Schedule 1

Part of Pensions Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 5th February 2008.

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Photo of Nigel Waterson Nigel Waterson Shadow Minister, Work & Pensions 12:00 pm, 5th February 2008

The Minister accuses us of trying to insert rigidities into the Bill and says that we are giving the game away. I think that I did give the game away because I made it very plain that these were probing amendments that I did not intend to press to a Division. I am very sorry if the Minister has been on tenterhooks ever since then.

As probing amendments, though, these amendments have been a dismal failure. They have failed to probe through the mists surrounding ministerial policy. The Minister said that we plumped for five years. Yes, we plumped for five years because the Minister did not plump for any years. Is he talking about 10, 20 or 50 years, or even six months? Surely, without prejudice—as we lawyers say—he could come up with some kind of time scale. It matters to PADA so that it knows what it is aiming for, and it matters to the industry and to the Committee.

The Minister talks about flexibility, and flexibility is a wonderful thing. At times, though, I think that this personal accounts lark is a bit like trying to put up a tent in a high wind. Unless we nail down one corner, we will never make any progress. So much flexibility has emerged during Committee that one wonders what kind of beast we will end up with.

Then there is the question of Lord Turner. Lord Turner and his fellow commissioners not only argued for 0.3 per cent., but set out a cogent, detailed case for it as a fundamental part of delivering this advice-free model of personal accounts, and as part of their overall package. We should not treat Lord Turner’s pronouncements as holy writ. Not everything in the Turner report is as true now as it might have been at one time, but 0.3 per cent. is a fundamental pillar of the Turner proposals. If we really propose to leave the door open to a significantly higher annual charge than the one envisaged by Turner, a case must be made. Perhaps the Minister does not like being probed and does not want to come up with the answers, but sooner or later he will have to make a case.

People are still working on the figure of 0.3 per cent., or 30 basis points. The Minister is terribly keen not to come down on one side or the other—he missed his vocation and should have become a Liberal Democrat. However, “on the one hand” and “on the other hand”  will not do in this instance. Is he talking about 60 basis points, as foreshadowed by Stephen Haddrill, or something even higher? As we move further away from the Turner figure, the justification becomes more difficult.

If the Minister is saying, “Well, this is not a matter for Ministers; we are just going to leave all this to the Personal Accounts Delivery Authority,” who knows what we will end up with? It must be a low-cost, simple vehicle, which is why advice is not being put into the package. If we start fiddling with this part of the package, as I have said in our other debates, we might have to reopen the question of advice and whether that can be factored in after all. Otto Thoresen might not be able to square the circle in relation to so-called generic advice.

I have made it clear that I am not going to press the amendment to a Division, but I am very disappointed by the Minister’s apparent inability to allow himself to be probed by so-called probing amendments.