I beg to move, That the Bill be read a Second time.
In the United Kingdom there are a wide range of opportunities for people to invest. The Government’s role is to try to ensure that the system of regulation and financial investment is suitably robust, so that individuals are treated fairly and have confidence in the financial system in which they invest. Unfortunately, no system of regulation can completely eradicate the risk that firms fail, or that there are bad actors intent on committing fraud. This short Bill is aimed at two areas where it is necessary for the Government to step in.
Clause 1 relates to a new Government scheme to compensate London Capital & Finance bond holders who lost money after the firm entered administration in 2019. Clause 2 will arrange a loan to the board of the pension protection fund to pay compensation to occupational pension scheme members who have been victims of pension fraud, following the recent High Court judgment in the case of PPF v. Dalriada. I will now expand briefly on those measures in detail.
The Minister will understand that part of the reason why we are here today is because of Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s excoriating report into the capacity of the Financial Conduct Authority. Is he certain that the FCA now has the powers and, crucially, the capacity it needs to ensure that consumers of financial services businesses are properly protected?
Yes, I believe that is the case. The Treasury and the FCA are working together. The FCA is under new management, as the hon. Gentleman will be aware, and there is an acceptance by the FCA of all the findings in Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s report. More particularly there is fresh thinking, one hopes, that will be applied going forward.
Powers are one thing, willingness is another. The FCA has shown a remarkable reluctance to hold people to account for incompetence or bad actors, as the Minister said. Will not those failings simply continue unless the FCA starts identifying individuals, within its own ranks or within the banks, for those failings, and holds them to account?
Clearly, it is not possible to comment on specific future events, but Ministers are liable for the actions of civil servants, through vicarious liability, and we would expect regulators to take a similar approach and, putting it simply, to own the problems they are trying to solve. If that is a lesson learned from this sorry saga, in my humble opinion that would be a good thing. Clearly, it is for the FCA to take a good long, hard, look at itself, and other regulatory bodies, and decide how it will run itself going forward, with suitable input from Government.
I will not give way any more. I apologise, but we are trying to do this whole debate in 58 minutes. Please bear with me.
As the House will be aware, on
Following LCF’s collapse, the Economic Secretary to the Treasury directed the FCA to launch an independent investigation into its regulation and supervision of LCF. As we have discussed, Dame Elizabeth Gloster led the investigation and concluded that the FCA did not effectively supervise and regulate LCF. The LCF business model was, it is accepted, highly unusual in both its scale and structure. In particular, the firm was authorised by the FCA, despite generating no income from regulated activities. That allowed LCF’s unregulated activity of selling non-transferrable debt securities, known as mini-bonds, to benefit from the impact of being issued by an authorised firm. While other mini-bond firms have failed, LCF is the only mini-bond firm that was authorised by the FCA and sold bonds in order to on-lend to other companies.
In response to the regulatory failings detailed in Dame Elizabeth’s report and the range of interconnected factors that led to losses for bondholders, the Government announced two things: first, they would establish a compensation scheme, and secondly, they would accept all of Dame Elizabeth’s report, as did the FCA. It is, however, important to emphasise that the circumstances surrounding LCF are unique and exceptional, and the Government cannot and should not be expected to stand behind every failed investment firm. That would, with respect, create the wrong incentives for individuals and an unacceptable burden on the taxpayer.
Clause 1 of the Bill, which is the LCF measure, covers two key elements. First, it provides parliamentary authority for the Treasury to incur expenditure in relation to the scheme. Secondly, it makes a minor technical change that disapplies the FCA’s rule-making processes for the purpose of the LCF compensation scheme. The Treasury intends to use part 15A of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to require the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to administer the scheme at speed on the Treasury’s behalf. The scheme will be available to all LCF bondholders who have not already received compensation from the FSCS and represents 80% of the compensation that they would have received had they been eligible for FSCS protection.
Around 97% of LCF bondholders invested less than £85,000 and will not reach the compensation cap under either the Government’s scheme or the FSCS. The Government expect to pay out around £120 million in compensation to around 8,800 bondholders in total and are committed to ensuring that the scheme has made all payments within six months of this Bill securing Royal Assent.
As colleagues will be aware, this is a two-measure Bill, the second clause of which concerns the Department for Work and Pensions and involves loans to the board of the Pension Protection Fund. Clause 2 amends the Pensions Act 2004 by inserting a new section that will give the Secretary of State a power to lend money to the board of the Pension Protection Fund.
