Compensation (London Capital & Finance plc and Fraud Compensation Fund) Bill (Second sitting)

Tuesday 15th June 2021

(5 months, 2 weeks ago)

Public Bill Committees

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HM Treasury

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: † Ms Nusrat Ghani, Peter Dowd

† Bell, Aaron (Newcastle-under-Lyme) (Con)

† Benton, Scott (Blackpool South) (Con)

† Cates, Miriam (Penistone and Stocksbridge) (Con)

† Davies, Gareth (Grantham and Stamford) (Con)

† Fuller, Richard (North East Bedfordshire) (Con)

† Glen, John (Economic Secretary to the Treasury)

† Grant, Peter (Glenrothes) (SNP)

† Hunt, Jane (Loughborough) (Con)

† McFadden, Mr Pat (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)

† Mak, Alan (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Opperman, Guy (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions)

† Owen, Sarah (Luton North) (Lab)

† Rodda, Matt (Reading East) (Lab)

† Thomas, Gareth (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)

† Twist, Liz (Blaydon) (Lab)

† Williams, Craig (Montgomeryshire) (Con)

Seb Newman, Committee Clerk

† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 15 June 2021


[Ms Nusrat Ghani in the Chair]

Compensation (London Capital & Finance plc and Fraud Compensation Fund) Bill

We are now sitting in public and the proceedings are being broadcast. Before we begin, I have a few preliminary announcements. Members will understand the need to respect social distancing guidance. In line with the Commission’s decision, face coverings should be worn in Committee unless Members are speaking or are medically exempt. Hansard colleagues would be grateful if Members could email their speaking notes to Please switch electronic devices to silent. Tea and coffee are not allowed during the sittings.

We now begin line-by-line consideration of the Bill. The selection list for today’s sitting is available in the room and shows how the selected amendments have been grouped together for debate. Amendments grouped together are generally on the same or a similar issue. Please note that decisions on amendments do not take place in the order that they are debated but in the order that they appear on the amendment paper. The selection and grouping list shows the order of debates. Decisions on each amendment are taken when we come to the clause to which the amendment relates. A Member who has put their name to the leading amendment in a group is called first. Other Members are then free to catch my eye in order to speak to all or any of the amendments within that group. A Member may speak more than once in a single debate. At the end of a debate on a group of amendments, I shall call the Member who moved the leading amendment again. Before they sit down, they will need to indicate whether they wish to withdraw the amendment or seek a decision. If any Member wishes to press to a vote any other amendment in a group, they need to let me know.

Clause 1

Compensation payments to customers of London Capital & Finance plc

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr Pat McFadden (Wolverhampton South East) (Lab)
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I beg to move amendment 1, in clause 1, page 1, line 5, at end insert—

“(1A) Within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report that considers the circumstances and impact of the payment of compensation to the customers of London Capital & Finance plc and that, in the light of that consideration, sets out the following—

(a) the circumstances in which taxpayer-funded compensation should be paid following the collapse of investment companies in future;

(b) the extent of regulatory failure necessary to trigger compensation funded by the taxpayer in future; and

(c) the limits to taxpayer exposure to investment failings.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report exploring the impact of the payment of compensation to the customers of London Capital & Finance plc and giving criteria for when the taxpayer should compensate investors for investment failures.

With this it will be convenient to discuss amendment 7, in clause 1, page 1, line 18, at end insert—

“(5) Within six months of this Act coming into force, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report that assesses the impact of the payment of compensation to the customers of London Capital & Finance plc under this section, and in the light of that assessment, sets out the following—

(a) an assessment of the regulatory failures that gave rise to the need to compensate the customers of London Capital & Finance plc;

(b) measures the Government is taking to prevent such regulatory failures in the future;

(c) the reasons why the Government is providing compensation to the customers of London Capital & Finance plc but not the customers of other failed investment firms;

(d) criteria for when the Government should be expected to provide compensation following the collapse of investment firms; and

(e) the reasons for the capping of compensation payments under this section at 80% of what customers of London Capital & Finance would have been entitled to under the Financial Services Compensation Scheme.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay a report before Parliament that assesses the impact of the Government compensating the customers of London Capital & Finance plc, as well as broader issues relevant to the mis-selling scandal.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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Thank you for your guidance, Ms Ghani. Later, I will move amendment 2 and, with your help, my hon. Friend the Member for Reading East will move amendments 3, 5 and 6, which stand in the Opposition’s name.

Amendment 1 relates to the first clause of the Bill, which deals with the compensation scheme relating to the collapse of London Capital & Finance and which is based on the report published by Dame Elizabeth Gloster, on which we took oral evidence this morning.

Clause 1 enables a very significant Government decision to step in and compensate people for the collapse of an investment firm. The estimated cost given by the Treasury for that decision is about £120 million. As the Minister pointed out on Second Reading, it is rare that the Government do that. He told us that there have been only two other cases in recent decades—Barlow Clowes and Equitable Life—and even those decisions did not always bring matters to a close. With Equitable Life, some investors around the country remain dissatisfied with the levels of compensation that have been paid out. There is an all-party parliamentary group in this House, and we have my indefatigable hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West, who has led at least one debate, if not more, on these issues, on the Committee. Such decisions do not always bring the matter to a close.

The focus of the amendment is to try to bring some clarity to Parliament and the public about when the taxpayer should be on the hook for an investment collapse, and when not. This issue was raised in oral evidence this morning by the hon. Member for North East Bedfordshire. He used the well-known phrase “caveat emptor”, or “buyer beware”, which applies those who may buy investment products. The trouble at the heart of this case is that the investors did not think they were making a particularly risky decision. LCF sold mini-bonds on the basis of a guaranteed investment return. When those who suspected something might be wrong phoned the FCA, time after time they were reassured that nothing was wrong. To quote one of the FCA’s call handlers, “This is not a scam”. While the hon. Gentleman was right to raise the principle of caveat emptor, how can we blame the investors if the very regulator looking after the thing was reassuring them that there was nothing to be concerned about?

The Government have judged the level of regulatory failure to be so exceptional and egregious that they have decided that the taxpayer has a responsibility to compensate, or as it is sometimes put, to socialise the losses. The level of compensation set by the Government is 80% of the maximum level allowed by the Financial Services Compensation Fund. That maximum is £85,000, so 80% leaves investors with a maximum pay-out of about £68,000.

There is debate about that 80%. Members of the Committee will have been sent written evidence from various LCF investors who think that level is too low. They do not understand why they have been asked to forfeit 20% of their investment because of what the Government acknowledge to be a particularly egregious regulatory failure. The Government will have to debate that. Their justification for any compensation at all is that LCF is a unique case. Both Ministers spelled that out on Second Reading last week. In his opening speech, the Pensions Minister said:

“While other mini-bond firms have failed, LCF is the only mini-bond firm that was authorised by the FCA and sold bonds in order to on-lend to other companies.”

He went on to say:

“It is…important to emphasise that the circumstances surrounding LCF are unique and exceptional, and the Government cannot and should not be expected to stand behind every failed investment firm.”—[Official Report, 8 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 905.]

We agree, and that is precisely what the amendment is about: to try to get some clarity on the Government’s thinking when the degree of regulatory failure is so exceptional that it warrants the taxpayer picking up the bill. When that is not the case, whatever losses there may be should be regarded as normal investment market failings.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas (Harrow West) (Lab/Co-op)
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My right hon. Friend rightly sets out the scale of regulatory failure. Does he think that one of the other potentially unique circumstances of this case is the apparent legislative lacuna about who had the responsibility for regulating mini-bonds? Dame Elizabeth Gloster set out that, on the one hand, the FCA said it should be Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs; HMRC was equally clear that it thought it should be the FCA. We do not know whether that legislative lacuna has yet been sorted. Does my right hon. Friend think that was also a factor in the Government’s decision to compensate to the scale they have?

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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My hon. Friend is right; the lacuna referred to in the report relates particularly to the allocation of ISA status. We asked Dame Elizabeth about that during the oral evidence session this morning. This is important because if there are two things that gave the mini-bonds the stamp of respectability, it would be that prominent in LCF’s advertising was the statement that it was regulated by the FCA, which at firm level was true but was not true of the mini-bonds being sold, and that they could be placed inside an ISA wrapper. Although it is, of course, true that people who invest in ISAs can lose money, for understandable reasons, the ISA wrapper has a certain cachet and a note of respectability.

Dame Elizabeth confirmed during oral evidence this morning that once the ISA wrapper status was allocated in 2017, the degree of investment in those mini-bonds rose markedly, because people would have thought they were investing in something safe. The adverts spoke, in fact, of a 100% record in paying out, when what we were really dealing with was a pyramid scheme where any pay-outs that did come came from other investors and not normal market returns. People thought they were investing in a safe bond. They did not think they were playing investment roulette.

The Economic Secretary also emphasised the uniqueness of the LCF case in his closing speech on Second Reading. He said:

“LCF is unique in that regard; indeed, it is the only mini-bond issuer that was authorised by the FCA and that sold bonds to on-lend to other companies.”—[Official Report, 8 June 2021; Vol. 696, c. 918.]

That is an exact replica, with both Ministers saying the same thing, and I suspect that that phrase has been very carefully honed inside the Treasury. A case had to be made for the uniqueness of this that could not be applied to other investment failures, so I think that form of words is very carefully chosen. However, the Minister may be able to tell us more when he responds.

