Financial Services Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I declare my financial services interests as in the register. The two amendments in this group concern the use of international financial reporting standards, particularly with regard to banks. Their aim is to permit a very abbreviated explanation of some of the problems with and lack of transparency of IFRS and to probe the return of a role for the Bank of England concerning the endorsement of accounting standards now that the approval of IFRS is repatriated to the UK and their approval under UK legislation involves an economic interest test. I thank my noble friend Lady Kramer and the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, for signing my amendments.

It is undeniable that IFRS played a part in the financial crisis and, even though they have been amended since in recognition of that role, they are still not fit for purpose for calculating prudential capital. As far as banks are concerned, they have two sets of numbers: statutory accounts for Companies Act going concern, on which there is an auditor’s opinion, and numbers for the prudential regulator which—if I may put it this way—really show the going concern situation, because that is what prudential regulators want to know.

It is worth looking at a couple of points to see the sort of thing that regulators discount for prudential purposes. Good will is taken out, because obviously it is not loss-absorbing and is not much good when a company is running out of money. It is also the case that a bank’s debt can be shown merely at the junk bond debt value in a bank’s IFRS accounts rather than the sum actually owed, which again is not the real money situation. For a bank that is going bust, or just not doing so well, the published accounts can show a rosier picture than the prudential numbers. I do not know any serious analysts who use the IFRS accounts rather than regulators’ numbers.

Regrettably, there are many other anomalies affecting other businesses. IFRS 15, for example, can introduce a smoothing effect, changing some sales into an income spread over future years and therefore providing exactly the kind of disguising of downturns that has caused problems in the past.

Given that a bank’s ability to trade is determined by its prudential solvency and banking licence rather than its IFRS accounts disclosed to the market, it is actually a bit absurd to say that a set of accounts can fit the Companies Act going-concern requirements and be signed off for the market when a bank might be a gone concern as far as the regulator is concerned and no longer able to trade. That may be the theoretical end-game problem, but it would seem more sensible for the banks to have to disclose to the markets the accounts that they have to live by for their licence. That is probably a better set of numbers on which to reward executives as well.

Many other countries recognise such anomalies and do not allow IFRS to be used without modification. Australia has its guidance note AGN 220.2, Impairment, Provisioning and the General Reserve for Credit Losses, and fared better in the financial crisis as a result. EU countries do not allow IFRS or IFRS-like calculations at the company level for determining going concern. The US will have nothing to do with it and only very grudgingly allows it to be used by non-US companies. I know that because I helped to negotiate it. The UK is really the outlier here.

Amendment 74 suggests that where the prudential capital and profit or loss for a banking company are less than the accounting numbers, the accounting numbers should be adjusted to the prudential numbers in the balance sheet and the profit-and-loss account because it is the regulatory capital that is the true amount for limiting growth, the real going-concern number, the safe distribution calculation and the fair director remuneration assessment. Yes, I am being provocative because I want some thinking on this, not the usual bland leave-us-alone acceptance.

I turn to Amendment 77. The PRA is the body closest to dealing with the unrealities still existent in IFRS that affect banks and recognising the effects that they have on the safety and stability of companies. The Bank of England is surely the pre-eminent body for analysing economic effects in the UK. Therefore, my Amendment 77 proposes to give the Bank of England a role in determining whether there is an adverse effect on the economy of the UK—the test set in the relevant statutory instrument for endorsing IFRS—and whether the standard is suitable for use in prudential regulation and, if not, to require that it not be used for the purpose of prudential regulation. Of course, some of this overlaps with what it is already doing.

I am sure that the Minister and other Members of the Committee realise that I am using this opportunity to highlight a matter that should be looked at more carefully, rather than just letting the IFRS juggernaut trundle on, whether that be for another HBOS or another Carillion. There are significant issues that affect the economy as well as many other issues with IFRS that depart from the normal logic of what accounts should mean and that are hard, if not impossible, to reconcile with the various requirements of company law. They have been swept under the carpet for far too long. I beg to move.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I am struggling with Amendment 74 because I think that it is aiming at a target that does not really exist, and it confuses capital and profits and losses.

