All 3 Lord Leigh of Hurley contributions to the Financial Services Bill 2019-21

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Thu 28th Jan 2021
Financial Services Bill
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2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords & 2nd reading
Mon 8th Mar 2021
Wed 14th Apr 2021

Financial Services Bill Debate

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Department: Cabinet Office

Financial Services Bill

Lord Leigh of Hurley Excerpts
2nd reading & 2nd reading (Hansard) & 2nd reading (Hansard): House of Lords
Thursday 28th January 2021

(3 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Financial Services Bill 2019-21 Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts Amendment Paper: Consideration of Bill Amendments as at 13 January 2021 - (13 Jan 2021)
Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I refer your Lordships to my registered interests and extend a very warm welcome to my noble friend Lord Hammond of Runnymede. I have sat through many of his speeches, including the famous one in which he described why “Spreadsheet Phil” is inappropriate, but this was exemplary. His maiden speech and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Shafik, were excellent.

The final EU withdrawal agreement was a success, but, as has been discussed in this House and elsewhere, it was light on financial services. Mark Carney, the former Governor of the Bank of England, said this time last year that the City of London must not be a “rule-taker” after Brexit, effectively outsourcing the regulation and supervision of our global financial centre. Therefore, while adopting the EU rulebook in the first instance has delivered much-needed continuity and stability, we must now think about what comes next. That must surely be an approach that sees the UK continue to set global standards in prudential regulation and consumer protection, without losing sight of our broader objectives of innovation and competition.

There are three initiatives worthy of mention that can reinforce the initial steps taken in the Bill. The first is the future regulatory framework review. The Government’s response to this will give us the clearest indication yet of the vision for financial services post Brexit. I note the stress placed on equivalence of outcome. This should give us more room for interpretation, and indeed the opportunity to revisit many areas of law which were effectively gold-plated into UK law when we were EU members.

The second is the productive finance review. This concerns the means to unlock more capital to increase productive capacity in the real economy. I mention it here because it should also look at the impact of regulation on institutional capital flows into key areas such as infrastructure and technology. EU directives IORP and Solvency II limit such capital flows with prohibitive capital charges and should be looked at immediately. There is £6 trillion in UK private pensions alone that could be unlocked for more productive purposes.

The third is the Kalifa review into UK fintech. The Chancellor and my noble friend Lord Gadhia recently spoke of the need to see a second big bang in the City. Fintech is a key part of that. I hope the review proposes reforms as transformational as the first big bang was for the City.

Turning to the specifics of the Bill, there are commendable measures that will advance the competitiveness of financial services within our current regulatory envelope. Asset management remains our most globally significant subsector. Therefore, the measures to update the regime for third-country investment firms is to be commended. Similarly, introducing a more proportionate prudential approach to regulating investment firms will lower their costs of doing business, and better reflect underlying risk. On the other side of the coin, there are important measures on supervision and consumer protection. In particular, I commend the review that former FCA director Chris Woolard is leading on “buy now, pay later” lenders, where there is mounting evidence of bad debt, mis-selling and very bad practice. However, on FCA enforcement, there is a balance to be struck, and this Bill is, I am afraid, another opportunity missed to strike that balance. I am referring to the FSCS levy, FCA enforcement and the endless ex-post powers of the Financial Ombudsman Service.

The FSCS levy is due to soar by a third, to over £1 billion, with one of the reasons given being the cost of compensating SIPP consumers. However, there is mounting evidence that the FOS has been overreaching itself in its decisions against those very same SIPP providers. For example, many SIPP providers provide execution-only services on behalf of a client—the clue in the phrase “self-invested”—and yet claims of mis-selling are upheld, even where no financial advice is proffered and no advisory permissions are even held.

Frankly, this has the appearance of a racket. Blessed by the FCA, the FOS adjudicates, the FSCS is jacked up accordingly, the FS industry is forced to pay, driving some literally to bankruptcy, and the money flows seamlessly back to the FCA. It is a system with no accountability before the law, and no right of appeal. In short, it is unjust, and at a time when the broader powers of the FCA are being debated. Will the Minister consent to revisiting this important issue? It is a shame that the Bill does not seek to rebalance the relationship between the FCA and FOS and bring some common sense into how FOS operates.

