My Lords, I shall also speak to the other amendments in the group. They concern the conflict of interest provisions in paragraph 2 of Schedule 6.
Paragraph 2 says that the chairman and non-executive members cannot be appointed if they have conflicts of interest, and that the Secretary of State has to keep this under review. My Amendments Nos. 13 to 16 would make paragraph 2 applicable to all directors. If it is appropriate not to appoint a non-executive director because of a conflict of interest, it must surely be inappropriate for an executive director with a conflict of interest to be debarred from appointment.
The Minister batted this away in Committee, saying that the executive members were public sector employees and hence subject to what she described as,
"the usual rules on proper conduct that apply to all public sector employees".—[Hansard, 6/6/07; col. 1234.]
She also said that executive directors have to declare interests in accordance with paragraph 13 of Schedule 6. I regard that as a red herring as the declaration of an interest applies to all directors and the declaration of an interest is something less than a conflict of interest.
The Minister said that because non-executive directors could have other directorships the issue of conflict of interest could arise, but that this would not arise for executives because they were public sector employees. She seemed to imply that public sector employees would not have other directorships and hence no conflicts of interest. I do not believe that it is axiomatic that a public sector employee can never be a director of something, for example, a non-profit body. If the Minister believes otherwise, will he state the chapter and verse for that? Indeed, will he go further and state how this Bill ensures that any such rules for public sector employees will apply to the employees of the delivery authority? I have looked at the Bill and could find no reference in the schedule or elsewhere to the importation of any such rules, whatever they are.
More importantly, a conflict of interest will be capable of arising in other ways. In Committee in another place, the Minister cited a member of someone's family running a company which could be affected by the introduction of personal accounts as an example of a conflict of interest. I can see that; but surely that is just as likely to arise for an executive member as it is for a non-executive member because the existence of the activities of the spouse will be unrelated to the status of the director.
That neatly leads me to Amendment No. 17, which amends sub-paragraph (6) of paragraph 2 so that a conflict of interest is defined as a conflict of interest of a director or a person connected with him. Amendment No. 18 adds a new sub-paragraph after sub-paragraph (6). That imports the definition of connected person from Section 252 of the Companies Act 2006, which the Minister will doubtless recall from the many hours we spent on that Act when it was a Bill. He will be aware that that definition is already being used for the declaration of interest provisions in paragraph 13.
In Committee, we debated whether the reference to "financial or other interest" was sufficiently clear to pick up all indirect conflicts of interest. The Minister was certain that it was, but I remain unconvinced about that. I remain concerned that while paragraph 13 has a very clear delineation of the extent of indirect interests using the well known Companies Act formula, no such certainty exists for these conflicts of interest which might arise indirectly and fall foul of paragraph 2.
I hope that the Minister will look more favourably on these amendments than the ones I moved in Committee. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for tabling these amendments. It gives us a chance to review again the matter she raised in Committee. I do not believe that we are apart in what we believe should be the outcome of these arrangements.
I understand the noble Baroness's concerns, but I can reassure her that the Government recognise how vital it is that the authority is seen as independent, that it operates with integrity, and that its processes are transparent to help build trust and credibility in personal accounts. We have obviously taken that very seriously when drafting the provisions in the Bill, and, in particular, in relation to the appointment of the non-executive members of the authority.
The non-executive directors are the custodians of the Government's process. They represent an independent check on the Executive. Part of their role is to ensure that the body, as a whole, is run with probity. In making such appointments, we are therefore following all appropriate guidance, ensuring that candidates declare any conflicts of interest at the earliest possible stage of the recruitment exercise to ensure the independence of the non-executive members. Paragraph 2 of Schedule 6 makes this process very transparent.
The noble Baroness asked whether there should be one rule for the non-executives and another for the executives. If we accepted her amendments, we could equally ask why there was one rule for the executive members, who were employees of the authority, and another for other employees of the authority.
The executive members of the authority are public sector employees, working full time for the delivery authority. While it will still be necessary for executives to declare a conflict of interest—indeed, the information pack for candidates makes that very clear—the issue is not the same as that of non-executives. As with all other authority employees, the contract of employment for executives will cover such things as conflicts of interest, and they will need to comply with the authority's code of conduct for staff. That is the mechanism.
It is also important to remember that the delivery authority will be run in line with the principles of good corporate governance, which includes ensuring that any conflicts of interest are properly declared, considered and recorded. Schedule 6(13) ensures that during all meetings of the authority, anyone who has an interest in any matter to be discussed must declare it, and that the declaration will be recorded. In addition, the authority will be required to have a register of members' interests. Those measures offer reassurance that any interests will be dealt with appropriately by the authority.
I hope that that has reassured the noble Baroness on that point. Clearly, conflicts of interests must be avoided in relation to executive and non-executive directors alike, but the route to tackle them for executive directors is through contracting arrangements, as for the rest of the employees of the authority.
Turning to what constitutes a conflict of interest for the purposes of paragraph 2 of Schedule 6, we have defined a conflict of interest in subparagraph (6) as any interest, financial or otherwise,
"which is likely to affect prejudicially the discharge by him of his functions as a member of the Authority".