The amendment is designed to tease out the following point, which I want to clarify with the Minister. Is it the case that even though a number of mini-bond issuers have collapsed in recent years, LCF is the only one that was authorised and regulated by the FCA? The Minister can intervene now or I am happy to wait. As I said to the Ministers on Second Reading, there must have been a discussion in the Treasury about developing a compensation scheme such as the one set out in clause 1. The question would have been asked: if we did this for LCF, what about investors in the Connaught fund or Blackmore Bond or any of the other investment schemes that were raised either on Second Reading or during the oral evidence session this morning? What was the nature of those discussions at the Treasury and what is it about LCF that makes the Government convinced that compensation is due in this case but not in the others? That is why our amendment calls for a report. Having taken the decision to compensate, we believe it would be in the public interest for the Treasury to set out the circumstances under which the taxpayer might be expected to pay when investors lose money. Is it about a firm being authorised by the FCA? Is it about commissioning a report by an eminent and independent figure such as Dame Elizabeth Gloster?

John Glen Portrait The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (John Glen)
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I am very happy to respond at length in my remarks at the end. The distinction we make is that LCF is the only FCA-authorised firm that was on-lending. That is the distinction; not so much the mini-bond issuance but the on-lending nature of it.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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I am grateful to the Minister. I am just going through this series of things to try to clarify exactly what might place the taxpayer on the hook. Does it require the kind of report carried out by Dame Elizabeth Gloster and commissioned by the FCA into the collapse of LCF? Is there a clear threshold of regulatory failure to be passed? There was obviously regulatory failure in this case, but, as we saw from the witnesses this morning, people will argue that other regulatory failures have applied to other firms.

In this case, the regulatory failures were multiple. I do not want to go through them in detail because we will come on to other amendments in which they can be discussed, but I will mention a few of them briefly: misleading promotions by LCF using the halo effect have been regulated by the FCA yet not adequately dealt with by the financial promotions team at the FCA; a failure by the same financial promotions team to join the dots and alert other parts of the FCA, such as the supervisory team, on the implications of those misleading promotions; and multiple attempts to alert the FCA—more than 600 phone calls, according to annex 6 of Dame Elizabeth’s report. Yet, in the vast majority of cases nothing was passed up the line of pursuit, in large part because the mini-bonds were not regulated by the FCA, so the call-handlers’ instincts were, “You’re phoning us about something that we do not regulate, so we don’t have to pass it up the line”—even though the firm as a whole was regulated by the FCA.

That brings us to the failure to take what Dame Elizabeth calls a “holistic approach” to viewing LCF from within the FCA. One could pose the question of what “regulated by the FCA” means if the regulator then ignores the vast majority of what the company does because it does not fall within the regulatory parameter. In the Treasury’s eyes, those regulatory failures, together with the others set out in the report, were enough to trigger the Bill, in both senses of the word. So, what is the principle at stake? When is regulatory failure so obvious and complete that the taxpayer should compensate investors for their losses? That is what the amendment seeks to clarify. We believe that such clarity would be of great benefit to the FCA in the conduct of its duties and in its task of learning the lessons from Dame Elizabeth’s report. It would also be in the public interest. Indeed, without such clarity, the question will continue to be asked: “Why compensate in this case and not others”?

The final point covered by the amendment is the question of any limitations on taxpayer exposure.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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My right hon. Friend is understandably concerned to protect the taxpayer’s interest. Is there not also another dimension as to why the report he seeks is worthwhile? If there is regulatory failure by the FCA in other ways, and not just in the handling of investors’ resources, and if there is no chance of the Government stepping in and offering compensation for that failure, then, for example, if a big financial services company that was not properly regulated by the FCA were to be demutualised, would there not be a reason to offer compensation? Or, if not, would that let the FCA off the hook?

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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My hon. Friend raises a very important point. There are many reasons why clarity about the limitations of Government responsibility and taxpayer responsibility, to put it another way, would be extremely helpful. The very fact of producing the Bill will mean that the Government have asked those questions anyway. As I said earlier, the cost in this case is expected to be about £120 million. The costs of clause 2, which we will come to later, are expected to be over £300 million. Over both clauses the cost will therefore be more than £400 million. That is a large sum of public money that will, in the case of clause 2, be recouped over a period of years from pension scheme members.

Of course, it is possible to have investment failings on an even greater scale. Is there any upper limit that the Treasury would see to such taxpayer exposure, or is it always to be on a case-by-case basis? In theory, investment failings could cost billions rather than hundreds of millions. Our amendment seeks to clarify the Government’s thinking on that, which would be beneficial to Parliament and the public.

Those are the reasons why we have tabled this amendment. We think that the compensation scheme and the whole story of the collapse of LCF demands such clarity and that reports such as the one we have called for would be beneficial.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant (Glenrothes) (SNP)
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairship, Ms Ghani.

I shall speak to amendment 7, in my name, and in support of the official Opposition’s amendment 1.

Both amendments call for the Secretary of State to report back to Parliament on issues that collectively raise many still unanswered questions about the Bill, about the compensation scheme, and about why the scandal of London Capital & Finance was allowed to happen.

By far the biggest criticism of the Bill, which we again heard from witnesses today, is that it has been deliberately framed so narrowly that those questions are in danger of being ignored. I know that the Government will argue that framing it narrowly increases its chances of getting on to the statute book—I accept that argument—but there is a downside to doing that.

The biggest question that is still unanswered is: why do we expect compensation for the victims of one investment mis-selling scandal when so many people have lost so much—possibly a total of more than £1 billion —in other company collapses that share most, and sometimes all, of the key features of London Capital & Finance?

I should make it clear that I am not asking for the setting up of other schemes. We are not asking for approval at this stage, or for other failures to be included in the LCF scheme. All we are asking for is some clear indication that the Government are taking action to look at the wider issues.

The Government’s answer is that London Capital & Finance was regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority and that companies such as Blackmore Bond were not. That smacks of looking for an explanation to justify a decision that has been taken for a completely different reason.

Companies such as Blackmore Bond set out to make prospective investors believe that the FCA had a role in protecting their money. Investors in LCF were misled into believing that its own registration with the FCA would cover their investments. The only difference with other company failures is that investors in those companies were misled into believing that someone else’s registration would cover them—a fine point lost on investors themselves.

The Government’s explanation appear to assume that the only problem, or even the biggest problem, with London Capital & Finance was that it was a regulated company selling unregulated investments. That was certainly part of the problem, but, as the written submissions from a number of investors and as evidence this morning made clear, there were other failings and possibly deliberate malpractice within the company and some of its advisers. Other failings of regulation went well beyond those laid at the feet of the Financial Conduct Authority in relation purely to LCF. If the Government constantly remind us that the sale of mini-bonds was not regulated by the Financial Conduct Authority, surely the elephant in the room is: why on earth not?

The Government will, I know, refer to the principle of caveat emptor. It is correct that anyone making an investment has a responsibility to ensure that the investment meets their needs, but there are hundreds—possibly thousands—of examples in UK regulation where we regulate the market but it is not realistic or fair to expect the emptor to caveat.

We do not expect people to do their own personal survey of a house to make sure it is safe before they buy it. We do not expect people to check the brakes on the bus before buying a ticket. We have regulation to protect public safety, on food standards, on product safety and on a number of financial transactions. It is perfectly possible for the Government to start to look at regulating these investments in future and compensating ordinary men, women and sometimes children who have lost sums that, individually, are not significant to the FCA but are massively significant to their plans for retirement, for paying to support their children at university or for ever.

We must make it clear that we are not asking the Government to approve compensation for every company failure. We are not asking them even to consider the implications of doing that. We are asking them to look specifically at cases where there is clear evidence of the mis-selling of investments, usually to people who the seller knew perfectly well were not suited to that investment. That has been a characteristic of all the cases we have looked at today.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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I am particularly drawn to proposed subsection 5(b) of amendment 7. I wonder whether the hon. Gentleman shares my view that one measure the Government need to require of the FCA in the future, to prevent further such regulatory failures, is for it to take a more hands-on approach when customers get in contact to raise concerns about particular businesses; and to make it a point of principle that, when a significant number of customers raise concerns about the activities of a firm, the FCA might actually try to meet some of those customers, rather than, as appears to be the case at the moment, only bothering to meet representatives of the board and management of said firm.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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The hon. Gentleman makes a valid point. A lot of the issues he raises are covered in Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s report and recommendations. She even pointed out today that possibly the single biggest failing—certainly one of the biggest failings—was that the Financial Conduct Authority had too restrictive a view of its purpose in regulating the market.

I have to say that it is not only the Financial Conduct Authority that has failed to regulate. What was the registrar of companies at Companies House doing when they got a copy of the audited accounts of Blackmore Bond—the only copy that was ever submitted by that entire group—in which it said, in so many words, that in order to pay the guaranteed interest on money it had already received from investors, it had to keep on getting more and more new investors? It was effectively a Ponzi scheme in all but name. The auditors made similar comments on the accounts but did not seem to be under any obligation or duty to do anything else. Nobody at Companies House, or the registrar of companies, appears to have been under any responsibility to look at the documents submitted to spot the danger signs; nobody anywhere seems to have been responsible for that. Although the Financial Conduct Authority has been rightly and severely criticised for its failure to regulate London Capital & Finance, we are talking about a much wider failure of the regulatory regime. Maybe one of the biggest difficulties is that there are so many people who might be involved and they are quite happy to point fingers at one another, saying that they should be responsible.

