I beg to move,
That this House considers the lack of progress made by banks and the Financial Conduct Authority on the redress scheme adopted as a result of the mis-selling of complex interest rate derivatives to small and medium businesses to be unacceptable; and notes that this lack of progress is costly and has caused further undue distress to the businesses involved.
I am surprised to be back here 15 months after the first debate on this important issue. I appreciate the Backbench Business Committee—the Chair is in her place—once again offering time to debate it. The first debate made a significant difference. Prior to that debate, the Financial Conduct Authority and the banking sector were refusing to acknowledge that there was an issue that needed to be dealt with. A few days after the first debate, that changed and a pilot scheme was announced.
Members who have followed this issue carefully are aware that the pilot scheme found that approximately 91% of cases investigated between July 2012 and January 2013 had a technical mis-selling, so the process has highlighted the mis-selling of these products. The House should take some comfort in knowing that securing the second debate has also resulted in a significant concession from the banking sector. Members of the all-party group on interest rate mis-selling have argued long and hard that the redress scheme had a central flaw, which is that the technical redress for the mis-selling of interest rate swap derivatives and the consequential losses were linked within the redress scheme. That gave the banks in question a significant advantage, because small businesses facing heavy cash-flow problems were inclined perhaps, under the scheme as it stood, to accept an offer of technical redress without fighting hard over consequential losses, simply because they were desperate for the cash.
As a result of the announcement of this debate last week, HSBC said on Tuesday that it was separating the technical redress from the consequential losses, and other banks have followed. My first call today, therefore, is for the rest of the banks involved in the redress scheme to follow HSBC’s and RBS’s lead. It is several months too late, perhaps, but it is the right decision, and we want to see the other banks following.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the FCA is still dragging its feet and that this has gone on for far too long? I am helping Ged Fitzpatrick, who has a care home in north Wales and who recently suffered a heart attack. I am sure that that had something to do with the stress of this process, which has gone on for far too long.
Bully-Banks surveyed its members and found that the health impact on them had been significant. I accept that the FCA still has ground to make up, but despite its stating in September that linking both payments was the right thing to do, I am pleased that yesterday it welcomed the decision to separate them. I would rather see a sinner repent, even late in the day, than no changes whatsoever.
I wish to express my gratitude to the hon. Gentleman for his leadership on this issue. Hon. Members on both sides of the House are very grateful. Like so many colleagues, I have a firm in my constituency—it does not want to be named—that has been in this situation. I was able to get the redress payment paid and was about to get compensation in hand, when the FCA intervened to say, “Oh well, the 8% simple interest paid for the redress payment is sufficient compensation for the consequential losses.” Does he accept what must be blindingly obvious—that no bank seeking redress for a loss that it had unfairly suffered and then seeking compensation for consequential losses would dream of ever seeing the two rolled up together? What is sauce for the goose must be sauce for the gander.
I accept the right hon. Gentleman’s point. This is clearly an important step forward, however, and we should take comfort from the fact that this place can influence the behaviour of the banking sector. I will be discussing consequential losses later in my speech.
It is fair to say that the 91% finding in the pilot scheme has been replicated in the work done within the redress scheme. The figures released by the FCA in August and September on the individual performance of banks—something for which the all-party group called—have clearly shown that 93% of cases in the redress scheme involved actual mis-selling. So again we have proved that there is an issue that needs to be dealt with.
I echo the praise from the right hon. Member for Blackburn (Mr Straw) for my hon. Friend. Does he have sympathy, as I do, for companies with more than 50 employees that are not financially sophisticated and which were mis-sold these products, often as a condition of loans to do business, but which now find themselves described as the sort of people who should have been able to see through the sophistry and misrepresentation of the salesmen of these products?
My hon. Friend mentions the sophistication test, and I will be coming to that; it is indeed something that concerns me and the all-party group.
We have found consistently that banks are admitting a mis-sale in about 93% of cases. Had we found, in the consumer mortgage market, that 93% of mortgages had been mis-sold, would we have allowed nine months to pass between those findings and the situation we now face? We have to ask the question: is it right that these businesses should be treated differently because they are small businesses, when we have found that there has clearly been mis-selling?
I have many constituents, some of whom are outside this place today, whose businesses are in limbo while they wait for this interminable delay to be sorted. They are unable to press on and employ the people they want to, to grow their businesses, pay their taxes and help to grow the economy, which is what we all need to happen. That is the bigger point in this debate: the impact on the wider economy.
My hon. Friend makes an important point, which those on the Front Bench need to take seriously. These businesses have been unable to invest because they simply do not know whether they are financially feasible. Time and again, I have heard stories of people with investment plans who, rather than implementing them and growing their businesses, have been closing elements of their businesses, making staff redundant and just trying to survive.
That concern has certainly been raised, but I keep receiving assurances from the banks that that is not the case. I want to take those assurances at face value and would still recommend that anybody who has been sold one of these products should undoubtedly go and talk to their banks. If the banks are unsympathetic, they should come and talk to their MPs, because we can and should intervene.
Is it not the case that some customers do not know that they have been sold swap agreements? Some people have been sold hidden swaps and do not know about it. Does my hon. Friend not think that the banks have a duty to inform customers themselves if they sign people up to such agreements?
I am grateful for that intervention. I will come to hidden swaps later—“embedded swaps” is the technical term; “hidden swaps” is a fairer way of describing them—because they are a big issue and we need to address them.
The setting up of the redress scheme was the reason why we called this debate. It has taken months to reach an agreement to ensure consistency across the 11 banks involved. Originally we were told that Christmas was the deadline for completion. However, at this point in time there are 30,000 businesses in the cohort—I think that that figure is an underestimate, because of embedded swaps, for example, and the way the sophistication test works—so frankly the Christmas target will not be met.
Before I take any further interventions, it is worth making this point. I was recently involved in a mediation meeting with one of the banks and one customer, whom I cannot name, even with parliamentary privilege, apparently. The bank in question made it clear that it could not promise a date for paying redress before 2015. As such, although the intention of achieving consistency is correct, we have to put pressure on the FCA to ensure that we move at a faster pace.
One of the big frustrations felt by the businesses affected and the APPG is that since the pilot scheme was completed, the banks involved have spent upwards of £300 million on the administration of the scheme and recruited up to 3,000 people to deal with it, yet by the end of September only 32 businesses had been offered redress, to the total value of £2 million. I understand the complexity of getting this right, but it is simply not good enough for the banks to be spending that much money and for the businesses that need redress not to be getting it.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way; he is doing a fantastic job. It is becoming clear to businesses in my constituency that, in the absence of any penalty after the current agreement—which, of course, is voluntary—the banks are just playing for time.
That is an important point—that the banks are possibly playing for time—which I think will be touched on in other speeches in this debate. As for the ability of businesses to try to get compensation through litigation, it is important that they take action to protect their positions. The redress scheme is a step forward. It is not working perfectly, but I would still advise businesses to protect their position from a legal point of view.
I thank the hon. Gentleman for giving way and for his work. He said earlier that he could not name his constituents or the bank involved, but I will certainly name Chris and Angela Hays, whom I am trying to help, and the Royal Bank of Scotland. Is it not the case that we have seen a double whammy? We have seen a big bank using a scam on its customers and then using every device to prevaricate and procrastinate to avoid paying the money that those businesses need to survive.
Hon. Members have made their feelings about that intervention very clear; we all share that frustration.
The FCA and the banks have made it clear that the suspension of swap payments is a concession that has been offered, but as yet only 1,000 businesses have been offered the opportunity to suspend payments. A key message that this debate needs to send out is that if a business wants to request a suspension, it has to be in financial distress. Some banks are stating that a business requesting a suspension is admitting to being distressed and therefore needs to go into special measures. Any small business would be loth to find itself dependent on a team of specialists from its bank’s restructuring department. We need to ensure that a suspension of payment can be offered without the need for a business to go into special measures with its bank.
The delays are the reason that we called this debate, but I also want to highlight other concerns that have been expressed about the redress scheme. I have touched on some of them in response to interventions. A key issue is the sophistication test. I acknowledge the need for such a test. Huge businesses can derive benefits from these products, and they will have the sophistication and expertise to understand what they are being sold. However, there is concern about the decision to introduce a sophistication test as part of the redress scheme.
Anyone who takes out a swap in excess of £10 million will be excluded from the scheme because they will be deemed to be sophisticated. The FCA has found that a key aspect of mis-selling involves banks over-hedging loans taken out by businesses. In other words, a business might have a loan facility of £5 million but a hedge in excess of £10 million. In such a situation, the fact that the bank was guilty of mis-selling would provide it with protection within the redress scheme. That is unacceptable. We need a greater degree of flexibility on the issue of sophistication.
Would my hon. Friend also accept that the banks have made these processes unduly complex, which has resulted in delays in addressing the issues? In the case of one company in my constituency, it has taken the bank 16 months just to recognise the fact that the company was unsophisticated, to use my hon. Friend’s language. That is clearly unacceptable.
I agree that 16 months is a very long time. Even when cases are accepted into the redress scheme, they seem to be taking a long time. The banks would argue that businesses need to engage with them, but I believe we still need to look carefully at this matter. The sophistication test should be more flexible, and the discrepancies that I have described need to be acknowledged.
Another discrepancy involves the asset value. A business could be excluded from the scheme because of the asset value that it holds. In effect, it could be argued that a business that had been lucky enough to invest in property at the right time should be excluded from the redress scheme because of that piece of luck. If the asset value had increased to a certain level, that could result in the company being excluded from the scheme.
There is also a lack of consistency. In some cases, the banks are ignoring the sophistication test because they believe that a customer would fail it and therefore be eligible for the redress scheme. Instead, they are moving the customer straight into the assessment of redress. If they can ignore the sophistication test in some cases, where is the consistency? A member of the all-party parliamentary group argued strongly on behalf of a constituent who had a £12 million swap and, lo and behold, the constituent was subsequently allowed to become part of the redress scheme. That was an excellent result for that business, but again, where is the consistency? The FCA needs to look carefully at the sophistication test.
My final point on the sophistication test is that, if a business spends six months waiting to be assessed, those six months will be lost in regard to the statute of limitations for taking legal action. The FCA needs to recognise that, because it is potentially dangerous for the businesses concerned.
A further concern relates to the alternative products on offer. It has been said time and again that if these complex products are unsuitable, it cannot be right to introduce a redress scheme in which a swap can be substituted by a slightly less complicated swap. It is also important to note that a business will be offered an alternative product only if it has failed the sophistication test—that is, if it has been deemed to be unsophisticated. I find it difficult to understand how any alternative product other than a cap could possibly be suitable.
Another reason why the cap is the obvious alternative product is that if businesses had been told clearly of the cost of the products they were taking on board back in 2006-07, they would have seen that a cap would have offered them significantly better value for money. Why was the cap not offered? Probably because of the financial imperative of the banks to sell something more complex and more rewarding. It is thus important to highlight the fact that having a complex derivative rather than a cap as alternative product is a real concern. If businesses have been classified as unsophisticated, that issue should be recognised and we should try to ensure that we provide a cap as the only acceptable alternative product.
My hon. Friend mentions the omission of information from the sales process; does he also accept that the information needed was introduced late and that only opinions were offered? What was really going on was a sophisticated sales process to dupe people who may have been financially unsophisticated for the financial benefit of the banks. Does he believe that that should mean that the people in charge of that process should face criminal sanction, not just financial redress for their customers?
That is certainly a call that some of the organisations campaigning on this issue have made, and I am sure that other hon. Members and members of the all-party group will expand on that theme in their speeches.
We thus need to look carefully at the alternative product issues. It is fair to argue that businesses might have been looking for interest rate protection, but it is difficult to argue that they would have been tempted by an expensive product in 2006-07, when a cap offered such good value for money at that time. I am unpersuaded of the arguments for a complex derivative.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend. Many of these products were sold on the basis of a projection for interest rates to go up. There is a slam dunk case against some of these companies for showing a graph of projected interest rate rises when, of course, the opposite happened. Surely that should be a factor when it comes to whether or not firms’ were sophisticated about the product that was eventually sold.
I could not agree more with my hon. Friend. The expectations back in 2007 were that interest rates would go down, yet there were numerous examples of bank sales teams informing businesses that they needed to protect themselves against a rising interest rate scenario—contrary to the information that the banks themselves had.
Another key call is why there is no appeal process within the redress scheme. There would be much more confidence in that scheme if there were an appeals process. I understand that the Financial Ombudsman Service offered to provide an appeals service, but the offer was rejected by the FCA. It would give some comfort without complicating issues too much if, for example, assessors working for one bank in the redress scheme were able to provide an appeals process for another bank in it. That may not be perfect, but it would help to avoid over-complicating what is already a complicated redress process and it would give businesses the confidence that there is an appeal process and that they can turn to somebody else to argue their case. We should be very concerned about having a redress scheme without any appeal process, as it goes against the principle of natural justice, while opening up the door to litigation, when the whole point of the redress scheme was supposed to be to avoid litigation.
Embedded or hidden swaps, which are currently excluded from the redress scheme, are another key issue to highlight and a matter of huge concern. If we think about it, a hidden swap is quite possibly worse because businesses were not even aware that they were also taking out with their fixed-rate loan an interest rate derivative product. The American author, James Riley once said:
“If it walks like a duck, and swims like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it must be a duck.”
The same point needs to be made about these hedging products. If the impact of an embedded swap is the same as the impact of a separate hedging product taken out with it, it is difficult to argue that the small businesses that were sold those products should be excluded because of a technicality relating to whether they are subject to the FCA regulations. I ask the Minister to respond on that specific issue.
A publican from Aberystwyth, Mansel Beechey, was sold one of these embedded products. I know Mansel very well because when I was a student in Aberystwyth, I was financially illiterate and used to cash cheques in the pub. I used to do that on a Wednesday evening and pay 50p for the privilege. On a Saturday evening, I would want to cash a cheque again, and Mansel would say, “Well, make it one for £30, and I will give you back what you gave me on Wednesday, only charging you the 50p once.” Mansel Beechey thus showed me more respect and consideration, in behaving properly towards me, than the bank that sold him the hidden swap showed to him. That business had been built up over a long period. If Mansel Beechey could show to me a degree of responsibility that had not been shown to him, there is clearly something wrong with our banking sector.