The Pension Protection Fund manages the Fraud Compensation Fund, which pays compensation to occupational pension schemes that have lost out financially due to dishonesty. When set up in 2004 by the Blair Government, the PPF and the FCF did not envisage that pension liberation schemes were in scope for FCF payments. This clause will allow compensation to an estimated 8,806 individuals who have been defrauded following the pronouncement of the recent Court judgment in the Dalriada case.
Pension liberation fraud involves members being persuaded to transfer their pension savings from legitimate schemes to fraudulent schemes, with promises of high investment returns or access to a loan from their pension scheme before the age of 55 without incurring a tax charge. The Pensions Regulator has now placed professional pensions trustees in charge of the affected schemes. Those trustees are seeking compensation on behalf of scheme members through the Fraud Compensation Fund.
Following receipt of a significant number of applications, the Pension Protection Fund sought guidance from the High Court in a test case on which schemes should be eligible for the Fraud Compensation Fund. The Court judgment in the case of the Pension Protection Fund vs. Dalriada was pronounced on
This is a necessary, urgent and important Bill which will ensure financial protection and fair outcomes for those falling victim in these particular circumstances. My hope and expectation is that the Bill will receive widespread support, and I commend its contents to the House.
I am grateful to the Minister. As he said, the Bill does two things: it enables a Government compensation scheme for the victims of the collapse of London Capital and Finance, and it authorises a Government loan to the Fraud Compensation Fund—part of the Pension Protection Fund—to be paid for through a levy on the pensions industry. Let me take each of those of turn.
I will start with clause 1 on the LCF compensation scheme. The Minister set out the background and I do not need to repeat it in this short debate, but it involves 11,500 investors losing a total of about £237 million. Some £56 million has been paid out by the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to just under 3,000 of those investors, covering those parts of LCF activity that came under the remit of the Financial Conduct Authority’s regulated activities. The Bill aims to compensate the rest up to 80% of the £85,000 FSCS limit, meaning pay-outs of up to £68,000 for those eligible. This is expected to cost the taxpayer about £120 million.
Talking about the cost to the taxpayer, I wonder if my right hon. Friend continues to be shocked by the fact that a Member of this House, Johnny Mercer, received over £85,000 from subsidiaries that were mis-selling, like a company in my constituency that defrauded my constituents. That money has never been paid back, but that Member received money from the taxpayer, and actually we should be looking at ourselves—
I am grateful to my hon. Friend, and I do think it ill behoves any Member, given the scale of the losses and given the necessity of the Government to bring in this Bill to compensate people for their losses, to profit from this either directly or indirectly. I think that should be clear to all of us.
The Government are legislating on this because of the litany of regulatory failures set out in the report on this issue carried out by Dame Elizabeth Gloster. These failures included failures to respond to repeated warnings from investors and potential investors, LCF repeatedly running promotions implying its products were regulated by the FCA, and failures of communication between different parts of the FCA, all in the end leading to this collapse and financial loss. Had the FCA acted earlier, far fewer people would have invested through this firm, losses would have been lower and the taxpayer would not be faced with the £120 million we are talking about today.
I would like to ask the right hon. Gentleman’s view about a couple in my Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath constituency who invested £10,000 each—or £20,000 in total—and did so because the FCA backed the scheme. They feel that the real responsibility lies with FCA and the derogation of its responsibility in ignoring warning signs, while many responsible lenders such as them have lost money they can ill afford to lose. Does he not find it, as I do, a bit rich for the Minister now to say that the Government cannot back every scheme when actually the regulator was at fault in encouraging other people, as he has just said, to invest in that scheme?
Many investors did invest because they thought that these mini-bonds were authorised by the FCA, and they were not. A big part of the problem here is having a regulated firm marketing unregulated products. If I am right, the hon. Member’s constituents may be eligible for the compensation authorised by the Bill.
Dame Elizabeth’s report makes it clear how badly the investors were let down by the regulator, and both the Government and the FCA have said that they accept the findings. I have a number of questions that I want to put to the Minister for his wind-up at the end of the debate. First, why is the level of compensation he has chosen 80% of the FSCS level? On what basis was that decision made? Secondly, how will this work practically? I understand that the Government want to avoid the involvement of claims management companies, and that is something I think we would all endorse. How will the Government do that and avoid repeated rounds of claims?
The Bill also gives rise to some important broader questions about policy. The failings identified were serious and substantial, and have to be addressed. The first of those broader questions is: when should compensation paid for by the taxpayer be paid and when not? The Minister quite rightly said that the taxpayer cannot stand behind every investment policy. It would be unfair on taxpayers to expect them to do so, and it would produce perverse incentives. After all, we all know that the value of investments can go down as well as up.