The inclusion of other interests allows a wide range of factors to be taken into account when considering whether a conflict of interest exists. We consider that that would also include circumstances in which a conflict of interest may arise in relation to a person connected with a non-executive. We believe that the description in the Bill automatically encompasses that but goes further.
Amendments Nos. 17 and 18 specify further what might constitute a conflict of interest for non-executive members. The former dictates that the interest of a person connected with a non-executive can constitute a conflict of interest. The latter refers to Section 252 of the Companies Act 2006 to provide a definition of "connected persons". Although I agree with the spirit of those amendments, which seeks to ensure that the most vigorous criteria are applied when assessing conflicts of interest, the Government's approach achieves that better—or equally. The paragraph will require the delivery authority, in making any future non-executive appointments, to follow the same procedure regarding potential conflicts of interests—under paragraph 2(5). So as it stands, in each case, that could include the interests of a person connected with a non-executive.
I hope that that explanation will assure the noble Baroness that the existing provisions in the Bill concerning appointments and conflicts of interest are perfectly adequate. I have heard nothing in what she said that suggests that we are seeking a different outcome on this, but I believe that the way that the Bill is drafted is one route to achieving that objective.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. He is absolutely right to say that there is nothing between us of substance on this; I was probing how it will work in practice.
I dislike the distinction that the Government have drawn between the executives and non-executives. Normally, when the Government propose structures involving executive and non-executive members of the board, they do so claiming the virtues of the unitary system. The whole idea of the unitary system is that directors, whether they are executive or non-executive, are working on the same terms, in effect—it is just that some work there full-time and some part-time. It is unsatisfactory that the Government have diluted the concept of the unitary board. I have drawn attention to what I think is vague and lacking in clarity; for example, the extent of "other interest" in the Bill. The Minister thinks that it is adequately dealt with; I must let the Government live to rue the day if they have made a mistake in their drafting and not pursue it further today. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, noble Lords will see that the amendment has the support of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, so I am very hopeful that it will be accepted by the House.
In Committee, I raised the question of what the words, "is guilty of misbehaviour", meant. That is one of the grounds for removing a chairman or non-executive from office—although, interestingly, not an executive, but we will not pursue that further. I gave various examples which attracted a certain amount of interest outside your Lordships' House, which I shall not repeat today.
I then proposed the form of words which the Government proposed in the Statistics and Registration Service Bill, and Amendment No. 19 is a repeat of that amendment. I am delighted that the Minister, who was encouraging in its response in Committee, has joined me in the amendment today. I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 20:
Schedule 6, page 67, line 37, leave out sub-paragraphs (1) and (2) and insert—
"(1) The Authority may—
(a) pay to the chairman and other non-executive members such remuneration, and(b) pay to or in respect of the chairman and other non-executive members such sums by way of or in respect of allowances and gratuities,as the Secretary of State may determine."
My Lords, I made it clear in Committee that we would look again at the provisions that enable the authority to pay non-executive pensions. The provisions were included originally because the remuneration requirements for delivery authority members had not been finalised, and it was therefore prudent to ensure that the provisions had maximum flexibility while the remuneration proposals were being developed. The existing provisions ensure that the authority can, but does not have to, pay non-executive members sums in respect of pensions. The noble Baroness rightly pointed out in our earlier debates that it is unusual for non-executives to receive pension provision, and the Cabinet Office guidelines in Making and Managing Public Appointments also make it clear that most public appointments are not pensionable. On reflection, we agree with the noble Baroness. Amendments Nos. 20, 22, 24 and 25 therefore remove the provisions for non-executive pensions and tidy up the remaining remuneration provisions.
In Committee, the noble Baroness also expressed concern about the inclusion of gratuities. Her amendment seeks to remove the provisions that enable gratuities to be paid to non-executive members. We have carefully considered the points that she made, and I am inclined to agree with her that the language sounds a little Victorian. I assure her, however, that we will not be tipping the non-executive members, as she suggested in Committee. The language may seem old-fashioned, but I assure her that the term "allowances and gratuities" is used frequently in legislation for statutory bodies of this kind, such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency in the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, the Strategic Rail Authority, Natural England, the Pension Protection Fund, the Pensions Regulator, the Commission for Equality and Human Rights, and the Olympic Delivery Authority—also to my surprise. Gratuities in this sense are taken as payments that are not covered by the terms and conditions of the appointment of non-executives. A gratuity might, for example, be a payment for additional work that has not been specified, or it might cover a settlement in respect of actual or prospective legal claims that the office holder may bring against the appointing body on grounds, for example, of personal injury.
In these circumstances, there is merit in retaining the flexibility for payment of gratuities to non-executives. I hope that the noble Baroness is reassured that we have listened carefully to the points that she has made and that, although we have removed pension provision for non-executives, we seek to retain the provisions for the payment of allowances and gratuities. I beg to move.
My Lords, I listened carefully to that explanation. The fact that the word does not mean what most people think it means in a great string of other public bodies is neither here nor there. I was not impressed by that explanation, and I invite the Minister to think a little more carefully about it. "Gratuity" has a very clear meaning in English, and we should stick to the normal meaning when we are making legislation.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott. Many statutes are simply lifted from previous statutes and made according to the Victorian parliamentary draftsman's handbook, which has not been updated to move with the times. The term "gratuity" is extremely old-fashioned. I would have been quite happy to concede previously that it has been used in other legislation.
