Debates between Lord Eatwell and Baroness Kramer during the 2019-2024 Parliament

Thu 8th Jun 2023
Tue 6th Jun 2023
Wed 28th Apr 2021
Financial Services Bill
Lords Chamber

Consideration of Commons amendments & Consideration of Commons amendments
Wed 14th Apr 2021
Wed 24th Mar 2021
Financial Services Bill
Lords Chamber

Report stage & Report stage
Wed 10th 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

Financial Services and Markets Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Baroness Kramer
Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, I support Amendment 18 in the name of my noble friend Lady Chapman, while also recognising the contribution made in the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and my noble friend Lord Davies.

This is an extremely urgent matter because between 6 million and 7 million of our fellow citizens conduct all their financial affairs in cash. Cash is becoming increasingly unacceptable in a whole series of financial transactions that are conducted by electronic means. This means that cash is ceasing to be money, because money is something which is generally accepted in payment of a debt. If you cannot use cash to buy things, it is no longer money.

It is therefore necessary for both the Bank of England and the Treasury to consider making available to all citizens in this country a means of electronic payment. That is a big challenge, but it is urgent because we are all aware that, over the next decade, virtually everything will be entirely electronic and cash will be unacceptable in most transactions. My noble friend Lady Chapman has hit the nail right on the head by saying that this is a consumer protection objective. That 10% of our fellow citizens needs to be protected by financial inclusion in this way. This is an urgent matter which should not be postponed.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, in speaking to this group I am channelling my colleague, my noble friend Lady Tyler of Enfield, who is unwell and, to her distress, cannot be here. I will focus on Amendment 18, which she has signed, which would require the FCA to have regard to financial inclusion within the consumer protection objective. My noble friend Lady Tyler chaired the Select Committee on Financial Exclusion in 2017 and this was a cornerstone recommendation. A further Lords review in 2020 came to the same conclusion, as did the Treasury Select Committee in 2022.

My noble friend Lady Tyler made a powerful speech in Committee so I will not repeat the detail, but I will cite the briefing I have received from Fair4All Finance, which finds that more than 17 million people—I previously used the number the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell, used of between 6 million and 7 million people who are under stress for this—in the UK are in financially vulnerable circumstances, with access to credit being increasingly difficult. We will discuss access to cash later.

Endless years of discussion on this topic have failed to significantly move the dial. Basic bank accounts are a little improved but still limited. The hopes for credit unions or fintech solutions have faded. Frankly, nothing will change unless the FCA puts its shoulder to the wheel. Amendment 18, if noble Lords look at it in detail, is not the introduction of a new objective; it is a clarification of the consumer objective through a “have regard” duty. In that way, it is different from the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes—which I do not object to, but the Government have frequently said that we cannot have additional objectives. This is not an additional objective; it is clarification and emphasis of a key aspect of an objective.

Amendment 18 does not ask the FCA to step into territory which the Government have said is theirs—to close the gap on financial inclusion—but to use powers within its existing scope, which it has shown us it will not do without this emphasis from Parliament. I very much support Amendment 18 and consequently hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, will ensure that it is tested in the House if the Government do not accept it—although government acceptance is of course the preferred route for us all.

Financial Services and Markets Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Baroness Kramer
Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, I will make very few comments on this group of amendments. I accept that they are technical. I find some of them distasteful, particularly those that enhance the scope of the competitiveness and economic growth agendas. I fear very much that the underlying concept and construct will lead us back in the direction of the kind of risk taking that created the crisis that we went through so badly in 2008 and 2009. However, given that our attempts to turn around those objectives have not won support from other parts of the House, there is no sensible reason for me to object to these more technical amendments, other than to say that it is a sad day and that many of us will be revisiting this, if we live long enough, when we hit the next financial crisis.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, I will make two points on these technical amendments. As the Minister said, central counterparties are fundamental institutions in maintaining the stability of financial markets. This measure, to continue the role of overseas-based central counterparties, is enormously sensible. But there is an issue that has not been addressed. What if the overseas central counterparties decide not to provide services to UK firms—if they decide, following the UK exit from the European Union, that they will withdraw from providing such a service? What provision has His Majesty’s Government made for providing those services in those circumstances?

Secondly, I echo the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, made about the competitiveness and economic growth objective that is being incorporated as a subsidiary objective. As a subsidiary objective, it is unobjectionable. What is striking in the government amendments that we will debate is the way in which it is continuously privileged, such that it no longer remains subsidiary; extra reports and consideration will now be required, all focused on one objective. This is a serious mistake, because the statutory objectives of the regulatory authorities will change with circumstance over time. Writing into law that one objective should be privileged is a significant error. The primary and secondary objectives make sense, but overegging the position of a subsidiary objective is a mistake.

My main point at this time is to ask the Minister what measures provide central counterparty provision in those areas where overseas central counterparties decide not to act for UK firms.

Financial Services Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Baroness Kramer
Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, we will not challenge this Motion. I cannot say that it goes as far as reassurance, but I think we are in a much better place to have the consultation and its characteristics in statute on the face of the Bill. I particularly thank the Minister and his team. I suspect they have been instrumental in making sure that the concerns, from all sides of the House, were communicated back to the Treasury and the Treasury team.

The Minister today repeated a number of the statements that the Economic Secretary made in the other place when he addressed this issue. I will highlight a few that were of particular importance to me. The FCA recognises that,

“the level of harm in markets is still too high and is committed to—”—[Official Report, 24/4/21; col. 867]

taking further actions. That is an important statement to have on the record. I am slightly concerned, however, that the focus of the FCA should not exclusively be on asymmetry of information. Asymmetry of information is fundamental and important, but it is far from everything. The Economic Secretary said that

“the FCA will consult in May on clear proposals to raise and clarify its expectations of firms’ actions and behaviours, and on any necessary changes to its principles to deliver this.”—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/21; col. 84]

I hope that will not be confined simply to asymmetry of information, but as the Economic Secretary said, and the Minister today said, Parliament wants to be assured that the FCA’s ongoing work will lead to meaningful change. I think that reflects some of the frustrations expressed in this House of having had eight consultations to date and relatively little action. I hope this will lead to a great change.

In the amendment in lieu—this is perhaps something the noble Lord, Lord Eatwell will address more extensively than I—the fact that all consumers are part of the consideration is an important one. I want to use this opportunity to underscore to the Minister how urgent and significant this issue is.

