7 December 2022
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown calls for Financial Conduct Authority to be more accountable

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown supports an amendment to the Financial Services and Markets Bill which would require the Financial Conduct Authority to regularly report to Parliament on use of its regulatory powers, measures to protect vulnerable consumers and the FCA’s receptiveness to the recommendations of the Consumer Panel.

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (The Cotswolds) (Con)

I am grateful to catch your eye, Madam Deputy Speaker.

I congratulate the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent (Nick Smith) on tabling new clause 10, for which he should receive much of the credit. This amendment has an extremely simple intent in laying a duty on the FCA to report to Parliament on

“(a) the adequacy and appropriateness of the FCA’s use of its regulatory powers; (b) the measures the FCA has taken to protect vulnerable consumers, including pensioners, people with disabilities, and people receiving forms of income support; and”—

finally and most importantly—

“(c) the FCA’s receptiveness to the recommendations of the Consumer Panel.”

I will now say why paragraph (c), in particular, is so important. The hon. Member has explained clearly why the FCA should regularly report to Parliament, and in my role as deputy Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee, I have constantly urged openness and transparency, wherever possible, so that our constituents can make full and proper judgments on the actions, or lack of them, of regulators such as the FCA.

Like the hon. Member for Blaenau Gwent, I will give the House an example. The PAC inquiry that we held in April and June this year highlighted the plight of some 2,000 of the 7,700 British Steel pensioners who in 2019 suffered significant financial shortfalls because of the wrong advice given by a significant number of independent financial advisers who advised pensioners to opt out of their valuable defined-benefit pension schemes. To add further insult to injury, the actions by the regulator caused a number of independent financial adviser companies to go out of business or merge with others, and therefore the compensation that pensioners received rightly was capped. I know this is a complicated subject but both the hon. Member and I are using it as an egregious example of why the FCA needs to be more accountable to Parliament and our constituents. This amendment stems from recommendations 5a and 5b in the PAC report “Investigation into the British Steel Pension Scheme”, published on 21 July:

“The FCA should be more proactive and consumer-focused in its engagement with stakeholders. It should have a better mechanism for responding to consumer harms and collect more evidence on a regular basis to pick up on issues that are being raised, especially from emerging risks in financial markets…The FCA must also review how effective the Financial Services Consumer Panel is at consumer protection and how it influences policy debates within the FCA from a consumer angle.”

The hon. Member and I have had discussions with the Economic Secretary, who is on the Front Bench today, and I believe he is sympathetic to the principle that the FCA needs to be much more accountable. If that is the case, I very much hope that he will concede the principle of this amendment and incorporate it as a Government amendment in the other place. Neither the hon. Member nor I wish to be prescriptive about how or when this reporting should take place to Parliament; that is a matter for the Government.

No financial institution will ultimately exist without its consumers. The whole point of the FCA as a regulatory authority is to protect their interests. Rather than having to work through long and complicated reports, there needs to be clear, easily available information on what regulators are doing, or not doing, on their behalf. All of this requires a fundamental shift in the regulator’s—the FCA’s—attitude to the consumer and a commitment to engage more when things go wrong.

Finally, I want to comment on the fraud aspects of the Bill. The PAC recently conducted an inquiry on fraud and discovered that 41% of all reported crime in June was accounted for by fraud, up from 30% in 2017, yet just 1% of police resources is being devoted to fraud crimes. So we urgently need to see the Government’s new comprehensive fraud strategy.


Later intervention in the Minister’s reply to the debate

Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown 

On fraud, about which I gave the figures to the House earlier, we had a hearing of the Public Accounts Committee the other day. I suggested two things: first, fraud should be made a strategic priority for every police force; and secondly, every police officer in the country should receive at least some basic training in the likelihood of fraud crimes.

The Economic Secretary to the Treasury (Andrew Griffith)

Fraud is of course a shared responsibility between the Treasury and my hon. Friends in the Home Office, and when it comes to the report that the hon. Member for Hampstead and Kilburn is quite rightly challenging us to produce as quickly as possible, we want that report to be right rather than quick, but we do need to bring it forward as quickly as possible. We will use the time wisely to engage with expert stakeholders, which could well include the training of which my hon. Friend speaks, and we will come forward with that early in 2023.

In addition, this Bill is a seminal moment in protecting victims of authorised push payment fraud. It will ensure swift protections for the vast majority of APP scam victims, reversing the presumption and making sure they receive swift reimbursement so that they are no longer victims of this crime. The measure enables the Payment Systems Regulator to take action across all payments systems, not just faster payments, which is where the fraud occurs most, so that it does not merely get displaced. The Government expect protections for consumers across all payments systems to keep pace with that.