Personal Pensions Mis-selling

Part of Bill Presented – in the House of Commons at 6:49 pm on 3rd November 1998.

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Photo of Mr John MacGregor Mr John MacGregor Conservative, South Norfolk 6:49 pm, 3rd November 1998

I am sorry. I should go on.

We should avoid retrospective regulation; it is also important to ensure consistency throughout the whole regulatory system. If that is not done, my worry is this: there will be far fewer IFAs. The professional indemnity loss business that is coming through shows what the marketplace thinks about that. IFAs will be constantly at risk, including from people whose career changes may be significant, which may lead them to try to exploit the whole regime to the disadvantage, unfairly, of an IFA. IFAs will not have the resources to ensure that they can meet all regulatory requirements in future. That is why it is important to have certainty and a clear system from now on for them.

It would be a serious tragedy if there were a substantial reduction in the IFA industry. Of course, there are some poor operators in the industry—we all know that—but there are many genuine people who give good advice throughout, and that advice is needed by many of the people who should be taking up pensions.

I saw this particularly at London and Manchester, whose home service industry goes out and gives advice to people who would not otherwise think of taking out long-term savings. Recent independent market research shows how much that service is valued. If it disappears, something important disappears.

Incidentally, there is a danger in moving to exclusively multi-tied IFAs. I hope that the Government are not contemplating that because it would lead to a considerable loss of independence.

The next consequence will be that companies, both providers and IFAs, will concentrate on execution-only. That is already happening with Marks and Spencer's, Scottish Widows and many others, and it is driving a coach and horses through the regime.

It looked as though the Government were going to encourage execution-only in the low-cost stakeholder pension that they were going to introduce. Supposing those execution-only schemes did not give as good pension outcomes as those that were done with advice. Who is then guilty of the pension mis-selling scandal? The people who would be guilty would be the Government who had insisted on exclusively execution-only. That again shows the importance of recognising that advice is desirable; and that it comes at a cost, inevitably.

In many cases, the fact-finds that companies are undertaking through all their sales men will be counter-productive. They involve two long meetings and detailed reason-why letters. Often, it will simply be unprofitable to carry that process through. Why are the companies doing it? The answer is that they have to give themselves complete protection against any future, retrospective changes in the regulatory system. That, too, will lead to a diminution in the amount of pensions sold.

I recognise that the regulatory authorities—the Personal Investment Authority or Securities and Futures Authority, whichever it is—have a difficult job. I recognise that there has been mis-selling and we must avoid that, but we must ensure that we get the balance of the regime and phase 2 right because, at the moment, the risk is that the pendulum will swing too far in the other direction—which will be in no one's interests, least of all the Government's. The Government, like me, desire to see many more occupational pension schemes taken out and much more long-term saving. That is our objective, and we must ensure that we do not diminish or destroy it by an over burdensome and badly worked out regulatory regime.