7 September 2022
Harriett Baldwin to table amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill

Harriett Baldwin backs the Financial Services and Markets Bill and highlights opportunities for the financial advice market to offer people more customised guidance and tables an amendment that would allow the provision of much more personalised guidance through the use of innovation and technology.

Harriett Baldwin (West Worcestershire) (Con)

It is an honour to be called to speak in support of the Bill. In a way, it is an advantage to be called at this time because so many excellent points have been made by so many wonderful people, and I am pleased to say that I agree with most of them and that they have been expressed better than I could have done, including by the former Chancellor and the former Economic Secretary to the Treasury, who was responsible, I think, for putting together quite a large part of this Bill.

I recall the milestone of when the country voted to leave the European Union on 23 June 2016, because I was Economic Secretary to the Treasury at the time. Many questions came to the fore about what would happen to the regulation of our financial services, which have been referred to many times in this debate as one of our most important export and tax-paying sectors, providing many hundreds of thousands of jobs up and down the land. It is a very important sector, and over the past six years we have flirted with the idea of equivalence.

It is, I think, the EU Commission that has decided that equivalence does not suit it. Frankly, I think it is the EU’s loss, because obviously we are equivalent—or we were equivalent. It is the EU’s small businesses and growing firms that will lose easy access to the United Kingdom capital markets, which is a shame for them. I also know that discussions were had about the EU-Canada trade agreement and about the chapter on financial services, which is not in our current trade agreement with the EU. Clearly that has been rejected as a way forward, although there is scope for much more mutual recognition and the opening up of markets.

I welcome the decisions that have been made before the publication of this Bill, and the opportunities for divergence that are being seized in it. It is also welcome that the industry has been very much consulted and brought along with us on how Solvency II and MiFID II changes can help our economy grow.

However, the point on which I wish to focus has not been brought up much in this debate: the freedoms that this Bill gives us to look once again at the market for advice and guidance in this country. We have heard about many of the challenges that consumers face when they are making financial decisions on their own behalf. The cost of financial advice is high, and the guidance itself can be very generic. There is, of course, access to the Money Advice Service and to Pension Wise, which I encourage constituents to use if they can, but the Bill gives us the opportunity to look once again at the financial advice market and to have more customised guidance because of how technology has evolved and the important role that the FCA’s regulatory sandbox plays in allowing people to experiment.

I urge everyone who has spoken about consumers in this debate to support an amendment that I am planning to table with the help of the Investing and Saving Alliance. It would allow the provision of much more personalised guidance through the use of innovation and technology, helping consumers through difficult decisions such as moving pensions when they change employer. That would create a better informed consumer who would not necessarily fall so easily for some of the scams that we have been hearing about during today’s debate. We need to arm our consumers to be able to tackle those scams.

My final point is about the role of the regulator. Time and again in this debate Members have asked who regulates the regulator if it puts in place something with which we as MPs or our constituents disagree. There is an important role here for the Treasury Committee, on which I sit, and we will take that responsibility of scrutinising changes very seriously.

I also think one of the great strengths of our country is our common law; I know the Minister has been looking at the opportunities that have been outlined for bringing in some further rights of appeal through the common-law system against some decisions that regulators make. I know he has taken these points seriously, and I look forward to his responding to them at the end of the debate.