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I am afraid that I cannot take another intervention.
The issue of hidden swaps is important and needs to be addressed. We need to know why businesses to which they were mis-sold have been excluded from the redress scheme. Thousands of businesses have been mis-sold these products, banks have admitted that the products were mis-sold, and yet the redress scheme is not, as yet, performing as it should. I am not looking for a new scheme, but I am looking for changes, and much greater speed, in the scheme that we currently have; and I think that we need to address some of the exclusions, which are clearly unfair.
I became involved in this issue when a constituent of mine, Mr Colin Jones, came to see me. He claimed that he had been sold a complex product and that, as a result, his business had gone under. The last news I heard of Mr Jones was that he was homeless and living with his mother. He has lost absolutely everything, and because his business was a limited company, it is highly unlikely that even if the redress scheme highlights the fact that he was mis-sold the product and is in need of compensation, he will not benefit from that compensation personally. I think it wholly wrong for someone to lose his business not because he was a poor business man, not because he made a mistake, but because he was taken advantage of by his bank. Having listened to the trade calls, I am quite happy to say that publicly.
I am delighted to note the interest in the issue that is being expressed in the Chamber today, because I believe that businesses all over the country are looking to us to give a lead. I hope that the FCA and the banks will listen to what is being said, and I sincerely hope that the redress scheme will start to perform in the way in which it was expected to perform in January, rather than in the slow and bureaucratic way in which it has performed so far.
Order. More than 20 Members are seeking to catch my eye. We have also to hear, very properly, from the Minister and the shadow Minister, and I envisage the debate finishing at approximately 2.30 pm, at which point we shall need to move to the next debate. In recognition of all those considerations, I am imposing a limit of six minutes on Back-Bench speeches, with immediate effect.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), and it was a pleasure to see him before the Backbench Business Committee again, although we had hoped that the position would be resolved on the first occasion when he appeared before us. It was also a pleasure—here I echo the sentiments of other Members—to be a member of his all-party parliamentary group on interest rate mis-selling. The group has demonstrated the power and effectiveness that all-party parliamentary groups can display when they are organised around a single issue, particularly when the issue is an injustice of this kind. The Committee was delighted to be able to schedule today’s debate, and I hope that we shall have as much effect today as we did all those months ago.
I want to focus on just a couple of issues raised by the hon. Member for Aberconwy—in particular, the idea of a moratorium, but also the terrible way in which this issue has been allowed to drag on and on. It is not just the banks that are involved; the Treasury is involved as well, and we should also consider the role of the Financial Conduct Authority. When, many months ago, members of the FCA appeared before the all-party parliamentary group, many of us were unimpressed by their lack of a sense of urgency. Everyone recognised that they wanted the redress scheme to be drawn up properly, but they certainly did not show the sense of urgency that they had shown when signing people up to the mis-sold schemes when it came to the question of redress.
I do not know whether the hon. Lady has experienced the problem experienced by certain other Members. When the hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) and I wrote to the Financial Standards Authority about a shared case, the FSA replied that it did not deal with individual cases. We then wrote to the Minister, who told us to raise the matter with the FSA. We are going around in circles. Do we not need a different body—possibly even the National Crime Agency—to get a grip on the issue?
That is a very good point. We have had any number of cases where they have been passed from pillar to post. One of the terrible aspects of all this is that the individuals affected do not know where they can go to get justice, and they certainly do not have very much time to do that, because their businesses are going bust while they are waiting for justice.
This very morning I have been speaking to a constituent who has been driven to the edge of bankruptcy by what the banks have done, and I have helped him to some extent. My hon. Friend is making a point about the lack of force behind the action that has been taken so far. Is there not a case for strong Government action now and, indeed, as the hon. Member for Bedford (Richard Fuller) mentioned, for criminal sanctions?
Indeed, and I am going to finish on both those points.
One way to make sure the banks cannot drag their feet in the way that they have is to impose a moratorium on the payments. That would really focus their minds. If the money is not coming in, I am sure they would try to settle this matter once and for all much more quickly. The number of suspensions of payments—and only in those cases where people are suffering significant hardship—is an absolute scandal. The fact that 30,000 businesses or individuals are waiting for some kind of redress and only 32 have had redress is also an absolute scandal. Something must be done.
My constituency also has a business that has been affected by this. When we wrote to the Financial Conduct Authority, the response was really an apology for the banks, as though this is just some sort of error that has been made. Does that not underline the fact that there has been a lack of urgency by the regulators, on whom we rely to act on behalf of our constituents when they are wronged in this way? We need more urgency from the regulators; they must get on with their job.
That is right and this whole scandal has shown how it has been possible to pass the blame between banks, the FCA and the Treasury, and nobody will take any responsibility for what has been an absolute scandal.
I have seen this in my casework. Mr and Mrs Chadwick buy and sell homes and their business has been very successful. These small and medium-sized companies are not just viable; they are successful. It is only because of this mis-selling scandal that they are going bust. I cannot understand the logic of this: what interest does a bank have in a business going bust and losing all its money? The logic of that is beyond me.
I am also concerned about banks that have taxpayer funding, such as RBS, which has a lot of these cases. We must look much more carefully at the link between the regulator, the banks and the Treasury.
I agree that proper criminal penalties must be imposed on those banks, individuals and organisations that have been proven to have been part of this injustice, and I also agree with the call for a moratorium.
The issue of suspensions and the length of time this has all taken was raised with me at a business breakfast in Winchester last week. This has generated so much anger. While it was understandable that there were no suspensions while things were supposed to be done on a shorter time scale, it has now taken 16 months in some cases. That is why it is causing real hardship and anger, and I hope that point comes across loud and clear to the FCA, which I know is listening to every single word this morning.
I could not agree more. I do not know whether other Members have received a letter from Barclays today outlining, in not very easy-to-understand English, what it is doing and proudly proclaiming how “tightly controlled” and “heavily scrutinised” the review is
“whereby all the banks involved are required to develop a detailed methodology for agreement”,
blah, blah, blah. It goes on and on and on. If this is phrased in anything like the same way as the products individuals were sold, I am not surprised they did not understand what was going on.
My hon. Friend talks about sanctions. A lot of these people were tricked at the last minute, whereby they were about to sign the loan and this clause was put in. They were told, “Oh no, it is an added safety for you.” Nothing was explained the other way and these people are now paying the price, but the real people who should pay the price are the banks that tricked them in the first place.
Not only was this a trick, but some individuals were not able to take loans unless they bought these products—that was the real scandal. The other tragedy has been: the many individuals who have taken their lives; those whose lives have been ruined; those whose marriages have broken up; and those individuals whose businesses have gone bust. What happens to them under any redress scheme? Those are the sorts of individuals that Bully-Banks has done a very big job to support, and I hope that today’s debate will mean that if the FCA is listening and if the banks are listening, they will do something about these people, and quickly.
May I start by adding my congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who has not only been brave in what he has done on this matter, but has shown outstanding leadership in a technical, complex issue?
I wish to develop a couple of points, the first of which has started to resolve itself. I am talking about the big question of the linking of consequential loss to the technical redress. Clearly, the technical redress is people’s money—that is an agreed thing, and it is only right that it should be paid as soon as possible. The consequential loss was always a separate issue, and to have linked it was completely the wrong thing to have done. HSBC has broken ranks and RBS is following suit, and Martin Wheatley is now coming on board, saying that there should be no conditionality between the technical redress and the consequential losses claims. That is a good thing; it is excellent progress, and we can thank my hon. Friend for his work on that.
May I add my thanks to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for the leadership that he, too, is showing on this issue? Is it his experience, as a fellow Worcestershire MP, that this scandal, although apparently technical, is affecting well run, long-established and deeply respected real businesses across a wide range of sectors, and that the delay is going to kill businesses that our constituents value very deeply indeed?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right in what he says. The banks made an incredibly cynical effort to persuade people to enter into these contracts where, in many instances, they should not have done so. Sometimes it was the right thing to do, and I think that many businesses will agree that they just got it wrong, but we need to look after the smaller businesses that were simply mis-sold these products.
Do not the banks, or at least some of them, also have to be much more proactive in identifying the people who been the business victims of this practice? As we all know, whenever we have a debate such as this, more people come forward who were frightened to come forward before or who did not even realise that they were victims of these schemes. It is up to the banks to be much more proactive in identifying the cases and then trying to resolve them.
That is absolutely right. Part of the problem, however, is that the banks have an incentive not to get in touch with people, for obvious reasons. That relates to the second point I wish to develop. It is a technical point, but it is incredibly important in terms of why it is incentivising banks to delay technical redress for as long as they can, and it has implications for the financial stability of the banks.
We should not think of these things as stand-alone products, but should recognise them for what they are. They are not stand-alone products; there is another side of this trade. They are swaps for a reason, and it is important to understand what a swap is. Any one of our victims will have been persuaded to take out a contract with the bank that has the beneficial effect of capping interest rate payments at a certain level. That is a virtuous thing and we are all familiar with the financial planning behind the thought process, through things such as fixed-rate mortgages. But these are not fixed-rate mortgages; they are stand-alone products that relate to a loan, but are not part of that loan. Importantly, many people have paid off the loan but still have the outstanding liability on the swap. The quid pro quo of having a fixed cap on interest payments is the collar that has caused so many problems for our victims, whereby they have to pay a relatively high rate of interest in today’s terms. What is not fully understood is that this is not a simple contract with the bank, as it first appears. The bank is not taking a naked bet with its customers that, in the environment of falling interest rates, it has won. It is not receiving as profit the penalty in the increased premiums being paid in interest rates by the victim, because for a swap to actually be a swap, there is a matching trade with a third party on the other side. What the banks receive in higher interest rate payments they are paying to an opposing and third-party counterpart on the other side.
I shall now go into a bit more detail. Businesses may want to make sure that they do not pay too high an interest rate; that is why they are persuaded, rightly or wrongly, to take the swaps. However, an organisation such as a pension fund needs to guarantee its income should a severe drop in interest rates, such as we have seen, occur. It would want to take a position opposite that of the businesses, which are the victims.
The pension fund will forgo a rise in rates while winning the guaranteed floor rate that it will receive. For a business to have a rate cap at, say, 7%, it will guarantee to pay no less than 5%. For a pension fund to be guaranteed to receive a minimum payment of 5%, it would agree to receive no more than 7%. In that way, the business’s and pension fund’s interests are perfectly aligned in opposition.
As both the pension fund and business are clients of the bank, the bank does two simultaneous trades—one with the business, to cap and collar the rate payments, and the other with the pension fund, to collar and cap the interest rate receipts. The bank makes a small margin, but essentially its liability, if everything stands up, is perfectly and oppositely aligned. That is the symmetry of liability and the basis of the swap market.
I thank my hon. Friend for his understandable explanation of the product. I will be honest—I am new to this issue, which constituents have brought to my attention. Is it possible to explain the issue to an individual in a phone call lasting one minute and 20 seconds? That, apparently, constitutes the contract between the bank and the client.
I will try to explain the issue as simply as I can now.
Imagine a second-hand-car dealer. He may buy a dodgy motor on his own books and try to make as big a turn as he can, but he risks not getting his money back. Now imagine a car dealer with a valuable vintage car who aligns a seller and buyer at exactly the same time. He takes a turn with no risk at all, and that is how a swap behaves. Now imagine that, having lined up that trade, he takes the money from the buyer, so has a contractual agreement with them, and agrees a sale with the seller. However, on the way to deliver the car, he writes it off in a crash and is not insured. He still has liabilities on both sides—he still has to deliver a car to the buyer and has to pay the seller. That is the mess that the banks are in. They have caused themselves a massive car crash and have to look after the other side of the trade.
We are fully aware of the losses to the banks on the financial redress scheme—plus, obviously, the consequential loss scheme as well. We have heard about how much has been put aside, and there will be debate about whether that is the right amount or not. However, we have heard nothing yet about the value of the liability on the other side of the swap—the liability to institutions, most likely to be pension funds, that still needs to be honoured. That has implications for the stability of the banks and shows why it is important for banks to keep the redress scheme running for as long as possible.
I see that my hon. Friend wants to intervene, but may I develop my point?
The financial redress scheme has a specific value, based on a number of factors—including, crucially, interest rates and time. Similarly, time to run is a key component of the value of the other side of the swap. With interest rates so low, the longer the time to run, the higher its value to the customer and the higher the liability to the bank. As a result, we get a built in incentive for the banks to delay settlement for as long as possible. With each day that goes by, the liability on the other side of the swap is reducing.
Harry Wilson, of The Daily Telegraph, has put in freedom of information requests to the Financial Conduct Authority to find out exactly what the loss on the other side of the trade will be. Amazingly, nobody seems to have the answer. It seems inconceivable that the banks would not have the information. Any derivatives trading room team, especially on a swaps desk, will have detailed information on the extent of the liabilities; they have to know that. Even if the swaps team does not, the risk or treasury department should know it—loads of people should know it. It is extraordinary that nobody is coming forward with the information.
The issue has been dragging on for far too long. Too many businesses have failed as a result of it and it is likely that too many more have fallen into that twilight zone of bad forbearance by banks, which sometimes keep otherwise dead institutions alive simply because it is in their interests.
I spent the best part of the last year on the Banking Commission considering the matter. It is worth noting that this crisis happened before the Banking Commission, the financial crisis and the rest of it. However, today the banks have to prove that they have moved on, that they should now be allowed to come into polite society and will do the right thing by the consumer.
I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) and all the supporters of this debate on raising an important issue. I also pay tribute to my Treasury Committee colleague, the hon. Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for his detailed explanation of a complex aspect of this subject that probably not everyone understands.
