Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] – in the House of Commons at 5:20 pm on 16th November 2020.
“The Secretary of State must write to members or survivors of pension schemes five years prior to the age of becoming eligible to access their benefits, to state a scheduled date and time for a pensions guidance appointment, or the option to reschedule or defer this appointment; and write annually until a pensions guidance appointment has been taken, or the member’s desire to opt out has been confirmed.”—(Stephen Timms.)
This new clause would ensure members or survivors of pension schemes receive an impartial pensions guidance appointment prior to the point when they become eligible to access their pension benefits, with an appointment booked each year until such time that the member has received impartial guidance.
Brought up, and read the First time.
I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.
With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
New clause 2—Pensions Advisory Commission—
“(1) The Pensions Regulator shall establish a committee to be known as the Pensions Advisory Commission.
(2) The Commission shall consist of—
(a) members of the Regulator as provided under section 2(1) of the Pensions Act 2004, and
(b) five other persons appointed by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Secretary of State.
(3) A person appointed under subsection (2)(b) shall exercise only functions in pursuance of the duties in subsections (5) and (6).
(4) The Commission shall be chaired by a person appointed under subsection (2)(b).
(5) It shall be the duty of the Pensions Advisory Commission to submit to the Secretary of State each calendar year, beginning with the year 2022, a report setting out the Commission’s views on—
(a) the impact of provisions in Parts 1, 2 and 4 of this Act on—
(i) persons in different parts and regions of the United Kingdom,
(ii) equal treatment of men and women in access to pension provision, and
(iii) persons with a protected characteristic under section 4 of the Equality Act 2010; and
(b) the effectiveness of the powers in Parts 1 to 3 of this Act in enabling the Pensions Regulator to achieve its objectives under section 5 of the Pensions Act 2004.
(6) It shall also be the duty of the Commission to report to the Secretary of State by
(7) The Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a copy of every report received from the Commission under this section.”
New clause 3—Pension accounts—
“(1) A jobholder to whom section 3 of the Pensions Act 2008 applies may by notice require an employer to arrange for the jobholder to receive into a pension account any contribution which would otherwise be made by the employer into an automatic enrolment scheme.
(2) A contribution by a jobholder or by their employer into the jobholder’s pension account shall be invested in a pension scheme offered by an approved pension provider.
(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision—
(a) about the form and content of a notice given under subsection (1), or
(b) about the arrangements that the employer is required to make.
(4) The Secretary of State may make regulations to set criteria by which a pension provider may be approved for the purposes of subsection (2).
(5) Regulations under this section shall be made by statutory instrument and may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before and approved by a resolution of each House of Parliament.”
New clause 4—Employer debt: trustees’ discretion—
“(1) The following changes are made to the Occupational Pension Schemes (Employer Debt) Regulations 2005 (SI 2005/678).
(2) In regulation 2, in the definition of “scheme apportionment arrangement”—
(a) in sub-paragraph (f)(ii), after “apply”, insert “but not if the circumstances in paragraph (h) apply”;
(b) at end insert—
“(h) the consent of the remaining employer or employers shall not be required under (f)(ii) above where all of the following conditions apply—
(i) the departing employer’s debt was treated as becoming due prior to the coming into force of this provision; and
(ii) the departing employer’s debt was less than 0.5% of the scheme’s overall liabilities, as estimated by the trustees or managers on advice of the scheme actuary, as if the whole scheme had been winding-up at the time the debt was treated as becoming due; and
(iii) the employer in question was operating as an unincorporated business during his participation in the scheme; and
(iv) the trustees or managers consider that, in the context of the scheme overall, taking into account factors such as the scheme’s assets, liabilities and the trustees’ or managers’ most recent assessment of the overall employer covenant, there would be no material benefit to the scheme and its members in seeking recovery of the employer’s liability share from the departing employer.”
(3) In regulation 9, after paragraph (14B), insert the following new paragraph—
“(14C) Condition L is that a debt was treated as becoming due from him under section 75 of the 1995 Act but is excluded under this Condition because—
(a) the employer’s debt was treated as becoming due prior to this Condition coming into force; and
(b) the employer’s debt was less than 0.5% of the scheme’s overall liabilities, as estimated by the trustees or managers on advice of the scheme actuary, as if the whole scheme had been winding-up at the time the debt was treated as becoming due; and
(c) the employer in question was operating as an unincorporated business during his participation in the scheme; and
(d) at or before the applicable time, the trustees or managers have made a determination not to pursue the debt on the grounds that, in the context of the scheme overall, taking into account factors such as the scheme’s assets, liabilities and the trustees’ or managers’ most recent assessment of the overall employer covenant, seeking recovery represented a disproportionate cost to the scheme and would be of no material benefit to the scheme overall.””
This new clause would enable pension scheme trustees to exercise discretion not to pursue employer debt following an employer’s exit from a pension scheme where such debt is below a de minimis threshold. This aims to support unincorporated employers who are now retired for business and for whom the current regulation allows no easements.
New clause 5—Employer debt: deferred debt arrangement—
“(1) The following changes are made to the Occupational Pension Schemes (Employer Debt) Regulations 2005 (SI 2005/678).
(2) In regulation 6F—
(a) in paragraph (1), leave out “A” and insert “Subject to the provisions of paragraph (8) below, a”;
(b) at end insert—
“(8) In relation to a frozen scheme, the trustees or managers of the scheme may agree to a deferred debt arrangement where the employment-cessation event occurred at a time prior to the scheme becoming a frozen scheme, providing the conditions of paragraph (3) are met at the time the deferred debt arrangement is entered into.””
This new clause would permit employers in a pension scheme closed to future accrual to apply for a deferred debt arrangement, providing they meet the other statutory tests. This aims to support employers who are still trading but were not able to use the existing deferred debt easement.
New clause 6—Regulation of pension superfunds—
“(1) The Secretary of State shall publish a statement on proposals for primary legislation in relation to a duty on the Pensions Regulator to regulate pension superfunds.
(2) For the purposes of this section, a pension superfund is a defined benefit pension scheme that allows for the severance of an employer’s liability towards a defined benefit scheme and one of the following conditions applies—
(a) the scheme employer is replaced by a special purpose vehicle (SPV) employer, or
(b) the liability of the employer to fund the scheme’s liabilities is replaced by an employer backed with a capital injection to a capital buffer.
(3) The statement under subsection (1) shall be laid before Parliament before the end of a period of six months from the day on which this Act receives Royal Assent.”
This new clause would require the Secretary of State to publish within six months of Royal Assent proposals for primary legislation to place a duty on the Pensions Regulator to regulate pension superfunds.
Amendment 15, in clause 118, page 104, line 19, at end insert—
“(3) Requirements prescribed under subsection (2) must include a requirement that a pensions dashboard service may not include a facility for engaging in financial transaction activities.”
This amendment ensures that a pensions dashboard does not include a provision for financial transaction activities.
Amendment 9, page 105, line 20, at end insert—
“(6A) A requirement under subsection (6)(d) may require the provider of a pensions dashboard service to ensure that the needs of people in vulnerable circumstances, including but not exclusively—
(a) persons who suffer long-term sickness or disability,
(c) persons on low incomes, and
(d) recipients of benefits, are met and that resources are allocated in such a way as to allow specially trained advisers and guidance to be made available to them.”
This amendment would require that specially trained advisers and guidance are made available to people in vulnerable circumstances and would provide an indicative list of what vulnerable circumstances should include.
Amendment 10, page 105, line 20, at end insert—
“(6A) A requirement under subsection (6)(d) may require the provider of a pensions dashboard service to communicate to an individual using the dashboard the difference between—
(a) provision of information,
(b) provision of guidance, and
(c) provision of advice.”
This amendment would require the provider of a pensions dashboard service to ensure that users are made aware of the differences between “information”, “guidance” and “advice”.
Amendment 11, in clause 119, page 108, line 18, after “scheme,” insert—
“(iva) the total cost of charges incurred for the administration of the scheme”.
This amendment would add information about the total cost of charges incurred for the administration and management of occupational pension schemes to the list of information displayed on the dashboard.
Amendment 13, in clause 121, page 112, line 42, after “scheme,” insert—
“(iva) the total cost of charges incurred for the administration of the scheme”.
This amendment would add information about the total cost of charges incurred for the administration and management of personal and stakeholder pension schemes to the list of information displayed on the dashboard.
Amendment 8, in clause 122, page 116, line 37, at end insert—
“(2A) Before any other pension dashboard services can qualify under section 238A of the Pensions Act 2004 (qualifying pensions dashboard service)—
(a) the pensions dashboard service under subsection (1) must have been established for at least one year, and
(b) the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the operation and effectiveness of the pensions dashboard service under subsection (1) in its first year.”
Amendment 14, page 116, line 37, at end insert—
“(3) Before any other pension dashboard services can qualify under section238A of the Pensions Act 2004 (qualifying pensions dashboard service) the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report on the operation and effectiveness of the pensions dashboard service, including the adequacy of consumer protections.”
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to report on the operation and effectiveness of the public dashboard service (including consumer protections) before allowing commercial dashboards to operate.
Amendment 7, in clause 123, page 117, line 34, at end insert—
“(2) In exercising any powers to make regulations, or otherwise to prescribe any matter or principle, under Part 3 of the Pensions Act 2004 (scheme funding) as amended by Schedule 10, the objectives of the Secretary of State must include ensuring that schemes that are expected to remain open to new members, either indefinitely or for a significant period of time, can adopt funding and investment strategies which are suited to the characteristics of such schemes.”
Amendment 1, page 117, line 34, at end insert—
“(2) In exercising any powers to make regulations, or otherwise to prescribe any matter or principle, under Part 3 of the Pensions Act 2004 (scheme funding) as amended by Schedule 10, the Secretary of State must ensure that—
(a) schemes that are expected to remain open to new members, either indefinitely or for a significant period of time, are treated differently from schemes that are not;
(b) scheme liquidity is balanced with scheme maturity;
(c) there is a correlation between appropriate investment risk and scheme maturity;
(d) affordability of contributions to employers is maintained;
(e) affordability of contributions to members is maintained;
(f) the closure of schemes that are expected to remain open to new members, either indefinitely or for a significant period of time, is not accelerated; and
(g) trustees retain sufficient discretion to be able to comply with their duty to act in the best interests of their beneficiaries.”
This amendment seeks to ensure that open and active schemes which are receiving regular, significant cash contributions and closed schemes are treated differently, in accordance with their differing liquidity profile.
Amendment 6, page 117, line 34, at end insert—
“(2) The Secretary of State must, on or before
This amendment would require the Government to produce an economic impact assessment of the changes to defined benefit schemes upon the charitable sector.
Amendment 16, in clause 124, page 118, line 45, leave out subsection (8) and insert—
“(8) In this section and in sections 41AA, 41B and 41C—
(a) “the Paris Agreement goal” means the objectives set out in Articles 2 and 4.1 of the agreement done at Paris on
(b) “other climate change goal” means any climate change goal approved by the Secretary of State, but does not apply to a climate change goal which fails to meet the objectives of the Paris Agreement goal.
41AA Alignment with the Paris Agreement goal
(1) Trustees or managers of occupational pension schemes of a prescribed description must develop, set and implement, and from time to time review and if necessary revise, a strategy for ensuring that their investment policy, objectives and practices (including stewardship activities) are aligned with the Paris Agreement goal or other climate change goal.
(2) Such a strategy is to be known as a “Paris-alignment strategy”.
(3) The objective of a Paris-alignment strategy must be to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner, consistent with the Paris Agreement goal or other climate change goal.
(4) Provision may be made by regulations—
(a) requiring the trustees or managers of a scheme, in determining or revising a Paris-alignment strategy, to take into account prescribed matters and follow prescribed principles—
(i) as to the level of detail required in a Paris-alignment strategy; and
(ii) as to the period within which a Paris-alignment strategy must be developed, set and effected;
(b) requiring annual reporting on the implementation of the Paris-alignment strategy and progress against the objective set out in subsection (3); and
(c) requiring a Paris-alignment strategy to be reviewed, and if necessary revised, at such intervals and on such occasions as may be prescribed.”
This amendment enables regulations that would mandate occupational pension schemes to develop a strategy for ensuring that their investments and stewardship activities are aligning with the Paris agreement goals, and include an objective of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 or sooner.
Amendment 17, page 119, line 7, after “scheme” insert
“and alignment with achieving the objectives of the Paris Agreement goal or other climate change goal”.
This amendment is consequent on Amendment 16.
Amendment 18, page 119, line 8, leave out “section 41A” and insert “sections 41A and 41AA”.
This amendment is consequent on Amendment 16.
Amendment 19, page 119, line 19, after “41A”, insert “, 41AA”.
This amendment is consequent on Amendment 16.
Amendment 20, page 119, line 21, after “41A”, insert “, 41AA”.
This amendment is consequent on Amendment 16.
Amendment 21, page 119, line 22, at end insert—
“(za) provide for the Authority to undertake a review of, and report publicly on, the extent to which the activities under sections 41A and 41AA are achieving effective governance of climate change risk and alignment of pension schemes with the Paris Agreement goal;”.
This amendment enables the regulator to publicly assess the progress and development of schemes’ strategies to achieve alignment with Paris agreement goals.
Amendment 22, page 119, line 25, after “41A”, insert “, 41AA”.
This amendment is consequent on Amendment 16.
Amendment 23, page 119, line 30, after “41A”, insert “, 41AA”.
This amendment is consequent on Amendment 16.
Amendment 24, page 119, line 37, after “41A”, insert “, 41AA”.
This amendment is consequent on Amendment 16.
Amendment 2, in clause 125, page 120, line 32, at end insert—
“(e) the results of due diligence undertaken by the trustees or managers regarding the intended transfer or the receiving scheme.”
This amendment enables regulations under inserted subsection (6ZA) of section 95 of the Pension Schemes Act 1993 to prescribe conditions about the results of due diligence undertaken in relation to a transfer request such as to determine that the statutory right to a transfer is not established if specific “red flags” are identified in relation to the transfer or intended receiving pension scheme. Amendments 3, 4 and 5 are related.
Amendment 3, page 121, line 27, at end insert—
“(e) the results of due diligence undertaken by the trustees or managers regarding the intended transfer or the receiving scheme.”
This amendment enables regulations under inserted subsection (5A) of section 101F of the Pension Schemes Act 1993 to prescribe conditions about the results of due diligence undertaken in relation to a transfer request such as to determine that the statutory right to a transfer is not established if specific “red flags” are identified in relation to the transfer or intended receiving pension scheme. Amendments 2, 4 and 5 are related.
Amendment 12, in schedule 9, page 178, line 14, after “scheme,” insert—
(iva) the total cost of charges incurred for the administration of the scheme”.
This amendment would add information about the total cost of charges incurred for the administration and management of occupational pension schemes in Northern Ireland to the list of information displayed on the dashboard.
Amendment 4, in schedule 11, page 192, line 20, at end insert—
“(e) the results of due diligence undertaken by the trustees or managers regarding the intended transfer or the receiving scheme.”
This amendment enables regulations under inserted subsection (6ZA) of section 91 of the Pension Schemes (Northern Ireland) Act 1993 to prescribe conditions about the results of due diligence undertaken in relation to a transfer request such as to determine that the statutory right to a transfer is not established if specific “red flags” are identified in relation to the transfer or intended receiving pension scheme. Amendments 2, 3 and 5 are related.
Amendment 5, page 193, line 15, at end insert—
“(e) the results of due diligence undertaken by the trustees or managers regarding the intended transfer or the receiving scheme.”
This amendment enables regulations under inserted subsection (5A) of section 97F of the Pension Schemes (Northern Ireland) Act 1993 to prescribe conditions about the results of due diligence undertaken in relation to a transfer request such as to determine that the statutory right to a transfer is not established if specific “red flags” are identified in relation to the transfer or intended receiving pension scheme. Amendments 2, 3 and 4 are related.
I rise to speak to new clause 1, together with amendments 2 to 5, and I am grateful to those from my party, the Conservative party and the SNP who have added their names to them.
New clause 1 addresses a serious flaw in the implementation of the pension freedoms that George Osborne announced in his Budget speech in 2014 and that were implemented the following year. This is what George Osborne said in that Budget speech on
“Let me be clear: no one will have to buy an annuity. We are going to introduce a new guarantee, enforced by law, that everyone who retires on these defined contribution schemes will be offered free, impartial, face-to-face advice on how to get the most from the choices they will now have.”—[Official Report,
That was a recognition that there could be pitfalls in allowing people to do whatever they wanted with their pension savings—for many people, the largest sum of money they would ever have access to—and that the Government would have to ensure that everybody had access to guidance to help them make the best decisions.
The outcome of George Osborne’s promise is the Pension Wise service operated by Citizens Advice, and it is an excellent service. It is free and it is impartial, as George Osborne promised, and it gets very high satisfaction ratings from those who use it. The problem is that hardly anyone does use it, and new clause 1 is intended to fix that. The latest figures show that about one in 33 of those eligible for Pension Wise actually use it. Last month, the Department for Work and Pensions published a document entitled “Stronger Nudge to Pensions Guidance: Statement of Policy Intent”. That proposed the adoption of new nudges, which, according to the trials, would increase the take-up from one in 33 to one in nine. Well, that is not enough.
On that point, I thank my right hon. Friend for the way he is championing consumer advice in this very difficult space. Does he agree with me that we do not want a stronger nudge, but a great big shove into the arms of impartial, free advice?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and that is precisely what new clause 1 is intended to deliver.
Monthly data used to be published on the usage of Pension Wise. The Government committed to monthly publication in December 2015 in their response to the Work and Pensions Committee’s report “Pension freedom guidance and advice”, but monthly publication stopped in January 2019. Now the data is only published annually. I tabled a question about that, asking for monthly publication to be resumed. The Minister answered no, and said:
“The annual reporting allows for wider analysis and commentary against the figures rather than that previously published month by month.”
