I beg to move,
That this House has considered the matter of the people affected by the Midas Financial Solutions collapse.
It is a pleasure, as ever, to serve with you in the Chair, Mr Stringer, and I am grateful to the Backbench Business Committee for allowing time to bring the matter before the House. I do so for a number of reasons, some to do with the people directly affected by the collapse of Midas Financial Solutions, but also because the case brings to us bigger issues that require attention and, potentially at some point, reform.
Another reason for bringing the matter to the House is that I know from my constituency casework that, bad though the situation around Midas Financial Solutions is, it is far from the only case. I have another such constituency case, although I will not refer to it as criminal proceedings are still live and it would therefore be improper to do so. However, the position of those investors in Midas Financial Solutions Ltd who took the legal action against Sense, the principal of Midas Financial Solutions, remains highly unsatisfactory.
Related to that position, it appears to me that the workings of the Financial Conduct Authority, and before it the Financial Services Authority, require close parliamentary scrutiny, particularly the inability to focus on the needs of the consumer, rather than the various other professional parties that come within its ambit. It is worth reflecting that, in this case—which forced the FSA to act in 2014, although it had been aware of much of it beforehand—it took until 2020 and court action by 95 of the investors for the FCA to apologise in writing. That illustrates the obstruction that seems to lie at the heart of much of the complaint handling by the FCA.
Finally, there are issues around the future pattern and shape of regulation. The law as it stands leaves us, effectively, with two tiers of protection, and I suggest that that requires to be addressed.
Today’s debate is the latest junction in a road that has represented six years of casework for me. I have been consulted with, worked with constituents who have lost tens of thousands of pounds—some have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds—and engaged with people throughout the north-east of Scotland, as well as Orkney and Shetland, as Midas Financial Services Ltd was based in Aberdeen. The managing director was Alistair Greig, who was convicted of fraud involving £13,281,671.25. For his role in the fraud, he was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment, which was reduced on appeal to 10 years. The fraud ran from August 2001 to October 2014.
The pretence at the heart of the fraud—that money was being placed in short-term deposit schemes with Royal Bank of Scotland for fixed periods—was essentially fairly simple, but this turned out to be, bluntly, a Ponzi scheme. We are not focusing on RBS today, but I will mention in passing that one of my constituents rather dryly observed that throughout the scheme RBS had demonstrated a quite remarkable lack of curiosity. The prosecutor at the trial said that Greig had used the funds from Midas Financial Solutions (Scotland) Ltd
“as his own personal slush fund.”
My constituents would prefer not to be named, as Shetland is a small community and it is not difficult to work out who has lost sums of this sort. I have worked closely with the group that organised and corralled the 95 investors to raise legal proceedings, and I pay tribute not just to my constituents, who have been dogged in their pursuit of the action, but also Colin Stewart, who was one of the main actors in bringing the group together.
We have to bear in mind that the sums involved are massive—tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds—and represent life savings or perhaps an inheritance. These are not investment bankers in the City of London who are just taking a bit of punt with last year’s bonus. These are massive amounts of money to the people involved, and it is money that none of the people to whom I have spoken could afford to lose. One of my constituents remains £80,000 out of pocket to this day.
I pay handsome tribute to some of the legal practitioners involved. Robert Morfee was the solicitor when I first became involved, and more recently it has been Philippa Hann, who has prosecuted the case for her clients in a way that reflects very well on the best traditions of the legal profession. My constituents have been very fortunate to have her on their side.
Alistair Greig operated as an appointed representative, which is a term of art, of Sense Network Ltd, a network of financial advisers. As I said earlier, this was actually a Ponzi scheme operated by Alistair Greig. The true nature of the scheme was eventually exposed by a whistleblowing notice in August 2014, leading to enforcement action against Midas and Mr Greig by the Financial Conduct Authority in September 2014. That investigation revealed that 279 members of the public had contributed £12.8 million to the scheme, but that only £379,000 remained at that point.
Proceedings were taken by 95 claimants against Sense as the principal and supervisor of Midas. They were unsuccessful both at first instance and on appeal, on the basis that it was held that the obligations of Sense for its appointed representative were strictly limited to the exact terms set out in the appointed representative agreement between them, which included which product providers Midas could use. Where Midas used a different product provider, that was held to fall outside the responsibility of Sense, despite the fact that the claimants were not made aware of that nor could they have discovered it from any publicly available source.
I want to labour this point for a second, because it is material. The FCA, and before it the FSA, made it clear in everything it ever said to members of the public that they should check the status of the people with whom they were doing business—there are online registers available for ready inspection. However, the truth of the matter is that whether or not the actions of the appointed representative are covered, as they should be by having a principal such as Sense Ltd, is something that someone coming in off the street to invest their money cannot know. Indeed, that ran to the very heart of the difficulties faced by those who invested with Midas Financial Services.
It was also disclosed in the course of the court proceedings that there were good reasons for Sense, the Financial Services Authority and the Financial Conduct Authority to know that Alistair Greig was dishonest and was not fit and proper to be registered and authorised by them. In fact, it was revealed that the Yorkshire Building Society had found him to be selling mortgages under false pretences. The management of Sense Network was aware of that but allowed Mr Greig and his firm to continue as an appointed representative of Sense Network.
