is a good opportunity to revisit this, as this is not supposed to happen. Obviously, this is a timely moment to look at this, after the collapse and then the surge in the US of the GameStop share fiasco in January and February.

I take this opportunity to ask my noble friend whether he is convinced that an event such as GameStop would not happen in the UK and that we have robust regulations, as I have set out. I am slightly concerned that they have not been tested enough and I believe that we should revisit them. If the ETFs performed in the way that was alleged and concluded by the Bank for International Settlements in 2020, that was deeply unhelpful at a very difficult time. Therefore, does my noble friend agree that this would be a good opportunity for the Government to look at this and undertake to conduct a review to ensure that the regulations, as I set out this afternoon, are fit for purpose? Are they robust enough in terms of Covid, as we saw in March 2020 in the UK, to prevent something like GameStop happening here?

I realise that anybody making an investment is taking a risk, and that we are always told that share prices can go down as well as up, but this is a very modest amendment, ensuring that, within six months of the Bill being enacted and coming into force, the Secretary of State will commission a review of the legislation relating to short selling and, at the conclusion of the review, lay a report before Parliament. I personally have deep misgivings about short selling and question whether the regulations in place are sufficient. As we have left the European Union, and were told that the United Kingdom Government would take every opportunity to revisit those regulations that we have now adopted as part of UK law, it would be a good opportunity to review them within six months of the Bill’s enactment. It gives me great pleasure to move this amendment today and look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.

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Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, it is important to stress, as a number of noble Lords have done, that short selling is a legitimate investment technique that can contribute to orderly and open markets supporting many consumers. Taking short and long positions can ensure that investors are able to manage risk and volatility in their portfolio, particularly during uncertain times; for example, if a firm has purchased a large number of shares, that firm might want to short some of those shares if they have a volatile price.

As my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering ably set out, the UK’s regulatory regime for short selling is predominantly set out in the short selling regulations, which were introduced in 2012 to regulate short selling practices while safeguarding companies and the financial system. Among other things, it requires persons to notify the FCA of the size of their short positions in shares traded on a UK trading venue. It also gives the FCA various powers to intervene in response to exceptional circumstances that pose a serious threat to financial stability or market confidence in the UK. These include requiring the notification or disclosure of short positions, as well as restricting short selling to periods of up to three months. Furthermore, the FCA can temporarily prohibit or restrict short selling when the price has fallen significantly during a single trading day relative to the closing price of that instrument on the previous trading day. This regime is working as intended, providing the necessary safeguards to allow the operation of a fair and effective market. The Government continue to work closely with the regulators and market participants to monitor the effectiveness of the entire regulatory regime to ensure that legislation continues to be fit for purpose and delivers on its objectives, in particular to support economic growth and maintain financial stability.

As my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering noted on the example of GameStop, the UK short selling regime was not breached because it does not apply to shares admitted to trading on US trading venues. Furthermore, the regime that I have just set out that applies to short selling would mean that in such a scenario in the UK the FCA would have been able to identify short positions building up and would have been able effectively to engage with the firms holding the short positions in that case.

I am not sure that I recognise the characterisation of the Bank for International Settlements’ report set out by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering, but I will happily write to her on that matter.

A number of noble Lords have spoken, from different perspectives, in favour of a review of short selling. In response to a number of direct questions about what jurisdictions such a review would look at or whether it would look at relaxing or shoring up such regulations, at this point the Government do not see this issue as the most pressing area of financial services regulation to look at. We see no need to conduct a review of this legislation at this time, so I ask my noble friend Lady McIntosh to withdraw her amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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I am grateful to the Minister and to all those who have contributed. I recognise the role that the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, played in the adoption of the current EU regulation. I am grateful to my noble friend and others who set out the arguments on one side or the other. I have a great deal of sympathy with my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond and his earlier amendment calling for a review of all financial regulations and regulators’ rules, and I note that my noble friend Lady Penn does not see the need for this at present.

This is something that I will personally continue to monitor. I have no doubt that my noble friend Lady Noakes, who speaks with great authority and expertise on these issues, and my noble friends Lord Sharpe and Lord Trenchard would prefer that many of the regulations would just go away, but I am rather pleased that they are not going away for the moment. My concerns have been addressed to a great extent. I will continue to support my noble friend Lord Holmes’s call for a further review of all these practices. I am grateful to have had the opportunity to debate these issues and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage.

