Debates between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted during the 2019 Parliament

Mon 20th Feb 2023
Wed 1st Feb 2023
Wed 25th Jan 2023
Financial Services and Markets Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage & Committee stage
Mon 21st Jun 2021
Dormant Assets Bill [HL]
Grand Committee

Committee stage & Committee stage
Tue 9th Mar 2021
Mon 8th Mar 2021
Wed 24th Feb 2021
Financial Services Bill
Grand Committee

Committee stage:Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wed 6th Jan 2021
Trade Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Mon 23rd Nov 2020
United Kingdom Internal Market Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage:Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords

Financial Services and Markets Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD)
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Yes, I think that is correct.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I support Clause 27 and, in particular, its new Clause 3RC of FSMA, which allows the Treasury to require the regulators to review their rules. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, said, I have added my name to her Amendment 78 because it is important to widen out the scope of the reviews which the regulators will have to carry out. I also support her Amendment 145 for the same reason and should have added my name to it as well, so that we cover both the PRA and the FCA.

A lot of the things that regulators do are grounded in the specific rules that they apply, which is the focus of new Clause 3RC, but it should also be possible for the Treasury to tell the regulators to review, for example, the cumulative impact of rules as they affect innovation or new market entrants or any particular segments of the financial services industry. The Bill as drafted simply does not give the Treasury that power.

My Amendment 79A in this group seeks to involve more parties in the review-initiation process. At the moment, it involves only the Treasury and the regulators. My amendment is designed for other voices to be heard and responded to by the Treasury; it would require the Treasury to “consider any representations made” by various sources. I have included all the statutory panels attached to the regulators, including those created by the Bill. These panels ought to have good insights into how the rules work in practice and their opinions on which should be reviewed should be heard, so my amendment says that the Treasury must consider representations from representative bodies, which would include all trade and consumer bodies involved in the sector.

My noble friend the Minister may well say that the Treasury will of course consider any representations made to it in respect of the review of rules and that it is quite unnecessary to put that into statute. I accept that, but only up to a point. The relationship between regulators and their sponsoring departments is often much too close and certainly has the potential to shut out anything that might be uncomfortable for either the regulators or the sponsoring department, or both. That is why the second leg of my amendment requires the Treasury to “inform the body” making the representations if it decides not to require a review.

I do not believe there should be any power for outside bodies to tell the Treasury what it should do, but there needs to be something to counteract the imbalance of power that the Treasury has. Transparency is often the best remedy and it is, in effect, what I propose in my amendment by requiring the Treasury to respond with reasons for not pursuing a particular review. If Ministers do not like the idea of transparency by the Treasury, my noble friend will need to be very persuasive when winding up this debate.

Financial Services and Markets Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD)
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My Lords, there are many good suggestions in this group of amendments. Indeed, they are all good and they are all very supportable. It is particular pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, because with the amendment on the determination of authorisations he has put his finger on a specific problem that interferes with the day-to-day running of businesses, or those hoping to run new businesses, and is at the heart of competitiveness. So without addressing those kinds of issues, we will not get anywhere. This lies behind similar amendments in my name, in a later group, relating to efficiency.

I hope that, given the number of amendments, and no doubt contributions, from noble Lords from all sides, the Government and the regulators will acknowledge the need and the parliamentary appetite for further accountability through formal reporting and, as I point out in my Amendment 121, for independent performance metrics. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, for signing that amendment. Of course, it is a probing amendment directed at the FCA. To be thorough, there would need to be another one replicating it for the PRA, but I had tabled enough amendments already. I am conscious also that the noble Lord, Lord Bridges, has proposed a more fully developed model, with an amendment in a later group creating an office for financial regulatory accountability. I have signed that amendment.

My amendment suggests that the FCA report its performance against a set of statistics developed and periodically updated by the National Audit Office, in consultation with consumer representatives, through which the FCA’s achievements and progress may be objectively evaluated. The idea for the amendment developed out of discussions that we had in your Lordships’ Industry and Regulators Committee when we were looking at competitiveness in financial services, particularly in the insurance sector, as well as the wider discussion about competitiveness.

The issue with reports by the regulators is that, even within a given topic, they are setting their own exam questions and then grading themselves on how well they have passed. There is a constant need to get different specifics and granularities as new issues arise, and that is not necessarily being done—for example, reporting on authorisations, as I have mentioned. The committee had some discussions with the NAO, finding it very helpful and astute, and there are always lots of interesting things in its report that at times already challenge what the regulators have said about themselves and how they have spent their resources. It sheds light on things that—shall we say?—have certainly been exaggerated by the regulators in the past.

It is clear from the number of amendments in this group and elsewhere that to address problems comprehensively within the structure of FSMA is quite difficult and convoluted, needing many amendments that make it ever more difficult and convoluted. That is one reason to have an external body that can look over everything and cut through some of the obfuscation and difficulty one has in trying to put something comprehensive into FSMA and needing about eight amendments to do it. My fundamental question is: does the Minister recognise that need for an independent body of substance that can update what is reviewed and measured around regulatory performance and is free from the regulators’ own glossing, and if not, why not?