The effect of the court’s decision was to create a two-tier system of protection for UK investors. The court upheld that the private contract between the principal and the appointed representative, not the publicly available information on the FCA register, defines the business for which the principal is responsible. Even though the customer would not know what the arrangement is between the principal and the AR, that arrangement will govern the acts for which the principal is responsible. As a result, the customer will be in the dark and potentially at risk—more so than if they had done business with the principal directly. Where the advisor is not an appointed representative but is directly authorised by the FCA, the consumer will be protected in relation to the business that it is permitted to undertake and which is listed in the publicly available register. If Midas had been directly authorised, the claimants would have been protected.
The judgment is relevant to any appointed representative acting outside its private agreement with its principal. The fact that the investment in this case was a Ponzi scheme is irrelevant to the decision that the judge made and the consequences for the general public. Any client of an appointed representative advised in relation to anything that falls outwith the agreement with the principal will leave the client without protection entirely, without their knowledge. In the Midas case, obviously the staff at Midas did not inform the claimants that the advice fell outside the agreement with their principal. One wonders whether they would have even understood the significance of it had they done so. The judgment now leaves consumers at the mercy of unscrupulous ARs acting in breach of their private agreement with their principal, for which the principal avoids liability despite the law providing for it to seek damages from the AR for breach of that contract. The principal can take action against the appointed representative, but the customer—the consumer—cannot.
As well as taking the court action, the claimants took a complaint to the FCA about the failure of its predecessor, the Financial Services Authority, to take steps to prevent Mr Greig from operating in the financial services sector. The process for authorisation requires a test to ensure that those accessing the public are fit and proper individuals. The test requires honesty, competence and capability, together with financial soundness. The regulator had three opportunities to identify Mr Greig as dishonest and to remove him from the industry before he was able to defraud it. The regulator did not uphold the complaints in respect of the first two opportunities, but it did expect that it should have taken further steps.
The judgment of the complaints commissioner overseeing the work of the FCA, which was published on 27 May 2020, is significant, and I want to draw the House’s attention to two parts of it. The first relates to section 348 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, which details the policy on sharing information. The commissioner states:
“I have queried the FCA’s position on this, and it has explained that, while the general criteria by which decisions were and are made are not covered by s348, explaining how they were applied to a particular case is likely to involve breaching s348 because it may disclose confidential information received by the FCA.”
The protection in section 348 is all about protection for the FCA and those who are authorised, not protection for consumers. That is what I suggest requires some attention. The commissioner concluded:
“The view of section 348 is problematic, because it makes it hard to understand why the regulator has made decisions, and can lead to an erosion in public confidence. In your”—
that is, the claimants’—
“response to my preliminary report, you argued that you ought to be able to see any unpublished policies applying at the time in order to be able to respond. I have considerable sympathy with your point of view, but the fact is that for regulatory reasons the FCA considers that detailed policies of this kind should not be published. I invite the FCA to consider whether it might be more open about the historic policies of the FSA, but that is as far as I can go.”
As far as I am aware, it has never made any such explanation.
In relation to the information provided by the Yorkshire Building Society, the commissioner is blunt:
“I recognise that you—and many others—might be surprised to learn that the FSA considered that reports suggesting mortgage fraud should not necessarily be followed up. I was surprised when I learned this. The fact that a major building society felt it necessary to remove advisers from its panels because of concerns about their integrity might be seen as a good reason for the regulator to make significant further inquiries.”
That was information that went to the FSA in 2008. It did not act then, and did not act when further information was given to it in 2012. As a consequence, the activities of Alistair Greig were allowed to continue unchecked for at least six years. When Greig’s activities were eventually exposed, legal action was taken. Although the complainants were unsuccessful, it was held that there was eligibility as—I have lost the term of art; as a collective investment scheme, which would open the door to compensation under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
Most of those who suffered loss as a consequence of the activities of Alistair Greig were able to avail themselves of that, and many have been compensated in full. The fact is, however, that that route only came to light as a consequence of the legal proceedings that were taken by Colin Stewart and the 94 other investors. They would never have been able to make that claim to the FSCS, but for the fact that they took the court case, even though that was ultimately unsuccessful. The 95 are still out of pocket to a collective tune of £2 million in legal fees. My constituent has been left with an £80,000 shortfall for the money he invested. It seems wrong to me that, even where the FCA is entitled to make ex gratia payments, for fairly opaque reasons in this case, it has refused to do so. I call on the FCA, and hope the Minister will also use his office to impress on it the unsatisfactory nature of that.
Quite apart from the legalities, if the FCA acted so badly and inadequately that it had to issue a letter of apology in June 2020 to the people who had invested, but will not do anything to make good the losses sustained by my constituents and others in exposing conduct, which the FCA should have exposed, something has gone badly wrong. It is in that sense that the House should now have an interest.
It is clear to me from my dealings with Midas and other cases that the regulation of the financial services sector is enormously complex—far too complex for people entering the sector in good faith, with no experience or understanding of how it works—and it is not consumer-friendly. It is focused on protecting those charged with its regulation and the bodies that are regulated, rather than the consumers, who will ultimately be left out of pocket when it all goes wrong. That is what has happened with Midas Financial Solutions, and that is something that the Government now need to consider with some urgency.
We have spoken elsewhere in the House about the attitude that fraud is somehow a victimless crime—it is not as direct as housebreaking or crimes of violence. My constituents who are tens of thousands of pounds of their savings and hard-earned cash out of pocket would not agree with the assessment that fraud is a victimless crime. We pay the Financial Conduct Authority a lot to regulate, and we deserve better.
I was given the figure by my constituents—of course, it was a collective action. Even if it was £1.5 million, it is still chunky money in terms of being left out of pocket and it still hits particularly hard. There is the financial and also the emotional cost to those who had to take the action to make the FCA do its job.
