Consideration of Bill, not amended in the Public Bill Committee
Compensation payments to customers of London Capital & Finance PLC
I beg to move amendment 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—
“(5) Within six months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report that assesses the impact of the payment of compensation to the customers of London Capital & Finance plc under this section, and in the light of that assessment, sets out the following—
(a) an assessment of the regulatory failures that gave rise to the need to compensate the customers of London Capital & Finance plc;
(b) measures the Government is taking to prevent such regulatory failures in the future;
(c) the reasons why the Government is providing compensation to the customers of London Capital & Finance plc but not the customers of other failed investment firms;
(d) criteria for when the Government should be expected to provide compensation following the collapse of investment firms; and
(e) the reasons for the capping of compensation payments under this section at 80% of what customers of London Capital & Finance would have been entitled to under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament that assesses the impact of the Government compensating the customers of London Capital & Finance plc, as well as broader issues relevant to the mis-selling scandal.
It is a pleasure to open this afternoon’s debate and to speak in favour of amendment 1, which is in my name. My amendment would require the Secretary of State to report back to Parliament within six months of the Bill coming into force, with an assessment of the impact of the payment of compensation to customers of LCF. Crucially, it would require the Secretary of State in that report to give an assessment of: the regulatory failures that made the London Capital & Finance compensation scheme necessary; the measures that the Government are taking to prevent such regulatory failures; the reasons why victims of other failed investment schemes, of which there are many, are not being compensated; the criteria for when the Government should be expected to provide compensation following the collapse of investment firms; and, finally, the reasons for the capping of compensation payments under this scheme at 80% of what customers of London Capital & Finance would have been entitled to under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
The amendment does not seek to change the actual scheme at all, and we will support the Bill on Third Reading as we have supported it at other stages, but it does seek to address the single biggest problem with the Bill, which is that it does not go nearly far enough. The amendment echoes amendment 7 in Committee and its intention is similar to amendment 1 in Committee, which was tabled by the Opposition Front Bench. Neither of those amendments was pushed to a vote in Committee, but both raised issues of significant importance to thousands of people, who between them have almost certainly lost more than £1 billion through investment scams and whose plight the Bill currently fails to address.
My amendment will not bring the investors justice, because the Bill was drafted in such a way that an amendment that sought to bring justice for them would have been inadmissible, but it would offer the first small step towards recognising that the £1 billion scandal of pension investment mis-selling and the catalogue of regulatory failures that allowed that scandal to continue for so long have left thousands of hard-working people potentially destitute because their retirement plans have been stolen from them. The Government have yet to offer a credible reason for rejecting my amendment, so, given the importance of the issues that it seeks to address, I do intend to test the will of the House on this question at the end of the debate.
There has been virtually no opposition to the Bill from MPs or those who have given evidence to the Bill Committee. There has, however, been strong criticism across the board about what the Bill does not do—that is, it does not do nearly enough. It places no obligation on anyone to sort out the mess created not only by London Capital & Finance, but by other scams—such as Premier FX, Blackmore Bond, Henley, Connaught and many others—that were allowed to happen. It does nothing to explain how Companies House, the Financial Conduct Authority, company auditors and in some cases the police either did not have the powers they needed, or in some cases failed miserably to use the powers they had, to prevent these scams from happening and to protect innocent, unsuspecting investors.
In my earlier contributions on the Bill, I have made frequent references to the collapse of Blackmore Bond for the likely loss of £46 million of other people’s pension funds. I will not repeat everything that I have said before, but for the benefit of Members who have not had a chance to catch up with the full proceedings, let me just say that the similarities between London Capital & Finance and Blackmore Bond are many and they are striking. According to Library reports, the owners and directors of the entire Blackmore Bond group of companies made about £800,000 signing up investors for LCF. Blackmore Bond then used Surge Financial—a company that is now under criminal investigation as part of the fallout of the LCF investigation—to drum up leads for its mis-selling of mini bonds.
In previous stages, the Government have claimed that the exact details of London Capital & Finance’s mis-selling and ultimate collapse were unique, and that that is why there is a compensation scheme for its victims but not for the victims of other schemes.
The hon. Gentleman is making some good points and has been very vocal in this Chamber to draw attention to the bonds of a similar nature that were also mis-sold. However is not subsection (5)(a) of his amendment, which would require,
“an assessment of the regulatory failures”
already covered by the Gloster report? Is not that exactly what that does? Has the purpose of his amendment not already been achieved through that in-depth and welcome report?
It may well have been achieved by the Government’s response to the report, but the Gloster report achieved nothing; it only achieves change if the Government accept its recommendations. An amendment that was not pushed to a vote at an earlier stage of proceedings would have required the Government to give regular reports back to Parliament as to what they are doing with the Gloster report. Regardless of whether that amendment had been carried, I would hope that the Government will still do that.
The Government’s explanation for not even considering similar schemes for other mis-selling is that the exact details of London Capital & Finance’s mis-selling were unique and that none of the other mini bond scams were identical in every way. That is probably true because no two investment scams are identical in every way. The crooks will always find a slightly different way to get more money out of the victims, or to avoid whatever detection and prevention schemes are being developed, but the differences between the two companies are tiny compared to the similarities.
I want to take the hon. Gentleman back to the point made by the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake). Is not the problem the fact that we are being asked by the Government to believe that, as a result of the Gloster report, the FCA has fundamentally changed and that there is not going to be a problem ever again with how the FCA regulates? Is there not a need for another body to keep oversight of the quality of financial regulation, and perhaps in particular over whether the FCA continues to do its job properly in the future?