When the Government’s amendment in lieu was passed, I got an email from one of the leading financial services lawyers in the country, and two things are pertinent. It said that it looks like this one is headed for the long grass again. I think that is partly because we are looking at action in 2022 and not immediately. The reason for that level of concern was, apparently, that audit firms are now saying that any credit risk between the client and the authorised firm should be counted as client money within the meaning of CASS—the protection of client assets and money. This is storing up some big problems when one of these babies—we are talking about firms that collectively have well over £10 trillion in assets under management—goes down and a judge finds that the trust is bust because they comingled client money with money that is not. Lehman Brothers, here we go again. I went immediately to the FCA site, and it is an excellent but sad example of the very limited powers that the FCA has to deal with such situations, because of the regulatory perimeter that limits a great deal of their potential for action to their definition of consumers. The issue has always been that that is a very narrow definition of consumer.

Every day we wait for a duty of care to become embedded in the system, we run significant risk. It is a risk that none of us wants—it has the potential to be limited to a small pool of clients, but also to knock the economy off its paces once again. It is important that there is an element of urgency built into all of this, that the issue is taken seriously and that there is not an attempt to narrow examination by and the focus of the FCA to simply something like asymmetry of information, but to consider the much wider picture before we end up with another crisis none of us wants.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, while we on this side of the House were hoping for action rather than further consultation, and we remain somewhat puzzled as to exactly what further the FCA has to learn that was not learned in the consultation of 2018 when it published a discussion paper entitled with some prescience, A Duty of Care and Potential Alternative Approaches. None the less, despite our desire for action and puzzlement in that respect, we welcome the tenor of the Government’s amendment.

In particular, I congratulate the Government on the clear acknowledgement that real harm is done today to millions of users of financial services by this famous asymmetrical relationship in financial transactions and that harm is done to those excluded from access to financial services. As evidence of this acknowledgement, I refer to the remarks just made by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and also the remarks by the Economic Secretary to the Treasury, referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer. For example, Mr Glen said:

“The Government agree with the concerns that … this harm may in part stem from an asymmetry of information between financial services firms and their customers. The risk is that many firms may seek to exploit this asymmetry. The FCA is well aware of how informational asymmetries and behavioural biases can influence consumer behaviour, and is committed to ensuring that these issues are addressed where it considers that they may result in harm”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/21; cols. 83-84.]


All I can say to that is: “Quite right too”.

I am particularly pleased that in new subsection 2(b) in their amendment, the Government refer to the need to extend the duty of care to “all consumers”. I urge the FCA to ignore the suggestion that a duty of care might be limited to “particular classes of consumer”. That way lies unnecessary complexity and the potential for error and injustice. Any inclusive list of “particular classes” is also a list that excludes. Confining the duty of care to particular classes would also eliminate the peculiar advantages of principles-based regulation, namely the flexibility of the principle in an industry of which persistent innovation is a defining characteristic. This is an advantage not to be sacrificed lightly.

In the debates on this issue—including those in the other place—not only Mr Glen, but the noble Earl, Lord Howe, the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, and several noble Lords have referred to the prevalence of asymmetric information in retail financial services. As we know, this renders markets inefficient. In retail financial markets, asymmetric information results in excessive risk being loaded on to consumers. A duty of care will rebalance risk by shifting the balance of risk from the consumer back towards the provider, which in an efficient market is where it should be.

However, the FCA must be alert to a potential consequence. This may well result in some financial services providers deciding to withdraw from the provision of services where previously they happily dumped the risk on consumers. This increase in exclusion would be contrary to the intent and spirit of the Government amendment. We should therefore emphasise that having the status of an authorised person in financial services is a privilege, and with that privilege comes responsibility. Indeed, as Mr Glen remarked in the other place,

“authorised persons owe a duty of care to consumers.”—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/21; col. 84.]

He is quite right. It is the responsibility of financial institutions providing financial services not to withdraw but, on the contrary, to play their full part in tackling financial exclusion. I am sure that the FCA will address this issue as it draws up its new general rules on the level of care.

Financial Services Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Baroness Kramer
Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, we do not oppose this amendment, particularly as we have the safeguard of the GDPR in place. However, I want to make one comment. One of our major frustrations with the regulator is how slow it has been to pick up on issues—how much information seems to have come its way that there is wrongdoing, yet all its actions seem to be delayed. We went through example after example of that in Grand Committee, Blackmore and London Capital being just two of the latest examples, and I think I have even missed two more scandals that have occurred in the last couple of weeks. I hope there are some other ways in which we can put pressure on the regulator to act and to do so in a more timely manner, and that it will not see this extension as an opportunity to relax and allow more time to pass before it begins to take action when it is needed.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, this seems to be an entirely sensible modification of an overly restrictive time limit on prosecutions for market abuse, and the Minister has certainly made a strong case.

I have one question associated with the Government’s note that accompanied the amendment. The Government stated that they had not found any clear rationale for the five-year limit applying in EU law and could see no reason for maintaining it in UK law. They said they understood that it had also been raised as an issue by EU regulators and they were considering a change to their law. Given that the EU is also considering a change, why have the UK Government not co-ordinated the change in our law with theirs? Is it not the Government’s “go it alone” approach that has been so damaging in the quest for equivalence? Could the Minister outline how the Government’s current stance on this change fits with the Memoranda of Understanding on trade in financial services with the EU?

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, given the hour I shall also be very brief, but I have to say I rather like the amendments in this group. I like Amendment 24, as amended by Amendment 25—I do not care if it is a separate chapter. But it is quite dangerous to get tangled into issues around competitiveness without making sure there is a lens on consumer protection at the same time. Many small businesses fall into the consumer category in reality, certainly the micro end of small businesses.

What I like about this amendment is: what you measure, you manage. We are so constantly focused on change, new regulation and new rules, without ever going back and looking at the consequences of what we have done and trying to identify what worked, what did not and where the gaps are. It seems that this proposal goes absolutely in the right direction.

There is something interesting in Amendment 37 because one of the big questions that has never been answered is: how does our financial services industry impact on the real economy, in contrast to something much more circular within the financial services economy? I do not think that one is good and the other bad but they are very significant questions, particularly in a country where we have such a dominant investment banking culture, which does not necessarily provide a wide range of relevant services to a great deal of our economic base—particularly our small business base. There is a very interesting question wrapped up in all of that. The approach of saying “We need to look at this in a serious and consistent way, perhaps regularly” strikes me as important when feeding the strategy which then informs the way in which the regulator, the Treasury and the Government behave.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, Amendments 24 and 25 develop the notion of an information system—the information that will be provided by the FCA, PRA and the Government to feed into an assessment of the performance and impact of the financial services sector and the regulators. Amendment 37 goes much wider, as one might have gathered from its presentation, seeking to make, or ask for, a general economic assessment of the role of financial services generally within the UK, particularly the impact of the various regulators and the Treasury.