In the case of LCF, it was bonds that were being sold, and the advertising implied a guaranteed pay-out when such pay-outs could not, in practice, be guaranteed. Regulation is not aimed at enabling people to make reasonably informed choices and to understand the risks they are taking. Having made the decision to offer taxpayer-funded compensation in this case, when does the Minister believe it justifiable that the taxpayer should be asked to do that, and when does he not? What was the discussion in the Treasury about how to ring-fence this failure and this company from broader claims for financial compensation? There are calls for compensation quite regularly when investment failures happen. How confident is the Minister that the Treasury will not be subject to legal action from victims of other investment failings?
How confident is the Minister that the FCA can actually make the changes necessary to avoid a repeat of the findings set out in Dame Elizabeth’s report? Callers were phoning the FCA for three years before the company’s collapse. Appendix 6 of Dame Elizabeth’s report states that the FCA received 611 queries from consumers regarding LCF. That is not a random phone call at five o’clock on a Friday that can be missed; it is a pattern of people trying repeatedly to raise red flags and getting nowhere
Individual A said on
“This company is doing exactly what the pyramid scams are doing. What they’re doing is they’re paying the money out, the interest out from money which people are paying on the bond… In other words, it’s just a pyramid scam… they’re saying they’ve got charges on their property, security on them, assets on their property, of course they don’t have any assets. It’s all horrendous really, the whole thing”.
There was call after call like that, and they were not acted on. They were not passed up the line, partly because the mini bonds were not regulated. In fact, one caller was told by the FCA call handler that it was not a scam.
There was also the letter from individual financial adviser Neil Liversidge in 2015, three full years before the collapse of the company. He warned that LCF had one customer who was worth—bear with me on the language, Madam Deputy Speaker; I am quoting—
“the square root of bugger all” and he tried to raise warnings about the practices and health of the company. It appears that that letter was lost.
One of the more damning findings in Dame Elizabeth’s report is that, even if the letter had not been lost,
“It is unlikely that it would have resulted in any, or any substantive, action or re-action by the FCA.”
So little faith did she have in the processes that she appears to have argued that it did not matter that that warning letter had been lost because it would not have been acted on. Imagine if the FCA had acted, in 2015 or 2016, when those reports were received, rather than only at the end of 2018. Another question for the Minister is this: what will the FCA do to improve its handling of reports like this?
Then, there is the so-called halo effect of regulated companies selling unregulated products. Being regulated by the FCA featured heavily in LCF promotions. The financial promotions team at the FCA did warn LCF to dial back on the advertising, but the pattern went on and on, and no one drew the conclusion that this was not just an advertising problem, but a problem with the content of what it was actually selling. Dame Elizabeth states in her report:
“A substantial proportion of the Bondholders said that they would not have invested in LCF had it not been for the fact that it was regulated by the FCA.”
How will the FCA avoid the difference between unregulated activity and regulated companies from being exploited in the future?
The Gloster report was also the subject of a well-publicised disagreement between Andrew Bailey, the Governor of the Bank of England, and Dame Elizabeth, about the nature of responsibility and accountability. Where do the Government stand on this issue? It was all played out before the Treasury Committee in several hearings. Is it the Treasury’s view that senior officials in leading regulatory bodies are responsible for the failing that happen on their watch, or should responsibility apply only to the organisation collectively?
Does the Minister agree with the statement in the report that
“It is difficult to see why an individuals’ willingness to take on challenging tasks in public bodies should absolve them from accountability”?
Or does the Treasury accept the statement from the Parliamentary Commission on Banking Standards quoted in the report that
“A buck that does not stop with an individual...stops nowhere”?
These broader questions matter, because with ever more complex financial markets, the regulators have to be equipped to do the job—equipped through their leadership and their systems, but also through the resources at their disposal. Part of the backdrop to this is the FCA taking on responsibility for tens of thousands more firms after it took on the responsibilities of the Office of Fair Trading back in 2014. Is the Minister confident that it has the resources after the LCF collapse?
Let me turn to clause 2 and the fraud compensation fund. The Bill authorises a loan to be made as a consequence of greater than expected claims on that fund arising from the Dalriada case. It is estimated that the judgment in that case could result in claims of over £300 million. The loan will be funded by a levy on the pensions industry, to be paid back over the next 10 to 15 years. That comes on top of the levy to pay for the Financial Services Compensation Scheme rising sharply since the introduction of the Government’s pension freedom legislation in 2015. Back then, the levy was £300 million; this year, it will be over £1 billion pounds. That is a 48% increase on the previous year and more than triple the level of five years ago. Why does the Minister think the FSCS levy has had to increase so much since the pension freedoms legislation was introduced in 2015? Now we have a new fraud levy to boot.