The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point, which is well worth consideration. I do not want to go into the detail of how we should fix what is wrong with the Financial Conduct Authority just now. The first thing that we have to do is recognise that it ain’t working, and regardless of what promises and assurances we have had, it still is not working. Whether that is best dealt with by putting yet another monitor on top of the regulator to monitor it, I do not know, but there has to be recognition that the existing scheme of regulation, as it is carried out by the Financial Conduct Authority, is simply not fit for purpose. The same applies to the parts of the regulatory environment that fall under other Government Departments. It is not only Treasury Ministers who have such responsibilities.
Let me return to the similarities between London Capital & Finance and Blackmore Bond. They both misled their victims into believing that their activities were regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority. The only difference was that London Capital & Finance had a registration for something else, which it hid behind. Blackmore Bond did not have a registration of its own, but it hid behind the registration of other companies, which knowingly allowed their names to be associated with the marketing and selling of its products. The intention in both cases was the same, and that was to mislead—effectively, to con the customers. The results were the same: thousands of people lost everything. I do not understand why there is such resistance in the Government to saying that the remedy should be the same, or even to consider that the remedy should be the same.
In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of London Capital & Finance, the Financial Conduct Authority took steps to outlaw the marketing of mini bonds to retail investors. It outlawed the very practice that was at the cornerstone of London Capital & Finance’s business plan, as it was for Blackmore Bond and many others. There is still no explanation as to why, when the FCA was able to act so swiftly and decisively to close the door after the horses had gone, it took no effective action to stop those mis-sales years earlier, after it had been given credible and persuasive evidence of exactly what was happening in the mini bond market.
In earlier stages, I have raised concerns that there were other Blackmore Bonds just waiting to come to our attention. There were probably other mini bond-based businesses about to collapse. There were probably other investors about to face the awful reality that they had lost everything. That might be happening even as we discuss this Bill.
Last week, none other than Private Eye magazine reported that another mini bond company, Moregreen Capital Ltd, had written to its investors asking them to forgo their next interest payment. That might be the starting signs of severe trouble. I cannot confirm anything that was in the Private Eye article, and I cannot confirm very much from the public domain about Moregreen Capital Ltd in the way that I could for Blackmore Bond, for the simple reason that Moregreen Capital has failed to file its accounts for the last two years. Its only published accounts were so early in its trading history that today they are almost certainly useless. I should also make it clear, as is often the case, that company names can be similar and that that Moregreen Capital Ltd is unrelated to some other companies with Moregreen in their name. There might well be perfectly valid reasons for the action that Moregreen Capital has taken recently. There could be good reasons why it stopped publishing its accounts, or there might be yet another group of investors who are in the first stage of a journey that sees them lose everything with, as things stand, no prospect of compensation. The best-case scenario for Moregreen Capital’s investors is that they have nothing to worry about—that their investments are safe and that they will eventually get all the funds they were promised. But even if the best-case scenario pans out with Moregreen Capital, it will only be a matter of time before the next mini bond scandal rears its ugly head. Action has been taken to prevent that precise form of financial scam being allowed again, but we need action to anticipate and predict what scams will arise in future and to prevent them before they are allowed to take place. We have to recognise that thousands of people are victims of crime. They were the victims of criminal activity and they should be compensated in the same way as other victims of criminal activity have been compensated.
The amendment does not require the Government to establish an additional scheme, but it does require them to get this debate started. We in this Parliament are ultimately responsible for the regulatory framework in these islands. We collectively, and our predecessors, are ultimately responsible for having to set in place and to enforce a regulatory environment that would have protected our constituents from losing everything.
One of the examples I cited earlier was a retired military person who told Blackmore Bond’s directors, “This is my military pension—I can’t afford to lose it.” They took it and they lost it. That person deserves compensation. They have no chance of getting compensation out of Blackmore Bond. They are not covered by the financial services compensation scheme. Surely the Government have to agree that there is a case to be looked at in such examples. We have to look at a wider compensation scheme, in the same way we have for people who lose their holiday because their travel agent goes bust. Losing a holiday, which has happened to a lot of people over the past couple of years, is not a nice thing to happen—it is a distressing thing to happen—but when people lose their holiday, at worst they lose money they could afford to spend on a holiday; when people lose their pension they are losing their livelihood for the rest of their life. There has to be better provision for compensation for those who, through no fault of their own, see their pension, their plan for retirement and the future of their family’s financial security wiped out by charlatans who right now are taking advantage of a regulatory environment that is open to abuse.
On the allocation of compensation to different individuals, all victims are victims of this scam, but is the hon. Gentleman saying that priority should be given to those who have suffered the most when it comes to how the Government move forward in the allocation of compensation for their losses?
We have to remember that we are dealing with a large number of people. It is not just one company with 50 or 60 people who are victims; there are thousands of victims that we know of and probably many more than we do not know of, and the amounts of money that they have lost individually are life-changing for them. Someone who has worked for 20 years on a Member of Parliament’s salary probably has £20,000 or £30,000 they can afford to lose; these people did not. The amounts they have lost individually are significant; the amount that has been stolen collectively, as I said, is almost certainly over £1 billion. If people stole £1 billion out of a bank vault, law enforcement would not stop until every last one of them was behind bars for a very long time, and would, if need be, change the rules to make sure that it could not happen again. We should regard the theft of £1 billion out of people’s pension funds just as seriously as the theft of £1 billion of gold bullion out of the back of a Securicor van. All this amendment asks is that the Government recognise that as an issue and start to put answers in place as to how they can protect our constituents from falling victim to these scams in future.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to debate these issues. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) is interesting. Certainly I very much support the broad principle of greater scrutiny of the FCA, but I cannot support his amendment because I do not feel that it is effective, not least regarding the issues I raised earlier. Some of the issues in it have already been addressed. The regulatory failures were clearly identified in the excellent Gloster report. The report also—this was welcome—named individuals in the FCA who had failed and who tried to have their names redacted from it and exempted from any specific criticism. One of the cultural issues with the FCA is the lack of individual accountability either in the organisation itself or the organisations they regulate.
