Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: Amendment No. 180, which deletes subsection (6), refers to Clause 83, which makes it a criminal offence for any person to offer certain new securities to the public if listing rules require a prospectus to be published before the securities are admitted to the official list. Prior to an amendment on Report in the Commons, the clause provided that a breach of the prohibition by an

21 Mar 2000 : Column 192

authorised person was to be treated as a breach of rules. Subsection (6) was therefore necessary to provide that no private rights of action arose as a result of a breach of the prohibition in the clause. However, in the light of the consultation responses, we amended the clause so that authorised and unauthorised persons were treated alike, both being subject to the criminal offence. As a result, subsection (6) is redundant. The noble Lord has read it correctly in relation to Clauses 141 and 142.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 83, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 84 and 85 agreed to.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 181:

    After Clause 85, insert the following new clause--


.--(1) Listing rules may require a person to make arrangements with a sponsor for the performance by the sponsor of such services in relation to him as may be specified in the rules.
(2) "Sponsor" means a person approved by the competent authority for the purposes of the rules.
(3) Listing rules made by virtue of subsection (1) may--
(a) provide for the competent authority to maintain a list of sponsors;
(b) specify services which must be performed by a sponsor;
(c) impose requirements on a sponsor in relation to the provision of services or specified services;
(d) specify the circumstances in which a person is qualified for being approved as a sponsor.
(4) If the competent authority proposes--
(a) to refuse a person's application for approval as a sponsor, or
(b) to cancel a person's approval as a sponsor,
it must give him a warning notice.
(5) If, after considering any representations made in response to the warning notice, the competent authority decides--
(a) to grant the application for approval, or
(b) not to cancel the approval,
it must give the person concerned, and any person to whom a copy of the warning notice was given, written notice of its decision.
(6) If, after considering any representations made in response to the warning notice, the competent authority decides--
(a) to refuse to grant the application for approval, or
(b) to cancel the approval,
it must give the person concerned a decision notice.
(7) A person to whom a decision notice is given under this section may refer the matter to the Tribunal.").

The noble Lord said: The amendment gives the competent authority the power to require issuers to employ the services of a person known as a "sponsor". The current competent authority, the London Stock Exchange, already requires the use of a sponsor. Sponsors are a concept deriving from the listing rules rather than a requirement of the EU directives or statute. Essentially, although employed by issuers, sponsors also have the role of providing assurance to the competent authority that applicants for listing fulfil their responsibilities and have exercised the

21 Mar 2000 : Column 193

necessary due diligence; for example, in producing proper working capital statements and profit forecasts.

In order to be a sponsor at present a person has to be on an approved list maintained by the competent authority. The criteria are: being an authorised person or the passported equivalent from another member state; satisfying the competent authority that you are competent to perform the role of sponsor; and giving a commitment to discharge the sponsor responsibilities set out in the listing rules and paying the prescribed fees. At present the competent authority enters into a contractual relationship with sponsors as regards compliance with the listing rules. Now that the function is to be transferred to the FSA we consider that the better approach is to provide for sponsors in the Bill.

The new clause is a permissive one. It allows the competent authority to require issuers to employ sponsors. The FSA is currently engaging in consultation on its role as competent authority. Although that is primarily focused on the operation of the function in the period between 1st May--the target date for the transfer--and the bringing into force of the relevant Bill provisions, the FSA is seeking views from sponsors and others on the sponsor regime in general. What role sponsors should play going forward will be for the FSA to decide following consultation. The Bill allows the competent authority to continue with the regime if it thinks it appropriate. Our understanding is that the view of the London Stock Exchange and the FSA is that sponsors currently play a key role in ensuring that applicants for listing fulfil their responsibilities. Treasury officials have talked to a number of market participants who expressed the same view.

As well as allowing the competent authority to require issuers to use the services of a sponsor, the new clause will continue to allow listing rules to set out what must be done by sponsors and how; and to specify the circumstances in which a person is qualified for being approved as a sponsor. It provides also for the procedures that must be followed if the competent authority proposes to refuse an application for approval as a sponsor or to remove a person from the list of sponsors. Those procedures will be subject to change on Report to bring them into line with changes we are proposing on procedures more generally. I beg to move.

5.45 p.m.

Lord Sharman: I should like to ask the Minister to clarify a couple of matters. I endorse his remarks in terms of the importance of sponsors and the critical role they play in listing securities. For that reason, it is critically important that the acceptance or removal of the right to operate as a sponsor is as important as many of the other regulatory actions that the FSA may take under the Bill. I understand all the requirements. The only issue on which I should like clarification is the content of the written notices of decisions; for example, do they, or is it intended that they should,

21 Mar 2000 : Column 194

give the reasons for the decisions? At the moment as it stands, there is a provision for issuing warning notices and for removing the right to operate as a sponsor or declining the right to commence operating as a sponsor. But nowhere other than where the Bill mentions a written notice of decision is there an indication that the reasons for the decision would be disclosed to the sponsor. Will the Minister clarify that point?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: I am rising slowly to my feet--yes; it will provide for reasons.