I realise I am in danger of wandering off the narrow scope of the Bill. We cannot amend the Bill to set up a more comprehensive compensation scheme just now because of the way it is framed; we cannot even amend it to set up a framework so that the Secretary of State, through statutory instrument, could extend it in the future. However, we can ask the Secretary of State to explain to Parliament not only what the Government are doing to help the victims of this one scandal but what lessons they have learned and what they are doing to make sure these scandals cannot be repeated. I hope the words of the witnesses from the Transparency Task Force this morning are ringing in all our ears. They believe they have evidence that there are other scandals like LCF happening right now and that it is just a matter of time before they collapse and leave yet more investors out of pocket.

Finally, why is it that the Government need to be called to account and asked to explain to Parliament why it is that, while they are supporting the victims of LCF, they are doing nothing to help the thousands of other victims of other scandals that have already come home to roost? For those victims, improvement in regulation alone is far too late.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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I do not intend to detain the Committee long, because my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East made an excellent speech on this issue; I merely want to underline the point that I made in when intervening on him. There seems to be a degree of risk in the Government’s approach. Again, it would be good to hear from the Minister to better understand why the level of regulatory failure in this particular case should merit Government compensation, whereas if there were to be regulatory failure in, say, the case of the FCA’s handling of the demutualisation of Liverpool Victoria, that would not merit compensation for the 1 million-plus customers and owners of that financial services business.

I also underline the point that I made when intervening on the hon. Member for Glenrothes, who speaks for the Scottish National party, on the need of the FCA to perhaps rethink its approach to consumers more generally. At least one of the regulators in the financial services business case that I have particularly been following—that of Liverpool Victoria—has met representatives of that organisation some 35-plus times but has not met consumers at all. That seems to be an example of the FCA continuing not to have properly thought through where it might need to change its practices going forward. I know the Minister will be looking at this issue, and I gently encourage him to focus particularly on that aspect of the regulatory failure.

My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East underlined the point in Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s report that there have been 600 phone calls from customers about LCF’s poor performance, yet that still did not seem to spur on the FCA to take action quickly. There are almost 10 times as many consumers who are members of Liverpool Victoria as those who invested in LCF, which surely further underlines the need to get right how the FCA handles the consumer interests going forward. I look forward to the Minister’s answers.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani, and I thank all Committee members for their consideration of this important legislation.

As I set out on Second Reading, the Bill is a vital step in compensating LCF bondholders, and I will now turn directly to the consideration of amendments 1 and 7. As the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East set out, amendment 1 seeks to add a requirement for the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a set of criteria for when the taxpayer should compensate investors for investment failures. In essence, it brings some clarity about when the mechanism that we are adopting, and hopefully funding, through the passage of the Bill would be used. Amendment 7 seeks to require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report that assesses the impact of the Government’s compensating the customers of London Capital & Finance plc, as well as broader issues relevant to the mis-selling scandal.

I have listened very carefully to the speeches made during the passage of the Bill, on Second Reading and today, and to the evidence that we received this morning. I am particularly drawn to the remarks of my hon. Friend the Member for North East Bedfordshire, who acknowledged that a degree of risk is involved with any investment. With the right set of regulations and requirements, however, investors can be equipped with the right information to understand their risks and to make informed choices. The Government’s scheme appropriately balances the interests of both bondholders and the taxpayer, and it will ensure that all LCF bondholders receive a fair level of compensation for the financial loss they have suffered.

I turn now to compensation. I must reiterate that LCF’s failure was unique and exceptional. It is the only failed mini-bond issuer that was FCA-authorised and was selling bonds in order to on-lend to other companies. In conjunction with the FCA, the Treasury has looked at eight mini-bond firms that have failed in recent years, and LCF is unique in that respect. It is important to emphasise that the Government cannot and should not stand behind every investment loss. As I have probably said previously, LCF’s business model was highly unusual in both its scale and structure, and the extraordinary circumstances surrounding its collapse are unique.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Has the Economic Secretary or any of his advisers actually read the promotional material that companies such as Blackmore Bond were giving out, to assess the number of times that words such as “guarantee” and “secure” were included in those documents? Does he not accept that something needs to be looked at there—maybe not for compensation this time, but certainly for tighter regulation in the future?

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention because it takes me to the question of what the Government are doing to improve the efficacy of the financial promotions regime that he mentioned in respect of a different failure. We continue to keep the legislative framework underpinning the regulation of financial promotions under review, including whether it is suitable for the digital age. Many of the promotions are obviously online. We will publish a response in the early summer to the consultation on a regulatory gateway for authorised firms approving the promotion of unauthorised firms. It is not an issue that we take lightly. Change, once in place, is designed to strengthen the regime by ensuring that firms able to approve financial promotions are limited to those with the relevant expertise to do so. The FCA will be better able to identify when a financial promotion has breached the restrictions and take action accordingly, but that does not mean that the LCF failure is not unique and of a different scale and quality from some of the other failures.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
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I want to ask the Minister about the point he made about on-lending. What is the relationship between on-lending and the degree of regulatory failure? He is probably right that this was the only firm doing on-lending, but Dame Elizabeth’s report focuses on an egregious regulatory failure and she sets out all the different things that we will discuss. I suspect that the Government have found something about this case that is unique in order to insulate themselves from claims from other investment failures. I do not see the relationship between that uniqueness and the regulatory failures outlined in Dame Elizabeth’s report.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
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As the right hon. Gentleman set out, Dame Elizabeth’s report showed enormous failure in the way that the FCA discharged its responsibility for a regulated firm carrying out unauthorised activities. The point that he is making specifically is about the distinctiveness of the on-lending. There is a distinction between a firm, such as BrewDog or Hotel Chocolat, that raises funds for its own business activities and a firm that, although authorised, has not carried out regulated activities. Through the failure of the FCA’s oversight to look at the broader activities of the firm, it is impossible to verify whether those activities on lending bore any relationship to the raising of funds for that business. That is the distinctive difference. It is that failure of the FCA to execute its broader responsibility for an authorised firm carrying out an unauthorised activity in this distinct area that gives us licence to intervene.

On the specific issue of non-transferable debt securities, which are commonly known as mini-bonds, the Government are consulting on proposals to bring their issuance into FCA regulation. After listening to the evidence this morning, I would just make the point that Dame Elizabeth Gloster made 13 recommendations in her report. In the written ministerial statement of 17 December 2020 that was issued in my name all those recommendations were accepted—nine pertaining to the FCA and four to the Treasury. There has also been a subsequent undertaking by the FCA to report on progress against those actions and recommendations. The FCA is conducting a detailed piece of work to look at the issue of high-risk investments holistically, and that includes a discussion paper to get views on changes that can strengthen the FCA’s financial promotion rules for high-risk investments. This work follows the FCA’s ban on the mass marketing of speculative illiquid securities.

As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, only three Government compensation schemes have been established in the past three decades: Barlow Clowes, Equitable Life and LCF. I acknowledge that, for some, they have not been complete and satisfactory. Despite many investment firms failing over that period, the fact that there have only been those three interventions on the scale that we are seeking to secure today demonstrates that this type of intervention is the exception and not the rule. Moreover, the particular circumstances of these three cases are quite different. For example, compensation was provided to Equitable Life investors, in most cases not because they had lost their original capital but because the firm had not met the expected returns on which many investors had based their future retirement plans. That contrasts starkly with LCF, where investors stood to lose their principal sum.

The common feature in each case is a degree of maladministration or misregulation—a major factor that the Government considered in deciding to launch the LCF compensation scheme—but the circumstances are idiosyncratic. It therefore would not be possible in any meaningful sense to set out the precise framework for Government to consider when establishing such schemes in future or to stipulate the threshold of misregulation ex ante.

That does not mean to say that as a Minister, and in my frequent engagement with the FCA, I do not look closely at all these matters. Indeed, I have done so throughout the process in getting to this point today. I believe that such a framework could create an unrealistic expectation among investors about the possibility of future Government compensation schemes and the misconception that Government will stand behind bad investments. That would create a moral hazard for investors and potentially lead individuals to choose unsuitable investments, thinking that the Government will provide compensation if things go wrong.

I want to address some of the points that the right hon. Gentleman made. He mentioned ISAs. As we announced in response to Dame Elizabeth’s report, HMRC and the FCA have now established an ISA intelligence working group to strengthen communication and information sharing between the two organisations. The group has met and agreed the structure and objectives, which is already resulting in information sharing between the two organisations.

In parallel, from this autumn, once recruitment of personnel is complete, HMRC will reinforce its ISA compliance regime with a programme of ISA manager audits. This will not focus on consumer protection, which does not fall within HMRC’s remit, but could detect technical breaches of the ISA regulations.

We are exploring steps to increase consumer understanding of the ISA wrapper. As the right hon. Gentleman rightly said, this has a large degree of consumer confidence vested in it. We need to tackle the misplaced perception that ISAs benefit from greater Government or regulatory assistance.

I have deep engagement with the FCA. I will speak later this week to the chief executive as part of my routine, regular engagement and I will relay the detailed comments of, in particular, the hon. Member for Harrow West on the degree of engagement of consumer groups versus the regulated firm’s representatives, and especially the case he is on at the moment.

We heard evidence this morning about the retention of one named individual. The chief executive has brought in five new people from outside the organisation in taking a balanced view on how to deliver a successful transformation programme. I urge him to continue successfully to implement the programme.

There are considerable principled and practical drawbacks to the amendment, which is why I ask that it be withdrawn.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for the Minister’s response.

