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 Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip) 5:00 pm, 7th January 2015

My Lords, I confirm to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, that the measures under the budget flexibilities are still intended to come into effect for April 2015. This is not the case for the measures relating to collective benefits.

The Bill is deliberately a framework Bill, which is generally the case with pensions legislation. As my noble friend Lord German indicated, it is not unusual to have significant delegated powers in pensions legislation; it is often the norm. The Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee has made recommendations concerning the powers in Part 2, and I will come on to look at those. I share the enormous respect in which the noble Baroness who chairs that committee is held by the House.

I confirm that the Government accept the views of the committee in respect of the powers in Clauses 9, 10, 11 and 21. We intend to table amendments on

Report which will make regulations under those clauses subject to the affirmative procedure the first time those powers are used, as the committee recommended.

This amendment relates to the committee’s recommendation about the power in Clause 8(3)(b). This power allows regulations to specify benefits that are not to be considered collective benefits and therefore exclude such benefits from the provisions of Part 2, as the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, just indicated. The committee recommended that this power be subject to the affirmative procedure. I will now explain how we are unable to accept that recommendation in full, although we recognise that there is a strong case for affirmative procedure on first use. We have therefore accepted that.

Let me first give some background on collective benefits. Collective benefits are provided on the basis of investing members’ assets on a pooled basis, in a way that shares risks across the scheme’s membership and has the effect of smoothing out fluctuations, to a degree at least. The collective asset pool is managed on behalf of the members by trustees, or, in non-trust based schemes, by managers. We intend to use powers under Clause 9 to require that there will always be a target attached to collective benefits and that initial targets need to be achievable within a specified probability range. We will ensure that schemes offering collective benefits operate in a transparent and accountable way using a range of powers we have taken in Part 2, together with regulation-making powers in existing pensions legislation. Decisions about the rate of benefit ultimately paid to the member will be for the trustees or managers to make in line with their policies. We will consult fully on how best we use the powers in Part 2 to provide the appropriate framework for these benefits and to ensure good governance.

As the Government set out in the memorandum to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, there needs to be flexibility to respond to new developments in scheme and benefit design that result in benefits falling within the definition “contrary to policy intention”, as I believe the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, recognised. This power was included in the Bill to ensure that, from the outset, the definition of collective benefits would not catch any personal pension schemes set up by insurers that offer with-profits arrangements that might otherwise fall within the definition.

The Government recognise that the committee rightly considers this a key provision, as it frames all that follows in Part 2 and defines it scope, that should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny. However, there are circumstances where the Government may need to use the power at a later date if new developments in scheme and benefit design result in benefits falling within the definition “contrary to policy intention”. This latter use of the power might require a very quick response to avoid members’ benefits being affected and to avoid schemes being subject to expensive requirements around the setting of targets, actuarial valuations and so on, which are not appropriate. I trust that noble Lords can see that the affirmative procedure could result in delay, leading to significant distress for members, who would wish the matter to be resolved as quickly as possible. This is why we believe that the affirmative procedure is inappropriate across the board.

As I have indicated, the Government therefore propose that, as with the powers in Clauses 9 to 11 and 21, the power in Clause 8 should be subject to the affirmative procedure on first use, allowing Parliament the opportunity to debate the scope of the collective benefits provisions when the regulatory framework is first set up, but that subsequent use should be subject to the negative procedure so that the Government can act quickly if necessary.

Turning to the noble Lord’s amendment, I hope that I have clarified the Government’s position on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommendations and my commitment that the Government will return on Report with amendments that will implement its recommendations on Clauses 9 to 11 and 21 in full, and in Clause 8 in part. I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.