I need touch only briefly on my other two amendments in this group, Amendments 157 and 158. They simply suggest that when respondents to consultations do not wish to be named—that is perfectly reasonable—there should nevertheless be an indication of the nature of the respondents so that we can see how many have come from industry and how many from elsewhere. That is done sometimes; it is done routinely in some departments but in others it is never done. It is just good governance because, without revealing the identity of individuals or companies, you can nevertheless see what the universe of respondents truly looks like.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I have Amendments 83 and 84 in this group and I have added my name to Amendments 66, 115 and 116 in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond. I did not add my name to some of the other amendments in this group but I think a pattern of considerable agreement is emerging from all parts of this Committee as to the things that we need to address. Perhaps we have not quite honed in on how to find the one solution to that, but the purpose of Committee is to explore these things.

My noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond’s Amendment 66 aims at much the same target as Amendments 45 and 63 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull. I support what both said in introducing their amendments. I understand what the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, is seeking to achieve but it is not enough just to tell the FCA or the PRA to monitor and measure what they are doing in certain areas. We need to go further, and into regular and focused reporting, which is why I particularly wanted to support my noble friend Lord Holmes’s Amendment 66. Of course, the two issues are not mutually exclusive, and I can see the start of a way forward to an amendment on Report that encapsulates many of the issues arising in respect of the competitiveness and growth objectives.

I am particularly concerned that the regulators will pay lip service to the new objective: we will get pages of elegant words in their annual reports but whether they will amount to anything useful in terms of information is something of a moot point. I also believe that relatively few people actually read the annual reports of the regulators, much as not many people read the annual reports of listed companies. If noble Lords are in any doubt about the capacity of the PRA to write a lot of words without saying much of substance, they need only look at the PRA’s discussion document on how it will respond to this new competitiveness and growth objective. It runs to 70 pages but there is virtually no meat in there at all. We need hard data in a regular report which will get attention in Parliament and elsewhere, which is the other main theme that will emerge from our Committee: how we can start to build a proper system of accountability. However, reporting by the regulators is an important building block in there.

My Amendments 83 and 84 also concern the competitiveness and growth objective, but this time in the context of consultation on new rules. These amendments amend new Sections 138I and 138J of FSMA, as inserted by Clause 29, so that the PRA and the FCA have to include an explanation of the impact of how the competitiveness and growth objective has affected whatever new rules are brought forward. Whenever new rules are proposed, there is an important opportunity to consider their potential impacts on competitiveness and growth. As we know, regulators do not need many excuses to create new rules, but every time they respond to real or perceived risks with another addition to the rule book, they will end up imposing costs, and costs are ultimately borne by consumers. They can also have the effect of slowing down or hampering innovation, so it is important that, at the point before new rules are introduced, we have the opportunity to review the impact of those rules on competitiveness and growth in the UK. I like ex poste reporting, but I also like ex ante analysis and, if necessary, action to change rules before they have an adverse impact.

I have also added my name to my noble friend Lord Holmes’s Amendments 115 and 116 because they would give hard data on how speedy the regulators are in handling new approvals, which is an important area. Amendment 116, which would require information on various kinds of regulatory decisions made by the FCA, could usefully be extended to the PRA because it, too, seems to drag its feet on those areas.

Anybody who has worked in a bank will have a story about how long it took to get directors and key executives approved. Last week the Financial Times reported that a digital asset technology company was forced to register in Switzerland because the FCA was too slow to deal with its UK authorisation application. We really must have regulators in the financial services sector that work efficiently and effectively if the UK is to remain a successful financial centre. We need the kind of reports covered in these amendments to form part of a suite of information on which Parliament can start to hold these regulators to account more effectively.

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Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, which has turned out to be a rather more interesting one than I thought we might have on this subject. It has raised a lot of very interesting points. The noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, challenged us on why we do not keep referring back to the financial crisis. There is a very simple reason: we are in a different world now. As we know, financial regulation was overhauled both in the UK and internationally. The banks have far more capital but, more importantly, significant changes have been made to ensure that they can fail safely. We are not talking about carrying the inherent risks which came to fulfilment in the early part of this century. Constantly harking back without recognising the huge changes that have happened since then is just not helpful.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for explaining which standards are intended to be covered by this. That is a helpful statement to have on the record. However, I confess that, while I completely accept the notion that we will want generally to comply with international standards—we lead them quite a lot of the time—as far as I can tell, the regulators spend at least half their lives on airplanes to exotic parts of the world to have meetings about international standards. I am not sure that that is a very good use of their time.

It could be that we do not wish to follow particular standards, even though being in a leadership position would imply that we would generally do so. It continues to trouble me that the wording says

“subject to aligning with relevant international standards”,

as if we align with them automatically, not merely as our default position. I am not entirely convinced that my noble friend has explained to my satisfaction that this wording gives sufficient flexibility to allow international standards to be ignored when relevant to the UK. I completely accept that whether or not international standards are followed will be primarily determined by our regulators, in the light of what is necessary. I may well want to revisit this on Report but, for this evening—which has gone on for rather a long time—I beg leave to withdraw.

Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD)
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Before the noble Baroness sits down, I mentioned that I wrestled with this in the EU. There it says “having regard to”, which I would have thought was the appropriate wording: we have regard to it and usually do it, but do not have it in binding language.

Financial Services and Markets Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I will speak to the amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington. I do not support them, because I think that what the Government are trying to do in this Bill is moving in the right direction.