I have struggled this morning to resist the temptation to be drawn down into the weeds. I have had six years of dealing with this matter. The complexities, technicalities and minutiae are incredibly involved. I have learned more about the regulation of financial services than I would have believed possible or desirable, but the message for the House is fairly clear: the system is not working. It has left my constituents and others significantly out of pocket. But for the fact that they were prepared to take legal action, every one of the 279 investors would have been out of pocket. For that reason, the system requires further scrutiny by the Department.
Mr Stringer, I have taken rather longer than I intended. I await the Minister’s reply with interest.
Thank you, Mr Stringer, for allowing me to speak on this issue. I congratulate the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on bringing it forward. As always, he set the scene very well for his constituents, who have lost out, and he was passionate in asking for answers to the questions he put forward. It is pleasing to see the Minister in his place. He always comes with a positive attitude to these issues. He understands them well and we look forward to his response. Hopefully, he can address some of the issues we have.
It is also a pleasure to see the shadow Minister, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), in her place. Like others, I want to put on record my thanks to her for her hard work and endeavours to bring home her constituent, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, and others. That campaign has been marvellous. We all admire the hon. Lady very much, and we see her perseverance. If she is adding her weight to this debate, I am sure that will be enough to push it over the line— no pressure on the Minister. Again, I thank her so much.
The case of Midas Financial Solutions is disturbing to the extreme. My heart goes out to all those hard-working people who trusted a financial adviser and have lost their money. That was very well illustrated by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland. From a 22-year-old to two people who have died, there appear to be almost 200 victims. Some of them lost a few thousand, but that was all they had. Those people invested thinking that it would make their money last for their old age. Unfortunately, it did not. Others lost almost £500,000. I have a number of questions for the Minister, but one is whether the families of those who died get compensation?
The sheer scale of the Ponzi scheme is mind-boggling, yet the shortcomings and the evidential base are well documented. People are out of pocket. In debates on other issues, the Minister has tried hard to respond, but we need to ensure that the investors who are most out of pocket—I think 95 is the final figure—can be reimbursed. What can be done to ensure that lessons are learned from what we are bringing to the attention of the Minister and the Government?
When I read the background to the case, one thing became glaringly obvious: the FCA managed to wash its hands of the entire scheme until a judge in the civil case underlined the fact that this was truly an investment scheme and therefore should be accepted into the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Why did it take a civil case to bring this within the FCA scheme remit? What steps do we need to take to ensure that this does not happen to anyone else and that people can access the scheme, which is designed to help, without having to fund a civil case? It is not always possible for ordinary folk who have already lost the bulk or all of their moneys to pursue a legal case. They must feel frustration; they look to the Government and the system to protect them and to ensure that their investments are okay, ever mindful that there are some in this world who would take advantage of people trying to build something for their future.
My next point runs on from that. It is grossly unfair that those 95 people must pay from their limited recoup to cover legal fees of £1.5 million—or perhaps £2 million, as the right hon. Gentleman said.
There we have it. The hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn and I now know that the figure is £1.9-odd million in legal fees. They will pay that out of the same amount as those who did not pay into the court case will receive. We can understand the frustration of those who paid for these things to be chased up, given that others have the advantage of not having paid. There is an anomaly. Some lost out, but the legal fees then follow. Surely, the public purse should have paid, rather than people who have already lost every penny of their savings.
The head of a regulated company unscrupulously and fraudulently stole millions of pounds to furnish his lavish lifestyle. His own wife has been instrumental in helping the victims, and that is one of the good things that has come out of this, but her husband stole from his customers. Why has the body set up specifically to look into these things been so behind the door in fulfilling its role? How can we ensure that this loophole is removed so that people have full help and assistance in future? There are lessons to be learned that we can use for the future. We need to ensure that people who invest in these pension schemes do not find themselves out of pocket when the time comes.
The background article I read in The Courier highlighted the fact that the warning signals regarding this man were ignored or overlooked by the FCA. If they had not been, that may have prevented more people from being duped. What is being done to prevent these things from ever being overlooked again? People want the assurance and the confidence when they invest that the company they are dealing with is safe and secure. What has been learned by the Government and the Minister? What legal measures will be put in place to ensure this does not happen again?
I conclude by thanking the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland for bringing the debate forward. It is important that these issues are debated in Westminster Hall or the main Chamber. The right hon. Gentleman has been involved in these issues on behalf of others in the past, and we have spoken in many debates together. Our job is always to illustrate examples where, unfortunately, things have gone wrong, but I respectfully say to the Minister that his job and that of the Government is to ensure that these things do not happen again.
Through the debate, we are seeking not only to get justice for the right hon. Gentleman’s constituents and hundreds of others who have lost out, but to ensure the Government close the gaps in support for victims and in the regulation of the system. What has been done legislatively to ensure this does not happen again? This failing has ruined the lives of hundreds of people, when it could have been prevented. It is turning some people’s comfortable retirement into purgatory, and we must address that now.
It is a pleasure to serve once again under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and to follow the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon). I wondered at points if he was looking over my shoulder at some of the things I was planning to say, so I will just have to find a different way of expressing them. I commend the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for his determination in pursuing justice, truth and better outcomes and to prevent such things from occurring again, which he has demonstrated throughout his pursuit of this issue.