One of the themes particularly around the discussion of Amendment 37 was that this is not done. There are shelves of academic books that do this, and there are libraries of this material, but what has not happened is that it has not been brought together and assessed in a decision-making environment on a regular basis. The problem with Amendment 37 is that it asks the FCA and the PRA to—to use a phrase that has become popular today—mark their own homework. They are not really the right people to assess themselves; there are plenty of research institutes around this country that do a first-class job of assessing exactly these issues. However, we have not brought them together very well. What is so valuable about Amendments 24 and 25 is that they are targeted on that bringing together—bringing information into what I have called the “New Scrutiny”.

I would be interested to hear the Minister reflect, when he sums up, on the information role that is represented by the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, and the role that that sort of information system will play in our regulatory future.

Financial Services Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Baroness Kramer
Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, I shall be very brief. I spoke on this issue at length in Committee. The Government may take note that every single speaker today from across the House has supported the concept of a duty of care and non-exploitation and has urged the Government to act.

In all the speeches, both before today and referenced again today, we have heard about this chain of malfeasance, whether it has been described as scandal or fraud or an abuse of customers. Clearly, the existing legislation does not work, or we would not have this kind of history with new scandals cropping up, sadly, on a regular basis. Like it or not, treating customers fairly is interpreted by both the industry and the regulator as exceedingly light touch, to be offset by the “caveat emptor” principle—the taking of personal responsibility—to which the noble Baroness, Lady Tyler, referred. This is unacceptable. This Government often say that they focus on outcomes. The outcomes have been unacceptable. Look at the outcomes and the chain of scandals. Here is the opportunity to act.

In response, the Minister might say that there are effective tools, such as the senior managers and certification regime. Anyone who has followed the progress of this Bill and the amendments through Committee will have heard how that has broken down. It has, in effect, become something of a busted flush. The Minister might say that scandals have been picked up very early because we have working whistleblowing channels. Again, from listening to the discussion throughout Committee stage, it is clear that this scheme is not working. The analysis in the Gloster report reinforces that.

We do not need a ninth consultation. Every time there is another major scandal, the FCA’s response is to have another consultation. In the end, there is something like a freckle of movement. This issue needs to be seized by the scruff of the neck and resolved before more people suffer injury. The regulator needs to be put on the front foot. By supporting this concept and this amendment or something equivalent to it, the regulator will finally be put on the front foot and the industry will recognise that it has been duly warned and must reconsider the way in which it behaves.

I hope that we shall hear from the Minister that we shall see an equivalent proposal at Third Reading because, if not, I will not hesitate to ask all my colleagues and every Member of your Lordships’ House to support any decision by the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, to move this to a Division.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, during our debates on this Bill, we have referred several times to the success of principles-based regulation in this country. We have contrasted it with the more prescriptive regulatory structures introduced within the European Union. The idea of a duty of care is a prime example of principles-based regulation because it presents a principle from which particular actions can be derived. It is now very important, given the financial stresses created by the pandemic to which several noble Lords have referred in their contributions to this debate. This is but one example of the unexpected pressures in the financial system that arise on a regular basis, not least because of the fintech innovations referred to earlier which require a flexible, principles-based approach. The strength of this approach is that is encompasses financial innovation—the changes to which many noble Lords have referred.

I understand that later in the consideration of this Bill the Government will bring forward measures to regulate the “buy now, pay later” market. This would already have been encompassed in a duty of care. It would not have slipped through the gap. If there had been a general duty of care in place, consumers would have received some degree of protection already.

One of the striking things about the issue of a duty of care and the FCA rulebook is that a number of measures that amount to a duty of care exist in the rulebook already. There are “know your customer”, “treating customers fairly” and the consumer credit rules, which require assessment of creditworthiness. What is striking is that this specific list has gaps in it.

Many noble Lords referred to the examples of malfeasance; it is this structure that creates the environment for and encourages malfeasance. It encourages testing of boundaries and of gaps. If there were instead a broad principle it would significantly discourage that persistent, competitive drive to test the gaps that exist in the current list of consumer protection measures in the FCA rulebook.

It is not simply that the lack of a duty of care creates the inability to deal with malfeasance; it actually creates it by the structure it presents for a very competitive market. We all know that this particular structure—having a specific list of something in a legal document—always raises the question of what has been left out. That is exactly the case in the FCA rulebook. It lacks the firm foundation of principle.

In Grand Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, was quite right to argue in summing up that

“the FCA is already taking steps to ensure that financial services firms exercise due care and regard when offering products, services and advice to consumers.”

She was right that there is a list, but she was quite wrong to then argue that a statutory duty of care

“does not add to the FCA’s existing powers in this area.”—[Official Report, 22/2/21; col. GC 116.]

Of course it does. It must do, in one of the most dynamic industries in the United Kingdom, associated with innovation, change and competition. It is the very nature of successful principles-based regulation that actions should derive from general principles.

The FCA lacks this statutory declaration of general principle. This is why Macmillan Cancer Support’s campaign Banking on Change was necessary, and why it is so important to place a general principle of duty of care on the statute book. My noble friend Lord Stevenson has made a very specific offer to the Minister with respect to Third Reading. I strongly urge her to accept it.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lady Bowles has already indicated that she does not intend to call a Division on this amendment, which I think is right. However, this is probably one of the most important amendments that we have discussed under the umbrella of the Bill. It opens up a new area to consider: how we make our regulators accountable and whether the committee system and traditional structures of Parliament can do the whole job or whether support is needed from some additional bodies. What the noble Lord, Lord Davies, called an outside pair of eyes on this issue could be extremely useful to Parliament by bringing a particular expertise. There could be periodic reviews, looking, for example, not at the decisions made by the regulator but at its capacity and mode of operation—those core issues which determine whether a regulator is effective. The noble Lord compared it to a visit from Ofsted, which is probably a little light-touch and simple but it takes the conversation in the right direction.

