The Queen's Speech: Financial Services - Markets watchdog to get tougher controls

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The Independent Online
THE FINANCIAL Services and Markets Bill will provide the legislative underpinning for the sweeping reform in financial services regulation that was one of the Government's first acts on its election last year.

However, the Bill, which will set out the framework for the City watchdog, the Financial Services Authority, will probably not complete its legislative passage until 2000 - nearly a year later than hoped.

Since last October, the FSA has been operating in a legislative grey area, relying on the powers granted to agencies such as the Personal Investment Authority and the Securities and Futures Association.

Stephen Byers, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said yesterday the Bill was a "prime example of this Government's aim to reform and modernise Britain". The reforms will help to "maintain confidence in UK markets both at home and abroad and enhance London's position as one of the world's leading financial centres".

Although the measures have been broadly welcomed, the draconian powers given to the FSA have caused concern in the legal profession. Partly to address this, the Government is to take the unprecedented step of having the legislationscrutinised by a specially constituted joint committee, drawn from both Houses, before it begins its passage.

The FSA replaces the system of self-regulation set up by the Conservatives in 1986. It was widely criticised by Labour for failing to prevent scandals in the late Eighties and early Nineties, which undermined public confidence in the City. These included the Robert Maxwell affair and the collapse of Barings, the merchant bank.

It brings the bodies responsible for policing the financial services agencies under one roof. It also provides for a statutory framework for dealing with offences by City professionals.

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