In subsection (5)(e) the hon. Gentleman talks about why we are compensating only 80% of the losses of individuals who lost money in London Capital & Finance. That speaks to a broad principle. Many of the investments people make have to be subject to the principle of caveat emptor. Especially with a relatively high-risk investment, it is incumbent on any investor to look at it and judge the risk for themselves. Some form of protection from the regulator is also required, but the regulator cannot be all things to all people and cannot be in all places at once. I had a constituent come to me who had lost a significant amount of money in London Capital & Finance investments, and they were quite clear that they understood that as they were getting an 8% return, whereas in a bank they would probably get 0.5% maximum in interest, there was a risk involved in such investment. It is quite obvious to most people that that is the case, whether they are sophisticated or unsophisticated investors. The broad principle of an investor having to look at the investment and judge for themselves is very important.
I accept the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but does he also accept that many small investors were actually misled—the Gloster report shows this—by the advice they were given by people in the FCA who indicated that the company was covered by the FCA and therefore they were guaranteed to get £5,000 if the firm went bust? That information was wrong, so some people made an informed investment decision on the wrong information supplied by the regulatory agency.
Anybody reading the report will be appalled by the regulator’s performance in this case, given not just the number of complaints about LCF but the lack of joined-up thinking within the FCA. This was some years down the line; it happened after Andrew Bailey had taken over at the FCA. He knew there were problems right at the start, but there was no joining of the dots and there were the clear allegations of inappropriate conduct within LCF. The independent financial adviser who drew attention to it was a very competent person; he was not simply raising the issue saying, “I don’t like this company.”
The IFA was called Neil Liversidge. He wrote to the FCA setting out exactly what was going wrong with the designation of unsophisticated investors as sophisticated, the encouragement to class themselves as sophisticated, and where some of the investments were going. It was pretty clear what the problem was at LCF, and the FCA failed to act. That is simply unacceptable. That is why I welcome the compensation. However, it still has to be down to investors to make an educated decision. Certainly my constituent and others I have seen could see that this was not a Government gilt they were investing in; there were obviously some risks attached.
My hon. Friend says that he welcomes the compensation that is being made. Of course, so do I and so does everybody else here, but linked to the question of compensation is justice and the delay in bringing the perpetrators to account through the investigation by the Serious Fraud Office. I would be grateful if the Minister or my hon. Friend could say why there is such a delay in to bringing those perpetrators to account, because people want compensation but they also want justice and to have the perpetrators brought to account.
I could not agree more. The UK has a pretty poor record in terms of bringing forward fraud prosecutions. There are a number of things we need to do that are not really within the scope of this Bill. Not the least of them —the Government are committed to this—is bringing forward an offence of a failure to prevent an economic crime. That would make it far easier for the SFO to bring forward prosecutions. I would welcome my hon. Friend’s joining my campaign to bring that legislation forward, because it would make a huge difference to the SFO’s ability to bring forward speedy prosecutions.
That is very welcome.
The key point in the amendment is about oversight. I am concerned that the FCA is not as accountable as it could be to this House. With repatriation, a number of regulations and regulatory oversight of the FCA have now passed back to us domestically whereas before there was accountability through the EU institutions. I am concerned that we have proper oversight of what the FCA does. The hon. Member for Glenrothes and the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) are quite right: the jury is still out on the FCA. It has made some bold claims that it is reforming and becoming more effective. I welcome the fact that only a couple of weeks ago it set out some clear targets for a reduction in the number of investors investing in high-risk investment and being subject to scams. There are some specific criteria that the House can now hold it to account for; I am just not clear how we do so. I can see how the Treasury does so, but it is important that the House can, too.
In the work that I have done on the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking, we have seen numerous cases in which the FCA has not been proactive or used the mechanisms at its disposal to sanction the people responsible. That is simply unacceptable. The FCA must be a much more proactive organisation and, for it to be held account for such proactivity, we need a clear line of responsibility between it and the House and its Members. The amendment is a good attempt, but not one that I can support.
I am sympathetic to the broad thrust of the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) and his concern, which I alluded to in my intervention, that the Government, and certainly the FCA, appear to be saying, “Don’t worry—we’ve had a change of leadership and everything is going to be all right now. You don’t need to worry about the quality of the regulation of investment firms going forward, or the implementation and enforcement of consumer financial regulation, whether in this case or more generally.” I have some sympathy with the point of the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) that we should be sceptical about such a claim. It is good that Treasury Ministers will be having a more regular dialogue with the FCA, partly as a result of this scandal.
As the House knows, I have taken a particular interest in the demutualisation of Liverpool Victoria. That is very different from the case of LCF, so it would not be appropriate for me to go into the particular details, but there are parallels in the treatment of Liverpool Victoria consumers and those of LCF products. Some of those parallels relate to the culture that appears to exist within the FCA. The all-party parliamentary group for mutuals received a letter from the FCA and one from the PRA, and they reveal that there have been almost 60 meetings between the regulators and the board of Liverpool Victoria, but not one meeting with its consumer-owners on its demutualisation. I wonder whether there is not a frog in hot water-type problem here, with the FCA so close to the Liverpool Victoria board in this case—and potentially to other financial firms—that it fails, perhaps accidently, to do its job on behalf of consumers with sufficient robustness.
I welcome the Dame Elizabeth Gloster report, which was excoriating in its findings. To pick out some key concerns, it said that there were “unclear” policy documents for use by FCA staff, a
“flawed approach to the Perimeter”
and a “failure to consider” the behaviour of particular businesses holistically. It also said that there was insufficient training of staff and pointed to confusion between Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the FCA—our regulators—over the handling of particular issues.