I have a strong suspicion that three or four years from now, we will be back to this discussion and looking much at an independent arrangement to look at our various regulators in order to provide information when appropriate to Parliament, so that it can get on with the areas of scrutiny in which it has most capacity, which is to ensure that the rules fit with the mandate that Parliament has given it in primary legislation. This is an extremely important area with some very interesting thinking.

I hope that the Treasury takes note. It would be lovely if it was picked up in the financial framework review, but that might be hoping for too much. That review has gone on a very limited and very traditional route. It would be good to challenge it with some new thinking, and to open its process to break through and work out how effective accountability can be put in place. This affects our fundamental economy and the capacity of a Government to deliver on public services, so the consequences are significant. Real attention paid to this area would be exceedingly welcome.

I will not pick up the other scrutiny issues because we will deal with those on the second day on Report. I will discuss some of the letters we have had from the regulators then. However, I want to put down a marker that this is an area and a thought process that must be taken seriously. I hope that the Government see that as an opportunity.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, I was tempted to start my speech with the famous quotation from Juvenal, “Who guards the guardians?”. But, given the strictures by the Leader of another place against speaking in foreign languages—although he was referring to Welsh—I will instead begin with a different quotation, from the late Lord Keynes. In the introduction to The General Theory of Employment, Interest and Money, he says:

“It is astonishing what foolish things one can temporarily believe if one thinks too long alone, particularly in economics.”


Well, we have certainly had many examples of regulators believing foolish things. The sorry history of the regulatory response to the role of credit derivatives in the expansion of credit in the run-up to the financial crisis of 2007 to 2009 is a clear example of the folly of thinking alone. Hence, a periodic review of the thinking of regulators—whether the prudential regulator or the conduct of business regulator—would certainly be worthwhile; it would be a useful challenge to groupthink.

However, this particular aspect is not best achieved by three independent persons, because there would be a grave temptation to appoint three expert regulators—just the sort of people who would think in the same way. However, they would, no doubt, come up with recommendations that deal with the operational objectives in this amendment, so I see the review activity as falling into two parts: the operational assessment; and the core policy issues, about which I would have less confidence in the approach of the three independent persons. Peer reviews are all very well, but I assure you that any academic economist will tell you that they not only tend to embody the status quo but often stifle innovation and can perpetuate error.

That is why I and others in the House have argued that the intention of the amendment with respect to policy would be best met by a parliamentary scrutiny committee. It is the nature of parliamentarians to be sceptical, to pose without embarrassment the naive question, to entertain the views of mavericks and free-thinkers, and to relate the performance of any organisation to its statutory objectives—after all, they are responsible for the statutes. So we have two tasks before us: a review, as proposed in the amendment, which would be a valuable check and assessment of operational matters; and the review of policy and thinking, which could be the regular component of the work programme of a scrutiny committee.

But first, of course, we need the acknowledgement from Her Majesty’s Government that they would support the foundation of such a scrutiny committee, giving it appropriate powers to work with the regulators in an effective and constructive manner and to commission regular reviews of policy issues of the sort sought by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. We will discuss this matter later; so much hangs on the issue of the general scrutiny of the activities of regulators, voiced by Members on all sides of the House, that we will certainly return to this matter later in consideration of the Bill.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for bringing forward these amendments. I have to confess that I am not keen on Amendment 5 because it seems that it would create an opportunity for various institutions to use the change in the benchmark in a way that would be abusive to a customer, who would then have no redress.

Amendment 5 goes too far, but Amendment 6 makes perfect sense to me. Frankly, I find it extraordinary to think that the Government have not seized it and put “government” in front of it. We will face tough legacy contracts and there needs to be a sensible and appropriate way to deal with them. Amendment 6 captures that exactly as it should. I hope very much that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, will get a positive reply on Amendment 6 from the Government, otherwise there will be litigation and a mess, and I am not sure that that helps anybody.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, we should all be grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for her persistence in this vital area. She is quite right that the clock is ticking: with nine months to go, we really need to do something about this issue; to do otherwise would be irresponsible.

Amendment 4 is valuable in defining continuity of contract, but there remains a problem that it does not and cannot solve: if the foundation of a contract is changed, its value can change. That leads on to Amendment 5. Here, I regret to say that I differ with the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and with the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles. It is surely the responsibility of Parliament in this case primarily to protect the retail investor, as it is the retail investor who is not the professional, who typically does not have the same information as the professional and who is likely to be more financially vulnerable, not least because retail investment is dominated by pension savings. I therefore conclude that the provision of a safe harbour is inappropriate in this case and would be looking instead for some mechanism of reconciliation rather than prevention of claim.

However, I am delighted to express my support for Amendment 6—which is not surprising as my name is on it. Here the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, has actually saved the Government from considerable embarrassment by presenting an amendment which succinctly encapsulates, without being prescriptive, the issues the FCA must address in facing the difficulties created by the replacement of Libor: continuity of contract and reconciling the damages. Unlike Amendments 4 and 5, Amendment 6 incorporates those. I express strong support for Amendment 6 and recommend it wholeheartedly to the Government. In terms of the buffet approach, it is the healthy option.

Financial Services Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Baroness Kramer
Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, in many of the groups of amendments to the Bill we have discussed the issue of accountability, and it has been a very important discussion. However, we have also discussed the necessity to have proper evidence and information to make that accountability worthwhile, valid and effective. These amendments follow exactly that direction.

One of the pleas that I will put in is that an impact assessment should be studied and then reviewed. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, is not speaking in this group of amendments but I can think of numerous occasions when he has spoken on a financial services Bill and pointed out that the information in the assessment did not seem to answer any of the obvious questions that a sensible person would ask in order to understand the regulations involved. I would join him in that. We seem to have narrow definitions of what an impact assessment is, and it seems to me that it should do what it says on the tin. It ought actually to assess the impact in a way that is meaningful to the regulation or piece of legislation in front of us.

This push for evidence and information, and quality in both, is an important thrust of the conversations and debates that we have had around the Bill. I very much hope that Ministers take that on board, because this is starting a pressure that will not go away. In fact, for the Government, if they want to produce the highest-quality legislation possible, the discussion created by developing a high-quality impact assessment will lead in the end to far better legislation.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, my initial reaction to the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, was to puzzle over exactly what sort of impact assessment she had in mind. Was she perhaps thinking of the famous remark by the noble Lord, Lord Turner, that the banking sector in the UK does much that is not socially useful? After all, the ultimate rationale for regulatory activity is the enhancement of the common good—the goal of good government.