Surely the right way to tackle this issue is to ask why more and more pensioners are being exposed to fraud and scams in the first place. Why does the Minister think that is happening? Why are more pensioners losing their money? When the previous Chancellor introduced the pension freedoms changes, he said that
“there will be free impartial guidance available to all.”
Six years on, the take-up of that advice is just 3%. Even when the Department for Work and Pensions made a targeted push to increase it, it only got up to 11%, so the vast majority of people using these freedoms are not using that service. Of the small number who take up the option, 72% say they do something different from their first inclination after receiving advice, so it is clear that such advice can help people to make a better decision, yet take-up is nowhere near the promise made at the time.
The promise of pension freedoms being matched with good, trustworthy financial advice has not been kept, and these levies, which will have to be paid by the pension schemes that have been nowhere near fraud and are trying to offer a good service to their members, are being put in place at least in part as a result of the Government’s own pension reforms, which have left more pensioners exposed to fraud and scams. That conclusion was endorsed by the Work and Pensions Committee in its recent report.
What unites both these clauses is people being subject to fraud, often through online advertising. There is a clear need for greater action on this. People are being bombarded on a daily basis with adverts for investments, some of which are scams and attempts at fraud. Financial innovation can be a great thing, but consumers need help in navigating this world, and they are currently being failed by a regulatory system that is lagging behind what is actually happening in the financial markets. There is an online harms Bill coming that, as things stand, does not include plans to crack down on financial crime. I urge the Government to think again on that. To proceed with that Bill without tackling online financial harm would be an enormous lost opportunity to protect consumers against this type of crime.
The answer is not just compensation when people lose money; it is to protect people against financial scams happening before they lose their money, to crack down on the fraudsters while they are peddling their scams and to stop these adverts reaching people in the first place. Not all thieves wear masks. It is possible to rob people of their money through misleading websites and illusory promises of financial gain. It is critical that the laws that we pass in this place keep pace with the innovations in fraud and financial crime that are taking place. For that to happen, it will take a lot more than the two clauses on compensation in this Bill.
This is a very important Bill. It seeks to compensate for some significant wrongs. As part of our ongoing inquiry into London Capital & Finance and the FCA’s response to it, the Treasury Committee has heard many harrowing stories of those who, in many cases, lost life-changing amounts of money as a consequence of what happened.
The Treasury Committee has been involved in the LCF situation for some time. My predecessor, Baroness Morgan, initiated the inquiry by Dame Elizabeth Gloster through approaches by the Committee to the Treasury and the FCA. I take this opportunity to offer my thanks, on behalf of the Committee and of the LCF bond holders, for the very thorough report that she and her team produced, for the witness session she attended as part of our inquiry and for the courtesy and information that she provided to me outside that witness session by way of correspondence and discussions over the telephone.
Dame Elizabeth Gloster carried out some excellent work. As a consequence of her report, the level of the failings on the part of the FCA is very clear. Indeed, the answers to the key questions put by the Government to Dame Elizabeth as part of the directions for her inquiry were clear: the permissions granted to LCF were not appropriate to the business it carried on; the FCA did not adequately supervise LCF’s compliance with the FCA rules and policies; and the FCA’s handling of information from third parties regarding LCF was wholly deficient. The FCA had appropriate rules to regulate the communication of financial promotions by LCF. However, the FCA did not have in place appropriate policies. Numerous red flags were examined by the Committee, but they had been missed over a long period.
There were wider failings within the regulatory system, and we have heard some of those from the shadow Minister, Mr McFadden. The FCA’s approach to the perimeter was limited. It did not take a holistic view of the perimeter and therefore there was inadequate supervision of unregulated activities. The halo effect, which the shadow Minister also raised, was without doubt a wider systemic problem within the FCA.
Our inquiry is ongoing. We have taken evidence from Dame Elizabeth, from senior personnel at the FCA, including Andrew Bailey, who was the chief executive officer of the FCA during the appropriate period, and my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury. We will have much to say in our report, which will be published no later than the end of this month.
Looking ahead, the speakers so far have rightly asked how we make sure that this does not happen again. That lies within the transformation programme that the FCA is now undertaking. The Committee will be showing a close and careful interest in the progress of that transformation programme.
By way of intervention, I note the observation of my hon. Friend Kevin Hollinrake about the importance of those responsible for shortcomings being held accountable. We will no doubt have something to say about that in the report.
The whole issue of compensation leads on to the issue of the general view that there should be personal responsibility for investments, as well as Government backing, and we will need to look at that. I am terribly short of time, so I will leave it there. I welcome the Bill.
