Financial Services and Markets Bill Debate

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Department: HM Treasury
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
“(1) The Treasury may by regulations revoke any legislation referred to in Schedule 1 provided that—(a) the regulators have drafted and, where necessary, consulted on rules that are ready to be enforced, where it is appropriate, to replace the legislation, and(b) any such revocation or replacement which represents a significant divergence from current rules or practice has had the opportunity to be scrutinised by the relevant Parliamentary select committee and the views and recommendations of that committee or those committees have been taken into account.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is a probing amendment to allow debate on possible means of Parliamentary scrutiny of the changes generated by the implementation of Clause 1 and Schedule 1.
Lord Sharkey Portrait Lord Sharkey (LD)
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My Lords, the purpose of the amendment is to allow debate on the possible means of parliamentary scrutiny of the many legislative changes that will be brought about by the implementation of Clause 1 and Schedule 1.

The question of meaningful parliamentary scrutiny was frequently mentioned in all parts of the House at Second Reading. There seemed to be consensus that there is nothing in the Bill that would enable proper scrutiny of the changes proposed by the Bill. The whole wider question of parliamentary scrutiny was debated at length in the Chamber on 12 January. That debate was on the report from the DPRRC called Democracy Denied? and the report from the SLSC called Government by Diktat. The titles of the reports accurately represent their urgent concerns.

The debate was led by the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, the respective chairmen of the Select Committees. There were 35 speakers, 34 of whom were sympathetic to the notion that our system of dealing with delegation is defective and does not provide effective scrutiny. Regrettably, there is plenty of evidence that that is the case, and much of it is presented vividly in those two reports. There is also plenty of evidence to support the view that Governments try, when they can, to bypass real parliamentary scrutiny, and plenty of evidence that the balance of power between Parliament and the Executive has been shifting in favour of the Executive.

I noted at Second Reading, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, that the Bill seems likely to generate more than 250 pieces of secondary legislation or binding rules. That might seem like a lot, but, in reality, it is just a very small and very important subset of the estimated 4,000 pieces of legislation to be revoked, amended or substituted in the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill, and it may be more than that if the National Archives find any more down the back of their sofa, in addition to the 1,300 which the Government have already overlooked. The scales of 250 to the retained EU law Bill’s 4,000 plus may be very different, but the underlying problem is exactly the same: how can parliamentary scrutiny be effectively and proportionately applied to those proposed legislative changes?

As things stand, the Bill provides that some of the proposed changes will be subject to the negative procedure and some to the affirmative procedure; for others, it is not clear whether they will be subject to any procedure at all. In practice, that amounts to no parliamentary scrutiny at all. The negative SI procedure is not scrutiny of any kind, nor is the affirmative procedure. If SIs cannot be amended and are not voted down, they are not scrutiny. In reality, our SI procedures are legislative theatre. Our recent debates and comments at Second Reading have shown a strong feeling across the House that, as a means of scrutiny, our current SI procedures are simply not fit for purpose. It does not help to have the Government insisting, as I am certain the Minister will, that they do in fact provide meaningful scrutiny. I am equally certain that she will not provide us with any evidence that that is the case.

The amendment suggests a way of achieving a modest amount of parliamentary scrutiny over the regulation-making powers in the Bill. The first part of the amendment simply places in the Bill the exact text of an important commitment made by the Treasury in paragraph 16 of its memorandum to the DPRRC. It says that, as a condition of the Treasury’s power to revoke, the regulators must

“have drafted and, where necessary, consulted on rules that are ready to be enforced, where it is appropriate, to replace the legislation”,

and so on. I am not certain of the force of a Treasury commitment made in a memorandum to a parliamentary committee, and that is one reason why I think it should be in the Bill: to put beyond doubt that the commitment is legally binding.

However, there is another reason for inserting the memorandum text: that is, to be able to ask the Government what the tests are for “necessary” and for “appropriate”, who decides, and how, whether the tests have been satisfied, and how much of this will be transparent. Without such detail, the commitment may be completely meaningless. I would be grateful if the Minister could address those points when she replies.

The second part of the amendment says that before the Treasury can, by regulation, revoke any legislation in Schedule 1:

“any such revocation or replacement which represents a significant divergence from current rules or practice has had the opportunity to be scrutinised by the relevant Parliamentary select committee and the views and recommendations of that committee or those committees have been taken into account.”