We have to remember that derivatives are basically a success story. It is a huge financial activity. The total value of derivative trading is sometimes estimated to be a multiple of global GDP. Of course, commodity trading is only a relatively small part of that, but it is important because the advantages of trading allow effective risk management, price discovery and market efficiency. Those are the sorts of things that actually help consumers, at the end of the day, so we must be very wary of trying to interfere in what is fundamentally a successful part of our financial infrastructure.

Of course, speculation is involved in derivatives, there is risk for some counterparties—and sometimes systemic risk—in derivatives, and sometimes they are extremely complicated as individual instruments, even to understand. But they are part of and underpin something that works well for markets overall. We should intervene in that only if absolutely necessary.

My own view is that the changes in the Bill probably do not go far enough to take the dead hand of EU prescriptive regulation away, but they are a solid move in the right direction. As the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, pointed out, they replace a mandatory regime with a permissive one that allows the rules to be designed for the particular markets. In particular, the changes in Schedule 2 will allow the FCA to transfer responsibility for setting position limits to trading venues, if indeed position limits are needed. For some time now, the FCA has not been enforcing excesses on position limits in respect of the majority of contracts, and the world has not come to an end.

I think Amendments 21 and 22 are a step backwards in trying to preserve a mandatory EU regime. So too is trying to drag over-the-counter derivatives into that regime, because—as the noble Baroness pointed out—it has been found that they are extremely difficult to identify. Their removal from the regime was almost universally supported in the consultation that the Government carried out on changes to the derivatives regime.

Amendment 41 from the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, is about putting additional information in annual reports and accounts. There are already obligations on companies to report things that are material to an understanding of the financial position of those companies. They are required to describe their trading model and the operating segments that are relevant to them, but they are not required to identify income streams from particular instruments that they operate. There is a good reason for that. Annual reports are already very long, complicated and difficult to understand, and the noble Baroness is asking for information that in very many cases will be wholly irrelevant to an understanding of the financial position or operations of the companies that involve some trading. For many, it is embedded in their marketing activities for the products they engage in. I do not support any of the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness.

Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Worthington, on venturing into commodities. I remember many happy hours—I call them that—when I was chair of ECON, discussing commodities with the chair of the CFTC, Gary Gensler, in particular, and the chairs of the agriculture committees in the Senate, which deal with a lot of the derivatives. It is an impossible task to get a grip on everything, but that does not mean you should not try to get a grasp of things that might go wrong.

Dormant Assets Bill [HL]

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, for adding her name to the amendment.

At Second Reading, I asked the Government whether they would switch from using private sector auditors for Reclaim Fund Ltd to using the Comptroller and Auditor-General. I was disappointed that my noble friend the Minister did not reply to that when she wound up the debate; nor did she write to me following the debate. However, the Government’s Back-Benchers are well aware that they are generally not the priority of Ministers and I do not hold it against her.

At Second Reading, my primary focus was on switching the statutory audit arrangements. All limited liability companies, apart from very small ones, are required to be audited by statutory auditors. The Companies Act 2006 opened up the possibility, for the first time, of the appointment of the C&AG to companies in the public sector. That was in response to a report by Lord Sharman, who sadly has now retired from the Liberal Democrat Benches. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will explain what arrangements will be made for the statutory audit of Reclaim Fund Ltd, now that it is fully within the public sector. It has been audited by private sector auditors to date. I continue to believe that it should be audited by the C&AG.

Last week, I had a helpful meeting with my noble friend the Minister and her officials. They said that the audit would be carried out by the C&AG in future and that the power for this existed under the National Audit Act 1983. This left me a little confused because that Act does not deal with the statutory audit of companies incorporated under the Companies Act. I hope that my noble friend will be able to clarify the position today. In the first group, she referred to value-for-money auditing—I shall come to that in a moment—but she did not refer to statutory audit.

My reasons for shifting the financial audit of Reclaim Fund Ltd from private sector auditors were partly because it would be cheaper but mainly because the National Audit Office carries out value-for-money work, not just financial audits. I believe that there are strong grounds for believing that the activities of Reclaim Fund Ltd would benefit from a value-for-money audit. For example, I believe that the ultra-cautious approach to the investment of the huge funds that are retained within the company has not optimised the income of the company. It has offices in St James’s Square, which, I wager, is not the most cost-effective location. Every penny that is either spent unwisely or represents forgone income translates into less money flowing to the good causes that should be funded by the dormant assets.

This is why I have tabled an amendment for Committee that focuses on value-for-money audits alone. Value-for-money audits are a routine part of auditing in the public sector, and those bodies that are in the public sector but are not government departments usually have the C&AG specified as their auditor by statute. However, some, like Reclaim Fund Ltd, are not set up like this and value-for-money audits generally proceed on a voluntary basis. I assume that this will be the basis underpinning the upcoming VFM audits that my noble friend referred to earlier.

As there have been some difficulties in getting the NAO into some bodies in the past, it has been necessary from time to time to make statutory provision for this. However, these have generally been big beasts rather than a small company such as Reclaim Fund Ltd. My amendment is drafted on the basis of what is now Section 7D of the Bank of England Act 1998—inserted by the Bank of England and Financial Services Act 2016—which was necessary to get access for the C&AG to carry out value-for-money audits in the Bank of England. Obviously, it would be best if the C&AG did both financial and value-for-money audits on Reclaim Fund Ltd.

I very much look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister says. I beg to move.

Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I added my name to this amendment because I support entirely the objective that has been so well outlined already by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. Like her, I share the view that both the statutory audit and the value-for-money audit should be provided for. I will defer to her superior knowledge in terms of which bodies tend to be routinely audited or where there is a degree of optionality, or, at least, life is made difficult so that you have to have something like Section 7D of the Bank of England Act 1998. I too had a meeting with colleagues and the Minister in which I believe it was said that the audit would be by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, but I am not sure now whether that is absolutely the case, given what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has said.

It is very important that we have, for the record, a knowledge of exactly what is expected to happen and whether there is any optionality about it. If there is some kind of optionality, then it is necessary to have an amendment of the kind proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes. The record has to be clear as to what will happen. I am sure the Minister has all the best intentions, but it is obviously not quite such a clear-cut situation as we have been led to believe. If no fulsome response is available at this point in time, then it is absolutely necessary that we have the information about that well in advance of Report so that we can know whether there is still a need for the amendment.

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, this is a probing amendment standing in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Kramer. I also support the similar aim in the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.

As I indicated at Second Reading, I was surprised at the level of funds kept back from distribution in order to cover possible repayments. It was 40% that alarmed me but, as the Minister explained subsequently in our meeting, it was actually 60%, which is even more alarming. That is travel in the right direction, but it still seems to be excessive prudence.

With regard to bank and building society account assets, even if there were no change in the status of Reclaim Fund Ltd, there is a change of status in that the Government are essentially a guarantor and can provide a loan to cover a deficit. That makes a difference and it should be utilised, whether by influencing the risk appetite, which is where I have directed my amendment, or by specific guarantee, as the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, suggests.

I am not suggesting that a reclaim fund should take an outlandish view of risk, but the fact is that it should not be necessary to be ultra-cautious, because the consequence of extraordinary and unexpected reclaim amounts would be the triggering of a loan from the Treasury rather than a call on the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. I am well aware that protection of such compensation schemes can feature as a large factor in the mind of the regulators when they give advice about what would be the right approach. We know this to be a fact when it comes to the Pensions Regulator; I have discussed that extensively on another Bill, although that is not in the Minister’s purview. It could well have been a factor in the Financial Conduct Authority’s computations and its part in advising on the provisioning. I would like to know whether that is the case and whether there is any suggestion of reviewing that in the light of the change in status and the removal of access to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme and its replacement with the availability of the Government’s loan.

I recognise the need to protect the public purse, about which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, is concerned in his amendment, but a loan is not a giveaway; it is a mechanism to smooth the unexpected and remove the need for an excessively cautious risk appetite. That is the direction I am coming from in my amendment: to allow the loan possibility to influence risk appetite and change it from an ultra-cautious to a mid-range approach. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has taken a more formalised accounting approach and I have no problem with that as a mechanism. The point on which we concur is that being ultra-cautious needlessly keeps funds doing nothing. That is wasteful when the loan facility or another mechanism exists. I beg to move.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I have Amendment 53 in this group. It is very much on the theme of Amendment 51, which the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, just spoke to. As she said, the common ground between us is that the amount of money kept back in Reclaim Fund Ltd as reserves for repayment claims is much too high. Like her, I was shocked when I found out that the company started off by holding back 60% of the funds transferred from banks and building societies. The fact that it is now 40% is no great comfort.

When the then 2008 Bill was debated in your Lordships’ House, the Government could offer no estimate of the amounts that would be held back, but the kind of figure that we talked about was 10%. Surprisingly, that is not a million miles away from the experience to date, which is between 5% and 7%. The ultra-cautious reserving policy adopted by the company has meant that around £500 million has been held back. Just think what could have been achieved in the voluntary sector if even half of that had been released.

Nothing in the 2008 Act required this to happen, but the Act did require any reclaim fund to embed in its articles of association the transfer of money for good causes being subject to ensuring that it could meet repayment claims that are prudently anticipated. The issue is about the judgments that have been made for these prudently anticipated repayment claims.

I understand that the calculation of the reserves has been made using actuarial advice. With apologies in advance to the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, I was once told that people became actuaries rather than chartered accountants because they found chartered accountancy too exciting. That may well account for the fact that an extreme version of prudence has been at work in this provision.

When the Dormant Assets Commission reported to the Government in 2017, it too was concerned about the amounts held back for both repayment claims and a capital reserve. Both appear to be ultra-prudent. So far as the repayment reserves are concerned, the Dormant Assets Commission recommended using commercial reinsurance against the tail risks driving the extent of this provision. Now that the company is firmly in the public sector, it makes little sense to carry on preparing accounts as though it were a free-standing organisation needing to guard against extreme possibilities for future payments.

The plain fact is that, if Reclaim Fund Ltd overdistributes its funds and runs out of money due to unexpectedly high repayment claims, the Treasury will have to step in. I will comment later on the problems I see with the power in Clause 27 to lend money to the company, but I believe that the crucial issue is that the Treasury now de facto stands behind the company. It should now be run from a financial management perspective in that light. It would not make sense to buy commercial reinsurance for the company’s tail risks because the public sector can bear such risks on its own balance sheet, which is why the Government rarely, if ever, buy commercial insurance.

My Amendment 53 could have tried to replicate an internal public sector reinsurance arrangement, but that felt rather artificial. Instead, it would give the Treasury power to guarantee the liabilities of the company, which it de facto does anyway now that it is in the public sector, and to tell the company how much of that guarantee can be taken into account when it makes its determinations under the 2008 Act about how much to anticipate on a prudent basis. It is now the Treasury’s responsibility to determine how much can be released for good causes. It must not hide behind an artificial construct of a limited liability company making its own judgments because, in the context of the public sector, the broad shoulders of the sector is bearing the risks anyway.

