Schedule 1

Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:47 pm on 31st January 2008.

Alert me about debates like this

The trustee corporation

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

I beg to move amendment No. 54, in schedule 1, page 49, line 14, at end insert

‘of which at least three members shall be appointed to represent the interests of members and prospective members.’.

A series of amendments have been tabled to schedule 1. Some are on nuts and bolts issues—I am sure that we can dispose of those simply—while others relate to what I shall call the level playing field issue. We will deal with those in more detail with your indulgence, Mrs. Anderson.

Through amendment No. 54, we are saying that of the

“not fewer than 9 and not more than 15 members” of the trustee corporation, at least three should be appointed specifically to represent the interests of members and prospective members. I anticipate that the Minister will say, “But they’re all meant to represent the interests of members and prospective members.” On one level, that is correct. However, it might be better to write into the Bill a specific requirement that at least three are appointed specifically for that purpose—perhaps from among the kind of people who might otherwise have become members of the members’ panel. I am sure that that will appeal to the hon. Member for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey, given his near obsession with that issue.

Photo of Danny Alexander Danny Alexander Liberal Democrat, Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey

As the hon. Member for Eastbourne has observed, this is an issue that I am interested to pursue. The amendment usefully serves to probe the Minister’s intentions.

As the hon. Gentleman said, the Minister will no doubt answer that all members of the trustee corporation will, in some sense, be there to represent the members. However, the amendment relates to clause 52(4), which we debated earlier, which says:

“The functions of the members’ panel may include nominating individuals to be members of the trustee corporation.”

I suspect that the group of people who are referred to in the amendment are there not because every member of the trustee corporation should be helping to manage the scheme on behalf of its members, but so that that there are representatives on the trustee corporation who are nominated directly by members, groups representing members and, perhaps, the members’ panel. The point that is being made is important. I hope that the Minister will either agree to the amendment or a similar measure, or that he will at least make clear how he wants to ensure that the members are appointed. If there is not to be such a provision in the Bill, how will we ensure that such a practice goes forward?

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

The Government’s policy on member-nominated trustees applies to personal accounts in broadly the same way as other occupational pension schemes at this time. The schedule already makes clear that there is provision for section 242 of the Pensions Act 2004 to apply—for one third of the trustees to be member-nominated. On that basis, the amendment is probably not needed. Given that the scale of the personal accounts scheme means that the members’ panel will have the responsibility of nominating trustees to represent scheme members, it is going to be difficult to work out how they will do that, as we have discussed. Both hon. Gentlemen are right to say that all trustees will, by their nature, seek to represent the  members of the trust and act in their best interests. That is their obligation. It is right that there should be member-nominated trustees, although there is a debate about the number of them. For example, the TUC has urged that they should make up 50 per cent., and that forms part of the discussion.

At the moment, we are looking at section 242 of the 2004 Act, so the proportion of trustees to be member-nominated would be one third. I hope that provides reassurance that the amendment is not needed. The provision that addresses the issues about which the hon. Gentleman is concerned is already in the Bill: two sub-paragraphs down from the provision to which the amendment refers.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

I am grateful for that explanation, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

I beg to move amendment No. 55, in schedule 1, page 50, line 2, after ‘financial’, insert ‘, political.’

Again, I want to make a short but important point. Quite rightly, paragraph 2 to schedule 1 deals with potential conflicts of interest. It is important that we cater for that possibility, the most obvious of which is financial, as the measure says. Sub-paragraph (5) cites “financial or other interest”, which makes the net reasonably wide.

We are suggest that the measure should refer to “financial, political or other interest”, which would ensure that—of course, the whole question of recruitment is some way down the road—whichever Government were in power, we would not end up with political appointees being nudged in the direction of the trustee corporation. The men and women who will serve on it will be thoroughly independently minded and will, presumably, have substantial experience or expertise in this area. If they have a political background, that should at least be considered and made part of the selection process.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

Taking one example at random—just plucking an example out of the air—the new chairman of PADA made a contribution to the now Prime Minister’s campaign fund. That is a political interest. I am not necessary talking about people who deliver leaflets regularly in a particular ward. Whenever paperwork on recruiting people to the NHS crosses my desk, there is always a bit on the form about political activity.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

The hon. Gentleman was aware—his colleagues were certainly aware—of that contribution at the time of the appointment of Paul Myners. It was not a secret in any way. It was not regarded by the hon. Gentleman’s party or anyone as a conflict of interest in any form.

We are in danger of excluding people who have a legitimate political interest. People vote and participate in politics, and they ought to be encouraged to do so. I do not think that we should be in the business of  suggesting that those who have a political interest automatically have a conflict of interest. Provided that things are reasonably open, I have no great problem with political interests.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions

Nor do I, but there are two parts of the measure. It sets out the definition of a conflict of interest and goes on to say:

“which is likely to affect prejudicially that person’s discharge of functions as a member of the trustee corporation.”

An example might be someone who was an active member of an extreme right-wing party such as the British National party, but happened to be brilliant on pensions. There would be no conflict of interest because that would not prejudicially affect the discharge of that person’s functions as a member of the trustee corporation. I am not suggesting that having any political interest would exclude someone automatically. To be excluded, they would have to be covered by the rest of the provisions.

This issue is important, but I do not want to labour the point about the chairmanship of PADA. We said what we had to say at the time. Everyone has now moved on, and our main concern—that of Paul Myners, too, I am sure—is ensuring that we can deliver  by 2012. We still think that the amendment is important and that the Minister should look at it seriously.

Photo of Mike O'Brien Mike O'Brien Minister of State (Pension Reform), Department for Work and Pensions

As far as I am concerned, other interests adequately cover this. If people have proper political views, I am not in the business of saying that they should be excluded, as long as there is no other conflict of interest. Defining “political interest” would be a mess and I strongly oppose the amendment. All too often there is a pejorative view in the media and elsewhere of people who are engaged in politics. We need to say that being engaged in politics is a citizen’s duty, to some extent, rather than something that should be frowned on.

Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 4:00 pm, 31st January 2008

I do not want to turn the debate into a civics lesson. This is not the most important issue in the Bill, and I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Further consideration adjourned.—[Mr. David.]

Adjourned accordingly at one minute past Four o’clock till Tuesday 5 February at half-past Ten o’clock.