I appreciate that the FCA has not only had a change of personnel but brought forward proposals for a consumer duty to try to rebuild some confidence. However, my problem with the duty, which it consulted on until the end of July, is that there is no sense of understanding the difference between consumers who also own a business—a mutual in this case—and consumers per se, or a willingness to take additional actions for consumers who are also owners. I worry about whether that additional duty will be robust enough.
I really appreciate all the work that the hon. Gentleman has done on this matter. On the consumer duty, my concern, raised with me by local residents, is that the company was allowed to continue trading without investigation in 2015 after warnings of malpractice and maladministration. With his expertise and experience, does he think that, whether through the consumer duty or further regulation following the Gloster inquiry, the measures proposed would prevent what happened in 2015?
The hon. Member invests an awful lot of confidence in me to predict what might happen, but I can well understand a Conservative looking to the Labour party for such guidance. I certainly hope that the consumer duty and better enforcement will help to prevent such a terrible debacle from happening again, because, as the House has rightly noted, many good people have lost an awful lot of money and deserve the compensation that the Bill will provide. However, many others who have been victims of similar cases would have also merited better protection from the FCA.
I will ponder aloud, in response to the Minister having some sympathy with the points made by the hon. Member for Glenrothes and my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden) in Committee, whether there is a need for a smaller body that does not just concentrate on the FCA but looks at some of the strategic issues around consumer protection and financial products in particular, and has a small number of inquiries each year looking at the performance of regulators in that regard, in part to help prevent a repeat of the LCF debacle.
As a model for such a body—I do not suggest it is perfect—I put on the Floor of the House, so to speak, the Independent Commission for Aid Impact, which the House uses to consider how our international aid money is being spent and the strategic challenges in that. It is a small, dedicated body that operates in a completely different sphere from this, but it produces important and useful reports that are used by the relevant Department, experts in the sector and, crucially, the International Development Committee. I wonder whether such a body would be appropriate to keep the PRA and FCA’s feet to the fire. It could be used by the Treasury Committee, and indeed other Committees of the House, to assess the quality of consumer financial regulation and the job that the FCA, PRA and other regulators are doing to protect consumers from any repeat of the LCF debacle.
The hon. Gentleman’s idea of an independent committee should be considered among the wider tools to get the right support for consumers. Of course, I have admiration for him because, being a fair man, I see he also went to the University of Wales Aberystwyth, and we were taught at university always to respect other colleagues’ talents. That is why I respect his expertise on this matter.
I am sure that many other people in the House often get frustrated, as I do, at unaccountable independent bodies or arm’s length bodies, and I might mention not least the FCA, possibly the Environment Agency and perhaps the NHS as well. Would it not be better for the FCA to have a direct line of accountability to those who are elected by the people of this country and for the body the hon. Member recommends to be made up of parliamentarians from either House?
The hon. Member may be right. I simply put out the idea at this stage, and I hope Ministers will be sympathetic to it, that we should not just accept the sense that, following Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s report, the payment of compensation and the introduction by the FCA of this new consumer duty, everything is suddenly all right in the world of consumer financial regulation. Perhaps Ministers on the Treasury Bench are inadvertently suggesting that. I think another step needs to be taken to hold the feet of regulators to the fire.
I will briefly raise two other concerns about financial regulation and some of the lessons that need to be taken from the LCF debacle, which the amendment from the hon. Member for Glenrothes helpfully gives me the opportunity to raise. The first is the idea that all the information available to the boards and the management of companies that has to be shared with the FCA and the PRA from time to time should be regarded as commercially sensitive. Clearly, there is genuinely commercially sensitive information that it is right for companies and businesses to keep for themselves. However, I fear—certainly in the case of Liverpool Victoria, which I have been looking at—that the excuse that information is financially sensitive is being used to deny consumers’ legitimate rights to know what the future holds for the business in which they have invested their savings or money. I gently suggest that that topic is worthy of a review in itself, potentially with changes to regulatory practice and, if need be, to legislation.
Lastly, the existence in legislation at the moment of provisions for so-called independent experts to look at the decisions that boards are taking in the context of demutualisations are a recipe for regulatory failure. In the case of Liverpool Victoria, independent experts are being appointed by the board, paid by the board and briefed by the board. Obviously, it is fairly easy to predict what the outcome of the independent experts’ work is going to be: to recommend largely what the board wants to happen. That is another issue that needs to be looked at.
I put those points on the record to suggest that Ministers should not be complacent about the quality of the FCA’s performance. There needs to be a bit more of a robust challenge and a look again at how financial regulation works.
I want to use the opportunity provided by the amendment to raise a few points, particularly about clause 1, and to put them to the Minister. I thank Dame Elizabeth Gloster and both the Treasury Committee and the Work and Pensions Committee for the work they have done on this issue.
The issues covered by the Bill have been widely set out in debates on Second Reading and in Committee. They include: the wholly deficient practices at the FCA that meant that hundreds of reports of harm were not acted on, which was described by Dame Elizabeth Gloster as an “egregious” failure of the FCA to fulfil its statutory duties; the fact that this failure allowed LCF to continue in operation for years longer than it might otherwise have, thereby multiplying the harm to investors; the reassurance at one point from the FCA that what was happening was not a scam; the impact of the halo effect in having a regulated firm selling unregulated products, leading unsuspecting investors to believe that these products were far safer than they actually were; the loss of a whistleblower’s letter three years before the firm’s collapse, and the damning conclusion from Dame Elizabeth Gloster that the loss of that letter probably did not make any difference, because the FCA was so dysfunctional that, even if it had not been lost, it would not have been acted on; the repeated failure to join the dots and the treating of each LCF transgression—for example, on its use of financial promotions—as an isolated incident, when instead it was a pattern of behaviour designed to use its regulated status to bolster confidence in unregulated products; and the public disagreement between Dame Elizabeth and the Governor of the Bank of England about the issues of responsibility and personal culpability.