Amendment 51 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, basically links the power of the Treasury under Clause 27 to lend money to a reclaim fund when it calculates its provisions for liabilities. I do not think that that works in accounting purposes because, whether or not it is drawn down, the availability of a loan has no impact on the calculation of a liability. A loan is about funding—that is, cash flow—rather than the amount that is or may become payable.

In fact, I believe that the loan power in Clause 27 may be pretty useless. If the directors consider that they are unable to meet their liabilities as they fall due and there is any uncertainty about their financial forecasts, it may well be that the correct course of action for them is to place the company into liquidation. A loan would make sense only if the company had a strictly short-term need for cash but was confident that other funds would flow in from more dormant assets in the future to make up any hole in its accounts.

In any other case, liquidation is the obvious route because directors bear personal responsibility if they trade while insolvent. The Treasury would almost certainly want to avoid liquidation, with the possibility that repayment claims were not met, and would in practice have to recapitalise the company rather than lend money to it if a major loss emerged. So Clause 27 may well be a bit of an illusion, but it is certainly not the basis for reduced provisioning for repayment claims.

National Security and Investment Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Vaizey, for introducing his amendments and explaining some issues that I agree with, such as whether the Government are trying to make a failsafe, will it catch too many people and whether there will be too much to do. Although I understand that there may be different levels of concern, depending on the relationship with the country of the acquirer, I do not fully support the amendments in this group.

Where there are already sensitive industries, especially related to defence, who owns them matters in the sense of whether they are fit and proper for that kind of industry. Those considerations can apply within the UK as well as outside so, at some point, they have to be looked at. The question is whether they should be within the same regime or left to other operations that, the Government have considered, do not necessarily pick up everything.

My experience suggests that, in most instances, companies already used to dealing with sensitive matters would already be alert to what might not be desirable, and that it would either not happen or not happen often, but that does not mean that there should be no way of acting when it does. Therefore, they should all be included within this generic framework.

The Bill will apply to more companies or interests than companies used to dealing with sensitive matters, as I have just called them. Quite a lot still looks speculative, so I wonder whether there is, or in due course might be, further subdivision where certain geographies and industries might have different thresholds, depending on how likely they are to be particularly sensitive.

There will certainly be instances where the ownership interests of Five Eyes countries or other allies are of less or maybe no concern, but that may not always be the case if the security of supply or knowledge base is threatened. There are examples in the defence industry where, following takeovers by US corporations, research has been closed down, leaving only certification, assembly or supply of parts as the UK activity. This has led to a serious loss of forward vision and an undermining of the knowledge base, as well as other issues, such as access to technology. Sometimes that might be accepted, but not always.

It is one thing to recognise that we do not—indeed cannot—stand alone on defence issues, but quite another to accept, always and without review, what might be serious diminution or removal of all active participation. Therefore, although I expect the results of reviews to be different for different categories of acquirer, I do not see how there can be any blanket exclusion at the initial filtering stage. I am very interested in how different thresholds may play a part in reducing the number of transactions that would have to be filtered.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, my first instinct was to say that the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Vaizey are obviously correct. I am sure that the majority of cases that would threaten our national security will involve foreign actors and, like him, I am concerned about the volumes of notifiable transactions.

However, I think that there might be circumstances in which the powers in the Bill could appropriately be used in respect of wholly UK companies. In that respect, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted. For example, large company A may have a monopoly or near monopoly in providing something critical to our security. Tiny company B may have developed a new technology, which not only achieves a better result in the light of emerging risks, but at a fraction of the price. If company A acquires control of company B, it can kill the new technology and keep its monopoly profits on its old products. Sometimes, large companies acquire smaller ones to avoid disruption to lucrative markets, rather than to exploit their innovations. I do not think it would apply often, but it is a good reason not to restrict the Secretary of State’s powers in the Bill.

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Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for introducing their amendments and exploring the reasoning behind them, which I have found helpful. I put my name down to speak to Amendment 17, which was signed by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones, for whom I am broadly substituting because he is regrettably unavailable until later today. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, I was wondering why the Government chose 15% as the threshold above which a notification would become mandatory.

On the previous group, I wondered whether we could have different thresholds for different reasons. That would not be without precedent. For example, Australia has different percentage thresholds for lesser and more sensitive assets and different business value thresholds depending on the country of the acquirer. However, here we have 15%, which might be a number above which you fear an activist shareholder, but why?

In the UK, shareholders get some additional rights at 5%: they can go to court to prevent the conversion of a public company to a private company; they can call a general meeting; they can require the circulation of a written resolution to shareholders in a private company; or they can require the passing of a resolution at an annual general meeting of a public company. At 10%, you can call a poll vote on a resolution. At more than 10%, in a private company, you can prevent a meeting being held at short notice. At 15%, you can apply to the court to cancel a variation of class rights, provided that the shareholders have not consented to or voted in favour of the variation. Getting to 25% is significant, because it gives the right to prevent the passing of a special resolution, which could affect various articles and other things. I cannot see that preventing a change in class rights, assuming that a court would agree, is significant. I am slightly bemused about where that 15% number was plucked from.