Amendment 78 withdrawn.
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Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, for putting down Amendment 79; I will address that first and then move on to Amendment 93.

I spoke earlier about the difference between home credit companies and payday firms, so I shall not go down that route again. Buy now, pay later reminds me of the old days of hire purchase and some of the challenges that arose then. In many ways, this is almost equivalent to gambling: it plays on people’s weaknesses, who then build up a cycle of debt, as so many noble Lords have said—and lingering in the shadows, ready to swoop, are the claims management companies. Frankly, I do not see why, in this scenario that we all know is happening and will get worse, not least with the huge temptation that will come after furlough is lifted, we cannot act earlier than the next financial year. I do not know the answer to this, but I begin to wonder whether all these payday loans are registered. If they are not, something should certainly be done about that. Finally in this area, we need to ensure that the FCA and the Financial Ombudsman Service are really watchful of the action of the claims management companies when it gets to that state.

Turning to Amendment 93 on access to cash, I thank my friend the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. As has already been said, 1.3 million people have no access to a bank account. Cash is vital, particularly to the elderly in our society. Covid has made the whole thing even more difficult; the impression has been left that those who carry any notes in their wallet could be carrying Covid. It took some weeks for Her Majesty’s Government to put out clear statements that that cannot happen—it cannot transmit Covid; nevertheless, the rumour was out there and has stuck. The problem then comes down to the many outlets with a sign up in the door or on the cash till basically saying “Cards only”. Indeed, our own refreshment department is card only. The question in my mind is whether it is legal to trade and offer card only. I would have thought the very fact of being given a licence to trade ought to mean they can trade but must accept legal tender in whatever form it is offered.

The Post Office provides a really good service, and I pay full tribute to what it has done in these months of turmoil that we have faced. However, from the little work that I have done, I understand that the people behind the cash machines—those promoting them and the companies involved—state that they are becoming increasingly unviable. If that is the situation, it is very worrying, and I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will take this very seriously and make sure that, one way or another, cash machines are still available to the more than 1.3 million people who do not have bank accounts.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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My Lords, this group of amendments has an underlying theme of identifying the need for greater consumer protection in this area. I support the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Eatwell, in the aims of the much-needed—it would appear—Amendment 79. If he is minded to say that there is no need for such an amendment, could the Minister, in responding to this debate, point to the consumer protection regulations for those using buy now, pay later services? Many of us have seen how the level of personal and household indebtedness has greatly increased due to the lack of regulation in the area identified by Amendment 79.

I will turn to Amendment 101 before coming back to the others. I entirely support the thrust of this amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, supported by my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. It seems extraordinary that when consumer protections apply to hire purchase of a vehicle, they do not apply to the circumstances that have been set out and so eloquently identified by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, so the time has come for these two Victorian statutes to be replaced. I would like the Minister to give a very good reason why this could not happen and why we cannot simply rely on hire purchase schemes, which give greater protections to the owner and the existing user of a vehicle, for this form of purchase.

Amendments 92 and 93 from the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer and Amendment 136C from my noble friend Lord Holmes identify the need for access to cash. I find cashless societies highly regrettable, particularly for elderly and other vulnerable people; I know there are some in Europe; Sweden is well down this path and Denmark is going down it. On continuing access to cash, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, has set out, and my noble friend Lord Holmes set out in his Amendment 136C, why it is extremely important to have proper protections in these areas.

My noble friend Lord Holmes pointed out the role of cash in Covid and why it goes to the heart of financial inclusion. Without wishing to put words in his mouth, I will take his thoughts one step further: I am deeply concerned that the Government propose that the amount available in a contactless transaction will imminently be increased to a maximum of £100. This will possibly enable many people to lose control of their finances, and it will open the door to greater fraud, even where a debit or credit card has not left your possession.

I have been the victim of such fraud. I am delighted to say that the credit card company I was with at the time reimbursed me almost immediately for the loss. What that means is that we are all paying for that loss as credit card or debit card users. The existing limit of £45 is right at the moment; I would hesitate to increase it to £100. I do not know whether there is a bottomless pit for endless frauds or what it means if the limit goes up to £100 on a contactless transaction. Are there limitless reserves? Who pays for the fraud in this regard?

In Amendment 136F, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has identified an area that is timely for review: the regulation of bailiffs and bailiff firms for the purpose of taking control of goods. I would be delighted to hear from the Minister that, even if the Government are not minded to accept this amendment, he will come forward with similar provisions as set out therein and recognise that there is a need for this to take place.