The amendment would require what are quaintly called the “accounting numbers” to be adjusted to align with regulatory capital. Apart from anything else, that would result in accounts that do not comply with the Companies Act 2006, which requires, under Section 393, that accounts show

“a true and fair view of the assets, liabilities, financial position and profit or loss”.

The amendment seems to suggest that adjustments would be made to the accounts other than for the purposes of compliance with international accounting standards or to show a “true and fair view”, and, in that case, I believe that the resulting accounts would not comply with the Companies Act. We have to emphasise that these are international accounting standards, to which all countries that sign up follow, so this would be a major departure for accounting by banks and other institutions in this country.

I also note that, in proposed new paragraph (d), this is to apply to “profits for distribution purposes”, but that seems to misunderstand the fact that distributable profits are determined at the level of the parent entity solo accounts, whereas the adjustments that I believe are being targeted would be found in the accounts of subsidiary regulated entities or in the consolidated accounts, rather than those of the parent itself.

Regulatory capital already operates as a constraint on lending, so I fail to see what real-world impact any adjustments in the statutory accounts would have. While I understand the concept of regulatory capital, I do not understand the concept of “prudential” or “regulatory” profits or losses. I do not believe that “regulatory profits or losses” is a term that really exists, except to the extent that accumulated profits or losses form part of regulatory capital. It is difficult to see how proposed new paragraph (c) in Amendment 74 would work in relation to remuneration.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, has explained the sorts of adjustments that are made for regulatory purposes and that, under her amendment, would be taken into the statutory accounts—for example, the treatment of intangible assets. It is not clear to me why the prudential treatment of these items should be imported into true and fair accounts. The treatment for regulatory capital is linked to loss absorbency, which is not an underlying principle of financial accounting, and it therefore cannot readily be accommodated within the structure of accounting standards.

Pillar 3 statements, which are required to be produced by all regulatory banks, set out the information required in much detail. If the noble Baroness is correct—I am not sure that she is—that analysts use and rely on Pillar 3 statements, not statutory accounts, they already have that information: all of it is in the public domain.

Amendment 77 is unnecessary. It is already open to the PRA to base regulatory capital on different numbers from those in the annual accounts. I have already mentioned intangible assets. It also ignores gains or losses or known liabilities, a very arcane bit of the accounting standards that makes companies recognise gains when their credit ratings reduce the fair value of their outstanding liabilities. The PRA has not needed any special statutory cover to eliminate that from regulatory capital.

Furthermore, it is unsound for the Bank of England to approach accounting for individual institutions on the basis of the impact that a standard may have on the economy of the UK, as if accounting were a mere plaything of policymakers. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, will not press these amendments.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted and Lady Noakes. I will speak to Amendments 74 and 77 because they both raise some real, important and fundamental issues.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, indicated, vastly different numbers for bank capital and profits are communicated through conventional financial statements and by the regulators—because they are prepared on different assumptions, for different audiences and for different purposes. I hope that the Minister will tell us which of those numbers can considered true and fair. Can he also say whether the regulators are justified in relying on something that does not pass that test?

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Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con) [V]
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in day five of Committee of the Financial Services Bill. In doing so, I declare my interests as set out in the register.

I was keen to speak to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering—and have put my name to it—mainly because of the reasons set out by my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. That is, given the position we are now in with financial services, it seems opportune to review this practice. In saying that, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, that it makes sense to see this as part of a wider review of a number of other market practices. Indeed, it reflects an earlier amendment that I put forward on day one on the opportune moment to review all our financial services regulations and regulators’ rules, given that our situation is so fundamentally different from what it was a matter of weeks ago.

