Pension Schemes Bill — Committee (1st Day)

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:00 pm on 7th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Bradley Lord Bradley Shadow Spokesperson (Work and Pensions), Shadow Spokesperson (Health) 6:00 pm, 7th January 2015

Amendment 4 stands in my name and in that of my noble friend Lord McAvoy. Again, it flows from the recommendations of the Delegated Powers Committee. We have already had a response from the Minister about how the Government are handling this, but in the light of his preliminary comments about targets I think it is still worth our having a brief debate on this amendment.

The Delegated Powers Committee suggested that because of the nature of the powers in clause 9, which may require the trustees or managers of a pension scheme to set targets in relation to collective benefits, the affirmative procedure on first use would be most appropriate.

This clause is particularly important, as it raises many of the key areas that we wish to discuss around CDC schemes; indeed, we have already started to discuss them. These are issues such as the balance of intergenerational risk-sharing, the communication of the “risks of risk-sharing”, the importance of good governance in these schemes so that they can command sufficient trust from their members—a subject about which we have already had some discussion—and the role that actuaries are likely to play in the process.

The Secretary of State is here given the power to require a target that meets a set probability. For instance, if the probability was set at 98%, the target would have to take that into account and be set at such a level that there was only a 2% chance that it would be missed. To reflect on the most controversial aspect of CDC schemes—as I have made clear, the Opposition support these schemes—we have to look at what happened in

Holland, where because of the financial crisis, pension payments had to be reduced. It is therefore important for us to look at targets and ranges, so as to give assurance to the schemes.

The Minister in the other place said that the regulations produced under the powers conferred by Clause 9 were to be subject to consultation. Can the Minister provide any further detail on when the consultation is likely to begin, and say whether the Government will be expressing a preferred option and asking for comment on that—and if so, what the preferred option is likely to be?

Because of the reasons that I have set out, communication to scheme members about how the target level is set and what factors could lead to it being altered is particularly important for these schemes. Can the Minister provide us with any more details on how the Government believe this can best be expressed to give scheme members confidence in the decisions being made?

This issue also takes us into the area of governance. The kinds of decisions that have to be made about targets and probabilities, and about how all this translates into the level of pensions paid out in a CDC scheme, require a high level of trust in the process—the kind of trust that is more easily established through a scheme being overseen by trustees rather than managers. But we have already rehearsed that argument, and I shall not go over it again.

Can the Minister provide us with any more detail on the interaction between the actuaries and the trustees or scheme managers under this provision? For instance, if the actuary gives advice that the probability of meeting a target falls outside the probability level set by the regulations, what options will be available to the trustees, in terms both of the action they can take and of how they communicate this to the scheme members? I acknowledge that this is a complex area, and the challenge of adequately communicating why a certain decision has been made is often considerable.

We understand that the Government cannot pre-empt a consultation that has not begun, and also that this Bill is not unique in being a piece of pensions legislation that confers a wide degree of delegated powers. However, it is still unsatisfactory if those powers are not before the House to be debated alongside the primary legislation. The huge range of options left open by this clause means not only that it should be subject to the affirmative resolution when the Government produce regulations on the matters within it, but that it would be useful if the committee were able to piece together the picture that the Government expect and hope will be in the regulations tied to the primary legislation, and see how they would impact on the important issues identified in Clause 9. I beg to move.