Skip to main content

Money Laundering Regulations: Politically Exposed Persons

Volume 825: debated on Monday 28 November 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what further consideration they have given to the impact of Anti Money Laundering Regulations on Politically Exposed Persons.

My Lords, the recent review of the money laundering regulations concluded that there is still work to do to better understand the risk profile of domestic politically exposed persons—PEPs. It is crucial that the Government fully explore and understand any potential consequences of changing requirements on domestic PEPs before making any amendments to the UK’s anti-money laundering regime. This work is ongoing and part of the Government’s wider economic crime strategy.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I am afraid that I do not understand it. On 5 July, she said that the review had been concluded and that no change was needed, despite all the evidence that she has had from Members of your Lordships’ House. Unbeknown to us but very helpfully, after that, the Lord Speaker wrote to the FCA on 21 July. However, the FCA’s reply on 15 August simply repeated that firms should act proportionately in dealing with PEPs. Two hours ago, we all received a letter from the Minister which says: “It cannot be acceptable that Parliamentarians and their families are denied access to personal finance.” However, as we will hear from the noble Lords, Lord Vaizey and Lord Kirkhope, and others no doubt, banks are still refusing to handle accounts of their family members, and other colleagues of mine are finding that their accounts are being closed. The system is not working. Can the Minister agree to meet me and other concerned Members of your Lordships’ House, together with the FCA and HMT officials, so that we can make progress? Clearly, led by itself, HMT is unable to do so.

I would be very happy to meet with the noble Baroness and other interested Peers to see what more we can do. I will clarify one point. The review of the money laundering regulations concluded earlier this year. One of the outcomes was that there was more work to do to better understand the risk profile of domestic PEPs. That work is ongoing. When we have a better understanding of the risk profile and any potential consequences of changing the classification of domestic PEPs, we will take our work forward accordingly. In the meantime, it is important that people are treated fairly by the financial institutions that they work with. We have included a list of points of contact for some of the major banks so that people who are having problems can receive help where it is needed. If Members have issues, I encourage them to make use of the Financial Ombudsman Service, if they need to, as a route to address any problems.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her letter, which clarifies the current position to some extent. As one of those who was involved for a long time in drafting these regulations in Brussels, it was absolutely required that we should put “proportional” into them—unusually for regulations in Brussels. Can the Minister do more to force the FCA and the financial institutions to take some notice of that proportionality? Can we please make sure that this indiscriminate application to public servants—and their families, including my own—of draconian measures can be put aside, and that we can take a sensible and proper view towards anti-money laundering arrangements?

I absolutely agree with my noble friend on the importance of that word and of a proportionate approach being taken in the implementation of these regulations. I know that concerns have been raised in the past. We have convened previous meetings with the FCA and the banks to make this message known to them. Hopefully, the points of contact that we have provided will provide a further remedy to any noble Lords who are affected. We are also looking at the broader system to see whether we can change the designation of domestic PEPs. However, we need to look very carefully at this and take our time to make sure that we do that work properly.

My Lords, the FCA guidelines, which are five years old, make clear that Members of this House should be treated as low risk unless there are other factors at play. There is no point to these guidelines if they are not being enforced. What assessment have the Government made of the FCA’s record on enforcement of the guidelines? Have any sanctions ever been imposed on those who break them?

My Lords, as I have said, we have had an ongoing dialogue with the FCA around the guidelines. In turn, they have had engagement with those that they regulate. I do not have any statistics for the noble Lord on enforcement action. However, one area where we have some statistics is that, since 2018, the Financial Ombudsman Service has received fewer than 10 complaints in this area. That is not to say that people have not experienced problems, but I would encourage them to use the points of contact and, where they are experiencing problems, to advance those complaints, so that we can have better data with which to assess the impact of the issue.

My Lords, I have used my noble friend the Minister’s point of contact. My son was refused an account with Starling Bank. I got through to a senior executive there, who stated to me very clearly that: “It is our policy not to give accounts to the relatives of Members of the House of Lords.” That is about as clear a breach of the regulations as you could have. Will the Minister use her convening power to collect in one room the banks, the FCA and Treasury officials? Let us sort this out and introduce some common sense.

I cannot comment on an individual case, but I can be absolutely clear with my noble friend that the FCA has been clear that designation as a PEP should not be a reason to end a business relationship. I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, that I am very happy to have a meeting, and I will use all the efforts of my convening power to bring to the table those I cannot directly commit to attending the meeting today.

My Lords, the Minister has said on two or three occasions that great care is needed in any review of the regulations, despite the fact that it is quite clear that the FCA guidance is not being followed by a number of banks. What is this huge amount of work that still needs to be done before we see a change in the regulations?

My Lords, there is a difference between looking at the FCA guidance and whether it is being properly adhered to and whether that could help solve the problem that noble Lords are talking about. We have made continuous efforts to look at that but, given the wider sentiment we have heard in this House, we also want to look at whether we can make a more substantive change to how domestic PEPs are regulated. That is a wider piece of work that could have unintended consequences, so we need to look at that carefully.

My Lords, what was the point of us leaving the European Union to take back control if Ministers cannot direct the FCA to show a bit of common sense? I declare my interest as chairman of a bank.

My Lords, the standards for our anti-money laundering regulations come from the FATF, which defines an international approach. My noble friend is right that we have the opportunity, having left the EU, to adapt the anti-money laundering regulations to make them more proportionate and more effective. We have already done that in a number of areas, and the piece of work we are going to do, looking at the evidence around the risk of domestic PEPs, is a further area in which we can do some work.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of Hoare’s bank. To pick up on the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, it is now several years since we left the European Union. The Treasury has regulatory powers to change the relevant legislation, and the Government are determined to prove the benefits of Brexit. Surely it is time to use those powers to make progress on this issue.

I agree with the noble Lord that we should make use of the new powers we have. As I said to the House previously, we have already made a series of amendments to the money laundering regulations to reduce unnecessary burdens—for example, scrapping the requirement for the creation of a bank account portal, which was seen as disproportionate. There is more work to do in this area, and that work is under way. We published the review of our anti-money laundering regulations in June, and we are committed to consulting on broader changes to our approach. The main focus of that is on the supervisory bodies for anti-money laundering regulations, but this issue is also being looked at as part of that work.