On short selling, it is important to understand the difference between different markets, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, eloquently set out. It is important for that to be understood, not least as a number of people’s understanding of short selling will have been informed by the earlier situation with GameStop on the exchange in the United States and the excellent film “The Big Short”—excellent unless you happen to be on the wrong end of that practice. However, it is different in different jurisdictions. Which jurisdictions would the Minister look at in considering potential better practices around the world? Would she also see this as a positive, opportune step to take as part of a wider review of all financial services regulations and the rules of our regulators?

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I support the call of my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering for a review of short-selling legislation, although I start from a very different position to her. As she explained, our short-selling rules were acquired via the EU, which is how they found their way on to our statute book. I believe that all EU-derived legislation should be reviewed at some stage; I am not sure this is the most pressing area, but it should certainly be reviewed.

When the EU introduced its short-selling rules in 2012, we had to follow, but it is far from clear that, left to our own devices, the UK would have introduced such rules. The FCA has been clear that the existing powers to trigger a ban on short selling would not be exercised lightly and the bar must be set very high. That must call into question whether we actually need the powers. The trouble with regulators is that, once they have powers, they never give them up voluntarily, even if they can never envisage when they would be used. A review would allow us to look at this again. We ought not to allow regulators to keep draconian powers to intervene in markets without very strong justification.

Against that background, I was particularly disappointed to see that the EU’s temporary—though extended several times—reduction of the threshold for notification of short selling, which expired when we left the EU, was almost immediately reinstated into UK law. That is not a good direction of travel.

There is nothing intrinsically wrong with short selling. It can provide liquidity to markets, improve bid-ask spreads and assist in price discovery; it also offers a route to hedging long-only exposures. There are, of course, downsides, including the potential for unlimited losses, so the risks have to be well understood and managed. We recently saw in the US that some hedge funds got their fingers burned on short selling GameStop shares due to action taken by amateur investors; but that merely highlights the need for sound risk management—it does not speak to short-selling itself being a problem or suggest that powers are needed for market intervention.

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register. It is always a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes; it is also something of a challenge as she speaks so authoritatively on matters such as these and I often find myself agreeing with her.

The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, spoke compellingly in her introduction to this amendment. She made the point that she has misgivings about the practice. Clearly, for a practice that dates back to the first days of stock markets, short selling retains its ability to attract controversy. Indeed, a short seller was accused of manipulating the share price of the Dutch East India Company in Amsterdam as long ago as 1609. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, suggested that it is sometimes regarded as an evil practice, so I felt that it deserved a defender today.

The goals and effects of short selling are often misunderstood and, when markets enter a downturn, many are quick to call for short selling to be banned. While such bans are unfortunate, they have left us with a wealth of data on the effects of short selling and how the practice contributes to the proper functioning of markets. The practice of selling a stock short is always the same but the intention behind it varies considerably. At its most common and passive, short selling is a conservative investment technique used to hedge against risk, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has just highlighted, but obviously at the cost of forgoing some returns. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, about the volatile first quarter of 2020, the Alternative Investment Management Association, which represents 2,000 corporate members in 60 countries, reported that funds which had hedged in this way outperformed the broader market by 20%.

To be sold short, a stock has to be borrowed, and it will usually be borrowed from an asset owner for a fee. The fee helps the returns to the holders of that stock—in practice, anyone who participates in a long-term equity fund and, therefore, probably everybody involved in this debate. The fact of selling the stock helps create valuable liquidity, which is often essential to ensure the smooth functioning particularly of smaller markets, but it also works in reverse during periods of market turbulence. In practice, short sellers are often the buyers of last resort when markets are under pressure; they take profits in their short positions and therefore help to provide stability to markets.

The more controversial end of the short-selling spectrum is that populated by activist short sellers. They are often characterised as predators who create and exploit misery, but that is simply not the case. These investors act as the canaries in the coal mine. Short selling does not directly undermine the health of a company any more than buying its shares improves its fundamentals. Companies are not deprived of funds when investors sell shares, nor do they become financially stronger when investors buy shares in public markets. Short sellers cannot send a good business under. What they can do is expose bad business models, bad management, dodgy accounting, fraud and other bad behaviour. At a more mundane level, they can expose unjustifiable valuations.

