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Clause 3 - Duty of employers to facilitate access to SaRA schemes

Rights of Savers Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 14th December 2005.

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Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea 3:00 pm, 14th December 2005

I beg to move amendment No. 20, in page 4, line 25, at end insert

‘, employing at least five employees’.

A certain pattern is emerging in this Committee, which may or may not continue. Time will tell. The amendment aims to ensure that the Bill conforms with what the House wished on Second Reading and what I originally intended. As the Committee is aware, the stakeholder provisions do not apply to any employer who has five or fewer employees, so that it does not put unreasonable and unfair burdens on small businesses. I understood that that was reflected in the wording of the Bill on Second Reading. On further consideration, we have concluded that the amendment is required to make it clear and beyond any misunderstanding.

The amendment is also highly relevant at this time because one of the most important recommendations of the Turner report is that its proposed savings scheme would not have a cut-off point if the proposal was endorsed. It is intended that all employees, regardless of the size of the business and even down to the smallest businesses that employ one or two people, will have an obligation to offer such a saving scheme. We feel that that is an unfair and unreasonable burden, and that is also the view of the Federation of Small Businesses, the CBI and others who have commented on such matters. It is important to make it clear that we have to get the balance right. For a corner shop, a garage, or some very small business, such a scheme would represent a significant administrative burden and potentially a financial burden if employers were expected to make contributions as well. I hope that the amendment will have the approval of the Committee.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson (Also PPS To the Chairman of the Party), Work & Pensions & Welfare Reform

The official Opposition support the amendment entirely. The Conservative party is nothing if not the party of small business, and we can understand any legitimate concerns about not having a cut off that reflects, as my right hon. and learned Friend said, the existing cut off for stakeholder pensions. We agree that there is an unresolved issue in the Turner report about not excluding smaller firms. I appreciate that commission members have concerns about avoidance and so on that the Government will need to address in due course. There is a good   argument for a cut off and adopting that which exists for stakeholder pensions seems entirely sensible and has our full support.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I welcome and am interested in the fact that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has moved amendment No. 20. My impression on Second Reading was that he was resistant to that change, but he has clarified that position. The amendment helps to draw attention to a difficulty. We all acknowledge that people who work for small businesses and those who are self-employed have disproportionate pension provision. I welcome the amendment because it is easing a burden on small businesses, a point that I made on Second Reading. However, it does not help us to incorporate into pension provision many of the large number of people who currently do not have access to it.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea

If that has become a persuasive argument for the Minister, why does he not apply the amendment to stakeholder pensions?

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

If the right hon. and learned Gentleman allows me to finish my argument, he will understand my position.

The Turner commission, in recommending a model that is rather different from a stakeholder model, has decided on a different proposal on that front. The commission argues, with some conviction, that the model it proposes would provide a significantly lower burden than the stakeholder model. In weighing up the alternative attractions—the national pensions saving scheme, something that looks more like a stakeholder pension, or some other proposition—a good deal of attention must be paid to the impact on people who work for small businesses.

The hon. Member for Eastbourne (Mr. Waterson) rather fancifully characterised his party as the party of small business. We must represent the interests of those people who work for small businesses. The fact that such a large number of them have no private pension provision at present is a significant weakness that must form part of this debate. I am sure that clause 3 is a sensible provision, but we shall need to look more at it as the debate proceeds, because we face a wider challenge with pensions. This is an interesting subject.

Amendment agreed to.

Question proposed, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Malcolm Rifkind Malcolm Rifkind Conservative, Kensington and Chelsea

Clause 3 places requirements on employers to provide access to SaRA schemes. The Bill obliges employers to designate the scheme, to supply their employees with the name and address of the designated scheme and to allow representatives of the scheme reasonable access to their employees.

The clause is consequential on matters with which the Committee has already dealt. I commend it to the Committee.

Question put, That the clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill:—

The Committee divided: Ayes 5, Noes 5.

Division number 3 Nimrod Review — Statement — Clause 3 - Duty of employers to facilitate access to SaRA schemes

Aye: 4 MPs

No: 6 MPs

Ayes: A-Z by last name

Nos: A-Z by last name

NOES

Photo of Joe Benton Joe Benton Labour, Bootle

In accordance with House protocol, I cast my vote with the Ayes to keep the debate going and the Bill intact.

Question accordingly agreed to.

Clause 3, as amended, ordered to stand part of the Bill.