I am pleased to be able to speak in this short debate and to confirm that the SNP will not oppose Second Reading, but I am angry and frustrated that the debate needs to take place at all. Most parts of the legislation are only necessary because of a catalogue of failures of Government, of legislation and of regulators.
I will speak first about the second of the two parts, on the Pension Protection Fund. One of the first times I spoke in Parliament, just a few days after my maiden speech, I expressed concerns about pension liberation scams. I asked the then Secretary of State what steps the Government were taking to protect people from them, to make sure changing the rules would not just make open season for the scammers. We now know that the answer to that question is that the Government were doing nothing, or if they were doing anything, they did not do nearly enough. Some £350 million has been stolen from people’s pensions using these scams. Those pensioners should be compensated from the Pension Protection Fund, and I would support a provision in clause 2 to allow that to happen.
Clause 1 sets up the promised compensation scheme for victims of the London Capital & Finance scandal. About 11,000 people were affected, of whom 2,000 got some compensation and 9,000 got nothing. I do not think any of the 11,000 understand why some qualified for compensation and some did not. It is very welcome that the Bill will provide some redress for the 9,000 or so bondholders who would have otherwise got nothing. It is welcome, but it is not enough.
The House of Commons Library has described the Government’s decision to set up the compensation scheme as “a somewhat exceptional response.” The response is exceptional, but the scandal to which it responds is anything but. It is the latest, and sadly almost certainly not the last, in a roll of shame that includes Equitable Life, Premier FX, Connaught, Henley pensions, Blackmore Bond and many others. The victims of some of these schemes get compensation, but tens of thousands get nothing.
Blackmore Bond, for example, went into administration in May 2020 and its bondholders are unlikely to see any of the £46 million investment that the company’s directors had promised them was safe and guaranteed. One of my constituents lost his £40,000 life savings to Blackmore Bond. I have to disagree with the Minister’s claim that LCF was unique or even distinctive in any material way from Blackmore Bond and various other mini-bond failures. LCF hid behind its own FCA registration knowing that it had nothing to do with the products it was selling. Blackmore Bond hid behind the FCA registration of other companies that acted as its representatives. The intention in all cases was clear: to mislead investors as to the degree of protection that the Financial Conduct Authority would give them, when in most cases the companies knew that the FCA would give no protection whatever.
Like LCF, Blackmore Bond could have been stopped much sooner if the Financial Conduct Authority had acted on the warnings it was receiving as long ago as early 2017. One came from an eyewitness who offered to let the FCA into his office to watch and listen at first hand to the “unlawful” telephone sales practices that the company’s representatives, Amyma Ltd, were using—his words, not mine. It took two and a half years for the FCA to remove Amyma’s right to act as authorised representatives. Several months later, again as part of its response to the collapse of LCF, the FCA banned the sale of mini-bonds to small retail investors. Some £26 million of the total investor losses in Blackmore Bond were from bonds sold after March 2017—after the Financial Conduct Authority had enough information to take decisive action, but before it had taken the action that was needed.
I want to see legislation, or possibly even an amendment to this Bill, that makes schemes similar to the LCF compensation scheme available to victims of other pension and investment scams without them having to wait for a public inquiry and a new Act of Parliament for every single one. I want to see the Government getting serious about dealing with the shysters and charlatans who too often seem to walk away unscathed from these scandals, or more likely get driven away in their chauffeur-driven luxury cars, leaving their victims in many cases almost destitute. I want to see a regulatory regime that works, not just to compensate the victims at public expense, but to stop the crooks and chancers from being able to con people out of their money in the first place.
The fact that the Minister admitted in his opening speech that paying compensation to all victims of pension or investment scams would place an unacceptable burden on the public finances is one of the biggest admissions of regulatory failure by any Government Minister that I can ever remember. While we welcome the steps taken in the Bill, the message very clearly from the Scottish National party, as it was from the Labour Front-Bench spokesman a few minutes ago, is that this is not even enough to be the start of the action needed to make people’s pensions and investments safe from the crooks.
I thank the Minister and the Economic Secretary to the Treasury for bringing this Bill to the House. I welcome this Second Reading debate and am pleased that the Government are making tangible progress. I also thank Dame Gloster for her report and welcome the fact that the Government have accepted its nine recommendations. My contribution will be brief and I hope that, given the time constraints, Members will forgive me for not taking interventions.