There are plenty of recent examples but one will suffice as the regulatory reaction was instructive; here I am very grateful to Jack Inglis, the CEO of the Alternative Investment Management Association, who provided me with some detailed facts. In 2019, Wirecard in Germany famously went bust. It was at the time a member of the main German index, the DAX 30. The first queries into the company’s accounting practices date back to 2014, when short positions began to be initiated. However, when the pressure mounted on the company to explain itself, the German regulator instead went after journalists at the Financial Times who had published a deep dive into the company—and, of course, the short sellers. They filed a criminal complaint against them, accusing them of market manipulation, and, in February 2019, initiated a two-month ban on short selling the shares, citing the need to curb

“a serious threat to market confidence”.

As we all know, the company subsequently went bust, the subject of a multiyear fraud involving €1.9 billion going missing and the CEO being arrested, among other things.

Since then, Germany has become much more circumspect about joining other European states in banning the practice. Indeed, the regulator’s president apologised and paid tribute to those

“journalists, analysts or yes, let it be short sellers, who have been digging out inconsistencies persistently and rigorously.”

In saying this, he was following a long historical tradition—such bans are inevitably repealed.

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I have some sympathy with the motivation for this amendment concerning co-ordination of regulators and combined regulatory agendas. Of course, there is already an MoU between the PRA and the FCA about modes of co-operation, who leads on which issues, and how to escalate to the two CEOs to resolve. I took the opportunity to remind myself of it; it is only an agreement to consult on deliberations that are equally relevant to both regulators’ objectives or which might have a material effect on the others’ objectives. Senior executives have discussions every quarter and report to their respective boards. It is perhaps disappointing that it does not contain more. It reminded me that it can be hard to force independent regulators to co-operate, especially at the moment that they are created. They fiercely guard their independence, not just wanting to do things their own way but vehement that they are obliged to do so.

In the EU, my committee insisted that there be a joint committee of the three regulators; we got it into legislation, albeit in a very sketchy form, with the intention that they got together to thrash out different positions. However, in that, they stayed as equals and there was no overarching power, rather as it is in the MoU between the PRA and the FCA. I can tell you that the regulators did not like the idea. When they came to committee hearings, we had to keep asking whether they had met yet. The answer was that they were concentrating on their own set-up and procedures first. Eventually, there came to be a few problems and, as happened back then in the EU, the Parliament was seen as part of the solution. So, they came to me, discovered that I knew all about this since industry had alerted me as well, and, after a chat and—perhaps—a bit of pressure, I remember saying that that was why we had invented the joint committee and kept asking about it. Slowly, they started to use it, then decided it was quite a good thing and, finally, wondered how they could ever have done without it; maybe they were also a little afraid of what Parliament might say if they did not make it work.

I have thought about that experience and whether the UK is better off with the MoU—which actually has more definition in it—or worse off because, in the end, it reinforces territories rather than being a less formal get-together. There is a problem with the proposal by the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, in that it is formalised with the Governor of the Bank of England as chair. I am not sure that establishing a pecking order as it does is the right thing, even if it does end up going back to the two CEOs, which, of course, is where the MoU takes it all to anyway. I certainly do not like it as a step towards abandoning the “twin peaks” idea.

The present Governor also has FCA experience but, in the circumstances, that might complicate matters. One thing the amendment proposes is for the joint committee to check that the MoU is working. That check is important; it will surprise nobody that, in my view, if the MoU is not working, that is just the sort of matter that Parliament should get involved with to see if it can catalyse some action. The rest of the amendment also seems to be on things Parliament should be asking about and could ask to have reports about. Although I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, has directed attention towards the right body, he highlights some issues on which the regulators should be quizzed.

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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Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con) [V]
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My Lords, all three amendments in this group would increase the importance of equivalence determinations, which might ultimately be counterproductive.

