My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Amendment No. 89 would insert the words "direct or indirect" into the definition of a conflict of interest in paragraph 2(6). At present, the definition includes "financial or other" interests. When the Minister in another place explained this, he said that "or other" was designed to catch a member of a person's family running a company that could be affected by the introduction of personal accounts. I put it to the Minister that that is not an interest of the person at all—it is not an "other" interest—it is the interest of someone else, and so the requirement that a person appointed as a chairman or non-executive does not have a conflict of interest would not be met.
I can readily understand that a relationship with another person could be an "other" interest, but not the fact that that other person had some business interest in personal accounts. If the Minister is going to claim that the relationship is the "other" interest, does its existence mean that all the financial interests of that person get drawn in? The drafting is vague because, if it does refer to relationships, it is unclear where they begin and end. Do siblings count or just spouses? What about infant or adult children? What about parents and grandparents? What about co-habitees?
I contrast that with the provisions in paragraph 13, which deals with declarations of interest. In that paragraph, the phrase "direct or indirect" is used in relation to the relevant interest, which is why I have drafted it into Amendment No 89. Paragraph 13 also imports the Companies Act definitions of persons connected with a director, which seem to give some certainty about the relationships that are important.
I hope that the Minister will reflect on the ambiguity of paragraph 2 and on Amendment No. 91, which requires that if there has been a declaration of interest under paragraph 13, it should be notified to the Secretary of State. There is a difference between a conflict of interest and a declaration of interest, but I think that it is a question of degree rather than real difference. At some point along a spectrum, a declaration of interest will also be a conflict of interest. My amendment is designed to ensure that the Secretary of State, who by paragraph 2(2) has to keep the issue of conflicts of interest under review, has the relevant information. There does not appear to be any other way for the Secretary of State to find out about declarations of interest. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Baroness for her thoughtful and helpful contribution, which has allowed this short debate to take place. I hope that I can assure noble Lords that we consider the role of the chairman and non-executive members to be crucial to the effective operating of the authority. Not only will they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the authority, but they will also, in carrying out the non-executive functions, provide an important independent role.
The Secretary of State will be looking for candidates of the highest calibre when making these public appointments. That will include ensuring that a non-executive does not have a conflict of interest that is,
"likely to affect prejudicially the discharge by him of his functions as a member of the Authority".
That is made clear in paragraph 2 of Schedule 6. Sub-paragraphs (6) and (7) define a conflict of interest and state the parameters that the Secretary of State must use in deciding on the suitability of non-executive members.
Amendment No. 89 proposes that the Secretary of State must consider a direct or indirect conflict of interest when appointing the chairman or another non-executive. The inclusion of "direct or indirect" in the criteria that the Secretary of State should consider does not add anything. As I have explained, the definition of conflict of interest is to be found at sub-paragraphs (6) and (7) and it includes direct and indirect conflicts of interest. Paragraph 2 already provides sufficient assurance that the non-executive members will be free from a conflict of interest. I therefore do not want to include that additional requirement.
Amendment No. 91 proposes that the delivery authority should notify the Secretary of State of any declaration made under paragraph 13. That paragraph relates to disqualification for acting in certain matters—in particular, at meetings of the authority, the chairman or other non-executives, or any committee or sub-committee.
Paragraph 13 already provides assurance that, in carrying out its work, the authority and any of its committees or sub-committees should follow appropriate procedures in terms of transparency and accountability. That measure is especially pertinent when considering the work of committees. As the Bill makes clear, the authority can invite people who are not members or employees to sit on a committee. It will be for the delegated authority to decide how it uses that ability and whom it might like to invite, but it is likely that persons may include, for example, individuals who work for organisations representative of consumers, employers or the pensions industry.
In the same way as noble Lords declare interests before speaking in the House, it is right that persons invited to sit on committees of the authority should also declare any direct or indirect interest in a matter that is being considered. Such a declaration by noble Lords does not devalue their contribution; so it will be in committees of the authority. It is of course right that any such declaration is recorded appropriately. The Bill makes provision for any declaration to be recorded in the minutes of the meeting. To require the authority to inform the Secretary of State every time such a declaration is made seems an overly bureaucratic measure, although I understand why the noble Baroness raises the questions in debate here for clarification.
The provisions in the Bill enabling the Secretary of State to request necessary information from candidates or post-holders when assessing whether non-executives have a conflict of interest are an appropriate requirement that provides sufficient safeguards. I understand the point that the noble Baroness makes regarding the difference between declaring an interest and there being a conflict of interest. I imagine that procedures would be routinely in hand to ensure that conflicts of interest are recorded and handled in a transparent and appropriate way. Having provided that information, I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.
I thank the Minister for her reply, although, I must say, it did not address the points that I made. She gave me a lesson in why we need declarations of interest. I never challenged that. That was not my point. I was merely saying that, if there were declarations of interest that related to the chairman and the non-executive directors, the Secretary of State should be informed.
The noble Baroness said that she imagined that they would be recorded and dealt with appropriately. My goodness me. If I was going to be satisfied, I should have expected a more definitive statement from the Minister about how she expects the procedures to operate in practice.
I come back to the main point behind my lead amendment. Under Amendment No. 89, I was talking about whether someone had a conflict of interest, which, in paragraph 6, means a financial or other interest likely to be prejudicial to the discharge of his functions. I was trying to make the point that the individual does not have an interest in the business of a spouse. He has an interest only in the relationship and, as it is only the business that can give rise to a conflict of interest, I was trying to suggest that the drafting does not meet what the Government are trying to do.
I should emphasise that the amendments were entirely intended to be helpful to the Government. I have not heard anything today that shows that the Government have understood what I was trying to do. I do not know whether the Minister can add to that or whether we should just leave this for another day
To reflect a moment on what the noble Baroness said, I did not say that I imagined that conflicts of interest would be recorded—if I did, that was not my intention.
My intention was to be clear that conflicts of interest will be recorded. Where members of committees declare a conflict of interests, that will be recorded in the minutes of that committee. I am very happy to reflect on the comments of the noble Baroness. It is essential that issues of conflict of interest are discussed and made clear for the record and I am happy to think further and discuss the matter again with her if that is appropriate.
I can be brief on Amendment No. 94. Under Schedule 6(3), a person can be appointed for any period and reappointed any number of times. Although I am aware that it is not the intention for the delivery authority to go on and on, stranger things have been known. My amendment, which would not constrain the early and, we hope, only years of the authority, states that the appointment should not exceed five years and that the total for any appointment should not be more than 10 years. That is all standard corporate governance stuff. I beg to move.
I hope that I can be equally brief. In all cases involved with public appointments, we or, later, the delivery authority will follow the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice. Although the code does not specify the length of individual terms, it clearly sets out that appointments will normally be restricted to two terms and that the total service on the same board should not exceed 10 years.
Our plans for the initial appointments to the delivery authority are for a three-year term, with the option to reappoint members at the end of that term, subject to satisfactory performance. It will be for the delivery authority, subject to Secretary of State approval, to determine the terms and conditions of subsequent non-executive appointments. If noble Lords have seen the recent advertisements for the initial appointments to the authority, they will have noted that they are subject to the Bill receiving Royal Assent. Should the Bill not receive parliamentary approval, those appointments could and would be terminated.
To clarify, Clause 21 sets out in primary legislation the requirement that we must have regard to all guidance. The guidance that we shall follow in this respect is that of the Office of the Commissioner for Public Appointments code of practice.
The amendment would delete Schedule 6.3(5)(d) and replace it with revised wording. Currently, the Bill has a ground for removal of a non-executive member from office if he is "guilty of misbehaviour". That raises all sorts of questions. What does guilty mean? Must there be a criminal offence? I do not believe that there is a specific offence of misbehaviour. If there is not to be a criminal offence, how is guilt to be established and on what burden of proof?
What does misbehaviour entail? I used to misbehave at school. Does it involve things like throwing bread rolls or using a catapult in class; or are we talking about some kind of disreputable personal conduct? What and on whose value scales?
We encountered this wording in another recent Bill, the Statistics and Registration Service Bill. In another place, the Government wisely replaced the words that appear in this Bill with the words that I propose in my amendment,
"unfit for office by reason of misconduct".
That is what my amendment is about. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Baroness for moving the amendment. When I read the original wording and then the amendment, I warmed to "misconduct" rather than "misbehaviour"—in the drafting sense, I hasten to add. Being unfit for office by reason of misconduct is already covered in paragraph 3(5)(g), but I agree that the phrase,
"has been guilty of misbehaviour", is a little odd. An unnamed official did say that "misbehaviour" sounded rather good fun, or could encompass that. I will take this away and reconsider it.
I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 97, 101 and 102. The amendments relate to the pay and pensions of non-executive members of the authority. Amendment No. 96 would delete paragraph 4(2), which allows the chairman and non-executive members to receive pensions, allowances and gratuities. The Minister will be aware that non-executives in the private sector do not receive pension benefits. I am aware that these provisions are often written into statute for public sector non-executive appointments. Will the Minister therefore say what the normal public sector practice is for the accrual of pension benefits for the non-executive chairman and non-executive director? Will he also say what the Government intend to do for appointments to the delivery authority?
The Minister will be aware that the cost of meeting a pension is likely to add 20 or 30 per cent to the salary cost for senior appointments, whether on defined benefit or defined contribution terms; so it is important that Parliament understands what is being permitted under the Bill. The Government are already recruiting for the new appointments, as the Minister has already reminded us this afternoon, so are the new appointees to be offered pensions and, if so, on what terms?
Paragraph 4(2) also contains wording—namely, "allowances" and "gratuities"—that appears to come from the Victorian parliamentary draftsman's handbook. I think I know what allowances might be, but I always thought that gratuities were what I paid my hairdresser and taxi driver. Will the Minister explain what, in this modern day, gratuities are intended to mean in relation to appointments to the public sector?
Amendment No. 97 would delete paragraph 4(4), which says in effect that a non-executive with pension arrangements who becomes an employee or executive director can carry on being treated as a non-executive in his pension scheme. As I have never heard of the distinction of being a non-executive in a pension scheme, I have also proposed this deletion as a probing amendment. What is the significance of keeping non-executive status in a pension scheme?
Amendment No. 101 would delete paragraph 7(4). This is the mirror of the previous proposed provision. Here, an executive would become a non-executive, but his service as a non-executive could be treated as that of an employee. I also propose this deletion as a probing amendment. Lastly, paragraph 8(3) says that if an employee becomes an executive or non-executive member, he can carry on being treated as an employee. As I am mystified by pensionable executives and pensionable non-executives, I have proposed deleting the reference to non-executives also as a probing amendment.
I hope that the Minister can explain this arcane world of rewards for non-executives under the Bill. I beg to move.
Again, I thank the noble Baroness for making a series of intriguing points. As she may already be aware, the Cabinet Office guidance states that most public appointments are not pensionable. We therefore do not think that we have got this right, and will reconsider the wording. That will cover the other points that the noble Baroness has made. That is two in a row; I would not encourage her to think that this is a precedent.
I shall also speak to Amendment No. 105. Paragraph 9 of Schedule 6 deals with the delivery authority forming committees. By virtue of sub-paragraph (3), at least one person on these committees, apart from advisory ones, is a member or employee of the authority. This means that the authority will set up committees to carry out its functions, over which it could lose control. My Amendment No. 103 proposes that the majority of members of these non-advisory committees, if I may use that shorthand, must be members or employees of the authority. If committees carry out functions on behalf of the authority, surely they should remain controlled.
Paragraph 14 says that the authority can delegate its functions to committees. Amendment No. 105 would add a similar rider to the effect that the chairman and the majority of members of a committee carrying out a delegated function should be members of the authority. I beg to move.
The amendments focus on the authority's ability to form committees and the important related issues of good governance and accountability. In making provision for the authority to set up committees, the authority will have the flexibility, where the board thinks it useful, not only to draw on the expertise and skills from within the authority but to harness external expertise. In the course of its business, the delivery authority is likely to want to bring in external expertise to examine proposals on a specific topic.
The Bill provides the authority with the ability to meet its challenges as it thinks best, including by setting up a committee that includes external members if that appears to be the most appropriate method. In these circumstances, it is right that the authority can use the committee structure to ensure accountability and control. However, to impose the requirement that the majority of committee members must be authority members or employees, as Amendment No. 103 would do, or to impose the same requirement when delegating to a committee, as Amendment No. 105 would do, could undermine the authority's ability to conduct its business most efficiently and effectively. Although I fully accept the need for some delivery authority representation on any committee, the legislation already provides for at least one member of a committee to be either a member or an employee of the authority, or both. I hope noble Lords will agree that the Bill contains adequate checks and balances to ensure that decisions remain the responsibility of the authority, and that the authority remains fully accountable.
It is important to bear in mind that we are dealing with the delivery authority in its initial phase, the advisory phase. We will, as a matter of course, review the practical provisions in the Bill to ensure that they are fit for purpose for the next stage—delivery of the personal accounts. For those reasons, what the Bill proposes for the advisory phase is appropriate.
I accept that the question of the delivery authority may give rise to slightly different issues. Nevertheless, it will be preparing for implementation as well as simply giving advice, and it occurs to me that if any of its function of preparing for implementation were put to a committee, which it might be as relatively few of its members are members of the authority, it would not be right for the authority not to control it. I shall think further about what the Minister has said. We will clearly return to this issue when we consider the next Bill, if the drafting of this part about committees remains in the longer term, but before Report I shall think carefully about whether it is relevant for this Bill. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 107 and 141. Amendments Nos. 106 and 107 relate to the delivery authority's annual report. Amendment No. 106 would require the report to show separately the cost of preparing and implementing the new system, while Amendment No. 107 would require the accounts to show the expenditure by the authority that should be recovered as part of the personal accounts system. The amendments speak to the concerns of pension providers about the recovery of cost and the avoidance of subsidies, which we will debate in more detail when we discuss a later amendment.
The more important amendment in this group, Amendment No. 141, inserts a new clause after Clause 22 requiring a new report to Parliament on the estimated costs of the personal accounts scheme on a six-monthly basis. I hope that the Minister will find nothing to criticise in its drafting since it is based on Section 36 of the Identity Cards Act 2006.
There is a concern about all large projects in the public sector. There is a poor record of delivering new IT systems. The Child Support Agency, the Rural Payments Agency and tax credit systems are recent examples of large systems which have failed to deliver in a significant way, whether by way of cost overruns, failures to deliver the required functionality or a combination of both. The massive NHS IT project will certainly cost more than originally estimated and the jury is still out on functionality. The ID cards scheme raised exactly the same concerns, which is why the Government, in their wisdom, accepted an amendment in another place similar to this one.
We might just say that we will wait for the failure to occur and let the National Audit Office and the Public Accounts Committee in another place do their work of picking over the disaster scene. But that would not be very responsible, given the very real need to get the personal accounts scheme up and running by 2012, which could lead to higher costs, and the question could arise as to how those costs should be borne. If they are to be borne by the public purse, that could act as a subsidy to personal account savers and possibly act as a detriment to providers of other savings products, which is why the Association of British Insurers has suggested this amendment. However, if costs, however great, are to be borne by personal account holders, that too will be of interest in the context of whether the system will deliver the promised economic benefits to savers.
At the moment, costs are a big unknown. The only thing we know is that £21 million will be spent on the delivery authority. Cost recovery is still somewhat vague. Because of that, it is important that the overall cost of the scheme as it develops is brought to the attention of Parliament on a regular basis, which would allow proper accountability to and debates within Parliament if things appear not to be going right. Importantly, it would provide important and relevant information to those in the private sector who are affected by the way in which the personal accounts system is developed. I believe that these amendments are modest and I beg to move.
We on these Benches are sympathetic to the noble Baroness's intention that there should be regular reports and, in particular, given the long and dishonourable history of failures of government or public sector IT contracts, an eye should be kept on how that is progressing. I am not sure I look forward to hearing from the Minister whether every six months is goinga bit over the top—slightly too much pulling upthe plant to see how it is growing. In general, on this amendment and a number of others about the operation of the personal accounts scheme, we should always bear in mind that the Association of British Insurers is not totally independent. Of course, it is a competitor to some extent of the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority. While that does not mean that its points are not valid, we should just bear that in mind. So I am sympathetic on the principle, but I wonder whether the proposed reporting is slightly too frequent.
As explained, Amendments Nos. 106 and 107 would amend Schedule 6, requiring the delivery authority to provide certain detail in its annual financial statement. The new clause in Amendment No. 141 would require six-monthly reporting of public expenditure in connection with the personal accounts scheme.
Taking the amendments to Schedule 6 first gives me the opportunity to explain the existing reporting requirements set out in that schedule. The provisions require the authority to report annually on its performance and financial position, a requirement which applies equally to other NDPBs. Unlike every other NDPB, the authority will be required to provide this report to the Secretary of State and the Comptroller and Auditor General for examination and approval. Amendments Nos. 106 and 107 would include in primary legislation a requirement to account separately for the implementation and advisory services of the delivery authority. It would also require details to be included of the authority's expenditure which would be recovered from future income of the scheme derived from the public purse.
This Bill focuses on the setting-up of the delivery authority, allowing it to provide advice and consider proposals on the most effective way to finance the scheme. The income and expenditure associated with the personal accounts scheme that will be incurred beyond this advisory phase is not a matter for this Bill. It is our intention to bring forward further provisions on the scheme, including details on its funding arrangements in the subsequent Bill. We are currently evaluating what funding will be needed to support the successful delivery of the scheme and there will be ample opportunity for Parliament to scrutinise that detail in due course.
I can assure Members of the Committee that, in our stewardship role, my department will regularly review the expenditure of the authority and the Secretary of State will have the necessary powers to require preparation of any information such as this. However, we see no benefit in adding further burdens to the comprehensive regime of financial accountability, which already exists to report the authority's annual expenditure.
In the spirit of keeping Members of the Committee informed, I should like to give notice that we intend to table an amendment to paragraph 19 of Schedule 6 on Report. This paragraph currently requires the Comptroller and Auditor General to lay the delivery authority's audited accounts before Parliament. However, the NAO has informed us that recent policy has been to require the sponsoring department to perform this role; therefore, we will introduce that change.
On Amendment No. 141, the financing of the personal accounts scheme is important, and I can confirm that it is intended to be self-financing in the longer term. However, as I have already said, this Bill focuses on the setting-up of the delivery authority, initially with a remit to provide advice. The funding of the delivery authority was discussed in the other place. My honourable friend James Purnell, the Minister with responsibility for pensions reform, made clear that the authority's sole source of finance for this initial phase will be grant in aid.