However, this debate has clarified the issue before us, which is that an effective impact assessment requires not just thorough analysis but a definition of an objective or, perhaps, objectives. The lack of clear objectives is the key weakness of Amendment 103. Amendment 104, therefore, is much stronger in that it lays out a number of objectives against which an impact assessment might be calibrated. The key to resolving the dilemma—I apologise for sounding a bit like a broken record—is to take the parliamentary role referred to in Amendment 103 and combine it with the sense of Amendment 104. An effective parliamentary process and, dare I say, a parliamentary committee, could define the objectives to be addressed in any impact assessment of the type referred to in Amendment 103—“We want to know the impact of this regulation on problem x, y or z”—and then seek annual reviews focusing on matters that are deemed to be important at any given time, thereby avoiding the template issue referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes.

That is what is missing from the amendment—a means of making the impact assessment an effective means of acquiring information and an insight into the thinking of regulators, which can then be scrutinised in a coherent and consistent manner.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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I was in the middle of saying that we need the FCA to be much more aggressive and transparent in its pursuit of wrongdoing within the financial services industry. I gave the example of what I considered to be real weakness in the way that it handled the HBOS Reading fraud and in its treatment of Jes Staley, chief executive of Barclays. As we discussed earlier, he was fined by the PRA and FCA, under the senior managers and certification regime, something in excess of £600,000 for, among other things, hiring private detectives to try to hunt down the identity of an internal whistleblower.

I note that it was the US authorities—one of the New York regulators, I think—that fined Barclays $15 million for the same behaviour, not the UK authorities. Some Members of your Lordships’ House may be aware that the US regulators visit the UK—I have certainly met with the CFTC when they have been doing this—in order to get the message over to bankers here that, if they come across any wrongdoing that potentially has an impact on the United States, as well as informing the UK regulators they should also make immediate contact with US regulators, who start from a position that they will be far more aggressive in hunting down wrongdoing.

I am afraid that the reputation of the UK for hunting down wrongdoers is not good. I wish we did not see ourselves in that position. That is one of the reasons why I am hopeful for an office of the whistle- blower. If there is any suspicion that a Minister had intervened inappropriately, it is through a whistleblower that that information would be exposed. We need an absolute safe haven for such a whistleblower to make contact, in order for that exposure to happen. Again, I look forward to hearing from the Minister how the Ministerial Code impacts on a situation such as this. If it does not, or is ineffective, the answer seems to me to be: strengthen the Ministerial Code.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Sikka has made a powerful case for greater transparency in regulatory matters. I think it is clear to everybody that nothing undermines confidence in the regulatory system so much as the sort of cases to which my noble friend referred. What is often evident is that these matters eventually come out, and so the traditional rule that the cover-up is worse than the original transgression exerts itself once again.

The Government have made a virtue of transparency and openness in several aspects of the regulatory system. Not least, for example, we have discussed in this Committee the case of beneficial ownership, and we heard the noble Baroness, Lady Penn, make the argument for transparency of the beneficial ownership record of Companies House as a great virtue at an earlier stage of our considerations. Surely that commitment to transparency should be quite general, covering all regulatory matters, and not limited just to selected parts of the regulatory system.

Financial Services Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Baroness Kramer
Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, in this area I cannot pretend to have the scope of knowledge or the expertise of my noble friend Lady Bowles or the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, but I have a great deal of sympathy with their amendments which comes from long frustration with trying to deal with banking standards. I probably had some small part to play in the focus that the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards applied to looking at IFRS and other banking frameworks. I would defy almost anybody looking at the published accounts of Northern Rock, HBOS or RBS to have identified how fragile those institutions were and how easily they would crack the moment any pressure was applied to the very fragile arrangements they had in place. It is no wonder that it was missed by the regulators if they were looking at the disclosures that came from those institutions. They were not falsified; it is just that working your way through the disclosures very often discloses very little.

I spent a good part of my banking career trying to extract real and consistent information from accounting statements. That was largely in the States, so we were using GAAP, which I think many people will acknowledge tells one a lot more than IRFS ever does, but a bank has the resource to do that kind of deconstruction for a potential or existing credit client. Investment firms have the resources to do that kind of deconstruction, and so do regulators, but for any normal investor, and certainly for any smaller creditor such as a trade creditor, it is impossible to have those resources, as it is for any normal politician, even if in the end we carry the buck, in a sense, for whether or not we have a system that works. Over many years, the only clients who ever handed me a straightforward deconstructed set of accounts were Warren Buffett and Charlie Munger, who headed up the GEICO insurance subsidiary. They did it simply because they felt that bankers should know what was going on. That is a good enough recommendation for any company or regulator.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, I have sympathy with the concerns behind these amendments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and my noble friend Lord Sikka have spelled out so clearly, there is an intimate link between accounting standards and effective prudential regulation. It is probably true that nothing has a greater impact on policy than the manner in which relevant variables are measured.

That relationship between accounting standards and prudential regulation has been exposed just this last week with the collapse of Greensill Capital, a supply chain financing firm. Its business model was based on flaws in UK accounting—that was how it worked. As the Financial Times reports:

“While a company that uses supply-chain finance owes money to a financial institution, accountants do not class these facilities as debt. Instead a company typically books the money owed in the ‘trade payable’ or ‘accounts payable’ line of its balance sheet, mingled in with all the other bills owed to suppliers. While a footnote to the accounts might explain how much of this line is made up of money actually owed to financial institutions, rather than suppliers, there is no requirement to disclose it.”


Lack of disclosure means that the supply chain has proved popular with struggling companies looking to mask their mounting borrowings. When nervous lenders remove these facilities from heavily indebted companies, it can create an effect similar to a bank run on their working capital position, whereby that quasi bank run then escalates into risk to the financial services sector. Who really suffers? Typically, it is the SMEs at the origins of the supply chain. Greensill is not an isolated example. Parliamentary investigations into the collapse of the Carillion group, already mentioned, found that it made heavy use of the Government’s supply chain finance programme. MPs investigating the outsourcer’s demise said that the scheme allowed it to “prop up” its failing business model.

This is a major concern in the prudential management of the financial services sector in the UK. If accounting standards and methods do not accurately represent the fragility or strength of an institution, especially a financial institution, they severely compromise our efforts at prudential regulation.