Amendment 90 seeks to prevent the Treasury making equivalence decisions for reciprocal reasons alone. I cannot see a shred of evidence that the Treasury might do that. When my right honourable friend the Chief Secretary to the Treasury and Katharine Braddick, director-general for financial services, gave evidence to the EU Services Sub-Committee, they made it very clear that, although they would have preferred a comprehensive set of equivalence determinations, the EU declined to grant any, besides two time-limited determinations for the central counterparties, such as LCH, which clear derivatives transactions. It is good news that the Government decided to make their equivalence determinations unilaterally, based on economics and efficiency of markets, and have no intention of making equivalence determinations for political or reciprocal reasons. I suggest that the noble Baroness’s amendment is unnecessary.

Amendment 100 in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Eatwell, is clearly fighting yesterday’s battle. It presumes that the memorandum of understanding now under negotiation with the EU on future regulatory co-operation is likely to lead to the granting by the EU of a number of positive equivalence determinations. This would indeed provide much-needed clarity in the short term but would also make divergence more difficult. Furthermore, the EU has been unwilling to make equivalence determinations on the basis of equivalence of outcomes. Rather, it has made it clear that it expects the UK to copy its rules exactly, line by line, as the price for equivalence determinations.

The Governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, has said we will not become a “rule-taker” from the EU. He said that, just as we will not diverge for divergence’s sake, we will not align for alignment’s sake. It is unrealistic to think the EU will grant any significant equivalence assessments to the UK in areas where it thinks we may diverge from its cumbersome and expensive regulations. The majority of the financial services industry, rather than looking for equivalence determinations, which can be withdrawn unilaterally on 30 days’ notice, is now looking to the Government to adopt a new and different pro-innovation, pro-competition, common law-based regulatory regime. That is the way to retain and further enhance the position of our financial services industry and our leadership role in developing proportionate, sound regulation at the global level.

Furthermore, the explanatory notes prepared by the noble Lord are puzzling. The decision of the EU not to grant equivalence determinations to the UK has no effect on UK retail investors, because we have granted equivalence to EU firms in many areas to continue to offer their services and products in the UK. I can see that it may well disadvantage EU retail investors, who will be denied access to products and services produced by UK financial services firms, so I do not think this amendment is helpful under any circumstances.

Amendment 105 in the name of my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts would require a report on the progress towards agreeing the MoU with the EU on regulatory co-operation. This report will be due within two months of the passage of this Bill. However, the TCA requires this MoU to be entered into by the end of March. It seems unlikely that this Bill will even be enacted by then.

Can the Minister tell the Committee when he expects the MoU to be agreed, when a draft will be available and the Government’s expectations as to its content? I usually find common cause with my noble friend but, in relation to his amendment, I believe the retention of freedom to diverge from EU regulations in order to adopt a better regulatory regime in a particular area, ensuring or enhancing the city’s continuing leading role in that area, is more important than slavish alignment to EU rules to beg or ask for the grant of equivalence determinations which could be unilaterally withdrawn at any time. I therefore doubt whether his amendment is necessary but I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Trenchard who, as usual, speaks good sense on this matter. While these are clearly probing amendments designed to get the Government to say how they see the future of various aspects of financial services, it seems to me that, as regards equivalence with the EU, they are rooted in the language of the past. It has been clear for a long time that the EU sees equivalence either as a route to dictate how the UK’s financial services sector is regulated or as a weapon to be used against the UK as a competitor. The Governor of the Bank of England has spoken strongly against the EU’s apparent positioning on equivalence. He said that either it was trying to say that our rules should never change, which he described as dangerous, or that our rules should change whenever the EU changed its rules, which was “not acceptable”.

There is no doubt that the EU sees the UK as a threat to its way of doing things. It no longer has a leading financial centre within the EU and will struggle to create one, especially if its only weapon is protectionism. We have long been one of the leading financial markets in the world and I hope that we get our number one slot back now that we are unshackled from the EU. That may well take us into new areas of financial services; it should certainly lead to the dismantling of some elements of the EU’s rules that we never liked. The alternative investment funds directive is one clear example; Solvency II and MiFID are others. They never reflected what we regarded as important, and introduced rules which we regarded as unnecessary and cumbersome.