As mentioned earlier, the funding of the personal accounts scheme is not a matter for this Bill. It is our intention to bring forward further provisions on the scheme, including details of its funding arrangements, in a subsequent Bill. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment. Perhaps I may just add that we all recognise the importance of getting this under way so that we can deliver personal accounts on time. Therefore, I look forward to continuing co-operation for the speedy passage of this Bill through this House.
I do not think that I will respond to the latter point; it depends on how amenable the Minister is as we proceed through Committee and the later stages of the Bill. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, for his comments. Six months may be too frequent. I note that he has said that the ABI is an interested party. Frankly, so is practically every interest group which gives us detailed briefing, whether it is a consumer group, a trade union or whatever. I have no problem in representing the views of a significant part of our financial services sector which would be significantly affected by a government Bill.
The Minister says that the funding et cetera is not for this Bill but that we need to keep an eye on costs as they start to emerge, which they will during this preparatory stage. There is potentially a gap between what we are doing here, setting up accountability for what will happen in the personal accounts scheme when it is delivered, and what will happen once we get another Bill some time in the next Session. I am not entirely convinced that everything will roll over into the next Bill, although clearly we will look at these issues in at least as much detail. There is still the need to see the costs as they emerge. It could be quite some time. The next stage is to have another body on which to focus our attention. Having read Hansard, I will think about what the Minister has said, but for the time being I log the fact that I am not 100 per cent on the same page as the Minister because I think that he is not dealing with an information gap. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 111:
Clause 20, page 23, line 27, at end insert—
"(2A) In discharging its functions under this Part, the Authority shall publish, no later than 31st December 2007—
(a) estimates of the percentage of those people without existing occupational or personal pension provision who would be subject to means-testing if enrolled in personal accounts;(b) estimates of the percentage of people who will be auto-enrolled into personal accounts who can be expected to secure returns of—(i) £2 or more for every £1 saved,(ii) £1 or more for every £1 saved,(iii) less than £1 for every £1 saved;(c) a breakdown of the target groups for personal accounts that are most at risk of low returns on their savings; and(d) plans for the delivery of free generic financial advice to those people who are liable to be auto-enrolled in personal accounts."
This amendment asks the authority—in a moment I shall explain why I think it is appropriate for that body—to give estimates of the percentage of people who will be subject to means-testing if enrolled in personal accounts, to estimate the percentage of people with varying returns from their savings, and to provide a breakdown of the target group for personal accounts of people who are most at risk of low returns. All this is intimately linked with the plans for the free delivery of generic financial advice, which will be particularly relevant for low-earning people. I thank the Equal Opportunities Commission, particularly for its joint briefing with the Pensions Policy Institute, which does exceptionally valuable work year in and year out on these issues, and the Resolution Foundation, particularly on generic financial advice.
I remind the Committee that the PPI has made it clear, as we all do, that in principle personal accounts are a very good thing, as they provide a low-cost pension for many people who increasingly are not covered as our private pension provision declines inexorably. But equally, some individuals run a high risk of getting back little more, or possibly even less, than the value of their own contributions protected for inflation. Again, this is because we are not getting away from means-testing, or reducing it nearly as fast as Members on these Benches would like, so the risk of that unsatisfactory outcome is increased. Here we are talking particularly about women and the self-employed. As the PPI points out:
"A combination of career breaks and low earnings can increase the risk of finding Personal Accounts unsuitable. People in their forties and fifties today may get less value than today's younger people from Personal Accounts".
It may be that even for those in the high-risk category, it is still advisable in some cases to save, but they will need very clear information to help them make informed decisions about whether they should stay in or opt out of personal accounts.
What worries me most about personal accounts, and this is where the generic financial advice point comes in, is that many people today are chronically indebted, if I can put it that way. The statistics on the number of people who fail to pay off their credit card balances each month are horrific; I believe it is something in the order of 40 per cent. Those people are at serious financial risk because the real interest rate on credit card balances is well up in the teens at a time when realistically, over the long term, no one can expect a return of more than the middle to high single figures in real terms on their long-term investments. Even when additional employer contributions and tax relief are allowed for, for most people it is still a bad bet to be making pension savings on the one hand and paying high-teens interest rates on their credit cards on the other. That is why generic financial advice is so critical. The Resolution Foundation's briefing is very helpful on that.
I want to press the Minister, as my honourable friend David Laws and I have pressed James Purnell on a number of occasions, on how the advice is going to be delivered. I know that a working party is looking at it, but time is pressing and we really want to see an indication that Ministers are aware of the scale of the problem. Again, I stress from these Benches that when delivering generic financial advice, it is much better to build on a trusted brand. Here I suggest in particular the citizens advice bureaux, a brand people know. Integrated debt and pensions advice centres could be developed alongside the bureaux, building on their system rather than trying to design an entirely new structure.
The reason why we propose that this report should be from the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority rather than from the Secretary of State or an independent commission, as later amendments suggest, is that as the authority is designing and delivering these products, it is absolutely vital that it knows exactly what its consumers' needs are. That would be a proper, consumer-based approach. I beg to move.
I have tabled an amendment in this group. We support the principle behind the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. Information of the nature indicated in the amendment is important and we too are concerned about the impact of means-testing on how personal accounts will develop in practice, and it is extremely important to ensure that the personal account scheme is designed as far as possible to avoid mis-selling, an issue to which I will return in later amendments. My Amendment No. 120 is grouped with Amendment No. 111 because it deals inter alia with financial advice, also covered in the noble Lord's amendment.
Amendment No. 120 seeks to introduce a requirement for the delivery authority to ensure that it supports objectives for the scheme of access to information and financial advice. It is somewhat less ambitious than the Liberal Democrat proposal in relation to advice. I agree fully that there are great dangers of mis-selling involved in personal accounts, but I am not clear what the answer is on how financial advice should be delivered, and more importantly, who is to bear the cost. At Second Reading I said that I was sceptical about generic advice being an adequate solution, and I look forward to seeing the work being undertaken for the Treasury by Mr Thoresen, but I remain to be convinced that there is a satisfactory generic advice solution to this problem, one which relies so much on the circumstances of individuals. I am also concerned to ensure that no public subsidy is made available for advice on personal accounts because that would upset the level playing field with other savings products, which in effect have to bear the cost of advice. I am not sure that we sign up to the free element of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, unless he means free to the individual but borne as part of the overall costs of the personal account scheme. I can see that charging individuals would not work, but there would be a problem if we expect to see these costs being borne by the public purse. That would be unfair, but if they are loaded on to the costs of the scheme, what will they do to the overall economic returns available to it?
I shall mention briefly the other part of Amendment No. 120. It covers access by both individuals and employees to information on rights and responsibilities under the scheme. It is going to be hugely complicated for both employers and employees. So far as employers are concerned, those at the smaller end of the business scale, which in numerical terms comprise by far the largest group, will find this very difficult to apply. We must ensure that the scheme is designed so that proper information is available on websites and in written form; that is as important as ensuring that advice is available to those entering the scheme.
At Second Reading I drew attention to briefing I had received from, I think, Scottish Widows, which appeared to indicate that there would be an interaction between the entitlement under a personal account system and the entitlement to pension credit, which is means-tested. It could mean that individuals would feel that the contribution they had to make automatically as a result of being automatically enrolled amounted to little more than a cut in wages. If they do not get any return on it, it could not be regarded as being worth their while. That is important and links up with the submissions already made by noble Lords on the necessity for appropriate advice. Amendment No. 111 is an attempt to deal with the situation and I hope that it is given serious consideration by my Front Bench.
I support the issue raised by both these amendments on the advice scheme. It is a key part of the proposed scheme that advice is available to people at an affordable cost. In the past, the major impediment to selling pension schemes to much of the population has been the cost of advice relative to the amount to be invested. The scheme for extending pensions to more individuals seems to rest on the assumption that we can create a low-cost generic advice scheme. I, among others, have expressed scepticism about the extent to which the notion of generic advice is feasible. As soon as you get into an individual situation and deal with a range of circumstances, benefits and debts, it is questionable whether generic advice will be sustainable or whether you will get driven into providing individual advice that deals with those particular circumstances. As soon as you are driven into giving individual advice, you are bound to end up with a costly advice process.
Before we go much further in the next Bill into the development of the scheme, we should have an early discussion on practical proposals as to how the proposed generic advice scheme is going to work, and satisfy ourselves that it is plausible and that it is not going to disadvantage pension providers outside the state scheme, as my noble friend Lady Noakes said.
I have a great deal of sympathy with Amendment No. 111 because, as we all know, it will be at the poorer end of society that advice will be lacking. I am keen to see that organisations which are already well known to the public, to which people go for advice about a number of things, are used rather than setting up yet another organisation to give advice. Quite clearly the money to finance this must come out of the total cost of the scheme, and that should be taken into account by the Government. I very much support the idea that organisations such as the CABs should be given the responsibility for this.
It is perfectly possible to give this kind of advice, but I dislike "generic" because I think that the word is misleading. It is advice which, in many ways, is cautionary and will stop people making mistakes. As has been mentioned, the Resolution Foundation proposal deals with people primarily who are in work but earn less than average earnings. These people are very vulnerable. In this country there is always a group just above benefits which suffers. It is inevitable with tapers and so on that you will get a group of people who have got a little too much to receive benefits of any kind. These people are very much in need of advice but tend not to go to IFAs. I agree with my noble friend Lady Howe; I hope that any scheme could work through organisations that have done a great job in giving people advice so far—of which there are many in this country, particularly the CAB—but we will have to wait for the outcomes of the review to know exactly how it would work. However, there is a very strong case for this kind of advice and the amendment would ease the way to ensure that it happens.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken on the amendment. It has given us the opportunity to discuss two issues: the return which individuals can expect from saving, and the provision of financial advice. I expect I shall disappoint noble Lords in not being able to provide some of the detail at this stage that people are seeking, but I hope I can satisfy them that work is in hand which is directed in the right way and will produce the kind of information they reasonably seek. I understand the concerns that have led to both amendments being tabled and I agree that the matters are important and appropriate subjects for public debate. However, I cannot agree that it is either necessary or effective to amend this legislation on the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority in order to achieve the desired outcome.
Amendment No. 111 proposes that the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority should be required by December 2007 to produce reports on the returns to savings for individuals and the provision of generic financial advice. Such activities are not appropriate for the authority in its initial phase. The Bill sets up the authority initially to act as an adviser to government, and this amendment would place an unnecessary extra pressure on the delivery authority in its initial phase by requiring it to carry out an extensive and complex analysis in a short space of time and to duplicate work already being undertaken in other areas.
The department has already published a detailed analysis on possible returns, particularly in Financial Incentives to Save,which was published alongside the Bill. This topic has also been the subject of some debate during the passage of the Bill. The analysis shows that the large majority of those eligible to be automatically enrolled can expect to benefit from saving in a personal account or exempt scheme. Many long-term savers, including many who may be entitled to some pension credit in retirement, could expect £2 plus inflation for every £1 they contribute. Of course, as with all investments, this will depend on stock market returns and other risks.
We are continuing to develop this analysis of incentives to save and how particular levels of payback could be expected by different groups. The Pensions Policy Institute independently conducts an analysis in this area, and it would place an unnecessary burden on the delivery authority in its very initial stage to require it to do the same.
Amendment No. 111 also refers to generic financial advice, an issue which is the focus of Amendment No. 120. Let me, therefore, turn to that matter. In our White Paper, Personal Accounts: A New Way to Save, we recognise that providing good-quality information will be critical to the success of personal accounts. Advice on saving for retirement is specific to individuals and is regulated by the Financial Services Authority. The personal account scheme, like many other schemes that operate automatic enrolment, is being designed so that regulated financial advice is not required, but that does not mean that people will not have the right information.
The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, is right: regulated financial advice is expensive and has deterred people from entering into fairly modest pension arrangements. It is a key part of the design of personal accounts to address that issue. We recognise that individuals will need information to enable them to make decisions regarding their participation in the scheme—for example, on deciding levels of contributions, fund choices and on whether they should opt out—but it will be for the delivery authority to determine the information strategy for personal accounts. It is recognised that individuals and employers should have information to enable them to understand their rights and responsibilities. In deciding how this information should be provided, the delivery authority will need to take account of the target group.
A number of noble Lords recognised that Otto Thoresen is conducting an independent review, and we should await its outcome before we discuss in more detail generic financial advice and how it will impact on personal accounts. It is a very important task he has under way.
In summary, I suggest that noble Lords can be assured that the matters with which the amendments are concerned will be properly dealt with, and that it is neither necessary nor appropriate to make them the subject of additional legal obligations on the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority. I therefore urge the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. Further, in relation to the analysis of returns on savings and the effect that may have on different groups, we are continuing to develop our analysis of the size of the groups that might expect particular levels of payback. That is, as I think noble Lords will acknowledge, a complex area that requires information about individuals' characteristics over 60 or 70 years. We are hoping to release the results in the autumn, so that is very much work in progress.
I hope that has assured noble Lords that we accept that the issues have been raised are relevant, important and serious, and that work is in hand to address them. It would be wrong, however, to deal with them in the way that the amendments suggest.
I thank the Minister for that thoughtful reply. As he stresses, this is work in progress. The issue for us to think about carefully as we get to Report, and we will discuss it with the Conservative Front Bench and other noble Lords, is whether the work in progress should be effectively entirely done by the DWP, which is what the Minister is asking us, or whether it would make sense for the authority to do it, as it will be delivering these products.
There is clearly an important and integral role for the delivery authority in developing the information strategy, and it will get involved in these issues. We are saying that it would not be appropriate to replicate some of the underlying analysis, because it is under way at the moment.
I hear what the Minister says. I was trying to give a reasonably balanced and constructive response, and was going to say that we do not want to replicate the work. The deadline in our amendment of
I thank noble Lords from all sides of the Committee who have spoken in support: the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, from the Conservative Benches and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, in general terms, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, from the Labour Benches, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Howe and Lady Greengross, with the latter's great experience of these matters.
We do not want to be too purist on the question of public subsidy, bearing in mind that debt and pensions advice is to some extent integrated, that we subsidise the citizens advice bureaux and other similar organisations for perfectly good public reasons, and that part of the point of the whole exercise will be to help people save so that they avoid landing up on means-tested benefits in future. By all means let us look at how far advice can be paid for by the delivery authority, but if we are trying to get through to people in lower income groups, it is vital that it is free to the individual at the point of need or the point of sale, as the noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, said.
There are interesting issues here, and I am inclined to consider carefully what the Minister said. However, I hope that in consultation with the Conservative Front Bench we will be able to arrive at something for Report on which we will be able to press the Minister harder. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
In moving Amendment No. 112, I shall also speak to Amendment No. 115. I have some hesitation in speaking to these amendments now, because they should probably have been grouped with the previous two. I deliberately did not come in on that group, but there are some seriously overlapping issues. These amendments focus much more specifically on gender, but the broader issues are, on the one hand, the need to collate information and the question of whether that should be done by the department or the authority, and, on the other, how that should in turn feed through into advice and whether that should be generic or regulated. On the issue of advice, I declare that I am a board member of the Pensions Advisory Service, which gives pro bono advice in a very admirable way to people in need of some steer on their pension futures.
I will not press the amendments, but first it is worth speaking to them briefly in order to emphasise some of the more distinctive aspects of the gender points. The arguments have already been made about banking. I want to speak about this because in 2002, when we issued the White Paper on pensions, some of us had to fight to have a chapter in there at all on women's pensions. The Government have since accepted that concern and the issue has now been mainstreamed. On the back of the admirable report of the noble Lord, Lord Turner, the DWP rightly and properly responded to a request from my honourable and learned friend in the other place, Vera Baird, for a gender impact assessment of the Bill. For all of us, it has been fascinating bedside reading, interspersed with the regulatory impact assessment. It has been immensely valuable in collecting the statistics and trying to "forward gaze" to where certain assumptions can take us, if they are robust and prudent.
As we move now into personal accounts, something similar is needed. I am genuinely open-minded about whether the delivery authority is the right body to produce that or whether the DWP should be doing it on the back of the delivery authority, but it needs to be done so that we can make intelligent recommendations, in the light of the Thoresen review, about how we can take forward generic or regulated financial advice. That is essential.
It is worth emphasising that pensions do not sit comfortably in the narrative of most women's lives. For most men, particularly once they come close to median earnings or above—provided that they do not have some of the problems mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, such as major credit card debts—pensions are a no-brainer, particularly with an employer contribution. That is simply not true for women. Think of the underpinning that is going on. To have a decent pension pot, particularly a DC pot, you need to start saving early, at just the time when most women are likely to start a family. You need to save enough, with the percentage growing as your income grows, yet women's income peaks at age 28 and then declines. You need to have an employer's contribution to make it worth it, yet women are disproportionately either in small firms with no employer's pension scheme or in schemes that are shell stakeholder pensions—outside the public sector, that is. You need to do that for 35 years or so and not touch the money, and yet, as Scottish Widows has shown, nearly half of all women stop saving into a pension when their first child is born. You need to lock it away for 35 years or so, yet divorce, illness and financial pressures all make it seem, to many women, selfish to save. Finally, as has been mentioned, you need to ensure that it is worth doing, which means floating free of deductions so far as the interlocking benefits system is concerned. Almost none of those considerations affects the judgment of most men over whether they will enter a pension scheme, but they will affect the judgment of most women over the same question, particularly if they are substantially below median earnings.
Some of those risks are man-made—literally so—and some are God-given, but they impact differentially on women. Personal accounts, as constructed by the noble Lord, Lord Turner, have made a seriously gallant start to addressing the positions and problems that women find themselves in. The opt-out scenario, the greater portability and the limited vesting period all make continuous saving simpler, more attractive and carried by the power of inertia.
Compulsory provision for employers suggests that the two-for-one scenario would help to encourage women into the scheme. I hope, incidentally, that we will take some action to ensure that women are not encouraged by employers to opt out. I also hope that, with a higher annual contribution ceiling of £5,000 rather than £3,000, small legacies and lump sums may be introduced to smooth the periods when women are not in the labour market. We may need to do more work on the seamlessness of pensions savings during job mobility.
Then we come to the overlap with Amendment No. 115. A third of the target group for personal accounts are likely to be women earning between £5,000 and £15,000 a year—perhaps 3 million women. Let me give one example of why the risks are so gender-different for women in terms of personal accounts and why both a statistical overview and advice, as proposed in Amendments Nos. 112 and 115, are so necessary.