This is the latest in a series of issues that has corroded, damaged and sometimes destroyed trust between banks and their customers following the payment protection insurance scandal. We should pause and consider a couple of features of the PPI scandal. It was characterised, first, by a refusal to admit that there was a problem; secondly, by a refusal to take responsibility for that problem; and finally, by a huge bill for the banks because it had taken too long to face up to those things. I wonder whether any of those lessons have really been learned given the way that this issue is being dealt with.
Like the hon. Member for Wyre Forest, I spent much of the past year serving on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards chaired by the hon. Member for Chichester (Mr Tyrie), where we looked into the standards and culture of the banks more widely. We found a sales culture, backed by the bonus systems, going right down to branch level. The banks pushed products like this, often allied with a product that the customer wanted, namely a loan, yet sometimes the customer was not even aware that a product was being sold to them or, if they were, whether it was a voluntary agreement or something they had to accept as a condition of the loan.
The right hon. Gentleman has hit on something really important, which is that the banks’ whole modus operandi was to sell products that individuals wanted and slip in the interest rate swaps underneath. I am glad that he has reminded us of that. Does he agree that it is important for these businesses to know that it has been agreed on the Floor of the House, and it is recorded in Hansard, that they will be offered compensation that aims to put them back in the position in which they would have been if there had not been a mis-sale, plus interest rates of about 8% a year?
I do agree, but there is also the question of who gets that redress and who does not.
Underneath this sales culture, we found that instead of a culture of a duty of care to the customer there was—characterised by the combining of products, often a simple product with a complex one—a culture of “buyer beware” that put the responsibility for fully understanding and being aware of all this in the customer’s lap, with, in many cases, the bank showing a lack of responsibility.
I entirely endorse what my right hon. Friend has said. Does he accept that what made the banks’ behaviour even less acceptable is that such was the complexity of the swap products that often—and to my certain knowledge in a case that I have dealt with—the person providing the loan from the bank had no proper understanding of how the hedge product was going to work?
That is a really important point. Having heard the speech by the hon. Member for Wyre Forest, I wonder how many of the people selling these products would have been in a position to explain the consequences to their customers. I think we know the answer.
Products were being sold, allied to another product, that may or may not have been suitable for the person buying them. The customer may or may not have fully understood what they were buying, but they were left fully with the consequences of having bought it, to the extent that we had the situations highlighted in this debate whereby the banks pursued customers to such a degree that they were put out of business. We should recognise that hedging is not always wrong, and trying to insure against risks is not always wrong, but a degree of understanding is important. People have to understand what they are buying and the product has to be suitable for them. When the lifetime of the hedging product is completely different from that of the loan, there is a serious problem about that product’s suitability.
This issue provides a really important test of the standards and culture in the banks after everything that has happened. They have to show whether they have learned the lessons of previous mis-selling scandals or whether there has been a repeat of the pattern of behaviour that we saw before in which there was first a refusal to face up to responsibility. That was followed by increasing anger among the customer base and the destruction of trust, followed by a redress scheme that might have ended up being more expensive than the one that might have been put in place earlier.
This is also a test of the FCA. We are in the early stages of a new regulatory system, as the FCA has been in existence for only about six months. The system of redress that it has proposed is an important test of whether it is going to be able to do its job in restoring trust between banks and consumers in the face of sometimes increasingly complex financial products;
The right hon. Gentleman is absolutely right to say that restoring trust between customers and banks is a crucial element. Businesses must not only get redress for what they have lost but be put back into the position that they would have been in and that includes the relationship with the bank, credit lines, and everything else that makes small businesses work.
The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. Culturally, we should be trying to get to a situation in which the banks have a duty of care to their customers instead of marketing and developing products that are driven by a sales and bonus culture that, in effect, says “Buyer beware” and puts all the onus on to the customer.
The proposed system of redress is based heavily on the sophistication test. That leaves a lot to be desired, because unless it is very carefully designed it cannot take account of the wide variety of types of business. Size and sophistication are not the same thing. It cannot take account of the wide variety of circumstances in which these products were sold or the wide variety of difficulties that businesses find themselves in.
Previous mis-selling scandals have been characterised by years of unnecessary delay that have caused incredible grief to those subject to them. If there is one further lesson that should be learned about interest rate swaps, it is that this process should not drag on for years. We need a system of redress that learns the lessons of the past and is implemented as quickly as possible.
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who has led this cause absolutely heroically. I am sure that Members across the House will wish to join me in saying to my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) that I wish I could say that he had anticipated my remarks. I feel sure that his speech will stand as a landmark in terms of making this debate and these products easy to understand.
The system of money and bank credit ought to be the lifeblood of a free economy and a prosperous society, but as we have heard in this debate, and from across our constituencies, the banking system is not the servant of a free economy but has become its master, and a tyrannical master at that. Businesses in our constituencies such as Stewart Linford, furniture makers in High Wycombe, have found themselves treated utterly appallingly.
I hope that my hon. Friend the Financial Secretary will not stay his hand when he criticises the financial system for what it has done. Too often, Government Members treat the banking system gently as if to criticise it were to criticise a free-market system. It is not a free-market system. It is heavily regulated, heavily directed by the state, and awash with implicit and explicit guarantees that produce moral hazard and perverse incentives. Apart from anything else, interest rates have been unexpectedly low because of the interventions of central banks. When Andy Haldane, the executive director of financial stability at the Bank of England, went before the Treasury Committee and explained that the bond market bubble was the biggest threat to financial stability, he clearly stated that the Bank had deliberately inflated it. The fact is that the system of money and banking is state directed.
I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I want to make the case that I think that, in this regard, the banking system may have crossed from mis-selling into fraud.
This morning I was shown a transaction by its author that was part of a system in which a bailed-out bank hid losses of £1 billion on a £10 billion loan portfolio. It was done lawfully and it was enabled by the accounting standard of the international financial reporting standards. The way in which the IFRS accounting standard treats derivatives allows people to up-front unrealised cash flows as profit and then pay bonuses out of them. That is probably why so many of these products have been sold.
The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) spoke eloquently about the bonus system and the incentives it creates. The Government should look extremely carefully at what has been done with regard to the use of IFRS accounting, the incentives it creates and what that means for people who sell products and take bonuses. They should also look at whether the IFRS complies with UK company law.
My hon. Friend is a defender of a system of true free-market principles. He has identified the twin problem mentioned by my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest, which is that, in addition to the unfunded liability cause, we have now booked the profits and paid the bankers for going through the process that duped the people. Those involved should face criminal sanction.
My hon. Friend makes an interesting point. I want to live in a free society with a free and commercially successful banking system, but we have to ask ourselves whether the current system has incentivised behaviour that is fraudulent under the law as it stands. The last thing we must do is allow ourselves, in a frenzy of condemnation, to start criticising a system on which our civilisation depends, when that criticism is unjustified. We should be looking at the law as it stands and checking—carefully investigating—whether individuals have broken the law. I am particularly concerned about IFRS. I do not think it complies with UK company law and think it has incentivised behaviour that is probably fraudulent.
Banking ought to be simple. It ought to be about connecting depositors with those who wish to borrow in order to invest for productive purposes, such as buying a house or even going on holiday, but predominantly it should be about investing to create real resources and real wealth, and to increase productive capacity and the balance of capital invested per head, so that real wages increase and the cost of living goes down. Instead, we have ended up with a system in which poor state intervention from one end to the other has created so much moral hazard and so many perverse incentives that it has become abundantly clear that a small number of individuals—far fewer than 1% of the population—have captured the state in order to turn implicit and explicit taxpayer guarantees, or bail-out funds, into personal remuneration. It is a disgrace.
The banking system needs to be made honest, and quickly, and part of that is a system of compensation for people who have been treated extremely badly.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker, for allowing me the opportunity to speak in this very important debate. I congratulate the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on the work he has done over the years and on bringing the matter to the House’s attention through this debate.
This issue affected successful businesses that were trying to expand and help create more jobs in the local economy. Some of the businesses that have visited me were successful and had excellent plans for expansion. The really sad thing is that during their negotiations to change or expand their loans, it was often the case, as my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside (Mark Tami) has said, that they were told right at the very last minute that, unless they accepted this clause, the whole thing would be shelved and they would lose all the transactions and work they were about to undertake. That was significant for them, because it meant having to say yes or no to a very important loan.
I think that such businesses are intrinsically fearful of going to the banks, which is a real problem. The terms and conditions for small businesses have changed so much over the past few years that they are fearful that, if they explain their difficulties to a bank, they will suddenly be told that their terms and conditions for a loan will be changed again. That is a real disincentive. The key thing to remember is that these are people who genuinely are trying to do the right thing, but who are fearful—perhaps ashamed—because they did not know exactly what was going on in the first place, even though, as my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) has said, the people who sold them the scheme were incentivised to do so in an underhand way. Often they would not make it at all clear to the businesses exactly what they were entering into. We need to redouble our efforts and look in particular at why there are so many delays, because every delay means businesses raking up yet more debt.
On the sales culture, what does my hon. Friend have to say about the evidence that the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards received from the trade unions representing bank staff that said that, sometimes, if branch staff did not meet their sales targets, they would be taken aside, given special management and pressurised to sell more products over the next month or two in order to meet the targets on which their bonuses were based?
My right hon. Friend makes a valid point. I have met people who were put in that situation and who ended up leaving the bank because they found it so difficult and uncomfortable working in that sort of culture. That does not help small businesses, which want a decent banking system from which they can get decent advice and the loans they need.
The worry is that the Financial Conduct Authority and the banks are not doing things as speedily as they might and that there will be a distinct delay. We are all aware that the agreement was that an independent reviewer would look at each case and that that process would be overseen by the FSA. My hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) wrote to the Chancellor over a year ago outlining what we wanted to happen. When the Financial Secretary sums up, will he tell us what progress has been made?
We want a clear message that there will be no adverse effect for people if they tell their bank that they think they may have been victims of this particular mis-selling. We also want a moratorium on the foreclosure of affected businesses by their banks. People are really worried that, if they start looking at the issue in detail and open the box, they might be forced to reschedule their loans in an unmanageable way and that they eventually might be foreclosed on by their banks. The Chancellor and the Business Secretary need to send a much stronger message to the FCA about how we want the banks to work.
As many Members have said, we want the quickest resolution possible, but time limits also need to be looked at. The problem is that businesses that signed up to these agreements back in 2006 and 2007 are now reaching the six-year limit, and they will find themselves in considerable difficulties if they do not get redress through the scheme and end up going to court. We need to look at the way in which complaints are handled and the time limit that is being allowed. Perhaps there could be movement on that issue.
In summary, this issue needs urgent attention. We need a much speedier resolution and people need to be treated properly and courteously by their banks. They should not have to be fearful of loans being rescheduled or of being thrown out of the frying pan into the fire, which is their real worry. Speed is of the essence, because these businesses provide jobs in our communities and if they go under, it could mean not one lost job, but many job losses. I urge the Financial Secretary to say what more the Government can do to put pressure on the FCA and the banks to ensure a speedy resolution.
It is a privilege to follow the hon. Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith). Like many hon. Members, I pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), who has shown immense leadership and tenacity on this case—not just in this debate, but more generally.
If any of us had thought that the constituency surgery meetings that we have held on this issue were unique, the turnout for the debate has illustrated the enormity of the problem. We should repeat, repeat and repeat again the point made by the hon. Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel): of the 30,000 cases, only 32 have been redressed.
I was going to talk about the inadequacies of the redress scheme, welcome though was its initiation and the progress that has been made, but time will limit what I can say about that. However, I will talk later about the fundamental omission of tailored business loans, which was alluded to by my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy.
My hon. Friend mentioned a constituent of mine, Mr Mansel Beechey of the Llew Du hostelry in Aberystwyth. I think that my hon. Friend has spent a bit more time in that particular pub than I have over the years. Mansel Beechey and many small business owners like him have been the backbone of the Ceredigion economy, but there have been times when I have thought that we were being targeted. The number of tourism and agricultural businesses that have come to me about these issues has been frightening. Bully-Banks helped us by putting an advert in the local newspaper about the scandal and many more cases came to light.
Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there are yet more small businesses out there who are ashamed to come forward and say that they have entered into such products because they think that it is their fault, rather than that of the banks?
We need to knock that on the head immediately, because there has been a concerted effort by the banks to target certain businesses. There is no need for people to be ashamed, and my hon. Friend is right that many more cases are coming to light.
Huw and Jackie Roberts of Minhafan Estates, a property development business in Aberystwyth, are in the midst of the review. They went through the “fact find” interview stage of the review six months ago and are still waiting to hear from the bank or the FCA.
I want to talk about the inadequacy and even dishonesty of the subject access requests. A sheep farmer who came to see me obtained his subject access request from Barclays, but it included presentation documents that he was alleged to have been shown at the time of sale, which he had never seen before. History can be rewritten. The fear is that, in some of these cases, history is being rewritten by the banks.
Why is the FCA advising customers that the scheme
“can deliver fair and reasonable redress without them needing to hire lawyers”?
Many of my constituents are on the brink and cannot afford to hire a lawyer, but why is the FCA saying that?
Like my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy, I want to talk about alternative products. What is wrong with this form of so-called redress is that the banks get to propose what would have happened if they had behaved better. Despite the banks admitting that they have breached regulatory requirements, they are being given a second chance through the promotion of alternative products, so they have a second bite of the proverbial cherry.
Yesterday, my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy said that the cost of the review was £200 million, and he then told us that it had gone up to £450 million. Despite it costing £450 million to set up the review, only £2 million has been paid out in redress.
That is a particular problem. The hon. Lady does not need to be reminded how perilous the farming industry is these days; some businesses barely have the capacity to survive.
People who have been sold tailored business loans have no protection because of a mere technicality. They have no guarantee of fair treatment from the banks. Most of my constituents who have been affected by hedge mis-selling have been sold TBLs, although I hesitate to say that they were sold them, because some of them were not aware that they were being sold them. Most of my constituents who are affected are out in the cold, so I return to the question that I have asked Treasury Ministers and the FCA, although I have received inadequate responses. I question how the FCA decides to interpret its principle-based regulation. I am talking specifically about TBLs from the Clydesdale and Yorkshire banks.