I served on the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards, which said that
“a buck that does not stop with an individual stops nowhere.”
That quote has been much used in the debate about this issue, which has raised sharply the limitations of collective accountability and the question of whether in this case the buck really stopped with anyone. Of course, most importantly of all, there is the issue of the distress and the financial loss to investors and the question of how they should be compensated. All of this has led to the Government stepping in with this Bill to authorise compensation up to a certain level for investors.
Based on the amendment, I want to put a number of questions to the Minister arising from the Bill. First, why has compensation been set at 80% of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme maximum of £86,000, not the full level? That is probably the main outstanding concern of LCF investors, who are grateful that compensation will come but who cannot understand the 80% cap given the manifest failures set out in Dame Elizabeth’s report. Are the Government completely fixed on this 80% figure, or is there any prospect of that being reconsidered?
I thank the shadow Minister for giving way, and I will of course raise the same point with the Minister in due course. The right hon. Gentleman says that the victims will of course welcome the compensation coming their way, but the point raised with me by those who have suffered a loss is whether the Government can look to prioritise those who have suffered the most due to their loss. There has been a lot of data gathering by the FSCS, the FCA and the Serious Fraud Office, so that should be easily apparent. What is his view about ensuring that compensation is quickly given out and prioritised to those who have suffered the most?
I understand the point, but does the right hon. Gentleman accept that defining those who have suffered the most could be quite difficult? Are those who have suffered the most those who have lost the most, or perhaps those who are not all that well-off and have found that they had lost all of their savings, even though all of their savings would not have been the same as the loss of some of the bigger investors? Does he accept that that is a difficult definition?
The right hon. Member raises a very fair point. If we pluck a sum of money out of the air, it could be a lot of money to one person and perhaps less to somebody else, depending on their wealth.
Let me return to the questions for the Minister arising from the amendment and the Bill. The second is the important question of where the decision to compensate the LCF investors leaves investors in other firms where regulatory failure is alleged. Where has the bar now been set for future compensation in the event of regulatory failure? The taxpayer cannot stand behind every investment loss. Some investors will make money and some will lose. That is in the nature of a market economy. However, the question of compensation arises when there is a clear regulatory failure, because that is considered to be a different matter. Having come up with this scheme, where do the Government now draw the line?
How can we be sure this will not happen again? There are two aspects to this question. The first is the role of the regulator. The FCA is going through a transformation programme designed to ensure that changes are made to prevent a similar thing from happening in the future.
There is clearly a need to specify which kinds of investment losses might be compensated, and which ones will not be. Given that the Financial Conduct Authority has outlawed the targeting of mini-bonds at retail investors, is that a clear indication that something was fundamentally flawed with all selling of those bonds, whether it was done by LCF, Blackmore Bond, or anybody else?
The hon. Gentleman makes a fair point. On how we can be sure that this will not happen again, and the transformation programme, it is to be expected that companies would go through such a programme, given the damning nature of Dame Elizabeth’s findings. There is also, however—and this is not just about this specific case—understandable public scepticism when a scandal happens, people talk about lessons being learned, there are some changes to management, and the organisation moves on. How do we ensure that, while understandable, such public scepticism is not justified in this case because something different is happening, and that we will not end up back here, some time in the future, debating another investment scam that was not spotted and acted on in time?
The second aspect to the question of how we can ensure that this does not happen again relates to legislative protections. This scam was promoted by a lot of online advertising. The online safety Bill is coming up, and at the moment paid-for advertising is excluded from that. Why should that be the case? Surely the LCF case shows that paid-for advertising must be included. As the Minister will be aware, there is a growing coalition behind the argument that the online safety Bill must offer greater protection against financial scams and fraud, and that is bound to be a major issue as the Bill goes through the House.
That issue is important, because consumers are being targeted every day with adverts, text messages, emails, and phone calls geared either to obtaining their financial details, or promising get-rich-quick schemes. As covid has pushed more of our lives online, it is imperative that legislation keeps pace with the increased use of online scams that are designed to strip people of their money. It is becoming more and more difficult for consumers to ascertain the difference between a genuine approach and a scam approach. We in this House have a legislative duty to keep pace with what organised criminals are trying to do.
I am coming to the end of my remarks; I hope the hon. Gentleman does not mind. I leave the Minister with this: is it not better to try to stop people being ripped off in the first place, than to have to ask the taxpayer or, as in clause 2, members of pension schemes, to compensate people after such scams have already happened? I will leave it there, although I will later have a few remarks and questions about clause 2.
It is an honour and privilege to respond at Report of this important Bill, which deals with the compensation due to many of our constituents up and down the country. I pass on apologies from the Economic Secretary to the Treasury who is on a ministerial trip to the United States on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government.
As the House will be aware, Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s report has already been taken through. It is a detailed report that deals with the regulatory failures that led to the collapse of LCF. The Government have accepted all four of the Gloster recommendations, and the FCA has committed to implementing all nine of the recommendations that were addressed to it, and to report publicly on the progress of those vital reforms.
Progress has already been made in implementing those recommendations. For example, the Treasury has consulted on proposals to regulate so-called non-transferable debt securities. In respect of regular reporting, hon. Members should be aware that the FCA report on the transformation programme takes place every six months. Its last report took place in July 2021, and the next report will be in spring next year.