Let us take a woman on half median earnings of £10k a year who comes back into full-time work at 45. She and her employer pay in 8 per cent. The question is: should she? Her pot 20 years down the line at retirement will probably be worth about £37,000, given prudent assumptions, or about £40 a week gross. But net, as was indicated in the previous debate, that £40 could be worth £40 net right down to £5 net more than she would otherwise get from the state. Would it be worth it? Not if she has an incomplete basic state pension, because for that bit that it is incomplete, she will lose it pound for pound; not if she rents, because she will probably lose 90p in the pound; and not if she is in pension credit potentially, when she will lose 40p in the pound. It would possibly not be worth it if she had no other savings and would therefore have got guarantee credit. It would possibly not be worth it if she were single and would not be floated off pension credit by a partner. It is certainly not worth it if she is likely to have caring responsibilities in the future that will reduce her hours and her pension payments.
A lot of these risks cannot be predicted; she cannot foretell them. It will be very difficult to give appropriate advice, but some advice can be given. We need to ensure that we are continually auditing the situation in which women find themselves through annual reports. Whether such information is from the delivery authority or the DWP—I am genuinely open-minded—it should be transparent, available and in the public domain. On the back of that, we should try to constitute arrangements for financial advice so that, all things considered, she is making the most prudent judgment that she can about whether she opts out.
I apologise to the Committee for repeating anything that was discussed in the previous group of amendments. However, there are specific issues facing women over and beyond what most men will face, which are worth drawing to the attention of the Committee. I beg to move.
We strongly support the amendments, as does the Equal Opportunities Commission. I fear that I shall probably say exactly what everybody else has said for the past half-hour, but it is worth repeating.
On Amendment No. 112, the gender impact assessment published with the Bill is very welcome; it gives a good lead to other Whitehall departments that are involved in issues where the different needs of women and men need to be highlighted. As has been pointed out throughout the Committee stage and just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, women's working lives and earning patterns are very different from those of most men. It is vital that the design of personal accounts is flexible enough to take account of this, especially because, as my noble friend Lord Oakeshott said on the previous amendment, it is estimated that 43 per cent of all female employees are low to middle earners, earning between £5,000 and £15,000 a year. We need to know, for example, about those people who could lose out because of the interaction of means-tested benefits in retirement by saving in personal accounts. The amendment has a clear link to Amendment No. 115, which would require,
"a report on the information and advice needs of women and men in relation to", personal accounts.
The challenge has been well highlighted by the Resolution Foundation; it is to strike the right balance between presenting people with information and explaining their options, and encouraging them to remain opted in or suggesting that they opt out. It is clear that a good deal of work has been and is being done on this area, as the Minister said. I understand that we do not yet know how this advice will be delivered, as it is work in progress. The questions are clear. Should it be by telephone only? Should it be by letter? Should it be possible for people to have face-to-face interviews, as in a citizens advice bureau? I would like all these options to be available, but particularly for any advice to be written down in a clear format in easily understood English and—dare I say it?—written by a woman. As we have heard before, the whole pensions system is man-made rather than woman-made, and the balance needs to be redressed.
I was going to ask the Minister how the Government were going to take forward the whole question of information and advice, but we have already been told that. Are the Government in close contact with Citizens Advice, whose bureaux bear the brunt of most financial advice at present?
I thank my noble friend Lady Hollis for not withdrawing the amendment before we had a chance to discuss it. It is worth while continuing the debate on women's pensions at almost every appropriate moment. My noble friend rightly highlighted two important issues—the need to conduct a gender impact assessment of the personal accounts proposals and the provision of information and advice appropriate for both women and men.
When publishing our White Paper Personal Accounts: A New Way to Save, we recognised the importance of enabling both women and men to save for retirement. We also recognised that providing good-quality information would be critical to the success of personal accounts.
The EOC has rightly acknowledged that personal accounts have the potential to help to deliver a decent income in retirement for millions of people by enabling more women to save, and at a lower cost. In the regulatory impact assessment that accompanied our White Paper, we set out what I stress was a preliminary gender assessment, which included our estimates for eligibility for automatic enrolment. As we have just heard, these indicated that an estimated 43 per cent of those eligible would be women, which equates to between 2.2 million and 3.4 million female employees.
As my noble friend is well aware, our intention is to introduce a further Bill later this year, subject to the will of Parliament. I can reassure her that that Bill will be accompanied by a full gender impact assessment. This will include an assessment of the full proposals for personal accounts. In addition, legislation requires all public bodies to comply with a gender equality duty, and the authority will fall under that duty.
Amendment No. 115 would require the delivery authority to produce a report on the information and advice needs of women and men within the first year of establishment, long before personal accounts are launched. We recognise that individuals will need information to enable them to make decisions about whether to participate in occupational pension saving if automatically enrolled, and on levels of contributions and fund choices. Advice on saving for retirement is specific to individuals and is regulated by the Financial Services Authority.
The personal accounts scheme, like many others that operate automatic enrolment, is being designed so that regulated financial advice is not required, as we said when debating Amendment No. 120. But that does not mean that people will not have the right to information.
We also recognise that different parties, which is what this discussion is about, will require different information and that information needs for women and men vary, depending on their circumstances. I think that the phrase is "depending on their messy lives", which has been coined during the passage of the Bill. Indeed, the DWP's research paper The Gender Impact of Pension Reform indicated some evidence that women may lack confidence in their understanding and knowledge of pensions. This is a very important concern.
It will be for the delivery authority to determine the information strategy for personal accounts. In providing this information, the delivery authority will need to take account of target groups and their circumstances.
The authority will fall under the auspices of the gender equality duty, and a gender impact assessment will be carried out by the department. Noble Lords may be interested to know that that duty also requires the authority to produce the gender equality scheme, with the aim of that scheme being implemented in three years. Under the duty, there is a requirement for the authority to report annually on progress against that scheme, which I thought was an interesting point for this discussion.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thomas, talked about working with stakeholders, particularly citizens advice bureaux. The DWP is committed to working closely with stakeholders, particularly stakeholders with such significant expertise.
I hope with that my noble friend will consider withdrawing her amendment.
I think that my noble friend would be slightly shocked if I were to try to push it further at this stage, but I thank her for the care with which she replied and the welcome and warm words of reassurance that she gave us. It is clear that we can continue to expect from the department gender impact studies, certainly next year, and we can seek to turn that into a rolling programme. As for the point about advice, all round the Chamber we have agreed that this is a bigger issue that needs to be addressed in the context of the Thoresen review. It may be that in the light of that review there will be a short debate in this Chamber between now and the next pensions Bill, or we may revisit this during the passage of that Bill. In the light of the warm support from my noble friend, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 113:
Clause 20, page 23, line 27, at end insert—
"( ) In carrying out its functions under subsection (1), the Authority shall have an objective of the continuation or creation of personal pension schemes or occupational pension schemes which provide for higher levels of contribution or higher levels of benefits than are likely to be provided by the relevant proposals about personal accounts."
We come to a series of amendments designed to ensure that when the delivery authority gives advice to the Secretary of State or prepares for implementation—the two things set out for it in this Bill—it focuses on the right things. I am sure that the Minister will say to all the amendments that we are about to discuss that this is not the Bill in which these issues should be debated and that we should wait for the next pensions Bill, which will enshrine the Government's proposals. Although we accept that detailed legislation for personal accounts will have to await a later Bill—and we look forward to that—we believe that, as the authority goes about its tasks under this Bill, it should be guided by some clear objectives and principles set out for it in statute; otherwise, the delivery authority would be operating in something of a vacuum with no guiding principles to assist it when it is considering the Secretary of State's proposals or undertaking its implementation preparation.
In this and several of the other amendments to which we shall come, we based our amendment's wording on the remit that the Government themselves said they would set up for the delivery authority. There was an explicit commitment at paragraph 84 of the White Paper, on personal accounts, that the objectives for the delivery authority would be set out in statute. That seems to have escaped the notice of parliamentary draftsmen, so we hope that these amendments will be accepted by the Government as the constructive way in which to give effect to the Government's intentions.
Amendment No. 113 gives the delivery authority an objective for its work of,
"continuation or creation of personal pension schemes or occupational pension schemes which provide for higher levels of contribution or higher levels of benefits", than those from personal accounts. Put simply, the delivery authority must ensure that when it advises the Secretary of State on the proposals, it does so from the perspective of not squeezing out private provision or triggering a levelling down in the private sector.
I do not think that personal accounts will have much of an impact on defined benefit provision in the private sector, because there is not much of it left. A Written Answer from last month showed that only 1 per cent of employers now have defined benefit pension arrangements open to new members and only 8 per cent of the private sector workforce were active members of an open defined benefit scheme in 2005. So that is not the focus—it is a thing of the past. However, personal accounts could be used by those currently operating defined contribution schemes, because the employer could find it was less hassle and cost if it simply encouraged employees into the personal accounts system—and that was an end of it.
The Minister's department has pointed in the past to research indicating that employers are not very likely to level down, but the ABI commissioned research showing that one-quarter of employers contributing more than 3 per cent would introduce a new lower rate of contribution. Levelling down may not happen overnight, but the cumulative effect of people changing jobs into a lower provision offered to new employees could be very significant over time. Similarly, if we look at new employers setting up—and it is a feature of the economy that new businesses are always being set up—what is the likelihood that those employers will do anything other than the bare minimum as set out in the personal accounts scheme?
I see no easy way in which to prevent levelling down in either of those circumstances—that is, for those in existing defined contribution arrangements or from new employers—but the dangers of that need to be fully recognised by the delivery authority when it considers the Secretary of State's proposals, offers its advice and prepares the detailed plans for implementation. That is why we think it very important that this should be brought firmly to the attention of the delivery authority as it carries out its work by hardwiring it into the Bill, as my amendment proposes. I beg to move.
I shall make a general point about this and subsequent amendments, following the noble Baroness. The situation is slightly unreal because we are waiting to hear what the Minister says. If we were in the Moses Room I would quite happily just wait to hear what he says then make my comments.
Yes, I can anyway. In general, I am quite sympathetic to what the Minister will say—as the noble Baroness forecast his remarks.
I am sympathetic to the aim of the amendment, which is to ensure that the concerns about levelling down are appropriately focused on in government. I am less convinced that it is necessarily a responsibility of the delivery authority itself.
We should keep the importance of preventing levelling down before us, but also in context. The fact is that 56 per cent of the private sector workforce have no provision other than that provided by the state, so we want to ensure a balance between bringing that 56 per cent up to some minimum level and the danger that there might be a levelling down of a subset of the 44 per cent towards the new standard level. It is important to realise that it is quite difficult, within the design of the national pensions saving system, to avoid that danger, which is not created by the specific administrative arrangements of the scheme—by whether it is organised, as the ABI wanted, through insurance companies, or, as the NAPF wanted, through competing trusts, or, as the commission proposed and the Government are taking forward, through an overall national agency. The danger is created not by those particular choices but by the actual declaration of what is an absolute minimum standard. The moment we say that the absolute minimum the employer must do is to put in its 3 per cent—if people accept automatic enrolment and pay their 5 per cent—in itself creates the danger of levelling down.
It is incredibly important to try to prevent that levelling down. The commission thought about the levers that might prevent that—first, in maintaining a significant element of tax relief incentive towards the provision of pensions beyond the minimum. That is a separate issue from the one which I knew the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, would mention if I did not—the allocation of tax relief between different people—but certainly the overall existence of tax relief is very important. Secondly, it is very important better to communicate to individuals and companies just how generous tax relief is, and that it applies not only to income tax but to the favoured treatment of employer's national insurance when you pay someone through an employer's pension contribution rather than through cash wages.
The levers which we could think of for ensuring that there was not levelling down were the preservation of the existing generosity of tax relief and of employer's national insurance relief together with a programme of communication to employers and employees to ensure that they are convinced that being paid in pension contributions rather than cash wages is a sensible thing to do. I think that those are very important objectives. I am just not totally convinced that they are objectives that would be pursued by the delivery authority of the national pension savings scheme itself rather than by other wings within government.
This is a very important amendment, but first I should remind the Committee of the interests that I declared on Second Reading. I pick up from where the noble Lord, Lord Turner, ended. It is important to lay down this type of amendment now so that the authority, in doing the preparatory work which we expect it to do over the next few years, is very clear about what the objectives will be by which its success or failure is judged. My fear is that, if we are not careful, we could have a pension authority that, a number of years hence, declares the great success of its scheme in terms of the number of people who have been involved in personal pension accounts but takes no notice and scores nowhere in its target the fact that a very large proportion of those—and in the worst case, all of those—have come about simply by switching people from better schemes into a less good one because of subsidies, the mechanism of advice or the cost structures that have been put around it.
Therefore, right from the beginning, we have to be very clear about the goalposts by which we want to measure the scheme's success and which the preparatory work should be setting out to achieve. For that reason, it is important that this is built into the primary legislation.
This has been an interesting debate. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, anticipated what I was going to say at the start of my response, and it will run through the other amendments—that I do not think that particularising these objectives in this Bill is the right way to go. When we move on to the second Bill, it will be important that the objectives are set out. As for the parameters under which the advisory work of the delivery authority will be done, we have published our White Paper, which has been the subject of consultation, and our response to that consultation is to be published imminently. I think that that will clearly set out the Government's objectives for the delivery authority. But I emphasise that we see personal accounts as complementing and not competing with the rest of the market.
A number of points have been made about levelling down. As the noble Lord, Lord Turner, said, the delivery authority itself is limited in what it can do in encouraging people to the rest of the market. However, if you look at the structure of what is proposed for personal accounts, I think that you can see in some regards why it will complement and not compete. The proposed measures will limit the effects of personal accounts on existing occupational provision. We have the prohibition on transfers, the limit on contributions and the simplicity of the exemption criteria. I suggest that all of those serve to ensure that personal accounts do complement rather than seek to replace existing provision.
It is absolutely right that we encourage people to recognise what a good mechanism the pension tax regime is for retirement saving. We will come on to that issue in a subsequent amendment. Another important point on which the Pensions Commission placed great stress is the issue of salary sacrifice and what it means in terms of national insurance. I am not entirely sure that that point filters through generally. It is something that one should continue to promote.
We should also encourage employers to promote the benefit of good-quality pension schemes. We will have in due course a debate on public sector pension schemes. We should want employers to have good-quality schemes as they are a competitive edge for them. Certainly the research done for the DWP shows that the risks of levelling down are not as great as some might suggest. However, we have to be mindful of that. What is important is that we do what we can to make a success of personal accounts within the parameters that we have defined.
Fundamentally, on this amendment and the amendments that will follow it, we do not think that it is the right time to specify in this Bill—the first Bill—what those objectives are. However, at each point that an amendment is discussed, I am happy to put as clearly as I can on the record where the Government are coming from on that. I do that again by reiterating that we see personal accounts as complementing and not competing with the generality of the market. I talked to the ABI and think it was keen to help us understand and to ensure that the consumers of these products understand the range of pension provision out there, which runs through a whole spectrum from defined benefit schemes to defined contribution schemes, with hybrids between the two concepts where some of the investment risk is borne by the beneficiary and some is not. There is an important education issue generally around that. However, I believe that, as personal accounts are proposed to be introduced, they genuinely will complement rather than compete with the rest of the market. It is in all our interests to ensure that both flourish.
I thank the Minister for that reply and other noble Lords who participated in the debate. I think that I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, who said he thought he knew what the Minister was going to say, and thought that he agreed with it. So perhaps I do not welcome what he contributed to the debate.
I fully accept what the noble Lord, Lord Turner, said—that it is difficult to see this as a responsibility of the delivery authority—but I think that the point was effectively met by my noble friend Lord Blackwell, who said that unless the delivery authority has these issues in mind, we will suddenly get a personal accounts system that will in effect not have paid enough attention to these issues. That may be more easily seen in some of my later amendments rather than this one, where the noble Lord, Lord Turner, is suggesting that it is really only the Government who can do anything about the issues.
The Minister said that the Government see personal accounts as complementary, not competing. I have to say to him that that is fundamentally naïve. This system will be in competition with the other forms of pension provision, like it or not. It may not be cut-throat, red-in-tooth-and-claw competition from day one, but over time it will become an alternative that makes itself more attractive to the various types of employers which I ran through when I introduced my remarks. Using the term "complementary" rather than "competitive" does not make it any less likely that levelling down will happen.
The noble Baroness, whom I am sure had great hopes for the stakeholder scheme, has to accept that it was an abject failure. Many empty stakeholder schemes were set up because employers had to have some form of provision available, but they did not have to try to enrol anybody into them. There was absolutely no encouragement to see stakeholders alongside existing provision. It was an entirely separate experiment which failed. There is absolutely no doubt about that. It was never conceived on the same scale as this. It was never marketed or developed to operate alongside. It simply never took off. The statistics are relatively clear. The sheer volume of saving in stakeholders is testimony to that.
I absolutely accept the noble Baroness's figures—83 per cent of stakeholder schemes were shell schemes. The point I was making, which I do not think she addressed, was about the levelling down principle, which she mentioned, and the minimum standard becoming de facto the standard standard, if I may put it that way. We already have the experience of stakeholders in non-shell schemes. Employers could have used such schemes as an alternative to the more generous DC or DB schemes they had, but they did not. They did not level down for those schemes where they were making a contribution. I do not challenge the noble Baroness's statements about shell schemes at all—I would be the first to agree about that precisely because they did not have an employer's contribution—but we have a precedent which does not support what she is saying.
We are comparing chalk and cheese. The stakeholder schemes were simply not designed in the same way. There was no concept of auto-enrolment or minimum contribution levels. They were like an optional extra to ensure that every employer offered something. They were not designed for anything other than that so it is very unsurprising that they had little impact on pension provision. They did not achieve any additional pension provision and did not much change what was already there—that carried on much as it had. We have to regard stakeholders as a nice idea that failed.
To return to the amendment before us, the point that I want to make on all these amendments is that unless the delivery authority has these important issues fully in mind—as my noble friend Lord Blackwell said—against which the success or failure of the ultimate scheme will be judged, it is likely that it will give advice or prepare for implementation in a way which does not deliver the result that everybody wants to achieve.
Does the noble Baroness accept that irrespective of whether the amendment were written in the Bill in the way that she proposes, anybody involved in the delivery authority could not help but understand the parameters under which we want personal accounts to develop? I refer to the White Paper, the consultation, the response to it, a myriad of statements around the Bill and the discussions in another place and in this place. Somebody would have to be living on another planet not to understand the thrust of what we want to achieve with personal accounts.
I do not know whether the Government Whip, if I may address her as such on this occasion, would agree with me, but once an amendment has been withdrawn one goes on to the next one.
I am sure that the Committee will agree that we have a number of amendments on a similar theme. Perhaps the noble Lord will be able to make his comments as we go through those amendments.