A quite different prudential and market conduct risk created by accounting standards arises from the fact—again already mentioned—that while the UK’s accounting standards apply IFRS, the US maintains its own GAAP different standard. Are the UK Government pursuing negotiations with the US Administration to encourage the adoption of a common standard, perhaps one that accurately represents the risks present in financial institutions?

The issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, require urgent consideration, not just by the accounting profession but by Her Majesty’s Treasury and by the prudential regulators.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, once again, I am moving outside of any area where I can claim expertise. Essentially, I have no problem with short selling in the right place and time and under the right regulations, but I am concerned that, in the current environment, any move to look at the regulations again would listen more closely to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes—in other words, look for opportunities to reduce the restrictions on short selling.

We have had a number of exchanges on short selling in the Chamber. The noble Lord, Lord Leigh of Hurley, is particularly vocal, and I do not think that I represent him unfairly by saying that he believes that the restrictions on short selling that were set in place in 2012, which severely limited naked short selling on AIM, are too onerous and that relaxation would be a good thing. He would argue for bringing more liquidity into AIM. I remember that campaign, which was strong and led by companies that were either listed on AIM or wished to be so but that were concerned about becoming the target of speculators who were not interested in supporting sustainable growth but were very interested in bubbles. Of course, this is a risk that goes alongside naked short selling in particular.

I suspect that this issue will be reviewed; I am sure my noble friend Lady Bowles is right that it should be done in a much wider context—I think the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, agreed with that. But I would not work on the assumption that this comes from a concern that rules need to be tightened and safeguards increased; this will very quickly become a process of trying to see whether we can return to the old animal spirits and largely casino-like speculation that once fired London so powerfully and which many of us think largely contributed to the financial crash in 2007-8. While I understand the concerns of the City of London that it needs to make itself more of an exception in order to gather increasing amounts of business, I am rather disturbed if that mode of exception is to allow a great deal more risk to be taken in ways that then impact on the real economy.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, this request for a review of short selling is essentially a request to focus on just one of the aspects of the financial markets today that may contribute to enhanced instability in times of stress. It is not just short selling that involves the sale of borrowed assets—this is what the repo market, for example, is all about. The repo market was central to the dangerously short-term funding of the banking sector in the run-up to the financial crisis of 2007-9.

Of course, short selling is prominent because it is a factor in falling markets, when money is being lost, as opposed to similar practices in rising market bubbles, when money is being made. Of course, the short sellers sometimes get their comeuppance, as has been mentioned by several noble Lords in reference to the case of GameStop. The fundamental question is not whether short selling is a process that can be abused—of course it can. What is important is whether the very existence of the practice contributes to market instability and risk or, as has also been argued, to price discovery and greater liquidity.

Those questions may be asked of many practices in our financial markets today, and, at a time when the UK is rethinking its economic and financial future after leaving the European Union, perhaps the time is right for such a wider review of permitted practices. This could begin with consideration of the impact of trading in borrowed assets—as well as, of course, naked transactions—in forward markets.

Since the liberalising years of the 1970s and 1980s, a wide range of these market practices have developed, with potentially serious destabilising consequences—indeed, we have seen these. As such, does the Minister agree with the many noble Lords who have argued that it is time to stand back and think through whether matters have gone too far, are just right or have not gone far enough? Perhaps such a review is too specific for the regulatory framework review that is going on at the moment because, after all, that is about the framework. However, it is necessary to consider, from time to time, practices that will inevitably have downsides but may also have upsides. That sort of consideration should not be delayed at a time when market regulation is changing significantly, with the exit from the European Union.

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Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, I shall begin by addressing Amendments 100 and 105, which would require reports that would be both useful and interesting. However, I want to pick up the point that was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, who essentially took the position—I understand its logic—“Why bother to seek equivalence from the EU?” I think she said, “They wish us ill and see a competitive advantage in not offering equivalence.” However, I do not think she listened carefully to my noble friend Lady Bowles, who comes with a great deal of experience from the EU. The point my noble friend made is that in the EU, which is a rules-based organisation —that is its absolutely core fundamental structure—it is quite hard to offer equivalence to a financial centre where those who are regulating it make it very clear that they want great flexibility to be able to make change very easily and with very little process. That is what we are doing with this Bill.

Essentially, we are removing the normal parliamentary processes that would have been engaged in the process of changing regulation and leaving it in the hands of the regulator, with, as we have all discussed, virtually no accountability to Parliament. It seems from what we read that a 12-week consultation would be about all that is required for a regulator to change the rules, compared with the process in the EU, which people may regard as cumbersome but which has with it extensive consultation, engagement and oversight, and which flushes out exactly what is associated with, what is involved with and what the consequences are of that rule change. We will now have light-touch rule change—that would be an accurate way to describe it. In an atmosphere where there is very little trust—the language certainly has not been that which would develop and promote trust—I can certainly see why the EU would be uncomfortable with the idea of offering equivalence in those circumstances. Therefore, it is not a determination to do us ill but, to a significant degree, some shock that change will happen so often that it will have very little idea of the rule base that applies in the UK and certainly will not understand its various ramifications.

However, in a sense it really does not matter. I find it quite shattering that we have a Government—the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, seems to be aligned with them—who say, “We are really not interested in being able to sell our services into the second-largest economy on the globe”—whether measured by population or in terms of GDP. That is a huge and significant market. We have never been successful at selling financial services into the United States, partly because it has its own, very stalwart financial services sector. I suggest that selling financial services into China will be exceedingly difficult over many years. China will wish to develop its own financial centre; it has Hong Kong. We begin then to look at countries across Asia and in South America. However, I think we will find very shortly that they intend to develop their own financial centres. When I have talked to people in India, they would be willing to do some work here with people in the UK but they want to develop Mumbai. We are seeing a regionalisation of economic blocs, which will lead to a rise of significant financial centres in other locations across the globe. There is a real danger in dismissing with a wave of the hand the customers who sit on our doorstep, who have traditionally been our core customers, and saying, in essence, “It really doesn’t matter whether we are able to sell them services. Let’s look elsewhere.” I am not sure that “elsewhere” looks quite so promising.

What I found most interesting in this whole debate was a very different set of questions raised by my noble friend Lady Bowles. To me they were, if you like, the financial services equivalent of the chlorinated chicken question. As we go out and seek to sell our financial services more broadly, presumably, many of those locations will turn to us and say, “You can sell to us provided we can sell to you. We’re developing our financial sector and we would like to have access to your markets.” My noble friend was asking: what standards will we be using to determine that reciprocity? As I say, it is the chlorinated chicken question. We have not heard much—or anything, frankly—from the Government about what standards we will apply under those circumstances.

