[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

I totally endorse that point, and that is where the Government definitely have a role. They can use the inadequacies of the present case to highlight their intention to come down hard on those who mismanage investments as in this instance, to give investors confidence in other investments in the future. Sadly, that should have been done previously, and such scams and difficulties have been bubbling over for the past 20 years.

My constituent, Mr Ian Robinson, transferred his entire pension pot of £90,000 into Arch Cru on the advice of an independent financial adviser. He thought it was a sensible policy. In 2009, his funds were revalued down to about £55,000; they were then frozen; and the remaining capital was eroded over the next two years.

He will be lucky to get 40% back under the compensation package. Another constituent, who wants to remain nameless, worked all his life and built up a business. He sold it and thought that he and his wife had a successful pension pot of several hundred thousand pounds. They put all of it—savings and pension—into Arch Cru. After the devastating effects of what happened, he and his wife have been living off a state pension and with the current offer of recompense they will be forced to downsize to enable them to live from any capital that is released. They will have lost hundreds of thousands of pounds, which they thought was securely invested to provide a gentle but secure return, and they will be lucky to be able to leave anything to their dependants. If my constituent agrees to the package at this stage, he will have less than half the compensation needed to put him and his wife back in the position they were in prior to their investment. In the current climate, we should support such hard-working people.

Much could be said about the dilatoriness of the process, because, as other hon. Members have mentioned, nothing has really happened since suspension in March 2009. I shall briefly discuss Capita. Others have spoken eloquently and forcefully about its inadequacy in its role. One constituent told me:

“This is not just a case of an investment that has underperformed due to the Global Financial Crisis but one where there are serious misgivings in relation to the management and governance of the funds”.

That is certainly how I see the matter—it is potentially a criminal investigation. Capita was paid as trustees to oversee the management of the funds, which we all agree it simply did not do. Therefore why is Capita not fully accountable for the extent of the losses of the people whose money it was managing? Clearly it is vicariously liable and has an obligation.

Hugh Aldous has prepared a report on Capita, and I recommend that anyone who has not taken on board the full level of ineptitude should read it. It is clear from the report, in which Hugh Aldous makes multiple observations, that the net asset values of several of the cells that were invested in were overstated at least from 2007 onwards. He reported that the condition of the physical assets was far worse than

“we reasonably expected and, in some cases, frankly appalling.”

It seems inexplicable that small investors should suffer so severely with an inadequate package.

Several hon. Members have spoken about the compensation package, and the Minister must address two points. Why on earth has a closed offer been made, when it is also time-limited? That is wrong. The Minister must assist hon. Members by giving the reason for that and telling us whether the Government will do anything about it. Everything would change if the Minister were to say that it is an interim offer. If it were an interim offer, so that the victims of the scam could receive the £54 million paid down in the usual way, with the right to continue to take civil action if they wanted to pursue matters further, I would say, “So be it.” However, to tell them that it is a time-limited £54 million offer and they can take it or leave it is wrong.

The FSA has supposedly been making great efforts to ensure that companies can meet their commitments when they fall down. There are regulations to protect consumers. The FSA is a publicly funded body. It exists to protect investors, and it has not done so in this case. It should surely have launched a proper investigation. My hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Glamorgan has called for a proper investigation, and I repeat that call. The FSA seems reluctant to admit that Capita has failed in its duty as an authorised corporate director.