However, nothing is lost by publishing every month.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for our conversation in the Library beforehand, during which he flagged this point to me. Subject to the powers that I have, given that Pension Wise is an arm’s length body, I am very happy to review the annual publication, to go back to a monthly publication. I would simply make the point that the “Stronger Nudge” is happening as a result of the Work and Pensions Committee’s 2018 recommendation. We are enacting what the Committee asked us to do.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that assurance, and I look forward to monthly publication resuming.
To answer my hon. Friend Ms Eagle, who I am delighted to see in her place, at the Treasury Committee a couple of weeks ago the chair of the Financial Conduct Authority spoke about defined-contribution pension savers. He said:
“This issue about people making poor choices when exercising the freedoms…is probably the one that I worry about most of all.”
He went on to say that safeguards need to be
“as strong as they humanly can be”.
The FCA has had a go. As the Minister pointed out in Committee, last November the FCA introduced new rules requiring clearer signposting and promotion of pensions guidance. However, it has not worked. FCA data shows that just 14% of pension pots were accessed after guidance was taken in the six months from October 2019 to March 2020—exactly the same proportion as before the new rules.
It was not just George Osborne who had the ambition that everybody should benefit. The Treasury’s public financial guidance review, published for consultation in March 2016, said:
“Guidance is vital to ensure that individuals are fully aware of their options before they make a decision on what to do with their retirement savings”.
The then Economic Secretary, Harriett Baldwin, said the following month that the Government were introducing
“a requirement that, in effect, ensures that consumers with a high-value annuity receive appropriate financial advice before making the decision to sell their annuity”.—[Official Report,
Today, unfortunately, there is no such requirement. Two years later, in April 2018, her successor, John Glen, who is the current Economic Secretary, said that, before proceeding with an access or transfer application,
“subject to any exceptions, schemes must ensure that individuals have either received Pension Wise guidance or have opted out.”—[Official Report,
That aspiration has simply not been delivered. Today, the Government are taking steps that their own investigation says would make it true in 11% of cases. New clause 1 would finally deliver on the commitment that the Economic Secretary thought he was delivering on two years ago.
It was not just the Treasury. The noble Baroness Buscombe, who was a Minister in the Department for Work and Pensions at the same time as the current Minister, said in the other place on
“We all want people to make more informed decisions and to make it the norm to use Pension Wise before accessing their pension.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Everybody agreed that it should be the norm. Today, the Minister has set his ambition at 11% take-up. How can it be that ambition in his Department has shrunk so far? New clause 1 would resolve it using auto-enrolment to increase the take-up of guidance, just as it has been used so successfully to increase pension saving.
The right hon. Gentleman speaks with huge authority on this subject, having formerly been Pensions Minister. He will, however, appreciate that no matter how many times some people are written to, they simply will not respond, so there will be a proportion of people to whom letters are written who will not take up the option of an appointment and will not indicate that they wish to opt out. What does he propose for those people? I dare say there will be a significant number of them. For them, it will be maintenance of the status quo.
The proposal in new clause 1 is that people should be auto-enrolled into an appointment—that everyone should be given an appointment. That would have the effect, I believe and submit, of very significantly increasing the number of people who access Pension Wise. Pension Wise is a very good service. It is funded by an industry levy. Nine out of 10 of those who use it report high or very high satisfaction—that is a pretty impressive level of satisfaction—but it is hidden away from most people. Lots of people have never heard of it.
I note that the right hon. Gentleman says people would be given an appointment, but if the notification were by email, the fact is that people simply ignore a lot of emails. People do not always look at all the letters that are sent to them, or they mean to refer back to a letter, thinking, “Oh, I’ve got an appointment; I’ll get back to that,” but they do not, for whatever reason. There are also people who move home address and so on, who will never be notified if the letter goes to the wrong address and there has been a time gap, and the pensions people have not registered the new address. I accept where the right hon. Gentleman is going and I have huge sympathy with what he seeks to achieve, but there will still be a substantial number of people who will ignore the appointment that will simply be sent to them as a fait accompli.
The great strength of the Pension Wise approach is in providing appointments that deliver guidance to a very large number of people. The issue that the hon. Gentleman talks about will need to be managed in the context of a national service that already exists—one that is helping a significant number already and ought to be helping a lot more. The default should be that people get an appointment.
The chair of the Money and Pensions Service told the Work and Pensions Committee in March that 72% of people change their mind about what they are going to do as a result of talking to Pension Wise. He pointed out that
“that tells you that the vast majority of people, left to their own devices, will probably make a poor decision.”
However, the Government’s current policy will leave eight out of nine savers in exactly that position.
Last week, the Minister received a four-page letter from Age UK and other organisations that said:
“The DWP should rightfully be proud of Pension Wise, but usage is still worryingly low, and it is a great concern that the ‘Stronger Nudge’ trials report published by the Money and Pensions Service shows that only a marginal improvement in take-up is likely to result from this approach.”
We have to do much better; they are quite right. The letter goes on to argue that non-advised savers should be opted in automatically, as proposed in new clause 1. It also provides detailed rebuttals to the arguments that the Minister used against this new clause in Committee, which are on the record.
Of course, Age UK is quite right: the Department’s plans are currently inadequate. The letter goes on to point out that the Minister’s suggestion in Committee that the FCA’s introduction next year of its investment pathways might deal with the problem is not going to work either. We cannot sit back while Pension Wise continues to be an excellent service taken up by a very small minority. The Government and regulators need to end their indifference on this. Aspiring to 11% take-up is not enough. We need auto-enrolment into a service that enables better outcomes from pension savings.
One of the reasons for the importance of Pension Wise is that it equips people to avoid being scammed. The Pension Scams Industry Group estimates that 40,000 savers have been scammed out of their savings in the five years since pension freedoms were introduced. Some of them do not yet know about it. A significantly higher number of Pension Wise users than non-users say that they are very or fairly confident about avoiding pension scams, having had an interview with Pension Wise. The default ought to be that people are given an appointment. I hope that the Minister will accept the new clause, but if he does not I hope that the House will have a chance to vote on it.
Amendments 2, 3, 4 and 5 address the scam problem. They are probing amendments, because the Minister has helpfully explained that he intends to introduce regulations under powers in the Bill that have the same effect as the regulations that would be introduced if the amendments were added to the Bill.
I was in touch—the Minister has heard me say this before—with a nurse who works in a health centre in my constituency. Her husband drives a black cab. Some years ago, a financial adviser whom they knew well and who had given them good advice previously called to tell them about an opportunity to realise their pension savings early with no real downside. They took up his offer, and the upshot is that all their savings have gone, and they face a massive tax bill of about £60,000 with no means to pay it. The financial adviser, I gather, is living on a yacht off Tenerife.
All of us can understand how devastating is the impact on hard-working families of being robbed of their life savings in that way. People who have worked hard, who have done the right thing and who are entitled to look forward to a secure retirement suddenly find that their hopes have been destroyed. The Transparency Task Force, one of the groups that urged the Select Committee to undertake its current inquiry on scams, reports cases of spouses who, sometimes for years, have not dared tell their partners what has happened, so awful are the consequences. People wake up every day in dread of the future, often ashamed and embarrassed to have fallen for such bare-faced lies. Scammers groom people and make themselves trusted family friends. They warn savers that schemes will advise them not to transfer their money, and they claim that that is because the schemes want to hang on to it for their own gain. If the saver becomes aware that the receiving scheme has fallen foul of regulators, they say that that was just because someone was late filling in some forms.
It seems absurd that, as the law stands, trustees are compelled to make a transfer if a member demands it, even if they know that the money is going to crooks. Even if the receiving scheme is on the warning list published by the Financial Conduct Authority of firms known to be suspect, the law requires trustees to go ahead with the transfer. If they are slow about it, they can be fined. The Select Committee has launched a three-part inquiry looking at scams. There have been lots of calls for the Committee to look at the issue, because there is widespread revulsion at the scandals that have occurred and fear of the damage to individuals and to the industry as a whole. There is a particular worry that pension freedoms, plus the financial pressures of the pandemic, could create what the Pensions Regulator has called a golden age for pension scams, as people are anxious to get hold of their money.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving way again. He knows that I have exchanged a series of letters with the Work and Pensions Committee and with him, having met him and the all-party parliamentary group on financial crime and scamming, and that I have placed in the House of Commons Library letters of
I am grateful for the assurances that the Minister has given. One of the problems is that the responsibility for responding to scams cuts across many different bodies. The court ruling last week that the fraud compensation fund could be used to compensate some pension scam victims is a significant development.
The Police Foundation published an important report in September called “Protecting people’s pensions: Understanding and preventing scans”, and that recommends a coherent set of principles for law enforcement and regulators, including: the facilitation of a more co-ordinated and consistent response across the various agencies; a specialist fraud victim support service; regulation for introducers, who are not regulated at the moment; and, new digital technology for the police to support and speed up analysis of the large volumes of evidence collected in investigations.
The Bill was amended in the other place so that if a defined benefit transfer application raises one of the red flags on a prescribed list of features likely to indicate that a scam is going on, the trustees must delay the transfer until the saver has taken financial advice. The four amendments are based on work by the Pension Scams Industry Group, and I pay tribute to Margaret Snowdon and her colleagues for their work. The amendments would empower trustees to refuse the transfer if they had good grounds, based on the red flag analysis, for believing that the proposed transfer involved moving pension savings into a scam. I welcome the assurances that the Minister has given, and has just repeated, that he will bring forward regulations under existing powers in the Bill to have that effect. I noticed that research carried out last month by YouGov for the People’s Pension found that 78% of people questioned agreed that pension companies should be able to step in to stop a transfer if they believe it is a scam.
As I discussed in Committee, we need to be careful about exemptions from the regulations that the Minister will table. It would be a serious mistake to exempt all FCA-registered schemes, because unfortunately a lot of scams are FCA-registered. I am told, for example, that it is perfectly possible for schemes to be both FCA-registered and on the FCA warning list. An overseas adviser, probably somewhere else in the EU and not FCA-registered, could use the platform of a UK self-invested personal pension that is FCA-registered to offer exotic investments overseas. That is the form that many scams take, and we need to be careful not to exempt arrangements of that kind from the regulations when they come forward. We must avoid loopholes that allow crimes to carry on.
Implementation of the pensions freedoms without the intended safeguards has caused a great deal of harm. We must now put those safeguards in place. I welcome the assurances that the Minister has given, and I welcome the fact that the Department will consult widely on the regulations to be drawn up in parallel with the Select Committee inquiry. I hope we can make speedy progress. Drastically increasing the take-up of Pension Wise guidance, as proposed in new clause 1, is a key part of the solution.
It is a pleasure to speak in the debate, to follow Stephen Timms, the Chair of the Select Committee and to speak to the amendments that he has tabled and I have signed. I will start where he did, with the issue of mandatory guidance—or as near mandatory as we could make it, as I raised on Second Reading.
The right hon. Gentleman quoted the key statistics, which show that the take-up of this excellent, high-quality service—it attracts brilliantly good feedback from those who use it, and the people who provide that service accept that it changes the mind of 70-something per cent. of those who actually use it—is feebly low. Trials showed that the figure was somewhere around 3%, before the nudge was implemented. That is not what this Parliament envisaged when, five or so years ago, we introduced the pension freedoms. The safeguard we put in place at that time was to create the Pension Wise service: free guidance so that people would have the chance to check what they were doing was the right thing for them in exercising choices they did not used to have. Those choices are incredibly complicated. In many cases, they are a once-and-for-all: once they have done something, they cannot reverse out of it.
That is why, as a Parliament, we were so keen for people to have that chance of a warning and to understand how this all works. They save up all their money for 40 or so years at work and get to the very end point. In many cases, they do not understand all the options. They do not know what they are being sold and they buy the wrong thing. The data in the FCA’s own retirement outcomes review from about three years ago shows that a high proportion of people are just defaulting into a drawdown scheme with their existing pension provider. They are not shopping around and looking at the other options.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that at the moment the decumulation pension industry is unregulated, so there is no transparency on costs or on the kind of charges that may be applied to drawdown schemes? That is another area where people might be being scammed.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady. If only she was on the Select Committee, because that is an issue I have raised on a few occasions. Over the past decade or so, we have very effectively regulated the accumulation phase, but we have not yet got the decumulation phase in quite the same position, with charge caps. The default pathways are a great step forward that will help people, but there is a real danger even with that that people will end up on a default pathway with their default provider, rather than looking around to see whether there are any better options in the market.
We desperately need to find ways to get more people to access the free high-quality guidance. There is no reason for them not to do so. They do not have to pay a huge fee or wait a long time, and it is not a painful experience. It can be a relatively short phone call just to alert them to the situation and provide information. We need to get those numbers up. Last time we had a pensions Bill we had amendments calling for default guidance. We accepted a compromise that the FCA would do some work and find a way of increasing take-up so we would not need to legislate. The problem is that the FCA, I am afraid, took quite a long time to get round to starting the process. It did studies with some larger pension providers, showing that if they used the nudge with an extra reminder and gave them the information that Pension Wise exists, they could get take-up up to about 14%, or one in seven people.
I accept that we do not want or need 100% of people approaching retirement to take pension guidance. Some will be on such large pensions they will take advice that they pay for. In that situation, there is not much need for them to have simpler guidance. The irony is that the data shows a lot of people use pension guidance as a first step towards advice. They use guidance to work out what their options are and what they might need advice on, and then they go and get advice. That is a perfectly sensible use of guidance. I am not standing here saying let us have 100% of people, no matter if they have a tiny pension pot and there really is not much they can do with it, or if they have such huge ones they should be taking paid-for advice, but the right answer cannot be 14%. Even if we manage to roll out the nudge across every pension scheme in the country, we can only get to 14% of people. That cannot be the extent of our aspiration. That is why there have been various proposals on how we send people an appointment. If they do not take it, they can rearrange it, but until they have taken that appointment, or until they have signed to say that they understand they could have one but that they really, really do not want it, they cannot access their pension pot. I appreciate that some people will be rather angry when they pick up the phone to their pension scheme and are told they have to wait three weeks for a Pension Wise appointment before they can do that, but that, I think, is a price worth paying for them not to make a terrible mistake that they cannot reverse.
There is a real danger if people only get the nudge from their existing provider. We have all heard or taken part in those phone calls where we are told, “Now I’m going to have to switch the recorder on and read out some regulatory messages, but don’t worry, it’s all a bit of nonsense. It’s just one of those things we have to tell you. You don’t really need to listen. At the end just say yes.” Then they record the phone call and in that long spiel of “nonsense” there are the words, “and you have agreed to opt out of your Pension Wise appointment” and that is sufficient. That is the situation we are trying to avoid: people relying on one provider for their information.
I can accept that, as with all Back-Bench amendments, this proposal is not perfect. Is five years the right time? Are we going to end up spending far more than we need to? If, for some reason, the Minister will not accept this and has not come forward with alternative ways of doing this in law, I hope that he will at least accept that, even if we could roll out the nudge to all the providers that are as good as the ones the FCA used, a 14% aspiration is not sufficient. We could all work together, with the Select Committee and other key players, to work out what we think the right percentage take-up of Pension Wise would be, set that as a target for the FCA and if in two or three years it cannot get to that target, we can come back with legislation and put a default position in place. This would be a final warning to the FCA.
I am conscious of interrupting my hon. Friend’s flow, but that is clearly what the Government are seeking to do. Anyone who reads the
I am grateful to the Minister. That document came out on my birthday, so it was a very happy present in some ways. When we read it, however, we have to remember that the process the FCA went through was with some of the largest, most reputable and most capable pension schemes, and even then it got only an 11% increase from the derisory 3% to a 14% take-up. It is not clear to me that, when trying to roll that out over the whole sector, we could even get that high if we were relying on smaller pension schemes or those that did not have the same resources. I hope the Minister will accept that we want to set a target that is much higher than 14%. Whether it needs to be 50% or some other figure is something that we could work on. Perhaps he could tell us in his closing remarks whether he agrees that the Government should set the FCA a much higher target. Would he at least accept the principle that, if we cannot get there by his preferred route of a nudge, we would have to look again at some kind of default system? Perhaps he will come back to that when he wraps up the debate.
One argument that is often used on this issue is that a lot more appointments would cost a lot more and that the levy would therefore go up. Yes, but I think that when we created this structure, we assumed there would be a lot more appointments and that the costs would be a lot higher. The benefits of a retiring person not making a catastrophic mistake with their 40 years’ lifetime savings outweigh the relatively small cost per person of providing the guidance. I know the Minister is very keen, as I would be, on the idea of a midlife MOT, but I do not think that that should replace this proposal. Giving someone a session in the middle of their working life, so that they know what their financial position is and what they can do about it, is not the same as giving someone help as they are about to start decumulating their pension so that they understand their options at that very important time. I am not sure that, if we told most people at the age of 45 what their options would be when they retired at 68, they would still have them in mind when they came to make those decisions. Pension Wise is not a substitute for a midlife MOT. We should have them both, and they should be as widely used as possible.
I personally would prefer a default guidance appointment, with someone having to sign in blood if they really did not want this free, excellent quality guidance before they could access their money. If the Government are not proposing that, I propose the compromise of setting a much higher target and if we cannot get there any other way, we will come back to this yet again.
The other amendments that I have signed cover scam prevention, which I think the Chair of the Select Committee and the Minister have dealt with pretty well. I accept there has to be a balance. If we have freedom of choice, people have to be free to do what they want with their own savings, and if some of the things they choose to do are ill advised or crazy, that is their choice. However, I want them to be able to make an informed choice so that they know the risks of what they are doing and will not be tricked by a heavy sell from a scam provider who is selling something totally unsuitable for someone of that level of means.