Colleagues have raised a number of different matters, and I will attempt briefly to deal with them. The hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas) recommended to Treasury colleagues that parliamentarians should hold the FCA to account directly, and I am sure my Treasury colleagues will respond to that proposal by letter. My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) made some comments, and it is right that the FCA needs to be more proactive. To be fair, its new chief executive, with whom I know my hon. Friend is familiar, is being more proactive, and there is proper oversight on an ongoing basis. Several colleagues mentioned the online harms Bill. I have engaged with and met Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram, as have colleagues from other parts of Government. Those individual companies need to step up to the plate, because it is very much in their domain to make real change.
I am grateful to the Minister for allowing me briefly to intervene. He said he has had conversations with those social media companies. I sat on the Home Affairs Committee when we discussed online harms. What was the response of those social media companies, and what will it take to get them to do the right thing?
It will take strong pressure by fantastically good constituency MPs such as my hon. Friend, and others, so that those companies realise that they have an obligation to do the right thing in respect of the many constituents we represent. Clearly, though, these are matters to be considered by the Government, and I am sure my hon. Friend will be making representations to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.
Let me turn briefly to the amendment. A lot of the speeches made had nothing to do with the amendment, and it is important to avoid creating the misconception that the Government will stand behind all bad investments in the future, where FSCS protection does not apply. The Government will establish a scheme based on the level of FSCS compensation, capped at £85,000. We have carefully considered the issues and are satisfied that the individual circumstances surrounding LCF are completely unique. Other mini-bond firms have failed, but LCF is the only mini-bond firm that was authorised by the FCA and sold bonds in order to on-lend to other companies. As the House will know, only three Government compensation schemes have been established in the past three decades, for Barlow Clowes, Equitable Life, and now LCF, despite many firms failing over that period. This type of intervention is the exception, not the rule.
Although the amendment is legitimate and considered to be principled and practical, there is a practical reality that the FCA is already reporting and is held to account by the Treasury. With respect, I therefore ask the hon. Member for Glenrothes (Peter Grant) to withdraw his amendment.
Question put, That the amendment be made,
Motion made, and Question proposed, That the Bill be now read the Third time.—(Guy Opperman.)
We have just had a short debate on an amendment that was largely focused on clause 1. Before we finish the Commons stages, I want to put a few questions to the Minister, mainly relating to clause 2 and pensions.
We discussed some of these issues in Committee. Clause 2 imposes a levy on the pension schemes to pay for the consequences of the Dalriada case, which means that the pension fund compensation scheme has to raise what Ministers expect to be around £300 million. I have a few questions about that.
My first question is about the flat-rate way of raising such levies. It leaves schemes with large numbers of members, many of whom have small pension pots—for example, those on auto-enrolment schemes—paying a significant proportion of the levy, even though they are run in a completely honest way that has never been near any kind of pension fraud. Have the Government considered a more proportionate way of raising such levies, to protect pension scheme members with very small pots?
My second question is about the relationship between the greater pension freedoms in recent years and the risks of scams and financial fraud. The advent of these freedoms has resulted in a number of examples where unsuspecting pensioners have been persuaded to transfer their pensions in ways that were not in their interests or, even worse, that led to fraud and a loss of their hard-earned savings. The Select Committee on Work and Pensions has shown significant interest in the issue, and it has received estimates from the Pension Scams Industry Group that 40,000 people may have lost up to £10 billion since the pension freedoms were introduced in 2015.
Thirdly, great fanfare was made of advice and guidance when the pension freedoms legislation was introduced, but take-up has been very low, and efforts by the Department to improve it have not radically changed the proportion of people accessing good advice. Without good advice, pension scheme members are left much more vulnerable to unscrupulous sales pitches or, alternatively, bad decisions that are clearly not in their interests but may be in the interests of the financial adviser advising them. What are the Minister and his colleagues doing to change the situation with regard to pensions advice?
Finally, those accessing their pensions under the age of 55 are subject to a hefty tax charge, but sometimes people are persuaded to do this because they are advised that there is no tax charge and they will not have to pay any tax. They then find themselves not just victims of a scam but pursued by Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. What can the Minister do to persuade HMRC to take account of the difference between someone acting on false information and someone knowing that they will incur a tax charge? I would be grateful if the Minister could address those questions before we finish.
In my last contribution to the debates on this Bill, I want to thank the Minister and his colleague the Economic Secretary to the Treasury for their consideration of the points that have been raised throughout by hon. Members. I also thank the Clerks and the Bill team for their responses to inquiries. We will support the Bill because we want this compensation to be paid out, but I hope that the Minister will consider some of the questions we have raised about the nature of scams and the need to do more to protect consumers. Although this Bill will go through tonight, I have no doubt that consumer protection, frauds, scams and the amount of things happening online will be raised again when we debate the Online Safety Bill in the weeks and months to come.
The Treasury deserves great credit for introducing this compensation scheme in the first place. It is a pity that the Minister responsible—my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary—is not on duty today, because he deserves personal credit for that, but the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham (Guy Opperman) is an excellent stand-in.
Warren Buffett once said that what we learn from history is that we do not learn from history. The key lesson that we have to learn from this sorry episode—a damning assessment of the Financial Conduct Authority’s capability as a regulator at the time—is the need for scrutiny of the regulator. As many Members know, I do quite a lot of work trying to hold banks to account in the all-party parliamentary group on fair business banking, but I still do not know how this place holds the regulator to account. I know that the Treasury has some direct influence, and the Treasury Committee can write reports and conduct inquiries, but I still do not know of a direct mechanism that can be used by this House to address regulation and regulations.
