Pension Schemes Bill — Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:45 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) 5:45 pm, 7th January 2015

This is probably the main difference between the approaches of the Government and of the Opposition. I do not think that we are miles apart on our desired outcome, but we believe that working with the industry, consumer groups and pension groups to achieve the best interests is the right way forward. If we can achieve the same end without making it mandatory, we believe that that is the right approach. It is probably at the root of the difference between the two parties that we believe that we are achieving the result without having to make it mandatory.

I recognise the spirit behind the amendment that has been brought forward and the Government accept the need for the appropriate corporate governance. Whether it is in relation to trust-based schemes or to contract-based schemes, we want the similar result of the managers or the trustees acting in the best interests of the pensioners. I want to reassure noble Lords that the matter that this clause deals with is of great importance to the Government, and we are working with the industry and the Financial Conduct Authority to ensure that we get the approach right.

On Amendment 3, which would change Clause 9, let me set out some context on Clause 9 and why we think that the amendment would undermine a key governance provision. Clause 9 sets out a regulation-making power which may require trustees or managers of schemes offering collective benefits to set targets in relation to any collective benefits that may be provided by the scheme. Ensuring that there is a target in relation to collective benefits offered by the scheme should enable the member to have a realistic picture of the benefits that they are likely to receive. This is important, as the member is handing over control of their investments to those running the scheme. A target will also help those who wish to plan for their retirement income to do so meaningfully.

Removing the ability to require managers to set targets, which is what the amendment would do, would undermine a key provision which provides additional governance and transparency about members’ collective benefits. The requirement to set targets in relation to collective benefits in Clause 9 works closely with the other aspects of the governance regime set out in Part 2 of the Bill. For example, it is our intention that the probability of meeting the targets will be assessed annually in a valuation report to identify whether it falls within a specified probability range. If it falls outside this range, this will trigger the scheme’s policy for dealing with a “deficit” or “surplus”.

I think that we all agree that good governance of pension schemes is essential. That is why the Government’s new governance standards, applying across all workplace pension schemes in respect of money purchase benefits, will protect members by ensuing that schemes are run in their interests. It is also why we have introduced Clause 37: to ensure that there is extra protection for members’ interests.

However, the Government are taking a proportionate approach and seeking to allow constructive forms of innovation by pension providers, as well as retaining flexibility to ensure that regulation remains up to date with changing requirements. On that basis, I respectfully ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.