It must be right that when trustees have evidence or suspect that what they are being asked to do is clearly not in the best interests of the saver, they can refuse to make the transfer if those red flags appear. If there is other evidence that it just looks to be a rather stupid idea, they should at least be able to slow down the transaction, perhaps delaying it by a month. Perhaps they could refuse to do it unless the person took Pension Wise guidance, or at any rate find some way of slowing it down. One of the things that scammers need is momentum—they rush people into making a decision. The more we can build in delay, the more chance a person has to think again, take better advice, discuss it with a member of their family, take Pension Wise guidance and not want to go ahead with the aggressive step that has been proposed to them. The Minister has come up with a way forward that does not need primary legislation, so I am glad that we are bringing the amendments forward only as probing amendments.
I turn to new clause 6 and the regulation of superfunds. I think I said on Second Reading that it is not often that Opposition and Back-Bench Members ask the Government to take more powers in a Bill. I make no criticism but it is slightly strange to legislate to require the Government to legislate on a future date. But I accept that the Opposition are trying to do the right thing. As the regulator has said that we need legislation for superfunds, I hope the Minister can assure us that we will be able to find time, as and when the legislation has been drafted, to get it through and we will not be stuck in a horrible situation of superfunds existing, gradually increasing market share, some things happening that we would rather were not happening, and then not being able to stop those because we do not have parliamentary time. With that reassurance, I would not need to consider supporting the new clause.
Various amendments on the dashboards have been tabled. My vision for dashboards has always been that we need as many dashboards out there as we can have so that people can see their pension saving status in whatever financial app they choose to use. I therefore would not support amendments that seek to restrict this to only one dashboard, even for a period of time. I do not support the idea of a dashboard being a two-way process: it would not only suck data in and inform you, but you could, on the tube home after a few beers on a Friday night, accidently transfer all your pension into something you will regret. So I do not support there generally being transaction capability.
I have a concern with amendment 15. If my existing pension scheme had a dashboard where I could check all my pension savings and I thought, “Oh God, they are much lower than I thought. I would like to increase my monthly contribution with my existing pension provider,” that would be a sensible transaction for me to start to make from the pensions dashboard. That is different from being able, via one click of a button, accidently to transfer all my pensions from one provider using that system. I therefore cannot support the wording of the amendment because it may go a little bit far. But I support the spirit of it.
I turn to amendment 16 and the Paris climate change agreement stuff. There is a real danger, if we are not careful, that we will put trustees in an invidious position. They rightly have a legal duty to act in the best interests of their members, and that duty is to get those members the best possible pension. If we put them under a second legal duty that would restrict where they could invest the pension scheme’s money, that may end up with lower returns. I assume that if Paris climate change agreement-friendly investments gave a higher return, they would choose them already, so there must be a reason why they would not want to do that.
We would be giving trustees a horrible dilemma: do they comply with the rule to get the best pension for their members, or the rule to get the most climate-friendly one? That would put them in an impossible position and, sadly, it would probably be bad for savers. I think we need to approach that matter in a different way from that proposed in amendment 16. I support the spirit—
Is the hon. Member saying that climate really is not very important because that is what I hear him saying on this? He is giving the trustees no confidence in having to make those decisions. How does he expect us to reach zero carbon by 2050 if that is the case?
I was coming on to say that there are better ways we could do this. I accept that we should encourage funds as strongly as we can to use the vast sums at their disposal to support investment in climate goals and other socially positive activities, but that should be done in part through member choice. There should be eco-friendly pension schemes and socially responsible ones, but they should allow their members to choose to opt into those schemes, and not have them as the default, if they are going to have a lower pension at the end of it.
Does my hon. Friend agree that an unintended effect of amendment 16 might be that pension funds feel they have to divest themselves from oil giants and so on? Those are the companies we need to address climate change—we cannot get to net zero without working with them—and divestment is not the right approach.
I agree, and I was coming on to that argument. I am not sure that achieving net zero can be pushed down to individual pension schemes and individual investment advisers. I suspect we will have to accept that between now and 2050, there will be some businesses out there that are bad for the environment but we are still going to need their products and services. We will need some of those even after 2050. We will achieve net zero by having other businesses that are more positive for the environment, with some still being bad for it. I am not sure that we can require every individual pension scheme to be a net zero investor. Otherwise, there will be a load of things that they just cannot invest in, as they cannot achieve that strategy.
I fully agree with the sentiment and agree that the industry needs to do more. I said on Second Reading that what we do not need are posh written documents that sit there with nice-sounding promises that never get implemented. We need pension schemes and their investment managers to be much more—
I will not address this in detail because I will have my own opportunity to do so, but I make it very clear that the amendment does not enforce or mandate pension funds to be net zero. It would ensure that they have an investment strategy, including a stewardship strategy, that is consistent with those objectives. It is drafted specifically to address those concerns and hon. Members have nothing to worry about in that regard.
I am grateful to the hon. Member, but I am not sure what the amendment would achieve then. If we say to a pension scheme, “You need to make sure that your overall investments are consistent with the nationwide net zero strategy”, they can just say, “Of course we are because there is a nationwide net zero strategy and we are just investing in legal businesses”, which we would presumably put taxes or carbon levies on to make sure we push this. It becomes a circle that would presumably mean only that the trustees have to produce a strategy and occasionally review it. It would not actually drive a great deal of different behaviour. I think I would want to see much more activist investment from pension schemes and their investment advisers to ensure that the businesses that they are investing in are sticking to their obligations and strategies on how they can reduce their impact on the environment, making sure that those promises are being kept on a management level rather than setting trustees an impossible target, which I am not sure would even mean what hon. Members seek to make it mean.
I endorse my hon. Friend’s comments, but surely the key point about clause 124 is that it does set out what we are trying to do on that issue, and it deals with the consultation that we issued in August specifically on the point that Anna McMorrin raised, taking action on climate risk and improving governance and reporting by occupational pension schemes. That is the measure that we should be focusing on.
I am grateful to the Minister and I agree. The measures in the Bill are very sensible steps forward that will make a great difference. What is proposed in amendment 16 would just create a horrible mess for the pensions industry without really achieving anything further, so I will not support it if it is pushed to a vote.
I would like to speak to amendments 1 and 6, which have been tabled in my name and the names of other Liberal Democrat Members, and in favour of the cross-party amendment 7, tabled in the name of Neil Gray, as well as to his new clauses 4 and 5. I was very pleased to see new clauses 4 and 5 tabled and I pay tribute to the work of the all-party group on plumbers’ pensions—chaired by Pete Wishart—of which I am a vice-chair.
I have a constituent who was a member of the plumbers’ pension scheme, and the trustees failed to notify him and others that, were they to leave the scheme, he would find himself liable under section 75. He had been a responsible small business employer, enabling all his employees to be part of a pension scheme and to save for their retirement. When he retired and wound up the business, he was not made aware of the consequences by the trustees from a pensions perspective of doing so. That means that through no fault of his own, he is now in a position where, because his business is no longer operating, he cannot apply for current easement schemes and, because his business was not incorporated, he is personally liable for the debt. He is now an elderly man and is being pursued by the trustees. They are threatening to repossess his house and his life savings are at risk. Were that to happen, the sums recovered from him would not even pay off half the outstanding debt.
My constituent told me:
“We are now in the third year of this, and it is taking a toll on my health, and also on the health of my wife.”
If passed, new clause 4 would turn my constituent’s life around. The safeguards are there. His total debt is only a tiny proportion of the total liabilities, and the trustees have determined that the majority of cessation events will be too costly or lengthy to seek recovery. That is one of the issues here: there is an injustice going on that has not received the attention it deserves because relatively few people have been affected by it, but that also presents the opportunity that something can be done and I hope that the Minister will comment accordingly on new clause 4 and look further at this plumbers’ pension issue. It is causing hardship and anxiety for, arguably, an increasingly vulnerable group of people.
I shall now address part 5 and schedule 10 and, in particular, clause 123 on defined-benefit schemes. My colleague in the Lords, Baroness Bowles, tabled the original amendment to clause 123 that would ensure that defined-benefit schemes are treated differently, depending on whether they are open or closed. I pay tribute to Baroness Bowles. Her amendment had cross-party support in the Lords, so it was disappointing that the Government removed it in Committee two weeks ago.
My amendment 1 would reinstate Baroness Bowles’s amendment, and amendment 7 in the name of the hon. Member for Airdrie and Shotts is a revised version of it, which I have also signed. I did not have the chance to sit on the Bill Committee, but I did follow proceedings and I was encouraged by the Minister’s comments during Committee on open defined-benefit schemes. He said:
“We acknowledge that if such schemes do continue to admit new entrants and do not mature then the scheme will not actually reach significant maturity. We are content that such a scheme retains the same flexibility in its funding and investment strategies that all immature schemes have.”––[Official Report, Pension Schemes Public Bill Committee,
I welcome those comments, which imply that open schemes should, and will, be treated differently from closed schemes, in accordance with different investment, liquidity and maturity, and I hope the Minister will be able to recommit to that statement on the Floor of the House today. I urge him to accept either amendment 1 or amendment 7, which would put that commitment on the face of the Bill and provide much needed reassurance for open schemes that have contacted me, and, I am sure, have contacted other Members, in advance of this debate.
We need that reassurance because there is real concern about the regulator’s consultation. Looking at the consultation document, there are places where it looks like the regulator is making the right noises on DB schemes.
I am grateful to the hon. Lady for those comments. I will not have the chance to answer in detail in closing, but I am very happy to endorse, and repeat as if I were to say the exact same words, the very detailed comments I made at Committee as to the way in which open schemes will be treated on an ongoing basis.
I thank the Minister for that intervention, but I would ask him again to consider accepting either amendment 7 or amendment 1, which would put that commitment on the face of the Bill.
We need that reassurance because there is a real concern about the regulator’s consultation. In other places there appears to be a conflation, in that consultation document, of open and closed structures, with references to the same treatment and same risk profile between open and closed schemes. But it is just not possible to have the same risk profile between an open and a closed scheme.
This is an important point and the Minister will know that there are open schemes with considerable assets which could be deployed to the advantage of this nation in investing in means of growth for the future. Where they are funded, being open, it gives them a huge advantage and of course the current situation on bond yields makes it even less helpful for them purely to invest in gilts and so on. So I strongly support what the hon. Lady is saying. Does she agree that it would be helpful if the Minister could refer to this again in winding up?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for his endorsement of my remarks. I hope the Minister will comment on this in winding up.
Open and closed schemes are on a continuum. A scheme opens, it matures, it becomes closed, it reaches the absolute end of the range of maturity, and the risk profile varies with that maturity. However, parts of the consultation document do not seem to recognise this, which is concerning. There is an understandable desire from employers and employees for this to be clarified. There is real concern that the regulator wants open schemes to be considered as if they were on the brink of forced closure, but that means effectively crystallising their investment structure into a closed structure and preventing them from acting as they need to, as the hon. Gentleman suggested. So I ask the Minister to recommit to the House that this will not happen, otherwise our concerns will remain, and Baroness Bowles and her colleagues in the Lords will continue to press the Government on this when amendments return to the other place.
There is a huge risk to getting this wrong. Members highlighted on Second Reading the issue of railway pensions. Their campaigning has been very important in raising the potential impact of this Bill on defined-benefit schemes. I also want to highlight the charitable sector and many large charities that rely on DB schemes: Oxfam, Age UK, Cancer Research, the National Trust and the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, to name but a few. My amendment 6 would require the Government to carry out an economic impact assessment on the effect of changes to DB schemes on that important sector. We have already heard that open schemes will end up with deficits of £120 billion to £160 billion if they are treated in the same way as closed schemes.
We are in the midst of a pandemic and huge economic shocks, the impact of which we cannot fully predict at this time. Is now the time to saddle companies and charities with that extra debt, and for what purpose? What of individual savers themselves? Can we reasonably expect people potentially to double their personal contributions? Surely a more likely outcome from that requirement is that people will simply cease to contribute, and that will apply further pressure to the viability of that scheme.
There is a real danger that as a result of the deficits, charities—some of which I have mentioned—will go bust, and that is not a policy that any Government should be promoting, particularly given the support that the Government have put into the sector during the course of the pandemic. That would surely be a bad policy at any time. As I said earlier, I am encouraged by the Minister’s statements in Committee, and I thank him for recommitting to those in his intervention, but I hope he appreciates that we urgently need further reassurances. I do not see why such provision could not be made in the Bill, as indeed it was when it came from the other place. It would make sure that the regulator was acting in a sensible way. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response.
My first contribution when taking on the role of DWP spokesperson for my party was on ensuring the triple lock for the state pension. In that debate, I highlighted the need to ensure a sustainable state pension, particularly given the intergenerational divide emerging for young people in this country. We should not, through this Bill, be potentially driving more people into reliance on the state pension by making personal pension provision unaffordable for individuals or institutions.
It is a great pleasure to speak in this debate today, as it was on Second Reading and in Committee. I would like specifically to address amendment 16 to clause 124. Let me start by saying how great it is that we have cross-party support for policies that push forward our efforts on climate change. We should all be very proud of the fact that we are one of the first major countries to legislate to become a net zero country by 2050. I have long talked about the influence and power of financial services and financial markets to move things forward, but sadly I cannot support amendment 16. I will set out three reasons. The first is the unintended consequences, the second concerns divestment and the third relates to focus.
First, amendment 16 is well-meaning, but it would have unintended consequences. I fear fund managers would be limited in what they were able to invest in. I say that because of the limited environmental, social and corporate governance data in certain asset classes in certain markets around the world. If we look at emerging markets, private equity or in small-cap companies, ESG data is sporadic at best. It is getting better all the time, but at this point in time the market is not mature enough for the amendment to apply for managers. I fear that managers would be limited, and that would result in sub-optimal investments and mean that they could not fulfil their fiduciary responsibility.
Is my hon. Friend aware that industry agrees with his position? For instance, the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association has stated that on behalf of industry.
I am aware that the PLSA has stated that it is concerned about this amendment, for the reasons I have described. The second reason why I would agree with the association is my fear that the amendment will imply to trustees that they have to adopt a policy of divestment. As has been seen over decades, a divestment policy, as well-meaning as it is, does not actually change the things that people are seeking to change. Part of the reason is that a stock market is essentially a marketplace, so if someone wants to divest, somebody has to invest, and therefore there is a negligible impact on the underlying company. That is why for tobacco, for climate change and for guns in the United States, the divestment policies adopted by other pension funds just have not worked. I fear that such provision would cause confusion around divestment for pension trustees. It is very hard to draw a line where the policy ends. Some may claim, or desire, that they divest from oil and gas, but where does it end? There are other sectors that clearly contribute to climate change—whether it be haulage companies, taxi companies, car companies, or aviation companies—so where does it end? That causes some confusion for trustees. An investment policy should be put in place at a ground level.
Thirdly, when compared with engagement as an investment strategy, a divestment approach is just a very weak policy. I say that as somebody who comes from fund management and managing an ESG business. As owners of companies, we could call on chief executives and chief financial officers to engage on ESG issues such as climate change. We could vote at annual general meetings. We had those companies at the table to be able to influence them. If we divest, we lose that influence—we lose that ability to change and influence a company.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the campaign that he has waged to persuade the Treasury to have green gilts available for pension funds to invest in is exactly the point that we are seeking? It would mean businesses and pension funds working in a partnership with Government and regulators to solve the problems and the issues that we need to solve to get net zero. Without that partnership, we will actually go backwards, not forwards.
I am grateful to the Minister for his generous remarks and I thank him for his support of my campaign to bring about green gilts in this country. I agree that it is a way in which pension funds can contribute to the climate change effort in a meaningful way, moving billions of pounds of capital towards the goals that everybody across this House really wants to achieve, so I thank him for that intervention.
Finally, I fear that, although the amendment is well-intentioned, it is poorly focused. In my experience, trustees want to invest with purpose and according to their values. Likewise, fund managers have, over the past several years, moved great mountains, a lot of money and a lot of effort to incorporate ESG risk into most of their investment processes, and I do not believe that any asset manager in the future will be able to survive unless they integrate ESG climate risk as part of their investment process.
As a trustee of the parliamentary pension fund, may I highlight that the changes on page 118 of the Bill on climate change risk are incredibly important and will help encourage trustees and pension funds in general to make investments that are pro-environment, pro-green and pro-climate change? I am absolutely in agreement with my hon. Friend that the proposed additional new clause 16, which would require pension funds to align with the Paris agreement goal, is a step too far. Does he agree that the Minister should focus on that in his summing up as well?
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend for his intervention. I agree that the Bill is sufficient in its current form to be able to achieve what we all want to achieve, which is to get pension funds to invest in a climate-aware way.
The last point that I will make in concluding is around this point on focus. In my experience, it is not the fund managers or the trustees whom we need to persuade or to make do anything, but the middle men and women—the gatekeepers, the investment consultants —who typically require a five-year track record and £100 million in assets held by fund managers and managed by fund managers. In my experience, that was always the issue. We were running money in a way that was really pushing things forward in terms of our climate targets. We knew that the pension clients really wanted to invest with us, but, because we could not meet the requirements of the investment consultants, we could not marry the two together. If we use the combined intellect, passion and energy of this House, from all parties, to come up with a solution to that, we could make great progress.
Order. I am going to suspend the House for a short time—probably five or 10 minutes—to allow some extra cleaning to take place. Could Members leave the Chamber, so that the cleaning can take place? The bell will ring a minute before we are due to resume.
On a point of order, Madam Deputy Speaker. I wonder if you could tell the House why there was the necessity for the further cleaning of the Chamber. I understand that this is the first time that this has ever happened. Is there anything in particular that the House needs to be informed about because of that arrangement?
I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point of order. We were asked to suspend the House just to ensure that there was a little bit of extra cleaning. I do not have any further information other than that, but I am sure that it is precautionary, and if there is anything further that Members need to be informed of, I am sure that they will be.