The main villain of the piece is obviously Alistair Greig, the managing director of Midas Financial Solutions. After the scale of his dishonesty was revealed in court, he was dubbed by the Aberdeen Press and Journal as the “king of the swindlers”. He defrauded over 180 victims, or 297 according to the Financial Conduct Authority, of close to £13 million. Most, but not all, were from the north-east of Scotland, and it was one of Scotland’s largest ever fraud cases, taking over two years to investigate.
Many investors—business people, retirees and young people starting out in life—were told their investments had grown, which encouraged them to invest even more, all the time believing that their money was safely tucked away and gathering interest. The only problem, as we now know, is that it was not. Their investments were not growing in the sense that we might understand; rather, they were unwittingly part of a Ponzi scheme, using the deposits of later clients to repay earlier deposits with interest and therefore burnishing the outward reputation of the scheme.
Self-evidently, all fraud is dishonest, but what really takes the breath away is the sleekit nature—don’t worry, Hansard, I will send a note later about “sleekit”—of how this particular fraud was perpetrated. In setting himself up as a gatekeeper, Greig pretended that he had access to a special deposit account at the Royal Bank of Scotland. That was pitched as being beyond the means of ordinary investors to access, except through him. He said that he could make that opportunity available to his more valued customers, taking people in with that confidence trick.
Greig exploited his existing, justified reputation and long-established relationships, including with those he worked beside and those he knew socially and professionally. One person close to the investigation said Greig
“pitched the interest rate at somewhere between plausible and too good to be true.”
He exploited those relationships to draw in further unwitting investors.
In the north-east of Scotland and, I am sure, in other parts of these islands the personal relationship still counts for a great deal, as does personal trust, a personal referral and word of mouth. It is that that makes this scheme so particularly invidious, given the way that it managed to spread through so many investors. I have no doubt that this case has directly and indirectly resulted in illness and great distress, contributed to people’s early deaths and caused divisions between families where recommendations to invest were made from one family to the other.
What did Greig get out of it himself? He spent the money on classic cars, exotic holidays and VIP days at Wimbledon and the British grand prix, living a lifestyle few of us could ever dream of, all off the back of other people’s hard-earned money. It is quite something to reflect that it took 95 victims to bring a civil case against Mr Greig before they were able to secure a single penny of compensation.
May 21 2020 is an auspicious date in these events, because that was when the criminal case came to a conclusion at the High Court in Edinburgh and Lord Tyre sentenced Greig to 14 years’ imprisonment. In his sentencing remarks, Lord Tyre observed that Greig was
“guilty of committing a fraud on an enormous scale.”
The thing about committing a fraud on an enormous scale is that the overwhelming evidence that persuaded the jury to convict him unanimously did not just appear instantly but accumulated over time, in full sight of those who should have been offering protection to the consumers involved. It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that those investors were very poorly treated by the public bodies that should have been looking out for them. In particular, the financial regulators had three big chances to halt this.
The first opportunity was when Greig was removed from a panel of building society mortgage advisers after concerns were raised over his personal integrity. Accord Mortgages, which was part of the Yorkshire Building Society, threw him off their panels after accusing him of mortgage fraud in 2008. That was the first opportunity to investigate Greig’s fitness to practise. Had that concern been acted on then, he could have been removed quite legitimately from being involved in any kind of controlled function, looking after investors’ money. According to the FSA, that information was shared with the relevant internal stakeholders, but the matter was not further investigated and the FSA closed its record on 10 April 2008, giving the reason that the risk was mitigated.
In investigating the complaint, the FCA declared in its decision letter of 26 April 2019 that, reflecting on this, it was
“satisfied that the way in which the Authority dealt with the email was reasonable, proportionate and in line with the risk appetite at that time.”
The buzzwords radiate off the page, but it is quite clear that something went badly amiss in failing to appreciate the significance of why Greig was removed from the panel. Fundamentally, either Greig was a fit and proper person or he was not. Sadly, and now far too late, we know the answer to that question. In fact, only two of Greig’s documented victims had money invested in his scheme before the FSA missed this first opportunity and we can all see what would have been avoided had more stringent and proportionate action been taken to effectively mitigate that risk.
The second opportunity came after Mr Greig lied—there is no other word for it—to the Financial Services Authority in an email. As part of an application for a CF30 designation, which is an authorisation from the authority to give advice and to deal with and arrange investments on behalf of a customer, he claimed:
“I can confirm I have never been removed from a mortgage panel.”
That was when Greig was reapplying for a status that he had voluntarily withdrawn just a few months earlier, in December 2011. To give some credit, the application was referred to what was called a non-routine team within the regulator because of the intelligence already held on Greig dating back to 2008. Before that application was determined by the case officer, Sense, the appointed representatives, withdrew it, citing an internal movement of staff as the reason. Prior to closing the case, the intelligence officer concerned compiled a detailed intelligence report. It stated that no determination had been made of Mr Greig’s honesty, integrity and reputation to hold the designation to deal with clients’ money, and that a full assessment should take place in the event of future applications being received. Again, even at this juncture, either Mr Greig was a fit or proper person or he was not. Sadly, and again far too late, we now know the answer to that.
The third and most serious opportunity to halt the scheme was in October 2012. An email was received by the Financial Conduct Authority from a whistleblower about what appeared to be deposit taking by one of Midas’s employees. A case was opened and referred to the unauthorised business department, which analysed the case and came to the conclusion that the activity in question was carried out by Midas rather than the individual. Given that Midas was an appointed rep of Sense, an authorised entity, the unauthorised business department took the view that this was a case to be taken forward by the supervision department. In February 2013, a referral email was sent to the firm contact centre, whatever that is, copying in the supervision team—there are plenty of emails flying about—explaining the unauthorised business department’s decision and stating that no further action would be taken by them. While the standard procedure at that point would have been for the contact centre to open a case and then allocate it to the supervision department, no case was ever opened: it fell between the cracks.