I am grateful to the Minister for considering the points that I made in Committee and responding on the pensions issue, which is extremely helpful. I simply suggest that some day someone must get parliamentary draftsmen to use modern language in today's Bills when drafting corporate structures, which have moved on quite considerably from those that parliamentary draftsmen used to create even 10 or 15 years ago. I will not pursue that point today, but the Minister might like to do so. I am grateful to him for tabling the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 23:
Schedule 6, page 68, line 28, leave out sub-paragraph (3) and insert—
"(3) During any vacancy in the office of chairman, or at any time when the chairman is absent or otherwise unable to act, any of his functions may be discharged by the deputy chairman.
( ) In discharging any function of the chairman under sub-paragraph (3), the deputy chairman must have regard to any guidance given by the chairman as to the discharge of that function by the deputy chairman."
My Lords, government Amendment No. 23 relates to provisions for the deputy chairman of the delivery authority. In our earlier debates, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, questioned the provision that enabled the Secretary of State and the chairman to give directions to the deputy chairman about the discharge of the chairman's duties. It is not our intention to enable the Secretary of State to interfere in, or indeed micromanage, the work of the authority. Rather, the provisions are included as a helpful measure to ensure that the deputy chairman can discharge the functions of the chairman in appropriate cases to ensure the smooth running of the authority. It was envisaged that this may be helpful if, for example, the chairman was incapacitated for some time due to ill health.
We have considered carefully the concerns of the noble Baroness. I agree with her that these provisions appear a little heavy-handed and could imply that the independence of the delivery authority would be compromised. I wish to reassure her that this was not our intention, so the government amendment removes the ability of the Secretary of State or the chairman to issue directions to the deputy chairman. Instead, provision is made for the deputy chairman to undertake the duties of the chairman only when the chairman be unable to do so, such as when he is on holiday or unwell. We have also added a provision that gives the chairman a discretionary power to issue guidance to the deputy on how the functions should be exercised. The deputy can discharge functions whether or not guidance is issued, but he must have regard to any guidance that has been issued when deciding how to discharge those functions. Any guidance issued by the chairman is to have no effect on whether the deputy can discharge the functions. When the chairman is unable to discharge the functions, the deputy is to be entitled to discharge any of the chairman's functions.
I hope that the noble Baroness will be able to support the amendment and I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 26:
Schedule 6, page 74, line 24, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
"(b) send a copy of the certified statement and of his report to the Secretary of State as soon as possible.
( ) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the statement and report sent under sub-paragraph (5)(b) before Parliament."
My Lords, as I announced in Committee, the National Audit Office has contacted the Department for Work and Pensions to notify it of a change of policy in relation to the NAO's role in laying audited accounts before Parliament. The Bill makes clear that the delivery authority will be required to produce an annual statement of accounts and that the Comptroller and Auditor General must then audit them. This will not change.
However, the Bill also states that the Comptroller and Auditor General will then lay a copy of the audited accounts before Parliament. The NAO has brought to our attention that this requirement should no longer be placed on the Comptroller and Auditor General as it is now the policy of each department or audited body to take ownership of publishing accounts and laying them before Parliament. The purpose of this is to move the central government sector into line with the commercial world where it is the responsibility of companies rather than their auditors to file accounts. Government Amendment No. 26 makes this change so that it is the responsibility of the Secretary of State to lay a copy of the audited accounts before Parliament. The change will reflect industry best practice and bring the delivery authority in line with other recently created bodies such as Natural England and the Olympic Delivery Authority, which require the Secretary of State to lay the audited accounts before Parliament. I beg to move.
moved Amendment No. 27:
Clause 33, page 30, line 9, at end insert—
"( ) In discharging its function under this section, the Authority shall ensure that its actions and advice support the objective of the scheme under subsection (2)(a) that all investments held for the purposes of the scheme are managed in accordance with what appears to the Authority to be industry best practice relating to the responsibilities of institutional shareholders and their agents in relation to shareholder activism, including any principles governing intervention in an investee company on account of its approach to corporate social responsibility."
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment No. 28. The points mentioned in the amendments are designed to ensure that the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority operates in the best interests of members, but without being prescriptive. It is reasonable that these amendments should be made to incorporate these important principles into the scheme and the delivery authority from the outset. It is also important that the points are included now in order that the ability of the potential delivery authority personnel to deliver against such objectives is considered when they are being recruited.
These amendments seek to ensure that the issues central to the benefit of scheme members are put on to the agenda while quite rightly leaving the delivery authority to decide how to fulfil its responsibilities to members. Moreover, I imagine that it would be uncontroversial to suggest that the investment strategy should be in the best interests of members, that members will be given choice, or that the charges are fair and reasonable.
There is another important point in favour of the amendments. As we all know because we have discussed it many times, one of the problems is that people are simply not saving enough for pension provision. We all know why this happens; often people are expected to save for pensions at a time in their lives when they have a number of other expenses. Another reason why some people have been reluctant to put money into pension schemes is that in recent years there have been a number of problems with pension provision and a number of scandals. The result has been that trust in pension schemes has, to some extent, been eroded and people are often reluctant to put their money where they do not feel it is going to be safe and secure. The amendments would ensure transparency; that members' interests are paramount; and that when they invest in a personal account scheme they can be confident that their money will be safe and that they are likely not to have any worries about it.
