9 November 2020
Harriett Baldwin backs historic Bill which sets out post-Brexit regulation for UK financial services sector

Harriett Baldwin welcomes the Financial Services Bill as an historic turning point to enable the UK financial services sector to become the leading financial services sector of the 21st century.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)

It is a pleasure to follow my Treasury Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Glasgow Central (Alison Thewliss).

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) talked about the historic events that had distracted him from preparing for his speech, although I do not think anyone would ever have known it, because he spoke in a very well-informed way. We often recognise historic turning points—certainly, Saturday at 5 pm was one of them, and today’s announcement of the Pfizer vaccine is another—and that is why I am a little disappointed that there are so few colleagues here for what is an important turning point in the UK financial services sector. I do not say that because the measures in the Bill are gripping, although they are sensible, practical measures, and they will no doubt be expatiated on at greater length by colleagues. Rather, I put in to speak in today’s debate because I wanted to hear the Minister at the Dispatch Box talk about the vision for post-transition UK financial services.

We are at an important inflection point, which is why I welcome the fact not only that the Minister outlined that vision today, but that the Chancellor was able to come here earlier to talk about the future, as he sees it, for this incredibly important sector. He emphasised in his statement, as the Minister did at the Dispatch Box, what a significant export sector this is. It is our biggest export sector. It pays £75 billion a year in taxes. It helps to fund the public services we all rely on. That is why we need it too to do well in the future and why it is important to note this historic turning point. We may look back at this moment, as we look back on the big bang in 1986, as being a really significant inflection point.

The Chancellor set out today three ways in which we can really build on our existing comparative advantage to become the leading financial services sector of the 21st century. He made some bold statements this afternoon that really reflected what financial services are going to become. First, he spoke about our global openness. It is a matter of regret that we have not been able to mutually agree equivalence with the EU. Obviously, we are entirely equivalent, and it would have been much more satisfactory if we had been able to respect each other’s starting point as being completely equivalent and to go forward from there. It is clear from the way in which the European Union has not been prepared to offer us equivalence that it will continue to use EU regulation in financial services as a bit of a stick with which to beat up on this sector, in which the UK already excels. I am sorry to say that, and it gives me no pleasure, but that would clearly be unacceptable.

In the Treasury Committee, we heard from the Governor of the Bank of England that it would be dangerous to financial stability if we were to allow an external regulator to suddenly take away equivalence from our financial services sector. So the judgment that was made to come to the Dispatch Box and say, “Do you know what? We’re unilaterally going to do it for the UK,” was regrettably the right decision to take historically. It was accompanied with the three statements about the kind of financial services sector that we envision for the 21st century—one that is globally open and inviting of inward investment and listings from around the world, not just from other EU countries.

Secondly, the Chancellor said that the financial services sector should also be technologically innovative. That is so important. We have led the world in the FinTech sector and regulation, and have set up FinTech bridges with other countries. Singapore, another FinTech innovator, was the first with which we established a regulatory bridge. That is clearly how financial services will evolve in the 21st century, and the announcement about the leadership we are showing on digital currencies was incredibly important.

Thirdly, the headline measure—the one that will no doubt get coverage around the world—was the equally important announcement that we will issue a green gilt. I am the first to congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Grantham and Stamford (Gareth Davies), who has been assiduous in calling for that. We have had announcements on the global vision, the technological vision and the importance of the UK being the lead financial centre for financing the climate revolution of the 21st century. We financed the industrial revolution, and we will finance the green industrial revolution. Countries from around the world will issue bonds in the UK against the green gilt benchmark, so this Bill is historic.

I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Minister for the work he has done on breathing space. I know how passionate he is about it. He and I were elected in 2010, and he has always championed that issue, so it is wonderful to see him bringing forward legislation to make progress on it.

I want to ask the Minister a few questions. He and the Chancellor highlighted the UK’s importance as a global financial centre. First, what progress has been made on what the UK is hoping to achieve on a US financial services free trade agreement? That has always struck me as important. We are the biggest investors in each other’s countries, and the ability to do more in terms of financial services would help consumers in both countries, so what are his aspirations and ambitions for that?

Secondly, what is the Minister’s vision for the Basel framework, particularly with regard to the very high risk weighting that it gives to investments in Africa? When I was Africa Minister, one of the things that used to get me excited was the potential for inward investment into Africa. We had a big Africa investment summit in January. The risk weighting for assets in many African countries is incredibly high under the Basel rules, so can the Minister update the House on anything he is doing to try to make those assets appear less risky on bank balance sheets?

My third question is about the assets we still own as a result of the financial crash in 2008. Will the Minister update the House on what the exit strategy is for those remaining financial services assets?

Those are my three questions for the Minister. Given the general direction and strategy the Government have announced today, I think this is a historic moment for UK financial services. In 10 or 15 years, we will look back on it as equally significant as the announcement from Pfizer and the US election. I congratulate the Minister on introducing the Bill and I look forward to hearing more detail when he responds.