It would have been very easy for the EU to have granted us equivalence at the end of the transition period; we were completely aligned. However, there is a misguided belief in the EU that they can create a rival to the UK and that the best way of doing that is to make it difficult for UK firms to operate in the EU. My own view is that we should abandon any interest in equivalence. Even if we were to get a favourable decision, the EU has retained the right to remove any such decision at short notice. We know that decisions on granting or removing equivalence will not be made on technical merit. They will be political decisions designed to advance the EU’s financial services industry at the expense of the UK. I do not believe that a UK-based financial services operator could ever build a viable business model on the shifting sands of equivalence as determined by a body—the EU—which does not wish us well.

In addition, I do not think that it matters very much. We may find that some areas of our financial services as currently operated will become less profitable—for example, if the EU cuts off its nose to spite its face and denies Euro-denominated derivatives the advantages of London’s liquidity via UK clearing exchanges. Many UK banks and other financial institutions have already set up EU-based subsidiaries to carry out the business that was previously carried out under passporting. That is now water under the bridge—those subsidiary structures will carry on while the business is profitable and cease if it is not.

For these reasons, I believe that the amendments in this group are looking in the rear-view mirror. Of much greater importance is what plans the Government have to support and promote the future—

Baroness Fookes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Fookes) (Con)
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My Lords, there is a Division in the Chamber. The Committee stands adjourned for five minutes.

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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As I was saying, my Lords, of much greater importance are the plans that the Government have to support and promote the future growth of our financial services sector. The amendments on international competitiveness debated on our first day in Committee are far more important than EU equivalence.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to follow my noble friend Lady Noakes. Like her, I was struck by the comments of the Governor of the Bank of England, and I feel she has given us a welcome dose of reality this evening.

I speak as a member of the EU Committee and its Services Sub-Committee. We have wrestled long and hard on the vexed question of the granting of equivalence by the EU, including the important issue of reciprocity, highlighted by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. I want to make three points and ask one question.

First, once one has decided to leave the EU, it makes little sense to be tied to its rules and regulations—in effect, as the Governor of the Bank of England has said recently, thereby becoming a rule taker without being able to make any input to the new rules. So we will have to plough our own furrow on financial services. But that does not stop us agreeing equivalence arrangements in areas where there is strong mutual interest such as central counterparties, known as CCPs, already temporarily approved, and perhaps insurance. We have granted equivalence to European banks and other bodies, as has been said, and the prospect of maintaining that equivalence gives us some leverage.

Secondly, I do not see why we should necessarily refuse equivalence to third countries which do not have similar legal and supervisory standards. Flexibility is important if we are to welcome investors here, and they may have different yet adequate regimes, bringing in innovation and diversity of offer, which could be valuable in the UK. Trade in services is absolutely vital to the future of this country.

Thirdly, I can see the value of some form of reporting to Parliament, as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, in Amendment 100 and my noble friend Lord Hodgson in Amendment 105—although in different ways. Even on the EU Committee, we have had the greatest difficulty extracting information on the progress of negotiations on financial services, partly because this is in the hands of the Treasury and its officials, while the main spokesman has been my noble friend Lord Frost, who has led our negotiations across the board with such tenacity.

My question is this. How does my noble friend the Deputy Leader feel about the balance between UK-owned banks and financial service operators and their EU competitors now that we have granted equivalence and the EU, in the main, has not? Am I right in thinking that a German bank such as Deutsche Bank, a Dutch bank such as Rabobank or a French asset management firm such as Amundi is regulated in its own country and less subject to UK regulator bureaucracy and aggressive enforcement of something like MiFID than its UK counterparts? Is there any sense in which it is privileged, and is this true also of smaller operators? Does this matter to UK plc?