List of authorised schemes

Pension Schemes Bill [Lords] – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:00 pm on 7th February 2017.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

With this it will be convenient clauses 15 to 20 stand part.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am confused. I am proposing that clauses 14 to 20 stand part. Is that correct?

That is correct.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I am sorry, I just wanted to make sure. I thought that was the case.

The clauses make provision for a new supervisory regime for master trust schemes. One of the great strengths of the authorisation regime is that its requirements are ongoing. An authorised master trust will have to ensure that the Pensions Regulator remains satisfied, and is not just satisfied at the beginning, that it continues to meet the authorisation criteria to continue operating in the market. The clauses ensure that the regulator receives and can request the information it will need to be satisfied that the authorised schemes continue to meet the authorisation criteria, and it can withdraw the authorisation if that ceases to be the case. I believe they are very sensible clauses.

Clause 14 requires the regulator to maintain and publish a list of authorised master trust schemes. This provision will help employers looking for a scheme for automatic enrolment purposes and ensure that there is transparency about which master trusts have achieved authorisation. Clause 15 requires the trustees and scheme funders of authorised master trusts to send the scheme accounts and the scheme funder’s annual accounts to the regulator annually. This information is necessary for the regulator’s ongoing financial supervision of the scheme. We believe that it will play a key role in the regulator’s consideration of the reasonableness and accuracy of the estimates set out in the business plan, which I mentioned before, and about the running costs, sources of income and profit and loss in relation to the master trust’s activities.

The clause will also require each master trust scheme funder to provide its accounts to the regulator on an annual basis. Those accounts are also required as part of the authorisation application at the beginning, but the clause ensures that they have to do it on an ongoing basis. Taken together, that will enable the regulator to risk-assess the solvency of scheme funders and the strength and enforceability of their commitment to providing funds for the master trust.

Photo of Nigel Mills Nigel Mills Conservative, Amber Valley

I have another boring techie question, I am afraid. The clause specifies that the scheme funder’s accounts must be provided within nine months of the end of the financial year, but for the actual master trust scheme accounts it says

“no later than two months after they are obtained by the trustees.”

Is there some other provision that creates a backstop date when the trustees have to get those accounts or could we be waiting, in theory, forever to get the actual accounts for the scheme? I guess there must be a provision somewhere.

Photo of Richard Harrington Richard Harrington The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

If I may, I will return to that point. I am a little confused by it, although I am not saying that my hon. Friend is trying to confuse me. If I may, I will continue in full flow and will do my best to answer it by the end of my comments or apologise to him.

The measure will enable the regulator’s assessment of the financial sustainability of the master trust to take that information into account, to the extent that it effects the financial position of the scheme. The combination of the information from the scheme accounts, the scheme funder’s accounts, the business plan and supporting documents will support the regulator’s ongoing financial supervision of a master trust.

Clause 16 provides that the regulator may, by notice in writing, require the trustees of an authorised master trust scheme to submit a supervisory return. The Government recognise that the requirement means additional work for trustees. Therefore, the clause provides that a supervisory return can be requested only once in any 12-month period at most, and that trustees are given at least 28 days to compile and submit the return. It may be appropriate for the Government to specify the information that can be requested through such a return. The clause allows the Secretary of State to make regulations to that effect.

Clause 17 provides that the regulator must be notified in writing if significant events occur in relation to an authorised master trust scheme. Those events will be defined through regulations. I will briefly explain what the Government intend to capture by the term “significant events” and give an example.

We intend that the list of significant events will capture events that could affect the ability of an authorised master trust scheme to continue meeting the authorisation criteria. I should like to be clear that the occurrence of a significant event in a master trust scheme will not necessarily have an impact on the ability of that scheme to meet the authorisation criteria, but it may have such an effect. For example, the scheme may have a change of trustee. As the fitness and propriety of a trustee is linked to the authorisation criteria, the regulator must be informed of such a change so that the new trustee may be assessed against the relevant standards—the regulator may well do that, and that would not affect the scheme’s authorisation status. Equally, there could be an impact. The clause sets out who will be subject to the reporting duty, and again the regulator can issue a civil penalty for failure to comply.

On clauses 18 and 19, for the first time, the regulator will have the function of authorising a pension scheme before the scheme can operate in the market, as I mentioned. The implications of the decisions that the regulator will have to make are major, and we must be satisfied that we have given the regulator the tools it requires to ensure that such decisions are fully informed. It is therefore important for the Bill to make provisions that allow the regulator to gather the information it needs about the master trust schemes. The clauses will ensure that the regulator can use all the information-gathering powers effectively in relation to master trusts and the new authorisation regime.

Clause 20 gives the regulator the ability to withdraw a scheme’s authorisation if it stops being satisfied that it meets the authorisation criteria. The clause is fundamental to the Bill; without it, there would be no consequence for a scheme that becomes authorised and then lets standards slip, or if events occur that materially impact whether the regulator remains satisfied that the authorisation criteria have been met.

The regulator seeks to support and assist those involved in running pension schemes before it comes to sanction them, but if a scheme no longer satisfies the regulator, the regulator must have the power to withdraw authorisation from the scheme. We will come to discuss the consequences of a decision to deauthorise a master trust scheme in due course, because such provisions are made later in the Bill. The clause simply provides a necessary power so that the regulator can make such a decision. Without that, the authorisation regime would be reduced to little more than a one-off check at the beginning and would not work to protect the interests of master trust pension schemes.

I will think about the point made by hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley and either write to him overnight or bring a response to the next sitting. I apologise, but my mind has been on these matters and I will have to think about his point, which was a very good one.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 14 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clauses 15 to 20 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 21