My hon. Friend is making a powerful case and I concur with what he says about tailored business loans. One of my constituents, who is here in the Gallery, has been affected on a large scale and is paying £33,000 per month as a consequence of swaps. He needs to be brought into the scheme. In addition, he has a tailored business loan, and I concur that those need to be brought into the framework urgently.
I concur with my hon. Friend. Many of us have cases like the one that she raises that suggest that TBLs need to be brought into this review or another review of some kind.
The FSA famously stated in “Interest Rate Hedging Products—Pilot Findings” that
“poor disclosure of break costs”
was one of
“the most significant issues in assessing the compliance of a sale”.
How is it possible that poor disclosure of break costs can constitute a mis-sale when the customer is buying a stand-alone product, with all that that implies, and yet there is no mis-sale if the bank buys the interest rate swap allowance, conceals it from the customer and then holds the customer liable for its terms and conditions? That is unjust nonsense. If a feature is worthy of regulation when it is contained in one product, why is it not worthy of regulation when it is contained and concealed in another product?
My hon. Friend is right to highlight break costs, which have been a serious issue for some of my constituents. Is he aware of court evidence given by a former bank employee who said:
“When pitching to a customer the most the…Sales Team would try to say on the subject was that there could be break costs if the swap is broken early. Providing the customer didn’t ask, we never went into any detail as to the likely level of these costs.”
Does not that underline how much of this debate is not about complexity or understanding, but about straightforward mis-selling?
That goes to the heart of the argument. The banks and the ironically named relationship managers were trusted by our constituents, and that trust has been breached.
I have asked the FCA for its legal advice that supports the view that it should not regulate fixed-rate commercial loans. The response stated that it is not normal for the FCA to disclose its legal advice because, by so doing, it could be said to have waived its legal privilege more generally, making it difficult to resist broader disclosure, and thereby setting a precedent that would make it harder for it to resist disclosure in other cases. I am sure that that is crystal clear to everyone in the House—so much for the commitment to transparency.
The interest rate swap scandal has cost many businesses dear. I recently drove down one of the approach roads to Aberystwyth, the largest town in my constituency, to see another boarded up shop. That shop was not boarded up three weeks ago; it is boarded up now because of the issues that we are discussing. Many people had no concept of the product that they were pressured to buy. That applies as much to embedded swaps as to stand-alone products. I implore the Minister to reflect and to put pressure on the FCA to consider tailored business loans as part of the review. They are an enormous problem.
It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ceredigion (Mr Williams). The cross-party consensus in the Chamber shows how important this issue is, and it has to be dealt with as quickly as possible.
May I add my congratulations to the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on securing this debate? I would have been delighted with his custom in my previous life as a publican. He mentioned a £30 cheque for two nights out, but that must have been at least 15 or 20 years ago if he was a student—[Interruption.] I am sorry; 25 or 30 years ago. Those must have been some parties if he was cashing £30 cheques for a night out so long ago.
We have to put this debate in context. There have been many financial scandals—not only since 2008, but even before that. This is the latest scandal in the financial services sector. We had the payment protection insurance mis-selling scandal, the manipulation of LIBOR rates by banking institutions, which has been highlighted today, and the global financial meltdown, which was caused partly by financial institutions gambling on the financial market with other people’s money. Now we have the mis-selling of interest rate swaps. It is right for the FCA to look into that, but hon. Members have rightly made the criticism that not enough is happening. The hon. Member for Ceredigion was right to highlight the fact that only 32 of the 30,000 cases have been dealt with so far.
Interest rate swaps are hugely complicated. I had a briefing from an expert on them about eight months ago, and the complex nature of how they are put together makes them impossible to understand. He was an expert, but he found it difficult to explain some of the more complex points about them.
It is worth highlighting that the banks were able to cancel the instruments in question when interest rates were going down, but the customer was unable to cancel them when interest rates were rising. Not only were sellers incentivised to sell them without much knowledge, but the financial institutions made the vast majority of the money out of them on day one, when they were sold. They sold them to the customer and made money out of the derivative part of the product, and then sold them on to a third party, who subsequently sold them on to other parties further down the tree.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that one reason for the appalling mess was the unfair and incredibly pressurised target culture that senior managers at banks imposed on their staff, to the extent that people had to use unethical means to keep their job? I have particular experience of that culture.
I am grateful for that intervention, because not only the FCA but the Government have to change the culture in the banking sector. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), who was part of the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, has talked about the culture in banks and the pressure to sell complicated products. If a customer buys a product that is not properly explained, that is surely mis-selling and there should be redress.
Customers have been unable to seek redress, or to negotiate with their bank, because the banks were able to sell on the products at great profit on day one. The relationship between the customer and the bank therefore broke down, because when a customer wanted to renegotiate the contract, they were told that they would have to compensate the bank for not only the interest rate lost, but the proportion of profit that it had gained by selling the product on to a third party. The break costs were impossibly high for many people even to contemplate buying their way out of swap products. That breakdown in the relationship has got us to the position we are in today.
Many constituents have come to see me about the matter, such as Mr Dixon, who has highlighted today’s debate and the all-party group that has been set up to examine the matter. One customer of the Clydesdale Bank who contacted me after he had been mis-sold a product was in the process of losing his house. My hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel) was right to talk about the impact on not just businesses, but people’s lives. There are life and death issues in some instances, because some business owners have lost their homes, livelihoods and businesses.
There has not been a proper response from banks—not just to their customers, but to Members of Parliament. I have written to banks to see whether they can assist customers in dealing with mis-selling, but I have been batted away. There has been some table tennis between the FCA, the Government, the Financial Ombudsman Service and the banks about who should take responsibility, and I hope that the Financial Secretary will put it firmly on record that the FCA should deal with the matter. It should be the point of contact for businesses, Members and banks.
Members have talked about whether the selling culture of banks made the problem worse, which I believe it did. The mis-selling also went against the policy of treating customers fairly, which most of our banks have trotted out. When customers go to meet their business development manager or anyone else in the banking sector, they are told that their problems will be dealt with and that everything possible will be done to resolve them. However, in many of the cases that my constituents have brought to me, they have not been able to seek proper redress through that relationship, and that is why we have ended up in this situation.
The House should take a stand and say that the scandal was completely and utterly unacceptable. We should encourage the banks and the FCA to resolve the problems as quickly as possible to ensure that small businesses affected by the mis-selling scandal can have redress and a proper appeals process, so that we can get them back on their feet. If small businesses are falling because of a mis-selling scandal, it is up to the House to take a stand to support them.
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for his leadership of the all-party group on interest rate swap mis-selling. The issue is important for all Members, which is why the Chamber is so full.
We all know of a number of cases in which people were switching banks or wanted loans for a project, and one of the last products slid across the table to them was an interest rate swap. Many felt that they did not have much choice but to take it. The British economy is showing welcome signs of starting to recover, and the Bank of England is pushing cheap credit into it to get the banks to lend, which is having an impact. However, we should all reflect on the fact that 30,000 to 40,000 businesses run by serial entrepreneurs could well go out of business before the process that we are discussing is finished, which would have a cataclysmic effect on the businesses with which they deal, the people who work for them and many of our local economies. The issue is not just mis-selling but whether we maintain stable economic growth and create jobs and prosperity in future.
I do, and many of the people who have been affected have a lifetime’s work in their business—more than one lifetime in the case of many family businesses, which are the bedrock of our constituencies. Those people have been key members of the community and employed many people. Today’s debate is therefore important, as we need to give the FCA and the Government a strong message that the authorities must get the banks to get on with it. Things are going too slowly. As we heard earlier, the banks have put forward some billions of pounds for compensation, but they have dealt with only 0.2% of cases. Of the £3 billion that is potentially available for redress, only £2 million has been paid out to 32 businesses, which shows that we need to speed things up.
In many cases, first the capital was sucked out of businesses and then the break clauses were such that many people could not afford to get out of the contracts. With most normal capitalist activity, if someone felt they could not make a go of it, they would sell their business on. However, nobody will buy a business that has the poison pill of an interest rate hedging product because they know that it is a major drag on the business. It is not free enterprise as we know it, and I rather agree with Members who have suggested that the banking system has not done itself any favours.
What is so tragic about the products in question is that people have no way out. We need to get on with achieving compensation. Members have made some good contributions today, and behind every story they have told is tragedy and worry. People cannot sleep at night because they are not sure how to deal with the problem. I say to Ministers and the FCA that we need to get some speed up and get compensation paid. We need to deal with people fairly, and to support and cherish serial entrepreneurs, who should be playing a major role in the economy’s recovery, rather than being put in a position of not knowing what will happen in a week, six months or a year. We need to give them our support.
I pay tribute to the sterling work of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) who secured this debate, and I thank the Backbench Business Committee for granting it time to take place.
The sale of interest rate hedging products to small and medium-sized businesses that simply wanted a loan from one of our high street banks is nothing less than a national scandal. Let me say straight away that I know there are many hard-working, decent and honest people involved in our banking industry, who will be as horrified as everyone else at what happened with the sale of these products. With the sale of interest rate hedging products, however, banks allowed their desire to make a profit to override the need to be open and transparent with their customers. The sellers of those financial instruments blinded customers with a snowstorm of financial gobbledegook. They presented a complex and risky financial product as something that, if people signed up to it, would be to their benefit. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth.
Small companies in my Bury North constituency have been affected, and I want to outline briefly one particular case—understandably, and for obvious reasons, many constituents are reluctant to allow their cases to be made public. Lavender Hotels owns and runs a small chain of hotels in north-west England. In January 2007, it took out a loan from Barclays to finance the purchase of another hotel. A couple of months later, the bank—which Lavender Hotels had banked with for more than two decades—suggested that it fix its interest rates on the grounds that no one could predict where interest rates were heading.
The bank mentioned rate fixing, collars and caps, and stressed that those were not a profit earner for the bank but merely designed to give the customer protection. The bank told the customer that the agreement could be transferred to another bank, and that it would not create any obstacle to changing banks. Although the term “rate swap” was initially used, it was quickly replaced by the term “fixing”, suggesting that the bank was fixing the interest rate, rather like a fixed-rate mortgage. The term “fixing” certainly suggests certainty, not risk, which I submit was misleading.
That initial meeting with the relationship manager was followed by a further meeting with a salesman—although he was never described as such—who amplified the fears of rising interest rates. At no point was any explanation given of the penalties that would be payable if the customer wanted to terminate the agreement. The bank did say, however, that to fix a cap or collar an upfront fee would have to be paid, which could be as much as £20,000. Since most customers thought that such charges were excessive, they decided to go with an interest rate swap agreement that meant that if interest rates went up, no charges would be paid at all. The salesman never explained that he would be earning commission on the deal. Indeed, it was stressed that it was just a service that Barclays was providing for the benefit of its customers.
The managing director of the company agreed to fix—as he thought—the interest rate of around 40% of the company’s total loans. When interest rates started to reduce, what should have been good news turned into a nightmare and the amount that had to be paid back to Barclays rose dramatically. When the company sought a loan to purchase another hotel the following year, it was forced to enter into a 10-year rate swap. The managing director said:
“I was put in no doubt that had I not agreed the rate swap I would not have been granted the loan.”
By 2010 the customer had discovered that the interest rate swap agreement did indeed create a problem if they wanted to change banks, and the company was told it would cost over £95,000 to exit the agreement. The company had no alternative but to agree to its loans being re-priced. It had been misled into being tied unnecessarily to Barclays by a financial product that was inappropriate and that I believe had been mis-sold.
The managing director told me:
“Since the publicity surrounding the mis-selling of rate swaps, and my further investigation into the practice, I feel cheated. What has angered me the most is that my trusted manager, with whom I had developed such a strong relationship, lied in respect of the potential profitability of these rate swap deals to Barclays.”
As a result of those agreements, my constituents have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, but despite the problems caused by interest rate swap agreements, Lavender Hotels is surviving and progressing well. The company is ahead of target and continues to trade profitably. It would, of course, be doing even better had it been able to trust its bank, and not been penalised by it because of a totally unsuitable financial product.
These companies are suffering and need help now. The redress scheme is progressing too slowly and must be speeded up. Livelihoods are at stake; those companies need action and they need it now.
I, too, praise my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for securing this debate and leading the campaign, and like the previous speaker, my hon. Friend the Member for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), I wish to highlight one or two particular cases that constituents have brought to my attention. So often in this place we discuss issues that are difficult for individuals to relate to, but on this occasion I—like many other Members—have constituents in the Gallery whose businesses have been practically destroyed by the actions of the banks they trusted.
I have received only three complaints from individual constituents about this scandal, but it is fair to assume that since there are tens of thousands of such cases across the country, many are perhaps suffering in silence. I suspect that just as in the cases brought to my attention, people trusted their banks and regarded them as one of their financial advisers, who would advise on the best course of action for their business. People were not so naive as to assume that the bank was not benefiting in some way, but it is fair to say that they assumed that, irrespective of any commissions paid, they were at least being sold a product that would be advantageous to their business.
I will quote from the statement of one specific case:
“We are just two working class families…we trusted our bank, and thought they were looking after our business interests. We, like other small SMEs were misled and lied to by the bank. The bank basically cornered us into taking out swaps, we didn’t have a choice, and as we trusted them, we took the products. The swaps were not properly explained to us, we were not told how they fully worked and were not told about the huge exit costs….We should never have been sold these products, they were not appropriate to our business...Financially this has crippled our business, and the knock on effect is we can’t employ…people like we used to...Several times we tried to talk to the bank about these products, but each time they shut the door in our face…We are in the redress scheme, but…the banks are playing a game and dragging their heels.”
That certainly seems to be the story we are hearing from other colleagues in the debate.
My constituents go on to say that they moved banks because the bank
“wanted to sell us their life policy cover (at £550 per person, per month), which we insisted we did not need…We were confident now that we had a great knowledgeable team working with us”.
