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Part of Pension Schemes Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:09 pm on 27th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord McAvoy Lord McAvoy Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Northern Ireland), Shadow Spokesperson (Scotland) 3:09 pm, 27th January 2015

My Lords, the amendment stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Bradley. It is our contention that the Bill does not go far enough to address the governance of defined contribution pension schemes. We have consistently argued on the Bill and the previous Bill that all workplace pension schemes must be run by independent boards of trustees. Those trustees would have a fiduciary duty that would take precedence over any duty owed to shareholders. In proposing the amendment, we are setting out a clear responsibility that all those looking after someone else’s money or advising on investments should be subject to fiduciary standards of care. That will mean that conflicts of interest must be resolved in the beneficiaries’ interest. That omission from the Bill is perhaps surprising given the findings of the government consultation document entitled, Reshaping Workplace Pensions for Future Generations. Paragraph 22 states:

“Collective schemes are complex and can be opaque—because of the indirect relationship between contributions and benefits. This necessitates strong standards of communication and governance. We intend collective schemes to be overseen by experienced fiduciaries acting on behalf of members, taking decisions at scheme level and removing the need for individuals to make difficult choices over fund allocations and retirement income products”.

The Bill sets up a new model of collective pensions. This will have a form of independence within the governance arrangements, with an alignment of interests. It falls short of our proposal for independent trustees with a clear fiduciary duty to act in savers’ interests, but is an acknowledgement of the principles underpinning good governance. The Government have failed to take the opportunity to require that independence in the governance of all pension schemes.

In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, said:

“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”.—[Hansard, 7/1/15; cols. 381-2.]

In response, we say to the Minister: how long should we give the industry to change? How much evidence do we need to prove that government action is needed and that it is our responsibility to act? Enough is enough.

During the past three years alone, the failures of the pension industry have been well documented. Market studies have been produced by the Office of Fair Trading and the Financial Conduct Authority and reports produced by the Pensions Institute and the Centre for Policy Studies, among others, as well as by journalists from the Times, the Telegraph, the Mail and the Guardian, through to Channel 4 documentaries, to name but a few. There can hardly be a literate adult in the UK who does not understand that there is something seriously amiss without pension industry. Nor should we ignore the fact that many of those commentators and financial experts have called on the Government to take action because of the failure of regulation, the failure of parts of the market to follow ABI codes of practice or adopt best practice. It has been given a chance to improve for the past decade or more, and even the mis-selling scandals that have cost the industry dear have not been enough to prompt the change that we all believe is necessary.

One further matter should be considered: the success of auto-enrolment. Auto-enrolment has proved attractive and more people have remained in the schemes to date than we had dared hope. We have helped people to do the sensible thing, but that will not be sustained if we do not protect savers from excessive charges, poor returns, poor management practices, mis-selling scandals and the like. People need to trust the private sector pensions industry. As my noble friend Lady Drake said in Committee:

“It will be a major regulatory failure of public policy if millions of citizens are auto-enrolled into pension schemes but Parliament has not ensured that sound governance is in place.—[Hansard, 7/1/15; col. 378.]

I beg to move.