It seems to me that, when we assert that we can find markets all over the globe that will take the place of the EU—and that this can be done rapidly and very easily—we have to answer that question. Are we going to have to pay the price of providing reciprocity to financial centres whose standards do not meet our own? What are the consequences of that if those entities are then freely able to enter the UK market? We have a long history of concern about money laundering and market abuse. There are very serious questions associated with that; I would like to begin to hear some answers.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, I have been very struck by this particular debate and the positions taken by Members of the Grand Committee. I approach this question of our future financial services relationship with the European Union with a sort of historical perspective. In a way, the financial services industry in this country is unique in the history of financial centres in that it is a financial centre without any significant savings or economic hinterland. The great financial centres of history—be it Venice, Amsterdam, 19th-century London or 20th/21st-century New York—have thrived on a powerful flow of domestic and imperial savings, and have tended to fade when that flow has dried up.

The fact that the City of London has continued to thrive even as Britain has lost its Empire and the UK economy has lost its dominant position is no doubt due to a remarkable concentration of talent and entrepreneurship; to the remarkable luck of widespread access to financial markets around the world; and to becoming, as the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, pointed out, the financial centre of the European Union. The international liberalisation of the 1980s and the creation of the European single market gave the City access to that economic hinterland and the opportunity to provide financial services throughout an open market.

As we know, the openness of the European market for financial services to the UK is now in question. As this Bill makes clear, access that was previously open is now potentially closed and hanging on this delicate thread of equivalence. It is interesting to see that the Bill is nervous about equivalence. On page 65, we read that

“the FCA must consider, and consult the Treasury about, the likely effect of the rules on relevant equivalence decisions.”

On page 82, we read that

“the PRA must consider, and consult the Treasury about, the likely effect of the rules on relevant equivalence decisions.”

That nervousness is well founded. I agree with the noble Lords who have been critical of the European Union that the likelihood of equivalence being the foundation of successful financial activities for the City’s continuing growth in Europe is at least in great doubt. Indeed, just imagine the chief executive of a big international bank or an asset manager with a large number of employees in London telling the board of directors that they are planning their long-term investments on the shaky foundations of a political equivalence ruling by Brussels.

At the moment, the only thread that seems to be at least holding and maintaining the potential of access to a market of 500 million people is the memorandum of understanding, which was due in June but is still apparently debated. However, a draft that was leaked to the Politico website

“states categorically that equivalence findings remain unilateral decisions, meaning the U.K. would have no recourse if the EU opted to withdraw it.”

The draft does propose the creation of an EU-UK financial regulatory forum but this resembles the arrangement with the United States that is defined as “strictly informal”. I think that access will be diminished, perhaps significantly. That is the only certain conclusion we can make. Perhaps the Minister will tell us more about the progress of the memorandum of understanding when he sums up.

Financial Services Bill

Debate between Lord Eatwell and Baroness Kramer
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 Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, we have, sadly, become used to skeleton primary legislation, with policy embedded in statutory instruments that cannot be amended and cannot be voted down without threats of a constitutional crisis. But at least statutory instruments can be brought before Parliament, and Ministers must then make the case.

This Bill is a new low—skeleton primary legislation, elimination of secondary legislation and policy set in regulators’ rules with no meaningful accountability to Parliament. The accountability set out in the Bill, which largely mirrors proposals in the future regulatory framework review, provides, in essence, just for a bit more explanation by the regulator, the existing right of a parliamentarian to submit evidence to any consultation, and the existing right for committees such as the Treasury Select Committee and the Economic Affairs Committee to question the regulator from time to time. This will be the policy framework shaping a sector of the economy that will fundamentally impact our national prosperity, jobs and public spending.

The Minister was kind enough to meet us, so I can perhaps anticipate some of the arguments that the Government are likely to make. They will argue that the Bill is just a stopgap while consultation takes place, but the consultation under way has multiple stages and will stretch the whole process out for 18 months or two years. By then the horse will have long bolted and procedures will largely have been set in stone. Perhaps the Minister would spell out the timetable—because the Bill looks to me like a template, not a stopgap.

Secondly, the Minister will say that only part of financial regulation is covered by the Bill. But, since it includes all of Basel III, the Bill actually covers almost everything that matters in prudential regulation. I have also heard from parts of industry that a second financial services Bill is on its way. I do not know that; I have not heard it from the Government—but if so, it will have come and gone before the new framework legislation is finalised. Perhaps the Minister would comment on that. It is absolutely clear that what happens with this Bill genuinely matters.

I value consultation—real consultation—but I am saddened because consultation has become a cynical tool to sideline Parliament. “Just give us a free hand now, because we’re doing a consultation.” Colleagues who cover other areas of policy tell me that this is a pattern, and are now concluding that it is cynically being used with a wide range of legislation, to make sure that Parliament is sidestepped.

I suspect that the Minister will argue that the powers being given to the regulators in this Bill, with minimal accountability, are necessary so that the UK can respond to changing events. After all, we have left the European Union and times are going to change. I regard that as nonsense. We are in changing times, but we have proved in the last year that fast-track procedures exist when they are genuinely needed.

I very much welcome the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, also signed by my noble friend Lady Bowles, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. They are tough: they would prevent Schedules 2 and 3 coming into effect before the accountability deficit is sorted. That, I suggest, is what the circumstance warrants.

This group of amendments was revised from Monday, so it now includes proposals detailing how accountability can be structured. We have heard a whole series of brilliant speeches in this debate, so I want to make only some limited comments.

The noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Eatwell, have tabled a number of amendments laying out process and timetable. I find that extremely constructive. By contrast, the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, has tabled an amendment that covers similar territory, but with such a light touch that—I hope he does not take this wrongly—I think it will be read as cosmetic. The industry needs to recognise the importance of proper scrutiny and understand that scrutiny in name only will, in the end, do the industry itself no long-term good.

In addition to the procedural amendments, my noble friend Lady Bowles has tackled an equally crucial but often overlooked element of oversight—one that goes to the heart of the matter. It is the need for the regulator to provide the detailed information to Parliament to fully understand and evaluate the evidence, reasoning and consequences of changes to rules. For years this has been done for us within the oversight process of the European Parliament, which has expert resources in depth. My noble friend, in her role in that Parliament, was able to use the information to improve proposals for rules and make them more effective. We have now lost that capacity, and nothing in the Bill or the framework consultation replaces it.