They are referring to their solicitor, accountant and banker, whom they trusted as they assumed that the bank had the best interests of their business at heart. The statement continued:
“Our banking relationship manager…discussed with us a hedging product that the bank said we needed…We trusted the bank, and decided we had no choice but to continue and enter into hedging arrangements. We were not looking for any different type of lending, we have always borrowed money on standard terms…The only reason we entered into the swaps was because our bank manager said it was a condition to any future lending, that we must have these swaps…We do feel betrayed by the Bank, we had trusted them and worked with them for a number of years…We have kept our commitments…the bank does not realise what we have had to do to honour our payments. It’s been very, very tough….We just need the bank to do the right thing now.”
I hope that when the Minister sums up he is able to give some assurance to my constituents that he will do everything possible to ensure that the redress scheme is dealt with and pays out as quickly as possible. Understandably, people are writing to me and to other Members to ask how much longer they will have to wait. We hear many stories of banks crippling and ruining companies, and we cannot go on like this. We have regulators, yet we have another scandal that should have been prevented. Were the regulators asleep on the job? Those caught up in this and other scandals trusted their banks. Trust in the relationship between banks and their customers is a prerequisite. Clearly, there has been no trust in this case. Many constituents have been let down and we must not let it happen again.
I had a very interesting meeting two weeks ago with senior regional managers of HSBC, who told me that the bank is transforming its culture by removing from individual managers any sales targets: no more pressure from on high and no more commission on individual products sold to a customer. If that is right, then that is significant news. That is how it was when I started my illustrious legal career in 1978: bank managers could be trusted and they were on our side.
Last night, a few colleagues and I met senior figures from the Royal Bank of Scotland in the west country, as well as the managing director of RBS corporate for the UK, Chris Sullivan. They were at pains to tell us how RBS is changing its culture, removing from managers the pressure to sell products to customers and instead offering a service to help customers succeed and grow.
While progress is welcome, not least just before a parliamentary debate, does my hon. Friend recognise that people have been the victims of dishonest and probably fraudulent sales, and are now victims of a process that is characterised by delay and inaction by the Financial Conduct Authority? It is also far too dependent on parliamentary pressure. Can we look forward to reassurance from the Minister that there will be leadership and a timetabled delivery of compensation before it is too late?
I completely agree with my hon. Friend. I am expecting robust leadership from those on the Front Bench at the end of the debate, because our constituents have waited far too long.
The shift in culture is to be welcomed, but the point I made last night and make again today is that if the banks want to decontaminate their brand—that is what they are really talking about—it is not enough to change the way they do business today; they have to deal with the past. They have to put right the wrongs of the past and compensate those who have been hurt by wholesale mis-selling of products before 2009.
The realisation by the banks—or some of them—that they need to change their culture is fundamental to our debate today on interest rates swaps. The banks not doing what was right for customers and not being on their side—instead selling them products they did not request, could not understand and were not in their interest simply to rack up commission for the bank and its managers—is the cause of the problems we are discussing today. A shift in culture is welcome, but the banks must deal with the problems of the past.
That was certainly the case for my constituents, Mike and Di Hockin, erstwhile owners of London and Westcountry Estates Ltd, a company owning several business parks across the south-west, which is now, after a lifetime’s work and through no fault of their own, in administration. In July 2008, RBS insisted that if the company wished to have its borrowing facility renewed it must enter into a swap arrangement on the alleged imminent threat of rising interest rates. My constituents are experts in property, not finance. They were given no alternative by RBS, so they signed up to a three-year loan and a 10-year swap arrangement. How does that work? It turns out that they had been persuaded to enter into a swap arrangement for 10 years at a rate of 6.4%. Although they had been told that the deal contained a break clause after three years, it transpired that this would enable the bank only to withdraw, not the customer. They later learned that breaking the swap arrangement would incur a penalty that seemed to fluctuate on a daily basis, but would be millions of pounds. None of this was known to them at the time of signing the agreement. I submit that this is a clear case of mis-selling.
It got worse. The loan was bundled up with a number of other troubled loans and sold on by RBS to a new company, Isabel Assetco Ltd, which was 25% owned by a US venture capital company called Blackstone and 75% owned by RBS. This £1.36 billion deal was made at a 30% discount and funded with £550 million from RBS. A bank owned by the taxpayer transferred my constituents’ company’s debt at a discount to a third party company, lending it taxpayers’ money to do so, so the new company could set about dismantling the business that my taxpaying constituents had spent years building up. That is an absolute disgrace.
None of this would have happened but for the mis-sold swap. That the company was put into administration unnecessarily needs to be investigated. Several of my hon. Friends have talked about criminal sanctions for the bankers who make such decisions. I add my support to that call. The people who knowingly make such decisions deserve to be investigated and penalised. I have no doubt that RBS is liable in law to compensate my constituents for their losses. However, because of the administration involved, that will be a complex journey. I intend to help them to succeed, no matter how long it takes.
Talk from bank bosses is cheap. Anthony Jenkins, the new chief executive of Barclays, says that it has learnt its lesson and will put things right. However, in another constituency case, involving a company established in south Devon in 1925, the financial ombudsman determined seven weeks ago that Barclays had mis-sold a swap to the company and ordered it to put the company back in the same position it would have been in if the swap had never been sold. Imagine the disappointment on the part of my constituents when Barclays responded just yesterday by indicating that it accepts only a tiny part of the judgment and intends to fight the rest—so much for the fine words from the chief executive of Barclays. Has Barclays really listened, learned and changed? It does not seem so.
I welcome the fact that there seems to be a cultural shift on the ground in some of our leading banks. This will eventually lead to public confidence being restored, which is very important. Dealing with customers differently today, however, is not enough. The banks have to deal with the past and only then can their reputations be fully restored, as we all want them to be. The UK needs a vibrant and trusted banking sector. Chris Sullivan, the RBS UK corporate managing director, insisted last night that this was his intention. He assured me that every case of mis-selling, including that of London and Westcountry Estates Ltd, is being investigated, and that if mis-selling is established it will compensate. I want to say on the record that I am prepared to take him at his word, but need to see the process speeded up.
As a taxpayer, I hope we will be able to sell off RBS one day, but I ask the Minister to make it clear to RBS that it cannot go forward with any flotation until it has compensated properly all the small and medium-sized enterprises it has dragged down through mis-selling. The message is clear: the banks have done wrong. Let them deal with the past and compensate their customers rapidly and fairly. Then, and only then, can we welcome a new dawn of helpful banking.
I draw the attention of the House to my declaration in the Register of Members’ Financial Interests.
We have a problem at the moment with the Financial Conduct Authority. It has been given the remit to act and the banks have set aside the money, but not enough has been done, or is being done, to ease the burden on British business. I have been contacted by many of my constituents about the FCA, the banks and the progress being made. Last night, that progress was slammed by none other than the chief executive of the FCA. Giving a speech at the Mansion House, Martin Wheatley said that
“the industry is deceiving itself if it imagines that a total of 32 offers accepted, totalling £2 million, is adequate progress.”
That is an admission, by the head of the FCA, that progress has been pathetic. With that quote, Mr Wheatley appears to be passing the burden squarely on to the shoulders of the banks. It is as if the FCA, and its predecessor the Financial Services Authority, had not been involved in the delays that have led to such inadequate progress. The FCA has the remit and the authority to speed up that progress. It is inextricably linked to that progress and the entire situation. As one of my constituents put it to me, it appears from the outside as if the
“FCA is unwilling to discuss anything with a bank customer, the British Bankers Association represents only the bankers, and the Financial Ombudsman Service remains buried in PPI cases.”
One mis-selling case in my constituency concerns a residential home. Thankfully, the business is still operating, but two of its owner’s other businesses have not been so lucky. The owner was mis-sold an interest rate swap agreement—in this case a “vanilla swap”—but the FCA scheme has been too slow in offering redress. Another constituent came to me today because he felt he was targeted by HSBC and sold an interest rate product that was wholly wrong for him and his business, but very profitable for HSBC.
The campaign group Bully-Banks, which I am sure has contacted many Members here today, highlights the precarious financial situation of the many businesses affected. People are up at night worrying about their bank and whether they will receive redress. As Mr Wheatley admitted, only 32 businesses have agreed redress out of the many thousands of businesses affected. That is not good enough. The country and the Government are focused on business for our economic recovery. We all know that more businesses mean more people in work, but with the FCA redress scheme operating at a snail’s pace, there are many thousands of businesses that will not be making those investments that we want them to; they will not be expanding or hiring more staff, until they receive redress and these matters are finally concluded.
The FCA’s chief executive contends that the banks are to blame for the speed at which redress is being offered to affected companies. According to several ongoing cases in my constituency, the banks are also to blame for a lot more. One business run by a constituent has already ended up in administration. It changed banks from HSBC to Lloyds TSB and was then badly advised. It seems that these two banks feature in practically all of my casework. My constituent was advised to set up a factoring account, which then disrupted his business, drove away his customers and caused problems with his cash flow. This was a high street bank once again showing a serious error of judgment. It poorly advised a business owner in my constituency, which led to that business being driven into administration. In this case, the Financial Ombudsman Service protected the bank after an investigation owing to a lack of documentation.
In yet another case of a bank not operating as it should, constituents of mine, attempting to grow their free-range egg and cider business, in the face of weak product prices and rising expenditure, received a support loan from their bank, Lloyds. Despite my constituents’ winning several high-profile contracts, however, Lloyds started to put what has been labelled as “unrelenting pressure” on the business. The bank gave my constituents a deadline to repay their loan and advised them to find an alternative bank. It then refused to release the ownership documents that would have allowed my constituents to sell a parcel of land, which would have repaid their debt to Lloyds and allowed them to move banks.
The Connaught Income Fund might be familiar to the House. I know that a number of parliamentary colleagues are involved in this matter. It is yet another case where the FCA and its predecessor, the FSA, have failed to take appropriate action. The fund was originally promoted, based on an information memorandum, as being of low risk. That memorandum now appears fraudulent, but was the FSA negligent to allow the fund to continue to operate, particularly when it became apparent that the memorandum was fraudulent? Several investors in the fund have gone even further, claiming that the FSA deliberately withheld information from the police and downplayed the serious nature of the fraud.
I am sure that the Minister will want to send a clear message from the Government to the FCA. We need the FCA actively to work to sort out these messes and to speed up its efforts. We need it to listen to the complaints and take serious action backed by meaningful compensation or fines. If this is not possible, perhaps he will confirm what changes in the law are needed to make it so. Finance is complicated, but the FCA is supposed to be sufficiently expert to appreciate what is going on and then have the teeth and nerve to act. Any bank must prefer to follow the FCA instructions—
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on his tireless work to bring this matter to our attention, on having secured this second debate and ensuring that so many colleagues are here today, and on his enormous hard work as chair of the all-party group on interest rate swap mis-selling.
The last time we debated this subject, I was aware of only three constituents affected by interest rate swap agreements and described it then as a niche problem. Since then, however, the number of constituents affected—that I am aware of—has doubled to six. While the problem affects only a small number of constituents, the figures involved are eye watering—for two of my constituents, the sums run into several million pounds—but what has struck me is the features they all have in common: they are all small business people working hard to build up and expand their businesses. Whether in student lets, the leisure industry or farm diversification, they have all sought, ostensibly with the help of their banks, to grow their business, provide more employment and greater opportunity in the local area and, of course, help our economy. Some have quite impressive premises; others are literally run out of a garden shed or a room above the garage, but until they were unwittingly sold a product quite unsuitable for their circumstances, they had all enjoyed good relationships with their banks—those frankly are now in tatters.
Over the last few days, undoubtedly like other Members, I have suddenly started receiving updates from the banks about the progress they are making, setting out how they are compensating customers mis-sold these products and in my view trying to gloss over what have to date been quite unacceptable delays. I cannot repeat what the managing director of the Landish Group, which operates in my constituency and the constituencies of other hon. Members, said to me about the update I forwarded him from his own bank. The language was quite unparliamentary, so I will not repeat his words, but I can understand his frustration.
As we have heard, the banks have collectively spent more than £500 million on their own administrative costs, but in nearly 16 months they have delivered only a handful of decisions; and only 32 businesses have received any payments at all. It strikes me that a number of key issues must be addressed. First, on the speed of redress, I would like to reiterate what my hon. Friend the Member for North Herefordshire (Bill Wiggin) said about the snail’s pace of payments. It is painfully slow, but it was notable that as this debate drew close, there was a flurry of updates and self-congratulatory crowing from some of the banks about how they had made contact with 96% of their customers. Well done! How about paying back some of the money?
Secondly, we need to separate direct and consequential losses. One of my constituents had his decision from Barclays on 8 July. The bank admitted that he had been mis-sold and said that the swap would be torn up and exchanged for a simple cap at a cost of £29,000 and that, allowing for the cost of the cap, his direct costs—£1.35 million—would be returned, but four months on, he has seen no sign of that money. He placed a consequential loss claim at the beginning of August, which has not yet been accepted, declined or even discussed, and Barclays will not return the £1.35 million that it acknowledges it owes him until it has agreed the consequential losses, which it will not even talk about. I entirely endorse the call from my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy for the direct and consequential losses to be separated, so that the banks can crack on and refund some of the money owed, allowing businesses to invest, employ people and carry out redevelopment that might best take place at this time of year.
Thirdly, there is the thorny problem of what constitutes a sophisticated customer. Two of my constituents were judged to be sophisticated and so, along with 10,000 others, were excluded from the FCA redress scheme. One was deemed to be sophisticated despite his having no finance director; having never heard of a swap before he was sold one; doing his own accounts on a spreadsheet; having no in-house accountant; not being a limited company or even registered for VAT; and literally running his business out of a garden shed. I do not think it could get much less sophisticated if it tried.
I certainly agree with my hon. Friend about that.
All my constituent is asking for is the chance for what happened to his business to be reviewed, because of the situation he now faces—owing to the swap product, the fees, the charges and the circumstances of the product, an initial £3 million loan has spiralled to a massive debt of £9 million in just five years. The product far exceeds the term of the loan, time-wise. He has found himself having to work to the limit every day, seven days a week, just to make sure that he can make the repayments on the loan.