It is impossible to avoid the conclusion that the regulator seriously dropped the ball there. In doing so, its negligence allowed the scheme to continue until 2014; it missed a huge opportunity to prevent significant harm being perpetrated by someone it had already had two opportunities to halt, knowing that he was unfit to steward the finances of others.
As the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland said, some measure of compensation was paid out six years on. However, not all investors have got their money back. In some cases, that is because compensation is capped at £85,000, under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. Sadly, some people lost a great deal more than the £85,000 threshold. While the primary guilt here lies with Mr Greig, and Greig alone, that does not absolve the regulators of their manifest failings in this case. Nor does his lengthy custodial sentence restore the finances or heal the hurt of those victims affected.
It is understandable that, having been let down by the regulator and short-changed by what the safety net compensation scheme was likely to yield, investors would seek redress where they could. Although their pursuit of the Sense Network was unsuccessful, it is obvious that the judges who sat on the case had sympathy with the action. Lord Justice David Richards, alongside Lord Justice Hamblen and Mr Justice Snowden, said in July 2019:
“It is accepted, at least for the purposes of this case, that the appellants have been the victims of a callous fraud. On any footing they have suffered severe losses.”
I agree with what the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and the hon. Member for Strangford have said: it is manifestly unfair that the 95 of Greig’s victims who brought the civil case in order to unlock some measure of compensation are receiving the same compensation as those who did not—given that they have taken on the burden of legal costs for every victim. That is not to begrudge anyone who got compensation who was not involved in the legal action; simply, it has created two classes of victim. In anyone’s eyes, that is surely wrong. It raises the question of why on earth it was necessary to pursue the civil case in order to enable access to the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
I have drawn some conclusions from this case. In my view, the regulators are not there to protect people from their own greed or recklessness, but I defy anyone to say that those who were the victims in this case could be guilty of either of those vices. Bluntly, they were ordinary folk, looking for the best home for their savings in a turbulent financial environment, who had the great misfortune to be directed towards someone who had become thoroughly unworthy of their trust. There is an issue to be examined here: the individual investors, who could see the outward respectability of Midas and saw it as an appointed representative of a presumably respected financial services group, which was regulated with the industry, where everyone presumably had the appropriate professional indemnity insurance in place, were entitled to feel, even by association, that their money was in safe hands.
However you choose to slice and dice this, Mr Stringer, it is clear that the regulation has failed. Whether you view that as a systemic failure or, more charitably, as a series of individual and isolated failures, the system should surely, at all stages, have been much more resilient—even to somebody as determinedly dishonest as Mr Greig proved himself to be. It exposes our financial services regulation as being prescriptive, box-ticking and silo-orientated—big on paperwork and self-assurance. Despite, no doubt, the best efforts of some within the organisation, it was also, sadly, desperately short on effectiveness.
Economic crime accounts for 40% of all crime in this country, yet only 1% of our crime-fighting resources are devoted to tackling it. Research from Spotlight on Corruption shows that the Government spend just 0.042% of GDP to tackle economic crime, despite its costing the UK at least the equivalent of 14.5% of its annual GDP. The National Crime Agency budget has declined, in real terms, by 4.5% over the past five years. Bluntly, if we are to create a regulatory environment within which investors can operate with assurance—no matter how big or small they happen to be—the Government must be absolutely committed to making it work and funding it appropriately.
Those affected have, sadly, now received all that they are ever likely to. While Greig is the guilty party, I am bound to say that others also carry some culpability. The regulation of institutions—big and small—has fallen sharply over recent years. However, without more effective regulation, Midas investors are unlikely to be the last to be taken advantage of by the deeply unscrupulous. I look to the Minister to answer on how we can make that regulatory environment safer for all of us who invest.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer. I thank the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) for securing this important debate, and for the work he has done to highlight how his constituents, and others in north-east Scotland, were affected by the Midas Financial Solutions Ponzi scheme, and the overall awful impact that fraud has on communities across the country. It was a powerful and inciteful speech, and I learned a lot about the background of the case. Even though I had done some reading on it, I learned a lot more of the details, and the more I learn about them, the more alarming the case seems.
Fraud is an incredibly serious crime. It can destroy lives and tear communities apart. The hon. Member for Gordon (Richard Thomson) rightly pointed out that the tragic thing about the Midas case was that many of the victims knew each other, and even convinced others to invest. That is known as affinity fraud, which results in whole communities not only losing money but feeling guilty over having brought friends and loved ones into the scams. For the people affected who are watching today, I want to say that they have no reason to feel guilty. The only person responsible for this horrendous crime is Alistair Greig, and I hope the people affected know that.
It was heartbreaking to read about the victims of Greig’s fraud. Every Member who spoke on this, and so powerfully, has said that. I came across one story of an individual who invested their life savings in Midas to pay for their sister’s long-term dementia care and lost everything. To make matters worse, despite Midas being closed down at the end of 2014, the victims had to wait until July 2019, and the judgment of the Court of Appeal, before they were able to access the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.