We get to the point about whether fear of an activist shareholder is what this is all about. We hear of the insistence on having a director, when there is a certain quantity of shares, but they have to be able to control all the other directors, which does not always happen. It brings to the fore a thought about who owns the other shares, which would have to be taken into account in any assessments. Conditions might then be put on a company in respect of what happens to other shareholders to allow a transaction to pass.

As the noble Lord, Lord Leigh, explained, this makes something more complicated for reasons that do not yet seem clear. There are surely other inherent safeguards that would do the job. From that point of view, I support Amendment 17 signed by my noble friend but, as has been explained, there are other ways in which it could be achieved.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, the effect of amendments in this group may be to restrict the Government’s ability of to act where de facto control is the result of an acquisition. We should not underestimate the ingenuity that could be deployed to achieve de facto control or make it easier for people to escape the Bill where there are substantive concerns. For that reason, I do not believe that we should tie the Government’s hands in this way.

I put my name down to speak on this group, in particular on my noble friend Lord Leigh of Hurley’s Amendment 17, which increases the voting rights threshold for notification from 15% to 25%, and I support the probing Amendment 15A in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, which removes the reference to the voting rights test.

While a shareholding needs to be 25% to be certain of stopping a special resolution—the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, referred to that a moment ago—in practical terms that assumes that all other voting rights would be exercised and in the opposite direction. The de facto ability to stop a special resolution kicks in at much lower levels. I am interested to hear what the Minister says about the rationale for 15%.

For many years, I was a director of the Reuters Founders Share Company, which was set up to hold a form of golden share in Reuters to protect the independence and integrity of the Reuters news service and to prevent it falling under the control of any faction. There is a long history to that, which I will not go into. The trigger point for the ability to use the golden share was set at 15%, for the very reasons I have just given. It is the level at which the influence of a shareholding bloc can be significant. In the history of Reuters Founders Share Company, deployment of the 15% was needed on one occasion. For that reason, I am inclined to support the Bill’s cautious approach in this area.

Financial Services Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
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.

--- Later in debate ---
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.

Financial Services Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Committee stage & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Committee: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 24th February 2021

(3 years, 4 months ago)

Grand Committee
Read Full debate Financial Services Bill 2019-21 View all Financial Services Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 162-III Third marshalled list for Grand Committee - (24 Feb 2021)
Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, this is my first day in Committee and I place on record my interests as declared in the register, particularly my shareholdings in financial services companies.

I am very grateful to the Committee for going so slowly on Monday and not reaching Amendment 10. As I think noble Lords are aware, I was in the Chamber and could not have moved it myself. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, and my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond; not only have they added their names to my amendments in this group but they were standing by to deal with them without me on Monday. Normal service is resumed and I can move my amendment myself. I shall also speak to Amendment 26 in this group.

This is a fairly large group of amendments but its underlying theme is a search for the right balance between letting the specialist regulators get on with the job of regulatory rule-making and the role of Parliament in overseeing those regulators. My Amendment 10 to Clause 2 says that Schedule 2 to the Bill, which amends FiSMA to create rule-making powers for the FCA to undertake prudential regulation of investment firms, will not come into effect until each House of Parliament has approved accountability arrangements for those powers.

Amendment 26 is drafted in identical terms but relates to the rule-making powers conferred on the PRA by Schedule 3, which deals with the capital requirements regulation rules.

I make no attempt in these amendments to say what form of parliamentary accountability arrangements should be put in place, although the second part of my amendment says that accountability arrangements should include a number of things: arrangements for drafting the final rules being laid before Parliament; taking evidence on a draft of final rules and, importantly, Parliament expressing an opinion on them; and the consequences of any expression of opinion. On reflection, the drafting of my amendment is perhaps not clear enough as I was not intending to suggest that Parliament had to, for example, have the laying of draft rules as part of the accountability arrangements. I merely intended to indicate that it could have that as part of the arrangements.

My amendments are predicated on a belief that we should not grant significant new rule-making powers to the regulators without sufficient checks and balances in the system. Had the Government retained the rule-making powers repatriated from the EU, it would have been pretty clear that Parliament would have had an involvement. I am clear that passing these powers to the regulators should not allow the Government to write Parliament out of the picture. I am not, however, of a settled view as to what Parliament should do, which is why my amendment says that these new rule-making powers can go to the FCA and the PRA only when Parliament’s involvement is settled by Parliament itself. I am very conscious that it is not correct—or at least not normal—for legislation to cover the precise arrangements for parliamentary scrutiny. Those arrangements are for Parliament itself to determine, and I have tried to respect that.

Other amendments in this group seek to fill the void of what Parliament should do in practice, and I shall comment briefly on some of them. The noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Eatwell, in their Amendments 20, 21, 40 and 41, have set out involvement, with time limits, for each House of Parliament reporting on draft rules, with the ability to report on them but no power of veto. I can certainly see the merits of these amendments, as they strike a balance, giving Parliament an opportunity to give its views on new regulations but without allowing it to overrule our independent regulators. They should allow Parliament to take evidence on the impact of proposed new regulations, for example, on different parts of the financial services sector. This could deal well with concerns about, for example, the impact of regulations on both small and large players in parts of the financial services sector, and whether regulations create new barriers to entry. I am not sure, however, that the amendments sit easily with a need to make new regulations rapidly, which I believe is necessary from time to time.