I was somewhat relieved today that my constituent did not turn up wearing a snail suit, which he was threatening to do—sadly, it was unavailable—but I am conscious that Bully-Banks is organising some sort of snail racing today. I have no idea whether it has taken place yet, but I can well understand why the snail has become the emblem of the campaign. I sincerely hope that the Financial Secretary will act to help these small businesses—which are, after all, the lifeblood of our economy, but have found themselves caught up in this nightmare—and make sure they are given swift and fair redress after all this time.
I echo everyone else’s congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on driving the campaign forward in such a passionate way. I also thank my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for explaining to me something that I thought I understood and for proving that I did not in fact understand it—indeed, I am now worse off in my understanding of swaps than I was before he started speaking.
I am here because I want to talk about two constituency cases. Many Members have raised individual points, and each case seems slightly nuanced in different ways. My constituents simply went to their banks for a loan and came away with a product that they did not expect to come away with—a loan and a swap, or just a straightforward swap. In the first debate we had on this subject, I mentioned a constituency case involving a gentleman called Philip Derbyshire of Spirit Motors. He banks with Lloyds and was sold a product not just as a loan or a swap, but as a protection for his business—if he had subsequently sold his business or passed away, the product would have become an asset for him.
A number of people have talked about not understanding the product that was sold to them—that was well disclosed previously—but many were also unaware of the magnitude of the break cost or mark-to-market, as it is called. Banks said when the product was sold that they were unable to provide indicative figures for breakage costs, but it is absolutely obvious that this was not the case. The banks simply chose not to provide a scenario at that time. In the cases I have dealt with, my constituents took bank advice on what were very complicated products.
Mr Derbyshire has had an interesting time of late. He has been dealing with the lawyers from Lloyds, because he, like many others, had an interesting waiver—a disclaimer—in the hedge confirmation letters he received. Lloyds’s lawyers have denied all liability and hidden behind the waiver, which has a cash value in his contract of about £5,000, against a claim of well over £1 million. Slater and Gordon, Mr Derbyshire’s solicitors, have described the case of mis-selling by Lloyds as unbelievably shocking. Lloyds’s lawyers’ comments in response to Mr Derbyshire’s claim were quite interesting. They said that the account of the meeting at Mr Derbyshire’s home with a Lloyds representative was inaccurate and that he had “put a gloss on it”, vehemently denying that it had been asked whether Mr Derbyshire’s company was likely to breach any of the bank covenants at the end of the financial year, which ended on 30 November 2009. Mr Derbyshire completely contests this. He remembers the question with complete clarity—and I believe him completely—and his response to it. Indeed, in the end, Mr Derbyshire did not breach the terms of the covenants, but by then the damage from the waiver in the contract was done.
According to the Bully-Banks survey, 30% of Lloyds customers are classed as “sophisticated”, as my hon. Friend the Member for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes) described. Mr Derbyshire has told me his level of education. He is a fantastic businessman; he might not have been the world’s most educated man. As such, he is ineligible, because he is “sophisticated” in financial matters for the purposes of the FCA review—obviously that is a matter of judgment on the part of his bank and himself. Mr Derbyshire has been a pressing individual. He wrote a personal letter, putting his case directly to the Lloyds chief executive—and of course, no one ever gets a reply to such a letter. Mr Derbyshire believes he has been treated with utter contempt by his bank—a bank that he used to have a huge amount of respect for and with which he had dealings for a long time.
The second case involves my constituent Mr Solanki, who owns Ashdown House residential care home, a small home that serves the aged local community with a specialised and dedicated dementia unit. Back in early 2006, he was approached by the manager of his bank, Barclays, who convinced him that, as interest rates were more than likely to rise, he should buy a 20-year interest rate hedging product to protect the business. The product was way beyond Mr Solanki’s technical understanding and abilities, so he was referred to an “expert” at BarCap, who convinced him that rates would rise significantly and that the product would protect him. Neither the BarCap salesman nor the bank manager explained the risks of the product; however, Mr Solanki was advised that it was transportable and easy to exit. Mr Solanki and the adviser never physically met—everything was done over the phone—which must in some way be non-compliant.
Soon after Mr Solanki had taken out the product, interest rates fell sharply, and we all know what happened from there. Because of the cost he was paying for the product, which ended up being more than the mortgage he had taken out on the business in the first place, he was unable to maintain the level and standard of the home. As occupancy fell, the company was forced to lay off staff and carry out patchwork repairs wherever possible. Much has happened since 2009, but essentially he is in a terrible place because of these awful products. Redress needs to happen; it needs to happen quickly.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on securing today’s debate and on his excellent work in leading the all-party group, of which I am a member. He has done much to progress this issue.
In recent months, I have met many companies in my constituency on this issue. I have been struck by the sheer scale of the problems that they have detailed to me. I will not name any of the businesses, but I can see some of them in the Gallery and I am grateful to them for the—
Order. Lots of hon. Gentlemen keep referring to the Gallery, and they need to be reminded that doing so is a procedural motion that causes a Division. Perhaps I could help them by suggesting that they say that their constituents are following the debate “closely”, “intently” or “not far from the House”, so that we can avoid any confusion about any unfortunate procedural vote that might be triggered.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. We do not want any procedural confusions—I am always lost by the procedures here anyway—but I am quite sure that this debate is being followed closely from somewhere very near to where we are.
The companies in my constituency have provided me with much detail. They have been frank in explaining some of their personal commercial circumstances and providing me with access to some of the supporting papers, so that I could see the whole thing—the background and implications for their companies. I have heard of the challenges that companies have faced with cash-flow problems; of companies having to sell assets simply to generate enough cash to pay their banks; of companies having to delay investment; of companies having to make people redundant simply to take cost out of the business and raise cash to pay their banks; and of company managers enduring sleepless nights and desperate worries. I have even had a case where a company was put into administration. In that case, the business owner believes it was done by the bank purely to avoid its mis-selling liabilities.
Overall, this issue has had a detrimental impact on many businesses. However, as we have heard from colleagues from across the country, it is not a local issue; rather, it affects people up and down the country. The collective effect is a detrimental impact on the entire economy.
I know that the problem has been recognised and that the redress scheme has been created, but I do not think that that is good enough. More needs to happen. The speed with which the scheme is proceeding needs to get a lot faster, because we need a swift resolution to this issue. Businesses are haemorrhaging cash, and they are still facing the problems that I have outlined. In the vast majority of cases, resolution will result in a judgment of mis-selling. It will also bring clarity and, consequently, an ability to plan for the future. Businesses are in a state of near-suspended animation until they get that clarity.
The one way to deliver that speed is to bring an end to all payments during the resolution process. That would help companies with cash flow, and provide an incentive for the financial institutions to get on with it. Progress has simply been too slow. The FCA is at least now publishing some data, which is a help. As of 27 September, the review population stood at 27,989 companies, some classed as sophisticated, some not. Of that number, 16,236 have been classed as non-sophisticated, of which 438 have gone all the way through the process and had an additional redress outcome communicated to them. That represents a hopeless rate of 2.7%, after months and months of work, and it involves only a communication, not a conclusion.
I have been told by the FCA and by the banks of the number of people recruited to deal with the issue and of the importance that they attach to it. I am sure that people have been recruited, but that is simply a measure of input. A process is designed to achieve an outcome, and the outcome is not having a process. The process is not working. I want us to send a message from this place that the impact on UK business is being recognised, that the pace of the process is unacceptable, that the financial institutions and the regulators will work to improve that, that we in this place will be watching their progress and that the Government will apply appropriate pressure. This issue needs to be resolved very quickly.
I, too, pay tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for the work and energy that he has put into this matter. The businesses in my constituency would certainly like to thank him for giving them hope of a successful resolution to some of their problems.
The banks seem to have adopted a herd mentality. When one of them discovers a profitable financial product, all the others have to pile in as well. It makes me wonder what work the banks actually did, before interest rate swaps started to be sold, to set out the risks to their customers. They might well have done some work on their risks themselves, although taking a turn on both sides of a swap and putting none of their own resources at risk probably involved very little risk to them. There might be more risk now that they are to be held to account and might have to pay for consequential loss. I am sure that there are many people in the banks who do the important work of horizon scanning. It would be interesting to know whether they examined the scenario of how very low interest rates would affect their clients.
I also want to pay tribute to Bully-Banks. It is a self-help group that has brought people together and given them more confidence to take on the banks and pursue their rights. I attended a Bully-Banks meeting in south Wales, which gave me an indication of the scope and scale of the problem, and of the different businesses involved. It became clear that a particular class of business that seemed more likely to be targeted by the banks was the well-established business with a fair degree of security, often in the form of property. That description certainly applies to a constituent of mine, Mr Evans from Ystradgynlais. He is seeing his way through this process at the moment, and his business is now secure, but he is still desperate to ensure that Barclays, which he believes has treated him very badly, puts his business back into the same condition that it was in before.
Mr Evans managed to get a facility with Barclays, and he was just about to sign it off when a salesman appeared. His name was Mr Shafto—never has a man been more appropriately named. Mr Shafto, who was very active in south Wales and the west of England, told Mr Evans that he had better sign up quickly because there were lots of victims—he probably used the word “customers”—who were desperate to see him, and he needed to get on a train to go and see some more. Mr Evans signed off on that agreement after only a short discussion. Surprisingly, he did not have to make use of the facility, so he ended up with the swap without having used the facility. We have seen instances of these swaps being mis-sold in the past.
Mr Evans runs a highly successful packaging business that deals with many of the pharmaceutical companies in this country. He has often had offers to buy the business, but he has resisted because he sees it as a family business that has given him security and that will give his family security in the future. Little did he know that the biggest danger of him losing his business would be created by the bank with which he had such a good relationship in the past.
If there is a bit of good news to come out of this debate it is that HSBC has announced that it will separate the technical redress from the consequential loss. I hope that all the other banks will come together and agree to do that as well. Mr Evans has been reluctant to accept an offer of technical redress because he thinks that it might compromise his consequential loss. He might now be in a position to take that money, however, and pursue his consequential loss at some point in the future. I shall finish by quoting a few words from the end of an e-mail from Mr Evans. He said:
“The mis-selling was a scandal. The resolution is an even bigger scandal.”
I join everyone else in congratulating my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb)—and also my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier), whose banking career was much more distinguished than my own—on initiating this debate. I hope that the message will go out to the British people, and particularly to small businesses, that Parliament understands their grievances and is prepared to be robust in addressing them. We look to the Government to be equally robust in their response to the debate.
I want to raise the specific case of Pacer Marine, a boat business that provides chandlery services and sells day boats, rigid inflatable boats and the like. It is located just 10 minutes from junction 4 of the M3, so if any of my right hon. and hon. Friends would like to take advantage of that business, they should please do so. The principals of the business, Dennis Davis and his son Kevin, are constituents of the Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Mr Hunt), but their business is located in my constituency. My right hon. Friend is as concerned about this matter as I am.
Pacer Marine moved in 2005. Mr Davis and his son had previously been renting premises, but they found a place to buy in Aldershot. They went to their bank for a normal commercial 25-year mortgage, but that was not available. Dennis Davis has described his discussions with NatWest:
“The bank were fairly aggressive from the start. Our 2 corporate managers came along to see us, then told us about the hedging/rate swap, and that they would only give us a ten year fixed mortgage with a further 5 years. We wanted a 20/25 year term. They charged us a greater rate than normal although we challenged them on it. The main reason for the hedge/swap was because, in their words, they said rates never go down. Well, as we all know now, they did. They then at another meeting introduced a third person who did the deed. Because of the position we were in we agreed to it, but we had always felt that we had been mugged.”
I have done an interest rate swap deal, so I know that they are extremely complex. One wonders what on earth the Royal Bank of Scotland was doing trying to present this sort of opportunity to a very small business.
The documentation provided by RBS is interesting. Part of the background it gave included this statement:
“Loan serviceability is tight…so there is a ‘condition of sanction’ that an interest rate management tool be put in place to protect you from variable base rate”.
Protecting interest rate liability is a perfectly sensible issue to discuss, but we should note that this was a condition of sanction. In a market update, the bank interestingly pointed to all the reasons why interest rates were unlikely to go down and more likely to go up, yet the memo acknowledged:
“There were mixed views from you on base: you saw the possibility of cuts of between half to 1%”.
The bank was recognising the concerns of the customer, but actually trying to make the case that the customer was likely to be wrong and that interest rates were more likely to go up so that the hedging proposal could be put to him.
The person involved was an employee of another part of RBS, so his interest was to make the most money for his unit by exploiting the uninitiated customer and flogging him business that he did not understand. I asked Mr Davis, “Why did you go into this? Did you consult a lawyer.” He responded by saying:
“We trusted the bank. Our business is boat chandlery, not financial wizardry. We thought we were getting the best advice from them. We never thought we would have to go to Peckham Market and deal with a bunch of Del Boys.”
That was how the people in the business felt about it.
Both my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey and I raised this issue with Stephen Hester in June 2012. Needless to say, we got some sort of reply from something called “Group Executive Office”, whoever those people are, but the matter remains unresolved to this day, notwithstanding the fact that when I visited my constituent at the end of August or the beginning of September, they were due to have a meeting with RBS to go through the process which, as many right hon. and hon. Members have mentioned, moves at a snail’s pace. Two months on, we are no further forward. This is an absolute disgrace. We have to be clear that although the banking system and the banking business are important to the prosperity of the United Kingdom, the banks have a lot to answer for.
I was really taken by what my hon. Friend the Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) said: perhaps the FCA should stop all repayments to banks until these problems are sorted out, certainly in specific cases. That might help the constituent of my hon. Friend the Member for Aldershot (Sir Gerald Howarth).
Several measures have been suggested during the debate and I hope that the Government will respond to them. I hope, too, that the FCA will respond more robustly than it has up to now.
My hon. Friend the Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) mentioned a meeting with Mr Chris Sullivan. Interestingly, he wrote to my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey:
“As a Group, we are committed to the fair and timely treatment of our customers”—
what a fantastic and admirable sentiment!