Will my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary clarify whether bondholders will be required to surrender all their bonds to qualify for the Government’s scheme? If that is the case, some of my constituents who invested considerable sums in the scheme will be forced to surrender all their bonds, regardless of the amount invested, to receive the maximum £68,000 of compensation offered by the Government, as opposed to their being able to surrender a portion of their bonds to gain access to the Government’s compensation scheme while still potentially being able to receive further dividend payments direct from the administrators, thereby ensuring that their loss is reduced. My constituents need clarity and it would be most welcome if the Department would consider that. I recently wrote to my hon. Friend about this matter and very much look forward to hearing his response.
The Bill will bring relief to thousands of investors who were let down not just by a failed company but by a failed system. That is why we need a Bill that will address the failures of regulation, governance and auditing, but this Bill does none of that. The Government are yet again bailing out victims of an under-regulated finance system that is regularly ripping off smaller investors. I have to say that Government Ministers are guilty of gross negligence for standing by while this happens time and again.
“There is no legal definition of a ‘mini-bond’”,
but it did nothing to stop the mis-selling. The FCA saw no issue with LCF’s operations, yet in March 2019 HMRC found that products advertised as ISAs by LCF did not meet the rules. In addition, the FCA was advising that investments would be protected by the financial services compensation scheme; the High Court judged that they were not. The FCA was asleep at the wheel.
The then chief executive of the FCA, who is now the Governor of the Bank of England, sat on his haunches and did nothing. Some 18 months ago, I called on the previous Chancellor, Sajid Javid, to delay Mr Bailey’s appointment as Governor, given the concerns.
I am pleased that the Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s report actually identifies some of the problems. She described the FCA’s supervision of LCF as “wholly deficient” and said that there were “significant gaps and weaknesses” in the FCA’s practices. She said that staff were
“not…trained sufficiently to analyse a firm’s financial information to detect indicators of fraud or other serious irregularity.”
LCF’s founder was Simon Hume-Kendall, a former chairman of the Tunbridge Wells Conservatives and a party donor. It has been reported that the investors’ cash in LCF has been used to buy horses, a helicopter and lifetime memberships to private Mayfair clubs. Perhaps the Minister could update us on the ongoing inquiries into the activities of this gentleman and LCF.
As has been said, this is not a one-off. There are so many other examples, including Blackmore, Basset & Gold and Chilango. Perhaps the Minister can tell us when further Bills will be introduced to compensate the investors in those schemes who lost so much money. I welcome the Bill—of course I do—but it is now time for the Government to bring forward serious legislation to stop crimes like this happening in the first place and to protect our constituents from these spivs.
I welcome the Bill. Those of my constituents who have been affected by the collapse of LCF will welcome the fact that, as a result of the excellent report by Dame Elizabeth, which really lifted the lid on how the Financial Conduct Authority failed in its obligations, the Government have been forced into the position we are in today with this Bill. I welcome that.
As other speakers have said, this is not the first time that the Financial Conduct Authority has failed in its regulatory duty and failed people who are innocents in all of this. Firms assure them that they are regulated and that protection is available, but the savings they invest are then snatched from them. Let us look at the failure of the FCA in this particular case. It failed to meet its statutory obligations. It failed to take any action even when it was found that a regulated firm was engaging solely in unregulated lending. Surely that must have raised concerns that the firm was using its regulated status to engage in activities that were unregulated. Its staff were clearly not trained in taking complaints and passing them on. Indeed, as Dame Elizabeth pointed out, they were actually assuring the public that the claims being made by LCF were correct and that their savings were safe. Even when fraud was passed on up the line to supervisors, again it was ignored. All these regulatory failures require the Government to ensure that there is compensation for individuals.
I agree with the Minister that we cannot cover every spiv and every chancer who tries to take money from people. If we are going to avoid that, we must have proper regulations. If the Financial Conduct Authority has proven that it is not up to the job, new regulators have to be put in place. Those who take on the responsibilities of the Financial Conduct Authority have to be held responsible as well. We cannot simply say that it is about the institution or the people who are in charge; we have to avoid this happening again so that people in my constituency who have suffered do not continue to suffer from these kinds of actions.
My constituents were not professional financial investors; most were senior citizens relying on the investment for their pension. They worked hard in their younger years to save a little bit here, a little bit there, to ensure that in their twilight years they would have enough to live on—but this security was savagely snatched away from them. They were duped by grossly misleading and deceitful marketing and let down by negligent regulators and ineffective auditors.
Although I am broadly supportive of the Bill, there are two very urgent issues that the Government must address. First, the compensation is capped at 80% of what victims would have been entitled to had they been eligible for the financial services compensation scheme. They were denied that protection simply because mini-bonds were not regulated. The Gloster report states:
“The FCA had identified the risks to consumers posed by mini-bonds from as early as 2013 and the additional risks relating to the use of mini-bonds as a quasi-investment vehicle by at least 2017.”