My noble friend Lady Bowles has also proposed amendments that would put this oversight on a regular basis, not just an ad hoc one, and would bring in an independent expert panel to do some of the heavy lifting. As the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, referred to, recently the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Financial Markets and Services addressed similar concerns. I quote from its February report, The Role of Parliament in the Future Regulatory Framework for Financial Services:

“Regardless of the format, the level of technical support available to Parliamentarians in this policy area will be key.”


The APPG goes on to propose secondments from the Treasury to the relevant parliamentary committees to bolster institutional capacity. I personally regard that as the wrong approach—that would be letting foxes into the henhouse—but it makes the point that proper parliamentary oversight requires new expert capability to replace that lost with Brexit. We have expertise within the regulator but we must have it for oversight of the regulator.

Before I finish, I want to refer to Amendment 137, tabled by my noble friend Lord Bruce, which would require the Government to consult on rule changes with the devolved Administrations. It is quite shocking to me that the devolved Administrations are overlooked in the Bill. Scotland is a major player in financial services and that needs to be recognised.

I will listen to the Minister’s response. I hope he will not repeat the airy dismissal that the Economic Secretary in the Commons deigned to give as his response. Voices on all Benches in this House are capable of coalescing around a set of viable amendments on Report that would at least remedy the worst in the Bill. The Government ought to be coming forward with the best.

Lord Eatwell Portrait Lord Eatwell (Lab)
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My Lords, in due course I will speak to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe and myself, which, as many noble Lords have commented, would introduce operational proposals that would address the problem of adequate parliamentary scrutiny.

Before I turn to those practicalities, though, I wish to speak to the amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, supported by the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, which deal with the principles at stake. As we might expect from the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, her amendments are precise and direct and go to the heart of the matter: the inadequacy of parliamentary scrutiny.

I regret that I was unable to attend the Second Reading debate on the Bill. On reading the report of that debate, it is evident that an overwhelming sentiment in your Lordships’ House was that the procedures suggested by Her Majesty’s Government for the future development of the regulatory powers display a serious lack of appropriate parliamentary scrutiny. The fears expressed at Second Reading can only have been further reinforced by the note entitled “Meeting between the Economic Secretary, Peers, the Financial Conduct Authority and the Prudential Regulatory Authority: Background Briefing for Peers”, and by the document Financial Services Future Regulatory Framework Review Phase II Consultation, published by Her Majesty’s Treasury in October last year. Both documents advocate a degree of parliamentary scrutiny that may at very best be described as minimalist. Seldom can two documents have made the case so eloquently for the adoption of a policy entirely at odds with that which they propose.

The central thrust of government thinking is spelt out in the phase 2 consultation document to which I have just referred. It may help if I quote the relevant passage:

“The Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (FSMA), and the model of regulation introduced by that Act, continue to sit at the centre of the UK’s regulatory framework. The government believes that this model, which delegates the setting of regulatory standards to expert, independent regulators that work within an overall policy framework set by government and Parliament, continues to be the most effective way of delivering a stable, fair and prosperous financial services sector. The model maximises the use of expertise in the policy-making process by allowing regulators with day-to-day experience of supervising financial services firms to bring that real-world experience into the design of regulatory standards. It also allows regulators to flex and update those standards efficiently in order to respond quickly to changing market conditions and emerging risks. The FSMA model was readily adapted to address the regulatory failings of the 2007-08 financial crisis.”


Commenting further on the manner in which this model was readily adapted to address the regulatory failings of the 2007-08 financial crisis, the authors of this document declare:

“The financial crisis of 2007-08 revealed serious flaws in the UK’s system of regulation, particularly in the allocation and co-ordination of responsibilities across the ‘tripartite’ institutions – HM Treasury, the Bank of England and the FSA … The post-crisis framework reforms were therefore focused primarily on institutional design and allocation of responsibilities.”


So the problem that led to massive regulatory failure and to a regulatory system that failed to protect UK citizens and firms from a near-existential breakdown in the financial system, that heralded a sharp downturn in real income and higher unemployment, and that led inexorably to the disastrous austerity policy was a problem of

“institutional design and allocation of responsibilities”.

There is no mention of the failed analysis, no mention of the pernicious groupthink that infected the analysis of the FCA and the Bank of England, no mention of the fact that warnings from distinguished commentators in academia and in the financial services industry were airily dismissed, and no acknowledgement that our regulators participated in the creation of a procyclical regulatory model that actually made the crisis worse than it otherwise might have been.

If anyone has any doubt that allowing regulators to bring that real-world experience into design of regulatory standards was the foundation of that massive failure, they should consider the words of Alan Greenspan, then head of the US Federal Reserve system—essentially, the western world’s senior regulator—speaking to the banking committee of the US House of Representatives in October 2008. He said:

“This modern risk-management paradigm held sway for decades. The whole intellectual edifice, however, collapsed in the summer of last year.”


Where in this document is the recognition that the intellectual edifice collapsed? Where is the acknowledgement that those with real-world expertise did not understand the systemic risks in the industry that they were supposed to be regulating?

All this was clearly set out in the Turner review, published by the FSA in 2009 and seemingly unread by the authors of this document. The review advocated a shift from microprudential regulation that focuses attention on the risks facing individual firms to macroprudential regulation focusing on the risks inherent in the operation of the system as a whole. It is entirely true that implementing that change has proved more difficult than the noble Lord, Lord Turner, could have anticipated. Basel III, the regulatory system lauded in this Bill, was supposed to do the job, but as Professor Hyun Shin, chief economist of the Bank for International Settlements, the home of Basel III, has commented:

“Under its current … form, Basel III is almost exclusively micro-prudential in its focus, concerned with the solvency of individual banks, rather than being macro-prudential, concerned with the resilience of the financial system as a whole. The language of Basel III is revealing in this regard, with repeated references to greater ‘loss absorbency’ of bank capital.”


When we turn to the impact assessment published by Her Majesty’s Treasury to accompany the Bill, we again find many references to the virtues of bank capital, its loss absorbency and the resilience of individual firms. There is, however, absolutely nothing about the attempt to deal with systemic risk using liquidity rules, resolution regimes and comprehensive supervisions. The authors of this document have been rewriting history. They have also failed to learn from history.