Financial Guidance and Claims Bill [HL] - Report (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 24th October 2017.

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Photo of Baroness Kramer Baroness Kramer Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Treasury and Economy) 3:45 pm, 24th October 2017

My Lords, perhaps I can be helpful on a couple of the points just raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard. These amendments ban solicitations in real time, as he will have noticed. That obviously excludes letters. It means that you can send information through the post; no one would wish to prohibit proper kinds of marketing. It is the nuisance and intrusion and the element of pressure that comes from that real-time activity that is the pernicious side of solicitation. That, essentially, is cold calling and is exactly what this is intended to deal with.

The noble Viscount suggested that financial education and capability are the way to go; indeed, many in the Government feel that that is the route to deal with cold calling, so that people know to hang up. However, the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough, was very clear in illustrating that, while we all get cold calls, we are merely the tip of an iceberg. For those who pursue this, the real focus is on people who are absolutely the most vulnerable. Being realistic, financial education and capability, even on the most extraordinary scale, would be very unlikely to provide adequate protection to that group of people who are now constantly being abused.

On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, if this body is not associated with consumer protection, quite frankly I wonder what this body is for. That is the underlying premise that sits behind both the predecessor groups that are now being put into the single financial guidance and advice body. It is essential to bring this on to the face of the Bill in a very clear way, as it is the underlying motivation and characterisation of this body, and certainly it is a responsibility.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulks, also suggested that the Government do intend to move in this area. We have been hearing that for an incredibly long period of time and, with constant pressure, perhaps one day the Government will move. The problem is that we need protection now. We need protection in the near term because, as my noble friend Lord Sharkey, the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, and others have illustrated, this has grown in such scale and momentum that there are daily victims. Every day that we wait there are more victims. Since it is completely unnecessary to wait because the language in this Bill serves the purpose, then in a sense it would be extraordinary to say we will sit back and wait 18 months or two years or whatever else, allowing people to be abused. We can bring a stop to it now in a very simple and straightforward way.

If I understand the Government correctly, they are willing to look at certain targeted areas in which to stop cold calling but not to provide a stop to cold calling in each area where there is clear detriment, which is what the amendment allows through use of this new single body to identify and communicate that detriment. These organisations are so slick and quick they can move from one topic to another very rapidly—you close one door and another door gets opened. For example, we stopped cold calling on mortgages. That is an excellent example that tells you we can do it. It is straightforward. The dimensions are understood. The complexities are well-considered and we have plenty of track record to look back at to make sure that it is done well. We have all of that in place. However when cold calling on mortgages was banned, it shifted on to the next issue—currently, it is pensions, claims management and holiday sickness. Everybody can be absolutely sure there will be something new, provided loopholes are left, by simply attacking one issue here and one issue there. That is the beauty of this particular amendment: it gives us the power to deal with this whole industry, the same people and the same players.

I shall make one last remark and then sit down. I want particularly to congratulate the four noble Lords whose names are on this amendment, all of whom have been working so hard in this area. Three of them are here today, able to speak for themselves, but one of them cannot. The noble Baroness, Lady Altmann, as we know, has been a real mover and shaker on these issues, not just over cold calling for pensions—pensions are her area of real expertise and we have heard her on that—but we have also heard her in this House speaking around the much broader issue as well, which is why she has put her name to the amendment. She had a speaking engagement at lunchtime in the Midlands which she felt she could not cancel. She has not eaten lunch but run to the train station. She is on the train which pulls in to the station at 4.30 and had been greatly hoping there would be a Statement today that would delay this long enough that she could be here to join in with this particular section of the debate. I am sure she will speak in later parts of this Report.

The noble Baroness should not be left out when we recognise that the movers and shakers on this are from every side of the House. This is not a partisan or party-political set of amendments. This is a set of amendments by Members of this House who recognise their responsibility to protect those who are most vulnerable now, before more damage is done, and I hope the Government will see it that way.