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My Lords, I did not participate in this Bill but I share the sentiments expressed so far about the need for financial guidance, advice and education to help people come to better decisions. I support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, about the importance of including this as a regular part of the curriculum. As a teacher, I have spent some time trying to teach basic financial skills as part of personal and social education, but it is very difficult when there is not proper time allowed for this in the curriculum. I agree that it needs to be given much greater importance. That is even truer now when so many young people have easy access to the internet and easily become fair game to scams, complex bogus schemes and systems of advice which are really there to deceive and take their money. Therefore, I broadly welcome the scheme.
I was interested to hear the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, about debt and debt management and the importance of the latter not just to the economy but to individuals who may be going through a particularly dreadful period in their lives.
“an assessment of whether unsolicited direct marketing is, or may be, having a detrimental effect on consumers”.
Has any analysis of that been done yet? If not, could something to do with the quality of advice and the qualification of some of the advisers be included in that? I do not know whether there was debate on that during the passage of the Bill. Section 4(1) says that the single financial guidance body must provide advice to a member of a pension scheme or an inheritor on what to do with the flexible benefits. Are there any early thoughts or a timetable on that?
I know that with regard to Section 22 there was an issue about whether the Government would limit or control the direct marketing of financial services. Again, has any progress been made on that? If not, is there a timeframe in view? My observation—I speak as a counsellor who has given advice on debt and other topics—is that the question of resources is very important. As part of the programme of austerity, financial and legal advice were two of the areas that were severely cut back. I would welcome assurance that the finance for this will be protected, as has previously been mentioned.
I also wonder about declarations of interest and vested interests. How can customers know whether their advisers have these, and what they are? We talked about lists online about people taking advice. There may be a provision already about who is registered to give advice.
There is also the issue of redress. The legislation talks about the FCA, but my experience is that redress can be very difficult for people who are not knowledgeable about these things. It can be very long and very inaccessible. I hope the Minister can enlighten me on that. Having said that, this seems a very good measure and I look forward to hearing more as the measures in the Act are introduced.