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not, as other hon. Members wish to speak.
We have Mr Chris Sullivan, the chief executive of the corporate banking division—a very big wig in the Royal Bank of Scotland—saying that he is committed to the “fair and timely treatment” of the bank’s customers. I say, “Thank you very much,” to Mr Sullivan, because his letter was dated 3 August 2012 and yet my constituent has still seen no action. It is high time that the banks understood the gravity of the situation and the concern felt by the public. It is high time that they understood the risks they pose to businesses and the fact that they are damaging the United Kingdom by failing to address these concerns. They must do so forthwith, and the Government must give them every help so to do. I hope that eventually—indeed, soon—our constituents who have put their money on the line to try to generate wealth for our country and improve the economy will be given a better deal.
I am grateful for the opportunity to speak in this important debate, and I want to add my name to those of other colleagues in paying tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for his leadership and to the Bully-Banks campaign. I commend my hon. Friend the Member for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) for enlightening us all on how these mechanisms work, and I am grateful for the work of the all-party group, of which I am happy to be a member.
I want to speak about the context in which we need to view this issue, based on my own experience. I believe that this is the end of a banking boom-and-bust and bail-out, which speaks volumes about the role of banking in the economic crisis that we face. On the basis of my previous career in small businesses in East Anglia, it seems to me that the big bang, along with all the many good things, triggered a major cultural and financial neglect of the real bread and butter economy on the ground. Over the last 15 or 20 years, Norfolk has certainly seen a wave of bank closures, a “computer says no” culture, and a neglect and undermining of what was traditionally viewed as the backbone of our local economy, but what became in recent years, particularly under the last Government, rather unfashionable and, dare I say it, boring for the bankers of today.
Norfolk now sits on the cusp of a major economic renaissance—in life sciences, in engineering and in energy. I thank the Government for investing in the infrastructure but in that sector the banks have largely been irrelevant, in my experience, to such early-stage companies because they are too risky. Those companies usually rely on venture finance from angels, and corporate venturing from customers.
We thus need to ask ourselves some big questions about the banks’ role as our economy goes forward. Of course the banks play a crucial part. America has 20,000 banks and a new one is started nearly every week, and I believe that our banking sector and our financial services sector is one of our greatest and most innovative sectors. We sometimes talk about the City as if it comprised just four or five big banks; in fact, it is a fabulous crucible of financial innovation that should be celebrated and encouraged. The problem lies with the few big banks at the top that were bailed out by the last Government in such a way as to see them sitting on too many real businesses in the real economy that we need to grow and support.
I am going to speak about three of my constituents who have suffered as a result of the problem we are debating. Mr Andy Keats is a local entrepreneur who built up a number of companies—in this case, a successful 13-year-old company with 30 local employees, which is about to be sold for £3.5 million. When Mr Keats decided that he wanted to move his banking from RBS to Barclays, RBS stopped passing on the sales income from credit and debit card sales in the business. The business went insolvent within six weeks, and for the last four years, he has had to deal with RBS and NatWest and has had to face a series of major issues and challenges, to which I have been party. I have seen at first hand banks not responding and when they do, ignoring previous communications, and passing on debts to debt collection companies.
Does my hon. Friend agree that one explanation for the banks’ lack of enthusiasm to get on and pay out compensation is that if businesses that have gone bankrupt have no access to the redress scheme, there is no incentive for the banks to grasp this nettle, so the Government need to do something to force their hand?
My hon. Friend makes an excellent point for which I am very grateful.
Mr Keats has also pointed out that the solicitors acting on behalf of the bank sometimes take court action without serving necessary notice.
I cannot name the second constituent because, like so many in these circumstances, he wishes to remain anonymous. He is a leading local business man and something of a pillar of the community. His business was pushed into accepting interest rate derivative products by unscrupulous bank salesmen. He has filed legal action against his bank so that the statute of limitations does not time out on his claim, which is a very real threat.
The third constituent is Paul Adcock, the managing director of Adcock’s of Watton, a great family business on the high street of a great Norfolk town. He was one of the first campaigners to make a complaint and a key leading light in the Bully-Banks campaign. I want to pass on my thanks, on behalf of my constituent, to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy because the campaign has been a huge help to him. Adcock’s, a major local business and a pillar of the local establishment, racked up £175,000-worth of unscheduled charges. In September this year, Barclays finally settled. I want to put on record my constituent’s thanks for doing so.
This is not just a local issue. It is an enormous issue that runs across our economy. The numbers are eye-watering. The Bully-Banks campaign has estimated that this mis-selling scandal has cost small businesses more than 400,000 jobs in our economy, with £1.7 billion a year lost to the Treasury. It has led directly to the loss of 162,000 jobs, and to the inability of SMEs to create 251,000 jobs that they would have been able to create otherwise. More than 30,000 small businesses still face long delays, and fewer than 7% of claims being considered by Royal Bank of Scotland had reached the redress stage by the end of the month, while nearly five times as many—32%—had reached that stage at Barclays. Just 2% of those whose cases have been deemed eligible for review have accepted offers of redress. The banks have, I believe, set aside £3 billion for redress purposes, and less than £2 billion has been paid to just 32 businesses so far.
We need a speedy and fair process for redress and compensation. I urge the Minister to use all the mechanisms at his disposal to encourage the FCA to accelerate its handling of claims, to ensure that the banks are not allowed to kick them down the road, to separate direct and consequential losses, and to ensure that the settlements are fair. We must be careful not to define consequential losses in such a way as to undermine the potential for future SMEs to raise funds from the banks.
We are lucky enough to have a Minister with a glittering career in finance and small business behind him, and, I do not doubt, a glittering career in politics ahead of him. Our group could not have a more doughty and outspoken campaigner and supporter of our cause on the Front Bench. I urge him to bring to this issue the skill that he has brought to other issues with which he has dealt, and to ensure that it is viewed in the context of the wider banking crisis, whose resolution will enable our economy to recover properly.
It is a great pleasure to speak for the first time with you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I, too, congratulate the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), not only on securing the debate but on his fantastic leadership of the campaign and the comprehensive speech that he has made today. These debates show Parliament at its best, although it is a little worrying that the banking industry seems to move tortoise-like between them, and to take on the characteristics of the hare only during the few days before and after they take place. Perhaps we just need to have more of them.
As I spoke in our last debate on this subject, I shall not repeat everything that I said then, but I do want to say something about the question of advice. Small businesses typically have an accountant and a bank, and in the past have typically relied on both to be on their side. However, it is clear from the mis-selling scandal that they should have been given independent financial advice, because the banks were no longer on their side, and were now treating them as potential consumers of sophisticated products.
If the banks insist on not being on the side of small businesses and on treating them primarily as sales prospects, we should be thinking about the regulations. We should be thinking about what sort of advice the banks should be telling their clients to seek, about what disclosures of commission they should be making, and about other matters that would be the norm if the banks were selling to private individuals. After all, many of the businesses that we are discussing are not much bigger than the affairs of a private individual. I hope that the Minister will respond to that point.
Some of my constituents, like those of other Members, are following today’s debate closely. Theirs is a very familiar story. Stephen Lilley wanted a loan, and stated explicitly that he wanted to pay it down as quickly as possible. However, he found himself locked into a long-term fixed deal involving a fixed amount of money. Roy Myers turned up to sign the papers for a fairly large loan, only to find that clauses were being inserted at the point of signing. He had no time to consider what was happening.
A point that I do not think has emerged clearly today is that the businesses that are involved in such arrangements are effectively locked into their existing banks, and cannot get out. There has been some predatory behaviour on the part of banks in those circumstances. A business in my constituency which, partly because of the banking arrangements, was in heavy weather financially, found itself having to pay an extra £500 a month for a “special relationship manager” who did not actually do anything. That was merely a way of extracting yet more money from the business. In another case—we heard of a similar example earlier—a life insurance policy was forced on a constituent who did not need it. People have very little room for manoeuvre when they are locked into their existing banks.
I welcomed last year’s decision by the FCA, but progress has been painfully slow. I was present when Barclays turned up at the all-party parliamentary group, many months ago, and convinced us that it was organising a great big operation and that things would move very swiftly from that point onwards—which, of course, they did not. Meanwhile, the lives of more and more businesses and individuals are moving on, and things are happening to them. A couple of months ago, one of my constituents who is a member of a support group was speaking to a woman who was ill at the time, and who has subsequently died. That is another person to whom the banks are no longer having to talk.
A great many businesses have gone bankrupt. The hon. Member for Harrogate and Knaresborough (Andrew Jones) raised a point that had not occurred to me before. If it is true that the banks will not have to compensate those behind bankrupt businesses, they have a financial incentive to bankrupt businesses. I have been around long enough to know that whatever banks have a financial incentive to do, we can pretty much count on their doing.
Does my hon. Friend agree that not only is this situation awful for the SMEs that have been caught up in the mis-selling scandal, but it sends a strong negative message to anyone who is thinking of going into business in this country? Does it not send them the message that the banks cannot be trusted, and provide them with a big incentive not to go into business at all?
Absolutely. Earlier, the hon. Member for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) referred to the reputation of the banks. I think that they will have an enormous job to do to recover their reputation, and to rebuild the trust that new business people should expect.
I hope that the Minister will say something about the question of what happens when businesses have gone bankrupt, or their proprietors are deceased. Do they simply drop off the banks’ lists? If that is the case, I think that we should be very concerned about what the banks are doing and what they are incentivised to do.
There has been good news this week about the separation of compensation from consequential loss. Both the constituents of mine who are following this debate particularly closely have received money in the last few weeks. Why, Members may ask, should they be at the front of the queue? The two of them have been prepared to go very public—they have even appeared on television—and, amazingly, the banks appear to have moved them to the front. Cynic I may be, but I would guess this was part of a process of dealing with the most vocal people first, and of course it should not be like that.
The question has been raised of whether criminal activity has taken place. I think that there is a whole spectrum ranging from relatively innocent bank employees, selling something that they have been told to sell, to clear misrepresentation, lies and so forth. I think that Bully-Banks is finding that the same names recur in some cases, and I think that when what is clearly criminal activity has taken place, those involved should be prosecuted.
We have all talked about the need for extra pace. I hope that the Minister will put maximum pressure on the banks and the FCA to speed up the process, and will show that the Government are on the side of small businesses and our constituents.
It is a great pleasure to see you in the Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. I congratulate you. I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) on opening the debate, and congratulate him and his Committee on all the work they have done.
In mythology, David felled Goliath. [Hon. Members: “It is in the Bible!”] It is in the Bible, but it is also slightly mythological. [Hon. Members: “It happened!”] If Members have absolute proof, that is fine. Anyway, I want to make a serious point. We have seen a banking sector that has used corporate lawyers and all its muscle and might to ensure that it can take on small businesses.
This is what small business is up against. People can call me cynical if they like, but much of this selling of swaps was going on in 2006 and 2007, when interest rates were 5.5%, but by 2009 they had dropped to 0.5%, and I believe that many of those banks knew that interest rates were going to fall. Why were they so keen to go out and get everybody tied up in these swaps? Under the terms of the swaps, the higher interest rate could probably be capped at around 6.9%, but if they started to fall below 4% or 3%, people immediately got clobbered for huge amounts of money. It was therefore very much in the banks’ interests to get people into these schemes. That is where I do actually say that what went on was criminal. That is why we expect our great Minister, along with the FCA, to do something about this. The fact that only 32 or 33 cases in the whole country have been dealt with is an absolute scandal.
I certainly do, and there is another word for it: theft. That is exactly what it is, because people entered into these agreements in good faith, and that brings me to another point I want to make. Throughout my business and farming career, I had a good relationship with my bank. I trusted my bank manager, and when I spoke to him or her, I expected them to give me good advice. That trust in our banks has been broken by this affair. If people in small businesses and in business generally cannot trust their bank when they want to raise finance to build up their company and employ more people, where on earth are we going to build a recovery? We are building a recovery, of course, but we could build it so much better if we could restore that trust. The FCA must do much more, so businesses can recover from this.
I have many affected businesses in my constituency, and two businesses in particular, both of which are with the Clydesdale bank. One of them is a large successful farm and the other is a hotel. They have all been put under enormous pressure and have paid enormous amounts of money, and this is stopping them expanding. One of the businesses was not given much choice about whether to take out the deal. Basically, it was told, “You either take the money with a swap, or you don’t have the money at all.” That is the kind of coercion that went on. We need to deal with this issue, because we need these businesses to prosper.
Some companies who have been sold a swap and have therefore come under enormous financial pressure have been driven into liquidation, and I suspect that, because of the wonderful financial institutions we have in this country—I am being sarcastic here—they will be snapped up at rock-bottom prices. That is all wrong, because we are talking about businesses that have worked hard for years and family businesses that have been established for generations being destroyed by this system.
It is great that we have got this second debate, and, in respect of the banks, it is great that the snail is beginning to turn into a hare, but I suspect, if we are not careful, that as soon as this debate is over it will transform back into a snail. That is why I say to the Minister that it is absolutely essential that he, along with the FCA, gets hold of the banks and makes them compensate people for what they have mis-sold and what they have done. Until that is done—until we have rectified the situation and compensated these businesses—we will not restore confidence in the banking system, which we badly need to be restored in this country. We must ensure that we move forward at an even quicker pace so that people have confidence to invest and know that if they approach their bank, they will be sold a good deal, not a pup, which is exactly what people were sold in this instance.
I look forward to hearing the Minister’s comments because I have great confidence in him and he has great experience in this sector. I have had more pain from banks than anything else. If we do not get the banking sector right, we will not get the economy right.
I congratulate all the Members who secured this debate, and I also thank the Backbench Business Committee for giving further time for this important issue to be discussed on the Floor of the House. I also want to put on record my recognition of the tremendous work done by the all-party group on interest rate swap mis-selling. Its efforts in campaigning on this issue since it first came to light last year have made sure it remains at the top of the political agenda. I should mention in particular the hon. Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for his leadership of that group and his willingness to run with this issue. He opened the debate with a powerful speech touching on all the different elements of the redress scheme, which have been causing problems to small businesses throughout the country. He reminded the House that the banks were telling us they cannot promise that the date for full redress will be much before 2015, despite having spent £300 million and recruited around 3,000 staff to deal with this problem. The number of claims settled to date is pitifully small. The record on that is nothing to write home about and it needs to be dealt with urgently.