Victims have been put further out of pocket after being forced to pay the legal costs for the various court cases, which we have already had a bit of a discussion on today. The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and I have both mentioned the huge amount of legal costs. That is something that no one should have to go through. That is why I was taken aback by the comments made by the Business Secretary last month when he suggested that fraud is a lesser crime, not experienced by people in their day-to-day lives. The Business Secretary should say that to Norman Masson, a self-employed builder who told the High Court in Edinburgh during Greig’s trial that he fell victim to fraud that caused him severe anxiety, losing over £30,000 that he was going to use to help his daughter with a mortgage deposit; or to 69-year-old Mark Ansell of Durris who is no longer able to retire, having been conned out of his savings by Grieg.
I am also worried about the fact that reports of fraud are up by 33% in 2021. Despite that, the Crown Prosecution Service has cut the number of specialist fraud prosecutors by more than a quarter over the past six years, from 224 at the end of 2015 to 167 by the end of 2021. Does the Minister wish to comment on that? Indeed, the Government’s former Minister for Counter Fraud, Lord Agnew, stated in his resignation letter that the Government’s record in tackling fraud is “lamentable” and that they have little interest in the consequences of fraud to our society. It was a shocking admission from the former ally of the Prime Minister.
There are many questions that the Government must answer about the specific warnings leading up to the collapse of Midas. Why were so many warning signs ignored? The hon. Member for Gordon said that in July 2012, Greig lied to the then FSA in an email, in which he wrote:
“I can confirm I have never been removed from a mortgage panel.”
That outright falsehood could have been easily disproven by some very basic investigative work.
Another missed opportunity came when a whistleblower, Richard Evans of Banff-based Structured Financial Planning, contacted the FSA to raise concerns in October 2012. For reasons that are difficult to fathom, the FSA still failed to intervene at that point, despite being told directly that something was wrong. If regulators and law enforcement agencies had acted when they first saw evidence of foul play, much of Greig’s fraudulent activity could have been prevented and a lot of the people affected could have been spared.
Greig was taking cheques from people, putting them into a private bank account and then spending it like it was his own money. It is frankly shocking that at no point did enforcement agencies question why £13 million had been paid into his account by hundreds of different people; that should have been a red flag. As the hon. Member for Strangford said, Greig’s victims deserve to hear how the Government have learned from these failures. What reassurance can the Minster provide to the public that his Government are taking concrete steps, working with regulators and enforcement agencies, to prevent a crime on the scale of the Midas fraud ever happening again?
Finally, I shall pick up on the point raised by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on the lack of clarity about the nature of the contractual relationship between regulated advisers and appointed representatives. As the right hon. Member pointed out, Midas was an appointed representative of another firm, Sense Network Ltd. That meant that Sense was able to avoid liability for the losses that Midas had incurred, which seems grossly unfair, and I wonder whether the Minister wants to comment on that as well. As seen both in the Midas case and the Greensill scandal last year, the complexity of those contractual relationships is putting the public and taxpayer’s money at risk.
In July 2021, the Treasury Committee reported on lessons from Greensill Capital. It recommended that,
“The FCA and HM Treasury should consider reforms to the appointed representatives regime, with a view to limiting its scope and reducing opportunities for abuse of the system.”
Could the Minister please explain why, despite the fact that Midas’s abuse of the appointed representatives regime first came to light almost seven years ago, the Treasury has still not brought forward proposals for reforming the system? Does he have plans to reform the system?
The Midas scandal demonstrates that fraud is an incredibly serious crime, which can have devastating consequences for victims and their communities. I want to finish by asking the Minister a few questions. I am sure he will answer them properly because he is diligent when it comes to detail.
Does the Minister recognise that fraud is indeed a serious crime, and does he recognise how much it affects our constituents? Does he recognise that fraud and error under the Chancellor have cost taxpayers an estimated £11.8 billion? Will he tell us what we all want to know: what are his Government doing to protect the public from fraudsters? We are all constituency MPs, even if we have a Front Bench role, and we want to protect our constituents from fraud. Will the Minister help us by outlining plans to do that?
It is a privilege to serve under your chairmanship, Mr Stringer, and I join others in congratulating the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland (Mr Carmichael) on securing today’s debate.
Before I get into the matter at hand, I want to acknowledge the role that my opposite number, the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn (Tulip Siddiq), has played over the past six years in championing the case of her constituent, Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe. We all have constituents in need, but the hon. Lady’s consistent advocacy has been very effective, and I want to pay tribute to her publicly.
In acknowledging that this is an extremely challenging case, which has caused great misery to many investors who were misled, I recognise, too, the broader context of a financial services sector that is a great success in this country. However, the debate and the points made in it have raised a number of issues that I want to respond to specifically. If hon. Members are patient, I will get into the mechanics of the appointed representative regime, how it is working and what lessons we learn from this.
Fraud is a crime that damages trust between individuals and across society—I would say it casts a shadow across the economy—and tackling it is a priority for the Government. Our efforts are focused on reducing vulnerabilities, catching the criminals responsible and supporting the victims of these despicable crimes. As the hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) said in his welcome remarks, those crimes cause considerable distress to individuals and have a catastrophic effect on families and communities.
We are working closely with industry regulators and consumer groups to consider additional legislative and non-legislative solutions. I will say more about that in a moment, but first I will set out the Government’s position on this specific case. As hon. Members no doubt appreciate, there are limits to what I can say, but Mr Alistair Greig perpetrated a large-scale fraud over several years, much of it accurately depicted by Members this morning. He lied to those who trusted him with their pensions and life savings, and caused enormous suffering.
