Part of Pension Schemes Bill – in the House of Lords at 3:45 pm on 27th January 2015.

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Photo of Lord Newby Lord Newby Lords Spokesperson (HM Treasury) (Whip), Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords) 3:45 pm, 27th January 2015

In Committee, the issue of the second line of defence was the subject of more debate than anything else. I, and other noble Lords, received a lot of lobbying from all sides of the industry and consumer groups about the need for a second line of defence. So I am pleased that other noble Lords are as pleased as I was when I heard, at the end of last week, that the FCA was planning to announce yesterday that it would make new rules by April to protect consumers as they make decisions on how to access and use their pension savings in later life. The Government share the aspirations of the noble Lords, Lord Bradley and Lord Hutton, that we should put in place a new system which gives the maximum opportunity for people to take informed decisions, because we accept that these decisions are, very often, for life and have very significant consequences.

Yesterday evening, I circulated the FCA announcement to noble Lords who had taken part in earlier debates. In short, the rules will introduce a second line of defence. Pension providers will be required to ask consumers seeking to access their pension savings about key aspects of their circumstances relating to the choice that they are making and give relevant risk warnings in response to the answers. This is a very important element: we are keen not simply to have another tick-box exercise, which we could have done at this point. Providers will also have to highlight that guidance from the Pension Wise service, or regulated advice, can help them to avoid making a poorly informed decision. The FCA will also require that messages should be delivered to consumers in direct and simple language.

The FCA announcement illustrates precisely why the amendments we are considering are not needed. The FCA already has a duty to ensure that the retirement income market is working for consumers captured under its statutory objectives, including its objective to secure an appropriate degree of protection for consumers. The announcement demonstrates just how seriously the FCA is taking this duty. It would also be unusual to legislate to give the FCA a specific objective in relation to one sort of investment—pensions—and to do so outside the Financial Services and Markets Act.

I was asked a number of specific questions. The first related to the board agreeing the proposals. It is notable that the press release does not refer to the board. I suspect that this is not an unusual way of dealing with announcements that the FCA wishes to make between board meetings. I believe that there will be a board meeting next month at which the decisions announced yesterday will be ratified. It would be extremely unusual if the board were to go against the advice of its officials on a matter such as this. I am not on the board; its members are independent. However, if I were a betting man, I would be prepared to put my shirt on the likelihood of these new rules being ratified.

The second question was whether these are temporary or permanent rules. The temporary element of them relates to the fact that there has been no consultation. In order to get them in place in time, they have to be introduced quickly under a fast-track procedure. Again, while I cannot formally commit the board or the FCA, I think it is fair to say that there is no intention in anyone’s mind that this should be a temporary provision. The new rules have a long-term purpose; there is no temporary element. It is certainly the intention that there will be permanent rules—but, as I say, the transition from temporary to permanent involves the consultation process which they would normally undertake.

The third question related to whether trust-based schemes would also be covered. As the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, pointed out, the FCA will not cover trust-based schemes, but the DWP, which writes the regulations for trust-based schemes, is working with the Pensions Regulator to consider how this can best be dealt with for trust-based schemes on the same basis, so we have it in hand. This is a very recent development so far as the FCA is concerned; it was announced only yesterday.