Pension Schemes Bill — Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:00 pm on 7th January 2015.

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Photo of Baroness Drake Baroness Drake Labour 5:00 pm, 7th January 2015

My Lords, for the purposes of all of today’s business on the Bill I refer to the interests which I have registered as a remunerated trustee of both the Telefónica O2 and Santander pension schemes and the board of the Pensions Advisory Service, and as a non-remunerated member of the board of the Pensions Quality Mark and a governor of the Pensions Policy Institute. I am also a member of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. That is like an act of cleansing; I hope that I have stated all possible interests that could appear to conflict with anything I might say today.

I support Amendment 2 and very much share the spirit of the contribution made by the noble Lord, Lord German, particularly his comments about the estimable chair of the Delegated Powers Committee. I accept that it will be a very significant challenge to get collective benefit schemes established in the first instance. As we heard from the NAPF and the ABI, there is little observed appetite from providers or employers, certainly at this stage, for engaging with such schemes.

There are other barriers and constraints to be overcome because collective benefit schemes require an assured flow of new members, excellent governance and full transparency, and the new freedoms with their emphasis on individual freedom rather than risk-sharing may well act as a further deterrent. None the less, for those of us who are genuinely interested in seeing the development of more efficient ways of risk sharing, the Bill provides the opportunity to set the founding legal framework and is therefore worthy of proper scrutiny. In fact, not to scrutinise would be a failure to engage with the work that has been done by the Minister for Pensions and the Department for Work and Pensions.

However, Clause 8 is a key and critical provision because it sets the definition for what are collective benefits, on which the rest of the clauses in Part 2 and many of the associated delegated powers depend. That is why it is so critical in its construct and its definition of the delegated powers associated with it. In my view, the power to set regulations under Clause 8(3)(b) should be subject to the affirmative procedure because the definition of what is or is not a collective benefit makes it so critical to the scope of the whole of Part 2, which deals with collective benefits.

Clause 8(2) defines what a collective benefit is but Clause 8(3)—the subject of this amendment—defines what it is not. It is not a collective benefit if it is a money purchase benefit or, more particularly, some other benefit of such a description to be specified in regulation.

I understand the Government’s reasoning when they indicate that with-profit arrangements, for example, provided by some insurers should not come within the definition of a collective benefit scheme. It is perfectly reasonable for the Secretary of State to want some flexibility to respond as the market develops and innovation occurs in scheme or benefit design.

Clause 8(3)(b) would allow the Government to use regulation to avoid schemes being subject to the expense of meeting the detailed requirements set out in Clauses 9 to 35 if they are deemed not to be proper collective benefit schemes. But the clause, in granting the Government power to significantly alter by regulation the constituent benefits that are not included in the definition of collective benefits, has the ability therefore to potentially remove members of schemes out of the protection of the requirements in the other clauses in Part 2.

This, of course, could have considerable implications for members and the scope of the whole of Part 2. The potential of this regulation to remove members from the protections they may already have by being in a designated collective benefit scheme, which subsequently a change of regulation deems that they are no longer in, makes it compelling that this remains a power that should be subject to the affirmative procedure. This should be as a general practice, not just in first use, because if collective benefits take off—one hopes that they do and we therefore have wide coverage and scale—any review or change to the definitions of the benefits embraced by such collective schemes will be of outstanding importance to the members.