Clause 50

Part of Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 1:30 pm on 31st January 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions 1:30 pm, 31st January 2008

Clause 50 enables the Secretary of State to establish the fact that this scheme is a trust which, like all trust-based schemes, will be run in the interest of its members. The Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales has raised this particular issue with my officials; I am grateful to them for the help that they have given.

The amendment seeks to change the way in which the Pensions Act 1995 applies to the personal accounts scheme. It is based on the premise that the requirement for an auditor’s statement about contributions would be costly and difficult to compile due to the sheer numbers of employers participating in the scheme. We acknowledge that this is complicated by the fact that the employers in the scheme are likely to be small employers who may not necessarily employ an accountant. An auditor may not be satisfied that contributions have been paid properly and would therefore only be able to compile qualified accounts, which would not be of much benefit to the members.

The principle of proper accounting is paramount and all equivalent schemes should be subject to the  same, or effectively the same, level of scrutiny and transparency. That is an important point. As part of having confidence in personal accounts we need to ensure that we do not have a situation where either the accounts are unduly qualified or, alternatively, a system of accounts which raises questions about personal accounts.

The institute has a point in terms of its view, but as yet, we are not necessarily convinced that its approach is one that we can sign up to wholeheartedly. There may well be other options that we wish to examine before reaching a final conclusion. I have been assured that officials are looking at this issue with care. They have not yet reached a final conclusion, but it is safe to say that they have considerable sympathy with the concerns of the ICAEW and they are to let me have advice in due course about whether the approach favoured by the ICAEW, or an alternative approach for dealing with the problem they have identified, would be the best way forward. We could then deal with that through regulations. I hope that with that reassurance the hon. Member will be able to withdraw his amendment.