I am not entirely convinced about the relationship between on-lending and the decision to compensate. I am sure that the Minister is correct in the literal sense that this was the only regulated firm that was selling unregulated mini-bonds. I am not saying that the Minister is wrong, but from reading the report I believe that Dame Elizabeth would have made the same findings. The mini-bonds were not doing what it said on the tin: they were not on-lending but pyramid selling.

The degree of failure, the degree of investment loss and the degree of regulatory failure are not directly related to the point about on-lending: it is more substantial than that. I am not convinced that all the elements of the Government’s case add up. It looks to me as though they have had to find a unique element to insulate themselves from court action or other claims.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

As an indication of the Government having come to a decision and then looking for an explanation for it, I do not know whether the right hon. Gentleman picked up in the Minister’s comments how for the first time, in my knowledge, the concept of the scale of the failure—if I wrote down what the Minister said exactly right at the time—was that London Capital & Finance was unique and of a scale and nature that made it different from the rest. Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the fact that the scale of the failure has now been quoted as a factor, when it was not before, is an indication that the Government have come to a decision and are now looking for reasons to justify it?

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

We are trying to put ourselves into discussions that we have not been party to so, to some extent, I am speculating on the way that the Government have built their argument.

I have made the point and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 2, in clause 1, page 1, line 15, at end insert—

“(3A) Within six months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State shall lay before Parliament a report setting out progress on the implementation of the recommendations in pages 47 to 49 of the Gloster Report.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before Parliament a report setting out progress on the implementations of the thirteen recommendations in the Gloster Report.

Amendment 2 concerns the recommendations made in Dame Elizabeth’s report. It is a long report, but I am specifically referring to the series of conclusions and recommendations made on pages 47 to 49. As the Minister said a few moments ago, some of those recommendations are for the FCA and others are for the Government. We heard Dame Elizabeth say this morning that if she reached one overall conclusion that she wanted us to understand, it would be about the degree of culture change necessary for the FCA to fulfil its statutory duties. The fact that she judged that the culture that existed was so inappropriate that it stopped the FCA from doing its statutory job effectively is a serious charge. It is, after all, the body that we depend on to uphold the consumer interest and charged with ensuring proper conduct in the sale and provision of financial services. I do not need to tell anybody on the Committee how important those are, either to everyday life or to the UK economy.

One of the most telling parts of Dame Elizabeth’s report is when she discusses the loss of a letter sent to the FCA by a financial adviser called Neil Liversidge in November 2015, fully three years before the collapse of LCF. The letter warned in fairly graphic language, some of which I read out on Second Reading, what was going on at LCF and the financial adviser’s concern. Dame Elizabeth’s damning conclusion is that even if the letter had not been lost in the FCA, which appears to be what happened, so dysfunctional was the FCA that it would not have done anything about it anyway. She says on page 78 of the report:

“it is unlikely that it would have resulted in any”

action by the FCA. She found that degree of dysfunctionality to be deep and in need of urgent attention, as set out in the recommendations.

Every time there is a public failing, we hear some familiar things being said. In fact, we could almost play word bingo with them. People talk about lessons learned and new systems being put in place, and sometimes there is change of leadership or a change of the management team—all those things. In the report, there was a very well publicised disagreement about the nature of accountability and responsibility involving Dame Elizabeth and the now Governor of the Bank of England, who led the FCA at the time. That was all played out in front of the Treasury Committee over several hearings early this year. I want to focus on the 13 specific recommendations on pages 47 to 49. I am not going to go through them in huge detail, but I will mention a few.

The first recommendation is the desire to treat the regulation of companies holistically; that is, to deal with the halo effect of regulated companies selling unregulated products. That was at the very heart of the regulatory failures over LCF. It was a big part of why the many phone calls to the FCA alerting staff to investor fears about what was going on went unheeded. Indeed, Dame Elizabeth’s report records many instances where calls were not acted on because the mini-bonds concerned were not regulated. There is a whole annex containing the transcripts and I will not delay the Committee with them at the moment, but they are all set out in the report.

The failure to act exposed a major weakness in the FCA’s approach. Even if staff could tick a box that said that a phone call was about something that it did not regulate, the FCA was still on the hook at the end of the day if the firm failed, as the Bill now shows. The recommendation therefore requires a major change in how the FCA thinks about unregulated products.

The next two recommendations are about how the FCA deals with information passed on to it and how it is shared. Again, they highlight a failing in how the LCF information was handled. As we have said, the financial promotions team intervened several times to warn the company about the misleading nature of its promotions as it kept saying that it was regulated by the FCA. However, the financial promotions team did not escalate this information to other parts of the organisation that could have taken action.

The fifth recommendation deals with the financial promotion rules and what to do about breaches when red flags should be raised. Page 49 highlights recommendations more for the Treasury than the FCA. As we discussed a moment ago, the first of those deals with what Dame Elizabeth calls a lacuna in the allocation of the ISA-related responsibilities between the FCA and HMRC. The Minister referred to a working group—I think that is the phrase that he used—and I hope it reaches a conclusion quickly. Such a response is common in the catastrophe word bingo that we often hear. A working group is okay, but it has to deal with the lacuna that has been identified.

Just saying that something is regulated by the FCA gives it an aura of safety and respectability and so does saying that about investments in an ISA wrapper. As the report says, once ISA status was granted to these mini-bonds, investment in them grew markedly. Putting money into an ISA is thought to be a responsible thing to do. People believe that those operating ISAs are respectable companies and not those engaged in what are, in effect, pyramid selling schemes like the one that LCF was operating. That is why this issue is particularly important.

Recommendation 12 is about the optimal remit of the FCA. That matters because the failure of LCF sits so squarely on the boundary of regulated companies selling unregulated products. The FCA’s remit is known in the parlance as the perimeter. The Minister gave evidence to the Treasury Committee a few months ago and he said it was not an issue about the perimeter, but about the failure to use the enforcement and supervision powers that the FCA already had. I understand what he means by that. He is saying that if the FCA had acted on the reports that it had received, a great deal less damage would have been done and the taxpayer would not be faced with the compensation bill set out in the Bill. Even though I understand the point he made, the perimeter is still relevant because it informed attitudes inside the FCA on how alarmed it should be about calls reporting concerns about LCF and whether it should act. That behaviour was influenced by the fact that the calls were about products that were not regulated.

How should the Government and the FCA respond to the issue of regulated companies and unregulated products? In theory, one response could be to say that regulated companies can only sell regulated products, but that would involve a major extension of regulation. That is not to say that that is necessarily wrong, but it would be a big step. For example, foreign exchange trading is not regulated but it is carried out by every high street bank in the country and they are, of course, regulated entities.

If the answer is not a major extension of regulatory responsibilities, what is it? Is it the Government’s position that there is no need to look at this because this was such a one-off event that cannot be repeated? How can we be sure of that? We asked the FCA this morning whether this could happen again and, understandably, the witness from the FCA said that he could not tell us for sure that it could not.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My right hon. Friend is rightly dwelling on the issue of the perimeter. May I give him another scenario that suggests that there might still be reasons to be concerned about whether the FCA has got the perimeter point in Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s report? Let us imagine that the FCA had investigated a financial services business that was recommending one thing to its customers but only 12 months later was doing the complete reverse. The FCA, having looked at it initially, says, “We’ve looked at it already. We’re putting a perimeter around that. We’re not going to consider what happened 12 months before in the context of this decision.” Were that to be a live situation, would it not suggest that the FCA had not grasped the perimeter point that Dame Elizabeth Gloster was making?

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My hon. Friend makes a very strong point. The question of the perimeter is inescapable. One of Dame Elizabeth’s recommendations is that the Government consider the FCA’s remit, and the Government have said that they accept all her recommendations. The Minister said in his evidence to the Select Committee that this cannot be pinned on the perimeter, as it were, but as a conclusion of what has happened the perimeter must be considered. The Government have accepted that.

One way to deal with this is to say that regulated firms and regulated products must be brought together—I shall be grateful for the Minister’s response on that—but if that is not deemed to be the right response how will the question of the remit and the perimeter be responded to? At the heart of this failure is the halo effect of a regulated firm selling unregulated products.

Recommendation 13 is about ensuring that the legislative framework keeps pace with the sale of products through technology platforms. This field of activity is growing daily. It is driven by technological innovation—the movement of more and more activity online—and perhaps by the increased time people have had during the lockdowns to invest online. I do not want to try your patience, Ms Ghani, by delving too deeply into that today, but I think that this issue will occupy the House and this Minister in particular over the next couple of years. We will have to return to it again and again in the House, but recommendation 13 is precisely about legislation on selling things through technological platforms, and the Government and the FCA will have to adapt to it or they will fall behind the reality of the market and of financial crime.

Most of these issues have been put in the hands of the new chief executive, Nikhil Rathi, and the trans-formation programme to which the Minister referred on Second Reading. How are we to know that the 13 recommendations have been implemented? It is easy when a report is published to say, “We accept the findings.” The key is: are they followed through and properly implemented?

Dame Elizabeth’s report should be more than a series of individual recommendations. As she said this morning, it should result in a culture change. Much more communication needs to take place between different parts of the FCA while, crucially, not dropping the ball on regulated firms and unregulated products.

It is unfair of any of us, in government or in opposition, to load more responsibilities on to the FCA if it does not have the resources to fulfil them. We are clear in our amendment that the resources of the FCA have to be covered. Does the FCA have the resources to meet the ever-expanding list of responsibilities, including those on-shored as a result of our departure from the EU? It is funded through a levy on the sectors for which it is responsible. Is the levy giving it enough resources?