Yet the FCA and the Government failed to regulate. The Government must therefore recognise their own negligence to regulate, as well as the FCA’s, and commit today to offer the full compensation that victims should have been entitled to.
Secondly, on auditing, London Capital & Finance had only £50,000 of share capital and high leverage in 2016, but its auditors simply waved through its accounts. In 2018, when the firm was all but insolvent, its auditors, astoundingly, had no problem with its accounts. But sadly, as we know, this is not a rare occurrence. BHS, Carillion, Thomas Cook, Patisserie Valerie and many more all sailed through their audits with flying colours despite the horrors lurking beneath. Such scandals required robust action to ensure that they could never happen again, but this Bill does not do that. The Government must therefore set out urgent proposals to address the systemic regulatory failures that this case has exposed in the FCA but also in the auditing industry.
I rise to support the Bill, but to suggest that there are wider issues to be considered from the scandal behind it. In particular, I suggest that there are disturbing echoes of Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s report in how the demutualisation of Liverpool Victoria is being considered by the same regulators, and that there is an urgent need to tighten up some major legal loopholes.
The focus of the Financial Conduct Authority’s interest to date in LCF and Liverpool Victoria is very different. LCF was selling, or rather mis-selling, a distinct product. With Liverpool Victoria, the issue is whether it should be allowed to hand over all the capital and assets its British customers have helped it build up over almost 200 years to a privately owned American firm with no commensurate experience, and whether the choices of consumers past and present are being respected. I understand that regulators have had a substantial number of meetings with those pushing the demutualisation, but none with the customers and owners of Liverpool Victoria.
Consumers lost thousands with London Capital & Finance. The customers of Liverpool Victoria also risk losing out significantly. Dame Elizabeth’s report questioned whether policy papers and staff training at the FCA were adequate. In the case of LCF, the inability to detect indicators of fraud was the key driver of her concern, but given that the FCA has made no analysis of what happened during previous demutualisations of financial services businesses—whether customers benefited or lost out; whether customers were presented with fair information and given access to alternative viewpoints—it is difficult to see how staff could be trained to protect the consumer interest properly during a demutualisation. Indeed, all the evidence that has been compiled independently suggests that demutualisations result in worse services for consumers.
It is clear that Dame Elizabeth thought that the FCA was not fit for purpose. It did not protect LCF customers, despite repeated wake-up calls. Similarly, given the complicated nature of financial services businesses, the customers of a financial mutual are not always well placed to make a judgment about whether a vote for a conversion is in their interest; they rely on the advice of others. Customers are not given even-handed information by boards wanting to demutualise—they are certainly not in the case of Liverpool Victoria—to allow them to make an informed decision. The FCA has a critical role, and it needs to exercise a little more robust direction to the board of Liverpool Victoria. Similarly, legislation for friendly societies needs updating so that it properly protects consumers’ assets and ensures that regulators can properly protect consumers during demutualisations.
I, too, welcome the Bill and very much look forward to its moving forward. Having read the background information and looked back on what happened, I have a couple of questions, although I support the Bill and think it is important that we do so.
“misleading, not fair and unclear” in its advertising, and that there had been
“serious concerns about the way the firm was conducting its business”.
For me, it is clear that the FCA at that time failed the investors. At the same time, Dame Elizabeth’s report concluded that
“the FCA did not discharge its functions in respect of LCF in a manner which enabled it effectively to fulfil its statutory objectives.”
We are where we are tonight, and we have a Bill that I hope will address those issues for this particular group of investors. I just ask the Minister whether—Gareth Thomas referred to this—in other cases where people have invested similarly and indiscretions and fraud have taken place, they too will be able to benefit from this legislation.
I welcome clause 2, which will give the Secretary of State the power to make a loan to the board of the PPF to enable the payment of compensation to eligible occupational pension schemes following the High Court judgment. That is an essential component of the legislation, as is the fact that it entails the loan being repaid by the fraud compensation fund levy over a period currently estimated to be between 10 and 15 years. We must protect, if we can, the pension schemes and investors through that process and give them peace of mind. The protection of those pensioners is increasingly important to me, as it is to every hon. Member who has spoken in the debate and to the Minister.
I will pose one last question to the Minister, if I may, about those investors who may have passed away without being able to take advantage of this legislation. Will the families of the deceased—those who are no longer here —qualify for the compensation as well?
It is a great honour to speak in this debate and to have worked with the pensions Minister—the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Guy Opperman—to bring forward this legislation. Many Members of this House, if not all, will have constituents who have been affected by the issues that we have dealt with and discussed this afternoon.