On Amendment 135 in the name of my noble friend Lord Leigh, I think all of us say, “There but for the grace of God go I”. Identity theft is a compelling crime. He set out some modest requirements that the Government would do well to follow.

I find that the amendments in this group have an underlying theme of the need for greater consumer protection. Although they are disparate in what they seek to achieve, each of them has merits to commend it. I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the excellent case that has been made for each amendment in this group.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Non-Afl) [V]
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering.

I wish to speak in support of Amendment 79 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Eatwell and Lord Tunnicliffe. It seeks to protect people from buy now, pay later firms that, in many instances, financially abuse people. It is important that people who find themselves in this position are financially protected. In many ways, the amendments in this group seek to do what the noble Baroness said: they are all about consumer protection.

In his introduction, the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, referred to the Woolard review, part of which clearly states the need for customer harm to be minimised and to come under the purview of the Financial Conduct Authority. From doing some background reading, I thought I learned that the Government were receptive to the review’s findings. In this regard, I wonder whether the Government, through the Minister, will bring forward on Report amendments to deal with this issue if they are not prepared to accept Amendment 79 today. However, it may be that they will accept it in view of their acceptance of the Woolard review.

At Second Reading, I highlighted this area and asked whether the Government would bring forward in Committee amendments to ensure that buy now, pay later credit services are brought into the scope of the Financial Conduct Authority to protect people from spending more than they can afford. Indeed, many people in this net take out further debt to repay initial credit, then end up with their debt spiralling out of control.

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Blackwell’s Amendment 86 identifies a very real problem that has existed since the Government decided to abolish the Financial Services Authority and split responsibility for conduct and prudential regulation.

I was never in favour of splitting the FSA. It had certainly failed as a regulator, as the financial crisis laid bare, although it must be said that other regulators around the world, whether combined or separate, fared no better. The FSA had not managed to get the balance right between conduct and prudential regulation; it had an obsession with conduct matters and treating customers fairly, which often dominated its thinking, while banks in particular were allowed to run on wafer-thin capital ratios. It needed reform rather than a wrecking ball.

When they were separated by the Financial Services Act 2012, many concerns were expressed about the possibility of a lack of co-operation. As has been said, a number of mechanisms were put in place, including the statutory duty to co-operate, the memorandum of understanding and cross-membership of the boards of the PRA and the FCA. However, as my noble friend Lord Blackwell explained, it has not always worked well in practice. There are problems of overlap and overload. Some issues, such as cybersecurity, are of interest to both the PRA and the FCA. Such an overlap comes with the split between the two regulatory peaks, but often they focus on the issues in different ways, on different timescales and with different objectives. This is often inefficient from the perspective of regulated firms.

The cumulative impact of the requirements of the PRA and the FCA can lead to significant overload. There is no real prioritisation mechanism. Regulated firms can be bombarded by each regulator and, even if the individual regulator prioritises its own demands, which is not always the case, there is no real mechanism for the competing demands of the FCA and the PRA. For example, I recall in the middle of stress testing, which is led by the PRA and tends to absorb the resources of subject matter experts specialising in credit risk, the FCA produced big data demands in exactly the same area and requiring exactly the same subject matter experts. It would not have occurred to either regulator to see regulatory demands from the other regulator as more important than its own.

I support the aims of this amendment. Whether another committee would have any impact is another matter, especially if it met only once a year. We must remember that the tripartite arrangements that failed during the financial crisis looked good on paper. It was just that they were never taken seriously and were allowed to fall into disuse. The same could happen to a committee.

My noble friend might want to look at how his amendment could be improved by incorporating an element of reporting to Parliament. On the first day of Committee, we debated parliamentary accountability more widely in the context of the new rule-making powers that are being transferred to the FCA and the PRA. The new accountability arrangements, which some of us advocated, could include examining how well the regulators are working together and co-ordinating their activities; that should be strongly considered if my noble friend chooses to bring this issue back on Report.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am looking closely at Amendment 86, introduced so eloquently by my noble friend Lord Blackwell, and asking myself why it would be needed in view of the comments made by my noble friend Lady Noakes and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles.

These are both deemed to be independent bodies. While my noble friend Lord Blackwell has rightly identified a number of shortcomings, I do not really understand why a joint co-ordinating committee, as my noble friend Lady Noakes pointed out and as it says in proposed new subsection (5), would meet only at least once every year—I presume it could meet more often.