First, let me thank all those who have made contributions, which have been excellent. I thank the Minister for his response and Gareth Davies for the contribution he made just before me. It is a pleasure to speak on this issue. Although I know that this is not the purpose of this Bill, I cannot in all good conscience let the occasion go without raising the issue of the WASPI—Women Against State Pension Inequality Campaign—women, who still want their pension scheme. Once more, I look to the Minister for a response on that.
I want to speak to new clause 1 and some of the other amendments, ever mindful of the fact that the Bill provides for territorial extent, as set out in clause 117 and schedule 8, clause 120 and schedule 9, clauses 118, 119 and 129 and schedule 11. Pensions are a devolved matter in Northern Ireland, but this is an area where Northern Ireland has long maintained parity with Great Britain. There is, in effect, a single systems of pensions across the UK, with many pensions schemes, and indeed the regulator, the pensions ombudsman, the Pension Protection Fund and so on operating on a UK-wide basis.
Devolved government has now been restored in Northern Ireland, and we are pleased to have it in place. On
I have been in contact with a number of pensions bodies that have expressed concern about the proposals in the Bill. We all know how essential a good pension is, and it is becoming more important with each month. I am sure that I am not the only one to have seen the losses in pensions in this year’s statement. I have a decent understanding of how my pension pays out, but I was listening to the girls in my office and it is clear that, although my staff members in their 40s and 50s have a grasp on their pension, the two staff members in their 20s and 30s do not and they do not seem to be able to understand just how it works. The older girls say, “I wouldn’t swap my pension but I like to see what is in it,” and they have already had a look at their pensions to know what they have. Many people are wise and astute enough to do that, but others are not and they have no understanding of what can be done. There is more to doing our best to secure our financial future than simply opening a letter—there has to be more than that.
Stephen Timms referred to new clause 1, which underlines the importance of an easily accessible, easy to navigate pensions dashboard that is easier to understand than an annual statement. The Association of British Insurers has said:
“Pensions Dashboards are a necessary addition to Automatic Enrolment. More than 10 million people have now been automatically enrolled into workplace pensions through inertia, and will need to find their pension pots and make decisions about them.”
We are all probably at that age, Minister, when we have to think about our pension pots, and if we are not doing so, there is something seriously wrong, because we should be. The ABI went on to say:
“Already 1 in 5 adults admit to having lost a pension pot and latest PPI research suggests that there is at least £19.4bn held in pots that consumers have lost track of.”
It is horrendous to hear that.
I welcome the hon. Gentleman back to the House, as this is the first opportunity I have had to do so. He is rightfully regarded as an institution in this place and long may that continue. I hope that he will understand that a combination of the pensions dashboard, as set out in clause 118, which will give people online access to their pensions, simpler statements, which the Department is taking forward in respect of written statements, and many other pieces of work we are doing to trace individual pensions will make tracking down past pensions an awful lot easier.
I thank the Minister for that response. The Department for Work and Pensions estimates that 50 million pension pots will be lost or dormant by 2050, and people are vulnerable. We hope that the intervention he made may allay some of the fears people have. The ABI continued:
“Pensions Dashboards will not only help to find lost pensions and reduce the cost of financial advice, but should also prompt people to engage more closely with and save more into their pension, aiding consumers to make informed retirement decisions.”
That is really what we have to be doing—the thrust of this debate should be to try to focus that attention. The ABI went on:
“Pensions Dashboards are now woven into nine different Government and regulatory policy strategies, including the Government’s UK Digital Strategy, the FCA’s Retirement Outcomes Review and the Cabinet Office’s Dormant Assets Commission.”
The ABI also tells us that 60% of 25 to 34-year-olds would be most comfortable viewing their pensions through their mobile banking app—because that is the nature of the future—compared with only 11% of those aged 65-plus, which is probably my generation and thereabouts; 20% of those aged 65-plus would be comfortable receiving their pension data via post, compared with only 4% of 18 to 24-year-olds; and 61% of those aged 55 to 64 would find it most convenient to view their savings through the pension provider’s website, compared with 30% of 18 to 24-year-olds. What does that tell us? It tells us that people have different ways to access their pension, to look at what it means to them and to get the answers that they need.
More people in Northern Ireland feel that they have low financial capability—indeed, Northern Ireland has the lowest proportion of all the regions of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Fewer Northern Irish people describe themselves as “confident and savvy consumers”, with 43% saying so, versus the UK average of 52%—so we do fall behind—or as highly confident in managing their money, with 26% saying so, against the UK average of 37%. Fewer consider themselves to be highly knowledgeable in financial matters, with 10% saying so, against the UK average of 16%. We in Northern Ireland need the necessary advice so that we can decide, collectively, what our pension pots are worth.
The figures I have outlined suggest that pension savers in Northern Ireland may appreciate the benefit of a Pension Wise appointment even more than their counterparts elsewhere in the UK. Sadly, the DWP, FCA and Pension Wise data does not split user stats by location, so we do not know user stats for Northern Ireland; we know only the headline UK-wide stat that just 14% of pension pots were accessed after the Pension Wise service was used. The Northern Ireland proportion of current retirees whose main income is the state pension is the same as that for the UK as a whole; however, that proportion is predicted to fall back to 37% for those aged 45 and over and not retired.
I was reading through some of the briefings, and one of them said that the DWP had recently confirmed its intention to base new guidance and regulations on a “stronger nudge”. I am of a generation that can remember Monty Python and the story that went, “Elbow, elbow, wink, wink, nudge, nudge, say no more,” but in this instance we need to say a whole lot more. We look to the Minister for more than just a nudge when it comes to the key points. We hope that Pension Wise guidance sessions will be available, and I think it will be good for people to take them on. In a survey of some 1,000 defined -contribution pension savers aged 45 to 54, nearly eight in 10, or 77%, said that they wanted impartial guidance to help them to understand their pension access options, yet a larger proportion, 81%, did not know that they were entitled to receive free, impartial guidance from Pension Wise. Fewer than half said that they understood enough about pensions to make decisions and just 4%, or one in 25, said that they would opt out of a pre-booked guidance session. I welcome the Minister’s response to the intervention; I feel that that might just make the difference for a great many people.
In relation to the workplace—[Interruption.] My voice is starting to go; it is going to crack up shortly. It is significant that greater numbers of people will have defined-contribution pension savings as a result of being auto-enrolled into workplace schemes. For these people, achieving financial security and wellbeing in retirement will depend on making well-informed decisions. This is a much greater challenge for those who do not get impartial guidance or regulated financial advice. I can well remember when my mother took me down, as 16-year-old—that was not yesterday, by the way—to open my first bank account, and she had me in a pension scheme at 18. That is many, many years ago—
I am afraid it is. My mother was very wise—she still is: she is 89 years old now and is even wiser today than she was whenever I was 18. It is always good to have your mum to tell you what to do, even though you might be a lot older. But that is by the way.
It is clear that the way that we are doing these things is not as effective as it should be. New clause 1 is essential to underline the importance of people understanding their pension and taking control of it, with appropriate advice, rather than simply thinking, “This is for when I’m old.” Take it from me: that time comes quicker than one could possibly imagine.
I conclude with this: the issue is incredibly complex, and it needs a complex answer. I look to the Minister to outline how he believes that issue has been addressed in the Bill. I feel that we need both a robust dashboard and compulsory written statements, and I am not content that that has been provided for in the Bill. I respectfully ask the Minister for that advice and help. We have to get pensions right for everyone, whether they be 18 or 65. We will do it together.
It is a pleasure to follow Jim Shannon and all the other speakers in this thoughtful and well considered debate. It was also a pleasure to serve on the Public Bill Committee; it is great to see so many of its members in the Chamber today. I pay tribute to the Clerks and staff on that Committee as well as to right hon. and hon. Members across the House for their work, diligence and patience in taking part in that Committee.
I am going to focus my comments predominantly on new clause 1, which was introduced by Stephen Timms—the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, on which I also serve. I pay tribute to the right hon. Gentleman for his fantastic work in chairing that Committee over the past six months. He has been an absolutely fantastic and very diligent, hard-working Chair.
To focus on the scams point for a minute, I should say that scams often come from the fact that people have not had advice, and those at not the bottom end but what would perhaps be classed as the normal end of the market are most exposed by not having access to advice. Given the comments in the Chamber so far, I think we can all agree with the principle that everyone needs access to advice. We need to ensure that people are informed as they make these life-changing decisions. From our casework and the evidence that the Select Committee has heard about people who have lost their savings—the money that they have accrued over years and years—we know the impact of not having the advice. We know the importance of ensuring that the advice is there.
I agree in principle with the underlying purpose of the new clause, but I question whether primary legislation is the right place for it. There could be a place for it within the secondary regulations that will be needed as part of the process to ensure that people have access to correct advice.
I absolutely agree with the comments about the Pension Wise service; we have heard how fantastic and well received that has been. People have genuinely been impacted by their exposure and access to the Pension Wise service. There is definitely a role for the service to play—there is no doubt about that at all. The fact that 72% of people who access the service change their decision shows clearly that advice has to be central to pension planning as we go forward.
The people most vulnerable to scams are those who most need the advice—they do not have humungous pension pots to fall back on or above-£30,000 pots they can transfer; these are ordinary working people who need the advice. I am thinking of the people in my constituency, in places such as Tipton, Wednesbury and Oldbury—people who have worked for 40 years at CLM Construction in Oldbury, for example. They have paid into a scheme and now want to draw from it; they are the ordinary working people who rely on the advice.
The Minister has given assurances that he will take a listening approach when considering the secondary regulations—I am sure that in summing up he will discuss what that means, not that I want to give him any more work to do in what will have to be an extensive summing up. I feel that it is there that the spirit of what the new clause is trying to achieve can really be brought to life. I agree with what many right hon. and hon. Members have said: there is a wider debate to have about how we ensure that those on the ordinary end of the scale, who do not have humungous pension pots but have worked hard for what they have got, get that advice.
The logistical challenges that my hon. Friend Mr Vara outlined in his intervention—he is not in his place now, because of social distancing—can be challenged effectively. This is an interesting proposition, and I do commend the right hon. Member for East Ham for the work he has done, because I do think there is a place for it. However, we need to have such debates on secondary regulations to really get into the nuts and bolts of how this operates and how this works, so that we can get this right.
We also have to remember—this has been picked up as well—that there is an existing regime with how the FCA operates. It sends out guidance when someone is two months from their 50th birthday and so on. That is not to say it is perfect; we know it is not perfect. It is not advice as would want to see it; it is a fact sheet that people are then left to interpret as they wish. It is not where we want to get to. I think we agree with where we want to get to—the destination—but it is just the mechanics of how we do that. From that perspective, I agree with the principle of new clause 1, but I think there is a better place for how we do this. I absolutely commend the principle behind it—at its core, it is fundamentally about ensuring that people have access to the right advice to make informed decisions to ensure they protect the money and what they have built up through hard work—because it is absolutely essential.
I am very conscious of time, but if I may, I will turn very quickly to amendment 16 which is to clause 124. My hon. Friend Gareth Davies—I absolutely commend him, by the way, for the work he has done on green finance and the green gilt work he has done—covered this so well that he has taken most of the points I wished to add. However, I will just re-emphasise one point he made about the unintentional consequences particularly of divestment.
Many of the organisations that perhaps would be impacted by this are actually the organisations that we need to lead on these new green challenges. As part of my research, I looked at some of the organisations that we might think of as ones that may need to be divested from. We looked at the oil companies like Shell, BP, Texaco and so on, and the work they have done—for example, that of Shell on biofuels, or BP on renewable energy in homes. I claim no interest—people can google it, see it and find it—but I think we risk a real unintentional consequence here of actually going backwards and almost shooting ourselves a bit, because by divesting from those schemes we inhibit the work that we need to solve this climate crisis.
In concluding my remarks, I think the principle of new clause 1 is absolutely right, but I think there is more to be done on the mechanics, and the place for this is in the debate on the secondary regulations and making sure that we absolutely drill down into this. I am reassured by my hon. Friend the Minister’s reassurances on how he is going to approach that. On amendment 16, I think there are some real unintended consequences that, if we are not careful, could actually take us backwards, not forwards.
It is a pleasure to follow Shaun Bailey in this reasonably consensual debate.
Madam Deputy Speaker, there is nothing like seeing men rushing into the Chamber in hazmat suits to ensure that we are as brief as we possibly can be, even though—and this is no criticism of the Chair—the grouping of these amendments means we have rather a lot of things to refer to in this gigantic group. One of the things I am going to do is to refer only in passing to new clause 1, because so much has already been said about it, and to concentrate a bit more of my remarks on the pensions dashboard and some of the amendments there, because that has not really received much attention in the comments we have had so far.
There are some themes that are really important to bear in mind in this whole group and in the Bill that we are discussing today. The first is strengthening consumer protections, which is what new clause 1 is about, and ensuring that when people are making a decision about probably some of the largest amount of funds they have laid aside for their entire lives in savings, and they are going to make decisions about what to do with that money that are irreparable, they do not get their heads turned by a slick advertising at one end and con artists at the other end, and that they get enough time, space and consideration to make the choice that is right for them.
Our pensions landscape is very complex, and it is getting more and more complex as it matures, changes and evolves. We are left trying to deal in legislation with DB schemes, DC schemes and CDC schemes, which we all welcome, but all these changes and innovations over time make the pensions landscape difficult for people to navigate. As we all know, consumer protections are quite weak, and the introduction of so-called pension freedoms in 2014 increased the chances for mis-selling and scams, so we have to be very careful. That is why I support new clause 1. I support any protections that will make it slightly more inconvenient for people to shift their money and that will reassure regulators, providers and customers of pensions that this decision is the right one for them, because, as we have heard, it is irreparable.
I do not agree with those who have said that we have enough protection against scams. The cost of losing a pension is huge and irreparable. The risks for scammers and con artists are quite low, but the minimum rewards are huge. Because our capacity to deal with fraud in this country has been eaten away, meaning that it is not nearly as good as it should be and needs to be improved massively, the chances of scammers being caught are quite low too. The potential for high rewards from conning people out of their life savings versus the risks taken means that we are a magnet for scammers.
What we have to do—and what the Bill begins to do—is try to close some of those loopholes. That is what amendments 2 to 5 are about. It is also about regulating superfunds, which is covered in new clause 6, and creating the new criminal offences that we all agreed with in Committee, to try to strengthen regulation, put up some real barriers and increase the risk that those who are trying to con people out of their pensions will be caught. I support amendments 2 to 5, as well as new clause 6, which is about regulating superfunds.
The introduction of the pensions dashboard is one of the things that will mark the Bill as an important piece of pensions legislation. I commend the Minister for all the work he has done to create the capacity for pensions dashboards to be introduced, so that information can be collected from disparate places and presented in a way that is meaningful to consumers. We are now trying to make the pensions dashboard more useful and important and to ensure that it is introduced in a way that does not throw the baby out with the bathwater.
Amendments 11, 13, 14 and 15 are about how the dashboard should work. While I commend the Minister for the huge amount of work he has done, he has unfortunately overturned some of the amendments made in the other place on the dashboard. One of those amendments would have ensured that the first dashboard introduced was the publicly provided objective one, which would have a year to bed in before other commercially offered dashboards were introduced. The other place decided that that would be a good thing to do. The Minister and his Government have decided—he gave us explanations in Committee—that it would not be, and that he wants multifarious dashboards to crop up all over the place, some of which are commercially offered, and some of which I think would just confuse the situation.
It is hard to hop from a sedentary position, but I will do my level best in future. I accept that the hon. Lady is a former Pensions Minister and speaks with great authority, but the Government feel that dashboards should be created in the circumstances where the customer is, rather than making the customer come to them. Even if one did not accept what the Government said, I specifically rely on the fact that the no. 1 consumer organisation in the country, Which?, specifically said that the Government’s view is the right one on this issue.
I thank the Minister for that point. We had this discussion in Committee, and we are having it again on the Floor of the House. I think it is worth exploring, but within the context that I think dashboards are a good idea.
With new amendments, the Opposition are trying to get more information in the dashboard, which the Minister is trying to keep a bit simpler. The information that our amendments would introduce into dashboards includes fees, charges, costs and price—information that I would say is quite important to consumers who are thinking about where to put their money or whether to switch their money around. In what other area where services were being bought would we try to hide the price of the service that is being offered in quite this way? People argue that it will just confuse consumers to know how much money is being taken out of their funds in charges or fees. I would say that the opposite is true. The more transparency we have in the dashboard, the better.
I know that others will speak about investment philosophies and amendments 16 to 24, which are also in this group, so I will leave that to them. Overall, the Bill is a good thing. The introduction of CDCs is an extremely good thing. Despite the fact that we are having this boxing match about scams and strengthening the rules against them, increased consumer protections and increased transparency, I think that everyone on both sides of the House will note that the Pension Schemes Bill, when it becomes law, will take forward some of the work that needs to be done to try to ensure that all our constituents, whether they are of a younger generation or a slightly older one, can look forward to a framework that will guarantee them some reasonable income in retirement. I do not think that anyone on either side of the House would argue with that.
It is a pleasure to follow Ms Eagle. I welcome her constructive approach and her general support for the Bill. I have no formal interest to declare, but I should tell the House that my father was a consulting actuary for much of his career and went on to run a friendly society, so I was brought up on probabilities and portfolios. I did not just learn my timetables; I also learned my mortality tables.
This was my first Public Bill Committee, so I took the opportunity just to listen. It was a highly informative and very good-natured Bill Committee. I thank the Minister for that; I thank the Clerks, and I thank all Opposition Members and the Scottish National party Front Bench for the constructive comments that they made in Committee. Given that one of my predecessors in Newcastle-under-Lyme, Mr John Golding, once spoke for over 11 hours in Committee, I think the Committee should perhaps be grateful that I did not speak, and I note that this debate has to finish by 9 pm as well.
I knew John Golding, and he never spoke for one second longer than he needed to for a particular political purpose. I know that he spoke for that length of time because he was conducting some parliamentary manoeuvres that were extremely important for the progressive cause.