The failure of LCF exposed such a degree of dysfunctionality that it prompted the question: can the FCA really do its job? If not, the Government have to act because the public need the protection of a powerful regulator. The imbalance of information between the sellers of financial services products and the buyers absolutely demands that. This amendment is aimed at our receiving a report on the 13 recommendations and on their implementation by both the FCA and the Treasury. Its acceptance would provide Parliament and the public with a mechanism to ensure that statements saying that the recommendations had been accepted had actually been followed through and action taken.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am pleased to speak in support of the amendment. There are two questions if the Government wish to reject it. Assuming that no one has any objection to the idea that somebody should keep an eye on what the Government are doing in response to the Gloster report—that would be a good idea—the questions are who should they report back to and when should they report back. Their response to those questions might provide the only grounds on which they could object to the amendment.

There can be no doubt that the Government must report back to the House of Commons and to Parliament. I know I might not look it—perhaps I do—but I am old enough to remember cases like Polly Peck, one of the great corporate scandals of earlier generations. In response to that, we had the Cadbury report that, in effect, invented the concept of corporate governance. It seems obvious now, but one of the key principles that came out of the report is that once the directors who are supposed to be in charge of a company have taken a decision for something to happen, they cannot just walk away. They have to put a process in place by which they, as the directors, individually and personally, can be satisfied that what they say should happen does happen.

The House of Commons in the UK Parliament is not a board of directors as such, but we still have to take responsibility—all 650 of us, individually and collectively—for making sure that, having had assurances from the Government that they will act either directly or indirectly through agencies such as the FCA, they will do things to sort out a £1 billion scandal. We are the ones who ultimately have to hold them to account for that.

I am not saying that a report or a statement to Parliament is the best possible way of holding the Government to account. Frankly, it is a joke of a holding to account, but it is the best that we are allowed in this place. That is why it is included in many of our amendments. Any argument from the Government that any way of reporting back on such vital recommendations that is anything less than regular statements to the full House of Commons and making themselves available to take questions from, if we are lucky, just 5% of all elected MPs, is just not acceptable.

Secondly, when should the Government report back? That is why I made a point of asking Dame Elizabeth whether six months from now—12 months from the original recommendations—is a reasonable time in which to expect significant progress. Dame Elizabeth made it clear that she cannot tell us about parliamentary procedure and all the rest of it, and I accept that. However, her view was clear that, in six months from now, it would be reasonable to expect there to be significant progress on a significant number of the recommendations. At that point, the House of Commons should get a report back from the Minister to explain what has happened and if it has not happened yet, when it will happen. Most importantly, he will explain why what has not happened has not happened. We have had far too many examples of Ministers giving assurances in good faith but of things not happening or, if they did happen, of their taking far longer than they should have done.

Time matters. None of us knows whether there is another London Capital & Finance already happening, and we heard from witnesses who are convinced that it is. There could be another Blackmore Bond, Basset & Gold or you name the corporate investment mis-selling scandal. It could be happening again right now. We do not know how many of them are on the go just now already swallowing up people’s pensions and savings. If the Minister is not prepared to commit to giving an update within six months, will he tell us what timescale he thinks is reasonable for us to expect real change? “In due course” is just not good enough for people who might be losing their investments now even while we dither and dally about what to do next.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I rise to support amendment 2, in the name of my right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East. I share some of the frustration that the hon. Member for Glenrothes aired: this is the only route available to the Opposition to signal to the Government and the FCA the need to provide a continuing update on their progress in implementing the lessons that have been learned from the LCF scandal. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East went through some of the many issues and recommendations that Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s report highlighted, but let me pick out five in particular.

First, the FCA failed to consider LCF holistically. Indeed, as my right hon. Friend pointed out, we got Dame Elizabeth to emphasise again in the evidence session today that the most significant issue was a very restricted approach to the regulatory perimeter. I will come back to that point.

Secondly, the FCA’s policy documents were unclear on the handling of key questions. Thirdly, its staff had not been trained sufficiently in various key and crucial matters. Fourthly, there was a series of gaps in the law that needed fixing in order to enable proper regulation. Fifthly, the issue that my right hon. Friend touched on last was the FCA’s scope and capacity to intervene effectively on consumers’ behalf—did it have sufficient powers?

Let me turn to the first of those concerns—the restricted approach to the regulatory perimeter and whether the FCA has learned to consider issues to do with consumers holistically. The example that I gave when I intervened on my right hon. Friend was that of a financial service business that has recommended to its customers something that the FCA has approved, only for it to come down the line, 12 months later, and suggest the reverse approach. That is effectively what is happening in the case of Liverpool Victoria. I do not want to test your patience too much, Ms Ghani, but let me clarify that example very briefly.

Liverpool Victoria converted to a company limited by guarantee from a friendly society two years ago. The FCA looked at it—

I am curious as to how the hon. Gentleman will keep this in scope, but I am listening attentively.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am grateful for your patience, Ms Ghani, and I will not test it much more.

The FCA looked at that two years ago and approved it. Crucially, at the time, the chair and the leadership of LV said, “This has got nothing to do with demutualisation.” Where the regulatory perimeter issue comes in is that the FCA will not look at what happened two years ago in the context of what Liverpool Victoria is now trying to do. It is surely legitimate to be concerned about Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s crucial finding that the FCA had not worked out a way to handle decisions being taken by businesses holistically. That has not been properly grasped, and I gently suggest that Liverpool Victoria is the key evidence in that respect.

On the question of the FCA’s policy documents, the way they were used by staff, and whether they were appropriate to LCF’s challenges, they clearly were not up to the job, but at least there was a policy document. In the case of Liverpool Victoria, there does not appear to be any policy document on the FCA’s handling of the demutualisation. That raises a bunch of serious questions, albeit not within the scope of our conversations today.

Clearly, there is a question as to whether staff have been trained appropriately to handle the 600-plus phone calls that customers of LCF made to the FCA, raising their concerns about the products that were on offer, and that they had invested in and were buying. Again, one would have thought that the FCA would have grasped that concern and made sure that staff were trained properly on the big issues of the day affecting the FCA.

Again, I am surprised. I use the example of Liverpool Victoria again. There has been no looking back at previous demutualisations and at how the consumers’ interest was protected in that respect. So even if the FCA has highly capable staff, as I am sure it has, given that they have not looked back, one wonders how they can possibly be trained to think through properly all the key questions.

One of the issues that I raised in an intervention on the hon. Member for Glenrothes was about the extent to which the FCA has learned from the LCF scandal that perhaps it needs not to be quite so close to the boards and management of financial services businesses. Perhaps it needs to move just a little bit more towards having a little more scepticism on behalf of the consumer.

So imagine my concern when I discovered that one of the regulators involved in handling the consumer interest in the Liverpool Victoria case has met the management of LV 35 times and not once with any consumers of the company. That would seem to suggest that they have not learned the lessons.

Lastly, I just want to suggest that there is a series of gaps in the law that need fixing. My right hon. Friend the Member for Wolverhampton South East rightly drew attention to the concern in the LCF case about who regulates mini-bonds. It is gratifying to hear that there is a working group looking at the relationship between HMRC and the FCA in this regard. However, the Minister will not be surprised to learn that I think there is a series of legislative gaps regarding how consumers are handled during the demutualisation of a major financial services business, but I would tempt your patience, Ms Ghani, were I to go down that route. Fortunately, as the all-party parliamentary group for mutuals is meeting the Minister, it will have an opportunity to go through those issues and I very much look forward to that occasion.

Beautifully put, Mr Thomas. I now call the Minister to respond.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will obviously now move to consideration of amendment 2. I am grateful to the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East, who is an experienced and distinguished former Minister himself. He referred to the catastrophe word bingo. I do not want to address that particularly, but I will address the amendment, which seeks to add a requirement for the Secretary of State to publish a report setting out progress on the implementation of the 13 recommendations in the report by Dame Elizabeth Gloster.

I will also tell the right hon. Gentleman precisely what we have done, what I think the FCA has done, and where I think that takes us, and I will address his concerns, raised throughout this debate, on the perimeter, on the halo effect and some of the points that Dame Elizabeth Gloster made.

The Treasury accepted Dame Elizabeth’s four recommendations regarding the Treasury and we welcome the FCA’s commitment to implement all nine of her recommendations that apply to it. We are committed as a Government to act on Dame Elizabeth’s recommendations, to ensure that the regulatory system maintains the trust of consumers. I submit that progress has already been made in implementing the recommendations and I set that out during my evidence session for the Treasury Committee’s inquiry into the FCA’s regulation of London Capital & Finance on 21 April.

Regarding Dame Elizabeth’s recommendations for the FCA, I obviously welcome the FCA’s acceptance of them, and I am sure that the Committee will have noted its commitment to report publicly on its progress in implementing these recommendations and indeed on its wider transformation programme. I am sensitive to the criticism that this is an empty exercise where there is nothing specific that Parliament and Members can address. I would therefore draw attention to the fact that Charles Randell, the current chair of the FCA, provided a detailed update in his letter to me on 16 April.

The letter has been published on the FCA’s website and sets out the comprehensive improvements that have already been delivered. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East rightly referred to a number of those, and the hon. Member for Harrow West mentioned training and the empowerment of staff to make decisions and respond to those calls and representations from consumers. A further update will be provided in the FCA’s annual report, which will be published in July, and the FCA is committed to providing updates every six months until the programme is delivered. I would also note that the Treasury Committee intends to publish its report on the FCA’s regulation of LCF before the end of June, which the Government and the FAC will no doubt respond to as appropriate.

