Amongst the range of topics that were discussed in our most recent Regulatory Round Up Banking & Finance Academy was the progress of the Financial Services and Markets Bill (the "Bill") following its second reading in Parliament in September 2022. Despite the general support for the Bill, the lengthy debate highlighted that there was no guarantee of an unopposed third reading unless changes are made to the current drafting of the Bill. The Committee Stage is now in progress with two sittings having taken place and a further three sittings tabled.

The main objectives of the Bill, as set out by the Treasury, are to:

  • implement the outcomes of the future regulatory framework review;
  • maintain the UK's position as a global financial hub;
  • harness opportunities of innovative technologies in financial services; and
  • promote financial inclusion and consumer protection.

Debate

On its second reading there was general support for the Bill, but there was a lengthy debate both on clarity around what is in and what is not in the Bill. The key points of debate were:

  • Accountability of both the Treasury and Regulators

There was serious concern in relation to accountability. One of the issues brought up was the fact the Bill will allow Ministers to call in and potentially overrule decisions by the regulators if it is in the public interest. It was reiterated that regulators ought to be accountable to Parliament and not to a Minister. It was accepted that accountability is a fundamental part of the Bill that will need to be dealt with at Committee stage.

  • Sustainability and green finance

There was a general consensus that the Bill lacks emphasis on sustainability, green finance and compliance with climate change obligations. The responsibilities of the regulators under the Climate Change Act 2008 are formalised under clause 25, but there is a view that more is needed with suggestions of sustainability disclosure requirements or a green finance strategy for the sector.

  • Access to cash

Under clause 47 and schedule 8 the Bill makes provision for reasonable access to cash which will be the responsibility of the FCA, and this was widely supported at the debate. However, clarity was sought, and will be dealt with at Committee stage, over whether this relates to free access and further detail on what the Government means by access.

  • Buy now pay later

As set out above, the final objective of the Bill is to promote financial inclusion and consumer protection. Under this objective questions were asked as to why the regulation of by now pay later was not brought forward to be included in the Bill. It was confirmed that the Government have committed to bring forward the consultation on the draft legislation on buy now pay later before the end of the year, with the delay in implementing the draft legislation being as a result of the complexity of the matter rather than "lack of political will".

Next steps

Since the second reading there has been a call for written evidence on the Bill. Those wishing to submit their views are being advised to do so as soon as possible as the Public Bill Committee will conclude its consideration of the Bill by 3 November 2022.

So far, the Committee has met on the 19 October to hear evidence and on the 25 October to begin the line-by-line consideration of the Bill with further sittings tabled for 27 October and the 1 and 3 November.

Once the Committee stage has completed, a draft of the amended Bill will be put before Parliament at the Report Stage with a debate being had on those amendments (the date for the Report Stage is still to be confirmed). This is one to watch to see what if any of the comments made at the debate are to be considered in the amendments made to the drafting of the Bill.

If you missed the Banking & Finance Academy and want a quick update on some of the other topics discussed including Buy Now Pay Later, which was mentioned during the debate on the Bill, and the Consumer Duty, you can catch up here.

Contributors

Lindsay Lee

Senior Associate

Bruce Stephen

Head of Banking and Financial Services & Partner

Caoimhe Hunter Blair

Trainee Solicitor