In any event, I imagine that these issues are dealt with to some degree by the Treasury Select Committee in the other place. My noble friend Lord Blackwell probably has identified issues but there are very good reasons—he set out the background to this—why the PRA and the FCA replaced the FSA. Each should be able to enjoy a degree of independence in its operation. My noble friend Lady Noakes rightly identified a number of areas of overlap and overload, but I think that this can be addressed through the functioning of the memorandum of understanding. I struggle to see why this amendment is required.

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Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I have Amendment 105 in this group, which is also a probing amendment, and seeks to insert a new clause in the Bill about regulatory co-operation with the EU. In her Amendment 90 the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, called for actions. Amendment 105, as the explanatory statement makes clear, is a reporting mechanism to report on progress towards or completion of an MoU with the EU on regular co-operation measures, which were envisaged under the trade and co-operation agreement between the UK and EU as regards financial services. The amendment flows from my chairmanship of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships’ House.

Last autumn, the committee considered a number of statutory instruments, which have granted equivalence to oversight and regulatory arrangements in the EU in the area of financial services. Mostly they were laid by the Treasury but some were laid by another departments. It was not clear to our committee whether the SIs were all part of a potential agreement with the EU or whether they were unilateral individual decisions. We wrote to John Glen, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, as follows:

“Equivalence in relation to the regulation of financial services is an important aspect of our future relationship with the EU. In several of the instruments that we have considered, the UK appears to have granted equivalence indefinitely, while the EU has not yet completed its assessment of the UK’s equivalence (for example in relation to the regulatory regime for auditors) or has granted only time-limited equivalence (for example limited to 18 months in the case of the supervisory arrangements for central counterparties).”

Against this background, we asked for further and better particulars on three points:

“A list of the equivalence decisions made by the UK Government in the different areas of financial services regulation. Whether the EU has reciprocated and granted equivalence to the UK and its regulatory arrangements in these areas. Whether equivalence by the UK and EU has been granted indefinitely or is time limited.”

The reply on 7 January, which I referred to in my speech at Second Reading, was not a model of clarity and precision. Phrases like

“a package of equivalence decisions”

and “the majority of decisions” do not help critical analysis. The correspondence between the noble Lord, Lord Butler, and my noble friend Lord Agnew at Second Reading, which followed this and circulated among all who participated in that debate, seemed to follow the same generalist approach.

However, John Glen’s letter did make one thing clear, that

“there are no decisions made by the EU that have not been reciprocated by the UK.”

As such, to date, it has been a one-way street. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but Parliament and the country are entitled to, and should, know about the development of our relationship with this most significant and geographically proximate market in a sector of particular importance to the United Kingdom—hence my tabling this amendment.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend, and I thank him and the other authors of the amendments in this group.

This is a particularly appropriate moment to state that “taking back control” has possibly worked less successfully in the financial services sector than in any other since we left the European Union, with Amsterdam having overtaken us as the largest share-trading centre. There are generally understood to be four options for trade in financial services with the EU. First, there is passporting, which we enjoyed and was very beneficial not just to the London Stock Exchange but, I venture to add, other centres, such as Edinburgh, Leeds and other financial centres in the United Kingdom; it was the most seamless form of trade in financial services. Secondly, there is trade on World Trade Organization terms and, thirdly, free trade agreements, such as that agreed between the EU and Canada, although I am not convinced that it covers financial services or services as a whole. Finally, there is equivalence. If we are not able to revert to passporting, and I understand that we are not, that would be a good way forward. My understanding is that equivalence is where a decision is made by one state to recognise another state’s legal requirements for regulating a service, even though they may not be the same—so, clearly, it is not as good as passporting.

I very much enjoyed the introductory remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and I support each of the amendments in this group for differing reasons. Obviously we will not have the chance to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, until he speaks to his amendment, but all three of the amendments in this group would, I believe, further the case for equivalence with the European Union.

Time marches on, and we obviously realise that the trade and co-operation agreement with the European Union left out this major sector of financial services. So I take this opportunity to ask my noble friend the Minister to say, in summing up this debate, precisely where we are with the negotiations and whether we have any chance of reaching an agreement on equivalence under the circumstances and the further particulars as set out by my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I find it deeply regrettable when our own Minister cannot answer three very simple questions in a letter so that our understanding is better. However, with those few remarks, I am minded to support Amendments 90, 100 and 105 for the reasons given.