I thank the hon. Lady for that intervention. Yes, I think Mr Golding successfully pushed the Telecommunications Bill to the other side of the 1983 general election, but that election, as she may well remember, did not go well for her party.
This Bill makes pensions safer, better and greener. I will briefly turn to some amendments on each of those three topics. Amendments 2 to 5 are on scams. Stephen Timms acknowledged that those are probing amendments. I will not repeat the story that I told on Second Reading of my constituents who suffered from a pension scam—all hon. Members will have similar stories—but those scams are extremely destructive. As my hon. Friend Shaun Bailey said, they often affect people who have no real experience of financial matters. At a vulnerable point in their lives, they can be taken advantage of, so I welcome the work that has been done, and I welcome the commitments that the Minister has made to work further in this area.
On the greener side of things, like my hon. Friend the Member for West Bromwich West, I cannot add much to the excellent speech by my hon. Friend Gareth Davies, who set out the reasons why the Government disagree with the amendment 16. It is an inappropriate use of the legislation. As my hon. Friend Nigel Mills, on whom I intervened, said, the Government have other ways to make sure that companies meet those targets. We cannot ask pension trustees to make those fine decisions. I firmly believe that the Bill is a real step forward, but engagement, not divestment, is the way to proceed.
I turn principally to dashboards which, for me, are the most exciting part of the Bill, enabling the same sort of transparency, flexibility and, crucially, easy tracking of our pensions as we have all come to expect of our current accounts, credit cards and mortgages. We are in the information age, and we need to make that information accessible to people, particularly with all the stuff that we have heard in Committee and on Second Reading about the number of jobs and pension schemes that people have. Auto enrolment, in particular, enables people to bring their pensions into one place and perhaps to consolidate them, which is a real step forward, as it empowers people. As my hon. Friend Rob Roberts, who cannot be here today, said in Committee, the key principle is informed choices. When we inform people about their choices, that can drive sensible decision making on, for example, consolidation.
The amendments that seem to circumscribe dashboards —for example, amendment 15, 8, 14 and others—are not necessary. More than that, they would be frustrated by the market. The Which? report that I quoted on Second Reading said:
“It is clear that even if the government was to decide that there should only be a single government-run dashboard, other private sector dashboards would continue to develop outside of the regulated market. These may rely on screen-scraping or other potentially unsecure forms of transmitting customer data.”
Alternative products are already springing up, and we cannot hold back the tide like Canute. We have to go where the customer is, as the Minister said when intervening on the hon. Member for Wallasey.
I do not think that we should try to buck the market in regulation. Instead, we should regulate effectively, and that is what the Bill does. I urge the House to reject the amendments, although I accept that they are well meaning. As many hon. Members have said, there is real agreement among us about how we should proceed, but I do not think that any of the amendments are necessary. I congratulate the Minister on the Bill, and I look forward to the safer, better and greener pensions that we all deserve.
I support new clauses 4 and 5, which I tabled with my hon. Friends. It is a pleasure to follow Aaron Bell. This has been a good-natured debate. We all have particular issues we want to raise in relation to the Bill, but everything has been presented in a compelling, interesting and mainly consensual way.
The pernicious impact of section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995 on multi-employer pension schemes, particularly plumbers’ pensions, must rate as one of the biggest pension injustices of recent years. The litany of devastating stories of honest, hard-working men and women who face crippling debts and liabilities, sometimes of hundreds of thousands of pounds, is simply heartbreaking. We heard another example today from Wendy Chamberlain, who is not in the Chamber. I have had plumbers, including some in their 60s or even 70s, who have been forced to continue to work because of the effects of the scheme. They have been in tears describing to me what that will do to them and the impact on their life and health. They are on all sorts of support to try and get through the real concerns and anxieties about possibly losing everything, from their home and bank balance to their livelihood and sense of self. It has been a dreadful experience for anyone who has been caught up in it. These are people who have worked all their lives, earnestly and honestly paying into their pension scheme, believing that their retirement was safe, secure and something to look forward to, only for it to become a living nightmare.
I have been trying to get justice for these plumbers for some five years now. I formed the all-party parliamentary group on plumbers’ pensions in an attempt to get this addressed and resolved. Over the years, we have met successive Pensions Ministers, including the current Minister, with colleagues from all parties, we have secured debates in Westminster Hall and on the Floor of the House, and we have brought in a private Member’s Bill from my hon. Friend Alan Brown. We have even facilitated brainstorming sessions involving officials from the DWP, the pension providers, SNIPEF—the Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers Federation—and some of the trustees, all without being able to address the fundamental problems associated with section 75 of the 1995 Act. Here we are, years later, with this still unresolved, and some plumbers facing the possibility of ruin for doing exactly nothing wrong.
I appreciate that the Government have addressed this responsibly, and even helpfully. I congratulate and thank them for the easements that have been introduced in the course of the past few years. But there has been no resolution to the central issue, and today there are still plumbers in all our constituencies who will be facing crippling debts and their retirement being made an absolute misery. We know that this is difficult to resolve. We know that the best brains in pensions across the country have looked at it to try to find a solution. My plea to the Minister is that we cannot give up: we cannot simply desert these people who have done absolutely nothing wrong. If we have not found the solution yet, we must keep on looking for it. We will keep on trying to ensure that we do get justice for these people, We cannot leave a certain section of our constituents in such a hellish limbo in being faced with these demanding constraints and pressures.
If I could find a couple of words that would adequately describe section 75 of the Pensions Act 1995, they would be “unintended consequences”. There is nothing wrong with section 75. It is designed to meet a few demands and requirements, and it is actually quite a sensible and elegant inclusion in the Bill, but the unintended consequences for these multi-employer pension schemes have been absolutely and utterly devastating. Since 2005, any employer who has left the scheme or prompted a trigger event is required to pay the section 75 debt. That debt is calculated on a buy-out basis that assumes that the whole scheme has been bought out by an insurance company, but more than that, the accrual value that the insurance companies would put on to it is real testament to that value. They are then required to pay part of the orphan liabilities of past employers who may have become insolvent or left the scheme before 2005 and who did not pay their own section 75 debts. This means that those who remain in the scheme are required to pick up the debt of others who have been able to leave it without that burden being placed on them. Under no circumstances can this be thought to be right.
Some Pensions Ministers—I give credit to the Department, which has looked at this very seriously—have gone the extra mile to try to have this resolved, but I want to mention one of them who was getting to the heart of it—Richard Harrington. Richard did a huge amount of work on this. He worked diligently on it, putting energy, resource and commitment into trying to find a solution. I am pretty certain that if Richard was still in government he would be closer to finding some sort of resolution. I have only had one meeting on this with the current Minister, but I detected an enthusiasm from him to try to get this resolved. I will overlook some of the comments that he made in Committee in response to the excellent speech by my hon. Friend Richard Thomson. I hope that the Minister may take a generous view of some of our amendments, because they are actually very modest amendments that would at least start to improve the situation of those who are facing the biggest liabilities. There are only about 30 of them.
The hon. Gentleman knows that we have looked at this repeatedly, and I have met many of the individual plumbers, from Perthshire to Angus, Lancashire and beyond. He refers to my esteemed colleague Richard Harrington, who is no longer in this place. He put forward the Green Paper that looked specifically at this point and applied the full force of Government, and all the consultations on section 75. There were 853 responses, including 70 specific responses to the question regarding legislative changes on employer debt. Regrettably, as the hon. Gentleman knows, the vast majority sought no change to the employer debt position. That is the reason we are in the situation we are in.
I am grateful to the Minister for reminding the House of the work that has been done. I am fully aware of what was discussed in that Green Paper, and I am aware of the responses. I want to come on to some of the longer-term issues, because those were not really addressed in how this was looked at, but that was a decent attempt by the previous Minister to get to the heart of this and pull it together. I encourage the current Minister not to give up and to look again at our amendments—I am going to try to convince him of this; we will see how we get on—because they are modest amendments that would help people who are caught in this nightmare. They are not a total solution, but our new clauses would considerably help those who have been caught up in all this.
New clause 5 would simply permit employers in a pension scheme closed to future accrual to apply for a deferred debt arrangement provided that they meet all the other tests. It would support those who are still trading prior to section 75 being triggered to use the easements before the closure of the scheme to be included. New clause 4 would allow the flexibility to waive a debt in certain circumstances to allow an employer to exit from a pension scheme where the debt is below a de minimis threshold, which the new clause would set at 0.5% of the fund value.
Those are sensible and modest proposals that would not cost the world to enact and would leave the integrity of these pension schemes intact. We know that the Minister is likely to oppose them, but I hope that he has a think about it, and perhaps there are things that he can do in subsequent legislation based on what is proposed. I know that he recognises the difficulty in all this, but he will offer no further easements beyond those already provided for in legislation. He also says that the
“current employer debt system is intended to be equitable to all employers”––[Official Report, Pension Schemes Public Bill Committee,
and insists that schemes must be fully funded, but setting a de minimis write-off at 0.5% will have a negligible impact on any of these arrangements.
There are other multi-employer schemes where there may be issues. It is staggering that there have been so few issues with these multi-employer schemes outside the plumbers’ pension, but I say to the Minister that this is more of a ticking time-bomb than a sleeping lion. There are consequences to come. Government failure to get this resolved when they had the opportunity with plumbers’ pensions will come back to haunt them at some point in the future. Introducing easements and partial solutions is all very well, but if the central issue remains unaddressed, there will be consequences for everyone involved in these schemes.
I will never forget the meeting when I was first made aware of this issue. I was utterly horrified that this level of debt was stalking plumbers like some sort of malicious apparition. I said to them then that I would do everything possible to ensure that this was addressed. Five years later, we have not been able to do that. It is now all down to the Minister. He can do something to lessen this burden on honest, hard-working men and women, or we can come back here in a few years with this misery still in place and this injustice still not put right. I still hope that he will consider the amendments that we have tabled this evening.
I rise to address a number of issues. First, let me say that I fully support the amendments tabled by my hon. Friends—amendment 16 and others—on climate change. With respect to some of the comments that were made earlier, we need much more radical thinking on this if we are to see the types of fundamental shifts that we need in our economy, not just in this country but globally—recognising, of course, that pensions are invested globally—to achieve the kind of action that is needed to deal with the scale of the climate emergency. That will affect the generations to come, just as, if we do not get pensions right, the generations to come will not have the resources they thought they would receive.
I want to focus my remarks on new clause 1 and amendment 14, which show the importance of improved guidance and consumer protections, and the clauses in the Bill that relate to the valuations of pensions schemes. These issues all matter and the protections—many introduced on a cross-party basis—are so crucial because of the scandals and scams that many right hon. and hon. Members from across the House have referred to. A range of measures are needed to clear up the weaknesses in our pensions systems and pensions regulation, which have led to huge injustices.
I want to talk briefly about two injustices that have affected people in my constituency over many years: the Allied Steel and Wire pensioners and the Roadchef employees. I thank my hon. Friend Christina Rees, and my hon. Friends the Members for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), for Oxford East (Anneliese Dodds) and for Stalybridge and Hyde (Jonathan Reynolds) on the Front Bench, for their work to support action on these issues, in particular the meeting that we had recently with Allied Steel and Wire pensioners from my constituency. I also thank the Minister, who has been in conversations about this case with my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington. I am grateful to him for agreeing to meet us to discuss it further. I hope we can find the time for that in the weeks to come, because it needs to be looked at. It is a historic injustice that has affected many, many people who have waited many years for it to be resolved. The Secretary of State said on Second Reading that we need to tackle all those who try to plunder the pension pots of hard-working employees, which was very much what happened in both cases.
The campaigners and members of the Pensions Action Group, which include many former Allied Steel and Wire employees, have explained clearly—I am sure it has been spoken of many times in this House—how they lost the pensions they put into and expected to receive in retirement. This has affected workers from across the country: not only former workers at the Allied Steel and Wire plant in my constituency, but in locations such as Sheerness in Kent and in other businesses, such as the shelving giant Dexion, which were also hit. Those workers were helped and supported by the financial assistance scheme set up by the Labour Government in the early 2000s. That was followed by the establishment of the Pension Protection Fund, which still exists today to step in to ensure workers’ accrued defined benefit pensions are safeguarded when employers collapse. A fundamental issue, however, is that under the terms of the protection scheme, pension income based on service prior to 1997 is not eligible to be increased in line with inflation, unlike post-1997 service. The pension income of 140,000 workers who built their pension pre-1997 has not been protected from rising consumer prices.
I want to name the individuals who have campaigned resolutely on this issue for many years: John Benson, Phil Jones and many others. Alongside other Members, I have been with them to Downing Street and elsewhere to take their case. Essentially, they have devoted their lives to making steel, making this country great and supporting our infrastructure projects, yet they have been denied dignity in their retirement. Tragically, many are sadly passing away without having received what they were entitled to. They point out, quite rightly, that the type of restrictive legislation that has existed around their circumstances does not apply to, for example, the pensions of Members of Parliament who were elected prior to 1997, many of whom have moved on to the other place. We need to think about justice and equity in all these matters, particularly as we enjoy very generous pension settlements.
Many financial assistance scheme members currently receive only 90% of their restricted pension. That was what was achieved by the scheme and the agreement under the previous Labour Government. Unfortunately, because of the lack of indexation many are seeing their actual income drop below the 50% redress required under Hampshire v. PPF in September 2018. I recently spoke to a number of them and asked them to explain how the situation had affected them and their families. We have heard today of many other such instances, which not only have financial implications but cause emotional and family strain. I want to quote some of their own words, because they bear strong witness to the reality. One worker, who left school in 1961, aged 15, and started working at the steel company, told me, “For some years, the company paid into the pension scheme. I myself in those early years did not contribute, but then the ASW pension scheme was formed.” The workforce were called to the canteen on a number of occasions for meetings with the company’s directors and told of the plan regarding the new pension scheme, which they were told had the backing of the UK Government. The workforce were given all sorts of assurances that “it would secure a comfortable retirement for themselves and their families, and everyone to my knowledge agreed this was the right thing to do.”
We then fast-forward to 2002 when shift teams were called to the conference room and told by one of the receivers that the company would close and they would lose their jobs. One colleague had tears rolling down their face. The receiver told them, “The pensions we had saved and worked for were safe as they were not touching those funds”. One worker said, “I went home after my shift had finished and told my wife I had lost my job but the pension was safe, only to find out days later that there was a shortfall and that we could lose in the region of 85% of the pension. It put me on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and at one point I thought I would go over the edge. After all those years working in heavy industry with noise, dust, fumes and unsociable hours, I have nothing to look forward to.”
Unfortunately, I could recount case after case from Allied Steel and Wire pensioners. It is only a matter of natural justice that, as well as ensuring that such scandals never happen again, as measures in the Bill seek to do —and as much reform since that time has attempted to do, to ensure guidance and protections—we must remember those who did not and will not benefit from these changes. I look forward to discussing that case with the Minister.
Many Members across the House have signed early-day motion 802 on the Roadchef scandal, which has been going on for nearly 30 years and has involved 4,000 low-paid workers who saw millions illegally transferred from their funds and then £10 million taken in taxes. I express my sadness at the recent death of my constituent Tim Warwick, who was the company secretary who exposed the Roadchef shares scandal perpetrated by the former chief executive. I pay tribute to the former Member of Parliament for Monmouth, Huw Edwards, and the GMB trade union—I declare an interest as a member of the GMB—who have campaigned on this issue for many years. Sadly—and as we saw with the Allied Steel and Wire pension scandal—Tim Warwick and others died waiting for clarity from HMRC about what tax they or the trust should be liable for, despite Parliament’s clear intention that such employee benefit schemes should be tax free. Will the Minister therefore give us an update—either in his wind-up, or perhaps he could write to me—on the latest position of the DWP and HMRC on this matter, which has been of great concern to Members across the House? That is one of the injustices that led us to the point of needing to make the types of changes outlined in the Bill and the many amendments to it.
Many of the amendments and proposals put forward are about increasing the transparency, safety and security of our pensions, which we all want to see, as well as tackling scams and injustices in the pensions system. I add my support to the amendments tabled by my colleagues on the Front Bench and by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee. In that spirit of tackling injustice, we need to recognise the damage done by robbing people of their life savings and of their and their family’s future. They paid in, they expected to get something out, and they have not. I mentioned two examples, but there are still far too many injustices for many pensioners. I hope that, in a spirit of cross-party working, the Minister and others will continue to try to find justice for all those affected, and particularly those affected by the ASW and Roadchef scandals.
I hope that we can manage the rest of the debate without a formal time limit, because the debate flows better without one. I note that the Minister has been asked to deal with a variety of subjects at the end of the debate. If Members would like the Minister to have time to address their concerns, I implore them to speak for no more than seven or eight minutes. If that is the case, we will manage without a time limit and there will be time for the Minister to respond to the debate.
Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker. I will cut my speech down from the hour or so that I was planning.
It is a privilege to follow Stephen Doughty and his powerful and moving speech. It has been a privilege to speak on Second Reading, in the Public Bill Committee and now on Report. It is the first time, as a new MP, that I have seen a Bill through all its stages.
I have always been interested in talking through new topics with my children at bedtime reading. As both my wife and I are exciting accountants, I want to thank my hon. Friend Aaron Bell for giving me the idea of teaching them about mortality tables as something for us to get our teeth into.
I suppose the real question is how we make pensions relevant to people in their busy lives so that they do not put them off for another year. How do we make them important to people so that they sit up and take notice of them? Well, we do exactly what this Bill is aiming to do. We make them safer, so that crimes against people’s largest financial assets can be punished. Representing an older demographic in North Norfolk, where, often, people’s pension schemes are their largest financial assets, I know that my constituents will certainly be pleased that the regulator now has the teeth to tackle the problems. We make pensions better, as has been said, and the pension dashboard is a move in the right direction. It will really transform us and take us into the 21st century, because we will have the ability to manage something—if we cannot measure something, we cannot manage it, so this is a real step in the right direction.
