New Clause 17 - Reporting requirements

Part of Financial Services and Markets Bill – in the House of Commons at 5:30 pm on 7 December 2022.

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Photo of John Baron John Baron Conservative, Basildon and Billericay 5:30, 7 December 2022

I very much welcome the Bill and congratulate my hon. Friend the Minister on listening to and engaging with the points raised by many of us on the Back Benches.

I support new clause 11 in particular—I was heartened to hear what the Minister had to say about it—but may I perhaps reinforce a very simple message about the urgency required on financial advice? We in this country have been blessed with the City of London and many other world-leading financial institutions around the UK. I think I can say with some confidence that London is the financial capital of Europe, if not the world. The world comes here to do business on a variety of fronts. Yet we have very little good access to advice. In fact, if anything, we have a widening advice gap.

On the one hand, we have wealth managers raising their minimums, banks withdrawing from the high street and withdrawing fully from providing investment advice; we also have the retail distribution review, which I supported because it was ending the backhand commission for unit trusts—that was bad for the consumer—but it has resulted in independent financial advisers having to charge more and few of them being used. On the other hand, with all that advice in retreat, we have the Government and all parties saying that we must take greater control of our finances, there are greater pension freedoms and there is a great demand for good advice.

A lot of people of modest means who have no access to good advice fall into that void. They may be tempted, for example, to leave cash in the bank earning a pitiful rate of interest while inflation erodes its value. This is where the law of unintended consequences comes in, because all that regulation that had to be met before one could offer full-blown advice is fine when we are talking about full-blown advice, but there is a middle ground that needs to be covered. I offer a basic statistic that might interest or help those willing to take a particularly long-term view to their financial planning: instead of leaving money in cash, if they invest in equities over the long term—25 years, for example—they stand a very small chance of losing money. There will be volatility, but because they are investing, hopefully, in growing businesses, they will do well, and 97 times out of 100, that will beat cash deposits. That is the sort of advice that banks, building societies and many others could give, without getting too complex about financial planning. It would offer consumers a choice, rather than just letting their cash sit in banks and get eroded. Will the Minister therefore give impetus to the assurance he has given on new clause 11 and really get the Treasury looking at this issue, because there is a halfway house, and we must not stop regulation being the enemy of the good? That is what we are asking for.

I will add one other thing quickly in the minute I have left. Please make sure that our regulators listen to the various trade bodies when it comes to regulation, because we are inheriting—I very much welcome this Bill—a lot of powers from the EU. We are in control of our own destiny, but I take issue with the FCA on a number of points. One of them is that when it comes to investment trusts, there are such things as key information documents. They are an invention of the EU and are misleading about risk and putting consumers at risk of losing money—it is as simple as that. The Association of Investment Companies has said that. By the way, it has also said, in relation to those key information documents, “burn before reading”. Despite that, there has been no meaningful action from the FCA on that issue, and that is wrong. I ask the Minister to make sure that our regulators do not rest on their laurels, realise the greater freedoms they have got and rise to the occasion.