The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East raised Dame Elizabeth Gloster’s recommendations concerning the perimeter and remit. In essence, what she said was that the FCA had a responsibility to deal with a firm that it regulated, but was conducting unauthorised activities. As the right hon. Gentleman will know, I believe that in financial services legislation that we took through Parliament together, we gave the FCA responsibility to remove the names of firms that do not conduct any activities but are regulated under the FCA, and so remove the halo effect. I watch and monitor the transformation programme very closely, but I think that the amendment would create an additional and unnecessary administrative burden given the commitments that I have set out, and would distract from the work to deliver the recommendations themselves.

I wanted to correct one thing I said in my earlier speech. I referred to eight firms rather than eight years; we looked across mini-bonds over eight years, and there are probably more than eight failed firms. I wanted to put that on record.

There is no complacency on my part regarding how important it is that these 13 recommendations are implemented fully. We will then see how things look thereafter. On the perimeter specifically, I met the chief executive of the FCA on 20 January and the minutes of that discussion were published on 25 February, and I remain open to those conversations going forward.

Given those reassurances, I hope that hon. Members will not seek to press the amendment.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

London Capital & Finance was an FCA-authorised firm that primarily offered an unregulated investment product, commonly known as mini-bonds, to retail consumers. It entered administration in January 2019, impacting 11,625 people who invested around £237 million. The Serious Fraud Office and FCA enforcement have launched an investigation into individuals associated with LCF. The Financial Reporting Council has also launched investigations into the audits of LCF. As the Committee will know, Dame Elizabeth Gloster led that independent investigation, which also revealed shortcomings in the FCA’s supervision of LCF. A complex range of interconnected factors contributed to the scale of losses for LCF bondholders, creating a situation that is unique and exceptional. While other mini-bond firms have failed, LCF is the only one that was authorised by the FCA and sold bonds in order to “on-lend” to other companies. As I have said before, LCF’s business model was highly unusual both in its scale and structure. In particular, it was authorised by the FCA despite generating no income from regulated activities. Bondholders were badly let down by LCF and the regulatory system designed to protect them, and I announced that the Treasury had set up a compensation scheme for bondholders who suffered losses after investing in LCF. The scheme will be available to all LCF bondholders who have not already received compensation from the FSCS and will provide 80% of the compensation that they would have received had they been eligible for FSCS protection up to the maximum cap of £68,000. The LCF scheme is expected to pay out £120 million in compensation to around 8,800 bondholders in total. Where bondholders have received interest payments from LCF or distributions from the administrators, Smith & Williamson, these will be deducted from the amount of compensation paid.

There are two main aspects of clause 1, which I shall explain in turn. First, legislation is required to establish the financial authority to enable the Treasury to incur expenditure in relation to the scheme. That will ensure that the Treasury complies with the 1932 Baldwin concordat and the principles of managing public money. Clause 1 provides the Treasury with the spending authority that will enable payments to be made to eligible bondholders. We are working on the details of that scheme but I hope that it will be possible to reimburse them within six months of Royal Assent.

Secondly, the Treasury intends to use the process set out in part 15A of the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 to require the Financial Services Compensation Scheme to administer the scheme on behalf of the Treasury. Clause 1 disapplies the FCA’s rule-making requirement so that existing rules relating to the FSCS can be applied to the scheme without the need to undertake a lengthy consultation. That reflects the fact that existing rules have already been consulted on and avoids any further unnecessary delays to compensation payments. In addition, as the Treasury will pay for the scheme, there is not the same obligation to consult FSCS levy payers as there would be for rules that sought to make use of FSCS funds raised by the levy.

I submit that clause 1 is an essential step in the introduction of the LCF compensation scheme without which compensation payments cannot be made. I therefore recommend that the clause stand part of the Bill.

I understand that the right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East wishes to make a short contribution.

Pat McFadden Portrait Mr McFadden
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

It is really just a question. The Committee has received a number of representations from LCF investors about this 80% level. What is the Minister’s response to those representations? If LCF investors were here and were allowed to speak, they would say, “Why is it that those who invested after getting financial advice get 100% of the FSCS level because financial advice is a regulated product and therefore covered by the FSCS in full but we are getting 80% of that level?” What is his response on this differential treatment of the two types of investors?

Before you respond Minister, I call the hon. Member for Glenrothes to make a short contribution.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The Minister referred to the fact that there are ongoing investigations in relation to LCF. Does he recognise that some of the individuals and intermediary businesses that are now under criminal investigation for their part in LCF also played a major part in other mini-bond scandals that I have written to him about separately? Although he made the point about the uniqueness of LCF, the aftershock of LCF is very definitely being felt in other mini-bond scandals that have happened since then.

John Glen Portrait John Glen
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Out of courtesy, I am very happy to respond to my colleagues. The right hon. Member for Wolverhampton South East asked why the 80% figure was not 100%. As I have tried to explain through the submissions that I have made, the Government have been trying throughout to balance the interests of bondholders and the taxpayer to ensure that we have a fair level of compensation in respect of the financial losses incurred. The scheme is based on the FSCS level of compensation but, as he knows, it is 80% up to that cap of £68,000 to reflect the unregulated nature of the LCF product.

I emphasise that it is imperative to avoid creating the misconception that Government will stand behind bad investments in future, even where the FSCS does not apply. That would create a moral hazard for investors and potentially lead individuals to choose unsuitable investments thinking that the Government will provide compensation when things go wrong. To avoid creating that misconception, and to take into account the wide range of factors that contributed to the losses that the Government would not ordinarily compensate for, the Government will establish the scheme at the level of 80% of LCF bondholders’ initial investment up to the maximum of £68,000. With any investment, there is clearly a risk that sometimes investors will lose money, and the Government and taxpayer cannot and should not be expected to step in and compensate for every failure and every loss. It would not be right or fair for investors in non-regulated products to receive fuller compensation than those who have invested in regulated products, for which the maximum amount is capped at £85,000 under the FSCS.

On the remarks of the hon. Member for Glenrothes about the individuals involved in an ongoing serious fraud inquiry, I am not familiar with the detail, but obviously I am happy to receive any representations. I hope that brings satisfaction to the Committee.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 1 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 2

Loans to the Board of the Pension Protection Fund

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda (Reading East) (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I beg to move amendment 3, in clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert—

“(3) No loan shall be made under this section until the Secretary of State has laid before Parliament an impact assessment of the means of repaying the loan, including specifically the impact on pension schemes from the Fraud Compensation Fund levy.”

This amendment would prevent the Secretary of State from making a loan to the Board of the Pension Protection Fund for the purpose of compensating eligible pension schemes until he or she has laid before Parliament an impact assessment of the Fraud Compensation Fund levy on different pension sectors.

With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:

Amendment 5, in clause 2, page 2, line 7, at end insert—

“(3) Before making a loan under this section, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament an assessment of the levels of fraud in the pensions system.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a report on the levels of fraud in the pensions system before making any loan under new section 115A of the Pensions Act 2004.

Amendment 6, in clause 2, page 2, line 18, at end insert—

“(5) Within twelve months of this Act receiving Royal Assent, the Secretary of State must publish a report on the operation of the Fraud Compensation Fund in connection with any loan made under section 115A.”

This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a report, within twelve months of this Act being passed, on the operation of the Fraud Compensation Fund in connection with any loan made to the Board of the PPF under new section 115A of the Pensions Act 2004.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda
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We have tabled a number of amendments seeking to improve the Bill. Amendment 3 seeks to ensure that we have clarity and certainty before taking the step of asking key pension schemes to fund the majority of the bill for the Fraud Compensation Fund. It is perhaps worth reflecting on the evidence we heard this morning, which was so illustrative on this issue. One socially important pension scheme—the People’s Pension fund, which we heard about today—was asked to put forward a large amount of money to help support the compensation fund. The fund is known to take a large number of people—many of them women, on low incomes or self-employed—who have started to save for a pension through auto-enrolment. I am sure the whole Committee will agree that it is a worthwhile objective of Government policy to encourage pension savings by a wide range of people, not just the wealthier sector of the community.

Specifically, amendment 3 would prevent the Secretary of State from making a loan to the board of the Pension Protection Fund for the purpose of compensating eligible pension schemes until he or she has laid before Parliament an assessment of the impact of the Fraud Compensation Fund levy on different pension sectors, thereby allowing Parliament to consider the issues affecting them. That is essential because, as we have heard, the burden of compensating victims of fraud is falling disproportionately on certain groups. As we heard this morning, just two schemes—the People’s Pension and the National Employment Savings Trust, which are both not-for-profit operators—have historically ended up paying the lion’s share of the fraud compensation levy, despite their size and the fact that there is no tangible connection between those funds and the fraud that we are trying to address.

It is perhaps helpful to mention the figures again, for the sake of clarification. To recap, the PPF’s 2019 annual report and accounts reported that the FCF levy raised £6.9 million. What is truly surprising to casual onlookers, however, is that 37% of that was paid by the two pension schemes that I mentioned—NEST and the People’s Pension—even though they managed only £20 billion of the roughly £2 trillion of assets held in UK workplace pensions. They were managing just 1% of the total, which is a tiny amount, as I am sure everyone will agree. There is clearly a mismatch, and I am sure that the Minister, who has obviously followed this in great detail, will want to respond because something strange seems to be going on. With the figure now enlarged significantly to hundreds of millions of pounds, and with the potential repayment of the loan via an increased levy, it is understandable that the schemes are anxious about where the burden of repayment will fall. That is a fair point, and one that I am sure we would all want to consider thoroughly.