Members of this House might recall that I have been banging on about FOS for some time, and I have had the pleasure of meeting the City Minister to discuss it. Well, something fell into my lap this summer. I received an unsolicited credit card from a company called NewDay. I had not asked for a credit card. A day or so later, a neighbour spotted someone rummaging in my outdoor letter box. It was a scam. Someone had ordered a card in my name and was seeking to retrieve the PIN subsequently sent in the post. A simple remedy would be to require credit card recipients to confirm that they had ordered one before it is sent to them. I suggested that to the company; it refused, so I complained to the FOS and it took six months for the FOS to tell me it could not fix the issue as the FCA handbook, which, as we know, governs FOS, states that as I was not yet a customer, I was not an eligible complainant under the FCA dispute resolution—rule 2.7.2, if you are interested—so it would take it no further and, as a result, others will now get scammed in this way.

That shows a dramatic shortage of common sense. Does the Minister agree that it is not clear that FOS is fit for purpose, and that the Bill provides us with an opportunity to ensure that FOS and the FCA do the job Parliament had envisaged, or to let us change the way FOS and the FCA operate?

Financial Services Bill Debate

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Department: Leader of the House

Financial Services Bill

Lord Leigh of Hurley Excerpts
In October, the Treasury correctly stated that it was not possible to fully enable cashback without a purchase because of barriers from the European Union, not least the PSD. Well, that barrier has now gone. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it would be a real boost for individuals, businesses and communities if cashback without a purchase could be enabled—for all those individuals who need, rely on and trust cash, and all those businesses that could have an additional strand by being able to offer this service? It may well be the case that cash is no longer king. It is certainly very much the case that cash still has currency. Does my noble friend agree—and does he agree that this amendment needs serious consideration between now and Report?
Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak on Amendment 135 in my name, although I find myself in agreement, as is so frequently the case, with the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, on their amendments, and, of course, with my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond, who very kindly served as my warm-up act for my amendment. With such unanimity, let me explain what this is about.

At Second Reading, the Minister might have read that I raised two issues of concern. The first was that FOS and the FCA had been overzealous and overreached themselves. As a result, they had destroyed a segment of the financial services industry, namely the SIPP industry. I was disappointed that there did not seem to be anything in this Bill dealing with that, but I am pleased to say that I have had constructive meetings with the City Minister, John Glen, and representatives of the FCA and FOS and there are further meetings ahead. I accept that this matter will not be in this Bill, but perhaps it will be dealt with at a later stage elsewhere.

The second matter that I raised was about a situation in which FOS and the FCA were not doing enough to protect consumer interests, and I had an idea that might enable them so to do. As the Minister here today was not at Second Reading, I will just remind him of the reason why I have raised this. In the summer, I received a letter in the post with a credit card in my name, which was very nice except that I had not applied for it. It arrived unsolicited. I did not think too much of it, but a few days later—in those halcyon days of last summer when one could go outdoors and talk to one’s neighbours—a neighbour mentioned to me that they had seen some slightly unsavoury-looking individual rummaging through my letterbox at the front gate. I managed to put two and two together and worked out what had happened. Someone had found my home address and date of birth—which is not difficult, I am sorry to say, because they are available at Companies House; I have since changed that, but it is generally true. Then clearly he applied for a credit card in my name and was rummaging around in the letterbox to find it and to find the PIN, which followed in the post a few days later. It was clearly an unsatisfactory situation.

I contacted people in the company concerned, which I shall not name on this occasion, and complained that it was odd that they had sent me a credit card that I had not requested. I invited them to explain why and perhaps to change their procedures. They replied that they were sorry to hear it, but as I had not lost any money, there was nothing that they could do, or chose to do. Eventually, after a few letters and emails, they sent me a form to use to complain to FOS. I could not resist, of course, so I put a complaint into FOS—and it took FOS six months to reply to the complaint. After six months, a very well-crafted letter arrived from FOS, explaining to me that it could not help me because I was not actually a customer of the credit card company concerned. I was a potential customer of the credit card company concerned, and under the FCA handbook—the FCA instructs FOS—it has no power to deal with situations in respect of potential customers.

There were audible gasps of horror at Second Reading when I explained the situation, and my noble friend Lord Agnew agreed to write to me because he, too, was surprised. He wrote to me on 9 February and said:

“As you set out in your speech, the FCA is responsible for setting the rules for what complaints the FOS are able to consider. These rules do not allow FOS to consider a complaint from someone who is not a customer or potential customer of a firm. Extending eligibility to make a complaint to the FOS about a firm that they are not a customer or a potential customer of would be a very significant expansion of the FOS’s remit, which could result in delays to other complaints being resolved. However, the FOS are able to consider complaints from people who are being pursued for a debt that is not theirs following an identity theft. Therefore, had the attempted identity theft you experienced resulted in losses, then the FOS would have been able to consider a complaint from you.”