I hope my noble friend will look with favour on the amendments or, if he does not like the wording, perhaps come back with something different at a later stage of the Bill. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for moving Amendment No. 27 and for speaking to Amendment No. 28.
Indeed, my Lords. I always mean it. The amendments concern the investment policy for personal accounts. I will take the two amendments together as they both relate to investment objectives of the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority.
Amendment No. 27 would require the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority to develop an investment strategy based on industry best practice, in particular in relation to the delivery authority's approach to corporate social responsibility. Amendment No. 28 would require the objectives of personal accounts in relation to investment decisions and charges to be set out in the Bill.
The December White Paper, Personal accounts: a new way to save, set out a broad overview of the personal accounts scheme objectives, investment expectations and the charging structures. The Government's response to the White Paper consultation published recently set out our intentions for taking forward the policy on these areas.
It is a requirement of European law that pension schemes must comply with the "prudent person" rule and that investment decisions must be made in the best interests of members and beneficiaries. The personal accounts scheme will be a trust-based occupational pension scheme, run by trustees who will have a duty to comply with European and domestic legislation to manage the scheme in the best interests of members and beneficiaries. We expect that the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority will consider all manner of industry best practice, investment choices and engagement with stakeholders in developing the investment strategy for the scheme.
I hope my noble friend will agree that it is therefore not appropriate to set out specific objectives for the delivery authority to follow as these would constrain its proper consideration of all investment choices. As I have stated on earlier occasions, our proposed Bill, planned for later this year, will set out the finer detail of personal accounts and the remit of the delivery authority. I can reassure noble Lords that we will have the opportunity at that point to discuss in greater detail the proposed plans for investments and charges. In those circumstances, I hope my noble friend will withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that comprehensive response. I appreciate that there will be an opportunity at some stage in the future to discuss investment and charges. In those circumstances, we can withdraw the amendments today in the confidence that there will be an opportunity for further discussion if that is necessary. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 29:
After Clause 33, insert the following new Clause—
"Publication by Secretary of State
(a) any relevant proposals about personal accounts within the meaning of section 33;(b) any guidance issued under subsection (6) of section 33.
(2) The Secretary of State shall publish any matters laid before Parliament in accordance with subsection (1) in such manner as he considers appropriate."
My Lords, the new clause returns to the issue of transparency about the development of the personal accounts scheme. In Committee we debated a series of amendments that sought to delineate the matters the delivery authority had to have in mind as it formulated its advice to the Secretary of State or prepared for implementation. They covered hugely important areas, such as the effects of personal accounts on existing pension provision or the need to avoid the equivalent of mis-selling of personal accounts to people who will not get enough back, or who should use their money on things such as paying off expensive credit. Another example was the amendments just moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden.
The Minister's answer then—as it was a moment ago—was that all that would be covered by the next Bill and was inappropriate for this Bill. That answer, in effect, means that we may have to wait for a year or more before the next Bill becomes an Act. That is a year or more with no transparency about the crucial tasks the delivery authority will undertake. We may be able to debate the content of the next Bill, but it does not move forward any transparency about what the delivery authority will be working on.
All we know from the Bill is that the authority can do anything it thinks appropriate in relation to personal accounts but has no other guidance in the Bill. We know that the authority will be concerned with relevant proposals about personal accounts, which the Secretary of State will give them, but there is no provision in the Bill for Parliament, or indeed any other interested stakeholder, to be aware of what those relevant proposals amount to. In addition, the Secretary of State may issue guidance to the authority about the discharge of its function. However, there is no provision for anyone other than the authority to know what is in that guidance. In Committee, the Minister said the guidance could be administrative in nature. If that is the case, I am sure there is no harm in publishing it. The Minister will be aware that the real interest lies not in administrative matters but in the substantive development of personal accounts.
The Prime Minister has made much in his opening days about the need to restore trust in politics and, by extension, in Government. We agree with that; the past 10 years have left public trust damaged. The Minister must know that obsessive secrecy—doing things behind closed doors and not informing Parliament and others about the development of crucial policies—runs wholly counter to the need to rebuild trust.
My amendment would require the Secretary of State to lay before each House both the relevant proposals to be worked on by the delivery authority and any guidance issued under Clause 33(7). No parliamentary approval would be required, so the work of the delivery authority would not be held up, but Parliament would be given the opportunity to seek appropriate debates on the issues being passed from the Secretary of State to the delivery authority. The amendment would also require publication as the Secretary of State thought fit. There are many interested parties outside Parliament who also need to be informed, and many of us throughout the course of the Bill have received representations from many such parties representing very diverse interests.
If the Government are serious about rebuilding trust, let them start today by accepting my amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches support the amendment in the interests of transparency—the favourite word of Ministers tonight, I notice. It seems to have overtaken, with a late run, the word "flexibility" in the ministerial briefing stakes.
