Lord Fowler (Conservative)
My Lords, frankly, that was a deeply disappointing reply from the Government. The Minister talked about uncertainty. The uncertainty is caused by the worst financial position that we have had in this country in living memory; that is the uncertainty that would-be pensioners are living with.
It is significant that out of 10 speakers apart from the Minister, only one, the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, argued against the amendment. I thank my noble friend on the Front Bench for his support, and I thank my noble friend Lord Sanderson. My noble friend Lord Forsyth pointed out that the people who we are harming are those people who have done the right thing and have saved for their retirement. Surely the aim of policy should be to help them, not to damage their interests. The noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, made a powerful speech, which was made all the more powerful because of her knowledge as a former Pensions Minister. She rightly said again that the impact of this will be on future pension policy, and it will be profound. We want to encourage pension saving, not discourage it.
The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, made a very interesting point about alternatively secured pensions. The Government have suddenly become the greatest supporter of alternatively secured pensions. We never heard that argument from the Government before; up to now, they have regarded it as a bit of a loophole. Up to now, they have said, "Okay, the Plymouth Brethren can do it". I had not realised that this was a central plank of government policy, or that they were putting it forward for everyone up and down the country. I had not realised that they were saying to financial advisers and banks, "Please tell people to take alternatively secured pensions". This is entirely new; I do not remember that argument. If the Minister will forgive me for saying so, it is a very odd line. He is really saying, "We have this rule on compulsory annuities, but take a bit of advice and you can get around the rule". It is the most extraordinary excuse that I have heard from a Minister for many years.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and the noble Baroness, Lady Dean, for their interventions. The noble Baroness said that there were ebbs and flows in the stock market, but we are not dealing with ebbs and flows. The comment made by the deputy governor of the Bank of England, Charlie Bean, was:
"This is a once in a lifetime crisis, and possibly the largest financial crisis of its kind in human history".
That is not an ebb and flow; that is a crisis. The Government keep on saying that they will have policies to help people through this crisis. We challenge them to provide something in this area, and they do absolutely nothing.
The noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, with her vast experience in this area, also supported the amendment, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. The only person who argued against it was the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. To be honest, I am puzzled by his position, although I could put it more strongly than that. He seems to basically be saying, "If you will not have my amendment, you cannot have any other amendment". I am quite happy to go with my amendment if that is his only argument. The fatal flaw in his argument is that he is arguing for annuities at the age of 85. I do not see any sign whatever that the Government are going to give in to that position, so the noble Lord is arguing with the Government about annuities at 85. If the Minister wants to stand up and say that he will introduce annuities at 85, I am happy to give way, but I very much doubt that he is.
In those circumstances, I really would ask the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, to reconsider his position, because he is going forward on a proposition that will be rejected by the Government. This is the whole case—and I do not doubt the noble Lord's goodwill—but we are both putting forward proposed solutions, and the Government are saying no to everything. This is a moderate, middle-of-the-road proposition.
This is a question of justice for men and women who have saved for their future, but have been caught in a financial storm which they have had no way of influencing and very little chance of avoiding. We have an opportunity of seeking to deal with that injustice. That was the challenge to the Minister which he was unable and unwilling to take up. In those circumstances, I would like to test the opinion of the House.