[Albert Owen in the Chair] — Arch Cru Compensation Scheme

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 9:30 am on 19th October 2011.

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Photo of Tom Greatrex Tom Greatrex Shadow Minister (Energy) 9:30 am, 19th October 2011

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his intervention. I do not wish to get drawn into the background dispute between people who have paid into a class action legal fund and people involved in a different action group on behalf of investors. To be frank, I have spoken for far longer than I intended, and I want to give others the chance to get in. There are lots of complicated issues, and I want to focus on the compensation scheme before I draw my remarks to a conclusion. I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me.

The approach I have suggested would simply enable people to get their money back—to get up to 100%. This case has been described as one of the worst investment scandals of recent years. There was a similar scandal under the FSA’s predecessor, the Investment Management Regulatory Organisation, and the name Peter Young will mean something to many people here. The relationships and problems involved were broadly similar, but following the suspension of the fund in question in 1996, IMRO achieved a settlement whereby people got their money back. The deal was funded by Morgan Grenfell, which was broadly in the same position as Capita.

That settlement was agreed three months after suspension. Although IMRO took action against the chief executive of the fund manager, the offer was not paid until January 1999—two years and four months after suspension. In the case of Arch Cru, however, it is now two years and eight months since suspension, and only now are letters starting to go out to people with the payment offer—I understand that they are going out now or will be going out in the next couple of weeks. Why was the FSA unable to get close to the resolution achieved by its predecessor as regulator in a similar time frame? Why is up to 70% acceptable to the FSA, when IMRO managed to get 100%?

Fourthly, there is the issue of ensuring that these events do not happen again. Something needs to change if these things are not to happen again, and people who invest their retirement nest eggs or lump sums on the basis of being told that a fund invests cautiously are not to lose their money, not to have to battle through the press to get a hearing, not to have to get a debate in Parliament so that issues can be aired and not to experience the stress, anxiety and rank unfairness of losing their money in a high-risk gamble they were told was a cautious investment.

In this regard, the FSA is about to be replaced by the Financial Conduct Authority, and the relevant proposals are beginning their pre-legislative scrutiny. What will be put in place to enable the FCA to prevent something similar from happening again? All of us, including the Government, have an opportunity to get the proposals right, and that is why these issues are a matter for the Minister and the Government. The Minister and the Treasury correspondence unit have been clear that this affair is a matter for the regulator, not them, but when the ACD fails, the regulator admits it did not know what was happening because of the structure of an investment vehicle, and the basis of a payment offer is so woefully inadequate, these things become a matter for the Minister; it becomes the Government’s responsibility to prevent or minimise the risk of such things ever happening again.

It also becomes a matter of my constituents and those of other Members present being entitled to information, but the FSA and others are not releasing much information. That is why I am putting the questions to the Minister today. Does he believe that Capita fulfilled its role effectively? Does he accept that the FSA has been hampered in fulfilling its role as regulator by its structure? Does he understand that in not providing information, there is suspicion among the investors? Does he realise that on that basis, up to 70% is just not good enough? Does he now know that the FCA needs to be bolstered for the future? Given all the above, will he now ensure that there is a section 14 investigation into what went on with Arch Cru?

I have spoken for far longer than I had intended, so I will conclude. It is easy, when looking into the matter, as I have done over the past few weeks, to get into the details and get lost in the technicalities and minutiae of the regulatory regime, and in the reputations of blue-chip companies, the statements of their chief executives and other individuals, and even the reputations of some of those in high-profile positions in the investment fund. Ultimately, the matter is about people—people such as my constituent Mr Pringle of Cambuslang, whom I have been in correspondence with. He e-mailed me yesterday and asked me to include a final point in the debate, which I will conclude on. He said that

“my wife…and I invested all our pension money with the Cru in this ‘Low Risk’ venture. Being pension money we obviously did not want any high risk ventures that would put our money at risk…We are extremely disappointed in the FSA’s attitude towards this case, by saying that they think Capita’s offer is ‘Fair and Reasonable’. Not in any way is their offer ‘Fair and Reasonable’. Investing in Greek Shipping is not ‘Low Risk’!”

That is the crux of the issue. That is why it is a matter for the Government as well as the regulator, and that is why the Minister needs to respond to the debate this morning.