We have been promised a review of the levy later this year, and I appreciate that the Government are willing do that. However, it does not seem right that, given the significant sums involved for the loan, the legislation should proceed without pausing—all we are asking for is a pause—to consider its impact. Both of the pension schemes I have mentioned play a hugely important part in expanding pensions coverage, and I am sure that members of the Committee are aware of the national policy challenge of encouraging more people to save for their pensions. We all want a much larger proportion of the community—ideally, everybody—to have access to a pension scheme that they can save into as well as the state pension. The two organisations I have mentioned have many low-income savers who I am sure we want to support. It is crucial that we consider the long-term viability of those schemes as we consider the structure of the levy, and that the long-term viability of the two pension schemes is not jeopardised.

A fundamental change is under way and it needs to be addressed. I hope that the Minister will reflect on that. First, the scope of who is compensated for fraud has been drastically expanded by the High Court judgment. Secondly, the industry structure has radically altered since the levy was first designed. Both of those points are important, and combined they will, potentially, have a huge impact on the rest of the sector. Careful consideration neds to be given to that. An impact assessment is necessary to give parliamentarians, sector experts and decision makers in the round a broader understanding of this complicated situation.

The Government have a duty to make sure that not-for-profit operators and other legitimate, law-abiding companies and mutuals, as my hon. Friend the Member for Harrow West has said, are not unfairly affected or carrying the burden of responding to the need to pay out compensation for scams. The savers and pensioners who have invested in that way should not be forced to pay higher charges as a result. I appreciate the pressure on time and hope that the Government will consider the amendment in great detail.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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The official Opposition’s spokesperson gave very clear reasons why there is benefit in our agreeing to the amendment. I would like to anticipate the reasons that the Government will give for rejecting it and explain briefly why those reasons are not valid—I nearly said mince, but I do not know if that would be understood.

I hope that the amendment will be regarded, not only today but in the future, in the same spirit as that with which it has been tabled. I can almost see someone at the Dispatch Box, thumping the table in response to a question, saying, “Of course, Mr Speaker, we all know that the official Opposition attempted to delay implementation of the scheme.” Amendment 3 could be misrepresented in that way, but that is clearly not what it seeks to do. It asks the Government to publish the results of something that any responsible Government would do before they created the terms of a loan. All it asks is that, having done an assessment—which surely they will—they tell us the results.

The impact on particular kinds of pension schemes is important, because it could be argued that the reason the clause is needed is that a previous Government did not properly assess the impact of the changes they made in 2015 on certain types of pension holders. That is where pension liberation and pension liberation scams came from. I hope that the Government have learned their lesson. If they do not assess in more detail the impact of major changes on particular types of investors and pension holders, they may be saving up problems for the future.

I will briefly mention the other two amendments. The Government should do what is proposed by amendment 5. Do they have any idea of the level of pension fraud in the United Kingdom right now? They should.

The Minister indicated this morning that the measure proposed by amendment 6 might already have been done by someone else. If that is the case, there is nothing to stop him taking that document and putting a written statement before the House, saying, “I have received the report of xyz this morning and I endorse its contents.” A report is given significantly more weight if it is put on the record in that way. Presenting an annual report also gives Ministers an opportunity to say, “I am unable to endorse its contents, for the following reasons,” but endorsing it gives it a gravity that it might not otherwise have had. The Minister may have noticed that I am no great fan of this Government or this place, but if a Minister of the Crown lays before Parliament a statement taking responsibility for and endorsing the report of a body that reports to their Department, that carries more weight than the report simply appearing somewhere in the pages of the media a day or two later.

In case any Member did not quite understand what I said at the top, all of the proposed amendments to the clause are being debated now, including amendments 5 and 6. Mr Rodda, to confirm, are you aware of that, and do you wish to speak to amendments 5 and 6 now?

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda
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I am very grateful, Ms Ghani. I would like to speak to amendments 5 and 6. Amendment 5 obviously covers a very different area. I sponsored it because I think that the central principle of this country’s pensions system—I am sure the Committee agrees—is that people who work hard all their lives and who contribute and save diligently are able to receive a decent pension in their retirement. I hope there is cross-party agreement on that. I am sure there is; historically, that has been the case.

In recent years, however, it has become clear that an increasing number of pensioners—and, indeed, people approaching retirement, who are also an important group and are in some ways quite vulnerable—have been set back significantly as a result of what are commonly called pension scams. As the Bill Committee, we have a duty to protect people and to help them prepare for their retirement. Amendment 5 therefore seeks to require the Secretary of State to publish a report on the levels of fraud in the pensions system before making any loan under new section 115A of the Pensions Act 2004. We believe that that is a crucial first step in tackling pension scams. Obviously, there are a whole series of ways to tackle them, and we appreciate that the Government are taking other steps. This is important because the consequences of the scams can be utterly devastating for those directly affected. They are also potentially expensive and damage trust in the pensions system as a whole and the operation of many businesses in the sector. It is critical that we have a system that is robust and protected against scams. The Bill highlights the consequences for everyone, including other scheme members, when fraud is allowed to spiral unchecked.

The pandemic has, sadly, given rise to an increase in fraud, as many criminals have taken advantage of the confusion and, in some cases, the isolation of vulnerable people to prey on those who, sadly, can fall victim to these dreadful crimes. However, pension scams were already on the rise. It is worth noting that, since George Osborne’s pension freedoms were introduced in 2015, fraudsters have taken advantage of confusion around what the rules precisely allow. We warned at the time that those reforms would significantly increase that risk. The Government must acknowledge, as I am sure they will, the failings of pension freedoms and their associated tax problems, as in the case of the NHS.

One of the most egregious abuses of pension freedoms has been a scam by sophisticated criminals who trick people into accessing their pensions before the legal age of 55, relying on confusion about the rules, and then abscond with the funds, leaving people in a desperate situation. In some cases, the victims suffer a double injustice: not only do they lose their entire pension pot in some cases; they are also aggressively pursued by HMRC for tax penalties, having broken the rules on money they no longer have. There are some truly heartbreaking cases of innocent people being misled and sadly losing their life savings, as well as being left with tax debts of tens of thousands of pounds.

We would like reassurance that the Department for Work and Pensions and the Treasury will look into tackling this problem in the wake of the Dalriada judgment last year. The Government could provide that reassurance by supporting amendment 5 as a crucial first step. They should also find a way for HMRC to work with the authorities to make sure that these crimes are properly investigated, targeting the promoters, not the victims, and recognising the dreadful circumstances in which those victims find themselves through little fault of their own.

The High Court judgment that is at the centre of the loan we are discussing today is linked to exactly that type of fraud. In its recent report on pension freedoms fraud, the Select Committee on Work and Pensions recommended that particular aspects of pension freedoms and the Pension Protection Fund be reviewed in further detail in that light.

We agree with the Select Committee. Our amendment, which calls for an assessment, could form an important part of tackling the issue. It is important that the Government publish the report the amendment seeks, in order to show the public that they are not simply looking at the symptoms of fraud, but tackling the causes. I am sure the Minister will want to consider that point. The Government should set out an action plan to protect pension savers and an assessment of the level of fraud in the system as part of that work.

I know the Minister campaigned to tackle cold-calling last year in the Pension Schemes Act 2021. The Bill quite rightly tackled telephone cold-calling, but people can be approached in a cold manner online. I ask the Government to consider that avenue for scams. There has been some mixed messaging, but I hope the Minister, who I know is in touch with the sector, will take the point on board. I have written to the Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport to ask that the Government act on this point and include it in the online harms Bill, which is an appropriate place to tackle these serious scams, alongside many others.

Pension savers are particularly vulnerable in the few years just before retirement, when savings have accumulated but before they have actually retired. Pension transfers, especially for those in defined-benefit pension schemes, can be targeted by criminals, alongside pensions liberation fraud, which we are talking about today. This is where the Money and Pensions Service should play a bigger part. As Members will know, the service is a Government-funded body that offers free pensions advice to people aged over 50, through its Pensions Wise service.

Is it possible for Pensions Wise to play a bigger role? I hope the Minister will consider that point. It could be helpful and supportive to individuals, as well as helping the operation of the sector—the businesses that are operating legitimately, as the vast majority are.

It was disappointing that the Government rejected a proposal in proceedings on the Pension Schemes Act that would have booked a default Pensions Wise appointment for everyone in the five years prior to their retirement. The amendment was put forward by the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms), and was supported by the Opposition. It would have meant that everybody would automatically get some basic knowledge about where they stood, better protecting them against scams.

Finally, I would like to share some research from the People’s Pension and the Police Foundation that demonstrates the scale of the problem and why we need to act urgently. The true level of pensions fraud in the UK, though large, is unknown, but could it be as high as £14.6 billion, based on the average pot size of £63,700.

I hope the points I have set out are helpful and that the Minister will consider them. We would like to see this area addressed by the Government. I urge the Minister to respond to my points.

Ms Ghani, should I speak to the other amendment now?

The amendments are grouped, so they are all to be debated together. Do you have a contribution on amendment 6?

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda
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Yes. I will move straight on. I appreciate your tolerance.

Amendment 6 seeks to perform another important role—ensuring that the PPF and the Fraud Compensation Fund work effectively and efficiently for all parties, which I am sure everyone here would support. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish a report, within 12 months of the Act being passed, on the operation of the Fraud Compensation Fund in connection with any loan made to the board of the PPF under proposed new section 115A of the Pensions Act 2004.