Midas was founded by Mr Greig in 2006 and it carried on a financial advisory business based in Aberdeen. In 2007, it became an appointed representative of a firm called Sense Network Ltd, and the Treasury understands that much of its business was mortgage advice. Mr Greig used his senior position in the firm and its relationship with Sense to convince his clients that he was investing their hard-earned money in high street accounts with RBS.
I want to pick up the point made in passing by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland on the culpability of RBS. In all these tragic cases, it is incumbent on all parties to examine their processes. I think the right hon. Gentleman mentioned that RBS had—
A lack of curiosity. I cannot know whether that is the case, but I say as a Minister that it is important that every business reflects on its responsibilities in cases of this sort.
Clearly, what Mr Greig said about where he was putting that money proved not to be the case. Instead, he was operating what we can all acknowledge was a Ponzi scheme. It went well beyond the scope of Midas’s appointed representative arrangement with Sense, the principal firm, and accepted deposits without proper authorisation. Instead of investing on behalf of clients who had trusted him with their savings, he transferred the money to his personal account and used it to fund the lavish lifestyle that has been spoken about this morning. His fraudulent activities were halted only when the Financial Conduct Authority intervened in 2014, following contact with a concerned investor. When the FCA became involved, the scheme included 279 members of the public, whose investments have not been repaid. They had paid £12.8 million and were owed a total of £13.6 million. Following the conclusion of a legal case involving some of the investors and Sense, the Financial Services Compensation Scheme declared Midas to be in default, following which the scheme was able to start accepting claims from investors and begin paying compensation to eligible claimants.
Although I am pleased that the scheme was uncovered and stopped by the FCA and that the FSCS has been able to compensate for a significant proportion of what was lost, I recognise that the scheme will have caused great pain to those involved, and I condemn unreservedly the actions of the man responsible. In seeking to understand the case, it is worth while for me to unpack the appointed representatives regime, which has been mentioned by the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland and others. It is the key policy area that is thrown into focus by this case.
As Members will know, under the UK’s regulatory approach to financial services, a firm must be authorised by either the FCA or the Prudential Regulation Authority in order to carry out a regulated activity. Authorised firms can also appoint other firms to act as appointed representatives for certain regulated activities, but it is worth noting that deposit taking, which Mr Greig was carrying out, is not an activity allowed under the regime, and I will say more about that in a while. In such relationships, the authorised principal firm must ensure that its appointed representatives are complying with all relevant regulatory requirements set out by the FCA. Mr Greig was a director of Midas Financial Solutions, which was a firm that was permitted to carry out the regulated activity of providing investment advice because it was an appointed representative of Sense Network, a financial advice firm that is authorised directly by the FCA.
The FCA’s investigation found that Mr Greig deliberately concealed his fraudulent operation from Sense Network, the firm that had regulatory responsibility for Midas. Unfortunately, all firms—whether directly authorised or appointed representatives—can be susceptible to individuals deliberately acting in a fraudulent manner, which is what happened. It was a shocking case of fraud. Greig was operating a scheme for which his firm was not authorised, and he hid the scheme from Sense Network.
I have a question that I hope the Minister will answer in the next sentence or two. How would any individual investor know the extent of the authorisation and the relationship between the principal and the AR? This does not conform to any other aspect of the law of agency.
I hope I am coming to that point. The right hon. Gentleman addresses the core point, which is about the comfort that the appointed representative regime provides to the consumer, and the Treasury and FCA are taking steps to ensure that use of the appointed representative regime is not open to abuse.
The relationship between a principal firm and the appointed representatives, including what regulated activities it covers, should be available to the public. That will now be a regulatory requirement, and the FCA is taking steps to improve the information that is available to the public by clarifying what the appointed representative firm is authorised by the principal—in this case, Sense—to undertake and what it is therefore not authorised to undertake. That will give consumers clarity on what activities they can legitimately discuss with the appointed representative firm and ensure that they know there is regulatory oversight.
As we know, Sense was not found to be at fault in its role as a principal, as Mr Greig was acting outside the Sense-Midas agreement. The right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland has spoken about the role of the principal, and the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn asked what the Treasury is doing about this issue, following the Select Committee report last summer. We are undertaking a review of the appointed representative regime and examining how consumers are protected when dealing with an appointed representative and not directly with the authorised firm.
On 3 December, we published a call for evidence on the regime as a whole. At the same time, the FCA published a consultation paper on proposals that will strengthen the oversight that principals have over their appointed representatives, or ARs, and the information available to consumers on the FCA register when dealing with these firms. That call for evidence is essentially gathering information from interested parties and it closed a few weeks ago on 3 March. The Treasury and the FCA are working together to consider the responses, and to set out the next steps in due course and as urgently as we can.
I will also speak a little bit about the role of the FCA, which, as the House will be aware, is an independent regulator, and of the Financial Services Compensation Scheme. The FCA took steps to investigate Midas and Alistair Greig in relation to the activity of accepting deposits without the necessary authorisation and subsequently referred the matter to the police, who launched a successful criminal investigation. The FCA took civil action to stop the activity and obtain compensation for victims, securing agreements to repay over £1.3 million in October 2015. As a result of the proceedings, the FCA recovered approximately £380,000, which has been distributed to victims. Mr Greig was charged by Police Scotland and sentenced to 14 years in jail in April 2020 for fraud.
Although the FCA took action and the subsequent police action led to Mr Greig being prosecuted and sent to prison, I acknowledge the point made in the complaints commissioner’s report that the Financial Services Authority, which was the predecessor to the FCA, should have taken more action, more swiftly and more effectively. It is right, therefore, that the FCA, the successor organisation to the FSA, apologised for that.
