Clause 20 - Duty to set targets for collective benefits

Part of Pension Schemes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 12:00 pm on 30th October 2014.

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Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 12:00 pm, 30th October 2014

Yes, the buck stops with the trustees or managers, but they will depend on expert and independent advice. The actuary assessing the scheme’s funding position, probabilities and options for change must not have a vested interest. It is right to have independent expert advice.

There is the wider issue of trusting in experts for our pensions, in the way that we might see our doctors. Most people would think that trusting a doctor to give expert advice on health or lifestyle that the patient chooses whether to follow is not a bad model. Compared with what? Compared with an individual DC. Without the clause, most of the people we are talking about will  probably end up with pensions that are individual DC. In that case, someone also has to trust experts such as investment companies and managers to invest the money wisely and get a good return. However, in that world nobody is trying to give people a target or any expectation; they just get what they get.

I suspect that the hon. Gentleman would agree with our argument that, although it is more complicated to have targets and probabilities, it is probably better for a scheme member, although there is a lot going on under the bonnet. That relates to his point about complexity. I jump in my car and do not have the faintest idea of what is going on under the bonnet, but I know that it gets me there.

There is a balance to be struck in member communication between giving people enough information to make informed choices but not the drains-up version, which will be a complete turn off and not mean anything to anybody. I do not think that is unduly paternalistic; it is realistic. The trustees—the people in charge of the scheme—need to know what is going on at a sophisticated level, but the scheme member does not need too much information. All the complexity needs to be available for those who are interested, but it does not need to be imposed on scheme members.