On the other hand, many in the financial services sector are fearful of regulators gold-plating regulations and imposing unnecessary costs on whole sectors. At the end of the day, costs get passed on to consumers, even though there is often no direct correlation between a rule or regulation and any particular increase in consumer costs. That would not necessarily be well dealt with by the amendments in the names of the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Eatwell.

Some elements of Amendment 27 in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted and Lady Kramer, would allow more thematic or cumulative reviews. I particularly like the elevation of the statutory panels of the FCA and the PRA, though I do not believe that those panels should include Members of either House of Parliament. I know that these panels could be more effective voices for industry concerns. I have in mind, in particular, the PRA’s practitioner panel, which the PRA certainly did not want when it was set up by the Financial Services Act 2012, and has had no discernible impact since then. On the other hand, other elements of Amendment 27, for example Parliament’s involvement in the regulators’ meetings with the Basel Committee or IOSCO, seem to me to go beyond what it would be reasonable for Parliament to do.

My noble friend Lord Blackwell has an amendment with yet another variant with scrutiny of rules by parliamentary committees, but with any results being passed to the Secretary of State for action. My concern with that is that the only action that could in practice be taken, once the power to make rules has been passed to the FCA and the PRA, would be more primary legislation. That seems a sledgehammer to crack a nut and would, in practice, not really act as a restraint, a check or a balance on the undesirable use by the regulators of their powers.

The issue of the nature of parliamentary involvement is discussed in the Treasury’s future regulatory framework review. The consultation on part 2 of that process, started last October, has just closed—my noble friend the Minister may want to say something about where we are with that process. I thought the section on accountability in that consultation was not strong and that reliance on the existing committee structures of both Houses was the wrong direction of travel. Whatever our views on that, a longer-term overhaul of accountability structures will not help us; we will have to find a solution that works for this Bill and until any changes emerge from the framework review. That is the challenge before us. I beg to move.

Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, my name is on eight amendments in this enlarged group. They cover different aspects of parliamentary accountability, although a common thread is Parliament’s right to information. Whether Parliament chooses a regime that scrutinises everything in detail or one which picks points of contention, and however it may develop over time, timely access to background and information is relevant.

My Amendment 18 and its counterpart, Amendment 38, relate to keeping Parliament informed about the discussions between the Treasury and the regulator concerning equivalence. In Schedules 2 and 3 this Bill establishes that, when making rules, the FCA or PRA may consult the Treasury about the likely effect of the rules on relevant equivalence decisions.

Parliament should be sighted of these considerations because they may affect the content and strength of rules and, as explained in the Government’s consultation, equivalence decisions may result in requirements being embedded in statutory instruments. Just as we used to have EU requirements in regulations, we may end up having equivalence requirements. There is nothing complicated about my amendment; it just says, “keep Parliament informed”. Unless Parliament establishes that right now, it will not exist.

To illustrate this, I quote from the recent FCA consultation on investment firms which, like this Bill, front-runs the Treasury consultation. Paragraph 9.68 states:

“we have discussed with HM Treasury the rules’ likely effect on relevant equivalence decisions. We are not expected under our new public accountability requirements to provide further detail on this.”

I think we need to know something, and I hope the Minister will appreciate that too.

I turn to my Amendments 19 and 39, which specify the level of detail that regulators’ explanations concerning compliance with statutory requirements should contain. I was provoked into tabling these amendments on reading the FCA’s explanations in its consultation. Although they gave a reasonable but qualitative explanation of its general approach to the Financial Services Bill, the statutory accountability statements were poor, containing nothing quantitative or illustrative. They consisted of “trust and believe me” statements littered with phrases such as “proportionality”, “business specific”, “bespoke” and “flexible”; no attempt was made to identify or quantify how that was done. Information would have to be extracted from the rest of the consultation and rules, if it were there at all; or—and this is the nub—we have to swallow that, as paragraph 9.71 states, it is left up to the

“investment firms and supervisors to focus on the core business model indicators of financial resilience relevant to each firm”.

There are no examples given.

The statutory explanations are an important part of accountability. They should be elaborated on as a stand-alone justification, perhaps to spoon-feed the non-skilled reader, but not just through assertions. We need more than assertions that supervisors cosying up with firms can decide how to get it right. That is not accountability. These statements should be written more like justifying a case in court and less like how to pander to industry. They should inform on the toughness of the regime and capital calculations.

My amendment proposes that the explanations

“must include specific, detailed and quantitative elaboration, with worked examples”,

and that Parliament may reject rules that are accompanied by inadequate explanation. By way of comparison, when I checked the PRA’s front-running consultation which came out on 12 February, it seems to have done a rather better job and included examples.

Trade Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Report stage & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 3rd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Wednesday 6th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Trade Bill 2019-21 View all Trade Bill 2019-21 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 128-R-III Third marshalled list for Report - (22 Dec 2020)
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, there was some good debate on the TRA in Committee, and the amendments in this group largely follow up on those themes, about which there was quite a lot of agreement. The disagreement was about whether or not they should be included in the Bill. I will speak mainly in support of Amendment 27, which my noble friend Lady Kramer has already explained. I want to add more background to why it is proper to put a little more on the face of the Bill when a regulator is created.