In the debate on amendment 3, I set out why we needed a fuller understanding of the way the levy works and its impact—I mentioned the two not-for-profit organisations that are doing such valuable work—in order to improve the situation for savers and pensioners. I will not go into the detail of those arguments again, but they are applicable and equally important for this amendment.

It is crucial to highlight the context in which we put forward the amendment. A very limited number of schemes are currently propping up the fraud compensation levy by paying disproportionate contributions, even though they do not have a meaningful connection to fraud at this time.

These are crucial funds that support large numbers of savers—indeed, increasingly so in this country, as we enjoy the success of auto-enrolment, which is a great step forward for pension savers, and indeed future pensions across the country, providing greater access to pensions. Millions of workers across the country, at different stages of their lives, pay into these schemes and rightly expect their pension pots to be given the best possible chance to grow. Yet because the levy is passed on to savers through charges, it is current Government policy to ask savers to do the right thing in order to pay for the damage caused by criminals. As we heard earlier, this is not happening on a small scale but on quite a large scale.

Again, the PPF reported in its 2019 annual report and accounts that the FCF levy raised £6.9 million, 37% of which is paid by NEST and People’s Pension, as I said earlier, despite their having a very small share of the overall assets—around 1%. This issue disproportionately affects these very worthy organisations, which are helping so many people.

Another factor that makes a review after 12 months so important is that the High Court only recently ruled to drastically expand the scope of those who may qualify for compensation for pensions fraud. As a result, the full scale of the situation might not be immediately obvious, which is yet another reason why the Government might want to consider amendment 6, as I hope they will.

The Secretary of State has a responsibility to ensure constant monitoring and assessment. Our amendment would help her and her team of Ministers to perform their roles in that way. Without a proper assessment, the Government could be taking us down a path towards an unsustainable pensions sector, in terms of fraud compensation, and severe problems that will have to be rectified at greater cost in the future, which obviously none of us wants.

Finally, another court judgment could change things again, if it were to rule differently and the lawyers then pointed to a number of additional issues related to the ruling that had not yet been clarified. As a result, the pensions sector is still having to work under a degree of uncertainty, and obviously it is a central principle of any wise policy to try to reduce uncertainty. I hope that a report could to some extent alleviate that uncertainty. I appreciate that it would not completely resolve it, but it might be of assistance to businesses in the sector that are providing the services that we value so much, so I hope that the Minister will consider our amendment.

Gareth Thomas Portrait Gareth Thomas
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On a point of order, Ms Ghani. You were very good at the end of the evidence session with the FCA to point out that the director, who was present, agreed to provide two pieces of written correspondence to me and to the whole Committee. As I understand it, that has not yet arrived. I have some sympathy for the FCA, given the timetable on which we were asking it to provide that information, but I wonder whether the Clerk might gently press the FCA for that information at some point this week.

Thank you, Mr Thomas; your point of order is duly noted. I believe that the Clerk will indeed be pressing for that data as soon as possible.

Guy Opperman Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Guy Opperman)
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I gather that we have a possible vote in the House, so I will attempt my entire response in 10 minutes. Before I do so, it is right that, on behalf of the entire Committee, I thank you for chairing the Committee, Ms Ghani. As the former ports and shipping Minister, and in a month when we celebrate the first female Royal Navy captain, some might argue that you are a well-qualified captain to keep what is—let us be honest—a motley crew in order. If you run for Speaker, Ms Ghani, I will definitely be supporting you.

Let me discuss what clause 2 does and does not do. It creates a power to make a loan to the board of the Pension Protection Fund, following the decision of 6 November 2020 in the case of the PPF v. Dalriada. It achieves that by inserting a new section into the Pensions Act 2004 to provide the Secretary of State with a power to loan money to the board of the PPF.

I think it is fair to point out to the Committee that the clause deals with matters that are predominantly––almost entirely––to do with 2010 to 2014. Many would wish to make this a case about pension freedoms, when in fact pension freedoms post-dated these matters. It is clearly a serious and important matter, and, following a court decision, the Government have accepted the entirety of that decision.

The practical reality is that the Fraud Compensation Fund has assets of £26.2 million, and the potential liability arising from the court judgment is £350 million. I accept that points have been made in respect of how the loan is to be repaid in the longer term and I will address that, but I shall now turn briefly to the amendments.

Amendment 3 seeks an impact assessment. With great respect to the Members who tabled that request, it is utterly unnecessary. It is, in fact, precluded by the decision of the House on section 22 of the Small Business, Enterprise and Employment Act 2015, of which I am sure Members are acutely aware. It states that impact assessments are not required in respect of levies or other such charges in these particular circumstances.

Secondly, the clause is implementing a court judgment.

Peter Grant Portrait Peter Grant
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Will the Minister clarify his last comment? Did he say that impact assessments are not required or that they are not permitted? Surely, if they are not required, we can still ask for one if we think it would be useful.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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That is a very fair question that I shall attempt to answer while I am on my feet, but I believe that it is not required. Section 22 of the 2015 Act excludes impact from the definition of regulatory provision, so I believe that it is an exclusion rather than a requirement. If I am wrong in any way, I shall write to the hon. Gentleman and correct myself. I may be corrected while I am on my feet, although in the brave new world of covid, that is quite difficult, as I am sure that he understands.

Clearly, if we were to do an impact assessment at this time, it would fundamentally delay the implementation of payment to members, and the blunt truth is that the PPF will run out of money by October if we do not progress this legislation. The levy increase will be consulted on post the passing of this Bill. It will need consultation, regulations and debate in the usual way.

Amendment 5 would also delay the progress of this matter. The Government will respond to the Work and Pensions Committee, to which I gave detailed evidence, before the end of the summer term. The full response of the Government in respect of all matters relating to such scams will be made before the end of term. We are already progressing Project Bloom and there is the work of the Money and Pensions Service that was introduced by my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury in the previous Act that we worked on. We have produced section 125 of the Pension Schemes Act 2021, which Her Majesty signed on the dotted line in early February, and the consequential transfer regulations that we have consulted on over the past month to ensure that pension scams are prevented on an ongoing basis.

I have been asked to address other matters. It is clear that Ministers are engaging with various organisations, including Google and Facebook. The two of us have made our views very clear to those organisations about how they should regulate themselves. I agree that Pension Wise should be used more but, with great respect, I disagree with the Chair of the Select Committee’s proposal for the many good reasons that I outlined in the debates on Report and Third Reading of the 2021 Act. Clearly the work that we are doing jointly with the Treasury and other organisations, including the FCA, on stronger nudges towards using Pension Wise and other things will make a massive difference.

On amendment 6, there is already an annual report. In true Chamberlain style, I have it here in my hand: the annual report of the Pension Protection Fund, which is published every July. I know, Ms Ghani, that you will have read the most recent version, and will be looking forward with bated breath to the July 2021 report, which will specifically address the issues whose importance today’s witness made very clear.

In those circumstances, I invite hon. Members not to press their amendments.

Let us try to ensure that we get through this portion of business before the Division. The Opposition spokesperson may of course respond, but let us keep it brief.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda
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I am grateful to the Minister for his response. I feel that he is being somewhat generous in his description of the Government’s assessment of this problem and the level of response. I urge him to redouble his efforts and to focus on some of these points in further detail.

I think that the hon. Member for Glenrothes is right to draw attention to the subtle legal difference on the issue of the impact assessment. Surely, given the scale of what is going on, it would be wise to carry out an impact assessment. I appreciate the pressure of time, but perhaps with the considerable resources of DWP, which has the largest staff quota of any Department and a very able group of civil servants, it would be possible to carry out an impact assessment on a rapid turnaround, given the scale of what we are talking about and, indeed, the problems of the sector as a whole.

On the ongoing consultation and the possibility of reviews in this area, will the Minister agree to meet me and the not-for-profit providers to explore the particular issues affecting them?

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I will, of course, agree to meet them. I already meet NEST and the People’s Pension regularly, and they have made a very good pitch for a reduced levy. It is already a reduced levy, as I am sure the hon. Gentleman is aware, and there is already a 0.75% cap, but of course I am looking forward to meeting them as part of the ongoing consultation.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am very grateful to the Minister and put on the record my thanks to him for offering that meeting. I look forward to seeing him and discussing the matter.

On amendment 5, the Minister mentioned the regulations in the Pension Schemes Act 2021, but will he write to me to discuss some of the ways in which the specific parts of the regulations relate to this issue? He has been reported in the media as suggesting that it might be wise to consider pension scams in the online harms Bill. Perhaps he will comment on that now or write to me separately, because we would like to work constructively with the Government on this matter. I appreciate that online harms are a huge and wide-ranging issue, and I have a constituency interest in violent crime in respect of a tragic incident in Reading.

Guy Opperman Portrait Guy Opperman
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I would be happy to write to the hon. Gentleman. He can read in detail what I said in The Times on both occasions, and that is pretty much all I can say on that matter.

Matt Rodda Portrait Matt Rodda
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I thank the Minister for his candour and for offering me a cutting from The Times, which is a fine newspaper.

Finally, on the PPF annual report, the issue is that while these documents are very worthy, and we should all read them, there is a delay. I urge the Minister to consider the need to reassure organisations in the sector, pension savers and pensioners themselves in the near term, rather than our having to wait well into 2022 before the 2021 annual report is available.

I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 2 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 3 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Bill to be reported, without amendment.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

COMPB 01 Nigel Simmonds

COMPB 02 Paul and Susan Warren

COMPB 03 Mary Young

COMPB 04 Transparency Task Force (supplementary)

COMPB 05 Financial Services Compensation Scheme (supplementary)