We also make pensions greener. As I mentioned on Second Reading, we know that if we go in the direction of making pension trustees consider climate change as a material financial risk for member investments, that will help the entire industry as we move towards our net zero obligations. Finally, we have the leadership of the Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, my hon. Friend Guy Opperman, whose boundless energy and enthusiasm for this Bill has got us to this stage. We should all be commending his efforts to get us here.
I will comment on just a few areas. I recognise why new clause 1 is important. I grew up with the mantra of personal responsibility, which is fairly apt here, because, besides my experience of looking after the company pension scheme in the outside world before I ended up in this place, I always found that advisers were particularly proactive and open and willing to engage with employees about their retirement planning. I think that there are already provisions, information and interventions to outline the options. The Department for Work and Pensions recently published a policy statement, which included measures on how to take up free and impartial guidance.
I shall be slightly tongue in cheek about new clause 3. I will probably be in trouble for saying this, but whenever the DWP brings in new procedures, the average finance director always feels slightly concerned and thinks, “Oh, no, what have we got to implement now in our businesses?” I remember the quagmire of auto-enrolment. That was met with some dread, but, of course, it turned out to be absolutely the right thing to do, and it has been a monumental success in this country. We got through realtime information, but then when I needed to avoid Making Tax Digital, I had to become an MP.
Seriously, though, in my humble opinion, imposing more procedures and bureaucracy on businesses, especially at the moment, is something that our small and medium-sized enterprises, which make up the backbone of this country, can really do without. We do not need further red tape and procedures. The Government are already dealing with this issue of how small pots can be consolidated as part of the further reporting, and I am sure the Minister will make a comment on that in his summing up.
Finally, as the MP for North Norfolk and a member of the Environmental Audit Committee who has since his election to this place, alongside a quintet of Norfolk and Suffolk MPs, pushed to improve the environmentally damaging effects of connecting our wind farms to the national grid, I absolutely have to make a comment on amendments 16 to 24. This is, as we have heard before, a clear case of the theory not delivering on the reality. What we need here is partnership between businesses and pension trustees to invest in green renewable technologies like the wind farms off my coasts in Weybourne, Sheringham and Happisburgh—parts of the country, Madam Deputy Speaker, where I am sure you have holidayed in many times before and will, I hope, again in future—not a set of restrictive governance criteria, which would most likely cause more divestment in green initiatives than a willingness to embrace and comply.
This is a great Bill. It pushes pension governance and transparency, not to mention investment in green initiatives, forward to the next level, and I commend it to the House.
I rise primarily to speak in support of amendments 16 to 24.
The climate crisis remains one of the greatest challenges, if not the greatest challenge, that we face. We are rightly focused at the moment on dealing with the pandemic and the pressures that that entails, but we cannot afford to lose sight of the growing threat of climate breakdown and the risks it continues to pose.
We stand now at the crossroads between complacency and inaction, which locks us potentially into a future of climate chaos, and bold action that combines expertise and resource and can minimise climate risk, help build resilience and jobs for the future, and allow our society to emerge stronger and more equal. We need climate action to be embedded across all sectors of society, but particularly in finance.
No one is immune to the shifting seasons or the increasing severity and frequency of extreme weathers. Droughts or flooding that impact either one community or one continent will inevitably reverberate throughout the rest of the world, presenting issues of food insecurity and water shortages, and conflict or displacement. It is imperative that legislation going through this House is responsive to that climate crisis, and it must meet our international obligations, including those of the Paris climate agreement and our commitment to limit the global temperatures increase to 1.5° C.
It is crucial, therefore, that the £3 trillion locked into UK pensions today is mobilised to build that green recovery and meet that climate challenge, and to protect the future health of our people and planet and the prosperity that we all want to see and pass on to the next generation.
I am listening to the hon. Lady’s speech with great interest, and I am just wondering whether she is aware that the ESG—environmental, social and governance—regulations came into force only eight weeks ago and clause 124 specifically addresses the matters that she is outlining, and more particularly that we published in August specific action on tackling climate risk and improving the governance of occupational pension schemes. That is exactly what the consultation is all about.
I thank the Minister for his intervention, but, frankly, it does not go far enough, which is why I am speaking to these amendments.
The previous speaker, Duncan Baker, is a member of the Environmental Audit Committee. I was a member of that Committee in the last Parliament, and there was an inquiry into greening finance, chaired by Mary Creagh. We found that the UK’s financial investment chain was structurally incentivised to prioritise short-term profits rather than long-term issues including the climate crisis. That needs to change. Long-term sustainability must be factored into financial decision making, and our report recommended mandatory climate risk reporting and a clarification in law that pension trustees have a duty to consider long-term sustainability, not just short-term returns.
We also emphasised in that report that enforcing those recommendations would push climate change further up boardroom agendas, where it is seriously lacking at the moment. We found through our inquiry that less than half of the 25 largest pension providers discussed climate risk at board level. Their pension schemes, including those of Aviva, Lloyds Bank and HBOS, were all considered to be less engaged than peers among the top 25, so I am particularly pleased to see that Aviva has been instrumental in supporting this amendment.
Disclosure is vital in driving awareness that pensions may be invested in fossil fuel projects, fast fashion, deforestation and extraction. Driving that awareness out there about where their money is going means that people can take control of their pension decisions and make informed choices. Pension funds risk seeing assets become worthless unless they wake up to the climate crisis. The former Governor of the Bank of England and current UN special envoy for climate action, Mark Carney, has said that we must
“align finance with society’s values…This will help deliver the world that our citizens demand and that future generations deserve.”
He said it could be
“the greatest commercial opportunity of our time.”
It is critical that the changes come into effect as early as possible, rather than just 2050 or sooner, if they are to correct the catastrophic trajectory of our climate. We must go further. Amendment 16 would make provision for current and future Governments to significantly strengthen the Bill through secondary legislation. We stand at the brink of climate chaos the likes of which we have yet to experience, but which unfortunately may become all too familiar. If we do not take the necessary action now, I am afraid that we will not get the future our children deserve to see.
It is a pleasure to follow Anna McMorrin, and it is good to see so many great contributions from hon. and right hon. Members from across the House. Pensions are a life asset—something that we build up over decades—and getting the policies right and working across parties is vital, so it is fantastic to see such unity and cross-party working on many of the issues contained within the Bill.
As my hon. Friend the Minister has said, the Bill makes our pensions safer, better and greener. I will focus my contribution today on that final point: pension policy becoming greener. Tackling climate change and getting to net zero is undoubtedly one of the country’s biggest challenges, and it is a top priority for me. The clock is ticking, and we all need to take action, from big corporates right down to the actions we take as individuals.
In September, I was delighted to welcome the Pensions Minister to Haworth in my constituency to visit Airedale Springs, a fantastic local manufacturing business in the Worth valley. It supplies mechanical springs to UK manufacturers such as Brompton Bikes. Crucially, it is innovative, and a green business, too. The roof of its factory has more than 100 solar panels, helping to supply its energy needs and power the business, and I want to see firms across our country adopting those kinds of innovative practices.
Our pension funds have trillions of pounds invested in assets under management, and that pension power can help us work towards achieving net zero, because when someone saves money into pensions, the pension provider takes the money and invests it in order to secure a long-term return for retirement. When those savings are in sustainable and ethical investments, such as businesses adopting similar practices to Airedale Springs, the pension can play its part by helping not only with retirement but with climate change.
The changes legislated for through the Bill open up a world of possibilities for our pensions to be invested in new and innovative technologies for the future, such as wind power, hydrogen and carbon capture and storage—technologies that help create jobs and aid the transition towards net zero. The Bill means that for the first time, pension schemes will be able to be required to take the Government’s net zero targets into account, as well as the goals of the Paris climate agreement.
I want to take a moment to address some of the amendments before the House. On amendments 16 to 24, the reality is that the Government are already taking powers that will require trustees to set targets for their management of climate risk. So surely an approach whereby we nudge pensions towards investing in a sustainable and ethical way is the right approach, and that is the one that the Government are taking. Mandatory targets would, in my view, undermine the duty that pension trustees have to invest in the best interests of the people whose pensions they are investing.
The amendments would also have very little impact on reducing emissions. Pension funds would be forced to sell their high carbon stocks to others who have no regard for environmental concerns, doing absolutely nothing to get us to net zero. Instead, we should work together to nudge firms towards a greener future. We have already seen this in the action that the Government have taken, as well as some corporates. Earlier this year, for example, BP—traditionally an oil and gas company—set its own target for getting to net zero, and many more are doing this too. More than 70% of large pension schemes are already going above and beyond the minimum legal requirements.
We have seen the great work that the Government are doing, such as making ESG regulations and now introducing mandatory climate change reporting. We need to work together in partnership with businesses, not against them, to get to net zero.
In conclusion, it is for those reasons, among many others, that I will support the Government today. I know just how hard the Minister has worked on the Bill, alongside his colleagues, and I thank him for his efforts. Tackling climate change is, of course, of crucial importance and the Bill most certainly marks the next step in our journey to reach net zero.
It is a pleasure to follow Robbie Moore. I noticed that he mentioned cross-party working, so on that basis I look forward to him voting with the SNP tonight when we press some of the amendments to a vote. I very much appreciated that early commitment.
I rise to speak to new clauses 4 and 5, tabled by my hon. Friend Neil Gray—I have also put my name to them. In January 2018, I introduced a private Member’s Bill on multi-employer pension schemes, including provision for the protection of unincorporated businesses. The Bill was intended to correct what I saw as the unintended consequences of the section 75 amendments, which were legislated in 2005. Like many private Member’s Bills, it did not go anywhere, so tonight I am keeping a promise to the plumbers of my local Scottish and Northern Ireland Plumbing Employers’ Federation branch. I promised that I would do all I can to try to get legislative changes for a solution to the section 75 debt issue, which has adversely affected the plumbing and mechanical services industry pension scheme.
It is disappointing that nearly three years down the line since I introduced my Bill the reality is that we are no further forward. It is also just over four years since my hon. Friend Pete Wishart first raised the matter in a Westminster Hall debate. As he pointed out earlier, the then Minister pledged to find a solution to the problem. We are still waiting, despite the argument that there has been some progress over the years. I put on the record my thanks to SNIPEF and the Plumbing Employers Action Group for their assistance in tweaking the amendments to try to reflect ministerial comments that were made in Committee.
From 1995 until further changes in 2005, the plumbing pension fund was assessed on a minimum funding basis. When it was valued like that, the scheme was deemed fully funded and therefore any employer leaving the scheme did so without detriment to the overall scheme. As we now know, the 2005 changes led to the scheme being assessed on an insurance buy-out basis, which has caused the current issues. Those issues have been exacerbated, because those who left in compliance with the then rules on the old assessment did not accrue or owe any debts, but on the new basis, they have now created liabilities that the remaining employers have to pick up. Even now, the scheme is close to being fully funded if it was still assessed on an ongoing basis, which shows that changes should be possible. Given that the UK Government will not allow a change to the buy-out assessment process, surely we need to look at the modest changes proposed in new clauses 4 and 5.
Nobody is arguing against the principle of ensuring that a pension pot is sustainable. We understand the need to minimise risk to the taxpayer in terms of the Pension Protection Fund having to pick up any slack. However, the stark reality is that unless some amendments to legislation are made, many individuals will be made bankrupt. Surely we have a duty, as legislators, to prevent that. This is individual employers who were doing the right thing for their employees at the time, to ensure that their employees had a healthy pension in their retirement.
Over the years, Ministers have often referred to “easements”. However, statutory easements do not cover all situations—in particular, where an employer has retired or ceased trading or has triggered a section 75 debt prior to the closure of the pension scheme to future accrual. As my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire said, there is a small group of some 30 retired unincorporated ex-employers for whom no easements have ever applied. They are unable to use a deferred debt arrangement as that is only available for limited companies, and in any event, the scheme closed for future service in June 2019, meaning that the deferred debt arrangements cannot be used by a closed scheme. In addition, having been unincorporated businesses that have now ceased trading, they cannot apportion their debt to another business or person, so they have no easements or recourse available to them at this moment in time.
Due to a failure of notification, this group did not even know that they had debts until it was too late for them. The average debt that this group faces is some £500,000, with the highest being £1.2 million. Nobody benefits if these people are made bankrupt. The reality is that, if they are made bankrupt, the total debts will not be recovered. Critically, the pension fund will not be materially financially stronger even if these individuals are pursued and they lose their homes and are made bankrupt. Such punitive action is in no one’s interest. That is why we want these modest changes to be made.
In Committee, the Minister stated:
“The new clause would be unfair to those employers previously connected with the scheme who have already paid their section 75 debt”.––[Official Report, Pension Schemes Public Bill Committee,
He also stated that
“the new clause would weaken the protections contained in the current deferred debt arrangement system. We need to balance the needs of the affected employers with the risks to scheme members and other employers.”––[Official Report, Pension Schemes Public Bill Committee,
On the face of it, those are reasonable sentiments, but the issue is that so much of this debt—up to 60% of it—is orphan liabilities. There is an inherent unfairness in the way that the debts have been assessed, accumulated and attributed. We need to find solutions, rather than argue about ifs and buts as a way out of doing so. Otherwise, financially strong businesses can still be stuck with a huge, often unpayable debt, which takes a grave personal toll on the individuals involved.
While there are some options for managing or delaying section 75 liabilities available to those currently trading, there is little help available to those who have already retired. Our new clauses try to strike the right balance. The adjustments proposed in the revised new clause 4 are designed to narrow the focus of the amendments proposed in Committee to make it clearer what factors pension scheme trustees or managers should take into account when considering the application of de minimis discretion, and to make it clear that de minimis discretion should not be to the detriment of the pension scheme overall. That hopefully addresses some of the Minister’s concerns about fairness.
The Minister said that 0.5% in itself might be a small threshold, but there is concern about the cumulative effect of a number of 0.5% disregards. We need to stop finding reasons not to do something. The additional stipulations in new clause 4 should give added comfort in that regard, particularly the non-detriment aspect of the overall scheme.
New clause 5 would permit employers in a pension scheme closed to future accrual to apply for a deferred debt arrangement providing that they meet the other statutory tests. This would allow a deferred debt arrangement to be put in place where an employer triggered section 75 before scheme closure but did not have a DDA in place. Although the trigger for the deferred debt arrangement happened pre-closure, the employer must still meet the statutory test for a DDA; in other words, an employer must still be trading and have an ongoing contractual commitment to the scheme. This is needed to support employers who are still trading and otherwise trapped and forced to continue trading, unable to sell on or transfer ownership of the company.
I say to the Minister that we need to remember that some people are literally working themselves to death, unable to retire. I have constituents who are unable to stop working because of the section 75 debt and liability that hangs over them. A couple of years ago, a medium-sized company in my constituency stopped trading, but it is a safe bet that the individual who is the owner of that company still has a section 75 debt issue remaining. Action is required. As my hon. Friend the Member for Perth and North Perthshire said, it would be great if we could just make some progress tonight and if the Government supported these modest amendments. Just think of the relief that this could bring to many individuals. If the Government are not willing to do that, I look forward to hearing what their solution is instead.
I am grateful to be called and to have the opportunity to speak briefly in this important debate, and it is a pleasure to follow Alan Brown, who made several important points.
The Bill seeks to introduce a number of measures aimed at protecting savings and providing simpler oversight of pension savings. This includes the introduction of pension dashboards, collective defined contribution schemes and new powers for the Pensions Regulator to tackle irresponsible management of private pension schemes. These are important steps forward and they are long overdue. In particular, I welcome the strengthening of consumer protections against scams, as I know many examples of residents in Newport West who have been victims of these scams and have not only lost so much money, but been deeply affected by the scams for years after the event.
I am delighted that many of my noble Friends in the other place were able to secure some important amendments to the Bill—in particular, the amendments that require trustees and managers to take into account the Paris agreement and key domestic climate targets in their overall governance and disclosure of climate change risk and opportunities. This is the first time that climate change has featured in domestic pensions legislation and that is to be welcomed.
I urge Ministers and Government Back Benchers to support Labour’s efforts to mobilise billions of pounds towards the vital and timely effort to tackle climate change through pension funds. Given that Ministers refuse to support the amendment in the name of the shadow Minister, my hon. Friend Jonathan Reynolds, on asking pension funds to develop strategies to help to meet our obligations under the Paris agreement, I hope that we will receive an explanation of how they expect to achieve their goal of net zero carbon emissions by 2050 or sooner.
The other place also forced the Government to amend the Bill to guarantee a publicly owned pensions dashboard free at the point of use and available to everyone. I have called for that before, as has the shadow Minister, and it is a demand that many residents from across Newport West have raised with me in recent weeks and months. The changes contained in the amendment would ensure that consumers are protected and that they do not make poorly informed or hasty decisions when they see their pension information for the first time. I hope that the Minister will welcome that amendment.
Finally, I pay tribute to my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, who spoke earlier. He has worked hard on these issues and is a man of wisdom and experience. I support his new clause 1, which would set up opt-out appointments with Pension Wise for pension scheme members five years prior to their retirement date, because this is a point at which scheme members are so vulnerable to transfer advice that is not in their best interest or to tax scams. This is so important for the people who need sound guidance and advice before they take their pensions.
The Bill is to be broadly welcomed and I urge Ministers to accept all efforts to make it stronger, more effective and long-lasting.
I rise to support amendments 7 and 8 and new clauses 4 and 5 in my name and those of others. A recurring theme throughout the debates on Second Reading, in Committee and this evening has been the need to try to avoid unintended consequences. That is a particularly important mindset to approach this with given that the consequences of all that we are putting into legislation this evening will potentially last for decades, and the decisions that we take will affect people’s quality of life and financial opportunities in retirement. It is worth bearing that in mind when approaching the Bill, and when we consider any well-meaning assurances that we might get from the Government Front Bench in lieu of the actual substantive changes that have been asked for in the amendments and new clauses.