I shall speak also to Amendment No. 117. Both these amendments have as their motivation the need to reduce burdens on business.
Amendment No. 114 proposes that the delivery authority should seek to ensure effective co-operation between the Pensions Regulator, the Financial Services Authority and the Secretary of State. The amendment is particularly important given the Government's decision to accept the conclusion of the Thornton review that the regulatory structure affecting pensions should not be changed.
Amendment No. 117 is the broader of the two amendments in the group since it requires the delivery authority to minimise burdens on employers. The NAPF estimated only last week that the personal accounts system would add £2 billion a year to the cost of providing pensions. This is not a trivial sum and could well impact on the level of provision that employers are prepared to offer.
The way in which the new scheme is designed—this is relevant to the delivery authority, which will be involved in preparing the scheme for implementation—can have a big impact on employers and the delivery authority has to have that in mind as it makes its preparations or gives advice. For example, there are bound to be record-keeping or inspection requirements and they need to be designed in a proportionate way and not, for example, on the premise that all employers are set upon non-compliance with the rules.
In addition, the design of the transition from existing systems to personal accounts and waiting periods will have a very direct impact on employers. Small businesses could be very hard hit by those arrangements.
Much of the burden on employers will be regulatory in nature. Since there will be competing regulators which will need to co-ordinate when the scheme is up and running, the design must ensure that that co-ordination is maximised. For example, if information returns are required under the scheme—which there will be all over the place—we need to ensure that the employer is asked for information once only in a way that will meet the needs of all who are likely to use it. For those reasons we think that the burdens on business—I refer to my Amendment No. 122, if not Amendment No. 114—ought to be set in the statute so that the delivery authority will properly give attention to those issues as it carries out its work. I beg to move.
I speak to these amendments and the series of amendments the noble Baroness is moving about the objectives of the delivery authority. These are probably unnecessarily detailed. I am not sure, operationally, what guidance in practice the delivery authority is meant to deduce from them. I am not sure how they are meant to work. It is not appropriate to include them in the Bill. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, that the main reason that stakeholders did not work and did not minimise burdens on employers was that they were much too costly. They were not an attractive option, which is why levelling down does not apply, as we discussed. In general, I do not consider that, operationally, these amendments take us much further forward. I should have thought that what the Minister said about the undertakings he is giving and the discussions in both this and the other place would be sufficient.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, pre-empted the thrust of my reply but I shall give it anyway. We are invited to consider two matters: first, the extent to which the delivery authority will liaise with established pensions and financial bodies; and, secondly, how we intend to ensure that the personal accounts scheme is designed in a way that minimises the burdens on employers.
As regards the first amendment, the Bill does not specify with whom the authority should consult. This is to allow the delivery authority to co-operate and consult with whomever it thinks appropriate. It is a matter for the authority's discretion, based on the expertise and experience of its members. We drafted the Bill in this way intentionally to allow the members of the authority to consult with all interested parties. I would expect the delivery authority to build effective co-operation with a number of bodies which can advise on financial, commercial and operational consequences. It would be an integral part of the successful development of personal accounts. Therefore, it is hard to imagine that it would choose to operate without the benefit of a good working relationship with the Pensions Regulator, the Financial Services Authority and, of course, the Secretary of State. I am sure that the authority will need to consult a number of other organisations as well, including experts in the pensions and finance industry.
On the second amendment, we do not underestimate the important role of employers in ensuring that our reforms are successful. We recognise that the introduction of personal accounts will place a burden on some employers, in the costs of additional contributions, the administration of automatic enrolment and the payment of contributions. I will explain how we intend to minimise the impact. Looking first at contribution costs, the White Paper that we published in December set out our proposals for helping the smallest businesses to cope with any increased costs. Those proposals include phasing in contributions to personal accounts, providing assurance on the 3 per cent level of employer contribution by setting it in primary legislation, and providing a five-year lead-in before contributions start in 2012. We intend to legislate for those proposals in the planned second pensions Bill.
We committed in the December White Paper that minimising the administrative burden on employers would be a guiding principle in the development of personal accounts. We recognise that it is important to base the design of the administration on good estimates of the administrative costs to employers. Following the publication of the White Paper and the accompanying regulatory impact assessment in December, we invited views on the processes and underlying assumptions that underpin our estimates. We also set up a cross-government group of experts to work together on refining the assessment of the cost impact on employers. We will publish our revised estimates as part of the regulatory impact assessment accompanying the proposed second Bill.
I recognise that the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, wishes to probe the objectives for the delivery authority, and she has sought to require the authority to ensure that its actions and advice support the objectives of minimising the burdens placed on employers as a result of the personal accounts proposals. Noble Lords will be well aware that the purpose of the Bill is to focus on preparing for the delivery of the personal accounts reform. The Government will continue to set the policy framework for personal accounts. In so doing, we will continue to balance the need to minimise employer burdens with the need to address undersaving, by delivering a low-cost scheme that complements the wider pensions market.
In the light of that, it would serve no useful purpose for the authority to be additionally required in this legislation to ensure that its actions and advice minimise burdens on employers. I have made clear our intent on taking this forward.
"The Authority may do anything it thinks appropriate for preparing for the implementation of, or for advising on the modification of, any relevant proposals".
Clearly, the authority has to have some framework within which to decide whether to do "anything", otherwise "anything" could mean anything under the sun. The amendments are trying to set an appropriate framework within which the authority should work. The Minister suggested on the previous amendments, "It kind of knows what we are about because it can read all the stuff". If we were setting up an authority to do things, we would give it objectives; it is curious that, just because it is set up to prepare for doing things, it does not have similar objectives. I am not going to repeat that on every group of amendments, because in some ways the Minister has said that we are on the same page in the outcome sought. It is worth rehearsing those issues, because we think that it is important that the delivery authority has those issues firmly in mind. We can have it recorded in Hansard that the Minister also thinks that it is important. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 116:
Clause 20, page 23, line 43, at end insert—
"( ) In discharging its function under this section, the Authority shall ensure that its actions and advice support the objectives of the scheme that—
(a) the overall outcome, taking account of the impact on the existing market, is an increase in the number of people saving and the overall amount being saved,(b) the levels of participation by the groups of individuals who are targeted by the scheme are maximised, and(c) there is no unfair competition with other savings products."
Amendment No. 116 is about the delivery authority considering the impact of its work on savings. I shall also speak to Amendment No. 122.
Amendment No. 116 gives as an objective of the scheme that there is an overall increase in the number of people saving and the overall amount being saved; and both are important. There has been a significant reduction in the savings ratio since 1997. Other economic conditions, such as the squeeze on disposable incomes, are making it more difficult for people to save. Increasing savings in general will not be easy, and increasing savings into the personal accounts vehicle, which locks up funds until retirement, will be difficult.
The second leg of the amendment is to maximise participation by the groups of individuals targeted by personal accounts. We debated the targeting of groups under Amendment No. 111, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, and Amendment No. 112, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. It is clear that certain groups will not benefit from being enrolled in the scheme, and perhaps the amendment ought to have been drafted the other way so that the objective is to ensure that non-target groups are not unduly enticed into the scheme, to prevent mis-selling. But the scheme, to be successful, will want to attract some key groups who have no or insufficient private pension provision and whose financial circumstances mean that they will benefit from enrolment and saving. All that my amendment is doing is making sure that the delivery authority is focused on those groups and making it work for them; the converse being that it positively tries to ensure that the savings scheme is not there as a lure for the groups who should be targeted out of personal accounts.
The third leg of the amendment is that there is no unfair competition with other savings products. There are a number of strands to that, one of which is the proposed investment cap of £5,000, which is much higher than the Pensions Commission's proposal of £3,000. I do not want today to debate the correct level of cap, which can await the next Bill, but I do want to explore with the Minister whether the Government believe that the personal accounts savings product should be aiming to mop up most of the existing pension savers.
The ABI has estimated that over 90 per cent of existing savers will come within the net if the cap is set at £5,000. When the Minister in another place was asked in February whether the Government agreed with that analysis, he said that he had not seen any analysis on the point. That was four months ago; I am sure that the Minister can give an answer, and I would be grateful for it.
Of course, the existence of personal accounts may not lead to unfair competition, though the sheer scale of it may be setting up some hidden barriers to competition, as other providers may not have sufficient scale to compete for additional savings above the amount that will have to go into personal accounts. That is why it is important for the delivery authority to have competition in mind. The scheme could be set up in a way that made it difficult for new entrants to the savings market to satisfactorily address the market.
Amendment No. 122 deals with the related issue of how the costs of setting up and operating the personal accounts scheme are to be met. We discussed public subsidy briefly in the context of advice, but this is in the context of the scheme overall. Charging mechanisms need to be set up, and they will be designed during the initial phase, to recover the costs. That is what the amendment seeks to do.
In the short term, as the delivery authority prepares for implementation, it will be funded by grant in aid, but some of that money will be used to prepare for implementation, such as tender costs, which should be part of the cost of the whole scheme of personal accounts to be recovered at some point. The amendment is intended to ensure that the preparatory costs are not lost sight of but are recovered as part of the personal accounts scheme. Even though they happen to be in the category of grant in aid for a delivery authority that will not exist in the long term, they are still part of the overall cost of the scheme and ought to be taken into account. I beg to move.
What is the Minister's latest estimate of when the Government will propose the level of cap? On these Benches we are keen on a higher rather than lower level. It is more important that people should not be discouraged from saving, even through this scheme. We are not unduly worried about the risk of so-called unfair competition, but we are concerned about people who may have erratic earnings patterns, for whom this scheme will be particularly designed, and we do not want them to be discouraged from putting a reasonable lump into it when they have a good year.
Perhaps I may anticipate the general answer that the Minister will give, in that guidance is already available on much of the information covered by the amendments. However, I would press him on unfair competition. Further to his earlier point about regulated advice and generic advice, if generic advice on basic pension accounts is to be unregulated, is the implication that people who believe that they have been misadvised will not be able to seek compensation for mis-selling? If we are creating a set of products and a set of advice around them which does not have that mis-selling risk associated with it and the costs of compliance that are driven by that risk, we need to understand that that would be an issue of unfair competition.
If there is a division between products that can be sold only by regulated advice and those that can be sold by generic advice, is the implication that an agency giving pension advice will be able to advise only on whether a particular form of basic pension account is applicable and not on whether an alternative, perhaps regulated, product would be better suited to someone's needs? We need to understand whether it is the intention to set up a system that can advise people only on a limited and maybe suboptimal set of available products. If we are dismissing the need to write into the Bill conditions on unfair competition, it would be helpful clearly to understand where the Government wish to draw those boundary lines on fair and unfair competition.
Subject to the general point on not needing to be specific in the Bill at this stage, the noble Baroness is right to say that broadly we are speaking from the same page on this. I revert to the point that I believe that personal accounts will be designed to complement rather than compete with existing pension provision. However, I entirely accept that just to assert that will not make it happen.
We believe that automatic enrolment will result in a significant increase in participation among the target group. Our research suggests that between 6 million and 10 million pension savers will join the personal accounts scheme. In the long term, we expect the scheme to have between £100 billion and £200 billion in funds under management.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, and the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, raised the issue of whether the cap would squeeze out other providers. The Government have consulted on the annual limit of £5,000 on contributions into personal accounts. We are considering a wide range of views on what a suitable contribution limit should be and we are analysing a range of impacts that a contribution limit could have on individuals, the pensions market and the personal accounts scheme. The final decision will balance the twin aims of focusing personal accounts on moderate-to-low earners and allowing sufficient flexibility for individuals within the scheme who wish to save more. We plan to announce our determination on this as part of the imminent consultation response. I cannot be more specific.
I asked the Minister to comment on the ABI's estimate that 90 per cent of pension savings would be swept into personal accounts at a cap level of £5,000. I know that he is saying that analysis is being carried out and that something will be announced. However, this point has been in the public arena for more than four months, which is why I asked for the Minister's comment. I would have hoped that his officials had an answer to that, at least.
If my officials have a detailed answer to that before I sit down, I am sure that a note will wend its way to me from the Box. If it does not arrive by the time our discussion on this amendment concludes, I will write to the noble Baroness. I think that it will be covered in our response to the consultation document, but to the extent that it is not, I will ensure that she receives a full reply. I do not have the specific information that she seeks.
We do not believe that personal accounts will represent unfair competition to other savings products, because it will be designed as a basic, defined-contribution pension scheme, with limited investment choice and no added insurance features. Further, the restriction on transfers and a limit on contributions will target the scheme appropriately and allow scope for the rest of the pensions market. More widely, pre-existing pensions products should also benefit from the introduction of automatic enrolment and minimum employer contributions.
We intend that the personal accounts scheme be self-financing in the long term through money recovered from membership charges. However, there will be a need to provide for the set-up in the short term. I am sorry to sound like a gramophone record, but financing further forward will be a matter for the detail of the second pensions Bill.
My honourable friend James Purnell has made it clear that initially the funding of the authority will be grant in aid. We will discuss the extent to which any of that initial phase becomes rechargeable, depending on whether it is for the cost of the initial advice or for setting up and implementing the scheme, as part of the second Bill.
On the point made by the noble Baroness, I can now say that the ABI's analysis has been taken into account in our deliberations. We have also received analysis from the NAPF and Which?. What that led us to conclude will, I hope, be apparent very soon.
I know that the Minister is not teasing us, but if that conclusion is not imminent, it would be very helpful to the House in its consideration of the Bill if the Government's proposal could be announced before Report stage.
I believe that it will. I understand that it is likely to happen this week—I see a nod from the Box. It should certainly be with us by Report, when we can deal with the matter in more detail.
The noble Lord, Lord Blackwell, asked about potential mis-selling. Participation in occupational pension saving will be a feature of employment and will not involve the creation of a contract between the pension provider and the individual member. The plan to introduce automatic enrolment will not involve the sale of a product to a consumer. As such, I do not think that mis-selling can take place in the technical sense. The noble Lord made a range of interesting points on regulated advice, generic advice and whether someone could give both—and how all of that would interrelate. I am sorry to say that we will have to wait to see the outcome of the Thorensen review, but they are important and practical issues that would need to be addressed as part of our conclusions.
Again, the whole thrust of these points is that they are genuinely matters for the second Pensions Bill. We will have a lot to debate in that Bill, but I think that we will make more sense of the discussion at that stage, when we have the further information and, in particular, the response to the consultation document.
I thank the Minister for that reply. I was disappointed that he felt unable to share even the smallest bit of analysis from the stuff that is due imminently from the Department for Work and Pensions. Doubtless we will have to wait with bated breath to see what emerges from that and to see whether we wish to discuss any aspects of it on Report.
My noble friend Lord Blackwell raised important issues about the boundaries between unfair and fair competition. I do not think that the Minister responded to those points. They are strongly held concerns among certain parts of the financial services industry, but we will need to read carefully in Hansard what he said before deciding whether that has put an end to that issue as regards this Bill. However, I accept that we will return to all these issues in force on the next Bill. We will also return to whether the initial costs incurred by the authority need to be rolled over into the costings for the board when it is finally set up. I am pleased to see that at least the Minister has not ruled that out and I look forward to debating that with him in due course. For today, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 118:
Clause 20, page 23, line 43, at end insert—
"( ) In discharging its function under this section, the Authority shall ensure that its actions and advice support the objectives for the scheme that—
(a) investment strategy will be set in the best interests of members;(b) members will have appropriate levels of choice; (c) charges will be fair and reasonable; and(d) funds will be invested in the best interests of the members."
Amendment No. 118 groups together some of the things that the Government said in their White Paper about the personal accounts scheme. In this amendment, I am trying to ensure that those things are within the remit of the delivery authority.
I am sure that it is uncontroversial to specify that investment strategy and execution should be in the best interests of members and that charges will be fair and reasonable, although that covers a multitude of sins.
One thing that did not find its way into the final list of the remit for the personal accounts system in the White Paper was members having an appropriate degree of choice. However, we know from elsewhere in the Government's White Paper that they believe in enabling choice, so I hope that that, too, is uncontroversial. Choice should be part of the personal accounts scheme and therefore part of what the delivery authority takes into account when framing its advice and preparing the scheme for implementation.
All in all, I do not believe that the amendment goes beyond what the Government have stated are the objectives of the personal accounts scheme and therefore should be the objectives of the delivery authority. I beg to move.
Amendments Nos. 122A and 122B stand in my name. The references to supporting best practice in terms of shareholder activism and the best interests of members are in line with Principle 6 of the Myners report, Institutional Investment in the United Kingdom: A Review, which was published by the Treasury in 2001. This report sought to provide some basic principles of an effective approach to investment decision-making, in order to promote the long-term health of investments.
Support for such best practice is also found in the Institutional Shareholders' Committee statement of principles, The Responsibilities of Institutional Shareholders and Agents. This sets out best practice for institutional shareholders and agents with regard to their responsibilities in respect of investee companies. Members of the ISC include the Association of British Insurers, the Association of Investment Trust Companies, the National Association of Pension Funds and the Investment Management Association.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for tabling Amendment No. 118 and to my noble friend Lady Gibson for tabling Amendments Nos. 122A and 122B, which all relate to investment policy for personal accounts.
I shall deal with Amendments Nos. 118 and 122B first. They are similar in that both would require that the objectives of the scheme in relation to investments and charges are set out in the Bill. The December White Paper, Personal Accounts: ANew Way to Save, set out a broad overview of the personal accounts scheme objectives, investment expectations and charges structures. As we have just discussed, we will shortly be publishing a response to the White Paper consultation. As we have debated on a number of occasions this evening, the delivery authority will initially be supporting the Government by providing advice and recommendations on the commercial and operational impact of options relating to personal accounts. Consideration of investment choices will form part of this advice.
Amendment No. 122A, tabled by my noble friend Lady Gibson, would place a requirement on the delivery authority to develop an investment strategy based on criteria such as industry best practice relating to corporate social responsibility. As the December White Paper sets out, social, environmental and ethical investment represents a small but growing proportion of total UK investment. Given an apparent consumer demand, the Government envisage that personal accounts will include appropriate SEE choices. However, as the White Paper also sets out, investments based on a strategy of corporate social responsibility may, for example, require more supervision and monitoring, which can make them more expensive. I am sure that, in its development of an investment strategy for the personal accounts scheme, the delivery authority will consider all methods of investments, levels of shareholder engagement and industry best practices. Therefore, I hope that noble Lords will agree that it is not appropriate to commit the authority to follow a specific objective—a commitment that would compromise its consideration of all investment methods.