I am pleased that the Bill has the support of Members across the House. I have listened carefully to the debate. Observations have been made about the FCA and about the House’s confidence in its conduct; I will seek to address those points and to respond to the important points raised by several hon. Members about the compensation scheme for London Capital & Finance.
Let me begin with the scope of the compensation scheme and what it means in relation to the Government’s approach to future firm failures—a point that John McDonnell and others raised. The LCF is not the only mini-bond firm that has failed in recent years. The Treasury, in collaboration with the FCA, has examined every mini-bond issuer known to have failed in the past eight years. Following that detailed analysis, the Government are satisfied that the circumstances surrounding LCF are truly exceptional.
As hon. Members may already be aware, the issuance of mini-bonds is not regulated by the FCA. As my hon. Friend the pensions Minister set out, LCF was an FCA-authorised firm despite not receiving any income from regulated activities. LCF is unique in that regard; indeed, it is the only mini-bond issuer that was authorised by the FCA and that sold bonds to on-lend to other companies. That is important, because one of the central findings in Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s excellent report is that because LCF was authorised, the FCA should have considered its business holistically, including the unregulated activity of issuing mini-bonds. The FCA cannot be said to have the same responsibilities with regard to unauthorised firms. Although the Government have not seen evidence to suggest that the regulatory failings at the FCA caused the losses for bondholders, they were a major factor that the Government considered when deciding to establish the scheme.
I pause to acknowledge the representations made by the hon. Members for Strangford (Jim Shannon) and for Kirkcaldy and Cowdenbeath (Neale Hanvey) and by my hon. Friend James Grundy. I will set out in due course, in the coming months, the details of how the scheme will operate. I am very happy to take correspondence on individual cases, but I think it would be inappropriate to try to address at the Dispatch Box this evening every single case raised. However, I have received and read many letters from individuals who have lost money after investing in LCF and other failed mini-bond firms, including Blackmore Bond and Basset & Gold, which were raised in the debate.
I sincerely extend my sympathy to all those affected, as I know that many individuals have suffered financial hardship—severe financial hardship, in many cases—as a result of their investment losses. However, I must be clear that the Government cannot step in to pay compensation in respect of every failed financial services firm. That falls outside the financial services compensation scheme, would create a moral hazard for investors and would potentially lead individuals to choose unsuitable investments, thinking that the Government would provide compensation in all cases if things went wrong.
The Government’s approach follows the historical precedent. I note that only three compensation schemes have been established in the past 35 years—for Barlow Clowes, a Ponzi scheme that failed in the late 1980s, Equitable Life and LCF—despite many investment firms failing over that period. The Government are also seeking to ensure that the situation never arises in the future. In April, we launched a consultation with proposals to bring mini-bonds into FCA regulation.
Mr McFadden asked a number of questions about the Government’s confidence about the FCA’s capability. As the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham mentioned, the transformation programme that the new chief executive, who has been in post for just over eight months, is undertaking at pace is designed to empower the organisation at all levels to hear the representations that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East made, to act on them, and to deal proactively with the cases that are raised.
It is encouraging to hear the Minister’s confidence in the transformation programme. Given the concerns that consumers might lose out in the demutualisation of Liverpool Victoria, will he sit down with the new chief executive of the FCA and go through how the FCA will ensure that consumers’ interests are properly protected if that demutualisation goes ahead?
I thank the hon. Gentleman, as ever, for his representations. He has been a determined campaigner for that sector during my tenure. I have regular conversations, at least every six weeks, with the chief executive of the FCA, and we discuss a whole range of matters. I would be very happy to discuss that matter with him when I next speak to him in the next few weeks.
As Members from across the House have recognised today, the measure concerning a loan to the board of the Pension Protection Fund, set out in clause 2, is vital to ensure that those defrauded of their pensions by scam pension liberation schemes are able to access the compensation that they deserve. The Bill will ensure that those whose pensions have been unjustly targeted by fraudsters receive their pensions. We must continue to provide a safety net for people across the UK, who deserve to have confidence that they will have a pension pot for their retirement. I note that a number of observations were made about the ongoing challenge of dealing with the evolving nature of financial services firms and the sophistication of scams. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend the Member for Hexham, and I are working across Whitehall to bring an effective resolution to this matter.
I acknowledge that Members from across the House have supported the principles of the Bill, and I welcome the support that it has received. It will offer some relief to the enormous distress and hardship suffered by LCF bondholders and victims of fraudulent pension liberation schemes. It is an important Bill, and I want to move as quickly as possible from Royal Assent to enact it and deliver that compensation. I hope that right hon. and hon. Members will support it this evening.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.