There are three issues in particular that I will return to, the first of which relates to amendment 8 and dashboards, which I think are a fine innovation. We know the difficulty sometimes of keeping track of pensions that are accumulated over a lifetime, particularly when that working lifetime is no longer spent in just a few jobs, and someone picks up several pensions over a career. Dashboards can collate information that is informative and impartial. If, however, that information is provided in circumstances where there is a commercial interest before the system is bedded in, it creates the risk of needless policy churn. Such churn might be in the interests of advisers, and perhaps even of some providers, but it is unlikely to be in the interests of the policy holders and consumers. The potential for mis-selling under those circumstances is, or ought to be, obvious, and is surely antithetical to the objective of bringing in dashboards.
The second point that I wish to return to is on amendment 7 and defined-benefit schemes. The point has been made by many speakers throughout the passage of the Bill, and by the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, that defined-benefit schemes, which remain open to new members, require a very different investment approach from those schemes that are closed to new members or that are not near to maturity. There have been contradictory messages, I am sorry to say, from the Pensions Regulator on the consultation when it comes to alleged de-risking and whether a class of beneficiaries from defined-benefit pension schemes should have their interests prioritised over those of others. To our mind, there is no good reason not to put in the Bill a suitable steer from the Minister about the need for a different approach for schemes that are open, but I suspect that he is reluctant to do so. I therefore seek an early assurance in his summing up that, although it may not be in the Bill, he will give a prompt direction to that effect at the earliest opportunity.
Finally, on new clauses 4 and 5 and the plumbers’ pension scheme, I am also a vice-chair of the all-party parliamentary group for plumbers’ pensions. We have heard eloquent testimony from my hon. Friends the Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart) and for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and Wendy Chamberlain about the impact that this issue is having on many plumbers who have sought only to do the right thing through their businesses, and provide for their employees.
I know that the Minister is not unsympathetic to the plight of those who find themselves on the wrong end of a section 75 debt under these circumstances. I certainly take the view that those who are on the wrong end of that section 75 debt have been very poorly served at various points by the advice and guidance that they have been given and the way that the scheme has been managed. Although we clearly do not want to create adverse unintended consequences in other schemes, it is worth bearing in mind that this particular scheme has a section 75 debt of £7.5 million, in the context of a scheme that is fully funded and has £2.2 billion at its back. That debt could be waived by the trustees, if they were allowed to, at no detriment to the remaining members.
In seeking to resolve these unique circumstances, we have spoken about extending the deferred debt, in new clause 5. Also, proposed new sub-paragraph (h)(i) of regulation 2, in subsection (2)(b) of new clause 4, would ensure that the scope of any write-off is restricted to those who would have incurred the liability for a section 75 debt before the passing of that amendment, which would effectively put a firewall around the adverse consequences and moral hazard of seeking to apply it to other schemes where the circumstances do not justify doing so.
In conclusion, to do nothing about this would be a missed opportunity. If the Minister is not minded to accept these amendments this evening, I very much hope he will use his undoubted knowledge and ingenuity to help find a solution that can help to bring this nightmare to an end for the plumbers and their families, who have done absolutely nothing other than try to do their best and the most responsible thing by those they employed.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Richard Thomson, whose helpful, informed and persuasive speech matched the characteristics he brought to the Committee stage in support of the work we did there—I thank him for his efforts.
As I said on Second Reading, we broadly support the Bill, but it could do with some sprucing up in certain areas. Sadly, we did not get far in Committee; in fact, the Bill took a step backwards from some of the good work that had been done in the other place, particularly on a lead-in for commercial dashboards and dashboard financial transactions—that was taken away—as well as on the measures providing reassurances to those involved in open DB schemes.
I will turn to those shortly, but first let me deal with new clause 1, which stands in the name of the Chair of the Select Committee, Stephen Timms, and has been signed by Members on both sides of the House, including me. I concur with what he said in setting out the reasons why this is so important. I also agree with much of what was said by Nigel Mills in supporting the new clause. I am particularly concerned about this area, not least following my work on the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018, which brought MaPS into existence. We held serious concerns that the guidance elements that were supposed to be partnering pension freedoms were not strong enough then and we still hold those now.
I touched on this in Committee, but it is worth repeating for colleagues who may be havering on which way to vote that the Government’s opposition to this new clause appears to be based on the work the Financial Conduct Authority is doing and the idea of providing a stronger nudge—we have heard about that—to people getting guidance as they near retirement age. Unfortunately, I am yet to be convinced that any of that does what new clause 1 would do, which would see the DWP writing to pension scheme members, or their survivors five years prior to their reaching the age of eligibility with a scheduled time and date for a pensions guidance appointment. Ministers would then have to write annually to that person until that appointment was taken up, or their desire to opt out was confirmed. That is far more robust than what exists at present and seems to deliver a much stronger possibility of someone taking the appointment than the stronger nudge trials have evidenced. It is worth repeating the point made by the right hon. Member for East Ham in his strong speech, which cited the MaPS stronger nudge trials and showed that there was only a very small increase in the number of people who went on to have that Pension Wise appointment. The DWP claimed that it significantly increased the uptake of Pension Wise guidance but, as I said in Committee, that is pure spin. The outcome of the stronger nudge trials—
I just want to correct one point, which I was going to try to deal with in more detail later. The claim has repeatedly been made that this is “spin”, but if one studies the stronger nudge behavioural trial, one sees that more than a quarter of the people who contacted their provider in the trial had already received pension advice or guidance in the last year and therefore were excluded from the sample. So this cannot be seen in the context of a simple figure that keeps being restated, as the hon. Gentleman has just done.
The fact remains, and the Minister has not rebuked the point I made in Committee, that the stronger nudge managed to get successful appointments to move from 3% to 11% of cases. That is not a significant improvement. A stronger nudge is just not going to be enough, which is why we argued during the passage of the 2018 Act for an opt-out guidance system. Now we are back to looking at this again. We still support that approach and new clause 1 would deliver it.
Colleagues, including my hon. Friends the Members for Perth and North Perthshire (Pete Wishart), for Kilmarnock and Loudoun (Alan Brown) and for Gordon and Wendy Chamberlain, have passionately and eruditely explained why we have given such a focus to the so-called plumbers’ pension amendments in new clauses 4 and 5. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the compelling arguments that my colleagues have made, but he should be reminded that these new clauses were arrived at with the support of campaigners who feel that the current legislation does not protect them. After hearing what my hon. Friends have said about the impact this has had over many years on their constituents—and presumably after some lobbying from across the House, because at least 30 colleagues have constituents who are impacted, including, according to the campaigners, the hon. Members for Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk (John Lamont) and for Moray (Douglas Ross) and the Secretary of State for Scotland—the Minister must surely be eager to do something.
Before the Minister speaks, I wish to point him to the correspondence he should have received last week from the director of Plumbing Employers Action Group Ltd., which should allay his fears about new clause 4 setting a precedent, or about passing on liabilities to other employers, as has already been outlined by my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon. It is worth remembering, through all this, that these plumbers have found themselves in this situation through no fault of their own, but because of a lack of information from trustees regarding their potential section 75 obligations. I hope that new clauses 4 and 5 can be accepted to ensure that nobody falls into bankruptcy and poverty through no fault of their own.
Our new clause 2 would help the UK Government in three areas. It would establish an independent advisory commission to look at the terms of this legislation. The Minister knows that it has been a long-term SNP policy to see an independent pensions and savings commission established. The scope of the Bill does not allow us to go that far, but this advisory commission could eventually become the standing commission we wish to see and a sounding board for long-term pensions and savings policy. It would ensure, for instance, that we never saw a repeat of the WASPI scandal.
In the meantime, new clause 2 would also allow the UK Government out of the bind that they find themselves in over commercial dashboards and financial transactions. We believe, as do many stakeholders in the industry, that the rush to see commercial dashboards with financial transactions could be extremely damaging. The hon. Member for Amber Valley has highlighted that risk.
The Minister has previously suggested that commercial dashboards are necessary to allow the independent public dashboard—the MaPS dashboard—to work, but that can only be the case if a deal has been done with the sector to allow commercial dashboards with transactional ability in exchange for the data that the providers have for the public dashboard. The Government could quite easily mandate that data to be provided without the incentive of early commercial dashboards and the risks of financial transactions. Time is the wisest counsellor of all, which is why I do not understand the Government’s determination to plough on without taking stock, without analysing the risks and without ensuring that savers do not suffer detriment from shifting so quickly to commercial dashboards and financial transactions.
We want to see the MaPS dashboard established quickly to provide impartial and reliable information for savers, and that is why we have brought back amendment 8 to reinsert the wording from the Lords that was removed in Committee. This has cross-party backing and backing from stakeholders. The public dashboard has the ability and the potential to be as revolutionary for pensions and savings as auto-enrolment has been, but that can only be the case if the Government get behind it and give it the space to develop. Also, the commission could help with what Members on all sides repeatedly turned to in Committee—namely, finding cross-party consensus on long-term pensions policy. This could be a safe space for those discussions and ensure that pensions policy stood the test of time, because there would be buy-in from all sides.
Our amendment 7 deals with open DB schemes. We have worked extensively with other parties to try to find a form of words to give the scheme providers comfort that they were not going to be forced into making investment decisions that were inappropriate for them. The importance of this has already been highlighted by the hon. Members for North East Fife and for Gloucester (Richard Graham) , as well as by my hon. Friend the Member for Gordon. There is a major concern that open DB schemes will need to de-risk, and there are potentially serious implications for them of doing so. In Committee, the Minister stated in response to one of my lines of questioning:
“I want to make it clear again—I have said it once, but I will say it again—that the Government are not proposing to introduce a one-size-fits-all funding standard”.––[Official Report, Pension Schemes Public Bill Committee,
However, the CBI has contradicted him by saying:
“The regulator’s proposals risk moving back to one-size-fits-all regulation…Businesses and trustees need to be confident that the new code will allow them to make decisions that benefit savers and the long-term health of companies.”
The Minister protested strongly about the Government’s intentions; it may not be their intention to introduce one-size-fits-all regulation, but the Minister is reckoning without the law of unintended consequences. In order to be sure, why not allow a safeguard to be on the face of the Bill to protect against the unintended consequences, identified by the CBI and others, which could otherwise see perfectly healthy DB schemes close down?
The hon. Gentleman is making a point that a number of us made earlier. I notice that in the Committee, on which the hon. Gentleman served, the Minister responded pretty clearly by saying:
“Open schemes with a strong sponsoring employer that are immature and have managed their risk appropriately should not be forced into an inappropriate de-risking journey.”––[Official Report, Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] Public Bill Committee,
I found that quite reassuring; what does the hon. Gentleman think?
I was just coming on to quote that very passage from the Minister in Committee—
I was—I have it right here. We took some comfort from that statement from the Minister, but I have to emphasise the word “inappropriate” in respect of that de-risking journey. For the avoidance of doubt, will the Minister confirm that unless schemes started to move towards significant maturity, there would not be any appropriate de-risking journey? Will the Minister further confirm that he has no intention of insisting that all open schemes progressively de-risk their investments if any remain sufficiently far from significant maturity, and that he will ensure that the regulations do not have that effect? If so, how will they ensure that? We also ask the Minister to accept amendment 7, but if that does not happen, we will support the Liberal Democrat amendment 1.
On amendments 9 and 10, we return to the treatment of vulnerable customers and the need to better define the difference between guidance, advice and information. We touched on this in Committee and the Minister accepted the principle of where we were coming from with our amendments but could not accept them into the Bill. I ask him to look at that again. The SNP have tabled amendments to require that specially trained advisers and guidance are made available to people in vulnerable circumstances, including but not limited to persons who suffer long-term sickness or disability, carers, persons on low incomes and recipients of benefits. Circumstances of those types can have a significant impact on people’s finances and long-term savings plans. It is also the case that people in difficult financial circumstances may be more likely to utilise new pension freedoms, but at a cost to their long-term savings.
It is clear that the UK Government had not put in place adequate safeguards to ensure that older people who opt to free up their funds would not end up in a desperate financial situation later. Those with less money are more vulnerable to economic shocks in their personal finances, as well as being potentially more vulnerable to scammers who give misleading or false advice for free. That is why we have re-tabled amendment 10 to ensure that customers who use the pensions dashboard are made more aware of the difference between information, guidance and advice, which are very different things. People who expect advice as to what route they may be able to take may be disappointed to receive only various pieces of information. Likewise, there may be issues with exactly what the body is allowed to advise and to what extent it is able to advise on the options available. It is a simple amendment but would be extremely helpful in taking the issue forward.
As on all these issues, we have tabled amendments in good faith to try to improve the legislation. We look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say in his response to the debate.
I place on record my thanks to all Members who participated today and in Committee. In particular, I thank my shadow Work and Pensions team for their diligence and hard work. I also place on record our thanks to the Minister and our colleagues from the SNP for the open dialogue that has been maintained throughout the Bill’s passage.
The Opposition did not vote against the Bill on Second Reading, and it is not our intention to vote against Third Reading later. We agree with the broad aims of the Bill and believe that it adds a series of worthwhile improvements to our pension system. However, we have continually sought, as is the role of the Opposition, to improve the Bill further to make it the best legislation that it can possibly be. On Second Reading, I laid out how we wanted to achieve this, with additional measures to protect pensions, people and the planet. Although there was thoughtful debate in Committee, it is disappointing that the Government removed some critical parts of the improvements that were made in the Lords. That is why we have brought back two groups of amendments today, as well as seeking a new amendment, which is an opportunity to make a historic step forward in tackling climate change. I will address each in turn.
First, on protecting pensions, a well-regulated pensions system is vital to give people confidence that it will be there for them in their retirement. Pension funds are not just any financial product. They are usually the sole means of looking after someone in old age, and are responsible for their financial security for an entire phase of their life. Today’s retirement landscape is challenging. The Labour party does not oppose the pensions industry in finding new ways to meet those challenges, but we strongly believe that any innovation must be well regulated, which is why we have introduced new clause 6. We introduced that provision in Committee, to ask the Government to introduce proper regulation of so-called pensions superfunds, which are profit-making consolidation vehicles for defined-benefit pension schemes. At present, they are subject only to an interim regulatory regime announced by the Pensions Regulator in the summer.
That is a substantial change, as these funds currently advertise high rates of return to pension investors. We believe that, as a minimum, those products need a proper and robust regulatory regime, underpinned by legislation, that is on a level playing field with the rest of the industry. We are not a lone voice on that. The Governor of the Bank of England has written to the Secretary of State to raise concerns about the potential risk to financial stability and to scheme members. The Opposition would like to hear a commitment today from the Minister that legislation for a full regulatory regime will be forthcoming before the market begins to develop seriously.
Moving on to other matters, the adequate funding of defined-benefit schemes is critical to their future. We were disappointed by the removal in Committee of clause 123, which related to the funding requirements of open and closed defined-benefit schemes. That point has just been made, and I shall not quote the Minister directly again. However, we understand that he has relied frequently on the regulator’s bespoke option in the draft defined-benefit funding code to provide reassurance for open schemes that they will not be required to follow the funding and investment strategies of closed schemes. However, there is a long list of people who have expressed doubt about that option, and who believe that it risks the premature closure of otherwise healthy schemes, including the Pensions and Lifetime Savings Association, the Institute and Faculty of Actuaries, Lane Clark & Peacock, the Trades Union Congress, the Confederation of British Industry, and even one of the Minister’s predecessors as pensions Minister, Baroness Altmann. I recognise that there is no disagreement between the Minister and Opposition parties on the desired outcome, but we still believe that there is virtue in reintroducing the clause. If amendment 7 or amendment 1 is pressed to a vote, that will be done with our support.
Protecting people in schemes is vital, which is why we have introduced three changes, to try to strengthen the consumer protections in the Bill, with amendments 11 to 15. We all agree that the pensions dashboard, when it arrives, will be an incredible opportunity for people to see all their pensions information in one place for the first time, but safeguards must be built in to prevent hasty decision making and consumer exploitation. The last thing we want is for people to make bad choices, prompted, for example, by market disruptions or unscrupulous operators, until they are more accustomed to that level of access. We believe that we can tackle both those things by giving the public dashboard a protected head start and keeping commercial transactions off the dashboard until further legislation is introduced in line with our amendments.
We also believe that there must be accessible and transparent fee information on the dashboard. For too long, it has been possible to rely on the opacity and complexity of pensions to obscure the real lifetime cost of transactions. Greater transparency would surely be welcome.
I spoke on Second Reading about the scourge of pension scams. People can become particularly vulnerable to scams in the years immediately before retirement. We have heard throughout the debates on the Bill terrible stories, such as the one articulated by my right hon. Friend Stephen Timms, about people falling victim to fraudsters who rely on confusion about pension freedoms, and not only take people’s lifetime savings but leave them with a huge tax liability. No punishment is severe enough for those who commit those crimes. We all agree that further action is needed, so we support the amendments tabled by my right hon. Friend, who chairs the Work and Pensions Committee, as they would create an opt-out system for speaking with Pension Wise in the five years before retirement.
Finally, I have spoken about protecting pensions and protecting people, and now I want to talk about protecting the planet. Our colleagues in the Lords worked hard with the Government to bring in requirements in the Bill on the assessment and disclosure of climate risk in pension investments. This is a historic step: the first time it has ever been included in UK pensions legislation, and we all should and do celebrate that fact. However, we know that, with the climate emergency getting even more serious, it is possible to go even further. Amendment 16 would allow regulators to mandate occupational schemes to develop a clear investment strategy that is aligned with net zero greenhouse gas emissions at the pace the science demands.