Now that we have repatriated the oversight function from the European Union, various different suggestions have been made as to how that might happen in this House. One of the most interesting proposals is for something along the lines of the Public Accounts Committee—a regulatory accounts committee, supported by a version of the National Audit Office, so that professionals would sit behind a parliamentary committee made up of elected parliamentarians. Whoever holds the regulator to account should be accountable to the public; they should not be an independent body of appointees. There must be a mechanism to make sure that the regulator does the right thing, makes good on its future commitments and ensures that episodes like this do not happen again.
The Gloster report, which led to the compensation scheme that we are putting in place today, made very damning criticisms of the then governor of the FCA, Andrew Bailey, who is now the Governor of the Bank of England. I have experience of dealing with the FCA and Andrew Bailey—I asked him four times whether he had followed the FCA’s own whistleblowing procedures when handling the case of Sally Masterton’s whistleblower complaint with HBOS Reading and Lloyds. He refused to answer that question, which I find horrendous. Both the FCA and the whistleblowing legislation were established by statute, yet we as parliamentarians cannot hold the regulator—which we put in place—to account. We need a better system of regulatory oversight.
Residents in Hastings and Rye have been victims of London Capital & Finance. Does my hon. Friend agree that if people do something in good faith, get the right advice and the right system is in place, there should be measures in place to ensure that they do not end up on the back foot?
As I said on Report, it is incumbent on investors to check out investments. If something is paying out 8% when they can get 0.5% from their bank, they must say, “Well, this is more risky than simply putting it in the bank.” We cannot lose sight of that principle. However, the least we can expect is a regulator that is proactive. In 2015, a number of people were raising concerns about LC&F, including an independent financial adviser who wrote in detail to the FCA to say what was happening at LC&F, but the FCA did nothing for four years, which is totally unacceptable. People deserve a higher standard of regulation.
On the Online Safety Bill, London Capital & Finance spent £20 million on Google advertising. It is clear that platforms are playing a role in this. This was not even seen as a scam. We can argue that it was a scam, but it was to some extent regulated by the FCA. UK Finance has released a report today saying that online scams are now a national security risk. We must take seriously its calls for more action to be taken. The Online Safety Bill must be the right place to legislate to require the platforms to at least establish whether the investment companies—the people who are advertising investments—are bona fide organisations, and not simply people impersonating them.
With that, I will conclude. I am keen to hear the Minister’s words in his summing up.
The SNP will, as we indicated, support the Bill on Third Reading. I thank everyone who contributed to the debate today. There were a number of interesting contributions on my amendment. I understand why some people did not feel they could support it in its entirety, but I was very clear that across the House the intention behind the amendment has a considerable amount of support. I hope the Government will take that on board.
The second point that became clear during the debate is that the regulatory failures that allowed London Capital & Finance to happen were not restricted to the FCA. There were catastrophic failures in that organisation—that is now undeniable—but they were not the only failures. It was not only the FCA that let down investors in some of the other scam companies mentioned during consideration of the Bill. Companies House did not enforce the requirements to publish company information. It says it is not its job to verify that companies submit the names of directors, for example. If that is not the responsibility of Companies House, whose responsibility is it?
Nobody enforces the rules that require companies to publish their annual accounts and other critical information on time. Companies and directors can have literally dozens of yellow card suspensions against a company, but then they are lifted and nothing ever happens to them. Those requirements are essential if people with an interest in a company are to get an early warning that things are going wrong. If those requirements are not observed, companies can be sunk before anybody has a chance to do anything about it.
I appreciate that part of that issue is not within the remit of the Treasury, but I hope that what comes out of these proceedings is that colleagues on the Treasury Committee and the Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee will have plenty of new material to work on. Clearly, this is a failing of such proportions and complexity it will take more than one piece of legislation to put it right. Ultimately, we are the regulators. Every time we say there has been a failure of regulation, what we are saying is that we, in this Parliament, have failed to protect our constituents properly, so there needs to be a degree of humility among all of us at the degree to which this Parliament and its machinery failed to predict, identify, prevent and remedy the scams that we have, sadly, spent so much time talking about over the past few months.
In supporting the Bill, I share the comments made towards the Treasury team. I have been very grateful for the positive way in which many of my comments have been taken by Ministers, which does not always happen with comments from Opposition Members. A big shout out to Salma and Scott in the SNP research team, who once again made me sound as if I knew what I was talking about, which is quite an achievement. A big thank you, also, to all those who gave evidence, either written or oral. Some were talking about things that had hurt them greatly. It was difficult for them to talk about that on the record. I hope the Bill has been made a bit better as a result of their contributions and I hope their contributions will have made sure that the issues raised, if they have not been dealt with in the Bill, will be dealt with by other legislation very soon.
I am pleased that the Government have offered compensation to investors who fell victim to the collapse of London Capital & Finance. Many are set to lose significant sums through no fault of their own, having invested in a Financial Conduct Authority approved company and followed advice from London Capital & Finance that the Government and Dame Gloster concluded was misleading. A number of my constituents fall into that category and they have asked that I speak for them today.
The Government have acknowledged that the situation regarding London Capital & Finance is unique and exceptional. As such, the Government stepped in to create a compensation package on a one-off basis. Bondholders invested in what they believed was a regulated and approved company, which of course it was, and the Government expect to pay out significant sums to those affected and eligible. I welcome that. The group of women I met in my constituency who are affected by this issue are not millionaires, and nor were they trying to make a quick buck by investing in risky, speculative finance. These are ordinary people who invested their hard-earned savings in what they believed to be a solid, officially approved and properly regulated product.
Bondholders have been badly let down by London Capital & Finance, but they have also been let down by the regulatory system that was designed to protect them. The independent investigation led by Dame Elizabeth Gloster, which the Government published at the end of last year, concluded that the Financial Conduct Authority did not discharge its functions in respect of London Capital & Finance in a manner which enabled it to effectively fulfil its statutory objectives during the relevant period. Due to the Financial Conduct Authority’s significant regulatory failure, there is a case to be made that the Government scheme ought to provide the same level of compensation as the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, namely 100% of loss capped at £85,000 instead of the current £68,000.