The Chair of the Backbench Business Committee, my hon. Friend the Member for North East Derbyshire (Natascha Engel), made a fine speech. She reminded the House that the imposition of a blanket moratorium on payments would concentrate the minds of the banks and press them towards resolving the claims businesses have made more swiftly. She also made the important point that much of the language the banks are using in their correspondence with businesses and Members of Parliament on this issue is not easy language, and that means there is a danger of the same kind of confusion arising as that which led to this scandal in the first place.
The hon. Members for Wyre Forest (Mark Garnier) and for Aberconwy reminded the House that in the last 48 hours some banks have moved to decouple the issue of consequential losses from technical redress, and I will return to that point.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) reminded the House that this scandal has further corroded and damaged trust between banks and their customers and drew a parallel with previous scandals, including the PPI scandal, which certainly should concentrate minds. He also reminded us that hedging and insuring against risks is not in and of itself wrong, and he is certainly right about that, but there has to be full understanding as to what these arrangements involve, and we must make sure that when they are entered into, it is done in a way that is suitable for both the companies getting involved and the banks.
My hon. Friend the Member for Llanelli (Nia Griffith) told us about the tragedy of good and very successful businesses who have been caught up in this scandal and the real fear felt by small businesses in seeking redress and how that can act as a barrier to them exercising their full rights under the redress scheme. They worry about admitting something has gone wrong because of what that might mean for their future relationship with their bank. That was an important point to put on the record.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh South (Ian Murray) reminded us again of the link between this scandal and the corrosion of people’s trust in the banks and how that has followed on from the PPI scandal and the manipulation of LIBOR. He also said that this all feeds into a sense that the banks, who are supposed to be on the side of small businesses—and who clearly need small businesses as much as small businesses need them—have not appeared to be behaving in that way and that needs to be dealt with forthwith.
Many Government Members, including the hon. Members for Poole (Mr Syms), for Bury North (Mr Nuttall), for South West Devon (Mr Streeter) and for Romsey and Southampton North (Caroline Nokes), made points about the snail’s pace of this scheme, which I will return to in a few moments. Those points were well made, and I hope they are being heard. On the speech by the hon. Member for Tiverton and Honiton (Neil Parish), I will not get into whether David felling Goliath is mythological, biblical or something else, but the analogy was well made and the symbolism of it will resonate outside this House.
It is clear from today’s contributions that the businesses caught up in this scandal, including businesses in my constituency that are following this debate closely from a place not very far away, have suffered terribly; we have heard distressing stories of injustice, bankruptcies, job losses, marriage breakdown, homelessness and, in some cases, death. Today’s contributions have rightly reminded the House that for all the debate about process—that is incredibly important and we have to get it right—there is a human cost, which should not be forgotten.
This scandal has highlighted shocking abuse of small and medium-sized enterprises; banks saw an opportunity in firms wanting to take out loans and they attached complex hedging products to them, in many cases giving the impression that this was a requirement of the loan itself. When interest rates plummeted, businesses were forced to pick up the punitive downside of the hedges. We know that in many cases banks had the option to cancel the loan. So, presumably, at any stage when interest rates might have gone up and the business would have benefited from having the hedge, the bank could cancel, but in the reverse situation the business could not exit the hedge when it became unfavourable to it without incurring punitive costs and charges. Not only was that an extremely unfair set of terms and conditions, but that behaviour violated the important relationship of trust between the banks and our small business community. Well run, long-established small businesses, which are the engine of our economy, have paid the price.
I will not rehearse the history of how we have got to the redress process that is in place, but suffice it to say that many concerns with this scheme require urgent action. I hope the Minister has heard all those points today and will take them away with him. I hope also that the FCA and the banks have been listening carefully to today’s debate. The biggest issue, about which we have heard a great deal today, is the time that this is all taking to resolve. Time is of the essence for the businesses concerned, yet figures show that banks paid out just £1.5 million in compensation in September, with 22 offers being accepted. That brings the grand total to a mere £2 million having been paid out, with 32 settled claims. In September, the chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses said:
“We are quickly losing confidence in the banks and the regulator as this scheme remains unbelievably slow.”
The initial target indicated for the redress scheme was six months. That time scale has already been missed, and it now looks as if it will be missed by a very large margin.
One of biggest issues with the redress scheme is the complete lack of a deadline for the process. Last month, my hon. Friends the Members for Nottingham East (Chris Leslie) and for Chesterfield (Toby Perkins) wrote to the chief executive of the FCA about the delay in compensation payments and requested that a strict deadline for settlement be imposed on the banks taking part in the scheme. Unfortunately, the imposition of a deadline has been resisted by the FCA. That is deeply disappointing, given the necessity of achieving a faster rate of progress for businesses that are in financial difficulty and the fact that the Federation of Small Businesses has indicated that some reviews of the interest rate swap products could be completed in as little as four to six weeks. I am sure the Minister will agree that firms that are due redress must receive it as quickly as possible if they are to survive; they need certainty and clarity so that they can plan for the future. Does he agree that a deadline would help matters? I hope he will respond to that point. Will he outline for us what he might do to bring that about?
We have seen some movement in the past 48 hours on the issue of consequential losses, which is very welcome. However, it is important that all the banks that have not signed up to the decoupling arrangement in respect of consequential loss and technical redress do so as quickly as possible. As this is now an evolving element of the redress scheme, will the Minister confirm that he will follow it closely to ensure that the evolving process will still allow for a fair assessment of consequential losses and that there is no risk that businesses will opt to forgo money they are owed in order to obtain compensation for their direct losses more quickly?
We also heard a lot about the suspension of payments, an issue about which many hon. Members have been writing to banks in our capacity as constituency Members of Parliament. Clearly, there is some inconsistency in the way in which the suspension of payments is being applied. Will the Minister undertake to do whatever he can to ensure that the suspension of payments applies wherever it is necessary? Will he consider the threshold? Will he eliminate the requirement for the business to go into special measures, as that is clearly holding some people back?
A huge amount of data have been published by the FCA on its website, which is helping Members of this House to assess the progress of this scheme. However, I wonder whether there is scope for some of those datasets to be expanded, particularly to give Members more information about what is happening to businesses in financial distress and businesses in administration, so that there is no incentive for banks not to bother dealing with them, as we have heard discussed today.
Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy; they account for about half of private sector turnover, employ millions of people and make up 99% of UK enterprises. They deserve to be treated better by our financial institutions, and to be supported and protected more effectively by both the regulators and the Government. I hope that the Minister can provide some much-needed assurance, and that the FCA and the banks take on board all the points made by hon. Members today.
First, let me take this opportunity to welcome you to your new Chair, Madam Deputy Speaker. It is a great pleasure to see you in your place. I also welcome the hon. Member for Birmingham, Ladywood (Shabana Mahmood) to her new role and wish her luck with it.
I start by thanking all the hon. Members who secured this debate and by congratulating everyone on presenting their case well. Special thanks must go to my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb) for the time, energy and passion that he has put into this issue and for the leadership he has shown. We can see from this debate that this issue is very serious; 17 of my hon. Friends and four other hon. Members have spoken today. I am sure that everyone in this Chamber, like all those others watching in the Public Gallery, at home and elsewhere, including the hundreds watching in the Central Methodist hall from the many businesses that have been affected, is keen to see a quick conclusion to the FCA review and to see that those businesses that were mis-sold financial products are compensated accordingly.
When I was growing up, my father ran a small family business in Bristol, so I was made aware from a young age about the importance of cash flow and the dangers of unexpected costs. As such, I sympathise wholeheartedly with the small businesses that have been affected by this mis-selling scandal and have put such energy into lobbying on this issue. This Government have made it clear from the beginning that the mis-selling of financial products is totally unacceptable. We take extremely seriously the abuse that has taken place, and we are determined that any wrongs that have been inflicted on businesses should be righted.
I share the disappointment of fellow hon. Members about the progress made under the FCA review to date. I stood up in a Westminster Hall debate about four and a half months ago to discuss this very issue, and the fact that the FCA has not made any significant progress since that debate is, frankly, not good enough. As we have heard today, the FCA said in January this year that the full review process would begin, but it has since confirmed that the full process did not start until May this year. That delay has been disappointing, and the FCA should have been much clearer about exactly when this full review actually started. However, the review is now up and running, with the large majority of cases being looked at. I understand from the FCA that it believes that about 85% of cases are now under review, but hon. Members are absolutely right to say that it is time for the banks and the FCA to do more to speed up the process and get redress out the door. As such, the Government will continue to push the banks and the FCA to complete the process as quickly as possible. As the motion says, the redress scheme’s progress has been too slow. That is costly and has caused further undue distress to the businesses involved. The FCA and banks need to get on with the job.
The FCA has set out a clear process and is publishing more and more information on it. It is important that the FCA and the banks should stick to that. Equally, however, Martin Wheatley, the head of the FCA, has not ruled out any further action, including taking enforcement action if he deems that the redress process has not worked as intended.
A number of Members have mentioned redress payments. Of course we need to be confident that the scheme provides the correct level of redress for affected businesses. I understand why concerns have been raised about the FCA’s decision to allow the banks to settle with customers for a single redress offer, covering both basic redress and consequential losses.
It is right that the FCA, as an independent regulator, should decide such details. However, I agree that it is sensible for the initial payment for basic redress to be made to provide much-needed relief to the businesses. That is why I welcome the announcement this week, from HSBC and RBS so far, that they will now make an initial redress payment to businesses and then discuss consequential losses separately. Back Benchers should take credit for that move. Under the leadership of my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy (Guto Bebb), they have put pressure on the banks and we have seen the results already.
However, I want things to go further—I would like all the other banks to join the move announced by HSBC and RBS, and I shall be watching closely to see whether they do. That should help prevent any further undue distress for the businesses and give them much-needed cash-flow relief.
I well understand that consequential loss calculations are probably unique to each business. However, the redress payments surely form a pattern, given that they are all based on similar products. Does the Minister believe that the banks should be able to move very quickly with the redress part of the compensation?
I agree. The banks should move much faster. Today’s announcement from the two banks is welcome, but other banks should take a serious attitude to not only the amounts but the timing of redress payments.
Hon. Members have also voiced concerns about the large number of businesses that have been assessed as sophisticated and so fall outside the scheme. My understanding is that the FCA used as a starting point the criteria for non-sophisticated customers set out in the Companies Act 2006. As such, the test reflects the fact that larger businesses would have greater resources to seek advice on the products in question, both at the time of sale and subsequently. Moreover, I understand that the FCA then amended the sophistication test in January to ensure that certain companies, which were classified as sophisticated under the Companies Act test but which might reasonably be considered to be non-sophisticated, were also brought into the scope of the review.
Throughout this debate, the Government have been clear that when a business lacked the necessary skills and knowledge to understand fully the risks of the products, it should receive the appropriate redress. We do not agree that all businesses should have access to the FCA review; there needs to be a defined cut-off point beyond which more sophisticated businesses take responsibility for understanding the products that they entered into. I am confident that the FCA has found the right balance to ensure that all non-sophisticated businesses fall inside the scheme.
I will not be able in the time available to address all the questions raised, but I might be able to help with a couple in particular. Some Members asked whether insolvency could be a reason for banks to try to delay the redress process. I assure the House that that could not be a reason. No one wants businesses to go insolvent, but if, sadly, they do, they will still be part of the review process. If mis-selling is found to have happened, banks will still be liable and on the hook—they will gain no advantage from the insolvency of a company.
Hon. Members, including the shadow Minister, asked whether the FCA could consider setting a deadline. There is a good case for the FCA to consider that, but it would have to be its independent decision. Due regard must be taken of the fact that it might take longer to sort out the most complex products, but it would be good for the FCA to consider whether setting a deadline would help to speed up the process.
As my hon. Friend will know, there is a necessary degree of independence in the process. However, he raises a good point, which, as he said, has been raised by others today. It is important to make sure that there is confidence in the process. If confidence does not come about in the coming months, the FCA may have to review things and the process that my hon. Friend suggests could be taken forward.
I end by reiterating that the Government take extremely seriously the abuse that has taken place in very many cases. I sympathise wholeheartedly with campaigners in the Chamber and beyond. I am determined that any wrongs inflicted on businesses should be put right and want a quick solution to the mis-selling of interest rate hedging products.
Small businesses are the backbone of our economy and they should be allowed to draw a line under this issue and get back to what they do best—working hard, creating jobs and creating growth for the UK economy. Once again, I thank hon. Members, particularly my hon. Friend the Member for Aberconwy, for bringing the issue to the attention of the House. I assure them that I will make sure that the issue continues to receive the highest level of attention from the Government.
With the leave of the House, I should like to make a few concluding remarks. This has been a positive and necessary debate, and we have seen significant progress as a result of it. Members from across the House have made it clear that they want a step change in the progress made by the FCA review process. That is necessary; we need a significant increase in the number of businesses offered redress. There are real concerns about an expansion of the scheme. Speeches have highlighted the issue of embedded swaps and the concerns about the sophistication test, which I would like to discuss in further detail with the Minister in due course if I can.
The other pretty obvious thing from this debate is that we need the banks to provide support for the businesses while they wait to be reviewed. We want the banks to show forbearance and to understand that the difficulties faced by many businesses were created by the banks’ own mis-selling. No further businesses should be lost to the UK economy as a result of the mis-selling of these products, which were inappropriate in the vast majority of cases. This has been a positive debate, but we still need to see the proof of the pudding in the way in which the scheme delivers from now on.
I appreciate that offer very much, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House considers the lack of progress made by banks and the Financial Conduct Authority on the redress scheme adopted as a result of the mis-selling of complex interest rate derivatives to small and medium businesses to be unacceptable; and notes that this lack of progress is costly and has caused further undue distress to the businesses involved.