My Lords, I dare not say that I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tabling the amendment, but I am delighted that we were able to have this discussion now. I hope that I can be flexible with my speaking notes so that I can try to address some of the noble Baroness's concerns, which I appreciate are important.
I stress that the Government have approached the development of proposals for personal accounts in a very collaborative and consensual way. I strongly believe that that approach is not going to change, and we will continue to work with the network of stakeholders that we have established. We will continue to be open about proposals set out in the White Paper, the consultation and the Government's response. Our approach is to use the documents that are in the public domain and set out the proposals, combining that with the requirements on the delivery authority to produce an annual report and accounts, to have a management statement which is agreed with the DWP and is public, and to have a financial memorandum. These procedures and processes will create a situation in which the transparency required by the noble Baroness can be delivered.
In Committee, noble Lords indicated that they would return to these topics on Report. The Bill seeks to establish a delivery authority to utilise the knowledge, skills and experience of the private sector to help the Government to understand the commercial and operational implications of policy decisions. In particular, the delivery authority will advise on specific products that comprise a financial, technical and commercial strategy. We want to introduce independent expertise at an early stage to ensure that our proposals are robust and can be implemented successfully.
As Clause 33 indicates, the delivery authority will, during the initial phase, provide advice on relevant proposals as presented by the Secretary of State. As I have indicated, these proposals, including the December White Paper and the DWP's recent response to the consultation on that paper, are already in the public domain. Furthermore, the debates on the Bill will provide and shape the context within which the authority will work.
We continue to develop proposals prior to legislating for personal accounts in a proposed second Bill. In doing so, the DWP will utilise the stakeholder networks it has worked hard to establish, maintaining the open and consultative approach we have developed with interested parties. A good example of our collaborative working approach is the seminars we have held in conjunction with the PPI and other organisations. We will continue to listen to and engage with stakeholders as we take forward proposals for personal accounts. We cannot do this without having the level of transparency for which the noble Baroness is calling. We cannot achieve that engagement without working in that way.
As the delivery authority takes up its role, it, too, will proffer advice on the proposals. But, unlike stakeholders, the authority will do so in an independent capacity and from the perspective of an organisation that will be tasked with creating the infrastructure for the scheme.
We must bear in mind that in particular, the authority will be considering the design of the infrastructure for the scheme and the preparations for the contracting of services necessary to set it up. To expose the nature of this work, as the amendment suggests, would put the delivery authority at a major disadvantage when it comes to negotiating contracts. Indeed, it would be likely to deter potential suppliers who would be denied confidentiality. I believe that this is one of the key problems with the amendment. This would clearly not be in the interests of the eventual members of the scheme.
As I have indicated, the primary reason for bringing in independent expertise at this early stage is to advise on the viability of policy proposals and the scheme, including the commercial strategy for service contracts. Guidance is a term which describes one way in which the Secretary of State could communicate with the delivery authority about how it carries out its duties—it is not a method of curtailing the independence of the authority in providing advice on proposals. Much of this guidance will be uncontroversial, such as how the authority could present advice to the Secretary of State. However, the delivery authority will be required to produce an annual report and accounts, which is important in terms of transparency. That public document will include details of the authority's work, the issues it has advised on and the progress it has made towards delivering its remit.
As I suggested earlier, the authority will also be subject to normal non-departmental public body scrutiny and accountability arrangements. The management statement and the financial memorandum, which will be public documents, will provide a clear operating framework. As I have said, these documents will be agreed with the DWP.
I fully accept the spirit in which this amendment was tabled. I stress again that we are, and will continue to be, committed to maintaining the consensus that has been our overriding approach in developing our proposals for personal accounts. This will not change once the authority is in place. Our White Paper response document quite clearly indicates our expectation that the delivery authority will act in an open and consultative manner. Indeed, in his foreword to that document, the Secretary of State was unambiguous in stating:
"The last year has seen tremendous progress in building consensus on a new foundation for long-term savings. We must now go further in deepening that consensus around the details of personal accounts. The coming year could be the most important in getting this right".
I hope that I have reassured the noble Baroness that, in taking forward proposals for personal accounts, we and the delivery authority will be open and transparent in our proceedings. However, as she will readily appreciate, we must also consider the sensitivities around commercial confidentiality that I mentioned. I hope that the noble Baroness will consider withdrawing her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply and the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, for his support for my amendment. If I had not heard the Minister's final sentence, asking me to withdraw the amendment, I might almost have thought that she was agreeing with exactly what I was trying to achieve.
If the delivery authority is to be as committed to transparency as the Minister would have us believe, why can we not include in the Bill a provision that states that its proposals will be laid before Parliament? I accept that there exists a body of proposals at the moment, but other proposals could arise later, which may or may not be made available.
Neither of us is interested in the administrative guidance on how to lay out advice to the Secretary of State—that is not important. What is important is the extent to which guidance is given that constrains or affects the way in which the issues are to be developed. The Minister said that commercial confidentiality was the key and that the authority would deliver the design of infrastructure, which was not appropriate to be in the public domain. However, that is not what my amendment dealt with. It dealt with the proposals and the guidance that the Secretary of State gives to the delivery authority. It was not aimed at advice going in the opposite direction to the Secretary of State—we debated that in the context of the Freedom of Information Act amendment in Committee. The amendment is about being open and transparent not just with stakeholders but also, importantly, with Parliament, which does not want to lose sight of the development of the scheme as it progresses.
