Debates between Baroness Noakes and Lord Blackwell during the 2019 Parliament

Wed 14th Apr 2021

Financial Services Bill

Debate between Baroness Noakes and Lord Blackwell
Lord Blackwell Portrait Lord Blackwell (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I should like to speak to Amendment 37A in my name and remind the House of my former interest as chairman of a regulated bank until the beginning of the year.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, set out, within the group there is a range of amendments that seek to serve the same purpose and there is a lot of common ground, as indeed there is in the letter of the Economic Secretary that was circulated today. All the amendments reflect a broad consensus, as expressed in previous stages of the Bill, that with the new rule-making powers post Brexit, there is a need to establish more formal parliamentary scrutiny. There has been consensus in the debate that scrutiny requires a committee charged with that role and appropriate technical support. I and others have made the case that that should involve a joint committee of both Houses, although that is not for this legislative stage.

There is also agreement in all these amendments that where regulators precede their regulation with a public consultation, the information should be provided to Parliament at the same time to allow time for it to comment and its views to be taken into account before the rules are finalised. There is also common ground that regulators should take note of Parliament’s views and respond in some form.

I therefore have some sympathy with the amendment, and Amendments 19 and 20, moved and spoken to by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, but I prefer mine because those amendments, particularly Amendment 20, are overly prescriptive on the nature of the information and the interaction between the regulator and a parliamentary committee. It should be up to the committee charged with this responsibility to set out exactly the information it wants and how it should interact, as a parliamentary, rather than legislative, matter.

My amendment also adds the requirement for Her Majesty’s Treasury to set the regulations through secondary legislation, to take note of the parliamentary scrutiny and to bring forward statutory instruments to change the secondary legislation that provides the legal framework for rule-making, which may be a necessary response to the comments made. That is also fully consistent with the Economic Secretary’s letter.

The big divide is between my amendment and Amendments 45 and 48, which introduce a requirement for parliamentary approval of rules before their introduction, other than in exceptional circumstances. Such a requirement would fundamentally change the relationship and role of regulators, originally established as independent, apolitical experts acting under parliamentary laws. Of course, regulators should be subject to scrutiny in their role but for Parliament to approve rules before they are enacted removes the independence of the regulators, effectively thereby making Parliament the operational rule-maker and those rules more subject to political views and intervention. We do not impose that ex-ante approval of rules on any other regulator in any other sector, so far as I know. I cannot imagine that our expert regulators in the financial services sector would be comfortable operating under those straits, whereby anything they did had to be pre-approved by Parliament.

The case for parliamentary oversight is unanswerable, but the proper regime is for Parliament to charge the regulators with independently operating the legal framework that it sets up, and then for Parliament to scrutinise how they operate those responsibilities and to change the legal framework if it wants to change the outcome, rather than Parliament seeking to supervise and approve the detailed rule-making on a day-to-day basis. Rather than wait for future legislation, I hope my noble friend the Minister will find it possible to support my amendment. Failing that, I hope the House will clearly reject Amendments 45 and 48 and the huge —and, in my view, undesirable—shift in the relationship between regulators and Parliament that they would represent. I look forward to my noble friend’s response.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, I have added my name to Amendments 45 and 48 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell. I also support the intent behind the amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, and I know that she too supports his amendments. As has been said, these amendments concern one of the key issues that emerged during scrutiny of the Bill: the parliamentary accountability of regulators and the scrutiny of their actions. As already noted, there was widespread agreement around the House at Second Reading and in Committee that Parliament should have a role in scrutinising the rules that the FCA and PRA may make under the new rule-making powers created by the Bill.

Of much greater importance will be what happens when the Government expand the rule-making powers of the FCA and the PRA, as they have outlined in their consultation document on the review of the financial regulation framework. What we do in the context of the Bill is clearly important in signalling what we expect in the context of a larger shift in rule-making powers, if that is what the Government decide to do following consultation. This is particularly important because the Government’s analysis of parliamentary scrutiny in their consultation document was not encouraging; it was largely a defence of the existing committee activities in each House, with no regard to the new circumstances created by the extensive new rule-making powers. The Government—somewhat surprisingly, given their excellent Brexit credentials—seem not to have taken on board that the scrutiny context has changed significantly with the repatriation of financial services regulatory powers from the EU. That context should drive how we see the way forward.

Since our debate in Committee, my noble friend Lord Howe has made available to us the texts of letters from the PRA and the FCA which broadly say that they will do whatever Parliament decides, which is only right and proper. I do not think the letters add much to the analysis of the issues we debated in Committee, but they nevertheless demonstrate a constructive willingness to co-operate with parliamentary scrutiny. When my noble friend responded to our debate in Committee, I was not filled with confidence that the Government really understand the dimensions of the issues around scrutiny and accountability in the context of these additional rule-making powers. I have seen the rather late-in-the-day letter from the Economic Secretary which landed in our email boxes this afternoon. I shall be kind and say that the direction of travel is positive, but we have not yet reached a satisfactory landing point for this debate. I expect we will continue to pursue this issue well beyond the passage of the Bill.

As my noble friend Lord Blackwell knows, I do not support his Amendment 37A because it is a rear-view mirror amendment. I strongly believe that Parliament should have the opportunity to get involved with the rules made by the FCA and the PRA in time to influence their final shape. It is not satisfactory to think that ex-post scrutiny is an effective mechanism for parliamentary involvement. I do not believe the independence of the PRA and the FCA is threatened by this intervention in how rules are made, given the context of the very significant new regulatory rule-making powers expected to be devolved to them. That is why I support the amendments in this group in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles of Berkhamsted, which provide a much better basis for Parliament’s future involvement in additional rule-making powers.