Financial Services Bill Debate

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Financial Services Bill

Lord Leigh of Hurley Excerpts
Lord Leigh of Hurley Portrait Lord Leigh of Hurley (Con) [V]
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend the Minister on Amendment 14, as I raised that issue at Second Reading and it was very good to see it today. It shows that the Government are listening, which is very welcome. I thank him for his kind opening remarks on a number of Peers’ appearances: it was very perceptive of him. I will not repeat the sorry tale that he heard last time around, which is the reason for this amendment. He will recall that it was in response to an attempt to commit a fraud by sending me a credit card I had not requested, and that I was unable to progress matters with FOS because I was not a customer of the credit card company concerned. I had a letter from FOS, which says the following:

“The Financial Ombudsman Service must follow the rules stipulated by the Financial Conduct Authority handbook. The relevant section concerns dispute resolution—DISP—and DISP states that there are limitations to when FOS may investigate a complaint.”


This is the rule that stipulates that FOS may look at complaints only from “an eligible complainant”, and DISP 2.7.3 states:

“An eligible complainant must be a person that is … a consumer”.


The regulations go on to say that FOS may investigate a complaint from a consumer or “a potential consumer”, and that this consumer or potential consumer must have a relationship with the regulated busines. There is a full explanation set out in DISP 2.7.3 and 2.7.6 of the FCA handbook. As I did not genuinely attempt to make a credit application, I did not fit the description of consumer or potential consumer in the handbook. In his reply to me at Second Reading, the Minister said that

“it is already the case that potential customers of a firm can seek redress through the FOS scheme under the FCA’s existing rules, notably the FCA dispute resolution handbook rule. The relevant rule states that, to be an eligible complainant, a consumer must be, or have previously been, a potential customer, payment service user or electronic money holder of the firm that they are raising a complaint against”.—[Official Report, 8/3/21; col. GC 552.]

This is completely contrary to the email sent by FOS, and there is clearly misunderstanding and confusion.

My noble friend the Minister was kind enough to suggest that I could report this matter to Action Fraud, and reports received by Action Fraud are then considered by the National Fraud Intelligence Bureau. Frankly, none of that need have been necessary or would be necessary in future if my Amendment 26, the only amendment I will speak to, were adopted. I seek for it to be adopted so that, from here on in, FOS can take action against credit card companies which do not seek to verify recipients of credit cards before they are sent out. At the moment, there is no redress for anyone who receives a credit card and no one for them to complain to. I do not think they can complain to Action Fraud because the fraud was never consummated, as it were. I very much look forward to listening to his remarks at the Dispatch Box later this afternoon, given that the Government are in listening and action mode.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans [V]
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 16 and then address my own Amendment 27. The introduction of a regulatory body to oversee the rules governing the behaviour of bailiffs would greatly strengthen complaints handling for the victims of practices that fall outside the national guidelines. The FCA reported in its Financial Lives 2020 Survey that 3.8 million people in the UK are currently experiencing “financial difficulty”. It is a terrible situation that takes a significant toll on people’s health and relationships. This amendment seeks to address an important concern: the fair treatment of people by enforcement agents who collect debts, often from vulnerable people who are in grave financial distress.

The absence of an independent regulator means that, when breaches of national standards occur, any complaints will be dealt with through the company or a trade association, before possibly being passed on to an ombudsman. This is an arduous process that prevents complaints from being adequately actioned. Furthermore, these national standards are not legally binding, which obscures the extent to which an individual can seek redress. No industry is exempt from poor practice. While most enforcement agents will probably abide by national standards, nevertheless we need to make sure that they are properly regulated.

Breaches do occur, and I will quote one example provided by the charity Christians Against Poverty of a single mother of two children. This woman was living under police protection and was a regular at a food bank, and her abusive former partner had taken out £20,000-worth of debt in her name. All of this was compounded by the fact that she was caring for her critically ill mother. When visited by a bailiff on account of a parking fine that had escalated, she attempted to contact CAP so that it could explain the situation to the bailiff. At this point the bailiff became intimidating, aggressive and threatening. That is a breach of rule 21 of the national guidelines, which states:

“Enforcement agents must not act in a threatening manner when visiting the debtor”.