The Minister has not addressed the transparency issues that I raised. It is such an important issue that I wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments Nos. 31 and 32. Government Amendments Nos. 30, 31 and 32 relate to the provisions for the wind-up of the delivery authority. As I made clear in Committee, Clause 35 is included in the Bill as an act of prudence—we would not wish to pre-empt the will of Parliament by taking for granted its approval of a proposed second pensions Bill.
Should this second Bill not receive Parliament's support and it became clear to the Secretary of State that the delivery authority was no longer needed, Clause 35 would enable the Secretary of State to wind up the authority. In doing so, any wind-up order could also make provision for the transfer of the authority's property, rights and liabilities.
As drafted, the Bill enables transfer to the Secretary of State or to "any other person". In Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, tabled an amendment that sought to remove "any other person", but we did not debate the point. Nevertheless, in the light of her amendment, I have reflected on the provision and concluded that transfer to "any other person" is not required.
The delivery authority will be funded by grant in aid throughout its initial stage. In the unlikely event that it was necessary to wind up the authority, it would be appropriate for any property, rights or liabilities to be transferred solely to the Secretary of State. Government Amendment No. 30 therefore removes the provision that would enable these to be transferred to "any other person", and Amendments Nos. 31 and 32 make consequential amendments to tidy up the clause and to reflect this change. I beg to move.
moved Amendments Nos. 31 and 32:
Clause 35, page 31, line 4, leave out "or (b)"
Clause 35, page 31, line 6, leave out "or divided"
On Question, amendments agreed to.
moved Amendment No. 33:
After Clause 35, insert the following new Clause—
"Report to Parliament about costs of Personal Accounts Scheme
(1) Before the end of the six months beginning with the day on which this Act is passed, the Secretary of State must prepare and lay before Parliament a report setting out his estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the Personal Accounts Scheme during the ten years beginning with the laying of the report.
(2) Before the end of every six months beginning with the laying of a report under this section, the Secretary of State must prepare and lay before Parliament a further report setting out his estimate of the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the Personal Accounts Scheme during the ten years beginning with the end of those six months.
(3) References in this section, in relation to any period of ten years, to the public expenditure likely to be incurred on the Personal Accounts Scheme are references to the expenditure likely to be incurred over that period by the Secretary of State, the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority and any successor body to the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority."
My Lords, the amendment would insert a new clause to require the Secretary of State to publish a report on the costs of the personal accounts scheme every six months. The report would be in the form of a rolling 10-year forecast of public expenditure likely to be incurred. As I explained in Committee, it is modelled on the cost report produced in respect of the identity cards scheme. I explained also in Committee that the amendment was suggested to us by the Association of British Insurers, although we are happy to support it. The cost report on identity cards was a direct result of our similar amendment which won the support of your Lordships' House when we considered the Identity Cards Bill.
We believe that concerns about large-scale projects in the public sector are so great that mechanisms have to be found to keep these projects subject to public scrutiny during their gestation and implementation. Too many large-scale projects, in particular those involving IT, have gone wrong, have cost too much and have delivered too little, too late. My noble friend Lord Lucas led a debate on this in your Lordships' House a couple of weeks ago, when he laid out the plain fact that the list of failures is very long indeed.
We cannot rely on the Government volunteering information. That has rarely happened in the past. I remember only too well the struggle to obtain the barest outline of the costs of the Dome until well after the damage had been done. Relying on the National Audit Office to reveal the facts after the event is not good enough. We all want this personal accounts scheme to work and we believe that transparency, which we debated on a previous amendment, is an essential component of keeping progress on the project in public view. We also cannot rely on the Freedom of Information Act to reveal the information. The Government are adept at deploying the various exemptions from disclosure; even when the Information Commissioner finds against them, they have been known to defy him. We cannot rely on the Office of Government Commerce and the gateway reviews, because these are deliberately kept out of the public domain. Indeed, the latest twist involves reports that the Treasury have ordered that copies of the gateway reviews be destroyed after they are undertaken. The Treasury has never believed in transparency.
In Committee, the Minister said that the funding of the personal accounts scheme is a matter not for this Bill but for the next, but I do not think that that is quite right. The delivery authority's function as set out in Clause 33(1) is to prepare for implementation of personal accounts as well as to advise on the Secretary of State's proposals. The Explanatory Notes to the Bill make it clear at paragraph 91 that,
"much preliminary work must be done in advance of Royal Assent of the planned second Bill", and paragraph 93 states that the delivery authority would,
"Formulate a commercial strategy for the personal accounts scheme by preparing specific products which comprise a financial, technical and commercial strategy prior to issuing an Invitation to Negotiate".