On Question, amendment agreed to.

Schedule 8 agreed to.

Clause 86 agreed to.

Schedule 9 agreed to.

Clause 87 [Penalties for breach of listing rules]:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey moved Amendment No. 182:

    Page 40, line 2, leave out from ("that") to end of line 12 and insert ("--

(a) an issuer of listed securities, or
(b) an applicant for listing,
has contravened any provision of listing rules, it may impose on him a penalty of such amount as it considers appropriate.
( ) If, in such a case, the competent authority considers that a person who was at the material time a director of the issuer or applicant was knowingly concerned in the contravention, it may impose on him a penalty of such amount as it considers appropriate.
( ) If the competent authority is entitled to impose a penalty on a person under this section in respect of a particular matter it may, instead of imposing a penalty on him in respect of that matter, publish a statement censuring him.
( ) Nothing in this section prevents the competent authority from taking any other steps which it has power to take under this Part.").

The noble Lord said: In moving the amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments Nos. 183 to 189, and 192. The amendments concern the action which the competent authority can take if there has been a breach of listing rules. Clause 87 provides the competent authority with a power to impose a monetary penalty on an issuer or applicant for listing who contravenes the listing rules or who is knowingly a party to the contravention by an issuer of which he is, or was, a director at the time of the contravention.

This is a new power which is being introduced to fill a gap which exists under the current legislation. At present, the only sanctions available to the competent authority in the face of a breach of the rules are to censure, publicly or privately, those concerned, or, as a last resort, to suspend or cancel listing. Suspension or cancellation is a sanction that is available only in limited circumstances. This provision will better enable the competent authority to match the sanction imposed to the gravity of the misconduct committed.

By allowing the competent authority to impose penalties on directors who are knowingly concerned in a contravention of the listing rules, it can get at the right people. Under its current powers the effect of sanctions imposed by the competent authority, which

21 Mar 2000 : Column 195

extend only to issuers, hit shareholders. Where the issuer is at fault, that is right--shareholders own the firm--but where a director is at fault, clearly the sanctions should bite on him or her.

The amendments that we propose make a number of substantive changes to the disciplinary arrangements. First, Amendment No. 182 extends the power to issue public censures to directors and former directors. At present the only sanction in the Bill available against such persons is a monetary penalty.

That is at odds with disciplinary provisions in Parts V and XIV of the Bill which allow the FSA to issue a public statement where that is the more appropriate course of action. The Bill already allows listing rules to make provision for censures to be imposed on issuers.

Amendments Nos. 183, 188 and 189 make consequential changes on the extension of the power to directors. On Report, we also intend to extend the power to issue public censures to breaches of the listing rules by sponsors as well as by directors and issuers, although we do not intend to extend the sanction of a monetary penalty in the case of sponsors.

The other amendments in this group concern the safeguards already built into the disciplinary process. Amendments Nos. 184 and 185 bring Clause 87 fully into line with Clause 65(4). At present, Clause 87 provides that the competent authority may not impose a penalty on an individual after the period of two years from when it first became aware of the contravention.

Amendments Nos. 186 and 187 make changes to Clause 89 which requires the competent authority to consult on and publish a policy statement on the imposition and amount of penalties for breaches of the listing rules. Amendment No. 186 simply aligns the language of this clause with that more generally in the Bill, which talks about the "issuing" rather than the "publishing" of statements.

Amendment No. 187 implements the Joint Committee recommendation on the factors to be taken into account when setting the level of a fine.

Finally, Amendment No. 192, which inserts a new clause after Clause 95, provides the same safeguards concerning costs and the destination of penalty income as does paragraph 16 of Schedule 1 in the case of the FSA generally. Again, that reflects Joint Committee recommendations.

Under the provisions of the new clause, the competent authority must take no account of its costs in determining the amount of penalties. Of course, the Bill states that elsewhere. It also provides that the competent authority must prepare and operate a scheme for paying out penalty income that it receives to issuers of listed securities. Again, that is comparable with provisions elsewhere in the Bill.

Together those provisions ensure that there are no incentives for the competent authority to impose inappropriate levels of penalties and that people are not deterred from pursuing their rights by the risk that they may have to bear the FSA's costs. As for the FSA more generally, the competent authority is required to consult on the details of the scheme.

21 Mar 2000 : Column 196

One thing that is not covered here is the right to refer competent authority decisions to impose penalties and issue public censures to the tribunal. On Report, we shall introduce that right, and align the procedures with those that we shall introduce elsewhere in the Bill. As a result of the decision to give people a right to go to the tribunal, we propose to oppose the inclusion of Clause 91 in the Bill. That currently requires the competent authority to maintain arrangements for hearing appeals against its decision to impose penalties. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page