The Paris agreement of 2016, which committed to efforts to limit global warming to 1.5° was a groundbreaking and critical step forward in global co-operation to beat climate change, but I believe we do not do enough to explain to the public and our constituents that the changes we need will only be delivered by starting to influence how vast amounts of private capital are allocated, alongside direct Government decisions on, for instance, decarbonising power and transport. I have to say that I would have thought that argument would garner more sympathy with Conservative Members of Parliament.
UK pension funds represent trillions of pounds, and steering more of that towards our climate goals, yes, would be radical, but this amendment is not just about where capital is allocated. It is about the stewardship that we need to see from all asset managers over the companies they have investments in. This is not a divestment amendment, nor does it limit the choices available to fund managers. Gareth Davies said that the ESG data is patchy, and he is right, but he will appreciate that asset managers demanding better data have been a fundamentally important driver in making that better, and the E—environmental—is actually the most robust part of ESG data. It does not make sense to me to say that the data exists for the Government to issue a green bond, but not for a pension fund to formulate a Paris investment strategy.
We, as the Opposition, ask the Government to deliver a green economic recovery from the pandemic by investing to support the creation of at least 400,000 new jobs, but achieving progress on climate change demands change in every part of our economy, and despite what we have heard from Government Members today, the industry is already showing us what is possible. Aviva, one of the UK’s biggest pension providers—it supports this amendment —has recently announced that its auto-enrolment default funds will aim to achieve net zero by 2050. That is £32 billion of capital, which is actually going beyond the scope of this amendment. In October this year, the BT Pension Scheme set a goal of net zero by 2035 for its entire portfolio, worth £55 billion. There is also a great deal of good practice in public sector DB schemes, such as the Local Government Pension Scheme.
What is more, today’s amendment was developed and backed by a whole host of organisations across the public and private sectors, with dozens reiterating their support in a letter to the Prime Minister last week. These include ClientEarth, Make My Money Matter, ShareAction, E3G, Christian Aid, West Yorkshire Pension Fund, Good Energy, Ecotricity, the Aldersgate Group, the Climate Coalition, the Carbon Tracker Initiative, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, Business in the Community and the TUC. I would like to thank all those organisations for the work they have done in getting us to this point. However, I will also say to the Minister that this is not a top-down initiative. The evidence shows that Members themselves want their funds to start taking this seriously.
In addition, the investment case makes this simply the right thing to do. The Department for Work and Pensions has itself acknowledged that considering the financial impacts of climate change is consistent with fiduciary duty. Pension funds are long-term stewards of capital. What could be more long term than the sustainability of our environment and our economy? These two objectives simply do not conflict. As is said in an excellent comment piece in The Daily Telegraph today—that in itself is a sign of the times—it
“now looks irrefutable that environmental and social factors are a clear guide to company quality and future investment returns.”
I reiterate that this is not about the Government dictating to pension funds about when and who to invest their money in, and we are not seeking to compromise trustee independence. It is simply about putting a strategy in place that considers their role in meeting our climate objectives. Trustees can maintain their total discretion over what strategy they choose to achieve that goal. Furthermore, this proposal is designed to allow the Government the flexibility to guide schemes via regulations to ensure that trustees have a strategic plan to become Paris aligned over a period of time. Any measures resulting from this amendment would be subject to extensive consultation with market participants, so that their design could take into account what works best for schemes of different types and sizes. This is written to be as accommodating as possible. The Chancellor of the Exchequer came to the House last week and outlined his ambitions to make the UK a leader in green finance. It is true that we have been lagging behind our European counterparts for many years when it comes to green bonds. As the shadow Economic Secretary in the last Parliament, I made that point frequently, and I was often given reasons why we could not do that similar to those we have heard today against amendment 16. I am tempted to say that if we wait until the end of this Parliament, even this amendment may well become Government policy.
With the new US Administration poised to rejoin the Paris agreement in 2021 under the new leadership of President-elect Joe Biden, I put it to the House that we can make this an even more historic week for tackling climate change by passing amendment 16 today. That is why we seek to include it in the Bill.
This is a hugely important piece of legislation. It is a landmark Bill. It will impact the lives of millions of people across this country and it will make our pensions safer, better and greener. I genuinely believe that the work we are doing on CDCs and the pensions dashboard, the fact that we are giving real powers to the regulator and taking the opportunity to crack down on the callous crooks who take our constituents’ pensions, the work we are doing on scams, and the fact that we have for the first time put climate change at the heart of pensions means that this will be groundbreaking legislation that we should all be proud of. I welcome the cross-party support that we have heard.
I may not be able to address all 30 amendments or the 17 separate requests for clarification, so I refer all colleagues—and those in the other place, when they consider this matter—to the two days of debate in Committee, where I expanded in great detail on many of these issues. I will happily write to individuals who asked me to address particular points. I will of course meet the ASW, as Stephen Doughty requested, and write on the Roadchef issue, but I cannot promise anything more than previous Ministers have done.
Regretfully, I will not engage with the WASPI debate, as Jim Shannon made clear that he would. I continue to defend this Government’s position, as I defend the Government of the two former Labour Pensions Ministers sitting on the Back Benches, who supported the exact same policy during the Labour Government. I very much take forward all the work that is done on a cross-party basis. I put on the record my thanks to the Clerks, to all colleagues who have spoken in this debate and to colleagues from across the House for their work in Committee, which was of great assistance to the House.
I turn first to clause 123 and the various amendments on open DB that were raised by a variety of colleagues. We have made it entirely clear that we do not want to see good schemes close. We support DB and we are not proposing a one-size-fits-all regime that forces immature schemes with strong sponsors into an inappropriate de-risking journey. We have also made it clear that we will use secondary legislation to ensure that the requirement for all schemes to have a funding and investment strategy works appropriately for open schemes and ensures that immature open schemes are not prevented from taking appropriate investment risks where that is supportable.
As we have explained, it would be wrong for all schemes that are expected to stay open to be treated differently from other schemes. Not all open schemes in this category share the same characteristics. Some will be maturing just like closed schemes, and it would be wrong to treat such schemes for all purposes as if they were the same as immature schemes.
We hope that we have provided reassurance that open schemes will be able to adopt funding and investment strategies that are appropriate to their individual circumstances. The regime will remain scheme specific and will continue to apply flexibly to the individual circumstances of each scheme, including those that remain open to new members.
We have made it entirely clear that we will frame our secondary legislation in such a way that schemes that are and are expected to remain immature, and have a strong employer covenant, continue to be able to invest in a substantial proportion of return-seeking assets, which will help to keep costs down. I have engaged with a range of parties—I met a number of them in detail on
The Pensions Regulator is a regulator, not a legislator. It must regulate in accordance with the legislation made by Parliament, but we believe that the right way forward is a combination of primary legislation, regulations and the defined-benefit funding code, whereby we will seek to effectively balance employer affordability and member security, taking into account the circumstances of different types of schemes as is appropriate.
Nothing that the Minister has said contradicts anything in our amendment 7 or, for that matter, our amendment 1. It would not be the first time if the regulations did not necessarily live up to the promises made in the passage of the primary legislation, so why not just accept amendment 7 or, indeed, amendment 1 so that the commitment is in the Bill?
I assure the House that no Minister in my position could accept amendment 1, which was proposed by the House of Lords and has been tabled by Wendy Chamberlain.
No Government could commit to ensuring that contributions remained affordable or that scheme closures were not accelerated. We cannot be bound to ensure that all schemes that are expected to remain open are treated differently from other schemes, as open schemes in that category do not all share the same characteristics. As I have made clear, some such schemes will be maturing, just like closed schemes; the potential for abuse would open up. A closed scheme could reopen to very small numbers of new members, circumvent safeguards and pursue a riskier investment strategy that would otherwise be inappropriate. We do not want good schemes to close unnecessarily or to introduce a one-size-fits-all regime. I refer briefly to the Pensions Regulator’s comments in paragraph 475 of the consultation:
“We acknowledge that if such schemes do continue to admit new entrants and do not mature then the scheme will not actually reach significant maturity. We are content that such a scheme retains the same flexibility in its funding and investment strategies that all immature schemes have.”
Similar comments are made later, and I refer hon. Members to the statements I made at great length in Committee.
I turn now to amendments 2 to 5. I dealt briefly with the points made by the right hon. Gentleman the Chair of the Select Committee about clause 125 and the work we have done. Let me be clear that that clause will ensure that transfers will not go ahead if the conditions set out in the regulations are not met. Those conditions can relate to the destination of a transfer, so that transfers can be prevented to schemes that do not have the right authorisations or if a member has not supplied the evidence of employment or residency, for example.
Importantly, those conditions can also include other red flags, such as who else is involved in the transfer. If those red flags are apparent, the regulations will enable trustees to refuse to transfer if the red flag is significant or to direct the member to guidance or information that they must take prior to being allowed to transfer. Trustees will also need to undertake due diligence to establish whether those conditions are met.
Clause 125 puts trustees in the driving seat in relation to permitting transfers to proceed. I make it clear that we will continue to work with the Work and Pensions Committee, the Treasury Committee, the various advisory groups and the all-party parliamentary group on pension scams, with whose members I have had detailed meetings in the past month, to ensure how we can have the best possible regulations to determine circumstances in which different conditions for transfers might apply.
I now move on to the dashboard amendments. I welcome the support in the House for the dashboard; I am particularly grateful to the various contributions that made it clear that this part of the legislation is absolutely transformational, bringing pensions information into the 21st century. I accept entirely what was made clear by the hon. Member for Wallasey: this is a huge project, involving tens of thousands of schemes that will need to be brought forward. The first dashboard will have a “find and view” capability only. At an appropriate time in the future, dashboards may act as a safe space for supporting and safeguarding financial transactions. That will be fully considered and informed by user testing and safeguards, and protections would continue to apply.
However, I resist the amendments in respect of transactions. We have discussed at great length the likelihood of the need for individuals to have a greater say on their pensions. Why would we seek to exclude consolidation going forward? Transactions are not clearly defined in the amendments; they could prevent dashboards from providing useful modelling tools that could inform people of the potential benefits of increasing their contributions. As I made clear to colleagues making the case for the amendments, the consumer association Which? has come out comprehensively against them. It states in its submission on Second Reading:
“we do not agree that the introduction of commercial dashboards should be delayed, or that the transactions should be banned.”
It then goes into more detail:
“there is a need to protect consumers from the risk of commercial dashboards…However, this must be done via the introduction of consumer protections and regulatory oversight rather than a blanket ban.”
The point is also made strongly that the Opposition amendments risk us being left with a dashboard that does not do as much as initially anticipated, resulting in consumers not being as engaged. That could represent a huge missed opportunity. It is crucial that dashboards are both safe and fully functioning to give consumers the most choice and the most exposure to innovation. Therefore, with respect, I will resist the dashboard amendments.
Clause 118 of the Bill, and the FCA regulated activity, will enable the creation of both regulations and FCA rules, which could include signposting to MaPS guidance. The pensions dashboards programme usability working group will explore how best to help users understand the information presented to them and where they can get more help.
In respect of costs and charges, I raised that in great detail in Committee, but colleagues will be aware that the Government intend, and have legislated, that costs and charges should be part of dashboards in the future, just like they will be in the simpler statement. That is legislated for in clause 119(2), and it is appropriate that we proceed with that only once the dashboard delivery group has consulted in a proper way.
As to the restrictions on multiple dashboards for one year, I made the point in Committee that in creating dashboards we need to go where the consumer is rather than forcing the consumer to come to us. That surely is the essence of this issue: it will increase engagement with pensions, and we should reach people where they are. We should not seek to constrain options available but ensure that all opportunities are properly regulated, safe to use and secure.
I turn to the amendments to clause 124—the climate change clause—tabled by the Labour Front Benchers. I am afraid the reality is that Labour’s proposals would direct investment, breach fiduciary duties and lead to divestment and negative outcomes. We want the transformation of the United Kingdom economy and the retrofitting of the country to happen in a partnership with business, legislators, pension schemes and citizens, but I am afraid the amendment would negatively affect that. It would be entirely the wrong way forward.
Labour’s proposal is roundly criticised by the PLSA in a letter in which it strongly endorsed and advocated the Government’s proposals to ensure that the appropriate governance frameworks are in place to support schemes investing in a climate-aware way. It expressed deep concern about the Opposition amendment. With the PLSA’s permission, I will put its letter of
This is the factual reality: we are already doing what is in the key parts of the amendment in clause 124 as introduced in the House of Lords. In the space of two years, the DWP has made regulations on environmental, social and governance criteria, on stewardship investment and now, in clause 124, on mandatory climate change governance and reporting. We need to allow our proposed policy measures to take effect before reviewing their impact and contemplating further measures. Of the 50 large pension schemes I wrote to last year, 70% are going well beyond the minimum legal requirements. Many have gone considerably further in the past 12 months, as nudged and persuaded by the Government. Fiduciaries do not need such a blunt measure in order to act, so we strongly reject the amendment.
I will turn now to the new clauses, and I will address them in some detail to the best of my ability. I will, if I may, deal with the relatively easy ones. I entirely endorse the view that this Government must bring forward legislation in respect of superfunds in the fullness of time. Jonathan Reynolds will understand that that would be a substantial piece of legislation—certainly a 50-clause Bill and possibly more. I entirely accept that further work must be done in this Parliament on automatic enrolment, but I cannot accept new clause 3 or new clause 6.
In respect of the submissions in relation to plumbers’ pensions, I have met a number of the individuals concerned and I completely understand and sympathise with the difficulty that they have been through. New clause 4 is a proposal not to collect debt below the 0.5% threshold. It would mean that every time it was applied, the employer covenant would be weakened, potentially—I accept the word is potentially—increasing the risk that thousands of members would not get their benefits in full.
However, the crucial point is surely this: the current legislation already provides a discretion for trustees not to pursue employers’ debts if they decide that it would be too costly or too lengthy to seek a recovery. Trustees also have the flexibility to collect reduced employer debts without compromising their Pension Protection Fund backing if they are funded above a section 179 basis, but, with no disrespect to the proponents of these measures, this is a decision ultimately for the trustees to take and it is the trustees who need to look at themselves to consider whether they wished to pursue this debt—
One of the issues is that trustees have a legal duty in terms of the trust. At least this amendment would make it much easier for the trustees to implement not chasing up the debt. If somebody has a debt of £1.2 million, who defines what is too costly for the trustees to decide to chase that debt? That is part of the issue.
With no disrespect, that is a matter for the trustees. The hon. Gentleman can make the case to the trustees as to whether it would be too costly or too lengthy to receive a recovery.
In respect of new clause 5, the deferred debt arrangements were introduced as an easement to help employers struggling to manage their section 75 debts in an open non-associated multi-employer scheme. The new clause, I am afraid, offers only a temporary respite at best. The debt would still exist and would have to be paid in the future. The employer would have to pay potentially a larger section 75 debt in future if the scheme’s funding position declined further. The employer would also remain liable for deficit repair contributions. The amendment would not, I suggest, help sole traders who want to retire, or who have retired, and want to completely end their liability of the scheme.
In respect of new clause 2 and the Pensions Commission, I am afraid, as I have repeatedly made clear to Neil Gray, that this is not something that the Government can support.
I finally turn to new clause 1, which was proposed by Stephen Timms and the Chair of the Select Committee. It is quite clear that there is a common intent across the House to improve guidance to individuals. I cannot support his amendment, not least because it would potentially apply, so I am advised, to defined benefit as well as defined contribution. It is something that would massively enhance the workload of Pension Wise by at least 10 times. He will be aware that there are more than 4.4 million individuals with unaccessed DC pension wealth aged 45 to 54 in the UK. In 2019-20, Pension Wise processed 200,000 transactions. I respectfully suggest—
Will the hon. Gentleman give way?
I will give way for the last time.
On his point about the shared intent, I quoted in my speech what Baroness Buscombe said in the other place on
“We all want people…to make it the norm to use Pension Wise before accessing their pension.”—[Official Report, House of Lords,
Does that remain the Government’s intention?
I stand by section 19 of the Financial Guidance and Claims Act 2018, which specifically sets out that where a scheme member makes an application to transfer pensions rights or start receiving flexible benefits, they have to be referred to appropriate pensions guidance and provided with an explanation of the nature and purpose of the guidance. Before proceeding with an application,
“the trustees or managers must ensure that the beneficiary has either received appropriate pensions guidance or has opted out of receiving such guidance.”
What we are proposing as a result of section 19 and the stronger nudge proposals is what the Work and Pensions Committee asked us to do. I mean no disrespect to the right hon. Gentleman, but our esteemed colleague who sadly is not with us anymore, Mr Frank Field, the former Member for Birkenhead, made the case very robustly in documents I am happy to disclose to the House—documents that the right hon. Gentleman will have as Chair of the Committee—that what the Government are doing is the right way forward. Because of that, we changed the previous Bill to do exactly what we are proposing to do now.
However, I am very keen to work with colleagues across the House and with the Work and Pensions Committee to take forward the proposals to enhance and improve the guidance that is available. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will work with me and the Government to ensure that that takes place. I may not have responded to some colleagues, for which I apologise, but I thank all colleagues for their support of his groundbreaking Bill.
I welcome the debate we have had on this set of new clauses and amendments, and I welcome many of the things that the Minister said. On new clause 1, I am not sure whether he does still stand by what his noble Friend said on his behalf two years ago about the use of Pension Wise becoming “the norm”. If that is still his intention, I have not heard anything this evening to make me think that there is a plan to deliver on that intention. New clause 1 would deliver on that intention. I think it is widely agreed across the House that we should make access to that guidance the norm, so I would like to press new clause 1 to a vote.
Question put, That the clause be read a Second time.
The House divided: Ayes 262, Noes 351.
Question accordingly negatived.
The list of Members currently certified as eligible for a proxy vote, and of the Members nominated as their proxy, is published at the end of today’s debates.
Proceedings interrupted (Programme Order,
The Deputy Speaker put forthwith the Questions necessary for the disposal of the business to be concluded at that time (