Our proposed Bill planned for later this year, subject to the will of Parliament, will provide detail of the personal accounts scheme and give us an opportunity for a full debate. Accordingly, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister. At the end, he said that he did not want the Bill to compromise consideration of all investments. I do not think that either my amendment or that of the noble Baroness, Lady Gibson, seeks in any way to compromise anything. Indeed, both are permissive and simply require certain things to be looked at. I think that the Minister got the wrong end of the stick there; otherwise, I accept what he said about the way in which investment will be prepared for. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 119:
Clause 20, page 23, line 43, at end insert—
"( ) In discharging its function under this section, the Authority shall ensure that its actions and advice support the objectives for the scheme that—
(a) the administration of the scheme will be secure; (b) the scheme will be run economically and efficiently;(c) the scheme will be governed in the best interests of members and beneficiaries; and(d) those managing and directing the scheme will act impartially, prudently, responsibly and honestly."
The two amendments in this group are complementary and address the design of the scheme from the perspective of how well it is operated. Amendment No. 199 has four objectives for the scheme. The first is that the administration of the scheme should be secure, and this links to the requirement in Amendment No. 121 to ensure that the Data Protection Act is complied with. I am sure that the Minister will tell me that the Data Protection Act is not disapplied by the Bill and that therefore the amendment is unnecessary. But the purpose of the amendment is to ensure that the delivery authority designs the personal accounts scheme with the Data Protection Act and, importantly, with the principles in Schedule 1 to that Act firmly in mind, because they are extremely important.
One other matter listed in Amendment No. 119 is that the scheme should be run economically and efficiently. That sounds obvious but we know that gold-plating has a seductive allure to all those who design systems that they will not themselves pay for. At this stage, there is not even a cost envelope to constrain the well intentioned designers of bells and whistles in the scheme. We need to ensure that the delivery authority—this is for the delivery authority and not for the organisation that ends up running the scheme—has value for money written into its remit; otherwise, when it comes to prepare for implementation, it will not necessarily have taken those issues fully on board.
Lastly, there are two requirements for the scheme: that it should be governed in the best interests of members and beneficiaries; and that managers act impartially, prudently, honestly and responsibly. This might sound like motherhood and apple pie but such things can get overlooked when other objectives seem more important and start to crowd in. I hope that the Minister will welcome the amendments. I beg to move.
I am happy to welcome the discussion around these amendments and I thank the noble Baroness for tabling them. They require the authority to ensure that its actions and advice support the scheme's objectives and that the authority complies with the Data Protection Act. Noble Lords will be aware that the purpose of the Bill is to focus on the delivery aspect of the scheme rather than the scheme itself or the scheme's objectives. The authority in its initial stage will be advising the Government on the commercial and operational implications of options for personal accounts. The Government will continue to set the policy framework and in so doing will look closely at the objectives of the scheme. Although I do not wish to sound like my noble friend's broken record, I will just add that these will be subject to the proposed second pensions Bill, which is intended to cover all pertinent details of the personal accounts scheme.
With regard to the authority ensuring that its actions and advice support the scheme's objectives of being economically viable, as described in the White Paper, there is an over-riding requirement that applies to all trustee-based occupational pension schemes under domestic and European law that trustees must act only in the best interests of the scheme's members.
I turn to the amendment to add a subsection to ensure complicity with the Data Protection Act. I assure the noble Baroness that the provisions already within the Bill mean that the delivery authority is legally bound to adhere to the rules and guidance within that Act. The 1998 Act applies to all public authorities and the delivery authority, as created by the Bill, will be a public authority. Therefore, the amendment is unnecessary.
The Government recognise the importance of the correct and lawful processing of personal data in maintaining confidence in our operations. We fully endorse and adhere to the principles set out in the Data Protection Act 1998. The delivery authority and, in due course, the personal accounts board will meet the provisions and specific data principles set out in Schedule 1 to the Act.
I hope that I have picked up all the points raised by the noble Baroness. If not, I shall be happy to remit the matter later.
I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. In her keenness not to sound like a broken record, she might have missed one or two points. Of course the Act applies to the delivery authority, but there will be no personal data of any significance. The importance of the amendment is to ensure that when you design a scheme for somebody else to operate, you ensure that you embed the principles of the Data Protection Act into the scheme design. Ditto for economy and efficiency: any public authority will have an obligation to be economic and efficient with its own money, but if it is designing something for somebody else, does it have that obligation? That is not at all clear, which is why I raised the issue. That is what the Minister did not address, but I shall not trouble the Committee further this evening. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 124 and 125. The amendments concern the guidance that the Secretary of State may give to the delivery authority. We have no problem with the Secretary of State doing that because the Government have refused to countenance my earlier amendments that would have set out the objectives of the delivery authority in statute. I believe that the Secretary of State will have to give guidance to the delivery authority to give it some framework to guide its ability to do anything that it likes, as set out in Clause 20(1).
Subsection (7) says that
"the Authority must have regard to", the guidance, which is getting perilously close to saying that the authority must follow the guidance. In other words, the guidance is a direction clothed in more friendly language. I proposed deleting the subsection on a probing basis to tease out how the Minister expects the guidance to work in practice, and what would happen if the authority, having considered the guidance, decided that it is not appropriate. Let us say that the guidance says, "Don't bother to look at crowding out of other savings products, because the Secretary of State is not too fussed". The authority may think it is an important issue because it has read all the other documents that the Government have published in the past. What will happen if the authority chooses to go in another direction?
I cite that example as background to my other amendments in this group. It is essential that that guidance given to the authority is developed in the public arena. Amendment No. 124 says:
"Before issuing guidance ... the Secretary of State shall consult", various persons. The amendment lists the kind of persons whose voices should be heard as guidance is developed in detail. I have also included the Information Commissioner because of the massive amounts of personal data that will inevitably be held by the personal accounts system.
I also cite examples in support of the need for the guidance to be made public. Amendment No. 125 asks for the guidance to be laid before Parliament and published. I stress that the amendment requires no parliamentary procedure or delay before guidance becomes effective because I recognise that in certain circumstances that may not be practical. I believe in openness and transparency, and as the Bill stands, the authority has only a sketchy remit set out in statute, and it is important to see the guidance given by the Government. Transparency should be enshrined in the Bill. It should not be left on the basis of the Government choosing what to tell Parliament. I beg to move.
It seems to me that one of the main points of parliamentary scrutiny around the work of the authority will be through the second pensions Bill next year, when we will have the opportunity to scrutinise in detail the product of its work. I see that as being a very important outcome of scrutiny for this House and another place.
In tabling the amendments the noble Baroness has raised some worthy and interesting points concerning the provision for the Secretary of State to issue guidance to the delivery authority about the discharge of its function. The authority will be a non-departmental public body, which during its initial phase will be funded entirely through government grant. As such, I believe that it is right that the Secretary of State is able to issue appropriate guidance from time to time to facilitate a constructive relationship with the authority. However, Amendment No. 123 would mean that the delivery authority could simply disregard any guidance issued under Clause 20(6).
Clause 20(7), which the amendment seeks to remove, ensures that the authority thinks about such guidance but is not bound by it. The authority will be independent but, as I explained, during the initial stage it will advise the Secretary of State and, in particular, support the Government in understanding the operational and commercial implications of options for personal accounts. It is important that the Secretary of State can be sure that his guidance will at least be considered. By that, I mean that the authority, in "having regard to" guidance, must take it into account, but it is not obliged to follow it. If it does not follow the guidance, it will be obliged to explain why it has not done so.
I understand the noble Baroness's concerns in tabling Amendment No. 124. In tabling an amendment to specify that guidance issued by the Secretary of State must be subject to such a consultation process, I believe her intention is to ensure that there is ongoing engagement with stakeholders on the development of personal accounts. I hope I can reassure her that we have fostered a consensual approach in developing proposals for personal accounts. We have consulted widely on the proposals, both formally and informally. Indeed, we will shortly be publishing a response to our December White Paper consultation.
The great number of responses we had to the White Paper is indicative of how successful our consultation has been. We intend that it will continue as we move forward. As my honourable friend James Purnell indicated in Committee in the other place:
"We will continue to do that, to hold a range of seminars and to consult people widely ... we will continue to be open in our dealings with the authority".—[Official Report, Commons, Pensions Bill Committee, 6/2/07; cols. 311-12.]
The relationship between the Government and the authority during this initial phase will be based around the provision of advice. We should not mistake it for a formal relationship, such as that which exists between regulators and the Government. An effective relationship, based on dialogue, is clearly crucial in the initial phase and, as I explained, the Secretary of State's ability to issue guidance is undoubtedly a key part of this.
In the light of that, laying such information before Parliament, as Amendment No. 125 suggests, would appear somewhat heavy-handed. It is not possible to specify what every piece of guidance might cover. Indeed, it is likely that much of the guidance will be issued on an ad hoc basis and will concern administrative or presentational matters—for instance, the format of a report or the presentation of advice. Other guidance issued by the Secretary of State might concern the policy or commercial issues that the authority is being asked to advise upon. Making provision for the Secretary of State to issue guidance enables him to suggest areas where the expertise and knowledge of the delivery authority could be put to best use. Requiring such guidance to be made public, as the noble Baroness seeks to do, may inhibit the provision of free and frank advice. However, we will of course make public such information as is appropriate in accordance with conventions relating to non-departmental public bodies. For example, the management statement and financial memorandum will be published.
I hope noble Lords will agree that it would not be appropriate to tie down the relationship between the Secretary of State and the authority in the detail that is envisaged in these amendments, although I fully take on board the noble Baroness's comments about the need to be transparent and open in the way that we work. I hope that I have picked up all the points that she made. If not, I will be very happy to remit further.
I thank the Minister for that reply, but I cannot actually say that she picked up the points about transparency with any sincerity. I shall ask her one question before I decide what to do about my amendment. She said that the guidance had to be considered, but the authority is not obliged to follow it, and that is what I expected her to say. She then went on to say that it would have to explain its position. Where does the Bill state that when the authority does not comply with the guidance it has to explain its non-compliance?
I thank the Minister for that; I found it quite extraordinary. When others have checked that, we will doubtless be able to return to it. In general, I was not satisfied with the answer stating that guidance will be issued, we will not really know about it until we get the next Bill when we will see the outcome of that guidance, and that it is not appropriate to tell Parliament because it might be administrative—does that matter?—or might be guidance on the policy or commercial issues that the Secretary of State wants advice on. That is not guidance; it is a simple request for information and does not come under that section. Guidance is doing things or not doing things in a particular way.
At the end of the Minister's explanation, I am more mystified about how this will work than I was when I started. I thought I could predict some of the responses, but I found some of them pretty bizarre. It is not quite late enough for me to press this issue to a Division, so I shall withdraw the amendment. However, I am pretty certain that I will return to it on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I had not intended to interrupt proceedings, but it is hardly surprising that Clause 20 has taken something like two and a half hours to debate. My noble friend, aided—I can almost say abetted—by my noble friend Lord Blackwell and the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, has asked a series of pertinent questions about the Government's attitude to the advice that they are going to give to the delivery authority.
My noble friend mentioned that she is worried that:
"The Authority may do anything it thinks appropriate for preparing for the implementation of, or for advising on the modification of, any relevant proposals about personal accounts".
From Clause 20(2), we learn exactly what relevant proposals and personal accounts are. This is entirely in the hands of the Secretary of State.
I noticed that on Amendment No. 116, the Minister said that it was much more sensible to leave the debate to the next Bill. On Amendment No. 119, the noble Baroness told us that the Government will set the framework for the authority. Before the next stage of the Bill, we need an answer on whether Parliament will have the slightest idea what instructions and requests the Government will make for the new authority before it legally adopts them. That is the key to all discussion on Clause 20, and that will be the case on Report.
I presume that the noble Lord was talking to Clause 20 stand part. We have gone through a whole series of amendments. I genuinely believe that most of them were considering detail that we will debate under the next Bill. He asked what information will be made available. The answer is the whole Bill—the whole of the proposals. There will be plenty of opportunity to understand the advice that the delivery authority has given and what that leads to in the framework of the next Bill, and to probe what guidance was given by the Secretary of State and what other information was taken into account.
I am not sure why the noble Lord is so exercised by this, because the whole process to date has been open, transparent and inclusive. There has been engagement with stakeholders and opposition parties. There is nothing sinister about this, but he has pressed us continually tonight on a range of matters that are the detail that will flow from that advice.
Specifically on the issue that the authority,
"may do anything that it thinks appropriate", although that may seem quite broad, we must consider the power in its entirety. The clause goes on to describe the parameters within which the authority must work and makes it clear that the authority is limited in its remit. It can advise only on clearly defined proposals about personal accounts. We will return to this in detail at the next stage. There is nothing that we will consider in the next Bill which the noble Lord and his colleagues will not be fully able to probe so as to understand the parameters in which it has been developed, and to challenge or try to amend it, as he and his colleagues do very effectively.
The Minister misses the point. The reason that I ask whether we can see the advice before it is formally adopted by the authority is to make absolutely certain that the various points covered in debate during the past two and a half hours are included. If not, the authority, by definition, will be working on the wrong premise.
I cannot believe that someone charged with being the chair or chief executive of the authority, being part of its board, would not have due regard to our debates, the White Paper, the consultation and the responses to all that. If that were the case, we would simply end up with the wrong people. If the fear is that the range of issues that have been rightly raised as needing to be addressed are somehow to be forgotten, I suggest that it is fanciful. If that happens, it is because we have appointed the wrong people to run the delivery authority, and I do not believe that that will be the case.
The fact that I am an unpaid cynic does not alter the fact that my request has been made and I expect it to be answered in due course, but I shall not prolong the debate at this time of night.
moved Amendment No. 130:
After Clause 21, insert the following new Clause—
"Freedom of Information
(1) The Freedom of Information Act 2000 (c. 36) is amended as follows.
(2) In section 35 (formulation of government policy etc.) after subsection (2) insert—
"(2A) Information held by or provided by the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority is not to be regarded—
(a) for the purposes of subsection (1)(a), as relating to the formulation or development of government policy, or(b) for the purposes of subsection (1)(b), as relating to Ministerial communications."
(3) In section 36 (prejudice to effective conduct of public affairs) after subsection (2) insert—
"(2A) Information held by or provided by the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority is not to be regarded—
(a) for the purposes of subsection (2)(a), as relating to the maintenance of the convention of the collective responsibility of Ministers of the Crown,(b) for the purposes of subsection (2)(b), as relating to the free and frank provision of advice, or the free and frank exchange of views for the purposes of deliberation, or(c) for the purposes of subsection (2)(c), as relating to the effective conduct of public affairs.""
We are sticking with the topic of transparency. The amendment inserts a new clause after Clause 21 which amends the Freedom of Information Act, which will generally be applied to the delivery authority by virtue of Schedule 6. It denies the delivery authority the protection from disclosure afforded by Sections 35 and 36 of that Act. We have no problem with the principle behind Sections 35 and 36, which have been designed to protect the advice that civil servants give to their Ministers. In practice, we think that these sections have been over-relied on to deny the release of information, but that the Information Commissioner has been doing splendid work when complaints are made. We seek through the amendment to apply the spirit of the Freedom of Information Act to the activities of the delivery authority, so that it is never tempted to deny disclosure because its advice is for Ministers—or, indeed, for the effective conduct of public affairs.
The delivery authority is set up primarily to provide advice on the new personal accounts system, and it is crucial that all those who are affected by that advice, and their representatives, get access to it quickly and efficiently. I am talking not only about the business organisations that are affected and which I normally talk about, but about trade unions and others who represent consumers, such as Which?.
The delivery authority is in essence a short-life body, and those who want access to information cannot afford the luxury of an appeals process to the Information Commissioner because it would take a long time and could quite frankly outlive the delivery authority. That authority should be open and transparent. I hope that it will always give information about what it does and that it will never be necessary for an information seeker to seek to use the Act to prise out information, as that would be a failure on the part of the authority. The amendment would not deprive the authority of any of the other exemptions from disclosure—an example is commercial confidentiality, which may well arise if the authority is starting to prepare a tender for systems or other advice—but it would rule out a broad exemption for its main task, which is advice to Ministers.
In another place, the Minister suggested that the amendment would require the authority to hand over its IT passwords, or a person applying for an interview to ask the questions in advance. These ideas are risible, given that our amendment deals only with policy advice and the conduct of public affairs, and I hope that the Minister today will give more sensible reasons for rejecting it—that is, if the Government have not yet seen the light on transparency and are still determined to resist the amendment. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Baroness for raising this matter. The Freedom of Information Act provides for transparency in the workings of government departments and public bodies. It makes clear the circumstances in which information should be disclosed, and sets a framework for applying appropriate exemptions to the disclosure of information. All information held by a public body can be released to the public unless it is exempt under the Act.
We have sought in the Bill to add the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority to the list of public bodies covered by the Freedom of Information Act. The authority may therefore, if appropriate, use the exemption provided in Section 36 of the Act. Providing the authority with the ability to use an exemption is appropriate to its status. As noble Lords will know, Part VI of Schedule 1 to the Act has a very extensive list of public bodies and offices, ranging from the National Gallery to the Bank of England, which are covered by the Act, including Section 36. Section 36 is very clear about the basis of any exemption that could be used. An exemption would be applied case by case, giving full consideration to the public interest. Information could be judged to be exempt if its release would prejudice collective responsibility, the free and frank provision of advice, or the effective conduct of public affairs.
Each case of disclosure depends on the facts. Clearly, we are establishing an independent delivery authority, bringing in expertise and skills to give full and best advice on proposals about personal accounts. In carrying out this function, the authority could advise government on matters in which there is public interest. Having the authority covered by the Freedom of Information Act strikes a balance, and helps to give confidence to the authority in providing free and frank advice, but also to the public where there is a strong genuine public interest in seeing information. It is therefore right that the authority, like other public bodies, is offered the protection set out in Section 36.
Of course, any use of the exemptions by the delivery authority would be subject to the usual protections. Any member of the public can appeal to the Information Commissioner if they think that a public authority is abusing the exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act. Moreover, the authority, as a public body covered by the Act, will be required to provide information through a publication scheme. A publication scheme is both a public commitment to make certain information available and a guide to how that information can be obtained.
Additionally, the Bill makes it clear that the authority will produce an annual report and accounts. These will be public documents that will include details of the authority's work, the issues on which it has advised and the progress that it has made towards delivering its remit. The authority will also be subject to normal NDPB scrutiny and accountability arrangements. For example, a management statement and financial memorandum will be agreed between it and the DWP, providing a clear operating framework. These documents will also be published. A range of information will be available, but to deny the authority the protection of Section 36, which every other public body gets, is entirely wrong.