We need to get a balance of powers that allows enforcement officers to undertake their tasks while also protecting debtors and ensuring they have significant mechanisms to air complaints impartially and without fear.

Debt charities are already reporting rising numbers of people in financial crisis and behind on household bills such as rent and council tax because of the Covid pandemic. Given the possible upturn in the number of individuals being referred to bailiffs in the near future, now is a suitable time to explore how we can introduce a regulatory body. I hope the Government will look closely at the content of this amendment and work to correct the current imbalance.

I now turn to Amendment 27 in my name. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who have also signed it. I tabled this amendment because I believe in the positive difference that gambling blockers can make in reducing gambling harms and empowering individuals to control their own addictions. The amendment would mandate the providers of debit and credit accounts to offer opt-in gambling blockers to block gambling transactions.

As things stand, gambling blockers have widened coverage over the past three years, currently reaching around 90% of current accounts and 40% of credit card accounts. This is an achievement in its own right and should be welcomed as a positive technological aid to reduce problem gambling. While there is a still a need to close that 10% in debit card coverage, the majority of which will come from smaller banks and building societies, it is of secondary concern to the far larger gap that exists in the credit account market, where 60% of accounts are not covered by blocking options.

In April 2020, the Gambling Commission banned the use of credit cards for gambling purposes, but this is only enforceable on licensed operators. The lack of gambling blockers on credit accounts is particularly problematic as it can provide a back door for individuals suffering from gambling-related harms to use credit cards on unlicensed sites. This undermines the Gambling Commission’s own rules and unfairly benefits unlicensed operators. Even more worryingly, this blind spot provides a direct avenue for the expansion of harmful and addictive behaviour, and the accumulation of gambling debt that would not ordinarily be allowed.

With the Government’s gambling review ongoing, the emphasis should be on preventing harm, and provisions for gambling blockers would be a welcome aid in achieving this goal. Admittedly, they are not perfect; they rely on accurate merchant categorisation codes to identify gambling transactions. But this should not discount the positive part they can play. Furthermore, through greater co-operation between account providers and payment processors, a robust and data-driven system of reporting could be developed to identify unlicensed operators hiding behind incorrect merchant categorisation codes to block future transactions. With no legal requirement to provide blockers and no obligation on payment processors to diligently review the merchant categorisation codes of unlicensed operators, gambling blockers will suffer from pitfalls that could be effectively remedied through either a legislative or regulatory approach.

There are also issues this amendment does not directly deal with but deserve highlighting. Due to the entirely optional provision of blockers, there are currently no minimum standards for functionality. This is an issue when it comes to the so-called “cooling-off” or “friction” period—the time between deactivating the blocker and once again being allowed to transact for gambling purposes. As a tool that assists those suffering from gambling addiction, the ability to activate and deactivate at will renders a blocker redundant.

Of the gambling blockers currently on offer, friction periods range from instant reactivation to 48 hours. The results offered by Monzo highlight the success of stricter cooling-off periods. Its blocker, with a 48-hour cooling-off period, block around 585,000 gambling transactions per month and is active on nearly 300,000 accounts. According to its data, once it is activated, fewer than 10% of customers deactivate it. Monzo, driven by its own success, has called upon the Government to mandate that banks provide blockers and would no doubt support this amendment. However, as I have shown, it is not merely their provision that renders them successful but their architecture. A minimum cooling-off period of 24 hours would make them far more effective tools to deal with addictions.

Finally, I will add that, in a data-driven world fuelled by digital payment systems rather than the cash we used in the past, individuals should have more autonomy over how they spend their money. Aside from their benefits in combating addiction and containing the unlicensed market, gambling blockers are an example of giving customers control over their own transactions. Actions and decisions are increasingly dictated by data that is controlled, analysed and dissected by global corporations and increasingly removed from the individual. Optional transaction blockers such as those related to gambling re-empower individuals and give them a stake in this new data-driven environment.

I thank the Government for their helpful work in encouraging the major banks to introduce gambling blockers—an endeavour that has been very successful in relation to debit cards. I know from discussions I have had with the Government that they see the benefits of blockers and continue to support a voluntary rollout. This is very encouraging and I hope that as they move forward with these efforts they will take on board some of the comments made here and find ways to promote greater data sharing between payment service providers and processors to tackle the unlicensed market. However, I remain of the opinion that for products as potentially harmful as gambling there should be not only a statutory obligation to provide opt-in blockers, as stated in this amendment, but minimum design requirements so that the positive results provided by Monzo can be emulated by other account providers.