I echo the compliments that Jack Dromey, the shadow Minister paid to the Work and Pensions Committee and its Chair and to the two Ministers who have done most of the legwork on the Bill. The Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, and my hon. Friend the Economic Secretary to the Treasury have been exemplary in their handling of the Bill, as appears to be universally recognised. I would say to the shadow Minister that this is an immensely important Bill. It is very important for all the people we represent, building on the huge change that we made in giving people freedom around their pensions, and therefore there is a need to ensure that it is underpinned by proper advice and guidance.
I represent a number of financial firms in my constituency. I used to represent Legal & General, which was the biggest employer in my constituency, but it has had the impertinence to move out of Kingswood and go elsewhere. It is one of its rivals whose interests I defend. The pension freedoms that we announced in the Budget some time ago were a major challenge to two companies in my constituency—Just Retirement and Partnership. As one of my friends who worked at one of those companies said, “We have just a slight problem now, as the Government are not mandating that everybody must buy our product as an annuity. They now have options over their future.”
Those two companies were insurgents in the financial services market. Just Retirement specialises in the issue of equity release, which I addressed in the debate on the first group of amendments, trying to ensure that there is proper access to advice on people’s property as part of their asset structure in planning for retirement. Partnership specialised in identifying groups of annuitants with a shorter life expectancy, who therefore would be able to get a greater rate of return out of their pension investment. As people who had been saving with the big boys, such as Legal & General, moved into taking their pensions, they needed proper advice and guidance about the products that were available in the market.
I listened very carefully to the exchange between the Chair of the Select Committee and the Minister around the issue of the independence and impartiality of the advice that people will have access to. This will be the test that I apply to the Bill: people who are saving with a big player such as Legal & General must not be captured, in a sense, by simply not being exercised enough to seek independent advice in order properly to understand what options are available to them, and suborned as it were into continuing with the existing provider without understanding the options available to them. That is why the independence and impartiality, and the encouragement that people will get to seek that advice, is the test that needs to be set for whether this legislation will do the job, making them savvier about their pensions and the options available to them in retirement.
These matters are incredibly important to almost everyone in the course of their lives, when they come to make the big decisions about financial provision in retirement. I will be looking at this legislation, and at the undertakings that have been given, so that if it does not deliver what we hope it will, we can revisit it and ensure that people can access advice.
The Bill builds on the huge opportunities that we have given people to spend their own money in pursuit of their own priorities, while of course ensuring that they make sensible provision for their retirement, on the basis of advice and as informed consumers. That will take them away from being comfortable simply to be prisoners of their own big provider, without understanding the options available to them. We have given people their freedom and I hope that the Bill will ensure that they can use it in an informed way. That is a huge change, and one that I warmly support.