Section 35 of the Freedom of Information Act relates to the formulation of government policy and applies to information held by government departments where disclosure may harm the deliberative process of policy-making. I understand and respect the intentions behind these amendments. Members of the Committee will know that the development of personal accounts has been shaped by a transparent process of consultation. This approach has fostered support from stakeholders for personal accounts, and I reassure the Committee that we expect this to continue when the delivery authority comes into being. The large response we received to the White Paper consultation demonstrates how successful we have been in this approach, drawing on the views and expertise of stakeholders across government, industry, employer and consumer groups. We are to publish our response to that document.
Having listened to the noble Baroness trying to say why we should do away with these exemptions to the Freedom of Information Act in these circumstances, I remain unconvinced. As regards specifying circumstances where they might apply, who can say? Certainly, there will be instances where the views of Ministers will be part of the exchange that takes place. Those exchanges may portray differences of views at stages on policy development. Issues about collective responsibility are routinely protected under these exemptions. There will be information provided for the formulation of government policy. It is reasonable that these are protected. It would be wrong to suggest that holding to these exemptions, which is routine in other circumstances, is to cast the delivery authority in a negative light and as not wishing to be open. That is not how it has been developed or formulated. I do not believe that that is how it will act.
I thank the Minister for that reply, which is perhaps not entirely surprising. Of course, the Freedom of Information Act is of the Government's invention. Ever since they passed it, they have been trying not to disclose information, which is why we have whole sections of every government department set up for FOI compliance. We know that it takes a very long time to get information out—just take the amount of time it took to get out of the Treasury the information about the ACT raid on pension funds, with which the Minister is extremely familiar.
That is unfair. This Government introduced the provision in the first place. We did not have a Freedom of Information Act under a Conservative Government. Yes, there will be cases at the margins where there might be an argument about whether exemption should or should not apply. That is the case for any rule. It really is unfair to say that this Government have sought to be, effectively, secret on these things. We introduced this Act and want it to operate.
The Ministry of Justice, as I believe we now call it, is carefully trying to find ways of making the Act less effective from the perspective of those who are now seeking information. We all know that.
I am disappointed with the Minister's response. I believe that it is important to have the pressures of maximum transparency on the delivery authority. I will not press this amendment or return to it but, if we ultimately discover that the delivery authority does not demonstrate those virtues of the pursuit of transparency in due course, the Minister's words will come back to haunt him. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
I will also speak to the other four amendments in this group, which all concern Clause 22 and when the winding-up of the authority will occur. Amendments Nos. 131, 133 and 135 insert a new condition for the winding-up of the delivery authority. At present, the condition is that, following the abandonment or modification of personal accounts proposals, in the opinion of the Secretary of State it is no longer necessary for the authority to continue. However, our amendments add one circumstance; namely, that the authority considers that it has done its job as specified in Clause 20.
Amendment No. 132 amends Clause 22(1) so that if the condition in subsection (3) is satisfied—namely, that the Secretary of State considers it no longer necessary for the authority to continue to exist—he must start the winding-up. At present, he must do this only after 2008, but if he reaches at any time after the passing of the Bill the conclusion that the authority is no longer needed, why on Earth should he have any option on whether he starts to wind it up?
Lastly, the Government have said that they intend to introduce personal accounts in 2012. Clause 20 states that the delivery authority will be involved in preparing for the implementation of personal accounts, so the delivery authority cannot need to exist beyond 2012 on any reasonable assumptions. Hence Amendment No. 134 provides that the Secretary of State must start the winding-up process no later than the end of 2012. These last two amendments are predicated on the need to eliminate unwanted quangos as soon as their redundancy is identified, and not leave them cluttering up the public sector. I hope the Government will agree with that. I beg to move.
Perhaps it would help if I start by explaining why we have included Clause 22, before tackling the substance of the amendments. This Bill provides for the establishment of the delivery authority with an initial remit that is focused on advising the Secretary of State on the operational and commercial implications of options and on the design of the commercial strategy. We made it clear in the White Paper that we intend to extend the remit of the delivery authority in a second Bill, subject to the will of Parliament, so that it can take responsibility for delivering the scheme of personal accounts. The White Paper also makes it clear that the live running of personal accounts will be managed by a separate body, the personal accounts board.
However, we would not wish to pre-empt the will of Parliament by taking for granted its approval of a second pensions Bill. If the second Bill did not command the support of Parliament, we would of course no longer need a delivery authority, so it is sensible that we make provision for it to be wound up. The clause provides for that eventuality. Clause 22 provides the Secretary of State with the power to dissolve the authority if at any time, as the result of the abandonment or modification of any relevant proposals about personal accounts, it appears that it is no longer necessary for the authority to continue to exist. After 2008, if the delivery authority is no longer needed, the Secretary of State must provide for its dissolution. Taking the words of the noble Baroness, we would get rid of a quango if there was no longer any use for it.
The clause should not be mistaken for a provision for the winding-up of the authority on completion of its work. It is merely a precautionary measure for use should the proposed second pensions Bill not receive Parliament's support. The second Bill, which will extend the remit of the delivery authority so that it can deliver the scheme, will contain measures for the dissolution of the delivery authority on completion of its remit. Therefore, requiring the Secretary of State to wind up the delivery authority by 2013, as Amendment No. 134 suggests, is undesirable. Noble Lords will have the chance to scrutinise that further legislation at the appropriate time.
The White Paper makes very clear our commitment to delivering personal accounts through a delivery authority, and we do not envisage needing to use this clause. It is included only as a precaution and out of respect for Parliament. I hope that that explanation will enable the noble Baroness to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 137:
After Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—
"Independent Public Sector Pensions Commission
The Secretary of State shall establish an independent commission to be called the Independent Public Sector Pensions Commission to evaluate the terms, benefits and affordability of public sector pensions; and report to Parliament within two years of the day on which this section comes in to force."
We discussed public sector pensions at some length at Second Reading, and I do not propose to introduce at this late hour a Second Reading debate, but I want to set out why we want an independent commission to look at the affordability in particular of the operation of public sector pensions, and why in the context of a number of proposed independent reports and commissions, we believe that this is by far the most important and the one we would like to get a nap on, if I can use that expression.
In essence, we are proposing a Turner commission mark 2. The noble Lord, Lord Turner, whom I very much hope we will hear from later, did an excellent job in many ways and pointed out quite clearly the discrepancy between coverage of pensions in the public sector and that in the private sector, with his striking statistic, as the numbers then were, that public sector employees made up only 18 per cent of the national workforce and 30 per cent of the pension rights. I do not know whether the noble Lord can update the Committee, but I imagine that that discrepancy will have got wider still, given how good-quality private-sector pension schemes have been inexorably squeezed further.
We believe that there is no more important issue in pensions than this. The matter was put rather well in Committee in the other place. Mr John Penrose, the Conservative Member for Weston-Super-Mare, said:
"We run the risk of having two systems, one public and one private—the public one being, in the minds of private sector workers, overly generous, with a series of schemes that they could not possibly aspire to themselves, while public sector workers are concerned they will end up losing out on rights that they have fought long and hard to accumulate over time. That would be extraordinarily divisive ... If ... we have a commission that is designed to shed light on this complicated and potentially divisive issue, we shall have an opportunity to avoid that two-nations approach. By creating the analysis and providing the structured debate"— this is important—
"that we have enjoyed from the Turner commission, a commission could save this Government, or a future Conservative Government, a great deal of pain by ensuring that any proposals that it makes ... are properly thought through, carefully balanced, and above all fair between the private and public sectors. I hope that the Committee will support the new clause".—[Official Report, Commons, Pensions Bill Public Bill Committee, 8/2/07; col. 411.]
Mr Penrose also pointed out that the value of the Turner commission lay in what it did with the information it received and the analysis it created providing the foundation stone for the consensus. This was in response to the Minister saying that a great deal of information was available already. That is important. One needs an independent commission which, by the force of its analysis and the strength of its argument, as happened in Turner mark 1, really helps to build up that consensus. I am delighted to say that the Conservative Members, led by their Front-Bench spokesman, Nigel Waterson, voted for our amendment on that occasion.
The figures are fairly simple: judges have an employer's contribution of more than 30 per cent of salary; fire fighters and police are all in the high 20s; and MPs have 26.8 per cent. These figures are not in the long-term affordable. We, in particular, were concerned about the way in which the Government effectively sold the pass on the public sector retirement age early on in the Turner commission's work. While clearly any change to the retirement age has to be phased in, we believe the present proposed arrangements will take far too long and that the cost of public sector pensions as a proportion of national income will grow by something like a third over the period to 2050, which we believe is not sustainable.
We will discuss the exact wording of our amendment with other parties. I do not propose to press the amendment to a Division tonight, but I hope that on Report we will be able to find common ground, as happened in the Commons. I look forward to hearing the remainder of the debate, in particular the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Turner. I beg to move.
This amendment is designed to encourage the Government to take an issue seriously and, indeed, to encourage society more generally, trade unions and all relevant parties to do so. It is in that spirit that I speak in its support. I also speak as someone who believes that salary-related pensions are a sensible part of public sector pay packages and who accepts that there is nothing inherently wrong with some of these being unfunded and therefore paid for out of future taxation. It is essential, however, that the total burden on future taxpayers is seen as reasonable, relative to other demands on tax revenues, that the retirement age terms of the pensions are seen as fair, relative to those facing the rest of society, and that the arrangements are internally fair between different employees within the public sector. On each of those three criteria—cost, fairness relative to the private sector and fairness within the public sector—the deal that the Government reached with the unions in 2005 is inadequate and will need to be revisited at some time. It will be best revisited if there is transparency about the facts.
On fairness between the public and private sectors, it is vital to recognise that in future the vast majority of private sector employees will be retiring with defined contribution, rather than salary-related, pensions. There are today only about 1.7 million employee members of private sector salary-related schemes that are still open to new members. So even if no further scheme closures occur, within a few decades far fewer than 10 per cent—possibly as few as 5 per cent—of the private sector workforce will retire with salary-related pensions paid at any defined retirement age. Over 90 per cent of the private sector workforce will therefore be choosing their retirement age in the light of available annuity rates, which at any given age—the annuity rate at 65 or at 68—will fall as longevity rises. They will also be choosing their retirement in the light of a state pension age that will rise to 68 by 2045 and, I predict, still higher in subsequent decades.
It is therefore likely that average retirement ages in the private sector will increase sharply towards 68 and that we will have significant proportions of people by the middle of the century working beyond 68. However, private sector employees working to 68 or even later will observe those civil servants who managed to join their scheme before
Then there is the question of internal fairness within the public sector. The Government's deal has left completely unchanged the position of those who have already joined the Civil Service, or who get in in the next three weeks—I encourage noble Lords, if they are thinking of applying, to get there quickly, as there are only three weeks left—irrespective of their age, even if they are in their early 20s. Such people will continue to enjoy a final-salary-related scheme and a retirement age of 60, while subsequent new entrants will be switched to a retirement age of 65 and an average-salary scheme. These new arrangements will, on average, be slightly less generous, but for high flyers they will be much less generous. In some cases, that will create a very large and quite unsustainable inequality between people doing exactly the same job.
A woman presently in the Civil Service who leaves for a number of years, perhaps to have children, but who then rejoins, could find herself at the age of 40 doing the same job for the same cash salary as a man of the same age, but she will have a retirement age of 65 versus 60 and will be on an average-salary scheme instead of a final-salary scheme. As a result, it is quite possible that her total remuneration package—salary and pension combined—could in some cases be worth as much as 10 per cent less than that of the man alongside whom she is working. What will that woman do? She may well try to sue for gender discrimination and, whatever the legal resolution, in fairness, she will have a case. Or she will make absolutely sure that she takes a lengthy leave of absence rather than losing her grandfathered status within the existing scheme. But if she does that, the Government's assumptions about the savings that will result as people migrate from the more generous to the less generous scheme will become unsound.
I know that what the Government and unions say in response is that this grandfathering of existing members' rights is exactly what the private sector has done. It has closed defined benefit schemes to new members but kept them open with unchanged generosity to existing employees. That is indeed what the private sector has predominantly done, but it is highly regrettable. It is creating, within companies, a two-tier workforce, which I think will be challenged in the private sector, as in the public sector, as discriminatory. The danger of that discrimination is likely to be resolved in many firms by the total closure of the defined benefit scheme, even to existing members. I know companies in which discussions are taking place about the unsustainability of the discrimination and the fact that it can be resolved only by closing the scheme to new accruals as well as to new members. The fact that the private sector has made unfair decisions that have defended existing employees at the expense of the generality of all employees and of new employees is, frankly, a lousy basis on which to seek to justify the same unfair approach in the public sector.
Finally, I turn to the cost to taxpayers. During the Pensions Commission's work, there were extensive and robust debates about whether society could afford to devote another 1.5 per cent of GDP to ensure adequate pensions for the 100 per cent of the population who depend, to different degrees, on the basic state pension. At the same time, in the 2004 Long-term Public Finance Report, the Government issued estimates showing that, even after their intended reforms but before the impact of latest life expectancy increases, which we knew were still pending, the cost of unfunded public sector pensions was likely to rise from 1.5 per cent to 2.3 per cent of GDP by 2033. That is an increase of 0.8 per cent of GDP, going to the 10 per cent or so of the population who are members of the unfunded public schemes. The Treasury appeared simply to accept that increase at the time, with none of the legitimate robust challenge that was directed towards the commission's state pension proposals.
The estimate of 2.3 per cent in 2033 has been revised down, in the latest 2006 Long-term Public Finance Report, to 2 per cent in 2035. That is still a significant increase from today's 1.5 per cent, but less of an increase, despite the fact that we have new and higher life expectancy assumptions. Given that that is a little surprising, it is worth inquiring how this decreased estimate has resulted. The answer, which is apparent from the Government Actuary's Department's technical paper of
In the 2004 figures, it was assumed that, between the ages of 35 and 40, about 17 per cent of male employees will leave a public sector scheme of which they were a member aged 35. By the 2006 paper, that assumption had gone up to 29 per cent. This is a crucial change in assumptions. When you follow a grandfathering approach to benefits, leaving unchanged the existing arrangements while introducing new, less generous terms for new employees, you need high staff turnover to get cost savings. The higher the staff turnover, the greater the savings and the more rapidly they are achieved. However, the very fact of grandfathering the existing terms for existing members creates a very big incentive for employees, if they are sensible, to stay put or at least to maintain their formal employment status during extended leaves of absence. Therefore, the Government are assuming much higher staff turnover rates than before while simultaneously putting in place a big disincentive to staff turnover. I am frankly unconvinced that those assumptions are safe.
I am also not convinced by the second key assumption in GAD's technical paper that the number of public sector workers will stay constant perpetually after 2008. If we had a stable population, that might be a reasonable assumption, but GAD's central forecast for the UK's population, on which all the other assumptions in the Long-term Public Finance Report build, is that it will grow from 60 million today to 69.5 million by 2057, which is an increase of about 16 per cent. If you combine that population forecast with flat public employee numbers, that implies that by mid-century we shall have about 14 per cent fewer policemen per head of population, as well as 14 per cent fewer doctors, teachers and nurses per person to be cared for and taught, which sounds to me like a somewhat unsafe assumption.
There are strong reasons for believing that the issues of public sector pensions—their fairness relative to the private sector, their internal fairness and their future affordability—have not been subject to the rigorous analysis and open public debate that these issues deserve and to which the state pension proposals have been subject. They should be subject to that analysis and debate; if they are not, my fear is that public sector defined benefit pensions will one day go the way of their private sector equivalents, towards abolition rather than sensible reform. Because I strongly believe that sensible reform would be much better than abolition, I urge the Government to take seriously the spirit of this amendment.
I want only to make a very brief intervention. It seems to me that there would be difficulty with the unions as far as this amendment is concerned, because public sector pensions generally speaking are the result of collective bargaining with the relevant unions. Moreover, for many years unions have traditionally regarded pension provision as deferred pay, and I am sure that there would be opposition to the notion of a special commission designed to look at and, presumably, to report on public sector pensions.
A lot has been said about the private sector. Of course, it is not so very long ago that the private sector produced very good pensions. We used to be very proud of our occupational pension arrangements in this country compared with those abroad, because we felt that we had a very good scheme—and many private firms offered very good pension provision. Unfortunately, as we know, for all sorts of reasons that is no longer the situation, but it does not seem to me that this requires a new commission specifically to look at public sector pensions when bargaining with unions has already taken place to produce the situation that we now have. I hope that the Government will not feel that it is appropriate to enter into the kind of arrangements suggested in this amendment.
I agree entirely—or at least substantially—with what the noble Lord, Lord Turner, said. I do not entirely agree with his description of what is happening in the private sector, because a number of final-salary schemes are being closed not only for future entrants but for existing entrants. That does not make the position any better, but it is the fact with regard to quite a number of private sector schemes. But I essentially agree with him that if you are going to have, as you obviously must have, arrangements for the public sector, those arrangements have to be seen as reasonable and fair. As far as I and many others are concerned—I do not want to repeat all the noble Lord's arguments—the present arrangements are not seen in that light. The Government's U-turn on this issue did them no credit whatever.
We have a specific proposition in this amendment—that there should be an Independent Public Sector Pensions Commission. I agree with the principle and with what the noble Lords, Lord Turner and Lord Oakeshott, said. However, I cannot see the point of having two commissions: one for the public sector and one for the rest. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, has a further amendment which advocates an Independent Pensions Commission as well as an Independent Public Sector Pensions Commission.
I am sorry if I did not make it clear in my introduction, but I am not proposing to move that amendment. I am asking the Committee to support a specific public sector commission only.
That makes the position worse rather than better. I was hoping that the noble Lord was going to say that he would incorporate the public sector in the general Independent Pensions Commission—that seems the logical thing to do—and to have the public sector and private sector viewed together. I cannot see any reason why we should leave the private sector out of such an examination, rather as the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said. Although I do not agree, and actually profoundly disagree, with almost everything else she said—she will not be surprised by that—I cannot see any point in having one commission looking at the public sector when we should be looking at the whole range of pensions. Goodness knows, there is enough in that area to be done.
Regrettably, although I agree with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said, and with even more of what the noble Lord, Lord Turner, said, I could not possibly support this rather narrow proposal to have a commission looking just at the public sector.
