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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 10:26 am on 19th October 2011.

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Photo of Guy Opperman Guy Opperman Conservative, Hexham 10:26 am, 19th October 2011

Thank you, Mr Owen, for calling me to speak.

The victims in this case are savers, widows and pensioners, who we must not forget and who we are fundamentally elected to fight for. It is definitely in the Government’s interests—is it not?—to encourage proper saving and proper investment. One can use this particular disaster—it is nothing less than that—to encourage proper investment in proper companies.

I am very pleased that, along with other colleagues, I have this opportunity to speak today on an issue that dozens of my constituents whose lives have been irreparably damaged by CF Arch Cru have contacted me about.

I must thank Tom Greatrex for securing this debate. A lot of us have tried to secure such a debate. I also want to thank him because he gave his address in a measured, reasonable, all-party tone. That is welcome, because hon. Members are united—in every part of the country and in every democratic and political process—in their view of the disaster that has occurred.

I must also thank my hon. Friend Alun Cairns, who has campaigned tirelessly on this issue. He has sought debate after debate after debate on this issue and was, frankly, pipped at the post by the might of Scotland in the form of the hon. Member for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, who snuck up the inside rail and secured this debate. However, I know that we are all working together, which is a wonderful thing to see.

Obviously I speak as a constituency MP, but I also speak as someone who, for approximately 15 years, was employed on a repeat basis by Her Majesty’s Government as a prosecutor of fraud trials. I worked for the Attorney-General and the Serious Fraud Office, and I bear the scars of involvement with cases such as Blue Arrow and Guinness, and particularly a scam in relation to a company called Moneywise, which was investigated by the Financial Times. In that case, I spent six long months in Guildford Crown court bringing fraudsters to justice and recovering money. It was another case where people were defrauded by supposedly safe investments and money was taken from them. We successfully brought prosecutions for conspiracy to defraud.

I do not know the inner details of the particular case that we are discussing today, because only those involved, the Financial Services Authority and others have full access to the documentation. It is easy to make glib comments, but, speaking as an informed observer, I would seek the involvement of the Serious Fraud Office. With respect, there seems to be only two choices in relation to official actions and official offences committed here. Either the Minister is appropriately referring this matter for an inquiry under section 14 of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 or—frankly—the Serious Fraud Office needs to get off its backside and investigate this matter properly, bringing people who are committing these particular offences to justice. Clearly, there is the potential—I can go no further than that—that criminal offences of conspiracy to defraud have taken place.

An awful lot of questions have been raised, and I do not want to repeat the points that other hon. Members have made, but we come back to the question why an investment advertised as a

“safe and cautious fund—ideal for pension transfer” has so damaged people’s lives. We must move on to the simple question how to stop it happening again.

To deal first with the compensation package, given that the funds were suspended in March 2009, one might have imagined that it would have been put forward a little earlier. The delay by those involved and their dilatory tactics are to their discredit. However, the £54 million package is inadequate. Let us be blunt: Capita is a substantial company. There may be arguments about whether the company in question is limited within the confines of Capita’s many companies, or about the parent company not being responsible for the individual failings of individual people in other lesser companies in the group. Those may be perfectly legitimate comments, and if Capita wants to take that high financial moral tone with us, so be it. However, it needs to grasp that it has a simple choice in this Parliament. Either it provides 100% compensation or it will find that it has few friends in this House. The £54 million is frankly not sufficient. This is not like Equitable Life, because this is not a situation in which a company has run out of money. Capita has not gone bust. To quote one investor who wrote to me:

“The current package is barely a pinprick on Capita’s little finger.”