Clause 44 - Commencement

Part of Pension Schemes Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:15 am on 4th November 2014.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 11:15 am, 4th November 2014

Clearly, what we are doing at the moment is setting up a framework for April 2015. The schedule allows a lot of flexibility as to how things might be done in future, including who the designated providers might be. At the moment, “Treasury” is everywhere, because the change is being tightly and properly controlled from the centre, with a unit in the Treasury setting up the website, the brand and so on. In the medium term, if the project becomes in essence one of operational delivery, it is not inconceivable that a delivery Department would have responsibility, but at the moment it is a case of one step at a time.

On my hon. Friend’s point about impartiality, we entirely agree. The consultation was clear about impartiality and that is how we envisage it. I cannot conceive that one of the independent guidance providers—TPAS and CAB—we have identified in the Bill would throw their hands up in horror and go to a commercial provider. Quite apart from anything else, the sums would not add up. As he hinted at, if we stop pension providers providing guidance, we stop some good stuff as well, which we do not want to do. Let us consider the example of a member of a trust-based pension scheme. The trustees might already provide at-retirement and other guidance for scheme members. We do not want to ban that. Clearly, we do not want the schemes to neuter the guidance or undermine people’s independent choice, but we do not want to stifle pensions guidance in general. That is the balance we are trying to strike.

I can therefore assure my hon. Friend that there are no plans to have the guidance provided by anyone who has a financial interest. Obviously, we cannot bind future Governments anyway, so even if we put such a measure in the Bill, a future Government could simply take it out if they changed their mind. We certainly do not envisage that and we do not want to stifle the good stuff that schemes might do already.

Finally, on a couple of practicalities, my hon. Friend suggested a session duration of 30 minutes but as we agreed, the arrangement would have to be person specific. Clearly, a worthwhile amount of time needs to be spent  with people. We are doing ongoing testing of opinions, attitudes and expectations, so we do not want to hardwire any such provision into legislation. Likewise with the 14-day period, we envisage some weeks between the call and the session, but on occasion someone might for urgent reasons want to get the pension—the cash—in seven days, so we would not want a provision on the statute book to prevent that. I entirely accept the spirit of what my hon. Friend was saying—there should be a worthwhile, substantive conversation, with preparation. We are working out the practicalities, rather than hardwiring anything into law.

I am grateful for what I believe are probing amendments from my hon. Friend. I urge the Committee not to accept them, and I hope that we can make progress on the basis of my assurances.