I start from the point that I am in total agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott—and indeed with almost everyone who has spoken in this short debate, with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady Turner—that public sector pensions need to be reformed. We all know that. We know what the problem is, and the noble Lord, Lord Turner, has spoken of it. There is no justification for the imbalance that already exists and will, as the noble Lord, Lord Turner, just said, continue to exist between the private sector and the public sector, with the former having to bear all the costs and the latter continuing to enjoy all the benefits. However, I believe that, since we know the problems and the need—unlike with the invention of a scheme to persuade more people to save for their retirement, where a commission was most certainly necessary—there is now no need for a commission to decide what needs to be done. I believe that a commission would merely lead to unnecessary delay, cost and bureaucracy, and yet more public sector employees going on to the payroll with all the pension additions.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, made great play of one of my honourable friends in another place. It is true that my party did support this amendment, or something very similar to it in principle, as the Bill passed through another place. Since then, we have reconsidered our position, which is why I have been unable to give the amendment my total support today. I do not want to go any further except to say that, if only one word is to be taken away from today's debate, it is a word uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Turner—that we need "transparency" on this issue. But, again, I do not think that a commission is the way to give it to us.
It wants to see the Government take the bull by the horns and reform public sector pensions, but we no longer believe that a commission is necessary to achieve that objective.
I thank everyone who participated in the debate. Like the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I do not believe that there is a need for a commission, but not necessarily for the reasons that he gave. I am not sure that I understood what he meant by taking the bull by the horns and where that would lead us. Perhaps that will be clarified at some stage.
I make it clear that all major public service pension schemes have been under review since the 2002 pensions Green Paper. As a result of that review, reforms in these schemes are now well under way. These reforms fully ensure the long-term sustainability of the schemes. Agreement on the teachers' pension scheme was reached with the teaching unions in May 2006 on a set of reform proposals, and a new scheme has been operating since January 2007. Cost sharing with employees and capping of employer contribution rates form a part of the scheme's regulatory framework.
NHS employers expect to implement new arrangements by 2008. As we heard, the Cabinet Office has announced that the new Civil Service scheme will be implemented from July 2007. Reforms in the NHS, teachers and Civil Service pension schemes will also introduce mechanisms that will ensure that any future increases in costs will be shared fairly between employers and employees. In addition, there will be an upper limit on the cost to the taxpayer, should costs increase.
Reform is also well under way or has been completed in other public service schemes. The local government pension scheme announced a series of reforms in November last year, and new arrangements for that scheme are expected to be in place in 2008. New schemes for the Armed Forces, police officers and firefighters have already been introduced. Establishing an independent commission to report on public sector pension schemes would change the context of negotiations currently under way and in doing so—I think that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, made this point—could delay the benefits resulting from the reforms. Public sector pension schemes are monitored regularly through built-in mechanisms such as the annual resource accounts as well as scheme valuation reports. These reports are prepared by professional actuaries and are based on long-term assumptions that are reviewed and updated periodically.
Alongside these reviews the Government annually evaluate the financial sustainability of spending on public service pensions in the long-term public finance report—we heard about that from the noble Lord, Lord Turner—published by the Treasury. The latest report, published in December 2006, and the previous report in 2005 make it clear that the long-term spending on public service pensions is entirely affordable and sustainable. The increase has gone from 1.5 to 2 per cent. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Turner, mentioned that figure. The Government actuary's projections on staff withdrawal rates are well within sensible assumptions.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, said that the provision was not affordable. I contest that; I believe that it is. The judges were mentioned, of course, but we should focus on the fact that average public sector pensions are just over £6,000 a year. That is not such huge largesse that people in the public sector can retire to a life of luxury. I very much agree with my noble friend Lady Turner that they are seen as part of deferred pay arrangements. Nobody was shouting how unfair it was when public sector pay was not insignificantly below private sector equivalents and was made up with pension arrangements. We did not hear cries of unfairness and unsustainability in those circumstances.
The noble Lord, Lord Turner, said that the Government should take these matters seriously. Of course, we should, and we do. As regards what is reasonable, the long-term projections show that we can meet the cost of the revised arrangements that have been entered into. It is right that what has happened to some of the public sector schemes mirrors exactly what has happened in the private sector. You cannot wipe away everything that has gone before and build a system from scratch that you say is equitable from now on in.
I do not believe that a commission would serve any good purpose. It would hold up the residual negotiations that are still under way. They are serious negotiations, looking not only at the change of the date of pension age of members of those schemes but at cost capping, cost sharing and putting limits on the extent to which the employer will have to fund future increases. It is the right way to proceed. The Government have focused on it, and we are tackling it. A commission would only muddy the waters and hold things up. There is a risk that it would become a forum in which a rather pejorative debate would take place with attempts to say that public sector employees were not entitled to decent pensions. We should want Government employees, whether they be doctors, nurses, policemen or whatever, to have decent pay arrangements and decent pension arrangements, subject to affordability, and that is the deal under way.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Turner, for his support and for his excellent analysis of the problem. I would be absolutely delighted if he were to take up the poisoned chalice again, although I am not expecting him to do so. I particularly enjoyed his remarks about the Treasury's legitimate robust challenge to his proposals. He put in a very robust challenge to its hopelessly optimistic assumptions about public sector leaving rates. We will return to that, and we will no doubt question Ministers in considerable detail about that very optimistic assumption that he has now revealed.
The answer to other speakers, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, and the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Skelmersdale, on why we want to do just this one, if you like—the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, called it narrow, but I would call it focused—is that the rest of the landscape has been done. The main Turner commission was able to look at basically everything apart from public sector pensions, so this is the essential gap. We want to get an independent commission that will have as a substantial part of its work looking at the public affordability of public sector pensions, which we all agree on this side of the Committee is a major problem. I am a realist; because the Conservatives in the other place made a very good case, I thought it was worth stressing what they had said. I look forward to further discussion before Report, and I hope that we can find between us the basis of an independent commission that carries wider support in the Committee than my amendment does. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 138:
After Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—
"Independent Pensions Commission
The Secretary of State must, no later than 1st January 2010, establish an Independent Pensions Commission to—
(a) advise the Government on affordability issues in relation to state pension provision and the state pension age;(b) conduct and publish gender, carer and state pension coverage impact assessment annually; and(c) publish annual projections of the proportion of pensioners facing different withdrawal rates."
In the spirit of what I have just been saying, my preference would be for a purely narrow-focused commission, but if there is a commission that does not range too widely and incorporates as a substantial element of its work the affordability of public sector pensions, we would support that. I look forward to hearing from the other two noble Lords on their amendments in this group. I beg to move.
"The whole package of reforms is based on the fact that people need clarity and certainty about the future in order to plan and save for retirement. A standing pensions commission would undermine this by creating a vehicle for permanent re-examination of the framework and of policy and would be an unnecessary and expensive quango with little to do in the short to medium term. We will carry out periodic reviews drawing on a range of independent expert advice".—[Hansard, 14/5/07; cols. 89-90.]
In those words, he somewhat elaborated on the brief dismissal of the proposition in paragraph 2.52 of the White Paper.
I hope that the Government will think again about their position on this. The future is inevitably unclear and uncertain. Inescapably, changes to policy will have to be made from time to time. If you put pensions policy on autopilot, you will run into turbulence. That will be uncomfortable and, indeed, dangerous. My noble friend wants to continue the pattern of the past, with officials commissioning masses of research, studying the reports of the professional institutes and think tanks and quietly advising Ministers. The difficulty with that arrangement was that it did not work well enough.
The Pensions Commission stated on page 42 of its final report:
"British pension policy for decades has been bedevilled by a lack of continuity".
Some courageous and good decisions were taken, but too many bad decisions were taken or decisions shirked. Governments thought that they had got it right and then found that they had not. Moreover, arcane discussion among professionals and officials leftthe public poorly informed, and the quality of public debate was inadequate. It was too easy for governments to fudge and prevaricate, to take the line of least resistance and to base their policy on comforting assumptions. The noble Lord, Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, provided a recent instance of that in his contribution to the previous debate.
The reality that the Government must face is that, after the past 30 years, the public do not trust government on pensions; hence the sarcasm in the title of the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report, Trusting in the Pensions Promise. The second report of the Pensions Commission, under the heading "Securing long-term sustainability and consensus", stated:
"The effectiveness of the UK's present pension system, both state and private, is undermined by low levels of understanding and trust. Many people do not understand what the state pension system will deliver: many do not believe that the present state promise will be maintained and many do not trust the financial services industry to sell good value products".
The report added:
"These problems have arisen because of: Multiple past changes to the state pensions system ... which aimed to reduce the generosity of future promises but in a non-transparent fashion ... The failure to explain openly the challenges and implications of changing demography ... People intuitively grasp that the state is going to do less for them, but neither understand nor trust the precise plan ...The mis-selling scandals of the 1990s, which in return reflected a misguided attempt to extend personal pensions to segments of the market where the economics only appeared to work in periods of exceptional capital return".
So policies of hugger-mugger and ad hoc-ery will not do. If we are to build trust, we will need openness and independence.
The Pensions Commission has been a success and has started to construct public confidence. The facts and the issues were plainly laid out by the commission, commentators and the public have become seriously interested, and the quality of the analysis and the good sense of the recommendations have helped us move towards consensus. That has made it possible for the Government to grasp nettles and take far-sighted decisions. We should continue with this successful model.
We should have a standing pensions commission. Its role would be to keep the evidence under systematic review and to publish the evidence at sensible intervals, with thoughts as to its implications. That would regularly renew responsible public engagement, reassure a sceptical public to the extent that they found that policy was set fair and prepare the public and the political system in good time for modifications of policy, as and when the need for that became evident. Such reviews would be helpful to all of us intellectually and could only be of help to the Government politically. They would be analogous to the quarterly inflation reports produced by the Bank of England.
Far from being, in the words of my noble friend the Minister,
"an unnecessary and expensive quango", a standing pensions commission is a necessary means to create trust and would be very good value for money. To decry such a body as a quango is not an argument but a rhetorical tactic. Indeed, quangos and boards of trustees are means of enlisting very able and well qualified people of the calibre of the noble Lord, Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, Professor Hills and Ms Drake to serve the public interest at a very modest cost.
Whatever the cost of the Pensions Commission so far—perhaps the Minister will tell us what the figure is—the cost of getting policy wrong, as has happened so often in the past, will be incomparably greater. What was the cost to public expenditure, the pensions industry, the economy and, most important, to savers of the twists, turns, contrivances and errors of policy of past years? There were the costs of mis-selling; of Maxwell, the leaflets, the collapse of ASW and other schemes and of the financial assistance scheme, compounded by the recommendations of the ombudsman and the ruling of the court. There was also the implosion of defined benefits schemes, the collapse of Equitable Life and people being forced back on to social security. What have been the costs of a system so complicated that people could not understand it and failed to save enough? What have been the costs of a system whereby, until pension credit, the poor were penalised through the benefits system for their savings, while the rich were rewarded for theirs at the expense of the Exchequer via tax relief?
Do not let us stumble on like that in future decades. If we had had a standing pensions commission 30 years ago, vast amounts of money and misery would have been saved. If we had a standing pensions commission in the next 30 years, it would be a very worthwhile investment. It would routinely assemble and publish information on the relevant issues for both the public and the private pension sectors—the whole array—as I believe is right.
What would be the key issues and the terms of reference? I shall not go into detail. The final report of the Pensions Commission of the noble Lord, Lord Turner, made one set of suggestions—at figure 18 on page 43—and in several appendices in his second report the noble Lord spelt out the data requirements. The White Paper suggests, at paragraph 340, what the recurring topics might be for its private reviews. The NAPF, in supporting the thrust of the amendments, has suggested simple terms of reference to monitor the adequacy and sustainability of the pensions system. Amendment No. 140 offers some suggestions; Amendment No. 142 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, which seems to me to be similar in purport, offers a variant. That can be debated, but the range of data and issues that we would expect a pensions commission to keep under review is evident.
The regular publication of such reports, together with the requirement that the Government should publish their response, would, I believe, produce immense benefits. It would promote public understanding and responsible attitudes, and it would help to engage the Government as a whole—the Treasury, the DTI and, indeed, the DfES and the Department of Health, alongside the DWP—in a fuller, more intelligent and more coherent response. The policy on pensions is not just relevant to security in retirement but crucial for the health of the financial markets and for the investment that should create prosperity for everyone throughout life. The reports would make it much harder for the Government to prevaricate, and they would improve public confidence in pensions. I believe that if we had a standing pensions commission in the future, we would then be likely, instead of unlikely, to have coherent, timely and far-sighted policy for pensions.
I strongly agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, has just said. I speak to Amendment No. 142 but it is very similar in intent to Amendment No. 140. I want to take up one point that the noble Lord made: the Government should understand that it is entirely in their interests that they do this. It is not just in the interests of the public but very much in the interests of the Government—and I say to my own Front Bench, any Government—to support this kind of amendment.
There are three models of a pensions commission in the showroom at present and a fourth has been driven up by the National Association of Pension Funds, which, in principle, supports the proposal that we are putting forward. There is the model of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, which he spoke about briefly but which, frankly, is a bit of an old banger in that it self-evidently has some parts missing. That is because, so far as I can see, the noble Lord believes in building several models rather than just one and the result is that the vehicle is not complete. Then there are the two models suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, and me. I say without fear of serious contradiction that these are much superior in that both have engines, which is normally regarded as important in car building, and allow the commission to look at all the issues regarding pensions.
Frankly, I do not mind which of the amendments is taken and accepted by the Government—which I know they will. I joke, of course, as I know that they will not. We have both self-evidently gone to the Turner report for our inspiration. I should point out that the National Association of Pension Funds, which has come out in favour of our proposals, has supported my proposal for triennial reviews, so perhaps I get my nose ahead a wee bit on that. As the Turner report makes clear, there are important reasons for keeping this area under independent review. It is on that point that I am very serious.
I have two reasons for that. First, many of the errors surrounding pensions legislation occur not because the legislation has not been reviewed as it goes through Parliament. Often it has been reviewed very thoroughly indeed; committees have done their work and Ministers have given their undertakings. The fact is that that work and those undertakings have simply not been observed. That is the fact of the matter. I remember a case of my own, to which the noble Lord referred in passing, when my Minister of State—not unknown—one John Major, gave the clearest undertaking that publicity would be given to a particular change. No publicity was given. We had long since left the department at that time. I went back to see the Permanent Secretary of what was then the Department of Social Security, whose first words were, "The fault is entirely down to this department and the Civil Service". As it happened, Ministers, as is their right, took responsibility, but the position was that no papers ever went to the Ministers involved. The fault lay with a number of civil servants who had been charged to put the policy into effect and had not done so.
Errors occur among Ministers and civil servants, so how can that be avoided? It is not too difficult, I would suggest. You have post-legislative scrutiny and a process by which somebody goes through the legislation not to agree or disagree with it, but simply to check that its intention has been and is being put into effect. If you did that, you would avoid a number of mistakes that have been made over the past 10, 20 or 30 years.
Secondly, this is perhaps the most cost-effective measure in this legislation. It would avoid mistakes that could cost literally millions of pounds to put right. This Government know all about that; my Government—if I can put it that way—know all about it as well. I cannot imagine that anyone would be foolish enough to argue that this will cost too much. It would be one of the best investments that the Government have made as it would prevent loss of money and errors occurring.
In addition to what I would describe as post-legislative scrutiny, the commission has other important duties such as looking at the latest trends in private pension spending and considering the affordability of public sector pensions. That is why I think it is so important to the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, that one somehow finds a means whereby one can put under the same umbrella the number of very important issues that need to be kept under review in pensions. It would be a mistake if we were simply to include one of those issues, and we would not carry the House. However, if we were to include a number of them, there would be more prospect of doing so. In addition, the ability to examine the issues that are considered urgent, which is paragraph (e) in my amendment, would certainly include the progress of legislation that has recently been passed.
It is 9.30 pm on Monday evening, and this is not the most overcrowded House I have seen. It is probably inappropriate to have a vote at this stage, but I sincerely say to the Minister that this is one of the most important amendments in this process. He has his instructions, and, doubtless, they will be given to us, but I say to him, for repetition to whoever gives him his instructions, that if the Government reject this, they will live to regret it. That is certain. The Government would be extraordinarily unwise to reject a sensible proposal that will not cost a vast amount of money but will preserve the interests of the present Government and any other Government who come after them.
My noble friend Lord Fowler likened this group of three amendments to three cars. He described the first as an old banger. I would describe the second as a left-hand drive. Funnily enough, as I passed through Paddington station this morning, I noticed that a car was being raffled. On closer inspection, it was left-hand drive, so I did not enter the raffle because I did not think it would be much good to me. The third car—the amendment tabled by my noble friend—I could drive, in part because I believe that one of the things that we have done well in recent years is pre-legislative scrutiny. I agree with my noble friend that one of the things we have always done badly is post-legislative scrutiny. However, I am not sure that this is a job for a commission, and, anyway, the job should be very much wider than just this Bill.
Part of these amendments cover an amendment that I tabled, which requires regular reports on changes in life expectancy, and I appreciated the support that I got from around the House—with the sole exception, of course, of the Front Bench opposite, but that is only to be expected on occasions such as this. I am afraid that, as far as matters of detail are concerned, that is as far as I am prepared to go at the moment.
I described the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, as a left-hand drive car. That amendment concerns me because it presupposes that there will be frequent changes in the pensions system, which will do nothing to restore public confidence in Government policy. Incidentally, did the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, not refer to it as "flying on auto-pilot"? The Minister will not like that remark. We do not want to make an already complex system seem even less accessible by potentially frequent changes. We have already had a lot of complicated amendments to pensions law, and I fear that a permanent commission specifically tasked with finding yet more ways of tweaking pensions would be counterproductive. I fear that I cannot go any further at this moment.
This has been an interesting debate. Perhaps I should start by wishing my noble friend Lord Howarth a very happy birthday—if my Guardian reading is correct. I hope that he will not mind if I do not wish him many happy returns on one particular of his amendment; but, subject only to that, I hope that he has a good day.
The debate has given us the opportunity to debate an issue of some importance. It allows me once again to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Turner, and his work on the Pensions Commission. We are indebted to him and his colleagues, whose authoritative analysis of the challenges confronting our pension system has provided the foundation for broad consensus on the way forward. In particular, it has paved the way for the difficult decision to increase the state pension age as the necessary trade-off for the restoration of the links to earnings.
My noble friend Lady Hollis reminded us at Second Reading that several of my predecessors have promised enduring pension settlements, only to see their reforms overhauled a few years later. I do not claim that, once these two Bills have made it to the statute book, we can hang up our pension hats for good, but I believe that these proposals, which substantially implement the recommendations of the Pensions Commission, set a course that will stand the test of time.
The Pensions Commission was set up to undertake a specific task. That job is now done. However, noble Lords seem to be proposing the setting-up of a permanent body to keep the settlement under perpetual review. The advocates of that proposal are, in essence, saying that that is needed because no one trusts the Government. My noble friend Lord Howarth made that point specifically.