We have a lot of independent regulatory bodies in the UK. We will have even more, such as the TRA, following Brexit. They become part of the system of unelected power. That system has its strengths and weaknesses. We seem to have been broadly free of corruption, but maybe we have had our fair share of ineptitude. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the system, there is really only one opportunity for Parliament to intervene in the objectives and formulation of the regulator in a way that is seen as benign and away from incidents, rather than threatening it or treading on its powers, as it may see it. That time is when it is being set up, as the TRA is now. If I recall correctly, the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, said that the TRA will have heard Parliament’s views and could take account of them. It is true that the TRA, once formed, may take note, especially if the Minister is supportive, despite wanting to keep amendments down.

However, in reality, reliance on kind words in debate is not enough, especially ones lost in the mists of time. The Government may get another go, whether through policy messages of a formal nature or otherwise, or through statutory instruments, which we all know that Parliament has no power to change. For Parliament, once the Bill is passed, it is down to how far Select Committees will manage to harangue a regulator when it goes wrong or to how many Members pose Parliamentary Questions and cause enough publicity and aggravation to force a review, usually after a dramatic failure. I have trodden that path, but how much better it would be to accept the benign influence of a few more words in legislation at the outset, so that slippages are prevented or can be reminded about and caught sooner. Maybe there will be some constructive sessions with Select Committees and regulators will say “I will take that idea back” but, in my experience with financial services regulators and the FRC, that rarely leads anywhere.

As has been pointed out, the TRA has some well-defined functions stemming from WTO rules already in legislation, but there is wriggle room left around the economic impact assessment and it is all happening at a time of great sensitivity. Although I acknowledge that the department is doing a good job in its current work and preparation for the TRA, there would be comfort for the future in having something in the Bill to remind it about engagement with stakeholders.

The other amendments in this group also have merit. Amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, concerning the scope of advice, raise in my mind the question of whether the Government might at any stage wish to consult the TRA about state aid subsidies. What co-operation might there be between the CMA or other state aid control bodies given that the TRA has the other side of it? In a similar vein, I wonder whether the TRA will have the role of investigating infringement of state aid by the EU under the trade and co-operation agreement, as well as under WTO rules.

My plea to the Minister is that he put something on the face of the Bill so that there is at least something to point to concerning stakeholders.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I shall speak only to Amendment 27 in this group. I do not support it, mainly because I believe it is not necessary to tell a public body how to do its job. The TRA will be set up with a chief executive, staff and a board which will have a majority of non-executive directors and a chairman. It is being set up in a perfectly conventional way, which should allow it to ensure that it operates effectively.

A public body—or indeed any kind of body—does not need to be told to draw up a stakeholder engagement strategy. I also find it slightly bizarre that the amendment focuses on an engagement strategy. There will be far more important aspects of the TRA’s work—for example, on the kinds of information it seeks and the kind of analysis it carries out—but no strategy seems to be required for those. I also find no merit in the requirement to publish a strategy; I fail to see how that would add to the effectiveness of the TRA in providing advice.

Even if we need to specify that there must be an engagement strategy, it is quite unnecessary to specify a list of stakeholders with whom engagement must take place. I must say that the relevance of some in the list in this amendment is not entirely obvious. It seems to me that those proposing this amendment have forgotten that the TRA will focus on the kinds of things set out in Clause 6(3). It is a body focused on trade and traders, not on solving the problems of the world which are of interest to lobby groups.

United Kingdom Internal Market Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted
Report stage & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard) & Report: 2nd sitting (Hansard): House of Lords
Monday 23rd November 2020

(3 years, 7 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 View all United Kingdom Internal Market Act 2020 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: HL Bill 150-III(Rev) Revised third marshalled list for Report - (23 Nov 2020)
Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted Portrait Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, for drawing this clause to our attention, and I agree with the comments that have been made. In particular, I agree with the question about how you distinguish between goods and services when, nowadays, many things are never sold but rather licensed or rented and must sit either with one foot in each camp or, possibly, goods become services and vice versa.

Other confusions also arise around things that originally can be excluded but then are not when there is a substantive change to their regulation. There was some discussion, in which I was not involved, on this in Committee. What constitutes a substantive change? If you have authorisation requirements and a list of 10 things, does it mean that five have to be changed or does it mean a significant change to one? If you had to add on another one because there are some changes in circumstances, who is to know whether it is then out or in?

There are certainly a lot of things that are not yet clear and, if it does—as the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, has said—interfere with our services, which are the majority of our trade, then we will be in a very difficult situation. I would welcome further clarification, or indeed amendments, to make matters clearer. I am not sure whether removing the clause actually helps because the knock-on effect elsewhere would of course be substantial, but I think that there is something that needs to be fixed.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I am glad that my noble friend Lady Neville-Rolfe’s Amendment 30 is only a probing amendment. I very strongly believe that the UK’s internal market will be more robust as a result of this Bill and that it needs to cover all aspects of trade and professional activity occurring between the four parts of the United Kingdom.

However, like my noble friend, I have been struggling to work out just how important Part 2 is to businesses throughout the UK at the moment, and I also understand that there is relatively little current data on trade in services across the four nations. Given the exemptions that will apply to Part 2, the Government presumably do not think that the Bill will have very much real-world impact, at least in the short to medium term. I can see that it may be necessary to protect service providers in the future, if one or more of the devolved nations chooses to make it difficult for out-of-nation services providers, and, to that extent, I can see why we may well need Part 2 of this Bill. It would be good to hear from the Minister what he sees as the biggest problems that this Bill is trying to tackle.