The Minister mentioned that in the context of a previous amendment. I hope that he will not tell me that this does not involve detailed costing. If we cannot get information from the delivery authority under this Bill, we must wait for the next Bill. We might well be talking about at least another year before a new Bill becomes law and we do not know whether there will be transparency provisions in that Bill. Certainly there will be an information void as a minimum between now and Royal Assent of the next Bill.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, asked very reasonably whether the period of six months was too short. To date, there have been two identity cards cost reports, which are six monthly. The initial one contained no surprises, but the second one, which was available in May, showed that the costs had gone up by nearly £1 billion in six months—and no one thinks that it will stop there. Therefore, I am rather inclined to think that six months can be a long time if a project is going out of control in any way and that any longer period would not serve the needs of transparency and accountability. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support this amendment. My noble friend referred to gateway reviews. I am going to bully the Government with a specific question about that until I am blue in the face. Normally, with gateway reviews the Government claim commercial confidentiality. I signally fail to understand why the traffic-light system of gateway reviews should be subject to commercial confidentiality. That simply tells us—Parliament—whether a particular IT project is subject to a red, green or amber light.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, for remembering my question in Committee. I am afraid that I still feel on balance that six-monthly reports on this project are too frequent. The identity cards project is such uncharted territory, and it is far more complex and far larger than this. Six months is a reasonable period in the ID cards Bill but in this regard it rather smacks of pulling up the plant frequently to see whether it is growing. I am afraid that I do not support the amendment.
My Lords, noble Lords will be aware, as has been said, that this amendment was debated in Committee. Several points were raised then, from different sides of the Chamber. The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, justified her need for more reporting because the Government have, she said,
There was also some concern that if the costs of the scheme were to be covered through some form of government subsidy, this would be unfair to existing pension providers. I do not think that that point has been pushed this evening.
The delivery authority is being set up to engage the necessary expertise to advise on the delivery of personal accounts within a framework set by government. Of course I understand the concerns expressed here today. The Government's track record of delivering on large-scale IT projects has not altogether been a happy one. But it is sometimes easy to forget the track record of the routine work of this department—the DWP ensures that state pensions are paid every week or month to around 10.5 million pensioners in the UK and a further 1 million who live outside the UK.
In this initial advisory phase, as we have said throughout the consultation on personal accounts, the delivery authority's sole source of financing will be the Department for Work and Pensions, from grant-in-aid. As such, the department will be required to report on its accounts in the usual way. I am not sure that a requirement to report on public expenditure in connection with personal accounts—from the point at which this Bill is passed, and every six months thereafter—would help to ensure that the necessary IT for the personal accounts scheme is delivered. Six months is incredibly frequent; it will be a job-creation scheme for accountants. In this initial phase, the authority will also provide advice and consider proposals on the most effective way to finance the scheme. It has been suggested by some in the industry that any form of government subsidy would distort the market for pension provision. That is not our intention.
We recognise that the personal accounts scheme should not receive state support—that gives it an unfair competitive advantage over other pension providers. We intend the scheme to be self-financing in the long run through membership charges. However, in the short term, there are likely to be costs arising from a number of activities, such as acquiring the necessary IT and testing it, before the scheme receives any revenue from membership charges.
Some respondents to our consultation on personal accounts suggested that members,
"should not bear an unreasonable burden of the start-up costs of the scheme".
Others were concerned that any taxpayer subsidy would create an imbalance in the market for workplace pensions.
We are considering a range of funding options for the personal accounts scheme. The optimal financing solution will require balancing our commitment to those who are not covered by existing pension provision—the 7 million who are not saving enough—without adversely impacting on the market for pension provision. We are all well aware of the constraints on the government purse and the need to be accountable to the taxpayer.
Provisions in Schedule 6 require the delivery authority to report annually on its performance and financial position—a requirement that applies equally to other nondepartmental public bodies. The delivery authority will be required to provide a report to the Secretary of State, certified by the Comptroller and Auditor General, for examination and approval. I see no benefit in adding further burdens to the comprehensive regime of financial accountability that already exists. The income and expenditure, public or private, associated with the personal accounts scheme, beyond the delivery authority's advisory phase, is not a matter for the provisions in the Bill.
It is our intention to bring forward further information on the funding options we are considering in a subsequent Bill, subject to the will of Parliament. There will be further opportunity for your Lordships to examine that information. I therefore urge that the amendment be withdrawn. This is not an attempt to withhold any information, but if we are asking for six-monthly financial reporting with 10-yearly projections as well as all the other routine reporting that needs to take place, that really is way over the top.
The noble Lord raised the issue of gateway reviews and their availability. I am not particularly excited on that issue, but I shall look into the matter and perhaps write to him.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for taking part. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, thinks that six months is too short. I feel that a 12-month backward-looking report which the Minister said was on offer—an annual report that by definition looks backwards—is nothing like a substitute for keeping an eye on what is going forward. I do not believe that it is a job-creation scheme for accountants, because if the delivery authority is doing its job properly, it will have long-term projections which are constantly kept under review. This is just a matter of transparency, yet again.
The system needs to be—and we all want it to be—up and running by 2012. There is high potential for it not to be plain sailing. It may not be as complicated as the ID card scheme, but transactionally it may be more complex as it has to cope with enrolments, people changing employment, and people investing in different kinds of funds and changing them over time. Transactionally, it is quite a complex scheme. If it starts to get out of control, it may need more money to fix it, and who will meet that cost? Will the state meet it or will it be a burden on the scheme? Or it may not be delivered, which we do not want. Transparency— keeping a view on how this is developing—is one of the important ways in which one can help it to be delivered. However, I recognise that there is no support for the amendment this evening, which is a great pity because it would have been nice to test how many of the 70 are still in the House. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
moved Amendment No. 35:
Before Clause 36, insert the following new Clause—
"Occupational pensions—transparency for employees
(2) After subsection (2)(b), insert—
"(ba) cost to the employer of pension contributions made or treated as made in respect of the employee during the period covered by the pay statement,"."