Finally, I would be grateful if my hon. Friend the Minister would write to me to clarify when the Treasury will release details of the timescale of the compensation process, so I can pass that on to my affected constituents. I hope the Government will give due consideration to the points I have raised in today’s debate.
I echo the comments made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (James Grundy) and it is a real pleasure to follow him on this issue. I thank the Minister and, through the Minister, the Treasury and all involved in the Government for what they have done on this matter. The point made by my hon. Friend and others today is this: there are individuals who have suffered due to no fault of their own. It is absolutely right that each and every one of us who has those constituents stands up and fights to ensure they receive fairness and justice. I thank the Government for doing the right thing by offering compensation in these circumstances. Again, I thank all hon. Members who have pushed for that. Members of Parliament often need to push the Government to do the right thing and I thank the Government for doing the right thing.
The question I have for the Minister—it links to the point made by the right hon. Member for East Antrim (Sammy Wilson)—relates to prioritising individuals who have suffered the most. His point is absolutely right: how do we determine who has suffered the most? Will the Minister ask the Treasury to clarify whether there is a way to determine who has suffered the most? It is only fair and proper to ensure that when money goes out, those who have suffered the most, taking all factors into account, get compensation at the earliest opportunity.
My second point, also made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh, is on timescale. When will the compensation start to go out? Will it be before or after Christmas? What is the full timescale for the compensation to go out? What people do not like is injustice or delayed justice. I speak as a former barrister who prosecuted and defended cases. I understand that serious and complex Serious Fraud Office cases take time, but there needs to be an explanation from the Government to people outside about what is causing the delay and when they will receive justice. We know a fraud has been committed. We know the Gloster report identified a wrongdoing. Can the Minister therefore seek a clarification from the Attorney General’s office on the timeline for prosecuting individuals?
My third point, raised by the shadow Minister, the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East (Mr McFadden), is on what action the Government will take with regards to false advertisements and online harms. When I was a member of the Home Affairs Committee, we had the same issue with regards to extremism and material going online. We asked Google, YouTube and all the other social platforms what action they were going to take. I am grateful to the Minister for saying that it is down to Members of Parliament like myself to push Google to do that, but we do not have the same clout as the Government—or the sanctions and levers available to the Government. If the new Secretary of State for Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport wants to look at platform verifications, that is something she may want to consider. I say to the Minister: will he please get the compensation out as quickly as possible and ensure that lessons are learned so that nothing like this ever happens again in our financial regulation of institutions?
I rise to respond to colleagues and wrap up the Bill, and I do so with great humility because this is a very serious matter. Many of our constituents up and down the country, regardless of politics, have had grievous losses. It is to the Government’s great credit that from the date of the Gloster report, we have managed to consider the report, draft and introduce legislation, consider it and progress it through the House. I am pleased to say that within six months of Royal Assent, payments will have been made. That is the assurance that the Treasury is willing to give; I most definitely support it, and I am quite sure that colleagues will hold it to account for that. It is very important that the matter is properly scrutinised.
I thank all Members, present or not, who have contributed to the Bill. Clause 1, as colleagues know, will ensure that there is parliamentary authority for the Government to pay compensation to London Capital & Finance bondholders who have not already received compensation from the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. The Government recognise that this has been a very difficult time for LCF bondholders; I hope that the compensation will offer some relief for the distress and hardship suffered and provide closure on a difficult matter.
The Government expect to pay about £120 million in compensation to approximately 8,800 bondholders in total. The Economic Secretary to the Treasury has confidence that all payments will be made within six months of Royal Assent; in the context of previous examples of the process under successive Governments, that is exceptionally fast.
This is also about justice. Having been a prosecutor for 20 years, done nine murder trials and prosecuted as an investigator for the Department of Trade and Industry, when it existed, I can assure the House that I take exceptionally seriously the principle that all people should be held to account within the due process of the law and that our constituents should feel that the due process of the law will be followed. On the comments made in respect of the Attorney General and the Treasury, I can only say that responses will be given to individual Members of Parliament.
Clause 2 will give the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions the power to provide a loan to the Pension Protection Fund for the fraud compensation fund. It will ensure that compensation reaches approximately 8,806 individuals on an ongoing basis. It follows the High Court decision in the case of Board of the Pension Protection Fund v. Dalriada Trustees Ltd on 6 November 2020. Again, we have worked very quickly—within a year—to bring consideration and legislation forward so that the fund will have the £350 million that it needs to ensure that pension claims are met. Without these measures, there would not be the capability to make this compensation; that is why we need to provide the loan to ensure that the fund can continue to make compensation for all eligible schemes on an ongoing basis.
I thank the many people who have contributed to the Bill, including the private office and policy teams at the Treasury and the Department for Work and Pensions. I also thank all Members who have engaged with the Bill. Individual Members of Parliament have made a massive difference; I pay particular tribute to my hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (James Grundy), who spoke very movingly about his amazing campaign on behalf of his constituents. He can be very proud of the way he has championed their cause, and so can my hon. Friends the Members for Gillingham and Rainham (Rehman Chishti) and for Thirsk and Malton (Kevin Hollinrake) and the hon. Member for Harrow West (Gareth Thomas).
My hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton cited Warren Buffett as the guide to all matters going forward. I would respond with Lao Tzu, who it is fair to say is not often heard in the House of Commons: the longest journey starts with the shortest step. I consider that the Government have made many steps to making proper compensation and bringing the right people some recompense for a total injustice. I commend the Bill to the House.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read the Third time and passed.