Let me just say something about the Financial Services Compensation Scheme, which is the UK’s compensation scheme of last resort. It pays compensation to consumers when authorised financial firms fail and a relevant regulated activity has been undertaken. The FSCS carries out its compensation function within the rules set by the FCA and the PRA. The FSCS first became aware of claims against Midas in December 2019, when lawyers representing claimants approached the FSCS, and it declared the default in March 2020. By August 2020—so, just a few months later—it had processed 197 claims and paid out £9.6 million in compensation.
In order to aid investors claiming compensation, the FSCS, using data collected by the FCA, was able to pay compensation to 175 investors without those investors actually needing to make a claim. It also ran a media campaign targeting the Aberdeen area to ensure that all investors were aware that they could claim compensation from the FSCS, recognising the sensitivity with respect to named constituents that the right hon. Member for Orkney and Shetland mentioned.
On that note, I will take this opportunity to say that the FSCS is still accepting claims against Midas, so I encourage anyone who thinks that they may be eligible to get in touch with the FSCS. Some Midas investors brought a claim against Sense as Midas’s principal, which is the point the right hon. Member made, and I understand that some of those investors are disappointed that the compensation they received from the FSCS did not cover their legal costs.
As set out in the FCA’s rules, the FSCS covers losses suffered by a customer caused by the firm in connection with its regulated activities. It does not, however, extend to covering legal costs in pursuing a regulated firm, especially where the firm is not even a party to those legal proceedings.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way; I see that he is on the last sheet of his speech and I think that we are coming to the very heart of the matter here.
Access to the FSCS was only an option because of the action taken by the 95 against Sense. Quite apart from that, the FCA has a power to pay ex gratia payments. It has not done so, even though it has apologised for the shortcomings in the actions of the FSA. This point was considered by the Commissioner, who declined to order an ex gratia payment, drawing a parallel with damages and saying it would
“clearly undermine Parliament’s intention to provide the regulator with some protection”.
What is more important to the Government here? Is it providing the regulator with protection or the consumers with protection?
The Government work closely with the FCA. As I have said, we are taking very seriously the implications of this case and the relationship between the principal and the appointed representative, as well as the apparent lack of clarity over what consumers know to be covered by that delegated authority of the principal to the appointed representative. The right hon. Gentleman is referring to the relationship between two entities: the FSA and the FCA. The FCA acknowledges the FSA’s prior failings to do the job as it should have. The right hon. Gentleman is asking me to comment on the eligibility of the victims to access the FCA compensation scheme, which is clearly something that is governed by its protocols. I hope we can learn from this very sad case that, going forward, we will bring more clarity to the appointed representative regime and more clarity to consumers. Of course, consumer care is important.
However, we also have to recognise that the FCA is responsible for around 51,000 authorised firms. Of course, the role of some of those authorised firms in acting as principals for appointed representatives needs examination: as I have set out, the Treasury and the FCA are undertaking that. It would be pretty impossible for every appointed representative to undergo the same sort of supervision as an authorised firm—that would expand the scale of the FCA’s responsibilities. We have to make sure that authorised firms’ responsibilities to their appointed representatives are more effective.
I think that I have expressed with clarity that this has been an extremely challenging case for everyone involved. I acknowledge unequivocally that Mr Greig’s fraudulent scheme will have caused great misery to the investors he misled, and it is absolutely right that he was brought to justice. I am pleased that so many of those who made losses have been compensated by the FSCS, and I hope they can now put it behind them.
The Government are not complacent about this. I have gone into some detail about the lessons that we need to learn. We will work alongside other financial authorities to counter fraud and ensure that cases such as these are prevented wherever possible and that, where they do occur, they are dealt with appropriately.
It will always be the case that the Government will need to work with regulators to create an environment that protects consumers while allowing firms to operate. What we have to do—and, since the new chief executive came in about 17 months ago, work has been going on urgently at the FCA to do this—is to undertake a transformation programme to allow the FCA to examine risks across the authorised firms and act more effectively than its predecessor organisation, the FSA, did in this particular case. I hope that is helpful to the House this morning.
It is more than 20 years since I left legal practice, no doubt to the relief of many. The further I get from it, the clearer it becomes that we should never confuse law with justice. It seems that we have exposed some fairly fundamental points here today. The system of regulation has been inadequate, which is why the Government now speak about changing it. The actions of the Financial Conduct Authority—the body set up by Parliament to protect consumer interests—have been woefully inadequate; that is why it has apologised. The people who have paid the cost of the inadequacy in regulation and the conduct of the body set up by Parliament are not Parliament, the Financial Conduct Authority or the taxpayer, but the constituents who were defrauded in this way.
The intention of Parliament was clearly that people should be protected from this sort of behaviour and, if they were not protected, for there to be some compensation. The Financial Compensation Authority has wriggled like worms on the end of a hook for years over this, continuing to deny any responsibility or liability. I think that is wrong, and our constituents deserve better. The limited compensation that people have received was only given because of the actions taken by the 95 claimants. It strikes me that there are very strong parallels here with the sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses who took legal action to expose the scandal around Horizon.
At the end of the day, it is a question of not only law or justice, but the culture and the relationship between the citizen and the state. I am afraid that, as things stand, the citizens are being short-changed by the state, and that is not something with which we as parliamentarians should be satisfied.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the matter of the people affected by the Midas Financial Solutions collapse.