In my view, the creation of such a body at the very point when the first of these measures is implemented would undermine confidence in the reforms. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, was edging towards that conclusion. What people want is clarity and certainty about the future, to plan and save for retirement. I can only restate our agreement with the rationale behind the amendments and repeat that any disagreement rests solely on the question of how best those shared aims can be achieved.
First, there is the question of transparency. No one should doubt our commitment to full and open consultation and debate on the efficacy of our policy. We have demonstrated that during the passage of the Bill. The DWP and the Office for National Statistics already regularly publish a wide range of statistics on pensioner incomes, savings, life expectancy and demography. In addition, the DWP publishes a large number of research reports each year, so a wide range of data is available to external researchers who want to probe further.
We agree that the evidence on which we based our reforms will need to be kept under review. We have already set in train a programme of work to develop an evidence base, in consultation with a range of stakeholders, which could underpin future evaluation of our reforms. The first of three workshops took place last week, involving academics and pensions experts. The second, planned for this week, will involve representatives from key stakeholder organisations. We have also invited opposition spokesmen and the chairman of the Work and Pensions Select Committee. The final workshop, also this week, will involve analysts from a number of government departments.
Following that consultation, we will publish a strategy document later this year on how we propose to build and maintain a credible evidence base, which will support future policy considerations across a range of issues. That will ensure that policies are kept under review in the light of sound evidence. We are committed to keeping our pensions policies under review; let me be clear about that. I do not think it controversial to assume that any future Government would do the same. We are debating method, not principle.
Let me say something about some of the specific suggestions for the work of an independent commission. The amendment proposes the annual publication of gender, carer and state pension coverage impact assessments. The Government's commitment to addressing gender issues has been integral to our development of pension reform. In November 2005, the DWP published a report on women and pensions that analysed women's pension position and the major influences on women's retirement incomes. This was part of the evidence used to develop proposals for pension reform, in which fair outcomes for women and carers were a key objective. More recently, as we discussed earlier, we published a detailed gender analysis of the measures in the Bill, and we plan to undertake gender analysis to accompany further legislation on personal accounts.
The noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, also proposes the production of information on possible withdrawal rates. This would not provide any meaningful information on which people can base their financial decisions. Individual circumstances will vary, and projections will depend on a number of variables and assumptions. We already regularly produce comprehensive pension credit data, and will continue to do so for operational and planning purposes. I therefore conclude that the independent commission proposed in the amendments is not necessary to achieve transparency for the future review of pensions policy and the evidence that should inform it.
On the need to maintain consensus, we decided not to institute a permanent pensions commission precisely to avoid destabilising the consensus that has so recently been achieved. As we have said, our preferred approach is to carry out periodic reviews of the impact of the reforms, drawing on independent advice and based on robust evidence. This approach has the added merit of leaving it to future Administrations to decide exactly what should be reviewed in the future and when it should be reviewed. So although I share the noble Lords' concerns, the amendments are unnecessary for achieving the transparency that we all seek in these important matters, and I urge them not to press them.
I am sorry that noble Lords do not want to buy the exact car that I have in mind. None the less, the noble Lords, Lord Howarth and Lord Fowler, both made sensible proposals. In all these things, a family has to compromise and find a car that suits everyone. I am not sure at this stage whether the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, is interested in a car at all, but I live in hope. Obviously the garage is closing up now, but I very much hope, indeed believe, that we will return to this on Report and will find cross-party consensus on a form of independent commission that will be practical, workable and worthwhile and that will continue the good work that the Turner commission has started. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 139:
After Clause 22, insert the following new Clause—
"Report on tax relief on pension contributions
The Secretary of State shall, not later than 1st April 2008, prepare and publish a report on tax relief on pension contributions, including—
(a) the annual cost to the Treasury of these reliefs including projections for the following five tax years;(b) the extent to which the existing tax relief on pensions is—(i) affordable, and(ii) properly focussed, and(iii) comprehensible;(c) the amount of pensions tax relief received by the average household in each income decile; and(d) plans to reform tax relief to meet the criteria of fairness, affordability and incentivising saving."
I tabled the amendment to put down a marker to stress our view that the existing tax relief on pensions is unfair, regressive and too skewed towards higher earners. The simple fact is that over half of tax relief goes to top-rate taxpayers, and about another 15 per cent goes to people who would be top-rate taxpayers were it not for this tax relief. That means that almost two-thirds of tax relief on pension saving goes to people who are better off.
In our debate on the previous amendment, the Minister said that pensions outcomes for women were unfair. I welcome the interest that the Equal Opportunities Commission has shown in my amendment, and make its point that tax relief is unfair to women because they do not make up nearly such a large share of high earners as men. Four-fifths of tax relief at the top rate goes to men, which is a good deal more than their share of the labour force.
I do not propose to press the point further, except to say that tax relief on pension contributions is going up quite quickly: it was £15 billion in 2005-06, and latest estimates are approaching £18 billion. That is happening particularly because under the new rules, on SIPPS in particular, quite a lot of better-off people are taking the opportunity to put in substantial sums—more than £200,000 a year—which again is proving to be quite a substantial tax break. One always has to remember that people get tax relief at the top rate and are able to take back 25 per cent of the money, often quite quickly, as a tax-free lump sum. We also believe that it is unfair because quite a number of people get top-rate tax relief when they make their pension contributions, but they pay only standard rate tax when they draw their pension in retirement. In that sense it is unfair as well. I beg to move.
It would be very helpful to have a report such as the noble Lord has proposed, because it might help to focus our attention on two issues. He has already sketched the first issue; namely, the extraordinary disproportion in how tax relief favours the wealthiest in society. I do not know exactly what the figures are, although I suggested at Second Reading, based on briefing that I had read, that 5 per cent to 10 per cent of the wealthiest individuals in the country enjoyed a benefit of 50 per cent of available tax relief. If the totality of that tax relief is creeping up towards £18 billion, this Labour Government are pumping £9 billion a year of tax relief towards the best-off people, which seems a very odd policy for a Labour Government to pursue.
I know that the noble Lord, Lord Turner of Ecchinswell, explained in the Pension's Commission's report that so long as defined-benefit schemes loom large in the pensions firmament, there are significant technical problems about doing anything very much about this. Since we see that defined benefit schemes are looming smaller and smaller, day by day, I hope that the day will not be long distant when the Government will feel able to address themselves to this. If we were to replace tax relief with a system of grants, it would be possible for the Government to exercise flexibility and to target incentives to save at people on much more modest incomes, which would surely be desirable, less wasteful and more just.
The other issue that such a report might highlight would be that which my noble friend was talking about in a debate at the beginning of these Committee proceedings when he replied to an amendment proposed by my noble friend Lady Hollis. The amendment proposed that people should be enabled to buy up to nine extra years on their basic state pension at a late stage in their working life. As far as I could understand what my noble friend was saying, he explained that the Government had difficulties about this because of cash flow. They did not find it unacceptable to forego those pension contributions much earlier in the individual's working history and said that it would not be right for people to be able to bunch their contributions towards the end of their working lives. This treatment of pension opportunity for people on very modest earnings seems strikingly at odds with the Government's treatment of people on high earnings. The Government seem to be entirely happy that people wishing to make very large contributions in the late stages of their working lives to private pension schemes should be able to do so to secure tax relief at 40 per cent.
Their commitment is fiscally quite open-ended. While there are very generous outside limits on what an individual can contribute—the amounts are massive—there is no limit on the number of people who may be eligible to do that. It depends on who comes along and wants to do so. I would be grateful if my noble friend could offer any reflections on that in his concluding remarks. It is one more illustration of how independent reports from time to time can help to get us all focused and anchored to formulate the issues with which we ought to be concerned, and precipitate us into doing something about them.
We have already debated the unfortunate effect that the current system of pension credit is having on a growing proportion of the public, so what worries me about this amendment is proposed paragraph (d) because it looks towards more means-testing and seems entirely the wrong way forward. A few moments ago I described myself as an unpaid cynic, and I am going to be cynical now. I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, has tabled this amendment to check up on his party's interesting new tax policy of a single basic rate of income tax achieved by abolishing the tax relief on pension contributions on higher earnings, and how that will affect pensions. Rather like the Chancellor, the Liberal Democrats have already been told, though unlike the Chancellor they admit, that the benefits of saving linked to a pension for high-rate taxpayers will be reduced. The one thing that has been crystal clear in our discussions on the Bill is that it is all about increasing savings towards retirement, not reducing them. As I understand it, that is exactly what this amendment would do, and I cannot support it on that basis.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, for raising the issue of pension tax relief, which is always an interesting subject. It was raised in Committee in another place, and as my honourable friend the Minister of State for Pension Reform said, it is a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Furthermore, the tax structures in this country are matters for the other place, not your Lordships' House.
Noble Lords know that the Government already publish estimates of the annual cost of tax relief on private pensions. The Treasury publishes alongside the annual Pre-Budget Report a tax ready-reckoner that provides an estimate of the recorded costs of pension tax relief. It also publishes a table of the estimated costs of the major structural tax relief alongside the Budget. Producing a five-year projection of the annual cost of tax relief on pension savings would require firm assumptions about both tax policy and future savings behaviour, including any changes in savings behaviour, and it would prejudge key annual Budget decisions on tax thresholds and rates. Whoever the Government of the day, such decisions are rightly a matter for the Chancellor of the Exchequer. This amendment would create unnecessary duplication across Whitehall.
I can understand the noble Lord's wish to evaluate the current system. He will know that the Pensions Commission considered this issue and did not recommend changes to the overall system of tax relief. The commission felt that to do so would create huge implementation complexities, and it would be extremely difficult to get rid of any existing inequalities without introducing other new ones. Providing estimates of the cost of tax relief on contributions to approved pension funds by decile and income band would require better information on the income distribution of those contributing to occupational schemes. Such analysis cannot therefore be sufficiently robust to provide detailed distributional information on pension relief.
I should stress that tax reform has already taken place. I hesitate to mention the "A" word because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, will chastise me for doing so, but April 2006 witnessed the introduction of a radically simplified tax regime for registered pension schemes. These reforms have resulted in a pensions landscape where individual pension schemes can tailor their benefit packages to suit their sponsors and members, and members will be able to save as much as they wish, when they wish, in order to provide a secure income for themselves in retirement. The pensions industry has broadly welcomed these changes, and I suspect it would be alarmed if further changes were made before the improvements introduced last year had adequately bedded down. I share the aspirations to encourage people to save for a secure retirement, and that is why the Government provide generous tax incentives. The figure that I have for the total value of tax relief for 2006-07 is £16.3 billion. We could have a huge and interesting debate on this, but frankly, at this time of night, that would be difficult. The key point is that it is not appropriate to call for this report. The data would duplicate much of what else is in the system.
My noble friend Lord Howarth challenged me on why we allow the current structure of income tax relief for pension contributions. He said that it was inconsistent with our approach for national insurance contributions. The two are not the same: one is dealing with the contributory principle encouraging people to pay as they go along. Tax relief has a different structure which seeks to encourage savings. However, we agree that it is important to ensure that individuals are in a position to make informed choices about working and saving for their retirement. On that, we share common ground with other noble Lords and these measures are likely to have a greater effect on those not saving and not working long enough than reform of the tax incentive structure would have. I therefore urge noble Lords to withdraw the amendment.
I am pleased that it has the noble Lord's support.
I thank the Minister for his reply and for making my case when he pointed out that the existing statistics were not robust and that we did not know how the distribution of tax relief would help people, particularly in the lower deciles of income. That is exactly the point that we were making.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Howarth, for singing from the same hymn sheet as me with his point. The current distribution of pension fund tax relief is very unfair, particularly to women and low earners. To the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, I would say that we are quite open about this being our policy. We believe that we should be concentrating the help on people in lower income groups—the people who are, by and large, not saving for a pension at the moment. Most people in the higher income groups have some form of pension provision and we are trying to move towards building a consensus whereby the available help is focused more on the people who really need it. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
As I have said on a number of occasions, I am a member of the board of the Pensions Advisory Service as is my noble friend Lady Hollis. The function of this amendment was originally to include a reference to TPAS and its service. However, since tabling the amendment, I understand that the issue has been discussed in the other place. As a result, TPAS has received assurances that it will be referred to in supplementary legislation and is quite happy with that. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could confirm that that is so, because if it is, it is my intention to withdraw the amendment at this stage. I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 144:
Clause 23, page 25, line 18, at end insert—
"(3) Before the Secretary of State makes any regulations by virtue of—
(a) section 15(6), or(b) section 18(9),he must consult such persons as he considers appropriate.
(4) Subsection (3) does not apply—
(a) to regulations made for the purpose only of consolidating other regulations revoked by them,(b) in a case where it appears to the Secretary of State that by reason of urgency consultation is inexpedient,(c) to regulations made before the end of the period of 6 months beginning with the coming into force of the provision mentioned in subsection (3) by virtue of which the regulations are made, or(d) to regulations which—(i) state that they are consequential upon a specified enactment, and(ii) are made before the end of the period of 6 months beginning with the coming into force of that enactment.
(5) In subsection (4) "enactment" includes an enactment comprised in subordinate legislation."
This amendment amends Clause 23 to provide that the freestanding powers in this Bill to make regulations relating to occupational pensions are subject to the precondition that consultation must take place with interested parties subject to certain exemptions. This does nothing more than put the position in line with the position of other occupational pensions legislation and I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 145 to 164:
Schedule 7, page 69, line 17, column 2, leave out "Section" and insert "Sections 32(2) and"
Schedule 7, page 69, line 38, column 2, at end insert—
|"Sections 28 to 29."|
Schedule 7, page 70, line 19, column 2, leave out "136(4)" and insert "136(2) and (4)"
Schedule 7, page 70, line 20, column 2, at end insert—
|"Sections 142 to 146."|
Schedule 7, page 70, line 22, column 2, at end insert "and paragraphs 34 and 35"
Schedule 7, page 70, line 22, column 2, at end insert "and paragraph 37(a)"
Schedule 7, page 70, line 22, at end insert—
|"Social Security Act 1998 (c.14)||In Schedule 7, paragraph 126."|
Schedule 7, page 70, line 23, column 2, after "paragraphs" insert "33,"
Schedule 7, page 70, line 23, column 2, after "35(3)" insert ", 41"
Schedule 7, page 70, line 27, column 2, at end insert—
|"In Schedule 2, paragraph 5 (and the cross heading immediately preceding it)."|
Schedule 7, page 70, line 27, column 2, at end insert—
|"In Schedule 5 in paragraph 7(6), in the definition of "contracted-out rights"—|
|(a) in paragraph (a), "or (3)";|
|(b) the "or" following paragraph (a)."|
Schedule 7, page 70, line 27, at end insert—
|"Child Support, Pensions and Social Security Act 2000 (c. 19)||In Schedule 5, paragraphs 2(2) and 3(2).|
|Financial Services and Markets Act 2000 (Consequential Amendments and Repeals) Order 2001 (S.I. 2001/3649)||Articles 117 and 118."|
Schedule 7, page 70, line 28, column 2, at end insert—
|"Section 284(3) to (7)."|
Schedule 7, page 70, line 29, column 2, at end insert "and (5)"
Schedule 7, page 70, line 29, at end insert—
|"Civil Partnership (Contracted-out Occupational and Appropriate Personal Pension Schemes) (Surviving Civil Partners) Order 2005 (S.I. 2005/2050)||In Schedule 1, paragraphs 9 to 11.|
|Taxation of Pension Schemes (Consequential Amendments) Order 2006 (S.I. 2006/745)||Article 7(3) and (4)."|
Schedule 7, page 70, line 43, column 2, at end insert—
|"In section 20(3), "and 43 to 45".|
Schedule 7, page 71, line 18, column 2, at end insert—
|in sub-paragraph (5), the definition of "appropriate flat-rate percentage.""|
Schedule 7, page 71, line 19, column 2, leave out "and (6)" and insert ", (6) and (7)"
Schedule 7, page 71, line 22, column 2, after "paragraphs" insert "36,"
Schedule 7, page 71, line 24, column 2, after "34(b)," insert "43,"
On Question, amendments agreed to.
[Amendment No. 165 not moved.]
Forgive me. Could the noble Lord just remind me which amendment he is moving?
This clause provides that any Order in Council made for Northern Ireland at paragraph 1(1) of the Schedule to the Northern Ireland Act 2000 making provision corresponding to those in the Bill would not be subject to the affirmative procedure of parliamentary scrutiny, but would instead be subject to the negative procedure. The clause also provides that the Order in Council would be annulled should the Assembly be restored.
As is the convention, the intention was that an Order in Council would replicate the provisions of the Pensions Bill for Northern Ireland and maintain the long-standing policy of parity in this area, while maintaining the integrity of the separate Northern Ireland body of law in this field. However, because the Northern Ireland Assembly is now up and running, a provision corresponding to the Bill extending to Northern Ireland reverts to being a matter for the Northern Ireland Executive and the Assembly. The Assembly will therefore enact the legislation corresponding to the Bill after Royal Assent, in accordance with the normal processes governing Orders in Council made under the Northern Ireland Act 2000. Accordingly, I oppose the Question that Clause 27 stand part of the Bill.
Although I quite understand why these amendments are necessary, due to recent welcome developments in Northern Ireland, I hope that the Minister will be able to clarify a question to which I ought to know the answer: why do the Government think it necessary to devolve these powers to the Northern Ireland Assembly when they are reserved matters with regard to Scotland and Wales?
While I am on my feet, I note that there is no longer any provision on the statute book in the event—unlikely, I hope—of Stormont and devolved government in Northern Ireland breaking down again. Can I be assured that in that event the DWP legislation, particularly pensions legislation, would be swept up in a suitable Northern Ireland Act, of which we have seen so many over recent years?
Since this is the last occasion on which either of us will speak, I thank the Minister for his good temper and his courtesy throughout our debates on the Bill. I have not always agreed with him, but very occasionally he has even agreed with me, which is always welcome.
The answer to the noble Lord's question about what would happen if the Assembly did not continue is that there would need to be provision to ensure that the legislation was covered in another way. I shall write to the noble Lord in more detail on that point. I should also say that there are some government amendments here. They are tidying-up references to Clauses 27 and 28 that are no longer needed.
moved Amendments Nos. 167 and 168:
Clause 28, page 26, line 38, leave out "other than section 27"
Clause 28, page 26, line 39, leave out subsection (2) and insert—
On Question, amendments agreed to.
[Amendment No. 169 not moved.]
I should have responded earlier to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. I thank him, his colleagues and all noble Lords who have participated in the Committee stage. In the spirit of co-operation, there was some quite fierce debate, but it bodes well for the consensus that underlies the Bill.