My Lords, we have heard much about transparency during the past few hours. The suggestion that occupational pensions information should be given on pay slips is most definitely an aid to transparency. The instructions given to new public speakers are said to include the diktat, "Never begin with an apology". Today I have to break that instruction—on reflection, I believe that I have not inserted this new clause into the correct part of the Bill. The Minister will probably tell me that it should more properly be in Part 2, possibly after Clause 31, but I shall leave him to make that statement in due course.
Wherever it appears, the amendment would, in a small but significant way, clear the fog of confusion that surrounds pensions. It is designed to make pensions a more significant part of pay packages, something of which the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, must surely approve, given her support for the fact that pensions are deferred wages. That is something that employers can offer to potential employees as a consideration and something that employees continue to note every time they receive their pay slips. In the private sector, companies will be encouraged to offer competitive pensions and employees will appreciate the benefit to them of opting in to company schemes and contributing to their retirement. It will also point up the advantages of the new personal accounts and pay slips will clearly show where the money is going.
In the public sector, it will also have a positive effect. It is not unusual to hear complaints from civil servants about low wages—indeed, we heard some of them uttered by the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, earlier today. At the moment, they are able to ignore, and possibly are not even aware of, the valuable pensions that await them—but not their private sector counterparts—upon retirement. With the pension contributions written clearly upon their payslips, employees from both the private and the public sector will be able to make a more informed and accurate assessment of the value of their pay and the rewards they receive for work. My amendment would take little effort to implement and could have a large and positive effect. I hope that the Minister will consider its benefits carefully. I beg to move.
My Lords, I do not disagree with the amendment, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, would not expect me to. I have a query on the wording,
"pension contributions made or treated as made".
I worry about that a bit, because we know of plenty of examples where employees have alleged that they have made contributions but have in fact had contribution holidays and so on. While I would be quite happy if it just said "pension contributions made", I feel a bit dubious about "treated as made".
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, on a novel and original idea, wherever it gets inserted into the Bill.
My Lords, I would like to thank the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for tabling this amendment. We share his concern that employees should be given appropriate information about their employer's contribution to their pensions. However, I believe that the current arrangements meet these objectives.
The Employment Rights Act 1996 entitles employees to receive a written pay statement showing their gross and net pay and itemising all deductions. The purpose of these provisions is to protect employees by ensuring that they know what deductions have been made from their pay and why. They can complain to an employment tribunal if they do not receive a statement, or if all the necessary information has not been given. The tribunal can order the employer to pay compensation if it finds that unnotified deductions have been made. The provisions therefore ensure that employees' pension contributions are shown on their pay statements.
Employees have to be told when they join, or are considering joining, an occupational pension scheme how the employer's contributions are determined and how the member's contributions are calculated. In addition, members of defined contribution schemes—where the amount of money paid in is intrinsically related to the size of the pension they will get out—have to be told, on an annual basis, the amount of contributions credited to them in the previous year. Members of defined benefit schemes which are subject to the statutory funding requirements can request information on the schedule of contributions that the employer has agreed to pay.
We feel that this level of information is satisfactory. We must be mindful of the burden on employers of having to re-cast their pay statements unless there is compelling evidence that harm would result from the absence of such a requirement. This may slightly disappoint the noble Lord, but I hope that he accepts the extent to which the basic issue he is pursuing is genuinely covered and feels able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful for the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Oakeshott, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner. The reason that the words "treated as made" are in the amendment is so that it covers public sector pensions, where the money does not actually get transferred anywhere. It sits in a notional hole and gets paid out at the end of the employment.
As for the Employment Rights Act 1996, by law the Minister is quite right. You have to have net and gross income put on the monthly, or even weekly, pay sheet. You have to put the deductions, first for tax and, secondly, for national insurance but, as far as I know, for none other purpose. If I am right, there is a very good reason for putting pension contributions on the pay sheet. I will not pursue the argument tonight. However, I would like to talk privately, perhaps to one of the Minister's advisers, about this, as transparency on a weekly or monthly basis is very important. It will help to achieve what we are all trying to do, which is to set up a sensible pension scheme, especially for the lower paid.
My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I understand fully the thrust of where he is coming from. I very much take the point that we should fix a meeting outside the Chamber to see precisely where we are. If we need to do anything different to meet the noble Lord's objectives, we will try to do so.
moved Amendment No. 37:
Schedule 7, page 76, line 42, at end insert—
"Part 2A Up-rating
|Citation||Extent of Repeal|
|Social Security Contributions and Benefits Act 1992 (c. 4)||In Schedule 5, in each of paragraphs 5A(3)(a), 6(4)(b) and 6A(2)(b), the words "after it has been reduced by the amount of any increases under section 109 of the Pensions Act".|
On Question, amendment agreed to.