That is a rather broad-stroke first attempt at triage and at inserting a scrutiny mechanism. It is intended to identify a subset of changes that represent significant alterations in policy or practice and to provide the opportunity for the relevant committees to scrutinise these if they choose and to require the Treasury to take into account any views or recommendations expressed by the committees. The word “significant” is obviously key. We will need some specified tests for significance or perhaps leave it to the discretion of the relevant committees to decide for themselves. The amendment is not prescriptive about what form any committee scrutiny might take; that seems best left to the committees themselves.

I am sure that debate will generate improvements on Report or entirely different and better methods of ensuring that Parliament can play a meaningful scrutiny role with respect to the provisions in the Bill and perhaps make a contribution to addressing the similar but numerically much larger problem presented by the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill.

I conclude as I did at Second Reading by saying that the structure of our financial services regime is far too important to be left to the Treasury and the regulators alone. Real parliamentary scrutiny is vital, but it is entirely absent from the Bill. I look forward to hearing the contributions of other noble Lords. I beg to move.

Baroness Noakes Portrait Baroness Noakes (Con)
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My Lords, as this is the first day of Committee, I declare my interests as recorded in the register, in particular that I hold shares in listed financial services companies. I will not comment on the government amendments in this group; I am taking those on trust.

I share the desire of the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, for Parliament to be involved in the new rules that will replace retained EU law, but this is part of the larger issue of how there will be parliamentary accountability of the regulators. A number of us have tabled amendments of slightly different varieties on how to achieve that in the Bill. I for one will not contribute to that issue in this debate, because it is better saved until the various mechanisms that some of us have proposed are debated later in Committee.

I have two amendments in this group: Amendments 244 and 245. At Second Reading I acknowledged that the replacement of retained EU law on financial services would take some time, but I felt that the process needed the discipline of a hard stop along the lines of the Retained EU Law (Revocation and Reform) Bill. I have not copied that Bill, with its deadline of the end of this year, but I have instead proposed one three years later: that is, on 31 December 2026.

That will doubtless disappoint some hardliners among my Brexiteer colleagues, but I see that as a pragmatic compromise between getting the issue fixed and letting the regulators do a proper job in turning EU rules into something that works for the UK or indeed, whenever possible, removing the rules entirely.

I am not convinced that, left to themselves, the FCA and the PRA will prioritise the task of dealing with the full corpus of retained EU law, especially once the first batch of relatively easy issues has been dealt with. A deadline is a simple device in order to incentivise them to get on with it or risk losing the related law entirely.

If my noble friend resists the notion of a statutory deadline, even though it is government policy for retained EU law generally, perhaps she will explain what sticks and carrots the Treasury has at its disposal to get the job done within a reasonable timeframe. I do not think it reasonable to have this large body of EU law left in limbo for any considerable period of time.

--- Later in debate ---
Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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No, that discussion was not had. The powers are constrained in that they relate to the provisions in place to transition away from and replace retained EU law, rather than going beyond that.

Amendments 242 and 243, put together, enable provisions subject to the negative procedure under an Act other than this Bill to be included in affirmative regulations made under the Bill. This is a procedural change with well-established precedent. Where any element of a statutory instrument is subject to the affirmative procedure, the combined instrument would also be subject to the affirmative procedure, so there will be no reduction in parliamentary scrutiny.

To conclude, the Bill will repeal retained EU law to establish a model of regulation based on FSMA. It will do so in a way that prioritises growth while moving in a sequenced and measured way, and through scrutiny, engagement and consultation. At this stage, I hope the noble Lord, Lord Sharkey, will feel able to withdraw his amendment and that other noble Lords will not move theirs when they are reached. Subject to providing that extra clarification to the noble Baroness, Lady Kramer, I intend to move the government amendments when they are reached.

Lord Sharkey Portrait Lord Sharkey (LD)
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I thank all noble Lords who have spoken. I did ask the Minister about the Treasury’s assertion, or guarantee, that it will have replacements where necessary for the stuff that gets repealed, and about the tests for what is “necessary” and what is “appropriate”, how they will be applied and how transparently. I would be grateful if the Minister could write to tell me the answer to my question.

If we are to rely on SIs as a means of scrutiny of the measures in the Bill, that is the practical equivalent of having Parliament largely bypassed in this discussion. We need two fundamental mechanisms for effective parliamentary scrutiny: an effective means of triage and an effective means of revision. I am sure we will return to those issues either later in Committee or on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.